The Bookworm Beat 5-27-15 — the “oy, such a day!” edition and open thread

Woman-writing-300x265It’s been one of those days: I took two family members to two different doctors’ appointments, went to a work meeting, went grocery shopping, and cooked dinner. It’s 8:30 at night where I am, and this is the first time today that I’m sitting down at the computer.  I still have legal work to do tonight so this will be a very abbreviated post, in no small part because I haven’t had the chance to read a dang thing today. Still, for what it’s worth, here are a few things you might enjoy:

Bernie Sanders is a dodo

Bernie Sanders is a proud socialist (although his net worth is greater than Scott Walker’s, so perhaps he’s a proud socialist hypocrite, but anyway….). Bernie Sanders has announced that he wants to cut back on the number of antiperspirants and sneakers offered to American shoppers so that more children get fed. If you think that’s a non-sequitur, you’re correct. Only an economic illiterate would take — gosh, they’re not even close enough to be apples and oranges…. Let me try again:  Only an economic illiterate would conflate bottled water and tires, and insist that if we use less of one, we’d have more of the other.

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Will American capitalism be a victim of the rise of fascism-lite and the devaluation of language?

monopoly_manIt’s no secret that certain words degrade with time as the objects associated with them lose status. Something my sister said to me made me realize that we’re at that point with the phrase “free market capitalism,” and there may be dire consequences because of that linguistic devaluation.

One of the most obvious and painful areas in which language keeps degrading is in the words we use to describe those people in America who are of African descent. They’ve been called Africans, Black people, Colored people, Negro (which comes from the Spanish and Portuguese word “negro” or “black,” which in turn derives from the Latin “nigrum” or “black”), African-Americans, People of Color, and of course the infamous N-word, which is a bastardization of “negro.”

Why so many different appellations? Because each takes on a negative connotation as time goes by. Language usage shows that American blacks have never been held in high esteem, and blacks have therefore constantly tried to skip ahead linguistically, coming up with new words as the old ones grow stale and distasteful.

It’s not just blacks who find language devalued when it comes to them. Women don’t fare so well either. Once upon a time, “spinster” and “bachelor” were complementary words, with the former simply meaning a woman who spins (a task that unmarried woman did during the Middle Ages) while bachelor, a word only slightly older than spinster, referred to a “farm hand” — a job description no higher on the social scale than one who spins.

Over time, however, the word “bachelor” became something of a hip, happening term, implying an unfettered man enjoying the sexual delights of the single life. Meanwhile, the word “spinster” devolved to mean a dried-up, elderly, high-strung, entirely unattractive woman who never married and who certainly will not marry.

Likewise, the word “beldam,” a somewhat dated word for an “old hag,” started out life as “belle dame,” the French for beautiful woman. Somewhere along the line, it became the word for a grandmother and from there it was a short journey to a disgusting, raddled old woman.

The word “slut” too has had a downhill slide. In England, at least as of 30 years ago when I lived there, it was still used in its traditional sense of describing a woman who is a poor housekeeper. I need not explain to you how insulting the term “slut” has become in America.

So why am I boring you with this little side trip into word origins and their depressing stories? Because my sister told me that “free market capitalism has proven to be a failure.” She was referring, of course, to our endless recession, as well as to the constant complaints about income inequality.

My immediate response was “It has not been a failure!” When she started explaining all the ways in which the American economy was failing, I realized that we agree as to substance — the American economy is a disaster — but that we parted ways definitionally. I explained to her that what we have today, in terms of the marketplace, is essentially fascism-lite, and that it bears increasingly little relationship to a free-market capitalist system.

For example, the United States’ maximum rate for individual taxpayers, which can go up as high as 56% (welcome to New York or California), is higher than the maximum individual tax rate is such proudly socialist or semi-socialist countries as the Netherlands (52%), Cuba (50%), Israel (50%), Japan (50%), Norway (47%), United Kingdom (45%), France (45%), Italy (43%), and New Zealand (33%).

The United States fares even less well when it comes to corporate taxes, which play a huge role in attracting or repelling businesses. The federal tax rate ranges from 15% to 39%, with additional state (0%-12%) and local (0%-3%) taxes added on. Again, just think about the difference between California’s inability to hold on to corporate jobs and Texas’s ability to lure those jobs. Meanwhile, as with individual tax rates, ostensibly socialist or semi-socialist countries place a much less onerous burden on companies that want to do business there. Canada, for example,, has a federal tax rate of 11%-15% federal rate plus a highly variable 0%-16% provincial rate.

Other countries have rates that are higher than 15% (the lowest federal corporate tax rate), but significantly lower than 39% (the highest federal tax rate, and that’s not even counting state or local add-ons). Among those countries are the United Kingdom (20%), Sweden (22%), Austria (25%), Denmark (25%), Netherlands (25%), Norway (27%), and so on. It’s more expensive to do business in ostensibly “free market capitalist” American than it is to do business in all of those ostensibly socialist nations.

In addition to the fact that we tax the Hell out people and businesses, we also regulate the Hell out of them. Businesses are not left to make their own market-based decisions about products, prices, sales practices, etc. Instead, federal, state, and local governments micromanage them. To keep a market honest, some regulation is always going to be necessary, but that regulation should take the form of a few big, unbreakable rules necessary to keep markets honest (don’t lie in your financial reports, don’t commit fraud, don’t poison the public, don’t enslave workers, don’t manufacture cars that explode, etc.). Instead, all too often, whether it involves replacing a chair, tiling a floor, installing a machine, or shipping a widget, some government entity or other has pages and pages of rules and regulations detailing precisely how these activities must be done. (For a primer on this circa the early 1990s, when regulations were less onerous than today, check out Philip K. Howard’s The Death of Common Sense: How Law Is Suffocating America.)

Oh, and then there’s what we call “crony capitalism,” which is really “fascism lite.” Under full-bore fascism, the socialist government, rather than nationalizing businesses as happens under communism, simply takes the businesses under its wing, directing all of their activities and decisions, while allowing the businesses “owners” to collect whatever profits are available once the government has had its say and taken its cut. Crony capitalism is less formal, with businesses paying the government various sums to encourage it to destroy competitors or provide unfair market advantages for the business. The government still has the ultimate say, but the businessmen have the illusion that they’re calling the shots. As with fascism, the only one getting really shafted under this arrangement is the consumer.

Which gets me back to my discussion with my sister. Whatever is going on here, it’s not free market capitalism. It is, instead, a form of socialism most closely akin to fascism, in that the government gets its cut and gets its say, but allows the illusion of private ownership.

The problem is that if people believe this fascism-lite is free market capitalism, then the phrase “free market capitalism” is devalued to the point of meaninglessness. We’re no longer in the realm of John Locke, Adam Smith, Friederich Hayek, or Milton Friedman. We are, instead, sliding down the Marxist slope, something that never ends well — and Americans, seeing this economic degradation combined with a less of individual freedom have been brainwashed into indicting “capitalism,” rather than putting the blame on “socialism,” where it actually belongs.

Hey, Sweden! How’s that open immigration and PC-multiculturalism working out in your faux-socialist land?

swedish-rape-victimI was cruel to a young Swede the other day when, without being at all rude, I told him unpleasant, unnerving truths about his country. First, I told him that his country never really had socialized medicine. Instead, it had “paid for by America” medicine. During the Cold War, Sweden was able to put aside a nation’s first obligation to its citizens, which is to defend it against foreign enemies, when America took on that role. With the money freed from defense, Sweden could have pretend socialized medicine.

The second thing I told him is that Sweden never had real socialism. (Yes, I’m sure this is a shocker to many of you, because Sweden is considered the ultimate socialist success story.) The reality, though, is that Sweden never truly had an all-powerful central government. That anomaly is due to something sui generis about the Scandinavian countries: In the years after WWII these countries were small, racially homogeneous, and comprised of citizens all of whose minds had the identical values. This meant that Sweden’s socialism was more of a societal collaboration. It never needed the strong arm necessary for socialization in countries lacking any one of those specific and unique factors.

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[VIDEO] Daniel Hannan on the fact that Nazis were socialists

I was fortunate enough to hear Daniel Hannan speak earlier this year. He is, in a word, brilliant. A few other words: informed, moral, funny, articulate, and a true classic liberal. In a just world, he’d be one of our greatest statesman. In today’s world . . . well, we’re still fortunate enough to get to hear him speak:

By attacking Jonah Goldberg, a recent college grad reveals that the American mind is no longer closing, it’s closed

The-Closing-of-the-American-Mind-Bloom-Allan-9780671657154The etymology of the word “liberal” isn’t complicated. It’s from the Latin līberālis, meaning “of freedom,” which in turn derives from līber, meaning “free.” The problem with “liberalism” as a political doctrine comes about when people try to define the control from which they wish to be free.  As a recent attack on Jonah Goldberg reveals, America’s finest colleges are failing miserably when it comes to helping students examine what “liberty” really means, both in theory and in fact.

The definitional problem with the notion of “liberty” was already evident in the late 18th century, so it’s not as if American educational institutions haven’t had a while to wrestle with this intellectual problem. When Thomas Jefferson wrote about each individual’s right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” the liberty that he envisioned meant an individual’s right to construct his own life: his own career, his own faith, his own personal relations, and his own economic progress.

The Bill of Rights, a binding contract between government and governed, established that Jefferson and the other Founders knew that this liberty could be achieved only through less government, not more. At various times throughout history, the federal government has stepped in to lift a heavy yoke off of people, including slavery and Jim Crow (both of which were state government initiatives), but the understanding was that the federal government wasn’t then supposed to fill the power vacuum it had created.

At the same time that the Founders were reducing individual liberty to what they hoped would be an iron-clad constitutional contract (with the enforcement mechanism being each individual’s jealously protected right to bear arms), French revolutionaries were contemplating a very different type of “liberty.” When they spoke of “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité,” they meant to substitute one heavy-handed government (the blood-thirsty commune) in place of another heavy-handed government (the ancien regime). The notion of individual liberty, a person’s right to be free from government encroachment, was not part of the French Revolution’s operating system.

In the 220 or so years that have passed since the Bill of Rights and the French Revolution, the diametrically-opposed meanings applied to the words “liberty,” have never changed. A steady strand of thinking in America has always held that liberty means a person’s right to determine his own destiny with minimal government intervention, control, taxation, and policing. Meanwhile, whether under the heading of socialism, fascism, communism, Naziism, or Progressivism, most Europeans and some Americans (including the modern Democrat party) have steadfastly insisted that liberty means a person’s right to be free from the burden of thinking about and caring for himself. (Islam makes that promise too.)

I was reminded of this definitional paradox when I read a 23-year-old’s throbbing denunciation of Jonah Goldberg’s challenge to the recycled communism found in a Jesse Myerson article published in Rolling Stone. The 23-year-old guilty of this purple passion in support of the Left’s liberty is Emmett Rensin, who describes himself for the L.A. Times as “a political activist and essayist living in Chicago.”  His website adds that he recently graduated from the University of Chicago, which is one of America’s premier institutions and was once Milton Friedman’s home base.

Rensin may be young, and he may consider himself Progressive, but his article is actually pretty funny because it’s so reactionary in tone. This is a guy who, after four years in a top American university, looks back in longing at communism’s glory days, and regrets that he was unable to live in those heady times himself. Even his insults have a dated quality, rolling of the tongue with all the clunky rhetorical elegance that used to character a good Stalin speech. Thus, Goldberg is a “professional colonialism apologist and perennial Democratic crypto-fascist hunter.” Wow! It’s 1948 all over again.

Obviously, Rensin’s writing is not the stuff of ages, although it’s probably the stuff of old, aged Leftists. Rensin is worth quoting, though, because he so perfectly embodies the long-standing Leftist notion, one that is now de rigueur in America’s colleges, that “liberty” means the freedom to have an all-powerful government take care of you:

Young leftists like Myerson and myself share a moral outlook that fundamentally differs from conservatives like Goldberg: Freedom, in the most prosperous nation on Earth, must entail the freedom to act without the constant specter of homelessness, hunger and preventable illness. But this is nothing new, and the very founders Goldberg implies would have defended the present status quo are cases in point. The revolutionary generation (many of whom, by the way, were theatrically radical young people) was made up of men of means. They were all comfortable; many were wealthy. They had time to recycle the old ideas of Locke and Montesquieu and to dream of a nation outside the shackles of English monarchy.

It’s hard to imagine squeezing in the Continental Congress in a world where Thomas Jefferson had to run across town to his minimum-wage night job.

If liberalism believes that freedom consists of freedom from want, then we want only to extend the means for such achievement beyond the wealthy, white and landed few. Not everyone needs their own Monticello, but an apartment and some groceries might suffice.

Rensin has the youthful college grad’s passion for supposedly erudite references and sweeping pronouncements, not to mention a good acquaintance with the Spark Notes version of Marx’s turgid, lugubrious, boring Communist Manifesto. What Rensin lacks, however, is actual knowledge. If he had knowledge, he would know that freedom from want (which is what he desires) happens best when a society lets individuals decide how to create and spend wealth, rather than in societies in which the state, promising freedom from want, makes decisions for individuals about how to create and spend wealth.

It’s absolutely true that every country predicated on individual liberty and economic freedom has failed to eradicate poverty and has made terrible moral mistakes. What’s also true, though, is that these same countries have raised the standard of living for every individual within the country, from the poorest on up; has contributed wealth around the world; and has repented and remedied its moral mistakes.  (A useful primer on this is Niall Ferguson’s Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World by Ferguson.)

The contrary is true for countries of the kind Rensin envisions, with a beneficent government caring for every individual. Without exception, the promises of a managed economy have failed.  Invariably, and quickly, many more, rather than fewer, people end up mired in abysmal poverty, grinding despair, not to mention existential fear of ones own all-powerful government.  The standard of living for everyone in these countries has gone down. There isn’t one communist country that doesn’t support Winston Churchill’s justly famous observation that “Socialism is a philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy.  Its inherent virtue is the equal sharing of misery” (emphasis mine).

Worse, in every one of these socialist countries, as the promises failed and the people took notice of those failures, the governments did something that no magnate or corporation could ever do and on a scale so vast even now it’s hard to comprehend: they silenced, tortured, imprisoned, and executed people who failed to be adequately grateful for the state’s vision of “liberty.”  This is true whether one speaks of Soviet Gulags, Nazi and North Korean concentration camps, Chinese reeducation camps, or Cuban prisons.  In each case, people were sent there, not for committing crimes against their fellow citizens (assault, murder, robbery), but for being offensive to the state, sometimes by what they said, sometimes by what they did, and sometimes just by existing.

I can already hear Rensin saying that my statements only apply to the Soviet Union, Communist China, Cuba, Nazi Germany, East Germany, North Korea, and other “communist” countries, but are untrue when it comes to socialized Europe. Again, he would be wrong. Because Europe went for soft socialism, not hard, and because America supported it economically for decades during the Cold War, it’s decline has been the slow-mo version of hardcore socialist states.

When the Cold War collapsed, and America’s dollars dried up, Europe’s economy slowly disappeared. Living standards across Europe are falling, not rising. Moreover, the petty tyranny of the EU is ramping up. Free speech is increasingly verboten in England, the home of free speech; France is reliving the Dreyfus affair with virulent antisemitism rising to the fore; Greece is in social and economic free fall; Spain is broke; and on and on. Norway still does socialism successfully, but that’s primarily because it’s floating on a sea of the Beverly Hillbillies’ famous “black gold.” It’s easy to be socialist when you have an unending stream of one of the world’s most valuable commodities.  And of course, Norway is back away from socialism as fast as it can.

This post started with Jonah Goldberg, and it’s going to end with him too. His opinion piece today at the National Review notes that, while Allan Bloom once wrote about the “closing of the American mind,” that’s no longer true.  The American mind has stopped closing; instead, it’s closed, very tightly.  On college campuses throughout America — the ones that are training the Emmett Rensin’s who are let loose in newspapers and magazines — the door has shut firmly and definitively on wisdom, general knowledge, historical understanding, and analytical thinking.  We are in an intellectual dark age as stultifying and dangerous as the one that swept through Europe with Rome’s collapse and that only slowly lifted in the eight centuries thereafter.

Obamacare seen through the prism of Cold War jokes about life in the Soviet Union

Soviet-Bread-Line

During the Cold War, there were two types of jokes about the Soviet Union: those told within the Soviet Union about how bad life was there, and jokes told outside of the Soviet Union about how bad life was there. Americans told the jokes with gusto. Secure in their freedom from a totalitarian government’s constant surveillance, and rejoicing in the overflowing shelves of a free market economy, these jokes reminded Americans that their political and economic systems were indeed superior.

As we work our way through the second decade of the 21st Century, however, those old Soviet jokes are becoming eerily apposite – not to describe Putin’s Russia (although the surveillance state jokes still have their place), but to describe Obama’s America. Thanks to our newly acquired knowledge about the way the NSA and other government entities have turned America into a surveillance state (which implies a very short journey to a full police state) and thanks to the burgeoning economic disaster that is Obamacare, we’re now the Soviet joke.

To prove this point, I’ve copied below myriad Cold War-era jokes, some of which I remember from my childhood, some of which I culled from Cold War-era joke books, and most of which came from my readers (with special thanks to Zombie, who came through with a mother lode of jokes). When I say copied, I mean it: they’re there verbatim, with their original Soviet references. The only changes I’ve made have been to use strike-throughs on those Soviet references and replaced those words with more appropriate “Obama’s America” references.

It’s sad how well the jokes work as rewritten. People shouldn’t just be saddened, though. They should be outraged — and this outrage should lead to action. As Mary Theroux of the Independent Institute said at a luncheon I attended today, it was collective outrage that started in a Polish shipyard that finally brought down the Soviet Union.

And now, the jokes:

On a bitterly cold day in Moscow Washington, D.C., word has gone out that a store has received a shipment of food supplies an Obamacare Navigator has a functional computer. People start lining up early. Soon, the line doubles around the block. After a couple of hours, an official emerges from the store office.

“Owing to the Zionist-dominated American Tea Party interference with Soviet Obamacare concerns, supplies are slightly more limited than we had originally anticipated. All Jews Tea Partiers must therefore leave this line.”

Grumbling, but unsurprised, the Jews Tea Partiers head home empty-handed.

The sun rises in the sky, but gives no warmth. Another couple of hours go by, and the same official comes out.

“The Americans Tea Partiers were worse than we thought, and our supplies are more diminished than we realized. All of those who do not belong to the Communist Party Democrat Party must leave this line.”

Disgruntled non-Party members head home, leaving only the hard-core Soviets Progressives waiting for food.

The sun begins to set. The cold becomes worse. The Party members Progressives huddle together, trying to get warm. At long last, after they’ve spent eight or ten hours waiting, the official emerges from the store one last time.

“We regret to announce that American Tea Party depredations were so great that we have no food supplies Obamacare policies available today. You must all go home.”

As the Party members shuffle away into the cold night, one loudly says to the other, “Those damn Jews Tea Partiers! They get all the luck.”

***

First Communist Progressive: Come the revolution, we’ll all be driving Rolls Royces have “Cadillac” health insurance plans.

Second Communist Progressive: But I don’t want to drive a Rolls Royce a Cadillac health insurance plan.

First Communist Progressive: Come the revolution, you’ll have to want one.

***

A foreign Republican delegation showed up unexpectedly at a collective farm the office of Health and Human Services. There was no time to prepare. After they left, the Chairman of the collective farm called the District Party committee Kathleen Sebelius called the White House. “You didn’t warn me in advance, so they saw everything, the ruined cow sheds antiquated computers, and all the dirt brain-dead programmers, and all our misery and poverty.”

“Don’t worry,” the Party secretary White House said.

“But now they will tell about it all over the world.”

“Let them indulge in their usual slander,” the Party secretary White House said.

***

Stalin Obama summoned Orlov Jay Leno and said, “I have heard through informers that you are telling jokes about me. It’s treasonous!”

“What exactly do you mean?”

“I am the Great Leader, Teacher, and Friend of the people!”

Orlov Leno thought for a while. “No, I haven’t told anybody that joke yet.”

***

A Russian woman walks into a store an Obamacare Navigator’s office. “Do you have any meat health insurance policies?”

“No, we don’t.”

“What about bread a list of doctors who will treat me anyway?”

“We only deal with meat Obamacare policies. Across the street is the store with no bread doctors.”

***

In a gulag federal prison, two inmates share their experience.

“What did they arrest you for?” one of them asks. “Was it a political offense, or a common crime?”

“Political, of course. I’m a plumber computer programmer. They summoned me to the District Party Obamacare exchange headquarters to fix the sewage pipes computer program. I looked and said, ‘Hey, the entire system requires replacement.’ So, they gave me seven years.”

***

One day, far in the future, a boy in Moscow New York asks, “Grandpa, what is a ‘line’?”

“A line? I will explain. You see, many years ago, in the bad old days, there was not enough meat in the stores, so people stood in long rows at the stores’ entrances and waited, hoping some meat would appear on sale. That was called a ‘line.’ Do you understand?”

“Yes, Grandpa. But — what is ‘meat’?”

***

Okay, this one doesn’t relate directly to either Obamacare or surveillance, but it’s so apropos, I just had to include it. It is, after all, the perfect metaphor for the Obama media:

To alleviate the perennial shortages of butter, The Politburo of the Communist Party ordered the Soviet scientists to develop a technology for converting shit into butter, and to complete this project on or before the anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution. After six months of work, the Politburo demanded an interim progress report. The scientists reported that they had achieved a 50% success. The party requested elaboration. The reply from the Academy of Sciences explained, “One can already spread it, but not yet eat it.”

***

A Muscovite Manhattanite goes to the Obamacare Navigator’s office to fill out a form for fixing the decayed wiring in his apartment getting insurance through the Obamacare exchange.

The official navigator looks through his calendar and says, “Three years from today.”

The man asks, “What time?”

The official naviagor looks at him with a puzzled expression on his face. “What possible difference can the time make if it’s three years from today?”

“Because the plumber is coming I have my first doctor’s appointment in the afternoon.”

***

A Soviet labor official Democrat Senator up for reelection is sent by Moscow the DNC to British labor leaders in London his state Democrat party for a round of talks. As he delivers the party line on the issues at hand, one of the Laborites local Democrats interrupts and says to the man, “Look, you’re among friends here. Just say what you think.” The Soviet official Democrat Senator pretends not to hear and continues with his programmed remarks. “Enough,” says the trade union rep local Democrat. “We know what Moscow the White House, the DNC, and the media thinks. Don’t you have an opinion of your own?” “I do,” says the man, “but I don’t agree with it.”

***

At a Moscow May Day parade in the mid 1930s the mandatory celebration for Obama’s fourth inauguration, a very old Jew man carried a sign that said, “Thank you, comrade Stalin President Obama, for my happy childhood!”

A Party Progressive representative approached the old man. “What is the meaning of this sign? Everybody can see how old you are — when you were a child, comrade Stalin President Obama was not yet even born!”

“Precisely,” the Jew man said.

***

A Russian, A Frenchman and an American Progressive, a Republican, and a Libertarian are shipwrecked on a desert island. For weeks they barely survive, half-starved, eating only whatever washes up on the beach.

One day they find a magic lamp on the sand and when they rub it, a genie pops out and grants each one of them a wish.

The Frenchman Libertarian says, “I wish to return to France Idaho, where we have the best food and the most beautiful women in the world!” And Poof! he disappears and returns to France Idaho.

The American Republican says, “I wish to return to the good ol’ USA, where have more money and more time-saving gadgets than anywhere in the world!” And Poof! he disappears and returns to America.

The Progressive, a hardcore communist, says, “Those others were greedy and lazy. A hard life is good for a man’s soul! So I prefer to stay here, hungry and without possessions, on this desert island.”

“If that’s the case,” says the genie, “Then what is your wish?”

“Well, I’ll probably get a little lonely, so my wish is — that you bring those other guys back here for company.”

Poof Poof!

***

And a Soviet-style joke that came to me ready-made, without the need for strikethroughs and interlineations:

A loyal Party Citizen in Chicago spends two days nonstop on his computer trying to get Obamacare coverage for his family.

When he finally succeeds and discovers the price of his premiums and copays, he is shocked and angry. He rushes out of his Park Avenue apartment and begins screaming at the top of his voice, “Obama is an incompetent idiot fascist!”

Immediately, an NSA satellite homes in on his location and a Department of Homeland Security SWAT team swoops down on him, tasering him into submission between rifle butts to the stomach and kidneys.

When the disgruntled Party Citizen wakes up on a gurney in the Obamacare hospital corridor, he is informed by the Local Party Boss that the recently remade U.S. Court System will charge him with two crimes.

“What are those”, he asks? ”

“Insulting our Dear Leader and revealing state secrets”, came the reply.

***

And another Soviet-style joke that came to me ready-made:

A visiting tourist stopped at the corner Moscow newsstand to purchase a paper. He sees that there are three choices. ”I can’t read Russian,” he confesses to the vendor, “I just want one as a souvenir.” He points to the largest stack of papers, unsold. ”Which one is this?”

“Oh, that’s Pravda”, the vendor says. ”But you don’t want that one.”

“Why not” asks the tourist.

“Because it does nothing but parrot the party line, and is filled with lies, half-lies, and deceptions,” the vendor explains. ”We refer to it as the ‘Russian New York Times’.”

Socialism always values propagandists over providers

I have a couple of high school friends on Facebook who grew up to become teachers.  They are relentless about posting daily materials highlighting the American teacher’s martyrdom.  If you relied on these posters alone, you’d think that being a teacher is the hardest job, with the lowest salary, in the world.

I am not unsympathetic to teachers.  My father was a teacher and, back in the day, he really did earn a low salary.  In 1987, after teaching in his school district for 25 years, my dad’s top salary was $23,000.  (Add just another thousand, and you can get Dan Savage to come and speak for an hour at your university.) I graduated from law school the same year, and with absolutely nothing to contribute to a big law firm, walked into a $55,000 salary.

Daddy worked extremely long days — but those hours weren’t because of  his teaching job, but because of the low salary.  His teaching day was from 8-3.  Grading homework added another couple of hours, for a regular eight-hour day.  The real hours came with the four extra hours of private tutoring he did every day to augment his meager salary.  Also, since he worked only eight months a year, he spent every summer hunting desperately for a mixture of summer school and private tutoring jobs, so that he could pay the mortgage and buy food for us.  In those days, California teachers earned a living wage provided one had no aspirations to be middle class.

Nowadays, teachers earn living wages appropriate to the middle class, and work eight hours a day, five days a week, eight months out of the year.  I don’t begrudge them that.  Theirs is a necessary, important, and beneficial job and, depending on the school, not always an easy one.  Those tasked with spending the majority of their time with our children should get paid a living wage.  But the martyrdom shtick is unseemly.

At National Review, Jason Richwine points out that this martyrdom shtick benefits them in intangible ways, and is the flip side of the disdain with which doctors are increasingly treated in our society.  This got me thinking about the fact that, in every society that socialized its medicine, doctor’s status instantly degraded.  This is true whether you’re looking at the Soviet Union, Cuba, England, Canada, France, or anywhere else.  This is true even though doctors have the longest education and apprenticeship of any job in America and, once they’re working, they truly hold our lives in their hands.  Likewise, in every socialized society, teachers’ status improves.  This is true despite the fact that their training places a moderate demand on their time and they don’t hold our lives in their hands.

Thinking about it, of course, this socialist inversion makes perfect sense.  Teachers produce the next generation of socialists; doctors cost money by saving the lives of old socialists who no longer contribute to the commune.  The relative values assigned these jobs in a socialist society has nothing to do with their contributions to the individual and everything to do with their contributions to the state.

Problems with Obamacare exchanges are a feature, not a bug

Avik Roy advances a very interesting theory about the disastrous Obamacare exchange.

First of all, you need to think about  how it works compared to other online shopping sites.  At all other sites, you find your product, and then you submit your information.  At Obamacare, you must submit your information before you’re allowed to go shopping for your product.  It’s this information demand that has made a poorly constructed design collapse under the weight of even a relatively small number of visitors.  So why was it built bass ackwards?  Because it’s not really a free market exchange.

Here’s the deal:  prices across the board have increased for insurance as insurers struggle to deal with the fact that they cannot scale prices depending on risk (which is, after all, what real insurance does) and because they are now required to offer a ton of services, whether consumers want to pay for them or not.  Congress knew that this would happen, but it didn’t care.  The real purpose behind Obamacare was to get the haves to pay for the have nots.  The haves will take the high prices and like them . . . or else.  But the have nots cannot be allowed to see the high prices lest they run away screaming.  The reality for them is that, as have nots, their increased prices will be subsidized — and then some — by the haves.  Everyone has to be fed into the system for this wealth transfer to work:

So, by analyzing your income first, if you qualify for heavy subsidies, the website can advertise those subsidies to you instead of just hitting you with Obamacare’s steep premiums. For example, the site could advertise plans that “$0″ or “$30″ instead of explaining that the plan really costs $200, and you’re getting a subsidy of $200 or $170. But you’ll have to be at or near the poverty line to gain subsidies of that size; most people will either not qualify for a subsidy, or qualify for a small one that, net-net, doesn’t make up for the law’s cost hikes.

This political objective—masking the true underlying cost of Obamacare’s insurance plans—far outweighed the operational objective of making the federal website work properly. Think about it the other way around. If the “Affordable Care Act” truly did make health insurance more affordable, there would be no need to hide these prices from the public.

Read the rest here.  And then, if you haven’t already, read Zombie’s post catching the SF Chronicle offering a remarkable piece of job advice.

Three degrees of separation

I enjoy reading my Liberal-Lefty friends’ Facebook posts because they are so insightful into the mindsets of the Left.

One insight that I have gained over time is that the differences between us conservatives and the Progressive/Left are so profound that they are unlikely to ever be bridged, barring some cataclysmic, life-changing events. What I have tried to do is understand why this is so. I share this with you because I greatly appreciate the insights that Bookworm group has to offer on such issues – be it “yay” or “nay”.

Our disagreements appear to come down to three levels of separation.

1) First, there are objective facts (OK, I am being deliberately redundant here). These are easy enough to resolve. Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock world has arrived: everybody is so overwhelmed with information that we can’t absorb and process all there is to know and we therefore choose our facts selectively.

As Ronald Reagan said, ““It isn’t so much that liberals are ignorant. It’s just that they know so many things that aren’t so.”

In discussions, factual disputes are easy enough to resolve: my typical response to Liberal /Lefties is simply tell them to “Google it”. Amazingly, many apparently don’t know that you can Google entire texts or sentences. A good example was the recent George Zimmerman trial…many people with whom I disagreed told me outright they were too busy to bother looking up facts. The Left operates on so many facts that just aren’t so.

2) The second level of separation involves our assumptions or premises. These are tougher to resolve, because we assume and presume events based on our past experiences. I suspect that we humans are hard-wired to build assumptions (true or false) as a defense mechanism: for example, my cave ancestors probably assumed that to allow a saber-tooth tiger to stand in their path was not a good thing and that such assumption is one reason why I stand here today.

We go through life building mental templates on how the world works in order to short-circuit decision making and evaluation. Otherwise, we would soon be overwhelmed with indecision. As long as our world templates work for us, we continue to hold onto them. Many formerly Liberals (e.g., David Horowitz, Bookworm) only became conservative when one or more events (e.g., 9/11) rendered their previously comfortable world views untenable. For me it was Reagan’s second term, when his policies led to the collapse of the Soviet Union and an economic resurgence. I, young man at the time, knew then that my Democrat world template had been very, very wrong.

I use the word “comfortable” deliberately, because our templates represent our comfort zones. Losing that comfort zone is terrifying. Imagine if all of a sudden nothing in the world made any sense to you; you would feel totally deracinated and quite possibly insane. You would also feel a deep sense of personal failure, as in “how in the world could I have been so deluded?”

And, the older you get, the more frightening that sense of loss, confusion and failure would be. So, the older we get, the more desperately we defend our mental templates, selecting and force-fitting “facts” to fit our own perceptions of reality. I believe this is where modern Liberalism and Progressivism are today (Google “Paul Krugman”). As Thomas Sowell put it, people of the Left expect the world to conform to their misperceptions. Eventually, however, reality hits like a 2 x 4 between the brow…as in “Detroit”.

I believe that this dynamic also explains the sheer viciousness expressed by many on the Left when the presumptions of their world templates are threatened (as by Sarah Palin or by black conservatives, for example). This is also the reason why I believe that world Islam will fail, because it doesn’t work and eventually people in Muslim worlds, aided by the internet, will eventually realize this (some of my Middle Eastern friends assure me that many already do). Reality is a harsh mistress.

This level of separation helps to explain why Liberals and Conservatives usually talk past each other. We try to rationalize our positions to each other, but our rationalizations only make sense if the other party shares the same assumptions and understandings of how the world works. We operate from completely different templates.

3) Faith. This the most difficult and potentially dangerous degree of separation, because it addresses fundamental values that are non-negotiable. Our “faith” defines how we perceive ourselves and our place in the world, irrespective of facts, logic and reason. I cannot, for example, “prove” the veracity of my Christian faith. Environmental extremists and atheists cannot “prove” the righteousness of their positions. We just “know” that what we believe to be true is true. There is no logical argument that I know of that can challenge faith-based values. Our values define who we are and how we perceive the world to be. Utopian fascist ideals (Progressivism, Nazism, communism, Islamism, etc.), for example, are defined by a faith in a future to come – they require no proof. Abortion is a similar issue of faith and values – there is no middle-of-the-road compromise if you believe abortion to be murder and that murder is wrong (a value proposition). Psychologists have claimed that only very powerful shocks to the system can challenge faith.

I have no dealing with the first degree of separation. I admit, however, that I am totally stumped on how to address (2) and (3). Any ideas?

The wages of socialism — mass murder

Ukrainian peasants starve to death in the streets, 1933

Last year, my friend Bruce Kesler, who blogs at a wonderful conservative group blog called Maggie’s Farm, directed me to a book called Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin. What makes this book different from other books about that era is that it doesn’t just examine the murderous years of WWII.  Instead, it also examines the carnage Hitler and Stalin wrought during the 1930s, in the lead-up to WWII.  It is an absolutely devastating book, describing the unimaginable scale of death that two socialist leaders — Stalin and Hitler — visited on the region between their two countries.

Although Hitler industrialized the killing machine, it was Stalin who created the model when he decided to destroy the Ukrainian kulaks (independent small farmers) who were standing in the way of his vision of a collectivized agrarian nation.  To achieve his goal, he brutally starved these farmers to death — 20 to 30 million of them.  Reading author Timothy Snyder’s description of their suffering is horrible — but it’s something that we need to read in order that we never forget how fundamentally evil socialism is.  The ones who really should read this book, of course, are American socialists, but sadly, they’re unlikely to do so.

If you can get a socialist to read Bloodlands, but he has still failed to learn his lesson about what happens when government — which lacks a conscience — decides that its job isn’t to enable individual freedom but is, instead, to control all people without regard to individualism, have him read Yang Jisheng’s book, Tombstone: The Great Chinese Famine, 1958-1962. Hard as it is to believe, Stalin and Hitler were just the warm-ups for Mao, the Chinese leader who, inspired by Stalin, may well hold the record for being the biggest mass murderer in human history.

Arthur Waldron, writing at The New Criterion reviews Jisheng’s book and his review shows that this is a must-read book for anyone who wants to understand why Leftists are fools when they’re frightened of corporations and, instead, want desperately to place control over every aspect of their lives in government hands.  It is impossible for a corporation to wreak the kind of havoc that socialist governments have visited upon their people.  The estimates for Mao’s killing fields during his “man-created disaster” range from 36 to 70 million.  (The higher number includes the babies that never got born to a starving population.)  As happened with Stalin’s socialist-created famine, people in dire straits did unspeakable things to survive, including cannibalism.  As Snyder said in his book (and I paraphrase), “an orphan was a child whose parents died before they ate him.”

When word of the Chinese famine got out, Mao blamed unspecified natural causes, and a credulous, Left-leaning, Walter Duranty-esque media dutifully passed this on.  It was a lie, of course.  There was nothing unusual about Chinese weather patterns from 1958-1962.  Moreover, even as the people died in the millions, food filled warehouses and party officials dined in style.

Jisheng knows firsthand about the famine:  alerted that something was wrong in his native rural area, he left the city with a rice ration, but arrived too late to save his father who, though alive, had become too starved to do anything but die.  When this happened, Jisheng accepted the party line and didn’t question the thousands of deaths in his area of rural China.  It was only during the mid-1960s Cultural Revolution, which saw many millions more die, that Jisheng began to realize that the problem wasn’t nature or farmers or people who needed re-education — it was Mao’s socialist policies, all of which officials throughout China unquestioningly accepted, either because they were true believers, because they were mindless party drones, or because they were afraid.

Although Jisheng’s book isn’t the first to tell about the famine, Waldron thinks it’s the best:

Tombstone, however, is without a doubt the definitive account—for now and probably for a long time. The Chinese original is two volumes and banned in that country. In Hong Kong it has sold out eight printings. The English version has been most skillfully shortened, edited, and rearranged by a team of Western and Chinese scholars, with an eye to making what is very much a massive compilation of statistics and reportage into a volume more accessible to the English-speaking reader.

This is a book whose importance must be compared with Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago (1973) in that it documents beyond the possibility of refutation ghastly horrors that were first rumored, then denied, then written about a bit, but only with Solzhenitsyn and Yang were so thoroughly documented and analyzed as to place them beyond question.

You should read Waldron’s review and then, if you have the heart and stomach for it, read Jisheng’s book.

When socialism fails, as it invariably does, the American Left equally invariably claims that the failure isn’t because the plan was fundamentally flawed.  To socialists, the problem is always implementation and the culprit is always the Republicans who made it impossible for the Democrats fully to implement their plans.  Books such as Bloodlands and Tombstone remind us precisely what happens when the Left has unfettered access to a helpless population.  Every person in America should be thanking God for Republican foot-dragging, and should hope that they drag their feet ever harder and faster.

The Left uses sex to break up American families

I had an interesting conversation with my mother, who may be 90, but is still sharper than most people you’ll meet.  We got to talking about the Gosnell abortion/murder trial, which came as something of a surprise to her.  Despite the fact that she watches the news and reads the newspaper, she hadn’t heard a thing about it.  That wasn’t a surprise to me.

From there, the conversation wandered to the moral merits of abortion.  My Mom came of age in a time and place when abortion was neither approved of nor frowned upon.  It just existed.  In the turmoil after the war, when people were starving in cities decimated by fighting, having a baby seemed like an impossibility — and it could be a death sentence for both mother and child.  Nobody approved of abortion in war-torn streets, but they didn’t stop it either.

For that reason, it’s always been hard for my mother to understand the fervor Americans feel about abortion.  To her, it just . . . is.  (That’s probably the case for a lot of people who aren’t committed to one side or another of the abortion debate, which is why the media couldn’t risk the Gosnell trial coming into the open, in case it swayed indecisive people into the pro-Life column.)

While Mom couldn’t quite get the morality of abortion, I was able to get her to understand that the modern American state uses abortion to separate children from their families.  We’ve talked before here about the fact that, in California, youngsters under 16 or 18 can’t play paintball, get their ears pierced, or get a fake tan without a parents’ permission.  They can, however, get birth control, get abortions, and get treated for sexually transmitted diseases, all without a parents’ knowledge.  Putting aside the invitation to the worst kinds of child sex abuse, what’s happening here is that the state promises children the keys to the kingdom of pleasure.

Food and shelter are necessities.  Good food and good shelter are pleasures.  But sex . . . there’s the ultimate endorphin rush.  Mom and Dad, being mean, spiteful people, won’t let you have it, and they’ll give you Hell if there are consequences because you ignored their strictures.  The state, though, it puts no obstacles in your path.  Indeed, it helps you along with condoms, birth control pills, patches, and morning after pills.  If you get pregnant, you get the Morning After pill or an abortion, and if you get an STD, it gives you antibiotics — all without the knowledge or consent of the people who, in 90% of all cases care about you most in the world.

The Left claims that this legislated immorality is to protect young girls from abusive parents who will leave them homeless or beat them if they come home pregnant.  (Again, let’s ignore the fact that everything the Left does actually encourages the sexual abuse of children.)  Using an argument that focuses on an extreme minority, the Left has put us in a position that sees all girls and boys in America get to have free sex courtesy of the State.  The state has driven a wedge into the family unit, using the most potent endorphin driver available to motivate and reorient young people.

When I put it that way (as opposed to debating abortion’s morality), my mother suddenly sat up very straight, looked me straight in the eye, and said “But that’s socialism!”  I practically jumped up and down applauding that she had realized what was going on. It turned out there was a reason for her insight.

I’ve mentioned before that my Dad came from a Communist milieu and, while he eventually voted for Reagan, his sister remained a devoted Communist until the day she died.  Although she escaped Nazi Germany and eventually ended up in Palestine (and, after the War of Independence, in Israel), she decided that this young socialist state wasn’t properly committed to true Marxist socialism.  She therefore returned to East Germany, where she lived out the remainder of her life.

She was still living in Israel, though, when my Mom and Dad got married.  One day, when my Communist aunt was present, the subject of children came up.  Mom said that she wanted to wait until she had a nice home of her own and some security before she had children, so that she could have the joy and comfort of really raising her own family.  My aunt was shocked.  “No.  That’s wrong.  The children belong to the State.  You do not have the right to withhold them from the state, which should raise them.”

With this conversation living in her memory, my mother immediately understood the ramifications of a government severing the ties between parents and children.  In some places, such as Mao’s China, it uses coercion.  In America, it uses sex.  No matter the method, the goal is socialist.

Keeping in mind the above, it’s understandable why people who fear socialism (as I do) greeted with howls of outrage the MSNBC contributor who said quite clearly, “All your children are belong to us.”  Melissa Harris-Perry framed it cutely as it takes a village to raise a child, but that soft overlay covers pure, brute-force socialism.  Villages are voluntary communities that share values.  Homes are the ultimate refuge of the individual.  Socialism holds that individuals have no value, except to the extent that they provide bodies to power the socialist state:

Looking at classically liberal minds that can change, and “elite” minds that can’t

Karl Marx

Yesterday, Adam Carolla’s YouTube video about the human capacity to change inspired me to write a post about the metamorphosis I’ve seen in myself over the course of my lifetime.  What made the difference, of course, was living life, rather than just being (as all children are) a passive recipient of lessons from schools, family, and friends.

It turns out that Robert Avrech responded to Adam’s video in much the same way, writing a post about the changes he’s gone through, and how his life experiences made him question the knee-jerk Democrat leaning that was the mother’s milk of all American Jews.  (It wasn’t exactly the same way, of course, because Robert’s life has been different from mine and because Robert’s a much better writer than I am.  But still….  I flatter myself that great minds — or, in my case, pretty darn good minds — think alike.)

In his post, Robert includes a marvelous paragraph about those self-styled intellectual “elites” who don’t change, and who are locked forever in an immature ideological stasis (emphasis mine):

Yes, we eager students studied history, literature and art. But soon enough it became clear to me that a massive amount of time was spent on Marxist theory, a material view of the world. Still observant, still wearing a yarmulke, I would ask about religion, about the spirit. With deep condescension, my professors informed me that we live in a post-religious world. Religion, I was lectured, was the opiate of the people.

I wondered, but never had the courage to suggest, that perhaps Marxism was the opiate of the elites.

Hat tip:  Wolf Howling