Posted by Lexington Green on 31st December 2009 (All posts by Lexington Green)
Archive for December, 2009
I missed out on the Christmas and Hannukah wishes but ought to be in time with the new year ones. It will be our turn to have an election next year (May, I am still saying despite the media hoopla around the word March). It is likely to be an interesting one: we have a government that is more disliked than any I can recall and yet we also have an opposition that just cannot get the support. We also have an electorate that has been seriously angered by all main-stream politicians and has realized, if somewhat hazily, that as long as we are in the EU it makes precious little difference who one wants for. In the last three elections turn-out was extremely low. We do not know what will happen next year. Another low turn-out? Rising vote for the smaller parties like UKIP? It can happen.
The Conservatives are still likely to come back with more seats than any other party but not necessarily with an overall majority. And so what if they do get into government. Remember what Hilaire Belloc wrote about another election?
The accursed power which stands on Privilege
(And goes with Women, and Champagne, and Bridge)
Broke – and Democracy resumed her reign:
(Which goes with Bridge, and Women and Champagne).
Happy New Year to all.
Via Glenn we find out that the TSA is using legal muscle to go after a couple of bloggers.
It seems that new security procedures were rushed into place right after the Panty Bomber incident, but the Feds say that the directive wasn’t supposed to be revealed to the public. They want to know who leaked the info.
The fact that bloggers are in the litigation cross hairs will be of primary interest to other people who write online. But I want to know how the TSA thinks it can keep out terrorists who are aching to blow up commercial airliners if they can’t keep their internal, secret security directives from being emailed to those who are supposed to be kept in the dark. Since they allowed some known al Qaeda stooge without a passport or luggage who was carrying a syringe full of acid just waltz on a flight to Detroit, I suppose that is a silly question.
Large numbers of people in Iran are taking huge risks in an attempt to free themselves from a despicable regime. There are many horrifying reports and images available on the web demonstrating clearly the levels of brutality that the regime is willing to use in suppressing dissident voices: see for example here and here.
Barack Obama’s expressions of condemnation for the regime and support for the dissidents have consistently been a day late and a dollar short. He eventually says what he thinks he is expected to say, but there’s not much fire in it. He comes across like an IRS official reciting some section of the tax code for the 495th time, or, at best, like a student giving a report on some long-ago historical event that he really didn’t want to study study but which was important for his grade. His genuine passion has been reserved for domestic issues.
As Joshua Muravchik has pointed out, the current administration has been much less focused on international issues of human rights and democracy than has any other administration in decades. Why?
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We have our faults. We are tempted by power and money – that’s no less true of Americans than any other nation. But we aren’t fatalistic. We are pretty sure that God helps them that helps themselves. And we may covet but we don’t believe that is a sign of injustice but rather of sin. So, all in all, I’m feeling pretty good about us; Obama’s attempts at turning us on bankers or insurance companies or. . . Well, we haven’t been turning in anger or with our raised fists. The biggest movement of the last few months may be anti-tax, but it seems more an argument for standing on our own feet, for independence, for liberty. And if Ben Nelson can be bought, I can (with some pride) point out that Nebraskans can’t be. The poll isn’t some kind of middling, some kind of, well, we’re glad to get the money but it’s a nasty business. It’s I don’t want any of that tainted lucre.
It’s been a long time since I left, but one of my daughters is thinking of moving there. She’s the one with the “Sowell Bro’” t-shirt. I’m hoping she’ll be happy.
“Bastiat’s Iceberg,” is a fascinating article on economic crisis, recommended by The Cobden Center (“for honest money and social progress”).
Toby Baxendale, at The Cobden Center, on 21 December 2009, writes: “Sean Corrigan of Diapason Commodities Management packs more sound applied economics into this report than ever.” It’s an interesting way to think about the economics of Hayek’s “extended order” and the dangers of commanding it to reorganize itself.
Download the report —this will trigger the download of a 1.6 MB pdf file.
Baxendale’s summary & commentary.
Corrigan, on planners (chateau generals) and entrepreneurs (frontline officers), from the article:
In their Olympian disdain for the little man whose very breath they nonetheless now yearn to regulate, they are congenitally oblivious to the truth that the World can thrive without them: that, absent their heavy-handed interference, its form is highly articulated, intrinsically adaptable and — yes — partly redundant, but therefore gratifyingly robust.
These Planners who so plague our modern lives are all, at root, chateau generals, arraying their coloured counters in textbook fashion in the sandbox; serenely isolated from the mud and gore at the front; disastrously behindhand in their decisions; hopelessly divorced from the harsh realities of the fray — all failings which, of course, do not discourage them in the least in their pretence at deciding the destinies of the many.
The shrewd commander of the storm-troop, by contrast, is ever alert to the fact that the ‘want of a nail’ is emblematic of military failure and so remains conscious of the importance of logistics — of the necessity for the smooth functioning of that extensive rear-area ‘Tail’ … to the delivery of combat power by the armed ‘Teeth’ in the battlezone. He also lives by the dictum contained in von Moltke”s lapidary phrase that ‘no plan survives first contact with the enemy’ and so knows that there is always a need for hands-on officership, for what we might usefully call an ‘entrepreneurship of war’.
If even the starchy Junkers of the Prussian army could learn to delegate as much responsibility as possible right down to men with their noses in the dirt — a doctrine known as ‘Auftragstaktik‘ — why is it that, in civilian life, a drearily intrusive economic prescriptivism has been able to live so far beyond its many failures in the crucible of history?
December 25, 2009
“In the wake of the latest failed terrorist incident, the TSA announced a new round of security procedures designed to greatly inconvenience millions of air passengers without doing anything to increase their security…”
Here’s an idea. Let’s start using basic counterintelligence principles to screen prospective travelers to the United States and bar those young, unmarried, Muslim men having affiliations with radical mosques, madrassas, imams, extremist Islamist political groups or a history of mental illness and erratic behavior from receiving visas to enter the United States. This clown should never have been able to get a visa. His own father, a senior government official of a foreign nation, was trying to red-flag him as a potential al Qaida terrorist for us(!).
Would such a policy catch every prospective terrorist? No. Nothing will.
I have just read the most astonishing op-ed from the Miami Herald. What is so astonishing about it? Mainly how the author, Frida Ghitis, acts as if the perfectly obvious is suddenly revealed wisdom.
Ms. Ghitis solemnly informs her readers that various sections of the world still hate the United States, even though President Obama is in the White House. How can this possibly be? Because, she says, other countries may have goals that conflict with ours!
[UPDATE: A follow-up Gary Death Countdown post is here.]
It’s much more likely not to happen than to happen but the clock is ticking for the death of Gary, Indiana. State law imposes property tax caps on all local governments far below the level Gary has grown accustomed to. Gary finances 80% of its $80M+ general fund operations through the use of property taxes. A vote on including the tax caps in Indiana’s Constitution is widely expected in 2010.
Gary has appealed and gotten special exemptions at a level unique in the state to maintain higher taxes while undergoing adjustments to bring government down to a size that can survive on anticipated revenue. Absent that relief, Gary’s 2010 property tax receipts would drop from a projected 62.9M to 28.1M.
As a condition of the transitional relief, a financial monitor was required for Gary and its related municipal districts (sanitary, storm water, public transport corp, and airport authority). The transition ends in 2012. If Gary has not adjusted sufficiently that it can handle somewhere between 20-30M less in revenue by that time, the 5th largest city in Indiana will be forced to declare bankruptcy.
Complicating matters are at least $34M in outstanding debts on top of its impending structural deficit. The term at least is used advisedly because unlike most cities, and most private organizations of its size and complexity, Gary uses a cash based accounting system. Future obligations that have not been presented for payment are not accounted for at all in a cash based system. The city government literally doesn’t have the capacity to accurately know what it owes. Because of the lack of information the financial monitor is forced to guess at some basic information.
The current Gary financial monitor’s report makes for frightening reading. Property tax revenue is scheduled to drop 50%+. There is no likelihood of a local income tax and Indiana does not share its sales tax revenue with local government. One of two casinos operating in Gary has entered bankruptcy and even before then a dispute with the casino operators disrupted payments to Gary. The bad news keeps on rolling for 265 pages.
“The problem is that our leadership class no longer views Americans as adult constituents capable of making our own decisions: the [sic] view us the way parents view their preschool children.”
A commenter at the Guardian (!) on the recently passed Senate Health Care bill. The entire thread is worth reading, particularly for her comments:
Maybe I’ll cash in by starting my own insurance company. “Jennifer’s House of Health Insurance and Vintage Clothing.” The premium will be a flat $100 per person per year, with a five-million-dollar deductible. “But Jennifer!” you might protest. “If I have enough money to pay five million dollars a year in health costs, what the hell use is your insurance company to me?”
The current Barrons (12/28) has an interview with fund managers Kevin Duffy and Bill Laggner, two guys who seem to have a gift for expressing themselves well and concisely. A few excerpts:
Barron’s: You’ve said that perhaps the most redeeming feature of capitalism is failure. Please explain.
Duffy: Any healthy system needs a way to correct error and remove waste. Nature has extinction, the economy has loss, bankruptcy, liquidation. Interfering in this process lengthens feedback loops. Error and waste are allowed to accumulate, and you ultimately get a massive collapse.
Capitalism is primarily attacked by two groups: utopians who wish to impose a more “compassionate” system, and political capitalists who want to enjoy the fruits of success without bearing the pain of failure. They use the coercion of the state to gain privileges, at the expense of everyone else.
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As a “solution” to our economic problems, the government has been spending money on stimulus programs. Since the government can’t directly incent business development, this type of money ends up going to 1) minor infrastructure projects and 2) funds for local governments and states to spend on salaries, programs.
As we know, the government has to raise revenues to pay for these programs in the form of taxes. Then the taxes, which distort business activities in myriad ways, are paid out in the form of salaries and grants in a relatively inefficient manner through a variety of poorly managed government programs.
While it isn’t popularly known, the US has among the highest corporate tax rates in the developed world and it isn’t just a co-incidence that other venues such as Hong Kong and Brazil are seeing an upsurge in IPOs and stock listings. The US today is not a competitive place to start a business, all else being equal.
The current government is not only taxing the US at an unsustainable rate as far as competitiveness, it is spending money that it doesn’t have (deficit spending), which will burden the US and future generations with high interest payments. The current deficit for 2009 is estimated to be about $1.6 trillion dollars, which will add about $100 billion / year in interest payments (fluctuates depending on rates).
All of these taxes don’t help put people in meaningful (non-government) jobs. In fact, they hurt our competitiveness and hurt the businesses most likely to grow and create jobs. Since unemployment is important even to our elected officials (unlike debt, competitiveness and future interest burdens, apparently) because an unemployed electorate is an angry electorate, institutions like the NY Times have to start thinking about tax cuts as a way to spur job creation.
From the article, titled “Tax Cuts Might Accomplish What Spending Hasn’t“,
When devising its fiscal package, the administration relied on conventional ideas based in part on ideas of John Maynard Keynes. Keynesian theory says that government spending is more potent than tax policy for jump-starting a stalled economy. (Per the administration) it says that an extra dollar of government spending raises GDP by $1.57, while a dollar of tax cuts raises GDP by only 99 cents.
According to the Romers (on the President’s Council of Economic Advisors), each dollar of tax cuts has historically raised GDP by about $3 – three times the figure used in the administrations’ report. That is also far greater than most estimates of the effects of government spending.
I hail from Columbus, Ohio. It is more than 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) from the US-Mexico border.
Things are pretty hairy down ol’ Mexico way. The government declared war on the drug cartels three years ago. So far there isn’t much progress, even though any gains by law enforcement usually sets off a turf war between the gangs as they try to seize lucrative smuggling routes from suddenly weakened rivals. If the big boys ever get organized instead of simply looking to grab what they can, then I really don’t think the Mexican government has a prayer of winning. Or even surviving.
About six weeks ago, I wrote a brief post about the dismal trailer for the movie Avatar, which made it clear that the movie was going to recycle Dances with Wolves. In other words, a turgid, adolescent paean to the Noble Savage, carefully white-washed to eliminate the less savoury elements of hunter-gatherer existence and to emphasize every stereotypical flaw in white men. “Fade to black” before the farmers and ranchers show up. Yawn.
Well, Avatar has just passed the $400 million mark in box office gross income after less than a week in theaters. I caught a late-night showing yesterday and I contributed my $15 (Cdn) to the pile. My wise-ass prediction from the earlier post, that the protagonist would bite the bullet tragically, didn’t come to pass. Foolish me. What was I thinking?
Not “SEQUEL-SEQUEL-SEQUEL” apparently.
Posted by Lexington Green on 24th December 2009 (All posts by Lexington Green)
May God bless all our ChicagoBoyz contributors, readers, friends (and foes), families, and loved ones. I hope everyone gets good presents, that the children are happy, healthy and well-behaved, that families are at peace, that old rifts are healed, that drinking is not too immoderate, that dinner comes out perfectly and on time, that travel is safe and that peace reigns in hearts and homes throughout our great and greatly blessed land. God bless our soldiers on duty in dangerous places at Christmas. Be happy. We are lucky to be here.
Posted by Lexington Green on 22nd December 2009 (All posts by Lexington Green)
The GOP is not exactly the sharpest bunch of elephants on the savannah.
They are looking at a historic threat, and a historic opportunity, with the Democrats making massive and unpopular changes to the foundations of our economy and our government.
But I am seeing just about zero leadership in the opposition ranks. Gov. Palin, who is now a bystander, has accomplished more with her Facebook page than most of the elected legislators have managed to do from their roost in DC.
In the run-up to the 1994 takeover of Congress by the GOP, Newt Gingrich came up with his Contract with America, which nationalized the election.
We need an equivalent program now.
Question for our dear readers: What should CWA 2.0 have in it?
I suggest some possible items:
1. A Constitutional amendment, along these lines: “Congress shall make no law that applies to the citizens of the United States that does not apply equally to the Senators and Representatives; and Congress shall make no law that applies to either Senators or Representatives or both that does not apply equally to the citizens of the United States. Any law enacted in violation of this Amendment shall be void and of no force and effect at any time.”
2. A national concealed carry law.
3. A forensic audit of the TARP spending.
4. A forensic audit of the Federal Reserve.
5. A ban on unfunded mandates.
What do you think should be in it? Limit yourself to ten items.
UPDATE: Good to see the Instapundit readers weighing in. Thank you, Professor.
I see lots of good ideas, and lots of energetic expression. Far be it from me to do anything to dampen the animal spirits … but … I have one suggestion. I think the best suggestions consist of actionable items, such as (1) Constitutional amendments that could plausibly be approved by 3/4 of the states, (2) legislation that could conceivably be passed by Congress, (3) repeal of specific amendments or laws or regulations. But if you want to vent, or talk in general terms, have at it. That’s fine with me, too. But a real CWA 2.0 will consist of actionable items, and I hope actually to end up with one.
(Term limits are a perennial favorite. I think they are a waste of time. The permanent government is the lobbyists and the bureaucracy, and the congressional support staff are at least as much “Congress” as the elected members for practical purposes. Term limits would only make the permanent government stronger.)
(Also, since I typed the original post, I was talking with a real political professional, who pointed out that lots of suburban districts that like the GOP on fiscal issues would not like a national concealed carry law. So, maybe that is not such a good idea here. … )
“One of Irina’s grandsons, nicknamed Riri, was sent to her at Christmas. His mother was going into hospital, but nobody told him that. The real cause of his visit was that since Irina had become a widow her children worried about her being alone. The children, as Irina would call them forever, were married and in their thirties and forties. They did not think they were like other people, because their father had been a powerful old man. He was a Swiss writer, Richard Notte. They carried his reputation and the memory of his puritan equity like an immense jar filled with water of which they had been told not to spill a drop.” – from the short story Irina, by Mavis Gallant (Paris Stories collection)
Paris Stories is a beautiful collection. The short story Irina has the most vivid sense of place – it’s all a feeling of hushed, chilled, snowy air outside, and the quiet of an apartment unused to children inside:
“At half past four, when the windows were as black as the sky in the painting of tulips and began to reflect the lamps in a disturbing sort of way, they drew the curtains and had tea around the table. They pushed Riri’s books and belongings to one side and spread a cross-stitched tablecloth. Riri had hot chocolate, a croissant left from breakfast and warmed in the oven….”
And now, Urban Sketchers:
The above drawing – by Cathy Gatland – is from the website, Urban Sketchers. Urban Sketchers is one of the most interesting sites I have encountered this year. It’s a group blog for people who draw, and they draw, charmingly, what they see: The city life around them! It’s dizzying, the talent on display.
The Human Face of War by Dr. Jim Storr
An important new book on military theory and history by British defense expert Dr. Jim Storr, a retired Lt. Colonel, King’s Regiment and an instructor at the UK Defence Academy, was reviewed in Joint Forces Quarterly ( hat tip Wilf Owen) by Col. Clinton J. Acker III:
….Surveying an array of disciplines including history, psychology, systems theory, complexity theory and philosophy, Storr (a former British officer) looks at what a theory of combat should include, then provides one. He goes on to apply that theory to the design of organizations, staffs, leadership, information management and the creation of cohesion in units. In doing so, he takes on many currently popular theories such as Effects-Based Operations, the observe-orient-decide-act loop, the use of postmodern theory and language.
….Storr’s position is best summed up with this passage:”Critically, military theory should not be a case of ‘this is the right course of action’ but rather ‘doing this will probably have beneficial outcome’
Nat Hentoff is a man of many talents–columnist, historian, jazz and country music critic (jazz and country music? that must be an unusual combination)–he is best known as a civil libertarian. As such, he has had his differences with all administrations. But he is particularly concerned about the behavior and attitudes of the current one.
Read this interview for his reasons.
Here’s the great French scientist Sadi Carnot, writing in 1824:
To take away England’s steam engines to-day would amount to robbing her of her iron and coal, to drying up her sources of wealth, to ruining her means of prosperity and destroying her great power. The destruction of her shipping, commonly regarded as her source of strength, would perhaps be less disastrous for her.
For England in 1824, substitute the United States in 2009. And for “steam engines,” substitute those power sources which use carbon-based fuels: whether generating stations burning natural gas, blast furnaces burning coke, or trucks/trains/planes/automobiles using oil derivatives. With these substitutions, Carnot’s paragraph describes the prospective impact of this administration’s energy policies: conducting a war on fossil fuels, without leveling with people about the true limitations of “alternative” energy technologies and without seriously pursuing civilian nuclear power.
I haven’t been paying much attention to the whole Copenhagen climate summit debacle because my doctor told me that I should watch my blood pressure. Good advice, as even the few details that have leaked through my self-erected Wall of Silence threatens to blow the top of my head off.
A few weeks ago, back on Dec. 11, it was announced that the European Union was going to pony up $10.5 billion for aid to developing countries so they would be able to fix power-wasting infrastructure, and invest in cleaner technology.
But that cash wasn’t going to be passed out all at once. It was going to be doled out over three years. If my grade school math skills haven’t degraded away to nothing, then it seems to me that the EU will spend $3.5 billion per year.
It may be simple enough in concept, but it certainly isn’t enough in reality. The figure needed to actually make a dent in the increasing amount of pollution produced by the developing world will start at around $100 billion a year. And that money will have to be raised and passed around every year for pretty much forever!
Where is that kind of scratch going to come from?
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