Friday, November 22, 2013

The War Against Achievement

Thomas Sowell

A friend recently sent me a link to an inspiring video about an upbeat young black man who was born without arms. It showed him going to work -- unlike the record number of people living on government payments for "disabilities" that are far less serious, if not fictitious.

How is this young man getting to work? He gets into his car and drives there -- using controls set up so that he can operate the car with his feet.

What kind of work does he do, and how does he do it? He is involved in the design of racing cars. He sits at his computer, looking at the screen, with the keyboard on the floor, where he uses his toes as others use their fingers.

His story recalls the story of Helen Keller, who went to an elite college and on to a career, despite being both deaf and blind. Her story was celebrated in books, in television documentaries and in an inspiring movie, "The Miracle Worker."

But our culture has changed so much over the years that the young man with no arms is unlikely to get comparable publicity. Helen Keller's achievement was seen as an inspiration for others, but this young man's achievement is more like a threat to the prevailing ideology of our times.

The vision on which the all-encompassing and all-controlling welfare state was built is a vision of widespread helplessness, requiring ever more expanding big government. Our "compassionate" statists would probably have wanted to take this young man without arms, early on, and put him in some government institution.

But to celebrate him in the mainstream media today would undermine a whole ideological vision of the world -- and of the vast government bureaucracies built on that vision. It might even cause people to think twice about giving money to able-bodied men who are standing on street corners, begging.

The last thing the political left needs, or can even afford, are self-reliant individuals. If such people became the norm, that would destroy not only the agenda and the careers of those on the left, but even their flattering image of themselves as saviors of the less fortunate.

Victimhood is where it's at. If there are not enough real victims, then fictitious victims must be created -- as with the claim that there is "a war on women." Why anyone would have an incentive or a motivation to create a war on women in the first place is just one of the questions that should be asked of those who promote this political slogan, obviously designed for the gullible.

The real war -- which is being waged in our schools, in the media and among the intelligentsia -- is the war on achievement. When President Obama told business owners, "You didn't build that!" this was just one passing skirmish in the war on achievement.

The very word "achievement" has been replaced by the word "privilege" in many writings of our times. Individuals or groups that have achieved more than others are called "privileged" individuals or groups, who are to be resented rather than emulated.

The length to which this kind of thinking -- or lack of thinking -- can be carried was shown in a report on various ethnic groups in Toronto. It said that people of Japanese ancestry in that city were the most "privileged" group there, because they had the highest average income.

What made this claim of "privilege" grotesque was a history of anti-Japanese discrimination in Canada, climaxed by people of Japanese ancestry being interned during World War II longer than Japanese Americans.

If the concept of achievement threatens the prevailing ideology, the reality of achievement despite having obstacles to overcome is a deadly threat. That is why the achievements of Asians in general -- and of people like the young black man with no arms -- make those on the left uneasy. And why the achievements of people who created their own businesses have to be undermined by the President of the United States.

What would happen if Americans in general, or blacks in particular, started celebrating people like this armless young man, instead of trying to make heroes out of hoodlums? Many of us would find that promising and inspiring. But it would be a political disaster for the left -- which is why it is not likely to happen.



DC Walmart More Selective than Harvard

The District of Columbia's first Walmart store has received over 23,000 job applications for only 600 jobs, Business Insider reported on Tuesday. That means that one out of every 38 applicants will be offered a position with the store, or about 2.6 percent. Harvard University, one of the most selective colleges in the United States, has an acceptance rate of 6.1 percent.

DC's first Walmart almost didn't happen. The D.C. Council had proposed a "living wage" bill that would require a minimum wage of $12.50 per hour for all "large" retailers with annual corporate sales that exceed $1 billion. This would have effectively shut out Walmart from the city. The bill was vetoed by D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and minimum wage in the city remains at $8.50.

While Walmart is maligned by critics, many fail to realize that for many associates, Walmart is the only place they would be able to actually be employed. Having a job—any job—is better than having no job, which 23,000 DC residents were quick to realize. While your average D.C. Council member may sneer at the thought of working at a Walmart, it may in fact be the best option for someone with a very limited skill set. The vast majority of Walmart associates aren't exactly turning down jobs left and right to work at Walmart.

While it's a sad reminder of how disastrous employment statistics are today to see over 23,000 people apply for 600 jobs, it's fortunate overall that these jobs were even able to come to DC in the first place.



War on the Little Guy

John Stossel

Marty the Magician performed magic tricks for kids, including the traditional rabbit-out-of-a-hat. Then one day: "I was signing autographs and taking pictures with children and their parents," he told me. "Suddenly, a badge was thrown into the mix, and an inspector said, 'Let me see your license.'"

In "Harry Potter" books, a creepy Ministry of Magic controls young wizards. Now in the USA, government regulates stage magicians -- one of the countless ways it makes life harder for the little guy.

Marty's torment didn't end with a demand for his license. "She said, from now on, you cannot use your rabbit until you fill out paperwork, pay the $40 license fee. We'll have to inspect your home."

Ten times since, regulators showed up unannounced at Marty's house. At one point, an inspector he hadn't seen before appeared. He hoped things had changed for the better.

"I got a new inspector and I said, oh, did my first one retire? She said, 'No, good news! We've increased our budget and we have more inspectors now. So we'll be able to visit you more often.'"

Here are your tax dollars at work.

The inspectors told Marty that the Animal Welfare Act required him to file paperwork demonstrating that he had "a comprehensive written disaster plan detailing everything I would do with my rabbit in the event of a fire, a flood, a tornado, an ice storm."

The federal forms list "common emergencies likely to happen to your facility ... not necessarily limited to: structural fire, electrical outage, disruption in clean water or feed supply, disruption in access to facility (e.g., road closures), intentional attack on the facilities ... earthquake, landslide/mudslide/avalanche ... "

Sadly, this Kafkaesque enforcement of petty rules is not a bizarre exception.

Some regulation is useful. But when we passively accept government regulation of everything, thinking we're protecting people from evil corporations run amok, we're really making life harder for ordinary people. Every profession, from cab driving to floral arrangement, is now burdened with complex rules.

You can't even give tours of Washington, D.C., the city that produces most of these insane rules, without getting a special license. Tour guides must pay about $200 for criminal background checks, provide four personal references, show passport photos and pass a written test -- a difficult one.

People who reflexively defend government may feel no pity for businesses that face extra costs: Let businesses pay fees and take tests -- we don't want unlicensed tour guides describing famous statues incorrectly! But these costs add up. Often, they make a small, barely profitable business impossible to operate. These rules also violate Americans' right to free speech. They are unnecessary. If tour guides are no good, people can patronize others. The government doesn't need to be gatekeeper.

These rules generally prevail because existing businesses are politically connected. They capture licensing boards and use license rules to crush competition from businesses just getting started.

In some places, you can't open a business like a limo service or moving van company unless you can prove that your business is needed and won't undermine existing businesses in the same field.

But undermining competition is the whole idea. If Starbucks or Home Depot had to prove new coffee shops and hardware stores were "needed," we wouldn't have those companies. Apparently they were needed, since these companies thrived, but no one could have "proven" that beforehand.

Jeff Rowes, an attorney at the Institute for Justice, a civil liberties group that defends many people caught up in regulatory cases, says, "America was conceived as a sea of liberty with islands of government power. We're now a sea of government power with ever-shrinking islands of liberty."

The little guys don't have an army of lawyers to defend those islands of liberty one regulatory battle at a time. We should get rid of most of these regulations -- and sail back, together, to a free country



The Writing Is on the Wall

It has been obvious for some time that ObamaCare is full of lies, and that one of the primary lies was this: "You can keep your plan. Period." Barack Obama "apologized" for this "misstatement," while other Democrats are torn between arguing Obama said nothing wrong and asserting that they knew all along that you couldn't keep your plan.

The latter group is far closer to the truth. Former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy unearthed a brief filed by the Justice Department in Priests for Life v HHS that acknowledges and argues for regulations that would cancel millions of insurance plans: "Even under the grandfathering provision, it is projected that more group health plans will transition to the requirements under the regulations as time goes on. Defendants [the government] have estimated that a majority of group health plans will have lost their grandfather status by the end of 2013."

As for Obama's "fix" -- allowing state insurance commissioners to decide whether insurance companies in their state can extend cancelled policies through next year's elections -- it quickly turned from illegal farce to unwanted flop. Insurance commissioners in Washington, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont and Minnesota (all blue states) have already declined to participate; more will undoubtedly follow. Georgia's commissioner called it a "political stunt," but promised to do everything he can to help Georgians kicked off their plans.

Meanwhile, user data at remains at "critical risk," according to congressional testimony from an IT expert Tuesday. An inspector general report warned over the summer about the lack of security testing, and, in August, 14 attorneys general demanded a delay of the launch in order to address security issues. Evidently the site is no better seven weeks after its launch, but the administration continues to offer nothing but Jedi mind tricks: "This is not the security vulnerability you're looking for."

Worse, Henry Chao, the deputy chief information officer for Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), estimates that 30% of the website still hasn't been built. And that includes the payment system, which brings up another question: If people can't pay, is anyone actually enrolled? Political considerations alone pushed HHS to proceed with the Oct. 1 rollout, but they badly miscalculated because ObamaCare will continue to fail and it will continue to bring Democrats down.

It wasn't long ago that Obama was bragging that when opponents saw how well the "Affordable" Care Act worked, they'd quit calling it "ObamaCare." After its calamitous rollout, however, it's Democrats who are quietly dropping the term. The word is disappearing from and Democrats' websites, as well as from TV talking points and speeches. Nancy Pelosi even corrected David Gregory for using the term on NBC. But Democrats can't erase the term "ObamaCare" completely; it is the writing on the wall.



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