Dangerous Dan Thoughts and musings on the world

3/26/2010

They Told Me…

Filed under: Health Care,Media,Politics — Dangerous Dan @ 12:55 pm

They told me when opponents said I wouldn't actually be able to keep my insurance plan, even though I liked it, that it was a Republican smear tactic.

AP: Companies say health care costs hard to swallow.

(With respect to Instapundit.)

3/25/2010

Where Goes Our Republic? Where Goes My Daughter?

Filed under: General,Health Care,Politics,Society,World — Dangerous Dan @ 9:19 am

I'm worried.  I've been fighting this feeling for awhile and tried to avoid appearing reactionary or overreactionary to recent events, but I'm worried.  Something is happening here and it isn't pretty.

I've grown to distrust modern liberalism.  Its adherents keep changing the U.S. into something it's not supposed to be and wasn't meant to be.  While they claim the changes are consistent with the spirit of America's promise and are making it better, they break it down and rebuild it into something bearing no resemblance to what has made it great.  Where they find nothing broken, they break it so they can repair it.  Where they find something broken, they dash it so they can replace it.

I have always considered America to be something great on this good earth.  Where the rest of the world lived by the grace of kings, we lived by virtue of our own efforts.  When others were ruled by despots, radicals, and the shifting powers of wars, we held firm trusting that our ability to govern ourselves was the answer.  We demanded nothing but the rights of life, liberty, and property and a government composed of our own citizens who would not only protect our rights from foreign and domestic threats, but would also respect those rights itself and not threaten them.  But our social contract isn't what it used to be.  We'll give up some liberty if it means some personal security.  We'll give up some property, especially someone else's, if it means we can get something else in return for little effort.  We have sacrificed so many others in our society for our own gain and in the name of justice and generosity, never realizing that we were really sacrificing ourselves.  We've given up our obligations but expect to keep our rights.  We've given up the rights that make us citizens so that we can enjoy the pleasures that make us hedonists. 

America is not perfect and has never been perfect.  But in a world of deep darkness and oppression, by God, our light, no matter how dim or imperfect it's been at times, was a blinding beacon on a hill, beckoning others to us and to like us.  Our light is now dimming more than ever and we threaten to pitch ourselves into the same darkness the rest of the world inhabits.  We will no longer be exceptional and we will no longer be able to help others or ourselves.  The beacon, the great hope for humanity and the great pro-human force for the past 220 years will be snuffed – not by anybody else.  No external power could ever have defeated us.  Instead we will die the only way we could have – we will have killed ourselves.

Our decline will be slow, but it will be certain.  Those other nations across the Atlantic that so many of our citizens envied will go down with us, and they'll realize the hyperpower they so long criticized, looked down on, and which they celebrated the more it became like them, was the only thing that made their arrogance possible.  With no military to protect it, a hampered economy, and a lack of innovation, they'll have no one to be parasitic upon.  They'll also realize that in America's defeat, they are now subject to the whims of an increasingly despotic Russia, an expansionary China, and aggressive foreign immigration.  They survived in the valley by basking on our light, but they will no longer have it.

So where goes our good republic?  I honestly don't know, but with fiscal time bombs, unsustainable entitlements and ever more people wanting something for nothing, it doesn't look good.  But I'd like to talk about somebody else.

I have a little girl.  When I found out I would have a daughter several years ago, I saw the future stretched out in front of her.  I saw her as a toddler and a young girl.  I saw her as a difficult, but talented teenager.  I saw her going off to college and doing what she found productive and fulfilling.  I saw her contributing to her community and being a good person, friend, and citizen and as someone who would be a credit to the nation that had raised and done so much for me, my father, my grandfather, and my immigrant great-grandfather.  I saw her get married to a good man.  I saw her having children of her own for whom she would see a future like I saw for her.  I saw her grow old and I saw her finish a life well-lived.

Someday, I'd like to sit her down and tell her the future I saw.  None of it specific, more like a cloudy haze. It's a future that exists based upon a society that does not restrict her, that protects her freedoms and allows her to make choices.  I'd like to tell my daughter that it's a great future; that it's cloudy, yes, but she may choose her path and all the side-paths and detours she wants.  I'd like to tell her that the best path will always be found with hard work, with skill, with duty, with being productive, with contributing to the society that protects her, with willingly giving of herself to help those around her, that reason will be her best guide and that virtue is never wasted.  I'd like to be able to tell her that with all this, that haze before is bright and that what lies ahead is better than the cleared area behind us.  That, just as my ancestors had covered so much more of that ground before I began my walk, was cleared ground I had advanced upon so she could go farther.

But I can't tell my daughter any of this.  Not anymore.  How can I tell her to follow hard work when hard work will only be exploited?  Shall I point to her mother, who worked hard for seven years to become a doctor, sacrificed so much and accrued debt, who started working and making decent money at age 30 by treating the children of her community only to be called rich, greedy, selfish and then be claimed by a bureaucracy that will dictate how she exercises her career and from which she cannot escape while remaining a doctor?  Shall I point to the small business owners who invested money and worked hard only to have so much of their work's reward stripped away, to be called greedy and exploitative of their workers?  Meanwhile, those who do less receive rewards for their lack of effort, with their laziness subsidized, handed the fruits taken from the ones naive enough to still work hard.  While handed the fruits, they're told they're the victims and that they're the ones being exploited by the hard workers.  Worse, the lazy, the exploiters, begin to believe they are victims.  Worse still, the hard workers, the victims, begin to believe they are exploiters.  And worst of all, they both begin to think of the lazy as deserving of the fruits.  Shall I tell my daughter that hard work prevails?  Or shall I be honest and tell her that hard work makes her the rube?

How can I tell her to follow duty when her duty is continually narrowed down to being little more than rank obeisance to those who govern her?  What duty has she to others when her duties are taken from her and given over to the anonymous collective?  She'll have no duty to help, to do what she knows is right while risking everything for it, to willingly give of herself for others, to teach, to learn, to fight.  Those responsibilities will not be her's.  The collective will do those things.  It will tell her what is right, it will take from her for others, it will teach.  And should it fail?  No matter.  In the collective, no one is to blame.  All that will be required of her is to do as told.  Shall I tell my daughter to follow duty?  Or shall I be honest, cut out the pointless middle step that has turned into nothing more than a controlling faleshood, and tell her that she need only obey?

How can I tell her to be productive and contribute to the society that protects her when so much of what she produces is taken away and when her society preys upon and exploits her?  Shall I tell her to produce and contribute?  Or shall I be honest and tell her it's better to prey on others?

How can I tell her that reason is her best guide when emotion, base appeal, irrationality, and lies rule?  Why tell her to search out what is in a world that no longer searches for it or believes it's there?  Why tell her to even think in a world that says thinking is nothing more than believing and, worse, feeling?  People don't look for truth, they look for what's "true to them."  They turn inward, gaze at a hollowness they never filled, then look back out to commit themselves to what they feel is right, not to what they think is right and certainly not what is right.  They appeal to their bestial sides, banishing what about them is most human, and maximize freedoms available to any common weevil.  The rationality occasionally rediscovered and championed throughout the West's history has once again been surrendered.  Shall I tell my daughter to follow reason?  Or shall I be honest and tell her to just follow emotion without the threat of ever being wrong (since it can't be wrong) and to enjoy the lies of the moment while new lies will always be available when the old ones are exposed as false?

How I can tell her virtue is never wasted when the only courage shown by leaders is the courage to defy the will of citizens?  When intemperance and self-indulgence are celebrated except when they get in the way of state priorities?  When the virtue is not taught or expected, but is merely compliance with rules she will be forced to follow?  When temperance makes you the rube whose goods and savings will be taken for others?  When generosity disappears amid the collective doing what was once the duty of the individual?  Shall I tell my daughter to practice virtue?  Or shall I be honest and tell her that it will be cold comfort when her virtue will be taken advantage of?

And so I look back at her future.  What was once a bright haze with any number of paths darkens and the paths narrow.  Many paths have been closed off and she is no longer free to pursue whatever makes her happy.  Those liberal elites determined they know better what should make her happy than she herself can and so those paths are no longer acceptable.  They cannot make her happy and it's not best for her, they might say, but more likely those paths are considered contrary to the good of the collective as determined not by the public, but by the elites themselves.  Or perhaps those paths are still open, but they are far more difficult and rocky than before and the costs of taking them outweigh the benefits.  And so I must set my daughter forth not into a future of promise like I originally envisioned for her, but into a future filled with trepidation, soft smiling tyranny, and exploitation by the worst of society.  A future ruined by the hubris of the liberal elites who think they can direct humanity to its betterment, but who fail always and then create more failure to fix their mistakes.

I want my daughter's future back, you sons of bitches.

3/24/2010

Then Ends…

Filed under: Health Care,Politics — Dangerous Dan @ 2:59 pm

For Nancy Pelosi, the ends justify the means.  But I guess we knew that, didn't we?

Pelosi: Health Reform "Model" For Future Reform Efforts

7/15/2009

Sotomayor Hearings

Filed under: Politics — Dangerous Dan @ 12:35 pm

I'll post occasional thoughts on the hearings here and will update.

  • Is Arlen Specter really revisiting Bush v. Gore?  Does he really need to work that hard to kiss up to his new Democratic friends?
  • As I listen to Al Franken talk, this is all I can think of:


Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer @ Yahoo! Video

7/14/2009

More Things I Think I Think Right Now

Filed under: General,Politics,Society — Dangerous Dan @ 9:06 pm

As we prepare to pass a massive health care entitlement program that will destroy the quality of the current system and exponentially increase the size of the federal budget, the federal debt, and the power of the federal government in our lives, let's consider a few things.

1. Name me a successful (or, as most actually are, seemingly successul) socialist program or system that is not parasitic on the private sector. On health care, for example, many people hold up Medicare as being great template for a quality government-run system, even though it about to go bust. If you can find a doctor who wants more Medicare patients or an all-Medicare practice, then it is highly likely you will next find a unicorn ridden by a leprechaun. Doctors and hospitals tolerate Medicare and the loss they take on the system because they are still able to make a profit from private insurers. Private insurance subsidizes Medicare. Should you take away the private insurance so that you only have a universal Medicare-type plan, what will subsidize it?

The great socialized medical systems of other countries are also parasitic on the U.S. The newest wonder drugs and most medical innovations come out of the U.S. because companies can make a profit here, but not elsewhere. And yet the other countries still benefit from innovations that come from the U.S. The massive socialized welfare systems of western Europe are the result of half a century of U.S. military protecction of the continent. They had the luxury of drawing down their militaries and building up their welfare states. They currently hardly have the ability to even defend themselves, let alone project any significant power abroad. If the leaders of western Europe had any sense, they would persuade the U.S. NOT to join the socialist democratic fold. If the European pattern were to hold here so that military spending will be replaced with welfare spending, we will no longer have ability to militarily secure Europe and the Europeans will suddenly be responsible for themselves without an assured back-up plan in the U.S.

1b. I also marvel at how people are so willing to allow the federal government to so intrude in their lives that they will allow it to dictate to them something as fundamental as their own health care and how they use it. I've always been baffled at how people complain about insurance companies and HMO's and then their solution is to create one enormous monopolistic HMO run by the federal government, that paragon of efficiency, meritocracy, and friendly reliable customer service. When Obama talks of lowering costs, hwo do they really think that will be done? When the supply of available medical care remains static, but demand skyrockets and there's no longer any price mechanism to ration the supply, how do they think the rationing will be done? How do they think new medical innovations will come about or new drugs created when there's no longer any profit to be made in them for companies? How do they think the government will distribute money and resources through the system? By need? By merit? By consumer demand? By voter appeasement? By political influence? When Obama talks about "evidence-based" medicine and decisions, what evidence, chosen by whom, to effect decisions for what goals? What motivation will aspiring talented sudents have for going into the medical field when they can no longer make their own medical decisions, when they can no longer act on their own judgment and training, when they become bureaucrats executing options on a flow chart, when they cannot produce a meaningful income to reflect their education, training, and service provided, and when patients see them not as talented professionals from whom they are receiving a valuable service made valuable by what it costs the patient, but as an extension of the government system as surely as a glassy-eyed dullard sitting at a DMV window? Why go through that pain when instead they can become, say, lawyers with less investment of time, talent, and money and greater reward on the other end? Why contribute to the medical field when there are oh so many ways to become parasitic on it?

2. The role of proper government should be to preserve and protect individual freedoms and let individuals define and pursue their own versions of happiness and the good life (within bounds, of course, e.g. not allowing joyful murderers to exercise their hobby). The more instrusive the government becomes, however, through taxation, regulation, mandatory services, etc., the more individual freedoms are eroded and persons are forced to comform to the versions of happiness and good life decided on by the government as being best and proper. It doesn't matter if my versions are different, I will be forced through either lack of choice and options or through coercion to comply. On health care, I may prefer a certain doctor or have a certain procedure done or make some other conscious choice that I think best, but under a government system, I will be constrained to doing what the bureaucratic rules say I can do.

2b. I would dearly love if some politician out there would articulate the case for economic freedom being general freedom, which I think is one of the best cases to be made against increasingly excessive taxation. The more of your own money you keep, the more you can pursue your own aforementioned versions of happiness and the good life. You can donate to charities, tithe, take educational courses, buy a ski boat, travel, play XBOX, contribute to political candidates or political causes you support, etc., etc. Whatever your version is, money allows you to pursue it. The more of that money that is taxed, however, the more your ability to pursue it is restricted. and is necessarily an infringement of what is supposed to be an unalienable right, the pursuit of happiness Again, erosion of individual freedoms.

3. I sometimes wonder if, though we are a common law society, we are becoming more civil law in tone and structure. Rules and laws are becoming exceptionally complex in their layout. Older real estate agents can tell you housing contracts are much longer than they used to be. Older profesoors will tell you how syllabi were once a page or two and now universities require they have sections on disability, discrimination, tardy policies, grading policies, reading schedules, et al, until a syllabus constitutes a packet. In all things, all bases must be covered and no loopholes left open.

The problem with all this is that rules replace judgment. People become afraid to make judgment calls because they fear they'll leave themselves exposed to litigation or discipline if they choose wrongly. If there's a rule they can follow, however, then they can do whatever it says and not bother using judgment, no matter how illogical, inconvenient, inefficient, immoral, or nonsensical it may be in a given situation. They are absolved of all personal responsibility. No matter the outcome or incomprehensible the decision, they are justified so long as they conformed to the rule. And then responsibility has been to displaced to whom? To the rule? Where is the accountability in the system? Suddenly, no one is accountable and no one is responsible so long as every one followed their own respective rules. The buck stops nowhere because it never started going anywhere at the start.

We've replaced minds with rules. Whatever happened to producing people with good judgment and good character who can choose wisely instead of merely stamping out drones who can do little more than offensively exploit loopholes and defensively cover their asses? We don't want men of thinking, we want men of process.

4. Last, I was ruminating this morning on the rather contradictory positions of those who support higher taxes. On the one hand, they support higher taxation of those in the higher income brackets in order to generate revenue for various government spending. They do so on the supposition that those who are wealthy will continue working at the same pace as before and work with the same effort to increase income, productivity, etc., and also that they will not leave the jurisdiciton of the taxing entity. That is, they expect the higher tax to generate more revenue while having little to no adverse effect on the behavior of those being taxed.

On the other hand, these same people will turn around and purposely use taxation as a tool for behavior modification. They argue, for example, that gas taxes should be higher so people will push for and buy more fuel efficient vehicles. They push through higher taxes on cigarettes saying that doing so will make the cost of smoking prohibitively expensive and smokers will quit.

So, which is it? Does higher taxation change behavior or does it not? You can't have it both ways. I haven't decided if the attempt to do so is the result of naivity, convenience, or straight-out lying.

And that's about all I think I think right now.

Various Things I Think

Filed under: General,Politics,Society — Dangerous Dan @ 9:03 pm

Any one of these deserves greater attention, but the real world is currently demanding a great deal of my time.  But here a couple of things I think I think.

1. Obama is turning out to be exactly who I thought he would be and yet I dislike him even more than I thought I would.  His efforts at various reforms of the society are wrong-headed and perilous.  He is also abusing the executive branch and has concentrated power in the presidency to a degree that I'm not sure has precidence.  Currently, a man with one year of experience in the business world (as a financial advisor) is the effective uber-CEO of the world's largest budget, two major automotive manufacturers, large national banks and investment firms (and a number of smaller ones), and is also trying to become the head of a nationwide HMO.  I don't know why people aren't more worried about this than they are.

2. What depresses me is that I'm not convinced that if McCain were president and/or if the Republicans were still the majority in Congress, they wouldn't be doing many of same boneheaded things Obama and the Dems are.

3. Regarding the auto companies, we're witnessing what happens when the government takes over a business: it screws it up.  Anytime the government meddles in a market, it disrupts how that market operates.  A free market should be a meritocracy where only the best succeed and the good survive.  Politics, though, is an aristocracy of influence where the best connected succeed and the well connected survive.  I greatly fear that GM and Chrysler are going to become like Amtrak.  The companies will continue to operate inefficiently and will lose money (all the more so now that the unions have such a big stake in them) and they'll just continue extorting Congress for more money.  After as much taxpayer money as has been invested in the companies, no politician wants them to completely fail on his/her watch and so they'll just keep pumping more money while always claiming the automakers will become solvent, profitable, and independent tomorrow.  Would anybody like to buy a Trabant?

NG Explorer on Executions

Filed under: General,Politics,Society — Dangerous Dan @ 8:47 pm

I'm currently watching National Geographic Explorer's episode on executions, with a (understandable) focus on the Texas death row in Huntsville.  I've always like the Explorer series and they tend to play it pretty straight without taking sides (or at least without being too overt about it).  One gets a vague feeling of disapproval.  In times like this, though, I like to note the crimes for which these were executed.

Johnny Ray Johnson: Johnson confessed that he offered to give Leah Smith some of his crack cocaine in exchange for sex. After Smith smoked the crack, she refused to have sex with Johnson. He became angry and grabbed her, ripped her clothes off, and threw her to the ground. When she fought back with a wooden board, Johnson repeatedly struck her head against the cement curb until she stopped fighting, and then raped her. During the punishment phase of his trial, the State introduced evidence, including Johnson’s oral and written confessions, revealing that Johnson raped and/or murdered numerous other women on several occasions in much the same manner.

Willie Earl Pondexter: Pondexter and accomplices Ricky Bell, Deon Williams, and James Henderson met together and discussed robbing Martha Lennox, a wealthy 84-year-old woman in Clarksville. They parked a few blocks away. On their first attempt to enter the house, they saw a patrolling police car. The men ran back to their car, but later returned to Lennox's house. After Pondexter kicked in the front door, all four of them went inside and went upstairs to Lennox's bedroom. The victim was there, sitting on her bed. Williams then took $7 from the victim's coin purse. Lennox was then shot twice in the head with a 9 mm pistol. The intruders then fled in the victim's car. Pondexter and his companions drove Lennox's car to Dallas, using the money they stole to buy gas. The day after the murder, they were arrested after attempting to rob a man on the street. At Pondexter's trial, Deon Williams testified that Henderson shot Lennox in the head first, then handed the gun to Pondexter. Pondexter then shot Lennox in the head and said, "that's how you smoke a bitch." James Lee Henderson was also convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death. He remains on death row.

David Martinez: Martinez lived with his firlfriend, Carolina Prado and her two children, 14 year old Erik and 10 year old Belinda. On July 10, 1994, Martinez beat Carolina to death with a baseball bat in her bed, and used the same bat on Erik in the living room. Belinda was left tied up but unharmed and had seen her brother beaten to death by Martinez. She escaped and returned with her Grandmother who discovered the bodies. Upon arrest, Martinez confessed to the murders, bragging that he had killed them like cockroaches. No apparent motive for the murders was revealed.

I've always had a rather unsophisticated argument for the death penalty and it goes like this: Some people just deserve to die.  That's pretty much it.  No nuance about justice, costs, etc.  These guys commit horrific crimes and their lives become forfeit.  They simply deserve to die.

3/17/2009

The Problems of Government Control

Filed under: Politics,Society — Tags: — Dangerous Dan @ 10:37 pm

The latest populist outrage du jour is the $165 million in bonuses AIG paid out to its executives.  Since AIG is a recipient of tens of billions of dollars of taxpayer bailout money meant to shore it up, Obama and other politicians are in full bluster mode about the payouts.  They shouldn't be.  AIG was contractually obligated to pay that money to its employees.  Just because the company gets funds from the federal government doesn't mean that it is suddenly at liberty to violate the terms of its contracts with its workers, whether it's an extra $20 to a guy in the mail room or several million to a vice president.

It's also not as if this suddenly snuck up on anybody.  The White House is claiming they didn't know about the bonuses until earlier this month, but this is likely a CYA move.  It's difficult to believe that the administration didn't have some idea of the extent of the bonuses before official word got to it.  Even if the benefit of the doubt is given, the alternative explanations are either incompetence or shoddy work for, respectively, not thinking to investigate bonuses or going about getting the information slowly.

The problem for AIG if it had cut the bonuses, aside from getting sued by those who were stiffed, is that the business requires skilled, qualified people in its ranks.  It cannot get or retain these individuals if it is unable to match the compensation packages of competing firms.  This is part of a larger worry of mine whenever Obama and other mostly Dems talk about limiting the executive compensation of the companies that have received federal relief.  That sounds quite nice but such a policy puts the businesses at a serious competitive disadvantage for personnel.  If you're a skilled corporate manager, salesman, broker, etc., and you have the opportunity to make, say, ten times as much money at one firm than at another, the choice is obvious – you go to where you can make big money.  The firm that is legally unable to match salary and bonuses will increasingly get less qualified workers, i.e. the leftovers after all the other firms have picked over the available labor pool.  Considering these companies are already troubled (that's why they got federal money to begin with), this will only exacerbate the troubles.  Rather than use taxpayer money appropriately (something I consider was already not done in bailing them out at all), the politicians will waste that money by creating a non-competitive company that cannot succeed against rivals and will either go down with that taxpayer money or it will keep demanding more to keep it afloat.

This last option is a worrisome one.  There's a decent chance the government will continue pumping money into failing companies only because it has already sunk so much into them.  No politician wants to admit AIG or some other entity is going to go down in flames with billions in taxpayer money never to repaid.  The pols would rather keep propping it up as long as possible, a bit like the gambler who keeps gambling because he's already "invested" so much cash and holds out a futile hope of getting it back and keeping his wife from divorcing him.

So what would become of such companies?  That they become wholly dependent and functioning arms of the federal government?  This would certainly seem to be the case.  One of the lines the American people were given during the initial round of bailouts is that the government was buying stock without voting power and the banks, firms, and companies would not be controlled.  Not surprisingly, that didn't last long.  The fool populists now feel at liberty to exert ever greater control on these businesses, always on the justification that the companies received federal funds and the politicians, never good stewards of taxpayer money in their own spending, must ensure the U.S. investment is being used appropriately.  So far, only executive compensation packages are targeted, but there's no reason to stop there – not given the above justification.  What if a bailed out bank wants to foreclose on a number of houses owned by the poor, or refuses to lend to the "disadvantaged," or does business with the politically unpopular (let's say, a whaling group or a questionable foreign regime)?  There seems little to stop the pols from declaring that the bank needs to act correctly – that is, to act according to what the legislators have determined is politically advantageous or socially right – because, as a recipient of taxpayer money, it owes the taxpayers its subservience.

And what of that?  Doesn't a company owe obedience to the wishes of its investors and stockholders?  Of course, but what is the nature of this investment?  Ordinarily, I voluntarily invest my own money in a company and take on the risk should the company fail.  I can also voice my displeasure with the company's actions and try to direct it to act differently according to what I think is the best course of action.  None of this is the case with the government bailouts, however.  My money is being invested in companies regardless of my wishes.  Politicians are investing it for me, and against my will.  The pols also risk no monetary capital of their own should the investment go poorly.  All they risk is nebulous political capital, which can still be salvaged in case of failure.  I also have no say, as an investor, in the direction of the companies.  Instead, those same politicians act as my intermediary.  But the interests of those politicians are, again, less profit and more political (remember what it is they have at risk).  If it is political gains those pols wish to make, then they will pander to the poorer majority.  Since many of the poorer majority do not pay income taxes, they haven't any money at risk in these government investments.  The result is that my money is invested, but that investment is controlled by politicians for the benefit of those who have invested nothing.

Let's bail out all sorts of business entities.  Other than loss of taxpayer money, effective nationalization of companies, destruction of normal competition, and a bizarre distortion of investor-company relationships, what could go wrong?

12/25/2008

The Economy and Ignorant Uses of Labels

Filed under: General,Media,Politics,Society — Tags: — Dangerous Dan @ 12:04 am

Ariana Huffington is someone whose naked ambition is impressive but her intellect is not.  I can't say I've ever read anything by her when I thought the woman was sharp.  This isn't just because I almost universally disagree with her politically and ideologically, but also due to her constant intellectual vapidity and sloppiness.

The latest example of this is her piece at Real Clear Politics.  In it, she claims that the current economic crisis is proof-positive evidence of the death of laissez-faire capitalism.  Indeed, she equates its failure and death with the failure and death of Marxism.

The collapse of Communism as a political system sounded the death knell for Marxism as an ideology. But while laissez-faire capitalism has been a monumental failure in practice, and soundly defeated at the polls, the ideology is still alive and kicking.

The only place you can find an American Marxist these days is teaching a college linguistic theory class. But you can find all manner of free market fundamentalists still on the Senate floor or in Governor's mansions or showing up on TV trying to peddle the deregulation snake oil.

A few points.  First, people in Cuba, Nepal, China, Venezuela, Bolivia, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, and various other places would probably be quite surprised to discover that Marxism is a dead political ideology given its impressive vitality in those locations.

Second, it's bizarre to assert that the crisis proves the failure of laissez-faire capitalism considering that laissez-faire capitalism doesn't exist in the U.S. or virtually anywhere else in the world and hasn't for some time (if it ever truly existed at all).  It's a bit hard to argue a policy has failed when that policy was never in effect.

Huffington is actually being extremely lazy with labels.  She refers to "free market fundamentalists" as laissez-faire capitalists and then goes on to name several such individuals on the right.  In actuality, however, you will find very few real laissez-faire supporters who believe the government should be completely hands-off on the economy.  The vast majority of free-marketeers believe in some kind of government regulation, but that lighter regulation is better while heavy regulation is harmful to individual businesses and the economy in general.  Calling free market folks laissez-faire proponents is a bit like when know-nothings call libertarians anarchists.  Anarchists believe in the complete abolition of government while libertarians argue for the fundamental necessity of government, though its scope should be limited and its powers restricted.  Conflating the two is laziness or foolishness and so is conflating modern supporters of the free market and those of laissez-faire capitalism.  The conflation, however, serves her rhetorical purposes and so she uses it.

I'd like to give Huffington the benefit of the doubt and say she's merely talking about people whose ideology is closer to laissez-faire and so they're discredited by ideological proximity.  She nowhere makes such a subtle distinction, though.  Instead, she asserts the laissez-faire line rather forcefully.

It's time to drive the final nail into the coffin of laissez-faire capitalism by treating it like the discredited ideology it inarguably is. If not, the Dr. Frankensteins of the right will surely try to revive the monster and send it marauding through our economy once again.

Even if she wants to push the subtlety, it only damages her since the point can easily be turned around to argue that she and statist heavy regulatory supporters are also discredited since they're much closer to the failed Marxists she already mentioned.

Also, while Huffington repeatedly claims that laissez-faire capitalists (or, though she doesn't deserve it, we'll be generous and say laissez-faire 'attitudes') caused the crisis, she never draws the causal link between the two.  It is an assertion that is no more than asserted and is accepted as fact.  Without making the case, she cannot use the crisis as proof of anything's failure.

If the crisis occurred in a laissez-faire environment, she might have something.  Given that it occurred in a regulated environment, the only question is about the degree and efficacy of regulation.  Sadly, the tendency among liberals when something like this happens is to automatically assume that a dearth of regulation is the culprit, while hardly ever examined (or at least too little examined) are the effectiveness of current regulations, the effectiveness of the regulatory agencies, and the effects of current regulations on the markets.  If, for example, current regulations could have stopped a crisis but didn't, then the implementation of those regulations need to evaluated and there's no need for new regulations.  If the effectiveness of regulatory agencies is to blame, then this needs attention and there's no need for new regulations.  If current regulations are to blame, then they need to be revamped.

The latter can happen due to the law of unintended consequences.  Very rarely do laws or regulations do only what is intended.  They also often have unintended and undesirable side-effects.  Regulations such as requiring banks to lend money to certain localized minority groups and to the poor (actuarial demographics that are poor credit risks) was an obvious cause of our current situation in that it altered business practices (the NY Times piece Huffington approvingly references says as much, though it incorrectly lays the blame on Bush, and as confusingly as Huffington, argues for both too much and too little government interference).  Indeed, the left often does not seem to understand how laws and regulations affect business and individual behaviors, even though liberals often use laws for the purpose.  At any rate, it is not at all clear that the crisis results from a lack of regulation since I've mentioned at least three other possibilities and I'd hazard there are more I haven't thought of.  To jump to the conclusion that more regulations or a heavier regulatory environment is needed is foolhardy.

Personally, I argue for a combination of the above factors.  First, the government interference.  There is the aforementioned government sticks compelling banks to approve loans and mortgages to people they ordinarily would shun.  This is the root cause of the mess and the sheer amount of bad paper being issued due to the federal government's compulsion was going to be disastrous regardless of what happened afterwards.

Aside from this, there was also the Fed's interference in interest rates.  When Greenspan dropped the interbank loan rate following 9/11, it also dropped the interest rate on many secure investments, like Treasury bills.  It got so low that capital naturally started trying to find secure investments elsewhere that offered higher yields.  This is when consolidated mortgage packages started looking so good.  And in the beginning, they were good since it was mostly good paper and mortgages, being backed by the collateral of houses, would rarely fail terribly.  As the various brokers realized the gold mine there, more and more money started shifting into them and to supply the demand, CDO's composed of worse and worse paper were sold throughout the financial system.  This is where the Wall Street greed part comes in as enormous commissions were quite appealing.  And for many mortgage brokers, approving bad paper was low risk since the mortgage, and therefore the high risk of the bad paper, was sold to somebody else, making it no longer the mortgage broker's problem.

There was some lack of regulation in that it is very low over the investment banks.  Even if those regulations were there, it's not assured that the regulatory agencies like the SEC could have caught it.  Many smart people work for the SEC, but they're still government employees who are usually not as smart as the high-paid Wall Street folks or who are but don't stick around at the agency long enough since they go on to be a high-paid Wall Street person.  This makes it difficult to spot and handle extremely complex dangerous phenomena like the mortgage mess.  The regulators either don't know what to make of it all, don't have the expertise to put all the pieces together, or they lack employee continuity for the effort.

Frankly, this mess is far too complicated to pin on any one cause and Huffington and those like her are being every bit as overly simplistic as those she vilifies.  We need to proceed slowly and carefully, two things politicians are terrible at doing in a time of crisis, no matter how real or imagined.  Things are definitely going to get worse and I fear measures are going to be implemented that will hinder a long term recovery, not help it.

11/10/2008

Bailouts

Filed under: General,Politics — Tags: — Dangerous Dan @ 11:04 pm

Dear God, where will this bailout mess end?  When the government was given a mess of cash to start bailing out companies, it was like opening a Pandora's box of lobbying, posturing, and damned corruption.  Direct government meddling in the economy generally, in individual industries, or in the markets never turns out well.  It only disrupts the market and keeps it from operating correctly.  It was government interference in the mortgage markets that helped create the current crisis and the solution is now to have more meddling get us out.  It won't.  If the market fouls up, even when due to outside influence and not itself, it will self-correct when left largely alone.  This chance was dashed.  Once the government crossed the line and started giving out massive loans, bailing out banks, and then got a huge money wad to use at will, all companies had to do was petition the Treasury and congressional talking heads for some of the money and try to prove themselves so valuable they had to have it, i.e. that they are too big to fail.  This incentivizes companies to increase the size and scope of their operations, while no longer having the proper fear of failure a corporation should have so that they streamline, are efficient, and serve customers effectively.  This is corporate welfare of the first order.

The latest entrant to this game is sickly General Motors.  GM is an important American company and nobody wants to see it go under, but there is no reason it should be immune to bankruptcy.  Indeed, eliminating the risk of failure or of bankruptcy prevents GM from taking the much needed measures to improve its business, such as eliminating brands and renegotiating stifling union contracts as Stephen Bainbridge argues here.

It looks like American Express is also entering the bailout game.

This is only going to get worse.  Many companies will survive that should fail.  Worse yet, which get bailed out and which don't will increasingly be determined by political, as opposed to economic, considerations.  Those companies that spread money around to the right legislators will have powerful representatives arguing on their behalf.  Also expect Congressional backscratching as representatives and senators trade political favors in backing one another's favored companies receiving federal help.  Disgusting.

11/9/2008

Obama and the Fulfillment of History?

Filed under: General,Politics,Society — Tags: , — Dangerous Dan @ 9:56 pm

I've decided I'm the last person in the country who doesn't really care all that much that Barack Obama is the first black man elected president.  Sure, it's a decidedly positive development in America, but I'm annoyed by all the adulation for several reasons.

Obama's election is not exactly a fulfillment of King's Dream, part of which was that people be judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin.  Too many people, however, disregarded the content of Obama's character due to the color of his skin.  Much attention was given to the overt and possible covert racism among the electorate's whites.  There was little talk or concern, though, about people who used Obama's race as a major qualification for voting for Obama.  This is judging him by his skin color and not by the content of his character and is itself racist.  Too many times, though, I saw people accusing McCain supporters of being racist because these pro-Obama folks imagined no other reason could exist for not voting for their candidate.  I have friends who have a pronounced ignorance of politics and anything substantive to do with Obama and yet they were seduced by the Obama narrative that made no small use of the historic angle of his nomination.  I ignored his color and couldn't give one whit if he was even one of the denizens of the Star Wars cantina.  I paid attention to his character, his biography, and his policy proposals and found all not only to be wanting, but to be dangerous in a man desiring to be to be president.

I also have a great irritation for race politics in America.  Though so many point fingers at the right, it is the left that plays this game.  They've invested too much in identity politics and while they often talk about being post-racial and Obama being a post-racial candidate/president, it will be impossible for them to ever move beyond race.  Since to them a person's race is irrevocably a primary and immutable part of a person's identity, they cannot understand how to interpret who an individual is without using race as a guideline.  The problem, though, is how to identify what ideology belongs to a race.  Race and ideology are inherently separate; there is no natural connection between the two and any connection must be artificial and created.  If race is then identity and an ideology is attached to it, there is the challenge of deciding what this ideology is to be.  The associated problem this creates is that only those of the race who hold the ideology can be considered authentic members of the race.  These race politics dictate who is authentically black.  By most objective indicators, Obama is far from being authentically American black.  He is half white with a Kenyan father, who was born in Hawaii, raised both there and in Indonesia, and went to Columbia and Harvard Law.  Then you take a man like Clarence Thomas who was descended from slaves, born in a one room shack, and was raised in Georgia during its time of deep racism.  By most standards, Thomas has had the more authentically black American experience, but race authenticity is not based on experience or even objectivity, it is based on subjective ideology.  Obama holds the correct ideology and is willing to play the liberal race-games they have set up.  Thomas, however, refused to play these games and his ideology is, to the left, heretical.  Thus, though their respective experiences would indicate the opposite, Obama is authentically black and Thomas is not.  Obama gets held up as an example for all of America's blacks with young men marching in lockstep and saying what Obama has made possible for them, people weeping, and endless barrels of ink spilled on how history has been fulfilled.  Seventeen years ago, Clarance Thomas became one of the most powerful people in America and there was no such reaction.  No, Thomas's nomination to the Supreme Court was actually opposed by the NAACP and the Urban League.  Black elites like Manning Marble called him a race traitor and Emerge magazine put him on the cover as a lawn jockey and called him Uncle Thomas.  The authentic blacks used every racial attack on him that had ever been inflicted on blacks by racist whites.  It was despicable, but it was allowed because Thomas was not truly one of them.  You need only to choose a conservative black in politics to see similar treatment: Condi Rice, Michael Steele, Ward Connerly, Colin Powell (at least before he decided to support Obama), and more.

The irony here is that despite accusations towards conservatives, it is liberals who cannot get beyond race.  They do not how and too many of their ideas make it impossible for them to do so.  It is also they who practice the toxic politics also practiced by racist tyrannical regimes.  So, no I do not much care that Obama is the first black man to become president.  I judge him not by his color and see only an exceptionally poor candidate who is about to become the leader of my country.  And I give no credence to those who see themselves in him.  They do not know the man who has much less in common with them than they think, but believe him to be like them because they have been suckered into buying into an ideology-based racial authenticity to which Obama has adhered and in which he fits.  Tragically, the only consolation I take in Obama's victory is that I won't have to listen to people spending the next four years stupidly talking about how America is still racist, not ready for a black president, etc.

Obama Already Failing on Foreign Policy

Filed under: General,Politics,World — Tags: , , — Dangerous Dan @ 12:56 am

During the campaign, Joe Biden infamously observed that now President-elect Obama would be intentionally challenged with a foreign policy crisis within the administration's first six months, a statement he then followed up by stating that it won't be initially apparent that they're right (no word on whether they'd subsequently appear right either).

"Mark my words.  It will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama like they did John Kennedy. The world is looking. We're about to elect a brilliant 47-year-old senator president of the United States of America. Remember I said it standing here if you don't remember anything else I said. Watch, we're gonna have an international crisis, a generated crisis, to test the mettle of this guy.

"I can give you at least four or five scenarios from where it might originate.  And he's gonna need help. And the kind of help he's gonna need is, he's gonna need you – not financially to help him – we're gonna need you to use your influence, your influence within the community, to stand with him. Because it's not gonna be apparent initially, it's not gonna be apparent that we're right."

Obama is certainly setting things up nicely for that test.  Despite contrary assertions from Polish President Lech Kaczynski, Obama's people have said the following concerning the President-elect's commitment to the missile shield in Poland and eastern Europe:

President Kaczynski raised missile defense, but President-elect Obama made no commitment on it. His position is as it was throughout the campaign: that he supports deploying a missile defense system when the technology is proved to be workable.

That's real inspiring talk for our allies.  Unfortunately, it really does inspire the Russians, whom the statement is meant to placate.  Russia, under the tender leadership of Vladimir Putin, has been gradually re-Sovietizing and flexing its military and international muscle.  The U.S. has already been soft on this power that is openly challenging it.  We keep politically couching the terms under which the missile shield is being positioned as being for protecting those countries from rogue regimes like Iran.  We may as well be honest about the shield's role in largely opposing Russian aggression, especially as exemplified and proven in the invasion of Georgia.  Russia for its part isn't fooled in the least and has deployed missiles explicitly to counter the shield as well as issued thinly veiled threats that missiles in Poland would make a natural target in case of a conflict (as if it wasn't already a target).

Obama, though, is stepping the vacillation up a notch by declaring 'no commitment' to the shield (apparently a variation on voting 'present').  Obama and his supporters may perceive this as nuance or not wanting to unnecessarily agitate a powerful state.  Russia, however, doesn't need reasons to be agitated nor does it need excuses.  It only wants them and when they're not presented, it will merely create them.  Where Obama sees nuance, Putin sees weakness.  Weakness to be exploited.  A fundamental mistake in the west is to believe tyrants are reasonable men who, like themselves, can be reasoned with.  Tyrants rule by force and see the world as one in which enemies must be crushed if possible or exploited and fooled if not.  The reasonableness of reasonable men is only something to be turned against them to the tyrant's advantage.  Saddam tried to keep the international community dithering in 2003 so that an invasion would not occur.  Iran has succeeded in keeping the world dithering for the past five years, making the chance of any kind of substantive action against it negligible.  North Korea has nearly perfected the art of rattling sabres, appearing to back down, rattling again for concessions, and appealing to other countries' charity for the suffering of its people, a suffering it created.

Russia, of course, is a much bigger, more powerful nation than these, and Putin is a master in manipulative statecraft.  Few politicians can match his cunning and raw will.  After eight years of dealing with him, Bush still isn't in his league.  Obama, with no international experience, protestations of international cooperation resulting from American abdication to the right of unilateralism, waffling on steadfast American posturing and support for allies, and coming into office when Putin is already at full stride… well, Obama is at best a triple-AAA player compared to Putin's MVP major leaguer.

As if Obama's no commitment position wasn't bad enough, his spokesman threw in the stipulation that the technology will be deployed when workable.  Considering missile interceptors have already proven their workability, though not perfection, in several tests, it's not clear what more Obama wants until it gets his stamp of approval.  Unfortunately, the missile interceptor has long been a target of liberals, who ostensibly opposed it because of expense and initial poor tests.  This means it's likely to be cut in an Obama administration.  The problem here is that no technology is perfect, good, or even necessarily reliable when it's first introduced.  It requires investment, testing, and improvement.  Many on the left, though, have shown little patience with any of this and use initial failure as an excuse for cancellation of projects.  Many of the same also believe that investment in military technology is unnecessary due to America's already clear technological advantage among the world's militaries.  Aside from the silliness of this position and how it ignores that it was only previous investment that got us here, it's not entirely true.  China has already demonstrated its intentions of directly targeting our technological edge by shooting down a satellite and continually probing our computer security.  Both Russia and China have begun deeply investing in their militaries and are trying to modernize them closer to U.S. abilities or at least to counteract our strengths.  While we are now focusing more attention on asymmetric warfare against enemies such as Iraqi insurgents, this is no time to be idyll when it comes to conventional warfare.  Major threats against the U.S., its allies, and its interests still exist in the world.

Biden made an interesting comparison to JFK.  Kennedy may have faced an intentional international test in the Cuban Missile Crisis, but interestingly, he helped invite it.  His actions in the Bay of Pigs were interpreted as weakness by the Soviets.  At least when the big test came, he passed it.  I'm not so confident Obama would do the same.  Kennedy was one of the last prominent Democratic hawks before the absorption of the New Liberal peace lobbies in the 60's and 70's eviscerated the party's guts.  Obama on the other hand is a product of that evisceration and he hasn't the will the party once had in Roosevelt, Truman, and Kennedy.  His one other response to international crisis, Russia's Georgia adventure, certainly does not make one think of Jack Kennedy.  It makes one think of a Eurocrat.

At least one former president we can be sure Obama is not is Ronald Reagan.  In the 80's, Reagan took technology that didn't work and pretended it did when he supported the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI, aka Star Wars).  His bluff fooled the USSR and they invested resources they didn't have in their attempt to counter it.  Obama is using the opposite tactic by taking technology that works and pretending it doesn't.  Reagan's action helped destroy the Soviet Union.  What shall we suppose will be the result of Obama's decision?

11/5/2008

The Aftermath

Filed under: General,Politics — Tags: , — Dangerous Dan @ 4:11 pm

Here is what I immediately wrote elsewhere last night as the sad returns were coming in:

The Democrats are actually now in a very precarious position (hard to see right now, I know).  They now have control of the House, the Senate, and the Presidency.  They were elected largely as a reaction of voter discontent with the Republicans and are being given a shot.  Certainly, the Dems made a cottage industry out of blaming Repubs for all sorts of problems since the Repubs were the ones in charge of all three parts.  Well, now the Dems are in charge of all three parts and they'll have more trouble blaming the Repubs for national problems and failures.  The next two years are a referendum on the Democrats.  If they fail to produce, they stand to lose the House and/or the Senate in 2010 (or at least lose seats).

The next four years are a referendum on Obama and expectations are high (really high).  If he fails to produce, he may not make it past 2012.  Unfortunately for Obama, he stands to inherit an economy on the downturn that I argue will be made worse if he implements his various plans.  There are likely to be some important foreign policy decisions and challenges in the next four years too and I'm not confident of his ability to handle them.  I certainly don't think he has a clue how to handle the military.

In short, it ain't over.  It's just beginning.

Happily, I still agree with me 18 hours later.  But let's expand.

The expectations on Obama are ridiculously high.  People typically view the president and presidential candidates as just mistake-prone people.  A special aura has surrounded Obama, however, and his supporters have a near cult-like devotion: the talk of hope in isolation and never hope for anything (which I find peculiar since you can't simply hope, you must hope for something; hope needs an object, but that's never given), the "yes, we can" chanting, how Obama's use of the word 'we' wraps up their identity and hopes in him and that they are one, when really there is just him.  They expect the impossible from their candidate.  Because of this, their disappointment will be immense and Obama's fall from grace terrible.  They will quickly discover that Obama still has a congress to deal with (most of which is up for reelection in just two years), that candidates lie during campaigns and make promises that presidents are incapable of fulfilling by themselves, and that their man's deeds are not as silky as his words.

Part of the problem for Obama supporters is that they really do not know who the man is or how he will really behave in office.  They may claim to know, but Obama's legislative, national, and intellectual records are too sparse to draw anything approaching an accurate view.  The advantage for Obama is that this allowed the supporters to fill in that record with whatever image they chose and they chose a very lofty image that can't be lived up to.  They weren't restricted by a knowledge of the real man and his history and so could enlarge that image as much as desired into a near-mythical status where the mere fact of his election will change things in all the rigth ways.  When they realize he cannot fill out that image, it's not going to be pretty.  The man is going to come out in the messiah.

I expect the economy to get worse before it gets better.  Wall Street and business are not ideologically driven, so those entities do not much care in itself if a Republican or Democrat is president.  They do, however, like stability, which the choosing of a president-elect will now provide.  I suspect, though, that they're nervous about Obama since he openly declared war on both and on the incomes of the people who run them or invest in them.  Look for people to be wary about investing capital so badly needed by companies right now.  Obama has promised to increase the capital gains tax and investors will be relunctant to put their money somewhere where their profits will be 15% smaller than before and where the government will take nearly 30% of it.  If the top marginal tax rates are going to be raised, many of these investors are also worried about how much they can solidly invest and are probably now trying to figure out loopholes to preserve as much of their assets as possible.  Thus, things will likely get worse before Obama even takes office.  Much of the business sector will probably be in a bit of a holding pattern to see what Obama the president, as opposed to Obama the candidate, will attempt to do and what he will be able to do.

The U.S. is a center-right country despite claims that this election shows it moving center-left.  Nearly half the country still voted for McCain, preserving the close to 50-50 split seen the past 20 years.  It's more that the pendulum swings around and the American people occassionally get tired of one party having the power and they give the other one a shot.  Even many Republicans are and have been annoyed with their own party due to its profligate spending and non-adherence to conservative ideals.  This time in the wilderness will hopefully be good for the conservative movement and the GOP and will help both refocus themselves and get back on track.  On the other hand, they could also tear themselves apart with infighting.  I'll hope for the former result.

So, we shall see.  The next two years will be interesting, entertaining and hopefully not damaging.  Who knows, maybe it will even bring this blog back to life.  I hope I won't have to credit Obama with that.

For more good thoughts, refer to Steven Den Beste who said most of the things I was already thinking… but he said them a lot better.

11/3/2008

The Election

Filed under: General,Media,Politics,World — Tags: , , — Dangerous Dan @ 6:36 pm

My absence from my beloved blog is regrettable, and somewhat avoidable, but I'm a busy guy. I figured before the election takes place, I might as well give my view on things as they've been building up over the last few months.  And so this post will be a bit long.  But it's good.

First, a prediction. I'll be bold and predict McCain will win. The prevailing opinion is that this is a stupid prediction and it might be. Johnny Mac is down in all the national polls and isn't doing well in several battlegrounds. From what I've been looking at, though, McCain may very well pull this out. I'm not overly confident in the polls' accuracy. Most provide greater weight towards Democrats since more people are identifying themselves as Dem in this election. I'm not sure that this generic party preference will necessarily translate to corresponding Obama votes since it could just be an irritable reaction against the Republican administration, but those folks still don't plan to vote that way for president. There's also still a significant chunk of undecideds and I'd bet most of those who are still undecided at this point will be more likely to break for who they see as the safe choice. Next, most polls are counting on a high turnout of new voters, especially the young, poor, and minority, who will go for Barack. Counting on these people, though, is misguided. There will be a fair number of new voters, but I seriously doubt it will be what the pollsters are expecting. Every stinkin' election, for example, people make noise about how the youth will finally mobilize and vote in large numbers and yet each time, the proportion of youth who vote is about the same. Non-voters simply tend to be non-voters. They're not that way just because there wasn't a candidate to wow them enough for them to get to their polling location; they just don't care enough to bother voting. Finally, there's the dreaded Bradley Effect in which people may tell pollsters they're voting for Barack when really they won't. They lie because they don't want to appear racist (I've repeatedly seen this described as covert racism, but that's a straw man dismissal. People aren't lying because they're actually racist – they likely have very good reasons for not voting for Obama – they just don't want to appear racist and accusing them of covert racism only proves their worries about instead being accused of overt racism should they be honest.). I've read several accounts saying the Bradley Effect has lessened in the past 20 years, but I'm not so sure. There's never been an election of this scale to test it. Most of the citations for the effect's lessening are also not very good since they focus on candidates from mostly black neighborhoods or on black Republican candidates who are routinely impugned as not being authentically black and so eliminating the worry about appearing racist if you say you won't vote for him (you can't be racist for not voting for someone who's not really black, after all). So we'll see. The only poll that really matters is the one from the actual voters at the end of Tuesday night. I think McCain will eke it out, but here's an illustration of my confidence: If you asked me to bet a dollar on who I thought would win, I'd bet it on McCain. If you asked me to bet $10, I wouldn't bet it.

Second, I've been struck recently at what a weak candidate Obama really is. This seems like a surprising statement since he leads in the polls. But c'mon… he's the Democratic candidate in an election year that favors Democrats generally, the opposing party has a very unpopular lame duck president currently in office, he's raised an ungodly sum of cash totaling over $650 million which dwarfs the war chest of his opponent, he has ridiculously compliant and supportive media on his side, and his current advertising spending is third only to AT&T and Verizon… and yet despite all these amazing advantages, the man is still only polling 3%-7% over McCain in the average national polls. You'd think he'd be blowing McCain out of the water. That he hasn't done so is indicative of voters' less than confident opinion of him.

Third, both candidates are hurt by the fact they're senators. Americans simply don't like electing senators president. They much prefer vice-presidents, governors, and generals. The last sitting senator to be elected president was JFK in 1960. Before that, you have to go back to 1920 and Warren Harding. And before that… well… Harding was the last. That's right, only two sitting senators have ever been elected president and it sure ain't for lack of trying. There have been a number of senators who were the main party candidates and innumerable more who tried but were felled in the primaries. The voters' ambivalence towards senators is understandable. Senators are not executives. For many, their only executive experience is heading their campaigns. When it comes down to it, though, senators don't have to make executive decisions. They dither and argue, compromise, and cast votes. Successes can be claimed, but are still distributed among others while blame for failures can be spread around. These are not luxuries of an executive. Senators, for all their ability to see nuance, may actually be held back by the talent. I still recall in 2004 how John Kerry had this amazing tendency to nuance himself into decisive paralysis. He would on-the-one-hand/on-the-other-hand an issue so much that he ultimately couldn't come down on a side. A president needs to see the nuances of a problem, yes, but he still has to make a decision and stand by it. He can't put it off indefinitely, he can't blame somebody else for it (say, a staffer), he can't spread the blame around to other presidents, he can't just be out of the White House when the decision is made, and he certainly can't just vote 'present.' The lack of executive skills comes out during a campaign and voters notice it. A governor may not have the knowledge base for being president since a governor isn't that concerned with national and international affairs, whereas a senator is. The governor, however, knows what it's like to be the head of a government, to make executive decisions, work with a congress, have the responsibilities, etc. A senator does not. It's easier for a person to learn new data than it is to master new skills, which is why the august egos in the Senate don't do well in presidential elections.

Fourth, vice presidential choices. McCain's choice of Palin was a daring one, but it paid off. She energized the conservative base and helped remove the ambivalence they felt about McCain and his history of poking them in the eye. No other candidate could have done that. I also like how she's been more independent lately and breaking away from the McCain handlers who botched her rollout after the convention. She also brings that aforementioned executive experience to the ticket, which can't be found in any of the other three candidates. Obama's pick of Biden was a mistake, but not a serious one. He was an odd choice since Obama positioned himself as the candidate of change and then he picked a man who has spent more of his life in the Senate than out of it (can't we at least make that a term limit?!). I understand Obama needed to balance the ticket with more experience, but he probably didn't need to go in quite this direction. The man is also a gaffe machine who will say remarkably stupid things if you let him. That's why the campaign has kept him on a tight leash since about September 10th and has limited his impromptu speaking. Biden seemed to be a safe choice; he won't help that much, but if he's controlled, he won't hurt things either. At least he'll help bring in those desirable Delaware electoral votes.

Fifth, like many people, I have been amazed by the behavior of the media in this election. I've long been used to liberal bias in the media, but they haven't even bothered much to feign objectivity this time around. After Palin's VP announcement, there were reporters crawling all over Alaska looking for dirty laundry. That in itself doesn't terribly bother me because at this level, it's to be expected. That the media made fair game of her children, however, and splashed stories about them on the front pages was troubling. It was also annoying that hit pieces on Palin quoted only those with whom she had made enemies, of which the largest number were in her own party. By contrast, Obama has gotten nearly a free pass. There are plenty of interesting stories to investigate about Obama and his history and it's mostly been left up to blogs and the alternative press to look into them. It's understandable that the MSM doesn't want to reproduce the work of conservative sites, but they've shown a shocking non-curiosity about anything to do with possible shady aspects of Obama's past. It's not that they're not reporting on these stories that's the problem; the problem is that the media isn't even investigating them. They've consistently turned a blind eye to any stories that could hurt their preferred candidate. Even without the connection to Ayers or the rest, the mere fact he came out of the Chicago political machine means he's got to have dirt on him. A politician can't rise up out of Chicago without having sold parts of his soul, but the media has looked into none of it.

Sixth, the treatment of Palin and how ardently the left tried to personify her as an idiot made me realize a fundamental flaw in modern liberalism: many liberals make the error of equating being smart with being right. Intelligence is no guarantee against error and it isn't even much of a hedge against foolishness. Nor does it preclude emotions, personality traits, upbringing, or any other non- or semi-relevant factors from affecting the decision making process. Nevertheless, the association has been made and because of that, many liberals feel the need to constantly position themselves as smarter than their opposition. Proving your intellectual superiority, though, is more difficult than asserting the other side's inferiority and so the latter course is the one most often taken. Thus, conservatives must be painted as dullards. Ford was a clumsy bumbler, Reagan was a doddering old man, Bush 2nd is a raging moron, Palin is a ditz, etc. None of this is true, of course, but the memes must be established so as to demonstrate that conservatives are dumb and therefore necessarily wrong.

When this can't be done because the person is simply too obviously intelligent, another tack must be taken: the conservative is either evil or simply out of touch. Take Bush 1st, Bob Dole, and John McCain, for example. While efforts were/are made to denigrate their respective intellects, they don't play the role well enough for it to stick. Instead, they're old, out of touch, and sadly want to bring back a past that cannot be. On the other hand, folks like Tom Delay who are clearly smart and not out of touch are wily and evil.

This phenomenon can also create interesting problems. Bush 2nd was long established by the left to be incredibly stupid. But he somehow managed to win two presidential elections and his party controlled the House for 6 of his 8 years and the Senate for 4, a pretty rare feat in modern politics. An idiot shouldn't be able to do that – he should be incapable of outsmarting the smarter Democrats. This creates an unpleasant cognitive dissonance in that Bush beating them would indicate he's smarter and therefore right The resolution came in the person of Karl Rove, a very smart, but evil, man who orchestrated the victories.

So for liberals, conservatives will always be stupid, evil, or out of touch. That is often the only way the left can position themselves as being right since being smart equals being right. Ironically, circular logic sneaks into this arrangement. They are right because they are smarter and they are clearly smarter because they are right. Conversely, the opposition is wrong because they are dumber and they are clearly dumber because they are wrong. I argue most liberal positions are wrong not because of anyone's intelligence, but because they are just wrong (with backing reasoning, of course). I may accuse some on the left of being fools, but not of being of low intelligence.

This general attitude also leads to unfortunate perceptions of their fellow citizens. The red-staters in flyover country who cling to God and guns are not as smart as coastal lefties and therefore wrong (and circularly, vice-versa). They must be simultaneously combated and also led to the correct positions the liberals offer; they must be forced to be free and to abide by the general will the liberals have decided they themselves embody and represent. While the left may admit there are many uneducated and rather stupid folks who support their liberal positions, those are people who have seen some kind of light and given themselves over the paternalistic shepherding of their betters. And herein lays the danger of this liberal arrogance of intelligence equaling correctness. Classical liberalism dictates that individuals can better choose, pursue, and achieve their personal versions of happiness than can the state and so they must be given the freedom to do so. Too many of the liberal elites, however, view the masses as unwashed and in need of their benevolent guidance. The hoi polloi lack the smarts to know what is best for them and what is in their best interests and they must be directed to what the elites have deemed is happiness for them. It is nearly a secularized religious devotion in pointing people toward a decided-upon earthly heaven they may not even want. This is a dangerous Rousseauean zeal.

Seventh, taxes. Obama's tax plan borders on the obscene. It is a classic case of class warfare and exhibits one of the dangers of democracy (for the record, democracy is the only political system I endorse, but while the best, it is still imperfect, and its mere nature holds dangers). Since the majority are not in the higher income brackets, he can always appeal to their interests by saying he'll increase the taxes of the wealthier minority and provide the not as wealthy majority with the benefit. The majority democratically pillages the minority. This is itself unfair. What is more unfair is the mere concept that the government is permitted to confiscate such huge percentages of anyone's income. The current top marginal rate is 35% and Obama seeks to knock it up to 39.6%. That doesn't include concurrent markups in social security withholding rates or whatever cuts most states and even some cities take out of a person's income.

In this form of class warfare, Obama keeps talking about the rich as Warren Buffet types. He, as most on the left do, makes it seem as if the only people facing tax increases are oil-baron plutocrats who wear top hats and three-piece suits, and have indoor swimming pools filled with $100 bills in which they roll around. Most of those in the top brackets are not filthy rich. Let me tell you about my wife who is a doctor. I watched her spend four years in medical school working her butt off studying, learning medical skills, and taking overpriced board exams. I have watched her during her three-year residency also working her butt off on different rotations, spending the night at the hospital every third night while on call, leaving the house at 5:30 AM and not getting home until 7 PM, sacrificing time with our young daughter due to her job, sometimes even going one or two days without so much as seeing her awake. She has put a lot into becoming a doctor and racked up large debts in order to do so. And when she is practicing independently, she won't be a stock speculator or the manager of a hedge fund or some other demonized profession. She'll be a doctor providing a valuable service to her community. And while her salary will push us into the top bracket, it won't be by much. We will be well-to-do, but not filthy rich and could probably only justify a kiddie-pool filled with $1's. Yet, after she has spent eight years in higher education, three years in an apprenticeship, built up debt, all to be a success and provide valued services to society, the government will deem that she has been too successful and will take ever greater proportions of her hard-earned and well-deserved income. There are many Joe the Plumbers out there and one of them is my wife the doctor.

Is this what our society will be? Constant encouragement to achieve, to excel, to succeed, only to be penalized for daring to be too successful? That seems to be the case as Obama will take greater sums of money from the hard-working well-to-do and redistribute it downwards. While he often touts that 95% of Americans will receive tax cuts, he never mentions how this is possible when 47% of Americans pay no income tax. This is because people will qualify for refundable tax credits, meaning they'll receive checks from the IRS even though they've paid no tax. Its a simple and direct, yet hidden transfer of wealth.

Critics will argue that those who have done well owe more to society than those who have not, and this might be true. But why is the government the arbiter for how much shall be taken and how much shall be given?   Why not leave the money in the hands of the people to spend, to create jobs, to start businesses, to give to charities? Even Jesus said to give to God what is God's and to Caesar what is Caesar's. He didn't say give it all to Caesar and let him sort it out. People in society have different responsibilities to their fellow citizens, but the point is that those responsibilities belong to the individual, not the collective, and it is up to the individual to fulfill them. The sort of welfare Obama has in mind (or at least the kind he intends to increase) removes that personal responsibility from the individual. It is no longer the individual who is tasked with caring for his fellow man, it is the state. We have many responsibilities towards the weaker in our society, whether they be poor, young, old, infirm, or suffer some other issue: we are to aid them, protect them, help them improve, give them proper freedoms. Increasingly, though, those responsibilities are being abdicated to the Leviathan. It is the state that is tasked with providing aid. It is only the state that is tasked with protecting the weak. It is only the state that can improve people to the point that even self-improvement is improbable and no longer does one even have a responsibility to himself. it is the state that must grant freedoms, with positive liberties replacing negative ones. It is a dangerous society that gives up its rights, but still more dangerous when it gives up its individual responsibilities. Because when responsibility is collective, no one is responsible. When someone does not receive aid or protection, it is no one's fault and since no one feels the weight of responsibility, everyone may feel free to shirk it.

Eighth, health care. Obama isn't trying to directly create a national health care system. He's smart enough to avoid past Democratic mistakes. It is, though, an effective outcome of his system since it will gradually force more people into government insurance. I've always been mystified when people complain about insurance companies and HMO's and then their solution is to create a gigantic monopolistic HMO out of the federal government, as if it will be magnanimous, efficient, and not under financial pressures. This is absurd. Nationalizing an industry is a guaranteed way to make the industry moribund and eye-poppingly inefficient, cf. Amtrak. Current federal meddling in health care is already responsible for many of the field's problems. And a government can hardly do more violence to its citizens' health than by mandating national coverage. The systems often pointed to, such as Britain and Canada are not good. If all you need is a primary care physician, you might be ok. Since that's all most people need, the system frontloads the industry to these doctors and invests more resources there. If you need specialist care, however, expect that to be severely rationed. Remember that there is no market that will fill the demand for this care; the government allocates limited funds and since the minority will need this care, it gets less emphasis. You will be placed on waiting lists, be limited in what medication you may get (what good is free or cheap medicine when it is ineffective or less effective than other drugs?), and will likely not survive as long. The five-year survival rate for men diagnosed with prostate cancer in the U.S., for example, is 91.9%. In Britain, it's 51.1%. I'll take the 40.8% greater chance of living, thank you.

Ninth, foreign policy. To say I distrust Obama on foreign policy would be an understatement. He has been consistently wrong on what he has so far had a chance to weigh in on. He's been on the national stage for so little time, however, that he hardly has a record. His rhetoric, though, is indicative of weakness and a failure to realize that nearly all of America's soft power of diplomacy derives from its hard power of military might. Without the latter, the former cannot hope to be effective. On the one significant crisis that came up during the campaign, Russia's invasion of Georgia, Obama's first instinct was moral equivocation while his second was a soft-gloved almost-condemnation of Russia (more like furry-mittened almost-condemnation) and his third was calling for the UN Security Council (this was bad enough) to pass a resolution against one of the Security Council's veto-wielding members. His desire to immediately pull out of Iraq invites disaster, a destruction of everything we have so worked so hard and sacrificed so much to achieve in the past five years, and will finally be what achieves what the liberals have so tried so hard to claim is the result of Iraq: that the lives lost there were lost without purpose and were wasted.  They will fulfill their own prophecy.

Tenth, who is Obama? Rarely has such an empty suit ever been such a contender for the presidency. His life has been one of non-accomplishment save for getting elected to higher offices or appointed to better positions. He did nothing of note in teaching law school or as editor of the Harvard Law Review. Bizarrely, he has published nothing in his life except for his two memoirs, which even he doesn't claim are factually accurate autobiographies. Having taken a sojourn through academia, I can attest that this is remarkable. Publishing is not the expectation for professional academics, it is almost always a requirement. That Obama has nothing to his name is simply odd. It is also unfortunate since we have no written evidence of his constitutional interpretations, his real thoughts on law and the courts and judges, the nation's place in the world, an evolution of thinking, etc. All we have to go on is whatever he says at the time, which is as likely to be from shifting political expedience as from firm belief. Consider… I, an amateur little read blogger, have left far more evidence about my political thinking in the six and a half year operation of this blog than Obama has over the course of his life. From reading this site, you will know more about my political beliefs and interpretations than you will ever firmly know about Obama's. And yet, nearly half the country is prepared to vote for a man they do not really know and who they cannot claim to know.

But Obama is the candidate of the abstract concepts, of hope and change, and so people who hope for whatever and who want change will vote for him, heedless of the fact that change can be either good or bad, that hope is at best merely potentiality, not actuality, and is meaningless unless it is hope for something.

Eleventh, the economy. The economy is troubled and it is suffering from a big crap sandwich that lots of people made, but too few of whom will have to a bite. Deregulation played little role in the subprime lending debacle, while greed was more prominent and government meddling in the lending market is most to blame (another case of government interference in a market causing problems). The government's heavy-handed "encouragement" of lenders to give mortgages to the poor and minorities whose credit ratings would not normally qualify them for large loans was a prime ingredient in the tasty recipe for economic disaster. With the threats and backing of the feds, the loans were made and then creative accounting took over, seeking to minimize risk to the bank while increasing profit by securitizing the mortgages and then spreading them out throughout the financial sector. Shockingly, the default rate was much higher than was speculated and the damage started hurting everything else. Despite warnings and attempts by Bush, McCain, and other Republicans to reign in the problem, especially the risky mortgage backings by the quasi-governmental Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, the Dems plowed ahead, saying there was no problem and any claim to the contrary was tantamount to racism. Barney Frank was the worst of all and has so many conflicts of interest in this debacle, he should be impeached. Now that the economy is troubled, however, the Democrats seek to capitalize on it. It's a great irony that the problems they did so much to cause are being used to their electoral advantage, as if their further intervention will make things better.

The bailout was a mistake and is yet more government meddling and preventing the markets from natural self-correction. It is also dangerous to allow the government to hold stocks in private companies. While the idea was for the government not to have voting or controlling stakes and for the stocks to be bought back, don't count on it. Should the government decide to exercise control based on its stock holdings, there is little to stop it. It can certainly exert influence unofficially. The state is also not inclined to give up whatever power it is given and so will not be inclined to give up its ability to manipulate the banking system. For their parts, the banks and companies, while disliking government meddling, will grow to like the financial backing of the government. The possibility for failure is gone and the removal of this market-driven competitive fear will make the companies worse for consumers and inefficient for stockholders.

Into this fray steps Barack Obama whose policies will sound really good, but will only make things worse. If he follows FDR's example, though, he will continue to tout what good he's doing and how the economic downturn is only due to Republican malfeasance and how the economy's failure to improve is due only to Republican intransigence.  How great will Obama be able to make this downturn?

Twelfth, the nightmare scenario is that Obama wins, the Dems significantly extend their majority in the House, and then they gain a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. This would allow them to ramrod almost whatever measures they want through the government: Fairness Doctrine, national health care, whatever. Due to libertarian sensibilities, I prefer a divided government since that slows down just how much the government can do and it therefore minimizes just how much damage it can do. The Republican dominance was certainly not a success story in small government. If the Dems take the executive branch, I'll be happy to be left with a consolation prize of a Republican filibuster minority in the Senate. If the polls can be trusted, it looks like the Repubs will get it.

The Democrats then have two years to prove themselves to America. If things don't turn around by 2010, they may find their majorities in Congress slashed. If Obama wins, they will already be pressured by the trend in modern politics of no party controlling both houses of Congress and the presidency. Obama himself will have just four years. Considering how close things have been for him this time, without a real record for him to stand on, 2012 is no lock. And if McCain wins… Sarah Palin 2012?

Thirteenth, I think I'm finally done.

3/5/2007

Stupid Kettle

Filed under: Politics — Dangerous Dan @ 10:07 pm

John Edwards, in an interview with beliefnet.com, played the Jesus card.  He said, "I think that Jesus would be disappointed in our ignoring the plight of those around us who are suffering and our focus on our own selfish short-term needs.  I think he would be appalled, actually."

Hmmm… yes.  Edwards is worth at least $13 million (possibly up to $60 million) and has a 28,200 square foot house, which includes two garages and a 15,000 sq ft recreation building.

Edwards also said Jesus would be upset with "the country's willingness to go to war 'when it's not necessary.'"

Edwards voted for the Iraq war.  If Edwards is right, then somebody's gonna burn: Edwards.

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