Black Shards Press – Electronic Gumbo is Our Specialty

Convergence of Ideological Opposites

28.02.2009 (6:15 am) – Filed under: Politics,Religion,Society ::

My father’s definition of the range of ideology is this:

I believe personality definitions are spherical in nature and can be defined by spherical equations (and a sinusoid).  The far fringes meet and touch on the other side of reality.  Once you get past + (conservative) & – (liberal) 90 degrees (reality) you slowly progress into non-reality until at 180 degrees the right and left non-realities meet and in essence are the same in actions and deeds.

As far as I can recall we’ve never discussed this subject but I’ve held the same belief for several years.  It’s easy to see that as radical groups get farther and farther from the center they begin to embrace the tactics and values of their arch-enemies.

Nowhere is this more easily seen and understood than with ultra-liberal progressives whose highest values ought to be logic, freedom for the individual, and above all free speech and inquiry. 

Yet on what American conservatives casually call the far left progressives have embraced the thinking of both the fascists and the communists in their strident, unrelenting efforts to confine individuals personal, speech, and inquiry rights to their own narrow range of beliefs.

Conversely this phenomenon can also be seen in ultra-conservative religious groups in which individual is expected to have both an intimate personal relationship with God and give his/her all to the group in order to create a perfectly selfless society.  All too often these groups end up taking on the characteristics of godless anarchists, as in the case of Jim Jones and today’s radical Muslims.

The ring theory of ideology isn’t a perfect analogy; groups all over the continuum plagiarize and bastardize both their own and others’ belief systems as they age more or less well.  But it is more useful to think of politicized groups as aligning around a circle rather than on a linear spectrum.  While the far ends of left and right disagree on the specifics of their grievances, the means they use to advance their agendas are remarkably similar.

Dawn Johnsen: Another Lying Liar in Line for an Important Job with the Obama Administration

27.02.2009 (9:08 pm) – Filed under: Abortion,Politics ::

The National Review’s Andy McCarthy been absolutely brutal in refuting Dawn Johnsen’s testimony that the DOJ Office of Legal Council nominee gave to Senate Judiciary Committee.  In exposing Johnsen’s lies about her own written record, McCarthy exemplifies everything that is good about the American media.  A virtual round for Andy, please, on the house.

Here’s what Ms. Johnsen believes about abortion, in her own words:

Statutes that curtail [a woman’s] abortion choice are disturbingly suggestive of involuntary servitude, prohibited by the Thirteenth Amendment, in that forced pregnancy requires a woman to provide continuous physical service to the fetus in order to further the state’s asserted interest.

After learning that her inane legal argument had been unearthed and aired at NRO, Johnsen professed to be shocked that her words would be taken at face value.

It’s always pathetic to see People Who Would Be Important demonstrate that they lack the courage of their convictions when confronted about their actions.  How much worse, then, to witness an accomplished lawyer deny her own work that’s part of the public record?

Johnsen certainly wasted no time in doing just that by denying that she’d ever invoked the 13th Amendment in her legal arguments when Arlen Specter, hardly a conservative ideologue, came down on her.

When I read in your writings that abortion bans go beyond the Thirteenth Amendment, which bars slavery, and that “forced pregnancy requires a woman to provide continuous physical service to the fetus in order to further the state’s asserted interest” — it seems to me just candidly beyond the pale.

Johnsen’s denial is an obvious lie, as Andy points out.  Moreover, Johnsen’s “analogy”, as she now calls it, is no departure from the core of her beliefs, as Andy also brings to the forefront:

This line of argument was not an aberration. It is consistent with a major theme of the brief, to wit, that abortion restrictions result in “forced pregnancy” and government “conscription” of the woman’s body for its own purposes. Thus, for example, Johnsen wrote elsewhere in the brief: “[The woman] is constantly aware for nine months that her body is not wholly her own: the state has conscripted her body for its own ends.” Consequently, she concluded, abortion restrictions “reduce pregnant women to no more than fetal containers.”

Not only is the logic of Johnsen’s argument distorted beyond anything recognizable as such, it clearly demonstrates her willingness to say anything to advance her cause, regardless of whether it’s right or wrong.

The Department of Justice is a branch of the government that demands higher-than-average ethics and comportment than almost any other.  Those not afflicted the Alzheimer’s will recall the Alberto Gonzales affair.  As of Yesterday, Dawn Johnsen has been shown to be a proven liar.  As such she is apparently cut from the same cloth as Gonzales, a man deemed not to deserve to hold a position of authority in the DoJ.

Worse still, Johnsen is a radical abortion rights advocate who will stop at no depth of ethical depravity to advance the cause of abortion in this country, even to the point, as Specter rightly said, of going beyond the pale and into the realm of the deranged.

It’s one thing to be a radical in favor of 1.5 million infant killings per year.  It’s another to lie about it in front of Congress.  Johnsen’s confirmation must be voted down if there’s any decency to be found on Capitol Hill some 30-odd days into the Age of Change.

Who is John Galt?

27.02.2009 (9:38 am) – Filed under: Business,Literature,Society,Taxation ::

Steve Hayward says that if Barack Obama’s trillion-dollar tax increase is implemented that he will go on strike in the fashion of John Galt, Ayn Rand’s famous lead in Atlas Shrugged.

…my bigger idea is to go all Randian and literally go on strike (and I’ve never really been much of a Rand fan, by the way–Whittaker Chambers had her down right).  I’m going to start converting income opportunities into more leisure by deliberately reducing my income.  Already between federal and state income taxes, self-employment taxes, the AMT, and phased-out dependent deductions as income rises, I’m at a marginal rate of about 50% on my last dollars earned from writing or anything else.  So it will pay to keep below Obama’s high income threshold.  I suspect a lot of self-employed people will make similar calculations and adjustments, and the revenue yield will be far below what Obama’s people project.

If the economic disincentives to work are pronounced enough, it’s certainly possible that others will follow in Hayward’s footsteps.  Not sure what Steve means by a lot, however. 

I suspect that most of the self-employed, who in many ways define ambition by their willingness to forsake the relative safety of corporate/government work, will continue to keep plugging along if only because their ventures require a certain amount of care and feeding in order to produce anything at all.  But it also seems likely that small business owners will re-invest in their companies rather than pay higher marginal tax rates on money they pay themselves, thereby achieving some of the same impact as an outright strike.

As many of you know, I am a big-time admirer of Rand.  However, it must be said that her work ignores some of the realities of life, the most poignant being children and the love, attention, and costs they bring with them.  Pure individualists may disregard such concerns but for most of us they are the reality of why we work.  That’s one reason why I don’t think that Hayward’s plan will lead to a mass Galtian movement.

The other is that, unlike the liberal fascist American government in Atlas, I seriously doubt that today’s liberals would:  A) recognize that their policies are what is killing western civilization as we know it; or B) have the courage to admit it if they did realize the effect of what they are doing.

Then again, who is John Galt?

In Bashing Jindal, Krugman Blunders on Role of Government

25.02.2009 (10:41 pm) – Filed under: Finance,Society ::

NY Times editorialist Paul Krugman won a Nobel Price in Economics in 2008 but the swipe he took at Republican Bobby Jindal leaves a lot to be desired from the economy perspective.  Writing about the role of government, Krugman defended the inclusion of volcano monitoring in the Democrats’ stimulus plan thusly:

… knowing when a volcano is likely to erupt can save many lives; but there’s no private incentive to spend money on monitoring, since even people who didn’t contribute to maintaining the monitoring system can still benefit from the warning. So that’s the sort of activity that should be undertaken by government.

Is it really?  The admittedly amateur economist in me doesn’t think so. 

For example, if I still lived near Mount Hood in Oregon and valued monitoring of the mountain’s potential volcanic activity, my reaction – in the absence of Big Government, of course – would be to find like-minded people and pool our resources.  If enough of my neighbors believed they would be significantly impacted by an eruption we could hire a seismologist to keep an eye on things and warn us of impending danger.

Contrarily, if relatively few people were concerned about the ratio of danger to the probability of an eruption or simply preferred to use their resources for other purposes, then there is no economic justification for monitoring the mountain. 

Why should the government step in to offer a service that the people who would be negatively affected by the now-dormant volcano’s eruption do not value enough to provide for themselves?

One answer is, of course, that local residents lack the resources to pay for the needed services.  However, in itself that is no reason for the government to take action.  People living in Oklahoma would all be safer if every one of them had a government-provided tornado-proof home.  They do not, of course, because the state is not responsible for mitigating the risks its citizens take by living in tornado alley.

Another answer is that individuals lack the ability to mobilize and organize local interest to solve problems such as the one posed in my Mount Hood scenario.  Certainly the process of organizing the citizenry is not frictionless.  However, communication with those around us who have similar interests has never been easier than it is now.  If residents of Sandy, Oregon decided to form a grass-roots committee with the purpose of performing private seismic monitoring on Mount Hood, lack of ability to get the word out would not be their primary obstacle.  Lack of interest and government interference would do much more to stymie the project.

Krugman uses the disaster of Hurricane Katrina to demonstrate the need for government intervention.  But as tragic as the situation was for residents of New Orleans, it was also only a question of time before disaster struck.  Everyone knew it.  Everyone.  The only question was how bad it was going to be.  Moreover, the government made a bad situation worse by rewarding bad behavior – i.e., continuing to live in New Orleans – when it attempted to fortify the city against just such a natural disaster.  As a result, people underestimated the danger they were in and could not place the proper value on their lives and property because they didn’t understand the risk.  In fact, without massive government aid in the form of dykes and levees, New Orleans would not have existed in its pre-Katrina form and the hurricane’s impact would have been much smaller.

There are countless other examples of how government “aid” simply encourages people to take unwisely risky positions and then to demand more help from the state to bail them out when their situation goes south.  For example, Californians persist in building near dangerous wildfire zones at great cost to the state when it has to defend their property against the inevitable fires that threaten homes every single year. 

Is it really the purpose of government to subsidize its citizens’ bad decisions?  Paul Krugman seems to think so, despite what economics tells us about the effects of government interference.

Obama’s Health Care Plan to be Mandatory?

24.02.2009 (10:41 pm) – Filed under: Health,Medicine,Politics ::

Ezra Klein says that Barack Obama will ask Congress to include a mandatory participation clause when he spells out the broad strokes for his proposed health care plan:

Administration officials have been very clear on what the inclusion of “universality” is meant to communicate to Congress. As one senior member of the health team said to me, “[The plan] will cover everybody. And I don’t see how you cover everybody without an individual mandate.”

A mandatory federal health care plan is troubling on several fronts.  First, it would destroy the private coverage system that we have now and effectively eliminate choice for virtually all Americans.  For many this is not an overwhelming problem because they have relatively few choices now.  Under the tenative Obama plan participation will be mandatory.  The only way to opt out would be to accept the coverage, then pay cash for your choice on the side.

Second, the very idea of mandatory government plans is repugnant to people like me who see government as a problem rather than a solution.  That Social Security and MediCare have been financial train wrecks is well-documented.  The former has historically under-performed on its investments and will go negative in a couple of decades because of larger-than-intended payouts.  The latter will quite frankly bankrupt this country sometime this century unless it is drastically reformed.  That’s the effect.  The fact that they are mandatory government programs is the cause.  (No, you don’t have to take MediCare.  But who refuses?)

Third, it goes without saying that the only way to offer subsidized coverage or the more expensive “universal” coverage that first Hillary Clinton and now Barack Obama have embraced is to tax the money out of the hands of those who have it and give it to those who do not.  The taxation might come in the form of a payroll tax ala Social Security or as an increased federal income tax rate.  Either way the effect is the same: a massive redistribution of wealth to fund another expensive liberal program.

That’s change you can believe in.  More precisely, you have to believe in it.  OK, you don’t have to.  But we’re going to tax you as if you did, so you may as well.

Bankrupt Homeowners’ Apologist Rejects Ethics, Responsibility, Common Sense

24.02.2009 (9:48 pm) – Filed under: Finance,Politics ::

Matthew Yglesias has his doubts about whether homeowners who default on their home loans bear any responsibility whatsoever for the financial mess they have caused.  Certainly lenders deserve a share of the blame for failing to run their businesses, well, like businesses.  The federal government played a huge part in the fiasco as well, as we’ve discussed before. 

At the end of the day, however, it is precisely the individual homeowners who borrowed more money than they could pay back who bear the final responsibility for defaulting on their home mortgages.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Here’s part of what Matthew wrote at Think Progress:

There really is plenty of blame to go around here. But I just don’t see how more than a tiny fraction of it could possible adhere to our electrician or teacher or secretary who’s decided, basically, that the financial services professionals and government regulators know what they’re doing. Now could she have known better?

Really? 

If we’re going to be honest with ourselves, we should start by admitting that under no circumstances can any American justify a claim that he or she doesn’t understand how mortgages work.  You borrow money, then you pay it back, with interest, over a term.  Basic 9th grade math in this country. 

Of course there’s always the question of cash flow.  But this is also elementary mathematics, as in: 

(Monthly Income * Probability of Maintaining Income) – Monthly Mortgage Payment 

Simple.  And there’s no need to make the analysis more involved than that.  Yglesias does, of course, invoking the Fed’s monetary policy and blaming the lenders’ derivatives-based Ponzi schemes to explain away Americans’ failure to apply freshman math in the most important transactions they ever make.

(At this point a jab about this being a result of public education would be too obvious, I think.)

Most Americans have the common sense to know that Ygelsias’ argument is hogwash.  55% of us say that government intervention on behalf of defaulting homeowners only rewards bad behavior.  The percentage ought to be higher, frankly.

Indiana University: Press Favors Republicans (and Hell Freezes Over)

24.02.2009 (9:23 pm) – Filed under: Media,Politics ::

Maria Elizabeth Grabe and Erik Bucy, both associate professors in the Indiana University’s Department of Telecommunications say that Republicans were the beneficiaries of media bias during the 1992, 1996, 2000, and 2004 presidential elections:

In their research, Democrats were more likely to be subjects of the “lip-flap” effect, while Republicans more often got the last word. GOP candidates were favored in terms of having the last say in all but the 2004 election. In 1992, the difference was distinctive with Republicans having the final say 57.9 percent of the time. In 1996, Republicans had eight times as many last-say opportunities as Democrats.

Findings for camera angle clearly illustrate the Republican advantage. Overall, Republican candidates were covered in more low-angle and fewer high-angle shots than Democrats.

Doubters would quickly note that George Bush 41 and Bob Dole lost the elections which the researchers highlight, making theirs a not quite convincing case.

Grabe:

“We don’t think this is journalists conspiring to favor Republicans. We think they’re just so beat up and tired of being accused of a liberal bias that they unknowingly give Republicans the benefit in coverage.  It’s self-censorship that journalists might be imposing on themselves.”

Having just lived through the 2008 election cycle, it seems obvious that any predilections the mass media might have once had about at least pretending to be neutral are history.

Eager to Regulate, Some Economists Reject Reality

20.02.2009 (11:26 pm) – Filed under: Finance,Politics ::

Nouriel Roubini, a professor at the Stern Business School at New York University, says that the current fiscal crisis was caused by the failure of “the laissez-faire, unregulated (or aggressively deregulated), Wild West model of free market capitalism” and that nationalization of financial institutions and heavy regulation is a requirement of a stable economy.

Evidently Roubini is willing to overlook the two primary causes of the home mortgage debacle that has now spilled over to the economy at large:

  • The aggressive regulation forced on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac by the the Clinton housing bill that forced quotas on the lending institutions, essentially forcing them to take on risk far in excess of what the free market would have allowed.
  • The greedy, grasping indulgence of American borrowers who, knowing full well that their means was insufficient to cover even the slightest increase in historically low interest rates, took advantage of federally mandated “access” to home mortgages that they had no hope of repaying.

That doesn’t sound like Wild West capitalism to me; rather, it sounds exactly like what one would expect from a market distorted and ultimately destroyed by governmental regulation.

Phil Gramm says:

By the time the housing market collapsed, Fannie and Freddie faced three quotas. The first was for mortgages to individuals with below-average income, set at 56% of their overall mortgage holdings. The second targeted families with incomes at or below 60% of area median income, set at 27% of their holdings. The third targeted geographic areas deemed to be underserved, set at 35%.

The results? In 1994, 4.5% of the mortgage market was subprime and 31% of those subprime loans were securitized. By 2006, 20.1% of the entire mortgage market was subprime and 81% of those loans were securitized. The Congressional Budget Office now estimates that GSE losses will cost $240 billion in fiscal year 2009. If this crisis proves nothing else, it proves you cannot help people by lending them more money than they can pay back.

Gramm’s last point is dead on target.  The lesson that should be learned from the home mortgage crisis is that governments should stay the hell out of markets they either don’t understand or don’t care if they ruin. 

The liberal notion that unqualified home buyers “deserve” to own their own houses is the root cause of the mortgage market’s implosion.  It may be that additional regulation is required to steer the world economy out of the straits that government bungling took us into; however, that doesn’t change the fact that it’s misguided, anti-market policies that put us in danger in the first place.

Roubini does make one excellent point:

This crisis also shows the failure of ideas such as the one that securitization will reduce systemic risk rather than actually increase it. That risk can be properly priced when the opacity and lack of transparency of financial firms and new instruments leads to unpriceable uncertainty rather than priceable risk.

That’s exactly right.  The financial industry was allowed to obfuscate the value – or lack thereof – of their loan portfolios by slicing, dicing, and rearranging their portfolios beyond recognition.  This should never have been allowed.  As Roubini says, “It was not that regulators were not empowered; it was that they were not alarmed.”  Or not interested during the Bush administration’s reign.

The proper amount of regulation, contrary to Roubini’s thesis is simply this: just enough to keep the players in the game honest.  In this case there were too many cheaters, in government, on Wall Street, and on Main Street.

Eric Holder’s Speech on Race Right On the Money

19.02.2009 (7:07 am) – Filed under: Race,Welfare ::

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Attorney General Eric Holder gave America reason to believe in him today through a speech he gave to Justice Department employees and comments he made afterward:

“Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and I believe continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards,” Holder said.

Race, Holder said, “is an issue we have never been at ease with and, given our nation’s history, this is in some ways understandable… If we are to make progress in this area, we must feel comfortable enough with one another and tolerant enough of each other to have frank conversations about the racial matters that continue to divide us.”

“If we’re going to ever make progress, we’re going to have to have the guts, we have to have the determination, to be honest with each other. It also means we have to be able to accept criticism where that is justified,” Holder told reporters after the speech.

It’s undeniable that racism still exists in the United States and that it still holds black Americans back in some respects.  But is that really a problem?  If so, is it one the government should continue to attempt to solve?  And if so, should it continue use the funneling of massive amounts of money to black communities in the form of welfare, housing, education, and affirmative action subsidies as its primary tool?

more »

American Students’ Mistaken Feeling of Entitlement

18.02.2009 (3:20 pm) – Filed under: Education,Youth ::

Ellen Greenberger’s study entitled "Self-Entitled College Students: Contributions of Personality, Parenting, and Motivational Factors" reveals a fatal flaw in the American university system – the students who attend – and whose education is the product of – these institutions.

Greenberger was initially made curious about the subject by students who seemed to feel they deserved a higher grade than they actually earned in her classes.  She wondered what caused the phenmenon.  James Hogge, an associate dean at Vanderbilt, knows.  “Students often confuse the level of effort with the quality of work. There is a mentality in students that ‘if I work hard, I deserve a high grade.’ "

Nothing could be farther from the truth.  The education system is – or ought to be – the ultimate form of meritocracy, a learning environment in which only demonstrable results are rewarded.  Feelings have no place in the evaluation of achievement.  Neither does hard work, valuable as it is, have any particular value of its own.  Only results matter.  When did American students – and Americans in general – learn to believe anything else?

Aaron M. Brower, the vice provost for teaching and learning at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, says we’re teaching children to think that way in our public schools.  “They have become ultra-efficient in test preparation. And this hyper-efficiency has led them to look for a magic formula to get high scores.”

Jason Greenwood, a senior kinesiology major at the University of Maryland, exemplifies exactly what is wrong with this insipid sort of thinking:

“I think putting in a lot of effort should merit a high grade,” Mr. Greenwood said. “What else is there really than the effort that you put in?”

“If you put in all the effort you have and get a C, what is the point?” he added. “If someone goes to every class and reads every chapter in the book and does everything the teacher asks of them and more, then they should be getting an A like their effort deserves. If your maximum effort can only be average in a teacher’s mind, then something is wrong.”

Something’s wrong, alright, and it’s apparent in the fact that Greenwood, who is about to matriculate from a major university and is thus presumed to have been educated to a high standard, actually dared to say something this ridiculous aloud with the implicit assumption that he be taken seriously attached.

This could almost, but not quite, be expected from a sociology or psychology major, but a participant in athletics should, of all people, understand that it is precisely absolute achievement that should be measured and rewarded. 

By Greenwood’s logic Usain Bolt be stripped of the gold medals he was awarded in Beijing last year for torching the field in every race entered if it was determined that Richard Thompson of Trinidad and Tobago simply tried harder?  The mere idea is ludicrous and students’ expectations of being given a grade based on their level of effort is no less so.

Sadly, Jason Greenwood is no isolated case.  66.2% of those surveyed responded affirmatively to the statement, "If I have explained to my professor that I am trying hard, I think he/she should give me some consideration with respect to my course grade."