Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Laffer's Four Prosperity Killers

Liberals have had a lot of fun with Arthur Laffer, author of the Laffer Curve. That's because the last thing they'd ever want to admit is that tax rates matter.

Never mind about that. The other day Larry Kudlow did a blog and listed Laffer's four prosperity killers. Let's take them one by one.

  1. Rising tax rates. That's the Laffer Curve. When you raise tax rates, as the Obama administration proposes to do, you discourage people from saving and investing. That means you kill prosperity.
  2. Inflationary money. The Fed is printing money like mad right now to soak up the $2 trillion deficit. The way that government does inflation is that it pays for government spending by printing money. As the value of money goes down, people start to avoid holding money. They start to buy real estate and jewelry and precious metals to try and hold onto their wealth. This is not what creates a healthy economy. We want people with savings to invest in businesses that will increase productivity and wealth. Inflation is a prosperity killer. As anyone from Zimbabwe.
  3. Trade protectionism. The Obama administration just slapped duties on cheap Chinese tire imports. That means that the US government is preventing US producers and consumers from buying low and selling high. High tariffs helped to deepen and prolong the Great Depression.
  4. Government control/re-regulation. The Obama administration is proposing to put about 15 percent of the economy under direct government control with its health care reform, and regulate CO2 as a pollutant. Government control always creates waste and crony capitalism. Government is a prosperity killer.

None of this is rocket science. On the contrary, it is common sense. The rocket science is this: Nobody can know how badly the Obama administration will damage the US economy with its prosperity killing policies.

But usually, in spite of the government, the economy manages to struggle through.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Pact with the Devil?

Irving Kristol was important enough that he got to be the obituary in The Economist last week. You'd expect The Economist to damn him with faint praise, and you wouldn't be disappointed.

But there is one egregious swipe that needs careful analysis.

[Neoconservatism had given conservatism an impulse,] a moral and philosophical dimension (expressed, in the early 1980s, in an alarming Faustian alliance with evangelicals), for conservatism without religion was “thin gruel”.

The writer is saying here that the inclusion of the Christian Right into the Republican tent is a pact with the Devil. Let us be clear here. Liberals really believe this.

If liberals believe this then they profoundly misunderstand the relationship between the more secular parts of the conservative movement and the more religious parts. Nobody is making a pact here, unless the compromises in any political party are necessarily demonic. The secular Rush Limbaugh, for instance, seems to regard God-fearing conservatives as people to be honored for their moral witness, especially since liberals go out of their way to insult them. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

When the economic conservatives joined up with the social conservatives in the 1970s it was not because anyone was trying to sell their soul for political, but because both sides were thrown together by the aggressive secular agenda of liberals. Liberals had written all conservatives out of respectable society, so they really can't be shocked that the folks they revile got to like each other.

Then there's the Kissinger Effect. Henry Kissinger was an expert of foreign policy had had original things to say about it. But the rest of his political opinions were off-the-shelf, basically Rockefeller Republican. This applies to political parties. People bring an agenda into the party, and after a time, the rest of the party takes it up. Thus economic conservatives start to pick up the opinions of their religious conservative allies, and the religious conservatives start to see the point of supply-side economics. There's nothing diabolical about this. It arises out of the nature of humans as social animals.

In a way liberals do us a favor by misunderstanding the relations within the conservative movement. There's nothing better in war than when your opponents don't take the trouble to understand you and your culture.

And with the Obama administration it looks like liberals have failed to understand about 60 percent of the American people. They will pay for this in the only coin they know: political power.

If there is a Faustian bargain in the modern era, it can only be the disastrous bargain that the working class made with the socialists. They sold their soul to the liberals, and for what? They got piddling pensions and benefits, but lost their families and their robust working-class culture and their self-respect.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Briffa in the Chipper

Regular readers will know that the infamous Michael Mann Hockey Stick went into the chipper years ago.

The reason was simple. Michael Mann, the climate professor from Kent State, had developed a dataset of climate proxies that demonstrated a Hockey Stick shape. It showed that global temperature had been pretty constant over the last 1,000 years (the shaft), but then suddenly shot up in the last century (the blade). But it turned out that there was a catch. Only a few proxies showed the Hockey Stick signal.

Steve McIntyre of Climate Audit showed, again and again, that if you remove the few proxies with the Hockey Stick signal then you are back to the status quo ante, that the Medieval Warming Period was probably warmer than today.

The Hockey Stick signal was contained in a limited set of bristlecone pines in North America assembled by Donald Graybill and his team. There was also a Tiljander record that the Mannites got upside down (i.e., it showed cooling in the 20th century). Then there was Yamal, worked up by Keith Briffa at the British Climatic Research Unit (CRU).

For years, Steve McIntyre has been trying to get the raw data on the Yamal series, but Keith Briffa wouldn't release it. But he accidentally published his results in a journal (Phil Trans B, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences) that required public archiving of data, so McIntyre and others put pressure on the journal to enforce their publication policies. On some day in September 2009, Briffa archived the Yamal data, the tree ring data from Siberia.

And it is a scandal. Briffa cherry-picked about 10 tree-ring cores, and boosted it up with data from 400 km away.

But hey Keith, there's plenty of data near by. Why not use that? Because the data is completely different from the cores that Briffa used and published. If you add that data, the Hockey Stick signal for Yamal disappears.

Go to Climate Audit and take a look. It's breathtaking.

We understand that Keith Briffa is presently ill. We extend our best wishes to him and his family for a swift recovery.

Friday, September 25, 2009

G-20 Protests: Racist, Sexist, Classist

It was only a couple of weeks ago that Democrats, liberals, and MSMers were describing the convivial, peaceful 9/12 protests as racist. Not that you could tell, directly, but these experts knew what was really in the hearts of Americans protesting big government and high taxes.

There's no difficulty in describing the violent protesters at the Pittsburgh G-20 summit on Thursday. They are racists, sexists, and classists. And unlike the anti-establishment 9/12ers, the G-20 protestors are echoing ideas and ideologies they were taught at their government schools. They play-act being anarchists and underdogs, but really they act with the encouragement of the progressive educated elite. Here's how.

Everyone knows that evil bankers are rich white capitalists, bent upon paying themselves gigantic bonuses while the poor and the disadvantaged, disproportionately women and minorities, are losing their homes to foreclosure.

So the protestors are racists. They hate and fear white bankers.

So the protestors are sexists. They hate and fear white men.

So the protestors are classists. They hate and fear the rich.

But where did these young people pick up these ideas? Not from down-market rabble-rousers spawned in the agony of defeat in war. They get it from their government university professors. There is scarcely a university in the land that does not have its Womens Studies center, which teaches sexism. There is scarcely a university in the land that does not have its African American Studies center, which teaches racism. And every university has a labor history department that teaches class hatred.

That's the real problem in America. Our leaders and our thinkers are teaching and spewing out the most vile hate, and they are spewing it from the universities that once provided a counterweight against the power of government. And these haters are feted and honored. Paid for by the taxpayers.

That is something that is really scary.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Liberals' Tin Ear

In the roar of Obama administration initiatives crashing to earth, let us just look at one little flap: the effort by the Obama administration to stop Humana from communicating to its customers.

You know the story. Humana sent a mailing to its Medicare Advantage customers warning them that under the administration's plans their benefits would be cut.

Can't have that! So Senator Baucus (D-MT), Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, asked the Department of Health and Human Services to take action. Here's Sen. Mitch McConnell's (R-KY) version of what happened:

Let's review: at the instigation of the Chairman of the Finance Committee, the author of the health care legislation now working its way through Congress, the Executive Branch, through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, has launched an investigation into Humana for explaining to seniors how this legislation might affect their coverage.

One more time: a private health care provider told its elderly clients how health care legislation might affect their lives. And now the federal government is putting its full weight into investigating that company at the request of the senator who wrote the legislation in question.

Of course, it turns out that Humana was right. The Congressional Budget Office has confirmed that the administration plan would implement cuts to Medicare Advantage. So Sen. Baucus was wrong on the facts.

But the bigger thing is the hypocrisy. Liberals get up in the morning worrying about "chilling effects" to free speech. And woe betide anyone who even lowers an eyebrow at a liberal exercising their right to free speech.

But when it comes to other peoples' free speech, particularly the rights of corporate entities, liberals have a tin ear. They think nothing of gagging and regulating commercial speech. They think nothing of using government power to win policy arguments. They think nothing of persecuting conservatives and Christians in the university.

There's just a chance that non-liberal Americans are getting to the point where they are not going to take it any more. There are signs all over the place of rustling in the grass roots. I am thinking Free Enterprise Nation, Smart Girls Politics, Tea Parties, Town Halls, etc.

Maybe it won't amount to anything. Or maybe it will combine into a perfect storm.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Palin: What's not to like?

Governor Palin made her first speech since resigning as governor of Alaska to bankers in Hong Kong recently. The speech wasn't open to reporters, but it was reported by the Wall Street Journal.

Here's what Palin told the bankers:

  • She blamed the financial crisis on government excesses.
  • She said China makes a lot of people nervous.
  • She asked whether the change that Americans voted for was really for more government.
  • She criticized redistributive government policies.
  • She criticized the Federal Reserve's low interest policies for setting up the financial crisis.
  • "She called for tax cuts as well as the elimination of the capital gains and estate tax."
  • She mentioned "death panels" and called for market-based health care reforms.
  • She criticized Nancy Pelosi on Afghanistan.
Really. What's not to like? Palin is positioning herself as a strong free-enterprise conservative. That should look amazingly fresh and comforting to Americans by 2012 after four years of feverish left-wing activism.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Obama's Keystone Kops Presidency

Don't say you haven't been warned. When liberals were falling all over themselves laughing about Sarah Palin's lack of qualifications for Vice President, conservatives responded by pointing out that Palin had a lot more government executive experience than Candidate Obama.

And that's how it turned out. What we see, from top to bottom of the Obama administration, is lack of experience and lack of seasoning.

At the laughable level we have the bumbling White House czars, who are not really czars but glorified community activists trying to organize "communities" out of the White House. Van Jones, the former green jobs czar was obviously not ready for prime time. Now we have the NEA flap, with junior White House aides like Buffy Wicks trying to get NEA grantees mobilized to make art for Obama.

We have President Obama, who has a 20 year history with ACORN, making like he didn't know nothing about ACORN and its federal funding. Come now Mr President. Pretty soon you will be telling us that a penalty on people who don't buy health insurance isn't a tax.

Now we have the rather clumsy effort by the Department of Health and Human Services to muzzle health care giant Humana. Naturally the folks at the Huffington Post are outraged--at Humana. Dissent for me but not for thee, insist our liberal friends, especially if the "thee" is an eevil corporation.

Of course this is all just surface effect. The real rot is much deeper. It is the fundamental error in the liberal world view that informs the Obama administration and the liberal project.

  • It is not true that politicizing the economy, as the Obamites want to do, will make any improvement in the lives of Americans. All it will do is create conflict as people fight for the government goodies.
  • It is not true that making nice with thug dictators will help the cause of world peace. Your Putins, your Ahmadinejads, your Castros, your Assads, your Chavezs are all alike. They live and die with power. And power must be met with power.

These fundamental errors in world view are going to cost the American people plenty, in treasure and in lives.

But the chances are that the American people will start taking their country back next year. And not a moment too soon.

Democrats thought, last January, that it was 1933 all over again. Probably, it was 1977, and time for another bumbling Carter administration.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Irvin Kristol RIP

Whatever they tell you, people make a difference. You can talk all you like about productive forces, race, class, and gender. There's no doubt that they make a difference.

But who can doubt that a man like Irving Kristol, "godfather" of the conservative movement, made a huge difference? Now he is dead, aged 89.

I probably first became aware of Kristol in the 1970s when he appeared regularly on the Wall Street Journal edit page. Editor Bob Bartley had a "Board of Contributors," weighty names that would each contribute to the conversation about once a month. And then I became a subscriber to The Public Interest, which Kristol edited.

Why did Kristol make a difference? Probably it was just that conservatives were looking for a voice like his, which gave conservatives the courage to put their heads above the parapet and brave the brickbats from the liberal left.

Those heady days of the late 1970s that culminated in the improbable election of Ronald Reagan are over now. And even though liberals have rejected the manly conservatism of Reagan, the de-politicized economy and the sunny faith in the United States as a people that must have freedom, it probably doesn't matter. The folly of the Obama administration will see to that.

Very soon, liberals will have to abandon everything they hold dear as they cut spending. Why will they cut? Because the American people will be standing over them with ballot papers.

The rout of the liberals is up next. But I look to the future, which I believe requires a woman-centered conservatism. By that I mean a conservatism that heals the textured web of relationship that must be the center of any worthy society. A free economy is necessary, but it is not sufficient.

Whenever I get a chance, I like to invoke the importance of Michael Novak's social model, what I call the Greater Separation of Powers between the three sectors: political, economic, and moral/cultural.

I was thinking last week that the political sector is for people who like to compel, the economic sector for people who want to serve, and the moral/cultural sector is for people who want to inspire.

That moral/cultural sector, I feel, is the particular abode of women. It has suffered a serious impoverishment in the last century, as Irving Kristol noted in his 1991 speech at AEI. The great mistake of feminism was to redirect the enthusiasm of women out of moral/cultural influence and into politics, the locus of power and compulsion. That was a mistake, because power and compulsion are not the strong suits of women.

The next conservative tide must deal with the spiritual impoverishment of our times, the long withdrawing roar of the moral/cultural sector. And the people on the crest of this tide will be conservative women.

It would be a great monument to the memory of a great American, Irving Kristol.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Let's Talk Tipping Points

Like President Obama, bestseller writer Malcolm Gladwell is mixed race. Perhaps that qualifies him to write bestsellers like The Tipping Point.

Gladwell's book makes the obvious point that things tend to go on as they always have, in spite of winds, tides, and good old pushes. And then there's a Tipping Point.

Seems like we just reached a tipping point on ACORN all of a sudden. We've known for years that ACORN, the astroturf community organizing outfit, is a corrupt and partisan political organization that does all kinds of shady stuff for Democrats, from beating up banks to registering phantom voters. But nothing changed. Then, one fine day, Andrew Breitbart publicized a couple of young conservatives posing as pimp and prostitute in a series of gotcha videos. They showed ACORN employees advising them on how to break the law. Tipping Point! All of a sudden, Democrats are running from ACORN and voting to de-fund it.

Then there's the Race Card. After decades of playing the race card whenever they were bothered by opposition, liberals are taking a pasting on race. They are accusing the president's critics on health care of being racists. Nothing remarkable there. Liberals always play the race card. But conservatives are fighting back. Tipping Point! Maybe it's because we just elected a black president. After all, how can you call white Americans racists when they just elected President Obama?

How about Big Government? For years Americans have talked a good line about the evils of big government, but they kept electing people that grew government. It's enough to make you discouraged. Perhaps Barack Obama won because conservatives stayed home, discouraged after eight years of Bush big government.

But now Americans seem to be really riled up about the trillions in extra spending that's baked into the cake of ObamaCare. Tipping Point! Well, we don't know, exactly, on that one. A lot of the opposition, I think, comes from seniors who reckon that the president's plan is really a mis-direction play to reduce their Medicare benefits. So they are opposing ObamaCare not because it will increase spending, but because it might decrease their benefits.

Then there's Global Warming. Everyone is in favor of fighting global warming when it's just a question of repeating after me: solar, wind, and renewables. But when it comes to facing an annual cost of $1,761 on each family, well, Tipping Point! Ordinary people aren't willing to pay big costs now on the possibility of fixing a problem that won't be serious for a century.

Do you think there could be more Tipping Points in our future? I hope so. I'd really go for a tipping point on government in general. Government is force, so whenever you say: "there ought to be a program," you are saying that the only way we can do this is by force.

Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, I'd say you'd be wrong.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Race Card: Worse Than a Crime...

Even the Brits are noting the injection of race into fight over President Obama's agenda. Toby Harnden asks: "Does white America hate Barack Obama?" in The Daily Telegraph.

No worries, Toby. It's just liberals playing the race card. It's always liberals playing the race card.

But in this case, I think that liberals have made a strategic error--worse than a crime, a blunder. It is one thing to accuse individuals of racism. Go ahead, call Bull Connor a racist. It is one thing to accuse City Hall, or a corporation of racism. Yeah. Accuse the police department of racial profiling. Good idea! You can even push the accusation to the more woolly notion of "institutional racism." It is just not a good idea to accuse voters of racism.

And that is what the president's surrogates like Maureen Dowd and Jimmy Carter are doing.Link They are accusing not just Rep. Joe Wilson of racism. They are accusing white America of racism. Of course, they are not alone. Just about every liberal believes in their heart that all white conservatives and moderates are racist.

But Ann Althouse at The Atlantic puts her finger on the problem:

Lots of people who voted for Obama believed that his election would reflect the extent to which Americans had moved beyond racism. That was part of why some people voted for him. Little did we realize that it would turn every criticism of the President into an occasion to make an accusation of racism. Racism is revolting, but so is the notion that we aren’t allowed to criticize a President.

Of course, we racist, sexist, homophobic conservatives all knew what was coming, even before the election. Glenn Reynolds, the Instapundit, in June 2008.

I can think of no better reason to vote against Obama than the prospect of an administration where any criticism of the President is treated as racism.

As Rush Limbaugh says (more or less): Do I know liberals or do I know liberals?

Here's why this attempt to stigmatize all critics of the president as racists is a blunder. White people hate, absolutely hate, being branded as racists. I'd say that, after electing Obama, most white people are saying to themselves: OK, we elected a black president. Now stop with the race card. Now. Or there'll be trouble. Big trouble.

OK. There won't be trouble. But people will just decide to turn out and vote for the other guy. Or gal.

So go ahead, liberals. Accuse half the nation of being racists. Make my day!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Defend Wal-Mart Care

Back in 2008 I went to a town hall on the presidential election organized by the Seattle NPR station, KPLU. PBS and Fox News personality Juan Williams was there to liven up the contributions of the KPLU reporters.

Of course, the agenda included a comparison between ObamaCare and McCainCare. But wait, I wanted to say. What about Wal-Mart Care?

You may not know it but Wal-Mart has a health care program. It has in-store clinics where you can get to see a health care professional for routine medical problems.

Wal-Mart started these clinics in part to provide another low-priced service to its price-conscious customers, and in part to keep the cost of employee health care down.

Now there's information from the Rand Corporation on the effectiveness of Wal-Mart care, reported by Margaret Shapiro in The Washington Post. The results are in and they are good.

Walk-in medical clinics run by CVS, Wal-Mart and other retailers provide care for routine illnesses that is as good as, and costs less than, similar care offered in doctors' offices, hospital emergency rooms and urgent care centers, according to a new Rand Corp. study. The cost savings over emergency rooms, in particular, was quite dramatic.
So I'm sure that the president and our Democratic friends are running, not walking, over to Wal-Mart to find out how they do it, and how Wal-Mart's approach to health care could be scaled up and adopted by the public sector.

How much better was Wal-Mart than the emergency rooms? Here's what the Rand study said:

"The costs of care in retail clinics were 30 to 40 percent lower than in physician offices and urgent care centers and 80 percent lower than in emergency departments[.]"

You can see the danger here. It's not likely that the brilliant policy analysts at the White House have given a thought to health care the Wal-Mart way. For one thing, if Wal-Mart really made a success of this, and started expanding from routine care into treatment of common chronic conditions, then the need for a comprehensive and mandatory system of politically controlled health care would recede.

There is another way, you know.

Thomas Sowell, always good for a pithy comment, recalls how he'd spent many years without health insurance, and how and his wife paid for the delivery of their child on the installment plan.

The birth of my first child was not covered by medical insurance. I paid off the bill, month by month, until the time finally came when I could tell my wife that the baby was now ours, free and clear.

So here is a concept. Let's most of us pay for routine care at the Wal-Mart drop-in clinic. Let's pay for our babies on the installment plan. And let's keep insurance for the big stuff. And I mean by that, protecting our homes. Yes. That's the purpose of insurance: protecting our assets from disaster, natural or medical.

And let's be sure to defend Wal-Mart care from the inevitable attacks from its liberal critics. Why, I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the workers in their clinics are non-union.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

"Gentry Liberals" Dominate Dems

Why is the Democratic Congress so over-the-top liberal? That's the question that Michael Barone answers in an article "Republicans and Democrats: A Tale of Two Bases."

It's pretty simple really. A lot of Democrats are elected from very Democratic districts, and these are typically "gentry liberal" or race based. That is to say that the Democratic base is primarily gentry liberal or black or Hispanic, and these voters tend to be concentrated geographically in urban districts. Forty two percent of House Democrats come from gentry liberal, black, or Hispanic districts.

The Republican Party base is southern and rural. But the base is not as important. Twenty five percent of Republicans in the House come from identifiable base districts.

Then there's the leadership. Right now, the Democratic leadership comes overwhelmingly from gentry liberal districts. Only a few Republican House leaders come from the southern base (a change from the 1990s).

So that explains why the Democratic agenda right now is fiercely liberal, and why the Tea Party movement is leading the opposition to President Obama instead of the Republicans in Congress.

It does suggest that the MSM template is a little skewed. Republican support is less concentrated, and less driven by extremists. Who knew?

And of course, there is the binding factor of government largesse on the Democratic side. Those gentry liberals and the blacks and Hispanics depend disproportionately on the government for their livelihood. They are more focused and more dedicated to manipulating government and politics to deliver benefits. Republicans aren't so focused on politics because they don't depend so much on government for their daily bread.

But the Tea Party movement may change all this.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Tens of Thousands in DC Protest

Last week I was wondering if the forecasts of 20,000 protestors in Washington DC for the 9/12 protests was a little over-enthusiastic. I mean, this is America and people don't turn into the streets. Certainly not people on the right.

Leaving aside the reports of "up to a million" by the UK Daily Mail, it certainly seems that AP's estimate of "tens of thousands" is realistic. This conservative reporter reckoned on 300,000.

At any rate, it is clear that the turnout was major, beyond expectations. And it's good that it is getting less than serious coverage from the mainstream media. Any time you are doing any kind of conflict, it is best to keep the enemy quiet and unconcerned as long as possible, so that your side has the chance to prepare and reach strategic concentration before the other chaps understand what is happening.

The thing is: the ordinary American middle class is right to be concerned about the Obama administration. The administered state of our liberal friends is a state that feeds on the unorganized middle class for its sinecures and its subsidies. Ordinary people that just want to get a job, get married, and raise a family must understand that the liberal program is death to people like them who just want to be left alone to live their lives in productive peace.

The whole point of liberalism is to interfere in everything. And that means interfere with you.

For years we have been used to a kind of standoff in the great culture war. After all, the last time there was a blowout in a presidential election was a quarter of a century ago in 1984. Since then there has been a 50-50 nation of conservatives and liberals, but neither side ever got to win a decisive victory.

But the go-for-broke program of President Obama is poking a stick into a sleeping giant, the 40 percent of the American people who think of themselves as moderate, but live their lives as small "c" conservatives.

And the Obamites have provoked the first center-right street protests in living memory. The tectonic platea are shifting, folks, and nobody knows where it will end.

Friday, September 11, 2009

How the Dems Do It

I've always wondered why. Why do African Americans vote 90 percent for Democrats? And why do Jewish Americans vote 75 to 80 percent for Democrats?

The fact is that, unless you apply extraordinary pressure to people, they won't sort out that strongly. You only have to talk to people to realize how much they vary in their opinions, for no apparent reason.

If you are an evolutionist, that makes sense. People naturally cover the waterfront on opinion. Some people end up right. Some people end up wrong, er, left.

The only way you can make people line up in agreement is to frighten them. There's nothing scandalous about that. It's just the way humans organize against a perceived threat. Hate and fear are the drivers of unity.

So I always wondered: how do Dems manage to frighten African Americans? How to you get to the natural division of, say 60-70 percent to 80-90 percent? I knew about guys like Reverend Jesse Jackson and Reverend Al Sharpton. But they coudn't put fear and hate of Republicans into the entire population of African Americans. Could they?

Then came 2008 and Reverend Wright. Now it all makes sense. If every large city has a preacher or two like President Obama's Reverend Wright, then you've got the horsepower to keep 80-90 percent of African Americans frightened of white America, and determined to stay together to defend themselves against the threat of white racism.

Obviously, activists are doing something similar to keep the Jews at home in the Democratic Party. But how?

The fact is that Jews are afraid of Christians, and with reason. Down the ages, whenever things went wrong, Christians blamed the Jews. When the Black Death spread across Europe in 1348, for instance, Christians started to accuse the Jews of poisoning the wells. So Jews are trained, you might say, to expect trouble from Christians. Of course, in the 20th century, the main threat came first from racist Nazis and then from classist Communists. Then the Arabs decided to wipe Israel off the map. And now in Europe the secular left is turning against Jews and against Israel, especially in the universities.

Yet Jews are still frightened of Christians, even in the United States where conservative Christians are particular friends of Israel.

Then it came to me, as I read the rant of a liberal acquaintance about how conservative Christians want to create a theocracy. Eureka! That's how it's done! You don't really need a conspiracy. Liberals are naturally annoyed with the rise of conservative Christians. All it needs is enough people--like our friends in the netroots, for instance--to rage away at the Religious Right and worry about an imagined danger of theocracy and you'll keep the Jews frightened of Christians and keep them home in the Democratic Party.

But one day, of course, the whole climate of hate and fear will collapse. One day some issue will come up, and the scales will fall of the eyes of African Americans or of the Jews. But that day is not yet.

But we are conservatives. We are optimists. Some day, our liberal friends will drive African Americans and Jewish Americans out of the Democratic Party. One day the fear play won't work any more. And it can't come soon enough. For all our sakes.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

When the President Tells a "Porky"

They say that the time to get up and shout is when a politician stops lying. So Rep Joe Wilson (R-SC) was wrong to yell: "You Lie!" to President Obama when the president said:

There are also those who claim that our reform effort will insure illegal immigrants. This, too, is false - the reforms I'm proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally.

Strictly speaking, if you parse his remarks carefully, the president is correct. There is nothing in the House bill that applies to illegal aliens. So they would continue to get health care just as they do today. They wouldn't be insured. But they would be covered. So Joe Wilson was wrong.

Anyway, it's not nice to call the president a liar. Grandma wouldn't like it. But we need a way to tell the president that he isn't fooling anyone with his lawyer-like evasions. It should be something that Grandma wouldn't mind. It would be nice if she could get a chuckle out of it.

Here's what I suggest. Any time the president tells a "porky," we should shout: "Lina Lamont!"

You remember Lina. She was the fictional silent-screen star in Singin' in the Rain that had a whiny Jersey accent that you could cut with a knife. Lina, played by the immortal Jean Hagen, was beautiful, but she had the manners, the mind and, most important of all, the voice of a gangster's moll.

Lina Lamont was one tough cookie. She knew how to take care of herself, or thought she could. Whenever Lina Lamont thought that the management of Monumental Pictures was trying to put one over on her, she would recite the following immortal line:

What do yer think I am? Dumb or something?

So here's my mild and humble suggestion. When the president tells a "porky" don't yell "You Lie!" No. That would be too coarse.

In future, when the president tells a porky, yell "Lina Lamont!"

Then when the mainstream media asks what that was all about, you answer: "What does the president think I am. Dumb or something?"

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Mr President, Tear Down This Plan

President Obama is addressing the nation today on health care. But the girls got their word in first. Camille Paglia wants heads to roll at the White House. She wonders how the president's staff could have allowed such a train wreck over health care and over everything else.

As an Obama supporter and contributor, I am outraged at the slowness with which the standing army of Democratic consultants and commentators publicly expressed discontent with the administration's strategic missteps this year.

Yeah, that's right. In this consumer society political contributor Paglia expects to get good value for money.

And then there's Sarah Palin, doubling down on "death panels" in the Wall Street Journal. She quotes Ronald Reagan, " that 'no one in this country should be denied medical care because of a lack of funds.'" But then she takes apart President Obama's op-ed on health care in the New York Times. You go girl!

How can we ensure that those who need medical care receive it while also reducing health-care costs? The answers offered by Democrats in Washington all rest on one principle: that increased government involvement can solve the problem. I fundamentally disagree.

You know what is so refreshing? Sarah Palin is arguing from first principles.

News reports today suggest that President Obama is not going to abandon his "public option." So I call on President Obama, at this last moment, to abandon his unjust plan.

What really sticks in my craw about most liberal policies is the crude compulsion. It is not enough to tax all Americans to pay for liberal programs to help the poor, even though the programs usually devastate rather than build up. Comes the day when liberals decide that it's not enough to screw the poor. No. Liberals want everyone has to submit to the liberal program themselves. Because liberals want it.

I have no problem if liberals want to join together in pre-paid health cooperatives, like Group Health Cooperative in Seattle. If that's what they want, good for them.

But that's not enough for liberals. Everyone else has to join their lovely cooperative plan too.

The president's plan is advertised as an expansion of health benefits. Maybe it is, in a way. But the main thrust seems to me to corral the folks that are dodging out of paying for health insurance--the young, the unemployed, the illegal, the rich--and make them pay.

Now, there may be an argument for trying to capture these free-loaders and make them pay. But surely it is not necessary to turn the health care system into a wholly-owned subsidiary of Congress in order to do so. Apart from the crudity, it utterly misunderstands the nature of health care--indeed any human need. Hugh Hewitt's Clark Judge:

Social democratic models of policy reform assume we know everything we need to know about how to do things right. Social democrats believe it just takes a rational government t[o] bring that knowledge to bear. In contrast, market models assume that knowledge is limited and that progress comes through experiments – often entrepreneurial experiments -- in which the determinant of success is the cumulative impact of choices that millions of people make in their own lives with their own money.

This is the basic argument that F.A. Hayek made sixty years ago, and it is the fundamental problem we conservatives have with all liberal government programs. How do you know that your administrative 1,000 page bill really comprehends the problem? And how can you suppose that you have the bandwidth to adapt the program to changing circumstances even if your program is exactly right for today?

The fact is that the satisfaction of every human need is a moving target. It changes all the time as conditions and knowledge changes. People find new ways of satisfying human needs, and the world changes.

But this ObamaCare proposal will cast the provision of health care in concrete. It will make it much harder to change health care in the future. And it will encourage Americans to come to government to force society to provide them with their needs instead of working it out on their own.

Mr. President. Tear down this plan!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Never Trust Experts

The New York Times columnist and liberal economist Paul Krugman had a deeply misleading article in the New York Times Magazine last Sunday, titled "How Did Economists Get It So Wrong?"

Misleading? Well, he represents that economists, especially the neoclassical kind, believe in a rational model of the economy, and were taken by surprise when the credit system collapsed a year ago. There's an argument between "freshwater" economists in the heartland and "saltwater" economists on the coasts as to what, if anything macroeconomics could or should do about regulating the economy.

I'll have more to say on Krugman's argument later. But let us at least start with this.

All economists are experts that want to influence government policy. And they all seem to believe in some sort of rational bureaucratic model of economic policy. They want to be the political advisers of whom Lord Salisbury said: "Never trust experts."

That's because experts are people on the fringes of political power who want their pet theories implemented by the politicians. They aren't really principals with ownership and responsibilities. They are just bit players who would do anything for a starring role.

Since the advent of big government, say at the turn of the twentieth century, the big economic problem has been how to deal with the dreadful distortions that governments routinely impose upon national economies. The monetarism of Milton Friedman is one attempt to deal with the problem. The Keynesianism of liberal economists is another.

But both approaches are grossly simplistic, and really fail to deal with the central problem.

The problem is that politicians and special interests are eternally trying to game the economic system for their benefit. In the 1920s politicians were trying to game the system to deal with the distortions created by the Great War and the reparations imposed upon Germany. And in the United States there were people trying to gun the economy to increase home affordability.

Of course, all this meddling produced all kinds of unexpected results. And in addition, when the economy turned south in 1929, the newly created Federal Reserve Board wasn't up to the job and didn't really know what to do. Why be surprised. The nation's de-facto central banker, J.P. Morgan, had been replaced by political hacks. So the Fed temporized, as political hacks will do--and allowed a ton of banks to fail.

In the 1990s the economy was naturally boomed by a remarkable technical revolution. But it was also being boomed by a vast increase in credit for home mortgages driven by the government-sponsored Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

We now know that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were disasters waiting to happen. But the economists didn't seem to think so. Not at the time. I remember being troubled by the housing boom, but I didn't realize the exact mechanism: the sub-prime loans that were driven by political mandates on the banks. And I didn't think that the Fed would let a major bank like Lehman Brothers fail.

The point is that the silly intramural quarrels over monetarism and Keynesianism rather miss the point when you've generated $5 trillion in Fannie/Freddie mortgages that completely overwhelm the market operations of the Federal Reserve Board. I didn't read too many academic economists putting their fingers on this problem. But I remember wondering why the Monetary Base was going up so slowly in the mod 2000s when it was clear that credit was booming.

My argument is that this argument between monetarists and Keynesians is what President Obama would call a "false choice." The problem is that government is trying to game the economic system all the time and that makes it very difficult for markets to provide a clear signal to investors.

We need a lot less gaming, a lot less leverage and a lot more equity in the markets. And that should start with government. It's got to stop favoring special interests with cheap credit.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Sad Decline of Unions

Today the Gallup Poll puts out its annual poll on labor unions. Alas, unions have suffered a sharp drop in popularity in the past year.

A year ago Gallup asked "do you approve or disapprove of labor unions," and 59 percent of Americans said they approved. Now, only 48 percent approve.

The 48% of Americans now approving of unions represents the first sub-50% approval since Gallup first asked the question in the 1930s. The previous low was 55%, found in both 1979 and 1981.

When unions emerged in the 19th century they were spontaneous groupings of working people joining together to generate genuine collective benefits. They flourished most often during inflationary periods when wages were declining. Apart from bargaining over wages, unions offered their members significant benefits such as health care and death payments. They were similar to the fraternal associations that also provided mutual aid to their members.

But then unions got involved in politics and they started supporting the welfare state. So unionism became a political movement rather than a social movement. Of course, if the government provides benefits, who needs the unions.

Today labor unions are the major prop supporting the Democratic Party. Their agenda is a political agenda, trying to game the system through changing the law on labor union certification, and providing "astroturf" to support the Obama administration's legislative agenda.

And, of course, the Obama administration has done a lot to help labor unions, most notably in the bailout of the auto companies, General Motors and Chrysler, that died in part because of union power.

All social institutions have their day, and inevitably decline. When workers get more prosperous and confident of their ability to compete in the job market, they get less inclined to want the protection, the solidarity, of a labor union. Then they only need them as a lobbying force, as in government worker unions.

But still the romance of labor continues, and we celebrate Labor Day each year,

We humans have other nostalgic notions, like the notion of the family farm. That notion costs us a bundle, too.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Our Community Organizer in Chief

The trouble with Saul Alinsky and his Rules for Radicals is that its a manual of tactics. OK. tactics are important. But without strategy you are wasting your time.

The whole community-organizing thing seems, to me, to be a foolish emphasis on tactics. But for what? You rile up the poor folks in South Chicago into a fine froth, and then what? OK, we know. Then you implement The Plan, to fold everything into the State.

But what happens if, after you've riled up the People, and you start confidently leading them into a Glorious Future of Health Care and Green Jobs, the People suddenly discover that that's not what they had in mind at all.

What happens if the People are not desperate proletarians scrabbling a living out in the inner city? What happens if they are small "c" conservative middle-class folks that want a sensible and steady economic environment without all the excitement. They would be people that want to get jobs, get married, start a family, and squeeze enough cash to buy a starter house? Or if they are a bit older, and are thinking about paying for college or even retirement?

Well, if you are the community-organizing President of the United States, you've got a problem. All of a sudden your vision of change, complete with transparency and tax cuts, comes crashing down. All of a sudden you look like the usual politician that's talking about fighting for the people while he's doing deals with the powerful.

The feeling that I'm getting is that the president and his crew came all kitted up to play the wrong game.

They say that the president and his top campaign advisers all have a background in big-city politics. That explains a lot, doesn't it. These folks are good at playing the Democratic faithful, but don't really know much about politics in the heartland.

But the game you need to play in the United States of America is center-right politics. That's what Bill Clinton was so good at. He knew how to push through center-left stuff and make it look center-right. He learned his game as a liberal in a conservative southern state.

But President Obama has spent most of his adult life in Liberal Land, the liberal enclave of Hyde Park created by the University of Chicago.

Well, eventually, the Obama people will figure out how to get their presidency to limp along. Maybe they'll even limp to a reelection in 2012.

The problem is that from now on out, liberals are going to be facing hard decisions. The bills are coming due on the welfare state and there isn't enough money to pay for it. They'll do what politicians always do. They'll cheat.

Guess what. It is going to make the American people as mad as hell.

Like they say: you ain't seen nothing yet.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Liberals Not Getting It

I belong to a liberal group in Seattle that meets to discuss "integral theory." This integral theory grows out of developmental psychology: that people live in and grow through different developmental stages. The group experiences itself as transcending the liberal culture of sharing and caring and moving to a higher plane where you can understand the beliefs of peoples and cultures that don't think like you.

But now, after the Summer of the TeaPartiers and Townhallers, they are perplexed. Writes Gary:

I've been wrestling with myself, as well, trying to define just what is the highest response to this unholy alliance between right-wing political ideologies and right-wing Christian movement in the United States today that confuses soldier and warrior, prophet and soldier.

Another participant, Don, relates the culture war to the health care issue:

I have been trying to get my head around the unhinged response in some quarters to the health care proposals coming out of congress[...] So, the question I have is, is there a [way of communicating] that would resonate with those in this country who currently see health care reform as the implementation of death panels or whatever?

I think there's a rather simple answer to this. The problem is that the president's health care proposal isn't "integral." I.e., it doesn't treat people as naturally different, and with a right to be different. It assumes that health care is a public good and that everyone's needs are the same, and the government ought to provide for these needs.

But if we move to such a system a lot of people are going to have to change. Some people at present take no provision for health care and act on the assumption that, if they need care, society will provide it. Some people have a complete pre-paid plan. Some people have insurance to protect their assets. Some people like to pay for routine medical care out of pocket and only have insurance against major risks. Some people are rich enough that they can afford to pay all their health care out of pocket. If the president's program is passed, all this will change. Or more exactly, armed with new powers, the government will force people to change.

Very often in human history, you will find that people react to force with force.

The point is that in a free country, people have the right to make mistakes. So even if policy analysts come up with the best of all possible health policies, people should still have the right to say "no thanks." In fact, of course, the experts do not typically come up with the best of all policies. Their brilliant ideas get shredded by the Law of Unintended Consequences.

The interesting thing to me is that the liberals quoted up above have studied and believe that people at different developmental levels can and do have different ways of understanding the world and living in the world, and this is natural and normal. Yet the first one can still regard people that don't think like him as evil, and the second can be perplexed that people might react to a one-size-fits-all government program with rage.

Is this a great country or what!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Healthcare and the Limits of Reason

I'm sure that in the groves of academe they are shaking their heads over the outpouring of opposition to the president's health plans.

After all, it's pretty clear that we can't go on as we are. Someone is going to have to formulate a rational national policy on end-of-life care and regulate the offerings of insurance companies. Better leave it to the experts in medical ethics.

I had an epiphany on all this a few years ago when I read Sam Harris's The End of Faith. After roundly critiquing religious faith for a few chapters he began to develop his own ideas. It was strong on meditation and "rational ethics."

Well. There is a problem with that, Sam old chap. By the time you have got to a rational ethics you have already made the serious decisions. Let's illustrate the point with abortion.

Some people think that the laws on abortion should turn on the question of the beginning of life. And life, the activists say, begins at conception.

Other people, including the Supreme Court at one time, believe that the question turns on viability. At what point can the fetus live outside the womb? Obviously, this allows for early-term abortions, since a fetus in the first few months of pregnancy cannot survive outside the womb.

Still other people argue that a woman has a right to control her own body. On this view, it is clear that abortion is permitted up to, and perhaps including, live natural birth.

Some advanced thinkers are proposing a return to infanticide; someone will have the power to determine if a born-alive infant shall continue to live.

Then you could say that, as in the days of the patriarchy, the father has absolute power over the lives of the people in his household.

Now, it seems to me that you can build a rational ethics out of any of these approaches to the question of taking young life. What matters is your defining value about when it is permissible to take human life.

And that, of course, follows the traditional view of logic and reasoning. You start with certain premisses, and you then argue, using the rules of logic and reason, to prove certain conclusions.

So the experts in the liberal academy are missing the point. They are taking their view of human life as an incontestable premiss. But, of course, it is precisely their assumption that is in question.

The work of Zeke Emanuel, for instance, assumes that we should take a utilitarian view of human life. We should focus health care resources on productive people in the middle of life and less at the beginning of life and the end of life.

But that conflicts with the natural instinct of women, which is to care for the people they love, especially babies, and even including their ageing mothers.

The question is: who is right? The rational experts or the loving women?

I'm inclined to go with the women. Obviously, the obsessive care of loved ones is one of the great forces in the story of life--particularly mammalian life.

Rational speculations have their place. But I think that we need to be careful how far we extend it. There is a limit to the utility of reason.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

CIA Probe: Another Obama Blunder

You can understand why the Obama administration has decided to launch a probe into the use of enhanced interrogation techniques on terrorist detainees by the CIA. The left is restless.

So why not sicc a special prosecutor on the CIA (and maybe former Vice-President Dick Cheney) and throw some red meat to the angry lefties while the dirty work of compromise proceeds on the president's health reform?

Well, there are several reasons why not.

  1. Remember Last Time. Back in the 1970s Sen. Frank Church (D-ID) had a grand old time with Senate hearings on the CIA and the FBI. His Church Committee flayed the CIA and the FBI and reduced the effectiveness of the national intelligence establishment. But Frank Church was defeated in the 1978 elections.
  2. Are You Sure, Mr. President. No doubt a special prosecutor will satisfy the angry left for a while. But suppose there's a terrorist incident between now and the 2012 election. That could be a game changer. The reason that the Bush administration went for enhanced interrogation was because they decided that their policy should be "Never Again." I don't think I would want to be the president facing the American people after another high-profile terrorist incident on the US homeland involving thousands of casualties. Not after a special prosecutor has tamed the CIA into complete immobility.
  3. The CIA Isn't Defenseless. Back in the 1970s when the left last had a go at the CIA there wasn't anyone to defend it. Former President Nixon had left office in disgrace, and President Ford wasn't going to spend political capital on the Nixon era. But clearly Dick Cheney ain't gonna go quietly into the good night. In fact he is doing a bang-up job of sucking up all the oxygen in the room. He was on TV last Sunday. And on Saturday the Washington Post quietly admitted that the CIA was right to go for enhanced interrogation, to the fury of lefties like Glenn Greenwald. Let's face it. Dick Cheney is loaded for bear, and he can make things very difficult for the Obama administration.
So go ahead Mr. President. Go ahead with another major political blunder. As they say. Don't stand in the way when your opponent is destroying himself.