Friday, September 30, 2005

Thinking About Bill Bennett Abortion Comment

Abortion is really a "red herring" issue. It deflects us from discussing the true problem that there are too many people in the world. Over population. Abortion is not a good form of birth control, but there are some deeper demographic issues under the surface of this discussion.

Demographics was touched on during Bill Bennett's now infamous talk show, but emotional baggage around abortion and racism flairs up into a war of sound bytes. Deeper issues of population and demographics get ignored.

Some interesting questions were touched on in that show (from what I read, even though I didn't actually hear the show).

The question of, "how many people are around to pay into the Social Security Trust Fund?" started that whole ball rolling.

Some might argue that we need more births in order to have plenty of younger workers to pay into Social Security as the post war generation retires. This is an interesting thought for demographers and economists to debate.

Then there is the question of whether just "numbers of people" is sufficient as a solution to this equation. What about quality of environment and economic conditions for the next generation that will be paying into the fund?

A book called "FREAKONOMICS" was mentioned. Important questions about the quality of life, for people being born into this world, was brought up.

What if a bunch of unwanted children were born into poverty? Would they add to, or further distract from society and Social Security?

It's an old "quality versus quantity" argument.

There is the contention that crime is actually lower because quite a few of the people who would have been born into problem homes were never born. Do we really want a whole bunch of unwanted babies? These are very important questions.

Then, along came Bennett's "kicker" comment. The one that's got everyone buzzing.

"But I do know that it's true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could -- if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down. That would be an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down. So these far-out, these far-reaching, extensive extrapolations are, I think, tricky."

Another valuable point can be discussed behind this comment.

Is there a danger that abortion can be used to "weed out" certain types of people that others might deem as undesirable? Would abortion be more prevalent weeding out children from poor, marginalized or minority peoples?

It reminds me of one day, when I was in college, sitting in the office of the Gay People's Alliance on campus. Someone from the so called "pro life" club got up the courage to wonder into our office with a very thought provoking question.

She ask, "if one could ever determine, before birth, that a fetus would turn out homosexual, wouldn't you worry that a lot of mothers would choose to abort their pregnancies?"

Most of the "politically correct" office staff blew her question off, but I took her question more seriously. We had a good dialog as most of the other office staffers left the room.

These are important ethical questions with out easy, sound byte answers.

It brings me back to my first point that there are too many people in this world, but abortion is a red herring issue.

Ideally, we should all be working toward the reduction of unwanted pregnancies. Birth control, lifestyle choices, family planning, even abstinence can all point to similar goals. Even more acceptance of "alternative lifestyles" can serve to reduce unwanted pregnancy.

In an ideal world, there wouldn't need to be abortions because unwanted pregnancy wouldn't be such a problem.

Abortion is, at best, a poor form of birth control. How one feels about whether it should be legal, or not, may not be as important an issue as the deeper demographic problems revolving around so many unwanted pregnancies.

I am reminded of a wonderful phrase that came from the early pro abortion rights movement. For some reason, the more recent abortion rights advocates hardly ever use this quote. Still, it transcends the contentious abortion debate to a deeper ideal that most folks should agree on.

"Every child should be wanted."

This phrase also can address the issues of neglect and poverty that so many children face in the world. For instance, one can say, "every child should have access to medical care."

Even some of the pro life movement can get on board with this ideal.

There is a similar phrase that President Bush has bounced around as he talks about education.

That phrase says, "No child should be left behind."

Of course one can certainly question whether the concept is working, or whether Bush administration policies will get us there.

Still, in an ideal world, we should be focusing on quality of life rather than just quantity of life. Churning out too many babies is a major world problem.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Iran Nuclear Power Cartoon Idea

Iran says, "We demand you give us a light water nuclear power plant."

USA says, "Gee, it's been 20, 30? years since I've built a nuclear power plant." "I'm afraid of that stuff, not to mention being a bit rusty at making those things these days."

Sunday, September 25, 2005

I recently rode the old monorail in Seattle. It looks like the new, larger monorail is in trouble. Mayor and city council don't think the financing plan is realistic. A scaled back monorail plan is on the ballot.

Here is an idea for the monorail, as if they don't have enough suggestions already.

Turn the new monorail into a "feeder line" for Sound Transit.

Sound Transit is Seattle's other light rail proposal. It has had problems and cost overruns as well. Sound Transit has also had to scale back it's original plan. The original "phase 1" plan called for going from the airport to University of Washington, possibly even on to Northgate. It has been scaled back to a line just from the airport to downtown.

At least Sound Transit is starting to build that line.

The original monorail plan sort of paralleled Sound Transit. It went from West Seattle, (down the airport direction) through downtown and up to Ballard District. That's sort of the direction toward University Of Washington.

Why can't they merge the two plans?

Let Sound Transit build it's line from the Airport to downtown. Then have a scaled back monorail line from downtown to University of Washington (where Sound Transit had originally planned to go).

Another short monorail line could link West Seattle to the Sound Transit line that comes up from the southwest, rather than having to go downtown.

The monorail could become a feeder line to Sound Transit. They should share a downtown station so passengers can easily transfer from one to the other.

Both lines could gradually branch out from that hub and connect with metro transit bus routes.

People tend to forget, but Sound Transit already has another rail service that links both Everett and Tacoma to Seattle. It's called the Sounder Train. Runs on existing BNSF right of way.

Tacoma already has a short Sound Transit light rail line in it's downtown area.

All these things should start connecting up, but people may have to transfer from bus to train to monorail, for instance. One fare should cover it all. Maybe it's not a perfect idea, but it's better than sitting in traffic.

Part of the problem, with any transportation system, is the staggering cost of land in Seattle area. Houses that sold for $20,000, not that many years ago, now sell for closer to the million mark. It must be next to impossible to do any public works project, such as building stations, that requires buying land. This problem especially makes adding lanes to the existing freeway impractical. If one thinks light rail is too expensive, just try adding another lane to I-5! It would take up so much room and displace so many homeowners that the bank breaks.

So, Sound Transit and Monorail should get together. It's just another one of my ideas.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Hurricane Katrina and Deficit Spending

While listening to the radio this morning, I briefly heard a comment by Republican Senator Trent Lott who's own house was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. The comment went something like, Being a fiscal conservative ends with a natural disaster. I don't remember the exact wording however.

Anyway, it looks like hundreds of billions of dollars will be added to the national deficit recovering from Katrina. Even fiscal conservatives, who had been preaching "limited government on domestic affairs," are admitting that this recovery is beyond what just the "private market" can accomplish.

We may be paying for some miss guided fiscal conservatism of past years. If more money had been spent on the levies over, say the past 25 years, much of this clean up bill could have been avoided. Those old phrases like, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," and "hindsight is better than foresight" apply.

It is important to invest in America's domestic needs. Many of these investments, like levies, transportation and even preventative health care for low income people are often more likely to come from government than private enterprise.

Still, private enterprise plays an important role also. Cutting through red tape carrying out many of the tasks after governments have provided the funding. Subcontractors versus government employees, for instance. Also there is a role for private markets and investments, charities and "thousand points of light," to quote George Bush Senior. It's just that government plays an important role and deserves respect.

As for the deficit, I would guess that being a fiscal conservative is not easy. It seems like even most conservatives cave in to the continual bombardment that nature and circumstances throw at the lives of their constituents.

Politicians talk "low taxes" and "less government" while delivering lots of government services to their constituents. Just put it on the credit card, and there seems to be no consequence. High deficits don't even push up interest rates! The past few years have enjoyed, or suffered depending on how one views this, from low interest rates. Last year, I read that housing prices went up, here in Bellingham, by 23 percent. That's good news for many home owners cashing in on the flood of money that low interest rates create. It is bad news for folks trying to save money the old fashioned way in bank deposits.

Where does all this money come from? It's a mystery to me.

Republicans often say that tax cuts create more, rather than less, revenue for the government. It's counter intuitive. They say that economic stimulation created by tax cuts creates so much business activity that total tax collection goes up rather than down.

Here is an important question.

Would this mechanism of tax cutting ones way to more government revenue actually work if the government couldn't run a deficit? If every tax cut had to be matched with an equal amount of spending cuts, would the tax cut actually stimulate the economy?

That's an important question. It seems like the Bush tax cuts have stimulated things because the government could also continue to spend lots of money. Both the record spending and tax cuts combined can stimulate the economy so much that one does see a slight increase in overall revenue collection by the government. If the spending had to be cut, along with the tax cuts, it seems like that revenue increase would not be there. Possibly those kind of drastic cuts to eliminate the deficit would also bring on a recession.

Who knows. but that is a good question for economists to ponder.

So, here we go sinking farther into debt, but maybe it doesn't matter.

One thing I do know. Hurricanes, and life in general, put a lot of things on our government's "to do" list.

By the way, in case folks are wondering, I am back from my 5 week long bicycle tour. More news about that later.