Three Ways of Reacting to the Obvious

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At this writing, no one can say what happened in Benghazi on September 11, when Ambassador Chris Stevens was brutally murdered by a mob of Muslim fanatics, driven to frenzy by an obscure YouTube feature. Or was he murdered by a Muslim army, conducting a well-planned attack? Or was it an inside job, perpetrated by Libyan employees of the embassy? Or perhaps all three?

The administration’s account of the enemy has frequently changed. But what about America’s arrangements to defend its people and property? What about our own operations? What happened with them? Mrs. Clinton’s State Department clearly wants everyone to assume that adequate security was in place. But . . . but . . . what about the obvious? The ambassador is dead.

The badly named Buck McKeon (R-CA), who serves on the House Armed Services Committee, made that point. It’s an obvious point, but he made it, and he did a little something with it: “It’s pretty obvious he did not have adequate security. Otherwise he would probably be here today. . . . I’m really disappointed about that. I think when we put our people around the world at risk and don’t provide adequate security, shame on us.”

This is one kind of response to fact. It’s banal, it’s obvious, but at least it recognizes the obvious. It recognizes things as they are, and allows for some further investigation, and perhaps some redress of grievances.

A second kind of response is represented by President Obama’s bizarre remarks of Sept. 20, about what he had learned as president: "The most important lesson I've learned is that you can't change Washington from the inside. You can only change it from the outside."

In making this comment, Obama assumed a general recognition of the obvious: he had not managed to fulfill his promises of hope and change. An obvious response would be, “Well, maybe somebody else can fix things.” But that’s not the tack Obama took. That’s not what he said he had learned. He said he’d learned that you can’t change Washington from the inside, that you have to be an outsider to do that.

There’s no way you can make sense out of that. Obama couldn’t be farther inside, and he’s campaigning to stay that way, despite the fact that insiders can’t change anything. But obviously, when he was on the outside, he didn’t manage to change anything, either — because otherwise why would he have campaigned to get on the inside?

This dilemma has no exit. It’s a radical form of conservatism: since no one, either inside or outside, can do anything about anything, we need to stay exactly where we are right now. Obama happens to be in the White House, so that’s a good deal for him. As for the rest of us . . . we’ll always have Social Security to fall back on.

Or will we? On September 20, Paul Ryan addressed the convention of the American Association of Retired Persons, otherwise known as the world’s greatest purveyor of direct mail, and said what is obviously true and admitted by all: Social Security is broke, and getting broker, and if something isn’t done about it, the system will fold. This non-news should, theoretically, be of the first importance to the AARP. The AARP should want to do something about it. But what it did was to boo and hiss Paul Ryan.

This is the third kind of reaction to the obvious — an impassioned resistance to knowing or doing anything. It’s a conservatism so militant that even Jerry Falwell, were he still on earth, might pause and admire it. It’s the kind of conservatism that one sees everywhere in the campaigns of incumbents (and this year, the Democratic Party is the chief incumbent). Every Obama sign and sticker is like a giant billboard reading SO WHAT? The failure is obvious; the intention to fix it, nonexistent. The program is, keep everything exactly the way it is. The fact that this program will probably win is an even ghastlier reflection on American politics than the Republicans’ tedious gyrations between truth, untruth, and sort of truth.

“Fact checks” almost always hurt the Republicans, because the Republican campaign is predicated on the idea that facts exist and must be faced. But they do nothing to hurt the Democrats — and that’s the really awful thing.

rsquo;s not the tack Obama took. That




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The Golden Years Really Are Golden

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A recent AP story caught my eye, since it bears upon an issue on which I have oft written — the coming pension tsunami, caused by the retirement of us Infamous Boomers.

It tells the news about the wealth gap between the Old and the Young. The gap is now the widest in American history. Despite occasional lurid stories about a grandmother eating cat food shortly before being wheeled off a cliff, the wealth gap favors . . . the old!

And the gap is enormous. Census data reveal that households headed by someone 65 or older have an average net worth 47 times greater than that of households headed by someone under 35. The median net worth of households headed by a person 65 or older is about $170,000, compared to a pathetic $3,662 of those headed by someone 34 or younger.

Moreover, the gap continues to widen. It has doubled over the past six years, and has increased fivefold during the past 25 years — even after adjustments are made for inflation. Astonishing, no?

There are a number of reasons for the declining relative fortunes of the young. One is that the Obama recession has totally creamed the young, especially young men. It is not for nothing that this has been called the “he-cession.” Besides that reason (though related to it), is the fact that young people are taking longer and accumulating more debt to get their degrees. And of course others are still paying mortgages on homes that have fallen disastrously in value.

The disparity is bleak, and in a way — considering all the granny-eating-cat-food propaganda — ironic. But the trend is decidedly the friend of the elderly: over the past quarter century, the wealth of households headed by the elderly rose by a whopping 42%, while the wealth of households headed by the young (under 35) declined by a dizzying 68%.

As if that weren’t bad enough, 37% of households headed by the young have a zero or even negative net worth! That is an increase of over 100% since 1984 (when the census first started keeping track of this happy stuff), and it is massive compared to the only 8% of elderly-headed households so cursed. And the median income of elderly-headed households has grown at a rate 400% greater than that for younger-headed households.

Net worth is here defined just as you would expect: by adding the value of homes, personal possessions, stacks, bonds, savings, and other property (such as cars, boats, and vacation properties), and subtracting credit card, auto, home, student loan, and other debts.

Now, how does the AARP — those redistributionist pirates who are always so intent on transferring assets from the young to the elderly — respond to the news that the 47 to 1 gap in net worth favoring the elderly is the highest in history? Of course, it greets it with greedy denial.

One Nancy Holland, a propagandist — pardon me, an executive vice-president — of the AARP puts it in the typical AARP spit-in-your-face-avariciously-aggressive fashion: “Millions of older Americans today continue to struggle to make ends meet. Many older Americans do own their homes, but plummeting housing values — along with dwindling savings, stagnant pensions, and prolonged periods of unemployment — have taken their toll.”

In short, screw the young people. As if their own homes and savings hadn’t been hard by this progressive liberal recession. As if they too hadn’t suffered unemployment. As if they had freaking pensions to rely on!

Our country is, alas, headed into the fiscal dustbin of history. Its aggregate national debt is approaching the dimensions of Greek tragedy, if not of Greece itself. But the AARP continues to wage a jihad against all entitlement program reforms. Future historians — if there are any who aren’t progressive liberals, hence wedded to the ideology of the redistributionist state — will record with incredulity the bizarre structure of a politico-economic system that in defiance of biological reality systematically starved the young to glut the old.

Maybe we need ads showing the grandkids eating cat food as they are pushed from a cliff.




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Two Big Surprises

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Well, now, you can knock me over with a feather! Two stories just out are amazing in their a priori improbability. They tell us a lot about the growing awareness of our looming national financial crisis.

The first is the news that the U.S. Senate has voted to end federal subsidies for ethanol, which this year hit a high of $6 billion from taxpayer dollars.

This is surprising for a number of reasons. The ethanol lobby (i.e., the group of rentseekers who derive much of their income from this screwy subsidy) is powerful, consisting of many players in key political states. Moreover, it has been around for more than 30 years — an unhappy product of the Carter presidency. Also, it has been a darling of the environmentalist movement, which has consistently opposed fossil fuel and nuclear power, favoring instead so-called “renewable” sources of power (biofuels, wind power, and solar power).

Even more surprising is that the vote was bipartisan and wasn’t even close: 73 for, and only 27 against, with Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) joining Tom Coburn (R-OK) in sponsoring the bill. In the end, 33 Republicans and 40 Democrats joined to kill the subsidy program.

I suspect that a number of facts helped the Senate reach this epiphany. One is that despite over 30 years (and untold billions of taxpayer dollars) invested in research and development, the energy output that you get for the required input still keeps the fuel from being economically attractive — a point that even Mr. Green himself, Al Gore, mentioned when he came out against corn-based ethanol earlier this year. In part, the problem is that we are making ethanol out of corn, which is far less efficient than making it out of sugarcane — and this is why, besides giving the domestic producers of the stuff a hefty tax credit of 45 cents per gallon of ethanol blended with gasoline, the feds have had to impose a whopping 54 cents per gallon tax on ethanol imported from abroad (mainly Brazil).

Another senatorial eye-opener may have been the recent, massive discoveries in domestic sources for oil and natural gas that can be produced by new technology such as fracking. These discoveries make the case for subsidizing domestic ethanol even more dubious.

Besides, politicians are finally beginning to see the obvious, deleterious impact that diverting 40% of our corn crop to make ethanol (which, again, we could buy more cheaply from Brazil) has on food prices both here and abroad. The rapid inflation of food prices has caused riots abroad and is beginning to cause real discomfort here.

Finally, there is the sense that this subsidy program has just gone on too long. As Senator McCain put it, “Enough is enough. The industry has been collecting corporate welfare for far, far too long.” Exactly so. There is demand for ethanol, but the industry needs to supply it in the free market.

The ethanol industry has been angling to replace tariffs and subsidies with federal spending for special pumps and tanks to hold higher concentrations of ethanol. But the House just voted against that by a margin of 283-128.

So it may be that the governmental subsidies for ethanol will end soon.

Now, the second surprising story is that the AARP, the liberal advocacy group that purports to represent the elderly, and was so crucial in helping President Obama ram through Obamacare, has changed its position on reducing benefits for Social Security. John Rother, the AARP’s policy head, has said that the AARP now views change in Social Security’s benefits structure as inevitable, and wants to have an influence on the process. This is a big change from AARP’s earlier stance, which was that all we needed to do was increase payroll taxes to cover the deficits. As Rother put it, “The ship was sailing. I wanted to be at the wheel when that happens.” Of course, the question is, why would we want this toad and his leftist organization — who did all they could to block reform and increase the depth of the problem — to be “at the wheel” of reform?

It is all so richly ironic. The AARP was viciously instrumental in killing President Bush’s attempt to reform Social Security. It claimed that Bush was going to shortchange the elderly. Now the AARP itself will face the same charges.

Indeed, the AARP immediately aroused the antipathy of a coalition of leftist groups calling itself (in pure Alinsky style) “Strengthen Social Security.” It has already accused AARP of becoming elitists disconnected from their base.

The AARP is approaching this cautiously. It lost about 300,000 members by helping push through Obamacare. To cover its tail, it wants to make sure that the Social Security revision process is bipartisan. Its own polls match public polls that show the elderly deeply oppose changes to the program. One recent poll shows that 84% of all Americans 65 and older oppose any and all cuts in benefits.

But the AARP and members of Congress are finally coming to see the iceberg of fiscal insolvency toward which the economy is headed. Visions of Greece, currently in the throes of riots by dependents of the state and facing the prospect of defaulting on its debts, are concentrating minds wonderfully.

In fact, it is all rather like watching a Greek tragedy. The blind AARP finally has to face its fatal flaw — the mess it helped create and maintain.




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