Saturday, January 19, 2013

The birthday of Robert E. Lee today

Who led the heroic resistance to the racist and Fascist Lincoln, who sacrificed 600,000 American lives to his love of   power

Paul Greenberg offers a restrained comment below:

They introduce themselves politely in restaurants or diners, in a movie lobby or at some civic event, even in front of the Little Rock gate in Atlanta, which has become a kind of Arkansas crossroads. ("You don't know me, but . . .") Then they thank me for remembering Robert E. Lee every January 19th with a column on his birthday.

They don't tarry, and I may never see them again. Then they fade away, much like the Army of Northern Virginia (R.E. Lee, General). They have a look about them, or rather a manner. They come in different shapes and sizes, but they all have the same, diffident way about them -- as if they were used to dealing with people as persons, rather than en masse as customers or readers or voters or some other impersonal category. They know how to visit with others. It's a Southern thing, no matter where it happens.

Let's just say they have a shared understanding. They may be older, genteel white ladies or young military cadets. Sometimes they're aging black men, usually with roots in the Deep South, who mention that they had a grandfather or great-uncle named Robert E. Lee Johnson or Robert E. Lee Wilson, much like their white counterparts. Whatever the differences in their appearance, they share a distinctive quality that is never imposing but very much there.

Sometimes they'll let you know they don't make a habit of this sort of thing, that they're not interested in reliving the past or anything like that. They're the furthest thing from the bane of such discussions in these latitudes, the professional Southerner. ("I'm no Civil War buff or big Confederate or anything -- I do well to tell Gettysburg from Vicksburg -- but I just wanted to say . . .")

They're never intrusive. Indeed, they are concise almost to the point of being curt for Southerners, a voluble breed. It's clear they wish to make no display. It's as if they just wanted to . . . enroll. To go on record, that's all, and leave it at that. They know The War is over and, like Lee, they would let it be over.

The quality they have in common may be deference -- not only to others, and certainly not to the general himself, for deference would not in any way approach their feeling on that subject, but a deference to the human experience, with all its defeats and losses. Maybe that is why so many of them are middle-aged or older, as if they had encountered some defeats and losses of their own -- losses and defeats that can never be erased, that will always be a part of them, but that they carry almost with grace. The pain will always be there, but now it is covered by forbearance. They have learned that there are certain hurts that, in order to be overcome, must be gone through. Continually. Till it is part of their ongoing character.

The name for the kind of deference they exude, unmistakable for anything else, a deference to fact and to sacrifice, is maturity. They have discovered that duty is not only burden and obligation but deliverance. They would never claim to understand Lee, and they certainly would not presume to praise him overtly. They just want to indicate how they feel about the General, to let us know the bond is shared, and go on. For where Lee is concerned, there is a silence, a diffidence, that says more than words can. Or as Aristotle said of Plato, there are some men "whom it is blasphemy even to praise."

Ever hear a couple of Southerners just passing the time, perhaps in some petty political quarrel, for we can be a quarrelsome lot, when the name Lee is injected into the argument? The air is stilled. Suddenly both feel ashamed of themselves. For there are some names that shame rhetoric, and when we use them for effect, the cheapness of it, the tinniness of it, can be heard at once, like tinkling brass. And we fall silent, rightly rebuked by our better selves.

To invoke such a presence, to feel it like old music always new, invariably gives pause. The young officer in Stephen Vincent Benet's "John Brown's Body" pauses before he enters Lee's tent to deliver his dispatch. Looking at the shadow of the figure within bent over his papers, knowing that The War is inevitably winding down, the messenger can only wonder:

What keeps us going on? I wish I knew. Perhaps you see a man like that go on. And then you have to follow.

The Lost Cause still has its shrines and rituals, dogmas and debates. For four exhilarating, excruciating, terrible years, it had a flag of its own -- several, in fact -- and an army and even something of a government. But in the end all those proved only transient reflections of what endures: the South, the ever-fecund South.

What held that disparate, desperate concept called the South together, and holds it together still from generation to generation, from heartland to diaspora? After all our defeats and limitations, why do we yet endure, and, in Faulkner's words, even prevail? What keeps us going on? I wish I knew. Perhaps you see a man like that go on. And then you have to follow. If there is a single name, a single syllable for that shared bond and depth and grief and aspiration, it is: Lee.

. .

No brief outline of the general's career can explain the effect of that name still: After a shining start at West Point, our young officer spends 12 years of tedium on the Army treadmill, followed by brief renown in the Mexican War, then a two-year leave to attend to matters at home. Returning to the service to put down a fateful little insurrection at Harper's Ferry that cast a great shadow, he declines a field command in the U.S. Army as a far greater insurrection looms, one he will lead. He accepts command of the military of his native country -- Virginia. Then there comes a series of brilliant campaigns that defy all the odds, at the end of which he surrenders. Whereupon he applies for a pardon, becomes a teacher, and makes peace.

What is missing from such an abrupt summary of the general, his life and career, is everything -- everything inward that made the man Robert E. Lee. His wholeness. His integrity. His unbroken peace within. There was about him nothing abrupt but everything respectfully direct -- in his manners, in his leadership, in his life and, when he finally struck the tent, in his death.

Yes, he would fight what has been called the most nearly perfect battle executed by an American commander at Chancellorsville, defeating an army two and a half times the size of his own and better equipped in every respect.

Even in retreat, he remained victorious. One single, terrible tally may say it better than all the ornate speeches ever delivered on all the dim Confederate Memorial Days that have passed since: In one single, terrible month, from May 12th to June 12th of 1864, from after The Wilderness to Cold Harbor, Grant's casualties on the other side would total 60,000 -- the same size as Lee's whole, remaining Army of Northern Virginia, poor devils.

In the end, it is not the Lee of Chancellorsville or of Appomattox who speaks to us, who quiets and assures us. It is not even the Lee of Fredericksburg and his passionate dispassion atop Marye's Heights as he watches the trapped federals below, poor devils, being destroyed. He was no stranger to pity. ("It is well that war is so terrible," he murmured, looking down at the carnage he had engineered, "or we should grow too fond of it.")

It is not even the Lee of Gettysburg who speaks to us, the Lee who would meet Pickett after it was over -- all over -- and say only: "All this has been my fault." And then submit his resignation as commander of the Army of Northern Virginia. Jefferson Davis may not have had much sense, but he had more sense than to accept that resignation.

In the end, it is the Lee who saw through all victory as clearly as he did all defeat who elevates and releases us, like one of the old Greek plays. It is the Lee who, for all his legend, could not command events but who was always in command of his response to them. Just to think on him now is catharsis. That is why his undying presence, just the mention of his name, was enough to lift men's gaze and send them forth again and again. It still does.


Friday, January 18, 2013

Whole Foods CEO: Obamacare not “socialism,” it’s “fascism”

Whole Foods has played a key role in propelling organic foods into the mainstream. The specialty supermarket chain has more than 300 stores and plans to continue expanding. But outspoken founder and co-CEO John Mackey is not the crunchy granola liberal one might conjure while perusing aisles of earnestly labeled blue corn chips and gently misted red peppers.

In fact, he's a self-styled libertarian: a vegan who sells sustainably raised meat, a man who compares the government's health care overhaul to "fascism" but wants to improve American diets.

And he thinks big businesses have an obligation to change customers' perception that big corporations are "primarily selfish and greedy." (Not that he's opposed to profits. In fact, Whole Foods posted a 49 percent boost in quarterly earnings in November.)

What he doesn't think is right is President Obama's health overhaul and the new costs that coverage requirements will place on businesses.  When Inskeep asks him if he still thinks the health law is a form of socialism, as he's said before, Mackey responds:

"Technically speaking, it's more like fascism. Socialism is where the government owns the means of production. In fascism, the government doesn't own the means of production, but they do control it — and that's what's happening with our health care programs and these reforms."

Still, Mackey sees room to cooperate with the administration on another front: efforts to reform the American diet, a pet project of first lady Michelle Obama.



An Imperial President

One definition of "imperial" on is, "of the nature or rank of an emperor or supreme ruler."  At his news conference Monday, a petulant, threatening and confrontational President Obama spoke like an emperor or supreme ruler. All that was missing was a scepter, a crown and a robe trimmed in ermine.

This president exceeds even Bill Clinton in his ability to evade, prevaricate and dissemble. I didn't think that possible.

Not only did he supply long answers to relatively easy questions, but much of what he said bore no relation to reality.

He spoke of having had the debate over the economy during the 2012 campaign and boasted, "...the American people agreed with me." By the way, can we now retire the phrase "the American people"? Too many politicians overuse it, including Speaker John Boehner. Forty-seven percent of voters supported Mitt Romney and other Republicans in the last election. Ninety-four million people eligible to vote didn't vote. Can Obama really claim "the American people" agreed with him? The president won the election, but he has yet to win the debate over smaller vs. larger government, and more vs. less spending.

The question Major Garrett of CBS News posed to the president on raising the debt ceiling in tandem with spending cuts exposed his hypocrisy and that of many congressional Democrats: "You yourself, as a member of the Senate, voted against a debt ceiling increase. And in previous aspects of American history, President Reagan in 1985, President George Herbert Walker Bush in 1990, President Clinton in 1997, all signed deficit-reduction deals that were contingent upon or in the context of raising the debt ceiling. You yourself, four times have done that. Three times, those were related to deficit reduction or budget maneuvers. What Chuck (NBC's Chuck Todd) and I and, I think, many people are curious about is this new adamant desire on your part not to negotiate when that seems to conflict with the entire history of the modern era of American presidents on the debt ceiling and your own history on the debt ceiling. And doesn't that suggest that we are going to go into a default situation, because no one is talking to each other about how to resolve this?"

The president dissembled, talking again (he repeated this at least three times by my count) about how Congress had authorized all the spending and how we must now "pay our bills." But as Garrett noted, the president had a different view of the debt ceiling when he was an Illinois senator and voted against raising it. In 2006, he said, "The fact that we are here today to debate raising America's debt limit is a sign of leadership failure." Except when he's the leader, then it's someone else's failure.

In 2003, during another debate over raising the debt ceiling, Sen. Max Baucus, D-MT, said, "The federal debt is like the family credit card. Sooner or later you have to pay down the debts that you have already incurred. If you don't, your credit rating will suffer. The way the government raises the debt limit is also like a family who just keeps calling the bank every time they hit the credit limit and asks the bank over and over again for an increase in their credit limit without regard to anything else. Rather than pay down their debt, they just keep on asking for a higher debt limit."

Many other Senate Democrats, including Senators Harry Reid, D-NV, and John Kerry, D-MA, shared Baucus' concerns, but that was during the George W. Bush administration.

The president says he will reduce debt with a "balanced approach," by which he means offsetting higher taxes on the wealthy with spending cuts, which will never materialize. It won't work. Whatever tax revenue government manages to save, Congress will always find a way to spend it.

The president has submitted a budget to Congress for each fiscal year he's been in office, not always on time, in violation of the law, and never without spurring contentious debate in Congress. That's a staggering repudiation of his leadership.

President Obama will not negotiate about raising the debt ceiling? Not surprising. Imperial leaders don't negotiate.



Obama's Ruling Class

President Obama has spent a lot of time excoriating the "rich" who refuse to pay "their fair share."  It's a transparent effort to divide and conquer Americans based on wealth -- as transparent as his hostility to those who prosper as a result of their own hard work and initiative (of course "you didn't build that"!).

But don't misunderstand: President Obama isn't really interested in "leveling." everyone.  He's simply determined to establish a different hierarchy of privilege -- one which, conveniently, puts him at the top. In Obama's America, there shouldn't be "rich" and "poor," don't you know.

But it's increasingly clear that he has no problem with making invidious distinctions between the "important" people (i.e., those in government) and the "ordinary" people.  It has nothing to do with (evil) money, and everything to do with power over others.  It's a literal "Ruling Class" -- and for the most part, you can't just work hard and get ahead to gain access to it.  You've got to join up with Big Government.

If you're "important," your children attend schools with plenty of armed guards.  If you're "ordinary," your children attend school in "gun free zones."

If you're "important," your average pension is 2-3 times what a retiring private sector executive with a comparable salary could expect to get.  If you're "ordinary," you get what you get.

If you're "important," you're part of FEHB, which offers a variety of excellent, competitively-priced health insurance plans with different menus of benefits.  If you're "ordinary," you get ObamaCare.

If you're "important" (like Dianne Feinstein) and you fear assassination by a terrorist group, you have easy access to a weapon for concealed carry.  But if you're just an "ordinary" woman who fears being murdered at the hands of a stalker or a crazy ex-husband, you'd better hope you can run the regulatory gauntlet before he catches up with you.

If you're "important," you make more money for doing less work.  If you're "ordinary," you're lucky to have a job.

As for himself personally, a guy who's so hostile to those who have "built" something in the business world, President Obama seems to have no problem enjoying the cushy vacations, private planes and other perks that far exceed what almost any corporate titan enjoys.  But then, he's "important" -- which means, rather than having earned the money he spends so lavishly, the taxpayers have the honor of subsidizing him.



Chris Christie Explains the Difference Between a Functioning Democracy and Washington

The article below extols compromise but for that to work both sides have to bend.  The Federal donks show no sign of it

If you want to understand the difference between a functioning democracy and Washington, listen to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie: "I wake up every morning knowing that even though I think I'm right," the GOP governor said today, "I'm not going to get everything I want."

In Washington, compromise has become a dirty word. With gridlock the norm, Congress's approval rating is below 10 percent and the public has lost faith in its national leadership. The Republican Party emerged from the November elections with a particularly intense image problem.

Christie, whose approval rating tops 70 percent, acutely analyzed Washington's problem on MSNBC's Morning Joe. He said it's partly structural: Sophisticated redistricting has produced a generation of Democratic and GOP lawmakers whose only worry is appeasing extreme elements in the parties. It's also cultural: For numerous reasons, Republicans and Democrats in Washington no longer put a premium on building relationships.

"This is the place where the president has been the most deficient," Christie said, echoing an analyses I wrote yesterday on Obama's charm deficit.

In his State of the State address on Tuesday, the governor sought to set himself above partisan bickering. He declared New Jersey a model for bipartisanship, which is a bit of a stretch but a politically savvy one to make.

“Maybe the folks in Washington, in both parties, could learn something from our record here,” said Christie, who angered some Republicans by embracing Obama in the immediate aftermath of superstorm Sandy, in the closing days of the presidential campaign.

Standing before a Democratic-controlled Legislature, Christie said, “Let’s put aside accusations and false charges for purely political advantage. Let’s work together to honor the memories of those lost in Sandy. Let’s put the needs of our most victimized citizens ahead of the partisan politics of the day.”

This is not the first time I've written in praise of Christie so I want to make something clear: He is not the perfect leader. His record is middling (the state's unemployment rate, at 9.6 percent, is among the highest in the country). Ideologically, on a national stage, he may be too conservative for moderate voters. And he can be a bully.

But the New Jersey governor is a potential presidential candidate because his rhetoric speaks to the times: Millions of Americans are being left behind by the new economy; they're losing faith in institutions that are suppose to protect them, starting with government; they are empowered, thanks to the Internet and other technologies, unlike any other time in human history to enforce their will on failed institutions; and, finally, Americans want answers to the big unsolved problems including the national debt, gun violence, and climate change.

They want their leaders to lead.

Christie represents the gubernatorial wing of his party that, unlike Republicans in Washington, understands that nothing happens in a democracy unless rivals work to find ways that they can both win. While the GOP in Washington lost the November elections, Republican governors picked up a state capital seat because, Christie said, "we're compromising when we need to."

You see, it's not a dirty word.



No point in buying health insurance under Obama

We are a little less than a year away from Obamacare’s individual mandate becoming the latest tax you will be forced to deal with and already there is trouble in the air with whether or not the law will work.

The mandate says that you must purchase health insurance or else face a fee. That fee, which the Supreme Court ruled was a tax when it upheld the law as constitutional last summer, is considerably smaller than the cost of purchasing health care.

In 2014, the first year that the tax will be collected, the tax is $95. It will increase to $325 or 2 percent of your income in 2015. In 2016, it will increase to its highest amount of $695 or 2.5 percent of your income. Even at its highest point, the tax is cheaper than health care in some cases.

And that fact is scaring many of the people that designed and are in the process of implementing this fatally flawed system.

For Obamacare to work as they claim it would, many more healthy people than sick people need to be paying health care companies for coverage. The more money healthy people spend on coverage makes it possible for the companies to cover the sick.

But many of the uninsured healthy people would probably opt to pay the tax, which is lower than the cost of coverage. This is causing many health care providers and those in the Obama administration to worry that there is not enough incentive to take part in the new system, the result of which could be increased taxes and more fees as well as a spike in the cost of health care coverage.

Many opposed to Obamacare warned about this result. The incentive structure created by such a system would only result in ever increasing penalties to ensure that enough healthy people subsidize the unhealthy people.

As the masterminds behind this system are discovering — even before the system is up and operational — they have no clue how to get the healthy people to participate without increasing the taxes for abstaining from purchasing health care to a higher rate than the cost of health care coverage.

What this whole failure before launch exposes is that incentives matter and that government does not fully comprehend that simple fact. Creating a system where people are forced to purchase a product by penalizing them if they don’t — and the penalty is cheaper than buying the product — it’s odd that they would just now realize that people will pay the penalty.

After all, Obamacare forces insurance companies to insure those with pre-existing conditions, so you only have to buy health care when you need it. It makes little sense to purchase health care when you can go the cheaper route of purchasing only when you need it.

Linda Blumberg, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute’s Health Policy Center said the following to Politico about the incentive structure that the government faces when trying to sell ObamaCare to the young and healthy: “If you have a positive outreach campaign with the message, ‘Here they are, here are the exchanges, here’s affordable coverage, come and get it.’ Isn’t that more effective than, ‘Come and get it or we’re going to come get you?”

We are about to find out which route is more effective as the government attempts to make Obamacare a success. It is much more likely that they will use the tax system to correct their mistake than use a message of come and buy a product you don’t yet need.

So get ready, Obamacare’s first failure won’t cost the government money, just you as the taxes are increased and the cost of health care rises.




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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Liberalism Versus Blacks

 Thomas Sowell

There is no question that liberals do an impressive job of expressing concern for blacks. But do the intentions expressed in their words match the actual consequences of their deeds?
San Francisco is a classic example of a city unexcelled in its liberalism. But the black population of San Francisco today is less than half of what it was back in 1970, even though the city's total population has grown.

Severe restrictions on building housing in San Francisco have driven rents and home prices so high that blacks and other people with low or moderate incomes have been driven out of the city. The same thing has happened in a number of other California communities dominated by liberals.

Liberals try to show their concern for the poor by raising the level of minimum wage laws. Yet they show no interest in hard evidence that minimum wage laws create disastrous levels of unemployment among young blacks in this country, as such laws created high unemployment rates among young people in general in European countries.

The black family survived centuries of slavery and generations of Jim Crow, but it has disintegrated in the wake of the liberals' expansion of the welfare state. Most black children grew up in homes with two parents during all that time but most grow up with only one parent today.

Liberals have pushed affirmative action, supposedly for the benefit of blacks and other minorities. But two recent factual studies show that affirmative action in college admissions has led to black students with every qualification for success being artificially turned into failures by being mismatched with colleges for the sake of racial body count.

The two most recent books that show this with hard facts are "Mismatch" by Richard Sander and Stuart Taylor, Jr., and "Wounds That Will Not Heal" by Russell K. Nieli. My own book "Affirmative Action Around the World" shows the same thing with different evidence.

In all these cases, and many others, liberals take positions that make them look good and feel good -- and show very little interest in the actual consequences for others, even when liberal policies are leaving havoc in their wake.

The current liberal crusade for more so-called "gun control" laws is more of the same. Factual studies over the years, both in the United States and in other countries, repeatedly show that "gun control" laws do not in fact reduce crimes committed with guns.

Cities with some of the tightest gun control laws in the nation have murder rates far above the national average. In the middle of the 20th century, New York had far more restrictive gun control laws than London, but London had far less gun crime. Yet gun crimes in London skyrocketed after severe gun control laws were imposed over the next several decades.

Although gun control is not usually considered a racial issue, a wholly disproportionate number of Americans killed by guns are black. But here, as elsewhere, liberals' devotion to their ideology greatly exceeds their concern about what actually happens to flesh and blood human beings as a result of their ideology.

One of the most polarizing and counterproductive liberal crusades of the 20th century has been the decades-long busing crusade to send black children to predominantly white schools. The idea behind this goes back to the pronouncement by Chief Justice Earl Warren that "separate educational facilities are inherently unequal."

Yet within walking distance of the Supreme Court where this pronouncement was made was an all-black high school that had scored higher than two-thirds of the city's white high schools taking the same test -- way back in 1899! But who cares about facts, when you are on a liberal crusade that makes you feel morally superior?

To challenge government-imposed racial segregation and discrimination is one thing. But to claim that blacks get a better education if they sit next to whites in school is something very different. And it is something that goes counter to the facts.

Many liberal ideas about race sound plausible, and it is understandable that these ideas might have been attractive 50 years ago. What is not understandable is how so many liberals can blindly ignore 50 years of evidence to the contrary since then.



Local Tyranny

Yes, Washington is out of control. For liberty to prevail, it must be confronted, restrained, and redirected. But, so too, our local authorities and institutions can trample our liberties, our privacy, and our domestic tranquility.

Law students learn an aphorism about the development of law: Hard cases make bad law. An incident or two last year in my home state of Colorado illustrate the point: hard circumstances invite bad decisions and establish bad precedents.  Citizens can be almost powerless to respond.

First incident: a bank robbery in Aurora, a suburb of Denver, caused a gunpoint lockdown, hand cuffing, and mass detention of dozens of commuters yanked from 40 vehicles, based only on a phone tip that the robber might be at a particular intersection. There was no description of the robber or the vehicle, so police drew their weapons and detained the occupants of 40 vehicles stopped at the light. Police held the detainees for two hours.

In the last vehicle they searched, police found loaded guns and apprehended their man.

Second, in a horrific abduction-slaying, a middle school girl vanished on her way to school in a western suburb of Denver. The local news and news-watching public were consumed with her disappearance and unknown fate. The state and nation mourned when an arrest was made, confession obtained, and the victim’s body recovered.

What was less reported was that police had canvassed door to door and with zero basis, they pressured homeowners to submit to aggressive searches. A friend lives in the neighborhood and reports that police and FBI came to her home, demanded entry, were brusque and insistent about her refusal, returned another day, and unpleasantly warned her they would not be as pleasant when they came back yet again.  The case was closed before that happened. Other homeowners who allowed entry reported their homes disturbed, dressers, papers, appliances, and effects probed, rifled through, scattered, and left amiss.

Any decent person is pleased a bank robber was apprehended and anguished that a little girl perished. They would do anything they could to help satisfactory outcomes in either case. But any thoughtful citizen has to be troubled about the broad net local officials cast, and the inversion of traditional American principles of justice: probable cause, particularized suspicion, a reasonable basis to question—these were not the guiding lights of the operations.

The overreach in both cases (I assert it was such) is troubling and challenging for various reasons: it stemmed from powerful public need, in causes we all support. Yet, for those affected, it reversed the normal relationship between citizen and state: innocent motorists with no indication of guilt or involvement were detained, cuffed, guns aimed at them; homeowners were pressured and intimidated to accept entry and search. If they refused, they were left in doubt and threat about the next “visit;” if they agreed, their home was violated and upheaved, and not restored.

The bedrock idea that law enforcement operates within certain standards and limits, and that citizens are protected by certain powerful barriers on state action is fading. It’s being replaced by the thought that solving the case is more important than the safeguards and liberty of innocent people.

Most troubling to me is a lack of an effective venue or mechanism to hold the officials accountable—and to press for reformed policies and standards for decision-making It is my unscientific sense that a strong majority of citizens disapprove these tactics. When I posted my criticism on a social network the responses (not politically representative of all of society, I concede) were about 90% against, 10% in favor.

But, we hold or voice our opinions ineffectually, or with hesitation. First, everyone understands the urgency and benevolence of the motives of the responsible authorities in such exigent cases. Second, in a busy world with headlines and issues stretched all the way from existential global clashes and DC policy standoffs, to pressing work concerns, and delicate parent teacher conferences, there is limited time, knowledge, and drive to go after every important thing. Third, public officials and public bodies command the high ground. They enjoy concerted information, decision-making, and execution. Engaged citizens may as well be the only person who called to express concerns about a particular incident, so far as they know.

When the next crisis incident hits, authorities will make the decisions they feel pressure to make, to do their job. Whether it turns out well or badly, a lot of citizens may feel unease. But the ratchet will turn another notch.  And the security of our homes, persons, papers and effects will be a little less sacred by the day.



For Obama, deficits don't matter any more

If you believed that President Obama and his congressional allies had any interest in cutting government spending and reforming runaway entitlement programs, then last week should have dispelled your illusions.

During the presidential campaign, Obama tried to take credit for the meager spending cuts of 2011 -- which he had actually tried to prevent. But with his second term secured, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney began to lay the groundwork for increased government spending in the name of stimulating the economy.

"[D]eficit reduction is not a goal -- a worthy goal unto itself," Carney told reporters last Wednesday. "This is all about making our economy stronger and making it more productive and allowing it to create even more jobs. I mean, that is the most important thing when it comes to economic policy as far as the President is concerned."

That's a far cry from Obama's promise to cut the deficit in half by the end of his first term. "It will require us to make difficult decisions and face challenges we've long neglected," Obama said in 2009. "I refuse to leave our children with a debt that they cannot repay -- and that means taking responsibility right now, in this administration, for getting our spending under control."

The federal debt, of course, is over $16 trillion, while the deficit -- the amount of money spent each year that exceeds tax revenue -- will exceed $1 trillion for the fifth year in a row.

Democratic Party leaders have no interest in making those "difficult decisions" Obama referred to, even with the federal government on a collision course with the legal debt limit.

Although House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, believes that government spending should be cut by the same amount that the debt ceiling is raised, congressional Democrats would rather do nothing -- even if that means weakening Congress relative to the president.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., encouraged Obama in a letter Friday "to ensure that America does not break its promises and trigger a global economic crisis -- without congressional approval, if necessary." Reid's letter outlined a position similar to that of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who has long argued that Obama should claim the authority to raise the debt limit under the 14th Amendment -- an unprecedented arrogation of power by the executive.

"Instead of using this opportunity to address Washington's spending problem or begin a dialogue with Republicans on entitlement reform, the leadership of the Democratic Party has chosen to advocate a clearly unconstitutional approach," Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, told The Washington Examiner in a statement. "To even suggest the president could raise the debt limit 'without congressional approval' is extreme and totally unnecessary."

It is necessary, though, if the Democrats intend to continue spending money while hiding the nation's financial situation from the American people. Reid hasn't allowed the Senate to pass a budget in over three years as Obama and his allies work to create a European-style welfare state.

Polls continue to show that Americans are deeply concerned about government overspending, but that's the opposite of the Democrats' and Obama's agenda. That explains why Senate Democrats would rather cede congressional power to Obama and let him exercise Congress's constitutional borrowing power than hold a recorded vote on their long-term budget plans.



Sandy wrecked our house, but bureaucrats are keeping it broken

Like many people whose houses were badly damaged by Hurricane Sandy, my family and I have been living in a rented house since the storm. Unlike some whose houses were totalled, we could have repaired things and been home toasting our tootsies by our own fireplace by now. What happened?

Two things: zoning (as in "Twilight Zone") and FEMA.

Our first exposure to the town zoning authorities came a couple of weeks after Sandy. We'd met with insurance adjusters, contractors and "remediation experts." We'd had about a foot of Long Island Sound sloshing around the ground floor of our house in Connecticut, and everyone had the same advice: Rip up the floors and subfloors, and tear out anything—wiring, plumbing, insulation, drywall, kitchen cabinets, bookcases—touched by salt water. All of it had to go, and pronto, too, lest mold set in.

Yet it wasn't until the workmen we hired had ripped apart most of the first floor that the phrase "building permit" first wafted past us. Turns out we needed one. "What, to repair our own house we need a building permit?"  Of course.

Before you could get a building permit, however, you had to be approved by the Zoning Authority. And Zoning—citing FEMA regulations—would force you to bring the house "up to code," which in many cases meant elevating the house by several feet. Now, elevating your house is very expensive and time consuming—not because of the actual raising, which takes just a day or two, but because of the required permits.

Kafka would have liked the zoning folks. There also is a limit on how high in the sky your house can be. That calculation seems to be a state secret, but it can easily happen that raising your house violates the height requirement. Which means that you can't raise the house that you must raise if you want to repair it. Got that?

There were other surprises. A woman in our neighborhood has two adjoining properties, with a house and a cottage. She rents the house and lives in the cottage. For 29 years she has paid taxes on both. The cottage was severely damaged but she can't tear it down and rebuild because Zoning says the plots are not zoned for two structures, never mind that for 29 years two property-tax payments were gladly accepted.

Kafka would have liked FEMA, too. We've met plenty of its agents. Every one we've encountered has been polite and oozing with sympathy. Even the lady who reduced my wife to tears was nice. The issue was my wife's proof of income. We sent our tax return to FEMA, but that wasn't good enough. They wanted pay stubs. My wife works as a freelance writer and editor. She doesn't get a pay stub. Which apparently makes her a nonperson to this government agency.

It's not only us, of course. Thousands upon thousands have been displaced, but the bullying pedantry of the zoning establishment never wavers. While our house stands empty, the city authorities even showed a sense of humor by sending us a bill for property taxes. For a house they won't let us repair.

We've spent a few thousand dollars on a lawyer to appeal to Zoning, many thousands in rent, and hundreds getting a fresh appraisal of our house. The latest from our lawyer: Because of our new appraisal, we may be able to "apply for a zoning permit." "Apply," mind you.

I used to think that our house was, you know, our house. The bureaucrats have taught me otherwise. But then I also used to think that Franz Kafka wrote a species of dark fantasy. I know now that he was turning out nonfiction.




List of backup or "mirror" sites here or  here -- for 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)

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a war criminal. Both British and American codebreakers had cracked the Japanese naval code so FDR knew what was coming at Pearl Harbor.  But for his own political reasons he warned no-one there.  So responsibility for the civilian and military deaths at Pearl Harbor lies with FDR as well as with the Japanese.  The huge firepower available at Pearl Harbor, both aboard ship and on land, could have largely neutered the attack.  Can you imagine 8 battleships and various lesser craft firing all their AA batteries as the Japanese came in?  The Japanese naval airforce would have been annihilated and the war would have been over before it began.


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Headphones: Paradigm of Market Progress

We had headphones when I was a kid. They were nothing special, just speakers with puffy foam to fit around your ears and a plastic piece to secure them on your head. They sounded fine. They kind of made your ears sweaty. Others could hear a bit of what you heard. You could hear what was going on outside the headphones. Mostly, they just made the scratches and pops on the vinyl records sound louder in your ears. Otherwise, they didn’t matter much in the scheme of things.

Somehow, over the last few years—and especially over the last twelve months—everything changed. Total headphone mania has broken out. It seems like everyone under a certain age wants a pair. The quality makes the ones I had when I was a kid seem like stone-age relics. Forget the pops and clicks of vinyl. The purpose of the new headphones is to reveal a universe of sound no human being has ever experienced.

In my opinion the sound is sometimes better than you can get in a physical space. It is better than real life for me, sometimes, because headphones can block all outside noise and really target your ears.

Crucially, they have become status symbols. What brand you own and use says something about who you are or who you want to be. They are worn with pride, attached only to tiny boxes that contain thousands of songs—a tiny box that is also a phone, GPS, blood pressure checker, musical instrument, and tens of thousands of other things.

In the beginning of the headphone craze, there was Bose, a company that somehow manages to keep reinventing its products and defying every expectation that it is old hat. It was founded in 1964, long before the digital age, and only just after audio equipment became common in every American home. Bose distinguished itself by innovating with the changing times.

As for its headphones, they were first made only for specialists in industry. Only in the last ten years did the company begin pushing the idea of stellar sound for average consumers. Its most popular models hit the market in 2010 and they changed the market forever. They took a throwaway item and turned it into a must have.

Meanwhile, a competitor was waiting in the wings. Beats Electronics was founded in 2006 by hip-hop artist Dr. Dre. He was not only the owner but he personally promoted their products as the best way to hear all of the sound. His personal credibility mattered. This product quickly found a niche among a group of buyers who had no interest in Bose’s stuffy/scientific approach. By 2010, the mass craving for the perfect headphone experience had entered the mainstream.

Bose and Beats entered a titanic struggle in the midst of a market that was growing ever larger. Bose started working with new designs to make their product more hip, even as Beats started working on new designs for professionals. These companies were learning from each other while invading each other’s market niches. Emulation—or observing and copying the successes of one’s competitors—was an important part of the competitive process in the headphone market.

The profit signals worked as they should, inviting ever more enterprising attempts to capture the buying attention of a newly attentive consumer. New companies flew into the market. By 2012, every shape and size became available. The price ranges widened, with makers such as Beats able to sell their wares for $250 and up.

As of this writing, Bose is asking $350 for its top-of-the-line set. Other companies compete with each other in the $200 price range, variously struggling to charge the highest price while still undercutting each other for market share. A new language has emerged: in-ear, on-ear, and over-ear. You have to choose.

At my last visit, my local Best Buy has about 20 feet of shelf space devoted to them. Amazon has dedicated an entire online store to them, featuring dozens of brands, from old audiophile standbys to highly specialized earbuds designed to be worn during athletic training. And within a few weeks after observing this, the market expanded out further to the point that imitators of the high-end models showed up at very reasonable prices at drug stores.

The luxury good had become the standard product over time. And if you find even these products to be too expensive, you can also buy lookalikes in dollar stores, products that are not as good but that allow people on a budget to at least look like they are using high-status items.

They all sound great to me, and I would be hard pressed to discern the difference between them apart from their color and shape. And by the way, they all look spectacular, very much unlike the headphones I had when I was a kid.

A few observations about the market bear repeating in light of this case.

This whole craze illustrates the unpredictability of the marketplace. If someone had told me ten years ago that an explosive industry would emerge in which companies will sell headphones to average kids for hundreds of dollars, I would have said: no way. But, surprise, there it is. And the phenomenon has all the elements of market success: substance, style, and intense competition rooted in emulation and the drive to develop and improve.

No one planned this large outcome in any of its particulars; it emerged from the actions of entrepreneurs, producers, sellers, and buyers, and it involves the division of labor working all over the globe. The producers are profiting, surely, but how? Through service to the common person, and the common person is the one who determines such success and failure.

Some people look at this situation and think: what a gigantic waste. It shouldn’t matter what headphones you own or whether you own them at all. Plus, this duplication is pointless. Dog eats dog eats dog and what do you have in the end?

Well, here is what you have the end: and grand and glorious and productive new industry that gets us closer to experiencing better lives. The products do in fact open new worlds to us. Whether you listen to hip hop or Schubert, whether you thrill to the punch of a bass drum or the delicate balance of an oboe and violin duet, the music is taking on a new meaning in people’s heads, hearts, and souls.

All this so-called materialism ends up feeding a nonmaterial end of letting us experience joy. Poets, philosophers, and theologians have told us since the ancient world of the magical properties that music can have on civilization. But it took the capitalists to make their dreams real and universalize them.

As for the supposed duplication of product availability, this is only evidence of how the marketplace is fully capable of serving the infinite diversity within the human family.

Consider too that all of these undertakings must constantly face the grueling test of the balance sheet. If it works economically, we know that it is not a waste of resources. When it stops working for one company, or all, that too is a sign that the activity must stop.

This is a system that works for everyone. It is filled with surprises and opportunities for both producers and consumers, the product of an unplanned order that no one in particular controls in full. If we could bring the dynamism, economics, element of surprise, and relentless creativity and innovation to other sectors of life that are dominated by State imposition, we would see the emergence of new types of social service that we can’t today even imagine.

In other words, the right way to fix health care, education, transportation, and justice—or any sector that is bogged down in bureaucracy and rules—is right before our eyes, or perhaps right in our ears. For sectors dominated by the State, the music has stopped. For those controlled by market forces, it has just begun.


A rallying cry for taming spending
Democrats not allergic to arithmetic must know the cost of their "fiscal cliff" victory. When they flinched from allowing all of George W. Bush's tax rates, especially those on middle-class incomes, to expire, liberalism lost its nerve and began what will be a long slide into ludicrousness.

Those temporary rates were enacted in 2001, when only 28 House Democrats supported them, and in 2003, when only seven did. But with the "American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012" – did liberals think about that title? – 172 House Democrats voted to make the Bush income-tax rates permanent for all but 0.7 percent of taxpayers – individuals earning more than $400,000 and couples earning more than $450,000.

Liberals could have had a revenue increase of $3.7 trillion over 10 years. Instead, they surrendered nearly $3.1 trillion of that. They cannot now increase government revenue as a share of GDP through tax reform because Republicans insist that the Taxpayer Relief Act closed the revenue question. And because tax reform is dead for the foreseeable future, so are hopes for a revenue surge produced by vigorous economic growth.

No numerate person thinks today's entitlement state, let alone the steady expansion of it that is liberalism's aspiration, can be funded by taxing the income of the 0.7 percent of taxpayers whose rates were just raised. Or the 2 percent whose rates would have been raised had liberals simply allowed the automatic increase of rates for individuals earning more than $200,000 and couples earning more than $250,000.

Because 82 percent of American earners pay more in payroll taxes than income taxes, no politically conceivable or economically feasible middle-class tax rate can fund the entitlement state. And America's political culture rules out funding it with new consumption or energy taxes. By rescuing almost everyone from restoration of Clinton-era rates, liberals abandoned any pretense of paying for ever-expanding entitlements. Instead, they made trillion-dollar deficits their program.

From 1950-2000, economic growth averaged 3.6 percent; since then it has averaged less than 2 percent. Liberals think today's correlation between the slow economic growth and rapid governmental growth – including under George W. Bush – is a coincidence. Conservatives do not. And they note some recent actions, done in December's bright light of public attention and fiscal anxiety, which indicate that this government's indiscipline is incorrigible and shameless.

Years ago, for example, Congress decided that, to save the planet, there should be tax credits to bribe Americans to buy electric cars. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., believes it only fair that buyers of electric motorcycles, some of which are made in Oregon, not get left out of the bribery business. Thanks to the Taxpayer Relief Act, they won't.

People who choose to live in places vulnerable to flooding believe it would be unfair that the cost of their property insurance fully reflect this risk. So government subsidizes their insurance, and hence their decision to live where there is increased risk of property damage.

Today's government has neither wit nor will to stop subsidizing electric motorcycles or to reform flood insurance. Hence Republicans should rally 'round one of several well-refined constitutional amendments requiring balanced budgets. Such an amendment would be popular everywhere, but especially in six states important in 22 months.

Republicans need to gain six seats to win Senate control in 2014, when Democrats will be defending 20 seats, Republicans only 13. Six Democratic incumbents represent states in which Barack Obama got less than 42 percent of the 2012 vote.

Sixty-seven Senate votes are needed to send a proposed amendment to the states for ratification. There are 45 Republican senators. There are nowhere near 22 Democrats who would vote for an amendment Republicans could support. Still, Republicans, whose divisions cause Democratic gloating, could use a balanced budget amendment to divide Democrats who threw the remnants of their fiscal self-respect off the cliff.



Obamacare imposes new fees, cost increases on the public

Obamacare was sold to the public based on the fallacy that it would cut healthcare costs, but each month brings additional evidence that it will drive up healthcare costs instead. The New York Times reported last week that “health insurance companies across the country are seeking and winning double-digit increases in premiums for some customers, even though one of the biggest objectives of the Obama administration’s health care law was to stem the rapid rise in insurance costs for consumers. Particularly vulnerable to the high rates are small businesses and people who do not have employer-provided insurance and must buy it on their own. In California, Aetna is proposing rate increases of as much as 22 percent, Anthem Blue Cross 26 percent and Blue Shield of California 20 percent for some of those policy holders.” Earlier, Obamacare resulted in hikes of 41-47 percent in health insurance premiums for some policyholders in Connecticut. The Times notes that in “other states, like Florida and Ohio, insurers have been able to raise rates by at least 20 percent for some policy holders.”

Writing in the The Wall Street Journal today, Merrill Matthews and Mark Litow say that some premiums in individual markets may double due to Obamacare. One reason is that the “Congressional Democrats who crafted the legislation ignored virtually every actuarial principle governing rational insurance pricing.”  “Although President Obama repeatedly claimed that health insurance premiums for a family would be $2,500 lower by the end of his first term, they are actually about $3,000 higher — a spread of about $5,500 per family.”

Most Americans will feel the brunt of a $63 per head fee imposed by the Obama administration, for which they will receive nothing in return. As the Associated Press notes, “Your medical plan is facing an unexpected expense, so you probably are, too. It’s a new, $63-per-head fee to cushion the cost of covering people with pre-existing conditions under President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul. The charge, buried in a recent regulation, works out to tens of millions of dollars for the largest companies, employers say. Most of that is likely to be passed on to workers. Employee benefits lawyer Chantel Sheaks calls it a ‘sleeper issue’ with significant financial consequences, particularly for large employers. ‘Especially at a time when we are facing economic uncertainty, (companies will) be hit with a multi-million dollar assessment without getting anything back for it,’ said Sheaks, a principal at Buck Consultants, a Xerox subsidiary. Based on figures provided in the regulation, employer and individual health plans covering an estimated 190 million Americans could owe the per-person fee. The Obama administration says it is a temporary assessment levied for three years starting in 2014, designed to raise $25 billion.”

The Obama administration is also levying a 3.5-percent fee (of dubious legality) on insurers that participate in federal health insurance exchanges created by Obamacare, a fee that will be passed on to the public through higher health insurance premiums. In the District of Columbia, small businesses are being forced to buy overpriced insurance on an Obamacare exchange by the “District of Columbia Health Benefit Exchange Authority,” which “voted . . . to require D.C. small businesses to buy coverage through the exchange. Although President Obama falsely claimed when Obamacare was enacted that “if you like your present health insurance, you can keep it,” Washington’s small “employers can stick with their current health insurer” only “if that provider opts into D.C.’s exchange.” Even if it does, employers “may see their rates increase . . . experts said.” The forced participation in the exchange will “apply to any company that has an office in the District with 50 or fewer employees.

Even liberal Democrats in the Senate like Al Franken are admitting that the medical-device tax contained in Obamacare will wipe out many jobs. In a statement in December, “Sen. Al Franken called it a ‘job-killing tax’” that will “impair American competitiveness in the medical device field.” Obamacare has triggered layoffs in the medical device industry. Employers are now cutting full-time workers and replacing them with part-time workers (which helps conceal high unemployment) to avoid Obamacare mandates that apply to full-time employees, a phenomenon chronicled at the Huffington Post and on Fox News. Obamacare will reduce employment by an additional 800,000 due to work disincentives and its bizarre income-cliffs for things like tax credits.

A 2011 study predicted that “790,000 Ohioans will lose their private health insurance and premiums will rise 55%-85% when Obamacare takes full effect in 2014.” Those percentages sound a bit high, but the study was done by reputable consultants and commissioned by the Ohio Department of Insurance.

Obamacare will harm the health care system. It contains racial discriminatory provisions and racial preferences that were criticized by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. The Dean of Harvard Medical School, Jeffrey Flier, noted that Obamacare will reduce life-saving medical innovation. It arbitrarily discriminates against certain hospitals, and raises taxes starting in 2013 on investors, including, but not limited to, a new 3.8% Medicare tax on investment earnings for individuals earning more than $200,000 and households earning more than $250,000 per year. The Associated Press and others have noted that it breaks a number of Obama campaign promises.




List of backup or "mirror" sites here or  here -- for 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)

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a war criminal. Both British and American codebreakers had cracked the Japanese naval code so FDR knew what was coming at Pearl Harbor.  But for his own political reasons he warned no-one there.  So responsibility for the civilian and military deaths at Pearl Harbor lies with FDR as well as with the Japanese.  The huge firepower available at Pearl Harbor, both aboard ship and on land, could have largely neutered the attack.  Can you imagine 8 battleships and various lesser craft firing all their AA batteries as the Japanese came in?  The Japanese naval airforce would have been annihilated and the war would have been over before it began.


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Quiggin's Fascist dream

The highly-paid ($200,000+ p.a., last I heard) Prof. Quiggin looks down on material striving

Arts and Letters Daily recently linked to this essay by economist John Quiggin arguing that Keynes’s old ideal of the 15-hour working week is both within our economic grasp and a morally desirable ideal that advanced nations should promote. Quiggin, for those of you who are not aware, is a well-known Keynesian economist and ardent social democrat who has blogged prominently at Crooked Timber for a decade. I’ve been reading him for almost as long. In this post, I’m going to criticize the piece on the grounds that its vision of social life is morally impoverished and sectarian

I.  Quiggin’s Keynesian Halcyon Days

Quiggin’s article begins with a fascinating trip down memory lane. Quiggin became an economist in the early 1970s, “at a time when revolutionary change still seemed like an imminent possibility.” At this early stage in Quiggin’s life, he was inspired by Keynes’s famous essay, “Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren,” (PDF). Keynes saw that utopia was a plausible future. He expected and hoped that the work week would continue to shorten. Quiggin hoped so too, until the sad and destructive rise of “market liberalism” (Quiggin’s derisive term for the sum total of pro-market economic thought that has had some influence over the last fifty years).

Quiggin regales us with the tale of the post-war Keynesian golden age of growth, when “the social democratic welfare state, supported by Keynesian macroeconomic management, had already smoothed many of the sharp edges of economic life.” Economic risk was manageable and the thoughts of the people could turn towards cultural and aesthetic rather than mere economic pursuits. “Anti-materialist” attitudes proliferated.

But market liberalism reversed the shortening of the work week and made people more consumerist. Sadly, unlike in the 1960s, “the values of the market have penetrated ever further into every aspect of our lives.” During the period leading up to the Great Recession “avarice and usury … [were] worshipped on an unimaginable scale.”

The economic turmoil of the 70s brought the utopianism of the 1960s to a halt and led to a resurgence of “neoliberalism, Thatcherism and the Washington Consensus” the evil “market liberalism” which has as its central theoretical tenet “the efficient markets hypothesis.” The core “ideology” of market liberalism combined the efficient market hypothesis with the idea that “the best way to achieve prosperity for all is to let the rich get richer” and that all would benefit via the notorious “trickle-down.”

This view of the world leads us away from Keynes’s dream because market liberals believe that the “mega-fortunes piled up in speculative financial markets … are essential to achieve and maintain decent living standards for the rest of us.” Market liberalism thus makes us more money-driven despite the fact that it consists in dead or “undead” ideas (as Quiggin argues in his recent book, Zombie Economics). Because market liberalism is so perverse, it needs not merely economic but moral critique.

Keynes thought the post-scarcity age would come too soon. Instead, we need to add another 60 years to get a sufficient increase of wealth to where no one in the world needs work a long week or needs to suffer from great financial risk. Further, we need some new inventions to help us reduce the amount of housework we need to do.

There is a work inequality that present developed English-speaking nations face, where the rich work long hours and the poor cannot find as much work as they would like. Work should be more evenly distributed, so the poor have better incomes and the rich have more leisure time. But we can only reach this equality if we can substantially reduce the “centrality of market work to the achievement of a good life” and with a “substantial reduction in the total hours of work.”

II. Quiggin’s Social Democratic Vision

How do we achieve Quiggin’s preferred social arrangement? First, we go “back to the social democratic agenda associated with postwar Keynesianism.” The social democratic agenda includes a “guaranteed minimum income, more generous parental leave and expanded provision of health, education and other social services.” If we implement this program, we can produce a society where “even those who did not work, whether by choice or incapacity, could enjoy a decent, if modest, lifestyle, and where the benefits of technological progress were devoted to improving the quality of life rather than providing more material goods and services.” With such social priorities, societies could allocate investment “according to judgments of social need rather than market signals of price and profit” which would thankfully “reduce the need for a large and highly rewarded financial sector.”

In the post-scarcity society, everyone will be insulated fully from dangerous economic risk, even those who choose to do nothing but surf all day so long (as they are prepared to perform a small number of public services. People would be free to contribute “according to their abilities” and receive enough from society to meet their basic needs).

More importantly, Quiggin ends his piece asking whether we would want to live in such a society. Or will we always be so corrupt that we must chase “after money to buy more and better things”? He sees some hopeful signs in the more frugal consumer behaviors following the great recession, where conspicuous consumption is less popular and people buy smaller homes and cars.

And in any case, we don’t have a good alternative to Keynesian social democracy, for market liberalism “has failed on its own terms.” During the reign of market liberalism, most households in the developed world experienced less income growth than in the Keynesian golden age.

III. Quiggin’s Vision is Morally Impoverished Sectarianism

More than anyone in the econoblogosphere, other than Paul Krugman, Quiggin has fought the decline of classical Keynesian and social democratic economic and moral ideals. He has poured heart and soul into outlining a way to return to glory and move beyond. But I think his vision for social life in the developed world is deeply morally impoverished even setting aside his (in my view incorrect) economic beliefs. Let me explain.

I think an ideal is objectionably sectarian when it requires the use of coercion against people who have fundamentally distinct but reasonable worldviews and philosophical commitments. Quiggin seems to think that people who spend all of their time working and accumulating wealth suffer from a kind of false consciousness. In reality, their good would be better promoted if they were to work much less and be less concerned with becoming wealthy.

What Quiggin ignores is the possibility that people in liberal democratic societies work hard and seek high incomes because doing so promotes and embodies personal, moral and religious ideals different than those advocated by secular social democrats like Quiggin. Keynes’s vision of a leisurely life makes sense for a British aristocrat. Of course he’d think such a life was best for all. But one important feature of economic life in industrialized democracies is that while some people could work less, they prefer to work more.

There are a great many reasons why. Some people may accumulate wealth because they want to be beloved philanthropists or because they want to provide the very best lives they can for their families. They may accumulate wealth as the side effect of performing a highly valued service that they find intrinsically rewarding. They may work hard simply because they enjoy working more than leisure or because they think that hard work is more morally virtuous than leisure. A certain style of Protestant might hold that hard work and flourishing in one’s vocation is what God will for his life. He blesses the successful and righteous with riches that they can use to support their churches or charitable causes. Other people of faith may get great fulfillment from exercising their God-given talents.

So we can see many people have deeply moral and philosophical reasons for working as long as they do. Arguably with the decline of manufacturing and agriculture and the rise of service jobs and work in the “knowledge economy,” much work in industrial democracies is less onerous and more customizable than in the past. Some people are able to work at a job that they have dreamed of and so they may well pour sixty, seventy or eighty hours a week into it.

The moral advantage of a market liberal society over a social democratic society is that it does not discourage these forms of life. It allows people to pursue their own work in their own way, giving people the freedom to work less for less pay or to work more for more pay. That is one reason it is essential to protect economic liberties, in order to ensure that people have the right to build the life of their choosing.

Quiggin’s vision of a deeply interventionist and redistributive state would deliberately frustrate the aims of those whose worldviews include hard work and great benefits. His preferred set of institutions would blunt and disincentivize such jobs by design and reward those who prefer extended amounts of leisure. That’s why his vision of social life is sectarian and, I think, morally unattractive, because it not only condescends to those who live to work but it would use state power to actively discourage these forms of life and encourage alternative forms of life that many of these people find worthy of moral condemnation.

In the end, Quiggin is quite similar to mild Catholic establishmentarians in Latin American countries, and European Catholic nations like Spain and Italy. They wish to have the state promote a certain version of the good life by sponsoring certain moral and spiritual ideals via state policy and power, without banning other religions or points of view. Quiggin’s secular vision is no different, no less authoritarian and no more worthy of power.

I suspect Quiggin thinks that a market liberal society is just as authoritarian and sectarian than Keynesian social democracy, if not moreso. After all, market liberal societies reward the hard working at the expense of the leisurely. But in reality it does no such thing. A market liberal society gives people many options. Just because it pays those who work hard and creatively enormous sums does not mean that others are less free to live a more leisurely life.

Of course, Quiggin can trot out the old hard left claim that in a market liberal society people must work to live and have basic amenities, but we do not need a social democratic state to ameliorate this condition, just a modest basic income (which of course Crooked Timber and BHL have argued about before!).

So with that, I think it is fair to conclude that Quiggin’s Keynesian vision is mistaken.



Nothing lasts forever.  Is the Entitlement Era  Winding Down?

It's often good fun and sometimes revealing to divide American history into distinct periods of uniform length. In working on my forthcoming book on American migrations, internal and immigrant, it occurred to me that you could do this using the American-sounding interval of 76 years, just a few years more than the Biblical lifespan of three score and 10.
It was 76 years from Washington's First Inaugural in 1789 to Lincoln's Second Inaugural in 1865. It was 76 years from the surrender at Appomattox Courthouse in 1865 to the attack at Pearl Harbor in 1941.

Going backward, it was 76 years from the First Inaugural in 1789 to the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, which settled one of the British-French colonial wars. And going 76 years back from Utrecht takes you to 1637, when the Virginia and Massachusetts Bay colonies were just getting organized.

As for our times, we are now 71 years away from Pearl Harbor. The current 76-year interval ends in December 2017.

Each of these 76-year periods can be depicted as a distinct unit. In the colonial years up to 1713, very small numbers of colonists established separate cultures that have persisted to our times.

The story is brilliantly told in David Hackett Fischer's "Albion's Seed." For a more downbeat version, read the recent "The Barbarous Years" by the nonagenarian Bernard Bailyn.

From 1713 to 1789, the colonies were peopled by much larger numbers of motley and often involuntary settlers -- slaves, indentured servants, the unruly Scots-Irish on the Appalachian frontier.

For how this society became dissatisfied with the colonial status quo, read Bailyn's "Ideological Origins of the American Revolution."

From 1789 to 1865, Americans sought their manifest destiny by expanding across the continent. They made great technological advances but were faced with the irreconcilable issue of slavery in the territories.

For dueling accounts of the period, read the pro-Andrew Jackson Democrat Sean Wilentz's "The Rise of American Democracy" and the pro-Henry Clay Whig Daniel Walker Howe's "What Hath God Wrought." Both are sparklingly written and full of offbeat insights and brilliant apercus.

The 1865-1941 period saw a vast efflorescence of market capitalism, European immigration and rising standards of living. For descriptions of how economic change reshaped the nation and its government, read Morton Keller's "Affairs of State and Regulating a New Society."

The 70-plus years since 1941 have seen a vast increase in the welfare safety net and governance by cooperation between big units -- big government, big business, big labor -- that began in the New Deal and gained steam in and after World War II. I immodestly offer my own "Our Country: The Shaping of America From Roosevelt to Reagan."

The original arrangements in each 76-year period became unworkable and unraveled toward its end. Eighteenth-century Americans rejected the colonial status quo and launched a revolution and established a constitutional republic.

Nineteenth-century Americans went to war over expansion of slavery. Early 20th-century Americans grappled with the collapse of the private sector economy in the Depression of the 1930s.

We are seeing something like this again today. The welfare state arrangements that once seemed solid are on the path to unsustainability.

Entitlement programs -- Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid -- are threatening to gobble up the whole government and much of the private sector, as well.

Lifetime employment by one big company represented by one big union is a thing of the past. People who counted on corporate or public sector pensions are seeing them default.

Looking back, we are as far away in time today from victory in World War II in 1945 as Americans were at the time of the Dred Scott decision from the First Inaugural.

We are as far away in time today from passage of the Social Security in 1935 as Americans then were from the launching of post-Civil War Reconstruction.

Nevertheless our current president and most politicians of his party seem determined to continue the current welfare state arrangements -- historian Walter Russell Mead calls this the blue state model -- into the indefinite future.

Some leaders of the other party are advancing ideas for adapting a system that worked reasonably well in an industrial age dominated by seemingly eternal big units into something that can prove workable in an information age experiencing continual change and upheaval wrought by innovations in the market economy.

The current 76-year period is nearing its end. What will come next?




Israeli government vows to build new settlements:  "Israel's prime minister has vowed to move ahead with settlement [sic] building in a Palestinian-claimed area near Jerusalem, after Israeli security forces evicted more than 100 Palestinian protesters from the site. In an interview Sunday on Israeli radio, Benjamin Netanyahu said 'there will construction' in the disputed E-1 zone between Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem and the major West Bank Jewish settlement of Maaleh Adumim."

France: Pro-family activists rally at Eiffel Tower:  "Hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets of Paris on Sunday decrying the French president's plan to legalize same-sex marriage and adoptions. They converged near the Eiffel Tower, chanting and waving flags, posters and balloons. 'I do not personally agree with gay marriage as I am a Christian and believe what the Bible says about marriage being between one woman and one man for a life time,' said CNN iReporter Oluwasegun Olowu-Davies, who shot video of the march with his phone."

Jerry Brown wants feds to back off on prisons:  "'It is now time to return the control of our prison system to California,' Gov. Jerry Brown declared at a news conference Tuesday morning. Amen to that. Federal lawsuits and federal judges have taken over the state's prison system. Unelected judges don't have to worry about paying for what they command. Nor need they worry about losing their jobs should they incite the public's wrath. Thus, judges have ordered massive increases in inmate health and mental-health spending. Those orders have driven up the annual cost per inmate to more than $55,000."

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



List of backup or "mirror" sites here or  here -- for 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)

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a war criminal. Both British and American codebreakers had cracked the Japanese naval code so FDR knew what was coming at Pearl Harbor.  But for his own political reasons he warned no-one there.  So responsibility for the civilian and military deaths at Pearl Harbor lies with FDR as well as with the Japanese.  The huge firepower available at Pearl Harbor, both aboard ship and on land, could have largely neutered the attack.  Can you imagine 8 battleships and various lesser craft firing all their AA batteries as the Japanese came in?  The Japanese naval airforce would have been annihilated and the war would have been over before it began.


Monday, January 14, 2013

Abandoning ‘We The People’

For much of its 236-year history, the federal government has accumulated new power by whittling away at the essential protections afforded to American citizens under the U.S. Constitution. In recent years this wholesale abandonment of our founding principles has rapidly gained momentum — accompanied by a skyrocketing government debt that now eclipses our nation’s annual gross domestic product.

“There’s a clear cause and effect here that is as neat and predictable as a law of physics,” former U.S. President Ronald Reagan said in his farewell address to the nation in 1989. “As government expands, liberty contracts.”

No truer words have ever been spoken — yet in the last half-decade this nation has witnessed a stunning (and astronomically expensive) escalation of neo-fascism in America. And no political party, court nor ideological movement has proven able to blunt its building momentum.

During the debate over “Obamacare” — a massive, budget-busting entitlement funded with money our country doesn’t have — former New Jersey Judge Andrew Napolitano pointedly challenged then-U.S. Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) regarding the constitutionality of this socialized medicine monstrosity.

Clyburn’s response?

“There’s nothing in the Constitution that says the federal government has anything to do with most of the stuff we do,” he said.

Therein lies the root of our problem. The overt contempt for our Constitution displayed by Clyburn and other elected officials is precisely why government has become so unruly, so fiscally unsustainable and so dangerous. Tragically for our Republic, the U.S. Supreme Court empowered this view in its Obamacare ruling — inventing a new taxing authority to accommodate this abomination rather than following the law and protecting our liberties.

Decades of legislative overreach, executive power grabs and judicial activism have steadily diminished our freedom and free markets — a disintegration which may have already reached the point of terminal velocity. Our nation now prints unlimited piles of money with no congressional oversight. It taps our phones and emails with no probable cause. It compels us to purchase products or face stiff fines. And now it wants to strip us of our right to keep and bear arms.

Yet even these egregious incursions are not enough for some members of the professional left.

In a recent column published by The New York Times, Georgetown University law professor Louis Michael Seidman argues for the wholesale abandonment of the U.S. Constitution, decrying “all its archaic, idiosyncratic and downright evil provisions.”

“We have to give up on the claim that we are a self-governing people who can settle our disagreements through mature and tolerant debate,” Seidman writes, “we ought to try extricating ourselves from constitutional bondage so that we can give real freedom a chance.”

“Real freedom?” From “constitutional bondage?”

These assertions are demonstrably illogical. Arguing one’s freedom would improve by allowing government to tighten its grip is like arguing one’s breathing would improve by allowing an Anaconda to do the same. Yet we are supposed to accept the ongoing suffocation of our freedom and free markets in the name of expediting a socialist agenda that is bankrupting our country? And give up more of our money — and our guns — to the new overlords?

Like so many ivory tower leftists whose anti-American views hold sway in Washington, D.C., Seidman sees the Constitution as something to be shaken off — like a bad cold. Of course what he fails to recognize is that his prescription for constitutional emasculation would kill the very source of the federal government’s power and legitimacy.

Absent the Constitution, there is no government — only anarchy. One cannot destroy our founding document without destroying the nation it created (or what’s left of it). And make no mistake — once freed from any real or implied constraint, government becomes the tyranny our Founding Fathers (and most present-day Americans) fear.

In other words it ceases to be America.



Freedom Lost

In California, Gov. Jerry Brown has signed into law an astounding 876 new mandates. They all took effect last week. Now, in the Golden State, you cannot do the following:

--Hunt a bear using trained dogs. Untrained canines are OK, I guess. And how would the authorities be able to tell? Would the dog have to take a test in the forest?

--Sit in an off-road vehicle without being in a seat. You can't sit on the floor or on the roof. Do off-road vehicles even have roofs? I don't know.

--Use a boat in a "freshwater body" without paying a separate fee. The purpose of the fee is to raise money to control the influx of "invasive mussels." I thought that was a 1950s monster movie.

--Drive a party bus without a special license. Can't wait to see that test. "Do you know the words to 'Celebration' by Kool and the Gang?"

The list of new laws is almost endless, and it is clear that Brown and the California legislature have been very busy thinking up ways to control every aspect of people's lives. And that is what's basically happening throughout this country. Politicians, some of them well-meaning, are trying to legislate everything.

New York's Mayor Michael Bloomberg doesn't want us to be chubby, so he's trying to ban soft drinks in large cups. If a child rides his bike, he often looks like a Roman gladiator with all the protective gear. Drive through a yellow light, and you may be ticketed thanks to a camera tied to a pole. Everybody's watching everything -- and then sending it out to the world via technology.

The more laws that governments pass the less individual freedom there is. Any student of history will tell you that. Totalitarian countries ban pretty much everything. The Taliban whipped people in public for dancing. Mao would execute you for saying a prayer. Hitler would send you to a concentration camp if he thought you were gay.

We Americans need to stop this nanny state stuff. Reasonable protections are fine. It should be a crime to text while driving. But in California it is now against the law to park at a broken meter for more time than you could if said meter were working. I can just see the cops standing there with a stopwatch.

I consider myself a law-abiding person. But I'm exhausted. I don't know where to put the bottles, newspapers, cans and other stuff for garbage pickup outside my house. The rules are so thick you need someone from MIT to explain them.

So here's my pitch to Brown and other elected officials: Relax. The bears will be fine. The mussels will invade no matter what you do. The parking meter deal isn't important.  OK?



It's all about Obama

Do you remember what the mainstream media mainly talked about as the country careened toward the fiscal cliff? Did they talk about the harmful economic effects of impending tax increases? Did they talk about which tax increases would be worse than others? Did they talk about the need to get rid of waste in government without causing economic harm?

No. None of that. The taking heads and opinion writers focused like a laser on one and only one question: who was going to get the blame if we went over the cliff.

Up next will be the debt ceiling deadline (in a matter of weeks), then the automatic sequester of federal spending (in less than two months), and then (in three months) comes a close-down-the-government-moment, when Congress will have to pass a continuing resolution, because it can't seem to ever pass a real budget. Through it all, expect more of the same. Instead of real issues, the media will treat these events like a boxing match. Who's landing a blow? Who's getting hurt?

Think about that for a moment. If we don't curtail entitlement spending, we're going to end up like Greece. Even the Democrats are unwilling to tax enough to pay the bills. But none of this is interesting to people who talk and write for a living. Only the blame game holds their attention.

OK. I'm willing to devote at least one column to that topic and here is my answer: President Obama deserves about 90 percent of the blame for these crises. Here's why.

During the 2008 election, I was actually hopeful about Barack Obama. He was the only serious candidate in the Democratic primary who said we need to do something about entitlement spending, including Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. For this, he took much abuse from the left, including scathing condemnation by Paul Krugman in The New York Times. Yet he stood his ground.

What made me especially hopeful was that Barack Obama was a liberal Democrat. Just as it took a Republican (Richard Nixon) to go to China, I fear it will take a Democrat to reform entitlements. Bill Clinton was about to do what needs to be done with Social Security and Medicare until Monica Lewinski derailed him. Then George Bush proved that Republicans are never going to be able to reform Social Security. Perhaps, Barack Obama could pick up where Bill Clinton left off. Could that really happen?

After the election, I became even more hopeful. When President Obama appointed Alan Simpson and Erskind Bowles to head a commission to tackle the problem of ever escalating federal debt, even the Republicans in Congress were opposed. But the president forged ahead, despite no congressional support. He met personally with Simpson and Bowles and promised them that he would back their recommendations — let the chips fall where they may.

Alan Simpson is a former Republican senator from Wyoming. Erskind Bowles is the former chief of staff to Bill Clinton. This bipartisan approach was exactly what Barack Obama campaigned on and it is why many people (including many Republicans) voted for him.

The Simpson/Bowles recommendations were released in December 2010. But there was no meeting at the White House. In fact, the president greeted the report with stony silence. In January, there was no mention of the report in his State of the Union speech to Congress. There was nothing in the president's budget that year either. It was as though Simpson and Bowles did not exist.

Then the president did something unforgivable. In the spring of 2011, he invited Paul Ryan to a public event with the promise that "Congressman Ryan will really like what the president has to say." Ryan was head of the House Budget Committee and the main person the president would have to deal with if there was to be any bipartisan solution to our budget crises. Then, in front of a national television audience, the president gratuitously lashed out at Ryan — even accusing him of being "un-American" for his views on how to reduce budget deficits.

Many of us were stunned. Politicians rarely attack other politicians if they don't have to. When they're running against each other, it's no holds barred. But when they have to legislate together, there is nothing gained and a lot to lose by publically humiliating a member of the opposite party.

To this day, I'll never understand why Barack Obama chose to pull off that stunt. It was a public repudiation of every principle he ran on in his quest for the presidency. But I do know this. From that day forward, there has been a different Obama in the White House.

In the latest round of negotiations, the president repeatedly mischaracterized the Republican position. Remember: last fall's election is over. The president now has to work with Republicans to solve critical budget problems. Yet in discussing those efforts publically, time and again the president has gone out of his way to insult and demean the very people he is negotiating with.

The Republicans, according to the president, care only about millionaires and billionaires. He, on the other hand, is protecting the middle class by insisting they get to keep their tax cuts. What tax cuts? The Bush tax cuts. The tax cuts that Obama and most other congressional Democrats voted against, campaigned against and attacked time and again as the cause of spiraling federal deficits!

As I wrote last week, the Republicans were foolish to let the president become the public defender of the very low tax rates for the middle class — the very tax rates the Democrats once opposed. But let me return once more to the blame game.

If the press reports can be believed, it was Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell who kept us from going over the fiscal cliff. He did it by recruiting Vice President Joe Biden to help reach a deal, while the president was vacationing in Hawaii.

I'm not sure what makes Obama tick. I have no idea what motivates him. I have no idea what he is trying to do. I am sure about one thing: in the current fiscal impasse, Barack Obama is the one who is most at fault.

To top it off, David Brooks reminds us of this bizarre fact:

"President Obama excoriated Paul Ryan for offering a budget that would cut spending on domestic programs from its historical norm of 3 or 4 percent of G.D.P. all the way back to 1.8 percent. But the Obama budget is the Ryan budget. According to the Office of Management and Budget, Obama will cut domestic discretionary spending back to 1.8 percent of G.D.P. in six years."



Panetta warns of hiring freeze, deep cuts at Pentagon

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Thursday he has ordered the Pentagon to begin planning now for the triple crisis facing the government this March, telling reporters it was a “perfect storm” that could leave the military with a worst-case outcome: a “hollow force.”

Panetta and the nation’s top uniformed officer, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, said in a briefing that March’s potential across-the-board budget cuts, the expiration of the continuing spending resolution that now pays for the government and the potential that the U.S. could default on its debt all were too serious not to begin immediate preparations.

“The fact is, looking at all three of those, we have no idea what the hell’s going to happen,” Panetta told reporters at the Pentagon. “All told this uncertainty, if left unresolved by the Congress, will seriously harm our military readiness.”

He said the Pentagon would pull back on military maintenance that wasn’t critical to immediate missions, freeze civilian hiring, stop issuing certain contracts and take “other steps” against the possibility of a roughly $45 billion budget across-the-board spending cut that could take effect in March, unless Congress intervenes.

An even larger cut would have taken place on Jan. 2, but Congress and the White House agreed to postpone it for two months as part of their deal to avert the fiscal cliff.

Congress’ decision to push back that cut, but not to void it altogether, is what has made Panetta and Dempsey pessimistic that lawmakers would be able to resolve March’s triple crisis a timely fashion.

“I’d like to believe that ultimately, Congress will do the right thing,” Panetta said. Now, however, “my fear in talking to members of Congress is that this issue may now be in a very difficult place in terms of their willingness to confront what needs to be done to de-trigger sequester. So all those reasons, plus the uncertainty about what happen on the CR, the debt ceiling, put all that together, and we simply cannot sit back now and not be prepared for the worst.”

Dempsey described why sequestration would be so devastating — the law requires imposing all the first year’s cuts at once, and each passing day leaves less time in the fiscal year to absorb them. If sequester hit on March 1, that would mean only seven months, instead of a full 12, for example, increasing the blow for the services.

“It’s the burn rate,” he went on. “The burn rate is unsustainable. We have to now take measures to prepare for that eventuality.”

Dempsey said that even though he and the heads of the military services would do their best to protect the readiness of units fighting in Afghanistan, they necessarily would have to cut back on the money available to train and maintain other units returning from or preparing for the war.




List of backup or "mirror" sites here or  here -- for 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)

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a war criminal. Both British and American codebreakers had cracked the Japanese naval code so FDR knew what was coming at Pearl Harbor.  But for his own political reasons he warned no-one there.  So responsibility for the civilian and military deaths at Pearl Harbor lies with FDR as well as with the Japanese.  The huge firepower available at Pearl Harbor, both aboard ship and on land, could have largely neutered the attack.  Can you imagine 8 battleships and various lesser craft firing all their AA batteries as the Japanese came in?  The Japanese naval airforce would have been annihilated and the war would have been over before it began.