Dangerous Dan Thoughts and musings on the world

3/3/2010

My Current Thoughts on Politics and Other Things

Filed under: General — Dangerous Dan @ 7:38 pm

The Democrats' current fixation with health care reform and the lengths to which they'll go in order to obtain it are impressive while utterly wrong and politically suicidal. I also find their behavior, especially their determination to use reconciliation, profoundly undemocratic. The blowback from the maneuver, if used, will be immense. A good number of Democratic representatives and senators will likely lose their seats in the this year's midterm elections. And they know this will be the case if they keep pushing the issue and in the way they're pushing it because either or both have become so immensely unpopular with their constituents. But they keep going. We must then ask why they would be so willing to sacrifice themselves, their political capital, and possibly even their party's Congressional majorities? Obama, Pelosi, and Reid have been framing the reform as a necessary good for which there is some kind of moral imperative. In the face of Democratic Congressional losses, they have advocated that their legislators must have the courage to pass reform even if it means sacrificing themselves and their party's dominance.

What kind of courage is this? It's described as some kind of personal courage to risk self-sacrifice. It's put in terms of consequences to the person and the party. In reality, however, the courage in question is the courage to defy the will of the people. Obama has said in the past that if constituents don't like their legislators' decisions, they can fix that at the next election, and that's certainly true. This kind of vote only fixes a problem that already exists, though. It's a corrective measure, not a preventative one. Voting, however, is also meant to be preventative. If you are an elected representative and you discover it's unlikely you will win reelection, then that is an indication your constituents have a problem with you and you have an opportunity to make corrections. If you go against their will and what they desire, then you're not acting as a representative and you will accordingly be replaced with someone who will behave and vote in line with the constituents' wills. What is galling, then, is that many of the elected so-called representatives in Congress would continue to pursue health care reform and use certain tactics even though it means they lose reelection since this likely loss indicates that the representative is defying the will of the people.

Certainly, a representative may not perfectly match up with his constituents' desires on all issues and votes and many voters may not particularly care about many issues. A politician can also tack in different directions, against the constituents' will in some cases while with it in others and the latter often enough to preserve their favor. In this case, however, this single issue of health care reform is enough to determine voters' intent at the next election such that nearly no amount of currying their favor will be sufficient to save the politicians' skins this November. This means their will on this issue is particularly strong and deserves their representatives' deference.

So the representatives who are at great risk are not being representative at all. I suppose someone could claim they are demonstrating leadership, another position Obama has taken. Good leaders must occasionally defy their followers in order to do what is right, best, or simply necessary (and Obama would likely claim all three are in effect for his reform). But this doesn't wash. First, leaders must have followers and the people have increasingly shown their unwillingness to follow in this matter. If leaders are going to be effective, they must be able to communicate the rightness, superiority, and necessity of their chosen course of action such that the followers will truly follow. Given that Obama and the Democrats have had a year to accomplish this and have been unsuccessful indicates not that the message has been poorly communicated as Obama claims (indeed, how he is supposed to be both a gifted rhetorician and great communicator and also a man unable to sway majorities to his side after a year of trying is unknown). Instead, it indicates that the message itself and its content have been rejected. Finally, in this leader-follower relationship, the leaders have no authority in their own right. Their right to govern is not absolute, is not handed down from above, nor are they installed in a position of managerial authority over others. It comes from the consent of the governed themselves. This means the leadership abilities of the leaders is stunted. They are not free to defy the will of the people to do what they judge what is right, best, or necessary, especially when it comes to long-term, well considered legislation (as opposed to, say, responses to crises when there is no time to determine the will or passions are inflamed). The majority opposition in public opinion to the Democrats' reform has been constant for months and any changes only see it grow larger. Indeed, the more people learn about the plan, the less they like it. Our leaders can try to sway public opinion, and in this they have clearly failed. The governed have determined that the proposed reform is not right, best, or necessary and, much like the politicians cannot continue to be representatives when they do not representative the will of their constituents, they cannot be leaders when they pointedly defy those who provide them with the right to lead.

What are we then left with? If the Democratic majorities continue to push their reform in defiance of the people, then they act as elitist paternalistic tyrants who seek not to follow the people's will, but who seek to force the people into compliance with their will.

And elitist paternalism it is, which disgusts me. Some people need the guidance of those who necessarily know better than them. Moreover, the knowledge, wisdom, morals, and judgment of these people are so deficient that they can easily and almost constantly cause both themselves and others harm without the proper guidance of others. Because these people lack even the basic abilities to properly care for their daily physical well-being or direct their efforts towards what should be their rational self-interest, they often require the attentions and ministrations of their superiors who will provide for them and direct them and they are as a result quite dependent on their superiors. These people exist. These people are called children.

I, however, like most other citizens of our good republic, am not a child. I am an adult. As such, I possess sufficient knowledge, wisdom, morals, and judgment to operate and preserve myself and others. I can care for myself and my own dependents, can direct my efforts, judge what is in my self-interest, set goals, etc. And where I do not have or cannot do these things, it is at least within reach of my abilities and only I bear the blame for their absence or for accepting the risk of their absence. I need not have others determine for me what I will do as would a parent to a child. I need not have my options restricted, my behavior manipulated, or my hand forced in order that I may do what others have determined it is my best interest to do. Indeed, it is in no other human's purview to decide what is best for me. Yet this is what paternalism does and worse.

By restricting my options and funneling me down into preset paternalistic notions of what I should do and what I should want, not only is my liberty restricted, but so is my ability to pursue what I consider to be happiness. If I am going to be treated like a child by those who have decided they are my and others' paternalistic superiors, then I am no longer in a position to determine what should be happiness. Indeed, this is one of the many threats of all the paternalist favors granted by governments. The beneficiaries of the favors are handed a vision of what others decide should be best for them and the favors push them into accepting that vision instead of determining their own happiness. What they want and what makes them happy were determined not by them but by someone else. Those who are compelled to pay for the favors are also restricted since with fewer funds, they have a lessened ability to pursue what makes them happy and are slowly forced to conform to what the paternalistic few determine.

And still it get worse. Paternalism creates a terrible dependency. Children are necessarily dependent on others. Adults, however, are made to be dependent. Among the abuses heaped upon slaves is that they become dependent on their oppressors. They cannot be independent as they are dependent upon the owner for their food, housing, place in society, and for their very survival. Paternalism fares no better. It throws chains on people, only instead of being done with a fist, it's done with a smile. The newly enslaved are told it's for their own good and that they need the guidance of others in order to succeed. And the dependent believe them. More damage surely was done by the hard-fisted slave owners of the antebellum South, but the damage wrought by smiling liberals from the 60's on can't be too far behind. Only the latter is in some ways more insidious. When somebody abuses and oppresses you, openly restricts your freedom, and creates an obvious and personal dependency even though all the while they may say it's for your own good and that you need the guidance… it's easy to know the enemy. But when somebody keeps you down through the myriad machinations of society and government, covertly restricts your freedoms through your own acceptance of its restrictions and creates an anonymous dependency to an anonymous system while being smiled at and being told it's for your own good and that you need the guidance, and you believe them… the enemy is far less obvious.

Minorities and the poor have suffered most from this smiling paternalism through untold measures that generate dependency on the government and on those who grant the favors, though they're not alone and its scope is ever expanding. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, SCHIP, minimum wage, affirmative action, the projects and other government housing, food stamps, now health care and any number of other programs which create not independence, but dependence and all by the paternalistic few who have determined what's best for others. And like some kind of Stockholm Syndrome, the recipients think that's true, no matter what damage they face, no matter what stagnation they suffer, no matter how they may fail to advance or better their conditions over not just years, but decades. The paternal few implicitly ensure them through word and deed that the unfortunate just aren't quite qualified enough to achieve on their own or direct themselves. They need the help and guidance of the paternal few. They'll call it a hand up. The paternalistic few will smile and will grasp hands with the unfortunate many and both sides will tug slightly while never pulling. Instead of pulling them up, they are merely suspended. But don't worry. A new program will always make sure they get pulled up and always tomorrow.

And still it gets worse. The necessary paternalism set over children has a particular goal, namely its own destruction. The dependency of children is supposed to be temporary and parents raise their children and direct them in such a way that they will one day be sufficiently able to be independent of the parents' direction, that their paternalism will no longer be necessary. The paternalism over adults, however, seeks not its own destruction, but its own perpetuation. Rather than taking children and turning them into adults, it takes adults and turns them into children. It infantilizes them and makes them more dependent, not less. And, tragically, the more dependent they become where they allow others to make their important decisions and to direct their lives, the less able they are to direct their own lives and make important decisions. Unlike with children where paternalism builds up abilities, the paternalism over adults breaks them down. In the process, the paternalism becomes self-fulfilling and self-perpetuating. In saying that people require the well-intentioned guidance of their so-called superiors and then imposing it, it creates people who then slowly begin to actually require it and then who continue to need it since their ability to operate without it has been destroyed. And so the paternalism will continue to be offered and only enslave more people and more generations.

And still it gets worse. The dependent will want more of it and even begin to demand it as they thrust out their hands for the chains. And more people who did not previously benefit will want to be included as well. Because there is a strange freeing aspect in not having to worry about things or having to make the big decisions. Indeed, many liberals argue for government paternalism on the grounds that its positive action is necessary for people to truly achieve their potential, possible freedom, potential, fulfillment, etc. If people are free from want, they are free to do more with their lives. But this freedom of being protected from decisions, from self-determination, from hardship, from effort, from risk, from responsibility, from blame, from duty, from obligation is not the freedom of men and women, it is the freedom of boys and girls; of children. The inherent freedom of humans is the freedom to choose for oneself without undue restriction or guidance resulting from compulsion. It's to make decisions and choices. It's not the freedom to achieve, it's the freedom to try to achieve while sometimes succeeding and sometimes failing.

I suppose I could be accused of being paternalistic myself in that I seem to be arguing that I know what's best for others. But I advocate that's what's best for anyone is that they have the freedom to decide what's best for themselves. I seek not to guide anyone but to let them guide themselves; not to treat them like children, but to treat them like adults.

We need to strip away the manifestations of paternalism, not add more.

Notes (possibly unrelated):
– I'm advocating from a position of natural rights and negative rights. That means your freedoms still aren't unlimited, e.g. you're not free to assault and murder. You're not free to do things, even those that make you happy, that fail to fulfill others' negative rights.

– I don't know that there's a hierarchy of freedoms necessarily, but perhaps at least those of differing levels of importance. Many on the left, for example, are obsessed with expanding sexual freedoms. While perhaps unwise, I'm not against this in and of itself, especially when it entails expanding legal freedoms, i.e. less paternalism on the part of government in determining how people should behave. But far less import is often given to other freedoms and/or they are restricted. Campus speech codes, fairness doctrine, pushing back religion in public entities, guns, etc. All these other freedoms, however, are uniquely human while sexual freedoms are not. Nearly all animals engage in sex. Only humans, though, engage in speech, religion, press, freedom to assemble, et al. In other words, the freedom the left pushes most is bestial while they are willing to sacrifice human freedoms. While I'd prefer to push forward all freedoms, if I have to prioritize them, I'll go for human freedoms over bestial ones and I will oppose those who try for the reverse.

11/24/2009

Where am I? (again)

Filed under: General — Dangerous Dan @ 4:05 pm

Ah, my poor besotted and neglected blog.  Lots to do and not much time for this one.  But I'll post when I can.

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.

3/20/2009

The Environmental Threat to Liberty

Filed under: General — Dangerous Dan @ 12:52 pm

Periodically, proposals are raised for some kind of international taxes that are supposed to be justified by threats to the environment and by mythical global warming concerns.  Several years ago, for example, ideas were floated for imposing special taxes on international flights, the revenue of which would go to saving nature.  The very latest idea is levying a tax on oil, which will raise $740 billion that will go to… yes… saving nature.  In tune with the current fetishizing of FDR, it's being called a Green New Deal.

So, the problems:  This is to be done somehow through the UN.  The article was skimpy on details for just how this tax is to be imposed, collected, and under whose authority, but I take it it's through the UN.  The United Nations is not a taxing authority and it has neither the legal authority to do so nor the political justification.  A sovereign people would be fools to allow a tax to be put on them by some extralegal entity over which they have no control.  My political representation in the UN is tangential at best and the bulk of the members and the bulk of bureaucracy do not have my nation's interests at heart.  Any kind of international tax like this sets a precedent by which the UN can slowly exert greater powers while not being answerable to any population.  It would be the creation of a sovereign without even the benefit of a social contract.  What's galling – and frightening – is that there exist people who see no problems with such plans and actually think them good.  Throw into this mix the UN's proficiency at corruption, e.g. Oil for Food, and there's no telling where or in whose pockets much of this money would wind up being depositied.

As if these international technocrats weren't bad enough, we have our own in the U.S.  NASA's James Hansen recently complained that the democratic process just isn't working for him.

The democratic process doesn't quite seem to be working.  … The first action that people should take is to use the democratic process. What is frustrating people, me included, is that democratic action affects elections but what we get then from political leaders is greenwash.  The democratic process is supposed to be one person one vote, but it turns out that money is talking louder than the votes. So, I'm not surprised that people are getting frustrated. I think that peaceful demonstration is not out of order, because we're running out of time.

Absolutely amazing.  The implication here, even if Hansen is coy about drawing it out, is that sticking to democracy is likely to doom the world.  Presumably, the solution is ditching democracy, at least temporarily, in order to fix the environment (like China and its environmental successes, I suppose).  This illustrates the threat of crises that so many don't want to waste in order to further their own agendas.  The White House wants to exploit the economic crisis to institute sweeping liberal policies and many of the green lobbies are determined to exploit a non-existent crisis in order to increase their own power and those of fellow technocrats.  The rest of us will be forced to be free and to go along with what our more intelligent superiors dictate.  And our liberties will be sacrificed in the process.

Threats to Liberty

Filed under: General — Dangerous Dan @ 12:15 pm

Our liberties are always under constant threat from someone or some group or another.  I've been somewhat surprised at the number of threats that have been jumping recently and I'm near quaking at the possibilities that any of them could succeed.  I'll go down the list in the subsequent posts.

Going Galt

Filed under: General — Dangerous Dan @ 1:06 am

I've finally started reading Atlas Shrugged.  It's been on my reading list for one or two years now, but, with all the Ayn Rand talk recently, I decided to get to it.  I'm only 200 pages in, which leaves me 800 more to go.  I find the prose to be a little overbaked at times, and the book is probably longer than it needs to be.  The characters are also odd and anything to do with sexuality is downright… strange – as if it's begging for Freudian analysis.  But all of that doesn't bother me much.  Though I'm not to it yet, I know the general idea of what the society's producers wind up doing and who John Galt is supposed to be.  This has given rise to the going Galt call among many in our current economic and political climate, advising people to scale back and contribute as little as possible to a looting society.

Wandering around the blogosphere, I've seen interesting comments about Rand and going Galt.  Many criticize her writing and characters or call her books the equivalent of pulp sci-fi.  They mean this last one derogatorily, but I don't see the problem with it.  Science fiction isn't meant to be real or even necessarily realistic; it's an often allegorical story exploring social issues.  I certainly don't think there's going to be a free-wheeling Captain Kirk out exploring the galaxy someday who has to broker a peace between two alien races whose only difference is which half of their bodies is white and which is black.  But that wasn't the frickin' point now, was it?  The point was the racial issue the story was addressing.  Similarly, it's seems silly to dismiss all of Rand's points just because the characters are too ubermenschish or unrealistic or some such or that what the producers do wouldn't really happen.  Well, that's not the frickin' point now, is it?  She's using a story to illustrate an overall point, philosophy, and argument.  That requires intellectual honesty in taking her position at its strongest and examining that.

As for the going Galt, many criticize it that it will make no difference and trolls love to dare people to actually go Galt and see what it does for them or the effect it will have on society.  That dare is usually accompanied with some kind of insult, epithet, or abbreviations standing in for laughter.  But I don't think the criticism being offered here is fair either.  Below is what I wrote about the topic for the comment section of this Denver Post article.  If you look at the comments (the later comments), you can see the back and forth between me and several other people.  I eventually stopped replying because I had other things to do and it seemed to get to the point where nothing new was going to be added by either side, which makes the debate tiresomely repetitive.  Though I do hate leaving a debate like that because it gives the appearance of surrender, something I don't do lightly (or much at all).

Anyway, the comment:

I keep seeing a rather curious misunderstanding of the going Galt phenomenon. While the book posits it as captains and titans of industry punishing the looter society by removing from it their own productivity, the real life version is more subtle. It's not that people will purposely remove themselves or drastically scale back in order to punish "looters." They will merely scale back in smaller ways due to simple incentives. If there is no incentive to excel or produce more, then why should anyone do so? If there is actually a disincentive to produce more and if success even seems to be punished, then why excel?

Let's say a dentist makes $300,000 a year, but realizes that after federal, state, local, and social security taxes, he'll get to keep only 40-50% of the last $50K he makes. He's likely to reason it's better to scale back his business. He'll have more time to himself, work less, but not lose much financially if he cuts back to, say, $250-275K. Sure, he may miss out on $20-$25K, but he'll figure that's better than putting in $50K worth of work and still lose as much. So he'll scale back. But by doing so, he'll hire fewer employees, cut back on hours for current employees (or even lay off a few), contribute less in taxes, and provide less of a service to his community. He's not consciously going Galt and he may not even care about politics at all. He's merely pursuing his own financial interests, which are affected by society's incentive structure.

Now imagine many, many more people like this dentist doing the same thing with all sorts of producers and employers merely following financial self-interest and scaling back. This is the going Galt problem that exists and the effects will cascade throughout the economy and government. People need to have an incentive to work harder and produce more and that incentive is that doing so will earn them more money. Take that away and their behavior will change.

In the Communist countries, it was "We pretend to work and they pretend to pay us," only because the government forced them to work certain jobs. Here, it will simply be, "We work less because we can't get paid more."

3/18/2009

Kim Jong Il – A God Among Men

Filed under: General — Dangerous Dan @ 8:53 pm

For whatever reason, I wandered onto the site for the People's Democratic Republic of Korea, aka North Korea.  I started reading the biography for Kim Jong Il and it's… interesting.  Some excerpts:

From his early years Comrade Kim Jong Il possessed the power of keen observation, the power of clear analysis and extraordinary perspicacity with regard to things and phenomena.  he had a faculty for creative thinking, regarding every problem with an innovative eye.

Courageous and ambitious, Comrade Kim John Il did everything in a big way; he had a strong and daring character which enabled him to carry any difficult task to completion with his own efforts, once he started it.

Possessed of warm human love and broadmindedness, he was always generous, unceremonius and warm-hearted among people.

His unusual natural disposition was nurtured, so developing the traits and quality of a future revolutionary and leader, thanks to the exceptional education he received from his parents.

It then talks about his education, which was wide and "profound."  Most of it deals with how he studied everything possible and how he advanced the party and the revolution.  I did like this part:

During his practice at the Pyongyang Textile machinery Factory he aroused the workers of the factory to launch a movement for  model machines in maintenance and operation, personally handling lathe No. 26.  This movement became the inception of the "model machine movement of loyalty for emulating lathe No. 26″, which is now conducted as a mass movement.

"Dude, what movement are you part of?"   "The model machine movement of loyalty for emulating lathe No. 26.  It's totally sweet."

He's a great author too:

In his treatise On Reexamining the Question of the Unification of the Three Kingdoms, Comrade Kim John Il comprehensively analysed and criticised the "Theory of the Unification of the Three Kingdoms by Silla", and the "Theory of Sila's Orthodoxy", and put forward his view on the need of newly systematizing from a Juche-orientated stand the Korean history which had been distorted by flunkey historians.  As it turned out, this was a great scientific discovery.

I didn't bother reading beyond that.  I can only take so much comedy and so many lies at once.

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

Merry Christmas!

Filed under: General — Dangerous Dan @ 12:01 pm

Like the title says.

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.

12/21/2008

They Conquered the Poor. Now to Enslave the Middle Class.

Filed under: General,Society — Dangerous Dan @ 10:50 pm

One of the devious things about government welfare is that it tends to enslave those receiving it.  This is so for individuals as well as for companies (which is one of my worries about the bailout nonsense, but at least the financial clout of companies better enables them to control politicians as opposed to the converse).  During the Great Depression, Franklin Roosevelt embarked on a massive expansion of the federal government that included instituting numerous work programs, welfare, taxes, anti-business measures, etc., all in the name of protecting the little guy.  We now realize that the New Deal programs actually prolonged and deepened the Depression (that FDR is the one who made it "Great") and thus they did nothing to actually help the little guy.  But the actual result is irrelevant.  The point of it all is that it seemed to be helping, that Roosevelt and the Democrats seemed to be looking out for the interests of the lower class, that the government seemed to be taking actions on their behalf.  In the game of politics, reality plays second fiddle to appearances.

While Roosevelt spoke nobly about assisting those in need, one of the insidious purposes behind his measures was creating a dependent voting bloc.  He and his advisers were keenly aware that by doling out government assistance to the lower class, the lower class would in turn become dependent on the government and, more specifically, on the political party that had bestowed the favors on them, kept the favors coming, and promised ever more in the future.  Roosevelt and the Democratic party created a group of voters whose votes were dependable because those voters were dependent on the Democrats.  In short, the Democrats enslaved them, not with sticks, but with carrots.  And since the 1930's, the Dems have defended all manner of failing, inefficient, and/or destructive programs in the name of giving assistance to the lower class – assistance they claim is necessary if the poor are to have any hope of surviving or of mere subsistence, let alone have hope of any kind of success.  Despite the falsity of such a notion and despite that the programs far more often do more harm than good to those whom the programs ostensibly aim to help, the programs persist.  Not because they actually help, but because they appear to help, and it seems like the Democrats are looking out for the interests of the lower class by supporting them.

As time goes on, the liberals and so-called progressives need do even less for the poor.  They must only concentrate on appearances.  The lower class has become a dependable enough voting bloc that the Democrats have to do very little for them in order to keep their votes; they just have to make enough noise about helping them to keep them favoring the left.  The Republicans on the other hand, have trouble capturing their votes on anything other than values since it's damn difficult to convince people that receiving less of what they already get for nothing is actually in their best interests.  Increasingly, Republicans have become less conservative and less Reaganite and have sought to shower gifts from the government larder on the lower class and Bush even dubbed it compassionate conservatism.  Other than this being wrongheaded for the above reasons, it was also a politically losing proposition as the Democrats created and own this game and can easily outplay the Republicans at it on reputation alone.

Having conquered the lower class, though, it seems the liberals are finally now ready to move on to their next victims: the middle class.  To be fair, volleys have been fired at this class for awhile, but the full assault looks to be in the offing.  Obama has appointed Joe Biden to be a "working families czar" who will head the White House Task Force on Working Families.  The Task Force (c'mon, 'task force'?) is… ummm… tasked with "raising the living standards of middle-class, working families in America."  First, this is a classic example of political terminology that is practically focus group-driven.  'Working families' sounds nice.  Everybody likes working families.  Though if we apply a few moments of thought to it, the term is empty since ANY family with a working member could be termed a working family and so it's uselessly broad.  At any rate, the middle class will now find itself under assault with carrots (I believe Jonah Goldberg would refer to this as 'smiley-face fascism').  The odd thing about this is that the middle class typically doesn't need help nor want it.  This is a class that has achieved and earned where it is, seeks to do better, and would just as well be left alone.  This is a class that has also traditionally been a hindrance to centralized government in any society.  Historically, in most places, the upper class is wealthy enough to resist threats put to it by the government, is in thrall to state beneficence, or is the same as the power structure.  The lower class in these places is too weak, too uneducated, and/or too disconnected to resist.  The middle class, though, is wealthy enough, smart enough, and important enough to resist too much restrictive government encroachment.  Not being part of the power structure, it also has little interest in preserving it for its own sake.  Thus, in the U.S. at least, it must be conquered in such a way it doesn't realize it's happening.

How?

Obama has set up several key goals for the task force, including expanding education and training; improving work and family balance; a focus on labor standards, including workplace safety; and protecting working-family incomes and retirement security.

These sound like nice goals, but that's the problem.  These aren't government responsibilities and the measures instituted are likely to be ineffective, inefficient, and/or destructive (most will certainly be anti-business and, like most pro-employee measures, anti-employee as a consequence).  But again, reality is beside the point.  All that matters is that the programs seem to work, that they seem to be helping, that the Democrats seem to care about middle class families.  It's the appearances that matter.  Soon, many of these middle class families will become dependent on the measures and unwilling to go without them.  They will also vote for the party which grants them the favors of the state, will keep them coming, and which promises more in the future.  The middle class will be have been conquered and enslaved as a captive voting bloc of the Democratic party, just as the lower class was before it.  The upper class will be irrelevant by this point.

It's hard to resist policies that sound good.  Conservatives and libertarians, though, need to make the case that sounding good is all these policies amount to.  When the cost is assessed, most Americans can and should be repelled by the assault on the middle class.  Nothing comes free and what Obama seeks will cost money, jobs, power, and freedoms.  In future posts (assuming I'll have time), I'll argue this is so for the various middle class "benefits" here being proposed.

11/12/2008

Bailout Feeding Frenzy

Filed under: General — Dangerous Dan @ 12:23 pm

As noted a couple of days ago, the federal bailout is becoming a ridiculous satire as all sorts of companies jockey for federal money.  The intent of the bailout was to shore up the major banks and investment firms that were hit hard by the sub-prime crisis.  Not surprisingly, any companies that can claim a business slowdown that was somewhat, kind sorta, tangentially, barely related to the overall economic problems resulting from the subprime crisis are also making a play for bailouts.

The congressional bailout law gave the Treasury broad authority to decide how to spend the $700 billion. Under the terms of the $250 billion capital purchase program announced last month, cash infusions are available to "qualifying U.S. banks, savings associations, and certain bank and savings and loan holding companies, engaged only in financial activities."

That definition has grown to include private banks and insurers like Allstate and MetLife, which own savings and loans. It may also encompass industrial lenders like GE Capital and GMAC, the financing arm of General Motors, provided they win approval to reclassify themselves as a bank or savings and loan holding company.

American Express is officially requesting $3.5 billion.  Its business is slowing down generally, but it's also having trouble selling its securitized credit card debt.

GM, of course, still wants some, but as CNBC says:

Many economists are against the idea, saying an auto maker bailout would open the door to a taxpayer rescue of virtually any major company with cash problems.

"Where do you stop?" says Bill Isaac, former chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp and now managing director at the LECG global consulting firm in Vienna, Va. "Circuit City's going down. Do we help them? What do you do if Starbucks gets in trouble? Do you help them?"

The notion of bailing out Starbucks seems pretty absurd, but it's not that far away:

As the automakers have pushed for U.S. government help, the trade groups for car dealerships and even boat dealerships are pressing their own cases. They argue that showrooms are feeling a squeeze between higher borrowing costs to finance their inventory and slowing consumer sales to move it out the door.

"We have been encouraged by reports that Secretary Paulson is looking to broaden the program," said Mathew Dunn, head of government relations for the National Marine Manufacturers Association.

On Friday, the automobile dealers sent Paulson a letter urging him to keep them in mind.

"A well-capitalized, financially sound dealer network is essential to the success of every automobile manufacturer," wrote Annette Sykora, a car dealer in Slaton, Texas, and the chairwoman of the National Automobile Dealers Association. "Any government intervention should include provisions to preserve the viability of dealers."

Ah, yes, we better keep those boat dealers' showrooms stocked with boats.  I recall that being somewhere in the Constitution's second article.  You even have people going after contracts that are indirectly related to the bailout:

The Treasury Department is under siege by an army of hired guns for banks, savings and loan associations and insurers — as well as for improbable candidates like a Hispanic business group representing plumbing and home-heating specialists. That last group wants the Treasury to hire its members as contractors to take care of houses that the government may end up owning through buying distressed mortgages.

This is becoming a farce and will do long term damage to the economy and the free market, while merely possibly avoiding short term problems.  As I said, once it was made permissible for the government to start using federal funds to bail out private companies, there was no longer any good reason for many companies not to be bailed out.  All they have to do is convince the right people.  The toothpaste is out of the tube and it goin' back in.  Way to screw things up Congress.

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