Friday, January 04, 2013

Grading the Fiscal Cliff Deal: Terrible, but Could Be Worse

The faux drama in Washington is finally over. The misfits in Washington reached a deal on the fiscal cliff.

Republicans and Democrats managed to come together and decide that they should get a bigger slice of what the American people earn. Gee, what a surprise.

First, the good news:

Oh, wait, there isn’t any.

Now for the bad news.

The top tax rate will increase to 39.6 percent for entrepreneurs, investors, small business owners, and other “rich” taxpayers making more than $400,000 ($450,000 for married couples). This is Obama’s big victory. He gets his class-warfare trophy.

The double tax on dividends and capital gains climbs from 15 percent to 20 percent (23.8 percent if you include the Obamacare tax on investment income).

The death tax rate is boosted from 35 percent to 40 percent (which doesn’t sound like a big step in the wrong direction until you remember it was 0 percent in 2010).

The alternative minimum tax will still exist, though it will be “patched” to protect as many as 30 million households from being swept into this surreal parallel tax system that requires people to use a second method of calculating their taxes – with the government getting the greatest possible amount.

Unemployment benefits are extended, ensnaring more Americans in joblessness.

Medicare spending is increased as part of a “doc fix” to increase reimbursement payments for providers.

But let’s not delude ourselves. This deal is not good for the economy. It doesn’t do anything to cap the burden of government spending. It doesn’t reform entitlement programs.

And we may even lose the sequester, the provision that was included in the 2011 debt limit that would have slightly reduced the growth of government over the next 10 years.

What a dismal start to 2013.



Becoming Europe

It’s a fair bet that every American who’s travelled outside the United States has heard people complaining about their societies becoming “Americanized.” By this, they usually mean the proliferation of things such as American television and fast-food chains (though that rarely stops them from watching Hollywood films or eating McDonalds).

More recently, however, millions of Americans have begun wondering if our own country is becoming “Europeanized.”

In one sense, to say that America is becoming like Europe seems odd. After all, when it comes to its dominant political ideas, religious culture, institutions and history, America is obviously Europe’s child.

That, however, is not what Europeanization means today. Instead it’s about the spread throughout America of economic expectations and arrangements directly at odds with our republic’s founding.

These lead to the prioritizing of economic security over economic liberty; to the state annually consuming close to 50% of GDP; to the ultimate economic resource (i.e., people) aging and declining in numbers; to extensive regulation becoming the norm; and perhaps above all, to a situation in which economic incentives lie not in work, economic creativity and risk-taking, but rather in access to political power.

Unfortunately there’s a great deal of evidence suggesting America is slouching down the path to Western Europe. In practical terms, that means social-democratic economic policies: the same policies that have turned many Western European nations into a byword for persistently high unemployment, rigid labor markets, low-to-zero economic growth, out-of-control debt and welfare states, absurdly high tax levels, growing numbers of well-paid government workers, a near-obsession with economic equality at any cost and, above all, a stubborn refusal to accept that things simply can’t go on like this.

It’s very hard to deny similar trends are becoming part of America’s economic landscape. States like California are already there — just ask the thousands of Californians and businesses who have fled the land of Nancy Pelosi.

Europeanization is also reflected in the refusal of so many Americans to take our nation’s debt crisis seriously. Likewise, virtually every index of economic freedom and competitiveness shows that, like most Western European nations, America’s position vis-à-vis other countries is in decline.

Between January 2008 and January 2011, for example, there was a marked growth in the amount of regulation in America — the pace being almost 40% more than the annual rate of increase between 1992 and 2008. Similarly, between 2008 and 2011 the number of people working in federal government regulatory agencies rose by 16% — a total of more than 276,000 people — at a time when private-sector employment was falling.

It’s no wonder the Nobel economist Robert E. Lucas asked in his 2011 Milliman Lecture at the University of Washington whether America was now “imitating European policies on labor markets, welfare and taxes.”

Such trends are deeply troubling. But here’s the good news. First, there remain many ways in which America has not succumbed to eurosclerosis. Risk-taking and entrepreneurship-levels remain, for example, much higher than in Europe. America’s labor markets also remain more flexible than those of Europe (despite American unions’ best efforts to the contrary).

Second, the problems of nations like Greece, Italy, Spain, Britain and France are functioning as a type of early-warning system. They’re enough of a “canary in the coal mine” to help us make the right decisions and get back to the principles that made the United States an economic superpower.

And this is the choice which increasingly faces America. We can either continue our long march towards a form of social democracy presided over by an all-pervasive European-like political class and associated insider-groups; or, we can embrace a dynamic market economy that takes liberty seriously and understands that government intervention in the economy must and can be limited.

Of course making such a decision isn’t simple. It involves trade-offs, the prioritization of different values, and fundamental disagreements about the role of government. And these discussions go beyond economics. They are arguments about what type of economic culture we want America to embrace and reflect to the millions throughout the world for whom the United States remains a lodestar for freedom.

But make no mistake, time is running out for America. We don’t have to become Europe. Yet the deeper the debt, the bigger the entitlements, the greater the regulations, and the more Americans look to government for their economic salvation, the harder it becomes for America to turn back from the road to permanent economic decline.

A great European and honorary American citizen Winston Churchill once said: “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing — after they’ve tried everything else.” I hope and pray he’s still right.



A Bogus Example of Controlling Inflation with Price Controls

As the U.S. government prepared for and then engaged fully in World War II, it made increasingly stringent efforts to control inflation by imposing price controls. Late in 1942, these controls were strengthened substantially, and from early 1943 through mid-1946, when the controls were allowed to lapse, the consumer price index rose very little. These data have often been trotted out to prove that the government can successfully control inflation if only it makes the laws severe enough and the monitoring agency sufficiently large and powerful.

In reality, inflation was not controlled; only the legally revealed prices were controlled. This experience does not require rocket science to understand: if the government makes it illegal and punishable to raise legal prices (or to raise them by more than a stipulated small amount), then sellers will not set legal prices that violate the restrictions.

But legal prices need not be, and during World War II certainly were not, the same as actual prices. Sellers and buyers used a variety of subterfuges to make transactions in violation of the government’s price controls. Sellers might reduce the product’s quality, as many did at the time; require the buyer to wait longer for an order to be filled; require the buyer to purchase unwanted goods in order to purchase wanted ones; require the buyer to pay for bogus goods, as when tenants were required to pay the landlord a hefty sum as “key money,” ostensibly to compensate him for keeping a spare key in case the tenant lost his key; require the buyer to forgo services normally associated with the goods, such as routine maintenance of rented apartments; or require gifts or other ostensible gratuities not ordinarily given to a seller.

Sellers might also simply disregard the posted prices and refuse to sell to anyone except at higher (unlisted and unreported) prices. The methods of evasion were legion.

Milton Friedman and Anna Schwartz and other economists who have made corrections for the understatement of the price level during the war years have shown that even partial corrections are sufficient to establish that the government’s price controls were far from the success claimed at the time and often gullibly swallowed later by economists and historians. (For sources and more detailed discussion, see pp. 89-93 of my book Depression, War, and Cold War.)

Economists are trained in theory, statistics, modeling, and other skills. Historians are trained in the careful scrutiny and interpretation of historical sources. Neither economists nor historians, unfortunately, are trained to use common sense in their work. Postwar proponents of the reimposition of price controls have often pointed to the success of such controls during the war. Yet, despite thousands of employees and an army of volunteer monitors associated with the Office of Price Administration and despite the U.S. Attorney General’s prosecutory zeal in hauling alleged violators into court, the government’s price-control efforts during World War II failed to stem the tide of rising prices set in motion by the huge contemporary increases in the money stock.

Price controls, at most, only create a population of liars. True prices continue to do what the existing economic conditions cause them to do. No one can control the amount of precipitation by passing a law against reporting more than a stipulated amount of rain and snow.



A government too grand to help its people

Bill O'Reilly

Jon Hammar saw combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, but his most brutal foreign experience was in Mexico. Last August, the 27-year-old former Marine corporal was incarcerated by Mexican authorities in Matamoros for trying to register an antique shotgun with customs agents. Foolishly, Cpl. Hammar followed instructions given to him by U.S. Border Patrol agents in Brownsville, Texas. He registered the gun with them and brought the paperwork to the Mexicans to get their stamp of approval in order to carry the gun through the country. Hammar and a friend were driving a Winnebago, hoping to have a nice surfing vacation with some hunting on the side.

Even though the Mexican authorities clearly saw that Hammar was trying to follow the rules, they seized the Winnebago and locked the corporal up in the notoriously corrupt CEDES prison anyway. There he was threatened by other inmates and told by guards that he could buy his way out of the hellhole by paying money to the "right people."

Hammar's parents, who live in South Florida, immediately contacted the State Department and were told to be patient. And so they were. Three months later, Hammar was still incarcerated and had not even seen a judge, and things were becoming increasingly desperate.

That's when his parents gave up on the State Department and contacted the media.

When the story crossed my desk, I found it hard to believe. Cpl. Hammar had served his country honorably, returned to the USA with post-traumatic stress disorder, been treated for nine months in California and simply wanted a vacation after his ordeal. It was obvious that he was being held on bogus charges, and the State Department seemed impotent. When we asked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for a comment, she refused to say anything about the case. A few of her deputies visited Hammar in prison, but the official line was that State could do nothing more.

Sen. Bill Nelson and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen raised some hell about the situation, but things continued to deteriorate. Mexican authorities actually chained Hammar to his bed. Another inmate sent a picture of that out to the press.

In mid-December, the Fox News White House correspondent asked press secretary Jay Carney about the case. President Barack Obama's spokesman looked perplexed and said he did not know anything about it. As unbelievable as that sounds, I believe that Carney was telling the truth. And by telling one truth, Carney indicated another truth: Neither Obama nor Secretary of State Clinton had come to the aid of an American combat veteran who was being abused by Mexican authorities.

Disgusted by our apathetic government, I took the case directly to the government of Mexico. On national television, I bluntly told the new Mexican presidente, Enrique Pena Nieto, that if he did not release Hammar by Christmas, I would lead a boycott of Mexican tourism and products. The next day, Hammar was released after a Mexican judge ruled there had been no intent to commit a crime.

The ordeal cost the Hammar family tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees and untold emotional damage. Thankfully, the corporal did arrive home to South Florida in time to have a nice Christmas with his family. But this story is a cautionary tale for any American traveling outside the USA. If you get into trouble, you will be essentially on your own, even if you are a combat veteran. Our leaders in Washington are basically bureaucrats with short attention spans. If they couldn't work up the energy to help Jon Hammar, they are not going to help you.

True leadership means helping those who are powerless and sincerely need help. That takes time and energy. President Abraham Lincoln set aside one day a week to answer calls for help from the folks. The current administration would not answer a desperate call for months.

As for Mexico, it remains a corrupt country hostile to the rule of law. Let the buyer beware.




List of backup or "mirror" sites here or  here -- for 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)

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a war criminal. Both British and American codebreakers had cracked the Japanese naval code so FDR knew what was coming at Pearl Harbor.  But for his own political reasons he warned no-one there.  So responsibility for the civilian and military deaths at Pearl Harbor lies with FDR as well as with the Japanese.  The huge firepower available at Pearl Harbor, both aboard ship and on land, could have largely neutered the attack.  Can you imagine 8 battleships and various lesser craft firing all their AA batteries as the Japanese came in?  The Japanese naval airforce would have been annihilated and the war would have been over before it began.


Thursday, January 03, 2013

Soaking the rich won't work

And a fat French actor has helped draw attention to that

Governments that are raising tax rates on the wealthy to plug budget holes are doomed to disappointment.

The decision by French actor Gerard Depardieu to flee to lower-taxing Belgium serves as a high-profile example of the folly of targeting the rich for additional taxation.

While the actor stated his reasons for moving were numerous, the 2012 election commitment of French President Francois Hollande to impose a "temporary supertax" of 75 per cent on individuals earning more than €1 million ($1.3 million) annually clearly figured in Depardieu's decision.

Although the French Constitutional Court has recently declared Hollande's 75 per cent rate tax unconstitutional, the French government has signalled its determination to persist with its tax policy, albeit in revised form.

The concerning aspect of the "Depardieu Shrugged" affair is that the French policy stance is hardly an isolated instance in the post-global financial crisis economic environment.

Numerous Western governments have already implemented, or are advocating, extra taxes on the wealthy as an apparent quick-fix to plug burgeoning budget deficits and runaway public debts created by years of excessive expenditure.

Eurozone countries such as Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain have joined France in raising top marginal income tax rates, while France and Spain have increased or re-introduced wealth taxes respectively.

Over the past few years Britain has introduced a raft of tax increases, including on personal incomes and capital gains, targeting the wealthy. In the US, Barack Obama called for raising taxes on families earning more than $250,000 during his 2012 re-election campaign, and has used this proposal as a key plank of recent "fiscal cliff" negotiations with his Republican adversaries.

Those possessing wealth may well be regarded by politicians as an instant source from which to collect extra revenues, but cases abound where governments pursuing "soak the rich" tax policies are subsequently frustrated by lower-than-expected revenues.

An important reason for such outcomes, as has been witnessed, for example, in Britain, as tax increases have not translated into substantial extra revenues, is that increasing taxation tends to dampen labour supply and capital accumulation, thereby hampering economic growth.

As a result of the disincentive effects of taxation, it is conceivable that present tax rates may be set so high that further increases in rates will actually reduce tax revenues received by the government.

Another important dimension to the problem, which seems to be continually discounted by revenue-hungry governments, is that the wealthy can prevent tax discrimination against them by relocating to lower-taxing jurisdictions.

In France, more than 400 homes have been placed on the Paris luxury property market since Hollande's election victory last May, and a number of French high net worth individuals have reportedly already relocated to countries such as Belgium, Luxembourg and Switzerland. It has also been estimated that about two-thirds of Britain's millionaires left the country when the Cameron [It was actually Gordon Brown] government increased the top marginal income tax rate to 50 per cent.

Movements by the wealthy to escape the burden of high taxes are also prevalent within highly decentralised federal systems, such as the US.

Data from the US Internal Revenue Service indicates that the numbers of wealthy tax filers in high-tax states, such as California and New York, have declined in recent years.

By contrast, the numbers of wealthy individuals have grown significantly in recent years in the likes of Texas, which does not impose a state income tax, suggesting some element of mobility from high-tax to low-tax US states in the process.

Even if the wealthy decide to physically remain in their country or region of residence, the integration of the global economy ensures they could relocate their finances or capital to less fiscally oppressive areas of the world with fewer obstacles.

One of the great paradoxes is how the political popularity of taxing the wealthy often overshadows the lack of economic and financial success that such policies deliver.

There seems little question that exorbitant taxes on the wealthy might appeal to the economically prejudiced who believe that rich people attained their wealth through ill-gotten profits raked from poor consumers.

To the extent that tax policies are rationalised on these grounds, the imposition of higher taxes on those with higher incomes in fact represents a political disendorsement of consumer choices.

After all, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs made their abundant fortunes by providing products which pleased customers around the world, just as Gerard Depardieu earned an enormous salary by gaining numerous admirers of his films.

Another populist view is that losing extra dollars in taxation will be far less painful to the wealthy than it would be for those in low to middle income brackets, so the wealthy ought to have their wealth shared about by the force of taxation.

But if high taxes on the wealthy indeed come with little or no pain, why is it that the wealthy often don't sit still, making efforts to relocate their wealth, and even their own person, to lower-taxing environments?

While tax-baiting the wealthy minority might bring politicians some plaudits among the less-wealthy majority, such policies are strewn with dashed revenue expectations and a lack of investor confidence of doing business in countries or regions that partake in such practices.

The weight of economic history will surely adjudge the Hollande supertax experiment as being not unlike a French souffle collapsing upon itself.



Class Warfare Tax Policy Causes Portugal to Crash on the Laffer Curve, but Will Obama Learn from this Mistake?

Back in mid-2010, I wrote that Portugal was going to exacerbate its fiscal problems by raising taxes.  Needless to say, I was right. Not that this required any special insight. After all, no nation has ever taxed its way to prosperity.

We’re now at the end of 2012 and Portugal is still saddled with a weak economy. And the higher taxes haven’t resulted in less red ink. Indeed, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit, government debt has jumped from 93 percent of GDP in 2010 to 124 percent of GDP this year.

Why did higher taxes backfire in Portugal? For the same reasons that higher taxes have failed in Greece, Spain, Bulgaria, France, Italy, the United Kingdom, and so many other nations.

Higher taxes undermine incentives for productive behavior, thus reducing an economy’s potential for growth. This means less economic output, which also means a smaller tax base. This Laffer Curve effect doesn’t necessarily mean less revenue, but it certainly means that tax increases rarely raise as much money as initially projected.

Higher taxes usually are a substitute for the real solution of spending restraint (i.e., Mitchell’s Golden Rule). Politicians oftentimes refuse to reduce the burden of government spending because of an expectation of additional tax revenue. Heck, in many cases, higher taxes trigger an increase in the size and scope of the public sector.

So did Portugal learn any lessons from this failed experiment in Obamanomics?

Hardly. Indeed, the government plans to double down on this approach – even though it’s increasingly apparent that higher tax burdens won’t translate into much – if any – additional tax revenue.

Amazing. The government imposes huge tax hikes, which don’t generate any positive results. Yet even though “tax revenue has fallen considerably below target,” confirming that there are significant Laffer Curve issues, the government chooses to repeat the snake-oil fiscal therapy of higher taxes.

Maybe it’s time for these fiscal pyromaniacs to realize that revenues might be falling because rates are higher. In other words, Portugal not only isn’t at the ideal point on the Laffer Curve (collecting the amount of revenue needed to finance legitimate activities of government), it may even be past the revenue-maximizing part of the curve.

To be fair, there are lots of factors that determine economic performance, so higher tax burdens are just one possible explanation for why the tax base is shrinking or stagnant.

The one thing we can state with certainty, though, is that Portugal’s fiscal problem is too much government spending. The failure to address this problem then leads to very unpleasant symptoms, such as lots of red ink and self-destructive class-warfare tax policy.

If all that sounds familiar, that’s because it’s also a description of what President Obama is proposing for the United States.

At the risk of bearing bad news to close the year, research from both the Bank for International Settlements and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development shows the United States actually faces a bigger long-run fiscal challenge than Portugal.



Austerity Economics Doesn’t Work?

Re:  John Cassidy’s recent New Yorker piece, "It’s Official: Austerity Economics Doesn’t Work"

Is it official? Is austerity economics a failure?  Here’s how Cassidy’s piece begins:
With all the theatrics going on in Washington, you might well have missed the most important political and economic news of the week: an official confirmation from the United Kingdom that austerity policies don’t work.

In making his annual Autumn Statement to the House of Commons on Wednesday, George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, was forced to admit that his government has failed to meet a series of targets it set for itself back in June of 2010, when it slashed the budgets of various government departments by up to thirty per cent. Back then, Osborne said that his austerity policies would cut his country’s budget deficit to zero within four years, enable Britain to begin relieving itself of its public debt, and generate healthy economic growth. None of these things have happened. Britain’s deficit remains stubbornly high, its people have been suffering through a double-dip recession, and many observers now expect the country to lose its “AAA” credit rating.

Unfortunately, this is the only data in the article and it’s pretty strange data. Which data am I referring to? The fact that in June of 2010, Cameron “slashed the budgets of various government departments by up to thirty per cent.” That’s the official confirmation that austerity doesn’t work. If you slash the budgets of “some government departments” and you still get a recession, that confirms that austerity isn’t good for the economy.

That’s like a guy who drinks too much wine, beer and scotch every day claiming he’s not an alcoholic anymore because he reduced his consumption of some varieties of wine by up to 30%. Wouldn’t you want to pay attention to his overall consumption of alcohol? Some government department budgets were reduced by up to 30%? What happened to overall government spending? Cassidy never tell us. There are no data in the article about the overall level of spending in the UK. Cassidy continues:
One of the frustrations of economics is that it is hard to carry out scientific experiments and prove things beyond reasonable doubt. But not in this case. Thanks to Osborne’s stubborn refusal to change course—“Turning back would be a disaster,” he told Parliament—what has been happening in Britain amounts to a “natural experiment” to test the efficacy of austerity economics. For the sixty-odd million inhabitants of the U.K., living through it hasn’t been a pleasant experience—no university institutional-review board would have allowed this kind of brutal human experimentation. But from a historical and scientific perspective, it is an invaluable case study.

Cassidy continues:
At every stage of the experiment, critics (myself included) have warned that Osborne’s austerity policies would prove self-defeating. Any decent economics textbook will tell you that, other things being equal, cutting government spending causes the economy’s overall output to fall, tax revenues to decrease, and spending on benefits to increase. Almost invariably, the end result is slower growth (or a recession) and high budget deficits. Osborne, relying on arguments about restoring the confidence of investors and businessmen that his forebears at the U.K. Treasury used during the early nineteen-thirties against Keynes, insisted (and continues to insist) otherwise, but he has been proven wrong.

If decent economics textbooks teach their students that “cutting government spending causes the economy’s overall output to fall, tax revenues to decrease, and spending on benefits to increase,” and “the end result is slower growth (or a recession) and high budget deficits” then we should be using the indecent ones. Because there’s no conclusive evidence or natural experiment to support that view.
After mentioning how important it is for Americans to learn the lesson that the UK has now learned, Cassidy continues:
Just like the Bush Administration (2008) and the Obama Administration (2009), Gordon Brown’s Labour government had introduced a fiscal stimulus to help turn the economy around. G.D.P. was growing at an annual rate of about 2.5 per cent. Once Osborne’s cuts in spending started to be felt, however, things changed dramatically. In the fourth quarter of 2010, growth turned negative and a double-dip recession began. So far, it has lasted two years. While G.D.P. did expand in the third quarter of this year, the Office of Budget Responsibility, an independent economic agency that Osborne set up, has said that it expects another decline in the current quarter. For 2013, the O.B.R. is forecasting G.D.P. growth of just 1.3 per cent. With the economy so weak, the O.B.R. says that the unemployment rate will tick up from eight per cent to 8.2 per cent next year. That austerity has led to recession is undeniable.

But Cassidy does not give the reader any actual data on those budget cuts of Osborne’s that undeniably caused the recession other than to say that some departments were cut by 30%. So let’s take a look at what actually happened.

I am not an expert on UK economic data so I’m going to give you the two sources I know about, the UK’s Office of National Statistics (ONS) and Eurostat.

There is no reduction in nominal spending in either the Eurostat or ONS data. So no nominal austerity.

In real terms, the Eurostat data show a slight drop in 2010. Less than 1%. Let me write that again. Less than 1%. That’s the austerity that plunged the UK into a double-dip recession according to Cassidy and provided the natural experiment that makes our understanding of austerity official. In 2011, according to Eurostat, real spending fell 4.1%.

Draw your own conclusions.

And of course, these changes in government spending are not the only things that are changing in the world. As Jeffrey Sachs writes in the Financial Times:
And the UK’s slowdown has more to do with the eurozone crisis, declining North Sea oil and the inevitable contraction of the banking sector, than multiyear moves towards budget balance.

Mr. Cassidy has helped his readers know something that probably is not true. There has either been no austerity in the UK or at best, very little. There is no natural experiment here.

SOURCE  (See the original for links and graphics)



List of backup or "mirror" sites here or  here -- for 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)

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a war criminal. Both British and American codebreakers had cracked the Japanese naval code so FDR knew what was coming at Pearl Harbor.  But for his own political reasons he warned no-one there.  So responsibility for the civilian and military deaths at Pearl Harbor lies with FDR as well as with the Japanese.  The huge firepower available at Pearl Harbor, both aboard ship and on land, could have largely neutered the attack.  Can you imagine 8 battleships and various lesser craft firing all their AA batteries as the Japanese came in?  The Japanese naval airforce would have been annihilated and the war would have been over before it began.


Wednesday, January 02, 2013

A journey through America gives hope

Bill Steigerwald
Big, empty, rich and unchanged - that's a pretty boring scouting report for the America I "discovered" along the Steinbeck Highway. You can add a bunch of other boring but fitting words - "beautiful," "safe," "friendly," "clean," and "quiet."

Like Steinbeck, I didn't see the Real America or even a representative cross-section of America, neither of which exist anyway. Because I went almost exactly where Steinbeck went and stopped where he stopped, I saw a mostly White Anglo Saxon Protestant Republican America, not a "diverse and politically correct" Obama one. Mostly rural or open country, it included few impoverished or crime-tortured inner cities and no over-developed/underwater suburbs.

America the Beautiful was hurting in the fall of 2010, thanks to the bums and crooks in Washington and on Wall Street who co-produced the Great Recession. It still had the usual ills that make libertarians crazy and may never be cured: too many government wars overseas and at home, too many laws, politicians, cops, lawyers, do-gooders and preachers.

But America was not dead, dying or decaying. There were no signs of becoming a liberal or conservative dystopia. The U.S. of A., as always, was blessed with a diverse population of productive, affluent, generous, decent people and a continent of gorgeous natural resources.

Everyday of my trip I was surrounded by undeniable evidence of America's underlying health and incredible prosperity. Everywhere I went people were living in good homes, driving new cars and monster pickup trucks and playing with powerboats, motorcycles and snowmobiles. Roads and bridges and parks and main streets were well maintained. Litter and trash were scarce. Specific towns and regions were hurting, and too many people were out of work, but it was still the same country I knew.

I didn't seek out poverty or misery or pollution on my journey, and I encountered little of it. The destitute and jobless, not to mention the increasing millions on food stamps, on welfare or buried in debt, were especially hard to spot in a generous country where taking care of the less fortunate is a huge public-private industry - where even the poor have homes, cars, wide-screen TVs and smart phones.

I saw the familiar permanent American socioeconomic eyesores - homeless men sleeping on the sidewalks of downtown San Francisco at noon, the sun-bleached ruins of abandoned gas-stations on Route 66, ratty trailer homes parked in beautiful locations surrounded by decades of family junk. I saw Butte's post-industrial carcass, New Orleans' struggling Upper Ninth Ward and towns that could desperately use a Japanese car plant.

But the country as a whole was not crippled or even limping. In the fall of 2010, nine in 10 Americans who said they wanted jobs still had them. The one in 10 who were jobless had 99 weeks of extended unemployment benefits and more than 90 percent of homeowners were still making their mortgage payments.

Most of the states I shot through - including Maine, northern New Hampshire and Vermont, upstate New York, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana - had unemployment and foreclosure rates well below the national averages.

I didn't visit the abandoned neighborhoods of poor Detroit. I didn't see battered Las Vegas, where 14.5 percent of the people were unemployed and one in nine houses - five times the national average - had received some kind of default notice in 2010. But I spent almost two weeks in the Great Train Wreck State of California, where jobless and foreclosure rates were higher than the national average and municipal bankruptcies loomed.

America had 140 million more people than it did in 1960, but from coast to coast it was noticeably quiet - as if half the population had disappeared. Despite perfect fall weather, public and private golf courses were deserted. Ball fields were vacant. Parks and highway rest stops and ocean beaches were barely populated. Except for metropolises like Manhattan and San Francisco and jumping college towns like Missoula and Northampton, people in throngs simply did not exist. I went through lots of 30-mph towns that looked like they'd been evacuated a year earlier.

As I drove what's left of the Old Steinbeck Highway - U.S. routes 5, 2, 1, 11, 20, 12, 10, 101 and 66 - it was obvious many important changes had occurred along it since 1960. Industrial Age powerhouses like Rochester, Buffalo and Gary had seen their founding industries and the humans they employed swept away by the destructive winds of technology and global capitalism. Small towns like Calais in northeastern Maine had lost people and jobs, and vice versa.

New Orleans had shrunk by half, and not just because of Katrina. The metro areas of Seattle, San Francisco and Albuquerque had exploded and prospered in the digital age. The populations of the West Coast and the Sunbelt had expanded since 1960. The South had shed its shameful system of apartheid and its overt racism, as well as much of its deep-rooted poverty and ignorance. The Northeast had bled people, manufacturing industries and its once overweening role in determining the nation's political and cultural life.

Change is inevitable, un-stoppable, pervasive. Nevertheless, it was clear that a great deal of what I saw out my car windows had hardly changed at all since Steinbeck and his French poodle Charley raced by.

He saw more farmland and fewer forests than I did, especially in the East. But in many places I passed through almost nothing was newly built. Many farms and crossroads and small towns and churches were frozen in the same place and time they were eons ago, particularly in the East and Midwest.

In Maine the busy fishing village of Stonington was as picturesque as the day Steinbeck left it. He'd recognize the tidy farms of the Corn Belt and the raw beauty of Redwood Country and the buildings if not the people of the Upper Ninth Ward. And at 70 mph whole states - North Dakota and Montana - would look the same to him except for the cell towers and Pilot signs staked out at the interstate exits.

Steinbeck didn't like a lot of things about Eisenhower America - sprawl, pollution, the rings of junked cars and rubbish he saw around cities. And he lamented - not in "Charley" but in letters to pals like Adlai Stevenson - that he thought America was a rotting corpse and its people had become too soft and contented to keep their country great and strong.

But Steinbeck had America's future wrong by 178 degrees. Fifty years later, despite being stuck in an economic ditch, the country was far wealthier, healthier, smarter and more globally powerful and influential than he could have imagined. Its air, water and landscapes were far less polluted. And, most important, despite the exponential growth of the federal government's size and scope and its nanny reach, America in 2010 was also a much freer place for most of its 310 million citizens, especially for women, blacks, Latinos and gays.

You don't have to be a libertarian to know America is not as free as it should be. But there's no denying that today our society is freer and more open than ever to entrepreneurs, new forms of media, alternative lifestyles and ordinary people who want to school their own kids, medicate their own bodies or simply choose Fed Ex instead of the U.S. Post Office.

As for the stereotypical complaints about America being despoiled by overpopulation, overdevelopment and commercial homogenization, forget it. Anyone who drives 50 miles in any direction in an empty state like Maine or North Dakota - or even in north-central Ohio or Upstate New York - can see America's problem is not overpopulation. More often it's under-population. Cities like Butte and Buffalo and Gary have been virtually abandoned. Huge hunks of America on both sides of the Mississippi have never been settled.

From Calais, Me., to Pelahatchie, Miss., I passed down the main streets of comatose small towns whose mayors would have been thrilled to have to deal with the problems of population growth and sprawl. If anyone thinks rural Minnesota, northwestern Montana, the Oregon Coast, the Texas Panhandle or New Orleans's Upper Ninth Ward have been homogenized, taken over by chains or destroyed by too much commercial development, it's because they haven't been there.

The America I traveled was unchained from sea to sea. I had no problem eating breakfast, sleeping or shopping for road snacks at mom & pop establishments in every state. The motels along the Oregon and Maine coasts are virtually all independents that have been there for decades. You can go the length of old Route 66 and never sleep or eat in a chain unless you choose to.

Steinbeck, like many others have since, lamented the loss of regional customs. (I don't think he meant the local "customs" of the Jim Crow South or the marital mores of the Jerry Lee Lewis clan.) I didn't go looking for Native Americans, Amish, Iraqis in Detroit, Peruvians in northern New Jersey or the French-Canadians who have colonized the top edge of Maine. But I had no trouble spotting local flavor in Wisconsin's dairy lands, in fishing towns along Oregon's coast, in the redwood-marijuana belt of Northern California, in San Francisco's Chinatown or the cattle country of Texas.

Not to generalize, but the New York-Hollywood elites believe the average Flyover Person lives in a double-wide or a Plasticville suburb, eats only at McDonald's, votes only Republican, shops only at Wal-Mart and the Dollar Store, hates anyone not whiter than they are, speaks in tongues on Sunday and worships pickup trucks, guns and NASCAR the rest of the week.

Those stereotypes and caricatures are alive and well in Flyover Country. But though I held radical beliefs about government, immigration and drugs that could have gotten me lynched in many places, I never felt I was in a country I didn't like or didn't belong in. Maybe I just didn't go to enough sports bars, churches and political rallies, but for 11,276 miles I always felt at home.



Happy New Year?

Thomas Sowell

The beginning of a new year is often a time to look forward and look back. The way the future looks, I prefer to look back -- and depend on my advanced age to spare me from having to deal with too much of the future.
If there are any awards to be given to anyone for what they did in 2012, one of those rewards should be for prophecy, if only because prophecies that turn out to be right are so rare.

With that in mind, my choice for the prediction of the year award goes to Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal for his column of January 24, 2012 titled: "The GOP Deserves to Lose."

Despite reciting a litany of reasons why President Obama deserved to be booted out of the White House, Stephens said, "Let's just say right now what voters will be saying in November, once Barack Obama has been re-elected: Republicans deserve to lose."

To me, the Republican establishment is the 8th wonder of the world. How they can keep repeating the same mistakes for decades on end is beyond my ability to explain.

Bret Stephens said, back at the beginning of 2012, that Mitt Romney was one of the "hollow men," and that voters "usually prefer the man who stands for something."

Yet this is not just about Mitt Romney. He is only the latest in a long series of presidential candidates backed by a Republican establishment that seems convinced that ad hoc "moderation" is where it's at -- no matter how many of their ad hoc moderates get beaten by even vulnerable, unknown or discredited Democrats.

Back in 1948, when the Democratic Party splintered into three parties, each one with its own competing presidential candidate, Republican candidate Thomas E. Dewey was considered a shoo-in.

Best-selling author David Halberstam described what happened: "Dewey's chief campaign tactic was to make no mistakes, to offend no one. His major speeches, wrote the Louisville Courier Journal, could be boiled down 'to these historic four sentences: Agriculture is important. Our rivers are full of fish. You cannot have freedom without liberty. The future lies ahead...'"

Does this sound like a more recent Republican presidential candidate?

Meanwhile, President Harry Truman was on the attack in 1948, with speeches that had many people saying, "Give 'em hell, Harry." He won, even with the Democrats' vote split three ways.

But, to this day, the Republican establishment still goes for pragmatic moderates who feed pablum to the public, instead of treating them like adults.

It is not just Republican presidential candidates who cannot be bothered to articulate a coherent argument, instead of ad hoc talking points. Have you yet heard House Speaker John Boehner take the time to spell out why Barack Obama's argument for taxing "millionaires and billionaires" is wrong?

It is not a complicated argument. Moreover, it is an argument that has been articulated many times in plain English by conservative talk show hosts and by others in print. It has nothing to do with being worried about the fate of millionaires or billionaires, who can undoubtedly take care of themselves.

What we all should be worried about are high tax rates driving American investments overseas, when there are millions of Americans who could use the jobs that those investments would create at home.

Yet Obama has been allowed to get away with the emotional argument that the rich can easily afford to pay more, as if that is the issue. But it will be the issue if no one says otherwise.

One of the recent sad reminders of the Republicans' tendency to leave even lies and smears unanswered was a television replay of an old interview with the late Judge Robert Bork, whose nomination to the Supreme Court was destroyed by character assassination.

Judge Bork said that he was advised not to answer Ted Kennedy's wild accusations because those false accusations would discredit themselves. That supposedly sophisticated advice cost the country one of the great legal minds of our time -- and left us with a wavering Anthony Kennedy in his place on the Supreme Court.

Some people may take solace from the fact that there are some articulate Republicans like Marco Rubio who may come forward in 2016. But with Iran going nuclear and North Korea developing missiles that can hit California, it may be too late by then.



The Government That Ate America

On Monday morning, the talk in Washington, D. C. -- a city named for a president with entirely modest aspirations when it came to power -- revolved around more than late-night negotiations.

Matters such as income levels, "chained CPI," alternative-minimum tax patches and Medicare payments, swam before the eyes of our elected representatives who, understandably, looked goggle-eyed as they rehearsed their arguments or recounted their labors. The New York Times highlighted Illinois Democrat Richard J. Durbin's account of the proceedings: "It looks awful."

That might be because it is : predictably so. Americans have had a good if unsettling look at the number of patch jobs necessary to make the pistons of modern government move with anything resembling regularity.

The trouble here is obvious. Anyway, it becomes so with a little thought. The bigger the policy questions at stake become, the more numerous the stakeholders become; thus, the dimmer grow the prospects for reconciliation of variant viewpoints. Everybody wants his piece of the action. In a democracy, that means, everybody gets it.

If you've gathered by now this is an anti-big government sermon, you have certainly gathered correctly. Americans perennially bat back and forth the arguments over big government's costs and who ought to pay them. How about introducing into the mix the topic of big government's basic unworkability? Too big to pay for equals too big to work. Can there be any doubt of it?

What's been happening the past decade or so in Washington -- not just since the election -- is the slow-paced screening of a disaster flick, "The Government That Ate America," in which demands that Congress and the president do a bit of everything finally overload the machinery of government. The machinery sputters, fizzles, gasps. Orange and red lights start to flicker. YOU CAN'T HAVE EVERYTHING YOU WANT! is the message the control system flashes.

A national government -- leave aside a multiplicity of state and local governments -- that absorbs a quarter of Gross National Product, as ours does, is the kind of government that ... well, look around Washington today, next week, next month. No short-term deal can get the job done. A government grown too large for its old-fashioned purposes ---"to provide for the common defense, to promote the general welfare, and to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity" -- can safely be pronounced in drastic need of reform.

Both political parties in some measure escorted us to the "fiscal cliff." The party now in general charge, led by the biggest big-government lover ever to inhabit the White House, bears presently the heavier responsibility. But back to guns. Wait till Joe Biden is done rebalancing the economy. He can go on from there to replacing rifles with clubs, plus anything else he may have in mind. With big government, it seems, there's no rest, no recess.




List of backup or "mirror" sites here or  here -- for 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)

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a war criminal. Both British and American codebreakers had cracked the Japanese naval code so FDR knew what was coming at Pearl Harbor.  But for his own political reasons he warned no-one there.  So responsibility for the civilian and military deaths at Pearl Harbor lies with FDR as well as with the Japanese.  The huge firepower available at Pearl Harbor, both aboard ship and on land, could have largely neutered the attack.  Can you imagine 8 battleships and various lesser craft firing all their AA batteries as the Japanese came in?  The Japanese naval airforce would have been annihilated and the war would have been over before it began.


Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Media Bias and the Erosion of First Amendment Ideals

The role of the media in a constitutional democracy is not only to provide information, but also to monitor the affairs of government by exposing excess, hypocrisy and corruption at the highest levels. Indeed, the U.S. Constitution guarantees freedom of the press to facilitate this function. But the media can only fulfill its mission if it rises above the partisan and maintains a bright line between objective reportage and editorial comment.

It cannot do so when reporters’ biases affect their presentation, when opinion is stated as fact or when information at odds with the publisher’s views is distorted or suppressed. Sadly, mainstream reporters seem to have little use for journalistic objectivity when it conflicts with their editorial prejudices or political allegiances. Rather than simply report facts, the media often shapes them in order to influence public opinion; and its partisan predilections are evident in the way it covers all news, from domestic affairs to foreign policy.

The press has been referred to as the “Fourth Estate” since at least the eighteenth century to acknowledge that it wasseparate and apart from the “Three Estates of the Realm,” but no less important for the proper functioning of society. In America, the appellation signified its independence from the three branches of government, which would enable it to act as an impartial observer and report facts at odds with official government positions. But journalists today are frequently blinded by ideological loyalties that undercut their independence and neutrality. News reports are often skewed to favor specific candidates, elected officials and political agendas, and unbalanced diatribes are frequently presented as objective analysis. Thus, content published by thetraditional media outlets often resembles public relations copy more than news.

During the recent U.S. election, the mainstream media was transparent in its support of Barack Obama and did its best to depict Mitt Romney as unflatteringly as possible. It downplayed Mr. Obama’s dismal economic policies, ignored his crippling divisiveness, glossed over his apologetic treatment of Islamists, and excused, misreported or altogether avoided commenting on his myriad foreign policy blunders. The failure to critically probe the terrorist attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya offered but one of the most glaring examples of the media’s bias – although by no means the only one.

Though the fallout from Benghazi continues, the media’s coverage has been marked from the beginning by a reluctance to investigate facts unfavorable to the administration and a tendency to take official statements at face value even when they conflict with facts already known. The press expressed no skepticism regarding the convenient timing relative to the election of the administration’s ludicrous story that the consulate was sacked and four Americans killed, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, because of an internet video critical of Islam. Instead, it avoided critically parsing that part of the story for as long as possible because any discussion of a planned terrorist attack by an al-Qaeda affiliate could have compromised Mr. Obama’s chances for reelection.

Nevertheless, testimony before Congress revealed that the intelligence community – and presumably the White House – knew almost immediately that the assault on the consulate was a terrorist attack meant to coincide with the anniversary of the World Trade Center tragedy. The testimony further revealed that there were no demonstrations outside the consulate, that U.S. intelligence never reported any such demonstrations, and that the consulate staff had repeatedly asked for enhanced security before the attack. In light of this testimony, the White House’s narrative – i.e., that spontaneous demonstrators protesting a supposedly offensive video simply ran amok – was clearly false at the time it was first disseminated.

Of course, reporting what really happened – that an al-Qaeda group executed a pre-planned terrorist assault on September 11th – would have undercut Mr. Obama’s attempts to portray himself as strong on foreign policy by claiming that the death of Osama bin Laden had crippled al-Qaeda into irrelevance.

It stretches credulity to believe the White House did not intend to obfuscate when it sent Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, on a television talk-show junket to pitch the ridiculous story that four Americans were killed in a spontaneous riot over an anti-Islamic video. The White House’s simultaneous efforts to deny that it was engaging in disinformation were inconsistent with Ambassador Rice’s actions and those of its own State Department, which among other things took out advertisements in Pakistan condemning the video. That it took FOX News’s consistent coverage to prod other networks and print media finally to acknowledge the scope of the story, albeit grudgingly, speaks volumes about the mainstream’s inclination to shield Mr. Obama from political embarrassment.

Even after acknowledging the story, the mainstream press declined any probing inquiry as Mr. Obama’s narrative began to unravel. Though the White House’s strategy of lambasting an inconsequential video was recognized as drivel from the start, the media was reluctant to question the story’s veracity so close to election time.

When it became impossible to ignore during the Presidential debates, the media threw Mr. Obama a lifeline in full view of the millions watching on television. Specifically, CNN’s Candy Crowley, moderator of the second debate, assisted Mr. Obama after Governor Romney had chastised him for failing to identify the attack as terrorism in a Rose Garden press conference the day after. In response to Governor Romney’s comment, Ms. Crowley suggested that video of the press conference showed the president had indeed linked the attack to terrorism. However, footage of the Rose Garden conference in its entirety shows that Mr. Obama never specifically labeled the incident terrorism and that Governor Romney had in fact spoken accurately.

The President’s Rose Garden performance was consistent with his interview for the CBSprogram “60 Minutes” the day after the attack, in which he was asked directly whether it was terrorism. Mr. Obama hemmed, hawed and responded that it was too early to draw such a conclusion. But consistent with their pro-Obama bias, the editors of "60 Minutes" suppressed that portion of the interview when the program aired five weeks later. The president’s refusal to implicate terrorism the day after the attack was certainly newsworthy, particularly when contrasted against his later claim that he almost immediately identified it as a terrorist act. Nevertheless, the deleted segment was reinserted on the network’s website only the day before the election, quietly and with no fanfare.

In truth, Mr. Obama would not discuss the possible role of terrorism until more than a week afterward; and his team continued implicating the video for some time thereafter. But as more people testified before Congress, including former CIA Director General Petraeus, it became clear that the official “talking points” prepared by the intelligence community had originally identified the incident as an al-Qaeda terror attack, but that references to al-Qaeda and terrorism were deleted from the text used by the White House.

Despite the timing of these events in relation to the election, the mainstream media refused to question whether the talking points had been altered to assist Mr. Obama in his campaign efforts. If the press were doing its job, however, it would have asked why the President and his proxies continued to offer false explanations about Benghazi, which seemed designed to preserve the fanciful narrative that al- Qaeda was destroyed, terrorism was no longer a threat, and Mr. Obama was a strong foreign policy leader.

The press had not taken such a deferential approach during the Iran-Contra Affair years earlier, when it accused the Reagan administration of malfeasance and criminal conduct. Neither did it pull any punches when it accused former President Bush of intentionally lying about the existence of weapons of mass destruction in order to justify war in Iraq – although reliable intelligence reports showed that inaccurate information concerning Iraq’s weapons capabilities actually came from factions within Iraq seeking to topple Saddam Hussein, not from “war-mongering” Republicans, and that chemical weapons did exist but were likely spirited out of the country to Syria.

In addition to its pro-Obama boosterism, the media’s coverage of Benghazi has been colored by the typically unbalanced approach it takes in reporting on the Mideast in general.

News outlets such as the New York Times routinely slant their reporting to portray Islamist extremism as a consequence of Israeli actions and employ moral equivalence to rationalize terrorism against the West. They pander to those who boycott and delegitimize Israel but never question the mythology underlying Palestinian national claims, the doctrinal antisemitism that bars permanent peace with a Jewish nation, or the history of Arab-Muslim rejectionism and extremism. Moreover, they validate a left-wing that vilifies Israel as a Jewish nation, promotes the myth of global Jewish conspiracies, uses historical revisionism to authenticate Palestinian claims, and find common cause with those who call for Israel’s destruction and the extermination of her people.

The media treat Israel’s friends as reactionary simply for supporting her right to exist, and accuse Israel of impeding peace by defending herself, retaliating against terrorists, building in towns and cities derisively labeled settlements, and exercising autonomy over her capital in Jerusalem, a city that never had an Arab majority or served as the capital of any Arab or Muslim nation.

Mainstream reporters consistently ignore the unrequited concessions Israel has made in the naïve quest for peace. They also denigrate the Jews’ historical connection to their homeland, ignore the doctrinal prohibition against the recognition of a Jewish state, disregard the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to amend its charter calling for Israel’s destruction, and rationalize Palestinian incitement as a reaction to Israeli intransigence – despite the PA’s oft-stated commitment to the phased destruction of Israel. Likewise, the press ignores the antisemitic rhetoric that freely flows from the Arab-Muslim world and from leftist news sources that are never properly vetted.

Then there is the compulsion for publishing blood libels, such as the debunked Mohammed al- Dura hoax, in which a French television station used edited film to suggest that Israeli forces had killed an Arab child being shielded by his father during a supposed standoff with the Israelis. As was proven in a French court, unedited footage showed that the scene was staged, that Israelis were not shooting in the boy’s direction, and that he was not killed or even injured.

During the recent hostilities in Gaza, CNN ran a similar story, implying that an Arab child had been killed in an Israeli rocket attack. Unfortunately for CNN, the alleged attack was reported to have occurred during an extended period when Hamas was firing hundreds of rockets into Israel but the Israelis were withholding fire – facts that were corroborated by other media outlets. Even the New York Times, usually a font of anti-Israel disinformation, was skeptical enough to refuse to run the story.

The media’s bias is not limited to misrepresenting dubious allegations as true. It also uses apologetic tones when discussing Islamist terrorism and shows unskeptical deference to an administration that officially refers to Muslim terrorist acts as “manmade disasters,” considers the Muslim Brotherhood a moderate organization despite its jihadist goals, and seeks rapprochement with Islamist dictatorships. Ironically, it has no problem condemning Israel for the simple act of self-defense or describing her as an apartheid state, though her Arab citizens have full political, social and economic rights.

One would think the media has an obligation to report accurately, and in fact the Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists (“SPJ”) instructs its members to “seek truth and report it.” The SPJ’s Code, among other things, states that “[j]ournalists should be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information…,” admonishes them to “[t]est the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error,” and warns that “[d]eliberate distortion is never permissible.” But these dictates are advisory only and routinely flouted. In fact, the SPJ takes the position that it cannot legally enforce its code, as explained in the following advisory comment:

“The SPJ Code of Ethics is voluntarily embraced by thousands of journalists, regardless of place or platform, and is widely used in newsrooms and classrooms as a guide for ethical behavior. The code is intended not as a set of “rules” but as a resource for ethical decision-making. It is not — nor can it be under the First Amendment — legally enforceable.”

This disclaimer is very convenient for relieving SPJ members of real responsibility. It also constitutes a glaring misstatement of Constitutional law. Specifically, the First Amendment only prohibits the government from restricting freedom of expression and the press (although there are exceptions). It does not bind private citizens, organizations or associations, particularly those claiming to enforce professional standards. The SPJ’s position that the First Amendment prohibits the enforcement of standards by a voluntary association is simply not true. However, this rationalization bespeaks a much larger problem.

Though journalists see themselves as members of a distinct profession, they require no required specialized academic training and have no mandatory standards of conduct. Whereas traditional professions, including law, medicine, engineering and accountancy, have licensing requirements and enforceable standards, journalism has none; and its practitioners claim to be prohibited legally from enforcing any. Yet there is no basis for asserting that the Constitution prohibits groups such as the SPJ from implementing professional or ethical standards.

Unfortunately, though, the Constitution is often misquoted by those seeking to evade responsibility for exercising restraint. In more extreme circumstances, it is even used to defend hate speech, including antisemitic expressions masked as political criticism of Israel. Still, there is nothing in the First Amendment that would prevent news organizations from administering their own professional standards, as long as the government is not involved in enforcement.

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution contemplates a free and open press to provide accurate information to the public and scrutinize the doings of government. It does not prohibit the press from enforcing standards of fairness, honesty and accuracy.

By failing to require such standards, and by permitting the manipulation of news in order to support specific parties, candidates and causes, the press falls far short of the lofty goals envisioned by the Constitution.

While there certainly is and should be a place for pundits, commentators and diverse opinions in the universe of journalism, reporters should never be permitted to misstate facts to advance their own partisan agendas. In so doing, they transform news into propaganda and abdicate their role as impartial watchdogs of government.



Christianity 'close to extinction' in Middle East

Christianity faces being wiped out of the “biblical heartlands” in the Middle East because of mounting persecution of worshippers, according to a new report.  The study warns that Christians suffer greater hostility across the world than any other religious group.

And it claims politicians have been “blind” to the extent of violence faced by Christians in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

The most common threat to Christians abroad is militant Islam, it says, claiming that oppression in Muslim countries is often ignored because of a fear that criticism will be seen as “racism”.

It warns that converts from Islam face being killed in Saudi Arabia, Mauritania and Iran and risk severe legal penalties in other countries across the Middle East.

The report, by the think tank Civitas, says: “It is generally accepted that many faith-based groups face discrimination or persecution to some degree.

"A far less widely grasped fact is that Christians are targeted more than any other body of believers.”

It cites estimates that 200 million Christians, or 10 per cent of Christians worldwide, are “socially disadvantaged, harassed or actively oppressed for their beliefs.”

“Exposing and combating the problem ought in my view to be political priorities across large areas of the world. That this is not the case tells us much about a questionable hierarchy of victimhood,” says the author, Rupert Shortt, a journalist and visiting fellow of Blackfriars Hall, Oxford.

He adds: “The blind spot displayed by governments and other influential players is causing them to squander a broader opportunity. Religious freedom is the canary in the mine for human rights generally.”

The report, entitled Christianophobia, highlights a fear among oppressive regimes that Christianity is a “Western creed” which can be used to undermine them.

The “lion’s share” of persecution faced by Christians arises in countries where Islam is the dominant faith, the report says, quoting estimates that between a half and two-thirds of Christians in the Middle East have left the region or been killed in the past century.

“There is now a serious risk that Christianity will disappear from its biblical heartlands,” it claims.

The report shows that “Muslim-majority” states make up 12 of the 20 countries judged to be “unfree” on the grounds of religious tolerance by Freedom House, the human rights think tank.

It catalogues hundreds of attacks on Christians by religious fanatics over recent years, focusing on seven countries: Egypt, Iraq, Pakistan, Nigeria, India, Burma and China.

It claims George Bush’s use of the word “crusade” after the September 11 attacks on New York created the impression for Muslims in the Middle East of a “Christian assault on the Muslim world”.

“But however the motivation for violence is measured, the early twenty-first century has seen a steady rise in the strife endured by Christians,” the report says.

The 2003 invasion of Iraq left Iraqi Christians “more vulnerable than ever”, highlighted by the 2006 beheading of a kidnapped Orthodox priest, Fr Boulos Iskander, and the kidnapping of 17 further priests and two bishops between 2006 and 2010.

“In most cases, those responsible declared that they wanted all Christians to be expelled from the country,” the report says.


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 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)

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a war criminal. Both British and American codebreakers had cracked the Japanese naval code so FDR knew what was coming at Pearl Harbor.  But for his own political reasons he warned no-one there.  So responsibility for the civilian and military deaths at Pearl Harbor lies with FDR as well as with the Japanese.  The huge firepower available at Pearl Harbor, both aboard ship and on land, could have largely neutered the attack.  Can you imagine 8 battleships and various lesser craft firing all their AA batteries as the Japanese came in?  The Japanese naval airforce would have been annihilated and the war would have been over before it began.


Monday, December 31, 2012


Though some gloomy thoughts are realistic too as we look ahead


The economic future


I am afraid she might be right


But this might give us hope

An American teen (in the yellow hazard suit) who built a working fusor (nuclear fusion reactor) in his spare time.  A society that produces such a kid and gives him such opportunities has unfathomable potential.  And he is not alone.  Other hobbyists build fusors.



And even the Soviets allowed this music to thrive

The piano player, Emil Gilels, was a Ukrainian Jew and a Soviet citizen


Generation Obama: Unemployed, Debt-Ridden, and Homeless

It might seem easy to say, “you get what you vote for,” to the millions of young voters who supported President Obama and now can’t find work.

But, with a record number of young Americans becoming homeless, blaming the victim of President Obama’s well-crafted rhetoric doesn’t seem right.

In one of his last campaign speeches, President Obama told a crowd of people at the University of Wisconsin--Madison, “We tried our ideas; they worked. The economy grew. We created jobs.”

This sham President Obama cooked-up is nothing short of immoral for the millions of young Americans that have been living in Obama’s economic hell the last four years.

The Democratic Party renders themselves as the party of compassion, yet under any measurement, young Americans have never been more economically miserable under any other President in recorded history.

And, the misery continues to worsen. A recent article in The New York Times reported that young people are “the new face of a national homeless population, one that poverty experts and case workers say is growing.” And according to Andrea Bailey, the executive director of the Community Food and Outreach Center, it is becoming increasingly more common for young people to seek help from homeless shelters.

The cities of Los Angeles and Boston attempted to count the exact number of young Americans that have been forced to move onto the streets. In 2011, it was estimated that 3,600 young Americans were living on the streets of Los Angeles. The number rises significantly if you count those temporarily sleeping on their friends’ couch.

The amount of young Americans in Boston seeking shelter represented 12 percent of the total homeless population in 2011, up 3 percentage points from the previous year. But they fear that this isn’t anywhere close to the actual number of young Americans occupying their streets. “It’s a significant enough jump to know that it’s also just the tip of the iceberg,” said Jim Greene, director of emergency shelters for the Boston Public Health Commission.

This news is incredibly disheartening, but should we be surprised? No. While President Obama boasted from his ivory towers on the campaign trail that over 4.5 million jobs have been created in the last four years, young Americans have had a drastically different experience.

In the last four years under President Obama, 397,000 youth jobs were destroyed and youth unemployment averaged 17.5 percent--the highest level in recorded history. 53 percent of recent graduates are unemployed or underemployed, and young Americans currently represent 40 percent of the total unemployed population.

While recent numbers suggest youth unemployment is going down, more young people continue to drop out of the work force. In the month of November alone, 153,000 young Americans ages 20-24 completely gave up looking for work and the Labor Force Participation rate dropped from 54.4 percent to 54.1 percent.

I guess they didn’t want anything to do with those 4.5 million private sector jobs that President Obama claimed he created.

Youth unemployment is a serious problem. Homelessness is even more unfathomable. But the real concern lies in the mentality that this type of environment is creating among Millennials.

Anyone forced to live a life on the streets lives a life of survival. Instead of looking for a job, you’re looking for the next meal. Instead of helping businesses grow and create jobs for these young people, President Obama has been satisfied growing the welfare state and providing the next meal. The government food stamp program has grown 50 percent during his term.

The Obama economy is taking the wind out of the sails of these young Americans fresh out of college who truly wanted to start their careers. This President and this economy are breeding a new generation of entitlement and dependency by letting young people believe that it is acceptable to solely rely on the government.

But this won’t get them very far. Young people were sold a bill of goods this election, and they bought it--even after the last four years of economic hell. It’s only downhill from here.

Conservatives have failed to step in and articulate the message that more freedom and less government spending create more jobs and more independence for young people. Until they do so--or until our economy totally fails--young Americans will continue to fall into the Obama entitlement trap.

With no jobs and nowhere to turn but to President Obama, an overwhelming majority of the population will be in favor of a dependency-centered, debt-ridden government. We see it happening in Europe, and look where it’s gotten them. We’d be naive to think it wouldn’t happen here. Conservative leaders have the moral obligation to propose a brighter future for young Americans and our country to ensure it doesn’t.



Tackling Fairness and Justice

The last year has been a tough one for conservatives. The hope that four years of failed policy would be enough to repudiate the liberal/progressive ideology of the Obama administration ended when the majority of the American public voted to maintain their entitlements -- so long as someone else paid for them. And the conservative response to the debacle has been for the various factions within the movement to declare war on each other.

It's time for conservatives to give serious thought to what they believe and how they can make a more persuasive case that conservative principles offer the best path for America. Conservatives have to do more than invoke small government, lower taxes and protection of the family. They have to explain the principles on which such policies are based and why those principles are more likely to fulfill the promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness on which the nation was founded.

Liberals always argue for their policies on the basis of fairness and justice. It's only fair, they say, that those who have the most share what they have with those who have less. The whole basis of the progressive tax system rests on this principle -- and it is at the heart of the Obama tax message even now.

Conservatives' arguments that this economic redistribution will harm the economy (it will) or that the taxes raised still won't be enough to pay for ever-expanding entitlements (they won't) never confront the false premise that the principle is just and fair in the first place. Here is where conservatives seem to have lost their footing, almost as if they no longer know why they believe what they do.

The idea that it is right and just for one group of persons to take from another the fruits of their labor simply because they have more political power would strike most people as unjust. Yet, the debate around raising tax rates on the rich ultimately boils down to that.

At least in the short run, we could raise more revenue to pay for government programs by raising taxes on everyone -- rich and middle class alike (few people argue for making the poor pay taxes) -- than we could by taxing only those who earn $250,000 or more. No politician argues for that because middle class Americans still make up the voting majority in this country and the middle class have no interest in redistributing their own hard-earned wealth. And why should they? Most people believe they're entitled to what they've earned through their own efforts.

But this natural response actually stems from an understanding that it is a basic right for a man to enjoy the rewards of his own labor. If a man works twice as hard as his neighbor or is more skillful, is it really fair or just to say that that individual should be entitled to keep less of what he earns?

That is not to say that conservatives should forget about the poor and needy, but here again, their arguments should rest on principle not politics. There is no right to be taken care of (except among children, the severely disabled or very old). But there is a moral obligation -- for the individual and community -- to take care of those who cannot take care of themselves. So, too, is there a moral obligation on the part of the individual not to take advantage of others' charity to avoid taking care of himself and his family -- if at all possible. Conservatives too often act as if the problem with social welfare programs is that they cost too much, rather than to point out the way in which they breach both moral obligation and responsibility.

It's not too late for conservatives to try to make these arguments -- but first they have to understand them and believe them themselves. Conservatives shouldn't concede the justice or fairness arguments of liberals; they should tackle them head on.



Religious business owners determined to enforce their First Amendment rights

Now that Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor has denied Hobby Lobby’s application for an emergency injunction protecting them from Obamacare’s HHS Mandate on abortion and birth control, Hobby Lobby has decided to defy the federal government to remain true to their religious beliefs, at enormous risk and financial cost.
Hobby Lobby is wholly owned and controlled by the Green family, who are evangelical Christians. The Greens are committed to running their business in accordance with their Christian faith, believing that God wants them to conduct their professional business in accordance with the family’s understanding of the Bible. Hobby Lobby’s mission statement includes, “Honoring the Lord in all we do by operating the company … consistent with Biblical principles.”

The HHS Mandate goes into effect for Hobby Lobby on Jan. 1, 2013. The Greens correctly understand that some of the drugs the HHS Mandate requires them to cover at no cost in their healthcare plans cause abortions.

Today Hobby Lobby announced that they will not comply with this mandate to become complicit in abortion, which the Greens believe ends an innocent human life. Given Hobby Lobby’s size (it has 572 stores employing more than 13,000 people), by violating the HHS Mandate, it will be subject to over $1.3 million in fines per day. That means over $40 million in fines in January alone. If their case takes another ten months to get before the Supreme Court—which would be the earliest it could get there under the normal order of business—the company would incur almost a half-billion dollars in fines. And then of course the Supreme Court would have to write an opinion in what would likely be a split decision with dissenters, which could easily take four or six months and include hundreds of millions of dollars in additional penalties.

This is civil disobedience, consistent with America’s highest traditions when moral issues are at stake. The Greens are a law-abiding family. They have no desire to defy their own government. But as the Founders launched the American Revolution because they believed the British government was violating their rights, the Greens believe that President Barack Obama and Secretary Kathleen Sebelius are commanding the Greens to sin against God, and that no government has the lawful authority to do so.

The Christian tradition of defying government commands to do something wrong goes back to the very birth of Christianity. When the apostles were ordered not to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with anyone, the Book of Acts records: “Peter and the other apostles replied: ‘We must obey God rather than men! The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead—whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree.’”

Eleven of the twelve apostles—including Peter—would lose their lives for the sake of spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ; only the apostle John died of old age. They were determined to obey God’s will at all costs.

This issue of civil disobedience is never to be undertaken lightly. The Bible teaches Christians to submit to all legitimate governmental authority (e.g., Romans 13:1), and so a person can only disobey the government when there is no other way to obey God.

But here in America, the Constitution is the Supreme Law of the Land, and in its First Amendment it protects against a government establishment of an official religion and separately protects the free exercise of religion. On top of that, Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) to specifically add an additional layer of protection against government actions that violate a person’s religious beliefs.

The HHS Mandate is a gross violation of the religious beliefs of the Green family. The issue before the courts here is whether the Greens religious-liberty rights include running their secular, for-profit business consistent with their religious beliefs. In other words, is religious liberty just what you do in church on a Sunday morning, or does it include what you do during the week at your job?

The Greens are now putting their fortunes on the line to do what they believe is right. The courts should side with them, affirming a broad scope of religious liberty under the Constitution and RFRA. And the Supreme Court should resolve this matter with dispatch in their favor.

Millions of Christians across the country feel exactly the same way as the Greens. The Obama administration has issued a statist command that is a declaration of war on people of faith who object to abortion, and civil disobedience could break out all over the country unless the courts set this matter right—and quickly.




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

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a war criminal. Both British and American codebreakers had cracked the Japanese naval code so FDR knew what was coming at Pearl Harbor.  But for his own political reasons he warned no-one there.  So responsibility for the civilian and military deaths at Pearl Harbor lies with FDR as well as with the Japanese.  The huge firepower available at Pearl Harbor, both aboard ship and on land, could have largely neutered the attack.  Can you imagine 8 battleships and various lesser craft firing all their AA batteries as the Japanese came in?  The Japanese naval airforce would have been annihilated and the war would have been over before it began.