Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Myth of John Galt

“We never think entirely alone: we think in company, in a vast collaboration; we work with the workers of the past and of the present. [Across] the whole intellectual world, each one finds in those about him the initiation, help, verification, [and] encouragement that he needs”

Antoine Sertillanges, La vie intellectuelle, 1920

No one knows who it was that first discovered iron, but legend has it that a man named Magnes who lived in an area of Greece called Magnesia was the first to notice the phenomena of magnetism. His dog was probably named ‘Maggie’.

Less legendary are the writings of Lucretius and Pliny the Elder[i]. Later, it was Hans Oersted who showed that magnetism was related to electricity, and it was left to Maxwell to codify the phenomena and establish the basis for the electromagnetic theory.

From there, it was a whole cast of actors, over many years, each making their own contribution, that lead to the innovation of the electric motor[ii]. John Galt, hero of Ayn Rand’s second-rate work of fiction, Atlas Shrugged, ‘took’ these ideas and incorporated them into his imaginary ‘static motor’.

The same dynamic occurred with respect to machine bearings, without which any motor would be worthless.

Henry Timken is credited with the invention of the roller bearing, and was awarded patent number 606635 by the United States patent office[iii]. But roller bearings were actually invented thousands of years before Timken was even a twinkle in his mother’s eyes.

The first use of roller bearings was by the ancient Egyptians, to build the pyramids. And even they couldn’t have made use of the idea without the invention of trees, and there’s no consensus on who invented them.

One can now extrapolate this theme of continuity to the invention of Reardenite.

The point of all this is that no one stands alone in space and time, no solitary figure changes the course of history. And, when there is a need, someone will step in to fill that need.

Rand, who claims to espouse values that can only be derived through logic and observation, fails to notice the continuity of the innovative dynamic: one person improves upon another’s work; one person sees the possibilities that others overlook, or one person combines the work of several others and ends up with an entirely new product.

In each case, as it is in reality, one adds to what’s already there, made possible only because that previous person did the same thing. Collectively (that word!) this is called history, which is a function of reality, unlike Galt, which is not.

None of this would matter if not for the many acolytes of this 3rd rate fantasy. Too many of our current policy makers and influencer's read the silliness that is Atlas Shrugged (usually while at a young age, more susceptible flights of fancy) and decided that she’s right. And worse. Among many of Ayn’s acolytes are those who cherry-pick aspects of her worldview, discarding the very threads of logic that would otherwise make it whole. 

In the same way that the flu spreads from one person to another, so has Rand’s self-defeating philosophy spread, and the result is that today we have many people in our society who fancy themselves as clones of Galt, who espouse her philosophy.

Paul Ryan fits this bill. This man is in a position to affect every person in the country, yet demonstrates no abilities that would legitimately place him there. Sure, he’s graduated college, but he parasitically used his father’s Social Security benefits to so. And, true, he has managed to get himself elected to congress. So did Gopher, from The Love Boat. So, no bragging allowed.

The personal independence that the philosophy embraces would not be possible without the sacrifices and hard work of those who came before, in many cases the sacrifice of others was a product of altruism, a despised activity in her constructed universe.

Never mind that many of these same people have never accomplished anything on their own, at the time the book was read by them, and therefore had no real-life experience to compare the fiction to. For someone such as Ayn Rand, who repudiates the philosophy she’s invented through the sheer implausibility of the notion of the ‘independent man’, to inspire others to a pretended state of independence, the irony of it all is invisible and therefore unreal.

Just like John Galt.

[ii] For a very well defined and interesting timeline of the electric motor, see and

Friday, May 16, 2014

 On The Right, Yet In The Wrong

In an article published in the Washington Times, Grover Norquist is crying once again about taxes. While it’s fair to say that nobody likes paying taxes, Norquist, at this point in time, should well understand that taxes are a necessity, if for no other reason than to enforce patent laws that make his privileged friends rich.

He claims that, originally, it was promised that only the “really rich” would have to pay taxes, and that “taxes would remain forever low”. Who ‘they’ are or when and in what context the promise of ‘forever low’ taxes was made, he doesn’t say.

Referring to the advent of the Tax Law of 1913, the dumb-ol', forever-incompetent Federal Government understood something that Norquist does not, that taxes should be levied in accordance of not just ability to pay, but in proportion to the benefits received from the government.

(Isn't it amazing? In Washington, people go from working within government, where they are deemed utterly incompetent by many republicans, to lobbying for republicans, where their incredible personal talents are highly sought.)

Some of the benefits received disproportionately to those with large incomes were (and still are): patent law enforcement, infrastructure acquisition (roads, freeways, interstate highways, sewer systems to remove industrial waste, electrical grids to provide the means of powering manufacturing facilities, maintenance of bridges, etc.)

Sure, individuals with lower incomes benefit from those things as well. But not anywhere near the extent that, say, Walmart or Cargill or Georgia-Pacific or Apple benefits from them. The average Joe doesn’t benefit from used-by-all infrastructure to the point where they are able to accumulate enough money through use of it to, say, buy or create their own political party.

Norquist wants government to ‘leave us alone’. Most people would have no severe argument with that concept. Except that most individuals can’t afford to hire their own private army of lawyers to go the owners of big corporations to recoup the cost of all that infrastructure that those same big corporations use more of than all the Jane Six-pack’s of the country do, put together.

That’s one reason why we have government in the first place. 

In a “Message to Congress on Tax Revision” from June 19th, 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt said:
“On the basis of these studies and of other studies conducted by officials of the Treasury, I am able to make a number of suggestions of important changes in our policy of taxation. These are based on the broad principle that if a government is to be prudent its taxes must produce ample revenues without discouraging enterprise; and if it is to be just it must distribute the burden of taxes equitably. I do not believe that our present system of taxation completely meets this test. Our revenue laws have operated in many ways to the unfair advantage of the few, and they have done little to prevent an unjust concentration of wealth and economic power.” (Emphasis added).
Norquist continues his whine[1], describing how that tax rates have gone up and the highest income amounts for those rates have gone down, over time. What he fails to grasp (intentionally – it’s his job to fail to grasp things like this) is the reason for this is that the original rates and amounts were out of synch with reality.

Reality isn’t Norquist’s strong suit to begin with. This is Grover speaking:

"Americans for Tax Reform is a national taxpayer organization dedicated to opposing any and all tax increases. We work at the national, state and local level for lower taxes, less government spending and limited government."
This is what intellectuals refer to as 'Bullshit'.

He calls what’s happened with the tax code –get this- “Trickle-Down Taxation”. (Grover, take a piece of well-meaning, friendly advice: Don’t use that term while having a beer at your friendly neighborhood watering hole. Just don’t.)

See how funny he is?

Whatever term is used to describe the phenomena, what it actually does is it forces the fat-cats to be responsible citizens. And it is forced – it has to be – the Mammon worshippers won’t do it on their own.

He adds that the Alternative Minimum Tax was “invented to punish 155 Americans who bought municipal bonds”. Wrong again, Grover. This requires correction:

The AMT was created to:
“ensure that the highest-income households could not exploit loopholes, exclusions, and deductions to avoid paying any federal income tax.”[2]
The only people being ‘punished’ were ultra-wealthy tax scofflaws who think that ‘taxes’ are something that ‘commoners’ only should have to pay.

Norquist’s use of the number ‘155’ is meant to convey a small, targeted group of people in order to make his larger point: That the tax now applies to many, many more than originally intended – see how cancerous government is?

He goes on to lament Obama’s tobacco excise tax, and how it disproportionately affects the poor and middle class, which is an argument that’s nearly as old as the Union[3]. More importantly, even though he decries this ‘sin tax’, has joined a similar fight against alcohol[4], but is oddly comfortable with a tax on weed[5]. Consistency is not something this man values.

Norquist wants a future America to resemble the country’s first 137 years – where a man was a man and a woman couldn’t vote and other men were property, where children worked in factories and if they got hurt – too bad. Ahh, the good old days.

But the best part comes when he talks about states with no income tax – and boy, oh boy – does he get things wrong.

He asks you to imagine living in a state that has no income tax, implying that it would be an improvement. And it would – but only if you’re already wealthy. According to the Institute on Taxation & Economic Policy:
“virtually every state’s tax system is fundamentally unfair and is made more so by the absence of a progressive personal income tax…”
But Norquist doesn’t care about the plight of the poor, and any talk we hear from Republicans about helping people move up the economic ladder is simply lip service.

In fact, Norquist really doesn’t care about taxes – what he cares about is his employer’s having to pay taxes.

[1] I for one, am getting quite tired of hearing from the very, very, well-off about how hard their lives are because of their wealth and how they use it. See “Charles Koch’s Pity Party”.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Game of Moans

Another Libertarian, of the ‘personal responsibility’ Libertarians has cried victim in the face of alleged wrongdoing.

This time it is manifest in the person of Tucker Nelson, an intern for Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, as reported in the Washington Examiner.

As an aside, Grover’s organization is considered a non-profit, but it really is all about profit – mainly the Koch brother’s. ATR, and Norquist, in real life, have no problem with taxes or tax increases – as long as it doesn’t affect his friends.

Norquist injected himself into the Volkswagen/UAW labor organizing issue at the company’s Chattanooga Tennessee plant earlier this year. Why? Because Norquist, and apparently ATR itself, is anti-union. Why? Because they know that union workers earn more money (actually, they are paid more – even non-union workers earn more than they are paid, they just don’t receive the all pay they earn).

Norquist knows, as well as his meal ticket, the Koch brothers, that economic power leads to political power. Considering that none of the workers were born to wealth, (like Chuckie, Davy, and Norqy), so why should they have anything to say about the society in which they live? Nevermind that the company wanted the workers to organize.

Because now, even other ‘producers’ should subordinate themselves to the Koch-funded ATR.

As I’m sure that Norquist and the gang are aware, Ayn Rand would consider those workers nothing more than ‘moochers’ and ‘takers’. (What exactly, did Ayn ‘create’, except for two poorly written fantasy stories that appeal to mainly adolescent males and are no more than therapy for her to exercise her childhood demons and dissappointments anyway?)

No matter. The point is that it’s an astonishing act of hypocrisy to cry victim while perpetuating harm upon others.

Yet Nelson’s complaint of victim-ness involves the UAW subpoenaing emails between her and her grandfather. According to the Examiner, Nelson wrote:
“I may be the only intern in U.S. history to be subject to this sort of legal attack by a union. My family was quite concerned. Grandpa even sent me an e-mail:
"Tucker — What kind of cookies should we send you when you are in the slammer? Grandpa."
I didn’t have the heart to tell him that his e-mail — and my cookie preference — were now subject to the document sweep.” 
Wow. Poor gramps. He was so concerned he even sent an email. The family must be devastated. I hope they can find the strength to carry on.

It’s clear the animals at the UAW will stop at nothing.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

A Is Not A and Contradictions Do Not Exist

In Ayn Rand’s second-rate effort at creating a fictional world, “Atlas Shrugged”, the ‘producers’ (or ‘creative minds’ as Ayn would say) decide to punish the ‘moochers’ (or ‘reactive minds, as L.Ron Hubbard would say), not for actually mooching, as one might expect, but for not showing adequate appreciation for the producers’ efforts, all the while contradicting what is (or should be – according to the fantasy world Rand has set up) incontrovertible.

I’ll give you a moment here.

That is to say, if money, as the Randian ethos commands, is the most important metric[1] (Rand was known to wear a dollar sign brooch and a six-foot dollar sign was on display at her funeral[2]) in which to measure the worth of a person’s life, then the heroes of Atlas Shrugged are guilty of abrogating the most important tenet of her writing: Reason.

Reason dictates (according to Rand and her acolytes[3],[4],[5],[6]) that people must pursue their own self-interests, and that altruism is anathema[7]. Therefore ‘Going Galt’ is, in realty, an act of financial suicide (or at least, self-cutting). It also leaves the so-called ‘moochers’ control of the means of production. In other words, it is a gift.

Who then, are they really punishing? They left their railroads and all their other 1920’s era steam-punk production capacity in the hands of lesser beings, now the newly-minted next-generation of ‘productive minds’ who can’t be expected to withstand the pressure from the ‘moochers’ any better than they themselves could. The only real losers in this scenario are those occupying Galt’s Gulch.

Why any of this matters at all is because it illustrates well how distorted, and backward, many of the self-proclaimed adherents to Rand’s philosophy (particularly those holding public office, and even a few weasels too timid to run for office - yet demand inclusion to public discussions) act in real life. What’s worse, they seem not to be able to understand how wrong they’ve gotten their dear philosophy.

That’s not all their fault because Rand herself gets confused about it. If everything worth thinking or feeling should be the product of reason, how can she explain the irrational response of the ‘producers’ to go on ‘strike’, which will cost them money (the only true metric in life) just so they can punish the ‘moochers’ for not appreciating them more?

When did Rand assign appreciation value? Well, she never says it directly in any of her writings, but there it is in abundance at Galt’s Gulch. At least one pseudo-Randian values gratitude (and love), even while bitching he doesn’t get any.

That’s because despite all the chest-thumping and declarations of self-reliance and the refusal to acknowledge the need for those one looks down on[8], people, even those that inhabit Rand’s second-rate fiction, desire the acknowledgment, if not outright love, of other human beings.

As far as this silly notion that the captains of industry would ever ‘Go Galt’ – they already have – but they haven't gone all in.

After Obama was elected some claimed that this was exactly what some industries where doing – “Going Galt” was the term used[9], and it truly seemed that this was the case. If so, they were, in real life, purposefully diminishing their own worth.

I’ve noticed more than a few people talk about how they were ‘blown away’ or otherwise impressed with Rand’s work when they first encountered it, whether early in life or not, though usually the younger they were, the more they were impressed[10].

That’s exactly what happened with Paul Ryan. Though he’s tried to make the claim that his devotion to Rand is an ‘urban myth’, a Rand-style contradiction in itself.[11].

Rand’s philosophy has turned out to far more pliable and fertile than she could have meant it to be: A is A, but it is also not A. Contradictions do and do not exist.

Maybe she’s a better writer than I give her credit for.

[7] SparkNotes Editors. “SparkNote on Atlas Shrugged.” SparkNotes LLC. 2003. Web. 30 Apr. 2014.
[8] “Ayn Rand and the World She Made”, Anne C. Heller 2009. Random House, NY
[10] Ibid.
[11] National Review April 26, 2012

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Dirtier Than Nixon
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is running for President of the United States of America. Sure, he’s being coy about it, but everyone knows that’s his plan.
With Walker as President, you’ll get plenty of promises, but few good results. Although he doesn’t really care what the average person thinks about him, as long as they vote for him. His real concern is carrying water for those he needs to advance his career.
Walker was never about public service. Can anyone point to a solid reason he was elected as Milwaukee County Executive? Other than this, I mean. What has he ever accomplished that moved society forward?
For Scott Walker it has always been about him. His career. His aspirations.
Yet, he brings nothing to the table.
Walker had an excellent opportunity to demonstrate to the people of Milwaukee County just how good he is at managing large, complex enterprises. The results?
The State was forced to take over Milwaukee County’s public assistance programs, due to Walker's ineptness. It’s almost as if Milwaukee County had picked their ill-prepared, unskilled, and unqualified cousin for the position.
“The State's unprecedented move Tuesday to strip Milwaukee County of its role in administering food aid, child care and medical assistance programs was prompted by years of county mismanagement, state Health Services Secretary Karen Timberlake said.”

“The state "has in fact expended millions of additional dollars and thousands of hours of staff resources to assist your county over a period of years," Timberlake wrote. "Despite these efforts, Milwaukee County's performance fails national and state standards and is failing the people of the county."

"Milwaukee County has demonstrated a sustained inability to successfully provide services to its (poor) customers," Timberlake said in a letter to Walker. She disputed Walker's assertion that the problem has been the state underfunding the operation, or due to the souring economy[1].
A ‘sustained inability’. For those who strive towards process excellence, those are damning words. But ‘process excellence’ was the last thing on Walker’s mind. What Timberlake is saying, essentially, is ‘we gave you more help than your predecessors and you still couldn’t do the job’. Walker wanted failure, because from his Randian perspective, those receiving the help weren’t the ‘creative minds’, the ‘makers’ that added value to society, they were ‘takers’, nothing more than grist for the mill and entirely expendable.
Got it. Refuse to administer help (that’s already available) to those most in need, then when they remain needy, seek excuses, not solutions. Thus, the self-fulfilling prophesy becomes the proof.
While on the campaign trail, expect to hear many things from Walker. Programmed talking points produced by his Koch-sponsored handlers designed to mask the real agenda: continue to push for policies that reward the wealthy for being wealthy while destroying America’s middle-class and keep those already struggling from improving their condition.

But what he won’t talk about are any of the scandals and near-scandals that follow him.

Tom Barrett, Milwaukee Mayor and Democrat Gubernatorial opponent in both the 2010 and the recall elections, had this to say about Walker and his tight-lipped defense strategy:
“There are just so many questions that Gov. Walker refuses to answer. He refuses to answer questions about who’s paying his legal defense fees for his criminal defense lawyers. He refuses to answer questions on where he goes on fundraising trips when he should’ve been in Madison working on legislation. He refuses to answer questions such as, ‘Did he sign recall petitions against Sen. [Russ] Feingold and Sen. [Herb] Kohl?’ The more questions he refuses to answer, the more people are asking themselves, why is he asking us to trust him[2]?”
Regarding whether or not Walker signed recall petitions against Senators Feingold and Kohl, walker says:
“I don’t remember what may or may not have been put in front of me. I just don’t remember. Do you remember everything you signed 15 years ago?” he said in the interview. “The mayor’s just desperate.”
Which makes you wonder: Does Walker read what he signs? Signing a recall petition is not like, say, taking a survey or some routine paperwork. Surely one would remember a petition. Do we want a president that is either unfocused or is a liar?

Another scandal surrounding Walker is the John Doe 1 & 2 investigations. John Doe 1 involved Walker’s Milwaukee County staff working on his bid for governor while on county time. Walker has repeatedly stated he knew nothing of what the staffers were up to.

The notion that Walker puts forward as to his lack of knowledge whether or not his staff was breaking election laws, is incongruent with being a manager that is focused on the work to be done, and therefore laughable. If he didn’t know what was going on in his own office, what does that say about his skill at administration? Yet, he his damned by his own words. Writing about the indictments brought forth on Kelly Rindfleisch, Walker says:
"We cannot afford another story like this one…No one can give them any reason to do another story. That means no laptops, no websites, no time away during the workday, etc[3]”
So, he knew.

Walker habitually surrounds himself with corrupt people. One of his biggest contributors paid a fine of $166,900 for illegally funneling money to Walker’s campaign. And let’s not forget the convictions of former Walker staffers in the John Doe I probe.

But it’s not just crooks that Walker keeps company with, it’s stupid people with disgusting values. Walker’s former deputy chief of staff, Tim Russell, and his partner, Brian Pierck, chose the brilliant user name of “Walker04” when visiting child pornography sites[4].

Imagine the selection process that was used to locate such great talent. Now, imagine that same expertise applied to potential cabinet secretaries and even Supreme Court nominees.

All this might matter to a person if they were intent on serving the public, not so with Walker – like the Honey Badger – he just doesn’t care. Walker is only concerned with advancing his own career. Make no mistake: Walker uses the Koch brothers (and others) as much as they use him.

Let’s also not forget Walker’s demonstrated fealty to the Koch brothers, and particularly the infamous phone call. Last time I checked, neither Koch brother was a citizen of Wisconsin. To further cement the relationship between the Koch brothers and the Right in general, reflect for a moment of the efforts of ALEC – funded by Koch.
To be fair, not all the blame for ALEC’s influence can be placed at Walker’s feet – too many Wisconsin Republicans holding office offer sacrifice at this altar. Let’s just not forget that we are the sacrifice they are offering.
Walker has made the largest cuts to public education in the state – ever. The result of Walker’s ‘administration’? Wisconsin ranks poorly compared to any other state in terms of economic health and job creation, the keystone of his campaign promises. Transfer that thinking to the national level.
This all goes beyond money. It speaks to the question of what kind of society we wish to have. Do we want to live in a country where the number of dollars you have is the only metric worth considering? What about the overall quality of life attainable to the average citizen, even if they aren’t filthy rich? Is it only the moneyed-class that has a right to pursue happiness?
If you aren’t convinced that the only reason Walker is Governor of Wisconsin is the Tea Party frenzy of 2010 – manufactured by Koch – and that the Tea Party is an entirely astroturf effort, consider the following:
“Many of the ideas propounded in the 1980 campaign presaged the Tea Party movement. Ed Clark told The Nation that libertarians were getting ready to stage ‘a very big tea party’, because people were ‘sick to death’ of taxes.[5]”
They’ve been at this for a while.

Most frightening of all are the ties that the Koch’s have to the John Birch Society, possibly the most extreme right-wing group ever, with the possible exception of the Ayn Rand Society, though are nearly one and the same.
Even William F. Buckley, Jr., whom no one could mistake for a left-leaning socialist-sympathisizing flower-child condemned the John Birch Society, and Barry Goldwater felt the need to distance himself from the group.[6]
And the Koch’s are fulfilling the JBS agenda, if not in name, then certainly in deed. Helped by Grover Norquist (no friend of middle America and another Randian robot), who wants to return the country back to the good old days of the 1880’s where there corporations ruled people’s lives in nearly every way and made countless miserable.
In this worldview, regular people are of no use – they are not the ‘creative minds’ Rand writes of but the ‘reactive minds’ that L. Ron Hubbard pities[7]. Nevermind that the ‘creative minds’ (read ‘job creators) that Rand talks about could never realize success if not for the ‘takers’ she despises.
This is why Wisconsin voters carry a burden unlike those of other states. Wisconsin has the opportunity, nay duty, to turn him out of office – any office. People of Wisconsin need to reclaim their place as innovators of public service and policy.

They’ve done it before, and come November, they will realize another first: the first state to rebuke the big-money Koch-Machine fueled era of Randian/Birch government.
As William Finnegan, writing in the New Yorker[8], put it:
“Wisconsinites aren't used to such hard-nosed politics. Bipartisan consensus is a cherished local value; laws mandating official transparency are proudly upheld. The good-government tradition is strong, and many Wisconsinites like to suggest, politely, that the state has been indispensable to social progress in America. It was here that the first progressive state income-tax and workers'-compensation laws were passed, in 1911; the first unemployment insurance established, in 1932; the first collective bargaining agreement for public employees signed, in 1959. The country's first kindergarten was opened in Wisconsin. The historic bastion of Wisconsin progressivism was the Republican Party. As William Cronon, a University of Wisconsin historian, writes, "The Democratic Party was so ineffective that Wisconsin politics were largely conducted as debates between the progressive and conservative wings of the Republican Party." At times, the Socialists (Milwaukee had three Socialist mayors, the most recent serving until 1960) and Robert M. La Follette's Progressives also played vital roles”.
Scott Walker has brought nothing to positive to Wisconsin, he'll bring nothing positive the the country. He's already dirtier than Nixon was when he was forced out of the Oval Office in disgrace. His friends are linked to the most paranoid and extremist organizations ever to crawl the Earth.

Walker has mis-managed Wisconsin's affairs in a spectacular show of incompetence. Likewise as Milwaukee County Executive. And, he the same thi...wait. What did he do as a member of the state assembly?

Now, he wants to be President. He has the Koch brother's money backing him. He's able to lie with a straight face. He might make it, after all. That's why Wisconsin simply must stop him, here.

Wisconsin is ready to rise to the challenge and lead the country away from the perverse distortion of of our Founding Father's vision. Our motto is "Out of Many, One" not "For a Few, All".

Come November, it’s on the people of Wisconsin, more than anyone else, to set the ship of state aright once again and put the country back on a genuine path to prosperity for all. And this time, a democrat will lead them.

[1] The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel February 3, 2009.
[2] “Scott Walker Keeps Low Profile Before Wisconsin Recall Vote. David Catanese,
[3] “Sending Scott Walker Packing” Ruth Conniff, Progressive magazine March 2012, Vol. 76, Issue 3
[7] For a discussion of the similarities of Rand’s philosophy and Hubbard’s, see “The Ayn Rand Cult”, by Jeff Waler. Open Court Publishing, Peru, Illinois 1999.
[8] “The Storm”, William Finnegan, New Yorker 3/5/2012 Vol.88, Issue 3.

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