Is Generation Y That High Maintenance?

In the middle of everything else I do, last Friday I took time to attend the Annual Meeting of the Tennessee Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers in Smyrna, TN.  I still do engineering activity (including this, this and this) and it’s good to get out and get updated.

Engineering meetings can be very boring, even for engineers.  One reason why engineering curricula emphasise more and more communication and people skills (as opposed to purely technical ones) is that good engineering ideas frequently die in the public square for lack of effective presentation.  (The less than satisfactory state of our math and science education doesn’t help either.)  One session at the meeting that was anything but boring was the Engineering Management session, kicked off by one of the most provocative talks I have ever heard.

The presenter was Tiffany Coursey, PHR of Barge Waggoner Sumner & Cannon, an eminent Tennessee civil engineering firm.  The topic was “Recruiting and Retaining the ‘Y’ Generation.”  Generational distinctives have always been of interest to me.  Her focus was on the generation born between approximately 1980 and 2000, and some of the things she shared were very interesting.

  1. The first was that that this generation is very bonded to their parents, so much so that they come into the workforce not having made any major decisions in their life.  Parents are even involved in their job search and placement; she related that, when she turned down one prospect, same prospect’s mother called demanding to know why their child was rejected.
  2. The second was that this generation has an enormous amount of self-confidence, instilled both by their parents and their school system.  Both of these and more have pumped this group up.  (A good place to watch this in action was the Beijing Olympics, complete with the complementary abyss of defeat.  Personally I found it hard to take; it came across frequently as arrogance.)
  3. The third is that this generation is totally technologically connected, both to their devices and to each other.  That’s no surprise, but it’s important to underscore both for the benefit of the old timers and in an industry that in some ways pioneered such things as computer simulation and then lagged in using the technology for other things such as talking with each other.  That connection changes very rapidly.  Ms. Coursey related that she taught a Sunday School class of college and career people.  She dutifully collected their emails, only to find out that few read them!  They were all on MySpace and Facebook!
  4. The fourth is that this generation has a low tolerance for jobs and work environments they deem unsatisfactory.  Don’t like a job or employer?  Start hunting online for a new one, and let everyone else know that the one you’ve got sucks.
  5. The fifth is that this generation requires a higher degree of mentoring/coaching/interaction with management/handholding (take your pick) than their predecessors.  You just don’t let this group “sink or swim” alone in a corporate environment.
  6. The sixth is that formal, higher education is a given.  (That, too, is buttressed by the public school system.  Just try to push for more vocational education and feel the brick wall you run into.)

Needless to say, these generalisations (and they need to be understood in that way) drew a lot of lively discussion that doesn’t usually take place at an engineering meeting.  That discussion was spiced by the academics at the meeting, who by definition have more combat experience with this group than just about anyone else other than the aforementioned parents.  They got into the issue of the inadequate preparation our self-lauding public schools give their students entering the college they feel is so necessary, and that was a whole thread unto itself.

From all this, the employment challenges speak for themselves.  I’d like to concentrate on two other aspects of this: the political, and how this relates to the church.

Politics

It’s no secret that the overwhelming majority of this generation supports Barack Obama for President.  They have done so since the beginning of the Democrat primary process (which was a long time ago!)  What Coursey set forth helps to explain why that’s so.

Back at the first of the year (when this primary process was moving into high gear,) I made the following statement:

…the Republicans’ core problem in moving forward this election year…simply put, is that Americans in general are less and less willing to be self-reliant, and a desire to be self-reliant is a key ingredient in a conservative society.

The characterisation of Generation Y only adds one more reason why this is so. A generation that tightly bonded to parents is simply not as self-reliant as those who went before, their own manifest shortcomings notwithstanding.

Both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton promised a “nanny state” in response to this.  But Obama ended up triumphing.  Obviously he did a better job connecting to Generation Y in his style of campaigning.  But there’s something else at work: he is, in effect, a surrogate parent for a generation used to looking to parents for so much.

It’s interesting to note that every dictator who has risen in a “democratic” setting (I’m specifically excluding the Marxists such as Lenin and Mao, who did so through revolution and civil war) has presented himself as a father to his people, and his country as the “fatherland” or something like it.  Although the usual comparisons come to mind, the U.S. is a diverse country, which is more difficult to sweep than the more homogeneous societies of Europe.  A more fruitful comparison might be Argentina’s Juan Peron, and his legacy in what was once one of the world’s richest countries speaks for itself.

It’s hard to see the future for true freedom (as understood by our society until now) in a country where so many are so used to so much supervision.  That bodes ill for religious and political minorities (such as the Evangelicals) who have been demonised by the “powers that be” for so long.  But that leads to another characteristic of this generation that Coursey brought up: they are diverse and tolerant.  They see a fulfilment of that in Obama’s election.

Tolerance is doubtless the most oversold virtue our society has today.  Looked at on a purely practical level, tolerance is the grease that allows a group of people who aren’t identical to mesh and get through life together.  Underneath the obsession with tolerance is the primal fear that some of the group will be trashed if they don’t go along with the standard agreed on by “everyone.”  That guarantees that the tolerance agenda will be self-defeating, because any time a standard is agreed on, some will always fall outside of it.  It’s another road to enforced groupthink.

The tricky part for a Barack Obama, if he is elected, is fulfilling the unrealistic expectations of the overconfident in the face of the current economic situation.  Will his followers stick with him like dutiful children to a parent?  Will they bolt and go somewhere else, like a different job?  Or will they just go to pieces, like the losers in Beijing?

The Church

I spend a lot of time lamenting just how ineffective the “Religious Right” is in impacting the agenda in this country.  But, in some ways, this generation has been very much influenced by the social agenda of religious conservatives.

Too many abortions?  The birthrate went up, and having children became fashionable again.  Too large a disconnect between parents and children?  The results speak of overcompensation.  Drinking and smoking a sin?  This generation grew up with the drinking age jacked up again to 21, along with relentless anti-smoking legislation.  Nobody cares about everyone else?  Voluntarism is today a form of corvée with this generation.  Even prosperity teaching is reflected in the high self-confidence of this generation.  I could go on with this.

Unfortunately, the church didn’t reap the benefit.  This is for two reasons.

The first is that the church has wasted too much time trying to change society when it’s first task is to disciple those who come to it in Jesus’ name.  That’s a parallel mistake to the one the trade unions made, as I note here.

The second is that Evangelicalism, with its populism and moral demands, is looked at by the elites of this country as an existential threat.  Their response has been to cut it out of the tolerance agenda, something that was easily predictable and should have been planned for by Evangelical leadership.  But it was not.

It’s hard to see how a faith which centres on conversion growth is going to get very far in a society where most of the potential converts are hog-tied to their parents and the system, and leaving unbelief has as much potential impact as a Muslim leaving Islam.  That could be more than compensated for by a belief system with emphasis on the afterlife taking advantage of a general economic failure.  But Evangelicalism itself is too tied to upward social mobility to take advantage of such an event.

The best factor going for Christianity today is the growth of foreign dominance in our society, necessitated  by the enormous debt we owe the rest of the world.  The Anglicans have got the drop on this.  Internationalisation will be a hard pill to swallow for American Evangelicalism, but in the end the medicine will be good.

In the meanwhile, I’m just glad that I’m out of having to make personnel decisions.

Obama’s Clean, but His Plane Stinks

Joe Biden’s comment that Barack Obama was a “clean” black guy was patronising, but CBS reporter Dean Reynolds’ assessment of his campaign’s press plane is another matter altogether:

The McCain campaign plane is better than Obama’s, which is cramped, uncomfortable and smells terrible most of the time. Somehow the McCain folks manage to keep their charter clean, even where the press is seated.

B.O. perhaps?  But evidently it’s a big job to keep the press plane clean, because McCain’s campaign “somehow” manages to do it, “even where the press is seated.”

I knew this campaign was exciting, but…

Given the way the MSM has fawned over Obama, this is ungrateful, to say the least.  But Obama and his people are about to learn a lesson: you better be nice to the people you meet on the way up, because you’re going to meet them again on the way down.

As Reynolds himself notes:

Maybe none of this means much. Maybe a front-running campaign like Obama’s that is focused solely on victory doesn’t have the time to do the mundane things like print up schedules or attend to the needs of reporters.

But in politics, everything that goes around comes around.

A Visitor Comments About Obama’s Patriotism

This, from Ashley, 16, in Louisiana, in response to my post on Obama and his flag pledging habits:

It truly is sad to see Obama standing with his hands crossed in front of him while the pledge was being said. And he wants to run our country, well not by my vote. Anyone that doesn’t believe in Christianity and doesn’t follow the traditions of the United States of America, doesn’t need to be our president. He can say all he wants that he is for change, what is he going to change? American’s right of freedom? Our way of life? Our religion? Obama shouldn’t even be able to run for president, considering his Muslim background.

Although I don’t agree with Ashley’s assesment about his relationship to Islam there’s no doubt that Obama’s idea of patriotism is very different than what most Americans believe it to be.  As I said before:

For liberals, loyalty to country centres on government.  Ideally they would like to turn this country into another Europe.  But the U.S. lacks the ethnic homogeniety to bond a nationalist state together such as the Europeans have done, and to undermine things further the left has done more than its share to riddle our national life with identity politics, turning us into a land of racists, sexists and homophobes.  (That almost backfired on them with Hillary Clinton’s campaign, but I digress…)

So we must turn to a social contract approach: our government provides us with a battery of social services (education, health care, employment or the dole) and we in turn respond by putting up with any and all of the restrictions our government cares to throw at us and the occasional demand for corvée such as national service (yes, that’s coming with these people, too.)

There are two related problems with this.

The first is that to change a successful formula such as the one we have had in this country is risky.  There’s no guarantee that the U.S. would make a graceful change to a European style social contract, and I’m inclined to think that it wouldn’t.

The second is much simpler to grasp: we are too far in the hole to afford such an experiment.  Like it or not, we are a debtor nation, and the receding of dollar hegemony only will make that worse.  We need the economic growth that a relatively unfettered economy can bring to enable us to meet our obligations.  Larding our system with a new, expensive social contract will hinder our way out of debt, producing a perpetually sluggish economy with reduced living standards and a larger foreign domination of our national life.   It will ultimately defeat its own purpose.

All of that goes to the heart of Obama’s cavorting with radicals such as Bill Ayers.   Ashley’s concerns about what Obama wants to change are well founded, based on associations such as that.  But face it, when you’re endorsed by entities such as MoveOn.org and the DailyKos from the get-go as Obama was, why should anyone expect you to be patriotic?

No, Our Elites Won’t Defend Us

Camille Paglia shares a concern:

I am very concerned about whether our professional class, buffed all shiny and bright by the elite universities, will ever have the will or stamina to defend this nation in a major crisis. As I’ve predicted for years, we’re heading down a path similar to that of the Roman empire — with a sophisticated, self-absorbed upper class enjoying a comfortable lifestyle whose security is maintained by a career military (increasingly foreign or mercenary as Rome declined). Soldiers must do or die by the good judgment or shallow caprice of a nation’s leaders, who are the ones who bear all moral responsibility in this matter.

It’s easy for me to respond to that: no, they don’t have that stamina.  They haven’t for a long time.  That was one of the hard lessons growing up with them.  Going to those elite universities to be “buffed all shiny and bright” only made matters worse.

If there’s one objection I have to the Evangelical view of the U.S., it’s that we’re “taking America back for God.”  The top of the country was lost many years ago, and most Evangelicals didn’t understand it then and don’t understand it now.  And they don’t understand how important that is, even in a populist country like the U.S.  Grasping that–which is one of the points of this–would have made the “Religious Right” movement have a better chance for success, but we’ve lost too much time now.

The Second Debate: A Yawner

From Art Rhodes:

At the end of the debate, I asked the same question that my 14-year old son often asks – “Who can I call to get the last two hours of my life back?” Yes, the Belmont debate was that bad! Neither candidate made any headway in moving the undecided voters. As a matter of fact, most undecided voters went away from last night’s debate probably wanting to vote for “None of the Above.”

All we heard was canned stump speeches that we have heard over and over for the past 15-18 months. Neither candidate hit a home run; no triples, no doubles, and very, very few singles. Obama was more effective at trying to make his answers personal and directly relevant to the person asking the question. McCain, on the other hand, only wanted to attack Obama, and really never “scored” until his response to the final question – long after most people had given up on a good debate and had gone to bed.

It was a yawner.  Yet the media are still rabid for a “game changer” in these debates.  One can only wish that the two vice-presidential candidates were doing the last one.

In the meanwhile, the élan of Obama’s candidacy with his core supporters has finally hit me.  I’ll share that on Friday.

Blast From the Past: A Step Backward for Property Rights (Kelo vs. New London)

Originally posted 23 June 2005.

A few months ago I had lunch with the husband of a well-known Christian radio talk show hostess. As he is a lawyer, the Supreme Court’s docket came up, and he brought up the case of Kelo vs. New London, where the Conneticut city wanted to take the property of a group of homeowners for a waterfront development. In the midst of Ten Commandments and Pledge of Allegance cases, many Christians didn’t pay much attention to this, but he understood both its import and the “Supremes” likely decision on the matter.

He was right on both counts. Not only did the Supremes rule in favour of the city, but also this is a lot bigger deal than most activists on the “Religous Right” realise.

Absolute property rights are a cornerstone of American law and life. In many countries, all property was held by the Crown, to be doled out to the masses and others as the sovereign saw fit. The U.S. was different, and the breadth of private property rights is much broader here than just about anywhere else in the world. It has been a main instrument for the broad distribution of wealth and the general economic prosperity of the nation. It has also been an important instrument in freedom of all kinds, including religious, in spite of the many erosions we have seen of late, such as zoning and environmental law.

American property rights have a Biblical basis. Without going into a lot of detail, one reason why God (through Samuel) attempted to dissuade the Isrealites from a monarchy is that the monarch would basically own everything and the nation would be the monarch’s servants. Naboth found this out the hard way at Ahab’s hand. Micah prophecied “But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid: for the mouth of the LORD of hosts hath spoken it.” (Micah 4:4)

Perhaps this is why the left wants to purge the Bible from our public life and legal system. It is simply too populist a document, gives too much dignity to ordinary people, to allow free rein in the type of society they would like for us to have. Now the Supreme Court–primarily by its left wing–has struck a serious blow to property rights, a guarantor of equity. The left whines about how income distribution has skewed so much since the early 1970’s, but they are too much the product of the limousine to do anything serious about it.

And this has implications for the church too. In most places churches are exempt from property taxes. How much easier to raise property tax revenue than to condemn property that is tax exempt?

The issue of property is in many ways as important as any other in our legal system. Hopefully this sad decision will play an important role in our next few Supreme Court judicial nominating ordeals.

Blast from the Past: A Recipe for Social Unrest (Bankruptcy Laws)

Originally posted 10 August 2005.  The subject came up in the last VP debate.

With all of the excitement coming out of Europe, the Middle East, and even Aruba, it’s easy to forget an important change that could impact many Americans in the very near future. After years of lobbying and overcoming populist sentiment, the US Congress passed and the President signed an overhaul in the US bankruptcy laws that will make it more difficult for individuals to seek protection under these laws.

US bankruptcy laws have been some of the most lenient on the planet. With businesses, as one attorney told me a long time ago, bankruptcy has been a “business strategy” rather than a last resort in many cases. For individuals, it has been a well-trod road to avoid losing everything. The road to where we were was long and difficult. Until early in the history of the republic, bankruptcy was a criminal offence, as it was in Britain and ancient Rome. (“Agree with thine adversary at once, whiles thou art in the way with him, lest thine adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the minister, and then thou be cast into prison.” (Mt. 5:25)) Many places in the world, such as Georgia and Australia, were colonised with indentured servants, most of whom were in debt “workouts” that were usually brutal. From there we decriminalised bankruptcy and progressed to the regime we have today.

The “Greatest Generation,” with the “poor house” in memory, were loathe for bankruptcy and the extensive credit that led to it, but their children and grandchildren are of another mind altogether. Living in a culture that has lost its sense of “position,” the only way to demonstrate to others that one has arrived is to show wealth ostentatiously, to say nothing of the incessant drive for instant gratification. It’s a lot quicker to borrow the money than to do this with cash, so many borrow. Easier credit, both secured (first and second mortgages) and unsecured (credit cards,) has only fuelled this trend. The result has been record displays of wealth at all levels and the record bankruptcy rates to go with it. Compounding the problem has been the evaporation of savings and thrift, which is OK until disaster (medical emergencies, litigation, retirement) strikes.

We said the lenders fuelled this trend with expanded credit opportunities. The expansion of credit was frequently done without regard of credit worthiness, especially with unsecured credit. Rather than really checking lenders out, the credit card companies play a numbers game; their idea is to charge high enough interest rates (and they’re certainly high enough) to cover their deadbeats. Unfortunately the deadbeats, protected by our bankruptcy laws, started to outrun the credit card companies, and so the lenders sought relief from Congress, which they finally got.

Let’s make one thing clear: it is our opinion that debt, especially the levels of debt many Americans accumulate, is not good. “The rich ruleth over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.” (Pr. 22:7) Debt reduces people’s independence; people cannot be really free and in debt the way they are in the US today. As a Christian, it is not right for people to fill the hole in their lives that only God can fill with stuff, but that is what is going on all too frequently.

On the other hand, the passage of the legislation as it stands is a recepie for social unrest.

Some of it was necessary: it was too easy for wealthy debtors to shield too many of their assets. And, as an inducement for people to lighten their debt load, this legislation has the potential to do good. But getting from here to there is not going to be fun.

To start with, tightening the bankruptcy laws will only make it easier for lenders to continue their “numbers game” of lending to credit unworthy people, since their downside risk has been reduced. Lenders could have achieved a similar result by tightening the access to credit by more selective lending; they could have even submitted to some kind of reregulation to accomplish this. But they have decided to throw the burden of “credit regulation” on borrowers rather than themselves.

Lenders are also counting on the continued perceived need of Americans to conspicuously consume (it is ingrained in our culture and in some ways our economic prosperity) rather than to save. From an economic standpoint, this can be endured in a prospering economy where wages are outrunning inflation. Unfortunately, as things stand now inflation is outrunning wages, by itself an incentive for consumer funk (as those of us alive in the 1970’s remember all too well.) Combined with rising interest rates, in a world where timing is everything, the timing of this legislation leaves a lot to be desired.

It is our opinion that the change in bankruptcy laws will come much quicker than changes in American attitudes towards consumption and debt. The result of this will be many more people who will find themselves on the wrong end of the credit system, and enough of those people around can and will be socially destabilising.

Back in ancient Israel, that power challenger with a difference, David, built his own armed force with people caught in the economic squeeze of the times: “David therefore departed thence, and escaped to the cave Adullam: and when his brethren and all his father’s house heard it, they went down thither to him. And every one that was in distress, and every one that was in debt, and every one that was discontented, gathered themselves unto him; and he became a captain over them: and there were with him about four hundred men.” (1 Sam. 22:1,2) Had David not been a man after God’s own heart (1 Sam. 13:14), his desperate band could have dispatched Saul sooner rather than having to wait for the Philistines to do the job later.

In a nation where so many live on the edge of financial ruin, the recent changes in our bankruptcy laws could spell trouble under the wrong conditions. We hope not, but it is always a dangerous policy to swell the ranks of those who have nothing to lose.

Sarah Palin and the Chinese “Piano Moms”

Spengler has put his finger on something that the Elitist Snobs don’t understand:

What does America have that Asia doesn’t have? The answer is, Sarah Palin – not Sarah Palin the vice presidential candidate, but Sarah Palin the “hockey mom” turned small-town mayor and reforming Alaska governor. All the PhDs and MBAs in the world can’t make a capital market work, but ordinary people like Sarah Palin can. Laws depend on the will of the people to enforce them. It is the initiative of ordinary people that makes America’s political system the world’s most reliable.

America is the heir to a long tradition of Anglo-Saxon law that began with jury trial and the Magna Carta and continued through the English Revolution of the 17th century and the American Revolution of the 18th. Ordinary people like Palin are the bearers of this tradition.

Outside of the United States, the young governor of Alaska has become a figure of ridicule – someone who did not own a passport until last year and who quaintly believes that her state’s proximity to Russia gives her insights on foreign policy. How, my European friends ask, was it possible for such an an ignorant bumpkin to become a candidate for America’s second-highest office? They don’t understand America.

Provincial America depends on the initiative of ordinary people to get through the day. America has something like an Education Ministry, but it has little money to dispense. Americans pay for most of their school costs out of local taxes, and levy those taxes on themselves. In small towns, many public agencies, including fire protection and emergency medical assistance, depend almost entirely on volunteers. People who tax themselves, and give their own time and money for services on which communities depend, are not easily cowed by the federal government or by large corporations.

But I, the husband of a music teacher, found this to be especially charming and true:

“Hockey Moms,” to be sure, may not be the optimal promoters of America’s future. One for one, the “Piano Moms” of China are cleverer people and produce smarter offspring. China’s 30 million students of classical piano are one of the two great popular movements in the world today: the other is the House Church movement in Chinese Christianity. Children who play hockey will grow up to get coffee for children who study piano. As a pool of talent, nothing compares with the educated segment of the East Asian population that has embraced and mastered Western culture. Nonetheless, Asia still can’t invest its own money at home, and seems farther than ever from that objective.

Blast From the Past: A Punch in the Face for Capitalism (Sarbanes-Oxley)

I originally posted this 11 September 2005.  It bears repeating in view of the current Wall Street mess.  It’s tempting to send some of these people to jail, but the rest will simply bail, and we won’t necessarily be the better for it.

Long ago, I attended a prep school in South Florida. Our Junior English class was in the corner of the building, with nice windows giving a view of the wraparound sidewalk and whoever strolled it. One day, we were listening to our teacher go on about something (he’s since gone on to his reward as a Provost of a small college on the West Coast) when we noticed the Assistant Headmaster and one of our fellow students at a standoff on the sidewalk.

It just wasn’t any student: it was a scion of the Oxley family, the clan who started out with a fortune made in oil and ended up as the leading family of polo (complete with Ralph Kramden’s poloponies) in South Florida. (They only recently sold the polo practice field near the school for a development.) My experience with the Assistant Headmaster was that he wasn’t one to take a lot of guff from a student, and Oxley, having shown up to school an hour or two late, wasn’t getting very far. So Oxley, in public school fashion, took a swing at the Assistant Headmaster.

We suddenly realised we literally had ringside seats to the fight. But our cheering Oxley on was to no avail: that was Oxley’s last day at our school, and things settled down after that until someone else was caught with pot, or worse.

Today we’re trying to sort things out from another “punch in the face” from another Oxley, this time Rep. Michael Oxley (R-OH) in the form of the Sarbanes-Oxley bill, passed three years ago in the wake of scandals such as Enron, Global Crossing and the like. The basic purpose of Sarbanes-Oxley is to regulate the relationship between publicly held corporations and their accountants, and to force corporate executives to “certify” their financial results, under criminal penalty.

This legislation was passed in the great American tradition of “there ought to be a law…” We have a crisis, it costs people money, Congress (the opposite of progress) reacts by passing legislation to “fix” the problem, everybody congratulates themselves for being good boys and girls, and then everyone forgets until something else comes up, when the cycle comes up all over again.

It’s true that the relationship between corporations and the “independent” accountant-auditors they retain can be more complicated than they are in theory. This is for two reasons. The first is that the corporation pays for the audit, which builds in an element of subservience into the process. The second is that accounting firms have attempted to diversify their own services with management consulting and other types of revenue-generating activity that takes them beyond boring auditing. Having seen the latter in action myself, I think that accounting firms are better off sticking to their original mission.

Having said this, knee-jerk reactions such as Sarbanes-Oxley ignore two important facts.

The first is that people actually are going to jail under existing law for the crimes committed that inspired this legislation. Congress didn’t wait to find this out. They had already been treated to Arthur Anderson’s demise, which was an object lesson no one missed. Such events beg the question as to whether this legislation was necessary in the first place.

The second is that raising the bar of liability for any action only inspires people to avoid it altogether. In the case of Sarbanes-Oxley, putting additional liabilities on executives of publicly held corporations will only inspire people to shy away from such corporations, i.e., to stick with privately held ones. Results of this range from companies avoiding going public to those which are going “dark” (becoming privately held corporations.) Anyone who has been involved in a corporation whose stock in unlisted knows that both the availability and marketability of the stock is limited. This means that, to varying degrees, any privately held corporation is an “inside deal,” benefiting those who were invited to partcipate.

The growth in participation by ordinary investors in our economy has been facilitated by publicly held stock freely available, either directly or through mutual funds. As the long-term impact of Sarbanes-Oxley takes root and people work to avoid the liabilities it imposes, the access of a broad range of investors—especially small ones—will be progressively worsened. This will accelerate the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few, which is always dangerous in a democracy, making it easy for demagogues like Huey “The Kingfish” Long to play on peoples’ desperation.

And since the subject of Louisiana has come up, we’re sure that, in the wake of the general bureaucratic failure that followed Hurricane Katrina, we’ll see congressional hearings with the object of passing legislation to prevent such failures from happening again. However, it should be evident that the slow relief response wasn’t a lack of procedures or warning. Plans and procedures were in place; the bureaucracies involved, however, didn’t forcefully put them into action. They looked at Katrina like a deer into oncoming headlights. Such failures cannot be fixed by legislation, but by putting people into office and position that will forcefully carry the plans out, as Rudy Giuliani did four years ago in New York.

Liberals used to love to say that “You can’t legislate morality.” They quit saying that when their “morality” was what they wanted to impose. You can’t legislate character and decisiveness either, and we would be better off if Congress would quit trying.

The Vice Presidential Debate, and Why I Don’t Trust Joe Biden

Art Rhodes weighs in on this:

As a quasi-political operative, I would have liked to have seen Palin give more detailed responses on some issues. However, the focus groups seemed to love her folksy, straight forward (although often illusory) responses. When she responded about the economy that Americans “are just not going to take the greed of Wall Street any more,” her numbers went off the screen from the focus group. They loved her tough talk!!

The other big difference of the night – Biden talked to the moderator while Palin talked to the television camera (and the American people). She was comfortable, folksy, and even got off a few winks to the crowd – and cameras. Even saying that the kids watching the debate would get extra school credit was a hit.

For me, the debate reminded me of something else: why I don’t trust Joe Biden.

To start with, he reminded everyone of the shift in his idea of vetting judicial nominees from simply being accomplished jurists of good character to having to have proper ideology.  Conservatives have taken the rap for this transition, but Joe glibly took credit for the change himself.  He lead the fight to defeat the nomination of Robert Bork to SCOTUS, an episode which added the term “borked” to the English language and which was IMO one of the most shameful trashings the U.S. Senate has ever administered to any human being.

Second, Gwen Ifill (I think) pointed out that he was an interventionist in places such as Bosnia, Kosovo and the like, and he openly agreed.  Now, you’d think that, after Iraq, the Democrats would have had their canfull of interventionists, and they went to the trouble to put an anti-interventionist at the top of the ticket.  But evidently Biden hasn’t had all the fun he (or we) can stand.  Our adventure in Bosnia should have been a test for European humanitarianism (it was, they flunked) and Kosovo should have been at least partitioned.  But both of these interventions (especially the latter) may prove costly, as the Russian intervention in Georgia can be seen in opposition to ours in Kosovo.

Finally, he has made noises of bringing up Bush and others on war crimes charges.  Such show trials about the past would have the effect of distracting the American people from the serious issues of the present.  Sarah Palin put it to him to focus on the future rather than the past.  After the debate, she and her family’s lovefest around the Bidens after the debate made good camera.  But she needs to be careful.  If Obama wins, she goes to the top of the list for the Republicans in 2012, and if you’re going to criminalise your opponents, you’d better dispatch the best.  He may have wanted to get a good look at his next victim.