Saturday, April 16, 2011

Budget Battle, Budget Prattle

Jonah Goldberg

I cannot remember a more depressing week in Washington. The Republicans boasted a heroic accomplishment: slashing $38.5 billion from the budget, purportedly the largest cuts in history. But the cake was made from sawdust. Strip away the gimmicks and shine a light on the shadows, and it turns out the real cuts amounted to $352 million, or less than 1 percent of what was promised.

America borrows $4 billion a day. So we likely borrowed more than we cut in the amount of time the GOP leadership spent bragging about its "victory."

It is a dismal, dreary, mope-inducing performance that makes one wonder what the point of the 2010 elections were. If this was the best deal possible, fine. Republicans control only one house of Congress, and you can only achieve what is achievable. But they should have said so, admitted it frankly, and sworn to do better. Instead, the leadership touted their salt cracker of a budget cut as a feast, causing many to doubt they really grasp what their own voters want.

But as depressing as the Republicans' performance was, at least they're fighting for the right cause, their sails pointed in the right direction. What can be said of President Obama's speech this week?

Vice President Joe Biden reportedly fell asleep during the president's address. It would speak better of the man if he closed his eyes not out of weariness but as part of a prolonged wince as he listened to his boss spew a farrago of distortions, self-righteous non sequiturs and ideological fatwas in the cause of extending his presidency at the expense of both the country and his honor.

Just two months ago, Obama introduced a $3.73 trillion budget that did nothing to address America's long-term fiscal problems and added $1.6 trillion in debt (an amount roughly equal to Bill Clinton's annual budgets). It was a great and glorious punt, a rhetorical can-kicking of historic proportions. But now the president throws his budget away, concedes the scope of our fiscal wound and then proposes applying a quack's poultice to heal it.

Entitlements, he admits, are gobbling up the budget; they must be "on the table." But even as he puts the plates on the table with one hand, he removes them with the other, insisting his cooks can save the meal with price controls and rationing.

And if that doesn't work, 12 years and three presidential terms from now, a series of fictional "failsafes" will kick in and some magical commission will genie-blink even more fictional cuts.

Obama prefers this to the Republican approach, which would introduce market forces into health care in order to save a calcified system from collapsing under the weight of state controls. Indeed, he couldn't even acknowledge this is the intent of Republican plan, preferring instead to recycle ancient barbs and insults about conservative cruelty and class warfare.

In a speech billed as being full of specifics, it had precious few save the president's passionate desire to raise taxes on "the wealthy." Rhetorically, Obama defines the "rich" as millionaires like himself or billionaires like Warren Buffet. But in reality he sets his sights considerably lower: households (and small businesses) that make more than $250,000 a year.

As for shared sacrifice, it is hard to find any in his proposal. Six out of 10 U.S. households receive more from the government than they pay in taxes. If "shared sacrifice" is the standing order of the day, where is theirs? The president suggests that repealing Bush's tax cuts will save the day. But the vast bulk of those cuts go to people making less than $250,000 a year. The president wants to keep those cuts as his idea while talking about shared sacrifice. Meanwhile, as The Wall Street Journal notes, if you taxed everyone who makes over $100,000 at a rate of 100 percent, you still wouldn't raise enough to balance president Obama's budget, never mind pay off any debt.

The only good news to come from all of this is that the battle is now joined. The president has staked his banner in the soil of reactionary liberalism. Good. By setting his fortifications so far to the left of the middle ground, he gives the forces of reform room to advance far.

The rank and file are ready for battle, with the tea parties at the forefront. The only question is whether the GOP's generals have the stomach for the fight. And that question raises as much dread as hope.



Obama Blows up the Bridge

"Rather than building bridges, he's poisoning wells," said Rep. Paul Ryan, after listening to Barack Obama's scathing attack on his deficit reduction plan as a shredding of America's social contract with the elderly and poor. Ryan is right. Yet, with Obama's partisan savagery, virtually calling the GOP plan immoral, we have clarity.

There will be no grand bipartisan bargain on taxes and spending. The two parties on Capitol Hill and the president will not be coming together to solve the gravest financial and fiscal crisis America has faced since the Great Depression. Between them today is a high wall and a deep ditch.

The heart of the Ryan plan is to turn Medicaid into block grants to the states, so each can decide for itself how best to use the funds, and to convert Medicare into a program where the U.S. government would provide citizens with the funds and freedom to chose whatever health insurance they wished to buy. Obama denounced both.

But if the Republican Medicare and Medicaid proposals are dead on arrival in Harry Reid's Senate and Obama's White House, Obama's plan to raise taxes is equally lifeless.

On MSNBC's "Morning Joe," this writer asked Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform exactly how many GOP members of the House had taken his pledge not to raise taxes. His response: "The commitment that 235 Republican members of the House and 40 Republicans in the Senate have signed is the Taxpayer Protection Pledge -- it says no raising taxes. So, taxes are off the table."

Seems clear. But if virtually every GOP member of the House and 40 GOP senators have signed a pledge not to raise taxes, how can they dishonor that pledge? How could they agree to raise the top U.S. income tax rate back up to the 40 percent of the Bill Clinton era, as Obama demands, then go home and tell voters they had no choice, that to get a deal with Reid and Obama they had to let the government take a larger share of the income of American citizens?

They cannot. Put bluntly, a vote by a Republican House to raise taxes as part of a big budget deal would be an act of collective suicide by the party of Speaker John Boehner.

And the Democrats? With the exception of the civil rights acts of the 1960s, no programs are more hallowed in party mythology than Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Are Democrats, after the "shellacking" of 2010, going to go home and tell their constituents they voted to cut Medicaid benefits?

Are they going to tell the old folks of the Greatest Generation and the Silent Generation and the retiring baby boomers that Medicare in the future will not be as generous as it has been in the past, that we are going to have to start rationing their health care?

The new Republican governors -- Scott Walker in Wisconsin, John Kasich in Ohio, Chris Christie in New Jersey, Tom Corbett in Pennsylvania -- all have resisted raising taxes, as has Andrew Cuomo, Democrat of New York, who enjoys remarkably high poll numbers for the times we live in.

The praise these governors are receiving, even when embattled, has also steeled the spine of congressional Republicans against any tax increase.

But if Democrats are not going to do even minor surgery on Medicare and Medicaid and Republicans are not going to raise taxes, there is no hope of big budget deal to cut a deficit now running at 11 percent of gross domestic product.

And that raises another question. How long can the Federal Reserve continue financing these deficits? China, choking on U.S. debt, is reportedly beginning to divest itself of U.S. bonds. Japan will need to sell U.S. bonds to get hard currency to repair the damage from the earthquake and tsunami. And the Fed is about to end its QE2 monthly purchases of $100 billion in U.S. bonds.

Where is the Fed going to borrow the $125 billion a month to finance this year's deficit of $1.65 trillion, and another of comparable size in 2012? Bill Gross' Pimco, the world's largest bond fund, has sold all his U.S. bonds and begun to short U.S. debt. Pimco is betting that the value of U.S. Treasury bonds will begin to fall.

We may be about to enter a maelstrom. No big budget deal is brokered. The deficit endures, and another looms in 2012. To finance them, the Fed borrows at the rate of $30 billion a week wherever it can. But as countries begin to choke on U.S. debt, the market starts to dry up. To attract investors, the Fed must raise interest rates, which sends bond prices sinking and forces interest rates up across the economy.

With interest rates rising, gas prices rising and inflation rising, the squeeze is on, and there is talk of a double-dip recession. And if that happens, Obama is toast. But, then, so are we.



The New Health Law: Bad for Doctors, Awful for Patients

While much has been said about the recently passed health care overhaul law and a multitude of cogent arguments have been made as to why the legislation must be repealed, lengthy debates have failed to adequately address how the 2,800 pages will prevent patients from receiving the medical care that they need and want. In fact, in some ways the federal government already hinders the ability of doctors to provide their patients with good care. These trends will no doubt worsen under PPACA. In addition, new regulations and mandates will place unaccountable regulators in between physicians and their patients.

Medicare’s physician reimbursement regimen is fraught with underpayments and perverse incentives. During the health care debate, supporters of PPACA praised Medicare’s ability to exploit its size to obtain lower fees with providers. While it is true that Medicare can bludgeon down physician fees, this is not one of the program’s greatest strengths, but actually one of its greatest weaknesses. These underpayments are ultimately shifted to patients in the form of shorter visits, less doctor face time, quick hospital discharges, and compromised care. Rather than reforming the government’s flawed reimbursement regimen, PPACA merely expands its scope to more people.

PPACA establishes the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute to conduct research comparing the efficacy of medical and surgical interventions. The potential harm from this depends how it is used.

Federal regulators could easily use this research to ration care by financially punishing physicians prescribing these “less effective” treatments. This research coupled with reimbursement changes could easily pave the way for the government dictating to patients the medicines, tests, and procedures that they can and cannot have, regardless of willingness to pay and personal preference. This would replace the professional judgment of physicians with rigid rules set by regulators in Washington DC. This one-size-fits-all approach will limit choice and result in poor quality care.

The soon-to-be established health insurance exchanges will also give the federal government vast new control over physician practices. PPACA states that starting January 1, 2015, a qualified health plan can contract with a provider “only if such provider implements such mechanisms to improve health care quality as the Secretary may by regulation require.” Depending on the guidelines, this gives the federal government unprecedented new authority over not just those physicians accepting Medicare and Medicaid, but any provider accepting any third party payer offered through the exchange. Of course quality care is a good thing, but who should determine the definition of “quality?’ Who knows best? This regulation seems to be based on the notion that bureaucrats at HHS from afar know better than the doctor actually talking to and examining the patient. This will coerce physicians to practice medicine not the way they were taught, but the way the government tells them. Ultimately, this too will lead to poor quality, standardized care and restrict choice.

PPACA will strip away physician autonomy, drown doctors in bureaucracy, and drain job satisfaction. As the profession deteriorates, older doctors will retire while younger doctors will look to switch careers. Many young people considering a career in medicine will pursue other opportunities. The supply of providers will dwindle as demand for services reaches an all-time high. Ultimately, the consequences of the health overhaul law will be passed along to patients through restricted access, long wait for appointments, and rationed care.

The United States boasts the world’s premier health care system. With that said, of course there is room for improvement and efforts must be implemented to control spiraling costs. A better prescription for reform would be to build off the success of the current system while targeting its inevitable shortcomings.

Ultimately, there are only two ways to lower costs. One approach empowers bureaucrats to make tough decisions for doctors and patients. This has grave ramifications on quality of care and choice.

Unfortunately, the administration chose to pursue this route. Yet, patients would be better served if doctors were held more accountable by transparency and choice, rather than bureaucratic fiat. A more practical approach to lowering costs empowers and incentivizes patients to be smarter health care consumers. This entails solutions such as expanding health savings accounts, creating a national market for health insurance, and leveling the tax playing field. These could bend the cost curve down while simultaneously strengthening the patient-doctor relationship.

The time has come for a long-overdue, honest discussion on not just the impact that government will have on patients, doctors, and the practice of medicine, but the impact it already has had over the past forty-five years. The importance cannot be undersold as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is indeed bad for doctors, but it is always the patient that suffers the most.




End the war on dying cancer patients: "Stopping all war is not just something we need to do in the Middle East. It is something we need just as badly here at home. When I say 'stop all war,' I’m not just talking about the bombing and fighting overseas; I’m talking about the wars that the U.S. Government wages against its very own citizens. I am talking about how bureaucrats kill Americans, not with guns and bombs, but with laws and regulations."

UN: More than thirty killed in Iraqi raid on Iranian Communists: "An Iraqi army raid last week on Camp Ashraf left 34 Iranian exiles dead, according to a U.N. spokesman who on Thursday offered the first independent death toll for the attack that drew sharp rebukes from Baghdad's Western allies. The April 8 raid targeted the People's Mujahedeen Organization of Iran, which seeks to overthrow Iran's clerical leaders"

Class warfare: "In his speech yesterday, Obama brought up income inequality to justify higher taxes on the rich: 'In the last decade, the average income of the bottom 90% of all working Americans actually declined. The top 1% saw their income rise by an average of more than a quarter of a million dollars each. And that’s who needs to pay less taxes?' But even if the numbers are accurate, Obama portrays a much more divided America that really exists, because ... today’s top income earners today are often completely different people from yesterday’s top income earners."


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 (Academic) or here (Pictorial) or here (Personal)


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)

Do the Scriptures need interpreting?

As an atheist I of course have no religious interest in the scriptures but I was for many years paid a lot of money by a leading Australian university to teach sociology so I hope I may be excused for taking a sociological interest in them.

My interest is very much motivated by the historic power of the Judeo-Christian scriptures. They have been enormously influentual and I like to look at why. And in looking at why it seems important to see exactly what they say. So for a while I ran a daily Scripture blog which pointed out what they actually say -- and observed that what they say is a long way from what Christians generally believe today.

It was the Christianity of the first century that gave the huge initial impetus to the worldwide spead of Chistianity in subsequent centuries so it would seem to be that version of Christianity which is of greatest interest -- rather that the watered-down and paganized version we encounter today. And it is first century Christianity that is recorded in the Bible.

And my Scripture blog gave chapter and verse (as it were) in showing exactly where current Christianity is paganized and watered down from the first century original. And the fact that Christianity still has great influence despite being paganized and watered down is surely further testimony to the great power of the original. Even a little bit of the original Gospel is still helpful to many people.

Something that I have so far neglected to do, however, is to look at the claim made by the Catholic Church and some orthodox Jews (such as the aggressive Mr Kelley) to the effect that the Bible is THEIR book and only they can interpret it correctly. The Protestant Reformation was of course built around rejection of that claim. Most of the early Protestants said that they could read the Bible for themselves perfectly adequately and rejected any need for authoritative or learned interpretation.

I am a product of fundamentalist Protestant culture so that basic Protestant idea seems instinctively right to me. I am however a little saddened when I note that most Protestants talk the talk but don't walk the walk. Most Protestants still accept, for instance the quite mad doctrine of the triune God, which has absolutely no basis in scripture but which revives the doctrines of ancient Egypt rather well. The first person of influence to advocate it was Athanasius, an Egyptian. So I like to see what we find when we do walk the walk.

And it is my contention that the Bible is in fact very straightforward most of the time and that it therefore CAN easily be read and understood by almost everyone -- without any need for guidance from special authorities. But my asserting that is of little consequence unless I can give evidence of it. And I thought that I might today make a small start in that direction by comparing two historic pieces of religious expression. The first:
For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun.... Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest

The second:
Predestination to Life is the everlasting purpose of God, whereby (before the foundations of the world were laid) he hath constantly decreed by his counsel secret to us, to deliver from curse and damnation those whom he hath chosen in Christ out of mankind, and to bring them by Christ to everlasting salvation, as vessels made to honour. Wherefore, they which be endued with so excellent a benefit of God be called according to God's purpose by his Spirit working in due season: they through Grace obey the calling: they be justified freely: they be made sons of God by adoption: they be made like the image of his only-begotten Son Jesus Christ: they walk religiously in good works, and at length, by God's mercy, they attain to everlasting felicity.

As the godly consideration of Predestination, and our Election in Christ, is full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort to godly persons, and such as feel in themselves the working of the Spirit of Christ, mortifying the works of the flesh, and their earthly members, and drawing up their mind to high and heavenly things, as well because it doth greatly establish and confirm their faith of eternal Salvation to be enjoyed through Christ, as because it doth fervently kindle their love towards God: So, for curious and carnal persons, lacking the Spirit of Christ, to have continually before their eyes the sentence of God's Predestination, is a most dangerous downfal, whereby the Devil doth thrust them either into desperation, or into wretchlessness of most unclean living, no less perilous than desperation.

Furthermore, we must receive God's promises in such wise, as they be generally set forth to us in holy Scripture: and, in our doings, that Will of God is to be followed, which we have expressly declared unto us in the Word of God.

It is my submission that the first is as clear as crystal and the second is as clear as mud. So what are those passages? The first is from the Bible (Ecclesiastes 9) and the second is from the 39 Articles of Religion of the Church of England. The Bible beats theology any day.

But the Bible is TOO clear for most people. Ecclesiastes could hardly have expressed more plainly and emphatically that when you are dead you are dead: No mention of immortal souls flitting about. So that is when people start scrabbling for "interpretations". They say (for instance) that the Ecclesisstes passage is only talking about the body and that there is some mystical "soul" that lives on as well.

And if people need the comfort of that belief so be it. But the original teaching is clear. The Hebrews of Old Testament times were earth-oriented and the only aferlife they looked forward to was resurrection to life on earth at the time of the coming of the Messiah. And Jesus believed that too: "Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done ON EARTH, as it is in heaven".

So it's not the Bible that needs interpretation; it is the reluctance of people to accept its teachings that gives rise to the need for interpretation.

And the passage above from the 39 articles is an example of that too. It is an attempt to reject the plain words of Ephesians chapter 1 while appearing to accept them. Ephesians says quite plainly that being one of God's chosen ones was "predestined" from "before the foundation of the world", which no doubt seems rather unfair. At the time the Calvinists (mostly Scottish Presbyterians) accepted that but the Anglicans didn't like it, presumably because it made their sacraments look rather superfluous.

And that applies equally well to Jews and Christians. The following command in the Torah (Leviticus 20:13) is crystal clear: "If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them." But Rabbinical teachings have "interpreted" that out of existence too.


Those heartless Israelis

Wait for it

Is there anything lower than a Palestinian?


Leftist pro-Palestinian activist finally gets a lesson in reality that he can't ignore

A SALAFIST group of radical Islamists killed an Italian activist after kidnapping him in Gaza, a Hamas security official said today. "The Italian was killed by suffocation and his body was found in a street of the city of Gaza," a spokesman for the Islamist movement which controls the Gaza Strip said.

Foreign aid workers in the enclave earlier named the man as Vittorio Arrigoni and said he was an activist with a pro-Palestinian group called the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), who was also working as a journalist and writer.



Vocal critic of the US intervention in Iraq convicted of sex offense

He always seemed like a weak character. Now we know

A FORMER UN weapons inspector has been convicted of having unlawful contact with a minor, after being nabbed in an online sex sting. Scott Ritter, 49, exchanged explicit messages with a detective posing as a 15-year-old girl and masturbated even after the undercover officer stressed during the chat that he was a minor, prosecutors said.

A jury in the US state of Pennsylvania found Ritter guilty on six counts today, with sentencing set for next month.

Mr Kohlman acknowledged in his closing argument that jurors were likely "troubled and offended" by the graphic chat and video of Ritter that prosecutors played to the court, but said they were required to put aside their personal distaste because "this is not a referendum on whether anybody in the courtroom approves of adult chat rooms".

After the verdict, Assistant District Attorney Michael Rakaczewski said the jury reached the right decision. "They saw the case for what it is and the defendant for what he is and what he did," he said.

Ritter was one of the UN's chief weapons inspectors in Iraq from 1991 to 1998.



Meet My Benefactor

By pure luck, I happened to sit down next to a man last week who has been my benefactor for my entire life and the large part of his, and yet we had never met. In fact, though he has been serving me faithfully for three decades, looking after my well-being and trying to improve my standard of living, he didn't even know my name. Actually he still doesn't, because it is slightly odd to get too personal with the guy in the next seat on a plane. We all know this. And yet I did tell him of my deep gratitude for all he has done.

This man is in charge of marketing for one of six manufacturing plants in North America that makes oriented polypropylene for packaging materials. This substance is called OPP for short. He goes around to companies that make stuff like drinks and candies and other products and explains to them the advantages of OPP — about which more in a bit.

This man is on the road constantly and has a stack of airline-rewards cards to prove it. He is like the George Clooney character in the movie Up in the Air — a seasoned traveler married to his work. His work is to be the eyes and ears of the company as it deals with its product purchasers. His life is lived in the B2B — the business-to-business transactions that are invisible to the consuming public.

His vocabulary is industry specific, filled with neologisms that no one outside of the packaging world could understand. He can tell you the chemical properties of a bag from five feet away. He can explain why a bag is easier to tear one way and harder the other. He knows the history, the process, the competition, plus the name of every large-scale bag-purchasing manager in North America, and he is happy to talk about it all.

What is his function? He is the man who makes the inventions and the productions part of our lives. Without the person on the front lines actually selling the product, everything that went into the invention and production is pointless. He is the interface between the raw materials and the final product, the man who has to have all the answers that link the great chain of the structure of production from first to last.

As for his product, you and I both know OPP well, though we probably didn't know what it is called. It is the stuff that is used to make potato-chip bags. It is the reason that the contents stay crisp no matter what the temperature outside. You can dip the bag in water and it changes nothing. The air can be hot or cold, and still the chips inside are unchanged. The same material wraps candy like Snickers and the effect is the same.

It is also the reason that these bags can be so beautiful. OPP loves printing. It is a perfect template for designers. The results never rub off on your fingers. Nor does the printing fade in the sun. It can accept even the most subtle gradations in color. You could print a work of Michelangelo on OPP and hang it in a museum.

It turns out that potatoes fried in oil are super vulnerable to becoming rancid. Maybe you thought it was chemical preservatives (up with those too!) that prevented this. That is part of the answer but not the whole answer. The real reason is OPP. This is what stops the degenerative process. This is not a problem for other fried items, like pork rinds, which is why they often come in see-through bags. OPP is not see-through, and that is good. The product inside doesn't like the light. OPP keeps that out too.

OPP has other nice features. It has a very low "dead-fold" capacity, which is why, when you wad up a potato chip bag, it bounces right back to its original shape. This is to protect the contents inside. That's why, in the 1960s, potato chips came with crumbled contents but today they are mostly intact and perfect. You thought it was just because it was filled with air? Well, ask yourself why the air doesn't escape. The answer again: OPP. It seals perfectly. This stuff is impenetrable.

And get this: this is a petroleum product. That's right, it is made of a material derived from oil. So the price of the stuff fluctuates according to the price of oil. When the price of oil goes up, your chips become more expensive, due mainly to the packaging, which is also why the OPP industry is firmly attached to the idea of liberalizing the regulations on the discovery and refining of oil. My benefactor marketing manager is very interested in this.

Now, all of this is pretty cool and wonderful. But let's get down to the core rationale here. What is all the fuss about? Why was OPP invented, and why is it marketed, and why it is used so much around the world? Why does this man spend his life on the road and follow every bit of industry news? What is the point of all of this?

It is for one reason: my well-being. Yours too. It is to please us and make our lives that much better. It is for the consumer that the producer produces, and it is for the consumer that everyone in all stages of production strives to make an ever-better product. It all comes down to that bag of chips you pick up with your submarine sandwich. This is why millions of people in the OPP industry around the world dance the dance. It is why the potatoes are grown, chopped, fried, bagged, and shipped to millions and millions of places.

The heck of it is that these people get no credit. No bag of chips says: this bag is made by Joe's OPP factory. No, they are anonymous benefactors of society. Hardly anyone thinks of them. And yet, if you bought a bag of chips that is full of rancid crumbs, you would know the difference. You would be annoyed at the store that sold them, at the company that made them, and maybe even at the economic system that allows people to profit from selling bad stuff. Private OPP producers prevent this from happening, millions and millions of times per day.

You and I are running this show, and we didn't even know it. The producers of these bags are serving us slavishly every day, and we don't know or care. And somehow it all happens without a central planner, without government mandates, and without state-owned factories or smart people at the top directing the process from beginning to end. All that needs to take place to bring about this complex and brilliant system is that we have to have a desire: a desire for a good potato chip. The rest happens on its own — a self-managing system that responds to the tiniest of signals.

So, I would like to send a message to my benefactor who has devoted his life to explaining to food producers the merits of OPP. My message is, thank you. I suspect that I might be the first consumer who has ever said so, but in my ideal world, billions of people would be giving thanks to you and everyone else like you. You are all servants of the great cause of making the world a better place to live.



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 (Academic) or here (Pictorial) or here (Personal)


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, April 14, 2011

The myth of 'Herbert Hoover economics'

Leftist dishonesty knows no bounds. They reverse history

by Jeff Jacoby

TO CONVEY THEIR DISDAIN for the ongoing Republican pressure to reduce federal spending -- pressure that led to the recent agreement with President Obama for $38 billion in cuts in the current fiscal year -- critics have been reaching back eight decades for what they seem to regard as the ultimate in fiscal put-downs.

"Watching the debate in Washington," write Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift in a recent column, "it's like Herbert Hoover versus John Maynard Keynes, and sadly Hoover is winning." Hoover, they explain, "was curiously passive" in the face of the Great Depression and "he responded with a renewed focus on balancing the budget."

Populist Jim Hightower blasts Republicans for enabling Hoover to make "what looks to be a full comeback to power," complete with a return to Hoover's economic prescription: "Insist on reducing the size and spending of governments. . . . 'The deficit is the devil,' cry the New Hooverites, as they wildly slash spending and try to kill federal programs."

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof asserts that "one of the most basic principles of economics is that when an economy is anemic, governments should use deficit spending as a fiscal stimulus." A lawmaker who "believes that the response to a weak economy is to slash spending," he says, "is embracing the approach that Herbert Hoover discredited 80 years ago." Last month, Kristof's colleague Paul Krugman scorned House Speaker John Boehner "for declaring that since families were suffering, the government should tighten its own belt." That, Krugman snorted, is "Herbert Hoover economics."

If there is one thing most people have learned about Herbert Hoover, it is that his timid response to the financial crisis of 1929 brought on the Great Depression. Instead of slashing federal spending and clinging to laissez-faire economics, the received wisdom goes, Hoover should have done just the opposite: plowed more money into the economy, relying on deficit spending to stimulate growth.

The only thing wrong with that narrative is that federal spending under Hoover didn't plummet. It went through the roof.

Hoover was sworn in as the 31st president of the United States on March 4, 1929. By the time his term ended four years later, federal outlays had climbed more than 50 percent in dollar terms; they had almost doubled when measured in purchasing power; and they had tripled as a fraction of national income. "If stimulus is the solution to high unemployment," remarks Santa Clara University economist and law professor David Friedman, "the Great Depression should have ended almost before it began."

Following the Wall Street crash of 1929, the Hoover administration went into spending overdrive. Real federal expenditures climbed by 4.7 percent between 1928 and 1929, but over the next three years they rose, respectively, 8 percent, 17.2 percent, and 15.7 percent. Exclude military outlays, and spending under Hoover exploded by a phenomenal 259 percent. Looking back at the federal government's growth during the 1920s, economist Randall Holcombe points out that in percentage terms, expenditures grew more in the four Hoover years than they would during the first seven years of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's presidency.

FDR is remembered today, of course, for the vast expansions of the New Deal. But as the Democratic standard-bearer in 1932, he lacerated Hoover as a big-spending Republican. "For three long years," Roosevelt said in accepting his party's nomination, "I have been going up and down this country preaching that government . . . costs too much. I shall not stop that preaching."

Stop that preaching he didn't. He accused Hoover of presiding over "the greatest spending administration in peacetime in all our history . . . an administration that has piled bureau on bureau, commission on commission." He slammed the Republican's record of "reckless and extravagant" spending, and of thinking "that we ought to center control of everything in Washington as rapidly as possible." He mocked those who thought "a huge expenditure of public funds" was the best way to grow the economy of succumbing "to the illusions of economic magic." His running mate, Texas Congressman John Nance Garner, even warned that Hoover was "leading the country down the path of socialism."

For his own part, said FDR, "I ask you very simply to assign to me the task of reducing the annual operating expenses of your national government." Indeed, he promised to enforce "absolute loyalty to the Democratic platform and especially to its economy plank." That plank called for "an immediate and drastic reduction of governmental expenditures by . . . not less than 25 per cent."

In its zeal to cut today's multi-trillion-dollar budgets, the GOP is certainly fair game for critics. But those critics might want to think twice before blasting contemporary Republicans for their Hooverian impulses. Herbert Hoover can be fairly faulted for many things, but rolling back the federal budget isn't one of them.



The hot air administration

On 12.3.2009 Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said that "revving up the economy and get companies to start creating jobs again was Job No.1" The article can be found here. During the ensuing 2 years the federal government was the primary creator of jobs and those jobs, due to the project centric nature of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act were transitory in nature. In other words the job only existed during the duration of the project. Now that most of those projects are winding down, it should be expected that those jobs will be eliminated. Once that occurs, unemployment will revert to an essentially unchanged level at the mid 9% range or higher.

On 3.10.11 Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said that President Obama's administration was "focused like a laser beam" on gas prices. The article can be found here. The article goes on to say that in Thursday of that week gas was at $3.59. In February it had been $3.17 and in March of 2010 the price had been $2.76. As I write this 4/12 the price is $4.00. Three months before the last election, then Senator Obama called for release of fuel from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which had recently reached $4.11. The source can be found here. So I don't get it, if he is focused like a laser beam, he makes several speeches over a two week period that have no effect, he doesn't take the action that he advocated a previous President take and then he moves on with no effect to show for the effort.

To some extent President Obama is our creation. We as a people, and here I am stereotyping, have attention spans comparable to gerbils. Our ADD President was hired by us primarily because of his ability to entertain us not because of his track record of doing anything. Did we really expect that a Senator whose major accomplishment during his tenure in Illinois was to vote "present" was going to suddenly learn to roll up his sleeves and stick with problems until they are resolved?

If past behavior is indicative of future behavior, what behavior and results should we expect from this President? I think today's announcement by Michelle Obama is a good case in point. The template seems to be that a close advisor (Treasury Secretary, Transportation Secretary, First Lady) makes an announcement that some issue pressing to the populace has risen to the President's attention (Unemployment, Oil Prices, The state of military families). The President then makes a speech or speeches indicating that 1) He feels our pain 2) He will make it a high priority (Job No.1, Focus like a laser etc.). The "focus" and by this I mean speeches, last for about two weeks and then he moves on to NOT solve another problem.

I've given you examples from the past, I gave you an example from the present, now let me predict the future. In the next few days some close advisor to the President will announce that it has come to the attention of the President that the Federal Debt, associated interest payments and tax burden are strapping middle-class and poor people. That the President will focus like a laser on this problem. For two weeks (until the Federal Debt Ceiling is raising by another Trillion dollars) we will hear speeches indicating his knowledge and caring on the problem, how he is "rolling up his sleeves" and "locking arms with Republicans" and other such crap and then our attention will wane and he will move on.



The Fed Obliterates the Savings Ethic

Depression babies learned early that "saving for a rainy day" was not something one hopes to do but a requirement. The saying originated when most people worked on the farm. And when it rained, the fields were too wet to plow, and the farmer — not to mention the hired hands — made no money.

Of course, my grandfather was the diligent sort who would use rainy days to do required maintenance on his implements, noting with derision other farmers who spent rainy days at the bar in town. He believed they would surely end up with broken equipment when the sun would reappear, keeping them from making hay.

So the idea of savings is not necessarily the return one receives on the money that's socked away, but the piece of mind that, when the weather doesn't cooperate, the saver has a little stash to tide him over. Of course, the vast majority of us don't have to worry about the weather.

But an economic storm hit a couple years ago and plenty of people have not had work, rain or shine. Those who took heed of that old saw have no doubt weathered the storm better than those who didn't. Most financial advisors recommend that a person have three month's worth of living expenses saved — and some say six months worth, just in case. But how many people heed that advice?

There is no caveat to the counsel that says, "Keep six months of savings around if the money is earning at least six percent." Even if the money sits there all shiny, not earning a thing, it's the liquidity and insurance against the unknown that's the issue.

Unfortunately, a central bank's debauchery of the currency serves to raise people's time preferences and impair their judgment. In a blog post recently, I highlighted the advice of life coach and author John P. Strelecky, who advises people to spend their tax refunds on an experience they will remember forever, rather than saving the few hundred or thousand dollars that the IRS may be giving back.

Live your life for today, says the life coach — a couple thousand bucks isn't going to matter anyway. I posted to the Mises Blog to point out how ludicrous this advice is. But most who commented sided with Strelecky:
I think his advice is spot-on, at least given the constraints of the times in which we live. What's the point in saving if inflation will ravage whatever you manage to accumulate?

You play by the rules of the game. Your savings growth will be puny due to pathetic interest rates, erased by inflation, and confiscated by a rapacious state. So go ahead, enjoy the "money" now, while it still has some value.

Most people don't really have a better place to put the money than into a pleasurable experience, which is all you will want in the end.

Gotta agree with the comments. Maybe not trips or other "experiences." But I feel safer with stuff than I do with Federal Reserve notes going forward.

That's just what central bankers like to hear. They are worried about deflation. A few months ago, the Chicago Fed's Charles Evans said,
It seems to me if we could somehow get lower real interest rates so that the amount of excess savings that is taking place relative to investment is lowered, that would be one channel for stimulating the economy.

Lord Keynes was constantly worried that people were saving too much and consuming too little — thus the need for more and cheaper money to stimulate the economy. Mr. Bernanke is nothing if not a good Keynesian, and his low rates make even the savviest question whether to forgo consumption.

And likely no retiree, when contemplating leaving the workforce, figured 1 percent interest rates (or less) into their retirement cash-flow planning. In a front-page article, the Wall Street Journal took a look at "retirees who find themselves on the wrong end of the Federal Reserve's epic attempt to rescue the economy with cheap money."

The WSJ rightly points out that the Fed's low rates have been a windfall for banks and borrowers, but a problem for those needing income from their savings to live on. People who thought they played the game right, worked hard, saved money, and now want to take it easy, are panicked that money-market funds are throwing off but 24 basis points. "That's one-tenth the level of late 2007 and the lowest on records dating back to 1959," the Journal reports.

As bad as the Fed-engineered low rates are for those trying to live off past savings, reporter Mark Whitehouse makes the point that the low rates keep young people from building up funds for the future — whether it's for emergencies or retirement. Working Americans put less money into financial assets last year than at anytime on record — except 2009, when people pulled money out. And while the Department of Commerce says the personal savings rate has risen to 5.8 percent, Whitehouse explains, "That's in large part because it counts reductions in personal debt, such as mortgages and credit-card balances, as savings." But most debt reduction, Whitehouse writes, has been driven by defaults, rather than saving.

The Fed's interest-rate policy also leads people into taking more risk with their savings than they should. "That's why most of us are in the stock market, because there's no place else to go," says 70-year-old John Lehman, who would rather have his money in bank certificates of deposit but must resort to speculating. "I hope my assets don't run out before I die."

Many retire with next to nothing as it is. According to AARP, 16 percent of Americans have not saved a dime for retirement, and nearly half have saved less than $50,000.

Those with no savings are more dependent on government and others when the unexpected occurs, whether it's job loss or the washing machine quits. Professor Paul Cantor reminds us in his article, "Hyperinflation and Hyperreality: Mann's 'Disorder and Early Sorrow,'" that "money is a central source of stability, continuity, and coherence in any community. Hence to tamper with the basic money supply is to tamper with a community's sense of value."

When the Fed makes saving seem futile and immediate pleasure seem rational, the world has been diabolically turned upside down. Just one step away from hyperinflation, the central banks' actions are threatening "to undermine and dissolve all sense of value in a society."

"Thus inflation serves to heighten the already frantic pace of modern life, further disorienting people and undermining whatever sense of stability they may still have," Cantor explains.

The social order is upended in Mann's story as wealth is transferred from those who diligently saved all of their lives to speculators. As it was in the Weimar Germany that Mann describes, so it is today, as people believe it futile to sock away a little money here and there, and instead feel compelled to either speculate or just blow what they have on good times.

And while the retirees mentioned in the WSJ article are being crippled financially, Cantor points out that Mann's portrayal of hyperinflation uncovers "something psychologically more debilitating happening to the older generation." Impetuous, high-time-preference behavior displayed by the young appears rational in an inflationary period, while prudence and conservatism appear to be not even quaint but downright silly.

As Mann described so long ago, the world of inflation is the illusion of wealth, created by the government's printing press, distorting everything we see and perverting our judgment. Meanwhile the cry for stimulus continues, while our culture and values are buried under a pile of paper.



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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)


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Obama admin. won’t interrogate top Al Qaeda terrorist

Late last month I asked, who will interrogate top al Qaeda terrorist Umar Patek? Patek, who was captured in Pakistan, is wanted for his role in the 2002 Bali bombings, among other attacks and plots. He is easily one of the most important international terrorists captured in the past few years. Indeed, Marc Thiessen argued that Patek is the “biggest terrorist catch of the Obama era.”

The problem is that the U.S. has no clear policy for detaining and interrogating terrorists such as Patek. President Obama ordered Guantanamo shuttered as one of his first acts in office. That hasn’t happened, but the administration isn’t going to send any new detainees to Cuba any way. And Obama closed down the CIA’s interrogation program, with little concern for what would replace it.

Ken Dilanian of the Los Angeles Times reports on the result of Obama’s new detention and interrogation policies, or lack thereof
He's considered one of world's most dangerous terrorism suspects, and the U.S. offered a $1-million reward for his capture in 2005. Intelligence experts say he's a master bomb maker and extremist leader who possesses a wealth of information about Al Qaeda-linked groups in Southeast Asia.

Yet the U.S. has made no move to interrogate or seek custody of Indonesian militant Umar Patek since he was apprehended this year by officials in Pakistan with the help of a CIA tip, U.S. and Pakistani officials say.

Patek undoubtedly has vital information on al Qaeda’s operations in Southeast Asia. He was in Pakistan for a reason, too. Patek was likely meeting with senior al Qaeda leaders there. And, as Thiessen pointed out, there are reports that Patek visited Yemen, where he may have met with al Qaeda’s most prolific branch of late – al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

In other words, Patek is just the sort of terrorist American officials should be questioning. He has worked with terrorists around the globe and can provide unique insights into the current state of the terror network. But instead of questioning Patek ourselves, the Obama administration is outsourcing the job.

The Los Angeles Times report continues:
Pakistani officials say they plan to deliver Patek to authorities in Indonesia, where he is wanted in the Bali case. Although seven Americans were among those killed in the bombings, no U.S. criminal charges are pending against him, a senior Justice Department official said.

A Pakistani intelligence source said no one from the CIA or any other U.S. agency had asked to question Patek.

U.S. officials say they expect the CIA will be given access to intelligence gleaned from Indonesia's interrogations of Patek, and may even be allowed to sit in and provide guidance, given the close ties between U.S. and Indonesian counter-terrorism officials.



Raising tax rates on the rich will NOT get the government more money

I've often said that I wish there were some humane way to get rid of the rich. If you asked why, I'd answer that getting rid of the rich would save us from distraction by leftist hustlers promoting the politics of envy. Not having the rich to fret over might enable us to better focus our energies on what's in the best interest of the 99.99 percent of the rest of us. Let's look at some facts about the rich laid out by Bill Whittle citing statistics on his RealClearPolitics video "Eat the Rich."

This year, Congress will spend $3.7 trillion dollars. That turns out to be about $10 billion per day. Can we prey upon the rich to cough up the money? According to IRS statistics, roughly 2 percent of U.S. households have an income of $250,000 and above. By the way, $250,000 per year hardly qualifies one as being rich. It's not even yacht and Learjet money. All told, households earning $250,000 and above account for 25 percent, or $1.97 trillion, of the nearly $8 trillion of total household income. If Congress imposed a 100 percent tax, taking all earnings above $250,000 per year, it would yield the princely sum of $1.4 trillion. That would keep the government running for 141 days, but there's a problem because there are 224 more days left in the year.

How about corporate profits to fill the gap? Fortune 500 companies earn nearly $400 billion in profits. Since leftists think profits are little less than theft and greed, Congress might confiscate these ill-gotten gains so that they can be returned to their rightful owners. Taking corporate profits would keep the government running for another 40 days, but that along with confiscating all income above $250,000 would only get us to the end of June. Congress must search elsewhere.

According to Forbes 400, America has 400 billionaires with a combined net worth of $1.3 trillion. Congress could confiscate their stocks and bonds, and force them to sell their businesses, yachts, airplanes, mansions and jewelry. The problem is that after fleecing the rich of their income and net worth, and the Fortune 500 corporations of their profits, it would only get us to mid-August. The fact of the matter is there are not enough rich people to come anywhere close to satisfying Congress' voracious spending appetite. They're going to have to go after the non-rich.

But let's stick with the rich and ask a few questions. Politicians, news media people and leftists in general entertain what economists call a zero elasticity view of the world. That's just fancy economic jargon for a view that government can impose a tax and people will behave after the tax just as they behaved before the tax, and the only change is more government revenue. One example of that vision, at the state and local levels of government, is the disappointing results of confiscatory tobacco taxes. Confiscatory tobacco taxes have often led to less state and local revenue because those taxes encouraged smuggling.

Similarly, when government taxes profits, corporations report fewer profits and greater costs. When individuals face higher income taxes, they report less income, buy tax shelters and hide their money. It's not just rich people who try to avoid taxes, but all of us -- liberals, conservatives and libertarians.

What's the evidence? Federal tax collections have been between 15 and 20 percent of the nation's Gross Domestic Product every year since 1960. However, between 1960 and today, the top marginal tax rate has varied between 91 percent and 35 percent. That means whether taxes are high or low, people make adjustments in their economic behavior so as to keep the government tax take at 15 to 20 percent of the GDP. Differences in tax rates have a far greater impact on economic growth than federal revenues.

So far as Congress' ability to prey on the rich, we must keep in mind that rich people didn't become rich by being stupid.



Get politics out of tax policy

Someone once said that taxes are the price we pay for civilization. That may have been true when he said it, but today taxes are mostly the price we pay so that politicians can play Santa Claus and get reelected.

That's not the worst of it. We may think of taxes as just a source of government revenue. But tax rates are a big political statement on the Left, whether they bring in any revenue or not.

For more than 80 years, the political left has opposed what they call "tax cuts for the rich." But big cuts in very high tax rates ended up bringing in MORE revenue to the government in the Coolidge, Kennedy, Reagan and Bush 43 administrations. This included more – repeat, more – tax revenue from people in the highest income brackets than before.

That was because high-income people took their money out of tax shelters like municipal bonds and invested where they could get a higher rate of return, after these returns were not being taxed as much. This has happened repeatedly, over so many decades, in administrations of both parties, that you might think this would put an end to the "tax cuts for the rich" demagoguery.

But the same rhetoric that "progressives" like Senator Bob La Follette used against tax cuts in the 1920s is still going strong in the 21st century. When you point out to today's "progressives" that "the rich" paid more total tax revenue to the government after what were called "tax cuts for the rich," that doesn't make a dent.

After all, "the rich" paid that larger sum of taxes only because their incomes had risen. Their paying a higher share of all taxes doesn't matter to the "progressives," who see high tax rates as a way to take a bigger bite out of the incomes of higher-income people, not just provide more revenue to the government.

Tax rates are meant to make an ideological statement and promote class-warfare politics, not just bring in revenue.

There has been much indignation on the left over the recent news that General Electric paid no taxes, despite its large amounts of profit. But another way of looking at this is that high tax rates on paper do not mean high tax revenues for the government.
The liberal answer to budget deficits is almost always to raise tax rates on "the rich," to bring in more revenue. The fact that higher tax rates have often brought in less revenue than before is simply ignored.

Our corporate tax rates are higher than in many other countries. That may have something to do with the fact that many American corporations (including General Electric) expand their operations in many other countries, providing jobs – and tax revenues – in those other countries.

But high-tax ideologues don't see it that way. They would be horrified at the idea that we ought to lower our corporate tax rates, just so that more American businesses would do more of their business at home, providing more Americans with much-needed jobs.

To ideologues, that is just a cop-out from the class-warfare battle. It is far more important to them to score their political points against "the rich" or "Wall Street" than that a few million more Americans out of work would be able to find jobs.

The idealism of the Left is a very selfish idealism. In their war against "the rich" and big business, they don't care how much collateral damage there is to workers who end up unemployed.

It so happens that many – if not most – of those called "the rich" are not rich and many, if not most, of those called "the poor" are not poor. They are people who happen to be in a particular part of the income stream as of a given moment in their lives when statistics are collected.

Internal Revenue Service data show that the income of people who were in the lowest income tax bracket in 1996 rose by 91 percent by 2005. But people in the "top one percent" had their incomes drop by 26 percent in those same years.

There is nothing complicated about this. Most people simply start at the bottom when they are young and their pay rises as they get more experience. Most people in the top one percent are there for only a single year when they happen to have a spike in income. They too are not an enduring class.

The time is long overdue to start thinking about taxes as sources of revenue, not as ways of making political statements.



Boehner Wins Vital Concessions

Speaker John Boehner extracted more budget concessions from President Obama and the Democrats than was at first evident when the deal was announced last week.

Not only did he squeeze nearly $40 billion out of this fiscal year's remaining budget, but also another $40 billion in increases Obama had proposed for agency budgets that Congress never agreed to accept.

The deal Boehner negotiated for fiscal 2011 means that spending this year will be $78.5 billion less than what Obama requested last year from the Democratic-run Congress, which failed to enact any budget. In one key respect, Boehner and the Republicans did what the Democrats irresponsibly refused to do -- cut spending.

While these sums pale in the face of a $3.7 trillion annual budget, that is running a record $1.6 trillion deficit and $14 trillion in debt, the GOP's interim victory has thrown Obama and the Democrats on the defensive as they enter a critical two-year presidential election cycle, with Obama's job approval scores falling dangerously into the mid-40s, and 23 Senate Democrats -- a number of whom are vulnerable -- up for re-election next year.

Obama, who proudly called Boehner's budget deal "the largest spending cut in our history," is turning himself into what Washington Post political reporter Dan Balz called "a born-again budget cutter."

In the aftermath of the deal, the White House was scrambling to reposition the president on spending and soaring debt that their own polls show is fast turning into a Mount Everest-size political issue that endangers his re-election prospects.

Suddenly, Obama was more tightly embracing the proposals of his presidential budget reform commission that he had kept at arm's length -- speaking warmly about its provisions to scuttle a raft of tax breaks and other loopholes in exchange for lowering the corporate and individual tax rates. He was practically sending love letters to the bipartisan "Gang of Six" senators who were working behind the scenes to come up with a compromise 2012 budget based on the commission's report.Trouble is, though, they have not been able to reach an agreement.

"It's pretty hard for (Obama) to hitch himself to something that doesn't exist yet," said Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn, a waste-fighting Republican member of the gang. "There's nothing I've agreed to that could be announced this week," Coburn told the Washington Post.

Obama was expected to lay out his latest budget plans in a major speech here Wednesday, but, as is his style, he wasn't going to get his hands dirty on any specifics. Instead, he will speak only in broad themes, his advisers said. Such is "leadership" in the age of Obama.



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 (Academic) or here (Pictorial) or here (Personal)


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, April 12, 2011

Wow! Some very welcome and overdue straight talk from Israel

Major Adraee returns!

He speaks to Hamas both in the language they understand [Arabic] and in the vocabulary they understand.

Maj. Adraee, of course, was last seen laying down the law to Hamas back in Jan. 2009 (he was a captain back then), right about the time some 1,000 Hamas cadres were mysteriously incinerated. Or maybe not so mysteriously. In any event, Maj. Adraee has been a favorite here ever since. (See here and here.)

It's funny, the day the Arab League is crying to the UN to enforce a "no-fly zone" over Gaza, the IDF airs this video based on its flights over Gaza, talk about flipping them the bird!

Could it be that the Fakestinian provocations have become so despicable and overt that they have awakened even Bibi and Ehud from their comas? The IDF doesn't usually make a broadcast like this, check that, NEVER MAKES A BROADCAST LIKE THIS unless it is a part of a major strategic operation.

Especially when the IDF highlights that the Arabs have just "crossed all red lines." That is a clear and obvious code in this conflict.



Why the Obamas were omitted from the guest list to the Royal wedding

"Let me be clear: I'm not normally in favor of boycotts, and I love the American people. I holiday in their country regularly, and hate the tedious snobby sneers against the United States . But the American people chose to elect an idiot who seems hell bent on insulting their allies, and something must be done to stop Obama's reckless foreign policy, before he does the dirty on his allies on every issue."

One of the most poorly kept secrets in Washington is President Obama's animosity toward Great Britain , presumably because of what he regards as its sins while ruling Kenya (1895-1963).

One of Barack Hussein Obama's first acts as president was to return to Britain a bust of Winston Churchill that had graced the Oval Office since 9/11. He followed this up by denying Prime Minister Gordon Brown, on his first state visit, the usual joint press conference with flags.

The president was "too tired" to grant the leader of America 's closest ally a proper welcome, his aides told British journalists.

Mr. Obama followed this up with cheesy gifts for Mr. Brown and the Queen. Columnist Ian Martin described his behavior as "rudeness personified." There was more rudeness in store for Mr. Brown at the opening session of the United Nations in September. "The prime minister was forced to dash through the kitchens of the UN in New York to secure five minutes of face time with President Obama after five requests for a sit down meeting were rejected by the White House," said London Telegraph columnist David Hughes. Mr. Obama's "churlishness is unforgivable," Mr. Hughes said.

The administration went beyond snubs and slights last week when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton endorsed the demand of Argentine President Cristina Kirchner, a Hugo Chavez ally, for mediation of Argentina 's specious claim to the Falkland Islands , a British dependency since 1833. The people who live in the Falklands, who speak English, want nothing to do with Argentina . When, in 1982, an earlier Argentine dictatorship tried to seize the Falklands by force, the British -- with strong support from President Ronald Reagan -- expelled them.

"It is truly shocking that Barack Obama has decided to disregard our shared history," wrote Telegraph columnist Toby Young. "Does Britain 's friendship really mean so little to him?" One could ask, does the friendship of anyone in the entire world mean anything to him?

"I recently asked several senior administration officials, separately, to name a foreign leader with whom Barack Obama has forged a strong personal relationship during his first year in office," wrote Jackson Diehl, deputy editorial page editor of the Washington Post, on Monday. " A lot of hemming and hawing ensued." One official named French President Nicolas Sarkozy, but his contempt for Mr. Obama is an open secret. Another named German Chancellor Angela Merkel. But, said Mr. Diehl, "Merkel too has been conspicuously cool toward Obama."

Mr. Obama certainly doesn't care about the Poles and Czechs, whom he has betrayed on missile defense. Honduras and Israel also can attest that he's been an unreliable ally and an unfaithful friend. Ironically, our relations with both Israel and the Palestinian Authority have never been worse. Russia has offered nothing in exchange for Mr. Obama's abandonment of missile defense. Russia and China won't support serious sanctions on Iran . Syria 's support for terrorism has not diminished despite efforts to normalize diplomatic relations. The reclusive military dictatorship that runs Burma has responded to our efforts at "engagement" by deepening its ties to North Korea .

And the Chinese make little effort to disguise their contempt for him.

For the first time in a long time, the President of the United States is actually distrusted by its allies and not in the least feared by its adversaries. Nor is Mr. Obama now respected by the majority of Americans. Understandably focused on the dismal economy and Mr. Obama's relentless efforts to nationalize and socialize health care, Americans apparently have yet to notice his dismal performance and lack of respect in the world community.
They soon will.

The above is an expanded version (expander unknown) of a blog post by Alex Singleton of the London Daily Telegraph. The expansions are factual as far as I can see


Britain needs to end its love affair with the world stage

I rarely agree with anything in "The Guardian" but the points below seem reasonable. Britain is in too big a mess for foreign adventures

While we pull in our belts at home, our leaders get carried away abroad. It's time we turned our backs on our imperial past

There are three ways to respond when the going gets tough: head in the sand, try to sort things out, or suddenly get very busy elsewhere. Which perhaps explains why David Cameron has been focusing so much on "abroad" recently, and I don't just mean his bargain break in Spain.

With his government's two flagship policies in crisis, Cameron has decided to apologise for Britain's role in world conflicts. This will do nothing to sort out the chaos of tuition fees - with most universities now declaring themselves the exception and charging the full whack of œ9,000. Nor will it help the unnecessary revolution in the NHS, which has at least been "paused" in the light of howls of fury from the professionals.

Yes, the British are pulling in their belts and bracing themselves for some sparse years ahead - except apparently abroad, where the union flag flutters high as ever. Look at the pilots over Libya, the troops in Afghanistan, the diplomats and the aid workers. From the mountains to the deserts, the demands seem endless for Britain to "step in", and today's politicians clearly enjoy the international spotlight just as much as yesterday's. Yet the mismatch between the bulldog's growl and the reality of its kennel has never been greater.

It's often said that prime ministers arrive determined to push through a domestic agenda until they eventually get distracted by the glamour of overseas crises. This happened with Margaret Thatcher three years in, when the Falklands crisis was forced on her; and with Tony Blair as the Balkans blazed, long before Iraq. Blair's focus on domestic policy never really returned; had it done so, maybe he would have wrestled control back from his chancellor.

Cameron's whirlwind romance with the international spotlight has happened even faster. He arrived as a man bent on dealing with the deficit and promising his "big society" as a cure for socialist statism. Yet the crises at home now include not only health and higher education, but the cost of petrol, problems over pension reform and now, we hear, a row with the Lib Dems over banking reform. You would think, given all this, that the prime minister had no time for anything else. Far from it. The bugle has sounded, calling him to high-level talks in London; summits across Europe; confabulations with Barack and Hillary; more emergency statements in the Commons, with furrowed brows and much backbench applause. I am not particularly blaming Cameron. We have seen it all before; remember how Blair suddenly ascended into heaven on Blairforce One and spent most of his time pop-eyed with history-making grandeur?

Part of the problem, of course, is that it is simply more exciting to make peace and war, than to struggle with the details of welfare reform or how to cut civil service budgets without a vote-destroying loss of service. It's more exciting for the ministers but also for their advisers and for the media pack watching; bangs and clouds of smoke seem to sell front pages and news bulletins too.

Yet I would argue that something happens in particular to British prime ministers, in the here and now, which is a problem and is correctable. Few other countries, bar France, have an equivalently grand post-imperial, military-state set up. I don't mean the buildings, though these play their part, but more the whole panoply of mysterious secret service chiefs, chiefs of staff, UN security council membership, nuclear buttons and telephone hotlines. You want to speak to the White House? No problem. You need to visit our boys? Helicopters and jets are waiting. For a young politician who had only had a job as a PR man before Westminster it must have been particularly head-turning.

And once upon a time it might even have been reasonable, as Britain continued to gently adjust to new realities. But we have a big debt, dwindling military capabilities and far bigger problems to confront as a country. We don't know how we are going to pay our way in the world any more. We are still unsure of how, if at all, we fit into the rest of the European project. It is no longer appropriate that it is Britain who, when some part of the world goes up in smoke, rides first toward the sound of gunfire.

We should do our bit, but no more. We should learn our lesson after Iraq. Why should richer, bigger Germany do so little in Afghanistan? Why was Libya not an Italian problem before it was a British one? Now that India and Brazil bulk so large on the world stage, why aren't these two democracies doing more for the democratic cause?

If our gung-ho attitude to foreign intervention is a displacement activity, distracting us from economic and industrial decline, then we need to wake up. If we do it because we think it makes a little of America's lustre rub off on its most loyal ally, we should take a good look in the mirror and around the world. If we carry on because "that's what we're good at" (fighting) then we need to ask ourselves if this is really the national specialism we want, given how many people it kills and maims, how much anger it causes abroad and how we do it for no payment at all.

It's time, after Cameron's apology, to turn our backs on our imperial-military past and become a different kind of country again - harder working, better educated, readier to bring aid and medicine than warplanes. It would be a hard adjustment for parts of the London establishment but it would be better for our long-term security.




Had enough yet?: "It’s hard to be optimistic that the mountebanks running the government will do anything sensible in the near future. Until there is a deep rethinking about government, the public will not accept the near-term drastic budget cutting required to head off a fiscal crisis, much less the longer-term structural steps needed to prevent a repetition of what we’ve been through. People will need to understand that while the wish for 'social security' in an uncertain world is entirely reasonable, the route to it is not Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security -- which tether people to the political class -- but freed markets and voluntary mutual aid."

Hollow Obama talk about trade: "Pres. Obama has made expanding U.S. exports a centerpiece of his economic plan. In his January State of the Union Address, he noted that '95% of the world’s customers and fastest-growing markets are beyond our borders' and that export-related jobs 'pay 15% more than average.' At a time when jobs are in short supply, he later said, 'building exports is an imperative.' So naturally, he’s done everything possible to ease passage of the Colombia Free Trade Pact, which the Bush Administration negotiated and the then-Democrat controlled Congress battled up. Right? Wrong."

Lindsey Graham’s war on freedom: "Certainly the Founding Fathers considered free speech more than just a mere 'great idea' but one of the bedrock principles of our republic, even enshrining it in the first amendment to our Constitution. That Graham would be willing to capitulate to radical Islamists by curtailing this precious freedom is particularly astounding when you consider that the Senator consistently and adamantly opposes curtailing the one policy that unquestionably 'inspires the enemy' more than any other. In fact, when it comes to looking out for America’s proper defense and actual security — Lindsey Graham is arguably the most ass-backward politician alive today."

Mexicans fed up: "Yesterday, multitudes took to the streets in more than 40 Mexican cities -- and in protests by Mexicans and their friends at consulates and embassies in Europe, North America and South America -- to demand an end to the violence wrought by the US-imposed 'war on drugs.' What? You haven't heard about this? Or if you have heard something about it, did you know that it is the biggest news story in the Mexican media, on the front page of virtually every daily newspaper in the country?"

A tale of two bridges: "What do you do if you lose 25 percent of your population in a decade, bringing your city to a 100-year low, and you have a perfectly good private bridge? Well, why not have the taxpayers build a new $5.3 billion bridge using public money! It may sound strange but that is exactly what a combination of unions, government officials, and businesses are trying to do in Michigan."

Medicare CPR: "Faced with a budget deficit of $1.65 trillion this year, an on-the-books national debt of $14.3 trillion, and a real debt (including the future liabilities of Medicare and Social Security) of as much as $119.5 trillion, Ryan (R-Wis.) proposes cutting spending by $6.2 trillion over the next 10 years. It is a sign of how deep a hole we are really in that despite cuts of this magnitude, the national debt will increase by $6 trillion over the next decade even under Ryan's plan. The most important part of Ryan's proposal, however, is not the budget cuts; it is the idea of restructuring two of the government's biggest entitlement programs: Medicare and Medicaid."


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 (Academic) or here (Pictorial) or here (Personal)


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, April 11, 2011

Individualists least likely to offer bribes

Bribery is condemned in most cultures; but it is more common in some countries than in others. Is poverty, political instability, or lax regulation to blame? A new study published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, suggests a surprising contributor: Collectivism—a culture that downplays individual self-determination and stresses interdependence and shared responsibility.

“Collectivism may promote bribery by diffusing responsibility,” says Professor Nina Mazar, who conducted the study with Professor Pankaj Aggarwal, also at the University of Toronto’s Joseph L. Rotman School of Management. Collectivism may allow individuals to sidestep their personal morality and do business in ways they know to be wrong.

To test this hypothesis, the authors conducted both a cross-national study and a lab experiment.

The cross-national study looked at 21 of the world’s most economically influential countries for correlations between collectivism and bribery in international business. Collectivism was rated using an established international survey of some 17,000 corporate managers, who rated the “degree to which individuals express pride, loyalty, and cohesiveness in their organizations or families” in their countries. Another instrument tallied national rates of bribery by asking executives how often firms from various foreign countries offered illicit incentives when doing business in the executives’ countries. The researchers factored in the nations’ wealth as well as the extent to which they valued prosocial and ethical considerations.

The findings: The poorer and more collectivist a country, the more likely it was to turn to bribery. Controlling for wealth and also for moral standards, collectivism still correlated “fairly strongly” with the willingness to offer payments under the table.

To test causal relationships, not just correlations, the researchers conducted a laboratory experiment. In it, 140 business students were divided into two groups and primed with either an individualist or collectivist mindset using well-established manipulations.

Then participants were asked to assume the role of a sales agent competing against two other firms for a contract with an international buyer, and a commission. Would they bribe the buyer? Having answered that question, they rated the degree of responsibility they felt for their actions, their desire for the contract, inappropriateness of the bribe, likelihood the competitors would bribe or that a bribe would win the contract. Finally, participants were tested for mood and arousal.

As expected, the collectivists felt less personally accountable and more prone to grease the buyer’s palm. Collectivist mindset affected neither mood, moral judgment, assessment of a bribe’s effectiveness, motivation, nor any other factor.

Even when the choice to bribe or not was directly assessed — in a second experiment with 47 participants—the collectivist group felt less personal responsibility.

The study suggests that the motivations for corrupt business practices may be viewed too narrowly. Bribery is “not just about the economic costs or benefits, says Mazar. “‘Soft factors’ like cultural values might be quite important.” If we can understand them, “we may be able to design more effective and efficient measures of prevention.”



Europe slides further into economic darkness

Some people are never going to get back the money they lent to spendthrift Southern European countries

Tim Hughes

IF YOU count all 27 members of the European Union together as one economic unit, then Europe is the world's largest economy.

In short, Europe is incredibly important to the world economy, and also in unbelievably severe financial difficulty.

Europe's financial system is held together by nothing more than temporary Band-Aids. And the only solution that anyone seems to have is to apply even more dressings to the wounds without treating the systemic failures at the root of the disease.

I have spent the past week talking to European pension funds, investment managers and economic experts. It has been a sobering experience of hope without foundations, of faith without real belief, and of despair without solutions.

The few things that everyone agrees on are that: the problem is very serious; that it would be economic suicide for any member of the Euro zone to seek to exit the Euro; and that much of the huge debt accumulated by some southern European countries can never be repaid.

Countries such as Greece, Ireland and Portugal have basically passed the point of no return on their public debt. The sheer interest bill on the debt is so large that it can only be paid by borrowing more. In other words, without default they face a spiral into the financial abyss.

The problem here is that any default would have an almost fatal impact on the German and French banks who own much of the debt.

But the only Europeans with the financial resources to bail out the big debtors are Germany and France.

So far not a single Euro of German or French money has actually gone to the failed nations. Rather all of the support is in the form of paper guarantees on new borrowings.

The reality here is that taxpayer anger at the thought of bailing out profligate, indolent, undisciplined southern Europeans is absolutely enormous. An actual bailout would spell absolute electoral disaster for any government that did it.

The only other option for the debtors appears to be to leave the Euro and suffer a massive devaluation of their new currencies. But with their debt all in Euros, this would increase their actual debt burden and make default inescapable.



Kill Crony Capitalism

Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of General Electric, was recently appointed by President Obama to chair the Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. So it was no surprise when Immelt published a column in the Washington Post in which he applauded Obama for completing a free-trade agreement with South Korea – leaving completely unmentioned the fact that the agreement was actually negotiated five years ago, and was approved by Obama and Congressional Democrats only after it was changed to include costly giveaways to their union buddies.

Immelt somehow also failed to write about the thousands of American jobs lost purely because Obama and his Democratic posse have failed to affirm similar agreements with Panama and Colombia. This whole episode just illustrates how Big Business is beholden to Big Government, and why ”Crony Capitalism,” a huge tax on the vast majority of Americans, has got to be eliminated ASAP.

The left likes to attack Crony Capitalism because they only see it as the underhanded machinations of Big Business, Big Oil, or some other imagined Big. While these are indeed valid observations – even a stopped clock is right twice a day – Crony Capitalism comes in many forms and is a surefire sign of government run amok, which is why Republicans, prompted by the Tea Party, have begun to focus on the issue.

There are, regrettably, many styles of Crony Capitalism, each of which saps the federal government, states and municipal governments, as well as every taxpayer along for the ride:

Big Business – The sheer size of the federal government makes it conducive to large entities or consortiums sucking the life out of it for their own purposes. 80% of agriculture subsidies go to large agri-businesses. Big Steel was protected from competition for years. Billions were poured into the auto industry, much of which we’ll never get back. Insurance companies receive special dispensation in the tax code to enhance their profits. And, of course, there’s the AARP, whose Medi-Gap coverage was granted a waiver by Obama – conveniently placing every one of their competitors at a substantial disadvantage. These businesses are either feeding at the trough of government or manipulating regulation for their own devious purposes, and it’s why almost half of the political donations from large businesses go to liberal Democrats.

Big Business also uses its muscle to influence public policy. Walmart – along with the major drug companies – sold us out on the health care bill to get a competitive advantage. Now Wal-mart is teaming up with the government to coerce Amazon into collecting sales taxes for interstate sales – every dime of which will come out of our pockets. In both cases, Big Business is actively working to expand Big Government – and always at the cost of the little guy.

Walmart moves into a new market area and there are major protests. The protests are not because Walmart has tremendous advantage over local retailers with confronting government regulations such as OSHA. Although the argument centers on the ability of small retailers to survive with Walmart as a competitor, the campaign to stop the big box retailer is funded by Big Unions and other Big Businesses such as Safeway and Costco who hire those unionized workers. These entities use Crony Capitalism to achieve their goals to protect their own interests.

Business Licenses – We often complain about government intervention in our lives, but then we run to the government, usually at the State level, to protect our businesses from competition. The expansion of unwarranted licensing requirements is completely out of control, and just drives up the cost of government and the related licensed services.

No one will ever dispute that certain professions need to be licensed. From my standpoint as a CPA, I believe that it’s actually good that the Feds have stepped in to demand minimal testing for tax preparers – a requirement instituted in response to multiple instances of charlatans using the tax preparer role to defraud the government through the abuse of refundable credits.

Yet the list of “professions” lining up in state capitals to protect themselves under the guise of protecting the public boggles the mind. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal identified cat groomers, music therapists (whatever that is), tattoo “artists,” and tree trimmers as examples of “professionals” attempting to enhance their own revenue through Crony Capitalism. In New York State, you need a license to be an interior decorator. To be fair, some of the houses I’ve seen there clearly warrant criminal charges against their designers, but a license? Thankfully, there are no licenses required for movie makers, because most of Hollywood would be in Leavenworth.

These ridiculous requests by private citizens to have government safeguard them and protect their income are no less offensive than the policy and regulatory manipulations by big businesses.

Government Workers – Yes, this is also Crony Capitalism and it’s no better – and often much worse – than the categories above.

Many government workers are members of unions, which extract excessive dues through payroll deductions. The union then uses those dues to elect council members, school board members and state representatives who are beholden to them. The elected officials then rubber stamp their benefactors’ salary and benefit requests. If this isn’t Crony Capitalism, then I don’t know what would qualify as such.

The common thread here is that Crony Capitalism is a symptom of too much government. Business owners are often forced to make a tough decision: do I stay true to my free-market convictions, or do I play the game. Sadly, too many executives – like Jeffery Immelt – become whores to government and sell their principles for short-term benefits. Is there any surprise that GE announced it made over $14 billion in 2010 and made no American taxes? Unfortunately, those short-term benefits turn into long-term losses of freedom that may never be regained, and for which we all pay a very steep price.



You Can Slaughter Christians, But You Can't Burn a Koran

After Pastor Terry Jones, Yosemite Sam’s cousin from Light-A-Fart Fellowship in Shag-Your-Cousin, Florida, fired up a Koran, the Muslim community of Afghanistan responded by lovingly praying for their enemy and asking to meet with Rev. Fuego for an interfaith pow-wow over a peach cobbler at the Ground Zero Mosque.

What’s that, you say? The Muslims didn’t turn the other cheek? I’m misinformed? The Afghani Muslims instead started killing people … as in, a lot of their own people? Well, hell, that ain’t right. I thought Islam was a religion of peace and that opium was a sedative!

I know, maybe it was just a few rogue adherents who acted, how would Obama say, unbecomingly. Yeah, that’s it. Yep, if we’re to believe the media it was probably just a few misguided congregants (with scimitars, of course) who went a tad too far and … uh … um, beheaded some folks.

That’s kind of like how the well-meaning ACORN employees overstepped boundaries and accidentally aided and abetted illegal home loans for whorehouses running 13-year-old sex slaves from El Salvador, or the other ACORNers who have now pleaded guilty to massive voter fraud in the 2008 presidential election. It was what we call in the south a “whoopsy-daisy.”

According to the main stream media, when dealing with Islam and the likes of ACORN (who I’ve heard changed their name to FCORN) we must remember the immortal words of Donny Osmond: When they do commit a misstep, “One bad apple don't spoil the whole bunch, girl.” Indeed, when Muslims decapitate their own people because Mark Twain lit his still with a Koran, it doesn’t mean that Muslims endorse or allow that kind of behavior. At least that’s what CAIR and Eric Holder tell us to believe. Anyway …

General David Petraeus, faithfully serving his Commander-in-Chief in Afghanistan, trotted out and condemned Minister Match’s actions this past week after the Afghani Muslims found out, via Karzai, what Pastor Pyro had done and thus took understandable kinetic action after their book was barbequed. What was strangely missing from Petraeus’ rebuke was the good General’s denunciation of Karzai for inciting the flammable of this quaint faith and the murder of a couple dozen innocent U.N. workers and many Muslims. Hello. I’d say, not to be unkind, that on the grand scale of things, killing people is more damnable than roasting a special paperback book.

I had a guy ask me the other day after this incident while I was shopping at Victoria’s Secret, “How would you feel if someone burned a Bible?” And I was like, “Dude, I’m trying to choose between getting my wife the lace-panel bustier versus the point d'esprit apron baby doll, and you’re fouling up my mojo decision-making process with your book burning questions.” I quickly realized I was being intemperate and told him I really wouldn’t care if they burned a Christian Bible or not. That’s between them and God, and they better hope that God thinks that’s hilarious because I hear His paybacks suck.

That said, I told my friend that I’m more concerned about the unreported, virtually uncondemned mass slaughter of Christians in Iraq—at the hands of Muslims—and the thousand or so who were slaughtered just this week on the Ivory Coast of Africa and the fact that they had nada to do with TJ flash grillin’ Mohammed’s bestseller. It’s just how Islam rolls when it comes to interfacing with other faiths; they kill them or oppress them, and thus it seems (at least to stupid ol’ me) a wee bit of an imbalance to sharply denounce uncle Jed’s cousin for morphing Allah’s book into ashes and not vehemently denouncing, in the strongest of terms and with deadly action, Muslims who are killing Christians worldwide.


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


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 (Academic) or here (Pictorial) or here (Personal)


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)