Saturday, June 02, 2012

"Six days thou shalt work, but on the seventh day thou shalt rest" -- Exodus 34:21

My recent very unpleasant medical problems have made me ask what is the best way forward in my life. To answer that question I turned to the wisest book I know: The Bible. And I found the quotation above. Following Bible advice has always worked wonderfully for me so I now intend to follow that piece of advice too. I intend from now on the keep the Sabbath and will blog only six days of the week instead of seven.

But it will be the real Sabbath I will keep, not the pagan abomination of the Sun's day. It was precisely because the pagans had set aside the first say of the week as a day to worship the sun that the ancient Hebrews defiantly made the seventh day of the week their holy say and I will follow their example. I will no longer blog on Saturday but will do other things.

But I will not be surrounding what I do with rules. As Jesus said, the Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath. The Bible simply says to do no work and that does not exclude doing all sorts of other things.

One of the things I would like to do today is to learn the words of the Stabat Mater in full. It is the most famous Medieval Latin poem and has been set by many composers -- with the glorious rendition by Pergolesi being best known. I already sort of know the poem but would like to be able to recite the whole thing right through without interruption. To be able to do that will be pleasure, not work. Latin poetry is wonderful even in a work of Marian devotion.

Stabat mater dolorosa
Juxta crucem lacrimosa
Dum pendebat filius

Cuius animam gementem
contristatam et dolentem
Pertransivit gladius ... etc

The is a video from Italy here which offers a respectful version of the first part of the Pergolesi masterpiece. If it's a techno beat you like, you will hate it. This is a work of profound contemplation about the central event of the Christian faith. Even I as an atheist can feel the power of it.

Friday, June 01, 2012

History: The Obama version

Riffing on the re-election trail, President Obama often tells crowds that "We've got to move forward to the future we imagined in 2008." An imaginary future from the past—got it. Then there's the imaginary history of the past that Mr. Obama has been recounting lately, when his first-term spending and debt boom never happened.

Mitt Romney "warned about a 'prairie fire of debt.' That's what he said," Mr. Obama said on the Des Moines fairgrounds on Thursday, as if he couldn't believe it either. "He left out some facts. His speech was more like a cow pie of distortion," Mr. Obama continued, with the finely shaded eloquence for which he is known. "What my opponent didn't tell you was that federal spending since I took office has risen at the slowest pace of any President in almost 60 years."

Making this a new White House theme, press secretary Jay Carney chimed in to "make the point, as an editor might say" to White House reporters that they should not "buy into the B.S. that you hear about spending and fiscal constraint with regard to this Administration. I think doing so is a sign of sloth and laziness."

Mr. Carney the media critic deeply sourced his view to someone named Rex Nutting, who wrote an 856-word column for MarketWatch that argued "There has been no huge increase in spending under the current President, despite what you hear."

Mr. Nutting claims that spending is rising at 1.4% annually, versus 8.1% for George W. Bush's second term. How did he manage to suss out the insights that have eluded every other human being who has spent time with the historical budget tables? His accounting methods are, er, unusual.

Mr. Nutting claims that Mr. Obama is only responsible for $140 billion worth of spending in his hyperactivist first year in office because . . . the fiscal year technically begins on October 1, 2009. Therefore he says Mr. Obama had no control over the budget, though in February 2009 he did famously manage to pass an $800 billion stimulus that was supposed to be a one-time deal. Mr. Nutting then measures Mr. Obama's spending growth rate against an inflated 2009 baseline that includes the spending Mr. Obama caused but which he attributes to Mr. Bush.

This is like an alcoholic claiming that his rate of drinking has slowed because he had only 22 beers today and 25 beers yesterday. To extend the analogy, let's stipulate that Mr. Bush was no fiscal teetotaler, though that's even more an indictment of Mr. Obama.

Mr. Nutting also has some fun toggling among Congressional Budget Office estimates, CBO baselines, White House budget proposals and actual spending to make the Obama record look better. To anyone who really knows the numbers, Mr. Obama's spending has increased by closer to 5% a year. Comparing apples to apples, CBO says total federal spending was $2.98 trillion in 2008 and has risen every year to reach $3.72 trillion in Mr. Obama's fiscal 2013 budget.

The larger conceptual error of the Nutting-Obama-Carney troika is neglecting to compare the budget to the size of the economy. The best perspective on how outlays, tax receipts and deficits change over time is as a share of GDP. Those data reveal historical trends because they account for different inflation rates and include changes over society as a whole like population growth.

Prior to Mr. Obama, the U.S. had not spent more than 23.5% of GDP—that was in 1983, amid the Reagan defense buildup—since the end of World War II. Yet Mr. Obama has managed to exceed that four years in a row: 25.2% in 2009, 24.1% in 2010 and 2011, and an estimated 24.3% in 2012, up from a range between 18%-21% from 1994-2008.

Democrats try to explain this away by saying that the economy is lousy, so spending's share of GDP looks larger than it would be with faster growth. But that is hardly an endorsement of Mr. Obama's economic policies, and in any case the recession officially ended nearly three years ago, in mid-2009.

The economy has since been growing but spending has been growing too even from the stimulus-inflated baselines. Every time House Republicans have tried to cut more spending since 2010, Mr. Obama has fought them tooth and claw.

As for that prairie fire of debt, Mr. Obama can fairly blame $1 trillion or so of the $5 trillion debt increase of the last four years on Mr. Bush. But what about the other $4 trillion? Debt held by the public now stands at 74.2% of the economy, up from 40.5% at the end of 2008—and rising rapidly.

In Des Moines, Mr. Obama's reading of U.S. fiscal history—"what generally happens"—was that "Republicans run up the tab" and then blame Democrats for the bill. Meanwhile, Mr. Nutting floated and Mr. Carney cited the "fact" that even Herbert Hoover spent more than Mr. Obama. Oh great. That means the President may stop blaming George W. Bush for the problems he inherited and instead start blaming Bush, Bush, Reagan, Ford, Nixon, Eisenhower and Hoover.



Tragedy of unbridled self-interest


Our nation is rapidly approaching a point from which there's little chance to avoid a financial collapse. The heart of our problem can be seen as a tragedy of the commons. That's a set of circumstances when something is commonly owned and individuals acting rationally in their own self-interest produce a set of results that's inimical to everyone's long-term interest. Let's look at an example of the tragedy of the commons phenomenon and then apply it to our national problem.

Imagine there are 100 cattlemen all having an equal right to graze their herds on 1,000 acres of commonly owned grassland. The rational self-interested response of each cattleman is to have the largest herd that he can afford.

Each cattleman pursing similar self-interests will produce results not in any of the cattlemen's long-term interest – overgrazing, soil erosion and destruction of the land's usefulness. Even if they all recognize the dangers, does it pay for any one cattleman to cut the size of his herd? The short answer is no because he would bear the cost of having a smaller herd while the other cattlemen gain at his expense. In the long term, they all lose because the land will be overgrazed and made useless.

We can think of the federal budget as a commons to which each of our 535 congressmen and the president have access. Like the cattlemen, each congressman and the president want to get as much out of the federal budget as possible for their constituents. Political success depends upon "bringing home the bacon." Spending is popular, but taxes to finance the spending are not. The tendency is for spending to rise and its financing to be concealed through borrowing and inflation.

Does it pay for an individual congressman to say, "This spending is unconstitutional and ruining our nation, and I'll have no part of it; I will refuse a $500 million federal grant to my congressional district"? The answer is no because he would gain little or nothing, plus the federal budget wouldn't be reduced by $500 million. Other congressmen would benefit by having $500 million more for their districts.

What about the constituents of a principled congressman? If their congressman refuses unconstitutional spending, it doesn't mean that they pay lower federal income taxes. All that it means is constituents of some other congressmen get the money while the nation spirals toward financial ruin, and they wouldn't be spared from that ruin because their congressman refused to participate in unconstitutional spending.

What we're witnessing in Greece, Italy, Ireland, Portugal and other parts of Europe is a direct result of their massive spending to accommodate the welfare state. A greater number of people are living off government welfare programs than are paying taxes. Government debt in Greece is 160 percent of gross domestic product. The other percentages of GDP are 120 in Italy, 104 in Ireland and 106 in Portugal. As a result of this debt and the improbability of their ever paying it, their credit ratings either have reached or are close to reaching junk bond status.

Here's the question for us: Is the U.S. moving in a direction toward or away from the troubled EU nations? It turns out that our national debt, which was 35 percent of GDP during the 1970s, is now 106 percent of GDP, a level not seen since World War II's 122 percent. That debt, plus our more than $100 trillion in unfunded liabilities, has led Standard & Poor's to downgrade our credit rating from AAA to AA+, and the agency is keeping the outlook at "negative" as a result of its having little confidence that Congress will take on the politically sensitive job of tackling the same type of entitlement that has turned Europe into a basket case.

I am all too afraid that Benjamin Franklin correctly saw our nation's destiny when he said, "When the people find that they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic."



Alger Hiss is still betraying you

It was high political drama more than six decades ago—controversial and polarizing. A Harvard trained and highly ranked member of the Federal Government charged by a self-confessed former Soviet spy of being a partner in those very same nefarious enterprises.

On the one hand there was Whitaker Chambers, the somewhat frumpy-looking accuser, a man who had wandered in from the darkened cold years before, having seen the sinister reality behind the propaganda-driven hope and change promised by Communism. Then there was this other guy with poster-child-for-success looks, brains, friends in very high places, and a killer resume with seemingly endless references. His name was Alger Hiss.

Add to that mix a committee in the House of Representatives increasingly dominated by a young Congressman named Richard Nixon who was quickly climbing a ladder to somewhere—and no Hollywood writer or gifted novelist could devise a more compelling story. Along the way we learned about microfilm squirreled away in a pumpkin on a Maryland farm, one man’s dental challenges, and a President of the United States talking about something called a “red herring.”

The story simply won’t go away—nor should it. It contains the DNA of our current national political discussion and cultural divide. Ask people about the Hiss case today and many will predictably give you a deer-in-the-headlights stare. But those old enough to remember, or who have demonstrated a cultivating interest in the political history of our country for the past hundred years or so, tend to quickly reach animation. “Hiss was smeared,” or “Chambers was right,” or my favorite: “Well, that was just McCarthyism at its worst.”

Never mind that Senator Joe McCarthy didn’t even begin to make a name for himself until after Alger Hiss’s conviction on a couple of counts of perjury.

But as the saying goes—“Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you.” And with the Hiss case it took years for a preponderance of evidence to come out proving that Whitaker Chambers was right and that Alger Hiss lied. He was a traitor and perjurer. And it still matters today, not just because of the idea of finding out the true story but because the philosophies the two men represented at the time are alive and well and every bit as distinct and diametrically opposed as the Tea Party is from the group purporting to Occupy Wall Street.

Even while denying his guilt throughout his life (he died in 1996 at the age of 92), Mr. Hiss maintained a steadfast belief in the liberalism behind all the manifestations of the New Deal. And this remains the salient talking point—the very real connection between the “progressive” political machinations and actual Marxist thought and methodology. “What Is To Be Done” gave way to what has been done. This is the story of American political liberalism from the heady days of the New Deal to the conjured euphoria of “Yes, We Can.”

In her new book, Alger Hiss: Why He Chose Treason, Christina Shelton, a retired U.S. intelligence analyst, refreshes our memory not only about the Hiss case itself, but why it indeed still very much matters:

“The story doesn’t go away, because it has become a symbol of the ongoing struggle for control over the philosophical and political direction of the United States. It is a battle between collectivism and individualism; between centralized planning and local/state authority, and between rule by administrative fiat and free markets…
Hiss firmly believed in a collectivist political ideology; he believed government was the ultimate instrument of power for solving problems and that the U.S. Constitution should be bent or bypassed to support this view. Hiss put his political belief into practice in his support for Communism and loyalty to the USSR, a state where government authority and power were not limited by the rule of law—in fact it would brook no limit.”

Whitaker Chambers, who died in 1961, never lived to see the fall of Soviet communism. In fact, he truly believed that it would never happen and that when he left communism to embrace the ideas and ideals of American freedom he was leaving the winning side for a losing cause. We know that he was wrong—at least in the short run. Having read his wonderful political tome, Witness, several times, I often wonder what Chambers would have made of the events of the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Yet, to sort of quote Ronald Reagan: “Here we go again.”

These days, the “constant vigilance” consistently needed to perpetuate liberty in the face of what often seems to be humankind’s default affinity for a clueless slouch toward tyranny (weeds grow naturally, flowers take work), seems to be in dangerously short supply. The Hiss case would be a great story for all Americans to revisit every few years—as a caveat and catalyst. Christina Shelton’s book is a great place to start. She reminds us that, “Hiss has become emblematic of the ideological divide that continues to this day in the United States…Hiss’s advocacy of collectivism and the need for government control over society and his support for international policies ahead of national security interests still resonate today.”

Toward the end of the book, Shelton tells the story of Vladimir Bukovsky, a man who spent a dozen years in Soviet prisons and labor camps as a dissident. He reflectively compared the former USSR and the European Union (EU), where “nationalism is suppressed in an attempt to establish a socialist European state.” He summarized his comments with words of warning:

“I have lived in your future and it didn’t work.”




TN: Judge’s ruling stops mosque construction: "A judge’s ruling has stopped construction of a Nashville suburban mosque that has been at the center of a rowdy debate for more than two years. Chancellor Robert Corlew ruled Tuesday that proper public notice was not given for the May 2010 meeting that approved the site plan for the mosque being built near Murfreesboro, a booming city of about 100,000 people southeast of Nashville"

Is commerce decent?: "Most people take it for granted that medicine, education and science have merit and those doing work in those fields are doing the right thing. They can claim credit for having chosen a fine calling or vocation. But the same is not so with business. A clear indication of this is that there is a great deal of talk about the social responsibility of corporations, and how companies should give back to the community in contributions, something few other professionals hear of. Are college professors being implored to do likewise? No, because their work is deemed to be worthwhile in and of itself."

Fascism is the real object of OWS wrath: "What so enrages OWS folk is actually State Capitalism, in which large enterprises operate under the guidance of and for the benefit of the State, which returns the favor by enacting laws to give each an effective monopoly. A better term for that is 'Fascism,' with every economic activity within the State and controlled by the State but not actually owned by the State; while it's an ancient idea -- 18th Century Mercantilism was one form of it -- it formed a more successful alternative to Communism in the 20th Century and seems to have been worked out first by Mussolini, who began adult life as a Communist and attracted the notice of Lenin as such, but who later recognized that it's much smarter to direct the cow and milk her, than to own her outright. What we see all around us, and what our OWS friends are protesting, is a well-developed version of such fascism."



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, May 31, 2012

What's the Matter With Manhattan?

Back in 2004, Thomas Frank wrote a famous book, "What's the Matter with Kansas?", in which he lamented working class white people's choices to vote their "values" rather than what -- in his not-so-humble opinion -- was in their "genuine" economic interests. Why didn't they identify as liberals and vote Democratic?

Frank's book was the midwife of President Obama's infamous "clinging to guns and God" remark on April 11, 2008:

The last few years have not been kind to Frank's or Obama's dogmatic assumptions that economic liberalism is in the interest of Kansas -- i.e., the working people of America.

The presumed tension between Kansans' economic interests and their social values appears increasingly fake.

But in the meantime, as Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker's dramatic heresy on Bain capital last weekend shows, the inverse divide is opening up in the Democratic base that could be called "What's the Matter with Manhattan?"

Liberals live in rich social enclaves with artistic, progressive values that are underwritten largely by the wealth that Wall Street and capitalism create.

A 2009 Quinnipiac poll notes that socially liberal values rise with income -- "support for same-sex marriage also rises with income, as those making less than $50,000 per year oppose it 54 to 39 percent, while voters making more than $100,000 per year support it 58 to 36 percent."

The very rich are disproportionately strong social liberals, whom Bill Clinton persuaded could safely vote for Democrats. Obama's attacks on private equity and the 1 percent are making them think anew: Why should Manhattan vote their values against their pocketbooks?

Manhattan (metaphorically speaking) is thinking hard about that:

In 2008 Obama carried the majority of the rather rich -- those making $200,000 or more per year -- earning 52 percent of the vote, which was 17 points more than John Kerry in 2004. The latest Quinnipiac poll shows Obama trailing among the more modestly affluent -- those making $100,000 or more -- 49 percent to 43 percent.

Raul Fernandez, part owner of the Washington Capitals and the Washington Wizards, donated $30,000 to Obama in 2008. He told The Washington Post last month to count him into the "anybody but Obama" camp. "They paint (wealth creation) with one big brush," Fernandez told the paper. "They are truly trying to make it evil."

And it's not just as donors that these people count.

According to the National Journal, more than one-third of Virginia voters make more than $100,000 per year, and 7 percent make more than $200,000 a year -- more than the coveted Latino voters in that state. In Colorado, another swing state, 8 percent of voters make $200,000 a year or more. Obama carried them last time around by double digits (compared to Bush's 66 percent of this vote in 2004).

If Manhattan -- or more to the point Aspen, Colo. -- votes its economic interests instead of its social values, Obama loses. "What's the matter with Aspen?" could become Thomas Frank's new rallying crime.

Meanwhile "Kansas," metaphorically speaking, is ever more unified against Obama:

Obama won just 40 percent of non-college-educated whites in 2008. Last week's Quinnipiac poll showed him winning just 32 percent of them against Romney.

In another swing state, Florida, a poll released this week shows Obama's deficit among white voters is growing, especially among those without a college degree; Obama now trails Romney 57 percent to 30 percent among less educated whites.

In Florida, the social issues are clearly helping Romney. Twenty-two percent of voters say gay marriage will be "very" or "extremely" important to their vote. They are breaking for Romney 2-1.

Liberals such as Frank thought that working class white voters were so dumb they were being fooled by Republicans into voting against their economic interests by "ginned up" social issues campaigns. Kansans knew better.

Obama is trying to borrow that model, to get affluent white voters to vote against their economic interests by ginning up social issue campaigns like the war on women or endorsing gay marriage.

Will Manhattan be as smart as Kansas?



Public pension funds desperately need Romney

If you are getting 1% interest at the bank, why do you suppose those legislators you elect are still betting the return on pension funds will be 7.5% to 8%? The answer is simple. If they don’t project those rates the law they enacted forces them to currently fund the shortfall. Since legislators don’t have any money that means you, the ones who elected these politicians, will have to pay higher taxes or get fewer services or benefits.

In the article below we find that cities reducing the rate will have to currently fund millions and in some cases billions each year to comply with the law. That means these well-meaning politicians have screwed up royally and you dear taxpayer are going to pay through the nose because of their mistakes.

This problem is no longer a disaster waiting to occur it is a catastrophe. Cities, counties, states as well as teachers, unionists and others will be looking for the taxpayers to bail them out and pay those pensions out of increased taxes. You will note in the article that the union bosses who bankrupted so many companies and cities with higher wages, pensions and medical benefits are now attempting to force the legislators to pay those pensions by taxing the people.

Compounding this problem is the redistributionist policies of the present administration. They are preaching that profits are evil and as a result stock prices that make up the great majority of all pensions assets are languishing with the exception of the crony capitalists like GE. Their policies have now affected growth in the value of stocks in such a material way that pension funds will all go broke if governmental attitudes towards profits and free enterprise don’t change

All this can be changed by a rejection of the Democrat party at all levels in the November election. They are the ones preaching that capitalism is wrong while they attempt to tax that capital out of existence. Unfortunately we have imbeciles in Hollywood, Wall Street, Washington and elsewhere who have no clue that what they want is leading us into bankruptcy.

Rate of return is determined by the annual increase in the value of stock plus dividends held by pensions. Ever since the Democrats were returned to office in 2007 the stock market hasn’t even been a 1% affair (when it was not falling or recovering). Should the Republicans be returned to office this pension problem could be easily solved. That would happen because stock prices would soar with the repeal of Obamacare, Dodd Frank and Sarbanes-Oxley and the elimination of onerous regulations and policies like the EPA impose.

Rates of return are a funny thing. They respond to freedom of opportunity. When Clinton buckled under on Welfare in 1996 the S&P 500 went up 70% from 1-1-96 to 12-31-97. That‘s right 70%. Now we know what happened to that same stock index when it became apparent that Barack Obama would become President in September 2008. It fell 50% and caused a panic in the marketplace.

We can save the pensions and we can save those irresponsible politicians (or if you want to be more precise “ourselves”) if we throw out the redistributionist Democrats and elect Republicans who believe in free enterprise and market-based decision making. We could easily have a 70% increase in pension values and solve this pension problem. All we need to do is believe in ourselves and loosen the shackles of government.

A 1% return is pathetic and illustrates what a failure the Democrat party is. Under George W. Bush there were three years where the S&P 500 went up over 20% a year. And Barack Obama and leading Democrats say those were failed policies. They want us to believe 1% returns are better.

-- comments by retired accountant Dick McDonald

Few investors are more bullish these days than public pension funds. While Americans are typically earning less than 1 percent interest on their savings accounts and watching their 401(k) balances yo-yo along with the stock market, most public pension funds are still betting they will earn annual returns of 7 to 8 percent over the long haul, a practice that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg recently called “indefensible.”

Now public pension funds across the country are facing a painful reckoning. Their projections look increasingly out of touch in today’s low-interest environment, and pressure is mounting to be more realistic. But lowering their investment assumptions, even slightly, means turning for more cash to local taxpayers — who pay part of the cost of public pensions through property and other taxes.

In New York, the city’s chief actuary, Robert North, has proposed lowering the assumed rate of return for the city’s five pension funds to 7 percent from 8 percent, which would be one of the sharpest reductions by a public pension fund in the United States. But that change would mean finding an additional $1.9 billion for the pension system every year, a huge amount for a city already depositing more than a tenth of its budget — $7.3 billion a year — into the funds.

But to many observers, even 7 percent is too high in today’s market conditions.

“The actuary is supposedly going to lower the assumed reinvestment rate from an absolutely hysterical, laughable 8 percent to a totally indefensible 7 or 7.5 percent,” Mr. Bloomberg said during a trip to Albany in late February. “If I can give you one piece of financial advice: If somebody offers you a guaranteed 7 percent on your money for the rest of your life, you take it and just make sure the guy’s name is not Madoff.”

Public retirement systems from Alaska to Maine are running into the same dilemma as they struggle to lower their assumed rates of return in light of very low interest rates and unpredictable stock prices.

They are facing opposition from public-sector unions, which fear that increased pension costs to taxpayers will further feed the push to cut retirement benefits for public workers. In New York, the Legislature this year cut pensions for public workers who are hired in the future, and around the country governors and mayors are citing high pension costs as a reason for requiring workers to contribute more, or work longer, to earn retirement benefits.

In addition to lowering the projected rate of return, Mr. North has also recommended that the New York City trustees acknowledge that city workers are living longer and reporting more disabilities — changes that would cost the city an additional $2.8 billion in pension contributions this year. Mr. North has called for the city to soften the blow to the budget by pushing much of the increased pension cost into the future, by spreading the increased liability out over 22 years.

Ailing pension systems have been among the factors that have recently driven struggling cities into Chapter 9 bankruptcy. Such bankruptcies are rare, but economists warn that more are likely in the coming years. Faulty assumptions can mask problems, and municipal pension funds are often so big that if they run into a crisis their home cities cannot afford to bail them out.



Democrat rule of Northern cities is so bad that savvy blacks are moving to the SOUTH

Winston Churchill captured what this presidential election is about when he observed “the inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.”

It’s why the young black Democrat mayor of Newark, NJ, Cory Booker, got high level repudiation from the Obama campaign, including from the president himself, when he insolently suggested that Bain Capital, the investment firm once headed by Mitt Romney, might actually do positive things.

Booker, an Obama campaign surrogate, went off script on Meet the Press when he refused to justify a campaign attack ad depicting the evils of Bain. “I’m not about to sit here and indict private equity….Especially that I know I live in a state where pension funds, unions and other people are investing in companies like Bain Capital.”

This was more than insubordination to Booker’s campaign handlers.

It was unmitigated heresy driving to the core of the Obama campaign message. The narrative, telescoping the theme of four years of this presidency, says that the American economy collapsed because of unbridled capitalism. To recover, the narrative continues, we must allow all knowing, all powerful, but compassionate political leadership in Washington to re-arrange the American economy and make sure businessmen never steamroller Americans again.

But Booker, educated at Stanford, Oxford, and Yale Law School, is a new breed of young black politician, who is actually trying to make a difference. And he is too close to realities on the ground to deny the truth he sees.

As mayor of Newark, he governs a city that is more than 50 percent black with a 25 percent poverty rate. It’s clear that what Newark needs is more business and investment, not more government.

George Mason University economist Walter Williams recently noted that America’s poorest cities with populations over 250,000 – Detroit, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Miami, St. Louis, El Paso, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, and Newark – have one common characteristic. For decades they have been run by liberal, Democratic administrations. The mayors of six of them have been black.

The big government, high taxation, overreaching regulation model of governing has been a saga of failure in America’s cities. And it certainly has not served well the black populations that disproportionately populate them.

And interestingly, in another paradox of black political behavior (I wrote last week about the stark contrast between the values that blacks embrace in church on Sunday and the values they vote for on Election Day Tuesday), blacks are voting with their feet against the same political regimes that they are supporting in the voting booth.

The New York Times reported last March that, according to new census data, blacks are departing our failed northern cities and heading south. Blacks may be pulling the lever for “blue” candidates, but they’re leaving the blue states and moving to the red ones.

Michigan, Illinois, New York, and other major Northern black population centers have shown net black population decreases over the last decade, and “among the 25 counties with the biggest increase in black population, three quarters are in the South.”

Professor of history Clement Price at Rutgers University in Cory Booker’s Newark says “the black urban experience has essentially lost its appeal with blacks in America.”

These black Americans on the move are young and educated – 40 percent between 21 and 40 and one in four with college degrees – and looking for opportunity.

And the places in America today with the growth and opportunity they seek are those areas that embrace freedom and entrepreneurship.

Cory Booker knows this. And he knows that fixing America’s blighted urban areas means pushing back on the smothering government that caused this decay and inviting in creative and courageous business minds and their investment capital.

So Booker’s defense of Bain and capitalism should come as no surprise.




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, May 30, 2012

Magical Thinking in Liberal Land

Like fairy tales? If so, I’ve got some doozies for you. See if any of these ring a bell:

* The wealthy in America don’t pay “their fair share.”

* “If you like your health care plan, you’ll be able to keep your health care plan.”

* A dollar of government “stimulus” spending will cascade into multiple dollars of private income.

These are not your garden-variety fairy tales, however. Instead of being told to — and believed by — children, these and countless similar fables are told by — and believed in — by politicians of the genus liberalis. Grownups holding the reins of power actually believe these and similar notions, regardless of any historical or economic proof to the contrary.

Why? Why do people believe in things like ESP, alien abduction, or the economic sustainability of Medicare?

It’s easy for people who consider themselves “rational,” those who luxuriate in things like facts and proofs, to look down on those who cling to this type of magical thinking. But in his book, The 7 Laws of Magical Thinking: How Irrational Beliefs Keep Us Happy, Healthy, and Sane, psychologist Matthew Hutson reminds us that belief in preposterous things is an ancient and species-wide condition, and therefore must have conferred some evolutionary benefit to our ancestors. In other words, believing in stupid things may make sense — at least some of the time:

Once you’ve accepted that the brain constructs reality and that the brain has evolved like any other organ to help its owner survive and reproduce, it follows that the brain constructs reality in the most useful way possible for its owner. The key word here is useful, which is not to say accurate. The brain doesn’t care so much what’s really out there, it just needs to stay alive and be replicated, which might involve telling us a white lie now and then.

In light of Hutson’s entertaining insight, liberal magical thinking on economic matters begins to make at least some sense. Liberal politicians believe and say these things because it helps them get elected; people like to be given free stuff, and they like to get it from the rich (those bastards!). Marxist and Keynesian economic prescriptions are always and everywhere disastrous wealth killers — but that is not the point. The only jobs they create are those of liberal politicians, but that is quite their purpose, after all. Magical economic thinking is a survival mechanism, and a very effective one for the likes of Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, and Barack Obama.

The liberal brain couldn’t care less whether liberal ideas work in the real world — the real world has nothing to do with it. It has everything to do with telling the masses what they want to hear in exchange for wealth and power.

Libertarians and conservatives rejoice in charts and graphs and history; liberals in wishes, fear, and fables. A peak into the balance sheets of the the West gives a sense of which side is better armed for the long, Darwinian struggle ahead.



Vampire Capitalism? Please

GST Steel would have failed much earlier without Bain.

This week the Obama campaign debuted its attack on Bain Capital, the private-equity firm Mitt Romney founded. Its two-minute ad purports to tell the story of GS Technologies, a Kansas City-based Bain investment that went bankrupt in 2001.

To hear the Obama campaign, this is a tale of greed: GST was a healthy, happy, quality steelmaker until Bain plundered its worth and stripped its 750 workers of their due. "It was like a vampire," laments one former employee in the ad. "They came in and sucked the life out of us."

GST is a tragic tale, though in a different way. The real story of GST is that of a private-equity firm trying to spark some life into a uncompetitive, over-unionized industry. Bain's crime here—if that's what you call it—was giving a dying steel plant an unexpected eight-year lease on life.

When Bain bought the Kansas City mill in 1993, steel was a scene of carnage. Global players were pouring out cheap products, and America's high-cost steel plants couldn't compete. The industry had lost 200,000 jobs in preceding years. In 1992 alone, the six largest U.S. steel mills had lost a combined $3 billion. Armco, the company Bain would buy the plant from, would lose $641 million in 1993.

The Kansas City plant was itself dying. At its 1970 height it employed 4,500; by the late 1980s it was down to 1,000. A year before acquisition, Armco had laid off another 75. Its equipment was old; it faced fierce competition at home and abroad.

B.C. Huselton, a vice president of the business at the time, tells me that in 1990 the Armco CEO held a meeting. "He told us, 'Look, we either try to sell it, or we've got to shut it down.'" Armco had shut down another Kansas City facility, Union Wire Rope, only a few years before.

The Kansas City plant had two product lines—high-carbon rods and grinding media (used in mining)—that it felt could give it a competitive edge. But it needed investment, and Armco was tapped out. Bain nonetheless saw some potential and in 1993 joined other investors to acquire it for $80 million. Management renamed it GS Technologies (which would become part of a larger GS Industries) and poured an additional $100 million into modernization.

The strategy worked for a time. The market firmed up and GSI became a U.S. leader in steel rods. In 1994 it felt confident enough to distribute a dividend to investors. In both 1996 and 1997, GSI would realize $1 billion in revenue.

And then came the tsunami. The late 1990s saw a new outpouring of cheap steel from elsewhere around the globe. The Asian financial crisis walloped the mining industry, cutting demand for GST products. The price of GST's electricity and natural gas skyrocketed. The union dug in, refusing to make concessions. By April 1997, it was on strike, shooting bottle rockets at guards. Labor costs spiked, and by 1999 GSI was reporting $53 million in net losses.

In 2001 it would become one of 31 steel companies that went bankrupt from 1993 to 2003. (Mr. Romney left Bain in 1999.) The steel crash was the economic drama du jour, with Congress railing about "dumping."

At the time, GST's union blamed the company's bankruptcy on the political class, for failing to hamstring imports. "We can't compete against the steel imports that are being sold under cost," said the president of GST's union in 2001. "Our pleas fell on deaf ears in the political arena." The Bush administration would ultimately slap on giant tariffs.

The bankruptcies were led by unionized companies that, like airlines and textiles and Detroit, had negotiated pay and benefits that helped drive their employers under. GST's pension benefits would get passed on to the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., which in 2002 received $7.5 billion in claims from the steel industry alone. The PBGC covered GST's basic pension payouts.

The Obama ad doesn't note that the broader company, GS Industries, employed 3,500 and that the Kansas City plant (with 750 workers) was the only one shuttered. Other plants were bought and operate today. Nor does it mention Bain's other steel investment in the early 1990s, in an Indiana start-up called Steel Dynamics. The firm touts innovative technology and a nonunion workforce. It today reports $6.3 billion in revenue—25 times what it claimed in its 1996 IPO—and employs 6,000.

A private-equity firm looking to quickly strip value from a company—to "suck" the life out of it—does not do so by investing $100 million in modernization and holding on for eight years, through bankruptcy. Bain has surely made its share of mistakes, and one may well have been trying to resuscitate a traditional steel firm in the grip of industry upheaval. The irony, says Mr. Huselton, is that this plant "wouldn't even be in today's news, if it hadn't been the opportunity that came with Bain. Those jobs would have been gone in 1993."

That's a more revealing story—of the pressures of a global market, the dangers of an inflexible workforce, and the opportunities that come with private equity and risk-taking. It's just not one Team Obama wants to tell.



Vulture Capitalism? Try Obama's Version

A profit-driven economy is preferable to one run by political favoritism

President Obama is no fan of Mitt Romney-style "vulture" capitalism. So what's his alternative?

All those Republicans grousing about the president's attacks on private equity might instead be seizing on this beautiful point of contrast. Mr. Obama, after all, is no mere mortal president. Even as he's been busy with the day job, he's found time to moonlight as CEO-in-Chief of half the nation's industry. Detroit, the energy sector, health care—he's all over these guys like a cheap spreadsheet.

Like Mr. Romney, Mr. Obama has presided over bankruptcies, layoffs, lost pensions, run-ups in debt. Yet unlike Mr. Romney, Mr. Obama's C-suite required billions in taxpayer dollars and subsidies, as well as mandates, regulations, union payoffs and moral hazard. Don't like "vulture" capitalism? Check out the form the president's had on offer these past three years: "crony" capitalism.

The case study is the solar-panel maker Solyndra, which was part of a green-energy sector that even by 2009 was flailing. The president took one look at the industry's utter lack of both profits and sellable products, and yelled "that's my baby!" The stimulus bill shipped tens of billions of dollars to the Energy Department to pour into green companies via grants and loans. It promised five million jobs.

The Energy Department's nuclear physicists were admittedly a bit flummoxed by the whole P&L thing, but they got their venture-capitalism groove on and in 2009 handed Solyndra a $535 million loan guarantee. Even prior to disbursement, government accountants were warning that Solyndra was a lemon, but the White House didn't worry. After all, the IRS had only recently and conveniently tripled the tax credit (to 30%) for buyers of Solyndra products, which the government figured would help grease their start-up's skids.

Unfortunately, the physicist-CFOs overlooked that whole "global energy market" factor—easy mistake! Foreign competitors were already piling into Solyndra's niche. Unable to compete, the firm went bankrupt last year. And, oh, the carnage! It was kind of like . . . GST Steel! Only worse. Solyndra laid off 1,100 employees. It provided no severance, not even back pay due for vacation credits. But a bankruptcy judge would later approve $370,000 in bonuses for 20 employees.

Mr. Obama railed against the high-dollar Silicon Valley investors who lined up in front of government to "suck" the remaining "life" out of the bankrupt firm, even as employees were left to . . . Oh, wait. He said no such thing. He was probably too busy doing damage control on his other government-subsidized energy bankruptcies, from Beacon to Ener1. Or running down the latest report of a government-funded, instantaneously combusting electric car. (Karma, anyone? Now at the low, low price of $103,000. Fire extinguisher included.)

Speaking of cars, Detroit is the business venture Mr. Obama's team has been most flogging as a success. True, General Motors and Chrysler are still turning their lights on, though they'd have arguably been doing the same had they been left to go through normal, orderly bankruptcies like those that helped the steel and airline industries restructure to become more competitive.

To get to the same place, Mr. Obama's crony capitalism handed $82 billion in taxpayer dollars to the two firms. That bailout money went to make sure the unions that helped drive GM to bankruptcy (and helped elect Mr. Obama) did not have to give up pay or pension benefits for current workers. They were instead rewarded with a share of the new firm. The UAW at GM meanwhile used the government-run bankruptcy to bar some 2,500 nonunion workers who had been laid off from transferring to other plants. How truly vulture-like.

Contract law was shredded, as unions were given preference over other creditors, such as pension funds for retired teachers and police officers. Congressmen used political sway to keep open their weak auto dealerships, forcing layoffs at stronger ones (vulture . . . vulture . . . vulture). Political masters obliged the industry to pour resources into unpopular green cars. The political masters were obliged to offer $10,000 tax credits to convince Americans to buy them. (They still won't.) And the message to every big industry? Go ahead, run your business into the ground. The Capitalist-in-Chief has your back (especially if you are unionized).

So, take your pick. Mr. Obama's knock on free enterprise is that it is driven by "profit," and that this experience makes Mr. Romney too heartless to be president. The alternative is an Obama capitalism that is driven by political favoritism, government subsidies, mandates, and billions in taxpayer underwriting—and that really is a path to bankruptcies and layoffs. If the president wants to put all 3,545 green stimulus jobs he's created up against Bain's record, he should feel free.

Mr. Romney could make the comparison himself. Ronald Reagan ran against Jimmy Carter's own industrial policy, and to great success. Viewed in isolation, "vulture" capitalism has some PR downsides. Viewed against the alternative, it's a flat-out winner.




Senate panel cuts Pakistan aid over conviction: "A Senate panel expressed its outrage Thursday over Pakistan's conviction of a doctor who helped the United States track down Osama bin Laden, voting to cut aid to Islamabad by $33 million -- $1 million for every year of the physician's 33-year sentence for high treason. The punitive move came on top of deep reductions the Appropriations Committee already had made to President Obama's budget request for Pakistan, a reflection of the growing congressional anger over its cooperation in combatting terrorism."

The business of government: "It is not the business of government to make men virtuous or religious, or to preserve the fool from the consequences of his own folly. Government should be repressive no further than is necessary to secure liberty by protecting the equal rights of each from aggression on the part of others, and the moment governmental prohibitions extend beyond this line they are in danger of defeating the very ends they are intended to serve."

High time to end corporate taxes: "In the latest installment of the long-running serial 'Super Rich Guy Calls for Higher Taxes,' hedge fund billionaire Tom Steyer made a $20 million donation last week to an initiative to raise California's corporate tax rate. Steyer thinks local businesses aren't paying nearly enough into the state's coffers. ... Corporate taxes are inefficient. They're unfair. They smother economic growth. They exact a heavy cost on the middle class. And, here's the real kicker, the corporate income tax is such a drag on investment and economic growth there is good reason to believe that getting rid of it would actually raise total revenue to the government." [NOTE: There is no double taxation of dividends in Australia]

Should the bank’s loss be the law’s gain?: "The great thing about laws is that they protect us when we are unwilling and unable to do so on our own. Laws are great because they make sure no harm is done. So when it came to our attention that JP Morgan Chase just lost $2 billion because of risky investments and hedging, it may have seemed that what was needed was more and better laws, not personal responsibility. Of course this isn't true."

The moral case for organ markets: "There’s nothing wrong with putting a high value on equality. But if your vision of equality includes letting thousands of people die so we can be confident the poor aren’t being exploited by entering into voluntary transactions in which they’re paid for one of their kidneys, I’d argue that you’re putting far too much emphasis on equality. It’s true that we’re all equal when we’re dead. That doesn’t mean it’s a desirable outcome."



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, May 29, 2012

When 'minority' is a trick of definition

The facts Jeff Jacoby puts forward below are an important corrective but they still leave unmentioned important areas of concern about the Hispanic presence in the USA -- principally the high rate of gang activity and crime generally among the children of Hispanic immigrants. One normally expects the children of immigrants to assimilate to approximately the majority norm but the children of the majority of Hispanic immigrants are not doing that in important ways. Overall, they are in fact even more prone to crime than their parents. Clearly, the children of those who arrive illegally are perhaps unsurprisingly not strong on respect for the law

WHEN THE CENSUS BUREAU this month issued a press release headlined "Most Children Younger Than Age 1 are Minorities," the media snapped to attention. News outlets nationwide covered the announcement, hailing it as a "historic demographic milestone" (CNN), as the "dawn of an era in which whites no longer will be in the majority" (Washington Post), and as an "important turning point for the nation" (McClatchy) that would "starkly … change the face of America's next generations" (Time).

None of that was true.

None of that was new, either. The Census Bureau keeps dangling commonplace demographic data as if they were a dramatic racial revelation, and the press keeps taking the bait. The stories this month about minority births becoming the majority could have been recycled from a year ago, when the same thing was being reported -- and with the same air of history in the making. "For the first time," an AP story declared in June 2011, "minorities make up a majority of babies in the US, part of a sweeping race change … that could reshape government policies." Three months earlier, The New York Times had told its readers that babies born to minorities were "on the verge" of becoming the majority of all US births.

For years Americans have been hearing about the coming nonwhite majority. With every fresh tranche of census data, the issue is raised anew. "Minorities, now roughly one-third of the U.S. population, are expected to become the majority in 2042," the Census Bureau forecast in 2008, "with the nation projected to be 54 percent minority in 2050." Savor the absurdity of the phrase "54 percent minority." It isn't the only thing about this issue that is irrational.

To begin with, all the ballyhoo about America's impending metamorphosis from white to nonwhite makes sense only if white Hispanics aren't what they say they are. Census Bureau guidelines specify that "Hispanics may be of any race" and that "The federal government treats Hispanic origin and race as separate and distinct concepts." In the 2010 US Census, 50.5 million Americans identified themselves as ethnically Hispanic; of those, more than half -- 26.7 million -- were white. The only way to conjure up a looming nonwhite majority is to arbitrarily subtract whites of Hispanic origin from the nation's overall white population.

That "sweeping race change," in other words, is a trick of definition. Maybe you relish the prospect of whites becoming a minority of the American population or maybe you dread it -- or maybe, in an era when more newlyweds than ever are marrying across racial lines, you wonder why anyone is still obsessed with race and color.

But whatever your attitude, there is no point waiting up for The End of White America. It isn't coming. Drill down into the Census Bureau's latest population estimates, for example, and it turns out that of the 3,996,537 babies younger than age 1, nearly 72 percent are white. The only way to shrink that very hefty majority to less than half is to exclude the nearly 900,000 white babies whose ethnic background is Hispanic.

Rita Hayworth starred with Fred Astaire in the 1942 film 'You Were Never Lovelier.'

The same is true of the "54 percent minority" scheduled to arrive by 2050. What the data in the bureau's spreadsheets actually project is that white Americans, who now constitute nearly 80 percent of the population, will make up 74 percent by midcentury. Only if tens of millions of white Hispanics aren't counted as white will America in 2050 be anything other than a majority-white nation.

There may be those who simply refuse to regard Hispanics as white, perhaps because of bigotry or ignorance or because they never saw Rita Hayworth, Martin Sheen, Raquel Welch, or Andy Garcia. But then, there have always been Americans with curious ideas of who could and couldn't be "white." Benjamin Franklin was sure that German immigrants were not only non-white but unassimilable; Henry Cabot Lodge said the same thing about Russians, Poles, and Greeks. There was a time when US immigration policy classified Irish, Italians, and Jews as non-white, and when state laws required any resident with "one drop of Negro blood" to be listed as black.

To us, looking back, all those distinctions today seem ludicrous. A generation or two down the road, it will doubtless seem just as ludicrous that anyone would ever have thought of Hispanics as anything other than part of the broad, "white," American mainstream. Perhaps by then the very idea of race -- white, black, or anything else -- will finally have been discarded, and children will marvel at the idea that color of skin or shape of eye could ever have mattered so much.



Greece is a nation of layabouts and crooks

That's not quite what the head of the IMF said but she got close. I've met a lot of Greeks and there are of course exceptions but they are generally a a very lazy and crooked lot in my experience. Like Ms Lagarde I have no sympathy for them. Only when working in their own businesses or under a very watchful eye do they make an effort

The IMF has no intention of softening the terms of Greece's austerity package, says Christine Lagarde. Photograph: Emmanuel Fradin for the Guardian

The International Monetary Fund has ratcheted up the pressure on crisis-hit Greece after its managing director, Christine Lagarde, said she has more sympathy for children deprived of decent schooling in sub-Saharan Africa than for many of those facing poverty in Athens.

In an uncompromising interview with the Guardian, Lagarde insists it is payback time for Greece and makes it clear that the IMF has no intention of softening the terms of the country's austerity package.

Using some of the bluntest language of the two-and-a-half-year debt crisis, she says Greek parents have to take responsibility if their children are being affected by spending cuts. "Parents have to pay their tax," she says.

Greece, which has seen its economy shrink by a fifth since the recession began, has been told to cut wages, pensions and public spending in return for financial help from the IMF, the European Union and the European Central Bank.

Asked whether she is able to block out of her mind the mothers unable to get access to midwives or patients unable to obtain life-saving drugs, Lagarde replies: "I think more of the little kids from a school in a little village in Niger who get teaching two hours a day, sharing one chair for three of them, and who are very keen to get an education. I have them in my mind all the time. Because I think they need even more help than the people in Athens."

Lagarde, predicting that the debt crisis has yet to run its course, adds: "Do you know what? As far as Athens is concerned, I also think about all those people who are trying to escape tax all the time. All these people in Greece who are trying to escape tax." She says she thinks "equally" about Greeks deprived of public services and Greek citizens not paying their tax.

"I think they should also help themselves collectively." Asked how, she replies: "By all paying their tax."

Asked if she is essentially saying to the Greeks and others in Europe that they have had a nice time and it is now payback time, she responds: "That's right."

The intervention by Lagarde comes after the caretaker Greek government met to discuss a sharp fall in tax revenues – down by a third in a year. Under the terms of the country's bailout, Athens has agreed to improve Greece's poor record for tax collection in order to reduce its budget deficit, and Lagarde's remarks are evidence of a growing impatience in the international community. Reports surfaced in Germany and France of preparations being made to cope with Greece's possible departure from the single currency after its election on 17 June.

Belgium's deputy prime minister, Didier Reynders, said it would be a "serious professional error" if central banks and companies did not prepare for an exit.

Jürgen Fitschen, joint head of Germany's biggest bank, Deutsche, described Greece as "a failed state … a corrupt state". Separately, however, there were reports suggesting that the chancellor, Angela Merkel, was dusting down the economic modernisation plan used to revive East Germany after the fall of communism in the belief that similar measures could be applied to Greece and other struggling eurozone countries. Today's Der Spiegel magazine says Merkel will present a six-point plan based on the East German blueprint as a growth strategy. It includes measures such as privatisation, looser employment law and lower tax rates.

Opinion polls are pointing to a close race between parties backing and opposing the terms of Greece's €130bn bailout, but neither Germany nor the IMF has demonstrated any willingness to water down Greece's austerity programme.

In her interview Lagarde says Greece is not getting softer treatment than a poor country in the developing world, and that the IMF does not find it harder to impose strong conditions on a rich nation.

"No, it's not harder. No. Because it's the mission of the fund, and it's my job to say the truth, whoever it is across the table. And I tell you something: it's sometimes harder to tell the government of low-income countries, where people live on $3,000, $4,000 or $5,000 per capita per year, to actually strengthen the budget and reduce the deficit. Because I know what it means in terms of welfare programmes and support for the poor. It has much bigger ramifications."



Europe's fake austerity

There are tax increases but no austerity

The austerity vs stimulus debate is the focal point of attention once more, as the recent results of Greek and French elections show an increasing opposition against Europe’s unique type of redistributive austerity. But few understand what austerity really means. They refer to it as “painful cuts that are hurting growth”.

Even by phrasing the choice as 'austerity vs growth', it is obvious that people don't really understand what austerity is, and even less what their governments are doing.

Recent posts from the Mercatus Center, Cato Institute, Tyler Cowen and many others shed some light on this, and have pointed to the inconvenient fact that there is no real austerity in Europe, at least not the type that could theoretically help these economies recover. In fact, Tyler Cowen asks what austerity is, trying to come up with a precise definition in order to overcome the biases behind the term and its policy effects. Looking at Wikipedia and Investopedia he finds the following:

"In economics, austerity is a policy of deficit-cutting, lower spending, and a reduction in the amount of benefits and public services provided."

"A state of reduced spending and increased frugality in the financial sector. Austerity measures generally refer to the measures taken by governments to reduce expenditures in an attempt to shrink their growing budget deficits."

Defining the term is particularly important for policy reasons. As you can see, there is no mention of tax increases in any of the two definitions. However, governments do often tend to use tax hikes to lower the deficit. But the very definition of austerity implies cutting spending and cutting entitlements in order to create more scope for the private sector to grow on its own. In other words, to remove the dependency mentality from people and from businesses.

Then comes the following graph from Veronique de Rugy of the Mercatus Center:

Where is the austerity here? Where are the significant cuts in spending necessary to address public and private sector dependency on the government and to reform the labour market? Particularly interesting examples are UK and France, where no signs of decreasing spending can be seen. In the UK, public spending to GDP has reached a 50-year historical high (46% of GDP). Some cuts have been made, but everything that was saved up was again used to steer the economy. And so Britain saw schemes that want to pick industrial winners, guide investment projects, subsidize housing, subsidize unemployed young people, and even control the amount and prices of loans in the economy. How do any of these address systemic dependency and how do any of these fit in the aforementioned austerity definition?

In France, the painful burden of redistributive austerity was one of the causes of Sarkozy's electoral defeat. The French were apparently fed up with it. Still, I'm struggling to see the actual austerity in France. I may be wrong, but maybe what's bothering the people in France is the same thing bothering people in the UK — taxes are going up, people are left with less and less disposable income, nothing is done to address the endemic dependency of the people or businesses to the state, private sector growth is unlikely, banks are in an uncertain position and refusing to lend.

In France, as a result, people are resort to radicalism, which was evident on both French and Greek elections where ultra-right and ultra-left parties won seats in parliament and got a dangerously significant portion of the votes.

The very idea of depicting the debate as austerity vs growth is wrong. This implies that the solution is the opposite of austerity — a monetary or fiscal stimulus to close down the nominal GDP gap.

Even if a short-term fiscal or monetary stimulus can temporarily boost growth, that isn't the way towards a proper restructuring of the economy. I know the logic behind these views: "let's just get the economy going and all will be better afterwards". The idea that it's much easier to do structural reforms after things are going well is a wrong approach, since no politician will have the power, strength or the courage to engage into painful but necessary reforms after what the world economy is going through at the moment.

We should expect austerity to be an unpopular policy. Its primary goal is to cut the dependency to the government. This does not come easily and will cost votes. But doing what the European politicians are doing currently has no chance of achieving growth any time soon, is constraining the population from spending (through tax hikes) and the businesses from investing (by causing uncertainty, sending bad signals, and offering no institutional support), and will result in a double loss — of elections and the recovery. As Margaret Thatcher once said: "If you want to cut your own throat, don't come to me for a bandage". This precisely sums up what Europe's allegedly austere governments are doing — cutting their own throats and hoping they stay alive. Not likely.




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, May 28, 2012

Big Business Gets the Hollywood Treatment

Jonah Goldberg

Jack Andraka, a 15-year-old kid from Maryland, just won the world's largest high school science competition by creating a new test for pancreatic cancer, one of the nastiest and most lethal forms of the disease.

According to various news reports, the winning submission at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair is "28 times cheaper" than existing tests and far, far more accurate. Andraka received $75,000 for his efforts, and he's applied for a patent as well. That will probably earn him far more in the years to come.

This comes on the heels of another teen wunderkind. In December, Angela Zhang, 17, won the Siemens Science Competition for inventing a new way of finding and attacking cancer cells. Some people think it might actually lead to a cure for cancer some day.

Zhang and Andraka can probably spend the rest of their high school careers playing video games in the basement, given that their college search is going to be pretty stress-free from here on out.

But that's the real world for you. Impressive kids -- or grown-ups -- invent fantastic things, potentially benefitting millions of people, if not all of mankind. The inventors are rewarded, consumers benefit, and the economy grows. Woo-hoo!

Of course, the real world isn't the world many people imagine it to be. In the Hollywood version of this tale, Zhang would have disappeared when rumors of her invention hit the boardrooms and star chambers of Big Pharma. Bruce Willis would have to come out of retirement as the rogue agent willing to put his life on the line to keep Andraka safe from the goon-squad ninjas of Bristol-Myers Squibb or the wet work teams from Pfizer.

After all, cures and cheaper tests hurt the bottom line of those evil corporations, and we all know profit is all they care about. I mean, haven't you read or seen "The Constant Gardener," the John le Carré book and movie about evil corporations testing drugs on Africans and offing the whistle-blowers at every turn?

That's what corporations do, right? At least that's what my kid is taught. In "Beethoven," the evil munitions industry shoots Saint Bernards to test bullets. In "The Lorax," businesses hate trees. In "The Muppets," they hate Muppets (and love oil). I think that in nearly every movie involving cute woodland creatures ("Furry Vengeance," "Yogi Bear," et al.), businesses are always the bad guys.

When kids get older, they learn from John Grisham movies that big businesses kill people in order to get what they want. In "Aliens," the company wants to smuggle space critters that will likely wipe out all humanity, in the slim hope they'll eke out a bit more profit. In "Avatar," the Halliburton of the future slaughters intelligent aliens and rapes their planet just to make a buck.

At Cannes, where anti-capitalist movies are always a hit, Brad Pitt's newest venture, "Killing Them Softly," is touted as a seething indictment of the American system. "America isn't a country -- it's a business" is apparently the film's central insight. Set against the backdrop of the 2008 financial crisis, the film was reportedly financed by Megan Ellison, daughter of billionaire businessman Larry Ellison.

No wonder that when these kids grow up, some of them make documentaries about how vast conspiracies keep the electric car and, no doubt, the Everlasting Gobstopper off the market. Even more of them uncritically accept this stuff. After all, everyone knows big businessmen are evil.

So the ones getting involved in politics, at least Republican politics, must be the sorts of bad guys we've all seen in the movies.

Warren Buffett and George Soros can't be greedy; after all, they're simply trying to "give something back."

Now, truth be told, I'm no lover of big corporations, but not because I think they want to poison their customers or shoot my dog for target practice. My problem isn't that they're too rapaciously capitalistic.

Rather, it's that they're too opportunistic, too eager to abandon the free market and work with the government under the false flag of the greater good.

In a free market, businesses are in a relentless competition to improve products and satisfy the needs of the consumer. "A new test for pancreatic cancer? Great! Let's be the first to get it to market."

In the cozy world of government-business collusion, the state counts on the status quo existing far out into the future, for that's the only way to preserve and plan out "the system."

There's got to be a good a movie plot in there somewhere.



New Study from U.K. Think Tank Shows How Big Government Undermines Prosperity

Daniel J. Mitchell

It seems I was put on the planet to educate people about the negative economic impact of excessive government. Though I must be doing a bad job because the burden of the public sector keeps rising.

But hope springs eternal. To help make the case, I’ve cited research from international bureaucracies such as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and European Central Bank. And since most of those organizations lean to the left, these results should be particularly persuasive.

I’ve also cited the work of academic scholars from all over the world, including the United States, Australia, and Sweden. The evidence is very persuasive that big government is associated with weaker economic performance.

Now we have some new research from the United Kingdom. The Centre for Policy Studies has released a new study, authored by Ryan Bourne and Thomas Oechsle, examining the relationship between economic growth and the size of the public sector.

The chart compares growth rates for nations with big governments and small governments over the past two decades. The difference is significant, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The most important findings of the report are the estimates showing how more spending and more taxes are associated with weaker performance.

Here are some key passages from the study.
Using tax to GDP and spending to GDP ratios as a proxy for size of government, regression analysis can be used to estimate the effect of government size on GDP growth in a set of countries defined as advanced by the IMF between 1965 and 2010.

…As supply-side economists would expect, the coefficients on the tax revenue to GDP and government spending to GDP ratios are negative and statistically significant. This suggests that, ceteris paribus, a larger tax burden results in a slower annual growth of real GDP per capita. Though it is unlikely that this effect would be linear (we might expect the effect to be larger for countries with huge tax burdens), the regressions suggest that an increase in the tax revenue to GDP ratio by 10 percentage points will, if the other variables do not change, lead to a decrease in the rate of economic growth per capita by 1.2 percentage points.

The result is very similar for government outlays to GDP, where an increase by 10 percentage points is associated with a fall in the economic growth rate of 1.1 percentage points. This is in line with other findings in the academic literature.

…The two small government economies with the lowest marginal tax rates, Singapore and Hong Kong, were also those which experienced the fastest average real GDP growth.

The folks at CPS also put together a short video to describe the results. It’s very well done, though I’m not a big fan of the argument near then end that faster growth is a good thing because it generates more tax revenue to finance more government. Since I’m a big proponent of the Laffer Curve, I don’t disagree with the premise, but I would argue that additional revenues should be used to finance lower tax rates.

Since I’m nit-picking, I’ll also say that the study should have emphasized that government spending is bad for growth because it inevitably and necessarily leads to the inefficient allocation of resources, and that would be true even if revenues magically floated down from heaven and there was no need for punitive tax rates.

More HERE (See the original for links and graphics)


Barack Obama is facing his Jimmy Carter moment

As Mitt Romney closes the gap, it is 1980 all over again for the man in the Oval Office

Until recently, Barack Obama’s re-election was regarded as inevitable – in the same way that summer follows spring. The president’s poll lead over Mitt Romney was strong, while the Republican’s character was assassinated by a primary fight that permanently spoiled the reputation of his party. To court the GOP’s conservative base, Romney was forced to adopt positions on abortion, contraception, health care and welfare that are thought to be unpopular among moderate swing voters. Obama, by contrast, is the man who killed bin Laden and toppled Gaddafi. A choice between Obama the moderate statesman and Romney the craven conservative is surely no contest at all.

But in the last two weeks, things have changed. Obama’s re-election is no longer guaranteed; some pollsters think it is unlikely. Day by day, the odds are improving that Mitt Romney will be the next President of the United States.

What changed? For a start, voters are getting gloomier about the economy. Joblessness remains high and debt is out of control. According to one poll released this week, only 33 per cent of Americans expect the economy to improve in the coming months and only 43 per cent approve of the way that the president has handled it. Voters think Obama has made the debt situation and health care worse. The man who conducted the poll – Democrat Peter Hart – concluded that “Obama’s chances for re-election… are no better than 50-50.”

The president has tried to distract from America’s economic misery by playing up the so-called culture war. Earlier in the year he decided that he would force Catholic employers to provide contraception to their employees through their insurance plans, and he followed that swipe at social traditionalism by endorsing gay marriage. This embrace of Sixties liberalism has backfired. While contraception and gay marriage often receive popular support in national polls, Americans are far more conservative in the voting booth. Thirty-two states have voted on gay marriage and all 32 have voted to outlaw it – even liberal California. Nor has the culture war rallied his party’s base. In presidential primaries held on Tuesday, 39 per cent of Arkansas Democrats and 42 per cent of Kentuckian Democrats rejected Obama’s re-nomination. In West Virginia, 41 per cent of the state’s Democrats voted for an imprisoned criminal rather than the president.

The result is that pollsters find Obama and Romney edging towards one another. Rasmussen puts Obama only one point ahead; Gallup calls it a tie. With Romney doing better than the president in key swing states North Carolina and Florida, Gallup has publicly stated that Obama now has a higher chance of losing rather than winning.

But it isn’t just Obama’s flaws that are making this race interesting. Mitt Romney might not be the most charismatic candidate, but that’s a hidden strength in an election that’s all about competence and getting back to the basics of what once made America work so well. This week, the pro-Obama journalist Andrew Sullivan wrote that with his wealth, good looks and apple-pie conservatism, Romney is like “a focus-group tested model president from 1965”. Sullivan obviously doesn’t realise how popular the TV show Mad Men is. Who wouldn’t warm to a candidate that represents an age marked by low unemployment, stable families and a laissez-faire attitude towards drinking at work?

In fact, the grey Mr Romney is repeating the same formula that won him the governorship of Massachusetts, an ordinarily Democrat state, in 2002. He pulled that off by motivating large numbers of Republicans to vote for him, breaking into the working-class vote and keeping turnout among Democrats fairly low. The unique genius of Romney was his ability to say very conservative things but in a manner that convinced many centrists that he didn’t really mean them. That’s happening again in 2012, as polls indicate that far more Americans think Obama is too Left-wing than believe Romney is too Right-wing.

Of course, Romney has his weaknesses. But they are fewer than Obama’s, whose charisma disguises a multitude of problems so great that it’s hard to imagine him overcoming them. Gallup makes the following observation: “Comparing today’s economic and political ratings with those from previous years when presidents sought re-election reveals that today’s climate is more similar to years when incumbents lost than when they won.” I would go one step further: Obama’s situation is actually worse than that of some of the incumbents who have lost in the past.

In 1980, Democratic president Jimmy Carter faced an uphill struggle for re-election. Yet, despite an index of inflation and unemployment far higher than Obama’s, he was actually doing slightly better in the polls. In March of that year, Carter led his Republican opponent, Ronald Reagan, by around 25 per cent. By May, Gallup gave him a lead of 49 to 41 per cent – higher than Obama’s today. Carter’s advantage evaporated in the months that followed, but he regained ground in October and by the last week he was running even.

None the less, Carter eventually suffered a landslide defeat. The scale of his humiliation was hidden by the fact that people were unwilling to commit themselves to the conservative Ronald Reagan until the very last minute. It was only when they went into the polling booth and weighed up all the hurt and humiliation of the past four years that they cast their vote against the president. It looks like Barack Obama will be the Jimmy Carter of 2012.




Reason-Rupe Poll on Wisconsin Recall: Walker Leads Barrett 50-42: "Gov. Scott Walker leads Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett 50-42 among those likely to vote in Wisconsin’s June 5 recall election, according to a new Reason-Rupe poll of 708 Wisconsin adults on cell phones and landlines. The Reason-Rupe poll finds voters overwhelmingly support many of the key changes Gov. Walker and the legislature implemented on public sector pensions and health care last year. Reason-Rupe finds 72 percent favor the change requiring public sector workers to increase their pension contributions from less than 1 percent to 6 percent of their salaries. And 71 percent favor making government employees pay 12 percent of their own health care premiums instead of the previous 6 percent.

When Government Privileges Trump the Rights of Citizens: "Democrats and Republicans in the California Legislature have once again broadcast this troubling fact: They are far more concerned about the ever-expanding demands of a relatively small group of public sector union members than they are about the public welfare of the citizens of our state. On May 17, the state Assembly voted 68-0 to support the most despicable piece of legislation that’s come through the halls in a while, which is saying a lot given the foolhardy proposals routinely on display in Sacramento. (It still requires approval by the Senate and the governor.) The bill, AB 2299, allows a broad swath of public officials—police, judges, and various public safety officials—to hide their names from public property records."

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



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)


Sunday, May 27, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: The politically incorrect guide to the Bible by Robert J. Hutchinson

A book has to be pretty good for me to read it, let alone review it but this book makes the grade. Perhaps a little surprisingly, it is not an evangelizing book. It is instead a work of solid scholarship. It wears down criticisms of the Bible, fact by fact, point by point.

Hutchinson uses his vast knowledge of Bible and church history to show how shallow are the points made by atheist critics such as Dawkins and Hitchens. He patiently goes through their criticisms and applies to them the full weight of Bible scholarship through the ages. When critics seem to think they are clever for having thought of some original criticism, Hutchinson sometimes quotes by way of reply something written a thousand years ago. He knows what the points of contention are and knows what the reply to each is.

I found his chapter on slavery particularly interesting. Leftists tend to say that the Bible encourages slavery -- quite ignoring that the people who ultimately destroyed slavery in the West were devout Christians such as Wilberforce. The Bible was of course written when slavery was a univrersal feature of human society but Hutchinson shows that what was called slavery varied a great deal from time to time and place to place and that the Bible has substantial prohibitions about its worst abuses in the OLd Testament and completely forbad it in the New Testament. The thing that most approximated slavery in our modern sense among the Hebrews was in fact punishment for crime. In the absence of prisons, punishment was "outsourced" to individuals.

The book does of course bring us up to date with archaelogical evidence for the accuracy of the Bible accounts and it is rather amusing that many things dismissed by scholars as obviously untrue every now and again turn up as archaelogically verified.

For Christians who enter into disputes with unbelievers, this book offers a host of good replies to almost all likely challenges. A very valuable aid in a skeptical world -- JR


Religious liberty is the beginning of all liberties

Confronted with a "train wreck," the new archbishop of Baltimore implores us to "pray diligently as communities, as families and as individuals."

Coming from a man of the cloth, this wouldn't be breaking news, except the train in question is driven by President Obama and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius. As part of the health-care overhaul, the administration is bent on forcing American employers to offer health-care coverage that includes contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, regardless of any moral objections.

And so Archbishop William Lori's prayer is for religious liberty.

It's an ecumenical prayer that requires ecumenical labor. During a speech at a conference on religious freedom, Lori made clear that this religious liberty talk "is not about the Catholic Church wanting to force anybody to do anything; it is instead about the federal government forcing the church -- consisting of its faithful and all but a few of its institutions -- to act against church teachings."

We are confronted at this moment with a question of integrity, a question that goes right to the heart of the ethical and religious principles that shape us as a nation: Are we as committed to liberty as we say we are?

This question of integrity is why Georgetown University wins this year's competition for most audacious commencement ceremony: Having Sebelius speak on campus was a dereliction of moral duty, sending a message of complacency at a time that demands action from any American who values freedom. We have long been the place where people come to flee tyranny. But are we comfortable with it at home? It's not just another left-right squabble, this health-care fight -- it strikes at the core of who we are.

Drastic measures are being taken: Numerous institutions have filed lawsuits against HHS. More alarmingly, the Franciscan University of Steubenville announced that it would no longer provide student health plans. That the Ohio Catholic college found itself forced into this position is, as a letter protesting the Obama administration's actions put it, "unacceptable."

"It is simply a matter of integrity that what we teach in the classroom, advance in our student life and preach in the chapel is consistent with how we use our limited resources in regard to health care," says Michael Hernon, vice president of advancement at Franciscan.

"The question is whether, under Obamacare, students who want to attend an authentically Catholic university will be able to do so without being disadvantaged," is how Thomas Messner of the Heritage Foundation explains it on the organization's blog. He further points out that these predicaments about conscience "should lead those who care about religious freedom to ponder more deeply the ways that religious freedom goes hand in hand with the condition of freedom more generally."

He adds that the health-care legislation itself "represents an enormous intrusion by government into freedom of private choice and decision-making more generally." That the law "has already triggered" the deepest imposition on religious freedom our nation has known should come as "no surprise" given the nature of the beast. Messner isn't speaking as a good conservative think tank fixture hitting ideological talking points but as someone concerned about the future of civil society, noting: "A society that abandons its moral and political commitment to freedom in general will become less willing and indeed even hostile to protecting religious freedom in particular instances."

This is why Archbishop Lori, in his speech, said: "The HHS lawsuits, if successful, would only provide a Band-Aid solution to the greater problem of radical secularism that we face in this country."

It's a faulty foundation that the president is offering for a vote in November. We stand on this new platform at our peril.



Figures Don't Lie: Democrats Do

Ann Coulter

It's been breaking news all over MSNBC, liberal blogs, newspapers and even The Wall Street Journal: "Federal spending under Obama at historic lows ... It's clear that Obama has been the most fiscally moderate president we've had in 60 years." There's even a chart!

I'll pause here to give you a moment to mop up the coffee on your keyboard. Good? OK, moving on ...

This shocker led to around-the-clock smirk fests on MSNBC. As with all bogus social science from the left, liberals hide the numbers and proclaim: It's "science"! This is black and white, inarguable, and why do Republicans refuse to believe facts?

Ed Schultz claimed the chart exposed "the big myth" about Obama's spending: "This chart -- the truth -- very clearly shows the truth undoubtedly." And the truth was, the "growth in spending under President Obama is the slowest out of the last five presidents."

Note that Schultz also said that the "part of the chart representing President Obama's term includes a stimulus package, too." As we shall see, that is a big, fat lie.

Schultz's guest, Reuters columnist David Cay Johnston confirmed: "And clearly, Obama has been incredibly tight-fisted as a president."

Everybody's keyboard OK?

On her show, Rachel Maddow proclaimed: "Factually speaking, spending has leveled off under President Obama. Spending is not skyrocketing under President Obama. Spending is flattening out under President Obama."

In response, three writers from "The Daily Show" said, "We'll never top that line," and quit.

Inasmuch as this is obviously preposterous, I checked with John Lott, one of the nation's premier economists and author of the magnificent new book with Grover Norquist: Debacle: Obama's War on Jobs and Growth and What We Can Do Now to Regain Our Future.

It turns out Rex Nutting, author of the phony Marketwatch chart, i>attributes all spending during Obama's entire first year, up to Oct. 1, to President Bush.

That's not a joke. That means, for example, the $825 billion stimulus bill, proposed, lobbied for, signed and spent by Obama, goes in ... Bush's column. (And if we attribute all of Bush's spending for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and No Child Left Behind to William Howard Taft, Bush didn't spend much either.)

Nutting's "analysis" is so dishonest, even The New York Times has ignored it. He includes only the $140 billion of stimulus money spent after Oct. 1, 2009, as Obama's spending. And he's testy about that, grudgingly admitting that Obama "is responsible (along with the Congress) for about $140 billion in extra spending in the 2009 fiscal year from the stimulus bill."

Nutting acts as if it's the height of magnanimity to "attribute that $140 billion in stimulus to Obama and not to Bush ..."

On what possible theory would that be Bush's spending? Hey -- we just found out that Obamacare's going to cost triple the estimate. Let's blame it on Calvin Coolidge!

Nutting's "and not to Bush" line is just a sleight of hand. He's hoping you won't notice that he said "$140 billion" and not "$825 billion," and will be fooled into thinking that he's counting the entire stimulus bill as Obama's spending. (He fooled Ed Schultz!)

The theory is that a new president is stuck with the budget of his predecessor, so the entire 2009 fiscal year should be attributed to Bush.

But Obama didn't come in and live with the budget Bush had approved. He immediately signed off on enormous spending programs that had been specifically rejected by Bush. This included a $410 billion spending bill that Bush had refused to sign before he left office. Obama signed it on March 10, 2009. Bush had been chopping brush in Texas for two months at that point. Marketwatch's Nutting says that's Bush's spending.

Obama also spent the second half of the Troubled Asset Relief Fund (TARP). These were discretionary funds meant to prevent a market meltdown after Lehman Brothers collapsed. By the end of 2008, it was clear the panic had passed, and Bush announced that he wouldn't need to spend the second half of the TARP money.

But on Jan. 12, 2009, Obama asked Bush to release the remaining TARP funds for Obama to spend as soon as he took office. By Oct. 1, Obama had spent another $200 billion in TARP money. That, too, gets credited to Bush, according to the creative accounting of Rex Nutting.

There are other spending bills that Obama signed in the first quarter of his presidency, bills that would be considered massive under any other president -- such as the $40 billion child health care bill, which extended coverage to immigrants as well as millions of additional Americans. These, too, are called Bush's spending.

Frustrated that he can't shift all of Obama's spending to Bush, Nutting also lowballs the spending estimates during the later Obama years. For example, although he claims to be using the White House's numbers, the White House's estimate for 2012 spending is $3.795 trillion. Nutting helpfully knocks that down to $3.63 trillion.

But all those errors pale in comparison to Nutting's counting Obama's nine-month spending binge as Bush's spending.

If liberals will attribute Obama's trillion-dollar stimulus bill to Bush, what won't they do?



Cocooned Liberals Are Unprepared for Political Debate

It's comfortable living in a cocoon -- associating only with those who share your views, reading journalism and watching news that only reinforces them, avoiding those on the other side of the cultural divide.

Liberals have been doing this for a long time. In 1972, the movie critic Pauline Kael said it was odd that Richard Nixon was winning the election, because everyone she knew was for George McGovern.

Kael wasn't clueless about the rest of America. She was just observing that her own social circle was politically parochial.

The rest of us have increasingly sought out comfortable cocoons, too. Journalist Bill Bishop, who lives in an Austin, Texas, neighborhood whose politics resemble Kael's, started looking at national data.

It inspired him to write his 2009 book "The Big Sort," which describes how Americans since the 1970s have increasingly sorted themselves out, moving to places where almost everybody shares their cultural orientation and political preference -- and the others keep quiet about theirs.

Thus professionals with a choice of where to make their livings head for the San Francisco Bay Area if they're liberal and for the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex (they really do call it that) if they're conservative. Over the years the Bay Area becomes more liberal and the Metroplex more conservative.

But cocooning has an asymmetrical effect on liberals and conservatives. Even in a cocoon, conservatives cannot avoid liberal mainstream media, liberal Hollywood entertainment and, these days, the liberal Obama administration.

They're made uncomfortably aware of the arguments of those on the other side. Which gives them an advantage in fashioning their own responses.

Liberals can protect themselves better against assaults from outside their cocoon. They can stay out of megachurches and make sure their remote controls never click on Fox News. They can stay off the AM radio dial so they will never hear Rush Limbaugh.

The problem is that this leaves them unprepared to make the best case for their side in public debate. They are too often not aware of holes in arguments that sound plausible when bandied between confreres entirely disposed to agree.

We have seen how this works on some issues this year.

Take the arguments developed by professor Randy Barnett of Georgetown Law that Obamacare's mandate to buy health insurance is unconstitutional. Some liberal scholars like Jack Balkin of Yale have addressed them with counterarguments of their own.

But liberal politicians and Eric Holder's Justice Department remained clueless about them. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, asked whether Obamacare was unconstitutional, could only gasp: "Are you serious? Are you serious?"

In March, after the Supreme Court heard extended oral argument on the case, CNN's Jeffrey Toobin was clearly flabbergasted that a majority of justices seemed to take the case against Obamacare's constitutionality very seriously indeed.

Liberals better informed about the other side's case might have drafted the legislation in a way to avoid this controversy. But nothing they heard in their cocoon alerted them to the danger.

Another case in point is Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's law restricting the bargaining powers of public employee unions. The unions and the crowds in Madison, which is both the state capital and a university town and which with surrounding Dane County voted 73 to 26 percent for Barack Obama, egged each other on with cries that this would destroy the working class. No one they knew found this implausible.

The unions had an economic motive to oppose the laws and seek to recall first Republican legislators and then Walker himself. The law ended the automatic checkoff of union dues, which operated as an involuntary transfer of money from taxpayers to union leaders.

But voters declined to recall enough Republicans to give Democrats a majority in the Senate, and Walker currently leads Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett in polls on the June 5 recall election.

The Madison mob seemed unaware that there were attractive arguments on Walker's side.

Why should public employee union members pay less for health insurance and get fatter pensions than the taxpayers who pay their salaries? Why is it a bad thing for property taxes to be held down and for school districts to cut perks for union members enough to hire more teachers?

Beyond the Madison cocoon, in Wisconsin's other 71 counties, which voted 55 to 44 percent for Walker in 2010, such arguments are evidently proving persuasive. Maybe liberals should listen to Rush every so often.




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)