Having watched HBO‘s “John Adams“ twice now, I have these observations to make on the production.
First, it was a conscientious, honest within their lights docudrama by Tom Hanks and his co-producers, with casting, directing, acting, and other cinematographic qualities rarely equaled in other contemporary movies, whether made for TV or for the big screen. Its paramount value, however, is that it approached the origins of the American Revolution in terms of dramatizing the fundamental reasons why it happened through the vehicle of John Adams’ thoughts and political career.
It was a brilliant stroke of storytelling to begin it with Adams’ defense of British Captain Preston and his men in court after the Boston Massacre in 1770, and not with Adams’ life before that episode, because it was then that Adams’ character was delineated and subsequently built and expanded upon throughout the rest of the series. He was introduced as a mature, adult thinker with a core set of values and it was shown throughout the story what he did about them.
But, the problem with docudramas is that they are governed by the same artistic philosophy as governs fiction, in that a director of a docudrama must also exercise Ayn Rand’s maxim of an artist’s adhering to a “selective recreation of reality according to his metaphysical value judgments.” Much was left out of Adams’ life, and much included that was distracting or skewed. The tar-and-feathering of the Boston port officer in Part I, although violently realistic and informative (too realistic, for that matter), was of less importance vis-à-vis the idea of the Revolution than the subsequent Boston Tea Party, which was not shown but merely reported in dialogue.
And, in Part 7, which depicted the death of Abigail Adams, we are left with the impression that she died still bearing an animus for Thomas Jefferson (for his alleged and unresolved cabal in the story against Adams while he was president) and that John Adams had not yet renewed his friendship and correspondence with Jefferson, when in fact both of the Adamses had been by that time, at the suggestion of Dr. Rush, corresponding in friendship with him for years.
Also in Part 7, John Trumbull, the painter, was characterized as a witless, posturing cretin left stammering in reply to Adams’ objections to his masterwork, the Declaration of Independence, neither man able to see the value of the painting’s tableau as a dramatic symbol of an epochal event. I do not know what Adams’ actual evaluation of the painting was, but Trumbull was a professional painter and portrait artist and he surely would have known what he had created, and been able to defend his work in answer to Adams’ petty, pedantic objections to the painting, as was shown in the scene.
In fact, that particular scene could be taken as the summation of the whole series, with Adams volubly, sarcastically, and abusively protesting the apotheoses of the event and of the men who signed the Declaration in 1776 by Trumbull, as an expression of the naturalistic premises of the director and producers of the series, as opposed to their absent Romantic ones. Why go to the trouble of shooting that scene, unless it was with the intention of detracting from the significance of the event and compromising the stature of the Declaration‘s signers?
Stephen Dillane’s portrayal of Jefferson was the most troubling. Having read much of Jefferson’s writings and life, I could not purchase the actor’s portrayal of Jefferson as a dreamy, distant, evasive man driven by ulterior motives, when in fact, after the Stamp Act Crisis of 1765-66, he abandoned his original goal of becoming a successful, contented planter/lawyer and became passionately committed to liberty for the rest of his life.
Paul Giamatti’s John Adams was earthy and realistic -- in many instances overly so -- but his performance was more than compensated by his articulate delivery of Adams’ political thinking and arguments. One of the best episodes was Adams’ introduction by Benjamin Franklin to the effete and patronizing French court and aristocracy. Franklin’s portrayal, however, was offensively incredible. Certainly Franklin was a bon vivant and womanizer in London and Paris, but in fact, he was also a germinal political thinker besides an inventor, but the series’ picture of him was that he was a preoccupied, opportunistic, pragmatic hedonist too reminiscent of a non-intellectual Bill Clinton (excuse the redundancy).
Laura Linney’s Abigail Adams was certainly credible and attractive, but the series focused too much on her purported influence on her husband John’s career. That influence relied heavily on dialogue between the characters, but was presented as fact. “Facts are stubborn things,” Adams says during the Boston Massacre trial, but what Abigail and John Adams actually said to each other at any point in their lives is largely unrecorded and so cannot be facts presented as such. This is one of the chief weaknesses of a docudrama, no matter how exquisitely realistic it is made or how closely it hovers on the shore of truth.
Nevertheless, the repartee between John and Abigail was far above what passes for intelligent dialogue on TV or in most movies.
The actor who played George Washington was too silently wooden and too reserved. Washington in fact could curse like a sailor when provoked (as he did often during the French and Indian War and the Revolution), but was also able to express his political views with clarity and precision. The producers and director missed an opportunity to dramatize his refusal to be made a monarch, an action John Adams would have applauded and an event that would have meshed perfectly with the series‘ theme. Finally, among other incongruities, the actor who played George the Third in the scene in which Adams is received by the monarch as the first American ambassador to Great Britain, was far too young, when by that time George would have been middle-aged (and taller). In that scene, he was more like a petulant, spoiled teenager having difficulty organizing his thoughts.
In summary, while I enjoyed “John Adams” enough to watch it twice, and will probably again, the series left a great deal to be desired, and a slightly bad taste in my mouth. I had nearly the same reaction to it as I had when I first saw David Lean’s “Lawrence of Arabia” decades ago: What potential there is in filmmaking! What great stories could be told in the hands of able directors and screenwriters, if only they had the material! It was that film, after all, which convinced me that I must be a novelist. And the story that kept coming to mind as I watched the docudrama “John Adams” was the novel “Sparrowhawk,” which, as a series or as a three-part feature film (à la “Harry Potter” or “Lord of the Rings”), would have done far greater justice to the Founders and the ideas that animated them and to the pre-Revolutionary period than any film produced in the past.
I know for a fact that many people who have read “Sparrowhawk” not only esteem the story, but at this moment know or have a glimmering idea of how much has been lost since Adams’ and Jefferson’s time, and how much must be regained before completing the Revolution, and view with dread or disgust the current contest for the presidency of this country.
Such readers have proven Aristotle’s observation that fiction is more important than history, because it shows men and events as they might and ought to be, rather than how they supposedly “really” were.
Saudi cleric Abd Al-'Aziz Fawzan Al-Fawzan says so, according to an interview transcribed by MEMRI.
"America is Collapsing, According to the Same Scenario of the Russian Collapse"
Abd Al-'Aziz Fawzan Al-Fawzan: "A few years ago, the Socialist Communist system ended in a devastating collapse, and it was followed by the Soviet republics one after another. Russia gave up its competition against American hegemony, and the United States became the unipolar leader ruling the world.
"Now, Allah be praised, America is collapsing, according to the same scenario of the Russian collapse.
"This tremendous economic power, which is unparalleled in history, was bound to collapse one day because it is based on injustice.
"Will the West acknowledge the collapse of capitalism? I am convinced that they will not. We are used to their obstinacy and arrogance. They always turn the facts upside down...
Interviewer: "But they will have to admit..."
Abd Al-‘Aziz Fawzan Al-Fawzan: "Now they have begun to adopt the principles of Islamic economy – only they do not call it "Islamic." The prohibition on short selling, the prohibition on the expanding and the selling of debts – this is Islam!" [...] [Full interview here]
I think our Saudi cleric friend is on to something here. The prohibitions on certain market transactions do draw upon the history of faith-based bans on money-lending and the like. And while not explicitly religious, the ban on short selling is a stunning example of altruism in action (as well as a brazen assault on self-interest). I guess if America can't be an Islamic republic, it can be made to be as poor as one.
Invoking the novelist Ayn Rand, Gov. Paterson yesterday sounded a conservative message of tax cuts, business development, and fiscal restraint before Congress - even as he sought billions of federal dollars to help the state cope with its massive looming deficits.
. . . Paterson cited Rand, a libertarian icon, and her best-seller "The Fountainhead," noting the novel proclaimed that "our country, the greatest country in the world, was founded on the basis of individuals, where people were encouraged to adventure, not to be complacent; to be daring, not dormant; to prosper, not to plunder."
He went on to say that a failure to live by those principles, combined with a lack of transparency and governmental oversight, had "brought us to the point where our nation faces a downturn in its economy only rivaled by the Great Depression."
The aericle goes on to describe how Paterson then proceeded to ask for more federal money for New York.
I have to admit, I simply find it amusing that Ayn Rand's name got a mention in a New York Post headline. I don't know where Patterson is getting the idea that Rand advocated federal favors for the states, but hey, it's still a New York Post mention and as everybody knows, the Post is the world's greatest newspaper, ever. And there you have it.
Granting that The New York Times is still the nation's newspaper of record, in spite of its notorious left-liberal bias, its commitment to fabricating news when not reporting much news fit to print, and its abandonment of all pretence of objective journalism, it would be fair to claim that it speaks for presidential candidate Barack Obama, for the Democrats, for most Republicans, and for every collectivist and altruist who ever wished he was in charge of "running" the country so that he could pilot it in his own preferred direction.
For decades the paper has served as the unofficial house organ of Big Brother, vetting and approving in the best "democratic" tradition and with few reservations every federal program that answered the needs and demands of virtually every parasitical group that has voiced them. On October 24 it endorsed Obama and explicated the reasons why the South Side Chicago Messiah should govern the nation. What follows are rebuttals to some of the paper's main editorial assertions, together with an explanation of each as a form of line-item veto:
"The United States is battered and drifting after eight years of President Bush's failed leadership." True, the U.S. is battered and drifting, but why is it battered and in which direction has it been drifting, and for how long has it been in that condition? The absence of a competent captain can be arguably plotted as far back as JFK and can include him and every president since him, including Bill Clinton and the two Bushes. The direction has been towards fascism, the "f" word no one dares let escape from his lips or onto the front or editorial page lest it send the electorate into a panic or at least alert its more discerning members to the means and ends of proposed policies (modern journalists consistently exercising the rule of thumb that if one refuses to identify a thing, it can't exist or isn't real). George W. Bush is merely the latest anti-intellectual, morally rudderless captain, one who has charted the course of his ship of state, not by calculating longitude and latitude by the position of the stars, but rather by consulting his political horoscope, a ghost, and a popularity poll.
"After nearly two years of a grueling and ugly campaign, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois has proved that he is the right choice to be the 44th president of the United States." Grueling? One supposes it must be grueling, flying around the country on someone else's dime and going hoarse repeating the same banalities to crowds of awestruck, dumbed-down Americans whom one is certain he secretly despises. Ugly? The campaign has been not so much ugly as enervating in the dishonesty of all the candidates and in the absence of any discussion of fundamental political and moral issues. And, as far as Senator Obama having proven that he is the right choice, that is because the Times agrees with his plans to reinvent America as a European-style welfare state, even though Obama's rhetoric is deceptively vacuous -- deceptively, because Obama is a master of Orwellian double-speak. Ergo, he is the right choice.
"Given the particularly ugly nature of Mr. McCain's campaign, the urge to choose on the basis of raw emotion is strong." And the Times has apparently succumbed to that urge. The paper accuses McCain of "running a campaign on partisan division, class warfare and even hints of racism." Here the paper confesses that it is the one-eyed man leading the halt and the blind, because Obama's campaign has been nothing but a theme of partisan division (those damned Republicans will just give you four more years of Bush!), class warfare (soak the rich, or anyone making more than $250,000 a year), and racism (I am posing as "black" even though I'm about 90% "Arab" or more or less Semite).
John McCain, on the other hand, cannot be credibly accused of running an "ugly" campaign, which instead has been meek, mild and wall-flowerish. McCain has stubbornly refused to hammer Obama with the facts of his sordid record of service to the worst of the masses before he entered the Illinois senate and after that. If his advisors and speech writers had any imagination, McCain would have at some point said something like, "Senator Obama is William Ayers' vengeance on a country they both hate and wish to destroy through 'change.' Barack Obama in the White House would be more destructive than any bomb assembled by Ayers and his fellow terrorists years ago."
McCain has not once insinuated that he actually shares Obama's political philosophy, that America, not Washington, is in need of change, and that the best vehicle of change is Washington. He and Obama view themselves as modern versions of Plato's guardians, ready to inform the ignorant minions below of the best course of action and the best direction to take, not as individuals, but en masse. McCain cannot hurl stones at Obama's glass house in respect to corruption, being beholden to special interests, and his own brand of national socialism without inviting a barrage of stones hurled in reply. If the Times had any perceptive editors imbued with a smidgen of honesty, the paper would have pointed this out a year ago and endorsed neither man.
However, the Times has an odd notion of what is "ugly." "Ugly," to the paper, is naming issues and engaging in ideological dispute. The few times McCain has ventured to broach Obama's Marxist, socialist background, including Obama's relationship with William Ayers, the Weatherman terrorist, and his association with ACORN and un-probed connections with some Islamists, he has been slapped down by the news media, and has backed off. If "Joe the Plumber" Wurzelbacher had not spoken back to Obama outside Toledo, Ohio and questioned the meaning of his rhetoric, and if Obama had not committed the revealing gaffe of replying to Joe that he wants to "spread the wealth," McCain would have had little else to say for the balance of the campaign. By the criteria of the Times, Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, and most of the Founders engaged in "ugly" campaigns for liberty and against tyranny.
"The American financial system is the victim of decades of Republican deregulatory and anti-tax policies." No, it is a victim of regulatory and tax policies proposed, endorsed, and supported by Democrats and Republicans alike for decades -- nay, for nearly a century. The trouble began with the creation of the Federal Reserve in 1913 with the power to "manage," "fine tune," and manipulate the economy according to the crisis of the moment, in conjunction with Treasury Department policies and the eclectic agenda of whoever occupied the White House or sat in Congress.
"Both candidates talk about repairing America's image in the world. But it seems clear to us that Mr. Obama is far more likely to do that -- and not just because the first black president would present a new face to the world...Mr. Obama wants to reform the United Nations, while Mr. McCain wants to create a new entity, the League of Democracies -- a move that would incite even fiercer anti-American furies around the world." Like a high school ingénue, the Times obviously is concerned about whether or not the world likes America. There was a time when most of the world respected it, if not from admiration, then from a knowledge that America was not a country to be toyed with. That is not what the Times means. The Times means that America should aspire to be just another one of the guys, a socialist paradise that cares for its citizens and entertains no presumption of superiority because it is still freer and better off than other countries.
It would be interesting to know how Obama would "reform" a club of tyrants, looters, medieval monarchies, dictatorships, slave states, and ninety-pound collectivist weaklings, when they are all living off the largesse of American productivity and tax revenues and so see no need for reform. The United Nations can be best reformed by America leaving it and evicting it from American soil to headquarter in friendlier climes, but doubtless Obama would simply offer it more money in exchange for more smiles. McCain's League of Democracies idea is equally harebrained. Apparently neither he nor the Times has any acquaintance with the League of Nations and just how efficacious it was in putting the cuffs on Hitler, Mussolini, and other tyrants.
"The next president will have the chance to appoint one or more justices to a Supreme Court that is on the brink of being dominated by a radical right wing. Mr. Obama may appoint less liberal judges than some of his followers might like, but Mr. McCain is certain to pick rigid ideologues." The Times, of course, does not define what it means by a "radical right wing," but implies that such a movement is scary and undesirable. It has eluded the paper's editors all these decades that there is nothing "radical" about the right wing; it is religious and traditionalist, on a par with Ralph Kramden's Raccoon Lodge or Groucho Marx's Knights of Pythia. And, what are "liberal" judges if not left wing, and very rigid in their own ideology?
"Under Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the justice system and the separation of powers have come under relentless attack. Mr. Bush chose to exploit the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, the moment in which he looked like the president of a unified nation, to try to place himself above the law." This is all true, except that the "tragedy" of Sept. 11 was a declaration of war by Islamists, which Mr. Bush admitted but did nothing about except to commit the country's blood and treasure to spreading "democracy" in places that were already practicing it in theocratic and secular tyrannies, and in the meantime laying the groundwork for a thorough-going police state in this country.
But, to the Times, President Bush placing himself above the law somehow differs morally from Mr. Obama wishing to place himself above the law. It is not known what McCain thinks of the Constitution or the Bill of Rights, except that he believes in violating the freedom of speech, but Obama has stated in public that he regrets that the Founders placed limitations on government power, and that these limitations are a fundamental flaw. Obama's campaign has telegraphed how his administration would deal with any newspaper or radio station that questions his character, record, affiliations, or intentions. For the time being that action is limited to harassment, intimidation, and black-listing. With the cooperation of a Democratic Congress, Obama would employ not only a revived Fairness Doctrine, but other legislative and extra-legislative means as well, to silence free speech and make virtually every political utterance a "hate crime."
For the Times to express concern about the Constitution and the Bill of Rights is laughable, since the paper would applaud their being finally torn up and the pieces tossed into its notion of the dust bin of history, and replaced with an Obama-style "social contract," which would be indistinguishable from a McCain one.
"This country needs sensible leadership, compassionate leadership, honest leadership, and strong leadership. Barack Obama has shown that he has all those qualities." Well, John McCain has also shown that he has them. Woe to anyone who states that he doesn't want leadership, but to be left alone to live his own life. The Times does not go into much detail -- just as neither Obama nor McCain has dared go into much detail, but they are on the same path -- about where that leadership would lead the country. But all indications, and all evidence, comprehended by cool observation not swayed by raw emotion but by a rigorous fealty to facts, make it certain that it would be to a place the Times would too late disapprove of: censorship and totalitarianism.
But perhaps the Times would not mind that at all. It would, after all, be the newspaper of record, serving for other newspapers and the news media as the touchstone of official and correct thinking, not to be questioned or deviated from, and taking its guidance from its imperious masters.
Just like Winston Smith's Times in Nineteen Eighty-Four.
A short op-ed I wrote for Fox News' Fox Forum on the threat either a McCain or Obama presidency poses to freedom is the featured commentary for the weekend. I argued that both Obama and McCain are "equally dangerous for economic freedom in America" and that "on every question, both men share the same corrupt moral premise, differing only in degree and their particular focus."
I encourage you to leave a comment there adding your own thoughts.
The headlines chortled around the world: "Greenspan at the Capitol: A hero no more" -- "Greenspan takes a hit" -- "Greenspan: I was wrong about the economy, sort of..." -- "Ex-Fed chairman concedes 'mistake'" -- "House panel heaps blame on Alan Greenspan for financial crisis" -- "Greenspan 'shocked' that free markets are flawed."
Representative Henry Waxman (D-Calif), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, managed to sneer, drool and look sanctimonious at the same time. "My question for you is simple," he asked a subdued Alan Greenspan, former head of the Federal Reserve. "Were you wrong?"
Greenspan answered meekly, "Well, partly."
Greenspan was interrogated by the House committee on October 24. He said he was wrong that deregulation and free markets were the most efficacious means of sustaining a viable economy.
"Badgered by lawmakers, the former Federal Reserve chairman found himself denying the nation's economic crisis was his fault on Thursday but conceding the meltdown had revealed a flaw in a lifetime of economic thinking and had left him in a 'state of shocked disbelief.'"
The question is: How would he know that free markets and deregulation of them would be the most efficacious means of sustaining the economy? He abandoned the free market when he became head of the Federal Reserve. Perhaps when he chose to accept that job, he imagined he could save free enterprise from the depredations of the government. Now he knows the consequences of compromise.
"Greenspan, who stepped down [as Federal Reserve chief] in 2006, acknowledged under questioning that he had made a 'mistake' in believing that banks, operating in their own self-interest, would do what was necessary to protect their shareholders and institutions....
"He said the boom in subprime lending occurred because of the huge demand for investment opportunities in a global economy, and he blamed the crash on a failure by investors to properly assess the risks from such mortgages, which went to borrowers with weak credit...On the billions of dollars of losses suffered by financial institutions because of their investments in subprime mortgages, Greenspan said he had been shocked by the failure of banking officials to protect their shareholders from bad loan decisions.
"'A critical pillar to market competition and free markets did break down,' Greenspan said. 'I still do not understand why it happened.'"
Greenspan called the role of self-interest and rationality "a flaw in the model...that defines how the world works."
The true "flaw" in Greenspan's thinking is that it was not a "free market" he and Congressional policies were "managing" or "mismanaging," but one defined by government intervention. The government decided that individuals with weak credit should be able to borrow money to buy homes. The only way it could persuade banks and other private institutions to loan that money was with force or the fear of it. Reason and rationality flee when force becomes a factor in men's decisions, to be replaced with the pragmatism of punishment-avoidance or a risk-free shot at easy money.
The "critical pillar" Greenspan claimed broke down that was missing from the foundation of the subprime house of cards was the principle of the trader.
Writing about the dangers and mechanics of the welfare state, Ayn Rand, Greenspan's former protégé, noted in The Ayn Rand Letter, in her article, "A Preview," that
"...Altruism feeds the first need [in this instance, the need of the poor for subprime mortgages], statism feeds the second [in this instance, the need of power-seekers, such as Paulson, Bernanke, Waxman et al.]. Pragmatism blinds everyone -- including victims and profiteers -- not merely to the deadly nature of the process, but even to the fact that a process is going on."
Which would explain why Greenspan was so "shocked."
As Fed chairman, Greenspan defended subprime mortgages from regulation or oversight. He should have been the first to oppose the idea that the government should make them possible. Chickens are not coming home to roost on Greenspan's shoulder, but turkey buzzards gathering to pick at the corpse of free markets. And the most gleeful buzzard was Henry Waxman.
"You had the authority to prevent irresponsible lending practices that led to the subprime-mortgage crisis. You were advised to do so by many others. And now our whole economy is paying its price. Do you feel that your ideology pushed you to make decisions that you wish you had not made?"
Not a word was whispered by any of the Committee members about the possibility that perhaps the government should not have been encouraging and guaranteeing bad mortgages to any private financial institution, and that if any blame for irresponsibility is to be assigned to any quarter, it should be to the ideology subscribed to by a multitude of Congressmen, including Waxman, who endorsed the policy. Their statist ideology has "pushed" them to regulate the economy for the past century. While looking for a scapegoat or someone to blame, Congress, a succession of presidents, and innumerable bureaucrats and regulators will search everywhere but in their own houses and in their own ideologies.
Greenspan, in the past, and while being given the third degree by the House committee, forgot that ideologies that are "partly" right and "partly" wrong must be, in practice, entirely wrong, and that, in the long run, the "wrong" premises will become the leitmotif of that ideology.
During that interrogation, Greenspan recanted his belief in free markets:
"...[H]e defended the Fed's ability to detect economic trends, saying it was better than that of the private sector. 'If all those extraordinarily capable people were unable to foresee the development of this critical problem...I think we have to ask ourselves why is that?...And the answer is that we're not smart enough as people. We just cannot see that far in advance.'"
That lack of omniscience is the practical reason why he should never have accepted the job of chairman of the Federal Reserve. And, apparently, all throughout his career, he either never made the connection between the moral and the practical, or he discarded the connection as mere "ideology" because it stood in the way of his "good intentions."
Thus, Greenspan handed the Democrats and sundry statists of all persuasions what they need to impose more government controls on an economy already crippled by their past policies. What Waxman asked was what Ayn Rand might have called a "package deal" question, which Greenspan failed either to detect, question or qualify in his answer. Waxman, a career statist and point man in the House for the total welfare state, got what he and others on the House committee sought: a putative repudiation of free markets, and, by necessity, of freedom.
No sympathy should be wasted on Greenspan. He did what John Galt in Atlas Shrugged refused to do even at the point of a gun and under physical torture: he agreed to become an economic dictator of the country. Nor was he threatened with torture or death as Galileo was when he was forced by the Church to recant his theory of the solar system. Of all the economists who have advised various administrations over the last century, Greenspan had the least excuse for advocating statist economics.
When he accepted the appointment by President Ronald Reagan in 1987 to become Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Greenspan "legitimatized" or sanctioned the idea that the government should "manage" the economy with "rational" interventions. Now he may see the true "flaw" in his "good intentions" and what those intentions have inexorably wrought: a greater destruction of freedom and wealth than he admits he could have imagined.
Now he may understand how and why it could have happened.
Welcome to the October 23rd, 2008 edition of the Objectivist Round-Up. This week presents insight and analyses written by authors who are animated by Objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand. According to Ayn Rand:
My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.
So without any further delay (and in no particular order), here's this week's round-up:
Kevin McAllister presents Network Neutrality posted at Logical Disconnect, saying, "Having built networks for years nothing makes my blood boil more than the clamoring for "freedom" through government oversight."
Paul McKeever presents Banking and Morality: 100% Reserve versus “Fractional” Reserves posted at Paul McKeever, saying, "the issue of the ethics of reserve requirements in bank lending has been largely neglected in the Objectivist literature. This is a response to a YouTube advocate of libertarian/anarcho-capitalist "free banking" who thinks Objectivists ought not to condemn the fractional reserve system, and who thinks that everything would be fine if we just got rid of central banks."
Rob Abiera presents My latest LTE posted at The Morality War, saying, "My effort to take advantage of an opportunity to counter the message that the economic crisis was caused by selfish greed comes to naught when my letter to my local paper is returned unread because it's over the word limit!"
Ari Armstrong presents Amendment 48: Burton's Equivocation posted at AriArmstrong.com, saying, "Kristi Burton, sponsor of the measure that would define a fertilized egg as a person in Colorado's constitution, continues to ignore the relevant biological facts and the legal implications of the measure."
Diana Hsieh presents Diana Hsieh in the New York Times posted at NoodleFood, saying, "The Coalition for Secular Government makes a brief appearance in a a New York Times "On Religion" column about Colorado's Amendment 48."
C. August presents Goodbye Gridlock posted at The Rule of Reason, saying, "With a looming supermajority from the Left, are we about to see a new New Deal play out with Obama as the 'new and improved' FDR?"
C. August presents Obama's Greenmail and Growing Glaciers posted at Titanic Deck Chairs, saying, "While a President Obama has plans to use the threat of disastrous EPA regulations to blackmail Congress into passing cap-and-trade, there is growing physical evidence that the globe isn't about melt. Would anyone care to lay odds on whether that will have any impact?"
Peter Cresswell presents Nasty, brutish - and as stupid as a political journalist posted at Not PC, saying, "When alleged economist Paul Krugman Paul Krugman got a Nobel award for earlier more rational work, most of us knew the prestige of the Nobel would be used to promote his current theme: the alleged horrors of economic freedom; and his favourite prescription: the need for bigger, more interventionist government. Who would have thought the leaders of bigger, more interventionist governments would embrace his prescription so quickly!"
Edward Cline presents Ayn Rand Avenged posted at The Rule of Reason, saying, "Answering the engineered takeover of the economy by the federal government is an unprecedented cultural phenomenon: People who read Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged years ago and dismissed it but now see the parallels are filled with trepidation. All are now realizing that “the end is near.” But, the end of what?"
Rational Jenn presents The AJC Gets It Dead Right posted at Rational Jenn, saying, "I think I'm finally figuring out that most politicians don't use words to express actual ideas. I know--I'm a little slow on the uptake here."
Kendall Justiniano presents My Hero Anna Schwartz posted at The Crucible & Column, saying, "Milton Friedman's co-author of the influential "A Monetary History of the United States" weighs in on the financial crisis and makes so many good points that she hits not a double or a triple, but knocks it out of the park for a... a... what do you call it when you get to fifth base? I love you Anna!"
Gus Van Horn presents Law Promotes Discrimination posted at Gus Van Horn, saying, "Anti-discrimination laws are not just immoral. They are achieving the opposite of their intended purpose even as they are being commandeered by America's enemies for 'legal jihad'.
It is my pleasure to announce that the Center for the Advancement of Capitalism has been enrolled as an expert at Opposing Views. According to their website:
Opposing Views helps you uncover all sides of the issues you care about most. Here at http://www.opposingviews.com/, experts go head-to-head on real-life concerns, debating news and events, addressing the questions that keep you up at night. We introduce the questions, the experts present their cases (and disagree with each other), and you leave ready to make well-informed decisions and take action.
Each section of http://www.opposingviews.com/ is a channel, including politics, society, health, money, and religion. Our point/counter-point format gives each expert a chance to state their information and opinions on an issue. Meanwhile, the other side objects by calling out the flaws in that information, and then states their own side. Opposing Views brings together the information on the issue, the evidence on each side and their counter-points.
The hundreds of known and credible experts, opinion leaders and advocate groups include: the Obama Campaign, the McCain campaign, the National Rifle Association (NRA), People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), The Sierra Club and Amnesty International, as well as individuals who are authorities on issues of current consumer interest. Collectively, these partner organizations already have been cited as authorities on their topics.
I am excited because this allows us to present Objectivist arguments before our opponents in a respectful and well-run forum visited by thousands of readers every day. Our first debate on the question of a nuclear Iran is already live and can be seen here.
Book Review: The Cure: How Capitalism Can Save American Health Care by David Gratzer
Posted by DarkWaters at 2:20 PM
The Cure: How Capitalism Can Save American Health Care is an excellent resource on health care economics and the history of health care policy. The author is a free market economist, a physician and a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. This book has been endorsed by Milton Friedman so should be of appeal to free market advocates. Like much of Friedman's works, Gratzer's arguments sometimes come off as pragmatic and lack the sound moral arguments for laissez-faire capitalism that only Objectivism can provide. However, like Friedman, Gratzer provides many compelling economic arguments and offers a wealth of useful facts.
Dr. Gratzer persuasively argues that the fundamental problem with U.S. health care is too much government regulation. To argue this, Dr. Gratzer first notes how the employer-based health coverage arose as an unintended side effect of a tax law, which allowed employers to write off health care expenditures for their employees. Moreover, Dr. Gratzer argues that both Democrats and Republicans have both essentially offered more government regulation as the solution to health care, which has not worked. The Democrats, such as the LBJ Administration, promoted enormously inefficient programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. The Republicans, have promoted bureaucratic HMOs, which have led to similar large-scale inefficiencies.
Driving this point further, Dr. Gratzer greatly details the harmful economic consequences of government regulations in health care. For example, the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) forbids hospitals from denying any patient for emergency care. The economic reality is that this leads to hospitals suffering economic losses by being forced to treat patients, regardless of if they can pay for the care, which ultimately leads to the closing of hospitals. Furthermore, insurance mandates, such as benefit mandates, rating mandates and bans on out-of-state insurance, restrict competition and lead to higher insurance premiums. Dr. Gratzer also thorough analyzes the harmful economic consequences of the FDA, Medicare, Medicaid and much more.
This book also dispels many common myths about the quality of U.S. health care. For example, statistics are often cited to argue that Canadians and/or Europeans have higher life expectancies than U.S. citizens. Dr. Gratzer argues that such studies mistakenly compare statistics on *health* when they should be on *health care*. There numerous lifestyle habits that differ between cultures, such as frequency of exercise and diet, which effect health. Dr. Gratzer proposes examining statistics on cardiac arrest patients, to see which country offers better treatment. In these respects, Dr. Gratzer argues that the U.S. system is clearly superior to its universal health care counterparts.
As one can infer, Dr. Gratzer proposes free market solutions to fix American health care. Specifically, he proposes drastically reducing the various regulatory excesses that he delineates throughout his book as well as embracing Health Savings Accounts. As always, Dr. Gratzer corroborates his arguments with real-world success stories, such as the success of Whole Foods' adoption of HSAs for its employees.
I highly recommend this book to all Objectivists with an interest in economics, health care policy or general intellectual activism on matters of politics.
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You know you have waited all week for it and here it is: it's time for the RoR open thread. To kick off the discussion, here's the unhappy question that I've been struggling over: are we looking at a two to three year recession, or a ten year depression?
In the current political and ideological climate, where increasing statism is the major trend, the ideal situation in Washington is gridlock. Because nearly every action taken by the government makes things worse and further attacks our freedoms, a gridlocked Congress and Executive is the best we can hope for.
We have consistently had some amount of gridlock since the mid-60s, with either a mixed majority in Congress, a president of a different party than the Congressional majority, or at least, as in the Clinton era, a Senate capable of filibustering.
It seems that's about to change.
Democrats are poised to take the presidency, and make major gains in both houses of Congress. It now appears that a liberal supermajority -- making even a Senate filibuster impossible -- is not only possible but likely.
A frightening editorial in the Wall Street Journal details what we might expect from such a supermajority:
A strongly Democratic Congress is now likely to lay the final flagstones on the path to government-run health insurance from cradle to grave.
...Democrats could cause the economic downturn to last longer than it otherwise will by enacting regulatory overkill like Sarbanes-Oxley.
A tax-and-regulation scheme in the name of climate change is a top left-wing priority.... Without the GOP votes to help stage a filibuster, Senators from carbon-intensive states would have less ability to temper coastal liberals who answer to the green elites.
A liberal supermajority would move quickly to impose procedural advantages that could cement Democratic rule for years to come. ...the Fairness Doctrine is likely to be reimposed either by Congress or the Obama FCC. A major goal of the supermajority left would be to shut down talk radio and other voices of political opposition.
This is just a sampling of the terrible possibilities our country will face if the Democrats become filibuster- and veto-proof. I find it necessary to state here that I would be equally concerned if a religious conservative president was elected when Republicans were poised on grabbing a supermajority. Neither party is a friend of liberty. But we have historical precedent to show us what happens when the Left takes over completely.
The WSJ article ends with the following chilling paragraph:
In both 1933 and 1965, liberal majorities imposed vast expansions of government that have never been repealed, and the current financial panic may give today's left another pretext to return to those heydays of welfare-state liberalism. Americans voting for "change" should know they may get far more than they ever imagined. [bold added]
As I mentioned elsewhere, it is possible that Obama could play FDR to Bush's Hoover, and we could see a New New Deal in the coming years. Laws that were passed in the 1930s are still hurting us today, and helped lay the groundwork for the current financial crisis. Hopefully America will retain enough of its sense of life and core respect for individual rights -- its very American-ness -- through the next 4 or 8 years to come out on the other side, ready to rebuild.
Key to the rebuilding effort will be laying the ideological foundation now, by loudly and consistently making the case for capitalism as the only moral and practical political system.
As Ed Cline's Sparrowhawk series demonstrated, it was the revolution in men's minds, decades before any shots were fired, that made the American Revolution possible. As the drumbeat of statist attacks on liberty grows louder and louder, nothing short of that type of philosophical revolution will be enough to combat it.
Answering the engineered takeover of the economy by the federal government is an unprecedented cultural phenomenon: People who read Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged years ago and dismissed it but now see the parallels are filled with trepidation. The people who read Granville Hicks’ review of it in The New York Times in October 1957 and agreed with his estimate of the novel, a work whose literary value he also denied, can no longer think that it was a “parable of buried talents.” People who read the novel decades ago and never questioned its truth are issuing warnings about the parallels between the novel and current events. And people who have read the novel only recently are seeing its plot unfold before their very eyes. All are now realizing that “the end is near.” But, the end of what?
For the time being, the end of freedom. Hopefully, that time will be short. But if Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson can demand that bankers sign a “gift certificate” under the threat of blackmail or extortion -- like the one industrialist Henry Rearden in the novel was compelled to sign -- then the real world plot is advancing chapter by chapter to a climax whose timetable and resolution will depend on how much freedom Americans are willing to surrender and how much they are willing to endure servitude and impoverishment in the name of “stability,” “community” or “patriotism.”
In editorials, columns, and letters to the editor, Rand is suddenly being remembered as a philosophical soothsayer. The occasion? Chickens coming home to roost. Justice rearing its awful head. The bankruptcy of not only government-regulated economies and government policies, but of their altruist and collectivist foundations. Everything Rand ever said and wrote about the perils of statism is coming to pass.
Is it the Erinyes or the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse galloping over the earth, wreaking carnage and tribulation among the wicked and innocent alike, leaving a trail of conquest, famine, slaughter, and death?
What unleashed them? The irrational. The quest for the unearned. A murderous envy for man the free, volitional being. A hatred of existence.
What can defeat the Four Horsemen? What can satisfy the Furies to send them back to the underworld? Objective reality, reason, self-interest, and capitalism (also known as: metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and politics). Anyone who has subscribed to Objectivism and remained consistent with its tenets is now in the place of the novel’s hero, John Galt, watching the chaos engulf the earth. That person and many others like him will not be much touched or harmed by the Horsemen. It is not their Apocalypse, but that of those who conducted their lives by denying objective reality, denigrating reason, damning self-interest, and condemning capitalism; that of anyone who did not concern himself with cause and effect, or with thinking in principles, or who complained about selfishness, and accepted the second-hand mantra that free minds and free markets were unfair, unconnected, or unnecessary to his existence.
The instances of the letters and articles that say “I told you so” are too numerous to cite here. Two, however, are noteworthy. One letter, by Iwan Price-Evans, appeared in the Daily Telegraph (London).
“…[I]t is startling how prescient was her novel Atlas Shrugged. There is the socially responsible banker who went bust because he gave loans to those who needed them, rather than to those who could afford them. There’s the government regulation and takeovers to ensure that failed businesses keep going. There’s the unthinking desire to cling to ‘stability,’ and the consensus that it is a global problem and everyone must pull together for the common good.
“All is in denial of reality, a rejection of reason. Result: the rational is distrusted; men are guilty of being ‘unfair’ if they value competence and ‘unfeeling’ if they refuse to indulge failure. The individual is subordinated to the national, and the national to the international. If Rand is right thus far, what of the years ahead? Perhaps the motor of the world is stopping.”
The second instance was a startling essay on the bailout in the October 2nd edition of The Virginia Gazette, “We should all go on strike,” by a local entrepreneur, Matthew Webb. Obviously influenced by Atlas Shrugged, Webb opens with:
“We should not have passed the bailout. Why? First, the sky clearly was not falling, at least until they did pass it, and the market has since plunged.
“Second, the market would have taken care of itself. We needed to correct this the real way, which was to let anything that really doesn’t have value be valued as such….
“Third, the government is the last entity qualified to run something as complicated as this bailout package. Name one department of government that is well run. You can’t!”
This argument would not fly with Paulson and Company. They would reply that they are trying to “do good,” and so must operate on a “higher plane” of money management -- the higher plane being the ether of nothingness, impenetrable by the likes of Mr. Webb and Joe “The Plumber” Wurzelbacher of Ohio -- because there is nothing to penetrate. The Webbs and the Wurzelbachers of the world do not count in the Paulson and Company calculations for power, nor are they even visible.
Attached to the revised bailout bill sent by the Senate back to the House were numerous pork barrel appropriations. The more notorious ones included money for Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s constituent, Star-Kist, subsidies for Puerto Rican rum producers, and subsidies for racetracks. Mr. Webb reveals another one:
“…[B]uried in the bill is the Bicycle Commuter Act (H.R. 807, S. 2635). The bill provides a tax benefit to employers who offer cash reimbursements to employees to defray costs of riding to work. Bike commuters can use the money to pay for bicycles, accessories, safety equipment, insurance, and locker or shower fees….It’s a green initiative….”
Environmentalism, of course, is now a religion questioned by neither Democrat nor Republican. It is primarily an ideology. And for all the anti-intellectualism displayed by Congress, it and the Bush administration clung to the “green” ideology. “The goal,” said Nancy Koehn, a historian at the Harvard Business School, “is to get the engine of capitalism going as productively as possible. Ideology is a luxury good in times of crisis.”
Of course, the best way to get the engine of capitalism going again is for the government to vacate the economy and swear off any and all intervention, instead of pouring molasses into its fuel tank.
Among his suggestions for “going on strike” Webb has three important ones:
“Abolish the withholding tax, where they take your money before you even see it, so you don’t think it’s actually yours….Abolish the Federal Reserve….We now see what happens when the fox rules the henhouse….Amend the Constitution so that bailouts of any private entity or industry are forbidden.”
None of that is possible today, except through a major revolution by the American people. The original Revolution was, after all, a kind of strike by the American colonists, and it was answered by the Crown with force.
My sole reservation with Mr. Webb’s essay is that the “stakeholding” device, by which Paulson demanded that the nine largest American banks sell the government “shares” in their assets, is not, as he claims, an instance of communism. It is actually fascism, by which a government goes into “partnership” with nominally private businesses, with those businesses or banks, however, taking their marching orders from the government. This is what was practiced in Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.
And which is now practiced in the United States, Britain, and most of Europe.
And, of course, Henry Paulson and Bernard Bernanke of the Federal Reserve are not alone in promoting fascism. There is Nancy Pelosi, who on the day that Congress passed the bailout, announced her own suggested contribution to the regimentation of Americans to lock-step them in a march in Obama’s or McCain’s “new direction.” Just as Hitler “stimulated” a moribund German economy by pouring money into government sponsored projects and buying off the “lower” classes with special benefits, Pelosi, according to the Associated Press on October 8, wants to create a $150 billion economic stimulus plan.
“….Pelosi said Wednesday that a $150 billion economic stimulus plan is needed now because of the faltering economy and she may call the House into session after the election to pass it….Pelosi said a stimulus package would create jobs by investing in public works, increasing food stamp benefits and extending unemployment insurance for the long-term jobless.”
All that is needed now for Pelosi, Obama, Paulson, Bernanke et al. to consolidate their power grab and scrap the Constitution completely is the equivalent of a Reichstag Fire.
The motor of the world is sputtering to a stop. There is no “perhaps” about it.
I place no importance on “national” polls on any subject, and certainly none on “local” polls or polls conducted within certain groups, such as scientists or parents or garage mechanics, not even when a poll is “positive” on a position I think is rational or proper. They are a hybrid creature of the art of statistics. Like statistics, they can be as skewed and weighted as loaded dice or marked cards. They are as trustworthy as a roulette wheel governed by a discreetly employed, out-of-sight foot pedal. Percentages generated by polls are basically meaningless, even when they are not manipulated or tilted towards an a priori conclusion. Polls and statistics ought to be put in the same retirement home for pseudo-sciences in the company of numerology, tarot cards, horoscopes, and phrenology.
In all the years I have been writing about political campaigns, not once have I been asked for my opinion by a pollster. Not on the street, not through the mail or by phone. Nor would I participate in a poll if ever asked to participate in one.
At its very best, a poll can only indicate a prevalence, prejudice or bias in a handful of individuals for or against something. A consensus held by a minuscule number of people should not be mistaken for truth or proof or for the consensus of a far larger group of people. Yet, because so many place grave, illogical importance on the significance of polls, polls are used as tools of persuasion or dissuasion. How often has one heard during the presidential campaign that Obama has an x-point lead over McCain? What is the true significance of that statement? In fact, there is none, especially when one knows that the individuals polled represent an infinitesimal fraction of the total population.
But, then, as Ayn Rand once aptly remarked, fifty million Frenchmen can be as wrong as one. Nose-counting cannot establish metaphysical or even moral truths.
Most news anchors and other teleprompter readers know this (while reading off-screen copy written by their left-liberal news writers; the papers one sees them marking up or shuffling around are meaningless props), yet they continue to cite polls in their reportage and attach to them metaphysical authority. It allows these photogenic icons to subtly promote their own favorite candidates or positions by discouraging viewers they suspect might vote for candidates the anchors dislike.
This is not journalism; it is the art of insinuation. “Don’t bother hoping for a McCain win, because according to the latest Flugelhorn and Flummery poll Obama has a 15-point lead, and is a shoo-in come November. Unless you switch your vote to Obama, you shouldn’t even bother casting a ballot.” I say this without voicing any preference for McCain or Obama, both of whom are despicable statists who have demonstrated as much understanding of America and the principles on which it was founded as George the Third. Or George W. Bush.
I would discourage people from voting at all (as a friend once remarked to me, voting only encourages the politicians) in order to give the winner the least possible mandate to govern and intrude into one’s life. Of course, political mandates any more mean little or nothing to our elective aristocracy. I noted in “The Congressional Betrayal of America” and “America vs. Congress” that Congressmen’s phones and computers were overheating from urgent communiqués from their constituents expressing opposition to the proposed bailout. The phenomenon was noteworthy even in the news media.
For example, it prompted Fox News on October 10 to report the results of a national telephone poll conducted by Opinion Dynamics Corp. between October 8 and 9, in which over 50% of the 900 polled registered voters of mixed political affiliations opposed further government action on the bailout or did not think the bailout would accomplish anything more than a continuance of government screw-ups. Well, that was sorta-kinda good news, although the poll did not suggest the thinking behind the opposition. The poll also indicated that some in the news media suspected that the “necessity” of a bailout or the nationalization of the economy was not thought to be a good idea among some of the electorate.
Our elective aristocracy disagreed. It voted for the bailout.
Knowing the reasoning of the 50+% would have given Fox and me more valuable information, although it would still have remained a matter of 50 million Frenchmen vs. 900 registered voters vs.500 orangutans vs. 263 Congressmen.
That’s “democracy” in action. And you thought this was a rights-protecting republic. The last of it died on October 3, when Congress betrayed America.
The Travel Channel just posted a clip from Lee Sandstead's upcomming show on art at YouTube and you can see it here:
Good stuff! I am absolutely psyched about Sandstead's show, but what I am really looking forward to is seeing Lee discuss more representational art rather than the modern stuff like the work featured in this clip. No one does a better job highlighting the lost treasures of art than Lee and I can't wait to see him share some real works of beauty.
To listen in, please visit http://www.crntalk.com and click on the speaker icon on the right of the web page at the appointed hour. Please note that you must convert the show times to your time zone – i.e., on the east coast the show time is 8:00 pm.
"...I know that I have never been so well pleased, as when I could shift power from my own, on the shoulders of others; nor have I ever been able to conceive how any rational being could propose happiness to himself from the exercise of power over others.” -- Thomas Jefferson on his presidency, January 1811*
“Howard, have you ever held power over a single human being?” “No. And I wouldn’t take it if it were offered to me….It was offered to me once. I refused it…I had to.” “Why?…Out of respect for the man?” “…Out of respect for myself.”**
To his pathetic, costly and destructive legacy President George W. Bush has added the $700 billion Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 (H.R. 1424) passed by a corrupted Congress on October 3. He anxiously signed it into law less than ninety minutes after it was passed, as though it might vanish before his signature could make it real. He lobbied heavily in the Senate and the House to push it through.
There is an historic parallel to his anxiety, that of George Grenville, prime minister of Great Britain in 1765, who, aware of his unpopularity, pushed through a corrupt Parliament the Stamp Act over the objections of the American colonists and many members of Parliament in order to leave his own legacy of economic solvency.
Who knows what arm-twisting, browbeating, and threats were employed to persuade recalcitrant members of the House to drop their objections to the virtual nationalization of the economy and the granting of dictatorial powers to Henry Paulson, Secretary of the Treasury? Perhaps one or two members of the House opposed the bill for the right reasons. The others, having no moral grounds to their opposition, could do little else but surrender to Bush’s efforts.
The Stamp Act proved to be Grenville’s undoing; it was repealed exactly a year later after passionate debate in Parliament and Grenville’s government fell even before that. While Bush’s administration will end in January – and be replaced with a much worse one – Americans should not expect Congress to debate the destructive consequences of the bailout bill with a view to its repeal on moral or Constitutional grounds.
The Senate, for its part, is more culpable in the crime than either Bush or the House, having scrapped that part of the Constitution which states that only the House can originate money or spending bills (Article I, Section 7). The Senate’s fundamental purpose, after all, is to safeguard the principles of life, liberty, property and happiness that animate America by rejecting rights-violating populist legislation passed by the House. Instead, on October 1, it took the House’s bill, sweetened it with minor revisions and bribes, exploited a legislative trick and appended to it another bill loaded with earmarked pork barrel appropriations, thus avoiding the charge of violating Article I, and sent it back to the House. The House, which might have remained deadlocked, succumbed to the bait. In the end, both the Senate and the House, with great relief, contentment, and sanctimony, betrayed the country.
Also complicit in the betrayal are the news media. Most newspapers and all broadcast networks hyped up the economic peril of Congressional non-action, treating the importance of the bailout bill as a practical imperative, joining in the Republican and Democratic chorus in blaming Wall Street, capitalism, and corporate greed. On a few occasions editors and journalists ventured the idea that perhaps the bank failures and the collapse of the mortgage industry were entirely the responsibility of government intervention and manipulation, but these were sallies across a No Man’s Land that were quickly repulsed and abandoned.
The power Congress has abrogated to itself is a major step in the direction of full-scale statism. If Obama wins the White House in November, then we shall see his brand of socialist nationalism. If McCain wins it, then we shall see his brand of socialist nationalism.
If one wanted proof of the utter contempt which Congress holds for America and the American people, note that emails and phone calls to Congress from constituents overwhelmingly “voted” against the bailout bill. Many Congressmen scrambled back home to explain their votes for or against the bill. Who knows what promises any of them made to their constituents to guarantee their reelections, so they could drop of burden of opposition and vote with the majority? Some of them even claimed during the second debate and voting that abruptly and inexplicably their constituents deluged them with calls and emails demanding they vote for the bill. But lying about their constituents’ actions is the least of their crimes.
In an article in The New York Times on October 4, “Bailout Plan Wins Approval; Democrats Vow Tighter Rules,” appeared a number of hysterical and sonorous excuses expressed by Congressmen who at first voted against the bill, but then for it.
“Nobody in East Tennessee hates the fact more than me that I am going to vote yes today after voting no on Monday,” Representative Zach Wamp, a Republican, said.
Those who voted against the bill again in the Senate and House did so for irrelevant reasons: that it wasn’t enough; that it didn’t punish or rein in Wall Street to their satisfaction; that it didn’t really address the problem. No one in either chamber mentioned “socialism” or “nationalization” again. Those who did last Monday could not find the courage to repeat it. Those who objected to it, voted on the premise that if they did not identify it, it could not exist.
Presidential candidate John McCain, who vows to veto every bill sent to the White House larded with earmarks, voted for the bill, protesting that “It is an outrage that it’s even necessary.” So much for his commitment to fighting pork barrel appropriations and his vaunted status as a “maverick.” If vice-presidential candidate Joe Biden is right about anything, he is right about that.
Gloating over the Democratic victory, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi of California proclaimed:
“High-fliers on Wall Street will no longer be able to jeopardize that personal economic security of Americans, because of the bright light of scrutiny, accountability and the attention given under regulatory reform.”
She is a person who should be slapped silly for her insolence, venality, and naked lust for power. The bright light of scrutiny and accountability was not shed, nor will it ever be by the news media, for example, on her pork barrel appropriation in the bill for a tuna plant in American Samoa, owned by StarKist, one of her constituents and a donor to her campaign for office.
Barney Frank will not be subjected to scrutiny and accountability. The representative from Massachusetts was the champion of the Saul Alinsky-inspired Community Reinvestment Act. His special and sordid relationship with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac over the years – he asserted many times that the two quangos were in fine financial shape, and led the fight to oppose Bush’s scrutiny of their operations and bookkeeping fraud – would be grist for the Police Gazette.
More than Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, Frank has successfully applied the methods and thuggery outlined in Alinsky’s book, Rules for Radicals, but on a national scale. It should come as no surprise that Alinsky was a friend of Frank Nitti, Al Capone’s second-in-command in the 1930’s; one may imagine that Alinsky and Nitti traded ideas on how best to shake down banks, neighborhoods, and ordinary citizens. That book doubtless occupies a special shelf in Frank’s library.
Frank is an Alinsky-esque “community organizer” of the first rank, the “community” being the United States. He is the real-life successor of Ellsworth Toohey, the collectivist villain of The Fountainhead. Very likely he has no knowledge of the scene in that novel in which his fictive predecessor demands, “Let us organize, my brothers. Let us organize. Let us organize. Let us organize” – but would understand Toohey’s meaning to its core.***
Organize against what? The freedom of the individual to live his own life, and pursue his own happiness, without being shackled as an indentured servant to a chain gang and compelled to chant “community first,” or “minority first,” or “country first.”
For two excellent but frightening descriptions of the ramifications of the bailout bill, see Jonathan Hoenig’s “Politicians Use Bailout to Grab More Power” of October 2, and Declan McCullagh’s “Bailout bill loops in green tech, IRS snooping” of October 3. Both articles focus on how the government will own billions in worthless mortgages and lines of credit under the fiction of American taxpayers being “stakeholders” (just as Soviet citizens once “owned” the government’s assets and bureaucracies). McCullagh’s article also reveals how the bill has expanded the powers of the IRS to “police” individual and corporate tax returns and especially its power to run entrapment sting operations to detect noncompliance and evasion..
And all the while Obama, McCain, Frank, Paulson, Bernanke, and Pelosi were crowing that they were acting in the interests of the middle class and inveighing against the greed and reckless behavior of Wall Street speculators and the fabulous severance packages of failed CEO’s, not one of them dared mention their own avarice, corruption, ill-gotten wealth and standard of living, reckless speculation, “golden parachutes” and irresponsibility, all of it sustained by taxpayers, not to mention the fabulous severance packages failed regulators walked off with when fired from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
While they and their ilk in Congress all worked themselves into a lather decrying the irresponsibility of regulated businessmen who ought to be punished for not being regulated enough, none of them dwelt on their own exemption and insulation from the consequences of their own actions. Barney Frank, speaking to the press after the bill was passed, claimed that voters calling and emailing their Congressmen (allegedly) changed their minds after facing the “economic reality” of their predicament. But “economic reality” is something neither he nor his co-conspirators in government and Congress have ever encountered or concerned themselves with. “Economic” reality is subsumed by metaphysical reality, and that is what they wish to evade and be protected from.
It baffled Thomas Jefferson, but not Howard Roark, why anyone would think his happiness could be founded on holding power over others. But, what is the nature and attraction of such power? No matter what logical or analytical route one follows to examine the desire or quest for such power, one will always find fear the core motivation. Though he did not know it, Jefferson answered his own question: a rational being would not seek such power; like Roark, he would know that there is a distinction between man acquiring power over nature to sustain and further his own life and happiness, and power over others as a substitute for power over reality. In a power-seeker, there is little or no self to respect. The smiles one might have noticed on the faces of Barney Frank, Christopher Dodd and others as they watched Nancy Pelosi sign the bailout bill mask a fear, and is just another expression saying: “We got away with it again – big time.”
Our political leaders think: “Others” create reality; ergo, “others” must be controlled to protect them from reality. And, in politics, when that policy of necessity fails – when the justice of reality comes calling – they do not acknowledge its failure or the justice, but act to broaden the scope of power.
And that is a fundamental reason why Congress betrayed America.
It would be wrong to conclude that corruption, hypocrisy, venality and systematic looting by law constitute the natural, inevitable course of events leading to the demise of a great country, and that one is helpless to combat it, especially when one knows that the demise will drag one down the same tragic path. The alleged potency of evil should not cause one to think one is superfluous. That, too, would be another form of the “other-oriented” fallacy. If men believe it is inevitable, then it will happen. However, the Founders encountered the same kind of resignation among men in their own time. But they did not think that submission to Crown authority and tyranny was their inexorable fate. America was the result, among their many other virtues, of their self-respect as rational beings.
And so, for all these reasons, my own answer to Congress, President Bush, and the presidential candidates is: Damn you all to hell.
And long live Lady Liberty!
*Letter to A.L.C. Destutt de Tracy in Thomas Jefferson: Writings, Library of America, 1984, p. 1245. **Exchange between Howard Roark and Gail Wynand, in Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead (1943). Plume/Penguin Centennial Edition, 2005, p. 574. ***Op. cit., p. 103.
One wishes that courage was spent on causes and actions worthy of the virtue. Last August, in "The 'Sensitivity' Syndrome," I commented on Random House's cancellation of the publication of Sherry Jones's The Jewel of Medina, a kind of feminist "bodice-ripper" novel about Aisha, the child-bride of Mohammad, for fear of Islamic "extremist" violence. The novel, if published in August as planned by Ballantine, a subsidiary of Random House, I noted, would have quickly sunk out of sight into the morass of mediocre fiction which the trade regularly churns out, but for the efforts of a non-Muslim provocateur, associate professor of history and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, Denise Spellberg.
Spellberg was sent a review copy by the publisher for her endorsement in the form of a jacket blurb. Instead, she first warned the Muslim grapevine that it offended Islam, and the next day warned Random House of possible "extremist violence." She claimed, among other things, that the "sacred history" of Mohammad had been turned by Jones into "soft core pornography."
"I do have a problem with the deliberate misinterpretation of history," she claimed in an email. What she apparently does not have a problem with is inciting violence among Muslims, who, without Spellberg's calling attention to the novel, might have remained ignorant of its existence. What any other writer should have a problem with was her calculated conspiracy to see the novel unpublished through censorship by fear. She called the novel a "very ugly, stupid piece of work." That description more aptly applies to Spellberg's actions.
The publication rights to the novel were bought by a small British publisher, Gibson Square, which has published other controversial books, including Londonistan, by Melanie Phillips, which details the gradual submission of Britain and the British government to Islam, and Blow up Russia, by Alexander Litvinenko, who was murdered by Vladimir Putin's agents in London.
On September 27, Muslims firebombed the London home of Martin Rynja, the Dutch publisher and owner of Gibson Square. Rynja's home also served as the offices of the book-publishing firm. Gibson Square announced on September 5 that it had bought the publication rights to Jones's novel and planned to publish it. Another small publisher, Beaufort Books of New York, in cooperation with Gibson Square, plans to publish The Jewel of Medina in the U.S., and has signed a contract for its sequel. Last Monday Beaufort Books closed its office as a precaution against similar censorship by violence. Rynja is presumably now in hiding or under police protection, and publication of the novel in Britain or in the U.S. remains to be seen.
Three Muslims have been arrested, two of them outside Rynja's home. That aspect of the incident is curious. Scotland Yard's Special Branch, in an undisclosed undercover operation, had knowledge of the conspiracy to firebomb the house and presumably murder Rynja, who was told to leave. The police waited for two of the suspects to actually commit the arson by shoving a container of gas through Rynja's letterbox, which ignited inside the house, before collaring the two Muslims. Then the police and firefighters had to break down the front door to extinguish the fire. The house is now vacant.
So one might wonder why the police waited until the Muslims had actually committed a crime they were certain was going to occur, instead of arresting them before Rynja was compelled to leave and his home was damaged. The police's odd behavior is linked to the fear of the authorities of being accused of racial or religious "profiling," an illogical policy that debilitates Britain's counter-terrorism efforts (and also the U.S.'s).
Aside from the presumed undercover operation that netted them knowledge of the suspects' intentions, the police refused to risk arresting two Muslims who were walking around London with an incendiary device at two o'clock in the morning in the vicinity of the intended victim's neighborhood as not grounds enough for action. That is, the police and the courts would have likely accepted the Muslim position that it was not grounds enough for action. This is another face of the "sensitivity syndrome" that is requisite for submission to Islam and Sharia law.
Leaving aside Rynja's literary esteem for Jones's novel - "I was completely bowled over by the novel and the moving love story it portrays," he said weeks before the firebombing - Rynja expressed the proper moral position against censorship by firebombing, government edict, or by popular opinion. "I immediately felt that it was imperative to publish it. In an open society there has to be open access to literary works, regardless of fear."
Going by descriptions of The Jewel of Medina, I do not plan to read the novel.
"Described by critics as a tale of 'lust, love and intrigue in the Prophet's harem,' The Jewel of Medina traces the life of Aisha, Mohammed's favorite wife. It tells of her marriage aged nine to Mohammed, who is much older, and how she is forced to use her wits and sword to defend her position as he takes another 12 wives and concubines," reported the Daily Mail.
"The novel also tells how, at 14, Aisha almost betrays her husband after they are separated as they travel together. She is rescued by a childhood friend who tries to seduce her. She resists, but the scandal rocks Medina. When she returns, a mob accuses her of adultery. Mohammed's friends urge him to divorce her, but he tells them: 'I would just as soon cut out my own heart.'"
Not exactly on the level of Othello. But one imagines that Muslim objections to the novel dwell on the portrayals of Aisha as a Wahhabist Wonder Woman and of Mohammad as a guy with a heart of gold who wouldn't dream of allowing his favorite wife to be stoned to death or beheaded on the rumor that she had committed adultery, which is the kind of punishment that Saudi and other theocratic courts mete out to wayward women. Aisha's and Mohammad's actions contradict Islamic moral and social norms; those actions are at variance with Sharia law; therefore Muslims are offended by the novel and oppose its publication.
And oppose the novel they do, and any form of representation of Mohammad in word or image, as the reaction to the Danish cartoons demonstrated in 2005, or any criticism of Islam or Muslims that could be interpreted as "religious hatred" or "incitement" to it by both Muslims and Britain's suborned judicial system. One Muslim cleric, Omar Bakri, was outspoken about the fate of those who were in any way associated with publication of The Jewel of Medina, that the firebombing of Rynja's home was but "the thin edge of the wedge."
Another Muslim cleric also weighed in.
"...[T]he radical cleric Anjem Choudhary said the book was an insult to the Prophet Mohammed's honor, something he said would warrant a 'death penalty' under Sharia law."
Note the qualifier in Choudhary's description as a "radical" cleric. This is also a form of "sensitivity," which blanks out the fact that any Muslim cleric must be "radical" by definition of Sharia law and its imposition on both Muslims and non-Muslims. There is no "moderate," conciliatory form of Islam, just as there can be no such thing as a "moderate" Muslim willing to observe secular law at the price of compromising his religious beliefs. Islamic clerics warn of punishment of Muslims who do recognize the validity of secular law. An Islam that made such a concession to secular law would no longer be Islam, no longer be "extreme," and no longer be a threat to the West.
Compare the Telegraph article with that of the New York Times of September 29, "Attack May Be Tied to Book About Muhammad." It "may be"? Was Rynja being threatened by Christian Scientists or Jehovah's Witnesses, or by members of Holiness, a branch of the Mennonites? Submission to Islam is evident on both sides of the Atlantic.
A sample of official Islamic mental gymnastics may be seen in a Daily Telegraph opinion piece from 2004, "We need protection from the pedlars of religious hatred," by the secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain.
There is no point in warning that the same brand of submission to Islam can happen in the U.S. It already has, as the action of Random House has demonstrated, and also the evasive manner in which especially the federal government and the news media sensitively treat Islamic "extremism."
Sensitivity's other name is self-censorship, and opposition to it has fallen to small publishers and those who would defend them at renewed risk, such as Salman Rushdie, subject of a similar fatwa of reprisals in 1989 for The Satanic Verses. The champions of the freedom of speech have always been in a minority, and very often they have made a difference. Never minding its literary value or lack of it, we should hope that Sherry Jones's The Jewel of Medina sees the light of day.
The ongoing financial crisis is being compared to the early warning signs of the great depression. Alarmingly, today's political leaders are proposing the largest act of Federal economic intervention since the New Deal. Barack Obama has repeatedly called for "21st century regulations" on hedge funds and commodity speculators throughout his campaign. John McCain routinely likes to blame "greed", be it from CEOs or investors, for contemporary financial woes. This leaves no doubt that both candidates share the same toxic premise in their proposed economic reforms: more government involvement.
Tragically, a common and fatal historical misconception is that FDR's New Deal rescued the United States from the Great Depression. This is often cited as motivation for great government involvement on Wall Street today. Given that this argument is so common and so virulent, it is crucial that Objectivists familiarize themselves with the real history of the Great Depression and the New Deal so that arguments can easily be defeated.
To this end, I highly recommend FDR's Folly: How Roosevelt and His New Deal Prolonged the Great Depressionby Jim Powell. In FDR's Folly, Powell, a CATO Institute historian, examines the long-term results of the New Deal and persuasively argues that they crippled the U.S. economy. Although Powell does not present a compelling moral argument against the New Deal, Powell's attention to detail is impressive and his compilation of facts is extensive. In this respect, his book is of enormous value.
In this detailed book, you will learn about the numerous programs the FDR administration brought about, including the following:
Programs that inundated private businesses with unprecedented waves of regulations, such as the Agricultural Adjustment Administration, the National Recovery Act and the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Programs that redistributed wealth from producers to consumers, such as the Federal Emergency Relief Act and the Reconstruction Finance Corporation.
Programs that nationalized industries, centrally planned infrastructure or created makework projects to increase employment such as the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Public Works Administration and the Tennessee Valley Authority. Powell argues that these programs typically led to poorly planned infrastructure that was more expensive than what could have been acquired in a free market.
The economic results of FDR's programs were devastating. For example, consider the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA). The price and production controls of the AAA led to perverse practices such as millions of tons of domestic oat and corn being burned while the U.S. simultaneously imported oat and corn, millions of peaches being left to rot and millions of "excess" pigs being needlessly slaughtered while lard was being imported from overseas. The extent of economic regulation under the FDR Administration reached such absurd levels, there was even a government board organized solely to control the production and pricing of milk!
This book will also detail the oppressive controls on income and wages under the FDR administration. Under FDR, scores of private sector jobs were eliminated through minimum wage laws, personal income taxes hit 91% for certain brackets and it was a stated part of FDR's platform that nobody should have an annual income in excess of $25,000.
Powell reveals how all of FDR's programs are based upon the fatally flawed premises of Keynesian economics, including the following:
That government spending is always good for the economy, even if it is engaging in pointless ventures such as building pyramids.
War is good for the economy.
Gold (as a standard of currency) is a "barbarous relic" that prevents economic growth.
A capitalist economy will inevitably slow to a halt without periodic bolsters from centralized planning.
Consumption (i.e., the destruction of wealth) not production, drives the economy. Thus, government should redistribute wealth from those who would invest it to those who would spend it.
From reading this book, you will also learn that many of FDR's earliest programs, such as the AAA and the National Recovery Act, were originally ruled as unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. Unfortunately FDR stayed in office long enough to appoint 7 of the 9 sitting supreme court justices, which eventually opened the floodgates for New Deal reforms. Thus, is the unforeseen danger of having a President serve more than two terms.
Powell has done a fantastic job with this work. I am not surprised that FDR's Folly has been enthusiastically recommended by famed free market economists such as Milton Friedman and Thomas Sowell. I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in free market capitalism and learning the real history of the Great Depression.
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