May 282009

Fox news headline: “Sotomayor’s Gun Control Positions Could Prompt Conservative Backlash.”

Backlash? Backlash?? I think the word the writer is groping for is “opposition.”

In the same article:

Such a line of attack could prove more effective than efforts to define Sotomayor as pro-abortion, efforts that essentially grasp at straws. Sotomayor’s record on that hot-button issue reveals instances in which she has ruled against an abortion rights group and in favor of anti-abortion protesters, making her hard to pigeonhole.

Grasp at straws?

Fox seems to have hired an idiom-challenged reporter to write these things.

But that last sentence is a fascinating one. It suggests that perhaps Soutomayor wasn’t basing her ruling on the identify of the group before her, but was basing it on the law, let the chips fall where they will.

Will the Obama administration be willing to overlook an indiscretion like that?

May 282009

Last week we learned that Shell stockholders voted down an executive compensation plan. (WSJ: “Shell investors revolt over executive pay plan.”) They did not want to reward the managers of their company for failure.

It was just a non-binding resolution, though. As at many business corporations, the Shell company executives have managed to keep their paychecks insulated from the workings of the free market by not allowing the owners to control them.

I don’t know just how that state of affairs came about, but I would wager that the executives of this and other business corporations had allies in government who helped pull it off. Governments of the modern welfare-police state tend to fear, hate, and loathe markets and will go to great lengths to keep them from working. It’s natural for them to collaborate with business managers to suppress their operation. (You can read all about it in Milton Friedman.)

But the point is, if the owners had their way, they would not reward the managers of their company for failure.

Compare that with what happens when federal regulators fail. The usual remedy is to reward them with bigger budgets, bigger empires, and more power. That’s how we got the monstrosity known as the Department of Homeland Security. Not a single person in government suffered any consequences for being unlucky enough not to use the available information to prevent 9/11. Instead, the system rewarded itself.

That’s also what was happening in the closing months of the Bush administration when Bernanke and Paulson kept pushing for more centralized power over the economy as a reward for their mismanagement. They didn’t get their way, but they tried. Now the Obama administration is trying the same thing, and will have a better chance of getting it. (WSJ: “Single-Regulator Plan for Banks Now Close“)

White House and Treasury officials have met with numerous groups to discuss their plans to rework supervision of financial markets, and they have occasionally offered clues as to what their plans may look like. Mr. Geithner has said he thinks there needs to be consolidation and simplification in the oversight of banks, but he has declined to be more specific.

“Declined to be more specific.” Yeah, there’s probably a reason for his reticence.

Not so many months ago these same people were asking for unprecedent sums of money even though it soon became apparent they didn’t have any idea what they were going to do with it. Now they’re asking for unprecedent powers and a major reworking of the org charts in their favor, and they have no idea what they’re going to do with that, either. But they do know that they want more centralization and more power. That’s the government reward for incompetence.

It’s sort of like what the Shell executives want, only on a much more massive scale, beyond anything that even Dilbert ever imagined could happen.

May 192009

President Obama likes to have himself compared to Abraham Lincoln, but there is one area in which he is about as opposite to A. Lincoln as one can get. Lincoln was probably the best storytelling jokester among our presidents, while Obama is the leading contender for worst.

There was the one about a snow day in Washington D.C., which was merely stupid. At the time I suggested that if that was his idea of stand-up comedy, he should not quit his day job.

Then there was the one about the Special Olympics — a real belly-slapper from Mr. I-want-my-Supreme-Court-nominee-to-empathize.

Most recently he made a joke about using the IRS to punish people he doesn’t like. It’s like what they say about making a joke about your spouse having an affair: If it’s true, it’s not funny. If it’s not true, it’s not funny.

As Glenn Harlan Reynolds suggests, this comes after letting Timmy TurboTax get rewarded with a big salary for doing something that would get his new employes fired. To say nothing of the fact that if IRS employees made jokes like this for the purpose of making a threat (and all jokes are partly serious) they could be fired for it.

And now David Axelrod is getting in on the act.

In Gerald J. Prokopowicz’s book about Lincoln, he points out that Lincoln’s jokes relied on context. He says his least favorite Lincoln question is one that asks which is the funniest joke:

Humor tends to be specific to its time and place, and what seemed funny to the nineteenth often falls flat in the twenty-first. To make matters worse, Lincoln’s jokes were not stand-alone sound bites. They relied heavily on context. Lincoln’s speeches to the Scott Club of Springfield in 1852, for example, are the funniest things he ever wrote. They had the audience shrieking with laughter — I still find it difficult to read them without snorting audibly — but to get to the good parts you have to read several pages of setup, and once you get there the punch lines don’t work unless you already know something about Franklin Pierce, Winfield Scott, and Lincoln’s relationship with Stephen Douglas.

Hmmm. 1852. I have a Spokesrider article about a joke-telling session that took place in that year. And it, too, involved Franklin Pierce and Winfield Scott. But I digress.

Context may have been necessary for Lincoln’s jokes, but context is not Obama’s friend. And Obama doesn’t have to wait a couple of centuries for his jokes to fall flat.

Which reminds me, here’s a one-liner joke that some have attributed to Lincoln, though I wouldn’t want to wager any money that it really is one he invented:

Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.

May 142009

A few days ago I finished Sergei Khrushchev’s book, “Nikita Khrushchev and the creation of a superpower.”

I wish he had had as much to say about the Soviet Union’s domestic economy as he did about missiles and the space race. Maybe I’ll find some of that in his other books, though I it’s understandable where his emphasis lay given that his own job was in the missile industry.

He does give some tantalizing descriptions of how industrial planning worked in the 1950s and 1960s. And he provides plenty of evidence that his father understood very well the relationship between the domestic economy and the USSR’s prowess in military and space technology.

And he introduced me to someone I had not known about: Yevsei Liberman.

Liberman, a pragmatist, came very close to understanding the need to introduce a market economy, calling it material self-interest; but as someone who had grown up while an irreconcilable struggle was being waged against any manifestations of freedom in the economy, he could not bring himself to pronounce the seditious word.

I went to Google to learn more. So far I’ve found contradictory information. The New York Times obituary in 1983 said, “Although Mr. Khrushchev evidently endorsed the proposals, they were not put into practice until after Leonid I. Brezhnev succeeded to the Soviet leadership in 1964.” But other sources say his proposals were eviscerated before being implemented. I’m now looking for a book to read that can help explain this. What I’d really like is one that can give accounts that are close to the action and personal, like Sergei Khruschev’s, but I’ll probably have to settle for less.

May 142009

There’s that word again. Comprehensive. No wonder I woke up in the middle of the night and haven’t got back to sleep. It’s a word to strike cold terror into the stoutest of hearts.

Obama is talking about comprehensive health care reform as if “comprehensive” is a goal compatible with a free people and democratic government:

The problems in our health care system didn’t emerge over night, we’ve debated what to do about them for decades, but too often efforts at comprehensive reform have fallen apart due to special-interest lobbying and petty politics and the failure of all sides to come together.

And in case anybody thinks he just says words without knowing what he means, he added those sinister words about “the failure of all sides to come together.” Yes, he said “all.”

So much for human rights and diversity.

May 132009

Camille Paglia, being a little slow on the uptake, asks, “How have we come to this pass in America where the assassination of top government officials is fodder for jokes on national radio?:

It’s a very bad subject for jokes, but I think Paglia is old enough to know how it started. Back in 1998 when Clinton was being impeached, Alec Baldwin went on the Conan O’Brien show and screamed: “if we were in another country… we would stone Henry Hyde to death and we would go to their homes and kill their wives and their children. We would kill their families, for what they’re doing to this country.”

The left didn’t get majorly upset over that. Then (in 2006) there was the documentary, “Death of a President,” which used a rather unsubtle power of suggestion to make the idea of assassinating President Bush thinkable.

Before that (in 2004) there was a call for the assassination of George Bush from the Guardian.

On November 2, the entire civilised world will be praying, praying Bush loses. And Sod’s law dictates he’ll probably win, thereby disproving the existence of God once and for all. The world will endure four more years of idiocy, arrogance and unwarranted bloodshed, with no benevolent deity to watch over and save us. John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, John Hinckley Jr. – where are you now that we need you?

Those people were out-of-control, out-of-their-minds angry. If people now are merely making jokes about assassinating the president, maybe it’s a sign that the political scene is calming down. Maybe Camille Paglia should catch up with the times and do the same.

May 122009

There has hardly been any comment on the recent scandal involving the White House press corps.

We can all assume that what Tom Lauria said is true. The Obama administration threatened Perella Weinberg, saying it would use “the full force of the White House press corps [to] destroy it’s reputation” if it resisted the government’s plan to abrogate their status as preferred creditors.

Robert Gibbs denied that the White House put that kind of pressure on Perella Weinberg, but nobody believes that. Obama’s defenders in the blogosphere are instead defending the right of Obama to bash corporations.

Some professional journalists are peddling the line that Perella Weinberg itself denied it. But there is no evidence of such a denial. Yes, there is a Reuters article with the headline, “Perella denies White House threat over Chrysler.” But if you read the article, you find out that what Perella Weinberg did was contradict the idea that it succumbed to White House pressure. At that point it says it realized its interests were better served by going along with the White House plan. That of course is not a denial that the threat was made exactly as Lauria described it.

Others are doing a good job of describing the many offenses against our legal system in what the Obama administration is doing here. I presume some of them will someday be featured in a bill of impeachment.

But the most chilling aspect of this has not been discussed. That is that the White House threatened to use the press corps as its agent of destruction.

And there hasn’t been a word of outcry from the nation’s press. Shouldn’t it be howling against Lauria, demanding that he retract his slander. Shouldn’t they try to protect their reputation, however tarnished?

About the best the news media have done, in some cases, is to omit the part of the accusation that involves them. For example, Neil King Jr. and Jeffrey McCracken of the Wall Street Journal simply say that Tom Lauria “accused the White House of threatening to destroy the reputation of Perella Weinberg.” They don’t mention the press’s alleged role in this.

Yes, it’s a vindication for those of us who have accused the nation’s press of losing its objectivity and being in the tank for Obama. But our country would be in a healthier state if the press still thought it desirable to deny it.

May 072009

So Great Britain is now banning some people from entering the country on the grounds that they foster extremism or hatred. By that criterion, it could ban any and all members of our Democrat Party from entering their country — even our president.

It’s interesting that this came up after an exchange I had in a now-stale thread at The American Scene, where a commenter wrote:

Hayek’s thesis is that incremental increases in the power and breadth of the state lead to authoritarianism. We have 50 years’ worth of big-government Western democracies to examine, not one has tended to authoritarianism.

My response:

They haven’t? What, exactly, is your definition of authoritarianism?


It excludes western-style democracies, at a minimum.


I think I understand. Western-style democracies have not tended towards authoritarianism, because authoritarianism excludes western-style democracies, no matter how authoritarian they have become.

And then Jacqui Smith does me the favor of providing an example. I didn’t even need to go to the trouble of bringing up that country’s anti-social behaviour orders, by which it has trashed a thousand years of progress in rule-of-law.

May 062009

I’ve been neglecting my blogs the last few days. Largely I’m using such time as I can to read Sergei Nikitich Khrushchev’s book, Nikita Khrushchev – and the creation of a superpower. It’s a real page turner. I’ve read it while lying back in the Lazy Boy, in bed, while soaking in the tub, and while shaving. I even wake up in the middle of the night to read more of it. I put it aside just now only because I want to comment on some aspects before I read the rest of it and get more information that will change my mind.

First I should point out that several years ago, when I read some excerpts in American Heritage, I wondered just how much Sergei Nikitich could really have known about his father’s political actions. I had the impression that Communists believed in subordinating family life to the party. After all, these were the people who made a martyr hero out of Pavlik Morozov, a young man who coldly (perhaps that’s a play on his name) denounced his father to the authorities and then was killed for it by his family. And even if it weren’t for that, would a Soviet dictator really have had much time for his family?

It turns out that Nikita Khrushchev had a surprising amount of time for his family, and especially for his son. He was almost always home in the evening, and part of his daily routine was to go for a walk with his son. Even after Sergei was married, this practice continued. There were things that Nikita didn’t want to talk about, but he was a voluble person. There were a lot of important issues that the two did discuss. Sergei Nikitich was not privy to what happened in his father’s Kremlin office, but was sometimes present when his father was talking business with others on the phone at home or in person. Sergei Nikitch also had important contacts in the missile industry, where he worked. And he has made use of archival information that has since become available in our country and in Russia. So it’s a big book.

Aside from the surprises (to me) about his family life, I’ve been surprised to learn that on economic and organizational matters Khrushchev seems to have been somewhat to the right of Barak Obama, at least in temperament. Instead of the constant drive to centralize functions that we are getting under Obama (and also got to some degree under Bush and Clinton) Khrushchev sometimes tried to decentralize. Missile research is an example. He had to overcome a lot of resistance to do so.

For example, he supported missile designer Sergei Pavlovich Korolyov, but didn’t want him to have a monopoly. Khruschev wanted to set up separate, autonomous groups, each with its own research institutes, design bureaus, and bases. Korolyov’s idea was to instead make a hierarchical organization with separate branches. Sergei describes his father’s reaction to this (on pages 217-218):

Father admired Sergei Pavlovich’s drive and powers of concentration, but didn’t agree with him in everything. He objected to the idea of branches. He thought that the newly created organizations should be fully independent, both financially and in their research.

“I know you. You’ll give them some minor jobs and they’ll wind up spending their lives as assistants. We want to create competitors for you, so they’ll keep you awake,” joked Father.

I wish we had people in our own presidential leadership who had insights like that, e.g. in dealing with the auto industry. But I suppose it’s worth keeping in mind that Nikita Khruschev was desposed in 1964 by people who had a temperament more like Obama’s.