Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Transaction Costs: The Best Argument Against High Taxation

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Vigorish, as readers will recall, is a term famously used by the Mafia to describe the seizure (skimming) of the profits of a business under the threat of force. [1]  Percentage varies according to the mob's need for cash and calculations about what the market will bear.  Our tax system is nearly analogous.

Persons (outside government) who favor increasing taxation seem unaware of the losses in the tax system, arguing -- and wrongly assuming -- that collected revenues will go, more-or-less dollar for dollar to support various projects and causes they favor.  One wonders if they would remain sanguine knowing the amount of monies diverted from tax purposes.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Obama vs. Arizona: It Begins

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Actually, it has already begun but so far without clear resolution.  I am referring to a definitive showdown between the central government and the states.  Conflict between the states and the federal government has been escalating for some time in the form of de facto nullification on the part of some states and the rapidly increasing evidence of contempt for constitutional limitations on the part of the federal government.
Perhaps the best-known current examples of nullification center around the refusal of states to enforce laws pertaining to immigration (sanctuary cities) and to state legalization of medical marijuana -- both in direct conflict with federal law.  Those issues have been before federal courts and found some legal resolution, generally favoring central government.  But federal court rulings against the states have had virtually no effect, and the liberal Washington political class has not evinced enthusiasm for enforcement of laws (especially immigration) when violations coincide with its political ambitions. (1) 

Sacred Ground: The Lincoln Myth

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For some of us the time comes when we are forced to recognize that much of what we have been taught -- what is "common knowledge" -- is simply untrue.  That is the case, I believe, to some extent in all the academic disciplines but perhaps less so in the hard sciences than the soft sciences and liberal arts.  Here, I am concerned with history, which seems to be the subject of more ideological tampering than other disciplines.
In this essay I assert that the commonly accepted history -- the orthodoxy -- of the American Civil War period and the persona of Abraham Lincoln are largely innocent of salient fact, intellectual honesty and the application of common sense.  Further, I will argue that Lincoln's abuse of constitutional powers did great violence to Jeffersonian view of federalism and ultimately became the template for contemporary statism.

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Gulf Cleanup: Government Incompetence?

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Beyond the context of an objective, competence cannot be measured.  For example, imagine a case in which a large tree is to be brought down in a short time and with a minimum human effort; here, we have defined an objective.  Next, imagine three woodcutters, each given his choice of tools for the purpose of felling the tree.  The workman who chooses a power chainsaw will be seen as more competent than one who chooses and axe.  The one who chooses a scout knife will be seen as least competent.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Liberalism: Thinking Inside The Closed Loop

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The essential problem at the core of liberalism is faith-based epistemology. (1)  It is not a problem at the personal level where a set of strongly held core beliefs may be a great source of security, comfort, confidence and -- above all -- a sense of control in evaluating and understanding the self and the world.  It is an enormous problem, however, where there is no openness to the consideration of facts that conflict with pre-conceived beliefs. When verifiable realities are rejected in favor of a rigid system of ideological verities, survival and prosperity are inevitably at peril.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Fundamental Significance of the Tea Party Phenomenon

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O.K., the title seems pretentious; the use of the word "fundamental" in context may suggest that I am laying claim to some special insight. Maybe, maybe not. That's for the reader to decide.
In short, I think what is most important in the Tea Party movement is unity; unity that transcends, and may ultimately overcome, the politically-driven balkanization of America. (1)
This unity, as I see it, is certainly not a lock-step agreement on most issues, but it seems clear that there is a consensus on certain principles, ideas and approaches strong enough to trump other areas of disagreement.  It is the unity suggested by e pluribus unum.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Living in Interesting Times

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 With the advent of resurgent conservatism comes a heady and perhaps irrational political exuberance.  On the right there seems good cause for celebration.  The Tea Party constitutional movement, the hide-tanning of liberal senators and congressmen at town hall meetings, emerging assertions of state sovereignty under Tenth Amendment initiatives and polls that show a healthy majority of conservatives in America.   Add the successes of new media (and the corresponding decline of liberal network TV and once-dominant newspapers), FNC and talk-radio and we seem to be on a clear path toward the restoration of responsive, smaller conservative government.  But something very different may be in store for America.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Locus of Political Violence (Updated, 12/10/10)

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[Please follow link below footnotes]

It is hardly surprising that the left and their enablers are attempting to characterize political opposition as violent, but it invites unintended consequences.  Chief among them is a factual assessment of the true locus of political violence (here and here) -- the left.

Actual violence, ranging from so-called "hate speech", (1) intimidation, and the destruction of property to wanton bloodshed has always been and remains the mark of the political left.  That many -- including many on the right -- may instinctively reject this assertion is a testimony to the skill with which the liberal (2) establishment has "managed" the truth.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Left's Big Gamble

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For a number of reasons I believe the Left has made a calculated and careful assessment of the American political scene, and it has decided to gamble for the seizure and control of American political and economic power.  They believe, arguably with good cause, that that their hold on the strongest factions in American politics is sufficient to enable them to consolidate and exercise power over an increasingly hostile majority.  Whether they will succeed in the long term is not known, but, given the erosion of liberty we have seen over the course of the last century, the wind of history would seem to be at their backs.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Glenn Beck: Out of His Depth on This One.

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A good deal -- though not nearly enough -- has recently been written (here, here and here) regarding comments by Glenn Beck and Charles Krauthammer regarding growing opposition to Islam in Europe. In particular their mischaracterization of Geert Wilders as fascist and extremist. Regarding Dr. Krauthammer I will only mention that he is often wrong, always elitist and occasionally brilliant. In my view he -- like so many other (1) conservative pundits -- did not escape entirely the multicultural memes of the 60's. As for Beck, I believe his remarks grew out of simple ignorance -- a gap in his accumulated knowledge. While Krauthammer may be wanting in the humility to alter his position, I expect that Beck will set himself to the task of remedial learning. Still, as I indicated in my earlier essay on Beck, my reservations about him center on his penchant for creating sweeping narratives on inadequate foundations of fact; sometimes bordering on the superficial.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Al Gore: Hoist On His Own Canard

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Al Gore's fear-mongering book and video, An Inconvenient Truth: The Planetary Emergency of Global Warming and What We Can Do About It, represent an undeniable triumph for K-12, academe, Hollywood, TV, the press and liberal lemmings worldwide. And no mean achievement in the entrepreneurial spirit of, say, Bernie Madoff, Charles Ponzi and John Law. (1)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Yes, There Is a Double Standard. Stop Whining About It!

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There are many traits of traditional conservatism that I like. Independence, individualism, positive attitude, willingness to work, courage, self-sufficiency and disposition to charitable acts. It appears, however, that the general feminizing of Western Society has not found conservatives immune.

Among the spokesmen for the right -- from best to least -- I cannot name one who has not succumbed to whining complaint about that leftist hypocrisy known as the double standard. "How", they ask rhetorically "would the media and liberal politicians have responded if a conservative had said (or done) that?"

If the question were not rhetorical, and if it had been asked of me, I would reply to Rush Limbaugh or Laura Ingraham, or to Glenn Beck or Ann Coulter, "Man-up for God's sake! Either do something about it or accept it for what it is. But stop your whining!"

In fact, there are measures that can be taken. Unfortunately for conservatives they mostly require collective action, which, outside the Tea Party movement, are traditionally anathema to the right. Fortunately for conservatives, on the other hand, the aggregate of individual sentiment may favor the right.

The collective actions I had in mind were demonstrations and boycotts; Hollywood, the printed and visual media and academe. If well-orchestrated, these initiatives might work to good effect, but what organized conservatives seem incapable of, middle-America seems already to be doing without leadership. When a CNN broadcast attracts fewer than 1M viewers in prime-time, when the NYT, the LAT and the SF Chronicle (not to mention many other liberal outlets nationwide) are hemorrhaging readership, advertising and (naturally) profits the message being sent is palpable.

Hollywood and academe are other matters. In the former case two things: the decline of liberal TV and press cannot be helpful to filmmakers, and more money can be directed towards the production of good conservative movies (here, Breitbart and PJM come to mind). In the latter case more funding might be provided for conservative universities such as Hillsdale, Brigham Young, University of Dallas, Wheaton and others. And there are indications that conservative student groups in liberal universities are gaining ground along with a certain panache.

Or, maybe nothing significant for conservatives can be hoped for. Worst case prevails. Accept what cannot be changed. But, please... don't whine. It is unbecoming.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Glenn Beck Phenomenon

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How is one to explain the spectacular rise in popularity of a man, who, until recently, had not attracted inordinate attention with his middling morning talk show (1), a popular but mostly unexceptional tenure on CNN Headline News and guest appearances on ABC’s Good Morning America?   Beck was already well known, to be sure, but his was hardly a household name.  Today it is.
After little more than a year at Fox News, The Glenn Beck Show attracts more viewers than CNN, MSNBC and HLN combined.  In itself, that would have been amazing, but considering that his program occupies a ‘graveyard’ time-slot for political commentary, (2) it is nothing short of phenomenal.  It is fair to say that Beck now ranks among the very best-known conservative spokesmen in America and has a substantial following abroad.

"Liberty is an Evil Which Government is Intended to Correct"

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In the run-up to the American Civil War there were many bizarre and convoluted exercises in argumentation on both sides of the slavery debate.  The title quotation (1) is a statement by George Fitzhugh of Virginia, who advocated for socialism and asserted that not only blacks (certainly) but also whites should be enslaved.  Slavery was thought to be desirable because persons in that estate were spared the burdens of  independent thought.  It is akin to the parodic notion that there is no more secure environment than a prison cell.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

When PC Drives Foreign Policy: A Soldier's View

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In an article titled How Muslims Defeated the United States, Diana West offers a letter from a soldier now serving in Iraq.  His views on America's role and future in the Middle East are not optimistic, and it runs counter to virtually all 'established' narratives.  In her comments about the letter, West rightly observes that it is "certain to challenge and disturb readers across the political spectrum...".

End of post

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Mass. Senate Race (Updated)

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In my earlier post I concluded by writing: Surprise me, Massachusetts voters, with a new showdown at a rude bridge. I was surprised indeed. After years in the Kennedy wilderness, it would appear there has been a homecoming.
I also wrote that, in the then unlikely event of a Brown victory, ...we will have another big-government Republican in congress, and, on balance that is a moderately good thing. And I believe it is.

How conservative is Scott Brown? We can't be sure. Ed Morrissey offers some caveats in this article.

But the senator-elect has taken a firm stand on opposing the destruction of American healthcare, he is a fiscal conservative and is strong (not at variance with George Bush) on national defense. In fact, on almost all issues dear to conservatives, he has consistently spoken as man of principle. Given his stated positions, it is truly amazing that he could have been elected in Massachusetts. Perhaps the best thing about Scott Brown's victory is the apparent indication that voters are finally perceiving the extent to which the left has overreached.

Above I characterized Brown as a big government Republican; I hope to be proven as wrong about that as I was in estimating the likelihood of his election.

Good Government? A Challenge to Readers (Redux)

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This is a challenge I post periodically* in hopes that someone will show me to be in error. I maintain that most of the work of government is destructive to liberty and civil society, and that it leads to unnecessary complication in the lives of citizens. To be clear, I do not assert that government does nothing useful or reasonably well, so long as it is within the scope of its enumerated powers.

Government is a necessary evil, but it is still an evil, and -- as such -- it should be (but is not) minimized. In forming a government we enter a bargain to exchange some part of our liberty for a collective entity that provides for our essential security and the essential conditions for our prosperity. When that entity exceeds in size and power its limited mandate, it correspondingly usurps individual liberty. Simply stated, liberty is inversely proportional to the size of government.

In the best interests of a polity a balance must be struck. Precisely how that is done leaves room for debate, but when the scale tips in favor of government, as, unchecked, it inevitably will, it threatens to destroy the foundations of the very civil society that enabled the creation of government.

We are now well beyond the point where government has tipped the scales in its favor, and what civil society created to serve its interests has become its master.

So here is the challenge: Cite one example of a serious problem in contemporary society -- social, political or economic -- that is not caused by or exacerbated by government.

Say it isn't so....

The last time in July. If I can't provoke a response this time (don't expect to), I'll just let it go. Still, it might lead to some interesting discussion...

Why Tea Party Anger Must Be Sustained

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Conservatives -- contrary to the claims and behavior of the left -- are generally happy, easygoing sorts, slow to anger. They simply don't have time for it; they are going about the business of living and assume others are doing the same. People of the left, on the other hand, seem perpetually angry, and their business is minding that of others. Minding and, insofar as possible, controlling. With so a heavy burden of responsibility, it is little wonder they are unhappy.
h/t: Dr. Sanity

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Islamic Terrorism: Connecting the Nots

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In the aftermath of terrorist attacks -- failed or successful -- post-mortem analyses typically reveal that necessary intelligence was in hand but not integrated in ways to prevent disaster. One thinks of 911, of course, but also of Mumbai and more recently Fort Hood and the Christmas flight to Detroit. But the broader anti-terrorist methodology and especially the seriousness of governments must also be called into question.

In the US airport screening, for example, seems focused on preventing what has already happened, relying on what passengers may be carrying rather than who they are and how they answer probing questions. Widely reported is the successful approach used by the El Al Airlines, and it is worthwhile to contrast the assumptions of the American and Israeli political classes that drive security systems.

How to protect ourselves from the violence of Jihadi savages? Let me begin by asserting that in matters of security, the trope-imagery of "connecting the dots" is a poor one in context. Assembling a jigsaw puzzle might be better, but it too is misleading. If there is anything to be connected to good effect, it may be the negative assumptions of decision-makers -- reality negated in aid of a political ideology and underpinned by political correctness. So we begin by connecting the nots of denial.

1. Islamic terrorism is not a serious threat to America and the world.
2. The threat and use of military force will not discourage terrorists and will not keep us safe.
3. Aggressive military interrogation of captured terrorists will not yield more information than conventional methods.
4. Profiling (as with El Al Airlines) is not an acceptable way of screening passengers. One must not risk giving offense.
5. Bloated, multiple bureaucracies charged with American security do not impede the flow of security information.
6. An image of national weakness does not encourage aggression from our enemies.
7. Released and repatriated terrorists will not become recidivists.
8. Trying terrorists in criminal courts will not be harmful to our security interests.
9. The Fort Hood massacre was not an act of Islamic terrorism.

Connecting the nots shows us why we are not secure from terrorist attacks. Unlike our own political class, Israelis clearly understand that seeing the world-as-it-is is a necessary condition of survival.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Liberals, Progressives and Soiled Nappies

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There comes a time, we may imagine, when even the most neglectful parents, unable to abide the unpleasantness of baby's soiled nappies, are finally moved to change them. In the same way, the left is periodically moved to change its name.

During the early years of the last century (and the latter part of the one preceding) the American left referred to themselves as "Progressives". The end of the 'progressive era' came with a wave of popular resentment following a train of political excesses beginning with T.R. and culminating in the Woodrow Wilson administration. The progressive label had become tarnished.
It was then necessary to embrace a new name behind which to conceal discredited political ideas. The left became the "liberal" party. With a risible irony, that name was co-opted from Enlightenment thinkers of the 19th Century most closely associated with today's American conservatives. (1)

When John Kennedy came to the presidency liberalism was poised to enjoy a period of popular support which was to endure until the early part of the Carter administration. With the election of Ronald Reagan the failed policies of the left, from Roosevelt-the-first -- but especially in the public mind -- from Hoover onward came into sharp focus. Liberalism had lost its luster. What to do?

Counting on a failed system of public education and a short public memory, the contemporary left has reverted to calling themselves "progressives" once again. Under whatever name, the left retains certain traits: elitism associated with a desire to control the lives and activities of others, a "religious faith" (unassailable by fact) in the possibility of attaining a Utopian state of human perfection and a failure to reconcile their actions (always motivated by good intentions) with maladaptive and destructive outcomes. Finally, they place blame for the world's ills -- falsely -- on the right wing. That hated straw-man is often a creature of leftist extremes.
To avoid being identified (publicly or in their own minds) with their soul-mates -- Bolsheviks, (especially) fascists and other virulent strains of socialism and anarchy -- they follow the lead of early soviet leaders to characterize them as right-wing. (2) In this, with the aid of the left in academe, media and entertainment, they were remarkably successful.

1 Adam Smith, John Locke and Montesquieu come to mind.
2 Frustrated that Germany and Italy had chosen national socialism over their own devoutly sought
world socialism, they characterized those countries as being on the right. Fascism in Italy, Germany -- and to some extent in the US -- was a structural methodology of national socialism.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Mass. Senate Race

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I don't ordinarily comment on political contests, but in this case I will. There is much hopey optimism among Republicans and some conservatives that Scott Brown will overcome his Democratic opponent, Martha Coakley. If it happens, we will have another big-government Republican in congress, and, on balance that is a moderately good thing.
At best, a Brown victory may be indicative of a trend toward shrinking the liberal majority. Still, given the shameless tolerance for corrupt liberalism chronically demonstrated by Massachusetts voters, I will be surprised if it comes to pass. A state that repeatedly elected a thoroughly feckless and corrupt* Edward Kennedy to office until, by reason of death he was no longer eligible, can scarcely be expected to exercise the judgment required to abandon a proud history of pernicious liberalism.

Surprise me, Massachusetts voters, with a new showdown at a rude bridge.

Coming to mind are the Mary Jo Kopechne affair, The "Big Dig" shakedown, government healthcare and the senator's affection for all things socialist.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Shovel-Ready Jobs (and other stupidities)

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Much is revealed about our adolescent ruling class by its use of language. Many of their phrases point to a grossly inflated sense of power and competence; the former may exist insofar as it is vested in government, but the latter is notably absent. They suggest the sense of omnipotence felt, perhaps, by a video-gamer able to conquer the hazards of his virtual environment with a joystick.

Shovel-ready This is a term that is remarkable for its elitism and its condescending view of work in America. It also betrays a third-person separation between the ruling and productive classes. We need shovel-ready jobs so they can return quickly to work.

Reset button Here we have a term that might be used by someone who is confident in his ability to restore the function of a balky electrical appliance. The notion that complex international relationships, freighted with years of mutual antagonisms can be turned around with a simple, mechanical gesture. Forget the past...

Bending the cost curve This, perhaps greatest, oversimplification conjures another simple, manual exercise capable of changing the economy.

Bottom-up economy A mantra of candidate Obama. What can it possibly mean...?

Pivot Obama looks to a hard pivot on Iran. A foreign policy danse macabre?

The educated classes Elitist self-caricature. Who, we may ask, are the persons not included in the educated classes? Certainly George Bush, Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh. By usage the meaning is clear enough; the speaker or writer is referring to classes not educated "like me". The candid translation is "anointed".

A recent, short article by David Brooks -- NYT's token pseudo-conservative -- has deservedly drawn considerable fire, mostly but not exclusively from the right. Brooks uses the phrase as a foil to the tea-party movement -- presumably ignorant, recalcitrant folks who disagree with the educated classes on matters such as global warming, abortion and gun control. But the writer earns high marks for one succinct and accurate observation (one, by implication, he laments):

The tea party movement is a large, fractious confederation of Americans who are defined by what they are against. They are against the concentrated power of the educated class. They believe big government, big business, big media and the affluent professionals are merging to form self-serving oligarchy — with bloated government, unsustainable deficits, high taxes and intrusive regulation.

What characterizes the users of this patrician language is elitism (of course), a sense of aloof separation from the (unwashed) non-elites*, an unalloyed belief in their own power and wisdom, and the presumption of their own moral superiority (they care). All the necessary elements of hubris.

As the "educated classes" may exclude the educated (in the normal sense), so do they include an alarming number who are not educated (again, in the conventional sense). Pop culture would seem to confirm this in the gagging smarminess of Ben Harper's lyrics to the song, With My Own Two Hands (a staple at PBS). They explain to us how the current president and his myrmidons will effect world peace, manage a changing climate and rebuild the world's economy; how they can change the world, make it a better place...

Noblesse oblige demands of the educated classes that "ordinary" people, being incompetent, must be led -- failing that, coerced. Tough love.

Parting comment
1994 (if not earlier) Charles Murray foresaw with some alarm the trend toward separation of elites from society at large . His phrase was "cognitive partitioning", which described the natural and circumstantial bonding of persons for reasons of a commonality of intelligence, education, career choices, income and neighborhood preferences. Murray drew a distinction between the polity at large and persons who were truly elite, that is, the best and brightest in their fields. I'm not sure he anticipated the artificial division between elites and elitists. Fides necessary to the latter being often superficial and closely associated with school status, wealth from any source, political affiliations, celebrity, and especially disdain for the common man. In short the best and brightest by self-acclimation.
--cf., The Bell Curve by C. Murray and R. J. Herrnstein

Cockroach Congress

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In his unfinished Metamorphosis, Kafka's protagonist, Gregor Samsa, awakens to find himself transformed into a vermin (cockroach). To Samsa's credit I would point out two things: he did not transform himself, and he had the wit and grace to despise what he had become.

Our congress, on the other hand, is a different matter. They have transformed themselves, and they regard their present incarnation as superior to their former status. About cockroaches Wikipedia tells us that "The insect[s] can travel quickly, often darting out of sight when someone enters a room..." Nocturnal creatures they scurry for cover of darkness when lights come on.

Figuratively sequestered in darkness our Democrat representatives conspire, behind locked doors and out of public view, to impose their will on a human polity that is clearly opposed to their schemes.

Rasmussen describes the general disconnect between congress and the public when he tells us that "Only 32% of voters are even somewhat confident that their representatives in Congress are actually representing their best interests. That figure includes just eight percent (8%) who are very confident of that fact.
" A sampling of specific issues polled is revealing: healthcare, drilling for oil and climate change legislation -- all opposed by the majority of voters -- are the very issues congress is determined to force on the public.

I conclude with apologies to natural-born cockroaches, God's creatures all. If any remain of the Archy sort*, I'm sure to get flaming comments and emails. I will know them by their use of lower case.

Probably forgotten or never known to most readers, the reference is to the Archy and Mehetabel series.

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