Month: May, 2012

The Poor State of American History

Both sides of the aisle can’t argue on much, but what they can agree on is that history is whatever they say it is. Obama, in his infinite wisdom, asserted that a recent Polish Medal of Freedom winner by the name of Karski was “smuggled into . . . a Polish death camp to see for himself.” Much to the surprise of the world’s Jewish community, who were almost sure that it was there their ancestors had died. Their mistake, apparently.

President Obama, who was ostensibly born and raised in Hawaii, has also mentioned that a single bomb had been dropped on Pearl Harbor. This follows on a long history, no pun intended, of a slippery relation with what I would call ‘the facts.’ He seemingly believes that JFK talked Khrushchev out of the Cuban missile crisis, right after we built the “Intercontinental Railroad” (was it from Indonesia to Hawaii?); and bragged that his uncle liberated Auschwitz (much to the consternation of prestigious Soviet historians who were almost sure that Auschwitz was located in western Poland).

I know quite a few people are shrugging their shoulders. Who doesn’t tell a whopper? An acquaintance of mine, for almost half-an-hour, maintained an impromptu lecture on the reasons for America’s involvement in the First World War. If you allowed him the benefit of the doubt, we involved ourselves to protect the democracies of the Entente Powers (Tsar, presumably, is Russian for ‘Happily-Elected-Premier’). Yet I cannot quite believe that the standards I hold to people I know are, or should be, the same standards I hold to the President. It’s unfair.

Samuel Chi points out over at RealClearHistory that “Michele Bachmann thought the battles at Lexington and Concord were in New Hampshire; Rick Perry believed the war was fought in the 16th century; and Sarah Palin claimed it all began when Paul Revere warned the British.” Obama’s “opponents” in the political field are hardly better. He just has more time in the spotlight.

We’re clueless. Oh well.


What the French Foreign Legion Can Teach Us About Candidates

By 1904 the French Foreign Legion had survived Mexico, Tonkin, Dahomey (modern Benin, which occupies the western border of Nigeria on the Gulf of Guinea in West Africa), Madagascar, several European wars (including their extended stay in post-Napoleonic Spain fighting Carlists as well as the bungled Franco-Prussia War) and innumerable conflicts in Algeria. For the first time in its existence the Legion had earned, or perhaps forced, the acquiescence of both the Assembly as well as metropolitan France in general. Life had other plans, however, and the Legion faced an almost crippling inability to fill out its ranks: unheard of. Why?

Several theories were advanced and have been advanced by scholars. Alsace-Lorrainers, the backbone of the outfit, stopped showing up. Failed revolutionaries weren’t as numerous. A good deal of the novelty, as well, had died along with the thousands who succumbed to disease in Madagascar. Most of all, however, was that ‘bad money chased out good.’

A reader mildly steeped in economics, or one who has read ahead, will recognize Gresham’s Law as one of those old warhorses brought out to bolster arguments by sensitive writers who don’t like seeing their opinions splayed out across the page without a few ‘facts.’ Or gems, as I call them. Fair point. Now you, dear reader, you can’t say you left with nothing.

Point being, Gresham’s Law is the rule that when currency is mandated to be of equal worth (regardless of its market value) the currency with the highest market value will be horded or exported. The cheaper stuff will stick around ‘pushing’ out the better quality currency. One can see this dynamic in the recently released Sacajawea gold dollars. To the consternation of many stress toys in the Treasury, the ‘bad’ money of the flimsy cotton Washington-emblazoned notes have easily managed to push out the gold dollars with little effort. Most are horded or otherwise removed from the domestic market (where the ‘bad’ Washington currency is most prevalent).

One can see the dynamic in the Legion at the turn of the century. Recruits are recruits are recruits; according to the highest echelons within the labyrinth of French politics. The quality, sadly, of the worst only got worse. In May 1905, the colonels of the two Legion regiments were asked to list measures that would bring an improvement in service conditions. One infantry director insisted “The presence of this sort of bandit… has sent away the honest people from the Legion… men who have lost hope.” These complaints became almost universal, and “Even for the least informed observer,” wrote General Trumelet-Faber in 1913, “this magnificent unit is degenerating and soon will resemble the [Penal Battationals].”

Is it any surprise, then, that the current batch of American political candidates are so uninspiring? President Obama’s new motto, to replace ‘Change/Hope,’ is ‘Forward.’ Presumably, he doesn’t want the electorate to focus on what he has done and not what his Administration is doing currently. Eyes straight ahead. Romney, on the other hand, has seemingly given up on the idea of single phrase encapsculating his campaign. The idea of even one word that cannot be changed later on sends shivers of fear up his spine.

Oh well. Bad money chases out good.


My Vote

Meh. Romney. I could ouldn’t have said it better.

The Healthcare Future

Sally Pipes over at Forbes online side has this to say:

According to CMS’s own data, the growth rate of health costs didn’t start moderating in recent years — it’s been cooling off since 2002.

It’s no coincidence that 2002 was also the year that employers started embracing high-deductible health insurance plans for their workforces. The plans really took off in the mid-2000s. Between 2006 and 2011, the share of American workers enrolled in one more than quadrupled, from 3 percent to 13 percent.

Is this, then, the future of healthcare? Mm. The hardest words for any pundit, even one whose auidence is about the size of a large family (e.g. this guy), to say is I don’t know. But, seriously, I don’t know. Only time will tell.

The New Welfare Fight

Joseph Lawler at The Atlantic writes:

In today’s economy, that distinction isn’t as meaningful, and SSDI’s broad definition of “disability” has lead to steadily growing rolls over the past 20 years. Many of the new enrollees claim disabilities that are hard to verify, such as mental-health problems or soft-tissue pain, leading experts to believe the system is being used as unemployment compensation. Such suspicions are bolstered by a 2002 study that found that disability claims in Appalachian coal mining country spiked when energy prices fell.

Unemployment benefits are also a significant chunk of the budget: They were expanded (along with Medicaid) in the stimulus bill, and will run up $105 billion on the federal tab this year. Unemployment was available, until just a few weeks ago, for up to 99 weeks after job loss in many states (now the maximum is 73 weeks). Unemployment benefits serve, in some cases, as a substitute for traditional welfare. Family heads who work instead of receiving welfare would be eligible for unemployment benefits in the case of job loss — without the stigma associated with welfare.

Can we can expect another round of 90’s styled fighting over these softer, but still present, welfare programs that have (seemingly) managed to evade the Clinton-era fiscal diet?

Two Philosophies

Fyodor Dostoevsky set a crucial scene of The Brothers Karamazov at the Optyn Hermitage in Kozelsk, which in 1939 and 1940 became the site of a Soviet prisoner-of-war camp. It housed members of the Polish National Army, which had been crushed earlier by the Wehrmacht and, finally, by the Red Army as part of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, contained within a secret protocol= the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany had divvied up Eastern Europe. In the case of Poland, which possessed one of the largest concentrations of Jews in Europe, it was divided straight down the middle. The most famous exchange in the book took place between a young nobleman and monastery elder about the possibility of morality without God. If God is dead, is everything permitted? In 1940, the real building where this fictional conversation took place, the former residence of monks, housed NKVD interrogators (The People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs, or in Russian Народный комиссариат внутренних дел). They represented a Soviet answer to that question: only the death of God allowed for the liberation of humanity. Unconsciously or consciously many of the Poles provided their own answer as they went about preparing for Easter services or—in many cases, owing to the Jewish community’s overrepresentation in the educated classes—Sabbath. The chief interrogator at Kozelsk, the man who inherited the residence of Dostoevsky’s monastic elder, put this delicately: it was a matter of “two divergent philosophies.” In the end, the Soviets could enforce theirs: the Polish prisoners-of-war housed at Kozelsk joined their compatriots in being some of the 21,892 executed by the NKVD.

As we go about our day, let us consider what sort of philosophy we want on this Memorial Day.

Independent Redestricting Commisions Aren’t Quite Golden

A recent article recently popped up that is definitely worth a read.

An interesting article.

Unsurprisingly, independent commissions or not the political redistricting process (the first effects are going to be felt in June, when most primaries take place) has been corrupted stem-to-stern. As a Californian, however, I applaud the Democrats for their particular brand of shamelessness.

According to the Propublica article:

Back in California, the commission was getting organized. Its first task was to pick commissioners. The ballot initiative excluded virtually anyone who had any previous political experience. Run for office? Worked as a staffer or consultant to a political campaign? Given more than $2,000 to a candidate in any year? “Cohabitated” for more than 30 days in the past year with anyone in the previous categories? You’re barred.

Unless, of course, you were merely petitioning the district. At which point congressmen and women sent their flunkies to try their best to pull the wool over the commission’s eyes. Whether or not they succeeded is, to me, ultimately secondary. It’s the attempt that seems insulting. I understand politicians can’t help themselves, but it’s always a depressing to see.

And before you partisan readers even think unhappy thoughts, Propublica’s progressive credentials (as well as journalistic one’s) are impeccable. It’s accepted multiple six-digit gifts from Mr. Soros, one founder sits on the Pulitzer Prize Board ect.

I can almost feel my sanity tearing when I read articles like these, oh well. I should’ve known my vote for Prop. 20 was useless.

“We Are Doomed”

A dry, humorous soggy-islander from Blighty once wrote a book “addressed to American conservatives” that sought to diagnos the main weakness of American conservatism: the temptation to yield “to optimism, to wishful thinking, to happy talk, to cheerily preposterous theories about human beings and the human world.” His book’s title? We Are Doomed.

I will be sitting astride history and muttering glum little-things about how our expectations are simply too high. My father, always with a disbelieving shake of his head, had this to say about politicians: “they lie, even when they don’t have too.” I will always tell the truth as I see it, especially when I don’t have too.