A few old favorite phrases

Monday’s post made an oblique reference to a few of my old go-to bits about politicians and your money. I thought it would be both wise and nostalgic to revisit those old friends, always timely and illustrative of so much of the political world. The statements are related, and reveal similar things about the modern statesman.

Statement number one: “I possess the ability to make something out of nothing.”

This is the real-world translation of most of what your elected office holders and candidates for said offices promise to bring you at some point in the future. Whether it’s health care, jobs, educational opportunities, parks, roads, bridges, or anything in the form of government spending, you may have been led to believe that such things simply arise from some magic elixir concocted by our wisest political representatives. I hope this does not come as a shock, but you have been misled. Perhaps you were thinking that somehow the world could be arranged so that statement number two were also feasible:

“I possess the ability to make some people better off without making anyone else any worse off.”

This is one of my favorites regarding transfer payments from one citizen to another (though it’s never described as such by its proponents). Increases in the minimum wage, or any rise in one price without considering effects on other prices, fall prey to this deceit as well.

Such one-eyed optimism brings us to our final statement, perhaps the most beautiful of all: “I will spend other people’s money on you without spending any of your money on anyone else.”

So delightful in its logical simplicity, I’ll admit I heard this one first from Nobel prize-winning economist Milton Friedman. There is simply no good comeback to this one, unless you are comfortable with a response validating theft. And when presented with a response denying such, simply refer to either Statement One or Statement Two. Or to borrow another phrase from Friedman: “There is no such thing as a free lunch.”

When reading the news today or any day, think about how many times you could substitute the above phrases for what appears as “journalism” or statements from our elected representatives. One thing’s for sure, political advertisements would be a lot more succinct.

Still disinterested, never uninterested

I’ve had a standard routine I’ve used on the first day of class for every course I’ve taught, regardless of subject, for the past five years. One of the new “first class” bits I’ve added in the past year or so has been the difference between disinterested and uninterested. “Uninterested” means what you think it means; when something doesn’t appeal to you, you are uninterested. “Disinterested” means impartial, as in, “A judge should be disinterested in the case.” (A scene in the 1991 film Bugsy contains this distinction if it helps you remember the difference.)

I tell my students we will examine political science (or history or economics or communications) with disinterest. Of course we may find the subjects interesting, and we may indeed have opinions, but at first study we should set that aside. Say we are considering a certain piece of legislation or economic program. One’s first instinct is to suggest whether it’s “good” or “bad” and therefore whether it should be adopted. The knee-jerk response is actually second-order thinking, and should be reserved for consideration following this: a disinterested consideration of the likely effects.

With any change or proposed change one can generally predict who stands to benefit and who stands to lose. Such an honest interpretation would be refreshing from any politician or journalist, but such appraisals are few and far between. One-eyed impassioned pleas are more the standard, touting potential benefits and ignoring potential costs. The current example of national health insurance is but one of a universe of examples hindered by this obstruction.

The past four years I’ve tried to take a disinterested view of politics and government. As we are still a (mostly) free people, we have the luxury to do this, a luxury not assumed by peasants of less-civilized places or times. But one of the other benefits of living in prosperous times is the ability of one to profess his views, wise or unwise, founded or unfounded. And with modern technology on my side, I welcome the opportunity to broadcast easily to a potentially large audience. So tell your friends, and revisit often. If nothing else, I hope I can hold your disinterest.

Politics aside, it hasn’t been too bad

When I discontinued this blog in November 2009 it was for one reason: I didn’t feel like giving away anything for free anymore. I gave up the blog, gave up the TV show, and vowed never again to print an issue of The Binghamton Vanguard. Those things were money-losing operations, and I wasn’t making enough money at my regular “job” (whatever that is) to justify their continuation.
I’d like to reveal that I now make more money at my regular job and can justify a few whimsical enterprises. I would like to but I can’t. I think, though, that the non-pecuniary benefit of having a blog has risen now to the point at which I find it worth the expense, as I did with the TV show I brought back for a short period in 2011. To date only the Vanguard stands as is. One out of three ain’t bad.
I read a story recently from economist Steven Landsburg which described what a young person’s–any person’s–ultimate life goal might be. What’s the goal? What should one’s direction in life entail? To be a consumer. Landsburg’s words, though he says he’s merely quoting a friend: “I want to consume as much as I can of as many different things as I can for as long as I can.” There’s your reason to do anything, including have a blog, paid or unpaid.
The event in November 2009 that soured me to unpaid philosophizing was, of course, the reelection of Matthew Ryan as mayor of Binghamton. More specifically it was the defeat of my candidate, Douglas Walter Drazen. I was disappointed to say the least with the Drazen loss, and seeing no hope for Binghamton’s future, I knew by the time the next mayoral election rolled around I’d be long gone. For all my faults in life I do tend to stick to plans, and that one was a case in point.
Last week Binghamton elected a new mayor: Rich David. To say he’s a new mayor exaggerates a bit; for several years he was the city’s deputy mayor, and operates in the same circle of Republican cronies that have plagued the city my entire lifetime. These so-called Republicans make the John McCains and Lindsey Grahams of the world look like Tea Party stalwarts, and are, on a local level, the manifestations of why the Tea Party exists. We’ve had our own Republican internecine battle in Binghamton for decades before Ted Cruz and Sarah Palin came along, one of the rare instances in which Binghamton really was ahead of a national trend. Unfortunately it was a bad trend, and our city has been suffering beyond what the average Obamacare malcontent could conceive.
My thoughts on Binghamton and its poor governance were codified every week or two for 13 years. I’m going to revisit those ideas in the coming weeks and months, and relate them to national issues. The nice thing about having principles is that you don’t really have to wrestle with new issues that arise. Just apply your principles and the answer awaits, no political considerations necessary. This one is going to be one of our major themes.
A major theme of our society the past four years, unfortunately, is a continuation of one that has afflicted us for most of the past century: the growth of government at the expense of personal liberty. The few voices that have emerged recently promoting liberty have been too often mocked by those in political power and worse still by those in the media, ironically the one-time champions of freedom and enterprise. Sadly I see little real opposition to the slow creep of government upon our nation, and sadder still that slow creep seems to be moving less slowly.
This being said, there is still no time in human history I’d rather live than in present-day America. With all its faults this is still the greatest nation in the history of the universe. And the fact that I can blog about it whenever I want just makes it that much better.

Some Nice Things I’ve Missed

In 1974, Frank Sinatra released an album titled Some Nice Things I’ve Missed, a collection of his own takes on songs released by other artists during his brief retirement from 1971-1973. Having myself been “retired” for the last four years I wonder where to start in revealing content for this site. I’ve written a few things over these past years and I will post them eventually, though sadly most of the “current events” articles one would post on a blog are out of date. Principles, though, never expire.

On a personal note, I’ve had a few life changes over the past four years. I got married, moved to Virginia, and bought the house in which I now live. My wife and I also adopted two cats. Those of you with pets know this is a major life change.

I still teach and I still play music, and soon I’ll have some song selections available here. For now you can check out Mike O’Connell Meets the Mike O’Connell Trio on Amazon, Spotify, or most other online music sources.

Life hasn’t been too bad for me these past four years. I’ve missed having a forum to share the good things. But let’s face it, the reason one has a blog is to rant about things he doesn’t like, and that’s the real advantage to maintaining a presence in cyberspace. Check back on Friday for a few notes on political changes over the past four years, some good, some (mostly) bad, and some, well, the same as they’ve always been.


Four years ago I told myself I was giving up blogging because I refused to do anything for free anymore. Well, I still hate to do things for free, but the non-pecuniary benefits of hosting one’s own blog are just too great to resist. I am only human, and a restless human at that.

Welcome to mikeoconnelljr.com. This is actually my third website and the second at this address. The first, of course, was thebinghamtonvanguard.com, the electronic counterpart to the print newspaper I began in 2004. In the coming months I plan to upload some of the “greatest hits” of the Vanguard and of the old mikeoconnelljr.com, but I plan to focus much of the content here on my new projects: musical and otherwise.

Please check back often for new content on the site. Feel free to comment on the posts or contact me with any questions or suggestions. Read, share, and most of all enjoy!