Beyond the Textbooks

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One of the curious things about business ethics texts is that they tend to focus on puzzling moral issues, such as whether monitoring emails on the job is wrong, or when is it morally permissible to blow the whistle on an employer. They usually spend little time on the notion of character and the problem of giving in to temptation.

This is curious to me. Most cases of unethical behavior in business — or in family life, religious life, government, or any other institution built with the crooked timber of humanity — are not cases in which the evil-doer acted wrongly because he couldn’t figure out what was right. Much more often, they are cases in which someone put the morally right aside because the wrong just feels so good.

Does anyone seriously believe that Bernie Ebbers defrauded investors in WorldCom because he didn’t understand that fraud is morally and legally unacceptable? Or that when Ken Lay and the smart guys at Enron defrauded their investors, they were somehow unaware that hiding debt in offshore, off-the-books entities was actually fraud? No, these perps did what they did because it gave them what they wanted (wealth, power and prestige), and they thought they could get away with it.

This phenomenon of succumbing to temptation despite your moral understanding is at the heart of an excellent movie now available on DVD.

Good is based on a 1981 stage play of the same name by C.P. Taylor. It tells the story of John Halder, a modest, mild-mannered literature professor in a German university in the 1930s, when the Nazis were consolidating their power. Halder writes a novel that portrays euthanasia in a romantic, favorable way. The subtheme of euthanasia plays out in a personal way for Halder as he struggles to care for his mother, who suffers from dementia. The novel is seized upon by the Nazis, for whom “compassionate euthanasia” of such people is a step toward finding a “final solution of the Jewish problem.” Propaganda minister Josef Goebbels first flatters and then bribes Halder into letting the Nazis make a film from his book. They enable Halder to move ahead in his career.

As this proceeds, we see how Halder is corrupted step by step. He leaves his wife and children for a beautiful young student. He joins the Party and is even given a token position in the SS (which liked to have a few academics on its roster for the sake of appearances). He is rewarded with the chairmanship of his department.

Halder’s systematic seduction and corruption are pointed out to him by his Jewish friend Maurice Gluckstein, who explains to him what the Nazis are doing to their country and to his own character. But Halder is able to maintain his self-image as a Good Man, even as his corruption evolves. He watches while Gluckstein is harassed and menaced more and more by the Nazi regime.

When Halder finally tries to help Gluckstein leave Germany, Halder’s new wife betrays his friend.  Halder discovers this, and by using his SS rank and his wiles, discovers and manages to get into the concentration camp to which Gluckstein has been condemned, hoping to free his friend. Here he is finally forced to recognize both the moral reality of the regime of which he has been a willingly blind supporter, and the degraded nature of his own character.

The acting in this insightful movie is uniformly good. Especially notable in support are Adrian Schiller as the cynical Josef Goebbels, and Jason Isaacs as the morally clear-eyed Maurice Gluckstein. The exchanges between Halder and Isaacs’ Gluckstein are among the best scenes in the movie. Viggo Mortensen is simply superb as the morally blind John Halder. The handsome Mortensen could have made a career playing nothing but roles such as Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings, yet he has gone out of his way to take on edgier roles, such as the gangster Nikolai in Eastern Promises and the unnamed father in The Road. Mortensen plays Halder perfectly.

Vicente Amorim’s direction is outstanding as well, getting just the right balance of passion and restraint from the cast. And the cinematography is beautifully done.

This is a thought-provoking film, one well worth renting or purchasing as a holiday gift for your most thoughtful friends.


Editor's Note: Review of "Good," directed by Vicente Amorim. Miromar Entertainment, 2008, 96 minutes.



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Tell Me Why

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From a Los Angeles Times story posted online on Nov. 29, concerning the alleged terrorist Mohamed Osman Mohamud, who allegedly tried to assassinate hundreds of men, women, and children at a Christmas celebration in Portland, Oregon, for the alleged reason that he “hated Americans”:

“Officials said Mohamud was born in 1991 in Mogadishu, capital of Somalia, at the start of the African country's civil war.

“He and his parents, Mariam and Osman Barre, came to America when he was 5 as part of a diaspora that brought tens of thousands of Somali refugees to U.S. cities. About 6,500 Somalis are said to live in the Portland area.

“Few details were available about Mohamud's early years. It wasn't known when he became a naturalized American citizen. . . . In 2008, the family settled in the newly built Merlo Station Apartments [in Beaverton OR], which provides housing for low-income families.”

Yes, that’s it, isn’t it? Suddenly, and for no apparent reason, tens of thousands of people from a politically primitive area of the world refugee out to . . . where else? America. No one knows why.

Thousands of them “are said” to have congregated in Oregon, of all places. No one knows why. Of course, they take advantage of “housing for low-income families.” I would, too.

But a press release (May 29, 2008) hailing the existence of Merlo Station Apartments should be read by everyone who believes that unrestricted immigration is an aspect of free enterprise:

“Merlo Station Apartments received financing from a variety of sources, including a $6.5 million Low-Income Housing Tax Credit equity investment from Enterprise [Community Investment], $9.5 million in permanent financing from U.S. Bank, which includes $5.8 million in tax exempt bonds, a $3.6 million loan subsidized by Oregon Affordable Housing Tax Credits, $700,000 from the city of Beaverton and $2.2 million from Washington County Community Development through the federal HOME Investment Partnerships Program, along with permit fee waivers of $226,000 from the city of Beaverton. The project also received predevelopment grants from Washington County Community Development and Home Depot, as well as predevelopment loans from the Federal Home Loan Bank and the Community Housing Fund. TriMet provided a discount on the land price.”

All this do-gooding for 128 apartments.

But to return. Some or all of the Somalis, including the young man in question, became American citizens. No one knows when, or why, or how. “It wasn’t known.”

Is this a good thing?




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The Mice That Roared

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The noise from Europe is tremendous, deafening. Faced with the collapse of the system of state socialism to which Europeans of all classes once eagerly committed their wellbeing, both the man in the street and the mobs in the street now demand their rights. But their rights to what?

For some, it’s the right not to pay for their education. For others, it’s the right to retire at the age of 60 (if not earlier). For a union leader from Portugal, whose government has gone broke by borrowing money to cover the cost of welfare benefits and labor-friendly laws, it’s the right not to be “sent . . . into poverty and misery” by wage cuts to civil servants, cuts averaging an enormous . . . 5%.

The Europeans are not rebelling against the feckless, spendthrift state; they are rebelling in favor of it and of what they want it to do for them. Witness an AP interview with a Spanish man in the street who “supported the growing outrage over salary and pension cuts and wondered why billions were being thrown instead at governments and banks. ‘People have to fight for their rights,’ ” he said. In other words, it’s the people’s right to receive money from the government, without ever needing to “throw” any of that money back, even to keep outraged creditors from cutting off the supply of cash.

This counter-revolution of the entitled is a sad commentary on human life under the conditions of socialized education. The denizens of Europe angrily but dimly perceive that they have somehow been bamboozled by their governments. Yet the politicians, the labor unions, the Eurocrats, the teachers in all those schools that Americans have been taught to regard as superior to our own, even the socialized clergy, specialists in smarm, have always told the populace that government handouts were “rights.” That sounded good, and it was accordingly believed. It continues to be believed.

So now, if we can judge by all available news accounts, the inhabitants of Europe lack any ability to distinguish real rights — such as the right not to have one’s money taken by the state and “invested” in the solemn farce of a planned economy — from the supposed “right” to be supported by the same predatory state.

In short, Europeans have lost their ability to reason. But they didn’t lose it this November. They lost it a generation ago, when they were educated to believe that all would be well, if only they referred all decisions to the state. And the biggest joke is that this state they worship, both at its national shrines and among the ever-proliferating cubicles of Brussels, is staffed by people who were educated in the same way as the rest of the population. The Europeans are rebelling against themselves. Their banner is: “Nonsense corrupts, and absolute nonsense corrupts absolutely.”




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Tracks of a Lame Duck

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These are parlous times. The pesthouse known as the U.S. Congress is conducting a lame duck session still controlled by the party that lost decisively in the recent elections. The hapless citizens of this country face weeks of despair before the hope for change takes over. Two proposals before Congress illustrate first the despair, and then the hope.

The first is the innocuously named, little noticed Public Safety Employer-Employee Act, on which Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has announced he will push for a cloture vote. Reid owes his victory in his race against Sharron Angle to Big Labor, which dumped untold millions into his campaign, millions that he used with lethal effect to destroy Angle’s credibility (with her assistance, to be honest). The bill he is pushing is the unions’ return payment.

Under this bill, the federal government would essentially nullify right-to-work laws, making it far easier for police and firefighters not just to unionize but also to get union-shop contracts (which require all employees to join the union, whether they like it or not). Worse, the bill would force all contract disputes into binding arbitration. The arbitrators would of course be under no obligation whatsoever to consider a city’s economic difficulties when rendering decisions. Labor’s pound of flesh would be taken from the hapless citizenry.

One can only hope that the Republicans can block this pernicious piece of crap.

Turning to a more hopey-changey topic, two estimable Republicans, Rep. Geoff Davis (KY) and Sen. Jim DeMint (SC), have introduced a brilliant piece of legislation. This bill has the appropriate name of the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (or “REINS”) Act. The REINS Act aims to rein in the regulatory agencies that function as independent, undemocratic, law-making entities, issuing an ever-growing number of regulations that automatically have the force of law.

Under the REINS Act, all new major regulations would have to be approved by a simple majority vote in the House and Senate, before being signed by the president. “Major” regulation is defined by the act as meaning either a regulation that is estimated by the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs of the Office of Management and Budget to have an economic impact of $100 million or more, or a regulation that will cause a major increase in prices or have a significant impact on the economy.

This enactment would significantly change the rules of the game, which are now defined by the 1996 Congressional Review Act, under which any major regulatory ruling becomes law unless Congress passes a joint regulation opposing it and the president signs that resolution.

Considering the huge costs of the regulations churned out by the government’s regulatory agencies, and the burgeoning number of such agencies (with Obamacare creating 183 new entities, and the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill creating hundreds of new regulations, all on its own), the REINS Act is a beautiful thing — supposing that it can pass the next Congress.




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Revolt Against the Junk Touchers

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As libertarian populist moments go, this one has everything: crying kids, pissed-off passengers, grabby agents, genital encroachment, and an all-purpose bit of slang that became a slogan overnight.

“Don’t touch my junk”: one could hardly devise a more libertarian sentiment, at least in the modern register. It's a bit disappointing that it took federally-mandated molestation to finally get people to the point of saying, “Enough!”, but there is certainly some comfort in knowing that such a point still exists. While Americans on the whole have been prepared to trade many of their liberties for security; while they have with only mild grumbling stripped off shoes and belts, dumped out shampoo and baby formula, and tossed away fabric scissors and Zippo lighters, yet there remains something up with which they will not put: the touching of the aforementioned “junk.”

What’s more depressing is that this fight even needed to be fought. It’s hard to find anyone willing to defend the high-school hernia-check approach, and harder still if you exclude those people—i.e., Congressmen — who don’t have to be subject to such treatment. Many even among the TSA staffers find all this cupping and diddling “disgusting and morale breaking” — not really surprising when you think about a job experience that’s gone from mildly berating herds of travelers to trying to distinguish the right folds on the type of passenger that Southwest requires two tickets for.

With the high-volume holiday travel weekends coming up soon, it’s clear that this policy is going to have to change; mounting stress on both sides of the plexiglass will lead eventually to either a boycott among passengers, a walkout among TSA staff, or some combination of the two. My worry is that, with concern so squarely focused on crotches, any compromise that gets TSA hands back out of passenger pants will defuse the issue, leaving the wider import of “junk touching” — invasive searches not only of person, but also of property — unchallenged.

Certainly we all would prefer to complete our plane flights without submitting our genitals to inspection. But concentrating on that “junk” alone means that outrageous stories of “touching” such as the harassment of Jacob Appelbaum will continue to be underreported. Appelbaum, a spokesman for Wikileaks, was returning from international travel when he was pulled aside and had his laptop and cellphone seized without a warrant or charge of any sort. Whatever your thoughts on Wikileaks, it should be sobering that the government claims the right at re-entry checkpoints to carry out searches that would be blatantly unconstitutional in any other context.

If you fly internationally, your electronic devices and data are subject to government search and seizure. For many people, this would be a far more invasive procedure than even a full cavity search, yet as it lacks the immediacy of a uniformed stooge grabbing for the short and curlies, it is not perceived as a threat. Additionally, many people still seem to buy the line that if the government is seizing someone’s computer, then there must be some reason for it, rather than a petty grudge, a political vendetta, or merely a mistaken identity, whereas every person in line at the airport can see there is no reason for a TSA agent to fondle a terrified 3-year-old or drench a cancer survivor in his own urine.

The outpouring of TSA jokes (check the Twitter hashtag #TSApickuplines for one rich vein) shows both the opportunity and the danger of this moment. There is a very clear and attainable victory to be won by channeling populist anger and pushing back against the most obviously invasive practices of our security statists. But if in freeing ourselves physically from the government’s icy grip their more insidious abuses of privacy are not likewise exposed and repudiated, we will have gained nothing: they’ll still have us by the balls.



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Beating the Heat

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Intellectual honesty is a very rare commodity, especially in areas where there is great political pressure to conform to some Received View.

Such is the case with the theory of anthropogenic global warming (AGW). The majority of climate scientists think that AGW, as represented in theory, is a well-established phenomenon; but a fairly large minority apparently doesn’t. Enter the activists, who react to the theory of AGW in one of two ways. The True Believers take the theory of AGW as proven beyond all doubt and use it to argue for massively costly and disruptive policies, such as cap-and-trade laws and Green energy schemes. The True Deniers deny AGW altogether, dismissing the ever-increasing amounts of burned fossil fuel as having no effect whatsoever on the planet, and viewing the scientists who believe in AGW as deluded fools, or part of some pseudo-scientific cult.

Rare are moderate voices. Perhaps the best known voice of this kind is Bjorn Lomborg, the author of a number of books, including The Skeptical Environmentalist and Smart Solutions to Climate Change, and the subject of a great little documentary, Cool It, playing now in limited release.

Lomborg is a Danish economist and director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center, a policy thinktank based in Denmark that specializes in formulating economically sound policies for private and governmental aid programs. He grew up as a devout Green and a member of Greenpeace but was awakened from his dogmatic environmentalist slumbers when he read the work of economist Julian Simon. Simon was an iconoclast who argued that the world’s environment is getting better and that human beings are the planet’s greatest resource. Lomborg set out to refute Simon but after doing the research was forced to admit that he was largely correct. It dawned on Lomborg that much of the environmentalist agenda was counterproductive and driven by inaccurate propaganda.

This fanatical, venomous creature stands in stark contrast with the optimistic, sincere, and decent Lomborg.

Cool It, co-written by Lomborg and directed by well-known documentary film maker Ondi Timoner, surveys Lomborg’s works and thoughts, but focuses on refuting Al Gore’s classic of environmentalist propaganda, “An Inconvenient Truth.” Lomborg believes that AGW is real, but that it doesn’t pose the profound and immediate threat to the ecosystem that Gore and his ilk claim it does. Lomborg also holds that the vast amount of money being spent to combat AGW would be better spent on more immediate human needs, while we develop better solutions.

For this, Lomborg is reviled. For example: in one scene of the movie we see Stephen Schneider, long-time proponent of the theory of AGW, waxing furious as he discusses Lomborg’s perspective. This fanatical, venomous creature stands in stark contrast with the optimistic, sincere, and decent Lomborg — as does the ever-pompous Al Gore. In another scene, we listen to Lomborg recount how he was hauled before the Danish Committee on Scientific Discovery, where his political enemies tried to destroy his career for his outrageous view that the world is not headed for an ecological Armageddon. He survived that Kafkaesque Star Chamber, but it took its toll on the poor fellow.

Besides being an introduction to Lomborg and his work, Cool It is meant to be a counter to Al Gore’s undeservedly famous movie. In one powerful sequence, Lomborg interacts with some British schoolchildren who have obviously been indoctrinated, very thoroughly, with the theory of AGW in its most extreme, apocalyptic version.

These pathetic kids are convinced that they are all but doomed, by Evil Man’s Hideous Works, to melt beneath an unrelenting, merciless sun. It turns your stomach to watch this. In my view, the people who manipulate children to further their policy agenda deserve to melt in an unrelenting, merciless Hell.

Cool It specifically refutes four major contentions of Gore’s movie: that the seas are going to rise over 20 feet and inundate vast portions of land, that AGW has increased the amount of malaria (because of increased mosquito populations), that AGW is threatening the polar bear population, and that AGW is causing increasingly severe hurricanes.

These pathetic kids are convinced that they are all but doomed, by Evil Man’s Hideous Works, to melt beneath an unrelenting, merciless sun.

The essence of Lomborg’s thinking is neatly summarized by one of his lines: “If we only listen to worst-case scenarios, that’s unlikely to make good public priorities.” I would add that it is even less likely to make good public priorities if those worst-case scenarios are based on highly politicized, agenda driven science.

To give a flavor of Lomborg’s views, consider his analysis of the EU’s proposed carbon-cutting eco-regimen, projected to cost the citizens of Europe about $250 billion a year, while producing only slight effects in terms of slowing AGW. Lomborg would rather the EU spend $100 billion on R&D on non-fossil-fuel power (including — gasp! — nuclear power, something that Gore abhors), about a billion dollars on geoengineering solutions to AGW (such as putting more white clouds in the sky to reflect the solar rays), and $48 billion on projects to mitigate flooding (such as building decent levees to protect New Orleans) and reduce the “heat-island” effects of cities, and the remaining money (on the order of a $100 billion) to lessen malnourishment, broaden access to healthcare, and ameliorate under-education among the world’s poor.

The scene in which we see him talking to kids in Africa about what they fear — fears quite different from those that afflict the upper-middle class British kids — brings home his honest desire to see those poor kids helped.

I have two areas of disagreement with Lomborg, whom I esteem highly as a paragon of Enlightenment thinking in our postmodern era. Both are areas in which I fear that he is rather too naïve, sincere as he surely is.

The first area has to do with his idea that if we (as we should) eschew harsh measures to stop AGW, we could effectively spend the money saved to alleviate the underdeveloped world’s problems — lack of food, potable water, and education. In reality, international aid money gets channeled through either third-world governments or various NGOs (supposedly neutral aid organizations); the former are notoriously corrupt and incompetent — which is why their citizens languish in poverty to begin with — and the latter are notoriously inefficient and contaminated by political agendas.

A large faction of the environmentalist community wants to see the world’s population decline dramatically, from 7 billion to perhaps 400,000.

Would it not be better economics just to let taxpayers keep the money saved by killing the more outré environmentalist schemes, money that the taxpayers would spend more productively, and push for free trade agreements with all the underdeveloped countries so that they could, well, you know, develop?

Proceeding to the second area of disagreement: Lomborg doesn’t seem to understand that a large faction of the environmentalist community views Homo sapiens as the plague of the planet, and wants to see the world’s population decline dramatically, from the present 7 billion to perhaps 400,000 in the dreams of some of the environmentalists.” The most zealous crusaders, whose thinking drives the movement, despise the very idea of using natural resources to make people better off materially. They want monstrously costly “solutions” to environmental “catastrophes” (both real and imagined) precisely because those “solutions” will impoverish Evil Humankind.

Put in another way: in the environmentalist eschatology, human flourishing is cardinally sinful per se, and deserves the most lethal punishment. Instead of the old Christian idea, “in Adam’s fall, we sinned all,” these theologians of the environmentalist faith believe that “in Adam’s exaltation, the world suffered degradation.”

But naiveté aside, Bjorn Lomborg is an admirable man, and Cool It is a jewel not to be missed.


Editor's Note: Review of "Cool It," directed by Ondi Timoner. Roadside Attractions, 2010, 89 minutes.



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Words from On High

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Thomas Babington Macaulay, the great classical liberal poet and historian, often spoke of the “insolence” of the British kings. At first it seems an odd expression. Almost always, insolence is associated with inferiors acting disrespectfully to superiors. Macaulay may well have intended an irony: to him, an arrogant public official was, simply by virtue of his arrogance, rendering himself inferior to the people over whom he wished to tyrannize.

But perhaps Macaulay was simply identifying a psychological characteristic that is obvious but needs to be made explicit: the empty pride of politicians, or any other people, who mistake their office for themselves.

Amid the multiform responses of President Obama to his disastrous defeat at the polls on Nov. 2 were some much trumpeted invitations to G.O.P. leaders to come to the White House for discussions with him. For a year after his inauguration he had refused all meaningful talks with them. Then he had staged televised “discussions” in which he treated them as if they were the backward students of a tetchy master. He pontificated, he filibustered, he rolled his eyes and pointed his finger; he did everything except respond to them as equals.

Then, flying back from his strangely pointless post-electoral trip to Asia, he told reporters that he was looking forward to talking things over with the Republicans. Well, isn’t that nice? But no, not the way he said it. He announced that when he sat “down with Mitch McConnell and John Boehner this week,” he expected “that there are [i.e., would be] a set of things that need to get done during the lame duck [session of Congress], and that they are not going to want to just obstruct, that they’re going to want to engage constructively. . . . Then we’re going to have a whole bunch of time next year for some serious philosophical debates. And they should welcome those debates next year.”

I tried to set that quotation up so it would be as syntactically and grammatically correct as possible. I realize that I did not succeed completely, but you have to understand how hard it is to do that with the oral statements of the current Great Communicator. Nevertheless, several things are clear.

First, Obama spoke blithely of meeting “this week,” which is something the Republicans had not agreed to do, and something that they never did agree to do, before Obama flew off on another flippin’ trip.

Second, he posed a false and invidious alternative: the Republicans would either “engage constructively” with him — in other words, agree substantially with his own program — or they would “just obstruct.” The posing of such false alternatives is Obama’s stock in trade. He does it constantly. He is incapable of imagining that anyone who dissents from (“obstructs”) his legislative ideals could possibly be working toward a “constructive” end.

Third, he told his opponents what their own ends should be: they should welcome wasting their time on “philosophical debates” with him.

Suppose you have a falling out with the president of the local PTA or the chairman of your condo association. Then there’s an election, and your side wins. How would you feel if he then announced to the world, without your agreement, the time when you were going to meet with him, publicly admonished you not to become obstructive, and stipulated the plans and even the emotions you should have. Would you say that was insolent? I would. And I might find some other adjectives for it, too.




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Hallowe’en With the Greens

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A year ago, on Hallowe’en, I spent a scary day at a Green Party meeting. Some of the attendees dressed up in funny costumes to salute the holiday. Most of the costumes were cute, though the Al Gore mask ended up giving me nightmares.

Yet it soon became apparent that I was actually in fantasyland. And I came to see, more clearly than ever, that the social liberal fantasy of working our will on others needs to die. It is not only as childish as trick-or-treat, but downright counterproductive. It cannot be sustained in reality.

I’ve been a liberal all my life. But I’ve come to the end of my tether when it comes to trusting in fantasies. The pretty dreams held forth by the Obama-bots who have taken over Washington have proven as hollow as those of the neocons they replaced.

Most of those at the Green meeting were public servants. They clearly had no link whatsoever to any larger reality.

To cite one example dear to my heart, there are still more people out there who do not believe that gays should marry than there are those who do. That may well change eventually, and I believe it will. Being gay myself, I also hope so. But it will not change because we force the issue.

Polls clearly show the public opposed to single-payer healthcare. This is something I don’t believe in, but even if I did, I would be part of a tiny minority. Marching down the street and screaming about it isn’t going to change that. Neither will staging “die-ins” in front of insurance company buildings.

Fed up, at long last, with the hypocrisy and ineptitude of the Democratic Party, I investigated the Greens. It was the last gasp of my interest in statist “progressivism.”

I thought that they might understand that the corporate power they feared was caused by big government charity to behemoth companies. My fellow meeting attendees said they did. But then they proceeded to moan about “profits,” as if those were the problem.

I worked in the health insurance industry for well over a decade. All told, I was in the insurance business for 30 years. Most of my coworkers and friends will lose their jobs because of the “progressive” healthcare boondoggle. Most of those at the Green meeting were public servants. They clearly had no link whatsoever to any larger reality.

If they can’t convince most people to see things their way, they are perfectly content to steamroll right over the top of the majority to get it. So much for democracy.

I happened to remark to them that the Dems had played Lucy and the football with me one too many times. In return for our support for “hope and change” under Obama, gays are being shafted once again. My new Green friends wholeheartedly agreed with that, and presented me with a petition to sign so they could get ballot status in our state.

Nine people had joined their party, in 2009, up until then. That told them nothing. They remained highly hopeful. Happy Hallowe’en.

I told them that the standard of treatment, of gays and other controversial minorities, was as low as it is, not because of where the Republicans had dragged it, but because of where the Democrats had kept it. That if the Dems wouldn’t raise it, it looked as if no one would.

Even these bold advocates of a “progressive” alternative looked at me with incomprehension. Once intoxicated with the prospect of power, they would, of course, do exactly the same. Happy Hallowe’en again.

This minority within a minority understands nothing except grabbing more and more power. Unlike gays (who really don’t carry a contagious disease, whatever some might think), they do have at least the prospect of multiplying. But they carry a delusion that is not only contagious, but potentially deadly for a free society. They believe that because they’re “right,” they have the right to force anything they want on the populace.

I will invite you, Elvira-like, into the darkness of their crypt. These people claim to believe, very ardently, in “democracy.” They talk a blue streak about it to anyone who will listen, and even to those who won’t. But if they can’t convince most people to see things their way, they are perfectly content to steamroll right over the top of the majority to get it. So much for democracy.

I wish them luck, but I’m doubtful that cursing “the rich” is any answer. The politics of dependency leaves me as empty as I suspect it will leave them.

Happy Hallowe’en, again and again. Yet the Greens’ party platform seemed to anticipate Christmas. It read like a wish-list for Santa: equality for all, goodies aplenty for everybody. I can’t say I disagree about the imagined results. I just don’t see how their small, brave army of retro-revolutionaries can possibly bring it about.

I’m not willing, I’m afraid, to wait for Santa Claus, the Great Pumpkin, or anybody else to bring me goodies and save this country. In fact, I’m fairly certain that no one can do both. The Democrats and the Republicans have been able, thus far, to contribute to nothing but the problem.  Perhaps a third party would work (though not, I believe, the Greens). The November election hasn’t changed my view.

As I consider my own role in the scheme, where does my duty as a citizen take me? It is the road to fame and riches, in this country, to tell people all their troubles are somebody else’s fault, but it’s pretty clear to me we all got into this mess together. We’re like fish who must all swim in the same big pond, every splash we make creating a ripple. Or, like dancers, we must be aware that every step we take contributes to the Busby Berkeley production that is life in America. What is my part in the musical number — or which way goes my ripple?

I work for myself, having chosen not to go on struggling in a troubled industry but, instead, to seek out something new. Since I like nothing better than expressing my own opinions, I am determined, now, to make it as a writer. I want to make it on my own in what I hope is still the land of opportunity.

Many of my friends are also jobless, at least as far as having become untethered from corporate America. I hear much complaining, from them, about those evil rich people who rake in the boodle while they drain the last of their savings on Top Ramen. I wish them luck, but I’m doubtful that cursing “the rich” is any answer. The politics of dependency — of always blaming more powerful others and looking to them for answers — leaves me as empty as I suspect it will leave them.

I also have friends who are Libertarians. In Arizona, where I live — Goldwater country — there are a lot of them — even gay ones. Many of them are actually Republicans who can’t stand being associated with what the religious right has done to the GOP. The more they study the literature of liberty, the better sense they make. For years, now, they have been passing what they’ve read on to me.

As I’ve indulged in the guilty pleasure of libertarian reading, I’ve gradually begun to recognize that here, at last, is a concept that sheds real light and gives genuine hope. Libertarians are the grownups: the ones who aren’t wearing costumes and gobbling candy. They’re the ones keeping the kiddies from killing one another as they squabble over the trick-or-treat bags.

More than merely the grownups, these are the sane people. They deal with human beings on planet earth — not with aliens in some galaxy far away. Their attitude is not “wouldn’t it be nice if people were this way . . . let’s pretend they are!”, but rather, “this is the way we are . . . now let’s make the best of it.” I’m tired of the endless trick-or-treat, the Mardi Gras gone mad that statists, Left and Right, have made of American political life. There is a constant nightmare-funhouse atmosphere to it all — the masks we desperately wear to survive in the make-believe world we have made for ourselves and now, seemingly, don’t know how to escape.

I don’t want to be anybody’s mascot or pet. I want to be a productive citizen in a land where anybody can succeed.

There was a bratty-kids-in-the-secret-clubhouse feel to the Green Party meeting I attended. The partygoers were very impressed with how clever they were, each vying to one-up the other with witty putdowns of those benighted Republicans and Democrats. I didn’t recognize real people in their villains at all. They were huddled there in their treehouse, divvying up their candy and plotting how they’d foil the death rays of the evil Doctor Doom.

Nor did I sense they saw me as anything more than the token lesbian (they already had a token gay man). They had found a puppy, and they wanted to make me their pet. I would make a great new mascot for the treehouse. And next year, maybe they could use me to get more candy. They could make sad eyes and shove me in people’s faces, saying, “How ‘bout a Snickers for little Trixie, too?”

I can’t help believing there must be a better way. I don’t want to be anybody’s mascot or pet. I want to be a productive citizen in a land where anybody can succeed. For years I was afraid to believe I could take off my mask and opt out of the battle over the candy. But I’m ready, now, to try the only way I’ve come to know that stands any chance of working in the real world.

What if we worked for an America where, once again, we can keep most of what we earn, and stop weighing down with oppressive regulations the companies that otherwise would hire us? What if we relied upon ourselves for the answers, instead of always waiting with hungry mouths, like baby birds in the nest, for Big Mama to feed us? Far from making us look hopelessly at life, this attitude would empower us.

We’ve gone out to trick or treat in the guise of a helplessly beached fish, or of a dancer with no rhythm. We scare each other with these costumes, each of us seeing our own helplessness reflected in the mask of the other. What would happen if we ripped away the masks and showed the world the faces of people boldly meeting the future?

We can do this if we commit ourselves to doing all that we each can do. We may even be surprised to find that those we’ve demonized — the ones we’ve been sure held all the power — are as scared, and angry, and overburdened by the cares of the whole world as we are. If each of us shouldered only our own, individual share of the burden, we might find the weight of the world much easier to bear. Atlas shrugged, as we may recall, not because he had to hold up the world, but because he had to do it alone, with all of us on it.

Could the Libertarians hold the key? Their platform remains basic, but it makes more sense than all the declarations and promises of the other parties’ platforms put together. Libertarians aren’t pretending to be the Great Pumpkin. But they aren’t Lucy with the football, either.

They come disguised as nothing other than what they are. Instead of all the costumes and the gimmicks, this may well be exactly what we need.




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Causes and Consequences of the Great Election

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With the Republicans scoring a decisive victory in the Nov. 2 election, the salient questions are: why did it happen, and what effect if any will it have on this country’s governance?

Let me amplify my remark that the Republicans scored a decisive win. As of this writing, the GOP has gained a net of 61 House seats, with the possibility of picking up more (as close races get sorted out). This is the greatest gain in House seats in 60 years. The Republicans have taken a net of six senatorial seats; and they have netted six, possibly seven, governorships. Flying under the mainstream media radar, but hugely consequential, is the net gain of 20 state legislatures and about 700 state legislative seats — consequential, because the state governors and legislators have great redistricting power, and redistricting will necessarily follow the 2010 census. There is just no way to spin away the fact that this was a severe pounding for Obama's party.

For all their mistakes, the Republicans, like hedgehogs, got the one big thing right: they made the election a referendum on Obama and his policies.

So why did the Republicans score such a victory? Several factors are important. To begin with, Obama’s two years in office have revealed him as a narrow-minded leftist ideologue, and a shallow-thinking one at that, who lied about all manner of things. His foreign policy failures have been exceeded only by his domestic policy failures, making him already appear worse than Jimmy Carter, in only a fraction of the time it took Carter to reveal himself as bad. After two years in office, Obama's habit of whining about everything being Bush’s fault rings especially hollow.

For all their mistakes, the Republicans, like hedgehogs, got the one big thing right: they made the election a referendum on Obama and his policies, and the voters responded accordingly.

And there is the undeniable role played by the populist Tea Party organization. This loosely-knit group of populists consists mainly of people discontented about the fiscally ruinous policies that the Troika of Obama, Reid, and Pelosi implemented. The tea partiers brought enthusiasm to the election cycle, and they rightly saw the need to get rid of RINOs such as Mike Castle and Lisa Murkowski. For this they deserve praise. My major criticism is that they stink at vetting candidates — they chose some whose backgrounds were shaky at best (such as Christine O’Donnell, Sharron Angle, and Carl Paladino). Angle, for instance (a candidate whom I reluctantly supported financially), proved to be not exactly a polished public speaker. She lost to Reid in what should have been an easy pickup.

I generally support groups that are unafraid to challenge liberal or overly “moderate” Republicans in primary contests. I'm thinking of such organizations as the Club for Growth, which helped to fund Pat Toomey’s defeat of Arlen Specter in the primary and Toomey’s victorious run for the Senate for Specter’s old seat. But going RINO hunting only makes sense when you have done your homework and identified outstanding candidates to replace the RINOs. Notable here was the Club for Growth’s support of the seasoned and powerfully articulate Marco Rubio — a man with a compelling life story. His candidacy was precisely the way to dump an unprincipled “moderate” hack such as Charlie Crist.

The Tea Partiers show the normal drawbacks of populists. I share their dislike of big government, but I don’t think that the traits of ignorance and passion sit well together. The Tea Party won’t go away, and I wouldn’t want it to; but some coherent thought about what is wrong with the government and what can be done to fix it would be useful. Interesting in this regard was a poll of Tea Party members, showing that 62% of them opposed cutting Medicare and Social Security.

Populists usually profess support for free market economics, but curiously oppose many of the practices that define the system.

I believe that passionate populism was the main reason why the election went the way it did. I also believe that anti-government sentiment will continue to grow, and that the passion we have witnessed so far will reach a public-choice tipping point regarding the welfare state. As the baby boomers age, the expenses of massive entitlement programs will rise inexorably. Ever increasing deficits will wreak havoc with our economy, and we will see repeated outbursts of anti-government populism.

But populism is a two-edged sword. Anti-government populism can get out the vote, but it is an incoherent position, containing within itself the seeds of its own incompetence. The populists hate political pros, and want only neophyte Mr. Smiths going to Washington. But that sets the stage for many more Carl Paladino meltdowns: the populists get charmed by a seemingly likeable outsider (someone who never held any political office, not even a freaking school board seat) and give him the primary victory over more established candidates, only to find numerous defects exposed in the main campaign.

Worse, populists usually profess support for free market economics, but curiously oppose many of the practices that define the system. For example, free market economists from Adam Smith on have stressed the importance of free trade. But populists on both the Left and the Right reject it, espousing a mercantilist philosophy that Smith fought hard to overturn centuries ago. Obama claims that he is creating jobs, but in stoutly opposing free trade, he ensures that job creation will remain lower than it would otherwise be. Many populists would do likewise.

Again, many populists (especially those of the Right) hate the free flow of labor, aka immigration; and the arguments they use make it clear that they are just as opposed to legal as to illegal immigration. They believe that immigrants cost large numbers of jobs, result in lower wages, and (this is usually directed at Latinos) that they refuse to assimilate. Of course, if these ideas are sound — and I do not think that they are — then they argue against all immigration, legal or illegal.

Yet again, many populists (especially those of the Left) love government programs that supposedly help the working class. As I noted earlier, even the majority of Tea Partiers have passionate feelings for Medicare and Social Security. Indeed, Republicans made great hay of pointing out that Obamacare cuts $500 billion from Medicare. But let’s be honest: even without Obama's dramatic expansion of governmental healthcare and the comparatively modest expansion under Bush’s senior drug assistance program, the system of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security have been admitted to be unsustainable even by its own trustees.

The Republicans gained from the populist anti-government surge. But the question is what they will be able to do with it, and here I remain skeptical. What are the chances they will actually be able to repeal Obamacare? Rather small. And even if they did repeal it, would that solve the entitlement explosion built into Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security? Certainly not. The dirty secret is that while people rage against big government, even tea partiers love certain government programs, at least until those programs explode.

And what are the chances the Republican House will be able to get America back on track towards free trade? Again, almost nil. As to the chances of the Republicans getting comprehensive immigration reform, one that insures a reasonable flow of labor to American business, well, these are completely nil also.

The Republicans will be able to do some modest good, such as stopping the proliferation of bailout and stimulus bills, and the creation of new entitlements. And I suspect they may save Bush’s tax cuts, including those for the wealthy. But the bankruptcy of the nation still looms. It is doubtful that, in the near term at least, Republicans can institute the radical changes that are needed to bring entitlement programs into sustainability, or to expand our free market economic system — slashing regulation, lowering corporate income taxes, reforming immigration, getting more free trade agreements enacted, and expanding free choice in education.




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California's Other Deficit

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As the resurrected governor of California, Jerry Brown, readies himself to take control of the state for his third term, news of yet another deficit comes out of Sacramento.

The Legislative Analyst’s Office has just released a report that shows that the unemployment benefits fund is now running a $10.3 billion deficit. The causes are the ongoing recession in jobs (caused in turn primarily by California’s viciously anti-business climate) and the decision of last year's the state legislature to raise unemployment benefits. So far, the feds have loaned money to the state to cover the deficit, but next year they are set to charge California $362 million in interest for that loan. The Legislative Analyst’s Office has proposed that the state cut benefits — and raise unemployment taxes on business.

This is very problematic. The unemployment taxes paid by California businesses are already among the highest in the country, and jacking the rates up even further will only result in yet more businesses fleeing the state. In addition, Brown and the Democratic legislature — elected by a tsunami of public employee union money — are not likely to be willing to cut unemployment benefits.

No, it is obvious that Brown and his myrmidons will turn to Obama and beg for bail-outs. The rest of the country will be pressed to cover for the fiscal follies of California (as well as New York and Illinois, no doubt). My advice to the citizens of the other states is to tell the fiscal drunkards in California what the pub keeper in My Fair Lady told Eliza Doolittle’s drunken father when he asked for money: “Not a brass farthing!”




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