Monday, January 03, 2011

In Leftist Massachusetts, corruption is regarded as normal -- and even commendable

JOE DENUCCI, a onetime prizefighter turned Massachusetts politician, steps down this month after 34 years on Beacon Hill: 10 years as a state representative, followed by 24 years as state auditor. He is being celebrated in some circles as the last of a political breed -- an unpolished, down-to-earth, working-class guy who made good, had a big heart, and took care of his pals.

"To the end, championing others," ran the headline over a Boston Globe story last week marking the end of DeNucci's long run in politics. The retiring auditor "is of the old school and makes no apology for that," the Globe observed. "He is the product of a culture that prized helping those around you, which has permeated Massachusetts politics for as long as anyone can remember, but is under attack now." The story makes clear that DeNucci sees nothing wrong with patronage. "We all did it," he says. "It was about helping people; some I knew, some I didn't."

A lot of people have a soft spot for DeNucci; there's no denying he has a certain rough-around-the-edges charm. On the whole I imagine that Massachusetts state government would be a little less fetid if it contained fewer glossy lawyers and consultant-crafted professional operators, and more unpolished, down-to-earth, former boxers.

But frankly, state government would be a lot less fetid if it weren't for that "old school" mindset that sees something commendable in using public office and public payrolls to hand out favors to supporters and friends. DeNucci may not be the worst offender, but who in Massachusetts politics should be held to a "Caesar's wife" standard of integrity if not the auditor, the state's top fiscal and ethical watchdog? Yet the conviction that public office is a public trust has scarcely been the lodestar of DeNucci's political career.

Consider Gaetano Spezzano, hired by DeNucci as a "fraud examiner" in 2008, though no such position was vacant and no other candidates were considered for the job. "Spezzano did not have the skills or knowledge required of a fraud examiner," the State Ethics Commission charged in September, and hadn't even completed the second half of a two-page job application. The 75-year-old Spezzano had worked as a musician and a meat salesman -- honorable work, but not much of a preparation for rooting out fraud in state government. The only reason he was hired, according to the commission, is that he and the auditor are related. "I'm his only cousin, his only family," DeNucci told the Boston Herald. "He's all by himself, except for me."

Concern for family members is a fine thing, and who wouldn't admire DeNucci had he reached into his own pocket to help his cousin out? But he didn't. He reached into our pockets -- into the pockets of the Massachusetts citizens whose interests he was elected to protect. He did the same a few months ago when he handed out across-the-board 5 percent raises to everyone on his staff: a slap in the face to Bay State taxpayers at a time when 300,000 of them are out of work, and hundreds of thousands of others have been forced to absorb pay and benefit cuts.

Go through the clips of the DeNucci years, and you come across so much of this stuff.

Here's DeNucci in 1998, collecting campaign contributions from a rogue's gallery of convicted criminals and disgraced politicians. ("This is America," his political adviser tells the press. "You can contribute to anyone you please.") Here he is in 1995, the subject of a newspaper exposé on "No-show Joe," documenting his practice of working three-day weeks, and of hanging out on the golf links when his official schedule has him in his State House. ("I don't keep a schedule," DeNucci explains. "I work out of my hip pocket, OK?") Here's the auditor in 1990, the Globe reports, lobbying the state treasurer -- in the midst of an audit! -- to give his son-in-law a job.

"Old school" politics as usual? Maybe. But multiplied by all the politicians who see nothing wrong with it, across all the years they've been doing it, and it adds up to Beacon Hill's detestable, seemingly ineradicable, culture of corruption. What is the Probation Department scandal, if not the Spezzano case write large? "Hey, this is patronage," DeNucci told the Globe back in 1983, after pulling strings to get another ex-boxer a State House job. "I'm trying to help a friend."

They pick our pockets and pat themselves on the back, then wonder why so many of us are disgusted. DeNucci was far from the worst. More's the pity.



The Moral Mush of Pacifism

By Jonah Goldberg

Colman McCarthy has a really exasperating op-ed in the Post today arguing that ROTC must remain banned from campuses, even after the DADT repeal. As I briefly mentioned in my column yesterday, the lifting of DADT is really inconvenient for peaceniks and other folks who hold anti-military views because it lends credibility to the military (among liberals and leftists).

If the point of the column was simply to honestly admit this, I’d find it admirable. But it gets worse. McCarthy adds this:
To oppose ROTC, as I have since my college days in the 1960s, when my school enticed too many of my classmates into joining, is not to be anti-soldier. I admire those who join armies, whether America’s or the Taliban’s: for their discipline, for their loyalty to their buddies and to their principles, for their sacrifices to be away from home. In recent years, I’ve had several Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans in my college classes. If only the peace movement were as populated by people of such resolve and daring.

ROTC and its warrior ethic taint the intellectual purity of a school, if by purity we mean trying to rise above the foul idea that nations can kill and destroy their way to peace. If a school such as Harvard does sell out to the military, let it at least be honest and add a sign at its Cambridge front portal: Harvard, a Pentagon Annex.

This is a riot of intellectual and moral confusion. First of all, the idea that any of the Ivies currently enjoys something that might be called “intellectual purity” is a compliment unearned (but such flattery will no doubt be eagerly accepted). Second, the notion that intellectualism is somehow at odds with military values or ethics is willfully dishonest (paging VDH!). Since when has “intellectual purity” or intellectualism of any kind been defined by its antipathy to the military? Third, the idea that nations cannot wage war for peace is one of the most easily disproved and transparently silly utopian notions out there. The post-WWII peace was bought with a lot of killing and destroying, not with a seminar.

And, last, there’s this execrable bit of moral equivalence: “To oppose ROTC, as I have since my college days in the 1960s, when my school enticed too many of my classmates into joining, is not to be anti-soldier. I admire those who join armies, whether America’s or the Taliban’s: for their discipline, for their loyalty to their buddies and to their principles, for their sacrifices …”

This is the sort of obtuse even-handedness that drove Orwell crazy. Moreover McCarthy clearly doesn’t even believe it. Of course he’s anti-soldier. He believes they dedicate themselves to a “foul notion.”

Er, no. In America, they dedicate themselves to protecting America, her liberties and her Constitution. The Taliban’s priorities are very different and one cannot wave them away by prattling on about the “discipline” and “loyalty” of Jihadist murderers.



America's slide into Fascism

If much of human action is economic activity, is there then no limit on what the federal government can mandate regarding human behavior? Apparently not, for now we have before us a mandate to purchase a private product, health care insurance, whether we wish to have that product or not. Under the new health care reform act passed by Congress and signed by the President, even economic inactivity is to be labeled an economic decision to be regulated under the Interstate Commerce Clause. If the courts allow this to stand, there is little human action that our federal government could not label as economic and find the authority to control.

The oft-repeated allegations that government intervention in health care and other market exchanges is socialism are off the mark. Socialism, by definition, is a political economy where the government owns and operates the means of production and manages the investment capital needed for economic growth. This definition does not accurately describe the developing economic trend in the United States. A more fitting description is another type of political economy that also relies on a symbiotic relationship between the government and business. This political economy is characterized by a government that pays lip-service to individual market exchange, private business and private property but extensively regulates and controls all economic activity for the “common good.” This is partially accomplished by forming partnerships and/or cartels linking government, business and, often, labor. (Think General Motors and the health care insurance industry.) This type of economy has a different name. It is called fascism.

Put aside for just a moment the visions of goose-stepping soldiers and horrific crimes against humanity, for at its core fascism is a type of political economy which, as was the case in fascist Italy, does not have to feature a landscape dotted with crematoria. As with pure socialism, however, fascism must become more and more authoritarian with harsh penalties for those who don’t comply or who challenge the status quo, for an economy can be controlled only by controlling people.

Be cautioned, without intervention, our government’s ever-expanding definition of economic activity requiring regulation will incrementally direct most human activity until we become mere serfs forced to serve the blossoming cartels springing up like noxious weeds on Uncle Sam’s Estate.



What Is 'American Exceptionalism?'

Most Americans believe in “American Exceptionalism,” even when they have never heard the term. This means that the history of the United States is unlike that of most of the world; we have neither hereditary nobility, king or dictator, nor a state-supported ethnic or religious identity.

One becomes American by birth or by choice (immigrants)—with identical rights. Our constitution is very much alive—changing as conditions in our world change, providing an adaptability very rare in the world. These factors, including two oceans to separate us from the old worlds of Europe and Asia, have kept us unusually safe. We also had a vast continent to settle and a homestead program that provided land ownership to those willing to work for it.

But of late, the term “American Exceptionalism” has been questioned by some who believe that America is not exceptional at all—and that those who think it is are right-wing political bigots. They remind us that our history included slavery, imperialism, the dreadful mistreatment of our Native Americans, and ask how that jibes with “exceptionalism.”

Even President Obama, when asked if he believes in American exceptionalism said yes, just as the French and British believe in their own exceptionalism. And this remark raised the hackles of those who believe that with all our flaws, we have managed to be exceptional in almost every way—including the constant effort to admit and correct our shortcomings.

A fascinating book has just come out that jumps into this fray: Intellectual Curiosity and the Scientific Revolution, by professor Toby E. Huff. This book answers the most basic question: why has the West (Western Europe and its American and Australian offspring) dominated the world for the past four centuries while the other great civilizations declined?

Jared Diamond, in Guns, Germs, and Steel, was asked that question by a New Guinea native who wanted to know why White Men have “cargo” but his people do not. He wanted to know if there was something that White people had that made them superior. Diamond thought a lot about this—and in his book, he showed that geography matters, and those lucky enough to come from places with temperate climate; an east-west axis of travel, trade, and diseases (developing immunities); and the right plants and animals to be domesticated; have more “cargo” (success and wealth).

Now Toby Huff adds to this explanation that the geography, history, legal practices, and religions of Western Civilization from Ancient Greece through the 17th century all provided the basis for the scientific revolution that made the West the great power it has been for the past four centuries.

He compares the intellectual curiosity of the West with the notable but static achievements of the three other great societies of the 17th century: China, India, and the Ottoman Turks. It turned out to be no contest.

Although there were brilliant Chinese, Indian, and Arab scholars, including inventors, their findings never made it into their school systems, which resisted the new knowledge, nor gained the support of their absolute monarchs. Even when the telescope found its way to China and India, it was gladly used—but neither improved nor spawned further inventions.

For a scientific revolution to happen as it did in the west, you would need continent-wide scholars who communicated and shared findings; the printing press and its spread of literacy; a school system that taught the new sciences; and a legal system that protected property and was the basis for economic expansion. None of these institutions thrived in imperial China, Moghul India, or Ottoman Turkey. Chinese schools were hidebound Mandarin, resistant to any changes. The Muslim madrassas taught (and still teach) memorization of the Koran, shunning other subjects. By the 20th century, all three great empires were backwaters.

Europe’s exceptionalism and scientific revolution spread to the United States, where it has gone even further. Huff shows us that this was no fluke, but was the consequence of good institutions and a civilization that supported intellectual curiosity.




Government employees face wrath of strapped taxpayers: "Across the nation, a rising irritation with public employee unions is palpable as a wounded economy has blown gaping holes in state, city, and town budgets and revealed that some public pension funds dangle perilously close to bankruptcy. In California, New York, Michigan, and New Jersey, states where public unions wield much power and the culture historically tends to be pro-labor, even longtime liberal political leaders have demanded concessions -- wage freezes, benefit cuts, and tougher work rules."

Low-cost, private-sector rival puts heat on NASA: "Early last month, a private company called SpaceX launched an unmanned version of its Dragon capsule into orbit, took it for a few spins around Earth, and then brought it home with a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. The total cost -- including design, manufacture, testing and launch of the company's Falcon 9 rocket and the capsule -- was roughly $800 million. In the world of government spaceflight, that's almost a rounding error. And the ability of SpaceX to do so much with so little money is raising some serious questions about NASA."

Air Force doubles manpower for Afghan attacks: "The Air Force has more than doubled the number of airmen in Afghanistan who call in airstrikes, as the use of bombs, missiles and strafing runs has spiked to its highest level since the war began. The Air Force has increased the number of joint terminal attack controllers — the airmen who work with soldiers to coordinate airstrikes — to 134 last year in Afghanistan, up from 53 in 2009, said Maj. Ike Williams, an operations officer at Air Combat Command in Langley, Va."


List of backup or "mirror" sites here or here -- for readers in China or for everyone when blogspot is "down" or failing to update. Email me here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or here (Pictorial) or here (Personal)


The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)


No comments: