31 December 2008

Beer & Wine: what can't they do

Now THIS is the way to start the new year. God bless the Brits!
Marinating a steak in red wine or beer can cut down the number of cancer-causing agents produced when it is fried or grilled, research suggests.

19 December 2008

GOVT debt > net worth of US citizens

From Agorafinancial.com:

Which is greater? The U.S. government’s mountain of debt or the entire net worth of all U.S. citizens?

For the first time in our history, it’s the former.

As of the end of September, the U.S. government held “$56.4 trillion in debts, liabilities and unfunded promises for Medicare and Social Security,” said research published this week by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation. The number comes directly from the Treasury release we harped on Wednesday.

And our collective net worth? $56.5 trillion, as calculated by the Fed at the end of September as well.

“Given more recent developments, it's clear that America now owes more than its citizens are worth," said PGP Foundation president and protagonist of I.O.U.S.A. David Walker. "Passing this shocking milestone highlights the need for President-elect Obama and the next Congress not only to turn the economy around and boost consumer confidence, but to put a process in place that will lead to tough choices getting made to strengthen the government's financial condition once the economy begins growing again."

18 December 2008

The subprime primer

There are times when words fail me. Not often, but there are. Fortunately, words don't fail everyone:
The Sub-Prime Primer

by Ike

Due credit goes to Tim Walker over at Hoover’s Business Insight Zone, for pointing out the need for a sub-prime primer. However, as the parent of a four-year-old and a four-year-old who just inherited an additional $540 billion in bailout this week (on top of the $840 billion that everyone already knew about,) I felt the need to write a primer that speaks to them.

Actually, any primer that speaks to them ought to start with an apology, followed by sentencing guidelines for the weasels responsible. With any luck, I can get my daughter to illustrate it. Without further adieu, here is the Occam’s RazR Sub-Prime Primer.

Meet Dick

This is Dick.
Dick has a nice
Dick has a nice tie.
Dick has a nice suit.
Dick owns a bank.
Meet Joe

This is Joe.
Joe has a job.
Joe wants a house.
Joe does his job and gets paid.
He puts his check in the bank.
He puts his check in Dick’s bank.
Joe’s House

Joe wants a house.
Joe does not have lots of cash.
Dick says “Hey Joe. I can give you a loan.
You come to my bank. I see your check.
I know you will pay me back.”
Joe signs his name.
Joe moves in his new house.
Meet Tom

This is Tom.
Tom wants a house too.
Tom has a check that is not as big as Joe’s.
Some days, Tom has no check at all.
Dick likes Tom, but will not give him a loan.
Dick wants to be sure he will be paid back.
Frank is in the House

This is Frank.
Frank has lots of friends. They vote for Frank, and send Frank to D.C.
Frank wants to stay in D.C., so Frank does what his friends want.
Frank thinks he’ll have more friends if he can put more people in houses.
Frank wants to put Tom in a house.
The Phone Call

Dick gets a call at work.
“Hi Dick,” says Frank.
“Hi Frank,” says Dick.
“I want you to put more people into a house,” says Frank.
“But Frank, what if Tom can’t pay me back?” says Dick.
“Too bad,” says Frank. “I will make your bank small. I will let some other Dick buy your bank.”
“But I will lose my shirt,” Dick says.
Frank says “Put Tom in a house. It will be okay.”
Frank says “My friends Fannie and Fred will help.”
Pretty Bubbles

Tom gets a house.
Jane gets a house.
Bill gets a house.
Betsy gets a house.
Everyone gets a house.
So many people want a house, that it costs more to buy a house.
Tom and Jane and Bill and Betsy all ask Dick for more money.
Dick is happy, and buys more shirts.
The Bubble Pops

One day, the shiny houses are not new.
Tom wants to sell his house.
Jane wants to sell her house.
Bill wants to sell his house.
Betsy wants to sell her house.
Now a house does not cost much at all.
But Tom and Jane and Bill and Betsy do not have the cash to pay Dick.
Dick will lose his shirt.
Pass the Buck

“Hi Frank, this is Dick.”
“Who are you?” said Frank.
“Frank, I am Dick. I own a bank. You told me to put people in houses.”
“What is your problem?” said Frank.
Dick said, “The people in the houses cannot pay me back.”
“That is too bad for you,” said Frank.
“What about Fannie and Fred?” said Dick.
“You have too many shirts,” said Frank. “All you Dicks with banks are bad, bad men.”
Dick did not know what to do.

Dick went to Tom and Jane and Bill and Betsy.
“I need my money,” Dick said.
“We don’t have any money,” said Tom and Jane and Bill and Betsy.
“Then why did you buy a house if you could not pay?” asked Dick.
“Fannie and Fred will pay you,” said Tom and Jane and Bill and Betsy.
Dick asked Fannie and Fred for help.
They said “Go see Frank.”
Bad to be a Bank

Dick still has his bank.
But Dick does not have money to help people.
Dick has no money to loan people.
Even people like Joe.
Joe has a job.
But Joe cannot get a loan to give jobs to more people.
Frank’s Friend Hank

Frank went to his friend Hank.
“Fannie and Fred need more money,” said Frank.
Hank said “What do you mean, Frank?”
Frank said “Fannie and Fred need more money to help Tom and Jane and Bill and Betsy.”
Hank said “We can’t give money to Tom and Jane and Bill and Betsy. Joe will get mad.”
Frank said “We’ll take care of all of the Joes. We’ll tell them they cannot make more jobs until we help Fannie and Fred.”
Hank said “Fannie and Fred can help all those Dicks with banks.”

Hank did not have enough money to help Fannie and Fred.
Hank went to print some more money.
Hank cannot just make money.
He has to borrow it from Joe’s children.
One day, Joe’s children will be mommies and daddies.
Their little boys and girls will have to pay it back.
Frank Stays in the House

Frank has a new house.
Frank has a new shirt.
Frank has a new tie.
Frank has a new suit.
Frank says Joe has to pay Hank, so Hank can pay Fannie and Fred, so Fannie and Fred can pay Tom and Jane and Bill and Betsy.
Frank tells his friends that Dick is to blame.
Dick loses his shirt.
Joe loses his shirt.
Hank has the bank.
Frank’s friends send him back to DC.

15 December 2008

“aggressive interrogation” and the extrajudicial rendition

The fact that aggressive questioning and extraordinary rendition was a practice of the two administrations preceding Mr. Obama's is not always paid attention to!
Mr. Obama will soon face the same awful choices that confronted George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, and he could well be forced to accept a central feature of their anti-terrorist methods: extraordinary rendition. If the choice is between non-deniable aggressive questioning conducted by Americans and deniable torturous interrogations by foreigners acting on behalf of the United States, it is almost certain that as president Mr. Obama will choose the latter.

Of course, he and his senior officials seem to believe now that they don’t have to make this choice. For them there is a better way to combat terrorism, by using physically non-coercive questioning of suspects and civilian courts or military
courts-martial to try and punish jihadists.

But this third way, which is essentially where America was before the Clinton administration embraced rendition, is plausible only if Mr. Obama is lucky. He might be. If there is no “ticking time bomb” situation — say, where waterboarding a future Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (the 9/11 mastermind) could save thousands of civilians — then there is neither need for the C.I.A.’s exceptional methods, nor the harsh services of Jordan’s General Intelligence Department.

OK, sports fans, what happens if

[Obama]increases the number of Special Forces raids into Pakistan, and those soldiers capture members of Al Qaeda and their computers, and learn that the group has advanced plans for striking American and European targets, but we don’t know specifically where or when

Those that volunteer themselves or their families to be the ones killed or injured please form a line to the right.

21 November 2008

Stop the flippin' presses

The UN's taking action on piracy; our troubles are over:
SOMALIA/UN: The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously to impose sanctions on pirates, arms smugglers, and perpetrators of instability in Somalia in a fresh attempt to help end years of lawlessness in the Horn of Africa nation, 20 Nov reporting. The 15-nation council endorsed a British plan for a council panel to recommend people and entities whose financial assets would be frozen and who would face a travel ban. It also reaffirms an arms embargo.
Enforcing the sanctions poses steep challenges, however, as those responsible for much of the anarchy plaguing the country are well outside any traditional finance system. The council action was followed by discussion on the deteriorating situation in Somalia - both on land and at sea, which includes some of the world's most important shipping routes. U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Raisuddin Zenenga said the multinational effort being mobilized to fight the pirates off Somalia - involving the European Union, NATO countries, Russia, India and others - should be replicated to mobilize an international force to tackle the security problems in Somalia itself. U.S. deputy ambassador Rosemary DiCarlo called for immediate steps to stabilize the deteriorating security situation, which threatens political progress and an Oct. 26 cease-fire agreement between the Somali government and the insurgents. She stressed that
piracy is "a direct result of the lack of rule of law and desperate economic conditions on the ground." DiCarlo urged the international community strengthen the beleaguered 3,450-strong African Union force in Somalia to protect food shipments. The African Union also urged the U.N. to quickly send peacekeepers to Somalia

By George, if that doesn't make 'em see the error of their ways... Nothing like a good sanction to stop piracy.

13 November 2008

Marshall Fritz, RIP

Light eternal grant to him, O Lord. He was one of the good guys.
Marshall Fritz, Advocates founder and creator of the World's Smallest Political Quiz, dies at 65
Marshall Fritz, the legendary and beloved libertarian leader who founded the Advocates for Self-Government and created the world-famous World's Smallest Political Quiz, has passed away.

Marshall died peacefully at home Tuesday, November 4, 2008, after a months-long battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 65.

Marshall founded the Advocates in 1985 to help libertarians become successful communicators of the ideas of liberty.

In 1987, Marshall invented the now world-famous World's Smallest Political Quiz

The Quiz expanded on a chart created by Libertarian Party co-founder David Nolan. Marshall refined Nolan´s chart and added ten simple questions on political issues. In doing so, he created a Quiz that almost instantly tells takers which political group they are most aligned with, while also introducing them to a far more diverse, and accurate, multi-spectrum portrait of American politics.

The Quiz was an overnight sensation.

"Marshall´s remarkable little Quiz won so many millions of readers over the years that I used to tell him that he really was one of America´s most widely-read writers," said Advocates for Self-Government President Sharon Harris. "Twenty million plus readers – that´s up there with Dean Koontz, Stephen King, and Tom Clancy!"

Since 1987, over ten million card versions of the Quiz have been distributed. On the Internet, an online version of the Quiz has been taken over 11.5 million times. Thousands continue to take it online every day.

Educators found the Quiz to be a natural for classroom use, and today it appears in the supplemental material for some of America's most popular high school and college textbooks.

The Quiz reached still more millions by being reprinted or discussed in innumerable newspapers and magazines, including the Washington Post, the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the Miami Herald, and the London Sunday Times.

Marshall remained active with the Advocates until his death, serving on its Board of Directors.

In 1994 Marshall founded the Alliance for the Separation of School & State, and was chairman of its Board at the time of his death. For 12 years, he was a leading spokesman for the idea that ending state, federal, and local government involvement in schooling can strengthen the family and improve education for all children.

He was almost single-handedly responsible for bringing the phrase "separation of school and state" into the vernacular.

He was the lead author of the "Proclamation for the Separation of School and State," which states simply "I proclaim publicly that I favor ending government involvement in education."

Worldwide, more than 30,000 individuals have endorsed the Proclamation. Prominent signatories include educators ranging from John Taylor Gatto to Mary Pride and Thomas Szasz; business people such as Tom Monaghan, founder of Domino's Pizza; religious leaders from the late D. James Kennedy and Tim LaHaye, to Rabbi Daniel Lapin and the late Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.; and from Congressman Ron Paul to former U.S. Secretary of Interior and Energy and also former president of Focus on the Family, Don Hodel.

Marshall was born in California in 1943 and earned a B.A. from California State University Fullerton in 1964. A devout Catholic, he and his wife of 43 years, Joan, lived in Fresno, California. They have four grown children and a dozen grandchildren.

"Marshall was a bigger-than-life character," Sharon Harris said. "He had a deep and profound effect on the liberty movement. He touched untold millions of lives. He criss-crossed the U.S. many times and traveled the world, sharing his passions with everyone he met. He loved people, and was equally interested in and comfortable talking with waiters, high school students, religious leaders, CEOs, and political leaders.

"He was the personification of the old Reader´s Digest title, ´My Most Unforgettable Character,´" Sharon Harris added. "His life was a grand adventure, and all who were lucky enough to spend a little or a lot of time with him will never forget him. He was funny, passionate, brilliant, and one-of-a-kind."

Tributes to Marshall have been pouring in. Mises Institute President Lew Rockwell called Marshall “a genial giant of the libertarian movement... a happy warrior for liberty.”

Reason magazine called Marshall “one of the most devoted and principled school reformers of all time.”

We have collected some of these tributes, along with photographs and links, at the Advocates Web page: www.TheAdvocates.org

Marshall was an innovator and a genius. He opened many people's eyes to new ideas and new ways of thinking. He was one of those rare people who literally changed the world.

To learn more about Marshall, visit the Advocates for Self-Government Web site:

10 November 2008

The fault, dear conservatives, is in ....

I don't often have much good to say about the Weekly Standard. Too many times, they were entirely too comfortable with the concept of compassionate conservatism. Howsomever, this time they've hired a writer who hit the nail on the head; and it's a nail that needed hitting:

We Blew It
A look back in remorse on the conservative opportunity that was squandered.
by P.J. O'Rourke
11/17/2008, Volume 014, Issue 09

Let us bend over and kiss our ass goodbye. Our 28-year conservative opportunity to fix the moral and practical boundaries of government is gone--gone with the bear market and the Bear Stearns and the bear that's headed off to do you-know-what in the woods on our philosophy.

None of this is the fault of the left. After the events of the 20th century--national socialism, international socialism, inter-species socialism from Earth First--anyone who is still on the left is obviously insane and not responsible for his or her actions. No, we on the right did it. The financial crisis that is hoisting us on our own petard is only the latest (if the last) of the petard hoistings that have issued from the hindquarters of our movement. We've had nearly three decades to educate the electorate about freedom, responsibility, and the evils of collectivism, and we responded by creating a big-city-public-school-system of a learning environment.

Liberalism had been running wild in the nation since the Great Depression. At the end of the Carter administration we had it cornered in one of its dreadful low-income housing projects or smelly public parks or some such place, and we held the Taser gun in our hand, pointed it at the beast's swollen gut, and didn't pull the trigger. Liberalism wasn't zapped and rolled away on a gurney and confined somewhere until it expired from natural causes such as natural law or natural rights.

In our preaching and our practice we neglected to convey the organic and universal nature of freedom. Thus we ensured our loss before we even began our winning streak. Barry Goldwater was an admirable and principled man. He took an admirably principled stand on states' rights. But he was dead wrong. Separate isn't equal. Ask a kid whose parents are divorced.

Since then modern conservatism has been plagued by the wrong friends and the wrong foes. The "Southern Strategy" was bequeathed to the Republican party by Richard Nixon--not a bad friend of conservatism but no friend at all. The Southern Strategy wasn't needed. Southern whites were on--begging the pardon of the Scopes trial jury--an evolutionary course toward becoming Republican. There's a joke in Arkansas about a candidate hustling votes in the country. The candidate asks a farmer how many children he has.

"I've got six sons," the farmer says.

"Are they all good little Democrats?" the candidate asks.

"Well," the farmer says, "five of 'em are. But my oldest boy, he got to readin'  .  .  .  "

There was no need to piss off the entire black population of America to get Dixie's electoral votes. And despising cracker trash who have a laundry hamper full of bedsheets with eye-holes cut in them does not make a man a liberal.

Blacks used to poll Republican. They did so right up until Mrs. Roosevelt made some sympathetic noises in 1932. And her husband didn't even deliver on Eleanor's promises.

It's not hard to move a voting bloc. And it should be especially easy to move voters to the right. Sensible adults are conservative in most aspects of their private lives. If this weren't so, imagine driving on I-95: The majority of drivers are drunk, stoned, making out, or watching TV, while the rest are trying to calculate the size of their carbon footprints on the backs of Whole Foods receipts while negotiating lane changes.

People are even more conservative if they have children. Nobody with kids is a liberal, except maybe one pothead in Marin County. Everybody wants his or her children to respect freedom, exercise responsibility, be honest, get educated, have opportunities, and own a bunch of guns. (The last is optional and includes, but is not limited to, me, my friends in New Hampshire, and Sarah Palin.)

Reagan managed to reach out to blue collar whites. But there his reach stopped, leaving many people on our side, but barely knowing it. There are enough yarmulkes among the neocons to show that Jews are not immune to conservatism. Few practicing Catholics vote Democratic anymore except in Massachusetts where they put something in the communion wafers. When it comes to a full-on, hemp-wearing, kelp-eating, mandala-tatted, fool-coifed liberal with socks in sandals, I have never met a Muslim like that or a Chinese and very few Hispanics. No U.S. immigrants from the Indian subcontinent fill that bill (the odd charlatan yogi excepted), nor do immigrants from Africa, Eastern Europe, or East Asia. And Japanese tourists may go so far as socks in sandals, but their liberal nonsense stops at the ankles.

We have all of this going for us, worldwide. And yet we chose to deliver our sermons only to the faithful or the already converted. Of course the trailer park Protestants yell "Amen." If you were handling rattlesnakes and keeping dinosaurs for pets, would you vote for the party that gets money from PETA?

In how many ways did we fail conservatism? And who can count that high? Take just one example of our unconserved tendency to poke our noses into other people's business: abortion. Democracy--be it howsoever conservative--is a manifestation of the will of the people. We may argue with the people as a man may argue with his wife, but in the end we must submit to the fact of being married. Get a pro-life friend drunk to the truth-telling stage and ask him what happens if his 14-year-old gets knocked up. What if it's rape? Some people truly have the courage of their convictions. I don't know if I'm one of them. I might kill the baby. I will kill the boy.

The real message of the conservative pro-life position is that we're in favor of living. We consider people--with a few obvious exceptions--to be assets. Liberals consider people to be nuisances. People are always needing more government resources to feed, house, and clothe them and to pick up the trash around their FEMA trailers and to make sure their self-esteem is high enough to join community organizers lobbying for more government resources.

If the citizenry insists that abortion remain legal--and, in a passive and conflicted way, the citizenry seems to be doing so--then give the issue a rest. Meanwhile we can, with the public's blessing, refuse to spend taxpayers' money on killing, circumscribe the timing and method of taking a human life, make sure parental consent is obtained when underage girls are involved, and tar and feather teenage boys and run them out of town on a rail. The law cannot be made identical with morality. Scan the list of the Ten Commandments and see how many could be enforced even by Rudy Giuliani.

Our impeachment of President Clinton was another example of placing the wrong political emphasis on personal matters. We impeached Clinton for lying to the government. To our surprise the electorate gave us cold comfort. Lying to the government: It's called April 15th. And we accused Clinton of lying about sex, which all men spend their lives doing, starting at 15 bragging about things we haven't done yet, then on to fibbing about things we are doing, and winding up with prevarications about things we no longer can do.

When the Monica Lewinsky news broke, my wife set me straight about the issue. "Here," she said, "is the most powerful man in the world. And everyone hates his wife. What's the matter with Sharon Stone? Instead, he's hitting on an emotionally disturbed intern barely out of her teens." But our horn rims were so fogged with detestation of Clinton that we couldn't see how really detestable he was. If we had stayed our hand in the House of Representatives and treated the brute with shunning or calls for interventions to make him seek help, we might have chased him out of the White House. (Although this probably would have required a U.S. news media from a parallel universe.)

Such things as letting the abortion debate be turned against us and using the gravity of the impeachment process on something that required the fly-swat of pest control were strategic errors. Would that blame could be put on our strategies instead of ourselves. We have lived up to no principle of conservatism.

Government is bigger than ever. We have fattened the stalled ox and hatred therewith rather than dined on herbs where love (and the voter) is. Instead of flattening the Department of Education with a wrecking ball we let it stand as a pulpit for Bill Bennett. When--to switch metaphors yet again--such a white elephant is not discarded someone will eventually try to ride in the howdah on its back. One of our supposed own did. No Child Left Behind? What if they deserve to be left behind? What if they deserve a smack on the behind? A nationwide program to test whether kids are what? Stupid? You've got kids. Kids are stupid.

We railed at welfare and counted it a great victory when Bill Clinton confused a few poor people by making the rules more complicated. But the "French-bread lines" for the rich, the "terrapin soup kitchens," continue their charity without stint.

The sludge and dreck of political muck-funds flowing to prosperous businesses and individuals have gotten deeper and more slippery and stink worse than ever with conservatives minding the sewage works of legislation.

Agriculture is a business that has been up to its bib overalls in politics since the first Thanksgiving dinner kickback to the Indians for subsidizing Pilgrim maize production with fish head fertilizer grants. But never, since the Mayflower knocked the rock in Plymouth, has anything as putrid as the Farm, Nutrition and Bioenergy Act of 2008 been spread upon the land. Just the name says it. There are no farms left. Not like the one grampa grew up on.

A "farm" today means 100,000 chickens in a space the size of a Motel 6 shower stall. If we cared anything about "nutrition" we would--to judge by the mountainous, jiggling flab of Americans--stop growing all food immediately. And "bioenergy" is a fraud of John Edwards-marital-fidelity proportions. Taxpayer money composted to produce a fuel made of alcohol that is more expensive than oil, more polluting than oil, and almost as bad as oil with vermouth and an olive. But this bill passed with bipartisan majorities in both houses of Congress and was happily signed into law by President Bush. Now it's going to cost us at least $285 billion. That's about five times the gross domestic product of prewar Iraq. For what we will spend on the Farm, Nutrition and Bioenergy Act of 2008 we could have avoided the war in Iraq and simply bought a controlling interest in Saddam Hussein's country.

Yes, we got a few tax breaks during the regimes of Reagan and W. But the government is still taking a third of our salary. Is the government doing a third of our job? Is the government doing a third of our dishes? Our laundry? Our vacuuming? When we go to Hooters is the government tending bar making sure that one out of three margaritas is on the house? If our spouse is feeling romantic and we're tired, does the government come over to our house and take care of foreplay? (Actually, during the Clinton administration  .  .  .  )

Anyway, a low tax rate is not--never mind the rhetoric of every conservative politician--a bedrock principle of conservatism. The principle is fiscal responsibility.

Conservatives should never say to voters, "We can lower your taxes." Conservatives should say to voters, "You can raise spending. You, the electorate, can, if you choose, have an infinite number of elaborate and expensive government programs. But we, the government, will have to pay for those programs. We have three ways to pay.

"We can inflate the currency, destroying your ability to plan for the future, wrecking the nation's culture of thrift and common sense, and giving free rein to scallywags to borrow money for worthless scams and pay it back 10 cents on the dollar.

"We can raise taxes. If the taxes are levied across the board, money will be taken from everyone's pocket, the economy will stagnate, and the poorest and least advantaged will be harmed the most. If the taxes are levied only on the wealthy, money will be taken from wealthy people's pockets, hampering their capacity to make loans and investments, the economy will stagnate, and the poorest and the least advantaged will be harmed the most.

"And we can borrow, building up a massive national debt. This will cause all of the above things to happen plus it will fund Red Chinese nuclear submarines that will be popping up in San Francisco Bay to get some decent Szechwan take-out."

Yes, this would make for longer and less pithy stump speeches. But we'd be showing ourselves to be men and women of principle. It might cost us, short-term. We might get knocked down for not whoring after bioenergy votes in the Iowa caucuses. But at least we wouldn't land on our scruples. And we could get up again with dignity intact, dust ourselves off, and take another punch at the liberal bully-boys who want to snatch the citizenry's freedom and tuck that freedom, like a trophy feather, into the hatbands of their greasy political bowlers.

But are we men and women of principle? And I don't mean in the matter of tricky and private concerns like gay marriage. Civil marriage is an issue of contract law. A constitutional amendment against gay marriage? I don't get it. How about a constitutional amendment against first marriages? Now we're talking. No, I speak, once again, of the geological foundations of conservatism.

Where was the meum and the tuum in our shakedown of Washington lobbyists? It took a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives 40 years--from 1954 to 1994--to get that corrupt and arrogant. And we managed it in just 12. (Who says Republicans don't have much on the ball?)

Our attitude toward immigration has been repulsive. Are we not pro-life? Are not immigrants alive? Unfortunately, no, a lot of them aren't after attempting to cross our borders. Conservative immigration policies are as stupid as conservative attitudes are gross. Fence the border and give a huge boost to the Mexican ladder industry. Put the National Guard on the Rio Grande and know that U.S. troops are standing between you and yard care. George W. Bush, at his most beneficent, said if illegal immigrants wanted citizenship they would have to do three things: Pay taxes, learn English, and work in a meaningful job. Bush doesn't meet two out of three of those qualifications. And where would you rather eat? At a Vietnamese restaurant? Or in the Ayn Rand Café? Hey, waiter, are the burgers any good? Atlas shrugged. (We would, however, be able to have a smoke at the latter establishment.)

To go from slime to the sublime, there are the lofty issues about which we never bothered to form enough principles to go out and break them. What is the coherent modern conservative foreign policy?

We may think of this as a post 9/11 problem, but it's been with us all along. What was Reagan thinking, landing Marines in Lebanon to prop up the government of a country that didn't have one? In 1984, I visited the site where the Marines were murdered. It was a beachfront bivouac overlooked on three sides by hills full of hostile Shiite militia. You'd urge your daughter to date Rosie O'Donnell before you'd put troops ashore in such a place.

Since the early 1980s I've been present at the conception (to use the polite term) of many of our foreign policy initiatives. Iran-contra was about as smart as using the U.S. Postal Service to get weapons to anti-Communists. And I notice Danny Ortega is back in power anyway. I had a look into the eyes of the future rulers of Afghanistan at a sura in Peshawar as the Soviets were withdrawing from Kabul. I would rather have had a beer with Leonid Brezhnev.

Fall of the Berlin wall? Being there was fun. Nations that flaked off of the Soviet Union in southeastern Europe, Central Asia, and the Caucasus? Being there was not so fun.

The aftermath of the Gulf war still makes me sick. Fine to save the fat, greedy Kuwaitis and the arrogant, grasping house of Saud, but to hell with the Shiites and Kurds of Iraq until they get some oil.

Then, half a generation later, when we returned with our armies, we expected to be greeted as liberators. And, damn it, we were. I was in Baghdad in April 2003. People were glad to see us, until they noticed that we'd forgotten to bring along any personnel or provisions to feed or doctor the survivors of shock and awe or to get their electricity and water running again. After that they got huffy and began stuffing dynamite down their pants before consulting with the occupying forces.

Is there a moral dimension to foreign policy in our political philosophy? Or do we just exist to help the world's rich people make and keep their money? (And a fine job we've been doing of that lately.)

If we do have morals, where were they while Bosnians were slaughtered? And where were we while Clinton dithered over the massacres in Kosovo and decided, at last, to send the Serbs a message: Mess with the United States and we'll wait six months, then bomb the country next to you. Of Rwanda, I cannot bear to think, let alone jest.

And now, to glue and screw the lid on our coffin, comes this financial crisis. For almost three decades we've been trying to teach average Americans to act like "stakeholders" in their economy. They learned. They're crying and whining for government bailouts just like the billionaire stakeholders in banks and investment houses. Aid, I can assure you, will be forthcoming from President Obama.

Then average Americans will learn the wisdom of Ronald Reagan's statement: "The ten most dangerous words in the English language are, 'I'm from the federal government, and I'm here to help.' " Ask a Katrina survivor.

The left has no idea what's going on in the financial crisis. And I honor their confusion. Jim Jerk down the road from me, with all the cars up on blocks in his front yard, falls behind in his mortgage payments, and the economy of Iceland implodes. I'm missing a few pieces of this puzzle myself.

Under constant political pressure, which went almost unresisted by conservatives, a lot of lousy mortgages that would never be repaid were handed out to Jim Jerk and his drinking buddies and all the ex-wives and single mothers with whom Jim and his pals have littered the nation.

Wall Street looked at the worthless paper and thought, "How can we make a buck off this?" The answer was to wrap it in a bow. Take a wide enough variety of lousy mortgages--some from the East, some from the West, some from the cities, some from the suburbs, some from shacks, some from McMansions--bundle them together and put pressure on the bond rating agencies to do fancy risk management math, and you get a "collateralized debt obligation" with a triple-A rating. Good as cash. Until it wasn't.

Or, put another way, Wall Street was pulling the "room full of horse s--" trick. Brokerages were saying, "We're going to sell you a room full of horse s--. And with that much horse s--, you just know there's a pony in there somewhere."

Anyway, it's no use blaming Wall Street. Blaming Wall Street for being greedy is like scolding defensive linemen for being big and aggressive. The people on Wall Street never claimed to be public servants. They took no oath of office. They're in it for the money. We pay them to be in it for the money. We don't want our retirement accounts to get a 2 percent return. (Although that sounds pretty good at the moment.)

What will destroy our country and us is not the financial crisis but the fact that liberals think the free market is some kind of sect or cult, which conservatives have asked Americans to take on faith. That's not what the free market is. The free market is just a measurement, a device to tell us what people are willing to pay for any given thing at any given moment. The free market is a bathroom scale. You may hate what you see when you step on the scale. "Jeeze, 230 pounds!" But you can't pass a law making yourself weigh 185. Liberals think you can. And voters--all the voters, right up to the tippy-top corner office of Goldman Sachs--think so too.

We, the conservatives, who do understand the free market, had the responsibility to--as it were--foreclose upon this mess. The market is a measurement, but that measuring does not work to the advantage of a nation or its citizens unless the assessments of volume, circumference, and weight are conducted with transparency and under the rule of law. We've had the rule of law largely in our hands since 1980. Where is the transparency? It's one more job we botched.

Although I must say we're doing good work on our final task--attaching the garden hose to our car's exhaust pipe and running it in through a vent window. Barack and Michelle will be by in a moment with some subsidized ethanol to top up our gas tank. And then we can turn the key.

P.J. O'Rourke is a contributing editor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD.

30 October 2008

Personal Work Incentives

The always amazing Greg Mankiw:

My Personal Work Incentives
Here is a question that you may have been thinking about: How do the different candidates' tax plans affect Greg Mankiw's incentive to work?

Okay, you probably haven't been thinking about this. But I have, because, after all, I am Greg Mankiw. And if you are here reading my blog, maybe you have some interest in the random thoughts running through my brain. So bear with me.

Bottom line:

That is, Obama's proposed tax hikes reduce my incentive to work by 62 percent compared to the McCain plan and by 93 percent compared to the no-tax scenario. In a sense, putting the various pieces of the tax system together, I would be facing a marginal tax rate of 93 percent.

Reality Check: The Cost Of Obama's Pledges

Holy ...cow. This is CBS:
Without question, the Barack Obama infomercial served as a very slick and powerful recitation of the biggest promises he's made as a presidential candidate. But the very bigness of his ideas is the problem: he seems blind to the concept his numbers don't add up.

Let's start with his highly suspect, and widely discredited, claim that he can find federal "spending cuts beyond the costs" of his promises. Very few independent economists believe he has identified the savings needed to offset his remarkable list of tax credits, tax cuts and spending pledges

You can read the rest by clicking the link in the title, or thelink here

Not so flippin' fast, McCain fans. His plan 'works' for the future if inflation stays below 5% for the next 35 years.

Wisdome from the Libertarian Candidate.

"BOMB". I like it!
The Democrats and Republicans agree that they don't want competition. They don't want to hear from me because I came out strong against the Bush/Obama/McCain Bailout (BOMB). The establishment does not want to hear our message.

Go throw 'im a few bucks.

21 October 2008

Samuelson's wisdom

What we've discovered is that the real problem is bigger. Large parts of the financial system are too thinly capitalized and too dependent on unreliable short-term debt. Leverage ratios often reached 30 to 1 for investment banks and hedge funds (that is, $30 of debt for every $1 of capital). The presumption was that the MBA types had learned how to "manage risk." That false conceit backfired. Low capital didn't adequately protect against losses. Confidence and trust evaporated, because no one knew which institutions held suspect securities, how much the losses were and who was ultimately safe.

Deleveraging -- a shift from excessive debt toward more capital -- is inevitable and desirable in the long run. The trouble is that, in the short run, it could destabilize the economy if it proceeds too rapidly.

Short hand way of saying that neither of the major-party candidates is likely to get this right.

17 October 2008

Holy smokes: Albright Opposes Iraq Pullout Deadline

I take back some of the things I said about her.
Backs Obama’s latest stance on war
[Washington Times, October 17, 2008, Pg. 1]
Madeleine Albright said the Iraq war has created damaging consequences for U.S. diplomacy, but Washington should not agree to a specific troop withdrawal date in the midst of conflict — something supported last year by the presidential candidate she supports — Barack Obama.

"BOMB." I like that.

16 October 2008

Good for Gov Palin

One of the best descriptions I've ever heard:
Her track record in Alaska indicates she does one of two things to her critics; Charm them or field dress them.

08 October 2008

Paglia and Rubin on Palin

Something has gone seriously wrong with Democratic ideology, which seems to have become a candied set of holier-than-thou bromides attached like tutti-frutti to a quivering green Jell-O mold of adolescent sentimentality.

Elections are won by convincing voters (many apolitical or the “low information” voters that liberals scorn) to join your team. Watching someone do it with style and with gusto is a delight. And if her ticket doesn’t prevail we’d be silly to think that someone as good at it as she is and who obviously enjoys it as much won’t be back again.

I can't even begin to say it better!

06 October 2008

Palin & Biden

It's been -- what? -- six weeks since Gov. Palin was added to the McCain ticket. You'da thunked McCain had added Gidget.

There followed the interview with Perky Couric at CBS. I think it's unlikely that the gotcha flavor of that interview was a surprise to anyone. Why, then, was Palin relatively unprepared?

Lead-up to the debate: there are all kinds of leaks on the trouble the lady's having.

Then comes the debate, and -- hey! -- she did OK. She mispronounced the name of the Commander of US forces in Afghanistan (it's McKiernan, Governor, not McClellan). Biden, OTOH, made at least three errors that I counted. Two of them are a no-fooling, this-is-serious kind of mistakes that have me really concerned that Biden might believe his own press.
First, Senator Obama DID say he'd sit down with the Iranian nut without preconditions. If he's changed this opinion, good for him for admitting a mistake. But that's not what Senator Biden asserted; the reason this is so serious
1. It throws uncertainty into the middle east
2. Biden himself accused Obama of being willing to meet... &c.

Second, we never threw Hezbollah out of Lebanon, with or without the French. For a Senate Foreign Affairs Chair to say that we did show a really disturbing lack of knowledge.

30 September 2008

Bryan Caplan

One of the really ugly strains of modern government is the breathtaking astonishment when those damn'd voters don't do what's good for 'em. Here's Dr Caplan:
The bottom line is that if you actually read the questions, instead of just looking at the headline, the major bail-out surveys paint rather similar stories. Journalistic summaries of survey results are about as reliable as journalistic summaries of any scientific results. Blame the summarizers (or perhaps the summarizers' readers), not the sources.


A trio of voices on the bailout

Here's Dr Jeffrey Miron of Harvard, who's opposed to the plan. His highlights:

* Government encouraged lenders to relax their standards
* Mortgages were given to people unqualified to repay them, he says
* Rather than a bailout, government should let firms go bankrupt
* Talk of economic Armageddon is scare-mongering, Miron says

Read the rest here

Megan McArdle -- an economics writer for Atlantic magazine -- reacting to yesterday's vote:
"Actually, what I hope is that I'm wrong, we don't need a bailout, and after a period of liquidation, everything will settle down. If so, I will happily confess my error. But I'm very much afraid that I am not wrong, and things are about to get pretty grim."

Dr. Brad DeLong, Professor of Economics at UC Berkeley, is pro-bailout:

"A very good line from Rex Nutting:
"House to Wall Street: Drop Dead: WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) - With a firm rejection of Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, the House Republicans have told the financial markets that they'll have to solve their problems on their own, without $700 billion of taxpayer money."

26 September 2008

Well, I'll be d-mned!

Steven Landsburg (of the Atlantic Magazine) tots up a comparison of the two major candidates (not including anything about the current financial hoo-rah-rah), and comes up with an endorsement -- albeit a somewhat tepid one -- for McCain!
Quoth the maven:
My whole life I've been mystified by the concept of the "undecided voter." I've never had any problem choosing my candidates and didn't see how anyone else could either. But this year, I've been genuinely on the fence, partly because I haven't been paying close attention, and partly because there seemed ample reason to dislike all of the options.

But over the past few days, as McCain and Obama have ratcheted up their rhetoric over each others' "disastrous" economic policies, I decided to do a little research. Along the way, I had a few surprises about John McCain's voting record, some but not all of them pleasant. Now I don't think I'm undecided anymore.

You can read the rest by clicking on the title to this post!

25 September 2008

Ye flippin' stars

To think that I'd see the day when I'm more in agreement with James Galbraith than with Ben Bernanke.

The title of this entry links to the Economist's Voice, a collection of short papers written by mostly left-ish economists.
Its short, focused policy articles fill a gap between the op-ed pages of the newspaper and full-length journal articles.

24 September 2008

The only thing standing between Joe Biden and the Presidency...

is Joe Biden's mouth.
"Part of what being a leader does is to instill confidence is to demonstrate what he or she knows what they are talking about and to communicating to people ... this is how we can fix this," Biden said. "When the stock market crashed, Franklin Roosevelt got on the television and didn't just talk about the princes of greed. He said, 'look, here's what happened."
For the record, the market crashed in 1929. FDR became president in 1933. And television reached dozens and dozens of people in the late 20s/early 30s.
So, class, what does this mean? Is the a slip of the tongue; therefore, merely amusing, or does this call Senator Biden's fitness to be prez into question?
Me? I think Biden's dunderheaded -- in lieu of a more pungent term -- call for 3 Iraqs, which Turkey took as a public insult and Iran saw as a challenge to their territorial integrity disqualifies him all by its lonesome.
One thing's for sure: if Gov. Palin had said something like this, the slip would be subject of late-night jokes for the next two months.

12 September 2008

Peggy Noonan Slices & Dices

Comes now the discovery that my nephew, who professes himself libertarian, has got problems with Palin. Lyrcism intended. I dinna ken what's driving this, but I suspect it's some of the social conservative stuff Palin asserts. And that leads to an interesting point. Libertarianism -- or classical liberalism, if you'd prefer -- does not demand moral lockstep. You can, if you'd like, assert that same-sex marriage is immoral and still call yourself a Libertarian; what you can't do is invoke coercive power to force that view on others.

The incomparable Noonan documents one of the strangest hissyfits in modern history. Read it all by clicking on the title. Bottom line: fire a broadside when the target's in range.
Then Mrs. Palin, and the catastrophe of the Democratic and
media response to her. Books will be written about this, but because it's so
recent, and so known, we're almost not absorbing how huge it was, and is. Here
was the central liberal mistake: They used the atom bomb just a few days in.
They used it so brutally, and yet so ineptly, in a way so oblivious to the true
contours of the field, that the radiation blew back over their own lines. They
used it without preliminary diplomatic talks, multilateral meetings or Security
Council debate. They just went boom. And it boomeranged.
The atom bomb was
personal and sexual perfidy, backwoods knuckle-draggin' ma and pa saying, Tell
the neighbors the baby's ours. Then the ritual abuse of the 17-year-old girl.
Then the rest of it—bad mother, religious weirdo. (On this latter it must be
noted that Mrs. Palin never told a church that the Iraq war was God's will; she
asked them to pray that it was God's will. It wasn't the sound of Republican
hubris, it was the sound of Christian humility: We can't know the mind of God,
we can only pray we are in accord with it.)
All of this was unacceptable to
normal Americans. They experienced it as the town gossip spreading rumor and
slander before the new neighbor even got to put down her bags. It offended the
American sense of fairness. And—it still lives!—gallantry.
Most crucially,
the snobbery of it, the meanness of it, reminded the entire country, for the
first time in a decade, what it is they don't like about the left. Really,
America had forgotten

Samuelson on Health Care

It is widely assumed that health care, like most aspects of American life, shamefully shortchanges the poor. This is less true than it seems. Glance at the adjacent table (You'll have to link back to the article to see the table-- ed.). It comes from economist Gary Burtless of the Brookings Institution (nota: Brookings is generally labeled a [modern] liberal organization) and is based on a government survey of health spending. Burtless was understandably astonished when he assembled these data: they show that, on average, annual health spending per person—from all private and government sources—is equal for the poorest and the richest Americans. In 2003, it was $4,477 for the poorest fifth and $4,451 for the richest.

What's missing is delivery. Getting health care to the poor usually requires them to spend hours waiting. The personal incentive: don't go until you have to.

11 September 2008

If Palin were POTUS

Tigerhawk posts some nominal questions for Palin to answer regarding defense & foreign affairs.
I'm going to finish the whole problem up:
If something horrible were to happen soon after January 2009, I will take advantage of the depth of the Republican Bench. That evening I would make four phone calls -- after telling my Chief of Staff to cause the Secretary of State and the National Security Advisor to materialize in front of my desk -- to:
  • Former Secretary, former National Security Advisor, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Colin Powell
  • Former National Security Advisor and former Secreatary Condoleeza Rice
  • Former Secretary of Defense and former Chief of the CIA Gates
  • Former Secretary of Defense -- in a democratic adminsitration -- and fomer Senator -- William Perry.
"Hey, guys, I need you.
The point is, lack of foreign policy experience isn't an issue as long as she -- Palin -- knows it exists.

The heroes of Flight 93 only reportedly stormed the flight deck

Don't believe me, go talk to the Associated Press. Money shot:
In Pennsylvania, at least 200 people gathered Thursday morning at an observance in a reclaimed minefield in Shanksville where Flight 93 came down after passengers reportedly stormed the cockpit to thwart terrorists' plans to use that plane as a weapon like the others. Bells were to toll and victims' names would be read as part of the service.

09 September 2008

Social sciences core principles

This actually comes from the National Council on Economic Education; however, has -- as we say -- universal applicability:
  • People Choose
  • Choices involve costs. All choices. It may be time, it may be pain, it may be money; doesn't matter: it's a cost.
    • Subset: the opposite of cost is benefit, a/k/a 'negative cost'
  • Incentives matter.
  • Society influences choices and incentives
  • Voluntary trade creates wealth. Wealth does not have to be money.
  • The consequences of choosing are in the future. Would some pow'r ....

31 January 2008


Y'all will be some kinda pleased to know that the Marines have taught -- I think a better word is 'motivated' -- the Recruit to, and I quote, "Shave, shower, and pee in 10 minutes."

19 January 2008


Jim has started recruit training. There is, in other words, another McFadden actively defending the country, and you all may sleep soundly in your beds again. Jim is the 5th Generation, in unbroken line, of McFaddens to serve:
Charles W. Minnesota National Guard
Archibald G.W. USN
Grafton R. USN
Rodney G. USNR
James. A. USMCR

Godspeed. Semper Fi!