Thursday, January 29, 2009

Wars Without End

Our question for today, class, is a little complex so listen carefully: With which of the following conflicts are you most acquainted: The war in the Congo? The war in Sudan? The conflict in Somalia? The war in Sri Lanka? You're not really familiar with any of these, you say?

How about the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians? Ah, yes. Now that we've heard a lot about over the years, haven't we? My church denominational office regularly passes resolutions condemning Israel for its treatment of the Palestinians. The media feature it daily and prominently. It's the defining struggle of our times. The most egregious slaughters, one might think, have been spawned by this conflict.

But actually, no. According to an article at Strategy Page the truth is otherwise and the numbers are shocking. Consider these gruesome statistics:

Throughout the last decade over five million people have died in the Congo from the effects of war in the eastern part of that country.

Sudan has produced over 300,000 dead, millions of refugees, and a thriving slave trade.

Somalia has suffered 16,000 dead in the last two years and more than twice that in the last twenty years. The media, however, seem fascinated only with the pirates in the north who kill hardly anyone, except some of the thousands of the refugees they try to smuggle into Yemen when they aren't trying to kidnap passing merchant ships and fishing boats.

Perhaps the distinction of hosting the most ignored war in the world goes to the island nation of Sri Lanka where civil strife has killed over 80,000 in the last 25 years (and about 10,000 in the last year alone). India suffers over 2,000 dead a year from terrorists (mostly tribal and communist). Neighboring Pakistan has suffered 14,000 dead from Islamic terrorism in the past six years, and Afghanistan has lost that number in the last three years.

Let those numbers sink in for a moment. Now reflect upon this: In the last decade there have been about 7000 deaths in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. This is about one one thousandth the toll in the Congo alone. Yet it is this conflict which captures almost the entirety of media attention. In fact, President Obama has named a peace envoy, George Mitchell, to the Middle East, but no such envoy is packing his bags for Africa.

Given the horrific casualty toll in the rest of the world, and the relatively minor toll in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, why is it that the West - its churches, its media, its universities, and its governments are all so fixated on what's happening in Israel? Why does the West so assiduously ferret out every Israeli injustice, real and imagined, that can be trumpeted from the front pages of our newspapers and evening newscasts? Where are the demonstrations in our city streets and university campuses demanding a cessation to the wars and tyrannies besetting the longsuffering African and Sri Lankan people? Why does the West get so exercised about Israel, but can scarcely be bothered with horrific news from the Congo or Zimbabwe? Why do Palestinian Arabs matter more to people in the West than do black Sudanese and Congolese? Why do we hold Israelis to a far higher standard of behavior than we expect of black Africans, Arabs, and Muslims?

Just asking.


John Galt

A friend passes along what I take to be a fictional memo from an employer to his employees which reads as if it were written by John Galt. Galt, you may recall, was a mysterious character in Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged who, worn out by a government that made it impossible for men to achieve their dreams, led a revolt of the nation's producers who collectively chose to just stop working rather than be exploited any longer by a parasitic government:

To my Valued Employees:

There have been some rumblings around the office about the future of this company, and more specifically, your job. As you know, the economy has changed for the worse and presents many challenges. However, the good news is this: The economy doesn't pose a threat to your job. What does threaten your job however, is the changing political landscape in this country.

However, let me tell you some little tidbits of fact which might help you decide what is in your best interests.

First, while it is easy to spew rhetoric that pits employers against employees, you have to understand that for every business owner there is a back story. This back story is often neglected and overshadowed by what you see and hear. Sure, you see me park my Mercedes outside. You've seen my big home at last year's Christmas party. I'm sure all these flashy symbols of luxury conjure up some idealized thoughts about my life.

However, what you don't see is the back story.

I started this company 28 years ago. At that time, I lived in a 300 square foot studio apartment for 3 years. My entire living apartment was converted into an office so I could put forth 100% effort into building a company, which by the way, would eventually employ you.

My diet consisted of Ramen Pride noodles because every dollar I spent went back into this company. I drove a rusty Toyota Corolla with a defective transmission. I didn't have time to date. I usually stayed home on weekends while my friends went out drinking and partying. In fact, I was married to my business -- hard work, discipline, and sacrifice.

Meanwhile, my friends got jobs. They worked 40 hours a week and made a modest $50K a year and spent every dime they earned. They drove flashy cars, lived in expensive homes, and wore fancy designer clothes. Instead of hitting the Nordstrom's for the latest hot fashion item, I was trolling through the discount store extracting any clothing item that didn't look like it was birthed in the 70's. My friends refinanced their mortgages and lived a life of luxury. I, however, did not. I put my time, my money, and my life into a business with a vision that eventually, some day, I, too, will be able to afford these luxuries my friends seemed to have.

So, while you physically arrive at the office at 9am, mentally check in at about noon, and then leave at 5pm, I don't. There is no "off" button for me. When you leave the office you are done, and you have a weekend all to yourself. I, unfortunately, do not have that freedom. I eat and breathe this company every minute of the day. There is no rest. There is no weekend. There is no happy hour. Every day this business is attached to my hip like a 1 year-old special-needs child. You, of course, only see the fruits of that labor - the nice house, the Mercedes, the vacations... you never realize the back story and the sacrifices I've made.

Now the economy is falling apart and I, the guy that made all the right decisions and saved his money, have to bail-out all the people who didn't. The people that overspent their paychecks suddenly feel entitled to the same luxuries that I earned and sacrificed a decade of my life for.

Yes, business ownership has its benefits, but the price I've paid is steep and not without wounds.

Unfortunately, the cost of running this business and employing you is starting to eclipse the threshold of marginal benefit, and let me tell you why:

I am being taxed to death and the government thinks I don't pay enough. I have state taxes, federal taxes, property taxes, sales and use taxes, payroll taxes, workers compensation taxes, unemployment taxes, taxes on taxes. I have to hire a tax man to manage all these taxes and then I have to pay more taxes for employing him. Government mandates and regulations, and all the accounting that goes with them, now occupy most of my time. On Oct 15th, I wrote a check to the U.S. Treasury for $288,000 for quarterly taxes. You know what my "stimulus" check was? Zero. Nada. Zilch.

The question I have is this: Who is stimulating the economy? Me, the guy who has provided 14 people good paying jobs and serves over 2,200,000 people per year with a flourishing business? Or, the single mother sitting at home pregnant with her fourth child waiting for her next welfare check? Obviously, government feels the latter is the economic stimulus of this country.

The fact is, if I deducted (Read: Stole) 50% of your paycheck you'd quit and you wouldn't work here. I mean, why should you? That's nuts. Who wants to get rewarded for only 50% of their hard work? Well, I agree, which is why your job is in jeopardy.

Here's what many of you don't understand ... to stimulate the economy you need to stimulate what runs the economy. Had suddenly government mandated that I didn't need to pay taxes, instead of depositing that $288,000 into the Washington black-hole, I would have spent it, hired more employees, and generated substantial economic growth. My employees would have enjoyed the wealth of that tax cut in the form of promotions and better salaries. But you can forget it now.

When you have a comatose man on the verge of death, you don't defibrillate his thumb thinking that will bring him back to life, do you? You defibrillate his heart. Business is at the heart of America and always has been. To restart it, you must stimulate it, not kill it. Suddenly, the power brokers in Washington believe the poor of America are the essential drivers of the American economic engine. Nothing could be further from the truth.

So where am I going with all this? It's quite simple.

If any new taxes are levied on me, or my company, my reaction will be swift and simple. I will fire you. I will fire your co-workers. You can then plead with the government to pay for your mortgage, your SUV, and your child's future. Frankly, it won't be my problem anymore.

Then, I will close this company down, move to another country, and retire. You see, I'm done. I'm done with a country that penalizes the productive and gives to the unproductive. My motivation to work and to provide jobs will be destroyed, and with it, will be my citizenship.

So, if you lose your job, it won't be at the hands of the economy; it will be at the hands of a political hurricane that swept through this country, steam-rolled the constitution, and changed its landscape forever. If that happens, you can find me sitting on a beach, retired, and with no employees to worry about....

Your boss

A nation that punishes its producers and transfers their wealth to subsidize those who, for whatever reason, do not produce is a nation which will eventually and inevitably look a lot like Bulgaria in the 1950s. Somebody ought to forward this "memo" to President Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.


Four Fears

Fred Barnes writes in The Weekly Standard that there are four fears people have about President Obama which, though they might not be justified, are not unreasonable:

Barack Obama is the apostle of hope. But he also arouses the flipside of hope--fear. And while the fear he stirs may turn out to be unfounded, it's not irrational. People don't know who Obama really is or where his ideological center of gravity rests, to the extent it rests anywhere. He was a liberal in the Senate and the campaign, a centrist in the transition, and who knows what he'll be as president. He's elusive.

I count four separate fears. Whether he's a crypto-Marxist is not one of them. Neither is the absurd fear that he's secretly a Muslim, even a closet jihadist. Nor is the groundless claim Obama was actually born outside the United States and isn't really an American citizen. Forget all those. They're nonstarters.

Barnes goes on to discuss the fear that Obama doesn't know what he's talking about, is too much of a pushover, will be too much like Jimmy Carter on foreign policy, and lacks the resolve necessary to make unpopular decisions. Read the article to understand Barnes' reasoning for each of these. It's pretty good.