12 October 2009

Congress and Pay-Do

Since the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) came out with an estimate on Thursday that the Buacus health insurance reform bill would cost only $829 billion over 10 years, there seems to be an attitude that if America can pay for it, it should do it. It is as if money were the only important factor when it comes to health care, insurance, and government intervention.

For the moment, I'll put aside the fact that each of the Democrat proposed bills doesn't provide a shred of increased health insurance coverage until 2013 - though there's a 10-year price tag attached. I'll also put aside that the CBO's estimate is not based on legislative language, but rather a rough outline of what might end up in the bill. And I'll put aside as well the notion that anyone will be able to read - let alone "score" - the final bill before it becomes law; our lawmakers will make sure the bill doesn't see the public stage in final form until President Obama has signed it.

Putting all of that aside, one must still ask if massive government run "reform" is what's needed. Do the American people want or need more federal intervention into everyday life?

Forget the extension to the above question which would qualify it: would the intervention be for the "good" of the people or would it be "detrimental". Or, if that qualification must be invoked, why should the federal government, and the people who run it, be given the power to make decisions on what is individually beneficial? What is individually beneficial to me may well not be the same as what is beneficial to my neighbor, let alone someone 1,000 miles away. Yet here we are on the doorstep where one size fits all, "universal" health care...um, pardon me, insurance reform...may be imposed universally.

In my mind, the most important question when it comes to any government action is not if it can be paid for. The most important question is should the government do it? Is it the right and proper role of government to impose (insert random "reform" project for the "betterment" of the electorate here) upon the American people? When it comes to health care insurance reform, my answer is that the government is already too involved. A bit of deregulation is needed, more choices are needed- like the choice to buy across state lines and have tax exemptions for individually purchased health insurance. Those types of things, options outside of government imposed and "managed" plans, would increase individual liberty. But it appears that is not what is wanted by those in Washington D.C. who are attempting to "help" the lamentable electorate. So help they will - never mind the loss of liberty.

09 October 2009

Real World (War) and the Imaginary (Peace)

On the same day that we find out President Obama has won the Nobel Peace Prize would be the perfect day for him to approve General McChrystal's request for more troops in Afghanistan.

Perfect because, according to the AP, the choice of Mr. Obama for the Nobel seems to be for "initiatives that have yet to bear fruit" in the real world. Indeed, it is unclear just how Mr. Obama's international outreach program will impact world affairs. To some at home, it seems that Mr. Obama denigrates the U.S. and its most recent former president as a matter of course. This tactic might make for flowery speeches but it does little to advance U.S. interests; indeed, it damages them.

Thorbjoern Jagland, chairman of the Nobel Committee, cited Mr. Obama's work toward nuclear disarmament as a reason for his selection, along with giving the American people "hope for a better future" - the "h" word had to come in at some point. But there seems to be little change on the nuclear front. North Korea and Iran are still on the same trajectory as they were under Mr. Bush.

It seems that the current president is inexerably linked to him immediate predicessor. One might argue that there would be no President Obama without President Bush. It seems clear that Mr. Obama would not have won his Nobel if it were not for his predecessor.

So on this day, it would be a fitting irony if Mr. Obama were to grant General McChrystal's request for more troops in full. But with as much hemming and hawing coming out of the White House regarding "the good war" in Afghanistan, I'm nto so sure that the Commander in Chief understands a paradox of military operations: using a great amount of force in the proper place at the proper time actually saves situations from further violence. This lesson should have been learned from Kosovo. It should have been learned from Iraq. I think perhaps Generals McChrystal and Patraeus understand this. If Mr. Obama were to actually earn his peace prize, he must understand how to wage war.

29 September 2009

Another Push for More School Time

Originally posted at American Thinker.

In an article published on multiple website (Fox News link here), it appears that President Obama and Education Secretary Duncan are renewing the push for schools to be in session for more hours and perhaps more days. The overarching goal would supposedly be better educated high school graduates. But the list of reasons used to justify a longer school day, week, and/or year reads more like a brainstorming list -- hammered down and unrefined.

The first reason listed in the article, attributed to Mr. Duncan, is that the "school calendar is based upon the agrarian economy" and that simply does not fit with the modern world. Kids don't work in fields, so the idea of a summer vacation is antiquated.

Next up is that school children in other countries spend more time or more days in class. Here, Mr. Duncan would "level the playing field" by increasing the time American kids spend in school. Note the intimation of equality of outcome here. But as the article clearly illustrates, several countries in Asia -- those who might easily be cited as beating the pants off of the US in test scores -- actually have far less instructional time during a school year even though their students have more school days.

This point is key because it implies that students are expected to learn outside of school. It supposes that students are expected to do homework; they are expected to expend the blood, sweat, and tears on their own. The increased number of days, then, allows for more overall time for instruction -- both inside the classroom with a teacher and, as Dr. Seuss famously said, outside the classroom "sitting alone in a room". This is a hint of what would be a more proper understanding of education. Teachers are there to teach, students are to learn. Teaching takes less time than learning, and no teacher can "learn" his student. The student has to do the learning on his own. The model of more, yet shorter, school days appears to put the onus of learning where it ought to be - on the student.

However, that would be antithetical to the equality of outcome model sought after and legislated for in this country. Other reasons for more school time must be advanced in order to keep the equality of outcome ideal in focus.

The administration argument puts forward the idea that summer vacation is a time when kids' education stagnates, and postulates that poor kids may well regress due to lack of opportunity. Clearly these things are probably true in some cases, but this is just a stepping stone for Mr. Duncan's final point of the article: "Those hours from 3 o'clock to 7 o'clock are times of high anxiety for [low income, inner city] parents," Duncan said. "They want their children safe. Families are working one and two and three jobs now to make ends meet and to keep food on the table." And there's the rub. Longer school days, weeks, and years are being advocated with keeping kids safe as, I believe, the primary goal. Schools substitute for homes, teachers for parents. And so as not to single out inner city, poor kids -- that would be discriminatory! -- reforms will be called "universal". One size fits all education.

I ask the reader to imagine the 17-year old freshman in high school who is forced to stay in a school building for an extra three or four hours a day -- no choice. How well might that work out? Would this create a safe environment for other students? How would this child's learning be advanced in the longer school day model?

As I've written before, the matter isn't so much about the amount of time spent in school but rather how that time is used. Simply adding time, or forcing districts to add time, will not necessarily result in better educated students. Students must have valuable activities, like simply practicing what they have learned over the course of an academic day, in which to participate. And that creates another rub: academic education, for all its merits, is a volunteer activity. Students who choose to not participate and who have parents who are either too busy or too selfish to care will tend to not opt in. Those students may be in attendance physically, but they will have mentally checked out. Some things, it seems, simply can't be legislated. Individual student achievement is one of them.

28 September 2009

The Bright Shiny Thing

Not content with attempting to deal with the evolving situation with Iran or figuring out how to attempt to solve the problem of Afghanistan, not even satisfied to stay in the wholly domestic push for government run and/or further regulated health insurance, President Obama seems to have been caught by his personal siren song to campaign. It seems he simply is not remotely content to be the chief executive. He must be in sales mode.

So the president is traveling to Copenhagen to plug Chicago for the 2016 summer games. He’s taking local politics global. He’s chasing the bright, shiny thing. And it’s a sign that perhaps he’s simply bored and/or frustrated by his job. If that is somewhat true, then the country is in for a long, long three years and four months.

27 September 2009

Obama Pushes Domestic Agenda, Drops the Wartime Ball

Today on Fox News Sunday, Senator Feinstein made an interesting assertion regarding President Obama’s desire to take weeks to consider how best to handle the war in Afghanistan. This careful consideration comes six months after announcing a change in tactics. But that was March, this is September. Mr. Obama seems to have taken his eyes off of Afghanistan – the “good war” we are told – to push his statist domestic policy. Consideration of Mr. Obama’s focus brings out an interesting observation.

Some things, some issues are truly urgent. Having the right strategy at the right time is crucial to winning a war. Regardless of political stripes, everyone should have gained that insight from the Iraq War. When the upper reaches of the chain of command outline a strategy for the Commander in Chief, he really ought to take it to heart. Instead, Mr. Obama seems to be content to bicker around a conference table. On some issues then, the debate is not over; the time to bicker has not ended. The time to act is not now. I wonder if the generals will have a seat at the beer conference when the new, new strategy is settled.

But for folks like Mr. Obama and Senator Feinstein, taking a number of weeks to stew over strategy – even though the generals have a plan they would like to implement – is the responsible, level-headed thing to do. The fight in theater goes on, though. And while it might be tempting to call Mr. Obama’s feet dragging a “rope-a-dope,” that would indicate that he plans on punching back at some point in order to win. But very little seems to be urgent to Mr. Obama when it comes to foreign policy.

Not so when it comes to domestic policy. The public is told over and over (and over) that economic stimulus, health care reform, and going “green” are all of such urgent import that no further debate is needed, no time for consideration can be taken, indeed no time to read legislation can be spared. The time to act, we are told with feverishly increasing urgency, is always now. The government, we are told, must act, must save us from – well, better just save us. It appears that is the goal of Mr. Obama’s administration: to save the American electorate via government intervention.

It would be prudent if folks who have a voice in the political realm would ask and answer what the proper role of the federal government is. Is it the government’s role to push domestic spending and balloon bureaucracy so as to “save” the electorate? Or is it the government’s role to train, equip, and field the military so as to meet national defense objectives? Where should the federal government focus its attention?

I don’t suspect that these questions will be asked or answered any time before the 2010 elections, at least not in the wider media – the supposed “mainstream” media. But for the individual, here is something to ponder now: How much government intervention are you willing to have in your life? It seems to me that the less the federal government focuses on “fixing” what it feels is wrong with my little world, the more it can focus on defending America from those who would do it irreparable harm – and that would be more its right and proper role.

21 September 2009

Blind Squirrel Finds a Nut: Friedman

In an op-ed piece Sunday, Thomas Friedman makes a great point regarding nuclear power. He points out that France gets “nearly 80 percent of its electricity from nuclear power” and that the US is too chicken of nuclear waste and the ghost of Three-Mile Island to build new nuclear plants. He also points out that Yucca Mountain would be a “totally safe” place for nuclear waste storage. While Mr. Friedman misses the point of reprocessing waste into usable fuel – something the French do but is shunned in the US – his overall point about nuclear power is well made. The US ought to begin to allow private companies to build nuclear power plants without endless “environmental” roadblocks.

What Mr. Friedman doesn’t seem to recognize is that environmentalists are by in large responsible for killing nuclear power in the US. And they are powerful. While I’m no expert – far from it – but I’m guessing that by just challenging environmental impact studies, those who claim to care for the environment make the process of approval for a new nuclear plant so expensive and time consuming as to price it out of the market. But that, perhaps, is a matter for another time.

Mr. Friedman misses when he gets to the main point of his article – raising the federal gas tax by $1 a gallon. Mr. Friedman would allow 45% of revenue gained to pay down the deficit and another 45% to pay for – get this – health care. How a gas tax is linked to health care is beyond me, but the more egregious point would be allowing the federal government to take and spend more money on big programs which aren’t proven. So I offer an alternative to Mr. Friedman: take that second 45% and let the individual states keep it for the sole purpose of paying for unfunded federal mandates shoved down their collective throats.

If you noticed 10% missing from the above equation, Mr. Friedman has a plan for that as well. Can’t forget the proletariat. Mr. Friedman would give “10 cents to cushion the burden of such a tax on the poor and on those who need to drive long distances.” Stand by for the bureau of poor and long distance drivers (PLDD) to administer this 10% as a service to the great people of the United States of America. You can bet that the definitions of “poor” and “long distance” will be quite malleable and porous. Then again, perhaps 10% is a standard fee for federal imposition and bureaucracy creation (FBIC).

20 September 2009

Taking Liberties with Words

While I had hoped to write about something a little more cerebral today regarding liberty, I have to note that simple, small words are being demolished. Taking liberties with what simple words mean is a way to blur our world. Example: President Obama ignores the denotative – dictionary – meaning of the word tax. When George Stephanopoulos refers to the denotative meaning of the word tax (video) in one of the five Obama spots this morning, things got a little interesting.

For the record, the definition reported to Mr. Obama was, “a charge, usually of money, imposed by authority on persons or property for public purposes.” Seems pretty straight forward to me.

But Mr. Obama rolled his head to the side and laughed, as if to imply that this was all one silly mistake, a charade, a distraction. He even accused Stephanopoulos of “stretching” by resorting to the dictionary to find the definition of a word. He then deftly denied that taking money to fund health care insurance reform (or some other euphemistic label) would be, in fact, a tax. This word needs to mean exactly what he needed it to for the moment in which he needed it. At that moment, tax could not mean what Webster says it means, so it did not. A long time ago, Mr. Obama could have revised what the meaning of “is” was at a given point in time.

But this simple act of morphing the meanings of words is a dangerous thing. If tax does not mean tax, then it can mean anything at any time. Perhaps today it’s a fee, tomorrow, a penalty. Later, a re-acquisition of government property. I realize that’s going a bit far, but when a word means whatever it needs to mean in the moment, one can go just as far as his power, audacity, and creativity will allow him.

19 September 2009

On Liberty

Much has been said recently about the erosion of the Constitution, growing big government, spending by that big government, bailouts, socialism, and public capitulation regarding these matters. The debate, those on the left would say, is over. It has been over as far as they are concerned for a long time – it’s just that no one else knew it. The various tea parties and “conservative” protests are a peculiarity, an eccentricity. The remedy for such things is to simply turn off Fox News.

What is really going on in what strangely is called our national conversation is the re-emergence of liberty – individual, personal liberty – as a point of discussion. To paraphrase Dennis Prager, bigger government makes smaller citizens. And citizens have been shrinking at an alarming rate. When the bill comes due for all of this compassionate, bail-out, too-big-to-fail spending by Democrats and Republicans alike, the citizenry is likely to go from small to downright miniscule.

But where did the shrinking stature of citizenry come from in the first place? One might say that it came, in part, from shirking individual responsibility. From easy credit (which, incidentally, is still pretty easy if one has a good credit rating) to “universal” government plans to “universally” tackle any perceived problem, it has been all too easy to slough off personal responsibility onto something else, be that thing minimum payments at 15% APR or another lump of mounting, money-hungry bureaucracy. Either way, any perceived issue can be deflected elsewhere. At least for a time.

At some point, though, all bills come due – even the bills for the bills that pass through Congress which we are told will expand our “freedom” and our “rights”. What I believe they expand is the envelope of risk-free living. These “guarantees” – from free health care to job security to investment certitude – are supposed to make living more antiseptic. No risk, no worry, all happiness. That’s the message of the authors of the savior plans.

What these savior plans really do is limit personal liberty. Choice and risk are required for liberty. They also require the ability to fail; they allow the potentiality of bad things happening. Bad choices lead to bad outcomes. Risk is around us daily; pretending that we can somehow be shielded from it is an illusion. What I plan to write about in the next few weeks is the joy of liberty, the joy of being able to take responsibility for one’s own life and one’s own choices. Cheers.

14 August 2009

Chatting with the White House

On 10 August 2009, I received an email from info@messages.whitehouse.gov with the subject line, "It's time for a reality check." It concerned the health insurance/care legislation germinating in Congress. It was "signed" by David Axelrod. Why did I receive this email? Because a long time ago, I submitted a question for President Obama via the White House website. I guess I snitched on myself; I'm on the list.

Since I was already on the list, I figured that I might as well take the email's invitation to reply to the White House. Note: I say the email's invitation because I don't suppose for a moment that my email will earn any sentient being's attention. This is, supposedly, an open and honest debate about health care - as long as one side talks (dictates) and one side listens (capitulates). Here is my (not as eloquent as a teleprompted time-sucker) reply:

With regard to the recent Axelrod email, please note that the main concern folks have is one of choice. Regardless of whatever spin various political parties choose to put on the matter, more government control over health insurance will result in LESS choice for all Americans. The far end of the spectrum would be single-payer, but this is not a binary, all-or-nothing matter. Single-payer or its euphemism, "Public Option", is the far end of less/no choice in health insurance.

What is needed is more choice. Currently, it makes little to no sense economically for a family to attempt to buy health insurance if an employer provides it. If I could and if it made some economic sense to do to, I would be thrilled to shop around and buy my own health insurance. Indeed, I could shop around for just the benefits I wanted; I would not have the government or my employer telling me what options I have.

It's simple: Liberty is a concept which this country was founded on; Equality was not. Liberty includes the freedom to fail, to fall over, to make mistakes. Liberty is necessary for freedom to truly exist. Please do not needlessly limit the Liberty of Americans by mandating fewer choices when it comes to health insurance.

11 July 2009

Nanny-Pentagon: Non-Smoking Military

According to FoxNews, a report has come out of the Pentagon which urges Defense Secretary Gates to end tobacco use in the military. "Any tobacco use while in uniform should be prohibited" is the recommendation of the report. It all comes down to cost, though, as the report claims that the Pentagon and the Veteran's Administration lose or spend about $7 billion on tobacco related issues (lost time, health care, etc.). Where I think the report really launches into loony land is when it claims to want "new officers and enlisted personnel to be tobacco-free". What bizarro world do these report preparers live in?

It seems that at some point the Pentagon - and by larger implication the federal government - would figure out that they deal primarily with issues involving human beings. I know that sounds ludicrously obvious, but it is a point which needs to be made. So often, dollar costs, time costs, this cost and that cost are thrown on "issues" in order to give them scope and scale. Sooner or later, I suspect a few token examples of tobacco use "ruining the life" of some poor soldier will be held up as the example of why this ban must be put in place; the Pentagon simply must save our soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen from themselves.

It is, I think, a reflection of the larger debate about who will pay for health insurance for every living soul in the country (regardless of any and all particularities between them). One size must fit all, it seems. So much money can be saved; so we've been told. I'm sure there are shocking statistics about amount of work time lost due to some people's inability to find "affordable health care". And the individual cases of how the health care system has "ruined a life" have been put forward. So the federal government must save its poor subjects from themselves.

But this denies the humanity inherent within each one of us - though that human nature will cause us to do things which are damaging to ourselves. I speak from experience; I was one of those soon-to-be-banned tobacco users while I was in the military. Many a long duty was broken by having a smoke. Many a long, intense flight was "supported" by a bit of chewing tobacco. And then I quit both. I didn't need nor want the government which I served to tell me that I couldn't smoke or chew - things which are not prohibited to any American over 18. In fact, I would have deeply resented it.

But I suppose this drive for a tobacco purging is an extension of various governmental bodies getting into matter which they should never even consider touching. The executive as auto maker. The Pentagon as health cop. The Federal Reserve as economic czar. The EPA as CO2 tax collector and Al Gore surrogate. Schools as baby-sitting facilities. Universities as sports venues. News reporters as infomercial dispensers. It's a very, very mixed up culture that we've immersed ourselves in. If we can pull out of the dive, perhaps there will still be enough liberty out there so that our fighting men and women can still have a smoke, if they choose.

07 July 2009

Final Words in Crime and Punishment – Gradual Progression

In the final paragraph of the second chapter of the Epilogue in Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, the word gradual is used twice as well as the phrase slow progress. This is in stark contrast with the character of Raskolnikov throughout the rest of the novel. And as these instances occur at the end of the novel, as that parting shot, within them lies a lesson, I think.

Raskolnikov has, right up until the very point in the novel where he picked up the Bible of his own accord and began to read, attempted to gain through immediate exercise of some sort. He believed that killing the pawnbroker would allow him to achieve untold ends – ends which it appears he had not really considered or which the narrator does not see fit to inform the reader of. Raskolnikov thought that the act and his audacity of positively undertaking it would propel him forward and that in an instant. What follows his act concerns five parts of the novel – his unwillingness to realize that he has not been propelled forward instantly through his act, his crime. His desire of instantaneously propelling himself forward has turned out to be a lie.

His attempts after the double murder reflect his desire for instantaneous results; he wishes to reach some sort of conclusion to his ordeal, as long as he is not called to task for his actions (and indeed for his thoughts, his delusions concerning his own station in life). His encounters with Zametov, Zosimov, and most importantly Porfiry, all either come from or contain within them some attempt to satisfactorily and instantaneously conclude the episode of the double murder.

Yet Porfiry foreshadows the final paragraph of the novel when he informs Raskolnikov (on two different occasions) that over the course of time, this murderer will turn himself in. That Porfiry has moved on before Raskolnikov has volunteered his confession furthers the proof of the inevitability of the confession – Porfiry does not need to be present when proved correct, the fact remains that he is. Gradually, over time, he is proved right.

As a theme which carries over to today, I think it is clear that the message of “gradual renewal”, “gradual regeneration”, and “slow progress from one world to another” is one which must be heard (465). We as a society are bombarded by things which we are told are “crises”. We are then told that immediate actions must be taken, lest what is already in a state of “crisis” become something beyond crisis – whatever that might be. But if we lift the panic-inducing diction of propaganda, we might ask just where the quick fix might land us. Might the quick fix just land us in some gaol? Might we learn that we have lost our national soul to the quick fix? Have we already?


Work Cited – Dostoevsky, Feodor. Crime and Punishment. Ed. George Gibian. New York: Norton, 1964.

Understanding the Joy of Outrage

In Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, Svidrigaylov makes an interesting comment regarding personal outrage. His deceased wife, Marfa Petrovna, seems to have felt most alive when she felt outraged about something. He recognizes, at the beginning of Chapter 1 of Part Four "that it sometimes happens that women are highly gratified at being outraged, in spite of their apparent indignation. It happens with everybody: mankind in general loves to be affronted". And while Svidrigaylov specifically attaches this talent to women, he clearly understands that this need for personal outrage is actually a form of personal "entertainment".

We can see this sort of thing today reflected in media coverage of our culture. I hesitate to call any of it "news" because, as Svidrigaylov notes, it is designed more for our "entertainment". Much news coverage is designed specifically to outrage certain groups of watchers. The outlets of this entertainment want the audience to ask, "How could he/she? How dare he/she?" This sort of emotional reaction is quite easily stirred up given the vast number of celebrities, pseudo-celebrities, and political-celebrities which inhabit the culture. One may even consider the possibility that this shift in focus onto personalities is intentional. By focusing on other individual personalities, the propagators of outrage "entertainment" are assured of a steady stream of subjects. Just when one story line has run its course, another human failing occurs - as it surely must - and the cycle can continue. Endlessly.

But what then are the ingestors of this "entertainment" not focusing on, not thinking about? Indeed, are they capable of serious critical thinking? Or is it just too comfortable, too safe, to simply enjoy himself while being "outraged" and the world outside?

06 July 2009

Raskolnikov’s “Exceptional” Man

As I hit the half-way point in Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, one of the central ideas has finally come out in the novel. This is the third time that I’ve read it, so it was more of a matter of my remembering where the part occurred rather than knowing that it occurred. In the fifth chapter of Part Three, Raskolnikov explains an essay he wrote in which he explains two classifications of people. The great mass of humanity is made up of normal people who must follow the rules of society. But, Raskolikov suggests, there are a very few who are “extraordinary” and indeed must break social customs in order to advance society – despite the best attempts of the mass of humanity to keep life regular and unmoving, or to put it another way, to conserve social order.

The problem with Raskolikov’s thesis of the rare, “exceptional” man, which suggests the idea of the ubermensch, is that there is no real criterion with which to designate such a person. Before the point of action, it may be simply a feeling that there is something special, something unprecedented about one’s own thoughts and ideas. After all, if a person comes up with something new in his head and as long as he stays in that environment – in his head – does he ever really know if his idea, his motive, his drive is unique? It is easy to believe one’s self special if one’s self is the only person one ever puts one’s self up to for inspection.

Raskolnikov, in the days and weeks prior to the double murder, does just this. He boxes himself up in his room, neglects all others and even himself, and is concerned only with his own thoughts. Surely he can and has convinced himself that he is an “exceptional” man who is capable of murder and theft. All he must do is complete the task and advance himself. Only after the deed does he understand that he is not “exceptional” at all. He is all too human.
What I think that Raskolnikov has tried to lose through his logic of the “exceptional” man is the practical fact that man needs to have something, some force, over him in order to prevent radical, or even immoderate, digressions from social morality. Raskolinov attempts to make his case for the “exceptional” man quite forceful by taking it to the extreme case that such men may logically be excused from committing murder so long as it advances their agenda. If murder is permissible for such men, then everything else is as well.

But Raskolnikov finds out early in the novel that there is some force greater than the “exceptional” man – if there is such a thing. Later in the novel, he will find a name for it; he will rediscover it through Sonya. For the reader, though, his is a cautionary tale. Self-absorption and an inflated sense of self-importance are quite dangerous things. If we but look around, we can see these all around, blown up (figuratively) on big-screen televisions and through the internet; the hyper-celebrity culture icons are not unlike Raskolnikov’s “exceptionals”. The difference is that unlike his supposed reasoning that these men act to advance a culture, there is no such lofty goal for the hyper-celebrity. All is excess and debauchery. And sadly, both they are we are culturally the lesser for it.

28 June 2009

Health Insurance and Numbers - Some Simple Thinking

Here’s a little simple math regarding health care “reform” or what would be more aptly put as the federal government’s push to universalize health care insurance.

President Obama, through his Health and Human Services Secretary on Fox New Sunday, reiterated that the goal of injecting a federal health insurance plan would be to increase competition in the health insurance realm.  The numbers of that logic are as follows: one insurance provider – the federal government – would ensure that all other insurance providers competed in a manner which lowers cost.  Or, even more simply, one influences many.

On the other hand, there is an alternate opinion that each person in the US should be able to purchase health insurance for himself and his family in much the same way that drivers buy auto insurance.  People would be able to buy the level and depth of health care which they choose to carry and can afford.  The numbers of this alternative is that the millions – those buying individual and family insurance – would expand choice and competition simply by having the ability to pick and choose their coverage.  Private companies would strive to meet the needs of the customer.  Thus, the multitude of consumers would influence (and most likely expand the number of) insurance companies.

The problem that I see with health insurance is that individuals and families have no idea how much their insurance costs; they are decoupled from the dollars.  Bring the costs and the responsibility of health care closer to the individual, and liberty and choices are expanded.  What’s more, costs would probably drop.  One must ask if the current government would be please with that outcome.

26 June 2009

Energy and Liberty

The Waxman-Markey energy bill is up for a vote today, and my guess is that it will pass the House of Representatives. 1,201 pages - which no one will read until after it has passed -of money-grabbing, power-taking, industry-killing, public-impoverishing drivel.

This bill, should it pass the Senate and be signed into law by President Obama, would take enormous amounts of money out of the open economy and funnel it into government regulatory Hades from which it would never return. The statist-leftists claim that Waxman-Markey is required so as to save the planet; left unsaid is that it must be saved from us horrible, eco-devastating humans. Their chant, their message: It's for the planet! Don't we have a right to a clean planet! Down with CO2! (Never mind the plants...)

The actual result of the Waxman-Markey plan, however, for the common folks (those folks which Mr. Obama and statist-leftists like him claim to champion) will be a poorer, meaner life. And in taking people's earned income away from them, the government will take their personal liberty as well.

And that's the point. Energy "reform", health insurance "reform", and soon-to-be education "reform" will all cause power to gravitate to Washington D.C. and away from states, municipalities, and most importantly individual citizens. That's the point of these efforts by Mr. Obama and the statist-leftists. They seek to expand governmental power at the cost of trillions of dollars and untold amounts of individual liberty. Mr. Obama and the statist-leftists have and will tell the citizenry that these efforts are all for the citizenry - everyone has a right to (fill in the blank with high-cost, unattainable universality here). We will end up with far less liberty, far less freedom, and far, far less personal wealth. But we'll have government; we'll have our kind, loving Big Brother.

20 June 2009

Repower and Propaganda

Every time I see the old fellow on the "Repower America" commercials, it makes me just a little angry. Not angry in an I'm going to throw a book at the television way, but more in a "do you think I'm an idiot?" way.

The speaker in the commercial is an older gentleman with a non-urban type of accent; both of these aspects are purposefully chosen by the ad's creators. The hope is that the viewer sees the speaker as a down to earth, common sense spokesman. So when this spokesman says that the country burns oil "in ways that kill God's green earth", the hope is that we - the audience - will agree, in part influenced by his age and demeanor.

But what is at work is a plain-folks propaganda technique coupled with anthropomorphizing of the planet. This is the image: a trust-worthy guy tells the audience that burning petroleum distillates has the unbelievably immense consequence of bringing mortality to the very ground the audience stands on. That is a very strong statement.

When I was younger, the Cold War was still on. It was understood that a nuclear war - not just a one-off explosion - would kill most if not all life on the planet. Mass extermination, and that outcome was and is clearly demonstrable. The planet - for what it would be worth - would survive. Life and the taking of it belongs to the living.

The effectiveness of anthropomorphizing the planet is deep and lasting, which is why such language is used by "Repower America". So, one might ask, how can we cure our nearly dead earth? The speaker has an answer.

The speaker asks - rhetorically - "Why can't we use our own clean energy and create good-paying jobs here instead of sending billions overseas?" It's rhetorical because he asks the question while walking in a wind-turbine farm as flashes of solar mirrors come and go. Never mind the fact that currently a very small slice of energy is produced from those two sources. Never mind the infighting between environmentalists who want wind and solar power and those who claim that there's too much of an environmental impact from those sources. We can, the speaker claims, just use this ready energy and make jobs. Easy. Done! Who would guess that the solution would be so simple?

The speaker closes the commercial with the demand that "It's time to get real." At this point, I begin to agree with him. The United States really has lots of oil and natural gas within the borders of our great country. The United States really can build and run nuclear power plants and safely reprocess spent fuel rods. The United States really can pursue conservation and curb the growth of energy consumption. Why does "Repower" not advocate those positions? The earth is dying for an answer...right?

19 June 2009

Hurry-Up Legislating

After nearly six months of the Obama administration, it seems that one thing is clear about his method when it comes to domestic policy: I want what I want when I want it, and I want it now. Seemingly all legislative action on "big" issues - health insurance reform, cap-and-trade climate control, stimulus, Sotomayor's confirmation, the Obama budget, financial oversight and bailing - must happen immediately and with no delay. Certainly no delay for debate. The debate, they say, is over. Over on this, on that, and on that other thing. We must act now!

But perhaps the twin pushes for cap-and-trade and health insurance reform are causing even Democrats to recoil just a bit, and for an obvious reason: money. When legislators get a feel for just how much these wonderful new programs are going to cost, it appears to make them pause. Surely they understand that the trillions of dollars which would be soaked up by cap-and-trade and universal health insurance cannot be simply taken (in the form of taxation) from the 5% of the population that Mr. Obama promised during the campaign as taxable.

The speed with which Mr. Obama attempts - and in some cases, succeeds - to introduce and enact huge spending bills leads me to a pair of conclusions which cannot both be true. First, the Obama spending/legislation spree has been embarked upon so as to cram-down as much and as many liberal-progressive programs and ideology as possible in the shortest amount of time. The speed is necessary because actual debate might cause more people to actually think about what is being passed. Second, the Obama spending/legislation spree has been embarked upon so as to break the US economy. The ensuing catastrophe would be an opportunity to recreate governmental institutions through a liberal-progressive lens.

The answer to which is correct - if either is - is not as important as it is to simply slow everything down. Going slowly and asking questions on top of questions on top of questions is one of the best ways that Republicans and Obama-doubting Democrats can slow the descent into statism. What the Republicans can also do is publish competing ideas to the public at large. They should do this regardless of the cost; surely the RNC can stop sending "questionnaires" about Mr. Obama's policies and send outlines of truly conservative policy samples instead.

10 June 2009

Numbers, Real and Otherwise

President Obama has, since the birthing of the “stimulus bill” been proud to announce just how many jobs will be created through his massive government spending scheme. Or rather, “created of saved”. It’s that last portion which makes his job numbers works of fiction; that has been evident from the outset, though few in the media called him on it. The Wall Street Journal finally did:
“Mr. Obama's comments yesterday are a perfect illustration of just such a claim. In the months since Congress approved the stimulus, our economy has lost nearly 1.6 million jobs and unemployment has hit 9.4%. Invoke the magic words, however, and -- presto! -- you have the president claiming he has "saved or created" 150,000 jobs. It all makes for a much nicer spin, and helps you forget this is the same team that only a few months ago promised us that passing the stimulus would prevent unemployment from rising over 8%.”
There’s one un-real number in that paragraph, and it’s the one created by Mr. Obama – 150,000 jobs. And when Mr. Obama claims that 600,000 jobs will be created in his “next 100 days” – apparently his need for an immediate sequel extends past autobiographies – that number is fictional as well.

But the 9.4% unemployment rate and 1.6 million jobs lost are real numbers. And they’ll be really difficult for Mr. Obama to sweep under the rug with his imaginary broom for too much longer.

Here’s another real number for taxpayers: according to the Fox Business page, the government has doled out $80.3 billion to automakers Chrysler and GM. That money came out of the TARP funds which were meant for banks and such. $80.3 billion is a lot of money to sell one zombie carmaker off (to Fiat) and to transform the other zombie into a government-run, money-bleeding dysfunction. The only thing imaginary about the $80.3 billion spent on these automakers is the idea that we, the people, really have it to spend – or burn, as the case may be.

But we shouldn’t worry. Mr. Obama called yesterday – yesterday – for instituting “pay-go”, or pay-as-you-go legislation. This means that any new or expanded spending must be paid for through higher taxation or taking money from something else. Of course, any numbers put at this will be – you guessed it – un-real, because Mr. Obama has cut trillion dollar holes in it already. According to an AP article via Yahoo Finance, the legislation “would carve out about $2.5 trillion worth of exemptions for Obama's priorities over the next decade. His health care reform plan also would get a green light to run big deficits in its early years.” $2.5 trillion plus healthcare are big, real, scary numbers. But not to worry; everything else will be paid for as we go. Nuts.

Folks who claim that Mr. Obama is in the process of rapidly bankrupting the nation may be derided as scare-mongers, Obama-haters, or unpatriotic. But the numbers – real numbers – don’t lie. The counter-clockwise swirl created by spending and borrowing is growing more rapid by the day. Mr. Obama is accelerating the swirl through ever more spending, ever more borrowing, and ever more fiction-pushing. This spending and borrowing and spending will create an all too real collapse of our economy. And not only the banking sector. The whole thing.

04 June 2009

Out of Money? Try Doublethink.

A thinking person has to wonder just what the federal government is doing concerning spending, borrowing, and planning. Not long ago, after increasing spending by bazillions (please pardon the hyperbole), President Obama said that “we’re out of money now” in a C-SPAN interview. Yet the bailing out continues, the growing statism continues, with healthcare next on the block. Then perhaps curing “global warming” (or whatever euphemism suits the current climate) through “cap and trade” legislation. Finally, Mr. Obama will round out his “fixing” by turning schools around (and around and around).

But all of this will cost money – lots and lots of it. Bazillions might not be out of the question. Don’t worry though, the electorate is told again and again by Mr. Obama; these big fixes are just what are required to put the country on the right track. Some way will be dreamt up to pay for them, or (better yet) they’ll pay for themselves through “savings”.

Enter Chairman Bernanke (as reported on Bloomberg):

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said large U.S. budget deficits threaten financial stability and the government can’t continue indefinitely to borrow at the current rate to finance the shortfall.

“Unless we demonstrate a strong commitment to fiscal sustainability in the longer term, we will have neither financial stability nor healthy economic growth,” Bernanke said in testimony to lawmakers today. “Maintaining the confidence of the financial markets requires that we, as a nation, begin planning now for the restoration of fiscal balance.”

Bernanke’s comments signal that the central bank sees risks of a relapse into financial turmoil even as credit markets show signs of stability. He said the Fed won’t finance government spending over the long term, while warning that the financial industry remains under stress and the credit crunch continues to limit spending.


I would suggest that Mr. Obama’s grand plans for “cap and trade”, health care nationalization, and education “fixing” will not lead anywhere near the planet, let alone the neighborhood, called “fiscal sustainability”. They will lead the country into a hole of government spending – and governmental control – from which it and we may never emerge.

The doublethink operating in the Obama administration is shocking. Mr. Obama says that the country is out of money. Mr. Bernanke tells him (at some point, surely he has) that long-term fiscal stability is in danger because of deficit spending. I expect a serious head nod and tilt from Mr. Obama. Then the next big government program is envisioned and figures are dreamt up that will pay for it. The second will fix the first, if the first were even a problem to begin with. Until the first is a problem (again). Wash. Rise. Repeat.

03 June 2009

Washington Post Posts 10 Steps for Schools, Without Student Accountability

On May 30th, the Washington Post published an article by three folks from the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE). The article suggests ten steps which are supposed to turn failing schools in America into “world-class schools.” The authors claim that their recommendations are “radical” and that they will “get us where we need to go”. I was underwhelmed by the steps. Below, I will cover a few of them; text taken from the story is presented within quotes and in italics:

“Get outstanding students to go into teaching and treat them like professionals, not blue-collar workers in dead-end jobs. That means putting teachers in charge of their schools.” That sounds all fine and good, but there are roadblocks that the authors refuse to acknowledge. It would be a stretch to put teachers in the profession at this moment are in charge of their own classrooms – with regard to curriculum – let alone their schools. More often than not, curricula are dictated at the state level, either in the form of overly-complicated lists of learning objectives, mandated tests, or both. These factors end up in lowering the education bar and focusing on “bubble students” just enough to get them to pass standardized tests. For more on this, please check Booher-Jennings piece called “Below the Bubble”. The idea that individual teachers would be in charge of federally administered schools as opposed to those whose curricula are essentially dictated by the state defies current reality and the imagination.

“Hold faculty accountable for student achievement. Take over every school that, after three years, is unable to get at least 90 percent of all major groups of students on track to leave high school ready to enter college without the need to take any remedial courses.” After claiming a desire to empower teachers, to treat them like professionals, and to put them in charge of schools, the authors then set an honestly unattainable goal for them. Not only would the authors see these newly empowered teachers make sure students graduate, but have 90% of them ready to walk into college without remediation. Do they not realize that, even after years of testing in big states like Texas, getting 90% of students to pass their exit-level tests (which are not college entrance tests) the first time is still a tall task? And these tests are somewhat "minimal skill-set" tests, not college preparatory tests. There is another force in the classroom besides the teacher which is at work, yet the authors refuse to even acknowledge it.

Additionally, the authors obviously feel that not only is education through high school graduation a right (which has turned into an entitlement), but that college is a right as well. And whose job is it to push students – 90% of them, anyway – to be ready for college? (The other 10% would just need a little remediation in the authors' eyes before they gain their rightful places in college.) The authors would say that teachers are responsible. Perhaps they don’t understand that the verb “to learn” is an active-only verb. There is no passive tense for “learn”; no student is “learned by” their teacher. Indeed, student accountability is wholly left off the table in the authors’ bold, “radical” ten steps.

“Replace the current accountability tests with high-quality, course-based exams.” So much for treating teachers like professionals and putting them in charge of schools. I recall a time not too long ago when the teacher had the say as to whether or not a student achieved a level of understanding sufficient to pass a class, when student grades in a class mattered. Sure, teachers ought to be given a level of proficiency to which students must achieve (as a minimum), but the measurement of individual students in individual classrooms ought to be left up to each professional teacher. The teacher, as the authors suggest, ought to be in charge of his or her school and, one might assume, classroom. “high-quality exams” are already out there and in use: the SAT, ACT, et cetera; these are used to indicate a student’s aptitude to move on to college.

“Make a range of social services available to children from low-income families and coordinate those services with those students' school programs.” Here, we hit the core of the “radical” proposals. The authors realize that there are serious “social” issues within some low-income families. Perhaps their attempt is to use the framework of public schools to “fix” these family issues. If that is the case, then I suggest that federal boarding schools be opened for students who are deemed to have “social” issues too egregious for regular school settings.

Of course, this last comment is a leap in a direction I would not recommend. A government which can pull students preemptively into boarding schools – even for their own good – is a government which has far too much power. I’m not saying that the authors want to see this happen, but I do say that it is a logical conclusion to the steps they recommend. It would not surprise me to see it happen within my lifetime.

Somehow, there appears to be a growing feeling that government intrusion into private life is fine and dandy as long as it’s for “good reasons”, like protecting someone or something. We see this in America through government intervention into the economy, into banking, into industry, and soon into health care and energy production. It stands to reason that, like AIG and GM, the federal government may come to see urban school districts as “too big to fail.” When that happens, look out – cradle to grave direct federal intervention into individual lives will be here.

01 June 2009

Barone Get It Right – Run Against Centralization

This morning on Real Clear Politics, Michael Barone makes a good case that should run future campaigns on the platform of limited government. This would mean running directly against President Obama and his avowed statism, against nanny-like “benefits” dispensed by government, and against government-corporate collusion. One wonders just how Republicans would posit this argument against the seemingly unstoppable wave of statism.

For starters, the Republicans should develop, as quickly as possible, alternative programs for just about every statist program that Mr. Obama puts forward. Republicans already have somewhat solid thoughts on health care. They should also put forward ideas on military preparedness, the balance between diplomacy and military force when dealing with adversaries, corporate bailouts, and financial regulation. Indeed, Republicans may have all of these, but getting them out into the public will take a great effort, as the media largely kowtows to any action or plan that Mr. Obama comes up with.

Republicans must frame their plans and arguments under the banner of individual liberty. Every plan put forward by the statist Mr. Obama essentially takes liberty away from individual citizens and places it somewhere else, either in the government or in government backed institutions (like labor unions). Republicans must consistently and coherently remind the public that individual liberty is what made the United States the great country that it is. And while it is not hoped for, it can be expected that the statist structure which Mr. Obama is putting into place will cause nearly irreparable damage to an already weakened economy. If and when that happens (actually, it’s only when), Republicans need a clear message and plan for re-instituting individual liberty as the backbone of our country.

30 May 2009

Washington Post Posts 10 Steps for Schools – Not Buying It

Today, the Washington Post published an article by three folks from the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE). The article suggests ten steps which are supposed to turn failing schools in America into “world-class schools.” The authors claim that their recommendations are “radical”. I was underwhelmed by the steps. Below, I will cover a few of them; text taken from the story is presented within quotes and in italics:

“Get outstanding students to go into teaching and treat them like professionals, not blue-collar workers in dead-end jobs. That means putting teachers in charge of their schools.” That sounds all fine and good, but there are roadblocks that the authors refuse to acknowledge. It would be a stretch to put teachers in the profession at this moment are in charge of their own classrooms – with regard to curriculum – let alone their schools. More often than not, curricula are dictated at the state level, either in the form of overly-complicated lists of learning objectives, mandated tests, or both. These factors end up in lowering the education bar just enough to get some number of students to pass standardized tests. For more on this, please check Booher-Jennings piece called “Below the Bubble”. The idea that individual teachers would be in charge of federally administered schools as opposed to those whose curricula are essentially dictated by the state defies current reality and the imagination.

“Hold faculty accountable for student achievement. Take over every school that, after three years, is unable to get at least 90 percent of all major groups of students on track to leave high school ready to enter college without the need to take any remedial courses.” After claiming a desire to empower teachers, to treat them like professionals, and to put them in charge of schools, the authors then flip the table on these newly empowered teachers. Not only would the authors see these newly empowered teachers make sure students graduate, but have 90% of them ready to walk into college without remediation. Do they not realize that, even after years of testing in big states like Texas, getting 90% of students to pass their exit-level tests (which are not college entrance tests) the first time is a pipe dream. There is another force in the classroom besides the teacher which is at work, yet the authors refuse to even acknowledge it.

Additionally, the authors obviously feel that not only is education through high school graduation a right (which has turned into an entitlement), but that college is a right as well. And whose job is it to push students – 90% of them, anyway – to be ready for college? The authors would say that teachers are. Perhaps they don’t understand that the verb “to learn” is an active-only verb. There is no passive tense for “learn”; no student is “learned by” their teacher. Indeed, student accountability is wholly left off the table in the authors’ bold, “radical” ten steps.

“Replace the current accountability tests with high-quality, course-based exams.” So much for treating teachers like professionals and putting them in charge of schools. I recall a time not too long ago when the teacher had the say as to whether or not a student achieved a level of understanding sufficient to pass a class, when student grades in a class mattered. Sure, teachers ought to be given a level of proficiency to which students must achieve (as a minimum), but the measurement of individual students in individual classrooms ought to be left up to each professional teacher. The teacher, as the authors suggest, ought to be in charge of his or her school and, one might assume, classroom. “high-quality exams” are already out there and in use: the SAT, ACT, et cetera; these are used to indicate a student’s aptitude to move on to college.

“Make a range of social services available to children from low-income families and coordinate those services with those students' school programs.” Here, we hit the core of the “radical” proposals. The authors realize that there are serious “social” issues within some low-income families. Perhaps their attempt is to use the framework of public schools to “fix” these family issues. If that is the case, then I suggest that federal boarding schools be opened for students who are deemed to have “social” issues too egregious for regular school settings.

Of course, this last comment is a leap in a direction I would not recommend. A government which can pull students preemptively into boarding schools – even for their own good – is a government which has far too much power. I’m not saying that the authors want to see this happen, but I do say that it is a logical conclusion to the steps they recommend. It would not surprise me to see it happen within my lifetime.

Somehow, there appears to be a growing feeling that government intrusion into private life is fine and dandy as long as it’s for “good reasons”, like protecting someone or something. We see this in America through government intervention into the economy, into banking, into industry, and soon into health care and energy production. It stands to reason that, like AIG and GM, the federal government may come to see urban school districts as “too big to fail.” When that happens, look out – cradle to grave direct federal intervention into individual lives will be here.

28 May 2009

Hearty Thanks for a Great Blackhawk Hockey Season

In a break from my normal subject matter, I want to say thank you to the Chicago Blackhawk hockey organization for a memorable season. As one who has been a Blackhawks fan for as long as I can remember, it has been a long time coming. Since taking over the club, Mr. Rocky Wirtz has put the right people in the right positions in order to propel the team forward. Just as importantly, he put the team on television in the Chicagoland area, something anathema to the late Mr. Bill Wirtz. The effect, I understand, has been a resurgence of Blackhawks fans coming to the United Center. Playoff games this season were standing room only affairs and stuffed to the rafters.

And they came to see a team which is just as exciting as those of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, when names like Roenick, Graham, Larmer, Sutter, Smith, Savard, Secord, and Belfour. One day, names like Towes, Kane, Seabrook, Keith, Byfuglien, and Versteeg may join the group in Blackhawks lore. Some players, like Khabibulin, Ladd, Havlat, and Sharp may eventually be remembered more as Blackhawks than as members of their previous teams. And hard-nosed, hard-workers like Burish, Brouwer, Barker, and Bolland may well join the rolls of Blackhawks greats as they move forward with the club

And while I realize that I’m missing some names here, my goal is not to be all inclusive; rather, it is to show just how deep, how full of talent that the Blackhawk hockey club is. And that’s a refreshing thing to say. I hope that Mr. Wirtz and Mr. Tallon are able to keep the momentum going over the summer, through the draft, and into training camp.

So to the entire Blackhawks hockey organization, I give a heartfelt thank you. Die hard Blackhawks fans are eternally grateful for this fantastic season, and we hope for success to build on success next season. And next playoffs, I hope to grow my own playoff beard…and shave it off sometime in June.

VAT is a Bad Idea for Americans

There was some discussion on the edges of the news yesterday regarding the possible implementation of what is called a Value Added Tax, or VAT. It is essentially a sales tax, and it would be paid by individuals and businesses. But the VAT would not be quite like your state or city’s sales tax rate; we’re talking double-digit sales taxes, all going to feed the federal coffers (which are empty and getting more and more so).

The push for VAT, it seems, stems from trying to find a way to pay for government-run, single-payer, universal health care. What a great reason to impose an additional tax burden!

An article from the Washington Post gives a hint as to what the VAT might look like in the US:

What would it cost? [Ezekiel Emanuel, brother of White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel] argues in his book that a 10 percent VAT would pay for every American not entitled to Medicare or Medicaid to enroll in a health plan with no deductibles and minimal copayments. In his 2008 book, "100 Million Unnecessary Returns," Yale law professor Michael J. Graetz estimates that a VAT of 10 to 14 percent would raise enough money to exempt families earning less than $100,000 -- about 90 percent of households -- from the income tax and would lower rates for everyone else.
Please note in this portion of the article, there would seem to be a link between the 10 to 14 percent VAT and paying for Medicare-like health care, but that link is not explicit. More likely, this level of VAT would only replace the income tax of households earning less than $100,000 a year, and there’s no mention of lowering or eliminating corporate taxes. So, while this might look like some sort of tax reduction or simplification, it really is a tax expansion into a new realm, one where “tax creep” would be all too easy. Will we notice an extra quarter of a percent here and there as time goes by?

The article continues:

And in a paper published last month in the Virginia Tax Review, Burman suggests that a 25 percent VAT could do it all: Pay for health-care reform, balance the federal budget and exempt millions of families from the income tax while slashing the top rate to 25 percent. A gallon of milk would jump from $3.69 to $4.61, and a $5,000 bathroom renovation would suddenly cost $6,250, but the nation's debt would stabilize and everybody could see a doctor.
So just 25 percent on everything we buy, every service we enlist would “do it all”. But note again that the income tax and corporate taxes would not be eliminated. That many would be “exempted” from income taxes is just a verbal band-aid; when the new universal health care program starts bleeding money, expect both to go up and up.

Also, the claim that a 25 percent VAT would mean that “everybody could see a doctor” is disingenuous. Everybody – or virtually everybody – can see a doctor now. Paying for that doctor’s visit is another story, but won’t you be happy to know that the 25 percent extra you pay for your whatevers will go toward paying someone else’s doctor bill? Won’t this kind of noble consumerism make us all feel just a little bit better about ourselves?

What interest in the VAT shows is the common knowledge that the US is rapidly running out of money. Even President Obama admits that “we are out of money now,” and that even before anything is “done” about health care. The last four months – the first four months of the Obama administration – has amounted to a spend and tax scheme to provide “stimulus” for our flagging economy, bailouts to companies which are “too big to fail”, and services which Democrats think everyone is entitled to. The next benefit is a universal, government-run health insurance scheme (not health care – that’s a different beast). But with projects deficits running into the multi-trillions – a number hardly imaginable in its enormity – the statist Democrat-run federal government must find some means to pay for it all. This is the only reason that the VAT has come up from the Democrat side. There is no intention of lowering the tax burden on anyone, there is only the hope that this additional tax will somehow stop the bleeding which 100+ days of Democrat spending has induced (on top of the bleeding already occurring because of the recession).

Therefore, unless and until the income tax and corporate taxes are abolished, the VAT should sit on a bookshelf in the Emanuel’s respective homes and collect dust. If implemented in addition to other taxes, in particular income and corporate taxes, the VAT would provide an easily adjustable, insidious tax on everything we buy. And eventually, sooner probably rather than later, folks earning under $100,000 a year would be paying income taxes again.

26 May 2009

North Korean Tests and Resolutions

Over the long, holiday weekend, the North Koreans tested a nuclear weapon and test fired some missiles. Various agencies suggest that the nuclear test was on par with the bombs used to end World War II. The UN Security Council will most likely issue some sort of “resolution” or other condemning the act – as if a voiced, group condemnation will reverberate more with the Dear Leader than singular ones.

The uncomfortable thing about North Korea, from my point of view, is that negotiations and rational discussions are precious little good, and indeed may be counter-productive to those who would contain the totalitarian state, because the North Koreans are not your typical, rational actors. The UN cannot negotiate its way around the North Korean problem. This means, I fear, that the UN will ultimately be reduced to doing nothing meaningful.

The way to deal with North Korea, I believe, is to isolate it as completely as possible; what goes into and what comes out of the country must be closely guarded. This would be a very difficult task, to be sure. Where this gets even more difficult is that, eventually, naked aggression would emerge from North Korea, the totalitarian reaction from being forced into a box. Therefore, responsible and affected countries would have to be fully prepared to preempt or absorb a North Korean military push. Also, the US would have to (and should) aggressively pursue missile defense systems, especially those which are nimble enough to handle emerging threats regardless of region.

Not that these will happen; I do not think that they will. What will most likely emerge from the UN this week is a “resolution” condemning past actions of the North Koreans, strong wording urging them to come back to the negotiation table, assurances of aid and such if this is accomplished, and the ball will roll on down the line. We’ve been here before; wash, rinse, repeat.

24 May 2009

Green Day – American Idiots

I was not surprised at all to learn that the band Green Day was upset with retailer WalMart for not selling the band’s latest album. I suppose the boys in the band feel that they are now big enough that they should be exempt from the chain’s policy to not sell albums which carry parental advisory labels. The AP story even claims that this and their previous offering dealt with “weighty topics”. Weighty indeed; I’m sure it’s a cerebral, musical tome concerning themes such as, as the AP puts it, “the loss of innocence and confusion in today's society”. Apparently there is enough of both to land a parental advisory label on the compact disc. Who would think that obscenities – which I’m guessing is why the disc has the PA label – would properly punctuate commentary on “the loss of innocence”?

It seems to me that Green Day has a bit of confusion about the marketplace. What Mr. Armstrong and his band mates don’t seem to understand is that no store, no matter how big it is, is legally or morally bound to sell their album or any album regardless of the reason. If WalMart doesn’t want to sell music by bands whose names begin with the letter “g”, they are free to do that, with the understanding that they cannot complain about the potential loss of revenue.

Mr. Dirnt, Mr. Armstrong’s band mate, claims that WalMart “should probably have an obligation to sell people the correct art.” Another idiotic statement. Neither WalMart nor any other retailer is or should be required to sell anything – certainly not the “correct” version thereof. Mr. Dirnt and Mr. Armstrong are free to open their own stores in which they can choose to sell the “correct” versions of all of the “art” they choose to stock. I’m sure they won’t choose to censor anyone who, say, differs significantly with the Green Day’s political views. On the other hand, the band mates might just see fit to deem those views as “incorrect” or “not artful”.

But the big laugh occurs at the end of the AP piece. Mr. Armstrong questions “I mean, what does [WalMart’s censorship rule] say to a young kid who's trying to speak his mind making a record for the first time?” It says that perhaps upholding some modicum of decency is important, at least in some public situations. And while I may think that WalMart’s willingness to carry “clean” versions of compact discs is a bit cheesy – I mean, filling in the blanks on a “cleaned” version is a very easy exercise – it is at least a step toward non-governmental enforcement of basic decency. What it might suggest, however quietly, to the kid recording his first music is to think before he “speak[s] his mind”. A novel idea, that; nothing idiotic about it.

16 May 2009

Thoughts on The Oresteia and Our Constitution

While reading Aeschylus’ drama The Eumenides (which is the third part of The Oresteia), I was struck by the following lines:

Never pollute
our law with innovations. No, my citizens,
foul a clear well and you will suffer thirst.

Neither anarchy nor tyranny, my people.
Worship the Mean, I urge you,
shore it up with reverence and never
banish terror from the gates, not outright.
Where is the righteous man who knows no fear?
The stronger your fear, your reverence for the just,
the stronger your country’s wall and city’s safety…
They are spoken by the goddess Athena as she stands as judge presiding over a jury of Athenians. Their chore is to judge Orestes for his crime, matricide, which he has committed because his mother willfully committed mariticide. Apollo stands with Orestes; he set Orestes on his task. These crimes stand at the end of a long line of acts committed in service of what is called justice throughout The Oresteia, but which truly amount to revenge.

Standing before an objective judge and jury, the cycle of revenge is broken, though not without risk to Orestes. Only Athena saves him through casting the tie-breaking vote. Athena breaks the cycle of revenge by setting Orestes free and justifying Apollo’s command to him. She does this not necessarily because she feels that Orestes or Apollo is blameless. Athena, in her divine state, uses the opportunity to make the Furies – those spirits as old as time who drive revenge ever onward – to serve not as the loose cannons of revenge but wather as the sword of objective justice. They are the “fear” and “terror” which stand as a warning on man’s moral map, they caution, “Do not pass this point.” They inflict pain and suffering on those who choose to ignore the warning. They are the severe negative consequences for choosing to disregard the highest law. They are the other side of mercy, because justice without the possibility of the Furies is nothing of the sort. It is the folly of blind kindness and can only lead to anarchy or tyranny.

Would that we had earthly justices as wise as the fictional Athena proves to be in this instance. Her advice to “Never pollute our law with innovations” seems particularly appropriate for our time. We should have reverence for our highest legal document, the Constitution. It is what keeps our country on the mean, away from tyranny and anarchy. It is not living; it does not breathe. We need not become innovative with it. And it does have roots in that of a higher power, something which man cannot touch, yet which sets our inalienable rights before us, those being life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Work Cited: Aeschylus. The Oresteia. Trans. Robert Fagles. New York: Penguin, 1984.

14 May 2009

More Obama Doublethink

It seems a simple thing; one cannot spend and spend and spend and then complain about one’s debt. Yet that appears to be just what President Obama has done. After presiding over the most extravagant spending spree in US history, he now claims that “current deficit spending [is] ‘unsustainable.’” He also “warned of skyrocketing interest rates for consumers if the U.S. continues to finance government by borrowing from other countries” according to Bloomberg.com.

There is some serious doublethink going on here. For those not familiar with the term, it comes from Orwell’s 1984, and it is the act of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously and believing that they are both true. These contradictory ideas can be flipped and molded as need be at any given moment, depending on what the moment calls for. For example: the government must spend untold volumes of dollars to “stimulate” the economy so that it “recovers”; the government cannot go on spending and borrowing money, or the whole show will fall apart. Mr. Obama certainly must operate under doublethink on some level because his actions and words demonstrate it.

Another example: the government must cut its budget and get rid of agencies which are ineffective; the government must add huge bureaucracies to administer trillions of dollars of benefits. Or another, which I covered in my last post: government administered health care (Medicare) will go bankrupt in 2017; the government must install universal health care for all citizens, and this will save money.

Doublethink, in my opinion, performs two functions for the doublethinker. First, it allows for an ever malleable arguing strategy with which to keep opponents off balance. This is especially effective in our current sound-byte culture. Second, it becomes a very comfortable way of thinking for those who practice it. There need be no hard choices because the truth – one’s impression of the truth, that is – is whatever it needs to be in the moment.

Of course, our world is not yet what Orwell imagined in 1984. There is no Ministry of Truth which retroactively corrects history to coincide with the current version of fact. We still have records and hard history, a fact which Speaker Pelosi is squirming under at the moment. The thinking mind can detect doublethink if it pays enough attention, if it coolly weighs words and actions. Defeating doublethink, though, is becoming more and more difficult because one side, one vision within doublethink instances is a nice, tasty carrot for the masses, a utopian idea. But that’s a topic for another post.

13 May 2009

2017 Versus Universality – Too Much to Swallow

Earlier this month, the Financial Times and other news agencies reported that Medicare will run out of money – a term which is difficult to understand – earlier than previously predicted. Medicare is now projected to go broke in 2017. Medicare is a government run, taxpayer funded health care system. That it will go broke in the relatively near future should tell the average taxpayer something.

What the Obama administration would like for the electorate to believe is that the looming bankruptcy of Medicare is really a strong message that the healthcare system needs to be reformed and costs need to be lowered. Directly coupled with that argument is universal, single-payer, government administered health care (by some other name, certainly, so as not to scare folks before the ink is dry). If we, the Obama folks claim, only trust in our government, then everyone will be covered under wonderfully administered and egalitarian universal health care. The price tag, according to a post on the Miami Herald’s website, goes something like this: “The current guess is somewhere around $1.2 trillion over 10 years.”

Given the current administration’s panache for spending “somewhere around” amounts in the trillions, one might expect that the $1.2 trillion is a serious low-ball. But the real question is this: how quickly will government administered, universal health care go bankrupt? Could we, the tax-paying American electorate, expect a longer life for universal health care than we already expect for Medicare? Will more people in government health care programs somehow extend the life of all government health care programs?

The answer is, I think, perhaps, but only in that more money will keep the monster alive a bit longer. Also, some folks will become quite wealthy by providing infrastructure to the government. But the people who are supposed to be helped – those who are supposed to get fantastic, world-class, government administered health care will actually see their medical options reduced and their pain (figuratively and literally) increased. In the end, the whole thing will go bankrupt; Medicare is the predictor of this. How many trillions of dollars and how many lives will be spent proving that the result of Medicare (a bankrupt government medical program) will have the same effect once it is grafted onto the whole of the American people?

11 May 2009

The Obstacle of Definitions

Quite recently, I’ve engaged in a conversation concerning torture. The discussion group in which this has occurred bills itself as a place where people “who appreciate thinking, discussing and debating using reason, logic and wit” should converse. Apparently, reason and logic get chucked out the window when it comes to opening discussions on subjects like torture.

I put forward what I think is a great first step for any contentious debate: define important terms. I invited others (though not explicitly) to define the very term that was up for debate. I was immediately met with the response, “Word-chopping is the first step towards casuistry.” Who would guess that defining a term would result in an accusation of deceptive practice?

I responded that definitions are essential to argumentation; without at least a roughly agreed upon definition of terms, the parties in a discussion may waste all of their time arguing about very different things. Definitions of important terms set the boundaries of debate, in a manner of speaking. Definitions allow all participants in a debate to debate the same thing.

I also put forward my own definition, which is based on actual denotation (dictionary definition) with a slight but important modification – permanence of effect. This, too, was to no avail.

I was informed that my attempt at defining the term was actually “playing with words and invent[ing] euphemisms”. Never mind that agreeing on a denotative meaning for a word already in common use is something very different from inventing a term specifically to avoid denotative and (more importantly) connotative meanings. I’m happy to use a word like “torture” in a debate, but the meaning must be set, not squishy or endlessly mutable.

And that, I believe, is the very thing that dissuades those battlers against definition. If we actually define, in hard terms, what an idea like “torture” actually is, then that term can no longer fit any and all situations in which one might find it useful. Additionally, things that one might consider “torture” may not, upon further investigation, really be “torture”. In these ways, definition becomes an obstacle to echo-chamber thinking.

While over time the discussion has become more diverse, I think that it is instructive to pay attention more so to how it opened, which is why I have described that here. When words lose their meanings, people find it more and more difficult to communicate effectively. Another effect is that groups become more and more polarized; they fracture into groups using different definitions for important ideas. Currently in the US, we are somewhat embroiled in a difference about “torture,” though I doubt there is any attention paid to definition of the term. It may not be long until we find ourselves talking past each other, fracturing into groups with different definitions of “liberty” and “freedom”. Should that happen, we will be truly in crisis.

09 May 2009

What’s in a Name – The GWCCCC Edition

The New York Times reports that a group called ecoAmerica has conducted “focus group sessions” in order to find terms which the public might find more palatable. The Times reports that the term global warming “turns people off, fostering images of shaggy-haired liberals, economic sacrifice and complex scientific disputes.” Of course, it might have something to do with the recent cooling temperatures over the past ten years, as reported by Fox News’ Special Report this past week.

So here’s a short list taken from both sources of the old and new terms that ecoAmerica would want us to use. Remember, it’s all for the planet – my comments in italics.

Instead of “global warming”, use “climate crisis” – I don’t think that this one will work. At the moment, everything is a crisis. Banks, autos, mortgages, swine flu, unemployment, and on. In fact, I think climate crisis is worse than the uber-ambiguous term climate change. If there really is a crisis, then we’d better do something big, some many things big, and quickly. Surely no one is going to buy that.

Instead of “carbon”, use “pollution” – Just because the SCOTUS says that carbon dioxide is a pollutant does not make it so. Anyone who honestly believes that it is should consider cessation of his own personal pollution factory – his lungs.

Instead of “cap and trade”, use “cap and cash back” or “pollution reduction refund” – No matter how its phrased, it’s a horrible idea. The idea, though, is to sell the scam by claiming that the “less fortunate” will somehow not be affected by higher prices. Just the creation of the bureaucracy to administer any “cap and trade” program will suck money out of consumer pockets. The only “refund” that will be given will be well after the fact, and a fraction of the cost to the consumer at that. The lovely thing for the statist is that “cap and trade” will put the state in touch with every aspect of production and consumption in the nation.
Global warming / climate change / climate crisis (GWCCCC) advocates do not, I think, believe in conservation, really. If they did, they would do more to press for individual power reduction. But all of our technology, travel methods, and consumer goods require lots and lots of energy. Conservation means making individual choices to use less. The GWCCCC crowd’s desire to create more bureaucracy and government intervention in order to “save the planet” should be a dead giveaway to just how serious they are about doing that. No government agency in the world, or of the world, will “save” the world from its supposedly human-induced “climate crisis”. However, if the GWCCCC crowd has its way, we’ll all spend untold billions of dollars to find that out.

If and after “cap and trade” – I mean the “pollution reduction refund” – is put in place, it will be instructive to follow that money. At that point, ecoAmerica and groups like it will have to come up with another lexicon to euphemize us into submission.

08 May 2009

Going Into Overtime

The great thing about rooting for a team that is (even after eons of not being) competitive is that there is always a chance that the team will pull out a win. Going into the third period of last night’s Canucks-Blackhawks game, I thought that perhaps my beloved Blackhawks might be able to solve Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo at least once, if for no other reason than to make it interesting. But as the final frame wore on, it seemed there was nothing the ‘Hawks players could do to get one past him. Then at 17:16, Martin Havlat put one past Luongo and the UC erupted.

The second thought that occurred to me after the goal was, “This might be a long one.” But no worries; my Friday promised to not be too taxing. And anyway, when it comes to one’s favorite team and a run at the Stanley Cup, certain sacrifices are to be made. As it turned out, the Blackhawks made it an early night, a short overtime tilt, ending the game just 2:52 into the extra frame. I was happy to hit the hay so unexpectedly early. I would have been just as happy with the same outcome much later in the evening (or earlier in the morning) if need; playoff hockey demands sacrifice.

When I read earlier this week that 5-on-5 playoff hockey might be in jeopardy, it made me cringe. After the triple-overtime game, which was carried live on NBC, I thought there might be some backlash from those who just don’t get overtime playoff hockey. I had no idea that the push the change had come from within the ranks of the NHL. Changing to a 4-on-4 format after the first overtime would be like removing three football players after the final whistle. It would be like taking away the shortstop and center fielder at the beginning of the 11th inning. It would be…unnatural.

Going 4-on-4 after the first overtime would also remove some (or much) of the built in tension and excitement that exists in 5-on-5, sudden death overtime, especially multiple overtime games. Those games, which stick out in memory even more than great 60-minute games, are special. They are lived through by fans. They are a focal point for experiencing the sport. Hockey fans remember when Brett Hull scored against Dominik Hasek in the third overtime to win the Stanley Cup. I remember it well because it was the one night, while deployed for Operation Allied Force (Serbia), that I did not fly. I was sick, and we had been on a night-flying schedule. So while I rested during my night/day, I listened to the entire game on Armed Forces Radio in a cold-medication induced haze. I wouldn’t have slept for the world; some things are important.

I recall the 1996 series between my beloved Blackhawks and the Colorado Avalanche. Four of the six games needed to win the series, with the Avalanche emerging the victors. I remember it because I was in pilots training at the time and I spent much more time than I should have watching hockey. (Which, in hindsight, was just fine; I was a horrible pilot). And to prove the naysayers wrong when they claim that series with long or multiple overtime games “suck the life out of” a team, the Colorado Avalanche went on to win the Cup that year. The stuff of memories.

So when folks talk about hockey games being too long, or when I suspect some network program director freaks out that triple-overtime is headed his way, bumping an episode of The Golden Girls, I cringe just a bit. Hockey in the US is not, it seems, for the masses. It is a flowing, crashing, concentration-demanding game. It does not happen in 10-second spurts, like football. You can’t channel surf between events, like one can while watching a baseball game. And in playoff overtime hockey, there are no television time outs. We’re in until it ends. And perhaps that is what is great about playoff overtime hockey: a sense of commitment. Win or lose, staying until the end. I hope that commitment doesn’t drop to 80% (4-on-4) after 20 minutes of overtime.

05 May 2009

Picking Empathy Over the Constitution

When considering his first nominee to the Supreme Court, President Obama made his intentions clear: judicial empathy matters more than fidelity to the Constitution. According to Forbes, Mr. Obama believes that “We need somebody who's got the heart to recognize--the empathy to recognize what it's like…” After that, fill in the blank. With anything and any time. And it need only last a moment. Like a kind thought while passing someone in a hallway. Like a wave from a car window. Like a sentence fragment.

Courts are supposed to interpret and uphold the law of the land, to deal justice based on those laws which are enacted by the legislature and signed into law by the executive. Judges are not supposed to make law themselves. Yet time and time again, from carbon dioxide to changing the definition of marriage, the US has seen individual judges, or groups of them, effectively create law and policy.

Purposely bringing “empathy” into the discussion would take this activism to a whole new level. Under the “empathy” rubric, judges may side with a complainant simply because…well, they feel for the complainant. The convenience – for the judges, that is – would be that their judgments, their empathies, would not necessarily set precedent. Their “empathies” may simply change from case to case, from plaintiff to plaintiff.

Sense a road to corruption here?

The great thing about defending and protecting a piece of paper – the Constitution – is that it does not change just to make someone, or itself, feel better. It simply is; it is the law of the land that we must live up to. “Empathy” in the judicial branch will do nothing but drag the Constitution down into the cultural, political winds, where it will be whipped around like a windsock.