Friday, January 09, 2009

The rich vs. the pols

The rich vs. the pols
Walter E. Williams
Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Sometimes I wish there were a humane way to get rid of the rich. Without the rich for whipping boys, we might be able to concentrate on what's best for the 99.5 percent of the rest of us.

Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, with about $60 billion in assets each, are America's richest men. With all that money, what can they force us to do? Can they take our house to make room so another person can build an auto dealership or a casino parking lot? Can they force us to pay money into the government-run retirement Ponzi scheme called Social Security? Can Mr. Buffett and Mr. Gates force us to bus our children to schools out of our neighborhood in the name of diversity? Unless they are granted power by politicians, rich people have little power to force us to do anything.

A GS-9, or a lowly municipal clerk, has far more life-and-death power over us. It is they to whom we must turn to for permission to build a house, ply a trade, open a restaurant and myriad other activities. It's government people, not rich people, who have the power to coerce and make our lives miserable. Coercive power goes a long way toward explaining political corruption.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich's hawking of Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat; Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charlie Rangel's alleged tax writing favors; former Rep. William Jefferson's business bribes; and the Jack Abramoff scandal are mere pimples on the government corruption landscape. We can think of these and similar acts as jailable illegal corruption. They pale in comparison to what's for all practical purposes the same thing, but simply legal corruption.

For example, according to the Miami Herald, by March 2008, the powerful Florida Fanjul sugar family had given more than $300,000 to politicians and political committees. They didn't fork over all that money to help politicians to uphold and defend the U.S. Constitution. Like businessmen who approach Charlie Rangel, Rod Blagojevich and William Jefferson, they give politicians money because they want a favor in return - namely import restrictions on sugar so they can charge Americans higher prices. In the case of the Fanjuls, and thousands of others buying favors, they are engaged in legal corruption.

Legalized corruption is widespread and that's the job of 35,000 Washington, D.C., lobbyists earning millions upon millions of dollars. They represent America's big and small corporations, big and small labor unions and even foreign corporations and unions. They are not spending billions of dollars in political contributions to encourage and assist the White House and Congress to uphold and defend the U.S. Constitution. They spend that money in the expectations of favors that will be bestowed upon them at the expense of some other American or group of Americans.

This power helps explain, for example, why a seat on the House Ways and Means Committee, not to mention its chairmanship, is so highly coveted. For the right price, a tax loophole, saving a company tens of millions of dollars, can be inserted into tax law, a la the Charlie Rangel scandal. At state levels, governors can award public works contracts to a generous constituent. At the local levels mayors can confer favors such as providing subsidies for sports stadia and convention centers. When politicians can give favors, they will find buyers.

The McCain-Feingold law was to get "money out of politics" but more money was spent in the 2008 election cycle than ever. The only way to reduce corruption and money in Washington is to reduce the power politicians have over our lives. James Madison was right when he suggested, "All men having power ought to be distrusted to a certain degree." Thomas Jefferson warned, "The greatest calamity which could befall us would be submission to a government of unlimited powers." That's what today's Americans have given Washington - unlimited powers.

Walter E. Williams is a nationally syndicated columnist and a professor of economics at George Mason University.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Bringing the Arab-Israeli War Home

by Michael Scheuer

If America were blessed with a noninterventionist foreign policy, we could all thank Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for giving President-elect Barack Obama a thoroughgoing lesson in the absolute irrelevancy of Israel and Palestine to the national interests of the United States. More than a week into Israel's invasion of Gaza, America is still alive and kicking and none of our citizens are dead, which is the way it should be, as this is their religious war and not ours. If stubborn noninterventionism were our creed – as the Founders intended – the Gaza war could continue for two more days or two more months and we could simply shrug and mutter "Who cares?" America could simply go on its way, rebuilding its economy and marveling over the madness of two religions fighting to the death over a barren sandpit at the eastern end of the Mediterranean.

Unfortunately, America today is run by a political and media elite that is addicted to intervention. This would be bad enough if these men and women had the brains to intervene and produce a result that benefits U.S. interests, but they are not. They are instead – despite their Ivy League diplomas – uneducated and na├»ve people who still live in the Cold War, foolishly believing that America is the boss of a strong Western/NATO community (which is now in its death throes on Afghanistan's plains); that other nations are eager to do America's dirty work; and, most fatally of all, that the national security interests of the United States and Israel are identical.

There should be no mistake among Americans about what is going on in Gaza. Although Israel has billed its invasion as an attempt to destroy Hamas and thereby protect Israelis, its main goal is to ensure that Obama is tied as tight as Gulliver to the status quo of U.S. foreign policy in the Muslim world. In addition to hurting Hamas, Israel's invasion of Gaza was designed to and has successfully underscored the salience of Osama bin Laden's now 12-plus-year-old message to the Muslim world:

First, that the United States – under Republicans or Democrats – will allow Israel to do anything it pleases in regard to starving and bombing the Palestinians. This has been underlined for Muslims by the words of President George W. Bush, the silence of President-elect Obama, and, according to the Jerusalem Post, by the blame-it-all-on-the-Palestinians visits of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, New York Congressman Gary Ackerman, and leaders of major U.S. Jewish organizations.

Second, that the ruling Muslim regimes in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and elsewhere are impotent "agents" of the Zionists and Crusaders and will do nothing to protect Muslims when they are attacked by the U.S.-led West, be those attacks in Palestine, Pakistan, Iraq, or Afghanistan. "[The] failure of the Arab foreign ministers at their meeting in Cairo to take any position to confront the continuing Israeli aggression against the Gaza Strip," explains the independent and influential UK-based Arabic daily Al-Quds al-Arabi, "confirms the theory that says the Israeli aggression has come as a result of coordination and the blessing of influential Arab states, especially Egypt and Saudi Arabia."

Third, that Muslims are regarded by the West as subhumans, and their blood, lives, and children are – for America, Israel, and Europe – worthless and expendable. The Gaza score to date will indelibly make this point across the Islamic world: to date, 500 dead and 2,300 wounded Palestinians and less than 10 dead Israelis. As Pakistan's Frontier Post has said, the West silently watches as "Israel is set to starve the Palestinian Muslims into nonexistence. … No respect for Muslim life! Muslim blood is cheaper than water!"

After the Gaza invasion, Israel will have accomplished two vital goals. It will have reenergized Hamas, which will in turn renew the suicide bombings inside Israel that allow America's Israel-firsters – including Obama's IDF-veteran chief of staff – to portray their country-of-first-allegiance as the poor, put-upon innocent. It will also have produced the end of whatever slim hope there was of an Arab-Israeli peace settlement over the course of Obama's term. What is likely to become known across the Islamic world as the "Gaza slaughter" will ensure the continued growth of the Sunni insurgency al-Qaeda leads and inspires. All told, Israeli leaders at the conclusion of the Gaza invasion will be able to more credibly quote President Bush and say that their "mission" has been accomplished.

Now, there is no reason for Americans to be angry at Israel. Hamas is a nagging military threat to Israel, and Israel's leaders can defend their citizens in the manner they deem appropriate. Indeed, had various U.S. governments abstained from continuously intervening in the Arab-Israeli conflict over the past 30 years, it may well have been long since settled and over – one way or another.

The American people should be livid, though, with their bipartisan political elite and the Israel-firsters at Commentary, the New York Times, National Review, the Weekly Standard, and the Washington Post, as well as that hive of anti-American U.S. citizens that fund and lead AIPAC, for involving them in this barbarous mess. At some point down the road, every U.S.-taxpayer-funded bomb, artillery shell, and bullet aimed at the Palestinians will yield Americans killed at the hands of al-Qaeda, its allies, or those it inspires in attacks launched in response to U.S. support for Israel. Those Americans will be killed because their political and media leaders – corrupted to the bone by AIPAC – have involved them in a religious war that threatens nothing vital to their country's principles or national security, their personal economic well-being, or their children's lives.

And worse is yet to come. Israel's Gaza invasion has produced an unusual number of public anti-Israel demonstrations by American Muslims around the United States. The 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war produced similar events, but the current, Gaza-focused demonstrations are angrier and larger in number. How long, one wonders, will it be before Israel's military actions lead to violent clashes in America?

If this occurs, Israel and its American supporters will have the insurance policy they desire above any other, one they are desperate to obtain before Israel takes harsh action – by forced deportation or other means – against its rapidly growing and radicalizing Arab population. Once the Arab-Israeli religious war has been brought into the United States and is producing blood in America's streets, the Israel-firsters will claim the carnage proves that secular America and theocratic Israel are in the same boat and facing the same enemies. Flogging this plausible but palpable lie, AIPAC-owned American leaders will consign this country to an unending war against Islam, the same catastrophe that is Israel's lot.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Learn how to think straight

December 31, 2008
by Walter Williams

© 2009

Many professors, mostly on the liberal side of the political spectrum, use their classrooms to proselytize students. I have taught economics for the past 40 years and challenge anyone to find even one student, among the thousands who went through my classes, who can say, "Professor Williams used his class to proselytize students." While acceptable at most universities, it is nothing less than academic dishonesty to do so. Like others, I have my own values and opinions, such as those expressed in some of my nationally syndicated columns, but they never become a part of classroom discussion.

Learning how to think straight, as opposed to what values and opinions to hold, is the crucial part of education. Part of that learning is to be able to understand the distinction between subjective statements, for which there are no commonly accepted standards of proof, and positive statements for which there are. For example, the statement "Scientists cannot split the atom" is a positive statement because if there's any disagreement, there are facts to which we can appeal to settle the disagreement. Just visit Stanford's linear accelerator and watch them do it. By contrast, the statement "Scientists should not split the atom" is a subjective statement. There are no facts to which we can appeal to settle any disagreement. Disagreement can go on forever. A fairly good proxy for whether a statement is subjective is the presence of words such as should and ought. This lesson is closed by telling students that it is not being suggested that they purge their vocabulary of subjective terms such as should and ought because they are excellent tools to trick others into doing what you want them to do. However, in the process of tricking others, one need not trick himself.

A related lesson is dealing with terms such as better and best and worse. This lesson might be approached by my asking students which is the best system for resource allocation: capitalist, socialist or communist? After several fall for my bait, I tell them that the correct response is to tell me it's a nonsense question. It is akin to asking their physics professor: Which is the best state: a liquid, gaseous, solid or plasma state? However, if the physics professor were asked: Which is the cheapest state to nail a nail into a board? He could answer the question and probably say that it is the solid state. Going back to the question about capitalism versus socialism and communism, asking which system maximizes personal liberty and societal wealth, the answer would be capitalism, at least here on Earth.

Another pitfall to straight thinking is sometimes called the cause and effect fallacy. That fallacy is made when a person sees event B coming on the heels of event A and then says A caused B. There may no causal relationship at all. Such is the case when the rooster crows and shortly thereafter the sun rises. That is easy to see, but many historians assert that the 1929 stock market crash caused the 1930s Great Depression. Little is further from the truth. Instead, it was caused by inept fiscal, monetary and regulatory policies of the Hoover and Roosevelt administrations.

There are a number of other pitfalls to straight thinking that I lecture on as introductory material before we begin to explore economic theory. I tell students that if they hear me say something subjective, without my having prefaced it with "in my opinion," they are to raise their hand and tell me that they took my class to learn economics and not to be indoctrinated with my values. Personally, I want students to share my values that personal liberty, along with free markets, is morally superior to other forms of human organization. The most effective means to accomplish that goal is to give them the tools to be tough, rigorous, hard-minded thinkers, and they will probably reach the same conclusions I have.