Saturday, January 08, 2011

Nicolas Sarkozy says Christians in Middle East are victim of 'religious cleansing'

Christians in the Middle East are the victims of "religious cleansing", President Nicolas Sarkozy of France warned yesterday following a string of attacks on churches in the region.

Mr Sarkozy made the statement while giving his annual address to religious leaders as Coptic Christians were due to celebrate Christmas yesterday, according to the eastern Orthodox church calendar.

"We cannot accept and thereby facilitate what looks more and more like a particularly perverse programme of cleansing in the Middle East, religious cleansing," said the French president.

An attack on a Coptic church in the Egyptian city of Alexandria on January 1 killed 21 people. While no-one has claimed responsibility, it followed online threats against Copts from an al-Qaeda-linked group which had said it was behind an attack on a church in Baghdad in October. Some 68 people died in the attack on a Syriac Catholic church, one of a number of strikes against Christians in Iraq.

Those who died in Alexandria and Baghdad were "collectively our martyrs", said Mr Sarkozy. "They are the martyrs of the freedom of conscience." "The rights that are guaranteed in our country to all religions must be reciprocally guaranteed in other countries," he said.

Police in France and other European countries including Britain have bolstered security at Coptic churches in the run-up to Christmas. French security sources launched a terror investigation this week after a priest received online threats against his Coptic church in France.

"The threats that targeted the Coptic churches in France are unacceptable and I have asked the government to take them very seriously," Mr Sarkozy said. "The Muslim community in France is horrified by these crimes committed in the name of Islam," he said. "Fundamentalist terrorism also kills Muslims."

Mr Sarkozy also defended the concept of freedom of religion, a sensitive subject in staunchly secular France, which last year enacted a law banning wearing face-covering veils, including the full Islamic garment, in public. "A secular republic keeps constant dialogue with religions to be able to hear them and sometimes, why not, listen to them". But he added: "(France) will never let any religion impose its law".

The Conference of Faith Leaders in France, a multi-faith group, issued a statement yesterday saying: "This violence committed 'in the name of God' against other believers not only wounds a religion but all humanity."

Mr Sarkozy then apparently responded to recent controversial comments by Marine Le Pen of the far-Right National Front, who likened Muslims praying in French streets outside mosques to the Nazi occupation. "(France) cannot accept that religion takes over public space without authorisation," he said. "But that clearly implies that the republic also must keep its promise to allow everyone to have a decent place to pray."

An estimated 20,000 Coptic Christians live in Britain, compared to around 45,000 in France. The General Bishop for the Coptic Church in the UK, Bishop Angaelos, said the police were keeping a “very close eye on the situation” in the run-up to Christmas. The Coptic church is one of the oldest churches in the world – founded by St Mark the Apostle just decades after Jesus’ crucifixion.

SOURCE

*******************

Liberal distaste for the Constitution

The Constitution was read at the opening of the new session of the House of Representatives yesterday. What was most remarkable about this was the almost hysterical opposition from congressional Democrats and left-wing commentators. In what should have been a united celebration of the nation's foundation document in a period of partisan rancor, liberals instead reinforced the view that they are profoundly uncomfortable with the essential truths underlying American freedom.

Some leftists smugly observed that the literal reading of the document does not convey its full meaning, which has been defined, redefined and sometimes misdefined by successive generations of courts. This argument fit neatly into liberal talking points about the new congressional majority being composed of naive bumpkins who know little of the sophisticated workings of government. Yet Washington's corrupting climate is the very basis of the conservative critique.

The country has strayed far from the artful simplicity of our original founding document. Congress, the executive and the courts all assume powers they never were intended to have. The most recent Congress interpreted the Commerce Clause - which simply was supposed to prevent states from throwing up internal tariff barriers - to give government the right to compel Americans to spend private monies on health insurance. If this power stands, there truly are no limits to the power of the bureaucratic leviathan.

Liberals believe the Constitution is infinitely elastic, but it cannot be a blueprint for unlimited government. In Marbury v. Madison (1803), Chief Justice John Marshall noted that the very purpose of a constitution is to limit power, not to grant unlimited license. "Between these alternatives there is no middle ground," he wrote. "The Constitution is either a superior, paramount law, unchangeable by ordinary means, or it is on a level with ordinary legislative acts, and like other acts, is alterable when the legislature shall please to alter it." If Congress may do as it pleases, "then written constitutions are absurd attempts, on the part of the people, to limit a power in its own nature illimitable."

Some left-wingers accused the Republican leadership of fetishism for having the Constitution read in Congress. Rep. Jerry Nadler, New York Democrat, called the "ritualistic reading" of the Constitution "propaganda" and lectured against reading the document like a "sacred text." His critique accurately expresses the crisis of legitimacy our government is facing.

Legislative and executive abuses of the past two years have generated a cynicism about government not seen since the days before the Civil War. In 1838, Abraham Lincoln observed, in words that could apply today, that, "if the laws be continually despised and disregarded, if their rights to be secure in their persons and property, are held by no better tenure than the caprice of a mob, the alienation of their affections from the Government is the natural consequence." The solution to these ills was "simple," Lincoln said. Let reverence for the laws "become the political religion of the nation" where all would "sacrifice unceasingly upon its altars."

Today, Lincoln's vision of reverence for the laws is needed more by the government than by the people. The point of reading the Constitution on the floor of Congress is to remind those who tread the marbled halls of power that they are not philosopher kings sent to Washington to give life to their every pet theory, every caprice, every whim. If the United States is to survive as a free nation, the government must return to first principles.

SOURCE

****************************

Constitutionalism

For decades, Democrats and Republicans fought over who owns the American flag. Now they're fighting over who owns the Constitution.

Americans are in the midst of a great national debate over the power, scope and reach of the government established by that document. The debate was sparked by the current administration's bold push for government expansion - a massive fiscal stimulus, Obamacare, financial regulation and various attempts at controlling the energy economy. This engendered a popular reaction, identified with the Tea Party but in reality far more widespread, calling for a more restrictive vision of government more consistent with the Founders' intent.

Call it constitutionalism. In essence, constitutionalism is the intellectual counterpart and spiritual progeny of the "originalism" movement in jurisprudence. Judicial "originalists" (led by Antonin Scalia and other notable conservative jurists) insist that legal interpretation be bound by the text of the Constitution as understood by those who wrote it and their contemporaries. Originalism has grown to become the major challenger to the liberal "living Constitution" school, under which high courts are channelers of the spirit of the age, free to create new constitutional principles accordingly.

What originalism is to jurisprudence, constitutionalism is to governance: a call for restraint rooted in constitutional text. Constitutionalism as a political philosophy represents a reformed, self-regulating conservatism that bases its call for minimalist government - for reining in the willfulness of presidents and legislatures - in the words and meaning of the Constitution.

Hence that highly symbolic moment on Thursday when the 112th House of Representatives opened with a reading of the Constitution. Remarkably, this had never been done before - perhaps because it had never been so needed. The reading reflected the feeling, expressed powerfully in the last election, that we had moved far, especially the past two years, from a government constitutionally limited by its enumerated powers to a government constrained only by its perception of social need.

The most galvanizing example of this expansive shift was, of course, the Democrats' health-care reform, which will revolutionize one-sixth of the economy and impose an individual mandate that levies a fine on anyone who does not enter into a private contract with a health insurance company. Whatever its merits as policy, there is no doubting its seriousness as constitutional precedent: If Congress can impose such a mandate, is there anything that Congress may not impose upon the individual?

The new Republican House will henceforth require, in writing, constitutional grounding for every bill submitted. A fine idea, although I suspect 90 percent of them will simply make a ritual appeal to the "general welfare" clause. Nonetheless, anything that reminds members of Congress that they are not untethered free agents is salutary.

But still mostly symbolic. The real test of the Republicans' newfound constitutionalism will come in legislating. Will they really cut government spending? Will they really roll back regulations? Earmarks are nothing. Do the Republicans have the courage to go after entitlements as well?

In the interim, the cynics had best tread carefully. Some liberals are already disdaining the new constitutionalism, denigrating the document's relevance and sneering at its public recitation. They sneer at their political peril. In choosing to focus on a majestic document that bears both study and recitation, the reformed conservatism of the Obama era has found itself not just a symbol but an anchor.

Constitutionalism as a guiding political tendency will require careful and thoughtful development, as did jurisprudential originalism. But its wide appeal and philosophical depth make it a promising first step to a conservative future.

SOURCE

***********************

Obamacare Ends Construction of Doctor-Owned Hospitals

Under the headline, "Construction Stops at Physician Hospitals," Politico reports today that "Physician Hospitals of America says that construction had to stop at 45 hospitals nationwide or they would not be able to bill Medicare for treatments." Stopping construction at doctor-owned hospitals might not seem like the best way to boost the economy or to promote greater access and choice in health care, but that exactly what Obamacare is doing.

Kenneth Artz of the Heartland Institute explains, "Section 6001 of the health care law effectively bans new physician-owned hospitals (POHs) from starting up, and it keeps existing ones from expanding." Politico adds, "Friday [New Year's Eve] marked the last day physician-owned hospitals could get Medicare certification covering their new or expanded hospitals, one of the latest provisions of the reform law to go into effect."

This little-noticed but particularly egregious aspect of Obamacare is, by all accounts, a concession to the powerful American Hospital Association (AHA), a supporter of Obamacare, which prefers to have its member hospitals operate without competition from hospitals owned by doctors. Dr. Michael Russell, president of Physician Hospitals of America, which has filed suit to try to stop this selective building-ban from going into effect, says, "There are so many regulations [in Obamacare] and they are so onerous and intrusive that we believe that the section [Section 6001] was deliberately designed so no physician owned hospital could successfully comply."

Artz writes, "According to Russell, the AHA, along with Sen. [Max] Baucus (D-MT) and Congressman Pete Stark (D-CA), are responsible for the language in Section 6001." But the responsibility for all aspects of the overhaul primarily lies with outgoing-House speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate majority leader Harry Reid, and, particularly, Obamacare's principal champion, President Barack Obama.

SOURCE

***********************

ELSEWHERE

New U.S. jobs data disappoint: "The US economy created fewer jobs than forecast last month, disappointing investors who in recent weeks have seen signs that the recovery is strengthening. Companies hired 103,000 people in December, the Labor Department said on Friday, compared with an expectation of about 150,000. The unemployment rate dropped to 9.4pc from 9.8pc in November, though some of that was down to a number of jobseekers giving up the hunt for work. The economy usually needs to create at least 125,000 jobs a month to keep the unemployment rate from rising, but a faster pace might be needed now since so many discouraged workers are sitting on the sidelines. As job growth picks up, these workers could re-enter the labour force, keeping upward pressure on the jobless rate."

Federal Agency's Claims of Jobs Saved by Stimulus Were 'Unclear and Misleading,' Says Inspector General: "The Small Business Administration, which was given $730 million under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to increase the availability of credit to small businesses, is making claims about the number of jobs saved that are "unclear" and "misleading" and which cannot be verified, according to a report issued by the agency's inspector general. "The lack of a definition for ‘jobs retained' and the discrepancy in the forms used to collect job statistics from 7(a) borrowers and lenders has resulted in a performance metric with questionable clarity and transparency," the inspector general said..."

Obama's Leftist friends in Central America: "On October 21st, 2010, Nicaragua invaded and to date occupies Calero Island in the San Juan River belonging to U.S. ally, Costa Rica. The communist dictatorship absurdly claimed that Google Maps showed the territory belonged to them, and seized the island. In fact, according to the official maps of both countries, the land has always been Costa Rican. It is in fact an illegal invasion by Nicaragua of Costa Rica, an historically peaceful country which has no standing military. Unfortunately for the people of Nicaragua who yearn to be free from Marxist rule, [Obama appointee] Valenzuela does not appear to be equipped with either the capability or the will to do anything about it. Instead, within a week after the invasion began, Valenzuela went to Nicaragua to meet with Ortega to discuss “bilateral cooperation in democratic governance”"

My Twitter.com identity: jonjayray. My Facebook page is also accessible as jonjayray (In full: http://www.facebook.com/jonjayray). For more blog postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, GUN WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, EYE ON BRITAIN and Paralipomena

List of backup or "mirror" sites here or here -- for readers in China or for everyone when blogspot is "down" or failing to update. Email me here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or here (Pictorial) or here (Personal)

****************************

The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)

****************************

Friday, January 07, 2011

The Liberal Press Meets the Law That Governs Government

MSNBC's Norah O'Donnell asked her "favorite wonk," liberal Washington Post child writer Ezra Klein, whether the GOP's opening the 112th Congress by reading the Constitution aloud is a gimmick.

Klein said that of course it was a gimmick because reading the Constitution aloud "has no binding effect on anything." Besides, Klein told O'Donnell, "the text is confusing because it was written more than 100 years ago."

Thus, before the Constitution was read aloud on the floor of the House for the first time in history, Mr. Klein said aloud what many of us had long suspected what the left thinks about the Constitution. To them, it's hot air like so much of what is said on the floor of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

In the twisted political world of Washington, the law that governs government -- the Constitution -- is malleable and negotiable like everything else that takes place in that town.

That is why it is important for constitutional conservatives to emphasize one point over and over. The Constitution isn't just a compact or a set of guiding principles. The Constitution is the law that governs government.

Those in government who seek to evade the Constitution seek to evade the law that binds them. Call them what you will: statists, ruling-class elites, bureaucrats, politicians. In a sense, however, they are every bit the miscreant lawbreakers as low-level hoodlums and high-level con artists, except they are lawbreakers who have been rewarded, not punished, for their lawbreaking.

The anti-constitutional left is in a quandary because the Constitution is now being forced on them. They are resorting to demagoguery against constitutional proponents. They may as well be attacking motherhood and apple pie, which they would if motherhood and apple pie threatened their political belief system.

In that regard, the Tea Party is like the new sheriff in town. Like a town run too long by the wrong element and gone bad, it's going to take some cleaning up, but the law that governs government will be enforced. And how will the liberal press handle all this, which is a threat to its own power base? As they say, stay tuned.

SOURCE

**************************

Welcome Aboard

Oliver North

Congratulations, Speaker Boehner, to you and the members of your new majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. The gracious humility of your acceptance remarks was a vivid contrast to your predecessor's ill-mannered comments as she handed over the speaker's gavel. She clearly does not intend to be held accountable for the disastrous performance of her party in last November's elections.

Though former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's long-winded rudeness is an indication of the challenges you and other responsible members of the 112th Congress will face in the days ahead, your arrival on Capitol Hill is already having a positive effect in Washington. Shortly before you became speaker of the House, the Obama administration announced it is withdrawing its new regulation requiring "end-of-life counseling" for Medicare recipients. In short, there will be no "death panels." Then, just hours after you gaveled the new House to order, President Barack Obama's confrontational spokesman, Robert Gibbs, announced his resignation as White House press secretary. Now the hard work begins.

You already have received much advice in the month since we last spoke. Most Americans are aware you and your new 242-193 majority intend to vote next week on repealing "Obamacare." We also know Republican priorities include holding the line on tax increases, cutting federal spending, decreasing the deficit, and regulatory reform to stimulate the U.S. economy. All of those are important -- but none more so than protecting our nation's people and territory.

Though the president is the commander in chief of our armed forces and the day-to-day conduct of our foreign policy is the purview of the executive branch, there is much that must be done by Congress to protect our homeland and our people better. Here are five national security issues in urgent need of congressional attention:

--Secure America's borders. American citizens on our southern frontier say they are "under siege" from drug cartels and contraband traffickers. They are. Last year, the 111th Congress allocated $600 million to federal agencies for improved border security -- but not one cent went to state and local officials. New Drug Enforcement Administration agents, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers and Border Patrol personnel and equipment, such as unmanned aerial vehicles and sophisticated surveillance devices, are essential. But so is state and local law enforcement -- now going broke -- because many illegal entrants commit serious crimes once they have crossed the border. State and local officials need the resources and means to coordinate with federal agencies for the protection of our citizens. President Obama refuses to visit the Arizonan border. You should.

--Maintain America's military strength. The O-Team plans to make dramatic cuts in military spending based on the anticipated departure of all U.S. troops from Iraq and a cut in U.S. forces in Afghanistan -- even with 1,400 additional Marines being dispatched in the coming days to Kandahar province. Obama says withdrawals will be "conditions-based," but the only condition that makes sense in Afghanistan is winning. The 112th Congress should define victory as a representative government in Kabul that respects the human rights of the Afghan people, can defend itself against internal and external threats, and is a friend to the West.

Though "earmark" is now a four-letter word in Washington, Congress must prevent the Obama Pentagon from defunding new weapons systems, such as the Marines' Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle and the vertical takeoff and land variant of the F-35 strike aircraft. If we lose our ability to project military power, we invite attack.

--Counter terror. Obama insists on describing radical Islamic terrorists as "extremists" and treating them as common criminals. They are not. Radical Islamists are enemy combatants. Congress already is using the power of the purse to prevent the O-Team from transferring terror suspects from the detention center at Guantanamo Bay to the U.S. for trial in civilian courtrooms. The 112th Congress should vote to make this restriction a permanent matter of law. Let Obama veto the bill if he dares.

--Make energy independence a national priority. The Obama administration is abusing its regulatory authority to increase the price of hydrocarbon fuel. By making it nearly impossible to build nuclear power plants and refineries or exploit our own reserves, the O-Team has increased our reliance on foreign energy, making us more vulnerable to adversaries like Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad while sending billions of petrodollars to places that fund radical Islam. Freeing up America's energy reserves is crucial to our national security and essential to economic recovery.

--Support democracy movements. The Obama administration purports to be concerned about Iranian efforts to acquire nuclear weapons, North Korean aggression, Somali piracy, slavery in Sudan, and Yemen's harboring terrorists. Though Obama has traveled around the world apologizing for America, he has shamefully abandoned support for democracy movements and human rights organizations. The 112th Congress must restore funding for democratic institutions overseas. This pillar of U.S. national security policy is much less expensive than other forms of foreign aid -- and far more effective than contrition.

SOURCE

**************************

The top 10 political lies of 2010

OK, we're game. Here, in no particular order, are the top 10 political lies of 2010.

1. Ninety-five percent of "working families" received a tax cut.

No. The bill gave tax cuts to those who pay taxes -- and gave money, "tax credits," to those who pay little or nothing in taxes. We used to call this welfare.

2. The General Motors bailout "worked."

Did it? Tell that to GM's bondholders. CNBC's Larry Kudlow wrote: "The GM bondholders own $27 billion and they're getting 10 percent of the common stock in an expected exchange. And the UAW owns $10 billion of the bonds and they're getting 40 percent of the stock." What would have happened had the government stepped aside and let the private sector take over -- a natural and necessary consequence of running a business into the ground? What about "moral hazard" -- shielding a company from the effect of its poor decisions -- which, in turn, encourages negligence and sloth on the part of other companies deemed "too big to fail"?

3. ObamaCare will "bend the cost curve down."

The alleged "savings" occur only by assuming politically unlikely and unpopular cuts in Medicare. Then there are sub-lies, including: "If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor." Obama later admitted, "I think that some of the provisions that got snuck in might have violated that pledge."

4. The tea party is "racist."

The proof? The head of the NAACP told CNN's Anderson Cooper that tea partyers used the racially coded rallying cry "take our country back." Unfortunately, Cooper ran a montage of Democrats like Bill Clinton, Howard Dean and John Kerry rousing supporters by demanding that they "take our country back." Yes, a handful of idiots held up stupid signs. And no, they weren't impaled and set on fire. Quick, somebody call Sharpton!

5. The $800 billion "stimulus" funded millions of "shovel-ready" jobs.

Vice President Joe Biden's June "Summer of Recovery" report claimed that "shovel-ready" projects created jobs. "Between ... tax relief, direct aid, and shovel-ready projects, the Recovery Act has ... created or retained between 2.2 and 2.8 million jobs." Even Obama, in October, admitted, "There's no such thing as 'shovel-ready projects.'" Oh.

6. Stimulus "saved or created" 3.5 million jobs.

The administration had predicted that 90 percent of the "saved or created" jobs would be private sector. Reason columnist Veronique de Rugy writes, "Four out of five jobs created were created in the public sector. (Two years into the stimulus) 682,370 jobs were reported created, not 3 million, and over 510,000 of these were in the public sector."

7. There is a "consensus," according to the White House website, that the stimulus plan "pulled us back from the brink of economic disaster."

Consensus? A poll by the Pew Research Center found that nearly two-thirds of Americans thought the stimulus did not contribute to job creation.

8. The 111th Congress was the "most productive" since -- pick one -- the New Deal, LBJ's Great Society or the beginning of the republic.

Define "productive." The deficit tripled from the '08 budget. The past two years produced almost $4 trillion in new debt, more than any Congress in history. This congressional "productivity" cost the Democrats their House majority and their Senate supermajority.

9. Bush-era "deregulation" caused the Gulf oil spill.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Bush placed "the employees of Big Oil in charge of regulating their own industry." The oil extraction business remains heavily regulated. Obama's administration, not Bush's, approved the Deepwater Horizon project.

10. Guantanamo Bay will be shut down in 2010.

Obama promised a closure in the first, and then the second, year of his administration. Gitmo exists for a reason. It confines Islamofascists who want to kill American "infidels." No other country that we can trust to keep the would-be killers confined wants them. "I'm going to close down Guantanamo" is yet another I'm-not-Bush promise that crashed-landed onto the mean streets of the real world. OK, technically not a "lie." But, whatever.

SOURCE

****************************

ELSEWHERE

French airport security a joke too: "Security staff at two busy French airports failed to spot a handgun hidden inside the luggage of two reporters. The undercover journalists from state-run France 2's Envoye Special program boarded planes at Paris Charles de Gaulle and Marseille airport with the 9mm semi-automatic pistol. The guns had been dismantled into two pieces, inside their cabin bags, and then reassembled in the toilets mid-flight by one of the reporters. The program set out to prove perceived weaknesses in screening routines at French airports. One of the journalists, Linda Bendali, told France Info radio that a lack of attention was not the problem, rather "a lack of understanding of what they were supposed to be looking out for. They are not very familiar with dangerous weapons."

Confused thinking? "Defense Secretary Robert Gates has decided to send an additional 1,400 Marine combat forces to Afghanistan, officials said, in a surprise move ahead of the spring fighting season to try to cement tentative security gains [sic] before White House-mandated troop reductions begin in July. The Marine battalion could start arriving on the ground as early as mid-January."

Pentagon announces plans to rein in spending: "For the first time in more than a decade defined by costly wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Pentagon announced plans Thursday to freeze its ballooning budget, forcing the services to shrink the Army and Marines and increase health care premiums for military retirees and their families. The Pentagon says it can stop asking for annual budget increases in 2015, adjusting its spending only for inflation. The last time the Pentagon's budget went down was in 1998."

Obama still angry at Honduras for ousting its Leftist dictator: "The U.S. says it is not renewing a $215 million aid program in Honduras. The U.S. Embassy did not give a reason in a statement announcing the decision. But Honduran officials claimed Thursday that it was because of corruption under the government of former President Manuel Zelaya, who was ousted in a June 2009 coup."

CA: Police issue warning about buying and selling gold: "With gold selling for more than $1,400 per ounce, officials remind the public that there are laws governing the buying and selling of gold, Pasadena police said in a written statement. 'The Pasadena Police Department would like to inform the public that buying gold is against the law unless you are licensed by the California Department of Justice,' the statement said."

CA: Blue Shield seeks rate hikes of as much as 59%: "Another big California health insurer has stunned individual policyholders with huge rate increases — this time it's Blue Shield of California seeking cumulative hikes of as much as 59% for tens of thousands of customers March 1. Blue Shield's action comes less than a year after Anthem Blue Cross tried and failed to raise rates as much as 39% for about 700,000 California customers. San Francisco-based Blue Shield said the increases were the result of fast-rising healthcare costs and other expenses resulting from new healthcare laws."

My Twitter.com identity: jonjayray. My Facebook page is also accessible as jonjayray (In full: http://www.facebook.com/jonjayray). For more blog postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, GUN WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, EYE ON BRITAIN and Paralipomena

List of backup or "mirror" sites here or here -- for readers in China or for everyone when blogspot is "down" or failing to update. Email me here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or here (Pictorial) or here (Personal)

****************************

The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)

****************************

Thursday, January 06, 2011

The Left Have Their Own Version of Chess

And they treat people like pawns in a game

For all of its hype and bluster, Liberalism is steeped in impatience, the here and now, finding the easy way, delusion and fanciful thinking, excuses and pointing fingers at others, cheating and bending the rules, selfishness, mocking tradition and history, ignoring mistakes and not letting the truth get in the way of propaganda, demonizing and destroying opponents, and giving value to [chess] pieces based on what they can do instead of their own unique, inherent qualities.

One only need look at the way the Left rushes forth half-baked, poorly defined, selfishly motivated legislation such as the Dream Act and the Fair Use Doctrine. These people slap together a few social good mantras, prop up a handful of weeping families with tearful tales, wave a few signs displaying clever accusations and supposedly profound insights, add a few violins and pathetic strips of patriotism, and expect the sea to divide, mountains to spread, and the populace to either bow at their feet or roll over and play stupid. Typically, the Left’s definition of strategy is to run over, mock, demonize, terrorize and/or ignore the opposition, which is proclaimed to be and painted by their pet media as ignorant, intolerant, stupid, and/or dangerous.

The Left’s impatience is most probably born from the fact that even they realize that their ideas, insights, and pet agendas have the shelf life of vanilla ice cream under a hot July sun. They cannot plan a few moves ahead because they either do not care what is around the bend or figure that the car wreck they will eventually cause is not something they want to foresee. One does not push myopia while offering glasses, telescopes, or microscopes.

Likewise, being realistic and taking responsibility is not how the Left rolls. Theirs is a world of illusions, delusions, excuses, and pointing fingers which, consistent with the Left’s genetic makeup, are incapable of pointing inward. In addition, liberals treat history and tradition like annoying, vile weeds to be pulled from the ground and flipped into the trash bin.

Rules, unselfishness, mistakes, and the truth are all similarly annoying thorns in the Left’s side which more often than not get in the way of their agenda, mission, crusade, and fanciful march toward the kind of society they envision while admiring images of Marx or Bill Clinton. Lastly, Liberals often believe in the motto that if someone is not on their side, that someone must be an idiot, hick, religious fanatic, intolerant moron, or any combination of the above. Any valid voice or reasoned disagreement is often drowned by the constant drone of patronizing mockery or smug accusation.

Liberals pretend to respect and value their pawns but, more often than not, they use and perceive those pawns as mere ends to a means, tools for a task, marketing dummies for a store front, or collateral damage to a greater cause which just happens to be their cause of the week. African-Americans, Latinos, women, pets, trees, children, the physically challenged, the poor, natural disaster survivors, war civilians, and those who enter this country illegally have all been and will continue to be used by liberals as their pet pawns of the week or month to further their own selfish agenda. Like logs to a fire, these pieces are only valued for how they can be used to further the larger liberal plan, typically with no concern for their own individual welfare.

Liberals play a different form of chess in our society. It is based on bullying, mocking, patronizing, manipulating, and demonizing others and pretending, excusing, and ignoring away reality and the truth. Rules are either twisted, bent, ignored, or created to serve the greater agenda, and those who break the rules are glorified, coddled, and served. Welcome to the Left’s version of chess, where rules are decorations, people are pieces to manipulate, and the only things that apparently matter are personal comfort, finding shortcuts, and playing the victim. For the sake of our children and our country, we need to take the chess board away from these toddlers before they checkmate our future.

SOURCE

**********************

Dependence Day has arrived in Britain and is heading for America

On the erosion of personal liberty in both America and Britain -- and Britain's abandonment of its behavioral heritage. Just a few excerpts below from an article by Mark Steyn that is well worth reading in full

If I am pessimistic about the future of liberty, it is because I am pessimistic about the strength of the English-speaking nations, which have, in profound ways, surrendered to forces at odds with their inheritance. “Declinism” is in the air, but some of us apocalyptic types are way beyond that. The United States is facing nothing so amiable and genteel as Continental-style “decline,” but something more like sliding off a cliff.

Insofar as the world functions at all, it’s due to the Britannic inheritance. Three-sevenths of the G7 economies are nations of British descent. Two-fifths of the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council are—and, by the way, it should be three-fifths: The rap against the Security Council is that it’s the Second World War victory parade preserved in aspic, but, if it were, Canada would have a greater claim to be there than either France or China. The reason Canada isn’t is because a third Anglosphere nation and a second realm of King George VI would have made too obvious a truth usually left unstated—that the Anglosphere was the all but lone defender of civilization and of liberty. In broader geopolitical terms, the key regional powers in almost every corner of the globe are British-derived—from Australia to South Africa to India—and, even among the lesser players, as a general rule you’re better off for having been exposed to British rule than not: Why is Haiti Haiti and Barbados Barbados?

And of course the pre-eminent power of the age derives its political character from eighteenth-century British subjects who took English ideas a little further than the mother country was willing to go.

Continental Europe has given us plenty of nice paintings and agreeable symphonies, French wine and Italian actresses and whatnot, but, for all our fetishization of multiculturalism, you can’t help noticing that when it comes to the notion of a political West—one with a sustained commitment to liberty and democracy—the historical record looks a lot more unicultural and, indeed (given that most of these liberal democracies other than America share the same head of state), uniregal. The entire political class of Portugal, Spain, and Greece spent their childhoods living under dictatorships. So did Jacques Chirac and Angela Merkel. We forget how rare on this earth is peaceful constitutional evolution, and rarer still outside the Anglosphere....

One of my favorite lines from the Declaration of Independence never made it into the final text. They were Thomas Jefferson’s parting words to his fellow British subjects across the ocean: “We might have been a free and great people together.” But in the end, when it mattered, they were a free and great people together. Britain was eclipsed by its transatlantic offspring, by a nation with the same language, the same legal inheritance, and the same commitment to liberty.

It’s not likely to go that way next time round. And “next time round” is already under way. We are coming to the end of a two-century Anglosphere dominance, and of a world whose order and prosperity many people think of as part of a broad, general trend but which, in fact, derive from a very particular cultural inheritance and may well not survive it.

When a society loses its memory, it descends inevitably into dementia. As I always try to tell my American neighbors, national decline is at least partly psychological—and therefore what matters is accepting the psychology of decline. Thus, Hayek’s greatest insight in The Road to Serfdom, which he wrote with an immigrant’s eye on the Britain of 1944:

There is one aspect of the change in moral values brought about by the advance of collectivism which at the present time provides special food for thought. It is that the virtues which are held less and less in esteem and which consequently become rarer are precisely those on which the British people justly prided themselves and in which they were generally agreed to excel.
The virtues possessed by Anglo-Saxons in a higher degree than most other people, excepting only a few of the smaller nations, like the Swiss and the Dutch, were independence and self-reliance, individual initiative and local responsibility, the successful reliance on voluntary activity, noninterference with one’s neighbor and tolerance of the different and queer, respect for custom and tradition, and a healthy suspicion of power and authority.

Within little more than half a century, almost every item on the list had been abandoned, from “independence and self-reliance” (some 40 percent of Britons receive state handouts) to “a healthy suspicion of power and authority”—the reflex response now to almost any passing inconvenience is to demand the government “do something.” American exceptionalism would have to be awfully exceptional to suffer a similar expansion of government without a similar descent, in enough of the citizenry, into chronic dependency.

Why be surprised that legions of British Muslims sign up for the Taliban? These are young men who went to school in Luton and West Bromwich and learned nothing of their country of nominal citizenship other than that it’s responsible for racism, imperialism, colonialism, and all the other bad -isms of the world. If that’s all you knew of Britain, why would you feel any allegiance to Queen and country? And what if you don’t have Islam to turn to? The transformation of the British people is, in its own malign way, a remarkable achievement. Raised in schools that teach them nothing, they nevertheless pick up the gist of the matter, which is that their society is a racket founded on various historical injustices. The virtues Hayek admired? Ha! Strictly for suckers.

Permanence is the illusion of every age. But you cannot wage a sustained ideological assault on your own civilization without profound consequence. Without serious course correction, we will see the end of the Anglo-American era, and the eclipse of the powers that built the modern world. Even as America’s spendaholic government outspends not only America’s ability to pay for itself but, by some measures, the world’s; even as it follows Britain into the dank pit of transgenerational dependency, a failed education system, and unsustainable entitlements; even as it makes less and less and mortgages its future to its rivals for cheap Chinese trinkets, most Americans assume that simply because they’re American they will be insulated from the consequences.

There, too, are lessons from the old country. Cecil Rhodes distilled the assumptions of generations when he said that to be born a British subject was to win first prize in the lottery of life. On the eve of the Great War, in his play Heartbreak House, Bernard Shaw turned the thought around to taunt a British ruling class too smug and self-absorbed to see what was coming. “Do you think,” he wrote, “the laws of God will be suspended in favor of England because you were born in it?”

In our time, to be born a citizen of the United States is to win first prize in the lottery of life, and, as Britons did, too many Americans assume it will always be so. Do you think the laws of God will be suspended in favor of America because you were born in it? Great convulsions lie ahead, and at the end of it we may be in a post-Anglosphere world.

More HERE

***************************

America needs a new national debate on the Constitution

It might seem unlikely that a lone law professor could spark a national discussion about the kind of government Americans want in the 21st century, but that's exactly what Georgetown Law School's Randy E. Barnett hopes to do with his modest proposal known as the Repeal Amendment. You can read Barnett's description of the plan and his response to critics of it like the New York Times here.

Under the plan, measures approved by Washington could be repealed if both houses in two-thirds of the state legislatures vote to do so. Incoming House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., is among the proposal's most significant supporters, which means it will receive serious attention during the 112th Congress convening this week. Whatever one's view of the propriety of amending the U.S. Constitution in the manner proposed by Barnett -- and for the record, we think the Repeal Amendment is a dandy way to restore the proper balance to our federal system -- the professor's idea could not be more appropriately timed.

For the last decade, presidents and Congresses representing both major political parties have caused federal spending, regulation, and debt to explode as never before, with a result that the central government is in truly dire financial shape even as its power to control the most minute details of American daily life has never been greater. This fact is central to understanding why the vast majority of Americans -- 64 percent, according to Rasmussen Reports' Dec. 29 survey -- think the country is headed in the wrong direction.

For the same reason we regard the Repeal Amendment as a positive development in the current public policy dialogue, we think incoming Speaker of the House John Boehner has been unjustly criticized in some, mostly liberal, precincts for his decision to open the 112th Congress with a public reading of the Constitution. Aside from the sad fact that the reading will likely be the closest encounter many lawmakers have ever had with the actual words of the document, the occasion will be a happy one because it will also provide citizens across the country with an opportunity to join Congress in examining and discussing the words of our founding document.

Comparing the words of the Constitution to the actions of our leaders in recent years will surely make clear the enduring wisdom of James Madison's warning that "there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations." Talking seriously about this condition is the first step to remedying it, just as Madison and the rest of the Founders intended.

SOURCE

*********************

ELSEWHERE

Obama signs legislation to bureaucratize food production even further: "President Obama signed into law Tuesday legislation that represents the first major overhaul of the nation's food-safety infrastructure since 1938, but the presumed incoming Republican chairman of the agriculture subcommittee says he may not fund it."

Progressivism is not progressive: "The euphemistic usage of 'progressive' is merely one contemporary example of governmental manipulation of language. Notice also how often members of the authoritarian elite, especially of the leftist persuasion, cloak justifications for the warfare state in the language of peace, and for the welfare state in the language of freedom."

Old Dems and Whippersnapper Republicans: "Curious fact, unearthed by Gerald Seib of The Wall Street Journal. The average age of Republican House members in the new Congress convening this week is 54.9, younger than the Republicans' average age in the previous Congress, 56.5. But the average age of House Democrats has risen, from 58 to 60.2. That can be explained partly by the high turnover in the 2010 election. Many younger Democrats, first elected in 2006 or 2008, fell by the wayside. The old bulls from 65 percent-plus Democratic districts survived. Meanwhile, many young Republican challengers won."

Obamacare: An unacquired taste: "Throughout the debate over health-care reform, Democrats constantly told us (and themselves) that if only they could explain the bill better, Americans would come to understand how good it was for them. So President Obama went out and gave more than a hundred remarks, speeches, press conferences, and town-hall orations. But somehow voters resisted the president’s silver-tongued oratory. The more the president talked, cajoled, and explained, the greater public opposition to the bill grew."

The French find a free-market solution to historic preservation: "Turning Versailles into a hotel will have many positive consequences. More people will be able to enjoy the building than they do in the status quo, or if it were in ruins. Additionally, taxpayers won’t be forced to pay for the restoration, nor will the restoration compete with other government programs for funds. Another positive consequence is that the building and its history will be preserved."

My Twitter.com identity: jonjayray. My Facebook page is also accessible as jonjayray (In full: http://www.facebook.com/jonjayray). For more blog postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, GUN WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, EYE ON BRITAIN and Paralipomena

List of backup or "mirror" sites here or here -- for readers in China or for everyone when blogspot is "down" or failing to update. Email me here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or here (Pictorial) or here (Personal)

****************************

The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)

****************************

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Interwar Presidents and the Fantasies of Historians

by Robert Murphy

It is understandable, though still harmful, when economists completely mischaracterize the policies of the Herbert Hoover Administration. But in his recent Salon piece on Sarah Palin's new book, historian David Greenberg distorts the legacies of both Calvin Coolidge and his ill-fated successor, Hoover. To set the record straight, it's worth pointing out exactly where Greenberg goes wrong.

Coolidge versus the Progressives

Greenberg finally gets down to business:
Coolidge's vogue on the right goes beyond the conservative principles he extolled; it lies in his conception of the presidency. He took office at a time when Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson had transformed the executive branch, actively using their powers to restrain big business and secure a measure of fairness in economic life. Coolidge, in contrast, believed in a small federal government, a passive executive and light regulation of business. "If the federal government were to go out of existence," he said, "the common run of people would not detect the difference." The main legislative battles of his presidency were to implement the tax cuts favored by his plutocratic Treasury Secretary Andrew W. Mellon. He even balanced the budget.

In the first place, it is always interesting that the historians who are ostensibly concerned about "the little guy" revere US presidents in almost exact proportion to how many people were killed by their subordinates. Beyond Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson's wars, however, is their dismal record of economic interventionism.

It is a myth that antitrust legislation, "trust busting," was a vehicle to protect consumers and workers from rapacious big businessmen, as Tom DiLorenzo explains in this lecture. And Woodrow Wilson enjoys the dubious distinction of having ushered in both the Federal Reserve and the federal income tax. Adherents of the Austrian theory of the business cycle know that the Fed fueled the 1920s stock bubble (as well as the housing bubble in our own times), and so can hardly be seen as a promoter of "fairness." But even using empirical mainstream research, one can see that the Fed has been a source of economic instability -- as Selgin et al. demonstrate in this article.

As far as federal income-tax rates, it's true that Coolidge took the advice of his Treasury Secretary, Andrew Mellon, to cut them. But that was because they had been raised to an absurd level during World War I. As this history shows, even the rate on the lowest bracket jumped from 1 percent in 1913 to 6 percent by 1918. Moreover, someone who made $20,000 in 1913 paid 1 percent in federal income taxes, but because the brackets were redefined, someone earning the same money income in 1918 paid a whopping 20 percent in federal tax. (Note too that from June 1913 to June 1918 the Consumer Price Index rose 50 percent, so that a given money income purchased far less in actual goods and services.)

In contrast to this onerous burden created under Woodrow Wilson, during the Coolidge years the bottom bracket's tax rate was brought down to 1.5 percent by 1926, while an upper-middle-class (though hardly "filthy rich") household earning $20,000 saw its tax rate slashed to 9 percent.

As far as fiscal responsibility, Coolidge was superlative, perhaps second only to Andrew Jackson, who literally paid off the national debt (as well as slew the central bank). Coolidge had a much more modest success, in that he ran budget surpluses every year he was in office.[1]

The Myth of the Do-Nothing Hoover

Although I have disagreed with Greenberg's remarks on Teddy Roosevelt, Wilson, and Coolidge, the disagreement largely stems from our differing views on economic theory. But when it comes to the Hoover record, Greenberg simply invents history:
There is another reason, of course, that Coolidge -- and not Warren Harding or Herbert Hoover, the other conservative Republicans of the interwar years -- has become a hero to the contemporary right. Harding, who was probably more conservative than Coolidge, was discredited by the Teapot Dome affair. ... Hoover, who put the small-government philosophy into effect at an hour of crisis, saw it fail utterly. They do not appear in Sarah Palin's new book.

This is demonstrably false; it would be akin to saying that George W. Bush sat back and did nothing in response to the collapse of Lehman Brothers. It's true, a die-hard interventionist could say Herbert Hoover didn't do enough, but it is simply not true to claim that he "put the small-government philosophy into effect."

Before looking at specifics, consider the broader picture. If it's really true that Herbert Hoover did nothing, and that's why the stock market Crash of 1929 devolved into the Great Depression, then what happened during all the previous crises in American capitalism? After all, there was no New Deal implemented during the panic of 1907, and yet the United States wasn't plunged into double-digit unemployment for a decade. And by many measures, the first year of the 1920—1921 depression was worse than the Great Depression; yet the economy bounced back quickly under the postwar budget slashing of Wilson and then Harding.

As I document in my book on the Depression, Hoover was in fact a big-government conservative. Perhaps his most fateful mistake was pressuring businesses to prop up wage rates after the stock-market crash. Coupled with the ensuing monetary and price deflation, this was a disastrous policy that raised the real wages of labor and contributed to the record levels of unemployment in the early 1930s. Yet here is Hoover's Secretary of Labor, James Davis, congratulating his boss's "accomplishment" in May 1930:
There never has been a crisis such as we have had as the stock market crash that threw . . . millions out of employment that there wasn't a wholesale reduction in wages. . . . If Hoover accomplishes nothing more in all of his service to the government, that one outstanding thing of his administration -- no reduction in wages -- will be a credit that will be forever remembered not by the working classes alone but by business men as well, because without money in the pay envelope business is the first to suffer.[2]

Conclusion

When recoiling against a leftist professor's praise for Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, there is a dangerous tendency to lavish hosannas on "right-wing" presidents. Although Calvin Coolidge was a fantastic president compared to his peers, he obviously was at least partially to blame for the massive stock bubble that developed in the final years of his administration.

Even so, David Greenberg, as a history professor and author of a book on this period in US history, should know better than to recycle the myth that Herbert Hoover was a laissez-faire ideologue. Even one of FDR's subordinates admitted -- years after -- that the New Deal had simply extended the pioneering interventions of the Hoover years.

If one wants to draw a straightforward lesson from Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover, it is this: tax cuts and budget surpluses go hand in hand with phenomenal economic growth, while tax hikes, budget deficits, and radical growth in government go hand in hand with economic disaster.

More HERE (See the original for links)

***********************

'Saving' the Housing Market

Thomas Sowell

"Housing Market Setback Forecast," the newspaper headline said. A recently released report on housing says that home sales are down more than 25 percent and the inventory of unsold homes is about 50 percent higher than it was the same time last year.

This is just one of innumerable stories about the woes of the housing market. We all understand about human beings having woes. But how can a housing market have either setbacks or woes? Moreover, why should politicians be riding to the rescue of the housing market with the taxpayers' money?

We hear all sorts of sad stories about people whose homes are "under water" or who are facing foreclosure. But why should our attention be arbitrarily focused on these particular people, rather than on the many other people who would benefit from being able to buy those same houses, if the prices came down? The government is artificially keeping the prices up with subsidies and with pressures on lenders to accommodate the current occupants.

Can we not walk and chew gum at the same time? Is our attention span so limited that we can only think about one set of people that the media and the politicians have chosen to highlight?

Do other people count for less just because the media don't put their pictures in the paper or on the TV screen? Or because politicians are ignoring them?

Sometimes we are more concerned about some people because they are especially deserving. But this cannot be said about those who borrowed money to buy homes that they could not afford, or who borrowed against the equity in their homes, and now find that what they owe is more than the home is worth.

If anyone is especially deserving, it is those who had the common sense to avoid taking on bigger financial obligations than they could handle, but who are now expected to pay as taxpayers for other people's irresponsibility.

No doubt some people who are facing foreclosures might have been able to continue making their mortgage payments if they had not lost their jobs. But since when were we all guaranteed never to lose our jobs? People used to put money aside "for a rainy day." But now people who have spent like there are no rainy days are supposed to have the taxpayers pay to give them an umbrella.

What about the people who saved and put their money in a bank? Those who blithely say that the banks ought to modify the mortgage terms to accommodate people who are behind in making their monthly payments forget that, however "rich" a bank may be, most of its money actually belongs to vast numbers of depositors, most of whom are not rich.

Those depositors deserve to get the best return on their money that supply and demand can offer. Why should people who save be sacrificed for the benefit of those who spent more than they could afford?

Why are politicians so focused on one set of people, at the expense of other people? Because "saving" one set of people increases the chances of getting those people's votes. Letting supply and demand determine what happens in the housing market gets nobody's votes.

If current occupants are put out of their homes and the prices come down to a level where others can afford to buy those homes, nobody will give politicians credit-- or, more to the point, their votes. Nor should they.

Rescuing particular people at the expense of other people-- whether the others are taxpayers, savers or prospective home buyers-- produces votes. It also produces dependency on government, which is good for politicians, but bad for society.

That is why politicians give what Adam Smith called "a most unnecessary attention" to things that would sort themselves out better and faster without heavy-handed government intervention.

Why do the media fall in with this arbitrary focus on particular people who are having trouble holding on to homes they cannot afford? Partly because it makes a good story and partly because too many people in the media simply go with the politicians' talking points. That is a lot easier than thinking.

But the rest of us have no excuse for not thinking-- or for letting ourselves be stampeded by rhetoric about "saving" the housing market.

SOURCE

**************************

ELSEWHERE

FL: Professor busted for “suspicious” bagel on plane: "A Florida professor was arrested and removed from a plane Monday after his fellow passengers alerted crew members they thought he had a suspicious package in the overhead compartment. That 'suspicious package' turned out to be keys, a bagel with cream cheese and a hat. Ognjen Milatovic, 35, was flying from Boston to Washington D.C. on US Airways when he was escorted off the plane for disorderly conduct following the incident."

TSA: I just don’t think most people get it: "And I just don't think most people got it. If you will tolerate having yourself and your family photographed in all their glory with very possibly cancer-causing X-rays and/or having yourself and your family groped from head to toe — naughty bits included — in the name of 'national security' what won't you tolerate?

No comfort and joy over holiday gas prices: "It wasn't a very merry Christmas for America's motorists, as pump prices averaged $3 per gallon nationwide for the first time since 2008. President Obama's holiday gift to car and truck owners -- new proposals to clamp down on domestic oil drilling and ratchet up refining costs -- will only make matters worse in the years ahead."

Why America should ride the anti-drug-war wave: "It’s one thing that the United States will soon be taking orders from China (or already is). But what about when we’re becoming less forward-thinking than England? That’s the only possible reading of the fact that there, the former top drug official Bob Ainsworth has addressed the House of Commons and argued for the legalization of all drugs."

The day Social Security fails: "Those who fervently believe in government, in spite of all the evidence, are convinced that there will not be a problem until 2038 (previously 2042) because the Treasury Bonds that comprise the Trust Fund will be cashed in. Everyone else considers 2016 to be the day the program goes bankrupt."

Does sexual fare cause sexual violence?: "In the 1980s, conservatives and feminists joined to fight a common nemesis: the spread of pornography. Unlike past campaigns to stamp out smut, this one was based not just on morality but on public safety. They argued that hard-core erotica was intolerable because it promoted sexual violence against women. ... in the past two decades, we have essentially conducted a vast experiment on the social consequences of such material. If the supporters of censorship were right, we should be seeing an unparalleled epidemic of sexual assault. But all the evidence indicates they were wrong."

FDIC seeks $2.5 billion from failed bank honchos: "Three years after the financial meltdown started, bank watchdogs are promising taxpayers will have their day in court. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. said Tuesday it has approved lawsuits targeting 109 former directors and officers of failed banks in actions that seek $2.5 billion in damages."

Labor, math and love: "The transition back to a free America doesn’t have to hurt anybody. Income redistribution programs could be phased out over a period of a few years, on a strict schedule. Or they could even be wiped out overnight in exchange for a fixed lump sum payment. Would you agree to never receive any Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, ObamaCare, public education, unemployment insurance, etc., for a one-time payment of $100,000 and guaranteed tax-free status for all income you or your children or their children ever earned? Even if every American household jumps at that proposal, that would still cost far less than running our government in the same bloated way we have been for the past few years."

Re-entering home ownership: "The confluence of 4.75% interest rates and a short sale of $125,000 on a place once valued at $195,000 got us on the paper processing path. ... A wonderful treat in this change is going from $800 per month rent (plus) to a $788 mortgage that includes taxes and insurance."

My Twitter.com identity: jonjayray. My Facebook page is also accessible as jonjayray (In full: http://www.facebook.com/jonjayray). For more blog postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, GUN WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, EYE ON BRITAIN and Paralipomena

List of backup or "mirror" sites here or here -- for readers in China or for everyone when blogspot is "down" or failing to update. Email me here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or here (Pictorial) or here (Personal)

****************************

The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)

****************************

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Boost your chances of getting a job or passing an exam... by thinking about your ancestors for five minutes

I don't have a lot of confidence in this finding but it is conservatives who are more likely to respect the past so it may be a straw in the wind

It seems an unlikely route to the top. But researchers have discovered that spending a few minutes thinking about your ancestors before an exam or job interview can significantly boost your chances of success. The so-called 'ancestor effect' appears to work by acting as a reminder to the brain that seemingly impossible hurdles can be overcome.

Psychologists think the effect may be rooted in the fact that those who familiarise themselves with their family history - such as in the hit TV series Who Do You Think You Are? - appear to gain a stronger sense of identity and self-esteem, which somehow boosts intellectual performance.

In intelligence tests on 80 volunteers, scientists found a marked improvement among those who, prior to the tasks, were asked to spend a short while considering what previous generations of their families had endured. Those who simply had to recall a more mundane memory, such as a recent shopping trip, did not fare as well.

The findings, published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, suggest remembering the hardships of grandparents, great grandparents and even long forgotten ancestors, seems to have a direct benefit on the brain's ability to cope with demands on its intelligence.

Dr Peter Fischer, from the University of Graz in Austria and a member of the research team, said: 'Our ancestors managed to overcome a multitude of problems, such as severe illnesses, wars, loss of loved ones or severe economic declines. 'So when we think about them, we are reminded that humans who are genetically similar to us can successfully overcome a multitude of problems and adversities.'

More here. Journal abstract here. The tests used do not appear to have been IQ tests but rather ad hoc tests of some sort.

*****************************

Personal Well-Being Overshadows Income Inequality

Consider one conundrum in American politics. Income inequality has been increasing, according to standard statistics. Yet most Americans do not seem very perturbed by it.

Barack Obama may have been elected president after telling Joe the Plumber that he wanted to spread the wealth around. But large majorities in polls approved when Obama and congressional Democrats abandoned oft-repeated campaign promises to raise taxes on high earners in the lame duck session.

One reason is that economic statistics can miss important things that affect people's lives. Wages may not have risen much since 1973, but that's partly because the tax code encourages increased compensation in the form of benefits, including health insurance. And it's partly because the Consumer Price Index overstated the effect of inflation in the 1970s, making 1973 wages look higher in "real dollars."

Another is that inflation indexes can't fully account for product improvement and technological progress. I bought my first electronic calculator in 1970 for $110. Today you can buy the same gadget for $1.99 at your local drug store. The consumer electronics widely available today at declining prices simply didn't exist in the 1980s.

In addition, as George Mason University economist Tyler Cowen writes in The American Interest, "The inequality of personal well-being is sharply down over the past hundred years and perhaps over the past 20 years, as well." Bill Gates may have a bigger house than you do. But you have about the same access to good food, medical care and even to the Internet as he does.

Or consider something as prosaic as food. The supermarkets of the 1960s and 1970s didn't come close to matching the amazing selection of produce, meats and exotic foods as you find in supermarkets today -- and not just in high-income neighborhoods, but in modest-income places all over the country.

Or clothing. Firms like Walmart, Target and Kohl's have good quality clothes at astonishingly low prices -- you can outfit a kid in school clothes for $100 or so a year. Presidential candidate John Edwards claimed to have seen a little girl shivering in the winter because her parents could not buy a coat; you can get one for $5 at the Salvation Army.

It's a widespread assumption in some affluent circles that ordinary Americans are seething with envy because they can't afford to shop regularly at Neiman Marcus or Saks Fifth Avenue. My sense is that most Americans just don't care. They're reasonably happy with what they've got, and would like a little more.

So I am inclined to agree with Cowen when he writes, "The broader change in income distribution, the one occurring beneath the very top earners, can be deconstructed in a manner that makes nearly all of it look harmless."

Cowen is worried that high earners in financial industries benefit hugely when they bet correctly but are sheltered from losses by government bailouts when they bet wrong. It's a problem that the financial regulation bill passed by the outgoing Congress addressed but, in his opinion and those of many others I respect, did not solve.

But there's little evidence that most Americans begrudge the exceedingly high earnings of the likes of Steve Jobs, Steven Spielberg or J.K. Rowling. We believe they have earned their success and don't see how taking money away from them will make the rest of us better off.

We already take quite a bit. Current tax rates mean that the top 1 percent of earners account for 40 percent of federal income tax revenue -- a higher percentage than in many Western European countries. Higher tax rates would probably produce more tax avoidance -- rich people can adjust their affairs -- and lower revenues than forecast by static economic models.

Of course, not everyone is well off in a nation where unemployment has been 9.4 percent or higher for the last 19 months. And I suspect that most Americans would be thrilled to get a 13th month of pay. But they're not seething with envy at those who are better off.

So who does? One example is the cartoonist and author Garry Trudeau, a college classmate of George W. Bush, who has been spewing contempt for the Bushes for 40-some years. The strongest class envy in America, it turns out, may be the resentment of those who were one club above you at Yale.

SOURCE

***************************

The ObamaCare Fraud

The law will penalize doctors to pay patients and penalize patients to pay doctors

There are a great many things wrong with Obamacare, but the biggest is perhaps one that neither party is paying any attention to: It is one huge entrapment scheme that will turn patients and providers into criminals.

The most blatant example of this is in the “doc fix” that Congress passed with major bipartisan support earlier this month, saving doctors from a nearly 23 percent cut in Medicare reimbursement that they would have otherwise faced this year. Congress has been passing this fix every year since 1997, but this time, in an effort to offset its $20 billion price tag, it has included a little twist to squeeze working families called “exchange recapture subsidy.” Under this provision, the government will go after low-wage families to return any excess subsidies they get under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

When the government hands out subsidies, it will use a household’s income in the previous year as the basis for guessing what the household is qualified to get in the current year. But if the household’s income grows midyear, the subsidy recapture provision will require it to repay anywhere from $600 to $3,500, compared to the $450 that the law originally called for.

This will make it very hazardous for poor working families to get ahead. In the original law, the loss of subsidy with rising income already meant absurdly high effective marginal tax rates—the implicit tax on every additional dollar of income earned. How high? The Cato Institute’s Michael Cannon puts them at 229 percent for families of four who increase their earnings by an amount equal to 5 percent of the federal poverty level or $1,100. In other words, a family that added this amount to an income of $44,700 would actually see its total income fall by $1,419 due to the loss of subsidies.

The subsidy recapture provision—essentially a tax collection scheme—means that low-wage, cash-strapped families will have no escape from these perverse tax rates. Many of them will find themselves owing the government thousands of dollars in back taxes. Since it is unlikely that they will have this kind of money sitting around, they will face a massive incentive to either fudge their returns or work for cash to avoid reporting additional income. Either way, Uncle Sam will come after them, just as it does with recipients of the Earned Income Tax Credit, the negative income tax scheme that is the inspiration behind Obamacare’s subsidies. In 2004, EITC recipients were 1.76 times more likely to be audited than others, no doubt because it is easier for the government to recover unpaid taxes from poor people than “lawyered up” rich people. In other words, Obamacare will first create the temptation for low-income families to commit fraud, and then penalize them when they do.

But just because Obamacare sticks it to families doesn’t mean that physicians will have it good. They’ll face their own—even more draconian—crackdown. Indeed, just as Obamacare goes after working-class families to pay doctors, it goes after doctors to pay working-class families, putting everyone at war with everyone else.

The government loses about 10 percent of its total health-care spending—or about $60 billion—to “fraud” annually. Some of this is genuine fraud involving physicians—or people posing as physicians—submitting claims for services or equipment never delivered and indefensible therapies that have nothing to do with patient care. But the most common fraud allegedly involves “overbilling” by providers. Medicare’s billing codes are a complicated, convoluted mess and deciphering them can sometimes be more art than science. Naturally, doctors try and interpret them to extract the best possible payment from Uncle Sam. Both Republicans and Democrats huff and puff against “waste, fraud and abuse” in Medicare. And they have already enacted Stasi-style laws such as the False Claims Act offering nurses, patients and other whistleblowers 15 percent to 30 percent of any money recovered if they report improper billing practices by providers. But the Obama administration has attacked the matter with renewed zeal because it is a key element in funding Obamacare’s generous new entitlements.

It has created a new interagency task force called HEAT (Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team) under which health-care officials will collaborate with the FBI to go after Medicare fraud. In addition, it has expanded to several cities the Medicaid Fraud Strike Force that authorizes FBI and Drug Enforcement Agency agents to jointly analyze Medicare claims data in real time to detect and investigate irregularities by area doctors.

More chillingly, however, the administration is defining Medicare fraud down to include “unnecessary” and “ineffective” care. And to root this out, it plans to make expanded use of private mercenaries—officially called Recovery Audit Contracts—who will be authorized to go to doctors’ offices and rummage through patients’ records, matching them with billing claims to uncover illicit charges. What’s more, Obamacare increases the fine for billing errors from $11,000 per item to $50,000 without the government even having to prove intent to defraud.

This is utter insanity. And it has been caused by the transformation of health care into a government-controlled industry where the natural, self-regulating forces of the market have been badly subverted. There is nothing left but the coercive apparatus of the state to keep patients and doctors in line. This would be unimaginable where the customers receiving or contracting for services are actually the ones paying for it. If Whole Foods “overbilled” its shoppers, they would just go to Trader Joe’s. No one would think of summoning the police. If a mechanic submitted unjustified bills to All State Insurance for car repairs, All State would contract with someone else. There would be no need for an FBI stakeout.

ObamaCare is pushing America down the road to serfdom, but neither its opponents nor advocates seem to have noticed. It is time for civil libertarians in both parties to wake up and strangle it before it strangles what’s left of American freedoms.

SOURCE

***********************

ELSEWHERE

TN: TennCare funding problem persists despite overhaul: "Eight years ago, Phil Bredesen successfully campaigned on his pledge to fix TennCare or end it. Since then, the governor has steered the state's public healthcare program through the most turbulent changes of any of the 50 state Medicaid programs, drastically cutting enrollment, limiting benefits and reining in spending. Rising healthcare costs and new federal policy mean the Bredesen administration's eight-year effort to bring the TennCare budget under control has only bought Tennessee time."

Obama’s “comeback” — more like 1800 than 1994: "The lame-duck enactment of much of President Obama’s agenda has induced some to credit Obama with a comeback comparable to Bill Clinton’s triumphs after the electoral defeat of 1994. Not so fast. A better historical parallel than 1994 may be 1800, when lame-duck arrogance by a defeated party turned minor short-term victories into permanent defeat."

White House: “Catastrophe” if Congress cuts up the administration's credit card: "The White House's chief economist is warning there'll be a worse catastrophe than the 2008 financial meltdown if Congress doesn't increase the government's credit limit. 'I don't see why anybody's talking about playing chicken with the debt ceiling,' said Austan Goolsbee, the chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers." [Maybe a catastrophe for the big spenders but a win for America]

Report: FEMA hasn’t tried to recoup $643 million: "The Federal Emergency Management Agency hasn't tried to recoup about $643 million in improper payments made to victims of Hurricane Katrina and other disasters in the wake of a judge's order more than three years ago, according to a government audit issued Monday. The improper payments have gone uncollected for more than three years because FEMA hasn't given its final approval to a new process for recovering the money, auditors found in a report by the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general's office."

Pathetic: New Jersey trying to seize unused gift card balances: "New Jersey residents with unused gift cards might want to make that trip to Target or Home Depot soon. The state legislature voted to seize the unused balances of all gift cards and traveler’s checks issued in the state before a certain date. A judge struck down the law, but the state is appealing the ruling. By stealing the gift card balances from their owners, the state could raise up to $80 million."

MA: Many toast liquor tax repeal: "For some Central Massachusetts imbibers, it was not the money that bothered them, but the principle of the sales tax on alcoholic beverages, which ended yesterday. 'It was a double tax,' said Ron Mason of Rutland. He and his wife, Angie Mason, voted in the November election to repeal the 6.25 percent sales tax that was imposed by the state a year ago."

There is a new lot of postings by Chris Brand just up -- on his usual vastly "incorrect" themes of race, genes, IQ etc.

My Twitter.com identity: jonjayray. My Facebook page is also accessible as jonjayray (In full: http://www.facebook.com/jonjayray). For more blog postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, GUN WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, EYE ON BRITAIN and Paralipomena

List of backup or "mirror" sites here or here -- for readers in China or for everyone when blogspot is "down" or failing to update. Email me here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or here (Pictorial) or here (Personal)

****************************

The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)

****************************

Monday, January 03, 2011

In Leftist Massachusetts, corruption is regarded as normal -- and even commendable

JOE DENUCCI, a onetime prizefighter turned Massachusetts politician, steps down this month after 34 years on Beacon Hill: 10 years as a state representative, followed by 24 years as state auditor. He is being celebrated in some circles as the last of a political breed -- an unpolished, down-to-earth, working-class guy who made good, had a big heart, and took care of his pals.

"To the end, championing others," ran the headline over a Boston Globe story last week marking the end of DeNucci's long run in politics. The retiring auditor "is of the old school and makes no apology for that," the Globe observed. "He is the product of a culture that prized helping those around you, which has permeated Massachusetts politics for as long as anyone can remember, but is under attack now." The story makes clear that DeNucci sees nothing wrong with patronage. "We all did it," he says. "It was about helping people; some I knew, some I didn't."

A lot of people have a soft spot for DeNucci; there's no denying he has a certain rough-around-the-edges charm. On the whole I imagine that Massachusetts state government would be a little less fetid if it contained fewer glossy lawyers and consultant-crafted professional operators, and more unpolished, down-to-earth, former boxers.

But frankly, state government would be a lot less fetid if it weren't for that "old school" mindset that sees something commendable in using public office and public payrolls to hand out favors to supporters and friends. DeNucci may not be the worst offender, but who in Massachusetts politics should be held to a "Caesar's wife" standard of integrity if not the auditor, the state's top fiscal and ethical watchdog? Yet the conviction that public office is a public trust has scarcely been the lodestar of DeNucci's political career.

Consider Gaetano Spezzano, hired by DeNucci as a "fraud examiner" in 2008, though no such position was vacant and no other candidates were considered for the job. "Spezzano did not have the skills or knowledge required of a fraud examiner," the State Ethics Commission charged in September, and hadn't even completed the second half of a two-page job application. The 75-year-old Spezzano had worked as a musician and a meat salesman -- honorable work, but not much of a preparation for rooting out fraud in state government. The only reason he was hired, according to the commission, is that he and the auditor are related. "I'm his only cousin, his only family," DeNucci told the Boston Herald. "He's all by himself, except for me."

Concern for family members is a fine thing, and who wouldn't admire DeNucci had he reached into his own pocket to help his cousin out? But he didn't. He reached into our pockets -- into the pockets of the Massachusetts citizens whose interests he was elected to protect. He did the same a few months ago when he handed out across-the-board 5 percent raises to everyone on his staff: a slap in the face to Bay State taxpayers at a time when 300,000 of them are out of work, and hundreds of thousands of others have been forced to absorb pay and benefit cuts.

Go through the clips of the DeNucci years, and you come across so much of this stuff.

Here's DeNucci in 1998, collecting campaign contributions from a rogue's gallery of convicted criminals and disgraced politicians. ("This is America," his political adviser tells the press. "You can contribute to anyone you please.") Here he is in 1995, the subject of a newspaper exposé on "No-show Joe," documenting his practice of working three-day weeks, and of hanging out on the golf links when his official schedule has him in his State House. ("I don't keep a schedule," DeNucci explains. "I work out of my hip pocket, OK?") Here's the auditor in 1990, the Globe reports, lobbying the state treasurer -- in the midst of an audit! -- to give his son-in-law a job.

"Old school" politics as usual? Maybe. But multiplied by all the politicians who see nothing wrong with it, across all the years they've been doing it, and it adds up to Beacon Hill's detestable, seemingly ineradicable, culture of corruption. What is the Probation Department scandal, if not the Spezzano case write large? "Hey, this is patronage," DeNucci told the Globe back in 1983, after pulling strings to get another ex-boxer a State House job. "I'm trying to help a friend."

They pick our pockets and pat themselves on the back, then wonder why so many of us are disgusted. DeNucci was far from the worst. More's the pity.

SOURCE

***************************

The Moral Mush of Pacifism

By Jonah Goldberg

Colman McCarthy has a really exasperating op-ed in the Post today arguing that ROTC must remain banned from campuses, even after the DADT repeal. As I briefly mentioned in my column yesterday, the lifting of DADT is really inconvenient for peaceniks and other folks who hold anti-military views because it lends credibility to the military (among liberals and leftists).

If the point of the column was simply to honestly admit this, I’d find it admirable. But it gets worse. McCarthy adds this:
To oppose ROTC, as I have since my college days in the 1960s, when my school enticed too many of my classmates into joining, is not to be anti-soldier. I admire those who join armies, whether America’s or the Taliban’s: for their discipline, for their loyalty to their buddies and to their principles, for their sacrifices to be away from home. In recent years, I’ve had several Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans in my college classes. If only the peace movement were as populated by people of such resolve and daring.

ROTC and its warrior ethic taint the intellectual purity of a school, if by purity we mean trying to rise above the foul idea that nations can kill and destroy their way to peace. If a school such as Harvard does sell out to the military, let it at least be honest and add a sign at its Cambridge front portal: Harvard, a Pentagon Annex.

This is a riot of intellectual and moral confusion. First of all, the idea that any of the Ivies currently enjoys something that might be called “intellectual purity” is a compliment unearned (but such flattery will no doubt be eagerly accepted). Second, the notion that intellectualism is somehow at odds with military values or ethics is willfully dishonest (paging VDH!). Since when has “intellectual purity” or intellectualism of any kind been defined by its antipathy to the military? Third, the idea that nations cannot wage war for peace is one of the most easily disproved and transparently silly utopian notions out there. The post-WWII peace was bought with a lot of killing and destroying, not with a seminar.

And, last, there’s this execrable bit of moral equivalence: “To oppose ROTC, as I have since my college days in the 1960s, when my school enticed too many of my classmates into joining, is not to be anti-soldier. I admire those who join armies, whether America’s or the Taliban’s: for their discipline, for their loyalty to their buddies and to their principles, for their sacrifices …”

This is the sort of obtuse even-handedness that drove Orwell crazy. Moreover McCarthy clearly doesn’t even believe it. Of course he’s anti-soldier. He believes they dedicate themselves to a “foul notion.”

Er, no. In America, they dedicate themselves to protecting America, her liberties and her Constitution. The Taliban’s priorities are very different and one cannot wave them away by prattling on about the “discipline” and “loyalty” of Jihadist murderers.

SOURCE

************************

America's slide into Fascism

If much of human action is economic activity, is there then no limit on what the federal government can mandate regarding human behavior? Apparently not, for now we have before us a mandate to purchase a private product, health care insurance, whether we wish to have that product or not. Under the new health care reform act passed by Congress and signed by the President, even economic inactivity is to be labeled an economic decision to be regulated under the Interstate Commerce Clause. If the courts allow this to stand, there is little human action that our federal government could not label as economic and find the authority to control.

The oft-repeated allegations that government intervention in health care and other market exchanges is socialism are off the mark. Socialism, by definition, is a political economy where the government owns and operates the means of production and manages the investment capital needed for economic growth. This definition does not accurately describe the developing economic trend in the United States. A more fitting description is another type of political economy that also relies on a symbiotic relationship between the government and business. This political economy is characterized by a government that pays lip-service to individual market exchange, private business and private property but extensively regulates and controls all economic activity for the “common good.” This is partially accomplished by forming partnerships and/or cartels linking government, business and, often, labor. (Think General Motors and the health care insurance industry.) This type of economy has a different name. It is called fascism.

Put aside for just a moment the visions of goose-stepping soldiers and horrific crimes against humanity, for at its core fascism is a type of political economy which, as was the case in fascist Italy, does not have to feature a landscape dotted with crematoria. As with pure socialism, however, fascism must become more and more authoritarian with harsh penalties for those who don’t comply or who challenge the status quo, for an economy can be controlled only by controlling people.

Be cautioned, without intervention, our government’s ever-expanding definition of economic activity requiring regulation will incrementally direct most human activity until we become mere serfs forced to serve the blossoming cartels springing up like noxious weeds on Uncle Sam’s Estate.

More HERE

*****************************

What Is 'American Exceptionalism?'

Most Americans believe in “American Exceptionalism,” even when they have never heard the term. This means that the history of the United States is unlike that of most of the world; we have neither hereditary nobility, king or dictator, nor a state-supported ethnic or religious identity.

One becomes American by birth or by choice (immigrants)—with identical rights. Our constitution is very much alive—changing as conditions in our world change, providing an adaptability very rare in the world. These factors, including two oceans to separate us from the old worlds of Europe and Asia, have kept us unusually safe. We also had a vast continent to settle and a homestead program that provided land ownership to those willing to work for it.

But of late, the term “American Exceptionalism” has been questioned by some who believe that America is not exceptional at all—and that those who think it is are right-wing political bigots. They remind us that our history included slavery, imperialism, the dreadful mistreatment of our Native Americans, and ask how that jibes with “exceptionalism.”

Even President Obama, when asked if he believes in American exceptionalism said yes, just as the French and British believe in their own exceptionalism. And this remark raised the hackles of those who believe that with all our flaws, we have managed to be exceptional in almost every way—including the constant effort to admit and correct our shortcomings.

A fascinating book has just come out that jumps into this fray: Intellectual Curiosity and the Scientific Revolution, by professor Toby E. Huff. This book answers the most basic question: why has the West (Western Europe and its American and Australian offspring) dominated the world for the past four centuries while the other great civilizations declined?

Jared Diamond, in Guns, Germs, and Steel, was asked that question by a New Guinea native who wanted to know why White Men have “cargo” but his people do not. He wanted to know if there was something that White people had that made them superior. Diamond thought a lot about this—and in his book, he showed that geography matters, and those lucky enough to come from places with temperate climate; an east-west axis of travel, trade, and diseases (developing immunities); and the right plants and animals to be domesticated; have more “cargo” (success and wealth).

Now Toby Huff adds to this explanation that the geography, history, legal practices, and religions of Western Civilization from Ancient Greece through the 17th century all provided the basis for the scientific revolution that made the West the great power it has been for the past four centuries.

He compares the intellectual curiosity of the West with the notable but static achievements of the three other great societies of the 17th century: China, India, and the Ottoman Turks. It turned out to be no contest.

Although there were brilliant Chinese, Indian, and Arab scholars, including inventors, their findings never made it into their school systems, which resisted the new knowledge, nor gained the support of their absolute monarchs. Even when the telescope found its way to China and India, it was gladly used—but neither improved nor spawned further inventions.

For a scientific revolution to happen as it did in the west, you would need continent-wide scholars who communicated and shared findings; the printing press and its spread of literacy; a school system that taught the new sciences; and a legal system that protected property and was the basis for economic expansion. None of these institutions thrived in imperial China, Moghul India, or Ottoman Turkey. Chinese schools were hidebound Mandarin, resistant to any changes. The Muslim madrassas taught (and still teach) memorization of the Koran, shunning other subjects. By the 20th century, all three great empires were backwaters.

Europe’s exceptionalism and scientific revolution spread to the United States, where it has gone even further. Huff shows us that this was no fluke, but was the consequence of good institutions and a civilization that supported intellectual curiosity.

SOURCE

*************************

ELSEWHERE

Government employees face wrath of strapped taxpayers: "Across the nation, a rising irritation with public employee unions is palpable as a wounded economy has blown gaping holes in state, city, and town budgets and revealed that some public pension funds dangle perilously close to bankruptcy. In California, New York, Michigan, and New Jersey, states where public unions wield much power and the culture historically tends to be pro-labor, even longtime liberal political leaders have demanded concessions -- wage freezes, benefit cuts, and tougher work rules."

Low-cost, private-sector rival puts heat on NASA: "Early last month, a private company called SpaceX launched an unmanned version of its Dragon capsule into orbit, took it for a few spins around Earth, and then brought it home with a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. The total cost -- including design, manufacture, testing and launch of the company's Falcon 9 rocket and the capsule -- was roughly $800 million. In the world of government spaceflight, that's almost a rounding error. And the ability of SpaceX to do so much with so little money is raising some serious questions about NASA."

Air Force doubles manpower for Afghan attacks: "The Air Force has more than doubled the number of airmen in Afghanistan who call in airstrikes, as the use of bombs, missiles and strafing runs has spiked to its highest level since the war began. The Air Force has increased the number of joint terminal attack controllers — the airmen who work with soldiers to coordinate airstrikes — to 134 last year in Afghanistan, up from 53 in 2009, said Maj. Ike Williams, an operations officer at Air Combat Command in Langley, Va."

My Twitter.com identity: jonjayray. My Facebook page is also accessible as jonjayray (In full: http://www.facebook.com/jonjayray). For more blog postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, GUN WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, EYE ON BRITAIN and Paralipomena

List of backup or "mirror" sites here or here -- for readers in China or for everyone when blogspot is "down" or failing to update. Email me here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or here (Pictorial) or here (Personal)

****************************

The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)

****************************