“Binders Full of Women”: c.f. “You Didn’t Build That,” (context behind)

Binders full of context:

“And I brought us whole binders full of — of women. I was proud of the fact that after I staffed my cabinet and my senior staff that the University of New York in Albany did a survey of all 50 states and concluded that mine had more women in senior leadership positions than any other state in America.”

The context behind Obama’s “You didn’t build that” (essentially, he meant to say “you didn’t build that all alone“) makes Obama’s faux pas a bit less offensive — but Obama still clearly celebrates the government’s role ahead of, or on a par with, the individual entrepreneur.  I think a majority of Americans are more inclined to celebrate the successful individual.

The context behind Romney’s faux pas makes it clear that he has been a leader in identifying and appointing qualified women to senior positions.

Romney Should Use Tax Return Release to Make the Moral Case for Capitalism

Much as it pains me to link to the outfit that threw the odious Keith Olbermann a lifeline when even MSNBC could no longer stomach him, Current.com has a useful roundup entitled “List of Republicans calling on Mitt to release returns keeps growing and growing.”

Author Jonathan Kuperberg starts with a lead nearly as snarky as mine on this post, then plays it straight while quoting Rick Perry, Bill Kristol, Haley Barbour, Bret Hume, Richard Lugar, Michael Steele and a dozen more conservatives (or Republicans) calling on Romney to release more tax returns.  George Will describes the perception Romney is creating:

“The cost of not releasing the returns are clear,” Will said. “Therefore, he must have calculated that there are higher costs in releasing them.”

I suspect that when he inevitably releases them, the returns will establish that Romney is really, really, really rich.  Master of the Universe rich.  Maybe “Forbes 400″ rich, although Forbes doesn’t currently think so.  In an op-ed titled “Why Capitalism Has an Image Problem,” Charles Murray of the American Enterprise Institute describes why Romney should not run from the fact of his wealth:

Mitt Romney’s résumé at Bain should be a slam dunk. He has been a successful capitalist, and capitalism is the best thing that has ever happened to the material condition of the human race. From the dawn of history until the 18th century, every society in the world was impoverished, with only the thinnest film of wealth on top. Then came capitalism and the Industrial Revolution. Everywhere that capitalism subsequently took hold, national wealth began to increase and poverty began to fall. Everywhere that capitalism didn’t take hold, people remained impoverished. Everywhere that capitalism has been rejected since then, poverty has increased.

Capitalism has lifted the world out of poverty because it gives people a chance to get rich by creating value and reaping the rewards. Who better to be president of the greatest of all capitalist nations than a man who got rich by being a brilliant capitalist?

I suspect it also will turn out that Romney has aggressively made use of tax-minimization strategies that are not practical for people of lesser means.  Assuming everything he did was legal, I say good for him.  If Obama supporters want to claim that it is somehow immoral to take advantage of loopholes in the law for financial benefit, they should take a one-question quiz: Who is the first major presidential candidate ever to opt out of the system of public funding of campaigns, even while supporting that system on “principle”? Hint: he’s running again this year, and his name is not Romney.

Granted, any rich man traipsing through a defense of capitalism will encounter pitfalls, and Romney no doubt would blunder into some of them.  But this election is shaping up as the clearest choice in memory between the champions of free enterprise and the champions of bigger government, and Romney should make no apology for playing hard for the team to which he belongs.

 

Mitt & Mitch: Governor Daniels for Vice President!

OK, the Pres has some political skills, and I loved the closing tribute to Seal Team 6.  Obama deserves his share of the credit for approving a risky mission, and he earned the right to a stirring build-up to “God bless the United States of America.”

Onward!  We learned four years ago that one of the greatest perils of running for president is the urge to try to hit a five-run homer when picking a running mate.  Whoever wins the election will have earned the right to finish in the top two, by winning the endorsement of one of our two major political parties.  But could there be a worse way to pick a vice president?  One person makes the decision in secrecy, and it’s virtually irreversible.

I was disappointed when Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana declined to run for president last year.  He might not have ended up being my favorite, but I thought he had potential.  The governor’s response to the the State of the Union address tonight has me ready right now to endorse him for VP.  I’m a sucker for a full-throated celebration of capitalism, and Daniels pitched a gem:

“Contrary to the President’s constant disparagement of people in business, it’s one of the noblest of human pursuits. The late Steve Jobs – what a fitting name he had – created more of them than all those stimulus dollars the President borrowed and blew. Out here in Indiana, when a businessperson asks me what he can do for our state, I say ‘First, make money. Be successful. If you make a profit, you’ll have something left to hire someone else, and some to donate to the good causes we love.’

“The extremism that stifles the development of homegrown energy, or cancels a perfectly safe pipeline that would employ tens of thousands, or jacks up consumer utility bills for no improvement in either human health or world temperature, is a pro-poverty policy. It must be replaced by a passionate pro-growth approach that breaks all ties and calls all close ones in favor of private sector jobs that restore opportunity for all and generate the public revenues to pay our bills.

And here’s a tiger-whistle to fellow Princeton grads: Mitch Daniels ’71!

Pepper Spray Incident Shows Why OWS Has Less “Staying Power” Than Vietnam War Protests

I have very little use for “Occupy Wall Street” and its far-flung imitators, but even so I found the image somewhat disturbing.  A UC-Davis police officer seems to be strolling along, casually emptying a can of pepper spray toward the heads of protestors seated on the ground.

Then I mentally shrugged.   Unfortunate optics, but no real harm done.  It may have been excessive, but no matter how the police break up a demonstration, they will be criticized for the inevitable injuries and indignities.  A YouTube video helps by putting the pepper spray in the context of a broader and more calibrated use of force.

Obviously, the left has a different storyline to offer.  If you Google “pepper spray” + “Kent State” you’ll get nearly half a million results.

To be fair, nobody seems to be claiming that the UC Davis incident is “another Kent State.” (Googling “pepper spray” + “another Kent State” yields 3,970 results, but the top result says “another Kent State is unlikely”, and other results express fears of “another Kent State.”)

The 1970 Kent State shootings may have been the tipping point of the battle for public support of the Vietnam War.  The episode inspired CSN&Y’s haunting refrain of “four dead in O-hi-o,” and was captured in an iconic photo of a 14-year-old runaway screaming over the body of a dead protester.

But the differences between the two incidents only start with the fact that nobody died at UC Davis.  Taranto, who evokes “Hoovervilles” by consistently referring to the OWS protestors as “Obamavillians,”  breaks it down:

Let’s say, heaven forbid, that the Obamavillians get their “Kent State moment”–a violent climax serving as the final tipping point that convinces the majority of Americans to oppose . . . well, you see the problem. To oppose what exactly? Private property? Public order? Personal hygiene?

Exactly right. To belabor his point: During the Vietnam War, there was a straightforward, easily defined, highly achievable course of action that would meet the demands of the protestors. All the government had to do was abandon our South Vietnamese allies and get out of Southeast Asia.  Rightly or wrongly (and I tend to think it was the least-bad option), the government eventually did precisely that.

But what can be done to satisfy OWS?  Raise taxes on “the 1 percent”? Fine, but even if you assume confiscatory tax rates and no change of behavior by taxpayers, taxing “the rich” won’t do much toward closing the budget deficit — and it certainly won’t create jobs.  And no level of taxation will ever be high enough to satisfy the tax-the-rich impulse.

I haven’t blogged much about the ongoing protests;  my entire OWS oeuvre apparently consists of a passing swipe at “the aimless juvenile antics of the Occupy Wall Street crowd” in a post on an unrelated topic.  The movement hasn’t interested me — I’ve always thought its enemy was capitalism itself.  I’m a big fan of capitalism, and OWS poses no real threat to it.

My priest, a thoughtful liberal who has tugged me back before from some of my more conservative leanings, gave me a new way to think about OWS in his Sunday sermon.  After carefully stating that he was taking no position on the specific messages and tactics of the movement, he said that Occupy Wall Street can be seen as “an expression of pain.”   His point, which I hope I am capturing adequately, is that the pain is real and needs to be acknowledged.

Fair enough.  The classic right-wing response to demonstrators is to snarl “get a job” — a phrase that bristles with cruel irony during a period when it sometimes feels like 9% unemployment is settling in as the new normal.  I have my own riches-to-rags story, although both “riches” and “rags” are exaggerations. I work at a church, making about what I made in 1985 — and I thank God every day that I have a job at all, let alone one that provides the privilege of laboring for a worthy organization.

I do think the OWS crowd would do well to channel its anger in more productive ways.  Say what you will about the Tea Party, but it certainly has built something out of its initial expressions of pain:  one out of every four Republican members of the House now self-identifies as a member of the Tea Party Caucus. Somehow I don’t expect there will ever be an OWS coalition in Congress.

(Unattributed photo snatched from Eschaton.)

Cleveland Land Bank: A Model for Public-Private Partnership

Photo: Washington Post

Cleveland, where the Cuyahoga River once caught fire, is a pioneer in what seems to be a productive method for dealing with the wave of foreclosures that have blighted that city and many others.  The land bank program described by the Washington Post today involves cooperation between government, non-profits and banks, to the benefit of all parties.

A handful of the nation’s largest banks have begun giving away scores of properties that are abandoned or otherwise at risk of languishing indefinitely and further dragging down already depressed neighborhoods.

The banks have even been footing the bill for the demolitions — as much as $7,500 a pop. Four years into the housing crisis, the ongoing expense of upkeep and taxes, along with costly code violations and the price of marketing the properties, has saddled banks with a heavy burden. It often has become cheaper to knock down decaying homes no one wants.

The demolitions in some cases have paved the way for community gardens, church additions and parking lots. Even when the result is an empty lot, it can be one less pockmark. While some widespread demolitions could risk hollowing out the urban core of struggling cities such as Cleveland, advocates say that the homes being targeted are already unsalvageable and that the bulldozers are merely “burying the dead.”

Two things about this warm my capitalist heart. One of them is described in the article.  Instead of the aimless juvenile antics of the Occupy Wall Street crowd, the land bank program enlists the banks that helped create the mess in the effort to clean it up.

Cleveland has found progress in the sliver of common ground between the land bank’s mission and the interest of financial firms, including some that helped fuel the housing crisis through risky loans and later botched paperwork in carrying out foreclosures across the country.

This collaboration was uncomfortable at first, said Gus Frangos, the Cuyahoga land bank’s president and one of the people behind the state law.

“Two years ago, when we started . . . it was difficult,” he said. “Everybody was guarded.”

After countless meetings, however, land bank officials and banking representatives shed their initial wariness of one another. Frangos made a simple pitch: We’re not here to point fingers. We’ll take your worst properties, the ones not worth keeping. Pony up for the demolition, and you’ll still come out ahead. Just don’t walk away from them.

And in the process, construction — or destruction :) — workers are employed who otherwise might be idle.

(Photo: Washington Post)

Steve Jobs: Poster Child for the Beauty of Capitalism

At The Corner, within about 90 minutes of the announcement that Steve Jobs had died, Kevin D. Williamson posted a thoughtful celebration of the miraculous system of industry and commerce that both benefited from and made possible Jobs’s success.  An excerpt:

Jobs was sometimes criticized for not being a philanthropist along the lines of Bill Gates. … Mr. Jobs’s contribution to the world is Apple and its products, along with Pixar and his other enterprises, his 338 patented inventions — his work — not some Steve Jobs Memorial Foundation for Giving Stuff to Poor People in Exotic Lands and Making Me Feel Good About Myself. Because he already did that: He gave them better computers, better telephones, better music players, etc. In a lot of cases, he gave them better jobs, too.

Did he do it because he was a nice guy, or because he was greedy, or because he was a maniacally single-minded competitor who got up every morning possessed by an unspeakable rage to strangle his rivals? The beauty of capitalism — the beauty of the iPhone world as opposed to the world of politics — is that that question does not matter one little bit. Whatever drove Jobs, it drove him to create superior products, better stuff at better prices. Profits are not deductions from the sum of the public good, but the real measure of the social value a firm creates.

Those who talk about the horror of putting profits over people make no sense at all. The phrase is without intellectual content. Perhaps you do not think that Apple, or Goldman Sachs, or a professional sports enterprise, or an internet pornographer actually creates much social value; but markets are very democratic — everybody gets to decide for himself what he values. That is not the final answer to every question, because economic answers can only satisfy economic questions. But the range of questions requiring economic answers is very broad.

(Photo from Wikipedia)

Jonah Goldberg’s Elegant Paean to Capitalism

It’s worth reading the whole thing, but since you won’t, here are the concluding stanzas:

America, with its markets, stands alone as the leading, arguably sole, source of medical innovation. Breakthrough drugs are as American as apple pie.

Every good thing capitalism helps produce — from singing careers to cures for diseases to staggering charity —  is credited to some other sphere of our lives. Every problem with capitalism, meanwhile, is laid at her feet. Except the problems with capitalism — greed, theft, etc. — aren’t capitalism’s fault, they’re humanity’s. Socialist countries have greedy thieves, too.

Free markets are in disrepute these days, particularly by the people running Washington. For them, government is the solution and capitalism is the problem. If they have their way over the next decade, they won’t cure what allegedly ails capitalism — people will still steal and lie — but they will impede everything that makes capitalism great. And that will be bad for everyone, even NPR.

Health Care Debate Involves First Principles: Capitalism vs. Command Economy

Neo-neocon (owner of my favorite bloggish nom d’pixelle) explains the fundamental difference in world-view that underlies the highly partisan health care debate (link and emphasis added):

Americans on both left and right are unhappy with the current health care reform bills.

Neo-neocon

Neo-neocon

The left is upset because neither the House nor Senate version goes far enough towards putting government firmly in control of our medical decisions, with the goal of providing equal coverage for all no matter what the price. The right is upset because we see the bills’ provisions as unwarranted intrusions on our liberty that create a “right” where none existed before. We believe that reform would be better handled by fostering competition in the private sector rather than increasing government intervention in vital decisions that should remain between doctor and patient….

[E]mbedded in the second paragraph of this article is the most basic division between left and right, embodied in the phrases “providing equal coverage for all” and “unwarranted intrusion on our liberty.”

The first expresses the left’s push for equality of outcome, while the second speaks to the right’s concern with safeguarding liberty while providing equality of opportunity. Even if it were possible to put aside for a moment all the highly valid concerns about the way this bill has been advanced against the will of the American public — the lack of transparency, the fiscal fudging, the vote-buying, and the lies — this deep and primary philosophical difference between left and right would still remain.

The battle cry of the left is that “health care should be a right, not a privilege.”  This is brilliant framing — it sneakily implies that conservatives believe health care should be a privilege.

140px-CaduceusThe problem, of course, is that no health care system can provide every treatment for every person for every malady.  Health care expenditures have to be rationed, either by government, by the marketplace, or — as in our current system — by an imperfect combination of the two.

Thanks in large part to Joe Lieberman, the most pernicious element of the left’s health care agenda — the single-payer stalking horse known as the public “option” — has been eliminated from the current bill.  But the legislation still represents a massive shift of control, over one-sixth of the economy, from the marketplace to the government.  It’s a move in the wrong direction, and it will stifle competition and lead to higher, unsustainable costs.  (There still remains a faint hope that the reconciliation process between the House and Senate versions may scuttle the legislation altogether.)

You should read all of Neo’s article, but since you won’t, I’ll give away the ending.  Riffing on Churchill, she writes:

Our government has had to choose between liberty and social justice. They chose social justice. They will get neither.

Hope (and Ammunition) for Opponents of Socialized Medicine

It seems clear after Saturday’s Senate vote that America will avoid the worst excesses of the various Democratic proposals to remake the health care system.  The Senate voted 60-39 to allow the debate to reach the Senate floor, but although the vote was a nominal victory for the Democrats, they had zero votes to spare as they (temporarily) averted a Republican filibuster.

In particular, while stalwart Independent ex-Democrat Joe Lieberman sided with the Democratic caucus on this procedural vote, he has made it clear he will join Republicans in blocking any bill that includes the single-payer stalking horse known as the “public option.”  A few Democrats have also signaled that the party cannot necessarily count on their votes on an actual bill, while I’ve seen no signs that any Republicans are likely to break ranks.

Thankfully, the public “option” appears to be dead.

But just in case it attempts to lurch zombie-like from the grave, I’m glad to see an increasing number of resources available making well-articulated arguments against the move toward socialized medicine.

The video at the top of this post is perhaps the best of four well-made films available at FreeMarketCure.com, a website “dedicated to correctly diagnosing the problems with the U.S. health care system and promoting solutions which preserve and extend individual liberty.”  Three of the films feature Canadians describing why America should not emulate Canada’s health care system, and the fourth examines the famous battle cry of  “45 million Americans without health care” and shows how it vastly overstates the problem.

The other health care system we’re told we should covet is the fully socialized European model.  Here, too, there is a helpful video, this time from the Center for Freedom and Prosperity,  titled “Don’t Copy Europe’s Mistakes: Less Government Is the Right Way to Fix Healthcare.”  (Hat tip: America on the Rocks.)

Another great resource, although a more cumbersome one, is James Taranto’s “Great Moments in Socialized Medicine” — a frequently recurring feature in his trenchant Best of the Web Today column on the Wall Street Journal‘s website.  These items cite news stories describing instances where the bureaucracy of the British health care system has impeded quality health care, and often are set up by Taranto’s trademark dry wit.  From an example last week:

If women are discouraged from getting mammograms, as a U.S. government panel recently advised, some will die, but at least others will be spared the discomfort of getting mammograms. There isn’t a similar upside to the following decision by Britain’s socialized medical system, described by London’s Daily Mail:

Liver cancer sufferers are being condemned to an early death by being denied a new drug on the Health Service, campaigners warn….

Each individual item could be dismissed as anecdotal evidence, but Taranto has posted dozens of such items, and the recurring drumbeat is quite effective.  It’s a pity that it’s so hard to find them.

Taranto is an important pioneer of the blogosphere — I’ve been reading his BotWT every weekday since before 9/11, and he continues to polish his craft.  Unfortunately, his site hasn’t kept up with innovations in blogging software.  His primitive format doesn’t even provide a way to link to individual items within his daily roundup, let alone make use of elementary organizational tools like tags, and the search function is highly unsatisfying.  But a jerry-rigged Google roundup of his columns that include “Great Moments” posts can be found here.

Rep. Artur Davis

Rep. Artur Davis

This is a bit of a tangent, but one last hopeful sign can be found in a particularly flagrant example of rhetorical over-reaching.  Jesse Jackson, who long ago squandered whatever moral authority he might once have had, last week said at a Congressional Black Caucus meeting, “You can’t vote against healthcare and call yourself a black man.”  This was a reference to a vote against Pelosi-care by Rep. Artur Davis of Alabama, who does call himself, and who from his photo appears to be, in fact, a black man.

If the increasingly desperate proponents of health care “reform” continue to serve up this type of poisonous rhetoric, it will only serve to stiffen the spines of Americans across the country who have been pressuring their representatives to tread carefully in remaking one-sixth of the economy.

Anti-National-Debt Ad is Free Speech, Not “Evil”

The ad certainly provokes thought.  Well-scrubbed youngsters in a classroom place their hands on their hearts and start to recite the pledge — but it’s a different pledge from the one I learned in school:

I pledge allegiance to America’s debt…and to the Chinese government that lends us money… And to the interest… for which we pay… compoundable… with higher taxes and lower pay… until the day we die.

My first thought was to link this 30-second ad with the manufactured controversy over President Obama’s back-to-school message — using children to make a political point.  But the well-produced ad was released September 1, and clearly was created before Obama’s planned speech became a target.

I learned of the ad from Matt Miller’s latest podcast, which I listened to shortly after posting about Miller yesterday.  He approvingly called it a “fascinating fake ad” with a “chilling message from an advocacy group.”

The advocacy group turns out to be the Employment Policies Institute, which SourceWatch.org describes as “one of several front groups created by Berman & Co., a Washington, DC public affairs firm owned by Rick Berman, who lobbies for the restaurant, hotel, alcoholic beverage and tobacco industries.”

They make that sound like a bad thing.

Berman was profiled a couple of years ago on “60 Minutes,” which noted that he relishes the nickname opponents have pinned on him: “Dr. Evil.”   The Debt ad is a bit of a departure for EPI, whose primary mission seems to be arguing that increases in the minimum wage hurt poor people by stifling entry-level job creation. Other Berman-related ads compiled by “60 Minutes” focus on attacking unions and America’s “war on obesity.”

But as long as no laws are broken, lobbying is another form of free speech, and industries have every right to advocate for their own interests.  Berman’s messages should be evaluated on their merits — and in some cases, those merits are considerable.  I love the Pledge ad — our children really are going to be subjugated throughout their lives by the national debt we are recklessly accumulating, and the ad drives that message home in a memorable way.

My main quarrel with the Dr. Evil story is esoteric and parochial. The concept of evil inspired the name of this blog, and the word shouldn’t be trivialized.  People who fly airplanes into buildings are evil.  People who take sides on public policy issues are not.