Why progressivism fails

Byline: | Category: Above the Fold, Culture, Environment, Government, Military | Posted at: Friday, 28 March 2014

Two days ago I picked up the theme of a Jim Geraghty piece and said that Progressives are so fixated on ends that they have no allegiance to means and have no consideration for the negative consequences of their utopian dreams.  On a related note yesterday, Daniel Henninger wondered “Why can’t the Left govern?”

Henninger focused on President Obama, whose only major legislative accomplishment has worsened American health care, and on Mayor Bill de Blasio, whose attacks on New York’s charter schools spiraled out of control and sunk his high approval ratings to below 50%, and on France’s François Hollande, whose draconian taxes have pushed his popularity to the lowest ever recorded of a French President in the modern era.

Since in my earlier writing I made the analogy between modern Progressives and the era of the original Progressives, let me throw into the mix President Woodrow Wilson as an example of the failure of their ilk to govern.  Wilson was so unpopular at the end of his second term that Warren Harding’s 26-point margin of victory still holds the record for the largest landslide of any President elected in the last hundred years.  None of FDR’s elections were bigger wins.  Nor was LBJ’s.  William McGovern and Walter Mondale both cruised to respectable finishes compared to James Cox, 1920’s loser.  Four years after he left, Wilson’s Democrats were still so unpopular that they didn’t receive even 30% of the popular vote, a pitifully low level that the losing party has never since failed to achieve.

What is it about ideologue Leftists that makes them so unpopular after their failed attempts at governing?

As I said the other day, Progressives believe that they know better than others how others should live their lives.  That makes Progressivism inherently anti-democratic and requires that its adherents subvert truths and manipulate rules to advance their ends.

Democratic governments follow where their people lead.  Progressive governments—those led by people who see popular opinion as wrong—lead their people in a direction that they do not want to go.  When the subterfuge is discovered, or when the unpopular project spectacularly fails, popular opinion turns viciously against the Progressive.

By Executive Order (and not, it is important to note, by an act of Congress) President Wilson created the Committee on Public Information in 1917.  The CPI was known by the New York Times as the “Committee on Public Misinformation” and by harsher critics was called the ominous sounding, “House of Truth”. This was America’s World War One propaganda ministry.  It fabricated German atrocities, as well as American strengths. Anticipating by nearly a century the notoriously faked photo of an Iranian missile launch, one early CPI story announced that “the first American-built battle planes are today en route to the front in France”.  The false “news” was accompanied by doctored pictures that were in fact of a single plane that was still in testing.   (If you have ever wondered why the horrors of the Holocaust took so long to gain traction in the American press, in part, it was because Americans were still skeptical after having been lied to by their own government about imaginary German horrors from the last war.)

The CPI’s tactics came straight from its allies in the Anti-Saloon League, which employed a similar propaganda machine and a similar virulently nativist message to advance the cause of Prohibition.

Democracies don’t like being lied to.  As soon as the war was over, the magnitude and frequency of the lies became apparent.  Americans quickly recognized that their entry into the war was a catastrophic mistake.  The result was that by the end of the 1920s, the label “progressive” largely had disappeared from the American political lexicon, not to be resurrected for another eighty years.

Democracies also don’t like failure.

To the Progressive, ideology trumps results.  Most arenas outside of government don’t work that way.  A product that isn’t popular loses money.  It matters not how noble the cause or its producer.

In government failure is so easy to achieve because success is so difficult to ascertain.  Ironically, it is the very nature of popular forms of government that makes this possible.  Democracies, because they lag popular opinion—and especially constitutional republics, that purposefully employ procedures to dampen the excesses of democracy—are necessarily lethargic beings.  Results arrive at a glacial pace.  It is often years after one has advanced a program that it can objectively be determined to be a success.  By then it is too late for its advocates to be held accountable if it had failed.

In 2002 I was part of an efficiency project initiated at the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command.  The idea was that TRADOC should measure both the resources put into its programs and its programs’ results.  For each program the objectively measurable input was money.  I had no objection to this.  However, since most of those programs were years-long projects, there was the need for intermediate objectives.   It turned out that in almost every case, the measurable “output” was also money.  If a project was expected to cost $100 million, the faster it could acquire that hundred-million was the measure of the success of the project.  Each program was its own self-licking ice cream cone and no one was ever going to be judged on whether or not the program actually worked.  The programs themselves became the goal.  Left far behind were the goals of the original programs.

If this attitude exists within the military, a branch of government which occasionally gets called upon to deliver demonstrable results (ie, win a war), imagine how detached other branches of government are from having to account for their successes and failures.  This is the perfect camouflage for a Progressive as he never has to face judgment for his results.  All that matters is that he tried.

Returning to Henninger’s column, he likens Obamacare to the international anti-global warming movement and concludes that their “activity is increasingly disconnected from the issue of mitigating climate change.”  It’s no wonder; Progressives steeped in a lifetime of bureaucratic myopia rarely have to achieve a measurable outcome.  And on those few occasions, as in the case of Obamacare, that they are successful in shepherding a program through to fruition, they are unprepared by their upbringing as to how to create a program that actually demonstrates a successful result.  So when Nancy Pelosi unfacetiously said that Congress had to pass the 2,000 page bill so that they could find out what was in it, she was confessing to being not unlike the automobile-chasing dog:  “Now that I’ve caught the car, what do I do with it?”

Today’s New York Times makes this point.  The White House announced yesterday that six-million people had signed up for Obamacare, a figure that “the law’s backers hail as a success.”  But not so fast.  Drew Altman, President of the Kaiser Family Foundation (an organization which has long been supportive of Obamacare) attempted to redirect the issue as to whether or not the program itself is successful.

“The whole narrative about Obamacare — ‘Will they get to six million? What is the percentage of young adults going to be?’ — has almost nothing to do with whether the law is working or not, whether the premiums are affordable or not, whether people think they are getting a good deal or not.”

Altman is right to point out that the goal of Obamacare is not that people sign up for it, but that it work.  That’s something that the Progressive is unprepared for.

Progressivism exists outside the arena of accountability.  Its practitioners have never been judged on ultimate outcomes.  While it is in the pursuit of their programs that they often can claim a noble rhetorical advantage, It is only after their program is law that it is on full display.  Then the autopsy of its failure exposes their lies and the anti-democratic subversions employed to bring about a program the population never wanted.  And that is why when Progressivism fails, it fails spectacularly, and why the Progressive is so often ultimately judged to be a governing failure.

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Means have no meaning

Byline: | Category: Above the Fold, Culture, Ethics, Government, Race | Posted at: Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Jim Geraghty pens a controversial piece wherein he opines that liberals are more tolerant of the hypocrisy of other liberals than are conservatives.  Before I get to that portion of his argument, I’d like to address his conclusion with an historical analogy.  Geraghty writes:

“As long as a particular position or stance lets progressives feel good about themselves, they will embrace it. Thus the measuring stick of Obamacare is not whether it’s actually providing the uninsured with health insurance . . . but whether a liberal feels that it’s a sign that he cares about the uninsured more than other people.

Liberals will deem Obamacare a failure only if it stops making them feel good about themselves.

The original Progressives advanced another misbegotten law that made them “feel good about themselves”, even while it destroyed the country.  That law was Prohibition.  In 1925, H.L. Mencken observed,

“Five years of Prohibition have had, at least, this one benign effect: they have completely disposed of all the favorite arguments of the Prohibitionists. None of the great boons and usufructs that were to follow the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment has come to pass. There is not less drunkenness in the Republic, but more. There is not less crime, but more. There is not less insanity, but more. The cost of government is not smaller, but vastly greater. Respect for law has not increased, but diminished.”

It would be another eight years after what was obvious to Mencken was finally obvious enough to Progressives that Prohibition was repealed.  And even then, it was not the obviousness of the chaos created by Prohibition that turned Progressive minds.  It was the fact that by 1933 Congress finally got around to re-apportioning districts–a decennial requirement that was purposefully (and unconstitutionally) ignored following the 1920 Census, because Progressives knew that if they counted the nation’s newly arrived Catholics and Jews, that their beloved Prohibition would have gone to an earlier grave.

Still, even after Prohibition died with the 21st Amendment, Progressives consoled themselves with the belief that it was a “noble experiment”.

Bullshit.

There was absolutely nothing noble about Prohibition or about its supporters, who employed more dastardly tactics even than just using unconstitutional measures to over-represent the nation’s more rural (dry) areas instead of its burgeoning urban (wet) cities.

Daniel Okrent catalogued just some of the evils that Prohibition’s adherents used to advance their cause.  They actively cultivated the support of both flavors of racists, typified by the overtly bigoted Arkansas congressman John Tillman, as well as soft bigoted paternalists like the United Methodist Church which explained in an official publication that “Under slavery the Negroes were protected from alcohol, consequently they developed no high degree of ability to resist its evil effects.” They encouraged anti-semitism and anti-Catholicism, as both religions were associated with alcohol’s manufacture, sale, and consumption.  They stirred up nativism, specifically directed against Irish, Italians, and Jews.  They not only allied with a resurgent Ku Klux Klan, they made the modern Klan and purposefully harnessed its hatred in order to enjoy the benefits of the fear unleashed by strong arm tactics that closely resembled those of Nazi brownshirts a decade later.

Most unforgivably of all, Progressives attacked all things German as war began on the Continent.  A year after the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, President Woodrow Wilson addressed Congress and claimed that those Americans “born under other flags . . . poured the poison of disloyalty into the very arteries of our national life.”  The metaphor was well-chosen.  While not an avid dry himself, Wilson wanted those supreme executive powers that only war could bestow.  If that meant further stoking nativism to bring those zealots closer to his aims, then so be it.

Yes, what I am saying is that early Progressives supported their cause so fervently that entry into World War I–the single most disastrous American political mistake of the last hundred years–became a desirable means of achieving their Prohibitionist ends.

And all of what I just described is the horror that occurred before Prohibition’s enactment. History tells us full well the terror unleashed as a result.

Those early 20th century Progressives are the intellectual forebears of modern Progressivism.  Therefore, it should surprise us not that a movement which allegedly supported greater democratization in the form of the Nineteenth Amendment’s extension of the franchise to women, also purposefully blocked blacks from the polls and diminished the value of an urban immigrant’s vote. Women supported prohibition; blacks and immigrants did not. Hypocrisy has a long pedigree in progressive politics.

In an answer to his own question “Why [is it] so hard to make progressives live up to their own rules?” Geraghty comes close to the truth when he says that Progressivism is about making progressives “feel good about themselves”.  But even closer to the truth is this oft-quoted observation from C.S. Lewis:

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.

Progressivism is the belief that they know better than others how others should live their lives.  There is nothing that they won’t do, there is no ally so abhorrent, there is no rule so inflexible, that a Progressive won’t embrace the unthinkable to advance their cause. That is because they do so with the approval of their conscience.  (As an aside, this is why some strands of “Christian” conservativism have far more in common with Progressives than they do with most conservatives.)

In short, the end justifies the means–even if that end is measurably (as in the case of Prohibition and Obamacare) worse than the beginning.  Adherence to means has no meaning in the progressive mind.

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NATO: is the glass bat already broken?

Byline: | Category: Uncategorized | Posted at: Tuesday, 25 March 2014

PJMedia picked up a piece I wrote the other day.  Go there and read the whole thing.  [Edited:  Below is an excerpt from the pre-edited version I wrote.  I think that it is a little more clear on a few points.]

The irony of NATO’s past quarter-century is that its most recent entrants are its most enthusiastically pro-NATO, and yet they offer the least reason to the other members to justify a united response in their defense.  They know the danger of Russian expansion.  They’ve lived it.  But the further east NATO expands, the less immediate the danger that the fall of those regions represents to the more western members.   More simply put:  Is there anybody who really thinks that Californians want to risk a nuclear war with Russia in order to save the likes of Albania?

For twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, until the Russian invasion of Georgia reminded them of what a mutual defense treaty really means, Americans forgot that NATO wasn’t a clubhouse; it was an actual club—the kind with which you beat an opponent to death.  And by admitting new members you agreed to swing that club if any one of the members was attacked.

Today, NATO is not a club; it’s a glass bat.  The power of a glass bat is in the threat of its swinging.  But once it makes contact it shatters into 28 pieces and loses all its power.  This is true of any large coalition, but especially one so culturally and geographically far-flung that it can’t seem to agree that Russia even is an enemy. 

Arguably, NATO is already shattered, the fault of which lies at the feet of America’s last President, who short-sightedly used its one-time-use power against a non-existential threat in Afghanistan.  (The truth is that President Bush could have received the help of most NATO nations in Afghanistan even without the NATO imprimatur and without swinging the glass bat.  After all, he did so in Iraq.)  Most of the 28 NATO nations gave all that they could give over the last 13 years in Afghanistan.  There is no more that they can reasonably expect to extract from their populaces.

Knowing all too well the real costs of warfare makes countries less inclined to intercede when there appears to be no real immediate importance to the threat.  It was because the memory of World War One was so fresh in the minds of the Allies, that Hitler was allowed to re-arm Germany, march into the Palatinate, annex Austria, and forcibly annex a portion of sovereign Czechoslovakia, all without Western Europeans lifting a finger to stop him.  And that was two decades after a war that the Allies won.  Immediately on the heels of the thirteen-year muddle of Afghanistan, there is even less likelihood that all 28 nations are going to sign on to the task of poking a Russian bear unless they really see that the bear is bearing down on them.

So when un-uniformed Russians appear in military formations in tiny Narva and say that they are there to protect Russian lives from Estonian transgressions (and there will be just enough merit to the claim to cloud the argument), how will NATO react?  Will it rush headlong into war, obeying its mutual defense obligations just as the Central Powers did after the assassination of a minor royalty in 1914?  Or will NATO react with a shrug, just as war-weary Europeans did when Hitler marched unopposed into Vienna?

I’m guessing that Russia thinks that NATO is an already-shattered glass bat and that it will pursue the latter course.  And if he’s right, Vladimir Putin can finally record the hour of NATO’s death.  Then Europe’s only Emperor will go about exercising greater authority over European affairs without American interference.

But if Putin is wrong in his calculation of NATO resolve . . .

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GMA: Is your Obamacare enrollment real?

Byline: | Category: Above the Fold, Ethics, Government, Media | Posted at: Tuesday, 3 December 2013

That’s the question ABC News asks:

Bob Shlora of Alpharetta, Ga., was supposed to be a belated Obamacare success story. After weeks of trying, the 61-year-old told ABC News he fully enrolled in a new health insurance plan through the federal marketplace over the weekend, and received a Humana policy ID number to prove it.

But two days later, his insurer has no record of the transaction, Shlora said, even though his account on the government website indicates that he has a plan. . . 

Obama administration officials acknowledged today that some of the roughly 126,000 Americans who completed the torturous online enrollment process in October and November might not be officially signed up with their selected issuer, even if the website has told them they are.

It obviously is a bad thing to lose health insurance even if the prospect of needing it is just a theoretical abstraction.  It is far worse for that abstraction to become a concrete reality.  If, after January 1st, many thousands of Americans find that they need the health insurance that they think that they signed up for, then the Obama administration is going to be pining for the days when their approval ratings were in the low 40s.

This ABC News report suggests that the “fix” now being touted by the White House is actually a front-end website that isn’t connected to a back-end that can deliver the ordered product.  We’ll know soon enough.  But nothing about Obamacare to this point should give anyone any confidence that we won’t be seeing scores of tragic stories of procedures denied, prescriptions unfilled, and deteriorating medical conditions.

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ProhibitionCare

Byline: | Category: Above the Fold, Culture, Economy, Ethics, Government, wine | Posted at: Monday, 18 November 2013

Prior to the disastrous implementation of Obamacare, has there ever been a law that fell that so far out of disfavor that the American people clamored for wholesale repeal? Yes, it was called Prohibition.

The parallels between Prohibition and Obamacare begin with the fact that both laws were the culmination of decades of “Progressive” ideals.  A century ago Progressives believed that people would be better off if they were able to control what individuals were allowed to buy and sell.  Modern Progressives are no different.  From its first attempt in Maine in the 1850s, Progressives in both parties worked tirelessly to extend anti-alcohol laws to the entire country.  This most recent bout of progressivism began sixty years ago with Democrat Harry Truman, who pushed the idea of socialized medicine.  The movement received considerable advancement from Democrat Lyndon Johnson, who created Medicare, Republican George W. Bush, who added prescription drugs coverage, and Republican Mitt Romney, who built the first Obamacare-like system in Massachusetts.

Many Progressives of an earlier era wanted Prohibition for others, but not for themselves.  The progressive United Methodist Church, which was officially dry but whose membership certainly wasn’t, said that, “Under slavery the Negroes were protected from alcohol, consequently they developed no high degree of ability to resist its evil effects.”  A Collier’s editorial elaborated on this form of racial paternalism, “White men are beginning to see that moral responsibility for the negro rests on them, and that it is a betrayal of responsibility to permit illicit sales of dangerous liquors and drugs.” These were the attitudes of “Wet-Drys,” people who themselves drank, but who didn’t want “others” to drink.  Besides racism, anti-Catholicism was rampant among earlier Progressives.  Germans, Italians, and Irish (and let us not forget anti-Catholicism’s sibling, anti-semitism), flooded America’s cities during this period–and they all drank!  Modern progressives similarly want Obamacare for thee, but not for me.  Most infamous is that Congress specifically exempted itself and its employees from the new Obamacare requirements when it passed the law.  Favored Progressive partners too–especially unions–have asked for, and gained their own Obamacare exemptions.  Hypocrisy enjoys a long pedigree among Progressives.

Electoral chicanery is another similarity.  There was a rush to enact the Eighteenth Amendment before the 1920 Census resulted in redistricting that would give more House seats to the cities and the immigrant Catholics who lived there.  Following the census, which recorded a 21% population increase largely as a result of immigration, there was so much concern that “Wets” would gain the upper hand in Congress as well as in state legislatures, that Congress was never redistricted in accordance with the Constitution.  Until 1933 when Prohibition was finally overturned, the House was stuck with the same district lines that were drawn back in 1910.  A century later, modern Progressives played similar games after Republican Scott Walker  Brown’s surprise election to the Senate from Massachusetts meant that the House bill enacting Obamacare could not be ratified.  Instead, an earlier Senate bill, that was nowhere near to ready for implementation and which had not gone through a conference committee, was accepted without modification in the House, and in defiance of the Constitutional provision that revenue bills had to originate in the House.

In 1925 H.L. Mencken observed:

“Five years of Prohibition have had, at least, this one benign effect: they have completely disposed of all the favorite arguments of the Prohibitionists. None of the great boons and usufructs that were to follow the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment has come to pass. There is not less drunkenness in the Republic, but more. There is not less crime, but more. There is not less insanity, but more. The cost of government is not smaller, but vastly greater. Respect for law has not increased, but diminished.”

More than three years after the passage of Obamacare, one could make similar observations:  there is not greater health insurance coverage but less;  there is not lower health care costs, but more; and certainly, respect for the law–even from the law’s namesake and executor–has not increased, but diminished.

There is a final similarity which I am afraid might also come to pass.  While it is popularly believed that the 18th Amendment was repealed, that was actually not exactly true.  The 21st Amendment did not return things to the way they had been.  Instead of repeal, the modfication to the Constitution gave the States special power to legislate alcohol.  Because the Amendment gives the States jurisdiction, alcohol is not afforded protection under the interstate commerce clause.  Each state can, and does, tax interstate sales, while they prevent residents from acquiring alcohol across state lines.  This, and a whole host of other state restrictions, has created a hodge podge of laws that makes life difficult for wine-makers, retailers, and consumers alike.  The only beneficiaries of such legal confusion are the descendants of Prohibition’s bootleggers who are now ensconced in legally mandated monopolies.

Similarly, when Obamacare meets its demise, it is unfortunately likely to die in such a way that the successor system will leave Americans worse off than they were before Obamacare ever became law.  I hope that on this latter prediction, I am proved wrong.

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Obamacare II: The sequel will be worse than the original

Byline: | Category: Above the Fold, Culture, Economy, Government, Taxes & Spending | Posted at: Wednesday, 13 November 2013

There are two consensus opinions that have formed about Obamacare:

1.  The website will not work this year.  Every “fix” of known flaws is going to expose (and perhaps even worsen) underlying flaws that haven’t yet been discovered because few people have gotten far enough into the website to discover them.

2.  The Obamacare law itself will need significant surgery and Democrats in particular are going to need for that surgery to have to happen very, very soon.

Not yet the consensus opinion, but soon will be, is that the second item is very much like the first:  attempts to “patch” flaws in the law, just like patching flaws in the code, will expose huge problems lurking beneath the surface.  When Nancy Pelosi said that we had to pass the 2,000+ page bill to see what was in it, what she could have said is that we’re going to have to actually implement it to really learn what is in there.  It won’t be pretty.

Now here’s some added Washington reality.  Between Thanksgiving and the New Year, nothing significant will happen in Congress.  Nothing.  Even as millions of Americans get Blue Cross pink slips, that won’t get in the way of Congressional Christmas parties and taxpayer-funded vacations to warmer climes.  Oh, sure, there will be the usual press conferences and photo ops; that never stops.  But real work–the kind that is done by armies of staffers and lobbyists who write these bills–that won’t happen.   This means that whatever can be done before or shortly after the fecal matter hits the rotary device on 1 January is going to have to be short and sweet.

Going back to the status quo ante bellum is not possible.  The plans that are dropping people by the millions no longer exist.  They can’t exist under the current law and the new laws under which they could exist, won’t be written by Congress and then implemented by the insurance companies for months.  Many months.  At this point there are only bad options and worse options.  Nothing government can do will forestall this problem.  In fact, every attempt will just make the overall problem worse and further entrench the disarray.

There is only one institution in the world, only one power, that has the ability to quickly react, and that is the free market.  Forget about Washington being able to solve the problem; they have neither the time nor the cognitive ability to diagnose the problem, much less, to fix it.  Instead all Washington should do is to default to the States.  Each of the states already has on their individual state codes, health care laws.  That’s how the bulk of the health care industry was regulated in the past–a past that was only six weeks ago.  With one exception, the Federal government should just get out of the way.  And that exception is that it should allow for cross-state portability.  That will do more than anything else to spur the market to provide health care solutions.  No minimum coverage requirements, no maternity care for 80-year old men, no 26-year old children on their parents’ plans.  Nothing.  Let people shop in any state to find the plan that fits them.  The market will quickly move in to meet most customers’ needs.  And while that won’t insure everyone, it will insure most of those who have been recently dropped or who physically can’t buy coverage now.

Will it happen?  Not a chance.  You see, there’s another Washington reality at work:  Never let a crisis go to waste.  And Democrats, as well as Republicans, adhere to that ideal.  Nothing so simple could disguise the payoffs and graft that Congress can’t wait to attach to the Omnibus package to “fix” Obamacare.  And that means that the fix will be long in coming and will only make matters worse.

Now go and have a Merry Christmas!  (Too bad it’s going to feel more like a Groundhog Day version of Halloween.)

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The end of logic

Byline: | Category: Above the Fold, Culture, Economy, Education, Ethics, Government, Taxes & Spending | Posted at: Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen is in a bit of trouble for making this statement in his Monday column:

People with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when considering the mayor-elect of New York — a white man married to a black woman and with two biracial children. (Should I mention that Bill de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, used to be a lesbian?) This family represents the cultural changes that have enveloped parts — but not all — of America. To cultural conservatives, this doesn’t look like their country at all.

While there is some, surprisingly, the bulk of the criticism does not come from the Right for having been portrayed as knuckle-dragging dinosaurs whose acceptance of Justice Clarence Thomas’ biracial marriage and former VP Dick Cheney’s lesbian daughter belie Cohen’s stereotype un-updated since the Archie Bunker era.

No, it’s actually the Left that has most criticized Cohen.  The Huffington Post said, “Dear Washington Post:  Please fire this man.”  Esquire put Cohen in the “Newspaper Stupid Top 40.”  Paul Farhi catalogues some of the others who voice umbrage at Cohen’s remarks, including Gawker, Slate, Salon, and MSNBC.  All this “venom-spewing” as Farhi said, from ”people who should be [Cohen's] allies.”

Sadly, this is normal for the Left.  Who could forget their outrage directed toward radio host Bill Bennett when he was asked about a statistic from the then recently-published Freakonomics that said that crime has gone down because of abortion:

BENNETT: All right, well, I mean, I just don’t know. I would not argue for the pro-life position based on this, because you don’t know. I mean, it cuts both – you know, one of the arguments in this book Freakonomics that they make is that the declining crime rate, you know, they deal with this hypothesis, that one of the reasons crime is down is that abortion is up. Well –

CALLER: Well, I don’t think that statistic is accurate.

BENNETT: Well, I don’t think it is either, I don’t think it is either, because first of all, there is just too much that you don’t know. But I do know that it’s true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could — if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down. That would be an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down. So these far-out, these far-reaching, extensive extrapolations are, I think, tricky.

The Leftists at Media Matters had a field day with Bennett’s comments even when their excerpts clearly exhonerated (highlighted above) him of the thought-crime of advocating the racial infanticide that they say Bennett advocated.

Bennett was engaging in the logical device known as reductio ad absurdum, whereby an argument is reduced to an absurdity so as to demonstrate the fallacy of the premise.  It just so happens that last night I mentioned to my seventh-grade son the classic reductio ad absurdum:  A Modest Proposal, wherein Jonathan Swift argues that to eliminate the surplus population of beggars, the Irish should be allowed to sell their unweaned children to be used as stew meat.

In 1729 Swift’s reader’s quickly recognized the essay as satire.  Sadly, I don’t think that American Leftists today would be able to understand the argument.  If their umbrage toward Cohen–who clearly was not advocating discrimination against biracial and gay couples—is any indicator, were Swift to write his classic today, MSNBC would surely charge him with cannibalism.

Prior to this week I could have dismissed Leftist outrage directed at Bennett as political fanaticism akin to the fanatic football fan who, even upon seeing the slow-motion replay, yells at the referee for blowing a call that he clearly called correctly.  Heretofore, I could have accepted that Bennett’s detractors understood his argument but purposefully misconstrued it so as to appeal to Low-Information Voters who might have heard only an edited version of the exchange.  Now as a result of the outrage that the Left directs against its own Richard Cohen, it is obvious that the Left isn’t trying to appeal to Low-Information Voters, but is instead made up of a large swath of Low-Intelligence Voters.

How else could one explain Obamacare?  Many of the people who are incapable of understanding Cohen’s argument are the same ones who are logically incapable of understanding that Obamacare could not work the way the President promised.  Unless you believed, as one commenter noted, that Obamacare was powered by “unicorn farts and pixie dust,” it was always completely illogical to believe that more people could get more health coverage without some people paying higher prices or being kicked off of their existing plans.

Another Cohen, Michael Cohen (I don’t know if he is a relation), buttresses that point (hat tip: David Henderson).

But, of course, this means that some Americans would not only lose their plans and access to their doctor, but in the case of particularly healthy individuals, reform could yield higher premiums. Beyond that, reforming such a huge chunk of the U.S. economy necessarily leads to often unanticipated changes for millions of Americans.

Acknowledging that reality would have been the honest thing to do. So would asking healthier and wealthier Americans to sacrifice for the greater good of ensuring every American have health-care coverage.

But doing so would have opened Obama and his democratic allies up to the charge that Obamacare would lead to widespread dislocations — and made the path to reform that much politically harder to traverse.

Indeed, this is precisely the argument that was made by Republicans  . . . 

In other words:  Everything Republicans told you about Obamacare was true, but–and these are Michael Cohen’s words–you “can’t handle the truth.”  What he didn’t say but is clearly implied and could have appended: “And we know that you are too stupid and too illogical to figure out the truth on your own.”  Logical fallacy abounds on the Left, and this Cohen actually celebrates it.

This is where the modern Left is today: at the head of an easily manipulable cadre of useful idiots.  To be sure, the Right has its share of blind adherents as well.  To some, the words “abortion” and “homosexual” are like red herrings to a dog:  they quickly distract.  But I’m hard-pressed to find so glaring an example as Obamacare to demonstrate how easy it was to dupe millions of people who should have been smart enough to know otherwise.

For years it has been fashionable in some segments of the Right to complain that America’s public schools are engaged in indoctrination instead of education.  But the Left’s slander of Richard Cohen might point at a reality far worse.  It’s not that millions of Americans have been taught the wrong things–bad lessons can be unlearned.  Much worse is the possibility that many millions of Americans have never been taught how to critically read and to logically think.  If this is true, it does not bode well for the nation’s future.

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Why is slavery wrong?

Byline: | Category: Above the Fold, Culture, Economy, Ethics, Government, Taxes & Spending | Posted at: Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Over at the Daily Beast Jamelle Bouie accuses Sarah Palin  of rhetorical overreach by recently likening the national debt to slavery.

It just so happens that the introductory chapter of a book I’ve been working on doesn’t just employ slavery as a simile, but actually asserts that a central feature of modern government is slavery.  Undoubtedly, Mr. Bouie will take umbrage at the equivalence.  But I challenge him and you to refute the assertion on logical grounds.  I look forward to critiques and encourage discussion if you dare to proceed . . .

(more…)

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Was it personal? Or is it incompetence?

Byline: | Category: Above the Fold, Government, Regulations, Taxes & Spending | Posted at: Saturday, 2 November 2013

A month ago I postulated that the President did not give into Republican demands to delay Obamacare, even when it was becoming obvious that Obamacare was not ready for rollout, because of his arrogant, personal hatred for the GOP (It’ not business; it’s strictly personal).

Jonah Goldberg offers a more damning alternative.  (Hat tip: Glenn)

“Why Obama didn’t do this and why it didn’t occur to him are good questions. Hubris obviously played a role, as it does in nearly everything this White House does. But the best answer is he didn’t know how terrible things were over at HHS.”

Occam’s Razor tells us that the simplest explanation is usually right.  And in this case, the simplest explanation may be that the President really didn’t know just how screwed up was the execution of his signature legislative accomplishment.  That he really did think that just by passing the law that America’s health care would be better.  That he thought that just by throwing $600 million at a software system was enough to guarantee success.   The simplest explanation, therefore, may be that the man is just incompetent.

That is also the scariest explanation.

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Doom it by making it go forward

Byline: | Category: Above the Fold, Economy, Regulations, Taxes & Spending | Posted at: Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Remember a couple weeks ago I said that it was purely for personal reasons that the President would not compromise by asking for a one-year budget deal in exchange for giving Republicans a one-year delay in Obamacare?  Well  the President only got a 90-day budget deal and it looks like it is his side that now needs an Obamacare delay.

If Republicans really want to destroy Obamacare, they would assure the Administration that there is no chance that Congress will obstruct the President’s signature plan.

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Boehner blinks

Byline: | Category: Uncategorized | Posted at: Thursday, 17 October 2013

I told you so:

“In the immediate weeks ahead, Democrats can’t cave for fear of losing votes.  Meanwhile, because it would be a violation of principles that gains them no tactical, operational, or strategic advantage, Tea Party Republicans will not cave.  If I had to guess, I would wager that Speaker Boehner will blink and negotiate a deal in order to preserve Republican-leaning big business groups under the GOP banner.”

It remains to be seen if the second half of my prediction comes true:

“But that in 2014 and 2016 Republicans will get crushed as the Tea Party goes rogue and that by 2020 the GOP will cease to exist.”

It’s 2,000 words, but read the whole thing.

The way the debt ceiling fight was so chronologically close to the Obamacare shutdown put the GOP at a disadvantage.  Republicans got snookered by Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, who used “extraordinary measures” to extend the date of the debt ceiling debate to where it would be conflated with the Obamacare rollout.  Republicans aren’t known as the “stupid party” for nothing.

Now Tea Partiers are super pissed at the GOP.  GOP Elite are pissed at the Tea Party base of the party.  And Obama Democrats got everything they wanted.  If there was a scenario that gave Democrats any hope of taking over the House in 2014 in the face of a big Republican structural advantage, this was it.

RELATED:

Stu Rothenberg:

“The political fallout from the confrontation is very real. Republicans got almost nothing out of the deal to re-open the government and raise the debt ceiling except, of course, that they lost another 10 percentage points in their favorable rating and looked less like an organized political party and more like a disorganized, confused rabble.

. . . Small donors will be disenchanted that Republican officeholders caved on both the shutdown and debt ceiling, while the larger donors, who tend to be more pragmatic, are likely to sit on their cash for fear that the GOP will do something else crazy to threaten the economy and the party’s electoral prospects.”

Louis Woodhill:

“Congressional Republicans will be very, very lucky if they manage to come out of the current government shutdown/debt ceiling fight with nothing. It’s more likely that, having gone to battle over the wrong issues with the wrong strategy, the Republicans will have actually lost ground, both politically and in terms of their policy objectives.”

The Nation offers an alternative view:

“Because the deal only includes minor concessions, the Beltway consensus is that it represents a resounding defeat for Republicans, who “surrendered” their original demands to defund or delay Obamacare. In the skirmish of opinion polls, that may be true, for now. But in the war of ideas, the Senate deal is but a stalemate, one made almost entirely on conservative terms. The GOP now goes into budget talks with sequestration as the new baseline, primed to demand longer-term cuts in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. And they still hold the gun of a US default to the nation’s head in the next debt ceiling showdown.

Surrender? Any more “victories” like this and Democrats will end up paying tribute into the GOP’s coffers.”

So too does Peter Beinart who complains that the deal locks in the sequestration cuts as the new baseline:  ”If this is Republican surrender, I hope I never see Republican victory.”

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All is proceeding as I have foretold

Byline: | Category: Above the Fold, Culture, Economy, Government, Taxes & Spending | Posted at: Wednesday, 9 October 2013

If you’re not scared off by two-thousand word essays, read this to understand why Washington, DC Democratic Mayor Vincent Gray staged a photo-op stunt to beg Senate Democrats to end the standoff over Obamacare, while the usually Republican-leaning National Chamber of Commerce pleaded with Congress to add some more headroom to the debt ceiling.

Shorter than 2,000-word version:

DC Mayors represent government workers who are the major casualties of temporary government shutdowns, while business groups represent big business, which depends on government spending fueled by even deeper debt.

UPDATE:  (Delegates representing DC too.)

ALSO:  Establishment GOP lashes out at Tea Party

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The negative multiplier effect defined

Byline: | Category: Above the Fold, Economy, Government, Taxes & Spending | Posted at: Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Economists like to talk about the multiplier effect of government spending.  The theory is that if the government spends a dollar buying products, services, or even spending it on welfare, the money is transmitted through the economy many times over when the original recipient buys things which then put extra money in the pocket of another recipient, who then buys things, and so on.

Keynesian estimators of the multiplier effect often focus on the spending and thus only predict a positive multiplier.  This, however, analyzes only one half of the equation:  ”that which is seen,” in the words of Frederic Bastiat.  That which is unseen is where the money came from. In the case of government spending, it can only come from higher taxes, meaning that someone else is unable to spend himself that which the government spent, or from higher borrowing, meaning that someone else in the future is unable to spend the amount of money borrowed plus interest.  The multiplier effect, therefore, can only be positive when viewed through the double entry accounting method, if the government spending today has a higher multiplier than the multiplier effect of private spending, whether today or in the future.  Depending on their political stripes, economists latch onto data that buttress their belief that government spending is more or less efficient than private spending.

Today comes data that point substantially in the direction of anti-Keynesians who argue that government spending is a bigger drag on the economy than if the spending decisions were to be left in private hands.

Senator Sessions Debt GDP Chart

The ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee produced this chart showing that over the last two years, the government added $2.4 trillion in debt and saw GDP increase by only $1.2 trillion.  Keep in mind that government spending is part of the equation used to calculate GDP.  So this chart implies a negative multiplier of 50%–meaning that for every government dollar spent through debt, the economy shrank 50 cents.  Even if we were to use the pre-2009 deficit of $400 billion a year as a baseline, this would mean that the extra government deficit spending of $1.6 trillion over the last two years resulted in a GDP increase of only $1.2 trillion and a negative multiplier effect of 25%.

No company in the world would borrow money if they expected a negative return on investment as this chart implies.  And yet we are told again and again that the economy will collapse if we don’t extend what is clearly counterproductive deficit spending.

MORE:  This chart dovetails nicely with John Tamny’s column from yesterday:

“First off, there’s no such thing as fiscal stimulus of the spending kind. Though it’s well known at this point, governments can only spend money they’ve first taken from the private sector. In short, governments can at best merely steal demand from certain economic sectors in order to fund generalized waste and a bigger state. There’s no economic growth to speak of, rather there’s decline.”

Read the whole thing.

UPDATE:  Thanks to John Tamny’s RealClearMarkets for the link.  While you’re here, take a look around.

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Unenforceable sovereign debt

Byline: | Category: Above the Fold, Culture, Economy, Government, Taxes & Spending | Posted at: Wednesday, 9 October 2013

To be “sovereign” means that there is no higher legal authority.  This is why, historically, sovereign debt is a bad risk:  if the sovereign doesn’t want to pay back the debt, there is no authority that can order the debt repaid.

Francis Menton briefly describes Argentina’s journeys through the United States court system as the South American company attempts to evade debt issued in New York.  The end game is near and Argentina’s lawyer told the judge what it will be:  ”We would not voluntarily obey such an order [to repay the debt].”  The Argentinians are essentially echoing Andrew Jackson’s rebuke of the Supreme Court: “They have made their decision, now let them enforce it.”

I suppose that the courts could seize whatever meager assets the broke country might have in American banks, but American courts have no real means to force Argentina to repay the debt.  What the court can do is to deny Argentina access to future New York credit markets, which causes Menton to remark:

” . . . getting cut off from credit would probably be the best thing that could ever happen to Argentina, finally forcing a reduction in its wildly bloated state sector and out-of-control crony capitalism.”

The same would be true for the United States, but I fear that we’re going to have to get a lot closer to Argentina’s miserable state of affairs before we accept it.

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It’s not business; it’s strictly personal

Byline: | Category: Above the Fold, Ethics, Government, Regulations, Taxes & Spending | Posted at: Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Republicans want a delay in Obamacare.  Because of the many significant problems with the rollout of Obamacare, and because he has delayed parts of the law himself some 19 times, President Obama should want a delay in Obamacare too.  One year gives Democrats an opportunity to fix systemic errors in the software, the regulations, and the law.  One year gives nothing at all to the Republicans–nothing–except the opportunity to crow a little bit.

That the President can’t compromise in a way that gives him everything he wants, plus the extra time he needs, is not about business.  It’s strictly personal.

UPDATE:  Thanks to Glenn for the link.  While you’re here, take a look around.

MORE:  Allahpundit  and Evan McMurray dissect Wolf Blitzer’s wonderment that it isn’t the Democrats who are the ones begging for a year’s delay.

Exit question:  Do national Democrats hate the Tea Party so much that they would take all the (well-deserved) negative reaction over the Obamacare Follies rather than to give in on just the delay even while it benefits them more than Republicans in the long run?

ALSO:  Thanks to Ed and Moe.

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Zey ver just followink orders

Byline: | Category: Above the Fold, Culture, Government, Taxes & Spending | Posted at: Tuesday, 8 October 2013

‘Gestapo’ tactics meet senior citizens at Yellowstone.

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The inevitable cataclysmic collision

Byline: | Category: Above the Fold, Economy, Government, Taxes & Spending | Posted at: Friday, 4 October 2013

How is it possible that both President Obama and the “Tea Party” hold an advantage in the budget standoff?  It isn’t a contradiction if you understand that one side has a tactical and operational advantage, while the other side has the long-term strategic advantage.

For the next two weeks President Obama is at a tactical disadvantage as he is sacrificing the interests of his own forces in order to secure a greater goal.  So far those most hurt by the government shutdown are government workers who are denied a paycheck.  They are, in effect, on strike.  But unlike an ordinary strike, where a union’s rank and file walk off the job and accept a temporary loss of income in exchange for a negotiating advantage to secure a bigger benefit, in this strike the workers out of work don’t want the benefit that their union’s leadership (national Democrats) want to secure.  That’s because the benefit in question is Obamacare, which no government worker wants and many actual unions have exhaustively tried to avoid. (more…)

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The 14th Amendment canard won’t fly

Byline: | Category: Above the Fold, Economy, Government, Taxes & Spending | Posted at: Thursday, 3 October 2013

Every time the United States gets ready to bump up against another debt ceiling limit, the old 14th Amendment canard seems to make an appearance.

I’ve previously devastated that argument.  So too have others.  But let me sum up why usurping powers supposedly granted by Section 4 of the 14th Amendment is not just unconstitutional, but counter-productive:

1.  Section 8 of Article I exclusively grants to Congress the power “to borrow money on the credit of the United States.”

2.  The obligation to repay all debt supposedly set by Section 4 of the 14th Amendment only exists if you leave out three significant words in that very amendment:  ”The validity of the public debt of the United State, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.”  The debt ceiling is the authorization that allows the Treasury to issue more debt.  Without it, there is no “authorized by law.”

3.  Even if that isn’t clear enough, Section 5 of the 14th Amendment re-emphasizes that point:  ”The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this Article.”

4.  The whole reason purportedly given for arguing that the President should use this non-existent power is so that the world’s bond markets won’t be spooked and call into question whether or not debt issued by the Treasury is valid.  However, the Constitutional uncertainty of debt issued under such circumstances induces the very market spookiness that those making the argument supposedly wish to avoid.

5.  In a contest between violating a law and violating the Constitution, the Constitution wins.  The Constitution demands that only Congress can authorize debt.  The Constitution also demands that the President must repay debt.  It is a mere law (and a relatively recent one) that requires the President to spend every dime that Congress authorizes.  The Constitution, therefore simply demands that the President simply prioritize debt repayment over other spending.  Sure, that means that he has to violate the 1974 Anti-impoundment act, but it would now be unconstitutional to follow that law without an increase in the debt ceiling.  (Plus, it was a stupid law in the first place.)

There’s more from the way-back-machine here and here.  Plus this three-year-old anti-anti-impoundment piece from Daniel Henninger.

MORE:  From John Hinderaker: “The Federal Government Can’t and Won’t Default on its Debt Obligations.”  My five points above tell you why the federal government can’t.  To understand why the President won’t default, read this long piece to understand how operationally dependent the Democratic Party is upon debt.

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Fighting the last war

Byline: | Category: Above the Fold, Culture, Economy, Government, Iraq, Military, Taxes & Spending | Posted at: Thursday, 3 October 2013

The nearly four-year-long stalemate of the Great War ended only because fresh American troops arrived on the front lines in the summer of 1918 at the rate of 10,000  a day.  Twenty-one years later the Allies envisioned another lengthy trench-style war when they relied upon a line of interconnected, powerfully-fortified concrete bunkers named after French Minister of War, Andre Maginot.  A generation after the First World War, and only six weeks after the second war began in earnest, the whole of France was under German rule.

A mere 100 hours after the American-led offensive to liberate Kuwait began, the war was over. A dozen years later a similar ground offensive was nearly as quickly concluded . . . but that war was only beginning.

It is human nature to extrapolate linearly from the past.  Investment advisers in the 1920s and  the 1990s, as well as real estate professionals in the oughts, forecasted incredible and continuous increases in value.  Climatologists 30 years ago observed sharply colder winters of the late-seventies and forecasted a new ice age; a generation later many of those same scientists watched temperatures climb and extrapolated that to a future of rising seas and scorched lands.

Here we are today, eighteen years after the last government shutdown and Democrats blithely predict a certain public relations victory while many Old Guard Republicans, still snakebit by the past, fear for their electoral futures.

Life has a way of not staying on script.

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Unable to serve

Byline: | Category: Above the Fold, Culture, Economy, Education, Military | Posted at: Monday, 29 July 2013

Conventional wisdom holds that military service disproportionately attracts minorities and men and women from disadvantaged backgrounds. Many believe that troops enlist because they have few options, not because they want to serve their country. Others believe that the war in Iraq has forced the military to lower its recruiting standards.

. . . studies that examined the backgrounds of enlisted personnel refute this interpretation.

I have to admit that in 2001 I accepted the CW that the militarily disproportionately accepted poor minorities. And then I checked for myself. I did a very similar analysis to this Heritage Foundation study and discovered a very similar result: Americans from the poorest backgrounds are the least likely to join the Army.

A few notes about my study:

1. It was three computers ago and I’ve lost all the raw data, but the results are still clear in my mind. Take that for what it’s worth–yes I encourage skepticism–but to partially allay that, I posted the same thing back in 2005.

2. I looked at FY 2001 Active Army enlistments, USMA enrollees, and ROTC contracts. That was before September 11th for all but the last three weeks of the year. Additionally, it was only Army data. Sad for an Army man to admit: of the services, the Army has the worst record when it comes to marketing to high quality applicants. In other words: if the Army looked good, the other services (especially Marines and Air Force) are bound to look even better.

3. I didn’t break my data down into census tracts, but to zip codes, which is a less discrete variable. However, I did look at individual zip codes with which I was personally familiar, and I found that evidence from those areas matched the results of the overall study.

4. I looked at census data for 17-24 year olds, which is a the usual target market for Army recruiters. It’s unclear from the Heritage study how they accounted for age.

Bottom line results of my study: the least likely quintile of zip codes to send recruits into the active Army, was the economically lowest-ranked quintile. By far. In other words, the 20% of poorest neighborhoods were the least likely to send people into the Active Army (the easiest of the four services to enter). My going-in hypothesis was the opposite. I expected the poorest neighborhoods to provide the most recruits. I was wrong.

Instead, I suppose, that the poorest neighborhoods are those that are the most likely to produce 17-24 year olds who are ungraduated from high school, with a disqualifying criminal record, and/or unable to pass a drug test.

More to the point: One-fifth of our nation’s children are growing up in neighborhoods where they don’t even have the military as a realistic possible path to betterment. Ouch.

MORE:

Paul Mirengoff

 

H/T: Insty

*Standard disclaimer to tell you that these are my opinions only and not those of DoD, and cetera.

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Beware the apparatchikacy of the Civil Service System

Byline: | Category: Culture, Government, Military, Taxes & Spending | Posted at: Sunday, 16 June 2013

Frank J. Fleming wonders “Why does the government hate conservatives?”  And by “government,” he implicitly means the 1.8 million civilian employees of America’s largest employer.  It’s a good question.  But I think that it doesn’t go far enough in wondering who these 1.8 million people are.

One truth almost universally and uncritically accepted is that the American civil service system implemented by degrees during the early Progressive era of the late 19th and early 20th centuries is a good thing.  Perhaps now is the time to question the wisdom of government by tenured appartchiks.  Whatever its downfalls, the spoils system at least had the benefit of a thorough housecleaning every four to eight years.  Absent such high turnover, the current system erects a legalocracy of inefficiency behind which anonymous and unfirable cogs operate with impunity for decades and generations.  Without fear of ever being outside the system, government workers themselves have every incentive to complicate that system in their own favor.  Rules become undecipherable, the pace of action becomes glacial, and budgets grow unsustainably large.  Meanwhile, administrations come and go and the bureaucracy continues to grow.

James Taranto has argued that if the ongoing IRS scandal didn’t generate in the White House that it is actually a far worse outcome for Americans than if the President himself directed the targeting of conservative groups.  His point is that if the targeting is spontaneous, then it is indicative that the government itself has become politicized.

A return to the spoils system, admittedly, would not fix that, as almost definitionally such a system is partisan.  But there is a difference between a partisan government that owes allegiance to a temporary leadership and a politicized government whose only allegiance is to the continued growth of government itself.  As Taranto argues, if this is the case then “government itself has become a threat to the Constitution.”

While Democrats generally embrace a larger government, they would be mistaken to believe that they too aren’t in the crosshairs of certain branches of the bureaucracy.  In the realm of Defense the tilt of those who work there has been generally Republican, as that party has been more predisposed to greater Defense spending over the last couple generations.  The entrenchment is so deep that even when a Nobel Peace Prize winning President who ran on a platform of decreased wartime activity finds it difficult to reverse course.  One can’t help but to wonder how much of the argument in favor of opening yet another Mideastern front in Syria came from self-serving bureacrats whose departments and budgets would expand as the result of the military action.

Isolated from firing as they are, civil service bureaucrats are impervious to change.  At worst, they hold the line and wait four to eight years for a change in government.  But they never retreat.  And hence, the apparatchikacy continues to grow.

Returning to Fleming’s question we stumble across the obvious answer, Why does government hate [fiscal] conservatives?  Because fiscal conservatism necessarily means a decrease in the size of government.  And nothing is more dangerous to the bureaucracy that has become the fourth branch of government.  What is scariest is that if the apparatchikacy itself wins in a battle against the citizenry that supports it, then we are no longer citizens, but have instead returned to the days of 1775 where we are subjects of an unelected government.

UPDATE:

A. Barton Hinkle raises the same concern:

” . . . it is not a happy thing to note that the fourth branch of government – the administrative state against which Republican politicians rail – is largely impervious to elections. And that despite the uproar over domestic surveillance, an activity the election of Barack Obama was supposed to curtail, the general consensus seems to hold that such monitoring will continue unabated. Politicians come and go; autonomous agencies and mass surveillance are here to stay. Elections still matter a great deal in the U.S., but they matter now less than they once did – and less than they should.”

* These opinions are my own and not those of the US Army or the Department of Defense.

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A rational discussion about what to do about global warming (cooling)?

Byline: | Category: Economy, Environment, Government | Posted at: Tuesday, 28 May 2013

When determining if we should do anything about global warming, I propose a four-step approach:

1.  Are global temperatures warming?

2.  Do the negative consequences of the change outweigh the positive consequences?

3.  Can we do anything that will reverse the change?

4.  Do the net positive consequences of the action outweigh the net negative consequences of doing nothing?

Notice, the steps have nothing at all whatsoever to do with whether or not global warming is anthropogenic.  The climate’s “naturalness” is actually irrelevant.  If a 10 kilometer-wide asteroid were hurling toward earth at 100,000 km per hour, it would be a completely natural event.  However, just because the meteor wasn’t anthropogenic doesn’t mean that we wouldn’t take actions to deflect it.

Notice also, that we could change question 1 from “warming” to “cooling” and the four-step approach still works.  And quite frankly, cooling is probably a more historically problematic situation.

If the answer to any one of the above four questions is “No,” then we should do absolutely nothing about a changing climate.  If the answer to all of the questions are “Yes,” then, and only then, should we take any actions.

This is not the discussion we have been having for twenty years.  Instead, we have been chased onto an  anthropogenic side path well worn by Rousseauian “modern man is bad” theorists.  The discussion over naturalness is not only, as I have already said, irrelevant, it is also self-destructive, as the question itself presupposes that natural is good and that anything that deviates from it must be returned to a state of nature.

RELATED:

Peter Ferrara:  Global Cooling is Here

UPDATE:

Thanks to Glenn for the link.  It’s nice to see something I wrote a month ago still relevant today.  Also here and here.

Edited to add the word “net” to question #4 per a comment from a reader.

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Peggy Noonan gets it almost right

Byline: | Category: Uncategorized | Posted at: Thursday, 23 May 2013

The WSJ’s Peggy Noonan lays out the known facts of the IRS case and concludes that it requires a special prosecutor.  She’s right, and frankly, it’s amazing how in a week, the American media has pretty much come around from the question of if a special prosecutor is needed for the IRS investigation, to how broad should be the limits of the special prosecutor’s investigation?

But here’s where Noonan gets it wrong.  Right in the last paragraph:

“Again, if what happened at the IRS is not stopped now—if the internal corruption within it is not broken—it will never stop, and never be broken. The American people will never again be able to have the slightest confidence in the revenue-gathering arm of their government. And that, actually, would be tragic.”

Actually it wouldn’t be “tragic” if the American people were not to have confidence in this or any arm of their government.  It would be exactly what the Founders called for.

My favorite quotation from the entire 85 editions of the Federalist Papers is this one from Federalist 25 by Alexander Hamilton:

“The people are always most in danger when the means of injuring their rights are in the possession of those of whom they entertain the least suspicion.”

In fact, you could almost sum up the gist of the entire Constitution with that single statement, as the Constitution attempted to set up a system where no branch of government was in sole possession of the means of injuring our rights.  How far we have strayed, however, when the wing of the government that determines how much of our labors are to be taken into the Federal trough also inquires about our associations,  our religious practices, and soon, our medical care.

Peggy, you are right to call for a special investigator.  But you are wrong to assert that it is a tragedy if, as a result of this scandal, we no longer have  confidence in the IRS.  The real tragedies would occur as a result of believing that any branch of government was deserving of our unsuspicious confidence.

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A dirt cheap price for freedom

Byline: | Category: Culture, Government, Military | Posted at: Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Conservative Pundits are Outraged that Army Major Nidal Hasan has received approximately $278,000 since he allegedly shot dead more than a dozen Soldiers at Fort Hood more than three years ago.  I wish they would reconsider their outrage, because this is what “presumption of innocence” means.

The Uniform Code of Military Justice is different from the individual state legal codes in the sense that when you are accused of violating it, it is your employer who is going to determine your guilt.  The normal criminal defendant can return to his job–or at least a job–while he awaits trial.  It is not possible that a military defendant could be removed from the service before trial–for to do so would punish his pursuit of career advancement were he to be found not guilty.  Furthermore, were defendants to be deprived of their livelihood while they awaited military trial by court martial, they would be deprived of their livelihood just by being accused.

To those conservatives who decry this condition, imagine this unfortunately all too plausible scenario:

A Coyote News reporter hot on the trail of a controversial secret Administration program to support rebels in a far-off land discovers classified documents that shows that those rebels are in fact terrorist affiliated and that the Department of State knew about it and still provided them with Stinger missiles.  The Administration, afraid of the political fallout were the revelation to become known, charges the journalist as a co-conspirator in the leak.  Were that Coyote News reporter subjected to a criminal justice system that denied him his paycheck while he awaited trial, the mere accusation of criminality could be used to subdue whistleblowers and to punish innocents.

Now sure, there is little doubt that Nidal Hasan is guilty of murdering his comrades.  But we have a system that does not express guilt as shades of grey.  You are or you are not guilty.  And until a jury of your peers finds you guilty, you are presumed innocent.

Trust me, you do not want to live under a system where the yet-to-be-tried are considered to be mostly-guilty and are essentially treated as such.  And trust me, you do not want to live under a government that has even more tools to freeze out those who speak out against it.  In other words: $278,000 is a dirt cheap price for freedom.

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Who is going to pay for this?

Byline: | Category: Culture, Government, Taxes & Spending | Posted at: Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) is facing criticism for his insistence that any federal disaster relief money for the victim’s of yesterday’s storms in his home state be offset by cuts somewhere else in the federal budget.

Online commenters are outraged.  One said:

“It does indeed take a special person to look at the situation in Oklahoma and immediate wonder “Who’s going to pay for this?”

While I’m pretty sure that “special” was intended snarkily, it does indeed take a special kind of person to wonder who is going to pay for this.  And thank goodness Senator Coburn is that kind of person.

The immediate response to any tragedy is to want to help.  And when you are the keepers of nearly $4 trillion budget, it is very easy to wish to throw a few billion at the problem as a genuine gesture of good will.  But the fact is that someone is going to pay for this.  And it very much matters who that someone is.

Should it be the taxpayers, who then don’t have that additional money themselves to spend on their own necessities of life?  A billion dollars of new spending paid for by taxes adds approximately $12 to the tax bill for a family of four.  That doesn’t seem like much, but that’s a billion dollars less spent on food, transportation, and clothing.  Not to mention, what do you do for the next tornado, hurricane, or wild fire.  Is it the taxpayers who should pay for this?

Should the cost be borne by more debt?  That saddles generations to come with the expense, since they will be paying back the billion dollars.  Or since we rarely retire debt, we just roll it over, it might be more accurate to state that future generations will make infinite recurring payments on the billion dollars of debt.  In effect, then, the cost will be diminished future spending and investment.  Is that who should pay to recover from the tornado damage?

Should the burden fall upon current recipients of government spending as Senator Coburn suggests?  If you ask me, that’s a less sympathetic lot than the other two choices of higher taxes or larger debt.  You can’t tell me that any sentient being (which means, apparently, the majority of Americans other than most of Sen Coburn’s colleagues) couldn’t find a billion dollars somewhere in the federal budget that couldn’t stand to be trimmed.

It’s easy to want to throw money around willy-nilly at problems but it really does take a special person to ask the uncomfortable but important question:  ”Who is going to pay for this?”

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Stop it!

Byline: | Category: 2012, Above the Fold, Government | Posted at: Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Whenever you feel yourself about to utter the I-word (impeachment), Stop it!  Just Stop it!

It makes you look like a fool, much like the President made himself look like a fool when in the space of a single sentence he contradicted himself when he said of the arrest of a black Harvard professor: we don’t yet know the facts of the case, but the police acted stupidly.

We don’t yet know enough of the facts surrounding Benghazi-IRS-AP to really know what happened, certainly not enough to begin saying the I-word.

So when you find yourself about to say the I-word, take Bob Newhart’s advice:

“S-T-O-P . . .  new word . . .  I-T!”

MORE:

Da Tech Guy agrees:  The Impeachment Trap.

If it gets to the point where what we know is that damning, it will be Democrats who will be screaming the I-word so as to distance themselves from crimes.  Until then.  Stop it!

UPDATE:

Rep Chaffetz and National Review’s Andrew Johnson:  Stop it!

Tim Dunkin:  Stop it!

Sen Inhofe:  Stop it!

Pamela Geller:  Stop it!

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Sacco and Tsarnaev

Byline: | Category: 2nd Amendment, Culture, Economy, Foreign Policy, Government, Race | Posted at: Monday, 22 April 2013

Two Boston area immigrants who fell under the spell of a radical ideology that espoused the use of bombs against innocents were allegedly behind the violent April 15 multiple murders.

But it’s not who you think it is.  The year was 1920 and the two men were Ferdinando Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti.  Aside from the date and the location, there are other parallels too.  And they speak more about us than they do about either Sacco and Vanzetti or the Tsarnaev Brothers.

The nineteen-teens and twenties was a period of great tumult in the United States.  After the First World War, which was widely viewed as disastrous mistake for having gotten involved, Americans rejected all things associated with the outside world.  The aftermath of the Great War brought upheaval to Europe.  Replacing failing empires and monarchies was Russian communism, German socialism, and varying amounts of anarchy seemingly everywhere else.

Today there is the ongoing collapse of the Euro and the demise of Middle Eastern strongmen, and so we fear radical islamism and economic contagion from Cyprus and Greece.

Eight decades ago the end of the war brought economic troubles too.  High unemployment, which was widely and mistakenly thought of as a normal post-war adjustment to a lack of military demand and a surplus of returning soldiers, was actually just a result of the post-war continuation of the ongoing de-agriculturalization of the world economy.  Regardless of the cause, greater unemployment turned American workers against more recent immigrants who were looking for work too.  In 1917 America passed its first immigration restriction laws barring the entry of “idiots, imbeciles, epileptics, alcoholics . . . ” and Asians.  Just a year before, an influential eugenicist wrote The Passing of the Great Race that became widely popular.  By 1924 America had its first immigration quotas that attempting to freeze in place the country’s racial composition.

Today unemployment is higher than normal as the world deals with the  fallout associated with becoming a post-manufacturing economy.  Pat Buchanan hawks The Death of the West: How Dying Populations and Immigrant Invasions Imperil Our Country and Civilization.  Politicians from all sides rail against “illegal” immigration but very often demagogue all immigration.

Both periods were characterized by big fights over petty tangential issues that  many prudes insisted contributed to unrest and crime.  The Volstead Act passed in the wake of the 18th Amendment gave us Prohibition, while today the President and many Democratic leaders want to outlaw guns.  Were those laws to pass, more, not less, crime would be the result, just as more crime was the result of Prohibition too.

Certainly I could carry the parallels further, but let me just conclude with a few questions:

  • Was it really necessary to quarantine an entire city to capture a couple criminals whose bombing victims numbered one-one-thousandth of those killed on 9/11?
  • Does it not speak volumes about the limits of power and the power of people that the police were unsuccessful during their hours of uninhibited manhunt, but as soon as the house arrest was lifted a citizen found the suspect?
  • Is it realistic to expect that among millions of immigrants there won’t be a few criminals, when we have millions of native Americans locked up here at home?
  • Is not labeling violence as “terrorism” or “an act of war” just another form of “hate” crime, which attempts to characterize criminals by their thoughts instead of their acts?
  • If three dead bombing victims is enough to rescind an American citizen’s constitutional rights, is two?  Or one?  Or none?
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