Wednesday, December 05, 2012

UN Legitimizes Palestinian Terror Regimes

The United Nations General Assembly has voted to make ‘Palestine’ a ‘non-member state’ of the UN. This has done no less than legitimize the two Palestinian regimes that promote terrorism, murdering Jews and Israel’s destruction. How can the world claim to be fighting terrorism when it has just declared that two terrorist regimes should enjoy sovereignty?

For years, the UN, controlled by a majority composed of dictatorships and tyrannies, has frequently supported odious and evil causes. This is the organization which gave us the infamous ‘Zionism is racism’ resolution among scores of other anti-Israel, anti-American, anti-democratic resolutions. It is the body that appointed Libya to its Human Rights Council and Iran to its Committee on the Status of Women.

True, UNGA resolutions are non-binding and have no legal force; only Security Council resolutions have legal force. Nonetheless, the Palestinian movement enjoyed a victory. Why? Because this resolution gives aid and comfort to its cause – its actual cause of eliminating Israel as a sovereign Jewish state, not its fictitious cause of creating a peaceful Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Consider Fatah/Palestinian Authority (PA) president Mahmoud Abbas’ choice of language. He falsely called the state he professes to wish to live peacefully alongside “racist” and guilty of creating “apartheid” and a “colonial occupation.” No-one makes peace with racism or apartheid or colonial entities – they dismantle them. Can any other meaning be read into Abbas’ words  in 2010 to Arab journalists – “If [Arab states] want war, and if all of you will fight Israel, we are in favor”?

Abbas insisted, citing UNGA’s 1949 resolution 194 (rejected by all Arab states at the time), on the legally baseless so-called ‘right of return’ of Palestinian refugees of the 1948-9 war and their millions of descendants to Israel, which would end Israel as a Jewish state.

The horrid irony is that Abbas’ cause fits the lurid description he applied to Israel. His Fatah party still calls in its Constitution for the destruction of Israel (Article 13) and the use of terrorism as an essential element in the struggle to achieve that goal (Article 19). Indeed, Fatah’s emblem depicts the whole of Israel re-labelled ‘Palestine,’ flanked by images of a Kalashnikov rifle and arch-terrorist Yasser Arafat. Hamas, which controls Gaza, a portion of the territory Abbas is claiming or statehood, calls in its Charter for the destruction of Israel (Article 15) and the murder of Jews (Article 7).

Senior PA officials, including Abbas, Saeb Erekat, Ahmed Qurei and others have clearly insisted that a Palestinian state be Jew-free . The PA also does not accept the existence of Israel as a Jewish state. Abbas has said   this several times; so have other PA officials. Nor has the PA fulfilled its Oslo obligations to dismantle terrorist groups and to end incitement to hatred and murder against Israel in its schools, media and speeches. To the contrary, the PA calls  terrorists shahids (‘martyrs’) and officially honors and glorifies dead terrorists, like Dalal Mughrabi, naming schools, streets and sorts teams after them. The PA refuses to arrest terrorists and pressures Israel to free Jew-killers it has imprisoned – scarcely the action of a regime interested in making peace and ending violence.

The Palestinian goal has never been statehood; it has been preventing or destroying Jewish statehood. The proof is that, whenever offered statehood alongside a Jewish state – in 1937 (Peel Commission), 1947 (UN partition plan), 2000 (Barak/ Clinton plan) or 2008 (Olmert plan) – they turned it down.


The above comments are from the Zionist Organization of America, which will make some people foam at the mouth (which is why I mentioned it) but every statement in it seems completely accurate to me.  If anybody can show me otherwise I would be most interested.

But I imagine that most antisemites will fall back on some tired old complaint that "The Jews stole the Palestinian's land" or some such.  That is not conceded, of course.  Orthodox Jews reply that it is the Arabs who stole the land of the Jews.

Theology aside however, the same argument can be made that Europeans stole America from the Red Indians and all white Americans should therefore hike back to Europe.  And I take that to be seen as absurd by all but a tiny and warped minority of haters.

So for policy to be useful, present-day reality has to be coped  with.  And Israel is a reality that can't be wished or assumed away.  And attacking it has proved singularly fruitless

Zbigniew Brzezinski  wants the USA to attack Israel but it is common (but of course not universal) for people of Polish origin to have a sort of hole in their brain where rational thought about Jews should be  -- JR


Moronic regulators

The car fascists are at it again.  Several technologies have been invented over the last decade that can help prevent vehicle collisions. A story in the Boston Globe reports that among these are “lane-departure warning, forward-collision warning, adaptive cruise control, automatic breaking, and electronic stability control.”

Great news, right? The wonders of the market never cease. And, according to the Globe story, the features listed above “are available on many vehicles already.”

Already! Ah, the free market.  But here’s the rub: they’re found “primarily on higher-end models.”  That’s right. If you want these nice new gadgets, you’re going to have to pay for them.

The incredible prosperity brought about by competition and supply-and-demand has transformed our society into one made up of “haves and have laters.” That means wealthier people get really nice things right away, while the rest of us get those things a little later, when supply increases or production costs come down. Once upon a time that seemed quite reasonable.

In this day and age, however, spoiled brats rule the roost. The Globe reports that “The National Transportation Safety Board said [the new technologies] should be required on all vehicles, despite the auto industry’s concern that doing so could add thousands of dollars to the cost of a car” (emphasis added). The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers estimates that these features could add anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000 to a car’s price tag.

“We don’t want safety to be only for the people who can afford it,” the NTSB’s chairman, Deborah Hersman, told the Globe.” In the bizarro world of federal regulations, class-warfare rhetoric trumps the laws of economics. The people hurt most by this will be the poorest — they will be priced out of all new cars instead of just some of them. The likes of Hersman can then denounce the “greed” of automobile makers instead of rethinking their own needless meddling.

Consumers can already choose from a variety of safety features, depending on their budget and their preferences. By mandating all of these options, the government prevents people from choosing what they want. As author Thomas Woods so eloquently says, it’s “a case of scanning the options … and eliminating the choice [consumers] actually selected.”

Over the last few decades a number of safety devices have gone from market features to federal requirements. Seat belts, for example, were consumer options before 1966. Air bags were consumer options before 1998 (because of a law passed in 1991).

Also in 1998, the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard was amended to require second-generation airbags. Why? Because of the many injuries caused by first-generation airbags.

Consumers who likely didn’t want any airbags to begin with were deemed too stupid by federal regulators, and so had first-generation airbags forced on them. From 1991 on, manufacturers scrambled to meet the airbag standard set to go into effect in 1998.

This blew up (no pun intended) in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s face when stories of children being decapitated by airbags started making the headlines. One hundred and seventy-five people were killed by airbags between 1990 and 2000.

But no one could ever accuse government regulators of humility. Rather than back off and leave safety-feature purchases to consumers, the bad press just resulted in the NHTSA countering with figures of its own: according to the agency, over 6,000 lives have been saved by airbags.

Regulators will point with pride to this alleged victory for federal safety mandates, but the record of such successes is really dubious. In his excellent book Rollback, Woods reports that “between 1925 and 1960 automobile fatalities decreased by 3.5 percent per mile driven per year, at a time when safety regulations were essentially nil.” During this period, automobile manufacturers offered more and more safety features on their cars. Consumers voluntarily purchased these options, and lives were saved. Lots of lives.

That wasn’t good enough for our federal betters. In stepped bureaucrats from the NHTSA and NTSB, and so began a history of regulations and mandates that have not made us, overall, any safer than people would be if allowed to make their own choices: Woods writes that “the rate of decrease in fatalities per mile in the post-regulation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration era” is still 3.5 percent per year.



Do-gooder illogic

Returning home this evening from an outstanding Liberty Fund conference in San Diego, I noticed above the baggage carousel at Reagan National airport a very artistically well-done billboard ad from Oxfam.  (I took a picture of this billboard ad with my cell phone, but, alas, the photo didn’t come out well enough for me to post it here.)

This ad, featuring a picture of the face of a lovely 30-something woman from somewhere in sub-Saharan Africa, blared (among some less-prominent text) “Don’t Cut Foreign Aid!”  Foreign aid, you see, allegedly helps this woman, and many others like her, lead better lives.  So cutting foreign aid would – Oxfam wants us to feel – condemn this woman, and many others like her, to greater depths of grinding poverty and misery.

I’m too tired now to say more about the alleged merits of so-called “foreign aid.”  Read the great William Easterly (here, and here).  And read Peter Bauer.  (Heck, read also Adam Smith.  Inquiring into the nature and causes of the wealth of nations, that great Scot identified an expanding division of labor fostered by secure property rights, free trade, and “the obvious and simple system of natural liberty” as the source of widespread prosperity.  England, believe it or not, did not receive foreign aid as a prelude to its industrial revolution.)

What’s fascinating about Oxfam’s billboard is the fine print at the very bottom of it.  In that fine print, Oxfam boasts that it receives no funds from the U.S. government – a fact that, notes Oxfam proudly, allows it to maintain its independence.

Reading this proclamation-in-fine-billboard-print immediately prompted me to wonder what leads Oxfam to believe that receipt of “foreign aid” from Uncle Sam will not unduly compromise the independence of recipient governments – or of recipient individuals.

If Oxfam is too likely to be enervated, or corrupted or otherwise regrettably bent to the will of Uncle Sam by accepting funds from Uncle Sam, why will not a similar curse befall the governments of, say, Ghana or Mozambique if they accept funds from Uncle Sam?  And why will not each individual on the ground – such as the woman pictured on the Oxfam billboard – not be enervated, or corrupted or otherwise regrettably bent to the will of whoever dispenses “foreign aid” to him or her?



Thoughts on the Trolley Problem

A familiar philosophical conundrum goes roughly as follows: You are standing by a trolley track which goes down a hill, next to a fork in the track controlled by a switch. You observe, uphill from you, a trolley that has come loose and is rolling down the track. Currently the switch will send the trolley down the right branch of the fork. Four people are sitting on the right branch, unaware of the approaching trolley, too far for you to get a warning to them.

One person is sitting on the left branch. Should you pull the switch to divert the trolley to the left branch?

The obvious consequentialist answer is that, assuming you know nothing about the people and value human life, you should, since it means one random person killed instead of four. Yet to many people that seems the wrong answer, possibly because they feel responsible for the result of changing things but not for the result of failing to do so.

In another version of the problem, you are standing on a balcony overlooking the trolley track, which this time has no fork but has four people whom the trolley, if not stopped, will kill. Standing next to you is a very overweight stranger. A quick mental calculation leads you to the conclusion that if you push him off the balcony onto the track below, his mass will be sufficient to stop the trolley. Again you can save four lives at the cost of one. I suspect fewer people would approve of doing so than in the previous case.

One possible explanation of the refusal to take the action that minimizes the number killed starts with the problem of decentralized coordination in a complicated world. No individual can hope to know all of the consequences of every choice he makes. So a reasonable strategy is to separate out some subset of consequences that you do understand and can choose among and base decisions on that. A possible subset is "consequences of my actions." You adopt a policy of rejecting actions that cause bad consequences. You have pushed out of your calculation what will happen if you do not act, since in most cases you don't, perhaps cannot, know it—the trolley problem is in that respect artificial, atypical, and so (arguably) leads your decision mechanism to reach the wrong answer. A different way of putting it is that your decision mechanism, like conventional legal rules, has a drastically simplified concept of causation in which action is responsible as a cause, inaction is not.

I do not know if this answer is in the philosophical literature, but it seems like one natural response from the standpoint of an economist.

Let me now add a third version. This is just like the second, except that you do not think you can stop the trolley by throwing the stranger onto the track—he does not have enough mass. Your calculation implies, however, that the two of you together would be sufficient. You grab him and jump.

The question is now not whether you should do it—most of us are reluctant to claim that we are obliged to sacrifice our lives for strangers. The question is, if you do do it, how will third parties regard your action. I suspect that many more people will approve of it this time than in the previous case, even though you are now sacrificing more, including someone else's life, for the same benefit. If so, why?

I think the answer may be that, when judging other people's actions, we do not entirely trust them. We suspect that, in the previous case, the overweight person next to you may  be someone you dislike or whose existence is inconvenient to you. When you take an act that injures someone for purportedly benevolent motives, we suspect the motives may be self-interested and the claim dishonest. By being willing to sacrifice your own life as well as his, you provide a convincing rebuttal to such suspicions.




The streetcar fantasy:  "Plans to build streetcar lines in San Antonio are based on several critical fallacies, including claims that streetcars are superior to buses in their ability to attract riders and that streetcars promote economic development. In fact, streetcars are slower, less flexible, less capable of moving large numbers of people, and far more expensive than buses."

The “flee California now” proposition:  "On November 6th, California declared war on prosperity. Any productive person who can leave California should, and they should do so immediately. It is already so difficult to escape state taxes that even working and living abroad is not an automatic exemption. Now, with a Democratic supermajority in the state legislature, tax hikes and policy can be rubber stamped. Imagine how difficult escape may be in a few years."



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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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