Archive for August 2011

Uncoverage.net Editor Has Passed Away

Jane Jamison, the writer behind the conservative blog Uncoverage.net, has passed away. Details are not clear, her last post was on August 26 where she mentioned a family emergency.

The conservative blogosphere is small, so news travels quickly. Although I had never met Ms. Jamison (not her real name, by the way) I found her writing to be insightful, clever and even downright sentimental at times. Often I kicked myself after reading one of her pieces, thinking that it was much better than mine. She posted frequently, much more than I do, and I followed her on Facebook to keep up with her. Her ideas came fast and furious, including her unique coverage of the Fast and Furious scandal.

Politics shouldn’t matter when a writer pens his or her last word. The silence that follows is always deafening. Farewell, good lady.

h/t: VA Right

The Hype Over Obama’s Intellect

Obama is intelligent – or so we are told. Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank opines “there is too much going on in the poor guy’s head.” Obama’s IQ is “off the charts”, according to Presidential Historian Michael Beschloss. Jonathan Haidt, a professor of social psychology at the University of Virginia (and contributor to Obama’s campaign) is quoted by Milbank as saying “He is a brilliant social and political analyst.” AP stringer Glen Johnson, writing in a puff piece on Obama in January 2007, was similarly impressed by Obama’s intellect. “Obama analyzed and integrated Einstein’s theory of relativity, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, as well as the concept of curved space as an alternative to gravity, for a Law Review article that Tribe wrote titled, ‘The Curvature of Constitutional Space.’”

They happen to be some of the same people who are now applying the label “dumb” to Texas governor Rick Perry just as they did to President George W. Bush – who scored 1206 (old scale) on the SAT putting him in the top 16% of prospective college students.

The basis for Obama’s supposed intellectual capacity is his Ivy League experience, starting with his graduation from Columbia followed by attaining his law degree at Harvard and ending with his teaching law at the University of Chicago. People view Harvard as the top university for America’s best and brightest. Add in his selection as editor of the Harvard Law Review and it is easy to understand how the meme that Obama is more intelligent than your average politician began.

Obama enrolled in Harvard in 1988 and was elected president of the Harvard Law Review in 1989. Consider that the Harvard Law Review is a student run publication with many proud alumni including Supreme Court justices who once worked for or edited the publication. But as Rey at Rey’s a Point explained in a post about the Review,

In recent years, the number of students completing the competition has ranged from 200 to 255. Between 41 and 43 students are invited to join the Review each year.

Okay using the harshest numbers: 255 yearly competition completions, 16% make it onto the team.

It isn’t as if the getting the position is particularly hard. Anyone who has gotten a job after 43 resumes were submitted and several interviews conducted during the hiring process can consider him/herself just as gifted. Besides, while Wikipedia notes the luminaries who worked for the Review, it doesn’t mention those who were selected president of the Review and now wait tables. I looked everywhere for a list of Harvard Law Review presidents and couldn’t find one. It would be interesting to see those who are waiting tables as well as those serving on the Supreme Court to get a sense of how prestigious the president of the Review is, not that waiting tables is a lesser profession than Supreme Court justice. Well, with apologies to all the Harvard educated waiters out there, maybe it is.

The true challenge lays in getting into Harvard. Once you are in it seems rather easy to find positions that sound prestigious simply because of their association with the venerable institution. And getting in would be easier for Barack Obama.   Asians and poor whites, especially those from rural states, find it much harder to enter schools in the Ivy League because of “diversity.” Obama’s race coupled with his degree from Columbia, another Ivy League school, guaranteed his admission to Harvard.

In fact it was much easier than that. Obama’s Kenyan-born father attended Harvard as a graduate student, receiving his masters in 1965. One of the lesser known discriminatory admissions practices is the admission of legacy students, those whose parents graduated from  the particular educational institution they are applying to. As a study in the Chronicle of Higher Education points out, legacy students are 45% more likely to be admitted to elite schools than those whose parents did not attend. The legacy aspect of George W. Bush’s attendance at Yale has been used by his detractors to explain his apparent ignorance after attending Yale, while the legacy aspect of Obama’s Harvard admission has been completely ignored. Google “Bush Legacy Student” and “Obama Legacy Student” and you’ll see what I mean.

Obama taught Constitutional Law at the University of Chicago from 1992 – 2004 first as a lecturer and later, senior lecturer. These positions were not tenure track (Obama was offered tenure and declined), but allowed Obama the time he needed to develop his political career.

If Obama is so smart, why is he such a lousy leader? Consider that in his first two years he had a Democrat-controlled congress and high approval ratings, yet he outsourced health care and the stimulus to Congress, enacted the bank bailouts demanded by his Wall Street backers including billionaires George Soros and Warren Buffet and started during the last gasp of the Bush administration. He even continued Bush’s policies in Afghanistan and Iraq; the only thing he added was a sense of Hamlet-esque hand-wringing to these decisions.

A meta-analysis conducted by students at the University of Florida and the University of Iowa found that intelligence and leadership are correlated (albeit weakly – see comments), yet Obama has shown poor leadership skills over the past 3 years.

Is it possible that he isn’t as intelligent as his supporters think, and that his supposed brilliance is in fact due to a career path in the Ivy League that while commendable would not be considered extraordinary if it weren’t for the color of his skin? To suggest this may be the case is to court charges of racism, but given how freely the charges are made against anyone who dissents with the President and his administration I suppose one must go ahead with the accusation anyway.

The fact is that Barack Obama’s father and mother were both academics. Obama attended a prep school in Hawaii which, along with the academic credentials of his parents, allowed him to enter Columbia. The degree from Columbia improved his odds of being admitted to Harvard, but nowhere near as much as the boost provided by his legacy status through his father’s attendance. While at Harvard, Obama joined the Law Review and was selected as president. Once finishing at Harvard, it would be expected that Obama would be offered a position at another Ivy League school, such as the lecturer position at the University of Chicago.

There are thousands of Ivy League graduates who have followed a career path such as this. Most Ivy League professors currently in academia would have a similar curriculum vitae, albeit with completely different achievements, some more notable than Obama’s academic successes, some less. While all would be considered more intelligent than the average person (especially by the average person), few would match Obama’s supposed brilliance for one reason: there aren’t many Ivy League leaders and decisionmakers with black skin.

Would Beschloss say a Jew who went to Columbia, got his degree from Harvard and taught at the University of Chicago, had an IQ off the charts? How about a African-American guy from Pin Point Georgia? It is impossible to disentangle Obama’s race from his academic success, but I am coming to believe that while it had less to do with his overall success, it was an important factor at critical points – such as in his selection as the president of the Harvard Law Review and the offers of tenure at the University of Chicago. For all its talk of diversity, the Ivy League still remains a bastion of wealthy liberal white people – from the composition of the boards and trusts that manage endowments down to the level of college deans. Obama would have been an inviting academic to use to show how “diverse” the Ivy League had become. He had the “right” background (Ivy League educated parents and Ivy League education). Coming from that background Obama shared the Ivy League culture. He was a true Ivy Leaguer who was special in only one way: his skin color. Obama looked different but at heart he was “one of them.” It would only be natural for the wealthy elite controlling Ivy League to elevate one of their own to higher status in their world regardless of his intellectual ability.

This is not to say that Obama is stupid, or that he would make a terrible professor. Quite the opposite; I believe that Obama is intelligent and from what I’ve read his students in Chicago enjoyed his classes. Like George W. Bush Obama benefited from his family connections and his upbringing, only his skin color and liberal upbringing sets him apart. But the reality of the presidency has laid bare what liberal guilt or affirmative action hid in academia: Obama isn’t as brilliant as either his supporters or he himself believes.

If the charge of racism is to be leveled, it should be at the liberal elite that elevates a relatively mediocre academic to increasingly higher levels of status, while distancing itself from a true genius of color: Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. But unlike Obama, Thomas wasn’t “one of them” – so his intelligence isn’t celebrated the way Obama’s is.

Why Consent Matters

I was chatting with one of my friends who happens to be gay and he mentioned in passing that he thought Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann were crazy. I defended them both, saying that they were portrayed unfairly in a media that seemed obsessed with personally attacking them in ways that were never used against conservative men. I told him that there were very good reasons to dislike both – their stances on gay marriage were particularly important to him, a middle-aged gay man who had been in a monogamous relationship with his partner for almost as long as I’ve been married. But I felt that the persona the press had made of each woman was a caricature that had more to do with the twisted minds of Andrew Sullivan and Bill Maher than it did the reality of each woman.

Neither would ever get his vote, which I think is unfortunate. But when I consider them from his viewpoint, it’s obvious why he’ll never vote for either of them. Being gay is key to his identity, just as being a supporter of Israel is to mine. It’s a non-negotiable for him, just as Israel’s right to exist is for me. He long ago gave up questioning his sexual identity just as long ago I stopped entertaining thoughts of a peaceful Middle East brought about by Israel giving away the Golan Heights, Judea and Samaria. When someone suggests that his relationship with his partner isn’t the same as a relationship between a man and a woman, he doesn’t argue anymore – just as I don’t argue with anyone who believes that peace would settle on the Middle East if Israel would just, as Helen Thomas so bluntly put it, went away. I don’t waste my breath with people who think that Israel is an apartheid state just as my friend doesn’t argue with anyone who thinks he should just choose to like women.

That puts me at serious odds with many on the Right, but I don’t mind. Truth be told I’d trade the entire Religious Right for just half of the gay community. I’ve known gay people for most of my life, just as I have known deeply religious people – and I’ve learned that there are insufferable elements in both groups. For every drunken pair of homos humping each other at a gay pride parade there is the Westboro Church, and for every man-hating lesbian there is a preacher promising hellfire and damnation for me because I think the Bible is an interesting historical document, not the word of God.

When I read conservatives attacking gays, I get annoyed. I don’t just think that being gay is a lifestyle choice, I know it isn’t. No one would choose the path that my friends have. They didn’t choose to be kicked out of their families as teenagers. They didn’t choose to be beaten with baseball bats by homophobes crashing their parties. They didn’t choose to live in a society where they can only feel accepted in small neighborhoods in large cities. So when I read an otherwise solid piece questioning an attempt by some psychiatric professionals to “normalize” pedophilia, I get angry when it goes off the rails and equates it with homosexuality. “But, now, there should be no doubt that our culture is poised to begin embracing pedophilia as a lifestyle choice, just like homosexuality.” Just like Homosexuality?

The writer’s viewpoint was that the “normalization” of homosexuality was part of a slippery slope that lead to pedophilia, polygamy, bestiality, and other assorted horrors. The basis for his viewpoint was the following equation: two adult men or two adult women is the same thing, morally and spiritually, as a man and a child. I suppose one could argue that from the writer’s perspective, the homosexual – having chosen his “lifestyle” – is actually more responsible for his immorality than a pedophile who was born with (or developed later, it doesn’t matter) the craving for sex with children. This may also reflect the author’s bias that homosexuals support the decriminalization of sex with children, which is a common misconception spread by those who equate homosexuality with pedophilia.

I don’t see homosexuality on the same slope as pedophilia because the former is between two consenting adults; children are incapable of giving consent. So are sheep for that matter (sorry New Zealand). As for polygamy – meh. My brief encounters with it weren’t very enticing. Our camp cook had two wives, and inevitably he would end up upsetting one who would then run to the other and get her support – leading to his being nagged by two women instead of one.

Just as gays donned the civil rights mantle to legitimize their struggle for rights, I do foresee pedophiles attempting to use the success of gays becoming increasingly accepted in society as a tool to increase the legitimacy of sex with children. But the issue of consent props up the slope and prevents the acceptance of gays to become the acceptance of child rapists.

In fact pedophilia has more in common with crimes like rape and murder than homosexuality. Just as there is no consent between a child molester and his victim, there is no consent between a rapist and his victim or a murderer and hers. Consent is key. Are psychiatrists pushing to “normalize” rape and murder? As crazy as psychiatrists are, it’s doubtful. If not why not? Because of consent.

Without it there is pure anarchy. The strong pray upon the weak, civilization crumbles and the various dystopias portrayed in movies like Mad Max become reality. Consent is the bulwark that stops the slide of civilization into the abyss – and you don’t need to throw gays in with child molesters to do it.

The Council Has Spoken: August 26, 2011

Congratulations to this week’s winners.

Council: Right Truth–-Israel In The Crosshairs

Noncouncil: Victor Davis Hanson- Obama’s Paradoxes

Full voting here.

Huntsman Unleashes on Fellow GOP Candidates – No One Notices

I probably shouldn’t waste my time writing about Jon Huntsman because chances are that few people outside of China and Utah know he exists. Jon Huntsman’s biggest claim to fame so far in the 2012 Republican nomination process is the fact that his campaign staff have had trouble spelling his name properly. It’s not their fault. Most people don’t have anything against the letter “H” – but for some reason Jon’s parents did. Maybe it’s because he had nightmares about the letter H after watching Sesame Street, I’m not sure; all I know is that unless your last name is Bon Jovi and your name is John, you might want to keep the “H” in your first name.

I’m not sure what qualifies Huntsman to be president other than he was governor of Utah, Obama’s ambassador to China and he’s the same religion as Mitt Romney who is doing much better in the polls. Of course everyone is doing better in the polls than Jon Huntsman; Casey Anthony is doing better in the polls than Jon Huntsman, and she’s not even announced her candidacy this year (too busy livin’ la vida loca in Boca I guess…) At the last Republican debate in Iowa, Huntsman merged into the background behind the podiums and even the few “pity questions” thrown his way by the panel couldn’t pull him out of it. In most of the commentaries I read (and a few I wrote) there was hardly any mention of Huntsman.

And that’s the problem with Jon Huntsman. To misquote Gertrude Stein, there simply is no there there. Huntsman’s conservative credentials are non-existent. Many of his positions are taken straight from White House talking points: He believes in anthropogenic global warming, supports Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, and supports the same comprehensive immigration reform as Obama and his allies in the Senate. While he does differ from the Democrats on issues such as abortion and gun control, he has spent the last 2 years working for one of the most polarizing administrations this country has seen in decades. He now expects Republicans to ignore his cozy relationship with the Obama administration and its Chinese creditors and to embrace his “center-right” candidacy.

The Obama administration helped its old friend, encouraging stories early in the Spring that Huntsman was the candidate Obama feared facing the most next year. Unfortunately for Huntsman no one believes what Obama says anymore, especially not Republicans. Huntsman is the kind of candidate the Democrats would like to run against. He would be restrained in his attacks on Obama and his record, would put up a decent showing in the election and would lose gracefully – proving that the “system worked.” He would be Mondale to Obama’s Reagan in a reenactment of the Reagan’s 1984 landslide victory. The Republicans sense this and have ignored Huntsman more than they have Ron Paul. There is no way in “H” that Republicans will nominate Jon Huntsman as their candidate in 2012.*

Fading into the Background Jon Huntsman
Jon Huntsman at the Republican Debate in Iowa

Jon Huntsman’s “cloak of invisibility” does indeed open him up for a job in a future Republican administration – as Vice President. A Romney-Huntsman ticket might make Tea Partiers like me lose our lunches, but it could appeal to the independents. I don’t see Perry, Palin or Bachmann putting up with such a milquetoast on their halves of ticket, but stranger pairing have happened (like Kennedy-Johnson and Bush-Quayle).

  • After 10 years of writing here, I really hope that I don’t have to update this post in a year and eat my words…

UPDATE: Looks like Jon’s already thinking along the same lines as me: Huntsman says he’d be open to run as Bachmann’s VP. I doubt she or anyone else will bite for the simple reason that Huntsman doesn’t bring anything to the ticket. He doesn’t come from an electorally important state. He doesn’t have a large contingent of supporters. He might have a stash of Chinese cash, but that’s doubtful. There’s already talk of Marco Rubio who could peel away some Hispanics in Florida, but the Utah/Mormon vote is already deep in the Republican ticket’s pocket.

One can’t fault the guy for trying. The only thing worse than having never been in the limelight is being in it briefly and liking it.

Fighting Good For The GOP’s 2012 Prospects

Bookworm Room wonders whether the internecine attacks on the GOP candidates is really a good idea, a topic taken up by Joshuapundit. Michelle Malkin has been vicious in her attacks on Texas Governor Rick Perry for his mandating the gardasil vaccination of elementary school girls. Ron Paul supporters have begun a fishing expedition for sex partners of Rick Perry. And Ron Paul himself has been targeted by Republican establishment figures as Charles Krauthammer and Karl Rove.

Nowhere is the ancient Chinese proverb “That which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” more appropriate than politics. If the Republican-on-Republican attacks make a GOP supporter squeamish now, imagine how she is going to feel a year from now when the Obama Machine and its mainstream media attack dogs are running at full speed with an election 80 days away. Republicans need to vet their candidate in a way that the Democrats never did 4 years ago because this president is not going to become the first one term president in 20 years without a vicious, unfair – even possibly illegal – dirty fight. If the candidate can display his (or in the case Michelle Bachmann and possibly Sarah Palin, her) mettle through a vicious and dirty vetting process, then he or she will be able to survive the Summer and early Autumn of 2012 without submarining in the polls. Obama may be the weakest and thinnest skinned president we’ve seen in a generation, but the support apparatus cocooning him makes Nixon’s 1972 CREEP look like it was run by Tibetan monks by comparison. I don’t think that Republicans, emboldened by his low poll numbers and numerous political missteps, fully appreciate the ugliness that awaits the person receiving the Republican nomination next Summer. Better to forcibly inoculate the candidate – and the party – now when most American voters aren’t paying attention than a year from now when they will be.

Most of the attacks by the Republicans on each other aren’t that big a deal to me. I like Michelle Malkin a lot and value her opinion, but I think her fury over the gardasil vaccination is overblown. First Dr. Wife has told me that it’s effective and will prevent numerous deaths from cervical cancer. She would like to see boys get the vaccine too since they can be carriers of the HPV virus. Second I agree with Malkin’s assertion that the mandatory aspect of the vaccine is an affront to parental rights. But should I rule out Gov. Rick Perry simply on this one issue?

How about the topic of Evolution? Here is an exchange between Gov. Perry and a child being goaded by his mother, a Democrat using her child to make a point, in which Perry says that evolution is a theory that’s “way out there” and “has some gaps.”

Let me just mention that I have serious issues with parents using their children as proxies in a fight – especially a political one. I don’t like seeing children picketing abortion clinics just as I don’t like seeing them marching down the street demanding collective bargaining rights for teachers in Wisconsin. Maybe it’s because I’ve studied the Cultural Revolution in China where Mao used children as tools of terror against their parents; or perhaps it is because children will do anything to please an adult they trust, an instinct that has been exploited by the Taliban mullahs in the madrassas in Pakistan to turn their students into suicide bombers. I think it’s sick to use children in an adult fight and question the decency, morality and intelligence of anyone who does so. That woman thought she was being clever in making him admit his position on Evolution; all she did was point out what an ignorant and downright crappy parent she is.

I don’t believe in Evolution the same way I believe that the universe is far more complex than our minds can possibly understand. I believe in Evolution the same way I believe in gravity. I understand the theory behind it. I have read about and even personally performed experiments that prove it (breeding cichlids and assisting in wild chimpanzee research). But I’m not going to rule out Gov. Perry receiving my vote just because he doesn’t believe in it.

I might disagree with Perry on Evolution, gay marriage and a slew of other social issues. But I agree with him on economics, foreign policy and other topics that are far more important to me than whether or not the governor accepts that we are descended from a common ancestor of the apes or not. Walter Russell Mead points out why:

Let me put it this way. A GOP candidate might feel a need to please creationist voters and say a few nice things about intelligent design. That is politics as usual; it gins up the base and drive the opposition insane with fury and rage. No harm, really, and no foul.

But if that same politician then proposed to base federal health policy on a hunt for the historical Garden of Eden so that we could replace Medicare by feeding old people on fruit from the Tree of Life, he would have gone from quackery-as-usual to raving incompetence. True, the Tree of Life approach polls well in GOP focus groups: no cuts to Medicare benefits, massive tax savings, no death panels, Biblical values on display. Its only flaw is that there won’t be any magic free fruit that lets us live forever, and sooner or later people will notice that and be unhappy.

Perry might believe that it’s okay for Texas schools to teach Creationism (in the form of it’s politically correct form “intelligent design”) alongside Evolution. I completely disagree with this stance and if I were a parent of a student in Texas I would vociferously challenge the law in every forum possible. But I would not think that the governor was an idiot just because he and I disagreed on this one topic. Now if he wanted to ban all teaching and references to Evolution in Texas schools or stop biotech companies based in Texas performing work that was based on evolutionary principles, then I might think he had crossed the line, as Mead put it, into “raving incompetence.”

Bookworm Room states “(m)y current candidate of choice is the William Buckley candidate,” and I agree with her. Buckley believed that the Republicans should select the most conservative candidate who could win the general election, and as someone who believes the past 3 years of the Obama administration has been as disastrous as the Carter years 30 years ago – perhaps more so in the long run – I would vote for just about anyone the Republicans coughed out of their convention next year with one exception: Ron Paul – who I believe would be a complete disaster for the GOP and for America if he were elected.

So to agree with Tom Friedman, the Chinese are right – or rather their ancient proverb is. Let the Democrats take delight in the carnage now. Whoever survives the carnage now will be prepared for anything that the Democrats and their mainstream media propaganda wing lets fly a year from now. And may the best candidate win.

The Council Has Spoken: August 19, 2011

Congratulations to this week’s winners.

Council: The Razor–-Working for Free: The Economics of Being a Primary Care Physician

Noncouncil: Terry Glavin- The Final Nail In The Coffin Of The Pakistani Pantomime?

Full voting here.

A UCSD Alumnus Speaks

The phone rings and I check the caller ID to see who it is. It’s my alma mater the University of California at San Diego and I grit my teeth as I wonder whether I should answer it or not. If I let it ring the answering machine will pick it up. The system used by the school will recognize that a machine has picked up the call and will drop it. It will then note that I was unavailable and schedule to call back a few days or weeks later. If I pick up the phone and answer it myself there will be a long pause as the system routes the call to an available representative. This representative is always a student who is working while in school not because it’s fun but because he or she has to.

Over two decades ago that student could have been me, although I applied to the job to call alumni but didn’t get accepted. Instead I got a job working at the local video store renting movies to other students, professors and the odd famous person passing through La Jolla California. I rented porn to businessmen and bored housewives, and cartoons to harried mothers dragging their kids to the Ralph’s next door. I also rented New York New York to Jonas Salk and his wife, and met Gary Sinise when he came by to rent a film during some downtime in a play he was performing in at the La Jolla Playhouse. I also rented Playboy Sexy Lingerie III to a man who then turned around and leveled a .45 handgun at me, leaving the store with $500 in cash, John Hughes’s Career Opportunities and my sense of well-being that didn’t return until months afterward.

As I hold the phone in my hands I have only a second or two to decide whether to answer it or not. If I don’t, I’ll just be called back again, so I’m just putting off the inevitable. Since the Wife doesn’t answer the phone (when did that division of labor fall on me?) I’ll be the one to deal with it in the future. But if I answer it I will be forced to explain reality to someone who probably isn’t read for it.

The kid on the other end of the phone is most likely a VA or liberal arts major, but an academically gifted kid from the lower middle class. If she came from a wealthier background, she wouldn’t need to work. If she majored in chemistry or biology chances are she would be already building experience by working at one of the numerous bio-tech firms or hospitals around San Diego. She worked hard to get into UC-San Diego; the UC system is the tougher of the two public universities in California to get into. The UC System has many dirty little secrets that would no doubt make Ronald Reagan whirr in his grave since he protected the system from budget cuts and helped expand it during his tenure as governor in the 1960s. One of those dirty secrets is that it is much harder to get into if one is Asian or White since the system follows strict racial preferences. I only got in because I transferred in as a sophomore and lost a year of credits, after I had initially been rejected (I begged and pleaded in a 7 page long letter to the head of admissions to get in – my dirty little secret). So I can’t be rude to the kid when she starts up her spiel on how great the University is and why it needs my help.

How do I tell her that while my university experience two decades ago was important to the trajectory of my life, it left me with no connection whatsoever to the institution. UCSD was a huge school, and it’s even bigger today with nearly 30,000 undergraduate and graduate students spread out across 6 colleges (up from five during my tenure). It felt big to me at the time, and that feeling was good for me in the long run. It reminded me that I was responsible for myself, that the “system” would not be looking out for me. If I didn’t attend a class, the professor would not notice me missing; the only person to suffer would be me. Attending a large impersonal school was exactly what I needed to help prepare me for the “real world” where I would succeed or fail on my own without help from any institution. I doubt that the school intended to teach me a lesson in small-government conservatism, given the ubiquitous leftist slant of the place – but it did.

I had some interesting classes there. I learned Marxism in a summer class taught by an Israeli communist. A professor in Eastern European Politics brought in a guest speaker from Yugoslavia who predicted his country’s breakup along ethnic lines – five years before it happened. But the rest of the classes weren’t memorable. They were often large, with hundreds of students taught by professors who would rather be doing something else, assisted by teacher’s assistants (TA’s) who were more interested in hitting on the pretty things than they were in helping undergrads master their subjects. It was all ticket punching; I had received a better education from the Jesuits in high school and the teachers at the University of Missouri – St. Louis where I transferred from. All that really mattered was that I graduated from a top school, and UCSD is consistently ranked as one of the best in the country and the world. To do that I needed credits in this subject, credits to finish that requirement. After 3 years all the credits were amassed and I graduated in a ceremony that is completely forgotten except for the fact that my elderly mother attended and met my future wife for the first time.

After graduation the degree turned out to be less useful than I had hoped. It was necessary to teach English in Japan, but any bachelors degree from any accredited school would have sufficed. It would have been more important had I been determined to follow my dream to join the foreign service as one of my high school friends had, but a baby and the Wife’s ambitions to be a doctor took priority. It would have been hard for her to attend medical school and for my son to know his grandparents in Uzbekistan. This was a conscious decision on my part, and while there is some regret it is outweighed by the contentment for the rest of life that followed that decision.

A couple of years ago the Wife and I drove by the campus of the university. I had intended to stop, but after seeing it we decided that there was no point. Large buildings had been placed on every open field making the campus completely unrecognizable to us. Neither of us felt any connection to that place whatsoever. It made us both somewhat sad, so we left La Jolla and cut short our nostalgia trip.

UCSD helped me find the Wife, gave me a degree that has no bearing on my career today, left me in the hole $12,000 with student loan debt that I paid off in 4 years, and the sense that I am not special – just one of many that needs to look out for himself. There is no connection, mental or otherwise, to the institution, and I am not going to pretend otherwise.

Does the kid on the other end of the phone really want to hear that?

Things have changed a lot since I graduated, like tuition. When I left tuition was running $3,500 a year; now it’s over $14,000. I finished school with a total debt of $12,000 – including the debt from University of Missouri – St. Louis – and paid it off in 4 years. According to UCSD the average undergraduate finishes his or her degree with $20,000. Even at that inflated price I believe the cost of the education is worth it especially compared to private schools. One can thank the generous California taxpayer for making the UC system a bargain.

But will she want to hear that her liberal arts degree won’t make it easy to pay back even that relatively small amount? That one of the best things a school can do is provide connections to businesses employing alumni? Small private schools excel at that, but not huge education factories like the UC schools. Even large schools like Ohio State and Michigan have strong bonds with their alumni because of their successful sports teams. The only sports we had at UCSD was offending the Women’s Resource Center in the humor newspaper and betting on the cockroach races at the Che Cafe. While enjoyable these sports don’t make for good television on Autumn Saturday afternoons.

Chances are she will work in some field that has nothing to do with her degree, earning less than people less educated her and wondering where she had gone wrong. She will then either return to graduate school and make her situation worse or find a field that she excels at on her own, and UCSD will have had little to do with the success she eventually achieves.

Don’t get me wrong: I enjoyed my college experience, but unfortunately for the Alumni Fund my college had little to do with it. Does she really want to hear this? Should she hear this – or should I just answer the phone and politely say, “Sorry, I can’t donate anything right now. Thank you for calling,” and hang up? I suppose the answer is obvious…

Aruba’s New Ad Campaign

After the Natalie Holloway fiasco and now another American woman gone missing in Aruba, I couldn’t resist…
Aruba's New Ad Campaign - Ditch the Bitch

Why Ron Paul Is Being Ignored

Some pundits and Ron Paul’s dedicated supporters are wondering why Ron Paul is being ignored by media on both sides of the political divide. Jon Stewart claims that Paul is being treated like the 13th floor of a skyscraper. Charles Krauthammer has said it’s because he stands no chance of garnering the Republican nomination let alone winning the presidency.

He has a lot of supporters online, and according to pundits on the Left and Right they’re just as deluded. But for all their craziness, there is a sound reason for the “media blackout” on Ron Paul: He is a true isolationist while both the Democratic and Republican parties are staunch internationalists.

For those of us whose memories start well after World War 2, we haven’t seen true isolationism. For all intents and purposes isolationism died on December 8, 1941 when Montana congresswoman Jeanette Rankin cast the sole vote against Congress’s declaration of war against Japan. Yet for most of its history prior to that war America was primarily an isolationist power. Protected by two large oceans on either side, and the arrival of immigrants who were escaping wars in Europe, America had followed the advice given by President George Washington in his farewell address to avoid foreign entanglements. Throughout the 19th century American foreign policy was motivated by commerce. Commodore Perry opened up Japan in the 1850’s not to spread Democracy but to provide a refueling station for ships whaling in the area and trading with China. In this respect America’s foreign policy prior to World War 1 was most similar to China’s foreign policy today. China will sell anyone anything without exercising moral judgement. As America learned such actions do have consequences, such as when the scrap iron it sold to Japan came back in the bodies of its servicemen. Similarly China’s support of Pakistan has not stopped the Pakistanis from supporting terror groups operating from Pakistani territory into western China.

America’s isolationist instincts first faced change under the McKinley and later Roosevelt presidencies which moved to acquire colonies in Latin America and the Pacific. But even the Spanish-American war was more about commerce than it was about any type of trans-national belief in Democracy. It wasn’t until America was dragged into World War 1 under the Wilson administration that America’s isolationist history began to change. Wilson was an avowed internationalist who saw himself as uniquely suited for ending War on a continent that had never known peace. The League of Nations was supposed to be the first step on this path, but Wilson was unable to overcome the tide of isolationism that returned as American troops were quickly demobilized and returned home from Europe. The US Senate never ratified the treaty or joined the organization, a blow that Wilson never recovered from. It wasn’t until Franklin D. Roosevelt, another internationalist, who resurrected Wilson’s ideology through Lend-Lease and covert support of UK and France against Germany and Italy in Europe. But even then, resistance against involvement in Europe was strong throughout 1939, 1940 and 1941.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor mortally wounded the philosophy of isolationism in the United States. Although American internationalist policies such as America’s oil embargo on Japan had made the United States a target in the minds of the Japanese junta in power in Tokyo, the attack shocked Americans because it happened on American soil without apparent provocation. Suddenly the oceans separating the United States from Europe and Asia weren’t so large anymore, and isolationism lost its allure as people realized that what happened “over there” had consequences “over here.”

Since World War 2 all governments in power in Washington, whether Democratic or Republican, congresses or presidential administrations, and all their champions, think tank residents and pundits have been internationalists. Isolationism has not been taken seriously by anyone. Except Ron Paul and his supporters.

The problem with Ron Paul is not that the media isn’t giving him a fair shake: it’s that his beliefs are so paleolithic that the media can’t understand it. His entire vision of American engagement in the world makes Obama’s 2009 Apology tour look like American imperialism by contrast. He seems unaware that there are these things called “missiles” that you can put bombs on and launch from very far away. “Iran doesn’t have an air force,” he said during the Republican Debate in Iowa, ignoring that the reason it doesn’t are the sanctions we’ve put on them – sanctions which he opposes. Evidently Paul thinks the only way nukes get used is if you drop them from planes. He also avoided mention of Israel; Cain mentioned that Ahmadinejad promised to wipe Israel off the face of the earth, and candidate Herman Cain said “I take the man at his word.” He also doesn’t believe that Iran supports terrorism.

Paul’s vision of the world makes sense for 1911 – but not in 2011. While he does offer a true choice in a leader, it is one that not anchored in the present but in the distant past. As I have argued numerous times over the years, the default state of America is isolationism, and Ron Paul provides an important reminder of that state. But looking at the challenges America faces today and will face in the future, we cannot return to an era when steamers took 3 weeks to cross an ocean when planes can do so in 3 hours. Nor can we return to a time when news from the war in Europe took days to reach Americans at a time when one can learn what’s happening on the other side of the planet faster than what’s happening down the street.

As one commentator noted during the Republican debate in Iowa, Ron Paul forces America to have the debate between isolationism and internationalism. Unfortunately we cannot have that debate while the media is puzzled by Paul’s candidacy and therefore ignores it. Paul’s naivety towards international threats is balanced by the internationalist’s desire to have America involved in every conflict, regardless of its impact on American national security. While I may personally disagree with nearly all of Paul’s positions, I would like to see that debate held.

UPDATE: VA Right has an excellent review of Ron Paul’s performance in the Iowa debate, and an even better explanation about Paul and his libertarian beliefs. VA Right suggests Federal Reserve Chairman: ” I would love to see Ron Paul replace Ben Bernanke as Federal Reserve Chairman in the next Republican Administration. It would be the shortest appointment in history.” 

Spyridon Mitsotakis at Big Peace compares Ron Paul to Henry Wallace, writing “The conspiracy-minded John Birch Society, long ago expelled from the conservative movement by Ronald Reagan and William F. Buckley, Jr., is abuzz over Congressman Ron Paul’s “Blame America First” performance at Thursday night’s Republican presidential debate.” I used the term paleo to describe Paul in the piece above intentionally. Buckley purged the Republican party of anti-Semites, racists and isolationists in the 1950’s, thereby paving the way for the party’s success in the 1980’s. Ron Paul’s popularity proves that he left the job unfinished.

Parental Duty

It was a warm Sunday afternoon and the Wife decided she wanted to visit a small 1/2 acre pond on our property that is nestled between a ridge and surrounded by trees. The pond had been created decades ago by a farmer that dammed a creek and cut a channel through the ridge wall to allow the water to spill safely down the ridge and into a larger pond a few dozen yards away. Over time the spillway had cut deeply into the ridge, creating three tiers of waterfalls, the largest being about 6 feet high above a pool of unknown depth. No mention was made of this feature in the real estate brochure, and we didn’t learn about the waterfall until a few weeks after the property was ours. It was a stunning discovery to make on our property, and one of many that has deepened our attachment to this place that we call our “little slice of Heaven” in Surry County North Carolina.

The Kid, a bunch of dogs and I joined the Wife on our utility vehicle, and we drove down a switch-backed trail that led to the pond beneath pines, poplars and oaks that shaded us from the sun. After we arrived, we got out and explored around the edge of the pond, pushing our way through spiderwebs and shrubs that overhung the pond edges. I pushed through the webs as I made a mental note to buy a well-made machete and come down to tame the understory before winter set in.

Suddenly ahead of me the Wife started screaming and running towards me. Yellow jacket wasps filled the air and began stinging her and the dogs and I turned and began to run. But she noticed that our little chihuahua was covered with about 20 of the things, and had laid down to bite at the wasps. She turned around and headed back into the swarm, and so did I. She yelped with each sting, and I noticed dozens of the wasps on the lower legs of my jeans. I made it to the chi first and knowing that he could swim I threw him into the pond. The Wife leapt in after him. She kept his head above water as the wasps stung her neck and face. My son had disappeared as had the other dogs.

I was furious – at the wasps for attacking my dogs and at my Wife for wearing shorts and sandals whenever she ventures out into Nature. She used to laugh at me when we lived for a year in the Tanzanian bush. She would wear shorts and sandals; I always wore heavy pants, long sleeved shirts and hiking boots. In Tanzania there were biting tsetse flies, two different types of stinging and swarming ants, plus numerous wasps and assorted biting flies. She would get stung and bitten on almost a daily basis. I never got stung once. And where was the Kid?

As I helped the Wife out of the pond with the dog crying in pain, I called for him using a bellowing voice that I rarely use and save for very rare occasions. He didn’t come. After ten minutes with the wasps still flying around and stinging us, I managed to fish out the Wife and the dog and pack them into the Utility vehicle. Both were stung dozens of time. In all the mayhem I managed to be stung only a few times on my arm. The wasps never managed to make it through the denim of my jeans.

When we returned home I was furious with the Kid and yelled at him for running away. The anger poured out of me and it frightened him in a way that took me aback. It was at that point that I began to realize that what I was doing – dressing him down for running away and accusing him of cowardice was absolutely wrong.

A few phone calls to the vet and a trip to the nearest pharmacy open on a Sunday (meaning a 25 minute ride to Wal-mart on two lane roads packed with church goers who believe that Jesus drives 10 mph below the speed limit) and I had calmed down. I apologized to him and hugged him, but what I can’t convey to him is the shame I feel for yelling at him.

He’s a teen. He is incapable of thinking about anyone but himself. When threatened for him running is a good strategy especially when a nest full of yellow jackets are involved. On the other hand I am a parent; making sacrifices is part of my job. When the Wife shouted about the dog in distress it was my duty to help him no matter the cost of being stung. One of my family and one of my pets was in trouble, and nothing was going to prevent me from my duty. The stings are in no way pleasant, but I have been stung enough to know that the pain goes away after an hour.

What can’t go away is the shame that I have for yelling at my son and making him cry. It tears me up, and while I’m sure he’s moved on and accepted my apology, I haven’t. I tried to make it up to him; I had him help me destroy the nest. I poured diesel on it and set it on fire and had him shoot it with an assault rifle. The slugs tore the underground nest apart, allowing the flames to reach every corner. After a few minutes I approached the nest and used a stick to pull out the larvae. It was a visceral, almost primal reaction to the attack. I decided that the reaction couldn’t wait until dusk when the nest could be approached safely; retribution had to be immediate. It was important for me to allow my son to face his fear and to do something productive to counter it, but it was more important to me to show that I loved and respected him.

The nest is destroyed and the chihuahua is feeling better. The Kid continues his journey into manhood – with a deeply flawed and regretful man whom he calls his father watching ever nervously from shore. I suppose that too is my duty.

The Council Has Spoken: August 12, 2011

Congratulations to this week’s winners.

Council: Right Truth–-John Bolton: ” Why I May Run For President” and Why We May Need Him

Noncouncil: Mark Steyn- Mad Debt

Full voting here.

Working for Free: The Economics of Being a Primary Care Physician

Assume a business day of 8 hours. For each hour a family/primary care physician can see 3 patients at 20 minutes each. During each 20 minute visit a doctor has to review a patient’s history, listen to the patient’s complaint or reason for the visit, make a clinical diagnosis on how to best treat the patient’s problem, and assess the patient for signs of any other disease process. All this must be carefully notated in the patient’s chart to track progress and to document the visit for insurance purposes and in rare cases, legal actions.

So the doctor sees 24 patient’s in a day. Assume each patient’s insurance is billed $100 for the visit. Of that $100 the doctor’s practice expects to receive (including patient co-pays) $50. 50% of that $50 is kept by the practice to pay for overhead (medical assistants, receptionists, nurse practitioners, building costs etc). That leaves the doctor $25 per patient.

3 patients an hour means $75 hour, and that equals at 2000 hours a year, $150,000. This is a good wage by most standards. The problem is that doctors don’t work 2000 hours.

As well as seeing 24 patients, the doctor is responsible for managing physician assistants and nurse practitioners. He or she is ultimately responsible for the treatments made by these mid-levels and can be held accountable by the medical board and in court for any mistakes they make. This usually means monitoring what the mid-levels are doing, reviewing their charts, and assisting with their treatment options. This supervision is completely unpaid; the doctor is not reimbursed for his or her time.

Throughout the day test and lab results from current patients arrive on the doctor’s desk. S/he must review these and sign-off on them, adjusting medications or marking for follow-ups as needed. This work is unpaid.

Each refill request made by a patient must be reviewed and signed off by the doctor. He or she is not paid for this work.

20 minutes is not enough time to adequately document a patient’s chart. A doctor will often make quick notes during the patient visit and complete the chart after visiting hours. Charts for those with complex problems and chronic conditions can take upwards of 30-60 minutes to document each visit – all done for free.

When all is said and done, a doctor will spend 8 hours with patients and an additional 4 hours on unpaid tasks, resulting in a 12 hour day. 12 hour days result in working 3000 hours a year*. At $150,000 year (the extreme high end of PCP salaries by the way – the average is more like $125,000), that’s $50 an hour. This is still a good wage, but to receive it a doctor must have done the following:

  • Received a 4 year degree.

  • Applied to and been accepted to a medical school program. This process is highly competitive and takes at least a year. There is another year delay between acceptance into medical school and actual attendance.

  • Graduated medical school in 4 years.

  • Completed a 1 year internship.

  • Completed a 2-3 year residency.

It is impossible to work during medical school, so those 4 years of lifetime earnings are lost. During internship and residency, doctors earn $30-35k year. Although the 80 hour week is officially frowned upon by residency programs, interns and residents continue to work these hours. For argument’s sake let’s assume a 60 hour week at $30,000. That’s $10/hour for the first 3 or 4 years of work. In my area cashiers at Wal-mart earn that, do not work more than 40 hours/week and do not have to worry about making a mistake that kills someone.

The average undergraduate finishes college with $23,200 of student loan debt. The cost of applying to medical school, something that isn’t often mentioned, is significant. Figure an additional $5-10k for school applications and interviews, MCAT test and prep, and travel. The average medical school debt is $156,456 – but this assumes the loan amount is paid back immediately upon graduation. No intern working 60 hours a week for $10 an hour can afford to pay that loan back, so the loan is capitalized during residency and soars. That $180,000 in student loan debt can quickly become $300,000 after interest is incurred during the loan forbearance. Student loan repayments are also taxed**, meaning that a physician earning $150,000 will pay 28% tax on his or her loan payments. He or is she is paying $5,600 to the IRS as well as $20,000 a year to the student loan servicing firm, thereby turning that $300,000 loan into a $384,000 one after taxes.

Just for kicks, let’s figure that into our $150,000 salary. So let’s assume loan payments of $20k yearly.
Salary***: $150,000
Taxes: -$42,000 (28% bracket – Federal only)
FICA:  -$8,796 (6.2% on $106,800 + 1.45% on $150,000)
Loans: -$20,000
Total: $79,204

And remember: that’s for 12 hour days – not 8.

One would do better as a plumber or in a slew of clerical and office jobs.

And politicians wonder why there aren’t more primary care physicians?

Anything that is free will be abused; therefore the non-patient unpaid activities by primary care physicians have exploded because there is nothing to keep them in check. Patients will not accept charges by a doctor for paperwork or prescription refills, and most doctors aren’t willing to pass on this cost directly to their patients anyway. Likewise insurance companies refuse to pay for the time spent doing paperwork viewing this as part of the original bill; yet insurance companies and Medicaid/Medicare routinely audit charges and payments made to providers, basing payment solely on the time spent with a patient and the clinical diagnosis of the ailment. Anything that strays from the norms set by the insurance company or Medicaid/Medicare auditor is immediately flagged for fraud and the practice is subject to penalty.

This raises another issue with reimbursement: Medicine is the only business where the consumer (the insurer) sets the price for the services provided. If one goes to a salon for a haircut, one does not decide the fee the stylist receives; if one did it would be expected that he or she would pay as little as possible for the service.  Doctors may bill for a procedure, but the insurer can pay whatever it believes fair. Doctors are forced to accept the payment and bill the patient for the amount not covered by insurance, or stop accepting insurance from the insurer. This is difficult to do with most private insurers, and illegal with Medicaid and Medicare.
———-

*I forgot to include after hours call. Call schedules can vary from practice to practice, with some practices requiring a physician to cover a week of phone calls every month or two to as much as once every four days demanding in-person hospital admissions. This time too is unpaid but has been left out of this analysis due to the lack of available statistics.

**Student loan interest is tax deductible only up to a cutoff of $75k or so, well below the salaries earned by PCPs.

***Primary Care Physicians are increasingly paid using RVU’s, a system formulated by Medicare and followed by many insurance providers and healthcare systems. In a nutshell this system is a productivity based system in which doctors are paid by the complexity of the visit, the skill treatment requires, and the time expected for treatment as determined by the insurer NOT the provider. Salary is commensurate with the number of RVU’s a physician bills for during a given month minus practice overhead (overhead averages 50-75%). The RVU system requires a doctor to meet his or her RVU quota in order to obtain his or her agreed upon salary; if he or she fails to meet that quota, he or she receives less than that salary.

In this respect physicians are paid more like hourly wage workers whose pay packet directly correlates to the time spent on the job. Work less and one is paid less. Similarly a physician can see fewer patients, but will receive a smaller paycheck at the end of the month.

A doctor might rationalize spending 10 minutes more per patient, believing that the time is necessary to provide decent care. This extra 10 minutes per patient lowers a doctor’s productivity by a third, and ultimately results in a similar-sized hit to his or her paycheck – bringing it down in our above example from $150k to $100k. A doctor might also take a different tact, spending 10 minutes less with each patient in order to increase his productivity by seeing 6 patients instead of 3 per hour. The problem is that the short visit limits the number of RVUs he can bill for that visit. Attempts to bill a 10 minute visit as a 20 minute visit constitute fraud and may result in criminal prosecution or loss of license. Less time spent per patient can indeed result in a higher salary but open the physician up to missed or improper diagnoses and treatments that could result in poor patient outcomes and possible legal action.

Betting it All and Losing

Two and a half years ago, a Democratic-controlled Congress and Executive formulated a stimulus plan that was supposed to help America through a recession. It was a grand $787 Billion scheme meant to put Americans to work, keep unemployment below 8%, rebuild our infrastructure, and insure our nation’s solvency. Resorting to a Keynesian stimulus was a big risk; the equivalent of an individual maxing out his credit card for a trip to Las Vegas and betting all his money on a single roll of the dice. If the dice land in his favor, he wins big, but if they don’t he loses everything – except for the credit card bill that comes due.

Einstein once said of the universe that “God does not play dice,” but politicians do with the economy – especially with money that is not their own. At the time a number of people opposed the stimulus plan including me. I, along with many others, also opposed the bank bailout and demanded the heads of the banks at least figuratively, if not literally once the Democratic Congress coached by a Republican Treasury secretary pushed that through. Aside from the moral hazard the bailouts caused, the biggest problem was the assumption of debt.

As anyone who is indebted knows, debt limits freedom. If I’m paying the bank $400 a month on a car, I can’t spend that money on something else even more important. Say the car breaks down and I need to repair it; I can’t use that $400 to fix my car. Debt is the last thing you want in times of crisis. If your job situation is precarious or a new mouth is on the way, you need more cash and less debt.

Our government is now realizing the pain of indebtedness. The stimulus has failed; the Vegas dice throw has come up box cars and the $787 billion the politicians put on credit cards must be paid. Even though they could really use that $787 billion right now to calm the markets or stop the economy from moving into another recession, they can’t use it because they don’t have it.

It seemed like a great idea at the time. The trip to Vegas was very exciting. All the Democratic constituencies were purring like kittens in the laps of Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and Barack Obama. Had it worked, the Democrats and Obama would be heroes – and the Tea Partiers would truly be at the fringes as tax dodger/Vietnam War hero-pretender Sen. John Kerry imagines them to be today.

But now the Democrats are left with the hangover after the Vegas trip, and the bills are coming due. There’s no room on America’s credit card for another trip to Vegas for “double-or-nothing” and taxpayers like me are tapped out. There is a very good reason, aside from my personal belief that gambling is immoral, that I don’t gamble: I don’t want to lose everything. The Democrats gambled and lost; I hope they feel as bad as they pretend to feel, although I doubt it. While Clinton might be able to feel the pain of others, I doubt Pelosi, Reid, Kerry and the other millionaires in their party, can.

This doesn’t excuse Republicans. When the GOP controlled Congress and the White House government spending ballooned on everything from the Department of Homeland Security to entitlements. In fact the 2006 election which saw the GOP lose control of Congress was in part due to the dissatisfaction of many conservatives and libertarians who felt the party had become a clone of the Democrats, at least when it came to raiding the treasury.

But what spares the GOP some of the blame is the Tea Party within it. The Tea Party has fought for smaller government and reigning in spending since its inception during the government bailouts of 2008 and the stimulus of 2009. If it wasn’t for the Tea Party America would be in even worse shape. Don’t forget that it was the Democrats who demanded last Spring a “clean” debt ceiling bill that would have raised the debt ceiling without any spending cuts whatsoever.

Where is the Tea Party in the Democratic Party? Where are the fiscal conservatives on the Left? There aren’t any. They were purged by the fiscal liberals who took power in 2006 under Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. Men like Congressman Dick Gephardt and Zell Miller resigned rather than fight for their own seats against left-wing ideologues desperate to push their way to the government trough. Senator Joe Lieberman only survived the purge by leaving the party.

The Democrats looked to the left in Europe and dreamed of a party along the lines of European socialists, and after the 2008 election that landed them the White House, they had it. Margaret Thatcher once said that the problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money, and reality has reasserted itself. The new era of fiscal conservatism has dawned on America and the Democrats (and a large group of Republicans) are woefully unprepared for it.

What Can You Trust if You Can’t Trust Statistics?

Chad the Pirate-King pointed out some statistics to me over the weekend. He noticed that when he plotted the several important milestones for the Democrats against the labor participation rate, what was good for the Democrats was bad for the participation rate. See chart below.
Unemployment and Labor Participation from 2001 to July 2011.

This chart will affirm everything that Republicans believe about Democratic leadership. Democrats will retort that statistics can be twisted to support any point of view and that I’m already on record as being biased against them. This is true.

But other things struck me with this chart.

Note that until July 2008 the labor participation rate was gradually drifting downward – about a full point over 7 1/2 years after the labor rate peaked in 2001 (chart below). So during the “good times” of the Bush presidency, times that weren’t so good in the 2001-02 recession, people were leaving the labor force. Why?

Labor Participation Rate - 1948-2010

Another observation of the chart is the trough of low unemployment roughly between July 2003 and July 2008. While unemployment varied two points during that time, the labor participation rate fluctuated only half a point. So if unemployment was falling, where were the people coming to fill the jobs?

Similarly when the recession took hold, after the Democrats took control of all three branches of federal government (and a majority of governorships and state legislatures too), the labor participation rate falls and unemployment rises. This makes sense since people who are out of a job aren’t laboring in the economy. But then something odd happens in October 2009: the unemployment rate begins to fall along with the labor participation rate.

The most obvious reason would be those whose unemployment benefits have expired are dropped from the unemployment statistic. If they were included the rate would be 14-17% according to my quick analysis in Excel, meaning that there are a whole lot of people above that wiggly unemployment line that started 2 years ago. That’s roughly 50-90% more than the current unemployment rate is reporting. That’s a lot of people to officially ignore.

Which begs the question: Are they being ignored for political reasons? An unemployment rate of 14-17% hasn’t been seen since Franklin Delano Roosevelt was in office in 1940. While FDR is a progressive icon, the unemployment during his administration is the type of memory progressives like to forget. And it’s easy enough to play with the statistics to get them to say what you want them to say: simply write-off millions as having given up on the job search and presto! an unemployment rate that’s a quarter to half of what it would have been otherwise.

A similar rewrite of the inflation statistics has accomplished the same thing when it comes to prices. Anyone who buys their own food and gas knows that prices have noticeably risen over the past year – yet according to the BLS inflation is running at 3.6%. So either consumers are extremely perceptive to notice a 3.6% increase or the Universe the BLS calculates the CPI in is NOT the same one most consumers inhabit. The price rises I have seen, such as the 25% increase in the price of generic shredded cheese in a fortnight, remind me of the inflation of the 1970s. As it should. The BLS changed the way it calculated the CPI with the result that today’s CPI is artificially lower than it would be if it was calculated using the methodology employed in the 1970s. This makes historical comparisons much harder to make, and provides plausible deniability to those in power. The BLS has only one master to serve, and for the past five years that master – Congress – has been controlled by Democrats.

So if the average person can’t trust statistics, what can they trust? Well, they can trust their own experience. I do all the grocery shopping and the majority of major purchases in our house, and prices have been definitely rising a lot faster than 3.6%. Unemployment is 9.6%, yet I know of several friends and family members who are unemployed including three that are no longer counted as such because they “gave up looking for work” according to the BLS (which is BS according to them.)

Another independent barometer is the price of gold. Gold is at levels not seen since Reagan took office. It is still off its high in current dollars ($2,400/oz) but it is on track to reach it in six months. A government bureaucrat can’t change its price by simply changing the way a troy ounce is calculated – although I’m sure someone would like to try. Gold has always been an indicator of trouble. When gold rises, something is hitting the fan and it’s not hot-air coming out of Washington.

For the past three years we have been living through a very tumultuous time in our history. Although the current Chinese high-handed rhetoric towards Europe and especially the US is overstated (China is a parasite on the world economy; if the host weakens, so does the parasite), it got one thing right: living in interesting times is indeed a curse.