My fiancée and I are enjoying a relaxing evening together in Michigan, where we're visiting Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan, before heading out to Illinois tomorrow for another university/town tour. Happy 2009 to you and yours!
My fiancée and I are enjoying a relaxing evening together in Michigan, where we're visiting Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan, before heading out to Illinois tomorrow for another university/town tour. Happy 2009 to you and yours!
Those who have grown weary of the "Bush is stupid" mantra, will find delight in this Christopher Hitchens appearance on Bill Maher's show. Follow the link provided. WARNING: There is harsh language in the video, which is why it won't be posted here.
Long ago Steve Sailer looked into this issue and estimated that Bush has an IQ somewhere in the high 120s or low 130s. That puts him at around the top 5% of the population. So Hitchens is probably correct that Bush is smarter than everyone in Maher's audience.
Of course intelligence and wisdom are two different things. Bush may be intelligent yet unwise. But simply dismissing Bush as "stupid" is a lot easier and far more satisfying than actually thinking about Bush's policies and critiquing them intelligently.
Having been away for the holiday, I am behind on political commentary. Here are some quick thoughts on various topics addressed recently on SDP, largely by Prof. Blanchard.
Regarding Christianity in Africa, we have friends who are missionaries in Uganda. They report that in traditional households the father eats first, then the mother, and only then do the children eat, assuming there is enough left. Thus one of the major causes of childhood hunger is the culture. But when families convert to Christianity this changes as parents see the importance of loving their children (and everyone else for that matter).
The only way I see the Senate being unable to seat Roland Burris from Illinois is to argue that Rod Blagojevich is not legally competent to make the selection. The only way to do that is to impeach and remove him right away. This would indicate that the people did not choose Rod Blagojevich to govern them, thus he should not be putting folks in the US Senate. Also, one could make the claim that since the impeachment process was in motion, the people of Illinois were in the process of stripping Blagojevich of his legal authority, rendering his choice of Burris suspect. I don' t think these are strong arguments, but they are the only one's I can think of that are plausible. It is difficult to see how Burris does not get seated.
I must take issue with Prof. Blanchard regarding Obama's silence on the latest violence between Israel and Palestinian terrorists. The problem with Obama is not that he is silent now, but that he has been bloviating on every topic under the sun since his election, play-acting at being president. Since Obama seems to admire Abraham Lincoln so much, he could take some lessons from our 16th president regarding how presidents-elect should act. Lincoln refused to speak on policy during the time between his election and his inauguration (a much longer time in those days as inauguration was not until March 4). Lincoln gave various reasons why he should remain silent, even as the Union collapsed around him. First, he had no legal authority to act, thus he should not speak as if he did. Second, he was not in full command of the facts, therefore he only wanted to speak when he had full information. Relatedly, he did not want to make a mistake and have to go back on publicly stated position. Lastly, Lincoln wanted his words to have power. By being parsimonious in his rhetoric, Lincoln increased the value of his words when he would actually speak. One can find this analysis in Jeffrey Tulis's The Rhetorical Presidency. Obama, while now getting intelligence briefings, does not have full knowledge of the situation nor does he have any authority to act. He should be quiet and let those with authority actually carry out their business. Obama would increase the power of his words after January 20 by being silent now.
My latest in the American News:
Social scientist Charles Murray has made a living taking criticism for saying things we'd rather not have said. Murray is out with a new book on education, telling yet more inconvenient truths.
In "Real Education," Murray puts it starkly: “The education system is living a lie.” This lie is “educational romanticism.” Education romanticism exaggerates the ability of schools to correct for the real differences in ability among students. In the name of leaving no child behind, we set unrealistic goals for many students who lack the intellectual capacity to meet our arbitrary standards.
Murray considers four truths concerning education. First, ability varies. Educators are enamored with the theory of multiple intelligences that suggests that children vary in how they learn, so if a child is underperforming we just need to cater to that student's “kind” of intelligence. But Murray demonstrates that these multiple intelligences, including linguistic, mathematical and spatial intelligence, tend to correlate with one another. In other words, people who are good at math also tend to have high reading comprehension. Thus we fool ourselves when we claim every child can learn at a high level if we just teach the right way.
This ties into Murray's second truth: half of the children are below average. This is not Lake Wobegon. Why is it that our students perform worse on national tests the longer they are in school? Murray argues that while most students can learn the rudimentary material of fourth grade, by junior year in high school the material will be sufficiently challenging that many students simply lack the intelligence to do well.
This is also why intensive early education tends to produce immediate results that “wear off” over time. Murray notes that studies indicate, “The most we know how to do with outside interventions is to make children who are well below average a little less below average.”
This leads to Murray's third truth: too many people go to college. We push many into college who are not capable of college or whose goals do not necessitate a four year-degree. Modestly intelligent students do not need a four-year degree; they need a job. Vocational education in high school and after can teach useful skills that offer a fulfilling life. There may also be the computer genius who doesn't care to get a liberal education. Why force him into courses that bore him just so he can get a credential?
Finally, Murray argues, “America's future depends on how we educate the gifted.”
“The elite is already smart,” writes Murray, “It needs to be wise.” Wisdom means educating in logic, linguistics, statistical reasoning and pattern recognition. Also, Murray contends, we need to teach students to be good, rather than just “nice.” Thus the elite need education in virtue and how to wisely discriminate between good and bad. Thus the supposed nonjudgmentalism of the contemporary academy works against producing humans who can even discuss the notion of the good life.
Murray speaks in the generalities of social science, thus we all know exceptions to his purported rules. Further, one of Murray's key points is that we only set children up for failure and disappointment by asking them to do more than they can. One may quibble with some of Murray's arguments, but once again he is helpfully challenging us to think about first principles.
It strikes me that Barack Obama's caution and reticence may have their down side. He has a now well-established pattern of ducking serious questions. As Israel lights up lots of public buildings in the Gaza strip, our President to be has been swinging his nine iron. We know what the press did with that sort of thing when it was George W. climbing out of the golf cart. I don't begrudge our next leader his vacation time, but surely it would have done for him to face a couple of cameras and mouth a few pieties about the need for dialogue, and not send David Axelrod to do it for him. But if you are going to duck the issue for now, for heaven's sake don't let the folks at Fox get footage of you on the seventh green.
What is Obama going to do about the Arab/Israeli problem? Answer: nothing to any effect. That's because there is nothing he can do. America isn't going to cut Israel loose. We aren't going to get out of stroking our Arab "allies." Nor will The One be able to heal the wounds of history and open the path to a better world. When Obama leaves office in four or eight years, he will leave the problem of Palestine to the next occupant. His policy over that time will turn out to be look suspiciously like the policies of Presidents Bush and Clinton and Bush and Reagan. He will send envoys, and Ms. Clinton, to the Middle East. And he will invite the PM of Israel and some Palestinian leader, as soon as they can find someone who meets that description, to meet with him in the Rose Garden, and solemn agreements will be signed. Nothing will come of any of it.
But there is no way out of this game. Hell is other countries. It is a worrisome sign that Obama is trying to avoid it now. He is not exactly going to be able to play the part of an Eisenhower. Perhaps Obama thinks he is above reproach, but he may find out that the honey moon doesn't last forever.
Rod Blagojevich has appointed (former state attorney general and first African American to win statewide office in Illinois) Roland Burris to fill Obama's Senate seat. Why? My guess is that Blago finds himself with impeachment looming and no bargaining power. Everyone was telling him not to make the appointment, but since they weren't offering any incentive, bleep them.
Harry Reid is saying that the Senate will refuse to seat any Blagojevich appointment on the grounds that the appointment will be tainted. Can the Senate do that? Maybe not. The Constitution says this:
Each House shall be the Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members, and a Majority of each shall constitute a Quorum to do Business; but a smaller Number may adjourn from day to day, and may be authorized to compel the Attendance of absent Members, in such Manner, and under such Penalties as each House may provide. Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings, punish its Members for disorderly Behaviour, and, with the Concurrence of two thirds, expel a Member (Art 1, Sec. 5).
But here's the problem: it looks as though a member can only be expelled or excluded (not seated) for something that person has done. Whatever the Governor is guilty of, there is no reason to suspect Mr. Burris of any wrong; so the Senate would have to rely on the first highlighted passage above. It would seem that Senator Reid is proposing to exclude Burris on the grounds that Blagojevich's taint renders his any appointment unqualified. Or something like that.
in judging the qualifications of its members Congress is limited to the standing qualifications prescribed in the Constitution.
It will be difficult, I expect, for the Senate to show that Burris is not at least thirty years old (he's 71), or that he is not an inhabitant of Illinois. That makes it very problematic for the Senate to refuse to seat Mr. Burris. Eugene Volokh thinks that the exclusion is bound to fail.
It seems to me that there is a ray of hope for Reid. The Court in Powell relied heavily on the Constitutional Conventions debates, and in turn on the principle of democracy:
Had the intent of the Framers emerged from these materials with less clarity, we would nevertheless have been compelled to resolve any ambiguity in favor of a narrow construction of the scope of Congress' power to exclude members-elect. A fundamental principle of our representative democracy is, in Hamilton's words, "that the people should choose whom they please to govern them." 2 Elliot's Debates 257. As Madison pointed out at the Convention, this principle is undermined as much by limiting whom the people can select as by limiting the franchise itself. In apparent agreement with this basic philosophy, the Convention adopted his suggestion limiting the power to expel.
So the Court limited the exclusion power of the House of Representatives (and by implication, that of the Senate) in order to protect the power of the voters to choose whom they please. But Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., was elected by the people of his district. Burris is a vacancy appointment by a governor, and so a large part of the force behind the original decision is removed. That would give the current Court a way to go if it decides to back up the Senate Democrats.
It seems clear to me that the best option would be a special election. That would let the people decided, and besides, they might decide on a Republican. But it seems to me the case for excluding Burris is weak, and largely the product of hysteria combined with the desire of the Democrats not to be tainted by the Illinois scandal. It may be that Reid is putting principle over political interest, or that he wishes to appear to be doing that but is counting on the Court to stop him. Take your pick.
I expect Burris will be seated. I also expect that, due to his age and other factors, he will not be candidate for reelection. The people of Illinois will have their say soon enough. But this is a four star boondoggle, soon perhaps to be playing before the nation's highest court. You can't buy this kind of entertainment, except from a governor of Illinois. Blagojevich reminds me of the William H. Macy character in Fargo. Slimy and incompetent in equal proportions, and capable of digging himself into a hole so deep and wide that a lot of other people fall into it. God bless, you, Governor Blagojevich. For political junkies like me, you are the gift that keeps on giving.
Wall Street Journal: "The chance of red ink returning to the Farm Belt is prompting rural bankers to tighten their lending standards, which could force farmers to draw down their savings in order to stay in business. Bankers already expect some of their most indebted farmers to get out of the business next year."
The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Richmond on Tuesday, alleges the article falsely communicated that Iseman and McCain had an illicit “romantic” relationship in 1999 when he was chair of the Senate Commerce Committee and she was a lobbyist representing clients before Congress.
The 36-page complaint charges that the story implies an “unprofessional relationship” between Iseman and McCain.
Both Iseman and McCain denied any improper relationship. However, the public viewed the story as being about an affair, according to the suit, which cites the post-publication remarks of 10 different commentators across the political spectrum. In each case, their comments about the story assumed it was about an alleged affair, the lawyers noted.
The Times’ own public editor, Clark Hoyt, published what Allen called a “blistering attack” on the Times’ decision to publish the original Iseman article.
The piece was published at the height of the primary season last winter, and, the suit states, the defendants knew that it would “reverberate around the world.”
UPDATE: A reader writes in: "The suit better get underway soon or else the old
saying 'you can't sue an empty pocket' comes into
play." Heh, indeed.
Taking to the podium at the end of a bizarre, shambolic press conference in which Governor Rod Blagojevich sought to appoint Roland Burris to the US Senate, Congressman Bobby Rush dared white Democratic senators to block a black man from joining their ranks.
He urged people "not to hang or lynch the appointee as you try to castigate the appointer" and, after saying repeatedly that Burris would be the only African-American in the Senate, said that he believed no senator would want "to go on record to deny one African-American from being seated in the US Senate".
Rush is a former Black Panther who trounced Barack Obama in the 2000 Democratic primary when the then state senator challenged him for his House of Representatives seat.
The grinning Burris was told by Blagojevich - who policed the press conference - that "you're the senator". He appeared clueless about the money he'd donated to the governor, which will only add to the taint of the appointment.
Senate Democrats are refusing to seat Burris. Expect quite the show down as we kick off 2009.
UPDATE: More here.
The question whether Christianity is true or what it would mean for it to be true is different from the question whether it is good or bad for a society. I suspect most Christians would argue a) that it is both true and beneficial and b) that the truth is more important than the benefit. An atheist must say no to the first, and will probably say no to the second. Here is an interesting case of an Atheist who says no but yes. Matthew Parris in the Times Online.
Before Christmas I returned, after 45 years, to the country that as a boy I knew as Nyasaland. Today it's Malawi, and The Times Christmas Appeal includes a small British charity working there. Pump Aid helps rural communities to install a simple pump, letting people keep their village wells sealed and clean. I went to see this work.
It inspired me, renewing my flagging faith in development charities. But travelling in Malawi refreshed another belief, too: one I've been trying to banish all my life, but an observation I've been unable to avoid since my African childhood. It confounds my ideological beliefs, stubbornly refuses to fit my world view, and has embarrassed my growing belief that there is no God.
Now a confirmed atheist, I've become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people's hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.
"Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel." Isaiah 7:14
On behalf of my colleagues I'd like to wish our friends, supporters, and detractors a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy New Year! The year has been an exciting one both on and off the blog and I look forward to the coming year to debate policy and direction, especially with new leadership coming into the White House, as well as wrap up some academic projects I've been enmeshed in. Tomorrow I'll be spending the day with family and I hope that you all will have the opportunity to do so as well. Pray for our soldiers serving around the world and remember those who cannot enjoy the Christmas Day for whatever reasons.
Dave Cullen: “These people have every right to work the family name and connections, but as voters, I think we’re generally foolish to support the dynastic system. We would be much wiser to examine the lingering feelings that draw us to the idea of Noble Families and Great Houses–the whole idea of nobility that our coutry tried to break from 200-plus years ago. . . . How sad that even Hollywood rejects the brand-name/family-mystique idea, but the voters can’t. Lots of movie star children get an easy break into films, but the vast majority of them fail pretty quickly. The success rate is low. In politics it is extremely high. That’s pathetic. . . . I was repulsed by the idea of ’saving’ the Delaware senate seat for Biden’s son, the ‘natural heir.’ I was stunned by how quickly and easily the beltway boys all jumped onto that idea.”
Of all the things we didn't know about Barack Obama because the Press wouldn't report them, who knew he was a closet conservative? That is at least one reading of Obama's decision to have Rick Warren give the inaugural "invocation," which is like a prayer, except that it sounds sophisticated enough for the folks at the New York Times to sit through. But Rick Warren? What purpose drove Obama to choose the Purpose Driven Pastor, unless it was to drive the American left to distraction? Suddenly it's the Left that has a Pastor problem.
Granted, the Left has been releasing cute little micro-grunts for weeks now. So many of Obama's appointments have been so centrist, and to the average Nation staff writer, centrist looks like Count Metternich of Austria. Where is Hyde Park Bolshevik that conservatives have been warning us about? But the Warren thing has finally made the left mad at their hero.
On the other hand, why not Rick Warren? He does have the reputation for being modestly green on the environment and really nice in his attitude about AIDS. To really right wing Christians, Warren probably looks like Rosa Luxemburg. So far as I can tell, the indictment of Warren rests on the following:
First, Rick Warren isn't Black. Not that there's anything wrong with that. But even Rod Blagojevich had sense enough to invite Black reverends to his home when he felt the need to be seen with reverends. Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell was clearly not expecting Warren.
Some people were outraged that Obama bypassed prominent black pastors and selected a wildly popular white evangelical minister to give the sacred prayer on an occasion that has special significance for generations of African Americans.
Second, Rick Warren is opposed to gay marriage. That looks like a real sin against the piety of the Left except, isn't Obama himself opposed to gay marriage? Maybe the thing is that Warren is really against gay marriage, whereas everyone understands that Obama is just pretending. Okay. But then can't we let him pretend a little more? Being in favor of gay marriage myself, I would prefer people who have the courage to come out and say what they think.
Third, Rick Warren believes that only believing Christians are going to Heaven. Here is Christopher Hitchens, who believes that all believers are going to Hell:
It is a fact that Rick Warren, pastor of the Saddleback Church in Orange County, Calif., was present at a meeting of the Aspen Institute not long ago and was asked by Lynda Resnick—she of the pomegranate-juice dynasty—if a Jew like herself could expect to be admitted to paradise. Warren publicly told her no. What choice did he have? His own theology says that only those who accept Jesus can hope to be saved.
Well, if Hitch says it's a fact, then it's probably a fact. But I am sure this is misleading. No genuine Christian can believe that a Jew can't get into Heaven. That would have meant that Jesus himself was locked out. If Warren believes that a Jew can get in only if he or she accepts Jesus, then he believes what nearly all Christians believed until, I don't know, Walter Cronkite. And most believing Christians around the world still believe this.
I don't believe it. In fact, I think that the idea that a perfectly loving, wise, and powerful Creator could allow a single soul to end up in Hell is logically self-refuting. For then He would have done something that turned out badly. That means, of course, that God has to obey the rules of logic. But Thomas Aquinas says the does, and I'm with Tom.
But here's the thing: shutting Warren out for this belief means shutting a really big chunk of the American electorate out of the circle of respect. Those who object to the choice of Warren really think that only the right kind of Christian is publically acceptable. Most liberals were not the least bit offended by Jeremiah Wright's wacky ideas, though they certainly didn't share them. That's because Wright, crazy uncle though he may have been, was still one of the family. Warren is one of them. Like Sarah Palin, he is beyond the pale.
Obama is choosing Warren because he really wants to lay foundations in red as well as blue America. That looks like brilliant and courageous politics to me. But of course, it gives the right inroads into his Administration. This is really interesting.
My esteemed Keloland Colleague and friend, Cory Heidelberger, ribs me with this one:
That crashing sound you heard in the middle of the night was the good Professor Blanchard going off the rails again. He begins with a reasonable bemoaning of our economic peril and the absence of trust. He rightly cites as an example the greed of Bernard Madoff and the negligence of President Bush and his federal watchdogs.
But then Blanchard sails right past that real problem and decides to blame those darn minorities and their enablers in the Democratic Party and the liberal press for originating the subprime lending crisis.
Actually, I was aiming for some balance: blaming both Bush and the Democrats for our current troubles. Cory will have none of it. It's all the fault of that wicked Bush. Well, I can see the attraction of that view. Wouldn't it be simpler if all the troubles in the world were due to Bush, or The Joker, or some really bad guy?
Cory directs us to a post of his where he thinks he shows that the Community Reinvestment Act wasn't the cause of the subprime meltdown. Most of the subprime mortgage loans in 2006, he tells us, were made by private institutions. Well, that clears that up! In fact, the CRA is a red herring. As proof that conservatives were concerned with it, he produces an anonymous comment on his blog. No one, Cory, is worried about the CRA. But that has been clear in this exchange for some time.
I direct Cory to a previous post of mine in reply to his above mentioned post. Let me summarize the problem. The current economic crisis has its roots in bad home loans. Lots of people got loans that they couldn't pay back for houses they couldn't afford. The question is why?
Was it deregulation? To make that case, you would have to show that all the subprime loans that went south would have previously been illegal. Can Cory show that that is the case? I suspect not. So what was it?
The single most significant cause of the subprime crisis was the crisis at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. And here is a fact that Cory glides over. The Bush Administration noticed that the FM's were engaging in very risky business. Barney Frank and his Democratic colleagues stopped the Administration from doing anything about that. There is no doubt about this. Isn't it worth mentioning?
But the more important cause of the present crisis is the fact that, in the early 1990's, America's financial institutions relaxed their standards for borrowers. Why did that happen? Because a lot of newspaper editorial boards decided that not enough minority borrowers were getting home loans. In fact, the opposite was true. The default rate for minority borrowers was higher than that for non-minority borrowers, which decides the question. The standards were stricter for the latter than for the former.
But never mind the logic. Progress required that standards for minority borrowers be relaxed further so that more of them could buy houses. What actually happened was that standards were relaxed across the board. Thus were the greediest unscrupulous loan officer invited to go for it.
Nobody is blaming minority borrowers. Cory is trying to hide his tattered view behind a Black family. The blame lies with mostly with liberals in the Press and their conjoined twins in Congress. They engineered affirmative action for home loan applicants. The results are now upon us.
Michael Woodring: "People are being selected for high public offices based on name recognition and family connections with remarkable frequency. This is particularly true for Democrats (who are more visible as the party in charge). I am not saying that having a politically famous mother or father should disqualify one from holding public office. Far from it. I am saying that an additional level of scrutiny should be applied to such choices to ensure that we are not appointing/electing people based on who they know rather than what they know." Indeed.
While Stephanie Herseth Sandlin was adding to the world's population (congrats, congresswoman), Tom Vilsack, former governor of Iowa, was being named Agriculture secretary. Rod Dreher is not impressed:
Obama has picked for his Secretary of State a hawkish internationalist (Hillary), and retained Bush's Secretary of Defense. His economic team is made up of Clintonite free traders and Establishmentarians. I'm not saying this is all bad, but you see these appointments, and you wonder what kind of "change" Obama was asking the American people to vote for. Maybe I'm missing something, but his line-up looks to me like thoroughly conventional picks from soup to nuts -- with the lone exception of his having done something unusual by retaining Bush's man at the Pentagon.
Slap a "New! Improved!" label on this box of the same old Democratic soap, and you're done. I suppose we'll now see Democrats behaving like us Republicans did whenever Bush did something disappointing: vigorously insist that the alternative (Gore, Kerry) would have been far, far worse, so nobody has any business complaining.
Apparently Vilsack will continue to head the Department of Agribusiness, as opposed to the Department of Temperance, as Prof. Deneen suggests.
Professor Schaff's recent post on SDP should cool the blood to the same temperature as the water in Aberdeen pipes. There is something very disconcerting in the sums of money that the government is already shelling out. When you add the trillion or so that Obama has promised to spend to the many trillions promised by social security, Medicare, and Medicaid, you almost need scientific notation.
But I am a simple minded fellow and all those numbers confuse me. So let me point out a couple of structural problems. One is that the United States has an aging population. Our social system has rested on younger workers paying into government programs, while retirees benefit. But since people stopped having babies, there are fewer of the former and lots more of the latter. Sooner or later that is going to catch up with us.
The more immediate problem is that the current crisis threatens to undermine the trust on which the modern economy is built. Anne Applebaum points her practiced finger at the hole in the dike.
Scene 1: We are buying an apartment in Warsaw, Poland, sometime in the early 1990s. At every stage of the transaction, both my husband and I have to show up in person, stand in line, and present identity cards. We appear at the notary's office more than once. We appear at the tax office more than once. Finally, we are asked to hand over a briefcase full of dollars. The seller will not accept a bank transfer and does not want to be paid in his country's currency, either.
Scene 2: We are buying a car in Washington, D.C., sometime in the early 2000s. We test-drive a few and tell the dealer which car we want. We hand him a personal check, which he accepts without asking for an identity card. My husband asks if he isn't worried the check will bounce. The dealer laughs, and we drive out of the dealership in a brand-new car.
That is the difference between a healthy, productive economy, and a retarded one. It is not something that can be weighed and measured. It is spiritual rather than physical. But it is the catalyst of all civilized economies: can you trust your partner in any exchange or contract?
Right now that basic trust is under assault from many directions, and both sides of the aisle deserve blame. Bernard L. Madoff's billion dollar Ponzi scheme, the product of one man's greed and self-deception, threatens to topple charities and banks across the world. This con job was so obvious that it should have been caught in its infancy. That it wasn't, is something Bush has to answer for. His federal watch dogs were asleep. The subprime loan crisis, on the other hand, originated in attempts to make more home loans available to minority lenders. That meant weakening the safeguards that were supposed to keep people from borrowing more money than they could pay back. That is something Democrats like Barney Frank, and liberals in the press, are responsible for.
Maybe Barack Obama should be less concerned about the American auto industry, and more concerned about the difference between contemporary America and 1990's Poland.
President-elect proposes a "stimulus" package costing one TRILLION dollars. How in the world are we going to pay for this? Answer: devaluing our currency and driving our children deeper into debt. In stunning news, we now owe more as a nation than all the wealth in the nation.
The United States of America is bankrupt. Don’t believe it? Consider this: Federal obligations now exceed the collective net worth of all Americans, according to the New York-based Peter G. Peterson Foundation. Washington politicians and bureaucrats have essentially mortgaged everything We the People own so they can keep spending our tax dollars like there’s no tomorrow.
The foundation’s grim calculations are based on Sept. 30 consolidated federal statements, which showed that Americans’ total household net worth, diminished by falling stock prices and home equity, is $56.5 trillion. But rising costs for unfunded social programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security increased to $56.4 trillion – and that was before the more recent stock market crash, $700 billion bank bailout, and monster federal deficits chalked up in October and November.
“Given more recent developments, it’s clear that America now owes more than its citizens are worth,” said Foundation president David M. Walker, who has been trying to warn Americans of the coming financial tsunami for years, to no avail. So, after Uncle Sam bails out bankers, Wall Street gamblers, carmakers and over-their-head homeowners, who’ll bail out Uncle Sam?
Notice that the $56.4 trillion of debt exists essentially for three government programs: Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. That says nothing about the rest of the government. Obama's solution? Throw even more debt on our posterity hoping that the short term stimulus will be enough for him to avoid any blame. This is change you can believe in?
I am not a Ron Paulista, but there is a lot of truth in the video below. Obama does not represent change; he represents politics as usual, namely buying us off with our own money. He asks nothing of us, promising immediate benefits while deferring the costs. Anyone under 40 should be furious at our government. We will bear the brunt of this irresponsibility, our futures ruined by crushing debt run up by a people unwilling to govern their own appetites. Real change is dismantling the bloated government in Washington DC, asking people to live within their means and demanding that they take responsibility for themselves like the free citizens they claim to be.
New York Times excerpt:
Linda Hall Daschle is one of the most important aviation lobbyists in town. Ms. Daschle is also the wife of Tom Daschle, whom President-elect Barack Obama has chosen to be the next secretary of health and human services.
Tom Downey is the founder and chairman of a lobbying firm with dozens of clients, including several with interests in energy policy. Mr. Downey is also the husband of Carol M. Browner, Mr. Obama’s likely choice to be the next White House energy czar.
Mr. Obama’s selection of Mr. Daschle and Ms. Browner to high-level positions illustrates a potential loophole in his pledge of keeping special interests at a distance.
The ethics code that Mr. Obama imposed on his transition team takes a hard line against lobbyists.
People are disqualified from working on any matters they lobbied about within the past year, and currently registered federal lobbyists are barred from playing a significant role — regardless of the issues they lobby about. But Mr. Obama’s embrace of Mr. Daschle and his presumed choice of Ms. Browner suggest that he will take a softer line on lobbying by the spouses of the officials in his administration.
Much to the disappointment of many, Lee Schoenbeck will not run for governor in 2010.
My latest in the American News concerns the lows and highs of Christmas music:
Christmastime means Christmas music. Some of the most beautiful songs are Christmas songs, but there are some real stinkers, too.
At the risk of losing readers straight off, let's start with the bad. Take “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” I realize repetition is the purpose of the song, but hearing that annoying melody and those silly lyrics over and over is enough to turn the jolliest soul into a Scrooge. This song is basically the Christmas version of “Ninety-Nine Bottles of Beer On the Wall.” And right around the 93rd beer or the seventh swan-a-swimming you are poking out your ear drums for sweet relief.
Many people like “Carol of the Bells,” aka “Ring Christmas Bells.” I suppose it might just be me, but every time I hear this song I think of Tony Perkins stabbing Janet Leigh in Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho." Not exactly a Christmas image. There is a popular version of this song by Manheim Steamroller. Hard as it is to believe, “Carol of the Bells” on synthesizer is no better.
A lot of contemporary Christian singers naturally do Christmas albums. I find these a bit tough to take. When they do the classics they tend to remake them into pop songs, to make them more “relevant” to the younger generation I suppose. But I don't need my Christmas music to be hip. It is hard for music, or anything else, to tie generations together and evoke deep meaning if we are constantly reinventing it for each new trend.
Let's move on to the good stuff. I realize that anyone under the age of 60 expressing a fondness for Perry Como is a little like announcing you're a virgin in a whorehouse, but there it is. He has a particularly good version of “Little Drummer Boy,” a superior song by any measure. A singable melody with a touching lyric. The song has a good message: Christ will smile on the poorest of us, no matter how modest our gifts.
How can one not like Bing Crosby's “White Christmas”? This tune meets the acid test of songs: You can hum it while doing the dishes. Released during World War II, it is one of the biggest selling records ever. More evidence there is a God. The classic “Sleigh Ride” is a fine song, especially as done by Johnny Mathis. It is a perfect match of melody, lyric and a rhythm that evokes an actual sleigh ride. Incidentally, the lyrics of the song are by Mitchell Parish, who also wrote “Stardust.” Not bad.
There are lots of great Christmas recordings. A rare contemporary recording of note is Jewel's excellent rendition of the beautiful “Oh Holy Night.” Dean Martin sings a swinging “Blue Christmas.” Country crooners Jim Reeves and Eddy Arnold give gentle readings of “Silent Night” and “Jolly Old St. Nicholas” respectively. Bing Crosby also does a fine “O Come All Ye Faithful,” Latin lyrics and all.
There is not enough space to discuss all the great recordings. What makes a superior Christmas song? A hummable melody simply articulated by a gentle but strong voice; lyrics that evoke the season and spark memories of Christmases past. Some songs elegantly evoke the religious meaning of the holiday, while others awaken the child in all of us. Match these with a tasteful arrangement, and you've got a great Christmas song.
And the less said about “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” the better.
I never get tired of Lewis Black's observation about the two parties: Republicans are the party of bad ideas; Democrats are the party of no ideas. A reasonable person might well conclude that George Bush was wrong to launch an invasion of Iraq, and that he bungled the first three years of the occupation. But if that person were honest as well, he would have to admit that Bush did manage to salvage his Iraq policy, and that Bush at least had a policy.
The Democrats have never been able or even interested in generating a coherent policy alternative for the region. During the recent election, they maintained the semblance of a policy: "Iraq war bad; Afghanistan war good." That was more or less the stated policy idea, and the implementation would be to shift American forces from the one to the other. Of course that is only thinkable now that Bush's Iraq policy has largely succeeded, a policy that the Democrats vociferously opposed when it was announced; though not so vociferously as to actually act to block it.
But if there is any evidence that Obama or his party gave any serious thought to what victory in Afghanistan might mean or how it would be achieved, the press has not reported on it. In fact, the bad war/good war positioning was pure election posturing. There was no substance behind it. It's like the seal that Obama has on his podium these days: "Office of the President-Elect." Is there such an office? Or is this more evidence of a political culture that can't tell the difference between the magazine cover and the story it reports. Very soon now Obama is going to have to start moving armed men about.
Joe Klein may be the first Democrat to start thinking about Afghanistan. It is not for the faint of heart.
We know what the mission used to be — to kill or capture Osama bin Laden and destroy his al-Qaeda command. But once bin Laden slipped away, the mission morphed into a vast, messy nation — building effort to support the allegedly democratic Karzai government. There was a certain logic to that. The Taliban and al-Qaeda can't base themselves in Afghanistan if something resembling a stable, secure nation-state exists there. But the mission was also historically implausible: Afghanistan has never had a strong central government. It has been governed for thousands of years by local and regional tribal coalitions. The tribes have often been at one another's throats — a good part of the current "Taliban" uprising is nothing more than standard tribal rivalries juiced by Western arms and opium profits — except when foreigners have invaded the area, in which case the Afghans have united and slowly humiliated conquerors from Alexander the Great to the Soviets.
Whatever you think of Bush, there were good reasons to think that a war in Iraq could be won. It was a relatively developed nation, by regional standards, with a significant middle class. It had at least some history of coherent government and modern civil institutions.
Afghanistan, by contrast, has always been the heart of darkness in the region. It is a nation with no functioning railroads or navigable rivers. Think about that for a moment. It has no access to any ocean. It is surrounded by Iran, a bunch of former Soviet Republics, and Pakistan. Think about that for another moment. Its terrain makes it almost impossible for any power to bring order without making deals with countless little gangster chiefs. Now: what are we going to do with this place? What does Obama hope to accomplish with all the troops he has promised to put there? I don't know, and I'm guessing neither does he.
There are really only three possible policies. One is to ignore Afghanistan. That is the most attractive policy, and the Clinton Administration tried it. The result was two collapsed skyscrapers in the heart of New York. Another is to go in in force and try to civilize the place. Ask the British about that one. The third is to go in only when you have to and then get the Hell right out. Bush had to, after an attack against the United States was launched from that territory. But if you are going to do that, you have to gut the place. Level the cities and everything else that stands out and let the survivors fight over the newly available real estate. Whoever emerges from the rubble won't want to see you come back again.
The trouble is, we can't do the latter. Not yet. But we aren't willing and may be unable to do the second. How much power will be enough, and can we spare it? As it is, we have gone in half-assed and half-hearted. That was Bush's policy, and Obama will most likely continue it. No wonder no one wants to think about this. I'll leave you with a bit of Kipling:
When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains,
and the women come out to cut up what remains,
jest roll to your rifle and blow out
and go to your gawd like a soldier.
My esteemed Keloland colleague, Cory Heidelberger has a post worth reading on the Detroit bailout blues. Cory notices that George W. Bush and Dennis Kucinich (it rhymes with spinach!) are in agreement: the big three are too big to let fail. Cory says this:
Two ironies here: one, that George W. Bush is agreeing with Dennis Kucinich, and two, that I, a diehard Kucinich supporter, am not sure either man is right.
It is charming that Cory is so loyal to the only Presidential candidate I know of who claims to have seen a flying saucer. But I am pretty sure that linking Kucinich to Bush on this issue doesn't strengthen the case for the bailout. But then Cory is skeptical of the bailout, as am I.
The only coherent argument for the bailout is that the collapse of the big three, at this moment, threatens to turn a recession into a depression. Thems no small potatoes, as a guy I used to work for once said.
But everyone seems to understand that fifty or sixty or two hundred billion dollars pumped into the automakers now will only allow them to survive to ask for much the same before another Christmas rolls around. It would make just as much sense for the Federal Government to liquidate the Big Three and pay the salaries of all their workers until the economy is officially out of recession.
There are only two reasonable options. One is to let the Big Three work it out on their own. This seems to be Cory's inclination, and I am with him. It might hurt more now, but it would be better for everyone in the long run. The other is to keep the automakers afloat in return for real changes that wean the off the Federal tit and maybe get our money back. There are two major reasons why American automakers are in trouble. One is the burden of union wage contracts. Lawrence Kudlow has this:
Average compensation for the Detroit little three is $72.31. Toyota's average wage is $47.60, Honda's is $42.05, and Nissan's is $41.97, for an average of $44.20.
At those wages, the Big Three cannot compete with the transplants or imports unless they are at least one and a half times as productive. In fact, they are less productive than their competitors. Mickey Kaus notes that the real problem is union work rules that make domestic carmakers much less flexible than their rivals. Kaus produces this juicy quote:
Under the Wagner Act, management manages. What the union does is complain, and negotiate for a rule limiting management's right to do what the union doesn't like. A worker protests that his job should be classified as "drilling special and heavy" instead of "drilling general." The parties butt heads, a decision is reached, and a new rule is deposited like another layer of sediment. At some GM plants, distinct job categories evolved for each spot on the assembly line (e.g., "headlining installer"). In Japanese auto plants, where they spend their time building cars instead of creating job categories, there is only one nonsupervisory job classification: "production."
The "transplants", which means foreign companies building cars in the U.S., can rapidly retool their lines to produces new cars as demand changes. The Big Three can't do anything except at a snail's pace and after rancorous negotiations. Billions of government bailout money isn't going to change that, unless it comes with strings attached.
Tennessee Republican Senator Bob Corker has been trying to negotiate a deal that would put the domestic auto industry on the road to health. The unions and their allies in Congress have so managed to defeat Corker. Their strategy seems to be to get the stop-gap money for now, and get more from the incoming Democratic Congress. That is a recipe for ruin.
The MSM was shamelessly partial to Barack Obama during both the primaries and the general election campaign. It is easy enough to see that this was unfair both to Hillary Clinton and to John McCain. It is not so easy to see how much this mattered to the outcome. Ronald Reagan was despised by the media when he crushed Jimmy Carter in the 1980 election. Of course, the MSM back then (when there was no non-MSM) didn't much like Carter either.
What was very hard to see during the election was that the media's favoritism did a disservice to Obama as well. Obama came of age as a politician in one of the most miasmal urban swamps in America. Chicago, unlike New York, has never had a reform movement. It has been said that it is an East European city ruled by Irishmen. That's not bad, and it tells the story. Chicago's government works by buying off each significant ethnic group or local union with favors from City Hall. The idea of responsible government independent of loyalty, alliances, and deals is altogether unknown there. Governor Blagojevich was only behaving as if Illinois was Chicago, and Chicago the world.
Could Obama have put down roots in that swamp without being tainted by it? Well, there is the image of the Lotus Flower: beloved by Eastern religions because it grows in mud but seems always spotless and bright. But then there is Robert Penn Warren's Willie Stark, who observed that, "from the stink of the diaper to the stench of the grave, there is always something." I quote from memory, but the point is that we all have secrets to conceal. Chicago is a good place to acquire such secrets.
The MSM is now asking serious questions about Obama's connections with Rod Blagojevich and the Chicago machine. Now that the election is over, that is. During the long campaign I recall only one significant story about Obama's Chicago past. The Boston Globe did a very strong expose on Grove Parc Plaza, a housing project built with public subsidies and private capital. Obama was a major sponsor of that project. It didn't turn out well.
Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to Obama's presidential campaign and a member of his finance committee. Jarrett is the chief executive of Habitat Co., which managed Grove Parc Plaza from 2001 until this winter and co-managed an even larger subsidized complex in Chicago that was seized by the federal government in 2006, after city inspectors found widespread problems.
Allison Davis, a major fund-raiser for Obama's US Senate campaign and a former lead partner at Obama's former law firm. Davis, a developer, was involved in the creation of Grove Parc and has used government subsidies to rehabilitate more than 1,500 units in Chicago, including a North Side building cited by city inspectors last year after chronic plumbing failures resulted in raw sewage spilling into several apartments.
Antoin "Tony" Rezko, perhaps the most important fund-raiser for Obama's early political campaigns and a friend who helped the Obamas buy a home in 2005. Rezko's company used subsidies to rehabilitate more than 1,000 apartments, mostly in and around Obama's district, then refused to manage the units, leaving the buildings to decay to the point where many no longer were habitable.
Let's summarize this. Barack Obama sponsored "rehabilitation" housing units in Chicago, bringing government subsides into the hands of his political allies. The latter soaked up the subsides and then let the housing rot. There are a lot of interesting names in the above quotes. Valerie Jarrett, who was apparently considered for Obama's Senate seat, is there. Tony Rezko, Obama's guardian angel, now in the Federal pen and apparently singing, is also there.
The Grove Parc Plaza story is a scandal on its own. Obama may have meant well, but when his Chicago buddies cut the poor residents of that place adrift, so did he. This story should have been picked up by the national media and a lot of attention should have been focused on it. Then all the dark corners would have been cleared before the election. Instead, the national press ignored the story and no one with any resources did any digging on their own.
So now Obama has to deal with his first scandal as he prepares to take office. I am guessing that he was smart enough to avoid any real liabilities. But the media that so obviously favored him during the election might have favored him more by doing their job a little better.
Rahm Emanuel, Obama's Chief of Staff, has done a Joe Biden disappearing act since the Illinois Governor was arrested. This makes at least three major figures in the Obama organization (David Axelrod and Obama himself) who had close ties to Blagojevich. Clearly the Obama people are in stealth mode, trying to figure out exactly what they have to worry about. I'm guessing nothing much of any substance, but a lot in terms of appearance.
I think this has the potential to affect both the Detroit bailout and "card check" legislation. If I wanted to design adds against card check, I'd put pictures of Blagojevich and some scenes from The Sopranos.
I've been meaning to drop a quick note regarding the Keynesian economics motivating the incoming Obama administration. You can see Bruce Bartlett's "What Would Keynes Do" for some basic background. A snip:
Keynes argued that the only thing that will really work is if the federal government uses its resources to purchase goods and services. It must buy "stuff"--concrete, computers, paper, glass, steel--anything as long as it is tangible. In other words, the government must spend the way households do, by buying things.
It must also employ labor, because much of what people spend money on today is in the form of services. This doesn't necessarily mean putting workers on the federal payroll, it just means that, to the extent that the government purchases services, this will also help raise spending in the economy. (snip)
But in the end, there is a limit to what the Fed can do by itself. At some point, government spending must be the engine that pulls the economy out of recession, because only that can compensate for the fall in private spending that has caused velocity to drop and brought on deflationary conditions.
But it must be the right kind of spending. It must draw real resources out of the economy--that is the only kind of spending that will work. Buying bad mortgages and sending out more rebate checks won't do any good.
Obama, with his 21st Century New Deal seems to be buying some of this prescription.
What are the problems with the notion that government spending will spur the economy? First, as I noted recently here, this is a theory based on consumption, that we need to buy more "stuff." But Bartlett, as any thinking person must, concedes that this means more debt. So in other words, Obama is suggesting we buy more stuff with money we don't have. Isn't that how we got into this mess?
While we do face a liquidity issue and the specter of deflation, this can be prevented by loose monetary policy (which we have) and a massive reduction in capital gains and corporate taxation. Of course, this doesn't work in Obama class warfare rhetoric, but it would provide for a increase in available capital for business investment. These policy moves would stimulate investment and business profitability and have the additional virtue of not adding to the public debt.
Prof. Blanchard (here) and I (here) have argued that the enormous debt held by our nation represents a burden on our nation that we must face up to. Obama's economic plan, so far at least, indicates that he is willing to further mortgage our future for immediate political gain. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Not much change to believe in there.
File under "someone had to say it, we just didn't think it would be her." I have read Katha Pollitt only on occasion, and she always struck me as one of the more strident feminist intellectuals. She writes a column for The Nation, which I also read only on occasion for the same reason I read National Review only on occasion. Neither has many surprises in store. Pollitt's recent column on Bill Ayers is a major surprise. Here is a lengthy passage, but I couldn't bring myself to cut any of it.
"I never killed or injured anyone, "Ayers writes. "In 1970, I co-founded the Weather Underground, an organization that was created after an accidental explosion that claimed the lives of three of our comrades in Greenwich Village." Right. Those people belonged to Weatherman, as did Ayers himself and Bernardine Dohrn, now his wife. Weatherman, Weather Underground, completely different! And never mind either that that "accidental explosion" was caused by the making of a nail bomb intended for a dance at Fort Dix.
Ayers writes that Weather Underground bombings were "symbolic acts of extreme vandalism directed at monuments to war and racism, and the attacks on property, never on people, were meant to respect human life and convey outrage and determination to end the Vietnam War." That no one was killed or injured was a monumental stroke of luck-- an unrelated bombing at the University of Wisconsin unintentionally killed a researcher and seriously injured four people. But if the point was to symbolize outrage, why not just spraypaint graffiti on government buildings or pour blood on military documents?
Spectacular violence, and creating fear of it, was the point. Along with beating people up and ridiculous escapades like running naked through white-working-class high schools shouting "Jailbreak!" It was what the Weatherpeople were all about.
"Peaceful protests had failed to stop the war," Ayers writes. " So we issued a screaming response. But it was not terrorism; we were not engaged in a campaign to kill and injure people indiscriminately, spreading fear and suffering for political ends." I'm not so sure that terrorism necessarily involves intentional attacks on people, but okay, let's say Ayers wasn't a terrorist. How about thuggish? Vainglorious? Egomaniacal? Staggeringly irresponsible? And illogical, don't forget illogical: as Hilzoy points out, the idea that because "peaceful protest" hadn't ended the war, bombs would is missing a couple of links. It's like a doctor saying, Well, chemo didn't cure your brain tumor, so I'll have to amputate your leg. It's not as if there was nothing else to try, after all. While Ayers and Dohrn were conveying their outrage, other people were doing the kind of organizing work that the Weather Underground despised as wimpy. Today Ayers blends himself into that broader movement, the "we-- the broad we" that "wrote letters, marched, talked to young men at inductions centers" etc., but at the time, Weatherpeople had nothing but contempt for the rest of the antiwar left. Writing letters? Off the pig! you might as well... become a community organizer! [My emphasis]
Wow. I posted on this topic, but I didn't write anything as good or as on target as that. She is certainly right to point out that Ayers's "we only bombed things" excuse is obscene. There is no way that someone planting bombs on public targets can be sure that no one will be injured or killed. The truth was that the "attacks on property" were play terrorism, "monkey warfare," as Abbie Hoffman called it in Steal This Book. The bomb that killed three Weatherpeople in the Greenwich Village townhouse, on the other hand, was intended to kill people. Ayers now claims that he refused to go along with this turn and decided to get out, but I agree with Pollitt that this is pure whitewash. Did he take steps to stop his colleagues from carrying out their murderous plans?
But what Pollitt shows is that Ayers was not only a terrorist (for all practical purposes) but that he was just as contemptuous of the real anti-war Left as he was of America in general. Ayers was the kind of Leftist who, if he had ever got his fingers on real power, would have rounded up his former friends along with all the regressives.
It's okay to have Ayers as an esteemed professor of education if you wouldn't mind an endowed chair for, say, a would-be Mumbai gunman who didn't manage to make the boat and years later claimed that he suddenly got scruples. Ayers is one of the Sons of Mary. Wealth and privilege and dumb luck smiled on him. That's alright. The world is like that. But it is important to know what it is. Well done Ms. Pollitt.
Whoopdeedoodles, what a story! I know I should be "saddened and sobered by the news that came out of the U.S. Attorney's office today", as was our prudent and responsible President-elect; but to a political scientist and confirmed political turd-watcher, this is the greatest show on earth.
The story is, as the Chicago Trib puts it, staggering even for Illinois.
Yet the charges in the criminal complaint (text version) are, in fact, staggering. They are stunning. Eyepopping. Gobsmacking. Jaw-dropping. Appalling. Unprecedented in their alleged brazenness.
These charges say that even as his predecessor sat in prison after a corruption conviction, even as his associates and fundraisers were going down, even as it was widely reported that he was at the center of a federal corruption probe ... even then, Blagojevich was selling out his office and otherwise abusing his power.
Apparently, Blagojevich (blahGOYehvitch) has been trying to auction off Barack Obama's old Senate seat. For money. And this while knowing he is the target of a number of ongoing investigations. He also tried to have several Trib reporters fired in return for helping the paper sell Wrigley Field. Well, it's not like they use it for anything. And apparently the Feds know about this because he talked about all these things on the phone.
This really is breath-taking. When Blagojevich walks into slammer, all the former Illinois governors will have to bow and chant: We're not worthy! We're not worthy!
All this is pure fun to someone who is not living in Illinois. I am not living in Illinois. It would stop being fun if the President-elect is in any way mixed up in this. I can't imagine that he is, and certainly no one has suggested any evidence to that effect. But Obama and his people did start talking funny really fast. From the ABC News Political Punch blog:
"Obviously like the rest of the people of Illinois I am saddened and sobered by the news that came out of the US attorney's office today," said President-elect Obama this afternoon in Chicago, speaking of the criminal complaint against Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich for corruption. "But as this is a ongoing investigation involving the governor I don't think it would be appropriate for me to comment on the issue at this time."
Right. That's what you say. It would inappropriate for me to comment. Then…you have to not comment.
Asked what contact he'd had with the governor's office about his replacement in the Senate, President-elect Obama today said "I had no contact with the governor or his office and so we were not, I was not aware of what was happening."
Wrong. That was a comment. Repeating what you said the first time about not commenting would have been no comment. Taking your thumb and forefinger and pushing your lips together, that would have been no comment.
And what Obama said was not only a comment, it was checkable fact. Someone checked up on it, and this emerged:
On November 23, 2008, his senior adviser David Axelrod appeared on Fox News Chicago and said something quite different. While insisting that the President-elect had not expressed a favorite to replace him, and his inclination was to avoid being a "kingmaker," Axelrod said, "I know he's talked to the governor and there are a whole range of names many of which have surfaced, and I think he has a fondness for a lot of them."
Well, that sounds sorta like contact. Of course, David Axelrod has since announced that he misspoke when he was on Fox News, which is spin for "What I said then wasn't true and what I am saying now is true, but neither is a lie."
This is ground floor goofy. I am guessing that Barack Obama did discuss his Senate seat with Governor Blagojevich. Why shouldn't he have? It is obviously a matter of concern to him that he have an ally in the Senate. It's very hard to believe that he didn't contact the Governor about this matter. So why is he lying about it now? Well…
I suspect it's just liar's reflex. Fib first and ask questions later. Unless, of course, he really does have something to lie about. I sincerely hope that's not true. And if it is, I hope that I don't enjoy it.
I have written here on the role of African American voters in gay marriage in California. Neither I nor anyone else so far as I can tell noticed a curious anomaly in this story. If indeed African Americans pushed Proposition 8 over the top in that state, they were defending a traditional institution that they, as a group, rarely engage in. The latter fact has had very unfortunate consequences for this population of Americans.
Kay Hymowitz, contributing editor of the marvelous conservative periodical The City Journal, explains:
In 1950, at the height of the Jim Crow era and despite the shattering legacy of slavery, the great majority of black children -- an estimated 85 percent -- were born to their two married parents. Just 15 years later, there seemed to be no obvious reason that that would change. With the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, legal barriers to equality were falling. The black middle class had grown substantially, and the first five years of the 1960s had produced 7 million new jobs. Yet 24 percent of black mothers were then bypassing marriage. [Daniel Patrick] Moynihan wrote later that he, like everyone else in the policy business, had assumed that "economic conditions determine social conditions." Now it seemed, "what everyone knew was evidently not so."
Well, yeah, economic determinism doesn't determine all that much. But here is the more important fact: at the very moment that the Civil Rights Movement achieved its astounding successes, the Black American family began to disintegrate.
Since 1965, through economic recessions and booms, the black family has unraveled in ways that have little parallel in human cultures. By 1980, black fatherlessness had doubled; 56 percent of black births were to single mothers. In inner-city neighborhoods, the number was closer to 66 percent. By the 1990s, even as the overall fertility of American women, including African Americans, was falling, the majority of black women who did bear children were unmarried. Today, 70 percent of black children are born to single mothers. In some neighborhoods, two-parent families have vanished. In parts of Newark and Philadelphia, for example, it is common to find children who are not only growing up without their fathers but don't know anyone who is living with his or her biological father.
And what has this meant for racial progress? Fifty years after Jim Crow, black U.S. households have the lowest median income of any racial or ethnic group. Close to a third of black children are poor, and their chances of moving out of poverty are considerably lower than those of their white peers. The fractured black family is not the sole explanation for these gaps, but it is central. While half of all black children born to single mothers are poor, that is the case for only 12 percent of those born to married parents. At least three simulation studies "marrying off" single mothers to either the fathers of their children or to potential husbands of similar demographic characteristics concluded that child poverty would be dramatically lower had marriage rates remained what they were in 1970.
It isn't difficult to understand the relationship between marriage and prosperity. Traditional marriage is a bond of commitment first and foremost, and a package of rights only as a distant second. It is a union of man and woman for the sake of a common investment in their offspring. It means that Mom and Dad's obligations toward one another take precedence over their own selfish interests. That creates an effective platform for the nurturing of children, and their launching into the future.
Coupling without marriage usually means coupling without commitment, at least on the part of the father. That is part and parcel of a larger collection of pathologies that has so severely retarded the advancement of African Americans.
The most successful social reform movement in the history of social reform movements was the nineteenth century religious revival that persuaded so many men to give up the gin, marry their significant other, and take care of their children. Liberals who care deeply about gay marriage should give some thought to this. Maybe marriage should be thought of not as a goody to be won from the state, but as a set of obligations that need to be reinforced by the larger community. The suffering of gay men and women whose relationship with their partners is not recognized in the law is worth caring about. The suffering of so many fatherless African American children is worse.
President Elect Barack Obama dared to tell brothers to pull up their pants. Will he dare tell them to marry the mothers of their children? And will it make a difference? So far, only religious faith has been effective creating strong families. If liberals think that they can solve the basic problem, now would be a good time to start.
My blogosphere daimon BB and I have been chewing over the global warming issue of late. BB is all for the conventional wisdom on this matter: global warming is happening, we caused it, and we have to do something about it. I have long been convinced that the third article of faith is nonsense. We aren't and can't do anything about it, if doing something about it means reducing carbon emissions. With India and China rising as economic powers, with millions yearning to join the global middle class, it much matter how virtuous the developed world should be. Carbon emissions are going to increase world wide. That is so obvious a fact that those who talk about reducing emissions or a zero-carbon are living in cloud cookoo land. But of course, the developed nations aren't being virtuous.
My friend Ron Bailey, science correspondent for Reason Magazine, has this:
Nations that signed the Kyoto Protocol agreed to cut their emissions of greenhouse gases—chiefly carbon dioxide—by an average of 5 percent below the level they emitted in 1990. In one sense, the collapse of the former Soviet Bloc economies has already helped achieve this goal. On the other hand, most economically developed nations—including many countries in Western Europe, as well as Japan, Canada, and Australia—are not meeting their Kyoto Protocol goals.
In other words, the only way to meet the Kyoto Protocol standards is for your economy to collapse into rubble. Well, that may be happening to the world God help us, but surely no one is trying to make it happen. National economies still standing aren't abiding by their agreements.
On the other hand, I have until recently accepted the first two articles of global warming faith: that the world is in a long term warming trend, and that human activity is accelerating that trend. I now suspect that both of those ideas may be wrong. Again from Ron:
Given that climate is by definition a long-term phenomenon, one should be cautious about interpreting ten years of data. Still, it is the case that global average temperatures have remained essentially flat since 2001 while the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased by about 5 percent. It is also true that this decade is on average warmer than the previous decade, though so far there is no clear upward trend. And what about the future? Earlier this year, a German climate modeling group published a study in Nature suggesting that global average temperatures may not increase in the coming decade because of offsetting natural climate variations. Policymakers will likely find it difficult to persuade the public to endure the economic pain of higher energy bills if temperatures are not actually increasing.
Now I note that none of this was predicted by the computer models on which the whole global warming faith is based. Moreover, this certainly undermines the principle ethic of global warming, that we must act right now! Surely if natural forces are cooling the planet for the foreseeable future, we can enjoy some breathing-out room.
But what about those computer models?
Clearly, most climate modelers believe that adding more carbon dioxide will eventually lead to unacceptably high global temperatures. However, other researchers question aspects of those models. For example, are the models' estimates of the amount of carbon dioxide that's likely to be emitted from soils too high? Are cloud feedback estimates biased in a positive direction, leading researchers to predict greater warming than is likely to occur? And is soot responsible for most of the recent warming in the arctic?
It looks to me like the whole global warming package is now worth a subprime mortgage. Maybe the global warming faithful should apply to Henry Paulson for a federal bailout.
My latest in the American News:
“Listen all you rounders/You ought to be like me/Don't worry about consumption/Even if they call it TB.”
So wrote Jimmie Rodgers, the father of country music, about 80 years ago. Rodgers knew of which he sang, as tuberculosis, “TB,” also called consumption, would kill him in 1933 at age 35.
We are interested in consumption these days, but consumption of shoppers. Congress and our incoming president are keen on a series of economic stimulus measures designed to spur consumption. This, they claim, will help stave off a serious recession and save jobs.
Around the time Rodgers was singing of trains and his own illness, British economist John Maynard Keynes was theorizing that economies slow down because of lack of consumer spending. This he called the “demand deficit” as consumers were not demanding enough goods and services.
The goal of government policy, then, is to make up for this deficit by “priming the pump” of the economy through government spending. Government spending on public works and similar projects would put people to work, giving them disposable income and stimulating the economy. Keynesian economics is based on the promotion of consumption.
Like good Keynesians, President-elect Obama and Congress urge us to go out and consume even more. They are unwilling to take the tougher road of actually asking us to consume less and live within our means.
“TB, oh TB/Some say tonic is fine/Take all the medicine you want/I'll take good liquor for mine.”
The tonic prescribed in Washington these days will add trillions to our national debt to save some jobs in the short term. This perpetuates the very behavior that got us in this dire economic situation: funding a lifestyle beyond our means and paying for it by accumulating debt that we expect others to pay off.
Consumption also means to use something up. We are quickly using up our patrimony because we refuse to admit that our government does too much while we ask too little of ourselves. The anodyne remedies of bailouts, tax giveaways and “stimulus packages” attempt to relieve symptoms without addressing the disease. The disease is not that Americans don't spend enough money, that we don't consume enough. The disease is that we consume more than we can afford. We are dying of consumption.
We have done this personally, taking on debt for that which we don't need. We have done this as a people, asking the government to ease every burden, lulling us to sleep with the belief that all life's hits can and should be softened by an omnipresent government.
Political scientist Patrick Deneen, who has also noted the multiple meanings of consumption, argues that our leaders should treat us not as consumers but as citizens, which according to Aristotle means “ruling and being ruled in return.” That means we must rule our own appetites, learning to place limits on ourselves rather than having the government impose them from the outside. We gain the right to govern by being able to govern ourselves.
Rodgers sang, “I've been fighting like a lion/Looks like I'm going to lose/Cause ain't nobody/Ever licked these TB blues.”
Acting like free citizens rather than coddled subjects is one way to lick the ole consumption blues.
I hate to go through this again, but I guess I must. Pat Powers rails on Gov. Rounds for suggesting modest increases the property tax and spending of reserves. Thus Pat is angry at the governor from straying from the Republican low taxes, small government Gospel. This, says Pat, is the kind of thing that ruined the national GOP.
Once again, let's look at the numbers. Go here and here. South Dakota is #49 in per capita tax burden and #48 in per capita state and local spending (it is #49 per household). Looking at the numbers it is fair to say that no state taxes less nor spends less than South Dakota. The notion that we are on the precipice of a Leviathan government confiscating our hard earned money is just not supported by the facts. As I've said before, it is possible that all the other state governments are so bloated that one can be last in taxes and spending and still have "too much" of those. But I doubt it. The fact is that we have a frugal government that takes very little from us.
Let's get some perspective. First, national government and state government are apples and oranges when it comes to spending. The powers of the federal government are few and defined. The powers of states are many and undefined. Thus states should carry the burden of providing most government services. The problem is precisely that we have located so many of these services at the national level. To put it plainly, the federal government does a lot that it shouldn't do. Republicans got in trouble for lots of reasons, and one reason is that they did not fight this. But one must compare national government to state government with great caution as the two exist for different reasons. While I share Pat's concern with the "nanny state," when one looks at services provided by our state, it is hard to find any that it shouldn't be providing.
Also, comparing our state to North Dakota is faulty. North Dakota has significant oil reserves that we do not have. That gives our neighbors to the north a revenue stream that we don't have, and a revenue stream that has been very generous the last couple years.
South Dakota has a history of balanced budgets. We have a lean state government with low taxes. That is perhaps the result of Republican governance through the years. We should be thankful for this rather than getting the vapors because we might see the most modest increases in taxes and spending.
I was cautiously and very uncomfortably in favor of the $700 billion financial industry bailout. I thought that the collapse of the world financial industry was a real possibility, and that that might set back world economic growth by a decade. I don't know where I got that "decade" estimate. Like Paulson's $700 billion, it just seemed like the right number. And I do expect that we will get all or almost all the money back, or even make money on the deal. On the other hand, that is an economic intervention that would have terrified most economists only a year ago.
The auto industry is different. The world monetary and industrial complex doesn't need GM, Ford, and Chrysler to keep going. Granted, those manufacturers represent a lot of jobs, and if they really went out of business that would have serious economic repercussions. But those "repercussions" are coming with or without the bailout. The Big Three are supposed to come up with serious plans for fixing their business models in return for bailout money. Those plans will be about what would result from bankruptcy court. Costs have to be reduced, and that means, among other things, reducing the crushing burden of union contracts. The only reason the bailout has a chance in Congress is that the auto unions want it. They want to hang onto the present system as long as possible, and that is what we will be funding if we give the car companies what they want.
But it's only putting off the inevitable. The big three can't compete with their current burdens. And the same Congress that is being asked to save them it busy planning environmental legislation that will put more nails in their coffins.
A line from the KELO story on the governor's budget address caught my eye:
Rounds' proposed budget doesn't include funding for a fourth year of the laptop program...
It'd be nice if it didn't take national financial ruin for the state to see what a waste of education money this program is. If only the participating school districts will start to see the light as well. But I will take good news where I can get it.
I see some online are already pondering what Saxby Chambliss's victory in Georgia means for the Republican party and Barack Obama. As I have a PhD in Political Science I can tell you exactly what it means. It means Saxby Chambliss got more votes than Jim Martin.
How the ebullient Dr. Chopra had come to be chosen as an authority on terror remains something of a mystery, though the answer may have something to do with his emergence in the recent presidential campaign as a thinker of advanced political views. Also commending him, perhaps, is his well known capacity to cut through all sorts of complexities to make matters simple. No one can fail to grasp the wisdom of a man who has informed us that "If you have happy thoughts, then you make happy molecules."
In his CNN interview, he was no less clear. What happened in Mumbai, he told the interviewer, was a product of the U.S. war on terrorism, that "our policies, our foreign policies" had alienated the Muslim population, that we had "gone after the wrong people" and inflamed moderates. And "that inflammation then gets organized and appears as this disaster in Bombay."
Well, there you are. The man who hated Palin and praised Obama as the redeemer seems to think that the terrorists in Mumbai aren't responsible for all the dead in that Indian city. The United States is. Well, I am glad we got that clear.
The atrocity in Bombay strikes me as one of the two most frightening terrorist attacks on record. The other was not 9/11, but the Oklahoma City bombing. The 9/11 attack was terrifying enough, but may have represented the peak of terrorist resources and genius and probably set the terrorists back a long way in their search for state sponsors. As Edward Luttwak has noted, since 9/11, terrorist attacks have steadily decreased in sophistication and support, but not so much, alas, in effect.
The OK bombing was terrifying because it showed how much carnage one evil man and his henchman can cause. The Mumbai attack shows how many murders a handful of young men with a bag of rifles and ordinance can commit. It's the kind of thing that makes anyone who thinks about it feel like a sitting duck.
There are a couple of specific lessons from Bombay that are worth learning. One is that the Indian government was woefully inadequate in its response. It took them ten hours to get 200 commandos into the city. According to the New York Times blog The Lede, Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh apparently spent ninety minutes listening to a brief before he took action. It gets better:
Most of the NSG men have to be roused from sleep. They don their uniforms, strap on safety gear and collect ammo and firearms. It is discovered that the plane that can take 200 men, the IL 76, is not in Delhi but Chandigarh. Someone wakes up the IL 76 pilot, the plane refueled. It finally arrives in Delhi [at 2 am, five and half hours after the attack began].
Given India's vulnerability to terrorist attacks, and the recent history of those attacks, you might have thought they could keep 200 commandos in readiness.
It is also very dismaying that the police force already in Mumbai, and present at the scene of the killings, failed to shoot back at the terrorists. Now I understand that the local police were not nearly as well armed as the terrorists, and were not trained to respond to this kind of attack. But there were apparently a lot of them. Can you imagine your average New York City cop hiding behind a desk and not taking a shot when he had one? Mumbai is a city of 19 million. Surely it can afford a SWAT team, or at least a police force that is prepared to use its weapons. This suggests a deep weakness in the state that represents one of the world's most important economies, and soon its largest national population.
The other lesson is that the political solution to terrorism is no solution at all. From the National Review:
Many put the blame for the attack on years of Indian-Pakistani hostility and tension. In fact, relations between the two countries have never been warmer. This past month, Pakistan's new president stunned and delighted Indians by publicly renouncing any first use of nuclear weapons. Violence in Kashmir, the principal bone of contention between India and Pakistan since 1947, is on the decline. Before the Mumbai attacks, politicians were scheduled to start talks on permitting trade across the region's Line of Control, so that Hindu farmers in Indian Kashmir can sell their wheat or a used tractor to Muslim farmers in Pakistani Kashmir.
This is precisely what the terrorists don't want, of course. It's the fact that tensions over Kashmir are diminishing that prompted them to attack on the November 28 — just as al-Qaeda blew up Samarra's Golden Mosque in Iraq back in 2006 in order to keep Shias and Sunnis hating and killing each other. The illusion that formal agreements between peoples and governments —whether between India and Pakistan or Israel and the Palestinian Authority —can somehow defuse the terrorist problem was the among the first casualties in Mumbai. Terrorists see it the other way around: the relaxation of tensions is a problem requiring bloodshed. Islamic terrorists don't want justice or respect for their beliefs, or restoration of some imaginary homeland. They want violence and death.
This has to be understood. The terrorists attacked Mumbai because it is India's most cosmopolitan city, a simple of globalization. Mumbai is India's World Trade Center. The nations of the world cannot negotiate with people whose bottom line demand is that the world should go away. The only solution to this problem is a military solution: catch these people or kill them before they can kill anyone else.