Sunday, July 27, 2008


“The average price of unleaded gasoline in San Diego County this week is $4.36. That’s eleven cents less than a week ago but a dollar and thirty cents more than this time last year.”

This mantra has become so familiar that many media hairdos can recite it in their sleep. What’s amusing about this formulaic sound bite is how little “news” it contains. No price in the country is so publicly advertised or so regularly observed by so many individuals.

The example is useful, however, to illustrate the typical depth of analysis offered by television and radio—and sometimes by newspapers. The preferred media storyline is simplistic, with a hero and a villain. The villain-victim format is also immensely popular.

So it is with the mortgage meltdown story where “predatory” lenders take advantage of innocent consumers who are struggling to achieve the dream of home ownership. The heroes are politicians with bailout funds.

The actual dynamics (as economist Thomas Sowell, among others, has recently shown) are more complex. The inconvenient truth for do-gooders is the extent to which the foreclosures that clutter several North County neighborhoods are actually a function of government helpfulness.

The most direct example of this “helpfulness” is the Community Reinvestment Act, a piece of federal legislation that makes sure banks and other lenders aren’t using “arbitrary and outdated criteria that effectively disqualify many urban or low-income minority applicants.” Included among these “arbitrary and outdated criteria” are an individual’s income, net worth, and credit history.

Lax underwriting standards were bound to proliferate when lenders like Countrywide received government kudos for loaning cash to folks who wouldn’t be candidates for home ownership absent regulatory pressure and the “helpful” efforts of community action groups like ACORN. It’s more than ironic that this particular “predatory” lender found itself going belly-up for offering loans that couldn’t all be fobbed off on other financial institutions.

The two government-created institutions for buying up most of these dubious loans, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, served as financial backstops until the political goal of extending home ownership to every American brought even these huge, amphibious institutions to the brink of insolvency.

Sowell notes that state and local governments also contributed to the mortgage fiasco by putting ever-greater restrictions on home construction—a practice that helped send home prices in California skyrocketing. Those higher prices demanded more “creative” financing, and creative financing was further stimulated by the Federal Reserve’s artificially low interest rates. When rates were finally adjusted upward and home prices peaked, the limits of “helpfulness” became apparent.

Put succinctly, government promoted and guaranteed bad loans, discouraged due diligence, and helped drive up home prices. Now those same governments are called upon to make everything better. Never mind that Sacramento and Washington are awash in red ink and that San Diego’s pension woes persist. The quick-and-easy solution to our problems is always more government control—making sure financial markets work as well as our public schools.

Imagine what gas prices would be if the DMV were in charge.

Friday, July 18, 2008

MAKERS AND TAKERS by Peter Schweizer

Makers and Takers: Why Conservatives Work Harder, Feel Happier, Have Closer Families, Take Fewer Drugs, Give More Generously, Value Honesty More, Are Less Materialistic and Envious, Whine Less . . . and Even Hug Their Children More Than Liberals by Peter Schweizer. Doubleday, 2008. (258 pages, $24.95, Hardcover)

“I think that when statesmen forsake their own private conscience for the sake of their political duties, they lead their country, by a short route, to chaos.” So said Robert Bolt’s Sir Thomas More in A Man For All Seasons.

The opposite side of that moral coin is explored by Peter Schweizer in his book, Makers and Takers—namely, the personal consequences of a moral compass that points unswervingly to the political left. Schweizer’s answer is given in his extended subtitle—a list of declarations that clearly suggest the royal road to happiness isn’t paved with fervent commitment to government health care.

In this short, generously spaced work Schweizer debunks the popular notion that liberals are better people than supposedly tight-fisted, hard-hearted, mentally unstable conservatives. After providing a gut-wrenching sample of popular elite opinion—from tendentious “studies” that classify Stalin as a conservative to the vacuous blatherings of Bill Maher—Schweizer proceeds to demolish those opinions with peer-reviewed sociological data that show liberals are generally more selfish, more focused on money, less hardworking, less emotionally satisfied, less honest, and even less knowledgeable about politics than their conservative counterparts.

In addition to anecdotal evidence (like Bill Clinton’s 957-page monument to self obsession) Schweizer cites his favorite source, the “highly regarded General Social Survey,” to show that self-described strong conservatives are much more likely than their liberal counterparts (55-20%) to say they get happiness by putting another person’s happiness ahead of their own. Similar results were obtained in response to queries about caring for a seriously ill spouse or parent. Another study found that students who called themselves “very liberal” or “radical” tended to have a “narcissistic pathology” that exhibited itself in “grandiosity, envy…and a sense of entitlement.” Not surprisingly, these students were not only the most power-oriented but also the most pot-oriented.

This professed gap between liberals and conservatives when it comes to self-centeredness also carries over into practice. While liberals tout their generosity and berate conservative greed, the hard facts (and IRS data) tell another story. That Al Gore gave just $353 to charity in 1998, out of an adjusted gross income of $197,729, appears to be a common occurrence among the former V-P’s ideological associates. The 1040s of leftists like Robert Reich, Andrew Cuomo, Ted Kennedy, and even Franklin Roosevelt tell a similar tale. Indeed, as Schweizer notes, Al Gore looks “downright benevolent” when compared to John Kerry, who gave none of his 126,179 taxable dollars to charity in 1995.

Schweizer’s General Social Survey shows that this anecdotal evidence corresponds with the tendency of conservatives to donate more money than liberals and to volunteer more time to charitable causes. Even after eliminating church activities, conservatives still volunteered for charitable work more frequently than liberals (27-19 %). Professor Brooks, author of Who Really Cares?, calculates the annual giving gap between religious conservatives and liberals at $2,210 to $642. This disparity suggests the accuracy of Merryle Rukeyser’s witty definition of a liberal as someone who’s liberal with other people’s money.

Since liberals squeeze their greenbacks so tightly, it follows that they also value money more highly than conservatives when it comes to job satisfaction, a conclusion born out by Schweizer’s statistics (36-24%). Consistent with their entitlement mentality, liberals also put twice as much value on leisure time than conservatives and considerably more value on a low-stress work environment (56-36%). It clearly takes a government-run Wunder-Village to produce these labor conditions—high pay, leisure time, no pressure. Add to these job priorities the fact that conservatives value hard work more than liberals, and it’s easy to see why Schweizer tells employers to “think long and hard” before hiring someone wearing a Che Guevara T-shirt.

Unrealistic workplace expectations doubtless foster another unpleasant characteristic that pervades the left—envy. This trait is perfectly illustrated by an anecdote Schweizer provides about a student who traded his $15-an-hour pizza job for one paying only $6.25-an-hour. The reason for this counterproductive economic decision was envy over the fact that the enterprising student who started the business was making $50-an-hour. Such reasoning coincides with the thought-patterns of that Russian who, given only one wish by a genie, wished that his neighbor’s barn should burn down.

It should come as no surprise that liberals don’t score as well as conservatives on honesty, since leftists frequently subscribe to a “higher” morality that covers a multitude of stained blue dresses. As radical organizer Saul Alinsky put the matter, “Ethical standards must be elastic to stretch with the times.” Such flexibility is certainly helpful when it come to rationalizing the biographical liberties taken by poet Quincy Troupe, Professor Edward Said, and Yale Professor Paul de Man—to say nothing of the dialogical liberties taken by Robert Reich in his recent “memoir.” Not surprisingly, this ethical flexibility only extends in one political direction.

On another statistical front, Schweizer provides data that show Michael Douglas’ angry character in Falling Down should have been a liberal with a UN-WORLD license plate. It turns out that “very liberal” folks are three times more likely to “let fly” than corresponding conservatives. That lamp-shattering stat corresponds with another from the General Social Survey that shows extreme liberals six times more likely than extreme conservatives to have reported a mental health problem (30-5%). Schweizer notes that the left’s emphasis on victimization contributes to this psychic distress—as does the idea that individual initiative counts for nothing against a “lottery of life” rigged by and for conservatives. Beyond those political factors, the left’s sympathy for philosophers like Jean-Paul Sartre also contributes to the frustration of folks who find an absurd universe mentally taxing.

Probably the most distressing assertion in Schweizer’s book, for liberals, is the claim that conservatives generally know more about politics. Indeed, the gap between the political knowledge of strong Republicans and strong Democrats, based on the calculations of George Mason law professor Ilya Somin, equals several years of formal education. “Independent” and “weak” Republicans also scored higher on Somin’s scale than their ideological counterparts. So much for Thomas Frank’s assumption that folks in Kansas are too dumb to know what’s good for them.

Perhaps the most unexpected findings in Schweizer’s statistical and anecdotal compendium were those related to the paranormal: that liberals are more likely to believe in ghosts than conservatives (Gallup, 42-25), that they are more likely to believe in communication with spirits (CBS, 43-29) and that they are significantly more likely to say UFOs have visited the earth. Actually, those ratios shouldn’t come as a surprise—given Hillary’s chats with Eleanor Roosevelt and Dennis Kucinich’s stated views on extraterrestrials. [Note to aliens: Dennis is ready for beaming.] Schweizer explains this data by noting that many liberals, absent a belief in God, have gravitated toward superstition, thus confirming G. K. Chesterton’s assertion that those who don’t believe in God will believe in anything.

In sum, Schweizer has created a compact sociological tour de force that is destined to meet the same fate among the MSM as Dr. Brooks’ book on giving—malign neglect. I suspect that those few leftists who deign to acknowledge its existence will focus on methodological flaws that are bound to exist in any large collection of social science data. But then, what else would one expect from a group of thin-skinned, stingy, ill-informed, and mentally unstable journalists?

Sunday, July 13, 2008


What’s the big deal? Live and let live. It doesn’t affect anyone else. What really matters is the price of gas. Such are the “arguments” put forward by individuals who favor changing society’s most fundamental institution—or think the matter of no consequence.

No amount of fact-based discourse about nature or disease would be sufficient to change the views of folks who think men and women are interchangeable. Nor will essays on child pedagogy or historical precedent influence those who view four mommies from a severed same-sex relationship as equal to a divorced mom and dad, each with new spouses.

What’s harder to deny is the ultimate legal goal involved in a marriage debate of little direct interest to most gays. That goal is to criminalize public opposition to homosexuality and to brand all verbal opposition as hate speech.

It’s not only North County doctors who will find themselves facing an “inseminate or else” alternative vis-à-vis same-sex couples. It’s also photographers like the couple in New Mexico who discovered that freedom of religion in America no longer means freedom of conscience. When this husband and wife team decided against taking photos at a same-sex commitment ceremony, the offended pair appealed to the New Mexico Human Rights Commission, which fined the photographers $6,000 for discrimination.

In San Diego the county clerk recently discovered that he was unable to fully accommodate the consciences of employees who wished not to be part of joining Party A to Party B in a union whose procreative possibilities are, in every case, nil—to sanction unions that make the terms “husband and wife” offensive and inappropriate on common legal documents. A year earlier San Diego firefighters were ordered, against their expressed desire, to participate in a gay pride parade.

The most distressing portent of what awaits California’s children is a custody dispute in Vermont where a gay plaintiff sued for visitation with a child born to her former partner—a woman now living in Virginia. Last March the Vermont Supreme Court ruled that Lisa Miller must share her own daughter with an individual who isn’t related to the child by blood or adoption, who abhors Lisa’s new Christian values, and who wants the child to call her “mommy.”

Because of a “civil union” formalized on a weekend trip to Vermont in December of 2000, a child is being ripped from its mother and placed in the regular company of a near stranger and her new partner—an arrangement sure to become commonplace if the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is gutted under President Obama. (Kids are always sacrificial lambs on the altar of political correctness.)

Already freedom of religion is being reduced to a shell of the Constitution’s guarantee of “free exercise.” In the future (as now in Canada) columns like this will be classified as hate speech and “the closet” once reserved for same-sex liaisons will become a restrictive holding pen for those who still honor a basic moral tenet that’s guided civilization for millennia.

Saturday, July 05, 2008