“No Man’s life liberty or property is safe while the legislature is in session”.

- attributed to NY State Judge Gideon Tucker

Friday, October 7, 2011

Peter Orzag On CNBC This Morning

I know it's not usually considered appropriate to comment on peoples' appearances. But sometimes, in a sort of onomatopoeia manner, a person's appearance speaks volumes about the rest of their self-presentation.

This is true, for me, for Peter Orzag. He was on CNBC this morning, repeating his calls for 'less democracy' in America.

There's no way around it- Orzag presents visually as a ferret. The glasses, body type, hair, facial construction all scream 'geeky ferret.'

A quick look at his bio confirms he has zero experience to suggest he's an expert on governmental affairs or system design.

Listening to him this morning, his comments confirmed his naivete and lack of a sense of history. But it's actually worse than all that.

Like so many liberals, Orzag appeals to non-democratic processes because he's frustrated that voter-driven democracy is so messy. And sometimes elects people whose policies with which he differs.

You know, democracy can be so unfair!

Those damned voters just don't know what's good for them!

Most people don't realize, but Amity Schlaes provided the evidence to support it, that FDR's actual initial motivation for his socialist policies upon election was to remedy US economic inefficiencies. FDR's cabal of progressives took a boat trip to Europe. They oohed and aahed at Italian Fascist efficiency.

Essentially, FDR and his liberal minions grew frustrated with free market participants understandably withholding investment and behaving prudently in the face of economic uncertainty. So they passed legislation to try to force the hand of business owners and investors.

That's what Wonderboy's administration is doing today. And what Orzag wishes would occur with the suspension of our present level of democracy. Their frustration with democracy is the frustration of jackbooted dictators who know what's good for you, dammit! Can't you see that, you simpleton? You could if you voted Democratic!

Now, to hear Orzag worm his way out of his earlier remarks today was to hear him appeal to examples like the Courter military base closings commission.

Suddenly Orzag tells us that Congress 'isn't good with details.' They should just pass, or not pass, the recommendations and rulings of various empowered commissions and panels.

Hell, we already DO THAT, Peter!

Ever hear of these alphabet soups? SEC. NLRB. ICC. FDA. EPA. FTC. CFTC.

The new consumer financial so-called protection, actually product, service and pricing distortion agency.

What I've come to understand is that many liberals, tired of not having their way, resort to complaining that our democracy is too slow, wasteful and incapable of 'getting things done.'

Debate or difference of opinion that results in no action is not an option for these liberal activists.

Something must be done! It just must be!

An older liberal friend taunted me recently by telling me one of his best friends, a lifelong Republican, quite the party because it 'couldn't get things done.'

I retorted that what his friend, and he, was seeing is the movement of a swinging pendulum through the bottom of its arc.

For 2009-2011, the Democrats controlled the House, Senate and White House and tried to ram through programs embodying huge, radical ideological change. Representatives of Americans who disagreed with these changes obstructed these attempts. Thus how tortured the process of how the Democrats were forced to craft ObamaCare- simply due to Teddy Kennedy's much-appreciated (by conservatives), untimely death.

For the past year, the GOP-controlled House has blocked further uber-liberal schemes, such as Stimulus 2, a/k/a Wonderboy's "jobs" bill.

If independent voters remain unhappy with Wonderboy next November, expect to see either or both the Senate and Oval Office go to the GOP, while the House remains in their hands.

Forget about the First Rookie's threat that the House GOP members will be "run out of town" for daring to question and not pass his incredibly bad legislative ideas. Has he forgotten the "shellacking" he and his party took last November? The complete rejection of his first two years in the Oval Office?

Then you'll see the tempo of government activity pick up again, only in the opposite direction to 2009-2011.

Hey, that's democracy. If you think I'm wrong, go read your US history. How several presidents dithered over slavery from 1820 onward. How Jackson's second election was all about the Second Bank of the United States. He basically drew a line in the sand and made most of his first term a fight for his second term on that single issue.

I recently read a review of the 80th, so-called "do nothing" Congress with which Harry Truman had to work for two years. Interestingly, the 80th passed pro-business legislation. It simply opposed Harry's so-called Fair Deal agenda. Again, an ideological difference which our system appropriately allows to slow change and force the two sides to present their cases in the next election cycle.

My point is that ideological gridlock is appropriate, natural and actually quite frequent in American government. It's how we handle large-scale change. If elections don't build up sufficient majorities in Congress and change the White House occupant, then change won't occur. But the change we saw with ObamaCare was just wrong.

Orzag complained that in the 1960s, Republicans and Democrats alike voted on major social legislation. Well, race-related change was long in coming, and actually used, some would say abused, federal power to force Southern states to change laws. Medicare and Medicaid were stupidly-designed programs that lifetime hacks of both parties ignorantly and arrogantly passed.

At least now we have the benefit of informed, more intelligent, principled objection by conservatives to liberal, spendthrift business as usual in the capitol.

Orzag's wrong. He has no credentials whatsoever- he's an economist by training- for making governmental change recommendations. And his prescriptions are characteristically ill-informed and wrong.

Scandals Grow In The Most Transparent Administration Ever

It's been quite a bruising week for Wonderboy's minions and, by extension, the First Rookie himself.

Attorney General Eric Holder is under pressure because his sworn testimony that he only learned about the illegal administration-operated ATF gun-running operation, Fast and Furious, a few weeks before his testimony this summer, has been proven to be a lie. Instead, a House committee has discovered memos to Holder dating from last year showing him to have been notified of the operation.

Meanwhile, the head of the Energy Department unit responsible for the Solyndra loan has resigned. Recent communications uncovered by the House have shown that two high-ranking members of Wonderboy's financial team, Larry Summers and Tim Geithner, warned him against the Solyndra deal. Now the House is subpoenaing documents dating to Wonderboy's swearing-in day. Apparently there is suspicion that the loan was a pre-arranged deal for bundler Kaiser.

Both scandals are growing even as the countdown to next year's election proceeds.

Wonderboy's press conference remarks on these two matters are beginning to remind me of Nixon's latter years when Watergate was moving closer to his office.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Paul Ryan Reviews Liberal Economist Jeffrey Sachs' "The Price of Civilization"

Wisconsin Republican Representative, and chairman of the House Budget Committee, Paul Ryan, wrote a review of Jeffrey Sachs' new book, The Price of Civilization, in last weekend's edition of the Wall Street Journal. Ryan entitled his piece America's Enduring Ideal, with the sub headline,

"Jeffrey Sachs is only the latest in a long line of thinkers to reject the values of our commercial republic."

In order to provide my readers with an unedited sense of Mr. Ryan's thoughts and writing style, I've reposted his review in its entirety.

"Free enterprise has never lacked for moral critics. In the mid-18th century, for instance, the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau rejected the proposition that the free exchange of goods and services, and the competitive pursuit of self-interest by economic actors, result in general prosperity—ideas then emanating from Great Britain. In a commercial society, according to Rousseau, the people are "scheming, violent, greedy, ambitious, servile, and knavish . . . and all of it at one extreme or the other of misery and opulence." Only a people with "simple customs [and] wholesome tastes" can be virtuous.

In "The Price of Civilization," Jeffrey Sachs carries Rousseau's argument into the 21st century. Mr. Sachs, a development economist at Columbia University, believes that "at the root of America's economic crisis lies a moral crisis: the decline of civic virtue among America's political and economic elite." The book's veneer of economic analysis cannot conceal what is essentially a crusade against the free enterprise ethic of our republic.

Only through a reshaping of our principles and a reordering of the American economy, Mr. Sachs believes, can we become "a mindful society." We must abandon a culture that is defined by hard work and the striving for upward mobility and an economy that has unleashed unparalleled prosperity. Hard work impedes leisure. Ambition is a vice. Economic growth hurts the planet.

The corporation is the antagonist in this morality play. Mr. Sachs refers early and often to widespread "suffering from the decline in corporate tax rates" and properly identifies a pernicious trend that both political parties have fallen victim to over the years: crony capitalism. But it is not just the rapaciousness of corporate interests that disturbs the author. He sees a deeper conspiracy at play. The marketing industry is referred to as the "dark arts of manipulation," and television has been dangerously left "almost entirely to the private sector." Our commitment to limited government and free enterprise has allowed "market values [to] trump social values." We are scolded time and again for letting business interests encourage our faults and fallibilities.

"Through clearer thinking," Mr. Sachs writes, "we can become more effective both as individuals, and as citizens, reclaiming power from corporations." This reclamation will come primarily from punitive tax and regulatory measures. Mr. Sachs is undaunted by any thought that such a regime might worsen unemployment. The trained economist assures us: "Economic theory indeed supports the view that high tax rates can actually spur, rather than hinder, work effort." He argues that financial incentives ought not to matter in a mindful society and is confident that well-intentioned social engineers can suspend the laws of economics.

One need not look far to find the inspiration for the America that Mr. Sachs seeks. He is explicit about his ideal, and it is Europe. America should match the high tax and "active labor market policies" found in the German and Scandinavian economies. The Constitution imposes too many restrictions on government interference for Mr. Sachs, and we'd be better served if we moved toward a "French-style" constitution that consolidated the executive and legislative branches and empowered experts to help us manage the "complexity of our economy." On the most effective means of petitioning one's government, Mr. Sachs sounds eerily Greek (A.D. 2011, not 500 B.C.): "A new political party can be combined with other forms of political agitation—consumer boycotts, protests, media campaigns, and social networking efforts—to put the most egregious leaders of the corporatocracy on notice."

Advocating for the European model seems particularly ill-advised at the moment, given the current state of affairs across the Atlantic. Yet Mr. Sachs is untroubled by the contradictions between the Europe of his imagination and the crisis-ridden continent as it exists today. He writes: "The countries that failed to raise taxes adequately—such as Greece—are now paying the price in a massive fiscal crisis, as in the United States." Too many industrialized countries, in his view, have fallen victim to the "race to the bottom" mentality of lowering corporate tax rates and depriving their governments' coffers of the money needed to pay their mounting bills.

The "price" of civilization, we find out, is quite steep.

A "civilized" society will cost Americans roughly $12 trillion in higher taxes over the next decade. Mr. Sachs concedes that he could lower the bill if the economy were to grow fast enough to stabilize the debt, at which point a roughly $8 trillion tax hike would suffice. The proposed means by which the federal government can expand as the economy shrinks: raise corporate tax rates (and plead with our global competitors to stop reducing their business taxes); raise the top individual income tax rate; raise taxes on investment, energy, bank balance sheets and financial transactions; and impose a national sales tax.

Mr. Sachs is honest enough to acknowledge that the "rich" are not nearly rich enough to pay for his ever-expansive vision of government. We're told that "each of us with an above-average income" (i.e., $50,000 per household) must "understand that if we are prudent, we can make do with a little less take-home pay."

Such appeals to the citizenry to make sacrifices might be more compelling if Mr. Sachs coupled them with calls for spending restraint in Washington. Instead, his budget proposal insists on the need to "augment" government spending by trillions of dollars in the years ahead. Thus the sacrifices of citizens are to be made to increase the size and scope of a federal government that Mr. Sachs admits has demonstrated little aptitude for allocating resources efficiently or even fairly. This conundrum leads him to a conclusion that would be comical if he were not deadly serious: "Yes, the federal government is incompetent and corrupt—but we need more, not less, of it."

Yet at its core "The Price of Civilization" is not about taxes or economics. It is about the "pursuit of happiness" as one academic understands it.

Enshrined in the country's founding documents, "the pursuit of happiness" has long been recognized in America as a natural right to be secured by good government. As the Founders understood it, "happiness" referred to human fulfillment, to a well-lived life of virtue in this world and ultimate fulfillment in the next. In ensuring that its citizens are free to seek their happiness, government was to promote neither hedonism nor materialism. It was to secure the right to pursue happiness by not interfering with either normal commercial transactions or freedom of worship.

In "The Price of Civilization," Mr. Sachs is asking the right questions. What is a life well lived? What should our government's role be in building a more virtuous society? What policies should it pursue to promote fulfilling lives for its citizens? If such questions direct us to the moral wisdom of our cultural traditions, they can indeed help to balance the excesses of capitalism and so help us to extend its benefits to all.

Yet Mr. Sachs's gospel of happiness draws not on the inspired tradition of the Founders but rather on the Utilitarian philosophy of Jeremy Bentham. In the 1780s, Bentham proposed that "happiness," which he equated with "pleasure," could be mathematically measured. It was not sufficient, he thought, for government to protect our rights if it was to vouchsafe our pursuit of happiness. Government must instead quantify "the greatest happiness of the greatest number" and set policies and goals accordingly. There was a science to satisfaction, Bentham claimed, and it was a puzzle that trained experts could solve.

Channeling Bentham, Mr. Sachs calls for the establishment of a national metrics for life satisfaction and sets a 10-year goal to "raise America's happiness." Although the specific measures are hazy, the steps are clear: For people to be happy, their government must increasingly shield them from the challenges of life. The good life is thus defined as one of ever-more pleasure at the expense of work.

But happiness in this world results not from avoiding challenges but from meeting them. Happiness is the recompense of real effort, whether intellectual or physical, and of earned success. It comes from achievement—from doing something of economic, artistic or emotional value. The satisfaction to be taken in producing valuable things brings with it a lasting sense of personal fulfillment. Mr. Sachs's design for paternalistic government will only impede the pursuit of happiness.

Mr. Sachs is more accurate when he argues that economics is not merely about making money. It must serve the higher cause of human well-being and moral development. He is right to dislike the greed and vulgarity that can accompany bourgeois life. But he is wrong to attribute these phenomena to capitalism uniquely. Discord and imperfection arise from human nature. The question is how they can be contained and redirected. Capitalism, together with our moral traditions, has long offered a solution consistent with individual freedom. Mr. Sachs's approach does not.

Mr. Sachs likely overstates Americans' enthusiasm for restrictions on work, for the denial of constitutionally protected freedoms or for government controls over media and technology. His conception of the good life could perhaps be mutually agreed to in a small, isolated and homogeneous society. But here in the United States it would have to be imposed on a diverse and globally integrated nation of more than 300 million people. That is neither possible nor desirable.

The freedom and independence of the American population can best be guaranteed by allowing the people to govern themselves through their elected representatives; by keeping limits on the size of government; and by encouraging each of us to take responsibility for our own well-being. We can best be aided by our families, communities, churches and local institutions—and by the government only as a last resort.

For, ultimately, Mr. Sachs's quarrel is with our founding principles of equality and liberty. Underlying the arguments in "The Price of Civilization" is a contention that the Constitution is too conducive to freedom, that it endorses an economic system too friendly to growth and the satisfaction of appetite, that it creates political institutions too inattentive to our national character.

In his first inaugural address, Thomas Jefferson defined "a wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned." The contrast with Mr. Sachs's idea of "good government" could not be more stark.

The Founders thought of America as exceptional, but Mr. Sachs thinks that this claim is a myth and that the country's present greatness a historical aberration. Our decline is, thankfully, inevitable, he says: "America will not again dominate the world economy or geopolitics as it did in the immediate aftermath of World War II. That was a special historical moment; we can be glad that economic progress throughout the world is rapidly creating a more balanced global economy and society."

It is through this prism of decline that we may better understand Mr. Sachs's calls for an overbearing government to take more earnings from you and make more decisions for you, as well as his instructions for hard-working Americans to restrain their ambitions and accept their current place in life. He seeks nothing less than to replace the vision of the Founders—the ideals of individual liberty that have enabled America to achieve the unrivaled social, material and spiritual flourishing of the past two and a quarter centuries—with one that relies almost solely on the wisdom and beneficence of an intrusive, unlimited government.

The dialogue between capitalism and its critics is an old one, and it will continue. But as citizens of a self-governing nation, Americans must choose from time to time between alternative visions for our future. This book's budget proposals and economic policies are profoundly revealing. They lay bare the real agenda of those who wish us to abandon the American idea and consign our nation to the irrevocable path of decline. If only in that sense, "The Price of Civilization" is a useful contribution to the conversation we must have in order to make informed political choices in the years ahead."

I think Ryan's review speaks for itself. He does an excellent job at three things. First, he casts Sachs' prescriptions for the US as being incredibly socialist, pro-big-brother government, and expensive. Second, he places Sachs in a long line of similarly-reasoning statists who either distrust or despise the 'little people' who, in the US, actually vote for who will govern them. Finally, he ties what appear to be just choices concerning economics and the functioning market economy of the US into, ultimately, a choice of fundamental values by which each person may, or may not, be free to pursue her/his own happiness as s/he sees it.

My own commenst on Ryan's review and, indirectly, Sachs' ideas, takes a different tack.

Jeffrey Sachs' bio includes 19 years teaching at Harvard. In all that time, surely he should have, or could have, sat down with Harvard's Robert Nozick to discuss the nature of the state, utopia and, well, as Nozick's famous book title expressed it, anarchy.

You see, what I see Sachs doing is saying something like this,

'The US is a marvelous society. If we could only just radically change the Constitution or, better yet, just tear it up and run a socialist, command society, it would be perfect. All the resources, size, geographic benefits, and a large population, only requiring the removal of individual freedom, and we've got the perfect society.'

Nozick, in contrast, would probably reply,

'No, Jeffrey. This is the US. If you want to form your envisioned high-tax, high-spending, government-by-command society, you and your ilk should go freely associate elsewhere with your own, new set of rules and form that utopia. But not here, thanks. Those of us here are keeping the Constitution. You must go elsewhere with your own merry band to found your new society.'

Nozick is all for each group of similarly-thinking people to establish its own free association.

So what I don't get, in a theoretical sense, is why progressives keep trying to hijack the US and its Constitution, or simply ignore the latter, rather than go found their own alternative association/society.

Well, I do know why not. Because it's harder in this day and age to collect a few million people, find desirable land that isn't already someone else's country, and found a new society.

Ryan does a service by revealing that Sachs and his kind are trying a stealth hijacking of America, because if they simply produced their entire plan and values publicly, they'd be rejected.

And should be. Because to do what they want, well, they can probably just fly to any of several European nations and feel right at home.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Paradox of Christie's Decision Not To Run for President

I find it ironic that Chris Christie's final announcement that he won't seek the presidency next year makes him that much more desirable in many voters' eyes.

In his speech today, he reiterated his sense of a need to fulfill his obligation to New Jersey's residents by completing his term and finishing the job he started. He said it wasn't yet his time.

For many voters, his commitment and sense of duty set him apart.

And if he had announced today that he had changed his mind, and decided to run, he would have been seen by many as simply expedient. Not to mention that he'd have reversed himself on a series of declarations that he was not running.

Which would make him less trustworthy.

So Christie's decision seemed to me to result in the height of irony.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Herman Cain's 1994 Townhall Debate with Bubba Clinton

Here's the YouTube clip of GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain taking on Bill Clinton in a townhall meeting in 1994, when the latter was pushing HillaryCare.

Notice Clinton going white and his mouth semi-grimacing as Cain shreds Bubba's government-mandated healthcare dreams. Clinton tries to dance his way out of this at the end by spewing some numbers, suggesting that Cain didn't correctly discount health care costs for part-time workers.

Funny, I never heard Clinton come back to tell us that Cain was wrong.

But Clinton's deflated look on camera is just priceless, isn't it?

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Last Resort of Liberals When "Democracy" Fails Them? Suspend It!

Here's the Notable & Quotable entry in Friday's Wall Street Journal:

"From a Sept. 28 editorial in the Washington Examiner:

Most Americans complain that government is unresponsive to their wishes. But not everyone feels that way. In the space of two days, two prominent Democrats have called for less responsive government that ignores public input.

One of them, former White House Budget Director Peter Orszag, penned a piece this week in the New Republic arguing, as the title says, "Why we need less democracy." Orszag wrote that "the country's political polarization was growing worse—harming Washington's ability to do the basic, necessary work of governing." His solution? "[W]e need to minimize the harm from legislative inertia by relying more on automatic policies and depoliticized commissions for certain policy decisions. In other words, radical as it sounds, we need to counter the gridlock of our political institutions by making them a bit less democratic." . . .

[S]imilar comments by Gov. Bev Perdue, D-N.C., are far more troubling. "I think we ought to suspend, perhaps, elections for Congress for two years and just tell them we won't hold it against them, whatever decisions they make, to just let them help this country recover," Perdue told a Rotary Club gathering in suburban Raleigh this week. "I really hope that someone can agree with me on that." "

I actually saw the video in which Bev Perdue said what is quoted above. It is a correct quote. The audio appears below, from YouTube. Later, Fox News reported, her press aides claimed she was joking.

Judge for yourself- does Bev sound like she's joking?

Is it not disturbing that the liberal Democrats, having had 2 years of complete control of the federal government, were not satisfied with their accomplishments? Now that they lost the House, and may lose either or both the Senate and White House in 2012, they are agitating to suspend or dumb-down our Republican form of government, usually mis-labeled as a democracy.

We're not talking about a few hacked-up House members. We're talking about the former budget director and one of the 50 state governors.