The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

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For the world, Saturday, February 22 was a day of historic significance — a day when the government of a nation of 46 million, part of the developed world, was toppled by a revolution. Defying the arrangements of Western diplomats, who are always anxious to impose security, the people of Ukraine took possession of their capital and its citadels of power. Parliament turned on the president. The police deserted him. The army deserted him. He fled toward the border, leaving his Russian allies to determine whether they would try to reinstall his regime in a rump Ukraine of native Russian speakers. There is a chance that might happen; after all, Russophone Ukraine is merely a construct of Soviet dictators who did not care who was part of what province, so long as all were obedient to them.

We will see. In the meantime, what television audience, what television crew, could resist the spectacle? Multitudes in Kiev’s enormous central square, welcoming the archenemy of the ousted president, suddenly liberated from prison, who addressed them from her wheelchair by the light of flaring torches, on the ground where, only days before, protestors had been shot and burned alive on the barricades. Who could resist these scenes as they exploded?

The answer is: the American “news” media.

For Yahoo! News, the big stories were the popularity of hoodies in Sochi and the recapture of a “drug kingpin” in Mexico. For the more sober Google News, they were the kingpin and many other things — Ukraine was way down the list, and no effort was made to separate new stories from ones warmed over. For the three TV networks, Ukraine did not exist; their news is down on weekends, except for the most perfunctory evening readings of press releases from the staffs of American politicians, out on the golf links.

For CNN (“we bring you the world”), the big stories, oft repeated, were a gay football player who remains a gay football player; a racial complaint in Mississippi; how to lose weight; replays of video footage, thought to be “viral,” about a child who might have been injured but wasn’t; and a variety of other non-news features. For Fox News, the stories were the chronic errors of President Obama, a US win at the Olympics (over 20 years ago), how to look good, and a variety of other non-news features. Both cable news networks had correspondents stationed in Kiev, but they were summoned to the camera about as often as brothers-in-law are requested to receive excess funds. After all, there wasn’t room for them, what with all the “news” that’s prearranged for weekends. When the news anchors tried to ask them questions, it immediately became obvious that the anchors had no more idea than a rabbit of what to ask. In the case of CNN, it was apparent that neither the anchor nor her producers had the least conception of what a Ukraine might be.

For the three TV networks, Ukraine did not exist; their news is down on weekends, except for the most perfunctory evening readings of press releases.

As the day wore on, Fox became visibly nervous about its reputation. It dragged in a moth-eaten diplomat who vexed even the anchor with his astonishingly empty statements. Hours later, they found, of all people, Susan Estrich, who made an excellent try at saying what the historical significance and prospects of the events in Ukraine might be. The anchor clearly had no grasp of what was going on, but she was happy Susan showed up. And she was right to be.

Now, what does this all mean? It means that the gross errors and omissions of the American media cannot all be attributed to political cunning, or any cunning at all. Many of them can be ascribed to the simple fact that there are people in this business — many people — who resemble the stupid old editor whom Orson Welles’ character in Citizen Kane fires at the start of his newspaper career. He fires him because the old guy says that his paper is practically closed during a lot of the day. Kane tells him that the news happens 24 hours a day (and on weekends). To let the news be shaped by the fact that you weren’t expecting news to happen on the weekend . . . well, what kind of journalist are you?

And what kind of journalist are you if you lack any sense of drama? Not to mention any knowledge of geography. Because the loss of Ukraine blows a hole through the Russian empire.

What seems to be required in today’s newsrooms isn’t knowledge or a sense of drama but a sensitivity for the drab. Who won the hockey game. Who won the lottery. Who’s complaining that his neighbors don’t like him. Whose child is obese. Whose child is not obese. The big things. The important things.




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Toasted Tweet

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For some years now, I have written in these pages about the zaniness of the modern environmentalist movement. This movement is essentially driven by devotees of a neo-Romantic nature cult, Gaia worship. One of the more amusing aspects of this cult is its lack of logical consistency — but then, religious cults are usually illogical, no? One of the most delicious examples of this Gaiaist inconsistency can be found in energy policy and the protection of animal species.

I refer today to the curious fact that environmentalists tout the saving of endangered species — especially attractive avian species (eagles, hawks, owls, etc.) — but also demand the use of energy producing mechanisms that destroy animals. As I have noted before, enviros just love massive wind farms. They want to see millions of wind turbines spread across the country, no matter how insanely inefficient and costly wind power is. But it turns out that wind turbines kill hundreds of thousands of birds every year, including the aforementioned raptors (eagles, hawks, and owls). I have called this phenomenon “Shredded Tweet.”

So, if an industry that enviros don’t like (which is most industry, naturally) is alleged to kill some birds, it must be shut down. Thus the timber industry in the Northwest was hammered to the wall by the enviro regulators, throwing massive numbers of forestry workers out of work because of allegations that it was hurting the spotted owl population. (It appears the real culprit was a competing species, the barred owl). But it’s OK if a million times more birds are proven to be annihilated by the wind turbines . . . the enviros don’t give a tail feather.

Unnamed regulators cited in the story say that while they expected some birds to be killed once the plant fired up, they didn’t expect the numbers they are seeing.

The latest illustration of this bizarre inconsistency is revealed in a recent report on solar power. The article reported the opening of a massive new solar plant, the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating Station in the California desert. The plant cost $2.2 billion, backed of course with a $1.6 billion federal loan guarantee. The plant includes three towers 40 stories high, supporting boilers at the top. Three hundred fifty thousand large mirrors focus sunlight onto the boilers, driving the generation of power. This new means of protecting the scenic desert is only one of several major solar projects opening in California, where state law now requires that within six years, one third of power must come from so-called “renewable” sources.

The article notes that solar power rightly has been criticized for its grotesque inefficiency. Ivanpah’s electricity costs about four times that produced by natural gas powered plants; the plant uses far more land than what a gas-fired plant would, and provides far less power.

In a stunning display of transparency, neither the California utilities that are going to buy the power nor the regulators who are pushing it will disclose the costs of this solar electricity, which some estimate at twice that of electricity produced by natural gas. The extra costs will simply be dumped on the consumers.

But a new problem has come to light. The Ivanpah-type “tower power” plants are killing birds!

Yes, call this phenomenon “toasted tweet.” The air around the towers hits about 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, and as the Wingéd Gifts of Gaia fly past, they get horribly scorched. Many are dying. Unnamed regulators cited in the story say that while they expected some birds to be killed once the plant fired up, they didn’t expect the numbers they are seeing.

This is of course yet another case of statist policies producing unintended consequences, contrary to the policies’ lofty goals. As Eric Davis — who bears the beautifully bureaucratic title of “assistant regional director for migrating birds” at the US Fish and Wildlife Service — ruefully remarked, “When you have new technologies, you don’t know what the impacts are going to be.”

Yeah, tell that to be burnt birds, Gaia guys.




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How Much Ruin, Exactly?

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“There is a great deal of ruin in a nation.” It’s a remark Adam Smith made to a young colleague, John Sinclair, who worried that the cost of quelling the American rebels might lead to the downfall of Great Britain. It’s also a remark Liberty’s founder, Bill Bradford, quoted back to me on several occasions, whenever I was doom-and-glooming about how some country or another was on the road to ruin.

It’s a remark that comes to mind often still, whenever I’m agitated about governmental stupidity or malfeasance. Foolish wars in the Middle East have not ruined the US, and neither have decades of profligacy, proliferations of acronymic agencies, or a succession of villains in our highest offices. Communism did not ruin Russia, and has not ruined China; even Nazism could not permanently ruin Germany, though if it did succeed in splitting it for a while.

It’s a familiar feedback loop: the more that’s seized, the worse the economy gets; the worse the economy gets, the more can be seized.

Nonetheless on occasion I read of some insane diktat in one or another corner of the globe and wonder just how far that corner’s leaders are prepared to stretch the maxim. Sovereign debt will likely not ruin Spain, or Portugal, or even Greece, though the EU seems intent on testing that out a while longer yet. Debt (again) and a shrinking population will probably not ruin Japan, but its prime minister Shinzo Abe, with his “Abenomics”—a reheated and desperate Keynesianism—is trying his hardest to make things worse. Unemployment and labor unrest will certainly not ruin France, but French president François Hollande, meanwhile, has yet to pass up a chance to kill off jobs and push companies abroad.

And then there’s Venezuela.

Venezuela, of course, was one of the great experiments: Hugo Chávez’s “Bolivarian Revolution” was supposed to prove the superiority of socialism (economic, of course; its moral superiority was assumed long ago), provided only that said socialism is backed up by seemingly inexhaustible national resources. Chávez, wasting no time after his election in 1998, set about “redistributing income” through land grabs and price fixes, threatening hesitant businesses with expropriation and then often following through on that threat. Under “Chavismo,” Venezuela assumed ownership of much of the nation’s construction, telecommunications, utilities, and food production industries, insisting at each step of the way that the takeovers were necessary to combat the predation of profiteering capitalists.

This sets up a feedback loop familiar to anyone who’s given even the slightest attention to modern government, where every gain (however temporary) is attributed to the extraordinary wisdom and foresight of the government agents, while every loss (all too often permanent) is attributed to the greed of speculators and other enemies of the people. Naturally, the more that’s seized, the worse the economy gets, but on the other hand, the worse the economy gets, the more can be seized. It’s brilliant, really—at least until the shortages of basic goods become too great for anyone but an ideologue to ignore.

Say this in Chávez’s favor: his policies—and those of his successor, Nicolás Maduro—have encouraged innovation in the Venezuelan people; for instance, consider the smartphone app created to help them find toilet paper, in perpetually short supply thanks to price controls. But, as with the more traditional example of broken windows, this innovation isn’t going toward the sorts of things that would convince anyone of Chavismo’s superiority. And as other nations, especially the United States, Canada, and Brazil, have become more energy-independent, Venezuela and President Maduro are finding fewer buyers for their one undoubted asset, while the state-owned oil industry has become ever more wasteful and unprofitable.

With revenues plummeting and prices held artificially low, inflation has, inevitably, kicked in. And here’s where the “ruin” starts coming in: Maduro’s response (other than continuing to threaten or outright seize businesses) was to devalue the currency, and impose controls on currency exchange. As account holders desperately tried to get their money out of the country ahead of impending hyperinflation, Maduro doubled down by devaluing further, attempting to cut off foreign travel. Finally, he enacted a “Law on Fair Prices,” prohibiting profit margins of over 30%—which is to say, no profit, for anyone running an import business—while at the same time enacting long jail terms to punish “hoarders,” or, less insanely, anyone refusing to sell at a loss.

The socialist policies have certainly encouraged innovation in the Venezuelan people—take for instance the smartphone app that helps them find toilet paper.

Now, I’m no expert on Venezuela. I’ve never been there, I don’t know anyone from there, and I can’t get more than the barest sense of any articles written in Latin American Spanish. But I can’t imagine any experience of the place that would convince me that those Venezuelans who protest Chavismo are just, in the words of professional useful idiot Oliver Stone, “sore losers”—though they certainly aren’t winners, either, not while they’re getting gunned down for demonstrating against the ongoing depredation and repression. And so long as the government is willing to arrest the opposition leader, or expel consular officials for so much as meeting with protesting students, things don’t seem likely to improve.

It’s impossible to know where it will all end, or whether it could be enough to ruin Venezuela. I suspect not: prior to Chávez, Venezuela was no more or less stable than any other Latin American nation since the time of Bolívar himself. Oddly enough, in this era of globalization, the idea of a nation may be more susceptible to ruin than individual nations themselves. Those that are nearest ruin are those that were highly unstable and unwanted to begin with: Somalia, Iraq, Yugoslavia—lines drawn on a map as a convenience to colonial invaders or international do-gooders (if you can tell those apart). Yet even those fictions hold up longer than one might expect—just look at Zimbabwe.

So yes, there is likely a great deal of ruin still in Venezuela. But it is a shame, and likely will be a tragedy, to see the depths its rulers are willing to plumb before they hit bottom.



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The Keystone Kops’ Kontinued Kraziness

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The State Department has finally released its exhaustive study of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would allow the easy transport of Canadian oil-sands production down to Texas, where it can be refined and shipped abroad.

This has to be the billionth freaking study, and for the billionth freaking time, the study showed that the project will have little if any impact on global warming. (As if to underline the point, the report was issued at a time when most of the country was battling below-freezing temperatures and massive amounts of snow.) The operative point is that this oil will be produced and used no matter what; the only question is whether it will be brought to market in a way that benefits America (with jobs, tax revenue, and so on) or in a way that benefits only other countries — mainly China.

This report is nothing if not thorough — it is 11 volumes long. Alas, however, it isn’t the end of the matter. There will be a final State Department study to see if the pipeline “is in the nation’s best interest . . .”

Duh . . . more jobs (estimated at over 40,000 high-paying blue-collar jobs), more energy independence from terrorist-loving Middle Eastern despots, higher tax revenues for the states, and safer delivery of the product . . . it seems pretty much a no-brainer.

Naturally, the major opponents of the project are the Gaia-worshipping environmentalists, many of whom have lots of money (such as San Francisco billionaire Tom Steyer) or lots of fame (such as actress Daryl Hannah), but little intellect.

The report draws no conclusions. It leaves that to the two Keystone Kops — Secretary of State John Kerry and (of course) President Obama himself.

We are in incompetent hands, indeed.

The Republicans in Congress have rightly been pushing this useless administration to finally approve the pipeline. They especially stress the need for more jobs, amid the Obama non-recovery recovery. Obama is also under pressure from the Canadian government, which is rightly tired of his low-level trade war against Canada, one of our most steadfast allies.

But then, pissing on friendly nations is one of Obama’s favorite pastimes. Just ask the Poles, Israelis, Brits . . . no, don’t ask. You don’t want to hear the shouting.

As a recent Wall Street Journal editorial notes, the alternative to moving this oil by pipeline is transporting it by rail or tanker. The State Department estimates that distributing the oil by rail and tanker results in about a 28% increase in greenhouse gas emissions; distributing it by rail to existing pipelines results in a 40% increase; and transporting it by rail to the Gulf of Mexico results in a 42% increase.

But this is logic. And Obama cares infinitely more about collecting millions of dollars in campaign cash for this year’s election than he does for logic — or the jobs of thousands of Americans, for that matter.

Speaking of campaign donations, we shouldn’t overlook the money and advice that Warren Buffett has obtained for Obama — and if the pipeline isn’t built, the oil will keep being shipped (as it has increasingly been) by rail. Buffett just happens to own one of country’s biggest railroads, one that will doubtless benefit if the pipeline remains unbuilt.

This brings up another thing Obama and his billionaire backers care little for: American lives. Moving large amounts of oil by rail increases dramatically the likelihood that there will be accidents and attendant explosions, as happened recently in Lac-Megantic, Quebec. To spell this out clearly enough so that even actresses can grasp the point, pipelines are routed through sparsely populated areas, while railways are routed through cities (because the lines carry freight and passengers as well as oil). Another “duh.”

The latest news is that Obama is passing the decision to that renowned expert on oil and pipelines, Secretary of State Kerry. This is yet another case of Obama’s legendary “lead from behind” approach to governance, and it doesn’t augur well. While the State Department maintains that Kerry will keep an open mind, he has famously written, “If we can put an end to the era of dirty fossil fuels, we can begin an era of sustainability . . . for our nation and our world.” And two years ago, when he was still a senator, he voted against an amendment favoring the pipeline.




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Hoffman Dies, War on Drugs Revives

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On February 2, Philip Seymour Hoffman, a movie actor, died with a needle in his arm in his home in New York City. To me, his death from a heroin overdose was regrettable, and regrettable in the same way in which deaths from the effects of overeating and overdrinking are regrettable. I felt no extra stirring of dramatic emotion.

In this, obviously, I am very unlike my fellow Americans. To the celebrities who flocked to his funeral, and the larger mobs who flocked to the websites and “news” sources mourning his death, his way of leaving this world appears to have ennobled him, given him, somehow, the rank of tragic hero. People who had never heard of him, or (like me) had heard of him and even liked his performances on screen but never considered his name as something to be remembered, suddenly found that their worlds were poorer because of Hoffman’s drug-related death. Policemen, working with a dedication rarely seen in cases of actual mayhem and murder, identified and arrested four people whom they suspected of possible responsibility for his death.

Responsibility? This is like arresting the employees of a fast-food restaurant because an obese patron died from the effects of his last Big Mac. Did anyone say “double standard”? Did anyone say “human sacrifice”? No. You heard it here first.

Granted, the Demonic Four may not be deacons of the church and pillars of the community. They may be disgusting members of the criminal class. (Or they may be wholly innocent.) But who created that criminal class? Who put the profit in illicit drugs? Who put “illicit” in drugs, and keeps it there?

Legalize drugs, all drugs. It’s none of your business, anyway, what other people ingest, but at least by legalizing drugs you can take the real crime out of so-called crime.

The answer is: the same kind of people who are beating their breasts over Hoffman’s death. It is these people — and they appear to be the majority of Americans, made snazzier by the presence among them of loquacious celebrities and soi-disant humanitarians — who create the illicit profit, and the correspondingly illicit drama, of heroin, cocaine, and all the other “hard” illegal drugs. They profess themselves to be so concerned about the fate of, say, wealthy actors that in retribution they are willing to spread the plague of crime, gangs, violence, and the corruption of the profit-seeking young across the continent, despoiling whole cities in a mad attempt to realize their dream of a Drug-Free America.

For a century, America has been waging war against drugs. According to CNN, heroin is now selling at $10 a unit on the streets of Philadelphia. If this, unlike other CNN reports, is actually true, then I say good, because the lower the price, the lower the real crime rate. Real crimes are crimes of fraud and violence, the kind of crimes that you create when you practice prohibition.

The solution is obvious: legalize drugs, all drugs. It’s none of your business, anyway, what other people ingest, but at least by legalizing drugs you can take the real crime out of so-called crime. Some people who don’t use drugs will then be able to use them. Maybe they’ll use them only on weekends. Maybe they’ll become addicted (like Philip Seymour Hoffman, who got that way despite the fact that hard drugs are illegal). Libertarians should not pretend that these bad effects won’t happen. But call me heartless — this is a small price to pay for the enormous heartlessness of the War on Drugs.

And the really horrible thing is that I’m not saying anything new. Everybody knows these facts. Everybody is capable of making these deductions. If you somehow manage to avoid making them, don’t tell me how much you mourn the death of people like Philip Seymour Hoffman. You have a lot more to regret than that.




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And We All Frack On

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Several recent stories show that the amazing technology of fracking continues to transform the energy world.

First is the news out of Russia that it has begun drilling a well that aims to tap the huge Bazhenov shale formation. The Bazhenov field, in Siberia, may be the biggest shale formation in the world.

Until now, Russia hasn’t bothered with fracking, even though it has the world’s largest reserves of shale oil (and the ninth largest of shale gas), because it has immense reserves of conventional fossil fuels. But lately its conventional production has begun to stagnate.

So Russia is allowing Royal Dutch Shell and Exxon Mobil to partner with its state-owned Gazprom Neft to start the process of developing fracking operations. How quickly it can mimic the American success in this area is hard to tell — certainly, other countries with large shale reserves (such as China, Poland, and the UK) have yet to get any production going, because the technology is tricky. What Russia has going for it is that — unlike the US — Russia has a leader who actually wants to enhance fossil fuel production, rather than destroy it.

Even more fascinating is the report out of Brussels that the European Commission now wants to cut back on the “climate protection” schemes it has pushed in the past and — wait for it — embrace fracking!

Yes, apparently the Commission’s plan is to step back from its aggressively Green agenda, called “20-20-20,” set back in 2007. The plan then was to achieve a 20% drop in greenhouse gas emissions, raise the EU’s output of renewable energy to 20% of all energy consumed, and achieve a 20% increase in the EU’s energy efficiency — all by 2020. The plan now is to switch to pursuing these green energy goals only on a voluntary basis.

As regards fracking, the Commission now intends to establish only minimal rules, instead of the very strict ones it was considering.

The interesting question is whether Germany’s head Angela Merkel will continue to push for an increase in the use of renewables. She has set the goal for generation of renewable energy in Germany at 60% by 2036. Considering that after Fukushima, Merkel ordered that the German nuclear power industry be closed by 2022, and that half the plants are already shuttered, achieving the renewable goals will drive the cost of German power through the roof.

But she is running into flak from German industry. An article late last year noted that the rising energy prices in Germany and dropping prices elsewhere were beginning to put pressure on German manufacturers to start offshoring much of their operations.

I mean, this is just fascinating: when America is finally free from our current Green president, and we once again encourage domestic oil and gas production, we may find that we get back some of the heavy industry we lost to the Germans decades ago. Hell, maybe their automakers will completely relocate here.

Of course if they do, they will need new names. Instead of Bayerische Motoren Werke, might I suggest Tennessee Motor Works? And Mercedes Benz — well, “Mercedes” is so dated. We might try “Miley” (after our famous twerker-girl pop star). Perhaps “Miley Bends” would work . . .

A recent Wall Street Journal piece noted that many EU companies are moving production to the US, because of our relatively inexpensive energy — and, one might add, because at least in the half of all American states that have right-to-work laws, our labor rules are more realistic.

Finally there is a story about a start-up company called Siluria, which may possibly have solved the technological hurdles in the way of turning abundant natural gas into cheap gasoline — gasoline at about half the price of the current product distilled from petroleum.

Siluria is trying to do what so far has been impossible. While gas-to-liquids plants do exist (plants that convert natural gas to liquid fuels, including gasoline), they are very costly. It takes a lot of energy to do the conversion. For years, companies have searched for a catalyst that would make the conversion more cost-efficient, but so far, no catalyst has succeeded. Siluria has a new approach: it has built an automated system for making and trying out new catalysts. The system has already sifted through 50,000 possibilities, and the company feels that the performance of the catalyst currently in use at its experimental conversion plant justifies opening two larger-scale plants to prove to investors that it has a commercially viable approach.

A number of other companies are trying to find a commercially attractive way to convert natural gas to liquid fuels — none of which, please note, receiving the lavish funding accorded Obama cronies’ multitudinous green energy companies (most of which have failed).

In fact, the whole fracking revolution was entirely the creation of a handful of brilliant entrepreneurs in the private economy, operating in the face of the administration, not with its help. Over the decades, the role of the federal government in confronting our energy dependence on the Mideast has been one of trying to pick winning technologies, and failing every time. Not just failing, but failing at a cost to taxpayers of billions of dollars, all the while impeding private enterprise.

It is time just to end the idiotic Federal Energy Department, and let the free market solve the problem.




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Obama Reveals Sudden Emergence of Racism

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To someone from the New Yorker, President Obama has now repeated what his allies have said many times before: his popularity suffers because of his race: “There’s no doubt that there’s some folks who just really dislike me because they don’t like the idea of a black president.”

The president’s sentiment is even more pathetic than his grammar and diction (“there’s folks”), and it reflects as poorly as anything could reflect on his analytical power and knowledge of history — even, in this case, his own political history.

According to the Rasmussen poll (to cite just one of many concurring polls), on inauguration day, 2009, 67% of Americans approved of the president whom they had recently elected, and 32% disapproved. Only 16% “strongly” disapproved. According to the same outfit, five years later, on Jan. 20, 2014, 49% approved and 50% disapproved, four-fifths of them heartily disapproving.

At what point did the president’s race change?




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Pigs R Us

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Responding to President Obama’s January 17 speech about intelligence gathering (i.e., spying on people), some anti-NSA activists opined: "Rather than dismantling the NSA's unconstitutional mass surveillance programs, or even substantially restraining them, President Obama today has issued his endorsement of them. . . . The speech today was 'historic' in the worst sense. It represents a historic failure by a president to rein in mass government illegality and violations of fundamental rights." The madcap Julian Assange commented: "I think it's embarrassing for a head of state like that to go on for almost 45 minutes and say almost nothing.”

For once I agree with the supposed progressives (although Assange could have made the same remark about any of Obama’s speeches). The president has no interest in restraining any aspect of government. In this he resembles his immediate predecessor, and the resemblance is becoming uncanny. From government stimulus of “the economy” (i.e., state employees, welfare recipients, and phony capitalists) to government interference with education to government intervention in foreign wars, Obama has been enthusiastically devoted to Bush’s causes and Bush’s ways of working. The difference is that he has been less “transparent” about how he carries on his work.

While listening to Obama’s monotonous, empty speeches, one often feels one’s mind wandering, just as one felt one’s mind wandering while one tried to listen to Bush. You find yourself doing things you seldom do. You dust that odd place behind the DVDs. You inspect the carpet to see if the edges need repair. You see if you’ve got enough cards to send next Christmas. Sometimes you lapse into fantasy. In recent weeks, I’ve been picturing myself on the last page of Animal Farm, where Clover wonders why everything seems “to be melting and changing.” How is it that when you look at the purported animals and the purported men, it’s impossible to say which is which?




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An Unforeseen Development?

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On NPR this morning, I heard that 525,000 people had left the American labor force in December. I couldn’t find the number on the NPR website, so I looked on the Labor Department’s. My “find” function came up empty there as well. It’s probably there, but I think you have to add and subtract a little from the relevant columns of figures to come up with it. Having wasted precious minutes, I grew impatient. I baited my Google hook with the raw number (525k) and cast it into the data sea. The number was reported on many suspect blogs, tagged with red doughnuts warning me away. Then: Voilà. An article from Economics Analytics Research, Unemployment Rate Plunges to 6.7% in Dec. As Labor Force Shrinks; Payrolls Up Disappointing 74K”:

The drop in the unemployment rate came as a result not of new jobs, but a sharp increase in the number of persons not in the labor force — 525,000 — to 91,808,000, an increase of 2,969,000 in the last year. In 2012, the number of persons not in the labor force increased 2,199,000.

Why are people dropping out of the labor force? Some retire. Some grow weary of a fruitless job search and move in with their parents. Others migrate to the underground economy. But why the “sharp” increase at the end of 2013?

Let’s face it, there are people who will choose to glide into Social Security and Medicare on the wings of Obamacare.

At least part of the reason may be this: before January 1, 2014, when you left the labor force early, not only did you lose any possibility of unemployment benefits but you were also probably tossed into the healthcare jungle of uninsurable pre-existing conditions, crowded emergency rooms, and lousy medical treatment.

Let us say that you are a 60ish empty nester who has been downsized. You have been looking for work for a year. Your unemployment benefits have run out and all your job leads have led nowhere. While you have a modest nest egg, Social Security won’t kick in for a few years and Medicare a few years after that. Your company-sponsored health insurance has run out and you are on the verge of applying for jobs for which you are ridiculously overqualified just to get the insurance.

But not so fast. Beginning on January 1, 2014, if you don’t have a job or more than a modest income, you are eligible for Medicaid — healthcare provided at no cost to you as a result of the Affordable Care Act. Please note: non-income assets don’t count against eligibility, and, under the new law, the allowable income ceiling has been raised (eligibility requirements have been relaxed) to allow millions more to enjoy this benefit, including the boomer described above.

Let’s face it, there are people who will choose to glide into Social Security and Medicare on the wings of Obamacare. They will choose not to take a big step down the career ladder in order to secure a benefit that is available for the asking. There is a facet of human nature that shrugs, “Why not?”

It has to be asked: was this incentive to hang it up early an intended part of the new law, or was this “sharp” shrinking of the labor force an unforeseen development?

In either case: heck of a job, guys.




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The Kiddies Get Played Again

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The Duck Dynasty brouhaha is over, and for that we can be thankful. Many of those who got excited over it are somewhat embarrassed now. At least they should be. The way it ended — with the show’s resumption just as A&E was almost out of reruns — reveals it to have been a PR stunt and largely a sham. As a commenter on one of my favorite blogs put it, “Merry Christmas! We’ve been played!”

I wasn’t as entertained, or as exercised, as a lot of people. I was watching not the media-manufactured drama, but America’s reaction to it. Those on both the political Left and the political Right who usually get taken in by such nonsense were sucked in yet again. What I found reassuring was that so many others weren’t.

Americans may be waking up from their long, hypnotic daze. They now hear the show’s star, Phil Robertson, pontificating about the virtues of menmarrying 15-year-old girls, and even those who rah-rahed his anatomically-explicit anti-gay tirade in GQ magazine are revolted. This may be another Terri Schiavo moment, when the social right overplays its hand so grossly that its fraudulence is exposed for all to see. That people who’ve expended so much effort trying to get the government to censor others are now rushing to the barricades to defend their “religious freedom,” and that they’re so confused about what censorship is or isn’t that they think a business has no right to suspend an employee, is rich indeed.

It is high time we woke up. Those who blur the line between free speech and censorship most likely do so because they intend to cross it themselves. This is a sorry crowd to be lecturing anybody about the freedom of anything. Not that their political adversaries conducted themselves any more nobly. To their credit, many in the public recognized this, too.

Those who fancy they’ve “taught A&E a lesson” are apparently too dull-witted to realize that they did exactly what the network wanted them to do.

All the predictable people did all the predictable things, and a good portion of the audience is getting bored with the act. GLAAD, which fancies itself something of a gay Anti-Defamation League, leapt in immediately after the GQ article came out, demanding that Robertson be punished. If they could have called in the troopers to kick in the door to the family mansion and drag the entire clan off to jail, they probably would have. I got emails from several gay rights groups, telling me how outraged I should be — and shilling for donations.

Though I’m reassured that many people were sensible enough to see the mummery for what it was, I’m worried that so many others weren’t. Activist organizations on both sides of the controversy raked in piles of money. Several politicians — some of whom I would have expected to behave with more restraint — seized the chance to grandstand. There is no one I would vote for now that I wouldn’t have before, but there are about a handful I might have supported, but now, as a matter of principle, would vote against.

What is wrong with those who permitted themselves to be so cynically played? Are they really so hollow inside, and do they truly have so little sense of themselves, that they can be trained to salivate, like one of Pavlov’s dogs, at the ding-ding of a bell? Those who fancy they’ve “taught A&E a lesson” are apparently too dull-witted to realize that they did exactly what the network wanted them to do.

I would feel sorry for them, if I weren’t rather frightened. I don’t think that Jefferson, or Adams, or Franklin ever envisioned the possibility that 230-odd years into the future, so many Americans would be so childish, shallow, gullible, and grasping. They probably wouldn’t fall for the charms of a bellowing little man with a funny mustache and a swastika armband, but anybody who makes them feel like godly patriots, or evolved progressives — depending on their illusion of choice — could seduce them into following him (or her) anywhere.

Are there enough grownups left in this country to run it? Liberty presupposes that citizens who have reached the age of majority are capable of functioning as adults. A media-manufactured controversy like the Duck Dynasty blowup demonstrates, with stark clarity, who belongs at the big table and who should be sitting with the kiddies.

Perhaps Duck Dynasty should become a watchword — a shorthand warning — for every time the bell again goes ding-ding-ding. It may be enough to jerk some people into adulthood, or at the very least to jerk them awake.




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