Friday, May 23, 2014

Disgust, homosexuality and conservatism

Haidt has produced some well-known research which shows that conservatives have much more complex moral attitudes than Leftists do.  There are a wider range of factors that enter into a conservative's judgment of what is good or bad.  Leftists, by contrast, have much more simply determined   moral attitudes.

That finding is of course exactly the opposite of what Leftist psychologists preached from 1950 onwards.  Leftists wanted to brand conservatives as the simplistic ones -- which is another example of my rule of thumb which says that you can find out what is true of Leftists by looking at what they say about  conservatives.  They are great projectors in the Freudian sense.

One of the things Haidt found was that conservative judgments were strongly influenced by feelings of disgust. Conservatives are disgusted by such things as mass-murder.  How quaint!  Haidt says that disgust  began as a guardian of the mouth (against pathogens), but then expanded during biological and cultural evolution to become a guardian of the body more generally, and of the social and moral order.

A recent study by Adams et al. mounted an experimental test of Haidt's theory.  They exposed people (mostly Christians) to a disgusting smell and looked at how that affected attitudes.  Some people got the smell and some did not.  They asked did being exposed to a bad smell instantly make you more conservative!

And they extended Haidt's thinking to test whether disgust is a determinant of attitude to homosexuality.  In the days before political correctness, disgust at homosexuality was frequently and widely expressed in the community so I felt I knew the outcome of that query in advance.

And so it was.  The authors looked at a wide range of conservative attitudes but it was only attitudes to sexual matters in general and homosexuality in particular that were much influenced by disgust.  And the issue that produced the biggest differentiation was:  "If a close friend of family member were gay, I would support their right to having a same-sex marriage.”  The non-disgusted group (those who had not been exposed to the bad small) almost universally supported such marriage.  And, reflecting the pressure of what is presently socially acceptable, about half of the disgusted group did too.  "Strongly agree" was however much less common among the disgusted (odor-exposed) group.  So some (but not all) people became less acceptant of homosexuality amid a bad smell.

To me the notable fact about the research was how little effect the smell had. A few correlations were statistically significant but all were trivial in magnitude.  The strongest correlation was with gay marriage attitudes but, as we have seen, the correlation there was a long way from perfect.  A large number of people were unaffected by the bad smell and thought gay marriage was just dandy!

The authors drew generally reasonable conclusions:
These data are consistent with theory delineated by Tybur and colleagues [13], which argues that disgust functions to decrease the occurrence (both in the self and society) of sexual behaviors that are perceived as increasing risk of pathogen transmission. Relatedly, and as noted by Haidt and Graham [11], conservative attitudes are driven not only by harm avoidance, but also by concerns about purity. According to these theories, shifts toward politically conservative views on sex may be basic, adaptive, and self-protective responses against perceived spread of pathogens or moral threats. When disgust is evoked, the behavioral immune system engages avoidance to prevent infection (e.g., less interpersonal contact [28]) and appears to moralize sexual conduct in ways that underlie conservative values of purity and sanctity [11], [26]. As seen in the results of our study, it is possible that exposure to a disgusting odorant caused increased feelings of disgust, which in turn activated the harm avoidance system and motivated a desire for purity (cleanliness). Once these two systems were activated, it is possible that participants began to adopt attitudes that they perceived as decreasing social harm and/or increasing moral purity.

There is a growing literature indicating that disgust has important consequences for political views and policy preferences. In the research presented here, exposure to a disgusting odor caused greater endorsement of conservative views, including: rejecting gay marriage, restricting sex to marriage, disapproving of the use of pornography, and increased beliefs in Biblical truth. Odor induced conservative shifts concerning gay marriage were particularly robust. It is possible that some forms of political conservatism, particularly those related to sex and sexuality, are basic and inherent in some populations and can readily emerge under threatening or taxing conditions [4], [29], [30].
This study will undoubtedly be bruited about by Leftists touting it as "proof" that conservatives are irrational.  So it should be noted that the researchers did not say that.  They in fact saw the role of disgust as healthy and adaptive.

The one issue I would have with the researchers is that they have overgeneralized their findings.  They did not find ANYTHING about conservatism in general, despite testing that.  And the few correlations they celebrate in their conclusions above were in fact of trivial magnitude. Only the "Gay marriage" correlation was of some substance.  It was however nice to have a confirmation that homosexuality is still associated with disgust even amid a tyranny designed to erase such disgust.

There's a journalistic version of the study here.  The original journal article is Disgust and the Politics of Sex: Exposure to a Disgusting Odorant Increases Politically Conservative Views on Sex and Decreases Support for Gay Marriage


How political insiders control the ballot

by Jeff Jacoby

BALLOT-ACCESS hurdles are a classic incumbent-protection device, one of the techniques political insiders use to protect their monopoly from pesky challengers and citizen initiatives.

So it's tempting to chortle when one of those hurdles trips up an incumbent as seasoned as Representative John Conyers Jr., a Detroit Democrat serving his 25th term in Congress, who was disqualified last week from the Democratic primary ballot for failing to submit the 1,000 valid voter signatures Michigan law requires.

There are plenty of reasons why voters in Michigan's 13th congressional district might want to usher Conyers into retirement. The man is 85, he has been in Congress for half a century, and in recent years he has compiled an embarrassing record of ethical lapses and controversies. He is often visibly befuddled; veteran Detroit News editor Nolan Finley notes that "stories abound about Conyers' gaps in lucidity."

But none of that is relevant to the petition-signature requirement that knocked Conyers off the ballot. His campaign turned in more than the necessary number of signatures from registered voters in the district — 1,236 of them, according to local election officials. But nearly half of those signatures were thrown out because the petition circulators hired to collect them weren't themselves registered voters.

Why in the world should it make the slightest difference whether the people canvassing for signatures outside the local supermarket or at the town dump are registered to vote?

It shouldn't. Conyers fell afoul of a proviso whose only real purpose, like so many other election-law conditions, is to ensnare the unwary or to make ballot access more difficult for insurgents and outsiders. Such traps are not just obnoxious, they are unconstitutional: In 1999 the Supreme Court struck down a Colorado law that required petition circulators to wear identification badges and be registered voters in the state. Under the First Amendment, the court ruled, such "undue hindrances to political conversations and the exchange of ideas" are intolerable. So Conyers and the American Civil Liberties Union have filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the Michigan law, and arguing that the valid signatures collected by the all of the congressman's canvassers should be counted and his name placed on the ballot.

Volunteers collecting signatures to repeal the automatic gas-tax increase must follow scrupulous rules. A stray mark on a petition can result in a page full of voter signatures being thrown out.

Political elites, especially in initiative and referendum states, love to complain that access to the ballot is too easy, and that just about any special interest with a bank account can buy the signatures it needs to put an issue before the voters. The Conyers debacle is a timely reminder that the opposite is true. Politicians and their cronies, jealous of sharing power with the great unwashed, devise inventive ways to keep people and propositions off the ballot. Collecting the necessary signatures and jumping through all the other needed hoops to put something on the ballot is a lot harder than many realize.

In Massachusetts this week, the ballot campaign to repeal the automatic hike in gasoline taxes is rallying around the state to collect the 11,000 signatures it needs to place the issue before the voters in November. (That's on top of the 88,000 certified voter signatures the campaign submitted last fall.) But the rules are so onerous that organizers know that to be sure of clearing that hurdle, they need to get more than twice as many voters to sign: Their goal is 24,000. Volunteers circulating the petitions are given detailed rules for handling the forms. Number 1 on the list: "No marks on the paper. The Secretary of State's office throws out all papers with marks on them." Under Massachusetts law, one errant squiggle, highlighting, or underline on a petition is enough to disqualify every signature on the page.

It is strange that some members of the political class should be so hostile to letting voters occasionally have more of a say on an issue that particularly exercises them. Legislators on Beacon Hill introduce bill after bill aimed at crippling the ability of voters to take an issue to the ballot. One tries to double the number of signatures required to qualify an initiative petition. Another demands publication of an official "fiscal impact statement" by the governor. A third insists that petition circulators sign an affidavit on each page they turn in.

To keep uppity voters and outsiders in their place, it seems, any pretext will do. It shouldn't only make news when a congressional lifer like Conyers is hoist on the same petard.



What The VA Scandal Exposes About Liberalism

President Obama is “madder than hell” about the scandal at the Veterans Administration. How do we know? Dennis McDonough, Obama’s chief of staff, told us so.

Between fundraisers and golf outings, the president took time from his “busy” schedule to inform his chief of staff aside how angry he was that his administration was, in effect, issuing death sentences to veterans by hiding them on secret wait lists so as not to endanger performance bonuses bureaucrats receive for ensuring those vets did not, in fact, die.

The president must be so angry he’s lost the ability to speak – at least for two weeks when he couldn't be bothered to say or tweet a word about the mistreatment of veterans by his team. Finally forced to break his silence Wednesday, he delivered a statement filled with all the passion of a bag of dirty laundry. But I’m not here to complain about the president’s failed leadership – at this point it’s commonplace, his “style,” and God only knows how much worse things would be if he decided to be “hands on.”

No, I’m not going to mock him since it’s hard to mock a parody anyway. Nor am I going to run through the litany of things “the smartest guy to ever become president” has found out about through media reports and not his paid staff whose very job it is to keep him informed of the happenings in his administration. (The great Washington Free Beacon has a video of some of them worth watching here.)

No, others can do that much better than I. But there is one thing I noticed in the McDonough distract-a-thon over the weekend that I found to be incredibly telling, not just about the president, but about liberalism in general.

When McDonough was on CNN with Jake Tapper, he was confronted with proof the White House knew for years about the hidden VA wait times and the consequences of that act. Rather than offer an apology or simply admit the truth, he offered what is standard fare for liberals – a distraction. But the distraction in this case is the crystallization of liberalism.

McDonough told Tapper, “The president has seen dramatically expanded investments in Veteran’s Administration operations over the course of these last five years … year-on-year historic increases in that budget. At a time, by the way Jake, when we’ve seen budgets under intense pressure, we will continue to make those investments.”

Did you catch it? The president has spent more money on the VA than anyone else has, and to liberals that’s the solution. No concern for how the money is spent – whether it is being spent effectively, being wasted or stolen - just that it’s being spent. The appearance of caring, coupled with a big check, is enough.

We see this not only in the Veteran’s Administration, but in just about everything liberals touch. Washington, D.C., spends nearly $30,000 per student and fully 83 percent aren’t proficient in something as basic as reading.

In Maryland, another big-spending state, Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley is gearing up for a presidential run by touting how the Old Line State is No.1 in national reading tests. What he leaves out is that’s in large part because Maryland exempts more students who would score lower on that test that any other state – by a lot. As the Washington Post put it, “The state led the nation in excluding students on the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress, posting rates that were five times the national average and more than double the rate of any other state.” (Emphasis added.)

As I’ve said before, when you choose the unit of measure, or invent one out of whole cloth (jobs saved or created), you’ll always come out on top. When it comes to caring, liberals have set that unit of measure as money – always other people’s money. With that as the yardstick, no one cares more than liberals. But, like a distant rich parent in movies and novels that raise horrible children, a bottomless checkbook is no substitute for results. And when it comes to results, at least in the real world, be it health care, education, anti-poverty programs, the Veterans Administration, or anything else big government attempts to “fix,” liberals are sadly lacking.



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC,  AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, 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, May 22, 2014

America's Budding Tyrants

Walter E. Williams

From the Nazis to the Stalinists, tyrants have always started out supporting free speech, and why is easy to understand. Speech is vital for the realization of their goals of command, control and confiscation. Basic to their agenda are the tools of indoctrination, propagandizing, proselytization. Once they gain power, as leftists have at many universities, free speech becomes a liability and must be suppressed. This is increasingly the case on university campuses.

Back in 1964, it was Mario Savio, a campus leftist, who led the free speech movement at the Berkeley campus of the University of California, a movement that played a vital role in placing American universities center stage in the flow of political ideas, no matter how controversial, unpatriotic and vulgar. The free speech movement gave birth to the hippie movement of the '60s and '70s. The longhair, unkempt hippies of that era have grown up and now often find themselves being college professors, deans, provosts and presidents. Their intolerance of free speech and other ideas has become policy and practice on many college campuses.

Daniel Henninger, deputy editor of The Wall Street Journal's editorial page, updates us on the campus attack on free speech and different ideas in his article titled "Obama Unleashes the Left: How the government created a federal hunting license for the far left" (

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, one of the nation's most accomplished women, graciously withdrew as Rutgers University's commencement speaker after two months of campus protests about her role in the Iraq War. Some students and professors said, "War criminals shouldn't be honored." One wonders whether these students would similarly protest Hillary Clinton, who, as senator, voted for the invasion of Iraq.

Brandeis University officials were intimidated into rescinding their invitation to Somali writer and American Enterprise Institute scholar Ayaan Hirsi Ali, whose criticisms of radical Islam were said to have violated the school's "core values." Brandeis decided that allowing her to speak would be hurtful to Muslim students. I take it that Brandeis students and officials would see criticism of deadly Islamist terrorist gang Boko Haram's kidnapping of nearly 300 Nigerian girls, some of whom have been sold off as brides, as unacceptable and violative of the university's core values.

Azusa Pacific University, a private Christian university, canceled a planned address by distinguished libertarian scholar Charles Murray out of fear that his lecture might upset "faculty and students of color." In response to the cancellation, Murray wrote an open letter to the students, which in part read: "The task of the scholar is to present a case for his or her position based on evidence and logic. Another task of the scholar is to do so in a way that invites everybody into the discussion rather than demonize those who disagree. Try to find anything under my name that is not written in that spirit. Try to find even a paragraph that is written in anger, takes a cheap shot, or attacks women, African Americans, Latinos, Asians, or anyone else." Unfortunately, such a scholarly vision is greeted with hostility at some universities.

Earlier this year, faculty and students held a meeting at Vassar College to discuss a particularly bitter internal battle over the school's movement to boycott Israel. Before the meeting, an English professor announced the dialogue would "not be guided by cardboard notions of civility." That professor might share the vision of Adolf Hitler's brown-shirted thugs of the paramilitary wing of the Nazi party in their effort to crush dissent.

Western values of liberty are under ruthless attack by the academic elite on college campuses across America. These people want to replace personal liberty with government control; they want to replace equality with entitlement. As such, they pose a far greater threat to our way of life than any terrorist organization or rogue nation. Multiculturalism and diversity are a cancer on our society. Ironically, we not only are timid in response but feed those ideas with our tax dollars and charitable donations.



Yes, Some People Will Have to Pay Back Their Obamacare Subsidies

Obamacare offers subsidies to help pay for health insurance – if you are buying insurance through the federal exchange and your income qualifies. But now the word is out that at least 1 million people are probably getting the wrong subsidy amounts.

The Washington Post has inside sources providing all sorts of juicy details on this problem – but it didn’t take an investigative reporter to predict this was going to happen.

Heritage expert Alyene Senger warned that Obamacare’s subsidies are tied to income – and if your income changes at any point during the year, your subsidy is supposed to change, too. She explained in January:

    "if a person’s income fluctuates, which happens more frequently than many realize, the subsidy amount will change from month to month. Thus, when it comes time to file taxes in April, the amount of subsidy received over the past year must be reconciled with the final calculation of the total subsidy for which the individual was eligible—based on actual income for the entire tax year.

    So if you qualify for more subsidy help than you receive during the year, you’ll get a tax refund. But if you were given more subsidy than your income qualifies you for, you will be required to repay the excess subsidy."

Now, the Post reports that the government is attempting to keep up with this – except that the part of Obamacare’s computer system that is supposed to match proof of income with people’s Obamacare applications is, well, not built yet.

Since taxpayers are funding the subsidies, it’s important to make sure the correct amounts are going to the correct people, right? Well, that does make the Obama administration “sensitive” these days, the Post says:

    "Beyond their concerns regarding overpayments, members of the Obama administration are sensitive because they promised congressional Republicans during budget negotiations last year that a thorough income-verification system would be in place."

This setup is a disaster. And it will ensnare a lot of people. Senger pointed to one analysis estimating that nearly 38 percent of families eligible for subsidies also experience “large income increases” at some point during the year – meaning they would have to pay back some or all of their subsidies.

“The issue is symptomatic of many problems that will plague the law in coming years,” Senger said.

Is it any wonder that 60 percent of voters in a recent poll said the debate about Obamacare is not over? And 89 percent said Obamacare will affect their voting decisions this fall.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is right – Obamacare is still not the answer for America’s health care needs. It’s time for Congress to look at patient-centered alternatives that would restore choice to American health care – and stop the unending tales of Obamacare disaster.



Unreal: Democrats Screen Anti-Koch Film at the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center

Apparently slingin’ rhetorical arrows at the Koch brothers from the Senate floor isn’t working out all that well. So you could say Congressional Democrats are stepping up their game

Serious question: What surprised you most? The fact that Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi screened an anti-Koch documentary at the Capitol Visitor Center last night of all places or that “Koch Brothers Exposed: 2014 Edition” is a real film? Actually, don’t answer that question. If you’ve been paying close attention to the Senate Majority Leader’s incoherent mutterings finely-crafted speeches lately, neither one of these things should really surprise you:

    The show must go on — unless it breaks congressional rules.

    Rep. Candice Miller, the chairwoman of the House Administration Committee, wrote to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on Monday saying a scheduled film screening of an anti-Koch brothers movie in the Capitol Visitor Center is violating House and Senate rules.

    The screening for “Koch Brothers Exposed: 2014 Edition” is scheduled for Tuesday evening and both Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will participate in a question and answer session for the film.

    But, in letter obtained by POLITICO, Miller (R-Mich.) wrote that she has “several serious concerns” that using the Capitol Visitor Center for the film “may cross the line into partisan politics.”

    Rules created by the House and Senate committees charged with administration of the Capitol complex state that “no audio visual presentations in the CVC may premiere, preview, showcase, or publicize a film.”

    “We cannot hold partisan political rallies or fundraisers on the grounds of the Capitol, or within its walls. Our work in this hallowed building must solely be in the interests of the American people and not into the interests of any political cause,” Miller wrote.

A Pelosi spokesperson disagreed. She argued that the film was not “screened” in the traditional sense, but rather "shown" in “clips” at a press conference where these types of activities are legal. Sure.

Meanwhile, progressive billionaire Tom Steyer recently gave the Senate Majority PAC (read: Senate Democrats) a cool $5 million. Remember, though, that’s a “clean” donation. Why? Because it will go towards keeping the Koch brothers in check -- that is, from “trying to buy” our democracy, or whatever.



French socialism at work

Reuters reports that in order to boost GDP and to cement that even under hard-core socialism France is still a manufacturing powerhouse, the French national rail company SNCF had ordered some 2000 trains for an expanded regional network from the national rail operator RFF. There was just one problem: the trains were too wide.

And since the local station platforms can not fit the misshaped trains, France now has to spend countless millions and add to its already disturbing budget deficit  in order to repair and construct wider stations. The good news, of course, is that France gets to double count the benefit of the GDP "boost" - first for the screwed up train order, all thanks to some bureaucrat who didn't feel like double checking his numbers, and second to reconstruct all of its incompatible train stations. Surely this is the purest definition of economic "growth."

    Construction work has already begun to reconfigure station platforms to give the new trains room to pass through, but hundreds more remain to be fixed

How could such an idiotic mistake take place: does nobody double check anything under a socialist utopia? Apparently not:

    The mix-up arose when the RFF transmitted faulty dimensions for its train platforms to the SNCF, which was in charge of ordering trains as part of a broad modernisation effort, the Canard Enchaine reported.

    The RFF only gave the dimensions of platforms built less than 30 years ago, but most of France's 1,200 platforms were built more than 50 years ago. Repair work has already cost 80 million euros ($110 million).




Wait Till You Get the Bill

The Associated Press reports on the latest way ObamaCare is going to increase costs for many Americans: "The Obama administration has given the go-ahead for a new cost-control strategy called 'reference pricing.' It lets insurers and employers put a dollar limit on what health plans pay for some expensive procedures, such as knee and hip replacements. Some experts worry that patients could be surprised with big medical bills they must pay themselves, undercutting financial protections in the new health care law." Such "reference pricing" treats everything beyond an arbitrary limit as out-of-network care, even if it's not, which means billing will be higher with no help from your insurance company. And it won't count toward your out-of-pocket limit. Has there ever been a bigger fraud perpetrated on the American people than ObamaCare?

One-Percenter in Chief

Barack Obama released his financial disclosures and it turns out the president is rolling in the dough. According to The Blaze, Obama is worth $7 million, including the $400,000-a-year presidential salary and the royalties from his three books. He only paid $98,169 in taxes. With enough money to qualify him as a One-Percenter, maybe he should take the advice of Hillary Clinton who said at the New America Foundation Conference Friday, "America is strongest when prosperity is shared. ... I urge elites to pay their fair share." More...

Wrist Slapping for GM

What happens when Washington's darling car company, General Motors, does something embarrassing like ignoring a defect in its cars' ignition switches which then led to 32 accidents and 13 fatalities? When the government started looking, GM started 'fessing and the government slapped the automaker on the wrist with a civil penalty of $35 million. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said, "What GM did was break the law. They failed to meet their public safety obligations. And today, they have admitted as much." While the transportation secretary could look stern announcing the fine, it was a fraction of the $1.2 billion Toyota has to pay for its sticky acceleration pedals. But wait... didn't the federal government own GM during all those years the company hid the ignition switch defect? More...

Banks Dump Gun Sellers

Gun companies on all levels, from parts manufacturers to local gun stores, have seen banks back away from doing business with them because the federal government defined gun companies as "high risk." The companies say the Department of Justices' "Operation Choke Point," a probe into credit card fraud, is an attack on the Second Amendment. Peter Weinstock, a lawyer with Hunton & Williams LLP, told the Washington Times, "This administration has very clearly told the banking industry which customers they feel represent 'reputational risk' to do business with. So financial institutions are reacting to this extraordinary enforcement arsenal by being ultra-conservative in who they do business with: Any companies that engage in any margin of risk as defined by this administration are being dropped." The Obama administration never has made secret its contempt for Liberty. More...



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC,  AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, 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, May 21, 2014

Blaming Their Troubles on Koch

Reid's Koch fixation is troubling

When economic policies don't work and ideas thought to be brilliant fail, the last thing a politician does is blame himself. It's always someone else's fault.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), who has another two years left in his current term, is looking at the 2014 political landscape and has obviously made the decision that he has no desire to be in the minority party to finish his term. But what successes can his Democrat Senate point to? Fellow Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) correctly noted, "Democrats are simply seeking to distract from their failure to address the real issues facing our country, like our sluggish economy and the president's disastrous health care law." So what does Reid do? Blame the Koch brothers, of course.

Granted, the entrepreneurial philanthropist Koch brothers are major conservative players, among other things bankrolling the advocacy group known as Americans for Prosperity. Who could be against prosperity besides the current administration? Harry Reid could. That's why he incessantly screeches about private citizens from the Senate floor. "None of us should be afraid of the Koch brothers," he said. "These two multi-billionaires may spend hundreds of millions of dollars rigging the political process for their own benefit. But I will do whatever it takes to expose their campaign to rig the American political system to benefit the wealthy at the expense of the middle class." Matthew 7:3-5 (first remove the log from your own eye) comes to mind, particularly when Democrat coffers are overflowing with millions of dollars from the pockets of George Soros and Tom Steyer.

But Reid sits in a position to do great harm. He and other Democrats are championing a constitutional amendment that would undo several Supreme Court precedents, beginning with Buckley v. Valeo -- a 1976 case in which money was first equated with political speech -- and continuing on through the more recent Citizens United and McCutcheon decisions striking down parts of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance "reform" law from a decade ago. Reid's is a populist appeal to hide the fact that the biggest in-kind donations to leftist campaigns come from the Leftmedia, which trumpet news when it's bad for conservatives but downplay the negative about the Left.

More to the point, The Washington Times explains, "Mr. Reid and his fellow Democrats say the government should have the ability to decide who can spend money in elections and how much they are allowed to spend."

Democrats' plan to amend the Constitution to limit campaign contributions from certain categories of people practically amounts to an unconstitutional bill of attainder -- a law aimed to punish a person or group. Reid nearly admitted as much, saying, "Amending our Constitution is not something we take lightly. But the flood of special interest money into our American democracy is one of the greatest threats our system of government has ever faced. Let's keep our elections from becoming speculative ventures for the wealthy and put a stop to the hostile takeover of our democratic system by a couple of billionaire oil barons. ... There is absolutely no question the Koch brothers are in a category of their own. No one else is pumping money into the shadowy campaign organizations and campaigns like they are. There isn't even a close second. They are doing this to promote issues that make themselves even richer."

So Reid is going to try to amend the Constitution to stop the Koch brothers. His singular obsession with them has become severely disturbing. As Hot Air's Ed Morrissey quips, the amendment should be titled "*The Koch Brothers Are So Un-American That I Have Lost My Mind Act*."

One would think this amendment is a non-starter with congressional Republicans, but at one time we thought ObamaCare would never see the light of day, and then Republicans would defund it the first chance they got. As an "incumbent protection plan," Reid's proposal possibly has legs. Perhaps Reid would like to call a constitutional convention. We have some ideas for amendments to rein in abuse of power.



Mr. Politically Correct Obama, Meet Your Opposite, India’s Mr. Modi

When Barack Obama was made aware that Narendra Modi would be India’s next prime minister, the chances are that he moaned softly to himself…and cringed.

India’s voters had brought to power a man who is not permitted to visit the United States, having been denied a U.S. visa in 2005 on account of a State Department determination that he had violated religious freedoms in the Indian state of Gujarat. (Some 2,000 Muslims had died in riots that scarred Gujarat in 2002. Modi was the state’s chief minister at the time, and his critics hold him responsible for the deaths.) The visa ban was still in place when Modi was nominated last September to lead theBharatiya Janata [Indian People’s] Party into the elections; and most awkwardly for Obama, the ban was still technically in place on the day of his victory. American diplomacy has been decidedly maladroit.

As if jolted awake by the obtuseness of his own State Department, Obama invited Modi to visit the U.S. “at a mutually agreeable time” when he called the Indian on Saturday to congratulate him on his triumph.

A meeting between the two men, when it occurs, could be fascinating to observe. Obama and Modi are from two different planets, and each, in his heart, is likely to have vigorous contempt for the other. The former is an exquisitely calibrated product of American liberalism, ever attentive to such notions as “inclusiveness.” He is the acme of political correctness (notwithstanding the odd drone directed at “AfPak”). Modi, by contrast, is a blunt-spoken nationalist, opposed to welfare, and to the “appeasement” of minorities.

Obama and Modi are from two different planets, and each, in his heart, is likely to have a hearty contempt for the other.
Unlike Obama, who can scarcely bring himself to embrace the notion of American Exceptionalism, Modi is an Indian exceptionalist—although not in the manner of Indian leaders who have preceded him. Traditional Indian foreign policy, mired in a reflexive, postcolonial non-alignment, has always held that India has moral lessons to impart to other nations. Its international posturing has had a preachy (and frequently hypocritical) quality to it, of the sort that can get on the nerves of American presidents and other Western leaders. Modi’s foreign projection is likely to be more assertive: It is plain that he envisions a strong India that is accorded respect by other nations, and that also pulls its weight in the world.

This assertiveness comes with its dangers, of course. Will he show restraint in the event of a cross-border terrorist incursion into India from Pakistan? Will he provoke a crisis with neighboring Bangladesh—that rarest of societies, a secular Muslim-majority democracy—by cracking down hard on the movement of its migrants into India? How will he react to Chinese provocations, which are sure to come, given Beijing’s increasingly bellicose insistence on its territorial claims on land and at sea?

The foreign leader he will bond with best is unlikely to be Obama, an American president who has none of the instinctive feel for India, or for the enormous potential of a U.S.-India alliance, that George W. Bush had.  The withering of that alliance has been one of the bleak, untold stories of Obama’s period in office, and one senses that India will have to wait for Hillary Clinton to reach the White House before the Delhi-Washington relationship blossoms again.

Modi’s keenest ally—potentially his BFF—is likely to be Japan’s Shinzo Abe, who was one of the first to send his congratulations to the Indian politician when it became apparent that he would be the next prime minister. Abe and Modi are, in many ways, made for each other: Ardent nationalists yearning to break free from their respective nations’ patterns of international passivity, they both face the terrifying challenge of a China that plays by its own unyielding rules, a maximalist hegemon which has the economic and military heft to dispense with diplomacy as the primary means of dispute resolution.

Shinzo Abe, disconcerted by the ebbing of American influence—and by the reluctance of Obama to project (much less deploy) American power in the service of its allies—has every reason to cultivate Narendra Modi. Japan has a lot to offer India in the renovation of the latter’s appalling infrastructure, and Tokyo is raring to ramp up the rate of its business with India. India is a fellow democracy, and, like Japan, feels acutely vulnerable to Chinese territorial and economic expansionism. By linking up, Tokyo and Delhi can bolster each others’ defense, each others’ confidence, and give heart also to the other nations in the region that feel the burn of the Chinese nationalist furnace.

Although national security is a primary concern for Modi, his foreign policy is likely to be carried on the back of his economic policy. He is aware that India can only be consequential if its economy is growing: not only would growth enable India to afford the military hardware it needs to match China; it would also ensure that the widest possible range of international business interests come to have a stake in India. As the case of China shows, a sufficiently extensive foreign business presence confers on the host country a high degree of immunity from foreign criticism and sanctions. So the American leaders with whom Modi will have the most direct dialogue will not be in Washington but on Wall Street, and in the American corporate sector. And he will not need a visa to see them; they will come to Delhi.

Modi’s victory will also energize the large and wealthy Indian diaspora in the United States. He has many supporters in that country, and it was an invitation from an Indian-American business group that gave rise to the need for a visa in 2005. Modi, one suspects, will be in no hurry to visit the land that considered him unfit for entry only a short while ago. And Obama, one also suspects, is in no great hurry to see Modi, in spite of his pro forma invitation on Saturday. It’s not that the twain will never meet: it’s that they don’t particularly relish the prospect of ever doing so.



'If You Have a Choice Between Going to a Dumpster or to a VA Hospital, Head for the Dumpster Every Time'


Brutally honest and politically incorrect, this unofficial advice was given just before I retired from the US Army. My 30-year career was challenging but consisted mostly of garrison assignments typical of the Cold War. My retirement health challenges were smoothly handled by Tricare, the public-private health-care partnership used by most military retirees.

All that changed after 9/11, when the military pivoted to the new normal of a permanently deployed expeditionary force. According to a recent RAND Study, nearly 75% of all American soldiers are now on their third or fourth combat deployment.

Whether their wounds involved lost limbs, traumatic brain injuries, or post-traumatic stress disorder, the Veterans Administration was - and still is - unprepared for the new generation of combat veterans.

No one should have been surprised that the VA - a classic traditional, top-down hierarchy - reacted with typical bureaucratic subterfuge, including lying, lost records and phantom waiting lists. Here's why:

Rule #1: In government organizations, everything always rolls downhill. You carry out Washington's orders even when they no longer make sense, even if that means doctoring the patient waiting lists. The vets wait forever for an appointment but executive bonuses still get paid, because of...

Rule #2: Don't rock the boat. VA is a bureaucracy which takes care of itself first and the vet second - but only if no one makes waves. Its procedures and organizations are eternal and time-tested, meaning that nothing much has changed since Vietnam. So if whistle-blowing begins just because some malcontents had the nerve to die, the VA instinctively circles the wagons and promises to get to the bottom of things. But mostly they just mumble until the threat of accountability dies too.

Rule #3: No one ever gets fired. Although some dedicated public servants work for the VA, its bureaucracy is the medical equivalent of academic tenure. If you are a supervisor conscientious enough to set and enforce standards, you can expect to be accused of sexism, racism, or worse. Don't be surprised if your superiors won't back you up either (see Rule #2). The whole system resembles the Soviet economy where foot-soldiers in the worker's paradise grumbled, "We pretend to work and they pretend to pay us." Same idea at VA, except we pay them a lot more.

Rule #4: Who they gonna' call? Any bureaucratic crisis inevitably has three phases: They ignore you, then dispute your findings, and finally attack you personally. But stonewalling at VA makes sense because today's vets represent just one-half of one percent of the American people. Since more than 99% of us don't serve anyone except ourselves, just how long do you expect public outrage to endure? That's a tough question, but every VA bureaucrat is betting that his department, his supervisors, and their internal agendas will endure a lot longer.

They might be wrong, because the White House just appointed a top aide to spend time over at VA finding already well-known facts. Maybe they're worried that Breitbart or Fox News will start pointing out that the current debacle shows what can happen with socialized medicine, including Obamacare. The alternative, at least for the veteran, is the Tricare system mentioned above.

I live in San Antonio, now rivaling Houston as a center of medical excellence. After my third stroke, Tricare allowed me to be treated at a leading civilian hospital, where I met Dr. David Friedman. "Colonel, I've done some genetic testing. Your clotting factors are 80 times higher than average, which is why you're having these strokes." That was five years ago, all of them stroke-free because Tricare allows Dr. Friedman to check my blood thinners every six weeks. Hey, you like your doctor, Tricare allows you to keep your doctor, right?

Even had I been lucky enough to get an appointment, would the VA have been that good? Nope, I don't think so either. So why not kill a dysfunctional bureaucracy before it kills another veteran - while gobbling up our tax dollars? After fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, haven't those kids suffered enough?



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC,  AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, 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, May 20, 2014

A favorite hymn

Although I am no longer a believer, I have never lost my love of the wonderful old Christian hymns.  So I was a bit sad that one of my favorites was missing on YouTube:  "LlGHT'S GLITTERING MORN".  It is in fact a medieval Latin hymn and has, as such, been variously translated and set.  The setting I like is by Palestrina in 1623 and the translation I like is by J.M. Neale.  But other quite different settings are more common  -- and are not nearly as good in my view.  Anyway, judge for yourself.  A performance of the setting that I like has just popped up this month on Youtube:

It is Hymn 126 in Hymns Ancient and Modern (The old Church of England Hymn book) but for convenience I give a few of the verses below:

1. Light's glittering morn bedecks the sky;
Heaven thunders forth its victor—cry;
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
The glad earth shouts her triumph high,
And groaning hell makes wild reply.
Hallelujah! (x5)

2. The pains of hell are loosed at last;
The days of mourning now are passed;
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
An angel robed in light has said,
"The Lord is risen from the dead."
Hallelujah! (x5) ’

3. All praise be Yours, 0 risen Lord,
From death to endless life restored:
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
All praise to God the Father be,
And Holy Ghost eternally.
Hallelujah! (x5)

UPDATE:  A reader has noted that the same wonderful tune is used in "Ye watchers and ye holy ones".  A splendid example here.  The graphics for that performance not only include the happy faces of the singers but also some splendid shots of great British  steam locomotives, including some A4s -- an excellent metaphor for divine power.

I am  having trouble tracing the source of the tune.  I read that its first appearance in print was in Auserlesen Catholische Geistliche Kirchengesäng of Cologne in 1623.  And that the German title of the hymn was Laßt uns erfreuen herzlich sehr (Let us make praise very heartily).  I also read that the tune was revised first by Bach and then by Vaughan Williams before it reached its present form.


Pfizer and the flight from punitive taxes

by Jeff Jacoby

FOR ALL the attention it's gotten, the anticipated merger between Pfizer Inc., the New York-based pharmaceutical giant, and its British rival AstraZeneca is far from a done deal. Pfizer has yet to make a formal offer, as its CEO told a parliamentary hearing last week; it has only broached informal proposals that AstraZeneca has so far rebuffed.

But if the merger does go through, Pfizer makes no bones about its intention to shift the company's legal domicile to the United Kingdom, thereby saving a fortune in taxes. As a US business, Pfizer's foreign earnings are subject to a combined 42.1 percent corporate tax rate — the 35 percent federal rate plus New York's 7.1 percent. As a British company, its top tax rate would fall to 21 percent. The difference could amount to $1.4 billion a year.

Outrageous? Indeed. But the outrage isn't the wish of an American corporation to lower its tax bill. It is a US tax code so punitive and counterproductive that it can drive a company like Pfizer, which was launched in Brooklyn in 1849, to turn itself into a foreign corporation.

The United States has the highest corporate tax rate in the developed world. That puts American companies at a serious competitive disadvantage, since their rivals elsewhere are able to channel more of their profits into new investment, hiring, and productivity. What's worse, ours is the only country that enforces a system of "worldwide" taxation, which means that American firms have to pay tax to the IRS not only on income earned in the United States but on their foreign earnings as well. Other nations content themselves with "territorial" taxation — they only tax income earned within their national borders. US corporations like Pfizer that have significant earnings overseas are thus taxed on those earnings twice: first by the government of the country where the money was earned, and then by the IRS.

So why wouldn't "US Firms Pack Up for Tax Benefits," as a Wall Street Journal story on the trend was headlined? Relocating their corporate domicile to another country frees them from having to pay taxes to Uncle Sam on their foreign earnings — earnings that Uncle Sam shouldn't be taking a bite out of in the first place. If America's corporate tax system weren't so grasping — if it operated along the same territorial tax principles as the rest of the industrial world — businesses wouldn't be feeling pressure to head for the exits.

Pfizer is only the latest US firm to contemplate merger with a foreign company as an escape hatch from an onerous tax code. In just the past two years, reports Bloomberg, at least 15 publicly traded corporations have undertaken such a "tax inversion," as the practice is called. Among them: banana distributor Chiquita Brands, telecommunications company Liberty Global, and Eaton Corp., a Fortune 500 supplier of electrical equipment. In recent weeks, shareholders of Walgreen, the Illinois-based drugstore chain, have been pushing the company to reincorporate in Switzerland, where it is in the process of acquiring Alliance Boots, a health and beauty conglomerate.

Tax inversions are easy to rail against. A New York Times columnist labels the Pfizer-AstraZeneca proposal "a mega-tax-dodge." The liberal group Citizens for Tax Justice accuses Pfizer of wanting to "get out of paying their US taxes, and it's absolutely wrong."

But companies don't "get out of paying their US taxes" — that is, taxes on income earned in the US — by shifting their legal address. European and Asian companies that do business in America pay taxes in America. Inversion doesn't change that.

No taxpayer, individual or corporate, is obliged to pay more in taxes than the law requires. And where legal options exist for reducing one's tax bill, there is nothing wrong, let alone "absolutely wrong," in considering them. Corporations don't exist to maximize government revenue. Their loyalty should be to shareholders and customers — not the US Treasury.

It isn't carved in granite that America must have the most punitive corporate taxes in the world. Congress inflicted that burden on American business, and Congress has the power to lift it. "We should not be surprised," writes Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, "when corporations fight to get out from under antiquated tax rules."

Pfizer can't rewrite the tax code that is causing it to overpay $1.4 billion in yearly taxes. It can only try to escape it.



Young People Will Reject Liberalism’s Lies

When the whole shoddy edifice of the progressive project collapses under its own dead weight, it will largely be because the liberals forgot to breed enough mindless minions to keep shoring it up. The left has always depended on a never-ending parade of credulous children to revitalize its dwindling ranks as the march of time and maturity depletes them. Liberal youth would grow up, look around, realize how progressivism is a disaster, and largely stop buying into the nonsense.

But now, young people are wising up earlier. This is bad news for liberals, but great news for America.

Our youth – those in college and younger – are starting to reject the nonsense pushed by the progressive clown car of communism-lite. This presents an opportunity for the most counterintuitive of alliances, that of those entering adulthood and those of us who entered it long ago and are now reaping the benefits of liberalism’s shameful transfer of wealth and power to those of us who have already made it on the backs of those just starting out.

We need to distinguish the youth from the older Millennials, who are famously infatuated with The One. And we even need to distinguish among the Millennials, because some of that generation have rejected the value-free values of their cohort. In particular, we must note those glorious Millennial warriors who have served their Nation in war. Their selfless service has justly earned them a place of honor in America’s Valhalla, where the heroes of Lexington, Iwo Jima and Ia Drang await their coming to the places at the table their courage has earned them.

But the rest of the Millennial generation just needs to be slapped.

Maybe they will learn too, albeit through the magic of pain. Maybe it’s too late. Regardless, their younger brothers, sisters and gender-indefinite siblings have seen the Millennials’ eager embrace of progressivism repaid with the expectation that they will bear the full cost of the political payoffs liberals promised to more useful and wealthy Democrat demographics. People like me, an established trial lawyer in the bluest part of the bluest state. Obama has been just awesome for folks like me, and that unjust awesomeness has been paid for by a Millennial generation mired in debt and unemployment. But it often seems that this travesty bothers me more than it bothers them.

Yet the generation behind them doesn’t seem so thrilled at the prospect of subsidizing the lavish lifestyles of left-leaning coastal professionals via eternal toil at breakfast beverage stands. Good. It’s great to see young people getting mad at the gigantic con liberalism is running on them.

Why are young people getting less liberal? First, we need to understand that they are not necessarily getting more conservative. Remember, these young people are just emerging from 13+ years in the liberal conformity factories of the progressive educational complex. They’ve been trained to hate conservatives; they’d think a conservative was the equivalent of the antichrist if they knew who Christ was.

But look at it from their point of view. All they’ve seen in their young lives is liberals lying to them. They are not stupid. They are just unwise, both because they are young and, in many cases, because they were raised by glorified man/womynchildren who confuse helicoptering with parenting.

They see the lies. They understand that it’s a bad idea to come out of college with $250K of debt and a double major in Marxist Pottery and Selective Outrage. They hear from their liberal overlords about open-mindedness, tolerance and rights, yet see these same liberals foaming at the mouth to root out any dissenting views and sacrificing due process on the altar of political correctness. They know a kangaroo court when they see one, and they see the offending marsupials are bitter liberal feminists, sophomore race hustlers, and cowardly university administrators without the intestinal fortitude to tell these leftist lynch mobs to go back to their dorms.

These are children of the Internet, versed in social media, used to a free-wheeling, no-holds-barred electronic frontier – and they understand that every progressive from Obama on down is slobbering for a chance to rein it all in. Look at the NSA revelations; what can be tracked, inevitably with these eager Thought Policepeople, will soon be controlled. These young people have endured the soul-deadening nightmare of liberal thought control all through their real life school years – they don’t want it in their virtual lives too.

And, operating under the radar, is a cultural subversion of the liberal paradigm. For example, those crazy kids love their Hunger Games. It’s not exactly a portrait of a world Milton Friedman might design; it seems an awful lot like one the liberal DC/Hollywood nexus would enjoy.

Then there’s this fascinating, conservative video game called “Minecraft” that all the kids are into. I got a quick briefing on it before shooing some of them off my lawn.

It warmed my heart. Minecraft allows kids to create virtual worlds, limited only by their imagination and their willingness to work. The thing is that the resources don’t simply appear – you have to obtain them. The kids can work or barter to get the resources they want. It’s pure capitalism. And it even has bad guys that try and steal one’s resources or destroy one’s creations, so you have to defend what’s yours.

It’s kind of like real life. Don’t think of it as a time-sucking game. Think of it as training. These young people are being trained – often for the first time – that work leads to rewards, that capitalism works, and that sometimes you need to deal the pain to dirtbags.

The kids are gravitating to cultural phenomena that can function as Conservatism 101. Let’s hope it takes. And this could even be good for the Millennials. These Obama-loving saps will have a whole new, younger generation to sell artisanal teas and espressos.



Poll Finds Wide Support for Voter ID Laws

Once again, registered voters have shown that they are overwhelmingly in favor of voter ID laws, a recent Fox News poll found.

“There is a debate about state laws that require voters to show a valid form of state-or federally-issued photo identification to prove U.S. citizenship before being allowed to vote,” the question stated. “Supporters of these laws say they are necessary to stop ineligible people from voting illegally. Opponents say these laws are unnecessary and mostly discourage legal voters from voting. What do you think?”

Seventy percent of respondents said voter ID laws are “needed to stop illegal voting,” while 27 percent said these laws are “unnecessary and discourage legal voting.”

    The survey found majorities of every demographic support the law. Ninety-one percent of Republicans offer support, and 66 percent of independents feel the same.

    Fifty-five percent of Democrats support the laws, while 43 percent oppose them.

    Opposition to the laws is highest among black respondents, but even there a bare majority, 51 percent, support them. Forty-six percent of African Americans oppose the laws.

Rand Paul recently made headlines after The New York Times quoted him as saying he thinks “it’s wrong for Republicans to go too crazy on this issue because it’s offending people.”

Paul, who later said the comment was “overblown”, clarified what he meant on “Hannity”: “I know about voter fraud and that there have to be rules and states have the ability to do it,” he said. “But I’ve also said Republicans should be emphasizing the good things we’re trying to do to try to help minorities vote instead of the things many minorities feel is directed at them, rightly or wrongly. … So I do object to overemphasizing something that is turning people off.”


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, 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, May 19, 2014

VA Testimony: Shinseki Is 'Mad as Hell' but Refuses to Resign

Being mad won't help.  Basic reform is needed.  Give people a perverse set of incentives and they will behave perversely

Dogged by a widening scheduling scandal that first came to light in Phoenix but has now reportedly spread to at least six other VA facilities, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki rebuffed calls for his resignation in Congress this week. He boldly informed a Senate panel, “I intend to continue this mission until I have satisfied [my] goal or I’m told by the commander in chief that my time has been served.” He did, however, say that he’s “mad as hell” about the allegations, so we’ll see if that translates into positive action.

As one of Obama’s original appointees, Shinseki has overseen the VA since before its 14-day wait-list metric for patients was established three years ago. The metric determined that a patient should be seen no more than two weeks from his or her initial call, but the two-week goal has been ignored by a growing number of VA facilities. In fact, a VA office in Gainsville, Florida, was just found to have a secret wait list full of 200 veterans.

Also troubling are the harmful cost-cutting measures allegedly being implemented on Shinseki’s watch. A whistleblower who formerly worked for a newly created Texas VA center found problems with the new facility’s HVAC system and backup generator that endangered a sterile surgical environment, but more disturbing still was a course of care that called for three positive fecal screenings before allowing for a colonoscopy. Dr. Richard Krugman, the whistleblower, says such delays can cost lives, because, “By the time that you do the colonoscopies on these patients, you went from a stage 1 to a stage 4 [colorectal cancer], which is basically inoperable.” Patients would then perhaps die at home or in a private hospital, off the VA records.

Krugman says the same Texas facility deleted 1,800 orders for service to eliminate a backlog and pass an inspection. Evidently, he blew the whistle on one too many things, however, as he was put on administrative leave before being fired in 2012.

Shinseki’s agency obviously has its hands full with this investigation, so Barack Obama has enlisted Deputy Chief of Staff Rob Nabors to assist the probe. Shinseki welcomed Nabors as “a fresh set of eyes.” As its mission, the VA sets 230,000 appointments a day and faces pressure from both ends: Vietnam-era veterans who are now facing the ailments of old age as they reach their sixties and seventies, coupled with the needs of younger veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq.

As we’ve said before, the problems that plague the VA are surely a harbinger of things to come for the overall health care system under ObamaCare. Its big problem is how to fund care for older and sicker people with few younger and healthier individuals willing to pay a higher premium. But the failures at the VA are practically inherent to any bureaucracy – ineptitude, indifference and self-protection are baked into the cake. It sure would be helpful if a “fresh set of eyes” also looked at the current American health care system.



Fighting fire with fire

Conservatives have long sat by as radical progressive liberals curb-stomp anyone who disagrees with their ideology. On principle, we refuse to boycott anything. That’s a tactic of the left, and the right likes to stick to the high ground, even though it means losing ground every day to the forces of tyranny.

Well, enough is enough.

I’d never heard of the Benham brothers before they had their yet-to-be-launched HGTV show pulled before it aired because their Christian, pro-traditional marriage views were deemed unacceptable to progressives. HGTV caved to pressure, which is its right, and progressive activists cheered, as is also their right. But the progressive activists weren’t content with keeping these brothers in obscurity. They wanted oblivion for them.

After blocking their TV show, progressives set out to destroy the Benham brothers. Before they (almost) had a TV show, the Benhams had a successful real-estate business with Sun Trust Bank, contracting to sell properties for the bank. Then, on Friday morning, under pressure from progressives groups, Sun Trust dropped the brothers, potentially ruining them.

It wasn’t enough for progressives to keep the brothers from being on TV (a real-estate show where their views never would have been an issue, or even known by the audience). They think wrong, so they had to be destroyed. But they can’t destroy them on their own, they needed accomplices. Enter Sun Trust.

I don’t know Sun Trust Bank. I don’t use it. But I was prepared to pledge to never use it, and to call for you to join me in that unless and until they reversed their decision. Well, by the end of the day on Friday that decision was reversed by Sun Trust because people who refused to be bullied threatened to do just that.

There’s a lesson here if we’re willing to learn it.

Conservatives resist boycotts because they believe them to be a liberal tactic, which may be true. But they work. By refusing to use them, conservatives render themselves irrelevant.

I have no love for the Benham brothers, nor do I particularly agree with the statements they’ve made that birthed these events. But I wholeheartedly support their right to hold these views. They didn’t hurt anyone. They didn’t commit violence or a crime. They simply strayed from what progressives deem acceptable thought, and for that they have been targeted. That is un-American.

It doesn’t matter what you think of gay marriage, abortion or any religion. The idea that people could be targeted and harmed for simply differing on these issues should bother you. Because, while today it may be something you don’t care about, it someday will be something you care about. You either speak up now or be prepared to find no ears when you most need your voice to be heard.

Sun Trust was willing to cave to progressive pressure on this issue because it’s usually the only real pressure ever exerted on companies. And if companies are willing to cave to a little pressure from the left, what issue won’t they cave on? What issue will progressives next apply pressure on them to suppress? When will that intersect with something important to you? Are you willing to wait till that happens?

Companies should not be caving to such left-wing pressure, but the only way to stop them, to send the message of “no more,” is to apply the same pressure from the center and the right. A threatened customer exodus from Sun Trust will put it on notice, but it also could put on notice every company who gets a letter from GLAAD, the National Action Network, People for the American Way, PETA, MoveOn, Media Matters or any other fascistic group, that capitulation could have consequences.

Progressives use boycotts because they work; pretending they don’t is folly. The only way to change that fact is to send a clear message to companies that doing so will have repercussions too. Not sending a message now will be sending the biggest message of all – those who oppose the progressive agenda are a toothless, deaf, blind guard dog, a doormat for their whims. To do nothing would be like drawing a red line only to see it crossed and pretending you never drew it in the first place, or pretending a Twitter hashtag will cause terrorists to change their ways.



"Heaven is for Real" and the Gospel of Life

Paul Kengor finds consolation in his faith for his never-born children.  I have NINE never-born children to mourn but I mostly deal with it by not thinking about it

I recently bought the book “Heaven is for Real” and saw the movie. That was unusual for me. I don’t typically do the books and movies everyone else is doing, especially the touchy-feely spiritual ones. Maybe it’s the snob in me, or, really, I just don’t like to do what the culture is doing. But this time, I made an exception.

The story is about the near-death experience of a four-year-old named Colton Burpo, a pastor’s son from Nebraska. I’ll say up front that I didn’t care much for the movie, unlike the book. The screenwriter took too many shortcuts and liberties and redirections with new characters. Most annoying was the sexualizing of the little boy’s mother, Sonja Burpo. Don’t get me wrong, she’s no Miley Cyrus or Madonna, but she’s repeatedly represented in an alluring, suggestive, sensual manner. I was almost expecting a nude scene.

The writer/director, Randall Wallace, explained Sonja’s portrayal this way: “So many people believe that Christians, and particularly the wives of ministers, would be these sexless, sweet, butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-their-mouths kind of people, and that was the opposite of what I thought Sonja was or should be. And Kelly [Reilly, the actress who plays Sonja] just had this sense of romance and charisma—you couldn’t take your eyes off of her.”

Really? Who are these “many people” who think of Christian women this way? Must we cater to narrow-minded secularists who imagine that the vast sea of American churches they never visit have no attractive women inside? If some 20-something “progressive” New Yorker is that insular and prejudice, too bad. Let’s not tailor to his ignorance by sexualizing the church-mom in a story about a little boy’s visit to heaven. I wonder how the real life Sonja Burpo feels about this portrayal of her.

But on the positive side, there was much about young Colton’s story that was compelling and convincing.

Generally, both the movie and book detail things that this child, even as a minister’s son, couldn’t have known ahead of time. I don’t have the space to detail all of those here. You’ll need to see for yourself. Actually, read the book first, because it details these things far better and more believably than the movie. But I will share just one especially poignant example that really touched me when I viewed the movie trailer; in fact, it prompted me to buy the book first.

Well after he has come home from the hospital and recovered, Colton one day out-of-the-blue tells his mother that he has two sisters. Sonja casually corrects him, “No, Colton you have your [one] sister.”

“No,” Colton responds. “I have two sisters. You had a baby die in your tummy, didn’t you?”

“Who told you I had a baby die in my tummy?” a stunned Sonja responds to her four-year-old.

“She did, Mommy. She said she died in your tummy.”

Sonja is speechless. She had a miscarriage a few years before Colton’s birth, but no one ever told little Colton. How did he know? He knew because he said he met the deceased sister in heaven.

A shocked Sonja, long grieved by that miscarriage, asks Colton the girl’s name. He tells her that she doesn’t have one, because mommy and daddy never gave her one. The crushed Sonja responds that they indeed didn’t name her, because they never knew she was a she. It’s okay, Colton tells his mother, she’s fine, she has hair just like yours, and God has adopted her: “she just can’t wait for you and Daddy to get to heaven.”

This scene really hit me. My wife and I have a bunch of kids, but between the second and third there were miscarriages. I’ve often thought about those unborn lives. Should I pray for them? Are they indeed children waiting for us? This innocent, hopeful account by this little boy really struck me. A cynic might say that this is a purely emotional response, that this book/film pushed my buttons. But I’m not like that. I think there’s more to it. Consider: My faith teaches that life begins at conception. I know it. I believe it. I write about it. I teach it.

So, if that’s the case, then why wouldn’t I believe that those miscarriages, which were lives that began at conception, are waiting in heaven, just as the lives that make it out of the womb go to the other side?

It makes sense, doesn’t it? Did it take little Colton Burpo’s feel-good story about how heaven is for real, to help me—this chastened writer and academic—understand that those unborn lives are also for real, in heaven?

Call me a sentimentalist, but something about this particular account of heaven struck me as really real.



Classy: Democrats Accuse Iraq War Veteran/Congressional Candidate of Cowardice

Allen West

I find utterly despicable the latest salvo launched against Lee Zeldin who is running for U.S. Congress in New York. As The Daily Caller reports, The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is accusing the Iraq war veteran of being a “coward,” prompting calls for an apology from the GOP. In a post on its website, the campaign arm of the House Democrats is asking whether Republican Lee Zeldin is being cowardly about Republican Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget.

I happen to know Lee Zeldin, still an Army Reserve Major who served on active duty with the 82nd Airborne Division — he is far from being a coward. I mean, really?

The text of the post by the DCCC is as follows; “Over a month after his House Republicans passed Paul Ryan’s reckless budget, Congressional Candidate Lee Zeldin is still too scared to admit how he would vote for the plan, even though he wants Long Islanders to send him to Congress,” the DCCC said in a release. “Even though every member of Congress had no choice but to vote yes or no weeks ago, what’s taking him so long to decide? There’s only one answer: Zeldin is either woefully uninformed, willfully ignorant or a coward.”

To add insult to injury, a DCCC spokesman posted a tweet with a picture of Zeldin’s face on the cowardly lion from The Wizard of Oz.

The Left possesses a deep-seated animus towards those who serve in uniform, regardless of their patronizing comments. Their actions speak volumes, and they especially despise veterans who seek political office. The sense of duty, honor, country, integrity, and character that our military promotes — those simple values such as courage, commitment, loyalty, and selfless service — are not appreciated by progressive socialists. Sadly, those values are considered useless and antiquated by the Left. Or as Greg Gutfeld says in his book, Not Cool.

Obama and his liberal progressive acolytes display their true colors when it comes to our military — as they decimate it and demean those who have served in it. We can indeed do better America!



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC,  AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, 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, May 18, 2014

That wonderful government medicine and its perverse incentives again

 Germaine Clarno is a VA social worker and employee representative in Chicago. She alleges there are multiple secret waiting lists of veterans kept at the Hines VA Medical Center.

Asked which divisions of the hospital kept the secret waiting lists, Clarno says, "Employees are coming to me from all over the hospital, from outpatient, inpatient, surgery, radiology."

Clarno says veterans were put on secret waiting lists when they called for appointments, but they wouldn't formally get an appointment booked in the computer until one came up within the VA's goal of 14 days. The purpose of the lists, she says, was to hide how often veterans were not being seen on time.

Clarno says the purpose of the lists was "to make numbers look better for their own recognition and for bonuses."

The VA grants bonuses to executives and doctors, partly based on short wait times. Whistleblowers -- including Dr. Sam Foote, who revealed the scandal in Phoenix, where up to 40 veterans may have died -- believe bonuses give an incentive to conceal delays in care.

Clarno says it is easier for bosses to claim short wait times -- and collect the reward -- than it is to explain why the target can't be met. She says she believes that throughout the VA, people are faking the wait time data in order to receive bonuses.

The VA told CBS News that bonuses based on 14-day appointments began in 2011, but that "the 14-day wait time target is a small portion of an executive's assessment, which is comprised of nearly 80 separate (measurements)."

Most veterans tell CBS News appointments take much longer. Paul Rodriguez, a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, sees several different doctors at Hines VA and says he never sees doctors within 14 days.  "It can be anywhere between one, two, three, four months," he says.

The director of the Hines VA, Joan Ricard, told CBS News in a statement that she has no direct evidence of any falsified wait times. VA investigators are due at the medical center Wednesday as part of the national audit to determine exactly how long veterans are waiting for health care.



New IRS Revelations – and What the Obama Administration Is Doing Behind the Scenes

Could the IRS do anything to make itself more unpopular? Apparently, things are far from over with the agency’s targeting of conservative political groups.

Emails obtained by Judicial Watch and released yesterday indicate that the Obama administration lied when it tried to pin the scandal on IRS employees in an Ohio branch office. In fact, the Washington, D.C., office of the IRS was coordinating with the employees to hold up tea party groups’ applications for nonprofit status and subject them to extra scrutiny.

At the heart of the controversy is Lois Lerner, who was head of the division that approved nonprofit applications at the time.

“This latest revelation by Judicial Watch showing that the IRS targeting of conservative organizations was being run by its Washington office demonstrates that the House acted correctly when it held Lois Lerner in contempt,” said Heritage legal expert Hans von Spakovsky.

The House voted last week to hold Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress for refusing to answer questions about the IRS scandal. But it’s up to Attorney General Eric Holder to take any action – the first step of which would be forcing her to testify – and that hasn’t happened.

Von Spakovsky said:

    "Lerner claimed that this problem originated in the Cincinnati office of the IRS, so it is pretty clear she was misleading the public and congressional investigators. The contempt citation needs to be enforced and if the Justice Department refuses to do so, it will be another example of unethical behavior by a law enforcement agency that has repeatedly failed to adhere to its duty to enforce the law on an objective, nonpartisan basis."

In other words, the odds aren’t great that Lerner will face real consequences.

But perhaps the worst news is that the Obama administration has been working behind the scenes to change the rules for political activism – permanently.

In a new paper, von Spakovsky details how the administration has proposed rules for the IRS that “appear to be an attempt to implement the ‘inappropriate criteria’ used by the IRS to target tea party and other conservative organizations applying for tax-exempt status.”

Turning the IRS’s targeting of these organizations into actual rules, he explains, would:

    "ignore Supreme Court precedents and the Internal Revenue Code; fail to provide clear guidance to citizens and organizations attempting to comply with the Code and accompanying regulations; and  threaten to restrict or violate the First Amendment rights of Americans."

The IRS scandal has become a bipartisan concern, as evidenced by a number of Democrats voting to hold Lerner in contempt of Congress and voting to appoint a special counsel to investigate the scandal.

But the administration’s effort to rewrite the rules for political activity is an even more serious threat that must be stopped.



Will Obamacare's Employer Mandate Ever Be Implemented?

Several days ago, a trio of researchers at the Urban Institute released a paper titled "Why Not Just Eliminate the Employer Mandate?" The paper argues that the provision in Obamacare requiring employers with 50 or more workers to provide health coverage or pay a penalty could be ditched without significant effect on insurance coverage.

The paper's particulars are probably less relevant than its overall argument: It's the latest in a series of motions designed to test the waters for the elimination of the requirement. Movement began last summer, when, over a long holiday weekend, the administration called for a one-year delay of the employer mandate and reporting requirements. It continued this year when an additional year's delay for smaller businesses, as well as a reduction in the requirement for larger employers, was tacked on.

At this point, it's widely expected that the provision will remain in limbo permanently. Former White House Press Secretary predicted last month that the provision would never go into effect; the Urban paper will give the administration ammunition to defend the move on policy grounds if and when another delay or permanent postponement is announced.

The policy rationale for ending the employer mandate is clear enough: Because it requires employers to provide coverage for full-time workers once the 50-employee threshold is reached, it creates incentives for firms to avoid hiring, or to cap employee hours so that they do not qualify as full time. End the mandate, and those incentives disappear.

But the employer mandate wasn't included in the law for no reason. It's meant to prevent employers from simply dropping coverage and sending full-time workers to get insurance through the exchanges. In an initial draft of the law that lacked a mandate, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that about 15 million employees would lose their workplace coverage and be sent to the exchanges instead—increasing the law's disruption of current coverage arrangements and the cost of subsidies for exchange-based insurance. The inclusion of an employer mandate significantly mitigated the CBO's estimate of these effects.

This is an old concern. If a health law creates a venue for subsidized coverage outside the workplace, won't employers drop coverage and shift workers to new insurance? When Hillary Clinton worked on a health policy reform plan in the 1990s, she remarked in congressional testimony that "we worry that the numbers of people who currently are insured through their employment will decrease because there will no longer be any reason for many employers" to offer coverage to workers.

The more important concern, however, is not the transition away from employer-sponsored coverage, which is a necessary and desirable component of most productive health reform proposals (although Obamacare's mechanism is probably not ideal). Instead, the question is whether the Obama administration would have the legal authority to abandon the employer mandate, should it choose to do so. The initial delay, announced last summer, was, generously, a legal stretch. The second delay, announced in February, was almost certainly an illegal maneuver, as even some supporters of the law have conceded. Further postponements would presumably also be illegal. If the administration is to proceed as Gibbs has suggested, then it will need more than a policy rationale. It will need a basis for its legal authority as well.



Why Capitalism is Worth Defending against Marx Madness

The Economist magazine rightly calls French professor Thomas Piketty the new Marx, although a watered-down version. Piketty’s bestseller (rated #1 on Amazon) is a thick volume with the same title as Karl Marx’s 1867 magnum opus, “Kapital.” The publisher, Harvard University Press, appropriately designed the book cover in red, the color of the socialist workers party.

And most importantly, Piketty’s focus is on the distribution of income and capital, not the creation of wealth. He’s not so much concerned with the size of the economic pie, but how it’s cut up.

His main thesis is that inequality grows under capitalism, that unfettered free markets make the rich richer and the poor poorer — a standard Marxist position — and that the only solution is to tax the dirty, filthy, stickin’ rich with highly progressive taxes on their income and wealth.

I don’t want to be picky, but Piketty often ignores data that contradicts his theory of growing inequality. For instance, he selectively chooses members of the Forbes magazine billionaires’ list to show that wealth always grows automatically faster than the average income earner. He repeatedly refers to the growing fortunes of Bill Gates in the United States and Liliane Bettencourt, heiress of L’Oreal, the cosmetics firm. “Once a fortune is established,” he claims, “the capital grows according to a dynamic of its own, and it can continue to grow at a rapid pace for decades simply because of its size.”

Come again?  I guess he hasn’t heard of the dozens of millionaires and billionaires who lost their fortunes, like the Vanderbilts, or to use a recent example, Eike Batista, the Brazilian businessman who just two years ago was the seventh-wealthiest man in the world, worth $30 billion, and now is practically bankrupt.

Piketty conveniently ignores the fact that most high-performing mutual funds eventually stop beating the market and even underperform. Take a look at the Forbes “Honor Roll” of outstanding mutual funds. Today’s list is almost entirely different from the list of 15 or 20 years ago. In our business, we call it “reversion to the mean,” and it happens all the time.

The professor seems to have forgotten a major theme of Marx, and later Joseph Schumpeter, that capitalism is a dynamic model of creative destruction. Today’s winners are not necessarily next year’s winners. IBM used to dominate the computer business; now Apple does. Citibank used to be the country’s largest bank. Now it is Chase. Sears Roebuck used to be the largest retail store. Now it is Wal-Mart. GM used to be the biggest car manufacturer. Now it is Toyota. And the Rockefellers used to be the wealthiest family. Now it is the Walton family, who a generation ago were dirt poor.

Piketty is no communist and is certainly not as radical as Marx in his predictions or policy recommendations. Many call Piketty “Marx Lite.” He doesn’t advocate abolishing money and the traditional family, confiscating all private property or nationalizing all of the industries. But he’s plenty radical in his soak-the-rich schemes, a punitive 80% tax on incomes above $500,000 or so, and a progressive global tax on capital with an annual levy between 0.1% and 10% on the greatest fortunes.

Why assess a tax of even 0.1% on wealth? It destroys a fundamental sacred right of mankind — financial privacy and the right to be left alone. An income tax is bad enough. But a wealth tax is worse. A wealth tax is Big Brother at his worst. Such a tax would require every citizen to list all his or her assets. The intent is to prevent any secret stash of gold and silver coins, diamonds, artwork or bearer bonds. Suddenly, the privacy guaranteed to Americans by the Fourth Amendment would be denied and produce an illegal and underground black market.

Equally important, a wealth tax is a tax on capital — the key to economic growth. The worst crime of Piketty’s vulgar capitalism is his failure to understand the positive role of capital in advancing the standard of living in the world. As Andrew Carnegie simply said, “Capitalism is about turning luxuries into necessities.” The latest example is the smartphone. It’s the great equalizer. Virtually everyone rich and poor has one, thanks to the ingenuity of entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs. This is democratic capitalism at its best. Income inequality may be growing, but when it comes to goods and services, inequality may be shrinking.

To create new products and services and raise economic performance, a nation need capital, lots of it. Contrary to Piketty’s claim, it is good that capital grows faster than income, because it means people are increasing their savings rate. The only time capital declines is during war and depression, when capital is destroyed.

Piketty blames the increase in inequality on low growth rates. He says return on capital tends to be higher than the economic growth rate. Good, let’s increase economic growth with tax cuts, sensible deregulation, better training/education, productivity and opening trade.

Even Keynes understood the value of capital investment and the need to keep it growing. In his “Economic Consequences of the Peace,” Keynes compared capital to a cake that should never be eaten. “The virtue of the cake was that it was never to be consumed, neither by you nor by your children after you.”

If the capital “cake” is the source of economic growth and a higher standard of living, we want to do everything we can to encourage capital accumulation. Make the cake bigger, and there will be plenty to go around for everyone. This is why increasing corporate profits is good — it means more money to pay workers. Studies show that companies with higher profit margins tend to pay their workers more. Remember the Henry Ford $5-a-day story of 1914? (In honor of its centennial, I’m telling this story again at FreedomFest this July 9.)

If anything, we should reduce taxes on capital gains, interest and dividends, and encourage people to save more and thus increase the pool of available capital and entrepreneurial activity. A progressive tax on high-income earners is a tax on capital. An inheritance tax is a tax on capital. A tax on interest, dividends and capital gains is a tax on capital. By over-taxing capital, estates and the income of our wealthiest people, including heirs to fortunes, we are selling our country and our nation short. You can never have too much capital.

What country has advanced the most since World War II? Hong Kong, which has no tax on interest, dividends or capital.



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC,  AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, 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)