Politics, et Cetera
A publication from The Political Forum, LLC
Tuesday, January 26, 2016
They Said It:
A curse shall light upon the limbs of men;
Domestic fury and fierce civil strife
Shall cumber all the parts of Italy;
Blood and destruction shall be so in use
And dreadful objects so familiar
That mothers shall but smile when they behold
Their infants quarter’d with the hands of war;
All pity choked with custom of fell deeds:
And Caesar’s spirit, ranging for revenge,
With Ate by his side come hot from hell,
Shall in these confines with a monarch’s voice
Cry ‘Havoc,’ and let slip the dogs of war;
That this foul deed shall smell above the earth
With carrion men, groaning for burial.
William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act III, Scene 1.
FLINT, MICHIGAN AND THE DOGS OF WAR.
On November 5, 2009, an army psychologist, Major Nidal Hasan, shot and killed 13 people at Ft. Hood, just outside of Killeen, Texas. Hasan, who survived, despite being shot and paralyzed from the waist down, was and is a Muslim. In the weeks and months before the shooting, Hasan had made several of his colleagues uneasy. He had made a bizarre and incendiary presentation on Islam to fellow military officers. He had, over a lengthy period, been in contact with Anwar Al-Alwaki, the American and Yemeni “cleric” who was a top recruiter for al Qaeda and was assassinated by drone attack in 2011. One of Hasan’s military associates had openly questioned the Major’s “loyalty” to the United States. In 2014, Hasan sent a letter to the leader of ISIS, requesting to be made a “citizen” of the Islamic State. “It would be an honor for any believer,” Hasan wrote, “to be an obedient citizen soldier to a people and its leader who don’t compromise the religion of All-Mighty Allah to get along with the disbelievers.”
Despite all of this, the Department of Defense labeled Hasan’s attack – and his murder of 13 people – an incident of “workplace violence.”
Last month, Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik, attacked Farook’s coworkers at the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health training seminar and holiday party. Using guns and homemade explosive devices, the couple – who also happened to Muslim – killed 14 and wounded some 20-plus others. Farook was known to friends and co-workers as “devout” and unyielding in his religious beliefs and had visited Saudi Arabia several times. Malik, for her part, was Pakistani, but lived in Saudi Arabia, and was known to friends and social media acquaintances as a radical who longed to carry out “jihad” against the American infidels.
In response, President Barack Obama criticized the American “gun culture” and, again, denied the influence of Islamism on the attackers. “We don’t yet know what the motives of the shooters are, he said, “but what we do know is that there are steps we can take to make Americans safer.”
We mention these two incidents today not because they comprise a comprehensive list of domestic terror attacks since 9/11, nor because we wish to make a point about Islamic radicalization and the threat it poses to the public. Rather, we bring them up for an entirely different reason. You see, both are high-profile examples of the type of political disinformation campaign in which certain segments of the political Left will engage to deny reality, particularly as it relates to war. Both of these attacks were, without question, part and parcel of the so-called “war on terror,” or, to be more exact, of Islam’s war of terror against the West. But the Left opposes war and opposes the war on terror in particular. And so some on the Left – in both of these cases, the Obama administration – will do everything in their power to deny both the war and its consequences. No war to see here, in short, just a little workplace nuttiness.
This is a point we would like you to keep in mind over the next several days, weeks, and months, as the saga of Flint, Michigan is told and re-told by politicians and the media. What happened in Flint was ghastly, horrific, and tragic. But none of that is especially surprising, given that there’s a war being fought there, and casualties are inevitable in war.
Let us explain.
On the off chance you haven’t heard, the drinking water in Flint, Michigan is, essentially, poisoned. It contains high levels of lead and other contaminants and has been making the people of the city sick for several months. The state of Michigan and the federal government have both declared a state of emergency. Here, CNN explains what happened:
Flint, Michigan, lies about 70 miles from the shores of the largest group of fresh water bodies in the world: the Great Lakes. Yet its residents can’t get clean water from their taps.
Nearly two years ago, the state decided to save money by switching Flint’s water supply from Lake Huron (which they were paying the city of Detroit for), to the Flint River, a notorious tributary that runs through town known to locals for its filth. . .
The switch was made during a financial state of emergency for the ever-struggling industrial town. It was supposed to be temporary while a new state-run supply line to Lake Huron was ready for connection. The project was estimated to take about two years.
Soon after the switch, the water started to look, smell and taste funny. Residents said it often looked dirty. “The water would come in brown and my daughter was like ‘Mom . . . why is the water brown?’” Kelso thought it was sewage, but it was actually iron. The Flint River is highly corrosive: 19 times more so than the Lake Huron supply, according to researchers from Virginia Tech.
According to a class-action lawsuit, the state Department of Environmental Quality wasn’t treating the Flint River water with an anti-corrosive agent, in violation of federal law. Therefore, the water was eroding the iron water mains, turning water brown.
But what residents couldn’t see was far worse. About half of the service lines to homes in Flint are made of lead and because the water wasn’t properly treated, lead began leaching into the water supply, in addition to the iron.
This had been the status quo for nearly two years, and until September, city and state officials told worried residents that everything was fine.
As we said, this is ghastly and tragic. And as is always the case in situations such as this, there are a great many people who played a role in allowing things to become ghastly and tragic. City officials made some boneheaded decisions. State officials, apparently, knew that the water was contaminated but sat on the information for almost a year. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the EPA both screwed up water tests that might have revealed the problems with the water earlier. And the list goes on.
The fact of the matter is that there are many people to blame for Flint’s poisoned water and that it represents a “failure of government” above all else. But that hasn’t stopped the usual suspects from blaming Republicans, conservatism, and libertarianism above all else. Countless wags have cited “austerity” as the culprit. Bernie Sanders and Matt Damon, two left-wing celebrities, called on Michigan’s Republican Governor, Rick Snyder, to resign. Hillary Clinton, the infamous Chinese and Russian spy, declared that the nation should be outraged, and, moreover, that it would be, if the kids who were poisoned were rich and white. Republicans and republicanism did it, they all declare, and they should pay! Charles Blow, the New York Times’ New York Timesiest columnist put it this way:
The Rev. Jesse Jackson said Sunday of the situation that the city should have tape around it “because Flint is a crime scene.” Celebrities, including P. Diddy and Magic Johnson, have expressed their outrage, and some, like Cher and Meek Mill, have pledged large donations of water to the city.
The Flint native Michael Moore, in an online petition, demanded that President Obama visit the city when he went to Michigan on Wednesday, writing:
“This week, you are coming to Michigan to attend the Detroit Auto Show. We implore you to come to Flint, less than an hour’s drive north of Detroit. Do not ignore this tragedy taking place every day. This may be Gov. Snyder’s Katrina, but it will become your Bush-Flying-Over-New Orleans Moment if you come to Michigan and then just fly away.”. . .
Moore tweeted a response Tuesday that might well capture the outrage many feel about this story:
“On Sat, I called Flint ‘Governor Snyder’s Katrina.’ Today he said he accepts that comparison. Except Bush didn’t cause the hurricane. #Jail”
This is all well and good, we suppose. And certainly since Republicans were running the state government at the time, some Republicans may well have contributed to the problem. In fact, it may even be the case that Republican officials should, indeed, resign and or be prosecuted. We have no idea (but nor, for that matter, does Michael Moore).
In the end, though, the question of who did what to hide, fudge or destroy this, that, or the other thing is a secondary matter. The problem in Flint was not conservatism or libertarianism or republicanism. The problem was war. But as we noted above, the Left doesn’t much care to talk about war and it will blame anyone and anything for the fruits of the war.
Farfetched? Well, check this out from the November, 2013 issue of Bridge magazine, a publication of The Center for Michigan. To wit:
In cities, villages and townships across Michigan, the same battle is brewing with municipal retirees insisting that their former employers hold to guaranteed pensions and generous health-care benefits, and taxpayers saying they shouldn’t have to pay higher taxes to keep unaffordable promises that their elected leaders made in the past.
Therein is the dilemma, said Douglas Roberts, a former state treasurer and now director of Michigan State University’s Institute for Public Policy and Social Research. If Michigan’s municipalities are to survive, they must reduce their legacy costs, and soon, he said.
“It’s much easier to say, ‘Let’s pay for it in the future,’” Roberts said. “Someday somebody’s going to have to pay it. Yes, it could be the taxpayers. It could be the recipients. Somebody’s going to have to pick up the cost.”
In 2011, more than 300 Michigan cities, townships and villages faced nearly $13 billion in unfunded retiree health-care costs, and another $3 billion in pension liabilities, according to a study this year co-authored by Eric Scorsone, a Michigan State University economics professor. It’s a bill that is increasingly leaving these local governments, which represent roughly two-thirds of Michigan residents, unable to deliver basic services, such as police and fire protection. In most of these towns and cities, officials agreed to provide these so-called legacy benefits years or even decades ago, but failed to set aside enough money to keep those promises. . .
In Michigan communities of all sizes, administrators and elected officials are facing the same question: Should they put aside more money to fund the mounting, often unpredictable cost of retiree health care and pensions, or should they spend it to maintain public safety and repair a few more streets?
“That’s a question we ask ourselves every year,” said Frankenmuth City Manager Charlie Graham. “Should we pave this street over here that needs to be paved, or should we put more money into this retirement system? Our residents want to have their streets paved.”
According to the MSU study, every resident of Frankenmuth, a city of slightly under 5,000, would have to pay $572 to fully fund the city’s pension and retiree health-care plans. Frankenmuth’s larger neighbor, Flint, faced even more severe budget problems in 2011, including unfunded legacy costs of $1.1 billion, Scorsone found – or $10,857 for every city resident.
If Flint were to pay the more than $74 million a year Scorsone estimated it should to fully fund its legacy costs, it would have nothing left for basic city services. It could not afford one tank of gas for a police cruiser, nor one dime of payroll for a single employee. To fully pay its legacy costs, Flint would need to increase its property taxes by 56.8 mills, which would come to $2,840 more each year for the owner of a home worth $100,000. Only then would the city and its residents actually be paying – rather than delaying – the full cost for city promises rendered long ago.
As of 2011, that included more than $862 million in unfunded health insurance for city retirees. . . .
Flint’s population of slightly more than 100,000 is half what it was in the 1960s, when city officials agreed to union demands for better pensions and retiree health care. Walling suggested that it is unfair to expect current residents to pay for benefits that were promised before half the population moved out. . . .
The city’s current budget of $55 million is half what it was a decade ago. In recent years, the city cut its workforce from 1,200 employees to about 500 today. In retrospect, those cuts may have contributed to the city’s huge unfunded legacy costs, since fewer active employees are paying into the pension fund. Accountants call the city’s retirement system “super mature,” because it has only 500 active employees and 2,000 retirees.
We will happily concede that various actors at various levels of government screwed up this whole thing. But then, we’re not sure what that has to do with the source of the problem. We thought liberals were supposed to be all about addressing “root causes.” And yet, it is clear that the root cause here is the Flint municipality’s attempt to save money specifically to fund outrageous and outrageously generous pensions negotiated – i.e. extorted – decades ago. Flint was broke. It needed to save money to pay its pensioners. And it did so. The Flint City Council, its Democratic emergency manager, and the state’s Democratic Treasurer Andy Dillon all agreed to the plan to save the city money by changing how and from where it gets its drinking water. Root cause identified. What’s to know?
As you may have figured out, the “war” in question here and which the Left is trying desperately to avoid discussing is the “war for resources” that we identified almost six years ago as one of the 21st century’s defining issues for government at all levels. Governments – federal, state, and local – simply do not have the resources to make good on all of the promises they’ve made. This is especially true of state and local governments, who, unlike the feds, don’t have access to the printing presses. These governments will have to make choices. Hard choices. And those choices will have consequences. Or as we put in May, 2010:
Like nearly all wars throughout history, this one will be about resources and their scarcity. As the resources run out, competition for them will increase. And as competition increases, hostilities will commence. Truth be told, they’ve already begun.
The proximate cause of this war – or wars, really – will be the inability of government to sustain itself in its current bloated condition. The fact of the matter is that government at all levels in this country has grown too large too fast and will simply be unable to maintain its massive girth. At current levels of taxation, there simply are not enough resources available to maintain the bloat that plagues the federal and especially the state and local governments. Something is going to have to give.
As for what will “give,” there are handful of possibilities. It is possible that the electorate will give (and give . . . and give) in the form of substantially higher taxes. If this is the case, then the war will rage primarily between the public sector and the private sector, between the bloated Leviathan and the productive economy. Taxpayers will rebel. Governments will fall. Businesses will move. Jobs will be lost. . . .
[T]he combatants will primarily be government bureaucracies, fighting each other and fighting elected officials for the spoils – though it should be mentioned that there will be a great many innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire as well. Regarding this, we would do well to remember that Government exists to serve the community that established it, and when government suffers, as it most certainly will throughout this war, the community will suffer with it.
Well, guess what? A bunch of innocent bystanders in Flint, Michigan have just been caught in the crossfire. And guess what else? No one is going to do anything to make sure that other bystanders aren’t similarly endangered.
This, we’re afraid, will be one of the overriding themes of the next couple of decades in American politics – or at least until the entire financial mess collapses, bringing the entire system down with it. The people who are most upset about what happened in Flint – from Bernie Sanders to Hillary Clinton; from Michael Moore to Jesse “Gimme a Little Piece of that Action” Jackson – are devotees of the political Left. What that means is that they will never, ever (ever!) discuss the real cause of the tragedy, namely the outrageous cost of government, particularly with respect to public pensions. Indeed, they will swear, with all their bleeding hearts and blackened souls, that these problems created by government can be fixed by more government. And more people will be hurt.
Now, as we said, we have no desire to protect any Republicans in Michigan from the consequences of their mis- or malfeasance. If they messed up, they should pay the price for their actions/inactions. But that won’t fix the problem. Focusing on the people who screwed up AFTER the original decision was made to put public pensioners above citizens is to ignore the root cause. It is to deal with the secondary problem while completely ignoring the primary problem. It is, in short, to deny the existence of the war and to “play politics” with peoples’ lives. But then, that’s what “government” does.
Get used to it. And get ready for other battlefronts to open.
THE CELEBRATED JUMPING FROG OF LOWER SAXONY?
During the first weeks and months of the Obama presidency, and especially after the Tea Party had formed to resist the President’s fiscal policies, we talked a great deal about frogs. Specifically, we discussed our gratitude to Obama for “saving the frog.” In a November, 2009 piece, we put it this way.
Needless to say, neither of us here at The Political Forum voted for Barack Obama last November. And if we had it do over again, we probably still would not. But we say probably because it is beginning to look as though the Obama presidency could turn out to be such an unmitigated disaster for the Democratic Party specifically and for liberalism in general that it will actually save the nation. . . .
[T]hink of America as the proverbial frog sitting in a pan of hot water on a stove, destined to die if the temperature is raised so slowly that he doesn’t realize the danger he is in until it is too late. Think of John McCain raising the temperature ever so slowly until the frog dies. Then think of Barack turning up the heat so quickly that the frog figures it out and jumps to safety. . . .
Barack Obama… may – just may – make the mistake of saving the frog by being too impatient, to petulant, to self-absorbed, and too stupid to refrain from turning up the heat under him so quickly that the he jumps out of the pot.
It is pretty clear, in retrospect, that we were right about this. Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and even Bernie Sanders are pretty solid indicators that the frog got too hot and thus leapt. Obviously, we can’t say yet whether the frog will make it to safety or, even if he does, whether his injuries will be too severe to save him. Nevertheless, the frog did jump. And let’s be honest, that’s just about the best outcome we could have hoped for.
In any case, we’ve been thinking a great deal about frogs of late, wondering, perhaps, if the German Chancellor Angela Merkel hasn’t managed, in spite of herself, to save a European cousin of our old friend. It’s not likely, we’ll grant, but it is possible.
As you may recall, two weeks ago, in our foreign-policy forecast piece, we suggested that Europe’s immigration problems, coupled with its attempted cultural suicide, would cause significant problems over the next several months and years. Specifically, we wrote that the Euro-suicide would “end either with the whimper of the continent’s slow, pathetic death, or with the bang of a fascist counterrevolution inspired and enabled by weakness and fecklessness of the mainstream political parties.” On this front, we think that there is good news, bad news, and worse news.
The good news, we think, is that Frau Merkel’s plans to permit the immigration of millions of Muslim men (who constitute some 75+% of the migrants to Europe) may well spark some real and sustained resistance. As we suggest above, Frau Merkel may well have turned up the heat on the frog too quickly. Between the now well-publicized New Year’s Eve attacks in various cities throughout Europe and several other incidents involving gangs of migrant men over the last couple of weeks, many Europeans appear to have reached the point at which they will stand up and say, “NO MORE!”
London’s Daily Mail began a story on a new round of ignominies the other day reporting that “Migrants have been banned from a historic swimming bath in Germany after a gang of men were caught on camera masturbating in a hot tub and sexually assaulting women. Several other men were seen ‘emptying their bowels’ in the children’s end of the main swimming pool at the Johannisbad baths in Zwickau, Saxony.” Now, as disgusting as the whole thing might sound, we think the key phrase here can be found in the first four words of the story: “migrants have been banned.”
Frau Merkel’s conservative coalition is falling apart, with more and more of her erstwhile allies calling on her to change the nation’s migrant policy and to work with the EU to change its policies as well. The other day, we noted in a tweet (who knew we had a Twitter account?) that even George Soros now agrees that the migrant crisis may mean the end of the EU. And it is worth remembering, we think, that as recently as two month ago, Soros was insisting that the EU “uphold European values” by accepting “at least a million asylum-seekers annually for the foreseeable future.” All of which is to say that even the most tiresome and blinkered European immigration advocates might be starting to realize that the current pace and gender-composition of migration could pose a genuine and immediate threat to European stability, not to mention those vaunted “European values.” That is the good news.
The bad news, of course, is that Europe’s reactionary backlashes have, historically, tended to end with millions of people dead. In the United States, the failure of the mainstream political parties to address the issues that matter most to ordinary people – including, especially, the issue of immigration – has created an opening for non-traditional, populist candidates: Trump, Cruz, and Sanders. In Europe, the same process is at work, only with a noteworthy and potentially unsettling difference.
When the denizens of the American Left accuse people like Trump of being “fascists,” they are not only wrong, but are so wrong as to demonstrate their own ignorance. That’s not necessarily the case in Europe. In Europe, the populist parties that spring up in response to the mainstream parties’ failures often have significant fascist components. They are, for the most part, explicitly anti-immigration parties, which can be both good and bad. The National Front in France is a good example. It is a powerful and important counterbalance to mainstream French politics, particularly with respect to immigration, but it is also problematic, in that its roots are tied to certain Vichy collaborators and its politicians are occasionally overtly prejudiced and discriminatory.
What this tells us then is that in Europe, the failure of the mainstream political parties to handle the migrant crisis could, conceivably, lead to an ugly backlash. This is hardly a certainty, of course, but there is enough contemporary and historical information to warrant concern. The European “right-wing” is almost nothing like the American right-wing. It is both statist and overtly protectionist. And that’s hardly a comforting combination.
The worse news in all of this is that it’s entirely possible that none of this matters anyway. If the Europeans “fight back” against the migrant invasion; if they stage a “fascist counterrevolution,” well. . . then what? The European’s problem here is circular. They have the migrant crisis because they need the immigrants. And they need the immigrants because they don’t have enough babies to replace their current population, much less to maintain their social welfare states. So if they react violently or aggressively against the migrants, then they’re back to where they started, with no kids and no prospects for paying their generous state benefits. Which means that they’ll need some immigrants. . . And on and on it will go.
Last week, the inimitable Mark Steyn reminded his readers that he predicted all of this ten years ago in a piece that appeared in the Wall Street Journal and which became the basis for his book, America Alone. In that piece, penned a decade ago, Steyn put it this way:
Scroll way down to the bottom of the Hot One Hundred top breeders and you’ll eventually find the United States, hovering just at replacement rate with 2.07 births per woman. Ireland is 1.87, New Zealand 1.79, Australia 1.76. But Canada’s fertility rate is down to 1.5, well below replacement rate; Germany and Austria are at 1.3, the brink of the death spiral; Russia and Italy are at 1.2; Spain 1.1, about half replacement rate. That’s to say, Spain’s population is halving every generation. By 2050, Italy’s population will have fallen by 22%, Bulgaria’s by 36%, Estonia’s by 52%. In America, demographic trends suggest that the blue states ought to apply for honorary membership of the EU: In the 2004 election, John Kerry won the 16 with the lowest birthrates; George W. Bush took 25 of the 26 states with the highest. By 2050, there will be 100 million fewer Europeans, 100 million more Americans — and mostly red-state Americans.
As fertility shrivels, societies get older — and Japan and much of Europe are set to get older than any functioning societies have ever been. And we know what comes after old age. These countries are going out of business — unless they can find the will to change their ways. . . .
Europe by the end of this century will be a continent after the neutron bomb: The grand buildings will still be standing, but the people who built them will be gone. We are living through a remarkable period: the self-extinction of the races who, for good or ill, shaped the modern world.
What will Europe be like at the end of this process? Who knows? On the one hand, there’s something to be said for the notion that America will find an Islamified Europe more straightforward to deal with than M. Chirac, Herr Schroeder & Co. On the other hand, given Europe’s track record, getting there could be very bloody. But either way this is the real battlefield. . . .
To avoid collapse, European nations will need to take in immigrants at a rate no stable society has ever attempted.
There are, of course, a great many people – including some on the Right – who think that Steyn is more than a little overwrought in his forecast for Europe. And maybe they’re right and he’s wrong. But then, Steyn’s ten-year-old predictions have held up pretty well.
Obviously, we can’t say for certain when or how Europe’s end will come. We can only say that it will come. And that it will be ugly. And bloody.
The funny thing – if by “funny” you mean horrifically tragic – is that this is the future the European Left wanted. In February 2010, Tom Whitehead, the Home Affairs editor for London’s Telegraph started a piece noting “The release of a previously unseen document [that] suggested that Labour’s migration policy over the past decade had been aimed not just at meeting the country’s economic needs, but also the Government’s ‘social objectives’.” This piece was a follow-up to one Whitehead had published five months earlier, which began as follows:
The huge increases in migrants over the last decade were partly due to a politically motivated attempt by ministers to radically change the country and “rub the Right’s nose in diversity”, according to Andrew Neather, a former adviser to Tony Blair, Jack Straw and David Blunkett.
He said Labour’s relaxation of controls was a deliberate plan to “open up the UK to mass migration” but that ministers were nervous and reluctant to discuss such a move publicly for fear it would alienate its “core working class vote”.
Today, it is generally acknowledged that the European Left more broadly, in its dedication to “diversity” and to “rubbing the Right’s nose in it” accelerated the immigration issue. Unfortunately, they didn’t accelerate it enough to disturb the frog. Thank heavens, then, for Frau Merkel, who got a little too anxious.
The European frog has jumped. We doubt it will land safely or that there is even any place for it to land. But it jumped, and that, at least, is a start.