Friday, March 20, 2009

Two-Edged Corruption

I have been rough on President Obama’s clumsy and unethical job performance since he took office, and I have – quite reasonably – excoriated the Democrats on their unconscionable behavior since they seized power in 2006. Some people have taken heart from these scandals, though, believing that the American people will punish the Democrats for their corruption and re-install the Republicans into the House majority in 2010 and the White House in 2012. Unfortunately, that belief fails on two points. First, emotions of the moment do not necessarily carry over to political consequences, which is why politicians are reluctant to apologize or watch their steps in the early days after they are elected. But second, change is not automatically an improvement, something Republicans tried to warn voters in 2008 but which in this situation should warn us of a need for some serious housecleaning in both parties. An unfortunate example of the corruption prevailing across the aisles is Senator John Cornyn of Texas.

I got an email from Cornyn, basically asking for money but trying to play on Americans’ outrage over the AIG bonuses. It starts as follows:

“Those two words are what we've seen over the past few days as we learn more about the $165 million in bonuses offered to AIG executives.

Help me get that money back by signing the NRSC's "Take Back The Bonuses" petition. And then support the NRSC with a secure online donation of just $5 or more.

My constituents in Texas have been calling my office all week asking "what's going on up there?"

The answer is two other words: liberal Democrats.

They're the ones who are in charge and approved the money for the AIG bailout. And a couple of weeks ago when conservatives and moderates began asking questions, we were told - in not so many words - to mind our own business.
Well, the taxpayer's money is our business.

Frankly, it's unthinkable to me that a company American taxpayers bailed out would hand out bonuses to their executives. Where I come from - and pretty much everywhere except Washington, D.C. - you pay people to succeed - not to fail.”

Cornyn’s right that the bailout bill was largely a Democrat plan, and yes Americans – myself included – are appalled at the way top executives at AIG have acted. Cornyn’s dishonesty, however, comes from the fact that the bonuses were included in contracts signed long before AIG got into trouble. And while AIG should have tied bonuses to the company’s actual health and financial performance, and while the individual executives should have shown the moral fiber to turn down the bonuses, the fact remains that the bonuses were completely legal and in fact binding upon AIG; the company had little choice about paying out the bonuses. The contracts were legal, binding, and inflexible.

And by the way, that money does not belong to Senator Cornyn, you, me, or anyone else. If every person at AIG chose to return their bonus money, it would not be a case of "us" 'getting our money back' - it would just go to the government to be used on some other pork-heavy project blessed by the political mandarins of the Potomac.

So, we’re left with two possible judgments on Senator John Cornyn of Texas, Republican and purported conservative. Either he’s too stupid to understand what bill of attainder and ex post facto mean, and why such laws are unconstitutional (not to mention the devastating effect they would have on business, if it were to become the practice of government to abrogate contracts in order to coerce behavior to its whim no matter what is contractually stated), and too lazy to learn about the issue before declaring what he means to do about it; or John Cornyn is as corrupt as the Democrats, willing to ignore the Constitution in order to score a few cheap political points, to penalize a legal if inept business with taxes just to hurt them for obeying their contractual obligations, and to abandon the principles of conservatism and free enterprise in order to fit in with people who are America’s enemies. Lazy moron or America-hating crook, he’s one or the other.

Over eighty Republicans supported the attempt to break the Constitution in order to punish a company for a lawful act. So it’s not as if Senator Cornyn is an outlier here. He’s just a bad liar.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Obama vs The Job

During this recession, a lot of us are thinking about job-hunting. Even though most of us still have jobs and may even like our employers, it is perfectly reasonable to think about the possibility that we might have to find new positions, which in turn creates worries about finding a job quickly, and of course the worry that the job we get will be a bad one. What a lot of people do not realize, is that companies also dread the hiring process, and for many of the same reasons. The nightmare scenario for many companies, is finding someone who interviews well but when hired proves to be a waste, or worse to be someone who damages the company through negligence or fraud. Barack Obama is proving to be that sort of “hire”.

Granted, I have been arguing against the ‘hiring’ of Barack Obama, Chicago-style Lawyer, Activist and all-around Narcissist since he won the nomination of the Democratic Party (at war against America since 1970). So I have to admit that my opinion is colored by a certain tendency to see Barack Obama as a cancer rather than a savior. On the other hand, I made an effort last fall to give him a chance, when he was first elected President. Even though the present set of conditions is largely the result of the Democrat-controlled Congress of 2006-present, I felt that President-elect Obama deserved the chance to make his case and explain how his plans would work.

It’s pretty apparent by now, that Obama’s plans were limited to variations on a simple template:

1. Scare folks out of rational examination of an issue, sell it as the “worst since”, then append some emotionally-charged historical condition, no matter whether the comparison is valid or not;
2. Propose massive spending that does not directly address the causes or effects of the crisis, but which would be difficult to sell in any nominal political conditions. In short, use scare tactics to advance ideology as a primary goal, overriding all other imperatives;
3. When challenged on any proposed agenda, accuse the critic of obstruction, and claim that the critic is somehow making the crisis worse by demanding due diligence;
4. When public opinion begins to turn against the use of scare tactics, switch to a pretense of optimism and success, claim that your political agenda was somehow responsible, and if it becomes obvious that the plan has failed, blame your political enemies;
5. When all else fails, distract the public through persecution of high-profile individuals, scapegoat conveniently caricatured enemies, or just hide from the issues by focusing on absurd quirks like publishing your ‘Final Four’ picks instead of addressing the failure of your Treasury Secretary to comprehend even the most fundamental elements of finance, or appear on a talk show hosted by a comedian, rather than explain how sending billions of tax dollars to your favorite special interest groups will increase consumer confidence or rebuild the housing market.

Remember Richard Nixon? You know, ‘enemies list’, blaming selected media individuals for his problems and pathetically trying to show he was somehow ‘cool’ by appearing on “Laugh-In”? You should, we’re seeing the same thing now with Obama’s recent behavior. The difference, of course, is not only that Nixon had a decent sense of how the economy worked and who America’s friends and enemies were in the world, it’s also that Tricky D managed to not drive off the cliff until six years into his presidency; President O managed to find the crash inside of six months of winning the Oval Office. Of course, there’s a couple other diff’s as well – Nixon’s own party was willing to impeach and convict him for what he did during Watergate, while the Democrats are hardly going to consider their leader in any moral balance, especially given the example of their own leadership. And last, when Nixon left the White House we at least had a competent if uninspired President in Gerald Ford; absolutely no one with a three-digit IQ and a working conscience would consider handing the keys over to Joe Biden.

Sounds extreme, I know, but look at the record so far. The 787-billion dollar “Stimulus” bill has twenty-three separate sections, addressing all kinds of federal projects on liberal wish lists, and yes some of them are reasonable, maybe even good for the country, but not a cent is spent to create any private-sector jobs except through unions, there is nothing to help working families who are facing foreclosure right now, or who have already lost their house, and there is nothing in the bill to restore the lost investments of people whose 401k’s were almost literally decimated in the last year. In fact, despite Obama’s shrill cries that it would be catastrophic to delay passing the bill (let alone dare to question or oppose it), most of the spending does not even take place until next year, a fact made all the more obvious by Obama’s delay in signing it. Obama can no longer spin his credentials; they are as paper-thin as his experience.

Barack Obama never understood the job; he wanted it as the pinnacle of additions to his resume. In so doing, Obama proved the limit to his scale, like the man who wanted to be a great composer, never understanding that the truly great compose because they love music, or the man who wanted to be known as a great athlete, rather than strive because he loves the game. President Obama loves competition, politics, and glory, but frankly none of those qualities are pertinent to the office of the President of the United States. Obama made gains in the election by deriding the sitting president during his campaign, but too late Obama has come to see the virtue of a tough hide, and the need for a president to be something more substantial than a mere provocateur. Obama is a master of the political assassination, but he is a rank amateur at the greater skill of building informed consensus. Obama conjured the image of a larger-than-life superhero for himself, but he never acquired the judgment or developed the humility needed to confront the scale of national tides and crisis.

Obama’s defenders complain that the president should not be criticized for his plans, because they take time to work. The problem is not the timing, however, but the character and application of the action. The Obama mandarins opine that the simple flood of spending alone will eventually produced the desired growth in the economy. Such thinking, of course, is deluded. One needs only to imagine the difference between a farmer who carefully prepares and plows his land, placing his seed in just the right places and amounts, and who irrigates his plot and watches to keep out birds and weeds, with the fool who just throws seed around with no organization; which farmer will legitimately produce a good harvest should be obvious to predict. Or compare a manager who carefully considers the employee skills he needs and how many people, who budgets his staff and considers the demographic and industry factors, before he carefully interviews, hires, then trains only the people who would be good additions and create growth for his company, to the idiot who hires without planning and according to his whim; which company will be out of business within a year is not hard to predict. In such cases there is no need to ‘wait for results’; the results are obvious by the manner in which resources are allocated and applied. To expect that spending hundreds of billions of dollars on special interest political projects (pork to most Americans) will produce an economic boom if we just wait long enough, is along the same lines as arguing that if we had just given Bernie Madoff more time, he’d have made enough money to pay back all his investors – it’s not only stupid, it’s criminally dishonest.

Monday, March 16, 2009

A Dying In The Family

A family member is dying. Of old age, near as I can tell, but I hate to see the fellow suffer. It’s particularly difficult for my daughter, Jagan. He’s her hamster, after all.

Some of you, admit it, immediately dropped the significance of the story when you read that I am talking about a hamster. Yes, Micho is a senior hamster, going through what appears to be the inevitable fate of us all, excepting that hamsters do not regularly enjoy the benefits of hospice care, so the poor fellow is having a rough go of it. he might survive, but I doubt it. Judging by the spasms and cries of pain, Micho is in a bad way and there’s nothing we can do for him but try to keep him comfortable.

We took Micho about a year and a half ago from a family which had gotten bored with their old hamster. They were talking as if they would simply throw the animal away after about three years, now that they no longer wanted it. When I first saw Micho, he looked unhappy and listless, and no wonder – his cage was filthy and his food nothing but suet pellets. I cleaned his cage out and he imemdiately began running on his wheel, and some fresh lettuce and carrots brightened him up no end. I looked up on the internet about hamsters, and whatever Micho’s age was, he appeared to be a senior but healthy hamster. He cleared four and a half years old with no apparent problems.

Micho is principally active at night, so I noticed when he started moving around briskly Sunday morning. Trouble is, he was jerky, seemed spasmodic, as if he was having a seizure. By afternoon, his seizures were obvious and clearly causing him great pain. He would jump and throw himself onto his back, then cry, sometimes loudly and sometimes loudly while he twitched his left legs and waved his right legs in circles in the air. That’s when my wife and I had the discussion about what to do.

Now, I’d like to write out some noble tale of solid ethics and the perfect example of how a father and head-of-household should act. But the fact is, I could not justify extreme measures to save a rodent that was a bit older than the books say hamsters usually live. Also, I did not know any veterinarians open on Sunday, and neither my wife or I could take off work Monday. At the same time, as odd as it may sound to some, even ‘New Age’, I accepted Micho as family when I took him into my house and I accepted responsibility for him. I do not for a moment confuse a hamster for equal importance to my dogs, let alone my blood kin, but for all of that he is family. So I owe him the dignity and comfort I can provide, as little as it turns out I could do. He had let go of his bladder, so I cleaned him and his cage up again. I got him some choice lettuce and carrots and vegetable chips. I thought about getting him some apple bits, but I worried he might have become diabetic. I also changed his water bottle. I moved him to a quiet part of the house where he would not be startled by light or noise. I also figured this would make Jagan less likely to worry about him, and for all I like Micho, keeping my daughter happy is always a priority.

So here we are. Micho appears to have slept some, and he was a little better this morning, but he is still in obvious pain and will not eat. He’s still lying on his back, and he’s obviously been sweating a lot, something I had never seen a hamster do before; his fur is matted and damp. I hate to see him in pain, but I am not about to kill him on the assumption that he can’t get better. I want to make him comfortable, but I can’t justify spending hundreds of dollars to keep him alive, maybe, a few more weeks. Part of me thinks I’m being reasonable, but I hate to see him suffer. Part of me says he’s not much different than a mouse, but on the other hand I accepted responsibility for him as part of my household.

This situation reminds me that we sometimes do not have good alternatives, and no easy solution.