Archive for February, 2011
28 Feb 2011

Henry Blodget Thinks America Is Screwed

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And Henry Blodget has produced a graphic illustration to illustrate his contention.

[H]ere’s the one chart you need to see to understand why the US is screwed.

This is the “income statement” of the United States in 2010. “Revenue” is on the left. “Expenses” are on the right.

Note a few things…

First, “Revenue” is tiny relative to “Expenses.”

Second, most of the expense is entitlement programs, not defense, education, or any of the other line items that most budget crusaders normally howl about.

Third, as horrifying as these charts are, they don’t even show the trends of these two pies: The “expense” pie is growing like gangbusters, driven by the explosive growth of the entitlement programs that no one in government even has the balls to talk about. “Revenue” is barely growing at all.

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I’d put it another way.

I’d say that Liberalism and the post-New Deal American Welfare State is screwed.

The accident of the chickens finally coming home to roost from decades-old federal housing policies during the waning weeks of an increasingly unpopular Republican Administration delivered both elected branches of government into the hands of left-wing democrats eager to expand the empire of statism.

Those kinds of democrats do not understand economics and are not prudent and responsible managers. Their response to the economic crisis was to apply traditional liberal pump-priming excuses to enact a massive Stimulus package and to nationalize some automakers and bail out more banks, while driving full steam ahead on creating another new cyclopean entitlement system.

The result is a kind of show-and-tell demonstration, in front of God and everybody, making it perfectly clear to everyone whose intellect is not paralyzed by ideology that what conservatives had been saying all along is perfectly true. Social Security is a Ponzi scheme, and was always destined to fail one fine day when demographics failed to cooperate. That there are limits to the percentage of the national economy which can be taxed and redistributed without drastic costs in growth and prosperity. That there are limits to how much government you can have, how much government can do, how many departments and programs you can create, and how many bureaucrats you can hire.

The music has stopped. The era of the expansion of socialism, regulation, and federal authority is over. We have run out of money. National bankruptcy is within sight. The end of government’s capacity to pay for the entitlement system existing prior to Obamacare is at hand. Obamacare is a dream and a delusion which we could never afford. Our domestic experiment in social welfarism has failed.

The American people are gradually awakening from a troubled sleep. A political avalanche is building which is going to sweep Barack Obama, Harry Reid, and Nancy Pelosi, liberalism and the America left, and the whole New Deal/Great Society philosophy from the national political landscape onto the rubbish heap of history.

28 Feb 2011

Why Public Employee Unions Should Be Illegal

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W.W., in the Economist, makes the case against public employee unions.

As Max Weber taught, the state is an institution distinguished by its claim to a “monopoly on the legitimate use of violence”. The principal task of political philosophy is to give an account of the conditions under which it is morally legitimate or justified for an exclusive group of people to get things done by threatening and applying coercion to the rest of the inhabitants of a certain territory. On the dominant liberal account, several things need to be true before some small subset of a population can be justified in pushing the rest of us around. First, it needs to solve a problem to which there is no voluntary or non-coercive solution. According to the standard story, only the artful application of credible threats of violence can deliver certain “public goods” without which we would all be worse off. This is, by and large, what the state is for. Of course, any state powerful enough to deliver the public goods and protect our rights is powerful enough to violate them. We each have ample reason to reject the authority of any state that does not rely on the oversight and authorisation of those of us at the business end of police batons. The government of the state must take a form that minimises the chances of the abuse of state violence. According to both liberal theory and history, some form of representative democracy seems to be the ticket.

While the liberal-democratic state has proven better than the known alternatives, it creates a number of serious problems on the way to solving others. Among the greatest of these problems is maintaining a system of public finance that does not stray outside the bounds of liberal legitimacy. The power to tax and spend is necessary for the performance of the democratic state’s legitimate functions, but it is also a ready tool of exploitation and distributive injustice. An ideally legitimate state does nothing people can do better on voluntary terms, and it takes no more from people in taxes than is necessary to finance necessary public goods. But this is a moral target we never hit because the strategic logic of redistributive democracy reliably errs in the direction of expansion of services, deficit spending, and the abuse of taxpayers and other not-very-organised constituencies at the hands of highly-organised special interests. If we are concerned to minimise exploitation—if we care about the extent to which state violence is public-spirited and not merely criminal—we must go out of our way to acknowledge and guard against the abuses of fiscal democracy.

It is in the context of these concerns that we must consider the function of public-sector unions. If they do anything at all, it is to protect their members’ claims on future government revenue from democratic discretion—to limit the power of the elected representatives of the democratic public to set the terms on which union-members will receive transfers from taxpayers. That these transfers come to workers in the form of compensation for services rendered the government seems to confuse a lot people. This is, I think, why people on both sides of the debate are distracted by the question of whether government workers are or are not “overpaid”. To my mind, the real question is whether government workers should be granted special legal powers that (a) are unavailable to other groups whose welfare also turns on transfers from the treasury, or on the size of compulsory transfers from their bank accounts to the treasury, and (b) limit democratic sovereignty over the distribution of the burdens and benefits of the system of public finance.

I would argue on liberal grounds that justice demands limits on democratic sovereignty over budgetary matters precisely to avoid the exploitative redistribution that otherwise occurs. That’s why I support constitutionalising nondiscrimination requirements on fiscal policy, among other reforms. My principled objection to public-sector unions is that their powers limit democratic sovereignty over taxation and public spending in a way that advantages some citizens at the expence of others—in a way that makes fiscal exploitation more, not less likely.

27 Feb 2011

Facial Composites

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Geekologie got these average facial composites of girls of different ethnicities (and put them in a more convenient format) from Dragon Horse.

I thought the Swiss, French, and Lithuanians seemed to have the best looking girls.

Update: Dragon Horse writes that Geekologie screwed up and mislabeled Argentina as South Africa.

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Discover got composite female actress faces (Today versus Golden Age of Hollywood) from Dienekes actor composites from Dragon Horse.

Razib comments:

There seem to be two correlated trends here: 1) more feminine features for both males and females, and 2) more youthful features for both males and females. Correlated, because neoteny and masculinization seemed to generally push in opposite directions of trait value. Projecting in the future I assume that the Global Human Celebrity will converge upon a 14 year old girl?

Addendum: One difference between the “Golden Age” and modern celebrities is the attention to a rather buff physique. So though the actors of yore had more rugged faces, their physiques were often rather flabby in comparison to today’s leading men. So I might correct and assert that the future global celebrity will be a baby-faced 14 year old girl with abs to die for!

27 Feb 2011

Political Prospects For the Middle East

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Historian Bernard Lewis discusses the causes of unrest in the Middle East and is pessimistic about long-term prospects for democracy. His take on all this makes quite a contrast with the kind of naive optimism we read in conventional news sources in the West.

The Arab masses certainly want change. And they want improvement. But when you say do they want democracy, that’s a more difficult question to answer. What does “democracy” mean? It’s a word that’s used with very different meanings, even in different parts of the Western world. And it’s a political concept that has no history, no record whatever in the Arab, Islamic world.

In the West, we tend to get excessively concerned with elections, regarding the holding of elections as the purest expression of democracy, as the climax of the process of democratization. Well, the second may be true – the climax of the process. But the process can be a long and difficult one. Consider, for example, that democracy was fairly new in Germany in the inter-war period and Hitler came to power in a free and fair election.

We, in the Western world particularly, tend to think of democracy in our own terms – that’s natural and normal – to mean periodic elections in our style. But I think it’s a great mistake to try and think of the Middle East in those terms and that can only lead to disastrous results, as you’ve already seen in various places. They are simply not ready for free and fair elections.

One of the most moving experiences of my life was in the year 1950, most of which I spent in Turkey. That was the time when the Turkish government held a free and genuinely fair election – the election of 1950 – in which that government was defeated, and even more remarkably the government then quietly and decently withdrew from power and handed over power to the victorious opposition.

What followed I can only describe as catastrophic. Adnan Menderes, the leader of the party which won the election, which came to power by their success in the election, soon made it perfectly clear that he had no intention whatever of leaving by the same route by which he had come, that he regarded this as a change of regime, and that he had no respect at all for the electoral process.

And people in Turkey began to realize this. I remember vividly sitting one day in the faculty lounge at the school of political sciences in Ankara. This would have been after several years of the Menderes regime. We were sitting in the faculty lounge with some of the professors discussing the history of different political institutions and forms. And one of them suddenly said, to everyone’s astonishment, “Well, the father of democracy in Turkey is Adnan Menderes.”

The others looked around in bewilderment. They said, “Adnan Menderes, the father of Turkish democracy? What do you mean?” Well, said this professor, “he raped the mother of democracy.” It sounds much better in Turkish…

This happened again and again and again. You win an election because an election is forced on the country. But it is seen as a one-way street. Most of the countries in the region are not yet ready for elections. …

I can imagine a situation in which the Muslim Brotherhood and other organizations of the same kind obtain control of much of the Arab world. It’s not impossible. I wouldn’t say it’s likely, but it’s not unlikely.

And if that happens, they would gradually sink back into medieval squalor.
Remember that according to their own statistics, the total exports of the entire Arab world other than fossil fuels amount to less than those of Finland, one small European country. Sooner or later the oil age will come to an end. Oil will be either exhausted or superseded as a source of energy and then they have virtually nothing. In that case it’s easy to imagine a situation in which Africa north of the Sahara becomes not unlike Africa south of the Sahara. …

There’s a common theme of anger and resentment. And the anger and resentment are universal and well-grounded. They come from a number of things. First of all, there’s the obvious one – the greater awareness that they have, thanks to modern media and modern communications, of the difference between their situation and the situation in other parts of the world. I mean, being abjectly poor is bad enough. But when everybody else around you is pretty far from abjectly poor, then it becomes pretty intolerable.

Another thing is the sexual aspect of it. One has to remember that in the Muslim world, casual sex, Western-style, doesn’t exist. If a young man wants sex, there are only two possibilities – marriage and the brothel. You have these vast numbers of young men growing up without the money, either for the brothel or the brideprice, with raging sexual desire. On the one hand, it can lead to the suicide bomber, who is attracted by the virgins of paradise – the only ones available to him. On the other hand, sheer frustration. …

There was a little Arab boy whose arm was broken by an Israeli policeman during a demonstration and he appeared the next day on Israeli television with a bandage on his arm, denouncing Israeli brutality. I was in Amman at the time, watching this. And sitting next to me was an Iraqi, who had fled Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, and he looked at this with his jaw dropping and he said, “I would gladly let Saddam Hussein break both my arms and both my legs if he would let me talk like that on Iraqi television.” …

The sort of authoritarian, even dictatorial regimes, that rule most of the countries in the modern Islamic Middle East, are a modern creation. They are a result of modernization. The pre-modern regimes were much more open, much more tolerant. You can see this from a number of contemporary descriptions. And the memory of that is still living.

It was a British naval officer called Slade who put it very well. He was comparing the old order with the new order, created by modernization. He said that “in the old order, the nobility lived on their estates. In the new order, the state is the estate of the new nobility.” I think that puts it admirably. …

In the Western world, we talk all the time about freedom. In the Islamic world, freedom is not a political term. It’s a legal term: Freedom as opposed to slavery. This was a society in which slavery was an accepted institution existing all over the Muslim world. You were free if you were not a slave. It was entirely a legal and social term, with no political connotation whatsoever. You can see in the ongoing debate in Arabic and other languages the puzzlement with which the use of the term freedom was first perceived.

They just didn’t understand it. I mean, what does this have to do with politics or government? Eventually, they got the message. But it’s still alien to them.

26 Feb 2011

Foxes Get Around

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The Shard Tower, under construction.

And they clearly have terrific noses for food, as this Sun story repeated by MSNBC demonstrates.

A fox cub was found living at the 72nd floor of the U.K.’s tallest skyscraper, it was reported Friday.

The animal, estimated to be six months old, had lived for at least two weeks on scraps of food left by workers about 945 feet up in the under-construction Shard tower in London, The Sun newspaper said.

Pest controllers managed to catch the fox and it was released near London Bridge after a health check, the tabloid reported. London is home to a large population of urban foxes.

“It was unbelievable,” local government official Les Leonard told The Sun. “To get up there the fox would have had to climb 71 sets of stairs and an old-fashioned ladder.

“We finally caught him in a large fox cage, baited with chicken carcasses.”

25 Feb 2011

Morgan Freeman on Black History Month

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Hat tip to David Kuo via Lynn Chu.

25 Feb 2011

How Evil Are the Koch Brothers?

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Charles & David Koch

epistemicfail knows.

The KOCH brothers must be stopped. They gave $40K to Scott Walker, the MAX allowed by state law. That’s small potatoes compared to the $100+ million they give to other organizations. These organizations will terrify you. If the anti-union thing weren’t enough, here are bigger and better reasons to stop the evil Kochs. They are trying to:

1. decriminalize drugs,
2. legalize gay marriage,
3. repeal the Patriot Act,
4. end the police state,
5. cut defense spending.

Who hates the police? Only the criminals using drugs, amirite? We need the Patriot Act to allow government to go through our emails and tap our phones to catch people who smoke marijuana and put them in prison. Oh, it’s also good for terrorists.

Wikipedia shows Koch Family Foundations supporting causes like:

1. CATO Institute
2. Reason Foundation
3. cancer research ($150 million to M.I.T. – STOP THEM! KEEP CANCER ALIVE!)
4. ballet (because seriously: FUCK. THAT. SHIT.)

The Kochs basically give a TON of money (millions of dollars) to the CATO Institute. Scott Walker, $40K? HAH! These CATO people are the REAL problem. They want to end the War on Drugs. Insane, right? We know that the War on Drugs keeps us SAFE from Mexicans and keeps all that violence on their side of the fence. More than 30,000 Mexicans killed as of December! Thank God Mexican lives don’t count as human lives. Our government is doing a good, no, a great job protecting us and seriously, who cares about brown people or should I say non-people? HAHAHA! Public unions are good, government is good, and government protects us from drugs and brown people. The Kochs want to end all that. Look, as far back as 1989 CATO has been trying to decriminalize drugs. Don’t worry, nobody listens to them because they are INSANE.

CATO also rejects the Patriot Act. How can you hate the Patriot Act? Are you not American? They made it easy for you to understand by putting the word “Patriot” in the legislation. That means you should vote YES. Giving up our civil liberties is not a big deal. We need our government. Whether it’s Obama or Bush, we can all agree that the TSA is really good at what they do. God, those patdowns feel SOOOO good.

http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=10599

The Kochs also support Reason Foundation. You don’t know about that? Let me tell you. Basically, REASON Foundation is a bunch of cop haters. Last month, they did a “news” (as if we wanna know!) story on three cops that beat up an unarmed black kid. In the aftermath, the cops were suspended, sat around doing nothing and got paid (like that’s a bad thing!). I don’t know about you, but that puts a smile on my face for four reasons:

1. I hate black people,
2. I love the police,
3. I love it when police beat up black people for no reason,
4. I love that it comes out of taxpayers’ money, because it’s not like it’s really my money.

The Kochs are trying to end this. The Kochs must be stopped.

CATO trying to cut defense spending:

Gay marriage. YUCK. That’s just obvious. If the KOCH Brothers have their way, there will be homos getting married left and right. Here’s another scary thought: gays raising children. …

If there’s one thing I know about billionaires, it’s that they only care about money. Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and George Soros. They aren’t fooling me. Bill Gates isn’t fooling me with his vaccination campaign in Africa. He’s just trying to make African children live longer so they will buy more copies of Windows. Wow. Not even trying to hide it.

Now, I don’t know why the KOCH brothers want gay people to have the right to marry. Everybody knows marriage is for a man and a woman. Even Obama believes that. Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve amirite? I haven’t figured out the angle, yet. Maybe it’s like this:

1. legalize drugs
2. legalize gay marriage
3. sell drugs, oil and Koch napkins to gays at their weddings
4. ????
5. PROFIT$

I don’t know exactly how it would work, but we can all agree that they’re evil. Think about it. CATO and REASON are the only institutions OPENLY advocating these positions. Who would do such a thing? Have they no shame? Minority opinions MUST BE SILENCED.

24 Feb 2011

Why Are the Koch Brothers the Story in Wisconsin?

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They live in Kansas and their corporation PAC donated a measly one-tenth of one per cent of the funding to Governor Walker’s campaign. So why are the Koch Brothers and their alleged responsibility for Wisconsin Governor Walker’s electoral victory and policies the big story that the whole Leftosphere is trumpeting?

John Hinderaker explains:

The most extraordinary story in the news these days is the all-out assault that the Left is mounting against Charles and David Koch and their company, Koch Enterprises. A day doesn’t go buy–hardly an hour goes by–without some new attack being launched against these two lonely libertarians.

Why? Simply because they are rich–their company is one of the best-run and most successful in the world–and conservative. The Left is trying to drive them out of politics and, more important, to deter any other people of means from daring to support conservative politicians or causes.

Understand, the Left has nothing against rich people participating in politics. Most rich people who are politically active are liberals, and the Democratic Party gets much more of its support from the wealthy than the GOP. George Soros is only the most famous of a battalion of sugar daddies who fund every left-wing cause. But the Left wants a monopoly. They want wealthy people to be barred from political participation unless they toe the liberal line. Hence their increasingly vicious attacks on the Koch brothers; they are trying to make an example of them.

Political contributions from billionaire hedge fund magnate George Soros, former Stride Rite chairman Arnold Hiatt, hedge fund financier Donald Sussman, electronics pioneer Bill Budinger, real estate developer Wayne Jordan, and wife of real estate mogul Suzanne Hess, Quark founder Tim Gill, insurance magnate Peter Lewis, heir to the Taco Bell fortune Rob McKay, television producer Marcia L. Carsey, corporate raider Robert Dyson, contributions from the film industry, trial lawyers, public employee unions, and big corporations are all ok when they are going to democrats. But one pair of wealthy conservative donors is an outrage and a threat to democracy.

Here, just for the record, is a link to the top 140 political donors, 1989-2010. I see a lot more jackasses than elephants on the list, and you have to go down to number 18 to find the first elephant.

24 Feb 2011

What Will the Episcopal Church Do to Washington’s Church?

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The church where Washington was a vestryman.

Bryan Preston reports on the lengths that the Episcopal Church has been willing to go to punish parishes attempting to break away as the result of the ordination of an avowedly practicing homosexual as bishop.

I’m not at all religious and this story makes my blood boil. It must be seriously annoying to actual believing Christians.

The town of Falls Church, VA, gets its name from the beautiful historic church at its heart. The Falls Church was built in the time of George Washington, who was himself a vestryman at the church, and the original chapel still stands amid a far larger and more modern campus, and today boasts about 2,500 members. According to a historical marker nearby, the Falls Church was a recruiting station for the fledgling army that Washington led. But today the Falls Church is the target of a scorched earth campaign that the Episcopal Church USA, now called The Episcopal Church (TEC) is waging against several of its own congregations.

The Falls Church’s differences with TEC began over doctrinal issues in the 1970s, but came to a head in 2003 with the Episcopal Church’s ordination of the first non-celibate gay bishop. Many Episcopal churches, including the Falls Church and seven others in northern Virginia, elected to separate from TEC and created a parallel church network aligned with the Anglican Communion. But TEC claimed ownership of the Falls Church’s sprawling campus, and a lawsuit soon followed to wrest the property away from the congregation. Claiming alienation of property, the Episcopal Church went to courtroom war against its breakaway flocks.

The TEC’s lawsuit against the eight churches hinges on property ownership: Who owns the buildings and lands where the congregations meet? What would seem to be a straightforward issue, isn’t, thanks in part to how Episcopal churches are governed. Episcopal churches exist somewhere between Catholic parishes, the properties of which rest solely in the hands of bishops, and most Protestant churches, which own their own properties independent of their denomination or larger structural organization. Unlike Catholic churches, Episcopal churches exercise some independence from the larger church and have the power to vote on whether to sever ties with TEC. These churches did just that. But unlike other Protestant churches, Episcopal churches exercise somewhat less independence from their larger church. But the deeds to the properties in question are in the names of the local trustees, not the TEC itself.

These churches also predate the founding of the Episcopal diocese in Virginia itself. In fact, they are among its founding churches. Falls Church itself dates back to 1734. The diocese that is suing it is three decades its junior.

Nevertheless, the Episcopal Church has continued to wage a very expensive war in court. Jim Oakes, chairman of the Anglican Division of Virginia, estimates that the case has cost the local churches and TEC between $5 million and $8 million on both sides, or between $10 million to $16 million total. For churches that exist to provide ministry to families and towns, those millions could have surely been put to much better use than hiring lawyers and engaging in legal proceedings that have now lasted five years.

As the years have worn on, the churches have offered to settle out of court at each stage, only to be rejected by the Episcopal Church, and then have prevailed over TEC in court. That changed when the case made it all the way to the Virginia Supreme Court, which handed the case back down to the circuit level after finding that the law at the heart of the case – called the division statute – did not apply in this case.

That trial is now set for the end of April, and is expected to take about six weeks. One Falls Church congregant I spoke with worries not just about the eventual ownership of the properties, but about the eventual intentions of the Episcopal Church itself. When I asked what was the worst case scenario, he pointed me to the outcome of a similar case in Binghamton, New York. The Episcopal Church’s victory over a breakaway church there led to this:

    The Church of the Good Shepherd, which has stood at #79 Conklin Avenue since 1879, has been willingly turned over to a Muslim entity by the Episcopal Diocese of Central New York, rather than have it remain in the hands of traditional Anglicans who practice the faith once for all delivered to the saints.

    The death knell for the structure as a Christian house of worship was delivered on February 9, 2010, when it was sold to Imam Muhammad Affify, doing business as the Islamic Awareness Center, for a mere $50,000, a fraction of the church’s assessed $386,400 value.

    Now, two months later, the classic red Anglican doors have been repainted green, the simple cross on top of the steeply peaked bell tower has been lopped off, and a windowpane cross in the side door has been disfigured leaving only narrow vertical glass with the cross beam being painted over to hide it. The Muslims consider the cross a pagan symbol.

    Meanwhile the Rev. Matt Kennedy, his wife and partner in ministry Anne, their young family and congregation were sent packing in the bitter cold and deep snow in January 2008 when the New York Supreme Court ordered them to relinquish the 130-year-old church building which stands overlooking the meandering Susquehanna River.

Good Shepherd had offered to purchase the property before any legal proceedings began, but TEC refused, just as it has refused to settle with the majority of the Virginia churches. After winning the Binghamton suit, TEC sold the historic church to the Islamic group for about a third of what the congregation had offered. …

[An Episcopalian source describing a similar case in Leesburg, VA, notes:]

    Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori is on record saying she would sooner see fleeing parishes sold for saloons than see them affiliate with African and Southern Cone dioceses that uphold “the faith once delivered for all to the saints.”

Saloons rather than traditional churches? That is why the word “jihad” is in the title of this article. The Episcopal Church’s actions in Binghamton and elsewhere defy reason, unless they were intended to send a very strong and unmistakable message to traditional congregants who might be thinking of breaking away: Defy us, and we will not only hound and possibly crush your congregation through expensive lawsuits, we will see that your cherished houses of worship are desecrated. And we will go to any lengths to send this message, even if we must turn your houses of worship into saloons, or mosques. Even if George Washington himself once worshiped there.

Hat tip to Karen L. Myers.

24 Feb 2011

Budget Crisis

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23 Feb 2011

Disenchanted With Obama

The Canadian poet and essayist David Solway explains his own recovery from infatuation with the Chosen One and avenges his personal disorder with an excellent rant.

When I first heard about Obama as a rising star in the Democratic Party, a man so refreshingly different from his predecessors and contemporaries, I was intensely curious and quite favorably disposed toward the youngish, African-American legislator and author. And when I gleaned from my local newspaper that he might harbor aspirations to the White House, I found myself very much in his corner, one of his many Canadian fans. He had an effect similar to the new car smell, appropriately called “outgassing” in the trade, which is often irresistible to prospective buyers.

Naturally, I wished to learn as much as I could about the man who represented an unprecedented phenomenon on the American political scene. I soon discovered that very little of substance was known about this rara avis and so began a disciplined search for more information. Within months I had accumulated a towering stack of articles, commentaries, editorials, and diverse kinds of documentary materials, much of this stuff mere unfocused adulation and adjectival irrelevance but many of these items of a distinctly troubling nature. His autobiographies notwithstanding, I was soon caught in the grip of a profound paradox. It seemed the more I knew, the less I knew. But this “less” was more than enough to convince me, by the time he had won the Democratic nomination, that Obama was everything he presumably was not.

I had finally amassed enough documentation to determine that he was not the centrist he affected to be but a far-left ideologue, that he was a gyrating opportunist who could reverse his proclamations on a dime to suit the occasion, that he had neither knowledge of nor competence in the complexities of foreign affairs, that he was an unabashed plagiarist in his stump speeches, that there was no chance of him becoming a “post racial” president but rather a demagogue who would sharpen racial tensions, that his grasp of real-world economics was shaky to non-existent, that he was an unnervingly ignorant man (e.g. the Austrian language) as well as a showboat (e.g., the fake classical pillars), that he was associated with some of the most dubious people in the political, academic, and religious communities, and that he would waste little time putting the screws on Israel while flattering and appeasing the Islamic world.

True, Obama had done a masterful job obscuring both his past and his intentions, reminding me of John Dryden’s depiction of poetaster Thomas Shadwell in his great poem, “Mac Flecknoe”:

    Shadwell’s genuine night admits no ray,

    His rising fogs prevail upon the day.

Nonetheless, despite the dearth of salient information — the birth certificate flap, the mystery of his upbringing, the sealed college and university records, the lack of authoritative publications in his field, the undisclosed campaign donations, financial statements and professional clients list, and so on — there was sufficient evidence (or the crucial lack of obligatory evidence) to suggest that he would probably turn out to be one of the most reckless and divisive presidents in the entire panorama of American history. Nor was I surprised to learn that Obama’s The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream (Vintage) was translated in Indonesia, where he spent his formative years, as Assault Hope: From Jakarta to the White House (Menerjang Harapan: Dari Jakarta Menuju Gedung Putih). According to the American expatriate who made this piquant discovery in 2007, the Indonesian title definitively implies a “hopeful assault” or “struggle for victory,” that is, a “jihad.” It’s hard to believe that Obama was not aware of the substitution. What it may possibly signify is up to the reader to decide.

The irony was that Obama had been received into the heart of a significant portion of the American public as a sort of redeemer, even as a “god,” in Evan Thomas’ famous and ludicrous formulation. Mulling over such idolatry, I recalled those lines from Elizabethan poet Fulke Greville’s Mustapha, tweaked slightly in the application:

    Yet when each of us in his own heart looks

    He finds the god there far unlike his books.

To return, my interest in the man which had begun so auspiciously had morphed into a visceral loathing of everything he stood for and articulated with the ventriloquial collaboration of his nigh-indispensable teleprompter. Oleg Atbashian, author of Shakedown Socialism: Unions, Pitchforks, Collective Greed, The Fallacy of Economic Equality, and other Optical Illusions of “Redistributive Justice”, writes that he feels “queasy” when listening to one of Obama’s press conferences. I, too, had arrived at the point where I could no longer listen to those lying cadences without reaching for the off button, and had to rely on printed reports in the newspapers to stay abreast of his pronouncements.

And still, I often had to swallow hard. What I found equally galling was the free pass he had been given by the dreamstream media and the Leftosphere in general, which garnished every faux pas, every lame decision, every piece of vacant bombast as an illustration of Obama’s unquestionable genius. It reminded me of the way Greeks tend to treat their students and children, as never failed to amaze me during the years I lived in the country. They ask a boy his name. “Takis,” he says. “Bravo,” they reply. In what other country, I used to wonder, do you get praised for knowing your name? (Actually, in our “self-esteem” education system, we are not far behind.) A Canadian friend of mine who teaches at a premier college in Athens joked: “In school the categories that correspond to our Excellent, Good, Fair, Poor, etc., are: Angelic, Wonderful, Marvelous, and if you fail everything and are nabbed cheating, Room for Improvement.” In the same way, Obama’s report card glitters for every subject he has mangled beyond recognition.

By then I had decided that it was my moral duty to expose him in my writing and conversation for the charlatan and threat I knew him to be. As Frank Fleming has so aptly put it, “what a disaster it would be to appoint a mediocre legislator full of empty platitudes as president.”

Read the whole thing.

Hat tip to Karen L. Myers.

23 Feb 2011

Unionized Government Employees

Jonah Goldberg explains how government employees were allowed to unionize and why government employee unions need to be outlawed once again.

Traditional, private sector unions were born out of an often bloody adversarial relationship between labor and management. It’s been said that during World War I, U.S. soldiers had better odds of surviving on the front lines than miners did in West Virginia coal mines. Mine disasters were frequent; hazardous conditions were the norm. In 1907, the Monongah mine explosion claimed the lives of 362 West Virginia miners. Day-to-day life often resembled serfdom, with management controlling vast swaths of the miners’ lives. And before unionization and many New Deal-era reforms, Washington had little power to reform conditions by legislation.

Meanwhile, government unions have no such narrative on their side. Do you recall the Great DMV cave-in of 1959? How about the travails of second-grade teachers recounted in Upton Sinclair’s famous schoolhouse sequel to “The Jungle”? No? Don’t feel bad, because no such horror stories exist.

Government workers were making good salaries in 1962 when President Kennedy lifted, by executive order (so much for democracy), the federal ban on government unions. Civil service regulations and similar laws had guaranteed good working conditions for generations.

The argument for public unionization wasn’t moral, economic or intellectual. It was rankly political.

Traditional organized labor, the backbone of the Democratic Party, was beginning to lose ground. As Daniel DiSalvo wrote in “The Trouble with Public Sector Unions,” in the fall issue of National Affairs, JFK saw how in states such as New York and Wisconsin, where public unions were already in place, local liberal pols benefited politically and financially. He took the idea national.

The plan worked. Public union membership skyrocketed and government union support for the party of government skyrocketed with it. From 1989 to 2004, AFSCME — the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees — gave nearly $40 million to candidates in federal elections, with 98.5% going to Democrats, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Why would local government unions give so much in federal elections? Because government workers have an inherent interest in boosting the amount of federal tax dollars their local governments get. Put simply, people in the government business support the party of government.

And this gets to the real insidiousness of government unions. Wisconsin labor officials fairly note that they’ve acceded to many of their governor’s specific demands — that workers contribute to their pensions and healthcare costs, for example. But they don’t want to lose the right to collective bargaining.

But that is exactly what they need to lose.

Private sector unions fight with management over an equitable distribution of profits. Government unions negotiate with politicians over taxpayer money, putting the public interest at odds with union interests and, as we’ve seen in states such as California and Wisconsin, exploding the cost of government. The labor-politician negotiations can’t be fair when the unions can put so much money into campaign spending. Victor Gotbaum, a leader in the New York City chapter of AFSCME, summed up the problem in 1975 when he boasted, “We have the ability, in a sense, to elect our own boss.”

This is why FDR believed that “the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service,” and why even George Meany, the first head of the AFL-CIO, held that it was “impossible to bargain collectively with the government.”

As it turns out, it’s not impossible; it’s just terribly unwise. It creates a dysfunctional system where for some, growing government becomes its own reward. You can find evidence of this dysfunction everywhere.

My wife and I used to live in a small town at the northeastern end of Fairfield County, Connecticut. When we bought our house, the real estate tax was about $1500 a year. After two decades of residence, we were paying more than $8000 a year.

Our town’s budget consisted of very little beyond school costs, but our school system was a complex and ever-growing empire with a large administration whose costs rose relentlessly, in good times and bad, at a reliable rate of 8-12% per annum.

People used to describe the kind of town we resided in as a bedroom community, referring to the fact that the residential population was comprised predominantly of commuters, who typically had to travel somewhere between three quarters of an hour to two hours to and from work every day. The population of our town arrived at home in the early evening weeknights exhausted and retired early to get up for the next day’s commute.

The political class and vested interests could do anything they liked politically, simply by scheduling the town meeting on a weeknight. To the meeting would come the well-organized representatives of school spending, elected school board members, teachers and administrators, and ambitious parents eager to throw more of other people’s money at their children’s education. They were never opposed by more than a handful of old timers approaching retirement age attempting to hold the fiscal line.

Trying to control spending was an exercise in futility, because if the town actually got up on its hind feet and rejected the budget incorporating the proposed school teachers’ and administrators’ contract, a state law (passed quietly by an obliging democrat-controlled legislature) mandated binding arbitration. The arbitration board was, of course, made up of retired school teachers, democrat political figures, and social activists, so going to arbitration would, at best, amount to a token slice being removed from everything the unions asked for. And that was that.

School budgets and taxes rose inexorably, and the character of our town and its region changed ineradicably. Older residents soon found it impossible to afford to live in retirement in Fairfield County communities like ours. The real estate taxes were just too high. They sold out and moved to cheaper, and usually sunnier, locations. Eventually, we did, too.

22 Feb 2011

According to the Left, Conservatives Are Always Astroturf

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The latest obsession of the political left, represented by a series of indignant New York Times stories and left-wing blog exposées about the Koch Brothers or other donors to conservative groups and think tanks, seems really to constitute a convenient denial mechanism for our friends on the progressive side.

It is not that the policies advocated by the progressive wing have had untoward effects or that a majority of American voters do not like the way Obamacare was rammed through Congress or that a genuine groundswell of opposition to progressive fiscal policy, redistributionism, and coercion has manifested itself across the country. All the opponents of the democrat party, Barack Obama, and the socialist left are really just corrupt hirelings of right-wing billionaires and corporate interests.

The fact that the democrat party is really, in truth, the party of the rich in the United States, the party representing the American establishment, the party with by far the best ties to Wall Street and corporate interests is entirely overlooked. The left cries out constantly in outrage at the existence of any opponents and dissent.

It is not enough that they possess a predominant share of all of the mainstream media. The existence of Rush Limbaugh and AM radio and Fox News drives them crazy. They have George Soros, Hollywood, Silicon Valley, and a list of liberal donors as long as your arm, but the existence of a tiny number of wealthy donors providing funding to Republicans and to organizations on the right is deemed by them to be an absolute outrage.

John Hinderaker, at Power-Line, was moved to respond to one of the most recent left-wing rants which attempts to connect opposition to the power of unionized government employees in Madison, Wisconsin today to the John Birch Society and a fellow who passed away in 1965.

What is the sum and substance of Think Progress’s expose? Governor Walker’s position is endorsed by a majority of Wisconsin voters, as well as several conservative groups, some of which have gotten modest amounts of support from conservative philanthropists. In what world is that some kind of scandal?

Certainly not in the world of Think Progress, which is entirely a creature of the billionaire left. One curious feature of today’s left is its obsession with “astroturf.” There is a reason why lefties who work for billionaire-funded web sites like Think Progress constantly talk about astroturf: it is the world they live in. They are paid by rich liberals, and the demonstrators who are bused in to left-wing protests are generally union members who are paid to attend. No one on the left does much for free. So lefties find it hard to understand that ordinary citizens (“Tea Partiers”) will turn out at rallies without being paid, that conservative voters vote on principle, not financial self-interest, and that conservative activists act out of conviction, not because they are subsidized by a sugar daddy. Failing to understand that conservatism–unlike liberalism–is a movement of principle, not self-interest, they are constantly looking for the elusive, non-existent money trail.

22 Feb 2011

US Navy Sending a Message to Iran

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The USS Enterprise makes an imposing presence in the Suez Canal. (AFP photo)

DEBKAfile reports that Iran’s recent decision to send two warships through the Suez Canal for “exercises” with Syria provoked an overwhelming display of naval force by the United States.

Thursday night, Feb. 17, the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, escorted by missile cruiser USS Leyte Gulf and the fast supply ship USNS Arctic, headed south through the canal. By Friday morning, they were through and taking up position opposite the Kharg cruiser and Alvand missile destroyer of the Iranian Navy’s 12th Flotilla, which were waiting to enter the Suez Canal at the southern Red Sea entrance.

Furthermore, since the first week of February, the USS Kearsarge, another aircraft carrier, was posted in the Great Bitter Lake opposite Ismailia and the canal’s main routes with a large contingent of marines aboard.

The USS George Washington carrier and the USS Carl Vinson were additionally deployed in the Gulf of Aden, the latter having been moved from the Pacific.

A battle of nerves is therefore underway.

The Iranian warships found themselves cheek to jowl with a major concentration of America naval might piling up in the Red Sea and Suez and were not sure what would happen if they went forward with their mission to transit the Suez Canal for the Mediterranean for the first time in 30 years on their way to Syria.
Sunday night, the Canal authorities announced another 48 hours delay shortly after Tehran state TV claimed the warships were already through to the Mediterranean.

And, finally, the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier was quietly transferred from Bahrain, headquarters of the US Fifth Fleet amid the anti-government uprising, to a point opposite the Iranian Gulf coast.

This pile-up of US naval, air and marine might at strategic points in the Middle East is a warning to meddlers to keep their hands off the revolutions, uprisings and protests sweeping Arab nations. It carries a special message for Tehran that the Obama administration will not permit the Islamic Republic’s rulers to make military and political hay from the unrest – in Bahrain or anywhere else.

By positioning the Enterprise opposite Iran’s 12th Flotilla at the Red Sea entrance to the Suez Canal on Feb. 17 Washington has confronted Tehran with a hard dilemma, which was practically spelled out by US State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley a day earlier: “If the ships move through the canal, we will evaluate what they actually do,” he said. “It’s not really about the ships. It’s about what the ships are carrying, what’s their destination, what’s the cargo on board, where’s it going, to whom and for what benefit.”

This was the US spokesman’s answer to the debkafile disclosure of Feb. 16 that the Kharg was carrying long-range surface missiles for Hizballah. It raised the possibility that the moment they venture to sail into the Suez Canal, the two Iranian warships will be boxed in between the Enterprise and the Kearsarge and called upon the allow their cargoes to be inspected as permitted by the last round of UN sanctions against Iran in the case of suspicious war freights.

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