Friday, April 08, 2016

Trump and Cruz may both sound equally crazy but the scary thing about Ted is that he actually means it

Piers Morgan below is attacking Ted Cruz but to my mind it makes Ted sound good.  And I think Morgan gets The Donald right

‘Ted Cruz was one of the sharpest, brightest students I’ve ever taught at Harvard.’

I’ve never forgotten that glowing tribute to the Republican presidential candidate – who won a big victory in the Wisconsin Primary last night - from one of America’s most famous and eminent lawyers, Alan Dershowitz.

Mainly because Dershowitz is a diehard liberal, so would instinctively disagree with almost every word that comes out of Cruz’s mouth.

But also because he taught over 10,000 students at Harvard Law, most of them exceptionally clever minds or they wouldn’t be at Harvard to start with.

So Cruz must be a highly intelligent human being.

Dershowitz, speaking to me on my old CNN show, added: ‘Ted Cruz deeply believes in what he’s doing, he’s deeply principled, he thinks he’s doing the right thing. That doesn’t mean it is the right thing, and he’s very hard to get off that principled argument. He was not a compromiser, not somebody who tried to make friends by accepting what was then the political correctness of the day.’

So far, so good you might think?

Nothing wrong with a very smart man who has firm principles and believes in what he’s doing.

Particularly when Donald Trump, his main opponent for the Republican nomination, is seen by many critics to be a deeply UN-principled, shameless opportunist.

The only problem is that Ted Cruz’s principles, as Bette Midler tweeted today, are ‘somewhat right of Attila the Hun.’

Attila, a fearsome power-crazed barbarian ruler of the Hunnic Empire in the 5th Century, had pretty strong principles too. Notably: ‘Trample the weak, hurdle the dead.’

A perfect metaphor, perhaps, for a ruthless career politician like Cruz who is equally loathed by colleagues on both sides of the Senate for his abrasive ‘outsider’ onslaughts against pretty much everything federal government stands for.

Most of the attention in this GOP nominee race has centered on TV and media superstar Trump.

But flying methodically under the radar has been a candidate who is inherently far more right wing than Trump.

Ted Cruz shares many of Trump’s character traits – including a massive narcissistic ego, a penchant for crowd-pleasing populist rhetoric and an aggressive, attack-dog style against opponents.

Where they differ, crucially, is that Cruz is deadly serious and very deliberate about every word he says, and has spent years plotting and scheming to radically change America forever.

His astonishing, and scary, ambition manifested itself publicly in 2013 when he threw one of the great tantrums in U.S. political history over Obamacare and successfully managed to shut down the government for 16 days. A self-aggrandising stunt which temporarily put 800,000 Americans out of work and cost the U.S. economy $22 billion.

Further, he actually stated that elected officials who didn’t vote to defund the Affordable Care Act were akin to Nazi appeasers.

Really? Anyone who supported a health care proposal which gave 30 million impoverished and uninsured Americans health cover was as morally culpable as people who tacitly enabled the mass murder of 11 million people including millions of Jews exterminated in gas chambers?

Cruz is not, as many believe Trump to be, just pandering to the hard-line Conservative right in America, he IS the hard-line Conservative right in America; a brutally ideological zealot who wants to drag his country kicking and screaming back to the very dark days of bigoted fear and hatred of government.

Consider some of his basic, very entrenched beliefs:

He’s opposed to any kind of same-sex marriage or civil union, believing marriage should be between ‘one man and one woman’. Such is his utter intolerance of all things homosexual, he even attacked the mayor of Dallas for marching in a gay pride parade.

He resolutely supports the death penalty.

He voted against the Violence Against Women Act.

He’s anti all abortion, including for pregnancies caused by rape and incest.

He wants to slash funding to Planned Parenthood.

He repeatedly claims that more guns mean less crime, despite all statistical evidence to the contrary. In fact, he's so gun-mad, even by Republican standards, that he makes breakfast for his family by wrapping pieces of bacon around a machine gun.

He denies the very existence of man-made climate change.

He’s so driven by his Christian religious beliefs that he opposes any notion of separating Church and State. ‘Any president,’ he said, ‘who doesn’t begin every day on his knees isn’t fit to be Commander-in-Chief.’

He claims Christians can’t be terrorists and have committed no such acts of terror for hundreds of years.

He wants police to ‘patrol and secure Muslim neighbourhoods inside America’ – an act described as ‘terrifying’ by U.S. Muslims.

Trump has been regularly described as the most dangerous man in America.

But Trump, at his heart, is a businessman.

He’s spent his life doing deals, often taking extreme starting positions – whether he’s buying buildings or golf courses, or haggling over a TV show salary - to secure leverage and then negotiating back to a more reasonable place.

He’s been adopting the exact same strategy in this presidential race – to great effect.

The presidency is just another deal to Trump, albeit the biggest of his life.

To win the White House, he has to first win the Republican nomination, and he’s calculated that the best way to do that is to hammer away with tough-sounding messages on hot button Conservative issues like Islamic terrorism, immigration and abortion.

It’s undeniably made him sound at times both racist and sexist, neither of which I have ever heard him be in the ten years we’ve been friends.

But I suspect everything he’s been saying is negotiable, from his Mexican wall to short term Muslim ban.

Whether you love or loathe Trump, ask yourself which is the more dangerous potential leader for America right now: a ‘deeply principled’ right wing evangelist lunatic who means exactly what he says, or a pragmatic extrovert businessman with a big mouth whose whole career has been built on compromise?

Of course, there may be other candidates who throw their hats in the ring if the Republican nominee battle is still undecided by the time of the party’s Convention.

For now though, it’s likely to be Cruz or Trump.

I personally wouldn’t vote for either of them, even if I were able to, because of their refusal to even countenance new gun control laws.

But I can say this with some certainty:

Trump wouldn’t be nearly as dangerous as people fear.

Cruz would be considerably more dangerous than people realise.



Leftist refusal to learn on display

The housing disaster is going to come back in a big way if Barack Obama has anything to do with it. According to the Washington Post:

The Obama administration is engaged in a broad push to make more home loans available to people with weaker credit, an effort that officials say will help power the economic recovery but that skeptics say could open the door to the risky lending that caused the housing crash in the first place.

President Obama’s economic advisers and outside experts say the nation’s much-celebrated housing rebound is leaving too many people behind, including young people looking to buy their first homes and individuals with credit records weakened by the recession.

In response, administration officials say they are working to get banks to lend to a wider range of borrowers by taking advantage of taxpayer-backed programs — including those offered by the Federal Housing Administration — that insure home loans against default.

Housing officials are urging the Justice Department to provide assurances to banks, which have become increasingly cautious, that they will not face legal or financial recriminations if they make loans to riskier borrowers who meet government standards but later default.

We've seen this all before. During Bill Clinton's presidency, HUD secretary Andrew Cuomo pushed similar policies. As Reason notes:

The meltdown was the consequence of a combination of the easy money and low interest rates engineered by the Federal Reserve and the easy housing engineered by a variety of government agencies and policies. Those agencies include the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and two nominally private “government-sponsored enterprises” (GSEs), Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The agencies — along with laws such as the Community Reinvestment Act (passed in the 1970s, then fortified in the Clinton years), which required banks to make loans to people with poor and nonexistent credit histories — made widespread homeownership a national goal.

This all led to a home-buying frenzy and an explosion of subprime and other non-prime mortgages, which banks and GSEs bundled into dubious securities and peddled to investors worldwide. Hovering in the background was the knowledge that the federal government would bail out troubled “too-big-to-fail” financial corporations, including Fannie and Freddie.

We've seen this cycle before: a government pursues a political goal with no regard for the predictable economic consequences, creating a free for all. Otherwise prudent institutions, aware of the consequences, nonetheless go along, lest they miss out on the record profits; the worst case scenario plays out. The government spends billions of dollars bailing out the well connected, and hardworking, middle class Americans suffer the consequences.



Beware Survivorship Bias

Suppose you wanted to know how many of the soldiers, sailors, and airmen who served during World War II were killed in that war. So you sent inquiries to a random sample of persons whose names were drawn from a list of all those who served in the military during the war, asking: Were you killed in the war? I presume that all of those who responded to the survey would reply, no. Having conducted your scientific poll, you could then conclude that none of the soldiers who served in the military services during World War II were killed.

The mistake you would have made in this case springs from what is known as survivorship bias. It affects many sorts of studies, including many where the study design is not so obviously stupid as in my foregoing example. Surveys have sought, for example, to determine how an increase in the legal minimum wage affected employers’ total hours of labor services hired. Such a forced wage-rate increase, however, especially if it were a large one, might well cause some marginal firms to go out of business. They would then be unavailable to respond to a poll or to show up in another type of survey to indicate that the increased minimum wage had caused them to reduce their hours of employment to zero, wiping out however many jobs they had previously supported.

You might think that any well-trained economist would be aware of survivorship bias and would not draw unwarranted conclusions by failing to take it into account in designing, conducting, and interpreting a study. But if you thought so, you’d be wrong. Mainstream economists, including super-duper econometricians, not uncommonly make this freshman mistake.

Long ago, Frederic Bastiat famously warned against ignoring the unseen effects and focusing exclusively on the visible effects of government’s or others’ actions in markets. His warning is often ignored, however, even by professional economists, many of whom pride themselves on their exclusive focus on quantitative data—for them, if it can’t be (and hasn’t been) counted, it does not exist. Such an approach to evidence and economic reasoning is indefensible.

Much of what we economists know can be known directly from praxeology, the pure logic of choice most notably developed by Ludwig von Mises and his followers. Thus, if someone fails to see and measure, for example, employment losses in the wake of a substantial increase in the legal minimum wage, the sound economist’s reaction to this (non)observational report is not to suppose bizarrely that the law of demand does not apply to labor services, but to challenge the obsession with observed and counted employment reductions. Many of the effects of increasing the legal minimum wage, for example, take the form of actions that never occurred and hence cannot be observed, for example, jobs that were never created because at the higher minimum wage entrepreneurs did not consider the formation of certain types of new firms or the creation of certain types of new jobs to be worthwhile.

In short, in gaining a solid understanding of economic events, we must beware of survivorship bias and never fail to consider the unseen as well as the seen consequences of government interventions in the market. A corollary is that we must not fool ourselves into the naïve positivist belief that only countable data deserve consideration in scientific work. The seen and the unseen, the counted and the uncounted—all are proper raw materials for the serious and properly trained student of economic and social life.



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated),  a Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on A WESTERN HEART.

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)


Thursday, April 07, 2016

Donald Trump is no media monster, the people created him

Comment from Australia

Last week, amid laughs and applause from an elite media audience, US President Barack Obama blamed the media for the rise of Donald Trump. In that moment, Obama summed up why the brash, sometimes bizarre contender for the Republican presidential nomination has risen higher than anyone ever thought possible. If you want to understand Trump’s rise, start with Obama’s cluelessness.

Obama said: “A job well done is about more than just handing someone a microphone. It is to probe and to question, and to dig deeper, and to demand more.”

Without mentioning the Republican contender by name, Obama bemoaned the fact, in his view, the media had handed Trump “billions of dollars in free media” minus serious accountability. Exasperated by Trump’s popularity, Obama said that “real people depend on you to uncover the truth”.

Saying that politicians don’t like the media when the media doesn’t serve their purpose is like pointing out that the sun rises in the east. Two weeks before he left office, that great media spin-meister Tony Blair complained about coping with the scale and weight of the media. He failed to admit that the sheer weight and scale of his own media operations had fed the beast. Our own Julia Gillard disliked media criticism so much she tried to regulate the media in 2013. Former Greens leader Bob Brown labelled criticism from the fourth estate as “hate media”. Former prime minister Tony Abbott felt betrayed by criticism from conservative media ranks.

Now it’s Obama turn to shoot the messenger rather than admit that the media responds to its audience, an audience that has lost faith in him and politicians like him.

The media is far from perfect. Compare the inherent bias among members of our own fourth estate who filleted John Howard in 2007 for criticising Obama’s plan to decamp from Iraq. Yet last weekend, when Malcolm Turnbull criticised Trump for his comments on nuclear weapons, there was only deafening silence.

The logical method to the madness of Trump’s rise has nothing to do with the media. Trump is a populist. Disaffected voters create populists. And a failed, insular political class creates that deep disaffection among voters.

As National Review’s Jonah Goldberg said on CNN last week, Trump is an immigrant from celebrity culture. His entry visa into politics was granted by millions of Americans who stopped trusting the institutions of power and instead looked to a populist with whom they could connect.

Be it a man in his 40s or a woman in her 20s, be it a blue-collar worker or a stay-at-home mum, be it a moderate Republican from Massachusetts or a conservative one from Alabama, Trump is their man. As one pundit pointed out: “Going back to 1960 … no Republican nominee has won the states of Alabama, Georgia, Massachusetts, Tennessee, New Hampshire, Nevada, Virginia and South Carolina.” Trump supporters across this geographical sweep echo Trump’s campaign mantra. They want to make America great again, the old-fashioned way.

That’s why Trump has been able to break all the rules. He has made offensive comments against women, Muslims, Hispanics, the disabled. Trump ridiculed Marco Rubio as “little Marco” and attacked Ted Cruz’s wife. He said John McCain was “not a war hero” and described his new political friend Ben Carson as a “child molester”. He told the audience during one debate “there’s no problem at all” with the size of his penis. He’s made a mess of explaining his position on abortion and suggested that Japan and South Korea ought to have nuclear weapons. He has denounced NATO as useless and tells the world to start protecting itself rather than look to America. And that’s just the shortlist.

The bigger point is that Trump is unafraid. He may be clumsy, misguided and even gross. He may sound dumb and even dangerous, but he is willing to weigh into debates that much of the political class tiptoes around. Banning Muslim immigration is nonsense but who else among the candidates, Democrat or Republican, has ventured into the difficult debate over clashing cultures? Media deities at The New York Times may shake their head at Trump for pointing out that Brussels today is a world away from Brussels 20 years ago. Meanwhile millions of Americans nod their heads in agreement with Trump.

Obama wasn’t talking about how mind-numbing and stifling political correctness in the media and beyond has given Trump a fillip among ordinary Americans. Obama’s claim that Trump has somehow avoided accountability, enjoying billions of dollars of free advertising, is as dumb as some of Trump’s statements.

From Left to Right, Trump is being eviscerated every minute of every day. Fox News is not cheering Trump on. Remember the early and ongoing stoush with Fox News’s Megyn Kelly? No less than National Review published an “Against Trump” edition, lining up America’s most influential and thoughtful conservative voices against Trump.

Glenn Beck pointed to Trump’s propensity for big government. William Kristol pilloried Trumpism as a “two-bit Caesarism of a kind that American conservatives have always deplored” and implored conservatives “to stand athwart Trumpism, yelling stop”. Michael Medved critiqued “Trump’s brawling, blustery, mean-spirited public persona” as playing directly into the negative stereotypes that left-liberals had long attached to their political opponents. All correct.

And mostly irrelevant to Trump supporters who certainly won’t agree with everything he says. How could they? They may well detest some of the things he says. How couldn’t they? But so far, it’s enough that he says he understands they have been forgotten by the political elites and that he wants to make America great again, the old-fashioned way. Trump’s campaign rallies make news because they are news: they point to a growing phenomenon of political dissatisfaction.

That doesn’t meant Trump will win the Republican nomination or, if that happens, become president. Last week, The Wall Street Journal’s Peggy Noonan, who has seen her fair share of presidents and presidential wannabes, explained the political theory of The Mess. “The Mess is something a candidate occasionally brings with him that voters can tell is going to cause trouble down the road. The Mess is a warning sign; it tells potential supporters to slow down, think twice.”

It‘s a pattern of behaviour, maybe scrapes with the law, love affairs or other scandals, she says, pointing out that voters accept that human beings are flawed but they don’t like patterns of bad behaviour that will bring trouble to high office. “Donald Trump’s Mess is his mouth, his indiscipline, his refusal to be … serious.”

Add this to Trump’s Mess. In February at the first contest in the race to the White House, when Iowa voters were asked if their candidate reflected their values, Trump scored the lowest. A measly 6 per cent. Beyond Iowa, polls show that people want a candidate who shares their values. And Trump doesn’t. Maybe red-hot anger among Americans has been masking that so far. Time will tell. But just as Obama is wrong to blame to media for Trump’s rise, Trump can’t blame his mounting Mess on the media either.

That said, whether Trump becomes the Republican presidential nominee or not, understanding the lessons of his success is preferable to the learned ignorance from Obama and the political elites.



Why Do Liberals Hate America?

The idea of American exceptionalism has been embedded in our collective DNA for generations. It is the faith-based belief that, as Ronald Reagan put it, America is a “shining city on a hill.”  Do modern liberals believe that?

I almost never try to get into the other side’s head or ascribe ill motives to those on the left. They are, I’ve always believed, misguided, not malign.

But I’m having second thoughts after listening to Barack Obama’s defense of communism/socialism when he was in Argentina. He advised young people to get behind “what works” economically — as if there is some deep mystery here.

Obama didn’t misspeak. The modern left in America really has come to believe that communism, socialism, Marxism and totalitarianism — or other terms for the monopolization of power into the hands of a ruling elite — are superior to free-market capitalism.

The president of the United States is supposed to be the global spokesman for free enterprise. But, instead of traveling to Cuba to point out to the world the decades of stagnation, deprivation and dehumanization at the hands of the Castros, and instead of using this moment in history to showcase the triumph of capitalism 90 miles away, Obama praises Cuba’s health care and education systems.

He might as well have been praising Mussolini for making the trains run on time. Even more unbelievable: The media applauded.

How far the Democratic Party has fallen. Can anyone imagine Obama, Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders having the gumption or wisdom to tell Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall”?

It wasn’t so long ago that leading Democrats — JFK, Harry Truman and even the AFL CIO — were staunch enemies of communism. Today, there is no place for such beliefs within the progressive Democratic Party. If it involves ceding power to the state, the left is all for it — as evidenced by the rise of Bernie Sanders.

But for every action, there is a reaction, and the left’s lunacy has given momentum to the tumultuous uprising on the right this year. Millions of voters who support Donald Trump want our government to put America first and focus on our own mounting problems at home, then worry about Europe, Israel, the melting ice caps, AIDS in Africa and so on. If your house is burning down, you put out that fire and save your own children trapped on the second floor, before you go down the street and put the fire out at your neighbors' house.

Here’s just one observational data point that, admittedly, is anecdotal but speaks volumes about the left-right divide in America. At a typical Donald Trump or Ted Cruz rally, you will see American flags waving everywhere. These are patriotic gatherings. At Sanders events, you will see some flags, but not many — because if you are a leftist, it’s not cool to love America. What is much cooler is wearing a Che Guevera T-shirt.

At a Republican rally, you typically meet many veterans who served our country with honor and valor. Some who protest at Trump rallies detest those who are wearing military uniforms and call them fascists and give the Nazi salute. I’ve seen it happen. I want to grab these brats and shout at them like Jack Nicholson did in “A Few Good Men”: “I would rather you just said ‘thank you’ and went on your way.”

Trump voters see America losing both the economic and cultural wars vital to national survival. We have a $19 trillion national debt that has doubled in the past decade. We have wages flat or falling for most Americans. We have a political class that is actively trying to destroy whole industries — coal production, oil and gas, community banks and so many others.

We have a president (along with the intellectual class) pushing a radical climate change agenda that will cost the middle class millions of jobs, but won’t change the global temperature by a hundredth of a degree. Trade deals seem to be drafted to benefit foreign workers and businesses over our own. America pays far more than its share for programs like the United Nations and NATO. Our public schools put teachers first, not kids, and they often don’t adequately educate.

We have courts overturning the will of the people in state after state on issues such as gay marriage. We have speech police. We have illegal immigrants who work here and live here and then wave the Mexican flag at rallies, as if to be intentionally offensive. (And I’m in favor of immigration.) Then they wonder why Americans want a wall.

We have the TSA searching the underwear of infants but letting certain adults pass through without inspection because we wouldn’t want to be accused of profiling. We have a Justice Department thinking about prosecuting people for questioning the climate change “consensus.”

This is the same crowd that seems to prefer the economic systems in Sweden and Greece and Cuba over America’s. They preach human rights, but they don’t seem to understand that economic freedom is a core human right.



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated),  a Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on A WESTERN HEART.

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, April 06, 2016

Thinking about retirement?  Economic historian, Martin Hutchinson, has some news for you!

Central banks have kept their policy interest rates close to zero for nearly eight years and with the partial exception of the Fed are now intensifying this policy by pushing rates negative. Combined with large budget deficits and ultra-aggressive regulation in the service of several dubious causes, these policies have provided a destruction test of Keynesian economic theories, which those theories have by and large miserably failed. They have also formed a major offensive against savers, i.e. against nearly all of us during a substantial portion of our human life-cycles. Ethically as well as economically, this needs to stop now.

In the days of final salary pension schemes, those with such pensions (which included the salaried and most unionized blue-collar workers) did not need to save. The company deducted money from their paycheck automatically, it took all the reinvestment risk, and the individual could retire with his company pension, Social Security and nothing else (maybe a house with the mortgage paid off) and live a very comfortable retirement. He never had to care what the Fed did, because the company took all the investment risks of his retirement assets.

By and large at that time corporations were thus a useful lobby making sure interest rates did not go too low, otherwise their required pension contributions soared. Truly, whether or not the generation that served in World War II were the Greatest Generation, those that kept their jobs through their careers unquestionably had the Greatest Retirement.

This has now completely changed. The Baby Boomers now retiring are a transitional generation, but the Gen-X’ers and Millennials will both have to save hard. Very few of them will have guaranteed final-salary pension schemes from their jobs, so unless they build up a very substantial savings pot, they will have to rely on the modest payments available from the Social Security system. What’s more, since the Social Security system is scheduled to run out of money in 2033 or so, those payments are likely to become even more modest around that time. (Current projections are that Social Security will be able from its running cash flow to pay about 72% of the nominal benefits due, but whether the Trustees will do that, or bias the system towards politically favored beneficiaries and pay less to the disfavored must be an open question.)

Interest rates thus play a huge part in the lives of those without defined benefit pensions, whether we want them to or not. While we are young, low interest rates are a benefit; Millennials may have been ripped off by their colleges, but they are at least paying nice low subsidized rates on the huge loans they incurred to obtain their mostly useless degrees.

Low interest rates are also attractive to those taking out a mortgage to buy a house, although in this case higher rates would be compensated by lower house prices. When I first came to the United States in 1980, I looked at buying a house, the prices of which were eminently affordable. The problem was mortgage interest rates of around 12%. I was prepared to afford that, expecting inflation and salary raises to take care of the problem over a few years. However, the amount I could borrow was pathetically low, because banks based their calculations on the mortgage payment (bloated by the 12% rate) compared to my after-tax income, and not on the principal amount, as they did in Britain.

Still, mortgage rates somewhere between 1980’s 12% and today’s 4% would lower house prices sufficiently for Millennials with a steady job to afford them. While they might not like the higher interest payments in the early years, they would be very happy with the easier payoff of the smaller principal owed.

Thus today’s low rates are beneficial to heavily indebted ex-students in their 20s, but more equivocal for financially stretched home buyers in their 30s. After 40 they become hugely damaging, because of the need to save for retirement, and absorb longevity risk in old age.

If a person with an income of $60,000 wishes to retire at 67 with pension equal to two thirds of his salary, or $40,000, he needs to save enough to fund payments of $25,000 per annum, increasing with inflation, assuming his social security payment is around $15,000. At today’s annuity rates, he will need to save $370,000 to buy an annuity that will give him the income he needs, although without inflation protection and with a complete wipeout of principal at his death, thus impoverishing any surviving spouse. At today’s 10-year Treasury bond rate of around 2%, he will need to save $905 per month to get that, which is about 25% of his after-tax income – in addition to his payment on a $150,000 mortgage, which might be another $500 per month. The kids will certainly have to take out loans to pay for college.

The economics really don’t work, or at least they are colossally painful. In practice, the current generation of 60-year-olds has used three methods of getting round this problem. First, if they bought a house before 1990 or so, they have seen the value of that house increase even in real terms and the mortgage payments correspondingly diminish. If they have been sensible enough to avoid cash-out re-financings – and most haven’t – they now have an asset they can sell to finance part of their retirement. With house prices much higher and inflation lower, the next generation – today’s 40- and 50- year olds – won’t be able to do this.

Second, 60-year-olds have put all their money in stocks, hoping that the fantastic bull market of the last 34 years will carry on giving them returns of 8-10% per year for the rest of their days. Since the stock market is now above twice its 1995 level, adjusted for the rise in nominal GDP, that won’t happen. Already today’s 60-year-olds are conscious of being well short of the money needed to fund their retirement; the next big downturn will open a gap between retirement aspirations and available resources that is impossible to fill.

Retirees are therefore doing the only thing they can do; spending their capital. That works fine for the first few years of retirement, but gets very nasty indeed once the capital runs out and you are too old to work. However, given today’s low current interest rates they have no alternative; when as today the risk-free rate of return on long-term (25 year) inflation protected TIPS is only 0.84%, for each $1,000 per month you require in secure inflation-proof income, you need capital of $1,428,571. Needless to say, anyone with $1.4 million in capital is spending much more than $1,000 per month, so is either running down his capital inexorably or, more likely, investing in stocks that will someday blow out and leave him destitute.

Maynard Keynes notoriously called for the “euthanasia of the rentier” but there is nothing whatever merciful about this war on those trying unsuccessfully to save for retirement. Indeed, for many of them a literal euthanasia will be their only solution once the money runs out. The problem is not yet acute, because many of the “young old” are living on what remains of the savings they have. However, you can bet that the “rentiers” themselves are only too aware of the problem. Donald Trump consistently polls better among the over-60s than among younger voters, and this is almost certainly why. These are not people whose biggest problem is student loans or even, mostly, the job market. They are finding it impossible to support themselves in old age, and hence they are angry enough, without necessarily understanding the precise interest rate effect that impoverishes them, to support Trump.

In a sensible political system, the Republicans would be properly aware of this problem among the older saving voters that form their core constituency, and would have been raising hell about it, in Congress and on the stump. There was a little discussion of interest rates in the 2012 campaign, mostly from Ron Paul, but since Mitt Romney’s defeat, not a squeak. This is almost as severe a betrayal of their voters by Republicans as their 2013 attempt to open the floodgates to more immigration. It should thus have surprised nobody that the core of the Republican voter base was angered at the party hierarchy, and ready to vote for any candidate, however implausible, who reflected their anger, even though he offered no solution to their most pressing economic problem.

Far from reforming their damaging and one-sided interest rate policies, the world’s central banks appear determined to double down on them, venturing into the even more dangerous territory of negative interest rates. Truly in this case the Keynesian clerisy is betraying the populace as a whole, condemning them to an impoverished old age they have not deserved. Voters’ anger is entirely justified; what is needed now is some politicians who will act to rectify the problem.



More Great Moments in Federal Government Incompetence

I used to think the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was the worst federal bureaucracy. After all, these are the pinheads who are infamous for bone-headed initiatives, such as:

    The EEOC making it hard for trucking companies to weed out drunk drivers.

    The EEOC telling a coffee shop it had too many attractive waitresses.

    The EEOC forcing companies to make special accommodations for “pee-shy” employees.

    The EEOC trying to give special employment rights to crooks.

    The EEOC sued a trucking company that dismissed Muslim drivers who refused to deliver alcohol.

    The EEOC was slapped down by the courts after trying to block employers from doing criminal background checks, even though the EEOC also conducts such checks.

But I’m beginning to think that the Veterans Administration should win the prize. The EEOC crowd is simply a bunch of nutty leftists, but VA bureaucrats are downright evil. They create secret waiting lists that result in dying veterans and thenpay themselves big bonuses.

And we now have evidence that they deliberately lie to internal investigators and deliberately scheme to deny care to former military personnel. The Daily Caller has someof the gruesome details. First, here’s information on the attempted coverup.

    Management at Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical centers in California selected and coached employees on exactly what to tell investigators about wait time manipulation, according to new inspector general reports. According to two whistleblowers, management handpicked medical support assistants and told them what to tell the Veterans Health Administration Inspection Team, which visited the San Diego medical center in May, 2014, following the wait time manipulation scandal which rocked the Phoenix VA.

And here’s evidence on the effort to delay care while simultaneously hiding evidence of waiting lists.

    Investigators interviewed 16 more medical support assistants, and most of them said they were told to “zero out” appointment times by changing veterans’ desired appointment dates to the first actual appointment date available. This practice gives off the appearance the veteran is getting the appointment at the desired time with no wait. …A veteran actually tried to commit suicide out of desperation and frustration as a result of four canceled appointments in a row.

You won’t be surprised to learn, by the way, that the crowd in Washington claims the actual problem is that the VA’s budget is too small.

Now let’s shift from malice to incompetence.

The Washington Post reports that officials from the Central Intelligence Agency left a rather unwelcome present for schoolkids recently.

    The CIA left “explosive training material” under the hood of a Loudoun County school bus after a training exercise last week, a bus that was used to ferry elementary and high school students to and from school on Monday and Tuesday with the material still sitting in the engine compartment, according to the CIA and Loudoun County officials. …Loudoun schools spokesman Wayde Byard said the CIA indicated the nature of the material but asked the school system not to disclose it. Byard described it as a “putty-type” material designed for use on the battlefield.

By the way, the explosives weren’t discovered because the CIA has strong inventory controls.

    The bus was taken to a school system facility on Wednesday for routine maintenance. Byard said the county’s buses are regularly taken off-line to check their spark plugs, hoses and to rotate tires. It was during a routine inspection that a technician discovered the explosive material.

Gee, how comforting.

Speaking of inventory procedures, the Daily Caller reports on an internal investigation that found grotesque and dangerous sloppiness in the handling of weapons at federal prisons.

    Firearms, ammunition and dangerous chemical agents could be missing from federal prison armories without government officials having a clue they are gone…said a Department of Justice Inspector General report made public Thursday. …The IG reported missing ammunition in one armory but redacted multiple examples of equipment that was removed or added without a system update. Inventory tracking inadequacies make it all but impossible to know if equipment is missing. The IG investigation was prompted in 2011 after a BOP employee pleaded guilty to stealing munitions from a federal prison facility, but changes made since 2011 by BOP have not remedied the problem. …Three of the seven federal prisons reviewed also stockpiled “unauthorized chemical agents and ammunition,” but the IG redacted details about those stockpiles.

The good news (fingers crossed) is that there’s no concrete evidence that weapons actually wound up in the hands of thugs or terrorists.

And I guess this isn’t as bad as the Obama Administration’s so-called “fast and furious” scandal, which was based on deliberately letting criminals obtains guns (though it did lead to a good Jay Leno joke).

P.S. Since I don’t want to be accused of discrimination, the episodes discussed above from the VA, CIA and BOP should not be interpreted as a slight to all the other federal departments and agencies that also work hard to waste money and make our lives less pleasant. Rest assured that the bureaucrats at the TSA, IRS, State Department, DHS, and elsewhere are also capable of waste, inefficiency, fraud, and abuse.



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated),  a Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on A WESTERN HEART.

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, April 05, 2016

An Authoritarian-in-chief?

Jeff Jacoby below is one of many who say that Trump is not fit for the Presidency.  He makes a more thorough than usual case for that so I thought I might offer a few comments on the matter.  

For a start, his referral to Trump as a potential authoritarian is amusing.  What could be more authoritarian than a man who wants to "fundamentally transform" America?  And the Leftist hegemony in America today goes right down to the children. Offering schoolchildren food they like in school meals is forbidden. And there are regulations for almost everything.  You cannot have an efficient dishwasher or an efficient toilet flush.  Americans already live under a pervasive authoritarianism.

Does Trump propose anything of that magnitude?  Not that I have heard.  He might be abusive to political opponents but he would be hard put to be as abusive as Leftists are to Christians and conservatives.

Jeff also fails to see two big things that stick out like dog's balls (if I may use an army expression):  That Trump is a showman and that Trump is an astute businessman.  And you do not get to be astute in business without being astute elsewhere.

So most of what Jeff objects to below is in fact just showmanship. Trump has been on TV almost forever, after all, so he knows plenty about showmanship. What he offers is entertaining bluster. He is a cartoon bully.  Trump has invented a very successful shtick and stays with it. But the chances of him actually doing anything foolish are very low.  And he does after all have perfectly sensible conservative policies beneath his defiant performances -- opposition to illegal immigration and free trade agreements, as well as his frequently non-interventionist views on foreign policy.

And could Trump be any worse that having a traitor in the White House, which America has at the moment? At least Trump is patriotic

THERE IS a riveting scene in Steven Spielberg's 2012 film "Lincoln" in which the 16th president hotly demands that his aides do whatever it takes — deploy every ounce of leverage available — to obtain the last few votes needed to pass the Thirteenth Amendment.

"I am the President of the United States of America, clothed in immense power!" roars Abraham Lincoln, played by Daniel Day-Lewis. "You will procure me these votes."

The historicity of the quote is doubtful, but Lincoln's determination was not. The presidency does convey immense power, and Lincoln was relentless about deploying that power to achieve his great aim: the abolition of slavery in America.

What would Donald Trump do with such immense power?

Voters should think hard, of course, about the consequences of investing any candidate with the vast influence and clout of the presidency — an office much more formidable today than it was in 1865. Power tends to corrupt. That will be true whether the next president is liberal or conservative, male or female, Republican or Democrat.

But the authoritarian abuse of power in a Trump administration isn't just a theoretical possibility. Should the New York businessman win the presidency, it's a certainty. Trump's campaign, with its torrent of insults, threats of revenge, and undercurrent of political violence, is the first in American history to raise the prospect of a ruthless strongman in the White House, unencumbered by constitutional norms and democratic civilities.

When Trump's campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, was arrested last week on misdemeanor charges of battery against reporter Michelle Fields, the candidate's reaction was typical. Though Fields's account was never in doubt — it was corroborated at once by an eyewitness (Washington Post reporter Ben Terris), by an audio recording, and then by security-camera video footage — Trump offered no apology and didn't rebuke his staffer. Instead he went on the attack: He claimed that Fields had "made the story up," he went out of his way to praise Lewandowski, and he gleefully trashed the journalists covering him as "disgusting" and "horrible people." Trump even hinted that he might sue Fields.

If this is how the Republican front-runner conducts himself when he is merely a candidate, what would he be like with the whole executive branch of the federal government at his command?

It is normal for passions to run high in election season. We're used to seeing candidates play to their base with animated rhetoric. What isn't normal is for a serious presidential contender, after being heckled by a protester, to tell a campaign rally: "I'd like to punch him in the face." What we're not used to seeing is a candidate who warns that if he fails to win the nomination at a contested convention, blood will flow: "I think you'd have riots," Trump said on CNN. "I think bad things would happen."

Barely-veiled blackmail is a Trump mainstay. The family of Chicago Cubs owner J. Joe Ricketts contributed to an anti-Trump PAC? "They better be careful, they have a lot to hide!" the candidate tweets. An independent group backing Cruz runs an ad featuring Melania Trump in an erotic pose? "Be careful, Lyin' Ted, or I will spill the beans on your wife!" another tweet warns.

Though Trump hasn't been nominated, let alone elected, he already signals that if he becomes president, anyone who opposes him will regret it. That includes House Speaker Paul Ryan, who had the temerity to criticize Trump's evasions about the Ku Klux Klan.

"Paul Ryan? I don't know him well," Trump remarked with a whiff of menace on Super Tuesday, "but I'm sure I'm going to get along great with him. And if I don't, he's going to have to pay a big price."

"You've got to give him credit. . . . He goes in, he takes over, he's the boss. It's incredible. He wiped out the uncle, he wiped out this one, that one. This guy doesn't play games" — Donald Trump's praise for North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un

Trump's low-road brawling, thuggish tone, and gutter sexism are something new in American presidential politics. Dangerous demagogues are a species we have tended to associate with banana republics and military dictatorships. The fervent zealotry Trump's backers, the blind cult of personality that surrounds him, is shocking to many of us who always imagined that America was immune to the politics of caudillos and Dear Leaders. Now we know better. For a significant minority of American voters, an authoritarian brute who flirts with violence and has no scruples is just what they've been waiting for.

Imagine the presidency in the hands of such a man.

Trump has heaped praise on Vladimir Putin for being "a strong leader," looked back nostalgically at the bloody reign of Saddam Hussein, and insisted that it "would be so much better" if Moammar Gadhafi still ruled Libya. He has even applauded North Korea's sociopathic Kim Jong-Un for the "incredible" way he murdered his political rivals when he came to power.

Every president wants to get his way, and more than a few have bent some rules to the breaking point in the pursuit of their goals. But Trump holds out the prospect of a president for whom ends will always justify means, however dishonorable or scandalous or undemocratic. For many of his loyalists, nothing he does is beyond the pale; they are as blind to the grossness of his character as they are to the incoherence of his positions.

The rest of us should be thinking hard about what would happen if a man so unfit for leadership were to be clothed in the immense power of the presidency. And thinking even harder about how to prevent it.



Why Are Millennial Men Such Wimps?

No great mystery. They have been taught to be wimps by the Left. Grade schools are heavily feminized and little boys are penalized for behaving like boys. They are taught to behave like little girls instead. Little boys are little cavemen. They like to run and jump and climb all the time -- which female teachers perceive as disorderly. And in later years, particularly in universities, they are taught that they are helpless little flowers in need of protection in the form of "safe spaces", "trigger warnings" and the like. Masculine virtues of bravery etc. may even be mocked instead of being praised. Victimhood is the new heroism

Ladies -- sick of posturing hipsters still living in mom's basement while they role-play their lives away, in between trying to pick up chicks with somebody else's money? You're not alone:

Last week, Tomi Lahren, a 23-year-old political commentator for The Blaze, ended her show by raising the following question: “Is it just me, or have men gotten really soft these days?”

She goes on:

“This has nothing to do with sexuality. It has to do with the helplessness of today’s young men. It seems few can change a light bulb let alone fix a flat tire or change oil, and that makes for pretty slim pickings for the females out there looking for a match.

Chivalry is all but dead, and so is manliness. And by the way, wearing a flannel shirt and having a beard doesn’t make you a man if you still can’t change a tire and are scared of the dark. It seems like millennial men either don’t have jobs or are still using their parents’ credit cards to buy us drinks at the bar…

So whose fault is it? Is it our fault, ladies? Are we getting too strong? Nah, I don’t buy that. See, a real man knows how to handle a strong woman, so this isn’t our problem. Maybe it’s the way boys are raised these days: fatherless homes and no male role models. It’s hard to learn how to be a man with no man around.”

“Please teach your sons to be men, because the women of the world are tired of the boys.”



Donald Trump supporters torment university students in #TheChalkening

UNIVERSITY students in the US are living in a state of fear as pro-Donald Trump messages written in chalk begin popping up on pavements everywhere.

Dubbed ‘#TheChalkening’, the guerilla campaign by Trump supporters comes in response to students at Emory University in Atlanta, who last month said they felt “unsafe” after chalk scrawls supporting the Republican presidential candidate appeared on campus.

Among the slogans were “Trump 2016” and “Build a wall”. “That is a direct reference to brown people on campus,” 19-year-old Jonathan Peraza told AP, adding that “we feel unsafe on our campus”.

“It was an intentional way to rile students up and intimidate those of us who feel we are in danger with this presidential candidate,” he said. “We do feel that our lives are in danger with his campaign and the violence that he’s been inciting.”

The response drew widespread scorn, with even left-wing talk show host Bill Maher slamming the situation. “I so badly want to dropkick these kids into a place where there is actual pain and suffering,” he said. “What happened in this country?”

Maher criticised the parents of the current generation, saying “everything seems to take a back seat to their feelings”. “Democracy they don’t give a s*** about, free speech doesn’t matter,” he said.


There is a  new  lot of postings by Chris Brand just up -- with news about immigration, race and such things


For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated),  a Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on A WESTERN HEART.

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, April 04, 2016

Playing the Trump card

Comment from Israel

No US presidential candidate in recent history – not even George W. Bush, the favorite target of liberals everywhere – has received as much condemnation and criticism as Donald Trump. And that includes numerous articles in this newspaper. But while I agree that the Donald has an aggressive, abrasive style that is woefully short on substance, I can well understand his growing popularity.

Trump is bold, brash and breaks the mold; he is a kind of anti-Obama enfant terrible, and that plays well in a country that is sick and tired of the “Yes, I can, but no, I don’t” president, whose every ill-conceived endeavor into foreign policy has reduced America to an also-ran, if not a laughing stock.

For while Barack Obama continues to mislead the people about the clear and present danger of Islam, or praises the virtues of reducing America’s influence in the world, Trump dares to tell it like it is and say what everyone is thinking, but misplaced political correctness won’t allow them to say. While Obama basks in “reaching out” to violently anti-West (and certainly anti-Israel) countries like Iran and Cuba; while world leaders pontificate in Pollyanna fashion about the moral imperatives of unchecked immigration by Middle East “asylum-seekers,” Trump clearly warns about strengthening enemies and carelessly opening the front doors of our countries to anyone and everyone who wants in, including terrorist sleeper cells.

Trump is striking a chord with millions of people who just want to be told the truth, straight up, with no sugar- coating or political obfuscation.

The Donald may not end up in the White House, but his numbers clearly add up to a warning – from one of the world’s most successful businessmen – to whoever does end up winning the election: It’s time to stop business as usual.



Cronyism and Corruption in Brazil revealed -- bringing popular uproar

If the late Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises were alive today, he would have used one of South America’s largest countries, Brazil, as an example of his teachings. Not only because the effects of heavy-handed interventionism have finally propelled the anti Workers Party movement that is now taking over the country, but also because of what happened prior to the current turmoil.

As Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff (Workers Party or “PT”) struggles to conquer hearts and minds amidst the legal difficulties her administration has been facing due to the crony capitalist nature of Brazilian politics, millions of Brazilians wearing traditional green and yellow soccer jerseys flood the streets—and social media—with signs reading “Dilma out!”

The anger is understandable. In a country where Brazilians from all income brackets are forced to pay about 36 percent in sales taxes on most goods and services—a regressive tax that ends up hurting the poor—and give up about 28 percent of their income yearly, things haven’t been easy for quite some time.

Trouble began to brew for Dilma’s administration in 2009, when authorities launched an investigation into a network of currency exchanging businesses connected to Alberto Youssef. He was accused of forging contracts and moving billions of Brazilian Reais domestically and abroad using front companies and foreign bank accounts.

As the investigation broadened, authorities learned that Youssef had business relationships with Paulo Roberto Costa, the former director of the state-controlled oil giant Petrobras, major contractors and their lobbyists, and other Petrobras servicers. On March 2014, both Costa and Youssef were arrested.

As Costa agreed to cooperate with the authorities in August of 2014, Brazilians learned that he and several other directors of Petrobras received bribes and passed them along to politicians for their campaigns. In a matter of weeks, authorities got Youssef to join Costa, and revelations about one of the largest embezzlement schemes in the history of the country started flooding the news.

As both men started feeding authorities with the names of contractors involved in the scheme, Odebrecht and Andrade Gutierrez, the country’s two largest construction companies, were dragged into the investigation. Banker André Estevez, owner of Latin America's largest investment bank, BTG, was also involved.

In March 2015, a series of politicians were also accused of participating in the scheme.

By August, José Dirceu, the former prime minister under president Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva, was accused of receiving payments from Odebrecht and Andrade Gutierrez. Brazil Senator Delcídio Amaral (PT) and Lula’s close friend, the farmer José Carlos Bumlai, were arrested. The President of the Chamber of Deputies Eduardo Cunha (PMDB) and several PMDB party leaders were also targeted.

In no time, state prosecutors learned that the embezzlement scheme benefitted political parties in charge of Petrobras’s leadership appointments. At least 53 politicians are under investigation. As federal judge Sérgio Moro showed signs he believed former president Lula had profited from the scheme, prosecutors from the state of São Paulo added insult to injury by accusing Lula of “hiding his ownership of a beach-front condominium.

According to documents obtained by the Brazilian magazine “Época,” Jornal Opção reports, former president Lula was heavily involved in the embezzlement/crony capitalist scheme.

In what local media outlets call an “explosive” piece, Época writers claim Lula was the “lobbyist in chief” of Brazil during his administration and the period he has spent as a private citizen thereafter.

The magazine alleges that most of the former president’s time was spent traveling on behalf of Odebrecht contractors. Writers Thiago Bronzatto and Filipe Coutinho accuse Lula of aiding “Odebrecht billionaires” in deals with other countries using Brazilian taxpayer money.

As the country cries for impeachment, a smaller faction of the population stands with Rousseff and Lula, despite her lack of support among the general population. But as her approval ratings hover in the single digits, it is the country’s working class, not the country’s “wealthy factions” leading the way. As demonstrated by nanny Maria Angélica Lima, the woman turned famous for appearing in a photograph of a family taking part in one of the anti-Rousseff protests.

She told the newspaper: “Lula wasn’t the president everybody expected. Neither was Dilma. We need to take our chances with something new. I was tired of hearing the same lies, seeing the same corruption.”

As Brazilians struggle with increasing unemployment rates and rampant inflation, they also learn Lula—whose past popularity got the world jealous—was the leader of one of the largest crony capitalist schemes in the country’s history, working on behalf of major corporations, securing them deals with the state-owned firm, and doing all of that while on the taxpayer dime. It’s no wonder everyone is so angry.

As Mises once wrote in Human Action, “corruption is a regular effect of interventionism.” What Brazil—and America—now needs is a culture of liberty. More now than never.



Leftist ignorance on display in Britain

Jeremy Corbyn’s defence spokesman sparked a row last night over claims that she did not know the meaning of ‘Defcon One’ – the term for imminent nuclear war.

Gaffe-prone Emily Thornberry shocked aides by asking: ‘Can someone explain Defcon One and Two to me? I’ve only ever seen it in films.’

She made the remark at a meeting of a group set up to review the Labour leader’s pledge to scrap the UK’s Trident nuclear submarines.

A nuclear weapons expert present pointed out that Defcon stands for ‘defence readiness condition’.

The term was coined by US defence chiefs to signal degrees of military threat, ranging from Defcon Five to Defcon One, which means nuclear attack is imminent. The highest alert the US has used was Defcon Two, which it reached in the 1962 Cuban missile crisis.

The levels date back to 1959, the height of the Cold War, and were little-known outside military circles until the 1983 movie WarGames, about a computer hacker who almost sparked World War Three by accessing US military computers.

A witness who heard Ms Thornberry’s comment said: ‘The room went quiet. Everyone was silently asking themselves, “Has our candidate to be the next Labour Defence Secretary just said she doesn’t know the code for a nuclear war?” ’

Ms Thornberry provoked more controversy later that day when she was accused of snubbing former Admiral of the Fleet Lord Boyce.

After Labour foreign affairs spokesman Hilary Benn suggested asking Lord Boyce for advice on nuclear policy, witnesses say Ms Thornberry replied: ‘He has been out of it for too long. We need someone who can talk about the future. How about getting a physicist?’

It led to a clash with Blairite MP John Woodcock, head of Labour’s defence committee, who was at the meeting of Labour’s international policy commission.

Mr Woodcock, who supports keeping nuclear weapons, told Ms Thornberry: ‘If you won’t listen to someone who was a submarine commander, head of the Royal Navy and Chief of the Defence Staff, our defence policy will have no credibility.’

Lord Boyce, 73, was First Sea Lord from 1998 to 2001 under Tony Blair’s government and Chief of the Defence Staff from 2001 to 2003.

Ms Thornberry, a leading supporter of Mr Corbyn, had previously suggested Britain’s nuclear submarines could become as outdated as Spitfires. She was also branded a snob for tweeting a photograph of a home draped with England flags and a white van on the driveway during the Rochester by-election in 2014. Such was the outcry that she was forced to resign from her front-bench post. This latest dispute is part of a wider Labour Party battle over Mr Corbyn’s attempts to adopt more Left-wing policies.

Defcon stands for ‘defence readiness condition’. The term was coined by US defence chiefs in 1959 to signal degrees of military threat, ranging from Defcon Five to Defcon One
Defcon stands for ‘defence readiness condition’. The term was coined by US defence chiefs in 1959 to signal degrees of military threat, ranging from Defcon Five to Defcon One

A source close to Ms Thornberry confirmed she had referred to Defcon and films, but denied that she did not know what it meant. The source said that, in relation to Lord Boyce, Ms Thornberry had been stressing the need to look forward to nuclear capability in 20 or 30 years’ time – not back to the point when Lord Boyce was in command.

However, in an apparent U-turn, he said that the ex-defence chief would be invited to give evidence to Labour’s review.



Southern resolve

A brief review of Dafoe, A. & Caughey, D., “Honor and War: Southern US Presidents and the Effects of Concern for Reputation,” World Politics (April 2016).

DON’T PICK A fight with a Southerner. That’s the lesson — internationally — of recent research by political scientists at MIT and Yale. They found that American presidents from the South — where there is more of a culture of honor and resolve — were less likely to back down in international disputes. Specifically, disputes “that have occurred under Southern presidents have been twice as likely to involve the use of force, have lasted on average twice as long, and have been three times as likely to be won by the United States.” This pattern was not explained by other characteristics of the president or the domestic or international situation at the time.



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated),  a Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on A WESTERN HEART.

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, April 03, 2016

I have just discovered that I am a member of something

Below is the first part of a big backgrounder on the various streams of the "Alt-Right".  It seems that I fit most of the description concerned -- at least insofar as the publications that I read are concerned.  I am also a member of the Alt-Right in that I am seen as very marginal politically.  My occasional mentions of race and IQ are perfectly factual but are unforgiveable to most political participants and can easily be misrepresented

A specter is haunting the dinner parties, fundraisers and think-tanks of the Establishment: the specter of the “alternative right.” Young, creative and eager to commit secular heresies, they have become public enemy number one to beltway conservatives — more hated, even, than Democrats or loopy progressives.

The alternative right, more commonly known as the alt-right, is an amorphous movement. Some — mostly Establishment types — insist it’s little more than a vehicle for the worst dregs of human society: anti-Semites, white supremacists, and other members of the Stormfront set. They’re wrong.

Previously an obscure subculture, the alt-right burst onto the national political scene in 2015. Although initially small in number, the alt-right has a youthful energy and jarring, taboo-defying rhetoric that have boosted its membership and made it impossible to ignore.

It has already triggered a string of fearful op-eds and hit pieces from both Left and Right: Lefties dismiss it as racist, while the conservative press, always desperate to avoid charges of bigotry from the Left, has thrown these young readers and voters to the wolves as well.

National Review attacked them as bitter members of the white working-class who worship “father-Führer” Donald Trump. Betsy Woodruff of The Daily Beast attacked Rush Limbaugh for sympathising with the “white supremacist alt-right.” BuzzFeed begrudgingly acknowledged that the movement has a “great feel for how the internet works,” while simultaneously accusing them of targeting “blacks, Jews, women, Latinos and Muslims.”

The amount of column inches generated by the alt-right is a testament to their cultural punch. But so far, no one has really been able to explain the movement’s appeal and reach without desperate caveats and virtue-signalling to readers.

Part of this is down to the alt-right’s addiction to provocation. The alt-right is a movement born out of the youthful, subversive, underground edges of the internet. 4chan and 8chan are hubs of alt-right activity. For years, members of these forums – political and non-political – have delighted in attention-grabbing, juvenile pranks. Long before the alt-right, 4channers turned trolling the national media into an in-house sport.

Having once defended gamers, another group accused of harbouring the worst dregs of human society, we feel compelled to take a closer look at the force that’s alarming so many. Are they really just the second coming of 1980s skinheads, or something more subtle?

We’ve spent the past month tracking down the elusive, often anonymous members of the alt-right, and working out exactly what they stand for.


There are many things that separate the alternative right from old-school racist skinheads (to whom they are often idiotically compared), but one thing stands out above all else: intelligence. Skinheads, by and large, are low-information, low-IQ thugs driven by the thrill of violence and tribal hatred. The alternative right are a much smarter group of people — which perhaps suggests why the Left hates them so much. They’re dangerously bright.

The origins of the alternative right can be found in thinkers as diverse as Oswald Spengler, H.L Mencken, Julius Evola, Sam Francis, and the paleoconservative movement that rallied around the presidential campaigns of Pat Buchanan. The French New Right also serve as a source of inspiration for many leaders of the alt-right.

The media empire of the modern-day alternative right coalesced around Richard Spencer during his editorship of Taki’s Magazine. In 2010, Spencer founded, which would become a center of alt-right thought.

Alongside other nodes like Steve Sailer’s blog, VDARE and American Renaissance, became a gathering point for an eclectic mix of renegades who objected to the established political consensus in some form or another. All of these websites have been accused of racism.

The so-called online “manosphere,” the nemeses of left-wing feminism, quickly became one of the alt-right’s most distinctive constituencies. Gay masculinist author Jack Donovan, who edited AlternativeRight’s gender articles, was an early advocate for incorporating masculinist principles in the alt-right. His book, The Way Of Men, contains many a wistful quote about the loss of manliness that accompanies modern, globalized societies.

It’s tragic to think that heroic man’s great destiny is to become economic man, that men will be reduced to craven creatures who crawl across the globe competing for money, who spend their nights dreaming up new ways to swindle each other. That’s the path we’re on now.

Steve Sailer, meanwhile, helped spark the “human biodiversity” movement, a group of bloggers and researchers who strode eagerly into the minefield of scientific race differences — in a much less measured tone than former New York Times science editor Nicholas Wade.

Isolationists, pro-Russians and ex-Ron Paul supporters frustrated with continued neoconservative domination of the Republican party were also drawn to the alt-right, who are almost as likely as the anti-war left to object to overseas entanglements.



The Davoisie: Our “Slave Power”

The Davoisie are those who gather at Davos in Switzerland for the annual international conference of bigwigs -- and those like them.  The idea is that a very small elite holds a decisive sway over us

Harry Jaffa liked to tell the story of how, while reading Plato’s Republic with Leo Strauss at the New School in 1946, he encountered a copy of the Lincoln-Douglas debates in a used book store near his father’s Greenwich Village restaurant.  Unable to afford the book, he read it piecemeal on several furtive visits and realized that the issue between Lincoln and Douglas—no slavery in the territories v. “popular sovereignty”—was identical to that between Socrates and Thrasymachus: natural right v. might makes right.

We see a similar similarity between Lincoln’s times and ours.

In the decade or so before the Civil War, a phrase in common use was “the Slave Power,” which described a trans-partisan (and even to a small extent trans-regional) alignment of interests to protect, promote and extend slavery in the United States and even in the Western Hemisphere.  The Slave Power was led by the big slave-owners themselves, of course, but was hardly limited to them.  Through various proxies and fellow-travelers, they absolutely controlled Southern state governments.  They could also count on some federal officials, including—importantly—judges.  They even had support in the North: the notorious “doughfaces.”  The growing influence of the Slave Power contributed mightily to the Civil War.  The passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act alone destroyed the Whig Party and created the Republican.

But this is not meant to be a history lesson.  The point is that a numerically and proportionally small but economically and politically powerful oligarchy managed—for a time, anyway—to steer the nation in the direction of its own interests at the expense of everyone else’s and of the popular will.  Sound familiar?

Nor do the similarities end there.  Is not the similarity between slavery and mass immigration obvious?  (Note to the hysterical that I said “similarity” and not “identicality.”)  They both serve the same fundamental purpose: sources of cheap labor to squeeze out the working class and enrich a few.

The fact that slaves are not free and immigrants are is, to be sure, a non-trivial difference—for immigrant and slave.  But what about the third man, William Graham Sumner’s “forgotten man”?  In their effects on him, the two don’t seem so very different after all.  Nor are they supposed to.

A major source of opposition to the Slave Power arose from the Free Soil Movement: free men—American citizens—who wanted to earn decent livings without having to compete against slave labor that would undercut them at every turn.  Does that sound familiar? Nor is at any accident that the Old South was staunchly free trade while the free North was protectionist.  Is the theme becoming clearer?

Now it is probably too harsh to refer to our modern oligarchs as a new “slave power.”  Peter Brimelow’s “treason lobby” is not bad.  We’re partial to Walter Russell Mead’s contribution: Davoisie.

The fundamental similarity is however undeniable.  A trans-partisan and trans-regional, numerically small but economically and politically powerful elite—in our case, financial, technological and corporate—essentially control political debate and get their way on everything important, in defiance of popular will, in order to enrich themselves at the expense of everyone else.

We know how it ended the last time.  How will it end this time?

What makes our current overlords slightly more insidious (if only in one way) than their slave-master predecessors is their risible moral preening.  19th century slaveholders really did have a difficult time affirming the justice of their “peculiar institution.” In addition to the obvious injustice of owning other human beings like animals, they knew from experience what Xenophon teaches in the Anabasis and Shakespeare in the Tempest: “when difficult things are commanded, harshness, and not sweetness, is needed in order to bring about obedience.”  Concerned to shield its reputation from intrusive, revealing sunlight, the Slave Power was not eager to advertise this necessity and the harsh treatment it necessitated.

By contrast, our overlords never tire of lecturing us about how virtuous they are.  I know of no record of a plantation owner claiming that his recent purchases at a slave auction show his goodness.  But every new immigrant—legal or otherwise—who takes an American job at a fraction of the recent wage, our masters trumpet as a sign of their superior morality.  Every American laid off and every job outsourced gets the same self-congratulation.  Recall the words of that hedge-fund high priest: “if the transformation of the world economy lifts four people in China and India out of poverty and into the middle class, and meanwhile means one American drops out of the middle class, that’s not such a bad trade.”

That sickly sanctimonious phrase — “lifts people out of poverty” — heard in every hotel conference room and lecture hall where the Davoisie meet to rub holy oil on each other’s backs, is the modern rhetorical equivalent of John C. Calhoun’s “positive good” and serves the same purpose.  Only it’s been much more effective.  The real aim of the Davoisie’s showy, skin-deep leftism is to confer upon itself the veneer of legitimacy necessary to preserving its status.  Well, that and divide-and-conquer.

Has there ever been a plutocratic class more adept at claiming the moral high ground for wealth and privilege achieved in large measure by the impoverishment of its fellow citizens and decimation of domestic industries?  If so, we can’t think of it.

The eternal struggle between these two principles—right and wrong—throughout the world. They are the two principles that have stood face to face from the beginning of time, and will ever continue to struggle. The one is the common right of humanity and the other the divine right of kings. It is the same principle in whatever shape it develops itself. It is the same spirit that says, “You work and toil and earn bread, and I'll eat it.” No matter in what shape it comes, whether from the mouth of a king who seeks to bestride the people of his own nation and live by the fruit of their labor, or from one race of men as an apology for enslaving another race, it is the same tyrannical principle.

Thrasymachus to Stephen Douglas to George Soros and Paul Singer.  Plus ҫa change.

Since the Davoisie seized the commanding heights of the West (about 30 years ago), Trump is the only presidential candidate to oppose our equivalent of the slave power.  Granted, he’s not exactly a Lincoln in stature, temperament, virtue, intellect or ability.  We’d certainly prefer another Abe!  If you know where to find one, please send him our way.  In the meantime, we have no choice but to make do with Trump.



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