Tom McLaughlin

A former history teacher, Tom is a columnist who lives in Lovell, Maine. His column is published in Maine and New Hampshire newspapers and on numerous web sites. Email: tommclaughlin@fairpoint.net

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Unsustainable Economics




Disdainful, but dependent. That’s how I would describe the teenagers who seemed cool to many in junior high and high school. Parents, most teachers, and other authority figures were objects of their disdain because they were hopelessly uncool - not as aware of how the world was changing as they themselves were. Most of those teenagers grow up, however, because their parents tolerate their rebellion only up to a point and then cut them loose to fend for themselves. Thus they learn what Margaret Thatcher said: “The facts of life are conservative.”

Others don’t. They never seem to learn the facts of life, probably because they continue to blame something outside themselves for their personal failures. Other people are to blame, or the system is to blame for all the world’s problems as well as their own. They were ostentatious non-conformists who portrayed themselves as “counterculture.” They wanted to bring down the establishment culture, but didn’t have anything plausible to replace it with. Those young people had a vague idea of what they were against, but little idea of what they were for - and they still don’t as “adults.”

A few “cool” teachers indulged the fashionably-alienated teenagers in the old days because they didn’t fit in either. Now, however, they comprise whole faculties. As they do in any time or place in history, these “rebels” believed they knew the ways of the world while their “establishment” parents and teachers did not. But they were dependent for their physical sustenance on the very system they disdained. They needed food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and someone to pay their tuition at the colleges and universities they eventually went to, rebelled against, and ultimately took over. That’s how I understand people like Bill Ayers, his wife, Bernadine Dohrn, and the other pampered radicals from the sixties and seventies who steer the Democrat Party today.

The free-enterprise system they rebelled against is what produced in abundance the material necessities they consumed but didn’t appreciate. Capitalism, and the democratic republic in which it operates and thrives, have long been objects of their disdain. Now, with the impending election of Barack Obama and the bolstering of Nancy Pelosi’s and Harry Reid’s majorities in the Congress, those cool, disdainful, and still dependent people are about to secure their lock on the establishment. They’re not young anymore, but they haven’t grown up enough yet either to understand what they’re doing. As they expand New Deal and Great Society entitlement programs to an unsustainable level, the system they hate will no longer will be able to provide material necessities. The national debt is over $10 trillion and the dollar is no longer the world’s currency of choice. The hand that feeds them has been bitten and gnawed upon so long and so much it’s getting weak. The goose that laid the golden egg is going into molt. Those overgrown teenagers are about to discover that there’s a limit.

As they go about their Robin Hood redistribution policies over the next two to four years - as they “spread the wealth around” like Obama told Joe the plumber - it’s not going to be “good for everyone.” How much do Democrats think they can crank up taxes on “the rich” who are already paying most of the taxes? And how is Obama going to cut taxes on 95% of Americans when over 30% of them aren’t paying any taxes at all? What will he do with them? Just give them our money? They can call it whatever they want, but the rest of us “Joe the Plumbers” out here know what it really is. It’s Marxism: “From each, according to his ability. To each, according to his need,” with Obama, Pelosi and Reid deciding who is able and who is needy. That’s “Change” all right, but not “Change You Can Believe In.” I sure don’t believe in it.

Those of us who work our butts off aren’t going to keep doing it if government is going to take the fruit of our labor and “spread it around” to those who sit on theirs. That’s the hard reality. A radical leftist Obama Administration with a radical leftist Congress to back it up promise everything. As columnist Mark Steyn puts it: “The spirit of the age is: Ask not what your country can do for you, demand it.” He’s a Canadian who came to the United States and admires us as a last outpost against encroaching European-style socialism. Now he laments what he sees coming if Democrats sweep the election next week: "[For] a vigilant republic of limited government and self-reliant citizens, [an Obama Administration] would be a Declaration of Dependence.”

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Wow! Finally some tough, relevant questions


If you haven't seen it already, you simply have to check it this interview of Joe Biden on WFTV Channel 9! (in Florida somewhere, I think)

Better late than never with some tough questions for Democrats.

" 'From each according to his abilities. To each according to his needs,'" quoted newswoman Barbara West from Karl Marx. "How is Obama not being a Marxist if he intends to spread the wealth around?" she asked Biden.

"Are you joking? Is this a joke?" Biden asks.

"No," she says.

It's about time someone put it to these guys! I love Barbara West. Is it too little - too late? We'll see.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Palin's "Prop"


A local feminist Democrat accused Governor Sarah Palin of using her handicapped infant son as “a prop on late night television.” It caused a fuss and she resigned last week from Representative Carol Shea-Porter’s (D-NH) campaign as a result. It’s not clear whether she was asked to resign or she did it on her own initiative. No matter. The remark crystallizes why Palin drives feminists crazy.

Radical feminists say they’re “pro-choice.” It looks to them like Sarah Palin made a choice when she got pregnant in her forties after being inaugurated the first woman governor of Alaska, but we can’t be sure of that. To make a choice, she would have had to consider an abortion and we don’t know if it ever entered her mind. Only she knows that. Maybe she discussed it with her husband before anybody else knew she was pregnant and made a choice then. We just don’t know.

During the pregnancy, she found out her baby had Down Syndrome. She’s bound to have known families with such children and thought about how difficult it would be to raise her child. Maybe she considered abortion then. Maybe not. Maybe someone else asked her if she thought about abortion. Maybe not. It could be her friends and family believed she would never consider it because she had borne four children already and knew what was inside her was her child. Maybe they knew she believed abortion was murder so they never brought it up. Maybe she and her husband had a private conversation in which they weighed the prospect of living with a Down Syndrome child against the prospect of living with the guilt they would feel for killing it. Maybe they made a choice then. Or, maybe it never came up because each knew what the other would say.

Whatever went on in Sarah Palin’s mind during her pregnancy, she clearly carried a handicapped baby to term and delivered it when she could have had an abortion. She rejected that most prized “constitutional right” feminists believe they “won” for women everywhere in America and has a highly successful political career without it. When Palin’s family is on stage with the older girl holding her handicapped, infant brother, it drives the local feminist mentioned above and all the rest in the “sisterhood” of feminism nuts. She calls the infant boy, whose name is Trig, a “prop” because, although he’s the smallest, he stands out most in her eyes.

Perhaps it would be petty of me to speculate about another thing that annoys feminists about Palin: In addition to all the above, and after bearing five children, she’s attractive. Back in 1987 when Rush Limbaugh wrote that “Feminism was established so as to allow unattractive women access to the mainstream of society,” I believe he was kidding - mostly. As with all humor though, what makes it funny is that there’s a grain of truth in it. Feminists have long railed against societal standards of female beauty and they’ve made some good points along the way, but many of us have sensed that, as Shakespeare put it, they “protesteth too much.” Do many feminists resent attractive women and the advantage it gives them? I think so. Is there a disproportionately large number of angry, man-hating, homely women in the “sisterhood”? I think it’s pretty obvious that there is. I believe it’s safe to say that jealousy is also a factor in their hatred of Governor Palin.

The feminists favored candidate, Barack Obama, has the most pro-abortion record in the US Senate - indeed the most pro-abortion record of any candidate for president in history - by far. Speaking on sex education and his two daughters during the campaign last April, he said: “I am going to teach them first of all about values and morals. But if they make a mistake, I don't want them punished with a baby.” To Obama, babies are “punishment.” While in the Illinois State Senate, he voted against the “Born Alive Infant Protection Act.” He would rather leave babies born alive after unsuccessful abortions to die on a shelf in another room, alone and unattended, because to recognize them as human beings would threaten the legality of abortion itself. Explaining his vote, Obama said, “I mean, it - it would essentially bar abortions, because the equal protection clause does not allow somebody to kill a child, and if this is a child, then this would be an antiabortion statute.” If it’s not a child, Barack, then what the hell is it?

Ignore that crying baby in the other room. We must protect abortion. No wonder feminists love Obama and hate Palin. To them, her baby is a prop, a symbol that she rejects their culture of death.

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Monday, October 13, 2008

Criticize Obama? You're a Racist


“If the election were held today who would you vote for: Obama or McCain?” I asked them.

By a margin of greater than four-to-one, my students favored Obama. They indicated their choice enthusiastically - shooting their hands straight up without hesitation. McCain supporters, however, kept their elbows on the desk and shyly showed their palms while pulling their head down into their shoulders and glancing around to see who was watching. When I asked the Obama supporters why they chose him, most told me it was time for America to have a black president. Others said McCain was too old, or that Obama was cool.

That was last spring when my current students were finishing seventh grade and were in my classroom on “Step-up Day” to meet their future teachers. I asked why they thought it was time America had a black president and they said it would be proof that Americans are not racists. In September I asked them again with the same result. It’s very clear that they chose their favorite candidate on the basis of race and style over substance. Not one of the Obama supporters mentioned any of his positions on the issues as a basis for their choice. When I pointed this out, most just shrugged. A few then said they liked Obama because he would bring American soldiers home from Iraq. That was all they knew about what he planned to do if elected.

These, of course, were fourteen-year-olds and we don’t expect them to discharge their civic responsibilities maturely. Until I teach them, they’re not likely to understand many of the challenges facing our country. Very few understood differences between Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, or left-wing and right-wing political philosophies. After learning a few of those things, some of their choices have changed. Most still support Obama over McCain, but only by a two-to-one margin or less.

My circle of friends is mostly conservative, with a few liberals. The political philosophies of people in my wider circle of aquaintances is unknown to me for the most part, but most seem to be Obama supporters if I were to extrapolate based on overheard snippets of conversation or seeing their bumper stickers. When meeting new people, I avoid bringing up politics, but it comes up often in this election year. When it does, I usually listen rather than talk. If I’m drawn in, I prefer to ask questions rather than state my positions. What I’m learning dismays me.

Perhaps it was always thus, but I’m noticing that many adult voters are not very different from my fourteen-year-old students in that race and style are much bigger factors in their considerations of whom to vote for than substance. They’re excited about the prospect of a President Obama because he’s black, or says he is. That his mother was white and his father was mixed Arab and black (they’re both dead) is immaterial. Obama has chosen to think of himself as black and presents himself thus. That choice is a major subject of his two auto-biographies and it’s working well for him so far if opinion polls are any indication. Spoken or unspoken, it looks like the biggest single dynamic in the presidential campaign. Many voters who think of themselves as white are troubled by the notion that, if they were to vote against Obama, others may think them racist for doing so.

This notion is strongly encouraged. According to a Washington Post article last Sunday by Anne Kornblut: “In Youngstown, Ohio, last month, two Democratic state legislators accused swing voters who were not backing Obama of being racist. ‘Race - that's the only reason people in the Valley won't vote for him,’ state Rep. Thomas Letson said.”

Is that so, Representative Letson?

Philadelphia Daily News columnist Fatimah Ali wrote: “If McCain wins, look for a full-fledged race and class war, fueled by a deflated and depressed country, soaring crime, homelessness - and hopelessness!”

A “race war,” Ms. Ali?

According to the New York Times, Georgia Democrat Congressman John Lewis accused McCain and Palin of “sowing the seeds of hatred and division” for their criticism of Obama’s close association of terrorist Bill Ayers. Lewis said it could lead to racial violence like the 1963 Alabama church bombings that killed four girls. Apparently, that Obama is black should insulate him from criticism of any type in Lewis’s view. “Senator McCain and Governor Palin are playing with fire,” he said, “and if they are not careful, that fire will consume us all.”

Really, Congressman Lewis?

According to the Wall Street Journal, Obama stoked it himself in a speech last summer, saying: “What they're going to try to do is make you scared of me. You know: ‘He’s not patriotic enough. He’s got a funny name.’ You know, ‘He doesn't look like all those other presidents on the dollar bills.’ ” He made similar remarks in three different speeches.

Who is “they,” Senator Obama? Anybody who criticizes you?

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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

In The Tank


They’re not even embarrassed about how obviously they’re in the tank for Obama. Rather, they seem to feel righteous about it. Our media elite are so smug and insular in their world view, they don’t realize or care about how out of touch they’ve become with ordinary Americans - how we live or how we think. Paradoxically, our media elite see themselves as champions of the oppressed, of “minorities,” and other “victims” of “American oppression.” They’re embarrassed when ordinary Americans express our patriotism or our faith in God, considering it childlike and unsophisticated. Their friends are far too sophisticated to look at the world that way.

They know Obama goes to church and professes love of country, but they figure he does those things because he has to in order to get elected. And they want to see him elected because he’s one of them. He pronounces words as they do and he went to Ivy League school as they did. And like them, he sees the world from a hard left perspective. If we wonder why they don’t go after Obama’s William Ayers connection, that’s why. It doesn’t alarm them. Ayers fits with mainstream Democrat politics in Chicago. And why not expose racism in the Reverend Jeremiah Wright? Because they’re not alarmed by him either. He fits in with their world view too - way better than Justice Clarence Thomas does. Wright and Obama profess a belief in God, but it looks as if Thomas actually has one and lives his life accordingly. To our elitist media, that qualifies him as an intellectual lightweight and not qualified to serve on the US Supreme Court.

Seldom, if ever, do they question Barack Obama’s qualifications to be president, though his is the thinnest of resumes. Most of his career was as a “community organizer.” What the heck is that? And he served in the state senate? Big deal. He avoided nearly every controversial vote that came up when he was there, voting “present” instead of yes or no. US Senate? If ever there was a club for political prima donnas, it would be the US Senate and Obama did only two years there before running for president full-time.

Obama wants to be our chief executive, but his only executive experience was as Chairman of the Annenberg Challenge - a position Bill Ayers secured for him. Obama cited his Annenberg tenure in an unsuccessful congressional campaign, but has hidden it since and no wonder - it was a $50 million boondoggle which purported to raise standards for Chicago schools, which showed no measurable change when the money was all spent. Most of the money was authorized by Obama and spent by Ayers and his radical friends to push Chicago’s educational establishment further to the left than it already was. I remember getting $25,000 of Annenberg Challenge Grant money here in Fryeburg around the same time. A few other teachers and I trained students in the use of digital imaging technology and local history. I’m proud of what we did with just a tiny fraction of what Obama spent. The Chicago Democratic establishment, however, is trying to block reporters from investigating records of where Obama’s and Ayers’ $50 million went.

Then there’s Obama’s purchase of his Chicago mansion with convicted felon Tony Rezco - possibly using money from Iraqi/British billionaire Nadhmi Auchi, implicated in the infamous Iraqi “Oil For Food” debacle, the biggest financial scandal in world history until the sub-prime mortgage crisis. Obama is tangled up in that one too through his close associations with infamous Fannie Mae executives James Johnson and Franklin Raines (who, as CEO, took $90 million in bonuses). Johnson headed Obama’s vice presidential search committee and Raines advised his campaign on housing issues.

Since McCain selected Sarah Palin for his VP running mate, however, investigative reporters have swarmed over Alaska looking for dirt. Palin’s got at least as much experience as Obama, but all we hear about is her lack of it. She epitomizes ordinary Americans and the elite media’s contempt for her is sickeningly obvious. When she galvanized the GOP’s conservative base, they declared relentless, all-out war on her. They dug into her private life and even hung out her seventeen-year-old daughter to dry. They seemed to have Palin on the ropes until the debate with Biden last week. They were expecting Biden to knock her out, but instead, she took control and spoke directly to the American people, even looking into the camera and winking.

I’ve been watching presidential politics a long time from both sides of the spectrum and I’ve never seen the media go as softly on a candidate as they have on Obama. Nor have I ever seen them attack anyone as vociferously as they have gone after Palin. The elite media’s power is waning, but possibly still powerful enough to deliver a radical leftist into the oval office in January.

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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Teaching the Crisis


I’m responsible to teach economics and current events to eighth graders - woven into a 20th century US History course - and this sub-prime mortgage crisis is the biggest story of the year. It’s complicated, charged with politics during election season, and nobody seems to understand the big picture. I plowed ahead anyway and started by asking my students how many of them had money in the bank. Nearly all did. “Do you know what banks do with the money you put in there?” I asked. Most realized that banks lend that money so people can buy houses, cars, businesses, and so forth. We discussed how banks make money by charging people more interest on loans than they pay to depositors like them.

Then I told them of the three houses my wife and I purchased or built, how much of a down payment we put on each, how much we borrowed for them - how we fixed up the first two, sold them, and used profits to pay for much of building our present house. I told them about our employment history, our credit rating, and the factors that made our mortgage contracts examples of “prime mortgages” because we never borrowed more than we could afford to pay back and never missed a payment. Then I explained that the economic crisis was caused by “sub-prime mortgages” - banks (encouraged by government) lend money to people who can’t or won’t pay it back, either because they borrowed too much, because they were unreliable, because they fell on hard times, or because they didn’t put any of their own money down and can walk away from their payment without losing anything.

Then I wrote on the board and explained that what sound like names for people are actually crude attempts to phonetically pronounce the acronyms for FNMA - the Federal National Mortgage Association, and FHLMC - the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, respectively. I explained that local banks negotiate mortgage contracts such as mine but have limited money to lend, so Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac buy those contracts. Mine was for $95,000 at 6% for fifteen years with monthly payments of $801.66 and my house was worth way more than that. My contract can be sold - and has been twice, to Bank America and again to Wells Fargo Bank. My contract is worth more than $95,000 because of the interest I pay. By selling it, my local bank made a profit and got more money to lend so others around here can buy and build houses. That keeps carpenters, plumbers, electricians, excavators, dry-wall contractors, and others busy, giving us a healthy economy.

Most students understood this much. Then it got more complicated.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were created by government, I explained. Together, they control $6 trillion in mortgages - half of all American mortgages. When they buy a mortgage, they guarantee it - like a parent cosigning a loan for a teenager to buy a car. If the teenager doesn’t make payments, the parent must. When Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac wanted to sell sub-prime mortgages, few wanted to buy because they were such a bad risk by nature. So, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac bundled sub-prime mortgages with prime mortgages. Those packages became “Mortgage-backed Securities” which could be sold and re-sold because buyers believed that if they failed, government would fix everything - be the parent making payments for delinquent teenagers, so to speak. Wall Street jumped on and rode the ensuing boom. So long as house prices continued rising, sub-prime mortgagees could flip their properties and even profit, but as soon as prices leveled off and then fell as they inevitably do, foreclosures skyrocketed and it all caved in. Businesses most heavily invested caved with it, including the allegedly private Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Neither the Republican Congress nor the Democrat Congress saw it coming and they should have. Neither Clinton nor Bush saw it either. Some individuals did, but they didn’t blow the whistle loudly enough. Anyway, nobody listened.

Who is responsible for sub-prime mortgages at the root of all this? There’s plenty of blame to go around, but it started with the Carter Administration’s “Community Reinvestment Act” in the seventies. Standards to screen bad borrowers were relaxed. Buyers flooded the market and prices went up in the 1980s housing boom. Then President Clinton ordered standards lowered still further in 1995 so more “minorities” and other low-income people could own homes. Welfare payments qualified as “income.” Even illegal immigrants got mortgages with no money down. Uncle Sam became Jolly John. All this triggered a second housing boom now gone bust. Trouble is, this bust is so big,“experts” predict it may bring us all down with it unless the federal government solves the mess it created. Are they Chicken Littles and Henny Pennys warning us the sky is falling? Government wants us to buy back those dubious securities for up to $700 billion and sort out good from bad, claiming taxpayers will get their money back and more. Others doubt it.

Nearly every student learned something about the problem, but none understood it all. Neither do senators, congressmen, or voters. Neither do I. Not fully. Still, many think government must do something. If we do, hopefully we won’t make things worse.