Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Now It's Atheist Summer Camp

Thank goodness for professional atheist Richard Dawkins. Like God, if he didn't exist we'd have to invent him.

According to Michael Deacon, Dawkins is helping inaugurate a kids' summer camp. For atheists.

Professor Richard Dawkins, the author of The God Delusion, is helping to launch Britain's first summer camp for young atheists. At Camp Quest UK, children aged eight to 17 will be given lessons in evolution and rational scepticism.

As if. As if children aged eight to 17 are not already getting lessons in evolution and rational skepticism 24-7 from their government schools, from the liberal media, from the hedonistic culture!

Actually, more fun than the article are the comments, a slug-fest between folks stuck in the Reformation and folks stuck in the French Revolution.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

But what the atheists miss, I suspect, is that the idea of summer Bible camp that they want to compete with is to get kids out of the me-me-me culture of daily life and think a little about the higher things.

As Charles Taylor, the center-left Catholic philosopher might say: There seems to be a universal human need for something other than ordinary human flourishing. You can call that something the Higher Things, God, Genuine Democracy, Peace and Justice, the Non-dual, or even the Good, the True, and the Beautiful.

But I'd say that there is something to life other than evolution and rational skepticism.

The problem is that the "something other" presents itself as an irreducible mystery, a riddle wrapped in an enigma. And so people tend to argue about it.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Duke Part Deux

Let's face it. The original Duke rape case, the white-boy lacrosse team raping an African-American stripper was too good to be true. Too good to be true for liberals.

It hit all their liberal hot buttons: South. Whites. Frat boys. Traditionally marginalized race, gender, class, etc.

The new Duke Rape Case, reported by conservative criminology prof Mike Adams, is too good to be true as well. For conservatives. Look at the ingredients

  • A liberal gay social worker who's worked on "health-disparities researcher" studying HIV/AIDS in the South
  • Employed by Duke University
  • Accused of offering his adopted underage son for sex
  • Accused lives in a liberal enclave "co-housing community... which emphasizes communal life"

So let's not rush to judgment, folks. Unlike our liberal friends in Duke Part One. Just because the case seems to confirm everything we suspected about what goes on behind closed liberal doors.

Especially because the case seems to confirm everything we suspected about what goes on behind closed liberal doors.

Friday, June 26, 2009

America Starts to Rumble

What's wrong with me, she asked in the email? I've got "increasingly angry," and it seems like in the Obama world WASPish values like "hard work, integrity, initiative, accountability, self-determination... have been rendered totally worthless in the blink of an eye[.]"

Reading stuff like that makes me have faith in America. You see, the United States is built upon a faith, a reckless faith, in the idea of a government of limited and specifically enumerated powers. It is built upon the notion that hard work, integrity and the rest will trump power every time. But only if you let it.

We few, we lucky few who believe in this incandescent faith, stand against almost all of history--of power, piracy, and plunder.

But this faith is not just wishful thinking. It is based on the revolution in human affairs since the rise of the commercial city.

In the countryside, land is life. You must have land to survive, and to keep land you must fight for it, or pay someone else to fight for it. In such a world power is everything, for he that does not have power does not have land, and he that does not have land does not eat.

But in the city not power but trust is king. You can only get power by serving your customers, and that power is good only as long as you continue to serve them. It is not collateral that is needed when a banker makes a loan but trust. Said J.P. Morgan, on oath: "Because a man I do not trust could not get money from me on all the bonds in Christendom."

The entire program of our lefty friends is built upon the notion that this is rubbish. Marx insisted that the history of mankind is the history of class struggle. Al Gore promised in the election of 2000 to fight for the people against the powerful. President Obama has launched the federal government upon a massive grab for power.

But we say that the spirit of democratic capitalism is that if you limit power, if you separate political power from economic power and moral/cultural power, then you will flood the world with prosperity, with liberty, and with moral elevation.

We conservatives should thank President Obama. He is helping Americans reach clarity on the power and scope of government.

He is proposing to change health care provision in this country to a system in which government experts will decide what kind of health care you will have. Do you think that is a good idea, or do you think that people should have the right to make their own decisions on the matter?

He is proposing a radical change in the way we produce and use energy with a heavy tax on fossil fuels. Do you think this is a good idea, or do you think that the social system of property and the market, under law, should be the way forward?

And let us not imagine that, if Hillary Clinton or John McCain had been elected in November 2008 that we would be in a different place today. President Obama represents the consensus of the ruling class in America, the progressive educated elite. Not surprisingly, the elite believes in elite power, and they believe that they know, based on the knowledge of the experts they have retained, that they know what is best for us.

There is another way. It is baed on the idea that no elite, no experts can know enough to know what is best for us. It is that discovery is the way forward, by individual discovery by ordinary men and women and social discovery in the marketplace. And that means learning from our mistakes. We have all the tools we need to make this system work, and they work every time they are tried. They are law, markets, prices, money, credit, equity, trust, mercy, service, "hard work, integrity, initiative, accountability, self-determination."

They worked for us before, and they will work for us again. But first we have to have the courage and the determination to take our country back.

In my judgment we are seeing already that the courageous and detemined people are already organizing to do just that.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Hit-the-wall President

You really can't blame President Obama. It's not his fault. After all, what is the leader of the Democratic Party for?

His job is to implement the policy nostrums of the liberal world.

Right now, liberals want, in foreign policy, to negotiate rather than fight a war on terror. In health care, they want to implement their dream of a universal health care program. In energy and environment, they want to force-march the nation away from fossil fuels and towards a planet-saving renewable future.

OK. Let's check the half-time score on these liberal dreams.

In foreign policy, the negotiate-with-dictators policy is dead, as Jonah Goldberg as pointed out. The Iranian regime now has blood on its hands, the blood of the Martyr of Tehran, a beautiful young woman, Neda Salehi Agha Soltan. No American president can now negotiate with the Iranian regime, whatever his ideas on "soft power."

So the Obama foreign policy has hit the wall.

On energy and environment, the energy-tax bill is in deep trouble, and looks like it will barely make it out of the House of Representatives. It would be best for Democrats if it did stay there, because if the energy tax ever gets into law it will wreak havoc on the economy and on the political future of the Democratic Party.

So the Obama energy and environment is about to hit the wall.

On health care, President Obama made a damaging admission on TV, reported by ABC News. A physician asked him what he would do if medical care he needed for his wife and kids was disallowed by government gatekeepers.

Dr. Orrin Devinsky, a neurologist and researcher at the New York University Langone Medical Center, said that elites often propose health care solutions that limit options for the general public, secure in the knowledge that if they or their loves ones get sick, they will be able to afford the best care available, even if it's not provided by insurance.

Devinsky asked the president pointedly if he would be willing to promise that he wouldn't seek such extraordinary help for his wife or daughters if they became sick and the public plan he's proposing limited the tests or treatment they can get.

The president refused to make such a pledge, though he allowed that if "it's my family member, if it's my wife, if it's my children, if it's my grandmother, I always want them to get the very best care.

Er, just a moment, Mr. President. Isn't that game, set, and match? The whole point of the Obama plan is to impose government rationing. It has to do that if it refuses to ration by price. But if rich Democrats can dodge the limits, then where's the justice, where's the equity?

So the Obama health care policy is hitting the wall.

So it looks as though the Obama administration is hitting the wall on three separate signature issues.

I've always said that this is why we needed the Obama administration. The only way America is going to get beyond the folly of liberal ideas and liberal policies is when they hit the wall.

We've tried being nice about it. We've tried a national conversation on the issues. But we have found out that liberals just won't listen.

So now we've got to do it the hard way.

And by the way, the score still isn't in on the Obama administration's economic policy. Remember this. When the economy last hit the wall in 1980-82, the policy of the Reagan administration was to cut spending and cut tax rates. The policy of the Obama administration is the exact opposite. Increase spending and increase taxes.

I'd say that both policies can't be right.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

How They Treat the Servants

Even in these modern days, you still want to know if you can trust someone. The trouble is that you can't tell from outward appearance. And you can't tell a dog when it's out hunting. You can only tell when it's being hunted.

Of course. some people tell you all about themselves even when they are out hunting. They mistreat the servants. We've had occasion to visit this subject before.

Agatha Christie has a memorable commentary on that in her Autobiography. A friend was visiting Agatha as a girl and behaved rudely to a servant. Never treat a servant like that, the girl was told. Servants are professionals and they work hard. And because of their position, servants cannot talk back.

So when we read about Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) humiliating a Brigadier-general in the armed forces of the United States, we know what to think. The brigadier answered her as "ma'am" according to the culture of the military, where all superiors are "sir" or "ma'am."

But that wasn't good enough for the senator, as reported by Fox News.

"You know, do me a favor," an irritated Boxer said. "Could say 'senator' instead of 'ma'am?'"

"Yes, ma'am," Walsh interjected.

"It's just a thing, I worked so hard to get that title, so I'd appreciate it, yes, thank you," she said.

"Yes, senator," he responded.

Now you know all you need to know about Senator Barbara Boxer.

Because now you know how she treats the help.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Two Welfare States, Both Heading for Ruin

There are two welfare states in America, according to Robrt J. Samuelson. Both of them promised more than they could deliver.

Broadly speaking, the U.S. welfare system divides into two parts -- the private, run by firms; and the public, provided by government. Both are besieged: private companies by competitive pressures; government by rising debt and taxes.

GM is your typical private welfare state, and it is in ruins. The public welfare state will end up in ruins. But its collapse is still in the future.

We've known that the GM welfare state was bound to collapse--for nigh on 25 years. It was pretty easy to figure out what had to be done. In fact other corporations are doing it. They are abandoning defined-benefit pension plans and retiree health care. But the UAW had the power to stop that kind of reform. It had the power because the Democratic Party backed it up.

On this view, you can see that the Obama administration has done the sensible thing with GM and Chrysler. It has given them to the UAW. If the UAW loots them before their members die off, well, they have only themselves to blame.

The same scenario seems likely to play out with the government's public welfare state.

The U.S. welfare state is weakening; insecurity is rising. The sensible thing would be to decide which forms of public welfare are needed to protect the vulnerable and to begin paring others.

But we probably won't do the sensible thing because liberals are powerful enough to stop us. Anyway, you think that all the people who have gotten benefits over the years are going to give them up for the sake of the greater good?

It's a pity, isn't it. The people that will be hurt by this will be the people, the Democratic faithful, that put their trust in the government. "Put not your trust in princes:" That comes from Psalm 146. Presumably politicians were just as two-faced then as now.

Meanwhile the job for conservatives is to develop the ideas and the reforms that will be needed in the post-welfare state. And where we can, in the here and now, we should push through reforms that will help mitigate the awful suffering of the government program beneficiaries, after the Fall.

None of this is rocket science. We know exactly what needs to be done. No more government pensions. No more government health care. No more government education. No more government welfare.

But wait, you say! What will happen to the poor and the vulnerable if there are no government programs to take care of them?

How about this? They will be better off in the conservative sociable state than in the cruel, corrupt, unjust, wasteful, and deluded welfare state.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Not Really Too Smart

At the six-month checkpoint in the Obama adminstration, Michael Barone has a few thoughts.

  1. Obama is a long-range strategy guy who is flummoxed by events that threaten the plan.
  2. Obama leaves the details to others (e.g., Congress)
  3. Obama thinks Chicago-style that "there will always be a bounteous private sector that can be plundered endlessly on behalf of political favorites."
To me, this is a recipe for disaster, and it shows that the Obama people really aren't that smart.

First, the long-range strategy, to grow government. It may not be obvious to people inside the liberal bubble, but the century-long expansion of government, already complained about by Herbert Spencer in the 1880s, is about over. Growing government is the natural thing for a politician to do, but it also creates opposition. The century-long ascendancy of the progressive educated class is starting to get people really angry. And it is anger that fuels political change.

Second the details. Details matter. Every successful businessman is a details man. You can have all the business plans in the world, but without execution of the details it will remain a glorious vision. Politicians have a problem here, because their principal expertise is getting elected. But the success of government is doing the boring, gritty details. If Obama doesn't want to bother with the details then that is the best news that conservatives have heard yet.

Third, the Chicago style. We are getting numerous sightings of Chicago-style politics, from the overall strategy of piracy and plunder to the recent flap over the firing of the inspectors general. This sort of thing may go down without a murmur in Chicago but ordinary middle-class Americans hate it. Democrats know this. That's why they made such a big deal of Bush and Republican corruption in 2006-08, and were full of talk about transparency. The truth is the Obamites don't believe in any of that transparency and good government stuff. They believe in power.

"Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard," said H.L. Mencken. A gentler version of that is that people need to experience things to find out whether they really like them. In 2008 people were really fed up with Republicans and decided it was time for a change.

Chances are that the change they had in mind is not the change that President Obama has in mind, neither in the grand vision, in the gritty details, or in the Chicago style.

In the next six months to a year, the American people are going to wake up to that. The president won't like it; liberals won't like it; Democrats won't like it; the mainstream media won't like it. But it won't make a bit of difference.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Obama's Double Bind

Nobody likes the bailouts. Conservatives hate them because, for us, they are a lurch towards socialism. But now the Wall Street Journal has discovered that the left hates the bailouts too.

The Journal's Laura Meckler writes about local government worker Laura Zamora. She's worried about losing her job, and she doesn't like to see money going to corporations.

"He's bailing out the private sector. He's putting all kinds of money into the private sector," says Mrs. Zamora. "The money should be going to social programs, not to bailing out banks and GM. It should go to people who are unemployed."

Even the jaunty Rush Limbaugh has noticed. Obama supporters are calling up his program and complaining about Obama throwing money at corporations. As an economic conservative, Rush deplores the bailouts because they put the government in control of more of the economy.

But the Obama supporters see money going to corporations that they thought was going to be spent on them. And they are mad. What's the point of Hope and Change if all the change ends up in the pockets of corporate greed?

You have to feel sorry for the president. Here he is spending all his political capital on, e.g., saving all those union jobs at GM and Chrysler, not to mention keeping Wall Street afloat so that it can push all that government debt out into the world.

So what does he get? His supporters are mad at him. Don't they realize that he is helping Democratic constituencies all over America with his policies?

Well, it serves the politicians right. They have been making hay for over a century blaming business for everything. It's hardly surprising that the American people actually believe their lies about corporations.

The truth is that corporations are the geese that lay the golden eggs that politicians then get to spend on buying votes. So it really matters that the private sector should be healthy.

Too bad that politicians have been telling their supporters otherwise.

But don't worry. They'll think of some way of pinning the blame on someone else. How about Bush, Cheney, and the evil right-wing extremists? They tricked Obama into all these bailouts!

Yes. If they hadn't let Wall Street bankers run riot with outrageous bonuses there would have been plenty of money for social programs.

Meanwhile, the president's approval numbers keep nudging lower, and this week everyone was shocked, shocked, when they found out how much health reform was going to cost.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A Pattern of Corruption

Maybe we shouldn't call it corruption. Because in the Obama administration the high-profile firing of Gerald Walpin, Inspector General of the government volunteering programgs, is not really a betrayal of principle.

Modern liberalism combines a kind of high-minded intellectualism with bare-knuckle power politics, a kind of Jekyll and Hyde combo. You talk to the media in high-flown phrases taken from recent university press books written by fashionable professors and featured in the New York Review of Books. But behind the scenes you run a ruthless Chicago-style political machine, where everything is quid-pro-quo and pay-to-play.

Now Dan Riehl reveals that the Walpin firing is part of a pattern. There's Neil Barofsky, inspector general for the federal stimulus program.

He was appointed with fanfare as the public watchdog over the government's multi-billion dollar bailout of the nation's financial system. But now Neil Barofsky is embroiled in a dispute with the Obama administration that delayed one recent inquiry and sparked questions about his ability to freely investigate.

On top of that, the inspector general for the International Trade Commission is also in trouble.

The third instance involves an acting IG for the International Trade Commission, Judith Gwynne, who has been told her contract would not be renewed amid allegations that an ITC employee forcibly took documents from her possession. Just three hours after Grassley sent along his letter asking questions, she was told she'd be hitting the road in July when her contract is up.

The bigger point here is that this sort of thing really would be more scandalous in a Republican administration. Republicans are supposed to believe in limited government, especially where economic interests are concerned.

Republicans believe, more or less, in Michael Novak's greater separation of powers between the political sector, the economic sector, and the moral/cultural sector.

But Democrats believe that the political sector must dominate the economic sector, otherwise the nation will revert to a nineteenth century economy of robber barons and rampant exploitation. The only remedy they know is political power, and they are prepared to apply it ruthlessly. So when they wield the ax on inspectors general who expose corrupt practices, they are consistent with their principles in choosing political power over an excessive regard for the rules and dotting the "i"s and crossing the "t"s. Why should a politician helping out a political ally be hauled up before the green eyeshade boys?

There's only one problem with this relaxed attitude towards political insider dealing. The American people hate it. And now with the blogosphere backing up the MSM it's hard to hide it.

We know the American people are trending conservative, according to the Gallup Poll. We know that the American people hate the bail-outs. We know they hate the deficit. We know that, all of a sudden the health reform express doesn't look quite the shoo-in now that the GAO has put a $1.6 trillion price tag on its head. But the Obama administration is still doing liberal business-as-usual.

I'd say that a a wake-up call is coming. Particularly since the Democrats made such a big deal about corruption and ethical behavior in the last two election cycles.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Bulldozing Cities

Forty percent of the houses in Flint, Michigan, are vacant. It's become such a problem that the city government is talking about razing whole neighborhoods.

This must be an idea whose time has come, for the Obama administration is proposing to help with a federal program to shrink cities with large vacancy rates.

Cities grow, and cities shrink, but it is telling that the shrinking cities today are all in the industrial northeast, home of the unionized manufacturer.

Of course Big Steel collapsed long ago, and Big Textile has been in decline for decades. But it's the decline of the auto industry that has Flint, Michigan, shrinking.

Flint is the home of General Motors and of General Motors' gadfly Michael Moore, son of a unionized GM worker.

It's worth reading some of Michael Moore's stuff, like his screed on the bankruptcy of General Motors. Says Moore:

It refused to build automobiles that the public wanted, cars that got great gas mileage, were as safe as they could be, and were exceedingly comfortable to drive... And it was hell-bent on punishing its unionized workforce, lopping off thousands of workers for no good reason other than to "improve" the short-term bottom line of the corporation.

Actually, of course, General Motors does make cars that people want to buy. People want great big comfortable cars with lots of cupholders. They don't care too much about gas mileage, except when gas prices shoot up as a result of some government program.

GM's problem is that it just can't sell its cars profitably and also pay for all the retirement benefits and health benefits of its unionized retirees.

General Motors' problem for decades has been politics. Every activist with half a brain has nothing better to do with their time than tell General Motors how to build cars and how to treat its workforce.

Well, now it's all over, and General Motors will slowly strangle to death under the gentle ministration of the Obama administration.

And while GM strangles to death the Feds will thoughtfully help bulldoze Flint, Michigan, home of Michael Moore, back into the Canadian Shield.

Meanwhile, Michael Moore writes, GM's factories should be set to building mass transit!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Obama Reality Check

Every sixteen years, you need to put a liberal in the White House for a reality check. It's the practical, conservative thing to do.

That's why I voted for Bill Clinton in 1992 and Barack Obama in 2008.

You see, when liberals are out of power they start to hallucinate. They have visions of a world without war. They start to talk about un-clenching the American fist and entering into negotiations without preconditions. They talk about extending health insurance to the uninsured while cutting the cost of health care overall. They start to talk about a rational industrial policy, or the wonders of green jobs. And they always say that the incumbent Republican president is an idiot.

There's only one way to put a stop to this fantasizing. Put a liberal in the White House and give him a reality check.

It looks like we are hitting reality right now, as President Obama sounds an uncertain trumpet in response to the developing Iranian Revolution.

It looks like we are hitting reality right now, as President Obama gets light booing from the physicians at the AMA convention.

And you can certainly talk about reality check as the Obama adminstration tries to put band-aids on all the messes created by a century of liberal meddling, from the mortgage meltdown to the auto bankruptcies.

It's a tricky thing: reality. Is it absolute, or is it relative? Conservatives say it is absolute; liberals say it is all relative. Except when it comes to abortion.

But the Germans are more cunning. That was the point of Kant. He said that we just don't know about reality. There may be an absolute reality out there, the noumenon. But all we get to see is appearances.

Never mind all that. The important question is: after the Obama reality check, then what?

As Lori Byrd writes, watch the opinion polls and start thinking that 2010 may look a lot like 1994 when the American people last upchucked the liberals.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Geithner-Summers Miss the Elephant

Today in the Washington Post Tim Geithner and Larry Summers present an introduction to the Obama administration's five-point plan to prevent future financial crises. Here it is, along with an RMC grading:

  1. Raise capital and liquidity requirements, especially on the biggest players. Federal Reserve and "council of regulators" will supervise. Grade: B
  2. Force "robust reporting requirements" and retention of some assets on issuers of asset-backed securities. Grade: C
  3. "[S|tronger framework for consumer and investor protection" to fight predatory lending, e.g., in sub-prime mortgage lending. Grade: F
  4. Feds will "establish a resolution mechanism that allows for the orderly resolution of any financial holding company whose failure might threaten the stability of the financial system." Grade: B-
  5. Feds will "lead an effort" to improve international financial standards. Grade: incomplete
You can see what's missing here, and the chaps at Seeking Alpha are right on it. Yes! Crazy bank compensation and breakdown of corporate governance--Not!

The Geithner-Summers Plan and the Seeking Alpha response is discouraging. The problem is not the banks; the problem is the government. It was not reckless banks that sluiced mortgage lending upon the land; it was Fannie Fire-hose and Freddie Fire-Hydrant. It was not predatory lending that caused sub-prime lending; it was government policy that demanded that mortgage lenders lend to sub-prime borrowers.

That's the basic problem. Governments are sluicing out credit (in which the banks are middle-men) and then unaccountably shocked at the subsequent flood. And Geithner and Summers don't have a plan for that.

We aren't going to solve this problem until government stops meddling with the credit markets and trying to gun the business cycle.

The best way to deal with constant credit crises is to rebalance the financial system away from debt towards equity. But that will be just about impossible to do.

Why? Because government is the biggest player in the debt market. And they play both ends against the middle. First they float out their paper to the world's widows and orphans, then they print money and inflate their obligations away.

But Geithner and Summers write not a word that they are going to do anything about that. Heck no. All that money is power, and politics is all about power.

Unless we citizens rise up and demand that the power of government be limited.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Safeway's Health Plan

In the recent presidential election we heard a lot about Obama's health plan. Candidate Obama was in favor of more government health care. And we heard about McCain's health plan. He was in favor of taxing health benefits above a certain threshold and allowing a national market in health insurance.

But we didn't hear too much about Safeway's health plan. And that is ridiculous. US retail, corporations like Safeway and Wal-Mart, are the world champions when it comes to retail productivity. They might have something to add to the national debate.

Well, now the CEO of Safeway, Steven A. Burd, has corrected the obvious omission. He has written an oped in the Wall Street Journal to tell us all about the Safeway health plan.

Based on the results of Safeway's Healthy Measures plan, Burd thinks that we can lower national health care costs by 40%.

At Safeway we believe that well-designed health-care reform, utilizing market-based solutions, can ultimately reduce our nation's health-care bill by 40%.

The magic bullet? Reward employees for healthy life styles.

Burd trots out the facts, which Safeway discovered in 2005.

  1. 70% of all health-care costs are the direct result of behavior.
  2. 74% of all costs are confined to four chronic conditions (cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity).
  3. 80% of cardiovascular disease and diabetes is preventable
  4. 60% of cancers are preventable
  5. more than 90% of obesity is preventable.

Well, it is not exactly a surprise. We've been seeing o lot of facts like that recently. But never in quite such a bald statement.

So what is Safeway doing about it? It is rewarding its employees with discounts on their health care premiums if they pass healthy life-style tests.

Employees are tested for the four measures cited above and receive premium discounts off a "base level" premium for each test they pass. Data is collected by outside parties and not shared with company management. If they pass all four tests, annual premiums are reduced $780 for individuals and $1,560 for families. Should they fail any or all tests, they can be tested again in 12 months. If they pass or have made appropriate progress on something like obesity, the company provides a refund equal to the premium differences established at the beginning of the plan year.

Wow. This seems pretty extreme. So what do the employees think about this? They like it and they want more of it.

When surveyed, 78% of our employees rated our plan good, very good or excellent. In addition, 76% asked for more financial incentives to reward healthy behaviors. We have heard from dozens of employees who lost weight, lowered their blood-pressure and cholesterol levels, and are enjoying better health because of this program. Many discovered for the first time that they have high blood pressure, and others have been told by their doctor that they have added years to their life.

The next challenge for Safeway is to get its unionized workforce to buy into this. Yep. The current system only applies to its non-union employees.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Neither Social Nor Democratic

The folks at the British Spectator are having a grand old time this week in the aftermath of the Labour Party's wipeout in local and European elections. People are even talking about the end of the Labour Party.

We've heard that one before, of course. Pundits are always prophesying the end of political parties when they suffer at the polls.

Maybe this really is the end of the Labour Party. But probably not. Anyway, every nation has its Gimme-stuff-for-free Party. If Labour fades away then another social democratic party will appear to take its place.

But that won't change the fact that social democratic parties are a lie. They are neither social nor democratic.

The word "social" comes from the Latin "socius." It means "companion, ally, associate" according to Online Webster. But that is exactly what a social democratic party is not. It is not social, but statist, with the natural cooperative instincts of mankind brutally chopped down by overweening state power. Democratic? Well, the only way the people would get to rule is by minimizing the power of government so that they could rule themselves in their private families, churches, and associations. Otherwise democracy is the rule of the politicians.

But we don't get that, do we? And the reason we don't get it is the power hunger of the progressive educated elite. They want a political system where they rule, benevolently of course, through vast national bureaucratic administrative structures staffed by their tame experts. But when you get a gigantic hierarchy like that you cannot have a "social" system, characterized by companions, allies, associates. You have a top-down oppressive system obsessed with rule-making and control.

In Britain, this has reached parody, where people openly laugh and sneer at the "target culture" of the Labour government. The target culture is the hopelessly ineffective attempt to force some kind of accountability downwards from the top onto the people actually delivering public services. But it always ends up being a system to make the chaps on top look good, rather than actually direct the people at the bottom to deliver effective social services.

The real joke, or the tragedy, is that we don't need all this government power and oppression. We already have an workable system of social democracy, the system of voluntary cooperation we call capitalism. It forces powerful people to work for the benefits of the consumers. It controls economic power by the system of profit and loss. Screw up enough, and you go out of business.

But that is the last thing that the social democrats in the Labour Party or the US Democratic Party would ever think of supporting.

You can understand their point of view. What would happen if The People just didn't know enough, or care enough, to make the right decision? And what would the progressive educated elite do if it didn't have the power to boss people around--in their own best interest, of course?

Here's another question. What happens if The Progressive Educated Elite doesn't know enough, or care enough, to make the right decision?

The sad thing is that, when the whole system crashes down, it will be the supporters of the social democratic parties that will suffer most. The skilled middle class will do fine, because it has the talent and the skills to thrive whatever happens. But the folk who put their trust in politicians will pay a terrible price.

And that is a crying shame.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Auto Bailouts Give the Lie to Obamanomics

The folks that voted for President Obama felt that Obama would bring a new culture to American politics. John R. Talbot's Obamanomics: How Bottom-up Economic Prosperity Will Replace Trickle-down Economics provides a look at what a pro-Obama partisan thinks an Obama economy would look like. Today, America is a travesty.

The rich buy boats and cars and diamonds and jewels and throw lavish parties, while their fellow citizens scrape by trying to pay the rent and feed their families.

Under Obama, things will be different.

In a bottom-up economy, the rules of business and government are fair and apply to all... They feel that their personal success will be determined by their hard work and effort, not by who they know or who they are related to.

It's difficult to characterize the auto bailouts, perhaps the biggest US government intervention into industrial policy ever, as bottom-up Obamanomics. Not when school-teachers and pensioners, holders of auto company bonds, are getting the shaft while the UAW and UAW members are getting 55 percent of Chrysler.

Newt Gingrich calls this a scandal, on a par with the Teapot Dome scandal of the 1920s when oilman Harry Sinclair got drilling rights to the Teapot Dome in Wyoming after giving Interior Secretary Albert Fall a hefty bribe.

My guess is we are in the early stages of a huge backlash against the Democratic Party. The American People hate the bailouts. They hate the stimulus. They hate the huge deficits. And in the months and years to come, politicians will find out how to lead them and give electoral muscle to this rage.

In the Bush years, liberals convinced themselves that Bush was bad and Dems were good, and that was all you needed to know. But I think that they are living in Fantasyland. Americans hate the bailouts; they will hate federal control of health care; they will hate renewable energy and cap-and-trade.

It will take time. But one day liberals will wake up and find that the American people want them out of there, fast. It is one thing to talk about wonderful health care. It is another thing to change the relationships that American women have with their doctors. It is one thing to talk about bottom-up economics. It is another thing when you've just paid off your supporters with a crony-capitalist deal. It is one thing to talk about wonderful green energy and millions of green jobs. It is another thing to increase taxes on energy.

The reality check on all these liberal notions is right ahead. And it won't be pretty.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

"Far Right" Party Wants Nationalization

Why does the left-wing media call national-socialist parties like Britain's BNP a "far right" party? The answer is pretty simple. Because they can. And because they need to. Jonah Goldberg, author of Liberal Fascism, notes that Britain's BNP has a left-wing economic agenda. He quotes British Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan:

Look at the BNP's manifesto: it wants nationalisation, subsidy, higher taxes, protectionism and (sotto voce) the abolition of the monarchy. And look at where its votes came from. The BNP is a symptom of Labour's collapse.
There really isn't much water between Labour and the BNP, except that Labour is racist in a pro-immigrant way, rather than in an anti-immigrant way. You could say that Labour is an "anti-national" socialist party, whereas the BNP is a full-on national socialist party.

But both Labour and the BNP hate freedom, hate responsibility, hate capitalism, hate business. They both want to return to a pre-modern world where people are completely cocooned by the community and the political.

There's only one big difference. The Labour Party gets away with its atavisms. The BNP does not.

Meanwhile the left-wing media get to call the BNP a far-right party. Hannan, again.

It's a brilliant media trick in Europe to always refer to them as “the far right”. The target of that is the mainstream right... When somebody reads that, it doesn't make them think any worse of the BNP, it makes them think worse of the right. Which, of course, is why they do it.

One day, of course, the left-wing media won't be able to define the terms of discourse. But that time is not yet.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Conservative Common Sense

Candidate Obama got all the way from the US Senate to the White House on the strength of "Hope" and "Change." Hugh Hewitt's tame ad guy, Bear in the Woods, thinks that we can and should learn from the president.

I've written a lot here about the need for an encompassing mantra that can accommodate the range of conservative positions, yet at the same time speak to individual, single issue niches.

Bear tries out a few notions, like "Truth" and "More Than a Feeling," but he settles on "Common Sense."

Common Sense speaks to reason, wisdom, and truth. Common Sense has broad appeal, and applies to conservative positions on every single policy. Common Sense tells us you can't get out of debt by spending more, you can't alienate achievers and hope to achieve, you can't protect from a position of weakness, and you can't improve the efficiency of anything by applying more government. Common Sense has strong roots in history, and is a strong statement of purpose for conservative values today. Common Sense makes sense, across the board.

Absolutely. Modern conservatism starts with Edmund Burke and his critique of extreme rationalists, "sophisters, economists, and calculators," he called them. It is well to recall exactly in what terms he excoriated them,

The age of chivalry is gone. -- That of sophisters, economists, and calculators, has succeeded; and the glory of Europe is extinguished forever. Never, never more, shall we behold a generous loyalty to rank and sex, that proud submission, that dignified obedience, that subordination of the heart, which kept alive, even in servitude itself, the spirit of an exalted freedom.

He is, of course, celebrating a certain degree of hierarchy. And in the two centuries since he wrote you can see his point. It is all very well to design all human institutions according to a rational administrative model. But you don't really get rid of hierarchy in your thirst for equality. What you do is strip hierarchy of its reciprocal obligation. You make it into a mechanical thing.

But now all is to be changed. All the pleasing illusions, which made power gentle, and obedience liberal, which harmonized the different shades of life, and which, by a bland simulation, incorporated into politics the sentiments which beautify and soften private society, are to be dissolved by this new conquering empire of light and reason. All the decent drapery of life is to be rudely torn off. All the super-added ideas, furnished from the wardrobe of a moral imagination, which the heart owns, and the understanding ratifies, as necessary to cover the defects of her naked shivering nature, and to raise it to dignity in our own estimation, are to be exploded as ridiculous, absurd, and antiquated fashion.

This is not to say that traditional society does not have its oppression and its cruelties. Of course it does. But we can certainly see that the modern era, with its vast bureaucratic, rational, administrative state and its huge corporations, is no stranger to oppression and cruelty.

What Burke argued for was a moderation in the march to the future. In other words, he argued for Common Sense. And so do we.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Sowell on Costs, Markets, and Governments

When people petition the government for a social program or a subsidy, they are not fools. They are acting completely rationally. How so?

Suppose you have developed a 2 MW wind turbine. It's a very good turbine, but nobody wants to buy it. But you are convinced that the future belongs to wind power. What do you do? Do you give up your dream of wind power for everyone, or do you put together a wind-power movement and lobby the government for "affordable wind power?"

Because it seems obvious to you that if only you can get past the prototype stage and actually get wind turbines out into the market that people will see how beneficial your turbine can be, even if, in the short term, wind power is more costly than conventional power.

Thomas Sowell analyzes how this dilemma applies to housing in his new book, The Housing Boom and Bust. He writes (p.114):

One of the biggest differences between economic decisions in the market and politcal decisions in government is that costs are an inescapable factor in economic decisions, while political decisions can often ignore costs[.]

That's why our wind power advocate is eager to turn to government. He wants to escape from the inescapable factor of cost.

What our wind power advocate also forgets is the Law of Unintended Consequences. There is no telling who may have to pay the costs that he is trying to escape.

In fact, in the housing debacle, the costs of the housing interventions fell most heavily on exactly the people that "affordable housing" policies were meant to help (p.108):

For example, skyrocketing housing prices in particular communities with severe building restrictions hit blacks especially hard, even though many of these communities have been overwhelmingly liberal in their politics... In fact, however, each of these groups, for whom much concern has been expressed, have been precisely the groups disproportionally forced out of these high housing cost communities.

Here is more:

[M]arkets usually leave no choice between changing mistaken notions or paying big-time in lost money or even outright bankruptcy... But there is no such renunciation of pet notions in Washington.

Got a pet notion? Take it to Washington DC.

OK. So what is going on? What should we learn from all this? It is really rather simple.

The market is a social arrangement that forces each individual to adjust their actions to the needs of other people, expressed through buying and selling under the price system.

Mostly, we should get what we want from adjusting our actions to the needs of other people.

Government is a social arrangement where a ruler or ruling group can force other people to adjust their actions to the needs of the rulers.

Sometimes we need force, but not often. And not usually outside the defense against enemies foreign and domestic.

Liberals understand this, just like you and me. They were withering in their criticism of President Bush for his obstinate refusal to face defeat in Iraq. They wanted him to be much more willing to adapt to changing conditions on the ground.

But what they are not willing to do is face the failures of their endless failed government programs.

Some might call this obstinacy. But that misses the point. Obviously, government is a social system that is designed to be persistent. You choose government for a social activity if you want to set it in place and not change it without good cause.

The market is the social system that is designed to change and adapt to changing circumstances.

Our problem that that in many cases we have put government to work on problems where we need adaptability. We get a rigid institution when we really need an adaptable one.

And that is a shame.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Liberal Housing Crash

Conservative writer, economist, and icon Thomas Sowell has just published a new book on the housing crisis. It is simply called The Housing Boom and Bust.

I'll be writing a full review this weekend, but let's just hit the high points of his argument.

  • The housing boom was not nation-wide. It was centered in a few places where land-use restrictions make it very difficult to build houses for people.
  • The problem was not a lack of regulation. There was plenty of regulation. Most of it was bullying banks into lowering their credit standards to offer loans to people that were bad credit risks. Some politicians attacked regulators that reported on the developing problems at Fannie and Freddie.
  • There was no significant discrimination against minority borrowers. There were corrupt politicians that took contributions from banks, insisted on lower credit standards, and then blamed the banks for greed. Think Barney Frank and Chris Dodd, for starters. There were liberal activists shaking down banks for cash by accusing them of racism.
  • Political actors never have to deal with costs. Political activists with a "vision" never have to deal with reality. They can blame and shame and posture and order people around. But when things go south, they refuse to face reality.
  • Business has to face reality. Unregulated banks can't just loan money to anyone. They have to think about the costs of risky action. But when the government insists they act recklessly, on pain of political sanction, what can they do?
  • The derivatives mess grew out of the government's reckless policy. Given that the banks were forced to load up on risky debt it made sense to lay the risks off. But nobody had any experience with the new financial instruments, not the rating agencies, not the banks, not the analysts. So people made mistakes in pricing risks. But then the finance players wouldn't have invented the new instruments unless there was a need to spread the risk around.

It all points up the importance of limited government. It's all very well for the government to plunge off with its mega programs. But what happens if things go wrong? Since government is very bad at recognizing and dealing with the costs of its initiatives, there is always a chance that government will make a complete mess of things. Then it will try to patch up the mess with another mega program that makes things worse.

So we get back to the "too big to fail" conundrum. If it is too big to fail, then it is too big! That applies to banks and automakers, and it also applies to government.

Maybe, after a century of anti-trust bumbling and fumbling we have an anti-trust principle. If it's too big to fail, then it's too big! Whaddya think, Senator?

But does this make any difference? Will liberals ever learn? Never mind blaming them for the crisis. Can we at least get them to see how their interventions hurt the poor that they are trying to help?

Probably not. That's why we have politics. You don't need the liberals to realize their error. You just need to persuade enough moderates and independents so you can repeal stupid liberal programs that lead to a stupid liberal housing crash.

But nobody said it was going to be easy.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Empathy and the Double Standard

Just about on the same day two political assassins struck and killed Americans in America.

Abortion doctor George Tiller was killed on a Sunday in church and anti-abortion Christian extremist Scott Roeder is the suspected killer.

On Monday two military recruiters were killed in Arkansas. The suspected killer is Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad, a black convert to Islam.

Everyone from President Obama to pro-life groups has condemned the murder of George Tiller. Everyone from President Obama to anti-war Code Pink has NOT condemned the Arkansas killing.

It just shows the problem with the "empathy" approach to the law advocated by President Obama and mainstream liberals everywhere.

You see, when you have empathy for someone then you might be willing to understand why they were driven to murder an evil abortion doctor. Or, you might be willing to understand, from another perspective, why they might feel driven to kill an evil military recruiter.

People are social animals; they pick up cues from their peers and from authority figures. So when President Obama hurries to condemn the terrorist killing of an abortion doctor, he sends a message. When he doesn't hurry to condemn the murder of recruiter Pvt. William Long, he sends a message.

When President Obama talks about "empathy" as an aspect of judging, he is sending a message. He is launching the notion that, where certain favored groups are concerned, he would hope that his judges would nudge the scales of justice. What does that mean for people not included in the warmth of his empathy?

Judge Sotomayor is a woman who has talked about the special qualities of a "wise Latina woman." But statements like that raise questions about her impartiality when she participates in a appeals case on race and turns down one side or another flat without formal review.

Justice must be done, and also justice must be seen to be done. The process is as important as the result.

If I were advising our liberal friends, I would tell them that they have a problem on this. Liberals have had a grand old time for the last half century running around accusing people of being racists, sexists, and homophobes. There is almost no way of rebutting such accusations without getting into the "when did you stop beating your wife" situation. The trouble is that with that sort of talk you make enemies every time you open your mouth.

Life was easy for liberals when they were running around calling Bush a liar. When you are in opposition, you got a right to get a bit of slack.

But when you are the government, then your careless accusations get taken very seriously indeed. That's when people start looking at your actions and your rhetoric and discovering a double standard.

Pretty soon they decide it is Time for a Change.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Liberal Fascism and Civilization

Today Jonah Goldberg is celebrating the paperback edition of his bestseller Liberal Fascism with Kathryn Jean Lopez.  Of course, he'd like to be getting the sales that Mark Levin is getting with Liberty and Tyranny, but who's complaining?

Of course, fascism celebrates violence, and the liberal fascism a kind of violence-lite as it trashes the rule of law in favor of elite paternalism, and political payoffs to powerful supporters.

In the same issue John Derbyshire delights in a recent dinner with Steven Pinker, of The Blank Slate.  And that leads to the decline of violence.

This wasn’t an intimate one-on-one dinner, but the monthly meeting of my gents’ dinner club, at which Professor Pinker was guest of honor. He talked about the historical decline of violence, the subject of his next book, then a general discussion took off in several different directions.

I've been reading about this recently in Nicholas Wade's Before the Dawn and in Charles Taylor's Secular Age. Taylor discusses how the West "civilized" the elite and the poor over the past 500 years, by reducing instinctive violence and sexual license.

This can go overboard, he explains, as in the sexual renunciation ethic of Augustinian Christianity.  But clearly the modern era is built upon a repression of the base instincts.

Naturally there are revolts against this, led in our time by the elite.  Fascism and the Sexual Revolution did not come from the gutter; they came from Romanticism, Nietzsche, and Freud, and well-born chaps like the Bloomsbury set.

Even in our smooth well-ordered world--especially in our well-ordered world--people hanker after the rush of violence and sexual release.  And it's hard to tell who is the good guy.

Christianity has championed sexual repression and also tamed the princes.  But it has also sanctioned religious wars and a celebration of ordinary life and sexuality.

The secularist opponents of Christianity have made much of its sexual repression and its religious wars.  But now they are regulating sexual behavior on campus and establishing speech codes so that people can be free, not of rowdy thugs, but of rowdy opinions.  Or alternatively they celebrate Peace on the one hand and sexual liberation on the other.

You can see that the question of the "civilizing" of the human race is complex, more complex than we allow in our routine partisan exchanges.

And the question lurking over it all is: how far can we go with our civilizing before we turn into vegetables?

Monday, June 1, 2009

Auto Bankruptcy Morning

It's telling, isn't it, that the New York Times had on its website the day of General Motors' bankruptcy a photo of a Chevrolet Corvair. You know, Unsafe at Any Speed, Ralph Nader, and all.

Because the Corvair is a symbol of the liberals' 70 year relationship with General Motors. They just couldn't keep their hands off.

You could say that it all started in the 1930s with the Wagner Act that allowed the auto unions to organize the automobile industry and first raise wages above the market rate (and plunge the economy into the 1937 recession).

After World War II liberal economist John Kenneth Galbraith wrote American Capitalism. It was an apology for the economic arrangements brought in by the New Deal and the Wagner Act. In Galbraith's view it was a good and beneficial thing for Big Business to be balanced by the countervailing power of Big Labor with Big Government as a arbitrator between labor and business. That is what Galbraith said. Now we can see how completely wrong he was.

Instead of countervailing power there arose a narrative of countervailing power. Underneath the narrative and the rhetoric, the auto companies capitulated to the union, choosing a cosy life of appeasement rather than a principled stand against government-sponsored monopoly. But then, what else could they do?

Under this cosy arrangement Big Labor and Big Business racked up wages and car prices in a kind of hands-off collusion. Profits were good and it looked like they would go on forever. So the United Auto Workers bargained for and the auto companies agreed to wages and benefits that assumed continued prosperity and robust earnings far into the future, with expensive pensions and retiree health benefits that would have to be paid not from savings in the present but auto company earnings in the future.

Then there was Ralph Nader in the mid 1960s and the auto safety movement. Then there was the 1970s energy crisis and laws to regulate automobile mileage.

Now, of course, we have the green energy movement that wants to regulate Detroit into building green cars that are fuel-efficient and have a small carbon footprint.

What's surprising is that it has taken this long to completely destroy the domestic auto industry. Now, of course, the US government owns a majority interest in both GM and Chrysler. The stockholders and bondholders have been more or less completely stiffed and the United Auto Workers union gets a big minority interest. That, my friend, is what piracy and plunder looks like.

Now that the government owns GM and Chrysler will it help them get on their feet and get out of the way? Or will it meddle even more in the auto business?

What do you think?

But there is one comfort. The auto companies failed on the Democrats' watch, and now they own the problem.