Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Jobs/Apple religion

It had a lot in common with Leftism and Environmentalism: It allowed undistinguished people to feel superior. But it was much preferable to Leftism and Environmentalism. I much prefer Steve Jobs to Al Gore or Barack Obama. Jobs DID create things while Gore is just a fat parasite and Obama is just a numbskull with a nice voice and a dark skin -- JR

By Wesley Pruden

Steve Jobs was a genius. No one could doubt that. His genius lay not in technology, as most of the obituaries and eulogies reckoned, but as master of hype, hope and marketing.

He was the secular prophet for the secular age, preaching the gospel of the technology that offers salvation, but only a salvation of better and more beautiful machines. The only higher power he believed in lies hidden somewhere in the power of more RAM, more powerful chips and in the perfectibility of an earthly operating system.

Atheist he may have been (though no one knows what he thought in the moments just before he slipped quietly into the awful and infinite mystery of death), but the mystique of Apple, which he never quit trying to perfect and extend, had all the trappings of religious faith for a secular age.

He thought about faith a lot. Shortly after he was diagnosed with a rare form of pancreatic cancer in 2003, he was invited to give the commencement address at Stanford. Mortality was much on his mind, as such thoughts naturally are for an ailing serious man. "No one wants to die," he told the students assembled on the lawn at Palo Alto. "Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It's life's change agent, it clears out the old to make way for the new."

This was not new stuff, not even from the oracle of the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad. Socrates and Buddha said it better. But when he died at 56, the full force and appeal of an organized religion spread across the land. Thousands of iPod and iPad owners descended on Apple stores to turn them into sidewalk shrines and temples. Many dropped to their knees, some folding their hands in the universal pose of supplication to the heavens, to offer prayers to . . . well, it wasn't quite clear to whom. Perhaps to an unseen motherboard.

Wondrous as Mr. Jobs' machines are, there's an arrogance about Apple that turns infidels -- the unfortunate skeptics armed only with a PC from Dell or Sony -- into puzzled seekers, like curious Christians trying to plumb the violent contradictions of the Koran.

A customer puts down his $500 for an iPad and the only instructions he gets is the assurance that "it's intuitive, you'll understand how to use it." Nobody gets an owner's manual, and unless the customer has been using one of the wondrous machines that preceded his iPad -- someone who already knows the rituals of the tribe, the secret handshakes, the words to the strange hymns, the baptismal rites -- he'll want to throw his new toy into the street to be punished under the wheels of traffic. Only slowly, like a Mason suffering through 33 degrees, does Mr. Jobs' wondrous machine reveal its riches.

Nevertheless, it's difficult to argue with success, and Steve Jobs won his success the hard way, by giving his vision its working clothes and protecting it from the hewers of wood and chippers of stone who couldn't understand what Mr. Jobs was talking about when he described the destination of his machines as "the place where technology meets art."

He recognized the Internet for what it is, an "amazingly efficient distribution system for stolen property," and figured out how to exploit it all with the personal computer and the machines that flowed afterward from his amazing imagination.

He was the ultimate capitalist, driven to get all the profits that his imagination, vision and business smarts entitled him to, but his legacy to the corporate world is limited. Without the vision, the value even of hard work is limited. He was contemptuous of the toys of the mind so precious to the graduate of the business school.

He regarded consultants and focus groups as well-meaning wastes of time and money. Or worse. "We figure out what we want," he told Rolling Stone in 2003. "And I think we're pretty good at having the right discipline to think through whether a lot of other people are going to want it, too. That's what we get paid to do. So you can't go out and ask people what's the next big thing."

He was fond of recalling Henry Ford's story of inventing the automobile: "If I'd have asked my customers what they wanted, they would have told me 'a faster horse.'" He understood, and exploited, the moral of the story.



A Leftist Creation Myth

Governments are worse than no good at “creating jobs.”

A week before President Barack Obama was scheduled to deliver yet another big-think proposal to Get America Working Again, reality intervened with a well-timed smack upside the head: Solyndra, a California solar panel company, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Back in May 2010, as part of the run-up to what the administration was then touting as “Recovery Summer,” Obama used Solyndra as a poster child for both the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and his long-stated promise to create millions of “green jobs.” During a visit to the company’s factory in Fremont, he declared: “We invested…in clean energy because not only would this spur hiring by businesses but it creates jobs in sectors with incredible potential to propel our economy for years, for decades to come. And we can see the positive impacts right here at Solyndra. Less than a year ago, we were standing on what was an empty lot, but through the Recovery Act, this company received a loan to expand its operations. This new factory is the result of those loans. Since ground was broken last fall, more than 3,000 construction workers have been employed building this plant.…When it’s completed in a few months, Solyndra expects to hire 1,000 workers to manufacture solar panels and sell them across the country and around the world. And this in turn will generate business for companies around our country who will create jobs supplying this factory with parts and materials.”

Or not. Solyndra’s $535 million failure was not an unlucky one-off. According to Environmental Protection Agency numbers cited by Investor’s Business Daily in August, the Recovery Act’s $7.2 billion in “clean tech” money had “created or retained” a pathetic 7,140 jobs, at a cost of about $1 million each. According to the Department of Energy’s inspector general, one reason for this paltry payoff is the wage and regulatory provisions of the Davis-Bacon Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Buy American Act.

In sum: The government scooped up hundreds of billions from taxpayers, redistributed it in the name of creating jobs, then attached a series of requirements that made job creation much more expensive and therefore unlikely. The predictably miserable results (go to and conduct searches on “green jobs” and “multiplier” to see just how predictable they were) should have, but did not, shame a broad swath of the political class into a long-overdue facing of facts: Governments the world over are worse than no good at “creating jobs.”

That much is clear when we compare the job creationists’ rhetoric to their results. Every day on the campaign trail, then-candidate Obama promised to create 5 million “green jobs” during the next 10 years. In January 2009, the White House predicted that the stimulus it was finalizing would create up to 4.1 million jobs. (In a depressing bit of symmetry, the economy ended up losing 4.7 million nonfarm payroll jobs in 2009, according the Bureau of Labor Statistics, representing the greatest rate of decline since 1945.)

In February 2010, then–House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) vowed that the soon-to-pass Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act would “create 4 million jobs, 400,000 jobs almost immediately.” The last time Washington, D.C., was in a frenzy to “create jobs,” while passing an already-forgotten jobs bill in the summer of 2010, Pelosi promised this latest dollop of $26 billion would create or save 300,000 more.

And these are just the job-focused bills. The general idea of using government spending to stimulate aggregate demand, particularly during economic down times, ruled official Washington for a solid decade, starting with George W. Bush’s inauguration and ending last summer with the Tea Party–influenced debt ceiling deal, which marked the first time in recent memory elected officials stood athwart spending and yelled “stop!” The results of this Keynesian stimulus (and anti-Keynesian profligate spending during good times) should speak for themselves: Fewer able-bodied Americans are employed as a percentage of the potential work force than at any time since 1983.

Such persistence in the face of repeated failure suggests that some powerful myths continue to hold sway among politicians and many of the people they represent. Among the most stubborn of these is the notion that passing a bill to fix a problem is the same as actually fixing the problem. This assumption—which reaches its illogical conclusion during times of national panic, when do-something busybodies like Michael Bloomberg will say that it doesn’t matter what Washington does, it just needs to do something—is oblivious to the law of unintended consequences, to the reality of corporatist lobbying, and to the limitations of government power.

The 2010 Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, passed in the name of ending “too big to fail,” actually paved the way for the next round of financial bailouts. Obama-Care, supposedly rammed down the throats of health care “special interests,” was actually rammed down the throats of Americans at the behest of those special interests. The Troubled Assets Relief Program, sold by then-President George W. Bush as a way to prevent bank failures, stock market losses, housing devaluations, home foreclosures, credit tightness, business failure, job losses, and recession, failed utterly at preventing anything on that list.

A curious flip side to the myth of government omnipotence is near-complete incuriosity about government side effects. That is, people remain convinced that the state can and should look a problem squarely in the eye and fix it, but they are rarely moved by daily examples of the harm caused by earlier fixes.

Just before Solyndra announced its bankruptcy, armed federal agents stormed three factories and the corporate headquarters of the Gibson Guitar Corporation, seizing guitars and raw materials, forcing employees out into the street, and shutting down production for a day. Why? Because of a century-old law called the Lacey Act, which prohibits the import of wildlife and plant products that were obtained illegally overseas. India, where some of Gibson’s raw materials originate, bans the export of unfinished wood.

Overzealous enforcement of job-killing laws is the rule, not the exception, under Obama. His Department of Justice has shown much more enthusiasm than his predecessor’s in conducting workplace raids to enforce immigration, drug, and even milk pasteurization laws. Politicians and the public support such relentless meddling without pausing much to consider the deleterious effects on employment. As I write, the California Senate is on the verge of passing a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights that would, among many other onerous things, require parents to provide nannies with breaks every two hours and fill out ridiculously complicated time cards for the government to peruse.

In a sense, every bill is a jobs bill, except for the ones labeled as such. Every business regulation, every intrusion between employer and employee, dampens the incentives to create more jobs. Sucking up tax money and spitting it out at politically chosen recipients is another net drag on the economy.

‘Jobs’ are deals between workers and employers, and so ‘creating’ them out of unwilling parties is impossible. The state, though, can outlaw deals, and has.”

Until that insight sinks in, it will be a long time before America gets back to work.



Obama’s Solyndra Talking Cure Fails

The scandal over Solyndra, a Fremont, California-based maker of tube-shaped solar panels, has only gotten worse since President Barack Obama tried to defend his command-economy principles to a polite press corps last week. Shortly after Obama's lackluster press conference on Thursday, Jonathan Silver, administrator of the Department of Energy’s loan guarantee program, announced he was leaving his powerful and prestigious federal government job for the opportunity to become a “distinguished visiting fellow” at the Third Way think tank.

Human sacrifice is the food of politics, so career crashes like these are to be expected. Note that Silver has now been sacrificed twice—first in having to testify over a loan that was made two months before he took office, and now as the preliminary to Chu’s highly probable departure.

But Solyndra has been remarkably lethal for a hubbub that only surfaced because House Republicans made an issue of it. Whether you believe Americans are not interested in Solyndra, have not heard enough about it from the establishment media, or are too smart to be fooled by a “faux scandal,” one thing stands out: Like the originally marginal Occupy Wall Street movement, Solyndra keeps getting bigger the more it is belittled.

It also continues to generate side troubles. Human Events' Neil W. McCabe reported Wednesday on another green energy company with close ties to Golden State Democrats that has lately come into a big federal loan. You may not share McCabe's judgment that San Jose-based SunPower will be "twice as bad" as Solyndra or his confidence that the company is doomed. But the drumbeat of publicly funded green-job disappointments is turning what had been the president's signature industrial policy into a grinding, extended walk of shame.

As the bad news continues to pile up, Obama is consistent in his notion that it's possible to make the problem go away with sugary words. At his press conference last week, the president gave his most complete response on Solyndra to date, but the responses were nothing new

Obama’s speech misfired in other ways. His jingoistic jabs at Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Florida), who heads up oversight for the Energy Committee, set Stearns up for an obvious rejoinder.

“If President Obama believes that we should borrow billions of dollars from China to subsidize American businesses trying to compete with China then he doesn’t understand this country’s economic system,” Stearns said in a statement. “We should not be picking winners and losers, which is a fundamental flaw in his stimulus scheme.”

Obama also tried to create distance between himself and the company by saying the loan guarantee program “predates” him. This is unlikely to stick given Obama’s famous photo opp at Solyndra’s swanky headquarters and the Bush Administration’s decision to pass on the company’s loan application.

This was the special weakness of Obama’s explanation. In nearly 1,300 words [pdf] he barely went beyond the widely ridiculed couple of sentences he muttered in an earlier Good Morning America appearance. The content merely reiterated a month’s worth of unsuccessful efforts to blame Bush, China, and capitalism. If he thinks creatively enough, Obama might find some new targets: The recent revelation of how much money California green energy companies have managed to grab from the loan program at least holds out the possibility of claiming it was all Prop 13’s fault. But the stubborn fact remains that the Nobel-winning president’s Nobel-winning energy secretary chose to throw $528 million at a company closely tied to one of his billionaire campaign donors.

If that were the sum of the troubles—or if Obama had launched this charm offensive a month ago—the cloud might have passed with only a loss of a few kW in output. But the president has been relentlessly evasive. He has deployed his police in a manner that obstructs the Congress in its own investigation. He ignored his own staffers who doubted both the viability of the company and the public relations “optics” of an abundantly photographed presidential visit to Solyndra last year. Prior to the company’s implosion, the president’s Energy Department was on track to lend it another $469 million, and his minions showed an outrageously cavalier attitude toward the stewardship of your tax money.

In a perverse way, Obama might be better off if the second loan of $469 million had gone through. At a billion dollars the Solyndra loss might have become just another unfathomable statistic to a nation already dazed by the many trillions that have been wasted in the past few years. But when it’s half a billion, you can almost get your mind around it. Solyndra continues to grow as a scandal not because the stakes are high but because they are revealing. It will also continue to radiate political obstructions to whatever Obama's agenda is these days.



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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)


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