Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Book Review (Part II) – The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America

In Part I of this review I discussed the portions of Andrew McCarthy’s The Grand Jihad concerning the Muslim Brotherhood’s activities in the United States. The book describes efforts by the Brotherhood and its satellite organizations to replace the Constitution with Sharia Law.

Mr. McCarthy is an expert on these organizations due to his tenure in the U.S. Attorney’s office; he builds a compelling and well-documented case that the Brotherhood (unlike millions of patriotic American Muslims) is up to no good.

Today I want to address his claim that American liberals are co-conspirators.

Here Mr. McCarthy leaves his area of expertise and stakes out shakier ground. He may be aware of this. In a talk he gave about the book, which I attended, he omitted discussion of the American left. While The Grand Jihad does document some ties between the Obama Administration and Brotherhood satellites, it falls short of proving its claims of the Administration’s “overt subservience” to Islam. After rehashing conspiracy theories that Obama is a secret Muslim, McCarthy concludes grandly, “There is no known evidence of his having made an adult choice to practice Islam.” An opening chapter that argues the President’s infamous bow to the King of Saudi Arabia was an intentional signal of their “shared dream” of “supplanting Western political, economic, and cultural values” is pure speculation. In addition to speculation, McCarthy relies on the identification of code words to build the prosecution’s case against Obama. The Muslim Brotherhood pursues a “bottom up” strategy. Obama said in his encounter with Joe the Plumber that he wants the economy to be “good for folks from the bottom up”. What a giveaway.

Pouncing on code words to “prove” Obama’s Muslim allegiance makes Mr. McCarthy come across as a kook, which is too bad because he’s not one. He is a professional terrorist hunter and occasional deep thinker. A chapter that compares Muslim Brotherhood theoretician (and Osama bin Laden influence) Sayyid Qutb with French romantic Jean-Jacques Rousseau is profoundly philosophical. Mr. McCarthy shows real insight in recognizing that Rousseau occupies the same place in modern liberalism that Qutb occupies in modern Jihad; they are both the intellectual fathers (or in Rousseau’s case, perhaps grandfather) of their movements. For those who suggest that fundamentalist Jihadis and secular liberals have little in common, McCarthy points out that when viewed in terms of individualism and collectivism, instead of heaven and earth, the two camps are collectivist soul mates.

Mr. McCarthy’s failure to build a case against the Obama Administration should not detract from his persuasive argument for concern about the Muslim Brotherhood’s tentacles in our society. He talks briefly about what to do about it. At no time does he dispute the rights of Muslims living in the West to express their opinions, build enclaves with like-minded people, or write arbitration by Sharia law into their private contracts. But he does seek to subject them to the disinfectant of sunlight. “Defending ourselves will require flushing out the Islamists: identifying them and imposing on them the burden of defending their totalitarian ideology against the positive case for liberty and human reason.”

Monday, April 25, 2011

Book Review – The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America

Recently I attended a talk by Andrew C. McCarthy of the National Review Institute. Mr. McCarthy is a former Federal prosecutor and the author of The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America.
During his tenure at the Justice Department he prosecuted Omar Abdel Rahman (“The Blind Sheikh”) and his co-conspirators in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center; Sheikh Rahman is now a lifetime guest of the Federal government. Mr. McCarthy also participated in the early stages of the investigation into the September 11 attacks.

He drew two conclusions from his sojourn in the world of radical Islam. First, there is a large, well-financed network of supposed Islamic moderates who seek to overthrow the United States Constitution and replace it with the traditional Muslim legal system known as Sharia. Second, President Obama and other American liberals are willing partners in this nefarious enterprise.

Many of Mr. McCarthy’s accusations are based on writings of radical Muslims themselves. As a person of Jewish origin, I’m sensitive to blood libels, to false accusations against a Semitic minority. I know all too well the harm done to the Jews when the Russian government fabricated The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. For that reason, I took the trouble to double check some of the key sources listed in the book’s extensive endnotes (there are 60 pages of them). Whenever I did so, the sources checked out. I also searched online for accusations that these sources were forgeries; I didn’t find any. I rather wish they were forgeries, because what they say is bloodcurdling.

“[T]he terrorist threat,” Mr. McCarthy writes, “pales beside a lurking reality: the massive fundamentalist pool is churning out legions of activists who wish to end our way of life and who believe that there are plenty of avenues besides mass-murder for pursuing that goal.” Often, these activists are labeled “moderate” because of their (qualified) opposition to terrorism. However, as Mr. McCarthy said in his talk, “If you want to replace the Constitution with Sharia, but you’re not willing to blow up a building to do that, well, we’re grateful that you don’t want to blow up a building, but you’re not a moderate.” He uses the term “Islamist” to describe these activists, in order to distinguish them from the millions of genuine moderates such as Dr. M. Zhudi Jasser who seek to reconcile their Muslim heritage with the American values of freedom and capitalism.

There really are Islamists out there; The Grand Jihad documents this extensively. I’ll confine myself to three examples:

  • Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi is to the Muslim Brotherhood what Mikhail Suslov was to the Soviet Union: Ideologue-in-Chief without Portfolio. He’s a “moderate” who opposes violent Jihad. Except against Israelis. And American military targets. And also any civilians who help said military targets. This moderation earned him praise from the U.S. State Department. According to Alberto Fernandez from the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, al-Qaradawi is an “intelligent and thoughtful voice”. At a 1995 Muslim Arab Youth Association conference, the intelligent and thoughtful voice said, “[W]e will conquer America, not through the sword but through dawa [missionary work]”. This threat was not uttered in Gaza or Beirut or any of the other centers of radicalism in the Middle East. It was uttered in Toledo Ohio. Sheikh Qaradawi then went on to cite scriptural authority for killing Jews.

    Al-Qaradawi promotes the “enclave” strategy, the establishment of independent Sharia communities in Western cities; Zeyno Baran’s paper, “The Muslim Brotherhood’s
    U.S. Network
    ” calls it “voluntary apartheid”. McCarthy writes, “That this is a Trojan horse cannot be seriously doubted. Qaradawi is candid: ‘Were we to convince Western leaders and decision-makers of our right to live according to our faith – ideologically, legislatively, and ethically – without imposing our views or inflicting harm on them, we would have traversed an immense barrier in our quest for an Islamic state.’” Already there are Muslim neighborhoods in Australia and Sweden where the police no longer go. The situation is less dire in the United States. Mr. McCarthy said in his talk that American law enforcement is more determined than its Australian and Swedish counterparts to maintain sovereignty over its jurisdiction. But even though the police aren’t afraid to enter them, enclaves nevertheless exist. I wrote about the tragedy of the Somali enclave in Minneapolis (and also about Dr. Jasser) in an earlier blog entry.

    For more about al-Qaradawi, see his Investigative Project on Terrorism profile.

  • In 2008 the Holy Land Foundation was convicted of providing funding to the terrorist organization Hamas. Among the evidence at the trial was a document entitled “An Explanatory Memorandum of the General Strategic Goal for the Group in North America”. This blueprint for the infiltration of the U.S. was written in 1991 by Mohamed Akram. According to McCarthy, Akram was “an intimate associate of Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi” and the Muslim Brotherhood’s “top leader in America”. One passage in the Memorandum provided McCarthy with the title of his book: “The Ikhwan [Brotherhood] must understand that their work in America is a kind of grand jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and ‘sabotaging’ its miserable house by their hands and the hands of the believers so that it is eliminated and God’s religion is made victorious over all other religions.” McCarthy comments: “It is not every day that, even as the game is being played, the opposition’s playbook falls into your hands.”

  • According to its American website, the objective of the Hizb-ut-Tahrir (Party of Liberation) is to bring “Muslims back to living an Islamic way of life in Dar al-Islam and in an Islamic society such that all of life's affairs in society are administered according to the Shari'ah rules… It also strives to bring [Islam] back to her previous might and glory such that she wrests the reins of initiative away from other states and nations, and returns to her rightful place as the first state in the world, as she was in the past, when she governs the world according to the laws of Islam.” In this video from a 2009 Party conference in Oak Lawn, Illinois, an unidentified “imam” says that if the U.S. joined the Muslim world, the Constitution would be “gone”. If you think he’s speaking purely hypothetically about the Islamic States of America, see the part of the previous quotation about governing the world.
McCarthy goes on to describe the intricate network of organizations created by Islamists to promote their interests. What he calls “the Siamese connectedness of these ventures” is so complex that I had to draw a diagram to follow the narrative.

Click for larger image
The same names appear over and over again among the leaders of these organizations. In many cases they have offices in the same buildings. At the center of the web is the Muslim Brotherhood. Remember, the Brotherhood is not a moderate organization; see the quotes from al-Qaradawi and Akram, above. As you can see in the diagram, the Brotherhood has its fingers in everything. Brotherhood alumni run al-Qaeda. J. Michael Waller of the Institute of World Politics testified in front of a Senate subcommittee that a Brotherhood satellite organization, the North American Islamic Trust, “finances, owns, and otherwise subsidizes the construction of mosques and is reported to own between 50 and 79 percent of the mosques on the North American continent.” The Obama administration is reaching out to the Muslim community via other Brotherhood satellite organizations.

Which brings me to Mr. McCarthy’s second point. I’ll address the relationship between the American left and radical Islam later this week.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Stop Tea Party Racism – If You Can Find Any

Yesterday I posted video of Patriots Weekend Tea Party rallies from around New England. These were fun events with fantastic speakers. I had a great time.

But I would like to say a few words about some guests who did not share the goals of their hosts. The Tea Party must be making an impact because the counter-protesters are becoming more aggressive. On the Boston Common, I was confronted with this ugly scene:

Just as the speeches were getting underway at the Parkman Bandstand, a group of gentlemen from the School Bus Drivers Union, the Steelworkers, and other labor organizations joined us. They muscled their way in between the crowd and the bandstand, blocked the view with a bedsheet, and chanted through a megaphone:
Racist, Sexist, Anti-Gay
Tea Party Bigots, Go Away!
The noise was intended to drown out the speakers, including the Reverend Paul Jehle, who was attempting to lead the crowd in an opening prayer at the time. This was not an isolated incident. Bill O’Reilly reported similar unpleasantness in Oregon, Arizona, and Wisconsin.

I originally intended to use this space to express my indignation. After all, if someone shouts down people who are trying to speak, that's a sure sign he doesn’t have any arguments of his own. If someone shouts down people who are trying to pray (and I speak as an atheist) that's a sure sign he's an asshole.

But better writers than me have already made these points. Michael Graham of WTKK Radio, who, as emcee for the event, took the brunt of the union heckling, had this to say:
Boston Tea Party Rally: Goons Vs. God
(In all fairness to the union, I think Mr. Graham gave as good as he got. “Shut the Biden up!”).

Instead of complaining, I decided to reach out to the Left. Racism, sexism, and homophobia are, after all, terrible, repulsive things. There’s no place for them in the Tea Party. I’m sure my friends on the other side of the aisle wish to join me in eradicating these evils from our movement. Here’s how you can help: I put together a gallery of the signs I saw, both at the Boston rally and at a rally earlier in the day at the New Hampshire State House. Please look through them and let me know which are the racist ones, which are the sexist ones, and which are the anti-gay ones:

Restore the Constitution. No more undeclared Wars!

The Constitution Does Matter.

Self Reliance is Freedom. Government Reliance is Oppression.

Atlas will Shrug.

Who is John Galt?

14,000,000,000,000+ (trillion). Isn’t that enough debt? Stop spending & Stop spending my grandkids into debt.

Man is not free unless government is limited. – Ronald Reagan

It is not a tax problem. It is a spending problem. Stop spending.

I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man. – Thomas Jefferson

Thank you for your help with this. I know you are adept at finding hatred where the rest of us see only macroeconomics and Constitutional jurisprudence. Once you have satisfactorily explained to us which signs are bigoted, we can be on the lookout for them at future rallies, and ask anyone carrying one to put it down or leave.

Ok, I had some fun with this. I sucked sarcasm dry. But there are a couple serious points in there that I'm sure you picked up on: 1) The Tea Party came together because of concern that the Federal government was spending irresponsibly and trespassing beyond the boundaries set for it by the Constitution. The notion that fiscal sobriety and enumerated powers discriminate on the basis of race, gender, or sexual orientation is ludicrous. 2) I meant what I said above, that bigotry is terrible, repulsive, and evil, so much so that no one should throw around accusations of it without credible evidence. BTW, signs with swastikas that, on investigation, turn out to be carried by counter-protesters, or the unsubstantiated allegation that Tea Partiers hurled racial epithets at Congressman John Lewis do not come under the heading "credible". Please don't bother to bring up the latter incident unless you're prepared to show me video of it.

I would like to thank the (unionized) Boston Police for maintaining order at the rally. By providing a human barrier between the counter-protesters and the Tea Partiers, they ensured that nothing more serious than noise marred our event.

Finally, I want to thank this guy for making the most important point of all:

T’s don’t have to be loudmouthed thugs to be heard. We just vote vote vote.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

2011 Patriots Day Tea Parties - Boston, Worcester, and Concord NH

With Free Market Warrior Loren Spivack and Presidential hopefuls Tim Pawlenty and Herman Cain. "We got some altering and abolishing to do!"

Loren Spivack reads from his Cat in the Hat parody, The New Democrat:

More from Gov. Pawlenty and Mr. Cain:

Tea Partiers are generally polite. It's not easy to get them to make some noise. But Dr. Colin Blake guy pulled it off. Warning - strong language:

Monday, April 18, 2011

Movie Review: Atlas Shrugged Part I

“The most anticlimactic non-event since Geraldo Rivera broke into Al Capone’s vault.” – Roger Ebert, The Chicago Sun Times

“[C]uts corners in every respect.” – Peter Debruge, Variety

“Botched” – Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter

“Atlas Shrugged Part I” has at least one thing in common with the epic Ayn Rand novel on which it is based.

The critics hate it.

But as Teddy Roosevelt said, “It is not the critic who counts.” The 26th President went on to explain, “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena…who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself in a worthy cause.” In this case, the man in the arena is Cybex International CEO John Aglialoro. It turns out Mr.Aglialoro and I were both in the audience for Ayn Rand’s last Ford Hall Forum speech in 1981. Mr. Aglialoro has devoted many of the years since then to bringing her magnum opus to the big screen. He acquired the rights in 1992 and set out to sell the project to a studio. Although he got close several times, including one venture that was to star Angelina Jolie, the deals always fell through. Last year, with the expiration of his rights to the story imminent, Mr. Aglialoro decided to produce the film himself. Due to the approaching deadline and the lack of studio backing, it was necessary to complete filming in six weeks with a pathetic production budget of $10 million.

The result is magnificent.

The movie, which covers Part I of the three-part novel, is set in the not too distant future. The collapse of the Middle East has caused the Dow Jones to crash to 4,000 and driven the price of gasoline to $37 per gallon. Amid depression-level unemployment, Americans are giving up, expressing their resignation in the slang phrase, “Who is John Galt?” The only thing preventing a complete reversal of the industrial revolution is a thin ribbon of railroad track connecting the Wyatt Oil fields of Colorado to the rest of the United States. Unfortunately, the century-old track is crumbling; wrecks are frequent and catastrophic.

It falls to the heroine, Dagny Taggart, to rebuild the line and thereby save the country. The new track is to be made of Rearden Metal, an untried alloy, lighter, stronger, and cheaper than steel, invented by industrialist Hank Rearden. In defiance of the despair and mediocrity around her, Dagny rechristens the stretch of track from Cheyenne to Wyatt Junction “The John Galt Line”. Together, she and Hank must overcome bureaucratic meddling, threats from union bosses, opposition from the State Science Institute, and the mysterious and always untimely disappearances of their allies. Like Mr. Aglioloro, they have an impossibly short time to complete a monumental task.

The casting of the leads is excellent. The tough-as-rails Dagny is a challenging role for an actress. She is an extremely passionate woman who is outwardly unemotional. The lovely Taylor Schilling steps up to this challenge beautifully and also shows genuine sparkage in her scenes with Grant Bowler’s Hank Rearden. The tall, angular Mr. Bowler looks like an Ayn Rand hero; in fact, he looks like Rand’s husband, Frank O’Connor. His shy half-smile makes him thoroughly likable. In an era when so many businessmen are desperate to assure us they’re working for the public good, it is refreshing to hear Mr. Bowler boast unapologetically, “My only goal is to make money.” As director Paul Johannson said, “I got the right Rearden.”

Johannson’s success in getting the right leads is offset by mixed results with the supporting cast. With his out-of-date pencil mustache and overly familiar manner, Jon Polito is perfectly sleazy as Hank Rearden’s Jeff Immelt-style competitor Orren Boyle. Michael Lerner portrays bureaucrat Wesley Mouch as a chunky mediocrity with a Jersey accent. As we were leaving the theater, one of my friends joked, “How did they get Barney Frank to play the part?” Armin Shimerman (Principal Snyder from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) brings the snide malevolence he’s so good at to the role of Dr. Potter from the State Science Institute. On the downside Rebecca Wisocky is somewhat wooden as Lillian Rearden and Patrick Fischler is way too trendy for businessman Paul Larkin. Johannson himself, doubling as John Galt, has this weird Keannu Reeves vocal inflection thing going.

“Atlas Shrugged Part I” is cinematic in the best sense of the word: every frame is visually stunning. You can get a sample from this video I put together from publicity stills:

The luxurious marble offices, hotels, and bars of New York are, in the book’s phrase, places of competence and power; the sweeping vistas of the Colorado mountains breathtaking; the old wood paneling in Ellis Wyatt’s Victorian house so rich you can practically smell the furniture polish. I confess that I got a little choked up at the first sight of the sparkling blue-tinged rail of the John Galt Line; it is as much a star of the film as Taylor Schilling or Grant Bowler.

Fitting the first 336 pages of the novel into an hour and forty-two minutes necessarily requires omitting some lines and scenes. Like any Ayn Rand fan, I was destined to be disappointed by some of the choices. In particular I missed the one-liners Dagny’s ex-lover Francisco d’Anconia lobbed at the villains during a party for Hank Rearden’s wedding anniversary. (Earnest matron: “We were just discussing a most interesting subject. Dr. Pritchett was telling us that nothing is anything.” Francisco: “He should, undoubtedly, know more than anyone else about that.”) Not only are these lines absent, but the whole tone of the scene is wrong. It looks like a really fun party with lots of toasting and jazz music. The scene fails to communicate that Rearden, who doesn’t like parties to begin with, and is especially ambivalent about one celebrating his loveless marriage to Lillian, is not having a good time.

In that, he differed from me and the friends who joined me at the theater. We had a great time. When it ended and the lights came on, one of them said, “I want three more hours.” So do I. Can’t wait for Part II. The critics really don’t count.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Eine Kleine Tea Party Musik

Chris Ross played this at the Greater Boston Tea Party Rally on Friday...

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Promote Freedom on Patriots' Day Weekend: Support the Tea Party and the Atlas Shrugged Movie

This week we observe the third annual Tax Day Tea Party rally, the 149th anniversary of the emancipation of slaves in Washington, D.C., the 236th anniversary of Paul Revere's ride and the Battles of Concord and Lexington, the 268th birthday of Thomas Jefferson, and the 3,322nd anniversary (approximately) of the Exodus of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. In short, it is a time of great significance for those who revere (pun intended) freedom.

Excerpt from Minuteman Statue photo licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. Sharing permitted with attribution.

What we in Massachusetts call Patriots' Day Weekend will feature numerous Tea Party rallies across the nation, as well as the premiere of the movie version of Ayn Rand’s epic novel Atlas Shrugged. Please take the time to attend one or more of these events. Even if you are not sympathetic to the aims of those “racist Teabaggers”, or you hear, as Whittaker Chambers did, a voice commanding from every page of Atlas Shrugged “To a gas chamber – go!”, check out a rally or a matinee anyway – they might not be what you expected, and in any case I’d be interested in hearing what you think.

You can find a Tea Party get-together in your area on Tea Party Patriots’ Events page (I did find a mistake on this page, so, to ensure accurate information, follow the links to the organization actually sponsoring the event). In the Boston area,

  • Presidential hopeful and former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty will headline a rally on the Boston Common. Parkman Bandstand, Friday, April 15th, 4:00 – 6:00PM (with musical acts starting at 3:00), see for details.
  • The Worcester Tea Party will protest pork barrel spending with speakers, music, and a pig roast. Lincoln Square, Monday, April 18, 4:00 - 5:30PM, see for details.

It can’t be easy to make a movie out of a book that’s 1,200 pages long, 50 years old, and is viewed with hostility by the liberals who run Hollywood. Doing so on a laughable $15 million budget makes a nearly insurmountable challenge. By all accounts, the makers of Atlas Shrugged Part I were up to it. The clips on YouTube show a movie that’s true to the book and visually stunning. Steel magnate Hank Rearden's line "My only goal is to make money" and railroad VP Dagney Taggart's showdown with a sleazy union boss are just plain fun. Patrick Humphries, of the Greater Boston Tea Party has seen pre-release screenings (twice) and told me it’s a great movie. He wrote on Facebook, “it will send shivers down your spine.” Here’s the trailer:

See the movie website for a list of theaters.

Ronald Reagan warned us that "Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction." Please express your determination that it won't be our generation by taking part in these events. And have a great, great Patriot’s Day weekend.

Talking About Oil Subsidies

In a recent Facebook thread about the Federal budget, one of my friends said, “What puzzles me is that NO ONE seems to talk about reducing subsidies to for-profit companies that are making tons of money, such as the oil industry. Is their lobby really THAT powerful?”

West Texas Pumpjack. Public Domain photo by Eric Kounce

Ok, I'll talk about it. I did some research on how much of a dent fossil fuel tax breaks and subsidies make to the U.S. Treasury, and what efforts have been made to rein them in. Here's what I found:

The best study on the topic (or at least the best that an hour of research revealed) is Estimating U.S. Government Subsidies to Energy Sources: 2002-2008 from the Environmental Law Institute. As you can see in the graphic below, ELI calculates that the bill comes to $72.5B over the seven-year period, or $10.4B per year. This is somewhat higher than the $6.2B per year from an earlier Cato Institute study but lower than a much-cited $15.7B to $35.2B per year Greenpeace estimate. Inclusion of some defense costs as oil industry "subsidies" is responsible for the higher pricetag from the proprietors of the Rainbow Warrior. The $72.5B in the ELI study is divided between $54.2B in tax breaks (including $15.3B for the Foreign Tax Credit, which is a reasonable measure to prevent double taxation and is not specific to the fossil fuel industry) and $18.3B in bona fide subsidies.

Source: Environmental Law Institute. Click on image for expanded view.

I’ve argued elsewhere that corporations shouldn’t pay income taxes at all. That would make the whole question of tax credits for the fossil fuel industry go away. Given that we do have corporate taxes, however, they should not be used to provide preferential treatment to one industry over another; such treatment only serves to distort markets. Subsidies have a similar effect, although I should point out that about two-thirds of fossil fuel subsidies are for Low Income Home Energy Assistance and the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. I suspect that many of the people who promote a harder line on the oil and gas industry would not favor cuts to these programs.

Attempts have been made to shrink tax breaks and subsidies that benefit purveyors of fossil fuels. The leading industry group, the American Petroleum Institute, fought hard to defeat these attempts. Victory was theirs. API's political muscle is considerable; it spent over seven million dollars on lobbying in 2010. (An aside: What American politician is virtually alone in successfully standing up to the Oil and Gas Industry? Answer below.) However, industry lobbying is not the only reason for the failure of these efforts. The proposals were flawed. They sought to replace oil industry subsidies with subsidies for so-called green energy (which according to the same ELI report received $29B during the study period). As such, they were not budget cutting measures, and consequently did not receive the support of deficit hawks or of right-wing opponents of corporate welfare. This was the case for the 2007 CLEAN Energy Act (for an excellent article on this from the Cato Institute, see Oil Subsidies in the Dock by Jerry Taylor and Peter Van Doren). This is also the case for Obama’s 2012 budget, which, according to Reuters, cuts oil and gas subsidies by $3.6B (with a big chunk coming from heating oil assistance for the elderly), but adds $8B for “research, development and deployment investments in clean energy.” (Am I being too cynical in speculating that Obama is counting on Congress to restore heating oil assistance?)

So yes, plenty of people are talking about reducing subsidies to the oil industry. Trouble is, they’re saying the wrong things. They are not questioning whether the Federal Government should use its financial power to pick winners and losers in the economy. They are only arguing about who the winners and losers should be.

Answer to earlier question: Sarah Palin. As Governor of the Last Frontier, she battled oil industry lobbyists to pass the Alaska’s Clear and Equitable Share Act, which provides incentives to the industry for drilling while increasing the revenue to the state. See What Palin Really Did To the Oil Industry in the Wall Street Journal.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Government Shutdown – Averted
Supporting our Troops – Still a Good Cause

Last week, when a government shutdown seemed imminent, Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann wrote on Facebook, “Current law prevents our military men and women from receiving their paycheck on time if government services are interrupted. Because of this discrepancy between the pay of our troops and Members of Congress, I will personally be donating my pay to a non-profit organization serving our military families.”

My Military Family by Heather Burke
Drawing by Heather Burke, winner of the Armed Services YMCA art contest

Of course, the shutdown was averted. For the time being, American soldiers, sailors, and airmen are no longer hostage to the politics. But it occurred to me that supporting them and their families is still a good cause. The volunteers of our armed forces travel to the worst hellholes on earth, eat lousy food, go without sleep, and enter harm’s way to confront armed men who hate us, all to protect our freedom. Their families must fill the gaps left by the deployment of their fathers and mothers. They must heal the wounds, physical and psychological, of those who return, and grieve for those who don’t.

They are tough, resilient people, but like all of us, they need help sometimes. Here are some organizations that can provide it:


From their website,

Thanks to your generosity, the USO fulfills its mission of lifting the spirits of America’s troops and their families. Through the USO, you touch their lives through an extensive range of programs at more than 150 centers in 27 countries, and at hundreds of entertainment events each year. Thousands of USO volunteers do everything possible to provide a home away from home for our troops and to keep them connected to the families they left behind.

The USO makes sure your help goes to those who need it the most: troops serving in combat, their families, our wounded warriors and their families, and families of the fallen.

Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society

From their website,

The mission of the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society is to provide, in partnership with the Navy and Marine Corps, financial, educational, and other assistance to members of the Naval Services of the United States, eligible family members, and survivors when in need; and to receive and manage funds to administer these programs.

The Society provides need based financial assistance to eligible recipients in the form of:

  • Interest-free loans and grants
  • Scholarships and interest-free loans for education.

In addition, the Society offers the following services:

  • Financial Counseling
  • Budget for Baby Workshops
  • Thrift Shops
  • Visiting Nurse Services.

You can donate to these organizations at their websites. Please be generous with your support. Our military is certainly generous in supporting us.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Census Bureau Cuts Threaten Seniors

Congress discusses the 2011 budget

In spite of the doomsday predictions from Democrats, the $61B in spending cuts in the 2011 House budget contains very little that affects the indigent or the elderly. For the complete list of cuts, see Budget Battles Begin Over Republicans Proposed $61 Billion In Cuts in Centrist Cynic's What We Should Know blog. The next biggest cuts, after the ones listed in the cartoon are (brace yourselves, poor & elderly) Department of Agriculture and Federal building funds.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Budget Battle: What you need to know

Cover of the New Yorker, Nov 15, 2011

President Obama today met with House Speaker John Boehner in an effort to reach a budget compromise prior to Friday’s impending shutdown of “non-essential” government services. Both political parties are jockeying to blame the other in the event a shutdown occurs.

Here’s what you need to know about the budget battle, condensed into two charts:

Federal Budget by Fiscal Year

Federal Budget by Fiscal Category


1. Both federal spending and the federal deficit have grown significantly under the Obama administration.

2. Without cuts in defense, Social Security, or Medicare, or increases in revenue, you could shut down the rest of the government and still have a deficit.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Daniel Webster Answers Michael Moore, or, The More Things Change…


In the wake of the Wisconsin collective bargaining fight, we’ve heard a great deal from Michael Moore, the SEIU, and other Trotskyites about the oppression of the worker by corporations, hedge fund managers, and the rich in general.

I found this quote from Daniel Webster and thought it was a perfect answer to Mr. Moore and the others, in addition to showing just how tired their arguments are. It’s from an 1838 speech in which the Massachusetts Senator opposed a White House plan for reining in banks in the wake of a financial crisis:

“[T]here are persons who constantly clamor against this state of things. They call it aristocracy. They beseech the poor to make war upon the rich, while, in truth, they know not who are either rich or poor. They complain of oppression, speculation, and the pernicious influence of accumulated wealth. They cry out loudly against all banks and corporations, and all the means by which small capitals become united, in order to produce important and beneficial results. They carry on a mad hostility against all established institutions. They would choke up the fountains of industry, and dry all its streams.

“In a country of unbounded liberty, they clamor against oppression. In a country of perfect equality, they would move heaven and earth against privilege and monopoly. In a country where property is more equally divided than anywhere else, they rend the air with the shouting of agrarian doctrines. In a country where the wages of labor are high beyond all parallel, and where lands are cheap, and the means of living low, they would teach the laborer that he is but an oppressed slave. Sir, what can such men want? What do they mean? They can want nothing, sir, but to enjoy the fruits of other men's labor.”