Thursday, September 24, 2015

Retro 4 - George Orwell, Doublethink and Today's Politicians

Given family engagements in town this week, we will be rerunning some of our most popular posts, posts that have garnered the most attention and which showed that we are currently enduring the worst set of politicians America has ever had.


George Orwell, Doublethink and Today's Politicians

I am a big fan of George Orwell's classic Novel, "1984." I think he was a great writer and a better prognosticator since many of the predictions he made on "1984" of how democracies would die are actually unfolding today, throughout the world and throughout America. One of the concepts he talks about is "doublethink" which he defines as the ability "to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them." If a leader can establish doublethink in the minds of his followers, then the credibility of that leader will never be questioned since whatever he says is right, doublethink suppresses free thought and free will.

I was thinking of how proud Orwell would be of our current day political class. Many examples abound of how our politicians and the government they run can implement two contradictory programs and never once stop to consider the incongruity and disconnect between the two programs. Consider:

- One of the leading drivers of escalating health care costs in this country is the poor eating habits and exercise habits of many Americans, leaving them overweight and susceptible to many diseases. In fact, one of the main activities of Michele Obama since coming to Washington has been to work hard to reduce the obesity problem plaguing many, many kids in this country. One of the efforts that both Ms. Obama is pushing, along with other parts of the government, including the Agriculture Department, is to reduce the amount of saturated fat that Americans eat, encouraging us to move towards low fat milk and other low fat dairy products.

This all sounds good. However, consider an organization called Dairy Management, as described in a November 8, 2010 New York Times article. Dairy Management is financed by a government mandated fee on the dairy industry and receives millions of dollars a year directly from the budget of the Agricultural Department. The Agriculture Department sits on Dairy Management's board, approves its marketing campaigns, and interfaces with Congress on its work. But Dairy Management recently worked with Domino's Pizza to develop a new line of pizza offerings. These new pies had 40% more cheese and Dairy Management helped develop and pay for the associated $12 million marketing campaign.

But wait. Each slice of these new pizzas contains as much as two thirds of a person's daily recommended amount of saturated fat, which has been linked to heart disease and other diseases. Thus, our government is telling people to eat better and reduce the amount of unsaturated fat in their diets while they are funding support for private companies to put more saturated fat back into Americans' diets. The particularly ironic part of this Domino's example is that I would assume that kids are high pizza eaters, the same type of Americans that Michele Obama is trying to get healthy. Doublethink in the Agriculture Department - eat healthier but don't eat healthier.

- There has been a lot of hype lately regarding all electric cars, some of which will be available shortly for consumer use, e.g. General Motors' Volt. The hope behind electric cars is that they will not spew out pollutants like the gasoline internal combustion engine, improving the environment, and will help wean us from dependency on foreign energy sources. Our political class is so excited about the future of electric cares that, according to an electric car article that was in the October 9, 2010 issue of The Economist magazine, you can get up to a $7,500 subsidy rebate from the U.S. government if you purchase one.

Sounds like a great deal. Get taxpayer money to buy a new car while helping the environment. But, are these vehicles really helping the environment? While the car itself is less polluting, the energy creation needed to generate the electricity to power these cars will increase. In the United States, we get a lot of our electrical power from coal electric plants, which are not the cleanest producers of electricity from an environmental perspective. Thus, we need to find a way to reduce the amount of coal created electricity if the potential of electric cars is to be fulfilled.

But, according to a Washington Post article from May 14, 2007, the government's National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, another Agriculture Department effort, plans to spend $35 billion over the next decade to help build conventional coal electricity plants. More doublethink in the Agriculture Department - the government hands out taxpayer funds for the purchase of electric cars to clean up the environment but uses other taxpayer money to dirty up the environment with coal electricity plants to power the cleaner electric cars.

- Over the past sixty years, the United States has probably spent hundreds of billions of dollars supporting the security and prosperity of South Korea. We fought on South Korea's side, defending them from North Korean and Chinese troops in the Korean war, we provided aid for the recovery, and have stationed tens of thousands of troops in the country since the end of that war. As a result, the South Korean economy has grown into one of the strongest in the world. Besides providing a security cover for their economy to blossom, we are also an important trading partner and market for their companies.

Recently, our State Department has been working to generate support for economic sanctions against the Iranian government in retaliation for the Iranians supposedly developing a nuclear weapon technology. The State Department strategy is to make life so uncomfortable for the Iranian people and government that they will become less likely to develop a nuclear bomb capability.

So what do the South Korean do relative to Iran? According to an article in the October 9, 2010 issue of The Economist magazine, South Korea still wants to protect its annual $10 billion trade volumes with Iran so it recently signed a deal with Iran so that Korean and Iranian business partners could settle trade accounts via a special facility established in two Korean banks and in Korean currencies. State Department doublethink: South Korea is our ally even though they go out of their way to bypass the very sanctions the State Department wants to impose on Iran.

- For years now, the Federal government has subsidized American corn farmers, recently to the tune of $7 billion a year, enticing them to grow more corn, which is eventually turned into ethanol. The ethanol is then added to our national gasoline supply to theoretically extend our gasoline supplies, reduce our dependency on foreign oil and clean up the environment by burning more ethanol and less gasoline.

But the inconvenient truth is that none of the benefits never really materialized and additional problems were created. Since ethanol contains significantly less energy potential than gasoline, more gasoline has to be burned to make up for the energy loss when burning ethanol. According to Robert Bryce of the National Review Online, studies have shown that ethanol use as a motor vehicle fuel increases nitrogen oxides and other key pollutants by 7% over gasoline and also corrodes the fuel lines of older cars and other engines.

According to Cornell Professor David Pimentel, as covered in the energy policy section of "Love My Country, Loathe My Government," corn ethanol is a terrible fuel. It diverts corn crops from the food chain to the energy chain, increasing food costs, it takes a terrible toll on the soil environment, and it is a net user of energy, i.e. it uses more energy to produce than it creates.

Sounds horrible: bad fuel economy, air pollution, soil pollution, bad economics, etc. So what is the political class about to do? According to Mr. Bryce, President Obama recently announced that his administration was going to allow the blend of gasoline to ethanol, currently 90/10, to rise to 85/15. He did this as a favor to the corn industry which has more ethanol distillery capacity than it needs. Energy Department doublethink: using ethanol in a 90/10 mixture is a bad thing to do but moving to an 85/25 mixture is a good thing.

- According to a November 8, 2010 Associated Press report, our war effort in Afghanistan faces a dire shortage of 900 trainers and not enough Afghan officers in the race to build up a viable native Afghan fighting force, which would allow NATO and the United States to get its troops out of the country as soon as possible. According to the recent report, the head of the training operation in the country said that if these trainers are not brought on board soon, the July, 2011 pulldown date of American forces is not going to happen.

Training challenges include a high illiteracy rate among Army and police forces (over 90%), high corruption among the officer ranks, and high levels of attrition (which I think is the code word for desertion.) Nine years after we entered Afghanistan, these elementary problems have not been addressed.

Since this situation is critical to successfully ending our occupation and expense of Afghanistan, one would have hoped that every effort and resource would be used to fill this training need. However, a November 4, 2010 article in the St. Petersburg Times reported that the U.S. government will spend over a half a billion taxpayer dollars to expand its embassy in the Afghanistan capital of Kabul. How many trainers do you think $511 million could buy? How many Afghanistan police officers and soldiers could be made semi-literate, enough so that they became good soldiers?

Thus, we have some Obama administration doublethink going on: we want to get out of Afghanistan as quickly as possible, our number one priority, we need a 50% increase in military trainers, 900 additional trainers, to make that happen, but we will lavishly spend resources to expand a single building complex in the capital. This is a major disconnect in logic: if we cannot produce a viable native fighting force via training, who cares how big or how nice the U.S. embassy is? It will eventually be occupied by the Taliban. Fix the root cause of the problem, the Afghan military, don't try to convince yourselves that both the military readiness and a single building are equally important. A non-doublethink approach would devote some of that $511 million to the training issue since that would recognize the vastly different priorities and importance at play here.

I am sure that you can find government and political class doublethink examples all around you. Sometimes doublethink happens because we have allowed the a Federal government to get so large that one part of it does not know what the other parts of the government are doing. One part wants to reduce pollution by promoting electric cars while another part subsidizes coal burning electric plants that dirty up the air. One part of the government wants Americans kids and adults to get healthy by eating low fat foods while another part, in this case within the same Cabinet Department (Agriculture), helps Domino's Pizza get more fatty, cheesy pizza into Americans' diets.

Sometimes doublethink happens because no one in the political class prioritizes needs and importance, e.g. the wasting of millions of dollars dressing up an embassy when military trainers, vital to our military success, go wanting. Other times politicians do doublethink to please their election campaign donors, e.g. corn farmers who get favorable treatment from the political class, even though those in the political class know that the favorable treatment is not good economically or environmentally.

Whatever the reasons underlying the doublethink situation, you can bet that the American taxpayer is footing an unnecessary bill. That is why Step 1 of "Love My Country, Loathe My Government" is so important. The Step itself calls for an annual 10% reduction in the federal government budget for five years. One way to accomplish this reduction, according Step 1, is to do a bottoms up, zero based budget review. Every government program, law, department, expenditure, etc. would be on the table, stripped down to it's core function and mission in order to look for redundancies and doublethink situations, like the Dairy Management situation described above.

Only then can we rationalize what we are paying for, why we are paying for it, should we be paying for it, and not paying for it if not worthwhile. Hopefully, once our politicians had far less government to think about and to track, they could focus much more closely on a smaller set of priorities, identifying wasteful doublethink quicker and more efficiently. Think about that wonderful goal: a quicker and more efficient government run operation. A government that has retired Orwell's concept of doublethink from our world.

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