A little gadget to confuse government spies

SpyingA long time ago, I became friends with a man who worked as an electrical engineer in the aerospace defense industry.  Beginning in the 1980s, he told me that the government was spying on us — and he knew, he said, because he worked on the technology that made it possible.  I assumed that he was (a) paranoid and (b) boasting about a skill set I wasn’t sure even existed back in the day.  Over the years, he continued to tell me that the government was monitoring my land line and my cell phone.  I scoffed.  My attitude changed after 9/11, when it became a reasonable certainty that the DHS was indeed monitoring people’s calls.  With revelations about NSA spying, I’ve finally come full circle and believe everything this guy was telling me thirty years ago.

Let me say here that I don’t think governments should never spy.  If our government thinks that bad actors are planning to do bad things against America, it should be all over the situation, like white on rice.  What I find disturbing is the completely indiscriminate net that the NSA has spread.  It’s spying on everyone.  Since there’s no way it can monitor all that information in real time, the likelihood of the government using this data to stop a terrorist attack is small.

Look at England, for example.  The prevalence of CCTV’s means that England is the most heavily monitored First World country in the world — and yet its crime rates climb higher and higher.  The cameras do nothing to prevent crime.  Their utility, which is limited, is to try to catch criminals after the fact.  They don’t always catch the criminals and, when they do, their multiculturalist, PC values are so warped, they can’t adequately punish them anyway.  The result is that criminals don’t care that they’re being watched, while people of good will are afraid that anything innocent they do today can be used against them tomorrow.

In any event, my understanding is that the best way to stop terrorism is still the old-fashioned way, beginning with human intelligence and common sense.  To the extent our government is indiscriminately collecting everyone’s data, it is doing so not to prevent future crimes, but to prosecute past crimes — including words and activities that weren’t actually criminal at the time people acted or spoke.

This knowledge is why I’m intrigued about something that’s being voted on at Quirky.  If you watch Jay Leno, you know what Quirky is.  People submit ideas for inventions and the public gets to vote on whether they think it’s a good idea or not.  Some of the ideas are brilliant and some are goofy.  If enough people like an idea, Quirky will work with the inventor to bring it into being, from the patent process to the manufacturing to marketing.  Quirky naturally takes a cut, but the Quirky people claim that some people have become millionaires.

The idea at Quirky that intrigues me is one that my friend’s acquaintance came up with.  The Yosemite Box is a device that, when you turn it on, instructs your cell phone to say that your GPS coordinates are in Yosemite:

The Problem

Many governments are spying on peoples’ cellphone metadata, and this makes many people feel that their rights to privacy have been invaded. They object to having their movements and location recorded by the government, 24 hours a day (perhaps from a lovers house?). This device makes their spying incapable of tracking peoples movements through their GPS location on their cellphone – a service which cannot be turned off. If all cellphones sent the same constant address, then no one could be tracked. If you do need the GPS service, turn off the Yosemite Box.

The Solution

The Yosemite Box emits a GPS signal that gives the GPS coordinates of Yosemite National Park, maybe at the top of Half Dome. You simply keep the device near your cell phone when you do not wish to be tracked. If all cellphone metadata had the same address it would make the collection effort worthless. It would be low power so as to get under FCC regulations. Yosemite of course is just a random choice but a nice place for people to think you are visiting and besides you can say that you climbed Half Dome.

What an elegant solution to a 1984-ish government.  If you think it’s a good idea, head on over to Quirky and vote for it.  When it receives 200 votes in this preliminary round, it will go up to the next round.

Time to Alinsky Obama, the Democrats, and the federal bureaucracy

When I was down in the doldrums the other day, a dear friend sent me a pep-talk email.  Her point was the same that jj made in a comment:  We have to seize the momentum now to reveal Obama, the Democrats, and the federal bureaucracy for what they are.

Democrats are handing us ammunition on a platter — and, while we do not control the mainstream media, we have Fox News, Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and email to get our message out.  Moreover, the best messaging we can do is the type that Saul Alinsky urged on his followers:  Target, personalize, ridicule, and never let up.

My friend suggested calling Obama names consistent with his behavior:

President Petulant
President I’ll Hold my Breath til I Turn Blue
President Stompie Foot
President Picks on Geriatric WWII Heroes
President Hypocrite
President Negotiates with Iran, not America
President I really really hate Republicans
President Totalitarian
President El Presidente
President Iran can have the bomb, the real enemy is Republicans
President I hate half the country I lead
President Laughing Stock
President Fundamentally transforming America down the toilet
President Red Lines for Congress, not Syria
President Liar Liar Pants on Fire
President Temper Tantrum

I thought a couple of motivational posters might not be amiss.  You can make your own and spread them through social networking here.  If you like, I’ll also happily include at this blog any motivational posters you make.  Keep them clean, though, both because I run a clean blog and because obscenity and threats debase us, while wit, snark, sarcasm, and humor elevate us and make our message more memorable.

All your land are belong to us

Sir, you are recreating

A few short observations regarding the shutdown *UPDATED*

Unlike past shutdowns, which were indeed quibbles about this or that, the current shutdown is a big deal.  The question posed is a fundamental one about the very nature of this nation:  Is the federal government the servant or the master of the American people.  Our Constitution says the former; sixty-years of federal expansion says the latter.

The WWII Memorial showdown in Washington makes concrete this abstract battle.  It forces us to ask whether a government separate from and dominant over citizens owns that open air memorial, or whether a government of the people, by the people, and for the people has gotten too big for its britches and needs to be knocked down a peg.

There can be no doubt that what the House is doing is constitutional.  Having said that, they are doing a terrible job of selling it, and that’s separate from the fact that the drive-by media is doing its best to tar and feather them.  It’s a reminder of something I’ve learned in the 12 years since I crossed the Rubicon and changed political affiliations:  Republicans are the party of smart ideologies and poor strategies.  Democrats/Progressives, while their ideas may be disastrous, as is proven by every time and place in which they been put into effect, are master strategists.  (And in that regard, Saul Alinsky is definitely their Sun Tzu.)

This problem is, in part, built into the system.  To the extent there are still conservatives in the Republican party, their individualism makes them as easy to herd as angry cats.  Democrats, on the other hand, find meaning in collective action.  Even when their ideas are bad, their monolithic front gives them power.

UPDATE:  James Taranto notes that, in this go-round, the usually tactically disciplined Democrat party  has been unusually maladroit.  Hubris or something else?

UPDATE 2:  David Stockman sees also sees what’s happening as a determinative moment, but for different reasons.

Florida assures its citizens that they can all be murderous thugs

Putting aside all the racist rhetoric flying around from the Left, the uncontroverted evidence coming out of the Zimmerman trial proved that (a) a hooded figure was sitting on top of another man brutally beating him and (b) the man being tried for murder showed all the signs of someone who was on the receive end of a severe beating, from the broken nose to the bleeding back of his head.  Putting aside the racist rhetoric from the Left, the incontrovertible facts that the court refused to admit (incontrovertible because they came from the dead man’s own phone), showed that the dead man was a drug user and fighter who was fascinated by guns and violence.

Now, Florida’s state capitol has announced that you (and you and you and you and you!) are Trayvon!  This assault on American (and Floridan) integrity and decency takes the form of a painting unveiled at the state captiol, purporting to show a hooded figure being shot in the back of the head (which avoids the fact that Trayvon wasn’t running away but was, in fact, intensifying his full front assault) by a man who looks like a cross between George Zimmerman and Stalin.  However, instead of seeing Trayvon’s face in the hoodie, it’s a mirror.  (This ham-handed propaganda device somehow made me think of “Soylent Green” — you know, the bit where he says “It’s people!”):

Florida engages in race baiting

In other words, says the State of Florida, we’re all drug addled thugs who try to beat people to death.  Even worse, if you look at the wall sign behind the painting, it says that we’re looking at the Florida Civil Rights Hall of Fame.

If you’d like to let the State of Florida know that you find this fact-free, racist at of political propaganda offensive, you can contact the capitol building at the building’s website.  As always, remember that a polite, firmly worded message is effective.  Obscenities, personal attacks, and threats only make you look bad and strengthen the other side’s sense of self-righteousness.

Libertarians and moral judgments

My dear friend Don Quixote retired with his beloved to warmer climes.  I miss him a great deal.  I especially miss our lunches together.  We still talk on the phone, but it’s not the same as the wandering conversations we had about politics, morals, philosophy, law, Dancing With The Stars, computer games, and whatever else seemed interesting on a given day.  One of our most memorable conversations was about government’s role in morality.  Don Quixote is more of a libertarian than I am, although I consider myself fairly libertarian.  I don’t remember the details of the conversation, but my takeaway was that government legislation should not be hostile to traditional morality, but it’s not responsible for morality either.  Citizens are responsible for morality, through peer pressure and, yes, shame.

I still believe that today, so I was very gratified to read Nick Gillespie’s post about libertarians and morality.  What prompted Gillespie’s post was a New York Times piece, by Richard Reeves, a liberal writer, that had a throwaway line about libertarians being, not immoral perhaps but amoral.  In many ways, Gillespie agreed with Reeves, who agreed with me, albeit from a liberal perspective.  Some shame is necessary to curb teen pregnancies.  So Reeves, Gillespie, and I are all in sync.

Where Reeves parts ways with Gillespie and me, and where Reeves inspired a masterful post from Gillespie is the bit about libertarian amorality:

Libertarians might want a world without moral judgments, in which teen pregnancy carries no stigma at all. And paternalists might want the state to enshrine judgments in law — perhaps by raising the age of sexual consent or mandating contraception. True liberals, though, believe we can hold one another to moral account without coercion. We must not shy away from shame.

Wrong, wrong, wrong, Mr. Reeves!  I’ll let Nick explain why:

I submit to you that few statements are more wrong than saying “libertarians might want a world without moral judgments.” From my vantage point, one of the things to which libertarianism is dedicated is the proliferation of moral judgments by freeing people up to the greatest degree possible to create their own ways of being in the world. To conflate the live and let live ethos at the heart of the classical liberal and libertarian project with an essentially nihilistic dismissal of pluralism and tolerance is a gigantic error. It’s like saying that because religious dissenters want to abolish a single state church that they are anti-god.

Really, you should read the whole thing.

Guns don’t kill people; governments kill people

Wonderful, wonderful video:

Incidentally, apropos the fact that government agencies are stockpiling weapons and ammunition, Charles Cooke explains that the numbers aren’t that scary when one considers how many people serve in the various agencies, along with the fact that sometimes the agents have to confront people angered by agency tactics or engaged in criminal acts under agency purview.  He has a point.  There’s probably not a scary conspiracy theory going on.  But there’s still something scary going on, and Cooke nails what it is.  Indeed, he nails it so precisely that I’m going to quote him at some length here:

Fair enough. But here one starts to sympathize with the malcontents. There is a world of difference between the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, or Forest Service and the Department of Education, and that there is no grand clandestine plan for the subjugation of America should by no means be taken to imply that every government action is acceptable. Questions do still abound: Whether it is in possession of one bullet or 1 million bullets, should the federal Department of Education be armed in the first place? If so, why? Should its OIG be investigating external fraud rather than handing it over to the police or the DOJ or the FBI? For those federal departments that play no role in combating domestic and foreign threats — such as the DoE — what would constitute a threat requiring armed confrontation with malefactors?

In 2011, a story about a Department of Education raid went the rounds. Initial versions suggested that the department had commissioned a SWAT team to break into a California home and arrest the estranged husband of a woman who had defaulted on her student loan. Mercifully, this was incorrect. There was no SWAT team involved, nor was the target being investigated for unpaid loans. But the reality was not necessarily much better. Instead, the DoE announced that it had conducted the raid itself, in pursuit of an American citizen that it suspected of “bribery, fraud, and embezzlement of federal student aid funds.” It was a disaster; the suspect no longer lived in the house, a fact that special agents eventually discovered after they had smashed in the doors at dawn, thrown the occupant’s children into a police car, and kept the suspect’s (innocent) husband in handcuffs in a hot squad car for six hours.

As the local ABC affiliate reported, in an attempt to clear up the confusion, “police officers did not participate in breaking [the target’s] door, handcuffing him, or searching his home.” Instead, the Department of Education did. Judging by their ammunition purchases, the Social Security Administration and the IRS could have done so, too. That, and not fantasies about a plan to counter phantom civil unrest, is what should concern Americans.

Exactly.

 

 

In lieu of control, can we surf the wave and land safely?

Surfer

It’s winter break, and I’m coming to terms with the fact that, for the time being, my life is not my own.  It belongs to husband, children, mother, children’s friends, neighbors, etc.  I never even looked at the news yesterday, which left me feeling both bereft and relieved.  Bereft because I am a high information type of person; relieved because the news has been nothing but depressing lately.

I spoke with a relative in Israel on Friday.  Although she’s a cousin, she’s more than a generation older than I am, she started a family young, and her children started young too.  The net result is that several of her grandsons are now or will soon be in the Israeli Army.  When I wished her a Happy New Year, she responded dryly “I don’t think so.”

Ironically, I think that, if my cousin had been an American citizen in 2008, she would have voted for Obama in a heartbeat.  She was born into the Israeli Left and Leftism is her spiritual home.  Like many Israelis, however, she’s a pragmatist, and only a fool would look at Egypt and Syria and Lebanon and Iran and think that Israel can expect good fortune in the short-term.  More than that, I think she’s realized that, even if Obama shares the politics that were mother’s milk to her, he has no love for her country.

Thinking of my cousins very real concerns, I periodically try to remind myself that change is inevitable, that it can be necessary, and that it’s often good, at least in the long run.  I’ve scoffed so long at the global warmers fear of the earth’s natural cycles, that it’s quite hypocritical of me to fear human kind’s natural cycles.

The problem that I’m facing, and that the global warmers refuse to face, is that change invariably brings death and suffering in its wake.  Even if the majority benefit, a minority will always be hurt.  That’s true whether most people have more arable land, but some people have their lands flooded; or whether a great nation gently declines without too much pain for its citizens, but leaves the way for minor nations to become explosively violent.  Life is not stasis.

The main thing with change is to recognize whether you can control it, shape it, head it off, or do nothing at all.  The climate changers think that they can affect the earth and the sun, so they’re making what is, in their mind, a noble effort to save the world.

To me, climate change is a situation over which we have no control.  Since we can’t stop it, we shouldn’t waste our energies trying to so but should, instead, bend those same energies to accommodating this change in the best way possible.  The resource we’re really wasting is brain power that we could use to surf the wave of change.  Right now, we’re expending that same emotional and intellectual energy fruitlessly sweeping back the tide.

Up until the election, I thought that, as part of an intellectual conservative movement, I could change the election’s outcome.  It turned out I couldn’t.  We’ve now been dealt the Obama hand.  We cannot re-do the election, as he won square, if not fair.  What we can do, though, is to surf the wave.

One of the things I’d like to do is go off the fiscal cliff.  Elections have consequences, and we need to give the people what they want:  more taxes and less government.  I would have preferred less taxes and less government, but that’s not what the voters asked for.  They asked for stalemate, and one of the consequences is that there’s no one there to stop sequestration and the expiration of the Bush tax cuts.  I hate more taxes, but so does everyone else.  And a lot of people may find, to their great surprise, that less government actually is a good thing.

Another wave surfing thing is that I think Republicans should keep the pressure on Hillary Clinton.  If she’s too sick to carry out her duties, she should be immediately retired.  And if she’s not too sick, her first responsibility is to explain how four Americans, including an ambassador, died on her watch.  Although Republicans in Congress seem to have severe backbone issues, I can see them keeping to this one, even as they’re too frightened to tackle big issues like spending, national security, etc.  There are always people in Washington willing to engage in personal destruction.

What other waves can we ride?  Right now, Obama things he’s riding the gun control wave.  Is there any way to stop him or is this also one where we’ve lost control?  It would certainly be helpful if this issue hit the Supreme Court before Obama gets the opportunity, for whatever reason, appoint yet another ultra liberal to the Court.  Once that happens, we’ve really lost control.

I’m trying to remind myself that being a control freak works only if you can actually control something.  So, what can we control now?  That is, acknowledging that conservatives lack a sufficient majority to carry out any of their initiatives, how do we surf the oncoming waves (and they are coming) so that we land upright, with someone salvageable left behind and we’re not just left wiped out?

Surfer wiping out

This post is labeled “Open Thread,” so please feel free to overwhelm me with ideas.

They trusted their welfare to the Government

I am standing Hwy 2, passing through the Blackfoot “Res” in Montana. What I see before me doesn’t look like much, a scrubby field under low hills and Montana’s incredibly beautiful big sky.

Where I am standing is the former site of the Badger Creek Indian Agency, where the Blackfeet Indians gathered after their buffalo had been slaughtered and the government promised them food and support in exchange for having given up their independence and self reliance.

By the winter of 1883-1884, however, the government had really, really screwed up. The Indians’ own source of meat (buffalo, deer, elk) had been destroyed. Their limited crops had failed. Their limited livestock was depleted. They were running out of food.

Since 1881, Indian agent John Young’s repeated requests to the government for more food aid had been met with bureaucratic indifference. Frankly, the “government” didn’t care very much and there were budget constraints that had to be met.

Then, in the winter of 1883-1884, the inevitable happened: starvation came. By the time the world outside the reservation heard about it, one quarter of the population (600 Indians) had already starved to death. The surrounding Montana communities responded immediately, sending relief trains of emergency food, livestock and blankets to the Blackfeet survivors. The government, by contrast, did nothing. After the fact, they held hearings, absolved themselves of responsibility and, finally, blamed Indian Agent John Young for gross negligence.

This is a story to keep in mind for all those that believe that it is somehow a good idea to surrender their independence and self-reliance to a faceless entity called “government”. Whether it is welfare, social security, Medicare or Obamacare, I can guarantee this: the government will screw up through indifference and people will die. Not because government is “bad” or that the people in government are “bad”, but because people are people and government can never be better than our collective human nature. And, once stripped of our independence and self-reliance, there will be no recourse. We will not be able to rely upon surrounding communities to rush to our aid.

Idle EU thoughts that lead inevitably (in my mind) to government sanctioned tribalism

A few years ago, those in the know were telling us in no uncertain terms that the EU model was the future — and that America had better get used to playing second fiddle to the economic giant that a united Europe presented.  I found it hard to imagine that Europe would ever be able to overcome rivalries and tribal allegiances that span centuries, even millennia.  I also did not believe that the socialist model, which might work in a small, homogenous culture, would be able to sustain a vast economic federalism.  Watching what is happening in Europe now tells me that my common sense was infinitely more valuable than anything scholars and economists had to offer.

The whole EU collapse has gotten me thinking about tribalism.  One of America’s greatest strengths, right up there with the Constitution and the continent’s natural bounty — is that tribalism didn’t take hold here as it did in Europe.  From the beginning, we were too fluid a society.  As soon as we got a good hate going against one immigrant group (the Irish, for example), two things happened:  First, America’s lack of a class system, economic flexibility, and geographic mobility, resulted in significant numbers of the hated group leveraging themselves up into the middle and working class.  Second, a new hated class invariably came on board (e.g., Jews or Italians or Puerto Ricans or Asians), restarting the same cycle.

This malleable system, with hatreds that couldn’t last long enough to become entrenched, was aided by our participation in two popular 20th century World Wars.  (I use the word “popular” to distinguish them from the Korean War, which was greeted with exhaustion, and the Vietnam War and Iraq, which the Left used to create social divisions.)  As Israel proves daily, boot camp is the best melting pot of them all.  During the World Wars, the Brooklyn Jew and the Minnesota Swedish farm boy might not have liked each other, but they came into contact in structured environment, and fought for the same cause.

One of the most poisonous things the Left has done to America in the past 40 years is to create institutional tribalism.  Instead of a distant government that kept grinding on, whether old immigrants hated the Irish or the Jews or the Italians or the whatever, the Left got the government involved in designating victims.  Suddenly, the government is focusing like a laser on blacks and gays and differently-abled and whoever else is the Leftists’ victim célèbre.  We now have a government that doesn’t discriminate against blacks, it discriminate for them (and for all the other designated victim classes, women included), with equally heinous results.  Government should be above the tribal fray, not creating it.

Before anyone calls me on it, I know perfectly well that our Constitution, as originally written, did get involved in tribalism by treating Southern blacks as a separate class.  I don’t think I need to remind anyone, though, what a horrible outcome that official discrimination had.  Both the early Constitution and the Jim Crow era (when the South decided to perpetuate the Founders’ original mistake) are perfect illustrations of the disasters resulting from allowing governments to pick one tribe and discriminate against another.

As an aside, the only reason women haven’t been destroyed by this government discrimination is because of kids.  Children have needs that, so far, our government isn’t meeting, so Mom still has to act like a responsible grown-up.

Tribalism is dangerous.  Legislated tribalism is disastrous.

Dear Government, Please keep your cotton-pickin’ fingers out of my business *UPDATED*

When I was a little girl, one of the refrains in my life was “get your cotton-pickin’ fingers out of that.”  I didn’t mean to be destructive.  I was always certain I could make things better.  I had bald Barbies, because I was pretty sure I could make their hair look better.  I had misshapen stuffed animals, because I thought I could fix stuffing defects.  My generous destructive tendencies didn’t stop with my own stuff.  Cameras lost lenses, appliance knobs got jammed, and the food my mom was cooking got ruined.  I thought I was “fixing” things.  My parents knew that my cotton-pickin’ fingers were wrecking havoc.

I was a little girl, and had an excuse for my ill-fated attempts to improve things.  What’s the excuse our government has for continually interfering with things in which it has no business?  And even worse, what’s the excuse of citizens who keep demanding more interference from the government?  I don’t want Washington to “fix” the economy.  I want it to back off.  Let people who know something about business, about supply and demand, about capital, about finances, about consumers, and generally about the facts on the ground, be the ones who fix business.  All that government offers, whether Democrat or Republican, is stupid good will and cotton-pickin’ fingers.

After I expounded on this theory to my sister, she asked, “What should government do?”  I started the usual list:  National Security, Epidemic and Pandemic Control (as opposed to telling people what to eat or how much to weigh), Transcontinental Road and Bridge Building and Maintenance (not “intercontinental,” but “transcontinental”) — basically, things in which it has an interest.

Take national security, for example.  Government definitely has an interest in national security.  That’s one of its biggest jobs and, more importantly, it’s not a job that can be handled competently by states or individual citizens.  Because the government is very goal oriented when it comes to national security, it tends to do it efficiently.  Sure, there’s waste and graft and corruption, but on the whole, as long as the political will is there, our national security system does its core job very well, whether its our men and women in on foreign battle fields, or our information gatherers here at home.

People confuse the main national security goal with the often beneficial by-products it produces.  A classic example is to support a demand that the government fund science by pointing to the huge surgical strides Americans have made during every war since WWI, or to the far-reaching scientific and technological innovations flowing from NASA.  But what they forget was that, in each case, the government had a bigger goal than better sutures or a computer chip.  The government was not trying to improve surgery but was, instead, trying to keep its troops alive so that they could fight and win.  And up until Obama turned NASA into a Muslim outreach organization, it’s purpose was to help us beat the Soviets in the Cold War. That its technology benefited the private sector was great, but that wasn’t the government’s job.

Problems always arise when government tries to micromanage things in which it has no interest.  Government is neither a consumer nor a business, so when it meddles in the marketplace, it does so without any coherent goals, strategies or tactics.  It’s inefficient because it can be inefficient:  as long as things are sort of moving in one direction or another, there is no specific outcome the government is heading towards.

The same holds true for science:  Nowadays, the government tries to pick scientific winners or losers, depending on the political flavor (and trendy Hollywood star) of the day.  As ethanol, biofuels and Solyndra show, the government has an uncanny knack for backing the wrong horse.  Because government spends our money using a mystical and poisonous combination of politics, bureaucracy and corruption, its decisions are unrelated to practical realities.  It’s the marketplace that should be investigating the best way to reduce pollution, whether that means increasing fossil fuel outputs and cleaning emissions, or finding entirely new energy strategies.  Because government as an entity has no responsibility for science qua science, it shouldn’t pretend — at great taxpayer expense — that it does.

And that, my children, is your sermon for the day.

UPDATEBiden’s Solyndra speech pretty much makes my point.  This Jim deMint article does too.

The housing collapse revisited

There are  few issues that have been obfuscated as diligently by the media organs of the MSM Left as has been the housing crisis that led to our current economic depression. Why, of course they would do that: the Democrats are guilty as sin! We’ve observed on the pages of this very blog the attempts to divert responsibilities for this disaster to vague, shadow conspiracies orchestrated by conservative capitalist dirigistes.

So, here’s kudos to a Pulitzer-winning journalist for the New York Times writer, a Wall Street financial analyst, and to one of my favorite old-school democrats for cutting through the murk and exposing the ugly truths to this disaster in simple, easy-to-understand terms in book summarized by Walter Russell Mead at the American Interest (h/t to smalldeadanimals.com).

Reckless Endangerment: How Outsized Ambition, Greed and Corruption Led to Econonomic Armageddon, By NYT journalist Gretchen Morgenson and financial analyst Joshua Rosner.

Walter Russell Mead is one of my absolutely favorite political writers. Though he is a confirmed Democrat, he hails from a disappearing Democrat tradition that once (long, long ago) allowed me to be proud about being Democrat. It was a time when the intellectual ferment was seasoned by the ideas of Democrat greats like Henry Jackson and  Daniel Patrick Moynihan (I sure do miss Moynihan). Mead reminds us that there remain still-flickering embers from those bygone days, before the Democrat party succumbed to a motley collection of Leftists and other pervs.

Here’s how Mead’s book review opens: “The Republican Party and especially its Tea Party wing have just acquired a new weapon of mass destruction”.

Here’s the book review.

http://blogs.the-american-interest.com/wrm/2011/06/07/fanniegate-gamechanger-for-the-gop/

Then buy the book and distribute it to your Democrat friends, reminding them that this is a pronouncement descending from the hallowed heights of the NYT. Because, as we were recently reminded, the NYT is their “god”.

 

 

 

“If you’re a normal, thinking, breathing human being….”

New Jersey missed out on $300 million in federal “Race to the Top” education funds.  It turns out that the state DOE filled out the application wrong.  But before you start ripping Chris Christie for government mismanagement, check out his masterful, and simultaneous, acceptance of responsibility and attack against the feds:

His approach, by the way, has “good lawyer technique” written all over it.

The problem is Washington, D.C. — by guestblogger Sally Zelikovsky

[Note from Bookworm:  As of now, the video embed of Pete Stark you'll see in the post below has only 97 hits.  It should have a million hits.  Pete Stark is, and always has been, an exceptionally nasty piece of work.  However, Democratic acts in Washington make it clear that what he says is what they think.  Also, please note his disdain and dislike for the people he represents and for Americans in general.  And now, back to Sally....]

Do you doubt whether or not your representatives are listening to you?

Do you question their sincerity in doing their job?

Do you wonder if they truly understand what their responsibilities are in representing their districts in Washington DC?

Do you suspect that your representative has nothing but disdain for the average American citizen?

Do you hear rumors about representatives maligning and mocking their constituents, not taking them seriously and being woefully misinformed on the issues important to every day Americans, the guys and gals on Main Street?

If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions, then watch this representative in action and see for yourself, firsthand, what Washington DC thinks of you.

The problem is not Main Street or Wall Street.  It’s Pennsylvania Avenue and Capitol Hill!

[Bookworm here again:  For those of you who don't know who Sally Zelikovsky is, especially those of you who are Bay Area conservatives, please check out the Bay Area Patriots website, which is her baby -- and a lovely baby it is.]

Ageless principles from Ronald Reagan

This is Ronald Reagan’s 1964 “Time for Choosing” speech.  What’s fascinating about it is that, while some of the details are dated, the overarching principles are as fresh today as they were almost 50 years ago.  That’s because freedom is an ageless concept, and that’s what Ronald Reagan is articulating.  As we watch our Federal government increasingly erase our individual liberties, we should pay ever more attention to Ronald Reagan’s understanding of the relationship between a free American and his (or her) federal government:

Hank Johnson’s geography and the cost of private sector employment *UPDATED*

Yes, you’ve already seen this video of Rep. Hank Johnson from Georgia (Cynthia McKinney’s old district), but I’m going to show it again, if for no other reason than to appreciate the Admiral’s incredible polite restraint.  An officer and a gentleman, that’s for sure:

Many have noted that Rep. Johnson is ill, which may account, not just for this bizarre delusion, but for the myriad delusions that populate his brain:

I contacted Rep. Hank (D-Goin’ down for the third time) Johnson’s office and asked them if the good Representative had any other fears he wished to share. I was told that Rep. Johnson also fears:

-Future missions to the moon will cause Earth’s satellite to “go all crazy and spin out of orbit”

-Drilling in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge will mean “heavy drilling equipment will cause the poles to shift and Kansas City will end up as the new North Pole”

-Excessive use of the office microwave will cause “the oxygen in the oven to interact with the atmosphere, making it overheat and burn away.”

You can laugh at his delusions or mourn the ravages of disease, but what you cannot avoid is that this guy is getting paid on the public dime and that he turned is mental energies, such as they are, to a yes vote on Obama Care.

In the private sector, Rep. Johnson would long since have been politely placed on early retirement, and someone competent would have replaced him.  In the wonderful world of politics, though, Johnson gets to waste people’s time (poor Admiral) and, worse, have an effect on America’s policy.

Remember, please, what a squeaker the health care vote was.  Had Johnson been in his right mind, perhaps (and yes, this is an extreme hypothetical given the district from which he comes) he might have put the brakes on the whole thing.  As it was, Pelosi probably took gross advantage of someone who is mentally dysfunctional.

Your government at work, people.

UPDATE:  Lissa suggests that the Ace of Spades content is satire.  She’s probably right (although the post went up on March 31, not on April 1).  The sad thing is I can’t quite tell.  Johnson’s original statement is so utterly insane, that anything else insane that is attributed to him has the gloss of reality.  Satire only works when there’s some bright line, no matter how slender, between reality and spoof.

UPDATE II:  Neo-neocon says that what we’re actually seeing is a long-running gag between two old friends.  If that is the case, I would suggest that in Congress, before television, in front of an audience that doesn’t get the joke, is a bad way to have fun.  My kids often try to defend an insult by saying “it was a joke.”  I’ve repeatedly told them it’s only a joke if the audience gets it.  On the other hand, considering that Neo’s own post came out on April 1 — well, where’s the reality in all of this?

Hall of mirrors, here I come!

UPDATE: Neo sent me an email confirming that she was making the joke, not Johnson.  I suspected that, but Johnson’s behavior was so over-the-top, and Willard’s response so exquisitely composed, I could almost be convinced that it was theater.  Also, Neo has a delicate touch and did a lovely job with her satire.

UPDATE III:  Assuming any truth in this report, Johnson himself makes no mention of a long-standing friendship and practical jokes.  Instead, he claims that he was building an elaborate metaphor.

Elaborate metaphor?  Elaborate hoax?  I don’t know but, again, it’s dangerous to make a joke if you’re in power and your audience isn’t in on the joke.

I contacted Rep. Hank (D-Goin’ down for the third time) Johnson’s office and asked them if the good Representative had any other fears he wished to share. I was told that Rep. Johnson also fears:

-Future missions to the moon will cause Earth’s satellite to “go all crazy and spin out of orbit”

-Drilling in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge will mean “heavy drilling equipment will cause the poles to shift and Kansas City will end up as the new North Pole”

-Excessive use of the office microwave will cause “the oxygen in the oven to interact with the atmosphere, making it overheat and burn away.”

About the race questions on that census form

Country of origin strikes me as a reasonable question for a census, although it’s not constitutionally mandated.  (The Constitution just allows for a head count.)  Race questions are obviously simply to satisfy the grievance mongers in America.  So I pass on this advice from The Corner:

Sending a Message with the Census [Mark Krikorian]

John: I haven’t gotten my letter from the Census Bureau yet asking me to make sure I fill out the questionnaire. But when I do fill it out, I’ll use it to send a message.

Fully one-quarter of the space on this year’s form is taken up with questions of race and ethnicity, which are clearly illegitimate and none of the government’s business (despite the New York Times‘ assurances to the contrary on today’s editorial page). So until we succeed in building the needed wall of separation between race and state, I have a proposal. Question 9 on the census form asks “What is Person 1′s race?” (and so on, for other members of the household). My initial impulse was simply to misidentify my race so as to throw a monkey wrench into the statistics; I had fun doing this on the personal-information form my college required every semester, where I was a Puerto Rican Muslim one semester, and a Samoan Buddhist the next. But lying in this constitutionally mandated process is wrong. Really — don’t do it.

Instead, we should answer Question 9 by checking the last option — “Some other race” — and writing in “American.” It’s a truthful answer but at the same time is a way for ordinary citizens to express their rejection of unconstitutional racial classification schemes. In fact, “American” was the plurality ancestry selection for respondents to the 2000 census in four states and several hundred counties.

So remember: Question 9 — “Some other race” — “American”. Pass it on.

Haircut — a parable

Got a brilliant email today:

One day a florist went to a barber for a haircut. After the cut, he asked about his bill, and the barber replied, ‘I cannot accept money from you, I’m doing community service this week.’ The florist was pleased and left the shop.

When the barber went to open his shop the next morning, there was a ‘thank you’ card and a dozen roses waiting for him at his door.

Later, a cop comes in for a haircut, and when he tries to pay his bill, the barber again replied, ‘I cannot accept money from you , I’m doing community service this week.’ The cop was happy and left the shop.

The next morning when the barber went to open up, there was a ‘thank you’ card and a dozen donuts waiting for him at his door.

Then a Congressman came in for a haircut, and when he went to pay his bill, the barber again replied, ‘I can not accept money from you. I’m doing community service this week.’ The Congressman was very happy and left the shop.

The next morning, when the barber went to open up, there were a dozen Congressmen lined up waiting for a free haircut.

And that, my friends, illustrates the fundamental difference between the citizens of our country and the politicians who run it.

Liberals laugh at business — even when they concede that it functions better than government

Last night, I went to hear Atul Gawande give a talk promoting his new book, The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right.  The book’s premise is a simple one:  In an increasingly complex world, even experts benefit from a routine checklist that requires them to focus on the essentials necessary to their task.  The best checklists are not too detailed, and leave room for individual or team autonomy.  Gawande, a surgeon, came up with the idea when the World Health Organization asked him to investigate how to decrease unnecessary deaths associated with surgery.  After investigating similar complex situations (building tall buildings or airplanes), Gawande concluded that checklists that force people to remember what should be obvious (but nevertheless gets forgotten or overlooked), and that enable teams actually to function as teams, were the way to go.  Boeing was a huge inspiration for this.

I came away from the talk convinced that Gawande has a point (perhaps because I’m a checklist and outline person myself).  I was also impressed much less favorably by his devotion to the notion of government controlled health care (he’s all for the Frankenstein monstrosity wending its way through Congress).  Aside from my own prejudices, his manifest delight in the health care bill made no sense as he told anecdote after anecdote demonstrating that it’s the business sector, not the government, that is best able to adapt to his recommendations.  This became most clear when he talked about Hurricane Katrina.

Gawande noted that, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, FEMA descended on New Orleans with the Checklists from Hell.  They were overly detailed, denied any personal responsibility, and prevented FEMA employees from adapting to the situation on the ground.  These government generated checklists, rather than heightening efficiency, rendered government employees ineffectual.

Gawande paused after this description.  Around me, all the people in this liberal, elite San Francisco audience nodded their heads wisely.  “That dumb Bush and his corrupt administration,” you could practically see them thinking.

By contrast, said Gawande, you could see the effective use of checklists from . . . long pause . . . “Wal-Mart, of all things.”  He paused for the obvious laugh line, and the audience obliged.  What a joke that the fascist Wal-Mart commercial dictatorship would function better than government.  Gawande clearly agreed, yet he went on to describe a Walmart behaving efficiently and humanely during the disaster.

Because its checklists weren’t rigid or overly long, Wal-Mart employees had a certain degree of latitude in the face of an enormous crisis.  Ultimately, Wal-Mart asked only that the managers check in with headquarters daily so that they could pool information and exchange ideas.  Within one day, while FEMA was still turning away supplies because they weren’t on a given employee’s checklist, Wal-Mart had arranged for free medicine to be handed out to be people who were dependent on their medicine (diabetics, for example). They were also providing essential supplies to FEMA, which was incapable of accessing its own resources.

What neither Gawande nor the audience seemed to comprehend was that this outcome wasn’t surprising, it was obvious.  Government is a bureaucratic entity ultimately responsible only for more government.  It is driven by fear, not by outcome.  The fear each employee has that he or she might get downgraded on the civil service list, the collective entity’s fear of a funding cut, its leadership’s fear that each member will fail to ascend in the government ranks, and so on.  It has no responsibility beyond its own bureaucratic survival.  If it goes through the motions, and sort of gets the job done, it will continue to exist.

Business, however, must be infinitely adaptable in the Darwinian world of the marketplace.  It cannot afford complacency or rigidity.  It cannot afford the risk of litigation for failure.  It can react with incredible speed, since management doesn’t have to go through a bureaucratic or legislative process in order to change a checklist or procedure.  If Gawande really believes in his lists, the last thing he’ll want is for them to be government controlled, because they will never improve.  Instead, they will stagnate in bureaucratic limbo, good enough, but never better.

Gawande’s talk left me more certain than ever that, while our health care system needs reform, handing the details over to the government is a sure recipe for a FEMA-level disaster.

A community beset by violent crime turns its energies to . . . stopping smoking

I live in Marin County, one of the most affluent counties in America.  It is an extremely well-managed community (although budget cuts might have their effect here too).  Crime is low, streets are clean and well-maintained, and lovely flower beds and hanging pots brighten public walkways.  Our libraries are well-stocked and well-staffed, our town offices pleasant to work with.  It is a prime place to live, that’s for sure.

Across the Bay from me is the City of Richmond, California.  Richmond has some major industry, since Chevron has a ginormous refinery there (ugly during the day, a bizarre fairyland, because of the lights, at night).  It also boasts a vast regional Social Security office, a Kaiser hospital, a cool model train museum in the charming historic Pt. Richmond district, some shopping centers, a BART station, and other stuff of ordinary life.  Sadly, Richmond also has one of the worst crime rates in California. It’s no surprise that, in Marin, crime stories in the news routinely report that the perpetrator wasn’t local, but came over the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge for the easy pickings here.

Beset by troubles, the Richmond government is taking seriously its responsibility to . . . stamp out cigarette smoking.  Yes, one of the most violent cities is apparently directing significant energy and resources to ensuring that its citizens do not get one last cigarette before their gang banger executions:

Richmond, not usually associated with stellar air quality, won praise Tuesday for protecting its residents’ lungs by enacting some of the toughest anti-smoking laws in the country.

“We have lots of challenges in this city, but we can also be at the forefront of change,” said Mayor Gayle McLaughlin. “We managed to pass some groundbreaking legislation and we’re very proud of this recognition.”

The American Lung Association lauded Richmond for turning the organization’s annual tobacco-control grade from an F to an A in just one year, due largely to a first-in-the-nation law the City Council passed in July that bans smoking in apartment buildings.

The city also barred pharmacies from selling cigarettes and banned smoking in parks and other public spaces.

[snip]

“What this says about Richmond and its leadership is extraordinary,” said Jane Warner, head of the American Lung Association’s California branch. “They took a bold move, expecting to get political backlash, but in reality they didn’t. It’s phenomenal.”

Richmond, home to one of the largest oil refineries in the country and numerous factories, has some of the worst air quality in the region, according to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. Richmond has the region’s second-highest rate of sulfur dioxide, which is linked to lung cancer and respiratory problems. Only Crockett has a higher rate.

McLaughlin said the city’s authority over industrial emissions is limited, but tobacco legislation is relatively easy to enact. The smoking ban in apartments met almost no opposition.

I loathe cigarettes with unrivaled fervor, but I find it very disturbing that a citizenry that is beset by the worst types of violent crimes should be denied the right to smoke in their own homes.  I also find disturbing the fact that the City is manifestly directing a great deal of energy towards dealing with a problem that is, as much as anything, a personal choice, rather than a public crime.  I know I’ll hear about the children who are saved from a life smothered by Daddy’s and Mommy’s cigarette smoke, but I still think that it’s better if Mommy and Daddy aren’t gunned down.

Interestingly, practically-perfect-in-every-way Marin has failed the cigarette smoking test:

Measures taken by Marin’s cities and county government to curtail cigarette smoke have improved slightly but continue to fall short, according to a new report card from the American Lung Association.

The annual study gave five Marin cities failing grades, while four got D’s, two received C’s and Novato, which passed sweeping tobacco control legislation in 2008, garnered a B, one of only 11 jurisdictions statewide to do so. The marks were a slim improvement over the association’s 2008 report, in which seven of Marin’s cities received failing grades.

The report card based its grades on three categories: laws to encourage smoke-free air outside places like restaurants, movie theaters, and ATMs; regulations on smoking in multi-unit housing; and reduction in sales of tobacco products, particularly to minors, through the creation of local licensing of tobacco sales.

Perhaps our local Marin governments are just paying lip service to this whole ALA thing, since the fact is that there is little smoking in Marin.  I can go weeks without smelling cigarette smoke.   You see, in Marin, we have the strongest possible disincentive to smoke:  it’s socially unacceptable — and that is a very good reminder that societies can police themselves simply by setting acceptable standards of behavior without the need for government intervention.

The Wall Street Journal’s sober assessment of the fascist (yes, I mean it) EPA ruling

I can’t do better than to quote from the Wall Street Journal on the EPA ruling, which constitutes nothing more than an undemocratic takeover of all business activity and most government activity in this country:

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said yesterday that her ruling that greenhouses gases are dangerous pollutants would “cement 2009′s place in history” as the moment when the U.S. began “seizing the opportunity of clean-energy reform.” She’s right that this is an historic decision, though not to her or the White House’s credit, and “seizing” is the right term. President Obama isn’t about to let a trifle like democratic consent impede his climate agenda.

With cap and trade blown apart in the Senate, the White House has chosen to impose taxes and regulation across the entire economy under clean-air laws that were written decades ago and were never meant to apply to carbon. With this doomsday machine activated, Mr. Obama hopes to accomplish what persuasion and debate among his own party manifestly cannot.

This reckless “endangerment finding” is a political ultimatum: The many Democrats wary of levelling huge new costs on their constituents must surrender, or else the EPA’s carbon police will inflict even worse consequences.

[snip]

For now, this decision moves into the courts, and years if not decades of litigation. Yet the decision really is historic: The White House has opened a Pandora’s box that will be difficult to close, that is breathtakingly undemocratic, and that the country, if not liberal politicians, will come to regret.

Obama overlooks the obvious when it comes to job creation

The jobs summit is at an end and Obama has given lip service to the private sector.  He doesn’t really mean it, though.  How can he, when he makes statements such as this one:

Mr. Obama said he would entertain “every demonstrably good idea” for creating jobs, but he cautioned that “our resources are limited.”

That is hogwash.  Our resources are not limited.  We have over 300 million resources.  They’re called Americans.  The limited, stultified, bureaucratized, unimaginative, slow-moving government shouldn’t (and, as a practical matter, can’t) be creating jobs.  Instead, the American people should be doing that.

This means that the abs0lute best way to maximize economic resources is to give more money and control back to the greatest resource America has — her own citizens.

This would be the same government that wants to take over the entire health care system

You know, whether you’re going for success or failure, think big.  Right now, the government’s failure rate at Medicare is pretty small potatoes, but think what it can do when it owns the whole system:

More than $98 billion in taxpayer dollars spent by government agencies was wasted, much of it on questionable claims for tax credits and Medicare benefits, representing an increase of $26 billion from the previous year.

In all, about 5 percent of spending in federal programs in fiscal year 2009 was improper, according to new details of a government financial report that were released Tuesday. Saying the overall error rate was similar in 2008, officials attributed the $26 billion jump to some changes in how to define improper spending as well as an increase in overall spending due to the recession.

What passes for art in San Francisco

Last Sunday, a private San Francisco museum unveiled a new painting, billed as the world’s largest portrait mural.  The mural contains the following edifying images, all homages to the wacky City I once called home:

The colorful mural by acclaimed artist Guy Colwell features Speaker Nancy Pelosi lancing a Republican elephant; a Terminator-dressed Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger patting the back of a grizzly bear; Senator Dianne Feinstein waving the California State flag; Mayor Gavin Newsom performing a same-sex marriage ceremony; former Mayor Willie Brown brandishing a freshly pressed suit; former Board of Supervisors President Angela Alioto donning angel wings outside the Porziuncola Chapel in North Beach (an endeavor Pritikin helped to promote); a singing former Supervisor Tony Hall; former Supervisor Harvey Milk waving a Castro Rainbow flag with former Mayor George Moscone by his side; actress Marilyn Monroe hugging baseball Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio on the back of a giraffe; San Francisco Chronicle scribe Herb Caen; actress Carol Channing; Emperor Norton; Jerry Garcia; topless stripper Carol Doda; Willie Mayes and Mark Twain, as well as the Zodiac killer, Jim Jones and Huey Newton – all set against an iconic San Francisco skyline.  (Emphasis mine.)

Color me oh-so-naive about the sophisticated art world, but I think a painting that celebrates a City’s heritage by showing a politician brutally, albeit metaphorically, killing her duly elected opponents in a democratic two-party system, and that highlights a serial killer, a mass murderer, and a murderous thug, just lacks the eternal charm that you’d find in, say, a Da Vinci, Van Eyck, or Rembrandt.

Perhaps, though, the painting is just a part of a greater whole, as the museum boasts these other gems, as well:

The mansion also features a few shockers including an Adolf Hitler gallery containing the Fuhrer’s personal world globe and his Swastika armband acquired by two American soldiers at the end of World War II. The authenticated items “are a chilling reminder of the horrendous crimes committed by the most heinous of history’s despots,” Pritikin remarked. The Hitler gallery appropriately displays a large disclaimer that reads: “May the bastard rot in hell.”

In another room, perhaps the most shocking of all, is a working electric chair, complete with a death-row inmate dummy that sizzles and shakes at the flip of the executioner’s switch.

Considering the art world’s Leftism, it can’t be a coincidence that, despite the worst recession in decades, art agencies just got their highest funding in 16 years.   After all, if you were on the Left, wouldn’t you want to fund people like the Chief of the National Endowment for the Arts, who is not only someone whose paycheck has a lot to do with American taxpayers, but who also is a man who thinks Obama is the most powerful writer since Julius Caesar.   (I’m not a sufficiently good parodist to take on that one, although others, fortunately, are.)