Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Comprehensive Immigration Reform: A Model of Forgiveness

Let’s be honest.  Everyone knows that comprehensive immigration reform entails amnesty, and ultimately citizenship, for more than 10 million Latino/a illegal immigrants residing in the U.S.  Amnesty means that these individuals would be pardoned of the crime of entering the U.S. illegally.

In the holiday spirit, amnesty (temporary or complete forgiveness of a lawful obligation) could usefully be applied in some or all of the following ways:

Forgiveness of sufficient principal on outstanding home mortgages to lift all homeowners above water, i.e., their homes would be worth at least as much or slightly more than their mortgages.

One year moratorium (or forgiveness), renewable if poor economic conditions persist, on payments of principal and interest on student loan debt.

Ditto on credit card debt.

Ditto on back federal taxes.

[Fill in other debts.]

Why single out only one group of people for amnesty?  Fair is fair.  Let’s give others the same break.  Reducing debt obligations on millions of Americans would put more money in the pockets of individuals and households with which to buy goods and services.  The increase in aggregate demand would boost the economy.  Why force foreclosures and debt collectors on debt-lade  households when moratoria and debt forgiveness are both more humane and economically beneficial?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Who Should Pay To Maintain The Flow Of Oil Through The Strait Of Hormuz?

For all intents and purposes, U.S. military forces provide the security that insures the uninterrupted flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz.

An important new development in oil and gas production, hydraulic fracking, will soon put the U.S. on the cusp of energy independence.

Near-term U.S. energy independence makes this the perfect time to transfer the burden of keeping the Strait of Hormuz open.  Let that fall upon the chief consumers of Middle East oil.

Japan imports about 4.4 million barrels of oil a day (mb/d), 89% from the Middle East
China 5.3 mb/day, 40% ME
India 3.1 mb/day, 63% ME
South Korea 2.5 mb/d, largely from the ME.

The U.S. should transfer the protection of the Strait of Hormuz to these countries.  Let them assemble a joint naval force and pay for it themselves.

The benefits are numerous.  The U.S. Navy will have more resources to facilitate President Obama’s pivot to Asia, especially if Congress reduces overall defense spending.  U.S. taxpayers will stop subsidizing a portion of the total cost of oil consumption by Asian countries.  The U.S. will not be caught between rival Arab factions and countries.  In the absence of large forces stationed in the region, the U.S. is less likely to be drawn into another Middle East conflict.

Monday, November 26, 2012

A Modified Mission For Conservative Think Tanks

Demography!  Demography!  Demography!  The 2012 presidential election revealed the following electoral landscape.
Based on exit polls, President Obama’s share of voters in the different ethnic, religious, and gender groups was as follows:

93% African American
85% Muslim American (CAIR survey)
73% Asian American
71% Latino American (most rapidly growing segment of U.S. population)
69% Jewish American
91% Gay American (overlaps with above categories)
55% Women (68% single women)
60% Young (18-29)
60% American Born Cubans in Florida

Governor Romney’s share:

62% White men (gradually declining share of the electorate)
56% White women (majority married, but married women are a declining share of all women)
55% Cuban Born Americans in Florida

E pluribus unum (from many one) is a phrase on the Seal of the United States.  That phrase is steadily giving way to E pluribus pluribus (multi-culturalism), or what I prefer to call a “plural society.”

The growing Hispanic bloc has thrown in its lot with the Democrat Party to gain influence over policy, secure posts in high office, and obtain more public sector rewards.  Astute Hispanic leaders will use identity to mobilize co-ethnics to achieve power, a strategy that will succeed if Hispanics feel unwelcome in the world of conservatives.

In 1972 I published with Kenneth A. Shepsle, Politics in Plural Societies: A Theory of Democratic Instability.  We updated the book 2009, chronicling the events that took place in the 18 ethnically-divided countries analyzed in the 1972 edition.  We also considered trends that were taking place in the United States that were likely to change the character of American elections.

On pages 221-22, we wrote:

    “...a potentially new transformation is gradually taking place in the United States.  It has been revealed in the debate over extremely contentious immigration bills to deal with millions of undocumented immigrants, largely Spanish-speaking from Mexico and Latin America, and millions more who seek legal entry into the United States every year, largely for economic opportunity.  Some analysts are concerned that this large number of Spanish-speaking immigrants may not assimilate into the dominant culture as readily as did previous generations from Europe.  As Spanish-speakers grow in number and are perceived in unified group terms, the quest for the “ethnic” vote could play a larger role in American national politics.  This would generate a greater degree of nationwide ethnicization of American politics than in previous generations, when ethnic differences tended to be localized to individual regions, states, or towns.”

Plural societies, in which ethnic divisions dominate politics, generally fail to sustain high growth.  The U.S. now risks lingering slow growth, unless a way can be found to persuade Hispanics that high growth, not redistributive politics, better serves their long-run interests.

Conservative think tanks have been a key source of ideas for the conservative movement.  They produce, in my opinion, better economic policy proposals than their liberal think tank counterparts.  Good conservative ideas may be a necessary condition for good policy, but they are not sufficient.  Conservative ideas won’t be implemented unless conservative politicians occupy the White House and Congress.

Reestablishing the Reagan-era success of conservative think tanks does not entail the continued (re)production of books, papers, and editorials pushing for smaller government, low taxes, free trade, entitlement reform, school choice, health savings accounts, deregulation, domestic energy expansion, conservative values, property rights, and strong defense–the mainstays of conservative think tanks for decades.  Rather, what is needed is the spread and acceptance of these ideas among the new demographic electorate.  This goal requires repackaging, creative marketing, and perhaps some fresh faces.

Buena suerte!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Who Is America's Enemy In The Middle East

Which of the following are America's enemies in the Middle East?

Muslim Brotherhood
Pakistan Intelligence Services
Iran Revolutionary Council
Moqtada al-Sadr
Add others as appropriate

If anybody knows, please advise the president, secretary of state, and secretary of defense.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Making Sense of Political Doubletalk: Chairman Mao and President Obama

Mao Zedong has been dead for a long time. His credentials include many important achievements: founding member of the Chinese Communist Party; revolutionary leader; hero of the Chinese civil war; first leader of the People's Republic of China; architect of China's economic policies during its first quarter century; and prolific author.

Among Mao's writings are three of special importance: On Practice,” On Contradiction,” and “Combat Liberalism.” He wrote them between July and September 1937 when he and his comrades were holed up in the caves in Yenan. Footnotes in these essays cite the works of Vladimir I. Lenin and Friedrich Engels on the law of contradiction, the most basic law of dialectical materialism (fashioned by Engels and Karl Marx, the latter being the author of The Communist Manifesto).

The core principle of dialectical materialism is that contradictory, mutually exclusive, opposite tendencies exist in all phenomena and processes of nature, including the mind and society. Mao built his entire framework for political education and action on this platform. Nowhere does he cite Aristotle’s metaphysics, Adam Smith’s economics, John Locke’s political philosophy, David Hume, Thomas Jefferson, or James Madison.

“Combat Liberalism” is only three pages long. In it, Mao defines liberalism, or ziyouzhuyi, which translates literally as “freedom-ism” or “liberty-ism.” The key word in the phrase is ziyou, freedom. Viewers of CNN may recall that “oppose liberalism” was the party's rallying slogan when it sent troops and tanks against unarmed students into Tiananmen Square against unarmed students in June 1989.

What does Mao say in “Combat Liberalism?” He writes that “we advocate an active ideological struggle, because it is the weapon for achieving solidarity within the Party.” In contrast, “liberalism negates ideological struggle.” Mao is especially eager to warn his comrades that liberalism has no place in the communist movement.

“Liberalism stems from the selfishness of the petty bourgeoisie, which puts personal interests foremost . ... Liberalism is a manifestation of opportunism and conflicts fundamentally with Marxism . .. ” (emphasis added). Therefore, “all loyal, honest, active and staunch Communists must unite to oppose liberal tendencies.”

The other two essays require more study. “On Practice” is the more important of the two pieces. It is subtitled “On the Relation between Knowledge and Practice-Between Knowing and Doing.” Mao wrote it to educate party members on the Marxist conception of “truth.”

The core principle is that knowledge becomes verified only in the process of social practice. There is no such thing as purely abstract or theoretical knowledge. But practice is not a matter of personal choice. It is restricted to class struggle. As Mao says, Marxist philosophy, that is, dialectical materialism, has two characteristics: “one is its class nature, its open declaration that dialectical materialism is in the service of the proletariat; the other is ... its emphasis on practice as the foundation of theory which in turn serves practice.”

To continue: “perceptual knowledge turns into logical knowledge through the complex and regularly recurrent practices of production and class struggle of man in society.” Mao attributes the genius of Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Stalin to their personal participation in class struggle. Marxism-Leninism is true, says Mao, because it was verified in the subsequent revolutionary class struggle. The communists, in other words, won.

If all this sounds confusing to you, it should; it is. Let’s try to translate it into English. Mao, speaking for the Chinese Communist Parry, vanguard of the proletariat and its leading element, proclaims that logic and evidence are to be used in the service of the proletariat, not the bourgeoisie. This formulation requires selective use of logic and evidence (in the normal sense of the words) by party members. Whenever the revolution and class struggle are served by logic and evidence, then by all means use them. If, however, the opponents of revolution and class struggle use logic and evidence in the service of the bourgeoisie, indeed the exact same logic and evidence used by communists to advance class struggle, then party members must reject that specific logic and evidence. In Mao-think, logic and evidence are not really logic and evidence under circumstances that favor the bourgeoisie.

To repeat, logic and evidence are relative to time and place-the service of the proletariat as determined by the Communist Party.

Let's try to explain this one more time. Truth is when Mao finds it useful to use logic and evidence to advance class struggle, the revolution, and secure power for the Communist Party. As conditions change during these struggles, so too does truth. Today's truth becomes tomorrow's lie if the opponents of class struggle seize on the same logic and evidence.

It may seem to Western minds that Mao is just changing his mind, saying one thing today and another tomorrow. But such perception misses the central point of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism. Truth is defined in terms of class struggle, revolution, and advancing socialism, whatever may be in vogue at the time. Each time Mao changed his mind on how to serve best the proletariat, truth changed.

Are you bewildered? Does this sound nonsensical to you? It should. Marxism is a contradiction. It is a framework for reason that is inherently illogical most of the time, nonlogical at other times, and occasionally logical (in Aristotelian terms) at other times. It is logical in the Western dictionary definition of "logic" when being logical serves the proletariat-as Mao thinks appropriate. It is also a recipe for saying and doing whatever you want, if you have the power to execute your commands or your opponents. Marxism-Maoism legitimizes any and every word or deed, as long as you stay in charge.

At this point, let's stop talking about the proletariat and simply talk about the Communist Party. During Mao's life, the “great helmsman” and the party were one. When he spoke, the party spoke. When he issued orders, the party acted. What happened to the proletariat, you may ask? Were its interests well served? In the view of Mao and most communists, the proletariat lacked sufficient class consciousness of what it meant to be the proletariat. Therefore, the Communist Party had the right to run everything. This sounds like a justification for the exercise of unbridled power.

Cutting through the Marxist double talk, Mao says basically this: When it serves your interest, make promises. When it serves your interest, break promises. Breaking promises is not lying-at least not in a Marxist vision. Breaking promises is simply the application of logic and evidence that leads to a new truth, one applicable to the current conditions of class struggle.

As to the written and spoken words that define the content of those promises, their meaning changes as circumstances warrant. The meaning depends on the nature of the class struggle at any moment in time. Accordingly, Chinese dictionaries are revised whenever it is necessary to include new ideological formulations or change old ones. China's constitution, in this spirit, had undergone five comprehensive revisions between 1949 and 1996, reflecting the shifting currents of political definitions.

It's a very small stretch to go from constantly changing conditions of class struggle, which define the truthful use of logic and evidence, to lying. It really is all right to lie in the service of the proletariat, if that is how the party believes class struggle can be advanced.

Now, replace “Chairman Mao” with “President Obama” and “Communist Party of China” with “Democrat Party.” All of a sudden it becomes clear how presidential candidate Obama can say different, indeed contradictory, things at different times with no hesitation and a straight face. He can misstate facts. He can rewrite history. He can utter economic nonsense. His objective is to win, or in Mao’s terms, advance the cause of the proletariat (Democrats) and defeat the selfish (the 1%) bourgeoisie (Republicans). Logic and evidence are not universal means of getting at the truth.  Rather, for Obama, they are tools to be used in the service of Democrats.  It’s as simple as that.

President Obama’s eloquent doubletalk bewilders and frustrates his conservative critics and political opponents, who repeatedly tell the American people that Obama has been inconsistent, has failed to carry out his promises, and so forth. Obama's modus operandi is not to win the argument, but to win a second term by getting enough American to vote for him.  End of story.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Decimating Cabinet Agencies: A Generic Template

Decimating cabinet agencies is a multistage process.  There is massive duplication and overlapping both within and across cabinet agencies.  In order to decimate redundant activities, it is first necessary to identify all agencies that duplicate or overlap with others.  This is no easy task.

Take, for example, offices of diversity (and female inclusion).  By itself, the Dodd-Frank financial regulation bill established 28 separate diversity offices.  There are doubtless hundreds of such offices scattered throughout cabinet agencies.  This is absurd quite apart from the merits of diversity offices.  (Thoughtful Ideas could not find a source stating the total number of diversity offices in the federal government.)

There is only one Internal Revenue Service.  Each year, a higher percentage of tax returns is filed on-line.  The IRS provides an organizational model to deal with the multitude of diversity offices.

One centralized web site would suffice to replace hundreds of individual diversity offices embedded in the federal bureaucracy.  Uniform diversity reporting requirements for public offices, private firms, and non-profit organizations would be submitted on-line.  Those deficient in compliance would be flagged by a specifically written algorithm, similar to that used by the IRS to select tax returns for audit. (Compliance would not be subject to human whim.)   Penalties defined in law would be assessed.  Challenges would be dealt with by trained officers in the centralized office.  Inspectors could be sent into the field when necessary.  This approach would eliminate over 90% of the cost and personnel currently enforcing diversity requirements.

We know from Congressional statements that there are dozens of separate worker training programs, poverty programs, and educational programs.  Subsequent posts in this series of “Decimating Cabinet Agencies” will review the list of agencies and sub-agencies within and across cabinet departments to illustrate the process of shrinking the federal bureaucracy.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Decimating Executive Agencies, Step One

Let’s start with the Executive Office of the President.  The Council of Economic Advisers, which does little other than prepare an annual report on the economy (also prepared by numerous private organizations), the National Economic Council, the Domestic Economic Council, and the President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board should be collapsed into one office with the best people from each of the four.  The number of staff should be cut by three-quarters.  If the president wants to hear different opinions on domestic policy, one staff person can compile a daily sample from internet postings and blogs.  See how easy this is.

There is no need for the Council on Environmental Quality given the various agencies in the departments of Energy, Interior, and Justice dealing with environmental issues.

The Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships is not a proper function of the federal government.  It is an entity that was established to satisfy a narrow political constituency.

The Office of National AIDS Policy is readily subsumed within any of several agencies in the Department of Health and Human Services.  Ditto for the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

It is a straightforward exercise to eliminate 7 of the 20 agencies in the Executive Office of the President.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Decimating the Executive Branch of the Federal Government

This post presumes the election of Mitt Romney as president on November 6, 2012.  Assuming he is genuinely intent on reducing the scope, size, and cost of government, he should adopt as his symbol the “ax,” not the “scalpel.”  Trimming agency personnel and budgets is not durable.  Only eliminating agencies can remove their cost and the harmful effects of their intervention in the private affairs of individuals and enterprises.

It is important not to announce in advance of taking office those agencies targeted for elimination.  Advance notice would give them time to mobilize supporters around the country to lobby against elimination or massive cuts in funding.

A minimum goal the day after inauguration should be decimation, defunding and eliminating ten percent of all executive agencies.  Any truly vital activity conducted within any of the decimated agencies can be transferred to another department, but survival should be the exception rather than the rule.  Thereafter, a carefully chosen team by the president should recommend another one or more a month for termination, or merger into another department, without input from the agencies.  This shock approach will have the salutary effect of agency heads volunteering to do with less money and personnel to avoid the ax.

Different persons will compile distinct lists, but consensus on which agencies to eliminate is less important than the need to cut right away.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Enormity of U. S. Federal Agencies, Part Four

This post concludes the three-part series that enumerates U.S. federal agencies.

Those of you who want to learn more about the scope of federal agencies, Thoughtful Ideas suggests you look up the budget and number of employees in each agency.  Then, based on the stated mission and activities of each agency, try to estimate the additional harm these agencies cause as they intrude in the private affairs of individuals and enterprises.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Enormity of Federal Agencies, Part Three

The third post in this series concludes the list of U.S. federal agencies that has sprung up and flourished under a succession of Congresses and presidents.  In subsequent posts, Thoughtful Ideas will address the task of paring down the Medusa-like creature that has been steadily transmogrified away from government of, for, and by the people.

Boards and Commissions

    Administrative Committee of the Federal Register
    American Battle Monuments Commission
    Appalachian Regional Commission
    Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (United States Access Board)
    Arctic Research Commission
    Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Interagency Coordinating Committee
    Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation
    Broadcasting Board of Governors
    Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board
    Chief Acquisition Officers Council
    Chief Financial Officers Council
    Chief Human Capital Officers Council
    Chief Information Officers Council
    Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee
    Commission of Fine Arts
    Commission on International Religious Freedom
    Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (United States Helsinki Commission)
    Commission on Wartime Contracting (Will sunset sixty days after issuing final report)
    Committee for Purchase from People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled
    Committee for the Implementation of Textile Agreements
    Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States
    Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention
    Defense Acquisition University
    Delaware River Basin Commission
    Denali Commission
    Endangered Species Committee
    Federal Accounting Standards Advisory Board
    Federal Advisory Committees
    Federal Executive Boards
    Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council
    Federal Financing Bank
    Federal Geographic Data Committee
    Federal Interagency Committee for the Management of Noxious and Exotic Weeds
    Federal Interagency Committee on Education
    Federal Interagency Council on Statistical Policy
    Federal Laboratory Consortium for Technology Transfer
    Federal Library and Information Center Committee
    Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission
    Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation
    Illinois and Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor Commission
    Indian Arts and Crafts Board
    Interagency Alternate Dispute Resolution Working Group
    Interagency Council on Homelessness
    Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin
    J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board
    James Madison Memorial Fellowship Foundation
    Japan-United States Friendship Commission
    Joint Board for the Enrollment of Actuaries
    Joint Fire Science Program
    Marine Mammal Commission
    Migratory Bird Conservation Commission
    Millennium Challenge Corporation
    Mississippi River Commission
    Morris K. Udall Foundation
    National Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare
    National Indian Gaming Commission
    National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling
    National Park Foundation
    Northwest Power and Conservation Council (Northwest Power Planning Council)
    Nuclear Regulatory Commission
    Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board
    Preserve America
    Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues
    President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports
    Presidents Management Council
    Presidio Trust
    Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board
    Regulatory Service Center (Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs)
    Social Security Advisory Board
    Susquehanna River Basin Commission
    Taxpayer Advocacy Panel
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
    Veterans Day National Committee
    Vietnam Educational Foundation
    White House Commission on Presidential Scholars (Presidential Scholars Program)
    White House Commission on the National Moment of Remembrance

Quasi-Official Agencies

    Legal Services Corporation
    Smithsonian Institution
    John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
    State Justice Institute
    United States Institute of Peace
    American Institute in Taiwan

Private Regulatory Corporation

    Public Company Accounting Oversight Board
    Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers

Self-Regulatory Boards

    Financial Industry Regulatory Authority
    Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board
    National Futures Association
    North American Electric Reliability Corporation

Government Enterprises

    Federal Agricultural Mortgage Corporation (Farmer Mac)
    Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac)
    Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae)
    NeighborHood Reinvestment Corporation (NeighborWorks America)


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Enormity of U. S. Federal Agencies, Part Two

A second tranche of federal agencies consists of almost 70 bodies known as “Independent Agencies and Government Agencies.”  Some are regulatory, some deal with similar issues to those under the ambit of executive departments but are administratively separate from them, some deal with racial and cultural matters, and so forth. 

Independent Agencies and Government Corporations

    Administrative Conference of the United States
    Advisory Council on Historic Preservation
    African Development Foundation
    Amtrak (National Railroad Passenger Corporation)
    Central Intelligence Agency
    Commission on Civil Rights
    Commodity Futures Trading Commission
    Consumer Product Safety Commission
    Corporation for National and Community Service
    Corporation for Public Broadcasting
        Public Broadcasting Service
        National Public Radio
    Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency
    Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board
    Election Assistance Commission
    Environmental Protection Agency
    Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
    Export-Import Bank of the United States
    Farm Credit Administration
    Federal Communications Commission
    Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation
    Federal Election Commission
    Federal Housing Finance Board
    Federal Labor Relations Authority
    Federal Maritime Commission
    Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service
    Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission
    Federal Reserve System
        Consumer Financial Protection Agency
    Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board
    Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
    General Services Administration
    Institute of Museum and Library Services
    Inter-American Foundation
    International Broadcasting Bureau
    Merit Systems Protection Board
    National Aeronautics and Space Administration
    National Archives and Records Administration
        Office of the Federal Register
    National Capital Planning Commission
    National Council on Disability
    National Credit Union Administration
        Central Liquidity Facility
    National Endowment for the Arts
    National Endowment for the Humanities
    National Labor Relations Board
    National Mediation Board
    National Science Foundation
        United States Antarctic Program
    National Transportation Safety Board
    Nuclear Regulatory Commission
    Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission
    Office of Compliance
    Office of Government Ethics
    Office of Personnel Management
        Federal Executive Institute
    Office of Special Counsel
    Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive
    Office of the Director of National Intelligence
    Overseas Private Investment Corporation
    Panama Canal Commission
    Peace Corps
    Postal Regulatory Commission
    Railroad Retirement Board
    Securities and Exchange Commission
    Securities Investor Protection Corporation
    Selective Service System
    Small Business Administration
    Social Security Administration
    Tennessee Valley Authority
    U.S. Trade and Development Agency
    United States Agency for International Development
    United States International Trade Commission
    United States Postal Service