Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register. 
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. 
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." 
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 
"Glory to God in the highest, and [peace on earth to men of good will]." 
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about." 
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Asserting What Needs to be Argued

Rahm Emmanuel offers a rationale for yet more government spending, albeit state and municipal spending, though undoubtedly of federal monies via stimulus funding, a jobs bill, or whatever expedient the next transfer of red-state money to over leveraged blue states is called.  
The Chicago area has near 10% unemployment, but more than 100,000 unfilled jobs. Like the rest of the country, Chicago suffers from a skills gap that undermines our economic competitiveness and threatens our future prosperity.

Noman has heard Democrats make this claim, and wonders why there is not a migration to Chicago by those with the requisite skills.  There is so much unemployment, and so many skilled professionals who have given up looking for work since 2008.  Americans are a highly mobile people.  Chicago is an attractive destination for professionals.  Is something impeding operation of this market?
Despite stubborn unemployment, we have companies offering well-paying jobs that have to go begging for skilled applicants. This is because our community college system, which was a worker's ticket into employment and the middle class during the postwar boom, has failed to keep pace with today's competitive jobs market. Consequently, in a 21st-century economy, our workers still have 20th-century skills.
Stripping these claims from their shiny packaging, they reduce to the following: (1) companies are dying to pay skilled applicants; (2) there are too few skilled applicants for them to pay; (3) the cause is that government doesn't spend enough money training skilled applicants in community colleges.

For more on the supposed skills gap, see Noman's writeup entitled How Not to Address the Deficit, Aug. 16, 2011, regarding Senators Patty Murray and Mary Landrieu's op-ed on the topic.

Noman has a novel suggestion.  Granting the state of affairs that Democrats depict, ad arguendo, perhaps companies should train their own employees, and not expect government to train them with public money.
For example, AAR Corp., an aviation-parts manufacturer in the Chicago area, has 600 job openings for welders and mechanics but can't find skilled workers to fill them. As mayor of one of America's largest cities, I find it unacceptable that at a time of high unemployment, more than 80% of manufacturers say they can't find skilled workers to hire.
Horsefeathers.  Noman can't even believe that there are not 600 skilled welders and mechanics in the Chicago area, let alone in the country that would be willing to relocate to Chicago.  Moreover, these skills can be learned in garages and small shops by hobbyists and apprentices.  Does the government really need to insert itself into this alleged problem?

Moreover, what are companies supposed to say?  That they are not hiring because it doesn't pay them to hire in this economic and political environment--read, taxes and regulation.  How do people that don't play ball with the machine fare in Chicago?

But, even if it were true, AAR Corp. could profitably train 600 workers in whatever peculiarities the airline industry requires.  If government must help, which it generally shouldn't, why wouldn't tax credits suffice?

What do community colleges have to do with it?
This situation will only get worse. In the next 10 years, the Chicago area will need 9,000 additional computer-science workers, 20,000 new transportation workers and 43,000 new health-care workers, including 15,000 nurses.
Ditto.  There are 10 million people in Chicago.   65% of them are aged 10-65.  They must be pretty sheepish if they need Rahm Emmanuel's, or Barack Obama's, government to help them take advantage of such opportunities.  How did the people of Chicago become so dependent, helpless and incapable?  How did the government become their only hope?
In order to fill these jobs, we need to modernize our community colleges so that Americans no longer regard community colleges as a last ditch effort for a remedial education, but as their first choice for high-skill job training.
Why?  What's wrong with letting corporations fill their own training needs, and maintaining community colleges as what they are: transfer institutions to four year colleges, holding tanks for the undecided, and last ditch weigh stations for remedial education?

The rest of the op-ed goes on to paint an idealized public-private partnership--another Democratic Party obsession--in which corporations design the relevant college curricula.
Chicago already enjoys a dynamic work force, not only because we have some of the world's best universities, but also because we're a magnet for the brightest students from across the Big Ten states. By modernizing our community college system, we are matching that dynamism at every level of the jobs market. Whatever skill level employers need, from the boardroom to the shop floor, they can have confidence that Chicago's work force has the skill and depth they need to start a business and expand.
Since when did it become the purpose of college to train people for the shop floor?

Note that Mayor Emmanuel is talking out of both sides of his mouth.  Chicago has a dynamic workforce.  But, it cant find 600 mechanics for AAR Corp.  It is a magnet for best and the brightest in the Big Ten.  But there is insufficient in-migration to find 9,000 new techies, 20,000 train drivers, 43,000 health-care helpers or 15,000 nurses over the coming ten years.  Which is it?  Because, it can't be both.

William McGurn recently offered an alternative explanation for Chicago's employment problems: Crony Capitalism, Chicago-Style.  He describes the new economy, which operates to perfection in Democratically controlled Illinois: tax hikes for all, tax relief for the well-connected, and campaign contributions for the politicians.

In January, the Illinois legislature approved state's largest tax hike in history.
Alas, equal treatment is not the Chicago way. Maybe that's why we heard little from corporate Chicago when Mr. Quinn [IL's Governor] was campaigning for his tax hikes. To the contrary, back in June the Chicago News Cooperative reported that CME [Chicago Mercantile Exchange] donated $50,000 to Mr. Quinn in the general election and $40,000 in the primary, $200,000 to Rahm Emanuel (a former CME board member) during his run for mayor of Chicago, and $150,000 to the man who really runs Illinois, House Speaker Mike Madigan. 
According to a soon-to-be released study of IRS tax filings from the free-market Illinois Policy Institute, between 1995 and 2008 Illinois lost 345,891 tax filers. All in all, that works out to a $188 billion loss in net income. That loss is remarkable, especially given that one in four of these taxpayers moved to a bordering state.
This is the fruit of Chicago politics. That much should be clear from the governor's election in 2010, when Mr. Quinn won office despite losing 98 of the state's 102 counties—all but Chicago's Cook County and three others in the southwest. These days the governor is highly unpopular for his tax hike, so Democrats such as Mayor Emanuel have become the face of the special relief bill. The constant is that the machine remains intact, here taxing all, there doling out favors to a well-connected few.
Perhaps this explains Mayor Emanuel's zeal for a public-private partnership in the community college sector, and corporations willingness to play along.  In return for offering Democrats protection in their push to augment the big government scam, they not only get taxpayers to pick up the tab for staffing their shop floors.  They also receive special favors at tax time.

Regardless, the mayor has proven neither that community colleges are the cause of the the problem he invokes, nor that they are underfunded.  He has asserted the former and implied the latter.  One might have thought that he could come up with something better given the prestige of the forum that allowed him to make his pitch.

What is it about Chicago that draws organized crime, including the legal variety?

Capitalism and the Right to Rise

Jeb Bush has penned a minifesto concerning economic opportunity that is worth giving a good think.  He argues that while freedom entails the risk of failure, statism ensures the certainty of stagnation.  In his opinion, the opportunity to succeed, even with the attendant downside of possible failure, is preferable to the certitude of gradual but inevitable demise.

Noman adds that earthly hope lies in freedom and the growth--personal, moral and economic--that derives from its exercise.  Hope cannot lie in a certitude destined to elude temporal, contingent beings in a world marked by limitation, or in false promises that no society can afford to keep.  

Human ingenuity is the only unlimited resource.  It is thus wise for society to foment its use and application.  It lifts humanity's material prospects.  It engages the person and enables his development, as well as society's.  Ultimately, it requires breathing room to operate, and freedom to fail in order to succeed.
The right to rise doesn't seem like something we should have to protect.  But we do. We have to make it easier for people to do the things that allow them to rise. We have to let them compete. We need to let people fight for business. We need to let people take risks. We need to let people fail. We need to let people suffer the consequences of bad decisions. And we need to let people enjoy the fruits of good decisions, even good luck.  That is what economic freedom looks like. Freedom to succeed as well as to fail, freedom to do something or nothing. People understand this.

Mayors, county chairs, governors and presidents never think their laws will harm the free market. But cumulatively, they do, and we have now imperiled the right to rise.

Woe to the elected leader who fails to deliver a multipoint plan for economic success, driven by specific government action. "Trust in the dynamism of the market" is not a phrase in today's political lexicon.  Have we lost faith in the free-market system of entrepreneurial capitalism? Are we no longer willing to place our trust in the creative chaos unleashed by millions of people pursuing their own best economic interests?
We either can go down the road we are on, a road where the individual is allowed to succeed only so much before being punished with ruinous taxation, where commerce ignores government action at its own peril, and where the state decides how a massive share of the economy's resources should be spent. 
Or we can return to the road we once knew and which has served us well: a road where individuals acting freely and with little restraint are able to pursue fortune and prosperity as they see fit, a road where the government's role is not to shape the marketplace but to help prepare its citizens to prosper from it.
This question of government's role seems to be the salient one.

Most conservatives understand that "too hell with the losers" is not a sufficient response to the question of what to do with those who cannot care for themselves.  But, it is a non sequitur to leap from a need to help others to a federal program to address that need.

Compassion that operates through bureaucracy is ineffective, futile, wasteful and illusory--in a word, phony.  People, qua taxpayers, are fed up paying for federal compassion because it doesn't work except for those who get hired, unionize and are able to convert others' need into their gain.  The incentives are all wrong.  It is a wearisome scam.

Compassion is first and foremost a personal virtue, albeit one with social ramifications.  As such, it operates through persons, or not at all.  That is not to deny that phony social compassion can do some good.  It is to say that there are inevitably better and less costly ways of achieving the same good without all the deleterious side affects, i.e., dependence, entitlement, resentment, stagnation, public bankruptcy.

Whether people choose to manifest their concern through family, church, neighborhood, club, league, association, or not at all, is a matter of hundreds of millions of people to decide over-and-over again on a daily basis.  That is as it should be.  It obliges personal responsibility for one's action and inaction, enables people to act in accordance with their own preferences and commitments, and builds accountability into the system.  It requires recipients and intermediaries alike to behave responsibly towards donors, something lacking in the taxpayer-government relationship.

If government is involved, it should be controllable at the lowest, most local level.  Big government plays a legitimate role by fostering heart-expanding activities, e.g., large families, strong churches, not by trying to muscle private initiative out of the service equation, or co-opt it with string-attached funding so as to assume a hegemonic role.
In short, we must choose between the straight line promised by the statists and the jagged line of economic freedom. The straight line of gradual and controlled growth is what the statists promise but can never deliver. The jagged line offers no guarantees but has a powerful record of delivering the most prosperity and the most opportunity to the most people. We cannot possibly know in advance what freedom promises for 312 million individuals. But unless we are willing to explore the jagged line of freedom, we will be stuck with the straight line. And the straight line, it turns out, is a flat line.

Freedom for 312 million individuals is not tantamount to freedom for 312 million autonomous, isolated beings.  That mythical creature is the perversion of classical liberal insights, and the invention of sexual revolutionaries and abortionists.

True, we are all in the same boat together.  But, we do not have to effectuate our responsibilities to each other through the agency of government.  That is merely one possible way, and the least preferable.

In an ideal world free of ignorance, self-interest, laziness, dishonesty, opportunism and power-lust--in other words, free of original sin, the root cause of agency costs--cost spreading solutions across the largest possible population would be ideal.  But, in a world of fallen human nature, Leftist ideologues, class warfare, sexual vice, avaricious opportunism and public servants who look with envy and greed at private sector (i.e., productive) counterparts--in other words, in the world we live in--forget it.

Mandatory cost spreading simply foments favor seeking, lobbying, bribery, corruption, self-seeking, political intrigue, and a permanent class of bureaucratic overlords.  No thank you.  From now on, Noman would prefer to try another way.

The American experiment in ordered liberty presupposes and depends upon a vibrant subjectivity of society, i.e., one filled with intermediate associations such as strong families, vibrant churches and flourishing private associations.  As federal government works to eradicate the right to rise in the name of everyone's paying their fair share, it also works to marginalize intermediate associations.  Noman would rather eradicate or marginalize big government, and so preserve the right to rise, fall, prosper, suffer, and live like a free man.

Vaclav Havel and Vladimir Putin

What do the late champion of freedom and the Russian strong man have in common?  Both were recipients of Germany's Quadriga Award.
Havel was given many awards in his lifetime, though never the Nobel Prizes (for peace or literature) which he so richly deserved. But notable among his prizes was Germany's prestigious Quadriga Award, which he won in 2009 and then returned earlier this year when Vladimir Putin was named the 2011 recipient. 

The prize honors "role models for Germany" and commemorates the reunification of East and West Germany.  What could the judges possibly have been thinking?

The German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung reported that Putin received the award for creating "stability through the interplay of prosperity, economy and identity," and is, "in the tradition of Peter the Great, a switchman in the direction of the future."

Because of the public outcry at Putin's selection, and especially due to yet another principled, larger-than-life stand taken by Havel, the 2011 prize ceremony was cancelled.
After the choice of Mr. Putin became known... a public outcry ensued among the ranks of those who believe that he helped roll back democracy and human rights in Russia and that, far from being a role model, he is unworthy of an honor previously bestowed upon Mikhail S. Gorbachev and the civil rights advocate Bärbel Bohley, who worked to end Communist rule in East Germany. Judging by the volume of the public discourse, those ranks are quite large.

Mr. Putin has been in the news recently for his country's protests at less than exemplary Parlimentary elections.
"I know that students were paid some money - well, that's good if they could earn something," he said, referring to the biggest protest of its kind since the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union last Saturday.
Repeatedly accusing his domestic critics and opponents of taking money from the West to do him down, he claimed there was a plot to destabilise Russia by effecting a velvet revolution there. 
"Some of my critics are sincere, they must be heard and respected. The rest are pawns in the hands of foreign agents. There are people with Russian passports but who work in the interests of foreign states." 

Besides being open-minded, Mr. Putin is apparently a wit. 
Mr Putin typically revels in these televised question and answer sessions and Thursday's was no exception. His tenth and his longest yet [more than four-and-one-half hours], he used the occasion to mock the anti-Kremlin protestors who had donned white ribbons as a symbol of their peaceful protest saying he mistakenly thought they had pinned condoms to their clothing. 
"I decided that it was an anti-AIDS campaign... that they pinned on contraceptives, I beg your pardon, only folding them in a strange way," he said.
"I then took a closer look. No. In principle, my first thought was: "okay, they are fighting for a healthy lifestyle." 
Like any run-of-the-mill demagogue, Putin knows that the best defense is a virulent offense against some object of hatred.  As Saul Alinsky put it, "Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it."  In Russia, as in much of Europe, America is always a convenient mark at which to shoot.
Last week, he dismissed criticism of the vote by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as part of US efforts to weaken Russia, and on Thursday he upped the ante by accusing US special forces of being involved in the killing of deposed Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

"Sometimes it seems to me that America does not need allies, it needs vassals. People are tired of the dictates of one country."
Yes, from the Czech Republic to Chechnya, Bucharest to the Baltic Republics, Bratislava to Berlin, freedom-seeking people everywhere have always known that, that America, not Russia, is the feudalistic proponent of serfdom and servitude.

The Journal's eulogy ends with the following observation about Havel's repudiation of an award he was being forced to share with Mr. Putin.
It was that old disgust with hypocrisy again. When he died Sunday at age 75, he knew his legacy lived on with freedom-seeking people around the world, not least the imprisoned signatories of China's Charter 08 who took their inspiration directly from him. Their day of freedom is coming. 
The writers might very well have made a reference to the Russian people, who seem to be tiring of the dictates of one-and-a-half men.

House Balks at Payroll Tax Deal

Christmas sparring in the nation's capitol has picked up tempo, and we can look forward to another holiday season of contention as the Statists and right-to-be-let-aloners grapple to the mat. The WSJ reports on the Republican House's refusal to approve a Democratic Senate's bill to temporarily extend a payroll tax cut until February.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) thinks that the Senate plan is dysfunctional.  "How can you do tax policy for two months?"  Good question.  And the answer is that you can't.

That such is the Democrats preferred method of addressing the economy--push matters out for a bit until the press can turn the tide in their favor, whereupon they impose their Statist wills in the name of fairness on the citizenry--explains why the economy has dragged long after it should have recovered.   

 Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) isn't concerned.
"When we met last week, Speaker Boehner requested that Senator McConnell and I work out a compromise," Mr. Reid said Sunday. "Neither side got everything they wanted, but we forged a middle ground that passed the Senate by an overwhelming bipartisan majority."
Why kicking this can down the road for two months is "middle ground" that Democrats want to occupy is explained by political strategy, not economic considerations.
Mr. Obama has positioned himself and Democrats as defenders of a tax cut for the middle class while painting Republicans as defenders of the wealthy. Democrats say they would be pleased to repeat this debate in two months if Congress approves the two-month extension.
Yes, Noman is sure that the Democrats would like to flail away at that straw man throughout 2012.  Nevertheless, reality is that Democrats' economic policies sap the middle class of vitality, and lard the troughs of the wealthy and politically connected (e.g., Jeff Immelt, Warren Buffet, George Soros, George Kaiser, Jon Corzine),
President Barack Obama has accused Congress, especially Republicans, of being obstructionist. 
Republicans, in turn, have criticized Mr. Obama and the Democrats for mismanaging the economy. The fight over payroll taxes gives ammunition to both sides.
More precisely, President Obama has accused Congress of being motivated to oppose everything he proposes simply and solely because of their commitment to seeing him fail.  He never sees reason or fairness in his opponents' positions, or acknowledges that they act from noble--perhaps mistaken--motives.  Rather, he has personalized the battle in his public statements: he who knows everything vs. they who hate everything.  His feigned persecution complex has been accompanied by bellicose class-warfare rhetoric, and obtuse legislative proposals.

Republicans are terrified by the imminent Greek-EU-like collapse awaiting the US because of unsustainable debt and runaway government spending.  Democrats refuse to reverse the course they kicked into hyperdrive in 2006.  So, Republicans dig in their heels, pull back on the reigns and yell "whoa!"  They look like obstructionists.

Man controlling trade has become tea parties, through the Republican Party, controlling runaway government.  Pass Noman a cup, please.

Thank God for obstructionism, at least in this case.  It's the only thing short of cleaning DC of Liberals that keeps our federal tax burden at merely oppressive levels.  It exposes their reckless spending to light.

Democratic cheerleaders like Robert Reich would love to return to the halcyon days of the 90% tax bracket.  That's a fair share in their book.  Thank God it wasn't in President Kennedy's book, who put an end to it.

Meanwhile, the political wrangling in DC continues.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) said he favored a yearlong extension of the tax cut—the same as Mr. Boehner (R., Ohio). But Mr. Reid said he wouldn't negotiate a longer-term deal until the House passes the Senate's temporary extension.
Mr. Reid said if Mr. Boehner rejected the Senate agreement, forged with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.), then he would be responsible for a $1,000 tax increase on almost every working American next year.
Boehner counters:
"The House has passed its bill, now the Senate has passed its bill," Mr. Boehner said. "Under the Constitution, when we have these disagreements, there could be a formal conference between the House and Senate to resolve our differences."
 Why Senator Reid would expect House Republicans to trust him, and pass the Senate's temporary extension in order to negotiate the year-long extension that both sides say they want is beyond Noman.  Not to put too fine a point on it, anyone who would devise such an arcane scheme is not trustworthy.  But, then, we already knew that about Senator Reid.

Noman laments that the Republican establishment could not hold its nose and support Sharon Angle, and other tea party insurgents, the way that they're always admonishing conservatives to support lukewarm candidates like Bob Dole, John McCain and Mitt Romney.

Had they done so, this year of political brinksmanship, economic stagnation, credit-rating downgrade, chronic unemployment, class-warfare and generally speeding towards Armageddon could have been avoided.

Postscript: On 12/22/12, House Republicans retreated after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) urged them to accept the two-month extension and to defer working out a more permanent agreement with Democrats until later.  (We all saw how well that worked last November when the deficit reduction super-committee failed to specify $1.2 trillion in spending cuts.)  President "Obama ... chided Republicans for blocking something all parties agreed upon."  But, of course, all parties didn't agree on the two-month extension; they all agreed on a one-year extension, or said they did.  The two-month provision was at Democrats insistence.  House Majority Leader John Boehner rightly believed that "A two-month extension only perpetuates the uncertainty that too many employers already have in dealing with the economy and what's coming out of Washington."

Noman expects the nation's credit rating to be cut again.  Any government unable to curb its hell bent drive for hegemony over private activity is bound to dig itself a hole that it cannot climb out of.  The bond market still retains a moral integrity rooted in honesty that political leaders in this media environment have relinquished.  

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Our Accomplished Leader

It isn't often that Noman concurs with President Obama.  So, he wants to acknowledge it when they agree, as about something he said at the end of a recent interview with 60 Minutes' Steve Kroft.
As you said yourself, Steve, you know, I would put our legislative and foreign policy accomplishments in our first two years against any president -- with the possible exceptions of Johnson, F.D.R., and Lincoln -- just in terms of what we've gotten done in modern history.

Noman couldn't agree more.  In terms of the legislative blitzkrieg and regulatory carpet bombing unleashed on the crisis-panicked public, his early Administration is one of the most accomplished, most opportunistic, ever.

Noman ventures to guess that nobody in American history has ever so completely disregarded the expressed concerns of large majorities in order to ramrod an unpopular collectivist agenda unilaterally down the throat of the nation.

Hats off to Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and the mainstream media for a big assist.  The President couldn't have done it without them.

From the stimulus to ObamaCare to Dodd-Frank to the regulatory imposition of cap-and-trade elements, to the end of don't-ask-don't-tell--his first two years were an orgy of Progressive willfulness.  This is the way that a like-minded blog views it.

The President certainly is a cocky son-of-a-gun.  But, in this instance, he is merely stating facts, not bragging.  That, however, does not exonerate him from charges that he is simultaneously arrogant and ignorant--even if intelligent, which has more to do with the possession of grey matter (which he evidently does) than with its application (the issue with ignorance).  

Arrogance is evidenced by his lack of reflection, self-doubt or misgivings about the unilateral use of power. Ignorance is demonstrated by the substance of the hackneyed agenda he imposed on a catatonic public and supine opposition when the nation could least afford it economically.

The results of his feckless leadership are economic stagnation, a frightful debt crisis, a ratings downgrade, an Arab winter, evaporated opportunity, palpable malaise, national decline, growing dependency, class warfare and extreme polarization.

To Noman's mind, President Obama deserves credit for more than he claims, specifically for being one of the nation's greatest tyrants ever.  He is a shameless demagogue and a committed ideologue of the Left.  If he is removed from office, public recognition of this, and not the fact that he is half black--as his followers suggest--will be the reason.

With respect to the rest of the interview, Noman was impressed by how many times the President responded to Kroft's interogatories with prefaces like "As you said yourself, Steve..."  It makes Noman wonder why the President was needed at all, since the interviewer was so successfully carrying water for him without any help.

Having given the President credit where credit is due, Noman feels obliged to disagree with him on a couple of points.  He'll stick with the last interview question and answer.
KROFT: Tell me, what do you consider your major accomplishments? If this is your last speech. What have you accomplished? 
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, we're not done yet. I've got five more years of stuff to do. But not only saving this country from a great depression. Not only saving the auto industry. But putting in place a system in which we're gonna start lowering health care costs and you're never gonna go bankrupt because you get sick or somebody in your family gets sick. Making sure that we have reformed the financial system, so we never again have taxpayer-funded bailouts, and the system is more stable and secure. Making sure that we've got millions of kids out here who are able to go to college because we've expanded student loans and made college more affordable. Ending Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Decimating al Qaeda, including Bin Laden being taken off the field. Restoring America's respect around the world.
The issue here is not gonna be a list of accomplishments... But, you know, but when it comes to the economy, we've got a lot more work to do. And we're gonna keep on at it.
Noman is impressed with the President's humility and sense of perspective.  Nevertheless, he begs to differ with him on a few points, in fact, all of them.

First of all, the President does not have "five more years of stuff to do."  He has an endless and ever-growing list of stuff--the eternal yearnings to command and control in Statist bosoms--to impose on the American people in his remaining year in office.

It will be more difficult for him in his last year than it was in his first two because the people are no longer fooled.  They know of his contempt for the middle class and all who oppose his idea of fairness, which seems unduly to favor the well connected and those who work for government.  Moreover, Republicans mercifully control the House, which forces him to work by stealth in the extra-constituional administrative sector rather than the legislative branch of government.  His regulatory incrustations will be easier to scrape away than legislative impositions.

Critically, he sees things in terms of himself.  To his mind, accomplishments are his, and opposition can only be explained by personal animus and a desire to see him fail.  He seems blind to his actual responsibilities to the nation he leads, as opposed to his ideological aims for it.  He governs the nation as if it were an ideal Rousseauian collectivity in need of forcing to be free.

In the final analysis, Americans are not a sheepish people, notwithstanding their lethal addictions to comfort and propagandizing entertainments.  Neither are they stupid.  This will cost him.

Secondly, he did not save the country from a great depression--something he has been credited for doing even in the Financial Times.  His Statist overreach and antipathy to individual initiative, small business and relatively free enterprise have prolonged the worst effects of the great recession--e.g., moribund real estate prices, tepid economic performance, high unemployment, immobility-inducing incertitude, debilitated financial institutions (despite carry trade opportunities galore)--and threaten the world's recovery.

Thirdly, he did not save the auto industry.  He saved the unions of two of the big three domestic auto makers.  By doing so, he prevented the industry from working out the systemic problems that vex it in comparison to foreign producers, even those on American soil.  He shafted lenders, rewrote the rules of bankruptcy, and imposed his untutored vision of what the industry should be producing on GM and Chrysler in order to perpetuate union prerogatives and favor environmentalist zealots.  In short, he hooked the United Auto Workers--a Democratic Party stalwart--onto a new host, the American taxpayer, after it had drained two of the Big Three Automakers of life.

Fourth, health care costs are headed higher, not lower.  It is service that is headed lower.  Noman is uncertain as to the wisdom of replacing the ultimate bad consequence of illness, viz. personal bankruptcy, with that of having the plug pulled on life, which is what ObamaCare's myriad bureaucracies will do whether called "death panels" or not.  Somewhere Jack Kevorkian is smiling, nay, cackling.

Fifth, the taxpayers will be forced to bailout financial institutions again as surely as God made little green apples.  Banks are no smaller or less interconnected than in 2008, and they impose no less of a systemic risk.  Taxpayers are already being forced to bailout Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac on a quarterly basis without a peep by the alarum industry.  Neither GSE was the subject of financial legislation though both Democratic Party strongholds were primary causes of the financial crisis.  The CFPB will provide tens-of-thousands of high-paying government jobs to aspiring bureaucrats.  But, as it merely satisfies Elizabeth Warren's longstanding regulatory desires rather than addresses the causes of the financial crisis, it will not make the system more "stable and secure."

Sixth, we have not made college more affordable.  Quite the contrary.  By subsidizing the never-ending demands of educrats and educators for more money and higher income, it has been made more expensive.  The increased cost is simply being transferred into the future via debt, or onto third parties via loan forgiveness.  "Loan forgiveness," ha, ha.

Seventh, he has ended don't-ask-don't-tell for homosexuals, not for religious observers or secular thinkers who consider homosexuality to be unnatural as well as abnormal, and immoral.  Those who do not agree with the homosexual lobby will now have more impediments thrown in the way of their wanting to die for their country.  The burden of living in a closet has merely been further shifted from homosexuals onto an exponentially larger class of people who can more rightly claim the mantle of reason than a minority that defines itself by sexual predilection--a notoriously unreasonable impulse.

As to the rest:

Al Qaeda decimated?  Please, don't make me laugh.

Bin Laden taken off the field?  With whose intelligence, gathered where?

Restoring America's respect around the world.  Yes, Noman has noticed how belligerence against against the US has magically ceased, how the world looks to us with hopeful eyes, and how European and world leaders heed our counsel and advice with deference.

The President must mean that respect for America has been restored by the mainstream medias' ceasing to act as a hate-mongering cheerleader against its President and policies.  If he does, then Noman has found another point on which he and the President agree.

Noman finds the President's bravado fanciful, his reading of accomplishments puffed, and his "keeping at it" menacing.  May the nation survive him, justice be done, and ruin befall this most calamitous and self absorbed of Administrations.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Today is the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the Americas--North, Central and South.  The feast commemorates the day on which she imprinted her image on the tilma, or cloak, of St. Juan Diego, whose feast Catholics celebrated on December 9th.

It is a beautiful story that took place in 1531, a decade after Cortez's conquest of Aztec Mexico, and just 14 years after Martin Luther's publication of his Ninety-Five Theses, the event which precipitated the Protestant Reformation in Europe.

December 9, 1531 is the day on which she first appeared to Juan Diego, an Indian convert to Catholicism and a daily communicant.  As his village lay a long way from the nearest church, he was obliged daily to make a lengthy trek that took him over the hill of Tepeyac. 

Our Lady appeared to him there and instructed him to tell the Bishop of Mexico, Juan de Zummaraga, that she wanted a church built on that site.  
"I am the Virgin Mary, Mother of the one true God, of Him who gives life.
He is Lord and Creator of heaven and of earth.  
I desire that there be built a temple at this place where I want to manifest Him, make him known, give Him to all people through my love, my compassion, my help, and my protection.
I truly am your merciful Mother, your Mother and the Mother of all who dwell in this land, and of all mankind, of all those who love me, of those who cry to me, and of those who seek and place their trust in me. 
Here I shall listen to their weeping and their sorrows.  I shall take them all to my heart, and I shall cure their many sufferings, afflictions, and sorrows. 
So run now to Tenochtitlan and tell the Lord Bishop all that you have seen and heard."
One can imagine Juan Diego's incredulity at the unlikely assignment, whose chances of success appeared less than those of his being proclaimed Pope.  Nevertheless, he visited the Bishop's residence, somehow gained a brief audience, and conveyed Our Lady's message.  One can also imagine the Bishop's perplexity at this messenger who was too humble to be presumptuous, too pious to be false, yet too insignificant to be taken seriously.  He sent Juan Diego away.

Juan Diego conveyed the dismissal in his subsequent meeting with the Lady, who instructed him to persist.  He went again to the Bishop's residence the following day, managed another audience, and relayed Our Lady's message anew.  

At that meeting, Bishop Zumarraga requested a sign from the Lady in order to allay his doubts.  Privately, he asked for the sign of Castilian roses, which could not be growing in the Mexican countryside, especially in December.  When Juan Diego reported back to the Lady, she instructed him to return the following day, whereupon she would provide him with a sign for the Bishop.

It is here that the story takes a turn for the human, and even comical.  Juan Diego's convert uncle, Juan Bernadino, fell gravely ill, and Juan Diego stood Our Lady up in order to remain with him the following day.  He set out for the city on December 12th in order to bring a confessor back to hear Juan Bernadino's last confession.  So as not to be sidetracked by Our Lady's time consuming--not to mention impossible--requests, he skirted the hill passing around its bottom rather than going over its crest as usual.  This way, he hoped to avoid meeting her.

As one might expect, Our Lady descended the hill and intercepted him.  One can only imagine his embarrassment and discomfort.  She reassured him that Juan Bernadino was at that moment being healed, then took him to the top the hill and instructed him to fill his tilma with the roses that were growing there.  She even helped to arrange them.

Juan Diego dutifully visited the Bishop's residence again and reported that he'd brought a sign from Our Lady.  When he opened his tilma (which was tied from bottom-to-top in front in order to carry objects like crops) the image of her that we know as Our Lady of Guadalupe was imprinted on it.

The Bishop's reaction was immediate.  He knelt in prayer, and had a chapel built on Tepeyac Hill.  It was dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 26, 1531.  It has been succeed by many church structures, including two massive basilicas--an old Spanish-style one, which is presently unsafe for public use, and a modern circular cathedral that houses the tilma and permits remarkably close access to it.  

 A contemporary account of the apparitions, the Nican Mopohua (1545), was written by Don Juan Valeriano.  Noman has read it, and had the pleasure of making two pilgrimages to Tepeyac Hill.  He can recommend an engrossing and pious telling of the story entitled "The Wonder of Guadalupe," by Francis Johnston.

Our Lady's message is one of solicitude and consolation.
Am I not here who am your Mother?
Are you not under my shadow and protection?
Am I not the fountain of your joy?
Are you not in the fold of my mantle, in the cradle of my arms?
The homily at today's mass highlighted two aspects of the apparitions.  First, Our Lord chose his greatest saint and most important emissary--his own mother--to deliver his message of faith, hope, and love to the Americas.  By the end of the decade, nearly ten million converts had responded to it and entered the church--as many people as had left it on the old continent.  Secondly, Our Lady chose a humble instrument to do her bidding, someone not unlike herself.  It was Juan Diego's humility that suited him for the task.

Our Lady of Guadalupe has always held a special place in Noman's heart, never more so than in adult life.  He thanks her for the many favors she has bestowed on him, especially those occurring on December 12th, which are easier to identify as tokens of her affection.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, please bless the America's, especially the United States.

Corporate Carve-Out Revolt

What is a Democratic Governor like Pat Quinn in a pork barrel blue state like Illinois to do?  

The Party's power depends upon an endless stream of government jobs with budget-busting benefits, which translates into votes.  Unfortunately, the game only works if the bill can be foisted onto a deep-pocket third party.  The fly in the ointment is those unreasonable, right-wing tax payers, who are tired of being played for a pocket.

The Democrats' preferred solution is to sew up acquiescence and hamstring resistance by invoking fairness, responsibility, family or what-have-you.  The answer is never to cut the size and scope of government, or the ever-growing class of government union employees.

As today's WSJ explains, a stickier problem is antsy corporations, which have other options than to stay and be fleeced, while being hated.  How to solve the problem created by the prior solution of higher taxes?  By granting exemptions from the hikes to entities powerful enough to lobby politicians effectively for them (n.b. think ObamaCare waivers).
In January, the Democratic legislature and Governor Pat Quinn approved a 67% increase in the state's income tax and another increase in the corporate tax that gives the Land of Lincoln the highest business taxes in the Midwest. The Chicago Merc [Mercantile Exchange], a major presence in the downtown "Loop" with 2,000 employees, says the tax increase is costing it $50 million this year. 
Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, who has quipped that he feels like he is "living next door to the Simpsons," has already persuaded more than a dozen Illinois companies to relocate to the more business-friendly Hoosier State... Indiana is making a big play to lure the Merc to Indianapolis from Chicago, the company's home for more than 100 years. 
To keep this corporate out-migration from becoming a stampede, Mr. Quinn has been handing out sweetheart tax waivers to major employers. As we reported on June 9 ("Illinois Tax Firesale"), Governor Quinn has already offered or doled out more than $200 million this year to induce big companies like Motorola Mobility to stay in Illinois. But the spontaneous citizen combustion in recent weeks suggests that Illinois voters are losing patience with carve-outs for the politically powerful.

Darn that Occupy Wall Street movement for fomenting resentment of big corporations even while ignoring this aspect of preferential treatment. Corporations enjoy prerogatives from government in return for maintaining silence and inaction while government fleeces the middle class.

The Journal notes the wastefulness, not to mention wrong-headedness, of this never-ending cycle of fixes-to-fixes to problems that are rooted, in the final analysis, in an over-bloated public sector.
The better policy would be for the Governor and legislature to admit their blunder and repeal the tax increase on all companies, large and small. According to the Illinois Policy Institute, a free-market research shop, the cost of repealing the Quinn corporate tax increase would be less over 15 years than the cost of the new tax carve-outs. The main reason for Springfield's chronic deficits is excessive pension and health benefits to public employee unions. 
Meanwhile, taxes are killing jobs. In another study, the Illinois Policy Institute finds that Illinois was enjoying a jobs recovery until the tax hike passed this year. Then the job numbers headed south in a hurry, and payrolls shrunk by 89,000 in the six months following the revenue grab. The Illinois jobless rate is 10.1%, well above the 8.6% national rate. 

Noman has written before about Illinois' problems and Governor Quinn's stewardship of the state's finances (See "The Plan," March 18, 2011).  He wonders if voters will ever wake up and rid themselves of the mindset, and Party, that is draining that state of its vitality.  As the Journal puts it:
Democratic colleagues pretended that their midnight tax hike in January wouldn't injure the state's economy. 
This is what tax increasers always say. Nearly every day they are being proven wrong, and we hope the citizens who helped to bring down the special-interest tax bill two weeks ago remember who put the state in this fix in the first place.
 Amen to that.  It is worth remembering that the problem of corporate welfare doesn't begin with corporations.  Rather, it begins with pork barrel public spending, political patronage, high sounding oratory about fairness, and more burdensome taxes that later necessitate bribing job providers to stay put.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Random Harvest (1942)

It was movie night around No-house again, and last night's was a sentimental beauty: Random Harvest starring Ronald Colman, Greer Garson, and the lovely Susan Peters.  The movie is based on a book by James Hilton who also wrote the novels-turned-movies Goodbye Mr. Chips (1939, starring Garson) and Lost Horizon (1937, starring Colman).

Set in England, the story involves an amnesiac, John Smith, who lost all memory in a French foxhole during WWI.  Ronald Colman is spectacular in the role.  His face is a veritable exemplar of emotional complexity, puzzlement, confusion, frustration and resignation.  He is simply pathetic, and lovable, in his befuddlement.  

Amidst the jubilation of German surrender, Smith wanders off the Melbridge asylum and into the celebrating town where he is discovered, protected and cared for by Paula (Garson).  Her heart goes out to him.

The two eventually make their way into the country where they live a quiet life that blossoms into love.  He can't remember anything about who he is.  But, the life he knows begins with her, and he is happy.  He becomes a writer.  They marry, live happily in a country cottage, and have a son.

Naturally, if it ended there, the viewer would be pleased, but unsatisfied.  It doesn't.  While on his way to an out-of-town interview, he suffers a blow to the head.  He awakens as his original self, Charles Ranier, a scion of industrial wealth.  Unfortunately, he can't remember anything about Paula and his son, or of the years between the onset of his original amnesia and the recent accident.

With nothing to go on except a latch key to his house with Paula and the newfound memory of who he is, he returns to his family estate after a three-year absence, reintroduces himself to kin, and enters into his lavish inheritance.  Charles is a business wizard, especially at mergers, and comes to be publicly celebrated as England's leading industrialist.  The public notice he receives alerts Paula to his whereabouts, which she had been unable to ascertain for years, try as she might.

One of Charles' sisters has a precocious teenage stepdaughter, Kitty (Susan Peters), who at 15 reveals to Charles her intention of marrying him.  She encourages him to think of her and correspond; she matures from schoolgirl, to debutante, to highly courted beauty.  Her persistence pays off, and Charles, who still suffers from the haunting absence of a happiness he can't identify, asks her to marry him.

This is bitter blow to Paula who, going by the name of Margaret Hansen, has worked her way back into Smithy/Charles' life by becoming his indispensable personal secretary.  Of course she wants to tell him everything, but is advised by Smithy's Melbridge psychiatrist not to force remembrances on him.  His memory must return naturally, lest it threaten his psychic integrity.

Choosing to take the high road, Paula privately has her marriage to Smithy annulled under a statute that permits such in the case of a disappearing spouse.

Garson is superb in the role of the patiently suffering lover, burdened with more than mere mortal can bear. We feel her pain acutely as Charles announces his intention to marry Kitty, at the same time as he professes his utter dependence on Margaret's secretarial prowess.

Just days before their wedding, Kitty breaks it off.
Kitty Chilcet: Sometimes, especially when we've been closest, I've had the curious feeling that I remind you of someone else - someone you once knew... someone you loved as you'll never love me. I am nearly the one, Charles. But nearly isn't enough for a lifetime.
Though a reprieve for Paula, her suffering is far from over.  He still doesn't know that she is the lost love he laments in abstentia.  You feel her despair as Charles discovers the suitcase that she had helped him pack for his fateful trip, but recognizes neither its contents nor its namesake.

It gets even worse, as Charles enters politics and invites Margaret into that life in order for her to employ her talents on a broader stage.  It is an ironic invitation, as Paula was a stage girl when they originally met in Melbridge.

All of this grinds on for fifteen years, as Paula grows hollow from the wear of being so close to, yet so far from the man she loves.  Charles powers through industrial and political life while vacantly rubbing the latch key he wears on a vest chain in order to invoke a happiness that eludes yet haunts him.

This is not a movie for the unsentimental, who will likely consider it syrupy, and perhaps annoying for Charles' failure to carry identification, wear a ring or other such nit-picky details.  For those capable of being seduced by beautiful art, exceptional story-telling and emotion bruising irony, this movie is for you.  It is a compelling tale absorbingly told and superbly acted.

Filmed in an age when actors could act and not merely emote, and the story rather than the special effects carried you from beginning to end, it is a masterpiece of romance.

Garson is magnificent, particularly in the second half of the movie in which she tries to piece her and Smithy's life together again without throwing him into a relapse of psychic confusion.  She is strong and self-sacrificing.  She is good.

Colman is likewise a gem.  The viewer is trapped in his loss, as it is in Garson's deprivation.  One can't but help admire his basic decency and quiet equanimity.  One feels badly for him without ever blaming him.  It's simply not his fault.

The two of them together are wonderful.  Noman hopes that you'll enjoy the film, and recommends it heartily for your family's viewing.