Thursday, December 25, 2008


In an episode of the old TV show The Odd Couple, Felix Unger lectures his housemate Oscar Maddison--with the help of a chalkboard diagram--on the dangers of assuming. But of course all of us operate our daily lives on a set of assumptions which serve as the foundation of our worldview and without which something as simple as crossing the street would not be possible. Most of those assumptions remained consistent throughout much of the history of Western civilization. Even the philosophical upheavals of the Enlightenment, while attacking man's faith in God, for the most part left intact the moral and ethical systems that were the progeny of that faith.

The 20th century began to see a shift in some of those basic assumptions, first among academia, then filtering its way through all forms of popular media--especially the press, literature and the dramatic arts. Two things recently brought this to mind: first I watched a series of five video interviews by Peter Robinson with novelist Andrew Klavan on National Review TV program Uncommon Knowledge. (You can access the first interview here.) Klavan, a successful writer of thrillers, a number of which have been turned into equally successful movies, also happens to be politically conservative--and most rare of all for his profession--a Christian. In the interview he tells Robinson that the assumptions by which academia, the press, and the art world view existence allows them to ignore the fact that most of the ideas and policies of the left have failed--and failed catastrophically--so that they don't have to confront and abandon the ideology in which they have invested so much of their life and work, and so can continue to repeat the same platitudes and slogans without qualm or shame. These assumptions allow them to construct an alternate reality in which the failure of their policies are never due to the policies themselves nor the ideology which fostered them, but can always be accounted for by the machinations of their political and philosophical antagonists.

As true as this rang to me, what really brought it home is my second example: reading a novel by one of my favorite authors, James Lee Burke. Here are some excerpts from his latest book, Swan Peak:

Their form of religion was of a kind that probably goes back to the earliest log churches in prerevolutionary America. In the last twenty-five years, it has spread like a quiet fire seeping through the grass in a forest full of birdsong. It offers power and magic for the disenfranchised. It also assures true believers that they will survive an apocalyptic holocaust. It assures anti-Semites that Israel will be destroyed and that the Jews who aren't wiped off the planet will convert to Christianity. More simply, it offers succor and refuge to people who are both frightened by the world and angry at the unfair hand it has dealt them.

When the audience looked up at the sequins glittering on Jamie Sue's pink gown, when they saw the beauty of her face in the stage lights and heard the quiver in her voice, they experienced a rush of gratitude and affirmation and love that was akin to the love they felt for the founder of their faith. Idolatry was the word for it. But to them it was little different from the canonization of saints. Their tragedy lay in the fact that most of them were good people who possessed far greater virtue and courage than those who manipulated and controlled their lives.

He let the reference pass and inserted a cigarette into a holder. "Did you know in 2004 we were responsible for getting the anti-gay marriage initiative on the ballot in your home state?"
"Yeah, you got the fundamentalists into the voting booth, and once there, they pulled the lever to put your boy back in the White House," I said.

"I was in 'Nam," Clete said, eating his pain. "I saw psychopaths do stuff that made me ashamed I was a human being. I always wanted to believe some of them got help when they came back. But the truth is, they probably didn't. Know why? Because nobody cares what they did. They did it to Zips, and we were in the business of killing Zips. 'How do you shoot women and children? Easy, you just don't lead them as much.' Ever hear that one?"

In the Western world, who were the worst monsters of the twentieth century? Who tortured with glee and murdered with indifference? Stalin was an ex-seminarian. The people who fired the ovens in Auschwitz were baptized Christians.

The enlisted people who were punished for crimes inside the Abu Ghraib prison wouldn't drop their pants in a latrine without permission.

"The Wellstone Ministries aren't a scam about money. They're not interested in money. They don't even preach politics. They focus on the family, on family values, all that stuff. They've won over millions of people that way. Toward election time, the message goes out: If you believe in the family, vote against gay marriage and abortion. Vote against the people who believe in them. The Ministries don't get you to vote for people, they get you to vote against them. All they need is about four percent of the electorate. They're hooked in with some of the most powerful people in the country."

"This wasn't in Abu Ghraib. But we done things at this other place that got out of control, just like at the prison outside Baghdad. Some contract intelligence personnel wanted this one guy prepped. That's what they called it. Like softened up, before they interrogated him. The guy was a hard case. We called him Cujo 'cause he had jaws like a big dog. He'd been tortured in Egypt and showed off his scars like they was badges of honor. He told us we couldn't hurt him 'cause he wasn't like us, that he didn't eat God in a Communion wafer, that he lived inside Allah just like the Bedouins live inside the desert. He said Allah was as big as the desert, and once you were in Allah's belly, you became part of him and nobody could touch you, not even death. He told all this to guys who was going to cuff him to a bed frame and wrap a wet towel around his face and keep pouring water into his nose and mouth till he near drowned."

For Whitley's people, life and hardship and struggle were interchangeable concepts. Man was born in sin and corruption and delivered bloody and terrified from the womb. The devil was more real than God, and the flames of perdition roared right under the plank floor of the church house. The man with the power to shut down a mill or evict a tenant farmer's family lived in a white house on the hill. But the enemy was the black man who came ragged and hungry into the poor white's domain and asked for part of what the white man had been told was his birth. When people talk about class war, they're dead wrong. The war was never between the classes. It was a war between the have-nots and the have-nots. The people in the house on the hill watched if from afar when they watched at all.

"Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce came down that ridge right behind us and were wiped out on the Big Hole. The Blackfeet Indians got massacred on the Marias River the same way. The army burned their tents and blankets and left the wounded and the old people and the children to freeze to death. That's the history that seldom gets written."

Okay, let's recap the assumption that underlay these excerpts, taken in the same order as listed here:
1) Evangelical Christianity is an insidious virus of fear, bigotry, and hatred spreading through our society.
2) Christianity's adherents are good-natured people who are being hoodwinked, manipulated and exploited by a cynical political elite.
3) Those who vote for "family values" are the dupes of a cabal of capitalist exploiters to retain political power at the expense of those whom they exploit.
4) American veterans of the Viet Nam war are rife with psychopaths, war criminals, and degenerates who performed these atrocities with the full sanction--and perhaps even at the prompting--of the highest levels of command. Those who weren't psychopaths or degenerates for the most part returned irreparably scarred and emotionally traumatized for life--drug addicts and basket-cases.
5) Religious faith, and most particularly Christian religious faith, is responsible for most of the horrors of the twentieth century (and probably for many of the centuries prior).
6) The abuses of Abu Ghraib were carried out on the orders of higher command.
7) See assumptions 2&3.
8) "Waterboarding" is a lethal torture involving slow downing which American interrogators used on a wide-spread basis. Also, see assumption 6.
9) Fundamentalist Christianity is a form of primitive superstition that is predicated on and nurtures bigotry, fear, and hatred. Class warfare (and culture warfare) are myths created by the right to manipulate ignorant whites.
10) The history of the United States is one of unrelenting cruelty and genocide against the indigenous people of this land, and this fact is hidden by most of written history.

Space doesn't permit me to address the errors of each of these assumptions. Besides, my main point is to highlight the fact that all of these assumptions were spread casually throughout a crime novel, meant as literary entertainment. Take these throw-away anecdotes, comments, and assertions and multiply them by millions, in other novels, in television programs, in news broadcasts, in grade school text books, put them on the lips of hollywood stars on late night talk shows and in gossip magazine interviews, put them in every form of entertainment and information mass communication in existence and you begin to understand how we move through a medium of leftist assumptions like fish swimming in water.

Conservative friends and acquaintances with whom I've discussed this issue have often thrown up their hands, asking, "what can we do?" My answer is, first arm yourselves with the truth, with cogent, fact-based arguments. This is not easy. It takes time and effort. Then, learn how to argue effectively; not by being belligerent or ranting, but cooly questioning leftist statements and presenting your line of reasoning supported by logic and verifiable facts. This too can be very difficult. I have found myself rendered completely flustered and speechless by a statement so completely devoid of reason and connection with reality, so thoroughly non sequitur, that I simply didn't know how to respond. Persevere; make those arguments. Try again, even if you fail at first attempts. And finally, support the organizations and professionals who study, write, and speak for the conservative worldview: the pundits, the authors, the radio talk-show hosts, the think tanks, and yes...even the politicians.

Saturday, December 06, 2008


Cervantes added the above word to our lexicon by creating the character Don Quixote, a delusional man who sought to win chivalric glory for himself by fighting beasts and villains from his imagination. While Quixote did little damage to anything other than the occasional windmill, and of course, himself, our modern Quixotes--most notably the press and academia--however, often do terrible damage, not only to individuals whom they see as beast and villains, but to our society and culture. The source of their mischief is the way in which they define their adversaries: the "establishment", the status quo, Western Civilization, the "white" power structure, the capitalist economy--these are all seen by them as the enemy by simple virtue of being powerful. That which is less powerful they therefore view as more worthy of respect, objects of which they are protective and for which they fight. In this respect, anything seen as the underdog is esteemed; the powerful or successful are by default judged corrupt or evil.

Consider, for example, the antipathy with which the Western press characterizes anything to do with Christianity in comparison with the careful deference and respect afforded Islam. Radio talk show host Dennis Prager recently highlighted this in commenting as how journalists routinely use the religious honorific "prophet" when referring to Mohammed, yet would never consider an equivalent title with reference to Jesus. Why? Christianity is viewed as aligned with the prevailing power structure; as such their first impulse is to weaken and subvert it in any way they can, even in so benign a way as withholding terms of respect. Islam, on the other hand, is seen as vulnerable, and therefore should be given every advantage and courtesy.

To those of us who are believers, the efforts to undermine faith by the secular media are to be expected. It was Jesus, after all, who said, "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first." (John 15:18) But there are truly toxic ways in which our modern Quixotes attack and damage our society. Note the way our military is commonly portrayed by all forms of popular media: either as heartless killers and war criminals, or hapless victims; disparaged as bloodthirsty, or pitied as dupes. Who is the single "hero" to emerge from the media in the Iraq war? Jessica Lynch, a young frail girl, horribly wounded. Who, the single hero from the Afghanistan theater? Pat Tillman, accidentally killed by his own countrymen. And what is the result of this attitude as it has filtered through our popular culture? More and more colleges and universities are canceling ROTC programs and banning any military recruitment from their campuses. The ability of the military to recruit from large coastal urban areas has steadily diminished over the last two decades.

Or consider the way business--especially big business--is in all ways vilified by media. The results of this propaganda campaign are legion and too numerous to catalog, but a few highlights would be, 1)the ubiquity of theft by young people today of everything from music illegally downloaded online to clothing shoplifted from department stores, justified because it is taken from big "greedy" companies, 2) the willingness of taxpayers to accept the government take-over of health-care, and perhaps even the energy industry, and 3) punitive and confiscatory tax policy and draconian anti-profit regulation of business, large and small.

Why our Quixotes labor to tear down the pillars of American society--the religion that engendered the very values upon which our laws and culture was founded, the military that first won, and then preserved our freedom, the capitalists economy which has given even the lowliest of our citizens a standard of living unprecedented in human history--is address by David Horowitz in his book Unholy Alliance in reference to the American hard left. The motivation he describes applies as well, I think, to the larger contingent I am discussing.

"...they were motivated by an abstraction--the vision of a future that did not exist and had never existed, but which they were convinced they could create...The belief in this "reality" is the reason radicals discount the freedoms, and benefits of the actual world they live in. Their eyes are fixed on the revolutionary future that is perfect and just. Measured by this impossible standard, any actually existing society--including America's--is easily found deficient, even to the point where it is worthy of destruction."

On a personal level there is a more immediate motivation for their actions. Just as in my literary example, the venerable Don Quixote, they achieve a sense of nobility and chivalric glory in railing against the powerful and defending the "weak", real world results be damned.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

What will President Obama do?

While some of the men whom I respect--most notably Dennis Prager and Michael Medved--have stated that they are willing to give President-elect Barack Obama the benefit of the doubt and wish him well at the beginning of his administration, I confess to having profound and serious misgivings. In an effort to clarify my sense of foreboding, and for the sake of establishing a record for future reference, I've decided to list the policies I most fear that President Obama will establish during his administration. It's my sincere hope that none of these things will occur. But I followed this election very carefully, and based on Barack Obama's campaign speeches and information found on his web site, I fear that many, if not most, of the following will come to pass over the course of his presidency.

Domestic Policy
1) Reinstate the "Fairness Doctrine"
2) Legislate "Card Check" to end the secret ballot for union organization
3) Raise capital gains tax
4) Allow the Bush tax cuts to expire (all taxes go up plus a percentage of people, who under the Bush tax cuts were taken off the tax rolls will once again pay taxes)
5) Increase income tax rates for the top 5 to 20% of taxpayers
6) End all efforts to privatize even a portion of Social Security
7) Legislate government-run health insurance and health insurance laws that make the government health insurance a de facto single-payer system
8) Drastically cut the defense budget, especially our nuclear arsenal and our naval fleet, which tax revenues can then be diverted to fund the plethora of social entitlements on the Democrat agenda. (This would follow the model of all of the Western European democracies after the end of the Cold War.)
9) End all research and development of missile defense (so called "Star Wars" begun by President Reagan and continued by Bush II)
10) Sign FOCA (the Freedom Of Choice Act) that will overturn the Hyde Amendment and once again mandate federal funds for abortion and invalidate--by federal law--any state impediments to abortion on demand, and cut all federal funding to any programs that serve as an alternative to abortion
11) Replace 3 retiring Supreme Court Justices with radical leftist judges
12) Bail out the auto industry and put the American taxpayers on the hook for UAW pension liabilities
13) Legislate health insurance laws to prohibit the denial of coverage to people with pre-existing conditions (this would bankrupt private for-profit companies--since people would simply wait until they were sick before buying insurance--and leave government-controlled insurance as the only alternative
14) Start a government-funded Peace Corps-type, semi-mandatory alternative to military service
15) Raise the minimum wage to an arbitrarily decided "living wage" ($9.50 per hour according to his web site) instead of an entry level wage as it has historically been
16) Change bankruptcy law to "forgive" medical expense debt if the individual can prove that it is the cause of his bankruptcy
17) Legislate anti-profit laws against drug companies, further suppressing the creation of new drugs
18) Legislate severe handgun restrictions, conceal-carry law restrictions, and ban so called "assault weapons"
19) Federally fund preschools across the country
20) Mandate the US military to allow the service of openly gay in the US military
21) Block the building of any new nuclear power plants
22) Bankrupt the US coal industry
23) Block any new offshore drilling for oil
24) Drastically increase corn ethanol subsidies
25) Create a federal "Department of Peace"
26) Drastically increase the budget and power of the Department of Education
27) End "No Child Left Behind" and any student testing as a criteria or incentive for federal funds
28) Repeal the Defense of Marriage Act
29) Legislate to fund, from taxpayer dollars, 100% of community college tuition and 2/3rds of public college tuition.
30) Legislate equal pay for "comparable" work (in other words, arbitrarily equating, say, clerical work to pipe fitting and mandating equal pay for both)
31) Create a "Civilian National Security Force"

Foreign Policy
32) End the covert war on terror and reduce all such engagement to Clinton era law enforcement activity
33) Make the rest of the world "like" us (by making us weak and deferential to organizations such as the UN and the World Court)
34) Loosen immigration enforcement and legislate the issue of driver's licenses to illegal immigrants
35) Sign and ratify the Kyoto Protocol & establish a massive cap & trade bureaucracy
36) Re-negotiate North American Free Trade Agreement causing retaliatory trade restrictions and tariffs by other countries.
37) Meet with terrorist state leaders without preconditions
38) Pull American troops from Iraq with no regard for conditions within the country--possibly leading to Iran having decisive influence in Shiite-majority Iraq, or a massive resurgence of terrorist/insurgent violence and the ultimate collapse of the fledgling democracy.
39) Change America's relationship with Israel and the Palestinians: more favorable to the Palestinians and less favorable to Israel
40) Double foreign aid
41) Negotiate an agreement with the Taliban in Afghanistan and subsequently redeploy American troops out of Afghanistan.
42) Close Guantanamo and release perhaps hundreds of self-avowed jihadists committed to killing Americans

In writing this list, I've tried to either avoid explanatory comments and predictions of their consequences, or at least keep them to a minimum, but I welcome your comments and input. It's my intention to revisit this page often and comment and further elaborate, in future posts, as these policies are implemented. Suffice it to say now that I believe each and every one of these policies, if enacted, will have disastrous results for this country. I encourage everyone to pray, as well as actively work, for the prevention of any of these policies being legislated or enacted to law by judicial or presidential fiat.

God help us in the coming four years.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Willful Blindness

In Andrew McCarthy's recent book, Willful Blindness: A Memoir of the Jihad, he comes to several conclusions that bear absolute relevance to the outcome of this election considering the diametrically opposite views of the two candidates in how they will approach the question of what is commonly called the "War on Terror." McCarthy's bonafides to draw these conclusions are solid: he served as top federal prosecutor in the government's case against Omar Abdel Rahman, otherwise known as the "Blind Shiekh," and his acolytes for their bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993. The book, for the most part, is a recount of the investigation and trial.

But in the final chapter McCarthy outlines his conclusions about why the struggle of the United States against jihadists should not be addressed through the courts or the American justice system, but rather through our intelligence community and our military. Here's an excerpt:
The line drawn here is that it is preferable for the government to fail than for an innocent person to be wrongly convicted or otherwise deprived of his rights. Not so in the realm of national security. There, government confronts a host of sovereign states and sub-national entities (particularly international terrorist organizations) claiming the right to use force. The executive is not enforcing American law against a suspected criminal but exercising national defense powers to protect our country against external threats. ...The galvanizing concern in the national security realm is to defeat the enemy, and, as Bill Barr puts, "preserve the very foundation of all our civil liberties." The line drawn here is that government cannot be permitted to fail.

The folly of the criminal justice approach to terrorism is highlighted by McCarthy when he points out that in the eight years between the '93 bombing of the World Trade Center towers and their final destruction in 2001 there were less than ten major terrorism prosecutions, and these at a truly staggering cost that continues to this day since several of these cases, all these years later, are still in appellate or habeas-corpus litigation.

He also affirms that the legal approach actually increases the threat of terrorism because of the information that can (and has been) conveyed to foreign terrorist masters through the discovery process of a trial.

An additional detriment is that it corrodes our own system of justice. Since Islamic terrorist are not motivated in the same way as "criminals", and since the danger to the greater society is just as real as if the terrorist were being confronted in a military way:
the legally required showing of probable cause for a search warrant is apt to be loosely constructed when agents, prosecutors, and judges know denial of the warrant may mean a massive bombing plot is allowed to proceed. ...Civilian justice is a zero-sum arrangement. Principles and precedents we create in terrorism cases generally get applied across the board. Worse still, this state of affairs incongruously redounds to the benefit of the terrorist. Initially, this is because his central aim is to undermine our system, so in a very concrete way he succeeds whenever justice is diminished. Later, as government countermeasures come to appear more oppressive, it is because civil society comes increasingly to blame the government rather than the terrorists. In fact, the terrorists--the lightening rod for all of this--come perversely to be portrayed, and to some extent perceived, as symbols of embattled liberal principles, the very one it is their Utopian mission to eradicate. The ill-informed and sometimes malignant campaigns against the Patriot Act and the National Security Agency's terrorist surveillance program are examples of this phenomenon.

In sum, trials in the criminal justice system don't work for terrorism. They work for terrorists.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

More About Gusher of Lies

In a long segment of Gusher of Lies called "The Ethanol Scam", author Robert Bryce confirms my long skepticism of the ethanol project in American energy policy. The nexus of the ethanol agenda and the venerated American tradition of farm subsidy has joined forces to create a truly toxic brew of staggering economic waste and taxpayer exsanguination.
If America is "addicted" to oil, then it's equally true that the corn ethanol industry is a world-class junkie when it comes to subsidies. For decades, American politicians have been talking about the need to reduce farm subsidies, and yet, with the ethanol scam, those subsidies, particularly the $0.51-per-gallon tax credit, are thriving.

Making ethanol from corn borders on fiscal insanity. It uses tax-payer money to make subsidized motor fuel from the single most subsidized crop in America. Between 1995 and 2005, federal corn subsidies totaled $51.3 billion. In 2005 alone, according to data compiled by the Environmental Working Group, corn subsides totaled $9.4 billion. That $9.4 billion is approximately equal to the entire 2006 budget for the U.S. Department of Commerce, a federal agency that has 39,000 employees.

But Big Corn isn't satisfied with the subsidies that are paid out to grow the grain. They are also getting massive subsidies to make that grain into fuel. The $0.51-per-gallon tax credit, which is allocated based on the volume of fuel produced, is only part of the subsidy picture. Including producer tax credits, reductions in state motor fuel taxes, and federal grants, the total subsidies for ethanol range from $1.05 per gallon to $1.87 per gallon. But ethanol contains only about two-thirds of the heat value of gasoline; on a gasoline-equivalent basis, the total subsidies range from $1.42 to $1.87 per gallon. ...the American taxpayer may soon be paying nearly $16 billion per year to subsidize the production of a motor fuel that will do little, if anything, to reduce America's overall oil imports.

...In short, American taxpayers are being taxed three different ways in order to produce corn ethanol: (1) the billions in subsidies for growing corn; (2) the billions in subsidies for turning that corn into ethanol; and (3) the billions of dollars in costs that come from higher food prices.

And what about the real cost of producing ethanol? Any such calculation must include the ratio of heat energy acquired from the product opposed to the energy required to make the product.
...for every 1 Btu invested, an investor gets 1.34 Btus in return. The the details--as always--are in the fine print. The scientists are able to achieve that 34 percent net gain only by including "copoducts energy credits," that is, by adding in the energy value of the by-products that are created during the ethanol distillation process. Among the most important of these by-products is dried distiller's grain used for cattle feed. ...but you can't run your car on cattle feed. Without that credit, the total energy profit is about 9 percent: for every 1 Btu invested, an investor only gets 1.09 Btus in return.

Of course whenever ethanol is mentioned Brazil is pointed to as the success story. Bill O'Reilly, for instance, constantly beats this drum. But the real Brazilian ethanol picture is much different than the legend. First the good news:
Brazil has a huge advantage in ethanol production because sugarcane is a far better feedstock than corn. While corn ethanol provides very little, if any, energy profits, ethanol produced from sugarcane produces about 8 times more energy than is required to produce the fuel. That is, for every 1 Btu invested, an investor gets about 8 Btus of energy profits. Brazil's tropical climate makes it perfect for sugarcane production. Petrobras, Brazil's national oil company, claims it can produce twice as much ethanol per acre as U.S. corn farmers and do so at half the cost.

But the bad news is, that for all the touted miracle of Brazilian ethanol, their oil production--yes oil--far exceeds their ethanol.
In 2006, the U.S. imported about 26,000 barrels of Brazilian ethanol per day, or 17,200 barrels per day of oil equivalent (adjusting for the difference in heat energy). That's not much when stacked next to America's 21-million-barrel-per-day oil habit.

Nor does that Brazilian ethanol matter much when compared with America's imports of Brazilian oil and oil products. In 2006, the U.S. imported an average of 133,000 barrels of crude per day from Brazil. When all crude and pretroleum coke and fuel oil are accounted for, in 2006, the U.S. imported an average of 192,000 barrels of crude and oil products per day from Brazil. In other words, in 2006, the U.S. imported 11 times as much energy from Brazil in the form of crude and oil products as it did in the form of ethanol.

The truth about Brazil's energy "miracle" is that it has almost nothing to do with ethanol and everything to do with Petrobras's ability to continue increasing its oil production--the vast majority of which is coming from Brazil's offshore waters.

Whenever talk about corn ethanol gets too uncomfortable for proponents of ethanol, they will often bring up the promise of cellulosic ethanol, made from wood chips, stalks, or switch grass. It all sound like a dream come true: use agricultural waste to create motor fuel. But like many dreams too good to be true, it's too good to be true. It's an energy looser, requiring more energy to produce than can be acquired from the finished product. For 1 Btu invested, an investor gets only 0.5 Btus in return.

A particularly surprising fact was the enormous quantities of water required to produce ethanol--a frightening thought considering the ongoing depletion of ancient aquifers in the west and midwest. The extraction and refining of conventional oil requires--at most--2.8 gallons of water for each gallon of oil produced. Ethanol, however, requires 880 gallons of water for every one gallon of ethanol produced.

Perhaps the most insidious part of the ethanol scam is the way it has actually increased American gasoline consumption.
By producing flex fuel vehicles (FFVs), American automakers get credits from the federal government on the overall efficiency of their fleets. And therein lies the essence of the FFV scam: When calculating fuel efficiency for a given vehicle, the federal government counts only the amount of gasoline that it consumes.

The automakers claim that an FFV will be burning E85 (85% ethanol/15% gasoline mix), not gasoline, for part of the time. That allows them to inflate the fuel efficiency numbers that they must meet under the federal government's Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards. For instance, GM seized on the federal credits by making one of its biggest SUVs, the Suburban, into an FFV capable of using E85. In the real world, the Suburban gets less than 15 miles per gallon. But thanks to the credits, the E85-capable Suburban is magically transformed into a vehicle that gets more than 29 miles per gallon. Of course, that mileage occurs only on paper, not on the highway.

...So how much fuel has the E85-FFV scam cost the U.S.? In early 2007, U.S. News & World Reportmagazine report that the U.S. "will burn 17 billion more gallons of gasoline from 2001 to 2008" as a result of the scam.

So next time a politician--whether Democrat or Republican--begins touting the virtues of ethanol, recognize it for what it is: a pipe dream.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Gusher of Lies

Of all the slogans bandied in this political campaign season, perhaps the one that most depresses me is, "energy independence." Doubly wounding is the fact that it's touted by both parties and many of my own friends. After my reading of economics, which has admittedly not been particularly broad, but at least has been of high quality--Milton Friedman and Thomas Sowell--I remain convinced that the idea of American energy independence is a fantasy only sustained by a fundamental misunderstanding, and even ignorance, of how the world energy economy functions. To gain further understanding myself, I'm currently reading Gusher of Lies: The Dangerous Delusion of "Energy Independence" by Robert Bryce.

Consider some startling facts I've already gleaned from the book:
*The Motiva expansion project at the Port Arthur, Texas refinery, announced in 2006 as a joint venture between Aramco and Shell, will most likely produce 50% more motor fuel per day than the total output of all of the ethanol plants in America during the entire year of 2006.

*To replace all of the diesel fuel burned in America with biodiesel, farmers would have to plant some 716 million acres in soybeans (the favored source for making boidiesel)--that's an area about 1.6 times all the cropland now under cultivation in the United States.

*A study by the International Energy Agency reported that replacing just 5 percent of the world's oil with biofuels would require up to 20 percent of all the land on the planet that is now under cultivation.

*Even with large government subsidies, it took 13 years before the corn industry was able to produce 1 billion gallons of ethanol per year. And it took about 25 years before corn ethanol production reached 5 billion gallons per year.

The author is no fan of politicians and seems to reserve special obloquy for conservatives, however his work is carefully endnoted with original sources, and I find much of his argument (though admittedly not all) unassailable. Here's an excerpt from a section that clarified much for me:
Implicit in the arguments for energy independence is the belief that if the U.S. quits buying foreign energy, then it can deny funds to selected petrostates. isolationists who proffer this argument are ignoring the reality of the global marketplace. Oil is a global commodity. Its price is set globally, not locally. Traders at the New York Mercantile Exchange compete with bidders from Tokyo to Tulsa, and in the process, they are constantly determining the fair price of oil... Low-quality heavy crude containing high quantities of sulfur gets sold at a discount, while high-quality light sweet crude fetches a premium price.

The modern oil-trading system is remarkably efficient. And that efficiency prevents any buyer or seller in the marketplace from effectively designating the final consumer of crude or refined products. This fact was best summarized by S. Fred Singer, an emeritus professor of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia. "We can think of the oil market in an over-simplified way as a giant bath tub into which oil pours from many sources, where it sells at a single world price, and from which users purchase oil without regard for its origin," wrote Singer in a 2003 opinion piece for the Washington Times. He continued, "It is immaterial how much oil the U.S. imports from an unstable source. It is immaterial if our imports from Saudi Arabia rise, if they do not sell oil to us, they will sell to someone else."

As Scott Tinker, the director of the Bureau of Economic Geology at the University of Texas, points out, even if the U.S. did manage to decrease its oil consumption, that decrease "won't have a global impact on major oil exporters. In fact, quite the opposite. The big oil-exporting countries are recognizing that the future market for them is the Mid- and Far East, in countries like India and China. Increasing demand in the regions will overshadow decreased consumption in the U.S., keeping global demand above global supply."

In other words, Americans may think they are doing the right thing by burning ethanol-flavored gasoline and driving Priuses, but whatever oil the U.S. doesn't buy from the Saudis will still get sold. Every barrel of oil that goes onto the the world market is purchased by someone, somewhere. Buyers cannot deny their currency to one supplier in favor of another. Every player--no matter what percentage of their oil comes from imports--is subject to price fluctuations in the marketplace.

In other words, any attempt at energy independence will be enormously expensive, and it won't insulate the U.S. from fluctuating global oil prices. Nor will it mean that the Saudis, the Iranians, the Venezuelans, or any other oil-rich regime will suddenly be strapped for cash. And yet, there is a persistent delusion that the U.S. can control the global energy market by withdrawing from it and, in doing so, deny funds to the petrostates in the Persian Gulf and force a few reform movement in the Arab and Islamic worlds.

None of this is to say that we shouldn't be doing research in alternative energy sources, or that we shouldn't be extracting our own oil resources. It merely means that in doing so we won't be securing energy independence for ourselves, but rather doing what we have always done in the history of our country when we have exploited out natural resources and exercised scientific initiative: generating wealth.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

American compassion?

I can no longer remember when I first heard the phrase, "unconditional love." It seems like it might have been some time in the 60s or 70s -- I know it was nothing I heard as a child. I do know that for quite a while it seemed a perfectly acceptable usage to me, and filled me with the same sense of warm fuzzies that others appeared to get from the phrase. I still affirm the idea that God's love for us is separate from any merit or deservedness on our part.

Of late, however, I have grown increasingly uncomfortable with the phrase, and more so upon my reading of Marvin Olasky's book, The Tragedy of American Compassion. (Olasky holds a PhD in American culture, is a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, and is editor-in-chief of World magazine.) In 1989 and 1990 Olasky, funded by a grant from the Heritage Foundation, researched the history of American charity to the poor, from colonial times to present, at the Library of Congress, research upon which he based his book. He outlines the early American model of compassion, and describes the surprisingly successful programs of the time, run almost exclusively by religious organizations. He identifies seven "marks of compassion" which characterized this early American model and were essential elements of its achievement: affiliation, bonding, categorization, discernment, employment, freedom, and God.

To quickly define these terms, affiliation focused on restoring the broken relationships with family, church and community of the needy. Bonding was required by volunteers with those whom they helped, in the true spirit of the word "compassion": to suffer with. Charities of the day carefully categorized their applicants between those "worthy of relief" (children, widows, those able and willing to work, and those unable to work due to disease or handicap), and the "unworthy, not entitled to relief" (the "shiftless and intemperate" who were unwilling to work). Discernment was then thoughtfully exercised in the type, degree and duration of aid given with the goal, for all for whom it was possible, to secure employment, and thereby restore (or perhaps for the first time secure) self-sufficiency, dignity, and freedom. And all was done in the name and to the glory of God.

All of this occurred during a time when American society endorsed the classic Judeo/Christian view of fallen man and sovereign God. But with the advent of, first, liberal Protestant theology, and later, secular/humanist worldview that denied the fallen nature of man and rather affirmed a natural goodness in human nature that would assert itself once social and physical necessities were met, a new template of compassion assumed American charity. Almost all of the marks of compassion that had once governed American charity were abandoned, and with them the role of government aid eclipsed that of the faith-based organizations--and with it the success they had experienced. In effect, "bad charity" drove out "good charity". The zenith of this movement was seen in the 1960s with the passing of unprecedented welfare entitlements and the professionalization of social work. The decades of the 1970s and 1980s saw the devaluation of marriage, a horrifying rise in unwed childbirth, and the formation of a multi-generational underclass dependent on government largess. True, no one was starving anymore, a basic level of physical need was met, but the social and moral aspects of poverty, and the sheer numbers of the dependent class grew exponentially.

Perhaps the worst tragedy is that this model of compassion, stripped of affiliation, bonding, categorization, discernment, and employment, has infected many faith-based efforts of charity, with results that early American charity pioneers warned of when first establishing their model of compassion. Consider this excerpt from the book:
Shortly before Christmas 1989, a Washington Post reporter, Stephen Buckley, interviewed eight men who were living in Northwest Washington in a tent made by tying a bright blue tarpaulin over a grate that spewed hot air. Buckley noted that the men had sleeping bags, gloves, scarves, and boots, and lots of food: "Party trays with chicken and turnkey. Fruit. Boxes of crackers. Bags of popcorn. Canned goods. All donated by passersby." Some of the recipients probably were fathers, but they were not spending Christmas with their children.

Buckley also visited four men and two women who were camping on a heating grate on the eastern edge of the Ellipse, just south of the White House. The heat, along with "the generosity of private citizens who bring them food and clothes every night," meant that the campers "don't worry much about surviving the cold," Buckley reported. Indeed, visitors throughout the evening dropped off supplies; one woman brought fruit, nuts, and two dollars; three men brought a platter of cold cuts; and two other men hot chocolate, blankets, gloves, sweaters, and socks. One of the campers, a forty-one-year-old man who has been "largely homeless" for eleven years, noted that "the majority of clothes we have here now were dropped off by persons who were walking by and saw us here. They just thought they could bring something that would be helpful to us."
The unavoidable question presented by these stories is: do these indiscriminate gifts really help these people, or are they rather making things worse by enabling them to remain "homeless"?

Even evangelical programs of charity, done in the name of Christ, if devoid of the other marks of compassion in the early American model, are left only with freedom. But freedom to do what--roam the streets? Abuse drugs and alcohol? Continue to abandon one's children? Is this really demonstrating the "unconditional" love of God?

Consider another excerpt from the book which illustrates a different sort of contemporary faith-based charity organization that embraces the early American model of compassion:
Jim and Anne Pierson of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, for example, bought a large, old house named it House of His Creation, and over seven years provided shelter to two hundred pregnant women. The Piersons learned that the family structure of their home was crucial, because most the women who stayed with them had lacked a good family life. They had never seen a healthy mother-father or husband-wife relationship, and so had become cynics about marriage. Some of the residents at House of His Creation, freed from peer pressure to single-parent and able to see the importnace of dual-parenting, chose to place for adoption. Most also began thinking about marriage in a new healthy way.

The Pierson's next step was to act as catalysts for the development of family-base maternity homes. They formed the Christian Maternity Home/Single Parent Association (CMHA), which has thirty-two member homes, each with two house parents and six to eight pregnant women in residence. At one CMHA home, Sparrow House in Baltimore, houseparents draw each new resident into family life--for some, this is the only time in their lives that they have lived with a "mother" and a "father." The houseparents help each resident adjust to rules and responsibilities that may be new and hard to take at first. Since many of the young women have come from undisciplined lives, they are learning--maybe for the first time--to live with structure. They also learn to take their spiritual needs seriously. Sparrow House, like other CMHA homes, accepts needy women from any religious background, but the program's unapologetic base in Christian teaching is reminiscent of many in the late nineteenth century...The housemother spends many hours with the teenage mother but she does not assume babysitting responsibilities; if a teenage mother is desperate, the housemother takes over for a short time but only in exchange for doing laundry for the household or mowing the lawn. House-parents need to have inner strength and conviction that the child will be better off in the long run by maintaining a hands-off situation. They have to let the child cry longer than they would let him cry. The have to let his diaper be wetter than they would allow. The teenager has to learn that it is her responsibility. Christian Family Care Agency's tough love leads about half of the teenage mothers to realize that for both their good and their children's, they should choose adoption; the other half raise their children with a new appreciation of marriage and an awareness of their own limitations. Crucially, that knowledge has come in the safe environment of a family home, not it the dangerous terrain of a solitary apartment filled with the sounds of a crying child and a tired angry parent.

So perhaps this "tough love" is in reality a better expression of God's "unconditional" love than merely handing out food and clothing with no attendant personal responsibility required. And perhaps my own unease with the phrase "unconditional love" is in reality a disappointment with so many contemporary Christian charity programs that seem to have forsaken the classical view of compassion--that of suffering with--for the far easier, guilt-assuaging and self-congratulatory model of indiscriminate giving of food, clothing, or money.

A side note: Tragedy was first published in 1992. It slowly gained a small following in New York and Washington. Journalist John Fund and philanthropist Heather Higgins recommended it to others, among them former Secretary of Education Bill Bennet who, in late 1994 passed it on to new Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. In January of 1995 Gingrich repeatedly spoke about the book's themes and recommended it to others; a media frenzy ensued. It's commonly understood that Tragedy was influential in the welfare reform that the Republican Congress passed and President Bill Clinton eventually signed into law.

For anyone interested in the history of American charity, the birth and evolution of American government welfare and poverty programs, or anyone considering faith-based giving or volunteer work, I urge you to read, and be challenged by The Tragedy of American Compassion.

Friday, August 15, 2008

More About Life at the Bottom

Dalrymple's Life at the Bottom: The Worldview That Makes the Underclass is his second book I've read. I assure you, I will read more. He's not only a wonderful writer; he writes about important things and says things of import about them.

The book is divided into two sections: 1) Grim Reality, and 2) Grimmer Theory. The chapters that make up both sections are, as was Our Culture, What's Left of It, primarily reprints of articles he has written for the magazine, City Journal. In the Grim Reality section, he describes the misery and degradation of the London underclass who make up the patients to whom he ministers as both physician and psychiatrist in a hospital and a prison located in the slums of the city. In the Grimmer Theory section, he illustrates how these social conditions, as are similar conditions in the inner cities of the United States, not the result of racism or poverty (in the classical sense of the word, such as one encounters in the third world), but rather a direct consequence of leftist ideas that have permeated the popular culture: ideas such as multiculturalism, moral relativity, post modernism, radical egalitarianism, "social" justice, and the theory that poverty causes crime.

One of the most striking aspects to this book is how he illustrates behavior--by white London underclass males--that almost perfectly mimics the look and attitude of minority ghetto-dwellers in an American city. Consider this excerpt from the chapter entitled, Tough Love:
I can now tell at a glance—with a fair degree of accuracy—that a man is violent toward his significant other. (It doesn't follow, of course, that I can tell when a man isn't violent toward her.) In truth, the clues are not particularly subtle. A closely shaven head with many scars on the scalp from collisions with broken bottles or glasses; a broken nose; blue tattoos on the hands, arms, and neck, relaying messages of love, hate, and challenge; but above all, a facial expression of concentrated malignity, outraged egotism, and feral suspiciousness—all these give the game away. Indeed, I no longer analyze the clues and deduce a conclusion: a man's propensity to violence is as immediately legible in his face and bearing as any other strongly marked character trait.

In another chapter entitled Choosing to Fail, Dalrymple tells of the growing phenomenon of the male children of Indian immigrants who, despite being raised in respectable middle class homes by parents successful in business (and whose siblings for the most part follow their parent's wishes to become professionals or business people), nevertheless, and against all reason, choose to imitate the worst cultural aspects of the worst districts of their adopted city and descend into crime and violence.
There are many other outward signs of the acculturation of Indians into the lower depths. Although their complexions are by no means well-adapted to it, tattooing is fast on the increase among them. Other adornments—a ring through the eyebrow or the nose, for example—are membership badges of the clan. Gold in the front teeth, either replacing an entire incisor or framing it with a rim of gold, is virtually diagnostic of heroin addiction and criminality. Such decorative dentistry is imitative of the black underclass and is intended as a signal of both success and dangerousness.

Young Indians have adopted, too, the graceless manners of the class to which they aspire to belong. They now walk with the same self-assured vulpine lope as their white compatriots, not merely as a way of locomotion but as a means of communicating threat. Like the whites, they shave their heads to reveal the scars upon their scalps, the wounds of the underclass war of each against all.

They have made the gestures and postures of their white and black mentors their own. When a member of the developing Indian underclass consults me, he slouches in the chair at so acute an angle to the floor that I would not have thought it possible, let alone comfortable, for a man to retain the position. But it isn't comfort he is after: he is making a statement of disrespect in the face of what he supposes to be authority. His fragile ego demands that he dominate all social interactions and submit to no convention.

He also adopts a facial expression unique to the British underclass. Asked a question, he replies with an arching and curling of half his upper lip, part snarl, part sneer. Expressive both of disdain and of menace, it is by no means easy to achieve, as I proved to myself by trying it without success in the mirror. It simultaneously demands, "Why are you asking me that?" and warns: "Don't push me too far." It is the response to all questions, no matter how innocuous: for in a world in which every contact is a jostling for power, it is best to establish straightaway that you are not to be trifled with.

In the Grimmer Theory section of the book, in a chapter named Zero Intolerance, he recounts the absurdity that London policing has become:
Far from having adopted a policy of zero tolerance, as in New York, they have adopted one of zero intolerance; and their approach to crime is almost as abstract—as ethereal—as that of liberal criminologists. It is therefore of some interest, both practical and theoretical, to examine whether the quality of life of the poor has improved or deteriorated under this lax police regime.

The policy of zero intolerance appears to have sprung from the brains of the city's most senior policemen, increasingly indistinguishable in their public pronouncements from senior social workers. Their constituency is not the people of the city but the liberal intelligentsia. A policeman on the beat who had occasion to visit my ward recently told me that he and his colleagues were under orders not to arrest and charge anyone who was previously unknown to the police for crimes up to and including attempted murder. As an old hand nearing an eagerly anticipated retirement from a job he had once loved, he found this instruction deeply demoralizing. It was, he knew, a virtual incitement to crime.

The policy of zero intolerance is no mere local aberration. The chief of police of another force explained recently in an essay why it was necessary to keep arrests to a minimum. It takes four hours to process each one, he wrote, and therefore such arrests distracted the police from their other duties. He never explained what police duties could be more important than the apprehension of lawbreakers, nor did he call for a streamlining of the process of arrest (which requires, on average, 43 forms). Besides, he added, mere repression of criminality, whenever the police chanced to catch a criminal, would never on its own put an end to crime. Much better, he seemed to imply, to let the criminals get on with it.

I'm so energized by the lucidity of writing and the pertinence of his ideas in this book that I could go on quoting Dalrymple until I had reproduced the entire book, but let me end with this, from his chapter named, Seeing is not Believing:
On my right sat a man in his late sixties, intelligent and cultivated, who had been a distinguished foreign correspondent for the BBC and who had spent much of his career in the United States. He said that for the last ten years he had read with interest my weekly dispatches—printed in a rival, conservative publication—depicting the spiritual, cultural, emotional, and moral chaos of modern urban life, and had always wanted to meet me to ask me a simple question: Did I make it all up?

Did I make it all up? It was a question I have been asked many times by middle-class liberal intellectuals, who presumably hope that the violence, neglect, and cruelty, the contorted thinking, the utter hopelessness, and the sheer nihilism that I describe week in and week out are but figments of a fevered imagination. In a way, I am flattered that the people who ask this question should think that I am capable of inventing the absurd yet oddly poetic utterances of my patients—that I am capable, for example, of inventing the man who said he felt like the little boy with his finger in the dike, crying wolf. But at the same time the question alarms me and reminds me of what Thackeray once said about the writings of Henry Mayhew, the chronicler of the London poor: we had but to go 100 yards off and see for ourselves, but we never did.

On being asked whether I make it all up, I reply that, far from doing so, I downplay the dreadfulness of the situation and omit the worst cases that come to my attention so as not to distress the reader unduly. The reality of English lower-class life is far more terrible than I can, with propriety, depict. My interlocutors nod politely and move on to the next subject.

My advice: go the 100 yards and see for yourself.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Life at the Bottom

I've just started reading another book by the remarkable essayist and social commentator Theodore Dalrymple. In Life At The Bottom: The Worldview That Makes The Underclass, Dalrymple chronicles his first hand observations of the English underclass whom he has seen as physician and psychiatrist in both a London hospital serving the poorest area of the city, and a prison, as well as addresses the ideas which he sees as the cause of the social horror he describes. Here are a few brief excerpts from the introduction and the first chapter:

Their ideas make themselves manifest even in the language they use. The frequency of locutions of passivity is a striking example. An alcoholic, explaining his misconduct while drunk, will say, "The beer went mad." A heroin addict, explaining his resort to the needle, will say, "Heroin's everywhere." It is as if the beer drank the alcoholic and the heroin injected the addict.

When a man tells me, in explaination of his anti-social behavior, that he is easily led, I ask him whether he was ever easily led to study mathematics or the subjunctives of French verbs. Invariably the man begins to laugh: the absurdity of what he has said is immediately apparent to him.

Another burglar demanded to know from me why he repeatedly broke into houses and stole VCRs. He asked the question aggressively, as if "the system" had so far let him down in not supplying him with the answer; as if it were my duty as a doctor to provide him with the buried psychological secret that, once revealed, would in and of itself lead him unfailingly on the path of virtue. Until then he would continue to break into houses and steal VCRs (when at liberty to do so), and the blame would be mine. When I refused to examine his past, he exclaimed, "But something must make me do it!" "How about greed, laziness, and a thirst for excitement?" I suggested. "What about my childhood?" he asked. "Nothing to do with it," I replied firmly.

Statistical association has been taken indiscriminately as proving causation: thus if criminal behavior is more common among the poorer classes, it must be poverty that causes crime... Here the subliminal influence of Marxist philosophy surfaces: the notion that it is not the consciousness of men that determines their being but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness. If this were so, men would still live in caves; but it has just enough plausibility to shake the confidence of the middle classes that crime is a moral problem, not just a problem of morale.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Buckley on moral equivalence

Here's a delicious tidbit from William F. Buckley Jr.'s literary autobiography Miles Gone By, speaking of his Blackford Oakes spy novels:
The point I sought to make--and continue to do so in the series of novels that has followed the initial one--is that the CIA, whatever its failures, seeks to advance the honorable alternative in the struggle for the world. We have had not only Robert Redford starring in a movie the point of which is that the CIA is a corrupt and bloody-minded secret instrument of an amoral government. We have also had novels by Graham Greene, and John le Carre, and Len Deighton, for instance, their point being, really, that there is little to choose between the KGB and the CIA. Both organizations, it is fashionable to believe, are defined by their practices. I said to Johnny Carson, when on his program he raised the question, that to say that the CIA and the KGB engage in similar practices is the equivalent of saying that the man who pushes an old lady into the path of a hurtling bus is not to be distinguished from the man who pushes an old lady out the path of a hurtling bus: on the grounds that, after all, in both cases someone is pushing old ladies around.

I almost burst out laughing when I read this, as it seemed so perfectly to answer this common equation from the "blame America first" contingent, (as Jean Kirkpatrick dubbed it). During the Cold War we heard interminable such comparisons between the Soviets and the United States. Lately I'm hearing the same sort of thing about Iran, as in "why doesn't Iran have just as much right to have nuclear weapons as Israel?" But of course, that's the whole point. It's not the nuclear weapons, per se, to which we object. The United States didn't try to stop France from acquiring nuclear weapons, for instance; as a matter of fact, we helped them tremendously, probably saving them 10 years of research. Why? Because France is our ally, and we trust their responsible possession of nuclear technology.

How anyone could make the straight-faced argument that Iran--the single largest state sponsor of terrorism in the world--could be a responsible and trustworthy possessor of nuclear weapons is beyond me. Yet I hear it at least once a week these days. Pushing old ladies around, indeed.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

World War IV

I just finished reading Norman Podhoretz's superb argument in support of the Bush Doctrine: World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism. Podhoretz, for those who don't know, is the very definition of the word neoconservative, a former leftist writer and intellectual of New York Jewish stock who became disillusioned with the American Left's apologia and common cause with Communism and other forms of totalitarianism, and as result turned a "neo" (new) conservative (though most who use the word don't even know its intended meaning and use it as either an epithet for all conservatives in the same way "fascist" is so often used, or as a code word for a suspected secret cabal of Jews working in American government at the behest of Israel). He is also the father of New York Post opinion columnist and all around conservative pundit John Podhoretz.

Podhoretz starts his argument by defining the cold war as World War III, and our present struggle against Islamofascism as World War IV, which he postulates could last every bit as long as the 40 some years of the cold war. The book has the virtue of being brief and to the point, coming in at barely over 200 pages of medium sized print. The only draw-back to this brevity is that his many quotes of dissenters and denouncers of the Bush doctrine are almost never given date and time attribution since there are no foot or end notes. These quotes are so poignant and ripe for use in further argument that I miss their trace.

WWIV succinctly chronicles the origins of the Bush Doctrine, drawing both parallels and contrasts to the Truman Doctrine as well as the domestic political and cultural challenges to each. Of particular interest to me, however, was the chapter, The Radicalization of the Democrats, in which he shows how far various politicians have strayed from their positions in an extraordinarily short time, especially when compared to the time frame of the same sort of thing that happened during the Viet Nam war. Consider these quotes from Democrat politicians before they turned against the war in Iraq:
If Saddam rejects peace and we have to use force, our purpose is clear. We want to seriously diminish the threat posed by Iraq's weapons-of-mass-destruction program. (President Bill Clinton 1998)

Iraq is a long way from {the United States}, but what happens there matters a great deal here. For the risk that the leaders of a rogue state will use nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons against us or our allies is the greatest security threat we face. (Madeleine Albright 1998)

...take necessary actions (including, if appropriate, air and missile strike on suspect Iraqi site) to respond effectively to the threat posed by Iraq's refusal to end its weapons-of-mass-destruction programs. (a letter to President Bill Clinton around the same time from Carl Levin, Tom Daschle, and John Kerry)

Saddam Hussein has been engaged in the development of weapons-of-mass-destruction technology, which is a threat to countries in the region, and he has made a mockery of the weapons inspection process. (Nancy Pelosi)

There is no doubt that...Saddam Hussein has invigorated his weapons programs. Reports indicate that biological, chemical, and nuclear programs continue apace and may be back to pre-Gulf War status. In addition, Saddam continues to redefine delivery systems and is doubtless using the cover of a licit missile program to develop longer-range missiles that will threaten the United States and our allies. (Senator Bob Graham in a letter to newly elected President Bush 2001)

Saddam Hussein is a tyrant and a threat to the peace and stability of the region. He has ignored the mandate of the United Nations, and is building weapons of mass destruction and means of delivering them. (Senator Carl Levin in the letter to President Bush)

In the four years since the inspectors left, intelligence reports show that Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological-weapons stock, his missile-delivery capability, and his nuclear program. He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including Al Qaeda members. (Senator Hillary Clinton 2002)

There is unmistakable evidence that Saddam Hussein is working aggressively to develop nuclear weapons and will likely have nuclear weapons within the next five years... We also should remember we have always underestimated the progress Saddam has made in development of weapons of mass destruction. (Senator Jay Rockefeller 2002)

Saddam Hussein in effect has thumbed his nose at the world community, and I think that the president is approaching this in the right fashion. (Senator Harry Reid 2002)

We know that {Saddam} has stored secret supplies of biological and chemical weapons throughout his country... Iraq's search for weapons of mass destruction has proven impossible to deter, and we should assume that it will continue for as long as Saddam is in power. (Al Gore 2002)

We have known for many years that Saddam Hussein is seeking and developing weapons of mass destruction. (Senator Edward Kennedy 2002)

The last UN weapons inspectors left Iraq in October of 1998. We are confident that Saddam Hussein retains some stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, and that he has since embarked on a crash course to build up his chemical and biological-warfare capabilities. Intelligence reports indicate that he is seeking nuclear weapons. (Senator Robert Byrd 2002)

Podhoretz also deals extensively with the democratization agenda that was--despite many accusations that it was "hidden" or "unstated"--clearly declared as a central tenet of the Bush Doctrine from the beginning.

For anyone desiring to sort out the actual case made for the Iraq War by the Bush administration as opposed to the mythology constructed by its antagonists and detractors (who are legion), I highly recommend World War IV.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

The Anatomy of Crisis

I've finished reading Milton Friedman's Free To Choose and have started Amity Shlaes history of the Great Depression, The Forgotten Man. In the 3rd chapter of Free To Choose, Friedman detailed the monetary policies that led to the cataclysm that was the Great Depression:

The popular view is that the depression started on Black Thursday, October 24, 1929, when the New York stock market collapsed...The stock market crash was important, but it was not the beginning of the depression. [Benjamin] Strong (former head of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York) was dead, and the Board wanted to establish its leadership. It moved rapidly to impose its discipline of New York...thereafter the System acted very differently than it had during earlier economic recessions in the 1920s. Instead of actively expanding the money supply by more than the usual amount to offset the contraction, the System allowed the quantity of money to decline slowly throughout 1930...But the worst was yet to come...the character of the recession changed drastically when a series of bank failures in the Middle West and South undermined confidence in banks and led to widespread attempts to convert deposits into currency...The final episode in this sorry tale was the banking panic of 1933, once again initiated by a series of bank failures...At the peak of business in mid-1929, nearly 25,00 commercial banks were in operation in the United States. By early 1933 the number had shrunk to 18,000. When the banking holiday was ended by President Roosevelt ten days after it began, fewer than 12,000 banks were permitted to open, and only 3,000 additional banks were later permitted to do so. All in all, therefore, roughly 10,000 out of 25,000 banks disappeared during those four yours--through failure, merger, or liquidation. The total stock of money showed an equally drastic decline. For every $3 of deposits and currency in the hands of the public in 1929, less than $2 remained in 933--a monetary collapse without precedent.

Whereas Friedman concerns himself primarily with the stock market and monetary collapse fostered by the actions of the Federal Reserve Board, Shlaes tells a much more thorough story of the men and the political groping, fumbling and blind experimentation that prolonged and worsened the depression. She starts the book off with the tragic suicide of a 13 year old boy on a November evening, not long after the day that had come to be known as Black Tuesday, and lists an appalling set of economic and demographic statistics; then surprises the reader with the following:

The story sounds familiar. It is something like the descriptions we hear of the Great Crash of 1929. But in fact these events took place in the autumn of 1937. This was a depression with the Depression. It was occurring five years after Franklin Roosevelt was first elected, and four and a half years after Roosevelt introduced the New Deal. It was taking place eight years after President Herbert Hoover first made his own rescue plans following the 1929 stock market crash.

With all the jabberwocky being spouted by politicians and pundits these days about the economy, it would do us all some good to gain a bit of historical perspective about the US economy and learn the government actions that caused or contributed to the Depression--especially since many of those same actions are now being proposed by a new generation of statesmen.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Free to Choose

I have often stated my admiration for Thomas Sowell. I have finally gone back to one of his sources, the great Milton Friedman, and started reading his most popular work, Free to Choose. I was first told about this book, actually something of a transcript of a ten part video series he did for Public Broadcasting in 1980, by a friend when I was talking up the work of Sowell. Here are a few excerpts:

The key insight of Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations is misleadingly simple: if an exchange between two parties is voluntary, it will not take place unless both believe they will benefit from it. Most economic fallacies derive from the neglect of this simple insight, from the tendency to assume that there is a fixed pie, that one party can gain only at the expense of another.

Prices perform three functions in organizing economic activity: first, they transmit information; second, they provide an incentive to adopt those methods of production that are least costly and thereby use available resources for the most highly valued purposes; third, they determine who gets how much of the product--the distribution of income.

A myth has grown up about the United States that paint the nineteenth century as the era of the robber baron, of rugged, unrestrained individualism. Heartless monopoly capitalists allegedly exploited the poor, encouraged immigration, and then fleeced the immigrants unmercifully. Wall Street is pictured as conning Main Street, as bleeding the sturdy farmers in the Middle West, who survived despite the widespread distress and misery inflicted on them. The reality was very different. Immigrants kept coming. The early ones might have been fooled, but it is inconceivable that millions kept coming to the United States decade after decade to be exploited. They came because the hopes of those who had preceded them were largely realized. The streets of New York were not paved with gold, but hard work, thrift, and enterprise brought rewards that were not even imaginable in the Old World.

Another fallacy seldom contradicted is that exports are good, imports bad. The truth is very different. We cannot eat, wear, or enjoy the goods we send abroad. We eat bananas from Central America, wear Italian shoes, drive German automobiles, and enjoy programs we see on our Japanese TV sets. Our gain from foreign trade is what we import. Exports are the price we pay to get imports. As Adam Smith saw so clearly, the citizens of a nation benefit from getting as large a volume of imports as possible in return for its exports, or equivalently, from exporting as little as possible to pay for its imports.

The more of economics I read, the more I realize that virtually no one in the press, political commentary, and especially politics itself knows anything about its reality.

Saturday, April 19, 2008


I just came home from watching Ben Stein's new documentary "Expelled." You might remember Stein from his performance in the 80s teen movie Ferris Bueler's Day Off as the dead-pan teacher asking hopelessly, "anyone? anyone?," or his TV game show on the Comedy Central channel, Ben Stein's Money, or his commentaries on the TV show Sunday Morning. In Expelled Stein examines the ideological stranglehold that the established scientific and academic communities have in deciding orthodoxy with regard to Darwinist evolution to the absolute exclusion of the incipient Intelligent Design movement. The previous sentence implies a dry sort of clinical approach, but Stein's demeanor, and especially the director's adroit use of inter-cut clips from old black and white films--quite a few of which seem to be 50s era grade school instructionals--give the movie real, at times laugh-out-loud, humor.

Stein interviews many leading lights in the Intelligent Design movement, as well as its most ardent detractors: Dennet, Hitchens, Dawkins and Eugenie Scott, head of an organization whose whole existence is devoted to excluding Intelligent Design from the American classroom and preserving Dawinism as educational dogma, the National Center For Science Education.

Perhaps his primary focus, however, is with interviewing scientists, academics,and even journalists who have been ostracized, ridiculed, denied tenure, fired and then blacklisted for the mere passing mention of the possible validity of Intelligent Design.

There is, as well, a fascinating, if disturbing and all too short, examination of the darkest historical consequences of Dawinism: the Eugenics movement in the United States in which, after the tireless lobbying of Margaret Sanger (founder of Planned Parenthood) many thousands of retarded Americans were forcibly sterilized, and in Nazi Germany 70,000 retarded, genetically handicapped, or people otherwise deemed by the state as "useless eaters" were gassed and cremated in the interest of strengthening humanity.

The film is capped off by an interview with Richard Dawkins that proves squirm-inducing with embarrassing humor when this most caustic and vituperative voice in opposition to all things God--author of The God Delusion in which he asserts that religious instruction of children is a form of child abuse and should be made illegal--finally admits that Intelligent Design might eventually prove to be true, but only if the intelligent designer turns out to be--(I'm not kidding)--an advanced extra-terrestrial race who must have itself derived from the non-determinate forces of natural selection (Dawinism).

I was thrilled at this movie because it's something I've never seen before: a film with nationwide release with excellent production values, humor and skill, from a conservative and monotheistic viewpoint. I want to see more films like this. Many, many more. With that in mind I'm encouraging all my friends, acquaintances, and anyone else whose ear I can get, to go see this film. Don't wait for it to come out on video. If everyone does that it will ensure that any similar future projects will only be released on video. The way to support good art, the way to encourage more good art, is to buy it.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Getting It Right

Last Wednesday William F. Buckley Jr. died. After reading many obituaries of him, I thought I'd add my own small homage.

I suppose my most enduring memories of him are watching his program "Firing Line" on OPB in the 80s, most notably his interviews of Malcolm Muggeridge and American philosopher Mortimer Adler. It was in those programs that I began to understand that there was so much more to Buckley than his curious and sometimes off-putting pedantry and Ivy League accent.

When I finally began to read National Review Online in 2001 as one of my daily news sources, I always read Buckley's columns, but I had never read one of his books until a couple of years ago when one of his fiction titles caught my eye at the library. I was unaware that he had ever written fiction and my curiosity was piqued. The book was called Getting It Right, an historical fiction of the birth of the modern American conservative movement at the time of Barry Goldwater's presidential campaign. It features such "real" characters as Goldwater, Ayn Rand, Alan Greenspan (who, at the time, was a Rand acolyte)--and even Buckley himself--as told through the eyes of two fictional lovers, one a John Bircher and the other a Rand disciple.

Many of the obituaries of Buckley have correctly placed him as one, if not the, prime shapers of the American conservative movement. If you're at all skeptical of this fact, or are just hazy about the history of conservatism in America, let me recommend Getting It Right as an enjoyable way of bringing you up to speed.

God bless you, Mr. Buckley.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Your Tribe or Mine?

Stanley Kurtz recently wrote an excellent article in National Review Online about the illusion of liberal democracy in Kenya, and how the recent election there has finally unmasked the true nature of its government--namely a system of almost pure tribalism. Here's an excerpt I found particularly thought-provoking:

The notion that the alleged personal moral failings of Africa’s political elite can somehow be separated from the phenomenon of tribalism is profoundly misleading. Networks of clan and tribal patronage are actually the basis of political power in Africa. “Big men” are elected precisely in order to channel government projects to their tribe, and to pass back personal graft to networks of kin and local tribal chiefs. Kenya’s citizens aren’t so much outraged by corruption per se, as they are eager to give their own tribe the opportunity to be every bit as corrupt as the Kikuyu. What’s more, from the perspective of many Africans, what we call “corruption” isn’t immoral at all. On the contrary, even overt vote-buying by African “big men” is often seen as generous communal sharing — proof positive that these politicians are not corrupt, but are instead heroic Robin Hoods who rob from the rich (i.e., the state) to give to their own tribal poor.

The disturbing thought this provoked in me was how closely this seemed to mirror a growing element of contemporary American politics on display in the on-going presidential primary campaigns--namely, identity politics.

On the Democrat side we see an overwhelming majority of black Americans supporting Barak Obama by virtue of racial identity alone. And yet when Oprah Winfrey publicly announced her support for Obama, she experienced an enormous backlash from many black women who expressed outrage at her betrayal of what they considered a more valuable group identity--the female sex. In other words they saw it more important to support Hillary Clinton as the possible first woman president than Obama as the possible first black president.

Particularly disheartening to me is the similar dynamic I see in operation within the Republican campaign with regard to my own identity group: evangelical Christians. I find little difference between evangelicals who will vote for Mike Huckabee solely based on his profession of faith and the identity politics at work among the Democrats. Common to all is a sort of tribalism, the same in kind if not (thankfully) in degree to that which corrupts so many African governments.

If we are to preserve the American system, it must be the ideas, policies, and values of the candidate that determine our votes; not tribalism.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

A Tale of Two Visions

We are, I think, in a crisis of meaning. What do our governmental institutions mean? What does it mean to be educated? What does it mean to be a journalist? What does it mean in today’s world to pursue not only vocations, to be part of institutions, but to be human?

And, certainly, coming off the last year when the ethos of selfishness and greed were given places of honor never before accorded, it is certainly timely to ask ourselves these questions... But I think the answer to his question—“Who will lead us out of this spiritual vacuum?”—the answer is “all of us.” Because remolding society does not depend on just changing government, on just reinventing our institutions to be more in tune with present realities. It requires each of us to play our part in redefining what our lives are and what they should be.

We are caught between two great political forces. On the one hand we have our economy—the market economy—which knows the price of everything but the value of nothing. That is not its job. And then the state or government which attempts to use its means of acquiring tax money, of making decisions to assist us in becoming a better, more equitable society as it defines it. That is what all societies are currently caught between—forces that are more complex and bigger than any of us can understand... And what we each must do is break through the old thinking that has for too long captured us politically and institutionally, so that we can begin to devise new ways of thinking about not only what it means to have economies that don’t discard people like they were excess baggage that we no longer need, but to define our institutional and personal responsibilities in ways that answer this lack of meaning.

We need a new politics of meaning. We need a new ethos of individual responsibility and caring. We need a new definition of civil society which answers the unanswerable questions posed by both the market forces and the governmental ones, as to how we can have a society that fills us up again and makes us feel that we are part of something bigger than ourselves.

Now, will it be easy to do that? Of course not. Because we are breaking new ground. This is a trend that has been developing over hundreds of years. It is not something that just happened to us in the last decade or two. And so it is not going to be easy to redefine who we are as human beings in this post-modern age. Nor will it be easy to figure out how to make our institutions more responsive to the kind of human beings we wish to be.

But part of the great challenge of living is defining yourself in your moment, of seizing the opportunities that you are given, and of making the very best choices you can. That is what this administration, this president, and those of us who are hoping for these changes are attempting to do...Let us be willing to remold society by redefining what it means to be a human being in the twentieth century; moving into a new millennium.
(Hillary Clinton, at the Liz Carpenter Lecture Series, University of Texas, Austin, Texas, April 7, 1993)

These comments by Hillary Clinton, now a candidate for the Democrat nomination as President of the United States, but then given as First Lady, illustrate the essential difference in vision between the Republican party candidates and those of the Democrat party. It is, at its core, the same difference in vision that respectively fueled the American and French revolutions.

Thomas Sowell has written comprehensively about this in his book, A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles. To very briefly summarize: the French Revolution was spurred by an unconstrained vision of humanity that saw it as capable of achieving utopia through applied reason and social institutions, i.e., education, science and government. The American Revolution, on the other hand, was ideologically underpinned by the constrained, classical view of humanity (specifically, the Judeo-Christian view of humanity) as fallen and fatally flawed; that government, rather than being a path to utopia, was something of a necessary evil to restrict the passions and behaviors of men in a social order, while, as much as possible, guarding and preserving his God-given rights and freedoms.

In Mrs. Clinton's call for a redefinition of humanity through a "politics of meaning," (a phrase she acquired from radical Jewish activist Michael Lerner), I hear the echo of the atheist enlightenment utopianists who were, ultimately, the progenitors of both socialist and communist systems of thought. What I find more disturbing, however, is that the same language and ideas permeate the speeches and policies of all the Democrat Presidential candidates. Implicit in their speeches is the idea that government is a force for good, and if government, through the exercise of "progressive" ideals, is good, then more government is better. Implicit, too, is the idea that human problems can be--not ameliorated, but solved--through the wise and progressive application of government. Disease, poverty, ignorance, bigotry--perhaps even loneliness--are all human problems that can be eradicated by this redefinition of humanity and the politics of meaning.

As Thomas Sowell points out, such ideas are far from being new. They first played themselves out in the French Revolution to horrifying results. But the vision of humanity that fueled the American system and defined the role and limits of its government, was something of its polar opposite, perhaps most succinctly described by James Madison in The Federalist Papers: "If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary." It was precisely this clear-eyed understanding of flawed human nature that informed the American founders of both man's need of the constraints of government, and the government's need of constraints on itself, so that Thomas Jefferson could say, "government is best which governs least."