Friday, July 31, 2009

And those are his good qualities

In a recent column, Burt Prelutsky included this e-mail sent to him by a reader.

“Obama is economically illiterate, 100% politically motivated, a bold-faced liar, thin-skinned and completely incompetent. And I must say that, contrary to the majority of the population, I believe he is inarticulate. I don’t know what it is that others are seeing, but it certainly escapes me.”

Saturday, July 25, 2009

"What We Know That Aint So"

Here's a link to an excellent essay written by Clifford Asness (new to me - a welcome find) debunking health care myths currently circulating in the public discourse. Aside from demolishing most of the left's arguments for socialized medicine, Asness addresses issues of freedom and tyranny, capitalism and socialism, the inefficiencies of government and the three overarching goals of "progressive" statists - power, power, power. As John McCormack in his Weekly Standard list of links writes, this is a must-read.

Killing Prosperity

About a week ago on a Fox News panel discussion about the ineffectiveness of the stimulus package, Bill Kristol made the observation that for the cost of the bill, the payroll tax could have been suspended for all working Americans for a full year. Such a measure would have had a far greater stimulating effect on the economy than that disaster that was rushed through Congress in February. In response to Kristol, Juan Williams invoked "the failed policies of the past" line. Anytime someone proposes tax cutting as a tool to repair the waylaid economy it's met by leftists with that boilerplate retort. Kristol wasn't suggesting a "tax cut for the very rich" (another liberal mantra), but relief from the mandatory, non-progressive, income reducing deduction that hurts the poor disproportionately. But even beyond this, the Bush tax cuts (assuming that's what Williams, et al, mean by failed policies), did not fail. The table above (values in trillions of dollars) shows that from 2003 when the tax cuts took effect, through 2007, revenues increased to an all-time record of almost 2.6 trillion dollars, a 44% increase. Anytime you hear a liberal decrying how "the poor" or "the children" or "single mothers" were hurt by the tax cuts, keep that in mind. There was plenty of money available.
The tax cuts were the reason the economy recovered so strongly from the triple blows of the 2000-2002 recession, the dot com implosion and the 9/11 attacks. We had four years of solid growth accompanied by the longest period of uninterrupted job growth ever.
The deficits in the Bush years were due to an unprecedented explosion in government spending. (We're now witnessing a thermonuclear explosion). Even with all the government largesse, the deficit had been decreasing until the (government inspired) housing bust cratered the economy. It had dropped to $161 billion in 2007 or just over 1% of GDP. Deficits are projected to be in the trillions for the forseeable future or nearing double digits as percentages of GDP. Yet Obama's apologists are spreading the mendacious claim that the deficit problem began with Bush.
Low tax revenue enhancement makes sense when one considers the graph above illustrating Hauser's Law. This rarely cited set of data teaches that revenue as a percentage of GDP (remarkably!) has no correlation with marginal income tax rates. Since low marginal tax rates invariably lead to economic growth one would expect tax cuts to produce higher revenues.
Fred Barnes writes in the Weekly Standard that Obama seems economically illiterate not to understand the powerful potential of tax incentives for growth. I think that Obama probably understands this, but doesn't care. With a statist economy to be put into place, with all the perks available to its administrators, an insignificant item, diminished prosperity, needn't interfere.

Statistics can show the big picture (or deceive) but anecdotal evidence is sometimes more compelling. Here's a letter appearing in today's WSJ.
Regarding your editorial “The Small Business Surtax” (July 14): President Barack Obama, Rep. Charlie Rangel and Speaker Nancy Pelosi have decided that the best way to prosperity, equality and the utopia of universal health coverage is to tax the rich just a little more.
They miss the point. The rich pay little in taxes. It is the people who are trying to get rich that carry the heaviest burden. They are the very people with the drive, willingness to sacrifice, and intellect to create wealth. Once you have capital, it works for you. When you are working for an income, which you hope to invest for continued wealth generation, you are taxed to death. Warren Buffett pays 15% on his increases, I pay over 40% of my income in taxes and the president has decreed that it must be increased closer to 60%. Here is why that is a very bad idea.
When Ronald Reagan lowered taxes, I was a young physician just entering practice. Being used to a much lower standard of living, I took the savings from the tax cuts and invested in a small software company for medical imaging. It took 12 hard years of investment before the company could stand on its own. It now employs over 100 people in high-paying careers and exports all over the world. Under the punitive tax rates contemplated by the Obama administration, I could have never begun this business, and our economy would be many millions of dollars poorer.
Over the years I have reinvested its meager earnings to continue its growth in a very capital-intensive enterprise. The accountants tell me I am making money and therefore owe a lot in taxes, but it doesn’t come back to me. Rather, it is reinvested in the company. Like many small businesses, family enterprises and farms—the very backbone of American enterprise—I am rich on paper, but cash poor. I am still driving a 1998 Yukon with more than 207,000 miles on it. My employees drive better cars, in many cases live in larger homes, and recreate with larger boats.
So how can I afford to pay more in taxes? It is very simple. I will employ fewer people, and grow the company slower, if at all. When the layoffs occur, I will begin with the people who have “Obama” stickers on their new cars in the parking lot. Then they can all go down to the welfare office and apply for their government-supplied health insurance, which I am sure will be better than the 80/20 private plan we provide.
Wendell A. Gibby, M.D.American Fork, Utah

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The F Word

The following is a list of the policy proposals of a political movement which took shape early in the 20th century.

Lowering the minimum voting age to eighteen, the minimum age for representatives to twenty five, and universal suffrage, including for women.

The abolition of the Senate and the creation of a national technical council on intellectual and manual labor, industry, commerce and culture.

End of the draft.

Repeal of titles of nobility.

“A foreign policy aimed at expanding (the country’s) will and power in opposition to all foreign imperialisms.”

The prompt enactment of a state law sanctioning a legal workday of eight actual hours of work for all workers.

The creation of various government bodies run by workers’ representatives.

Reform of the old-age and pension system and the establishment of age limits for hazardous work.

Forcing landowners to cultivate their lands or have them expropriated and given to veterans and farmers’ cooperatives.

The obligation of the state to build “rigidly secular” schools for the raising of “the proletariat’s moral and cultural condition.”

“A large progressive tax on capital that would amount to a one-time partial expropriation of all riches.

“The seizure of all goods belonging to religious congregations and the abolition of Episcopal revenues.”

The “review” of all military contracts and the “sequestration of 85% of all war profits.”
The nationalization of all arms and explosives industries.

This list appears in a recent best selling book. As the book’s author notes, this was an “anti-elitist, stock-market-abolishing, child-labor-ending, public-health-promoting, wealth-confiscating, draft-ending, secularist” program. In other words the program is not dissimilar from the President’s and his party’s, if you overlook a couple of anachronisms. (Titles of nobility is not a major issue and instead of women’s suffrage, the Democrats now want voting rights for convicted felons). So whose program was it?
That of Mussolini's Fasci di Combattimento, founded March 23, 1919 in Milan, Italy. The book is Jonah Goldberg's "Liberal Fascism". As Goldberg makes the point repeatedly, fascism is an ideology of the left. He defines it as

"...a religion of the state. It assumes the organic unity of the body politic and longs for a national leader attuned to the will of the people. It is totalitarian in that it views everything as political and holds that any action by the state is justified to achieve the common good. It takes responsibility for all aspects of life, including our health and well being, and seeks to impose uniformity of thought and action, whether by force or through regulation and social pressure. Everything, including the economy and religion, must be aligned with its objectives. Any rival identity is part of the "problem" and therefore defined as the enemy."

Maybe these goals and ideas are a bit more extreme than what the Democrats are working towards, but not by much. Considering that they have to contend with America's tradition of independence and self-reliance, some ideological restraint is necessary. There's no question though, that the more radical party members, i.e. - Waxman, Kennedy, Pelosi, Obama, et al, would, if they could, "take responsibility for all aspects of life".

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Why Is This An Issue?

John Yoo, the former Justice Dept. advisor to President Bush explains in an op-ed in today's WSJ just why warrantless wiretaps were justified in tracking al-Queda leaders following the days after 9/11. Yes, you read that right. Apparently these things need to be explained.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Wise, The Lies and The Scary


"If I knew for a certainty that a man was coming to my house with the conscious design of doing me good, I should run for my life."

Henry David Thoreau (noted by Thomas Szasz in an op-ed in today's WSJ)

In the same vein -
"The most dangerous words in the English language are, 'I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”'

Ronald Reagan


"You said that, quote, you 'would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would reach wise decisions.'"

Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, purposely misquoting Sonia Sotomayor, removing the racist content of her wise Latina comment. She actually said, "I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."
Sotomayor herself lied by saying that she merely meant to paraphrase Sandra Day O'Connor's statement, “a wise old man and a wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases” and it fell flat. What she said wasn't a paraphrase, it was a contradiction. And it wasn't just a slip of the tongue either. On at least six occasions spanning a period of years, Sotomayor expressed the same sentiment.


"Adding a sterilant to drinking water or staple foods is a suggestion that seems to horrify people more than most proposals for involuntary fertility control. … No such sterilant exists today, nor does one appear to be under development. To be acceptable, such a substance would have to meet some rather stiff requirements: It must be uniformly effective, despite widely varying doses received by individuals, and despite varying degrees of fertility and sensitivity among individuals; it must be free of dangerous or unpleasant side effects; and it must have no effect on members of the opposite sex, children, old people, pets or livestock."

So who made this remark? A Chinese Communist party official looking for ways to limit the population of his country? A neo-Nazi seeking to eliminate a specific ethnic group? An evil, profit mining pharmaceutical company executive? An inmate in a mental insitution? All good guesses but no. The words come from John Holdren, President Obama's director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and co-chair of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. (As noted by Michelle Malkin at

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A Prosecutor's Gift

Andrew McCarthy (not the actor) was the district attorney who successfully prosecuted Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman and eleven others for the World Trade Center bombing in 1993 and for planning a series of attacks against New York City landmarks. He also contributed to the prosecutions of terrorists who bombed US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. He is presently a writer for National Review and contributes highly informed articles on national security policy and other issues relating to the law. Needless to say, he's been a relentlessly fierce critic of President Obama and congressional Democrats. Two recent pieces in NRO showcase his writing and prosecutorial gifts.

First McCarthy blasts Obama for his shameful release of the “Irbil Five” — Quds Force commanders from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) who were coordinating terrorist attacks in Iraq that have killed hundreds of U.S. soldiers. McCarthy bluntly explains Obama's worldview and where it came from.

...when it comes to Iran, it has become increasingly apparent that President Obama wants the mullahs to win. What you need to know is that Barack Obama is a wolf in “pragmatist” clothing: Beneath the easy smile and above-it-all manner — the “neutral” doing his best to weigh competing claims — is a radical leftist wedded to a Manichean vision that depicts American imperialism as the primary evil in the world.
You may not have wanted to addle your brain over his tutelage in Hawaii by the Communist Frank Marshall Davis, nor his tracing of Davis’s career steps to Chicago, where he seamlessly eased into the orbit of Arafat apologist Rashid Khalidi, anti-American terrorists Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, and Maoist “educator” Michael Klonsky — all while imbibing 20 years’ worth of Jeremiah Wright’s Marxist “black liberation theology.” But this neo-Communist well from which Obama drew holds that the world order is a maze of injustice, racism, and repression. Its unified theory for navigating the maze is: “United States = culprit.” Its default position is that tyrants are preferable as long as they are anti-American, and that while terrorist methods may be regrettable, their root cause is always American provocation — that is, the terrorists have a point.

Then McCarthy excoriates congressional Democrats trying to protect their hapless leader, Nancy Pelosi by inventing a phony scandal. The "scandal" is, of all things, that the CIA was considering, secretly no less, without informing Congress, plans to capture or kill al-Queda leaders. Not even implementing. Considering. What a stunner! And the individual who ordered that this activity remain clandestine? Ta da! Dick Cheney, of course. As if we needed more evidence of his greatness.

One salient point McCarthy makes is,

...the difference between Democrats and Republicans on national security. President Obama is clearly conducting a war in Pakistan, a country with which we are formally at peace. The legitimate existence of wartime conditions is crucial: If we are not at war, there is no basis in international law for killing Pakistanis (or non-Pakistanis) in Pakistan. But the Right is not accusing the president of conducting an illegal war, of failing to seek congressional authorization, or of committing war crimes...
...while Democrats politicize “torture,” “domestic spying,” the Patriot Act, and now the CIA’s efforts to defeat al-Qaeda, Republicans are generally supporting Obama’s Pakistan policy for the greater good of protecting our national security.
Eventually, people do figure out who the grown-ups are.

I certainly hope so but I'm not optimistic. Just look at Newsweek's cover story this week. "Holder v. Bush. Torture and The Attorney General's Moment of Truth". What hope is there when both the party in power and the press act like children? Treasonous children at that.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Don't Know Much About History

In a June 1 post, I noted George McGovern's ridiculous take on the ending of the cold war.

In his second term, Ronald Reagan met with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who proposed that the two countries end the Cold War and the arms race. Reagan agreed, and the danger of war between the two nuclear giants has since subsided.

In todays's WSJ, former deputy secretary of state Liz Cheney (Dick's daughter) cites President Obama's equally ficticious narrative.

Speaking to a group of students, our president explained it this way: "The American and Soviet armies were still massed in Europe, trained and ready to fight. The ideological trenches of the last century were roughly in place. Competition in everything from astrophysics to athletics was treated as a zero-sum game. If one person won, then the other person had to lose. And then within a few short years, the world as it was ceased to be. Make no mistake: This change did not come from any one nation. The Cold War reached a conclusion because of the actions of many nations over many years, and because the people of Russia and Eastern Europe stood up and decided that its end would be peaceful."
The truth, of course, is that the Soviets ran a brutal, authoritarian regime. The KGB killed their opponents or dragged them off to the Gulag. There was no free press, no freedom of speech, no freedom of worship, no freedom of any kind. The basis of the Cold War was not "competition in astrophysics and athletics." It was a global battle between tyranny and freedom. The Soviet "sphere of influence" was delineated by walls and barbed wire and tanks and secret police to prevent people from escaping. America was an unmatched force for good in the world during the Cold War. The Soviets were not. The Cold War ended not because the Soviets decided it should but because they were no match for the forces of freedom and the commitment of free nations to defend liberty and defeat Communism.
It is irresponsible for an American president to go to Moscow and tell a room full of young Russians less than the truth about how the Cold War ended. One wonders whether this was just an attempt to push "reset" -- or maybe to curry favor. Perhaps, most concerning of all, Mr. Obama believes what he said.

Cheney goes on to list other examples of Obama's inability or unwillingness to stand up for American principles in his dealings with world leaders, even despots.

What they (the Obama people) don't seem to realize is that once you're president, your brand is America, and the American people expect you to defend us against lies, not embrace or ignore them. We also expect you to know your history.

"Brand" is the term I was looking for in my post last Friday (7/10) when I metaphorically compared America to corporations.

The left's gross misunderstanding of history and (again) moral equivalence isn't merely maddening, it's dangerous. As Cheney concludes,

The White House ought to take a lesson from President Harry Truman. In April, 1950, Truman signed National Security Council report 68 (NSC-68). One of the foundational documents of America's Cold War strategy, NSC-68 explains the danger of disarming America in the hope of appeasing our enemies. "No people in history," it reads, "have preserved their freedom who thought that by not being strong enough to protect themselves they might prove inoffensive to their enemies."
Perhaps Mr. Obama thinks he is making America inoffensive to our enemies. In reality, he is emboldening them and weakening us. America can be disarmed literally -- by cutting our weapons systems and our defensive capabilities -- as Mr. Obama has agreed to do. We can also be disarmed morally by a president who spreads false narratives about our history or who accepts, even if by his silence, our enemies' lies about us.

I've reproduced much of Cheney's article here, but she makes other good points. A very compelling piece.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Don't Mess With Texas

So how to "fix" the economy? Precisely not with the Democrats' approach. Do it as they do it in Texas.

Kevin D. Williamson's essay in the latest National Review should be required reading for all voting age Americans.

A few cogent passages.

If you want to know where the future is headed, look where the people are going. And if you want to know where the people are going, check with U-Haul. Here's an interesting indicator, first noted by the legendary economist Arthur Laffer: Renting a 26-foot U-Haul truck to go from Austin to San Francisco this July would cost you about $900. Renting the same truck to go from San Francisco to Austin? About $3,000. In the great balance of supply and demand, California has a large supply of people who are demanding to move to Texas. There's a reason for this.

(says Laffer) "Not only does Texas lack a highly progressive income tax — it doesn't have one at all! We hasten to add that the last time we checked, Texas still had literate kids, navigable roads and functioning hospitals, which one would think impossible given the hysterical rhetoric coming from defenders of California's punitive tax system".

Governor Perry sums up the Texas model in five words: "Don't spend all the money." Here's what a good long run of small-government, low-tax conservatism has achieved in Texas: Once a largely agricultural state, Texas today is home to 6 of the 25 largest cities in the country, more than any other state. Texas has a trillion-dollar economy that would make it the 15th-largest national economy in the world if it were, as some of its more spirited partisans sometimes idly suggest it should be, an independent country. By one estimate, 70 percent of the new jobs that were created in the United States in 2008 were created in Texas. Texas is home to America's highest-volume port, the largest medical center in the world, and the headquarters of more Fortune 500 companies than any other state, having surpassed New York in 2008.

Texas's formula for success is classical conservatism: Low spending enables low taxes, while a liberal regulatory environment attracts the capital that makes capitalism work. Texas has a state government that is structurally incapable of taking on the grand political ambitions that characterize states such as California and New York, which leaves the private sector with a relatively open theater of operation.

"There are certain truths that have to be agreed to," Perry says. "One is that economies grow when they are free from over-taxation, over-regulation, over-litigation, and they have a skilled work force. Government isn't difficult in theory — don't spend all the money, keep taxes low, have a fair and predictable regulatory climate, keep frivolous lawsuits to a minimum, and fund an accountable education system so that you have a skilled work force available. Then get the hell out of the way and let the private sector do what the private sector does best.

Note that triad of economy hindering forces - taxation, regulation, litigation - all key parts of the Democrats' domestic agenda.

Obama's African Poverty Program

"Obama urges poorer nations to fight global warming".

That was the lead-in to a story on Yahoo news a few days ago. As I've mentioned previously, there's a segment in the BBC documentary "The Great Global Warming Swindle" that depicts the devastating effects of environmentalism in the third world. Watch it to see the perpetual destitution that Obama seeks to consign to his brethren ("I have the blood of Africa within me"). This even as he exhorts Africans to progress ("Yes you can").

Mark Steyn (NRO) spotlights the environmental movement's drive to push us all (except for a selected elite few) into third world poverty. Here he cites the Greens' romantization of poverty.

"I don’t think a lot of electricity is a good thing,” said Gar Smith of San Francisco’s Earth Island Institute a few years back. "I have seen villages in Africa that had vibrant culture and great communities that were disrupted and destroyed by the introduction of electricity,” he continued, regretting that African peasants “who used to spend their days and evenings in the streets playing music on their own instruments and sewing clothing for their neighbors on foot-pedal powered sewing machines” are now slumped in front of Desperate Housewives reruns all day long.
One assumes Gar Smith is sincere in his fetishization of bucolic African poverty, with its vibrantly rampant disease and charmingly unspoilt life expectancy in the mid-forties. But when a hereditary prince (Prince Charles) starts attacking capitalism and pining for the days when a benign sovereign knew what was best for the masses, he gives the real game away. Capitalism is liberating: You’re born a peasant but you don’t have to die one.

Finally, as the press gushes (again) over Obama's supposed unique potential to create change in that poorest of continents, it's important to remember that he has a tough act to follow. No one. NO ONE! EVER! has done more for Africa than George W. Bush with his AIDS initiatives. As Mona Charen wrote late last year,

“Bush Has Quietly Tripled Aid to Africa.” So headlined a Washington Post story from 2006. But the president has been trying not to be quiet about it. On the contrary, he’s been touting it as often as he can.
But he gets precious little credit. Yes, Rick Warren of the Saddleback Church has awarded President Bush the “International Medal of Peace” for his humanitarian efforts in Africa. And a few agitators for international aid like Bono and Bob Geldof have put in a few good words for the man. Actually, Geldof was pretty interesting. He said George Bush had done more for Africa than his predecessor and was “pissed off” at the press for failing to report it.
But for the most part, the beautiful people in America — the Hollywood and university types, the book and magazine publishers, and of course, the major media — have shown complete indifference to George W. Bush’s dedication to a cause they purport to value. In fact, they’ve pointedly ignored it. It goes without saying that if Obama does even half of what Bush has done for AIDS sufferers in Africa, he will be — in the eyes of those same people — a candidate for canonization.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Likeminded and Funny

It’s almost enough to make a person pity Bernard Madoff. That poor shmuck got a 150-year prison sentence, and he only screwed Americans out of about 65 billion dollars.

The words are Bert Prelutsky's, commenting on President Obama's confiscation of our nation's wealth. (Like Madoff, Obama calls his thievery investment).
Prelutsky is one columnist that I'll always read, based solely on his byline. This is not because he presents detailed and enlightening analyses of current events but because 1) He's consistently funny, and 2) He shares my amazement and outrage that radical, foolish, inexperienced (in the President's case), misguided, dishonest, ignorant, unpatriotic (etc, etc), politicians like Obama, Pelosi and Reid have managed to achieve their present positions of power. Prelutsky is also Jewish and a former liberal, so he has other commonalities with me as well.

Here are a couple of columns exhibiting Prelutsky's bewilderment and consternation about our current state of affairs. They appeared recently on!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Why I'm No Longer A Democrat (Reason #683)

Since their mismanagement of the Vietnam War, Democrats have had a moral equivalence problem. The party's predominant strategies in the late stages of the cold war were appeasement and "conciliation". This approach continues today with our war against radical Islam and with ongoing conflicts with vestigal communist states. Just as Microsoft sells software and Ford sells cars, America's business, our essence, is democracy and freedom . With the notable exception of Joe Lieberman and maybe a few blue dog Democrats, there is no one in the party willing to promote and sell these values to the world. This despite, as events in Iran make clear, there being many potential buyers.

That was then...

I believe that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.
Harry Truman

Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.
John F. Kennedy

If you believe in the cause of freedom, then proclaim it, live it and protect it, for humanity’s future depends on it.
Henry "Scoop" Jackson

This is now...

What we showed here is that we can make progress when we’re willing to break free from some of the stale debates and old ideologies that have dominated and distorted the debate in this hemisphere for far too long.
Barack Obama (referring to his recent giveaway deal with Russia)

Let’s put ideology aside. That is so yesterday.
Hillary Clinton

Yeah, dude, like, communism, fascism, democracy, salafism, whatev.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The 9/11 Republican

In his latest NRO contribution, Jay Nordlinger cited an essay written 4 1/2 years ago by Cinnamon Stillwell, a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. In it she explains her conversion from Bay Area (hard left) liberalism to staunch conservatism. An eloquent expression of many sentiments that I share.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Worse and Worse

I noticed a curious bumper sticker yesterday - "Pray For Obama". This is a significant attitude change. (Assuming the request is from a fan). I thought Obama was God. It seems that he's coming up short in that regard. Anyway, I have a prayer for him. (With apologies to "Fiddler On The Roof").
May God bless and keep the President...far away from us.
Actually, I'll be happy to pray for Obama, just as fervently as his supporters prayed for his predecessor.

Meanwhile the Obama train wreck continues to wreak havoc. (The wreck wreaks weekly). He's siding with the wrong folks in Iran and Honduras. In his latest apologia tour, he gave away far too much to Russia, getting nothing in return. (For a good analysis see the Ralph Peters article in the NY Post).

And with the unemployment rate now 1.5% higher than the peak predicted by his highness, there's talk of putting together yet another stimulus package. We're told (constantly) about Obama's smarts. The inability to learn from past mistakes is not a sign of intelligence.
Stimulus plans never work. Not in 2002. Not in 2008. Especially not in 2009, badly designed as it was. The "experts" say not to worry. They expect the recovery to begin late this year and pick up steam next year. The trouble is, we should have seen a bump from the stimulus by now. If we're getting one, it's been negligible. And we'll have to start paying soon (i.e - higher taxes) for the "stimulus" and the bloated, pork filled budget and the bailouts and cap and trade and socialized medicine. That will throw ice water over any recovery.

Speaking of socialized medicine. A WSJ editorial today focuses on that part of the British national health system, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), that rations health care in that country. It's neither nice, nor excellent. The American equivalent, coming soon to a health care provider near you.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Chambers vs. Rand

An absurd misconception, promoted of course, by the media, is that conservatism is a “small tent” ideology, with a very narrow tolerance for competing ideas. In reality, if anything, the opposite is true, as liberalism demands its adherents to toe the line, or else. (see Lieberman, Joe). In contrast, the right allows a wide spectrum of viewpoints. A case in point is the ongoing feud between two conservative factions – one championed by William Buckley and Whittaker Chambers and the other by Ayn Rand. Both groups were (and are) vehemently opposed to Communism. The former based its objections from a religious standpoint – that a Godless society is necessarily evil. That people are imperfect sinners and any system that lifts man to the level of God will eventually degenerate into immorality and oppression. The Rand (Objectivist) viewpoint is that all great achievements come from the minds of free individuals. No restrictions should be placed on man’s freedom to think, produce and enjoy the fruits of his labors. Rather than providing a moral compass for humankind, belief in god is one of the two great sources of oppression in the world – the other being state power.
The dispute came to a head with Chambers’ December, 1957 blistering review of Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged". No critique by a liberal observer could have been any harsher.

I find it a remarkably silly book. It is certainly a bumptious one. Its story is preposterous.In this fiction everything, everybody, is either all good or all bad, without any of those intermediate shades which, in life, complicate reality and perplex the eye that seeks to probe it truly. This kind of simplifying pattern, of course, gives charm to most primitive story known as: The War between the Children of Light and the Children of Darkness. In modern dress, it is a class war. Both sides to it are caricatures.

Chambers see little difference between Rand’s human-centric materialism and Karl Marx’s.

(Marx), too, admired "naked self-interest" (in its time and place), and for much the same reasons as Miss Rand: because, he believed, it cleared away the cobwebs of religion and led to prodigies of industrial and cognate accomplishment. The overlap is not as incongruous as it looks. Atlas Shrugged can be called a novel only by devaluing the term. It is a massive tract for the times. Its story merely serves Miss Rand to get the customers inside the tent, and as a soapbox for delivering her Message. The Message is the thing. It is, in sum, a forthright philosophic materialism. Upperclassmen might incline to sniff and say that the author has, with vast effort, contrived a simple materialist system, one, intellectually, at about the stage of the oxcart, though without mastering the principle of the wheel. Like any consistent materialism, this one begins by rejecting God, religion, original sin, etc., etc. (This book's aggressive atheism and rather unbuttoned "higher morality," which chiefly outrage some readers, are, in fact, secondary ripples, and result inevitably from its underpinning premises.) Thus, Randian Man, like Marxian Man, is made the center of a godless world.
Here occurs a little rub whose effects are just as observable in a free-enterprise system, which is in practice materialist (whatever else it claims or supposes itself to be), as they would be under an atheist socialism, if one were ever to deliver that material abundance that all promise. The rub is that the pursuit of happiness, as an end in itself, tends automatically, and widely, to be replaced by the pursuit of pleasure, with a consequent general softening of the fibers of will, intelligence, spirit. No doubt, Miss Rand has brooded upon that little rub. Hence in part, I presume, her insistence on man as a heroic being" With productive achievement as his noblest activity." For, if Man's heroism" (some will prefer to say: human dignity") no longer derives from God, or is not a function of that godless integrity which was a root of Nietzsche's anguish, then Man becomes merely the most consuming of animals, with glut as the condition of his happiness and its replenishment his foremost activity. So Randian Man, at least in his ruling caste, has to be held "heroic" in order not to be beastly.Something of this implication is fixed in the book's dictatorial tone, which is much its most striking feature. Out of a lifetime of reading, I can recall no other book in which a tone of overriding arrogance was so implacably sustained. Its shrillness is without reprieve. Its dogmatism is without appeal.From almost any page of Atlas Shrugged, a voice can be heard, from painful necessity, commanding: "To a gas chamber — go!"

This reading of Rand’s philosophy naturally raises the ire of her fervent supporters. A typical retort (excerpted) is the following.

Whittaker Chambers was an ex-communist who had turned to become a religious conservative, famous as the main witness against Alger Hiss, and a hero among conservatives in a way that only a convert can be. This apparently got him the deference to use the pages and prestige of Bill Buckley's magazine to write perhaps the most malicious and carefully dishonest hatchet job I've ever seen published as a "book review."
For starters, he spent a few hundred words saying that the book was nearly worthless as a fictional story. Ayn Rand was, in fact, a very effective dramatist and writer, even if you didn't like much of the message. She had skills. You could argue about aspects of her approach that you find inadequate, but to pretend that she was a crappy writer with few redeeming features seems extremely hard to justify objectively, let us say.
The factual wrongness of this review is breathtaking. A big part of the point of her work was to denounce communism and fascism, and to dissect the philosophical underpinnings that enabled their monstrosities. On top of which, Ayn Rand was originally a Russian Jew who famously fled the budding Soviet Union. For this ex-commie Chambers to be so speaking of this Jewish survivor of the Soviet holocaust is somewhere beyond words in its offensiveness.

This is, as it always is, a vacuous argument. The ethnicity or experiences of a writer is irrelevant to the validity of her views.

The basis of his accusation that Rand was a fascist dictator in waiting ultimately was simply that ALL atheists are ultimately fascist. He slightly camoflauged such a ridiculous statement by using the word "materialist" rather than simply atheist, which is what he meant.In truth, Chambers appears not so much to have been writing a book review, but attempting a party purge- an instinct no doubt left over from his commie days.

Incidentally, the preceding was written in 2005, evincing the enduring nature of the disagreement.
Despite the protestations of her defender, Chambers is certainly right with his opinion about Rand’s fiction writing ability. Cartoonish characters, insipid dialogue and politburo length speechmaking deaden her storytelling. Ideologically, both Chambers and Rand were anti-collectivist, pro-freedom. To Chambers freedom was a spiritual matter – the freedom to find God. He had a fundamental distrust of man as superman, whether in a socialist or capitalist system. Rand’s freedom was materialistic - the freedom to achieve for one’s own ends whatever they may be. She believed in the primacy of the reasoning human mind and the great achievements it produced. To Rand, striving to achieve is humanity's highest calling. To Chambers, this thinking is a pathway to tyranny. As he states in his A.S. review,

The trouble is…when a system of materialist ideas presumes to give positive answers to real problems of our real life that mischief starts. In an age like ours, in which a highly complex technological society is everywhere in a high state of instability, such answers, however philosophic, translate quickly into political realities. And in the degree to which problems of complexity and instability are most bewildering to masses of men, a temptation sets in to let some species of Big Brother solve and supervise them.

Chambers needn’t have worried. There is no possibility of an elite-led society, with a minimalist government of the type that Rand proposed. Quite the contrary, to our detriment, we’re moving in the opposite direction. We won't ever know if the Randian prescription would create unprecedented prosperity, drastically reduce poverty, eliminate war. As she noted, the closest the world has come to pure unbridled capitalism was in the hundred or so years between the end of the Napoleonic Wars and the beginning of the First World War. And it was a period of unprecedented growth and relative peace. So even a more moderate approach, (a la Milton Friedman), would be welcome. Concerning our current economic downturn, Rand would have justifiably said, “I told you so”. We’re presently living an “Atlas Shrugged” type scenario : The government in its effort to “do good” has distorted the market. It sought (in our present case) to make home ownership "affordable" to all. Piling this onto our economy, already overburdened with entitlements, resulted in a cascade of negative effects. As in Rand’s book, the government is attempting to “fix” the damage with even more intervention. Unlike Rand’s book, the productive class isn’t united enough to call a general strike. There will be no societal collapse followed by regeneration. We’ll just slog along, with lower living standards, less dynamism, and less freedom. Until, at least, another Reagan or Thatcher comes along.

An Encouraging Trend

As people gradually figure out what President Obama is really up to, his approval ratings will continue to fall. Some day I'll be able to break out my "I Disliked Obama Before It Was Cool" bumper sticker.