Free Markets, Free People


Outsourcing "outrage"

A union, outraged over the fact that non-union workers were being used in the construction of a Washington office building decided to protest and picket. 

But, uh, it was just too hard or too much of a hassle to have real union people do it, so they hired some non-union unemployed at minimum wage instead:

"For a lot of our members, it’s really difficult to have them come out, either because of parking or something else," explains Vincente Garcia, a union representative who is supervising the picketing.

So instead, the union hires unemployed people at the minimum wage—$8.25 an hour—to walk picket lines.

Which I’m sure has the developer and non-union workers in the building just quaking in their boots.

The article goes on to say that a lot of protest groups and advocacy groups have hit a bonanza with the unemployed.  They can hire them for peanuts (min. wage) and swell their groups and pad their numbers in public.

For the unemployed?  Well, I’m sure any little bit does help, of course.  And it sure beats standing on street corners waving “we buy gold” signs – I guess.

But keep that in mind the next time numbers are quoted at a protest or rally for something.


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If you’ve lost Streisand, you’ve pretty much lost the left

The annual gathering of the “intelligentsia” at the Aspen Ideas Festival in Aspen CO would normally be a love fest for left leaning politicians like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. It’s a veritable “Who’s Who” of leftish thinkers.

But this year, for some reason, it isn’t a place where Barack Obama would feel particularly comfortable, it seems. Speakers have been anything but complimentary on the current administration’s policies or the direction of the country.

One of his recently more outspoken critics is Mort Zuckerman, owner of the New York Daily News and editor-in-chief of US News and World Report. On a panel shared with Harvard business and history professor Niall Ferguson, Zuckerman was none to kind to the present commander-in-chief or his economic policies:

“We are, without question, in a period of decline, particularly in the business world,” Zuckerman said. “The real problem we have…are some of the worst economic policies in place today that, in my judgment, go directly against the long-term interests of this country.”

And why does Zuckerman – a business owner in his own right – feel this way:

Zuckerman added that he detects in the Obama White House “hostility to the very kinds of [business] culture that have made this the great country that it is and was. I think we have to find some way of dealing with that or else we will do great damage to this country with a public policy that could ruin everything.”

Those aren’t words couched in nuance or diplomacy as one can immediately tell. Those are the words of a man – an Obama supporter – who has come to the realization of how serious a mistake he and others who supported this President made.

Ferguson was no less critical. Panning the policy which has kept extending long-term unemployment benefits, Ferguson said, “Long-term unemployment is at an all-time high in the United States, and it is a direct consequence of a misconceived public policy.”

And, adding to Zuckerman’s “nation in decline” observation he said:

“The critical point is if your policy says you’re going run a trillion-dollar deficit for the rest of time, you’re riding for a fall…Then it really is goodbye.” A dashing Brit, Ferguson added: “Can I say that, having grown up in a declining empire, I do not recommend it. It’s just not a lot of fun actually—decline.”

When the “S” word found its way into the conversation, Ferguson was a little less forthright with his answer:

“If you’re asking if the United States is about to become a socialist state, I’d say it’s actually about to become a European state, with the expansiveness of the welfare system and the progressive tax system like what we’ve already experienced in Western Europe,”

Or, “yeah, the US is headed that way”. Ferguson also warned that in essence we were moving toward becoming an “implicit part of the European Union” and he warned, “I’d advise against it”.

Ferguson even complemented Republican Paul Ryan’s “Roadmap” as the “radical, root-and-branch reform not only of the tax system but of the entitlement system” that is necessary to “unleash entrepreneurial innovation.”

That won’t exactly come as music to the ears of Peter Orszag and Larry Summers who are expected at the event later this week. Summers has come under criticism as well for his explanations of why the recovery was to this point jobless.

Sitting in the audience, clapping enthusiastically with all the rest of the invited were Barbara Streisand and her husband James Brolin – neither of whom would be described as from the conservative set. When asked, at the conclusion of the panel discussion, for their impressions they said:

“Depressing, but fantastic,” Streisand told me afterward, rendering her verdict on the session. “So exciting. Wonderful!”

Brolin’s assessment: “Mind-blowing.”

Actually, it is more mind-blowing than one might imagine. If Obama has indeed lost the likes of Zuckerman and Ferguson that’s certainly a blow to him. But if even the likes of Streisand and Brolin can see the problem and its origin, he has most assuredly lost a good part of the left.


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A duel to the death – progressivism v limited government

George Will’s column today is a “must read” if for nothing more than this succinct description of why government exits (and why it should be a “limited” government:

Government’s limited purpose is to protect the exercise of natural rights that pre-exist government, rights that human reason can ascertain in unchanging principles of conduct and that are essential to the pursuit of happiness.

Will uses his column to describe the dueling concepts of government that have arisen in this country. He identifies, properly in my estimation, Woodrow Wilson as the first “progressive” President and the one who began this move away from limited government that had served the nation so well to that point, to the more progressive version. It is a version we’ve yet to escape. FDR was just a continuation of the Wilsonian ambition who happened upon the proper crisis at the right time (sound familiar?).

With our recent discussion of rights and privileges in the comment section of a post, I found this to be dead on target:

Wilsonian progressives believe that History is a proper noun, an autonomous thing. It, rather than nature, defines government’s ever-evolving and unlimited purposes. Government exists to dispense an ever-expanding menu of rights — entitlements that serve an open-ended understanding of material and even spiritual well-being.

The name “progressivism” implies criticism of the Founding, which we leave behind as we make progress. And the name is tautological: History is progressive because progress is defined as whatever History produces. History guarantees what the Supreme Court has called “evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.”

The cheerful assumption is that “evolving” must mean “improving.” Progressivism’s promise is a program for every problem, and progressivism’s premise is that every unfulfilled desire is a problem.

And, progressivism’s method of choice for all this improvement is the vehicle of “big government”. What other institution can carry out such a massive project. And who has the time or patience for cultural change or to let markets sort it all out. Besides, only government allows the use of force.

Of course, as Will implies, the method of expanding government is the expansion of “rights” or entitlements and the declaration that only government is capable of ensuring their fulfillment. This flows directly from the Wilsonian idea that it is government’s job, as society evolved, to identify, enable and protect new “rights” as they emerged.

He repudiated the Founders’ idea that government is instituted to protect pre-existing and timeless natural rights, promising “the re-definition of these rights in terms of a changing and growing social order.”

The result, as William Voegeli correctly identifies it, is government’s “right to discover new rights.” The result is preordained:

“Liberalism’s protean understanding of rights,” [Voegeli] says, “complicates and ultimately dooms the idea of a principled refusal to elevate any benefit that we would like people to enjoy to the status of an inviolable right.” Needs breed rights to have the needs addressed, to the point that Lyndon Johnson, an FDR protege, promised that government would provide Americans with “purpose” and “meaning.”

Although progressivism’s ever-lengthening list of rights is as limitless as human needs/desires, one right that never makes the list is the right to keep some inviolable portion of one’s private wealth or income, “regardless,” Voegeli says, “of the lofty purposes social reformers wish to make of it.”

Lacking a limiting principle, progressivism cannot say how big the welfare state should be but must always say that it should be bigger than it currently is. Furthermore, by making a welfare state a fountain of rights requisite for democracy, progressives in effect declare that democratic deliberation about the legitimacy of the welfare state is illegitimate.

How many time have you heard the international criticism of the US for not having a national health service? That’s symptomatic of Will’s last point. Progressivisim, or at least the European equivalent, has had its way in Europe and we see the result today. Will correctly identifies the fatal flaw of progressivism – the lack of a limiting principle. Instead, progressivism sees the job of government in an ever expanding role of catering to almost any need or desire it can imagine and make a “right”. The most recent government invented right is the right to health care. The fact that the fulfillment of that “right” involves the labor, time and abilities of others doesn’t seem to register with progressives. Having identified the right and legislated it into existence, it is simply the role of those others, forced by the state, to fulfill that new right.

All of this, of course, leads to the inevitable conclusion – such a system is unsustainable:

“By blackening the skies with crisscrossing dollars,” Voegeli says, the welfare state encourages people “to believe an impossibility: that every household can be a net importer of the wealth redistributed by the government.” But the welfare state’s problem, today becoming vivid, is socialism’s problem, as Margaret Thatcher defined it: Socialist governments “always run out of other people’s money.”


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SEIU = thugs

Last Sunday, while you were enjoying the day off and the mild weather with your family, SEIU thugs were in the process of trying to intimidate the family of a Bank of America executive.  They did it without the press (well, they had a friendly HuffPo blogger there to whom I’m not going to link) and they showed up without notice.  They, the 500+, did it strictly to intimidate the executive (a “we know where you live” type of demonstration).  This, apparently, is the new tactic of the thugocracy.  Unfortunately for the SEIU, Nina Easton of Fortune happened to be the bank exec’s next door neighbor and she writes about it.  She also snapped this pic:

As it turns out, the only occupant of the home at the time was a terrified 14 year old boy, the bank executive’s son, who locked himself in the bathroom. The rest of the family apparently was at the Little League game of a younger son.

While the executive, Greg Baer, is the deputy general council for corporate law at BoA and based in DC, it’s unclear what the SEIU and the Chicago based group called “National Political Action” targeted his house other than it was convenient. Why not BoA headquarters or some other BoA institution? Because, as Nina Easton says, this was an attempt at nothing more – nothing more – than pure intimidation. 14 school bus loads – 500 people – on your porch banging on your door and terrifying your family.

There’s some irony here. The Baer family is not exactly the scripted “evil Republican corporate capitalist” family that thug organization like the SEIU like to portray as the enemy of “the people”.

A lifelong Democrat, Baer worked for the Clinton Treasury Department, and his wife, Shirley Sagawa, author of the book The American Way to Change and a former adviser to Hillary Clinton, is a prominent national service advocate.

This is and always will be unacceptable behavior from any group. But it seems to be something the SEIU and other unions have decided is fair play. Easton sums it up nicely:

In the 1990s, the Baers’ former bosses, Bill and Hillary Clinton, denounced the “politics of personal destruction.” Today politicians and their voters of all stripes grieve the ugly bitterness that permeates our policy debates. Now, with populist rage providing a useful cover, it appears we’ve crossed into a new era: The politics of personal intimidation.

It is an “era” which needs to be nipped in the bud now. If ever there was a group displaying fascistic tendencies, it is the SEIU and the groups like National Political Action with which it is associated. This is unacceptable behavior and we need to let the SEIU know it and know it now. Politics is a rough and tumble game – we all know that. But keep families out of it.

Action like the SEIU and NPA took last Sunday were the tactics of thugs. And and unless and until those tactics are abandoned and an apology issued to the family the union attempted to terrorize, they’ll continue to be referred to as thugs.


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What would we do without activist entertainers?

I always love it when entertainers suddenly awaken and decide they must get involved in saving the planet.

This time it is Jeremy Irons.  He’s decided there are just too many people on our little blue globe.  Our lot’s numbers are “unsustainable”, although he’s pretty convinced some “big outbreak of something” will most likely happen because, you know, “the world always takes care of itself”.  Of course, because Mother Gaia is a living breathing thinking world.

What he wants to do is make a film (naturally) which will be like Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth”.  A “documentary about sustainability and waste disposal in the vein of Michael Moore – but “not as silly”.  Of course.

Irons describes himself as “deeply socialist” and is also concerned about world hunger.  In a stirring and deeply touching (/sarc) call to action, Irons says on the website

“People around the world suffer hunger — 1 billion. Now that’s bad, worse than bad, that’s crazy! We’ve got to get mad. I want you to get mad. I want you to get up right now, stick your head out of the window and yell, ‘I’m mad as hell’.”

Original, edgy, a real difference maker.  Of course it remains to be seen if Irons understands that the reason 1 billion are hungry has little to do with resources and much to do with politics.

Irons announced his new endeavor from one of his 7 houses:

The ultimate solution, he says, is for us all to live less decadently — growing our own food and recycling instead of replacing goods: “People must drop their standard of living [so] the wealth can be spread about. There’s a long way to go.”

James Delingpole shakes his head at the usual hypocrisy:

And just as soon as you show us the way by flogging at least six of your houses, foregoing air travel, subsisting on berries, wild garlic and road kill, and dressing in polyester cast offs from your local charity shop, we’ll take you more seriously still.

Exactly.   Delingpole wonders:

Could it be that “sustainability” is a concept one only truly understands when one has grown so incredibly rich that one is able to shelter from the consequences of one’s eco-fanaticism in the seclusion and comfort of one’s many agreeable homes?

Apparently.  Delingpole points out that the UK’s new enviroment minister, Chris Huhne has that number of homes.  And we know that Al Gore, the Pince of Wales and Zac Goldsmith aren’t far behind.  And how knows how many Michael Moore has.


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Arab-American Miss USA

I note this for a single reason:

Fakih, an Arab-American from Dearborn, Mich., told pageant organizers her family celebrates both Muslim and Christian faiths. She moved to the United States as a baby and was raised in New York, where she attended a Catholic school. Her family moved to Michigan in 2003.

Pageant officials said historical pageant records were not detailed enough to show whether Fakih was the first Arab American, Muslim or immigrant to win the Miss USA title. The pageant started in 1952 as a local bathing suit competition in Long Beach, Calif.

How will the Arab nations accept Ms. Fakih’s win given she was seen “strutting confidently in an orange and gold bikini” during the contest?

Just curious.


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Dope of the day – politically correct edition

I sometimes wonder what the thought process some people use, if any, when they make decisions like this:

On any other day at Live Oak High School in Morgan Hill, Daniel Galli and his four friends would not even be noticed for wearing T-shirts with the American flag. But Cinco de Mayo is not any typical day especially on a campus with a large Mexican American student population.

Galli says he and his friends were sitting at a table during brunch break when the vice principal asked two of the boys to remove American flag bandannas that they wearing on their heads and for the others to turn their American flag T-shirts inside out. When they refused, the boys were ordered to go to the principal’s office.

“They said we could wear it on any other day,” Daniel Galli said, “but today is sensitive to Mexican-Americans because it’s supposed to be their holiday so we were not allowed to wear it today.”

The boys said the administrators called their T-shirts “incendiary” that would lead to fights on campus.

I wonder – would Mexican-Americans wearing a Mexican flag to school on the 4th of July be considered “incendiary?” Oh, wait, we’ll never know. The 4th of July is a national holiday and school is out in the United States.

Cinco de Mayo – a “holiday” developed by bar owners as an excuse to sell more Mexican beer. It’s historic significance? It is the date the Mexican army beat the French army at the battle of Puebla in 1862. In Mexico it’s pretty much only celebrated in Puebla.  It’s kind of like us celebrating the battle of New Orleans when we thumped the Brits.  The only thing that might conceivably be considered “bad taste” would be wearing a French flag – and they lost.

I have no idea if this Vice Principal knows this, but he completely blew this out of proportion regardless. Had he simply ignored it, the day probably would have passed without incident. More infuriating, at least to me, is he (or she) decided the celebration of a bogus foreign “holiday” in the United States took precedence over displaying or showing the flag of the United States  – which he considered “incendiary”. I wonder if the school had decided not to fly it on the school’s US flag that day for the same reason?

The good news? The district left the Vice Principle out on that limb all by himself, exactly where he belongs. In their press release they said:

The district does not concur with the Live Oak High School administration’s interpretation of either board or district policy related to these actions.

Good on ya, “district”.


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Words to live by or “do as I say, not as I do”?

President Obama at the University of Michigan over the weekend:

The… way to keep our democracy healthy is to maintain a basic level of civility in our public debate…. we cannot expect to solve our problems if all we do is tear each other down. You can disagree with a certain policy without demonizing the person who espouses it. You can question someone’s views and their judgment without questioning their motives or their patriotism. Throwing around phrases like “socialist” and “Soviet-style takeover;” “fascist” and “right-wing nut” may grab headlines, but it also has the effect of comparing our government, or our political opponents, to authoritarian, and even murderous regimes.

… The problem is that this kind of vilification and over-the-top rhetoric closes the door to the possibility of compromise. It undermines democratic deliberation. It prevents learning — since after all, why should we listen to a “fascist” or “socialist” or “right-wing nut?” It makes it nearly impossible for people who have legitimate but bridgeable differences to sit down at the same table and hash things out. It robs us of a rational and serious debate that we need to have about the very real and very big challenges facing this nation. It coarsens our culture, and at its worst, it can send signals to the most extreme elements of our society that perhaps violence is a justifiable response.

So what can we do about this?

As I’ve found out after a year in the White House, changing this type of slash and burn politics isn’t easy. And part of what civility requires is that we recall the simple lesson most of us learned from our parents: treat others as you would like to be treated, with courtesy and respect.

President Obama last November:

President Obama is quoted in an November 30, 2009, interview saying that the unanimous vote of House Republicans vote against the stimulus bills “set the tenor for the whole year … That helped to create the tea-baggers and empowered that whole wing of the Republican Party to where it now controls the agenda for the Republicans.”

Yesirree … no “coarsening of the culture” with that slur. No negative signals sent out to the most extreme elements of the left with that, by George.  Certainly no “vilification” and “over the top rhetoric” contained in those few words or “slash and burn politics”, right?

This is one of the things the current president seems impervious too – understanding that he is as big a part of the problem as those he decries.

As Peter Wehner points out:

Here is the rather unpleasant reality, though: our president fancies himself a public intellectual of the highest order — think Walter Lippmann as chief executive — even as he and his team are accomplished practitioners of the Chicago Way. They relish targeting those on their enemies list. The president himself pretends to engage his critics’ arguments even as his words are used like a flamethrower in a field of straw men. It’s hard to tell if we’re watching a man engaged in an elaborate political shell game or a victim of an extraordinary, and nearly clinical, case of self-delusion. Perhaps there is some of both at play. Regardless, President Obama’s act became tiresome long ago.

For those with the ability to see it, that is.


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Political correctness: Will it be the death of Western civilization?

I wonder at times where our western civilization is headed.  I see signs of resistance to the slide toward oblivion, but for the most part I see things which convince me that slide is almost unrecoverable.

While reading the Belmont Club, I find that Richard Fernandez seems to be seeing the same thing.  And he brings two examples to the fore that signal the extent of our decent, not whether or not we’re actually sliding toward the inevitable end.

One has to do with a school teacher in the UK who was hounded by students to the point that he finally struck back violently.  The situation developed over months.  It was apparently known to all of those in positions of responsibility in the school.  Yet the solution apparently didn’t involve disciplining the children, but instead, having the teacher take 5 months leave of absence.  Of course, the fact that those who were behaving badly were left untouched by the authorities only meant the 5 months delayed the inevitable end:

Hounded for months by a group of students who decided to see what it would take to make him snap; tripped up, shoved him into hedges and followed home threateningly, Harvey went on a 5 month leave of absence because he feared he would lose his mind. Punishing the gang leaders was out of the question. Traditional classroom disciplinary measures were no longer available to him. No more harsh words, no more corporal punishment, however slight. Teachers had been sentenced to jail for striking students in a country where the police were called into classrooms 40 times a day because the schools had lost control. Upon his return from leave the same group decided to secretly record him going over the edge and arranged to goad him after which they planned to distribute the video to complete his humiliation. They didn’t reckon on the 7 pound dumb bell. The result was a 14 year old with a skull fracture and a man accused of murder.

Fernandez believes that political correctness has created a “new morality”.  Going on he says, “[t]hings are now ‘appropriate’ or ‘inappropriate’ for reasons which only 20 years ago would have been regarded as completely crazy.”

The situation with teacher Peter Harvey points to this evolving morality of political correctness that completely changes the hierarchy of what is “acceptable” and “unacceptable” behavior.  It is the re-institution of a stratified society:Underlying the new morality is not some notion of good or bad, but the preservation of privileges in an unstated but obvious hierarchy. Things are now ‘appropriate’ or ‘inappropriate’ in the old courtly sense. Did you forget yourself? Rise above your station? The idea that animals should not be filmed in their burrows is founded on the idea that  their relative ranking in the PC universe should be revised. “What does it say about our assumptions about animals?” That we think we’re better, hence we’re bigots. QED.

That formula (simply change “animals” to your favorite PC favored group and “bigot” to your favorite PC charge) brings us to our second example, again from the UK.

A Muslim protester who daubed a war memorial with graffiti glorifying Osama Bin Laden and proclaiming ‘Islam will dominate the world’ walked free from court after prosecutors ruled his actions were not motivated by religion.

Tohseef Shah, 21, could have faced a tougher sentence if the court had accepted that the insults – which included a threat to kill the Prime Minister – were inspired by religious hatred.

But – citing a loophole in the law – the Crown Prosecution Service chose not to charge him with that offence and he escaped with only a two-year conditional discharge and an order to pay the council £500 compensation after admitting causing criminal damage.

So, since he wasn’t “motivated by religious hatred” according to CPS, his crime was less heinous than had it actually been motivated by such hatred. The fact that he scrawled “Kill Gordon Brown” on the memorial is just plain vanilla hate, one supposes and much less worrisome – although had Shah carried out the threat, I’m sure a dead Gordon Brown wouldn’t particularly care what his motivation actually was.

Shah showed no remorse for what he’d done in court. And although his lawyer contends there was nothing religious about the act and it has nothing to do with his culture – “he’s just an ordinary guy.” But who is it he sends out to speak for him?

[H]e appointed Abdullah Ibn Abbas, who described himself as spiritual leader of a group called Road to Jannah, to speak on his behalf.

He said: ‘It really doesn’t concern us how the British people feel about the graffiti he wrote – the real outrage should be about the thousands of Muslims who are being killed and butchered as a result of British foreign policy.’

Very conciliatory, wouldn’t you say?  Certainly nothing to do with his culture or religion, right?

But the authorities are hoist on their own petard. They were unable to act because of the fear of being “politically incorrect” which is obviously much worse than confronting the crime for what it is and punishing the perpetrator. Why Shah isn’t in prison orange and physically cleaning the graffiti off the monument right now as he would have been 20 years ago, is something only those who let him walk with a fine can answer.

As Fernandez notes:

Everything, guilt or innocence, morality or immorality is judged not by what is done, but by who did it. Alternet has an article by a rape victim who thinks her Haitian attacker was justified because she was white and deserved to be punished. Others are above it all. If Roman Polanski does rape, is it really rape? The need to judge every act within the new hierarchy means only one real crime is left in the world: not knowing your place.

This is our world as it is evolving today. It is a crippling disease that turns the current western concept of justice on its head.

Political correctness is gradually replacing common sense and natural law with an unstated but controlling code of manners. Certain things cannot be said; certain illegal things are legal and vice versa; things though evident may not exist.

The problem, of course, are the results of such nonsense and avoidance. Dead 14 year olds because their behavior was excused regardless of how abhorrent or destructive it was. A situation that was allowed to spin out of control. The obvious sin to those who allowed this to manifest itself over those months of hell for the teacher was the possibility of being charged with damaging the fragile egos and trashing the self-esteem of the hooligans who perpetrated the crime by making them behave in a civilized manner. Instead, the responsibility was shifted to a teacher who had no power to correct the situation or stop it other than the way he eventually did.

The authorities in the case were more terrified, for various reasons, of taking on the perpetrators than stopping the abuse. And the perpetrators continued to be abusive because they knew they could get away with it. The results speak for themselves.

In the case of Shah, the same thing seems evident. He knew, based on recent history, that his chances of being punished in any meaningful way were minimal if caught. PC demands that authorities pretend that the motivations of political or religious minorities be considered pure as the driven snow or ignored. Punishing them is bad form. Consequently:

In brief the politically correct world is becoming very much like Mr. Peter Harvey’s classroom: a “caring place” seething with hatred; a place of forced gaiety, of smiles as mirthful as the Joker’s, a place you want to take five month’s vacation from knowing nothing will have changed when you get back.

And one in which those who know their behavior will be excused, no matter how vile, abhorrent or excessive, will continue to take advantage of the situation.


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