Friday, March 01, 2013

Again:  Obama says one thing and does another

President Obama told a meeting of the National Governors Association: "At some point, we've got to do some governing. And certainly, what we can't do is keep careening from manufactured crisis to manufactured crisis." Really?

Yes, really. He added, referring to the sequestration: "These cuts do not have to happen. Congress can turn them off anytime with just a little bit of compromise."

Obama has repeatedly demonstrated that he does not consider himself bound by a duty of good faith to square with the American people. He has shown that he is unafraid to utter the most egregious distortions and exaggerations; he has no fear of being called on them.

Just consider the few assertions I've cited. "At some point, we've got to do some governing." Does he mean that at some point, he needs to quit using every possible opportunity to play golf on the public's dime, that he should stop treating the people's White House as a platform for permanently campaigning, that he intends to forgo his Alinskyite tactics of bullying and demonizing in lieu of dealing with issues on the merits, that he aims to quit flouting his legal obligation to present a budget and that he will begin to exercise leadership over his party and pressure its leaders in the Senate to pass a budget? I didn't think so.

How about his statement that we can't keep careening from manufactured crisis to manufactured crisis? Does he mean that he is finally going to renounce his policy, first divulged by his former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, not to let a crisis go to waste, that he regrets having painted a false picture of crisis about the nation's uninsured to force Obamacare through Congress, that he is sorry that he used the 2008 financial collapse as an excuse to enact recklessly irresponsible bills to spend more borrowed money under the guise of stimulating the economy, that he is sorry he leapt on the Sandy Hook shootings to begin a frantic manufactured-crisis-driven crusade to ratchet up his effort to severely restrict the rights of gun owners, that he plans to repent for falsely laying the blame for our disgracefully unbalanced budgets on the "rich," who are already contributing more than their fair share, that he is going to square with the American people about the shameless hyperbole and corruption in his environmental agenda and cease and desist from his dishonest fear-mongering about carbon emissions to advance that agenda, that he is sorry for exaggerating the effects of the Gulf oil spill in order to justify breaching his promises to remove restrictions on offshore drilling and that he is going to quit pretending that America's infrastructure is in a crisis state of repair in order to fuel his case for ever-greater government control and the creation of public-sector jobs? I didn't think so.

Indeed, if Obama is so weary of crisis governance, of which he is the peerless master, then why is he using these very same speeches to manufacture a phony crisis over the sequestration? We are talking about very small-percentage cuts here, mostly in the rate of spending increases.

If Obama were interested in changing his MO from crisis-mongering to governance -- instead of doubling down on his effort to expand the scope, reach and control of the federal government at any cost, literally -- then he would quit characterizing every single activity of the enormously wasteful federal government as an essential service.

Private-sector businesses don't enjoy the luxury of simply injecting public funds into their ailing enterprises to avoid cutting expenditures they can't afford. Are private-sector businesses and employees that much less important to Obama than public-sector services and employees? Silly question.

In his ongoing crisis-stoking, Obama never laments the real economic destruction his own policies have already caused. When he does deign to acknowledge economic difficulties, he callously understates the dismal conditions we're experiencing -- and the hardship people are already enduring as a result of his ideological intransigence against cutting spending and reforming entitlements.

But what makes Obama's oratorical flurry against crisis governance an even more insulting farce is that we do have a real, wholly unmanufactured crisis looming that will affect far more than a limited number of government jobs and programs. At the risk of breaking an already broken record, I'd like to point out again that we are going bankrupt because Obama won't agree to spending cuts and entitlement reform.

It is time that he quit playing games and insulting our intelligence by blaming Republicans for the sequestration he authored and for allegedly refusing to compromise when they are the ones who have compromised. They have done so on taxes, whereas he has refused to compromise on spending and entitlements. You make a deal with Obama, and he moves the goal posts.

Seriously, how can Obama continue this charade with a straight face? How long will the public tolerate it?



Pro-homosexual bias at The Washington Post

If you're a reporter at the Washington Post and you aspire to write unsigned editorials, just send an email to the ombudsman.

That's a lesson one might draw from yesterday's extraordinary column by Patrick Pexton, the veteran journalist who, according to the Post's website, "represents readers who have concerns or complaints" about "accuracy, fairness, ethics and the newsgathering process." One such reader wrote to both Pexton and a Post reporter to complain that the paper's coverage of same-sex marriage gives "short shrift" to "the conservative, pro-family side of the argument."

Pexton, who withholds the names of both the reader and the reporter "at their requests," quotes the reporter's response at length: "The reason that legitimate media outlets routinely cover gays is because it is the civil rights issue of our time.

 Journalism, at its core, is about justice and fairness, and that's the 'view of the world' that we espouse; therefore, journalists are going to cover the segment of society that is still not treated equally under the law."

The reader wrote back: "The mission of journalism is not justice. Defining justice is a political matter, not journalistic. Journalism should be about accuracy and fairness."

Whereupon the reporter dug in: "Should the media make room for racists, i.e. those people who believe that black people shouldn't marry white people? Any story on African-Americans wouldn't be wholly accurate without the opinion of a racist, right? Of course I have a bias. I have a bias toward fairness. The true conservative would have the same bias. The true conservative would want the government out of people's bedrooms, and religion out of government."

In addressing the disagreement, Pexton acknowledges his own bias on the subject and his incomprehension of opposing arguments:

Many Americans feel that allowing gay men and lesbians to marry diminishes the value of their heterosexual marriages. I don't understand this. The lesbian couple down the street raising two kids or the two men across the hall in your condominium--how do those unions take anything away from the sanctity, fidelity or joy you take in your heterosexual marriage? Isn't your marriage, at root, based on the love and commitment you have for your spouse, not what you think about the neighbors?

That's a straw man. We've been following this debate for years, and we've never heard opponents claim that same-sex marriage would diminish or endanger their own marriages. Their arguments are based on morality, tradition, and worries about the effects on the institution of marriage, on society as a whole, and on the rights of individuals and institutions that adhere to the traditional view of marriage. The merits of those concerns are of course debatable, but Pexton is either obtuse or disingenuous in reducing them to a nonsensical appeal to self-interest.

Even so, the reporter's self-righteous rant went too far for the ombudsman. Pexton concludes by agreeing with the reader that the Post "should do a better job of understanding and conveying to readers, with detachment and objectivity, the beliefs and the fears of social conservatives." Along the way he comes very close to conceding outright the paper's liberal bias:

Because our profession lives and dies on the First Amendment--one of the libertarian cornerstones of the Constitution--most journalists have a problem with religionists telling people what they can and cannot do. We want to write words, read books, watch movies, listen to music, and have sex and babies pretty much when, where and how we choose.

That "libertarian" is quite a dodge. Most journalists are anything but libertarian in areas where that would mean siding against the left, such as guns, education, taxes, nonsexual health care and nonmedia corporate free speech. And as blogress Mollie Hemingway notes, Pexton's disparagement of those who disagree with him as "religionists," which means zealots, is invidious. Was Martin Luther King a religionist?

The anonymous reporter, however, goes far beyond bias, and even beyond bad faith--that is, beyond abusing his credibility as an "objective" reporter to further his cause. To judge by his emails to the reader, he has achieved a perfect Orwellian inversion. He has convinced himself that objectivity and bias (or at least his bias) are one and the same thing.

Or has he? This is where the reporter's insistence on anonymity is telling. If he really believes that propagandizing for same-sex marriage constitutes good journalism, why wouldn't he leap at the opportunity to express that view openly in the pages of the newspaper? There are two possible answers. One is cognitive dissonance: Upon further reflection, he realized that his view was illogical and would make him look foolish. The other is social pressure.

Notwithstanding the pervasive so-called libertarian bias that Pexton describes, it is possible that enough of the old-fashioned ethos of objectivity survives in the Post newsroom that it would be harmful to a reporter's career to be exposed as so brazen an advocate. In other words, while there seems to be little question that the Post is biased, it may be less biased than the anonymous reporter's screed would indicate.

Hal Holbrook as Deep Throat in "All the President's Men. Four decades later, a Washington Post reporter requests anonymity.
If that's the case, then in granting the reporter anonymity and not affording other reporters or editors an opportunity to respond, Pexton depicted the problem of bias at the Post in an inaccurately harsh light. That would be a disservice to readers, but even more a disservice to the Post--and especially to any conscientious journalists who happen to work for the Post. Imagine that you're a Post reporter who covers the debate over same-sex marriage but, unlike Pexton's secretive scribe, you make an honest effort to play it straight and be fair to both sides. Your reputation is now tainted by the supposition--propagated in the very pages of the Post--that Post reporters believe bias is objectivity.

Why would the Post agree to grant one of its own reporters anonymity to ventilate views that make the paper's own newsroom look like a den of bias and unprofessionalism? According to the paper's website, Pexton "operates under a contract with The Post that guarantees him independence." That presumably means he has complete discretion in interpreting the paper's policies on source confidentiality, if he is expected to follow them at all.

Pexton's two-year term as ombudsman ends this week. In his Feb. 17 column, he broke the news that "discussions are underway within The Post" about abolishing the position of ombudsman: "For cost-cutting reasons, for modern media-technology reasons and because The Post, like other news organizations, is financially weaker and hence even more sensitive to criticism, my bet is that this position will disappear." Unsurprisingly, he hopes it doesn't:

Can I say for certain that an ombudsman makes The Post more credible? No, I can't point to any good study saying that. But people's trust in the media is declining. Eliminating the ombudsman seems a shortsighted move.

Surely Pexton's spotlighting a particularly egregious example of journalistic bias at the Post doesn't enhance the paper's credibility. And his agreement to conceal the reporter's identity makes it difficult if not impossible for the editors to take remedial action aimed at restoring readers' trust.

One may salute Pexton for being honest enough to broach the subject of liberal bias and to report on a compelling example of it. But even that doesn't do much to burnish the Post's credibility. After all, he operates under a contract that guarantees him independence.



The savage  intolerance of the liberal media

Fox News political analyst and “Special Report” panelist Juan Williams said in an interview with The Daily Caller’s Ginni Thomas that mainstream media outlets “stab” and “kill” dissenting voices.

Williams was fired from National Public Radio in 2010 after saying he sometimes gets “nervous” when seated on an airplane with Muslims, while making a broader point about the importance of religious tolerance.

“I always thought it was the Archie Bunkers of the world, the right wingers of world, who were more resistant and more closed-minded about hearing the other side,” he said. “In fact, what I have learned is, in a very painful way — and I can open this shirt and show you the scars and the knife wounds — is that it is big media institutions who are identifiably more liberal to left-leaning who will shut you down, stab you and kill you, fire you, if they perceive that you are not telling the story in the way that they want it told.”



Hollywood again

Argo — the movie that won Best Film — is yet another piece of Hollywood’s Brit-bashing junk history that casts Brits in a poor light.

The film, directed by and starring Ben Affleck, tells the story of how the Canadian government and the CIA managed to rescue six American diplomats from the clutches of the Iranian students who occupied the U.S. embassy during the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Although the movie is a cracker — tense and terrifying — like so much that comes out Hollywood, Argo plays fast and loose with the facts. And unsurprisingly, the Brits are given a real pasting. For, according to the Affleck version of the rescue mission, the six embassy staff were refused refuge by British diplomats. ‘Brits turned them away,’ says a senior CIA character in the film.

The sad irony is that what really happened in Tehran in 1979 is just as thrilling as Argo, if not more so — and it involved astonishing British pluck.

When the American Embassy was overrun by armed students on November 4, 1979, five members of staff managed to escape by a side exit. The remaining 55 embassy staff were to be held captive for a further 444 days.

The most senior member of the escaped group was Robert Anders, who worked in the visa department. He decided the best place to find refuge was the British Embassy.

The group made its way through the bustling streets, only to find the British embassy was also surrounded by an angry mob.

Thinking on his feet, Anders quickly took the group back to his flat and from there tried to contact anybody who might help rescue them.

After a tense night, a call came through from the British embassy informing the five terrified Americans that it could give them refuge in its residential compound, which was known as Gulhak.

As Argo neglects to mention, this was an exceedingly brave offer. Both the British embassy and residential compounds were under serious threat. After what had happened to the Americans, the British understandably feared an attack on their own staff.

The Iranian revolutionaries had dubbed Britain the ‘Little Satan’, and for our officials to shelter diplomats from the ‘Great Satan’ (America) meant running a huge risk.

Much more HERE



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Thursday, February 28, 2013

The importance of culture

In my days of writing academic journal articles (1970-1990), one of my most frequent themes was criticism of the way my fellow psychologists used students as their  subjects of study.  They seemed to assume that what was true of American college students was true of human beings everywhere.  And those psychologists who didn't use their students as subjects of study used white rats!

So I was something of a lone voice in expressing dissatisfaction with the reigning research traditions.  I was virtually the only voice in psychology saying that what is true of American college students might not be representative of other populations and sub-populations.

But as I have often found, my way of thinking does gain ground eventually and that has now happened again after the relatively recent work of a small group of researchers led by an anthropologist (Henrich).  You can read a lengthy summary of their work here.  They did a lot of cross cultural research among non-Western cultures which showed that in most of the world's cultures people think radically differently from the way "Westerners" generally and Americans in particular think.  And their evidence was sufficiently extensive and cogent to gain widespread acceptance, though I doubt that research traditions will change much.  More caution about generalizations can however hopefully be expected.

The new evidence was in fact stark in the way that Americans were shown to be at the far extremes of how the rest of the world thinks.  Americans are consistently outliers on most things.  There are great variations in the world's cultures but no culture  is as "weird" as American culture.

The only surprise is that that was a surprise. "American exceptionalism" anyone?  Modern Western civilization is an outlier to all of history. It is different precisely because it represents a new and better way of dealing with the world.  It dominates the world because it is different -- but different in an adaptive way.  It is a freak of cultural evolution that has transformed the world in a matter of only 200 years or so. It is clearly a pity that the Left are now beavering away to destroy that culture.


British Capital Gains Tax hike led to FALLING revenues

The Adam Smith Institute is calling on the government today to slash CGT rates in next month’s Budget in order to boost revenue and economic growth. 2010-11 figures now released by HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC)  show that the rise in Capital Gains Tax (CGT) was a failure. Meant to raise more revenue, in fact it raised less.

CGT was raised from 18% to 28% for most taxpayers (entrepreneurs’ relief stayed at 10%) in June 2010, nearly three months deep into the tax year. This unusual timing allows economists to see the impact of the rate changes during the year.

Clearly, many people sought to realise gains before the rate increased, knowing that the Coalition Agreement committed the Government to a sharp increase in CGT rate.  There was also a 34% drop in 10% ER disposals, probably because entrepreneurs feared further tightening.

However, this highlights the fact that CGT is effectively a voluntary tax, paid only when people choose to dispose of assets. If they perceive rates to be too high, they choose to keep assets rather than dispose of them.  Only a few people are forced to sell assets – many of them elderly people who build up assets throughout their lives and then cash them in to live on.

High CGT rates depress economic activity and prevent the flow of capital to where it can be most productively used. This lowers both economic growth and government revenue.  This is why the Adam Smith Institute is urging the government to slash CGT rates to their pre-2010 levels, which would raise more revenue for the Treasury and also stimulate growth.

For example, if someone owns a buy-to-let flat and is thinking about selling it to raise seed money for a new business, the fact that a large chunk of the proceeds has to be paid in tax will deter them.  They may well decide to keep the flat and not start the business, thus depriving the state not only of the CGT revenue, but also the taxes that would be paid by the new business and its employees.

People’s reluctance to pay a large cheque to the state is increased by the knowledge that much of their capital gain is actually due to inflation. Indeed, roughly half of taxable gains are attributable to inflation .

Dr Eamonn Butler, Director of the Adam Smith Institute says: “The coalition policy of a sharp increase in CGT rates has failed.  Not only has it raised less revenue, it has also reduced the available capital in the economy. That is the last thing businesses need at a time when bank loans are so difficult to get.”



Exports are actually a COST

by Don Boudreaux

Yesterday evening I received an e-mail from Justin Yang, a high-school student in Los Angeles, asking me to elaborate on why I object to government policies designed to promote economic growth through exports.  I made a mental note to ponder how best to respond to Mr. Yang, which I’d originally intended to do only through private e-mail.  But then I cuddled up in bed last night with Chris Wickam’s 2009 volume, The Inheritance of Rome.  While Wickham’s work is masterful and deeply enjoyable, I noted that back on page 40 he wrote that the economies of Tunisia and of Syria/Palestine, circa the 5th century A.D., “depended substantially on exports for their prosperity.”

Many people – high-school teachers, celebrated historians, politicians, the list is long – are convinced that nations can grow wealthy through exports.

This belief is nonsense.  Or, more precisely, this belief in “export-led growth” is nonsense without further elaboration in which the benefits of exports are revealed to be the imports they make possible, and exports themselves are explicitly reckoned as, and recognized to be, costs – that is, without further elaboration to make clear that exports are valuable only because they enable people to increase their imports.

But because so many people talk and write endlessly about “export-led growth” or “successful economies built on exports” – and because the economically untutored mind seems to be a natural host for parasitical mercantilist myths in which exporting generally was indeed considered to be valuable in and of itself – it’s worthwhile to explain why exporting per se is no means of growth.  The explanation is simple.  Here are some alternative scenarios.

First scenario: American producers employ labor, capital goods, and raw materials to produce goods that are routinely loaded onto big cargo ships – themselves American-made – and then just as routinely sunk, along with the cargo ships, in the middle of the ocean.  Lots of exports in this case.  No imports.

Does anyone suppose that these exports will lead to growth?  No.  It’s obvious even to the most ardent and misinformed protectionist that a policy of routinely sinking American-made goods into the ocean is a recipe for impoverishment and not for prosperity.  (Caveat: it’s true that some Keynesian economists regard such a policy to be productive during times of slack demand.  But let’s ignore that issue here and focus, not on short-run macroeconomic issues, but on longer-run questions of economic growth.)

Second scenario: American producers employ labor, capital goods, and raw materials to produce goods that are routinely loaded onto big cargo ships.  These ships sail safely to foreign ports.  The American-made goods are unloaded, but Americans refuse to take payment in exchange.  We give these goods to foreigners.  Once again, no one of sense would identify such a policy as one that promotes economic growth in the U.S.

Third scenario: American producers employ labor, capital goods, and raw materials to produce goods that are routinely loaded onto big cargo ships.  These ships sail safely to foreign ports.  The American-made goods are unloaded, and in exchange Americans receive money – Australian dollars, euros, yuan, yen, rubles, you name it.  When this money is sent to America, Americans burn every last note of it to ashes.  I here refrain from speculating on the likelihood that “no one would identify such a policy as one that promotes economic growth in the U.S.” – but, in fact, no one of sense would identify such a policy as one that promotes economic growth in the U.S.”  Goods exchanged for ashes is a poor deal for the ash recipients.

Fourth scenario: American producers employ labor, capital goods, and raw materials to produce goods that are routinely loaded onto big cargo ships.  These ships sail safely to foreign ports.  The American-made goods are unloaded, and in exchange Americans receive money – Australian dollars, euros, yuan, yen, rubles, you name it.  When this money is sent to America, Americans stash every last note into their mattresses, safes, and lock-boxes.  Spending such money, it is reasoned by many, would be harmful to the American economy.

As in the first three scenarios, Americans’ trading practices in this case will only make Americans poorer, not richer.  Such trading practices will not “lead” growth.  Such trading practices – aimed at maximizing exports and minimizing imports – cannot possibly be ones on which to build long-term, sustained, wide-spread prosperity in America.  Giving stuff away and receiving in return only paper (or digital entries in bank accounts) never to be spent impoverishes; it doesn’t enrich.

Fifth scenario: American producers employ labor, capital goods, and raw materials to produce goods that are routinely loaded onto big cargo ships.  These ships sail safely to foreign ports.  The American-made goods are unloaded, and in exchange Americans receive money – Australian dollars, euros, yuan, yen, rubles, you name it.  When this money is sent to America, Americans eventually spend it in Australia, Europe, China, Japan, Russia, you name the foreign location.  The more Americans export, the more Americans can import.  And that – the ability to import – is the point of trade.  In the ability to import lies the purpose and value of exporting.

So when, for example, historian Chris Wickham writes that some late-empire-period economies ”depended substantially on exports for their prosperity,” what he must mean (whether he knows it or not) is that those economies depended substantially on trade for their prosperity.  Trade, not exports.  Mr. Wickham could just as accurately – indeed, more accurately – have written about these economies that they “depended substantial on imports for their prosperity.”  To the extent that exports played an important role in creating prosperity for denizens of those economies, exports played that role only insofar as exports enabled the denizens of those economies to enjoy more imports.  The prosperity is found in the increased consumption made possible by greater imports.

Greater exports are indeed an indispensable means of increasing a people’s consumption through imports.  It is, however, highly misleading – it promotes the worst sort of economic fallacies and, hence, it promotes destructive policies – to speak of exporting as being the source of prosperity.  Trade in such cases is the source of prosperity, not exporting per se.

So to young Mr. Yang – and to everyone – I ask that every time you encounter phrases such as “export-led growth” or “economy built on exports” that you hear or read these phrases in your mind as “trade-led growth” or “economy built on trade.”  The reason, again, is that the economic improvement at home is found not in the sending of stuff to strangers, but in the receiving of stuff from strangers.  Exporting can be a means to prosperity – and an important means, to be sure – but exporting itself is not what makes people wealthy; rather, trade – the receiving of valuable goods and services in exchange for exports – is what makes people wealthy.



Shepherds and Sheep

 Thomas Sowell

John Stuart Mill's classic essay "On Liberty" gives reasons why some people should not be taking over other people's decisions about their own lives. But Professor Cass Sunstein of Harvard has given reasons to the contrary. He cites research showing "that people make a lot of mistakes, and that those mistakes can prove extremely damaging."
Professor Sunstein is undoubtedly correct that "people make a lot of mistakes." Most of us can look back over our own lives and see many mistakes, including some that were very damaging.

What Cass Sunstein does not tell us is what sort of creatures, other than people, are going to override our mistaken decisions for us. That is the key flaw in the theory and agenda of the left.

Implicit in the wide range of efforts on the left to get government to take over more of our decisions for us is the assumption that there is some superior class of people who are either wiser or nobler than the rest of us.

Yes, we all make mistakes. But do governments not make bigger and more catastrophic mistakes?

Think about the First World War, from which nations on both sides ended up worse off than before, after an unprecedented carnage that killed substantial fractions of whole younger generations and left millions starving amid the rubble of war.

Think about the Holocaust, and about other government slaughters of even more millions of innocent men, women and children under Communist governments in the Soviet Union and China.

Even in the United States, government policies in the 1930s led to crops being plowed under, thousands of little pigs being slaughtered and buried, and milk being poured down sewers, at a time when many Americans were suffering from hunger and diseases caused by malnutrition.

The Great Depression of the 1930s, in which millions of people were plunged into poverty in even the most prosperous nations, was needlessly prolonged by government policies now recognized in retrospect as foolish and irresponsible.

One of the key differences between mistakes that we make in our own lives and mistakes made by governments is that bad consequences force us to correct our own mistakes. But government officials cannot admit to making a mistake without jeopardizing their whole careers.

Can you imagine a President of the United States saying to the mothers of America, "I am sorry your sons were killed in a war I never should have gotten us into"?

What is even more relevant to Professor Sunstein's desire to have our betters tell us how to live our lives, is that so many oppressive and even catastrophic government policies were cheered on by the intelligentsia.

Back in the 1930s, for example, totalitarianism was considered to be "the wave of the future" by much of the intelligentsia, not only in the totalitarian countries themselves but in democratic nations as well.

The Soviet Union was being praised to the skies by such literary luminaries as George Bernard Shaw in Britain and Edmund Wilson in America, while literally millions of people were being systematically starved to death by Stalin and masses of others were being shipped off to slave labor camps.

Even Hitler and Mussolini had their supporters or apologists among intellectuals in the Western democracies, including at one time Lincoln Steffens and W.E.B. Du Bois.

An even larger array of the intellectual elite in the 1930s opposed the efforts of Western democracies to respond to Hitler's massive military buildup with offsetting military defense buildups to deter Hitler or to defend themselves if deterrence failed.

"Disarmament" was the mantra of the day among the intelligentsia, often garnished with the suggestion that the Western democracies should "set an example" for other nations -- as if Nazi Germany or imperial Japan was likely to follow their example.

Too many among today's intellectual elite see themselves as our shepherds and us as their sheep. Tragically, too many of us are apparently willing to be sheep, in exchange for being taken care of, being relieved of the burdens of adult responsibility and being supplied with "free" stuff paid for by others.




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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

No mandate

Obama thinks he has a mandate for change. But this is the man who ran for president in 2008 promising to “cut net spending” and to shrink the federal government; a man who promised that his “stimulus” spending was only temporary.

Obama hid regulations from view until after his reelection. The press maintained the fiction that Obama supports the Second Amendment and is no threat to citizens’ keeping guns for self-defense. Yet the day after his reelection, Obama called for the UN Arms Trade Treaty negotiations to be started again, and a few weeks later he promised to put the full force of the federal government behind a push for massive new gun control.

    A Barack Obama who will never face the voters again doesn’t have to worry about public opinion.

Even on taxes, Obama’s post-election demands contradicted the positions on which he campaigned. Sure he promised higher taxes on “the rich.” But during the campaign he said that he wanted $800 billion from them. As soon as Republican speaker of the House, John Boehner, agreed to raise that amount by eliminating various credits and deductions for high-income taxpayers, Obama announced that he really wanted twice that amount.

Does a candidate who won re-election with just less than 51 percent of the vote and who has adopted a second-term agenda that he never talked about during the campaign really have a “mandate”? Hardly. Certainly not a mandate for the radical changes that he has in store for Americans. Indeed, the Republican members of Congress have a mandate to stop him.

There is a growing awareness in the United States of the mounting debt problem, and opinion polls show increasing acceptance of budget cuts. But a Barack Obama who will never face the voters again doesn’t have to worry about public opinion. He wants to raise taxes to redistribute wealth, not to reduce the deficit. As investments that would have come to the United States are diverted to other countries, federal revenue will fall short of Obama’s optimistic estimates. The nation’s metastasizing debt will overwhelm the small increases in incomes.

What can we expect of a second Obama term? Obama will continue to try to pick winners and losers. He will continue to pursue the agenda of organized labor at the expense of the unemployed, especially young people. He will continue to try to achieve through the regulatory power of the executive branch what he cannot get through Congress. He will continue to try to grow the government at the expense of the free market and of individual freedoms, especially the free exercise of religion and the right to bear arms.



Leave Liberal Hollywood to the Liberals

Jonah Goldberg seems a bit complacent below but he has a point

"We need to buy a movie studio."

Amid the umpteen conferences, panels, meetings and informal conversations in the wake of the presidential election, this idea has been a near constant among conservatives who feel like the country is slipping through their fingers. Mitt Romney and the Republican National Committee combined raised just more than $1 billion, and all we got are these lousy T-shirts. Since conservatives are losing the culture, goes the argument, which in turn leads to losing at politics, maybe that money could be better spent on producing some cultural ammo of our own?

It's a bad idea.

Let's first acknowledge that Hollywood is overwhelmingly, though not uniformly, liberal. Hollywood constitutes a major part of the Democratic Party's financial base and, arguably, the constituency liberal politicians fear -- and revere -- most. That's why all of the post-Newtown talk of the Obama administration "going after Hollywood violence" was nonsense from the outset.

In August, New York magazine's Jonathan Chait wrote an interesting essay arguing that the right-wing culture vultures of the 1990s were essentially right: Hollyweird really was eroding traditional conservative values. A committed liberal, Chait is grateful for this effort: "We liberals owe not a small measure of our success to the propaganda campaign of a tiny, disproportionately influential cultural elite."

Chait makes a strong case. But just as there's a problem with conservatives drawing straight lines from the silver screen to social decay, there's a problem with drawing similarly unwavering lines to progressive triumph.

Hollywood produces culture, but it also takes its orders from it. For instance, according to today's pieties, the gun is an evil right-wing talisman. And yet, every year Hollywood vomits up a stream of films that cast guns as the solution to any manner of problems. Martial arts stars notwithstanding, you'll be hard-pressed to find an action movie in which the star's most trusted sidekick isn't his gun.

During the Bush years, Hollywood tried valiantly to do its part by churning out big box-office antiwar movies. It consistently failed. Liberal frustration grew so intense, then-L.A. Times columnist Patrick Goldstein celebrated James Cameron's sci-fi extravaganza "Avatar" as proof Americans really do like liberal movies with, among other things, antiwar themes. "Avatar," according to Goldstein, also proved that the global-warming message sells. And yet, after not just "Avatar" but "The Day After Tomorrow," the remake of "The Day the Earth Stood Still" (not to mention academic and media drum-beating), a 2012 Pew poll found that most Americans still don't buy that global warming is caused by humans.

The point isn't that Hollywood has no influence. It's just that its influence is agonizingly hard to predict or dismiss as unthinkingly liberal. Studies of "All in the Family" found that viewers in America, and around the globe, took different lessons from the show based on their politics and cultural norms. Despite Norman Lear's liberal best efforts, many found Archie Bunker more persuasive than his "meathead" sociologist son-in-law. HBO's epic series "The Wire" was a near-Marxist indictment of urban liberalism and the drug war, making it quite popular among many conservatives and libertarians. The popular BBC series "Downton Abbey" is shockingly conservative in many respects. The aristocrats are decent, compassionate people, and the staff is, if anything, more happily class-conscious than the blue bloods. And yet, as far as I can tell, liberals love it.

Obviously, the market is a big factor. No doubt many Hollywood liberals would like to push the ideological envelope more, but audiences get a vote. And that vote isn't cast purely on ideological grounds.

There's a difference between art and propaganda. Outside the art house crowd, liberal agitprop doesn't sell. Art must work with the expectations and beliefs of the audience. Even though pregnancies are commonplace on TV, you'll probably never see a hilarious episode of a sitcom in which a character has an abortion -- because abortion isn't funny.

The conservative desire to create a right-wing movie industry is an attempt to mimic a caricature of Hollywood. Any such effort would be a waste of money that would make the Romney campaign seem like a great investment.



Book Review: Coolidge

If there was ever a time when the president could simply preside, it has long passed. As early as the Eisenhower era, political scientist Clinton Rossiter observed that the public had come to see the federal chief executive as “a combination of scoutmaster, Delphic oracle, hero of the silver screen, and father of the multitudes.” Under the pressure of public demands, the office had accrued a host of responsibilities over and above its constitutional ones: “World Leader,” “Protector of the Peace,” “Chief Legislator,” “Manager of Prosperity,” “Voice of the People,” and more.

To that daunting portfolio add “Feeler-in-Chief,” a term coined in all earnestness by The New York Times’s Maureen Dowd in 2010 while lashing out at Barack Obama for being insufficiently emotive about the BP oil spill. Obama, she wrote, had “resisted fulfilling a signal part of his job: being a prism in moments of fear and pride, reflecting what Americans feel so they know he gets it.”

Poor MoDo would have kicked the cat in sheer frustration if confronted by the implacable, inscrutable Calvin Coolidge, whose reaction to the job’s more unreasonable demands was a Bartleby-like “I prefer not to.”

Shortly after taking office in 1923, Coolidge informed the press that he did not intend “to surrender to every emotional movement” toward executive cures for whatever ails the body politic. In the midst of the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, which killed hundreds and left some 600,000 Americans homeless, Coolidge resisted calls for federal relief, even refusing a request by NBC that he broadcast a nationwide radio appeal for aid.

In her new biography, Coolidge, Amity Shlaes suggests that in our current era of fiscal and emotional incontinence, we have much to learn from this parsimonious president.

“Debt takes its toll,” Coolidge begins. Shlaes underscores that point with an absorbing anecdote about one of Cal’s forebears, Oliver Coolidge, who in 1849, for want of 30 bucks to pay off a creditor, suffered through a stint in debtor’s prison. “Lame in one leg from birth,” Oliver, the brother of the president’s great-grandfather, had never been able to farm the rocky land of southeastern Vermont as well as the other Coolidges. And so, at age 61, he found himself behind bars, cursing his brother, sending out “despairing letters to one family member after another.”

In Shlaes’ hands, Oliver’s captivity and subsequent redemption—after his release he headed west, where he and his family began new lives—serves as a metaphor for the horrors of debt and the virtue of Yankee perseverance. “The very area that plagued Oliver,” debt, saw “the greatest persevering of Calvin Coolidge,” Shlaes writes. “Under Coolidge, the federal debt fell”; under Coolidge, after “sixty-seven months in office, the federal government was smaller” than when he’d found it.

Here was “a rare kind of hero: a minimalist president,” Shlaes argues. And though history remembers “Silent Cal” mostly for his reticence and frequent napping, Shlaes reminds us that “inaction betrays strength.” In politics, it’s often easier to “do something,” however unwise, than it is to hold firm: “Coolidge is our great refrainer.”

Alas, after Coolidge’s elegant introduction, the sledding gets much tougher. Long stretches of this 456-page tome read like an info-dump from Shlaes’s clearly formidable research files. Like the hardscrabble farmers of Plymouth Notch, you need to set your jaw grimly and persevere through a long winter of sentences that should have been left on the cutting room floor, like: “Coolidge met with [Budget Director Herbert] Lord six times and reduced a tariff on paintbrush handles by half, his second cut that year, the other a reduction in duty on live bob quail.” Shlaes should have followed the example of her famously taciturn subject, who in his 1915 opening address as president of the Massachusetts Senate delivered a crisp little homily of 44 words, ending in “above all things, be brief.”

Still, the level of detail she provides inspires reflection on the vast gulf between today’s GOP and the grand party of old. Presidents Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge cut taxes and shrank spending. They were pro-peace and anti-wiretapping. They embraced “normalcy” instead of stoking fear. And—go figure—they were also popular. Today’s Republicans could profit from studying their example.

Tax cuts were central to Coolidge’s legislative program, and he believed, correctly, that under the prevailing conditions (the top rate had crept above 70 percent during WWI) they’d lead to increased revenue. But unlike modern supply-siders, Coolidge attacked the beast head-on, instead of hoping to “starve” it indirectly. “I am for economy,” he said in 1924, “after that, I am for more economy.” He vetoed farm subsidies and new veterans benefits, and Shlaes reports that he spent a great deal of time “plotting to fend off military spending demands.”

The tax cuts that Coolidge and Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon orchestrated took millions of people off the tax rolls. Unlike Mitt Romney, Coolidge and Mellon didn’t worry that they’d created a new horde of “takers.” By 1927, as it became clear that top earners were providing more revenue at lower rates, Mellon boasted that their policy had transformed the income tax into “a class rather than a national tax.”

Coolidge “deemed international law the best approach to prevent war,” backing the somewhat quixotic Kellogg-Briand Pact to outlaw it. Coolidge being Coolidge, he took a green-eyeshades view of the matter: “It pays to be at peace.” But peace also allowed greater protection of civil liberties. Coolidge “removed William Burns, the head of the Bureau of Investigation, and curtailed wiretapping, one of Burns’s favored tools.” (Alas, he replaced Burns with young J. Edgar Hoover.) Coolidge also finished the job of freeing the World War I protestors jailed by Wilson. Harding had pardoned 25, including Socialist Party leader Eugene Debs. Coolidge ordered the release of Wilson’s remaining political prisoners.

An admirable record, particularly considering the shape the country was in after Professor Wilson’s reign. Weighed down by debt and wartime controls, plagued by unemployment, the country seemed “lost, if not cursed,” Shlaes writes. “Yet within a few years the panic passed and the trouble eased,” she says. “The reversal was in good measure due to the perseverance of one man”: Coolidge.

“One man”—Coolidge? Poor Warren G. Harding: He’s become the Rodney Dangerfield of American presidents. The odious Wilson is a perennial top 10 favorite in the presidential rankings, those “polls by which court historians reward warmarkers and punish the peaceful,” as Bill Kauffman recently put it. Harding, Wilson’s successor, is nearly always dead last. (Was the Teapot Dome scandal really worse than 117,000 dead doughboys?) It pains me to see Warren G. get short shrift here too, especially from an author who appreciates presidential minimalism. Shlaes writes that “Coolidge hacked away at the federal budget with a discipline sadly missing in his well-intentioned predecessor.” Harding may not have been the most disciplined of men, but of the two, he was the more accomplished budget-cutter. By the time Coolidge took the oath after Harding’s death, federal spending had been cut nearly in half, leading to large government surpluses.

But this is a biography, after all—so what about Coolidge the man? At times Shlaes lets her admiration for her subject drift into hagiography: “Always, a philosophy of service inspired Coolidge,” she insists. That’s one way of putting it. Another is H.L. Mencken’s: “Coolidge is simply a professional politician,” he wrote in 1924, and a very “dull one” at that. “He has lived by job-seeking and job-holding all his life; his every thought is that of his miserable trade.”

At times, Coolidge makes it hard not to agree with Mencken’s harsh assessment. Despite her best efforts, Shlaes’s Coolidge often seems like a grim, boring striver, given to expressions as petulant and morose as Morrissey lyrics. Writing to his father from his berth at Amherst College, young Cal groused, “I never earned any money and I do not know as I ever made any happiness.” “I am so tired,” he signed off in a letter telling a onetime love interest he forgave her rejection.

Clearly, this was a man with a melancholic temperament. It would get worse after the death of his 16-year-old son, Calvin Jr., in 1924 from sepsis after developing a blister playing tennis on the White House courts. In his 2003 book The Tormented President, Robert E. Gilbert argues that this tragedy is key to understanding Coolidge’s performance in office, which, like most presidential rankers, he views negatively. Cal Jr.’s death left Coolidge “clinically depressed” throughout the bulk of his presidency, Gilbert writes, “a broken man, waiting passively, distractedly, indifferently to lay down the heavy burdens of office.”

Interesting, if true. But aside from passing references to Calvin’s crabby moods and the distance between him and the first lady, Shlaes isn’t terribly interested in the president’s psyche.

For my money, she makes too little use of Coolidge’s spare and powerful Autobiography. There’s a passage therein about the death of his son where Silent Cal’s Old WASP reserve cracks just slightly. You can tell that as a dad, he wasn’t full of hugs, but the pain and anger that lie under the surface of these words is all the more palpable for his tight-lipped refusal to let it gush forth:

In his suffering he was asking me to make him well. I could not.

When he went the power and the glory of the Presidency went with him.

The ways of Providence are often beyond our understanding. It seemed to me that the world had need of the work that it was probable he could do.

I do not know why such a price was exacted for occupying the White House.
Well, the conventional wisdom overvalues presidents who enjoy the job. In his influential 1972 book The Presidential Character, political scientist James David Barber argued that we should pick presidents by their personality type. The “active-positive” president—the ideal voters should seek—tackles the job with manic energy and zest and “gives forth the feeling that he has fun in political life.” The “passive-negative” sees the office as a matter of stern duty, and his “tendency is to withdraw.” Among Barber’s “active-positives” were troublemakers FDR, Truman, and JFK; his “passive-negatives” included the Cincinnatus-like figures Washington, Eisenhower, and, of course, Coolidge. Maybe we should only give the job to people who are so depressed they can barely get out of bed.

Mencken’s initial disdain for Coolidge mellowed as the ’20s receded. After the ex-president’s sudden death from a heart attack in 1933, Mencken eulogized that, for all Coolidge’s faults, “the itch to run things did not afflict him….He never made inflammatory speeches….No bughouse professors, sweating fourth-dimensional economics, were received at the White House.” After Wilson’s reign of terror, Americans wanted peace, “and simple peace was what Dr. Coolidge gave them.” Given the “World-Savers” that preceded and followed Cal, “he begins to seem, in retrospect, an extremely comfortable and even praiseworthy citizen. His failings are forgotten; the country remembers only the grateful fact that he let it alone.” There are, Mencken observed, “worse epitaphs for a statesman.”




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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Bashing the rich as protective camouflage

Prominent Democrats are rich but talk as if the rich are other people. Loud redistributionist rhetoric offers the necessary vaccination shot that makes privileged leftists immune from any criticism of their privilege

In his first term President Obama was criticized for trash-talking the one-percenters while enjoying the aristocracy of Martha's Vineyard and the nation's most exclusive golf courses.

Obama never quite squared his accusations that "millionaires and billionaires" had not paid their fair share with his own obvious enjoyment of the perks of "corporate jet owners," "fat cat bankers" and Las Vegas junketeers.

Now, that paradox has continued right off the bat in the second term. In the State of the Union, Obama once more went after "the few," and "the wealthiest and the most powerful," whom he blasted as the "well-off and the well-connected" and the "billionaires with high-powered accountants."

Like clockwork, the president then jetted to West Palm Beach for yet another golfing vacation at one of the nation's priciest courses, replete with lessons from a $1,000-a-hour golf pro to improve the presidential putting.

The rest of the first family jetted off on their own skiing vacation to elite Aspen, Colo., where nobody accepts that at some point they've already "made enough money." Meanwhile, below the stratosphere, unemployment rose to 7.9 percent for January -- the 49th consecutive month it has been 7.8 percent or higher. The economy shrank in the last quarter of 2012, gas is back to almost $4 a gallon, and the government continues to borrow almost $4 billion a day.

Today, lots of liberal grandees attack the rich and yet do their best to act and live just like them.

Take financial speculator and leftist billionaire George Soros, who is back in the news. Soros is able to fund several progressive think tanks that go after the 1 percent because he is the most successful financial buccaneer of the age -- notorious as "the man who broke the Bank of England" and was convicted of insider trading in France. The Soros family investment firm's most recent speculating coup was betting against the Japanese yen. That made Soros $1.2 billion in just three months -- enough capitalist lucre to keep funding Media Matters and other attack-dog progressive groups for years to come.

Facebook co-founder and Obama campaign organizer Chris Hughes just bought the New Republic and has rebranded the magazine as an unapologetic progressive megaphone.

How odd that hip Facebook just confessed that it paid no federal or California state income taxes for 2012 on its $1.1 billion in pre-tax profits on its U.S. operations alone. Odder still, Facebook will probably receive a federal tax refund of about $429 million. Apparently Facebook's "well-connected" found some "high-powered accountants" to write off their stock options as a business expense.

Perhaps Treasury Secretary-designate Jack Lew should have a look at Facebook's tax contortions. He should be familiar with the big-money paper trail, given that Lew himself took a nearly $1 million bonus from Citigroup after it had received billions of dollars in federal funds to cover its gargantuan losses.

Lew, like his tax-dodging predecessor, Timothy Geithner, has a propensity for doing just the opposite of what the president used to preach against. Obama, remember, warned Wall Streeters not to take bonuses after their failing companies received federal money.

Obama also derided dubious offshore Cayman Islands tax shelters. Yet he apparently forgot to tell that to Lew, who invested in a fund registered to the same Potemkin Cayman Islands building that Obama had used as a campaign prop to bash the one-percenters.

One of the nation's best-known class warriors is former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. of Chicago, who for years has damned the wealthy for their ill-gotten gains. He is expected to plead guilty to fraud charges after he and his wife allegedly siphoned off $750,000 from their campaign accounts to pay for an assortment of one-percenter extravagances like a $43,000 Rolex watch.

Today's leftists like the high life as much as their demonized conservative rivals. The more they damn the bad "millionaires and billionaires," apparently the less guilt they feel about living it up in Palm Beach or Aspen, paying no taxes, offshoring their profits or wearing Rolex watches.

The vast growth of the federal government has splashed so much big money around New York and Washington that even muckraking progressives can't resist. Loud redistributionist rhetoric offers the necessary vaccination shot that makes privileged leftists immune from any criticism -- or guilt -- over indulging in tax avoidance, billion-dollar speculation or aristocratic tastes.

George Orwell long ago noticed the same thing, when in "Animal Farm" the pig elite loudly damned reactionary humans even as they sought to copy them by walking on two legs.



If you're a taxpayer, you're with stupid

If President Obama, the Republican House and Democratic Senate cannot cut $85 billion from this year's $3.8 trillion budget without laying off first-responders, tying up airport security lines and furloughing food safety inspectors, what good are they?

The answer is: Not much. It turns out we elect lawmakers so they can hold our time and safety hostage. When Congress passed and the president signed the 2011 Budget Control Act, all parties agreed that the act's $1.2 trillion in "sequester" cuts over 10 years would be so terrible that a bipartisan supercommittee would be forced to present a better plan for deficit reduction.

But the committee failed. The "sequester" cuts were designed to be too terrible for taxpayers but not for Washington insiders embroiled in the blame game.

You see, the 2011 budget act didn't simply mandate $85 billion in cuts this year - $46 billion from the Pentagon, $39 billion in discretionary spending. The law also required that the cuts be administered under an across-the-board formula that imposes cuts, as one White House aide put it, "at a granular level." The Department of Agriculture cannot decide to balance its books simply by cutting farm subsidies or other forms of corporate welfare. No, the cuts have to shave every agency account.

Citizens Against Government Waste has compiled 691 recommendations to save taxpayers $391.9 billion in one year alone. The Budget Control Act deliberately ignores such recommendations. "How insane is that," asked the group's Leslie Paige, "that they can't even agree to getting rid of duplicative programs?"

In effect, the 2011 law was written to protect waste - so that if the sequester cuts happened, only the dumbest cuts would follow.

Does the president mind the loss of 750,000 jobs for ugly cuts? Well, he cared enough to go on TV and grouse on Tuesday.

Be it noted, Obama proposed the sequester during budget negotiations in 2011. A year ago, he pledged to veto any alternative cuts. Now that they are about to happen, he isn't pushing to make the sequester work, he is working all-out to blame Republicans for it.

He says that he wants a "balanced" solution, which means he can call for more tax increases, then blame Republicans for the cuts he proposed.

House Republicans passed two bills with alternative cuts. But those bills moved the cuts to discretionary programs - so the bills will die in the Senate.

Senate Democrats are playing with an alternative measure to raise taxes on the wealthy and impose smaller but targeted cuts to defense and discretionary spending. That package would not survive in the GOP House, and it's not even clear it could pass in the Senate.

This is the pressure-point moment when Washington usually decides that it cannot abide by the laws of mathematics, so, gosh darn, Congress will have to unite to delay the sequester cuts for another year.

Except some Republicans are hanging tough, because they know that if they cave on cuts now, they are doomed to give up on spending cuts ever after. Better bad cuts than no cuts.

Make no mistake about the reason these cuts are too terrible: Washington passed a law that precluded cutting the pork.



Drugs and freedom

Drugs screw you up, it’s said. Take them, and you’ll become an addict. You’ll get spots. You’ll get AIDS. You’ll die in Cardboard City. You’ll be ‘undermining the stability of our country’ (M. Thatcher). Drugs are EVIL.  They are rightly banned.

A shame so many believe this - believe so firmly that doubt earns any reaction from laughter to violence. It is for the most part a pack of lies. Drugs aren’t anything like the great scourge that people imagine them. There’s certainly not the slightest justification for making laws against dealing in or using them.

Look at the more popular drugs. 50 years of well-funded research still haven’t proved cannabis, the market leader, more dangerous in the long run than equal amounts of tobacco. Since no one could smoke as much cannabis ~s tobacco without falling asleep, it probably carries less risk of lung cancer. It might also be good for delaying glaucoma blindness. It isn’t physically addictive. Nor, says Martindale’s Pharmacopoeia, is cocaine. Nor is LSD. Heroin, developed as a patent cough medicines remains a wonderful painkiller. Terminal cancer can be hell without it. Like the other opiates, it is addictive over time. But only a minority become addicts; and only a minority of addicts 1986, 235 deaths resulted from use of all illegal drugs. At the same time, they gave a lot of people ~ lot of pleasure. At the same time, perhaps 100,000 died from smoking tobacco, and another 6,500 from drinking alcohol.

While not in itself a valid argument, this does clear the way in some minds to considering one. Drug control is a violation of rights.

Freedom is doing with ourselves as we please, not what the powerful - think is good for us. What pleases us only we can know. It may be wealth, or devotion to the poor, or chancing the firing squad in some lost cause. There’s no accounting for taste. Some think there is~ and, watching choices made which don’t appeal to them, talk variously of ‘psychopathic personality disorders’ or ‘false consciousness’. But all this comes down to ~s an excuse for hijacking lives. If a person does something that others think odd, the proper question isn’t whether the act is ‘reasonable’, but whether the agent seems capable of knowing its likely effects. If note there are grounds for restraint. Where capacity can’t be presumed, the ultimate case for freedom - that it best promotes happiness - doesn’t apply. But where capacity is presumed, what someone does, no matter how destructive it may seem, isn’t another’s business. ‘I’ll die young’ said Lenny Bruce of heroin, ‘but it’s like kissing God’. His life. His preference.

Of course, third parties do matter. Freedom to destroy yourself is one thing. Taking others with you is something else. But it just isn’t so that free access to drugs is a public menace. Look at the drugs again. The cannaboids and opiates are relaxants. The number of violent crimes committed under their influence is so small that separate figures aren’t published. Cocaine, the psychedelic drugs and amphetamine do excite sometimes to violence. But numbers are again too small to notice.

Or look to the example of our own freer past. Until 1916, drug use here was uncontrolled. Never the vice of a small group, it was at times a national habit. Between 1827 and 1859 British opium consumption rose   from 17,0001b to 61,0001b. Workmen mixed it in their beer. Gladstone took it in his coffee before speaking. Scott wrote ‘The Bride of Lammermoor’ under its influence. Cocaine was put in soft drinks. Cannabis and heroin were openly on sale. 19th century England wasn’t a nation enfeebled by drugs to anywhere near the point of collapse. People didn’t run amok. Most deaths were individual accidents and even these were negligible 104 in 1868, and thereafter to 1901 an annual average of 95. When drugs were an integral part of English culture, use was regulated by custom and personal choice. Temperance fanatics aside - and their first and main hate was alcohol - few saw any serious third party problem.

And even if one did exist now, it still wouldn’t follow that laws were the solution. For a solution to be worth adopting it must show some prospect of working: and it really is glaringly obvious that nearly everything bad about drugs is an effect of trying to ban them.

Catching a drug dealer isn’t easy. There’s no victim to complain or for clues to be left on. The Police have to catch him in the act. Entrapment - tempting then arresting - is still frowned on here. But it’s quite lawful to be stopped in the street and searched on suspicion of carrying drugs. Sudden swoops and house to house searches, though not lawful, are common. As for punishment, since 1986 the drug dealer has risked life in prison if caught - life, simply for trading with others! Under the same law, his assets on conviction are presumed the profits of crime, and can be confiscated unless proven otherwise. For him, the normal burden of proof in criminal law is reversed. In the name of the ‘War on Drugs’ all sense of proportion is going. Vital common law safeguards are being torn down.

Yet the ‘War’ is being lost. Indeed, it’s unwinnable. Drugs can be synthesised in a garden shed. Imports can’t be kept out. In 1984, 36 million people entered this country. A woman can bring in £20,000 worth of heroin packed in her vagina. If drugs are wanted, they’ll be supplied. The law simply determines how.

The ordinary crimes - like mugging, and housebreaking, with the odd bank raid - don’t on the whole pay much. They don’t generate the kind of profits that bring mafias into being. These need a wholly different class of crime - something like ordinary business~ but from which ordinary businessmen are excluded. Illegal drugs are exactly this. During 70 years, use had for various reasons gone largely out of fashion here. Then~ between 1979 and 1984, convictions for possession or supply rose by 163%~ and have since gone higher. One guess is that £3 billion was spent on them in 1986 alone. This is big money. It’s more than the Ethiopian GNP. It’s ten times the cost of the Falklands war. It’s enough to make crime pay on a very big scale. Drugs are supplied. And because drugs are supplied by criminals, they are both expensive and dirty.

Consider: A Bolivian farmer sells 500kg of coca leaves for US$2,000. Refined into 1kg of cocaine, it sells to a local wholesaler for $7,000. To a Canadian wholesaler it’s worth $18,000. The street dealers buy it for $100,000. Its final selling price is $800,000 - a 40,000% mark up! There are two elements in this. First, without high prices, drugs wouldn’t be worth bringing to market. Technical transport inefficient, bribes, rewards of special entrepreneur Al risk, all cost money. Second, there’s the usual effect of coercive monopoly. If another dealer comes on their territory, the Yardies don’t sigh and cut their prices. They blow his legs off and keep market share that way.

Therefore petty crime. Maybe some users become thieves because of the company they have to keep. But dole cheques aren’t much with heroin at £50 a days and not everyone’s equally suited for prostitution. In America~ perhaps 55% of robberies are to finance buying drugs.

Therefore users turning to glue and lighter fuel. These are often dangerous, and don’t seem to give much in the way of pleasure. But they’re cheap and available. Use varies with the price of the higher preference drugs.

Consider again; When I buy a can of lager, if I read on it “8% alcohol by volume” I know this means 8% - not anything between 0.5% and 30%. I know that caustic soda isn’t what makes it fizzy. If I want it in a glass, I’m not given one in which someone else has just vomited. Put this down to clean food laws, or to free competition. Neither applies to the illegal drug market. Therefore frequent overdosing. Therefore poisonous additives. Therefore, in 1986, an estimated 85% of Edinburgh heroin mainliners infected with AIDS got off dirty needles. It wasn’t heroin screwed up these lives, and anyone who really thinks otherwise is a fool.

Is this claiming the right to sell drugs to children?  Presumed responsible beings, the answer is no. Read above. In any case, they are currently sold drugs. They’re a soft market because they don’t shop round or inform. Also, they make cheap and often legally immune couriers. When a New York law made this job risky to adults~ it was entirely taken over by children. The real danger to them is laws that stop drugs being swept off the streets, back into the retail pharmacies where they belong.

Libertarians are often called impractical fanatics. Defined as someone who tries following ideas wherever they lead, fanatics we are. Freedom includes the right to shoot dope. But impractical we aren’t. Drug control does everything but control drugs. This isn’t straining for paradox. It’s simply one more illustration of an old truth - that telling people their business usually produces in intended and unpleasant results.


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



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Monday, February 25, 2013

What Is Liberalism?

 John C. Goodman

President Obama is said to have made the case for a liberal public policy agenda in his State of the Union speech the other night. But what is liberalism?  The conventional view is that liberalism is an ideology. In fact it is a sociology.

An ideology is a set of ideas that cohere. Socialism is an ideology. So is libertarianism. Suppose I told you that socialists believe the government should nationalize the steel industry and the auto industry. You would have no difficulty inferring what their position is on nationalizing the airline industry. Right? Suppose I told you that libertarians believe in a free market for tinker toys and ham sandwiches. You would have no difficulty inferring that they also believe in a free market for Rubik's Cubes.

Sociologies are different. They represent a set of ideas that are often incoherent. These ideas are likely to come together not because of reason, but because of history or happenstance. Not only do the ideas not cohere, they may be completely contradictory.

Take the issue of preschool education — forcefully endorsed by the president the other night. As David Brooks explained, the issue is really about allowing poor children to escape from the anti-education atmosphere of their homes to a place that will at least give them a chance to learn. Given a person’s position on preschool education for four year olds, shouldn’t you be able to predict how he will think about allowing poor six- and seven-year-old children to escape from bad schools? As it turns out you can’t.

Brooks explains the preschool issue this way:

"This is rude to say, but here’s what this is about: Millions of parents don’t have the means, the skill or, in some cases, the interest in building their children’s future. Early childhood education is about building structures so both parents and children learn practical life skills. It’s about getting kids from disorganized homes into rooms with kids from organized homes so good habits will rub off. It’s about instilling achievement values where they are absent."

Okay, so how is that different from the situation faced by slightly older children trapped in lousy schools where teachers couldn't care less what they learn? It isn’t. Yet so many of those who favor preschool education (a new and expensive entitlement) are reliable opponents of vouchers, charter schools, firing bad teachers, closing bad schools or any other remedy that offends the teacher’s unions. And that includes President Obama.

Then there is the issue of the minimum wage. The minimum wage does almost nothing to relieve poverty. That’s because almost no one who is a head of household is earning the minimum wage for any length of time. However, I think it is fairly well-established that a higher minimum wage gives teenagers in above-average income households more pocket change, even as it closes off job opportunities for poor, minority teenagers. (Remember, the black teenage unemployment rate is about twice that of whites.) If you want to maximize job opportunities for low-income youngsters, as President Obama says he does, you certainly wouldn’t want a minimum wage standing between a minority youth and his first job. Yet creating that barrier and making it permanent is part of the Obama agenda for the labor market.

A related issue is public policy toward unions. There is no mystery about what a union is. It is an attempt to monopolize the supply of labor to employers. In most all cases, unions confer special (monopoly) status on workers who are solidly middle class, allowing them to seek above-market wages by closing off competition from those who earn less and have less. Yet encouraging labor unions is another core pillar of the Obama presidency.

Finally, our federal deficit is almost totally caused by entitlement spending on the elderly. Our government routinely sends Social Security checks to billionaires and pays their medical bills to boot — paid for in part by a 15.3% payroll tax imposed on the parents of the children to whom the president would like to provide preschool education.

The zip codes in America where people cash the largest Social Security checks are the very same zip codes where Medicare spends the most dollars on the average enrollee. And unlike the income tax, every worker pays the payroll tax — no matter how poor. Yet these are the programs that President Obama resists reforming.

Some readers will be quick to point out that the Democratic Party — dating back to the days of Franklin Roosevelt — consists of a coalition of interests and that winning elections requires satisfying each of those interests. Fair enough. But we are here talking about thinking, not winning elections.

Politicians will invariably search for some intellectual justification for what they do. Since their policies are incoherent, no ideology will serve their purpose. What they need is a sociology — a way of thinking about the world that defends the indefensible. They need intellectuals who will apologize for the mixed economy welfare state without any obvious sense of embarrassment. For the Obama administration, that sociology is liberalism. Its adherents once called themselves "liberals." Today, they are "progressives."



Clarifying "rights"

 Steve Deace

Recently a discussion of this story about DC Comics being pressured by homosexual activists to fire one of its writers because he’s on the board of the National Organization of Marriage prompted vigorous debate on my Facebook wall. While perusing through the various comments, it was obvious there still exists much confusion in our country today about the term “rights.”

There are two types of rights: unalienable and contractual.

Sometimes referred to as a natural right (i.e. “the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God” reference from The Declaration of Independence), an unalienable right is a right that comes from God and thus can be accessed in your natural state without consent from another party because it existed before you were born, and will still exist in nature after you die. It’s inherent to being made in the image of God.

Should another party attempt to stop you from accessing your unalienable (or natural) rights they are guilty of a crime, oppression, tyranny, or all of the above. For example, I do not require anyone’s consent to breathe air for it is foundational to my natural state of being. However, should you attempt to stop me from breathing then you are guilty of assault, battery, manslaughter, or murder if you’re ultimately successful.

If it requires consent from another party to access it then it is not an unalienable (aka natural) right, because you have to impose upon someone else’s unalienable (aka natural) rights in the process. Taking someone else’s person or property without their consent is what we call a crime.

Nowadays some are claiming unalienable (or natural) rights that don’t exist.

For example, you do not have an unalienable (or natural) right to marry or have sex with whomever you want, because partaking of each of those activities requires consent from another party. We call people who believe they can have sex (aka “physical intimacy”) with whomever they want rapists and put them in prison whenever we can. We call people who believe they can marry whomever they want cult leaders, sultans, kings, and tyrants because they’re acquiring harems and concubines.

Likewise, you also don’t have a natural right to live where you want as I’ve heard some claim on issues like immigration. To believe that requires you to believe that private property doesn’t exist. You can’t have it both ways. If you believe I have the right to defend my own property (which our founders absolutely did), then you also have to believe that “we the people” have the right to defend our own property as well. In a “government by the consent of the governed” that property in this case are the borders and lands of these United States of America. We own them and they are our private property. Therefore, we have a right to possess and police them accordingly.

Rights that require the consent of another party are contractual rights.

A good example of contractual rights would be the U.S. Constitution, which begins with the words, “We the people of the United States in order to form a more perfect union.” Immediately the parties involved in the contract are established: the people, the states, and the federal government (or union). From there each party states in the contract the terms, jurisdictions, and liabilities each are responsible for and permitted to perform. Some of the rights in the Constitution are unalienable (natural) rights like the freedom of speech and the freedom of worship, because you don’t require consent to access them. That’s why the Constitution says “Congress shall make no law” prohibiting or establishing those things, because Congress has no power to either establish or take away that which “the Law of Nature and Nature’s God” alone bestows.

However, other rights in the Constitution are purely contractual, but where people get confused here is they fail to understand this language is intended to bind the government and not the individual. For example, the government consents to saying it has no right for “unlawful search and seizure” as other governments in human history have indulged. It is not saying you as a private person have a right to therefore store crack cocaine in your locker or illicit pictures of children on your computer. This is the government contracting with its citizens to limit its own means, not the other way around. In fact, that is the theme of the entire Bill of Rights. Just because the state promises not to exceed its authority over the individual does not give the individual the right to exceed his authority over “the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God.”

That is always the highest authority.

For example, should the U.S. Federal Court hear a civil suit between two murderous drug cartels because one failed to deliver the promised narcotics to the other and thus violated the contract? Of course not, because their very activity violates “the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God,” therefore the proper response is to arrest them as criminals instead.

Similarly, just because someone consents to having sex with you doesn’t mean that suddenly you have a contractual right to have sex with them. Is the person just a child and therefore unable to make a mature decision? Is that person mentally unstable or disabled, and thus unsure of what it is they’re really consenting to? Is that person married to someone else?

In conclusion it comes down to this, if our rights first and foremost come from “the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God,” then anything we do to indulge or claim those rights that violates that law isn’t a right. It’s a transgression—even if the other party(s) consents to it. That simply means they’re just as guilty as you are.

You have no right to do that which God says is wrong. Never have, never will, and should an earthly authority contradict this and permit your fallen nature to manifest itself, the God the “father of the Constitution” James Madison referred to as “the Governor of the universe” will ultimately adjudicate your case in eternity.



Leftism as an obsessive-compulsive disorder

 Ann-Marie Murrell

When I was almost 6 years old, my father died in a car crash.  It was the early 60’s, so back then people didn’t really worry about the effects of trauma on children.  “Children are resilient” and “They’ll bounce back” were the accepted sagacity of the day; so children, like me, were left to their own devices to try and make sense of things like life and death and loss of control.

Soon after my father's death, strange little obsessions started coming out of me.  The first was what I called “circle drawing” in which I would draw thousands of tiny circles on notebook paper—perfect little rows of ‘o’s’, front and back. I would then number each page and put them neatly away in a binder.  I never knew how many of those circles I “needed” to draw each day; I just kept going until my brain said, “Okay, you’re finished with your work” and then I could go outside and play like all the normal kids.

Along with the circle drawing, other habits started to emerge.  If I sneezed, I had to say, “bless me” over and over—sometimes dozens of times--until my brain told me I was blessed.  If I coughed, I had to say, “Excuse me” in the same manner.  Repetition was extremely important to me, as was organizing.  All my stuffed animals had a specific place in my room and had to be lined up perfectly at all times.  And I was the bossiest child you can imagine on the playground—that annoying kid who organized all the games, and made sure everyone’s Monopoly money was neatly stacked.

I drove my poor little sister insane…

When I shared these oddities with my family at the dinner table one night, everyone laughed.  No one back then knew anything about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (O.C.D.).  Instead, all of us—myself included--simply thought I was just a very, very strange little girl.

The reason I’m baring my soul like this is because lately I’ve been asked about my past affiliation with the Democrat Party.  Everything about liberalism goes against almost all of my core values and principles—so what was it that originally drew me over to the left?

And then I realized:  It was O.C.D-related.  The two things the Democrat Party has in droves (and of which the GOP still does not) are two of my favorite things:  organization and repetition.  When I was in college, the most organized political group on campus was the Democrat Party.   They had the simplest message (“We’re all about The People!”) and yes, they threw the best parties.  Then when I moved to Los Angeles, all the artists and actors I hung out with were Democrats who were unwavering in their ideology.  On TV, the Democrats created the most effective, repetitive political ads saying, "We Are The Best, They Are Not."  Bottom line, Democrats were never changing, never wavering, repetitive and organized--seemingly as clear and pure and uncomplicated as all my little 'o's'.

Fortunately, 9/11 cleared the fog of political O.C.D. from my head. Seeing the ruins of the Twin Towers, I realized that the Democrat Party was very much like my “circle drawings”—basically good for nothing.  When it came down to actually doing something important—such as protecting and defending our country—the Democrat Party was nothing but a bunch of very organized, very repetitive hot air.  And although both my circle drawing and liberalism seemed to bring a sense of “control” and “order” to my life when I needed it most, it was all misguided and a waste of time.  Neither served a purpose, other than making me “feel” as if I were doing something vitally important.

In today’s world, whether because of death, divorce or abuse, trauma exists in almost every family.  Too many children are left to their own devices—as I was--to “figure things out”.  As a result, throughout their lives, they yearn for and are searching for clear, unclouded messages.  They are looking for “heroes”, people who represent the mother or father figure they’re missing in their lives.  And the one political party that continually answers those cries for help by means of rhetoric, repetition and organization—manna for O.C.D./trauma sufferers --are the Democrats.

Today's progressives are geniuses at marketing and selling their message.  The difference is that their “message” is much like all those circles I drew as a little girl—meaningless, useless, nothingness.  If the GOP ever wants to truly get hold of the American public again, we have got to find better ways to organize and repeat our message as loudly and clearly as the left does so brilliantly—so that the “strange kids” like I once was will be able to hear that message over the useless din of the screaming, vapid liberals.



ObamaCare’s marriage penalty

In almost every case under the Affordable Care Act, married couples will fare poorly compared to unmarried couples. The reason: subsidies in the newly created health insurance exchange will treat two singles better than a married couple.

Suppose you are earning 200 percent of the federal poverty level (currently $21,660). You will be required to pay a premium equal to 6.3 percent of your income in the exchange—or about $1,365 for a health plan that has an actual cost of, say, $5,000. Thus, you and a cohabitating partner who also earns 200 percent of the federal poverty level could both obtain health coverage for about $2,730. However, if you marry your partner, the two of you will be required to pay 9.5 percent of your income in premiums—or about $4,115. Being married will cost the two of you $1,385 a year.

In some cases, getting married may be worth the financial penalty, however. If you and your partner each earn 100 percent of the federal poverty level (currently $10,830), you would (individually) qualify for Medicaid and would not be allowed to purchase private coverage in the exchange. However, if you are married, your combined income would disqualify you for Medicaid. If you bought insurance in the exchange, you would be required to pay 4 percent of your household income (or $866). The ability to get out of Medicaid (which pays low doctor fees) and into a private plan (which may pay market rates) may be worth the extra premium you have to pay—especially if you value more ready access to care.




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Sunday, February 24, 2013

Another Trip Into the Recesses of the Liberal Mind

 Neal Boortz

Sit down. I’m truly sorry about this, but we really need to take another trip into the dark recesses of the liberal mind. A dangerous journey to a world where it is greedy to want to keep your own money, but not to covet the money or property of others; a world where earning 17% of the income, but paying 38% of the income taxes means you’re not paying your fair share; a world where any expression of disagreement with any utterance, no matter how ignorant, from the mouth of someone-not-white makes you a racist.

We have to do this because you really do need to understand the extent of mindless irrationality that liberals present to us as a “thinking process”.

Our liberal du jour here is one Jennifer Brooks. She’s a member of some crowd called the Corporation for Enterprise Development. Look them up. It seems that their goal in life is to enrich the poor and the middle class at the expense of those who have been more responsible with their lives. An opinion piece by Brooks was published in yesterday’s Atlanta Journal Constitution. Here’s your link, if you need to catch up on your self-abuse regimen.

Brooks’ piece was titled: “A path to prosperity: allow more to save.” In her column Brooks says that more than half of Georgia’s residents don’t have enough money saved up to get them through a rough time. She thinks that the government needs to do something to help these people save money. And --- wouldn’t you know it? --- she thinks that the best way to help these people is to take money away from those who’ve earned it and give it to them.

Hold on … tunneling a little deeper into the liberal mind here.

First, the lovely Jennifer suggests that people who actually go to college, buy a home and save for retirement are able to do so because they either inherited money or their family supported them. Nowhere – not one word in her piece – does Brooks acknowledge that perhaps these people managed to go to college, buy a home and become successful through hard work and good decision-making. The liberal mind cannot acknowledge that possibility! These rich people either inherited their money, or some family member paid the tab! Here Brooks sets the class warfare table. How DARE these people not want to share their money with the less-fortunate! After all, it’s not like they worked for it! They inherited all that money! Someone gave it to them!

But then Ms. Brooks gets down to proposing solutions! Wow! This is starting to get exciting here, isn’t it? Jennifer Brooks to the rescue!

First idea! Georgia needs a “refundable” state Earned Income Tax Credit! She says these tax credit help families boost their income – even those without any tax liability!

Well duhhhhhhh. Of course it helps families boost their income! When you create a state EITC that simply takes money away from people who are paying their own way – and their own taxes – and gives it to people who haven’t worked as hard or as smart, it tends to boost their income! That word – “refundable” – simply means that you get a fat check from the government whether you actually pay any taxes or not. Welfare ... money for nothing ... money forcibly taken from someone else. Simple as that. The federal EITC is the number-one area for tax fraud! So let’s get the state on the same road!

Ms. Brooks’ second idea is for the state to stop what she clearly believes is the abusive and asinine policy of denying cash welfare benefits to people who have more than $1000 in liquid assets. She says that if these people can’t get their welfare checks they won’t be able to save any money.

Say what? I thought welfare was supposed to be (1) temporary, and (2) to help people cover the cost of life’s basic necessities. Now we learn that welfare is for people who simply need to open a savings account but don’t have the money! This amazing liberal thinks the state should seize money, by force, from the person who earned it, and then give it to someone who did not earn it so that they will have some money to save and maybe buy a house some day. You’ll just have to excuse me for a moment here … I mean I’m good at filtering through the rhetorical yak squeeze of the left to see what our proggies friends are up to, but this is really confounding me. Let’s see … you’re going to take money that I was going to put into my savings and give it to someone else so that they can put it into their savings. Really?

Ms. Brooks isn’t through with her fantasy raid on your wealth yet. She wants what she calls “individual Development Account programs. What’s that? Pretty simple. She wants the state to take even more money from you to give to other people to match, dollar-for-dollar, whatever they put aside on their own for a house, to start a business, or to go to college. “Hey! Government! I’ve saved $4000 for a house here, but I need an $8000 down payment! Could you please go take that money from someone else and give it to me so I can get this closing scheduled?” I wonder what Ms. Brooks would think about giving the person who was forced to make the matching contribution a share of the eventual equity in that home, of the profits of that business, or the earnings that come from the college education?

I trust that during the course of this day you will be able to cleanse your rational mind of the liberal effluent I’ve thrown your way. Just know this. In the world of the liberal you are not yours. You do not own yourself, nor do you own the fruits of your labors. The government owns you. The government will decide how the money you earned is distributed. You will be allowed to keep enough to keep you happy – to keep you working. The amount you are allowed to keep will be referred to in Washington as a “tax expenditure.” The rest of the money you have earned, which will be referred to as “your fair share,” will be spent to create more and more government dependency … more and more voters who will be automatically vote for their liberal benefactor.

OK, the reading’s over. When you get that taste out of your mouth you can resume normal behavior.



Stop Demonizing Preppers:  There's more to this subculture than the media stereotypes suggest

With the poor official response to hurricane Sandy and other weather disasters, one would think that ALL Americans would be preppers.

My friend Ceredwyn Alexander lives on a homestead in the mountains of Vermont. She and her family raise a lot of their own food, from chickens to cabbage, and they heat their home with wood they chop themselves. (She won't live anywhere, she tells me, "without supplemental heat that operates without electricity.") They worry about peak oil. They try not to buy things on credit. They always keep a great deal of food and water and other supplies on hand. If everything goes to hell tomorrow, they want to be prepared.

People who say and do such things are often called preppers, and Ceredwyn willingly applies the term to herself: It's a decent label, she says, for people who try to be prepared for sudden, disruptive emergencies. If you've been absorbing the recent portraits of preppers in the press, where they've been depicted as doomsday-fearing right-wing paranoiacs stocking up on guns and canned goods, you may think you know all there is to know about Ceredwyn. But before you use your stock of stereotypes to fill in those blanks, here are a few more facts about her.

Her politics are liberal and feminist. Her family's firearm collection consists of a single shotgun, which they own in case a four-legged predator passes through. (As I said, she lives in rural Vermont.) She speaks disdainfully about survivalists who spend their time "waiting for the Mutant Zombie Bikers to come take their guns, drugs, and women away." Ask her about survival strategies, and she doesn't start spinning fantasies about a well-provisioned family fending off looters. "When the shit hit the fan during Irene," she says instead, "neighbors were everyone's best resource." Preparedness, she says, requires "learning skills and community involvement...not freeze dried food and razor wire." To those ends, she has joined the volunteer fire department and become the town service officer.

As far as the mass media are concerned, America's preeminent preppers are the Alabama kidnapper Jimmy Lee Dykes; Nancy Lanza, whose son raided her gun collection before he carried out the Sandy Hook massacre; and the people who appear on the National Geographic TV show Doomsday Preppers, who might charitably be described as "colorful." Dykes "is described by neighbors as 'very paranoid,' anti-government and possibly a 'Doomsday prepper,'" the New York Daily News reported. The London Independent called Lanza a "so-called 'prepper,' a part of the survivalist movement which urges individuals to prepare for the breakdown of society by training with weapons and hoarding food and other supplies." When the liberal historian Rick Perlstein wrote about preppers in The Nation this month, he headlined his essay "Nothing New Under the Wingnut Sun: 'Survivalism.'" After invoking Dykes and Lanza in his lead, he talked about the right-wing survivalists of the 1960s, '70s, and '80s, linking them to the preppers of the present by describing the lot of them as "Americans who fear change, fear difference, fear you and me, fear everything falling apart. So much so that they organize their lives and politics around staving off the fear—which often entails taking political action that only makes America more fearful and dangerous for everyone; which destroy the trust and love it takes to sustain communities; and who reinforce one another in their fear to such a degree that the less crazy among them surely play a positive role in spurring the more crazy to the kind of awful acts we see around us now." (Speaking of fears that people who are different are making the world fall apart.)

In fact, the prepper community includes a lot of political and cultural variety. If there is right-wing survivalist DNA here, there is also the DNA of the Whole Earth Catalog and several generations of bohemian back-to-the-landers, plus a fair number of families whose inspiration isn't much larger than the Boy Scout motto, "Be Prepared." Tour the online prepper communities, and you may well run into people who have embraced the long-lived conspiracy yarn in which the Federal Emergency Management Agency is plotting to put us in concentration camps. You may also encounter FEMA itself, which currently has an advertisement on the front page of the American Preppers Network. The ad asks, "Do you meet President Obama's minimum Prepper Standards? Are you 'FEMA Ready'?" Talk about all-encompassing diversity.

There may be even more diversity in the scenarios these people are preparing for. Ceredwyn got her family on board with her prepperdom about 12 years ago, when an ice storm hit their then-home in Shreveport. "We were out of power for 10 days," she recalls. "No heat, no water, no stove, no phone. Couldn't leave the house for three days due to ice. Could have been completely awful, but we had everything we needed, including a propane heater and stove I bought." Her own interest in preparedness began earlier, when she was working for an abortion clinic: "Nothing like being the possible victim of terrorism to get the survivalist juices flowing," she recalls. Or maybe it was even earlier than that: In an essay for her blog, she writes about

the day I told my mom that my dad had a girlfriend. My mom's carefully wrought denial came crashing down around her ears. She then found out that my dad had drained the various savings accounts. She filed for divorce the next day....In short order, we went from the sort of people who gave to charity, to being the sort of people who had to choose between eating and paying the light bill.

We got through it, obviously, but my mother never enjoyed upper-middle-classdom again. I am left with a fear of empty cupboards and a clear understanding that, at any moment, the bottom could drop out of my world.

Disasters, she concludes, come in all shapes and sizes, and they strike people every day. "It's always interesting to me that people talk about collapse as though it's in the far off future, and as if it will hit everyone, everywhere, at the same moment," she writes in that essay. "Many, many people are already living in a state of collapse. It doesn't matter if the rest of the world is going merrily on when you've been evicted, your kids are hungry, you have an infected tooth you can't take care of, and you're trying not to let anyone know the family's been sleeping in the minivan." It's a class-conscious take on poverty, disabilities, and other issues that might not come up much on Doomsday Preppers but obviously aren't absent from preppers' minds. When the American Preppers Network lists problems to prepare for, it explicitly includes "the loss or major injury of a breadwinner, loss of a primary job, extended sickness, accidents and other personal calamities."

OK, you say, so preppers aren't all nuts. In the future, when I want to make fun of people holed up in a suburban fortress awaiting a zombie attack, I'll use a more specific term. But so what? Does it really matter if some of the stories I've seen in the last few months have been too sweeping?

Yes, it does. It's always worthwhile to push back when a subculture gets scapegoated, whether it's Goths after Columbine or preppers today. It's especially important when those attacks are embedded in our political debates, skewing the ways we see the world.

Consider one of those divisions within the prepper culture, the one that separates the people engaged with their local communities from the people preparing to go it alone against the lawless zombie hordes. (A member of the Zombie Eradication Response Team, a group that does survival training, told a reporter last year that "'zombie' is really just a palatable metaphor for some guy trying to take your stuff.") This division also exists, and is much more important, in the world of official disaster preparation. On one side there are emergency workers and social scientists who understand that looting and panic do not usually break out after a disaster, that spontaneous cooperation to solve problems is the norm, and that the real first responders, as the saying goes, are the calamity's victims themselves. On the other side there are officials whose first instinct in a natural disaster is to get ready for a riot and who think they need to withhold information to prevent panic. In other words, officials afraid of the lawless hordes. If they imagine a post-disaster world filled with trigger-happy survivalists, that's just going to reinforce their fear of the public.

Anti-prepper rhetoric is affecting the debate over gun laws in a similar way. There are those who perceive the people at the scene of a crime as informal first responders, and who thus see widespread gun ownership as a neighborly civic virtue, and there are people who are wary of any approach to crime control that doesn't depend on the police, and who thus see widespread gun ownership as a recipe for a Hobbesian nightmare. Now, the social science on gun ownership is more ambiguous than the research on how communities respond to disasters. If you rely on the National Self Defense Survey, you'll conclude that firearms are used defensively much more often than they are misused; if you follow the National Crime Victimization Survey, you'll say successful self-defense is less common; and of course there are scholars who think the truth sits somewhere in-between. With the data disputed, political imagery becomes all the more influential. And the image of the anti-social survivalist feeds the impression that gun owners, particularly gun owners interested in more than just sport shooting, are yet another lawless horde.

So the gun owner is envisioned as a prepper, and the prepper is envisioned as a frightened survivalist. Neither real-world gun owners nor real-world preppers are well-served by these stereotypes. And neither is anyone who isn't a gun owner or a prepper but who wants an accurate image of the world.



Was Queen Victoria mad?

She was so grief-stricken by the death of her husband that she withdrew from public life for 5 years.  Her reign was however enormously influential and she  was highly esteemed by the public

THE grieving process is in danger of being branded a medical condition if a mourner feels sad for two weeks and consults a GP, according to an international authority on death and dying.

At present, mourners can feel sad for two months before being told they have a mental disorder, says Professor Dale Larson. Decades ago, a diagnosis could be made after a year.

In a keynote address at an Australian Psychological Society conference in Melbourne on Saturday, Prof Larson will express his anger about the American Psychiatric Association's new diagnostic manual, DSM 5, which is used in many countries including Australia and New Zealand.

The manual, to be published in May, allows a diagnosis of depression after two weeks of grieving.

According to Prof Larson, the manual undermines the legitimate feelings of the mourner and the help available from family, support groups, clerics and professional counsellors.

"We are essentially labelling grief a disorder. Now it becomes a target for drug development."

Prof Larson, head of Counselling Psychology at Santa Clara University in the US, is concerned GPs will be dishing out prescriptions for anti-depressants.

"Almost all bereaved people believe they are depressed. But grief is a normal healing process and it resolves itself in most cases.

"Bereavement-related depression is different from other kinds of depression," he told AAP on Friday.




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