Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Odds and ends 10/22/2014

Charles Kadlec reviews Charles Kesler in Forbes:

The newest, liberal innovation is the creation of what amounts to “living statutes.” Although Kesler does not use that term, here is how he describes ObamaCare:

“The law’s meaning is deliberately indeterminate, left vague so as to give maximum discretion to the unholy trinity of bureaucrats, congressional staffers, and private-sector “stakeholders” who will flesh out the act with thousands of pages of regulations (12,000 and counting so far), and then amend those as needed later on...

“This new kind of statute – one hates to call it law – is not meant to be ‘settled, standing rule,’ as John Locke defined law. On the contrary, it is meant permanently to be in flux, always developing and subject to renegotiation. It is law constantly suffused with wisdom, albeit constantly changing wisdom. It is what passes for law under a living constitution.”

The same could be said of the Dodd-Frank law, which gives new and expanded federal bureaucracies vast, new discretionary power with which to control the financial services industry and any other company they deem a systemic risk.

These new laws have given liberalism new life, and indeed make the “Reagan revolution” appear to be a transitory, not permanent shift in the trajectory of American politics. Elite public servants now have the power to rule by decree, for example demanding Catholic institutions violate the Church’s teachings and provide abortion drugs and contraceptives to their employees, while at the same time using their discretionary power to exempt various unions and companies from the law’s requirements. Make no mistake, we have arrived where the rule of individual men and women is rapidly displacing the rule of law.

But, Kesler claims, Obama’s successes have also accelerated the forces that are leading to a new crisis of liberalism, which may come to a head during his second term.

The first crisis is fiscal. The liberal state is simply running out of the money needed to fulfill its vast promises of government provided security and plenty to the American people. Obama’s solution to the looming bankruptcy of Medicare and Medicaid was to add ObamaCare, a third, trillion-dollar entitlement. Tax increases on those who make more than $250,000 in any one year can produce only a small fraction of the revenue needed to pay all of these bills.

The second, more nuanced crisis Kesler points to is philosophical. Obama, like his fellow modern liberals, has been schooled in moral relativism. There is no truth, nor absolute standards for good or evil, right or wrong. Thus, Obama’s desire to “shape” history rests primarily on his will to power.

That last line is key. It brings in the necessary element of Nietzschean hubris to understand progressive totalitarianism.


People are going to die because presumptuous, pointy-headed meddlers screwed up their healthcare. Tim Phillips writes:

Virginia will be hit the hardest — up to 250,000 Virginians will receive a cancellation notice by the end of November. Another 30,000 New Mexicans will have their plans discontinued in 2015. In Kentucky, another 14,000 individuals will receive notices in the coming weeks. Elsewhere, Colorado, Alaska, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Maine are expecting thousands of cancellations — after almost half a million notices went out last year. Other states, some of which either don’t count or don’t publicly release details on discontinued plans, will likely add to the tally.

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In Colorado, small-group plans covering 143,000 people are being cancelled this year. In New Hampshire, as many as 70,000 small-group policyholders are being forced into new plans. It’s a double whammy for these unfortunate Granite State residents: Their new policies only cover 60% of the state’s acute-care hospitals, limiting access to care.

Northeastern small-group policies will be hit especially hard. In New Jersey, 650,000 people with small-group coverage had their policies disrupted this year, according to the state association of health plans. And Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield — covering Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Delaware — estimate Obamacare is affecting nearly every one of the 5.3 million people covered under its individual and small-group policies.

There’s only one question left concerning supporters of Obamacare: death or exile?


We are at the point where we are croudsourcing intelligence operations.

A masked jihadist who alternates seamlessly between English and Arabic as he executes prisoners in a recent Islamic State propaganda video may be an American, and someone in the U.S. could help identify him, the FBI said in a plea for public help.

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“We’re hoping that someone might recognize this individual and provide us with key pieces of information,” said Michael Steinbach, assistant director of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division. “No piece of information is too small.”


John Muir climbed Mount Ritter in 1872. His writing is majestic.

Lakes are seen gleaming in all sorts of places round, or oval, or square, like very mirrors; others narrow and sinuous, drawn close around the peaks like silver zones, the highest reflecting only rocks, snow, and the sky. But neither these nor the glaciers, nor the bits of brown meadow and moorland that occur here and there, are large enough to make any marked impression upon the mighty wilderness of mountains. The eye, rejoicing in its freedom, roves about the vast expanse, yet returns again and again to the fountain-peaks. Perhaps some one of the multitude excites special attention some gigantic castle with turret and battlement, or some Gothic cathedral more abundantly spired than Milan’s. But, generally, when looking for the first time from an all-embracing standpoint like this, the inexperienced observer is oppressed by the incomprehensible grandeur, variety, and abundance of the mountains rising shoulder to shoulder beyond the reach of vision; and it is only after they have been studied one by one, long and lovingly, that their far-reaching harmonies become manifest. Then, penetrate the wilderness where you may, the main telling features, to which all the surrounding topography is subordinate, are quickly perceived, and the most complicated clusters of peaks stand revealed harmoniously correlated and fashioned like works of art eloquent monuments of the ancient ice-rivers that brought them into relief from the general mass of the range. The cañons, too, some of them a mile deep, mazing wildly through the mighty host of mountains, however lawless and ungovernable at first sight they appear, are at length recognized as the necessary effects of causes which followed each other in harmonious sequence Nature’s poems carved on tables of stone the simplest and most emphatic of her glacial compositions.

Could we have been here to observe during the glacial period, we should have overlooked a wrinkled ocean of ice as continuous as that now covering the landscapes of Greenland; filling every valley and canon with only the tops of the fountain-peaks rising darkly above the rock-encumbered ice-waves like islets in a stormy sea those islets the only hints of the glorious landscapes now smiling in the sun. Standing here in the deep, brooding silence all the wilderness seems motionless, as if the work of creation were done. But in the midst of this outer steadfastness we know there is incessant motion and change. Ever and anon, avalanches are falling from yonder peaks. These cliff-bound glaciers, seemingly wedged and immovable, are flowing like water and grinding the rocks beneath them. The lakes are lapping their granite shores and wearing them away, and every one of these rills and young rivers is fretting the air into music, and carrying the mountains to the plains. Here are the roots of all the life of the valleys, and here more simply than elsewhere is the eternal flux of Nature manifested. Ice changing to water, lakes to meadows, and mountains to plains. And while we thus contemplate Nature’s methods of landscape creation, and, reading the records she has carved on the rocks, reconstruct, however imperfectly, the landscapes of the past, we also learn that as these we now behold have succeeded those of the pre-glacial age, so they in turn are withering and vanishing to be succeeded by others yet unborn.

Muir’s description of a formerly glacial landscape is apropos, his islets metaphor for the glacier that carved the cirque thousands of years ago mirroring the rocky islets that dot Thousand Island Lake, at the base of Mount Ritter.

The lake drains to the east, forming the highest reaches of the San Joaquin River. The river takes a wide turn south and west past modern-day Fresno and Stockton, California. Wikipedia says:

It was in the mid-1860s that the San Joaquin River and its surrounds underwent the greatest change they had seen in human history: the introduction of irrigated agriculture. As early as 1863, small irrigation canals were built in the Centerville area, southeast of Fresno, but were destroyed in subsequent floods. The vulnerability of the small local infrastructure led to the establishment of irrigation districts, which were formed to construct and maintain canals in certain areas of the valley. One of the first was the Robla Canal Company in the Merced River area, which went into operation in March 1876, but was soon surpassed by the Farmers Canal Company. The district built a diversion dam on the Merced, sending its water into a pair of canals still in use today.

One of the most powerful early irrigation empires was the Kern County Land and Water Company, established in 1873 by land speculator James Ben Ali Haggin, which grew to supply over 400,000 acres (160,000 ha) through their canal system. However, Haggin soon ran into conflicts with other landowners over riparian water rights, as the larger districts, including his, had more financial reserves and engineering expertise, and were the first to build dams and diversions on a large scale. This resulted in the drying out of streams and rivers before they reached downstream users and sparked conflict over how much water could be allotted to whom. In Haggin’s case, his company ran into problems with the Miller & Lux Corporation, run by Henry Miller and Charles Lux, who owned more than 1,000,000 acres (400,000 ha) throughout the San Joaquin Valley, Tulare Basin, and other regions of California. The court battle that resulted would change water laws and rights in the San Joaquin River valley forever, and ended up promoting large-scale agribusiness over small farmers.

Miller and Lux were not any newer to the San Joaquin Valley than had been Haggin, but were the driving influence on valley agribusiness until well into the early 20th century. The corporation had begun acquiring land in the valley in 1858, eventually holding sway over an enormous swath reaching from the Kern River in the south to the Chowchilla River in the north. Much of the land that Miller and Lux acquired was swamp and marsh, which was considered virtually worthless. However, with their huge capital, they could afford to drain thousands of acres of it, beginning an enormous environmental change that eventually resulted in the loss of over 95 percent of the wetlands adjoining the San Joaquin River and Tulare Basin.

Henry Miller exercised enormous political power in the state, and most San Joaquin Valley inhabitants either were avid supporters of him or despised him. When Miller died in 1916, his company owned 900,000 acres (360,000 ha) in the San Joaquin Valley alone with hundreds of miles of well-developed, maintained irrigation canals. As said by Tom Mott, the son of Miller and Lux’ irrigation superintendent, “Miller realized you couldn’t do anything with the land unless you had the water to go with it. Perhaps more than any other person, Miller had more of a lasting impact on the San Joaquin River than any other individual.”

Even as early as the 20th century, so much water was being diverted off the San Joaquin River and its tributaries that the river was no longer suitable for navigational purposes. As a result, commercial navigation began a decline starting in the late 19th century and was completely gone by 1911. With over 350,000 acres (140,000 ha) under irrigation along the river by 1900—this figure has only grown hugely since then – the river and its tributaries became much narrower, siltier and shallower, with large consequences for the natural environment, for sustainability of water supplies in its valley, and also huge changes for water politics in the state. The San Joaquin and its tributaries seemed to give rise to just about every single possible argument over water, including such cases as “When is a river not a river?” referring to the difference between a slough and a marsh. It has been said that fights over the river have caused “some of the most bitter and longest running lawsuits ever to clog the courts. Arguably, it is the most litigated river in America.”

This is the opposite of good stewardship. Here’s hoping Texas does better.


This guy writes excellent hiking trip reports. Capitol Peak is outside my skill range, but I’ve had my eye on Longs Peak and the Sawtooth for years.


Proving discrimination can be useful, this Pew poll distinguishes employed unmarried men and unemployed unmarried men, as if the former demographic is better marriage material than the latter. How offensive to suggest the ability to provide is a major qualification for men to be marriageable!

Nationwide, single young men outnumber their female counterparts. The overall male-to-female ratio is 115:100 among single adults ages 25 to 34. But when we limit the young men to those who are currently employed, the ratio falls to 84 employed single men for every 100 single women.

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A smaller pool of employed men may not be good news for young women who are looking for a man with a job, but it could be good news for young single men.

Supply and demand.


Who is Satan?

Satan means “the adversary” in Hebrew and has come to be used as the proper name of the angelic being who tries to destroy people because of his hatred of God.

He is also called the devil, from a Greek word meaning “false accuser.” He delights in accusing the saved of sins that have been forgiven.

The Foe delights in seducing you into thinking your sin inevitable. It’s not. Jesus took your sin with Him to the cross.

Jeremiah saw Mosaic law’s inadequacy in consecrating the people to God.

“Because Israel’s immorality mattered so little to her, she defiled the land and committed adultery with stone and wood. In spite of all this, her unfaithful sister Judah did not return to me with all her heart, but only in pretense,” declares the Lord. (3:9-10)

Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, circumcise your hearts, you people of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, or my wrath will flare up and burn like fire because of the evil you have done—burn with no one to quench it. (4:4)

“What do I care about incense from Sheba or sweet calamus from a distant land? Your burnt offerings are not acceptable; your sacrifices do not please me.” (6:20)

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will punish all who are circumcised only in the flesh— Egypt, Judah, Edom, Ammon, Moab and all who live in the wilderness in distant places. For all these nations are really uncircumcised, and even the whole house of Israel is uncircumcised in heart.” (9:25-26)

I encourage you to read my allegory of the law.


Excellent news style writing by Ed Schriber:

National Guard units seeking to confiscate a cache of recently banned assault weapons were ambushed by elements of a para-military extremist faction. Military and law enforcement sources estimate that 72 were killed and more than 200 injured before government forces were compelled to withdraw.

Speaking after the clash, Massachusetts Governor Thomas Gage declared that the extremist faction, which was made up of local citizens, has links to the radical right-wing tax protest movement. Gage blamed the extremists for recent incidents of vandalism directed against internal revenue offices. The governor, who described the group’s organizers as “criminals,” issued an executive order authorizing the summary arrest of any individual who has interfered with the government’s efforts to secure law and order. The military raid on the extremist arsenal followed widespread refusal by the local citizenry to turn over recently outlawed assault weapons.

Gage issued a ban on military-style assault weapons and ammunition earlier in the week. This decision followed a meeting in early this month between government and military leaders at which the governor authorized the forcible confiscation of illegal arms.

One government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, pointed out that “none of these people would have been killed had the extremists obeyed the law and turned over their weapons voluntarily.” Government troops initially succeeded in confiscating a large supply of outlawed weapons and ammunition.

However, troops attempting to seize arms and ammunition in Lexington met with resistance from heavily armed extremists who had been tipped off regarding the government’s plans. During a tense standoff in Lexington’s town park, National Guard Colonel Francis Smith, commander of the government operation, ordered the armed group to surrender and return to their homes. The impasse was broken by a single shot, which was reportedly fired by one of the right-wing extremists. Eight civilians were killed in the ensuing exchange.

Ironically, the local citizenry blamed government forces rather than the radical extremists for the civilian deaths. Before order could be restored, armed citizens from surrounding areas had descended upon the guard units. Colonel Smith, finding his forces over matched by the armed mob, ordered a retreat.

Governor Gage has called upon citizens to support the state/national joint task force in its effort to restore law and order. The governor also demanded the surrender of those responsible for planning and leading the attack against the government troops. Samuel Adams, Paul Revere, and John Hancock, who have been identified as “ringleaders” of the extremist faction, remain at large.


The nuclear-powered chihuahua, Mark Steyn, riffs on “Big Gay”:

When Rush Limbaugh interviewed me the other day, I airily used “transgendered bathrooms” as an all-purpose shorthand for the kind of peripheral cultural issues that cumulatively add up to far more profound societal changes than anything most conservative politicians fuss over. And so in Houston it has proved: When the transgendered bathroom ordinance runs up against the First Amendment, it’s the First Amendment that gets left for roadkill.

~Meanwhile, in Kentucky, a Lexington T-shirt company has fallen afoul of the local “human rights commission” for declining to print T-shirts for the gay pride parade that it found offensive. As part of his ruling, the “human rights” commissar, Greg Munson, has sentenced the T-shirt refuseniks to re-education camp:

The second demand is that Hands on Originals — a company with around 30 employees — would need to participate in diversity training within the next 12 months.

Or, as Laura Rosen Cohen says, “Off to Diversity Gulag”: The more we celebrate diversity, the more we have to enforce it with ruthless conformity. Big Gay has won most of its battles, and could surely afford to be magnanimous in victory. But it has a totalitarian urge to hunt down the last holdouts: Nobody cares if the T-shirt guy really has a change of heart; all that’s necessary is to force him to pretend to believe and to drone the mandated pabulum in public.

Wellesley University is navigating the anti-realities as best they can.

It was the first day of orientation, and along the picturesque paths there were cheerful upper-class student leaders providing directions and encouragement. They wore pink T-shirts stamped with this year’s orientation theme: “Free to Explore” — an enticement that could be interpreted myriad ways, perhaps far more than the college intended. One of those T-shirted helpers was a junior named Timothy Boatwright. Like every other matriculating student at Wellesley, which is just west of Boston, Timothy was raised a girl and checked “female” when he applied. Though he had told his high-school friends that he was transgender, he did not reveal that on his application, in part because his mother helped him with it, and he didn’t want her to know. Besides, he told me, “it seemed awkward to write an application essay for a women’s college on why you were not a woman.” Like many trans students, he chose a women’s college because it seemed safer physically and psychologically.

“He”? Is this approved pronoun policy at the Times?

From the start, Timothy introduced himself as “masculine-of-center genderqueer.” He asked everyone at Wellesley to use male pronouns and the name Timothy, which he’d chosen for himself.

For the most part, everyone respected his request. After all, he wasn’t the only trans student on campus. Some two dozen other matriculating students at Wellesley don’t identify as women. Of those, a half-dozen or so were trans men, people born female who identified as men, some of whom had begun taking testosterone to change their bodies. The rest said they were transgender or genderqueer, rejecting the idea of gender entirely or identifying somewhere between female and male; many, like Timothy, called themselves transmasculine. Though his gender identity differed from that of most of his classmates, he generally felt comfortable at his new school.

Last spring, as a sophomore, Timothy decided to run for a seat on the student-government cabinet, the highest position that an openly trans student had ever sought at Wellesley. The post he sought was multicultural affairs coordinator, or “MAC,” responsible for promoting “a culture of diversity” among students and staff and faculty members. Along with Timothy, three women of color indicated their intent to run for the seat. But when they dropped out for various unrelated reasons before the race really began, he was alone on the ballot. An anonymous lobbying effort began on Facebook, pushing students to vote “abstain.” Enough “abstains” would deny Timothy the minimum number of votes Wellesley required, forcing a new election for the seat and providing an opportunity for other candidates to come forward. The “Campaign to Abstain” argument was simple: Of all the people at a multiethnic women’s college who could hold the school’s “diversity” seat, the least fitting one was a white man.

“It wasn’t about Timothy,” the student behind the Abstain campaign told me. “I thought he’d do a perfectly fine job, but it just felt inappropriate to have a white man there. It’s not just about that position either. Having men in elected leadership positions undermines the idea of this being a place where women are the leaders.”

First of all, is it a man or not? Secondly, in the name of diversity, a man should be heralded at a women’s college.

Parents, don’t send your daughters to Wellesley.


The anti-Luddites at Reason gush:

[Virginia] Postrel writes that people in the mid-20th century believed the future would be better than the present because they believed their present was better than the past. They either had emerged from a pretty brutal recent past or the memories of just how rotten things had been were kept alive via historical consciousness and other forms of storytelling. In many ways, we’ve lost that sensibility despite ongoing improvements that are both large and small in our daily lives.

The sensibility of cultural groundedness is not holding up to the “technization of life.” Who out there thinks the ability to trade a stock option on your smartphone outweighs the loss of marriage and its importance in transmitting values to the next generation? The present is not better than the past.

Conrad Black hits familiar notes on the uncertainty in the economy and the illiquidity of the Fed’s failed stimulus in the New York Sun:

Something like a third of that additional debt was not sold at a yield that met the free-market test of attracting arm’s-length buyers voluntarily on the basis of fair value and the risk-reward ratio. Rather, the Federal Reserve, a 100 percent subsidiary of the U.S. Treasury, “bought” the unsold bonds and paid for them, not in cash that the government could use to pay its expenses that created the deficit, but in Federal Reserve notes that were largely swapped to banks for cash. Many of these banks had the cash to swap because of funds advanced at the height of the financial crisis to ensure liquidity.

The fact that most of this cash is still sitting in those formerly distressed or at least unstable banks, despite six consecutive years of almost negligible interest rates for substantial borrowers, indicates the lack of confidence on the part of borrowers and lenders in overall economic conditions. The fact that Berkshire-Hathaway has more cash on hand than ever in its history — $55 billion — may be taken as an indication that Warren Buffett, despite his noisy support of the administration, is sitting on his hands and his money-bags waiting for a descent of equity values. (And much of the stock-market rise has been caused by softness in most of real estate and low yields on other instruments because of the government’s ambition for low interest rates to avoid an even more stupefying rise in the deficit.)

As I have written here before (and many others have made the same and similar points) it is not surprising that there is a lack of confidence in the reliability of a recovery that has required the infusion of $8 trillion in six years, in debt that in fact has most of the characteristics of a straight money-supply increase, and that in earlier times would have been described as “printing money.” This is the classic formula for inflation: simply increasing the amount of money in circulation (including assets that can be easily liquidated, such as bank deposits), in no relationship to productivity increases. The other traditional method of inflation is cost-push increases in the cost of everything: an overheated economy.

What we have — massive deficit financing, so extreme that the bond markets won’t take it voluntarily, coupled with spurious debt issues that are really just running the presses — is far more dangerous, as it is the result of an under-heated economy and is an attempt to generate demand. Cost-push inflation has too much money chasing too few goods and services, forcing their price up, and what is then called for is a reduction in demand to prevent an inflationary spiral, which can be done comparatively easily, though it is painful to many (usually achieved by just raising interest rates).

Now, corporations and serious people will not borrow even at 2%, because they do not believe in the prospects for genuine economic growth, i.e., a benign cycle of increasing production to fill spontaneously increasing appetites for more goods and services. What we are getting has many of the characteristics of stagflation, as at the end of the Carter era (1978–81), when the United States was at or near double-digit inflation and unemployment, and interest rates were hoisted up to over 20% to cool out demand. The Reagan tax cuts and defense-spending increases that followed were accompanied by and encouraged an era of rapid technological advances that spurred sharp productivity increases.

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I believe the sluggishness that is evident is the result not merely of incredulity that the vast federal borrowing and creation and disgorgement of money is really a solution. It is also, rather, the result of the evolution of an economy in which too little that is really saleable or even desirable is produced, and too much of the labor force is mired in parts of the service industry that add little value. It isn’t just that there are too many lawyers and stockbrokers and not enough plumbers and mechanics. Ultimately, a society cannot become more prosperous if value is not being added to its economy by an adequate number of employed people. Any extractive and transformative industry adds value, and so do some service industries, but much of finance, consultation, and the operation of the vast civil legal apparatus is just the velocity of money.

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