Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Jew Flu

Every now and again I feel the need to say something about Jews. It must be some sort of craziness in me because there is nothing to be gained by it. So I will keep it brief this time. Yesterday I put up a link to an article about Jew Flu -- self-hating Jews. It is an interesting article but it lacks perspective. Jew Flu seems to me to be just another variety of Leftism. American Leftists hate the world they live in -- which mostly means America -- and Israeli Leftists hate the world they live in -- which is mostly Israel. And many NYC Jews just don't like being part of such a phenomenally-hated group and do their best to distance themselves from that group.

So why do some people hate the world they live in? There could be many reasons -- being born ugly, for instance. But I think that there are two major reasons. I discuss them here at length.


7 stories Barack Obama doesn't want told

Presidential politics is about storytelling. Presented with a vivid storyline, voters naturally tend to fit every new event or piece of information into a picture that is already neatly framed in their minds.

No one understands this better than Barack Obama and his team, who won the 2008 election in part because they were better storytellers than the opposition. The pro-Obama narrative featured an almost mystically talented young idealist who stood for change in a disciplined and thoughtful way. This easily outpowered the anti-Obama narrative, featuring an opportunistic Chicago pol with dubious relationships who was more liberal than he was letting on.

A year into his presidency, however, Obama’s gift for controlling his image shows signs of faltering. As Washington returns to work from the Thanksgiving holiday, there are several anti-Obama storylines gaining momentum.

The Obama White House argues that all of these storylines are inaccurate or unfair. In some cases these anti-Obama narratives are fanned by Republicans, in some cases by reporters and commentators. But they all are serious threats to Obama, if they gain enough currency to become the dominant frame through which people interpret the president’s actions and motives.

Here are seven storylines Obama needs to worry about:

He thinks he’s playing with Monopoly money

Economists and business leaders from across the ideological spectrum were urging the new president on last winter when he signed onto more than a trillion in stimulus spending and bank and auto bailouts during his first weeks in office. Many, though far from all, of these same people now agree that these actions helped avert an even worse financial catastrophe.

Along the way, however, it is clear Obama underestimated the political consequences that flow from the perception that he is a profligate spender. He also misjudged the anger in middle America about bailouts with weak and sporadic public explanations of why he believed they were necessary.

The flight of independents away from Democrats last summer — the trend that recently hammered Democrats in off-year elections in Virginia — coincided with what polls show was alarm among these voters about undisciplined big government and runaway spending. The likely passage of a health care reform package criticized as weak on cost-control will compound the problem.

Obama understands the political peril, and his team is signaling that he will use the 2010 State of the Union address to emphasize fiscal discipline. The political challenge, however, is an even bigger substantive challenge—since the most convincing way to project fiscal discipline would be actually to impose spending reductions that would cramp his own agenda and that of congressional Democrats.

Too much Leonard Nimoy

People used to make fun of Bill Clinton’s misty-eyed, raspy-voiced claims that, “I feel your pain.”

The reality, however, is that Clinton’s dozen years as governor before becoming president really did leave him with a vivid sense of the concrete human dimensions of policy. He did not view programs as abstractions — he viewed them in terms of actual people he knew by name.

Obama, a legislator and law professor, is fluent in describing the nuances of problems. But his intellectuality has contributed to a growing critique that decisions are detached from rock-bottom principles.

Both Maureen Dowd in The New York Times and Joel Achenbach of The Washington Post have likened him to Star Trek’s Mr. Spock.

The Spock imagery has been especially strong during the extended review Obama has undertaken of Afghanistan policy. He’ll announce the results on Tuesday. The speech’s success will be judged not only on the logic of the presentation but on whether Obama communicates in a more visceral way what progress looks like and why it is worth achieving. No soldier wants to take a bullet in the name of nuance.

That’s the Chicago Way

This is a storyline that’s likely taken root more firmly in Washington than around the country. The rap is that his West Wing is dominated by brass-knuckled pols.

It does not help that many West Wing aides seem to relish an image of themselves as shrewd, brass-knuckled political types. In a Washington Post story this month, White House deputy chief of staff Jim Messina, referring to most of Obama’s team, said, “We are all campaign hacks.”

The problem is that many voters took Obama seriously in 2008 when he talked about wanting to create a more reasoned, non-partisan style of governance in Washington. When Republicans showed scant interest in cooperating with Obama at the start, the Obama West Wing gladly reverted to campaign hack mode.

The examples of Chicago-style politics include their delight in public battles with Rush Limbaugh and Fox News and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. (There was also a semi-public campaign of leaks aimed at Greg Craig, the White House counsel who fell out of favor.) In private, the Obama team cut an early deal — to the distaste of many congressional Democrats — that gave favorable terms to the pharmaceutical lobby in exchange for their backing his health care plans.

The lesson that many Washington insiders have drawn is that Obama wants to buy off the people he can and bowl over those he can’t. If that perception spreads beyond Washington this will scuff Obama’s brand as a new style of political leader.



The plan to silence dissent

There is no shortage of conspiracy theories that elicit a chuckle or the rolling of eyeballs. "September 11th was an inside job." "The war on Iraq was launched to enrich Halliburton." "AIDS was created to annihilate the black community." But should we be alarmed when a theory appears plausible in an age when the previously unthinkable occurs on a regular basis?

"When the heavy hand of the State is imposed on the press, all of us lose," Barack Obama told a group of Kenyan journalists during a 2006 trip to Africa. He continued, "The media does not have a formal role in the Government, but it serves a critical function in providing information to the public so that they can hold the Government accountable."

That was then and this is now. Apparently, a present-day President Obama has a different view -- a wild-eyed view -- of a free press than did a Senator Obama now that some outlets hold him, his administration and his political allies accountable.

The Obama Administration declared war on the minority of media outlets that do not worship the political left's newest false idol immediately after Obama was sworn in. Three days into his presidency Obama warned Congressional Republicans against listening to radio host Rush Limbaugh. Amazingly, the president who offered to sit down with the thug leaders of rogue nations, such as Iran's Holocaust denier Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, without any preconditions believed an immense threat was posed by a radio talk show host originally from southeastern Missouri.

Then the White House launched a jihad against Fox News Channel and its hosts by first boycotting appearances on the cable channel and then second, by engaging in name-calling and leveling baseless allegations. More recently, the White House brazenly attempted to marginalize Fox News Channel by enlisting the support of the heretofore compliant news media. Fortunately, competing news outlets found the backbone -- if only temporarily -- to put the kibosh on Obama's attempts to blacklist FNC from the White House press pool.

All of the Obama Administration bluster may have been just that. Supporters of talk radio breathed a sigh of relief earlier this year when an amendment introduced by Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) passed with an 87-11 Senate vote that seemingly ended an attempt to implement the so-called "Fairness Doctrine." The inaptly named "Fairness Doctrine" is nothing less than government-imposed speech codes. Although the doctrine would not have likely survived Constitutional scrutiny, radio hosts and listeners alike thought a major bullet was dodged.

So, are all threats averted? Perhaps not. There may be another plan afoot to silence dissent. Instead of having the government decide which program merited "the other side" of the argument, what if there was a plan to shut down the free component of talk radio and broadcast TV?

More than 150 bureaucrats at the Federal Communications Commission are in the final stages of planning how to deliver broadband Internet to the estimated 3-6 million people who do not have access. A formal plan will be unveiled in early 2010 but one proposal being discussed is deeply alarming as it threatens First Amendment freedoms.

The FCC is contemplating the notion that some or all of the electromagnetic spectrum occupied by radio and TV broadcasters is the perfect real estate to launch a national wireless broadband service. The price tag is $350 billion. That is as much as nearly $120,000 per person to be connected. Apparently, the FCC has not heard of the "$99 Triple Play."

Evicted broadcasters would no longer offer free, over-the-air radio and TV, but would instead be confined to subscription platforms such as cable and satellite or the Internet. This aspect of the plan is indeed troubling. The public would be required to pay for their news, information and entertainment services and there would be no free option.

However, it gets worse. Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) introduced a measure this year that would allow the president to disconnect private broadband users during an undefined national cyber emergency.

One provision of S.773 would grant the president authority to "declare a cybersecurity emergency and order the limitation or shutdown of Internet traffic" including that on private systems designated as critical. Not surprisingly, the bill gives the president wide discretion in designating private systems as "critical." Would an H1N1 pandemic qualify as such an emergency allowing the president to shut down voices opposing his socialized medicine plans?

Another provision of the bill is to federally-license certain information technology professionals making it illegal for those not holding such a license to access any IT systems. Obviously, the most efficient way to control the nation's broadband platforms is to control those who operate them.

Connecting the dots in this fashion would not have been contemplated as recently as one year ago. But today, no one is rolling their eyes.



On reducing inequality

Let us imagine that you are concerned about the amount of inequality there is in UK society. You wish to reduce said inequality. I might not (in fact don't) share that concern but even as the interested amateur that I am as an economist (ie, not an economist, simply an interested amateur) I might be able to offer some guidance as to how you might do this.

The first observation would be that some countries have indeed lowered inequality (and relative poverty) so to reach your ambition (which, remember, I don't particularly share) we could go and look at what they have done. The poster children here are of course the Nordic countries. And the most important thing we can say about their taxation systems is that they are very differrent indeed from what is usually proposed here:
....the countries that have been the most successful in reducing inequality don't have particularly progressive tax structures. The real gains in reducing inequality are achieved by means of well-designed transfers.

Indeed, the Nordic tax structures are not particularly more progressive than the one we currently have in the UK. Yes, they have high marginal income tax rates but they also tend to have lower capital taxation, lower corporate taxation and higher VAT than we do. That is, they have concentrated on growing the goose, taxing consumption more than we do, so as to provide the revenues to make the transfers.

Which leads us to the ritual calls here for the rich to be paying more tax, for companies to pay "their fair share" and so on, that our tax system must be made more progressive. But why, if we know that the way to reduce inequality is not through the tax system at all, should we do that?

Shouldn't we be copying the systems which really do reduce inequality?

As I say, I'm not an advocate of this inequality reduction in the first place. But for those who are there's something very odd indeed about their insistence not to do what has worked elsewhere: cut corporation tax, cut capital taxation and raise VAT. Why is that?




A small update: Yesterday I attributed the saying: "A conservative is a liberal who got mugged last night" to a NYC police chief. Nobody seems to be sure who said it first but I have noted that top vote for the originator seems to be Frank Rizzo, who rose from police chief to Mayor of Philadelphia.

Obama to detail big troop increase in Afghanistan: "After months of debate, President Barack Obama will spell out a costly Afghanistan war expansion to a skeptical public Tuesday night, coupling an infusion of as many as 35,000 more troops with a vow that there will be no endless US commitment. His first orders have already been made: at least one group of Marines who will be in place by Christmas. Obama has said that he prefers "not to hand off anything to the next president" and that his strategy will "put us on a path toward ending the war." But he doesn't plan to give any more exact timetable than that Tuesday night. Obama's war escalation includes sending 30,000 to 35,000 more American forces into Afghanistan in a graduated deployment over the next year, on top of the 71,000 already there. There also will be a fresh focus on training Afghan forces to take over the fight and allow the Americans to leave. Even before explaining his decision, Obama told the military to begin executing the force increases. The commander in chief gave the deployment orders Sunday night, during an Oval Office meeting in which he told key military and White House advisers of his final decision. At least one group of Marines is expected to deploy within two or three weeks of Obama's announcement and will be in Afghanistan by Christmas, military officials said. Larger deployments will begin early next year."

Privatize the Post Office!: "Weeks ago, in the debate over whether to euthanize what’s left of freedom in American medicine, President Obama made a stunning concession about the so-called ‘public option’ being proposed. Hoping to assure attendees of a townhall meeting that private insurers would not be threatened by the public option, he said, ‘if you think about it, UPS and FedEx are doing just fine, right? … It’s the post office that’s always having problems.’ Yes. The post office. The ‘public option’ in mail delivery: chronically in financial trouble; chronically over budget; chronically being bailed out by taxpayers. So, don’t worry, everybody! Government expansion into our medical delivery system will be just as lumbering and inefficient as the post office is in our mail and package delivery system. Er, good point, Mr. President.”

House wealth exceeds $1 billion: "Despite a recession that depleted bank accounts nationwide in 2008, House lawmakers can still claim a tidy nest egg: a combined minimum net worth of at least $1 billion. According to a Roll Call analysis of the financial disclosures filed by House Members — 441 records comprising thousands of pages filed by Representatives, nonvoting Delegates and the Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico — the chamber boasts assets totaling at least $1.13 billion, while its minimum debt tallies a relatively minor $125.69 million. And the real value of their assets is probably more than twice the reported totals.”


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The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)


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