The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Greek Tragedy

There’s much that defenders of big government, expanding entitlements, and socialist democracies can learn from modern day Greece. Greece’s on-going struggles get only superficial coverage in our MSM, and the underlying causes of the country’s impending collapse are never fully explored. Mark Steyn makes a few pithy comments:
While President Obama was making his latest pitch for a brand new, even more unsustainable entitlement at the health care "summit," thousands of Greeks took to the streets to riot. An enterprising cable network might have shown the two scenes on a continuous split screen - because they're part of the same story. It's just that Greece is a little further along in the plot: They're at the point where the canoe is about to plunge over the falls. America is further upstream and can still pull for shore, but has decided instead that what it needs to do is catch up with the Greek canoe. Chapter One (the introduction of unsustainable entitlements) leads eventually to Chapter 20 (total societal collapse): The Greeks are at Chapter 17 or 18.

What's happening in the developed world today isn't so very hard to understand: The 20th century Bismarckian welfare state has run out of people to stick it to. In America, the feckless insatiable boobs in Washington, Sacramento, Albany and elsewhere are screwing over our kids and grandkids. In Europe, they've reached the next stage in social democratic evolution: There are no kids or grandkids to screw over. The United States has a fertility rate of around 2.1, or just over two kids per couple. Greece has a fertility rate of about 1.3: 10 grandparents have six kids have four grandkids - i.e., the family tree is upside down. Demographers call 1.3 "lowest-low" fertility - the point from which no society has ever recovered. And compared to Spain and Italy, Greece has the least worst fertility rate in Mediterranean Europe.

So you can't borrow against the future because, in the most basic sense, you don't have one. Greeks in the public sector retire at 58, which sounds great. But, when 10 grandparents have four grandchildren, who pays for you to spend the last third of your adult life loafing around?

But it appears that the President Obama and his Democratic colleagues in the Congress are perfectly willing to “borrow against the future.” In fact, they’re anxious to double-down on profligate spending in the name of "social justice."

What they don’t appear to realize is that as each entitlement is enlarged, our ability to pay for it becomes increasingly questionable. The President’s solution appears to be taxing the rich, but his definition of “rich” is slippery and subject to modification (downward) as the voracious needs of each entitlement put more and more pressure on those of us who pay taxes. In the end, our children will be left holding the bag, but Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid will be long gone, secure in their delusion that they did what was just. In reality, historians may look back at this time and note that what they did was just … plain wrong.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


The Left-leaning London Guardian reports:
The family of the American activist Rachel Corrie, who was killed by an Israeli army bulldozer in Gaza seven years ago, is to bring a civil suit over her death against the Israeli defence ministry.

The case, which begins on 10 March in Haifa, northern Israel, is seen by her parents as an opportunity to put on public record the events that led to their daughter's death in March 2003. Four key witnesses – three Britons and an American – who were at the scene in Rafah when Corrie was killed will give evidence, according the family lawyer, Hussein Abu Hussein.

In 2006, on the anniversary of her tragic death, I wrote about Rachel Corrie in this blog. In the post, I quoted the story of a Vietnam-era protester, related by Lee Harris. In the story, the protester recognized the counterproductive elements of his disruptive protests, but continued them because “in his words, [it was] good for his soul.”

Harris went on the suggest that people like the protester live by a “fantasy ideology” in which they are taking part in a revolutionary struggle to free the “oppressed” from the oppressor (almost always a western democracy). Those who live the fantasy ideology use “political and ideological symbols and tropes … not for political purposes, but entirely for the benefit of furthering a specific personal or collective fantasy."

In my post I wrote:
I contend that Rachel Corrie and the tens of thousands of angry Left “activists” who lionize her are fulfilling a fantasy ideology. To paraphrase Harris, the Israeli bulldozers were, for Rachel, “there merely as props, as so many supernumeraries in [her] private psychodrama. The protest for [her] was not politics, but theater; and the significance of [her] role lay not in the political ends [her] actions might achieve, but rather in their symbolic value as ritual. In short, [she] was acting out a fantasy.”

Obviously, a harsh and tragic reality intruded on Rachel Corrie. Unlike those on the far right, I am saddened by her death.

But I am also saddened by those who choose to define victims and oppressors without regard to any objective truth; those who immediately assume that countries with democratic (Western) values are always wrong, while murderous “oppressed” regimes and those who support them are always right; those who lord their perceived moral superiority over those who take (dare I say it?) a more nuanced view of the world.

I predict that the left-leaning MSM will present the lawsuit breathlessly, demonizing Israel as they typically do. So be it. But just remember that despite the claims that you’ll hear, Rachel Corrie was living out her own fantasy ideology as she “protected” a house—not people—that once harbored terrorists and smuggling tunnels.

I closed my original post with this comment.
Like Rachel Corrie, you can choose to live by a fantasy ideology, or you can view the world through an undistorted lens. Neither approach is perfect, but I contend that the former leads to narcissism while the latter leads to truth.

It is indeed sad that Rachel Corrie chose a path that led to her death. Her parents might be better served to focus their anger on those who teach and encourage the young to adopt a fantasy ideology.

Monday, February 22, 2010

La, La, La

President Obama and the Congressional majority have decided to plod ahead with a health care proposal—legislation that won’t accomplish the “reform” that is required and will become a wildly expensive entitlement. Regardless of his claims, the President's plan will exacerbate an already dangerously high rate of spending and an even higher level of debt. The Democrats claim to know what’s best for the American public, even as 60 plus percent of the public (as measured by virtually every poll) say "no."

I’ve mentioned Congressman Paul Ryan (in an earlier post) as one of the few sane voices in a Congress that should go straight to spending rehab. He provides an example of our problems that even the President, the Speaker of the House, and the Senate Majority leader can understand:
Imagine your family's finances if you spent and borrowed like Washington: you'd owe $60 in credit-card loans for every $100 of income. Every month you'd pay back a little but borrow even more. In 10 years, you'd owe $87 for every $100 you made. At some point you'd hand off the debt to your kids. If they worked until 2035, they'd owe more than $180 for every $100 they earned. In 2050, your grandkids would owe more than $320. By 2080 they'd owe seven times their earnings. Of course, lenders would cut them off well before then, and your family would be ruined. But this is the path your government is on right now.

President Obama claimed that his primary domestic focus in 2010 would be “jobs, jobs, and jobs.” A grievously injured economy and a suffering people need that focus. But following a troubling pattern that has emerged in his first year in office, The Presdient's focus seems to be just words, words, and words. Two months into 2010 and his actions are again on ruinous and ill-conceived health care legislation. Let the debt be damned and the budget take care of itself.

If the President really wanted to address health care reform, he might serve us better by focusing on Medicare. Again Ryan comments:
Consider just one program: Medicare. Today, this program is short $38 trillion of what it promises to provide your parents, you, and your kids. In five years, the hole will grow to $52 trillion. Your family's share: $458,000. Medicaid will add trillions more in state and federal debt.

But the response of the President, most Democrats and some Republicans, is to squeeze their eyes shut like a cartoon character of a petulant child, put their hands over their ears, and scream, “La, la, la, I can’t hear you,” until the problem goes away.

It won’t go away.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

DDT and Unintended Consequences

President Obama is a true believer when it comes to anthropogenic global warming (AGW), euphemistically called “climate change” by those who treat the climate as a religion. No matter that the science remains unsettled, that a significant percentage of the core data has been manipulated in a way that is more political than scientific, that peer review has been used as a weapon to eliminate countervailing theories, that even the strongest proponent of the “science”, Phil Jones, now admits that there has been no warming in the past 14 years and that Al Gore's infamous “hockey stick graph” is not really representative of warming trends over the past 1,000 years.

The President has been stymied by resistance to Cap and Trade legislation and other carbon-taxing schemes by members of his own party. Undaunted, he has used an executive order to empower the environmental protection agency (EPA) to declare the plant food, CO2, to be a pollutant that is “dangerous to the health of humans” and begin work on crafting a blizzard (no pun intended) of regulations and penalties that will control CO2 emissions. The unintended effects on the economy during a severe economic downturn are not to be considered.

With this as a backdrop, it might be useful to consider another EPA ruling that occurred more almost 50 years ago. It was championed by Rachael Carlson in her book Silent Spring. Carlson was an environmentalist who wrote about the evils of the pesticide, DDT. “Doctor Zero” at the blog Hot Air comments:
Published in 1962, Silent Spring used manipulated data and wildly exaggerated claims (sound familiar?) to push for a worldwide ban on the pesticide known as DDT – which is, to this day, the most effective weapon against malarial mosquitoes. The Environmental Protection Agency held extensive hearings after the uproar produced by this book… and these hearings concluded that DDT should not be banned. A few months after the hearings ended, EPA administrator William Ruckleshaus over-ruled his own agency and banned DDT anyway, in what he later admitted was a “political” decision. Threats to withhold American foreign aid swiftly spread the ban across the world.

The resulting explosion of mosquito-borne malaria in Africa has claimed over sixty million lives. This was not a gradual process – a surge of infection and death happened almost immediately. The use of DDT reduces the spread of mosquito-borne malaria by fifty to eighty percent, so its discontinuation quickly produced an explosion of crippling and fatal illness. The same environmental movement which has been falsifying data, suppressing dissent, and reading tea leaves to support the global-warming fraud has studiously ignored this blood-drenched “hockey stick” for decades.

Ms. Carlson had good intentions, as do the true climate believers. But she (and they) failed to consider the unintended consequences of their religious fervor. In the case of DDT, millions died unnecessarily. In the case of CO2, it might be worth considering the unintended consequences before enacting laws, regulations, and penalties that ban its production. It would seem a prudent thing to do. Then again, true believers are rarely, if ever prudent in anything they do.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Promoting the Count

It’s always amusing to listen to proponents of big government extol the virtues of this or that existing or proposed Federal program. It doesn’t much matter whether the program focuses on education, health care, transportation, or any of the myriad areas that would be best left to local control, five things are certain to happen:

1) a huge bureaucracy will grow up around the program, precipitating thousands of pages of self-perpetuating regulations;

2) wasteful spending will be the norm, siphoning money away from its original target;

3) enforcement of tight budgetary control will be non-existent, leading to millions of taxpayer dollars being thrown away or parceled out to politically connected contractors,

4) ill-conceived and/or untested programs will be instituted broadly, leading to ineffective execution and still more waste and abuse;

5) a small, dishonest subset of the citizenry will game the regulations in a manner that causes even more waste and abuse.

Let’s consider an upcoming example.

Although it’s not a new big government program, the 2010 Census is representative of big government waste and abuse. Now, no one would argue that the census is necessary. In fact, it’s mandated in the Constitution. But nowhere in that document does it suggest that we allocate $340 million for a promotional blitz to convince people to what? Get counted?

Remember, that’s NOT money required to conduct the census (billions of dollars have been allocated to do just that), that’s money required to promote the census. Why? Do the Feds honestly believe that a schizophrenic, homeless person in San Francisco will see a TV ad in a store window and say, “Gee, maybe I ought to get counted”? Do racial and ethnic minorities ($80 million in promotional money) in Miami need to be convinced that they should fulfill their obligations as US residents, and if they need convincing, might they be better left uncounted? Will TV ads and radio spots really convince them? Do homeowners and apartment dwellers across the country need to be sold on the need to complete a 10-minute census form that arrives in the mail?

Do we really need $340 million dollars to accomplish this? With huge deficits looming and expenditures tight, you’d think that a “promotional budget” might be cut by 20 percent, maybe even 50 percent. But the congress and the federal bureaucracy simply doesn’t care.

I wonder if the Feds have even the slightest clue how many people will be added to the count due to their promotional efforts. Remember, even if the promotion adds 1 million people above those who would have been naturally counted, that costs the taxpayer $340 per person. No worries. Small change … unless it comes out of your pocket. Wait a minute … it does.


As if on queue, the AP reports:
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Census Bureau wasted millions of dollars in preparation for its 2010 population count, including thousands of temporary employees who picked up $300 checks without performing work and others who overbilled for travel costs.

Federal investigators caution the excessive charges could multiply once the $15 billion headcount begins in earnest next month unless the agency imposes tighter spending controls, according to excerpts of a forthcoming audit obtained by The Associated Press.

Friday, February 12, 2010


It’s amusing to listen to President Obama suggest that his opposition is the “party of no,” that it has no solid ideas and that “obstructionism” is their raison d’etre. It’s a meme that has resonated within the mainstream media that presents it without critical analysis, refutation, or logic analysis. It seems that the President is good at talking about “bipartisanship” but not very good at doing it. And of course, it’s all the other guy’s fault.

For the past two years, the MSM has chosen to ignore the ideas suggested by Paul Ryan, a six-term Republican congressman from Wisconsin. Ryan, unlike many Democrat and Republican members, has crafted workable solutions to our most pressing deficit and spending problems. If the President were serious about a bipartisan effort to solve these problems (and I am not convinced he is), Ryan’s ideas might be the place to start. It’s interesting to note that President Obama did, in fact, mention Ryan’s proposals recently. He did so, I think, merely to set up Ryan for coordinated attacks by everyone from Nancy Pelosi to the President’s own budget director. Discrediting Ryan from the get-go seems to be the administration’s strategy while President Obama soars above the fray.

But Obama's covert attack on a set of good ideas won’t make budget and deficit problems go away. Robert Samuelson comments:
[The Problem] hasn't [been fixed] because our political culture is so wedded to public opinion that it can't (or won't) govern. To govern is to choose, and our leaders recoil from unpopular choices. Americans want generous benefits and low taxes, so that's what the system -- led by either Democrats or Republicans -- provides.

President Obama continues this tradition. His administration's long-term budget projections show skyrocketing debt. In 2008, federal debt held by the public equaled 40 percent of the economy (gross domestic product). The administration has it rising to 77 percent of GDP in 2020, 99 percent in 2030 and 218 percent in 2050.

In reality, not choosing is a choice: to govern by crisis. Someday, the debt and associated interest payments (projected at $840 billion in 2020, a seventh of federal spending) may trigger a financial backlash. Lenders won't lend or will demand much higher rates. Congress would then be forced to cut benefits or raise taxes. The unstated hope is that the crisis occurs on someone else's watch.
Ryan rejects this consensus. He would make choices now.

It seems that the current administration and the majority party leadership in Congress are hoping against hope that they can continue to kick the can down the road. But it’s much worse than that.

Like children playing make-believe, they’ve convinced themselves that a 1 trillion dollar healthcare entitlement will somehow reduce the deficit; that a 700 billion dollar stimulus should be followed by a 100 billion dollar “jobs bill,” even though neither will create any meaningful number of private sector jobs; that big government doesn't come without worrisome costs; that a cap and trade bill predicated on questionable science will somehow spur the economy forward, and that unbridled deficit spending on dozens of new federal programs will occur without consequences.

Their delusional thinking in the face of serious economic problems is one of the reasons that those of us in the Center have deserted them in droves.

Like the children they are, the majority party is throwing a tantrum when a grown-up suggests a little discipline. They stomp their feet and scream “that’s not fair.” As Samuelson notes, leadership and governance is making grown-up choices, and choices are often “not fair.” But that doesn’t mean that the choices shouldn’t be made.

What are those choices? Here’s how Robert Samuelson describes what what one grown-up—Paul Ryan—thinks:
-- Social Security: For those 55 or older today, the program would remain unchanged. For those younger, benefits would be reduced -- with no cuts for the poorest workers. Workers 55 or younger in 2011 could establish individual investment accounts that would be funded with part of their payroll taxes. Government would guarantee a return equal to inflation.

-- Medicare: Current recipients and those enrolling in the next decade would continue under today's program, though wealthier recipients would pay somewhat higher premiums. In 2021, Medicare would become a voucher program for new recipients (those today 54 or younger). With vouchers, recipients would buy Medicare-certified private insurance. In today's dollars, the vouchers would ultimately grow to $11,000. Eligibility ages for Medicare and Social Security would slowly increase toward 69 and 70, respectively.

-- Spending Freeze: From 2010 to 2019, "non-defense discretionary spending" -- about a sixth of the federal budget, including everything from housing to parks to education -- would be frozen at 2009 levels.

-- Simpler Taxes: Taxpayers could choose between today's system or a streamlined replacement with no deductions and virtually no special tax breaks. Above a tax-free amount ($39,000 for a family of four), taxpayers would pay only two rates: 10 percent up to $100,000 for joint filers and 25 percent on income more than that.

Of course, the leadership in congress and the administration will only respond by noting all of the reasons Ryan’s proposals won’t work. They would prefer to waste a year writing a 2,000 page, 1 trillion dollar healthcare bill that will, in their fantasy world, lead to social justice, less spending, and lower deficits (not to mention lots of giveaways for their core constituencies). Sadly, in the world of grown-ups, those conclusions are nothing more than delusional.

Saturday, February 06, 2010


The first new car I ever purchased was a little, yellow Toyota Corolla. I had owned a old Plymouth and a used Chevy, but when the first oil crisis hit in the early 1970s (mile long gas lines and all) it was time to purchase a car with good gas mileage. Japanese cars were still something of a novelty at that time, and I worried about quality and longevity. My concerns were unfounded. The “Toy” lasted many years and met its promise in every way. In subsequent years, I purchased three or four more. All providing me with reliable, cost effective transportation.

As I watch the media frenzy that accompanies Toyota’s latest troubles, I can only shake my head. Until a month ago, the brand was synonymous with reasonable cost, solid automotive engineering, and high quality. Then, a few reports of runaway acceleration (later followed by isolated braking problems) and MSM news anchors asked breathlessly whether Toyotas were safe to drive.

Millions of these cars are on the road every day, and shockingly, their drivers seem to make it to work, to school, to the market without being killed as their demon vehicles accelerate without control into a stone wall. To the MSM, Toyota is the new corporate villain, and the company needs to be condemned. Context? Damn the context. Statistics? Way too complex. Let’s just scare those who can’t think critically.

Toyota will correct whatever defects do exist and hopefully, this solid automotive brand will survive and prosper. But the media has done the company great damage, not because it reported a safety defect, but because it did so without reporting context, without providing balance, and without tempering its increasingly hysterical tone. It treated a safety defect as a scandal, suggesting that Toyota had hatched some nefarious plot to foist defective automobiles on an unwary public. Why am I not surprised?

But the media is selective in the scandals it reports. Terrance Corcoran asks what would happen if the IPCC were Toyota. You’ll recall that the Intergovermental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been embroiled in a true scientific scandal for the past 4 months. Corcoran writes:
The IPCC, of course, doesn’t have to deal with the hysterical media frenzy Toyota has been subject to—even though the scale of Toyota’s problems, to the degree they exist, are marginal technical incidents—chance events affecting a few cars out of hundreds of millions-- compared with the monumental, even deliberate, distortions created by the political powers that are driving IPCC science. Maybe the media crews now pummeling Toyota could turn to the IPCC with the same enthusiasm when they get through demolishing the auto company’s reputation.

Not a chance. There are scandals and then there are SCANDALs. Since the IPCC is a heroic crusader that fosters the preposterous meme that humans are predominantly responsible for “climate change”, no amount of scientific dishonesty would cause the media to respond with the breathlessness they apply to the corporate villain du jour.

Come to think of it, that's the real scandal.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Helping Hef

The electorate wants meaningful spending reductions in the Federal budget, not the insultingly cosmetic “freeze” (addressing 1 percent of budgetary expenditures) suggested by President Obama. To reduce federal spending, the President and his majority congress should address the real source of budgetary pressure—and that’s entitlements.

In fact, it seems that the President and his speaker of the house can follow their natural class warrior instincts on this issue and actually accomplish something meaningful for our country. Let me explain.

I stumbled across the following breakdown, prepared by TMZ, of Playboy founder Hugh Hefner’s income, filed as part of a divorce proceedings. Here’s a breakdown of Hefner’s monthly income:
-- Salary from Playboy: $116,667
-- Social Security: $1,896
-- Dividends and interest: $121,099
-- Rental property: $17,058
-- Income from HMH Productions: $15,808
-- Pensions and retirement: $413
-- Other miscellaneous income: $17,639

--Total monthly income: $290,580

Do you notice anything interesting about Hefner’s monthly income statement? Although he makes almost $300,000 per month, he’s still qualified for a social security payment of $1,896.00. Hmmm.

For years, I’ve listened to ridiculous claims that social security is “an insurance program” that we all pay into and therefore, all of us have a right to “collect.” In reality, social security is a social welfare program that was intended to assist those retirees who truly do need financial help during their sunset years. It’s a payroll tax—nothing more, nothing less.

It’s time to means-test social security. There are millions of Americans of means who collect it, but do not need it. They shouldn’t get it.

It’s likely that within the next decade, there will be 80 million retirees in the U.S. Let’s consider only the "rich" among them—the top five percent in assets and (passive) income. That amounts to 4 million people. Let’s further assume that each of these “rich” retirees collects $1,000 per month from social security (a conservative estimate). The resultant payout to the top five percent—people who really don't need welfare—costs our children and grandchildren half a trillion dollars a year.

I know that social security is considered the third rail of American politics, but it and Medicare (an entitlement that should also be means-tested, among many other reforms) are going to bankrupt our country. If the Obama administration is serious about “reform” and deficit reduction, it might want to focus on items within the federal budget that account for just a bit more than one percent of spending. The President should realize that real budget reductions focus on big ticket items (like social security), not grants to national parks. But he's never actually had budgetary responsibility for a business or an organization, so I suppose this oversight is predictable.

Means-testing entrenched entitlement programs would lead to meaningful spending reductions and deficit control. Then again, that takes leadership, bipartisan cooperation, and political courage. Thinking about that for a moment conjures the image of the legendary "Emily Latella" of early SNL fame. "I’m sorry, never mind."

Monday, February 01, 2010


President Obama is correct when he states (in speech after speech) that a lack of bipartisan resolve and a lack of civility have much to do with our collective inability to solve the many serious problems that face our nation. In essence, he remains in campaign mode, suggesting that it’s “Washington” that’s the problem. Mark Steyn comments on this approach:
Simply as a matter of internal logic, this is somewhat perplexing. After all, when he isn't blaming George W. Bush, Mr. Obama blames "Washington" - a Washington mired in "partisanship" and "pettiness" and "the same tired battles" and "Washington gimmicks" that do nothing but ensure that our "problems have grown worse." Washington, Mr. Obama tells us, is "unable or unwilling to solve any of our problems."

So let's have more Washington! That raises the question: Does even Mr. Obama listen to his speeches?

But there’s more to it than that. It’s almost as if Barack Obama didn’t understand that winning the Presidency meant sitting atop the power pyramid in “Washington,” and inheriting all of the problems that existed on the first day of his ascendancy to the office.

If Washington has problems, Barack Obama need not complain about them (that’s campaign mode), he must work to correct them (that’s leadership). So far, he has failed miserably. His approach has been astonishingly and arrogantly partisan even as he blamed the small opposition minority for "obstructionism." Folks, it's his own party that's "obstructing" his plans—no one else.

If he inherited a difficult domestic situation, he need not blame his predecessor or “the last eight years” That’s whiny and accomplishes nothing. In fact, it's something the real leaders rarely if ever do. Rather, he should have used his enormous political capital upon entering office to address joblessness instead of squandering it like the political rookie he is.

It’s pretty clear that President Obama truly does believe that the very “Washington” he decries in speech after speech is the solution to everything from creating jobs to educating our children to removing your gall bladder. Shrinking Washington (despite his hollow claims about “freezing spending”) is anathema to our President.

Mark Steyn is harsh in his assessment of this, but he may not be far off the mark:
In the past 60 years, the size of America's government work force has increased five times faster than the population. [emphasis mine] Yet the president says it's still not enough: We have to divert more of our human capital into the government machine. He's explicitly telling you: If you start a business, invent something, provide a service, you're a schmuck. In the America he's building, you'll be working 24/7 till you drop dead to fund an ever-swelling bureaucracy. Mr. Obama's proposals are bold only insofar as few men would offer such a transparent guarantee of disaster: It's the audacity of hopelessness.

I think there is hope. Although the President does not seem to be listening, the Congress (out of sheer self-preservation) has carefully calibrated the public’s mood as reflected in the surprising Massachusetts election result. I’m hopeful that the Democratic majority will slow their leader down, way down. We’ll see.