Monday, December 29, 2008
Aaand...I'm back! Sorry for my slackerly ways; I've been christmasin' around, and now I'm in NJ with my wife. Anyway, here are this week's viewing / listening / reading recommendations.
For viewing: Brick
Directed by Rian Johnson, and starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, this award-winning 2005 film is a hard-boiled, noir, crime drama in the best tradition of The Maltese Falcon. After the mysterious disappearance of his ex-girlfriend, a teenage loner doggedly descends into a world of high school crime. Though battered by forces beyond his comprehension and control, he pursues the truth relentlessly. Incredible cinematography; eery, inventive soundtrack; ends with a thrilling twist.
For listening: In Loving Memory by Alter Bridge
This song is a heartfelt, lilting Rock anthem about a lost loved one. One of the more moving expressions of these sentiments I've ever heard. Alter Bridge, comprised of several former members of the band "Creed," was formed in 2004 after the break-up of Creed (due to conflicts caused by lead singer Scott Stapp). Alter Bridge's singer is Myles Kennedy. Kennedy has a powerful voice and an easy break into his falsetto (and is considerably less annoying than Stapp).
For reading: the poetry of Richard Wilbur
Wilbur (b. 1921) is former Poet Laureate of the United States and two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize. He has been compared to both Robert Frost and Wallace Stevens, in that his poetry is usually accessible and seeks positive truth in everyday experiences. Any of his anthologies will do, but check out these charming, thoughtful poems: The Writer and Matthew VIII, 28 ff, and Epistemology.
Friday, December 26, 2008
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
He does an excellent job of showing the parallels between Bush-Obama & Hoover-FDR. Unfortunately, the parallels don't bode well for conservatives OR for the nation as a whole.
He points out that the unemployment levels stayed relatively low after the crash of 1929, but that in the immediate aftermath of the Smoot-Hawley Tariffs - passed by congress & signed into law by President Hoover - unemployment skyrocketd. FDR further continued to intervene and the recession became the Great Depression.
As bad as the economy was for the nation, the fact that FDR was "doing something" was great for him politically.
Based on history, it appears that we are in for a rough 8 years - not just 4. The only hope for our nation is for conservatives to stay on message - and be vocal about it - at the local, state and national level. If anything, liberals are good at being vocal. We have the right message, we just need to make sure it is heard.
Monday, December 22, 2008
Since I live and work in semi-rural area of South Jersey and don't personally encounter much in the way of traffic in my daily commute, but our favorite anonymous poster made a valid point - drivers in many metro areas experience major traffic delays to and from their jobs on a daily basis.
While we both agreed that this was an issue, we had some differences on the best way to address the problem - although we both agreed that tolls would be an effective way to address high traffic areas.
Historically, gas taxes have been used for the purposes of road maintenance, traffic reduction and subsidization of alternative means of transportation. There are a few problems with this approach:
1) Gas taxes target the wrong resource - traffic jams are the result of excess demand (and shortage of supply) of road space - not gasoline.
2) Gas taxes treat all driving the same - sitting in a traffic jam and taking a scenic trip on skyline drive have vastly different effects on the traffic levels on the Capital Beltway from 6-9AM, but place the same costs on the driver
3) As vehicles become more efficient, gas taxes will have less impact on traffic snarls- Hybrid electrics already use very little (if any) gasoline when sitting in traffic. In fact, hybrids see their biggest gains in fuel economy over gas only cars in stop & go driving. If our theoretical drivers above had hybrids, the driver using the more available of the two routes (scenic driver) is paying a greater share then the driver using the heavily demanded road. If (or when) plugin vehicles begin to take any significant share of the car market, the effect of gas taxes on traffic will be even less.
As mentioned earlier, tolls would be the most effective way to address high volume traffic - especially if the prices varied based on time of day. Tolls have the benefit of placing a price on the resource being used - and with the increased popularity of EZ-Pass and other automated methods of payment, the bottleneck effect of tolls is lessened. The other advantage for tolls over gas taxes is that it places a price on a resource that the government owns rather than charging individuals for an otherwise private transaction.
If the prices were set correctly, many drivers would choose to travel at different times of day, some who would otherwise drive on their own would carpool, and many would choose public transportation (removing the need to subsidize fares to keep mass transit solvent).
Some of the proceeds from tolls would continue to be used for road maintenance and other transportation infrastructure, beyond that, I would propose using the rest to reduce gasoline taxes. While the total elimination of gas taxes is likely not feasible (after all, placing tolls on the vast majority of county & municipal roads is just not workable), if roads (and parking spaces) were priced with profit in mind, we would gain the dual benefit of efficient management of the resource that is the road, and a tax reduction to boot!!
Friday, December 19, 2008
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
College student Melissa Beech details her current relationship in an articled titled "My Sugar Daddy".
After catching a great deal of flak, her boyfriend responded in "The Sugar Daddy Replies"
Would your opinion of the relationship change if the couple were married?
A persistent misunderstanding that has characterized American foreign policy throughout the twentieth century is the belief that every nation in the world deserves "self-determination," and a democratically-elected government. This misunderstanding has, historically, been responsible for some very serious tragedies.
Woodrow Wilson's great battle for self-determination in Europe resulted in the disintegration of one of the more stable, civil liberty-loving empires in the world, the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Few historians debate that the power vacuum created by this break-up is what allowed Hitler to come to power and dominate Central European politics throughout the Thirties.
Franklin D. Roosevelt suffered under a similar Wilsonian myopia. His refusal to recognize Charles de Gaulle as a legal representative of the French resistance (because he was not democratically elected) deeply offended those French who were stalwartly resisting in metropolitan France, and caused a number of costly misunderstandings in the occupation of North Africa. Even when evidence came pouring in that de Gaulle was wildly popular in France, Roosevelt didn't acknowledge his political status, driving a deep rift between de Gaulle and the Americans that would continue in de Gaulle's postwar policies.
I make no judgment on the Iraq war here, except to say that President Bush's simplistic, Wilsonian belief that Americans need to "make the world safe for democracy" ignores the failures of Wilson and FDR and denies that democracy is itself a dangerous idea, and can only govern those who, to a certain extent, already govern themselves. People who think that throwing your shoe at a political leader is an acceptable, even laudable, way for a professional reporter to express disapproval are not ready to govern themselves. People who think that blowing up innocents is another acceptable way to express disapproval are similarly unready for democracy. As I've said before, democracy cannot work without its "liberal" (original etymology) underpinnings: when we lose an election in America, we gather up our armies, and we "generously" go on home. In this sense, democracy is only for tolerant, self-controlled, good losers.
For his near-sighted optimism in the ability of American democracy to be exported all willy-nilly, George Bush earns his place as the "Well-Meaning Leftist of the Week" (runners-up: Woodrow Wilson and FDR).
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
While I probably should keep quiet on that front since it wouldn't take much prodding for New Jersey to enact a single-payer boon-doggle, I'll poke this bear anyway.
It seems like every problem (or perceived problem) we encounter becomes an issue for the US Government to solve - weather it be carbon emissions, health care, unemployment, etc.
Hoards of people flock to the polls every 4 years to vote for president - while relatively few show up in the "off" years - which is odd because your Senators & Congressmen actually have the job of representing your state's issues in DC. Even fewer still could actually name their state representatives/senators or assemblymen - who enact legislation that has more direct impact where you live.
Unless you live in a major city like New York or LA, the likelihood that you know who your mayor or town council members are.
Local politics and ordinances are more likely to impact an individuals daily living, and yet our entire focus is on Washington.
I'm interested to discover when this tendency began. Bob or Joe would know more on this front than I do, but early in our nation - probably until at least World War I, people cared far more about local politics than Washington. Our nation was founded in a manner that enabled the Colonies to band together for defense - and keep their own matters to themselves. The 10th Ammendment specifically protected the ability for states to govern themselves.
My question here is this: What triggered this shift in focus from local politics to national? Do you forsee a point in time when state governments have little or no power? What benefits (if any) does centering power in DC have? What are the detriments?
For myself, I view the centralization of power as harmful - not the least because it prevents individual states experimenting with policies. If a plan fails, we harm the entire nation. At the state level, we can copy succesful policies from one another and pass on those that fail. Without individuality among the states, this is not possible.
What do you think?
Monday, December 15, 2008
Our current state with regard to health care is an untenable position - a significant portion of our society has health care coverage - either through the state (Medicare and its various flavors), their employers - even some on an individual basis, while another large swath of the population are not able to afford health insurance. The former group sees little to no cost to health care - which in turn artificially increases demand - which (especially when coupled with the issue of unrestrained litigation against the medical profession) drives the cost up for those in the latter group.
The major stumbling block in regards to workable health care reform is the intense focus on insurance. The reason this approach is flawed, is that lack of insurance is not the problem, but rather the fact that a specific commodity (in this case health care) is not reaching a large segment of the population. The health care issue is at its root a economic dilemma. Failure to recognize this critical piece of the puzzle automatically shuts out a multitude of potential solutions. Rather than considering the full scope of the problem, we immediately limit ourselves to the subset of possible solutions that focus on getting everyone insured.
With all this in mind - and keeping in mind the economic principles presented here and here - we can begin to look at potential solutions.
Here are a few of my favorites in no particular order:
1) Disband Health Insurance as we know it - As of now, the majority of consumers "purchasing" health care have no exposure to it's cost. Obviously the providers of health care (as with any good or service) do not have an interest in keeping the price down. In this situation, the only entity interested at all in keeping the price down receives no benefit from the transaction.
In order for this idea to remain at all palatable, this would have to occur gradually- with various elements of health care being phased out over time. This exposure to costs (whether for prescription drugs or routine procedures) would cause individuals to opt out of procedures they did not deem necessary. This would provide incentives for patients to discuss cheaper alternatives with their doctors.
In my view the end result would have health insurance look more like life insurance. Catastrophic policies that pay out a set amount should an individual get cancer or develop some major illness, etc. This would allow individuals to protect themselves in the event of disaster while at the same time providing the exposure to cost that is necessary to induce patients to seek savings on their own.
2) Tort Reform - Death and injury are risks in just about every occupation, however, the very nature of health care increases the likelihood that some customers will suffer injury or death while in the care of the provider.
There are many instances where such occurrences are the result of gross negligence and individuals must have access to civil courts to settle such matters. However, our society has a general tendency for litigation whenever any is hurt - regardless of fault. This tendency has exceptional impact on an industry that deals with death and injury on a daily basis.
To lessen the impact of litigation on the medical profession, hard caps should be imposed on awards for Pain and Suffering or Punitive damages. This would allow providers of malpractice insurance to accurately assess the risk they are taking on when insuring doctors.
Individuals (medical community or not) must also have a means of redress for dealing with frivolous claims. As it stands now, there is no risk to an individual filing a claim - attorneys don't charge them anything unless they win - and should the suit fail, the defendant still has his attorney fees to deal with. I would propose that individuals filing suit be responsible for the defendents legal fees should the case be dismissed.
3) Promote alternative care - I'm not talking accupuncture or holistic medicine, I'm talking about places like the Minute Clinic at CVS. $60 every couple of months for their Health Screening Package sounds like a reasonably affordable way to take preventive care into your own hands.
4) Provide incentives for Health Savings Plans - Think 401k for your health - or something along the lines of a College Savings Plan. All contributions to the plan would be tax deductible - and withdrawals for health care would be free from any capital gains or income tax.
This would encourage individuals to take responsibility for their own health care - which is where the responsibility actually belongs. It would also be prudent to permit individuals (once they reach a certain age) to begin withdrawing form the account without any penalties in excess of ordinary income taxes. This would again provide incentive to be selective when making health care choices.
The bottom line, is that we need to place health care back in the hands of providers and patients. In order for health care (or any commodity) to become readily available, the individuals making the transaction need to be the ones making the decisions - otherwise we will be stuck with shortages and high prices.
Sunday, December 14, 2008
Time again for my weekly viewing / listening / reading recommendations. (For those of you that have been waiting with bated breath, sorry for the delay. It's been a crazy week.) Enjoy.
For viewing: The Apostle
This 1997 film stars Robert Duvall as a severely flawed Pentecostal preacher searching for redemption. Duvall's genuine and sensitive portrayal of "Sonny's" character challenges the viewer to confront his own soul's gray areas and blind spots. Also written by Duvall.
For listening: If I Could Fly by Joe Satriani
Speaking of "intellectual property," electric guitar virtuoso Joe Satriani is suing Coldplay for copying this song's chorus in their Grammy-nominated "Viva la Vida" (you know, the one from the itunes commercial). Same chords, nearly identical melody--what do you think? At any rate, Satriani is one of the most talented guitarists working today, and this piece is by no means one of his best. After you're finished evaluating the whole plagiarism thing, check out these other numbers simply for their incredible musical prowess: Always with Me, Always with You (yea, I know the video is uber-cheesy); and The Extremist.
For reading: East of Eden by John Steinbeck
Steinbeck can spin a story like no other, his characters are real, and his observations perceptive. This sprawling epic (part biography, part retelling of the Book of Genesis) is also a moving critique of determinism and a defense of the possibility of voluntary moral action.
Friday, December 12, 2008
One of the issues policy makers need to address is that of "Private Property" - which ultimately boils down to the question of who controls a nations resources. Those resources can be in the form of raw materials or an individuals labor and ideas - most often they are a combination of the two.
In some economies (notably in many African states), there are no safeguards to private property. Individuals have control over their property until someone stronger comes along and takes it by force.
In communist and socialist states, resources (in varying degrees) belong to the state. Even if the state does not officially own the resources, they exert significant control over how individuals (or corporations - really just a large group of individuals) may use the resources they own - even to the point of dictating the use of one's own career choices.
In a free society, private property is protected - individuals have the final say over the use of the resources within their possession. The owner of a piece of real-estate decides whether he is to farm the piece, build a home on it or sell it to someone else. An individual decides what career is best for them. Owners of a resource - whether it be their own labor, ideas or physical goods - determine what they are willing to accept in exchange for giving up that resource.
Respect for private property is critical for a number of reasons:
1) From a conservative standpoint, it is important to always err on the side of liberty. Absent knowledge of the impacts of any given decision, it is best to defer to an individuals rights to their own possesions.
2) Even the Bible acknowledges property rights - the 8th commandment prohibits stealing and the 10th commandment prohibits lusting after the possesions of others. From a secular standpoint, you would be hard pressed to find even the irreligious to favor stealing.
3) Finally, property rights are critical to economic growth. Many resources are difficult to acquire. Medications to combat disease come after years of expensive research. Fuels for energy require difficult (and often dangerous) digging, drilling and exploration - as do metals used in construction of (among many other things) batteries for hybrid and electric vehicles. Even clean energy is built upon research and discovery that is most certainly not free.
Without protection of ones intellectual or physical property, there would be little or no incentive to explore or recover resources and there would be no incentive to spend money and time in research.
Likewise, from a consumer standpoint, without property protection, the incentive to purchase is lessened. If an individual is not permitted to use his property as he sees fit, the value of that property is lessened.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
What do you think?
- Thou Shalt Not Make Any Judgment Regarding Most Private Personal Behavior. Man/Woman Is the Master/Mistress of the Universe and His/Her Gratification Is Paramount.
- Thou Shalt Not Worship or Acknowledge God in the Public Square, for Such an Exposition Could Be Offensive to Humankind.
- Thou Shalt Take from the Rich and Give to the Poor. No Private Property Is Sacrosanct.
- Thou Shalt Circumvent Mother and Father in Personal Issues Such as Abortion and Sex Education in Public Schools.
- Thou Shalt Kill if Necessary to Promote Individual Rights in Cases of Abortion and Euthanasia.
- Thou Shalt Be Allowed to Bear False Witness Against Thy Neighbor if That Person Stands Against Secular Humanism.
- Thou Shalt Not Wage Preemptive War in Any Circumstance.
- Thou Shalt Not Impede the Free Movement of Any Human Being on Earth. All Countries Should Be Welcoming Places Without Borders.
- Thou Shalt Not Prohibit Narcotics or Impede Personal Gratification in This Area.
- Thou Shalt Not Limit the Power of Government in Order to Provide "Prosperity" to All.
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
Family Values. You hear a lot about them, but what are these values? Many people (including the authors of this blog) will complain that
It is my strongly held opinion that almost all of the ills that plague our society today can be traced back to problems within the individual family units of
For an example, let us take what is probably the most famous civilization in the whole of Western history; the
What was it that made the Romans so great? I believe that it was the respect that their society initially placed on the family unit. The Roman family unit was given a large degree of autonomy in the early republic. The Father or “Pater” was given complete authority over what went on in his home and in most cases, the state could not interfere. Children were taught to be loyal, respectful and obedient members of the family who were not expected to be served by their parents, but to be contributors to the family and eventually society. Children learned to better themselves by contributing to something that was larger than they were. This tradition of loyalty, respect and obedience carried generations of Romans into cultural and political dominance for hundreds of years, but what about the later years of the empire? As the
Now that this little historical allusion is over, let me just say that the Roman family, even in the early days, was not ideal. There were problems even from the beginning. For instance, the father held the power of life and death over his children, in no way is this in keeping with my own Biblical ideal. But, the Romans did realize the natural truth that’s says: Strong families = strong countries (or empires, in this case). They certainly did not believe that “it takes a village to raise a child”, they left family business up to the family and kept the culture intact. Unfortunately for the Romans, they did not have a Biblical worldview that told them that truth does not change over time, and family values should not change either.
So what in the heck does this have to do with us today? Hopefully you’ve been able to draw some application by now, but allow me to explain this concept as it parallels our own culture. Today, our families are being torn apart by a variety of things. Divorce comes readily to mind as perhaps the number one culprit. The American culture of divorce is steadily hammering the proverbial nails into the coffin that belongs to the American family. Divorce tears kids up inside. It takes the foundation right out from under them. It removes authority from the parents and places it into the hands of either the child, or the state. I’ve seen this phenomenon firsthand in today’s school system, and I’ve studied it in my psychology classes. Divorce isolates many members of the next generation – in boys, being raised in a broken home will often lead to anger, resentment, and insecurity. With girls, it often causes a feeling of distrust around men; this continues into adulthood and affects the marriages of the next generation. Yet divorce is still seen as a way out of a problem when in reality it creates more problems. Instead of sticking around and learning to cooperate with a fellow human being whom you’ve made a commitment to, it’s a lot easier to run from the initial marital problems through the escape route called divorce.
There are a great many other things that are attacking our families today. I have only scratched the surface with the divorce topic. When Parents don’t take responsibility for their children, thousands of kids are left to state control. Is this what we really want for
Monday, December 8, 2008
While we normally view economics as dealing with money, there are all sorts of costs and incentives that come into play when people make decisions. Shame is a very real cost that has been part of society since the origin of the human race. Most of our personal inhibitions come from a fear of shame or embarrasment.
For most of our nation's history, pre-marital sex carried a heavy social stigma. Becoming pregnant or fathering a child out of wedlock was something to be ashamed of. Families would quietly address the matter, but it was certainly not something to celebrate.
As time has passed, the the only unacceptable behavior today is to pass judgment on the behavior of others. We are told that the utmost harm we can do is to cause any bit of shame to come to others.
Please understand, I am not suggesting that pointing and laughing in derision at a pregnant unwed mother is correct - or even remotely helpful. What I am suggesting that without the fear of shame from society, there is little cost to a teenager considering sex. Teenagers place far more value on the here and now than the notion of losing their future. The fear of embarrassment is a cost that is especially weighed by young and old alike.
Just about everyone (including athiests) believe in some moral code. Much of that code is placed into our nations (and state) laws - despite the notion that you can't legislate morality. Most of the laws are directed at improprieties that harm others such as theft, assault, murder, etc.
However, we can't reasonably legislate against private behavior, so society is left to other means to deter self-destructive activities. Oddly enough, smoking seems to carry a greater social stigma these days than premarital sex. Smoking carries a stigma because most of us are now aware of its harmful effects - while nobody notices the plight of children raised to single mothers who have little income or the fathers who have skipped out on them. Children in single-parent homes are 4 times more likely to live in poverty than children of married parents.
I assume this is because the examples we DO see are actors, athletes and other well off folks whose wealth makes them relatively immune to the negative consequences both to themselves and their children. We see mothers doting on their children and since they seem fine - who are we to judge their behavior.
Once we remove the taboo from the behavior, we should not be surprised when more people partake - many of whom cannot afford the consequences.
Saturday, December 6, 2008
Time for my weekly viewing / listening / reading recommendations! Oh boy, right? As always, the "masterpieces" may or may not be directly related to the Right--but you can help me keep this column relevant to the Blog's theme by remembering that freedom (freedom to do what you want with your dollar; freedom to do what you want with your conscience; freedom to do what you want with your typewriter, etc.) is what makes innovation and creativity possible.
For Viewing: The Sting
Last week I recommended a more recent film, so now I offer this classic. If you've never seen this greatest of all heist movies (makes the "Ocean" movies look like a bad joke), then there's no time like the present. Starring the late, great Paul Newman, and Robert Redford. Remember: Stealing? not cool. Stealing from gangsters? very cool.
For Listening: Morton Lauridsen's "O Magnum Mysterium"
Maybe I'll do more Christmas-themed recommendations as the holiday draws nearer, but let's kick off the season with this incredibly rich choral setting of an old Matin text. The words basically just say--what a great mystery it is that animals should be the ones to welcome the newly born King. I apologize if you're not really into a capella choral music, but give this one a shot. Here's a decent version by the Robert Shaw Chamber Singers. Listen for the creative harmonies, and especially for the subtle climax at 3:36.
For Reading: "Aeropagitica," by John Milton
Milton's time-honored pamphlet defending the freedom of the press and attacking censorship. Obviously, this selection does pertain to the overall theme of the blog. In my opinion, it is one of the greatest documents in the canon of "freedom literature." Read the entire text here. Please fight through the Puritan-Pamphleteer style; I'd particularly like to know what you think of this one.
Friday, December 5, 2008
3) Individuals (and individual states) place different values on a given resource. People (and states) are unique. They have different goals, desires and needs. It follows that they will value things differently.
5) No economy is going to operate with perfect efficiency. There is no humanly possible way to allocate resources to those who need them most with 100% precision.
The above list states the reality of our condition on earth. We cannot change these rules by legislation any more than we can change legislate away gravity. Most often, the attempt is to change (or ignore) rule #2, but we cannot change human nature. Number 5 seems to be cast aside frequently - especially when it comes to necessities like energy or medicine.
It is my hope to put some flesh on these bones, to at least create an understanding of free market principles. Economics may seem cold and uncaring - that's because it is. Physics doesn't care about anyone, but we can use it to our benfit - provided we understand its laws. Biology doesn't care about anything, but when we understand it, we can use it for healing.
Likewise, Economics doesn't care who needs what, but by understanding the rules, we can build an economy that provides health and wealth for as many people as possible.
The prayer of Reverend Jacob Duche's at the outset of the 1st continental Congress, 1774.
Thursday, December 4, 2008
Rock the Vote, like a number of other "get out the vote" non-profits, is a grassroots political action group whose existence is premised on the assumption that higher voter turnout in an election is always better than lower voter turnout. For a catalogue of their "efforts," this last go-around, see here. Adherents of all political ideologies in America have somehow got the cool idea that "every vote counts," or that it's just really important to "participate in democracy."
Now, I'm not saying People of the Right should advocate disenfranchising anyone (not sure that would go so well); but I am saying that the shallow, easily-marketable idea that every single person should vote, and should even be morally compelled to vote is one of the near-sighted leftist misunderstandings that this column is all about. As Aristotle said all those years ago, one of the problems with a democracy is that the votes are counted, not weighed as they should be. Experience, knowledge, character, and wisdom play no role. To cast a vote, the only requirement is a certain biological age. In democracies, as Alfred Focke says, "defenseless illiterates are dragged to the voting urns."
All people's judgments are not equal. When we look for a doctor, we understand this fact of inequality, for some reason. Why would we think it's an unqualified better thing when just a whole bunch of uninformed people have their say in what our government looks like? Yay for the bandwagon!
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
Yesterday, in response to my own post, I made it clear that we here at case4theright do not in any way believe that the founding fathers were infallible or inspired by God or anything like that. These were men that made mistakes and had inconsistencies in their lives just like every other human being on this earth. We do believe, however, that both the lives of these men, and the ideas that they came up with, were great. By “great” I don’t mean a casual, everyday expression “great”, I mean that in a monumental and historical sense, these men lived lives that should be studied by all Americans and developed ideas that should be memorized by all Americans.
Unfortunately, many Americans today have very little knowledge of people like John Adams, James Madison, Jon Jay, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton (I thought they’d like being next to each other in the list), Henry Knox, and yes, even George Washington. As a high school history teacher in a school where kids are supposed to be a little more learned than most, (It is a college prep school after all) I have witnessed this ignorance firsthand. To most, people like George Washington are mere symbols of their country. Like the bald eagle or the Statue of Liberty. But who was George Washington really? And why is he considered a great man? Is it merely because he was first?
George Washington demonstrated many qualities of greatness throughout his life, but he was certainly not a man without a mistake on his record. Early on in his military career,
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
While the US government certainly could legislate jobs - most notably New Deal Era programs such as the CWA, WPA, and CCC - the problem is they do nothing for growing the economy or increasing the production of wealth.
From an economic perspective, a "job" is simply a transaction in which an individual exchanges his time and labor for compensation. Currently, the demand for labor is dropping while the supply has more or less remained constant. There are various causes for the drop in labor demand (or decrease in employment supply from the other perspective). Some employers are out of business, tight budgets cause individuals to hold off on home improvement projects (or go DIY), and a miriad of other externalities cause individuals to value cash on hand more than time right now.
All of this presents a few problems to government "make work" programs:
1) Who pays for the jobs? After all, aside from being fired for incompetence or misconduct, people lose jobs because the cost of employing the individual is greater than the return. PE Obama is suggesting that we now pay for a service which we would not normally pay for. After all, those 2.5 million individuals aren't going to work for free. In "creating" these jobs, the government is merely moving money from one group of individuals to another - with next to nothing produced for it.
2) Administrative overhead. On top of wages, the federal dollars will be filtered down through various burocracies. If the goal (as it must be from item 1) is to "spread wealth", it would be more efficient to simply cut checks to a random 2.5 million unemployed.
3) In coercing individuals and businesses to pay for workers for nothing in return, money must necessarily be removed from the private sector. This is money that would be used in purchasing goods and services that individuals actually place value on. This is money that could be used to expand business (or keep it alive as the case may be). The tax burden necessary to "create" these jobs would result in at least as many losses on the private side of the ledger. There is no free lunch.
4) This takes the process of deciding what activities are productive out of the hands of the millions of US citizens and placing it in the hands of the government, we simply set ourselves up for failure. What Obama is asking, is for a handful of government officials to decide what activities are the most beneficial to the economy at large. Central planning has a remarkable history of failure to make good on its promises.
While certainly the individuals being fitted for these brand new jobs will find it beneficial to them in the short term, the long term affects on the economy will be a drastic slowdown in productivity. Based on Obama's statements, we will have a surpluss off newly paved roads (whether they need it or not), but at a time when the economy is struggling, we will end up with a shortage of goods and services that individuals need. Shortages that in turn result in higher prices.
What good is a policy that promises "living wage" jobs, but at the same time drives up the cost of living?
Monday, December 1, 2008
This concept of separation between church and state is severely misunderstood by most Americans today. The truth is that neither the constitution, nor any other founding document mentions anything about the separation of church and state. The Bill of rights does say: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” But does this constitute separation of church and state? In a way it does. The early Americans had fled oppression from governments that were politically intertwined with a state church that dominated all religious activity. These state churches had become more interested in political power and vain tradition than the practice of true religion. It was for this reason that many sincere believers left their state-sponsored churches and established a new life in a new world. The makers of the constitution wanted to preserve this heritage in writing by striking out any possibility of a state sponsored church that would violate the freedom of citizens to act according to their own religious convictions.
This form of separation of church and state is nothing like the modern concept that is being propagated by secular and moral progressives. According to some, any time a person acts out their religious convictions in a voting booth they are violating the separation principle. Nothing could be further from the truth; our nation is steeped in the tradition of citizens and leaders acting out their religious beliefs in office, or with a ballot. Any true scholar of American history can see that this country been shaped by the Judeo-Christian ethic. This Christian foundation would have been impossible if the majority of Americans had a problem with church principles interacting with the government. Here are some examples that display the mindset that shaped our country:
“On my arrival in the United States, the religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention” - Alexis de Tocqueville
“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other” - Jon Adams
“Of all the disposition and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports" - George Washington
"This is a religious nation… We are a Christian people.” - United States Supreme Court(The Church of The Holy Trinity Vs. The United States)
If there are people that are discontent to live in a country that has been largely shaped by Christian principles, and in which religious principles have often dominated the public square, then they are free to move to a society that has been founded solely on secularism. Russia comes to mind readily. Send me a postcard from the Kremlin, Comrade!
P.S. This only scratches the surface of the information available on Religion in American History. More to come on Founder's Friday!
Friday, November 28, 2008
For viewing: The Lives of Others
Oscar-winning German-language film about a playwright under Stasi surveillance in Communist East Germany. This film does happen to be very relevant to the deeper meaning of this column. The playwright is the last of his artist friends still sponsored by the state, and has to decide how to use his art. A moving portrayal of the "bad kind of individualism" brought about by a totalitarian state (withdrawal from the community). Incredible performance by actual former victim of East German repression. Very fine soundtrack, as well.
For Listening: the Bach: Violin Concertos, Chaconne
from Bach's Partita No. 2 in D Minor for violin. Brahms says of the chaconne: "one of the most wonderful and most incomprehensible pieces of music." A lengthy display of inconceivable virtuosity, full of profound feelings; a whole universe of pain and triumph. Bach, of course, wrote "for the glory of God alone," but his compositions were made possible by the appreciative patronage of Prince Leopold of Cothen.
For Reading: Capital
by Karl Marx. One of the greatest systematic philosophers of all time (and it's actually a pretty good read, for philosophy). It's important, for one thing, to truly understand where the social goals of Marxism originate. Also, we don't want to throw around terms we don't understand, or "straw man" our opponents. It's ironic (and significant for the purposes of this column) that Marx copyrighted his monumental work, and was supported in his research and leisure by the patronage of Friedrich Engels.
The founding fathers alluded to a supreme authority that should be recognized and given proper credence; yet also acknowledged clear freedoms to force no man to adhere to that authority. So when we look to define the line between church and state; Where does it fall?
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Last week, Lindsay Lohan was attacked by a "flour bomb"-wielding animal rights activist in Paris, as retribution for Lohan's fur-wearing ways. See the Kodak moment here. For those of you who were wondering, a flour bomb, according to Wikipedia, consists of "flour in a fragile container, thrown at a person or object to produce an inconvenient stain." (Why is it, by the way, that Wikipedia is the only dictionary with a serious, reliable definition of "flour bomb"? Yea, definitely the second-best website ever...)
In the past, animal rights activists have also doused prominent fur-wearers with paint. Here's the punchline: in either case, the destruction of a celebrity's animal fur only means that one or several more animals will have to be killed to replace the ruined fur (unless, of course, in the unlikely event that the assault converts the celebrity into a caring defender of the natural rights of animals).
Perhaps PETA would argue that the public exposure for their cause is worth the martyrdom of a few of the innocent creatures they are sworn to protect. Interesting ethical quandary. They should make like a movie about it or something: morally ambiguous heroes are the bee's knees right now. They could even have a scene where, once the animals understand what the activists are trying to accomplish in the long run, they sacrifice their lives voluntarily--and with stoic resolve--to replace Lindsay Lohan's fur coat. Man, that would be poetry on celluloid.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Monday, November 24, 2008
Dubiously dubbed the "Employee Free Choice Act", the bill will remove secret ballot elections from the process of unionization at a workplace.
A brief rundown can be found here.
The EFCA would replace the secret ballot (which was apparently good enough for the Democrats when deciding Joe Lieberman's fate) with the collection of signatures. As soon as the Union collected signatures from over 50% of the employees, all employees would be forced to join the union.
And we all know that the labor unions would never pressre anyone into signing...
Lets take a quick peak at what we have:
Last week I touched on some of the reasons why the bailout would not help Detroit, but the more things move along, the bailout is more likely to hurt Detroit in the long run. In fact, they have put themselves in an even worse financial position just by asking for federal money.
1) As a general rule, the last thing you want to do when you are under a load of crushing debt is to take another loan.
2) One of the claims made is that they need the Federal loan since the credit crisis prevents them from obtaining private money. The problem is not the credit crisis, the problem is that no private lenders believe that Detroit will be able to repay the loan. Apparently, the markets do not either. In spite of the near guarantee that they will be getting the loan they are requesting, investors don't view GM as a good buy.
3) When an individual applies for any type of loan (car loan, mortgate, credit card, etc), their credit score gets dinged just a bit. Applying for 2 or three loans in succession they will see a significant decrease in their score. Continue down this path and the individual risks damaging his credit for a long time. The reason? Lenders begin to see the individual as desperate for cash. Most people in this situation are at the point where they cannot meet their financial obligations and are merely seeking to keep the lights on a bit longer.
By going straight to the feds, and announcing that they cannot obtain private financing, Detroit has pretty much sealed its fate. They are acting like the desperate individual described above and their stock prices show this. While bankruptcy certainly is a black mark on one's credit score, it is still easier to obtain credit with a bankruptcy and modest debt that is well within one's means than it is to be in the desperate situation described above.
4) When Detroit receives the bailout, it will certainly come with strings attached (and understandably so), but unfortunately, the strings will be of the "Well Meaning Leftist" type - such as requirements to develop green vehicles (as if CAFE already doesn't do that) and restrictions on CEO pay.
CAFE standards forced Detroit for years to sell vehicles that lost money. To recover and earn a profit, they had to rely on the SUV & light truck market. Additional requirements to sell unprofitable vehicles is certainly a greater recipe for failure.
While certainly the current CEO's have done a poor job for their pay - and certainly nobody would fault the boards if they voted them out, capping the pay for the top executive position would prevent the best and brightest from even attempting to tackle the daunting task ahead. What incentive would they have for taking the job in the first place when they can make more money elsewhere? Applying a salary cap places another handicap on the companies already far behind their foreign competitors.
Sunday, November 23, 2008
Mom is doing well & things (so far) have been progressing normally.
While not specifically related to conservatism or politics, we just wanted to share the joy :)
Saturday, November 22, 2008
Where to begin? I feel like a mosquito in a nudist colony, to borrow Dinesh D'Souza's quip. First off, no matter what ideology you espouse, hopefully you understand that what is "good," is not always self-evident, and hardly ever natural. But moralists and philosophers have long tried to establish some natural, "rational" basis for morality--some universal principle that will be obvious to everyone, even without recourse to anything transcendent or divine. Again, there are a lot of points one could make about this so-called "natural" morality, and I look to you all for your thoughts.
One kind of thinking about natural morality is that an "enlightened self-interest" will make you treat others kindly, both to get good things in return and to live a reasonably civil life, full of low expectations and small happinesses. Conincidentally enough, I just attended a special lecture at the Clemson Institute for the Study of Capitalism on Alexis de Tocqueville and his critique of the American morality of rational self-interest. The speaker was Harvey Mansfield, Harvard historian and political theorist, and translator of Machiavelli and Tocqueville.
Alexis de Tocqueville was a French liberal aristocrat who travelled through America for nine months in 1831. His Democracy in America is, according to Professor Mansfield, the best book ever on democracy, and the best book ever on America. Tocqueville criticizes the American idea, even back then, that the reason to be "good," the reason to support and obey a democratic government is a rational long-view self-interest that wants to play by the rules in order to achieve a happy life later. (Of course, none of this takes into account the people that wouldn't be able to succeed playing by the rules). Tocqueville points out that, if you don't believe in an afterlife, then old age is no less fleeting than young age--there's no real reason to choose to play by the rules in favor of a finite happiness later, and against a finite happiness now. Both are equally passing. And so topples one attempt to establish a logical morality without religion. Tocqueville concludes that men need religion, or they will eventually realize that the ethical life makes no sense.
All this doesn't even touch the fact that, without some kind of transcendent standard, we can't even determine what is right anyway. Nature is not moral; it's dog-eat-dog. Certain tribes of the Auca Indians in Ecuador will, if their baby cries too much, bury it alive. That's "natural." The only reason modern, secular Americans have "generally" similar ethical standards is that, to paraphrase one political theorist, we are all sniffing fumes out of the same empty bottle (Christianity); and philosopher Leszek Kolakowski, too, has observed that the ethics of most nonbelievers are evidence of the former sacredness of our civilization.
Friday, November 21, 2008
Not the other anon: The attempt to interpret our personal experiences is one of the most meaningful things we do as humans. There's nothing wrong with anecdotal evidence--in fact, it's possible to argue that all evidence (even "research" that we personally engage in) is subjective-anecdotal. Your experiences are instructive, certainly for yourself, and, I think, for all of us.
The fact that you feel more acceptance among your gay friends is a real phenomenon, and one that probably has a number of explanations. The first is connected with your thoughtful critique of American "Christian" pseudo-manliness. I think all guys, somewhere in the depths of their beings, desire significant friendships with other guys--friendships in which communication about real thoughts and struggles occurs. Think of David and Jonathan, or the countless examples from antiquity: considering the way these people communicated and felt about each other, it's safe to say they would be laughed to scorn by most American "men." I think if genuine, meaningful man-to-man friendships were not so derided, a lot of people who think they'd like to dabble in homosexuality would realize that's not what they're looking for. (Hat tip to Zach Franzen for suggesting the need for a return to manly friendship).
After cleaning our own house, though, I have to observe that another reason for the easy communication is that homosexuality is a species of narcissism. I do not say this is homosexuality's only appeal, but, as Erich von Kuehnelt-Leddihn writes, "Homosexuality has an aspect of sameness to it along with the refusal to establish the sometimes difficult bridge--intellectual, spiritual, and psychological--to the other sex. In this respect, homosexuality is a form of narcissism, of immaturity." K-L goes on to paraphrase Dr. Marcel Eck to the effect that the "hell of homosexuality lies precisely in that it avoids genuine dialogue; homosexual love is not a quest for another but merely seeks the self." Heterosexual love constantly reminds us of the near impossibility of transcending ourselves, and yet we push and stretch against that veil. Homosexual love, at the risk of over-generalization, may feel accepting at first, but that's because it's actually self-love, and this comes out in the wash.
You want to really mix things up? Try something really radical? Just go crazy? Find a guy who can be a "soul-mate" (I'm not kidding), but then try to really get to know a woman. She'll blow your mind. I promise.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
The Dems currently hold 58 seats in the senate. The GOP needs either Coleman to win here or Saxby Chambliss in Georgia to have any say at all in the senate.
For a quick rundown of the players with an eye on that position go here.
UPDATE: For anyone reading from Virginia, latest info I found is here.
Even though the events leading up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq started before this, to get this kicked off, I'll start with the Congress' Authorization for use of Military Force Against Iraq resolution of 2002. I'll summarize a few of the points and we'll go from there.
1) The 1990 invasion created a coalition of nations to liberate Kuwait and enforce UN Security Council resolutions against Iraq
2) After the invasion, Iraq entered into a UN sponsored ceasfire in which it agreed to end its pursuits of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons & cease sponsoring international terrorism
3) Iraq, in direct and flagrant violation of the cease-fire, attempted to thwart the efforts of weapons inspectors to identify and destroy Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction stockpiles and development capabilities, which finally resulted in the withdrawal of inspectors from Iraq on October 31, 1998
4) in Public Law 105–235 (August 14, 1998), Congress concluded that Iraq’s continuing weapons of mass destruction programs threatened vital United States interests and international peace and security, declared Iraq to be in ‘‘material and unacceptable breach of its internationa obligations’’ and urged the President ‘‘to take appropriate action, in accordance with the Constitution and relevant laws of the United States, to bring Iraq into compliance with its international obligations’
These 4 items are all historical fact - and the events depicted in the resolution all took place PRIOR to George W Bush taking office. In spite of the fact that we NOW know that Iraq did not possess WMD at the time of invasion, it was public knowledge that they had weapons back in 1998. Furthermore,
5) Iraq persist[ed] in violating resolution of the United Nations Security Council by continuing to engage in brutal repression of its civilian population thereby threatening international peace and security in the region, by refusing to release, repatriate, or account for non-Iraqi citizens wrongfully detained by Iraq, including an American serviceman, and by failing to return property wrongfully seized by Iraq from Kuwait
6) the current Iraqi regime has demonstrated its capability and willingness to use weapons of mass destruction against other nations and its own people. NOTE: While it has now been shown that Hussein did not possess WMD at the time of the invasion, that was hardly the posture he was taking. Not only was there ample intelligence indicating the presence of WMD in Iraq, Hussein (at this point in time) did not permit weapons inspectors back into the country.
7) the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998 (Public Law 105–338) expressed the sense of Congress that it should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove from power the current Iraqi regime and promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime. NOTE: as early as 1998, it was the policy of the United States to remove Saddam Hussein from power.
8) September 12, 2002, President Bush committed the United States to ‘‘work with the United Nations Security Council to meet our common challenge’’ posed by Iraq and to ‘‘work for the necessary resolutions,’’ while also making clear that ‘‘the Security Council resolutions will be enforced, and the just demands of peace and security will be met, or action will be unavoidable NOTE: as early as September 2002, the President began working with the United Nations - in spite of the oft repeated claim of "unilateral action" - never mind the fact that acting unilaterally is not an evil in and of itself.
To quickly sum up a long post - the first several reasons listed as rationale for the Iraq invasion occured prior to President Bush taking office. President Bush ran for office on a platform that took an aggressive stance against hostile nations that support terrorist activities.
The events of September 11th underscored the importance of taking pro-active stance against increasingly bold terrorist states.
The invasion of Iraq sent a message that we will not tolerate state sponsors of terrorism. Unfortunately, as time went on, the message that was delivered by our media is that the United States does not have the stomach for a fight. IMO, it was the stance taken by the media that emboldened Iran to press forward to achieve nuclear capability. When they saw the peoples response to a difficult and expensive fight, they knew there was no way they had the stomach to do anything other than talk while they perform nuclear tests, launch missiles, etc. Fortunately, Israel has no qualms with taking out nuclear facilities in Iran.
On the plus side, President Bush had the perseverance (despite the fact that it was immensly unpopular) to stay and finish the job. Thanks to that perseverence, there is one less terrorist state in the world.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Yet its barely a blip on the radar when real progress is made using adult stem cells - allowing individuals to become their own donors. Why is it so critical that human life is destroyed?
This is besides the point that embryonic stem cell research is still perfectly legal in the US - not to mention that individual states are free to fund such research.
Hat tip: Drudge
It is disgraceful that the GOP did not press for Stevens resignation when the his gift taking was first discovered.
In other news, Minnesota has begun the automatic recount. Currently, Norm Coleman (R) leads Al Franken (D) by 215 votes. Minnesota law permits counters to divine "voter intent", so we definitely want to keep an eye on this.
Georgia's runoff election is not until December.
Second situation: People tend to view labor differently than other goods, however labor (the use of one's time) is subject to the same laws of supply and demand as any other commodity.
However, that doesn't stop attempts to fix prices on labor. As in the case of gasoline, it is an attempt to tip the scales in favor of individuals over corporations. However, unlike gasoline, the drive is to keep the price artificially high rather than artificially low.
No matter how much legislation is passed, you can't change the laws of supply and demand. You can change prices, but markets respond to higher prices - whether freely set by the seller or by the force of law - by demanding less of it.
In the case of minimum wage or living wage laws, employers respond by purchasing less of others time. This most affects those with less skills or education. After all, if you are forced to pay above market price for something, you want to make sure you get the most bang for your buck. Someone whos only skill is sweeping floors will be left out in the cold. Individuals who are hired (or are already working, but now have a legislated pay raise) will see their hours cut.
In the case of the labor unions, employers don't have the option of cutting employees when they aren't delivering value for the price. They don't have the option of cutting back on hours. Since employers (the purchasers in this case) don't have the option of purchasing less from their existing labor providers, they will most certainly not hire new workers.
The argument that huge corporations can afford to pay workers what they feel they are worth certainly does not hold wait in light of the Big Three's current situation. The UAW has killed the goose laying the golden eggs.
Again - what is better lots of people employed at a lower wage or no jobs at all?
The most visible example of this behavior is gas prices. In the summer, people tend to travel more which in turn pushes the price up. Similarly, when weather or world events disrupts the oils supply, prices go up.
Let's look at a few scenarios to illustrate free market principles in action:
First situation: A hurricane threatens (or has already hit) a coastal city prompting evacuation. The station owners respond by raising gas prices to $8/gal.
Since it would cost $120 to fill a 15 gallon tank, motorists have to make choices. Many who have 3/4 of a tank already will decide to press on and fill up in another town - or decide they have enough to get where they are going. People with empty tanks will put in just enough to get where they need to go.
Today, however, many states have past laws against price gouging in times of crisis. Suppose instead of $8/gal gas, station owners are forced by law to keep their prices at their current $2/gal. In this case there is no incentive for drivers to ration gas. Everybody tops off their 3/4 full tanks. Everyone fills their tank completely no matter how far they need to go and the situation becomes first come first serve - and the station is pumped dry much more quickly. Worse yet, the station owner who has no idea when he will be able to be refilled himself - or at what price, decides to close up shop rather than selling fuel at a loss.
As tough as it is, I think most people would prefer $8 gas to no gas at all. What is more fair? The "greedy" station owner selling small amounts of gas to as many people as possible or selling at a "fair" price and only the fastest group of people make it out in time?
To be continued...