New picture gallery
Every six months I try to pick out what I think have been the most fun and interesting pictures on my various blogs. I have just done the gallery for July to December last year. You can access it here
The Greek insanity: Labor laws from Cloud Cuckoo Land
Most reporting on the Greek riots miss the big point: e Greek "austerity" reforms aren't nearly enough. Yesterday, Greece's Parliament agreed to cut $4.4 billion in spending this year. Good for them. But it's a measly 3% of their budget. Even after the cuts, Greece's government will continue to spend nearly 50% of the country's GDP. That's why the country went broke, and handouts from Europe will just kick the can down the road.
Greece has agreed to lay off 15,000 public workers this year. But that's just 2.1% of the bloated payroll. 705,000 Greeks still work for the state.
Also, Greece will continue to lag behind the world until it reforms its absurd labor laws. Hritage Foundation Senior Policy Analyst Anthony Kim points out that in Greece, it's illegal to:
* Hire a temporary worker
* Work more than 5 days a week
* Work more than 40 hours a week unless you get paid 25% extra per hour.
* Fire an employee of 20+ years unless you give them half a year of notice and, after they leave the company, 36 weeks of severance pay.
All that scares Greek businesses. Why hire someone if you must pay them for almost a year if you fire them? And if you fire them for being negligent: "Obligation of compensation is not terminated in case of neglect of responsibilities but only in the commitment of criminal acts."
If a business needs to fire multiple employees because they're not needed anymore, they have to go through this: "Dismissals due to redundancy are treated by the courts as abusive when an employer does not follow the proper social order. In order for them to be valid, the employer should prepare a table of wage earners classified into four categories on the basis of objective criteria, namely work output, period of service, family responsibilities, and general financial condition."
In the U.S. - which ranks first in labor freedom - none of those laws apply. That's one reason why America's unemployment rate is 8.3%, while in Greece it's about 21%. Don't politicians now understand that labor laws deter hiring? No wonder Greek youth unemployment is 48%!
The Greek Constitution includes lines like this: "Work constitutes a right and shall enjoy the protection of the State."
Such "rights" destroy entrepreneurship and hurt workers. Heritage ranks countries by their economic freedom. Guess where Greece stands compared to other countries on labor freedom? 171 out of 184. One rank ahead of Hugo Chavez's Venezuela.
Even in Greece's austerity bill, there are stupid new rules like: a freeze on all private sector wages. It's essentially a ban on business rewarding good work.
We called the IMF and EU to find out why they would force a policy like that on Greece. IMF spokeswoman Conny Lotze told us: "The [IMF] did not propose to freeze wages. That was a proposal by some of the [Greek] government parties."
Note: "Cloud Cuckoo land" is a quote from Aristophanes, a Greek
Government Thwarts Cancer Cures and Production of Life-Saving Drugs
The FDA probably kills more Americans than road accidents do
The federal government thwarted a promising cancer treatment. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) put Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski on trial twice, saying “it did not matter” whether his “unconventional cancer treatments saved people’s lives,” only “that he had failed to get the FDA’s permission first.”
But as Reason’s Jacob Sullum notes, the Phase II clinical trials that the FDA belatedly carried out “under congressional pressure have supported what the teary testimonials of patients and their families suggested: Although Burzynski’s antineoplastons are far from a cure-all, they seem to be more effective, and are certainly much less devastating in their side effects, than radiation and chemotherapy for certain deadly, intractable cancers.”
The government is also thwarting the production of life-saving drugs, causing critical shortages of key medicines. The supply of an essential cancer drug may run out within weeks: “A crucial medicine to treat childhood leukemia is in such short supply that hospitals across the country may exhaust their stores within the next two weeks, leaving hundreds and perhaps thousands of children at risk of dying from a largely curable disease, federal officials and cancer doctors say.”
As a commenter quoted by law professor Glenn Reynolds points out, this is the result of government price controls: “So price controls are imposed on injectable drugs and lo and behold a shortage arises. Who would have thunk it?” As a doctor notes, this drug shortage is far from unique: “these shortages are very real… one center I work at has trouble getting propofol for anesthesia and another cannot get zofran (ondansetron), one of the most effective anti-nausea drugs on the market.” As another commentator notes, the “government has distorted the market and removed incentives for the production of life-saving drugs.”
The Obama administration has also sought to sharply restrict the market for bone-marrow transplants, potentially costing thousands of lives. It recently asked a federal appeals court to extend the reach of the National Organ Transplant Act beyond its text, in order to ban compensation for the collection of peripheral blood stem cells needed by many transplant recipients. By doing so, it hopes to prevent organ transplants from being affected by “market forces.”
The federal DEA recently caused shortages of the drug Adderall, which is needed by people suffering from narcolepsy. Earlier, government regulations caused cancer and burn victims in the Third World to die in agony without any pain relief.
Chris Christie on Israel -- Speaking from the heart and the mind
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie addressed the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) last week. In the few words reported by the Weekly Standard magazine, he said just about everything one needs to know about Israel; about America and Israel; and about American political leadership:
"America should stand by its friends and its democratic allies, even, and sometimes especially, when it's unpopular to do so."
"... It may not be fashionable in some of the chancelleries, the foreign ministries, and salons around the world to talk about why America stands with Israel -- but that's no excuse not to be saying (it), and saying it loudly."
"I admire Israel for the enemies it has made."
"Americans and Israelis believe -- we know deep in our bones -- that if the Islamic Republic of Iran acquired a nuclear weapons capability, it will be an existential threat to Israel, to America, and to world civilization itself."
"... A threat to Israel is a threat to America. A threat to the Israeli way of life is a threat to the American way of life. Not only for here in America, but for all the nations that emulate our democracy or are trying to emulate our democracy around the world."
"... Stopping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons capability must be a top priority of the United States of America. Any president, Republican or Democrat, who allows such a thing to occur on his watch would be acting in a way that is profoundly against the national security interests of the United States and the security interests of our friends in Israel."
In a few words, a New Jersey governor, generally identified only with state and national issues, made the case for Israel, why America should support Israel, and why Iran must not be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons at least as clearly and eloquently as -- and perhaps more so than -- any major political figure in America today.
1) America should stand by its friends and democratic allies, especially when it is unpopular to do so. This is a challenge to the Democratic president, Barack Obama, and to Republican Congressman Ron Paul and his supporters.
Since becoming president, Obama has visited Turkey, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Indonesia and Afghanistan, just to name the Muslim countries of the 30 he has visited. The president has not visited Israel, America's greatest ally in the Middle East, not to mention the only country in that part of the world that shares America's values. Meanwhile, Ron Paul regards standing by allies as a waste of money and certainly a waste of lives, if military intervention is ever called for.
2) It is indeed not fashionable in the chancelleries, foreign ministries, and salons around the world to talk about why America stands with Israel. That is why this comment alone singles Christie out as a potential national and world leader: He believes it is necessary to say what is right despite what the U.S. State Department, Le Monde, The New York Times and the United Nations think. The first rule of American leadership is to not give a damn what any of those think about you. Wanting to be highly regarded by any of those institutions has led too many Republicans astray.
3) For those who have trouble distinguishing good guys from bad guys -- for example, most universities and the left generally -- Christie offers a Cliffs Notes summary: Just look at who one's -- in this case Israel's -- enemies are. Any country that Hamas, Hezbollah, the Muslim Brotherhood and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad hate must be one morally great place.
4) Christie makes the reason to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons as clear as can be: That country poses an existential threat first to Israel and secondarily to America and the West.
The greatest mistake -- ultimately a suicidal one -- that good non-Jews make is to dismiss Jew-hatred (known by the euphemism of "anti-Semitism") as the Jews' problem. Had the Western world not dismissed Adolf Hitler and Nazism as primarily a Jewish problem, 50 million non-Jews would not have been killed between 1939 and 1945. Jew-haters, like the above mentioned Islamist successors to the Nazis, hate all that is and all who are decent and good. We turn our attention from Iran's nuclear ambitions at our great peril. Chris Christie knows this. Ron Paul does not. Does Barack Obama?
Even if Chris Christie could be recruited at this late date, I do not believe that I know enough about him to yearn that he be the Republican presidential nominee. But aside from reinforcing already positive feelings about him, these few remarks on Israel and the world should be a lesson to the candidates who are in the race.
And the lesson is this: Say what you believe. Americans are willing to vote for people they differ with on some issues -- even important ones. But they have to believe that you believe what you say and that what you say comes from a set of deeply held beliefs.
Conscience, contraception and Obama's "war"
by Jeff Jacoby
President Obama with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius at the White House on Feb. 10. Sebelius told abortion-rights activists last fall that the administration sees itself "in a war."
MUCH WAS MADE of the president's supposed compromise on requiring religious institutions to pay for their employees' contraceptives and sterilization drugs. "The new policy," a White House fact sheet declared, "fully accommodates important concerns raised by religious groups." While news headlines were more restrained ("Obama bends on birth-control mandate" was the Boston Globe's), they did suggest that if the administration had not completely conciliated its critics, it had at least met them halfway.
But the administration hadn't compromised at all: On the same day the White House announced its "full accommodation," it formally adopted -- without change -- the very regulation that had triggered the backlash. The compromise turned out to be merely a promise to modify the new rule before it goes into effect next year. And the promised modification in any case is a distinction without a difference: Rather than require church-affiliated institutions to insure their employees for birth control, the feds will require church-affiliated institutions to provide their employees with health insurance that will pay for birth control. If you don't like green eggs and ham, you can eat ham and green eggs. Some accommodation.
During the national debate over enacting ObamaCare in 2010, then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi famously declared that Congress would "have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it." What's in it, millions of Americans now realize, goes well beyond the mandate that forces every individual to obtain health insurance or be fined by the IRS. There is also imperious culture-war bullying, in which religious employers with grave objections to abortion and artificial birth control are commanded to buy insurance policies covering them, regardless of their moral qualms.
You don't have to be Catholic to be alarmed when the government rides roughshod over the convictions of the faithful. Or to bristle at the prospect of individuals and institutions being coerced into complicity with acts that violate their deepest beliefs. Or to realize how impoverished American civic life would be without the myriad of charities, schools, hospitals, shelters, and social-welfare agencies created to put those beliefs into practice.
Accommodating sincere dissent is essential to democratic pluralism. Our legal and political institutions should go out of their way whenever possible to respect the demands of conscience. Obviously there are limits: Conscience cannot be allowed to excuse violence or fraud or abuse. But nothing about the Obama administration's contraception-and-abortion agenda justifies its disregard for those who have profound religious, cultural, and constitutional objections to that agenda.
Perhaps the real explanation, as Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told abortion-rights activists last fall, is that the administration sees itself "in a war" -- her words -- with anyone who resists the left's views on sex and reproduction. It's hardly the first time American officials have seen themselves at war with dissidents. In the 18th century, to mention just one example, authorities were determined to break the resistance of Quakers, who refused on principle to swear oaths of allegiance or serve in the militia. The Continental Congress passed a law branding any man who resisted the oath an enemy. Massachusetts tried to starve Quakers into submission; Virginia doubled their taxes.
But George Washington, for one, perceived how crucial it was to accommodate the dissenters' beliefs. It wasn't necessarily that they were right, but that respect for others' claims of conscience is integral to a culture of freedom. "I assure you very explicitly," Washington wrote to the Society of Quakers in 1789, "that in my opinion the conscientious scruples of all men should be treated with great delicacy and tenderness; and it is my wish and desire that the laws may always be as extensively accommodated to them, as a due regard to the protection and essential interests of the nation may justify."
There are plenty of non-religious reasons to object to the contraception mandate. It isn't necessary (birth control and abortion services are widely available to virtually anyone who wants them). It isn't economical (using insurance for routine expenses causes health-care spending to soar). It isn't constitutional (the government has no legitimate authority to micromanage Americans' health-care decisions, or to decide who should pay how much for what services.)
Yet nothing exemplifies ObamaCare's overreach like the birth-control mandate and its assault on conscience. The White House may see nothing wrong with trying to compel religious institutions and individuals to commit acts their faith forbids. Countless Americans clearly do. Birth control and health insurance have much to recommend them, but neither goes to the essence of American pluralism. Religious liberty, on the other hand, is the very first freedom in the Bill of Rights.
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