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Sunday, August 29, 2010

Pragmatism or idealism?

Friday I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to speak to a person I have admired greatly for some time -- Dennis Miller.
I've always found the gentleman uproariously funny, but I also got to watch his transformation from typical Hollywood lib to conservative commentator. And I was struck by the courage and intellectual honesty that took.
So when I had the opportunity to be interviewed by him on the air I naturally jumped at it.
He said something to me during the course of the interview which actually caused me to stop for a moment and think when I had a chance to listen to it later. He said he was a pragmatist, and this blog was "a pragmatists delight."
Now aside from the flattering nature of the statement and the enlargement of a head (mine) which many would suggest NEEDS no enlarging, I realized I had never thought of myself that way.
I would have said I was an idealist almost to the point of being an idealouge.
However, I see his point.
I suppose I am a pragmatist -- in that I have come to realize that one must temper one's ideals with a little pragmatism.
I am a firm believer we need to abolish all entitlement programs. Medicare, welfare, food stamps -- all of it. The costs of those liabilities are hamstringing our economy. At the same time I'm enough of a realist to know that is simply not going to happen. There are no politicians who are willing to commit suicide in order to get that done -- or at least not enough of them.
The reality is, we must all learn to be more pragmatic. Liberals especially, must come to understand that ideals must be sacrificed at times to what is possible.
Unfortunately, too many simply do not understand that.
Moreover, too many Americans are not able to understand what things actually are possible.
They have been taught the government can do anything, that government largess is unending.
Meanwhile, fewer and fewer of us actually pay the bills.
And that brings us right back to pragmatism.
Pragmatically, many of those who used to invest their money are now holding on to it, because they have no idea how much of it is going to be taxed away starting in just a few months. They don't know how much it's actually going to be worth. And we have a government which is out of control.
Why start a business when the government can step in and destroy it through taxation or regulation.
Why provide health insurance for your employees when if you don't the government will force them to pay for it?
Business owners, much like nations, do not look at things necessarily in terms of right or wrong, but what's in their best interest.
This is not necessarily a bad thing.
Employers who are smart tend to spend money on their employees. Happy employees tend to be productive employees. This is why a benefits package is an important part of compensation. This is why they offer paid vacations and things like bonuses. If you keep your people happy they will be productive. If they are productive then you make more money. This allows you to increase wages, hire more people, expand all the things that keep the economy moving forward.
These are done generally not because it's the right thing, but because it is in the best interest of the business.
The problem we have as a nation is we've stopped looking at things that way.
We need to return to that pragmatic approach.
We need to stop trying to do what's best for the world, and do what's best for the United States.
We are the largest economy in the world. Trust me, if we do what's best for us, it will benefit everyone.
And in the end, isn't that what's RIGHT as well?
All IMHO, of course.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Life ain't fair... deal

“It’s not fair!!!”
How many times have you heard your kids whine that in a voice that just sets your teeth on edge?
This idea of fairness has permeated our society and I for one am simply sick of it.
At least, the idea that: A. everything simply MUST be fair, and: B. the idea that fairness means an equality of outcomes.
This idea, that everything must be fair, and everyone must be equal is a sickness of western, and in particular American culture.
We prize fair play and fair dealing. This is a good thing so far as it goes. Playing by the rules and keeping your bargains and treating people fairly in business deals is in every one's best interest.
However, we do our children no favors when we teach them that life is “fair.”
It most manifestly is not fair.
I learned this early and hard when my father died when I was just a boy. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, but it did teach me an important lesson — bad stuff happens.
We have, in the interests of fairness stopped taking score at ball games, handed out medals to all and sundry so no one feels left out, given “social promotions” to children who cannot read so their fragile egos won’t be hurt, stopped marking up papers in red ink for the same reason and created racial preferences which are the exact opposite of the so-decried Jim Crow laws of the early 20th century.
And so now, we have a generation of children growing up who expect to be paid $50,000 a year right out of college for doing nothing. Who get mortally offended and feel “disrespected” when their boss criticizes them. And continue, in their 20s and 30s to whine about “fairness.”
Welcome to real life. People are going to talk to you in ways you don’t like. You are sometimes going to get in trouble for things which are out of your control.
Is it fair? No, but it’s life.
Of course, the left plays off this (you didn’t think I’d go an entire column without talking politics did you?)
Much of this is a creation of the left stemming from social engineering theories and child rearing theories from the 60s.
Dr. Benjamin Scott argued that spanking was child abuse and not effective discipline, never mind a good spanking now and then when deserved had been an effective parenting tool for all of human history. Leftists of every stripe argued that racial policies must be used to “redress” past abuses.
Don’t misunderstand, I’m not arguing that we should return to the days of segregation. Or even that perhaps affirmative action didn’t have it’s place at one time. However, in the quest to be “fair,” programs like affirmative action are being used to prevent certain groups from succeeding while promoting others.
Equality of outcomes is all fine and good as a theory. But, like so much else the left promotes, not so wonderful in the execution.
Equality of outcomes means no one loses, but no one really wins either. Equality of outcomes means equality of mediocrity — sad in a society in which merit has always meant more than birth.
We should strive for as much equality as we can, this is true. As much equality of opportunity as is possible. Equal justice before the law. Discrimination should be condemned no matter who is being discriminated against.
But we’re not all going to win. When the Yankees play the Royals there are an equal number of players on both teams. They both play on the same field. But most likely the Royals are going to get killed — and both sides know it going in.
There are always winners and losers. That’s life.
All IMHO, of course.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Destroying cartels not in Mexico's best interest

Tens of thousands of people have died in Mexico since the end of 2006 as the Mexican government supposedly tries to crack down on the drug cartels to which it has more or less ceded control of it’s northern states.
According to Fox News, nearly 30,000 people have been killed.
Last week, former Mexican President Vicente Fox criticized the military-led, U.S.-backed war on the cartels.
Instead, according to a report by AOL news, Fox said Mexico should consider legalizing the production, distribution and sale of drugs.
"Legalizing in this sense doesn't mean that drugs are good or don't hurt those who consume. Rather, we have to see it as a strategy to strike and break the economic structure that allows the mafias to generate huge profits in their business," Fox wrote on his blog.
The dirty little secret here is that it is not in Mexico’s interest to end the drug trade any more that it is in its interest to end illegal immigration.
The billions of dollars generated each year by the cartels are a large part of Mexico’s economy — somewhere between $35 and $40 billion each year.
As intelligence firm STRATFOR pointed out earlier this year: “From Mexico’s point of view, interrupting the flow of drugs to the United States is not clearly in the national interest or in that of the economic elite. Observers often dwell on the warfare between smuggling organizations in the northern borderland but rarely on the flow of American money into Mexico. Certainly, that money could corrupt the Mexican state, but it also behaves as money does. It is accumulated and invested, where it generates wealth and jobs.
“For the Mexican government to become willing to shut off this flow of money, the violence would have to become far more geographically widespread. And given the difficulty of ending the traffic anyway — and that many in the state security and military apparatus benefit from it — an obvious conclusion can be drawn: Namely, it is difficult to foresee scenarios in which the Mexican government could or would stop the drug trade. Instead, Mexico will accept both the pain and the benefits of the drug trade.”
Mexico is cracking down on the cartels, not to end the trade, but to pare back organizations which pose a threat to the Mexican government. Also in order to be seen to be Doing Something by the American government.
It is possible as well, that Vicente Fox’s proposal is being seriously considered. Which would mean that the Mexican government is behaving as the other cartels do — namely attempting to take over the supply chain of the rival cartels.
This is to some degree likely. It’s well known the Mexican army is involved in drugs and human trafficking. Corruption is rampant within the Mexican military. One of the cartels — Los Zetas — started as a unit of the Mexican army, trained and equipped by American special forces.
In the mean time, swaths of American land are no go zones along the border. Border residents are murdered and the cartels are striking hundreds of miles north in major American cities like Phoenix, Ariz. where people have been killed and kidnapped.
The border remains aflame. The Mexican government is unlikely to take action which is not in it’s national interest.
There are no easy solutions to the problem, but closing the border is a first step it is long past time we take.
All IMHO of course.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Draining the swamp requires new blood

Another high-profile Democrat has been hit with ethics violations. Rep. Charlie Rangle, D-NY, was charged with 13 violations of House ethics rules last week.

In addition Rep. Maxine Waters is probably looking at charges as well.

Of course that doesn’t even get into the federal indictment and conviction of former Louisiana Congressman William “Cold Cash” Jefferson who was nailed with $90,000 in cash in his freezer by the FBI back in 2005. He was eventually found guilty on 11 of 16 charges.

Republicans of course, are not clean by any stretch and have had their share of ethics violations over the years — to include former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich who was reprimanded in the well of the House for his transgressions.

The point here is not to note chapter and verse of which party has been the most unethical. It is interesting to note however, that after current Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., promised to “drain the swamp,” and Democrats made hay in the 2008 elections with the “culture of corruption,” in Washington we now have the former chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, perhaps the most powerful House committee, in deep ethical trouble.

The problem here, in my opinion, is that the culture in Washington is all too permissive of this sort of thing.

And it is not helped when the president continues to appoint people whose ethics are questionable at best to high positions.

The Secretary of the Treasury, Timothy Geithner, was found to have cheated heavily on his taxes and proceeded to blame the tax preparation software he used for his troubles. In other words, the chief tax enforcement officer in the country can’t run TurboTax.

Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sibelius, our own former governor also had to fix some tax issues before she could take office, and mercifully leave Kansas.

Most of Rangle’s problems are also tax related — mostly dodging them.

What it comes down to is the political class — on both sides of the isle have become what might best be described, as author Jerry Pournelle once put it, “a self perpetuating oligarchy.”

Rangle has been in the house for four decades, Waters for nearly 20.

Too often the politicians spend their entire adult lives in office, living lives that bear little or no resemblance to that of the average American.

They live in elegant homes in Washington DC, visiting their districts only rarely, with privileges generally reserved only for the very wealthy.

They have health care many times better than most of us, pensions and benefits most of us can only dream of.

They are rarely told no, have people treating them like royalty in order to curry their favor and vast sums of money put into their reelection campaigns. Money which they are allowed to keep after the campaign is over.

It is the rare politician indeed who doesn’t leave office much wealthier than he went in — usually with a cushy lobbyist position waiting for them when they get out of office.

There are a few — painfully few — legislators who see public service as that, service.

For most it seems to simply be an easy job where their own sense of self importance can be puffed up by the gaggle of yes-men with which they surround themselves.

Those who would actually be good at the job are more often in the private sector, where they can actually do something of importance.

As you vote in the primary today and especially in November, take a close look at the people asking for your vote. Look at their record. See if they return to their district regularly. See how large the entourage they surround themselves with is.

And then ask yourself, “does this person regard public service as a privilege, or does he look at me as a serf? Does he understand that he works for me, or does he think I work for him? Does he see government as an unfortunately necessary means to an end? Or as an end in itself?”

And then vote your conscience, not your party.