Saturday, October 08, 2016

Politicians and Their Crimes

"For I know that counter-revolution, like revolution, could have been avoided, if kings and politicians and capitalists had all confessed their sins before we discovered their crimes." - G. K. Chesterton, Things We Don't Know About European History

It would be an exaggeration to suggest that we are in the midst of a revolution.  But it would not be going too far to suggest that many of the citizens are in a revolutionary mood.  Whatever the case, our politicians and capitalists aren't even remotely ready to confess their sins--even though we have discovered their crimes.

After the banking sector ruined the economy, the political class printed money and handed it out the very people who had caused the ruin.  If the foreclosure rate went up, at least few banks went under.  For all our talk of political divide, the bailout was supported by both parties.  On minor matters, the Republicans and the Democrats quibble, but when it comes to the important things, they agree that the nation should continue to be run at the behest of the financial elites.

The latest Trump scandal, like every one before it, promises to sink the populist candidate.  It seems the real estate mogul, who has twice exchanged his wife for a newer model, was recorded saying unseemly things about women.  I rather doubt if anyone is even remotely surprised.

The press continues to belabor under the misconception that the American people are ignorant Trump's character.  Hence their insistence on offering sordid details about his personal life as evidence of his shortcomings.  But the case for Trump has very little to do with his virtue.  Instead, the support has much more to do with Chesterton's quote above.  The petulant children who run our country need to be punished.  Trump is the best stick with which to whack the political class.

For that class continues to maintain that they have done no wrong.  The masters of the universe are governing well, and we ought to be grateful for their disinterested service.  After all, the abstraction known as the economy is doing well.  The government manipulated unemployment rate has fallen.  Sure, labor participation rates are near historic lows, but GDP and the stock market are up.

Apparently the plan is to help carry Hillary over the finish line so business can continue as usual.  To this end, the political class, the capitalists and the fourth estate known as the media are united.  The last in particular has brazenly jettisoned any pretense to objectivity.  So long as Trump is stopped, the journalists will have done their job.  The assumption seems to be that if Trump is defeated, the forces he has summoned will dissipate.

What the elites have not considered is what happens if they do not.  As long as the plunderers fail to confess their crimes and sin no more, it seems unlikely that the people will be placated.  On the contrary, if Trump fails, they will turn to an even worse fellow to break a system which no longer serves their needs.  It seems strange to say, but après Trump le déluge.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Black Lives Matter

They're at it again.  Here in St. Paul, they blocked 94, the main freeway that comes out of Chicago, through Wisconsin by way of Madison, and cuts through the twin cities.    This isn't the first time local provocateurs impeded traffic.  Two years ago, they marched on 35W, the western half of the 35 split that runs through Minneapolis and down through Dallas.

I have no idea if I read the tea leaves right, but I can't imagine this is the best way to ingratiate oneself to non-partisans.  It's certainly not how I'd go about it.

Tangentially, it's also an interesting example of the spurious nature of white privilege.  It's almost impossible to think of a time that any other group would be brazen enough to shut down a major freeway.  The cops supposedly hate black people so much they've taken to murdering them, but we can't get even get them off the streets.  Logic is not a strong suit with this sort.

On the one hand, it's not as if BLM doesn't have something of a point.  Cops aren't held accountable for their actions.  Like secretaries of state.  Or teachers.  Or even priests for that matter.  Those who reflexively defend cops are missing the point.  Police do shoot innocent victims and although the next of kin may win a handsome award (courtesy of the taxpayer), bad cops are almost never charged and prosecuted for felonious behavior.

On the other hand, BLM is based on two rather large lies.  First, "hands up don't shoot" never happened.  Well, it might have, some other time, but not with Michael Brown.

Second, blacks are not being shot with impunity by the police.  More whites than blacks are killed by cops.  Since there are significantly more whites than blacks, more to the point: blacks are killed in approximate proportion as the rate of black violent crime relates to that of non-blacks.  Because the blacks crime rate is roughly seven to eight times that of whites, the former are proportionally more likely to die at the hands of cops than are whites.  Once the disparity in crime rates is accounted for, this supposed anomaly disappears.

Besides, even bad behavior on the part of the civil authorities doesn't allow one to block of major thoroughfares and throw debris at the constabularies.  The pro-life movement is standing on higher moral ground (think of all the black lives that haven't mattered to the abortion industry), yet we -continue to march peacefully on sidewalks in front of clinics.

This doesn't look like it's going to end anytime soon, so we'll leave matters here for a bit.  Look for cops to avoid policing in black neighborhoods; crime will increase concomitantly.  Look for BLM to continue protesting, often violently, no matter the facts relating to the particular incidence of outrage.

It would seem we are in store for a very interesting summer heading into election season.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Immigration Thought Cliches

In the age of Twitter, we seem incapable of complex thought.  Instead, we paper over complexity with triviality.  Many examples could be furnished.  I shall illustrate three from the public discourse surrounding immigration.

Thought Cliche the First: We are a nation of immigrants.

To which one answers: so?  Harvard is a college of students.  The sentence is descriptive; it does nothing to assist us in developing a coherent immigration policy.  Shall we have open borders?  Should Harvard let in every student who applies?  We are no nearer to formalizing the best means by which immigrants should be selected from a pool of candidates.  Perhaps they should be chosen haphazardly.  Perhaps Harvard should throw out the SAT and GPA and letters of recommendation and...

Thought Cliche the Second: Immigrants are here to work hard.

Considering no one is certain whether the number of illegal immigrants, to say nothing of the legal ones, number twelve million or thirty, one is dubious that all motives have been accounted for.  Even supposing they had, it remains totally unclear why good motives should override the desires of those who set immigration policy.  To stick with our analogy: those who apply to Harvard possess good motives.  Ought the university therefore be required to grant admission to every applicant?

Thought Cliche the Third: Immigrants do jobs Americans won't do.

Perhaps.  But the cliche is missing an important qualifier: at the wages Americans prefer to work.  That immigrants from poorer countries are willing to work for less money than Americans is, though not universally true, a reasonable conjecture.  It does not follow that in the absence of immigration, the work would remain undone.  Employers could raise wages until the market clears.  The argument would be stronger if unemployment were low and wages were generally rising.  Neither is true.

There is nothing simple about mass migration.  It is no trivial task to create a policy that benefits the citizens of the immigrant's destination, as well as those of his former land.  And, of course, the policy must benefit the immigrant himself, as well as his family.  The policy, moreover, must be enforceable.

To gloss over such complexity does no one any favors.  But there are those who are well served by the thought cliches that don't so much calcify our debate as ensure it does not take place.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Another failed socialist experiment

Three years ago, the intrepid progressives at Salon praised socialist president Hugo Chavez and his economic miracle.  Somewhat surprisingly, the link to the article is still up.  A fool named David Sirota observed:

When a country goes socialist and it craters, it is laughed off as a harmless and forgettable cautionary tale about the perils of command economics. When, by contrast, a country goes socialist and its economy does what Venezuela’s did, it is not perceived to be a laughing matter – and it is not so easy to write off or to ignore. It suddenly looks like a threat to the corporate capitalism, especially when said country has valuable oil resources that global powerhouses like the United States rely on.

Meanwhile, in the worker's paradise:

A hamburger sold for 1,700 Venezuelan bolivares is $170, or a 69,000-bolivar hotel room is $6,900 a night, based on the official rate of 10 bolivares for $1. 

But of course no merchant is pricing at the official rate imposed under currency controls. It's the black market rate of 1,000 bolivares per dollar that's applied. 

But for Venezuelans paid in hyperinflation-hit bolivares, and living in an economy relying on mostly imported goods or raw materials, conditions are unthinkably expensive. 

Even for the middle class, most of it sliding into poverty, hamburgers and hotels are out-of-reach excesses.

So much for that economic miracle.  We eagerly await Sirota's follow up piece, How Progressive Ideology Led Me to Write One of the Dumbest Articles on the Internet.

Contrary to Sirota's assertions, we don't see socialist experiments as cautionary tales.  We learn nothing.  This summer, the TSA lines are longer than ever.  Officials attribute congressional budget cuts and staffing shortage.  Perhaps would be workers are off doing something less demeaning than molesting senior citizens and small children under the guise of protecting us from terror.

No one expects the TSA agents to be competent.  We simply want our hard earned money to be utilized in a way that makes us seem safer.  Security theater is the game, but the Feds can't even handle that properly.

And yet, you still hear calls for universal healthcare.  It is asserted that our broken system can only be fixed by allowing the same bumbling bureaucrats who staff the TSA to allocate medical treatment. Whatever could go wrong?

We have learned nothing from Venezuela.  One doubts we ever will.

Book Review

My review of Rod Dreher's excellent How Dante Can Save Your Life was published in the latest issue of the St. Austin Review.  I encourage you to read Dreher's book and consider subscribing to Joseph Pearce's wonderful magazine

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Decadence and prophecy

"When people accept futility and the absurd as normal, the culture is decadent. The term is not a slur; it is a technical label." - Jacques Barzun

The term decadence implies a falling off, a situation in which "there are no clear lines of advance."  It has long been an argument of this blog that we live in such times.

The difficulty in making such a proposition is that one cannot demonstrate a general falling off by mere anecdotes.  It must be pervasive.  And even in decadent times, there are positive developments, which are often reactions against that decadence.  Thus we have a resurgence in craft brewing and movements to support local agriculture. 

But on the whole, our culture is decadent.  As a certain presidential candidate reminds us, we just don't win anymore.  That could be the epitaph for the Bush and Obama administrations.  We remain bogged down in an utterly pointless war in Afghanistan, one which the President will not end to ensure that the inevitable blowback will be blamed on his successor.  Such are the absurdities we accept as normal.

To choose another example, real median family income has not increased as compared with almost two decades ago.  Historically, a few decades of wage stagnation are not abnormal.  But we do not live in normal times, and economic growth has become an assumed part of our experience.  We did experience a recession in 2001, as well as a more substantial one in 2007, but the jobless recovery has not benefited the average American.  That the rich might grab ever larger shares of an expanding pie is one thing; to do the same for a pie that is not expanding is quite another.  To make matters worse, the very banks whose reckless lending fomented the housing bubble (aided and abetted as always by the Federal Reserve) were bailed out by the taxpayers in a stalwart example of bipartisan cooperation.  Another perfectly normal absurdity. 

Which brings us to the present and Donald Trump.  Comparisons to Hitler are, frankly, ridiculous, but there is a strong whiff of Caesarism about his campaign.  This, to borrow from Barzun, is not a slur; it is a technical label.  Our government, like our other institutions, seems utterly incapable of doing the bare minimum to maintain the support of the masses it purportedly serves.

The State does not consistently enforce the law: it blatantly allows some--those who run banks, politicians like Hillary Clinton--to violate it with impunity, while those without political connections are punished for violating its smallest jot or tittle.  The State does not protect the citizenry from invaders: it insists that preventing unrestricted immigration is an affront to decency; its chief executive is utterly derelict in his duty to enforce that law, while the Congress makes no effort to hold him accountable.  The State does not mint honest money: the supply is fraudulently debased at the behest of the banking sector, and the populace is surreptitiously taxed through inflation. 

In short, the government is completely and totally corrupt.  And the citizens, who have also learned to embrace absurdity, have turned to a thrice married, narcissistic, sophistical billionaire as the best chance to reform the government.

The remarkable thing is that they are probably right to do so.  Not that Trump will necessarily arrest the decline, but that he is the right type of tool for the job.  Just as Caesar was required to shock the moribund Roman Senate, Trump, or someone like him, will be required to chastise our governing class.  That Trump does not have the character of Caesar is beside the point.  He remains the only Caesarian figure in the race.

Prophecy is a difficult art, but I can think of four possibilities for what follows:

1) Trump wins the Presidency and proves capable of reforming the government.  He bends the corrupt plutocracy to his will.  He builds his wall.  The State is reinvigorated and continues to be reformed in the years following Trump's presidency.  We rise a bit from decadence. 

2) Trump loses the race for the presidency.  It is difficult to see how either the people or the elites would learn their lesson from such an event.  The elites would probably try to run another establishment candidate under the guise of electability, while the people would search out another, more effective, Caesar. 

3) Trump wins, but proves either incapable or unwilling to reform the government.  I suspect this plays out just like number 2.

4) Trump wins and goes full dictator.  As much as I wish to discount the possibility, there's always that option.

I consider number 4 least likely.  When everyone is screaming that you're a dictator, you don't tend to be able to dictate many things.  Caesarian candidates can always theoretically become dictators, but there are a lot of people who depend on the status quo with whom Trump must contend before he can assume that kind of power.

Number 3 strikes me as most probable.  Trump has tapped into a deep dissatisfaction.  If he cannot quench the desire for something better, the masses will turn to someone who can.  Those who are scared of what President Trump might do should be much more frightened if he proves unable to deliver on his promises. 

Who comes after Trump?

Saturday, March 05, 2016

Dumping the GOP

In 2004, as a sophomore in college, I sat at my desk in my dorm room.  I was writing a piece (now mercifully lost) titled: Time to Dump the GOP?  My roommate, who fancied hockey more than politics, asked what I was up to and chuckled as I explained.  This was the impetus behind the creation of this blog, as well as the pieces I later published in the school newspaper.

By the end of the first Bush term, it was clear to me that despite the rhetoric about limited government, the Republicans were concerned with anything but.  If it wasn't quite clear what a disaster the war in Iraq had become, it was apparent that the Bush administration was much more preoccupied with curtailing civil liberties (via the Patriot Act) and expanding entitlements (via the not yet fully implemented Medicare Part D).  The man had even created an entire new department in the bureaucracy, that of Homeland Security, to ensure that no airline passenger ever flew unmolested again. 

In compensation for which, we got some tax cuts. Granted, they weren't offset by any reductions in spending, so they would be paid for through inflation, but this was before the Ron Paul campaign of 2008, and people took that sort of thing in stride. 

The truly damning thing about the Bush years was that the Republicans had control of the House and Senate.  The argument that the Republicans are powerless without complete autonomy has always been dubious; Congress controls the purse, and therefore can deny funding for any programs they deem unnecessary while the President wields the veto pen.  It was apparent that even with control, the Bush Republicans had no intention of enacting any of the reforms their party advocated in election years.

So with a disgruntled heart, I voted for the libertarian candidate, Michael Badnarik, in that year's election.  He got some small fraction of one percent of the vote.  It would be the last time I would exercise that privilege, though I did throw my support behind both of Ron Paul's campaigns.

This isn't the space for rehashing my reasoning behind refusing to vote.  Instead, I want to talk about the current GOP.  The question I asked twelve years ago appears to be on the minds of an electorate that seems even more disgruntled than I was.  Spurning the wishes of the donor class to nominate another Bush, or his Cuban clone, Rubio, the masses have turned to an outrageous billionaire and reality star named Donald Trump.

Trump promises to build a big beautiful wall and have Mexico pay for it.  He has other issues, though undoubtedly immigration restriction is the most significant, especially when the establishment candidates are supporting amnesty. 

There are many interesting things about Trump; one is that the voters seem totally unconcerned about his flaws.  That he has changed his mind on a significant number of issues is indisputable, but it doesn't seem to matter.  On the issue of the wall, voters seem to believe him more or less, and--this is the key point--they believe him more than they believe anyone else in the race.

The Republican brand has been so badly damaged that it is hard to take anything any of the candidates seriously.  The voters have been betrayed so many times (and in the case of Rubio, by these same candidates) that they expect little more this time around. 

If Trump betrays them, well, they know what that feels like.  But maybe he won't, and isn't that worth a shot?  Anyway, the people that have stabbed them in the back hate Trump, and this seems like a good way--perhaps the only way--to get back at them.

Trends seem permanent until they change, at which point the alteration seems obvious.  The establishment Republicans thought that with $100 million, Jeb Bush could outlast the other candidates and emerge the nominee, just as McCain and Romney had.  If Trump hadn't entered the race, it's distinctly possible he would have.  But nothing in history is inevitable, and instead of looking at a rematch between Bush and Clinton, the Republican Party looks set for the dustbin of history alongside the Whigs. 

I was off by twelve years, but better late than never.