No, this isn’t about Harvey Weinstein per se; he is but the latest in a long string of issues where Hollywood (used here as a proxy for the movie/TV industry as a whole) cannot seem to see its own hypocrisy. People in Hollywood tend to get the large part of their fame from literally pretending to be somebody else. (Yes, I know, it’s called “acting.”) When Hollywood decides to get political, though, they tend to be virulently against anything representing conservative principles and values. The “why” behind that is multi-facted: liberalism sounds more compassionate at first blush; those mean, nasty conservatives are the ones against our edgier art; I’m surrounded by these people and I don’t want to rock the boat.
Whatever the motivation, though, the Weinstein scandal exposes just another area where Hollywood claims to advocate one thing, but their product and actions contradict themselves.
On screens large and small, guns are everywhere. The criminals have them, the police have them (though sometimes the police are the criminals), and the really good guys can use them to fight for good (think Jason Bourne, or the Taken franchise). Yet, more than 9 out of 10 denizens of Hollywood are pro gun-control legislation, to the point where blood was still drying on the pavement in Las Vegas when they began beating that drum again. (I don’t even have time to get into the entire “silencer” thing; I think that they think those work the way they do in the movies, not the way they actually do.)
Well, Hollywood - you’ve shown us how things get resolved. Bringing in the firepower is the way you fix situations.
Hollywood got on the glow-bull warming train a long, long time ago, and has amplified every doomsday and “man is killing the planet” claim that came along. They are so impassioned about this that they attend global conferences about this pressing issue… in their private jets, the mostly-least-efficient way to get there. Their primary homes are large mansions, and they usually have vacation homes as well. (This isn’t simple envy; I’d live in a mansion and get away to my vacation home too - if I could afford it. I just wouldn’t claim that I’m saving the planet from a death sentence while doing it.) The logisitics required to produce a blockbuster movie are staggering - yet they use them time and again, to line their pockets.
Actions speak louder than words; you say it’s a problem, but your behavior tells us otherwise.
Speaking of lining one’s pockets…
Hollywood is greatly concerned with the topic of income inequality. I mean, it’s just not right that women earn 77 cents on the dollar as compared with men! (Well, except for the fact that, in reality, that number was poorly calculated when it first came out, and even that same flawed calculation gives a larger number now.) Yet, Hollywood continues to have very few female leads, and even when they do, there are often also male leads, who are earning double or more for the same film. It may be hard for us to think that there’s really that much difference between $5 million and $10 million.
It’s not just gender issues, either; at every opportunity, they support government programs to give things away, whether it’s medical care, food, or tax exemptions. Of course, it’s the government giving this things away, not them; compared to more conservative parts of the country, charitable contributions are low. In fact, what often passes for “charity” in Hollywood are dinners where the actual stars simply show up; the thousands-per-plate prices are paid by the well-connected but lesser-known people.
Plus - these folks amass their millions off the backs of the ~$10 ticket prices paid by average people. As a generally free-market guy, I’m not faulting them for extracting the value they believe society places on their craft. It does seem to me, though, they could be a bit more magnanimous instead of deriding the very people whose money has given them such a comfortable and fabulous life.
There is one place where actress salaries outpace actor salaries - the adult film industry. Which leads us to…
We’ll talk about Weinstein, et. al. - but let’s look at some history first. For years, decades, Hollywood has ridiculed those of us who have bemoaned the increasing vulgarity and explicit sexuality, telling us that a) it was artistically necessary to advance their story; b) it’s just a fictional story; and c) lighten up, you prudes! Now, I am not unaware of the balancing act between showing enough for people to get the point and not becoming gratuitous (this doesn’t apply exclusively to sexual content). If two people are kissing at the end of a date, the screen fades to black, and the next scene are them both in PJs at the breakfast table - does that not advance the story just as much as an extended scene with nudity, thrusting, and noises?
Traditional sexual morality has never been Hollywood’s interest. At times, the portrayals are setups to show the negative consequences of those actions; more frequently, they’re either just straight titillation, or they’re done by characters for whom we’re now rooting. Their private lives mirror their art; in fact, the term “Hollywood marriage” describes a union of two beautiful people which will only last until the next opportunity comes along.
The “casting couch” has become legend, and enterprising women decided that they could use their assets to break through that way, literally sleeping their way to the top. It’s a terrible thing to spell out that way, but facts are often terrible. Hollywood is not alone in this scenario; business, politics, and sports also have their stories of powerful men who used women for their own pleasure, maybe with the promise of preferential treatment or advancement. I’m glad that they are starting to see that this is a bad deal, but are you the ones telling us conservatives that we have a “War on Women” because we don’t want the government to pay for killing a baby in a woman’s womb?
I doubt anyone from Hollywood is reading this, and it’s already longer than I’d set out to write, so I’ll wrap this up here. I’m glad that a lot of people are coming forward to tell their stories and condemn Harvey Weinstein; it would mean a whole lot more if they had done so before it became trendy to do so. In summary, here’s how I see the recent action taken by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences:
An organization, whose members still include Roman Polanski and Bill Cosby, decided to expel Harvey Weinstein.
Sequestration made the news earlier this year, when our elected officials failed to meet the obligations for which they campaigned for the right to perform. (That description should let you know how I feel about that.) One of the ways the Department of Defense (among others) chose to enact the required budget savings was through a furlough of civilian employees. The initial announcement was for 22 days, but with some further budgeting, it looks like 11 days will be the final tally.
I want to look at that number 22. Why 22? Well, 22 days is the maximum number of days a Federal employee may be furloughed in a calendar year. Why is that? Part of it is a law protecting employees, though you have to wonder what sort of protection losing 20% of your pay for a third of a year really is; at best, though, it is a restriction on a government that would likely try even more if given the chance. But why 22? As it turns out, in all but a very few states, this is just under the minimum time an employee could be laid off before they would qualify for unemployment compensation. So, this law lets the government avoid saving money in one pot, only to have to spend it out of another. Unemployment compensation is typically paid by the states, so this also keeps the Federal government from imposing on the states.
Sounds like a good deal, right? Well, if you’re the Federal government, it certainly is. They get to exercise a little-known loophole in the employment contract of their employees, while leaving the employees no recourse (apart from finding employment during their furloughed time) to make up that lost income.
Is it any wonder that part-time work has exploded under the Affordable Care Act? Business is simply following the government’s lead, exploiting the loopholes in the law to allow the government to say “Look at all this wonderful health care we provided!”, while the businesses say “We are fully compliant with this law!”, leaving the employees to think that they must be blind, because they surely don’t see it. I feel for those trying to get a start in this economy; our leadership has certainly eliminated a lot of the opportunities from which they benefited.
Whether this is right is a discussion left for another time; it is as I have described it above. Personally, I believe that laws should be written simply, unambiguously, and with a clear indication of behavior that is considered compliant. Both the government and business are complying with current law.
Keep this in mind the next time someone casts aspersions on businesses for hiring part-time help, and wishes the oh-so-altruistic government would force them to increase hours or hire more employees. That government is the one that passed the law with those provisions in it. You are getting the change for which you voted twice; ironically, mostly courtesy of a legislative body that hasn’t changed much in 30 years. There is a way to bring about some meaningful change, though; I wonder if enough people know how, and have the guts to do it.
The government gets it; businesses get it; do you get it?
Twice this past week, in reference to sequestration, I’ve heard people say something along the lines of “If those darn Republicans would…” On what planet are the Republicans more culpable for this debacle than the Democrats?
Yes, the Republicans are crazy for going along with an eventual cut that they found unacceptable. It’s the same argument we had against a timeline for withdrawal from Iraq before the war is over; all the other side has to do is wait out the timeline, and they get what they want. But, on the other hand, Republicans in the House have been the only party in the legislative or executive branches to actually pass a budget in the past four years. The Democrats have done nothing but stonewall, blame the leadership from the last decade, and paint their opponents as evil.
The upcoming sequestration represents a lack of failure of our elected-and-re-elected leadership to do the job for which the American people elected them. There is plenty of culpability to spread around to everyone.
Either way you read it, this is the middle post of the “2012 Year in Review: The Good, the Bad, and the Ridiculous” series. This past year has given me no shortage of things from which to choose to compose this post.
Mass Murder x2
2012 saw two mass murders on U. S. soil. On July 20th, at a premiere of the movie The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado, 12 people were killed and 58 injured by a freak who made himself look like the Joker. Then, on December 14th, a troubled young man killed his own mother, 20 children, 6 adults, and himself at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. While the reaction made the ridiculous list this year, the murders themselves are here. They are a stark reminder that we live in a fallen world. Dr. Albert Mohler broke his less-than-a-day-old hiatus on The Briefing for a special edition, and he summed it up quite well.
Though the murders themselves were horrible and tragic, there were reports of heroes in both instances. In Colorado, men shielded others with their bodies, and ultimately gave their lives to save others In Connecticut, a teacher named Victoria Soto hid her students wherever she could, and told the gunman that the children were elsewhere. These ordinary people, stepping up to against evil, give us some hope that while we will never eliminate this sort of evil, it is far from the norm; and, there are those who will fight against it with little to no warning.
The Benghazi / Petraeus Affair
September 11th, for the past 11 years, has been a dicey day. Obviously, the one in 2001 was the worst; however, our intelligence and counter-terrorism forces have been vigilant to the point where we really had not had to deal with any actual attacks on that particular day. 2012 saw that streak come to an end, as a group of terrorists laid siege to the U. S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya, kidnapping and then killing our ambassador and three others. Initially, the State Department blamed the attack on a spontaneous reaction to the film The Innocence of Muslims, a 16-minute film that made a great deal of fun over Mohammad. In the past few days (see why you write these things after the year is done?), the report has come out calling it “sloppy security.”
Conflicting reports came out about the threat level surrounding that particular embassy, and there were even conflicting reports on our reaction to the attack once we knew it was underway. Even with the report, many people still feel that the entire story is not known. Why would that be? Well, when a cover-up or misdirection is the initial response, how are the American people to know when the next answer is the right one?
But, surely, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, or the Secretary of State, could get the answers and bring them out, correct? This, too, was not to be in 2012. Thanks to a sexual harassment complaint launched in April and concluded in August, an affair between the CIA director, retired General David Petraeus, and his biographer, was revealed. This “trump card” was not played until after the election, and was used to oust Petraeus before he could give official testimony as the CIA director. At the same time, the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, couldn’t testify due to scheduling conflicts, then due to the “flu.” It may be just as well; she doesn’t have a great history of having a very good memory when she’s placed under oath. Additionally, the African Command commander was relieved of his position shortly after the attack.
September 11, 2001 is generally considered a failure of intelligence. The more we learn about September 11, 2012, it looks less like a failure of intelligence and more a failure to take appropriate defensive action based on that intelligence. To put it more bluntly, we hung our own countrymen out to dry, and four of them are no longer with us.
The Fiscal Cliff
If Benghazi’s problem was inaction, then the CIA and State have learned it from the U. S. Congress. Over three years of Senate inaction have left us with a budget that is nearly 4 years old; Obamacare deferred-until-the-next-election mandates will kick in; we’re about to hit the extended-several-times debt ceiling; across-the-board cuts, called “sequestration,” a compromise from the last debt ceiling expansion, are set to kick in; and the so-called “Bush tax cuts” which were extended a few times are once again set to expire (itself a concept that probably deserves a spot on a ridiculous list at some point). Since that’s a lot to say, the term “fiscal cliff” was coined to describe these economic events all hitting at the same time.
What is required to keep the next U. S. national sport from being fiscal cliff diving? A budget. Will that be the solution presented? Probably not. As I write this (on the 1st), the Senate has passed a compromise bill, but several House members do not seem to approve. When the next congress is seated later this week, that bill will be invalid. Bills proposed by the president and the Senate have been rightly termed “unserious” by Republicans; however, their bills are not very serious either. On a family budget that’s $24,000 in the red each year, we’re cutting $360. Neither side wants to do the hard work of cutting spending where it needs to be cut.
Here’s hoping the water is deep enough at the bottom of this cliff that we don’t break our necks.
Mitt Romney Loses
I covered my incredulity at the results of the election in the ridiculous post; but here, the negative is that we do not have Mitt Romney at the helm to guide our nation away from this cliff. Not since Sarah Palin have I witnessed such a successful character assassination, where his positives became negatives, and his successes presented as disqualifications.
As a business, America is failing. The Securities and Exchange Commission wouldn’t let our stock be traded. We need someone who cares enough about our country to make hard decisions about what needs to be cut, so that a leaner America can emerge and once again regain her strength. Who better to do that than someone who ran a company that did that for businesses over and over again? And what if this someone had also donated his entire inheritance to charity, and given 2 years of his life for his religion? Seems like a no-brainer to me.
I know some of my fellow conservatives had some problems with him on social issues, or the size and scope of the state. I wasn’t 100% with him (though in an isidewith.com survey, I scored 97% Romney), but if our country is not economically viable, social and domestic policy matter little; at that point, we’ll be answering to someone else anyway.
Cross an Atlantic hurricane with a nor’easter, and it’s not good. Hurricane Sandy battered much of the U. S. east coast in late October, merging with a northern storm just before Halloween, leading many to call it “Frankenstorm.” Its wake was no laughing matter, though, with over 100 dead. New York and New Jersey sustained the hardest direct hit, and current estimates have it as the second most costly storm on record, just behind 2005’s Hurricane Katrina.
Those two states provided a stark contrast in dealing with preparation and relief. New York City was particularly bad, with refugees being evicted from hotels for the “show must go on” New York Marathon, while generators were pulled from relief efforts to power the tents for the race. Mayor Bloomberg, at first a strong proponent of continuing to hold the race, changed his mind, and the organizers agreed to cancel it. Meanwhile, the Federal government has yet to vote on any special aid for Sandy relief; the Senate passed a bill, but the House won’t take up any legislation except the fiscal cliff. (And these are the people we want in charge of health care? But I digress.)
Hurricane Sandy, Sandy Hook Elementary School, Sandra Fluke - 2012 was a bad year for disasters named Sandy.
Lance Armstrong Revelations
Lance Armstrong was a 7-time Tour de France champion. He did it while fighting cancer, and founding a charitable foundation. However, he had been fighting doping charges for years, and in 2012, decided to stop fighting the charges. All his wins have been vacated, Olympic medals stripped, and the Livestrong Foundation that he founded has kicked him out. His defense is that he was not taking any substance that was not banned, and that he had done nothing other than what others had done.
Even if we take him at his word - if everyone took the same enhancement, that’s still a terrible way to determine athletic prowess. Professional sports should not be about who has the best chemistry; it should be people training their bodies to perform a specific task so well that no one else can do it equally. I’m not so naïve as to think that this means that no one is going to try; even NASCAR has had its fair share of drug problems. However, anything short of pure physical ability will inevitably lead to more and more use, and more experimenting. The NFL is already dealing with players who feel they were unfairly exploited and put in harm’s way. How much worse would it be for the players who tried experimental (i.e., not-banned-yet) drugs whose side effects were unknown until much later?
There you have it. 2012 didn’t lead to the end of the world, but there was much that we will be happy to see pass into the rear-view mirror. Other issues will still be here for us in 2013, waiting to be dealt with then. May we have the fortitude to do so.
Welcome to “2012 Year in Review: The Good, the Bad, and the Ridiculous.” If you’re reading this as they’re posted, it’s backwards; but, if you’re reading back through the blog archives, they’re in order.
2012 has been quite a year. We survived 3 ends of the world, by my count. That’s pretty ridiculous, true, but our very existence here means that they must be, so we won’t waste any more words on that. What did make the cut?
The “War on Women”
That this tops the list should not surprise my regular readers; several of my posts this year (including this one and that one when it first broke) dealt with it. Now, the “war on women” is not to be confused with the “war on a woman”; that I addressed in 2008 (first item). No, in yet another display of Democrat projection, this one was an accusation against Republicans.
It started with a strange question in the Republican primary, shot to the forefront with Sandra Fluke and Rush Limbaugh, and continued throughout the campaign. The Obama campaign created a horribly insipid animation called “The Life of Julia,” where their heroine (um, victim?) displays her dependence upon government at every stage of her life. It was presented as if it was a good thing; the government as boyfriend, husband, business partner, and health insurance provider. To me, the suggestion that women need, or would want, something like that is truly offensive and sexist.
Granted, the Republicans didn’t help themselves against these charges. Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, both running for the US Senate, answered questions about abortion by emphasizing their “no rape exception” views – clumsily. Akin should have removed himself, but did not, and squandered a gift-on-a-platter opportunity to remove a senator who has not been that helpful to her home state. Mourdock was a Tea Party Republican who defeated a long-term incumbent in the primary, yet went down to defeat in a state that Romney took 54/44.
Really, the war on women was nothing more than the “they want kids to starve” meme from the late 80’s and 90’s, where ridiculous charges were made against Republicans, and those charges went unanswered. This year, as well, the response was tepid. What Republican wants to take away health care? The charge is ridiculous, and should be addressed as such. Otherwise, they’ll continue to make these outlandish statements “They’re gonna put y’all back in chains!”, said our vice-president. They took “binders full of women” out of the context of people-to-hire and somehow turned it into a negative. “You didn’t build that” - oh wait, that’s just poor sentence structure. Please! There is no poor sentence structure in a pre-written campaign speech!
The main problem with all of that, though, is that it worked. Which brings me to my next item…
Barack Obama Reelected
When Obama was elected in 2008, that fact made the “bad” list for that year. Looking back at that post, in view of the past 4 years, I see that I was being way too generous. He presided over 4 of the toughest years in recent memory, making things worse with every decision (or indecision). His party hasn’t passed a budget in over 3 years now, and one of his was so unrealistic that it was defeated 96-0 in the Senate. We lost our top credit rating, and that cannot be blamed on George W. Bush; S&P downgraded us because of our lack of a plan of paying back our debt, not the size of it. This administration has brought us economic time bombs in the form of Obamacare mandates and repeated “debt ceiling”/“fiscal cliff” showdowns, one of which is staring us down even as I write this.
But, all of the above is not the ridiculous part; it just proves that I was right to put his election on the bad list 4 years ago. No, the ridiculous part is that the American people, seeing all of the above, put him back in office for another four years. My countrymen are playing the part of fools, falling for the ridiculous claims about their opponents, while failing to see that their own are the ones leading us down the slide to mediocrity. They’re behaving like little kids; what little kid wants to vote for the guy who says “Hey - we’ve got to pay for all this free candy we’ve been eating”? No, they vote for the guy who promises even more free candy, while demonizing those who generate enough wealth for our government to skim the top of it to provide the free candy. They cheer when the rich get poorer, not noticing that this does not make them richer, it only diminishes the overall wealth of our nation.
The National Park Service has signs in several forests warning against feeding bears, because they will become dependent on that food, lose their hunting skills, and become aggressive. Yet, the very people who suggest that this applies to human beings as well are branded as hate-filled and greedy. America needs to wake up, and do the hard work of dealing with the withdrawal symptoms of this free ride coming to an end, or the country itself will find itself in decline. Sadly, I don’t see this generation as one willing to sacrifice its own comfort to secure the comfort of future generations.
Reactions to Mass Murder
Again, I get to fault my fellow citizens. Sadly, our nation endured two mass murders this year; one at a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado, and the other at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. On my first visit to Facebook after learning about the Sandy Hook shooting, I was greeted with lots of “Don’t Take Our Guns!” images. Really, guys - that’s the way you show compassion for 25 families who lost their kids a scant few weeks before Christmas? And, the other side is just as bad. “Why are these guns on the street?” is not the question (although “because, Constitution” is the easy answer). Confiscating every gun in the Union would not bring an ounce more comfort to those families who lost their children and adults that day.
The proper response to something like this is sorrow and compassion, then anger, then punishment (if applicable), then speculation on prevention measures (within the parameters of our founding law). Jumping to #4 dehumanizes the response. I fault the gun-grabbers with having the non-Constitutional lead in this; but, while I did fault people above for not responding to ridiculous charges, there is a time for those sorts of debates. While the dead bodies are still warm is not that time.
Year-In-Reviews in Early December
On a lighter note, when did December become not-part-of-the-year? How can you review a year with nearly an entire month remaining in that year? Unless you’re covering NASCAR or the college football regular season, the first week of December is way too early to be publishing retrospectives (and, for the latter, you’d better wait until the conference championships to write it up). Look at the newsworthy events this year - Sandy Hook, the deaths of several notable people, and George H. W. Bush’s hospitalization, just to name a few. Don’t review a year until it’s over.
There you have it. I’m sure I’ll have no problem filling out another one of these in 2013.
I enjoy economics. I’ve enjoyed studying theory, debating with others, and when I had to choose an elective for my degree a few years ago, my economics class was among my favorites. I also enjoy how sound economic policy squares with my world and political views; it’s quite the harmonious union. The run-up to the presidential election every four years, though, is a painful time for those of us who have looked at the numbers and believe that the free market gives the best possible outcome. There are always the fringe or down-ballot candidates, like Fauxcahontas of the North, who are way out in left field. Over this past weekend, though, this lunacy came out right at the top of the ticket.
The transcript for the video clip is below; if you want to watch it for yourself, you can see it in this article. (I tried to embed it, but I couldn’t make it look right.)
We created a lot of millionaires; and, you know, there a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me - "cause they want to give something back. They know they didn’t… If you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, “Wow, it must be because I was just so smart.” There are a lot of smart people out there. “It must be because I worked harder than everybody else.” Let me tell you something - there are a whole bunch of hard-workin’ people out there.
If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested roads and bridges - if you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own; government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.
Let’s get the “you didn’t build that” thing out of the way up front. There is a case to be made that the “that” refers to the roads and bridges, not to the business that was build. Neither reading of it changes what I believe is the real issue with these words, though if “that” is the business, it only confirms my analysis. And, although it is tempting to go to snark with this (“We created a lot of millionaires.” Yeah, but you started with billionaires!), that won’t be productive; I’ll try to keep that to a minimum.
We will start with the millionaire line, though. Who is the royal “we” he is talking about? His administration? America? From his other speeches, and the context later in this one, he is likely referring to the government. So, the government created millionaires? If we take that at face value, and your net worth is less than a million dollars, why didn’t the government pick you to be a millionaire? This illustrates the lack of substance in that statement. America, as a nation, has seen many people attain a net worth of one million dollars or more; but, to say she created it is a different thing altogether. It was definitely not the government who created them!
But, this flows into the point of the speech. American government, by creating roads and bridges, maintaining an educational system, and developing technology, created the environment in which such success could occur. On this point, I agree. Building out infrastructure led to expansion of our nation, and as families are spread across the nation, and commerce is transacted around the globe, infrastructure needs to be maintained and upgraded. Where the government has a vested interest in that infrastructure, they should be involved at the appropriate level.
Where this goes astray is the next logical step people like our 44th President want to take from that. The next step - well, it’s right there in his speech, that horrid phrase “give back.” (I’ve written about that before, though I don’t think I’ve dedicated an entire post to it. Great, another post for the draft pile.) Implicit in that phrase is that the entity that should “give back” did not earn or deserve what they have acquired, or that they got it for free. That’s not the way businesses work (which he would know had he ever… aw, darn, that snark is hard to hold back). Business owners:
Have an idea for a product or service for which they believe they can convince people to trade some of their money
Put in the work to develop the product or train people to provide the service
Develop a plan to provide that product or service
Secure the necessary infrastructure to run the business (physical, accounting, legal, etc.)
Risk a great deal of their or their investor’s money or, in some cases, their homes and cars, in the process
Now, if we look at that list, it backs up the “you didn’t get there by yourself” line. Who all do we see in that list above? Employees, designers, architects, lawyers, accountants, human resources, communications, logistics, and investors would be a quick list. These are the people who “gave you some help.” But, did they give you the help? Very few people involved gave their help. The materials were not given, they were purchased; employees did not volunteer, they were paid; communications and logistics didn’t “spot” the business free service, they charged this business their going rate for those services.
No, I am not picking at words - this phrase was chosen precisely because of its meaning. If a business owner does all of the above, and ends up with less than $250,000, they won’t raise the liberal’s ire. However, if they end up with $10M, they must have ripped off someone to get that, so we get this “give back” nonsense. Never mind that they contracted with each employee or service provider for a price agreeable to them, and they contracted with their customer to provide the good or service at a price that was agreeable to them. Never mind, too, that they were the last to get paid; before they saw any money, they took care of the government (taxes), then employees (payroll), then contracted costs (business-to-business, professional support, etc.), and then maintaining inventory/training (keeping the business sustainable).
“But what about teachers? Don’t they count?” Well, what about them? They contracted with the government or a private institution to teach for a given amount of money. Teachers don’t work for free either; just because their paycheck comes from the government doesn’t make their efforts any more or less valuable.
At various points in my educational career, I had to study different companies. I also worked to type others’ research papers at one point, and got to see a lot more interesting things about many different companies. Nearly all large companies have benefits like continuing education or charitable contributions (including skimming off the top for United Way). They offer matching retirement account contributions. They sponsor volunteer events in the community. When you look at the owners of these companies, you find contributions to charities, churches, and foundations. If that isn’t “giving back,” what is it? (As an aside, I much prefer the phrase “pass it on;” it’s a conduit, not the Dead Sea.)
It is class warfare. By definition, the middle class is in the middle. They are employees, not owners. They get a paycheck. They volunteer at their school, their church, or other civic organizations. They go on vacations every so often, and they have fun playing with their kids. They are not being ripped off; they are living a comfortable life (particularly when contrasted with the rest of the world) because of the fruits of their labor. But, to hear this speech, you’d think our country was filled with a bunch of greedy, evil business owners, ripping off the public to accumulate great wealth to their own exclusive use. (Yes, there have been those, and they have rightly come to legal, and sometimes even physical, consequences. The presence of abusers does not nullify the principle.)
Sure, there are a lot of hard-working people; not nearly as many as there used to be, but they are there. However, if you work really hard at an unsuccessful venture, you are not going to be more successful; you may delay the failure of the effort, but it will come around. No one on the right is saying that people aren’t working hard; it is the left who are saying that those who are successful did not.
Now, let’s take a look at that famous line - “you didn’t build that.” If the “that” is the business - well, I think the above pretty much covers that. If the “that” is the roads and bridges, though, then yes, he’s probably right. However, did the bridge cause the business owner to succeed? If so, then what about the guy living under the bridge - did the bridge cause him to fail? If the bridge has some magical economic power, we must recognize that its power affects different people in different ways. Government is no less infallible than business (in fact, it’s usually more fallibl… sit down, snark boy); if government is to be credited with all these “millionaires we created,” it must be blamed for those below the poverty line. The only time it’s blamed for that is when there’s a Republican in the White House, though.
The Internet - ah yes, that powerful conduit that enables greater middle-class rip-offs than ever before. The Internet was developed by DARPA. Care to venture a guess as to what the D in that acronym stands for? Defense. Yes, the Internet grew out of a defense research project. Just as NASA isn’t all about space, defense isn’t just about guns and bombs. The very department that Obama wants to gut is the one that gave us the Internet. It would be funny if it weren’t so sad.
So - if you built a business, you didn’t build it on your own; but, that doesn’t mean you ripped off those who helped you build it. Rather, your building of a business created a better life for those helped you build it. Maybe our next president will understand that; hopefully it won’t take him 4 years to get here.
This is the last (or first, depending on how you’re reading it) part of the series “2011 Year in Review: The Good, the Bad, and the Ridiculous.”
Evil’s Class of 2011
2011 was a good year for tyrants to breathe their last. Osama bin Laden, head of al-Qaeda and mastermind of the September 11, 2001 terrors attacks, was killed in a daring raid on May 2nd. Muammar Gaddafi, the long-time leader of Lybia, was captured and killed October 20th. Then, a week before Christmas, Kim Jong-Il, the North Korean dictator, breathed his last. These three men did very little to soothe pain and suffering in this world, choosing rather to inflict it in an attempt to maintain their power and control. As of today, none of these three men control anything - in my book, that’s a very good thing. (Even better would be a change in direction, though that’s looking doubtful at this point, except possibly in Libya.)
Contrary to popular opinion, you can make value judgments about these nations (or, in al-Qaeda’s case, their organization). Man has a God-given yearning to be free, both physically and spiritually. God also made it plain in His Word that choosing Him is a personal decision - it must be made in one’s heart, not forced by government at the point of a gun. Regimes can try to control behavior, but they cannot change hearts. These leaders used violence and oppression to try to conquer the hearts of their citizens, rationalized in many cases via religion; the God of the Bible wants us to surrender our hearts to Him voluntarily. These leaders worked against Him, and they are gone.
While the Cain Train’s derailment made the “bad” list, one positive to come out of his campaign was his 9-9-9 plan. This plan scraps all existing tax code, and replaces it with a 9% income tax, a 9% national sales tax, and a 9% corporate income tax. This plan is the first time a poll-leading presidential candidate has proposed such a massive overhaul of the tax system, and the only plan apart from the FairTax (which Mr. Cain also supports) that eliminates the ridiculous spaghetti of our tax code - spaghetti with a compliance price tag in the millions. While there was the expected knee-jerk reaction from the usual sources (“What? You mean POOR PEOPLE would have to pay 9% on THEIR INCOME, TOO?!?!”), Cain’s analysis showed that this would bring in about the same amount of revenue. Combine that with the vast simplification of the tax code, thus eliminating much of the compliance and enforcement expense, and you’ve got something that just might work.
I realize Cain’s analysis is that of someone running for office, but it does mesh with the analysis done by those that espouse the FairTax. 9-9-9 provides the most level of playing grounds - if you make $10,000, you’d owe $900; if you make $100,000, you’d owe $9,000; if you make $10,000,000, you’d owe $900,000. Corporations, although merely voluntary associations of individuals, are taxed at this rate as well. The national sales tax, balanced with reduced compliance cost to the businesses that would be collecting it, is nearly break-even. This would encourage growth without punishing success.
I can’t remember where I read it, but it’s almost like some people are obsessed with making sure everyone has their “fair share” of the pie. Others see the pie and ask “Hey, why don’t we just get a few more of those?” 9-9-9 clearly falls into the latter camp. Basing economic policy on “It’s not fair that he has more than me” is poor; there’s a reason we teach children not to look at life that way. Instead, we should compare our poor to the poor of other nations, and realize that even the “poor” in this country are better off than the average citizen in many other nations.
I hope that, the next time an alternative tax is pitched, we can have a rational discussion about it. In fact, the FairTax is proposed nearly every year - if you read about it and like it, just let your Congress-critter know.
A Full Trip Through the Bible
Inspired by my Christmas gift from my family in 2010, I searched the web for reading plans and found this one, which looked very interesting. I started a Facebook group and asked if any of my friends would like to join me on this journey, and 22 others joined me; I even made a few new friends along the way. Each day I would post the reading for that particular day, and we could use the group to share, discuss, or encourage one another. There were times I got behind (it happens), and when I posted an encouragement to the group, others were there with me. We weren’t judging each other, we were simply encouraging one another - as Hebrews 10:24 says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.”
The pace was quick, and although I enjoyed it and was blessed by it, I believe 2012 will see me taking it a bit slower. I did flag several verses as I was reading through, and those are the places I’ll start digging in and digesting what’s there.
So, there you have it. As in previous years, while I had to cut off the lists for the bad and the ridiculous, those all happened externally. I could have filled the list for this post with solely personal things. This tells me that I serve a God Who blesses me, no matter what sort of bad or ridiculous stuff goes on around me. I believe more good is on its way in 2012, and some of it might not even be just for me. :)
This is part two of the series “2011 Year in Review: The Good, the Bad, and the Ridiculous.” These are the things that were bad, but didn’t quite make the ridiculous list. (In many cases, though, they were close.)
Japan’s Handling of Fukushima
The tsunami that hit Japan in March of 2011 was bad - really bad. Nearly 16,000 people lost their lives because of it, and estimates on the damage it caused was over $200B. The enormity* alone would have been enough to land it on this list. However, the nuclear angle of the tsunami sent it right to the top.
Initially, the Japanese government declared a state of emergency. Then, they said that they had everything under control, and did not need to take any further steps. Some people familiar with reactors were not comfortable with this, and sadly, they were proved correct. The government of Japan admitted, little by little, how dire the situation was, which ended up with a complete meltdown of three reactors, and several hydrogen explosions. The contamination was likened to Chernobyl; thankfully, that disaster has not produced the ill effects that were forecasted for it. Hopefully we will see the same at Fukushima.
While there is no guarantee that any other nations’ aid could have prevented these meltdowns, it underscores the need for honesty and transparency in government, particularly during times of disaster. Thankfully, the myriad armchair nuclear scientists have moved on to other pursuits, and Japan has cleanup well underway. However, the effects of this disaster will be felt for many years to come.
On January 8th, 2011, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) was holding a constituent meeting in Tucson when she was shot at point-blank range. The shooter then turned and sprayed bullets into the crowd, killing several people. Miraculously, Rep. Giffords survived the shot, though she spent the majority of 2011 in the hospital or in rehab facilities. As the year closed, she was nearly ready to resume her regular schedule in Congress. While she was in the hospital, her husband flew on one of the final Space Shuttle missions. The shooting was bad, but her recovery has been one of the good news stories of 2011.
The man who shot her was a troubled individual, an anarchist who believed in “nothing” according to his friends. However, this did not stop the rush-to-judgment speculation of many media members. The first meme was that this was a deranged right-wing lunatic, acting out a map produced by Sarah Palin’s PAC in 2010. This map showed vulnerable seats with a cross-hair icon; of course this was the dog-whistle for the loonies to assassinate Democrats! Well, when that fell though, they still stuck with the right-wing narrative, until finally recanting when it was clear that this was not the case. Their rush to judgment gave us a window into their hearts, and what we saw was not pretty. (It also wasn’t news to many of us; just confirmation.)
Finally, many used her shooting to condemn the “violent” rhetoric (AKA firearms metaphors) that had become a part of the political system. This civility proved to be short-lived, and gave rise to the #NewTone Twitter hashtag, used by conservatives to retweet some of the vitriol directed at them.
These reactions illustrate the value of freedom of speech. Should these people have reacted the way they did? Of course not. But, without free speech, we wouldn’t know who the moonbats are. There are “journalists” who I simply will not patronize based on their behavior during this terrible tragedy.
US Credit Downgrade
In August, Standard and Poor’s downgraded the credit rating of the United States from AAA to AA. They did this in response to the failure of our country to address our looming deficits. When you look at our economic policies from 2006 forward, including 2009 being the last year with a Senate-passed budget, it’s hard to fault them for doing so. Our nation is ignoring the signs that tell us we should change; this year, the debt eclipsed our annual GDP. We cannot continue to spend money we do not have, while ignoring debt we have already accrued. Austerity is probably not going to get anyone elected, but it’s what we need; the world economy is no better than ours, so we cannot base our recovery on exports to other nations. We should position ourselves to ride out this contraction, so we will be ready to take advantage of the next expansion.
The Cain Train Derailed
I was on the Cain Train. I really liked Herman Cain’s plans for our nation. He was not a Washington insider, he has proven results with taking indentured businesses, making them live within their means, and growing them. His 9-9-9 plan attacked the sacred cow of tax code, proposing a much more fair solution. I wrote about him at length. However, as he rose in the polls, women began coming forward claiming sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior. These were bad, and he sadly put himself in the position of being vulnerable to those claims. His response, through his lawyer, was even worse; it sounded like something out of the Clinton administration.
Character matters. Even if every one of these claims were false, his inability or refusal to deny them outright gave us pause. A legal response that it was none of our business sounded fishy. Learning that he gave these women money unbeknownst to his wife just made me hang my head. Now, I realize that this comparison I’m about to make isn’t really apples to apples, but bear with me. When the Bible lists qualifications of a pastor, two of them are “husband of one wife” and “manages his own house well.” The first is important because fidelity to one’s spouse is an indication of fidelity to the rest of what they claim to believe, and the lack of it the same. The second lets us know that this person can work with people with whom they are close without letting them dissuade him from doing what it right. We’re not electing a pastor - I get that; the character required, however, is very similar. Mr. Cain did not manage his own house, could not refute these charges, and thus was drummed out of the race for Barack Obama’s job.
While there were plenty of bad things that happened, we can generally learn from them. May we learn, and not repeat 2011’s mistakes in 2012.
p.s. Intentionally left off this list is the Jerry Sandusky / Penn State scandal. Such unspeakable horror - may anywhere else this may exist be exposed, and the perpetrators be punished to the full extent of the law, and then some.
* Word nerd tip - “enormity” is not a synonym for “size,” but carries a negative connotation as well; in other words, it’s not just big, it’s big and bad. Its use here is appropriate; its common use elsewhere usually is not.
Income inequality. The rallying cry of the Occupy Wall Street crowd really rings hollow with this 99%-er. This is certainly not a new complaint; “eat the rich” has been a sentiment for decades (or centuries). I would posit that covetousness has existed for over 6,000 years, and led to the first recorded murder in human history. It was wrong then, just as it is wrong now. Now, this is education, not church; we’re not going to belabor this point too much. But, the cries of “fairness” are a moral appeal, and must be dealt with accordingly. The ultimate in fairness is that everyone is taxed the same, and paid the same wage for the same type of work. Some people believe this is way-unfair, and they seem to start with “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need” and work backward just enough to make it palatable to someone who claims to desire freedom. Know, as we enter this education, that I’m much more on the former end than the latter. (See the “Welcome to the Real World” heading in the introduction.)
Income inequality would be incomplete without a discussion of equality of opportunity. Think back over your life; have you ever had a friend who could out-eat everyone else, but still retained their beanpole-like physique? Did you also have a friend who was always dieting, and always looked like they should be dieting? Given an equal opportunity - a pizza and birthday cake celebration, for example - these two people will have unequal results. This is exactly how it is in life. Many different people take the same high school courses; some do well, others do not. Does the fact that everyone is not the valedictorian mean that the system is not fair? On the contrary, this illustrates that given equal opportunity, different results are possible (and likely). There’;s a phrase that originate with cars, but now is used for almost anything - “Your mileage may vary” (YMMV). This is an acknowledgement by car companies that, the way they drove the car, in the environment they had, that was the mileage they got; but, you may drive it a different way, or in a different environment, so your mileage may not be the same as what’s printed on the sticker in the window.
Now, let’s continue this train of thought. There are two people who get the same college degree; let’s even say that their GPA was the same, and it was good - they graduated Cum Laude. Fast-forward 5 years, and the likelihood of these two individuals bringing in the exact same salary is very low; one is going to be making more than the other. Is this fair? That’s tough to say, but just with these facts, it seems pretty fair to me. Going back to the introduction again, a college degree is a tool, and what one does with it has a lot to do with their decisions, and also has a lot to do with the environment in which they live. Think about it this way - the same hammer that demolishes a house can be used to hit a chisel to make a sculpture; and, depending on the scenario, both are important. However, the demolisher is probably not going to get paid the same as the sculptor.
How many people could you employ? I know my answer to that question - zero. I have a small programming business, and currently, I am at the point of breaking even. Over the course of 2+ years, I saw a project with potential to go nationwide fizzle and die; the work I put into that is gone, with no monetary return. I went from looking at a breakthrough project to being back to square 2 (not quite back to square 1) overnight. What am I doing? Continuing on, keeping the lessons learned in mind. I’m not camping out in front of the organization that didn’t choose me, and I’m not blaming the system. But, I can assure you that there is no room in my budget for any employees at all.
Businesses can only hire people as they have resources to do so. These resource quite often manifest themselves as stores of money saved and earned via profits. There is nothing wrong with businesses making a profit, just as there is nothing wrong with you exchanging an hour of your time for a profit yourself (via a wage). (For the record - who was one of the voices saying that a rise in the minimum wage would lead to fewer available jobs? Oh yeah - me. I take little pleasure in that vindication, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t point it out.)
To illustrate, let’s look at a hospital. Profit is a motivation even in a seemly-altruistic endeavor like health care. The operators of the hospital are responsible for hiring doctors, surgeons, nurses, nursing aides, medical technicians, janitorial staff, laundry personnel, anesthesiologists, etc. (or contracting it out). They are also responsible for purchasing beds, linens, cleaning supplies, medical supplies, and a full array of drugs; they also must maintain power, water, environment, and maintenance on their facilities. (I’m stopping there; I’m sure this list is incomplete.) The janitors and surgeons are both important; however, you’re not going to find a single hospital that pays janitors as well as it pays surgeons. Why? Two words - skill and education. Is that fair? Absolutely. The additional pay surgeons receive over janitors is a big reason many of them go through years and years of schooling, internships, and career-long continuing education.
Now, imagine you’re the surgeon. Would you think it fair if unemployed people demanded that you reduce your pay to that of the janitorial staff? If you say you’d be OK with that, you’re either naive or lying. But, these people get their way, and your pay is cut. You would be indignant that the fruits of your hard work were being demanded by people who have no claim on them. You would also no longer be able to pay the support staff necessary for your surgery practice, nor would you be able to spot the neighborhood kid the $50 to keep your yard up on a weekly basis. You would have to pull your children out of whatever private school they attend, which affects the teachers and workers at that school.
To put it as plain and simple as I can, these “rich” people you decry are the ones making our economy work. And, in our economy, you start where you start and try to improve your lot. That’s the promise of America. Not everyone will succeed, but the opportunity is there for those willing to work for it. For years, one party has fomented angst against one class of people, while pillorying those who are against that party as filled with hate. (Oh wait - maybe those are big words for college-educated people…) The Democrats make people mad about people who run businesses, and cast Republicans as hating poor people. Like many items of the Democrat platform, nothing could be further from the truth. These rich people are the ones employing people and supporting other businesses; they’re not sitting around their fireplaces smoking $100 bills and laughing at the peasants.
The graph running down the side of the post, as best I can tell, originated here, and was produced as an example of how bad Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 plan is. But, what I’d like for you to do is click on that, and look how tiny the increased tax is on the bottom 20% versus how much it saves the top 20%. (Keep in mind, #OWS-ers, that 19% of that top 20% are in your 99%.) This chart illustrates perfectly what is wrong with our tax code, and why our jobs are going to other countries. Where is the motivation to move yourself into that top 20%? (FTR, I am saddened by Cain’s recent adjustment to 9-0-9 “for poor people” - this completely destroys the beauty of 9-9-9 as an equalizer.)
At this point, I can hear the rebuttals about all the greedy people who have broken the law to increase their wealth. Those people will find no quarter here with me. One of my biggest problems with immigration reform is that the focus is always on the illegals, rather than the businesses who hire them with impunity. However, this greed and illegality must be fought where it is found, not via a whole-scale war on wealth. American has her position in the world because of her wealth! If profiling is so wrong in other areas, why is tolerated here?
Bottom line - instead of seeing these people as the enemy, you should see them as people you should emulate, whose accomplishments to which you should aspire. You should stop looking at what someone else has, and start looking at how you can improve your lot in life. Chase Bank is probably not hiring many Gender Studies graduates, and Exxon doesn’t have a great need for Gay and Lesbian Studies graduates. You may not find a job in your degree specialty - that’s OK. Work where you can find it, continue your education (but by all means, not at the same university that failed you so much already), and quit looking around so much.
More than half of people chose options that give them better relative position : better to earn $50k/yr while others around are earning $25k/yr than to be earning $100k/yr while others around are earning $200k/yr.
Can you see the lunacy in this? Because of their jealousy and covetousness, over half the people would choose half as much pay. This is exactly what you’re doing. Wake up, #OWS.
Credit is a big part of the Occupy Wall Street movement. They want debt forgiven, some even calling for an across-the-board forgiveness of all debt. By having this demand, they reveal another area where their college education has failed them. Let’s do a quick version of what they should have learned.
To illustrate, let’s create a hypothetical scenario. Person 1 (let’s call him “Bill”) has a business idea, but lacks the funds to make it a reality. Bill is sure that his idea will make lots of money, but he is frustrated because he cannot implement his idea. Person 2 (let’s call him “Tom”) has money that he has accumulated that he is not actively using. Bill comes to Tom and asks if he can borrow some of Tom’s extra money, so that he can implement his awesome idea. Tom is not sure about the purported awesomeness of Bill’s idea, and is reluctant to lend Bill the money. Bill is so confident in his idea that he offers to repay Tom 110% of the money that he wants to borrow. This provides Tim an opportunity for financial gain, and he decides to lend Bill the money he needs.
This story illustrates some of the basic concepts of credit.
Loan - money belonging to someone else, that is temporarily made available to another person.
Interest - money, in addition to the loan amount, that is paid to the lender.
Risk - the likelihood that the loan and interest will not be repaid.
In our story, a 10% interest rate was enough to make Tom assume the risk that Bill’s idea would generate the money Bill thought that it would.
Banks and other lending institutions have simply taken the above scenario and enlarged its scale. They take depositors’ money, and lend it to those who need it. They also provide services, such as securing the money they’ve received, providing convenient ways for people to get to their money. For some services, banks charge fees; for some services, banks pay interest. Because banks must be able to return depositor’s money on demand, they must assess risk before giving a loan. Some risk they simply will not accept; some risk they will accept, but charge the borrower a higher rate on the money to make up for it; and low risk is generally acceptable.
Student loans, a particular interest item to the #OWS set, are no exception. It is understood that obtaining an education may require money that a fresh-out-of-high-school person probably does not have. (Whether it should is a different topic altogether.) However, lending institutions see the value in having an educated populace, and are willing to extend loans to students to allow them to obtain productive skills. They realize that college-educated people are more likely to have good jobs, buy cars and homes, take vacations, and do lots of other things that inject money into an economy.
So, what’s the problem with them forgiving loans? It’s theft, plain and simple. Whoever was extended credit would be stealing the money not from the bank, but from the depositors of that bank. The bank is simply an intermediary set up to provide a mutually-beneficial service to both saver and borrower. (I’ll tackle the class warfare aspect in the next post, but it’s stilltheir money no matter how much they have left.)
Another assumption regarding student loans is that the degree obtained will help this happen; with many degrees these days, a person may be no more qualified to hold employment than they were before they went to college. When I went through college right out of high school, my adviser recommended certain degrees as being more employable than others. I don’t know if colleges don’t have that, or if advisers these days think that we really need a ton of Fill-in-the-Blank Studies degrees; either way, that sort of degree has limited employment opportunity. If you obtained that sort of degree, and now can’t get a job, you rolled the dice and lost. Now, it’;s time to act like a grown up and get whatever work you can to provide for you (and your family, if you have one), and start repaying that loan you took out.
Lemme get this straight. A bank lent you $100k that you handed to a college for a worthless degree, and now you’re mad at… the bank?
Banks provide an important service by offering credit. If that credit is not repaid, the system collapses. If you think it’s hard getting a job now, try bankrupting all the employers, and see how much more plentiful (or scarce) the jobs become.