There Truly is Nothing New Under the Sun

Back when Dear Leader was new in office, his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, famously observed that you should never “let a good crisis go to waste.”  By that he plainly meant – didn’t even try to hide that he meant it, either — that in the confusion, desperation, and panic of a “crisis” (whether real or manufactured, a point he did not bear down on very much, understandably), a government can get people sufficiently buffaloed that they’ll acquiesce in nonsense that they wouldn’t tolerate under any other circumstances.  The truth of his observation has been borne out in Dear Leader’s subsequent achievements, if you can call them that.

First and foremost of course was the Porkulus Act, which doled out not quite $790 billion, mostly to friends and supporters of the new administration and the party to which it belongs.  Some of it may actually have done some good; a client of mine that is a water and wastewater utility provider got a partial grant that it used to sewer no fewer than seven older neighborhoods, at least some of which had near 40% failure rates in their septic systems.  But the vast majority of the money seems to have gone down the drain of sundry union-friendly government make-work projects.

Then came the disaster of “affordable care,” which was rammed down the throats of an unwilling populace, without its provisions even having been read by the legislators who voted for it. 

And of course we’re coming up on completing our fourth consecutive year without a federal budget, with our most recent quarterly GDP growth rate in negative numbers, a credit downgrade (or is it two now? I forget), stagnant unemployment, job growth numbers which aren’t even keeping up with population growth, and trillions of dollars in additional debt.  Dear Leader refuses to discuss any structural changes to how the U.S. spends money, confining himself to demanding ever higher nominal tax rates from “the rich.”

He’s now issuing reams of “executive orders” to undermine the rights guaranteed to citizens by the Second Amendment.  These orders have been issued in response to a genuinely horrible mass shooting in Connecticut, by a mentally deranged man who had just been served with papers to institutionalize him and which were filed by his own mother (whom he murdered to start his spree).  Dear Leader’s proposals are conceded even by his own DOJ as ineffective to make any serious reduction in gun crime incidence, unless they are accompanied by (i) registration, and (ii) coerced buy-back programs. 

Gun buy-backs?  Unless compulsory and “massive,” they are ineffective.  Even Australia’s, which was specifically targeted at semi-automatic weapons and may well have positively affected the incidence of mass shootings (>4 victims per), had “no effect on crime otherwise.” 

Ban on “large capacity magazines” (you know, the magazines that permit you to engage all three of the guys who just broke into your house without having to stop and re-load)?  The issues here are that they’re a durable good, lasting essentially indefinitely, and there are already millions upon millions upon millions of them floating around.  If you exempt existing magazines lawfully owned you’re talking “decades” before you see any impact.

“Ammunition logs”?  These require merchants to log you every time you purchase ammunition.  Of course, the kind and amount of ammunition you purchase is a good clue as to what kinds of weapons you have and how much use you make of them.  As the DOJ memo notes, the criminal statutes which prohibit certain criminals from owning weapons also pertains to ammunition, but while firearms purchases are subject to background checks, ammunition purchases are all but anonymous.  Creating this sort of log requirement, in addition to an enormous burden on merchants, also establishes, as the DOJ notes, an “intelligence tool to find not only ammunition but also the illegally possessed weapons.”  I’m sure, however, that no law enforcement operatives would ever use such logs to troll for enforcement of an unconstitutional ban on certain kinds of firearms.  This would be the same DOJ that ran a clownishly poorly managed illegal gun-running operation into Mexico (and counterpart programs here domestically) the entire point of which was to supply semi-automatic, large-capacity magazine weapons to known criminal enterprises.  And the study cited by the memo, run by the LAPD, would be from the same folks whose officers have just been outed by a whistle-blower (who’s now subjected to intimidation for his troubles) for buying firearms are steep discounts available to policemen, and turning around and re-selling them (illegally) for handsome profits.

Universal background checks?  Oh, that’s right.  That only works in a world without straw purchasers (e.g. the people the DOJ intentionally permitted to buy the guns in Operation Fast and Furious, but we pass lightly over the several hundred corpses that brainstorm produced), and . . . with universal registration (but of course), and a world in which there are no informal transactions (in other words, your buddy you golf with on Sunday mornings asks what you’d take for that Kimber and you sell it to him).  Even so, the memo notes that straw purchases (q.v.) and theft account for by far the largest number of firearms used in crimes.

So let’s go after straw purchasers.  In plain English, they’re the people who have no criminal history but who either buy intending to deliver the gun to someone they know couldn’t legally buy it (like the folks the Eric Holder DOJ intentionally permitted to buy large quantities of weapons and then walk them over the border to turn them over to the drug cartels), or people who buy the gun intending to let the known impermissible use the gun.  For an example of the latter case, see G. Gordon Liddy, who has mentioned several times on the radio that as a convicted felon he cannot legally possess a firearm.  “Mrs. Liddy, however, owns several.”  Here’s the DOJ on Mrs. Liddy:  “Straw purchasers are the primary source of crime guns. Importantly, straw purchasers have no record of a prohibiting offense. As a result, they are quite different from those who actually commit crimes. Consistent with criminological theory, because the person conducting the straw purchase does not have a criminal history forbidding him or her from making legal purchases, this population could potentially be deterred from initiating this illegal activity.” (emphasis mine)  And how do you deter them?  Well, you threaten to make them criminals.  Hey!  This works even better than we thought!  Let’s create several hundred thousand criminals where none existed before.  It’s not as if there are, from a citizen’s standpoint, any concerns about due process when everything is a crime.

“Assault weapon” ban?  Well, before 1994, “assault weapons” (by which is meant “scary looking long arms,” since actual . . . you know . . . assault weapons, of the sort that McArthur’s troops took ashore at Inchon, have been illegal since 1934) accounted for a whacking 2-8% of all gun homicides.  “Since assault weapons are not a major contributor to US gun homicide and the existing stock of guns is large, an assault weapon ban is unlikely to have an impact on gun violence. If coupled with a gun buyback and no exemptions then it could be effective.”

See a pattern here?  I’ll help the slow-witted:  it’s coercion.  You must “sell” your weapon to the government and there will be zero exemptions.  That you haven’t even a speeding ticket?  Too bad.  Don’t sell and hide it instead in your closet?  Well, just try going to your local Wal-Mart, which now has to keep a log of ammunition sales, and buying a box of .223 Remington.  “Gee, Mr. Murgatroyd, hang on while I go check the back shelves,” says the nice sales clerk while he presses the little red button under the counter.

But why am I blogging about guns, and Dear Leader, and Fast and Furious, and all the fiat regulation on the subject that has gushed forth since Newtown, Connecticut exploded?  Why is it relevant today that Dear Leader’s enforcer quipped that one should never “let a good crisis go to waste”?

It’s important because eighty years ago today, a building burned.  It needed to be burned, at least as an aesthetic proposition.  But when a half-baked communist agitator and arsonist (it may be that he was more arsonist than communist, but that’s not important any more) went and burned the Reichstag, on 27 February 1933, the newly-minted Reichskanzler saw his chance, his crisis which he did not let to to waste.  I mean, can you imagine what Dear Leader would do if someone with a Texas driver’s license torched some government warehouse in Washington, DC?  To say nothing of the Capitol?  Here was a “crisis,” tailor-made to a fellow whose party had polled about 33% of the vote the preceding fall, but who needed a bigger slice of legislative support to do what needed to be done.  And sure enough, Hitler didn’t let that crisis go to waste.  He cajoled President Hindenburg into signing a decree that suspended large chunks of civil rights enjoyed by German citizens and otherwise guaranteed to them by their constitution (much like the Second Amendment guarantees the right, without “infringement,” to “keep and bear arms”).  Using that decree he then ruthlessly suppressed the communists between the fire and the (already-scheduled) national elections of March 5, 1933.  That got him up to not quite 45% of the vote.

But more importantly, it got him, when you excluded the communists, a two-thirds majority in both houses of the German parliament, needed to change their constitution (like reading the Second Amendment out of ours).  I mean, it was a crisis, right?  After all, the (Nazi-controlled) press told them it was.  The (Nazi-controlled) police told them it was.  Field Marshall Hindenburg, as close to a saint as anyone has ever been . . . until a sitting President of the United States of America is likened unto God Himself <excuse begged while post author leans over and vomits on office floor>, told them it was.  And so they got, passed on 23 March 1933, with effectiveness from 27 March 1933, the “Gesetz zur Behebung der Not von Volk und Reich,” the Law for the Relief of the Emergency of People and Reich, better known by its colloquial name, the Ermächtigungsgesetz — the Enabling Act (and boy howdy did it ever).  An English translation of it is here.

When you read the sucker, it’s pretty harmless.  For starts, it had a sunset clause built in:  April 1, 1937 (remind me how that worked out, again?).  Of the referenced provisions, Article 85 § 2 and Article 87 related to budgeting and borrowing, respectively.  One is reminded today that we’re coming up on four straight years without a budget, and that TurboTax Tim Geithner’s Treasury has been issuing debt as fast as The Ben Bernanke’s federal reserve can make up the money from thin air to buy it.  Articles 68 through 77 relate to how laws are to be passed.  The law provides that those articles do not apply to laws passed pursuant to the Act.  Can anyone say, “executive orders”?

What does the Act actually do?  It merely permits the Reich government to pass laws.  It doesn’t strip the legislative branch of its own capacity to do so but rather creates an alternative route to legal validity.  The Act provides that laws promulgated by the executive (the “Reichsregierung”) may “depart from the constitution” except to the extent that they impinge on the institutions of the legislative houses “as such.”  Well, isn’t that a comfort?  What we see here is the classic politicians’ behavior of making sure of oneself and bugger the rest of the show.  By the latter phrase I refer explicitly to those provisions of the German constitution — Articles 68 through 77 — which provided numerous avenues to veto enactments of parliament, including specifically through the mechanism of a plebiscite.  Sure wouldn’t want all them smelly ol’ Tea Partiers to interfere, would we?

So what I am trying to say here?  Am I insinuating that Dear Leader is a closet national socialist?  No.  But he is a socialist; in fact he is pretty plainly a marxist, in his understanding of how wealth is created and by whom and under what circumstances, and even more to the point, in how he understands the correct relationship between the individual and the State.  He certainly is more than willing to make up powers for himself — much like that Egyptian feller, Morsi — which attack the very constitutional fundaments of civil society, “departing” from the constitution “for the relief of the emergency” of the people and the country (as if the mass murder by some lunatic in Connecticut somehow creates a crying emergency for me here, well over a thousand miles away).  He pretty openly despises the notion that his Vision of what is right and expedient ought be constrained by anything other than his ability to muster sufficient force to implement it.  His respect for Congress can be easily extrapolated from the rousing 0-98 vote which his last proposed budget received in the Senate, the house of Congress still controlled by his own party.  He doesn’t even have sufficient respect for them to send them something that a single member can vote for and look his constituents in the eye.  To use a perhaps crude metaphor, he treats the legislative branch, a co-equal branch and in fact the pimus inter pares of the Constitution, much as the junior varsity football squad would treat the acknowledged slut of the high school.  And like the lick-spittles they are, they come crawling back for more of the same.

And so today, on the 80th anniversary of the burning of the Reichstag, a “crisis” which was not let go to waste, we appropriately pause to ask ourselves precisely where the tendency of Dear Leader’s actions lies.  How easy or difficult will it be to get the toothpaste of his eight years in office back into the tube?  Having once admitted that a single person can simply make up the laws of the United States as he goes; that he can decree the killing of any person, citizen or no, based upon his decision that this person might be a danger to . . . what?; that he can pledge the full faith and credit of a mighty economy of a third of a billion people, how can we go back?  How can we hold in check another, future president, one even less inclinded to accept limits on his actions than this one? 

As objectionable as Dear Leader’s actions are, and they are, they are even more alarming when placed in the context of the constitutional history of the United States.  Andrew Jackson was roundly excoriated for exercising his veto power not based upon whether a passed piece of legislation was within the constitutional power of Congress to adopt it, but rather based on whether he agreed with it.  He was called, in outrage, “King Andrew.”  From his kingdom we have evolved (or degenerated into) the imperial presidency, in which the chief executive makes war without so much as a by-your-leave to Congress. 

My boys are ten years old and down.  What will be the fruits of Dear Leader’s administration forty years down the line?  Do I dare trust that future president to have the moral integrity which Dear Leader boasts of lacking?

To borrow a line from the late Mr. Justice Holmes:  To ask that question is to answer it.

If the Rot is This Close to the Core

Then what’s left?  As the reader readers of this blog have figured out, I pay attention to many things German.  That’s scarcely accidental.  I spent two years there as an exchange student, both my junior years.  The first was decidedly a mixed bag as far as personal success is measured, the second was a glorious interlude in what has turned into a very mediocre existence.  In any event, I got a good snoot-ful of All Things German and like heavy metal poisoning have never got it out of my system.  Even my closest friends would tell you I can be more than a bit of a crank in that respect.

German culture runs in many channels (like any, I suppose).  Two of those can be labelled Innerlichkeit, or inwardness, and Sachlichkeit, or matter-of-factness.  The finest fruits of the former have given Western civilization some of what can with all fairness be described as its highest high points, in philology, music, philosophy, architecture, and literature.  I once read of Bach’s Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor that it is “as if the eternal harmony were communing with itself.”  Musicologists have dissected it sixteen ways to Sunday but for me it remains a source of never-exhausted wonder.  Those of the latter have blown wide open the boundaries of human knowledge, and given the imprimatur “Made in Germany” an esteem unmatched anywhere in the world.  There are entire branches of science and engineering which simply would not be what they are without that relentless pursuit of understanding, that merciless logic, which the German Sachlichkeit turns on any problem that swims into its ken.

Central to — I would suggest indispensable to — both Innerlichkeit and Sachlichkeit is an insistence on clear thinking, of contemplating the world and oneself without blinders.  A core component of those processes is the willingness to call things by their correct names.

And that is why one must be alarmed by the suggestions emanating from a conference on poverty, recently proposed, to purge certain words and expressions from German discourse.  That’s right, folks:  Political correctness has come to Germany.  Their National Conference on Poverty wants to expunge expressions like alleinerziehend from the language.  That word consists of the roots allein, meaning “alone,” and the present participle of erziehen, meaning “to raise,” as in to raise a child.  It refers to someone who is raising a child by him- or herself.  In that respect it’s actually a better expression than our closest equivalent, “single parent,” because an enormous number of people who find themselves in that predicament are not the parents of the children they’re raising.  But to the German poverty industry the word is objectionable not because it does not perfectly describe what is going on, but because it doesn’t imply anything about inadequate social integration or quality of raising.  One might be forgiven for supposing that a word which mean exactly what it says, neither more nor less, and is perfectly descriptive of that concept, would be permissible.  Apparently not.

“Unemployed” as a term of art likewise won’t pass muster for the poverty mavens.  Arbeitslos, literally “workless,” might be thought a useful expression to capture the not-unimportant data point of those people who have no gainful employment.  You see, gainful employment is an important measure of wealth, in that in order to be gainful, employment must be of a sort which other people are actually willing to compensate you for doing; the being gainful part is how you can tell that engaging in it is actually generating wealth.  It’s the difference, in other words, between a prostitute and an armed robber.  Whatever one may think of the former, she is providing a service to people who, of their own volition, are willing to pay her for her efforts.  The latter, not so much.  The poverty-mongers, however, object because “there are many forms of work that do not secure an income.”  Well.  No shit?  Like being what in older, more honest times, the English used to describe as  a “sturdy beggar.”  No one ever said being a beggar was easy, but is it really helpful to lump the beggar in with the machinist whose plant got moved to a different part of the country but he can’t move with it because of family commitments like aged parents or sickly children?  Both are erwerbslos, the poverty-peddlers’ preferred expression — “without compensation,” or “without compensated labor” — but erwerbslos blurs (and the cynic cannot help but suspect that’s the whole point) that persnickety distinction that the Erwerben of the beggar will never be of use to anyone but himself, while the machinist’s efforts, once applied again, will not only profit himself but his employer and all of his employer’s customers and the people who enjoy the efforts of those customers in turn.  The guy who is trying to get back to making flat-head screwdrivers is simply not in any meaningful sense to be thought of in the same terms, economically speaking, as the guy who’s trying to get between you and your car as you cross the parking lot.

The poor-mouths likewise do not like Behindertentransport.  Here the English speaker get a taste of the German predeliction for compound words, as commented upon by the late Mr. Clemens.  The referenced word comes from two words, Behinderten, meaning “disabled,” and “Transport,” meaning exactly that.  [Aside:  This word also provides a glimpse into German’s twin influences of both Germanic and Latin origins, as well as English’s kinship with German.  The same root word gives us the English hinder and the German behindern, both meaning to place obstacles in the path of someone or something.  And of course transport means precisely the same thing in both languages.]  The issue for the hand-wringers is that in German objects are transportiert (the past participle of the verb), while humans are befördert.  The problem is that in ordinary usage, a Beförderung — a noun form — is usually applied in an alternative sense, meaning a “promotion,” as in a job.  So to speak of Behindertenbeförderung to please the bleeding hearts would sound at best confusing to the ordinary speaker and at worst comical.  The rude might be tempted to ask, “Really?  To what positions are you promoting them?”

It is alarming that Germans would contemplate going down the road we’ve travelled in the English-speaking world.  Habits of thought in fact do become habits of hands, and squishy unwillingness to call things by their correct names leads in a direct line to a squishy unwillingness to grasp problems by the scruff of the neck and then to wring same until overcome.  In today’s world this refusal to engage in clear-minded thought and plainly-confronting action is a luxury that no society can afford.  Fortunately for Germany they don’t have a local franchise of The New York Times, or the Washington Post, or Oprah joyfully to embrace and push this verbal dishonesty into standard usages of language.  Instead, even the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, which is commonly described as center-right, but which I would humbly suggest is at least half a standard deviation to the left of center, pours scorn on the yammerings of the poverty cheerleaders.

But the seal has been broken.  Even if the balance of German society rightly laughs itself silly at this particular effort, the genie is out of its bottle, and it is only a matter of time before this kind of nonsense is taken seriously and — Germany being Germany, after all — engrafted into the fabric of their laws.

Well, Perhaps It’s Not the End of the World, But Still

I have this problem.  Whenever I have time to get my hair cut, I forget that I need a haircut.  And when I remember that I need a haircut, I don’t have time to attend to it.  So I tend to go rather longer between haircuts than appropriate solicitude for my fellow humans’ aesthetic sensibilities would suggest.

But when I do get my haircut, I go to this little joint on Main Street.  It’s in an arcade-style building which is a converted movie theater.  There’s a long breeze-way style central hallway with small (generally less than 300 square feet) offices lining it on either side.  The barber shop has been there at least since we moved to town in 1968, and so far as I know Billy has been there cutting hair since Day One (I could be wrong about that, but after a long enough period, I don’t suppose it matters).  He’s well into his upper 70s now. 

The barber shop has a tile floor, alternating red and what used many years ago to be white tiles.  Two workstation chairs and a bench running along one wall.  The bench’s naugahyde covering is taped together in several places.  There’s a magazine rack along the window, which looks into the breeze-way.  That’s pretty much it.  For many years there was one of the old-style soft drink machines, the kind where you put your money in, opened a door, and reached in to pull out the desired (glass, of course) bottle.  It was an RC Cola machine, as I recall, and my world tottered on its foundations, a bit, when one day I came in and it was gone.  But the sun came up the next day and I learned to live without that tangible reminder of a tiny child’s thrill to be given fifteen cents by mommy and permitted to go up to this great, humming machine towering over one’s head, deposit the shiny coins, and reach in and select one’s own treat from a veritable cornucopia arrayed right there before one’s eyes.

The cash register Billy uses is so ancient it has the old manual typewriter-style keys and a wooden drawer.  But it still works just jim dandy and still makes the ca-ching!! sound that only comes from such a machine.

During election years, Billy will post a couple of pieces of posterboard on a wall, with all the local races and candidates on it.  Customers get to put an X in a box.  Billy once told me that as a predictor of wins and losses it proved pretty accurate, even if the actual margins may not have matched.

I’ve gone there to get my hair cut since moving back here after law skool.   I like going there because at 47 I’m still usually the youngest person present by anywhere from 25 to 40 years.  I shut up a lot while there, and listen to the old guys talk about who’s sick, who’s died, whose wife’s in the hospital, who brought in the biggest acorn squash anyone’s ever seen, what’s the word on the county commission’s latest shenanigans, and so forth.  Can’t say as I agree with every opinion I hear expressed but then that’s not why I’m listening. 

Another thing:  Almost everyone in the room, from the barbers to the other customers to myself, is a veteran.  It’s difficult to explain the sensibility that knowledge awakens.  It’s not like you’re buddies with everybody and his cousin just because you all wore a uniform at some point in your lives.  And as mentioned it sure doesn’t mean you think alike, or respond the same way to the same events.  Nonetheless, there is a basic awareness of having something in common with them that one does not have in common with most of the people with whom one shares one’s existence.

For many years the other barber there cutting hair with Billy was a gent name of Bob, who has now “retarded” and moved away to live closer to his children.  I was concerned when Bob retired for the obvious reason that it must have put similar thoughts in Billy’s head if they weren’t already there.  And then for several weeks Billy vanished.  I found out later that he’d had some pretty serious health issues, including getting badly “down in his back” (as we say around here) and of course for a barber that’s a career-ending injury.  Then one day the shop was open again and there was this younger guy working the second station.  Rather many tattoos on his arms for my taste, but then they’re not my arms.  Turns out he’s a National Guardsman (so sometimes the shop’s business hours have to shift to accommodate his drill schedule).  Gives a pretty decent cut, too.  He’s there for the long haul, he says, and in fact the shop now has a Facebook page (it’s the only page I’ve ever “liked” on Facebook).

And then one day there was Billy, back in harness.  He’s moving a bit slower now, of course, and I understand he’s not there every single day (given my haphazard grooming habits in that respect I wouldn’t know it if he were).  Sometimes when I go I get my cut from Billy and sometimes from the new fellow.  Other than the new barber I’m still the youngest guy present by decades.

This past week when I went in I saw that the price for a haircut, which had remained at $10 for years and years, was suddenly $12.  Twenty percent jump in price.  It’s still by far the cheapest cut around, though, and I’d always wondered how in the world they managed to pay the bills on $10 a head.  So I don’t begrudge them the increase even a tiny bit.  But that twenty percent is a measure of the pressures on the shop and the people who work there.  The younger guy is married and has children; he’s trying to raise a family from that chair and $10 a head just won’t get the job done any more.  To me at least that twenty percent says a great deal more about the state of the economy than all the government spin numbers you can quote to me.  Someone providing as basic and necessary a service as a haircut has to crank his prices up by twenty percent in order to keep his head above water.  What’s going to happen to them when those pressures are increased exponentially by the coming hyperinflation, and their customer base, most of whom live on fixed incomes and/or interest-based assets, sees its life savings go up in smoke in a matter of weeks?  The soccer moms will never take their precious little darlings to some nasty ol’ barber shop.  The young, the employed, will not have the time to come all the way downtown for a cut.  And the barbers will have to keep raising their prices, beyond what their customers can pay.

That’s the result of “quantitative easing.”  That’s the result of “stimulus” spending.  That’s result of the doctrine that no one who has ever drawn a government check should ever not get a government check any more.  Thank you Ben Bernanke.  Thank you Dear Leader.  Thank you all the Congresscritters who voted for the healthcare take-over without bothering to read the bill.  Thank you all the RINOs for meekly going along with the new-spending-is-the-answer-to-everything leitmotiv that has guided American governments since the 1930s.

Now where am I supposed to get my hair cut?

You Mean Incentives Work? Even Perverse Incentives?

Well, fancy that.  If you artificially make something more lucrative relative to alternative behaviors, you get more of it.  And the greater the spread between doing X, which you make more lucrative by government fiat, and Y, your “control” behavior, the more of X you get.  You’d think this is the sort of thing that most folks would figure out by the time they’re in about seventh grade.  Leave it, however, to the government perpetually to discover this dynamic anew, every time it reaches in and monkeys with the market.

The most recent folks on whom the light of ordinary common sense has dawned are the Germans.  Their environmental minister, a boy name of Altmaier, has just figured out that Germany’s so-called “Engergiewende” (hard to render in English, but “energy change-over” is about as good as you can get without sounding goofy) is going to run upwards of one trillion Euros.  Given the predictability with which all governments, everywhere, at all times radically underestimate actual costs of messes they’ve made, the true number is likely to turn out at least double that.  Even on its own terms, that €1 trillion works out to about $1.38 trillion.  That’s a lot of money, folks.

Germany has a national-level renewable energy statute.  Under that statute people who install solar panels on their roofs, and builders of wind turbines, receive cash subsidies from the government, because of course those wonderful renewable energy sources are extortionately expensive, and the statute prescribes the price at which the renewable has to be purchased by the grid so that people will be willing to become producers of renewable energy electricity.  The cost of the subsidy thus fluctuates with the spread between ordinary electricity and the cost of the renewable; the greater the spread the greater the effective subsidy.  But it doesn’t stop there:  Because on windy and extremely sunny days the grid can’t handle all the electricity produced, the producers have to be de-coupled from the grid . . . and they’re paid just as if they were still producing for the grid.  Ca-ching!!  Of course, on calm or cloudy days, and at night every day, there’s not enough juice going into the grid, so the conventional (and remaining nuclear) producers have to maintain their old plants in stand-by to make up the shortfall, or else the population is going to go cold and dark.  Since those plants aren’t needed when the renewables are producing at adequate capacity, however, while they’re just standing there, with steam up and nowhere to put their juice (not only does the grid buy from the greenies at artificially high prices, it buys from them preferentially), they’ve got to be paid as well for not producing (or else the producers will go broke very quickly).  Ca-ching!!  And when excess electricity production pushes its way onto the grids of the Netherlands or Poland (not sure precisely why (it’s not explained in the linked op-ed), but it seems that happens as well, fairly predictably), apparently Germany has to pay for that privilege.  Ca-ching!!  Finally, because of the manner in which the German electrical grid developed over time, just fixing the bottlenecks in the national grid, so that solar- and wind-powered electricity can be moved from its point of generation to its point of use, will alone run to a third of a trillion Euros.  Ca-ching!!

If all of the above bears more than a little resemblance to U.S. agricultural policy, it’s no accident.  They are both efforts to steer, through subsidies, certain people to over-produce specific commodities and at the same time insulate the over-production from the market risk of over-production.  For a humorous (if depressing) short course on how the Soviets won the Cold War after all, see the chapter on farm policy in P. J. O’Rourke’s Parliament of Whores, which over twenty years on retains its relevance.

But it gets better.  Because the German government pays a fixed price for renewable energy and sends the bill to the non-renewable customers, the risk of over-pricing and over-production is placed on the non-subsidized customer.  Householders and investors can, directly in the former case and indirectly in the latter, insulate themselves by suckling at the same tit.  With each additional subsidized producer from whom the grid has to purchase power at artificially high prices relative to non-renewable sources, the greater the incentive for the next customer to become a producer from whom unrealistically expensive power must be bought.  No one, after all, wants to be the last fossil fuel electricity customer in Germany.  And with each additional “green” electricity producer the costs go up and the pool from which those costs have to be paid goes down.  Further, since as the writer points out there are now millions of German households, investors, and industries who are getting fat from the subsidies, the subsidies are rapidly acquiring the status of sacred cows which cannot be slaughtered.

It gets even better, as it always does with government.  As the op-ed points out, the whole subsidization approach of the renewable energy law was predicated upon ever-climbing prices for fossil fuel energy.  Eventually the cost of fossil fuels would catch up with the solar- and wind-generated product and everyone would go on normally.  In doing so they mistook trend for destiny.  As the op-ed points out, not just the U.S. but Poland, Russia, Argentina, and Australia as well have within the past few years discovered massive reserves of oil and natural gas.  As and when those are developed, the price effects will destroy for decades if not generations the model the German law is based on. 

At least competition from cheap new reserves of fossil fuels is something the governments of the world can control.  They can simply decree that those newly-discovered reserves are off-limits.  Wouldn’t it be fascinating to find out who’s funding the anti-fracking lobby here and elsewhere?  Anyone want to bet that, George Soros-like, they’re players with deep commitments in the “green energy” industry?  We already know the Saudis are bankrolling the Canadian effort to strangle the oil sands development.  Dear Leader’s standing athwart the Keystone XL pipeline benefits, among others, the rail transporters of oil from the Bakken field, which would be connected with and its product moved by a completed Keystone XL pipeline, thereby eliminating all those gorgeous miles of tank cars.  [Aside:  Dear Leader and his cronies moan about the potential contamination from a potential leak, as if there were never in recorded history an incident of a bunch of tank cars derailing and rupturing.]  Perhaps not coincidentally one of those rail transporters counts among its larger stakeholders a gentleman named Warren Buffett.  Gentle Reader may remember him; he’s the chap who keeps plumping for higher taxes . . . at the same time his holding company is fighting a $1 billion tax bill from Uncle Sugar.

Who could have seen it coming?  I mean, other than a seventh-grader of ordinary intelligence?

O! the Humanity!!

This is why I enjoy reading articles appearing in that a friend of mine links to, in support of his visceral revulsion against all things capitalistic.  They’re so clownishly badly reasoned and poorly supported.

This one is outraged that an operator of warehouses, very large spaces (a sizeable number of which have roofs that measure in acres) in which it’s easy to . . . ummmm . . . lose oneself, wants to know where its employees are, what they’re doing, and how long it takes them to do it.  This, so Alternet’s Tana Ganeva, makes work “more like a prison.”  Ummm . . . Tana, in prisons the folks who “work” there aren’t at liberty to remove their orange jumpers, leg irons, or whatever, tell the warden to go pound sand, and march out the door.  That lack of liberty is a prison’s defining trait, Tana.  Even the closest America has ever got to debt peonage, the Appalachian coal company town, was never a prison.  People left all the time.  In droves.  In Eastern Kentucky the Three Rs were readin’, writin’, and Route 25 North.  I’m just going to assume that the inmates of Tesco’s (the arm-band brandishing Stalag commandant cited) are not locked in, and that if they truly, genuinely, to the soles of their being felt the degradation of these arm bands as deeply as Ganeva describes, they are perfectly able to drag up and go find a job for some other company that can’t afford arm band technology . . . and that likely can’t afford all manner of other perks of working for Tesco’s.  Like having a career path.  Or being able to move clear across the country without having to change your employer.  Or having multiple different job fields available all within the same employer.  Or (granted, Tesco’s is British, and so the distinction isn’t as great there) health benefits, or a 401(k) with actual, honest-to-God employer matching contributions. 

If they really wanted to go work for some small company where the owner knows everyone’s name, everyone’s spouse’s name, and most of their children’s as well, they could go do that.  There are numerous advantages of doing so.  There really are, some of which have a price tag and some of which are literally priceless.  Of course, when you work for a company like that you’ll never rise above a certain point, because you’re not family.  Even more perilously, your job’s existence — in fact, the company’s existence — is exposed to all manner of circumstances which have nothing to do with the underlying health of the company.  Like the owner’s getting divorced.  Or acquiring a drug habit.  Or developing severe health problems.  Or dying and leaving a bunch of children who haven’t agreed on anything since it was time to figure out who had to take a bath first.  If the owner decides he’s just lost interest in the company, you’re toast.  If the owner’s other business ventures tank and he’s forced into bankruptcy, guess what?  Your job is now part of his bankruptcy estate.  Big companies do go under too (Westinghouse, anyone?  PanAm?), but they do so for reasons that everyone can see coming.  Westinghouse didn’t go down because some guy and his soon-to-be ex-wife couldn’t agree on who was going to get the condo in Vail.  So you can hitch your horse to that wagon and hope the horse doesn’t cast a shoe and the driver (who will never be you) doesn’t run a wheel off . . . or you can suck it up and deal with the impersonality of working for a Tesco’s.

Now, Alternet’s a proudly left-wing site, and the articles I’ve seen posted there are of similar strain, mostly.  So what I do find mildly ironic is that the horror of Tesco’s and the other unnamed employers’ productivity monitoring is that it enables the employer to assign to the individual workers (rather than the entire facility) a “productivity score,” which fluctuates by, among other things, how quickly they accomplish their job tasks.  A Tesco’s employee describes how if they do a particular task in X minutes they receive a 100% score; if they do it twice as fast they receive a 200% score; but, if they took a break their score would plummet.  They might even be called on the carpet by “management” if their scores are too low.  I wouldn’t expect an Alternet contributor to be all that mindful of history, but the guy who really put the bite into employee productivity monitoring was not Henry Ford or Frederick Taylor [Aside: Taylor, who was admitted to Harvard but didn’t attend, became a shop-floor machinist after a lengthy apprenticeship.  I know it tarnishes Ganeva’s oppression meme to think that Taylor was just some suit who knew bugger all about the view from the other end of the scope, but there it is.].  No, the gentleman who — and in an actual, not metaphoric, prison setting, no less — hit upon the magic formula for increasing piecework rates was a worthy named Naftaly Frenkel.  There’s a picture of him in The GuLAG Archipelago, and Solzhenitsyn devotes an entire chapter to the workings of the differentiated ration.  If you made your “norm,” set by someone known in the camps as the “norm setter” and who was generally a trusty — for which read a career criminal, stool pigeon, or party functionary serving out a cushy term, but who in no event knew a damned thing about whatever industrial activity you were engaged in — you got a full ration.  If you didn’t, well, you got a smaller ration, which since the full ration didn’t contain the caloric content needed to sustain even ordinary levels of human physical activity that meant that you rapidly became unable to attain even that insufficient level of output, which meant that your ration got cut again.  And so forth until you became a “goner,” picking through the camp garbage looking for anything at all you still had the strength to chew and swallow.  It can’t be an accident that most of the camp survivor’s memoirs out there (or at least the ones I’ve come across; one of the few exceptions is Shalamov, at whose survival Solzhenitsyn marvels) all were written by people who for large portions of their “tenner” or their “quarter” managed to avoid “general labor,” which was where the differentiated ration system devised by Frenkel had its deadliest impact.

Not directly articulated in Ganeva’s argument, but easily discernible from the sinister presentation of technologies which make it impossible for co-workers to “cover for each other, by letting them punch in for tardy co-workers” (oh come on, Ms. Ganeva; why don’t you call things by their correct names, viz. “defraud the employer”?), is outrage that these technologies enable the employer to track the actions of specific employees.  It is one thing for management to realize that for whatever reason this one facility, or this one shift, just can’t quite seem to get the work turned around as well as its peers.  You can’t fire an entire shift, can you, without shutting down your facility.  About the only thing you can do is stand on the shift supervisor’s neck and fire him if you see no aggregate-level improvement.  But so long as the individual workers can “cover for each other” then ultimately the insistence of the employer on Doing The Job Better will be stymied.  But lo! if you can point to specific employees and document that it’s the same four guys who take 15 minutes to drive a pallet of cardboard waste to the compactor across a distance of 300 feet, or who spend seven minutes of every hour (that seven minutes is over 10% of the time you’re paying them for, by the way, which means that by paying 60 minutes’ wages for 53 minutes’ work your labor costs just went up by 13.2%) in this one corner of the facility for no apparent reason, which just happens not to be easily observable from any location where you’re likely to find a manager, or it’s the same three women who seem to need to go take a leak every 35 minutes . . . well, it’s pretty easy to figure out where the weak links are.  The dead-beats and the free riders cannot hide behind their more hard-working fellows, any more.

And that’s really the nub of Ganeva’s objection, when you get down to it.  The issue is the employer’s ability to insist on getting what it is paying for, and the inability to hide one’s own lack of efforts, or inefficient efforts, behind the diligence of others.  This is entirely in keeping with leftism’s approach to life in general.  You must cover for me.  If I make bad life choices you must bear the cost of them for me.  If I choose to develop a skill for which no one in particular has much use (like getting a degree in the various grievance studies), you must pay me as if I were actually useful to you.  For lefties it’s all about the collective, and these monitoring technologies are the antithesis of that frame of mind.

There’s a throwaway paragraph at the close of the article on how application of the same management practices to things like hospitals and the nurses (and increasingly, doctors as well) has a negative impact on the quality of service.  In point of fact she is entirely correct on this score.  On the other hand, if she thinks that it’s private employers only who transgress in this respect and that if only you could remove the capitalistic profit motive from the equation then all will be aright, she needs to pay attention to some other news coming from Britain, specifically its vaunted single-payer NHS.  Seems that quality of care isn’t terribly safe in governmental hands either, and for very similar reasons.

Utterly absent from Ganeva’s take on things is any examination of why employers might be interested in such things as these technologies allow them to monitor.  Let’s forget about piffling things like the liability limitation aspect of it (female employee accuses male co-worker of improprieties, and a quick check of the records indicates that the only time they were within fifty feet of each other the entire day in question there were six other people standing in their immediate vicinity and none of them claims to have seen or heard a thing).  Warehouses are very complex operations.  They’re not just your pantry writ enormous.  Juggling what comes in and where, the locations it’s stored, its storage location relative to the other things stored near it, the times it needs to be moved, and from what location to what other location, the times it leaves the warehouse, and at what times and in what order, are all matters of critical importance to supplying thousands of different items in exactly the right numbers, at the right times, and to the right places, when you’re trying to keep dozens if not hundreds of places across an entire country supplied at once.  Yes you can to some degree automate the process, but at some point you’re going to have to rely on your employees to get it right.  Knowing where they are, how long they take to get from Point A to Point B, where they have to stop in between points, and how long it takes them to accomplish whatever task is at hand is not a trivial issue.

Or let’s look at the call center employees cited by Ganeva.  They’re given a certain number of seconds between calls to process specific paperwork.  Seems pretty damned dictatorial, doesn’t it?  But against whom is this call center competing, and what are its competitors’ costs per call handled?  I’ll give you a hint:  If you run a call center in, say, Norman, Oklahoma your competitors are not in Hartford, Connecticut.  Oh, they may be in the same business as you, but your competitors are in Jalalabad, or Peshawar, or Singapore, or Costa Rica, or in fact pretty much anywhere at all these days.  Your only hopes for staying in business against them are (i) offering a level of service which they can’t match (such as having native English speakers available to talk to some 70 year-old woman in Rock Hill, South Carolina whose grandchildren just got her a smart phone with Skype installed so that she can talk to them while they’re forward-deployed to Iraq), and (ii) a fanatic attention paid to every last fraction of a second of every day, 24 hours a day, for which you’re paying people to service those calls.  That’s just reality, Ms. Ganeva, and unless you want to return to the days of Smoot-Hawley [I would encourage you, Ms. Ganeva, to read some of the histories about how that statute played out across the world, with particular attention paid to what it did to the economies of Central Europe, and specifically to the economy of Germany, in the period prior to January 30, 1933.  How many workers and peasants died in the fall-out from that?] there is nothing you can do to wish it away.  You cannot remove the pressures under which employers operate.  You just can’t, and you never will be able to.

Are these sorts of monitoring efforts pleasant to live under?  No.  Do they produce workplace stress?  Hell yes, they do.  But you know what produces even more stress?  Not being able to find a job at all and losing your home.  Is it pleasant for the employees’ children to have a parent who comes home emotionally drained from the knowledge that Big Boss has been peering with cyber-eyes over the shoulder for eight hours straight?  Absolutely not.  But what destroys children’s souls even more are the terrors of uncertainty.  Are mommy and daddy going to be able to pay this month’s rent?  Will we have to move again this year?  Will Johnny finally get to finish a school year in the same place he started it?  Those sorts of things are the fruits of economic instability.  What creates economic stability, to the extent it can be created at all, is the ability to control as much as possible of the universe within which the employer does business.  It can’t control its market, however, even though it may be able to influence it.  So it must necessarily focus its efforts on controlling what it can, to the extent it can. 

I’ll observe, by the way, that a good part of why companies at the present are sitting on in cases piles of cash is precisely uncertainty.  They don’t know what Dodd-Frank will do to their industries; they don’t know exactly how extortionately the “Affordable Care Act” is going to increase their cost of labor.  They don’t know which will be the next industry chosen for demonization by a one-trick-pony administration whose single trick is class-based demagoguery.  They don’t know who will be the next prominent company to be singled out by one of the most corrupt Justice Departments in memory to be litigated into oblivion for having failed to cooperate with the regime (multi-billion dollar suits against S&P, anyone, for having expressed an opinion five and six years ago?).  This administration is shot through with Maoists (one Dear Leader’s closest aides even allowed that her most admired hero was Mao), and so it’s not inappropriate to see in Eric Holder’s DOJ an application to lawfare of the Chinese maxim, “Kill the chicken; make the monkey watch.”

I’m done with Tana Ganeva.  Hers is the sort of thinking that will stand on the weather deck in a hurricane and piss and moan about the officer of the deck’s driving getting all this salt water on her skirts.  My inclination to that sort of complaining is to heave to, put her ass in a row boat, and see how she weathers the storm now.

Lions and Lambs; or, My How Times Have Changed

Wow. I mean, just wow. It’s not exactly the lamb lying down with the lion, but still . . . .

Everyone knows that the Nazis set out to eliminate the Jews from Europe, and that at the Wannsee Conference they decided, in great formality, that the “final solution to the Jewish problem in Europe” entailed the industrialized slaughter of them all. What sometimes gets a bit lost in that pile of 6,000,000 corpses is the fact that the Jews were not the only minority ethnic group which the Germans decided to rid Europe of along the way. Foremost among those were what English-speakers know as “Gypsies,” and which the Europeans commonly know by their two principal sub-groups: the Roma and the Sinti. 

Even more so than the Jews, the Gypsies were perennially the outsiders wherever they lived. They eschewed fixed abodes, moving forever back and forth, as opportunity or oppression pulled or pushed them. With no places of regular employment, no established trades, no towns, no shtetls, no ghettos, no financial relationships to wherever they happened to be encamped, they had limited contact with the societies among whom they moved. In truth they weren’t always the best of neighbors, earning a reputation for having more than a little difficulty with the intricacies of meum and tuum. They were spread over most of Europe (James Herriot describes in one of his books treating a horse for a family of Gypsies in north Yorkshire in the 1930s) but the Roma were principally concentrated in the southeast, in Bulgaria and Romania, with the Sinti concentrated in the central areas, mostly Germany and Austria. 

According to Wikipedia, anywhere up to 1,500,000 Gypsies were killed off during the war, frequently being shot on sight by the Einsatzgruppen. Their exact status took some determining; it wasn’t until later on that the Nazis decided that they too needed to be slaughtered; Eichmann plumped for resolving the Gypsy “problem” contemporaneously with (and in identical fashion to) the Jewish “problem.” Eventually the determination was made that the Gypsies were of so different a sort of human that they were dispensable. Were it not so grim and so real, and were it not for the fact that these deliberations in fact resulted in the murders of thousands upon thousands of real live people, one could almost chuckle at the notion of some pettifogging German bureaucrat screwing up his brow and laboring mightily to decide just what sort of being a Gypsy was. The mental image has something of the farcical element of Monty Python to it . . . except for the fact that it wasn’t farce at all, but rather in deadly earnest. 

Again, according to Wikipedia, there now live several million Gypsies of the various groups, concentrated mostly in their traditional host countries. They remain largely outsiders there, forever among the poorest, with the highest rates of all manner of social pathologies, and exciting the same antipathies they always have. Of course, the communist tyrannies of that part of Europe did their level best to destroy the traditional Gypsy nomadic life (it’s much harder to bugger around someone who’s perfectly fine packing up and living out of a horse-drawn wagon), herding them into concrete warrens of housing projects. They also subjected their populations to coerced sterilizations. With the fall of communism the money to provide/enforce a sedentary lifestyle for a people for whom a sedentary life is utterly foreign to their culture went away, but of course their traditional forms of existence had long since been disrupted, first by the war and its slaughters and then by 45 years of communist tyranny. And being outsiders they have found themselves once more convenient scapegoats in societies the fabric of which was itself rent and frayed, almost beyond recovery. 

As something of an aside, Americans – in fact Westerners in general – don’t seem to realize just how fragile, how frangible, their civil existence actually is. The ability to have a house full of relatively nice stuff, out in full view through windows over which no bars are installed, and through which any reasonably enterprising burglar could smash a brick, climb in, and annihilate in a matter of an hour or two the accumulated tangible wealth of decades of toil, but not having to entertain an expectation that such will happen if vigilance is relaxed for a moment, is a precious gift. We forget what so easily happens when the bonds of family, culture, and religion are forcibly sundered by organized violence.  So we don’t always understand well what happened in Eastern Europe from 1914 through 1990, and how the aftershocks of those awful decades continue to crumble, undermine, and sweep away human dignity. 

Now, what’s left of the societies where the Roma have lived for centuries are slowly collapsing into poverty and chaos. What is there left for the Roma in those places? The worse things get there, the more likely becomes renewed repression. They’re not ethnically kin to their host societies and needn’t expect any successful degree of assimilation. The degree of prosperity and security – modest as it was, and however precarious in comparison to Western Europe – that enabled them to support their traditional existence is dead nearly these 70 years. 

But there remains one place in Europe where there is relative prosperity, where there is relative stability, where there is money to be had, in some cases for the asking: Germany. And so, as the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reports, thousands upon thousands of Roma (and other desperately poor from that area of Europe) are coming to the land that within living memory sent the Einsatzgruppen their way. The Germans are begging the source countries please to do more to integrate them into their own societies so they won’t keep coming and draining the coffers. That’s cute, really: We want you to assimilate these people we don’t want to assimilate. The Germans are even willing to use EU funds to promote the integration of the Roma into their “home” populations (have to love the notion that they think it’s so important that they’re willing to spend someone else’s money to do the trick). 

But you have to savor the irony of a people flooding to the country that made a good start at slaughtering them.  Who would have thought it, in May, 1945?

And There You Have it, in One Line

Ever since John McCain started running for president, well over twelve years ago (and to be up-front, I voted for McCain in the 2000 primary; I resented Geo. W. Bush’s coronation by party insiders as The Nominee), the knock on him has been that he is at bottom part of the systemic problem and not part of the solution.  By that I mean that he’s seen as someone who’s willing to abandon a position in order to be seen as Doing Something, even when that Something will foreseeably have catastrophic consequences over the long term.  He’s someone for whom the expression “gridlock” is the most damning accusation that can hurled within the universe of Congress.  He’s someone for whom “moving forward” is a cardinal virtue, even when “moving forward” turns out to be, and can be seen to be, “moving forward downstream towards the cataract.”  He’s seen as someone who craves praise as being “bi-partisan” in spirit, praise doled out by an information industry that is more or less openly a cheerleading section for the left wing of the opposite party.

Many years ago, my mother, a good Midwestern German girl, observed to me that after a point you have the reputation you earn.  Just as stereotypes do not arise in a vacuum, unless a person is a recluse or pathologically withdrawn, there is going to be a core of truth at the center of his reputation.  For a public person, particularly a person who’s been public at high levels and for decades, the assumption of underlying reality not being all that far away from reputation is about as ironclad reliable as anything is likely to be.

That McCain has managed to earn the reputation he has for that sort of behavior at the same time that he has also earned a reputation as one of the more cantankerous senators around strikes one at first blush as incongruous.  At least it does until one remembers his background.  He’s the first eldest son for three generations in his family not to have risen to fleet-level command.  His grandfather, John S. “Slew” McCain, was one of our more renowned carrier admirals, so highly regarded that, having died almost exactly at the moment of victory in 1945, he was promoted to a full, four-star admiral posthumously.  His father wore four stars as commander of the Pacific Fleet while John III languished in a Hanoi prison for years on end, enduring tortures which leave his body shattered to this day.  [Aside:  I still feel like puking when I contemplate that America chose, over McCain, a fellow whose political mentor was and remains an unrepentant domestic terrorist, one who met with the people who were smashing McCain’s teeth out, wrenching his shoulders out of the sockets, and beating him senseless.  This mentor is, by the way, one of the very few associates from his past whom Dear Leader has pointedly never disavowed.  And we elected that piece of dripping scum, twice now.]  But you see the navy cultivates bad tempers like certain other sub-cultures do fashion statements such as zoot suits, bling, or the emaciated Kate Moss look.  A daughter of Fleet Admiral King once allowed that her father, a man whom FDR described as “shaving with a blow torch,” was the most even-tempered man in the navy, “always in a rage.”

Over the years I’ve come to understand that the most critical attribute in a leader, public or private, is character.  It trumps all.  It’s more indispensable than intelligence, than “experience,” than competence, than connections.  With a fundamentally sound character all other deficiencies can be supplied; with a fundamentally corrupt nature — such as enjoyed by Dear Leader and his cronies — no other attributes will serve any purpose other than furthering that essential corruption.  It is the same thought which Churchill alluded to in his peroration to his speech upon the French defeat in 1940.  “But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new dark age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.'”  What makes the doings of Dear Leader and his cronies so utterly repulsive is that in their relentless efforts to destroy the position and power of the United States, in their tender solicitude for every group of bloodthirsty tyrants bent on imposing the brutality of the Religion of Peace across the face of the globe, they are perverting the natural gifts which a generous God gave them to use for man’s betterment.  Undoubted abilities which might with great, astounding, even, success be harnessed to the cause of human liberty are instead made the servants of corruption, oppression, tyranny, violence, and the negation of the moral agency which alone separates man from the beasts of the forest.

I have the highest respect for John McCain’s fundamental character.  He endured, without flinching, without selling out, a degree of physical and mental suffering that must — blessedly, by the way — remain incomprehensible to those of us who never experienced it.  To read Adm. Stockdale’s book or Alexander Dolgun’s is to see that there will forever remain a gulf between the survivors of such horrors — such as McCain — and the rest of us.  What must we look like to him?  What shadows in our moral make-up are immediately apparent to someone who looks across that gulf at us, yet remain hidden from those of us across whom those shadows fall?  What beams in our eyes does he see as we carp and bitch about the mote in his?

And yet.

On “Meet the Press,” reported here, we see both sides of McCain.  On the one hand, he calls Benghazi as it is: a “massive cover-up.”  When his host attempts to pooh-pooh McCain’s characterization, McCain offers to send him a detailed list of the material questions which, over five months later, still have not been answered by the administration which looked on — in real-time video feed — as an American ambassador and three others were slaughtered.  This is the McCain we like to see, the guy who won’t toe the line, the guy who was forever getting the snot beat out of him by his captors for exactly such behavior.  It’s why I voted for him.

And then McCain offers up that, while he thinks Chuck Hagel is “qualified” to be Secretary of Defense, and he doesn’t intend to vote for him, “But I don’t believe that we should hold up his nomination any further.”  What???  This isn’t a question of whether Hagel is “qualified” or not.  We’re not interviewing for some mid-level regional supervisor of making sure your local McDonald’s has sufficient hamburger buns on hand for the Memorial Day weekend.  This is the Secretary of Defense, who will be in charge of superintending the military’s ability to project America’s remaining power abroad in support of its interests and those of its allies.  And this particular nominee has a richly-documented history of antipathy towards the single United States ally in what is and will remain for the foreseeable future a highly critical area of the world . . . and a highly unstable and extremely violent one at that.  He has a documented history of statements and political positions taken in support of regimes which are confessedly and actively opposed to the United States, and which themselves support those groups which have sought us out to attack us.  Recall that as of September 11, 2001, we had invaded no country in the Middle East; we occupied no one’s territory; we had no presence there which was not by express invitation of the sovereign ruler of the soil on which our soldiers’ boots stood.  And still they came for us.  Chuck Hagel, for whatever reason, has taken sides with the regimes which support those folks.

So no, Sen. McCain, I’m not interested in whether Hagel is “not qualified” so much as I am in whether he is actively disqualified.  And the two statements are not at all logical or moral equivalents of each other.  The senate’s confirmation power does not exist for the purpose of imposing the senate’s own preferences upon a president.  It exists for precisely such situations as Chuck Hagel’s nomination.  Confirming this man to one of the key posts in the administration will send an unambiguous signal to those who hate us, to those who are pouring out vast amounts of wealth and blood to destroy us and our allies.  It will tell them not to lose hope, not to compromise, not to reconsider their positions.  Because with Chuck Hagel they’ve got another friend on the inside.  They’ve got someone to run interference for their biggest friend, the president himself.  It will also send an equally unambiguous signal to our few friends in that part of the world.  It will tell those within the Irans, the Afghanistans, the Saudi Arabias, the Lebanons, the North Koreas, that they are alone in their struggle to be something other than what their countries presently are.  They need expect no assistance, overt or otherwise, from the one country which might lend them a hand, even indirectly.  They may as well make their arrangements.

Recall what happened when in summer, 1939 the British dispatched — by ship, no less — Adm. Sir Reginald Aylmer Ranfurly Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax to Moscow.  He was sent by sea, taking days to arrive, and when he did he had no authority to enter into any sort of agreement.  This was a time at which events were developing by the day, and the set of tide was unmistakably towards a general war on the European continent within a matter of weeks or less.  The Poles, to whom Britain and France had unilaterally extended a guaranty against Germany, were adamant in their refusal to allow Soviet troops to cross their territory in the direction of Germany.  Britain and France refused to make their guaranty conditional on Polish cooperation with the Soviet Union.  Stalin, no fool, could see that the Western allies were broken reeds, fundamentally unserious about holding Hitler in check.  So he made his arrangements with Hitler, when Ribbentrop was sent with full plenipotentiary powers and by air.  In what respects, pray tell, will the calculus of our few potential friends in the Middle East differ from those of Stalin, with a Secretary of Defense Hagel installed in Washington?

But John McCain doesn’t think we should further delay voting on this man, knowing that a vote will proceed on purely party lines.  To prevent this man’s installation in power would require upsetting the comity of the Senate.  It wouldn’t be good form.  It would transgress upon the vaunted “civility” of that body.  That it would also remove the last vestige of a consequence from Dear Leader’s suppression of the truth of Benghazi, that it would prove once and for all that there is no dereliction of duty, no subverting of America, that the press and the administration cannot jointly paper over with a pall of silence, obfuscation, and outright lies — this does not matter to John McCain.  Or at least it does not matter enough to him that he is willing to act.  To speak?  Of course, his words are courage itself, and from a man who understands from the scars on his body the essence of courage. 

Sharp words are not enough, not any more, not in the struggle against someone who crows about doing things “the Chicago way.”  Once upon a time, when an ambassador handed a note to the foreign ministry to which accredited, that the consequences of this-that-or-the-other course of action being pursued by the minister’s government “could not be foretold,” that was taken as an explicit threat of war.  No more.  Saying that Chuck Hagel is “not qualified,” when in fact his appointment would be a spit in the face of every friend and ally we have, to say nothing of all the grieving widows and children of those who have died, or the faces of the maimed in mind or body, is monstrously insufficient.  Meekly to acquiesce in his appointment is an abdication of the power vested by the Constitution in the Senate precisely for the purpose of thwarting such abominations.

And there you have the knock on McCain, encapsulated and justified in one line.

What if Everything You Thought About Yourself is Wrong?

So there is yet another book about the Watergate break-in, cover-up, and leak of same.  Leak: Why Mark Felt Became Deep Throat, by Max Holland, hit the shelves last March.  In it he explores the intriguing question of the title:  Why does a high-level official — No. 2 at the FBI, in fact — set out to destroy a president?

I haven’t read the book, I’ll admit, but the premise of the book matches with what came out several years ago when Felt was finally outed as Deep Throat, Woodward’s and Bernstein’s anonymous source.  More to the point, it seems that Felt, so far from being some sort of quasi-mole for civil rights within the FBI, courageously sacrificing all to put a stop to a presidential administration gone rogue at the very highest levels, was actually an ambition-soaked bureaucrat looking to advance his own career and destroy those of his competitors.  In other words, just a human like everyone else.  The nasty monkey-shines he exposed — break-ins, unauthorized wiretaps, and the like — were in fact nothing more than what he’d personally green-lighted himself in other cases.  Destroying a president and grievously wounding the presidency itself was just collateral damage for Mark Felt.

 What interests me more than the question of why Felt did it is the little matter of how Woodward and Bernstein fit into Felt’s plans.  In plain English, they got used in an attempted palace coup.  Did they know they were being used?  It’s hard to think they wouldn’t have.  You can’t work as a reporter in Washington for any length of time and not understand that nothing at all is entirely what it seems.

Generations of would-be “journalists” have grown up since the 1970s, and for them W & B have been lodestars.  Everyone is looking for the next Watergate story, every source is to be the next Deep Throat.  The image of the crusading journalist bringing down not just the high and the mighty — by, say, exposing a corrupt paving contract down at the street department — but crashing the highest and the mightiest in the world, is part of the mental landscape which today’s journalists carry with them.  The Fourth Estate is to be the guardian of all our liberties, reining in the megalomaniacal entrenched power elites, and so forth and so on.  Those are the stars which today’s budding J-schoolers bring with them in their eyes.

What if that’s not how it is at all?  What if reporters willingly make themselves tools of power factions?  What if they’re nothing more morally exalted than the same tribe who set up a flagrantly partisan — and almost comically fact-divorced — press from the days of Jefferson’s war against Adams, or Jackson’s wars against his sundry opponents?  What if the “truth” they peddle is no more than what is deigned to be shared with them by the hand of the chess-master who is moving them about a board, his board?  What if, in other words, the press has become no more than rent-seekers, attempting to glean a living — and power and influence to go with it — from the chips that fall when the powerful clash? 

Yes, there was a “story” in what Mark Felt had to tell Woodward and Bernstein.  But it was a “story” that was, in all truth, about as penny-ante as they get.  A politician’s aides had a shadowy group of operatives try to get the dirt on his opponents.  They decided to accomplish this by breaking in to someone’s office and sifting through files.  Woo-hoo!!  And it’s not like the fruits of the break-in did or would have influenced the drubbing that Nixon administered to McGovern in 1972 in any event.  There was no way, unless Nixon had been caught with the live boy or dead girl of the proverbs, that we would ever have had a President McGovern.  Or to put it in context, Harry Truman (as related in David McCullough’s biography) was petrified that someone would insinuate a female into his presence and then a photographer would pop out from behind a potted plant to snap a picture to wreck Truman.  And in fact on at least one occasion related in the book it appears that such very nearly happened.  That was how politics was practiced at that level.  In other words, the Watergate break-in, and even the subsequent cover-up, just weren’t in and of themselves big stories.  They were made Big Stories in a collaborative effort by two reporters and an ambitious careerist, working together in the fertile soil of one of the most cordially despised politicians (even before he got caught up in it) in American history.

The fact is that dragging out into broad daylight what high-stakes politicians have doubtless been engaged in since time immemorial (it was scarcely precedent-setting when that boob went sifting through Sarah Palin’s garbage and rented a house looking over into the family’s back yard) has forever damaged the institution of the American presidency.  Everyone who has been hopelessly smitten with love must know that, as a purely physiological proposition, there are some things which the Adored must periodically attend to.  We don’t need, in other words, Jonathan Swift to remind us that Celia shits.  Woodward and Bernstein rubbed our collective noses in that fact, though, and they did it as the subservient creatures of Mark Felt.

 The recent devolution of the American press into a more-or-less open cheerleading section for a particular faction of a specific party is all of a piece with the history of Woodward, Bernstein, and Felt.  And it’s not just domestic coverage (or increasingly, non-coverage), either.  It’s things like CNN admitting — after the fact, of course — that it went soft on Saddam Hussein in order not to jeopardize its “access” to his murderous regime.  The present White House now demands review and approval authority for quotations.  And today’s press meekly grants it.  JournoList gets together behind the scenes and coordinates what will and will not be covered, and how the stories that are covered will be.  The modern news industry is quite simply thoroughly corrupt, whether out of ideological grounds or the simple desire for fame, wealth, and power.

Whenever the point is made of the corruption of the modern press, the Watergate Story is trotted out as the Reason We Need a Free Press.  That’s the narrative.  A couple of intrepid reporters stand athwart the path of the government juggernaut.  That’s why we need to await breathlessly the next Film at 11 from whatever talking head flickers across our screens.  That’s why we need to wade through the 75% of the NYT that’s advertising.  That’s why we ought not make up our minds until we’ve been told how to make them up.  Remember Watergate!

Except it turns out the narrative is bogus.

Buenos Aires on the Potomac

Three data points, not directly related to each other, but all illuminative of the same movements and currents, and all betraying precisely the same cast of mind among the governing:

The Argentine government some time ago fired all the real economists who were tracking their country’s slide into chaos. Since then they’ve been diligently cooking the books in the form of, among other tricks, under-reporting the inflation that’s already hitting 25% by some estimates. Now what they’ve done is impose a price freeze on groceries. Other than emptying the grocery store shelves (everyone will rush to buy before the freeze is lifted, and the stores will be unable to re-stock because no one is going to sell to them at a price they can recoup), the big question is what happens when the freeze’s initially announced term expires? Will it be lifted or extended? In either event look for absolute chaos; the current 25% inflation rate will soon appear tame in comparison. 

And in North Argentina, along the Potomac River, Eric Holder’s Dept. of Justice and Vote Creativity has announced a billion-dollar lawsuit against the ratings agencies . . . for opinions they expressed four and five years ago. Why now? Why so long? Wasn’t it readily apparent by late 2007 that their rosy ratings of, among others, Fannie and Freddie paper were wildly off the mark? Has it truly taken this long to subpoena all their records to determine exactly how it was they got it so comically incorrect? Exactly how many issues were rated that later tanked? 

Can it have anything to do with the fact that those same ratings agencies have already down-graded U.S. Treasury paper once, and have promised to do so again, just in recent weeks? The initial report admitted that the DOJ had threatened criminal prosecution if the ratings agencies didn’t agree to fork over massive amounts of money (the NYT website scrubbed the report of the extortion from its post . . . better living through screen capture, however). So where is the criminal prosecution? Oh yeah, that’s right: The DOJ knew going into it they didn’t have a criminal case. They just thought they’d practice a little extortion. 

These claims are of course likely to be settled short of trial. What will be interesting to see is where the settlement funds get steered. When Bank of America got to pony up $25 million to settle a Community Reinvestment Act enforcement action – on the basis that it had made insufficient loans to people unlikely to be able to repay them, at a time when they were also being accused of “predatory lending,” which is the making of loans to people who aren’t likely to be able to repay them – several million of the settlement was steered to “community organizing”-style outfits no small number of which had ties to former or current ACORN spin-offs. In other words, Dear Leader’s DOJ used the power of the federal government to extort money from its mountebank whipping boys for the direct use and benefit of its political supporters. 

Back in the 1930s, the Soviet Union conducted a census. This was a few years after the Holodomor, when Stalin set out to, and did, starve some seven million Ukrainians to death in the space of less than two years. The census takers showed several million fewer Soviets than Stalin thought he should have. So he had the entire census bureau senior staff and management shot, and appointed new ones. Told them to go run him a census and mirabile dictu! all those millions of missing Soviets magically reappeared. 

Moscow, Buenos Aires, Washington: What’s the difference (to quote a renowned former Sec’y of State) any more?


Profits? O! the Humanity! or, High School Journalism Comes to the ACLU

So a Facebook friend of mine threw up a link to this article at the ACLU’s website, written in commemoration if not in honor of the 30th anniversary of Corrections Corporation of America. At the risk of understatement, the ACLU is not a fan of CCA or what it and its competitors do.

For those who don’t know, CCA is a corporation which runs prisons and jails, together with ancillary services. They’re a publicly traded corporation now, but they were founded by a couple of West Point grads and a few others. They’ve done rather well for themselves over the past decades. They’ve had their share of black eyes and stubbed toes – hardly surprising, given the industry they’re in and the nature of the players in it – but I’m not aware that the facilities they operate are predictably or measurably more brutally or cruelly or poorly run than those by any governmental entity or agency. Interestingly, the ACLU article doesn’t even allege that they’re measurably less properly operated than government facilities. Since the ACLU holds itself out as representing the Constitution and no other client, you’d think that systematic violation of prisoners’ rights under any provision of federal or state constitutions or statutes would not merely be mentioned but would be harped upon. 

What the ACLU does find objectionable, and goes into in considerable detail, is that horrors! CCA turns a profit and tries to do so. They quote from the corporation’s most recent Form 10-K, “filed with the Securities Exchange Commission” – ooooohhhhh!! capitalisssssstsssss! you can almost hear the author hiss, almost see the waves of fear and revulsion sweep over the author’s face – in which CCA points out, entirely correctly, that their business model relies for its continued viability upon relatively high levels of incarceration of criminals and that their continued profitability could be adversely affected by any governmental measure which changes that, from early release to general relaxing of sentencing practices to changes in prosecution patterns to underlying substantive changes in criminal law. 

The ACLU presents this statement in an SEC filing as if it were a business plan to crank up the incarceration of poor defenseless citizens. For starts the SEC is not the Trilateral Commission, or the Illuminati, or any other crypto-dictatorial operation. It enforces and administers those laws and regulations which relate to public transactions in securities, the operations of the exchanges where those securities are traded, and the companies whose securities are traded on them. That’s it. If your company’s securities are publicly traded you are required to file with the SEC certain periodic disclosures in which you describe specific things about your company, its operations, it finances, and the risks to which investors in its securities are exposed. That would necessarily include, to the extent knowable, a description of those things which could undermine the company’s viability. By way of example, Bobby Kennedy’s boy runs some “green” operation which has already lost well over a billion dollars, with no end in sight. Their most recent Form 10-K recites that their continued viability relies principally on keeping the government hand-out spigot wide open. Seriously, that’s their game plan. Well, of course. I haven’t read them, but I’d wager that Northrop Grumman’s filings will mention somewhere that any widely adopted program of disarmament would have disastrous consequences for their profitability. A corporation which is in the business of providing, for example, heating oil to a region of the country will be smacked hard by an unusually warm winter. A municipal water system’s revenue will be adversely affected by a wet summer. And so forth. All of which is to say that the observation that gives the ACLU such a delightful frisson of disgust merits a great big bowl of steaming “so what?” 

The ACLU then begins its entirely predictable screed about how we’ve been locking up so great a proportion of our population, in fact an increasing proportion of our population, blah blah blah. Notice the article traces this trend back to the 1970s . . . which the ordinary mathematician will pick up on was well before CCA was formed, and even longer before it became a major player. The author fails to mention that “get tough on Crime X” has been wildly popular as a policy position since the late 1960s. In fact it was precisely the opposite trend in penology – the pat ‘em on the hand and help them get in touch with their inner child school of criminal justice – which produced the enormous surge in crime and specifically violent crime during those years, and which sparked the lock ‘em up ‘til they rot school of thought. The ACLU also overlooks mentioning that at the same time we’ve been locking up criminals (and yes, Dorothy, illegal aliens are criminals by definition) at ever-increasing numbers the rates of almost all violent crime have plummeted. 

The not-quite-unspoken position of the author is that a great deal of the incarceration for drug-related offenses is a morally reprehensible thing. Maybe it is; maybe it’s not. I certainly can see a great deal of merit on both sides of that particular argument. But what is not at all subject to dispute is that it was precisely the draconian mandatory drug sentencing laws which allowed the federal government to break open the Italian organized criminal empires. The mafia goon who was looking at a seven-year hitch for extortion or arson or beating the living snot out of some shopkeeper was willing to sit that one out and tell the prosecutor to do his worst. Explain to him that he’s looking at 25-40 to be served at 85% for the pound of coke in his trunk and suddenly he begins to study really hard on whether omerta maybe doesn’t have its limits. I freely admit that the mandatory minimum sentencing wasn’t adopted to achieve that particular effect, but that’s lagniappe, so far as I’m concerned. And were the mandatory minimum sentences really so unreasonable at the time they were first adopted? Recall that inner cities were the fora for extraordinarily violent gang wars related precisely to drug dealings. What precisely were legislators supposed to do in the face of feel-good judges who took the position that it was all Just a Big Misunderstanding? You can’t “treat” someone who will line up an apartment full of people, including the neighbor kid who just happened to have stopped by to borrow his buddy’s new cassette of music, and blow 9mm holes in the base of their skulls. You can’t counsel someone like that into any condition fit for human society. 

The ACLU author points out that CCA spends a great deal of money on lobbying and supporting political candidates. Well, yes it does. So do those groups which oppose them for making a profit off of prison and jail operations. So do the prison workers unions. If what CCA were doing were uncontroversial and unopposed there would be no reason to try to convince anyone to let them have a crack at it. They’re no longer the only company in that business any more, either. Just by way of compare-and-contrast, Boeing spent monstrous sums of money pushing its aircraft as the replacement for the KC-135 tanker. They even had the competition re-opened when they initially lost out to Airbus. George Soros spends vast amounts of money to benefit his operations. Like when he poured millions into shutting down off-shore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico at the same time he was putting eye-popping bucks into the newly-discovered Petrobras offshore field in the South Atlantic, a field the economic viability of which will be much accelerated if competing deep-water operations are strangled.

 All of which is to say nothing more than that any large government contract or large government initiative is going to generate corresponding effort by those seeking to obtain or deny that contract for or to any particular operation or group, or to steer that initiative to its own benefit. It’s just in the nature of the beast, so long as the beast of government continues to look and act like the beast we currently have. 

In the end the ACLU article really can’t muster up much more against CCA than . . . well, ick! and how dare they take away our Government Jobs for the Boys. Mind you, I don’t carry a brief for CCA. Either they can do the job more cheaply than Brand X or the government itself, or they can’t. Either they can do the job in conformity within applicable constitutional and statutory constraints, or they cannot. If the answers to those are yes and yes, well big fat hairy deal, says I. If not, let someone else have a go at it. If no one can I suppose we’ll just have to bite the bullet and have the government in the business of warehousing people we’ve decided we don’t want among us, for whatever reasons. 

My Facebook friend, whom I’ve known for 24 years now, was just outraged at the thought of CCA making a profit off of jails. Why? I wanted to know. The very idea of making a profit from running a jail was “unacceptable, period.” That’s a pretty strong (and bald) statement, so I pushed back a little bit. Is it outrageous that civilian contractors make a profit from running military mess facilities overseas? Apparently it was; the military trains military cooks, after all. I wanted to point out that every training dollar diverted from training some guy to over-cook your bacon and under-cook your eggs, and instead put towards training the guy who’s going to provide you fire support as you clear a block house is a dollar better spent than it had been.  I decided to explore some other situations in which the government takes some task which is more or less intrinsically “governmental” and engages a civilian contractor to do it. Like transporting military stores, supplies, or personnel on civilian ships or aircraft. Or hiring a private contractor to do the landscaping around city hall, or a private company to pave the city streets. I cited him to the Princes of Turn und Taxis, who for generations ran – for their own profit – the postal system of the Holy Roman Empire. Closer to our own day, take a look at all those private contractors trucking the U.S. mail around; even the guy who stuffs the mailbox in front of your house with glossy coupon booklets is not a government worker, not outside the city limits. I pointed out to my buddy that in many countries the land line telephone systems are and have always been government-owned and operated, while ours never has been. Are those other countries inherently morally superior in that respect, and we irredeemably damned? Or how about other utilities: Is it inherently morally superior that the TVA belongs to the federal government and ConEd or Duke Power does not? If those arrangements are not morally reprehensible, what is so magic about administering a system of confinement, where it is the confinement itself which is the punishment? In other words, we no longer sentence people to the treadmill, or to hard labor busting rocks. You go to prison and that’s your punishment: you’re in prison as opposed to being on the street. End of story. 

More to the point, where is the constitutional defect in any of the above arrangements? Is getting locked up in a twelve-by-twenty cell with three other guys, a stainless steel toilet, and one’s own thoughts somehow more or less “cruel and unusual” depending on who signs the paycheck of the guy who toddles around to make sure the door’s locked tight? What due process right does a prisoner have to be superintended by some guy who’s in the state retirement system versus having a 401(k)? Is it a denial of equal protection of the laws that some prisoners are herded into and out of the showers by a guy who’s civil service and others by some guy who’s an at-will employee? I’m just not seeing it. 

My Facebook friend allowed that it was just . . . well, “unethical” for some company to “make a profit off human misery.” Errrmmmm . . . no one works for free; if you don’t believe me try cutting the wages of the government-employee prison guards. But to engage my friend more closely on his own argument’s terms, I’m not so sure he’s not looking at the horse from the wrong end. CCA is not “making a profit from human misery”; they’re making a profit providing me a profound relief from human oppression, in fact for promoting my own freedom. Those countries in which criminals run rampant and unpunished, or where the prison system – for them at least – is just a home-away-from-home, a place for them to continue plying their trades while someone else provides them three hots and a cot until they’re ready to go back out, are all uniformly miserable and poverty-ridden places. Read the descriptions of the blatnye in Solzhenitsyn or Dolgun or Bardach or Shalamov. Among the many, many oppressions of the ordinary Soviet citizen was the fact that the entire country was over-run with violent criminals who if anything received preferential treatment in the prison and camp systems. Since the Soviet Union’s collapse the same dynamic has played out as well. Among the many reasons why Sicily has always been poor as Job’s turkey is because it is so thoroughly dominated by the criminal clan system. Ditto the Balkan countries; the ordinary citizenry for centuries has been prey to well-organized and deeply-rooted criminal exploitation. In dear ol’ tolerant, drug-legalized Holland casual street crime is rampant. Oh sure, they might not knife you outright or just for fun, the way some of our street thugs will, but you’ve still lost your wallet and all its contents, and even if your mugger is caught, he’ll be back on the street and most likely have taken his next victim before you can even replace your driver’s license. Excuse me if I object to living in that sort of a society, and if I’m tickled pink that someone will come along and for a reasonable price stack these people behind stout walls and bars so I don’t have to worry about meeting up with them. The free-range criminal is the scourge of his fellow-men. Any system for removing them from our society for prolonged periods is not a system for inflicting human misery but rather a system to free the law-abiding from a pervasive system of terror. Moving that same argument one further step back, how about companies that specialize in disaster recovery? They don’t work for free. Aren’t they “profiting from human misery,” since without massive disaster there’s no work for them? I don’t, in short, think my friend’s “profiting from human misery” objection holds up to scrutiny. 

Well . . . so my buddy says, CCA is “not accountable”? To whom? Those contracts are extraordinarily detailed. The private operators are subject to state supervision and to state inspection, and last but not least they’re amenable to suit in federal or state court for neither more nor less the same causes of action as a governmental defendant would be. More to the point, who’s likely to be more sensitive to making sure his job is done right? Think it will be the guy who can get his entire company’s contract pulled, and maybe not just at that facility, if he screws up, or who can be fired at the drop of a hat and have to wonder how he’s going to make next month’s house payment? Or do we think it will be the guy protected by civil service rules and has to fear at most getting shuffled to some more out-of-the-way, even-scuzzier facility than the one he’s at? You can’t fire the government; you can’t even non-renew its contract. You can fire CCA; you can tell them that it was a nice experiment but you don’t really think it’s worked out as well as you had hoped. When was the last time a government got busted for not doing what it promised its people it would do? When do you think the last time CCA or some other private operator got sued for not doing what it promised? 

As mentioned, I am no advocate for CCA or anyone else. I’m also not thoroughly convinced that the core objection of the linked ACLU article – we lock up way too many people for way too penny-ante reasons – is not founded on some pretty compelling arguments. But none of those arguments have anything at all to do with whether it’s a good idea, a bad one, or indifferent, whether prisons are privately operated. The ACLU’s weighing in on this subject is indistinguishable from the ABA’s plumping for a frontal assault on the Second Amendment.