George Sarant

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THE MAN ON THE WEDDING CAKE

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The President seems increasingly clueless as to what his job responsibilities are. It is as though all the ceremonial aspects of the presidency have superseded the substantive requirements of the position, so that being president consists of photo-ops, giving speeches, and other ribbon-cutting type affairs. He remains detached from everything else, whether it be meeting with members of congress, solving problems, or otherwise dealing with the substance of things. Whenever things go wrong he says he is “angry” about them, but does little to rectify the situation, deflecting blame elsewhere, even though many of these problems originated in his own administration. He thereby absolves himself of any responsibility for Benghazi, the IRS scandal, the NSA spying revelations, fumbling over Syria, presiding over five of the six largest deficits in history, a sputtering economy, and, of course, Obamacare. It is deeply troubling that none of these things have been adequately resolved. The President may be genuinely angry about these things, but many of them, at the very least, are a consequence of who he appointed to office, including zealots who were obsessed with radical reform, based not upon empirical evidence but ideological presumptions as to the way things ought to be. As Harry Truman once said, “The buck stops here,” (in the office of the President).

But disengagement cannot be an excuse for ineptitude that is broad and consistent. One would be hard pressed to identify anything within the purview of the president that is going right these days. This is a result of some degree of competence at the superficial aspects of the presidency, i.e. ceremonial pomp, but complete incompetence at everything else. It is also unsurprising to anyone who could see through the glow of media cheerleading, given that he never ran anything in his life before. Yet he was elevated twice to what was, until he assumed office,  the most powerful position in the world, but now, at least according to Forbes, that distinction belongs to Vladimir Putin. During this presidency the US has been seriously weakened in the world, as well as at home, and it will take a lot of time and effort to undo what has transpired.

He did belatedly, and superficially assume responsibility for Obamacare, which he and his party obviously own, but he remains a true believer in his own narrative, and is the most partisan occupant the White House has ever seen. Seldom have we witnessed more confidence with less actual justification for it. He is like the man on top of the wedding cake, peering down on all below, oblivious to the meltdown that is happening. As we witness the government unraveling before our eyes he does not shoulder all the blame, but he has done nothing to fix the damage, and too often has made things considerably worse than they had to be. What is remarkable is not that his approval ratings are at an all time low, but that 41% still view his administration positively. The real tragedy is that we have to endure years more of this presidency while the situation in the US and the rest of the world remains dangerously rudderless, at least until the next election. In the interim congress may gain more power as the president becomes more of a lame duck, a prospect that is not all that reassuring. We can only pray that no serious crises explode abroad in the meantime. What we need to identify in the time ahead, is someone who is capable of competently running things, solving problems, and working congenially with the congress in order to undo all the damage that has been done. Until that happens we can’t even think about moving forward again.

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Written by georgesarant

October 31, 2013 at 11:57 PM

GOVERNING TO THE MAX

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The federal, state, and local governments always adapt the most optimistic scenario of revenues going forward, and then proceed to go ahead and spend on that basis. When these projections don’t materialize they are caught unprepared, especially at the state and local level, since they cannot print money like the federal government. Prudence would suggest that rather than proceeding on the rosiest assumptions, more cautious figures ought to be used. Instead they assume that things will be as good or better than they are at the moment, never worse. This is not to suggest that more realistic projections are not made in some cases, but those tend to be ignored in practice.

But things do occasionally get worse and revenues do fall below expectations. Everyone else has to tighten their belts when things go south. Businesses have to cut back ,as do individuals, but not the government, or it goes into crisis mode. In the recession everyone else has had to do more with less, but government just keeps growing, especially at the federal level. Locally, when the economy tanks there is less flexibility. If suburban property values fall, as they have in the housing bust, the income from property taxes that local governments depend upon is going to be reduced since houses are worth less. With reduced revenue they must choose between cutting back or increasing taxes, opting for the latter to the extent they can get away with it.

If governments simply adapted more realistic assumptions they would be in far less trouble, as several states are now, and there would be more stability, But when times are flush and the tax revenues roll in they make sure they spend every penny of it, usually for “unmet needs,” instead of either reducing debt, maintaing a rainy day account, or returning money to the people it belongs to through tax reductions. They usually go for the maximum they can squeeze out, and this is a feature that has been characteristic of all governments throughout history, no matter what form they take.

There is a reason for this, which takes us to my Prime Axiom: All entities constantly seek to grow and expand. Whether it is the state, social institutions, business, educational or religious institutions, at the top of the agenda is continued growth and expansion. It is a collective organic compulsion that takes on a life of its own. Rare is the entity that seeks to reduce itself. There is an even more basic reason for this; people always want more. Whether it is power, money, glory or simply more stuff, everyone wants more. That being the case, people in institutions continuously want more out of the environment they operate in. They  feel compelled to be bigger tomorrow than they are today. it is no surprise that government acts in the same way. The differences is that there are fewer checks and limitations on the state than there are  in any other domain. They get to write their own rules.

Once we understand how compelling these characteristics are in human nature, it is easy to see why government, which is composed of human beings, inevitably grows without limitation. The state always seeks to govern with the maximum number of resources it can obtain.  This leads to ever increasing incursions into the private sphere, which is diminished, as it retreats before the endless state appetite for power and revenue. But as the government takes on more and more, its effectiveness becomes less and less, until it can no longer honor its commitments and heads towards collapse.

How then do we reduce the insatiable appetite of the state? It can only happen if people become aware of the process that is engulfing all of us. There are some states where government has changed course, limiting itself and lowering taxes, and it is no surprise that they are growing while other states with high taxes and regulation are losing jobs and people to them. It is only when we realize what we are doing to ourselves, for we do have a government composed of the representatives of the people, that we can begin to reverse course. We do not always need more and more, and must learn to limit ourselves. Some things do not get better with growth and expansion, for where the state is concerned, it contains the seeds of its own demise.

Written by georgesarant

March 16, 2013 at 10:11 PM

ACTS OF WAR

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The attacks on our embassies around the world are clearly being orchestrated. How did Al Qaeda flags suddenly appear all over the world at the same time? Contrary to what the administration is saying, this is not just about an obscure, anti-Islamic film. It is a coordinated assault on the United States.  It is now apparent that the Libyans provided advance warning three days before American personnel were murdered, but these warning were ignored. The Libyans themselves are more pro-American than just about anyone in the Muslim world. But there, as elsewhere, there is a Salafist fundamentalist Islamic movement that demands a literal interpretation of the Koran and wants to take things back to the 7th century. Now these guys can scream and demonstrate against presumed offenses, but even they do not bring RPG’s to a demonstration. The goofy “film,” or at least the idea of it, no doubt did enrage many Muslims, but  all of this was just an added bonus for Al Qaeda, which organized these attacks beforehand, specifically for September 11 as part of its continuing war on the United States and the west.

The administration’s apology tour and outreach to Muslims policy is in shambles. The President thought all he had to do was simply make a speech in Cairo and his charisma would move the masses, but the end result is that he is actually less popular in the Islamic world today than George Bush was. But this fumbling has been obscured by the media’s dutiful diversion of attention from the actual substance of things that are happening to focus on an alleged  Romney mistake in  criticizing the administration. They were actually recorded coordinating questions to Romney, which he, unlike the President, actually answered. Any remaining credibility these partisan hacks may have had has now all but vanished.  On top of this we have the left-wing response, which right away is seeking to curtail our rights of free expression in order to accommodate external foes, rather than to defend our way of life. The government has hauled in the creator of the video for questioning, allegedly on other grounds, while at least Google has courageously refused to bow to pressure to take it off of You Tube.  When will they understand that, to paraphrase Pericles, we may not be interested in the rest of the world, but the rest of the world is interested in us?

These brazen assaults are a result of the government’s desire to be loved, which  betrays a fatal weakness. For it has stood Machiavelli on his head by choosing to be loved rather than feared, and has wound up with neither. It will not use any terminology regarding the “War on Terror.” But the security breach at our consulate was an act of war, as are the continuing attacks on our embassies and should be responded to accordingly.  Al Qaeda is targeting American diplomats, and Americans, around the world, and we should be responding to them as we would to an attack on the homeland. But respect for the US has fallen to such an extent that we can’t even get some countries to allow our Marines in  to defend our embassies, and instead are withdrawing personnel. Is it even safe for us to be traveling now? It is time to dispense with the illusion of being loved and instill some real fear in our enemies, for that is the only way to gain any respect.

 

Written by georgesarant

September 16, 2012 at 10:58 PM

SUPPORT THE SYRIAN PEOPLE

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The Syrian people have been engaged in a heroic struggle to overthrow one of the most  tyrannical regimes in the world, with little more than moral support from the West. This is shameful especially given the intervention in Libya, where conditions were not as bad. The Assad government has murdered some 20,000 of its own citizens so far and is clearly on the way out, yet we are providing very little help. Yes, people are tired of war, but this doesn’t require troops, just supplies, weapons, and at most some air cover. Fellow tyrants in Iran are supporting the regime, and Russia and China are blocking any action by the UN, despite a majority in favor of it. They will have a lot to answer for when this regime falls, and it will fall.

Imagine living in a country where one family has been in control for decades. Then consider a government and elite  that is largely populated by members of a single minority sect, the Alawites. It would be like ,say, the Methodists controlling everything here and oppressing everyone else. Then imagine they started killing anyone who opposed them. The Assad government is guilty of such war crimes. It is disgraceful to allow this killing to go on, when it wouldn’t take much to topple the tyranny at this point.

Hesitation and excuses are made because of a fear of causing “instability” in the middle east, which is kind of an oxymoron. Everyone knows the regime is going to fall so why not align ourselves with the winners? Instead of worrying about what may follow we should be in a position to influence that. Given that Syria is an ally of Iran, it would also be a major victory over that odious, oppressive government, which has been an ongoing vicious enemy. Instead of trying to “engage” with these tyrants we should actively oppose them. When I say “we” here I don’t just mean the United States, but the western world, and NATO in particular.

Unfortunately the fall of Sarkozy leaves the west without a dynamic leader, although there is one other. Ironically he is in the middle east, namely Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. He understands the Iranian regime and what their intentions are in terms of obliterating his country. Changing the regime in Syria would be a severe blow to Iran, and might even give the opposition there the courage to rise, and hopefully we would support them this time.

When such evil regimes are threatened we must stand with the people and be on the side of history.  We should be taking steps to assure that they are succeeded by free and open societies instead of burying our heads and looking the other way, or worse, “engaging” with the oppressors. What was done in Libya can be done in Syria. Libyan elections did not produce an Islamic tyranny but a rather liberal government committed to an open society. To repeat I am not suggesting sending troops, but simply providing logistical support. We ignore these things at our own peril. For even if we want to ignore the rest of the world, the rest of the world doe not want to ignore us.

Written by georgesarant

August 8, 2012 at 6:13 PM

LET THE TEACHERS TEACH

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I  rarely agree with the teachers’ unions, given how they expend funds on politicians, and sometimes get in the way of reforms, but I think they are solid ground in a resolution recently passed by the AFT concerning mandatory national standardized testing. One of the dumbest programs of the Bush administration and Teddy Kennedy has turned out to be “No Child Left Behind.” It seems like every recent President wants to leave his mark on education, with one scheme for improvement or another, none of which seem to do much besides inflating bureaucracy.  That is not to say that schools don’t need improvement; clearly they do. But most are financed by state and local government and embedded in communities, and sweeping federal mandates do not work, and in fact may be counterproductive.

 We’ve more than doubled spending on education over the past thirty years with little significant improvement because not that much has gone into hiring or justly compensating the people who actually teach. What we have instead is an ever growing bureaucracy with more layers of administration, specialists, and support staff that never see a classroom. This has occurred because of ever more stupid mandates about what ought to be done. Every time legislation creates a program meant to solve something, it is inevitably accompanied by a bureaucracy to manage it- a principle that applies across the board, not just to education. Too often that’s how your tax dollars are spent.

 In addition, broad standardized testing is too simplistic. What of Special Education? It is preposterous to apply the same standards to these children that are used for the general population. That makes no sense. Special Education teachers have to cope with children with learning disabilities, along with a surprising number of obnoxious parents who insist on trying to enroll their children in it, even though there is nothing wrong with them. It makes no sense not to differentiate, and it is unfair to teachers who constantly make their best efforts.

 At the opposite end of the spectrum we are also shortchanging the brightest students, who have different needs. After all these are the pupils that will likely grow up to be the innovators, entrepreneurs, scientists, artists, intellectuals, etc. that our society as a whole needs to remain competitive in the world. One size fits all simply does not work and is detrimental to overall education.

 The job of teachers is to teach and they should not be encumbered with ill-conceived requirements, stupid mandates, various useless specialists, and administrative fiat. If the federal government is to be involved in education at all, which is debatable, it should be through block grants with no strings attached. Again, this applies across the board to all government programs, for it is only through particular local initiatives that creative solutions can be found, and the more “laboratories” we have trying different approaches, the better. That is the only way we can really determine what works and what doesn’t work.

Written by georgesarant

August 7, 2012 at 4:32 PM

Posted in education, government

THE SUPREME COURT ON HEALTH CARE

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The Supreme Court’s decision on health care legislation was announced this morning, and in the best possible outcome it upheld the Affordable Care Act, but explicitly not for the reasons its supporters argued for. In the last congress the argument was made that the government could compel people to buy insurance under the Interstate Commerce clause of the constitution. The court rejected this out of hand, and instead upheld the law on the basis of the government’s power to tax, effectively naming proposed penalties what they are- a tax. The Democrats under Nancy Pelosi had claimed virtually unlimited power for the government by interpreting the commerce clause so broadly as to render it meaningless. The court decided that the government does not have the right to compel individuals to behave a certain way under the clause, thereby sharply limiting its application to actual commerce.

Chief Justice Roberts made the right decision, given the political dynamics of the day. If he had sided with the four dissenting judges, all Republican appointees, it would have been characterized as a political decision. The President has tried to undermine the court through outrageous, unprecedented attacks, and one can only imagine the reaction if the court had overturned his signature piece of legislation. In this decision the court reasserted the primacy of the constitution, which the left is increasingly prepared to ignore in pursuit of their agenda. By their reckoning if the constitution stands in the way of some supposed “higher good,” it should be ignored or stretched to oblivion.

Civil society is only possible to the extent that all sides agree on a basic framework of rules. But if one side does not accept the legitimacy of the rules the entire basis of social co-operation is undercut. There is a disturbing trend on the left towards claiming powers for the state it does not possess under the constitution. But in the absence of the rule of law such power becomes arbitrary and abusive. Thus we have legislation proposed, the content of which remains a mystery, until, as Pelosi stated, the bill is passed. This kind of contorted logic has characterized the whole process with regard to the act. What they do not seem to understand is that if the limits of the constitution are abandoned by one side, the other side can do the same, to their detriment.

The health care issue is far from settled. It remains a piece of legislation passed over the objections of a majority of the public, but now it has been restored to the democratic process. It will now be discussed and debated as it should have been in the first place. Each side has a clear position diametrically opposed to the other, and it will now be an issue in the November election. Thus. it will likely be resolved by the political process. That is why we have elections.

Written by georgesarant

June 28, 2012 at 7:34 PM

Posted in government, Politics

PERSONAL DUTY TO EACH OTHER

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I look upon the faces of mostly younger people on Linked In eager to move ahead in life, not only for themselves but for their communities and country, and I deeply empathize with them. If there were a way I could help every one of them along I would because they show me something positive that is almost entirely absent from the way we are portrayed in the mainstream media. They are, in fact, the future, because if them it looks a lot brighter, despite our present difficulties. 

I sincerely hope that things go well for all of them and that they all lead fulfilling lives, and this will happen for many, if not most. But sadly, when you get a large enough sampling, you know that some will not have it so good, perhaps struggling with illness or dying young. But you can’t know which ones they are, and their stories will only unfold over time. Tragic things happen, but it is almost always impossible to predict when they will occur, for the future is unknowable. No matter what else we do, in the end luck (or fate, as the ancients would put it) rules the day. All we can do is treat each other well and show kindness and consideration towards everyone we encounter. 

So it is really encouraging to see people not only seeking help for themselves but to help others out. I also believe that the older you are the more duty you have to give of yourself to others. Notice that I place the notion of sharing in the context of an individual duty, and not as the social obligation that some would force upon us. For those of us who consider ourselves conservative it is the individual who is at the center of all things, bearing responsibilities along with rewards. For the left everything is social. There is no individual responsibility but “social responsibility” that we must all share in. Unlike the left, we do not seek to use the state to force our vision of what should be on others, for we believe it emanates from the moral consciousness largely inculcated by our families, communities, and religion. If you have ever been puzzled as why so many affluent people are “liberal,” which would seem to contradict their interests the answer lies here. For unlike the Marxian dogma that everything is economic interest, there are other things at play. 

The truth is the reason the contemporary left wants to socialize things that are fundamentally part of individual relationships is in fact to absolve themselves of the personal duty that might otherwise be expected. They can’t be bothered, being too self-involved to deal with others in that way. Let someone else take care of things, i.e. the state.  In reality, they don’t recognize much in the way of “duty” at all, be it to country or even those immediately around them, nor its corollary, honor, which the rest of us holds dear. 

What I am doing here is beginning to turn the tables on the psychodynamics of the left, which, time and again has come up with nonsensical academic surveys purporting to show that conservatives are crazy, stupid, crypto-Nazis, authoritarians, etc. There will be much more on this to come. Enjoy it. 


 

Written by georgesarant

May 31, 2012 at 7:54 PM