Saturday, August 30, 2008

Palin for GOP VP

On Friday I was driving home from a little practice bowling, getting ready for the season's start next week when I heard on the radio that McCain was going to pick Palin for his VP. I watched the announcement on TV at home. My voting options have been narrowed down. Right now it looks like I'll be voting for Obama or no one.

From what I could discern, Ms. Palin is a statist, collectivist, altruist. She is firmly against a woman's right to choose to have an abortion. She is for concepts like the common good and said so in her acceptance speech.

Sure, Ms.Palin has some positive aspects: she is a non-intellectual, which in today's climate is an asset, she is a soccer mom, PTA and NRA member, fisherlady and generally a doer and go getter. But in an interview video on CNBC with Maria Bartiromo, Palin said that the people of Alaska own all the oil and lease it to oil companies. It's true that if the state owns something, it has the right of use and disposal. But the question is should the state own it? Alaska's state constitution calls for the public ownership of natural resources like oil and gas so that's not her doing but she seems quite comfortable with the idea of public ownership of property.

I'll wait until after the GOP convention to make a final decision. But as I watched the speech and the Bartiromo interview I didn't hear her mention mandatory public service. Then again, I didn't hear her mention individual rights either.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

"Sustainability" Another Floating Abstraction

On August 15th WJR radio talk show host Frank Beckmann had an op-ed in the Detroit News titled "'Sustainable' curriculum teaches kids to envy success." In it Mr. Beckmann reports:
"This curriculum is called Sustainability Education and nowhere in the syllabus can one find any inspirational themes that use the success stories of American entrepreneurs as role models to be admired by students.

Instead, groups like Creative Change Educational Solutions in Ypsilanti emphasize the creation of a "humane and environmentally sustainable future."

Several schools in Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor have committed to Sustainability Education and crow about projects that have students compare "wages and working conditions in factories in China and Vietnam (to) corporate profits...and compensation for chief executive officers." In other words, kids aren't taught to admire and emulate success -- they're taught to envy such outcomes and "evaluate campus boycotts...and workers rights movements."
Obviously another attempt to indoctrinate children to hate the good for being the good, more concretely, to hate capitalism.

In Wednesday's 8/27/08 Detroit News is a LTE from two members of Bloomfield Hills School Board taking Mr. Beckmann's op-ed to task. In it they claim
"It's a given that our children face a dramatically different future than we did. Global workforce needs will require competence in reading, writing, math, science and computer literacy. But Beckmann misses the point: While it's worthwhile to honor our industrial past and important to create knowledgeable technicians, job success will demand both comprehensive knowledge and highly discerning thinking."
I hate to break it to my Bloomfield Hills neighbors but 'comprehensive knowledge and highly discerning thinking' is what our elementary and high schools are supposed to be about and would be if it weren't for the anti-conceptual, educational philosophy of former intellectuals like John Dewey et el. Nowhere in this attempted rebuttal did they refute Mr. Beckmann's charge that their curriculum teaches kids to envy success.

The home page of the above mentioned organization provides ready made curricula to teachers for the advancement of collectivism which is hidden in the candy wrapper of environmentalism. One of their ready made courses is called "Economics for the Common Good."

But I would like to apply a little 'discerning thinking' to their core ideal 'sustainability.' Sustainability is a meaningless concept by itself. It gains meaning only when attached to a thing or process one wants to sustain. My dictionary says sustain means to 'maintain or 'prolong.' To sustain then means to resist or prevent change. The call for 'sustainability' therefore means to call for stagnation or maintaining the status quo. In the above case it would be a government controlled stagnation which of course, we already have in education. This stagnant school system---government controlled indoctrination--is one of the things they seek to sustain. The rest is the environment, the economy, the culture etc.

The two school board members claim that the UN had no influence on their program. This is flat out false. Maybe no direct input but the ideal that 'sustainability' is a 'practical' goal was started by the UN in a paper called Agenda 21 in which it declared that modern Western industrial and technological society is unsustainable, even in your neighborhood. The supporting evidence was based on false assumptions which I won't go into here. But the main false premise is that everyone thought that our way of living was sustainable in that no more progress would be needed, that the standard of living we had in the 80s and 90s would last forever. I don't know of anyone who thought that way except maybe some union leaders and some liberals.

If people were polled back in the 80s or 90s and asked if they thought their standard of living were sustainable to which they would say yes, it does not mean they were thinking of freezing time at that moment or living that lifestyle unchanged forever and that this should be condemned as unsustainable. People understood that in a free society, things change generally for the better. It is this progress they would refer to as sustainable. They did not believe that their lifestyle would destroy the planet. They had to be convinced otherwise.

Like the concept extremism, sustainability is a floating abstraction. It is never defined explicitly. No clear evidence is ever given as to why a 'sustainable' environment or economy is a good thing or why an unsustainable one is bad. In a universe whose nature is constant change, 'sustainability' is a defiance of reality.

The purpose of the concept is to appeal to those who are in the habit of always thinking in terms of the approximate. No one wants to be for unsustainability right? Who would argue for things that don't last? So sustainability is something everyone should obviously be for. All they want from their approximate-minded public is an approximate "I guess so."

Notice the words used by environmentalists. They always want to 'save' this or 'preserve' that and 'protect' some other thing. From what? Change. (Which, when initiated by humans, environmentalists equate with destruction.) Progress is a form of change. Growth is a form of progress. Even nature sustains itself by a constant process of change. Species evolve while others go extinct. To teach children that sustainability is an ideal is to set them against the requirements of their own survival.

For thousands of years man has lived in abject poverty which is easily sustainable. So is a 25 year lifespan and slavery. The only change open to man in such societies is death which is permanently sustainable.

If we want sustainable progress, then laissez-faire capitalism should be demanded loudly. It is the only system that can provide it. And it can only exist in a constitutional rights-respecting republic. The one social system that's not sustainable is democracy. And neither is a sustainability curriculum designed to sustain that democracy.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Force Needed to Get Altruist's Utopia

In the same edition of the Detroit Free Press as my last post, is an article pointing out that "Michigan No. 10 in obesity". My initial reaction to such stories is usually So what? But this short news story demonstrates the antagonism of 2 NGOs' altruistic agenda to individual rights. First it tells us the statistics:
"For the five years ending in 2007, waistlines in Michigan have slowly expanded with nearly two-thirds of the state needing to lose weight. According to state data and the report, titled "F as in Fat," 27.7% of state residents are obese, and 36% are overweight."
First, I want to point out how routinely obesity and overweight are equated in the media. The above headline "Michigan No. 10 in obesity" was on the front page. The continuation on page 5 has the headline "State makes top ten in overweight." No it didn't. The first headline was accurate. Also, these figures are a far cry from the alleged national average of 60% of Americans being obese often touted in the media.

The article then admits:
"Two positive policies adopted by the state include a Web-based healthy lifestyle portal called Michigan Steps Up, www.mfia.state.mi.us/surGeneral/. Since its inception, about 25,600 people have created online healthy eating profiles, said state Department of Community Health spokesman James McCurtis."
But alas, such voluntary advice programs just aren't enough:
"But for all the forward thinking, said Dr. James Marks, the foundation's senior vice president, without adequate funding in a state with a long-troubled economy, the programs can only help so much."
This of course is a plea for government looted tax dollars. But wait. There's more:
"'Permissive legislation without action doesn't get it done,' he said."(bold mine)
So advising people and 'permitting' them make their own decisions will not provide us with our utopia. We must take 'action' to get our ideal world in which everyone looks like Barbie and Ken.

We next learn something about the study:
"The study gathers self-reported height and weight information from a large national behavior survey. The authors calculate body-mass index from the weight-height measurements. Those with BMIs of 30 or higher are considered obese, and those with BMIs between 25 and 30 are considered overweight."
Studies that use self-reported data are notoriously unreliable as the article admits, to a degree. The BMI is unreliable too as it was put together in a somewhat arbitrary manner.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is a tax exempt charity which regularly lobbies congress on behalf of some of its biggest donors. They would be makers of weight loss machinery and equipment, drug companies selling weight loss pills and publishers pushing diet and weight loss advice. I have no problem with these companies selling, even hyping their wares but I very much resent them lobbying government through RWJF to force me to buy their products.

I have to wonder how many Michiganders read this article and saw nothing wrong with it or even felt a little unearned guilt.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Michigan's Savior?

Yesterday's Aug 20th. Detroit Free Press has an op-ed by Presidential candidate Barak Obama titled "Obama: New stimulus and energy packages will revive Michigan." In it Obama gives the reader all the grim statistics on Michigan's and the auto industry's sad state. No news there. He then proposes a new second stimulus package:
" It includes energy rebates of $1,000 for more than 5 million Michigan workers and their families, and $1.7 billion dollars to keep Michigan’s essential state and local government services running."
Exactly what are these 'essential' services is nowhere mentioned. He continues:
"In addition to this immediate relief, I will, as president, also provide a middle class tax cut that is three times larger than the one my opponent offers — putting a $1,000 tax cut directly into the pockets of 95% of workers and their families. And I will end tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas and give those tax breaks to companies that create good-paying jobs here in America."
Nevermind the fact that jobs in America will cost more which will raise prices of those products especially hurting the poor, where does he propose to get this money for $1000 checks? Why it's a tax cut he's generously putting in your pocket. He does say how we're going to secure this new prosperity:
"That starts with solving our energy crisis once and for all. This isn’t just a challenge to meet; it’s an opportunity to seize[Freudian slip?-ME] — an opportunity that will create new businesses, new industries and millions of new jobs that pay well and can’t be outsourced."
Pay well? Can't be outsourced? This will be music to union ears. Obviously he plans to force companies to pay well and stay home ignoring why they outsourced in the first place. So what is his preferred method for achieving this domestic paradise? The goal is complete energy independence in a decade.
"To do this, we’ll invest $150 billion over the next ten years and leverage billions more in private capital to build a new energy economy that harnesses American energy and creates 5 million new American jobs."
When a politician uses the word 'leverage' think of Ayn Rand's metaphor "Have gun will nudge" except that I think we are moving beyond the stage of just 'nudging' to outright intimidation and threats. And how does one 'harness' American energy? All dictatorships try to 'harness' their citizens' energy. It doesn't work. But 'leverage' is his preferred terminology because he uses it again regarding getting more fuel efficient cars:
"We’ll leverage private sector funding to bring these cars directly to American consumers, and we’ll give consumers a $7,000 tax credit to buy these vehicles. That’s how we’ll get one million 150-m.p.g. hybrids on our roads within six years. That’s how we’ll not only protect our auto industry and our auto workers, but help them thrive in a 21st Century economy; and that is how we will finally lower gas prices, secure our energy future, and save this planet for our children."
Yep. Piece of cake! There's that magic word 'leverage' again. Notice the statist attitude regarding money. The government is going to 'give' us $7000 of its money, not our tax money returned, to buy those cars from those well paid workers. You see, money really does grow on trees, at the Fed and the mint.

Sometimes elementary school kids are asked to write a short paper on how to make the world a better place and their responses are run in the local papers. Have you ever read any of those? See any resemblance to the above? I sure do.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Ubiquitous Nanny State

Below is a post I thought I posted in July but can now see that I never hit the publish button. Better late....

If one wants to see how the U.S. Gov--just the House in this case--wants to micromanage every aspect of the economy, go here and read the titles of the 1000 or so bills and resolutions put forth since Jan 2007. I only read about 150 of the titles but I think I can safely say none of them had anything to do with protecting individual rights. What's sad is that none of the Senators or Congressmen understand that America can't keep piling on one restriction and regulation after another and expect America to stay free. But they all look the other way and seek only an excuse to claim "I couldn't help it."

I can see congress passing resolutions honoring great achievements by someone, but "Supporting the goals and ideals of National Wear Red Day."? Sure this is intended to show support for womens' health but what are some of these 'goals and ideals'?
Encourages: (1) Americans nationwide to wear red on that day to show support for women's heart disease awareness; (2) all American women to embrace the goals of The Heart Truth campaign and take action to modify, prevent, and control their risk factors for heart disease; and (3) all Americans to exercise regularly and maintain a healthy weight, develop good eating habits, avoid tobacco, drugs, and excessive alcohol, and have regular checkups to take advantage of screenings that can detect heart disease-related problems early.

Reaffirms our nation's commitment to fighting heart disease by promoting awareness about its causes, risks, and prevention and by promoting new education programs, supporting research, and expanding access to medical treatment.
They need to reaffirm our nation's commitment to individual rights. The rest would take care of itself.

Just a Thought on Rights

Ayn Rand once said that the concept individual rights was a redundancy since rights can only belong to individuals. In the same way I think the concept human rights is also a redundancy since rights can only belong to rational beings i.e. humans. I raised this question at a study group meeting and it was agreed that human rights could have a valid use when used to differentiate from invalid rights like for example animal rights or plant rights.

But I still don't like the concept human rights. It's too collectivist and could mean individual rights and/or group rights. Politicians routinely use 'human rights' to hide the fact that they support group rights in violation of individual rights.

I think I'll have to settle for the fact that its validity depends on how it is used.

Light At End of Tunnel?

The Thursday 8/14/08 Macomb Daily, a Detroit suburban newspaper had an article of interest to me on which I thought I would comment. It is a news article by Christy Strawser titled 'Foreclosures Scooped Up In Macomb [County-ME].'According to the article:
For the seventh straight month, metro Detroit increased overall in sales volume over the same month last year, including a 39 percent hike in sales in Livingston County, 36 percent in Detroit, and 23 percent in Wayne County.
No this isn't the end of the housing crises:
Experts said growth was fueled by a glut of foreclosed homes on the market, short sales, and sellers willing to take a loss - so while sales are up, prices continued to plummet.
But I see the increase in buying not as an end to the crises but as a light at the end of the tunnel. At least I hope so.

It shows that supply and demand still work despite massive interference in our economy by the government, that when prices come down to meet demand sales will result--without the help of government.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Preparing the Sacrificial Altar

My U.S. Congressman Sander Levin's latest newsletter to constituents was a head shaker. The letter starts with the usual statist fare. First, he tells us that the House passed a paycheck fairness act which closes loopholes that allowed employers to avoid penalties for discriminatory pay.

Then we're told the house adopts overhaul of product safety rules. It is pointless to tell him that these are not legitimate functions of government. But I sometimes do it anyway just to let him know there is a difference of opinion out there. But these things are not the point of this post. Mr. Levin ended the letter with this paragraph:
Oil Companies Post $44 Billion in Profits

While American families continue to struggle with high energy costs, the oil companies recently reported record profits for the 2nd quarter of 2008. In just 3 months, oil companies reported a whopping $44 billion in profits. ExxonMobil reported earnings of $11.68 billion over the three-month period, the largest quarterly profit by a U.S. company in history. Other 2nd quarter oil industry profits include: Shell – $11.56 billion; BP – $9.47 billion; ConocoPhillips – $5.4 billion; and Chevron – $6 billion. Profits for the top five oil companies are projected to top $160 billion this year.
Notice how this shameful appeal to envy and hatred of the good for being the good doesn't explicitly come out and say that profits are evil or should be taken away. It simply states the fact that huge profits are made by oil companies while other people suffer. This is very close to the "picturism" that Dr. Peikoff discusses in his excellent CD lecture "A Picture Is Not An Argument" which can be purchased here.

This simple paragraph projects two images rather clearly; the image of billions of dollars on one hand and people struggling on the other. No argument is being made. Mr. Levin is hoping the images will provoke an emotional or psychological 'no' in the mind of the reader which he, Levin, hopes in turn will translate into positive support for any action he takes against the oil companies. I fired off the following e-mail to the Congressman and as you can see I'm finding it difficult to maintain the required politeness towards people with such animosity towards businessmen in general.

I was disappointed in the ending to your Congressional Connector of Aug 11th. which declared that oil companies made $44 billion while people struggled. This was a most shameful display of what Ayn Rand called 'hatred of the good for being the good.'

It displays an ignorance of economics, ignorance that profits are how wealth is created, ignorance that profits mean purchased survival time, ignorance in that wealth is not a static quantity in which the wealth of some is achieved at the expense of others but rather is created by the free minds of productive individuals.

The paragraph is immoral in that it appeals to one of the worst elements of human nature, envy and resentment of the successful. For over a century oil companies have, through the profit motive, provided America with abundant and cheap energy. They don't deserve this kind of vilification. If energy costs are high, it is because of congressional activities.

I have always had some respect for you and Carl as members of the old left who in turn had some respect for individual freedom and rights. It now looks like you are abandoning even that as you attack profits in the billions. Do you know what that says? It says that you believe that morality is a matter not of principle but of numbers. In your eyes, if a man makes millions he is productive but if he makes billions he is evil and must be smashed in some way for the benefit of those who did not make it.

I urge you not to make such appeals to envy in the future and reconsider your position. It is very un-American.
I see that Congress has adjourned for a few weeks so he probably won't see it for awhile. That's good. Perhaps it will be fresh in his mind when the House reconvenes.