Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Is Liberalism Lazy and Immoral?

The best advocates are often converts. So it is with Arthur C. Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute.

Brooks has an important forthcoming book, "The Road to Freedom," which I'll discuss in a minute, but it's worth pausing over the unusual career of Brooks himself because it says much about happiness, free enterprise and the unique American spirit that Brooks has spent the last decade attempting to save.

The son of two liberal college professors, Brooks writes that when he was growing up in Seattle, "No one in my world voted for Ronald Reagan. I had no friends or family who worked in business. I believed what most everybody in my world assumed to be true: that capitalism was a bit of a sham to benefit rich people, and the best way to get a better, fairer country was to raise taxes, increase government services, and redistribute more income."

Brooks became a professional musician, playing the French horn with the Annapolis Brass Quintet and with the Barcelona City Orchestra. He also taught music. But a musical career didn't fulfill him. "I (had) what some considered the best job possible, yet was unhappy. ... My friends in the orchestra thrived on what they were doing. ... They spent their vacations at classical music conventions and heatedly discussed the most esoteric details of the lacquer on their instruments..."

Like most Americans, Brooks wanted more from his career than a paycheck. He wanted to derive a deeper satisfaction. Because he had skipped college to "go pro," he began taking courses at night, eventually pocketing bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees in social science.

By valuing work so highly that he was willing to diligently study music and then even more sedulously to master social science, Brooks was living out America's promise of the "pursuit of happiness."

In his new book, Brooks argues that it is part of the American character to value work. "Americans work 50 percent more than the Italians, the French, and even the Germans." Why? Cosseted socialists in Europe would say it's because we're terrified of losing our jobs. But Brooks points to research showing that the more hours Americans work, the happier they report themselves to be. Only 11 percent of Americans say they wish they could spend a lot less time on their jobs.

The American work ethic can be eroded though and will be, Brooks argues, by an expanding welfare state. It isn't just that people who believe life to be unfair demand that governments "equalize" outcomes. It's that once governments undertake to equalize things, people begin to believe that success is more a matter of luck than hard work. A 2005 study of 29 countries found that where taxes are high and wealth is redistributed through social programs, people are much more likely to believe that success is a result of luck.

When government confiscates from some to give to others, the givers are affected. Or maybe they start out that way. Redistributionists are a lot less charitable than free marketeers. A 1996 study found that people who disagreed that "government has a responsibility to reduce income inequality," gave four times as much to charity as those who agreed. And those who disagreed "strongly," gave 11 times as much.

Charity aids the giver as well as the recipient. Teenagers who volunteered their time were far less likely 5 years later to report serious life problems than those who didn't volunteer. Americans who donate to charities (time or money) are 43 percent more likely to describe themselves as happy compared with those who don't. When the state expands and soaks up more and more of the helping opportunities for those in need, it creates "learned helplessness" among the needy and deprives others of the improving possibilities of charity and service.

Americans remain, for now, an aspirational people, less seduced by the politics of envy than Europeans. But with every passing day, that spirit is being sapped by the government behemoth. Brooks relates a telling anecdote from the singer Bono.

"Ireland has a very different attitude to success than a lot of places...In the United States, you look ... in the mansion on hill, and you think ... one day, if I work really hard, I could live in that mansion. In Ireland, people look ... in the mansion on hill and go, one day, I'm going to get that bastard."

That's the spirit of the Democratic Party. It's the mode of President Obama's demonization of "millionaires and billionaires." If successful, Brooks warns, it will smother the greatest engine for prosperity -- especially for the poor -- in human history.



The Myth of "Middle-Class" Uncle Joe

Michelle Malkin

This has got to be the bazooka of all Joe Biden blowhardisms. The nation's vice campaigner in chief went on the attack against Republicans this week, clad in full populist armor. "These guys don't have a sense of the average folks out there," said The Everyman. "They don't know what it means to be middle class." But who was his audience?

Nope, not blue-collar workers in Allentown, Pa. Biden was speaking to an exclusive club of $10,000-per-couple campaign donors gathered at the home of the Senate's $200 million man, Democratic Mass. Sen. John Kerry, in Georgetown, D.C.

That's smack dab in the middle of Beltway America, where they like a twist of cognitive dissonance with their aperitifs.
The White House is once again drawing on the fantastical myth of middle-class Joe to portray Republicans as out-of-touch elitists. A Washington Post headline described Biden "digging back into his roots to move Obama forward." But the administration's leading populist poster child is a wretched symbol of entrenched Washington power. And his fables are getting oldy-moldy.

At another campaign event in Ohio, Regular Joe rolled up his sleeves and pumped out the common-man colloquialisms. "It's good to have a dad in the automobile business, man," he said. Yeah, man. Preach it, man. Oh, hey, weren't you the man who savaged average-guy Joe "the Plumber" Wurzelbacher in Ohio four years ago by lying about his income and mocking his American dream to own a small business? Man.

While Biden's family came from humble beginnings, the wheeler-dealer politician and his family (including two lobbyist sons) have reaped the benefits of public office for nearly a half-century. The entrenched senior senator from Delaware amassed wealthy donors and crooked cronies over six Senate terms. These are some of the stories, reported in my book "Culture of Corruption," that have been whitewashed out of the loquacious veep's campaign folklore:

--Biden's custom-built house in Delaware's ritziest Chateau Country neighborhood, assessed at $2.5 million four years ago, is the Bidens' most valuable asset. He secured the estate with the help of a corporate executive who worked for Biden's top campaign donor, credit card giant MBNA. In 1996, Biden sold his previous mansion to MBNA Vice Chairman John Cochran. The asking price was $1.2 million. Cochran forked over the full sum. Biden then paid $350,000 in cash to real estate developer Keith Stoltz for a 4.2-acre lakefront lot. Stoltz had paid that same amount five years earlier for the undeveloped property.

--Among Pal Joey's dearest old pals: campaign finance "rainmaker" William Oldaker, who showered generous benefits on both the elder Biden and his lobbyist son, Hunter; Baltimore-based Peter Angelos, whose law firm gave Biden $156,250; Wilmington-based Young Conaway Stargatt and Taylor, which kicked in $127, 979; and Pachulski Stang Zielhl and Jones, which donated $145,625, according to The American Lawyer.

--Disgraced trial lawyer Richard Scruggs donated $11,500 to Biden in 2008. After Scruggs was convicted of attempting to bribe a federal judge, Biden tried to show his ethical bona fides by donating the money to a worthy charity. But Biden couldn't steer clear of nepotism. The money ended up with the National Prostate Cancer Coalition -- a charity where, The American Lawyer pointed out, Biden's son Hunter sits on the board of directors.

--Another Biden family pal in the trial lawyers' community: Jeff Cooper. With his partner, John Simmons, the 39-year-old Cooper built one of the biggest asbestos litigation firms in the country. SimmonsCooper, based in Madison County, Ill., has donated a whopping $196,050 to Biden's campaigns since 2003, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics in Washington, D.C. In that same time frame, the firm poured $6.5 million into lobbying against a key tort reform bill -- which Sen. Biden worked hard to defeat. Without a hint of irony, Cooper extolled Biden's anti-tort reform stance: "He understands the plight of the little guy and is against huge corporate interest." But what Biden did was help fuel lucrative business for the tort bar. When courts in SimmonsCooper's home base in Illinois finally started cracking down on what had become "America's No. 1 judicial hellhole" for filing out-of-control tort claims, the firm turned East. And in Joe Biden's Delaware, they created a new sanctuary.

Back on Obama 2012 Fantasy Island, Biden insists on marketing himself as the humble "son of an automobile man." Give him this: He spins like a used-car salesman. His lot's full of lemons. And "bamboozle" is his middle name.



Exodus: California Tax Revenue Plunges by 22%

State Controller John Chaing continues to uphold the California Great Seal Motto of “Eureka”, i.e., 'I have found it'. But what Chaing is finding as Controller is that California’s economy as measured by tax revenues is still tanking. Compared to last year, State tax collections for February shriveled by $1.2 billion or 22%. The deterioration is more than double the shocking $535 million reported decline for last month. The cumulative fiscal year decline is $6.1 billion or down 11% versus this period in 2011.

While California Governor Brown promises strong economic growth is just around the corner, Chaing proves that the best way for Sacramento politicians to hurt the economy and thereby generate lower tax revenue, is to have the highest tax rates in the nation.

California politicians seem delusional in their continued delusion that high taxes have not savaged the State’s economy. Each month’s disappointment is written off as due to some one-time event.

The State Controller’s office did acknowledge that higher than normal tax refunds for February might have reduced the collection of some personal income taxes. Given that 2012 has an extra day in February for leap year, there might have been one day more of tax refunds sent out. But the Controller’s report shows personal income tax collections fell by $325 million, or 16% versus last year. Furthermore, leap year would have added another day for retail sales and use tax collection, but those revenues also fell during February-by an even larger $813 million, 25% decline from 2011.

The more likely reason tax collections continue falling is that businesses and successful people are leaving California for the better tax rates available in more pro-business states.

Derisively referred to as “Taxifornia” by the independent Pacific Research Institute, California wins the booby prize for the highest personal income taxes in the nation and higher sales tax rates than all but four other states. Though Californians benefit from Proposition 13 restrictions on how much their property tax can increase in one year, the state still has the worst state tax burden in the U.S.

Spectrum Locations Consultants recorded 254 California companies moved some or all of their work and jobs out of state in 2011, 26% more than in 2010 and five times as many as in 2009. According SLC President, Joe Vranich: the “top ten reasons companies are leaving California: 1) Poor rankings in surveys 2) More adversarial toward business 3) Uncontrollable public spending 4) Unfriendly business climate 5) Provable savings elsewhere 6) Most expensive business locations 7) Unfriendly legal environment for business 8) Worst regulatory burden 9) Severe tax treatment 10) Unprecedented energy costs.

Vranich considers California the worst state in the nation to locate a business and Los Angeles is considered the worst city to start a business. Leaving Los Angeles for another surrounding county can save businesses 20% of costs. Leaving the state for Texas can save up to 40% of costs. This probably explains why California lost 120,000 jobs last year and Texas gained 130,000 jobs.

California Governor Jerry Brown’s answer to the State’s failing economy and crumbling tax revenue is to place a $6 billion tax increase initiative on the ballot to support K-12 public schools. He promises to only “temporarily” raise personal income rates by 25% on any of the rich folk who haven’t already left.

Recent statewide poll show that support for the measure has fallen from 72% to 52% of likely voters since January. Democrats favor the tax increase by 71%, while Republicans are opposed it by 65%. But independent voter support is now down to only 49% favoring versus 41% opposed as these swing voters begin to learn the initiative also raises their sales taxes, and the initiative will also be available to fund public safety realignment and freeing up dollars for "other spending commitments."

According to Chaing, California has plenty of “other spending commitments”: “The State ended last fiscal year with a cash deficit of $8.2 billion. The combined current-year cash deficit stands at $21.6 billion. Those deficits are being covered with $15.2 billion of internal borrowing (temporary loans from special funds) and $6.4 billion of external borrowing.”

When it comes to bankrupt California politics, the Great Seal provides some good laughs. It was designed by U.S. Army Major Robert S. Garnett, who became the first general to die in the Civil War. The grizzly bear appears on the Seal to represent strength, but the last grizzly was shot 90 years ago. The miner using his sluice box dredge represents golden opportunity, but such mining became a crime as of August of 2009. Sadly, the five ships that once represented the state’s economic power now represent the relocation companies taking that power away.




Larger markets make us fairer to each other: "There's a rather odd idea common among lefty and greenish types about markets and their scale. Partially based on the ideas of Karl Polanyi, the thought is that if we restrict our trade, the market we deal in, to those we know and with whom we have a web of mutual obligations then somehow everything will be fairer. More lovely even. The problem with this is that, well, it just doesn't seem to be true ..."

NH: House to vote on rescinding homosexual marriage: "The House is voting this week whether to repeal New Hampshire’s gay marriage law and replace it with the civil unions law the state had in effect in 2008 and 2009. State Rep. David Bates, a Windham Republican, says his proposal would repeal gay marriage effective March 31, 2013, and replace it with civil unions. He said if voters decide in a nonbinding vote in November they want to keep civil unions for homosexuals, gay marriage would be repealed. He said if voters object to repealing gay marriage, lawmakers would have time to stop the repeal from taking effect."

Germany: Anti-Communist pastor elected president: "Joachim Gauck, a pastor-turned-dissident in the former East Germany, was elected Germany's head of state on Sunday, ending a political drama that nearly split Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-right coalition government. The 72-year-old Mr. Gauck, an outspoken advocate of civil rights and personal liberty, was elected as Germany's federal president by an overwhelming majority in the Federal Convention, a special assembly of German lawmakers and representatives of the country's 16 states"

There is a new lot of postings by Chris Brand just up -- on his usual vastly "incorrect" themes of race, genes, IQ etc.


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