Monday, August 31, 2009

Man Up

Men of America. It has come to my attention that in the pursuit of the goal of being manly, some of you have taken a detour off the proper path. For in your attempts to demonstrate your supposed manliness, you are in fact emulating some of the same activities that women often engage in. Yes, the irony is indeed quite rich.

Now, there is nothing wrong with women doing these things. They are naturally inclined to such activities as we are naturally inclined to not understand their appeal. Remember, women are different from us and that's why we love them so.

So I call on you immediately cease and desist with any and all of the following:

- Using the expression "guys night out."

- Organizing, attending, or having anything in any way to do with anything called a "Guy Expo."

- Using the term "ManCave" under any circumstance. You have a basement. You have a garage. Maybe you even have a den. You however do not have a "ManCave."

- Organizing, attending, or having anything to do with anything called a "ManCave Party."

The idea of what it means to be a man has already been wussified and dangerously watered down in our increasingly feminized society. We as men don't need to do more to tarnish the masculine brand by engaging in such demeaning actions. Leave the overly planned socialization and group shopping to the gals. Your support in this matter is most appreciated.

Still Blaming Neocons For Iraq? Get Real

Whilst reading the provocative and convention challenging Advice to War Presidents: A Remedial Course in Statecraft by Angelo Codevilla, I came across this passage (which is the book's first endnote from the preface) which definitely goes against the grain of standard thinking:

There is no truth to the commonly held opinion that Neoconservatisim and Neoconservatives were primarily or even substantially responsible for the G.W. Bush Administration's foreign policy, especially its venture in Iraq. The occupation of Iraq was urged by Secretary of State Colin Powell using arguments both Realist (the Saudis demand it) and Liberal Internationalist (since we've broke it we've got to fix it). The occupation's political policy was set by Robert Blackwill, a Realist from the Council on Foreign Relations, and military policy by Walter Slocombe, a Liberal Internationalist from the Carter and Clinton Administrations. The intellectual architect of the Administration's 2007-2008 political military strategy was Stephen Biddle, another Realist from the Council. National Security Advisor and (later) Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice--the person closest to the President--either enabled whatever tendency in the Administration was strongest at any given time or just amalgamated the factions' contrasting recipes into "bridging documents." Yet she herself had risen through the Realist ranks under the patronage of former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft. As we will see, Iraq was no different from other twentieth-century U.S. foreign policy ventures in that it was a vessel in which the several tendencies of contemporary American statecraft mixed like oil and water.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Reading Too Much Into It

The WSJ asked Joseph Finder to list the five best novels about political conspiracy. His selections include some books that I definitely want to check out. Especially the top pick:

1. It Can't Happen Here

By Sinclair Lewis

Doubleday, 1935

A charismatic Democratic senator who speaks in "noble but slippery abstractions" is elected president, in a groundswell of cultish adoration, by a nation on the brink of economic disaster. Promising to restore America's greatness, he promptly announces a government seizure of the big banks and insurance companies. He strong-arms the Congress into amending the Constitution to give him unlimited emergency powers. He throws his enemies into concentration camps. With scarcely any resistance, the country has become a fascist dictatorship. No black helicopters here, though. Sinclair Lewis's dystopian political satire, now largely forgotten except for its ironic title, was a mammoth best seller in 1935, during the depths of the Depression and the rise of fascism in Europe. His president, Berzelius ("Buzz") Windrip, is a ruthless phony with the "earthy sense of humor of a Mark Twain"; one of the few who dare oppose him openly is a rural newspaper editor who is forced to go on the run. Lewis's prose could be ungainly, but he captured with caustic humor the bumptious narrow- mindedness of small-town life.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Northern Alliance Radio Network

The Northern Alliance Radio Network will be broadcasting LIVE at the Minnesota State Fair starting tomorrow at 11 AM. We consider these shows the highlight of our year, a big reason being all the people we get to meet. If you're a listener to the show, please stop on by to say "hi". In particular, if you have the ability to sound like a cow; are a fan of body piercing, ear lobe weight lifting, uncommonly hirsute and/or flexible humans; or interested in what the suave, sophisticated angry white male will be wearing this fall, you'll definitely want to stop by between 11AM - 1 PM.

We're located on Dan Patch and Cosgrove, right next to the Merchandise Mart. The Patriot Plaza has tables and comfortable chairs available, the perfect spot to kick back and enjoy a beer and four or five bags of mini donuts while listening to the best in local talk radio.

For those who can't make it out, as always we'll be on AM1280 the Patriot starting at 11 AM. Streaming LIVE worldwide at the station web site. You can call in and join the conversation at 651-289-4488. Or if you're on site, stroll right up and we'll get you on the air.

Following us at 1 PM, Mitch Berg and Ed Morrissey, then at 3PM it's King Banaian and the Final Word. Also, don't forget David Strom preceding us all at 9 AM. All LIVE at the Fair.

Don't you dare miss it.

Spreading It Around

And the award for smug, sanctimonious environmental piety of the day goes to Larry Johnson of Golden Valley:

Larry Johnson of Golden Valley will present "Sing Along With Your Compost Pile" at 9:30 a.m. Friday, Aug. 28, and at 6 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 29, on the Sustainability Stage in the Eco-Experience near Machinery Hill at the Minnesota State Fair.

Reserve your space early folks. This has standing room only written all over it.

The show will include an opportunity to sing along with Tyler, the world famous earthworm, and to hear music Johnson plays on a French Shoe Horn, Heavy Metal Recycled Water Faucet and "other instruments that would otherwise be languishing in the landfill," according to Johnson.

A retired storyteller and video teacher in the Minneapolis Schools, Johnson, 63, is self-employed and conducts storytelling residencies through Key of See Storytellers.

According to Johnson, he has been gardening, composting, walking, preserving wetlands and reusing non-compostables since the age of 4. He said he's been teaching about those things since the 1960s.

Since the age of FOUR?!?!? I happen to currently have a four-year-old at home and can say with certainty that while he has the walking thing down, he's yet to garden, compost, preserve wetlands, or reuse non-compostables. Something smells of natural fertilizer here and it ain't just Larry's compost pile.

UPDATE-- Tom e-mails to clarify:

I think the story that he started composting at four is probably true. If you remember, most studies of homelessness consider someone to be technically homeless if they crash on a friend or relatives couch for a few days while their regular residence is being remodeled or repaired. By this logic--he was technically composting at age four if he, er, dropped a deuce in the woods rather than come inside to do it. See, when anything can be technically true, the world is a much easier place to get away with being a charlatan.

Beer Of The Week (Vol XXI)

This week's Beer of the Week is brought to you as always by the fine folks at Glen Lake Wine & Spirits, the one stop shop for the discerning drinker in your life.

R.E.M.--Nightswimming Lyrics

Nightswimming deserves a quiet night
I'm not sure all these people understand
It's not like years ago,
The fear of getting caught,
Of recklessness and water
They cannot see me naked
These things, they go away,
Replaced by everyday

Nightswimming, remembering that night
September's coming soon
I'm pining for the moon
And what if there were two
Side by side in orbit
Around the fairest sun?
That bright, tight forever drum
Could not describe nightswimming

Is it really the end of summer already? Okay,we all know that summer technically lasts until the Autumnal Equinox (September 22nd this year). But in our hearts we know that once August is cruelly torn off your calendar it's all but over. You may attempt to hold on a bit longer with a big Labor Day hurrah, but your state of denial doesn't last long. September means leaves changing color, a night chill in the air, and the start of school. September is fall and fall means the end of summer.

Not that there's anything wrong with fall. In fact, it's my favorite season. You get the beginning of football season, the baseball playoffs, and beautiful clear crisp days with good sleeping weather at night. And Oktoberfest and the many beers that come with it. I hope to start reviewing some of them here soon.

Until then, let's savor the closing days of summer by looking at another warm weather beer. From Colorado, New Belgium's Skinny Dip:

New Belgium's Skinny Dip started out as a challenge from our founder Jeff to brewmaster, Peter Bouckaert. Jeff was looking for a full-bodied, highly drinkable beer for after workouts--something a little lighter than the rest of the portfolio. Peter, a Belgian, responded: "Only in America would I be asked to brew a beer with no calories and less alcohol." The challenge was to give the beer body and complexity not usually found in beers at the lighter end of the spectrum. Cascade hops frolic with a hint of lime leaf, making Skinny Dip a bright, refreshing splash for the summer season.

Besides evoking fond memories of summer, I also think the name is subtly directed at the subconscious of the drinker the beer is catering too. At only 114 calories per 12oz serving and 4.2% alcohol, Skinny Dip is definitely on the lighter side of the scale. You might feel skinny enough to not worry about getting naked and taking a dip. Or maybe a name is just a name.

The distinct brown bottle is a New Belgium standard. The decorative label features hops on a gold border framing a portrait of a mountain lake. We see sandals and clothes on the shore and a ripple in the water indicating the location of the dipper. A serene scene of summer.

Beer Style: Blonde Ale

Alcohol by Volume: 4.2%

COLOR (0-2): Gold and light amber. 2

AROMA (0-2): Faint citrus. 1

HEAD (0-2): Decent color, volume, and lacing. 2

TASTE (0-5): Malt, grain, and citrus flavors with traces of hops. 2

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Not much there. Fades fast. 1

OVERALL (0-6): For what it is--a lighter-bodied, low-calorie summer beer--Skinny Dip isn't bad. It's very drinkable and would make for a good lawn mowing beer. Beats the heck out of a Coors Light. But if you're looking for a summer beer with something more going on, you're best advised to look elsewhere. 2

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 10

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Moses, Saint Peter, and Ted Kennedy Walk Into A Bar...

And the winner for worst historical analogy when eulogizing Ted Kennedy goes to Joan Vennochi of The Boston Globe (via NRO's The Corner):

Like all figures in history--and like those in the Bible, for that matter--Kennedy came with flaws. Moses had a temper. Peter betrayed Jesus. Kennedy had Chappaquiddick, a moment of tremendous moral collapse.

Let's see here. Moses did get angry at times, but he also lead the Israelites out of slavery to the Promised Land. Peter did deny Jesus (the betrayal was by that other guy for the thirty pieces of silver), but he also became the Rock of the Church and was martyred in the name of Christ. Kennedy left a woman to die and never accepted responsibility for his cowardly actions. Yeah, I see how they're comparable.

A Distant Boom

It now seems pretty clear that the economy has hit bottom. In general, things aren't getting any worse and there are even a few signs that indicate that a turnaround is underway. However, the one question that hangs over all the talk of recovery is what sector of the economy is going to drive growth.

In the past couple of recoveries, spending by American consumers has lead the way out of recession. But--as story after story has made abundantly clear--it seems unlikely if we're going to see a repeat of that this time around. Consumers are literally tapped out. They've already taken on more debt than they probably should have and many Americans are now concentrating on getting their personal financial houses in order by reducing debt loads, saving more, and spending less. This newfound fiscal prudence is both understandable and praiseworthy. But it means that we should not be looking for consumers to carry the economy forward.

Another possible source of consistent growth is business spending. The dramatic manner in which companies pared their inventories, reduced their workforces, and cut costs in the wake of the downturn means that they are now running lean. With the worst economic news now seemingly behind us, it's likely that they will need to restock and open up the purse strings a bit just to keep up with the steady--albeit flat--demand they are now seeing. This will likely have somewhat of a rebound effect which will improve GDP numbers in the next couple of quarters. But what will businesses do after that to driven consistent, sustained growth?

An article in yesterday's WSJ asked Where Consumers Fail, Can Businesses Lead?:

What the economy needs now is a business spending spree that will lead to a hiring boom and rising consumer incomes.

Businesses clearly have the cash. In the first quarter, nonfinancial companies had some $14.1 trillion in financial assets, according to Federal Reserve data, or 100.1% of gross domestic product, a record high.

But after the 2001 recession, businesses accumulated cash, rather than spending it, because of the spending glut during the tech boom. They mightn't have much appetite for spending this time around, either.

They owned more than $4 trillion in equipment and software in the first quarter, about 29% of GDP, not far from the 30% that prevailed during the tech boom. Meanwhile, the nation's factories, utilities and mines in July ran at 68.5% of their production capacity, near a record low, giving them little reason to build out more capacity.

At this point, it isn't even clear that business spending will be strong enough to make the recovery self-sustaining. A business-led boom seems unlikely.

So we can't count on consumer or business spending to drive the next economic growth. What's that leave us with? Government? Keynesians would tell us not to worry. After all, most of the government stimulus money hasn't even been spent yet. Why, once that starts kicking in then the economy is really going to get humming again.

Even if you assume that most of President Obama's stimulus package will actually serve to stimulate the economy (a pretty dubious assumption), the problem with relying on such one-off government spending is that its impact is usually short-lived. If look at the factors holding back consumers and businesses from spending, it's hard to see how the stimulus package will serve to change behaviors with either group.

And with the latest news on the growing deficits and mountains of debt the Obama administration has already signed us up for, it's difficult to imagine a second stimulus package (Son of Stimulus?) being a realistic possibility. So once this wave of government spending washes over the land, the well is pretty much dried up.

Which means that we're probably looking at a best case economic recovery of slow growth, limited job creation, and constrained spending (at least by consumers and businesses). Better than being in recession, but not much to write home about. Worst case? A double dip with the economy falling back into recession again. No roaring or booming on the horizon.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ties That Bind and Build

There is a growing divide in America that threatens to strain the fabric of our society and make a mockery of the notion that we are a country that has broken the bounds of pre-determined and permanent class structures. It's a divide between the rich and the poor. Between the haves and the have nots. Between the educated and uneducated. Between those whose future appears boundless and hopeful and between those whose prospects are limited and bleak.

Liberals will tell you that the causes of such a divide are tax cuts for the rich, not "investing" enough in education, and the lingering impacts of racial and gender discrimination. However, in reality it increasingly appears that a significant--perhaps the most significant--contributor to this divide is marriage, in particular whether people choose to have children within its bounds or not.

Kay S. Hymowitz came out with a seminal book on the matter a few years ago called Marriage and Caste in America: Separate and Unequal Families in a Post-Marital Age. Her well-researched work was an eye-opening look at how attitudes toward marriage and having children influence decisions that have profound economic and societal impacts.

Now, Duncan Currie has more damning data on the consequences of out of wedlock births in the August 24th, 2009 edition of National Review (sub req):

How bad is it? In 2007, nearly 40 percent of all births in the United States were outside marriage, compared with 34 percent in 2002 and 18.4 percent in 1980. That's according to the latest National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) data, which were released earlier this year. "All measures of childbearing by unmarried women rose to historic levels in 2007," the NCHS reports. Nonmarital births represented 27.8 percent of non-Hispanic white births, 51.3 percent of Hispanic births, and a staggering 71.6 percent of non-Hispanic black births. Though we can take small comfort from the long-term decline in nonmarital births among teenagers, the nonmarital birthrate among older teens (ages 18-19) has recently ticked upward. Meanwhile, birthrates among unmarried women in their 20s and early 30s have been soaring. Teenagers accounted for 50 percent of all nonmarital births in 1970 but only 23 percent in 2007. By comparison, women in their 20s accounted for 42 percent of all nonmarital births in 1970 and 60 percent in 2007.

It's interesting to consider this trend in relation to the 1973 Roe v Wade decision. Wasn't the availability of abortion supposed to help women avoid being "punished with a baby"? It's almost as if the unlimited abortion license has created worse conditions for women in America vis a vis marriage and child rearing. Imagine that.

In contemporary America, nonmarital births are inextricably tied to broader socioeconomic divisions. "In 2007," write Brookings Institution scholars Ron Haskins and Isabel Sawhill in their new book, Creating an Opportunity Society, "the least educated women were six times as likely as the most educated women to have a baby outside marriage." American Enterprise Institute social scientist Charles Murray has been crunching the numbers to illustrate how nonmarital childbearing among whites varies by income group. His preliminary findings indicate that the proportion of nonmarital births among the white underclass is likely "in the region of 70 percent," while among the white working class it "may be above 40 percent." Among middle-class whites, the ratio "is approaching 20 percent." As for the highest earners, the white overclass, "their ratio is probably about 4 or 5 percent, tops."

You could get into a whole "chicken or egg" debate about which factor is the cause and which is the effect. What is clear is that income/nonmarital childbirth correlation is increasing and over the decades creating a growing cycle of inequality.

Such disparities are fueling a sharp divergence in family environments and exacerbating inequality. University of Chicago economist James Heckman puts it bluntly: "American society is polarizing." The children of more-educated women are growing up in much better family environments than the children of less-educated women, with "the quality of parenting" being "the important scarce resource" in disadvantaged households. Heckman reckons that "about 50 percent of the variance in inequality in lifetime earnings is determined by age 18." Furthermore, "most of the gaps at age 18 that help to explain gaps in adult outcomes are present at age five." This suggests that the family resources and attention devoted to a child during his or her earliest years are crucial--which, in turn, means that children from stable two-parent marriages "appear to be at a major advantage compared to children from other unions."

This helps to explain the phenomena that I believe is common to many middle and upper-middle class families: while their children and the children of many of their friends and relatives appear to learning more at a younger age than they ever did, the overall educational standing of American children continues to decline. If my four-year old knows which country and continent the Leaning Tower of Pisa is located in, then why can't a third of young Americans find the Pacific Ocean on a map?

Unfortunately, as sociologist Paul Amato of Penn State and economist Rebecca Maynard of the University of Pennsylvania have noted, the share of American children living with married parents dropped from 85.2 percent in 1970 to 67.8 percent in 2000. Absent this change, Amato and Maynard calculate that the child-poverty rate in 2000 would have been 26 percent lower (11.6 percent, as opposed to 15.6 percent). In his 2008 Father's Day remarks at Chicago's Apostolic Church of God, Barack Obama observed that "children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime, nine times more likely to drop out of schools, and 20 times more likely to end up in prison."

Some might point to President Obama as proof that children raised by single parents can succeed and reach the highest pinnacles of power in America. But the reality is that President Obama is an outlier. His remarkable achievements are not the norm for children from his familial background and I give him credit for recognizing that. I only wish that he were more fervent in his efforts to promote marriage and fatherhood, especially considering his unique position to influence the groups that are suffering the most from their absence.

All of this is worth remembering whenever you hear a politician lament the uneven distribution of America's economic pie. In the mid-1990s, Urban Institute economist Robert Lerman published an exhaustive analysis of how changes in family structure between 1971 and 1989 had affected income inequality and child poverty. "On the basis of projections of simulated marriages and marriage-induced earnings effects," he estimated that the decline in marriage rates over that period "accounted for nearly half the increase in income inequality and more than the entire rise in child poverty rates." The impact on African-American kids was especially harsh. As Lerman explained, the portion of black children living below the poverty line grew from 40.5 percent in 1971 to 43.3 percent in 1989; but if black marriage patterns had stayed constant from 1971 onward and spurred the customary growth in family incomes, the black child-poverty rate in 1989 would have been only 29.1 percent. In other words, "one-third of poor black children would have escaped poverty."

When conservatives talk about defending and preserving the institution of marriage, it isn't because we want to perpetuate the dominant patriarchy and keep women barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. It's because it's been conclusively proven over the centuries that marriage works. For societies and for individuals.

The difficulty is that policy options for promoting marriage and decreasing out of wedlock births are limited. To really change the attitudes towards marriage, you need to change the culture. After forty-plus years of withering assaults against marriage, it shouldn't come as a surprise that large segments of our society have little apparent regard for it. The damage that has been done will not be easily corrected and it will take years--maybe even generations--to change that. Until then, we can expect the divide to only grow wider.

We Can't Afford Betty McCollum

From the Heritage Foundation, staggering facts about the size of the federal government's budget deficit. Excerpts:
  • This year, Washington will spend $30,958 per household, tax $17,576 per household, and borrow $13,392 per household. The federal government will increase spending 22 percent this year to a peacetime-record 26 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP).
  • The 2009 budget deficit will be larger than all budget deficits from 2002 through 2007 combined. More than 43 cents of every dollar Washington spends in 2009 will have been borrowed.
  • President Obama's budget includes $1.4 trillion in tax increases, all of which would go toward new spending rather than deficit reduction.
  • The White House projects $10.6 trillion in new deficits between 2009 and 2019--nearly $80,000 per household in new borrowing.
  • The public national debt--$5.8 trillion as of 2008--is projected to double by 2012 and nearly triple by 2019. Thus, America would accumulate more government debt under President Obama than under every President in American history from George Washington to George W. Bush combined.
  • The coming tsunami of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid costs are projected to push the federal public debt to 320 percent of GDP by 2050 and over 750 percent by 2083.
Rather demoralizing proof that we as a nation are tapped out. We've already spent the nation's wealth far beyond our ability to pay it back during this generation, and increasing that rate of spending at every opportunity.

Assumptions that we will EVER be able to pay it back rest upon the belief that far more responsible government leaders will be in charge decades hence and they will curtail their spending appetites enough to bail out the bankrupt US Treasury. In addition, the voters in the future will be gracious enough to slash their standards of living far beneath what we have now, in order to funnel the vast majority of their incomes to the government in order to pay down our debt while receiving fewer services.

In other words, we're counting on the entire American voting public being replaced by fiscally conservative alien body snatchers in the next 30 - 50 years. Yes, that's a long shot, but moderately more likely than Obama's public health care option being budget neutral. As such, let me be the first to say, Zoltan Xtropcazard of Remulus 12 in 2058.

Until that glorious day, we're stuck with the politicians we elected and who created the fiscal apocalypse cited above. People like Rep. Betty McCollum. She's been in Congress for 8 years, never met a spending increase she didn't like, and certainly should be aware of the kinds of financial information from OMB posted above. And how does she react?

From her speech last week at a Democrat party rally for Obama care:

There are opponents of health care reform. There are people who say that the richest most powerful country on Earth cannot afford to provide health care for all of its citizens. There are opponents who want to protect profits before they protect the right of people to access health care in this country.

Richest country on Earth? Tens of trillions of dollars in debt with no means to pay it off and we're still considered rich? Maybe she means rich in sense of the 7th definition of the word in Merriam-Webster: laughable.

No, I believe McCollum means rich as in we have all the money we need to add yet another trillion dollar spending commitment. This extends a habit I noted back in March when reviewing her legislative spending priorities like:

Can our faith, our values, and our tax dollars be combined into an American "tzedakah" to increase our commitment to feeding the hunger, healing the sick, educating all girls and boys, empowering the ignored and alienated, and inspiring hope in every corner of our planet? I say yes.

She combines the beliefs that she is called on to save the world and that the well of US tax dollars available to pay for her plans is inexhaustible.

Another example, from a speech she gave just one month ago, when the full extent of our fiscal catastrophe was already well known. In the context of already budgeting $7.8 billion in 2010 for her global health initiative, she has this to say about our financial contribution to health care in other countries:

So what are we - the richest nation and other donor nations - doing to significantly reducing child and maternal mortality while investing in building sustainable health systems? Unfortunately, not enough in my opinion.

The government is broke, the politicians have got the citizens at each others' throats over taking on crushing new debt for even more domestic spending, and McCollum is lobbying for untold billions more to save the world, all because we're the "richest nation."

Maybe Betty McCollum is a relic from a different time, when we were the richest nation and had money to throw at any brainstorm any Congress person wanted to pursue. But those days are over, McCollum and her fellow relics sure took care of that.

We cannot afford Betty McCollum in Congress any longer.

That is my proposal for Congressional campaign ads in 2010. It would work against any big spending incumbent (of either party). Present the facts about the deficit, as provided by OMB or CBO. Then get some excerpts/sound clips of the incumbent sketching out their Utopian dreams with your dollars. Something like this:

"It is my belief that the United States has the ability, the resources, and the moral obligation to work in partnership with other wealthy nations, and make the investments to reduce global poverty."

Or this:

The President also recognizes that as the world's superpower we also need to be a "super partner" and I will work to support his agenda of expanded engagement and his efforts to increase the foreign assistance budget.

Let us start with investments in successful birth outcomes for moms and newborns and keep going by focusing on nutrition, water and sanitation, education, and delayed childbearing.

As girls transition to adulthood there must be an economic foundation for them to use their education, earn income, and stay healthy and productive -- an adult continuum.

To unleash the full potential and power women have to contribute greater efforts are needed to promote violence free homes, to expand access to reproductive healthcare, and to increase participation in political decision making.

Whether or not the tape is slowed down to distort it into monster-like intonation is optional.

Then end the spot with something like "Out of money, out of control. This country cannot afford [Congressperson X] any longer." Followed by 5 seconds of black screen and silence.

Then, when the challenger wins on election day, pray they are one of those fiscally responsible pod people I mentioned earlier.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Objectivism Overruled

At the First Things blog, Joe Carter points us to a well-done review of Atlas Shrugged by The Cranky Conservative:

And that leads to the philosophic problems with the book, namely with Rand's objectivist philosophy. Now as a conservative with libertarian sympathies, especially as it relates to economics, one would expect me to agree with much of what Rand has written. In a word, no. In two words, hell no. Oh, that's right, there is no hell.

The atheism is only a small part of the issue with objectivism. Galt (and thus Rand's) objection to the concept of original sin is naive, but even absent this aspect of objectivism, it remains a dehumanizing and abhorrent moral philosophy. Rand detests totalitarianism, it is true, but other writers have written better and less repugnant works in defense of capitalism and against totalitarianism. If libertarians and conservatives wish to seek out inspirational works on the topic, they are better off with the likes of George Orwell, C.S. Lewis, Thomas Sowell, Wilhelm Roepke, F.A. Hayek and countless others.

The fundamental problem is that Rand is as naive about human nature as the socialist utopians. After all, a utopian is a utopian, whether they are Marxian or Randian utopians. Therefore the rejection of the concept of original sin is something of a problem because it blinds Rand to the idea that human beings cannot simply shut off their passionate desires. If totalitarians are blind to the reality that human nature cannot be perfected, Rand is blind to the fact that the altruistic tendencies of humans cannot similarly be wiped out. Believe it or not, we are social beings (Aristotle and Aquinas being right), and it is simply unrealistic--and Rand is supposed to be about reason and realism--to expect humans to simply ignore these aspects of their personality.

It's probably worth you while to slog your way through "Atlas Shrugged" at some point. But when you do, it's important to recognize that while Rand made some very astute and prescient observations, her underlying philosophy of life is as barren and empty of truth and meaning as those that she so successfully critiqued.

Capping Trade

Good piece in yesterday's WSJ by David Schoenbrod and Richard B. Stewart on what they call the Cap-and-Trade Bait and Switch. While these gentlemen are both proponents of a true market driven cap-and-trade system to reduce carbon emissions, they say that the current bill is nothing but top-down regulation and giveaways to favored industries.

Waxman-Markey is largely top-down regulation dressed in cap-and-trade clothing. It purports to set a cap on greenhouse gases, but the cap is so loose in the early years that through the use of cheap offsets the U.S. need not significantly reduce its fossil-fuel emissions until about 2025. Then the bill would require a nosedive in fossil-fuel emissions. This balloon mortgage pledge of big cuts later is unlikely to be kept.

The top-down directives come in three forms. First, electric utilities, auto makers and states get free allowances on the condition that they comply with regulations requiring coal sequestration, alternative energy sources, energy conservation, advanced auto technology and more. Second, many other provisions of the 1,428 page bill mandate outright regulation on subjects ranging from how electricity is generated to off-road vehicles and household lighting. Third, still other provisions provide subsidies for government-chosen technology "winners" such as alternate energy sources, plug-in vehicles and weatherization of old buildings.

Progress on most or all such fronts will be needed, but when, where and how should be decided principally by a cap-driven market, not the "red tape" that candidate Obama deplored.

This government dictation of technology would undermine President Obama's March 19 pledge that, by addressing climate change, we would become "the world's leading exporter of renewable energy." That requires coming up with better, lower-cost technologies than the rest of the world. This won't happen if the government picks the technologies. Recall that, in the 1980s, government established the Synfuels Corporation that spent billions to produce energy alternatives and came up with nothing. More recently, government required refiners to put corn-based ethanol into gasoline on the theory that it's good for the environment. Yet we've learned that wide-scale ethanol production can do more harm than good in regard to air quality and climate change, turn wildlife habitat into corn fields, and raise food prices.

A true market-based cap-and-trade approach would have the government set the cap on carbon emissions and then allow firms to come up with the most effective approaches to meet those caps. That would lead to the innovation and global leadership in new energy sources that the supporters of the bill purportedly want to achieve. Instead, it's filled with political payoffs to particular industries and companies who have been able to bend the ear of their representatives in Congress.

Last month, I was catching up with one of my cousins who lives in California. He's working at a start-up company that's trying to develop better and more energy efficient street lights. They've received a lot of interest from venture capitalists and have a prototype that they're trying to get municipalities and commercial firms to accept for trials.

I asked him if there was anything in the either the stimulus or energy bills that might prove helpful to his company. He explained that they've largely been blocked from realizing any benefits because most of the legislation specifies exactly what technology must be used in government funded programs. It just so happens that said specified technology may not be the best choice, but it is the one that certain companies with good political connections just happen to manufacture. If the government was truly interested in having street lights that provided more light at less cost, they would specify what the end goal was not the technological path to get there.

This is just another example of how most corporations have no interest in promoting truly free market approaches. They're more than happy to work with the government and politicians to erect barriers to competition and ensure that they profit from further regulation. It's good to keep this in mind when you see companies supporting cap-and-trade in the interests of "protecting the environment" or government health care in the interests of "improving the system." The bottom line for why they favor these proposals is their bottom line.

Monday, August 24, 2009

They know how to take Colorado, they just don't know how to hold Colorado

Back in March, I had a post on the dramatic fashion in which Democrats had turned the political tables in Colorado and what lessons that red to blue state reversal might hold for the rest of the country.

Today, Michael Barone has a piece in which he reports that the Democrats' Colorado Gold Rush Is Turning Into a Bust:

The Colorado model showed how dedicated leftists could produce victories for Democratic candidates. It doesn't seem to have been as useful a guide for how those Democrats, once elected, could govern in a way that produces sustained public approval.

And that's really the most important part.

Ballin' Alone

Whenever possible, I like to take our two eldest childrens to nearby parks. We're fortunate enough to have three such facilities within relatively easy walking distance and I try to hit them each with some regularity.

During weekdays there always seems to be a basketball game going on at one particular park. These are not random pick up games with people who just happen to show up. Rather, these are groups of friends who have made arrangements to meet at the park at a certain time for purposes of playing ball.

Over the course of the summer, I've noticed most of the time the players seem to be divided into certain groups. One day it will be all black guys playing. Another time, all white. Another Indian and another Vietnamese. The groups don't all show up regularly nor do they seem to have particular day of the week when they decide to play.

But when they do, the groups are pretty consistently of the same demographic composition when it comes to age and race. Which probably isn't surprising as they are no doubt friends off the court as well as on.

Those who are of "diversity is our strength" persuasion might look upon this situation with concern. Shouldn't we all be playing together as part of one big community?

However, while I find it interesting to observe the separate (but hardly equal) groups playing ball, I don't take it as a sign that something is wrong with our society. The fact that individuals of similar cultural backgrounds would freely choose to associate with one other should not surprise anyone. The health of the society is determined by whether its member can freely associate with those of different backgrounds, not whether they actually choose to do so or not.

Besides, as Robert Putnam has noted, it seems that birds of a feather are more comfortable and happy flocking together. No need for government diversity camps on this side of the pond. Yet.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Liveblog: Senator Amy Klobuchar's Health Care Town Hall

I decided I would make my inaugural post at Fraters Libertas a very special live blog of Senator Amy Klobuchar's Health Care Town Hall. For full disclosure, I have worked in the health insurance industry for two different corporations, including my current employer. However, the opinions I express here are my personal views.

6:52 PM - The way this forum works is that I signed up online before noon on Friday 8/21 and provided a phone number. Early today, I received a conformation that I would be called to be conferenced in around 7 pm tonight.

7:05 - No call yet. I assume the technical issues make lateness a possibility. I won't bail for at least half an hour.

7:10 - Could Amy be having a Brett Favre like change of heart? I wonder how her team feels about this? I wonder how Brett Favre feels about this? Here's the announcement from her web site:

U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar will be hosting a live statewide tele-town hall meeting to discuss making health care more affordable and answer questions from her constituents. Joining her will be Dr. Denis Cortese, CEO of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, and Mary Wakefield, the highest ranking nurse in the federal government.

7:15 - In the link above, it suggests that if you're not called by 7:10, you should call her office. I did so and received a message that her voice mail is full. She can't get a town hall meeting started on time, yet she expects us to trust her with our health care?

7:19 - I just got the call. It was a recorded message from Amy. It basically said (not direct quote, but my best shot):

Tonight at 7 pm I hosted a live town hall meeting to discuss health care with Dr. Denis Cortese, CEO of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, and Mary Wakefield, the highest ranking nurse in the federal government. I am sorry that you were unable to join in this discussion. However, I am posting meeting in it's entirety on my website: Thank you for participating in this important discussion.

This stinks! I was unable to join because she refused to have the meeting in person, then refused to let me control my own access. I followed every protocol she required and yet I never got the call. It would be especially bogus if the meeting lasted more than eighteen minutes, as her staff could have connected me into it instead of giving me the 'too bad' phone message.

I signed up for this town hall meeting through my employer's internet connection. I wonder if she screened my IP address to identify me as a potential caller who disagrees with her?

In any event, Senator Klobuchar, if you or your staff is reading this, this is the question that I wanted to ask you:

Senator Klobuchar, as an employee of a large corporate health insurer, I was concerned to read President Obama's statement in the Wall Street Journal (July 7) that we need a public option as a mechanism to 'keep private insurers honest'. My question to you is, do you believe that most of the 1500 or so private insurers in America are not honest, and if you don't believe that then why do we need a public option?

7:30 - I'm still steamed. It's worth noting that in July I sent e-mails to Senators Klobuchar and Franken as well as Rep. Eric Paulson expressing my dismay that health care reform was being fast tracked at the expense of a comprehensive discussion. I was surprised that only Senator Al Franken sent me any reply at all. It was the usual 'Thank you for your input' e-mail, but at least it was something.

This liveblog and my initial Fraters post is over!

The Elder Adds-- The timing of NIGP's inaugural Fraters post and this article in today's WSJ is...ahem...interesting:

The health-insurance industry is sending thousands of its employees to town-hall meetings and other forums during Congress's August recess to try to counter a tide of criticism directed at the insurers and remain a player--and not an outsider --in the debate over the future of the health-care system.

Among the throngs of Americans crowding the sessions across the country, the industry employees come armed with talking points about the need for bipartisan legislation and the unintended consequences of a government-run health plan to compete with private insurers.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Northern Alliance Radio Network (bump)

The First Team of the Northern Alliance Radio Network is be back LIVE on the air today, starting at 11 AM. It will be or final broadcast from the bunker before we move out to the MN State Fair next week. Meaning, our final broadcast without being under the influence of mass quantities of corn dogs, mini donuts, fudge puppies, fried Twinkies, and Scotch Eggs. Appreciate the lean and hungry lucidity while you can.

Today health care reform will continue to be our primary emphasis of conversation, the highlight being our guest in the 11 AM hour, Steven Camarota of the Center for Immigration Studies. Among other topics, we'll be discussing the so-called "myth" that the Obama reforms will result in increased tax payer funding for illegal immigrant health care. Steven is an expert in this field and he's got some fascinating insight into the realities hidden in the 1,000 pages of legislation. Check out the presentation he had on CSPAN earlier this week for a preview.

Don't forget, the Northern Alliance Radio Network starts at 11AM Central, locally on AM1280 the Patriot. Streaming LIVE worldwide at the station web site. Call in and join the conversation at 651-289-4488.

Following us at 1 PM, Mitch Berg and Ed Morrissey, then at 3PM it's King Banaian and the Final Word. Also, don't forget David Strom preceding us all at 9 AM.

Don't you dare miss it.

A Mail Man You Know

An editorial in today's WSJ on the declining need for the US Postal Service:

Whatever possessed President Obama to mention the travails of the post office while discussing health care the other day, his timing was certainly apt. The Postal Service is headed toward a loss of $7 billion this year and another $7 billion in 2010. Naturally, Congress is planning another bailout rather than the kind of reform that would recognize how technology has transformed modern communications.

Most mail today is delivered electronically via email. Traditional postal mail volume has fallen by nearly 20% since 2000, and the average household gets one-third fewer letters than a decade ago. But this is only the first stage of the decline. The transition to Internet communications means that the Postal Service's core business--from paying bills, to sending birthday greetings, to delivering magazine--is slowly vanishing. This is on top of the package business that has already been transformed by Federal Express and UPS.

Seinfeld episode #161 which originally aired in October 1997 called The Junk Mail:

Postal Employee: "May I help you?"

Kramer: "Yeah, I'd like to cancel my mail."

Postal Employee: "Certainly. How long would you like us to hold it?"

Kramer: "Oh, no, no. I don't think you get me. I want out, permanently."

Newman: "I'll handle this, Violet. Why don't you take your three hour break? Oh, calm down, everyone. No one's cancelling any mail."

Kramer: "Oh, yes, I am."

Newman: "What about your bills?"

Kramer: "The bank can pay 'em."

Newman: "The bank. What about your cards and letters?"

Kramer: "E-mail, telephones, fax machines. Fedex, telex, telegrams, holograms."

Newman: "All right, it's true! Of course nobody needs mail. What do you think, you're so clever for figuring that out? But you don't know the half of what goes on here. So just walk away, Kramer. I beg of you."

Supervisor: "Is everything all right here, Postal Employee Newman?"

Newman: "Yes, sir, I believe everything is all squared away. Isn't it, Mr. Kramer?"

Kramer: "Oh, yeah. As long as I stop getting mail!"

Friday, August 21, 2009

Obama's Birth Certificate

One of my goals upon joining Fraters Libertas was to get to the bottom of this Obama Birth Certificate controversy. Unfortunately, the Elder rejected my expense request for an investigatory trip to Honolulu, citing the poor economy. How convenient for President Obama that his mishandling of the economy has squelched an investigation that may have led to his being frog-marched out of the White House.

Although we will now never know the truth about Obama's Birth Certificate, I was able to uncover an even more damaging document. Obama's Certificate of Liberal Birth:

Northern Alliance Radio Network

The First Team of the Northern Alliance Radio Network will be back LIVE on the air tomorrow, starting at 11 AM. It will be or final broadcast from the bunker before we move out to the MN State Fair next week. Meaning, our final broadcast without being under the influence of mass quantities of corn dogs, mini donuts, fudge puppies, fried Twinkies, and Scotch Eggs. Appreciate the lean and hungry lucidity while you can.

This week health care reform will continue to be our primary emphasis of conversation, the highlight being our guest in the 11 AM hour, Steven Camarota of the Center for Immigration Studies. Among other topics, we'll be discussing the so-called "myth" that the Obama reforms will result in increased tax payer funding for illegal immigrant health care. Steven is an expert in this field and he's got some fascinating insight into the realities hidden in the 1,000 pages of legislation. Check out the presentation he had on CSPAN earlier this week for a preview.

Maybe some other surprise guests as well, still negotiating the details on time, duration, and personal services rider (fresh spring water and NO YELLOW M&M's), so we'll see about that.

Don't forget, the Northern Alliance Radio Network starts at 11AM Central, locally on AM1280 the Patriot. Streaming LIVE worldwide at the station web site. Call in and join the conversation at 651-289-4488.

Following us at 1 PM, Mitch Berg and Ed Morrissey, then at 3PM it's King Banaian and the Final Word. Also, don't forget David Strom preceding us all at 9 AM.

Don't you dare miss it.

Beer Of The Week (Vol XX)

This week's Beer of the Week is brought to you as always by the fine folks at Glen Lake Wine & Spirits, your friendly neighborhood beer store.

It seems that it's almost part of our nature as Americans to take the good things in life for granted. Rather than taking the time to ponder and appreciate the bounty that we have available at our fingertips, we're always looking for the next great thing. Our restless spirits drive us to seek out and discover new horizons, new opportunities, new pots of gold at the end of the rainbow. This American instinct for perpetually chasing the future has had its benefits. It's helped drive the imagination, innovation, and initiative that has made the United States the most prosperous and powerful country in history.

But it also comes at a price. By always looking forward we sometimes fail to enjoy what's right there in front of us. So it's good once in a while to pause in the pursuit of what might be and savor what is.

Such is the case with beer. I love finding and trying new beers. Liquor stores are my candy stores and I always get excited when I spot a new offering amongst the goodies. However, sometimes this quest for the latest and greatest in beers leads my to pass by others that I've enjoyed in the past. Yeah that's a good beer, but maybe this new one is even better. The old adage about the value of "a beer in hand..." is one that I've too often ignored.

Probably never more so than with Anchor Steam Beer. The other day I was surprised when I realized just how long it's been since I've had a Steam. When I first started enjoying craft beers oh those many years ago, Anchor Steam was one of the more widely available and reliable products out there (especially here in the Upper Midwest). If you were ever at a bar or restaurant and despairing as you heard or read their list of beer selections, the words "Anchor Steam" would always lift your flagging spirits. Say no more. I now know what I want.

But over the years as more and more craft beers became available and I explored more and more styles of beer, I kind of forget all about Anchor Steam. Like a loyal long-time friend, it was always there. I just found myself thinking of it less and less and over time ended up losing contact with it almost entirely.

Until last week, when I noticed it sitting patiently in the Glen Lake Wine and Spirits cooler waiting for a chance to renew our acquaintance.

The smooth brown bottle may just be the most aesthetically pleasing of any beer, both to the eye and the hand. The classic paper label has a vintage look and features a large anchor with hops and barley.

Beer Style: California Common / Steam

Alcohol by Volume: 4.9%

COLOR (0-2): Deep amber. 2

AROMA (0-2): Malt with hints of caramel. 2

HEAD (0-2): Very white and full. Good lacing. 2

TASTE (0-5): A very unique taste with flavors of malt, hops, and a little citrus. 3

AFTERTASTE (0-2): The finish was a bit sharp for my tastes. 1

OVERALL (0-6): When you haven't had an Anchor Steam for a while you forget just how solid this beer is. It's really unlike anything else out there and is a nice break from the beer routine. It's also a great compliment with a variety of food. Like most beer, while it's good in the bottle it's even better on tap. I can guarantee that it won't be nearly as long before my next Steam. 4

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 14

UPDATE-- Paul e-mails to concur:

Anchor Steam is absolutely one of my favorite beers. Your comment about the solid taste in a bottle and on tap is spot on. However, if you're ever in San Francisco and can get it pulled from an old fashion beer engine while eating pasta with bay shrimp, that's something special. I imagine it's like having a Guinness in Ireland.

Fritz Maytag III saved Anchor Steam many years ago when the company was about to go out of business. His family also invented Maytag Blue Cheese, which is extremely high quality. Of course they are best known for founding the appliance corporation Maytag.

UPDATE II-- Chris chimes in:

I too am a big fan of Anchor Steam. Though unlike you, I never forgot her; and those ergonomic brown bottles are frequent, albeit brief, visitors to my fridge. I once had a Steam on tap at an Anchor-owned pub in the San Francisco airport and was stunned to find how different (better) it tasted via that delivery method. Proximity to the source, maybe?

That said, Anchor Liberty Ale (out of the bottle) makes Steam (out of the bottle) look like Grain Belt. Awesome.

Their Porter doesn't suck either.

You Gotta Have Something

Rep. Tim Walz, during his teleconference earlier this week, on the urgency to enact the Obama health care reforms:

"We cannot afford to do nothing," Walz repeatedly said.
Reminds me of a classic MASH episode. The hospital was catching artillery fire from unknown combatants and Frank Burns was running around shrieking: "We need to do something! Anything!"

Hawkeye Pierce interjected: "I agree with Frank, let's do anything."

Of course, if Hawkeye, as played by Alan Alda, were around today, he'd be all for Obama Care and probably fronting a group called Doctors for Taxpayer Funded Abortions for Lesbian Illegal Aliens NOW.

But way back then during the fake Korean War, he had a good point. Problems are not solved by doing "anything". In fact, they can be exacerbated by doing the wrong thing, especially when the solution is not well thought-out, rushed, or clouded by misdirection and hyperbolic fear mongering.

As Thomas Sowell notes:

Is [the current system] ideal? Of course not. But nothing is going to be ideal, whether the current medical care legislation passes or not. The relevant question is: Are the problems created by the current situation worse than the problems that will be created by the pending legislation? That question never seems to get asked, much less answered.
That is the question that salesmen for Obama Care, like Tim Walz, need to be asked. Then again, the teleconference where he was repeating his mantra "We can't afford to do nothing" included only pre-screened questions. Good luck getting to any issues he'd rather not talk about in that format.

The myth serving as the foundation for Waltz's tap dance is that Republicans want to do nothing regarding the problems with the current health care system. Anyone paying attention and being intellectually honest knows that is false. Rep. Eric Cantor in the House and Jim DeMint in the Senate, among others, have prominently outlined plans that would be the basis for a conservative approach to reform.

But the truth is conservatives have precisely zero ability to enact these reforms at the Federal level. Democrats have absolute control of the Executive and Legislative branches and for all their happy talk of bi-partisanship, they have shown no interest in compromising toward a more free market based reform package. And they don't have to. The voters gave them all the power they need and they don't have to share it.

The catch is, that also gives the Democrats exclusive responsibility for effectively solving the problems they encounter. That doesn't mean doing "anything" and that doesn't mean doing something that makes things worse and that doesn't mean whining about your impotent opposition standing in your way. The floor is yours Democrats and Tim Walz to do it right. Don't choke.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Riff Raff

Tonight, the long-anticipated RiffTrax LIVE: Plan 9 from Outer Space is showing at a theater near you. 7pm for those of us in the heartland. Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett, and Kevin Murphy of MST3K renown direct their withering satirical wit at one of the classic bad movies of all time. Granted, it's like shooting fish in a barrel for these sharp-tongued wags, but hearing them crack wise on such a soft target promises no end of belly guffawing.

I'll be attending said event with a few of my fellow Fraters (including Sisyphus, the newest member of the Fraters team whose arrival here was somewhat overshadowed by some limp-armed quarterback coming out of retirement) at the AMC Rosedale 14 theater in Roseville. We'll be waiting for our promised shout out from Mike Nelson and may react like spurned Packer fans if Mr. Nelson betrays our trust. Well, we'll be a little more sober.

SISYPHUS ADDS: I will be the one wearing the purple Favre jersey.

THE ELDER PROVIDES SOME BULLETIN BOARD MATERIAL Be a shame if anything was to happen to that purty purple Favre jersey of yours Sis'. A real shame.

Sieg Heil Jeeves!

E-mail book recommendation received from Amazon yesterday:

As someone who has purchased or rated Bertie Wooster Sees It Through (A Jeeves and Bertie Novel) by P. G. Wodehouse, you might like to know that With Hitler to the End: The Memoir of Hitler's Valet will be released on September 1, 2009.

So are the books linked because they both feature a valet? If you liked reading a light comedy with a fictional valet, you'll love the new book about the man who served one of history's evil monsters. Or was Bertie secretly a B.U.F. Blackshirt? He always seemed a little too carefree to be a Nazi to me.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Icy Incline

A couple of long-time readers of Fraters write to comment on where Obama Care might lead.

Tim leads off:

I have another nutty thought about what might happen if our government starts making healthcare decisions on our behalf. If you think it is time for me to check myself in, I trust that you would tell me so.

Under this health care program that Obama insists we just have to have, I would assume that the decision to give or not give a person needing a liver, kidney, or other organ transplant would come from some sort of government organ transplant approval board. Nothing really disturbs me too much about that because that sort of approval is needed today; a board of doctors routinely decide who is in the most dire consequences and would benefit most from an organ transplant.

But this is where I get a little creeped out by the thought of Obama care. I know this is a reach, but so was $5 gas.

Think about the supply of healthy donor organs. A fair number of organs come from people involved in accidents who had to be put on life support. Do we want the same organization that decides what regular health treatment will be extended to you also be the same organization that decides when you should come off of life support, and the same organization that decides where your organs will go?

Am I the only one that sees a conflict of interest here?

I know this is macabre, but when I saw "Coma" and "Logan's Run" in the theaters, I thought they were just movies, not docu-dramas.

Taken at face value in current circumstances, it's easy to write off Tim's concerns as paranoid. But, as has been stated often before, the problem is that once you turn over control of health care decisions to the government you open the door to a whole range of possibilities. Some may seem crazy to even consider their coming about today. But what about five years from now? Ten? Twenty?

The people writing the plans today may well have no desire to ever see some of the worst case scenarios come about, but their intentions today aren't going to mean much to someone making decisions about how to ration care twenty years from now. And as John Stossel notes, as much as proponents of government care don't like to use term, it is all about rationing:

This brings us back to end-of-life consultation. As the government's health care budget becomes strained, as it must -- and, as Obama admits, already is under Medicare -- the government will have to cut back on what it lets people have.

So it is not a leap to foresee government limiting health care, especially to people nearing the end of life. Medical "ethicists" have long lamented that too much money is spent futilely in the last several months of life. Are we supposed to believe that the social engineers haven't read their writings?

And given the premise that it's government's job to pay for our heath care, concluding that 80-year-olds should get no hip replacements makes sense. The problem is the premise: that taxpayers should pay. Once you accept that, bad things follow.

Bad things that would seem likely to get even worse in the future.

Amy writes to remind us that we don't have to look that far into the past to see that it might be a prologue for what that future holds:

If you think that the Politburo and the Compulsive Liar and Chief care one whit about us Kulaks, you're nuts. They will pass, covertly if they must, some sort of "culture of death" healthcare. It's in their nature.

I find it strange that there are those who are now worried about healthcare and "death panels" when it is their ass on the line (I know, I know, human nature). There were indications a few years ago that were in their face but they chose to ignore it and perhaps even cheered it on. You don't thinks so? I've got two words for ya': Terri Schiavo. Now what?

...let the crying begin.

I don't think it's time for tears quite yet. There's still time to stop the slide.

Black and Blue Division

One interesting aspect of the fallout from the Vikings fling with Favre is the divisions it has created among both Viking and Packer fans.

Among Viking fans there is a large delegation that seems to believe that with Favre clad in purple, the long awaited dream fantasy of a Vikings Super Bowl victory will finally come to fruition. They're busy buying Favre jerseys, putting money down in Vegas on the Vikes, and booking hotel rooms in Miami. I've labeled this group of Viking fans "NeoBretts" and estimate that they currently compromise about 80% of the Viking fan base. Their support however is contingent on Favre's and the Vikings success and once he starts throwing the ball to the guys in the wrong jerseys, I expect their numbers to dwindle precipitously.

The other group of Viking fans are cool-headed and rational enough to realize that while Favre once WAS a great quarterback, his best days are long behind him. Now, he's nothing more than a washed-up, egomaniacal prima donna whose brain is writing checks that his arm can no longer cash. Yes, he's still a gun-slinger, but one who's now much slower on the draw and less accurate with his shooting. Worst of all, he still carries with him some of the arrogance of youth that most men with his experience have learned is unfounded. The idea that he's going to calmly and carefully help quarterback the Vikings to the Super Bowl with deliberate style is absurd. Even if he wanted to take such a measured approach to the game, he couldn't. It's not in his nature. He's still Brett Favre and even if he manages to contain his urge to improvise for a good part of the season, you know that at some critical point in a key game he's going to try to do too much. When the Favre of old gambled, he usually won more than he lost. But expecting the Favre of late to pay off is a sucker's bet. I estimate that 20% of Vikings fan--the Realists--are not suckers today.

Meanwhile, there are also divisions among the Green and Gold faithful. I think that most Packer fans (60% or so) are actually happy that Favre is a Viking and were laughing in their beer yesterday. They recognize that he's a shell of the former quarterback who light up Lambeau Field and that his age and attitude will prove to be detrimental to Minnesota's hopes. The other 40% are still unable to let go of the Favre man-crush that they've had for years and still pine for him in their hearts. They're having a tough time coping with the idea of him playing for the Vikings and spent most of yesterday weeping in their beer. However, I would expect for most their sorrow will quickly turn to bitterness and anger at the perceived betrayal. Hell hath no fury like a Packer fan scorned. Assuming that Favre stays healthy until then, the November 1st Viking-Packer showdown in Lambeau should be one of the most anticipated games in the rivalry in years. With the all the mixed emotions, divided loyalties, and lost loves involved it almost could be aired on Lifetime.

The Award for Best Orchestration Goes to .....

Andy Driscoll of KFAI is a veteran broadcaster, public affairs specialist, award-
winning documentarian, and investigative journalist. (If you don't believe me,
just read his bio.) I think he's worthy of another award for this direct, first-hand
evidence of the orchestration and media manipulation associated with the
Obama health care plan protest rallies.

I got a call today from Representative McCollum's office in St. Paul.
Tomorrow the so-called tea party guys are supposed to show up at
11 AM tomorrow. And they're trying to get the media to come in and
put these guys on the hot seat.

That's a blockbuster. Government officials arranging for journalists to show up at rallies
to put citizens "on the hot seat" for exercising their First Amendment rights. Is
that legal for Congress people and their staffs to do?

Regardless, I can only imagine the convulsions of rage this would inspire among
local Demcrats (in and out of the media) if Michele Bachmann tried something like
this. She was mocked, scorned, and nearly run out office by these same people
for her far less inflammatory suggestion that perhaps the media should investigate
her fellow members of Congress.

Never fear, being an award-winning member of the media, I assume Mr. Driscoll
laughed at the notion that he would even consider obeying a government official's
request to participate in a coordinated effort to investigate her political opponents.

Well, there was some laughter involved. Unfortunately, it was laughing along with
these governnment officials instead of at their highly inappropriate suggestion.
Andy Driscoll, from the comment section of a MinnPost article by Doug Grow
about this rally:

I was present for this melee, and the growing hysteria that consumes
the worst of the teabaggers also set the mob in motion and led to an amazing
string of vitriolic anti-government claims of fascist takeover of our lives.

It was difficult not to laugh out loud at the outlandish claims-cum-
slogans that came rolling out of the angriest of them. Heath care was the front
issue for a much deeper set of complaints about "government takeover of our
lives." This betrayed a set of platitudes obviously spouted by conservative talk
radio and cable news. All attempts to extract reason from individual conversation
inevitably led to an insistence, among other thing, that not everyone in this
country deserves access to health care.

Doug Grow's outstanding coverage above barely touches the depth of disgust
and disingenuousness of this crowd's mental set.

Nice job, Doug. Enjoyed laughing together.

If an actual riot didn't break out at this rally, at least the media had their own
laugh riot, at the protestors' expense.

There is no mention of whether Doug Grow was called by Rep. McCollum's office
and tipped off to attend and put the protestors "on the hot seat." But his
reporting included this exchange (excerpts):

After the meeting, I approached an older woman who had made strong
statements in opposition to "government-run programs." (....)

"Could I have your name, please?" I asked.

"Who are you?" she said.

I re-introduced myself as a reporter from MinnPost.

"I'm not going to give you my name,'' she said. "It may end up on an
enemies list."

By design or not, hot seat applied Twin Cities media. Mission accomplished.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Product Not The Pitch

William McGurn on the reaction to the rejection:

Right now the entire Beltway--including the West Wing--seems obsessed with finding out what went wrong with the administration's sales pitch. No one appears to think the problem might be substance. Or that the vague answers and vitriolic rhetoric we get from Democrats such as Mr. Reid convey a sense that the plans they favor will not hold up under public scrutiny.

This might be hard for most of the media and political class to grasp, but maybe, just maybe opposition to the Democratic health care reform plan isn't rooted in racism, right-wing radio, or uninformed rage. Rather--as was the case with the opposition to immigration reform--it's that most Americans have examined the issues, do understand what's being proposed, and are against it in principal because they just aren't buying that it would be good for them or for the country. Nah, couldn't be that simple, could it?

Dissing The 'Rupting

One of the things that has surprised me in the last couple of weeks was how quickly most of the media adopted the Democrats narrative that opponents of the health care reform bill were "disrupting" the town hall meetings. Check out the Wikipedia definition of what a town hall meeting is:

A town hall meeting is an informal public meeting derived from the traditional town meetings of New England. Similarly to those meetings, everybody in a community is invited to attend, voice their opinions, and hear the responses from public figures and elected officials, although attendees rarely vote on an issue. In today's heterogeneous communities with large populations, more often, town hall meetings are held so that people can influence elected officials in their decision making or to give them a chance to feel that their voices are being heard.

There are no specific rules or guidelines for holding a town hall meeting. If the turnout is large, and the objective is to give as many people as possible an opportunity to speak, the group can be broken down into smaller discussion groups. Participants all hear an opening presentation and then group-up to discuss an aspect of the presentation. Each group appoints someone to summarize their group's discussion.

So they are intended to be a forum for community members to show up voice their opinions. In recent years however, town hall meetings have degenerated into largely staged events where politicians carefully control the course of the meetings and messages coming out of them. The dog and pony shows that masqueraded as "town halls" during the 2008 campaign were a grotesque twist on the original intent and purpose of the meetings.

I always chuckled when candidates talked about all the suffering and misery they heard about at their health care town hall meetings. Really? Gee, you think maybe the people who bothered showed up might just not be representative of the community at large. Not many folks are going to come out to such an event to let you know that everything's just fine.

So now, the politicians (and media) are shocked when opponents of government health care actually are turning out to such events, challenging the politicians to answer their questions, and demanding that they get a chance to have their voice heard. Seems to me that's exactly what town hall meetings are really supposed to be all about.

As Michael Warren noted last week, Rude protests are an American tradition:

In any event, the Founding Fathers would likely be appalled by the notion that vigorous protests--yes, even those that are rude, obnoxious and interfere with the carefully orchestrated plans of government officials--is "un-American."

UPDATE: e-mails to brag on their impact at town halls:

Our demand for real reform is getting through in communities nationwide, thanks in big part to MoveOn volunteers organizing events across the country. Check out the latest:

* At a debate in Dallas, Texas, the MoveOn Council brought over 120 people--far outnumbering right-wing protesters.

* MoveOn members around the country have been tenacious in getting through to key senators. In the last two weeks, members have had face-to-face conversations with senators in Indiana, North Dakota, Maine, and Nebraska.

* In Boulder, Colorado, pro-reform constituents packed a town hall with Rep. Jared Polis. The message they sent was positive, respectful, and crystal clear.

Our democracy is burning.

Monday, August 17, 2009

With A Whimper

A week after I officially stuck my fork in 'em, Aaron Gleeman--a man far more versed in the subject matter than I ever could hope to be--arrives at the same conclusion regarding the Twins:

Michael Cuddyer homered, Justin Morneau and Carlos Gomez each had two hits with an RBI, Scott Baker tossed eight innings of one-run ball, and Joe Nathan closed out a road victory over the Rangers on July 18 as the Twins moved to a season-high three games above .500 at 47-44. Since then they've gone 9-17 despite averaging nearly 5.5 runs per game, as the pitching staff has imploded to the tune of 6.5 runs per game while allowing double-digit runs eight times.

During those 26 games Joe Mauer hit nearly .400 with an OPS over 1.000, Morneau and Jason Kubel both provided a .900 OPS with plenty of power, Denard Span got on base at a .380 clip, and Orlando Cabrera hit safely in all but two games since coming over from the A's. Yet here we are in mid-August and the Twins are in the midst of an awful funk that has seen every starter except Baker get rocked on a nightly basis and the bullpen cough up nearly a run per inning when Nathan or Matt Guerrier aren't in.

Detroit and Chicago are mediocre enough that the Twins aren't completely out of the playoff picture yet, but at 56-61 and six games back in the AL Central it's tough to imagine this team making a serious run down the stretch. Sure, their remaining schedule is favorable, but the Twins just lost four of six home games to the fourth-place Indians and fifth-place Royals, and now travel to Texas for a four-game set against the Wild Card-leading Rangers.

The pathetic nature of the Twins most recent homestand should have removed any remaining doubt about where this team is going.

You Get What You Pay For

One of the few things that it seems that almost everyone can agree on in the health care debate is that as a country we spend far too much on health care both as an aggregate figure and as a percentage of GDP. But before we accept this as a given, this underlying assumption deserves to be examined more closely. Craig S. Karpel does just that in today's Wall Street Journal:

Mr. Obama has said that "the cost of health care has weighed down our economy." No one thinks the 20% of our GDP that's attributable to manufacturing is weighing down the economy, because it's intuitively clear that one person's expenditure on widgets is another person's income. But the same is true of the health-care industry. The $2.4 trillion Americans spend each year for health care doesn't go up in smoke. It's paid to other Americans.

Somehow the impression has been created that spending money on health care is somehow wasteful and that money could be better spent elsewhere. But why? Is spending money on schools, roads, housing, transportation, welfare, or consumer goods better than spending money on health care? Perhaps. But it's not automatically so and certainly that question is open for debate.

The basic material needs of human beings are food, clothing and shelter. The desire for food and clothing drove hunter-gatherer economies and, subsequently, agricultural economies, for millennia. The Industrial Revolution was driven by the desire for clothing. Thus Richard Arkwright's water frame, James Hargreaves's spinning jenny, Samuel Crompton's spinning mule, Eli Whitney's cotton gin and Elias Howe's sewing machine.

Though it hasn't been widely realized, the desire for shelter was a major driver of the U.S. economy during the second half of the 20th century and the first several years of the 21st. About one-third of the new jobs created during the latter period were directly or indirectly related to housing, as the stupendous ripple effect of the bursting housing bubble should make painfully obvious.

Once these material needs are substantially met, desire for health care--without which there can be no enjoyment of food, clothing or shelter--becomes a significant, perhaps a principal, driver of the economy.

As countries mature economically and grow richer it's natural to expect that they will spend more on health care. The question then becomes what is the "right" amount to spend? And who determines what that amount is, the market or the government (or some form of both as we currently have)?

No matter what one thinks of the state of the American health care system, it is impossible to deny that the US is a leader in innovation care and advances in medical technology and treatment. It is not a coincidence that while we spend the most on health care we also produce the most advancements and breakthroughs in health care.

We should carefully consider what the impact of attempts to limit that spending will have on our ability to continue to lead the world in medical advancements. And whether measuring the amount that we spend on health care--as an aggregate or percentage of GDP--is truly an indicator of whether the system works or not.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Everything Is Better In Threes

When I heard that the third and final installment in Robert Ferrigno's "Assassins" trilogy was going to be released in August, I couldn't wait to get my meaty paws on it. Now, I can say that my anticipation proved well-founded.

"Heart of the Assassin" arrived on my doorstep this past Monday and before I drifted off to Nod last night I had polished it off. You know you're reading a damn fine novel when you experience mixed emotions as you race to the conclusion. You want to keep reading to find out how it's going to end, but at the same time you don't want it to end. I tried to slow down and savor the experience as much as possible, but in the end the anticipation of what might come next was too hard to resist.

I was also "working" under a bit of a deadline since I knew that we'd be interviewing Robert Ferrigno on the NARN First Team show this Saturday. It takes something special to lure me back into the AM1280 The Patriot studio bunker these days and the chance to discuss Mr. Ferrigno's latest work with him definitely fits that criteria.

He'll join us tomorrow at noon. You can listen to The Northern Alliance Radio Network starting at 11AM Central, locally on AM1280 the Patriot. Streaming LIVE worldwide at their web site. You can also join the conversation at 651-289-4488.

If you haven't read the first two books in the trilogy yet, I'd encourage you to do so. Beginning with "Prayers of the Assassin":

My review here.

Followed by "Sins of the Assassin":

My review of the book here and our March 2008 interview with Robert Ferrigno on it here.

SP ADDS: We'll also be giving away a pair of free tickets to the Minnesota Symposium on Climate Change: How Politicized Science Endangers Prosperity. It's coming up on August 19 at the Earl Brown Center and sponsored by our friends at the Minnesota Free Market Institute. For details on the event, check ou their Web site.