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The Therapy Sessions
Saturday, January 28, 2006

Welcome Hamas

Many people are absolutely shocked that the Palestinians have put Hamas in power.

I’m not.

Many people think it’s terrible.

I don't.

It is the end of "peace process" charade, the beginning of the end of the Palestinian “state,” and the start of its civil war.

Here is where I give out all the bromides like “yes, war is terrible.”

Of course it is.

But it is not a question of whether more war will visit the Middle East.

It will. Terrible wars are coming. Millions will die.

The important question is who will be fighting them (at least for the time being). If the war is being fought between the corrupt lords of Fatah, the armed gangs of the Al Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade, the mystical lunatics of Hamas and the nutjobs of Hezballah, it is not going to be fought by Israelis.

Or Americans. At least not yet.

It is pure Machiavelli: if your enemies are intent on fighting themselves, let them go for it.

Many people have said that in this election the Palestinians voted against Fatah - not for Hamas. And this is true. Most Palestinians know that the intifada is lost and pointless at this point. The Israeli fence – a tremendous strategic feat (which - it should not forgotten - was opposed by the rabid left) - has made restaurant bombing difficult. And direct conflict is suicide. Economic freedom – which allows entrepreneurs to grow the economy – is absent. So naturally, the Palestinian economy is moribund and dependent on aid. With Hamas in power, that aid is certain to decrease.

It’s almost as if the American people got tired of Bush and the Republicans, and put the Nazis in power. In the US, we have the Democratic Party – yes, they are irresponsible and silly in opposition – but they could, if called upon, put together something that resembled a competent, rational alternative government. The Palestinians have nothing like that. For them, it was serious people versus corrupt people.

And the Palestinians – the people who “never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity” – have once again painted themselves into a corner.

Hamas – the most vicious terrorist organization in the region – can’t sponsor attacks anymore, at least not under its own name. As a fringe terrorist organization, you can hide your leaders and sponsor all the attacks you want. But when you are a government and you order attacks against a neighboring country, that is war – and it is a war that Hamas will lose. It invites Israel to retaliate and take out their leaders – conveniently located in the Palestinian government houses in Ramallah.

I take it as a given that Hamas will corrupt itself and further destroy the economy. Arafat once ably ran the PLO - a pure terrorist organization- but was quickly corrupted by power. These Hamas guys are similar: they know nothing about how to run an economy (the first lesson is that you don’t “run” anything) – they are street fighters. Give the Hamas politicians access to millions of dollars and they will become a new mafia - as corrupt as Arafat was. And when that money dries up, they will extort money from any poor Palestinian who has the gall to make money himself.

Hamas will probably splinter. A political wing will take power in Ramallah, and its more violent members will stay in hiding. They will probably change their name, but to the Palestinians (and Israelis), they will still be Hamas – the Hamas the Palestinians voted for. These lunatics will maintain their street cred by lobbing an occasional missile into Israel. They might not do this under the name of Hamas, but it won’t matter: Israel will respond by taking out the political leaders of Hamas anyway. It will soon become clear that being a political leader and a member of Hamas will be suicidal. This will create a power vacuum in Ramallah, and the end of the Palestinian “entity.”

It is a trap: Hamas will be unable to take power unless they change. But once they change, they won’t be “real.” And Palestinians want real: the undiluted, immutable fanaticism of Hamas.

Many critics will contend that this is the problem of “neo-conservatism.” See, we don’t really want democracy in the Middle East!

Yes, people can vote for war. Even an irrational, losing war of bigotry. They will - at times - vote fanatics into power. (By contrast, the voters of Iraq have done very well indeed).

I would argue that this is exactly what we want, and it is exactly why democracy in the Middle East is a GOOD THING.

To take power is to take responsibility. When you run an organization on the fringe – Hezballah in Lebanon, The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, al Qaeda throughout the region – you can say and do what you like, even with the tacit approval of those in power.

When you are in charge, things change. The terrible economy is not an advantage – something you can complain about to generate support; it is a liability. It is your job to make it better (and only economic freedom creates economic growth). If you sponsor attacks in other countries, these are not just suicide bombings, they are acts of war.

No more shadowy groups hiding in the fringes. If these groups take power democratically, so be it. If that leads to civil wars, that’s sad – but we might as well get them over with.

For a century, we tolerated dictators in the region as the price of stability, but there was another hidden price: behind the scenes, thousands of fringe groups were taking the hearts of the people – or so they thought. This policy has been shattered by Bush, and those groups are being told: put up or shut up.

These are good things.

We should now try to insure that this election of is not the Palestinians' last. Bush and Rice should – at every opportunity – point out that the Palestinians can unseat Hamas whenever they’ve had enough of their incompetence and violence. Hamas knows that the only way it can prevent that is to cancel elections. When they try to, they would be wary of making Bush seem prophetic.

But as I’ve said, I don’t think that will be deter them.

Neither of my balls is crystalline, but I see war coming. Hamas will provide “alive again, dead again” leadership – filled with power vacuums that will cause other groups to salivate. They will have no “progress with Israel” to point to. The economy will only get worse, and the public will seethe. Hamas will refuse to allow further elections – especially ones it will lose – and the various armed groups in the PA will march against it.

While its closest enemies are fighting, Israel will be safe. Temporarily.

Their next threat is existential, and it is ours as well.

Iran. A nuclear Iran, run by a rabid, anti-Semitic dictator who thinks he is here to usher in the messiah.

Scary times ahead. The Clinton-era “holiday from history” pause in the Mideast is a distant memory now.

History is now stuck on fast forward.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Neglecting my blog

I have been blogging at Bring It On, a very liberal team blog. I'm not really a conservative, but I AM MOST DEFINITELY not a liberal - so I fit in just fine.


But I do get some great comments there:

Most everyone needs healthcare at some point or another. If you are dumb enough to think that you are somehow the exception to that rule, then the likelyhood of you hurting yourself doing something stupid is even greater.

My respose: Everyone needs food and shelter too. Do we organize a massive state-controlled program to see that everyone gets a 4000 sq. foot McMansion and vouchers for three meals a day at their favorite restaurants?

No, we don’t do that because it would be silly. Millions of people would quit their jobs to live on the dole. I’d love such program if it could work. But it wouldn’t. Yes, there are programs like food stamps and section eight housing. But most people can do better than that.

My point is this: if you want to offer people drug coverage, for example, it can’t be the same drug coverage that rich people get. That sounds horrible, but it is true.

Why not?

There currently 45 milllion people in the US who lack health insurance. Let’s say we decide to pay for all their drugs! Yippee! Sure, Medicare costs $500 billion a year and it is still going bankrupt, the budget deficit is $400 billion, the baby boomers have just started collecting Social Security, and every middle class family is struggling to make ends meet (at least according to our media), but we are the richest country in the world. All those diabetes drugs, statins, beta blockers, proton pump inhibitors, asthma pills will cost…I don’t know …hell, $100 billion. No problem.

But whatever bill you think you’ll pay will grow. And it will grow very fast. People who now struggle to pay for their drug insurance will stop. Why? Because the government is giving them a better deal. No insurance company premium can match the government’s – which would paid by other people. Those anonymous taxpayers. Companies that offer their employees drug coverage would stop doing it. Why? Because they are greedy bastards. Well yeah, but they are logical, greedy bastards: why would they pay out something in benefits that the government is giving away for free?

And pretty soon, you reach a point where going further and further into debt is no longer an option. This is hard for Americans to take, but the world won’t keep lending you money forever. When it looks like you are going to have trouble paying off your debt, your bond ratings go down, and it becomes more expensive to service your debt. (Ask California: it’s bonds are approaching junk status.)

So we will have to raise taxes. You can raise them on the rich, but the rich find the loopholes. Jackasses like former vice presidential candidate John Edwards make $300 million a year and only pay 12% of their income in taxes. (of course, we could just hit the rich at a flat 30% rate and eliminate their deductions, but I imagine “flat tax” is a dirty word in these parts. It shouldn’t be).

But you will find that there aren’t enough rich people, and you will also find that the more you tax them, the less they invest, and the less the economy grows. As the economy slows, you have more people out of work - and most of the people losing their jobs tend to be poorer to begin with - more people applying for government aid.

Soon you have to raise taxes on that “struggling” middle class.

National Health Care - taken in the context of ALL government obligations - would be a disaster. We already face disaster, but it would make it much worse.

But why can’t it work here? They do it in Europe!

Yes, they do it in Europe. And through the process I just described (which is already quite advanced on the continent), we could look just like them. Europe’s high tax economies have been stagnant for a decade (gee, I wonder how that happened?) and they have double digit unemployment (we haven’t seen that since the Great Depression). And the picture is even worse for young people for whom the unemployment rate is more like 1 in 5. Europe is dying (literally, it will soon come to a point we won’t see until 2030: for every old person on a pension, there will only be two workers).

Following Europe is suicidal.

Our competition – like it or not – will come from low wage, low benefit countries. You can stamp up and down and wish really hard that it wasn’t the case. GM and UAW are learning it now. GM was once “too big to fail,” and it made some really big promises. Promises that it can’t possibly keep today. Trying to keep those promises is preventing it from competiting in the marketplace (in economics, competing in the marketpalce goes under a highly technical term: economists call it surviving).

I get the feeling many of you feel the same way about the US government. Our government has already made too many promises.

Making more will only hasten our demise.

Instead of talking about offering more government benefits, we should be talking about means testing the ones we already give out.

For example, do rich senior citizens really need Medicare or Social Security?

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The right to health care?

Occasionally, I come across someone who proclaims that health care – high quality, universal and reasonably priced - is a “right,” one to which all Americans are entitled.

It sounds perfectly wonderful.

In fact, most Americans believe it to be truth (but of course, most Americans believe in ghosts, UFO’s, Medicare solvency and vote Republican, too).

I hate to be a curmudgeon.

Well, sort of: actually, I relish it. But my response is given guiltily, almost like I’m asking a child why he really thinks there is a Santa Claus.

I ask: “Do you believe that every American has a right to food? Or shelter?”

I go on: “After all, without food or shelter you could be dead in a month! Without health care, you could easily live to be 80. If health care is a right, surely food and shelter are too!”

Most people acknowledge I have point. Upon further reflection, they usually say that government should give people access to a minimum of food and shelter, as well as health care.

Of course, every society that has promised all of these things has been a ridiculous soviet-style failure.

But people who would promise such things are rarely students of history.

Curmudgeon that I am, I press: “If you say that people have a right to food, does that mean they get government vouchers to go to their favorite restaurants?”

The curmudgeon is then looked upon as the idiot.

“No! They don’t get the best food! They are on public support,” comes the usual reply. “They get the basics. Flour, Cheese and milk. They don’t get to eat at Olive Garden on the public’s tab!”

And of course, they are right. I couldn’t have said it better: When people are on the dole, they should not get the best (Whether Olive Garden can be considered “the best” is a matter of opinion…).

If the poor do get the best, you make the millions of people paying their own bills look like idiots. Why would a poor family struggle to put dinner on the table when their section eight neighbors eat at TGIFridays every night for free?

The answer is: they wouldn’t. They too would try to take advantage of their poverty. Poverty becomes attractive (as weird as that sounds).

Shouldn’t that same logic apply to health care?

If you depend on public assistance to pay for your drugs, why should you get the latest and greatest?

Why should you get Lipitor – a state-of-the-art modern statin – that costs $350 a month?

For $30 a month, you could have generic Mevacor – a drug that was “the best” in 1985 (and is still pretty good today).

Modern angioplasty and hip replacements? Those are for paying customers, bub. You're going to have to make do with simple drugs and painkillers, just like the super rich did in 1980.

My point is simple: we can guarantee a right to basic minimum in health care, but it has to be a minimum – something that most paying customers would consider unacceptable (health care a la 1980). If you make the government option too attractive, everyone will take it, and the program will bloat until it is unsustainable.

In the end, the universal health care debate boils down to a lesson in simple economics.

People who want to make health care a right want it to be high quality, universal and reasonably priced.

The unfeeling laws of economics – which don’t care what you “want” - say that you can have any two of those things, but not all three.

You want health care to be high quality and universal?

You will not be able to control the costs.

Not unless you believe in Santa.

The question is: Do you?

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The coming default

El Borak's Myopia

I have no doubt that the US will not default, at least not this year and not voluntarily. Congress will bicker and strut, big-spending Democrats will criticize the big-spending president, and big-spending Republicans will talk about how all this new spending is absolutely necessary. And just think how be it would be if we had a Democrat, they will muse, as if the Democrats - who are less competent than the GOP in everything, including driving the ship of state onto the rocks - ever managed to accumulate so much debt so quickly. LBJ is a piker compared to Bush.

But while debt default is not coming quickly, it is coming. The American economy is an amazing beast. It can be beaten, starved, and abused, yet it rolls on. If there's a way for it to continue on, it will. But the only thing that can really destroy it is government, not by destroying incentives or by piling on regulations (these things may slow it, but like a bionic pack mule, it marches on) but by destroying the fuel that runs it: the dollar.

Perfectly said.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Frosty the Stonerman

My wife just came home after running a bazillion miles. She had a corn cob pipe.

Perfect for "Frosty the Snowman," she says.

Well, she's right. I know the song: "With a corn cob pipe, and a button nose and two eyes made out of coal...."

So we are almost set: we have the pipe, we can scrounge up a button for the nose, the coal might be a problem - but hey, charcoal will work just fine.

But the problem is: this pipe wasn't used for smoking tobacco. It reeks of pot.(I smelled it at a party. Once. A long time ago.)

What to do? If we have a snowman outside our house with a hashpipe crammed in between his (giggling) lips, what will the neighbors think?

Will they think we are household of stoners?

Will Chimpy McHalliburton order his brownshirted AmeriKKKan goons to tap our phones and search our house? (Go ahead - maybe they'll find half the shit I've lost over the years and get my wife off my back.)

And what effect will THC have on Frosty's mind? Will I come home to find him baking away - and melting - in my living room, telling me that "The Simpsons" is like modern day Shakespeare?

Will he go on midnight runs to 7-11 to kill the munchies?

What to do, what to do....

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