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  • Archive for the 'Big Government' Category

    Another Software Debacle

    Posted by David Foster on 10th November 2015 (All posts by )

    The project to computerize immigration documentation is not going well…after $1 billion in expenditures and and a new estimated total cost of $3.5 billion—the original estimate having been for half a billion.  (via Marginal Revolution)

    And, of course, we’re all aware of the problems with the Obamacare website and supporting back-end systems.

    Back in 2006, I wrote about the failure of the FAA/IBM project to develop the “Advanced Automation System” for air traffic control: The story of a software failure, based on the writing of Robert Britcher, who was involved in the project.

    The problems with the ATC project were to my mind somewhat more excusable than the ones with the current immigration project:  the “Advanced Automation System” was required to operate with extreme reliability and availability with stringent real-time response criteria, to interface with radar systems, and to support a complex and safety-critical user interface.  The immigration system sounds like basically a large database and workflow system.

    Posted in Big Government, Management, Tech | 18 Comments »

    Two Nations.

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 8th November 2015 (All posts by )

    two nations

    We have now become two nations, divisible, without liberty and justice for all.

    As usual, I read another good Belmont Club post.

    I get discouraged about the future when I see the stupidity of the youngest generation in college. The left is worried that Republicans hold most state offices. Why has this happened ?

    That dominance — and what it means to the policy and political calculations and prospects for both parties at the national level — is the single most overlooked and underappreciated story line of President Obama’s time in office. Since 2009, Republicans have made massive and unprecedented gains at the state level, gains that played a central role in, among other things, handing control of the U.S. House back to the GOP in the 2010 election.

    It’s just inexplicable. Why would the country that elected Barack Obama twice choose Republicans for those offices closest to their own lives ?

    While the story at the national level suggests a Republican Party that is growing increasingly white, old and out of step with the country on social issues, the narrative at the local level is very different. Republicans are prospering at the state level in ways that suggest that the party’s messaging is far from broken.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Big Government, Civil Society, Culture, Elections, Politics, Society | 6 Comments »

    Lewis vs Haldane (rerun)

    Posted by David Foster on 6th November 2015 (All posts by )

    (I cross-posted my 2014 review of C S Lewis’s novel That Hideous Strength over at Richochet, where a good comment thread has developed. Some of the comments reminded me of the extremely negative review of the book written by JBS Haldane in 1946, and Lewis’s response thereto.)

    Haldane was an eminent British scientist (population genetics) and a Marxist. C S Lewis was…well, you probably already know who C S Lewis was.

    Haldane’s critique was directed at the series of novels by Lewis known as the Ransom Trilogy, and particularly the last book of the series,  That Hideous Strength . Lewis responded in a letter which remained unpublished for many of years. All this may sound ancient and esoteric, but I believe the Lewis/Haldane controversy is very relevant to our current political and philosophical landscape.

    To briefly summarize That Hideous Strength: Mark, a young sociologist, is hired by a government agency called NICE–the National Institute for Coordinated Experimentation–having as its stated mission the application of science to social problems. (Unbelievably, today the real-life British agency which establishes rationing policies for healthcare is also called NICE.) In the novel, NICE turns out to be a conspiracy devoted to very diabolical purposes, as Mark gradually discovers. It also turns out that the main reason NICE wanted to hire Mark is to get control of his wife, Jane (maiden name: Tudor) who has clairvoyant powers. The NICE officials want to use Jane’s abilities to get in touch with the magician Merlin and to effect a junction between modern scientific power and the ancient powers of magic, thereby bringing about the enslavement of mankind and worse. Jane, though, becomes involved with a group which represents the polar opposite of NICE, led by a philology professor named Ransom, who is clearly intended as a Christ-figure. The conflict between NICE and the Ransom group will determine the future of humanity.

    A brilliantly written and thought-provoking book, which I highly recommend, even if, like me, you’re not generally a fan of fantasy novels.

    With context established, here are some of the highlights of the Lewis/Haldane controversy:

    1) Money and Power.

    In his article, Haldane attacks Lewis for the latter’s refusal to absolutely condemn usury, and celebrates the fact that “Mammon has been cleared off a sixth of our planet’s surface”…clearly referring to the Soviet Union. Here’s part of Lewis’s response:

    The difference between us is that the Professor sees the ‘World’ purely in terms of those threats and those allurements which depend on money. I do not. The most ‘worldly’ society I have ever lived in is that of schoolboys: most worldly in the cruelty and arrogance of the strong, the toadyism and mutual treachery of the weak, and the unqualified snobbery of both. Nothing was so base that most members of the school proletariat would not do it, or suffer it, to win the favour of the school aristocracy: hardly any injustice too bad for the aristocracy to practise. But the class system did not in the least depend on the amount of pocket money. Who needs to care about money if most of the things he wants will be offered by cringing servility and the remainder can be taken by force? This lesson has remained with me all my life. That is one of the reasons why I cannot share Professor Haldanes exaltation at the banishment of Mammon from ‘a sixth of our planet’s surface’. I have already lived in a world from which Mammon was banished: it was the most wicked and miserable I have yet known. If Mammon were the only devil, it would be another matter. But where Mammon vacates the throne, how if Moloch takes his
    place? As Aristotle said, ‘Men do not become tyrants in order to keep warm’. All men, of course, desire pleasure and safety. But all men also desire power and all men desire the mere sense of being ‘in the know’ or the ‘inner ring’, of not being ‘outsiders’: a passion insufficiently studied and the chief theme of my story. When the state of society is such that money is the passport to all these prizes, then of course money will be the prime temptation. But when the passport changes, the desires will remain.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Big Government, Britain, Christianity, Crime and Punishment, Deep Thoughts, History, Human Behavior, Law, Leftism, Philosophy, Political Philosophy, Religion, Society | 18 Comments »

    Reality Bites.

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 5th November 2015 (All posts by )


    The sobering reality of the 2015 election is slowly sinking in. How could this happen to a party “on the right side of history ?”

    Richard Fernandez, as usual, has some good ideas.

    Perhaps the greatest damage that “progressives” inflicted on civilization was to make people doubt the reality of the facts, when it is of the ends that we are uncertain. It may be that progress actually consists not of following the verities of the Party Line but in doing the best we can at every instant of our lives. Free men are content to endure the mystery of what happens when they do their best. Only the progressives must have a worthless guarantee of success for incompetence.

    The Progressives cheered a book about “false consciousness” by one Thomas Frank, called What’s the Matter with Kansas?

    The New York Times bestseller, praised as “hilariously funny . . . the only way to understand why so many Americans have decided to vote against their own economic and political interests” (Molly Ivins)

    Hailed as “dazzlingly insightful and wonderfully sardonic” (Chicago Tribune), “very funny and very painful” (San Francisco Chronicle), and “in a different league from most political books” (The New York Observer), What’s the Matter with Kansas? unravels the great political mystery of our day: Why do so many Americans vote against their economic and social interests? With his acclaimed wit and acuity, Thomas Frank answers the riddle by examining his home state, Kansas-a place once famous for its radicalism that now ranks among the nation’s most eager participants in the culture wars. Charting what he calls the “thirty-year backlash”-the popular revolt against a supposedly liberal establishment-Frank reveals how conservatism, once a marker of class privilege, became the creed of millions of ordinary Americans.

    The Wall Street Journal even gave him a column for a while but nobody read it. The reaction to the election in Houston at HuffPo is illustrative.

    A long list of local and national figures publicly came out in support of Prop. 1, including President Barack Obama and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. The measure also had the backing of companies like Apple and GE, as well as local businesses that wanted to avoid a backlash similar to what Indiana experienced when Gov. Mike Pence (R) signed an anti-gay “religious freedom” law earlier this year.

    But these heavy hitters weren’t able to get past the catchy, fear-mongering slogans and images used by their opponents.

    Yes, those stupid voters !

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Big Government, Book Notes, Conservatism, Current Events, Elections, Leftism, Politics | 11 Comments »

    More evidence that Obamacare is just expanded Medicaid.

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 2nd November 2015 (All posts by )

    I have been saying that Obama care is just Medicaid for all. As time goes by, here is more and more evidence that this is the case.

    The latest evidence is in The Wall Street Journal and behind a pay wall but I will quote some of it.

    But a new paper from the Heritage Foundation, however, suggests that nearly all of the increase came from adding nearly nine million people to the Medicaid rolls.

    In other words, ObamaCare expanded coverage in 2014 to the extent that it gave people free or nearly free insurance. That goal could have been accomplished without the Affordable Care Act. To justify its existence, ObamaCare must make affordable private insurance available to a broad cross-section of uninsured Americans who are ineligible for Medicaid.

    But with fewer people buying insurance through the exchanges, the economics aren’t holding up. Ten of the 23 innovative health-insurance plans known as co-ops—established with $2.4 billion in ObamaCare loans—will be out of business by the end of 2015 because of weak balance sheets.

    And while rates vary widely by state, the cost for private insurance through the exchanges is also increasing dramatically. An analysis by consulting firm Avalere Health released on Friday shows that some of the most popular insurance plans in the ObamaCare exchanges will experience double-digit premium hikes in 2016.

    My earlier objections to Obamacare were that it promises too much and pays too little.

    As it turns out, Medicaid patients can’t get appointments with physicians.

    “America has severe primary care physician shortages, and many physicians will not accept Medicaid patients because Medicaid pays so inadequately,” said Michael Gerardi, MD, FAAP, FACEP, president of the ACEP.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Big Government, Health Care, Medicine | 6 Comments »

    When Lobbyists Write Legislation, This Data Mining Tool Traces The Paper Trail

    Posted by Jonathan on 29th October 2015 (All posts by )

    This kind of analysis looks like a step in the right direction:

    According to the team’s analysis, seven states, including Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, and Kansas, all had similar laws on the books. Similar bills were being considered in states like Maryland and Oregon, and had already died in Florida and Minnesota. In total, very similar bills had been introduced 73 times around the country. The video below shows one of the earliest examples showed up in South Carolina in 2010.
    Like a plagiarism detector, the prototype can detect similar language in different bills. Yet unlike in a college class, this isn’t always a bad thing. “We avoided using the word plagiarism,” says Joe Walsh, an assistant professor at the University of Chicago and mentor to the Data Science for Social Good team. “If a bill can save lives, I would want that bill passed all 50 states.”

    (Via The Right Coast.)

    Posted in Big Government, Politics, Systems Analysis, Tea Party | 4 Comments »

    Does loco weed grow in Canada ?

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 20th October 2015 (All posts by )

    Canada had an election yesterday and elected Justin Trudeau, an experienced near clone of Obama.

    He has a flare for the dramatic, in speech and action, and once referred to himself in the third person. When he gets excited, his narrow shoulders jump up and down and his arms flail about. He won’t hesitate to take off his shirt or sport ridiculous facial hair for charitable causes. At times, he looks like a caricature of himself.

    That’s from Huffington Post !

    God help Canada !

    Justin Trudeau is often compared to Barack Obama, but, particularly in terms of both achievement and testosterone levels, Justin Trudeau makes Barack Obama look like Teddy Roosevelt.

    She is not very fond of the new Canadian PM.

    Justin Trudeau, whom I introduced to Taki readers last year as a flouncy-haired, forty-year-old Fauntleroy, “slender of body and of resume,” “living in the moral equivalent of his father’s basement.”

    Justin’s most notable accomplishment to date has been forcing Canada’s conservatives—for whom the former PM’s surname is a spittle-flecked swear word; as a child, I’d assumed the man’s first name was “That”—to pay the late Pierre pere backhanded compliments, à la “As least the boy’s father had a few accomplishments to his name at that age….”

    Well, at least Hillary will not have to defend her opposition to the XL Pipeline as Trudeau will probably shut down the oil shale mining in Alberta.

    The Wall Street Journal weighs in, so to speak.

    Every ruling party in a democracy eventually wears out its welcome, and on Monday Canadians tossed out the Conservative Party after nine years in power under Prime Minister Stephen Harper. They’re now taking a gamble that the winning Liberals, led by 43-year-old Justin Trudeau, won’t return to the anticompetitive economic policies of the past.

    Mr. Harper resigned as Conservative leader and said in a gracious concession speech that “the people are never wrong.” They’d clearly had enough of Mr. Harper, who governed sensibly but in his later years had grown increasingly insular and autocratic in stifling party debate. The Conservatives also suffered from the global commodity bust, which has sent Canada into a mild recession after years of outperforming most of the developed world.

    There are a few explanations but Trudeau ?

    The question now is what the Liberals will do after having campaigned on the gauzy agenda of “change” and what Mr. Trudeau calls “positive politics.” The son of the late former Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, Justin Trudeau is a former schoolteacher whose main selling point was that he is more likable than Mr. Harper.

    He’ll be helped by not having to form a coalition with the New Democrats, who would have pulled him to the economic left. Mr. Trudeau moderated his populism in the campaign, promising to keep Canada’s top federal corporate-tax rate of 15%, which is a major competitive advantage compared to America’s 35%. He also supports the Keystone XL pipeline that President Obama has blocked.

    That’s slightly reassuring but today is the day after.

    Mr. Trudeau’s most corrosive threat in the long term might be his pledge to reduce carbon emissions, which could reduce investment in Canada’s vast energy reserves.

    Well, it is an opportunity for a bit of Schadenfreude, at least for a year.

    Posted in Americas, Big Government | 25 Comments »


    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 17th October 2015 (All posts by )

    I remember when I first joined companies I assumed that the executives in charge knew what they were doing and wouldn’t do something ridiculously stupid. After a while I came to learn that this wasn’t the case.

    In Chicago recently an effort is underway to increase the use of bikes and create additional lanes for safety. At the same time they are attempting to create a bus corridor in the loop.

    The net result, sadly, is utter and complete gridlock. I have stopped taking the bus unless the weather is horrendous because many of the intersections between River North and the Loop are facing gridlock, where cars are in the intersection after the light changes and no one can move. This was already the case on Thursdays and Fridays after work as everyone moved to exit the city at one time.

    They are also building a lot of new high rises, particularly near the Merchandise Mart / Wolf Point. It is incredible that they are able to pack more high rises into that area because traffic is unbelievably bad at that location, already. There is a Brown Line stop nearby but that only is useful for those on that train line and most of the wealthy folks that live / work in that location will likely drive frequently.

    On the other hand, it is good for the “steps” that I track on my iPhone. Since taking a cab or even the bus is mostly pointless I am walking to work more often. When the weather gets terrible I will likely just sit on the bus and read my iPhone like everyone else while sitting motionless in traffic.

    Cross posted at LITGM

    Posted in Big Government, Chicagoania | 18 Comments »

    Donald Trump unbound.

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 17th October 2015 (All posts by )

    I have been watching the phenomenon of Donald Trump and wondering if it can continue or if he will implode. So far he seems to be riding the wave of disgust with professional politicians that has dominated the Republican Party this year.

    This post by Neo-neocon raises some questions.

    What does Trump really believe ?

    …Mark Levin excoriated Trump in this clip from 2011, but now doesn’t sing the same tune although the facts he sets out here have not changed in the least (it’s the topmost clip on the page, the one that’s 12:01 minutes long; I can’t figure out a way to embed it).

    You can hear lots of fascinating stuff there. Trump likes Nancy Pelosi (5:14). He wanted her to impeach George W. Bush (5:25), because he says Bush lied about WMDs. At 6:27 he speculates that it would be hard to even imagine a worse president than Bush. At 7:26 you hear Trump saying President Bush is evil. He then contrasts Obama (who at the time he was speaking had been elected but not inaugurated), saying that Obama has:

    “…a chance to go down as a great president…I think he’s going to lead through consensus. It’s not just going to be just a bull run like Bush did—he just did whatever the hell he wanted—go into a country and attack Iraq, which had nothing to do with the World Trade Center, and just do it because he wanted to do it.

    Is that our candidate ?

    Now, there are many ways to criticize George W. Bush. Some of them are even valid. But what Trump is saying here: that Bush lied about WMDs, that he’s evil, that it’s hard to imagine a worse president, and that he attacked Iraq “because he wanted to do it” is—well, it’s not only straight out of the leftist playbook, it borders on evil in and of itself. What’s more, Trump shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the reasons Bush actually did attack Iraq.

    We’ve been discussing this here in another post. Why would the Republican Party nominate a man who has said those things about the last Republican president ?

    Then there’s this one with Blitzer from the 2008 campaign. It contained the “impeach Bush” remark:

    BLITZER: [What do you think of] Nancy Pelosi, the speaker?

    TRUMP: Well, you know, when she first got in and was named speaker, I met her. And I’m very impressed by her. I think she’s a very impressive person. I like her a lot.

    But I was surprised that she didn’t do more in terms of Bush and going after Bush. It was almost — it just seemed like she was going to really look to impeach Bush and get him out of office, which, personally, I think would have been a wonderful thing.

    BLITZER: Impeaching him?

    TRUMP: Absolutely, for the war, for the war.

    BLITZER: Because of the conduct of the war.

    TRUMP: Well, he lied. He got us into the war with lies.

    Is that what we want ? I am very concerned about illegal immigration, as I have previously pointed out.

    I have been pessimistic about the future of the country for a while. Recently, I have been very pessimistic.

    One of the arguments for the impossibility of an event is lack of previous failure. “It never failed before and thus can never fail ever”. The Washington Post’s editorial board invokes a variant of this logic to refute Donald Trump’s border policy, arguing there are so many illegal immigrants it is too expensive to deport them all, leaving no alternative but to accept more.

    Naturally, the WaPo is certain they know what could happen.

    A useful case study is California, whose economy accounts for about 13 percent of U.S. gross domestic product and whose 2.6 million undocumented workers include almost a tenth of the state’s workforce.

    We had an interesting demonstration several years ago. The Mexican activist organizations decided to stage a “strike by illegals” to show how dependent on them California, and specifically Los Angeles, was on the work illegal aliens (although you can’t call them that). They decided to stay home for a day or two. Traffic congestion dropped to tolerable levels and we have been trying, unsuccessfully, to get them to stage another “strike” ever since. That, plus their use of Mexican flags at protests, have now been abandoned as tactics.

    I am all for controlling illegal immigration but is this what we want as our representative on the national stage ?

    Posted in Big Government, Civil Society, Current Events, Elections, Immigration, Politics, Trump | 75 Comments »

    The Most Important Story No One Is Talking About – Puerto Rican Debt

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 15th October 2015 (All posts by )

    Dan and I go back and forth on the relatively arcane topic of municipal debt. As we all know, the state of Illinois is awash in debt. The situation is so bad that:

    1. The State of Illinois is operating without a budget

    2. The city of Chicago is proposing a massive property tax increase

    3. Cook County just raised our sales tax (one of the highest rates in the country, already) and is proposing additional fees

    4. Chicago Public Schools face a major deficit and without some sort of massive state tax relief is likely going to face significant layoffs and a likely teachers strike

    5. Note that we are one of the few states and cities to be in such dire straits that we issue TAXABLE debt instead of MUNICIPAL debt which is generally exempt from Federal taxes and some state taxes. This is due to the fact that you generally cannot issue muni bonds to pay off operating expenses (like payroll and legal settlements)

    The long term most indebted players have been Detroit, Puerto Rico, and the State of Illinois / City of Chicago. We saw how the Detroit bankruptcy occurred, with bondholders generally taking it on the chin and unsecured pension holders in fact emerging in a relatively better situation.

    Now Puerto Rico is up to bat. They have massive, unpayable debts of many varieties (some secured by full faith and credit, some secured with revenues, some bank loans, etc…) and their governor basically said so out loud. All of this is inevitable as their island’s best talent has fled to the mainland USA and the remaining population is more and more reliant on government aid to survive. They also have failed to modernize their power infrastructure and / or build new industries outside of tourism which erodes their ability to compete against the mainland USA that in turn has much higher productivity.

    The real issue – long term – is whether or not the Federal government will back up the states. This is essentially the “long game” of the State of Illinois and the city of Chicago – waiting to see whether or not the Federal government is really going to stand by and let us go bankrupt or not. If the government is ultimately going to pick up our debts, it is “business as usual”, and the corruption, back-scratching, and non-competitive behavior can just continue indefinitely, with taxpayers across the nation picking up the debris rather than forcing the citizens of Illinois to clean up our act.

    Today Puerto Rico and the treasury announced that they are working to backstop the Puerto Rican debt with some sort of Federal umbrella per this article.

    Puerto Rico and U.S. officials are discussing the issuance of a “superbond” administered by the U.S. Treasury Department that would help restructure the commonwealth’s $72 billion of debt, people familiar with the plan said.

    And what a great name! A “superbond” means that all the US citizens will pick up the “super” obligations of our corrupt, crony-laden, inefficient city and state. That’s super!

    This is the path out for Illinois and the city of Chicago. Play brinksmanship with Federal government and receive a backstop. Puerto Rico leads the way!

    Cross posted at LITGM

    Posted in Big Government, Chicagoania, Economics & Finance, Politics, Public Finance, Taxes | 15 Comments »


    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 10th October 2015 (All posts by )

    A society as huge and complex as the United States can run economically only on the basis of acceptance and trust. This has been true for so long it is no longer noticed, like the air. People accept the rules and generally follow them whether or not there is a policeman in attendance. …. All over the the land people go about their business secure that arrangements will be honored and carried out. A high-trust society is a low-cost society.

    Wretchard, at the Belmont Club

    Of all that has changed over the last decade in the general culture of the United States, I wonder if a widespread loss of trust in the political, media, intellectual and bureaucratic establishments is the most quietly catastrophic of all the damage done to our society of late. It is axiomatic that once trust in an individual, a friend or a spouse is lost, it can almost never be regained; one of those things which is easily, almost casually done, never to be completely repaired. I suspect that we will discover over the next few decades that the thinking and observing portion of our society will never regain that unthinking trust in our institutions, now that we have seen them become weaponized in open and politically partisan ways. We have observed the national news media become politically partisan, more intent on hiding matters of significance than informing the public about them. What doesn’t appear above the fold, so to speak, or even in the back pages is sometimes more revealing. And the hate for ordinary American citizens in flyover country, frequently expressed by those residents of the wealthy bicoastal enclaves has been mind-boggling. There are personalities who have been so casually offensive in this regard that I have made it a point to avoid patronizing with my pocketbook anything that they have had anything to do with. I suspect that I am not alone in this – it’s another element of that ‘cold anger’ that I wrote about some days ago. How has it come to be that the so-called ruling elite of a nation now appear to hold their fellow-citizens in such deep contempt? (This contempt has begun to be returned with interest of late, although the ruling elites are predictably mystified by such quiet demonstrations as in the Chick-Fil-A appreciation day, the failure of certain lavishly promoted moves and TV shows, and heavily attended Tea Party rallies of a few years ago.)

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Americas, Anti-Americanism, Big Government, Civil Society, Conservatism, Crony Capitalism, Deep Thoughts, Entrepreneurship, Obama | 18 Comments »

    The Doctor Shortage Update.

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 5th October 2015 (All posts by )

    There is an interesting piece today in the Daily Mail about young NHS GPs quitting and going to Australia.

    In the past five years, the number of GP appointments made by Britons has risen from 300 million to 370 million a year, an increase of more than 20 per cent.
    The number of GPs employed to meet that demand has risen by around 1,600, or just over five per cent.
    All of which has led to the second major factor behind their exodus — in the UK, they often feel terribly overworked; after moving they find themselves having to spend far less time at the coalface.
    ‘More and more British GPs talk about the pressure they’re under,’ says Guy Hazel. ‘I’m not sure the general public understand how mentally draining it is to see 35 to 40 patients a day. All the British GPs I know are exhausted.’
    An Australian GP, by contrast, will see 20-25 patients per day.

    This concerns the young, newly trained doctors. I posted some concerns about the issue of primary care in the US.

    Primary care here is referred to as “General Practice” in Britain and they seem to be having a loss at both ends of the doctor career.

    Britain is already suffering from a serious, and unprecedented, shortage of GPs, on a scale that doctors’ leaders say is fast becoming a crisis.

    According to figures released last week, a staggering 10.2 per cent of full-time GP positions across the UK are currently vacant, a figure that has quadrupled in the past three years.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Big Government, Britain, Health Care, Medicine | 9 Comments »

    Book Review: Rockets and People, by Boris E Chertok

    Posted by David Foster on 4th October 2015 (All posts by )

    (Today marks the 58th anniversary of the Sputnik launch, making it an appropriate time to rerun this review, which I originally posted in February of this year)

    Rockets and People, by Boris E Chertok

    Boris Chertok’s career in the Russian aerospace industry spanned many decades, encompassing both space exploration and military missile programs. His four-volume memoir is an unusual document–partly, it reads like a high school annual or inside company history edited by someone who wants to be sure no one feels left out and that all the events and tragedies and inside jokes are appropriately recorded. Partly, it is a technological history of rocket development, and partly, it is a study in the practicalities of managing large programs in environments of technical uncertainty and extreme time pressure. Readers should include those interested in: management theory and practice, Russian/Soviet history, life under totalitarianism, the Cold War period, and missile/space technology. Because of the great length of these memoirs, those who read the whole thing will probably be those who are interested in all (or at least most) of the above subject areas. I found the series quite readable; overly-detailed in many places, but always interesting. In his review American astronaut Thomas Stafford said “The Russians are great storytellers, and many of the tales about their space program are riveting. But Boris Chertok is one of the greatest storytellers of them all.”  In this series, Chertok really does suck you into his world.

    Chertok was born in Lodz, Poland, in 1912: his mother had been forced to flee Russia because of her revolutionary (Menshevik) sympathies. The family returned to Russia on the outbreak of the First World War, and some of Chertok’s earliest memories were of the streets filled with red-flag-waving demonstrators in 1917. He grew up on the Moscow River, in what was then a quasi-rural area, and had a pretty good childhood–“we, of course, played “Reds and Whites,” rather than “Cowboys and Indians””–swimming and rowing in the river and developing an early interest in radio and aviation–both an airfield and a wireless station were located nearby. He also enjoyed reading–“The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn met with the greatest success, while Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin gave rise to aggressive moods–‘Hey–after the revolution in Europe, we’ll deal with the American slaveholders!” His cousin introduced him to science fiction, and he was especially fond of Aelita (book and silent film), featuring the eponymous Martian beauty.

    Chertok remembers his school years fondly–there were field trips to study art history and architectural styles, plus a military program with firing of both rifles and machine guns–but notes “We studied neither Russian nor world history….Instead we had two years of social science, during which we studied the history of Communist ideas…Our clever social sciences teacher conducted lessons so that, along with the history of the French Revolution and the Paris Commune, we became familiar with the history of the European peoples from Ancient Rome to World War I, and while studying the Decembrist movement and 1905 Revolution in detail we were forced to investigate the history of Russia.” Chertok purused his growing interest in electronics, developing a new radio-receiver circuit which earned him a journal publication and an inventor’s certificate. There was also time for skating and dating–“In those strict, puritanical times it was considered inappropriate for a young man of fourteen or fifteen to walk arm in arm with a young woman. But while skating, you could put your arm around a girl’s waist, whirl around with her on the ice to the point of utter exhaustion, and then accompany her home without the least fear of reproach.”

    Chertok wanted to attend university, but “entrance exams were not the only barrier to admission.” There was a quota system, based on social class, and  “according to the ‘social lineage’ chart, I was the son of a white collar worker and had virtually no hope of being accepted the first time around.” He applied anyhow, hoping that his journal publication and inventor’s certificate in electronics would get him in.” It didn’t–he was told, “Work about three years and come back. We’ll accept you as a worker, but not as the son of a white-collar worker.”

    So Chertok took a job as electrician in a brick factory…not much fun, but he was soon able to transfer to an aircraft factory across the river. He made such a good impression that he was asked to take a Komsomol leadership position, which gave him an opportunity to learn a great deal about manufacturing. The plant environment was a combination of genuinely enlightened management–worker involvement in process improvement, financial decentralization–colliding with rigid policies and political interference. There were problems with absenteeism caused by new workers straight off the farm; these led to a government edict: anyone late to work by 20 minutes or more was to be fired, and very likely prosecuted. There was a young worker named Igor who had real inventive talent; he proposed an improved linkage for engine and propeller control systems, which worked out well. But when Igor overslept (the morning after he got married), no exception could be made. He was fired, and “we lost a man who really had a divine spark.”  Zero tolerance!

    Chertok himself wound up in trouble when he was denounced to the Party for having concealed the truth about his parents–that his father was a bookkeeper in a private enterprise and his mother was a Menshevik. He was expelled from the Komsomol and demoted to a lower-level position.  Later in his career, he would also wind up in difficulties because of his Jewish heritage.

    The memoir includes dozens of memorable characters, including:

    *Lidiya Petrovna Kozlovskaya, a bandit queen turned factory supervisor who became Chertok’s superior after his first demotion.

    *Yakov Alksnis, commander of the Red Air Force–a strong leader who foresaw the danger of a surprise attack wiping out the planes on the ground. He was not to survive the Stalin era.

    *Olga Mitkevich, sent by the regime to become “Central Committee Party organizer” at the factory where Chertok was working…did not make a good first impression (“had the aura of a strict school matron–the terror of girls’ preparatory schools”)..but actually proved to be very helpful to getting work done and later became director of what was then the largest aircraft factory in Europe, which job she performed well. She apparently had too much integrity for the times, and her letters to Stalin on behalf of people unjustly accused resulted in her own arrest and execution.

    *Frau Groettrup, wife of a German rocket scientist, one of the many the Russians took in custody after occupying their sector of Germany. Her demands on the victors were rather unbelievable, what’s more unbelievable is that the Russians actually yielded to most of them.

    *Dmitry Ustinov, a rising star in the Soviet hierarchy–according to Chertok an excellent and visionary executive who had much to do with Soviet successes in missiles and space. (Much later, he would become Defense Minister, in which role he was a strong proponent of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.)

    *Valeriya Golubtsova, wife of the powerful Politburo member Georgiy Malenkov, who was Stalin’s immediate successor. Chertok knew her from school–she was an engineer who became an important government executive–and the connection turned out to be very useful. Chertok respected her professional skills, liked her very much, and devotes several pages to her.

    *Yuri Gagarin, first man to fly in space, and Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman.

    *Overshadowing all the other characters is Sergei Korolev, now considered to be the father of the Soviet space program although anonymous during his lifetime.  Korolev spent 6 years in labor camps, having been arrested when his early rocket experiments didn’t pan out; he was released in 1944.  A good leader, in Chertok’s view, though with a bad temper and given to making threats that he never actually carried out.  His imprisonment must have left deep scars–writing about a field trip to a submarine to observe the firing of a ballistic missile, Chertok says that the celebration dinner with the sub’s officers was the only time he ever saw Korolev really happy.

    Chertok’s memoir encompasses the pre-WWII development of the Soviet aircraft industry…early experiments with a rocket-powered interceptor…the evacuation of factories from the Moscow area in the face of the German invasion…a post-war mission to Germany to acquire as much German rocket technology as possible…the development of a Soviet ballistic missile capability…Sputnik…reconnaissance and communications satellites…the Cuban missile crisis…and the race to the moon.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Aviation, Big Government, Biography, Book Notes, Leftism, Management, Military Affairs, Russia, Society, Space, Tech, Transportation | 7 Comments »

    Is Obama Our Punishment?

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 3rd October 2015 (All posts by )

    Obama was an unusual candidate for president in 2008. I had serious questions in 2008.

    One criticism of Obama is that his portfolio is mighty thin. He has no record. Well, he actually does and and here it is. Pretty interesting.

    It’s a lengthy record filled with core liberal issues. But what’s interesting, and almost never discussed, is that he built his entire legislative record in Illinois in a single year.

    Why was that ? In 2002, the Democrats took over the Illinois legislature, not because of Bush as the reporter says, but because the Republican governor got caught selling drivers’ licenses to truckers with bad driving records. A disastrous truck accident splashed the whole story across the newspapers and the Democrats took over in the next election.

    The white, race-baiting, hard-right Republican Illinois Senate Majority Leader James “Pate” Philip was replaced by Emil Jones Jr., a gravel-voiced, dark-skinned African-American known for chain-smoking cigarettes on the Senate floor.

    Jones had served in the Illinois Legislature for three decades. He represented a district on the Chicago South Side not far from Obama’s. He became Obama’s ­kingmaker.

    Several months before Obama announced his U.S. Senate bid, Jones called his old friend Cliff Kelley, a former Chicago alderman who now hosts the city’s most popular black call-in radio ­program.

    I called Kelley last week and he recollected the private conversation as follows:

    “He said, ‘Cliff, I’m gonna make me a U.S. Senator.’”

    “Oh, you are? Who might that be?”

    “Barack Obama.”

    Obama ended up in the US Senate because the GOP Senator, Peter Fitzgerald, did not run for re-election. Why ?

    While State Senator he was a member of a group of conservative state senators elected in 1992 who often challenged the leadership of the Illinois Republican Party and were dubbed the “Fab Five”, the group also included, Steve Rauschenberger, Dave Syverson, Patrick O’Malley and Chris Lauzen.

    After a hard-fought primary victory against Illinois Comptroller Loleta Didrickson, in which the latter had the support of most national and state-level Republican leaders, Fitzgerald defeated first-term Democratic incumbent U.S. Senator Carol Moseley Braun in 1998, and served for one term in the U.S. Senate. He was the first Republican in Illinois to win a U.S. Senate race in 20 years, and the only Republican challenger in the country to defeat an incumbent Democratic senator in the 1998 election cycle. Although Moseley Braun was dogged by negative publicity of corruption charges, Fitzgerald defeated her by only 2.9%.

    Fitzgerald is a staunch conservative on such issues as opposition to abortion (except to save the life of the mother), gun control, gay marriage and taxes, but on some issues, particularly environmental issues — he opposed drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge throughout his tenure in the US Senate — he broke with conservative colleagues. He was one of only a handful of GOP Senators to support the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform legislation.

    He was a “maverick” and was not supported by “the Illinois Combine,” a term coined by columnist John Kass to describe the bipartisan corruption in Illinois politics that has brought the state to bankruptcy.

    I called former U.S. Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, the Republican maverick from Illinois who tried to fight political corruption and paid for it. For this sin, he was driven out of Illinois politics by political bosses, by their spinners and media mouthpieces, who ridiculed him mercilessly.

    Senator, what do you call that connection that Stuart Levine describes from the witness stand, you know that arrangement across party lines, with politically powerful men leveraging government to make money — what do you call it?

    “What do you call that Illinois political class that’s not committed to any party, they simply want to make money off the taxpayers?” Fitzgerald said. “You know what to call them.”


    “The Illinois Combine,” Fitzgerald said. “The bipartisan Illinois political combine. And all these guys being mentioned, they’re part of it.”

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Big Government, Elections, Illinois Politics, Islam, Leftism, Middle East | 80 Comments »

    Book Review: Menace in Europe, by Claire Berlinski (rerun)

    Posted by David Foster on 20th September 2015 (All posts by )

    (Originally posted in August 2014.  I think the current situation in Europe makes it appropriate for a rerun)

    Menace in Europe: Why the Continent’s Crisis Is America’s, Too by Claire Berlinski


    I read this book shortly after it came out in 1996, and just re-read it in the light of the  anti-Semitic ranting and violence which is now ranging across Europe.  It is an important book, deserving of a wide readership.

    The author’s preferred title was “Blackmailed by History,” but the publisher insisted on “Menace.”  Whatever the title, the book is informative, thought-provoking, and disturbing.  Berlinski is good at melding philosophical thinking with direct observation.  She holds a doctorate in international relations from Oxford, and has lived and worked in Britain, France, and Turkey, among other countries.  (Dr Berlinski, may I call you Claire?)

    The book’s dark tour of Europe begins in the Netherlands, where the murder of film director Theo van Gogh by a radical Muslim upset at the content of a film was quickly followed by the cancellation of that movie’s planned appearance at a film festival–and where an artist’s street mural with the legend “Thou Shalt Not Kill” was destroyed by order of the mayor of Rotterdam, eager to avoid giving offense to Muslims. (“Self-Extinguishing Tolerance” is the title of the chapter on Holland.)  Claire moves on to Britain and analyzes the reasons why Muslim immigrants there have much higher unemployment and lower levels of assimilation than do Muslim immigrants to the US, and also discusses the unhinged levels of anti-Americanism that she finds among British elites.  (Novelist Margaret Drabble: “My anti-Americanism has become almost uncontrollable.  It has possessed me, like a disease.  It rises up in my throat like acid reflux…”)  While there has always been a certain amount of anti-Americanism in Britain, the author  notes that “traditionally, Britain’s anti-American elites have been vocal, but they have generally been marginalized as chattering donkeys” but that now, with 1.6 million Muslim immigrants in Britain (more worshippers at mosques than at the Church of England), the impact of these anti-Americans can be greatly amplified.  (Today, there are apparently more British Muslims fighting for ISIS than serving in the British armed forces.)

    One of the book’s most interesting chapters is centered around the French farmer and anti-globalization leader Jose Bove, whose philosophy Berlinski summarizes as “crop worship”….”European men and women still confront the same existential questions, the same suffering as everyone who has ever been born. They are suspicious now of the Church and of grand political ideologies, but they nonetheless yearn for the transcendent.  And so they worship other things–crops, for example, which certain Europeans, like certain tribal animists, have come to regard with superstitious awe.”

    The title of this chapter is “Black-Market Religion: The Nine Lives of Jose Bove,”  and Berlinski sees the current Jose Bove as merely one in a long line of historical figures who hawked similar ideologies.  They range from a man of unknown name born in Bourges circa AD 560, to Talchem of Antwerp in 1112, through Hans the Piper of Niklashausen in the late 1400s, and on to the “dreamy, gentle, and lunatic Cathars” of Languedoc and finally to Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Berlinski sees all these people as being basically Christian heretics, with multiple factors in common.  They tend appeal to those whose status or economic position is threatened, and to link the economic anxieties of their followers with spiritual ones.  Quite a few of them have been hermits at some stage in their lives.  Most of them have been strongly anti-Semitic. And many of the “Boves”  have been concerned deeply with purity…Bove coined the neologism malbouffe, which according to Google Translate means “junk food,” but Berlinski says that translation “does not capture the full horror of bad bouffe, with its intimation of contamination, pollution, poison.”  She observes that “the passionate terror of malbouffe–well founded or not–is also no accident; it recalls the fanatic religious and ritualistic search for purity of the Middle Ages, ethnic purity included.  The fear of poisoning was widespread among the millenarians…”  (See also this interesting piece on environmentalist ritualism as a means of coping with anxiety and perceived disorder.)

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Anti-Americanism, Big Government, Book Notes, Britain, Christianity, Civil Society, Deep Thoughts, Europe, Film, France, Germany, History, Immigration, Islam, Judaism, Leftism, Religion | 5 Comments »

    America is in Play

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 28th August 2015 (All posts by )


    UPDATE: Tom Perkins has now published the defense of Carly Fiorina that she needed. He had to do it as a full page ad since they would not accept a response. This is the answer and puts her in place to catch the debris if Trump blows up.

    “Not only did she save the company from the dire straits it was in, she laid the foundation for HP’s future growth,” reads the ad, which is signed by Tom Perkins, a member of the HP board during much of Fiorina’s tenure and the founder of California venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers. “I have no question that Carly is a transformational leader who uniquely has both vision and the expertise to implement it.”

    Peggy Noonan has a column today that has lots of people talking.

    I have been pessimistic about the future of the country for a while. Recently, I have been very pessimistic.

    One of the arguments for the impossibility of an event is lack of previous failure. “It never failed before and thus can never fail ever”. The Washington Post’s editorial board invokes a variant of this logic to refute Donald Trump’s border policy, arguing there are so many illegal immigrants it is too expensive to deport them all, leaving no alternative but to accept more.

    Naturally, the WaPo is certain they know what could happen.

    A useful case study is California, whose economy accounts for about 13 percent of U.S. gross domestic product and whose 2.6 million undocumented workers include almost a tenth of the state’s workforce.

    Well, guess what ? Peggy is talking to Hispanics.

    Something is going on, some tectonic plates are moving in interesting ways. My friend Cesar works the deli counter at my neighborhood grocery store. He is Dominican, an immigrant, early 50s, and listens most mornings to a local Hispanic radio station, La Mega, on 97.9 FM. Their morning show is the popular “El Vacilón de la Mañana,” and after the first GOP debate, Cesar told me, they opened the lines to call-ins, asking listeners (mostly Puerto Rican, Dominican, Mexican) for their impressions. More than half called in to say they were for Mr. Trump. Their praise, Cesar told me a few weeks ago, dumbfounded the hosts. I later spoke to one of them, who identified himself as D.J. New Era. He backed Cesar’s story. “We were very surprised,” at the Trump support, he said. Why? “It’s a Latin-based market!”

    What is going on ?

    On the subject of elites, I spoke to Scott Miller, co-founder of the Sawyer Miller political-consulting firm, who is now a corporate consultant. He worked on the Ross Perot campaign in 1992 and knows something about outside challenges. He views the key political fact of our time as this: “Over 80% of the American people, across the board, believe an elite group of political incumbents, plus big business, big media, big banks, big unions and big special interests—the whole Washington political class—have rigged the system for the wealthy and connected.” It is “a remarkable moment,” he said. More than half of the American people believe “something has changed, our democracy is not like it used to be, people feel they no longer have a voice.”

    I could not agree more. I keep recommending Angelo Codevilla’s essay in American Spectator. I even saved it on this blog because Spectator dropped it for a while. Now it seems to have become such a topic of conversation that it is back on their web site.

    I have even been saying that we need a revolution, and maybe it is coming.

    “It is accepted that primary schools have increasing numbers of pupils, which causes all manner of problems, but what is frequently not referred to is why we have such a boom in numbers.

    “And the answer is unlimited immigration into this country. It hits some areas harder than others but there cannot be many primary schools in the country which have not been affected at all,” said Mr Nuttall, UKIP Education spokesman.

    Wow ! That is Britain ! I will be in Britain in little more than a week and it will be interesting to have this conversation with my friends, a retired British Army physician and his wife. We will go to Belgium while avoiding the Chunnel to avoid rioting at Calais as “migrants” try to invade Britain though the Chunnel in search of the Dole.


    This might even be the start of the West trying to save itself from the predicted Suicide.

    In 1964, as today, it is very easy to see how a thinking person might see the intellectual drift to the left as a move toward societal suicide. For liberalism is a cry for the supremacy of general good intentions over the practical application of common sense. Burnham said that liberals are often driven by “profound non-rational, often anti-rational sentiments and impulses.” Ideas like the welfare state and leniency on criminals to facilitate rehabilitation may have sounded good coming out of the mouth of a liberal, but they were disastrous in practice.

    Burnham’s book, “Suicide of the West”, was in effect a warning that leftward drift would ultimately destroy all affluence and freedom in the world. Fortunately, many of the readers of his book heeded Burnham’s cry and helped stem the leftward movement of policy and ideas in America.

    Is it ending ?

    Posted in Big Government, Britain, Civil Society, Current Events, Elections, Immigration, Leftism, Politics, USA | 16 Comments »

    Here We Go !

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 24th August 2015 (All posts by )


    I have been pessimistic for several years. That may be just my own psychological makeup but I am not the only one.

    California is getting a bit agitated about what is happening in China.

    Gyrations in the stock market have taken California’s fragile finances for a ride before — when the dot-com bubble burst, when the Wall Street crash sank the national economy less than a decade ago.

    So when the market continued its dive Monday, state officials began glancing around for their seat belts.

    More than most states, California depends heavily on taxes from the wealthy, pulling about half of its income tax revenue from just 1% of residents in recent years.

    California is a top down society because it depends on income tax. Texas doesn’t and its state government is funded by sales tax, which everyone pays, even illegals.

    The Obama Administration has been playing a Ponzi Scheme for years.

    A Ponzi scheme is a fraudulent investment operation where the operator, an individual or organization, pays returns to its investors from new capital paid to the operators by new investors, rather than from profit earned by the operator.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Big Government, Book Notes, Civil Society, Conservatism, Crony Capitalism, Current Events, Economics & Finance, Leftism, Politics | 5 Comments »

    How Systems Get Tired

    Posted by David Foster on 22nd August 2015 (All posts by )

    This great post by Richard Fernandez  reminded me of a quote from George Eliot:

    The sense of security more frequently springs from habit than from conviction, and for this reason it often subsists after such a change in the conditions as might have been expected to suggest alarm. The lapse of time during which a given event has not happened is, in this logic of habit, constantly alleged as a reason why the event should never happen, even when the lapse of time is precisely the added condition which makes the event imminent.

    (from Silas Marner)

    Posted in Big Government, Deep Thoughts, Economics & Finance, Political Philosophy, Tech | 20 Comments »

    Markets vs Bureaucracies

    Posted by David Foster on 17th August 2015 (All posts by )

    Glenn Reynolds has an article in USA Today:  free markets automatically create and transmit negative information, while socialism hides it.  Excerpt:

    It is simple really: When the “Great Leader” builds a new stadium, everyone sees the construction. Nobody sees the more worthwhile projects that didn’t get done instead because the capital was diverted, through taxation, from less visible but possibly more worthwhile ventures — a thousand tailor shops, bakeries or physician offices.

     At the same time, markets deliver the bad news whether you want to hear it or not, but delivering the bad news is not a sign of failure, it is a characteristic of systems that work. When you stub your toe, the neurons in between your foot and your head don’t try to figure out ways not to send the news to your brain. If they did, you’d trip a lot more often. Likewise, in a market, bad decisions show up pretty rapidly: Build a car that nobody wants, and you’re stuck with a bunch of expensive unsold cars; invest in new technologies that don’t work, and you lose a lot of money and have nothing to show for it. These painful consequences mean that people are pretty careful in their investments, at least so long as they’re investing their own money.  Bureaucrats in government do  the opposite, trying to keep their bosses from discovering their mistakes.

    Indeed, this is an important point, and one that is too rarely understood.  Rose Wilder Lane, the author and political thinker, offered the example of British versus French and Spanish approaches to colonial management:

    The Governments gave them (in the case of the French and Spanish colonies–ed) carefully detailed instructions for clearing and fencing the land, caring for the fence and the gate, and plowing and planting, cultivating, harvesting, and dividing the crops…The English Kings were never so efficient. They gave the land to traders. A few gentlemen, who had political pull enough to get a grant, organized a trading company; their agents collected a ship-load or two of settlers and made an agreement with them which was usually broken on both sides…To the scandalized French, the people in the English colonies seemed like undisciplined children, wild, rude, wretched subjects of bad rulers.

    Yet the English colonies, economically-speaking, were generally much more successful.

    RWL also explained the way in which central planning demands the categorization of people:

    Nobody can plan the actions of even a thousand living persons, separately. Anyone attempting to control millions must divide them into classes, and make a plan applying to these classes. But these classes do not exist. No two persons are alike. No two are in the same circumstances; no two have the same abilities; beyond getting the barest necessities of life, no two have the same desires.Therefore the men who try to enforce, in real life, a planned economy that is their theory, come up against the infinite diversity of human beings. The most slavish multitude of men that was ever called “demos” or “labor” or “capital” or”agriculture” or “the masses,” actually are men; they are not sheep. Naturally, by their human nature, they escape in all directions from regulations applying to non-existent classes. It is necessary to increase the number of men who supervise their actions. Then (for officials are human, too) it is necessary that more men supervise the supervisors.

    And the planner will always demand more power:

    If he wants to do good (as he sees good) to the citizens, he needs more power. If he wants to be re-elected, he needs more power to use for his party. If he wants money, he needs more power; he can always sell it to some eager buyer. If he wants publicity, flattery, more self-importance, he needs more power, to satisfy clamoring reformers who can give him flattering publicity.

    Read  Glenn’s whole article, and  my post about Rose Wilder Lane’s ideas and writing

    Posted in Big Government, Britain, Economics & Finance, France, Leftism, Political Philosophy, USA | 4 Comments »

    Number Gut, Continued

    Posted by Dan from Madison on 11th August 2015 (All posts by )

    Years ago, Shannon Love did a series of posts on these pages about “number gut”. From this post:

    A number gut is an intuitive feel for the possible magnitude of a particular number that describes a particular phenomenon. A good number gut tells you if the results of some calculation are at least in the ball park.

    My number gut (or b.s. detector, in this case) went off today when I saw this story. Here is the money:

    Chicago Public Schools officials on Monday proposed a $5.7 billion operating budget for the upcoming school year…

    Holy crap that is a lot of money. There are 396,000 students in the CPS. $5.7bb / 396k = $15,447 per student. Really.

    From this article from 2014 about the most expensive private schools in Illinois, it looks like all of the students could go to Loyola Academy, and can almost all go to St. Ignatius College Prep for that kind of money.

    Just sayin’.

    Posted in Academia, Big Government, Chicagoania, Education | 15 Comments »

    Who Is Buying That Crap?

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 9th August 2015 (All posts by )

    Dan and I follow municipal bonds, which is a bit more exciting than it sounds. The State of Illinois, the City of Chicago, Cook County, and many other entities in which I am a semi-unwitting participant will likely soon be on the front pages of newspapers as it sinks in that we can never repay these debts.

    Back in late 2008, during the height of that financial crisis, the State of Illinois issued debt. In this post I basically asked the question “Who is buying this crap?” and the answer was JP Morgan, showing its solidarity (in a way) with the state of Illinois by buying the ENTIRE issue.

    Puerto Rico is the new problem child of debt failure, and as Dan calls it, a “gapers block” over the entire municipal debt market. There were a lot of good reasons to buy Puerto Rico municipal bonds for many years – it was tax exempt, it had high yields, some of it was insured and / or tied to revenue streams like power or water, and historically there had been few or no failures of large-scale municipal bond issuers. It was great to own this debt and collect the high interest rates, as long as you watched it and got out before it collapsed. In a way this is “momentum investing” of sorts – get in and enjoy the ride up, but make sure you clear the exit before everyone else runs out of the movie theater screaming “fire”.

    But the question in the back of my mind was always “Who is buying that crap”. Not sophisticated investors who knew how to ride the wave up and get out before it collapsed, but people who honestly believed that a set of statements by politicians and / or laws as they were currently constructed would magically allow a tiny and impoverished island to pay inordinate debts while their economy imploded around them.

    A recent NY Times article titled “Pain of Puerto Rico’s Debt Crisis Is Weighing on the Little Guy, Too” provided a timely answer to my question.

    To Lev Steinberg, it seemed like a good place to park his nest egg. Puerto Rico bonds offered high returns and tax-free income. And there was little chance, his broker assured him, that the government would default on its debt. So Mr. Steinberg went all in, investing more than 85 percent of his retirement savings in funds with large concentrations of Puerto Rico bonds.“They told me this was safe,” said Mr. Steinberg, a 64-year-old mathematics professor at the University of Puerto Rico, “that the legal protections to repay the bonds were strong.”

    The NY Times article describes how local brokers and banks created products that leveraged up these bonds with borrowed money and then they were sold to Puerto Rico citizens (they were illegal on the mainland). The article said that 20% of Puerto Rican debt is owed to local citizens, and they bought many of the most “toxic” issuances (those with the least protections, like pension obligation bonds).

    Thank you, NY Times, for helping to answer the timeless question “who is buying that crap”. The answer is gullible citizens, who believed in their government’s promises, and also thought that years and years of high returns could be manufactured endlessly out of thin air without corresponding risk.

    Cross posted at LITGM

    Posted in Big Government, Business, Economics & Finance | 15 Comments »

    Elite Failure and Populist Trump It

    Posted by Zenpundit on 5th August 2015 (All posts by )

    Cross-posted at


    GOP Front Runner, Donald J. Trump (Image: Michael Vadon)

    A friend sent an essay by the prolific IR scholar, Professor Angelo Codevilla that had been posted at Powerline Blog.  It was good.

    For the unfamiliar, Codevilla often writes on national security and intelligence matters and some readers may be familiar with his (with Paul Seabury) book,  War: Ends and Means; but in recent years Codevilla has, like Walter Russell Mead and a number of other intellectuals, turned his attention to the shoddy performance, ethical deficiencies and arrogant demands of the new American “ruling class”, writing a biting critique of their “meritocratic regime”.

    In his essay for Powerline, Codevilla turns his attention to the political phenomenon of the improbable GOP presidential front runner, billionaire and reality TV star, Donald Trump.  Unsurprisingly, Dr. Codevilla is not a huge fan of the bombastic Mr. Trump, but his analysis of why Trump has captured the moment so easily has some astute insights about the decaying state of our political system and the seething anger of the electorate:

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Big Government, Book Notes, Civil Liberties, Crony Capitalism, Current Events, Elections, Leftism, Media, National Security, Politics, Society, Tea Party, The Press, USA | 15 Comments »

    Our Disastrous Energy Policy, Continued

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 2nd August 2015 (All posts by )

    New Clean Air Act regulations have recently been proposed by the EPA.

    President Obama will unveil on Monday a set of environmental regulations devised to sharply cut planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions from the nation’s power plants and ultimately transform America’s electricity industry. The rules are the final, tougher versions of proposed regulations that the Environmental Protection Agency announced in 2012 and 2014. If they withstand the expected legal challenges, the regulations will set in motion sweeping policy changes that could shut down hundreds of coal-fired power plants, freeze construction of new coal plants and create a boom in the production of wind and solar power and other renewable energy sources.

    What is interesting is that the EPA recently had their ever-expanding mandate struck down by the Supreme court just a few short weeks ago, when their attempt to kill off coal through regulation of mercury and other pollutants was invalidated for not sufficiently weighing the cost of the proposed initiative.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Big Government, Business, Current Events, Economics & Finance, Energy & Power Generation, Environment | 28 Comments »

    Socialism is running out of other people’s money

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 1st August 2015 (All posts by )

    Socialism is on its last legs except for college faculty lounges. Venezuela is now seizing private companies’ facilities.

    “There is an economic war here and this company, Polar, is at the heart of it. They hide products from the population, and inflate their prices!”
    The government had first notified the landlord of plans to expropriate the industrial park in 2013, Nestle spokesman Andres Alegrett said by telephone from Caracas on Thursday. Nestle used the facility to dispatch about 10 percent of its products in the country, supplying sweets and drinks to the western side of Greater Caracas, he said.

    Nestle is no stranger to Socialism. Jonah Golberg noted Nestle’s connection years ago.

    About ten years ago I went on a junket to Switzerland and attended a talk with the CEO of Nestlé. Listening to him, it became very clear to me that he had little to no interest in free markets or capitalism properly understood. He saw his corporation as a “partner” with governments, NGOs, the U.N., and other massive multinationals. The profit motive was good for efficiency and rewarding talent, but beyond that, he wanted order and predictability and as much planning as he could get. I think that mindset informs the entire class of transnational progressives, the shock troops of what H. G. Wells hoped would lead to his liberal-fascist “world brain.”

    Yes, Nestle has a history of cooperation with various do-gooder initiatives although it has kept its eye on profits.

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    Posted in Americas, Big Government, Crony Capitalism, Economics & Finance, Leftism, Politics | 5 Comments »

    VDH on Trump, the Fed-Up Crowd and Hypocrisy

    Posted by Jonathan on 27th July 2015 (All posts by )

    The conclusion:

    To explain the inexplicable rise of Donald Trump is to calibrate the anger of a fed-up crowd that is enjoying the comeuppance of an elite that never pays for the ramifications of its own ideology. The elite media, whose trademark is fad and cant, writes off the fed-up crowd as naïve and susceptible to demagoguery as the contradictory and hypocritical Trump manipulates their anger. In fact, they probably got it backwards. Trump is a transitory vehicle of the fed-up crowd, a current expression of their distaste for both Democratic and Republican politics, but not an end in and of himself. The fed-up crowd is tired of being demagogued to death by progressives, who brag of “working across the aisle” and “bipartisanship” as they ram through agendas with executive orders, court decisions, and public ridicule. So the fed-ups want other conservative candidates to emulate Trump’s verve, energy, eagerness to speak the unspeakable, and no-holds barred Lee Atwater style — without otherwise being Trump.

    This is one of VDH’s best recent columns and explains well the appeal (for now) of Donald Trump to conservative voters. Worth reading.

    Posted in Big Government, Conservatism, Elections, Leftism, Obama, Politics, Tea Party, USA | 22 Comments »