Friday, October 30, 2009

Pelosi's Plan

From National Review Online
To sum it up, the House bill is nothing but a massive, uncontrolled federal entitlement expansion — at a time when the central, looming threat to the nation’s long-term prosperity is the unaffordable health-care entitlements already on the federal books. To create the impression of fiscal responsibility, the bill is jury-rigged with budget gimmicks, implausible eligibility rules, and arbitrary, government-dictated price controls — that have been tried repeatedly without success — to make it look like it costs “only” $900 billion over a decade.

Read the rest here.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Convenient Exaggeration

From the Associated Press:
An early progress report on President Barack Obama's economic recovery plan overstates by thousands the number of jobs created or saved through the stimulus program, a mistake that White House officials promise will be corrected in future reports.

The government's first accounting of jobs tied to the $787 billion stimulus program claimed more than 30,000 positions paid for with recovery money. But that figure is overstated by least 5,000 jobs, according to an Associated Press review of a sample of stimulus contracts.

The AP review found some counts were more than 10 times as high as the actual number of jobs; some jobs credited to the stimulus program were counted two and sometimes more than four times; and other jobs were credited to stimulus spending when none was produced.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

History Lesson

Pour yourself a glass of wine and watch this piece of history: Ronald Reagan's 1964 "A Time for Choosing". The last ten minutes are especially brilliant.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Leaderless, Across the Board

Continuing with the theme of the last post, i.e., leadership, or lack thereof, we now proceed to the Commander in Chief of the United States Armed Forces. Now, it is well known that Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal has requested (and practically begged for) more troops to push back against the gains made by al-Qaeda. For his part, the ever-thoughtful and deliberate Obama says he needs to think long and hard before making such a momentous decision. Well fine, think away. But it has already been a few weeks now and the president, still thinking about it, has found time to play hoops, attended a number of lavish fundraisers (presently he is in Miami, where last night, he hit up another ritzy Democratic shindig on South Beach) and host scads of star-studded events at the White House. It has further been reported that the President has, over the course of nine months in office, hit the links more times than Bush did. (And remember the withering criticism 43 received for showing such rank insouciance as to go golfing at a time of national crisis?) So just what is the Commander in Chief doing with regard to the Afghan question? Thinking about it, we are told. Okay...

Meanwhile, soldiers dutifully fighting the war wait on the President to make his move, as eight more of their own were killed today in Afghanistan.

Milwaukee's Next Leader

Chatter boxes in the Catholic blogosphere, I gather, are hinting that the vacant cathedra of the Milwaukee Archdiocese is set to be filled any day now. Names of possible candidates in the running have been tossed about, but until the official call is made, all of that whispering is futile speculation and, frankly, a waste of time. (That's why I don't frequent those pedantic, Chatty Cathy Catholic blogs.) All one needs to know is that the Milwaukee Archdiocese is in a terrible state of disarray as a result of over thirty years of listless and often corrupt management. A priest friend from Milwaukee relates that one could staff a small diocese with the number of good candidates for the seminary who have been turned away from Saint Francis Seminary over the years.

A game changer is in order; someone who will clean house in a serious way and who cares more about the solicitude for souls than in just being liked by everyone. Short of that, Milwaukee Catholics will continue to find themselves adrift at sea, thanks to those charged with their care. Sounds harsh, I know, but it's the truth. My prayer is that someone at the Vatican will have conveyed the dire sense of urgency regarding Milwaukee to those charged with narrowing the list of candidates.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Hayek's Encore

The Road to Serfdom is just too good.
The people are made to transfer their allegiance from the old gods to the new under the pretense that the new gods really are what their sound instinct had always told them but what before they had only dimly seen. And the most efficient technique to this end is to use old words but change their meaning. Few traits of totalitarian regimes are at the same time so confusing to the superficial observer and yet so characteristic of the whole intellectual climate as the complete perversion of language, the change of meaning of the words by which the ideals of the new regimes are expressed...Gradually, as this process continues, the whole language becomes despoiled, and words become empty shells deprived of any definite meaning, as capable of denoting one thing as its opposite and used solely for the emotional associations which still adhere to them.

(Emphasis added.)

Follow-up: I just read that Pelosi is now calling the government option for health care the "competitive option." Hayek was so right about these people!

The Rubio Revolution

From the Associated Press:
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Republican Gov. Charlie Crist probably wasn't worried that literally embracing President Barack Obama back in February and strongly supporting the $787 billion federal stimulus package would hurt his U.S. Senate campaign.

Sure, the hardcore party base wasn't happy, but the appearance was an opportunity to win over Democrats, independents and moderate Republicans who voted for Obama. The president's approval ratings were high, and any Republican thinking about running for an open seat in 2010 stopped thinking about it when Crist signaled interest.

All except former House Speaker Marco Rubio. Political insiders said it wasn't logical to challenge an incumbent governor who had high approval ratings and could raise gobs of money. However, Rubio said it didn't make sense for the highest-profile Republican in Florida to embrace a Democratic president and a plan that would raise the federal deficit.

Now Rubio is gaining momentum as he reminds Republican voters of Crist's hug. And the same political insiders who downplayed Rubio are starting to think the unthinkable: Crist's campaign might be threatened by another Republican.

If the GOP is serious about ever coming back from the dead and restoring its squandered credibility with conservatives, it had better ditch the Crists and embrace the Rubios out there. It's time for the Republican Party to get real about what it believes and stands for. Rubio channels Reagan and is the future of the Party. Crist channels McCain and represents the past.

Learn more about Marco Rubio here.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Hayek's Echo

It's amazing how accurately Friedrich Hayek grasps the underpinnings of totalitarianism. His observations are all the more relevant today. Some excerpts from The Road to Serfdom:
We must here return for a moment to the position which precedes the suppression of democratic institutions and the creation of a totalitarian regime. In this stage it is the general demand for quick and determined government action that is the dominating element in the situation, dissatisfaction with the slow and cumbersome course of democratic procuedure which makes action for action's sake the goal.

It seems to be almost a law of human nature that it is easier for people to agree on a negative program--on the hatred of an enemy, on the envy of those better off--than on any positive task.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Voting "Present" on War Creates Backlash

Obama's numbers for his handling of the war in Afghanistan are plummeting, according to a new poll.
Barack Obama's ratings for handling the war in Afghanistan have dropped sharply, with Americans by 2-1 saying he lacks a clear plan there. But the public itself is divided on how to proceed, torn between the difficulties of the war and the threat of Taliban or al Qaeda-backed terrorism.

New poll finds 47 percent of Americans say the war has not been worth fighting.
Forty-five percent now approve of the president's handling of the situation, down by 10 points in a month, 15 points since August and 18 points from its peak last spring. His approval rating on Afghanistan has fallen farther than on any other issue in ABC News/Washington Post polls this year.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Cap-and-Trade Population Control

New York Times environmental writer Andrew Revkin participated in an Oct. 14 panel discussion on climate change with other media pundits titled "Covering Climate: What's Population Got To Do With It?" People who need people they are not.

Participating via Web cam, Revkin volunteered that in allocating carbon credits as part of any cap-and-trade scheme, "if you can measurably somehow divert fertility rate, say toward accelerating decline in a place with a high fertility rate, shouldn't there be a carbon value to that?"

He went on to say that "probably the single most concrete and substantive thing an American, young American, could do to lower our carbon footprint is not turning off the light or driving a Prius, it's having fewer kids, having fewer children."

"More children equal more carbon dioxide emissions," Rivkin has blogged, wondering "whether this means we'll soon see a market in baby-avoidance carbon credits similar to efforts to sell CO2 credits for avoiding deforestation." Save the trees, not the children.

It seems far fetched now but it only takes a few years for some outlandish ideas to gain traction among the uninformed.


Caught by Surprise

From the Telegraph.
This is astonishing news. Pope Benedict XVI has created an entirely new Church structure for disaffected Anglicans that will allow them to worship together – using elements of Anglican liturgy – under the pastoral supervision of their own specially appointed bishop or senior priest.

The Pope is now offering Anglicans worldwide “corporate reunion” on terms that will delight Anglo-Catholics. In theory, they can have their own married priests, parishes and bishops – and they will be free of liturgical interference by liberal Catholic bishops who are unsympathetic to their conservative stance.

There is even the possibility that married Anglican laymen could be accepted for ordination on a case-by-case basis – a remarkable concession.

Both Archbishop Vincent Nichols and Archbishop Rowan Williams are surprised by this dramatic move. Cardinal Levada, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was in Lambeth Palace only yesterday to spell out to Dr Williams what it means. This decision has, in effect, been taken over their heads – though there is no suggestion that Archbishop Nichols does not fully support this historic move.

The Archbishop of Canterbury is unlikely to be pleased, though he was vigorously concealing any displeasure at a press conference this morning. (There was a lot of spin about this decision “arising out of dialogue”.) The truth is that Rome has given up on the Anglican Communion. With one announcement, the Pope has given conservative Anglicans a protected route to union with Rome – and promised that, even once they are members of the Catholic Church, they will be offered a permanent structure that allows them to retain an Anglican ethos.

Monday, October 19, 2009


Obama gained a lot of mileage on the campaign trial lecturing us on how we shouldn't be afraid to talk to those we don't like, i.e., Iran, North Korea, Venezuela. Now in the driver's seat, he is assiduously avoiding Fox News like the plague. Maybe because he can't "control" what they report.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

President "No"

More from the intriguing Czech President, Vaclav Klaus, from The Guardian. What is the likelihood that the increasingly isolated Klaus will be able to put the brakes on the Lisbon Treaty just long enough to see the conservatives in the UK take charge? That is the question.

On Those "Uninsured"

Thomas Sowell, writing for National Review Online:
The magic number du jour is the number of Americans without health insurance. Apparently getting more people insured is another “good thing” — which is to say, it is something whose costs are not to be weighed against the benefits, or whose costs are to be finessed aside with optimistic projections or a claim that these costs can be covered by eliminating “waste, fraud, and abuse.”

In real life, people weigh one thing against another. But in politics, one declares one thing to be imperative, so the issue then becomes how we do it. In real life, all sorts of desirable things are not done, either because other desirable things would have to be sacrificed or because the dangers incurred in achieving the desired objective are worse than the problem we want to solve.

Almost never are the dangers of having uninsured people weighed against the dangers of having government bureaucrats overruling doctors and deciding whether money would be better spent saving the life of an elderly person or paying for an abortion for some teenager.

The crowning irony is that the problems caused by insurance companies’ refusing to pay for certain medications or treatments are to be solved by giving government bureaucrats that same power, along with the power to prevent patients from using their own money to pay for those same medications or treatments.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

From the Financial Times
The notion that Mr Obama is a weak leader is now spreading in ways that are dangerous to his presidency. The fact that he won the Nobel Peace Prize last Friday will not change this impression. Peace is all very well. But Mr Obama now needs to pick a fight in public – and win it with a clean knock-out.

In truth, the Norwegians did the US president no favours by giving him the peace prize after less than a year in office. The award will only embellish a portrait of the president that has been painted in ever more vivid colours by his political enemies. The right argues that Mr Obama is a man who has been wildly applauded and promoted for not doing terribly much. Now the Nobel committee seems to be making their point for them.

Bombs Away

From the Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) - The Pentagon is speeding up delivery of a colossal bomb designed to destroy hidden weapons bunkers buried underground and shielded by 10,000 pounds of reinforced concrete.

Call it Plan B for dealing with Iran, which recently revealed a long-suspected nuclear site deep inside a mountain near the holy city of Qom.

The 15-ton behemoth - called the "massive ordnance penetrator," or MOP - will be the largest non-nuclear bomb in the U.S. arsenal and will carry 5,300 pounds of explosives. The bomb is about 10 times more powerful than the weapon it is designed to replace.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

In Praise of Folly

Archbishop Timothy Dolan on Justice Sotomayor:
No wonder the Puerto Rican community rejoices with our own Justice Sonia Sotomayor. All of us in Catholic New York should. She studied hard at Blessed Sacrament Elementary School and Cardinal Spellman High School. Her dear mother sacrificed to send her there, and her own beautiful Catholic faith gave our new Supreme Court justice the character, values and morals she holds close.

In the run-up to Sotomayor's confirmation hearings, Senator Jim DeMint R-S.C. quizzed the Wise Latina on whether or not she thought the unborn possessed any rights. Her reply was that she had, in fact, never thought about the matter. Really? Frankly, this is tough to swallow, but let's give Sotomayor the benefit of the doubt and assume that she's telling the truth, that indeed, she has never thought about the most fundamental moral issue facing our nation today, i.e., the defense of the unborn. What does this admission say about the state of Catholic education in the United States? What does Sotomayor's response say about the priorities of Blessed Sacrament and Cardinal Spellman High School?

And if she wasn't being truthful...? What does that say?

Why should serious Catholics continue to support with their hard-earned money the scads of Catholic schools from coast to coast that are failing miserably in their duty to pass on the patrimony of the Church's moral teaching to its students? I speak from experience when I lampoon the joke that is Catholic higher education in the United States. Milwaukee, Dolan's former archdiocesan stomping grounds, boasts a wide array of milquetoast "Catholic" schools that are far more concerned with fish fries, prestige and sports than with Augustine, Aquinas, and Newman. For my part, I will "rejoice" when our national church leaders put the kibosh on patronizing encomiums aimed at minorities and focus instead on reforming America's dysfunctional Catholic schools, so that students will finally start thinking seriously about important moral issues.

Dangerous Imbalance

From FoxNews:
SHANGHAI — Every weekend in Shanghai's 'People's Park Number Five,' they come — mothers, fathers, grandparents — all holding pictures and posters of young Chinese men and women who are looking for love.

Parental matchmaking isn't easy, according to one man who tells FOX News that he's been shopping for a wife for his 33-year-old son for six months.

His pitch to other parents is short and simple. "Got a home. Good looking. Good salary," reads his poster.

Because of China's one child policy to control its ever expanding population — now numbering 1.3 billion people — there has been a lopsided explosion of young boys. It's a cavernous gender gap that is unprecedented worldwide.

The ratio is up to 130 boys to every one hundred girls in some areas of China.
From the Associated Press:
The global Muslim population stands at 1.57 billion, meaning that nearly 1 in 4 people in the world practice Islam, according to a report Wednesday billed as the most comprehensive of its kind.

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life report provides a precise number for a population whose size has long has been subject to guesswork, with estimates ranging anywhere from 1 billion to 1.8 billion.

Click here for more information on the study.

The project, three years in the making, also presents a portrait of the Muslim world that might surprise some. For instance, Germany has more Muslims than Lebanon, China has more Muslims than Syria, Russia has more Muslims than Jordan and Libya combined, and Ethiopia has nearly as many Muslims as Afghanistan.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Chesterton's Lepanto

WHITE founts falling in the Courts of the sun,
And the Soldan of Byzantium is smiling as they run;
There is laughter like the fountains in that face of all men feared,
It stirs the forest darkness, the darkness of his beard;
It curls the blood-red crescent, the crescent of his lips;
For the inmost sea of all the earth is shaken with his ships.
They have dared the white republics up the capes of Italy,
They have dashed the Adriatic round the Lion of the Sea,
And the Pope has cast his arms abroad for agony and loss,
And called the kings of Christendom for swords about the Cross.
The cold queen of England is looking in the glass;
The shadow of the Valois is yawning at the Mass;
From evening isles fantastical rings faint the Spanish gun,
And the Lord upon the Golden Horn is laughing in the sun.

Dim drums throbbing, in the hills half heard,
Where only on a nameless throne a crownless prince has stirred,
Where, risen from a doubtful seat and half attainted stall,
The last knight of Europe takes weapons from the wall,
The last and lingering troubadour to whom the bird has sung,
That once went singing southward when all the world was young.
In that enormous silence, tiny and unafraid,
Comes up along a winding road the noise of the Crusade.
Strong gongs groaning as the guns boom far,
Don John of Austria is going to the war,
Stiff flags straining in the night-blasts cold
In the gloom black-purple, in the glint old-gold,
Torchlight crimson on the copper kettle-drums,
Then the tuckets, then the trumpets, then the cannon, and he comes.
Don John laughing in the brave beard curled,
Spurning of his stirrups like the thrones of all the world,
Holding his head up for a flag of all the free.
Love-light of Spain—hurrah!
Death-light of Africa!
Don John of Austria
Is riding to the sea.

Mahound is in his paradise above the evening star,
(Don John of Austria is going to the war.)
He moves a mighty turban on the timeless houri's knees,
His turban that is woven of the sunsets and the seas.
He shakes the peacock gardens as he rises from his ease,
And he strides among the tree-tops and is taller than the trees;
And his voice through all the garden is a thunder sent to bring
Black Azrael and Ariel and Ammon on the wing.
Giants and the Genii,
Multiplex of wing and eye,
Whose strong obedience broke the sky
When Solomon was king.

They rush in red and purple from the red clouds of the morn,
From the temples where the yellow gods shut up their eyes in scorn;
They rise in green robes roaring from the green hells of the sea
Where fallen skies and evil hues and eyeless creatures be,
On them the sea-valves cluster and the grey sea-forests curl,
Splashed with a splendid sickness, the sickness of the pearl;
They swell in sapphire smoke out of the blue cracks of the ground,—
They gather and they wonder and give worship to Mahound.
And he saith, "Break up the mountains where the hermit-folk can hide,
And sift the red and silver sands lest bone of saint abide,
And chase the Giaours flying night and day, not giving rest,
For that which was our trouble comes again out of the west.
We have set the seal of Solomon on all things under sun,
Of knowledge and of sorrow and endurance of things done.
But a noise is in the mountains, in the mountains, and I know
The voice that shook our palaces—four hundred years ago:
It is he that saith not 'Kismet'; it is he that knows not Fate;
It is Richard, it is Raymond, it is Godfrey at the gate!
It is he whose loss is laughter when he counts the wager worth,
Put down your feet upon him, that our peace be on the earth."
For he heard drums groaning and he heard guns jar,
(Don John of Austria is going to the war.)
Sudden and still—hurrah!
Bolt from Iberia!
Don John of Austria
Is gone by Alcalar.

St. Michaels on his Mountain in the sea-roads of the north
(Don John of Austria is girt and going forth.)
Where the grey seas glitter and the sharp tides shift
And the sea-folk labour and the red sails lift.
He shakes his lance of iron and he claps his wings of stone;
The noise is gone through Normandy; the noise is gone alone;
The North is full of tangled things and texts and aching eyes,
And dead is all the innocence of anger and surprise,
And Christian killeth Christian in a narrow dusty room,
And Christian dreadeth Christ that hath a newer face of doom,
And Christian hateth Mary that God kissed in Galilee,—
But Don John of Austria is riding to the sea.
Don John calling through the blast and the eclipse
Crying with the trumpet, with the trumpet of his lips,
Trumpet that sayeth ha!
Domino gloria!
Don John of Austria
Is shouting to the ships.

King Philip's in his closet with the Fleece about his neck
(Don John of Austria is armed upon the deck.)
The walls are hung with velvet that is black and soft as sin,
And little dwarfs creep out of it and little dwarfs creep in.
He holds a crystal phial that has colours like the moon,
He touches, and it tingles, and he trembles very soon,
And his face is as a fungus of a leprous white and grey
Like plants in the high houses that are shuttered from the day,
And death is in the phial and the end of noble work,
But Don John of Austria has fired upon the Turk.
Don John's hunting, and his hounds have bayed—
Booms away past Italy the rumour of his raid.
Gun upon gun, ha! ha!
Gun upon gun, hurrah!
Don John of Austria
Has loosed the cannonade.

The Pope was in his chapel before day or battle broke,
(Don John of Austria is hidden in the smoke.)
The hidden room in man's house where God sits all the year,
The secret window whence the world looks small and very dear.
He sees as in a mirror on the monstrous twilight sea
The crescent of his cruel ships whose name is mystery;
They fling great shadows foe-wards, making Cross and Castle dark,
They veil the plumèd lions on the galleys of St. Mark;
And above the ships are palaces of brown, black-bearded chiefs,
And below the ships are prisons, where with multitudinous griefs,
Christian captives sick and sunless, all a labouring race repines
Like a race in sunken cities, like a nation in the mines.
They are lost like slaves that sweat, and in the skies of morning hung
The stair-ways of the tallest gods when tyranny was young.
They are countless, voiceless, hopeless as those fallen or fleeing on
Before the high Kings' horses in the granite of Babylon.
And many a one grows witless in his quiet room in hell
Where a yellow face looks inward through the lattice of his cell,
And he finds his God forgotten, and he seeks no more a sign—
(But Don John of Austria has burst the battle-line!)
Don John pounding from the slaughter-painted poop,
Purpling all the ocean like a bloody pirate's sloop,
Scarlet running over on the silvers and the golds,
Breaking of the hatches up and bursting of the holds,
Thronging of the thousands up that labour under sea
White for bliss and blind for sun and stunned for liberty.

Vivat Hispania!
Domino Gloria!

Don John of Austria
Has set his people free!

Cervantes on his galley sets the sword back in the sheath
(Don John of Austria rides homeward with a wreath.)
And he sees across a weary land a straggling road in Spain,
Up which a lean and foolish knight for ever rides in vain,
And he smiles, but not as Sultans smile, and settles back the blade....
(But Don John of Austria rides home from the Crusade.)

Read it. Love it. Live it.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Bishops and Legacies

Here are some choice excerpts from an excellent piece written by Russell Shaw. He reviewed the unnecessary and prurient memoir of Milwaukee's former Archbishop Rembert Weakland.
Archbishop Weakland prefers the designation “Dearden bishop,” and in this he’s correct. Cardinal John Dearden was archbishop of Detroit from 1959 to 1980. As the first post-Vatican II president of what was then called the National Conference of Catholic Bishops/United States Catholic Conference (now, the USCCB), he gave the Church in America the national episcopal conference in its modern, bureaucratized, activist form, as later he was to give it the notorious, left-leaning Call To Action Conference of 1976. His influence is visible in the careers and leadership styles of a generation of American bishops with names like Bernardin, Quinn, Roach, and Malone. It persists even now via the old-boy patronage system in the hierarchy.

As Abbot Primate in Paul VI’s Rome during the post-council years he was a Vatican insider and, in his own sphere of influence, an important player in renewal. He returned to America in 1977 as archbishop of Milwaukee full of hope. Under John Paul II, however, a new ice age set in—an age of authoritarianism, centralization, and repression. From being an insider, the archbishop suddenly found himself part of the “loyal minority.”

Many things that happened in the postconciliar era are best understood in light of Archbishop Weakland’s diagnosis of immaturity and narcissism among the clergy (to say nothing of women religious), both those who left and those who stayed. The pre-Vatican II formation system produced many admirable priests and religious, but its rigid structures and rules also produced many who proved to be ill-equipped for the fluid and ambiguous ecclesiastical situation immediately after the council.

One of the peculiarities of people who accept version number two of the last 40 years is their consistent failure to face up to the implications of the empirical data of decline. When Archbishop Weakland arrived in Milwaukee, the archdiocese—though already having experienced a decade of decline—still had 700,000 Catholics, over 300 parishes and missions, 547 active diocesan priests, 3,872 sisters, and 216 brothers. Seven new diocesan priests were ordained that year, and Milwaukee’s two diocesan seminaries had 115 students. By 2002, when he stepped down, there were 695,000 Catholics, 224 parishes and missions, 246 active diocesan priests, 2,601 sisters, and 56 brothers. One new diocesan priest was ordained that year, and the one remaining diocesan seminary had 21 students.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Red Mass

From the Associated Press:
WASHINGTON – An American cardinal on Sunday issued a plea for the rights of the unborn at a church service that included Vice President Joe Biden, six members of the Supreme Court and hundreds of members of the legal community.

Five of the six Roman Catholics on the high court — Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy and Samuel Alito — heard the homily by Cardinal Daniel DiNardo; the sixth, Justice Clarence Thomas, did not attend. Justice Stephen Breyer, who is Jewish, was there as well.

Speaking at the annual Red Mass the day before the opening of the Supreme Court term, DiNardo said that people represented by lawyers are "more than clients. ... In some cases the clients are voiceless for they lack influence; in others they are literally voiceless, not yet with tongues and even without names, and require our most careful attention and radical support."

"Every man who merely fails to prevent or repel wrongdoing is himself thereby committing a positive wrong." Cicero, On Duties

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Merchants and Capitalism

Personally, I hate negotiating. There is something about the conflict that rubs me the wrong way. It probably comes from growing up in a society that cherishes myriad freedoms. We like not to be disturbed by telemarketers, solicitors, or merchants. An effect though is that we seem to wish to be free from the hassle of negotiating prices. Very well, but there are disadvantages to this, too. Many prices are set without merchant-consumer negotiation. There is little possibility, then, that this important ingredient contributes to setting the price. We develop an attitude of being content with fixed prices, something very ironically is uncharacteristic of free markets. A savvy businessman will pay attention to the number of customers who walk away after a price quote. Sadly, many do not.

In many other countries consumers negotiate the price of something at the moment of purchase. If you agree to the price, you make the exchange. If you do not like the price, you bid lower or you walk away. Walking away is very effective in lowering the price, because the merchant will chase after you because he recognizes that right then and there is the time to capture business. Voila! The merchant has important information that he can apply to his judgement about pricing. In the United States, monitoring this information is often overlooked or even completely neglected. Again, sometimes failure in business comes as a surprise, but one that could have been avoided if the management were more watchful and aggressive about collecting and analyzing such information. Allow me to illustrate how quickly this happens . . .

Two weekends ago I brought my car into Merchant's Tire and Auto in Woodbridge, VA, for the state vehicle safety inspection. The car failed inspection. After a nice smile, the service representative claimed that the car needed two new control arms which altogether would cost about $1,200. In the United States, particularly within larger companies, the merchant does not have the authority to negotiate the price. It is either "Yes" or "No." I declined and took my chances to find a second opinion elsewhere. Of course, I am sure the service representative did not run to his manager to explain how he failed to capture my business.

I explained what had happened to a local mechanic and asked for his honest opinion. I told him that if the control arms honestly needed to be replaced, I would go for it. I essentially gave him the opportunity to rip me off, but he said that the control arms were fine. Only a single ball joint needed to be replace. The total bill was $160.

If Merchants wants my business, they need to position themselves for the market I am in: an honest service market. In a recent Forbes article, Sramana Mitra talks about entrepreneurs positioning themselves for targeting your market:
To preserve cash, save time and get as much done with very little, a critical factor is an efficient and thorough positioning and go-to-market strategy. . . . It is a discipline entrepreneurs need to master if they have any aspirations of raising money.
There should be no market for dishonesty, and that is the market Merchant's is seeking.

Get a second opinion and cherish your choices under capitalism, just as you would do with a medical condition. Listen up, Merchants! You have lost my business forever.

Friday, October 02, 2009

The Great Organizer?

From the very infancy of his presidential campaign, Senator Barack Obama candidly boasted his roots as a great community organizer. His supporters persistently echoed the call that Mr. Obama's great charisma and talents would usher in a new age of peace and international cooperation led by the man who would "protect community interests," "challenge [current] authorities," and be the great "bridge builder." Indeed they pounded the media drum in a thundering march to his victory in November 2008.

Looking back though, it was pretty clear that he was missing executive management experience. This is what made his experience as a community organizer so important. It seems that he with the help of his supporters had to establish his leadership credibility and do so in the eyes of voters. This was an essential element of the Democratic campaign and it was very effective. He simply lacked executive bullets on his resume.

There was no dispute on election night, November 4th, 2008, that Senator Barack Obama was to be the next President of the United States in 77 days. There was no wait and no delay unlike the previous two presidential elections. The great community organizer could begin organizing his community of government.

All the while, in the background, we remain in the midst of a war in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is gravely serious to appoint and mobilize a National Security Council to deal with the important issues that face the nation. Of all the virtues of transition, continuity is foremost. Discontinuity is dangerous and might result in the loss of lives.

Midway through February 2009, President Obama issued Presidential Decision Directive 1 (PDD-1) establishing his Principals on the National Security Council. Was it too much to ask to appoint a National Security Council immediately upon his inauguration? Mr. Obama took 3 months from his election night to make his decision. In contrast, George W. Bush's National Security Council under Condoleeza Rice drafted action memos on Al-Qaeda only 5 days after taking over from the Clinton Administration. Al-Qaeda was not a household name at that point, either.

It does not stop here. The Stimson Center, one of Washington's national security think tanks, posted an organizational chart of President Obama's National Security Council. Oddly enough, it is not even prepared by the National Security Council Staff, but by the Office of Interagency Affairs at the Pentagon. Is the NSC so disorganized that they could not produce one for themselves? Clearly, organizing inner-city folks is quite a bit different than organizing political advisors and military generals. We have seen what a community organizer can accomplish on the streets. We have yet to see how a community organizer's skills convert to effective presidential command. By now, we should know, but we do not.

McCain's Mission

Politico reports that John McCain is on a "mission" to shake up the GOP with the aim of improving its prospects in future elections. A question that I'm sure many folks are asking: Is it such a good idea for the Republican Party to take its cue from the man who brought the conservative cause to its nadir in '08? Perhaps we should be looking elsewhere for helpful tips.

Growing Doubts

Getting Old?

From the Times Online:
There has been a growing narrative taking hold about Barack Obama’s presidency in recent weeks: that he is loved by many, but feared by none; that he is full of lofty vision, but is actually achieving nothing with his grandiloquence.

Chicago’s dismal showing yesterday, after Mr Obama’s personal, impassioned last-minute pitch, is a stunning humiliation for this President. It cannot be emphasised enough how this will feed the perception that on the world stage he looks good — but carries no heft.

America and its allies are being forced to witness a very public agonising by Mr Obama and his advisers over his Afghan strategy — six months after he announced that strategy.

This has all added to the perception that Mr Obama’s soaring rhetoric — which captured the imagination during last year’s election — is simply not enough when it comes to confronting the myriad challenges of the presidency. His spectacular Olympic failure will only add to that.

Of course, the millions of Americans who didn't vote for this guy are not in the least surprised by this accurate assessment. It's a pity that it has taken this long for so many to catch on.

A Child is Born

The Silent Voice

Here's an appropriate follow-up to the last post. The Telegraph features a remarkable series of high resolution images, entitled "A Child is Born," showing the development of an unborn child.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

A Slow Decline

From CNN:
(CNN) -- Support for abortion rights has fallen sharply in the past year, with Americans now split roughly 50-50 between those who back legal access to abortion and those who oppose it, according to a new survey.

Anti-abortion activists demonstrate on Capitol Hill in Washington in September.

The findings mark a dramatic shift in public opinion, supporters of abortion rights have outnumbered opponents for many years, with one brief exception, studies have shown.

But only 47 percent of Americans now feel abortion should be legal in all or most cases, a drop from 54 percent a year ago, according to the poll.

TIME and Silvio

The following in an excerpt from a section in the most recent issue of TIME magazine, in which the editors review Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's top ten "gaffes." Each one begins with a statement made by Berlusconi and is followed by a haughty observation.
"We should be conscious of the superiority of our civilization, which consists of a value system that has given people widespread prosperity in those countries that embrace it, and guarantees respect for human rights and religion. This respect certainly does not exist in the Islamic countries."

Asserting the West's superiority to Islam just days after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 struck many as emblematic of the sweeping generalizations that helped fuel the conflict in the first place. Arabs were apoplectic, and allies around the world rejected Berlusconi's comments, which undermined efforts to build a global coalition to confront terrorism. Berlusconi said his remarks were poorly translated and taken out of context.

That Berlusconi has said some jaw-dropping things in the past there can be no doubt. The link above ticks off a few of them. But what is wrong with his statement here? Would that more of our leaders speak out in a similar vein on the contributions of the western way! Western civilization absolutely does guarantee "respect for human rights and religion" in a way that is foreign to virtually every state where the majority of the population is Muslim. This may be hard for politically correct, brahmin scribblers to hear, but it is a simple fact. The pièce de résistance however is TIME's commentary on the statement. Referring to Berlusconi's generalization as part of a problem "that helped fuel the conflict in the first place" is sheer nonsense. So whose fault was it that 9-11 happened? This is merely another manifestation of the de rigueur brand of liberal self-loathing so common in the pages of TIME and Newsweek.

Can't Decide

Since the embarrassment of the Carter era, Democrats have dithered mightily, almost tragically, with tough decisions pertaining to the military, often with lamentable consequences for the armed forces and for the image and morale of the United States at large. Bill Clinton deftly carried on the tradition of presidential fecklessness in this regard as well, think Mogadishu, his sorry handling of numerous and deadly attacks on U.S. interests at home and abroad, his refusal to pursue bin Laden with lethal force, etc., etc. I believe it was Dick Morris who astutely observed that Clinton's persistent weakness in this regard, i.e., his inability to commit and invest heavily in military engagements for fear of suffering at the polls, was the determining factor that barred the talented politician from ever entering the pantheon of "great" presidents. One must feel sorry for a military whose commander in chief demonstrates such brazen incompetence and impotence. Bush, to be sure, struggled with decisions, but he certainly didn't dither endlessly. When the time came, he made the call and stood pat.

From the Washington Post
With much of his party largely opposed to expanding military operations in Afghanistan, President Obama could be forced into the awkward political position of turning to congressional Republicans for support if he follows the recommendations of the commanding U.S. general there.