Terror at 30,000 Feet

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The old joke about the statistician who drowned in a lake with an average depth of one foot is a reminder that while the mathematics of probability theory are rock solid (er, within a certain range of error), the questions that the numbers attempt to illuminate are a bit more slippery. To put this in another way, a statistic is only as valid as the manner in which the question it tries to answer is framed. And there’s the rub: a question can be spun in such a way that the answer will confirm any sophistry.

This insight was recently brought home to me by Tyler Cowen’s wonderful Discover Your Inner Economist: Use Incentives to Fall in Love, Survive Your Next Meeting and Motivate Your Dentist. But even libertarian economists can fall prey to their inner biases. (I haven’t discovered whether Cowen calls himself a libertarian or not, but following Rush Limbaugh’s opinion that all economists worth their salt are libertarian, I suspect he is.)

At one point, Cowen briefly discusses fear of flying, citing various statistics that “prove” that flying is, hands down, much safer than driving a car. When one compares mortality rates per mile traveled and per passengers involved, the conventional figures decisively prove their point.

So why am I not scared of driving? As Ayn Rand famously stated, “Check your premises!”

Having taken flying lessons (and having had to land a single-engine plane that lost power), I have a slightly different take on the matter. A Cessna 150 with a perfectly centered dead engine practically lands itself, slowly gliding down at the proper angle, needing only a steady hand to keep it from diving into a stall. By comparison, a multi-engine jet with the reduced glide ratio that results from swept-back wings, and the out-of-balance weight and thrust from an off-center, suddenly faulty engine, almost requires a miracle to land safely.

Cowen, along with many others, believes that fear of flying is irrational. Now, I consider myself a rational empiricist, but when facing a flight, I gird my loins and make sure my affairs are in order. And I don’t think my fear is irrational. Yet I had never really tried to work out the problem until I read Tyler Cowen, who skewers popular fallacies as only a libertarian economist can. My conclusion is that he may have embraced a popular fallacy himself.

A stalled car engine is an inconvenience for, perhaps, half a dozen people at the most, while a stalled jet engine is a likely death sentence for hundreds of passengers. Having a pigeon fly into a car’s grille is startling, but it has far from the same consequences as having a pigeon fly into the cowling of a Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engine.

The questions I would pose to determine the safety of flying vs. driving would be: What percentage of mechanical malfunctions in cars result in fatalities? And how many fatalities? But what percentage in planes? I’m willing to bet that mechanical malfunctions (or operator errors) in an airplane cause way more fatalities than the same problems in a car. Different premise, different conclusion.




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Pride and Prejudice

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A theme has been growing steadily in the statist-liberal media that the recent congressional election results were the effect of Americans’ ignorance. Examples easily come to mind.

In the recent issue of The New Yorker, Hendrik Hertzberg rationalized Barack Obama’s various political fumbles and concluded: “Another part of the problem, it must be said, is public ignorance.”

On the cover of its November-December issue, Mother Jones continued the fetishizing of Sarah Palin, photoshopping her face into the iconic poster for the B-movie classic Attack of the 50-Foot Woman and slapping on the subtitle “A Confused and Frightened Citizenry Votes Against Its Own Self-Interest.”

This line of thinking traces back to the 2005 book What's the Matter with Kansas?, which offered the thesis — compelling to self-appointed elites — that Americans are stupid peasants, easily mesmerized by right-wing lies and distortions.

It’s inconceivable to statist twits that the peasants in flyover country might have an intuitive sense that overzealous government programs are bankrupting the United States (an intuition shared by a growing number of our lenders in Berlin and Beijing). That buncombe about “confused and frightened” may be more projection than analysis.

Recently, I spent a couple of days in Chicago in the company of my 8-year-old daughter. Near the end of our trip, we went for a walk and some window shopping along Michigan Avenue. The Holiday Season vibe was just beginning. Sidewalks and stores were fairly full. But something seemed different. Outside the American Girl store (in what used to Marshall Fields’ flagship location), a chic-looking woman having a smoke studied my daughter, looked up at me, smiled shyly, and said “hübsch” (“pretty”). I smiled back and led the 8-year-old in to gawk at hundreds of Kit Kittredges.

The woman’s compliment clarified the change for me. The urban white noise — agreeable, in small doses — didn’t just include foreign tongues; it was dominated by them. German. Spanish. French. Even some dashes of what sounded like Russian. Our currency is weak, so coming here is cheap.

America’s decline doesn’t affect the peasants living in the outlying villages so much. If they are simple, they’ve always been so; their concerns are for basic security and stability. They’re skeptical about silver-tongued promises, but they’re susceptible to moral hazard — if everyone else is elbowing up to the public trough, they will too. If everyone else minds his own business, they’ll mind theirs.

The “confused and frightened” ones are people like Hertzberg and Mother Jones. They pretend to welcome a cosmopolitan world in which American shopgirls promote nostalgic dolls to middle-aged women from Dusseldorf. But really they fear it. Bien pensant strivers are terrified of America being reduced to shopkeepers peddling kitsch. They don’t realize why, but the truth behind their fear is simple. A second-rate economic power doesn’t have much need for brainy magazines and precious pundits.

Fearful people who condescend to their fellow citizens for being fearful are the ugliest Americans of all.




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Toy Story 4

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Sunday night I saw Toy Story 3, the year’s No. 1 hit, with more than $415 million already earned at the domestic box-office. When the movie was over, my first thought, apart from how wonderful it was, was that it had a political message. There were other messages about loyalty, about not being deluded, about sticking up for yourself, and even about the proper attitude toward death. But being interested in political messages, I saw one of those as well.

I wondered what other people had seen in the film. As I read the articles and blogs, it seemed that lots of people saw a political message. Those on the Right tended to like the movie’s message, but those on the Left either viewed it unfavorably or denied there was any message at all. And as you might expect, the message was described very differently at the two ends of the spectrum.

Start with the hard Left. Here is Carl Nyberg, writing on July 1 at PrairieStateBlue.com about the plight of the toys, the major characters in the story,now that their friend Andy has grown older and is about to leave for college:

“The dilemma facing the toys is the dilemma facing industrial workers in the era of globalization. . . . Andy represents the capital class. Andy is going to college. The capital class is moving on to new investments that don't need the quantity of American labor they formerly needed.”

This seems goofy to me, but then, so do most of the views of the hard Left.

Continuing, this author declares that the message of Toy Story 3 “is that the working class squeezed by economic globalization needs to stick together, but not turn to socialism. The working class should continue to stay loyal to its political leaders, but press them to address the issues American society faces.”

The idea of Andy as a capitalist and his toys as workers never crossed my mind. Their relationship is not economic. They aren’t workers. The toys can be very energetic, but only when Andy’s not looking.

Here is another leftist, Owen, posting on Aug. 1 at TheThirdEstate.com. In a post called, “Why Toy Story 3 is evil,” Owen sees the toys as slaves of the capitalist bosses:

“You’re bought and sold, and your duty is to stay loyal to your owner, no matter how badly he treats you, how many of your friends and loved ones he gets rid of because they no longer interest him, or how long he neglects you for. If he wants to abandon you in the attic, you should be grateful — he could be throwing you out, after all. Oh, and if anyone tells you that this isn’t the way things have to be, if they tell you that maybe if you had some autonomy then you’d be able to live a decent life not dependent on the whims of those more powerful than you, then that person is a lying wannabe Stalin who’d imprison and torture you without a second thought. The continued goodwill of your private owner is the only guarantor of happiness and security. There is no freedom. There is no alternative. There is no hope.”

I guess Owen would have liked a story in which the toys revolt against the capitalistic boy, escape his oppressive house, and maybe set it on fire besides, and join the daycare center, which is really a worker’s cooperative. That wasn’t Toy Story 3.

I also found a conservative Christian interpretation. On June 20, Drew Zahn argued on WorldNetDaily that the toys represent humans and Andy represents God, and that Andy’s plan to put them in the attic “leads them to doubt Andy’s faithfulness,” which is a “parallel to people in trials doubting God’s faithfulness and love.” And when the toys are donated to a childcare center instead, and the boss toy says, “We don’t need owners; we are our own owners, masters of our own fate,” to Zahn it’s “the Snake” speaking. This promise of freedom, Zahn says, is “the so-called ‘freedom’ of atheism and/or hedonism.”

I guess you could see it that way.

A few conservatives and libertarians loved the movie so much that they went over the top. Novelist Andrew Klavan, writing on Nov. 2 in the Los Angeles Times, was one. He started his commentary with an obvious attempt to hook readers on election day:

“If indications hold true, voters Tuesday will deliver a powerful rebuke to the Obama administration and its plans to transform America. Also, ‘Toy Story 3’ will come out on DVD. These two events are not unrelated.”

That was a stretch, and the progressives lost no time in hooting about it. Wrote John Cole that same day at Balloon Juice: “The reason I am a lowly blogger and not a big time columnist is because I am not creative enough to make this shit up.”

All right; Toy Story 3 is not a political movie as such, and it is silly to tie it to the election. But when the progressives argue that there is no political message in the film, they are wrong.

If you can get past Klavan’s first paragraph, he has a strong argument.

First he recognizes that the leaders among Andy’s toys “are two iconic figures of American culture, a cowboy and an astronaut,” each of them embodying traditional American values. At the child-care center, “they meet the modern American paradigms: Lots-o'-Huggin’ Bear, Big Baby and the shallow, metrosexual Ken doll.” These promise an egalitarian society in which the toys have no owners, but “own themselves.” But the toy society is quickly revealed to be a dictatorship — and feels very much like a leftist dictatorship.

Klavan notes that at one point the shallowest of the characters — the Barbie doll — says, “Authority should be derived from the consent of the governed, not from the threat of force!”

John Boot of PajamasMedia.com called this the “single funniest joke” in the movie. I guess it made him laugh. But it isn’t a gag line. It sounds artificial coming from Barbie, and I’ll bet that some of the moviemakers argued against putting it in the script. But clearly somebody wanted it in, and I’ll hazard it was for a political reason.

It is possible that it wasn’t — that the moviemakers picked up these ideas without thinking about them. Maybe — but I don’t think so. Toy Story 3 could easily have been done a much different way. The toys could have arrived at the daycare center and fomented a revolution there, creating a world kinder and more toy-centric than Andy’s.

Toy Story 3 doesn’t end that way. It ends on a theme of loyalty to the private family as a place where toys have owners and can be what they’re made to be. It is an implicitly antisocialist movie — which both sides of the political divide quickly perceived.




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Go, and Sin No More

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Frantically focused special interest groups have a habit of defeating their own goals, hurting their own self-interest by an excessive pursuit of it. Labor unions are a classic instance: they have often been so greedily intent on exacting every concession from the companies they are bargaining with that they put the companies out of business, and their own members out of work.

Environmentalist groups are another classic case. They have routinely pushed programs that allegedly benefit the environment, but in reality do not. For example, they helped stop nuclear power 30 years ago, an act that exacerbated the very problem — global warming — that so concerns them now. A number of prominent Greens now realize their error.

A recent instance of this phenomenon is none other than the Green giant himself, Al Gore. He just came out against the federal government’s subsidy of ethanol. As he remarked to a green energy conference in Athens, “It is not a good policy to have these massive subsidies for first generation ethanol. First generation ethanol I think was a mistake. The energy conversion ratios are at best very small.”

More surprising still was his admission that his original support had been based on his presidential ambitions, specifically, his desire for the support of corn farmers in Iowa and Tennessee. But one wonders what took Gore so long to wake up. Subsidized corn-derived ethanol has been a dubious program from the day it was first conceived.

The American ethanol program began in 2004 when Congress established a subsidy of 51 cents per gallon for gasoline containing 10% ethanol. (In 2008, the subsidy was lowered to 45 cents per gallon.) It did this in spite of the obvious drawbacks of making ethanol from corn. Ethanol is the alcohol derived from fermenting sugar, and corn is only 40% sugar to begin with.

Very rapidly, corn that was being used to feed animals and people was diverted to the ethanol boondoggle, until the U.S. ethanol industry used, as it does today, over 40% of all the corn grown in the United States, and fully 15% of the corn produced worldwide. One unintended consequence was rapidly discovered —  shortages in cattle feed and human food. This was folly incarnate: taking perfectly good food and trying to use it to derive fuel. As a consequence, food prices increased, especially in countries (such as Mexico) where corn, or meat derived from animals fed on corn, is a staple of the average person’s diet. By 2008 food prices stood at record levels.

The ethanol subsidy program was questioned from the start. In 2005, a major study by Pimental and Patzek (the first a professor of ecology at Cornell, the second a professor of environmental engineering at Berkeley) argued that ethanol actually requires 29% more fossil fuel energy to produce than the energy it delivers.

The reason ethanol advocates didn’t realize this is that they didn’t count the unseen cost of the energy needed to produce the fuel, such as the energy used to make the fertilizer required to grow the crops, the energy used to power the farm equipment required to plant, irrigate, and harvest the crops, and the energy used to transport and grind the crops and distill the alcohol from the mash.

While many pro-ethanol spokespeople have attacked the work of Pimental and Patzek, it still seems clear — now even to Gore — that the input-yield ratio from ethanol is disappointing at best.

Besides the inefficiency factor, there are other drawbacks to ethanol. It is hard to keep water from mixing with it, which makes shipment hard. And it can be destructive to the rubber components of automobile engines.

Worse yet, a major study published this year by the Congressional Budget Office — hardly a right-wing source — revealed that the use of ethanol to reduce greenhouse gas emissions runs about $754 per metric ton of CO2. That’s about 38 times the average price, on the European Climate Exchange, that a European company would pay to be allowed to emit a ton of emissions over its allotment.

The ethanol subsidy program expires at the end of the year. Perhaps the Republicans, bolstered by their support in the recent election, will work to end this pointless program for good. Ending it would save $5 billion a year, and show some common sense about environmental and energy policy.

And maybe they could call Al Gore to testify.




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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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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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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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