Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

Helen Thomas Part II

I shut off the comments to the earlier Helen Thomas post, because the comments pretty much ran off the rails. I mean, talk about not being able to see the forest for the trees..

Look, whatever you may think about the legitimacy of Israel, the arguments of the reconquistas, that’s all irrelevant. It doesn’t have anything at all to do with the issue I was addressing. All of that stuff is a non-sequitur.

Helen Thomas didn’t say the Jews should be stuffed into ovens. Now, maybe she’s a raging anti-semite who believes that’s what should happen. I dunno. I don’t have access to her inner life. All I know is that isn’t what she said.

What she said was that the state of Israel was occupying Arab land, and that the Israelis should return to their countries of origin, i.e. “Germany, Poland…America, and everywhere else.” That’s certainly a minority opinion in the US, but it’s less of one in Europe, and it’s the absolute majority opinion in the Arab world.

So the only relevant question is whether stating that opinion is so outrageous that she should lose her livelihood for stating it. If so, then the implied conclusion is that questioning the legitimacy of the Israeli state is a disqualification from participating in public discourse (and is no doubt prima facie evidence of anti-Semitism to some).

So, lets confine ourselves to what she actually said, and discuss whether denying the legitimacy of Israel is such a horrific opinion that those who express it have to be driven out of public life like some kind of poison troll.

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My New Toy

So I somehow lost my phone (i.e. it was stolen) which I wasn’t totally enamored with anyway, and bought a new one today. After speaking with Dale about his recent purchase, I went down to the Verizon store and got … the Droid.

I may actually upgrade to the HTC Incredible, but for right now I am liking the full, slide-out keyboard, and I’m not sure how much I care about a faster processor or 8MP camera (compared to the 5MP on this phone). I’ll give it a few days and see what I think.

In any case, regardless of which phone I end with, I definitely prefer the Droid platform to my Blackberry Storm. The Blackberry was always a little clunky and had frequent software malfunctions. Plus, I could never have written a post for QandO on it, which is a really nice feature.

Well, we’ll see how it goes …

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Oil spill politics get stickier by the day

The Associated Press quotes Adm. Thad Allen, the administration’s point man for the government response to the oil spill, as saying this weekend the oil spill may be with us “well into the fall.”

If so, the political news just continues to get worse for the Democrats.

Dogged by a poor economy, dreadful unemployment numbers, a simmering immigration situation and unpopular legislation, the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats are in political trouble. The last thing they needed heading into the fall mid-term elections was a disaster such as the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Of course no thinking person blames the cause of the disaster on the administration, although there is an argument to be made that lax Minerals Management Services (MMS) oversight might be a contributor. However, the blame rightfully belongs exclusively to British Petroleum. But mobilization in reaction to the disaster as well as the responsibility for federal waters belongs to the administration. As many have said, rightly or wrongly, the criticism George Bush received for Katrina had nothing to do with the hurricane per se, but with the perception of the federal government’s slow reaction to the disaster afterward.

This administration is coming under the very same sort of criticism. And while the president finally seems to be getting the message on the public relations front about demonstrating more concern and urgency, he’s not getting good reviews from most observers for his handling of the government’s end of the disaster. Although he claims administration officials have been on the job since “day one” and fully in charge of the effort to cap the well and clean up the Gulf, few seem to believe the claim.

Now come the images of oil soaked pelicans and other wild life and the political damage continues to mount. Administration supporters ask, “what do you want him to do?” Critics say, “lead.” Thus far, however, little leadership has been evident.

Presidential historian Douglas Brinkley says, “there is a craving for a different kind of crisis leadership from President Obama largely because he’s so capable of it as we saw on the campaign trail in 2008,” he said. “When he lets go and talks from the heart, he’s one of the most effective political figures in modern times.”

But talking isn’t the type of leadership that is being craved by most. Action is the key. And to this point, action by the federal government is perceived to be far less than it should be and certainly less than many want and expect. Critics wonder, for example, why Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal’s effort to build barrier islands to protect the state’s wetlands remain wrapped in federal red tape after 50 days.

Some of his supporters are now urging the president to “go off,” get emotional and show some rage. Rage won’t contain the spill clear the Gulf. What is needed now is a comprehensive plan to cap, contain and clean up the leak and competent leadership to execute it.

If they don’t see that, the American people may take their “rage” out at the ballot box in November

~McQ

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White House and unions clash over Lincoln

So what lesson should we take from the Blanche Lincoln primary victory last night against Democratic Lt. Governor Bill Halter?

Well a lot of people are divining a lot of things from her win, but the one I’m seeing the most is her victory spelled a defeat for Big Labor. The last count I saw said BL had pumped 10 million buckaroos into the primary fight – and not on Lincoln’s side.

Here’s how it breaks down. Lincoln was President Obama’s candidate. He’s made that clear, he has campaigned for her, he wanted her to win.

Bill Halter was labor’s chosen candidate and had the backing of the AFL-CIO, SEIU, AFSCME and other major unions. Ginormous amounts of union funds were used in an effort to defeat Obama’s candidate — by the left. That’s the point to be made here – this wasn’t opposition by the Tea Party, this was opposition funded by the natural allies of the Democratic party and, supposedly, the White House.

According to Ben Smith at Politico, once it was clear that Lincoln had prevailed, the White House couldn’t wait to make it clear that the unions were on the wrong sheet of political music. Smith said a WH official contacted him, saying:

“Organized labor just flushed $10 million of their members’ money down the toilet on a pointless exercise,” the official said. “If even half that total had been well-targeted and applied in key House races across this country, that could have made a real difference in November.”

In other words, “get with the program boys, and do it how we tell you to do it”.

Message sent, and received:

AFL-CIO spokesman Eddie Vale responds that “labor isn’t an arm of the Democratic Party.”

Yeah, right – at least not for today.

Way to firm up your support with your base Mr. President – apparently they’re good to go as long as they spend their members money the way he wants them too.

~McQ

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Democrats talk mortgage deduction elimination

You crank up Turbo Tax and you begin doing your taxes. About half way through, the sweat is beginning to form on your upper lip. You wonder, after all that’s been withheld during the year, how you could owe what TT says you owe at the top of the screen.

Then you get to the deduction phase and you plug in your mortgage interest deduction. Suddenly your angst disappears. The amount owed tumbles, in fact, it might even go in a positive direction. Thanks goodness.

Well, Bunky, if the President’s commission on have their way, that sweaty upper lip will be a permanent fixture for your tax preparation work day. They don’t like it, they’d rather eliminate it than any spending, and they’re talking about doing away with it:

And now that sentiment has turned against all the federal red ink — and cost-cutting is in vogue — Democrats on President Barack Obama’s financial commission are considering the wisdom of permanent tax breaks such as the mortgage deduction and corporate deferral. Calling them “tax entitlements,” senior Democratic lawmakers have argued they should be on the table for reform just like traditional entitlement programs Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid.

I can’t imagine a more unpopular thing to do for a citizenry and electorate that already feels hard pressed when it comes to taxes. And comparisons with the taxation levels in other countries really has no bearing, since it is the level of taxation the citizens of this country are willing to bear that matters. And they’ve made it plain that they feel they pay plenty in that department.

Others will argue that government has no business subsidizing home ownership. Valid argument to a point. Government has no business in the pension for life (Social Security) or provision of health care (Medicare and Medicaid) either. So, while some may call it a tax entitlement and even a subsidy, some might see it as a method of recovering some of their tax dollars from a greedy, wasteful, intrusive and out of control government. They might be willing to give it up with commensurate spending cuts, superflous agencies and departments being closed, and government slimmed down dramatically.

But until they actually see that happen – no promises, no smoke and mirrors, no bureaucratic sleight of hand – no sale. Government gets to go first. And when the public sees their total income taxes go down to a level that would make giving up that deduction “revenue neutral”, then they’ll be more inclined to end it.

Instead, what we expect to see is a familiar pattern. Government will pretend to plan for “cuts” in spending (which will never materialize) and pretend to take a stab at trillion dollar future deficits. History says they plan on doing what Congress always does – promise but never accomplish the actual hard work of cutting back spending and government. What Congress always manages to accomplish, however, is taking the money promised by the elimination of this deduction and spending it.

The citizenry should say “no”, not until government goes first and only we see commensurate deep cuts in spending enacted – permanent cuts – is this on the table.

~McQ

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Helen, We Hardly Knew Ye

OK, that’s not really true.  We knew that Helen Thomas was a pretty opinionated, nasty piece of work, as her questioning of President Bush–when he occasionally deigned to recognize her–showed over his two terms.  So, learning this week that Ms. Thomas was of the opinion that Israel had no right to exist, should be disbanded, and the Jews should return to Wurstland and Kielbasastan wasn’t much of a surprise.  Her agent acted surprised, though, as did Hearst newspapers–both unconvincingly.  Surely they knew what a c– uh, controversial set of opinions she had.  They had to.  But they went through the tired old kabuki of being shocked at her opinions about Israel…and of letting her go, after suitable mouth noises indicating shock and surprise.

Now, all the right-wingers are happy she’s been fired, and her career is over.  Although, at 89, wasn’t her career in the inevitable winding down phase anyway?  I find I can’t really join in the celebration at her firing, though.

NineSpeakers, her agent, and Hearst, her employer, are, of course, perfectly within their rights to choose not to work with her.  But I don’t particularly rejoice to see them exercise that right.  I guess I approach this differently.  I didn’t think Don Imus should’ve been fired for the “nappy hos” comment.  I didn’t think Opie & Anthony should have been suspended because they let a homeless person come in and make horrible statements about Condoleeza Rice and Queen Elizabeth II.  And I don’t think that Helen Thomas should have been fired because she thinks that Israel, as a state, was illegitimately created on Arab soil.

When the La Raza/Reconquista types talk about how the southwestern United States used to be part of Mexico in the 19th century, that people of Mexican extraction have continuously lived there since, and that it needs to go back to Mexico, conservatives immediately reject that argument as having any validity at all in today’s political context.  They then turn around and argue that, since Israel was the Jewish state prior to the Romans forcing Jews to disperse in 70AD, and that Jews have lived there continuously since, that gives Israel the right to exist as a modern Jewish state.  So, it’s a completely illegitimate argument in Mexico’s case, but perfectly rational in the case of Israel.  That means that when Helen Thomas makes the same argument about Israel that conservatives make about Mexico, it’s an intolerably outlandish opinion.

And I find it fascinating that the same people who get themselves in a tizzy about “hate speech”, political correctness, and speech codes are the same people who are cheering on Helen Thomas’ firing.  Turns out that they don’t really object to speech codes or political correctness.  They just want them enforced on a different set of opinions.

Helen Thomas’ opinion about Israel tells us all something.  It provides us with information that we can use in judging her subsequent writings or statements.  Now, of course, what we’ve done is send a message to everyone else who might have controversial or nasty opinions to keep them to themselves.  So, in the future, people in Ms. Thomas’ position will now be less likely to share those opinions with us, and we will be deprived of insights into their minds that help us judge their veracity and intentions.

Once again, a clear message has been sent out about the importance of narrowing acceptable political opinion. So, apparently there are a lot of people on both the Left and Right who sanctimoniously declare that “the solution to bad speech speech is more speech,” but they don’t really mean it.  It just makes them feel good about themselves to say it.

For my part, I think Helen Thomas is a kook when it comes to Israel, just like I think the reconquista folks are kooks when it comes to Mexico. I am hugely uninterested in revisiting geopolitical events that occurred before I was born, whether in 1948, or 1845. And I am completely opposed to using distant historical events as a justification of who gets to live where today.  Quite apart from anything else, if pushed to its logical conclusion, it would mean that I would have to turn over my house to the Pala Indians, and spend the rest of my life wandering around the cold, windswept coast of north-central Scotland in a plaid skirt, with maybe an occasional jaunt to Aberdeen for a night of drunken fist-fighting. Mexico lost the southwest.  The Arabs lost Israel.  Tough.

I just find that I don’t disagree enough with Helen Thomas’ opinion–or anyone else’s–to want to deprive her of her livelihood, or to deprive me of the pleasure of pointing at her and laughing.

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Dale’s Observations For 2010-06-08

Hallmark makes a space-themed greeting card that uses the term "black holes". NAACP screams "racism!" Hallmark cowers. http://bit.ly/9cvzny #

Ashton Kutcher (@aplusk) Is all conservation-y and stuff. But he drives a 7 MPG Navistar CXT. http://twitpic.com/1v1so6 #

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke says there will be no double-dip recession. So, there probably will be. http://bit.ly/acldZl #

Obama to graduates: Don't make excuses…although it's OK to mention that George W. Bush is the culprit for everything. http://bit.ly/cGo8Cc #

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Dale’s Observations For 2010-06-08

Hallmark makes a space-themed greeting card that uses the term "black holes". NAACP screams "racism!" Hallmark cowers. http://bit.ly/9cvzny #

Ashton Kutcher (@aplusk) Is all conservation-y and stuff. But he drives a 7 MPG Navistar CXT. http://twitpic.com/1v1so6 #

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke says there will be no double-dip recession. So, there probably will be. http://bit.ly/acldZl #

Obama to graduates: Don't make excuses…although it's OK to mention that George W. Bush is the culprit for everything. http://bit.ly/cGo8Cc #

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Quote of the day – Bob Herbert Obama leadership edition

If the administration has lost Bob Herbert, an up to now dependable Obama sycophant, I’d say they’re in deep trouble.

Not that Herbert’s column is an outright declaration of incompetence or anything. In fact he tip toes around quite assiduously laying out the woes the nation faces and his idea of what is necessary (more spending – much more spending) to correct the situation.

He laments the depth of unemployment and the economic demise of the private sector. And he is sure, that had some things been done when necessary (more spending – much more spending) we might be on the road to recovery. But since those things weren’t done (more spending – much more spending) we’re in the quagmire and, says Herbert, “there is no plan that I can see to get us out of this fix.”

Any guess why he says that? The last to sentences in his column and our quote of the day explain:

Bold and effective leadership would have put us on this road to a sustainable future. Instead, we’re approaching a dead end.

When even Herbert figures it out you have to figure the gig is pretty much up.

~McQ

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Government health care’s inevitable fate

Canada’s health care system is in deep trouble financially. So it should come as no surprise that the British NHS is as well. It is simply in the process of proving correct Margaret Thatcher, who said, “the trouble with socialism you eventually run out of other people’s money”.

The Brits ran out of “other people’s money” quite some time ago (as is the US as debt and deficit figues show) and their social structures are existing on debt. And the NHS, the celebrated “single-payer” government run system in place since right after WW II, is failing:

Jeff Taylor of the Economic Voice clarified the problem when he wrote last week that “the U.K. is broke.”

“Our whole society and way of life is now built on the shaky foundation of debt,” he writes in response to the NHS cuts. “Our hospitals, schools, armed forces, police, prisons and social services are founded on debt. In truth we have not yet paid for the operations that have already taken place.”

The NHS is planning on extensive rationing of surgery. The service is looking at eliminating literally millions – with an “m” – of surgical procedures because it simply cannot afford them. Representative of those procedures which will no longer be available are hip replacements for obese patients, some operations for hernias and gallstones, and treatments for varicose veins, ear and nose problems, and cataract surgery.

The intent is to “save” 29 billion by telling patients in need of those procedures “no”.

Rationing, pure and simple – as promised. However, it is government deciding what you can or can’t have, regardless of your preference or need. This is indeed the ultimate outcome of handing things such as health care over to any third party. And it is especially a problem when “cost containment” takes precedence over health care.

That is precisely the mandate government here has assumed with its legislative charter to “cut costs” in the health care business. With that as a priority, and given the structure of the new law, an almost impossible priority to fulfill, the same outcome is almost guaranteed here. With cost containment driving the train, shortages are inevitable. And what those shortages mean, in concrete terms, is precisely what the NHS is planning on doing – denying patients health care.

The inevitable shape of things to come.

~McQ

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