Archive for December 2011

The Last Post of the Year

On the way back from town tonight a falling star caught my eye. It blazed briefly and was gone before I could point it out to the Wife. Out here shooting stars are common, at least they seem so to me. It’s probably because I spend a good deal of my time outside at night gazing at the stars, trying to imagine the power of each and the vast distance that separates them from one another.

In a way they are like people, I suppose. Each is powerful in their own limited patch of the universe, and the distance between each is vast. We try to bridge the distance with emotions like love. Some turn to religion or philosophy and succeed to a certain degree. But deep down we are all alone in a vast cold universe, mere points of light in the nothingness.

That does nothing to cool my fascination with them. I’ll stand for as long as I can tolerate the cold gazing at them, wondering about them, trying to imagine what it must be like to see them up close. All it takes is a hundred photons or so to traverse hundreds of light years of dusty space to pass through the atmosphere and fall into my eyes to elicit a childlike wonder in an inconsequential inhabitant of a rocky planet orbiting a mediocre star. It makes feel almost blessed to experience the light of such distant stars, if only for a few moments.

Israelis Stand Up to the Haredi

My love for Israel knows no bounds except for it’s tolerance of ultra-orthodox parasites like this guy:

An orthodox Jew was charged with sexual harassment on Thursday after a young Israeli woman soldier was verbally abused for refusing to sit at the back of a bus, a judicial source said.

Shlomo Fuchs, a 44-year-old father, was charged for allegedly insulting the soldier several times, including calling her a “whore,” for refusing demands to sit on the rear benches of the vehicle.

The sheer audacity, or perhaps a better word is chutzpah of this man to insult a woman young enough to be his daughter, as she protects his Orthodox ass and those of his family from being swept into the sea by the likes of men in every way like him except for the name of the god they pray to, is an insult to everyone who supports the state of Israel. I understand why the Israelis tolerate the orthodox community: they are Jews although I wouldn’t go so far to claim they are Zionists, and Israel was set up for ALL Jews no matter how idiotic the ideas or parasitic their natures. And ultra-orthodox Jews like Fuchs are parasites. They don’t serve in the military (though G-d knows no officer would want them under their command), nor do they vote or pay taxes. Israel may be surrounded by enemies dedicated to wiping everyone there out, orthodox, reformist or secular and atheist alike, but the ultra-orthodox do nothing except complain and try to impose their Taliban-like demands on everyone else.

As a man older than Fuchs, I also particularly bristle at the use of the word “whore” against a woman. Call me old-fashioned but I deeply hate that word and all its connotations almost as much as Americans hate the “n” word. I’ve known women who worked in the sex industry and I wouldn’t even use that word to describe them. It is a degrading word, completely baseless, meant to disparage in a way that the victim cannot fight back. Having studied Middle Eastern cultures, I’m aware of its power in Arabic, Farsi and Hebrew and other languages, which is why it is commonly used in insults and invectives hurled by Iranian leaders and Taliban clerics alike. It may sound funny to hear one Arab leader call another the son of a thousand whores, but rest assured that in Arabic it’s the equivalent of “mother f***er.”

And for this man, a father like myself, to use it against a woman most likely his own daughter’s age, is beyond the Pale. That woman has a father; how would Fuchs feel if that father called his daughter a whore? It’s a simple juxtaposition, and one that Fuchs in his mindless fury forgets, but it’s a rule that binds society and keeps relations between strangers tolerable.

I’m not sure what Fuchs’s punishment should be. Deporting him to Pakistan would be interesting but I’m sure the lesson would be lost on him. Shaving off his beard would only make him a victim in the eyes of other parasites.

No, the best punishment for men like Fuchs is to prevent Israel from turning into Saudi Arabia. Secularists must stand up, fighting each and every attempt at imposing orthodox laws on the non-orthodox in a state that the ultra-orthodox don’t even believe in. That means allowing women to ride in the front of the bus in a land they are willing to die for. Let the ultra-orthodox parasites infest the back.

UPDATE: It gets worse. Now these “men” are bullying 2nd graders:

On Tuesday night, thousands of Israelis in the city of Beit Shemesh, just west of Jerusalem, gathered to protest the harassment of Naama Margolese, a cherub-faced second grader filmed weeping as she described walking to school while a few ultra-Orthodox Haredi Jewish men spat and screamed at her. The Haredi hecklers took issue with eight-year-old Naama’s exposed arms. More generally, they resented having to watch a procession of what they called “Nazis” and “whores” traipsing down their streets to get to a single-sex school nearby.

Notice how these cowards bully 8 year olds, not their parents. I guess they’re too afraid that they would get the crap kicked out of them – and nothing is worse for an haredi “man” than to be beaten up by a “whore.” I know plenty of Jewish women that would have no problem with the likes of them.

The Council Has Spoken: December 30, 2011

Congratulations to this week’s winners.

Council: Bookworm RoomA case regarding citizen journalists proves, once again, that bad facts make for bad law

Noncouncil: Victor Davis Hanson- A Vandalized Valley

Full voting here.

Why Conservatives Should Not Trust Wall Street

The best argument I’ve seen yet against Wall Street – and in a Conservative magazine no less – concludes:

They are the repo men, headpiece filled with subprime-mortgage derivatives, and they are looking to repossess the Republican party they abandoned in 2008 (see “Losing Gordon Gekko,” National Review, March 9, 2009). Free-market, limited-government conservatives should be none too eager to welcome them back, nor should we let our natural sympathy with the profit motive blind us to the fact that a great many of them do not belong in the conservative movement, and that more than a few of them belong in prison.

Privatizing gains and socializing losses is not fiscal conservatism. Upholding a hereditary noble class that manipulates the political system to support its own tenure is not democracy.

What A Ron Paul 3rd Party Run Means to the GOP

Unless my political instincts have completely disappeared, I expect Ron Paul to run as a third party candidate in 2012. The conventional wisdom is that this run will hurt the GOP, but the Virginian disagrees.

Here’s the point that I believe Henninger misses. “These people” who are fuelling the Paul boomlet, and before that the Bachman/Perry/Cain/Gingrich boomlets, are not just the Republican protest vote. Since Obama has no Democrat rivals, there’s no real opportunity for a Democrat protest vote. The only way for Republicans and the unaffiliated middle-of-the-roader who voted for Obama in 2008 to show their opposition to Washington policies is the Republican primary. And who are they? They are the broad middle class who are unemployed or have family members, neighbors and friends who are losing their homes, their jobs and their hope for a better future while Washington lives it up on their dime.

This is an interesting point to consider, especially when Paul’s support in Iowa draws disproportionately from younger voters, ironic considering that Paul at 76 is the oldest candidate and his foreign policy isolationism and belief in the Gold Standard are some of the oldest political ideas in the Republic. Like most libertarians, his ideas cross the traditional Right/Left divide. His hatred of the Fed, distrust of fiat currency, and fetishistic hatred of federalism plays well with old school Conservatives, but his anti-Israel stance and his belief that American intervention is the root of all evil in the world joins him at the hip with Chomskites on the Far Left.

It is difficult to predict for certain who will be damaged the most by Ron Paul’s run, but we can get an idea by asking the question, “Who did you vote for in 2008?” Although Ron Paul did run that year, he withdrew from the race early, and so far I haven’t been able to determine where his supporters went after that. But looking at the statistics of his current supporters, in 2008 Obama captured 66% of the youth vote. With the youth vote not expected to swing Obama’s way in 2012, defections to Paul could hurt Obama even more in the Democratic Party’s most supportive age group.

Like many in the GOP I have been concerned over Ron Paul’s rise. While I sympathize with some of his libertarian positions including the call for smaller government and the legalization of drugs, I disagree with him on all his other stances especially towards Islam, Iran and the state of Israel. I’ve worried about his impact on the GOP when he goes rogue, and have said that it would guarantee Obama’s election.

But given the make up of Ron Paul’s supporters, I’m beginning to doubt that many of them voted for McCain in 2008 or Bush in ‘04. I suspect that many haven’t voted at all, or more likely voted for Obama and Kerry. At this point I’m not foolhardy enough to switch my opinion completely that Paul’s independent run wouldn’t benefit the Democrats, but I’m starting to reconsider.

Paul can only damage the GOP if he pulls voters who would have voted for another GOP candidate. How many of his supporters would jump ship if Sarah Palin entered the race? How about if Chris Christie did? Who would they vote for if Paul quit the race completely? Paul’s supporters can only damage the GOP if they were going to cast their votes for another GOP candidate; in that respect they are taking away a vote from the presumed GOP candidate next November. If they would have sat out 2012 if Paul quit or would have voted for Obama, then Paul’s defection from the party won’t hurt the GOP and could even damage Obama’s reelection chances.

As a registered Republican who believes Obama is the worst president since Carter, I plan to vote for whomever the party selects next November. I will admit though that if by some long-shot the nominee is Ron Paul I will have a very difficult time voting for him, but I will nevertheless do so. How many of his supporters could say the same if Paul isn’t the GOP standard-bearer?

Update: Allahpundit writing at Hotair also questions the conventional wisdom on a Ron Paul 3rd party run:

Has anyone seen a poll of what tea partiers would do in a hypothetical three-way race between Obama, Romney, and Ron Paul? Some segment of the TP surely would split and follow Paul into independence as a protest against Mitt, but I don’t know that that’s where most of Paul’s support would come from. Rand likes to push the tea-party connection because that’s his brand and because it keeps voters’ attention turned towards Ron’s record on spending, but as noted last week, Paul’s not the top choice in the field among tea partiers. WaPo’s national poll before Christmas had him in fifth place in that demographic, in fact. He did better than that in PPP’s new Iowa poll, but not dramatically better.

One thing’s for sure: a 3rd party run would hurt his son Rand’s career. Ron Paul should consider Rand as a serious “plan B” for his libertarian ideas. If he goes rogue, he can expect the GOP to attack his son instead of him since he’s already announced plans to retire from his congressional seat. Of the two I much prefer Rand given the little I know of him. Ron Paul must recognize that there is a serious chance his son may eclipse him in the decades to come. Not a bad thing for a son to do from my perspective…

A Box of Legos

The clouds had grudgingly parted and allowed some sun to shine through the cold that had wrapped the countryside in a thick blanket of Winter gloom. Taking advantage of the respite I started cleaning out the basement, pulling out suitcases thick with dust and cat hair to air out and organize the plastic storage boxes.

I opened one full of Legos. In it a house was half-built laying on top of a jumble of bricks. Several years ago my son had worked on it for minutes, perhaps several hours and then stopped. It got put away and left undisturbed in the box. He is 15 now, learning how to drive, in love with a girl who lives on the Outer Banks and comes nearby to visit her grandparents. He has no interest in Legos and probably won’t for a decade, perhaps longer.

One day he will open the box and find the house waiting for him, exactly as he had left it when he was 11 or 12. He will see it through new eyes, and the years will fall away like so many leaves of seasons past as he lifts the house from the box and sets to work on it with a companion whose identity is a mere glimmer in my imagination.

But until then the box of Legos is secure in our basement, waiting for his return.

The Council Has Spoken: December 23, 2011

Congratulations to this week’s winners.

Council: The Noisy Room–-Syria – The Tipping Point Into Hell

Noncouncil: Sultan Knish- Mr. Islam’s Blindfold and Machete

Full voting here.

Calling Out Attorney General Eric Holder

There hadn’t been anything like it since 9-11. Hundreds of Americans die in a spasm of violence by terrorists wielding grenades, C4 explosives and RPG launchers – explosives that aren’t legally available in the United States and are impossible to acquire even under the counter no matter what the price. Over the course of the investigation by American authorities it is discovered that the government of Mexico has shipped thousands of military-grade weapons to al Qaeda, and that al Qaeda did what it promised to do: fill American streets with the blood of infidels.

When presented with the evidence, the Mexican authorities claim it was part of an operation to track stolen military weaponry from the Mexican army to Islamic terrorists. The American government was never notified of the sting operation until the story broke by a Mexican blogger and pictures of dead Americans filled TV screens. As the story is uncovered, Mexican authorities repeatedly lie to American investigators only to be undermined by emails and testimony by whistleblowers. Mexican President Filipe Calderón refuses to discuss the operation, code named Operación Rápido y Furioso, leaving all questions to his attorney general Marisela Morales. Morales claims that the operation was necessary to stem the flow of arms from deserters in the Mexican army to al Qaeda operatives in the United States. Yet when pressed for specifics on how the tracking was supposed to occur within the United States when the US government was never engaged, Morales blames mistakes made at the lower levels of the Federal Public Ministry (Ministerio Público de la Federación).

Perhaps the scenario described above can give you an idea how Mexicans feel about Attorney General Eric Holder’s bungled Operation Fast and Furious. While Americans focus on the death of border agent Brian Terry and the raison d’être of the operation, namely the desire for the Obama administration to enact stricter gun control laws, little has been said about the hundreds of Mexican citizens – many of them innocent bystanders – killed by the weapons the Federal government supplied to the Mexican drug cartels.

Since 2006 when President Calderón declared war on the drug cartels operating in his country, The Guardian claims anywhere between 35,000 and 60,000 have been killed in the violence. At least 5000 are missing and presumed dead. For perspective even the conservative figure of 35,000 is triple the number of Americans killed on 9-11, in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since the United States is roughly 2 1/2 times the size of Mexico, that conservative figure comparatively becomes 100,000 – more than all Americans killed in wars and terrorist acts since the end of World War 2. These are horrific numbers, yet Eric Holder’s Justice Department and the ATF eagerly meddled in Mexico’s internal war, putting at risk and sacrificing thousands of Mexicans for domestic political reasons. If ever the Mexican government had a completely justifiable reason to go to war with the United States, Operation Fast and Furious is it.

Attorney General Eric Holder doesn’t see things this way of course. He has called the investigation by Congress a “witch hunt,” comparing the hearings to the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings led by Sen. Joseph McCarthy in the 1950’s. After that comparison failed to undermine the efforts to expose the scandal he has resorted to claiming he and President Barack Obama are victims of racism.

Samuel Johnson once quipped that “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.” If Johnson were alive today it is easy to imagine him as amending his aphorism, substituting “racism” for patriotism. Has Holder reached the end of the defense of Operation Fast and Furious that he has nothing left to play except for the race card? Does he seriously believe that people would accept his explanation and justification for the botched operation if only his skin color was different?

If what Eric Holder says is true, that those of us attacking his handling of Fast and Furious are only doing so because we don’t like black people in power, then we conservatives and Republicans must not have any problems with white people in power – namely House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Vice President Joe Biden, DNC Chairwoman Debra Wasserman-Schultz, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner. In addition we would not support black people in power like Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Congressman Allen West, former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and former presidential contender Herman Cain.

Bigotry is consistent. If you hate people because of their skin color, then you are going to hate them regardless of their ideology or ideas. For a racist skin color trumps everything else. If you hate black people, you are going to hate Clarence Thomas as much as Martin Luther King jr. If you are going to call someone a racist and they aren’t consistent, then you are either wrong, a scoundrel or both.

Attorney General Eric Holder is both. Holder has crossed the line by playing the race card, and being the politician he is he must know it. Such an act can only be one of desperation at a time when the sole African-American on the Supreme Court is lionized by conservatives and until recently the leading contender for the GOP presidential nomination was a black man. Holder has shown a complete lack of decency by tarring those challenging his inept handling of the Justice Department as racist. It is the final insult and the act of a desperate man.

Attorney General Eric Holder should resign immediately. Congress should begin drawing up articles of impeachment against Holder. He has squandered what power the office he holds grants him by using it to undermine the US Constitution, supply arms to enemies of a friendly state thereby providing it with a legitimate casus belli to go to war with the United States, and playing the race card against those who dare question his actions.

Luckily for us the Mexican government sees no advantage for attacking the United States to punish us for Holder’s arming of the drug cartels, but that is little comfort to the thousands of family members of those killed by weapons supplied to the drug cartels by our government. It is also no comfort to the family of border patrol agent Brian Terry. Holder’s resignation or impeachment will not bring their loved ones back to life, but these actions will show that the United States will not tolerate illegal activities by the those occupying the highest levels of its government no matter what their skin color or party affiliation.

The Council Has Spoken: December 16, 2011

Congratulations to this week’s winners.

Council: Bookworm Room--My Mother’s War, Courtesy Of Pearl Harbor

Noncouncil: Barry Rubin- Middle East: We’re Going to Have a Revolution and We Can Do it the Hard Way or the Easy Way

Full voting here.

RIP Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens is dead.

Damn it.

Higher Education Bubble: Trades Under Pressure from Illegal Immigration

As a parent of a teenager and an intellectual who somehow managed to avoid Academia, I’ve  followed the higher education bubble stories carefully. Glenn Reynolds has written and linked extensively on the subject, and Virginia Postrel places the blame on federal student aid. While I completely agree with Reynolds that the trades have gotten ignored in favor of college and university educations, I’ve noticed that he and others working to improve the image of the trades in the minds of young people are ignoring one important issue: the impact of illegal immigration on blue collar jobs.

Having moved to the rural South I have spent the past two years renovating our home. This task has put me into contact with numerous plumbers, electricians, carpenters, roofers, and handymen. All of them have been born and raised here, and none of them would recommend the trades to young people interested in making a living because of illegal immigration. I wrote about my early experiences with talking to these men here.

They are especially bitter when it comes to illegal immigration. Mexicans have flooded into North Carolina and driven down wages for skilled and semi-skilled workers. They are constantly underbid by contractors employing illegals at a fraction of the going hourly rate.

These men face the competition of teams of illegals everyday. They are locked out of larger jobs that hire a single contractor employing teams of illegals instead of American citizen subcontractors. When skilled Mexican tradesmen are paid minimum wage (or less), it’s difficult for those who hire sheetrock hangers and carpenters at the going rate ($15-$25/hr in these parts by my estimate) to compete. The success of these illegal teams has led to their usage on ever smaller jobs, the meat and potatoes of general contractors, leaving only the smallest jobs for the local contractors to compete against each other for. These usually have low margins and being small are difficult to make a living doing when traveling and buying supplies is included.

Long time readers will know that although conservative and free market oriented, I am no Ayn Rand disciple. The older I become the more I suspect that, as Neal Stephenson predicted in the cyberpunk classic Snow Crash, globalization has smeared things out into a worldwide layer of “what a Pakistani bricklayer would consider prosperity.” With New Economy industries employing fewer workers than the factory jobs they replace, those with college degrees are finding themselves without job security. Companies are offshoring everything they can, and it is only a matter of time before automation begins to nibble away at the creative jobs previously considered “safe” from either of these forces. It isn’t clear what jobs will replace them.

In a prior incarnation I actively fought offshoring and labor dumping by the government through its policies of lax immigration designed to flood the domestic market with cheap labor. I learned that the government uses technical visas like the H-1b and J-2 to allow skilled foreigners to lower the cost of labor and price out domestic white collar workers. Because these workers are compensated in part by the prospect of working in America – and in the case of the H-1b, with the potential reward of a green card three to seven years after their arrival – they could be paid a lower salary than equivalently skilled American workers. In effect the H-1b visa holders are subsidized by the American government: they receive a salary plus a visa that doesn’t cost the government anything but which they accept in lieu of cash. Their employers get cheaper labor that boosts their bottom-lines and grants them the flexibility of underbidding firms that only employ citizens or green card holders. This forces competing firms to either hire foreign labor or go out of business.

The case is the same with blue collar workers. Illegal immigrants come to the United States accept lower wages because they are receiving a government subsidy in the form of future citizenship. The likelihood of being found out or deported by the federal government is miniscule, especially at a time when the federal government is actively fighting efforts to tighten border controls and demands to increase arrests and deportations of illegal citizens. Again, this subsidy doesn’t cost the government anything, yet it provides a reward that is almost as good as cash to illegals who are paid under the table.

But there is a cost to this meddling by the federal government in the labor market: higher unemployment and the social costs that attend it such as increased criminality, alcohol and drug abuse, and the breakdown of the family. But these social costs don’t appear in the statistics – just as the illegal immigrants don’t either – and are ignored whenever talk turns to economics.

If white collar jobs are threatened by offshoring, the trades are threatened by illegal immigration and all jobs are threatened by automation, is the American worker and the economic system that is based on him or her doomed? Some believe that the changes over the next several decades could spell the end of work as we know it, as something that is viewed with dread and a sense of fatalistic duty changed into a system whereby each person pursues creative talents that will be in demand and that require imagination and perspective that computers and perhaps even foreigners won’t know how to do. One wag characterized it as everyone planning everyone else’s weddings – an updated and more positive prediction that we would all someday be slinging hamburgers to one another after manufacturing’s demise.

I’m not so sure. Perhaps such a future beckons, but in the meantime I would prefer that the government stop meddling in the labor market by increasing the porosity of America’s borders with the world. Sealing the border with Mexico would be a good place to start. A free market pool of labor is supposed to be a compromise between two competing forces: employers and employees. Labor dumping through lax immigration and “open border” policies undermine that compromise, allowing employers to dictate what they are willing to pay for a given skillset while being protected from a tight labor market by government policy. Employees have no redress other than to change jobs or if they are old enough, retire. If the government stopped interfering in the market to favor one side over the other, the domestic labor market would begin to function as a free market instead of an overly regulated, skewed one. If plumbers are in demand, their salaries will rise and people will start considering them (as Glenn Reynolds, Virginia Postrel and others suggest). Similarly, if java programmers are in demand, their salaries should rise to the point where colleges and IT bootcamps pump out java programmers to fill the demand. In both cases supply of workers would eventually overshoot demand (because companies by their very nature strive to become more efficient), and these salaries would stabilize and eventually decline.

Until that happens, white collar and blue collar workers, skilled and unskilled, educated and trained will have to always look over their shoulders afraid of the boss’s unexpected call for a personal meeting at the end of the day on Friday. Whether the boss’s collar is clean or dirty won’t matter as long as the government continues kicking up waves in the labor pool.

Update: The Financial Time reports on the difficulties employers have with finding skilled employees. This is a myth that is trotted out whenever employers want skilled workers but don’t want to pay what those skills demand. It also reflects laziness on the part of the employer. For example it begins quoting Drew Greenblatt from Marlin Steel Wire Products complaining about the inability to find three sheet metal setup operators for $80k in salary and overtime.

The article doesn’t say what the going rate is for sheet metal setup operators in the area. While $80k may sound like a reasonable salary to most people, Mr. Greenblatt obviously needs to pay more to fill the position. Either he is underpaying or the job is so esoteric and rare that no one does it so he will have to train someone. If the latter, why doesn’t he approach a sheet metal setup operator working for his competition and offer them a higher salary than they are making? That’s the way the free market is supposed to work.

The article offers support to this conclusion:

Without in-house training programmes, companies have often been left looking for staff with specific skills. “A generation ago, employers would hire and train employees. Now, they demand trained workers,” says Peter Cappelli, a professor of management at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton business school.

“The skills gap is largely a figment of companies’ imagination,” says Mr Cappelli. “They cannot find workers to do the very specific tasks they want done. That is different from not being able to find capable workers.”

The Council Has Spoken: December 9, 2011

Congratulations to this week’s winners.

Council: Joshuapundit–-Heart Of Darkness; Obama’s Campaign To Make Israel A Scapegoat And Fool America’s Jews

Noncouncil: AnDrew McCarthy- Fears And Smears

Full voting here.

Even Paranoids Have Enemies

Some of the responses I have seen to Operation Fast and Furious attempt to portray those who support the right to bear arms as being paranoid about the government’s sending guns to the Mexican drug cartels. CBS News has documents proving that the ATF used the secret government program to justify ATF demands for laws covering multiple gun sales.

This is the rough equivalent of burglarizing houses in a neighborhood to boost burglar alarm system sales.

We aren’t being paranoid. The federal government sent arms to the drug cartels to undermine a right explicitly set in the Constitution.

Somebody needs to be fired – and then jailed. This is the United States not Russia.

UPDATE: John Hinderaker from Powerline weighs in with the ultimate question to President Obama:

(W)hy in the world did the Obama administration not just allow AK-47s and other weapons to be shipped across the border to Mexican drug gangs, but encourage and even finance such transactions, over the objections of jittery gun shop owners and its own veteran agents? If the Obama administration wasn’t trying to set up an argument for more gun control, then what was it trying to do? That question has never been answered.

As I have said before, as a kid I watched the Watergate hearings after school instead of cartoons. Later in college I watched the Iran-Contra hearings instead of getting drunk with my friends. Now I’m watching the Fast and Furious hearings and without a doubt, Fast and Furious stands out as the worst scandal of the three. Why? Because no one died from Watergate.

The Civics Lesson

For the past few weeks the Kid has been taking driver’s education at his high school, and with the inevitable and required birth date past, I was machine gunned with demands. “Did you find my birth certificate? Do you have my social security number? When can you take me to the DMV?” One by one I found the required documents – all except one, the Kid’s social security card. In the envelope containing his birth certificate was an application for one written in the Wife’s hand and dated May 7, 1998. The Kid was less than 2 years old at that time, and the need for a social security card wasn’t pressing enough to actually send in the form requesting one. So it sat around the house and then was carted to our new one after we moved, completely useless except as a reminder of a simpler time when the Kid was still mastering walking instead of driving 70 mph on the local interstate.

I warned my son. “I don’t have the card, so there may be trouble at the DMV.” As an American adult there are certain things one knows that a teenager doesn’t, and one of those things is the inflexibility of government bureaucracies. He didn’t seem concerned, so we picked up his transcripts at his school and he signed the pledge to maintain his grades and to not use drugs or alcohol. With an assortment of other documents in hand including federal tax returns showing his social security number, we drove over to the DMV.

I had never been to this particular DMV office, but it was like nearly every one I’ve ever been in. Signage was everywhere with block-like figures neo-Socialist genderless figures, all of it bilingual and none of it helpful. Several other people sat in chairs in one room, and a receptionist window had a sign-in sheet but no names on it. Nonetheless it made sense to me to put my son’s name on the list, and we sat down in some tired plastic chairs under flickering fluorescent lights. “I hope I don’t fail the test,” he said nervously. I assured him that it took me several times to pass the test, and that there was no shame in failing it. He would take it again. I also warned him that the lack of the social security card could be a problem, but he seemed more worried about the test so I let it slide.

Eventually his name was called and we entered another room with three DMV employees sitting behind desks. My son sat in the single chair opposite the DMV employee, a matronly looking heavy set woman in her late 50’s. “Here for a permit?” She said brusquely. My son answered yes. He passed her the documentation. “Where’s his social security card?” She said, looking at me. “He doesn’t have one, but I have the number,” I said, smiling.

The woman sighed like a truck tire hit with a pick axe and said, “That’s the first document on the list.” I nodded and still smiling said, “But we have the number.”

I’ve dealt with bureuacracies my entire adult life. I knew this was going to happen, but I had to go through the motions so that the Kid saw that his father was at least trying to get him what he wanted.

“Sir, I can’t do anything without the card,” she said in a monotone, “You’ll have to go to the Social Security Administration to get a slip of paper that says a card has been applied for. Bring that slip to this office and we can then call and confirm that the Social Security card has been requested.”

“You can’t do anything until we get that slip of paper?” I asked.

“No.” A civil servant’s favorite word.

“Thank you for your time,” I said to her sweetly as my son stood and we left the DMV.

“What a rude woman,” he said as we walked to the car.

I’ve never understood exactly what it is about civil service jobs that makes workers so surly. They are paid decently and have better benefits than anything I’ve ever received working in the private sector. Yet they are some of the rudest, and most unhappy people you’ll ever meet in daily life.

The nearest Social Security Administration office was about 1/2 an hour away. It was just past 3:15, and having nothing else to do on a Friday afternoon I decided to get the Kid’s card so that we could get him his permit the following week. Thirty minutes later we had found the office. We walked to the door and pulled on the handle – but it was locked. I looked at piece of paper taped to the door. “As of August 11, 2011, our office hours are Mon-Fri 9am to 3:30pm.” We had driven roughly 30 miles out of our way to a federal government agency’s office that had closed 15 minutes before.

“This is why I hate government,” I said to my son as we walked back to the car. He to take it in stride. I think he had been worried about the test, so avoiding the immediacy of that came as a relief to him, but I wanted to go “Scott Walker” all over these bureaucrats’ asses.

In the private sector that I have worked since I was in high school, I have developed a positive attitude that has improved with time as I realized that people would rather work with or be helped by a sunny personality than a surly one. It’s a lesson that my mother, one of the world’s best saleswomen, tried to teach me when I was young but the lesson didn’t make it through my thick skull until I was middle aged.

The woman that “served” us at the DMV stood no chance of making it outside of that office. She had probably worked there her entire adult life and never been exposed to the demand for a positive attitude at one’s job created by the fear of being shown the door. In fact in her position she probably had never been exposed to free market pressures at all. Just in the past 10 years I have had to constantly learn new skills just to avoid the unemployment line; during that same time I doubt she’s even changed desks.

During our long ride home my son and I talked about this. “Maybe she’s trapped,” he said at one point. I glanced over at him. “She’s bored with her job but she can’t change. Maybe that’s why she’s rude to everyone.”

He was right. It was easy for me to demonize government bureaucrats like the DMV lady and the Social Security Administration office that closed at 3:30 in the afternoon. But the problem wasn’t that they were overpaid: it was they were trapped like flies in amber in jobs that paid them too well to abandon yet offered nothing but monotony. Whereas I dealt with constant change in my field in the private sector, there was nothing like it in the public sector. Promotions were based on retirements, not merit, so everyone just sat around and waited. While they didn’t have to worry about where their next paycheck came from, they knew that they would be doing a decade from now exactly what they did today. The thought had an almost Twilight Zone-ish vibe to it.

The question is how do we change this situation? It’s not enough to institute budget cuts; as the public sector is highly unionized only the youngest or those with the least seniority will lose their jobs. The problem is the culture. How do we change the culture of public service to better match that of the private sector?

Imagining a public sector where private sector rules applied would revolutionize the entire edifice – from the DMV all the way up to the judiciary and Congress. Services would be cheaper, the taxpayers would save heaps of cash, and the DMV would be a more pleasant experience than it is today. The benefits would also extend to the workers who would be given more mobility and exposure to new ideas and new jobs in exchange for the loss of a lifetime employment contract that is looking more illusory given the perilous state of our government finances.

Public sector workers like the woman at the DMV would fight such change to her last breath. Perhaps it’s too late for people like her ruined by a lifetime of tedium, but there are solutions for younger workers. Maybe these changes will have been done by the time my son visits the DMV with his son to get him his driver’s permit.

The Council Has Spoken: December 2, 2011

Congratulations to this week’s winners.

Council: Joshuapundit–-Rats in the Kitchen: A Parable

Noncouncil: The Passing Parade- OWS IT GOING, AND IT SHOULD GO FASTER

Full voting here.