Sowell on “Fair Pay”

12/31/2006: While many–myself included–complain of the exhorbitant compensations earned by many high-flying corporate execs, I’ll never argue against the obvious reason: they are making that money because the market is willing to pay them at such levels. Thomas Sowell makes the latter point quite well in his most recent column.

Now how do I reconcile my belief that they make too much money with the free-market principle that they are indeed making what they are worth?

That is the difference between particular and general: the market generally agrees with their compensations (ergo the high stock prices) while I particularly differ (ergo I don’t buy their stock and in many cases won’t buy their products).

Sowell, for example, raises the case of Derek Jeter. Jeter is quite the productive shortstop who has shown a knack for coming up with spectacular plays in big games. That is why he makes the big bucks. (His teammate–A-Rod–on the other hand, is under very serious criticism: in spite of having the biggest contract in baseball history, and in spite of having excellent overall productivity, he has been an utter flop in the playoffs.)

Unfortunately, as the difference between A-Rod and Jeter demonstrates, many baseball contracts are awarded on the basis of past performance, and are not necessarily tied to incentives based on future performance.

Few people would argue that–with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning–they’d rather have A-Rod at the plate than Jeter.

That is my take on corporate salaries. Many execs received generous stock option grants when the market tanked between 2000 and 2002 (some of those grants were fraudulent, as they were backdated). As a result, they are realizing financial windfalls nearing the billions of dollars, as their stock prices have rebounded. Their actual salaries may be low, but they are cashing in on stock options.

Personally, I have no gripe with this, provided that stock options are being made available to non-execs, and also provided that the option grants are not backdated. (After all, if I’m an exec, I want my employees to have the chance to share in the windfall, as they too should be able to profit from increased stock value. That way, I can attract the top talent to work for my company.)

What I do oppose is government intervention to regulate compensation. Much of the stock options mania we are seeing today is an unintended consequence of government tax policy on executive compensation.

(By forbidding companies to count salaries above $1 million as expenses–a tax change made in 1993–this spawned the stock option mania that we have seen since, as corporations started handing out stock options–which did not require an expense valuation–in lieu of greater salary. As a result, many execs are thanking their lucky stars for such idiotic government policies.)

Personally, I do not attend NBA, MLB, or NFL games. Nor do I purchase their products. With the exception of Sunday Night Football–the only television I watch–I don’t even watch sports programming on television.

If enough sports fans decided they have had enough with this high compensation scheme–and did what I am doing–you’d see player salaries drop like a brick.

Similarly, if stockholders saw their wealth being destroyed by the stock option grants–which can dilute existing shares–they’d start selling their stock positions and investing in companies that didn’t play the option game.

Notice the difference between free market activities and government policy?

Saluting Hans Zeiger

12/30/2006: Vox Day is celebrating the “retirement” of Hans Zeiger. Like Vox, I tend to have an uneasy feeling with respect to young pundits, as even the really smart ones don’t yet have the breadth of life experience to bloviate on a variety of issues.

Even Ben Shapiro, who wrote well about issues that he knew firsthand, flopped badly when opining on matters that required a greater breadth of life experience (such as our war efforts, to which he tried to make a case for an American empire, a position that was not defensible, and against which Vox rightly busted him big-time).

And Kyle Williams? Give me a break! While he is bright for his age, he had no business writing columns for anything beyond a school publication. And to call his column Veritas? I hope he cleared that title with Frank Peretti!

But I was more impressed with Zeiger because, as an old-style Reagan conservative–I proudly count myself as one of “Reagan’s children”–I applaud the efforts Zeiger made to promote the values that made Reagan’s America great.

Unfortunately, Zeiger was in a precarious position for a young conservative: while he espoused Reagan conservatism, that is not the brand of conservatism that is prevailing today. And modern conservatism–neoconservatism–is Marxist totalitarian government with a quasi-free market veneer.

Fact is, both the GOP and DNC have teamed up to lead America closer to totalitarian government. I have the greater angst against the GOP, because they are the ones who market themselves as the party of smaller government.

There is no way that any true-blue conservative–and I believe that Zeiger is one–can defend modern conservatism. With his domestic spending record, the half-hearted war effort in Iraq, and neglect of affairs in our hemisphere, Bush is handing us a repeat of LBJ.

Ergo, I am glad Zeiger stepped off for now: if he attempts to defend the crop of crappy conservatives who are front-and-center, he’ll betray his principles.

I wish Zeiger good success at Hillsdale, and hope he re-emerges in the world of punditry one day.

After all, America will one day need Reagan’s children to right the ship.

“In the Garbage of History”

12/30/2006: Saddam Hussein has been tried, convicted, and executed by the Iraqi people he terrorized for the better part of three decades.

Some will complain that his trial was not fair, that this was a kangaroo court in which the verdict and outcome were never in doubt.

I beg to differ. That Saddam was guilty is hardly debatable; his mass murders of his own people is well-documented. While he was on trial for the specific murders of 148 Shi’ites, his slaughter of Kurds totaled in the hundreds of thousands.

Irrespective of what one thinks of our war efforts, Saddam was a dictator whose brutality was second only to the super-murderers–Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao, Kim Il-Sung, and Kim Jong Il–of the last 50 years.

His removal was just, and his trial had far greater fairness than any that he provided to the Kurds.

For that reason, it is a cause for celebration.

One jubilant Iraqi had this to say:

This son of a bitch is lying under my feet. … I can’t talk now because of all the cheers!

Whether the Iraqis will forge a new legacy of freedom remains to be seen. Right now, Shi’ites and Sunnis are killing each other en masse, as Al Qaeda eggs on the Sunnis and Iran eggs on the Shi’ites.

Will the Sunnis and Shi’ites wake up and realize that they are being taken for a ride by people not acting in their best interests? Only time will tell.

While America must reconsider the larger neocon agenda of exporting democracy to every living creature, that is not to say that the war in Iraq was unjust. When people dismissively say, “Saddam was a bad guy, but…”, then they are minimizing the atrocities that he committed.

Our involvement should have been over last year, and the Bush (mis)management of this war has certainly not helped our understanding of matters.

But anyone who says Saddam was better for Iraq–or better for the world–is not worth the waste of my time.

I’ll salute Saddam from my toilet, just as I saluted his rapist-murderer sons when they died, just as I saluted Zarqawi when he died, and just as I will salute bin Laden when he dies.

Death to Islammunism.

When I Say that Doctrine Matters, THIS is WHY!

12/29/2006: A certain pastor in my community–a Baptist no less–writes columns every week. Some of them appear in the local paper, and others appear in other publications. All are posted on the web site of the church he pastors. I have been using his thoughts as the object lesson for the difference between Biblical Christianity and those who claim that sound doctrine doesn’t matter.

One of his November columns highlights the very reason why Biblical conservatism is important.

John 14:6 has Jesus saying, “No one comes to the Father except through me” and Acts 4:12 says “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” This has often been interpreted by Christians to deny the validity of the God experience of people of other faiths. These texts can however be read differently. To declare that salvation is found only in Jesus or that it is only through Jesus that one can come to the Father is to state what is true for Christians who trust in Jesus; it does not say what is true for people of other faith traditions.

Obviously, either the pastor has not given much thought about this, or he lacks the capacity to think logically.

(1) At face value, he is suggesting that one can be a Christian, trust Jesus, and not get to the Father.

(2) He is also suggesting that Stephen, Peter, Paul and others who preached boldly–an exclusive Gospel if you will–died in vain because they did not preach Gospel of inclusiveness and harmony that was non-threatening to Roman faith traditions.

(3) He is failing to accept that Jesus really said what is attributed to Him in John 14:6.

Given that the pastor makes a huge deal about the life and teachings of Jesus regarding interpersonal relations, how can he ascribe any authority to those teachings when he undermines the sayings of exclusion that do not appeal to him?

You cannot have it both ways. If Jesus didn’t really mean what He said when he said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, and no man gets to the Father except through me”, then how can one say–with any credibility–that Jesus’ teachings regarding the Kingdom (including that really hard one about the sheep and the goats) are authoritative?

You cannot pick and choose from the Gospels what Jesus said and what Jesus did not say.

Here is some more of the pastor’s wisdom:

Christians can affirm God’s particular revelation to them in the person of Jesus, while concurrently acknowledging the authenticity of the God experience of people of other religions. If the language of Christians seems to be exclusionary it is because it is the language of devotion, which is the language of exaggeration and overstatement. When I say that my wife is “the most beautiful woman in the world” I am not denying the beauty of other women; I am not stating something that is factual or verifiable, rather I am speaking subjectively, devotionally, what is true for lovers. Lovers of Jesus can utilize such language.

With all due respect, what is this guy smoking? The exclusionary language to which the pastor speaks is in Scripture, and is in first person. This is not about the disciples inventing teachings about Jesus, or putting their “God experience” in most romantic terms.

Jesus taught with authority, challenged people from all walks of life, said some very exclusive things while extending His grace to many an outcast, died a death sufficient to atone for all (even though that atonement effectively applies only to those who receive Christ), rose from the dead on the third day, and has promised to return.

When this kind of language is crystallized into doctrine then it spawns an elitist, exclusionary version of Christianity that denies the experience of other people; it says we are right and you must conform to our beliefs. There is a particularism to Christian faith, but a healthy particularism is not exclusivist, it recognizes that people of other faith traditions can know God and experience God’s healing, transforming love.

Who is denying the experience of other people? I know people who have played with Ouija boards, and have had experiences according to their “faith traditions”. I know many Muslims who have also had spiritual experiences according to their “faith traditions”. Ditto for Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Pagans, Buddhists, and Hindus.

The problem is that all spiritual experiences are not God experiences. One does not necessarily equal the other.

When Jesus said, “no man cometh to the Father but by me”, He didn’t say, “no Jew cometh to the Father but by me”.

Nor did Jesus say, “no Christian who thinketh he cometh to the Father cometh to the Father but by me.”

Nor did Jesus say, “no man cometh to the Father but by me, unless he or she is true to a ‘faith tradition’ that provides spiritual outlet.”

That many Christians have taken that exclusive teaching and used it in the most arrogant fashion does not negate the teaching. It merely affirms the natural human tendency to give in to pride. Come to think of it, Jesus often smacked down the Disciples for doing exactly that, as they were always trying to control access to Jesus, and even fought over who got to be the greatest of the bunch.

Of course, if I took the same approach as the pastor, I could always snip away at the teachings that I don’t find attractive. Like that one about sheep and goats.

But no…I won’t do that. Jesus said what the Scriptures show that He said. Accepting that reality is indeed humbling and depressing–as it provides a bleak picture of who we are.

However, those very teachings–and actions–of Jesus provide the only hope for the Jew and the Gentile.

How Does One Define “Pro-Israel”?

12/29/2006: I’m sure everyone has heard the tale of a child who killed his parents, then pleaded for the court to have mercy on him because he is an orphan.

In a nutshell, that’s the Palestinians. Today, they have more land than they did in 1947. Unfortunately, for all the land that the Israelis give up, all they receive in return is more suicide attacks, rocket strikes, and mortar attacks. The Palestinians with whom they have negotiated peace deals still teach with maps that don’t recognize Israel, preach hatred of Jews and destruction of Israel, and actively recruit children to serve as suicide bombers.

As far as I am concerned, the Palestinians deserve no concessions from Israel. They may have had a case in the 1980s, but not anymore, as they have squandered the goodwill of Americans, Israelis, and other Western nations who supported everything from “land for peace” to the highway to hell roadmap for peace.

That said, it is not the job of the United States to fight Israel’s wars for them.

Iranian thug President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad often proclaims his desire to wipe Israel off the map, and yes I understand that he’s a genocidal piece of work. But does anyone honestly believe that he will nuke Israel and kill millions of his fellow Muslim brethren? Does anyone honestly believe that Mahmoud can attack Israel without seeing his beloved cities–including Tehran–incinerated?

Right now, the United States is rightly considering the extent to which she will go to bat for Israel. On one hand, the Iraq Study Group–led by “land for peace” supporters James Muhammed Baker and Lee Ali Hamilton, both of whom are in the pockets of the Saudis, is stressing a pro-Muslim posture. On the other hand, Israel-worshippers and neoconservatives are beating the drums for war against Iran.What can such a war buy us? Stopping the Iranians from acquiring WMDs? Pardon me, but that angle does not justify a war that will cost at least 100,000 American lives in order to prevent a sovereign nation from having nuclear weapons. Not enough return for the price in American lives.

If Israel believes the Iranians must be fought, then the Israelis can fight that war.

But we need a strike on Iran like we need another Carter Presidency.

Steve Jobs Had Falsified Stock Options

12/29/2006: Earlier this year, the Wall Street Journal sent shockwaves through the corporate community by exposing a scandal far more insidious than Enron, Worldcom, Tyco, and Global Crossing. Combined.

I’m referring to the stock option backdating scandal, which has enveloped over 130 companies, their boards, and their execs.

These companies–including Apple Computer and Steve Jobs–were caught, literally, stealing from stockholders.

For all the hype about Enron, most–if not all–of the fraud was perpetrated by one person: CFO Andrew Fastow. CEOs Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling failed to exercise oversight, but it is debatable whether they were criminal. They were wrong, but they were more negligent and less criminal. Their sins were of omission and not commission. (And keep in mind that the fraudulent transactions–engineered by Fastow–were so complex that even a seasoned CPA would have had trouble tracking them.)

Neither Lay nor Skilling accepted compensation off on which their directors did not sign, and–as far as we know–did not receive backdated stock options, which would have required complicity among their boards’ compensation committee.

The same, however, cannot be said for William McGuire of UnitedHealth. He–and his board of directors–are guilty of malfeasance of the first order. That McGuire is returning the options is moot; he is only doing so because he was caught. But for the Wall Street Journal reporters, McGuire stood to make BILLIONS of dollars from the fraud.

And it’s not just McGuire. That Apple’s “internal investigation” allegedly cleared Steve Jobs is utter horse poop. That “investigation” is only a CYA job designed to keep investors from bailing.

When investors finally get a grip on how bad this scandal is, the number of companies involved, the amount of shareholder equity that was destroyed, and the extent to which execs and board members were complicit in this most overt form of fraud, we might see a long-overdue hanging party on Wall Street.

We Are Marshall: The Original America’s Team

12/28/2006: Why should anyone other than sports enthusiasts like myself–or those with ties to Marshall University–see We Are Marshall?

By now, every sportswriter in America has offered the usual cliches about a gutsy bunch of young college folks who “came together” and “overcame great adversity” and “believed in themselves” and “rose from the ashes” and “captured the heart of the nation”.

And make no mistake…the movie is decades overdue.

For those who don’t follow sports, don’t fret. This is not simply about a football team, although NFL stars Randy Moss, Chad Pennington, and Byron Leftwich owe much gratitude to that Young Thundering Herd team of 1971.

For those who don’t know much about Marshall University or West Virginia, this is not simply about a university or even a resilient Huntington community, although it is a story in which every Marshall alum–and Huntington resident–can and should take pride.

Imagine a university losing an entire football team, coaching staff, the athletic director, and many high-stakes boosters in a plane crash. Only three players from that team–who missed the plane trip due to injuries–and a coach on a recruiting trip remain.

Indeed, the Marshall University plane crash of 1970 was arguably the worst sports-related tragedy of all time.

Many colleges have folded their football programs for far lesser reasons. Instead, Marshall returned to play the following year. Within a matter of months, the university managed to field a coaching staff, recruit a whole new crop of players–true freshmen–and convince the community that they were not merely playing so the show could go on.

And–as icing on the cake–that 1971 Marshall team, made up almost completely of freshmen, won more games than Northwestern University did in the 1981 and 1982 seasons combined!

But to hell with football, We Are Marshall is all about how life ought to be lived, demonstrated from the worst extreme. Donald Dedmon–President of Marshall University in 1970-1971–“got it”, providing the following words at the memorial service for the crash victims:

Where does the desire for ethical action come from? What makes us want to be ethical? I believe there are two forces which move us. One is belief in a Last Judgment, when every one of us has to account for what we did with God’s great gift of life on the earth. The other is belief in an immortal soul, a soul which will cherish the award or suffer the penalty decreed in a final Judgment.

Some may argue–and some did at the time–that continuing the football program, or playing a season that was effectively a wash, was dishonoring to those who died in the crash.

I’d submit that playing to win under the most intense of pressure–knowing that your opponents are heavily favored and that you are only out there but for a miracle–honors both the dead and the living.

And that’s what made that Young Thundering Herd team great: they didn’t just play for “moral victories”. They played to win, and took their losses personally. Without that 1971 team, Marshall would likely not have realized their successes of the 1990s, which included Division I-AA championships in 1992 and 1996.

With the exception of those who were serving in Vietnam, those Marshall freshmen–the average starter on that 1971 team was under 19 years of age–had more on their shoulders than any group of 18-year-olds in America. And they delivered with character beyond their years.

They not only honored the fallen; they established a standard of professionalism, resilience, and selflessness unseen in more prestigious universities. University of Miami President Donna Shalala couldn’t hold a candle to Dedmon.

That Young Thundering Herd team of 1971 is the original America’s Team.

Like the 1971 Marshall football team, We Are Marshall honors both the living and the dead.

Roberts Misses It on Pinochet

12/28/2006: Paul Craig Roberts, a right-leaning economist and extreme Bush critic, weighs in on the regime of former Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet, and provides a more flattering picture of him than is provided by the leftist news media. On one hand he is correct: compared to the Allende regime he displaced, Pinochet was quite mild, and most of the angst against Pinochet has less to do with his tactics against indiginous terrorists and more to do with their hatred of the market economy that he introduced.

On the other hand, Roberts misses the point: totalitarian government is evil, irrespective of its underlying political leanings.

That Pinochet’s brand of dictatorship was more benign than, say, that of Saddam Hussein, it was still a dictatorship. Dissenters–even the peaceful variety–had no right of free speech, and tended to “disappear”. And any intellectually honest person would have a very hard time comparing the brutality of Pinochet against his opponents with the generosity that we extend to the Islammunists at Guantanamo Bay.

And that is where Roberts loses most credibility: by suggesting that Pinochet’s treatment of indigenous terrorists was more respectful of human liberties than Bush’s treatment of Islammunists here is reflective of a man who has let his hatred of Bush cloud his ability to be rational.

For the record, I have serious problems with Bush, and for far more reasons than his prosecution of this war against Islammunism. His spending record, his expansion of government beyond all recognition, his expansion of agencies that conservatives long targeted for abolishment, his use of the WMD angle in the run-up to war in Iraq, his failure on illegal immigration, and his failures in Central America.

On Bush’s watch: Communism is back with a vengeance, Iran is a bigger threat to us than she was six years ago, the national debt is bigger, China has us by the economic balls, and we are held political hostage by 20+million illegal immigrants.

That said, his wartime record on civil liberties–compared to other wartime Presidents (Lincoln, FDR)–has been quite mild. Anyone who calls Guantanamo an “internment camp” is either (a) short on intellectual honesty or (b) long on ignorance or (c) longer on stupidity or (d) all the above.

Americans of Arab descent are not being rounded up.

Iranian-blooded Americans are under no government persecution.

As an American of Kurdish-Iranian parentage, with very outspoken political views–against many of Bush’s policies–and who owns several firearms (and carries one), I haven’t had the FBI, the BATFE, the EPA, or even the DHS knocking on my door.

As for the Bush prosecution of the war in Iraq, Roberts must keep in mind that the most prominent Democrats–John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, Joseph Biden, and even former Senator John Edwards–voted for that war.

That they oppose it now is moot: Senators can afford to play Monday Morning Quarterback and undermine Presidents with whom they disagree.

Presidents–after committing troops and making it clear that the war effort would take a very long time–don’t have that luxury.

Like Roberts, I tend to be more of a Paleo-conservative with significant libertarian leanings. While I was not old enough to vote in 1980 or 1984, I was (and remain) a proud supporter of Ronald Reagan. For that reason, I have serious issues with both Presidents Bush: they sold us out.

As for Iraq, don’t blame Dubya for pursuing this; it was his father who took us into a war that we had no business fighting–Saddam in 1990 was no threat to America, and his invasion of Kuwait was an Arab problem not an American one–that we did not finish once we started.

On the war effort, I have these gripes with Bush:

(1) The WMD angle was very ill-advised. By hyping the case against sovereign nations–even those with ties to Islammunism and Communism–having WMDs, Bush undermines our political capacities to use our WMDs, which may be necessary in the future.

(2) While Bush was right to finish the job and take out Saddam–this was a matter of America keeping its promises–he was wrong to insist that Iraq embrace Western Democracy. I would submit that our insistence on nation-building is where we are failing in Iraq.

(3) Bush, like his father, did not allow the troops to finish the job. Once Baghdad fell, he declared victory, took most of our troops out of Iraq–leaving a skeleton crew to do work that militaries do not historically do well. He failed to secure Baghdad. He failed to root out the Baathists. He failed to secure the borders. He is snatching defeat out of the jaws of victory.

(4) His insistence that Iran–and North Korea–not have nukes is unrealistic. How can we prevent that from happening? Are we going to start a war that will cost at least 100,000 American lives–that may only be winnable with nuclear weapons–in order to stop these nations from having nuclear weapons?

On these fronts, everyone should be calling Bush–and every Congressperson who carried water for him (irrespective of their political parties)–to account.

If war is necessary, then Congress–and only Congress–has the Constitutional responsibility to declare war.

This time–as with Gulf War I–they punted on their responsibility: they didn’t declare war; they merely “authorized the use of force”. They had the opportunity to step up to the plate and deliver, but Congress punted on its collective responsibility.

If they lack the stones to declare war, then we have no business fighting one.

If we don’t believe this war is worth committing our national effort to winning–that means with lots of troops, even if a draft is necessary, and even nukes if we must bring this to an end–then it isn’t worth fighting.

Unfortunately, this war is merely a political game. Republicans are running from it while claiming to want “victory”, and Democrats are content to beat Bush over the head with the war because it keeps his approval ratings in the tank.

How do I know the Democrats don’t give a damn? If they really believe this war has to end ASAP, they merely need to invoke the War Powers Act of 1973.

While Bush–and the GOP–are right for calling the Democrats the “cut and run” party, it is incumbent on him to show that he has a better plan.

I want victory, and I believe this war is winnable.

I am, however, unconvinced that either party really wants to win.