Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Pity Party Nation: Who Cares If You're Offended?

By John Hawkins
Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Since when did, “I’m offended,” become an argument that trumps all facts, logic and common sense? When did regularly claiming to be aggrieved on behalf of some splinter of the population become a high paying gig? How did we get to a point in America where people are PROUD to tell you that they’re “victims?”

There are a lot of reasons things have gone so wrong on this front, but ironically, the biggest is that our nation has had so much success.

Americans are now considerably richer and more educated as a group than Americans were a few generations ago. The Civil Rights struggle was an overwhelming success. Even many poor Americans have access to conveniences and luxuries that the richest and most privileged of us didn’t have 100 years ago. If you look at the whole of human history, anyone living in America today is in the wealthiest, most privileged “1%” of people who have ever lived on Planet Earth.

There’s a reason people say, “Idle hands do the devil’s work,” and it’s the same reason you often find that prominent terrorists and communists come from privileged backgrounds. No matter how well things are going, some people are going to be dissatisfied. When those people are living hand to mouth, they’re too busy scrambling to pay their bills to worry about trivia. But, when they have a roof over their heads, money in their pockets, and free time, they spend their days doing what critics do.

This is not new. Even Machiavelli had people like this in his time,

“And many writers have imagined for themselves republics and principalities that have never been seen or known to exist in reality; for there is such a gap between how one lives and how one ought to live that anyone who abandons what is done for what ought to be done learns his ruin rather than his preservation…..”

The difference between today and the start of the 16th century is that our prosperity has allowed a few puddles full of whiners to grow into an ocean and worse yet, we REWARD them for bellyaching.

In the era of the Internet and reality TV, everyone seems to be chasing Andy Warhol’s “fabled 15 minutes of fame” and one of the easiest ways to get them, especially if you don’t have any talent or don’t want to work for them, is to throw a big public pity party for yourself.

There are people like Cindy Sheehan, Sandra Fluke and to a lesser degree, even Hillary Clinton who managed to turn being professional victims into careers.

Setting that aside, there’s the financial motive. There are people who quite literally make a living by accusing other people of racism, sexism and homophobia. Do you really think people -- who are only going to be able to make their house payments if they keep making accusations of racism -- are going to see anything other than bigotry when there’s money on the line?

Professional race hustlers are bad enough, but the sheer number of amateurs getting in on the game has an even bigger negative impact on society. Every day, we now have millions of people trying to figure out how they can be aggrieved so they can claim their own delicious little slice of victimhood.

As often as not, when you hear their caterwauling about how upset they are, you can’t help but think it’s their way of saying, “Everybody look at us! We’re victims! We’re offended; so you have to pay attention to us!”

There are people offended by American flags, by non-offensive words like “niggardly” that sound similar to offensive words, by Christian business owners who don’t want to bake cakes for gay weddings, by children’s songs that mention pigs and there’s even a family that’s terribly upset about Ben & Jerry’s “Hazed and Confused” ice cream because….well, can you even guess? It’s because their son died in 2008 in a hazing incident and so they’ve decided they don’t like the word “hazed.”

That last example cuts to the heart of the problem because you certainly feel for people who lost their son and it’s understandable that they’re against hazing. But, where does sympathy stop and common sense begin? How far is everyone else supposed to go to cater to their irrational complaints? As someone who quite literally gets hate mail every day of the week from people who are deeply offended in almost every way imaginable because I dare to have a different opinion than they do on an issue, I’d say not very far.

That doesn’t mean that we should go out of our way to offend people. For example, even though I’m not a Muslim and think the overreaction to Koran burnings in some parts of the world is insane, I wouldn’t burn a Koran because I want to show a modicum of courtesy to people from another faith. I don’t think the Confederate flag is racist, but I wouldn’t personally fly one because I can legitimately see why many black Americans associate it with slavery. I’ve had polite conversations at conventions with liberals -- whom I would disagree with on every issue -- just because I think it’s good manners. These are the sort of niceties that help hold a society together, but it only goes so far.

When every niche issue that mildly tweaks someone’s sensibilities becomes a life and death, traumatic “either do this or you hate me” battle, the bonds that hold us together as a society begin to disintegrate because to paraphrase Aristotle, the only way to avoid offending people is to “say nothing, do nothing and be nothing.”

It’s made worse by the fact that so many people have started glomming on to these ridiculous issues as a substitute for actually doing something of consequence. “I’m against the Redskins; so I’m pro-Indian!” “The words ‘illegal immigrant’ are offensive; so I’m pro-Hispanic!” “I think that’s racist; so I’m pro-black.”

Bull****! If you’ve helped a black friend move his furniture to a new apartment, you’ve actually done more for black Americans than someone who has spent the last decade screaming “racism, racism, racism” every day.

Claiming to be “offended” on someone else’s behalf rarely accomplishes anything meaningful. In fact, it’s often about as “helpful” as buying a bottle of booze for an alcoholic because life doesn’t give “trigger warnings” and few people worth emulating in life enjoy being the guest of honor at a pity party.

Predatory Journalism

By Thomas Sowell
Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The New York Times is again on the warpath against what it calls "predatory lending."

Just what is predatory lending? It is lending that charges a higher interest rate than people like those at the New York Times approve of. According to such thinking -- or lack of thinking -- the answer is to have the government set an interest rate ceiling at a level that will be acceptable to third parties like the New York Times.

People who believe in government-set price controls -- whether on interest rates charged for loans, rents charged for housing or wages paid under minimum wage laws -- seem to think that this is the end of the story. Yet there is a vast literature on the economic repercussions of price controls.

Whole books have been written just on the repercussions of rent control laws in countries around the world.

These repercussions include the housing shortages that almost invariably follow, the deterioration of existing housing and the shift of economic resources -- both construction materials and construction labor -- from building ordinary housing for the general public to building luxury housing that only the affluent and the rich can afford, because that kind of housing is usually exempted from rent control.

There is at least an equally vast literature on the repercussions of minimum wage laws. Unemployment rates over 20 percent for younger, less skilled and less experienced workers have been common, even in normal times -- with much higher unemployment rates than that during recessions.

Against this background of negative repercussions from various forms of price control, in countries around the world, why would anybody imagine that price controls on interest rates would not have repercussions that need to be considered?

Yet there is remarkably little concern on the political left as to the actual consequences of the laws and policies they advocate. Once they have taken a stance on the side of the angels against the forces of evil, that is the end of the story, as far as they are concerned.

Low-income people often get short-terms loans when they run out of money to meet some exigency of the moment. The interest rates charged on such unsecured loans to people with low credit scores are usually higher than on loans to people whose higher incomes and better credit histories make them less of a risk.

Crusaders against such loans often make the interest rate charged seem even higher by quoting these interest rates in annual terms, even when the loan is actually repayable in a matter of weeks. It is like saying that a $100 a night hotel room costs $36,500 a year, when virtually nobody rents a hotel room for a year.

Because those who make unsecured short-term loans are usually poor and often ill-educated, the political left can cast the high interest rates as unconscionably taking advantage of vulnerable people. But similar economic principles apply to more upscale short-term lending to well-educated people who have valuable possessions to use as collateral.

A small-time businessman who suddenly finds that he does not have enough cash on hand, or readily available from a bank, to pay his employees this week, knows that if he doesn't pay them this week he may not have any employees next week -- and can face lawsuits the week after that.

There is an upscale lending market available to such people, where he can use his expensive personal possessions as collateral to get the money he needs immediately.

He can borrow more money than the poor can borrow, and at not as high an interest rate. But his interest rate can still be 200 percent if figured on an annual basis -- even though he may be able to pay off the loan next month when his customers pay him what they owe him, so he is paying only a small fraction of that hypothetical 200 percent, just as the poor are paying only a small fraction of the hypothetical 300 percent or 400 percent that they are charged.

Editorial demagoguery against "predatory" lending might well be called predatory journalism -- taking advantage of other people's ignorance of economics to score ideological points, and promote still more expansion of government powers that limit the options of poor people especially, who have few options already.

Does Obama Care About People?

By Mona Charen
Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Can you walk out on the messiah?

Appearing at a campaign rally for gubernatorial candidate Anthony Brown in Maryland on Sunday, President Obama sought to capture the magic that had electrified audiences in 2008 and, to some considerable degree, even in 2012. Obama isn't doing much stumping this year. He limits his campaigning mostly to fundraisers. This is the year, after all, when Democratic candidates are announcing how important it is in our system of government to have honest disagreements with the president. They're hastening to say that they would be tougher than he is on ISIS. They are declaring that a travel ban from West Africa is only common sense. It's the year when some have discovered a sacred Constitutional right to keep silent about whom they voted for in 2008 and 2012.

Maryland is an exception. It's about as safe a Democratic state as you can find, and the president was welcomed. The audience at the rally was largely African-American. And yet, according to Reuters, "a steady stream of people walked out of the auditorium while he spoke ... and a heckler interrupted his remarks."

Could it be that even loyal Democrats -- even those who want to see Obama in the flesh -- feel that they've heard it all before? Their actions send a clear signal: We think you're a historical figure worth laying eyes on, but your words no longer interest us.

In 2012, reluctant to encourage a referendum on the first four years of his leadership, Obama successfully turned attention away from his record and toward Mitt Romney and the Republicans. The race became (with the unwitting cooperation of several cloddish Republican candidates) not about the economy or jobs or debt or America's global retreat, but about saving American women from medieval inquisitors and shielding Hispanics from mass deportation.

Democratic candidates in 2014 are, if anything, even more eager to turn attention away from the president's performance in the past two years. The economy has not improved. Obamacare's debut was a debacle. Foreign policy is a shambles, government agencies from the IRS to the Secret Service are loose cannons, and Ebola threatens.

Democrats are attempting to reprise some of the themes that worked in 2012, notably the "War on Women." But not even that fright mask seems to be working anymore. Sen. Mark Udall's campaign in Colorado was wall-to-wall gynecology -- to the point where he was ridiculed as "Mark Uterus." The Denver Post was so disgusted that it endorsed his opponent, Rep. Cory Gardner. Like other "war on women" attacks, Udall's accusations were false. He asserted that Gardner had run an "eight-year crusade to outlaw birth control." Gardner swatted the lie away with ads touting his support for selling contraceptive pills over the counter (a technique originated by Bobby Jindal).

Democrats are struggling not just because the economy is stagnant and the world is in chaos. They are paying the price for something else. Obama has squandered the greatest asset he had: the perception among Americans that he cared about their problems.

Obama telegraphs indifference to Americans' well-being. When the Benghazi compound was overrun and our ambassador killed, he first dissembled (blaming a video) and then thundered about retribution and justice, but what happened? With the exception of one arrest, Benghazi has been dumped. No one has paid a price for that attack on the U.S.

The president permitted the ISIS menace to metastasize and dismissed the terrorist army as "jayvee," even as his national security advisers were testifying before Congress that the group was a profound worry. When stories surfaced later that the president attended only 40 percent of his intelligence briefings in person, it fed the impression that Obama doesn't take the time to evaluate threats to the country. He now blames the intelligence community, but a man who goes golfing after an American is beheaded is signaling a certain coldness.

The response to Ebola underlines all of these tendencies in thick black ink. His instinct has been to tamp down fears rather than address threats with alacrity. He is willing to send U.S. troops to Africa to fight Ebola but not to Iraq to fight ISIS. The administration's resistance to a travel ban makes no sense if the top priority is the safety of Americans.

In 2012, most people still believed that Obama cared. How many do today?

Barack W. Obama

By Armstrong Williams
Tuesday, October 21, 2014

This must be a difficult time for liberals, Democrats, and all other flavors of Obama followers. Their hero, their icon, the man of their dreams whose destiny it was to fulfill their dreams has transmorgrified into…..dare I say it: Barack W. Obama! Yes, Mr. Obama in his ISIS-fighting identity is now the intellectually equivalent to not just George W. Bush, but actually, again….dare I say it: VP Dick Cheney. Consider how Mr. Obama’s stance on the ISIS terrorists essentially mimics the Bush Doctrine:

1) He acknowledges this is a Long War to be fought with myriad methods.

2) The stage is global.

3) The primacy is to fight this war on their turf, not ours.

4) We would prefer to fight with allies, but will go it alone if we must (and per Gen. Dempsey, we may even use ground troops eventually).

5) We reserve the right to strike pre-emptively.

In all its essentials, this is the Bush Doctrine. So, we have come full circle. The wages of demagoguery are to be shown to be a hypocrite, and not a very astute one at that. Remember, the Obama candidacy was premised first, last, and middle on his opposition to Mr. Bush’s policies regarding the war in Iraq. That was the “stupid” war. Mr. Obama stoutly maintained he wouldn’t have voted for it (though it should be remembered he didn’t HAVE to vote one way or the other – or there might have been a “present” on the roll call), and thoroughly trashed Hillary for her support of that war. Now, he mimics Bush in ways large and small and particularly regarding his justifications. It is significant not only that our strikes have been fairly widespread, but that in important ways (bombing Syrian targets and particularly the shadowy al Qaeda cell in NW Syria on the first night of strikes) the rationale and defense of them has been….well….’Bushian.’ The administration explained its strikes against {……} as a strike against an “imminent danger”. This is a neat parallel of the Bush/Cheney reasoning as well as a complete abandonment of his heretofore assertion that al Qaeda had been “significantly degraded.”

To be optimistic, and it is hard, but I’ll try it, let us hope this is the beginning of wisdom for our community organizer-in-chief. Perhaps, finally he has understood his first responsibility: to safeguard this country, its allies, and our interests. You don’t do that by unilateral withdrawal, ceding international leadership, and issuing hollow threats. Congratulations. To echo his wife on another occasion: for the first time ever in the conduct of his foreign policy, I’m proud of Mr. Obama and support his actions (though in truth there is much to criticize in detailed execution). His instinct to save US ground troops for a last resort is also admirable though I am skeptical that that commitment can be kept.

The truth of the matter is that we are all safer when the Islamists fear American – and Israeli – power. When that power is connected to resolve and a clear strategy, it is all the better. That being too much to hope for, I will settle for a president Obama who, at minimum, has recognized the threat from ISIS and has gone, at least part ways, to move beyond the straightjacket of his campaign rhetoric to the recognition of the real burden of a superpower.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Rove Agonistes

By Kevin D. Williamson
Sunday, October 19, 2014

‘Karl Rove targets attorney general race in California.” “Who’s afraid of Kamala Harris? Karl Rove!” “Karl Rove Attacks — We Need Your Help!” Karl Rove’s starring role in the 2010 California attorney general’s race came as a surprise to Karl Rove, who wasn’t actually involved in that particular contest. This happens with him all the time. For the Left, Rove served for many years as the go-to bogeyman, the marquee name with which to conjure before Democrats discovered Charles and David Koch. “Karl Rove” was how the Left pronounced “Satan.”

What has been peculiar in the years since then is Rove’s transformation from left-wing hate totem to right-wing hate totem, an all-purpose villain whose name is used liberally by tea-party groups and conservative populists raising funds for races in which he has no involvement. On and on they go: “Don’t let Karl Rove squish Allen West!” “Gingrich: We can’t let Karl Rove and a bunch of billionaires handpick GOP candidates for Senate.”

That’s a whole lot of hate for the last guy to manage a winning Republican presidential campaign.

“I’m a myth,” Rove says, snorting. “I’d have to be a super being to have done everything that’s attributed to me.”

For Democrats and for a very vocal portion of the Right, it’s a game of six degrees of separation, or sometimes fewer degrees: This group ran an ad in this race, and one of its donors is linked to that group, which has a connection to Karl Rove. Most often, that group is American Crossroads or Crossroads GPS, where Rove serves as an unpaid adviser, general-purpose lightning rod, and political bull’s-eye. But even if one assumes that everything Crossroads does is a Karl Rove project by proxy, the myth of its torpedoing conservative primary challengers on behalf of the hated Establishment is not very well supported by the evidence: In 2012, Crossroads spent 99 percent of its funds on the general election, not in the primaries. Rove’s Conservative Victory Project, greeted on the front page of the New York Times as a harbinger of serial primary bloodbaths within the GOP, has done basically nothing in 2014 — as of mid-October, it had not spent a dime on any race. There haven’t been that many competitive primaries. The civil war never happened, except on the Internet and on radio.

Crossroads did get involved in an upstate New York primary in which Elise Stefanik, a former White House staffer and Paul Ryan aide, beat two-time loser Matthew Doheny and appears to be on her way to becoming the youngest woman in Congress — that’s a nice thing for Republicans to be able to point to, and it’s a Democrat-held New York seat going Republican. Doheny is a former Wall Street guy, and Stefanik is, among other things, “a principled and articulate pro-life leader,” according to the Susan B. Anthony List, so not an obvious squish. That seems like the sort of thing that should be making conservatives happy.

It isn’t.

About 48 hours after I emailed Rove to schedule an interview about this curious development, Brent Bozell published a piece in Politico under the unsubtle headline: “Karl Rove Is Ruining the GOP.” Rove is not enthusiastic about the prospect of discussing Bozell’s philippic, there being nothing to be gained by accepting an invitation to this particular pissing contest. But Bozell’s indictment was a strange one. He argues that Rove gives good political advice but that conservatives should ignore that advice because it comes from Karl Rove. He offers three data points to support his case: that Rove backed Arlen Specter over Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania, Charlie Crist over Marco Rubio in Florida, and David Dewhurst over Ted Cruz in Texas. But in none of those cases is it obvious that the conventional wisdom on the right — that Karl Rove was instrumental in backing the so-called Establishment candidates — is in fact true.

The big independent expenditures in favor of David Dewhurst were organized not from Planet Rove but by people close to a conservative favorite, Governor Rick Perry, whose former chief of staff founded a group dedicated to the sole purpose of sending Dewhurst to the U.S. Senate. The late Bob Perry (no relation to the governor), a stalwart backer of conservative and Republican causes, including Crossroads, was a major donor. Rove, who had relationships with more than one person in that four-way primary, kept the race at arm’s length. Bob Perry, being a grown-up, donated to Ted Cruz after spending $600,000 against him in the primary. In Florida, Crossroads spent real money helping Marco Rubio to defeat Charlie Crist in the general.

In the 2004 Toomey–Specter showdown, Senator Specter was carried across the finish line not by Rove but by a much more considerable figure: President George W. Bush, his right flank bolstered by Rick Santorum. Rove did toe the line, as expected, and in January 2004 gave a speech in Pennsylvania in which he identified Arlen Specter as the “one person” Republicans had in mind for the Senate race. Specter at that point was a quarter-century Republican incumbent. Team Bush might be faulted for its excessive loyalty — or for its excessive deference to incumbents, if you prefer — and Specter, identified by National Review as the worst Republican senator, was an almost uniquely distasteful difference-splitter and time-server. But the historical record suggests that Rove’s role has been considerably more complicated than Bozell has it.

And Crossroads et al. have since become valuable Toomey supporters, which is why both Bozell and other friends of Toomey are talking about the very same thing that Toomey’s Democratic opponents in Pennsylvania are talking about: Karl Rove. E.g., “Pat Toomey Should Reject Karl Rove’s Dirty Tricks.”

What is happening here is not that difficult to understand, if you understand conservatives. There are basically three roles that people play in the conservative movement: You can be (1) Ramesh Ponnuru or Reihan Salam, thinking rigorously about politics and policy; you can be (2) Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh, rallying the troops and providing frustrated foot-soldiers with catharsis; or you can be (3) Karl Rove, whose job it is to win elections. Conservatives are not very good at distinguishing between tacticians, eggheads, and entertainers, and though Rove is mainly in the tactician camp, his Fox News gig and his Wall Street Journal column put him in the public eye, an operative with one foot in the thinker-talker camp. And we conservatives have a hard time believing that our policy prescriptions and views are not as wildly popular as we’d like them to be, which is why every time a Republican loses an election, the Torquemadas among us begin their ritual denunciation: “We’d have won if only our guy had been pure enough, conservative enough, true-believing enough.” And then Republicans get buckets of campaign advice from people who have never had a hand in so much as a school-board election.

That fact is that in 2012, Republicans of all types lost, from tea-party guys such as Richard Mourdock to moderates such as Scott Brown. And Ronald Reagan himself could not have won the presidency as a Republican in 2008 with Christ Jesus as his running mate. The GOP was in bad odor, and not without some good reason.

The strange thing is that the party of free markets is having a hard time understanding an elementary concept from economics: the division of labor. Nobody is as good at what Rush Limbaugh does as Rush is, and nobody is as good at what Cato and AEI do as Cato and AEI are. But you don’t judge a guy like Karl Rove by whether he’s 100 percent right on immigration or chained-CPI, or by whether you like what you hear from him on Fox News. You judge him by his win-loss ratio. And his is pretty good.

Those conservatives who think that Karl Rove is what’s wrong with the Republican party should try getting a couple of presidents or governors elected first. Do keep us all informed about how that goes.