Archive for March, 2009

John Hinderaker thinks so:

If the Pelosi bill is actually enacted into law (which I still think is doubtful) and upheld by the courts, there is no limit to the arbitrary power of Congress. In that event, we have no property rights and there is no Constitution–no equal protection clause, no due process clause, no impairment of contracts clause, no bill of attainder/ex post facto law clause. Instead, we are living in a majoritarian tyranny. As I explained here, there is nothing wrong with the AIG bonuses and no reason why they should be repaid. But even if you think it was wrong for AIG to pay them, Pelosi’s proposed confiscatory tax–total taxes would exceed 100 percent in some jurisdictions–is an outrage. If Congress can appease a howling mob of demagogues by enacting discriminatory tax legislation against a group of people who are, for the moment, politically unpopular, even though the vast majority of them have nothing to do with the supposed problems that have given rise to popular outcry–imagine, say, Congress enacting a surtax on the incomes of all homosexuals in response to a notorious case of homosexual molestation–then the idea that the Constitution affords us any sort of protection against arbitrary government power is an illusion.

Peter Robinson agrees:

The emergence of misrule, corruption and economic stagnation in Latin American nations follows a particular sequence or progression. Now the sequence was unfolding in the United States.

“It starts with a cult of personality,” the Cuban explained. “One man declares himself the jefe, the caudillo, the big leader.”

Had Obama attempted to instigate something like a cult of personality? The American found the charge impossible to refute. During the campaign, Obama had failed to advance a genuine agenda, instead campaigning on “hope” and “change.” In effect, he had asked Americans to turn the nation over to him on blind faith….

Let George W. Bush mispronounce a word, and the press would howl for a month. Let Barack Obama offend against language itself–let him suggest that he signed perhaps the most reckless fiscal act in American history as an instance of “fiscal responsibility,” engaging in an almost Orwellian example of doublespeak–and the press utters scarcely a murmur.

“After the cult of personality,” the Colombian explained, “what comes next is nationalization.” Fidel had nationalized the Cuban sugar mills, Chavez the Banco de Venezuela, Morales the Bolivian oil and gas industries.

Obama? He may not have been issuing sweeping diktats. But as the American had to admit, he had already presided over a vast expansion of the federal stake in banks, in the automobile industry and in the mortgage markets. And in his address before Congress, he had proposed a new federal presence in health care, an industry that accounts for a full one-seventh of the economy.

“The last step?” asked the Cuban. “Censorship. It won’t be obvious at first–they’re always too smart for that. But it will come.”

My fears during the election campaign are being reignited. “What evidence do we have,” I asked people, “that Obama is not an American Hugo Chavez?” All his associations, all his statements, all his actions, seemed pointed in that direction. They still do. What startles me is that the Democratic Party—not just the fringe, but the mainstream—seems cool with it. Was concern with civil rights just an act? Has the Democratic Party really become ideologically indistinguishable from the CPUSA?

Can this really be happening? Surely, it’s an exaggeration? I hope so. But look at this morning’s Drudge headlines:

REGULATE! Obama will call for increased oversight of ‘executive pay at all banks, Wall Street firms and possibly other companies’ as part of sweeping plan to ‘overhaul financial regulation’, NY TIMES reporting Sunday, newsroom sources tell DRUDGE… Developing…

Alarm over US moves for punitive taxes…

Legislation Likely to Be Upheld in Court…

GM, CHRYSLER May Need ‘Considerably’ More Than $21.6B…

Oregon, Nevada Join California Among States With Jobless Rates Above 10%…

Dollar Posts Largest Weekly Drop Since 1985…

Agenda on track despite worsening deficits…

$9.3 trillion in next 10 years…

Highest ratio to GDP since 1940s…

Frank wants FANNIE, FREDDIE bonuses halted…

AIG outrage has employees living in fear…

Paper: Is this the end of America?

White House bars press from press award ceremony…


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Talking Cures

Dr. Sanity talks about the irrational confidence that talking can cure all our troubles. Christians attempt to conduct interfaith dialogues with Muslims, convinced that if only we could all understand each other, we’d be at peace. President Obama plans to talk to Hamas, Iran, and any other global tyrant, convinced that if only they could see that we mean them no harm, they’d put down their weapons and live with us in harmony. But there are many occasions when talking doesn’t work.

In fact, one of the first thing my psychoanalytic supervisor told me when I was learning psychiatry was, “You can take a real schmuck and have him undergo psychoanalysis; but when you finish all you will have is a well-analyzed schmuck.”

Obama’s outreach to Iran, which was immediately rejected as insufficient, seems to exemplify the point. Hugh Fitzgerald, however, thinks it may not be the craven attempt at appeasement I took it to be:

There was a subtle subtext in this message, the one that is not at all favorable to the Islamic Republic of Iran, but rather attempts to camouflage a message to “the Iranian people” (i.e., those who are capable of thought in Iran). This message takes the occasion of a non-Islamic holiday, one deplored by Islamic clerics, to also show an awareness of and to lavish praise upon features of Iranian history that are not at all necessarily tied to Islam and, in many cases are pre-Islamic, or non-Islamic, or openly hostile to the “invaders” — the Arabs — who brought the “gift” of Islam to Iran.

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The Queen of YouTube

Natalie Tran

Natalie Tran

Natalie Tran is a 23-year-old Australian whose YouTube videos have accumulated more than 64 million hits for their quirky humor. If you haven’t seen one of them, treat yourself! Her phenomenal success, coupled with the impending death of newspapers, suggests we are about to witness a fundamental transformation in the media environment—and that it’s not easy to predict what the resulting configuration will be like. I don’t mourn for the newspapers; they switched from reporting to commentary many years ago. It’s tempting to blame that on the “advocacy journalism” that emerged in the 1960s. But as the history of reporting on the Russia of Lenin and Stalin makes clear, tendentious and frankly mendacious reporting goes back much further. Then, there were few alternatives. Now, there are many, and people are just beginning to learn how to develop them. Natalie Tran is among the leaders in figuring it out.

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Canine Friday: Hershey

Hershey in Springtime

Hershey in Springtime

It’s the first day of spring! Hershey and I have spent the afternoon outside. She seems blissfully unaware of the AIG bonuses and my worries about the proper relation between logos, ethos, and pathos.

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Prohibit the women from going shopping. Good grief.

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The Economy

For the first time since the inauguration of the One, a breath of optimism has reached Wall Street. I’m not surprised. I don’t want to minimize the economic difficulties that face us—there’s been a lot of bad news, and there’s going to be more—but, as the One has now proclaimed, despite having mocked John McCain for making the same point, the economy is fundamentally sound. The banks that are in trouble are actually sound businesses that had very small units that made very large and very bad bets. The housing collapse and foreclosure crisis is concentrated in a few places:

A Few Bad Apples....

A Few Bad Apples....

California, Florida, Arizona, and Nevada are in trouble. The rest of the country is basically fine. A change in the insane mark-to-market accounting rule, which forces banks to assign mortgage instruments of uncertain value the all-too-certain value zero, would do wonders to restore confidence and transparency in the markets. (It was the merest hint of such a change that led to last week’s rally.)

So, why has the stock market been tanking? Why have I been predicting doom and gloom? Not because of the economic fundamentals, but because of political decisions. The Obama administration seems to want to recreate the 1970s or even the 1930s by attacking free markets and private businesses. When Republican Senators demand that insurance executives commit harikari, it’s clear that our political leadership is bad beyond description. Here’s my bold plan for economic recovery:

1. Replace mark-to-market accounting rules with mark-to-performance. Overnight, bank balance sheets improve, a market for mortgage instruments reemerges, and the stock market rallies.

2. Cut federal spending. Eliminate earmarks. Give the President line-item veto authority. Recognize that Congress has become the site of a massive tragedy of the commons, and that deep institutional reforms are needed to counteract that tendency.

3. Cancel the bailouts. Let companies go into Chapter 11. Let people who can’t pay their mortgages lose their houses. Didn’t we want more affordable housing? And wasn’t buying a 2,000 square foot house in San Bernardino county for $1.2 million obviously a risky thing to do?

4. Reject “card check,” i.e., Tony Soprano intimidation legislation, and pass a federal “right-to-work” law. Recognize that unions, whatever virtues they might once have displayed, now figure among the primary enemies of the future.

5. Admit that global warming is a hoax based on pseudoscience and political grandstanding, announce that carbon—an element necessary to life, and the foundation of organic chemistry—is not a pollutant, and denounce carbon taxes and cap-and-trade schemes as the attacks on capitalism and civilization they plainly are.

6. Cut taxes. How about a 15% flat tax on all income from all sources, with just a personal exemption of $5,000 for each person in a household? Worried that you might lose out? How about giving people the option: you can pay what you owe under the current scheme, or under that one?

The Obama administration, of course, is pushing in the opposite direction in every single case. That explains most of our current woes.  They aren’t worse only because the pushing seems increasingly incompetent.

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Roger Scruton brilliantly outlines seven features of Western Civilization that differentiate it from Islam and that are very much worth defending. Read it all. Alcohol is involved.

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If you were give President Obama a grade on his performance so far, what would it be? MSNBC asked that question, and the results are remarkable. Initially, and with over 100,000 votes collected, 60% gave him an F. Now, left wing sites have mobilized their people, and, with over 300,000 cast, 39% give him an F. Professional economists, on a scale of 0-100, give him, on average, a 59—a failing score. Newsweek is complaining about his inconsistencies. So far, he appears to be following Roger Kimball’s 12 steps to destroying the economy.

Meanwhile, Jeff Pope marvels at the arrogance of Congressional Democrats and wonders whether voting matters anymore. The arrogance (earmarks, anyone?) is astounding, but so is the cluelessness. Alexander Bolton describes the increasing nervousness of Congressional Democrats:

Some Democrats have started to worry that voters don’t and won’t understand the link between economic revival and Obama’s huge agenda, which includes saving the banking industry, ending home foreclosures, reforming healthcare and developing a national energy policy, among much else.

Oh, I think they understand the link very well. The bailouts have vastly increased federal spending and debt, placing a tremendous burden on the future and slowing necessary adjustments. Reforming health care will burden the economy further while greatly reducing the quality of care. (For detailed arguments, see Maggie’s Farm.) The “national energy policy” Democrats propose is to eliminate domestic energy exploration and development while burdening almost all current energy sources with heavy new taxes. Gateway Pundit has been arguing that carbon cap and trade will cost the average family $700-$1400 a year. That’s surely an understatement. It’s more like $700-$1400 a month. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that such a program would raise gasoline prices about 145%—given the current price of oil, to about $5 a gallon. Electricity? The goal is to make coal, natural gas, etc., just as expensive as solar and other alternative sources. Right now, that would require increasing the cost of fossil fuel energy at least 500%. Imagine paying $100 to fill up that SUV, and imagine that summer $200 electricity bill being $1000 instead. Now imagine what that would do to the economy.

Once, when I was a young faculty member, I graded a student’s final exam. It was not just bad; it was terrible. It seemed not only idiotic but willfully idiotic. I wrote a large red ‘F’ that took up most of the first page. That wasn’t satisfying enough. So, I turned the horizontal bars of the ‘F’ into a pirate flag and drew a ship below it, with a pirate on deck brandishing a sword and exclaiming, “Way to go, Bucko!”

That’s how I’d grade Obama.

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Jeff Goldstein writes about clarity of expression and modern journalism, discussing the controversy over Rush Limbaugh’s “I hope he fails” remark. He provides the context. Rush said:

I got a request here from a major American print publication. “Dear Rush: For the Obama [Immaculate] Inauguration we are asking a handful of very prominent politicians, statesmen, scholars, businessmen, commentators, and economists to write 400 words on their hope for the Obama presidency. We would love to include you. If you could send us 400 words on your hope for the Obama presidency, we need it by Monday night, that would be ideal.” …I’ve been listening to Barack Obama for a year-and-a-half. I know what his politics are. I know what his plans are, as he has stated them. I don’t want them to succeed.

If I wanted Obama to succeed, I’d be happy the Republicans have laid down. And I would be encouraging Republicans to lay down and support him. Look, what he’s talking about is the absorption of as much of the private sector by the US government as possible, from the banking business, to the mortgage industry, the automobile business, to health care. I do not want the government in charge of all of these things. I don’t want this to work. So I’m thinking of replying to the guy, “Okay, I’ll send you a response, but I don’t need 400 words, I need four: I hope he fails.” (interruption) What are you laughing at? See, here’s the point. Everybody thinks it’s outrageous to say. Look, even my staff, “Oh, you can’t do that.” Why not? Why is it any different, what’s new, what is unfair about my saying I hope liberalism fails? Liberalism is our problem. Liberalism is what’s gotten us dangerously close to the precipice here. Why do I want more of it?

Dittos! Of course, liberals have taken this out of context to suggest that Rush wants Obama to fail no matter what he does. Some conservatives have wanted Rush to speak more carefully, so that his words can’t be pulled out of context so easily. Goldstein notes, correctly, that this is foolish:

All of which brings us back to those conservative political realists and pragmatists now criticizing Rush over his impolitic (or unclear) remarks: their desire for Limbaugh to be more careful with his phrasings as a way to avoid being misrepresented in a soundbite culture is, frankly, a fool’s game — and, even more frankly, it is indicative of a political strategy that amounts to conceding loss, with the concomitant hope that perhaps we’ll lose more slowly.

– Which is not to say this is a conscious part of the strategy of the realists, just that it is the inevitable effect of backing such a strategy. Because even were Republicans to begin winning elections based on their newly found ability to negotiate a hostile media bent on misrepresenting them, they’d be compelled to maintain the practice of carefully parsing their words, which means they’d always be at the mercy of those looking to attack and discredit. And such has the effect both of chilling speech and of determining in what way a message must necessarily be delivered.

And when your opponents are making the rules, you are necessarily playing their game.

To put it more forcefully, it is a fact of language that once you surrender the grounds for meaning to those who would presume to determine your meaning for you, you are at their mercy.

Absolutely right. I have dealt with the media, and have learned some lessons. First, never talk to “advocacy journalists.” It doesn’t matter what you say. You’re the bogeyman; they’ll twist what you say however they need to in order to paint you as a monster. Second, even relatively fair-minded journalists will go with what makes a story, and will ignore any qualifications or subtleties to get their story. So, there’s nothing for careful phrasing to achieve. Say nothing at all, or say it boldly.

Meanwhile, the Democrats have decided on the winner of the Rush billboard contest, which sounds pro-Limbaugh to me.

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Quid Nimis disputes my allegations of idiocy, and chalks Obama’s problems up to laziness.  She makes an interesting case.  But I wonder whether anyone who endures the rigors of a Presidential campaign can truly be called lazy.

Intellectually lazy?  Now that I can believe.

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