Friday, December 30, 2011

Newt’s Pearl Harbor, or Alamo…?


Journalist Andrew Cain of the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported Christmas Day (see here) that Republican Presidential yo-yo Newt Gingrich compared his failure to get on the Virginia March 6th primary ballot to Pearl Harbor.
That is, he compared his own personal difficulties to a sneak attack by a foreign enemy that killed thousands of Americans and pushed our country into war. This confirms for any who still doubted that Gingrich DOES have sufficient self-esteem to be President.
But, should anyone need further reason to not vote for Newt Gingrich for President, this must satisfy: should Gingrich become President, can the nuclear bombing of Virginia be far behind?

Do Actions Speak Louder Than Words?


The blogosphere and MSM are spending an inordinate amount of time on the two-decade old scandal of Ron Paul’s eponymous newsletters. “Is Ron Paul a RACIST?” they indignantly inquire.
Short answer: No. No one who knows him--not a patient, not a fellow Congressman, not a constituent; neither political friends or enemies--is willing to make this claim for the camera. But, we’re nonetheless told, it’s important to look at the man’s record.
I agree. Let’s ASSUME he’s a racist. What follows? If you were black, whom would you rather vote for: a racist who nonetheless supports policies and programs that in fact benefit you, or a candidate who champions black equality but nonetheless supports programs that in fact harm you?
Let’s ASSUME Ron Paul is a racist; not, of course, a string-‘em-up lynch mob racist. But someone who makes broad and false generalizations about you and your character based on the color of your skin; who crosses the street at night to avoid you if he sees you approaching; who prefers not to deal with you as a customer, client, employee, or fellow club member. 
Such people should be shunned. But should they not be elected to high office? That would seem to depend on the policies they support. 
Ron Paul has strongly and almost alone called for ending the drug war. What has the drug war done to black America? According to scholar John McWhorter, writing for the Cato Institute (”How the War on Drugs Is Destroying Black America” , Cato’s Letter [Washington, DC: The Cato Institute, Winter, 2011, p. 1]
"The main obstacle to getting black America past the illusion that racism is still a defining factor in America is the strained relationship between young black men and police forces. The massive number of black men in prison stands as an ongoing and graphically resonant rebuke to all calls to “get past racism,” exhibit initiative, or stress optimism. And the primary reason for this massive number of black men in jail is the War on Drugs. Therefore, if the War on Drugs were terminated, the main factor keeping race-based resentment a core element in the American social fabric would no longer exist. America would be a better place for all."
The Drug Policy Alliance noted in March of this year:
"Mass arrests and incarceration of people of color – largely due to drug law violations – have hobbled families and communities by stigmatizing and removing substantial numbers of men and women. In the late 1990s, nearly one in three African-American men aged 20-29 were under criminal justice supervision,  while more than two out of five had been incarcerated – substantially more than had been incarcerated a decade earlier and orders of magnitudes higher than that for the general population. Today, 1 in 15 African-American children and 1 in 42 Latino children have a parent in prison, compared to 1 in 111 white children. In some areas, a large majority of African-American men – 55 percent in Chicago, for example– are labeled felons for life, and, as a result, may be prevented from voting and accessing public housing, student loans and other public assistance." [5 footnoted references in this quotation removed]
Even though Barack Obama is on record in his own autobiography as having used drugs when he was younger, he has done nothing to limit the harm to the black community, or Americans in general, from the drug war that he prosecutes as strongly as his predecessor George W. Bush. Meanwhile, Ron Paul, a physician on record as never having used illicit drugs and as counseling patients and political supporters not to use drugs, favors ending this blight on the black community. 
Black Americans make on average lower incomes than white Americans. Therefore the current recession--which Obama has been singularly unable to ameliorate--harms blacks to a greater degree; black unemployment is higher, and persistently so, than white unemployment. This is especially true of teenagers seeking their first step up the economic ladder to success. Economists across the political spectrum see increasing regulations on hiring, concerns about the as yet incalculable costs of Obamacare, and a high minimum wage as contributing to the black youth unemployment rate. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics black unemployment is almost twice that of the white youth unemployment rate--39.6% to 21.4%--under President Obama, who allowed the last increase in the minimum wage to go into effect in July, 2009, at the height of our recession. Obama supports expansive government regulations, increasing minimum wages, and Obamacare. Ron Paul opposes all these things. Therefore objectively blacks are economically better off under Paul’s economic policies than Obama’s nostrums.
The continued and persistent gap in black educational success in government K-12 schools is a moral blight on our nation. Ron Paul calls for major change in this area--ending No Child Left Behind, closing the Federal Department of Education, offering tax credits for education--while Obama wants to double down with more spending. Yet the government at all levels in the USA has doubled spending in inflation-adjusted per-capita education dollars over a generation, with NO change in reading, math, science or other basic skills. This, more than anything else, harms black America, and only Ron Paul wants fundamental change for the better:.
Blacks make up a disproportionate number of active service forces in the military. Since its an all-volunteer force, there is nothing wrong with that per se. But with 23% of active duty Army personnel being African-American, compared with 12.6% of the population as a whole, it follows that Blacks are disproportionately at risk when US politicians decide to go to war. Obama claimed he would end the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq when he came into office in 2008. It’s taken him an entire first term to end the Iraq war, and only then because Iraqi Prime Minister Malaki refused Obama’s preference to keep American troops deployed in his country. Meanwhile, Obama is anticipating many more years of American troops in Afghanistan. Ron Paul, on the other hand, wants to end foreign wars and bring the troops home, arguing it is both safer and less costly to American blood and treasure...arguing, in effect, that we shouldn’t be willing to trade black blood for black gold.
I could go on, but here’s the hypothetical: ASSUME Ron Paul IS a racist. In that case he’s a racist with economic, civil liberties, educational, and foreign policy positions that happen in fact to benefit black Americans. Meanwhile, President Obama, whom we stipulate is NOT a racist, favors policies that in fact harm American blacks on many dimensions. 
If you were black, whom would you vote for?

Monday, December 26, 2011

Strassel’s Straddle

December 26, 2011

Kimberley Strassel writes the weekly Potomac Watch column for the Wall St. Journal. Her December 16th column contained her WSJ-obligatory “hit piece” on Congressman Ron Paul, who is gaining in the polls in both Iowa and New Hampshire. Her title, “Why Ron Paul Can’t Win,” said it all. . The term “ideological crank” was bandied about, and Strassel explained Paul “does himself in” when discussing foreign policy. He doesn’t support what Strassel, whose historical knowledge of foreign policy seems to begin in the 1940s, views as the “traditional” American role of world policeman and global-striding colossus. Such views, in Strassel’s opinion, cannot win in the Republican primaries. This creates a problem for Paul. But not only Paul, it seems...
In her very next column, 12/22/11,  “The GOP’s Message Problem,” Strassel discusses how the Republican candidates for their party’s Presidential nomination “are consistently failing to provide the sort of message that will resonate with those voters who will matter most in 2012.” Who exactly are these voters? Reporting on a Crossroads analysis of “18 in-depth focus groups in battleground states,” Strassel notes that Republicans are not reaching out to engage potential cross-over voters concerned about the federal debt, seen as completely out of control and evidence of a DC culture addicted to spending.
And Strassel has a point. Consider Congressman Paul Ryan’s proposed alternative budget, which doesn’t cut one cent. It merely increases government spending somewhat less rapidly than Barack Obama’s over the next decade. As pointed out by Keith Hennessey, among others, Ryan doesn’t move the federal budget from yearly deficits to yearly surpluses until 2040, almost 30 years from now. Strassel’s own WSJ calls that “Revolutionary” and candidate Mitt Romney initially refused to sign onto the Ryan Plan because increasing government spending slightly less fast than Barack Obama might be too extreme…
Well...there is ONE candidate who talks of shuttering FIVE cabinet departments and cutting $1 TRILLION in his FIRST YEAR in office. There IS one candidate who seriously discusses what that sort of cut implies: Not just cutting “waste, fraud, and abuse.” Rather, a fundamental re-assessment of what our government should do, including policing the world and filling prisons with peaceful drug users. How is that candidate doing among the very cross-over voters who so concern the Kimberley Strassel of December 22nd?
Quite well. According to the latest Public Policy Poll, Paul is winning in Iowa, 23% to Romney’s 20% and Gingrich’s 14%. His support is deeper and more dedicated. A greater number of Paul supporters indicate they will not switch. Most importantly as regards those swing voters so important to Barack Obama in 2008, Paul carries 33% of the youth vote (those under 45), and 35% of the quarter of voters who call themselves either Democrats or Independents. 
So combining her December 16th and 22nd columns, Kimberley Strassel’s analysis is that the GOP, excluding Paul, can’t connect with the key subset of the electorate needed to win in November, and that Paul himself is not acceptable to enough GOP voters. The only GOP candidate that might take away key voting blocks from Barack Obama in November can’t, per Strassel, win the GOP nomination.
Against a generic Republican candidate, Barack Obama loses. Against each of the actual candidates, Obama wins, but Paul comes second closest to beating him (within 8% points; Romney is within 3%. These numbers are, of course, very fluid). We understand why Romney does well: he LOOKS Presidential. He is wealthy and successful, handsome and tall, speaks with confidence and sobriety, never saying anything that might get him in trouble. Just what the establishment thinks Americans want in their President. But why is Paul doing well? It can’t be the man himself. He IS somewhat crankish. He DOES tend to blather on a bit. How can HE possibly be doing so well. When you think about it, it MUST be his message.
In a rational world, this sort of thing would make establishment Republicans re-assess their aversion to Ron Paul. But in the WSJ’s worldview, nothing can allow re-thinking their “small limited government capable of policing the whole world” ideology. Nonetheless, they shouldn’t ignore the fact that, distorted and hysterically pilloried though it has been, Paul’s principled non-interventionism attracts support from the people actually fighting America’s wars. Paul receives more monetary contributions from US soldiers than all the other GOP candidates. As for traditional GOP voters, to judge by the applause he receives at the GOP debates he is gaining traction here as well. 
It would be tragic if Strassel were right, that the person best positioned to reach out to Americans sick of big government can’t win because he actually wants to cut big government.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Unemployment Figures, Good and Bad…

Originally written: July 12, 2011

The June unemployment figures landed with a hard thud. Barely 18,000 net jobs created—economists were predicting over 100,000—pushing the unemployment rate up to 9.2%, the second monthly increase in a row.
But when the numbers are analyzed, much of the loss in jobs came from the government sector, local, state, and federal.
Shouldn’t this be a cause for celebration? After all, the focus of the Tea Party is to cut government spending. The only way to significantly cut government spending is to cut the size and scope of government. A large fraction of government spending is payment to government workers. To the extent Americans think their government is too large and spends too much, they must believe it does things that are better not done, or better done by the private sector, or done more efficiently. In all these contexts, a cut in government workers is what is desired. Anyone who has ever watched road construction surely must believe fewer government workers is not always an unmitigated tragedy. Anyone who has ever stood in line at the DMV or Post Office must believe there are still some productivity gains to be eked out of the government workforce. Anyone who hears of cuts in the IRS auditing staff must be forgiven if they cannot hide the smile.
So people of the Tea Party persuasion should celebrate, not be dismayed, at hearing of a downsizing in government workers. The REAL concern is that insufficient jobs in the private sector are being formed to absorb them (and many others.) This is not a necessary result of government downsizing. Within a year of the massive downsizing in the federal government (both military and non-military) at the end of World War II, the private sector, in a post-war boom, absorbed them all and more.
Unemployment is a big problem, but one must do more than just trend the unemployment rate. A dropping unemployment rate can be a bad thing if the new jobs are just government make-work. A rising unemployment rate can be a good thing if it is a temporary adjustment—a bump in the Beltway road—to a drop in government workers.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Did Liberalism Kill Steve Jobs…?

Originally Written October 15, 2011

12/23/11--This was written 10 days after the death of Steve Jobs. Originally written partially tongue-in-cheek, as more time passes and more information about the cancer-related decisions Jobs made and why is released, my brief comments strike me as more worthy of consideration than I initially thought…
As most know by now, Steve Jobs, the brilliant CEO and founder of Apple, died October 5th, at age 56, of pancreatic cancer. Although perhaps the greatest entrepreneur of our age, Jobs was, politically, a supporter of the Democratic Party. He put former Vice-President Al Gore on the Apple board and developed a strong “green” initiative in the production of Apple products. 
Many extremely wealthy businessmen back the Democratic Party, of course, but it’s usually part and parcel of crony capitalism. However this is not a criticism I’ve heard registered against Jobs. Jobs grew up in San Francisco, spent most all of his life in the area. And he grew up in the 1960s and ‘70s, so he may well have simply been a liberal true believer, an imbiber not only of political liberalism but of the liberal culture of his time. Did it, in the end, kill him?
I ask because of a recent comment made by a respected academic oncologist—cancer doctor—on the East coast, claiming Steve Jobs didn’t have to die.
A brief background: as a broad but workable simplification, the pancreas has two types of cells: acinar cells, the bulk, which produce digestive enzymes released into the GI tract; and islet cells, a minority, which produce hormones—insulin, glucagon, etc.—released into the bloodstream. Over 95% of pancreatic cancers arise from the acinar cells, and these are deadly, with mere months between diagnosis and death, as Michael Landon and Patrick Swayze remind. But islet-cell tumors, although rare, have a better prognosis. Some are benign, and even the malignant ones kill over years rather than months. And, most importantly, while pancreatic cancers from acinar cells have typically spread (and therefore cannot be cured) before they are discovered, islet cell cancers can often be cured if treated promptly on discovery.
And this leads to the recent comment by that East coast oncologist. He notes that NINE MONTHS passed between Steve Jobs’ 2004 diagnosis and his pancreatic surgery, an interval that may well have spelled the difference between cure and spread, between life and death.
Why did he wait? Steve Jobs was, and his family remains, notoriously private about personal matters, so we may never know for sure, but there is some speculation he used that time to investigate “alternative therapies”—holistic medicine; Eastern approaches; herbal and dietary cures…Is that true? Steve Jobs, I suspect, was not a terribly religious man, but his chosen religion in the liberal San Francisco Bay area was Buddhism. Would Jobs have been a Buddhist had he grown up in Sheboygan or Syracuse, Arkansas or Alabama?
If it is true that Jobs spent too much time investigating alternative medicine, it would be a great tragedy, as the East coast oncologist says he has a 100% survival rate with people who had Jobs’ cancer and got immediate surgery and chemotherapy. Was Steve Jobs, who came of age at a time and place that made Haight/Ashbury famous, led by a cultural milieu in which he was raised to turn his back on a traditional and highly effective therapy, a cure? Thinking differently suddenly takes on a darker meaning…
We may never know if it was the cultural liberalism in which Jobs lived and learned that led to his early demise. But the possibility chills…

Thursday, December 22, 2011


Superstar and astute political analyst Matt Damon: 

"If the Democrats think that they didn't have a mandate — people are literally without any focus or leadership, just wandering out into the streets to yell right now because they're pissed off," said Damon, 41. "Just imagine if they had a leader."

Yes...just imagine.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Bismarck’s Revenge…

Originally written: September 26, 2011

Over a century ago, the Chancellor of Germany, Otto von Bismarck, developed a method to drain freedom and autonomy from his people, assuring their loyalty and fealty, as well as his re-election.
In simplified form, here was his insight: Assume the government needs 10 thousand marks from each citizen to run the government. Simply take 12,000 marks instead. But tell the people that the government is taking the extra 2000 marks for them. Tell them they will get it back when they retire. Tell them the government is looking out for it—looking out for them—in their senior years.
Of course, that wasn’t true. The extra money was never invested, never held as any citizen’s personal property. Instead, it was spent, just like the first 10,000 marks were spent. That was immediately evident. For one thing, people just about to retire when Bismarck’s program began received far more than they had put in, an impossibility if the money received was simply related to the money taken from them. For another, the money held by the government, putatively for each citizen, was not part of the citizen’s estate, could not be spent on personal emergencies, could not be inherited by their children or heirs.
But Bismarck knew a secret explicitly enunciated by a subsequent German Chancellor on a different topic; he knew the political result of “The Big Lie.” “People believe lies,” Adolph Hitler was later to explain, “provided they are big enough.”
And so, in Germany at the beginning of the 20th century, people began to believe that money forcibly taken from them and immediately spent by the government was actually money that was saved for them, money that actually belonged to them…money they had title to. It wasn’t true—it was never true—but it was believed. And in politics, that’s all that matters.
Bismarck was the father of the welfare state, and soon his progeny spread throughout the world. The welfare state started in Germany was soon adopted in the United States—FDR created Social Security in the 1930s. It started small (2% of your income up to $3000) but, as all such programs of enforced dependency, began rather quickly to grow (now 15% of your income up to $106,800). For many Americans, it is the largest tax they face. It has reached the point in the United States where simple transfers—the taking of money from one group of Americans so as to write checks to another group of Americans—has become the primary role of government. 
It is now quite easy to find intelligent, concerned Americans, well aware of the impending bankruptcy of Social Security, themselves troubled about the massive debt held by the federal government, who nonetheless also believe that they are entitled to Social Security payments—that is, that they hold title to these payments—simply because they were forced to pay into the system for decades and had been promised a return. 
Now, they are well aware the government routinely lies. They have learned there were no weapons of mass destruction. They have heard of Nixon’s secret war in Laos and Cambodia. But they can’t come to believe the government would lie about the Big Lie. When told that there is no money, that it was never saved and invested, that the Supreme Court ruled decades ago they have no property rights to any Social Security money, they don’t get upset at the politicians who set up the system; they don’t get upset at the politicians who continually lied to them about Lockboxes. They get upset instead at the people who have finally told them the truth. Retirees are well aware that the only way to pay them what they were told they would receive is to grab the money from today’s workers who will themselves never see a cent. And even though many of these workers are their own children and grandchildren, they nonetheless seem fine with it.
It is worth recalling a Catholic anecdote: It is said that St. Augustine prayed to God “for chastity…but not yet.” It seems Bismarck’s revenge against those who long for a return to limited government and individual freedom is that he has bequeathed to us a growing group of people who want less government, lower spending, a correction of the debt…and a government check. They want limited, Constitutional government…but not yet.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Losing Jobs

Originally written: October 6, 2011

Steve Jobs died yesterday, at the young age of 56. The homages pour in from all over the world, on machines and via communication methods that he popularized and gave to the masses. 
The world is vastly richer, more pleasant, and a more exciting place to live and learn thanks to this one man, someone who gave us not only Toy Story but the most magical Toy Store the world has ever known, filled with the most amazing and engaging gadgets and tools.
Jobs once said, asked to comment on Bill Gates’ giving away most of his fortune, “My congratulations to Bill. He has realized there’s no benefit to being the richest guy in the cemetery.” But Steve Jobs likely will be the richest guy in the cemetery—not in terms of the money he earned…you really can’t take that with you…but in terms of the wealth he created each year for society…which, sadly, he must now take with him. It is lost to us as we move forward.
It is perhaps not the time, with Jobs’ passing less than 24 hours in the past, to focus on current politics. But as I ponder the loss of Steve Jobs, I can’t help but thinking of Elizabeth Warren with her stump speech —really, what wealth has she bestowed on society?—, explaining that Steve Jobs didn’t literally make the iPad and the iPhone and all the rest entirely on his own, and therefore he has to pay back, as if flooding the world with iPads and iPhones wasn’t enough, as if creating hundreds of thousands of high paying jobs throughout the globe wasn’t enough. I can’t help but thinking of President Obama, condemning billionaires. The White House released Obama’s homage to Jobs this morning: “America has lost a great visionary.” But we all know what he was really thinking: “America has lost a great visionary who didn’t pay enough taxes.”
Obama is pushing the idea that “billionaires” don’t pay enough, pushing the view that their wealth is unearned, pushing the view that people like Jobs get rich by taking from others rather than creating immense wealth for society. Pushing class warfare.
Warfare is generally something to avoid. Peace is preferred. But there is a saying from Jobs’ youth that comes back to haunt…No justice, no peace.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Continued White Liberal Lynching of Clarence Thomas

Originally written: June 13, 2011
Today on NPR’s Morning Report, Nina Totenberg discussed recently released transcripts of detailed interviews made over the last few years with eight Supreme Court justices. We learned that Justice Kennedy loves Hemingway; Justice Breyer loves Proust; Justice Goldberg was heavily influenced in her writing by Nabokov, under whom she studied; and Justice Thomas? He loves buses and trucks—words, not so much (in distinction from Scalia, who is a scold on the proper use and nuances of words.)
We learned that Scalia, when an attorney, loved being questioned by the judges while Thomas felt best when presenting arguments at the appellate level if he could get through his presentation without interruption. This is why Thomas has not asked one question during oral argument in over five years.
We learned that Justice Thomas grew up speaking a Negro American dialect and was not completely comfortable with English until his twenties.
We learned that Justice Kennedy loves to write the first drafts of his written arguments and then hand it off to his clerks while Justice Scalia likes to get a first draft from his clerks and then re-work it. Justice Thomas? We’re told he likes to have his clerks go through at least 3 heavily worked drafts before he begins to labor…
The implication is that Justice Thomas is a not well-read man who lets his subordinates do most of his work and can’t be bothered to engage in intellectual argument during open court, perhaps because he doesn’t want to be embarrassed by his more learned colleagues.
But of course Totenberg culled this information from scores of hours of interviews, so this 4 minute distillation tells us perhaps more about Nina Totenberg than about Thomas or other Justices. For example, what does it mean that Thomas was not comfortable in English until his twenties? By this time Thomas had already graduated from college and gotten into Yale school of law. Therefore the claim likely tells us more about the high level of rigor Thomas needs for comfort than it does about his ability to communicate well in English.
What about Thomas’s love of transportation vehicles rather than books? But of course Totenberg didn’t report what Thomas indicated his favorite books were, merely that, in contradistinction to Scalia, he was not overly enamored with words. This says nothing about his ability to command words. Neutrally, it merely suggests Thomas, who is obviously well-read, is more well-rounded than Scalia.
What about the implication that Thomas allows his clerks to do his work? Three drafts before he begins? But of course it is Thomas himself that sets the theme and conclusion of the argument, edits the drafts, and tells his clerks what changes are needed, where to look for material, what to research. Thomas’s decisions over the years speak in a distinctive and cohesive tone despite the fact his clerks change yearly. Perhaps Thomas merely takes his role as educator of his clerks more seriously than do his fellow Justices. I’m told he is beloved by his clerks, who typically go on to do very well in their chosen areas of law.
As to his non-participation in oral argument, Thomas has stated clearly many times in the past that it is his belief that in the vast number of cases the Justices have already made up their minds based on the written arguments already received and reviewed by the time oral argument begins. He views oral argument as largely a side show for the public and he doesn’t want to contribute to “gotcha” moments so beloved by Justice Scalia and others. It would seem this is a matter of personal preference, though Thomas’ contention that most Justices have already made up their minds before oral argument is, if true, something a court-covering journalist like Totenberg knows to be true, and she’s never gone on record as disagreeing.
Justice Thomas could have been portrayed as the Justice that has risen farthest from humble beginnings, learning English as a second language, more well-rounded than his stuffy and perhaps overly-intellectual colleagues (Proust? Really??). Justice Thomas could have been portrayed as the Justice that takes his role in educating legal clerks most seriously. But because Nina Totenberg strongly disagrees with Clarence Thomas’s ideology, he is instead made out—incidentally, casually, as an aside in a piece that was even not directly about him—as an unintellectual, lazy, non-participating buffoon, the only one on the Court. The white liberal lynching of Clarence Thomas that began at his confirmation hearings continues to this day.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Chris Wallace’s Changing Point of View

December 15, 2011
Fox News commentator Chris Wallace, who moderated the last GOP debate among Presidential candidates, said of Ron Paul’s surge in Iowa: If Paul were to win in Iowa, “it will discredit the Iowa caucuses because, rightly or wrongly, I think most of the Republican establishment thinks he’s not going to end up as the nominee...So therefore, Iowa won’t count.”

An interesting viewpoint. And a new one for Mr. Wallace. Consider the Iowa caucuses of just 4 years ago.
When a thoroughly inexperienced legislator in his first term ran for the Democratic nomination against Hillary Clinton in 2007, and scored his first upset in Iowa, Mr. Wallace did not think that discredited Iowa, even though at the time much of the Democratic establishment still thought Hillary would get the nod. No record can be found of Chris Wallace saying Iowa would not count if it went for Obama. 
On the Republican side, in 2007 Mike Huckabee was little known and not thought a realistic competitor for the office of President. Like Paul this year, he progressively increased in the polls through the second half of the year. Unlike Paul, he was still significantly behind Romney a month prior to the caucuses. And yet when he came from behind to win in Iowa, Chris Wallace never said his win discredited Iowa, because “most of the Republican establishment thinks Huckabee is not going to end up as the nominee.” He didn’t even make this analysis as a retrospective when, in fact, Huckabee didn’t end up being the nominee. 
Yet now he thinks this a novel and insightful analysis. One that doesn’t discredit him as an objective moderator and guardian of the news…

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Elizabeth Warren and the Infinitude of Taxation…

Originally written: October 20, 2011

Elizabeth Warren, Harvard law professor currently seeking the U. S. Senate seat held by Scott Brown (R-Ma.), recently made an argument for taxing the rich. She said in a stump speech: “There is nobody in this country that got rich on their own. Nobody. You build a factory out there—good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of the police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for…” Thus, factory owners—CEOs, industry titans, the “rich”—should pay more.
It turns out this line of reasoning also makes a great case for a national consumption, or sales, tax: “There is nobody in this country that consumes on their own. Nobody. You purchase food, clothing, a car—good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved to the grocery, clothing stores, and auto dealerships on roads the rest of us paid for. You were served by workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe with the goods you purchased because of the police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for…” Thus, consumers should pay more.
If Warren seriously believes her first argument justifies progressive income taxation, how can she not believe her modified argument justifies a regressive national consumption tax?
But why stop there?
“There is nobody in this country that got poor on their own. Nobody. You failed to develop or mismanaged your human capital—good for you. But I want to be clear. Your food stamps and Medicaid payments were delivered on roads the rest of us paid for. The safety net that protects you is run and supervised by workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your government-subsidized housing because of the police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for…” Ms. Warren thus justifies heaping taxes on the poor.
The upcoming Senate race in Massachusetts bears watching. It portends to be more philosophical than most, offering Massachusetts voters two different visions of government. People can compare the kind of State envisioned by Scott Brown with the kind of State envisioned by Elizabeth Warren. I don’t know much about the kind of State Warren envisions. But it is clear it will be extremely well funded…

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Entrepreneurship...It's All In The Timing.

I got a great idea for a political bumper sticker, back in late October. Designed to appeal to supporters of all but one candidate, I was sure it would sell tens of thousands. It took me a month to get them back from the manufacturer... Here's an example of one for Rick Perry supporters:

Vote for Perry: More Able than Cain...

I think I'm going to have to remainder them...

Elizabeth Warren: Clinging to Guns and Religion…

Originally composed: October 3, 2011
Referencing small-town Midwesterners at a 2008 San Francisco fundraiser as “people who cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who are not like them”—candidate for President, Barack Obama

Elizabeth Warren has been a good friend of Barack Obama’s since his 2003 fund-raiser for his Senate race at his alma mater, Harvard Law, where she is a professor, and where they first met. It was she who developed the idea, such as it is, of a federal “consumer protection” agency and, per Obama’s recess appointment, briefly held the position of agency czar without the necessity of Congressional approval. Now she is running for Scott Brown’s (ahem…excuse me…Ted Kennedy’s) seat in the U. S. Senate. Should she win, she would be part of the political elite that determines where federal power—the government’s guns—is directed. It is a power she seeks to cling to. She made a statement recently that bears analysis…
Warren, as befits a Harvard Law professor, has some clear ideas on issues of social justice. She recalls, it appears, the tales of life in Hobbes’ state of nature: solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. We all benefit from society. As Warren elaborates: “There is nobody in this country that got rich on their own. Nobody. You build a factory out there—good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of the police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for…” Warren concludes this justifies yet higher taxes on “the rich.”
Economist Russ Roberts, professor at George Mason University in Virginia, had a great response to Ms. Warren in the 9/29 op-ed page of the Wall St. Journal. It bears reading, but I want to say more…
I suspect Ms. Warren took a class in political philosophy at Harvard taught by the revered John Rawls. Her language is reminiscent of that found in Rawls’ highly praised A Theory of Justice, which argued that deviations from egalitarianism—a completely equal sharing of society’s wealth—are justified only to the extent that they better the condition of society’s worst off. He argued that behind a “veil of ignorance,” where people make choices unaware of their actual status in society (well off or poor, talented or handicapped, etc.), this is what people would choose. They would argue to the hypothetically better off much as Warren argued at her campaign event: “Hey better off! You can’t accomplish anything without our help. So we should get everything up to the point where to attempt to give us more would actually make us worse off. Those are our terms and conditions for social cooperation.”
Ms. Warren has taken to this text religiously. She no doubt views as apostasy the response found in Anarchy, State, and Utopia, the 1975 National Book award winning text by Rawls’ fellow Harvard philosopher, the late Robert Nozick. Nozick pointed out that Rawls’ argument is completely symmetrical, and as such cannot justify his conclusion. Based solely on the fact that social cooperation yields a greater product than atomistic efforts, Nozick pointed out, the Better Off could respond with equal (which is to say, little) justification: “Hey worse off! YOU can’t accomplish anything without OUR help. So WE should get everything up to the point where to attempt to give us more would actually make US worse off! Those are OUR terms and conditions for social cooperation!”
Rawls’ argument is not as strong as he thought. It doesn’t do the work he hoped it would. To make an analogy, consider a Thomist offering his Argument from Design. Even assuming that this proves the existence of a creator God, it does not, despite St. Thomas’ belief, prove the existence of the Christian God, complete with Trinity, Eucharist, and papal infallibility. It could equally well prove the existence of Zeus. To prove a Christian God, more is needed. So, too, much more is needed than the mere observation social interaction leads to benefits for all to justify the God of progressive taxation at whose feet Warren worships. Warren’s argument would equally justify a flat tax. But she cannot see it. Too many things get in the way. For one, her antipathy to people who are not like her, people who produce goods and services rather than words and arguments; people rewarded by customers and clients rather than judges and administrators; people who are competent rather than merely clever. Because of this antipathy, Elizabeth Warren clings too firmly to her guns—of which the State she seeks to join controls so many—and her religion. She is a devout believer in the Omnipotent State.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Irony…

Originally written: March 28, 2011

What do Disney, Apple, and Google have in common with the CIA, FBI, and Homeland Security? According to a recent WSJ poll, all rank in the top ten among places recent graduates would like to work. It’s where our best and brightest will be employed.
Thus some of our best and our brightest, as in a prior generation, seem eager to go into bureaucracies dedicated to running and controlling people’s lives. In his famous 1973 book, titled The Best and the Brightest, David Halberstam used that term to describe the group of whiz kids around Kennedy and LBJ. Their efforts gave us the Vietnam War. And now that Google and Apple have made multitasking easier, McNamara’s descendents have given us 3 wars to fight simultaneously.
The bright people at Apple and Google are different in many ways from the bright people in government service. The former typically make more money. The latter typically have more power. The former can be picked out by their pocket protectors, real or metaphorical. The latter can be picked out by their guns, real or metaphorical.
Those running Apple, Google, and similar companies make our lives better by enhancing our choices, letting us better decide how best to run our own lives. Those running the CIA, FBI, TSA, and those in government they serve, make our lives worse by restricting our choices, prohibiting us from deciding how best to run our lives. 
It is said no one is so stupid they cannot run their own life, and no one is so smart they can run everyone else’s. Perhaps this is why those running Google, Apple, and similar businesses so often amaze us, and those running various government agencies, no matter how smart they are, so often disappoint us.
Our best and brightest working at the CIA, FBI, and TSA have counterparts in North Korea. We know our public servants are here to protect us, while those working in North Korea are there to oppress them. Meanwhile, North Koreans know their public servants are there to protect them, while those working in America are here to oppress us. Foolish, foolish North Koreans… Meanwhile, our best and brightest working for Google, Apple, and Disney…they have no North Korean counterparts. From Google co-founder Sergey Brin, born in Russia, to Jonathan Ive, a key Apple designer born in England, they are uniquely American. 
The first set of geniuses serves us—gives us iPods and iPads, free search engines, and the Lion King. The second set of geniuses rules us—gives us indefinite detention and Guantanamo Bay; prohibited water bottles on flight and whole body searches; Waco and Ruby Ridge. The ugly irony consists of what we call the latter group:  Public servants.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Shared Sacrifice and the Government Game

Originally written in the Fall, 2010 [after the 2010 election]

Almost 40 years ago, in his seminal The Machinery of Freedom, economist David Friedman offered the following explanation (which I paraphrase from memory) of the working of government. He called it the “government game.” Here’s how you play:
Imagine 100 people sitting in a circle. You, the government, move around them. Each round, every person puts $1 into the circle. $1 is not much. Each person thinks little of it. You, the government, collect the 100 dollars. You then put $50 in front of one person. $50 is a windfall! The person celebrates his fortune. This game is played for 100 rounds. Each round you place the $50 in front of a different person. At the end of the game, each person is $50 richer, $100 poorer, and happy.
We are now playing—or preparing to play, or alleging we are preparing to play—the government game in reverse. We are preparing to cut government, and there is a great gnashing of teeth. The Sunday morning pundits are all talking of “shared sacrifice,” as are the members of the Simpson-Bowles committee. Even Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), the physician-turned-senator known as Dr. No because of his so frequent votes against spending, speaks of shared sacrifice.
To quote the President, let me be clear: When Lincoln freed the slaves, he did not speak of shared sacrifice. He did not lament the loss to slaveholders of their chattel and he did not mourn the move of the former slaves away from guaranteed employment. 
If the more than $100 billion spent yearly on rather obvious corporate welfare schemes were eliminated, it is true some corporations—specifically, those who had grown accustomed to feeding at the taxpayer trough rather than earning a meal in the competitive marketplace—would be worse off. But the taxpayers—and we are all taxpayers—would be better off. 
If the tens of billions in subsidies given yearly to major agribusiness concerns (known publicly as “the poor farmers”) were ended, some people in those industries might lose their jobs, and Archer-Daniels-Midland shareholders might suffer. But consumers at the grocery stores—and we are all consumers at grocery stores—would be better off. 
The US cost of sugar is twice that of the world market as a result of government quotas. Ending these quotas will cost a few bureaucrats their jobs, and it would likely lower the salaries in American sugar-producing corporations. But the cost of items that use sugar will drop, benefiting most Americans. Confectionary companies that have moved abroad because they could no longer compete in the world market while buying artificially high-priced American sugar might come back, bringing new jobs with them. 
This is not “shared sacrifice.” This is the sacrifice of those who have previously benefited from government largesse—this is the sacrifice of special interests! These sacrifices benefit the overwhelming members of the public. This is something we should do even if there were no deficit problem.
Granted, our government has grown so great that most of us are, in one or another aspect of our lives, beneficiaries of government largesse. We are all special interests. Not to put too fine a point on it, we are all, to one extent or another, modern-day slaveholders, holding the lash over the heads of taxpayers even while other lashes rain down on our own backs, a perverted daisy-chain of fiscal sadomasochism. And, as Friedman noted, this perversion makes us happy. 
We are so enmeshed in this complex of government holdouts and giveaways that we fail to see how normal markets work. We think ending farm subsidies is the same as condemning farmers to destitution, as if farming only became profitable in the 20th century. We think ending the Department of Education is equivalent to a desire to leave people uneducated, as if human education only began in Jimmy Carter’s administration. 
To see past the “shared sacrifice” meme we must remember what, in the past, normal human beings accepted as part of their responsibilities of adulthood: caring for themselves and their loved ones; offering goods and services at market for others to choose or reject as they saw fit, at prices set by supply and demand. To require that of people now is not asking for a sacrifice. It is asking them to stop demanding more, in a democracy, than political equality.
Imagine a circle of 100 people and you, playing the role of government. Each round, one person puts $50 into the circle, cursing his loss as he does so; you [the government] match it, and every person takes out $1, a token amount, not worth much. The game is played for 100 rounds, each round a different person putting $50 into the circle. At the end of the game, each person is $50 poorer, $100 richer, and anguished by his loss. This is the nature of the shared sacrifice we are being asked to contemplate. 

The Tea Party Movement and the Original Tea Party

Originally written Fall, 2010 [before the 2010 election]

More than any other movement in the last generation, the Tea Party movement seems motivated by ideology. It seems as if a mass of individuals has spontaneously rallied to the flag of less government, of Constitutional principles, of individual liberty and autonomy. If they can accomplish what they hope to accomplish, it will be a great public good.
That last sentence is a double entendre. It is true when “public good” is read as “public benefit,” but surprisingly it is also true when “public good” is used in its standard economic sense, where “good” is meant as in “goods for sale.”
Economists use “public good” to refer to goods, like national defense, said to exhibit the properties of non-excludability and non-rivalry. A good is non-excludable when, provided to one, it must be provided to all. A good is non-rivalrous when, provided to one, it is still available to be provided to others. Such goods, economists argue, tend to be underproduced in the market. Why spend time and effort producing a public good when consumers can obtain it without paying because they can’t be excluded?
Ironically, political activity to bring about less government is itself a public good—if successful, you benefit from less government even if you didn’t work to bring it about, and less government provided to one is provided to all. Therefore, economists expect underproduction of the good “less government.” Thus, per Jefferson, does government grow and liberty recede.
Yet there are episodes in American history—the Revolutionary period and the time of the original Tea Party, for example—where ideology trumped economic reasoning…where large numbers of people committed personal risk to bring about social benefits far beyond those they could internalize…where people offered their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor. And in the modern Tea Party movement this may be happening again today.
Today’s Tea Party participants have been called “extremist” by current D. C. denizens, but is this true in a broad historical context? How does today’s movement compare to the actions of those responsible for the original Tea Party?
At that time, America was a collection of English colonies, and England was the most powerful empire on the planet. Like all empires, it thrived by fighting wars and collecting taxes. Thomas Paine, in his book Rights of Man, even argued that while it might seem that the government raised taxes to fight wars, it actually fought wars in order to raise taxes!
So it was not surprising that, in the mid-18th century, toward the end of the French and Indian War (1754-63)—England’s 4th war against France in 70 years—a gargantuan war debt led England to demand more revenue from the American colonists. Granted, such taxes were quite modest when compared to the taxes Americans pay today. But they were extensive. The Stamp Act of 1765 mandated the purchase and use of government stamps for various goods, services, and documents. Government stamps had to be attached to court actions, wills, contracts, leases, deeds, land grants, mortgages, insurance policies, ship clearings from port, pamphlets, newspapers, dice, playing cards, advertisements. Penalties for non-compliance were severe and imposed by an admiralty court without trial by jury.
How did the colonists respond? Did they hold rallies, peacefully petitioning their governing officials for relief, as the modern Tea Partiers do? No. Their response was implacable resistance. Violent mobs burned the homes of judges and tax collectors attempting to enforce the law. Government officials were hung in effigy. The Royal Governor of Massachusetts was forced to flee the colony. England had to repeal the unenforceable Stamp Act the same year it was passed. Five years later, in 1670, it gave up collecting the equally unenforceable Townsend Duties, save, ominously, the duty on tea…
The act and duties were unenforceable because the colonists refused to pay them. No one in the current Tea Party movement is calling for mass refusal to fill out income tax forms; no one is calling for businessmen to perform a “Vivian Kellems” and refuse to collect withholding taxes. So who is being extreme?
The duty on tea, a remnant of the Townsend efforts, when combined when England’s allowing the East Indian Company to ship directly to the colonies—bypassing the English middlemen—actually led to a lowering of the price Americans paid for tea. Yet there was widespread opposition, based on concerns that if they allowed this tax, there would be no stopping future taxes. That is to say, an ideological argument. Meanwhile, the taxes today’s Tea Party members oppose expanding are an order of magnitude more than those opposed by their ideological ancestors; but no one is calling to reduce the tax burden to what King George III wanted to impose on the colonists. Who is extreme?
The reason for the original Tea Party—the illegal dumping of tea from a ship in Boston Harbor before the government made good its threat to remove the tea from the ship and forcefully collect the tax—is because the English government pressed the issue. At that period in American history, the more common way of avoiding such taxes was simple: smuggling. The American colonists were widespread scofflaws, routinely flouting taxes by simply not paying them or collecting them. Today, many in the Tea Party movement oppose growing economic regulations and confiscatory taxation, but unlike those in Peter Zenger’s time or those Americans who refused to find guilty any who worked on the Underground Railroad, smuggling black slaves to freedom in defiance of the law, no one today is urging widespread jury nullification as the solution to stifling regulation and unjust laws. Again, who are the extremists?
Today’s Tea Party movement seeks less government, but typically makes an exception for “defense,” even as America’s global empire fights two overseas wars and has garrisoned permanent troops in South Korea for 60 years. Today, the U. S. military budget constitutes about 50% of military spending for the entire planet. But even while the US spends as much on war preparation as the rest of the world combined, many in the Tea Party movement, interested in cutting the federal budget overall, still see the military budget as sacrosanct. Meanwhile, it was a common concern at the time of the original Tea Party that England wanted to impose a “standing army” on the colonists. A major justification in England for taxing the colonists was that the revenue was needed to pay for the English Redcoats sent to defend them. But the Americans of the time not only didn’t want the taxes, they didn’t want the troops, which many saw as an effort to awe and subdue them. A major reason for the 2nd amendment, recognized in 2008 by the Supreme Court’s Heller decision as a fundamental individual right, was to have militias composed of “the people” as a means of defense rather than impose a standing army. Yet the current Tea Party movement doesn’t even want to cut the military, let alone disband it. Extremism should be made of sterner stuff.
Today, our ruling class in Washington thinks even the mere suggestion that anything passed by Congress might be unconstitutional is evidence of extremism, even if the claim comes from a graduate of Yale Law School like Joe Miller of Alaska…even if, as is increasingly the case, it comes from judges on the federal appellate bench evaluating Obamacare. When former Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, was questioned during the 2010 campaign about the constitutionality of Obamacare, her response was “are you kidding?” This from a woman who as a precondition of her job has sworn to support the Constitution—one might think such a pledge would involve taking claims of unconstitutionality with at least some seriousness and decorum. Yet many Americans at the time of the original Tea Party—radicals like Sam Adams, Thomas Paine, Patrick Henry, and Thomas Jefferson—were loath to ratify the Constitution, a document today’s Tea Partiers view as sacred writing. Many Americans at the time of the original Tea Party saw it instead as an effort to centralize power, creating a more powerful national government than allowed by the Articles of Confederation.
So on issues as diverse as veneration of the Constitution, support of the military, civil disobedience, and willingness to use force to defend one’s rights, when compared to those colonists who dumped tea in Boston Harbor, who stood up to the most powerful empire in the world, it seems clear that today’s Tea Party movement is not too extreme. To bring about the change they desire, it may not yet be extreme enough.