Sunday, September 16, 2012

What's So Hard About Saying, "In the United States, we are not in the business of approving these messages"?

The U.S. State Department, and even its besieged embassy staff in Cairo, is receiving a barrage of criticism because of statements like this:
The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims – as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions. Today, the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others

The criticism is well-deserved. As James Joyner succinctly put it,
In point of fact, making a movie commenting on the sexual proclivities of someone who died some fourteen hundred years ago in no way constitutes "incitement" under any meaningful use of the term.

I would add that my government has no business giving a whirl about "hurt[ing] the religious beliefs of others" (a standard both elastic and asymmetrical, virtually begging for a heckler's veto) and that there is no "universal right of free speech," at least in practice (as opposed to the philosophical principle, which I wholeheartedly endorse).

The fact is that the First Amendment, no matter how embattled, protects a range of expression unthinkable even in Western Europe. Because of that unique position, and because the U.S. seems doomed to play an outsized diplomatic and military role in the tumultuous Muslim world, it behooves the State Department to constantly explain the vast differences between state-sanctioned and legally protected speech in the so-called Land of the Free. If the U.S. government really was in the business of "firmly reject[ing]" private free-speech acts that "hurt the religious beliefs of others" there would be no time left over for doing anything else.

It's really not that hard. The values in that film (or "film") are not our values; our government respects religion, religious expression, and religious pluralism (including and especially that of Muslims, even in the wake of murderous Muslim-led attacks on American soil); and we are not in the business of approving or (for the most part) regulating the private speech of our citizens. To the extent that that message is not sufficient for rioters, the problem is theirs.

Some liberal Tweeters this morning are pointing out that, hey, the Bush administration condemned the Mohammed cartoons, too!, but this mostly goes to illustrate how bipartisan cravenness can be. We know that this issue will keep coming up; maybe it's about time the American government, and the rest of us, develop a more American response.



House conservatives call for stripping aid to Libya, Egypt from spending bill

A group of House conservatives is calling for foreign aid to Libya and Egypt to be stripped from a six-month federal funding bill set for a vote on Thursday.

A handful of lawmakers voiced outrage Wednesday at the Obama administration's response to the attacks on the U.S. embassies in those countries, and suggested the inclusion of foreign aid could influence their votes.

"It makes it easier to vote ‘no' " on the spending bill, freshman Rep. Jeff Landry (R-La.) said at a press event with conservative House Republicans at the Capitol.

The House on Thursday plans to vote on a continuing resolution that would extend federal funding through March, preventing a government shutdown before the election or during a lame-duck session of Congress this fall. While conservatives pushed to avoid a shutdown fight, they have also raised alarms about the inclusion of additional welfare funding in the bill.

"It would show a tremendous amount of leadership from this administration, in light of the recent developments, if the president were to come back and demand that the amount of money that is in the [continuing resolution] for Libya and Egypt be stripped. That would be tremendous leadership," Landry said.

Lawmakers said they planned to bring up the issue at a meeting of the conservative Republican Study Committee on Wednesday, although they acknowledged it would be difficult to strip the foreign aid in so short an amount of time.

The stopgap spending bill is expected to pass with bipartisan support, including from Republican vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.).

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said that defunding Libya and Egypt in the continuing resolution (CR) would not be possible.

"The CR is closed for changes," he said Wednesday.

The chairman said the Foreign Affairs Committee should take up the matter, and suggested that moving on aid now would be "premature."

In a separate statement Wednesday, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said continued aid to Libya should be contingent on its government's help in finding those responsible for the attack on the U.S. embassy.

Rep. Scott Garrett (R-N.J.) said the administration should be asking several questions in the wake of the attacks, which killed four Americans at the consulate in Benghazi, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens.

"Why is it that the United States is bankrolling some of these countries?" he asked. "Why do we continue to bankroll them at the level that we are? We're waiting for that discussion from the administration."



The Obama administration has engineered a “recovery” in name only

When this column was written, the smart money was once again saying that the bad times were behind us. “Nearly seven years after the housing bubble burst, most indexes of house prices are bending up,” David Wessel wrote in The Wall Street Journal in July. “Nearly 10 percent more existing homes were sold in May than in the same month a year earlier, many purchased by investors who plan to rent them for now and sell them later, an important sign of an inflection point.”

In the summer edition of the house magazine for Markit Group Ltd., a credit-default swap pricing firm, Bruce Kasman, head of economic research at J.P. Morgan, explained why he believes the American economy will triumph over “persistent lacklustre growth.” Kasman identified three hopeful trends: 1) “A competitive corporate sector that is willing to hire,” 2) “Consumer behaviour has turned neutral,” and 3) “Housing turns from drag to lift.”

But in the battle for hope, it’s no surprise that President Barack Obama has gained the highest ground. “The private sector is doing fine,” the president intoned in June. That phrase was immediately controversial, but it had the rare distinction of sounding even worse in context than standing alone. Obama’s real concern was for government employees facing “cuts initiated by, you know, governors or mayors who are not getting the kind of help that they have in the past from the federal government.”

So is economic health returning? The short answer is no. The mortgage crisis has become so grave that some city governments are threatening to deploy their eminent domain powers to seize loans at high risk of default. Seven municipal governments, including three of the 50 largest cities in California, have declared bankruptcy. Wealth creation in America has become so difficult, and wealth destruction so common, that in many respects the recovery, which is not a recovery at all but a period of indefinite stagnation, has become worse than the “Great Recession” that allegedly ended in 2009.

The long answer is also no. A June Federal Reserve study revealed that the median value of pretax family income fell 7.7 percent between 2007 and 2010; during the same period, median net worth declined a whopping 38.8 percent, and mean net worth dropped 14.7 percent. The Fed’s quarterly flow of funds reports have consistently shown flat household net worth since 2010. At $62.9 trillion in the first quarter of this year, household net worth is still almost $5 trillion below where it was in 2007.

As if having fewer dollars weren’t bad enough, the dollars have been, according to the strict definition of the word, decimated. Consumer Price Index inflation has robbed the dollar of 10 percent of its value since 2007. With the interest rate on a savings account below 1 percent, saving money in the bank has come to mean losing your money, and not slowly.

Under those conditions, who would save? Nobody. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the U.S. personal savings rate (disposable personal income less outlays), which briefly topped 6 percent in 2009, has averaged below 4 percent throughout this year and is now close to 3 percent. That rate was 10 percent as recently as the late 1980s.

Also headed steadily downward is the equity portion of real estate owned: Mortgage debt makes up 55 percent (and growing) of all real estate assets in America. Again, the long-term trend is even more frightening: In 1983 American homeowners had more than 70 percent equity stakes in their homes.

According to a July report from Bianco Research, aggregate personal debt has increased since the recession ended. Total credit-market debt is nearly $54 trillion. Public-sector debt has increased from $21 trillion to $24 trillion during that period—and as the Golden State cities of Stockton, Vallejo, and San Bernardino show, government bankruptcy is no longer something that only happens in Rhode Island, nor is it a figment of alarmists’ imaginations.

Against this slow (and sometimes fast) dribbling away of wealth, we are supposed to believe the economy is improving because U-3 unemployment is “holding steady” at more than 8 percent, or because of a small spike in real estate settlements.

Don’t believe it for a minute. It’s a step in the right direction that lenders have finally increased the pace of foreclosures (according to RealtyTrac, foreclosures jumped 6 percent in the first quarter), but it will take many years to work through the backlog of distressed mortgages. The percentage of Americans even looking for jobs, let alone holding them, continues to fall, and the 80,000-a-month rate of private-sector job creation doesn’t come close to keeping up with population growth.

There’s something about old-fashioned print media that makes doomsday predictions all the more enjoyably awful. From Paul Erdman’s The Crash of ’79 and The Panic of ’89 to the late libertarian leader Harry Browne’s How You Can Profit From the Coming Devaluation through Nassim Taleb’s recession appetizer The Black Swan, people still love to curl up with dead-tree visions of hell in a handbasket.

So here’s my dire print prediction: By the time you read this, Americans will be feeling poorer than ever. And they won’t be wrong.



The Brass Standard

Thomas Sowell

Politics takes a lot of brass. And Bill Clinton is a master politician. His rousing speech at the Democrats' convention told the delegates that Republicans "want to go back to the same old policies that got us into trouble in the first place."

That is world class brass. Bill Clinton's own administration, more than any other, promoted an unsustainable housing boom, which eventually and inevitably led to a housing bust that brought down the whole American economy.

Behind all the complex financial processes that reached to Wall Street and beyond, there is one fundamental fact: many people stopped making their mortgage payments.

Why did that happen? Because mortgage loans were made to people who did not meet the long-established qualification standards for getting a mortgage loan. And why did that happen? Because the Clinton administration threatened lawsuits against lenders who did not approve mortgage loans to minority applicants as often as to white applicants.

In other words, racial quotas replaced credit qualifications. A failure to have racial statistics on mortgage approvals that fit the government's preconceptions was equated with discrimination.

Attorney General Reno said that lenders who "closely examine their lending practices and make necessary changes to eliminate discrimination" would "fare better in this department's stepped-up enforcement effort than those who do not." She said: "Do not wait for the Justice Department to come knocking."

Clinton's Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) had similar racial quota policies, and began taking legal actions against banks that turned down more minority applicants than HUD thought they should.

HUD said that it was breaking down "racial and ethnic barriers" so as to create more "access" to home ownership. It established "goals" -- political Newspeak for quotas -- for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to buy mortgages that the original lenders had made to "the underserved population." In other words, the original lenders could pass on the increasingly risky mortgages to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac -- and, ultimately, to the taxpayers.

Other federal agencies warned mortgage lenders against having credit standards that these agencies considered too high. And these agencies had many powers to use against banks and other lenders who did not heed their warnings.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, for example, issued guidelines for "non-discriminatory" lending which warned lenders against "unreasonable measures of creditworthiness." Lenders should have standards "appropriate to the economic culture of urban lower-income and nontraditional consumers" and consider "extenuating circumstances." In other words, when some people don't come up to the lending standards, then the lending standards should be brought down to them.

What was the evidence for all the lending discrimination that the government was supposedly trying to prevent? Statistics.

In the year 2000, for example, black applicants for conventional mortgage loans were turned down at twice the rate for white applicants. Case closed, as far as the media and the government were concerned. Had they bothered to look a little deeper, they would have found that whites were turned down at nearly twice the rate for Asian Americans.

Had they bothered to check out average credit scores, they would have discovered that whites had higher average credit scores than blacks, and Asian Americans had higher average credit scores than whites.

Such inconvenient facts would have undermined the whole moral melodrama, reducing it to a case of plain economics, with lenders more likely to lend to those who were more likely to pay them back. Once lending standards were lowered, in order to meet racial quotas, they were lowered for everybody. Deadbeats of any race could get mortgage loans, and most were probably not minorities.

Democrats like to blame the "greed" of business, rather than the policies of government, for problems. But lenders don't make money by lending to individuals who don't pay them back. That is what government forced lenders to do, beginning under the Clinton administration. And the eventual collapse took down the economy.

It takes brass to defy the facts. And Bill Clinton has brass.



My identity: jonjayray. I have deleted my old Facebook page as I rarely accessed it. 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

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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)


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