Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Vice President Grandpa

It would be a daunting task to review Dick Cheney’s In My Time, all 527 pages. I found the history from this particular insider’s perspective to be fascinating. But it was a heavy read. It is lightened by some personal stories, and my favorites tended to be the delight this world leader took in his grandchildren. The book is written along with his daughter, Liz Cheney, so she may have influenced what got told. But I thought it would be worth humanizing Cheney with some family-arity. 

This first one is right after taking office as VP: 

During my first weeks as vice president I had another obligation to fulfill. The previous October, as the campaign was winding down, our whole family was out on the road full-time. After one late-night rally, my six-year-old granddaughter, Kate, climbed into the seat next to me on the campaign plane. “Grandpa,” she said, “if you win, will you come to school as my show-and-tell?” “You only want me if I win?” I asked. “Yep,” she answered. I had to admire the kid’s frankness, so we struck a deal, and on a snowy February morning, I was Kate’s show-and-tell. My impression was that most of her fellow first graders were more interested in my Secret Service agents than in Kate’s old grandpa, but I’ll never forget the huge smile on her face as I walked into the classroom (pp. 313-314). 

Following 9/11 the VP spent a lot of time in undisclosed locations, which seemed to fascinate the media, who made it something of a game to imagine where he was located. Cartoonists and late-night comedians joined in the guessing. But in reality, much of the time he was at the Vice President’s Residence, or wherever he was scheduled to appear that day. They just didn’t tell anyone his location; thus it was “undisclosed.” Sometimes it was his Wyoming home, where he connected by secure video teleconferencing technology. Often it was Camp David. In 2001 they spent Halloween there, along with grandchildren: 

Our granddaughters  brought their Halloween costumes, and my staff—Mary Matalin, David Addington, and Scooter Libby—handed out candy at their cabins, as did Lynne’s assistant, Laura Chadwick and the Secret Service agents manning the command posts (p. 338). 

Although this isn’t a grandchild story, one of my favorites was about his dog, Dave, a hundred-pound yellow Lab, that he brought along to Camp David: 

He loved roaming the paths and the woods, and I quickly got used to taking him everywhere with me. One weekend when the president had scheduled a National Security Council meeting at Camp David, I drove with Dave in one of the Camp David golf carts over to Laurel for breakfast. I parked the golf cart, and Dave and I walked down the path toward the big wooden doors of Laurel. I had briefing materials for the day’s meetings and the morning newspaper under one arm and opened the door with the other. No sooner had we walked inside than Dave caught sight of the president’s dog, Barney, a Scottie, and set off in hot pursuit. I couldn’t really blame him. Barney was only slightly larger than the squirrels Dave so much love chasing, but we didn’t want any permanent harm to happen here. I dropped my papers so I could get hold of Dave, who by now had rounded the corner into the dining room. I rounded the same corner to encounter some of the cabinet spouses who had also been invited to Camp David for the weekend. Joyce Rumsfeld, Alma Powell, and Stephanie Tenet, all seated for breakfast, were watching aghast as Dave bounded around the dining table after a furiously scurrying Barney. At about that moment the president appeared. “What’s going on here?” he demanded. It was not an unreasonable question. I saw a tray of pastries on the breakfast buffet, grabbed one, and hollered, “Dave, treat!” He stopped in his tracks, then I grabbed him and took him back to Dogwood, the cabin in which Lynne and I were staying. I hadn’t been there long when there was a knock at the door. It was the camp commander. “Mr. Vice President,” he said, “your dog has been banned from Laurel” (p. 338). 

My favorite granddaughter story involved using the secure video teleconferencing system (SVTS) from his home in Wyoming: 

On August 10 I was scheduled to confer via SVTS with a visiting delegation of Iraqi exiles opposed to Saddam Hussein. They had gathered in the ornate Cordell Hull Conference Room in the Old Executive Office Building, across the street from the White House. All of them had taken their places and were waiting for me to appear on the screen, when, unbeknownst to me, my four-year-old granddaughter, Elizabeth, wandered into my office. The Iraqis were treated to images of Elizabeth jumping around in a pink princess outfit and making faces at herself as she watched her performance reflected back on the two-way video hookup. She was hustled off by my personal aide, Brian McCormack, before I arrived on the scene. I sat down in front of the camera and Scooter Libby sat down just outside of view. Unaware of the performance that had just taken place, I said to the delegation: “Greetings from Wyoming. I’m here with my chief of staff.” It was only after the meeting that someone explained why the Iraqis found that so funny (p. 386). 

Near the end of Lord of the Rings, my favorite part is when Sam Gangee gets up the courage to speak to Rosie. After all the stories told in song, the reason for it all is so that people can get on with their real lives—their families. I guess that’s what I’m sensing from this historical memoir. A lot of hugely important things happened, but the reason those big decisions mattered was so that we could best get on with our families. 

After spending a chunk of yesterday trying to get an image of my granddaughter on camera as an angel for our Christmas card, I am reminded that this is what real life is about. Nothing better.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Wouldn’t it be a good idea if experts—the really smart people with all the information—could make decisions about our economy and our lives? Um, no. If you have a clear idea of who the experts are and what they really know, especially about your life, you tend to prefer making your own choices. 

When I took basic economics my first year of college, we talked about the Nixon price controls, what they had done to the economy and why. I have been a free market economist ever since. And I’ve always been very wary of anyone who considered Nixon a conservative. 

The Nixon price controls happened when I was old enough to be aware of them, but too young to have much understanding of the politics and economics involved. But I got a new up-close perspective on this piece of history from Dick Cheney’s memoir, In My Time. Just out of college he was an assistant to Donald Rumsfeld at the Office of Economic Opportunity. Here’s how he tells it: 

The inflation rate that had hovered comfortably around 1.5 percent at the beginning of the 1960s had climbed to 5 percent. The unemployment rate had nearly doubled to 6 percent.
            The Democratic majority in Congress was urging the president to use powers they had given him when they passed the Economic Stabilization Act, legislation that effectively authorized him to commandeer the economy by imposing controls on wages, prices, salaries, and rents. The Democrats voted these extraordinary powers confident that no Republican president, much less a solid free market one named Richard Nixon, would ever use them, and in the meantime, they could criticize him for not taking action. But Nixon took them up on their offer, and on Sunday night, August 15, 1971, he announced a freeze for ninety days on all wages and prices. The Cost of Living Council was created to monitor the freeze and to achieve an orderly return to the free market when the ninety-day period was over.
            The freeze was simple enough. Nobody was to raise wages or prices. But the follow-on, which became known as Phase Two, would have to have rules covering all sorts of things, from permitted increases in union contracts to the price of dill pickles, for the period until market forces ruled again. The deadline for moving from the freeze to Phase Two came fast, and the two entities that were supposed to write the regulations, the Pay Board and the Price Commission, wrangled and dithered. When it looked as though they were going to miss a crucial deadline for getting regulations published in the Federal Register, Rumsfeld decided to take things in hand. He assembled Jack Grayson, the chairman of the Price Commission, and about a dozen of our CLC staff and said that we wouldn’t be leaving until we had the regulations ready for the printer. We set up in Rumsfeld’s outer office, and as others paced and dictated, I sat at one of the secretary’s desks and typed everything on an IBM Selectric typewriter. By nine the next morning, when the secretaries arrived and emptied the ashtrays and replenished the coffee, we had written the regulations that would now be governing a major share of the U.S. economy. The degree of detail we achieved during our overnighter was truly impressive. We drew distinctions between apples and applesauce; popped and unpopped corn; raw cabbage and packed slaw; fresh oranges and glazed citrus peel; garden plants, cut flowers, and floral wreaths. We regulated seafood products “including those which have been shelled, shucked, iced, skinned, scaled, eviscerated, or decapitated.” We covered products custom-made to individual order, including leather goods, fur apparel, jewelry, and wigs and toupees….
            As assistant director for operations, I oversaw some three thousand IRS agents tasked with enforcing wage and price controls. At one point I sent a team of them to visit the major food chains, such as Safeway and Giant, and report on how they were complying with our regulations. The agents reported back that, depending on how a single regulation was applied, any one of several different prices might result, from one high enough to give the chain a significant profit to one low enough to cause a terrible loss. It was pretty clear which option the chains would pick—and who could blame them? They were dealing rationally with the arbitrary rules we were trying to impose (pp. 59-61).   

In 1973 Nixon imposed another price freeze:  

apparently hoping in the midst of Watergate for some political benefit. But he didn’t get it. Among other things, the freeze made raising animals for market unprofitable. A Texas hatchery drowned forty-three thousand baby chicks. Pigs and cows were slaughtered—and the president announced an early end to his 1973 effort to freeze prices.
            By this time I had grown wary of government economic control. At the start of my tenure at the Cost of Living Council, when I had been immersed in getting things going, I hadn’t had much time to think about it, but by now I realized that every day millions of people were making millions of economic decisions, and it didn’t matter how smart we were or how many regulations we wrote. There wasn’t any way we could intervene without doing more harm than good.
These thoughts confirmed my innate skepticism about what government could and couldn’t do. We could write checks, and we could collect taxes. We could run the whole military and defense side of things. But when something as big and ham-handed as the federal government tries to run something as complex and dynamic as the American economy, the result is sure to be a train wreck (p. 62). 

There are some interesting insights here. The people involved—the experts—were really smart, measured by IQ and education, as far as I can ascertain. And many of them were conservative; they were the ones who mainly believed in free markets. Imagine the damage that could have been done if they had truly believed in sabotaging the free market to bring about socialism. (On the other hand, in our time maybe we can see without having to imagine.)

Best case scenario: the experts are people who have very little idea about what I need, what I want, what I value; they can only make generalized decisions likely to displease the fewest people. No one can expect them to make exceptions for every individual, so it would be better if you changed yourself to become less exceptional. And the decisions they make, no matter how much data they may say they have, will ultimately be arbitrary. That is the one thing you can count on. 

If there were an expert I’d be persuaded to trust, it might be Thomas Sowell, and fortunately he can be trusted because he knows better than to take on the job of “expert decision maker.” Here are a couple of favorite quotes on trusting the experts:

There is usually only a limited amount of damage that can be done by dull or stupid people. For creating a truly monumental disaster, you need people with high IQs.
                                             —Thomas Sowell, Sept. 29, 2009

Whether the particular issue is housing, medical care or anything in between, the agenda of the left is to take the decision out of the hands of those directly involved and transfer that decision to third parties, who pay no price for making decisions that turn out to be counterproductive.
—Thomas Sowell, October 17, 2011

Monday, November 28, 2011

Laffer Curve Primer

In the past week I came across a couple of reminder’s of the Laffer Curve, grabbing my attention enough to cover it in a post here.

First, I just finished reading Dick Cheney’s autobiography, In My Time. I’m sure I’ll have more to say on that in future posts, but this little anecdote was fun: 

It was in the wake of our loss [Ford’s election bid in 1976] that Don Rumsfeld and I had dinner one night at the Two Continents restaurant in the Hotel Washington with economist Art Laffer, a creative guy who certainly captured my imagination with a curve he drew on the back of my napkin. What it showed was that you can raise taxes only so high before people become disinclined to work. On the other hand, it’s possible to create incentive—and economic growth—with tax cuts. The Laffer Curve subsequently became one of the hallmarks of supply-side economics. I wish I had known how historic my napkin would become so that I could have saved it (p. 78). 

I had a similar response when I first heard of the Laffer Curve. Eye opening. 

Then later in the week I came across an article by Daniel Mitchell spelling out a few basics on the Laffer Curve. One of the interesting illustrations shows how much more revenue (about 5 times more) the government took in when Reagan lowered the upper tax rate of 70% down to 28%, comparing 1980 to 1988.  

The article had links to three short videos (about 7 minutes a piece) on the theory and real world evidence for the Laffer Curve, and then the frustration with the way tax bills are measured. They are all informative and clear, but the third one may make you want to do something to change the world. The three together take less time than half a television show without commercials. Definitely worth the time investment. 

The first video gives you the basic theory of the Laffer Curve.

Video II offers real-world examples of the Laffer Curve in action.

The third video covers the frustratingly inaccurate “satic scoring” used by the Joint Committee on Taxation, causing bias toward higher taxes. 

If these concepts make sense to you, share them with a friend.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Giving Thanks

I’m thankful for family. I have a good husband of almost 30 years, three beautiful and brilliant children, two daughters-in-law that have become mine, and a granddaughter who has spent her entire life in my home where I can see each new step he takes and hear each new word and song she learns. 

I’m thankful that I had my dad for so long; he was 91 when he passed away two years ago Christmas. And I’m thankful to still have my mom, at 82, still healthy and able to drive and take care of herself—and her friends. 

I’m thankful for my home—not a grand home, but the finest I have ever lived in. 

I’m thankful for enough food, and ease in obtaining it. 

I am thankful for my religion; it has made all the difference in my life. It guides me to live in a way that leads to civilization and happiness through the unavoidable trials of life. 

I am thankful for relatively good health—enough to be the oldest player in the church volleyball league. 

I’m thankful to be living in the free country of the United States of America, in the free state of Texas. I’m thankful that the founders were brilliant enough to guarantee our freedoms with a written Constitution. 

I’m thankful for books, and reading, and the internet and more ways than ever to learn and share information and connections. 

I’m thankful that there are more things to be thankful for than I can remember to enumerate in one afternoon. 

I’m thankful we have a day set aside to remind us to be thankful. May my celebration and yours be full of good memories!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

We Share Thankfulness

Last night Mr. Spherical Model and I attended a Thanksgiving Service, the 5th annual such service offered by a local interfaith clergy association for the whole community. The three main faith groups presented the program: Christian, Muslim, and Jewish, expressing their views on giving thanks, through spoken word and music. 

Community members mingle following
interfaith Thanksgiving Service
The Muslim representative shared his religion’s view that we should begin everything we do by offering thanks to God. This is a belief all our religions share, so it is a bond between us. 

A Methodist pastor retold the story of the Good Samaritan, and reminded us that we are each others’ neighbors. We can be grateful to share this community with people of various faiths. We don’t just cohabitate, but we come to care for one another; we are neighborly. And he’s right; unlike other parts of the world where that neighborliness is lacking, it is a blessing in our little part of Texas. 

A Jewish rabbi talked about the Jewish practice of recognizing and giving thanks for “the miracles of every day”: opening our eyes in the morning, finding firm ground, having clothes, being free. These blessings teach that our very lives are miracles.  

If there was a theme to the evening, it was that each of our faith traditions leads us to thankfulness to God in all things. This was also brought out in the music. Words from the Q’uran were chanted, meaning, “If you are grateful, I will certainly give you more,” and “My Lord, bestow on us the ability to be grateful.” Two young girls, sisters, from the host Mormon congregation, sang a song of gratefulness for family harmony, “There is beauty all around when there’s love at home.” And another Jewish rabbi sang from Psalm 92, “To sing praises unto thy name, O most High: To show forth thy lovingkindness in the morning, and thy faithfulness every night.” 

I especially enjoyed the words of the closing congregational hymn, which expressed the theme well: 

Because I have been given much, I too must give;
Because of they great bounty, Lord, each day I live
I shall divide my gifts from thee With every brother that I see
Who has the need of help from me. 

Because I have been sheltered, fed by thy good care,
I cannot see another’s lack and I not share
My glowing fire, my loaf of bread, My roof’s safe shelter overhead,
That he too may be comforted. 

Because I have been blessed by thy great love, dear Lord,
I’ll share thy love again, according to thy word.
I shall give love to those in need; I’ll show that love by word and deed:
Thus shall my thanks be thanks indeed.

            —Text: Grace Noll Crowell; Music: Phillip Landgrave

Monday, November 21, 2011


natural parabolic shape
of a recession and recovery
With recessions, the rule is: what goes down must come back up. The natural shape of a recession is a parabola. There’s a sharp drop to as low as it’s going to go, and then the direction changes upward during recovery. If it is allowed to follow the natural course of events, the recovery will essentially mirror the drop—and then keep going up. 

This is a concept my sons, Economic Sphere and Political Sphere, have been sharing with me from time to time. I don’t have the economic math skills to reproduce all the math logic for you, unfortunately. But I think the basic concept will do. Recessions happen because the market needs to correct, from a bubble or maybe a natural disaster--something that interferes with the natural long-term aggregate growth of the free market. But once there’s a drop, then a naturally growing market returns.  

Political Sphere shared an article from Forbes about the concept that recessions follow a natural course—unless interfered with. The article makes that point that the excuse “this time is different” is never true. 

L-shaped recession, natural
recovery is prevented
Real trouble happens when there is interference, usually intended to “help.” According to Wikipedia, one of the shapes a recession can take is the L shape. In this one, the sharp drop happens just as you would expect. But then, instead of bouncing on the bottom and coming back up, the level just sort of dribbles along horizontally near the bottom. Other names for this are “depression,” “lost decade,” and “malaise.” These are all terms beginning to be applied to our current L-shaped recession. They are terms that applied to FDR’s Great Depression as well. 

What is it that causes this recession to be different, to languish at the bottom instead of bouncing back? Government interference. How do we know? 

This is maybe more than you wanted, but here’s a basic formula: 

Y = C + I + G + NX 

Y is GDP (production) in actual dollars.
C is consumption, which is a function of Y-T (taxes).
I is investment, or infusion of new capital (not spending on used materials, or stock exchanges).
G is government spending.
NX is net exports. 

Government can affect Y by increasing spending or raising or lowering taxes. More taxes means less money for consumers to spend, and less taxes means more money for consumers to spend. Indirectly investment will be affected if Y decreases, when there is less profit to be made. But mainly the other way government can change Y is by increasing government spending.  

I had to ask Economic Sphere why the formula includes “+G” instead of “-G.” In theory, G is just another product consumers (we the people) spend money on. To some degree it’s necessary. So the amount spent on G is just another part of the measure of GDP. However, when spending on government is too high—includes debt—it temporarily appears that the G portion of the economy shows actual growth in GDP. But that is an illusion. 

natural ups and downs of
business cycle show a sine wave
It appears, in the short run, that government spending (or stimulus) increases Y. But Y’s rate of growth is, in a natural free market, fairly constant. There is fluctuation, an ongoing sine wave, or little rises and dips, but you can draw a line through that at approximately the natural rate of growth (maybe somewhere near 4%). Government spending can’t change that. It doesn’t affect aggregate supply; it only affects aggregate demand. So it may appear for a time that it has affected growth, but there will be a natural pull back to the equilibrium point where aggregate supply and demand intersect. There will be a correction. So the more government does to try to make the market go up, the greater will be the eventual correction back to the natural rate of growth. 

The longer and greater the government over-expenditures, the more drastic will be the inevitable correction. 

So what happens if government sees that inevitable drop and tries to prevent it—with more government spending? It causes an even greater drop. If the measures are taken after the drop, presumably in an effort to stop more drop or cause a rise, it interferes with the natural recovery. That is what we’re seeing now. 

Greater government spending at a time when great government spending already caused the dip is like hitting the economy over the head and beating it down. Every new interference, every new beat down, leaves the economy languishing down at the bottom, unable to rise because of the repeated drop-causing interferences. When they say, “The economy was in much worse shape than we thought; imagine how bad a shape we’d be in if we had done nothing,” you can know for certain that things are worse because of what they did in their ignorant attempts to control a natural force.  

If government wants to have a positive effect on GNP, it needs to cut spending. Since it can’t (won’t) cut to zero, the next best thing would be to cut to the bare bones of the enumerated powers of the Constitution. At the same time, lowering rather than raising taxes will help. Both lowered government spending and lowered taxes leave more money available for growth.

Friday, November 18, 2011

One Small Victory

There was a small news story yesterday with somewhat large meaning. The California high court unanimously ruled that the proponents of Prop 8, the state initiative to protect marriage in that state, had standing to defend the law following the state’s refusal to do so. More here.

Outcome of Prop 8 Vote
Source: California Secretary of State*
Opponents of the law claimed that the legally passed initiative violated the US Constitution, and they got District Judge Vaughn Walker (a homosexual, who therefore should have recused himself, since he aligned himself with the opponents), ruled that it was unconstitutional. Had he ruled otherwise, the opponents would have had the right to appeal. But since he voted their way, the opponents have insisted that only the state governor and attorney general had the right to appeal, and if they didn’t, then no one else could. 

So that means that they believe the initiative process in California—which exists so that the people can have a say in what their laws will be when they cannot get the legislature to act in their interest—are subject to the whims of the state government as to whether to acknowledge any such law.  

So the court was right yesterday: when the state refuses to carry out its executive duty, interested parties must have a right to step in and defend their own position. The state’s 100-year-old initiative process was at stake. 

As for protecting family simply by affirming the definition of marriage as it has always been—between a husband and wife, exclusive and intended to be permanent, between consenting adults of opposite sex who are not closely related—it is now going to the next step: on to the 9th Circuit of the US Supreme Court, a court with a reputation for being the most liberal and most likely to have its decisions overturned for failure to apply the law. 

The 9th Circuit will hear arguments about whether traditional marriage is an institution that violates the equal protection and due process clauses of the US Constitution. If they rule that the right to define marriage as it has been defined in most civilizations for millennia is in violation, then the next step will be an expanded 11-judge appeal panel. And it won’t end there. Quite likely, either way it will be appealed to the US Supreme Court. 
*Graphic from Wikipedia.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Political, Economic, and Social Spheres Interact Some More

The Fall 2011 issue of The Intercollegiate Review arrived recently, so I’ve begun wading through during some odd hours. These articles are always mind-bending, sometimes making my head hurt for hard work. But often I glean something valuable. 

I just read the article, “The Change We Can Actually See (But Only Half Believe In)” by Peter Augustine Lawler. He philosophically compares the free individual ideas of both Locke and Tocqueville, in contrast to each other and to Marxist progressivism. I know Locke and Tocqueville only superficially. Our founders studied Locke. Alexis de Tocqueville wrote Democracy in America, following his visit here around 1830, examining the new freedom experiment that was the United States. So when Lawler starts talking about Lockean ideas, my understanding is limited. 

What I do glean from this is that, when we combine our belief in individual political and economic freedom, we must do so in conjunction with voluntary, moral, mainly family social connection. That is what I have been saying at the Spherical Model. 

Here are a few samples: 

Individualism and the Birth Dearth
He [Tocqueville] thought that the natural limit to individualistic self-absorption would be the family: even in a democracy, free individuals would persist in thinking of themselves as parents and children. He had a kind of sociobiological faith that the limit to individual liberation would be the natural social inclinations that lead the species to perpetuate itself. Locke seems to have had that faith too. He thought people would continue to have children, and their natural inclination, supported by law, would cause them to stay together long enough to raise them (p. 32). 

The Entitlement Implosion
The primary experience of most ordinary Americans these days is the erosion—with the prospect of implosion—of the various safety nets of our relatively minimalist welfare state. The change we can actually see has been, and will continue to be, from defined benefits to defined contributions. Private and even public pensions are done for. They will continue to be replaced by 401(k)s. That kind of change will also be true of health care, as employer-based plans become unsustainable. It will also soon be true of Medicare and probably Social Security—if not quite as soon as Representative Paul Ryan thinks. Ryan, it is already obvious, will come to be known as a man just slightly ahead of his time. In that sense, just as obviously, he is the real progressive—the prophet of the more or less inevitable world to come. And his opponents, who are called Progressives, are just as obviously the real reactionaries.
            The good news here, the new birth of Freedom celebrated by the Tea Party, is more choice—a lot more choice—for individuals. The bad news is that risk is being transferred from the employer and the government to the individual….
            There really is a lot of good to be said about a renewed emphasis on individual responsibility, just as there is a lot of good to be said about perfecting the productive meritocracy that is the main source of our prosperity. Perhaps there will also be a new birth of voluntary associations—such as the extended family, the church, and the neighborhood—and voluntary caregiving for the social support even free individuals need to live well (pp. 35-36). 

The Change We Can Actually See
People are, it turns out, stuck with working. And the demands of productivity actually accelerate as technology progresses. They are also in some ways more future-obsessed than ever. Free individuals tend to believe that their own deaths are the extinction of being itself, but as Lockeans we are less whiny-existentialist and fatalistic about that than we are powerfully resolved to do what we can to stay around as long as possible. (We can exempt our religious minority of observant believers from this view of who we are, just as we can notice that they are actually the ones who are mitigating our birth dearth with their many babies. It is always possible that there could be a religious solution to the crisis of our time.)
            Our libertarians were wrong, however, to think that we could flourish in abundance by understanding ourselves with ever-more-perfect consistency as free and productive individuals progressively untethered by biological direction. It turns out that it is not free individuals but men and women in touch, so to speak, with who they are by nature who have enough babies to secure our productive future and so to pay for our minimalist entitlement programs….
            The next stage in American progress, we can hope, is that we will discover, or rediscover, the truth that the free or personal being is necessarily a relational being (p. 38).

As I’ve said, we want political and economic freedom as a goal, but to have civilization as an outcome, we need a religious people, who honor God as the source of their rights, and who recognize and honor family as the basic unit of society.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Voter Suppression, Really?

I’ve written here several times about poll watching in an effort toward free and fair elections, including just last week, plus here, here, here, here, and here. But today I’m writing once again, this time in response to an inflammatory piece in last Friday’s Houston Chronicle: “Partisan tactic could suppress voting,” by Judith Browne Dianis and Christina Sanders.  

First, these authors call Texas’s new Voter ID Law suppression. In the past, including last week’s election, voters could use utility bills, banks statements, paychecks, and their voter registration cards to verify their ID for voting purposes. So a voter’s name must appear in the voter roll book (must be registered), and must show that their address is still what is listed in their registration—thus the utility bills, etc. But it has been possible (and has happened—did indeed happen at my poll watcher trainer’s location last year) that a voter can come in with these documents and vote in someone else’s name. Then the real voter—identified by photo ID and voter registration card—can come in later in the day and find that they cannot vote, because the voter roll shows a signature in their spot. That voter has now been disenfranchised. That actually happens. The new Voter ID Law will prevent that. 

Does anyone get disenfranchised for being unable to get an ID? The law has gone out of its way to specify various ways to prevent any such disenfranchisement. So far it has been impossible to find a single legal voter unable to obtain a photo ID, what would be needed to cash a check or just about any other private transaction. Whether a person drives or not, having a photo ID is something people use almost daily. The law specifies how to handle homebound situations where travel to get ID is difficult. So the law simply does not disenfranchise a single legal voter. It prevents disenfranchisement. 

Then the authors accuse people like me, volunteer poll watchers, of intimidating voters. They seem to be confused; voter intimidation is what the New Black Panthers have done, well documented but not prosecuted by this administration’s Department of Justice. The piece words the accusation this way: 

To complement the voter suppression efforts, tea party-affiliated groups such as the Houston-based King Street Patriots have vowed to send individuals to observe activities at polling places, which could intimidate voters. Hundreds of volunteers have pledged their time to travel to polling stations, question the rights of fellow Texans to cast their ballots and disrupt polling-place activity if they deem it necessary. The idea of tea party volunteers storming polling places evokes strong images of Jim Crow-era voter suppression. 

I didn’t live in the South during the Jim Crow era; I don’t know what evokes those images. But it would take a huge imagination to assume what poll watchers do is in any way related to voter suppression. And the authors must know this. 

Let me just say that I did not, and was trained not to, disrupt polling-place activity. There is no “storming.” One or two poll watchers (maybe up to four at a very busy polling place) show up with credentials in hand, have these signed by the election judge, then place themselves where they can observe unobtrusively as possible, and have no interaction at all with voters. Usually this begins during the set-up before the polling place opens. Voters won’t much notice the poll watchers; they will just look like they have a job to do that doesn’t include interacting with voters.  

There is no voter intimidation taking place. There is no interaction with voters; poll watchers can be ejected for even talking with a voter. They do not generally make eye contact with voters; they are standing or sitting where they can see the voter rolls or the machines. They never stand near a voter in the booth except possibly when a clerk or judge is helping a voter. Then the poll watcher does not watch how the voter votes, but only verifies that the worker is not touching the machine or influencing the voter. Poll workers influencing voters while assisting voters was one of the most common violations in 2010; there were hundreds of such incidents. Unwatched poll workers were used to committing this violation without consequence. 

Poll watchers are overseeing the process, making sure the rules are followed, so that the votes cast are legal and that no legal voter is disenfranchised. Any polling place that is carrying out a free and fair election has that verified by poll watchers. 

Poll watchers are not a new part of the law. In Texas each party is allowed two poll watchers per polling place. Each person on the ballot is allowed two poll watchers per polling place. Any group advocating a position on an issue on the ballot can provide two poll watchers per location. That could become quite a crowd. The reason it doesn’t is a matter of volunteers. Poll watchers, unlike election judges and clerks, do not get paid, so interested parties need to feel the need to verify the election enough to recruit volunteers. The effort to cover all polling places, even those with no previous complaints, shows that the effort is toward verifying free and fair elections, not suppression of legal votes. 

The authors argue that this is a partisan effort. No. King Street Patriots, which they identify, willingly trains anyone from any party. Oddly, the only ones taking them up on it are conservatives. But they are not attached to the Republican Party. KSP has helped train election judges, who are sent by the parties and certified by the county. So far only the GOP has accepted KSP trained judges, but the training would be the same for either party. Neither party has sent KSP-trained poll watchers. So far all poll watchers sent by KSP have been sent by the signed request of candidates on the ballot. I think historically both parties have a dark history of voter fraud, but in recent elections the guilty have been almost exclusively of one party, the one against being watched. 

The authors claim, “Voter fraud is not a problem in Texas. You are far more likely to be killed by lightning than to see a prosecutable case of voter fraud.” Notice the careful wording. It’s not that voter fraud isn’t happening, or even known. It’s that it has to be prosecutable. In order for that to happen, there must be eye witnesses. The witnesses need to turn in incident reports swearing that they observed the fraud. There has to be a poll watcher there to do the witnessing, which these authors are insisting shouldn’t be there. And then there has to be a justice department willing to prosecute when the evidence is there.

In 2010 King Street Patriots found, just in Harris County, some 20,000 fake names on the voter rolls—because they looked. And then they turned in some 800 incident reports following the November 2010 election. Only some of them are prosecutable as fraud; many are simply observed violations of procedure. A likely outcome in a serious case is probably an election judge making numerous purposeful violations being removed from employment in future elections. 

Look at the incident of someone using a utility bill and voting in someone else’s name. It isn’t possible to find out who that illegal voter was; the real voter is disenfranchised, but unless he has a suspicion of who might have snatched his utility bill (maybe a family member, or maybe a stranger with access to the mailbox), then how can there be a prosecution? 

I refuse to be intimidated just because someone accuses me of storming a polling place to disrupt and suppress voting like some Jim Crow bigot. I know the truth, and I know I am working toward free and fair elections. And now I know that these authors and the organizations they represent (Advancement Project, and League of Young Voters Education Fund) are against truth and free and fair elections.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Constitutionality Questions

Yesterday the big news was that the Supreme Court will take up the question of the constitutionality of Obamacare. And not just the question of the legality of the individual mandate, but all the questions related to this legislation at one time. 

There’s good summary at the Law Blog of the Wall Street Journal. 

These are the questions the Court will address: 

  • Can a challenge be brought to the law at all?
  • Did Congress overstep its bounds in requiring every American to purchase health care?
  • If the mandate is found unconstitutional, does the entire law need to come down, or can the rest of the law still stand?
  • Are the law’s Medicaid amendments constitutional?
Some years ago I was talking with a friend, who was then a constitutional law professor, about some issue that seemed simple to me; he pointed out that it took years of study and practice to obscure things as well as the court justices can do. So, being unencumbered, here is my opinion on the four points, ahead of the hearing. 

The answer to the first question is yes. It would be better if we didn’t have to bring suit concerning a law enacted by our elected officials. But this one was pushed through using shady late-night, weekend, procedural technicalities to avoid succumbing to the will of the people or even the actual majority of elected officials—even during a time of complete Democrat control of both houses.  

The question itself relates to whether the penalty for not buying insurance is a tax. Ahead of passing the law, Obama’s team insisted that it was a penalty, not a tax. If so, then there is no roadblock to bringing the suit. But now they are claiming it is a tax. Supposedly, if it’s a tax, then you have to wait until it is enforced before it can be shown to be subject to a lawsuit, and these particular “taxes” wouldn’t be enforced for another year or two. This is a semantic question only, twisting words to suit themselves—as the administration would do with the entire 1200 pages of words in this boondoggle. 

The second question relates to the commerce clause of the US Constitution. This is Article I, Section 8, Clause 3: “To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes.” The only difficulty is the definition of “regulate.” Over the years we have come to think of it as “make rules of control over,” but at the Constitution's writing the word meant, “to make regular, or expected.” How do you make sure international and interstate commerce can take place? Mostly get out of the way. Deal with trade agreements internationally, and make sure states don’t set up illegal embargoes against their fellow states. It’s about making sure free exchange can happen, not about controlling details of such exchanges. 

Is there anything in there to imply that the federal government has an enumerated power to force a purchase by every citizen simply because that citizen has been born? No. I’d say that’s a serious overreach. If you skew the clause to mean the federal government is allowed control over any issue that can affect the economy in any way, then you have granted total power to the government over all personal choice of how one uses the results of one’s life work. That is slavery, not a limiting enumerated power at all.  

The answer here, then, is yes, Congress did overreach, and the individual mandate is unconstitutional. That is how the Supreme Court must rule. The concern I have is that such a simple question of our personal freedom depends on the opinions of nine unelected individuals in black robes. If they rule correctly, great. But if they do not, that doesn’t change the fact that the law goes against the letter and spirit of the freedom-ensuring US Constitution. 

The third question is another yes. There is so much infrastructure in that huge bill, most of it we’re still unaware of, that are intrusions into our lives, we need to scrap the entire thing before the damage becomes endemic. There should be nothing about student loans in there. There should be nothing about taxing home sales and purchases in there. There should be nothing in there about setting up health clinics on school campuses in an effort to subvert parental rights. There should be nothing that discourages businesses from providing health care as a benefit to employees, thus forcing more and more employees to have no other option than a socialized federal government option.  

Is there any small piece of the law that might be Constitutional? Maybe. Show me. But, if so, couldn’t that particular piece be resubmitted for debate and vote as a bill on its own merits? 

The fourth question is technical. It appears to me that the effects on Medicaid are negative for the truly needy. My personal view, always, is that the federal government has no business using tax money for charity. There is no enumerated power granting such power. That is not to say that we as a people should ignore those truly in need. The answer is a combination of free market and philanthropy—both of which are hindered when the government steps in the way. How we get there from where we are, I don’t know. We have to do it without abandoning those who have had promises made to them and are truly in need, but we have to get back to the Constitution.  

I hope getting back to the Constitution will be the result of this hearing. It looks like arguments will be heard by sometime in March, and a decision should come down in June. This is well ahead of the election, and may have an effect either way. Whichever way the court decides, the other side will use it as an argument for recruiting votes to get things the way they want. And it will also point out the importance of having the right president at a time when additional Supreme Court justices will be chosen.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Freedom without Chaos--the American Experiment

I didn’t get around to discussing book club last week. My little group read and discussed Princess: A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia, by Jean Sasson, © 1992. Sasson tells the life story of a princess whose pseudonym is Sultana, a granddaughter of the first King Sa’ud of Saudi Arabia. The story is fictionalized and changed in places to protect the identities of the women. 

Most of the book, and most of our discussion, concerned the oppression of women in Saudi Arabian culture. But that is the subject for another day. There is one happy part, shortly after Sultana’s marriage to a man who seems, at least at that point, less oppressive than she might have gotten stuck with. They spend some time in California, and she makes some observations about the freedom contrast she sees there. 

In California, after weeks of meeting transported Americans from practically every state in the Union, I announced to Kareem that I like these strange, loud people, the Americans. When he asked me why, I had difficulty in voicing what I felt in my heart. I finally said, “I believe this marvelous mixture of cultures has brought civilization closer to reality than in any other culture in history.” I was certain Kareem did not understand what I meant and I tried to explain. “So few countries manage complete freedom for all their citizens without chaos; this has been accomplished in this huge land. It appears impossible for large numbers of people to stay on a course of freedom for all when so many options are available. Just imagine what would happen in the Arab world; a country the size of America would have a war a minute, with each man certain he had the only correct answer for the good of all! In our lands, men look no farther than their own noses for a solution. Here, it is different” (p. 147-148). 

Sultana voices the common belief that the two alternatives are control or chaos. A culture thrives or not depending on how well the ruling powers allow just enough freedom to get good results without allowing so much that there is chaos.  

In Spherical Model language, this view is totally southern hemisphere—some form of tyranny, the choice between governmental control and the control of strong over weak that happens in anarchy. People fear anarchy, so they allow themselves to be controlled by a state authority. 

But in America Sultana observes an alternative possibility. Culturally we have more freedom, because we reject tyranny and move northward toward the freedom zone. Instead of ceding power over our lives to a statist government, or sinking into gangs and “organized” crime, we believe our freedoms are granted by God, not government. So when a government assumes those powers, it is usurping the rights of man granted by God. We naturally resist the oppression. We also recognize that avoiding chaos means governing ourselves—living honestly, and respecting the rights and opinions of others, as we expect them to respect ours. Consistent application of minimalist law leads to ordered freedom without coercion by an arbitrary ruler. 

We’re the longest-running such experiment in world history. No wonder it looks strange yet appealing to someone who never knew that possibilities out of reach of tyranny existed.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Veterans Day

One of the proper purposes of government is protection of our sovereignty and borders. Many thanks to current and former members of the military for carrying out this necessary service!  

Joseph Ambrose, WWI veteran,
in 1982, at age 86,
source: Wikipedia
One of my sons, Economic Sphere, is currently talking with an army recruiter, so we may have a soldier in the household very soon. I’m proud of him, so let me brag a bit: he took the aptitude test this week and placed above the 99th percentile. With a college degree he is hoping to do some work in his field (in part to quell his mother’s fears), and maybe eventually move into intel, like my dad did. He’s good at strategy; he can beat me at chess in three moves if I don’t put on my best game. I’m thinking he will be an asset to the country. 

A little Veterans Day history: It was the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 when the Germans signed the Armistice (truce) that ended World War I. The rarely right Woodrow Wilson declared celebrations on that date in 1919. Seven years later Congress urged Calvin Coolidge to hold a similar recognition on that date. And then, in 1938 the act was passed to make November 11th an annual holiday, called Armistice Day. It wasn’t until 1954 that all veterans were honored on this day, and that’s when the name changed. 

My Dad in his WWII uniform
I rather doubt there are still Armistice Day veterans around. 1918 was the year my dad was born; he served in WWII and passed away two Christmases ago at the age of 91. But, since it turned out that WWI wasn’t “The War to End All Wars,” we continue to have veterans to honor, and it’s important that we salute them for their sacrifice and service. 

So today I put the flag out. And I’m using this space to say thanks.

Bert, the superhero bomb sniffing dog,
currently serving with my nephew
in the US Coast Guard

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Family Circus Lives On

Bil Keane, 1990, from Wikipedia
The news this morning was that Bil Keane, creator of The Family Circus cartoon, died Tuesday at age 89. My first thought was, “But we need that cartoon. Will we still have it? Does he have a son who will continue doing it?” which actually is the case. His son Jeff has been working with him for years and is ready to continue. 

My next thought was—nostalgia. This single pane cartoon was one of the first I became aware of, during elementary school. The recurring “Not Me” ghost that did all the naughty stuff is a long-time favorite. And especially after I had children I related to Billy getting from one place to another with the circuitous dotted line following his path. 

As an adult I appreciated the grandpa watching and silently being part of the family after his death. So maybe now that is how Bil Keane will continue to be part of his legacy. 

There’s a famous opening line, of the Russian novel Anna Karenina, which I’ve long believed to be wrong: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” I think unhappy families are pretty much alike. Go down the list of the Ten Commandments, and those in that unhappy family are breaking one after another. There’s a predictable pattern. 

(just a sample from last month)
But happy families, on the other hand, tend to be endless sources of amusing little moments, frequently unexpected, and seldom just the same as any other happy family. That’s why Bil Keane could look at his own family and come up with something new every day, something that actually happened in his home. 

In the Associated Press piece in today’s paper, they quoted him: 

“I never thought about a philosophy for the strip—it developed gradually,” Keane told the East Valley Tribune in 1998. “I was portraying the family through my eyes. Everything that’s happened in the strip has happened to me.”… 

“If The Family Circus has any social value,” Keane was fond of saying, “it shows parents that their children are normal. And if there is a philosophy behind the feature, it’s this: A home filled with love and laughter is the happiest place in the world.” 

This may seem simple and obvious enough—to anyone from or in a happy family. But worldwide efforts are underway attempting to erase that simple truth. Especially now, after 51 years of consistent examples of happy family life, we need Bil Keane’s legacy to live on.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Practice at the Polls

What would election day be without a threat that the police were coming to remove me? It seems to be becoming tradition. But, still, I have reason to believe things are getting better. 

Yesterday was a good practice day for poll watching. Turnout was low on an off year, although within the city, where I served, the mayor’s race and city council positions were on the ballot. I was sent in mid-afternoon till closing to give a second pair of eyes to an area that was having some difficulties. I wasn’t given details, just that things were confusing. 

The presiding judge was experienced, had been running the place for nigh onto twenty years. Not used to poll watchers, however. She wasn’t sure there could be a second poll watcher (there can be two from each party and two from each candidate on the ballot). 

The presiding judge (PJ) was an elderly woman, 77 she told me later. Not all elderly people are equal. She was energetic and trim—despite suffering an encounter with a city bus this past weekend, which she described to me later in the day during down times. But much of the difficulty at the site was related to her belief that she knew what she was doing and asserting her authority without actually knowing the laws and procedures. She confided to me during down time that the training they gave (her party?) turned out to be all different from how things really are. 

She was going to place me at the far corner of the room, where I wouldn’t be able to see much or hear anything. So I said, no, I’d just take this spare chair and place myself where I needed to be. I wasn’t able to see the voter roll books from where I was, but I could get up and look as needed, and I could hear everything. 

This was a mostly Hispanic area. The alternate judge (AJ) was at a disadvantage. The PJ and clerks (one of whom was the PJ’s very helpful and effective son), as well as the other poll watcher all spoke Spanish. I don’t look like I speak Spanish, so they probably didn’t realize it, but many of the encounters between voters and clerks were in Spanish, so that was handy. 

Most of the conversations were about names and addresses. And many (more than half) of the voters were at the wrong polling place. In Harris County (Houston area), there are two weeks of early voting at a few dozen voting places. Voters can vote at any location during early voting. But on election day voters must vote only at their precinct’s polling location. This particular location had been available to everyone for two weeks of early voting, but was there on election day only for a single precinct. That apparently caused a lot of confusion. So the clerks spent much of the day trying to help people figure out where they should go to vote—something they probably couldn’t have spent time on during a busier election.  

But there was no attempt to allow voters to vote illegally at this location. As a poll watcher, I am there to verify their good faith efforts, just as I would report attempts at illegalities. So for anyone working to have free and fair elections, having poll watchers there is to their advantage. 

We missed a couple of things. When ID address doesn’t match the address in the voter roll book, the voter is required to fill out a statement of residency. Then their vote is counted only after their eligibility is verified. Last year we ran out of those forms, we had so many such voters. Yesterday we didn’t use any SORs. But I know of two voters that should have used them. There were so many issues about wrong addresses for this polling place, it didn’t immediately sink in what we were seeing. So when we realized (after the voters in question had left) and brought it to their attention, the clerks were determined to do it right if it came up again. It didn’t. 

That’s the kind of thing that experience helps with. I’ve had more experience now. So have those clerks and the other poll watcher. We’ll all be better prepared during a more critical election next year. Other poll watchers got training and practice this year too. And poll workers got more used to having poll watchers on hand. 

OK, about the police threat—it happened again at the close of the polls. The other poll watcher left ten minutes before the polls closed, not sure why. But I was there to observe, so I didn’t worry about it. But the PJ said, now that there were no voters, I had to leave. She claimed twice to have called the county, with differing answers, neither of them accurate, and once claimed the police were on their way to remove me. But I knew what I needed to do. The AJ and clerks knew and accepted me. So I went about my business, verifying numbers on the machines, etc.  

Somewhere along the way the PJ saw that I wasn’t interfering in any way, and she had no support from the other workers in her efforts to keep me away. Plus, of course, no police actually came. A while later she came to me and apologized. She reminded me of the pain she was in from her accident, and said she saw she had been rude and asked if I forgave her. Next year, if she’s there again, she’ll expect a poll watcher to observe the closedown.  

This is a huge improvement over my adventure last year. So, I hope I’m getting better experience ahead of serious need. And I hope judges and clerks at all the various polling places are getting better with practice as well. Because the goal, as people who love our freedom, we all want a free and fair election.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Moving Up with Age

In Yesterday's post I used numbers to illustrate the point that making lower monthly payments on a loan, without lowering interest rates, means lenghthening the loan, and thereby also increasing the amount of interest paid, and the overall cost of the loan.

That is true. But the example, I should mention, is simplified just to make that point. It is unlikely that a person making $33,000 just out of college will continue to make that throughout his/her career. So I wouldn't expect it to be common (maybe not ever happening) for a school loan to take 38 years to repay because of the 10%-of-income payment cap.

Which brings up another point about wealth. Most people just out of college don't have it. They have debt--too much probably. And their income is better than it was as students, but much lower than it will be with years behind them and time to build up wealth.
Thomas Sowell on Uncommon Knowledge

Thomas Sowell talks about that in his piece today: "Numbers Games." Of course older people are likely to have greater incomes and wealth than younger people, generally. But it's not a problem with distribution; mostly it's a matter of time.

If that's not enough Thomas Sowell to get you through the day, he was this week's guest on one of my favorite shows, Uncommon Knowledge, talking about his latest book, The Thomas Sowell Reader, and about anything else he was asked--including a little baseball and current primary campaigns. We would be so much better off right now if Mr. Sowell had become our first black president.

Speaking of elections, in much of the country, this is an election day, even though it's an off year. In my area it's things like ballot propositions and school board. Inside the city limits there's a mayoral election (that has been generating surprisingly little news) and city council positions. If there's an election being held in your area, don't miss this opportunity to vote. At times when there's low voter turnout, such as in an off year, every vote makes a bigger difference. Go ahead--enjoy the sense of power!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Doing the Math

Last Wednesday (November 2), our current President wrote a piece for The Harvard Crimson, called “We Can’t Wait: Helping Manage Student Loan Debt.” He mentions that he had recently announced at the University of Colorado at Denver “steps we’re taking to make college more affordable and to make it even easier for students like you to get out of debt faster.” 

So the plan should show steps affecting affordability and quicker debt repayment, right? For today’s math, we’ll just look at how his plan addresses the rate of debt repayment. Here are his word:

That’s why we’re making changes that will give about 1.6 million students the ability to cap their loan payments at 10 percent of their income starting next year. We’re also going to take steps to help you consolidate your loans so that instead of making multiple payments to multiple lenders every month, you only have to make one payment a month at a better interest rate. And we want to start giving students a simple fact sheet called “Know Before You Owe” so you can have all the information you need to make your own decision about paying for college. That’s something Michelle and I wish we had. 

Let’s summarize his plan’s points:

  1. Cap payments to 10 percent of income.
  2. Consolidate loans and make a single lower payment.
  3. Give students “Truth in Lending” disclosure.
Let’s wait on number 1 for a bit, and start with number 2. A consolidated loan is a new loan totaling the sum of government-subsidized loans, private, loans, and parent loans—in order to pay off those loans and have a new single payment. The consolidated interest rate might be lower than some loans, higher than others. But typically the consolidated loan is entered into not just for simplicity but for lower interest. With a lower overall interest rate, payments can actually go down without increasing payback time. 

This is great news! Except it isn’t news. This has been standard practice for students upon graduation for decades. It is the status quo, not a sudden new resolution to high student loan debt. 

Does number 3 lead to quicker payback of debt? The Truth in Lending Act (1968) requires disclosure in any kind of loan from credit cards to mortgages. Student loans offer additional information. The student is clearly told, not just the amount being financed, the interest rate, the finance charge, and total of payments (principal plus interest over the life of the loan), but will also have spelled out for him/her exactly what the monthly payment will be for each additional increment in student loan debt.

This is helpful information. Something Mr. President not only wishes he and Michelle had benefitted from—they did. For many years, the Truth in Lending Act has done exactly what Mr. President says his new idea will do. Again, what he is calling “Know Before You Owe” is not only the status quo, it has no effect on lowering college costs or increasing the speed of paying back student debt. 

So, if his plan includes an actual way to more rapidly pay back student debt, it must be number 1. Indeed, number 1 relates to repayment rate: the repayment rate will be lower or stay the same. If 10% of a person’s income is enough to cover the standard monthly payment, there will be no change, but if a person’s income is low enough that 10% is lower than the standard payment, then the payment will be only 10%, not all the way up to the standard payment. 

Let’s say a student graduates with $50,000 in student loans (higher than many, but he’s writing to Harvard students, so let’s say this is pretty common for the audience), and a rate of 6% (which may be at the low end), to be paid back over 10 years—then your monthly payment is $555.10.  That means your monthly gross income would need to be $5,551.00 or higher in order to meet this standard payment. That’s an annual income of $66,612. For Harvard graduates that might be in the range of possibility for a starting job, depending on field of study. But let’s just admit that isn’t a common starting rate for new college graduates across the country. 

So, let’s say a starting wage for a graduate is half that: $33,306 per year, or $2775.50 per month. What happens when you start with the same loan amount and same interest rate, but with a lower payment? You make more payments—464 payments instead of 120 payments. You’ll be paying interest on the remaining principal for 38 years (as opposed to 10), which means your actual interest will be considerably more. How much exactly?

  Interest rate
  Total principal to be repaid
  Length of loan
  Total interest paid over life of loan
  Total amount (principal plus interest) paid over life of loan
6% per year
38 years
6% per year
10 years

You take longer to pay back the amount, and end up paying 4.7 times more [I used this calculator] total interest—exactly the opposite of what Mr. President says the cap will accomplish. 

So when he says,  

These changes will make a real difference for millions of Americans. We’ll help more young people figure out how to afford college. We’ll put more money in your pocket after you graduate. We’ll make it easier to buy a house or save for retirement. And we’ll give our economy a boost at a time when it desperately needs it.

…should we believe him? I’m thinking I’d rather believe someone who has done the math.