Tuesday, February 16, 2016

A Progressive Wish List, An Unsustainable Budget

It’s quite telling that the cover of the federal budget for the 2017 fiscal year portrays snow-capped mountains, because the proposals read like a liberal wish list being sent to Santa’s workshop. Despite the absurd recommendations by President Obama, however, the enactment of such policies would have devastating consequences for years to come.

This spending proposal, that last to be offered by our current president, includes spending increases of $4.15 trillion (with a T), as well as $2.6 trillion in tax hikes. All of this comes on the heels of the CBO report on future federal debt. At our current spending levels, including the Omnibus bill passed last December, the annual budget deficit is projected to rise to $544 billion. This will all contribute to the national debt, sitting at record heights of $19 trillion, and is expected to rise by $9.4 trillion in the next decade. Even now, reigning in federal spending should be priority number one of all our elected officials, not increasing government programs to score a few political points.

Clearly, however, the Obama administration prefers the latter, which is way the newly proposed budget reads more like a partisan cheat sheet rather than a serious effort to work with the legislature and improve our country’s fiscal integrity. In fact, there are so many ideologically-motivated proposals that Congress is likely to disregard the entire document.

Throughout the budget plan, Obama is picking clear winners and losers with his increases in spending and taxes. Among them is the government-satellite green energy industry. In his budget, Obama plans to increase research on developing and implementing green energy sources to $12.8 billion, double the amount that the program currently receives. Furthermore, another $1.3 billion will be sent to a green Climate Fund, agreed upon at the Paris climate conference, that will allow developing countries to develop their own alternate energy markets with heavy government intervention.

A second clear winner from the Obama budget: higher education administrators. With plans to massively increase the amount of federal spending towards lower and higher education, another rise in tuition will likely follow shortly afterwards. After all, it has been recorded that recent increases in federal education funding have produced entire departments of unnecessary administrators at universities across the nation.

Of course, not everyone makes off as well as these government favorites. One of the biggest losers from the budget proposal: reliable energy sources. From the increasingly-burdensome regulations on the coal industry to the new $10 dollar tax on oil barrels (which would translate into a 22 cent-per-gallon tax on gasoline), well-established energy sources are being hindered from innovating and expanding to benefit Americans across the country, which will then disproportionately impact low-income individuals and families.

As a matter of fact, it will be the American citizens that will suffer the most from Obama’s budget proposal. Cadillac taxes on health care are expected to rise significantly. Expansions in Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security will pose a serious cost on future generations, as more and more members of the baby-boomer generation are retiring. Taxes will increase, national debt will balloon, and the US will be all the worse just so that President Obama can take advantage of his office one last time.

Not long after Obama proposed his 2017 budget, Republican legislators immediately dismissed the document as ludicrous. Speaker Ryan tweeted out a comical, though telling, survey asking if the mountain on the cover represented the increases in debt, regulations, or taxes found in the budget plan (Hint: it’s all of the above). Many other legislators, in the both the House and Senate, have outright rejected the plan and indicated that they will propose their own budget with much less liberal use of the purse.

Whether he intended to make serious changes or not, President Obama has presented us with his last attempt at implementing his ideological agenda. Though some proposals are about as realistic as elves and flying reindeer, the potential harm done to the country, should such a budget pass, is no laughing matter.



Why old-school gender politics is turning off young women

It seems that Hillary Clinton’s decision to play the gender card has left her with a losing hand. Following her defeat in New Hampshire on Tuesday, it’s become apparent that Clinton’s reliance on chasing the female vote has turned off a significant number of voters.

Clinton’s 2008 campaign for the presidency pointedly denounced the idea that gender played an important role in her politics: ‘I am not running as a woman. I am running because I believe I am the best qualified and experienced person.’ What a difference eight years make. This time round, Clinton kicked off her campaign with a clear message that she was running for president as a ‘wife, mom [and] grandma’.

But Clinton’s recent exploitation of gender politics isn’t that much of a u-turn. In her 2008 concession speech, she famously announced:

‘Although we weren’t able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time, thanks to you, it’s got about 18million cracks in it, and the light is shining through like never before, filling us all with the hope and the sure knowledge that the path will be a little easier next time.’

Clinton’s current campaign has simply picked up the mic from that speech in Washington, but this time with an almost blind commitment to chasing the female vote.

The list of Clinton’s famous supporters is like a who’s who of celebrity feminists. Jamie Lee Curtis, Lena Dunham, Katy Perry, Demi Lovato and other young famous women have come out in support of the grandma-in-chief.

Since the campaign began, Clinton’s feminist support base has been on the offensive, criticising the way in which Clinton has been supposedly stereotyped by the media. In a recent plug for the Clinton campaign, Dunham provided a list of ‘rabidly sexist’ words which had been used to describe Clinton. ‘I literally want to make a list that we hand to media outlets that says, “these are the words you can’t use when describing a female candidate”’, she wrote. This is all despite the fact that Dunham’s own interview with Clinton ended with what some might call a sexist question: ‘Our last question is by far our most important question, which is that we need to ask you about this dress.’

If you thought that was bad enough, Clinton’s campaign took a turn for the worse last week when old-school feminist Gloria Steinem and former Democratic secretary of state Madeleine Albright attempted to garner female support for Clinton by chastising young women who intended to vote for Clinton’s rival, Bernie Sanders. Albright gave female voters a stern warning, uttering her now infamous slogan, ‘There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other!’. Meanwhile, Steinem told talk-show host Bill Maher that young women weren’t supporting Clinton because they were more interested in getting lucky: ‘When you’re young, you’re thinking: “Where are the boys?” The boys are with Bernie.’

Despite her claims otherwise, Clinton’s focus on ‘womanly politics’ is a clear endorsement of ‘vagina voting’. But though she has been criticised for courting the millennial vote, with Dunham donning embroidered Clinton outfits, this brand of gender-obsessed politics is not a specifically young phenomenon. The fact that both Steinem and Albright, proponents of the ‘personal is political’ generation of feminism, have come out with such rubbish shows that identity politics is not simply a millennial fashion: it has deeper roots, back to the start of second-wave feminism and its elevation of sexual identity over class and economic considerations.

In fact, young women have defended their choice not to be pigeonholed by their gender. The New York Times published several letters it received from women who were outraged by the suggestion that they had a duty to support Clinton simply because she was female. ‘I am tired of being condescended to by other women about the presidential election’, read one. ‘The cluelessness of these feminist elders is astounding’, read another.

Clinton’s presidential campaign is the result of decades of gender-obsessed feminism. Perhaps this is why Clinton has failed to hit it off with many young women who aren’t part of the small, identity-politics-obsessed campus scene, who don’t read the Vagenda or watch Girls. The Clinton camp has whinged about the Republicans’ use of Clinton’s personal life, especially in relation to her husband’s affair, as an argument against her. But what did she expect? Clinton’s entire campaign is focused on her personality and emotional relationships – her personal life is the basis of her political campaign.

I hope young women are turning away from Clinton in reaction to the insulting suggestion that politics is about electing someone who looks like you, rather than someone you believe in. But it’s probably not as simple as that – Bernie Sanders is hardly innocent of playing up to specific interest groups and courting the hip youth vote. Nevertheless, it’s exciting to see women rejecting the idea that simply having a female president would be beneficial to women. Never mind Clinton’s cracks in the glass ceiling, it is the cracks in her campaign that are really interesting.



In defence of "The Selfish Gene"

Richard Dawkins’ book is more than a Thatcherite manifesto

Believe it or not, when "The Selfish Gene", by Richard Dawkins, was published 40 years ago, it was greeted with warmth and interest. There was no shrieking, no alarm. Only recently has it come to be considered offensive – with its capacity to upset and outrage growing with every year.

While the reviews in 1976 were ‘gratifyingly favourable’, as Dawkins wrote in the preface to the 1989 edition, ‘it was not seen, initially, as a controversial book. Its reputation for contentiousness took years to grow, until, by now, it is widely regarded as a work of radical extremism.’ In the 21st century, The Selfish Gene remains one of the most disputed pieces of scientific writing.

As The Selfish Gene’s repute spread, its perceived ‘biological reductionism’ or ‘determinism’ came to be regarded as an affront to notions of the soul, to free will and human agency. Christians mistrusted it as much as the secular left. If the 1960s was the decade in which everything seemed possible, The Selfish Gene seemed to epitomise the 1970s spirit of defeatism and fatalism.

That decade also saw the re-emergence of the right in Britain under Margaret Thatcher, and it was unfortunate that a book with ‘selfish’ in its title should appear concurrently with the rise of the woman famed for proclaiming there to be ‘no such thing as society’, even if she was misquoted. Dawkins argued that ‘a dominant quality of our genes is ruthless selfishness, which will usually give rise to selfishness in individual behaviour… We are born selfish.’ Dawkins was thus deemed the biological godfather for the tooth-and-claw capitalism of the 1980s, and the casino capitalism of the 2000s. Others couldn’t help but point out that, in the wake of The Selfish Gene’s appearance, anti-humanist genetic determinism started to take a foothold in Western cultural discourse. ‘It’s my genes’ was now a defence and an excuse.

As Dawkins wrote in the original, and has had to restate for over 40 years to those who deliberately misunderstand his thesis, he didn’t state that human behaviour was self-seeking. As a Labour supporter, he certainly didn’t advocate that it should be.

His thesis was that genes behave as if they seek self-propagation, and this was (largely) the determinant of behaviour in nature. Individuals are just the carriers of these apparently selfish genes, which seek to self-replicate. This is why bees apparently commit suicide in defence of the hive, or birds will risk their lives to warn the flock of an approaching hawk. It is the selfishness of genes that facilitates behaviour benefiting the greater good.

In the end, though, does any of this matter? Trying to wring cultural significance out of what goes on in nature is always fraught with difficulty, because people will perceive what they want and draw allusions as they please. Female penguins go out and hunt and the males look after the offspring, therefore the same arrangement could and should apply to humans. Lesbian lizards in South America demonstrate that civil partnerships are normal. Six per cent of elephant seals take all the females, so here’s to a society based on alpha-male principles.

Yet as Dawkins concludes in The Selfish Gene itself, while humans emerged from the animal world, we alone are the species not bound to its whims. We alone have reason. We alone erect cathedrals and invent computers. That’s why Dawkins is both a humanist and an atheist: we don’t have to be nature’s puppets or mental slaves to belief systems. In other words, The Selfish Gene can tell us many fundamental things about the world except one: the mind of man.



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated) and Coral reef compendium. (Updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on A WESTERN HEART.

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