Week in ReviewNoteworthy news and opinion items from the week ending April 17, 2011

1. Atlas Shrugged Opens in Theaters Across America

A movie version of Ayn Rand’s masterpiece Atlas Shrugged opened in more than 300 theatres last Friday and is receiving a great deal of attention, positive and negative. Sales of the novel have spiked; articles about the book and Ayn Rand are springing up everywhere; and even the leftist, state-sponsored NPR has found it necessary to acknowledge the significance of the event:

Every once in a while, a movie comes along that captures a slice of the zeitgeist. Could Atlas Shrugged: Part 1—due to be released on April 15—be that kind of film?

In the way that Rebel Without a Cause in the 1950s or Wall Street in the 1980s spoke to a certain time and displacement in American history, will the Hollywood depiction of Ayn Rand's 1957 novel serve as some sort of easy-to-read cultural thermometer? Will the film flop or will it become the movie manifesto of America's nascent Tea Party?

The folks at the Ayn Rand Institute in Irvine, Calif., certainly believe there are similarities between the rise of the Tea Party and Rand's philosophy of pro-capitalism and rational self-interest—expressed through Atlas Shrugged and its protagonist John Galt.

As Yaron Brook, the institute's executive director, puts it: “People are responding with alarm at parallels between Atlas Shrugged and the rampant growth of government power today.” . . .

Maybe this is the right moment for the right movie for the right.

Interest in Rand and her philosophy is on the upswing. Since the 2008 presidential election, according to Brook, the novel Atlas Shrugged has sold more than 1 million copies, far more than in any similar period in the book's 54-year history.

And now comes the film, for those who have been waiting for the movie. They have had to wait a long time. For various reasons, wrestling the 1,000-plus pages of Atlas Shrugged onto the silver screen has taken more than 50 years. . . .

Read the whole NPR piece here.

Meanwhile, private, pro-freedom organizations, such as Freedomworks, are seizing the day and pointing out some of the many parallels between events in Atlas and those in today’s news. Freedomworks has created an effective montage of scenes from both the movie and current events. (Note that if you didn’t know the faces, you wouldn’t know the difference.)

For a brief discussion of the novel’s continuing significance, see Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged and the World Today An Interview with Yaron Brook. For a concise history of the efforts to adapt Atlas to the screen, see Atlas Shrugged’s Long Journey to the Silver Screen. And for an illuminating chapter-by-chapter analysis of the novel, visit Diana Hsieh’s Explore Atlas Shrugged website.

2. President Obama’s “Eat the Rich” Speech

The only good things to be said about Obama’s speech last Wednesday are that (a) he was clear about his and the left’s principles, and (b) the delivery of this speech two days before the release of the Atlas movie was fortuitous, as the speech could have come straight out of Rand’s novel. As John Podhoretz explains:

What makes America great, Obama explicitly said, is the size of its government.

The great threat of the Ryan plan, he says, is that it will reduce the size of government's “commitments”—i.e., the way it redistributes money by giving it to those it deems deserving and in need. And, by reducing it, the Ryan plan will bring American greatness to an end.

“We are a better country because of these commitments,” he said. “I'll go further: We would not be a great country without those commitments.” . . .

Obama watchers of both left and right have been trying to make sense of him and what he believes. I think yesterday he showed us the very core of his conviction—that America is to be morally judged solely on the basis of the services its government delivers. . . .

Read the whole thing here. And for an indication of why, despite the evil nature of Obama’s ideas, the clarity of his principles here is a good thing, see Obama’s Atomic Bomb: The Ideological Clarity of the Democratic Agenda.

3. The “People’s Budget” (for the Demise of America)

While Obama prepared his speech, the Congressional Progressive Caucus—a group of 76 House Democrats including Barney Frank, John Conyers, George Miller, Charles Rangel, Rosa DeLauro, Jerrold Nadler, and Louise Slaughter—outlined a “People’s Budget” (yet another item straight out of Atlas). The goal of this budget, apparently, is to outstrip Obama’s plans to eat the rich—and neuter the military. The Washington Examiner reports that according to caucus co-chairmen Reps. Raul Grijalva and Keith Ellison,” this budget

would eliminate the deficit in just 10 years . . . while expanding, not cutting, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. “This budget saves the American people from the recklessness of the Republican majority,” Grijalva and Ellison write in a letter to Rep. Chris Van Hollen, senior Democrat on the House Budget Committee.

How can such fiscal miracles be accomplished? By tax increases that would make even some top Democrats gasp. Perhaps the most extraordinary is the caucus plan to raise the Social Security tax to cover nearly all of a taxpayer's income. Right now, the tax is imposed on the first $106,000 of earnings. For people who make more than that, the caucus would tax a full 90 percent of income—no matter how high it goes. The caucus would raise the Social Security tax that employers pay as well.

The caucus would create three new individual tax brackets for the highest incomes, topping out at 47 percent. It would also raise the capital gains tax, the estate tax and corporate taxes. It would create something called a "financial crisis responsibility fee" and a "financial speculation tax." And of course it would repeal the Bush tax cuts.

As if anyone needed reminding, the "People's Budget" is proof that the liberal idea of budget balancing is tax, tax, tax. If you're looking for spending cuts, you'll find just one really big one: national defense. The liberals would end "overseas contingency operations"—the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—starting in 2013. They would save more money by "reducing strategic capabilities, conventional forces, procurement, and research & development programs." In other words, they would gut the United States' ability to defend itself, today and long into the future. . . .

Read the Examiner piece here, and the “People’s Budget” here.

4. The Homer Simpson Approach to Social Security

While Democrats and Republicans alike dance around Social Security—prohibited by their shared morality of altruism from touching this massive wealth transfer—who better to turn to than Homer Simpson for a lesson in irresponsibility and evasion? Paul Hsieh provides a series of apt analogies. The article begins:

In a classic episode of The Simpsons, a hungry Homer Simpson runs out of donuts and breaks into his emergency stash. But when he opens the box, it’s empty except for a note that reads: “Dear Homer, IOU one emergency donut. Signed, Homer.” Homer curses his earlier self: “Bastard! He’s always one step ahead.”

It’s easy to laugh at Homer Simpson’s folly, but America is doing the same thing with Social Security financing, and the end result won’t be amusing.

In a recent Washington Post column, Charles Krauthammer described the federal government’s accounting shell game behind the fictional “Social Security trust fund.” He notes—and Obama administration officials acknowledge—that the federal government has already spent the Social Security surpluses of the last decades, replacing the borrowed money with so-called “special issue” bonds. But according to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), these “special issue” bonds “do not consist of real economic assets that can be drawn down in the future to fund benefits.” Instead, they are mere promises to repay the borrowed money, just as Homer Simpson’s IOU is a mere promise to someday replace the borrowed donut. These “special issue” bonds are thus no more tangible assets than Homer Simpson’s IOU is edible.

To make matters worse, now that the Baby Boomers have started retiring, Social Security will no longer run surpluses but rather ever-increasing deficits, rising from $40 billion in 2011 to over $100 billion in 2021. As Investor’s Business Daily notes, these Social Security deficits will drain precious capital from the private sector that could have been used for productive investments—making the value of the “trust fund” less than zero

But more fundamentally, not only is Social Security economically bankrupt, it is also morally bankrupt. Contrary to popular belief, Social Security is not a savings plan where people deposit their money during their working years then withdraw it once they retire. Rather, as Robert Samuelson recently described, it is a “pay as you go” scheme. Current workers are taxed to pay current retirees. When these workers retire, they’ll then receive money taken forcibly from future workers. Hence, Social Security is no different than any other Ponzi scheme, except that Americans are compelled to join whether they wish to or not. . . .

Read the whole piece here.

5. RomneyCare Turns Five: Mitt’s Reputation is in the Toilet, and Kennedy Democrats “Have Had Enough”

On the anniversary of the passing of the nightmare known as RomneyCare, Michael Graham provides a reminder of how this Republican creation has worked out for everyone. The article begins:

As governor, Mitt Romney accomplished a feat that most Republicans would have thought impossible. With the single stroke of a pen he convinced the liberal population of Massachusetts that they, too, hate government-run health care.

As a health care plan, Romneycare is an unmitigated fiasco. It has caused costs to skyrocket, insurance premiums to soar and nonprofit providers like Blue Cross to suffer hundreds of millions of dollars in losses.

But as a political policy, Romneycare is nearly unparalleled in Republican history. It has destroyed one front-runner’s presidential hopes (Romney’s) and helped undermine an entire presidency. For, as Barack Obama’s supporters keep reminding us, Romneycare was the precursor to Obamacare.

And what has Obamacare accomplished? It knocked Nancy Pelosi out of the speaker’s chair and helped drive the president’s approval rating to new lows. Dick Cheney couldn’t have come up with a sneakier scheme to destroy Democrats. . . .

Read the whole thing here. For more on RomeyCare and its federal kin, see Mandatory Health Insurance: Wrong for Massachusetts, Wrong for America.

Although RomenCare has been an utter disaster—and although almost everyone acknowledges this fact—American politicians will continue hatching, pushing, and passing such catastrophic laws until Americans repudiate the morality of self-sacrifice and embrace the morality of self-interest. This is where the battle lies, and Americans who wish to return America to a rights-respecting republic must engage this matter explicitly on moral grounds. For an indication of the moral argument for a free market in health care, see Moral Health Care vs. “Universal Health Care”.

6. A Devastating Tale of One Man’s Immigration Ordeal

Here’s a window from Newsweek into the rights-violating boondoggle that is U.S. immigration policy. This story is especially heartbreaking as it focuses not on statistics or groups but on the plight of an actual, individual man trying to live his life and achieve his goals—and being stopped by a system that couldn’t care less about such trivial matters as the life and goals of an individual. Excerpt:

Lakshminarayana Ganti, 33, who has been denied a U.S. visa, checks his visa status online daily. . . Ganti reached out to me in the spring of 2009, long after he had exhausted every other option. Sixteen months earlier he had been a young man on the rise, living in a waterfront Boston apartment, driving a new BMW, and working long hours for a startup bond-trading firm. By the time he contacted me, he was sleeping in the spare bedroom of his sister’s house in a New Delhi suburb, trying to fill his time with cricket and odd consulting jobs. . . .

He had found my name through a Facebook group set up by young Indian and Chinese scientists and engineers who had built their lives in America only to find themselves involuntarily exiled in their home countries. I had joined the Facebook group in connection with research into visa delays in the aftermath of 9/11.

Hi Ted, he wrote. My case has been pending since Dec 18 ’07…Nope thats not a typing error…For a few months I was ok with the delay, and in my mind justified it as—greater good—national security/safety procedures…but 15+ months of background checks…on someone who has a clean record? Impossible to rationalise…Regards, Ganti. . . .

Ganti [had been] hired by Sharpridge in December 2006 to help build the proprietary mathematical models at the core of the company’s business. He [had been] able to start under a program known as Optional Practical Training, which allows foreign students to work in the U.S. for a short time following graduation. “It was really tough to find the skills that we needed,” says Grant, the CEO. “This is the world of financial rocket science. We needed somebody who understood that stuff. It’s hard to find people, even out of graduate schools, who really have the skills.” Importantly, Grant says, Ganti “had that fire in his belly. He really wanted to be with a small startup.”

To remain at Sharpridge after his training period was over, Ganti needed a work visa known as an H-1B. Created by Congress in 1990, the H-1B is the primary visa for skilled foreign workers who lack family ties in America. Securing an H-1B, which is valid only for three years, requires a job offer, with wages and benefits comparable to what skilled Americans would get. Ganti’s application was submitted on April 1, 2007, the day the quota opened. On that day alone, American companies filed more than 150,000 applications for 85,000 slots, and a lottery was drawn. Ganti was in luck, and in July 2007 the government awarded him an H-1B.

While that would allow him to live and work in America, coming back would still require a stamp in his passport and an interview with a State Department official at an embassy or consulate overseas. With his new work visa in hand, however, Ganti assumed it was safe to return home for the first time in three years. After visiting his family in December 2007, he went to the American Consulate in Chennai for permission to return to the U.S. The visa officer reviewed his application and told Ganti that he had no problem issuing a visa, Ganti later told Sharpridge’s lawyers. There was just one hitch. . . .

Read the whole tragedy here. For a discussion of what U.S. immigration policy should be, see Immigration and Individual Rights.

7. Iran’s Nuclear Progress and Obama’s Unwavering Insistence on . . . Negotiations

While the Obama administration and both houses of Congress pretend to solve domestic problems, the regime in Iran continues its efforts to build nuclear weapons—and makes significant progress. An editorial in the Washington Post explains:

Iran has been busy expanding its nuclear capacity. In recent days officials announced that tests of a new generation of centrifuges for enriching uranium had been successful, and that a Russian-built nuclear reactor would begin operations early next month.

The progress on centrifuges is significant because Iran until now has relied on slow and inefficient centrifuges, many of which appear to have been damaged by software sabotage. The more advanced machines, The Post’s Joby Warrick reported, could work at least six times faster. Iran has already enriched more than 3,600 kilograms of uranium to a low level, enough for two nuclear bombs with further processing. The faster centrifuges mean that were Iran to embark on a “break-out” strategy—a race to complete a bomb—it could do so far more quickly, if it manages to install a significant number of the new machines.

Several months ago, administration officials were speaking confidently of an Iran that, pinched by sanctions and hamstrung by problems in its nuclear work, seemed ready to begin talks. Now the talks are off, the economic pressure is easing and the nuclear work once again could be gaining momentum. Yet the administration seems to have no clear alternative to its long-standing strategy of waiting for the regime to negotiate.

The better course, which we among others have urged since the opposition Green Movement was born nearly two years ago, is to bet on a renewed popular uprising in Iran. President Obama recently made a gesture in that direction with a video address to Iranians that denounced government repression and said young Iranians had the “power to forge a country that is responsive to your aspirations.” But there is much more the administration could do, such as finding ways to support Iranian unions and student movements, stepping up broadcasting and accelerating funding for technology that can undermine Internet censorship. Passivity is a dangerous option; while the world watches the Middle East, Iran’s drive for a bomb relentlessly continues.

Read the whole editorial here. For an indication of what America can and should do with respect to the Iranian threat and the promising Green Movement, see A “Teal Movement” in Iran Could Be the End of the Regime: The U.S. Should Encourage It.

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