Friday, June 21, 2013

The news


Bill Clinton's war and his crooked and bungling antisemitic general

A war in which Clinton bombed Christians to help Muslims, it was also a military action that was not authorised by the Security Council of the United Nations and was therefore contrary to the provisions of the United Nations Charter.  That set a rather clear precedent for the attack on Iraq by GWB but is rarely condemned, unlike the Iraq action.

Despite having a Jewish father, Clark's views about "New York money people" are well known.  Some of Clark's follies are detailed below  but we should also recollect his order for British forces under his command to attack a  Russian contingent.  Not without amusement, the British refused.  Provoking mutiny is one of the lowest depths of military incompetence

The New York Times op-ed page has a piece by retired General Wesley Clark headlined: “To Get a Truce, Be Ready to Escalate.” The Times summarizes Clark’s wisdom: “The threat of force might get talks over Syria moving, as it did in Kosovo.”

Clark opines as if the military campaign which he headed was a stellar moral and strategic success: “In 1999 in Kosovo, the West used force as leverage for diplomacy. There, a limited NATO air campaign began after diplomatic talks failed to halt Serbian ethnic cleansing. The bombing lasted 72 days, and plans for a ground invasion of Serbia were under way when Mr. Milosevic finally bowed to the inevitable.”

It is stunning that anyone who showcase Clark as a wise man – considering the fiasco that he unleashed in the Balkans. For instance, NATO repeatedly dropped cluster bombs into marketplaces, hospitals, and other civilian areas. Cluster bombs are anti-personnel devices designed to be scattered across enemy troop formations. NATO dropped more than 1,300 cluster bombs on Serbia and Kosovo and each bomb contained 208 separate bomblets that floated to earth by parachute. Bomb experts estimated that more than 10,000 unexploded bomblets were scattered around the landscape when the bombing ended.

NATO worked overtime to explain away its “mistakes.” On April 12, a NATO pilot sent a missile into a passenger train on a railway bridge, killing 14 people. Clark took to the press podium to show the video from the nose of the missile, emphasizing that the pilot was focused on the bridge, “when all of a sudden, at the very last instant, with less than a second to go, he caught a flash of movement that came into a screen and it was the train coming in. Unfortunately, he couldn’t dump the bomb at that point. It was locked, it was going into the target and it was an unfortunate incident which he and the crew and all of us very much regret.” The video was endlessly replayed on Western television stations, driving home the point that, with the speed of modern missiles, there was sometimes nothing pilots could do to avoid catastrophe.

However, in January 2000, the Frankfurter Rundschau revealed that the video was shown at the NATO press conference at triple the actual speed, thus making the attack on civilians look far more inevitable than it actually was. NATO officials had become aware of the deceptive nature of the video several months earlier but saw “no reason” to publicly admit the error, according to a U.S. Air Force spokesman.

On April 14, 1999, NATO bombs repeatedly hit a column of ethnic Albanian refugees a few miles from the Albanian border, killing 75 people. NATO spokesmen initially claimed that Serbian planes carried out the attack and used the incident to further inflame anti-Serbian opinion. Five days later, NATO spokesmen admitted that the deaths had been caused by NATO forces. NATO then released the audio tape from the debriefing of a pilot identified as involved in the attack.

As Newsday reported, “According to officials, the American pilot was selected because he gave a graphic account of Milosevic’s forces torching a series of ethnic Albanian villages near the Kosovo town of Dakojvica Wednesday. The pilot told how he selected a three-truck military convoy for a laser-guided bomb strike when he saw it pulling away from a village where fires were just starting.”

However, this gambit backfired when high-ranking military officers protested that NATO, at Clark’s urging, had released the tape of a pilot who had nothing to do with bombing the refugee column. The pilot’s words were a red herring to distract attention from the carnage inflicted on the refugees.

The main achievement of the war was that, instead of Serbs terrorizing ethnic Albanians, ethnic Albanians terrorized Serbs; instead of refugees fleeing south and west, refugees headed north.

Unfortunately, few Americans paid close enough attention to the Kosovo war to recognize the danger of permitting the U.S. government and military commanders to go crusading with bombs dropped from 15,000 feet.

Thus, Clark is treated with respect when he recommends unleashing the same recipe for carnage in Syria.



Hospital Pricing Strategies

CNN and Time Magazine discovered how hospital charges mounted for one family. Nurses pricked the patient’s finger for a glucose test 190 times. At $39 a pop that totaled $7,410. A breathing ventilator generated 32 separate bills, totaling $65,600. There were separate charges for the IV tube and for asking for a urine bottle.

A box of tissues is a “mucus recovery system.” A teddy bear is a “cough suppression device” and can cost between $128 and $200.

Remember those little white cups fast food restaurants give you for free to put ketchup in? In fact there are restaurants giving them away for free in the lobby areas of many hospitals. In the hospital room, however, these are billed as “oral administration fees” and for one patient they totaled $5,000.

How could things be different? They already are different. Show me a market where there is no BlueCross, no Medicare and no employer paying the bills and you very likely have found a health care market that works very well, as I point out in my recent book “Priceless: Curing the Healthcare Crisis.”

All over the country, retail establishments are offering primary care services to cash-paying patients. Because these services arose outside of the third-party payment system, their prices are free market prices. Walk-in clinics, doc-in-the-box clinics, and freestanding emergency care clinics post prices and usually deliver high quality care.

Cosmetic surgery is rarely covered by insurance. Because providers know their patients must pay out of pocket and are price-sensitive, patients can typically (1) find a package price in advance covering all services and facilities, (2) compare prices prior to surgery, and (3) pay a price that has been falling over time in real terms — despite a huge increase in volume and considerable technical innovation (which is blamed for increasing costs for every other type of surgery).

In the market for LASIK surgery, patients face package prices covering all aspects of the procedure. As with cosmetic surgery, whenever there is price transparency and price competition, the cost tends to be controlled. From 1999 (when eye doctors began performing LASIK in volume) through 2011, the real price of conventional LASIK fell about one-fourth.

Medical services for cash-paying patients have popped up in numerous market niches where third-party payment has left needs unmet. It is surprising how often providers of these services offer the very quality enhancements that critics complain are missing in traditional medical care.

Bottom line: Markets in medical care can work and work well — especially when third-party payers are not involved.



Overkill: Why This Gigantic "Intelligence" Apparatus?

On July 19, 2010, the Washington Post published the first of three large reports by Dana Priest and William M. Arkin on the dimensions of the gigantic US apparatus of "intelligence" activities being undertaken to combat terrorist acts against the United States, such as the 9/11 attacks. To say that this activity amounts to mobilizing every police officer in the country to stop street fights in Camden only begins to suggest its almost-unbelievable disproportion to the alleged threat.

Among Priest and Arkin's findings from a two-year study are the following:

The top-secret world the government created in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, has become so large, so unwieldy and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work.

[We] discovered what amounts to an alternative geography of the United States, a Top Secret America hidden from public view and lacking in thorough oversight. After nine years of unprecedented spending and growth, the result is that the system put in place to keep the United States safe is so massive that its effectiveness is impossible to determine.

Some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States.

An estimated 854,000 people, nearly 1.5 times as many people as live in Washington, D.C., hold top-secret security clearances.
In Washington and the surrounding area, 33 building complexes for top-secret intelligence work are under construction or have been built since September 2001. Together they occupy the equivalent of almost three Pentagons or 22 U.S. Capitol buildings — about 17 million square feet of space.

Many security and intelligence agencies do the same work, creating redundancy and waste. For example, 51 federal organizations and military commands, operating in 15 U.S. cities, track the flow of money to and from terrorist networks.

Analysts who make sense of documents and conversations obtained by foreign and domestic spying share their judgment by publishing 50,000 intelligence reports each year — a volume so large that many are routinely ignored.

According to retired admiral Dennis C. Blair, formerly the director of national intelligence, after 9/11 "the attitude was, if it's worth doing, it's probably worth overdoing." I submit that this explanation does not cut to the heart of the matter. As it stands, it suggests a sort of mindless desire to pile mountains of money, technology, and personnel on top of an already-enormous mountain of money, technology, and personnel for no reason other than the vague notion that more must be better. In my view, national politics does not work in that way.

As Priest and Arkin report, "The U.S. intelligence budget is vast, publicly announced last year as $75 billion, 2 ½ times the size it was on September 10, 2001. But the figure doesn't include many military activities or domestic counterterrorism programs." Virtually everyone the reporters consulted told them in effect that "the Bush administration and Congress gave agencies more money than they were capable of responsibly spending." To be sure, they received more than they could spend responsibly, but not more than they were eager to spend irresponsibly. After all, it's not as if they were spending their own money.

"The most plausible reason why so few attacks have occurred is that very few persons have been trying to carry them out."
Why would these hundreds of organizations and contracting companies be willing to take gigantic amounts of the taxpayers' money when everyone agrees that the money cannot be spent sensibly and that the system already in place cannot function effectively or efficiently to attain its ostensible purpose? The question answers itself. It's loot for the taking, and there has been no shortage of takers. Indeed, these stationary bandits continue to demand more money each year.

And for what? The announced goal is to identify terrorists and eliminate them or prevent them from carrying out their nefarious acts. This is simultaneously a small task and an impossible one.

It is small because the number of persons seeking to carry out a terrorist act of substantial consequence against the United States and in a position to do so cannot be more than a handful. If the number were greater, we would have seen many more attacks or attempted attacks during the past decade — after all, the number of possible targets is virtually unlimited, and the attackers might cause some form of damage in countless ways. The most plausible reason why so few attacks or attempted attacks have occurred is that very few persons have been trying to carry them out. (I refer to genuine attempts, not to the phony-baloney schemes planted in the minds of simpletons by government undercover agents and then trumpeted to the heavens when the FBI "captures" the unfortunate victims of the government's entrapment.)

So the true dimension of the terrorism problem that forms the excuse for these hundreds of programs of official predation against the taxpayers is small — not even in the same class with, say, reducing automobile-accident or household-accident deaths by 20 percent.

Yet, at the same time, the antiterrorism task is impossible because terrorism is a simple act available in some form to practically any determined adult with access to Americans and their property at home or abroad. It is simply not possible to stop all acts of terrorism if potential terrorists have been given a sufficient grievance to motivate their wreaking some form of havoc against Americans. However, it is silly to make the prevention of all terrorist acts the goal. What can't be done won't be done, regardless of how many people and how much money one devotes to doing it. We can, though, endure some losses from terrorism in the same way that we routinely endure some losses from accidents, diseases, and ordinary crime.

The sheer idiocy of paying legions of twenty-something grads of Harvard and Yale — youngsters who cannot speak Arabic, Farsi, Pashtun, or any of the other languages of the areas they purport to be analyzing and who know practically nothing of the history, customs, folkways, and traditions of these places — indicates that no one seriously expects the promised payoff in intelligence to emerge from the effort. The whole business is akin to sending a blind person to find a needle inside a maze buried somewhere in a hillside.

That the massive effort is utterly uncoordinated and scarcely able to communicate one part's "findings" to another only strengthens the conclusion that the goal is not stopping terrorism, but getting the taxpayers' money and putting it into privileged pockets. Even if the expected damage from acts of terrorism against the United States were $10 billion per year, which seems much too high a guess, it makes no sense to spend more than $75 billion every year to prevent it — and it certainly makes no sense to spend any money only pretending to prevent it.

What we see here is not really an "intelligence" or counterterrorism operation at all. It's a rip-off, plain and simple, fed by irrational fear and continually stoked by the government plunderers who are exercising the power and raking in the booty to "fight terrorism."



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC,  AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated) and Coral reef compendium. (Updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten.

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Thursday, June 20, 2013

Somebody owes the Heritage Foundation an apology

Disagreements happen all the time in Congress. It is a natural part of any democracy. But what doesn't happen all the time is a sitting senator essentially calling a witness a liar.

And that is exactly what Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., did to Heritage Foundation scholar Dr. Salim Furth during a Senate Budget Committee hearing on June 4th titled, "The Fiscal and Economic Effects of Austerity."

During that hearing, Furth testified that "austerity" is an overly broad term often used to obfuscate the true mix of spending cuts and tax hikes governments use to lower their debt burdens. He said that while spending cuts can often improve economic growth, tax hikes only harm the economy and often make debt worse.

To bolster his claims, Furth cited data from the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) showing that, "to date, 'austerity' in Europe has consisted mainly of tax increases."

For example in France, where unemployment is currently at a 15-year high, taxes as a percentage of GDP rose 2.6 percent between 2007 and 2012. By anyone's definition that is austerity.

But during those same years, government spending as a percentage of GDP went up, not down, by 7.2 percent. That is in no way austere. And it cuts against everything Senate Budget Democrats are trying to do. Like France, Democrats want to hike spending and taxes.

So when Whitehouse got his turn to ask the witnesses questions, he lit into the Heritage expert. "Dr. Furth, I am very concerned about your testimony," Whitehouse began, "I am concerned that your testimony to this committee has been meretricious."

Whitehouse then produced a chart showing that, among other things, not only had France cut spending, which was the opposite of what Furth testified, but that France had cut spending far more than they raised taxes.

According to Whitehouse's chart, 53 percent of France's austerity measures have come from spending cuts compared to 47 percent from tax hikes.

"I am contesting whether you have given us fair and accurate information," Whitehouse continued. "When you look at the actual balance between spending cuts and tax increases, that the OECD uses it self, to describe what took place in Europe, I cannot connect that to where you come out."

Clearly, Whitehouse believed he had caught Furth and The Heritage Foundation in a bald face lie. So happy was Whitehouse with his work that his staff quickly fed video of the exchange to The Washington Post's Dylan Matthews, who then wrote a story on the exchange agreeing with Whitehouse.

That post was then picked up by New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, who wrote, "one does wonder, by the way, whether Heritage may at this point be destroying its own usefulness... Is there anyone not a committed right-winger who, at this point, believes anything coming out of Heritage?" (Disclosure: This writer worked at Heritage for three years as assistant director of strategic communications.)

There is just one problem with Whitehouse's big gotcha moment: The staffer who spoon-fed Whitehouse his OECD numbers on "the actual balance between spending cuts and tax increases" failed to also show Whitehouse the front page of the OECD report from which those numbers came.

That report is titled: "Fiscal consolidation targets, plans and measures in OECD countries."

Turns out, the numbers Whitehouse used to attack Furth for misreporting "what took place in Europe" were actually mostly projections of what governments said they were planning to do in the future (the report was written in December 2011 and looked at data from 2009 and projections through 2015).

At no point in Furth's testimony did he ever claim to be reporting about what governments were going to do in the future. He very plainly said his analysis was of actual spending and taxing data "to date."

Odds are that Whitehouse made an honest mistake. Senators can't be expected actually to read the title page of every report from which they quote.

But, considering he was the one who was very clearly in error, and not Furth, he owes Furth, and The Heritage Foundation an apology. Krugman and Matthews would be well advised to revisit the facts as well.



Left guilty of hypocrisy on freedom, terrorism

There are many idealistic progressives who've remained opposed to the National Security Agency's data mining programs regardless of who is in the White House. (We can't surrender our freedom for safety, you know!) It's only a shame that these same people have such little reverence for constitutional liberties in other areas of public life.

Really, it's worse than that. Consider the central case of the left these days: "Unfettered" freedom is a tragedy -- decadent, unfair and un-American. So if, as liberals like to argue, it's a moral imperative for Americans to scale back personal liberty to build a cleaner, fairer and healthier world, shouldn't we be willing to do the same to protect the nation from terrorists?

Why one and not the other? If Washington can shield you from the vagaries of economic life, why can't it do the same with terrorists?

Soon after news of the NSA's data mining and Prism programs hit the news, we learned that there are Democrats with an uncanny ability to be malleable, apathetic and partisan in the face of an intrusive state. In January 2006, when George W. Bush was president, Pew Research Center asked Democrats how they felt about the NSA's surveillance programs.

Thirty-seven percent labeled the spying "acceptable," and 61 percent said they were unacceptable. The reverse is true today, as 64 percent of Democrats believe that Barack Obama's surveillance programs are acceptable and 34 percent say they're not.

We could see this as an instance of mass hypocrisy if we assumed that the response is driven by a concern for the snooping itself rather than the administration in charge of the snooping. But it's likelier that folks on the left tend to be idealistic about presidents and less concerned about inquisitive NSA agents.

(No, Republicans aren't innocent by any stretch. But it's fair to say that they've become more ideologically consistent in their skepticism of state power. This position is now popularly defined as fanaticism.)

Even those Democrats who claim to have a special reverence for privacy regularly support policy that undermines it. If this affection for privacy were unwavering, would they be demanding that we expand government-run background checks on firearms?

Would they advocate legislation that forces Americans to ask the Internal Revenue Service for permission to assemble and partake in the political process? Government should be transparent, but shouldn't citizens be free to support politicians without registering with government?

And really, how could someone who claims to value privacy support a law such as the individual mandate, which coerces every American citizen to report the status of his health insurance to the IRS?

And why is privacy a more critical liberty than economic freedom -- or any other freedoms regularly pooh-poohed by progressives? Overregulating trade and markets can be more consequential to the freedom of an average person than any data mining program. Just ask a small-business owner.

Let's face it. Most of the concern about these NSA programs is likely driven by an antipathy toward the war on terror rather than a concern about the corroding of constitutional protections. And though I agree with progressives that we've lost too many liberties in this effort, it's a shame they don't believe we're deserving of similar liberty elsewhere in our lives.

H.L. Mencken wasn't exactly right when he wrote, "The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary."

Let's concede that not all alarms are imaginary. Sometimes we are faced with genuine choice between more freedom and more safety. And as it stands, progressives almost always take the path of more safety. Why should it be different this time?



Obama administration: Some religions are more equal than others

The Obama administration “strongly objects” to a proposed House amendment to the defense authorization bill which would require, in the words of its sponsor, Rep. John Fleming, R-La., “the Armed Forces to accommodate ‘actions and speech’ reflecting the conscience, moral, principles or religious beliefs of the member.”

Fox News has the story. Fleming points to evidence that Christian service members and chaplains are being penalized for expressing their faith. Examples:

The Air Force censored a video created by a chaplain because it include the word “God.” The Air Force feared the word might offend Muslims and atheists.

A service member received a “severe and possibly career-ending reprimand” for expressing his faith’s religious position about homosexuality in a personal religious blog.

A senior military official at Fort Campbell sent out a lengthy email officially instructing officers to recognize “the religious right in America” as a “domestic hate group” akin to the KKK and Neo-Nazis because of its opposition to homosexual behavior.

A chaplain was relieved of his command over a military chapel because, consistent with DOMA’s definition of marriage, he could not allow same-sex weddings to take place in the chapel.

The Obama administration evidently thinks it important that such actions continue to be taken.

There’s a tension between this policy–arguably suppressing expressions of Christian faith–with the White House’s assurance, according to Investor’s Business Daily, that FBI surveillance not including any investigation of mosques.

So, it appears, Christian religious expression must be suppressed, while Muslim religious expression cannot even be monitored. Yes, government can appropriately limit the conduct of members of the military in ways that would be inappropriate in the case of civilians. So there’s not necessarily a contradiction between these policies. And perhaps there’s a need to restrict servicemembers from offending colleagues in a way that would not be appropriate outside the military (and is not on college campuses, where it often occurs).

But it sure looks like a double standard to me: Christianity, bad; Islam, good. I seem to remember, from some ancient reading, the phrase, “or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”



What part of 'no fence, no deal' does the Senate GOP not get?

"A fence from left to right, from east to west, except obviously the mountainous areas," Charles Krauthammer told me on air in an interview in late April.

"We know that fences work," he continued. "If the president tells you fences don't work, ask him why he's got one around the White House."

Krauthammer is easily the most influential commentator on the center-right today, and his position on the need for a very long border fence is a majority position within the conservative movement and indeed far beyond the movement.

Republicans outside of the Beltway are divided into two camps on immigration reform.

Camp one will accept and indeed many will enthusiastically support immigration reform built around real border security, which has as its centerpiece the construction of a very long double-sided fence with mandated design and location, assured funding and "notwithstanding any other law" authority.

That latter provision is to ensure that the fence will not be impeded by provisions of the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act or the National Environmental Policy Act. I am in camp one, as I suspect many millions of Republicans are.

Fencing has been promised and even passed in the past but never built except for tiny segments. Thus, the need for specificity and guarantees that are easily produced in a well-written law.

Camp two wants no part of the Senate bill, whether or not it has a fence. John Hinderaker of the Power Line blog, for example, hates the bill and the effort and writes at length and eloquently as to why it is a bad idea.

So people like me in camp one, "the fence people," are fighting it out on talk radio, on the blogs and in person with people in camp two, the "not now, not this" people.

The Beltway GOP, in yet another display of astonishing indifference to the people who fund it and elect its members, is preparing to anger and alienate both camps.

The Beltway GOP wants to pretend it is meeting the demand of camp one with a variety of ruses and pretend-security provisions, all of which depend upon easily manipulated formulas and transparently absurd guarantees such as an increased numbers of border agents, which can of course be reduced in future years.

There isn't a single fence advocate who opposes border security measures in addition to the fence, but I haven't talked with one who believes the bill is worth supporting without a very long, very tall fence built over at least half of the 2,000-mile border.

When Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., introduced the Gang of Eight's first draft, he quite rightly waded into the controversy and listened to the critics. He also, in a display of how legislators are supposed to act, announced he would accept and indeed insist upon amendments to the bill that reflected the key criticisms of the draft law as it emerged from the Judiciary Committee. Camp one was encouraged. The missing fence would appear.

Then Sen. John Cornyn's proposed "border security" amendment was floated, and camp one was stunned. The Texas Republican's measure consisted of paragraph after paragraph of glop. No specifics about the fence. No mention of the fence. To all of us, it looked like a huge head fake.

Border security means a fence to the vast majority of conservatives willing to support the reform bill. No fence, no support. Camp one marches into camp two, amazed and disappointed, but resolute that the only thing they must have -- real, genuine border security -- isn't part of the Beltway GOP's agenda.



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC,  AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated) and Coral reef compendium. (Updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten.

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)


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Behind Iran's 'Moderate' New Leader

So this is what democracy looks like in a theocratic dictatorship. Iran's presidential campaign season kicked off last month when an unelected body of 12 Islamic jurists disqualified more than 600 candidates. Women were automatically out; so were Iranian Christians, Jews and even Sunni Muslims. The rest, including a former president, were purged for possessing insufficient revolutionary zeal. Eight regime loyalists made it onto the ballots. One emerged victorious on Saturday.

That man is Hassan Rohani, a 64-year-old cleric, former nuclear negotiator and security apparatchik. Western journalists quickly hailed the "moderate" and "reformist" Mr. Rohani. The New York Times's Tehran correspondent couldn't repress his election-night euphoria on Twitter: "Tonight the Islamic Republic rocks Rohani style." A BBC correspondent gushed: "The reaction of the people showed how much they trusted the electoral system." Just hours earlier the broadcaster had condemned Iranian security forces for threatening to assassinate a BBC Persian journalist in London, but such is the Western media's hunger for good news from Tehran.

Turnout was high, with more than 70% of eligible voters casting ballots. That figure should be taken with a grain of salt, since voting is obligatory for many sectors of Iranian society. Still, some of the victory parties in Tehran and other cities did seem genuine, with voters taking to the streets to celebrate the end of a Mahmoud Ahmadinejad era that saw a rise in repression and in economic hardship caused by the regime's mounting international isolation.

But disillusionment with seemingly heroic new leaders promising change is a centuries-old theme in Iranian history. The current regime's theocratic structure—with a supreme leader, the Ayatollah Khamenei, and numerous unaccountable bodies lording over popularly elected officials—will soon remind voters that this latest hero has little room to maneuver.

That is, if he's inclined to seek change in the first place. The new Iranian president was born Hassan Feridon in 1948 in Iran's Semnan province. He entered religious studies in Qom as a child but went on to earn a secular law degree from Tehran University in 1969.

Mr. Rohani spent Iran's revolutionary days as a close companion of the Ayatollah Khomeini and would go on to hold top posts during the Islamic Republic's first two decades in power. For 16 years starting in 1989, Mr. Rohani served as secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council. During his tenure on the council, Mr. Rohani led the crackdown on a 1999 student uprising and helped the regime evade Western scrutiny of its nuclear-weapons program.

As Mr. Rohani said at a pro-regime rally in July 1999: "At dusk yesterday we received a decisive revolutionary order to crush mercilessly and monumentally any move of these opportunist elements wherever it may occur. From today our people shall witness how in the arena our law enforcement force . . . shall deal with these opportunists and riotous elements, if they simply dare to show their faces."

The "opportunists and riotous elements" Mr. Rohani referred to were university students staging pro-democracy protests. His words at the time were widely viewed as a declaration of war, authorizing the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the basij militia to unleash hell on Tehran's campuses.

Reza Mohajerinejad was one of those students. A founder of the National Union of Iranian Students and Graduates in the 1990s, he resides today in the San Francisco Bay area. Speaking in a phone interview on Saturday, Mr. Mohajerinejad recalled how after Mr. Rohani's statement in 1999 security forces "poured into the dorm rooms and murdered students right in front of our eyes."

Mr. Mohajerinejad was arrested and detained for six months. Among other torture methods they used, his captors during this era of "reform" would tie him to a bed and whip his feet to a pulp. In between flogging sessions, the imprisoned students would be forced to run laps on their bloody feet or be suspended from their wrists for hours at a time.

"If we're ever going to get freedom and democracy," Mr. Mohajerinejad now says, "we're not going to get them from Rouhani."

Beyond Iran's borders, Mr. Rohani has largely favored "resistance" and nuclear defiance. During the campaign, he boasted of how during his tenure as negotiator Iran didn't suspend enrichment—on the contrary, "we completed the program." And on Syria, expect Mr. Rohani to back the ruling establishment's pro-Assad policy. "Syria has constantly been on the front line of fighting Zionism and this resistance must not be weakened," he declared in January, according to the state-run Press TV.

These inconvenient facts from the Rohani dossier should give pause to those in Washington and Brussels eager to embrace this smiling mullah.



Israeli Defense Minister on situation in Syria

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon gave a broad assessment of Israel’s security policy in the Middle East during a breakfast discussion at the Washington Institute of Near East Policy on Friday.

The defense minister said he “can’t see stability in the near future” in Syria, noting that the worst-case scenario for Israel would be one in which al Qaeda elements cause further destabilization in the region, particularly in Jordan.

“We do not intervene, we do not interfere,” he said. “We are in a very sensitive position of course so any Israeli intervention might affect the side we might support.”

“From our standpoint what should be very clear that Jordan is an asset in the Middle East in terms of stability,” he added. “That’s why we support it and we actually believe Jordan should be supported by the United States by other allies in order to keep Jordan as a stabilizer in the region.”

Ya’alon said the Israeli government has not asked the United States not to arm the anti-Assad forces.

“We are not in a position to dictate or to ask the United States what to do in Syria, but that doesn’t mean there are no consultations,” Ya’alon said.

He said Israel was troubled by Russia providing weapons for Bashar al-Assad’s forces, but said it has not seriously damaged the relationship between the two countries.

“We are not happy with all the Russian activities in the region, we have our opportunity to make our comments about it,” Ya’alon said. “I believe that when we look to the Russian policy, it’s not against us. … The main considerations are not Israel, the main considerations are what they call the ‘superpowers game’ between Russia and the United States.”

On Iran, the defense minister said the West needs to show that it has the “political stomach to go all the way” if it wants to force the regime to abandon its nuclear weapons program.

He said the recent report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which said that Iran has made progress on its program but has not yet reached Israel’s “red line” of producing 250 kilograms of 20 percent enriched uranium, suggests that “it may be Iran has internalized Netanyahu’s red line which is why they have avoided reaching [it].”

Ya’alon also addressed the Obama administration’s efforts to renew Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, reiterating that Israel is willing to come to the table without preconditions.

“We say from the very beginning we’re ready to sit at the table immediately,” Ya’alon said. “[The Palestinians] want to get something for coming to the table.”

The defense minister said that the United States should use its leverage of Palestinian aid money in order to influence the actions of Palestinian leaders.

“We believe regarding incitement, the money given to the Palestinian Authority should be conditioned,” Ya’alon said. “There are many leverages on behalf of the West, especially the money.”

Ya’alon said he was “very optimistic” about Israel’s future.

“My optimism is based on what I know about our strengths,” he concluded. “[Israel’s] very well-known secrets, our brains and our hearts.”



The Stalinization of Amerika

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, rather than hold accountable and roll the heads of the bunglers at the U.S. intelligence agencies who failed to follow up on multiple reports of possible terrorist activity, students learning to fly but not land, and possible hijacking plots, such as—

    "In a memo from the Phoenix FBI to headquarters, the agents recommended an urgent nationwide review of flight schools “for any information that supports Phoenix’s suspicions” of a terrorist connection. The memo reportedly cited Osama bin Laden by name."

Intelligence agencies were instead granted the expanded budgets and power that are always sought in the aftermath of a crisis. They were forced to abandon the nifty name and logo they had come up with (pictured at right, above) when its too-graphic, Big Brother-isc depiction elicited protest, but the spirit was fully retained, and a new era of unprecedented, total and widespread spying on innocent Americans began.

Unfortunately, the problem with a Total Information Awareness state is that it sweeps up prodigious amounts of data that is just so much noise that U.S. security agencies are demonstrated to be bad at filtering.

Wasting countless resources on false positives, violating the rights of innocent people, etc., the FBI bungled yet more direct information in failing to follow up on warnings concerning the Boston bombers.

As has been learned in every community in the U.S. as budget “crises” and the militarization of police forces result in less and less security for the common citizen, individuals sensitized and acting upon their powers of observation are far more effective at reducing crime than any number or force of police. Neighborhood Watch, for example, despite its sullied reputation in the Trayvon Martin case, is a proven-effective tool for empowering individuals to take charge of their security.

The only terrorists actually stopped since 9/11 have similarly resulted from sensitized individuals acting: the underwear bomber, the shoe bomber, the Times Square bomber, were all foiled by “common” people acting on their powers of observation.

Thus the irony that the trend of U.S. “intelligence” agencies away from good old fashioned detecting towards trampling the rights of individuals results not only in the loss of our liberties, but also in the loss of our security.

The second problem with the U.S. government collecting and indefinitely storing every email, phone call, text, website posting, etc., and the response to those innocents who bleat “But why should I mind? I have nothing to hide,” is something that Lavrenti Beria, Stalin’s notorious secret police chief, well knew:

    "Show me the man and I’ll find you the crime."

There is no individual whose private calls, emails, postings, bank and credit card transactions, online activities, and even private conversations in the “privacy” of your home, cannot be edited to paint the portrait of an enemy of the state.

And a police state makes for very many enemies indeed.



Hospital Care That Is Priceless

Something is wrong in the hospital marketplace. Government data released recently show that some hospitals in Dallas charge five times as much as other hospitals for the same procedures! This follows on the heels of a Time magazine/ CNN report, showing that hospitals routinely charge ridiculous prices for items and services: prices that bear no reasonable relationship to real costs.

But then we learn that no one is actually paying these prices, except some poor sap who happens to be uninsured and has to negotiate with the hospital on his own. Even so, there is no way you and I can know what we are going to pay in advance. We can’t get what we would get in every other market for repairs (a dented car, a damaged roof, etc.): an estimate. Even if we did have an estimate, we would have no way of knowing what competing hospitals charge.

There is just one problem with the flurry of news about hospitals. No one is pointing out that all these problems are the result of government intervention in the marketplace. They are not the result of a free market for medical care. In health care, we have so completely suppressed the market—for year after year, decade after decade – that few people ever see a real price for anything.

Employees never see a premium reflecting the real cost of their health insurance. Patients almost never see a real price for their medical care. Even at the family doctor’s office, it’s hard to discover what anything costs. This is detailed further in my book, Priceless: Curing the Healthcare Crisis.

Although many would like to think that our system is very different from the national health insurance schemes of other countries, the truth is that Americans mainly pay for care the same way people all over the developed world pay for care at the time they receive it—with time, not money.

On the average, every time we spend a dollar at a physician’s office, only 10 cents comes out of our own pockets. The rest is paid by third-party payers (insurance companies, employers, and government). As a result, for most people, the time price of care (waiting to get an appointment, getting to and from the doctor’s office, waiting in the reception area, waiting in the exam room, etc.) tends to be greater—and probably much greater—than the money price of care. When patients aren’t spending their own money, doctors will not compete for their patronage based on price. When doctors don’t compete on price, they won’t compete on quality either. The services they offer will be only those services the third parties pay for and only in settings and ways the third parties have blessed.

In a very real sense, there are no prices at a typical hospital, or even in a physician’s office. Medicare pays one rate, Medicaid another, BlueCross yet a third. In some cases the rates are negotiated. When the government is the payer, they are typically dictated.

The result is a hospital marketplace that has no resemblance at all to a free market.

In my next blog, I’ll illustrate markets in medical care that can work and work well—especially when third-party payers are not involved.



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC,  AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated) and Coral reef compendium. (Updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten.

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)


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A Libertarian Turn on Marijuana Legalization, Same-Sex Marriage and Gun Rights

Are Americans becoming more libertarian on cultural issues? I see evidence that they are, in poll findings and election results on three unrelated issues -- marijuana legalization, same-sex marriage and gun rights.

Start with pot. Last November voters in the states of Colorado and Washington voted to legalize marijuana, by a 55 to 45 percent margin in Colorado (more than Barack Obama's margin in the state) and by 56 to 44 percent in Washington.

In contrast, California voters rejected legalization 53 to 47 percent in 2010. These results and poll data suggest a general movement toward legal marijuana.

State legislatures in Denver and Olympia have been grappling with regulatory legislation amid uncertainty over whether federal law -- and federal law enforcers -- override their state laws.

But marijuana has already become effectively legal in many of the states that have reduced penalties for possession of small amounts or have legalized medical marijuana. You can easily find addresses and phone numbers of dispensaries on the Web.

Same-sex marriage, rejected in statewide votes between 1998 and 2008 and most recently in North Carolina in May 2012, was approved by voters in Maine and Maryland in November 2012, and voters then rejected a ban on it in Minnesota.

Since then, legislators in Delaware, Minnesota and Rhode Island have voted to legalize same-sex marriage. A dozen states and the District of Columbia now have similar laws that would have been unthinkable two decades ago.

I have yet to see signs of political backlash. Polls show that support for same-sex marriage is well nigh universal among young Americans, but it has also been rising among their elders.

To some it may seem odd to yoke together marijuana and gay rights, generally thought of as causes of the left, with gun rights, supported more by the political right. Yet in all three cases Americans have been moving toward greater liberty for the individual.

One landmark was the first law, passed in Florida in 1987, allowing ordinary citizens to carry concealed weapons. Many, including me, thought that the result would be frequent shootouts in the streets.

That hasn't happened. It turns out that almost all ordinary citizens handle guns with appropriate restraint, as they do with the other potential deadly weapon people encounter every day, the automobile.

Concealed-carry laws have spread to 40 states, with few ill effects. Politicians who opposed them initially, like former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, have not sought their repeal.

In contrast, voters have reacted negatively to gun control proposals, even after horrific events like the Newtown massacre. That was apparent in the Senate's rejection of the Toomey-Manchin gun registration bill.

What about the cultural issue that most pundits mention first, abortion? Attitudes have remained roughly the same: Most Americans think abortion should be, in Bill Clinton's phrase, safe, legal and rare.

Young Americans, contrary to their libertarian leaning on same-sex marriage, are slightly less pro-abortion rights than their elders. They've seen sonograms, and all of them by definition owe their existence to a decision not to abort.

And from the point of view of the unborn child, abortion is the opposite of liberating.

Back in the conformist America of the 1950s -- a nation of greater income equality and stronger labor unions, as liberals like to point out -- marijuana, homosexual acts and abortion weren't political issues. They were crimes. And opposition to gun control measures in the 1950s and 1960s was much less widespread and vigorous than it is today.

Is this libertarian trend a good thing for the nation? Your answer will depend on your values.

I'm inclined to look favorably on it. I think the large majority of Americans can use marijuana and guns responsibly. Same-sex marriage can be seen as liberating, but it also includes an element of restraint. Abortions in fact have become more rare over a generation.

But I do see something to worry about. In his bestseller "Coming Apart," my American Enterprise Institute colleague Charles Murray shows that college-educated Americans have handled liberating trends of the 1970s like no-fault divorce with self-restraint.

But at the bottom of the social scale we have seen an unraveling, with out-of-wedlock births, continuing joblessness, lack of social connectedness and civic involvement.

In conformist America the old prohibitions provided these people with guardrails, as The Wall Street Journal's Daniel Henninger has written. In today's more libertarian America, the guardrails may be gone.



Our Partisan Bureaucracy — Lawyers Love President Obama

Thanks to the TaxProf blog and to Instapundit, I discovered this chart detailing political giving by government lawyers:

With certain limitations understood (we don’t know the affiliations of non-donors), the chart above looks more like the political affiliations of Ivy League women’s-studies departments than those of an allegedly impartial federal bureaucracy.

The civil-service system was designed to replace the spoils system, which — in addition to creating chaotic rushes of office-seekers with each change of administration — packed political hacks into important administrative positions. A civil service was supposed to change that unacceptable reality by placing the administration of the more neutral functions of the government into the hands of dispassionate professionals. Thus the strong federal job security in the civil service, greater security than enjoyed by virtually any private-sector employee. The job security — so the argument goes — was necessary to prevent the re-emergence of blatant political patronage.

But what if the combination of increasingly activist government with strong bureacratic bias re-creates federal service as a kind of permanent spoils system for the Left? Isn’t it inevitable that this leftist bureaucracy will eventually view itself not as a servant for all citizens but as an instrument of its own righteous ideology?

If the recent history of our universities is any guide, the products of a leftist bureacratic monoculture will be characterized by the following:

Ignorance: Groups of like-minded people are notoriously incurious about the ideas and perspectives of dissenters.

Condescension: They don’t let ignorance stand in the way of a bulletproof sense of moral and intellectual superiority.

Hatred: Since all the good people they know agree with them, they ascribe the worst of motives to the other side, believing them to be motivated by little more than greed and bigotry.

And, finally . . .

Fanaticism: Cass Sunstein described the ”law of group polarization” like this: “In a striking empirical regularity, deliberation tends to move groups, and the individuals who compose them, toward a more extreme point in the direction indicated by their own predeliberation judgments.” In other words, when like-minded individuals deliberate, their common views grow more extreme over time.

We conservatives have a problem with Big Government, no matter who’s running it. But we also have a particular problem with this big government, as key agencies are increasingly staffed and run by individuals who wield enormous power, cannot be fired, and despise roughly half the American population. When Barack Obama urges supporters to “punish our enemies,” there are many federal employees only too willing to comply.



Liberalism is bankrupt

By Marta H. Mossburg

The high priests of liberalism must be tossing and turning in their organic cotton bedding and downing more small-batch artisan whisky each night trying to cope with the abject failure of their cause.

They know, even if the masses do not yet fully understand, that their worldview no longer makes sense in light of the scandal after scandal in Washington and that the end result could be a great, if slow, deconversion on the scale of the millions who no longer believe in the Christianity its philosophy replaced.

Government, they have told us, is inherently good, like the people it helps. Its largesse helps the poor, its inclusiveness expands rights for all and fairness motivates it. And it is intrinsic to individual success — as the hypothetical “Julia” portrayed in Barack Obama’s recent presidential campaign tried to prove. (See here.)

This worldview diagnoses government problems as merely a question of bad management or lack of funding, which is why federal government workers and contractors have become in the past decade some of the most highly educated and best paid people in America. And it is why programs which fail to meet goals expand and quality is almost always measured by “inputs” — how much money is spent, how many people are signed up, how many training courses are completed, for example — instead of “outputs” like knowledge acquired and people living independent, productive lives.

But the Internal Revenue Service abuse of conservative groups and revelations that the National Security Agency (NSA) is cataloguing every phone call and email Americans make don’t mesh with the prevailing view of government benevolence. Neither do revelations that the Justice Department criminalizes reporting nor those that show high ranking State Department leaders quashed investigations of prostitution and drug abuse among its ranks sync with that outlook. And it clashes with the promise newly elected Barack Obama made in January 2009 that he would, “hold myself as president to a new standard of openness …. Let me say it as simply as I can: Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency.”

With respect to the NSA and press monitoring revelations it seems the only right to privacy Barack Obama’s administration recognizes is the right to kill unborn children without restrictions with taxpayer dollars.

This unhinging of the administration from recognizable liberal ideals is the end result of progressivism, which knows no law except “forward.” As Philip Rieff wrote in his brilliant 1966 “The Triumph of the Therapeutic,”  “We believe we can live freely at last, enjoying all our senses — except the sense of the past — as unremembering, honest and friendly barbarians all, in a technological Eden.”

But to admit that once sacred principles are obsolete would be political suicide for a man who fulfilled the promises of the great 20th century liberal causes — civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights, workers’ rights — for millions of Americans. So Mr. Obama is struggling to maintain the old order by making it seem the omnipresent monitoring of email and tracking of phone records of Americans are really just “modest encroachments” on privacy that are perfectly legal and nothing new.

True believers will cling to his words. But the scales have fallen from the eyes of a media that protected the administration it believed in, and it is only a matter of time before any American who cares to look will see the disconnect between the personal fulfillment and liberation promised by big government and the evil it delivered in the name of safety.

Given that decades of Americans have been steeped for their full lives in the doctrine of government as the solution and savior in public schools, colleges and culture, to what will they turn when liberalism’s lie hits them? I don’t know. But its undoing will give the timeless principles enshrined in the U.S. Constitution a fighting chance against a “forward” that looks more like a backward totalitarian state than the utopia John Lennon sang about in “Imagine.”



Obamacare Loophole to Hammer Low-Wage Workers

The predictable hits just keep on coming as the Obamacare clock ticks down toward full implementation.  Liberals have shifted gears from arguing the law will lower costs and reduce premiums for everyone -- which is how the unpopular overhaul was dishonestly marketed -- to shrugging that hey, at least many uninsured and lower-income citizens will get affordable coverage.  But even that's not universally true, as many American workers are about to painfully discover.  Behold, the "Affordable" Care Act in action (via the Associated Press):

"It's called the Affordable Care Act, but President Barack Obama's health care law may turn out to be unaffordable for many low-wage workers, including employees at big chain restaurants, retail stores and hotels. That might seem strange since the law requires medium-sized and large employers to offer "affordable" coverage or face fines. But what's reasonable? Because of a wrinkle in the law, companies can meet their legal obligations by offering policies that would be too expensive for many low-wage workers. For the employee, it's like a mirage — attractive but out of reach. The company can get off the hook, say corporate consultants and policy experts, but the employee could still face a federal requirement to get health insurance.  Many are expected to remain uninsured, possibly risking fines. That's due to another provision: the law says workers with an offer of "affordable" workplace coverage aren't entitled to new tax credits for private insurance, which could be a better deal for those on the lower rungs of the middle class.  Some supporters of the law are disappointed. It smacks of today's Catch-22 insurance rules."

They're "disappointed," and are already mobilizing to pin their own mess on insurance companies.  Their solution, of course, will be to forge ahead to a fully government-run single payer system -- which has been the objective from word one.  They'll ask Americans to forgive them for producing a disastrous, unworkable federal power-grab, insisting that it can only be fixed by even bigger government.  No thanks.  The AP story above shines the spotlight on a gaping loophole in Obamacare.  Basically, major employers of low-wage workers can technically satisfy the law's requirement that they offer "affordable" coverage to full-time employees, even if the new rates aren't actually affordable in reality.  Unable to pay the premiums being offered by their employers, and ineligible for taxpayer subsidies to obtain coverage on their own (because they're "choosing" not to accept their "affordable" employer options), many of these workers will determine they have no choice but to remain uninsured -- and will pay the anti-middle classObamacare mandate tax for the privilege of doing so.  What a deal.  Guess who's heading for the exits as this monstrosity looms?  Ta-da:

"Dozens of lawmakers and aides are so afraid that their health insurance premiums will skyrocket next year thanks to Obamacare that they are thinking about retiring early or just quitting. The fear: Government-subsidized premiums will disappear at the end of the year under a provision in the health care law that nudges aides and lawmakers onto the government health care exchanges, which could make their benefits exorbitantly expensive...If the issue isn’t resolved, and massive numbers of lawmakers and aides bolt, many on Capitol Hill fear it could lead to a brain drain just as Congress tackles a slew of weighty issues — like fights over the Tax Code and immigration reform. The problem is far more acute in the House, where lawmakers and aides are generally younger and less wealthy. Sources said several aides have already given lawmakers notice that they’ll be leaving over concerns about Obamacare. Republican and Democratic lawmakers said the chatter about retiring now, to remain on the current health care plan, is constant."


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


For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC,  AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated) and Coral reef compendium. (Updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten.

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)


Monday, June 17, 2013

Pathological Altruism

As JAMES TARANTO suggests below, the concept of Pathological Altruism could become a powerful and widely-used concept in debunking Leftist proposals.  It has the virtue of being polite.  It assumes that Leftists have altruistic intentions.  I am less polite.  Given the regularly destructive overall results of Leftist actions and policies, I think we have to assume that the motives are destructive too. It is absurd to say that Leftists never get the results they intend.  They are often smart people.  The results they get are therefore the results they intend.  There is nothing altruistic about Leftism.  It is just a camouflage coat that they wear.  They are haters, not helpers. -- JR

We don't think we'd ever heard of Oakland University, a second-tier institution in suburban Rochester, Mich., but Barbara Oakley, an associate professor in engineering, may help put the place on the map. Earlier this week Oakland's Oakley published a fascinating paper, "Concepts and Implications of Altruism Bias and Pathological Altruism," in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The paper is a concise summary of an innovative idea that informed Oakley's two recent books: "Cold-Blooded Kindness: Neuroquirks of a Codependent Killer, or Just Give Me a Shot at Loving You, Dear, and Other Reflections on Helping That Hurts" (Prometheus, 2011) and "Pathological Altruism" (Oxford University Press, 2012). The former has been described as a true-crime thriller; the latter is a dense, 496-page collection of 31 academic papers, edited by Oakley and three other scholars.

The PNAS paper has the virtue of brevity, running only eight pages despite including 110 footnotes. Yet it's remarkable for its breadth and depth. It introduces a simple yet versatile idea that could revolutionize scientific and social thought.

Oakley defines pathological altruism as "altruism in which attempts to promote the welfare of others instead result in unanticipated harm." A crucial qualification is that while the altruistic actor fails to anticipate the harm, "an external observer would conclude [that it] was reasonably foreseeable." Thus, she explains, if you offer to help a friend move, then accidentally break an expensive item, your altruism probably isn't pathological; whereas if your brother is addicted to painkillers and you help him obtain them, it is.

As the latter example suggests, the idea of "codependency" is a subset of pathological altruism. "Feelings of empathic caring . . . appear to lie at the core of . . . codependent behavior," Oakley notes. People in codependent relationships genuinely care for each other, but that empathy leads them to do destructive things.

Yet according to Oakley, "the vital topic of codependency has received almost no hard-science research focus, leaving 'research' to those with limited or no scientific research qualifications." That is to say, it is largely the domain of pop psychology. "It is reasonable to wonder if the lack of scientific research involving codependency may relate to the fact that there is a strong academic bias against studying possible negative outcomes of empathy."

That is a provocative charge, and one that Oakley levels more generally at the scientific establishment:

"Both altruism and empathy have rightly received an extraordinary amount of research attention. This focus has permitted better characterization of these qualities and how they might have evolved. However, it has also served to reify their value without realistic consideration about when those qualities contain the potential for significant harm.

Part of the reason that pathologies of altruism have not been studied extensively or integrated into the public discourse appears to be fear that such knowledge might be used to discount the importance of altruism. Indeed, there has been a long history in science of avoiding paradigm-shifting approaches, such as Darwinian evolution and acknowledgment of the influence of biological factors on personality, arising in part from fears that such knowledge somehow would diminish human altruistic motivations.

Such fears always have proven unfounded. However, these doubts have minimized scientists' ability to see the widespread, vitally important nature of pathologies of altruism. As psychologist Jonathan Haidt notes, "Morality binds and blinds."

"Empathy," Oakley notes, "is not a uniformly positive attribute. It is associated with emotional contagion; hindsight bias; motivated reasoning; caring only for those we like or who comprise our in-group (parochial altruism); jumping to conclusions; and inappropriate feelings of guilt in nonco-operators who refuse to follow orders to hurt others." It also can produce bad public policy:

"Ostensibly well-meaning governmental policy promoted home ownership, a beneficial goal that stabilizes families and communities. The government-sponsored enterprises Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae allowed less-than-qualified individuals to receive housing loans and encouraged more-qualified borrowers to overextend themselves. Typical risk–reward considerations were marginalized because of implicit government support. The government used these agencies to promote social goals without acknowledging the risk or cost. When economic conditions faltered, many lost their homes or found themselves with properties worth far less than they originally had paid. Government policy then shifted . . . the cost of this "altruism" to the public, to pay off the too-big-to-fail banks then holding securitized subprime loans. . . . Altruistic intentions played a critical role in the development and unfolding of the housing bubble in the United States."

The same is true of the higher-education bubble. As we've argued, college degrees became increasingly necessary for entry-level professional jobs as the result of a well-intentioned Supreme Court decision that restricted employers from using IQ tests because of their "disparate impact" on minorities.

Universities altruistically established admissions standards that discriminated in favor of minorities, a policy that proved pathological because underqualified minority students struggled to succeed and even qualified ones face the stigma of being assumed to be "affirmative action" beneficiaries. The institutions tried to help by setting up separate orientations, which of course only reinforced their separation from the broader student body.

And when, in 2003, the discriminatory admissions standards faced a constitutional challenge, the Supreme Court upheld them. In Grutter v. Bollinger, a five-justice majority declared that administrators' declaration of altruistic intent--"obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body"--was sufficient to meet the court's purportedly exacting standard of "strict scrutiny."

It was left to Justice Anthony Kennedy, in dissent, to note the absence of "empirical evidence." The court is currently revisiting the question-- Fisher v. Texas is expected to be decided in the next few weeks--and one hopes that, if it stands by the "diversity" rationale, Kennedy will finally succeed in imposing some scientific rigor.

Pathological altruism is at the root of the liberal left's crisis of authority, which we discussed in our May 20 column. The left derives its sense of moral authority from the supposition that its intentions are altruistic and its opponents' are selfish. That sense of moral superiority makes it easy to justify immoral behavior, like slandering critics of President Obama as racist--or using the power of the Internal Revenue Service to suppress them. It seems entirely plausible that the Internal Revenue Service officials who targeted and harassed conservative groups thought they were doing their patriotic duty. If so, what a perfect example of pathological altruism.

Oakley concludes by noting that "during the twentieth century, tens of millions [of] individuals were killed under despotic regimes that rose to power through appeals to altruism." An understanding that altruism can produce great evil as well as good is crucial to the defense of human freedom and dignity.



Democrats just LOVE Obama's domestic spy operations

Because they are afraid of their fellow Americans and see spying as a way of gaining control over them.  They fear that aroused patriots might do to them what they would like to do to those who oppose them. Glenn Greenwald reviews some of the facts below

What Democratic Rep. Loretta Sanchez said after Congress on Wednesday was given a classified briefing by NSA officials on the agency's previously secret surveillance activities:

    "What we learned in there is significantly more than what is out in the media today. . . . I can't speak to what we learned in there, and I don't know if there are other leaks, if there's more information somewhere, if somebody else is going to step up, but I will tell you that I believe it's the tip of the iceberg . . . . I think it's just broader than most people even realize, and I think that's, in one way, what astounded most of us, too."

The Congresswoman is absolutely right: what we have reported thus far is merely "the tip of the iceberg" of what the NSA is doing in spying on Americans and the world. She's also right that when it comes to NSA spying, "there is significantly more than what is out in the media today", and that's exactly what we're working to rectify.

But just consider what she's saying: as a member of Congress, she had no idea how invasive and vast the NSA's surveillance activities are. Sen. Jon Tester, who is a member of the Homeland Security Committee, said the same thing, telling MSNBC about the disclosures that "I don't see how that compromises the security of this country whatsoever" and adding: "quite frankly, it helps people like me become aware of a situation that I wasn't aware of before because I don't sit on that Intelligence Committee."

How can anyone think that it's remotely healthy in a democracy to have the NSA building a massive spying apparatus about which even members of Congress, including Senators on the Homeland Security Committee, are totally ignorant and find "astounding" when they learn of them? How can anyone claim with a straight face that there is robust oversight when even members of the Senate Intelligence Committee are so constrained in their ability to act that they are reduced to issuing vague, impotent warnings to the public about what they call radical "secret law" enabling domestic spying that would "stun" Americans to learn about it, but are barred to disclose what it is they're so alarmed by? Put another way, how can anyone contest the value and justifiability of the stories that we were able to publish as a result of Edward Snowden's whistleblowing: stories that informed the American public - including even the US Congress - about these incredibly consequential programs? What kind of person would think that it would be preferable to remain in the dark - totally ignorant - about them?

(1) Much of US politics, and most of the pundit reaction to the NSA stories, are summarized by this one single visual from Pew:

The most vocal media critics of our NSA reporting, and the most vehement defenders of NSA surveillance, have been, by far, Democratic (especially Obama-loyal) pundits. As I've written many times, one of the most significant aspects of the Obama legacy has been the transformation of Democrats from pretend-opponents of the Bush War on Terror and National Security State into their biggest proponents: exactly what the CIA presciently and excitedly predicted in 2008 would happen with Obama's election.

Some Democrats have tried to distinguish 2006 from 2013 by claiming that the former involved illegal spying while the latter does not. But the claim that current NSA spying is legal is dubious in the extreme: the Obama DOJ has repeatedly thwarted efforts by the ACLU, EFF and others to obtain judicial rulings on their legality and constitutionality by invoking procedural claims of secrecy, immunity and standing. If Democrats are so sure these spying programs are legal, why has the Obama DOJ been so eager to block courts from adjudicating that question?

More to the point, Democratic critiques of Bush's spying were about more than just legality. I know that because I actively participated in the campaign to amplify those critiques. Indeed, by 2006, most of Bush's spying programs - definitely his bulk collection of phone records - were already being conducted under the supervision and with the blessing of the FISA court. Moreover, leading members of Congress - including Nancy Pelosi - were repeatedly briefed on all aspects of Bush's NSA spying program. So the distinctions Democrats are seeking to draw are mostly illusory.

To see how that this is so, just listen to then-Senator Joe Biden in 2006 attack the NSA for collecting phone records: he does criticize the program for lacking FISA court supervision (which wasn't actually true), but also claims to be alarmed by just how invasive and privacy-destroying that sort of bulk record collection is. He says he "doesn't think" that the program passes the Fourth Amendment test: how can Bush's bulk record collection program be unconstitutional while Obama's program is constitutional? But Biden also rejected Bush's defense (exactly the argument Obama is making now) - that "we're not listening to the phone calls, we're just looking for patterns" - by saying this:

    "I don't have to listen to your phone calls to know what you're doing. If I know every single phone call you made, I'm able to determine every single person you talked to. I can get a pattern about your life that is very, very intrusive. . . . If it's true that 200 million Americans' phone calls were monitored - in terms of not listening to what they said, but to whom they spoke and who spoke to them - I don't know, the Congress should investigative this."

Is collecting everyone's phone records not "very intrusive" when Democrats are doing it? Just listen to that short segment to see how every defense Obama defenders are making now were the ones Bush defenders made back then. Again, leading members of Congress and the FISA court were both briefed on and participants in the Bush telephone record collection program as well, yet Joe Biden and most Democrats found those programs very alarming and "very intrusive" back then.

(2) Notwithstanding the partisan-driven Democratic support for these programs, and notwithstanding the sustained demonization campaign aimed at Edward Snowden from official Washington, polling data, though mixed, has thus far been surprisingly encouraging.

A Time Magazine poll found that 54% of Americans believe Snowden did "a good thing", while only 30% disagreed. That approval rating is higher than the one enjoyed by both Congress and President Obama. While a majority think he should be nonetheless prosecuted, a plurality of young Americans, who overwhelmingly view Snowden favorably, do not even want to see him charged. Reuters found that more Americans see Snowden as a "patriot" than a "traitor". A Gallup poll this week found that more Americans disapprove (53%) than approve (37%) of the two NSA spying programs revealed last week by the Guardian.

(3) Thomas Drake, an NSA whistleblower who was unsuccessfully prosecuted by the Obama DOJ, writes in the Guardian that as a long-time NSA official, he saw all of the same things at the NSA that Edward Snowden is now warning Americans about. Drake calls Snowden's acts "an amazingly brave and courageous act of civil disobedience." William Binney, the mathematician who resigned after a 30-year career as a senior NSA official in protest of post-9/11 domestic surveillance, said on Democracy Now this week that Snowden's claims about the NSA are absolutely true.

Meanwhile, Daniel Ellsberg, writing in the Guardian, wrote that "there has not been in American history a more important leak than Edward Snowden's release of NSA material – and that definitely includes the Pentagon Papers 40 years ago." He added: "Snowden did what he did because he recognized the NSA's surveillance programs for what they are: dangerous, unconstitutional activity."

Listen to actual experts and patriots - people who have spent their careers inside the NSA and/or who risked their liberty for the good of the country - and the truth of Snowden's claims and the justifiability of his acts become manifest....

The predictable personality assaults on Snowden have begun in full force from official Washington and their media spokespeople. They are only going to intensify. There is nobody who political officials and their supine media class hate more than those who meaningfully dissent from their institutional orthodoxies and shine light on what they do. The hatred for such individuals is boundless....

The New York Times reports today that Yahoo went to court in order to vehemently resist the NSA's directive that they join the Prism program, and joined only when the court compelled it to do so. The company specifically "argued that the order violated its users' Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches and seizures."



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC,  AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated) and Coral reef compendium. (Updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten.

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)


Sunday, June 16, 2013

Crossroads for the GOP

Patrick J. Buchanan

How to deal with 12 million illegal aliens —send them home or grant them amnesty and a "path to citizenship"— the party's rancorous division will be starkly visible when the bill reaches the House.

But the existential crisis of the GOP, from which it has turned its eyes away since George H.W. Bush, is demography.

Yet the matter cannot be avoided now, for it is on page one.  "White Numbers Shrink," was the headline on the lead story in USA Today. "More Whites Dying Than Being Born," blared The Wall Street Journal. What does this mean?

In demographic terms, more white Americans died in 2012 than were born. Never before—not during the Civil War bloodletting, not during the influenza epidemic after World War I, not during th Great Depression and birth dearth of the 1930s—has this happened.

In ethnic terms, it means that Americans whose forebears came from Great Britain, Ireland and Germany, Southern and Eastern Europe—the European tribes of North America—have begun to die.

The demographic winter of white America is at hand, even as it began years ago for the native-born of old Europe.

In political terms, this is depressing news for the Republican Party. For nearly 90 percent of all Republican votes in presidential elections are provided by Americans of European descent.

In 1960 white folks were close to 90 percent of the entire U.S. population and 95 percent of the electorate. Nixon's New Majority was created by pulling Northern Catholic ethnics and Southern conservative Protestants, white folks all, out of the Roosevelt coalition and bringing them into a new alliance that would give Nixon a 49-state landslide in 1972, which Reagan would replicate in 1984.

But since that New Majority gave the Republicans five victories in six presidential elections, four of them 40-state landslides, the political world has turned upside down, and demography is the cause.

Mitt Romney won 59 percent of the white vote, a 3-to-2 victory over Obama among America's majority. In any year before 1980, that would have meant victory. But in 2012 whites were only 74 percent of those who went to the polls.

Thus, Obama's sweep of 80 percent of the African-American, Asian and Hispanic vote, one-fourth of the electorate and rising, enabled him to coast to a second term.

Between 2008 and 2012, the Hispanic vote rose 1.4 million, the black vote by 1.7 million, and the white vote fell by 2 million.

Where is America going? What does the GOP future look like?

America's white majority, 64 percent of the population and 74 percent of the electorate, still declining in relative terms, has begun to decline in real terms. Deaths outnumber births. Among all U.S. births in 2012, white babies were outnumbered by babies of color.

If Republicans are opposed to what mass immigration is doing to the country demographically, ethnically, socially and politically, there are, as Reagan used to say, "simple answers, just no easy answers."

Those answers: No amnesty, secure the border, enforce laws against businesses that hire illegals, and impose a moratorium on new immigration so wages can rise and immigrants enter the middle class and start voting as did the children and grandchildren of the immigrants of 1890-1920 by 1972.

So what are the Republicans doing?

Going back on their word, dishonoring their platform, and enraging their loyal supporters, who gave Mitt 90 percent of his votes, to pander to a segment of the electorate that gave Mitt less than 5 percent of his total votes.

Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad.



The "national security" state


There's more, much more, to the Lois Lerner story

By George F. Will

As soon as the Constitution permitted him to run for Congress, Al Salvi did. In 1986, just 26 and fresh from the University of Illinois law school, he sank $1,000 of his own money, which was most of his money, into a campaign to unseat an incumbent Democratic congressman. Salvi studied for the bar exam during meals at campaign dinners.

He lost. Today, however, he should be invited to Congress to testify about what happened 10 years later when as a prosperous lawyer he won the Republican Senate nomination to run against a Democratic congressman named Dick Durbin.

In the fall of 1996, at the campaign's climax, Democrats filed with the Federal Elections Commission charges alleging campaign finance violations by Salvi's campaign. These charges dominated the campaign's closing days. Salvi spoke by phone with the head of the FEC's Enforcement Division, who he remembers saying: "Promise me you will never run for office again, and we'll drop this case." He was speaking to Lois Lerner.

After losing to Durbin, Salvi spent four years and $100,000 fighting the FEC, on whose behalf FBI agents visited his elderly mother demanding to know, concerning her $2,000 contribution to her son's campaign, where she got "that kind of money." When the second of two federal courts held that the charges against Salvi were spurious, the lawyer arguing for the FEC was Lois Lerner.

More recently, she has been head of the IRS Exempt Organizations Division, which has

used its powers of delay, harassment and extortion to suppress political participation. For example, it has told an Iowa right-to-life group that it would get tax exempt status if it would promise not to picket Planned Parenthood clinics.
Last week, in a televised House Ways and Means Committee hearing, Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., Salvi's former law partner, told the riveting story of the partisan enforcement of campaign laws to suppress political competition by distracting Salvi and entangling him in bureaucratic snares. The next day, the number of inches of newsprint in The Washington Post and New York Times devoted to Roskam's revelation was the number of minutes that had been devoted to it on the three broadcast networks' evening news programs the night before: Zero.

House Republicans should use their committee chairmanships to let Lerner exercise her right to confront Salvi and her many other accusers. If she were invited back to Congress to respond concerning Salvi, would she again refuse to testify by invoking her Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination? There is one way to find out.

Durbin, the second-ranking Senate Democrat who will seek a fourth term next year, defeated Salvi by 15 points. He probably would have won without the assistance of Lerner and the campaign "reforms" that produced the mare's nest of FEC regulations and speech police that lend themselves to abuses like those Salvi endured. In 2010, Durbin wrote a letter urging Lerner's IRS division to look closely at a political advocacy group supporting conservatives.

Lerner, it is prudent to assume, is one among thousands like her who infest the regulatory state. She is not just a bureaucratic bully and a slithering partisan; she also is a national security problem, because she is contributing to a comprehensive distrust of government.

The case for the National Security Agency's gathering of metadata is: America is threatened not by a nation but by a network, dispersed and largely invisible until made visible by connecting dots. The network cannot help but leave, as we all do daily, a digital trail of cellphone, credit card and Internet uses. The dots are in such data; algorithms connect them. The technological gathering of 300 billion bits of data is less menacing than the gathering of 300 by bureaucrats. Mass gatherings by the executive branch twice receive judicial scrutiny, once concerning phone and Internet usages, another concerning the content of messages.

The case against the NSA is: Lois Lerner and others of her ilk.

Government requires trust. Government by progressives, however, demands such inordinate amounts of trust that the demand itself should provoke distrust. Progressivism can be distilled into two words: "Trust us." The antecedent of the pronoun is: The wise, disinterested experts through whom the vast powers of the regulatory state's executive branch will deliver progress for our own good, as the executive branch understands this, whether or not we understand it. Lois Lerner is the scowling face of this state, which has earned Americans' distrust.

Lois Lerner, it is prudent to assume, is one among thousands like her who infest the regulatory state. She is not just a bureaucratic bully and a slithering partisan. Now she also is a national security problem because she is contributing to a comprehensive distrust of government.



Scholar Awarded Julian L. Simon Memorial Award for Moral, Historical Defense of Freedom

CEI is pleased to announce that Deirdre McCloskey, Distinguished Professor of Economics, History, English, and Communication, at the University of Illinois at Chicago, is the recipient of CEI’s prestigious Julian L. Simon Memorial Award. McCloskey’s groundbreaking scholarly work has focused on historical analysis of the factors that led to advancement in human achievement and prosperity.

“Deirdre McCloskey is a great intellectual and one of the most prominent economic historians alive today,” said CEI Founder and Chairman Fred L. Smith, Jr. “McCloskey offers a moral defense of freedom: She understands that for society to really thrive, society can’t just accept or tolerate economic freedom – society must embrace it. When societies value freedom and capitalism, they prosper.

“McCloskey's impeccable research has documented the cultural transformation in 17th and 18th Century Europe that changed the way society thinks about trade and commerce, which in turn resulted in lifting people out of squalor. Before then, only aristocrats had wealth. That new way of thinking freed people from thousands of years of grinding poverty.”

The Simon Award was established in 2001 in honor of the late free market economist, Julian L. Simon, whose classic 1981 work, The Ultimate Resource, debunked alarmist predictions of eco-doomsayers such as Paul Ehrlich. The award will be presented at CEI's annual gala dinner, June 20, 2013, in Washington, D.C. Previous award recipients include Stephen Moore of the Wall Street Journal, President Václav Klaus of the Czech Republic and "Skeptical Environmentalist" Bjørn Lomborg.

“Professor McCloskey perfectly embodies the spirit in which CEI’s Julian Simon Award was created,” said CEI President Lawson R. Bader. “Her work contributes tremendously to our understanding of the value of free markets, vigorously defends capitalism and entrepreneurialism and makes the case for freedom with a rare eloquence. It is our pleasure to honor her work.”

Quotes & wisdom from Deirdre McCloskey, in The Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce:

*    One can think of the calamities of the 20th century as caused by the sins of capitalism. The left does. Capital was born, wrote Marx, “dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt.” I think on the contrary that most of the calamities were a consequence of the attacks on capitalism.

*    Viewed over a longer period, however, the most amazing political fact since, say, 1800, as Tocqueville noted as early as 1835, is the spreading idea of equality in freedom, that theory of the ascendant bourgeoisie. Cynics and Jeremiahs to the contrary, it spreads yet. According to Freedom House, the percentage of “free” countries rose from 29 percent in 1973 to 46 percent in 2003, containing 44 percent of the world’s population. Think of Ukraine and South Korea. The world continues to draw on a lost, failed, used-up liberalism. Liberal democracy keeps on explaining events.

*    Possibly modern economic growth is as large and important an event in human history as the sudden perfection of language, in Africa around 50,000 BC. In a scarce 200 years our bourgeois capitalism has domesticated the world and made it, Chicago to Shanghai, into a single, throbbing city.

*    The triple revolutions of the past two centuries in politics, population, and prosperity are connected. They have had a cause and a consequence, I claim, in ethically better people. I said “better.” Capitalism has not corrupted our souls. It has improved them.

*    On the political left it has been commonplace for the past century and a half to charge that modern, industrial people, whether fat or lean, are alienated, rootless, angst-ridden, superficial, materialistic; and that it is precisely participation in markets which has made them so. Gradually, I have noted, the right and the middle have come to accept the charge. I claim that actually existing capitalism, not the collectivisms of the left or of the right, has reached beyond mere consumption, producing the best art and the best people. People have purposes. A capitalist economy gives them scope to try them out. Go to an American Kennel Club show, or an antique show, or a square-dancing convention, or to a gathering of the many millions of American birdwatchers, and you’ll find people of no social pretensions passionately engaged. Yes, some people watch more than four hours of TV a day. Yes, some people engage in corrupting purchases. But they are no worse than their ancestors, and on average better.



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC,  AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated) and Coral reef compendium. (Updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten.

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)