Tuesday, July 17, 2012

America slides back into recession

The Economic Cycle Research Institute in America has doubled down on its recession call. A fresh US slump is not just a risk any longer. It has already begun.

Output slowed to stall speed over the winter. The US economy tipped into outright contraction in the second quarter, even before facing the "fiscal cliff" later this year – tightening of $600bn or 4pc of GDP unless action is taken to stop it.

Nothing serious is yet being done to head off the downward slide. If ECRI is right, the implications for the global system are ugly.

It is never easy to read the signals at inflexion points. Washington is always caught off guard. As ECRI’s Lakshman Achuthan says, it took the Lehman collapse ten months into recession in September 2008 to "wake people up".

What we know is that retail sales rolled over in February and broader trade sales peaked in December. Industrial output peaked in April. The nationwide ISM index of manufacturing crashed through the break-even line of 50 in June, just as it did at the onset of the Great Recession in late 2007, but this time at a faster pace.

Job growth has slumped to 75,000 a month over the last three months, too low to stop unemployment rising again to 8.2pc, or 14.9pc on the wider U6 measure.

Albert Edwards from Societe Generale expects the US economy to shrink 2pc this year, leading to a 40pc fall in profits. He says the S&P 500 index of stocks will ultimately plumb fresh secular depths, below the 666 bottom of March 2009.

The Federal Reserve has drifted into fatalism, seeming to lose confidence in its own ability to shape events, displaying the same lack of "Rooseveltian resolve" as the Fed in the early 1930s -- to borrow an expression written years ago by a young Princeton professor, and Fed scourge, called Ben Bernanke.



BOOK REVIEW of Alger Hiss: Why He Chose Treason, by Christina Shelton (Threshold, 352 pp., $26)

That good old Leftist feeling of superiority again, a feeling never far from megalomania

It is unlikely that we ever will have a proper reckoning of the American Left’s culpability in the worldwide Communist enterprise — the gulags and laogai, the Stasi, the Holodomor, the 100 million corpses. It is a testament to the perversity of human nature that in the two main political efforts to uproot Soviet agents from U.S. institutions, the villains in the popular mind are not those who enabled the enslavement of entire nations but the imperfect men who tried to stop them. We never had a Nuremberg trial for Communists — we would have had to hang too many veterans of the Roosevelt administration. Instead, we had the perjury case of Alger Hiss. And we keep having it.

Christina Shelton, a former analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency, has produced a new study of the case. In the course of her rigorous and carefully documented analysis, she offers a persuasive explanation not only of why Hiss chose treason but of why so many others did as well. It is a rare thing: a good book about an important subject.

Shelton’s telling of the story is in a sense Nixonian. Hiss was the archetypal East Coast liberal-establishment man: son of an executive, Johns Hopkins, Harvard Law, a protege of Felix Frankfurter, law clerk to Oliver Wendell Holmes, attorney at Choate, Hall, & Stewart, State Department, United Nations. But Hiss was a member of the most dangerous class: the barely-hanging-on elite. His father’s suicide left the family in a condition that biographer G. Edward White famously described as “shabby gentility.” He was a highly accomplished student but, in the judgment of Whittaker Chambers, a mediocre mind. As a young man, he learned to sneer at business while availing himself of every benefit to be derived from his wealthy and well-connected friends. He was a member of the self-loathing elite.

Like most of his kind, Hiss drew precisely the wrong lesson from the Great Depression — that the state should attempt to manage the economy — and was, like most New Dealers, prepared to endorse extraordinarily authoritarian steps to put that vision into action. Shelton insightfully identifies Hiss’s support of Roosevelt’s court-packing scheme as a critical indicator of his views:
Hiss’s advocacy of bypassing constitutional restraints and his open disregard for both the constitutional principle of separation of powers and for the precedent of an independent, nonpoliticized judiciary are astounding, and symptomatic of his leftist authoritarianism. Using the judiciary as a political instrument of state power is a characteristic feature of both Communist and Fascist regimes. Hiss felt that “we were entitled to think of ourselves — and we most certainly did — as a select few.” This claim by Hiss reflects the recurring elitism of a higher wisdom that is thoroughly embedded in the ideologies of the left: the “enlightened” know best; authoritative leadership is needed to direct the masses; a vanguard is required to advance the revolution; and so on and so forth. Alger saw himself and his colleagues as that vanguard.

Fortunately, she has a hell of a story to tell and many illuminating details and anecdotes to add. Like many liberals of his time, Hiss seems to have been radicalized in part by the Sacco and Vanzetti controversy, and he was drawn quickly to the subversive Left. Early in his career in government, he joined Lee Pressman — who would himself later be outed as a Soviet spy — in defending Franklin Roosevelt’s central-planning ambitions. Throughout Shelton’s telling of the tale, one cannot but notice that Hiss’s fellow traitors not only shared his ideological commitment but were in the main the same sort of people. That latter fact may be of more consequence than the former. The confrontation between Alger Hiss and Richard Nixon exposed a cultural fault line, and those who have been (and remain) sympathetic to Hiss and his ilk seem to do so not out of any sophisticated understanding of Marxist-Leninist doctrine or midcentury history but out of dread of aligning themselves with the loathsome likes of Nixon. It is unsurprising that Hiss, in the decades after his release from prison, found himself enthusiastically welcomed at New York’s New School for Social Research, where, as Shelton reports, he was a regular lecturer, and at other elite institutions, including Brandeis and Columbia. Nixon’s downfall coincided with a refreshed interest in Hiss among liberals.

Hiss gave substantial cooperation, including access to his papers, to historian Allen Weinstein, who began his researches holding the conventional liberal faith in Hiss’s innocence. The evidence convinced him of the contrary, and the publication of his book, Perjury, in 1978 was the occasion for a sustained campaign by The Nation and other leftist outlets to discredit him. Tribal ties are highly resistant to evidence (and apparently immune to shame), and that is why the case of Hiss continues to be newly litigated each generation.

Shelton makes a sledgehammer of a case that this is unnecessary. The strongest section of the book is titled simply “The Evidence,” and it is a sustained artillery assault: the GRU general who fingered Hiss, the U.S. ambassador who warned Roosevelt, the Soviet defectors who knew his secret, Whittaker Chambers and the other turncoats, the KGB operatives, the Communist-party members who plotted alongside Hiss, the U.S. State Department officials who corroborated Chambers’s evidence, the Daily Worker editor, the foreign intelligence operatives: The question has never been Hiss’s word against Chambers’s and the Pumpkin Papers, but Hiss’s word against a large and compelling body of evidence.

That evidence has in recent years been supplemented by the declassified Venona transcripts, by Hungarian intelligence documents, and, most damningly, by KGB documents. “Despite the existence of overwhelming evidence against Hiss,” Shelton writes, “there are still those today who cannot bring themselves to assimilate that evidence and acknowledge that Alger Hiss was a Soviet asset and guilty of espionage. They focus on Hiss’s message, not his actions.” Likewise, they focus on the character defects of Richard Nixon and Joseph McCarthy, apparently unable to distinguish conventional if severe human failings (Nixon’s megalomania, McCarthy’s dipsomania) from the moral depravity of men who were engaged in the greatest campaign of mass murder documented in the history of civilization.

It is just possible to understand the sympathy for Russian Communism in the context of the 1930s and the rise of Nazi Germany. But Hiss’s embrace was a broad and lasting one: As Shelton notes, he was denying the crimes of Mao and Castro as late as 1975. Hiss argued, among other things, that the scale of Mao’s killing must have been exaggerated, since so many Chinese opposed to Communism had left the country as he came to power, and therefore “the problem of liquidation which Mao would have undertaken must have been minimized.” Here Shelton cannot avoid a parenthetical: “Was Hiss really suggesting that Mao killed fewer people because there were less available to kill?” The Chinese who escaped the chairman’s terror are blessed not to have found out.

It is impossible to dispute Shelton’s overall verdict. The word “treason” carries a great deal of emotional weight, a sense of being the worst crime of which one could be guilty. But it is not: Benedict Arnold and Guy Fawkes were traitors — Hermann Goring and Joseph Goebbels were loyal to the end. Hiss and his associates did in fact choose treason, but treason was hardly the worst of their crimes. They chose to further the work of bloody-minded gangsters engaged in the mass extermination of nations and the permanent enslavement of the survivors. To make an average-sized gravestone for each of their victims would require 900 times more marble than was used in the dome of the Taj Mahal. They were the very worst men that modern civilization has produced, abetted by those who may have been among our brightest but were by no means among our best.



Tilting at the U.N. Windmill

Not everything the U.N. does is evil. Some of it is just incompetent

By Jonah Goldberg

Those of us who believe the United States would be best served by pulling out of the United Nations and starting up a more morally and politically serious clubhouse for morally and politically serious nations are often accused of tilting at windmills.

The phrase “tilting at windmills” was inspired by Cervantes’ novel Don Quixote, and it means to fight something that doesn’t really deserve to be fought. Quixote mistook the windmills of the Spanish countryside for ravenous giants and set out to vanquish them. (“Tilting” is a jousting expression, in case you didn’t know.)

Well, let’s review some recent evidence.

The U.N. has been working hand-in-glove with the Chinese government to make the Chinese one-child policy as efficient and ruthless as possible. “Our conclusion is that the [United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)] is directly responsible for forced abortions and forced sterilizations in China,” Steven Mosher, president of the Population Research Institute, recently told Congress in prepared testimony.

Of course, not everyone dislikes the one-child policy. Vice President Biden has supported it, and President Obama restored UNFPA’s funding when he took office. So let’s move on.

Lots of people like the Internet, right? Well, good news! The U.N. wants to take it over. The International Telecommunications Union, a U.N. organization, is secretly debating proposals to claim jurisdiction over the Web and take it out of America’s hands. The major forces behind this push: authoritarian regimes eager to censor their domestic Internet and monitor their citizens. Russia and some Arab countries, reports the Wall Street Journal’s Gordon Crovitz, want the power to read private e-mail. Others want to tax cross-border Web traffic. And countries like China are working hard to bribe, bully, or barter votes in favor of the U.N. takeover.
You see, that’s what dictatorships do at the U.N.: work to make the world safe for dictatorships. The most brutal regimes on the planet are constantly trying to get on or game the Human Rights Council so they can spend all of their time condemning Israel and blocking any attempts to censure their own regimes.

Not everything the U.N. does is evil. Some of it is just incompetent. The whole of what passes for the “international community” has been trying to enforce sanctions on Iran and North Korea. But nobody told the U.N.’s intellectual-property agency, it was revealed earlier this month, so they went ahead and gave North Korea and Iran computers and IT equipment.

A few days later, the invaluable human-rights group U.N. Watch reported that Iran was elected to the U.N. Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty, despite having just been declared guilty — in a U.N. Security Council report! — of illegally shipping guns and bombs to Syria.

Speaking of Syria, which is currently violating agreements to not murder its own people, it recently had a big victory at the Human Rights Council. Syria co-sponsored and passed a resolution pushed by Cuba (and supported by the usual Legion of Doom nations) to establish a “Right to Peace.” The document is a lot of boilerplate until you get to the part where it says “all peoples and individuals have the right to resist and oppose oppressive colonial, foreign occupation.” This is Middle East–speak for “It’s okay to blow up Israelis.”

Now these are all just recent news items. But you can play this game any time you want because the U.N. always provides fresh hells for us to marvel and laugh at.

For example, the United Nations website tells us that there is something called the Open-ended Ad Hoc Working Group of the General Assembly on the Integrated and Coordinated Implementation of and Follow-up to the Major United Nations Conferences and Summits in the Economic and Social Fields. Who among us doesn’t sleep better knowing the OAHWGGAICIFMUNCSESF is working for us?

Alas, the U.N. website notes, “The Ad Hoc Working Group was last active during the 57th session of the General Assembly in 2003.” In other words, the ad hoc open-ended working group is so open-ended it hasn’t met in nearly a decade.

But that’s the great thing about the U.N.: It never fails to surprise us with its predictability.

I’m beginning to think the U.N.’s defenders are the Don Quixotes, only in reverse. Where the critics see the reality of the ravenous giant, the U.N.’s defenders can only see a harmless windmill converting hot air for the good of all mankind.



Demokratische Republik of Maryland Demands Pay For No Service!

This is ludicrous:
Some of you will see an extra charge in your next electric bill because Pepco and BGE lost money when they couldn’t charge customers to deliver power during the storm outage....

Only regulators in Maryland allow utilities to recoup lost billings by invoicing customers directly.

“It’s the law,” said Pepco spokesman Bob Hainey. “It’s called bill stabilization.” ...

Officials in the District and Virginia say the utilities can not charge customers for lost billings there – so this is unique to Maryland customers.

It’s called highway robbery. It may be the law, but the fact is there was no power being consumed by millions of people for days and yet, MD allows for them to be charged for no service! Power losses led to water shortages, food losses in refrigerators and freezers, which then led to expensive alternatives like eating out. Thousands were at risk health wise, sanitation issues ‘blossomed’ – and for all this suffering MD consumers are handed the bill?

Can everyone see shades of Obamacare in this life lesson? When the government runs the monopoly, they are free to take from you as they see fit.

In VA there is no such need or requirement. We also have balanced budget, better economic growth and lower unemployment than MD. Wonder why that is?…..



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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)


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