Saturday, February 07, 2009

The Great Overreach

by Jonah Goldberg

The stimulus bill has failed. Barack Obama has failed. The Trojan Horse of Hope and Change crashed into the guardrail of reality, revealing an army of ideologues and activists inside. Now, before I continue, let me say that Barack Obama will still be popular, he will still get things done, and he will declare victory after signing a stimulus bill. But Obama's moment is gone, and politics is about nothing if not moments. The stimulus bill was a bridge too far, an overplayed hand, 10 pounds of manure in a 5-pound bag. The legislation's primary duty was never to stimulate the economy, but to stimulate the growth of government, the scope of the state.

Of course, this was more than a budgetary ploy. Democrats had good reason to believe that this was their moment. For the first time in a generation, they truly own the political commanding heights. They've won a string of elections, including the momentous presidential contest in which their candidate never really ran to the center the way Democrats normally do. He stayed on the liberal left all the way through Election Day, so liberals figured voters knew what they were getting with Obama. Indeed, that's why the president keeps saying "I won," as if that settles the issue. Funny how that argument didn't work for the last president when he tried to reform Social Security.

The economic crisis was almost too good to be true. Like FDR and Lyndon Johnson, Obama was poised to act on Rahm's Rule of Crisis Exploitation in a way that would not only guarantee a newer New Deal and an even greater Great Society, but would also receive bipartisan approval. That's why Obama wanted so much GOP support -- so as to ratify the left turn to European-style social democracy, particularly when voters cottoned on to the con.

But that didn't happen. Obama and his party were undone by their hubris. There was just too much muchness in the bill. The once impressive support from conservative economists evaporated. Right-wing radio has been having one long tailgate party celebrating Obama's overreach. According to the polls, voters are souring on the whole thing. Republicans finally discovered testicular fortitude -- and they seem to like it. There is still probably bipartisan support for a stimulus bill, but only for a measure intended to stimulate our market-based economy rather than one that hastens its Swedenization. Again, Obama's presidency has many victories ahead of it, and Democrats still run the show. But the perfect storm of liberalism has dissipated to mere scattered showers.

More here


Crisis, Catastrophe: Are These Words of Hope?

By Charles Krauthammer

"A failure to act, and act now, will turn crisis into a catastrophe." -- President Obama, Feb. 4.

Catastrophe, mind you. So much for the president who in his inaugural address two weeks earlier declared "we have chosen hope over fear." Until, that is, you need fear to pass a bill.

And so much for the promise to banish the money changers and influence peddlers from the temple. An ostentatious executive order banning lobbyists was immediately followed by the nomination of at least a dozen current or former lobbyists to high position. Followed by a Treasury secretary who allegedly couldn't understand the payroll tax provisions in his 1040. Followed by Tom Daschle, who had to fall on his sword according to the new Washington rule that no Cabinet can have more than one tax delinquent.

And yet more damaging to Obama's image than all the hypocrisies in the appointment process is his signature bill: the stimulus package. He inexplicably delegated the writing to Nancy Pelosi and the barons of the House. The product, which inevitably carries Obama's name, was not just bad, not just flawed, but a legislative abomination.

It's not just pages and pages of special-interest tax breaks, giveaways and protections, one of which would set off a ruinous Smoot-Hawley trade war. It's not just the waste, such as the $88.6 million for new construction for Milwaukee Public Schools, which, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, have shrinking enrollment, 15 vacant schools and, quite logically, no plans for new construction.

It's the essential fraud of rushing through a bill in which the normal rules (committee hearings, finding revenue to pay for the programs) are suspended on the grounds that a national emergency requires an immediate job-creating stimulus -- and then throwing into it hundreds of billions that have nothing to do with stimulus, that Congress' own budget office says won't be spent until 2011 and beyond, and that are little more than the back-scratching, special-interest, lobby-driven parochialism that Obama came to Washington to abolish. He said...

After Obama's miraculous 2008 presidential campaign, it was clear that at some point the magical mystery tour would have to end. The nation would rub its eyes and begin to emerge from its reverie. The hallucinatory Obama would give way to the mere mortal. The great ethical transformations promised would be seen as a fairy tale that all presidents tell -- and that this president told better than anyone. I thought the awakening would take six months. It took two and a half weeks.

More here


Let's Start Brand New Banks

A clean slate would keep TARP money away from bad banks

Everyone agrees that the United States urgently needs a few good banks. Turning bad banks into good banks is a difficult and risky way to get them. It's simpler and safer to start entirely new banks. In this context, "good" means a bank with assets and liabilities that are easy to value using market prices. At a good bank, officers, regulators and investors can be confident about the value of the bank's capital.

The government has $350 billion in Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) funds that it can use to encourage new bank lending. If this money is directed to newly created good banks with pristine balance sheets, it could support $3.5 trillion in new lending with a modest 9-to-1 leverage. Right out of the gate, the newly created banks could do what the Fed has already been doing -- buying pools of loans originated by existing banks that meet high underwriting standards.

If the TARP funds go to existing banks, much of them will end up stuck in financial institutions that are still bad after the transfer. We know from the previous round of TARP that giving more capital to bad banks generates very little net new lending.

More here



This is the sub-prime house that Barack built: "It is all very well for President Obama to vent his anger on all those US bankers who continued to claim billions of dollars in bonuses while expecting Washington to bail them out after the sub-prime mortgage scandal brought the banks to their knees. But conveniently overlooked has been the curious part Mr Obama himself played in the sub-prime debacle. At the heart of it was a 1995 amendment to the Community Reinvestment Act which legally required banks to lend money to buy homes to millions of poor, mainly black Americans, guaranteed by the two biggest mortgage associations, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. And no one campaigned more actively for this change to the law than Mr Obama, as a young but already influential Chicago politician."

Jim Cramer compares Obama to Lenin: "CNBC "Mad Money" host Jim Cramer sees some scary similarities between the words of President Obama and those of communist revolutionary Vladimir Lenin. Obama dogged Wall Street by saying there would be a time "for them to make profits, and there will be time for them to get bonuses. Now's not that time. And that's a message that I intend to send directly to them." Cramer made this comparison: "There was a little snippet last week that was, `Now is not the time for profits.' Look - in Lenin's book, "What Is to Be Done," is simple text of what I always though was for the communists. It was remarkable to hear very similar language from `What Is to Be Done?' which is we have no place for profits."

The media version of impartiality: "We always knew that Brian Williams had it out for President Bush. But now he's calling him something he likely wouldn't even call any of Obama's terrorist friends: evil. The NBC Nightly News anchor, last week on the Late Show with David Letterman, passionately described how he witnessed people line up to buy any type of Obama merchandise they could get their Messiah-worshipping hands on. Gushing as if he'd just seen his first rock concert. he told Letterman he was thrilled at seeing so many people "that excited about our new chief executive after a line of what the ordinary voter would maybe describe as bad choices or choices of evils, for years, generations." Astute listeners will note it's not him, but how "the ordinary voter" would describe Bush. According to Williams, "none of us have a party in my line of work. We all try to call balls and strikes down the center."

The unraveling of the ethanol scam : "The failure of Renew is the latest bankruptcy in the corn ethanol industry, a sector that despite billions of dollars in federal subsidies, hasn't been able to prove its long-term economic viability. About 9 percent of all the ethanol plants in the US have now filed for bankruptcy and some analysts believe the numbers could go as high as 20 percent. Even if the 20 percent figure is never reached, it's readily apparent that billions of investment dollars will be lost on the corn ethanol scam, a darling of farm state legislators. Today, about four years after Congress increased the mandates on the use of corn ethanol in gasoline, the US is nowhere close to the much-promised goal of `energy independence.' Instead, the increasing use of corn to make motor fuel has caused a myriad of problems. Chief among them: increased food prices."

Deja Vu All Over Again: "A bright new president announces he's going to have the most ethical administration in American history and, even before the new has worn off, has to accept the resignations of one after another of his top appointees when their ethical lapses come to harsh light. Sound familiar? It should. The calendar says 2009, the new president is Barack Obama, but it could be the false political spring of 1993, when Bill Clinton seemed almost as busy undoing his appointments as he'd been making them only days before. Something else hasn't changed much, either: The distinguished former appointees almost uniformly explain that they're stepping down not because they've shown rotten judgment and/or complete insensitivity to the simplest ethical requirements, but because paying attention to such matters would be too much of a "distraction" from the great service they have and could still render an ungrateful public."

Volvo to become Chinese!: "Ford Motor Co., seeking to raise cash to avoid a federal bailout, is in talks to sell its Volvo Car unit to China’s Geely Automobile Holdings Ltd., according to three people familiar with the discussions. Ford probably will get less than the $6.4 billion it paid for Sweden-based Volvo in 1999, said one of the people, who declined to be identified because the preliminary talks are confidential. Ford has also approached Chinese automakers Chery Automobile Co. and Chongqing Changan Automobile Co., the people said."


List of backup or "mirror" sites here or here -- for readers in China or for everyone when blogspot is "down" or failing to update. Email me here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here or here or here


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


Friday, February 06, 2009

The difficulties of getting IQ research published

Below is an email circulated by eminent East German psychologist and geneticist, Volkmar Weiss []

With great interest I have read Gelade's paper on "IQ and the technological achievement of nations", Intelligence 36 (2008) 711-718, in which he has come to the conclusion that the GDP of a nation depends upon the percentage of high-IQ individuals. Independently, La Griffe du Lion with his smart fraction theory and I myself with the "law of the vital few" are confirming his result, see page 137ff. of my paper "National IQ Means, Calibrated and Transformed from Edudational Attainment, and Their Underlying Gene Frequencies", Mankind Quarterly 49 (2008) 129-164. For the full text click here. Originally, in April 2008 my paper was submitted to "Intelligence", too, but was rejected by Dettermann. In September I wrote to Richard Lynn:
"Dettermann was even able to find a reviewer who did not understand the transformation of PISA scores (500;100) into IQ scores (100;15). I quote from this review: "The author mentioned the mean and SD of intelligence and at one point stated "in the relationship 100 : 15 = 6.67 ." I am not sure what to make of this. I know quite well how to perform linear transformations, but I am not sure how the 6.67 helps in this context." ... The author stated that he was able to "calculate . a world average IQ of 95". How can one make sense of this? What is the reference population? Typically, IQ is normed to have a mean of 100 in the population. If so, why wouldn't the world average IQ be 100?" - Richard, you could be happy that this anonymous reviewer did never review one of your publications. - A responsible editor would be ashamed to communicate such a "review" to the author and drop this reviewer from any further reviewing. However, I am sure, this will never happen.

In your book "The Global Bell Curve", I was very impressed by the foreword by the publishers: "We are distinguished by the fact that we are not a publisher of choice but one of last resort. We celebrate that status as it grows directly from our resolve not to tolerate the strictures of political correctness. Our authors come to us after having been worn to a nub by rejection slips from established houses that only a few years ago would have been figthing for their manuscripts. But now a velvet tyranny seeks to oppress the mind."

My original plan was to write a monograph on intelligence in English during the next two years, the rejected paper should already be a small part of this book. Now, I am sure that after reading this foreword and the rejection, I will have no chance to find an established house to print my book. I write in German at least three times faster than in English. Therefore, I will write this book in German. I have an offer from an established house in Austria and from two smaller publishers in Germany.

In the age of mass universities, where all over the world thousands of professors of psychology must publish or perish, the journal "Intelligence" and the "International Society for Intelligence Research" are themselves part of the problem of increasing mediocrity. Of course, next year I will not renew my membership in the so-called "Society for Intelligence Research".

Today, I would like to add and I am calling, that the adherents of Charles Spearman should found a journal "General Intelligence" and found a society of their own, free from the thousand multiple intelligences and even emotional ones. The editor of "Mankind Quarterly", Roger Pearson, is already an old man and, I am afraid, after him no journal all over the world will dare to print such a completely political incorrect paper as mine.

Attention: In the printed pdf-version the head of Table 1 is lacking, and the tables are not printed in the places where they should be inserted. 4 pages behind the tables are doubled. Otherwise the text is okay. (I had no possibility to correct the final pdf-version.)


The National Ponzi Scheme

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) was set up to combat fraudulent practices. The SEC's website explains that "Ponzi schemes are a type of illegal pyramid scheme named for Charles Ponzi, who duped thousands of New England residents into investing in a postage stamp speculation scheme back in the 1920s." It goes on to say, "Decades later, the Ponzi scheme continues to work on the 'rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul' principle, as money from new investors is used to pay off earlier investors until the whole scheme collapses." That is how the SEC described the recent Bernard Madoff $50 billion Ponzi scheme, "a stunning fraud that appears to be of epic proportions."
A Ponzi scheme does not generate any wealth whatsoever; that is why it ultimately collapses. As Circuit Judge Anderson said in the 1922 Lowell v. Brown case, the Ponzi scheme was "simply the old fraud of paying the earlier comers out of the contributions of the later comers." So long as the number of late comers -- you might call them suckers -- grows, the fraudulent scheme has life.

We have a national Ponzi scheme where Congress collects about $785 billion in Social Security taxes from about 163 million workers to send out $585 billion to 50 million Social Security recipients. Social Security's trustees tell us that the surplus goes into a $2.2 trillion trust fund to meet future obligations. The problem is whatever difference between Social Security taxes and benefits paid out is spent by Congress. What the Treasury Department does is give the Social Security Trust Fund non-marketable "special issue government securities" that are simply bookkeeping entries that are IOUs.

According to Social Security trustee estimates, around 2016 the amount of Social Security benefits paid will exceed taxes collected. That means one of two things, or both, must happen: Congress will raise taxes and/or slash promised Social Security benefits. Each year the situation will get worse since the number of retirees is predicted to increase relative to the number in the workforce paying taxes. In 1940, there were 42 workers per retiree, in 1950 there were 16, today there are 3 and in 20 or 30 years there will be 2 or fewer workers per retiree.

Social Security is unsustainable because it is not meeting the first order condition of a Ponzi scheme, namely expanding the pool of suckers. Social Security has been one congressional lie after another since its inception. Here's what a 1936 Social Security pamphlet said: "After the first 3 years -- that is to say, beginning in 1940 -- you will pay, and your employer will pay, 1.5 cents for each dollar you earn, up to $3,000 a year ... beginning in 1943, you will pay 2 cents, and so will your employer, for every dollar you earn for the next 3 years. ... And finally, beginning in 1949, twelve years from now, you and your employer will each pay 3 cents on each dollar you earn, up to $3,000 a year. That is the most you will ever pay." The pamphlet also said, "Beginning November 24, 1936, the United States government will set up a Social Security account for you. ... The checks will come to you as a right."

That's another lie. In .Flemming vs Nestor (1960), the U.S. Supreme court held that you have no "accrued property rights" to a Social Security check. That means Congress can do anything it wishes with Social Security. There is little or nothing that can be done to prevent the economic and political chaos that will result from the collapse of Social Security.

Today's recipients of Social Security, along with their powerful AARP lobby, represent a powerful political force. Few politicians are willing to risk their careers alienating today's senior citizens for the benefit of Americans in 2040. After all what do today's seniors and politicians care about a 2040 calamity? They will be dead by then.




A detailed but very amusing explanation here of how Wall St perpetuated the sub-prime mortgage problem.

Sounds hopeful: "Senate Democratic leaders conceded yesterday that they do not have the votes to pass the stimulus bill as currently written and said that to gain bipartisan support, they will seek to cut provisions that would not provide an immediate boost to the economy. The legislation represents the first major test for President Obama and an expanded Democratic Congress, both of which have made economic recovery the cornerstone of their new political mandate. The stimulus package has now tripled from its post-election estimate of about $300 billion, and in recent days lawmakers in both parties have grown wary of the swelling cost. Moderate Republicans are trying to trim the bill by as much as $200 billion, although Democrats working with those GOP senators have not agreed to a specific figure. The Senate's first vote on a stimulus amendment, a failed effort yesterday to add more infrastructure spending to the package, signaled the change in course."

Stimulus package will increase unemployment : "President Obama and the Democrats' 'stimulus' package will increase the unemployment rate. The changes they propose will also make us poorer, with fewer, less productive jobs. The most obvious explanation is the $36 billion in increased unemployment insurance benefits. Larger benefits at least for this year will encourage some people, who may be unhappy with their jobs, to be unemployed while they look for something better. . Yet the 'stimulus' package will do something else that will increase unemployment at least as much. Most of the new jobs will be for people who are currently employed. By moving money from places where it is currently being spent to places where the government wants it spent, you move the jobs also. But it takes time for people to move between jobs. That is called unemployment."

Kill the big, bad banks : "Every day we read that one primary reason the financial system is on the brink of collapse is that the banking industry extended too many loans to consumers and businesses that weren't creditworthy. We also read the reason the economy is in a nose dive is businesses and consumers have stopped borrowing because they no longer have access to credit. Taken together, these two premises imply the following conclusion: One key to reviving the economy and putting the financial system back on a sound footing is to provide creditworthy customers sufficient loans at reasonable interest rates. We are being told the only way to do that is to 'save' big, bad banks. Just the opposite is true: The only economically sound and morally just course of action is to close existing insolvent banks and replace them with new, sound banks."

The next big stink (according to P.J. O'Rourke): "The killjoys are back in charge - the mopes, the fusstails, the glum pots. Their wet blanket has been thrown over the White House and Congress. They're worrying up a storm. (Good thing that George W. Bush is no longer in charge of the weather and FEMA the way he was during Hurricane Katrina.) America is experiencing a polar ice cap and financial meltdown, causing sea levels to rise and sending cold water flooding into Wall Street where the rapidly acidifying ocean is corroding our 401(k)s and releasing mortgage securities full of hot air into the atmosphere until our every breath is full of CO2 especially when we exhale, which should be banned when children are present lest their uninsured health care be harmed by second-hand greenhouse gases that are causing endangerment of plant and animal species (Republicans are extinct already), leading to a shortage of green, leafy vegetables vital to the fight against America's growing epidemics of obese hunger and housing foreclosures on the homeless."

Investing in what doesn't work : "President Barack Obama, in discussing the $800 + billion economic stimulus package now working its way through Congress, promised that `we will invest in what works.' Well, if that's true, every piece of education spending - totaling a whopping $150 billion - in the mammoth stimulus bill should fall by the wayside. But isn't education one of the best public investments we could possibly make? After all, doesn't spending on education give our students the skills and knowledge they need not just to spur economic recovery, but long-term growth? No. More and better education may indeed be a good thing, but government spending doesn't give us that. What it gives us is more waste."


List of backup or "mirror" sites here or here -- for readers in China or for everyone when blogspot is "down" or failing to update. Email me here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here or here or here


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


Thursday, February 05, 2009

Still blogging!

The plastic surgeon took a larger lump than expected out of my skin so I am in a bit of pain but you can't keep a good blogger down!


BrookesNews Update

How the Obama-Bernanke monetary scheme could wreck the US economy : Bernanke has apparently come up with a monetary plan that will bring home the bacon for Obama. It will trigger an economic recovery while allowing Obama to satisfy the Democrats' toxic fetish for Big Government. Unfortunately for Americans, should Bernanke implement this monetary monstrosity the consequence for the economy could be extremely severe
Bernanke thinks he can use inflation to lower unemployment : Why is Bernanke so Blas‚ about the dangers of inflation? From August 2008 to 9 January he expanded the monetary base by a massive and unprecedented 107 per cent, thus laying down the foundations for an inflationary surge. The reason is that he believes he can use inflation to slash unemployment
Prime Minister Rudd launches attack on capitalism - and his rightwing critics crumble : Kevin Rudd's attack on what he calls 'Free-market fundamentalism' is the work of an utter economic illiterate, a man totally ignorant of economic history, the history of economic thought and of classical thinking. Nothing he said was correct. And the response of our fearless right was just what one would expect - pathetic
Why a carbon tax is a direct attack on living standards : A carbon tax would have a severe impact on living standards and industry. Electricity prices would be driven up to a level that would force a massive restriction in consumption. So-called 'clean alternatives' are grossly inefficient and would waste enormous amounts of capital
Obama's America: Our New Government At Work : Roll up! Roll up! The Obama Circus is in town! A once-in-a-lifetime experience - if you're lucky. The first spectacle is Six Dem clowns enjoying a Caribbean junket sponsored by Citigroup after Congress obligingly approved the $700 billion bailout of financial services firms. Roll up! Roll up! See the amazing Dems give the corrupt leftwing ACORN $5 billion of your money! And you've seen nothing yet! See the astonishing spectacle of patriotic Dems slashing defense spending in the name of defending the country! See Obama enter the lion's den in Tehran and get eaten alive! See the wondrous display of money fleeing US shores! Obama's Circus, the Greatest Show on Earth is in town!
Nancy Pelosi's neo-eugenics : Pelosi's views in their ugliest implication is directly linked to Margaret Sanger's eugenics movement of the 1920s. Sanger's 'Planned Parenthood' was just a horrifying euphemism designed among other goals to selectively prune certain populations by design along racial, gender, age, intelligence, physiological and socio-economic lines
Wishing President Obama success - why?: The 'change' Obama campaigned on and intends to make is not good for our capitalist and free market system, our constitutional law and government and certainly not good for America. Wherever socialism has been tried it has been a failure
America's enemies aiming to shoot across Obama's bow : Are America's enemies linking up to test Obama? It looks that way. If their assessment of Obama's mettle is on the button then the world is going to be an even more dangerous place
Who needs an education?: At the end of the day jobs come down to labour market regulation and the ability of employers to operate businesses without fear of interference from governments or trade unions. The best place to learn a job is on the job



Obama to announce limits on executive pay: "The Obama administration plans to mandate new executive pay limits on Wednesday for government-assisted financial institutions in a new get-tough approach to bankers and Wall Street. `If the taxpayers are helping you, then you've got certain responsibilities to not be living high on the hog,' President Barack Obama said in an interview Tuesday with `NBC Nightly News'." [Hard to disagree with that]

Wells Fargo defends, then reconsiders Vegas retreat : "Wells Fargo & Co. abruptly reconsidered a pricey Las Vegas casino junket Tuesday after a torrent of criticism that it was misusing $25 billion in taxpayer bailout money. The company initially defended the trip after The Associated Press reported the company had booked 12 nights at the Wynn Las Vegas and its sister hotel, the Encore Las Vegas, beginning Friday. But within hours lawmakers on Capitol Hill had scorned the bank, and the company said it was reconsidering. The conference is a Wells Fargo tradition. Previous years have included all-expense-paid helicopter rides, wine tasting, horseback riding in Puerto Rico and a private Jimmy Buffett concert in the Bahamas for more than 1,000 employees and guests."

SC: Idiot sheriff wastes taxpayer money "investigating" Phelps: "Authorities in the US will press criminal charges against Olympic swimming champion Michael Phelps if an investigation proves he broke the law smoking marijuana. A spokesman for Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott, known for his tough stance on drugs, said the department was investigating Phelps after a photograph surfaced showing him smoking a bong pipe."

US Senate votes to give a tax break to new car buyers : "The Senate voted Tuesday to give a tax break to new car buyers, setting aside bipartisan concerns over the size of an economic stimulus bill with a price tag edging above $900 billion. The 71-26 vote came as President Barack Obama said he lies awake nights worrying about the economy and signaled he'll try to knock out `buy American' provisions in the legislation to avoid a possible trade war."

Washington has no money to give : "Well, strictly speaking, the federal government has as much money as it wants, because it owns the exclusive right to print U.S. dollars. But that doesn't mean it possesses real assets or claims on income to back up the dollars it creates. Federal officials can expend real wealth on services or redistribute it to preferred beneficiaries only to the extent that it confiscates that real wealth from the people who originally created it. Washington can either confiscate the wealth today, by taxation, or confiscate it in the future by borrowing today and paying creditors with future taxes."

The stock market has little hope for Obama: "For those of you who haven't been paying attention to financial markets (which is probably somewhere between 0% and 2% of my readers), I'd like to point out that the Dow Jones was not only down 9% in January, but it's down 17% since the election of The Chosen One. . Financial markets aren't taken with the charisma of the Obamessiah. They don't see hope for profits or any change for the better."

Palaces for the bureaucrats : "Included in the massive stimulus bill that passed in the House of Representatives are several line items appropriations to renovate federal buildings in Washington. Included is $150 million to renovate a Smithsonian museum, $500 million for a new National Institutes of Health building, and $400 million for renovating a Social Security Administration building. For the renovation of the Social Security building, the agency estimates that the renovation will create 400 jobs. In other words, it will cost $1 million dollars for each job created."

Is classical liberalism selfish? : "One of the oddest criticisms of classical liberal political theory that one encounters is that libertarianism is inherently selfish. If we use the word 'selfish' as it is usually meant this is a most peculiar accusation. Liberalism, properly understood, is a political philosophy. As such it is not directed inward at all. It is an outward-directed set of ethics. What liberalism defines is the minimal obligations we owe others."


List of backup or "mirror" sites here or here -- for readers in China or for everyone when blogspot is "down" or failing to update. Email me here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here or here or here


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


Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Possible Hiatus

I go in for yet more dermatological surgery later today. Such is the high quality of private medical services in Australia that I will be away from home for only about an hour but I do tend to get a bit depressed for a short while after such events so posting thereafter may be light for a day or two.


How Government Prolonged the Great Depression

Policies that decreased competition in product and labor markets were especially destructive

The goal of the New Deal was to get Americans back to work. But the New Deal didn't restore employment. In fact, there was even less work on average during the New Deal than before FDR took office. Total hours worked per adult, including government employees, were 18% below their 1929 level between 1930-32, but were 23% lower on average during the New Deal (1933-39). Private hours worked were even lower after FDR took office, averaging 27% below their 1929 level, compared to 18% lower between in 1930-32.

Even comparing hours worked at the end of 1930s to those at the beginning of FDR's presidency doesn't paint a picture of recovery. Total hours worked per adult in 1939 remained about 21% below their 1929 level, compared to a decline of 27% in 1933. And it wasn't just work that remained scarce during the New Deal. Per capita consumption did not recover at all, remaining 25% below its trend level throughout the New Deal, and per-capita nonresidential investment averaged about 60% below trend. The Great Depression clearly continued long after FDR took office.

Why wasn't the Depression followed by a vigorous recovery, like every other cycle? It should have been. The economic fundamentals that drive all expansions were very favorable during the New Deal. Productivity grew very rapidly after 1933, the price level was stable, real interest rates were low, and liquidity was plentiful. We have calculated on the basis of just productivity growth that employment and investment should have been back to normal levels by 1936. Similarly, Nobel Laureate Robert Lucas and Leonard Rapping calculated on the basis of just expansionary Federal Reserve policy that the economy should have been back to normal by 1935.

So what stopped a blockbuster recovery from ever starting? The New Deal. Some New Deal policies certainly benefited the economy by establishing a basic social safety net through Social Security and unemployment benefits, and by stabilizing the financial system through deposit insurance and the Securities Exchange Commission. But others violated the most basic economic principles by suppressing competition, and setting prices and wages in many sectors well above their normal levels. All told, these antimarket policies choked off powerful recovery forces that would have plausibly returned the economy back to trend by the mid-1930s

The most damaging policies were those at the heart of the recovery plan, including The National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA), which tossed aside the nation's antitrust acts and permitted industries to collusively raise prices provided that they shared their newfound monopoly rents with workers by substantially raising wages well above underlying productivity growth. The NIRA covered over 500 industries, ranging from autos and steel, to ladies hosiery and poultry production. Each industry created a code of "fair competition" which spelled out what producers could and could not do, and which were designed to eliminate "excessive competition" that FDR believed to be the source of the Depression.

These codes distorted the economy by artificially raising wages and prices, restricting output, and reducing productive capacity by placing quotas on industry investment in new plants and equipment. Following government approval of each industry code, industry prices and wages increased substantially, while prices and wages in sectors that weren't covered by the NIRA, such as agriculture, did not. We have calculated that manufacturing wages were as much as 25% above the level that would have prevailed without the New Deal. And while the artificially high wages created by the NIRA benefited the few that were fortunate to have a job in those industries, they significantly depressed production and employment, as the growth in wage costs far exceeded productivity growth.

These policies continued even after the NIRA was declared unconstitutional in 1935. There was no antitrust activity after the NIRA, despite overwhelming FTC evidence of price-fixing and production limits in many industries, and the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 gave unions substantial collective-bargaining power. While not permitted under federal law, the sit-down strike, in which workers were occupied factories and shut down production, was tolerated by governors in a number of states and was used with great success against major employers, including General Motors in 1937.

The downturn of 1937-38 was preceded by large wage hikes that pushed wages well above their NIRA levels, following the Supreme Court's 1937 decision that upheld the constitutionality of the National Labor Relations Act. These wage hikes led to further job loss, particularly in manufacturing. The "recession in a depression" thus was not the result of a reversal of New Deal policies, as argued by some, but rather a deepening of New Deal polices that raised wages even further above their competitive levels, and which further prevented the normal forces of supply and demand from restoring full employment. Our research indicates that New Deal labor and industrial policies prolonged the Depression by seven years.

By the late 1930s, New Deal policies did begin to reverse, which coincided with the beginning of the recovery. In a 1938 speech, FDR acknowledged that the American economy had become a "concealed cartel system like Europe," which led the Justice Department to reinitiate antitrust prosecution. And union bargaining power was significantly reduced, first by the Supreme Court's ruling that the sit-down strike was illegal, and further reduced during World War II by the National War Labor Board (NWLB), in which large union wage settlements were limited by the NWLB to cost-of-living increases. The wartime economic boom reflected not only the enormous resource drain of military spending, but also the erosion of New Deal labor and industrial policies.

By 1947, through a combination of NWLB wage restrictions and rapid productivity growth, we have calculated that the large gap between manufacturing wages and productivity that emerged during the New Deal had nearly been eliminated. And since that time, wages have never approached the severely distorted levels that prevailed under the New Deal, nor has the country suffered from such abysmally low employment.

The main lesson we have learned from the New Deal is that wholesale government intervention can -- and does -- deliver the most unintended of consequences. This was true in the 1930s, when artificially high wages and prices kept us depressed for more than a decade, it was true in the 1970s when price controls were used to combat inflation but just produced shortages. It is true today, when poorly designed regulation produced a banking system that took on too much risk.

President Barack Obama and Congress have a great opportunity to produce reforms that do return Americans to work, and that provide a foundation for sustained long-run economic growth and the opportunity for all Americans to succeed. These reforms should include very specific plans that update banking regulations and address a manufacturing sector in which several large industries -- including autos and steel -- are no longer internationally competitive.

Tax reform that broadens rather than narrows the tax base and that increases incentives to work, save and invest is also needed. We must also confront an educational system that fails many of its constituents. A large fiscal stimulus plan that doesn't directly address the specific impediments that our economy faces is unlikely to achieve either the country's short-term or long-term goals.




Don't Push Banks to Make Bad Loans: "There is a widespread belief that banks are now refusing to lend as much as they should, and that Congress should pressure them to extend more credit to consumers and businesses. In reality, banks as a whole increased their lending during 2008 -- the notion they haven't is based on a misunderstanding of U.S. credit markets. Pressuring banks to lend more could backfire. As far as commercial banks go, Federal Reserve data released last week show that their lending increased 2.36% during the last quarter of 2008. For all of 2008, commercial-bank lending rose by $386 billion, or 5.63%, even as the economy slid into recession. Over that 12-month period, business lending jumped $152 billion, or 10.6%, real-estate loans were up $213 billion, or 5.9%, and consumer lending rose $73.5 billion, or 9%. Other categories of bank lending such as loans to farmers, broker-dealers and governments, declined $53.2 billion, or 5.4%. Fed data also show that during the first three quarters of 2008, the total amount of credit supplied to the economy increased $1.91 trillion, or 3.8%, with $540 billion of that amount coming from foreign lenders".

Stimulus: The power of names: "A well chosen name wins an argument by assuming its conclusion. Label cash subsidies to foreign government as `foreign aid' and who can be so hard hearted as to oppose them. Call subsidies to the public schools `aid to education' and you neatly skip over the question of whether additional spending in the public school system results in more education. Label something `pollution' and is no longer necessary to offer evidence that it is bad, since everyone knows pollution is bad - even thermal pollution, otherwise described as warm water. Occasionally we even get dueling names. Both `right to life' and `pro-choice' are obviously good things; how could anyone be against either? For a more recent example, consider Obama's economic policy. Everyone - including Obama, back when he was running for President - is against deficit spending. Relabel it 'stimulus' and everyone is for it."

Quarterly Exxon Obscene Profit Reality Check : "Yes...Exxon made a profit of $45 billion. Feign shock/disgust/outrage at the "obscene" profits if you want. But know this...your rage is aimed in the wrong direction. While Exxon was earning a $45 billion profit out of $477 billion of revenue...governments around the world were squeezing a profit of $116 billion out of that same revenue. Yes, that is right. According to the numbers, Exxon paid $116 billion is total taxes in 2008. That is a profit 2.5x the one that Exxon is supposedly guilty of earning. So if you think we need a 'Windfall Profit Tax" when it comes to oil profits, perhaps we should levy it on government, because no one made a bigger windfall than them....."

Australian terrorist leader gets 15 years: "The leader of a Melbourne-based terrorist cell has been sentenced to 15 years' jail. Abdul Nacer Benbrika, 48, of Dallas, was sentenced to a non-parole period of 12 years. He has already been in custody for 1184 days. Justice Bernard Bongiorno in the Supreme Court said a terrorist organisation led by Benbrika had been dedicated to the destruction of non-believers but the group had not planned specific attacks despite the evidence of a key prosecution witness. Benbrika became the first Australian to be convicted of leading a terrorist group last September, following the country's biggest terrorism trial that lasted seven months and cost tens of millions of dollars. The father-of-seven faced a maximum 25 years' prison for directing the terrorist group that the jury heard had discussed attacking Melbourne's Crown Casino and bombing the MCG. Benbrika was also convicted of possessing a compact disc connected to the preparation of a terrorist act... Benbrika used warped teachings of Islam to recruit his young followers and encourage them to wage violent jihad against "non-believers" in Australia. Justice Bongiorno said that, although the word jihad had many meanings in Islam, Benbrika used the term only to mean a violent attack by his group to advance the Islamic cause. He said Benbrika had admired Osama bin Laden and believed that killing people and destroying buildings was justified as it would help pressure the Australian Government into withdrawing troops from Iraq and leaving the American alliance. The court heard Benbrika had told one of his followers, Abdullah Merhi, not just to kill a few people but to "do a big thing"."

Attacks on Jews in Venezuela: "In the past, as today, several Venezuelan governments have expressed their solidarity with the Palestinian cause or the Palestinian people. However, since the events in Gaza that began on December 27 2008, the present government of Venezuela has adopted an aggressive and dangerous tone never previously heard, clearly inciting against the Jewish Community. The Government's supporters nationwide picked up on the Government's lead with clearly anti-Semitic expressions - with no effort whatsoever by Government to stop them. The expulsion of the Israeli Ambassador followed, and subsequently, a final breaking off of diplomatic relations. Furthermore, there is a well-orchestrated campaign on TV, radio, print and Internet media owned by the government, openly questioning Israel's right to exist, even including publication of such anti-Semitic materials as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. A group of pro-government journalists is urging the population to boycott businesses owned by Jews in Venezuela."

The New England Cottontail Rabbit : "Most of the impacts on private property from the federal Endangered Species Act have occurred in the south and the west. This story notes that the New England cottontail rabbit isn't on the ESA's list of threatened or endangered species yet, largely due to workload issues at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Typically environmental activists sue to force such species on to the list, but not apparently not in this case. New England liberals have a much easier time supporting the draconian species laws when those laws don't have any impact on their own backyards. If and when the rabbit jumps onto the list and land use suddenly becomes a swirl of delays and expensive planning, lawsuits and devalued land, it will be interesting to see how the Congressmen from up north view the ESA then."


List of backup or "mirror" sites here or here -- for readers in China or for everyone when blogspot is "down" or failing to update. Email me here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here or here or here


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


Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The Asian influence in Australia

I originally wrote the post below for my personal blog but I think it has enough general interest to post here too. On some estimates, the population of Australia is now about 10% East Asian

As a conservative, I treat people primarily as individuals, regardless of any group to which they may or may not belong. I leave obsession with race and class to Leftists. From Marx up until shortly after the Hitlerian catastrophe, Leftists were very pro-racist. Now they are very anti-racist but the obsession with race remains. They seem unable to treat people as individuals and can only talk about people in terms of broad and very oversimplified categories.

But as well as being a conservative I am also a sociologist. An Australian government (NSW) paid me a lot of money over a 12 year period to teach it. And as they are nearly all Leftists, what is the chief interest of sociologists? Race and class! So I still mull those topics over in my head quite a lot -- with always in mind the one piece of wisdom I remember from my mother's incessant chatter: "There's good and bad in the lot".

I am, for instance, very pro-Indian; I think that Indians tend to have admirable characteristics. And being the forthright sort of person I am, I put my money where my mouth is and have mostly Indian sharers living with me in my large house. Usually, I even fly the flag of the Republic of India from the flagpole at the front of my house and have been known to greet Indians living here with Jai Hind ("Long live Hindustan")! And that orientation serves me well in that I am very satisfied with the people that I have living with me. But I have also kicked two Indians out. Even though I think Indians are mostly fine people there are some pesky ones too and I have no trouble treating them accordingly. There is good and bad in Indians too.

So on to my thoughts about East Asians and the Han Chinese in particular. I never cease to be amazed at how well Australians of Asian and British ancestry get on together in Australia. One sees Anglo/Asian couples around the place all the time: Older Australian men with Filipinas and younger Anglo-Australian men with Chinese ladies.

And I myself am quite Sinophilic as well as Indophilic. It is in a way fortunate that I am as I have two old friends who now live in China with Chinese wives. And another old friend has a Japanese lady in his life. I myself however have never got involved with East Asian women, though I did once have an Indian girlfriend. My son however has a girlfriend with Han ancestry and has Chinese friends as well. There are all sorts of background differences and some genetic differences between Anglo-Australians and Chinese but at the individual level there is also often a great appreciation of one another. One can only applaud that. And my conclusion is that the differences between East Asians and Anglo-Celts are complementary: Each has strengths where the other has weaknesses and vice versa. But I might tread on toes all round if I went further into that thought.

The present revival of this theme in my thinking was provoked by a visit from China by one of my old friends, Croucher. He arrived in Brisbane yesterday with his Chinese wife and his two very impressive Eurasian sons. So we all went to dinner together with the Henninghams. Henningham, Croucher and I have a friendship that goes back many years. We always refer to one another by surname only, indicating a sort of jolly friendship, I suppose.

Perhaps in need of a change off Chinese food, Croucher wanted some Middle-Eastern food. So we went to a Turkish restaurant near where I live. Parking around there there is either very difficult or very expensive so I crammed us all into my 1963 Humber Super Snipe and delivered everybody to the door of the restaurant in that. The Humber has bench seats front and back so can transport more people than many modern cars.

I was feeling a bit depressed due to my upcoming minor surgery but fortunately everyone else was in good form with nonsense being talked for most of the night. We did however have occasional serious moments in which we agreed, for instance, that global warming was a great steaming heap of ... Henningham, Croucher and I constantly talk bantering nonsense to one another in emails -- which we greatly enjoy doing -- but it was best of all to do so in person, of course. All three of us are academics so there is also occasionally some academic talk between us but not much.

But it is still a little surprising to me that wherever I go there is a Han presence -- a presence that seems to be completely harmonious. At the classical music group I go to there are almost always Chinese performers giving renditions of Western classsical music to a very high standard; and at the recent annual gathering of my relatives on my mother's side there was also a Han presence: A cousin once removed is married to a Chinese lady and has attractive Eurasian children. I actually now have relatives with Han ancestry!

So if only all minorities fitted in as well here as the East Asians do! Australia is indeed lucky that its largest visible minority is East Asian -- people whom I see as generally patient, clever, flexible individuals who work hard and contribute greatly to the community as a whole. They are not saints (though their rate of crime is very low) but they do seem to fit in with the rest of us remarkably well. And anyone who values social ease and harmony will value that.



Baby chimps are as bright as human infants: "Chimpanzees have long been known for their ability to mimic humans. Now scientists have found that baby chimps' mental development can even be more advanced than children of the same age. At nine months, the animals are just as curious and capable of recognising carers and familiar objects as the average baby. When compared with infants kept in isolated conditions in orphanages, the animals are even more advanced. The scientists who carried out the research believe their research also provides valuable evidence that chimpanzees, like humans, thrive on social interaction. The more intimate their contact with their carers, the faster their brains develop. Chimpanzees share about 96% of their DNA with humans. An adult chimp's level of intelligence has been likened to that of a three-year-old child. The new research shows that in their early lives, they develop along similar lines to people before humans race ahead." [I have looked at some of the more embarrassing aspects of this previously]

`Jimmy Carter' tag has Obama wincing: "Less than two weeks into his administration, President Barack Obama is being portrayed by opponents as a new Jimmy Carter - weak at home and naive abroad - in an attempt to dim his post-election glow and ensure that he serves only one term. The charge has stung because it was made privately by Hillary Clinton supporters during a hard-fought primary campaign and plays to fears about Obama's inexperience. He is engaged in early trials of strength with Republicans in Washington and critics of the United States around the world - not least Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president. Obama faces battles to talk Wall Street into giving up its addiction to large bonuses and US banks to start lending again. "Barack Obama thinks he can charm his adversaries into changing their ways but his personality can't change the dynamics," said Tom Edmonds, a Republican consultant. "Carter [president from 1977 to 1981] had the same belief in naive symbolism. Their styles are very different but the political similarities are there." The Republicans are in fighting mood after Obama failed to secure a single vote on their side for his $819 billion financial stimulus package in the House of Representatives, despite intensive wooing. The bill came laden with spending on Democratic pet projects, including $50m for the arts and $400m for global warming research that critics said had little to do with boosting the economy. It also contains "buy American" protectionist provisions that have alarmed trading partners, including Britain."

$646,214 per government job: "House Democrats propose to spend $550 billion of their two-year, $825 billion 'stimulus bill' (the rest of it being tax cuts). Most of the spending is unlikely to be timely or temporary. Strangely, most of it is targeted toward sectors of the economy where unemployment is the lowest. The December unemployment rate was only 2.3% for government workers and 3.8% in education and health. Unemployment rates in manufacturing and construction, by contrast, were 8.3% and 15.2% respectively. Yet 39% of the $550 billion in the bill would go to state and local governments. Another 17.3% would go to health and education - sectors where relatively secure government jobs are also prevalent. If the intent of the plan is to alleviate unemployment, why spend over half of the money on sectors where unemployment is lowest?"

An interesting statement from a former Leftist: "Why am I no longer a Leftist? Because - in my advancing age - I have become responsible. And honest. And true. And unafraid to stand alone alongside anything else in the universe. Nobody is going to tell me - ever again - what to think or how to think it. Nobody is going to speak for me - on my behalf - without my explicit permission. Nobody is going to make me run away, except myself. Nobody is going to plant guilt upon me, except myself. And nobody - but nobody - is going to overpower me. Some of us are far more susceptible to conditioning than others. I have often thought how pleasant it must be to be one of them. But some of us have no choice. We are stuck with our ability to perceive, to be aware, to know our own hearts and minds. We do not stay outside the herd by choice, but because there is no place for us in the herd. And herds can be dangerous places, even for those that inhabit them. It is so very easy to get trampled underfoot as they hurtle towards - and over - the cliff."

Obama grants CIA permission to retain right to carry out renditions: "The banner headlines greeting President Obama's decision to close the detention centre at Guant namo Bay and secret CIA prisons may have concealed how he has retained one of the most controversial weapons in the War on Terror. Under executive orders signed on January 22, the CIA appears to have preserved its authority to carry out renditions - by which hundreds of terrorist suspects have been abducted and transferred to prisons in countries with questionable human rights records such as Egypt, Morocco or Jordan. The measure, disclosed by the Los Angeles Times yesterday, gives some indication of how Mr Obama's promise of change may be slower to be realised than once hoped, with the new Administration coming under concerted attack across a range of issues. An administration official was quoted yesterday defending rendition. "Obviously you need to preserve some tools. You still have to go after the bad guys," said the official. "It is controversial in some circles. But if done within certain parameters, it is acceptable." The European Parliament has condemned renditions, some of which have involved flights with stopovers in British territory, as illegal under international law."

The right stimulus : "What the Democrats have done is write down every single item on their liberal wish list, append dollar amounts next to the items seemingly at random, and call it 'stimulus.' The president wanted the bill to be free of pet projects and include business tax cuts. But no one told Pelosi's appopriators. They are using the current troubles to push through a decades-old domestic policy agenda. The spending - $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts, $400 million for global warming studies - demonstrates that the bill has no overarching logic. Which makes it a major disappointment. Almost everybody agrees that the economy is a mess and that fiscal policy might help tidy things up. But $6.2 billion for `home weatherization?' The problem with the House plan is that it is ineffective even on Keynesian grounds."

The optimum government : ""Over the last few decades, many economists have done studies on the `optimum' size of government. A new study just completed shows the optimum size of government is less than 25 percent of GDP. Optimum is defined as that point just before government becomes so large as to reduce the rate of economic growth and job creation. Governments are created to protect people and property. A government too small to establish the rule of law and protect people and their property from both foreign and domestic enemies is less than optimal."


List of backup or "mirror" sites here or here -- for readers in China or for everyone when blogspot is "down" or failing to update. Email me here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here or here or here


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


Monday, February 02, 2009

"Cuba to attend Human Rights Council with head held high"

Psychologists have known since the work of LaPiere in the 1930s that there is often a very large gap between what people say and what they do. The report below from the official organ of the government of Cuba, however, must be one of the more amusing examples of such a gap

CUBA is to attend the Universal Periodic review (UPR) of the Human Rights Council with its head held high and a clean conscience, given its work in favor of human rights for all Cuban men and women, affirmed Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque, during a press conference at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MINREX). He described as intense and genuinely participative the drafting of the island's national report to the UPR, the text of which is available on the Cubaminrex and Cubadebate websites and is to be published in tabloid format.

The process involved many state institutions and 200-plus of the island's NGO'S, as well as 150 from other countries, which submitted their contributions to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

He explained that Cuba is taking on this exercise, scheduled for February 5, with all seriousness and a sense of responsibility, convinced that respectful dialogue, based on the principles of objectivity, impartiality and non-selectiveness, is the only way for international cooperation on human rights issues.

The foreign minister also referred to the anti-Cuba mandate imposed on the former Human Rights Commission, whose elimination, he stated, has made it possible to qualitatively intensify our cooperation with the mechanisms applied in this context on non-discriminatory bases; and which was an act of essential justice toward our people, as well as a recognition of the prestige and the work of the Revolution in protecting and promoting human rights for all.

Perez Roque also announced that, next week, Cuba is to extend an invitation to Manfred Novak, special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, as part of the country's disposition to continue relating to the Council's special procedures. In the same press conference the minister announced the upcoming ratification of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, in a country in which "in the last 50 years, there has not even been one disappeared or tortured person, and not one extra-judicial execution," he noted.

Cuba is party to 41 of the most important human rights treaties or conventions, and last year signed the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, currently moving through the ordinary procedure of constitutional consultation. Cuba is sending reports to the Committees on the Rights of the Child and on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and is likewise working on its report to the Committee against Torture, which should be ready for submission at the end of March.



Another gross FEMA failure -- but it is not the President's fault this time

It's only the fault of the President if he is a Republican

Where is FEMA? That's the question rural southerners are asking. Or would be asking if their lips weren't frozen shut. At least 42 people have died, including 11 in Kentucky, and conditions are worsening in many places days after an ice storm knocked out power to 1.3 million customers from the Plains to the East Coast. About a million people were still without electric Friday, and with no hope that the lights will come back on soon, small communities are frantically struggling to help their residents.

The death toll may be higher already, Grayson County Emergency Management Director Randell Smith indicates there are many people they just haven't been able to get to. "We don't even know that they're alive," said Smith, who also indicated that the National Guard showed up without even chainsaws to clear fallen trees from the roads.

Across the stricken area, local officials are increasingly upset at the lack of assistance from the Federal Government. As Tim Blair puts it, "according to the Katrina template, this is all Obama's fault." Right, Kanye?

FEMA spokeswoman Mary Hudak said that some FEMA people are getting out into the state, but indicated that they are hampered by icy and dangerous conditions. So, just so we are clear Mary, the ice emergency is hard to help with because its all icy? The worst hit areas are poor rural counties. You know, the kind full of bitter people clinging to guns and religion. I reckon they're clinging to them right now. Facing freezing to death alone in the country no doubt puts one's mind to prayer. More from the AP:
Even for those who wanted to leave, it wasn't possible. The one gas station in Marion that was up and running was able to supply gasoline to emergency vehicles only until another delivery of gasoline arrived Friday. Only half of that gas was made available to the public, and there was a $10 limit. Linda Young, who is staying the town's shelter, said her car only had enough gas in it to get around Marion. Even if she had gas, there was nowhere to go - all of her relatives in other parts of Kentucky also were hit by the ice storm.

They are trapped, huddled in shelters, and wondering what's next. But hey, the governor said Obama called him and was all, you know, worried. So it's not like he's not doing anything. I wonder if the President told the Governor that Kentuckians should "toughen up"? Is "flinty" a synonym for grossly insensitive? It would, of course, be despicable to suggest the President isn't helping because of the race and income levels of the majority of the victims. Although as Jeff Emanuel notes, it's been known to happen.




How British. Huge rewards for huge incompetence: "Dozens of staff at the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) have been offered early-release payoffs worth up to 240,000 pounds after a secret Whitehall report found its work was being undermined by alleged cronyism and incompetence. The SFO, which received 42m from the government last year to tackle Bernie Madoff-style fraud, has offered many of its lawyers and accountants gold-plated pensions and lump-sum payoffs, in some cases worth three times their salary. The move follows a confidential review of the agency by Jessica de Grazia, a former US prosecutor, who found a widespread perception of cronyism where staff believed the agency was "a bit of an old boy's club". The unpublished report, seen by The Sunday Times, said staff were promoted because they were "nice". Some employees felt this was because they were "friends of the [then] director". SFO officials said it was "like a rudderless ship [with] the blind leading the blind". John Lawson, head of Standard Life pensions, said the payoffs were "an offer to die for".

Britain's crooked Lords: "Peers who avoid tax or have criminal convictions - such as Lord Archer and Lord Black - are to be expelled from the House of Lords in the wake of the lords for hire scandal. The reforms are being drawn up by Jack Straw, the justice secretary, in an attempt to restore the Lords' battered reputation after last weekend's revelations in The Sunday Times. He plans to enact the legislation necessary to expel them before the general election, which has to be held by May next year. Peers who are "non-domiciled" or "non-resident" for tax purposes - there are thought to be at least seven - will lose their seats, as will those who have been convicted of a serious criminal offence. Our disclosures that Labour peers were prepared to amend laws in the Lords on behalf of businesses has lifted the lid on the frenetic business activity in the second chamber... Our inquiries have established that other peers are routinely attempting to change legislation that would favour companies and organisations which pay them. In an interview with The Sunday Times, Baroness Royall, Labour leader in the Lords, said the system was "bananas". [Most members are now political hacks appointed by the government so this was to be expected]

British police 'ran away' from jeering Muslim demonstrators: "Video footage posted on a website shows police officers running way from chanting demonstrators who took part in a violent protest in London against Israel's invasion of the Gaza Strip. The ten-minute amateur film shows 30 officers being chased by a crowd of up to 3,000 people who broke away from an official protest march last month. The video, posted on YouTube, shows protesters chanting 'Allahu Akbar' (God is Greatest) and 'Fatwa', a death threat under Islamic law. As they walk past St James's Palace, demonstrators throw traffic cones and stones at the police, who are seen running away from the threat before turning to walk backwards. One demonstrator shouts: 'Run, run, you cowards. Run, you poof. Allahu Akbar.'"

More on the decay of British policing: "The anonymous blogging policeman records that officers are visiting areas with high vehicle crime and identifying vulnerable vehicles. They attach a sticker to the windscreen informing the owner that there is some kind of insecurity. They even tick a box telling the owner how the vehicle is insecure. This marks out the vulnerable cars for thieves and helpfully informs them how to proceed. As the blogger says: "This is quite the maddest scheme in British policing." I certainly hope so. I sadly suspect not."

The British car industry, the bailout and the taxpayer : "On Wednesday, UK Business Secretary Lord Mandelson went some way in bailing out the carmakers by giving them credit, though you might think that it was too much credit that got us all into this mess in the first place, but put that aside for one moment. The real issue is where this cash is going to come from. Our leaders like to suggest that it's just some bookkeeping entry at the Bank, but every pound lent to a potential car customer has to come from somewhere. And indeed, it comes from taxpayers. Hairdressers in Harwich have to pay higher taxes so that Sloane Rangers can buy a new Jag or a new Lexus. Yes, that could save lots of jobs, possibly thousands, in carmaking. But only by putting jobs under threat everywhere else."


List of backup or "mirror" sites here or here -- for readers in China or for everyone when blogspot is "down" or failing to update. Email me here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here or here or here


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


Sunday, February 01, 2009

Bailout hypocrisy

Everyone is talking about how much money the government is spending, but very little attention is being paid to where they are spending it or what they are buying with it. The government is putting money into banks, even when the banks don't want it, in hopes that the banks will put it into circulation. But the latest statistics shows that banks are lending even less money now than they were before the government dumped all that cash on them. Even if it had worked, putting cash into banks, in hopes that they would put it into circulation, seems a rather roundabout way of doing things, especially when the staggering sums of money involved are being justified as an "emergency" measure.

Spending money for infrastructure is another time-consuming way of dealing with what is called an immediate crisis. Infrastructure takes forever to plan, debate, and go through all sorts of hearings and adjudications, before getting approval to build from all the regulatory agencies involved. Out of $355 billion newly appropriated, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that only $26 billion will be spent this fiscal year and only $110 billion by the end of 2010. Using long, drawn-out processes to put money into circulation to meet an emergency is like mailing a letter to the fire department to tell them that your house is on fire.

If you cut taxes tomorrow, people would have more money in their next paycheck, and it would probably be spent by the time they got that paycheck, through increased credit card purchases beforehand. If all this sound and fury in Washington was about getting an economic crisis behind us, tax cuts could do that a lot faster.

None of this is rocket science. And Washington politicians are not all crazy, even if sometimes it looks that way. Often, what they say makes no sense because what they claim to be doing is not what they are actually doing. No matter how many times President Barack Obama tells us that these "extraordinary times" call for "swift action," the kind of economic policies he is promoting take effect very slowly, no matter how quickly the legislation is rushed through Congress. It is the old Army game of hurry up and wait.

If the Beltway politicians aren't really trying to solve this crisis as quickly as they could, what are they trying to do? One important clue may be a recent statement by President Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emmanuel, that "A crisis is a terrible thing to waste." This is the kind of cynical revelation that sometimes slips out, despite all the political pieties and spin. Crises have long been seen as great opportunities to expand the federal government's power while the people are too scared to object and before any opposition can get organized. That is why there is such haste to do things that will take effect slowly.



Obama is watching you

Or some of his acolytes are with his permission

Back when he was campaigning for president, Barack Obama's skillful use of Web 2.0 technologies such as Facebook and YouTube enabled him to get his message out to new audiences of voters in an unprecedented fashion. But using the same technologies in his new role as president is already proving to be more controversial.

Not even 10 days into Obama's presidency, some privacy advocates are expressing concern about a White House decision permitting the use of persistent Internet cookies in YouTube video files embedded on the redesigned Web site. Letting third-party cookies be placed on the site is a deviation from established executive-branch policy that leaves site visitors open to being tracked and profiled without their knowledge, the privacy advocates claim.

In a letter mailed Tuesday to White House Counsel Gregory Craig (download PDF), the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) questioned a waiver that was issued by Craig's office concerning the use of cookies on the site. The waiver, which is now part of the site's modified privacy policy allows the use of persistent cookies by "some third-party providers to help maintain the integrity of video statistics."



The wonderful power of regulation again

Once again we see that the principal function of regulators is to give people a false sense of security while they are being ripped off

An Indiana financial manager who parachuted from a small plane in a suspected bid to fake his death handled lucrative accounts in several states for years despite repeated accusations that he was bilking investors. Regulators in at least three states were warned about Marcus Schrenker, in one case as early as 2002. But it took nearly seven years - and suspected losses reaching into the millions of dollars - before Indiana launched a criminal investigation of Mr. Schrenker, whose high-flying lifestyle included planes, luxury cars and a 10,000-square-foot home. Officials say he deliberately switched his licensing from state to state to create confusion about who should have been watching him.

Mr. Schrenker's wife filed for divorce Dec. 30, a day before Indiana police served a search warrant on his home and office, seizing computers, tubs full of financial documents and evidence of recent document shredding. This was within days of his loss of a $533,000 judgment to an insurance company.

With his personal and financial woes mounting, Mr. Schrenker, 38, bailed out of his plane Jan. 11 near Birmingham, Ala., and sped away on a motorcycle. The plane, left on autopilot, continued for another 200 miles before crashing near homes in the Florida panhandle.

On Jan. 13, Mr. Schrenker was arrested at a Florida campground where a suspected suicide attempt left him hospitalized with a self-inflicted gash to a wrist. He was released Sunday from a Tallahassee hospital. Mr. Schrenker was being held Monday in the Escambia County Jail, though a court date had not been set. Federal court records did not list an attorney for him.

Felony charges from his financial dealings are pending in Indiana, where authorities have frozen Mr. Schrenker's assets and those of his wife. He also faces nearly $9 million in potential and actual judgments and legal claims, some filed in other states, on complaints that he failed to refund unwarranted commissions and charged exorbitant fees. "That guy's house of cards is falling rapidly," said Charles Kinney, an airline pilot from Atlanta who has made formal complaints that Mr. Schrenker scammed up to $135,000 from his parents' retirement fund. "We knew this day was coming."

Authorities in Indiana and Georgia have received at least nine complaints since 2002 against Mr. Schrenker and his companies - Icon Wealth Management, Heritage Wealth Management and Heritage Insurance Services. A financial industry regulatory group says there were two other complaints filed in 2001.

Georgia's insurance department worked with five people who filed complaints over Mr. Schrenker's handling of annuities - including charging exorbitant "surrender fees" the investors didn't know they'd face - starting in late 2006, said spokesman Glenn Allen. The department eventually obtained $2.5 million in refunds for the investors, working with insurance companies that issued those annuities.



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