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The U.S. military is now a laboratory of social experimentation

April 22, 2010 1 comment

We’ve reached a lot of tipping points recently, but this one might be among the scariest, because it’s likely to be followed by even more drastic and radical social-engineering moves within the military. Soldiers cooped up hundreds of feet under water can’t smoke cigarettes or act like men anymore. I’ll bet anyone a hundred 2030 dollars that 20 years from now, you’ll be able to enter the military and refuse to go to war on ideological or political grounds … or because you didn’t enter the military to go to war, silly, but to get your school paid for.

A friend’s email response to me about this nonsense was nice ‘n’ poignant: “While we’re at it, let’s require all submariners to have two hours of sunlight per day. I mean, it’s totally unhealthy to be cooped up like that for so long. And what about more windows? Television? You know what’s also integral to the military? Letting it be run by the military with limited policy and pundit interference.”

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Democrats oppose discomfort

March 26, 2010 Leave a comment

I don’t know why I still find myself astounded at the lengths to which they’ll go to make sure no one — well, except the rich — experiences any discomfort, any at all, in this life:

The administration’s new push also seeks to more aggressively help borrowers who owe more on their mortgages than their properties are worth, offering financial incentives for the first time to lenders to cut the loan balances of such distressed homeowners. Those who are still current on their mortgages could get the chance to refinance on better terms into loans backed by the Federal Housing Administration.

The problem of “underwater” borrowers has bedeviled earlier administration efforts to address the mortgage crisis as home prices plunged.

Officials said the new initiatives will take effect over the next six months and be funded out of $50 billion previously allocated for foreclosure relief in the emergency bailout program for the financial system. No new taxpayer funds will be needed, the officials said.

“Cut the balances,” huh? This really is a wonderful, revolutionary concept. I can get just about everything I own for free, after the fact, retroactively, if I’m as smart about it as Obama.

I’ll start with the 4Runner we bought two years ago for $22,000. We owe $13-14,000 on that, but according to Edmunds.com, I’m “underwater” because its current market value is about $12,700. Don’t you think I deserve that difference back from Toyota? Because if no one in America should owe more for their homes than they’re worth, shouldn’t no one in America owe more than their cars are worth? Perhaps I can rinse and repeat and get away with this every six months until I get it most of my money back from those usurious capitalist bastards who sold it to me — knowing full well it was going to decrease in value, too! Oh, the humanity!

Why should I owe them what the car used to be worth when I signed that contract — “contract”: just another nefarious, rightwinger concept! — two years ago, if the Kelly Blue Book value today is far lower?

All this seems perfectly fair to me — which, according to the left, is what this life is all about: fairness defined down to mean never having to experience so much as a modicum of discomfort or stress from either (1) the consequences of your own poor decision-making or (2) the fact that sometimes things work out nicely and sometimes they simply don’t.

Democrats: symbolism over substance

March 23, 2010 Leave a comment

Who cares if this bill will bankrupt our nation, force cuts in care, lead to higher taxes on society’s producers, lower health-care quality for everyone, and create a nation of dependents? Not the Post‘s Eugene Robinson. He can’t be bothered with whether or not the plan will actually work; what matters is how well he means.

Symbolism over substance — a phrase never described liberal policy better. What matters is that liberals like Robinson can feel good about themselves. But don’t take my word for it; don’t listen to some conservative like me who presumes, in most cases, to know what liberals are thinking. No, Ol’ Eugene said so himself in his column (aptly titled: “The health-care bill: a glorious mess”) this morning:

Even when the “fixes” that have to be approved by the Senate are made, the health-care bill will still be something of a mess. But it’s a glorious mess, because it enshrines the principle that all Americans have the right to health care — an extraordinary achievement that will make this a better nation.

A trillion-dollar experiment with other people’s money, all so elites like Eugene can pat themselves on the back. Couldn’t we have agreed that this principle — “that all Americans have the right to health care” — might be worth enshrining, but that if we all decide such is the case, we ought to make sure we get the policy right? Isn’t that a principle worth enshrining, too?

Yes, Ezra, Medicare is popular – but that’s hardly the point

March 17, 2010 Leave a comment

Ezra Klein tries hard. His efforts on behalf of his party are admirable, but ultimately, though he might be doing a good job of addressing Democratic lawmakers’ concerns over just about everything they’re doing up here — this seems to be Ezra’s job description: “What are Dems worried about today? Let me see if I can allay those fears!” — his arguments are generally completely beside the point.

Of course Medicare is popular today. And so what if it was unpopular when it was passed, as Klein’s dutiful research has shown? The point is hardly whether people really enjoy the benefits of free stuff. You’d be hard-pressed to find a population anywhere the majority of which would say they’re ungrateful or generally dissatisfied with, say, the free all-you-can-eat breakfast you fed them this morning.

Medicare is falling apart, because — and this would be true of a Medicare-for-all, universal-care system — the model is unsustainable. So, that nice hot breakfast no one is complaining about today will be prohibitively expensive a year from now, which will require severe skimping by the providers. Fewer options, maybe. Smaller portions. Less frequent refills of the oatmeal pot. A shortening of the hours during which the breakfast is available. Fresh coffee is replaced by instant.

Soon enough, this will be true of Medicare — and my God, could you imagine the unsustainability of a Medicare-for-all system in a nation of 305 million? — except that there’s a difference, as Ezra would have to admit, between my admittedly crude breakfast-bar example and the universal-care model: your hotel of choice begins to offer a pretty lame breakfast bar, you get annoyed, sure, but you have options. McDonald’s is right across the street. But in a Medicare-for-all system where skyrocketing costs have to be cut — services curtailed, treatment options denied, waits lengthened — where do you go?

Let’s check back on those popularity polls in about 20 years, Ezra, after Medicare’s free breakfast is over. Let’s see just how popular it is then.

Cadell and Schoen: Dems are delusional

March 12, 2010 Leave a comment

Hardcore Democrats’ delusion when it comes to health-care polling really is perplexing and its manifestation during the health-care debate of 2009-10 will likely make its way into political-science, political-psychology — dare I suggest mental-disorder? — textbooks soon.

To support this bill, despite the polling data on it, is one thing — perhaps even admirable in a very narrow way. To support it because of the polling — hanging your hat on the finding that just about everyone thinks the system needs to be fixed — is downright inexplicable. A couple Democrat greybeards are trying to talk them down from the ledge, but there’s little reason to believe the Three Stooges (Harry, Girly, and O) will listen.

The die-hard reformer’s argument goes like this: seventy percent of America says the system needs to be fixed. Ergo, 70 percent of America supports this fix. This logic applied in just about every other context, though, would make these very die-hards laugh, but somehow, in this context, their own paralogic makes perfect sense.

Let’s pick a couple different contexts.

Ask Robert Gibbs how he thinks teachers — probably 100 percent of whom would say our school system needs to be fixed — would react if we said, “Ergo, you must, therefore, support No Child Left Behind.” (Note: most teachers hate this law.) Gibbs, after smugly smiling and saying something snarky and rude would — rightly so — dismiss the assertion as ludicrous.

Pick any other topic. One more example before I wrap up:

Probably 98 percent of America (the other 2 percent resides in San Fransisco, Berkeley, and other such pockets of political and moral idiocy) would say the U.S. has a right to defend itself militarily against foreign enemies. You draw from that generalization the following: “Ergo, the Iraq War was a just war.” To do so would elicit more than a few LOLs or ROTFLMAOs from just about anyone capable of keeping up with simple logic.

But if that someone were Robert Gibbs, after picking himself up off the floor, he’d say, “But anyway, seriously”: this health-care bill must pass because 70 percent of Americans think the system is broken.

The end state of liberalism …

February 23, 2010 Leave a comment

… I submit, is that its policies end up entirely at odds with themselves. So, not only do they make little practical sense in and of themselves; but they end up contradicting each other on top of that. With limitless rights (usually funded by others) and limitless responsibilities (generally only born by those who do the funding), it can only be so. From today’s Washington Post, about the lack of bank lending last year:

But [FDIC Chairman] Bair said that the vast majority of the decline [in lending last year] was the result of lending cutbacks by the largest banks, which have tightened qualification standards and increased the proportion of money that they hold in reserve against unexpected losses.

“Large banks do need to do a better job of stepping up to the plate here,” Bair said.

I thought reckless banks that didn’t hold enough reserves and played too much with other people’s money were, at least in part, what led to the Great Recession. Banks have recently been more responsible with their money, but now they’ve got to “step up to the plate” and, what, act irresponsibly again? We gotta look at it this way, I guess: it can be cute to watch dogs chase their tails.

“What if senators represented people by income or race, not by state?”

February 7, 2010 Leave a comment

This column from today’s Washington Post highlights perfectly the prism through which the left sees the world. According to them, people are nothing more or less than economic animals, defined solely by their income — or, more important than absolute income, by how much people earn relative to everyone else. And their government’s success or failure hinges largely on how effectively it takes stuff from those who earn more and distributes it to those who earn less — or not even that: how it distributes this income to those we want to have it for reasons altogether unrelated to economics. Maybe we just feel bad for what people in a protected group have suffered, so hey, take someone else’s money and give it to ’em.

The author argues that there might be a better way to elect senators, if our goal — as she suggests — is to more effectively redistribute wealth and protect rights (or create them out of thin air, such as the right not only to an abortion, which is defensible, but to an abortion paid for by someone else, which most certainly is not). Her idea, whether offered sincerely or as a clever commentary, is, no matter how she meant it, pure nonsense and would undoubtedly accelerate America’s decline.

This is an important read for those looking for a window into the facile mind of today’s American liberal. Because it’s liberals, folks — not conservatives — who see the world in color, who judge and categorize and stereotype. Liberals — not conservatives — see people of this nation as an unfortunately bound federation of some sort … not of states, but of primal tribes: everyone defined not by the humanity he shares with his neighbor, but instead by that which makes him and his neighbor different. You’re black? Stand over there — those are the people who will protect you, and these are the policies you’ll support. And you — you’re a woman? You’ll stand over here — these are your defenders, and here’s the list of policies you’ll support. You’re black and rich? Over there, sorta, but behind the poor blacks — those are your kind. You’re Mexican, poor and gay? Over here, but not so close — somewhere between here and there. (Yes, our tribes are shaping up nicely!) You’re Asian, gay, rich, and Mormon? Hmm. Let’s see where we put this poor, white Jewish atheist first; then we’ll know what to do with you.

It’s sick; it’s wrong; it’s primal; it’s tribal; it’s barbaric. It’s all these things. But always — always — remember it comes from the mind of a liberal, not the mind of a conservative. Anyway, here’s the most brilliant article on how to divide this nation further:

What if senators represented people by income or race, not by state?
By Annie Lowrey
Sunday, February 7, 2010; B05

On Wednesday, President Obama joined Senate Democrats at their retreat, urging them to “finish the job” on health-care reform “even though it’s hard.”

That crowd knows how hard it can be. To get the 60 votes needed to pass the health-care bill last Christmas Eve, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid worked furiously. The final holdout was Ben Nelson, a centrist Democrat from Nebraska. With time running out, Reid offered to have the federal government pay for the expansion of the state’s Medicaid program in perpetuity — and Nelson signed on to the bill.

Members of both parties were vociferous in criticizing the “Cornhusker kickback,” as it came to be known. “That’s not change we can believe in!” crowed Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). “That is the worst in politics.”

He’s right about one thing: That wasn’t change. It was a type of deal as old as the Senate itself. Back in the summer of 1787, the founders debated how to structure the legislature. James Madison, of the large state of Virginia, drafted a plan for a bicameral parliament, with both chambers apportioned by population. William Paterson, of the smaller state of New Jersey, called for a single house. In July, they compromised: two houses, one proportionate to population and one with two representatives per state.

The Great Compromise was intended to make sure the big states didn’t trample the little guys. But today, with 37 more states on the scene, the little ones wield disproportionate power. “Half of the population of the nation lives in 10 states, which have 20 senators. The other half lives in 40 states that have 80 senators,” says the official Senate historian, Donald Ritchie. Small states and states whose representatives might tip the balance on a key vote make out like bandits, as their senators demand outsize appropriations in return for their support. The Nelson fracas was nothing other than the Senate working exactly as it was designed to.

But what if the 100-member Senate were designed to mirror the overall U.S. population — and were based on statistics rather than state lines?

Imagine a chamber in which senators were elected by different income brackets — with two senators representing the poorest 2 percent of the electorate, two senators representing the richest 2 percent and so on.

Based on Census Bureau data, five senators would represent Americans earning between $100,000 and $1 million individually per year, with a single senator working on behalf of the millionaires (technically, it would be two-tenths of a senator). Eight senators would represent Americans with no income. Sixteen would represent Americans who make less than $10,000 a year, an amount well below the federal poverty line for families. The bulk of the senators would work on behalf of the middle class, with 34 representing Americans making $30,000 to $80,000 per year.

Imagine trying to convince someone — Michael Bloomberg, perhaps? — to be the lonely senator representing the richest percentile. And what if the senators were apportioned according to jobs figures? This year, the unemployed would have gained two seats. Think of the deals that would be made to attract that bloc!

Or how about if senators represented particular demographic groups, based on gender and race? White women would elect the biggest group of senators — 37 of them, though only 38 women have ever served in the Senate, with 17 currently in office. White men would have 36 seats. Black women, Hispanic women and Hispanic men would have six each; black men five; and Asian women and men two each. Women voters would control a steady and permanent majority — making, say, discriminatory health-care measures such as the Stupak Amendment and the horrible dearth of child-care options for working mothers seem untenable.

What about a Senate in which voters cast ballots for candidates campaigning to win over a certain age group? Thirteen senators would vie for 18-to-24-year-olds, who strongly support measures such as the cap-and-trade climate bill and marriage rights for gays. Nearly all of these senators would be Democrats. Americans over 65 would control 16 seats — and would be mostly Republicans interested in protecting Medicare and the broader status quo. The baby boomer bubble would be largely in the eldest category, though its stragglers would round out the segment of voters, probably split between the parties, that is edging up on retirement. Thirty-six senators would serve 25-to-44-year-olds, and 35 senators 45-to-64-year-olds — and would be likely to push the very issues now on the table, including health care, entitlement viability and tax breaks for the middle class.

However you slice it (or us), a new voting model would shake up the Senate’s agenda. A senator vying for the $60,000 bracket — filled with working parents concerned with putting children through school — might need to promise Pell Grant reform and improved school lunches. One can imagine a coalition of senators for the elderly and senators for 20-somethings working to loosen federal laws around medical marijuana.

These deals, of course, would be very different from the deal Ben Nelson cut for Nebraska. But they highlight a truth so obvious it isn’t often examined: Senators represent states. And states’ priorities can seem strange when viewed in a national light. The Great Compromise promised just the kind of last-minute deal that Nelson struck, ensuring that the needs of his small state were recognized in the nationwide initiative.

These days, people don’t much like the anti-democratic structure of the Senate and the bring-home-the-bacon politics it begets. Recent polls have shown that Americans despise the upper chamber — more than the House, more than the White House. But you can’t blame Nelson for doing exactly what the founders asked him to do.

annie.lowrey@foreignpolicy.com

Annie Lowrey is an assistant editor at Foreign Policy magazine.