Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Once again we find that the Bible is good history

Have archaeologists discovered where Jesus was sentenced to death? Site at Herod's Palace 'matches Gospel of John description'

The exact spot upon which Jesus stood as he was sentenced to death, may have been pinpointed by archaeologists in Jerusalem.

Discovered around 15 years ago, the remains of Herod the Great’s palace have been carefully examined and a place between a gate and uneven stone pavement has been identified as fitting the description of the event in the Gospel of John.

Pilgrims and tourists will be able to visit the Biblical site, because tours are being offered by the Tower of David Museum, which is located nearby.

Archaeologists suspected the site’s religious and historical significance when they uncovered parts of foundation walls of the palace and an underground sewage system, when excavating an abandoned prison, The Washington Post reported.

While historians largely agree that Herod’s palace stood in the west of Jerusalem’s Old City, whether Jesus was sentenced to death by Pontius Pilate inside it, is the subject of much debate.  This is mainly due to differing interpretations of the Gospels.

The Gospel of John describes the trial of Jesus taking place near a gate and uneven pavement, which some archaeologists, including Shimon Gibson, an archaeology professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, believe matches evidence at the site.

‘There is, of course, no inscription stating it happened here, but everything - archaeological, historical and gospel accounts - all falls into place and makes sense,’ he said.

The Reverend David Pileggi, minister of Christ Church located nearby the museum, told the newspaper that the discovery confirms ‘what everyone expected all along, that the trial took place near the Tower of David.’



Thank Gridlock for Economic Turnaround

The Obama Boom is finally here. Gross domestic product grew by a healthy 5 percent in the third quarter, the strongest growth we’ve seen since 2003. Consumer spending looks as if it’s going to be strong in 2015. Unemployment numbers have looked good. Buying power is up. And the stock market closed at 18,000 for the first time ever. All good things. So what happened?

Here’s David Axelrod on Twitter: “Note: The quarter before Obama took office, the U.S. economy SHRUNK by 8.9 percent, worst since 1930. Last quarter it GREW by 5 percent, best since 2003.”

Note: Contrasting the most severe quarter of your predecessor’s with the best one in your six-year presidency – one filled with extravagant and unmet economic promises – may strike you as a bit hackish. But let’s go with it.

Axelrod isn’t alone is claiming political credit for economic success, and the Obama administration certainly isn’t the first to try to take the glory. But if activist policies really have as big an impact on our economic fortunes as Washington operatives claim, I only have one question: What policy did Barack Obama enact to initiate this astonishing turnaround? We should definitely replicate it.

Because those who’ve been paying attention these past few years may have noticed that the predominant agenda of Washington has been to do nothing. It was only when the tinkering and superfluous stimulus spending wound down that fortunes began to turn around. So it’s perplexing how the same pundits who cautioned us about gridlock’s traumatizing effects now ignore its existence.

For instance, Paul Krugman wrote a column titled “The Obama Recovery.” The problem is that the author failed to justify his headline. It begins like this:

“Suppose that for some reason you decided to start hitting yourself in the head, repeatedly, with a baseball bat. You’d feel pretty bad. Correspondingly, you’d probably feel a lot better if and when you finally stopped. What would that improvement in your condition tell you?”

Suppose you tell us what the bat represents, because spending in current dollars has remained steady since 2010, and spending as a percentage of GDP has gone down. In 2009, 125 bills were enacted into law. In 2010, 258. After that, Congress, year by year, became one of the least productive in history. And the more unproductive Washington became the more the economy began to improve.

Krugman argues that the recession lingered because government hadn’t hired enough people to do taxpayer-funded busywork. The baseball bat. But then he undercuts this notion by pointing out that there was an explosion of public-sector hiring under George W. Bush – the man he claims caused the entire mess in the first place. Krugman also ignores the stimulus, because it screws up his imaginary “austerity” timeline. He then spends most of the column debunking austerity’s success in Britain.

He does this because, in theory, left-wing economic policies can never lose. For years, the administration rationalized the crippling unemployment we experienced by spinning a comforting counter-history: Things would have been a lot worse. But didn’t the stimulus fail even if we judged it on its own promises? Well, it should have been bigger. Wasn’t this the slowest recovery in history? Well, this was the worst situation since the Great Depression.

The Boston Globe, in an editorial reflecting much of the evidence-free praise the president has gotten, spins another myth. It points to policies passed in 2010 as the reason for growth today. But it’s just as easy – and more plausible, when we consider the history of our strong emergence from severe recessions – to suggest that the economy could have been a lot better had the administration alleviated many of its early regulatory and tax burdens. Or done nothing. Certainly, a person could just as effortlessly argue that shoehorning huge agenda items under the guise of spurring growth was more harmful than helpful.

“People often don’t realize that a political system is sometimes effective when it does not do certain things.” Pietro Nivola, a senior fellow in governance studies at The Brookings Institution, argued in 2012. “You can’t just measure the things it does, the actions it takes; you also have to measure the actions it does not take.” Nivola was impressed by how gridlock has the ability to stop the Republican House from cutting spending too abruptly for the economy.

And perhaps he’s right. Gridlock has caused an odd but pervasive stability in Washington. Spending has been static. No jarring reforms have passed – no cap and trade, which would have artificially spiked energy prices and undercut the growth we’re now experiencing. The inadvertent but reigning policy over the past four years has been “do no harm.”

On the strength of good economic news, Politico reports that Obama will use his State of the Union address to roll out an agenda aimed at the stagnating wages and those Americans left behind to build on the growth. I’m going to take a wild guess and say that it’s going to incorporate a lot of happy talk about “infrastructure” and a fairer reallocation of wealth. We need to grow from the middle out, if you will. No doubt, politically speaking, Democrats' fortunes are bound to improve somewhat as economic anxieties ebb. The president will surely see better approval numbers.

But let’s hear specifics. As I remember it, the administration hasn’t done anything in a long time. I know this because an incalculable number of op-eds have informed me that the president has had to contend with militant ideologues and has been unable to implement his agenda. I know this because I’ve had to listen to years of hand-wringing about politicians' inaction. You can’t have it both ways.



Truth Is, There's No One Behind the Wheel

By Jonah Goldberg

There’s an old joke in the newspaper business, now immortal on the Internet:

“The Wall Street Journal is read by the people who run the country. The Washington Post is read by people who think they run the country. The New York Times is read by people who think they should run the country. USA Today is read by people who think they ought to run the country but don’t really understand the New York Times. They do, however, like their statistics shown in pie chart format. … The Boston Globe is read by people whose parents used to run the country, and they did a far superior job of it, thank you very much. …”

And so on. The list gets updated from time to time, and it usually includes, “The National Inquirer is read by people trapped in line at the grocery store.” You get the point.

But the joke is on us. You see, no one is running the country.

I don’t mean that as a knock on President Obama. No president “runs” America because the government doesn’t run America – and the president barely runs the government. He can scarcely tell his own employees what to do. Civil service laws and union rules make it darn near impossible to fire even grossly incompetent employees for anything short of pederasty or murder.

I don’t have the space to rehash the Federalist Papers, but at the federal level there are three branches of government and each one monkey-wrenches the other, all the time. Meanwhile, do you know how many local governments there are in the United States?

Time’s up, and you probably guessed too low. There are, by the Pew Charitable Trust’s count, just over ninety thousand of them (90,056 to be exact).

What the joke gets right is that lots of groups think they should be running the show. But they all resent the fact that they’re not. From Ivy League eggheads to Wall Street fat cats, everyone talks like a backseat driver to a driver who isn’t there.

In recent years, I’ve had the good fortune to get to know some famous .001-percenters. Guess what? Not only do they not run the country, but they’re often desperate to find out who does.

For instance, listening to the Democratic Party or, say, the editors of the New York Times (tomayto-tomahto, I know), you’d think the Koch brothers owned America. Of course, if they did, they wouldn’t be spending so much money on elections, would they? Also, if the Kochs were half as evil and powerful as some claim, nobody would be criticizing them.

Meanwhile, for every rich conservative out there, there’s a rich liberal cutting checks, too. In other words, the one-percenters who supposedly run everything aren’t some homogenized class of economic overlords; they are, in fact, at war with each other. And, trust me, Charles and David Koch, Sheldon Adelson and Foster Friess no more think they are running the country than liberal super-donors Michael Bloomberg, George Soros and Tom Steyer do.

The notion that there’s a class or group of people secretly running things is ancient. It was old when the Roman consul Lucius Cassius famously asked, “Cui bono?” (“To whose benefit?”)

The reason is that we seem to be hardwired to assume there are no accidents, that the world is the way it is because people – hidden people – want it that way. The more extreme expressions of this cognitive reflex take many forms, whether anti-Semitic (Who benefits? The Jews!) or Marxist (Who benefits? The ruling classes!) or comedic (“Colonel Sanders with his wee beady eyes!”).

Today, on the left, such thinking has become institutionalized. When the champions of social justice can’t find an actual culprit, the villain becomes systemic racism or sexism or white privilege. But there is always evil intentionality lurking somewhere, like a ghost in the machine. The right has its bugaboos, too. For instance, there are many who think the mainstream media is biased (it is) and that its bias is somehow centrally orchestrated like a scheme by some Bond villain (it isn’t).

I think some people are scared of the idea that nobody is in charge, in part because they want someone to blame for their problems. Others don’t like this notion because they have an outsized faith in the power of human will. If villains aren’t to blame for our ills, then some problems cease to be problems and simply become facts of life.

Me? I like knowing no one is running things because, for starters, it means I’m free.



Do you or yours feel better?  Last week’s GDP Estimate Included a Massive Upward Revision in Health Spending

Massive spending for what benefit?

Last week’s third estimate of 3rd quarter GDP contained a significant upward revision to the real (inflation-adjusted) increase in GDP, from a 3.9 percent in the second estimate (released in November) to 5.0 percent in the third estimate.

November’s second estimate of 3rd quarter GDP included very tempered growth in health spending. The third estimate blows that out of the water. Much of the upward revision to the GDP estimate was due to health spending.

The real dollar change in seasonally adjusted GDP (at annual rates) from the 2nd quarter to the 3rd quarter was estimated at $153.7 billion in the second estimate. The third estimate revised this up to $195.2 billion, a change of $41.5 billion (27 percent).

Health spending was revised up from $8.6 billion to $20.7 billion, an increase of $12.1 billion. That is, the upward revision of health spending accounted for almost one-third of the entire GDP revision. Health spending is a component of household consumption of services. The entire revision to that category was $21.8 billion. So, pretty much the entire net increase in the estimate for household consumption of services was accounted for by health spending.

Whether this is good or bad for Americans’ welfare cannot be determined from these figures. Especially under Obamacare, health spending is so politically driven that subsidized spending may be increasingly wasteful.

What is also concerning about these revisions is that figuring out the impact that Obamacare is having on health spending has been exceedingly difficult. Let’s hope that we are not back where we were last summer, when the Bureau of Economic Analysis was struggling to capture health spending accurately in its GDP estimates.



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, 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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