Saturday, January 30, 2010

The wisdom of Cliff Clavin

Cliff Clavin (John Ratzenberger) explains the "buffalo theory" to his drinking buddy Norm (George Wendt):

"Well ya see, Norm, it's like this... A herd of buffalo can only move as fast as the slowest buffalo. And when the herd is hunted, it is the slowest and weakest ones at the back that are killed first. This natural selection is good for the herd as a whole, because the general speed and health of the whole group keeps improving by the regular killing of the weakest members. In much the same way, the human brain can only operate as fast as the slowest brain cells. Excessive intake of alcohol, as we know, kills brain cells. But, naturally it attacks the slowest and weakest brain cells first. In this way, regular consumption of beer eliminates the weaker brain cells, making the brain a faster and more efficient machine. That's why you always feel smarter after a few beers."

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Leftist ideology cannot solve
the nation’s unemployment crisis

“The $787 billion economic stimulus package has created or saved between 1.7 million and 2 million jobs … the White House said Tuesday night,” The Washington Post reported recently.

It was those same insightful folks at the White House who predicted that the stimulus package would keep unemployment at or beneath 8 percent. As we know, unemployment promptly rose to above 10 percent; the stimulus targeted pork projects, not job creation.

Creating or saving jobs is an elusive goal for this administration because it is blinded by its ideology. There really is no mystery about how to create jobs; it’s just that the way to do it challenges the basic tenets of American liberalism.

Putting all those people back to work will take some time, but a lot of real jobs – meaning lasting jobs, not government jobs and not temporary stimulus jobs – can be created much easier than through the process preferred by the administration and the Congress, which seems to involve little more than throwing a lot of the taxpayer’s money to your political friends.

A major American industry that already employs more than 9.2 million people, and that added more than two million jobs between 2004 and 2007, stands ready to add more jobs at a time when they are sorely needed. But it is more important to President Barack Obama to pursue his leftist ideology than it is to put Americans back to work. To him, health care reform and cap and trade are more important than job creation, even though the American people say in poll after poll that their main concern is job creation.

While millions of Americans suffer due to unemployment, the White House sees only an opportunity to push through its ideological agenda. You know the liberal dictum: “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”

A significant part of the problem is that these jobs are in the energy sector, and the only suitable jobs there are “green” jobs. A wise person once said something to the effect of, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” a piece of wisdom lost on Mr. Obama. The administration’s approach is terribly short-sighted and harmful to American workers, to the national economy and to energy security.

Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute, notes that 63 percent of America’s total energy comes from oil and natural gas, and the oil and natural gas industry comprises 7.5 percent of U.S. GDP and more than $1 trillion in economic activity. Further, he says there is plenty of untapped oil and natural gas in U.S. reserves.

Indeed, at least one government agency recognizes how important these energy sources are: “The U.S. Energy Information Administration projects that oil and natural gas will supply more than half our energy in 2030 – some two-and-a-half gallons of petroleum products a day on average for every man, woman and child in the United States and significantly expanded amounts of natural gas,” Mr. Gerard said. “We need to be investing now to meet this demand. The International Energy Agency has warned that failure to develop now the oil and natural gas resources to meet future needs could lead to a supply crisis.”

Oil and natural gas companies continue to invest billions in new oil and natural gas projects, despite obstacles thrown up by government, and they are also investing in alternative technologies of their own volition, to the tune of more than $58 billion, which Mr. Gerard notes is more than either the federal government or the rest of private industry combined has invested in “green” technology.

If “green” jobs are going to be good jobs – that is, lasting jobs – it will only happen as a result of efforts like those of oil and natural gas companies and other market-oriented initiatives, not from a government mandate. In short: jobs created in the absence of a market demand will not last. And there is a recent example from which we can benefit that shows what happens when a nation tries to create “green” jobs where there is no market demand for them, as Mr. Obama wants to do.

Spain tried this not long ago, and an analysis of that experience titled “Study of the effects on employment of public aid to renewable energy sources” showed that the effort had a substantial negative impact on employment. Spain’s government promised to create between 3 and 5 million “green” jobs, but in fact lost between 6.6 million and 11 million jobs. The study’s authors state that “the U.S. should certainly expect its results to follow such a tendency.” Put simply, for every four “green” jobs created through Mr. Obama’s approach, nine Americans will lose their jobs.

Mr. Obama would be well advised to pursue domestic production of energy sources because it is the right thing to do. Not only does it make sense from a job creation perspective and from an energy security perspective, but also because it will help achieve his “green” jobs goal the right way.

If Mr. Obama will take off his ideological blinders, both unemployment and the national economy can be improved more quickly.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The free market has served us well

America’s economic system is under attack. The system born of revolution when the Colonists threw off the bonds of the oppressive British Crown is now itself the target of a group of revolutionaries.

In the 1770s the English colonists finally had enough of being punished with unfair taxes and tariffs and other cruelties by King George for years on end, and declared their independence, then fought and died to keep it. It took two tries to establish a structure to replace the King’s government, but our forefathers eventually wrote the U.S. Constitution establishing a government as much in contrast to the King’s rule as possible, focusing on individual freedom and limited government. The economic system that evolved was a free market capitalist system.

Economics professor Walter Williams says that free markets “are simply millions upon millions of individual decision-makers, engaged in peaceable, voluntary exchange pursuing what they see in their best interests.”

That is what our Constitution created: a system that allowed people to make their own decisions about what to make, grow, sell and buy in their own best interest – good decisions and bad ones, with little interference from the founding document, or from the limited government it created.

America was built by what was essentially free market capitalism, and over the two-plus centuries since the Constitution was drawn up and ratified, this system has served us well. It provided opportunity. It created wealth and jobs, and built our economy into the largest and most successful on the planet. It brought us thousands of new and improved products. It produced magnificent technological advances and innovation.

Yet, there are liberal elites in our country that prefer a socialistic government and they want to move away from the free market. They say that Big Business and the capitalist system don’t work anymore.

Many Americans believe the anti-free market propaganda the elites promote and they therefore support the move toward socialism. However, surveys find that Americans are generally poorly educated on the foundations and development of their country. That makes them easy prey for the elites, who are demagogues, and dishonest, to boot. These poor souls have fallen hook, line and sinker for the idea that our current problems are due to weaknesses of our free market system.

Dr. Williams believes the elitist leaders who denounce the free market and voluntary exchange think they are smarter and wiser than the masses, and know better how things should be done.

He continues: “What's more, they believe they've been ordained to forcibly impose that wisdom on the rest of us. Of course, they have what they consider good reasons for doing so, but every tyrant that has ever existed has had what he believed were good reasons for restricting the liberty of others.”

Dr. Williams tells us that these economic tyrants don’t like the free market because it doesn’t provide them adequate control over the common folk. The elites want people to do things a certain way, and they don’t trust that people will do things the “right” way if left to their own devices. So they employ certain coercive tools to mold the market to their liking, like taxation, arbitrary and onerous regulation, penalties, and the most egregious of the lot, government competing with the private sector and doing so on an uneven playing field. Think about the U.S. Postal Service and AMTRAK, and the prospect of a “government option” for health insurance.

What those who favor destroying the free market actually see, however, is not a failed free market capitalist system; what they see is a free market system infected, infested and perverted by government meddling to the point where it is barely recognizable. That is the system that is failing, not free market capitalism.

It doesn’t require a Sherlock Holmes to see the greasy fingerprints of the Congress and the federal government in the mortgage banking crisis, which is as good an example of how meddling in the free market causes disaster as there is. Yes, it was the goofy liberal idea that everyone deserved to own a home despite their ability to pay for it that was at the base of this disaster, but both Republicans and Democrats contributed to the catastrophe through foolish policies: Not only Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, but George W. Bush, as well.

Economist Thomas Sowell explains it this way: “Mortgage loans with no down payment, no income verification and other ‘creative’ financial arrangements abounded. Although this was done under pressures begun in the name of the poor and minorities, people who were neither [poor nor a minority] could also get these mortgage loans. With mortgage loans widely available to people with questionable prospects of being able to keep up the payments, it was an open invitation to financial disaster.”

Once the government set the stage for the disaster through faulty reasoning and the policies that flawed process produced, human instincts took over, and the outcome was the painful economic period that still endures today.

However, the free market built our nation and served us well for a long time. Instead of destroying it, why not fix it?

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A slow day in Texas

It's a slow day in a little East Texas town. The sun is beating down, and the streets are deserted. Times are tough, everybody is in debt, and everybody lives on credit.

On this particular day a rich tourist from back east is driving through town. He stops at the local hotel and lays a $100 bill on the desk saying he wants to inspect the rooms upstairs in order to pick one to spend the night. The hotel owner gives him some room keys and the traveler heads upstairs.

As soon as the man is out of sight, the owner grabs the bill and runs next door to pay his debt to the butcher. The butcher takes the $100 and runs down the street to retire his debt to the pig farmer who takes the $100 and heads off to pay his bill at the supplier of feed and fuel.

The guy at the Farmer's Co-op takes the $100 and runs to pay his debt to the local prostitute, who rushes to the hotel and pays off her room bill with the hotel owner, who then places the $100 back on the counter.

A little later the traveler comes down the stairs, picks up the $100 bill, states that the rooms are not satisfactory, pockets the money, and leaves.

No one produced anything.

No one earned anything.

However, the whole town is now out of debt and looks to the future with a lot more optimism.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how the United States Government is conducting business today.

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Obama's blindness on terrorism is dangerous

How far down the following list do you have to read before you realize that a terrorist attack has been attempted?
1. A passenger on a flight into Detroit tried unsuccessfully to blow up the plane with a bomb in his underwear

2. The passenger bought his one-way ticket to the U.S. in Amsterdam with cash, and had no luggage

3. His father had contacted authorities to warn them that he believed his son was dangerous

4. He is a young Nigerian Muslim 

If you didn’t realize after item 1 that a terrorist attack had been attempted, you share a glaring blind spot about terrorism with the President of the United States. 

I’m betting that almost everybody knew immediately upon hearing the news that some savage had tried to blow up a plane with explosives in his underwear that it was a terrorist attack. But not Barack Obama. He told the nation it was the work of an “isolated extremist.”

Further, I am betting a huge majority of people expected that the bomber was a Muslim. Radical Muslims have trained us through experience with dozens of previous terrorist acts that, odds are, a terrorist attack is likely the work of a Muslim. But not Barack Obama. He does not acknowledge that these “extremists,” whether isolated or not, are Muslims. 

The President’s attitude toward terrorism, which prevents him from calling a terrorist attack a terrorist attack, can be seen throughout his administration. It is an upside-down, wishful thinking perspective that places leftist ideology above national security, and it is truly frightening. 

The president tells us repeatedly that the current health care system is a failure, and that Americans will die and lose their homes if it isn’t fixed pronto. He tells us that mankind’s excesses are heating the environment and if we don’t act now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to pre-industrial levels, thereby making the price of energy and everything else much higher in the process, the seas will rise, crops will wither, the ice caps will melt and the polar bears will go extinct. And that is what he has focused on in his first year as president.

However, for most of 2009 the most important thing to Americans was not health care reform or cap and trade, it was job creation, by a 20-point margin. Health care was a distant second, and the environment was barely on the list. 

Job creation got little real attention from the administration, other than lip service. It was supposedly the target of the near-trillion dollar stimulus bill, which was a great pork program, but did nothing to encourage job creation. 

Following the failed Christmas Day attack, terrorism rose immediately to the top of the list again for most Americans, but not for the administration. Mr. Obama’s aides waited for nearly three hours after the attack to wake him up and tell him about it. He, then, waited three more days before appearing to make a public statement. He didn't grasp the seriousness of the situation, and he sped through a weak public statement that left too much unsaid so he could get back out on the golf course.

His ability to minimize the importance and likelihood of terrorist attacks on our shores, and instead emphasize ideological issues that are far less critical, is truly remarkable. And, it is more than a little disconcerting. Protecting the nation against such attacks is a legitimate, obligatory function of the presidency, whereas taking over the health care system and increasing control over the energy sector are not legitimate functions of the President. 

Perhaps Mr. Obama will at some point grasp the full significance of the Christmas Day attack, as he seems to be doing, if very slowly. Once that recognition occurs, there is the possibility that he will recognize that the least effective way to deal with terrorists captured on the battlefield – whether that battlefield is in the caves of Afghanistan, a village in Yemen, an apartment building in a U.S. city, or on an airliner – treating them as mere criminals is foolish in the extreme.

Criminals are criminals and terrorists are terrorists, and never the twain shall meet.

Instead of recognizing the terrorist threat and focusing on preventing more attacks, the president wants to prosecute CIA agents who acted in good faith to thwart terrorists and to free Guantanamo Bay prisoners. And his stubborn determination to ultimately close Guantanamo Bay smacks of an attitude about terrorism undisturbed by facts or common sense. 

It is almost as if Mr. Obama views his election as president as a mandate to enact his radical leftist agenda, and what happens outside that narrow zone is in another, distant universe. Except that every now and then something in the other universe comes along and interrupts him, like the failed Christmas Day attack.

We should hope and pray that he finally has his attention focused on the very real threat of terrorism, and that he will now be more adamant about protecting the country than he is on reforming it.

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Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Obama’s leftist ideology, inexperience
and naiveté endangering Americans

As Barack Obama approaches the end of his first year as President of the United States, the weaknesses many observers warned of during the campaign are readily apparent.

Among the criticisms leveled against him were his lack of executive experience and holding political office long enough to have benefitted from it, and his radical leftist ideology, the latter backed up by evidence both in word and deed, and through his associations with radicals like Weather Underground member Bill Ayers and the anti-America preacher Jeremiah Wright.

A majority of the electorate, however, displeased with the Republican/Bush administration, ignored those negatives, overcome by the “historic” nature of the election: At long last America had the chance to elect a black president for the first time in history, and the political appeal of that possibility overshadowed more important factors. Barack Obama won the election over a far more experienced candidate by a 53 to 46 percent margin. Not a landslide, to be sure, but a solid victory.

Barack Obama’s young presidency has attracted a great deal of criticism, much of which can be attributed to partisan politics, as was the case with the constant sniping at George W. Bush. But some criticisms are serious issues caused by Mr. Obama’s mindset, political orientation and his attitude about certain things.

In an effort to make the people of the world like us better, he traveled around apologizing for his country and its success, and in direct contrast to the Bush administration’s harder-line position on rogue nations and their leaders, he attempted to re-open some doors and present America as open and willing to talk, and see if it would bear positive results. It didn’t. If it had, his gesture would be applauded. Instead, ignoring the clear evidence that some leaders like Hugo Chavez and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad simply aren’t going to play nice with the U.S. – no matter who its president is – made him look naïve.

On the other hand, even as he continued to criticize the Bush administration Mr. Obama was forced by harsh realities to forego appeasing the world and its leaders and to maintain the Bush policies in Iraq and Afghanistan, and on surveillance and enemy combatant detention. This had the dual result of outraging his radical leftist supporters while tacitly acknowledging that Mr. Bush got some things right. Thus far President Obama looks uncertain, tentative and even confused. This is not a good sign this early in a presidency.

But more important than all of that is President Obama’s attitude toward terrorism and the degree to which that attitude permeates the various agencies within the Obama administration. It is dangerous to national security and the security of individual Americans. During the campaign and early days as president, he apparently didn’t realize that the radical Islamists really hate America – not just George Bush – and that they want to kill Americans. He and the other leftists don’t believe in terrorism, in jihad. The war on terror is a Bush construction, they believe, not an ideological war.

This sort of reasoning – if it can be called that – is, in addition to being irrational, very dangerous.

The words “terrorist,” “terrorism” and ”jihadist,” and the phrase “war on terror” were expunged from the administration’s lexicon, replaced by such Orwellian absurdities as Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano’s “man-caused disasters” to replace “terrorist attacks.”

Since the September 11 attacks eight years ago there have been 28 terror plots against the U.S. Twenty-six of those were thwarted directly by counterterrorism methods, many of which the Bush administration adopted after the 2001 attacks. But the Christmas Day Detroit terror plot was not discovered and thwarted like the others, and this event may have – should have – gotten Mr. Obama’s attention.

A 23-year-old Nigerian Muslim, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, tried to detonate a homemade bomb hidden in his underwear on a Northwest Airlines flight headed for Detroit from Europe. Thanks to a faulty detonator and a few brave passengers, the bloomer-bomber failed to kill himself and the nearly 300 others on the plane with him.

This incident has exposed shortcomings in our national security mechanisms, many of which are made worse by the pre 9-11 attitude promoted by our president and his administration. This event should shock Mr. Obama out of his socialist dream world into the real world, but it may just provide another crisis he and Rham Emanuel can exploit to further their ideological goals.

Even though Barack Obama has avoided admitting that we are at war with Islamist terrorists, we (begin ital) are (end ital) at war with Islamist terrorists. Their actions are attacks against not just buildings, or airplanes, or individual soldiers, but against the United States of America and all it stands for. Their attacks are not crimes, like stealing an old lady’s purse, a gang beating, or drunk driving.

These are attacks on our country, on America itself. As such, they deserve to be dealt with not through a criminal proceeding, but through military justice mechanisms.

The real world is a very different place than leftists imagine it to be. Not only is it not what they imagine, it can never be what they imagine.

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