Sunday, January 31, 2010

Dumbest Comment By a Progressive Ever?

Responding to a recent poll taken by the Las Vegas Review Journal, an LVJR reader commented:
You consevatives [sic] support 'smaller' govt because you want to be dictated to by the corporate aristocracy, the majority of us reject this idea. Corporations do not create jobs, governments do by regulating markets, creating a stable currancy [sic], and enforcing trade regulations. Free trade isn't free and your polls are misleading.
It's not worth the time just now to argue against this patently absurd view. And, since this is just one Progressive idiot out of millions, and an illiterate one to boot, it wouldn't normally be worth the effort to respond. But, unfortunately, this view is also close to that of Cass Sunstein, Professor of Law at Harvard University and Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. (Also, at the University of Chicago Law School for 27 years.)

According to one source, he is also "[t]he preeminent legal scholar of our time - the most wide-ranging, the most prolific, the most cited, and the most influential," says Harvard Law School Dean Elena Kagan, and "the most-cited law professor on any faculty in the United States."

The view was expressed, among other places, in a Chicago Tribune op-ed: "Without taxes there would be no property. ... No right can be exercised independently, for every rights-holder has a claim on public resources--on money that has been extracted from citizens at large."

Among other gems of thought, according to Wikipedia (which in this case looks accurate),
Sunstein (along with his coauthor Richard Thaler) has elaborated the theory of libertarian paternalism. In arguing for this theory, he counsels thinkers/academics/politicians to embrace the findings of behavioral economics as applied to law, maintaining freedom of choice while also steering people's decisions in directions that will make their lives go better. With Thaler, he coined the term "choice architect."
Now, there is the perfect prototype of the Progressive trying to have it both ways, and indifferent to the blatant contradiction of advocating a 'libertarianism' in which the government 'guides' your choices.

Lest you think this is a mere academic exercise, Sunstein also argues:
There is no reason to believe that in the face of statutory ambiguity, the meaning of federal law should be settled by the inclinations and predispositions of federal judges. The
outcome should instead depend on the commitments and beliefs of the President and those who operate under him. [From the Yale Law Journal, 9/25/2006.]
So much for the separation of powers.

It's a pity that Glenn Beck hasn't yet done a show that would drive this thug out of his position.

Thomas Mitchell Explains the Constitution

Thomas Mitchell, editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, gives a straightforward, simple, and historically and philosophically accurate explanation of the U.S. Constitution.

He writes, for example,
One persistent online commenter insisted recently, "Since you brought the issue up, again, Mr. Mitchell, please point out to me language in the Constitution that permits a corporation to petition the government for redress. And since there is no such language, how can such a right be claimed by corporations?"

The Constitution does not permit. It does not dispense rights. It grants limited powers to the various branches of government and then provides checks and balances. Such as Article 1, Section 8: "The Congress shall have power to ..."

The Bill of Rights does not grant rights, either. Those 10 amendments limit the power of government to encroach on the rights presumed to belong to all of us.
Rights come from nature, not government.

Look at how the Bill of Rights is phrased. None says the state hereby grants these rights to its citizens. It should more properly have been called the Bill of Prohibitions.

"Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech ..." The freedom is presumed and Congress shall not interfere.
Bravo, sir.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Thankful for Small Favors

The Justice Department has caved and elected not to hold jihadist trials in New York City after all, citing security concerns. Where this leaves the effort to turn the war against the jihadists into a legal proceeding is unclear. Most likely, they'll just choose another, less politically sensitive location. But, at least it signals that the Federal ship can be deflected, at least temporarily, if the right amount and kind of pressure is brought to bear.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Budgetary Boondoggle Madness

The headline reads "Senate permits gov't to borrow an additional $1.9T."

That "T" stands for trillion. For once, a modern cliché has it right. Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is insane, by definition.

In this case, of course, the madness can't continue indefinitely. No one can predict exactly when the whole house of cards — to use another well-worn, but useful cliché — will come tumbling down. I predict within the next five years. Luckily, since I have a very bad track record of picking stocks, that time frame could be woefully far off the mark.

In any case, there's no escape from the laws of economics any more than there are those of physics. Sooner or later the Chinese will stop buying, either because they'll have to or they'll no longer believe the U.S. will (or will be able to) pay the interest. When that happens, it's game over. Unfortunately, we'll be the ones looking for a chair when the music stops and the only ones available will be electrified.

But, for a moment — as a useful exercise — let's take the perspective of the utilitarian collectivist and ask what we got (or could get) for that huge sum of money.

A trillion dollars is 1,000 billion. At a (rough) cost of $10 billion each, 'the U.S.' could build 100 new nuclear power plants. Is even a single one likely to start in the next five years? Doubtful.*

Is the banking system more stable than it was two years ago? Opinions are all over the place, but even at the height of the 'crisis' few worried about Wells Fargo, BB&T or any of a dozen other major banks going under. (Wells Fargo was actually in buying mode, scooping up failed WaMu from a Fed-backed BofA without a single week of disruption to WaMu's customer base.)

Is food cheaper? No, it's gone up by about 20%.

Are there a large number of individuals who have collectively received a trillion dollars of additional free medical care (above and beyond the norm)? Will they in the next year?

Are there a $1T worth of new or improved roads or bridges? Will there be five years from now, paid for by this (1 year's worth of) spending?

No. No to all of the above (and a thousand other examples one could, with sufficient patience, list off the top of the head). The Federal government, unsurprisingly, has not — will not because it can not — deliver any such benefits. It does, however, have the world's most well-oiled machine for pumping out excuses, which will prove as useful as ever once things don't work out as promised.

In the end, this will be simply another $1.9 trillion dollars poured down a rathole to benefit almost no one — except the politicians themselves and a few cronies, of course, who get
  1. an undeserved, and temporary salve to a guilty conscience by regarding themselves as 'benefactors of the downtrodden' (and even that based on an illusion),
  2. a slightly improved chance of re-election if, as is almost certain, some chunk of that money goes to pay off union leaders and other ACORN or OFA-like vote-arrangers, and
  3. to defer (for a time) some measure of the unpleasant consequences from bad policies of the past four decades.
When will the madness end? When the majority of American citizens put a stop to it. When will that be? Your guess is almost certainly better than mine.

*Update: Apparently, there is one.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The STFU Address

Last night, Barack Obama decided to skip the SOTU Address and give instead the STFU Address. He told the American people in essence to stfu, that everything he's been doing the past year is the right thing, and then some, and that anybody who disagrees is an obstructionist, opposed to what's best for Americans.

Ignoring polls, election results, a plethora of economic data, and even common sense, the Pretender-in-Chief unsurprisingly chose to double down on his drive to enslave America in Progressive chains. Rather than humbly admit that everything he's advocated and done the last year has had results the exact opposite of what any reasonable person could conclude was a success, he simply declared them so and that anyone who believes otherwise should... well, you know.

Harsh words, to be sure, but justified.

What more stfu statement could there be than his reaction to the Supreme Court decision affirming a First Amendment right for all Americans, including those who happen to run a business? Obama snidely slammed the court, lying about turning over 100 years of legal decisions, while all but Justice Alito sat unmoving. Hero-of-the-hour Alito chose to mouth the words "not true." Truer words were never not spoken.

But the centerpiece of Obama's delusion — or Big Lie, if you prefer — was yet to come in the form of his unqualified praise for the wholly destructive and laughably named Recovery Act.
Our most urgent task upon taking office was to shore up the same banks that helped cause this crisis. [Note the lack of reference to the role the Feds played.] It was not easy to do. And if there’s one thing that has unified Democrats and Republicans, it’s that we all hated the bank bailout. I hated it. You hated it. It was about as popular as a root canal.

But when I ran for President, I promised I wouldn’t just do what was popular – I would do what was necessary. And if we had allowed the meltdown of the financial system, unemployment might be double what it is today. More businesses would certainly have closed. More homes would have surely been lost.
An outrageous and, as he well knows, wholly unsupportable, not to say unverifiable, projection.

Later, he asserted: "Because of the steps we took, there are about two million Americans working right now who would otherwise be unemployed."

According to the CBO, "It is impossible to determine how many of the reported jobs would have existed in the absence of the stimulus package."

Far worse is this claim: "And we are on track to add another one and a half million jobs to this total by the end of the year."

Even if that absurd lie were true, why in hell is the Federal government even attempting to 'add' jobs? That's the business of business. The business of the government is to protect rights by following the Constitution. To believe otherwise is to adopt the fascist model of governance.

The balderdash continues:
So I supported the last administration’s efforts to create the financial rescue program. And when we took the program over, we made it more transparent and accountable. As a result, the markets are now stabilized, and we have recovered most of the money we spent on the banks.
More transparent? One news report after the next states no one knows know where the money went. Moreover, "as a result" implies cause and effect. The only effect of the so-called Stimulus bill has been to slow the recovery that would have occurred more rapidly in its absence. Unlike the claim about jobs that would have been lost, that assertion can actually be verified by looking at the history of recessions from the past 150 years. Finally, anybody who believes markets have been stable the past year simply hasn't been watching or simply attaches no meaning to words.

As usual, Obama — like any Progressive — tries to have it both ways. He acknowledges,
Now, the true engine of job creation in this country will always be America’s businesses. But government can create the conditions necessary for businesses to expand and hire more workers.
True, so far as it goes. What he doesn't acknowledge is that his huge and unprecedented deficit spending, nationalizing of auto companies, creation of market uncertainty by continual demonizing of "fat cats," attempt to fascize the health insurance sector, and dozens more anti-business policy decisions — not least the Recovery Act itself — are the very opposite of those conditions.

All the conditions that would actually help — lowering spending, lowering taxes, removing regulations, closing off the fiat money creation spigot, and in general reducing the reach and strength of Federal tentacles — are actions Obama would never even consider.

Then comes the payoff, literally. To address the "anger and frustration" of the American people, he proposes to use $30 billion in repaid TARP money to fund community bank loans for small businesses. He does actually make a sensible suggestion:
While we’re at it, let’s also eliminate all capital gains taxes on small business investment; and provide a tax incentive for all businesses, large and small, to invest in new plants and equipment.
However, it's a transparent sop and will never make it through Congress this year, but at least he's been forced into a corner where he has to say it.

Still, once again we have to ask, why is the Federal government once again using tax policy for social engineering (this time in economic form)? As judges on TV are wont to say, "Asked and answered. Move on."

So, let's move on. He goes on to suggest a number of very reasonable sounding proposals, such as building many new nuclear power plants or providing a $10,000 tax credit for four years of college. But they all suffer from the same basic perspective: that the Federal government is and should be the driver, manager, and controller of what will or won't be pursued. That fascist vision is at the core of everything that is wrong with the government today.

Of course, that attitude isn't exclusive to or new with Obama or the current Congress. It's been going on for 100 years, with increasing fervor the past 40. He is simply the most consistent and committed in that respect. So, with that in mind, I suggest to Barack Obama that he and his Congressional cronies be the ones to stfu and let Americans get on with their lives unfettered by his 'help'.

Update: CATO, with more patience than I possess, fact checks a few more of the Pretender-In-Chief's claims. [Via Not PC.]

Update II: I don't know who writes Sarah Palin's material - it might be her, but it doesn't sound like her when she speaks. But whoever gets the credit, her Facebook post is superb from beginning to end.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Statist Of The Union Address

Barack Obama will be delivering his first official State of the Union address soon. (He's already delivered two unofficial ones this year.)

I don't know what's in it. Probably Obama doesn't either since it hasn't scrolled across the teleprompter yet. But I can make some good guesses about the type of delusion-inspired froth he'll pour on the American public, at least the fifty or sixty thousand masochists who will bother to watch.

Here's a thumbnail sketch with my guesses:
"First, a shout out to my buddies in the Indian Tribes, CAIR, and the Earth Firsters. Now on to business, if you'll pardon the term.
  1. Auto Companies — GM and Chrysler nationalized to aid Unions. Two out of three ain't bad. Be patient, Andy. Good things come to he who waits... with a tire iron in the shadows.

  2. Financial services — TARPed but not yet fully smothered. A work in progress, progressing well. Thanks for getting the ball rolling George, but we really couldn't have done it without Alan and Ben. Big Hat tip to Woodrow Wilson for creating the Federal Reserve, another to FDR (and a little one to Nixon) for eliminating the gold standard.

  3. Health insurance — on the cusp of being all sewed up. (Never mind about that pesky election in Massachusetts. A minor setback.) A good, solid B+, Harry and Nancy.

  4. Dominance of the media and demonization of critics — another solid, B+ effort, except no single body can really take credit here (not even me, for once). This has been in the works for over 50 years. Thanks everybody anyway, starting with Edward R. Murrow and moving on right (forgive the term) through to Katie, Krugman, and the rest of the crew. I mean, gosh, we've even got David Frum carrying water for us.

    Yes, there is that pesky talk radio and a few websites on the Internet that make a lot of noise. But we'll take care of them in a few years. In the meantime, they're having about as much actual effect on events as a whore begging her pimp to take a smaller cut and beat her only every other day.

    And, anyway, when it comes right down to it, all but a handful across the spectrum are largely clueless. Many know how to complain, alright, but have no idea how to change anything. They'll never figure it out so long as they think the problem is excess spending or too many elitists running the show. Be of good cheer, my friends.

  5. Still on the agenda: Hobbling [Jeez, guys, can't you proofread the teleprompter material a little better...] Greening energy production. We'll get there, too, crew. In the short term, we just have to maintain the statist [Oops... there you go again...] status quo.

    In the long term, by removing the last vestiges of objectivity and independent thinking from public education, we'll ensure a permanent class of lumpenproletarians unable to challenge anything on this front. (Don't worry overmuch about those Climategate emails, or a few IPCC slip-ups. There are bound to be a few small setbacks along the way.)

    Sure, both these issues have been simmering on a slow boil for 100 years, so a little impatience is understandable. But in the past 30 years we've seen tremendous progress. It takes a long time to completely destroy the two fundamental things Americans rely on: the physical environment and the mental zeitgeist. Big changes take a little longer. But we're almost there.

  6. Well, I could go on forever — as you know. But that's enough for tonight. After all, I have to save something for the upcoming 300-odd chats I'll be having with America over the coming year, during which they'll no doubt continue to misunderstand how terrific everything I advocate really is. But I know you guys in Congress get it. Thanks for that. It's a real spirit-lifter after a date night with— Well, better end here. 'Night all."

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Jean Simmons, Dead a 100 Years Too Soon

Jean Simmons has died, a week shy of her 81st birthday. One of the most beautiful, most talented, sexiest, and classiest film actresses in the history of cinema is now gone.

In movies as different as Black Narcissus (Indian servant girl), Angel Face (spoiled femme fatale), The Big Country (school teacher/rancher's granddaughter), Spartacus (slave), and The Grass Is Greener (wealthy gadabout), Jean Simmons showed that she could do it all and do it all superlatively. (She was also the female lead in the original version of The Blue Lagoon.)

She demonstrates as well as any film actress in the business ever did why they used to be called screen goddesses.

[Black Narcissus, 1947]

[1950s publicity photo, Screen Cave]

[From Big Hollywood, circa 1954]

[From Point de Vue magazin, January 1959, two years after filming The Big Country.]

"Thank you, Jean Simmons" is a pitifully inadequate phrase for the decades of glorious hours spent in your divine presence.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Krauthammer Tells It Like It Is

Barack Obama is either a pathological liar or pathologically self-deluded, I can never decide which. Charles Krauthammer describes the Pretender's reaction to Brown's election to the Senate thus:
After Coakley's defeat, Obama pretended that the real cause was a generalized anger and frustration "not just because of what's happened in the last year or two years, but what's happened over the last eight years."

Let's get this straight: The antipathy to George W. Bush is so enduring and powerful that... it just elected a Republican senator in Massachusetts? Why, the man is omnipotent.
Mark Steyn adds his two golden doubloons:
Got it. People are so angry and frustrated at George W. Bush that they’re voting for Republicans. In Massachusetts. Boy, I can’t wait for that 159th interview.

Presumably, the president isn’t stupid enough actually to believe what he said. But it’s dispiriting to discover he’s stupid enough to think we’re stupid enough to believe it.
Perhaps Obama just says that because he is now largely impotent, in the strictly political sense, of course. Then again, that can't be right; it's clear this is one wounded animal still capable of inflicting great harm on the American people.

Keep that straitjacket handy.

[This article updated since first publication. 1/23/2010.]

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Ted Kennedy Dies, Saves Country Five Months Later

So, Teddy Kennedy finally did something beneficial for the country, even if it required dying to free up his Senate seat. (That's the kind of self-sacrifice I can decidedly wish on all Progressive politicians.) That seat has now been provided to Scott Brown, courtesy of the temporarily sane Massachusetts voters.

Mr. Brown said some sensible things during his campaign — that the current health bills in Congress are unhealthy and that jihadists should be fired upon, not allowed to file motions in criminal courts. But he also voted for RomneyCare and still believes that "everyone should have health care," apparently provide for by the State.
BROWN: I believe that everybody should have health care, it's just a question on how we do it. Do we do a one size fits all plan? Do we allow the states to actually get more involved and do what we did? [From an interview with Meridith Viera.]
Not what an advocate of the free market could wish for, but not the worst thing he could have said, either. No doubt, far and away the best one could reasonably hope for out of Massachusetts. And, in any case, if ever there was a national emergency that hinged on the outcome of an election, this was it.

[In his defense, he did follow up with this (when Viera tried to instill some guilt with the already-hackneyed line about MA voters happily having socialized medicine and therefore not caring if it were 'denied' the rest of the country):
BROWN: Well, I think we should allow the states to do what's important for their own states, have the federal government incentivize those individual states.
Bad, but still far better than what Coakley's election would have fostered.]

In any case, the deeper issue has little to do with Scott Brown's election, as useful as it is in throwing serious sand in the Progressive gears. It's this: shifting the ratio of (good, or at least less destructive) Rs to Ds in D.C. is a good first step. But the problems in this country are not chiefly political and they won't be solved by Washington, no matter who is in power.

What needs to happen is for Progressivism, in all it's ugly, destructive forms throughout the entire culture — the arts, education, journalism, science, and business — to be utterly rejected and replaced.

Replaced with what? With the values of a long-overdue Second Renaissance: observation-based rationality, Randian self-interest, romantic realism. (More on that in an upcoming post.)

That's the only way we're ever going to make any real progress and Scott Brown is unlikely to be much help in that effort. So, by all means, celebrate staving off socialized medicine (for a while) and putting a real scare into the Democrats. But don't let down your guard and keep pushing for reason and freedom.

The window is open to allow for some fresh air, but in this stagnant culture it will take a few strong fans to remove the stench for good.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Fun Facts About Hummingbirds

I've been fascinated by hummingbirds for years. Something about that tiny bird's ability to fly and maneuver fast, feed on the wing and somehow still take in more energy than it burns is just amazing.

One way they do that is by having evolved special energy conservation mechanisms. For example, at night, they can lower their body temperature as much as 25 degrees to nearly match the ambient temperature. Since Newton's Law of Cooling ensures that heat flows from warmer to cooler regions, and at a rate determined by the degree of the difference, they give up almost no heat at night to the surrounding air.

Different species have evolved equally astounding abilities.
    Some live as high as 12,000 feet where the air is too thin to support fast flight. They hop-fly along the ground instead, feeding off flowers close to the Earth.
    One species build their nests near Cooper's Hawk nests because the Coopers prey on the hummingbird's predators, but leave the hummers alone. That's particularly odd, since the hawk loves to eat small birds and their eggs.
    Those nests are built of leaves, lichen, and — get this — spiderwebs to hold it all together.
    Most of the species in the U.S. and Canada migrate from Central America, flying 3,0000 miles north — including 500 miles over the open water of the Gulf of Mexico (an 18 hour flight) without rest.
The most beautiful and unusual hummingbird species might just be the Peruvian Spatuletail. Check out the photo and video, and observe their tail features closely. They're a pair of twin, flat discs set on long, curved stalks.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Ayn Rand Was Too Restrained

Subdued. Moderate. Muted. Not words one generally associates with the forthright and fiery Ms. Rand. But ones that are completely accurate today, given that Obama's latest horrific suggestion is too outlandish even for Rand's magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged, in which she offered such (to many) barely believable items as "The Equalization of Opportunity Bill," the "Anti Dog-Eat-Dog Act," and the like.

The Empty Suit in Chief -- check that, the suit that is full of it 18 hours per day -- (vampires have to sleep sometimes, or at least hide from the light) -- has proposed a Financial Crisis Responsibility Fee "to cover expected losses in the Troubled Asset Relief Program."

Wasn't TARP the program that was actually supposed to turn a profit when the banks (most of whom had their arms twisted to take the money) paid it back with interest?

Naturally, the equal protection clause of the Constitution being the least favorite of this Administration's (among a long list), some firms won't be asked to pay it. Who are the lucky few allowed to opt out? GM, Chrysler, delinquent mortgage borrowers and - not least, of course - Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

"From each according to his ability to each according to his need" is the operative principle of this Federal government and they mean it.

It's time somebody started pushing for jail time for this fool. The guy is a public menace. Sorry, I would write something stronger here but - with this clown - I've just entirely lost my capacity to be truly outraged.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Unconsitutionality of ObamaCare

George Will has written a fine column on the unconstitutionality of ObamaCare. Taking the line put forth by the superb legal scholar Dr. Randy Barnett, Will makes distinctions rare among conservatives.

But first, Dr. Barnett's position. In a long and fairly challenging position paper, he writes:
[Discussing the alleged precedent and parallel between the ObamaCare mandate and requiring drivers to purchase car insurance...] What a state (or private citizen) may require of someone using its property is wholly different than what it may do to control their purely private behavior.
Today, even voting is not constitutionally mandated. [Ed. note: it is in certain European countries, interestingly.] But, if this precedent is established, Congress would have the unlimited power to regulate, prohibit, or mandate any or all activities in the United States.

Such a doctrine would abolish any limit on federal power and alter the fundamental relationship of the national government to the states and the people. For this reason it is highly doubtful that the Supreme Court will uphold this assertion of power.

[And] It is a safe bet that any argument that leads to a conclusion that Congress has an effectively unlimited police power akin to that of states will be rejected by this Supreme Court.
Bold and unusually optimistic claims. But Dr. Barnett, fine scholar that he is (Prof. of Legal Theory, Georgetown), doesn't leave the issue at an analysis of legal theory. He backs it up by citing recent court cases showing the actual behavior of the SCOTUS.

George Will echoes this view when he writes: "But if any activity, or inactivity, can be declared to have economic consequences, then anything can be regulated — or required." He goes farther than this and discusses the false alternative between Progressive and conservative legal thought on the role of judges in the American political system.
Furthermore, judicial review — and the Constitution itself — is largely nullified by a doctrine of virtually unlimited judicial deference to Congress's estimates of what is "necessary and proper" for the regulation of commerce.
[J]udicial supervision of democracy troubles people who believe, mistakenly, that the Constitution's primary purpose is simply to provide the institutional architecture for democracy.

Such people believe that having government by popular sovereignty is generally much more important than what government does; hence, courts should be broadly deferential to preferences expressed democratically. This is the doctrine of those conservatives who deplore, often with more vigor than precision, "judicial activism."
He goes on to make a negligible error in the following about 'true conservatives' but we can gloss over that. His basic point remains valid when he says:
More truly conservative conservatives take their bearings from the proposition that government's primary purpose is not to organize the fulfillment of majority preferences but to protect preexisting rights of the individual — basically, liberty. These conservatives favor judicial activism understood as unflinching performance of the courts' role in that protection.
[Note: For those wanting to explore that subject further, Dr. Tara Smith has done good work on the topic of which this essay just scratches the surface.]

I'd like to share Dr. Barnett's optimism that SCOTUS would overturn the individual mandate. Further, since the AFL-CIO has now cut a deal with Congress to exempt union members from certain taxes in the bill, the legislation fails on the grounds of equal protection as well. But, despite the cases he cites, the history of SCOTUS in the past 100 years doesn't give me great confidence. They did, after all, ultimately give Social Security and Medicare a pass and the Wagner Act is still law.

So, whether any of that will make a difference to the current court is anybody's guess. (If passed, not a foregone conclusion at this point.) At best, it will likely be a year at least before the whole thing is reviewed. By then, it could have done much damage. Still, the fight ain't over til it's over. And not even then.

Rep. Ryan Identifies the Real American Conflict

It's exceedingly rare these days for any politician to give evidence they understand the crucial struggle taking place in America today. They're more often superficial, even when well meaning. Rep. Paul Ryan (R – Wi) shows he gets it.

He clearly identifies the political conflict of our times: the ideal of freedom vs the philosophy of Progressivism. (He also — and this is surpassing rare — understands the source of Progressivism in Hegel's philosophy and historically in the Teddy Roosevelt and Wilson administrations, etc.)
But the struggle over federal health care reform, the Democratic leaders' signature program, goes beyond the problem of national health. This debate encapsulates the defining issue of our generation: should we reform and strengthen America's free market democracy, or should we abandon it for a European-style social welfare state, the dream of third wave Progressives? Ultimately this is about an ideological crusade.
Even better, he goes deeper and shows he understands at least one of the pillars that undergirds that battle between political visions.
American citizens once took pride in being responsible for their individual well-being and for governing themselves in freedom. They are now to become passive subjects of government leaders, wheedling for hand-outs, more concerned about their security than their liberty.

Isn't it wiser to suppose that those who promote this program are smart enough to know what they are doing? When we reach their intended goal, those who still cherish human freedom will be reduced to near-silence. Whatever you call the post-American regime they would impose on this land, it will be no democracy.
While identifying the good side with "democracy" is an error, it's an understandable one, especially given the audience. (These statements were made during a speech at Hillsdale College.)

He spirals back up again to lay blame for the recent economic crisis where it belongs, "crony capitalism."
In the current economic crisis there has been no lack of greed, envy, ambition, and plain ignorance in corporate boardrooms, financial markets, and government hallways. The capital sins are always with us. But the foundations for this crisis were laid by Progressivism itself, above all by encouraging "crony capitalism."

The Democratic leadership is trying to cure the disease of "crony capitalism" with more "crony capitalism." What we really need is a new engagement with the principles Progressives repudiate, the principles that founded this land of freedom.
A less-than-ideal choice of words, to be sure. (Crony capitalism isn't capitalism at all; it's fascism.) But that's a minor issue here. Similarly, he doesn't make any distinction between greed as the desire to obtain material wealth and greed as the desire to get something for nothing, or by dishonest means. That again is not a big deal in this case, given the overall tone and content of the speech.

Instead, Rep. Ryan is to be commended for what he did get right. It's worth noting also — for those who believe there's no fundamental difference between the Republican Party and the Democrats — that this line of thought is taken by a number of the first and exactly zero of the second, a situation that has persisted for a number of years.

Bravo, sir. May you be the next Speaker of the House, and may your principles never waver from this spot.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Sarah Palin Speaks a Plain Truth

... and one that should be obvious to everyone by now.

My personal jury is still out on Sarah Palin as a political influencer. I'm in evidence gathering mode still (although my instinct is to like her personally). That aside, the following quote from her recent interview on Fox is very welcome indeed. It's somewhat boilerplate, but I haven't heard any prominent Republican saying this recently (and it can never be said enough).
O’Reilly posed to Gov. Palin the idea that no human being could lower the unemployment rate at this point and she replied brilliantly as follows:

If the question is, “Can any individual politician change the job forecast outlook?” No. But what government can do is get out of the way of the private sector being able to seize opportunities to grow and to thrive and prosper and hire more people.

You do that — a politician, a policy does that by reducing taxes on the job creators, by getting government out of the way of the private sector.

Let’s talk about health care for a minute. When we consider that the White House wants to take another one-sixth of our economy, take it from the private sector hands, take it over and put it in government’s hands, that’s another step towards greater unemployment numbers, that’s another step towards greater growth of government, which is the wrong track — completely opposite of where we should be going.

[Hat Tip News Real Blog.]

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Chesterton on the Health Care Non-Debate

Apropos the now-invisible health care debate (which, thanks to all the backroom dealing from which even most Democrats are excluded, has virtually dropped off the radar) and the woefully inadequate Republican response:
“The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected.”
-G. K. Chesterton (April, 1924)

Monday, January 11, 2010

Harper Collins Crosses The Line

Harper Collins, the major publishing firm, has crossed the line. They're sponsoring a writing contest that:
"...would like you to write a short story or fairytale to help educate people about climate change; encourage them to take responsibility and make positive steps towards reducing their carbon footprint. The winning stories will be submitted to our panel of judges and the best ones will be published by HarperCollins in a special act on CO2 book."
[Note to my readers: The line "it would have to be a fairy tale" is already taken.]

The contest has been advertised on their authonomy website whose express purpose is stated: "We're on a mission to flush out the brightest, freshest new writing talent around."

It's no surprise, of course, that a major publishing house is dominated by Progressives. If there's a non-leftist working for one, he or she is, I can assure you, keeping very quiet for fear of losing a job, contacts, and any possible future in the business. That person is almost certainly not in the management, either.

Nevertheless, to introduce not just a highly complex and red-hot political subject there, but in the form of a children's story, is beyond the pale. Worse, they don't just solicit stories or those with a point of view; they dictate what that point of view should be. The Progressive/environmentalist one, natch.

The site to date has been focused on soliciting work from non-published authors and several have received book contracts as a result of posting there. To interject politics into a literature/publishing site in this way is revolting, even apart from the specific political views of the sponsors.

It's with no little irony — even as someone convinced that determinism is false — that I just finished watching Prof. Stephen Hicks "Nietzsche and the Nazis" documentary. (In it, he details how the fascists took over every part of German culture — movies, literature, magazines, newspapers, and on down the line.) Yet, reality has once again exhibited its capacity for serendipity.

Now, Progressives are not Nazis by a long shot. And, it's true that 'green' themes are everywhere today. (Even Wells Fargo Bank annoys its customers with viro-oriented advertising.) But, I still maintain, this politicization of a website devoted heretofore to bringing to light (chiefly) the fiction of new authors crosses a very bright line.

Harper Collins, shame on you.

[Note: I don't include any links to the site because I don't want to encourage anyone to go there and start a ruckus on the blog by expressing their right-wing views. That would be doing exactly what I criticize Harper for. But I didn't want to leave it generic and just say "a major publishing house," since I believe readers should always have the ability to fact-check anything I say.]

Sunday, January 10, 2010

War Against Islamo-Fascism: The Real Combat Zone

The differences in mindset with regard to the war against Islamo-fascists could not be starker than in the following two essays. They show where the real combat is taking place and how, in order to win the war against the jihadis and their ideology, one American ideology must win over this country.

In one, by Newsweek editor Fareed Zakaria, we have the quintessential Progressive approach. The other, by Mark Steyn, shows the foolishness of that line of non-attack.

Zakaria asserts:
Don’t Panic [title]

How our frenzied response to terrorism only feeds it. [subtitle]

"In responding to the attempted bombing of an airliner on Christmas Day, Sen. Dianne Feinstein voiced the feelings of many when she said that to prevent such situations, 'I'd rather…overreact than underreact.' This now appears to be the consensus view in Washington, but it is quite wrong.
"If we are not terrorized, then the attack didn't work."
Tell that to the jihadis' victims. Note in the following the usual Progressive trust in the wisdom of 'experts', of which we apparently have no shortage. He says:
Is there some sensible reaction between panic and passivity? Philip Zelikow, the executive director of the 9/11 Commission and later a senior State Department official in the Bush administration, suggests that we should try to analyze failures in homeland security the way we do airplane catastrophes.

When an airliner suffers an accident, major or minor, the National Transportation Safety Board convenes a group of nonpartisan experts who calmly and methodically examine what went wrong and then issue a set of recommendations to improve the situation.
Of course, consistent with the Administration's line that this is no more than a technical problem, a "man-made disaster", all we need do is tweak the knobs on the machine of State a little, in the way the wise witch doctors employed by Attila decide, and all will be well. Or, at least tolerable if we radically lower our expectations about public safety to a 'realistic' level.

[See Thomas Sowell's new book, Intellectuals and Society for details. Also, see Ayn Rand's For the New Intellectual for a discussion of the relationship of Attila and the Witch Doctors (as well as the source of the fundamental errors troubling Western civilization in the past 2,000 years).]

Deeper, observe the fundamentally mistaken outlook, signalled by the false alternative "panic" vs "passivity." It's not panic on the public's part to demand that the Federal government do properly and well one of the few things legitimately within its scope of authority.

Of course, Zakaria himself suggests that these are not our only alternatives. But he betrays his error when he suggests (a) treating this like an ordinary plane crash, and (b) that, if we react with strong emotion, we're necessarily being irrational. Fear, anger, disgust, and outrage are all perfectly rational responses not only to the event, but to the reasons it occurred and — even more so — to the Feds' responses to date.

By contrast, a very welcome contrast, read what someone not polluted by Progressivism and therefore genuinely concerned about American security has to say:
This is not to say (to go wearily through the motions) that all Muslims are potential suicide bombers and axe murderers, but it is to state the obvious – that this "war" is about the intersection of Islam and the West, and its warriors are recruited in the large pool of young Muslim manpower, not in Yemen and Afghanistan so much as in Copenhagen and London.

But [Obama] cannot say that because he is overinvested in a fantasy – that, if only that Texan moron Bush had read Khalid Sheikh Mohammed his Miranda rights and bowed as low as Obama did to the Saudi king, we wouldn't have all these problems.

So now Obama says, "We are at war." But he cannot articulate any war aims or strategy because they would conflict with his illusions. And so we will stagger on, playing defense, pulling more and more items out of our luggage – tweezers, shoes, shampoo, snow globes, suppositories – and reacting to every new provocation with greater impositions upon the citizenry.
And, Steyn shows that — contrary to the Progressives' fantasy that they alone are members of the "reality based" segment of society — it's men like Steyn who are actually willing to call a spade a spade sword a sword. He opens with,
Not long after the Ayatollah Khomeini announced his fatwa against Salman Rushdie, the British novelist suddenly turned up on a Muslim radio station in West London late one night and told his interviewer he'd converted to Islam. Marvelous religion, couldn't be happier, Allahu Akbar and all that.

And the Ayatollah said hey, that's terrific news, glad to hear it. But we're still gonna kill you.

Well, even a leftie novelist wises up under those circumstances. Evidently, the president of the United States takes a little longer.
Evidently, so do leftie Newsweek editors.

Quotes on Statism for a Wintery Day

As the Robespierres Gallic utopians in D.C. gather to wrangle over how best to rope and carve up American health care services, a few pithy quotes are in order. [Courtesy of Roger Kimball's worthwhile essay, Democratic Despotism Comes of Age, from the symposium "The New Statism."]

First up, while we're on the relation of do-goodism to statism: a stellar offering by C.S. Lewis:
Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive.

It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
Then, from Mr. Kimball himself:
The biggest challenge we face now is not to our stock portfolios or 401K accounts (renamed “201K accounts” by one wag) but rather the psychological conditions for political liberty, among which a spirit of individual initiative, i.e., taking responsibility for oneself and one’s family, figures prominently. [emphases mine]
Kimball goes on to offer a quote about greed from Trollop's novel Can You Forgive Her?
"There is no vulgar error so vulgar,—that is to say, common or erroneous, as that by which men have been taught to say that mercenary tendencies are bad. A desire for wealth is the source of all progress. Civilization comes from what men call greed. Let your mercenary tendencies be combined with honesty and they cannot take you astray."
There are more psychological insights offered up, this one by Kimball, following Hayek's thinking in The Road to Serfdom:
Socialism is not only something that the state does to individuals. It is also something that individuals do to themselves when they decide that freedom is too expensive to fight for and that the consolations of dependency are worth the tax on individual liberty.
Then, just to show that even neo-conservatives can sometimes be right on important subjects, a quote from Irving Kristol's lecture to the American Enterprise Institute in 1973:
For two centuries the very important people who managed the affairs of this society could not believe in the importance of ideas—until one day they were shocked to discover that their children, having been captured and shaped by certain ideas, were either rebelling against their authority or seceding from their society.

The truth is that ideas are all-important. The massive and seemingly solid institutions of any society—the economic institutions, the political institutions, the religious institutions—are always at the mercy of the ideas in the heads of the people who populate these institutions.

The leverage of ideas is so immense that a slight change in the intellectual climate can and will—perhaps slowly but nevertheless inexorably—twist a familiar institution into an unrecognizable shape.
Of course, Hugo — great writer that he was — said it better:
"The pen is mightier than the sword." and "Not all the united armies can stand against an idea whose time has come."
So, on this wintery day, may your ideas be healthy and mighty, to stave off the day when the Robespierres decide to socialize your pen as they're about to do with your health care.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Dr. Cui's Paper Battery

And now, after wading once again into the Progressive muck, it's time for a little mental shower. Some really bright folks have developed a prototype paper battery.
Stanford University scientist Yi Cui had previously created nanomaterial energy storage devices using plastics, but his new research showed that a paper battery is more durable because the ink adheres more strongly to paper. Coating a sheet of paper with ink made of carbon nanotubes and silver nanowires produced a highly conductive storage device that could be used in a multitude of applications.
I don't think these people realize how they're helping to keep my spirit alive. Even if the thing never comes to market it's wonderful to think that humans are still out there pursuing things like this.

So, Dr. Cui, my sincere gratitude.

Some History of the Origins of the Progressive Assault on America

Or, in simpler words, How Progressives Screwed Us.

Professor Tiffany Jones Miller of the University of Dallas has a fine, brief article on the history of Progressivism in America, keying off the work of John Dewey. Of course, for my money she's far too 'cool' and academic about the whole thing, but for the most part she's very accurate. Here are some excerpts:
"If the progressive label seems less radical today, it is only because progressivism is less well known than its liberal progeny.

It was initially an academic phenomenon far removed from American politics. Particularly in the post–Civil War American university, professors — many of whom had obtained their graduate training in German universities, and whose thought reflected the “intoxicating effect of the undiluted Hegelian philosophy upon the American mind,” as progressive Charles Merriam once put it — articulated a critique of America that was as deep as it was wide.

It began with a conscious rejection of the natural-rights principles of the American founding and the promotion of a new understanding of freedom, history, and the state in their stead. From this foundation, the progressives then criticized virtually every aspect of our traditional way of life, recommending reforms or “social reorganization” on a sweeping scale, the primary engine of which was to be a new, “positive” role for the state.

As the progressives’ influence in the academy increased, and growing numbers of their students sallied forth into all aspects of endeavor, this intellectual transformation gradually began to reshape the broader American mind, and, in time, American political practice. “A new regime in thought,” as Eldon Eisenach writes, “began to become a new regime in power.”

While many progressive academics helped effect this philosophical transformation, few, if any, were as influential as Dewey. Through an immense and wide-ranging body of work, vigorous activism, and his many students, Dewey’s mark was deep and enduring.
When freedom is redefined in terms of spiritual fulfillment, the "problem of achieving freedom" radically changes. Freedom is no longer secured by constraining government interference with “the liberty of individuals in matters of conscience and economic action,” as Dewey notes, but rather by “establishing an entire social order, possessed of a spiritual authority that would nurture and direct the inner as well as the outer life of individuals.”

"The freedom of an agent who is merely released from direct external obstructions is formal and empty," for unless he possesses every resource needed to take advantage of this broad legal opening, he will remain unable to exercise his freedom and thereby actualize his spiritual potential. While the law would "exempt [him] from interference in travel, in reading, in hearing music, in pursuing scientific research[,] . . . if he has neither material means nor mental cultivation to enjoy these legal possibilities, mere exemption means little or nothing."
The essay is a little needlessly complex and assumes some background. She links Dewey to Hegel, for example, but then never explains why that's relevant to her thesis (how the Progressives undercut the idea of natural rights).

Far more worrisome, she makes a hard distinction between Hegelianism and Pragmatism, suggesting that while Dewey was instrumental in developing the latter, he never really shook off the former. That's true, but not because (as she alludes) that they are somehow opposed.

To the contrary, Pragmatism is nothing but dumbed-down Hegel, re-written for an American audience. Hegel's fractured view of reality, the irrationalist theory of knowledge (masquerading under the name Reason), the collectivist ethics and politics are all there, little changed. The only thing Dewey (and, earlier, Pierce and James) really did was to remove any shred of 'certainty' by discarding the fiction of the Absolute.

In other words, Pragmatism is a humbler Hegelianism (consistent with the shrinking of philosophy that accelerated in the 19th century, and produced the 20th).

Just to give one important example of the effect on contemporary political debate, I recently asked a 'liberal' what justified (in his view) coercing some to fill the needs of others. His answer is illuminating (scan down the comments section to near the bottom):
So in a civilized society, it's expected that everyone will give something so that the society as a whole can enjoy those rights. I include "health" as part of "life." If you become unhealthy, you cannot work, therefore cannot "pursue" anything.

If the purpose of government is to protect the rights of people in society, it has to protect their ability to exercise those rights. I can't exercise my right to property in a civilized society without a justice system, so how can I exercise my right to life if I can't afford to sustain it in the event of an illness?
If you read his entire you answer you'll see how he, like Dewey, stood Jefferson and Madison's views on their heads, while claiming to be in the American tradition. This is classic Progressive thinking, derived from Dewey (and very Hegelian in spirit).

To answer it, for now I'll just quote Peter Cresswell of Not PC (after an essay by Brook and Watkins in IBD): "Until this basic moral premise: is repudiated — that need generates an entitlement — then socialized government will continue to grow."

In any case, the NRO essay is well worth reading in its entirety (as is Brooks and Watkins) for anyone with an interest in intellectual history, or just anyone who wants to know how we — and Progressivism — got where we are today.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Joke of the Day, 67 Years Ago, Explains Why We're Losing the War Today

From the film Stage Door Canteen, 1943:

In the film, a series of famous actors and actresses (and a few unknowns) entertain troops about to be sent overseas. (The action takes place at the Stage Door Canteen, a real-world venue similar to the Hollywood Canteen, in which entertainers of all political persuasions gladly participated.)

One of the hosts plays a little game with the audience, offering a prize for the best answer to a question.

She asks the ladies: "If you could be any woman in the world, who it would it be?"

One claims first prize right away by shouting out this gem:
"Hitler's widow!"
Not surprisingly, the Stage Door Canteen audience erupts in hardy cheers.

Kind of hard to picture any film today showing something similar, at least without a disapproving finger wag. If they did, and did it regularly, the war against the jihadis would be over inside a year.

The Moral Inversion, Part II - TV, Then and Now

I was recently privileged to view The Colgate Comedy Hour with Abbott and Costello from the Christmas season of 1952. I say privileged even though I never liked Abbott and Costello. More, the production values were, to be generous, bad, the jokes were lame, and the skits amateurish and corny.

Even so, I maintain it was better than just about anything you'll see on TV today. The reasons revolve as much around what it lacked as what it contained.

There wasn't any gratuitous sniggering at mankind and its achievements. There wasn't any sneering at the cast members or the audience. Everyone showed respect and good will for all present. Even the musicians — all of whom were mediocre at best — did their best to entertain (accomplished without screeching, I note) and no one felt the need to mock them.

Two acts in particular stood out as really remarkable.

One, a dance team, consisted of a gargantuan homosexual with a bad hairpiece (who appeared, Frankenstein-like, to have been put together from parts) and his partner, a female midget ballerina. Yet, far from being presented either as morose freaks or representatives of mankind, they were both simply graceful, cheerful, and outstandingly skilled. They were clearly very happy to be performing for a grateful audience and their dance routine was superbly choreographed and executed.

The other was an acrobatic act performed in vaudeville-like baggy clothes, no clown makeup needed. They whirled around and jumped across a ten-foot-long, six-foot-high set of monkey bars. The pair were, in a word, amazing. They, too, never felt the need to present themselves or their routines as freakish or dark in the manner of, say, the Blue Man Group or Cirque du Soleil.

Equally good were the Christmas Seals commercials containing such classy stars as Ray Milland, Ingrid Bergman, and Gary Cooper. I've walked out of movie theaters that felt compelled to hound me for donations for AIDS research. But I watched these sincere, polite, informative requests to support tuberculosis research and treatment — a disease that only 60 years ago was a serious nationwide problem, now virtually wiped out in America — and felt a real tug at the heart.

Best of all, there was no multicultural slap in the face at everything the average American valued and no pseudo-liberal preaching anywhere in sight.

By contrast, an utterly revolting contrast, America's favorite show — NCIS — displays exactly what happens when post-moderns pollute mainstream culture.

I've watched the show for years and generally liked it. Still, there's no arguing that it has always been a series of stereotypes, mouthing clichés. For the most part, that's just television today. Far worse, though, is what the show has become: a mouthpiece for Progressive dogma.

In a recent episode a corn-fed American Marine converts to Islam and soon becomes a murder victim. Unlikely as that is, it's not impossible or necessarily absurd, however ridiculous it might be. But what happens next is the real crime.

As the NCIS crew investigate the crime they soon interview the soldier's father, a highly conflicted Christian preacher. Ok, fair enough, so far. A dad like that might very well be upset that his son chose to become a Muslim — in the middle of a freaking war against jihadists.

But, since this is Progressive propaganda rather than genuine drama, they have to turn him into a raving bigot and the most likely murder suspect. Sure, every disappointed dad is first in line as the perpetrator of a 'hate crime' against his own son, don't ya know?

Still worse was the portrayed contrast between a group of thuggish jarheads at a bar and the oh-so-refined, reasonable, and long-suffering Muslim Navy 'chaplain'. Again, since this is left-wing propaganda, it's essential that the pool-playing Marines be utter assholes and the Islamic religious figure be the quintessence of gentle, yet manly virtue.

Not too many years far back anti-Romantic School aestheticians used to complain that the chief flaw in Romantic art was that it lacked 'realism'. No such problem appears to trouble them now.

The starkest example of that total absence of verisimilitude was in a scene between the Muslim chaplain and Zeva, the Israeli ex-Mossad agent. It's one thing for her to flatten a group of misbehaving Marines in a bar. She's a trained assassin, after all. It's quite another to have her interview the Muslim preacher, who spouts a lot of lying drivel about Islam, and never have this Jewish woman blink the tiniest objection. On the contrary, she seems instantly to regard this fellow as a real friend and ally in the struggle against prejudice.

The complete un-reality demonstrated by that NCIS episode was fully on display, yet no doubt the script was cheered by the current producers. Worst of all, I'm dead certain the pragmatist advertisers supporting the show are either indifferent or cowed into silence.

"Dreck" doesn't begin to capture the nausea-inducing atmosphere of the 'new' NCIS, since Bellisario was forced out of the show by Mark Harmon.

So, from now on, I'll be limiting my TV viewing — like I have with films for years now — largely to pre-1965 productions. I never observed the heroes in Rat Patrol or Combat say the American Bund Nazis were just misunderstood fellow freedom fighters. I won't even skip the commercials.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Sweden, Coming Soon to a Country Near You

Anyone interested in realistic projections of where the U.S. is heading need only look to Europe, in this case Sweden. The government there is proposing to outlaw homeschooling on the grounds that
"…the education in school should be comprehensive and objective and thereby designed so that all pupils can participate, regardless of what religious or philosophical reasons the pupil or his or her care-takers may have."
As a result, they argue (in a giant non-sequitur): "[T]here is no need for the law to offer the possibility of homeschooling because of religious or philosophical reasons in the family."

Observe the subtle, unstated premise: your convictions are not objective, but those of the State educators necessarily are. No argument beyond pointing it out should be needed to show how false and pernicious that idea is. But that view is particularly ironic given how opposed all Dewey's descendants are, in principle, to objectivity. (It's contrary to the most basic principle of Pragmatism that there are no eternal, 'transcendent' truths.)

The various States have long forced parents to jump through hoops to remove their children from the clutches of the Progressive Comprachicos. Yet, homeschooling in America has still been on the rise (and hence under attack) for years. If current social trends continue here, expect something like this legislation to be introduced at the Federal level within the next 10 years, sooner if ObamaCare is enacted.