Thursday, April 29, 2010
ObamaCare: An Unmitigated Disaster
Janice Shaw Crouse
Thursday, April 29, 2010
Americans are learning that ObamaCare will pile on insurmountable debt and cause government to encroach on every area of our lives. ObamaCare is, as Yuval Levin said, an “unmitigated disaster –– for our health care system, for our fiscal future, and for any notion of limited government.” And the more we learn about the specific provisions, the more we discover that the bill does not reflect our values –– faith, family and freedom –– nor does it strengthen those principles that are the foundation of a great nation.
Each day while Democrats are criss-crossing the country to declare that ObamaCare is not a government takeover of health care, a new government expert releases figures indicating that ObamaCare is going to be outrageously expensive and won’t do what the president promised it would. Now they tell us!
Many Americans were outraged after ObamaCare passed when a report from the Office of the Actuary of Medicare indicated that the costs of the bill would increase rather than cut the costs of health care in the United States. In an April 23 appearance before the House Appropriations Committee, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius declared that nobody really knows what ObamaCare will cost. Ed Morrisey, a major blogger on Hot Air, called the $5 billion appropriated for ObamaCare just a “spit-balling number,” because “no one has the faintest clue how much money will actually get spent on this program.” There is clear evidence, however, from the Congressional Budget Office that the average penalty for those three million middle-class Americans who are expected to pay a penalty for not having health insurance will amount to more than $1,000 per person. The report estimates that the government will collect about $4 billion per year in fines from 2017 to 2019.
In addition to questions about cost, a Kaiser Family Foundation poll reveals that over half of Americans are confused about what the law means (55 percent) and what impact it will have on them (56 percent). Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin), ranking Republican on the Budget Committee and a leader in explaining Obamanomics, believes that the nation is at a “tipping point” and could be on a “very dangerous” path toward a social welfare state. He says ObamaCare “has $2 trillion in higher taxes, doubles the debt in five years, triples the debt in 10 years,” and consists of the “largest entitlement” expansion in 35 years where the “majority of Americans are more dependent upon the government than they are themselves.” More than 70 percent, Ryan claims, will get more benefits from the government than they pay for in taxes –– making 3-out-of-10 families either supplement or supply the income for the other seven families.
Numerous polls indicate that the public’s trust in government is at an “historic low.” The Pew Research Center reported that only 22 percent of Americans trust government today. A Quinnipiac poll notes that the President’s approval rating is down to 44 percent, and Congress’s approval is 25 percent. Daniel Henninger, of the Wall Street Journal, said, “The American people have issued a no-confidence vote in government.” Henninger thinks that the distrust is because, with almost universal access to the Internet, the “veil was ripped from the true cost of government” so that everyone could see how much spending –– $9 trillion –– was out of control.
ObamaCare contains $670 billion in tax increases. For the middle class, there are at least 14 different tax increases signed into law that target taxpayers making less than $250,000 per year. In Massachusetts, a state that enacted health care reforms similar to the national plan, more than a half-dozen lawsuits were filed to stop double-digit premium increases. The Boston Globe warned that ObamaCare could result in similar lawsuits at the federal level. Indeed, Richard Epstein, a constitutional lawyer writing in the Wall Street Journal, stated that regulated public utilities have a right to a “risk-adjusted rate of return on their invested capital.” Others are predicting federal lawsuits where courts will slap down “efforts to control by fiat the price of the insurance” that Americans are legally mandated to buy. Attorneys general in more than a dozen states are working to challenge the legal mandate in federal court as unconstitutional.
Finally, officials are owning up to what most Americans already knew. ObamaCare means higher costs and lower quality; ObamaCare means rationing and higher taxes — including a Value Added Tax (VAT). It means mandating and penalties. President Obama and his liberal colleagues on the Hill jettisoned the world’s best health care system for the dubious honor of having achieved “health care reform.” Now, in addition to figuring out how to pay for the trillion dollar government takeover of health care, we have to untangle the budgetary gimmicks, bureaucratic mess and disastrous financial crisis that the nation faces as a result.
Posted by Brett at 11:17 AM
Washington Takes a Break from Porn Surfing to Bail Out Wall Street
Thursday, April 29, 2010
Democrats have decided that in order to prevent Wall Street from starting more financial meltdowns, wrecking the economy and leaving the American taxpayer holding the bag, we need to give more oversight authority to the same government employees who were busy surfing Internet porn as private investors frantically tried to warn them about Bernie Madoff.
The Democrats' financial "reform" bill also includes a $50 billion bailout fund -- that's million with a "B" -- that will save the Democrats from the unpleasant task of having to go on record voting for another Wall Street bailout.
Under the Democrats' bill, the FDIC will distribute the bailout money to Wall Street bankers without Congress having to take any action at all. (In the House version, the slush fund for the Democrats' Wall Street friends is $150 billion.)
True, the billions of dollars will be doled out to banks for the purpose of "dissolving" them. So what? They'll come back under a new name. But the guilty parties will lose no money for making bad bets -- although if the bets paid off, they'd take all the profits. That's what Democrats mean by "accountability."
Not surprisingly, the only politicians opposed to a permanent bailout fund for bankers are the politicians not owned by Wall Street -- that is, most Republicans, and one socialist, Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
The Democrats' defense of Wall Street's golden parachute is to say Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell used a "talking point" formulated for him by pollster Frank Luntz in opposing the bailout fund.
As Frank Rich explained in The New York Times, the bailout fund is not a bailout fund because "Sen. Mitch McConnell went on CNN to flog his big lie that the Senate reform bill somehow guaranteed bank bailouts -- a talking point long ago concocted for the GOP by its favorite spin strategist, Frank Luntz."
In other words, it must be a lie because ... because Frank Luntz told McConnell what to say and then McConnell said it on CNN!
Yes, and Steve Jobs gets his best ideas from parishilton.com.
Sen. McConnell doesn't need Frank Luntz to explain anything to him, least of all the financial reform bill. A fifth-grader could find out about the permanent bailout fund simply by reading the bill.
You will notice that neither Rich nor any of Wall Street's defenders specifically deny the existence of a permanent bank bailout fund in the Democrats' bill. They just say McConnell used a "talking point" to denounce it. (You might say this has become a "talking point" for Democrats defending the bill.)
Wall Street's defenders also crow that the money in the bailout fund won't come from taxpayers! (There's a newfound sympathy.) No sir, it will come from "the banks."
That's like saying that the original bailout money didn't come from the taxpayers -- it came from the government! Where do Democrats imagine banks and the government get their money?
Banks, like the government, are entities that spend money they collect from human beings. We'll all be charged up front to cover Gordon Gekko's future bad bets.
In other words, the Wall Street slush fund will be paid for by a group of despicable fat cats recently discovered by the Democrats known as People Who Have Bank Accounts. Damn them!
Another idea, based on the ancient concept of personal responsibility, comes from financial writer James Grant. He proposes that the bankers -- are you sitting down? -- take their own losses.
Let them keep their humongous salaries, Grant writes, but if their bank fails, "let the bankers themselves fail. Let the value of their houses, cars, yachts, paintings, etc. be assigned to the firm's creditors."
There's nothing wrong with speculation, creating derivatives or selling them, especially to sophisticated investors. The problem is that when the bets go bad, the speculators keep being back-stopped by the government -- i.e., "by me and people like me."
Strangely enough -- for a bill that allegedly sticks it to Wall Street -- during the Senate Banking Committee hearing this week, Goldman Sachs chairman Lloyd Blankfein endorsed the Dodd bill. Someone should have asked him who from Goldman wrote it.
In 2008, Goldman employees gave a record-breaking $1,007,370 to the Obama campaign.
This year, the "securities and investment" industry has already given twice as much money to the Democrats as to the Republicans.
ABC News reports that "the five biggest hedge fund donors all gave almost all their donations to Democrats." Among the biggest recipients of hedge fund money were Senators Harry Reid (Democrat), Chris Dodd (Democrat) and Charles Schumer (Democrat).
Even with the evidence right in front of their eyes, people still believe that it's the Republicans who are in Wall Street's pocket.
How out of touch with reality would a comedy writer have to be to write the following joke for Jay Leno this week: "The head of Goldman Sachs was going through security and was asked to empty his pockets -- and five Republican senators fell out."
Why didn't Barack Obama or Chuck Schumer fall out? Why not Rahm Emanuel, who worked for Goldman? Or Greg Craig, who used to work for Obama but just took a job with Goldman?
The fact that anyone laughed at that joke proves that Republicans have a serious PR problem.
Posted by Brett at 11:03 AM
Thursday, April 29, 2010
What do Comedy Central and Yale University Press have in common? In the Islamist war against free speech, both have been on the front lines. And both have surrendered.
Last week, Comedy Central censored any depiction or even mention of the Prophet Muhammad from an episode of the adult cartoon series South Park. This capitulation followed a "warning" from a group calling itself "Revolution Muslim" that those responsible would "probably wind up like Theo van Gogh" - the Dutch filmmaker murdered by a Dutch-Moroccan Muslim for producing "Submission," a documentary about the plight of women in Islamic societies.
Also censored by Comedy Central was a speech about intimidation and fear. Though the speech made no mention of Mohammad, the executives at Comedy Central evidently decided it might offend or anger someone - perhaps Islamists who make it their business to intimidate and frighten. Kind of comedic when you think about it, no?
Similarly, Yale University Press last year published "The Cartoons That Shook the World," a book on the controversy and violence - as many as 200 people killed -- incited by Islamists in response to the appearance of 12 satirical caricatures of Muhammad in Danish newspapers in 2005. The publishers decided not to include the caricatures in the book about the caricatures. John Donatich, director of Yale University Press, candidly told the New York Times that he didn't want to end up with "blood on my hands."
As you might expect, when it comes to caving in to Islamist pressure, Europeans have been the trend-setters. As far back as 1989, Iranian revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling for the murder - by any Muslim willing and able -- of British author Salman Rushdie, whose novel, The Satanic Verses, Khomeini declared offensive to Islam. The European response to this assault -- not just on a European citizen but also on European values - was feckless.
And four years ago, the Deutsche Oper cancelled a production of Mozart's "Idomeneo," an opera in which the severed heads of Jesus, Buddha and Muhammad appear onstage. The "moderate" head of Germany's Islamic Council, Ali Kizilkaya, commended the opera house for respecting Muslim sensitivities. That's kind of funny, too, when you think about it.
Sigmund Freud once said he regarded the burning of his books as a mark of progress. "In the Middle Ages," he explained, "they would have burned me." Wouldn't he be surprised to learn that, a century later, we are apparently heading back to the Middle Ages - thanks to regimes, movements and ideologies whose names many of our cultural and political leaders dare not even pronounce.
Senator Joseph Lieberman, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, this month wrote a letter to John Brennan, who carries the hefty title of Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism and Deputy National Security Advisor. Lieberman expressed his concern over the deletion of "Islamic extremism" - or any term that might suggest a link between terrorism and either Islam or Islamism -- from the U.S. National Security Strategy.
This omission - the product, no doubt, less of fear than of "political correctness" and bureaucrats playing at public relations -- is, Lieberman noted, only "the most recent in a series of administration statements that refuse to acknowledge that we are engaged in a war with an enemy that has killed thousands of Americans based not on a vague policy of extremism but on a specific and violent ideology of Islamist extremism." Among those statements: the report on the Fort Hood massacre which was carried out by an assailant shouting "Allahu Akhbar" - Allah is Greatest -- as he shot dead as many American soldiers as he could manage.
The Committee on the Present Danger, an organization that in the 20th century was focused on the Communist threat and that now focuses on the Islamist threat, this week also sent a letter to Brennan -- as well as to President Obama, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton -- supporting Lieberman's concerns. Among the signatories: former Secretary of State George Shultz, former CIA Director Jim Woolsey, former National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane, former Attorney General Ed Meese and former presidential advisor Max Kampelman.
A reporter working on the Comedy Central story, asked me whether those who object to books, cartoons, operas, films and other materials that Muslims might find offensive were not being hypocritical since they do not apply the same standard when it comes to Christians and Jews. His question reveals a common misunderstanding: Islamist groups such as Muslim Revolution are not demanding equality for Islam. They are demanding superior status. They are supremacists: They believe it has been divinely ordained that Islam must dominate; that Sharia, Islamic law, must prevail; that "unbelievers" must submit.
In this way, militant Islamists are akin to Nazis, who believe that Aryans are the master race; and to Communists, whose goal is to create a "dictatorship of the proletariat" that will lay down the law to the bourgeois and other classes.
"Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction," Ronald Reagan warned us. He added: "It must be fought for." Right now, however, the trend among Western elites is to wave the white flag. How encouraging that must be for Muslim Revolution and similar groups now proliferating around the world.
Here's an excerpt from "Islamist Infiltration":
from TownHall magazine, May 2010 issue.
[M]any serious observers of America’s war with militant Islam see reasons for alarm. A case in point—the Fort Hood Massacre. It was shocking enough to learn that the American domestic military establishment cannot even protect its own troops inside the United States. But what seemed even more shocking was the fact that the country’s most senior Army officer, Gen. George Casey, publicly stated that the attack caused him to be more worried about harm to the military’s diversity than the disgrace that failed to prevent such an appalling waste of lives.
Many fear our superpower status is rapidly ebbing away and, shockingly, at the behest of our own government. … Given the escalating Islamic threat, it seems appropriate to ask: Why is this diminution of American power happening? Are there Islamic jihadists influencing our government? Who are the jihadists influencing? What have they accomplished? And what is their end game? […]
In the mid-20th century, the Brotherhood began its campaign to infiltrate and impact the direction of the United States.
During the 1960s, the Brotherhood began sending vast numbers of students to American universities.
In 1973, with massive Saudi funding, they formed the North American Islamic Trust (NAIT), an investment vehicle that enabled them to acquire 300 mosques and schools in the United States.
In 1987, Hamas, the Palestinian wing of the Brothers with the stated goal of destroying Israel, was founded and largely funded by American Muslims.
In 1990, the Brotherhood formed the American Muslim Council (AMC) with Abdurahman Alamoudi as its boss and the new capo di tutti of the entire syndicate.
Then in 1994, the Council on American- Islamic Relations (CAIR) was founded.
In 1980, there were 481 officially recognized Mosques in the United States. Today, there are 1,209, with an estimated 80 percent of those funded and controlled by Saudi Arabia, where the official religion is virulently anti-Western Wahhabi Islam.
Paul Sperry and David Gaubatz’s book “Muslim Mafia” exposes the Muslim Brotherhood’s activities in America using declassified FBI documents, FBI agent interviews, transcripts of telephone wire taps and thousands of internal documents smuggled out of CAIR headquarters by Gaubatz’s son, Chris Gaubatz, who posed as an American convert to Islam and was hired by CAIR. They demonstrate that the Brotherhood is now a worldwide central clearinghouse for virtually all Sunni terrorist groups, is operating inside U.S. mosques across the country and is in complete control of CAIR and its myriad subsidiaries.
And while the House of Saud attempts to portray itself as a loyal U.S. trading partner, the authors prove that it is actually financing and partnering with the Brotherhood, that it is actively undermining our national security, and that it controls CAIR and at least 46 other supposedly moderate Muslim front groups in the United States, along with countless other subsidiary shell companies. And for the first time, they expose the Brotherhood’s five-phase plan for dominating America:
• Phase I: Establish an elite Muslim Leadership and raise Islamicist consciousness in the community;
• Phase II: Create Islamic institutions that the leadership can control and form autonomous Muslim enclaves;
• Phase III: Infiltrate America’s political and social institutions forming a shadow state; escalate conversions; manipulate mass media to remove language offensive to Islam;
• Phase IV: Open hostile public confrontation over U.S. policies, riot, make militant demands for special rights and accommodations;
• Phase V: Wage final conflict and overthrow (jihad).
According to Sperry and Gaubatz, the consensus among counterterrorism officials is that the North American Brotherhood is already in Phase III.
Posted by Brett at 10:52 AM
Of Laureates and Cowboys
Victor Davis Hanson
Thursday, April 29, 2010
In politics, having power and keeping it often mean fudging a little on ideology.
So conservatives sometimes convince the country to do very liberal things -- think of Richard Nixon going to China, Ronald Reagan granting a blanket amnesty to illegal aliens, or George W. Bush running big deficits.
Liberals can sometimes act like conservatives without worry of being smeared by their base as heartless right-wingers -- remember Bill Clinton's agreement to sign welfare reform and put caps on federal spending.
But in matters of war, being liberal is a great advantage for a president.
The mainstream media and cultural elite give a Democratic commander in chief a pass that would rarely be extended to a Republican. Perhaps this double standard occurs because they believe a progressive president goes to war only reluctantly -- even though most of our bloodiest conflicts have been fought under Democratic presidents.
Woodrow Wilson sent millions of soldiers to Europe and helped to win World War I through head-on clashes with the German army. Yet the country saw him as an idealistic peacemaker. Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, despite respectively firebombing Japan and dropping two atomic bombs, could still count on unified support from the nation's elite.
We equate Vietnam with Richard Nixon, who inherited the war, not John Kennedy, who got us into it in the first place. Few remember that Bill Clinton neither asked Congress nor went to the United Nations before he bombed Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic into submission.
Noble laureate Barack Obama is enjoying this traditional exemption from wartime criticism -- and he is using it to good effect.
Candidate Obama, like his rivals in the Democratic presidential primaries, ran on an array of antiwar themes. Iraq was lost; the surge had failed; it was long past time for all combat troops to come home. President Bush had supposedly shredded the Constitution by starting up military tribunals and renditions, and by opening the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. Bush & Co. had also authorized Predator drone assassinations, pushed through the Patriot Act, and expanded wiretaps and intercepts.
Obama's rhetoric reflected the Democratic orthodoxy that by 2006 saw unhappiness with the war as a winning campaign theme.
But after his inauguration, Obama apparently grasped two realities. The first: Antiwar rhetoric on the stump was easy, but the responsibility of keeping Americans safe from terrorism and Islamic radicalism was not. The second: He guessed that liberal furor over the war on terror and the interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan had always been mostly about opposing George Bush -- not really principled opposition to actual wartime policies.
So after early 2009 there was no more talk of a lost war in Iraq, and no more deadlines to bring home our 130,000 troops that are still there. The Bush-Petraeus plan of staged withdrawal instead still operates. There has been a marked escalation in Afghanistan.
Guantanamo Bay is still open 15 months after the inauguration -- and three months after its promised closure date. There have been more Predator drone assassinations during the early months of the Obama administration than in eight years of the Bush tenure. Renditions, tribunals, intercepts and wiretaps go on as before, or have been expanded.
And as Obama must have anticipated, there are now no more antiwar rallies and Hollywood movies, or anguished op-eds about either an imperial warmongering America or a virtual police state at home. A raging Michael Moore and Cindy Sheehan are distant memories. We once read that Bush as a wartime president frivolously played too much golf; we don't read that a Obama has played more golf in one year than Bush did in eight.
Progressives have concluded that to now oppose the Bush-Obama foreign policies would only hurt their own party's domestic agenda, and that a cool, sensitive President Obama does what he must reluctantly -- in contrast to a zealot warmonger like former President Bush.
Call all this hypocrisy, but it does create interesting political irony. Conservatives don't know whether to score points against Obama for his about-face and past politicizing of national security issues, or praise him for continuing what they feel were necessary Bush efforts that have kept us safe.
Liberals may be slightly embarrassed that their past furor over the various ongoing wars on terror more or less mysteriously ceased in January 2009. And they are certainly angry that conservatives are opposing Obama's domestic agenda in as coarse a fashion as they themselves once did Bush's foreign policy.
How does this affect America at large? Liberal Nobel laureates can fight wars abroad pretty much as they deem necessary -- without worrying that they are going to be vilified at home.
Texas cowboys cannot.
Posted by Brett at 10:51 AM
ODSD: Obama Double Standard Disease
Thursday, April 29, 2010
Obama Double Standard Disease: an affliction that causes the media to ignore, rationalize or trivialize in order to defend, support and advance the tax-the-rich, spread-the-wealth, expand-the-government agenda of President Barack Obama and his party. This stands in stark contrast with the media treatment of those who refuse to embrace the left-wing, America-bullies-the-world, dissenters-are-racist, pro-amnesty, gay marriage-is-a-right, pro-Roe v. Wade worldview.
ODSD is pandemic. Here are just a few cases.
When the economy recovered under President George W. Bush, the major news media pronounced it a "jobless recovery." Now, despite unemployment stalled at 9.7 percent for several months, the same media call it a "surprising" or "unexpected" recovery.
Obama urged passage of an $800 billion "stimulus" package in order to prevent unemployment from reaching 8 percent. Post-stimulus passage, unemployment reached 10 percent. Consider how the media would have treated President Bush had he given varying predictions about, and then varying accounts of, the number of jobs supposedly "created or saved" -- a laughably unprovable yardstick.
Obama brazenly claims that under his policies, 95 percent of "working Americans" received a "tax cut." But nearly half of American workers pay absolutely nothing in income taxes. And after exemptions, tax credits and other deductions, the Obama tax cut even exceeded many workers' payroll taxes. How does a check, given to someone who pays little or no taxes, become a "tax cut"?
The National Rifle Association backed the 2000 presidential candidacy of George W. Bush. Describing the organization's relationship with Bush as "unbelievably friendly," an NRA official said a Bush victory would mean "a president where we work out of their office." Envisioning then-NRA President Charlton Heston sitting at a fold-out table next to the President's desk, the media pounced.
Typical of the coverage was a Washington Post article with this headline: "The NRA Brags That They'll Work Out Of President GW Bush's Oval Office." The Post pointed out that the NRA gave more than $500,000 in 1999 and 2000 to the GOP and that it expected to spend between $12 million and $15 million more on the 2000 election. These stories elicited a denial of undue influence from the Bush camp: "Neither the NRA nor any special interest sets the governor's agenda."
The Service Employees International Union, to elect Obama and other Democrats in 2008, spent $85 million. And in support of corporate bailouts, ObamaCare and higher taxes to "spread the wealth differently," SEIU President Andy Stern said, "Western Europe, as much as we used to make fun of it, has made different trade-offs which may have ended with a little more unemployment but a lot more equality."
NBC's Matt Lauer did not ask Obama about the incredible willingness of the SEIU -- his biggest financial supporter -- to accept fewer jobs for "a lot more equality." CBS' Katie Couric did no story on the union's admission that higher taxes mean fewer jobs. No Washington Post editorial page asked how Stern's "trade-off" of fewer jobs squares with what Obama said about the importance of creating jobs: "That's the single most important thing we can do."
ACORN strongly endorsed Obama. The community activist group's CEO, Bertha Lewis, gave a speech at the winter conference of the Young Democratic Socialists. She said: "Any group that says, 'I'm young, I'm Democratic and I'm a socialist,' is all right with me. You know, that's no light thing to do, to actually say, 'I'm a socialist.' ... Right now, we are living in a time which is going to dwarf the McCarthy era. It's going to dwarf the internments during World War II. We are right now in a time that is going to dwarf the era of Jim Crow and segregation. ... This rise of this tea party so-called 'movement' -- bowel movement, in my opinion -- and this blatant uncovering is ripping off the mask of racism."
Did the media ask Obama about Lewis' lunatic attack on those who disagree or about her open embrace of socialism? Did the media ask if Obama cared to comment on his promise, made during the campaign, to allow ACORN to "shape the agenda" of his presidency? Did they ask why Obama dismisses critics who call his agenda "socialism" -- even as one of his biggest backers uses that very word?
ODSD ravages the country.
It guarantees a pass is given to an administration that refuses to use the term "Islamofascism"; that offends traditional allies like Israel and new ones like Poland and the Czech Republic; that apparently accepts a nuclear Iran; that ignores government's role in the housing meltdown while blaming Wall Street "greed"; and that makes appeals to voters along racial lines.
It means that the harmful consequences of the exploding welfare state get ignored, trivialized or disputed. It means that "experts," hand-picked and quoted by the media, overwhelmingly support the administration's income-equality agenda. It means that inconvenient news stories -- ones that question "bigger and better" government or show there is another side -- are downplayed, underreported or dismissed.
The Obama Double Standard Disease is a pre-existing illness -- not covered, even under ObamaCare.
Posted by Brett at 10:50 AM
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
The Return of 'Social Utility'
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
In the last few weeks, I have found myself debating on radio and TV programs whether various financial instruments have any social utility -- any "real world" purpose other than "speculation or gambling." (Disclosure: I give professional advice to a number of financial organizations.)
My first instinct was to defend various derivatives as serving useful purposes: to hedge against various risks -- such as currency fluctuation or aviation-fuel price rises, to promote innovation, competition, efficiency and liquidity (paraphrasing Lawrence H. Summers, Alan Greenspan, Arthur Levitt and William J. Rainer from a 1999 Clinton administration report.)
I pointed out that creating a venue to which community banks could sell their mortgages freed up their capital to make more home loans, thus creating more homeowners. That is why Franklin D. Roosevelt set up Fannie Mae in 1938. Secondary markets tend to enlarge the primary market. This is good.
Short-selling, which is now being attacked as immoral, can be well defended in the words of Dean Baker, writing at the American Prospect: "Short-selling can play a very important role in the market. If informed investors recognize that a stock is overvalued, they perform a valuable service by selling it short and pushing down its stock price. This can both deprive the company of capital and be a signal to other actors in the market that the company might not be as healthy as is generally believed.
"The economy would have benefited enormously if large numbers of traders had shorted Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac four years ago when they were buying up hundreds of billions of mortgages issued to buyers who bought homes at bubble-inflated prices. This would have stopped the bubble years ago. Similarly, we could have prevented the financial chaos at Merrill Lynch, Citigroup, Bear Stearns and the rest, if traders had recognized their financial shenanigans and aggressively shorted their stock. In the same vein, heavy shorting by informed investors could have prevented the boom and bust of the tech bubble."
One could go on making rational arguments to irrational people. But the very idea of being asked to defend freely entered transactions on the grounds of "social utility" is socialist-Marxist bunk. What in the world is "social utility"? And who gets to say so? Why is making a profit as an athlete or a politician better than making a profit as a banker or insurance salesman?
As Ayn Rand explained so long ago: "When the 'common good' (i.e., social utility) of a society is regarded as something apart from and superior to the individual good of its members, it means that the good of some men takes precedence over the good of others, with those others consigned to the status of sacrificial animals. It is tacitly assumed, in such cases, that 'the common good' means the good of the majority as against the minority or individual."
It seems unfathomable that after a century of constant failure by every "social utility-minded" government on the planet, that today in 2010, the American government must be re-educated to that history of failure.
Yet, we have heard recently from Democrats in Washington that Wall Street makes too much money and is too big a share of the American economy. Compared to what? The financial juggernauts of Libya, Romania or the Congo? Or for that matter France, Russia or Spain. Or for that matter Japan, Saudi Arabia or China (yes, China with its fraudulent banks and corrupt, finagling government).
Well, one of the reasons our economy continues to amount to 25 percent of all human economic activity on this planet (although our population is less than 5 percent) is because a free, risk-taking, innovative Wall Street has been the financial capital of the world. Yes, we have busts from time to time. But our booms have outdone our busts. That's why we have been the leading economy on earth for over a hundred years.
But now the current majority in Congress and the White House (and their fellow thinkers in the media) seem to be possessed of cobwebbed, left-wing social utility theorems compounded by mental devolution to the historic idiocies and bigotries that our ancestors in the Old World -- in their ignorance -- imputed to money lenders, bankers, the Bavarian Illuminati, the House of Rothschild, etc.
Shakespeare's moving, but anti-Semitic "Merchant of Venice" seemed to make a re-appearance in The Washington Post's lead Sunday story headlined: "Cheers at Goldman as housing market fell; Executives reveled in bets made against the market."
"Take then thy bond, take thou thy pound of flesh;
But, in the cutting it, if thou dost shed
One drop of Christian blood, thy lands and goods
Are by the laws of Venice confiscate
Unto the state of Venice."
-- Portia, "Merchant of Venice," Act IV, scene 1.
The flagrant Securities and Exchange Commission charge of civil fraud against Goldman Sachs last week, followed by Congress' release of embarrassing interoffice Goldman Sachs e-mails on Sunday, are obviously intended to set a moral tone for the final stage of the financial re-regulation bill currently before the Senate.
It would seem that statism, historical amnesia, economic ignorance and bigotry are the mental and moral dispositions that will be shaping the passage of our financial re-regulations bill in the Senate this week.
The current, ill-fated 111th Congress continues to blunder its way into our history books along with the dreadful 94th (cut off money to South Vietnam in 1975, lost the war and triggered the Cambodian genocide); 71st (1929-1930, passed the Smoot-Hawley Act, which led to the Great Depression); 63rd (1913-14, passed the 16th Amendment -- income tax; the 17th Amendment -- direct election of the Senate; and creation of the Federal Reserve, which led to weakening of the states, encroachment of the federal government); and 33rd (1854-55, passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which quickened steps to the Civil War). A couple of more destructive laws enacted and the 111th will be No. 1.
Posted by Brett at 4:10 PM
Walter E. Williams
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Here's how my June 14, 2006 column started: "Down through the years, I've attempted to warn my fellow Americans about the tyrannical precedent and template for further tyranny set by anti-tobacco zealots. ... In the early stages of the anti-tobacco campaign, there were calls for "reasonable" measures such as non-smoking sections on airplanes and health warnings on cigarette packs. In the 1970s, no one would have ever believed such measures would have evolved into today's level of attack on smokers, which includes confiscatory cigarette taxes and bans on outdoor smoking. The door was opened, and the zealots took over."
What the anti-tobacco zealots established is that government had the right to forcibly control our lives if it was done in the name of protecting our health. In the Foundation for Economic Education's Freeman publication, I wrote a column titled "Nazi Tactics" (January 2003): "These people who want to control our lives are almost finished with smokers; but never in history has a tyrant arisen one day and decided to tyrannize no more. The nation's tyrants have now turned their attention to the vilification of fast food chains such as McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's and Kentucky Fried Chicken, charging them with having created an addiction to fatty foods. ... In their campaign against fast food chains, restaurants and soda and candy manufacturers the nation's food Nazis always refer to the anti-tobacco campaign as the model for their agenda."
America's tyrants have now turned their attention to salt, as reported in the Washington Post's article "FDA plans to limit amount of salt allowed in processed foods for health reasons" (April 19, 2010). Why do food processors put a certain quantity of salt in their products? The answer is the people who buy their product like it and they earn profits by pleasing customers. The FDA has taken the position that what the American buying public wants is irrelevant. They know what's best and if you disagree, they will fine, jail or put you out of business.
Tyranny knows no bounds. Let's say that the FDA orders Stouffer's to no longer put 970 mg of sodium in their roasted turkey dinner; they mandate a maximum of 400 mg. Suppose Stouffer's customers, assuming they continue buying the product, add more salt -- what will the FDA do? The answer is easy. They will copy the successful anti-tobacco zealot template. They might start out with warning labels on salt. Congress will levy confiscatory taxes on salt. Maybe lawsuits will be brought against salt companies. State and local agencies might deny child adoption rights to couples found using too much salt. Before a couple can adopt a baby, they would have to take a blood test to determine their dietary habits. Teachers might ask schoolchildren to report their parents for adding salt to their meals. You might say, "Williams, they'd never go that far in the name of health." In 1960, you might have said the same thing about tobacco zealots but yet they've done the same and more.
The late H.L. Mencken's description of health care professionals in his day is just as appropriate for many of today's: "A certain section of medical opinion, in late years, has succumbed to the messianic delusion. Its spokesmen are not content to deal with the patients who come to them for advice; they conceive it to be their duty to force their advice upon everyone, including especially those who don't want it. That duty is purely imaginary. It is born of vanity, not of public spirit. The impulse behind it is not altruism, but a mere yearning to run things."
Thomas Jefferson put it simpler in his Notes on Religion in 1776, "Laws provide against injury from others, but not from ourselves."
Posted by Brett at 4:08 PM
Che Shirt Reflects Poorly on Culture
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
I learned long ago that shopping with teenagers requires me to patronize places I would otherwise avoid. The combination of loud, thumpy music, unreasonably priced clothing with manufactured holes in the knees and overly perky salespeople reminds me it is good to be a grown-up.
Recently, however, owing to his incessant habit of rapid growth, my 15-year-old son needed new shoes. Thus, I found myself in the chain store Journeys, where one finds all manner of casual footwear, including styles even a mother can approve.
The Journeys store at my mall is well-managed and well-staffed. The salespeople are truly some of the friendliest, most attentive and most competent I've found in a store that caters to young shoppers.
Still, I can't look these guys in the face. This is because despite their pleasant demeanor, every member of the sales team is pierced and tattooed in the extreme. They even sport "gauged" ear lobes — piercings that stretch the lobe to resemble elephant ears.
So I adopt a strategy I have dubbed "Product Scrutiny." Basically, I focus all my attention on the shoes under consideration as though I have never before bought footwear.
On our recent visit to Journeys, it happened they offered a freebie — a hat — for which we qualified by virtue of the size of our purchase. Two pairs of shoes, two packs of socks, tell the folks what they've won.
When the salesman shows us the free hat, I say, "Hmmm, I think the only time this style works is in the Cuban military or with a Che Guevara T-shirt."
My son nods in agreement as we both conclude the hat will go directly to the Halloween closet.
But my comment isn't lost on our salesguy, who offers cheerfully, "We have Che T-shirts!"
I say, "But he was a cold, brutal killer and the chief henchman for Fidel Castro. Why put him on a T-shirt?"
To which the young man responds, "Hey, viva la revolution. I dont like to live in the past."
I can't leave it at that, so I say, "Even in the present, he remains a heinous murderer. Being dead and all, he can't exactly rehabilitate himself."
Transaction complete, my son and I walk to the mall exit, and Jimmy listens to me rant about the magnitude of idiocy and ignorance that seems to permeate an entire generation.
How have we become a culture that thinks it is cool to wear T-shirts and caps glorifying a brutal mass murderer who helped to oppress a society with the scourge of communism? How have our young people adopted a philosophy as vapid and useless as "I don't like to live in the past"?
And what happens to a culture whose youth are so uninformed and uneducated?
Unfortunately, according to a recent study by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, we're going to find out. A few weeks ago it released the results of an annual survey of college freshman and seniors, in which 14,000 incoming and outgoing college students were given a 60-question civics test.
Half of the incoming freshmen failed the test, and worse, only 54 percent of graduating seniors passed. The schools that did the worst — that is, their graduating seniors actually scored worse than they did as freshmen — were among the nation's most elite schools.
Another important finding, though, is that four years of college influences students' opinions on a few popular yet polarizing issues: Abortion, gay marriage, prayer in schools, the divinity of the Bible and the opportunity to succeed in America. That the influence regarding these issues is resoundingly liberal is so obvious as to be a cliche.
So there's the answer to a couple of my questions. We're a culture whose young people think Che is cool because "The Communist Manifesto" is required reading for thousands of college freshmen, but not "The Federalist Papers" or even the U.S. Constitution. They've adopted a vapid "live for today" philosophy because they don't learn the history of our government or anyone else's.
What happens to such a culture?
Only time will tell.
Posted by Brett at 4:06 PM
ODDS of 2 to 1: Keys to 2010 Victory
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Voters are ready and eager to deliver a powerful rebuke to President Obama’s hard left lurch and the politics of hyper-partisanship practiced by Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid.
If Republicans stay on message, they will sweep the elections of November 2, reclaim the House for fiscally responsible policies and rebalance the Senate so more left-wing jam downs are foreclosed.
The “If” is a big one, but the message isn’t hard to remember. The mnemonic device is the phrase ODDS of 2 to 1.
“O” is for Obamare, the slowly spreading killer legislative virus that Democrats jammed down the throats of America in the face of overwhelming opposition. The massive losses anticipated by corporate America were just the first waves of the Obamacare tsunami to crash into the lives of Americans. As premiums rise and coverage declines in quality, especially for seniors, GOP candidates have to remind voters that everything that is happening was predicted, but President Obama’s disdain for voters led him to ignore the results in Massachusetts, Virginia and New Jersey. Republican candidates have to campaign not just against the terrible substance of Obamacare, but also the Chicago-style politics it represents.
“D” is for deficit –this year’s is going to come in at at least $1.4 trillion and could reach as high as $1.6 trillion, ten times the deficit of 2007, and powered not by a TARP or a “stimulus” plan but by give aways to all the favored constituencies of Congressional Democrats.
“D” is for debt, as in the exploding federal debt which is approaching $14 trillion and rising at a wild rate because of the president and the Congress.
The combination of the deficit and the debt put the United States at risk of a fiscal stroke that will make the crisis in Greece seem like child’s play.
“S” is for schools which are in many places failing and in others beset by massive cutbacks brought about because of high unemployment and a stagnant economy. The schools are burdened by the entrenched interests of the teachers’ unions which dictate much of the Democratic agenda on schools and which block the obvious reforms. GOP candidates need to read the two key books on education reform –Jay Mathews’ Work Hard. Be Nice and Doug Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion. Every Republican on the stump should be able to talk passionately and knowingly about what works and what doesn’t and why he or she will support movements like KIPP and teachers like Lemov while battling entrenched unions that are paralyzing crucially needed reforms that can rescue a generation of urban youth.
The “2” in ODDS of 2 to 1 are the two international crises that every candidate should be ready to call the president to account on.
First, President Obama must stop bullying and blaming Israel, our closest ally in the Middle East and a democracy beset by fascist enemies intent not on achieving peace with the Jewish State but with its destruction.
Second, the president must stop “reaching out” to Iran and its fanatical leaders. Enough of the initiatives and the New Year’s messages. Support the Democracy Movement and prepare to stand with the Free World to stop the Iranian government’s nuclear ambitions.
Finally, every Republican ought to have one response to the hundreds of questions that will come –especially from Democrats seeking to divide the opposition arrayed against them—on the topic of immigration. That one response is that nothing can be debated and no solutions advanced until and unless the border fence is completed. It was begun too late by President Bush and abandoned quickly by President Obama and his Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, but the fence is the obvious and urgently needed first step in protected the American people from the violence and chaos surging through Mexico. The Arizona law being debated this week underscores the massive failure of the Congressional Democrats to take border security seriously. Republican candidates need to be smart about the fence, its effectiveness, and how far it has to go to be finished and effective.
“ODDS of 2 to 1” is just a device to keep priorities in focus and campaigns on message. Everything else is a diversion, and the president and his colleagues on the Hill facing electoral doom will do whatever they can to change the subjects from those above. Only an ill-prepared nominee will allow them to do that.
Posted by Brett at 4:05 PM
Meddlers at the Gate
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
No. Legislators never would employ crude and simplistic sloganeering like those rowdy anti-gummint protesters.
Just ask Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who this week offered up this eloquent gem: "A party that stands with Wall Street is a party that stands against families and against fairness."
You know Wall Street; it lives to destabilize the family unit. Just scratch the surface and you'll find 8,500 companies trading on the New York Stock Exchange and another 3,200 companies listed on Nasdaq. Nearly 50 percent of households own some form of equities, and 21 million households own individual stocks outside any employer-sponsored plan.
All working together against kids and fairness.
Actually, what Reid's words reveal is an ideological disposition that is wholly unconcerned with creating a healthier Wall Street or a Wall Street scrubbed of crony capitalism and government-produced moral hazard.
Using stale populist rhetoric, Democrats dishonestly pit families against "banks" to generate enough support to pass a fiscal reform bill. But how many voters manipulated by the fear-mongering of Chris Dodd, Reid or Barack Obama fully understand reform? I sure don't. It's complex stuff, no doubt.
How many of us are aware that these derivatives that politicians rail against are financial tools that often allow people to hedge bets and take insurance on risk? As The New York Times recently reported, entities like Mars, the maker of M&M's, like to dip into the derivative market to insulate themselves from fluctuating prices of sugar and chocolate.
How many voters are aware that the pending Senate reform bill includes a payback to unions in the form of a "proxy access" that would allow labor to manipulate company boards? How many are aware that the bill may give the Treasury Department the right to seize private property and businesses without any significant judicial review?
How many Americans are aware that the reform bill might create a so-called "consumer protection board" that would slather another needless layer of federal red tape on a wide range of businesses -- businesses, incidentally, with far less culpability in creating the housing bubble than members of the Senate Banking Committee.
At the same time, the board also may ban private, voluntary arbitration agreements between consumers and financial firms. Why?
How many voters are aware that the Senate reform bill would clamp down on "angel investors" -- wealthy individuals who invest in startups with few regulatory guidelines. From Google to Facebook, it was angel investors who undertook the initial risk.
What is appropriate risk? Well, who else but politicians and bureaucrats, both genetically disposed to avoid risk, could be better judges? That is the kind of micromanaging Washington is proposing. Would it not make more sense for government to disentangle itself from the market (and the bailouts), enhance transparency and simply enforce the rules already in place?
Instead, Democrats have boiled down this intricate and wide-ranging legislation into a false choice that pits Wall Street against families. Our attention is to be diverted by a show trial of Goldman Sachs -- which, as far as I can tell, is accused of betting against the housing market just as Fannie and Freddie were incentivizing failure -- to gin up anger.
No crisis ever is wasted. And for those reflexively averse to risk, profit and markets, this is an opportunity like no other.
We need financial reform. What we're being offered, it seems, is another piece of command-and-control legislation fast-tracked to avoid the midterm elections -- and honest discussion.
Everyone Prospers With Free Trade
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Trade is win-win. Two people trade only because each values what he gets more than what he gives up. That's why in a store both customer and clerk say, "Thank you."
At the international level, trade is also win-win because it allows countries to specialize in what they do well and trade the extra for things they don't make as well. When free trade is unmolested, the world is richer and has more choices.
But I keep hearing about unfair trade. I'm told that trade allows American companies to exploit people in poor countries and makes Americans jobless.
Tom Palmer of the Atlas Economic Research Institute, one of my guests on my Fox Business News show tomorrow night, says those are myths.
Do we exploit people in Third World countries?
"The evidence does not show that," Palmer said. "Multinational companies pay a wage premium. They pay more than local companies pay ... because they want to attract good workers. Look at the Shanghai factory of General Motors. They pay three times what Chinese-owned factories (pay)."
Yet House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says that liberalizing trade with Central America would exploit workers.
"People want to work at those factories. They line up. They compete. Are they competing to get exploited? They're competing for higher-wage jobs. I think that those people know their interests better than Nancy Pelosi does."
Sen. Byron Dorgan called free trade "a race to the bottom. This says to American workers if you can't compete against 30-cents-an-hour labor in some other country, you lose your job."
"Again, evidence doesn't support that," said Palmer. "Look at the iPod. It says, 'Manufactured in China.' But if you look in the back, it says, 'Designed in California.' Most of the value is added by American workers." My colleague at Fox, former Gov. Mike Huckabee, said, "In a country we can only be free if we can feed ourselves, fuel ourselves and fight for ourselves. When we start outsourcing everything, that's a road to being enslaved."
"I hope that Gov. Huckabee thought about that when he was governor of Arkansas, and made sure there was no jobs outsourced to Virginia or Texas," Palmer replied. "He should have protected the people of Arkansas, right?"
But that's different. We can count on Pennsylvania in a time of war. I don't know that I can count on China.
"If you're trading with them, it makes war much less likely," Palmer said. "We're not going to go to war with Canada. It's our biggest trading partner -- $600 billion a year going across the U.S.-Canada border in trade along the longest non-militarized border in the world. Five thousand miles, counting Alaska. That is trade creating peace."
As the French economist Frederic Bastiat put it, "When goods don't cross borders, soldiers will."
Palmer offered another way to think about trade: as a machine -- "a machine that allows Florida farmers to turn oranges into (phones). They can't grow cell phones on their trees in Florida. They grow oranges really well. What they can do is take those oranges and trade them for cell phones."
And when people do this worldwide, they get richer. "Just like the case of you buying some coffee at the Starbucks. You could have made your own coffee. But your time might have been better spent doing something else. So you outsourced your coffee production. You made yourself better off. And that young lady who sold you the coffee made herself better off."
Palmer points out that China was once the most advanced society in the world. It had developed the clock, printing, the compass and more. Not coincidentally, while it was advancing technology and science, it was a major world trader.
"And it crumbled because they destroyed their trade. They made it illegal to trade with foreigners. And they turned inward. That set in process a stagnation that only now is being undone. We shouldn't do that to our country."
We're different, aren't we? We know how to make everything we need. "There's always opportunities for new progress. ... Remember watching 'Star Trek' as a kid and they had that weird communicator? Everybody has one now. ... (T)rade made that possible."
Posted by Brett at 4:03 PM
Should Government Guarantee Our Right to Cars?
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
In the midst of the recent health care debates, opinion polls showed surprisingly strong majorities of Americans who agreed with the proposition that health care amounted to a basic human right.
But all those who affirm this entitlement—and, by implication, support the government’s role in protecting it — face an uncomfortable but inevitable challenge to their position: if citizens possess a fundamental right to health insurance, why should society stop there?
What about other basic needs that constitute pre-requisites for human dignity – like the right to food, shelter, education, jobs… and even cars? If the uninsured need and deserve medical protection, then surely the hungry should receive nourishment, the homeless ought to get housing, the unemployed require jobs and, ultimately, a compassionate nation must provide automotive transport for all who might otherwise feel trapped, immobile, hopeless and helpless with no access to the transportation they need to better their circumstances.
I raised the question of a sacred right to cars with an especially engaged and receptive audience when I delivered one of the keynote speeches last week at the annual convention of the Washington State Auto Dealers Association. These professionals understand the importance of automobiles in sustaining our national ideals of freedom and autonomy: behind the wheel of a working vehicle, with a full tank of gas to drive your dreams, you can go wherever you want whenever you choose to make the journey. Even among the 37 million Americans who officially live below the poverty line, 74% of households in this country own their own cars and an amazing 31% own two cars or more. Among the destitute, in other words, automobiles count as more common – and more necessary – than health insurance. The homeless population in every major city includes a sizable proportion that actually lives in their vehicles, often driving from place to place in hopes of changing their luck.
If government plays an ever-increasing role in guaranteeing health insurance and providing food (with university students and the homeless comprising new target groups for aggressive recruitment efforts by the SNAP/Food Stamps program), why not similar efforts to provide each individual with a car of his very own?
Of course, the notion of an expansive automotive entitlement goes against the current mania to conserve energy and avoid climate change by reducing, rather than increasing, the number of cars on the road. The trendy and prodigiously wasteful efforts to build high tech rail systems amount to command-and-control efforts to force people out of their beloved jalopies and into the shiny new mass transit boondoggles that currently operate in splendid emptiness and isolation. A recent incident in Portland, Oregon, highlighted the admirable effectiveness of this strategy: a coyote found his way into one of the fashionable new cars of the city’s light rail system and rode for much of the day without paying the proper fare. When animal control officers finally managed to coax the critter out of his comfortable seat they offered a sage psychological explanation for his extended ride: coyotes are by nature shy and skittish beasts, and will instinctively establish themselves in environments where no human beings can be found.
But even if enlightened opinion today prefers the idea of a generalized “right to transportation” to any outmoded notion of a “right to a car,” there’s still a big question about the appropriate role of car dealers. The need for mobility is surely too deep-seated and profound to tolerate the frivolous, exploitative interference of slick-talking salesmen, seductive advertisers, competing and often duplicative brands and greedy, unscrupulous dealers who care more about making a buck than satisfying the public’s crying need for transportation. Those who believe in command-and-control, centrally planned economies could easily dispense with all the gauche auto-dealers and their misleading sales and flashy marketing gimmicks and gas-wasting test drives. Wouldn’t an advanced society committed to social justice concentrate on giving the public the sturdy, sensible cars they needed rather than stimulating their animal appetites with the sleek, expensive, glitzy and ultimately impractical cars they wanted?
Actually, fifty years of melancholy Soviet-bloc history demonstrated the devastating impact of this utilitarian no-frills approach: the Russians managed to build snazzy Sputniks and formidable MIG fighter jets and highly advanced ballistic missiles but they never managed to assemble a decent car. The ubiquitous Soviet car – the clunky, noisy, gas-guzzling and notoriously unreliable Lada – became a wry national joke for its shamelessly shoddy workmanship. At least the owners who managed to secure this coveted contraption needn’t worry that their Lada would ever go out of style since the line seldom changed and never improved.
Next door to the USSR, the East Germans offered their own idea of automotive excellence. Just a short distance away from where their West German cousins churned out Porsches and Mercedes and Audis and BMW’s, the Communist East Germans crafted the Trabant: a boxy, trashy little number that, at the end of its production run in 1989 (the year the Berlin Wall fell) boasted a mighty 26 horse power, but no better mileage than comparably sized (and vastly more potent) western models. The most advanced Trabant could theoretically accelerate from 0 to 60 in a soul-stirring 21 seconds—making it less than half as frisky as even low-end economy cars in today’s automotive market. Best of all, the average waiting time for delivery of a Trabi (after a family signed up to receive it) was a mere 15 years – by which time any instinct for lead-footed hot-rodding would have been well extinguished.
The appalling record of Iron Curtain automotive experimentation stands as a stark reminder of what happens in an economy built on social entitlement rather than individual options, on need rather than want. Car dealers may have achieved a predatory reputation with their ruthless pursuit of sales, but I imagine that most Americans (at least among the male half of the population) enjoy the process of auto-shopping as much as I do. It’s fun and exciting and energizing to visit dealers and inspect the high-polish of the glistening new vehicles, to savor that inimitable aroma of carefully crafted new cars, to listen for the satisfying thunk of a solid door slamming perfectly in place, to concentrate all senses on the feel and the motor noise and whizzing scenery of an exhilarating test drive. Even the cheapest vehicles on sale in the United States today constitute miracles of technology, with safety features and amenities all-but-unimaginable to prior generations.
The point is that the quality of the vehicles connects directly to the quality and intensity of the marketing, of the advertising, of the salesmanship and the seduction. Even with Barack Obama’s takeover of GM and Chrysler (on a temporary basis, one can only hope) the competition among carmakers remains surprisingly ferocious and drives the production of ever-better vehicles at ever-lower relative cost. The market system also gives the consumer a dazzling array of options and models and equipment even once you’ve decided on the line of autos you prefer; the industry has come a long way from the days when Henry Ford used to boast that you could get the Tin Lizzie in any color you wanted, so long as it was black.
The car dealers who have survived some rocky times in an often troubled industry generally manage to sustain themselves because they provide good products and a (relatively) pleasant purchasing experience. They don’t serve the public out of a sense of idealism or through high-flown humanitarian impulses, but because they want you to come back for your next vehicle and to recommend them to your friends. This is the golden rule of the free market system --- do unto others as you would have them do unto you if they wanted more of your business.
The vast superiority of the West’s auto industries to the car production in the sad, shabby old Eastern bloc had nothing to do with better natural resources (plenty of oil in Russia, after all) or superior ethnic endowment: there’s never been any evidence that the famous German facility for precision engineering somehow expired among Teutonic populations east of the Oder River. The collectivist system failed (and will always fail) because it was based on rights rather than choice, the determination of some bureaucrat as to who deserves a car (sooner than the fifteen year waiting period), rather than the decision of each individual to make (or not to make) the necessary sacrifices to pursue his preferences.
When the government generously establishes new guarantees for its citizens (for health care, housing, food, jobs or cars) it enlarges its own power and shrinks the options for the individual; when the state provides your needs then it makes the ultimate determination of what you get. Central planners may consider it more virtuous to fulfill practical needs than to allow occasionally irrational private parties to pursue their desires, but regarding their cars and all other essentials most Americans will prefer to keep themselves, and not some bureaucrat, in the driver’s seat.
Posted by Brett at 4:00 PM
An Open Letter to American Jews
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Dear American Jews,
I write to you as a charter member of the tribe. I'm not only Jewish, I'm religious. I'm married to an Israeli girl (she'll receive her citizenship next year and she is a proud soon-to-be American). I go to synagogue regularly, keep kosher, keep the Sabbath.
American Jews, I have one request of you: please pull your heads out of your posteriors.
I mean that in all sincerity. Your continued support for Democrats and an administration that is openly anti-Semitic is a disgrace. Your embrace of a party that seeks to hamstring Israel in the name of a wholly fictitious Middle East peace process is contemptible. Your loyalty to a president who consistently sides with Palestinian and Iranian mass murder-supporters is disgusting.
Your backing of a man who has spent his life surrounding himself with the worst anti-Semites America has to offer -- Jeremiah Wright, Rashid Khalidi (former Palestinian terrorist spokesman), Louis Farrakhan ("I don't like the way [Jews] leech on us"), Samantha Power, Robert Malley, to name a few -- is nothing short of reprehensible. Rahm Emanuel's presence in the Obama cabinet doesn't ameliorate Obama's anti-Semitism -- it just provides it convenient cover. Al Sharpton wrongly called Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell "house negroes"; Emanuel is a kapo.
Even as you continue to buttress a president who seeks the destruction of your co-religionists, you demonstrate your myopia by rejecting the tea party movement and evangelical Christian Israel-supporters.
The tea party movement is your ally for three important reasons. First, it supports capitalism against the forces of socialism -- and capitalism keeps America strong enough to provide Israel with a hand against its evil adversaries. Second, American Jews are, by far, the highest-earning religious group in the United States -- the tea party fights for your right to keep your money. Third, the tea party stands against government overreach -- and in an era when government overreach promotes anti-religious secularism, Jews must stand with the tea party.
Your rejection of evangelical Christians is even more idiotic. Evangelical Christians are the only major voting bloc preventing President Obama from breaking ties with Israel. When Janet Porter, an evangelical Florida talk show host, heard about Obama's anti-Israel tyranny, she responded by asking her listeners to buy dozens of yellow roses to send to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office as a show of support. The price per dozen: $19.48, in honor of the year of Israel's founding (1948). Over 14,000 flowers were delivered. Meanwhile, Adm. James Jones, Obama's national security adviser and the man who brought Jew-hater Zbigniew Brzezinski into Obama's inner circle, was busy telling anti-Semitic jokes before the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
"But they want to convert us!" many American Jews shout. Not all Christians do. But for the rest -- so what? Would you sacrifice the support of millions of good-hearted Christians because they want to discuss Jesus with you? If your own belief system is so fragile, the weakness is yours, not theirs. While you expend energy whining about Jehovah's Witnesses who show up at your door with a Bible, Obama supports radical Muslims who would show up at your door with a gun -- or, as in the case of Daniel Pearl, a butcher's knife.
Now, I understand, American Jews, that most of you don't care about Israel.
I understand that you're more concerned about a woman's unconditional right to abort her unborn child (which Judaism rejects) than you are about Israel. Fine. Understand that you have removed yourself from the vast river of Jewish history in favor of a chimerical morality that values libertinism over liberty.
I understand that many of you -- all of you above age 70 -- still think FDR is alive. He isn't, but Jimmy Carter is.
I understand that some of you still think that conservatives and Republicans are the same folks they were during the 1950s, when they banned you from country clubs. They aren't.
The simple fact is this: There is only one mainstream political ideology in this country that asks you to check your principles and cultural history at the door in the name of the greater good -- leftism, the same ideology that virtually exterminated Judaism in Russia and Europe. While the left exploits your adherence to bagel-and-lox Judaism by appealing to your watered-down and perverted "tikkun olam" sensibilities, you are enabling your own destruction. The same people who urge you to reach out to terrorists will be the first to sacrifice you to those terrorists' tender mercies. The same people who urge you to worry about same-sex marriage rather than religious freedom will be the first to take your religious freedoms away.
I love you, my brothers and sisters. That's why I'm writing to you. Time is running out; the clock is winding down. Pick a side.
Posted by Brett at 3:59 PM
How Mexico Treats Illegal Aliens
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Mexican President Felipe Calderon has accused Arizona of opening the door "to intolerance, hate, discrimination and abuse in law enforcement." But Arizona has nothing on Mexico when it comes to cracking down on illegal aliens. While open-borders activists decry new enforcement measures signed into law in "Nazi-zona" last week, they remain deaf, dumb or willfully blind to the unapologetically restrictionist policies of our neighbors to the south.
The Arizona law bans sanctuary cities that refuse to enforce immigration laws, stiffens penalties against illegal alien day laborers and their employers, makes it a misdemeanor for immigrants to fail to complete and carry an alien registration document, and allows the police to arrest immigrants unable to show documents proving they are in the U.S. legally. If those rules constitute the racist, fascist, xenophobic, inhumane regime that the National Council of La Raza, Al Sharpton, Catholic bishops and their grievance-mongering followers claim, then what about these regulations and restrictions imposed on foreigners?
-- The Mexican government will bar foreigners if they upset "the equilibrium of the national demographics." How's that for racial and ethnic profiling?
-- If outsiders do not enhance the country's "economic or national interests" or are "not found to be physically or mentally healthy," they are not welcome. Neither are those who show "contempt against national sovereignty or security." They must not be economic burdens on society and must have clean criminal histories. Those seeking to obtain Mexican citizenship must show a birth certificate, provide a bank statement proving economic independence, pass an exam and prove they can provide their own health care.
-- Illegal entry into the country is equivalent to a felony punishable by two years' imprisonment. Document fraud is subject to fine and imprisonment; so is alien marriage fraud. Evading deportation is a serious crime; illegal re-entry after deportation is punishable by ten years' imprisonment. Foreigners may be kicked out of the country without due process and the endless bites at the litigation apple that illegal aliens are afforded in our country (see, for example, President Obama's illegal alien aunt -- a fugitive from deportation for eight years who is awaiting a second decision on her previously rejected asylum claim).
-- Law enforcement officials at all levels -- by national mandate -- must cooperate to enforce immigration laws, including illegal alien arrests and deportations. The Mexican military is also required to assist in immigration enforcement operations. Native-born Mexicans are empowered to make citizens' arrests of illegal aliens and turn them in to authorities.
-- Ready to show your papers? Mexico's National Catalog of Foreigners tracks all outside tourists and foreign nationals. A National Population Registry tracks and verifies the identity of every member of the population, who must carry a citizens' identity card. Visitors who do not possess proper documents and identification are subject to arrest as illegal aliens.
All of these provisions are enshrined in Mexico's Ley General de Población (General Law of the Population) and were spotlighted in a 2006 research paper published by the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Security Policy. There's been no public clamor for "comprehensive immigration reform" in Mexico, however, because pro-illegal alien speech by outsiders is prohibited.
Consider: Open-borders protesters marched freely at the Capitol building in Arizona, comparing GOP Gov. Jan Brewer to Hitler, waving Mexican flags, advocating that demonstrators "Smash the State," and holding signs that proclaimed "No human is illegal" and "We have rights."
But under the Mexican constitution, such political speech by foreigners is banned. Noncitizens cannot "in any way participate in the political affairs of the country." In fact, a plethora of Mexican statutes enacted by its congress limit the participation of foreign nationals and companies in everything from investment, education, mining and civil aviation to electric energy and firearms. Foreigners have severely limited private property and employment rights (if any).
As for abuse, the Mexican government is notorious for its abuse of Central American illegal aliens who attempt to violate Mexico's southern border. The Red Cross has protested rampant Mexican police corruption, intimidation and bribery schemes targeting illegal aliens there for years. Mexico didn't respond by granting mass amnesty to illegal aliens, as it is demanding that we do. It clamped down on its borders even further. In late 2008, the Mexican government launched an aggressive deportation plan to curtain illegal Cuban immigration and human trafficking through Cancun.
Meanwhile, Mexican consular offices in the United States have coordinated with left-wing social justice groups and the Catholic Church leadership to demand a moratorium on all deportations and a freeze on all employment raids across America.
Mexico is doing the job Arizona is now doing -- a job the U.S. government has failed miserably to do: putting its people first. Here's the proper rejoinder to all the hysterical demagogues in Mexico (and their sympathizers here on American soil) now calling for boycotts and invoking Jim Crow laws, apartheid and the Holocaust because Arizona has taken its sovereignty into its own hands:
To read another article by Michelle Malkin, click here.
Let's Make a Deal, Sr. Presidente Calderon
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
As regular readers know, because I have the attention span of the average 5-year-old, I rarely write on the same topic twice unless, because I have the memory of a 63-year-old, I forgot that I'd written about it.
Today will be a departure because of the response of Mexican President Felipe Calderón to the new immigration law in Arizona.
According to the CIA World Factbook, Mexico has a population of about 111 million people with a net migration of "-3.61 migrant(s)/1,000 population." I may be wrong about this but that means every year about 400,000 people leave Mexico.
I'm guessing that some of those migrants end up in the United States of America.
According to the U.K. Guardian, El Presidente is muy agravado over this new law and "promised to raise it with President Barack Obama during a visit to Washington next week."
This would be really funny: How about if Maryland State Troopers were to stop Calderón's motorcade on its way in to the District of Columbia from Andrews Air Force Base and made everyone show their passports?
Ok, that's not funny. But this is.
According to reporter Ewen MacAskill:
The Mexican foreign ministry, long used to warnings from the US state department about the risks of travelling to Mexico because of drug wars, retaliated by issuing an alert to Mexicans and migrant communities because of the "adverse political atmosphere" in Arizona.
UPI wrote that the warning "advised Mexican nationals to use 'extreme caution' traveling to Arizona -- even before the law takes effect -- and listed consulates where people can get help."
It added, "As long no clear criteria are defined for when, where and who the authorities will inspect, it must be assumed that every Mexican citizen may be harassed and questioned without further cause at any time."
Calderón told a group of migrants in Mexico City Monday that
"Criminalizing immigration, which is a social and economic phenomenon, this way opens the door to intolerance, hate, discrimination and abuse in law enforcement."
Sneaking into the United States has long been criminalized. This law applies to people who are illegal aliens who, because the word "illegal" is involved, would appear to have been involved in criminal activity in the first place.
More importantly, it seems that migrants in the U.S. are much safer than migrants in … Mexico as this lead paragraph from another U.K. Guardian article shows:
Stalked by kidnappers, murders, rapists and corrupt officials, the journey Central Americans make through Mexico on their way to the United States is one of the most perilous migration routes in the world.
The report on which that article was based, states:
"Migrants in Mexico are facing a major human rights crisis leaving them with virtually no access to justice, fearing reprisals and deportation if they complain of abuses."
And, before you roll your eyes thinking this was the work of some anti-Mexican hack with an ax to grind, the report was produced and released by Amnesty International - not exactly an organization known for embracing conservative causes.
Whoa! ¡nos trae la cuenta por favor! (Which either means, "check, please!" or "Is this the right road to Tumazunchale?")
Felipe Calderón is whining about the way we are treating immigrants in the U.S. because they may be asked to produce documents proving they are here legally, while immigrants in his very own country are being kidnapped, robbed, raped, and murdered by the tens of thousands, according to the report.
So, Sr. Presidente, why don't you deal with the social and economic phenomenon of immigration in Mexico and let us deal with the s & e p of immigration in the United States?
Until that, let's have an informal agreement: No American citizens will come to Mexico, and no Mexican citizens will come to the U.S.
¿tenemos un reparto?
Posted by Brett at 3:54 PM
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Arsenal of Roguery
Monday, April 26, 2010
Sixty years ago, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt announced to the nation in one of his famous "fireside chats" that America must be "the great arsenal of democracy." It was a visionary and, at the time, controversial declaration that a nation dead-set against becoming entangled in the war then-consuming Europe must nonetheless help arm democratic nations fighting for their survival. This initiative proved critical to Britain's defense in the run-up to Pearl Harbor, at which point the United States became decisively not just the Free World's armory, but its savior.
Today, we find another country putting its formidable military-industrial complex in the service of others around the globe. The arsenal is Russia's, the recipients are virtually without exception the world's most dangerous enemies of freedom. This practice is making a mockery of President Obama's much-touted "reset" of relations with the Kremlin - including, notably, the new, bilateral START Treaty. It also increases exponentially the dangers associated with his policy of "engaging" rogue states, a practice that is simply affording them time to buy ever-more-advanced and -deadly weapons from Moscow.
Consider just a few examples of the Arsenal for Roguery at work, and its implications for our security, and that of what's left of the Free World:
* Even as the President continues to claim that the Russians are willing to be more helpful in getting tougher UN sanctions on Iran, the Kremlin is allowing the nuclear reactor it previously sold Tehran to be brought on line. It is pledging to complete the transfer of advanced S-300 air defense systems, which will greatly complicate - if not effectively preclude -- aerial attacks by the Israelis or U.S. forces aimed at destroying that facility and others associated with the Iranian nuclear weapons program.
* Russia is also selling the S-300 to Syria. This is important because the Syrians have justly been put on notice by Israel that they would be subjected to retaliatory strikes in the event Russian-designed (and perhaps -supplied?) Scud missiles transferred recently by Damascus to Hezbollah in Lebanon are used against the Jewish state. Such Russian protection may embolden Syria to believe that it can unleash with impunity death and destruction on Israel (perhaps by using Scud-delivered biological or chemical weapons) via its terrorist proxies - and Iran's.
* The Russians have also been marketing to international customers a family of deadly sea-skimming anti-ship cruise missiles with air-, surface- and submarine-launched variants. These Brahmos rocket/ramjet missiles were jointly developed with the Indians and can fly at up to 2.5 times the speed of sound. The proliferation of such missiles constitutes a serious threat to American naval and other vessels given the difficulties of defending against a weapon with these flight characteristics.
* Then, there is the up-to-$5 billion in arms sales that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin claims to have concluded with our hemisphere's most dangerous dictator, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. What exactly is on offer is unclear. But the purchase reportedly includes T-72 tanks and S-300 missiles. This comes on top of Chavez's earlier acquisitions of 100,000 Kalashnikov automatic rifles, helicopters, fighter jets and submarines. Evidently, a Russian nuclear reactor is also being promised.
But, not to worry. According to the Associated Press, Putin declared during his most recent sales visit to Caracas earlier this month: "Our objective is to make the world more democratic, make it balanced and multi-polar. The cooperation between Russia and Venezuela in this context has special importance." Feel better?
If any further evidence were needed that the Russians are enabling through their arms sales a grave new threat to American interests and those of other freedom-loving peoples, there's this: The London Sunday Telegraph reported on the April 25th that Moscow was marketing a new "Club-K container missile system." For just $10 million, one can acquire a launcher and four sea- or land-attack cruise missiles concealed in what otherwise appears to be a standard shipping container.
The newspaper reports that "Iran and Venezuela have already shown an interest in the Club-K...which could allow them to carry out pre-emptive strikes from behind an enemy's missile defenses."
As President Obama is fond of saying, let me be clear: Vladimir Putin's Russia - yes, he still runs the place - is cynically exploiting the U.S. administration's fecklessness in blindly pursuing improved relations. So far, this has gotten Moscow, among other things: the cancelation of a near-term deployment of U.S. missile defenses in Europe; American acquiescence to increasing Russian aggressiveness in reestablishing a sphere of influence in the "near-abroad"; and no objection to the Kremlin's acquisition of a French amphibious assault ship well-suited for that purpose.
Worse yet, Russia has pledged it will abrogate the START accord should the United States improve "qualitatively or quantitatively" the sorts of missile defenses Moscow's arms sales to rogue states (and perhaps others) are making ever-more-necessary.
History will show that the metastasizing danger of the Russian arsenal for roguery's world-wide operations has been greatly compounded - if not fundamentally enabled - by the assiduous application of the Obama Doctrine: "Embolden our enemies. Undermine our allies. Diminish our country." If the latter doctrine is not swiftly corrected, and the former not effectively thwarted, America and the rest of the Free World may soon find themselves confronting threats even greater than those at large when first we rose to the challenge of being the indispensable arsenal for democracy.
Posted by Brett at 10:16 PM
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Many years ago, I was surprised to receive a letter from an old friend, saying that she had been told that I refused to see campus visitors from Africa.
At the time, I was so bogged down with work that I had agreed to see only one visitor to the Stanford campus-- and it so happens that he was from Africa. He just happened to come along when I had a little breathing room from the work I was doing in my office.
I pointed out to my friend that whoever said what she heard might just as well have said that I refused to go sky-diving with blacks-- which was true, because I refused to go sky-diving with anybody, whether black, white, Asian or whatever.
The kind of thinking that produced a passing misconception about me has, unfortunately, produced much bigger, much longer lasting, much more systematic and more poisonous distortions about the United States of America.
Slavery is a classic example. The history of slavery across the centuries and in many countries around the world is a painful history to read-- not only in terms of how slaves have been treated, but because of what that says about the whole human species-- because slaves and enslavers alike have been of every race, religion and nationality.
If the history of slavery ought to teach us anything, it is that human beings cannot be trusted with unbridled power over other human beings-- no matter what color or creed any of them are. The history of ancient despotism and modern totalitarianism practically shouts that same message from the blood-stained pages of history.
But that is not the message that is being taught in our schools and colleges, or dramatized on television and in the movies. The message that is pounded home again and again is that white people enslaved black people.
It is true, just as it is true that I don't go sky-diving with blacks. But it is also false in its implications for the same reason. Just as Europeans enslaved Africans, North Africans enslaved Europeans-- more Europeans than there were Africans enslaved in the United States and in the 13 colonies from which it was formed.
The treatment of white galley slaves was even worse than the treatment of black slaves picking cotton. But there are no movies or television dramas about it comparable to "Roots," and our schools and colleges don't pound it into the heads of students.
The inhumanity of human beings toward other human beings is not a new story, much less a local story. There is no need to hide it, because there are lessons we can learn from it. But there is also no need to distort it, so that sins of the whole human species around the world are presented as special defects of "our society" or the sins of a particular race.
If American society and Western civilization are different from other societies and civilization, it is that they eventually turned against slavery, and stamped it out, at a time when non-Western societies around the world were still maintaining slavery and resisting Western pressures to end slavery, including in some cases armed resistance.
Only the fact that the West had more firepower than others put an end to slavery in many non-Western societies during the age of Western imperialism. Yet today there are Americans who have gone to Africa to apologize for slavery-- on a continent where slavery has still not been completely ended, to this very moment.
It is not just the history of slavery that gets distorted beyond recognition by the selective filtering of facts. Those who go back to mine history, in order to find everything they can to undermine American society or Western civilization, have very little interest in the Bataan death march, the atrocities of the Ottoman Empire or similar atrocities in other times and places.
Those who mine history for sins are not searching for truth but for opportunities to denigrate their own society, or for grievances that can be cashed in today, at the expense of people who were not even born when the sins of the past were committed.
An ancient adage says: "Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof." But apparently that is not sufficient for many among our educators, the intelligentsia or the media. They are busy poisoning the present by the way they present the past.
To read another article by Thomas Sowell, click here.
To read another article on the history thread, click here.
Posted by Brett at 6:52 PM