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April 27, 2014

Sweden a Model For....What?

Confronted with their spotty resume of roughly 80 million dead innocents under collectivist regimes in the 20th Century, leftists seem to reflexively resort to the example of Sweden when challenged to put forth an example of a well-functioning socialist state in the history of...ever. The problem for them is that while they weren't looking, Sweden has become a model all right, but rather one of privatization, lower taxes, deregulation, school choice and pension reform. We should be so right-wing in America.

Obama and the Democrats insist on directing the U.S. toward a European ideal of the social democratic welfare state from which Europe itself has been in retreat for several years...electing more conservative political leadership, bucking the EU, and otherwise beginning to come to grips with the unsustainability of it all.

Sweden leads the reform movement, and is becoming a different kind of model for the rest of Europe. Their successes should be held up as examples by American conservatives because it's now easy to turn the "Look at Sweden" argument against a Democratic Party that is bereft of ideas beyond name-calling. Consider...

Sweden's turnabout has been in the making for two decades now, and a partial listing of accomplishments reads like an American free-market advocate's (if not always Republican) agenda.

The Swedes have deregulated their market for electricity, and allow private competition in distribution markets and private foreign ownership in generation facilities, including nuclear plants. As this 2007 summary details further, markets including telecommunications, postal service and public transportation have also been deregulated.

The Swedes have implemented a school voucher system allowing parents broadly based school choice. They have moved toward privatization of the retirement pension system, allowing individuals to make their own investment decisions. The Swedish healthcare system has been increasingly privatized.

Income taxes have been cut, wealth taxes eliminated. Farm subsidies were abolished for a time, before EU membership forced them to re-regulate. Corporate tax rates are low by U.S. standards, and there are few restriction on foreign trade, and relatively few obstacles to business creation. The results have been economic growth averaging about 4% in recent years, more twice the growth rate of our own sluggish recovery.

How much we can learn from a country with a population just 3% the size of ours, and one more homogeneous culturally and ethnically than the U.S., is a matter for good faith debate. But by all means, conservatives should encourage people to look at Sweden...and to take note that it is conservatives who for years have been advocating similar reforms.

UPDATE 10/22/15:

It's no surprise that Socialist/Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders thinks we can learn a great deal from Scandinavian countries like Sweden and Denmark, and his statements in recent days have prompted a spate of reality therapy sessions for the gentleman from Vermont. He's right...just not in the way he thinks.

Hot Air's Taylor Millard says Sander's contention that "Sweden's model works" is true only in the sense that the necessary free market reforms they have implemented have turned that model around since the 90's. Several good links to click on there. And Sweden is far from out of the woods, says Ingrid Carlqvist at the Gatestone Institute site, due to the tremendous burden put on the welfare state by the crush of new immigrants that much of Europe is going through.

Bernie loves Denmark too, because he apparently hasn't looked up from his government job in the last few years to see what's going on there either. Two recent Corner posts from Kevin Williamson get to the heart of it, starting with "Something's Awesome in Denmark"

Bernie Sanders's Denmark love is another reminder that our Democratic friends, who imagine themselves to be worldly cosmopolitans more at ease with sophisticated European ways, don't actually know a damned thing about what's going on overseas.

For those of you who are keeping score, the Heritage Foundation, which literally keeps score, rates Denmark's economy as slightly more free - slightly more capitalistic -- than that of the United States. Denmark is in a rough spot just lately, but it has been undergoing a series of deep and intelligent reforms to its welfare state (as have many of the other Northern European countries) to counteract the ill effects of earlier excesses.

Its corporate-income tax is much lower than that of the United States. Its regulatory environment is in many ways more free. It is very free-trade oriented.

What Denmark does have -- what all the Nordic countries have -- is relatively high taxes on the middle class, which gets double-whammied with income taxes and a value-added tax. Is that what Sanders et al. are proposing for the United States, to make it more Danish? A big, heavy tax increase on the middle class? Maybe it should be -- the Danes have a big welfare state and they pay for it - but no Democrat walking this Earth has the intellectual honesty to say as much.

Strong property rights, low corruption, openness to trade and investment, low public debt: Bring it on.

More here from Williamson on Sanders debate remarks...

April 26, 2014

Madison Revisited

At the "Continue reading" link below, I have recreated an old article from The Cleveland Fan...a little photo-essay from my trip to Madison, Wisconsin in 2010, for a night game between the then No. 1 Buckeyes and the Badgers. It didn't end well for the good guys, and the original article didn't survive the shift to the new home of the TCF archives, so it lives here, if only for my own reference...

Madison Notebook

Author John Feinstein has a book about golf called A Good Walk Spoiled. I thought about that title on the 500 mile drive back from Madison on Sunday after a football game spoiled for me an otherwise spectacular weekend of college football in Wisconsin. If you're up for some bad digital photography and some travelogue about game day (and GameDay) in Madison for Ohio State-Wisconsin, carry on. (If revisiting that day is just not where you want to be, consider sleeping on it for a few more days and coming back.)

I was a little late with the motel reservations, so I ended up staying in Janesville, about 40 miles south of Madison. That got me into town about noon local time on game day, with six hours to kill before kickoff. They parked the OSU media about a mile away, but at least the walk is along the Regent St. strip of bars and restaurants that host a good portion of the pregame frivolity. As you'd expect, by noon the party was well on. I'd revisit Regent Street later for a couple hours after checking out the stadium.


Approaching Camp Randall from the south on Regent, you're confronted first with the imposing Field House building, the former home of the basketball team before they moved to the classy Kohl Center, and now host to several non-revenue sports. It abuts the stadium's south stands, as you'll see here..



Inside the gates above are statues of two Wisconsin icons. I need a closer look...


On the left, the great Pat Richter. What Badger luminary is that on the right? Maybe Elroy "Crazy Legs" Hirsch...or Alan Ameche...or Ron Vander Kellen. Nope...you can tell from here, it's Barry Alvarez, a man about whom no one in Madison has a critical word to say. These people loves them some Barry. Note the candy-striped banners around the statues. Everything in Madison is candy-striped on game day.


Sports Illustrated was having something they were calling a College Football Experience, which as far as I could tell from my brief foray into their tent, consisted of giving away some free copies of their special issue and moving a few Nissans, while one guy with a microphone played a video trivia game with a couple of fans. Next door was a giant canopy and seating for a few hundred for the Lee Evans and Ron Dayne autograph session. Missed that.

On the north end, ESPN people were everywhere, as the GameDay set at midfield was being dismantled and hauled to the trucks. They had cleared out the public at about 11:30 a.m. when the show was wrapping up, so when I got my first look inside, it was pretty much just me and the roadies as I walked down the end zone ramp...


The shot below gives you a little better look at the new tri-level luxury suites which stretch from endzone to endzone on the east side and the new combination scoreboard-parking deck-office complex (?) between the boxes and the Field House


Oh, yeah....right outside the stadium...the obelisk....or is it The Obelisk? Near as I could tell, just a Phallic Feast of Footballs.


I asked some Wisconsin fans sitting there if it had a name they could say in mixed company. They said it was just The Obelisk. They asked an artist to give them a sculpture, and this is what they got for their money. So be it. This one gives you some sense of the scale of it...maybe 40 feet tall?


Meanwhile the party is getting rolling. Did I mention it was a perfect day?


I watch the early games at Lucky's, a place I now know to be better at beer than they are at burgers. I ask this guy if he'd be kind enough to let me take his picture...profile please...The wife acted like this happened to him all the time...


Three hours from kickoff, and weary of lugging my heavy computer case around, I'm one of the first to arrive in the press box. From my seat on the far north end...


Good thing I had lots of time before kickoff, because my laptop decided to get temperamental on me and it took me 90 minutes to get connected. Below is a shot looking at the north end of an empty Camp Randall...


The place fills up as the band does its pregame thing....


The less said about the actual game the better, I guess...at least in this space, but by the time the media were allowed down on the sidelines, with five minutes to go in the game, there were a lot of long faces on the Buckeye bench...


Someone asked me on the message boards during the game if it was really loud there, and from behind the press box glass I couldn't really tell. But once we got down on the field, and with the fans smelling an upset, the scoreboard and the PA announcer exhorted the fans to "get louder!" It was sheer bedlam. One of the loudest venues I've ever been in.

Here a couple of Badger DB's walk back upfield after a long Pryor incompletion in OSU's last minute comeback attempt...


Below, a dejected Dane Sanzenbacher walks off after the Buckeyes turn it over on downs...


With the game seemingly out of reach, your correspondent is momentarily distracted. Nice megaphones!


The postgame celebration continues for what seems like forever. Media types are already on their cell phones canceling hotel reservations in Arizona. A good portion of the country and certainly 99% of the people here are delighted with the outcome. Good for the game, some say, when No. 1 gets beat.


It's a somber interview session with the Buckeye captains afterward, and I bolt for Janesville to write my game story in the motel room.



Driving home Sunday, I'm on the Ohio Turnpike around Sandusky, and just picking up a late 4th quarter Browns score on the radio, when a State Highway patrolman happens to pull up behind me. I'm thinking...first the Bucks...then the Browns...no way this guy wants a piece of me too. As he flips on the lights I envision my weekend being further trashed with a ticket for...whatever his problem is with me.

I pull over. He tells me my tags are expired...like three weeks ago, and by the way where am I headed. I say I've just driven 400 miles from Madison, Wisconsin where I covered the Ohio State game. He says, "Oh. Sorry. I listened to the game on the radio last night."

That was more sympathy than I'd gotten in Wisconsin. He wrote me a warning.

The game itself notwithstanding, it would be hard for me to imagine a total college football experience outside Columbus being any better. And in a bizarre, semi-sacrilegious way, I had to admit the experience was probably better because the home team won.

It's okay to say that. Isn't it?

Renewing the Cold War

No, this is not about Putin's expansionism and the U.S. reaction to it. It's much less weighty than that.

The leftist bias in the media is a fact of life that irritates conservatives even as we become somewhat inured to it. Often blatant, it is sometimes subtle, and it is an example of the latter I describe here.

Some months ago, I downloaded the Encyclopedia Britannica app for my iPhone, and did a quick search to see what the entries look like. The app is free, but for anything beyond the first sentence or two from the article, a subscription fee is charged. Most users (like me) don't spring for the detail, so all we get on our smartphones is the quickie summary. On the Web (see links) the full article is available free.

Off the top of my head, I did my first search on Whittaker Chambers...the abbreviated entry read as follows:

Whittaker Chambers - original name Jay Vivian Chambers (born April 1, 1901, Philadelphia, Pa., U.S.--died July 9, 1961, near Westminster, Md.)

American journalist, Communist Party member, Soviet agent, and a principal figure in the Alger Hiss case, one of the most publicized espionage incidents of the Cold War.

Okay...nothing factually untrue there, although the defining feature of Chambers' biography surely was his renunciation of his communism, along with his authorship of his memoir "Witness", which features the soul-baring account of his apostasy, and that of his famous testimony against Hiss. His work in the service of the Soviet empire ran from 1932 until 1938, and he worked for several years after that as a respected journalist and an editor at Time magazine. He was eventually awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Of how many Communist Party members and Soviet agents can that be said?

Curiosity then led me to the entry for Hiss:

Alger Hiss - (born Nov. 11, 1904, Baltimore, MD - died Nov. 15, 1996, New York, NY)

former U.S. State Department official who was convicted in January 1950 of perjury concerning his dealings with Whittaker Chambers, who accused him of membership in a communist espionage ring. His case, which came at a time of growing apprehension about the domestic influence of communism, seemed to lend substance to Senator Joseph R. McCarthy's sensational charges of communist infiltration...( into the State Department.)

Again...no factual untruths...just a subtle twisting of the historical realities. Because Hiss was certainly no less a "Soviet agent", and arguably more so than Chambers, as he remained defiant until his death, persisting in the lie that he never betrayed his country. His perjury conviction, described here as "concerning his dealings with Whittaker Chambers", was in fact about his work as a spy for the Soviet Union from within the U.S. State Department.

In 1948, it "seemed to lend substance to" McCarthy's charges of communist infiltration. In 2014 however, this is no longer simply an "accusation" by Chambers, but a fact documented by the Venona transcripts and other material from the Soviet archives. The very last sentence of the Hiss entry in the Web version nods to this reality when it says, "In 1996 the release of secret Soviet cables that had been intercepted by U.S. intelligence during World War II provided strong evidence for Hiss's guilt." One man's strong evidence is, I suppose, another man's definitive proof. Based on what we know today, if the bio of Alger Hiss had to be reduced to two words, they would have to be "Soviet spy"...or maybe "treasonous bureaucrat"...take your pick.

But if you read nothing more than the first few sentences of these entries in the smartphone encyclopedia, you see one guy was a journalist, but also a Communist and a Soviet agent, while the other guy was a State Department official who was accused of being involved in espionage, and who by the way, was convicted of perjury.

Like I said....subtle.