Wednesday, December 31, 2014

My favorite cartoon of the year


2014: The Year The Liberal Lies Died

Every single thing liberals say is a lie. No exceptions.

We conservatives always knew it, but 2014 was the year when the rest of America began to understand. And 2014 was the year that Americans had to choose sides – would they stand with the liberal liars or with us conservatives? Last November, they chose us conservatives, and maybe the truth will be enough to stop Hillary Clinton and save our country in 2016.

The truth is poison to liberalism, so no wonder liberals hate the idea of a free press – after all, they are the ones who argued to the Supreme Court in the Citizens United case that the government has the right to ban books. Conservative magazines like National Review long fought the fight alone. But it is only recently that we saw the rise of a truly free press as technology put a camera in everyone’s cellphone and conservative new media (including social media) created a path around the gates that the liberal mainstream media kept.

The mainstream media used to get to decide what was and was not the truth. But the truth has been set free, and the mainstream media has been revealed as the guardian of the lies that the liberal establishment needs to fool normal Americans just enough to secure their votes. That’s why we should laugh and cheer at the mainstream media’s agonized death throes.

Let’s look at a few of the lies we saw collapse in 2014. Not one would have been revealed if the mainstream media was still in control.

How about the Grubering of America? Obamacare was built and sold on a foundation of lies, buttressed with contempt and condescension toward normal Americans. Without the citizen journalists working in conservative new media, would we have ever seen Obamacare’s architect on video laughing at the giant scam he and the Democrats pulled on the American people? Would we have seen video compilations of Obama promising that if we liked our health plan we could keep it?

You think we would? Really? My unicorn’s name is Chet. What do you call yours?

Everyone knows Obamacare is a giant lie. We saw Jonathan Gruber on tape giggling about how the Democrats knew it. But the New York Times didn’t tell you that. The Washington Post didn’t tell you that. It was the citizen journalists who Andrew Breitbart inspired who told you that. If it weren’t for Andrew and his progeny, most American would still not know it. But now they do.



Black Conservatives Slam Obama's 'Better Off' Comments

President Barack Obama said recently that African Americans were better off now than when he took office six years ago, but many black conservatives disputed that to Newsmax — citing such widespread ills a high unemployment, poor education levels and spiraling gun violence in the nation's inner cities.

"Here we are again with our president clearly demonstrating his severe disconnect with blacks in America, as he has ginned up racial hatred and … completely ignoring the fact that he's the first black president and holds a historic role that is intended to mend and rebuild America's fractured racial history," said Stacy Washington, a radio talk-show host in St. Louis.

She noted Obama's "dereliction of duty" in ignoring such statistics as high black unemployment and "the lack of educational resources for children who are trapped in failed inner-city schools and his refusal to even acknowledge that voucher programs and school choice play a large role in African-American children escaping poverty and escaping inner cities."

In November, the black unemployment rate stood at 27.6 percent, compared with 14.5 percent for whites, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

"Not only is he disconnected, but he's actually being facetious," Washington concluded. "I dare say he's even lying about the state of blacks in America."

Dave Chadwick, a software-sales entrepreneur in North Carolina, noted how more African Americans are stuck at the bottom of the nation's economic ladder because of the many government entitlement programs that have exploded on Obama's watch.

"But we're on a leash, for crying out loud, when you're down there like that," Chadwick told Newsmax. "When you're the recipient of these programs, you're really on a leash."

At his final news conference for the year, Obama said on Dec. 19 that that he believed African Americans were better off now than when he took office in 2009, though the income gap between blacks and whites persist.

"Like the rest of America, black America, in the aggregate, is better off now than it was when I came into office," he said in response to a reporter's question at the White House.

"The gap between income and wealth of white and black America persists, and we've got more work to do on that front," Obama said.

He said that such initiatives as Obamacare and early childhood education programs, as well as an improving economy and better housing conditions, have benefited blacks.

"I’ve been consistent in saying that this is a legacy of a troubled racial past of Jim Crow and slavery," Obama said. "That’s not an excuse for black folks. And I think the overwhelming majority of black people understand it’s not an excuse.

"They’re working hard," the president added. "They’re out there hustling and trying to get an education, trying to send their kids to college. But they’re starting behind, oftentimes, in the race."

However, African-American conservatives told Newsmax that blacks are, indeed, starting from behind — and it's because of such Obama moves as his executive orders deferring deportation and granting work permits to as many as 6 million illegal immigrants and his administration's heavy regulations on business that stifle development and creativity.

"Instead of growing the economy and encouraging entrepreneurship, he's depressing it," Chadwick said. "So, all I've got to look forward to are these handouts that I get from the government programs.

"That's why he thinks we're better off. That's why he can say that with the kind of confidence he does."

Chadwick cited, for instance, Obama's delay in approving the Keystone XL Pipeline. The $8 billion project would carry oil sands from Canada to refineries in Texas.

Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican, has promised swift approval of the project next year. The GOP will control both houses of Congress come January.

"I know a lot of black folks who can cook like mad," Chadwick told Newsmax. "What if I had that Keystone Pipeline up and running or under construction? You don't think those guys out there on the pipeline who are working on it don't eat? They get hungry.

"So how many of these new companies that could pop up — food trucks and things like that — that could go out there and sell food to those guys?" he asked. "How many of those companies could have been the idea of an African American?"

But the Rev. Joseph Green, author and pastor of Antioch Assembly in Harrisburg, Pa., said the conditions facing African Americans do not rest with Obama. "I don't blame President Obama for those things, but by the same token, we can't give him credit for something that's obviously not the case," he said.

"There are a large number of African Americans now that continually look to the government as their source and put more emphasis on the government and the government's help than probably they would have in the past," Green told Newsmax. "It's kind of a mentality that now we're going to be OK because the president is black."

President Obama also referenced the shootings of Eric Garner in New York City and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in his response. He said the cases had "colored" race relations in America.

Brown, 18, was shot to death on Aug. 9 by a white police officer, while Garner, 43, died on July 17 from a chokehold by a white officer on Staten Island. Both men were unarmed.

Neither officer was indicted by grand juries. The decisions sparked widespread unrest in both communities.

On Dec. 20, two New York City officers were gunned down, execution style, by a man who claimed to be avenging the deaths. That man, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, 28, who had an extensive criminal history, later killed himself as city officers cornered him in a Brooklyn subway station.

"I actually think it’s been a healthy conversation that we’ve had," as a result of the protests, Obama said. "These are not new phenomenon.

"The fact that they’re now surfacing, in part because people are able to film what have just been, in the past, stories passed on around a kitchen table, allows people to make their own assessments and evaluations," he added. "And, you’re not going to solve a problem if it’s not being talked about."

Black conservatives slammed the remarks, charging the Obama administration with fostering a hostile environment among protesters instead of working on the underlying issues facing African Americans in this country.

Washington noted how Attorney General Eric Holder — "who just happens to be black and the first black man to hold that office — came to Ferguson in August and said, 'I'm one of you,' instead of saying, 'We have a bunch of really systemic problems that are in the black community that we should address.'"

She is a member of the Project 21 Leadership Network of Black Conservatives.

"Yes, it's horrible whenever someone dies at the hands of a police officer-involved shooting, but we have to be responsible for our own actions," Washington said.

She noted Brown's background with the local juvenile justice system and how he had allegedly robbed a convenience store before he was fatally shot by Officer Darren Wilson, who resigned after the grand jury's decision last month.

"When asked to move out of the street, had he simply moved out of the street, we would be discussing another major news story instead of constantly referring back to the false 'hands-up, don't shoot' narrative that has taken over huge segments of the black population to our detriment," Washington said.

"He's right that race relations have been set back among blacks and whites, but not because of actual behavior that people need to be repenting for," she said of President Obama's remarks.

Green, however, laid the blame with both police and African Americans.

"A lot of times, the police officers may come with some preconceived notion: 'Some young black men are standing around with their pants sagging, so they must be up to no good.'

"Then on the other side, we have a generation of young, rebellious black men who, if the police come and approach them, they automatically have an aggressive posture towards the police.

"There definitely has to be some conversation and some dialogue for both sides so we don't repeat those types of issues," Green said.

The conservatives noted, moreover, that African Americans must take the lead in improving their communities instead of relying on the federal government and President Obama to do it.

"There's an epidemic of young black men being murdered in the country, but the vast majority of those young black men are being murdered by other black men," Green said. "That's the larger conversation we need to have: Why is that?

"Those issues aren't getting any better just because the president is black. Those issues haven't been resolved — and in certain instances, they've gotten worse" because blacks "are not holding the government accountable, because we tend to want to defend him even if criticism is valid."

"It's almost like you're a sellout if you're black," Green added. "How dare you disagree with him? I don't care, I voice my opinion anyway, but I would say more so that the criticism becomes a racial thing when people politically oppose the president."



The war on privacy

Very little web and other electronic communication is secure. Those advertising themselves as such, including Skype (“Sustained Skype collection began in Feb 2011,”), websites designated as “https”—the final “s” standing for “secure”, and VPN “Virtual Private Networks”—are not.

The good news is that some forms of encryption remain secure. The bad news is that even encrypted data that remains secure today has no guarantee of remaining so: intelligence agencies capture and store everything indefinitely, so when in the future spies are able to crack today’s encryption they can go back and decrypt stored information.

Describing NSA’s BULLRUN decryption program

“for the past decade, NSA has led an aggressive, multipronged effort to break widely used Internet encryption technologies,” and “vast amounts of encrypted Internet data which have up till now been discarded are now exploitable.” Decryption, it turns out, works retroactively — once a system is broken, the agencies can look back in time in their databases and read stuff they could not read before.

Among the publicly available services that remain difficult-to-impossible for NSA and Five Eyes to crack:
• Heavily encrypted email service providers like Zoho
• The TOR network for surfing the web
• Truecrypt, a program for encrypting files on computers
• A protocol called Off-the-Record (OTR) for encrypting instant messaging
• The instant messaging system CSpace
• A system for Internet telephony (voice over IP) called ZRTP

Open-source technologies such as these are especially effective at thwarting spies: “Since anyone can view free and open source software, it becomes difficult to insert secret back doors without it being noticed.”

The startling take-away that ought to capture all of our attention is the fact that the NSA actively and purposely sets out to weaken encryption standards by “every means available.”



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated) and Coral reef compendium. (Updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten.

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


Tuesday, December 30, 2014

China's economy isn't No. 1 — but if it were, so what?

by Jeff Jacoby

HAVE YOU been lying awake at night, fretting over the news that China has surpassed the United States to become the world's largest economy? If so, let me offer some reassuring advice: Turn over and go back to sleep.

The International Monetary Fund's most recent compilation of global economic data isn't exactly a page-turner, but buried among its eye-glazing statistical appendices was a detail that had some financial writers hyperventilating. In 2014, the IMF estimates, China's economic output will total $17.6 trillion, putting it slightly ahead of the United States, where GDP this year is valued at $17.4 trillion. That means China now exercises 16.5 percent of the world's economic clout, outranking the United State, with 16.3 percent.

Assuming the IMF's calculations are right, the flustered headlines aren't surprising. "It's official: America is now No. 2," announced MarketWatch. "China just overtook the US as the world's largest economy," a Business Insider story was titled. Vanity Fair's forthcoming issue proclaims this "The Chinese Century" — and illustrates it with an image of a panda crushing an eagle.

But what if those IMF calculations aren't right? Or to be more precise, aren't all that meaningful?

The standard yardstick for measuring and comparing different economies is to convert each country's data into a common currency (typically the US dollar), using prevailing foreign-exchange rates. By that benchmark, China's economy still lags well behind America's, by roughly $7 trillion as of 2014.

It is only by expressing each country's GDP in terms of what analysts call "purchasing-power parity," or PPP, that China can be portrayed as the foremost economic power on Earth. This is a way of adjusting the value of national currencies to account for different costs of living in different countries. The intention is to yield a value that makes comparisons more realistic, at least in terms of buying power — "so a Starbucks venti Frappucino served in Beijing," as MarketWatch's Brett Arends puts it, "counts the same as a venti Frappucino served in Minneapolis, regardless of what happens to be going on among foreign-exchange traders."

But while purchasing-power parity is a useful theoretical concept, it isn't money in the bank. Theoretical concepts can't be spent. The Chinese can't use PPP currency to pay for airplanes and oil and computers. They have to pay, like everyone else, in real currency at prevailing exchange rates. And by that measure, the United States remains the most potent economic force on the planet.

More to the point, China is nowhere near outstripping America in per-capita terms, the most important gauge of a nation's economic strength.

With a population nearing 1.4 billion, China has a vast distance to cover before its economic output per person begins to resemble America's. According to the IMF, China's economic output this year — after adjusting for purchasing power — will amount to $12,893 per person. The comparable value for the United States is more than four times as much: $54,678. Even a booming Chinese economy will need time to close such a yawning gap. It took Americans almost 75 years to pull it off. China's per-capita GDP stands today where America's stood in 1940.

And China faces a daunting challenge. Its fertility rate has fallen sharply, and its population is aging. In 1980, its median age was 22; today it is 35; by 2050 it is likely to reach 49. With fewer children being born today, China's workforce will shrink tomorrow, even as its population of nonworking elderly swells. As the Economist observes, "China will grow old before it gets rich."

That isn't a prospect we should relish. There is no competition for the title of World's Largest Economy; with or without the "We're No. 1" bragging rights, Americans' quality of life will remain high. We should welcome other people's progress up the economic ladder, just as we welcome their advances in democratic liberties and human rights. And we should regret any handicap that impedes their gains — whether that handicap is an authoritarian Communist government or a looming demographic collapse.

A world of burgeoning GDPs will be a happier, healthier, cleaner, and more educated world. Nearly one-fifth of the human race lives in China, and the better off those men, women and children are, the better off we're all likely to be. When other nations prosper, America isn't the poorer.

China ranks No. 1 in some things — population, exports, electricity, telephone use. By the most meaningful standard, however, its economy is still far from the world's most largest. Will it get there one day? Let's hope so.



Be less romantic about the past

by Jeff Jacoby

FOR MANY people, Christmas and New Year's feel like anything but the most wonderful time of the year. Some find the long winter nights depressing. Others can't muster much merriment in the face of what can seem like an endless procession of bleak headlines. Still others yearn for the sweetness of auld lang syne, when life moved at a more humane pace, and concerns that generate such angst today — global warming, identity theft, Islamist terror, campaign finance — troubled no one's sleep.

Well, for anyone who could do with some extra cheer, a book published 40 years ago — "The Good Old Days — They Were Terrible!" — brims with reminders of all the blessings we have to count.

Its author was Otto L. Bettmann, a refugee from Nazi Germany who created the Bettmann Archive, one of the world's most important and extensive collections of historical images. In 1974 he set out to dispel the notion that life in America two or three generations earlier had been an idyll of freshness and simplicity, the benign and picturesque era of Currier & Ives prints and classic Christmas carols. Bettmann acknowledged that his famous archive had helped create that impression of a lost golden age. Many of its most popular pictures "do indeed exude an aura of charm and well-being," he wrote. But there were countless others, less sought-after, that told a far more realistic tale.

It was dangerous to romanticize the past, Bettmann argued. For one thing, it was an assault on the truth: Living conditions in America on the eve of the 20th century were frequently poor, nasty, and brutish. Bettmann filled his book with images refuting the idea that the "good old days" were a paradise from which we have sadly fallen. Like its title, "The Good Old Days — They Were Terrible!" is unflinching yet confident. To read it is to be liberated from unhealthy nostalgia, and to be buoyed by a powerful reminder of our potential for human progress.

We are endlessly hectored these days about the evils of the automobile and "carbon pollution," to take a single example of a contemporary boon all too often condemned by those nostalgic for an illusory past. Bettmann supplies invaluable perspective, recalling how befouled American streets and cities were before the "timely arrival" of the internal-combustion engine.

At the turn of the last century, he recounts, transportation in US cities required about 3 million horses, each producing 20 to 25 pounds of manure per day. "These dumplings were numerous on every street, attracting swarms of flies and radiating a powerful stench. The ambiance was further debased by the presence on almost every block of stables with urine-saturated hay." In one modest-sized city — Rochester, NY — 15,000 horses "produced enough manure in 1900 to cover an acre of ground with a layer 175 feet high."

The ubiquitous pollution didn't come only from horses. All the "wastes of daily life, including kitchen slops, cinders, coal dust, horse manure, broken cobblestones, and dumped merchandise, were piled high on the sidewalks. There was hardly a block in downtown Manhattan that a pedestrian could negotiate without climbing over a heap of trash or, in rain, wading through a bed of slime."

Parking hassles in our era can be maddening, but who wouldn't prefer them to the foul congestion of the Gilded Age? Bettmann describes "sidewalks . . . lined with unharnessed trucks, beneath and between which dirtier citizens threw their filth." At times New York reeked like a vast stable, one visitor commented — and what was true of the nation's largest municipality was true of smaller cities as well: "Pioneers trekked westward to breathe what they expected would be the fresh air of small frontier towns. What they often encountered was air like that of a malarial swamp." A photograph of Helena, Mont., illustrates the point, depicting a busy street clogged with wagons, where hitching places for horses regularly turned into cesspools.

But at least roads were safer before the advent of car accidents, right? Wrong. Runaway horses were a serious danger, creating "havoc [that] killed thousands of people," Bettmann writes. "According to the National Safety Council, the horse-associated fatality rate was 10 times the car-associated rate of modern times."

From housing to education, street crime to medical care, urban sweatshops to rural despair — on topic after topic, Bettmann's pictorial history strips away the idealized sheen of wholesomeness from America's "good old days." Neither paean to laissez-faire capitalism nor endorsement of vigorous government regulation, it is instead a frank reality check into the past that makes clear how blessed we are to be alive in the present.

The cynic's definition of optimist is a man who never had much experience. Bettmann knew better, and was happier for it. He relished being "a man of experience who remains a confirmed optimist." Forty years on, his book is still in print — and more than ever an antidote to the blues, holiday or otherwise.



CNN Executive Asks Pro-Israel Teenage Activist: 'Are You Brain Dead?'

Brain dead to call terrorism terrorism, apparently.  Such is the world of CNN

In an article posted on the website for the Times of Israel newspaper, high school senior Hayley Nagelberg described a testy exchange between herself and Richard Davis in which the executive vice president of news standards and practices for the Cable News Network asked her if she’s “brain dead.”

The clash was a result of CNN's coverage of an attack on a synagogue in Har Nof, Jerusalem, on November 18 by two Palestinians who wielded meat cleavers, axes and a gun to kill American Israeli rabbis Moshe Twersky, Calman Levine and Aryeh Kopinsky; British Israeli rabbi Avraham Shmuel Goldberg; and first responder Zidan Saif.

The attackers were two Palestinian cousins, Abed Abu Jamal and Ghassan Muhammad Abu Jamal, and the student at Golda Och Academy in West Orange, New Jersey, said she was horrified when the first CNN headline on the incident read “Two Palestinians Killed,” followed by “Four Israelis, Two Palestinians Killed” in a story that claimed the violence took place inside a mosque and not a synagogue.

“CNN does not have a great reputation for a fair and balanced coverage of events involving Israel,” the student noted before stating that many cars throughout the country have bumper stickers with Hebrew words that translated in English read “CNN Lies.”

One month later, on December 21, more than 700 Jewish teenagers from around North America gathered in Atlanta, Georgia, for the United Synagogue Youth’s 64th annual international convention.

On the following day, Nagelberg joined approximately 30 other students and staff members “to listen to representatives from CNN, which has headquarters right next to our convention center.”

During an hour of listening to Davis and CNN's mobile editor, Etan Horrowitz, “I felt my jaw drop lower and lower in disbelief, and the scowl on my face grow increasingly intense in anger and frustration,” she stated.

“Davis told me and my peers and staff that it is up to us, and everyone else, as consumers to check other news sources if we think we may want more information,” Nagelberg recounted.

“I was confused” by his remarks, she indicated. “Isn’t it a news organization’s job to provide the facts? While an educated reader should always check a variety of news sources for different presentations, one should expect a leading news distributor to get the basic story right.”

Nagelberg continued: “Davis’s explanations for the aforementioned, horribly misleading and false headlines boiled down to human error.”

He then said that “these headlines only surfaced for minutes before being taken down.” However, he claimed, someone took a screenshot and circulated those headlines around the world, which was not CNN's fault.

“As our time with the CNN execs came to a close,” Nagelberg stated, “Davis explained to those of us that … when one person has an opinion about anything, a news report may seem wrong to that person. However, to everyone else, it could be perfectly right.”

After deciding that the answers the students received were nothing short of “a farce,” Nagelberg “decided to go get in one last word” with Davis, who said that calling the incident “a terrorist attack” would mean they had jumped to a conclusion without any evidence to back it up.

“Okay,” the high school senior said, “fully understanding the weight that the word 'terrorist' carries. But by the time it was known that it was four Israelis and two Palestinians, it was known that there were meat cleavers and stabbings involved. Why couldn’t you call it an ‘attack’?”

His response? “You’ve got to be kidding me! One word? Are you brain dead?”

At the end of her article, Nagelberg had harsh words for Davis.

    "To answer your question: Yes, I am serious. Yes, it’s one word. It makes a difference. No, I am not brain dead. I am a 17-year-old girl from New Jersey who is appalled by the biased media coverage of Israel here in America.

    How many mornings must I wake up in fear as I reach for my phone to scroll through countless stories, from countless news organizations, trying to get a complete picture of what happened in my homeland while I slept?

“How many hashtag campaigns, angry teenagers [and] nasty emails must you see before you understand that your news is not balanced, is not fair, and is not accurate?” she continued.

“I cannot sit back any longer and watch people like you continue to misreport the truth,” Nagelberg stated. “The time for change is now, and if you are not prepared to be a part of the change, I ask you: ‘Are you serious? … Are you brain dead?’”

If this pro-Israel activist isn't getting the information she's looking for on CNN, perhaps it's time to turn to another cable news channel, one that has “fair and balanced” as its motto.


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


For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated) and Coral reef compendium. (Updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten.

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


Monday, December 29, 2014

Expert: Obama economic surge built on doctored data

From Stalin to Tony Blair, statistics emanating from Leftist governments have always been untrustworthy

The White House appears determined to deliver in the president's upcoming State of the Union speech a ringing message that economic growth under Obama is robust, with the DOW topping 18,000 for the first time and the Bureau of Economic Analysis reporting last week revised estimates placing third-quarter growth at an impressive 5 percent.

But critics, like econometrician John Williams, call it a smoke-and-mirrors illusion of economic data dishonestly calculated and reported to look rosy.

Put simply, Williams, in the most recent edition of his subscription newsletter, argues that the developing White House narrative of "the strongest economic growth in a decade" is nonsense.

He argues that the full economic recovery indicated by the real GDP numbers reported last week by BEA is "a statistical illusion created by using too-low a rate of inflation in deflating (removing inflation effects) from the GDP series."

Williams further argues "no other major economic series has shown a parallel pattern of official full economic recovery and meaningful expansion beyond, consistent with GDP reporting."

Williams' analysis of retail sales, again adjusted to remove an artificially low rate of inflation, shows "a pattern of plunge and stagnation and renewed downturn, consistent with patterns seen in series such as consumer indicators like real median household income, the consumer confidence measures and in the unemployment and most housing statistics."

WND previously has reported that real unemployment in the U.S., measured by traditional definitions that include an estimate of those forced to drop out of the labor force because jobs are lacking and those seeking full-time employment who are forced to take part-time employment is closer to 23 percent, rather than the 5.8 percent the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in November, confirming Donald Trump's accusation that Obama's jobless numbers are "phony."

Williams estimates that adjusted for inflation, orders for durable goods declined by 0.62 percent in November, versus a revised decline of 0.12 percent in October, and a revised September monthly decline of 0.68 percent.

He calculates that sales of existing homes showed a seasonally adjusted decline of 6.1 percent in November, with 9 percent of November sales of existing homes in distress (6 percent foreclosures, plus 3 percent short sales).

Contrast this with the narrative the White House suggested in a press release on Dec. 18, when the administration stated: "President Obama took office in the depths of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Six years later, thanks to the grit and determination of the American people, and the decisive actions he took early on - to bring the economy back from the brink, to save the auto industry, and to build a new foundation for middle-class growth - we've made real progress."

In a press briefing two days earlier, White House press counsel Josh Earnest delivered a similar tone, stating: "Now, 2014 was a milestone for economic progress in the United States, but there's much more work to do."

He continued: "This year, America's businesses added jobs at the fastest rate since the 1990s. The most interesting statistic I've seen on this is that we've now had 10 consecutive months of more than 200,000 job created in the private sector in each of those months."

The statements portray Obama as having engineered an economic miracle that is historic in nature.

"That is the longest streak in nearly 20 years," Earnest continued. "And while many of these good, full-time, middle-class jobs and wages have begun to rise, it's still too hard for many middle-class families to get ahead."

Also, despite the Obama administration's war on coal and refusal to support the Keystone pipeline, the White House claims credit for declining gas prices.

"And while gas prices have fallen as we've produced more oil, and the growth of health care costs has slowed as the Affordable Care Act has been implemented, it's still too hard for many middle-class families to make ends meet," Earnest emphasized.

Williams is of another opinion.

"U.S. economic activity is turning down anew, despite overstated growth in recent GDP reporting. The headline contraction in first-quarter 2014 GDP was the reality; the headline second-quarter GDP boom and continued strong headline GDP growth in third-quarter 2014 were not," Williams concludes. "The more recent data appear to have been spiked, at best, by overly optimistic assumptions on the part of the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA). At worst, the bloated growth estimates reflect heavy political massaging."

Williams anticipated current BEA revised estimates of third quarter growth will "suffer heavy downside revisions" in the July 30, 2015, benchmark revision with early indications predicting an outright contraction in fourth quarter 2014 GDP.

"Future, constructive Federal Reserve behavior - purportedly moving towards normal monetary conditions in the currently unfolding, perfect economic environment - is pre-conditioned by a continued flow of `happy' economic news," Williams writes.

"Suggestions that all is right again with the world are nonsense," he continues. "The 2008 Panic never has been resolved, and the Fed soon will find that it has no easy escape from its quantitative easing."



How academia's liberal bias is killing social science< /b>

A blockbuster new report includes some unsettling revelations      

I have had the following experience more than once: I am speaking with a professional academic who is a liberal. The subject of the underrepresentation of conservatives in academia comes up. My interlocutor admits that this is indeed a reality, but says the reason why conservatives are underrepresented in academia is because they don't want to be there, or they're just not smart enough to cut it. I say: "That's interesting. For which other underrepresented groups do you think that's true?" An uncomfortable silence follows.

I point this out not to score culture-war points, but because it's actually a serious problem. Social sciences and humanities cannot be completely divorced from the philosophy of those who practice it. And groupthink causes some questions not to be asked, and some answers not to be overly scrutinized. It is making our science worse. Anyone who cares about the advancement of knowledge and science should care about this problem.

That's why I was very gratified to read this very enlightening draft paper written by a number of social psychologists on precisely this topic, attacking the lack of political diversity in their profession and calling for reform. For those who have the time and care about academia, the whole thing truly makes for enlightening reading. The main author of the paper is Jonathan Haidt, well known for his Moral Foundations Theory (and a self-described liberal, if you care to know).

Although the paper focuses on the field of social psychology, its introduction as well as its overall logic make many of its points applicable to disciplines beyond social psychology.

The authors first note the well-known problems of groupthink in any collection of people engaged in a quest for the truth: uncomfortable questions get suppressed, confirmation bias runs amok, and so on.

But it is when the authors move to specific examples that the paper is most enlightening.


I say more about the paper mentioned above in my leading article on today's GREENIE WATCH


Replace ObamaCare by The Rule of Law

A government with moral and legal authority promulgates written rules and universally, impartially and uniformly enforces the rules, which provides a predictable and stable legal order on which to base economic and personal decisions. The law prevails, not the proclamation or arbitrary decision of a ruler, government bureaucrat, the enforcer (e.g., policeman) or judge.
Replace ObamaCare by The Rule of Law

Anytime now, the Supreme Court will hear the case of King vs. Burwell, where an adverse ruling could deny IRS-ordered subsidies in 36 states that are without state exchanges. Additionally, it would destroy the employer-mandate since employers are only mandated when the state has exchanges for their employees. Such an outcome would substantially destroy ObamaCare.

If the Supreme Court rules that subsidies are not available to these 36 states, emotional and economic chaos will most likely besiege America. Millions of Americans could be without insurance, and the insurance industry (already greatly coerced but making enormous crony profits because of ObamaCare) could lose billions. Already disoriented and impaired by ObamaCare, medical providers will further be disrupted. What a quagmire.

Randy Barnett, an excellent professor of law and legal philosopher at Georgetown University, understands the politics of ObamaCare and suggests to have a serious debate regarding insurance proposals in order to truly have an improved health insurance plan.

Professor Barnett's plan to proceed includes the following:

    First repeal every word of ObamaCare

    Restore the insurance private markets -- We the People can choose the type of insurance that fits our personal needs

    Everyone gets a refundable tax credit - no special benefit to employer based insurance

    Actuality based insurance - young people pay less

    Consumer choice - including health savings accounts and catastrophic coverage

    Increase competition - across state lines

Barnett does not address the pre-existing condition conundrum, which should obviously be included.

Most importantly, America – politicians and We the People – must have a complete and honest discussion on how we manage our healthcare. Rather than the deceits, secret deals, crony capitalism and political manipulations that produced the incompetent ObamaCare, America must have an honest debate, which should begin immediately. There must be an alternative to the mess of ObamaCare, and it must be ready for the House and Senate to vote on, which could easily be bipartisan legislation by May or June of 2015.

A civil and thoughtful debate and vote should produce good legislation. More importantly, it would restore the knowledge and reality that we are a nation of laws – the Rule of Law. The Rule of Law is our most unique and important asset.



“Right to Try” Laws Give Terminal Patients a Fighting Chance

Regulatory delays are costing lives

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for determining which prescription drugs are legal to sell in the United States, with all new products forced to undergo a lengthy and expensive approval process before patients can access their benefits. But in many cases, the FDA is actively standing in the way of patients with debilitating or terminal illnesses being allowed to choose their own treatment, denying them the chance to fight for their survival.

If you’re dying, with little chance of recovery from currently available treatments, shouldn’t you have the choice to try potentially life-saving new medicines? Wouldn’t you want to try every option available to save your life?

Today, many Americans find themselves in exactly this position. But rather than being allowed to pursue alternative treatments, they are blocked by drug regulations that effectively condemn them to certain death. Fortunately, some states are trying to change that introducing so-called “Right to Try” laws, that give terminal patients the option of trying medicines not approved for the general public.

The FDA justifies its mission on the basis of protecting consumer safety. By making sure drugs are safe before releasing them, they argue, lives are saved. While there is undoubtedly some truth to this, it is only one side of the story. For every bad drug that is successfully blocked, several good ones are substantially delayed. The lives that are lost due to the unavailability of a new medicine is a statistic that is impossible to quantify, and less attention is therefore paid to the problem than to those instances when an approved drug actually harms people.

How these two issues should be balanced is something that can be debated at length, but in cases of terminal patients, the calculus is significantly easier. For a person who is dying, and who has no hope of recovery with currently available medicine, is naturally going to be more tolerant of risk than other patients. Yet, in most states, the law allows no exception for people in desperate situations.

So far, five states have enacted Right to Try laws. Michigan, Colorado, Louisiana, Missouri, Louisiana, and most recently Arizona, which passed its own Right to Try law in this November’s elections, are leading the nation in expanding access to medicine for terminal patients. Wyoming may soon join them, having prefiled Right to Try legislation for the 2015 session.

These laws are far from perfect, and they have been criticized for being ineffective. There is still a lengthy application process involved, and there is little incentive for doctors and pharmaceutical companies to play along with something that could potentially earn them bad publicity of experimental treatments fail to work. Still, Right to Try laws are a step in the right direction for improving patient choice. They could be still further improved by allowing volunteers to be part of experimental trials, which would themselves be considered as part of the criteria for drug approval.

The FDA is notoriously cautious compared to drug approval agencies in other countries, and there are many life-saving medicines available in Europe, but still prohibited in the United States. A loosening of restrictions could do immeasurable good for desperate patients waiting for a cure.

It is understandable that the FDA would want to protect consumers, but in the case of terminal patients, these protections no longer make sense. People in such desperate situations should be allowed to try any methods to save themselves, rather than being forced to sit idly by and accept an inevitability that need not be. Give patients a choice; their lives are the ones at stake, not ours.



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated) and Coral reef compendium. (Updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten.

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


Sunday, December 28, 2014

Some desultory post-Christmas thoughts on Christianity versus Islam

I first read the Koran in my teens and, over 50 years later, I still have a copy handy -- in the Pickthall English translation.

You cannot read the Koran without noticing what a hostile document it is.  It is filled with anger and commands to attack unbelievers.  A small excerpt from the very angry Surah 9:

"Then, when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wherever ye find them, and take them (captive), and besiege them, and prepare for them each ambush.... Fight the disbelievers! Allah is on your side; he will give you victory"

In the Koran people are sharply divided into believers and unbelievers.  And only believers deserve any respect or goodwill.  Contrast that with Luke 2:14:  "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men". Christianity is a much kinder, more peaceful and more universal religion, with very little hostility in it.

And Christians have absorbed that Gospel of kindness and gentleness.  A few lines from a very famous Christmas carol -- "Away in a manger":

Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay
Close by me for ever and love me, I pray.
Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care
And take us to Heaven to live with Thee there.

And to this day both sets of scriptures are influential.  Not all Muslims are Jihadis and not all Christians are kind but the  bloodthirsty attacks by Muslims on those they disagree with are just as their Koran commands -- while Christians extend forgiveness to Muslims who attack them, as advised in Matthew 5:39.

I think I prefer an older code of justice:  "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth".  Be kind to begin with but, if kindness is mocked, give the mocker back some of his own medicine

"William Dalrymple" is normally most erudite but he has an article here that suggests he has not read Surah 9.  He points to the old Mogul empire in North India as a place where Muslims practiced tolerance and respect for Christianity and concludes  from that that "Christianity and Islam are not far apart".

In so concluding he is overlooking the sharp distinctions that Sura 9 makes between what Muslims can do when they rule the roost and what they can do before that.  There can be a modicum of civilization and condescension once you are in a supreme position (which the Moguls were) but until then conquest and slaughter is what is commanded. When the conquest is still going on there is no pity or mercy for unbelievers.

There is a sense in which Jihadis are Muslim Protestants:  They take their holy book seriously.  That their holy book serves the evil side of human nature is the pity.  Freud was not far out in saying that there is a "Thanatos" (death) instinct in human nature.  Lucifer?  I think a Christian could well make a case that Islam is the work of the Devil.


Oklahoma takes on Obama and his minions

Obamacare, the EPA and the water grab are all targeted

Scott Pruitt enjoyed owning a AAA baseball team here, but he is having as much fun as Oklahoma’s attorney general, and one of the Obama administration’s most tenacious tormentors. The second existential challenge to the Affordable Care Act began here.

In the first, decided in June 2012, the Supreme Court saved the ACA by reading it imaginatively. The court held that although Congress could not, in the name of regulating commerce, penalize people for not engaging in commerce (buying insurance), the penalty linked to the individual mandate actually could be considered – although Congress did not so consider it – an exercise of Congress' enumerated power to tax.

That same year, Pruitt lit another fuse, this one involving statutory rather than constitutional construction. He filed a suit that in June may contribute to the most seismic domestic development of 2015.

The suit asks the court to read the ACA unimaginatively, as meaning what it plainly says: Subsidies, in the form of tax credits, are available only to persons who purchase insurance through exchanges “established by the state.” Thirty-seven states have refused or failed to establish their own exchanges. The justices may be disinclined to use the ACA’s legislative history, or the candor of MIT’s loquacious professor Jonathan Gruber, to inform their deliberations. If, however, the justices do, they will see that Gruber, an ACA architect, says it was written to “squeeze the states” into establishing exchanges: “If you’re a state and you don’t set up an exchange, that means your citizens don’t get their tax credits.”

If the court holds that the ACA means what it plainly and purposively says, then billions of dollars have been disbursed through federal exchanges contrary to the law. The ACA will be crippled until Barack Obama negotiates help from a Republican-controlled Congress.

The Founders' bargain, Pruitt says, was that the states would surrender some sovereignty in exchange for representation in the federal government. But the growth of federal power has tended to reduce states to administrative extensions of the federal government, leaving them with “pre-emption without representation.” So Pruitt has established within his office a “federalism unit” aimed at revitalizing federalism as a system of “vertical checks and balances.”

Oklahoma is among 24 states in a suit initiated by Texas Attorney General (and Gov.-elect) Greg Abbott charging that Obama’s unilateral changes in immigration policies are unconstitutional. The complaint is that Obama has injured these states by usurping the legislative power of Congress, in which the states' interests are represented, and by creating, through executive fiat, policies that will impose substantial costs on the states.

Another target in Pruitt’s sights is the Environmental Protection Agency, which claims to have discovered in the Clean Air Act of 1970 a hitherto unnoticed authority perhaps sufficient to eliminate existing coal-fired power plants. Joined by 16 other state attorneys general, Pruitt argues that the federal government has the power to institute a national energy policy, which implicates the entire economy. But it cannot do so, pre-empting various of the states' powers, simply by locating authority in the creative reading of a 44-year old statute.

And then there is the matter of puddles. Pruitt and other attorneys general are resisting the EPA’s and the Army Corps of Engineers' contention that the 42-year old Clean Water Act has a hitherto unsuspected capaciousness. The act, which allows regulation of “navigable waters,” was passed under Congress' power to regulate interstate commerce, so “navigable waters” have been understood to be those suitable for transporting people and products between the states.

But M. Reed Hopper and Todd F. Gaziano of the Pacific Legal Foundation, writing in The Wall Street Journal, say the EPA now wants to control not just wetlands and other non-navigable waters but any water or normally dry land with a “hydrological connection” to actual navigable waters. These include, Hopper and Gaziano say, “arroyos in the desert as well as ditches and culverts hundreds of miles from” actual navigable waters. Pruitt and other attorneys general are contesting this bureaucratic imperialism whereby the EPA, by aggregating almost all the nation’s water and much of its land into EPA-designated “ecoregions,” could regulate – and stifle – much of the nation’s economic activity.

The good news about the ACA, immigration and the EPA is that federalism remains a fact. Come January, federalism’s vitality will be an increasingly inconvenient truth for Obama. Twenty-seven states will have Republican attorneys general who can try to restrain the federal Leviathan much as the Lilliputians restrained Gulliver.



Wisconsin bureaucrats target the media

A secret political speech probe looked into radio talk-show hosts.

The Wisconsin assault on political speech has been in a lull, but it reappeared with a bang on Friday with a fresh document release by a state court. The disclosures include evidence that Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board wanted to go after Milwaukee radio host Charlie Sykes and Sean Hannity of Fox News.

The information was unsealed as part of a complaint in Eric O’Keefe and Wisconsin Club for Growth v. Wisconsin Government Accountability Board. The case is a complaint against the GAB, a state body that has made enforcing campaign-finance laws its mission in ways that trash the First Amendment.

As we’ve been reporting for more than a year, Mr. O’Keefe has been the target of a secret John Doe probe investigating alleged “coordination” between Gov. Scott Walker ’s 2012 recall campaign and independent conservative groups. He was subpoenaed and others had their homes raided by prosecutors in October 2013. Mr. O’Keefe has fought back in court, and his complaint refers to GAB documents that were obtained during discovery in the case.

The documents support the charge that the GAB was working with Democratic prosecutors to smash the political operation of anyone defending Mr. Walker’s collective-bargaining reforms. And in the fevered ambitions of investigators, the supposed conspirators included Messrs. Sykes and Hannity.

The unsealed complaint notes that prosecutors and investigators contemplated including the two conservative talk-show hosts as targets of subpoenas or warrants. “Many more warrants and subpoenas were planned for other targets throughout the country, including media figures such as Charlie Sykes and Sean Hannity,” the complaint says. The full meeting notes are not included.

Consider the printed notes from a September 2013 conference call. The notes refer to a discussion and legal research to assist the John Doe. One section notes a “Discussion raised by David regarding media exemption and identifying what the standards are before Sykes/Hannity coordinate with FOSW and Walker as well as potential equal time violations.” The “Charlie Sykes and Sean Hannity connection to investigations” was also listed on the agenda for an August 15, 2013 meeting.

The September call’s participants aren’t listed, but the notes include “to-do” assignments for Milwaukee Assistant District Attorneys Bruce Landgraf and David Robles, investigator Bob Stelter, Special Prosecutor Fran Schmitz, and GAB staff counsels Shane Falk and Nathan Judnic. Mr. Falk has since left GAB.

Another suggested research subject was the possibility of “freezing subject bank accounts,” also suggested by “David,” who is likely a reference to Milwaukee County Assistant District Attorney David Robles, whose full name appears elsewhere on the documents. These documents remain under seal but we obtained a copy.

Defenders of the GAB board tout its bipartisan credentials because it is made up of retired judges. But the unsealed complaint notes that by the time the judges voted to investigate the campaign coordination of conservative groups, the agency had already been up to its elbows in the issue for 10 months.

Wisconsin attorney Paul Schwarzenbart, who is representing the GAB, said in a statement over the weekend that the judges knew about the GAB staff’s participation in the probe, but we’ve seen no evidence to document that claim. Mr. Robles and GAB Director and General Counsel Kevin Kennedy didn’t respond to requests for comment.

All of this matters far beyond Wisconsin because it shows how far from the Constitution the campaign-finance police have wandered. Their theories of supposedly unlawful “coordination” with candidates include even media figures who clearly are protected by the First Amendment.

The media liberals who have been cheerleaders for these prosecutions may not worry if the targets are conservatives like Messrs. Sykes or Hannity. But they should wake up. Such coordination theories could as easily extend to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter or MSNBC host. And what constitutes illegal coordination would be based on the subjective judgment of prosecutors and GAB bureaucrats.

The documents show that Wisconsin’s speech police are abusing their power with little regard for the First Amendment. The state legislature should shut them down.



Vermont Leads the Way away from Obamacare

Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin, a Democrat, announced that his state is tabling the idea of pursuing single-payer health care – a more pleasant term for socialized medicine – citing that it would be too big a burden for his state’s citizens and businesses to bear. It would have cost the small state $2 billion to pull off the leftist magic trick of providing “free” health care for all its inhabitants. The only way to pay for that would have been an 11.5% payroll tax on businesses and a hike on the income tax to 9.5%. Thank goodness for federalism.

Though Shumlin called the decision “the greatest disappointment of my political life so far,” he bitterly clings to hope. “Medicare took 31 years to become law,” he said, “Medicaid took 50 years to pass. Social Security took 25 years. Our time will come.” Not exactly great examples to cite, since those very same entitlements are driving state and federal budgets off a fiscal cliff.

Shumlin, a lifelong statist, is unashamed of his stance, despite the fact that he has not technically been elected to a new term. He beat Republican Scott Milne by just 2,095 votes out of nearly 200,000 cast in the November election. And Vermont law states that any race without a clear majority must be decided by the state legislature.

Vermont’s heavily Democrat state legislature is sure to re-elect its enfeebled incumbent governor, but that isn’t stopping Milne from proudly proclaiming the death of the single-payer initiative. “I said during the debates,” Milne told National Review Online, “The difference between Peter Shumlin and Scott Milne is that I will tell you before the election that single-payer is dead.”

In fact, Shumlin likely wouldn’t have won had he disclosed the cost of single-payer health care before Election Day.

Milne campaigned against single-payer insurance, saying it would bankrupt the tiny state. Despite its history of being a haven for just-this-side-of-socialist crackpot ideas, many Green Mountain State citizens were concerned about the hit to their wallets necessary to make single-payer a reality. For many, “free” health care just wasn’t worth the high price.

Shumlin’s other big plan of offering universal pre-K went down in defeat for the same reason. It seems that this governor likes to offer his citizens programs that sound rosy, but when it comes time to put pen to paper in the accounting department he gets a dose of reality.

Milne called out Shumlin not only for his unworkable single-payer plan, but also for spending precious state fiscal resources on research to implement the plan. Vermont paid some $400,000 alone to a certain MIT professor who professes expertise in health policy. Yes, that would be the infamous Jonathan Gruber.

The fact that Vermont couldn’t pull off single-payer health care doesn’t bode well for the great leftist experiment nationwide, though it certainly highlights the indispensable virtues of federalism. Not only has Socialist Bernie Sanders represented the state in the House and Senate since 1991, but the small state prides itself as the nation’s “workers paradise.” If Vermont can’t make this socialist dream happen, then who can?

Single-payer is simply not a workable option in the U.S., despite the best attempts of the Obama administration through ObamaCare. It’s less efficient and more expensive than private care, and we can thank Vermont for displaying that so clearly.



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated) and Coral reef compendium. (Updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten.

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


Friday, December 26, 2014

Is Liberalism Intellectually Bankrupt?

John Goodman makes a well-informed case below but I would argue that liberalism never has been intellectual in any sense.  It is just hate in action. It is simply whatever Leftists can grab from time to time that they can use to vent their hatred of the society in which they live.  To get any significant support from ordinary people, they have to dress up their motives and campaigns in good intentions but the constant ill effects of their policies show what their real motives are.

Environmentalism, for instance, has been a Godsend to the Left.  In the pretence of "saving the planet", they have imposed great costs on sociey -- costs which hit the poor most of all.  How does that fit with the Leftist's alleged concern for the poor?  It doesn't.  The concern is a fraud, mere camouflage with zero  beliefs or principles driving it.  If there were any sincerity in their concern for the poor, they would be reining environmentalism in, not facilitating it.

Just  a requirement that all businesses and  farms should be fully compensated for losses suffered as a result of environmental restrictions and regulations would go a long way to ensuring saner and less destructive environmental policies

Howard Dean, who is thought to represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party, told reporters the other day that he supports our policy of using drones to kill people (and all those who happen to be near them) without warning. He also has no objection to the National Security Agency listening to his phone calls and monitoring his email.

Donny Deutsch, the reliable voice of the left on “Morning Joe,” told TV viewers that he supports the CIA’s torture activities – recently revealed in a Senate committee report.

These views are very different from what one typically finds in the unsigned editorials of The New York Times – causing one to wonder what exactly is happening to left-of-center thinking.

Meanwhile, three pillars of liberal thought – The American Prospect, The Washington Monthly, and The New Republic – are all in trouble. As Ezra Klein reports, the Prospect laid off much of its staff and is retrenching to its roots as a policy journal. The Washington Monthly has downsized to a bi-monthly. The New Republic is facing mass resignations and may not survive.

All this is happening against the backdrop of much soul searching and more than a few recriminations within the Democratic Party itself.

So this is a good time to ask: What does the Democratic Party stand for? And if the answer is: liberalism, what does it mean to be a liberal? Or if you prefer, what does it mean to be a progressive?

You would think that liberalism is a belief in a set of public policy ideas. But as it turns out, those ideas are hard to pin down.

Scott Sumner gives four examples of how easy it has been for liberals to completely flip flop their positions on important policy issues. And when they change they seem to do so like lemmings – all in lock step, without embarrassment or regret. (Warning: Summer says conservatives are equally malleable.)

In 1987, The New York Times editorial page called for abolishing the minimum wage. Today, the same newspaper calls for a higher minimum wage.

In the 1960s, John Kenneth Galbraith and the left wing Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) favored abolishing the corporate income tax and taxing shareholders on the basis of corporate profits. Today, liberal publications and columnists are defending our high corporate tax rates.

In the 1980s, Ted Kennedy and other liberals voted to lower the top personal income tax rate from 50 percent to 28 percent, while closing loopholes at the same time. Today, they are more likely to join Paul Krugman in defending high marginal tax rates.

In the 1990s, liberal economists abandoned the Keynesian idea that tax and spending policies could influence the behavior of the economy and focused on monetary policy instead. Today, old style Keynesianism is back in vogue.

I would add two more bullets. It was under Jimmy Carter, not Ronald Reagan, that the modern de-regulation movement began. The congressional push for it was led by Ted Kennedy and other liberal stalwarts. Yet today, Paul Krugman and others blame deregulation for many modern woes. And over the course of two decades (the 60s and the 70s) mainstream liberal thought went from being aggressively interventionist in foreign affairs to almost pacifist.

How do we explain all this? In What Is A Progressive? I proposed part of the answer: liberalism is sociology rather than an ideology. The same can be said of conservatism.

But what kind of sociologies are they? Years ago, David Henderson suggested that think tanks and others involved in the war of ideas are actually in the “market for excuses.” That is, politicians need intellectual justification for things they want to do for non-intellectual reasons.

For the whole of my academic career I have believed in the idea of a political equilibrium. There are underlying forces – independent of personalities and independent of ideology – that push us to the public policies we have. Across the developed world, the political equilibrium in various countries is more similar than different – suggesting that the underlying forces are much the same from country to country.

From time to time, however, the equilibrium gets disturbed and in the resulting disequilibrium advocates of certain policies group together in predictable but not necessarily rational ways. For example, in the United States we historically have had those who want government in the bedroom but not in the board room aligned against those who prefer the opposite. If ideology were dominating politics, you would expect people who want government both in the bedroom and the boardroom to be aligned against people who want government in neither.

But ideology doesn’t dominate. In fact, it gets in the way. What is needed are ways of thinking that are not necessarily coherent, but provide intellectual excuses for the sets of policy positions that emerge. Liberalism and conservatism fulfill those roles.

And when I say they are not coherent I mean that you can’t find a book or an essay that explains how their various components rationally fit together.

The problem comes when the underlying forces change. For the sociologies to fulfill their social role, they too must change. And that’s not easy.

The problem for Democrats is that the party is increasingly ruled by the “new oligarchs.” In his review of The New Class Conflict, by Joel Kotkin, a lifelong Democrat, George Will explains that there is a: "growing alliance between the ultra-wealthy and the instruments of state power". In 2012, Barack Obama carried eight of America’s 10 wealthiest counties.

Unfortunately for party harmony, the oligarchs are basically anti-job creation and anti-economic growth – which they see both as a threat to the environment and a threat to their life style. This puts them squarely at odds with the working class voters who used to be the backbone of the Democratic Party.

As I explained in “How Liberals Live,” once the plutocrats settle in a community like Boulder, Colorado or Portland, Oregon, they become fiercely anti-development and doggedly determined to shape their community in ways that price the middle class out of the housing market. As a result, wherever wealthy liberals tend to congregate, housing is more expensive and there is more inequality. Again from Will:

"In New York, an incubator of progressivism, Kotkin reports, the “wealthiest one percent earn a third of the entire city’s personal income – almost twice the proportion for the rest of the country.” California, a one-party laboratory for progressivism, is home to 111 billionaires and the nation’s highest poverty rate (adjusted for the cost of living)….

California is no longer a destination for what Kotkin calls “aspirational families”: In 2013, he says, Houston had more housing starts than all of California".

We have already seen how powerful the oligarchs can be in the case of the vote on the Keystone Pipeline. Senate Democrats were so kowtowed by one billionaire environmentalist that they gave up a senate seat and voted against the labor unions – their traditional core constituency.

Not to be out done, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has banned fracking in his state – another blow to blue collar workers Democrats ordinarily rely on when elections are held. The Wall Street Journal adds: “And this fellow fancies himself a potential President.”

What Democrats now need is a new type of liberalism. One that apologizes for and defends the new Democratic Party reality. That’s a tall order.



The Man Who Just Murdered Two Police Officers In Brooklyn Is A Muslim Jihadist

So Ismaaiyl Brinsley the killer of the two cops in Brooklyn, NY, has two Muslim names "Ismaaiyl" and a middle name "Abdullah"  which means "servant of Allah," is a fan of sheikh Yusuf Estes, who is not only neck deep in the Muslim Da'wa movement (the call to convert westerners to Islam) but Estes meets with both ISIS and Hamas financiers, and Brinsley loved the Koran, specifically Surah 8 on his own Facebook page, which calls for arming for preparation for Jihad war; it says all on what we need for motive as to why Brinsley shot the two officers.

Brinsley is a jihad sympathizer who used the racial turmoil as an excuse to kill Americans.

Brinsley admitted himself that he was "Muslim" and also frequented Al-Farooq Mosque which had a long history of terror support going back more than 20 years which hosted Al-Qaeda co-founder, a Palestinian named Abdullah Azzam.



This is not good news but it is better news

The African-American mayor of Berkeley, the suburb of St Louis, Missouri, where a black teenager was shot by police, said the officer had probably saved his own life.

Theodore Hoskins intervened after a night of angry protests at Berkeley with fireworks and bricks thrown at police after the killing.

It took place just over two miles from Ferguson, where Michael Brown, another black teenager, was shot in August, triggering a wave of unrest in American cities.

Mr Hoskins’ intervention came after another fraught week for relations between America’s black community and the police.

Demonstrations continued in New York in protest the decision of a grand jury not to indict the officers involved in the killing of Eric Garner with an outlawed choke hold, with the city still reeling from the cold-blooded assassination of two officers over the weekend.

In the latest incident a white police officer shot Antonio Martin, 18, dead at a filling station in Berkeley.  It led to another wave of angry protests on the fringes of St Louis, where emotions have been running high for months.

But while Michael Brown was unarmed, Mr Hoskins pointed out that surveillance video released by police showed that Mr Martin was armed.  “We had a policeman responding to a call protecting the residents of the City of Berkeley,” Mr Hoskins, who is black, told a press conference.

“This young man was shoplifting. The video shows that the deceased was pointing a gun at the officer that has been recovered.”

Mr Hoskins was swift to draw a distinction between Berkeley and Ferguson, even though the two municipalities were only two miles apart.  Senior officials were black and the police department also reflected in the make up of the local force.  He said 18 of the 31 officers in Berkeley were black.

“Our police officers are more sensitive and it’s because of the black and white relationship and because they interact with a majority of black policemen,” he said.

“So you get a better understanding which is why I think we’re different from the city of Ferguson,” said Hoskins. “We don’t have major crime in this city. This is unique.  “The city of Berkeley is grateful to these officers who put their lives on the line every day.”

Police in Berkeley said the man shot by police was carrying a loaded weapon, even though it was not fired.

There was concern that the officer involved in the shooting was not wearing a body camera, even though one had been handed to him during the shift.

Maria Chappelle-Nadal, a Missouri senator, said: “Had the officer been wearing a body camera, we would have known what had happened.”  But she also said the circumstances were very different from the Ferguson shooting.

Meanwhile in New York the focus is shifting towards the funerals of the two officers gunned down in Brooklyn on Saturday.

Up to 25,000 officers are expected to gather for the funeral of Officer Rafael Ramos, 40. on Saturday, they will be joined by Vice President Joe Biden.

Details of the ceremony for the other officer, Wenjian Liu, 32, have not been announced.

Those attending the shrine for the two officers included Emerald Garner, the daughter of Eric Garner.

Voicing sympathy for the police officers’ families, she said: “Once you take off your uniform, you are just a regular person.”



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated) and Coral reef compendium. (Updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten.

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


Thursday, December 25, 2014

The holy day has dawned

It's dawned in Australia where I live, anyway.  Because of international time zones America is nearly a day behind.

So today Christians celebrate something very implausible -- the incarnation -- when the great God over all poured himself into the body of a baby and subsequently lived a life as a normal human being.  It takes a lot to believe that and the whole thing was a matter of great dispute among the early Christians. Jesus himself did after all say: "My Father is greater than I" (John 14:28).

But along came Athanasius' Egyptian doctrine of the Trinity to quell disputes and to make some  sense of it all:  The doctrine of three persons in the one God. It's not a doctrine mentioned anywhere in Christian scripture  -- as I often point out -- but perhaps it is needed to make sense of the implausible.  That we cannot hope to understand Godhead is after all a reasonable claim.

I attended a service at my local branch of the Church of England yesterday evening: Holy Trinity Anglican Church Woolloongabba.  It's a nice-looking church, and well-maintained

To my amazement, the church was full with a good cross-section of people . I rather liked that as I see Christianity as a civilizing influence.  I thought initially that most came simply for the Xmas carols  -- which were promised and delivered -- but it seems I was wrong.  It was a Communion service and almost all of the congregation went forward to get the biscuit.

Rev. Paschke's   sermon was pedestrian, with God "rolling up his sleeves" rather a lot  -- an image I could not get with at all.  But one expects an Anglican sermon to be inoffensive junk.  I just went there for the carols.

Given my very fundamentalist early life, there was a lot more Popery in the service than I liked but I guess that I am a bit of a dinosaur there.  "Popery" is probably condemned only in Northern Ireland these days


If You Like Rights, Liberty, and Economic Opportunity, Celebrate Christmas

There is thankfully now a rich literature from which we can learn how the many principles and laws we take for granted today would have remained undiscovered had Christ not lived.

Joseph Schumpeter, Murray Rothbard, Alex Chafuen, and others have well documented the earliest roots of modern-day Austrian economics in medieval Christian scholarship—including the development of just price theory, the subjective theory of value, support for capitalism and free trade, and sophisticated thinking on money and banking (including fierce criticism of fractional-reserve banking).

[The Spanish Scholastics] taught morals and theology at the University of Salamanca, a medieval city located 150 miles to the northwest of Madrid, close to the border with Portugal. They were mainly Dominicans or Jesuits, and their view on economics closely parallels that stressed by Carl Menger more than 300 years later.

A short overview is in this excellent interview with Jesús Huerta de Soto, and Rothbard’s “New Light on the Prehistory of the Austrian School”.

These findings by Christian scholars were no accident: their discoveries were possible only because of their theology: believing that the universe was created and ruled by a just, loving, and rational Creator who had endowed His creatures with minds with which to come to know Him, they set out to discover His laws.

The sociologist Rodney Stark’s accessible ouvre traces the history of Christianity and its myriad contributions to the well-being of humanity. Among my favorites is his showing why women were especially drawn in great numbers to convert, as, for example, Roman noblewomen. The early Christian church accorded women unusual status and rights, in stark contrast with Roman society, where women were subject to their families and husbands, often forced to abort (generally a death sentence to the mother as well), and married off prepubescently to much older men. Romans also widely practiced infanticide, especially of girls. Christian women held positions of authority in the early church, chose whom they married (and married much later, as adults), and could hold title to and control of their own property.

Early Christian practice of charity and care for the sick, as during frequent plagues, also contributed to growing segments of Roman society converting, alarming the Emperor Julian so much that he ordered pagan priests to emulate their practices:

the impious Galileans support not only their poor, but ours as well, everyone can see that our people lack aid from us.

Stark also shows Christian theology as the font of reason, and lays lie to the claim that Christianity, reason, and science are somehow at odds. He documents, for example, that as with the politicization of science around today’s global warming hysteria, the much-repeated dispute between Galileo and the pope was largely a matter of political power, rather than scientific debate. (Similarly the “flat earth” myth, largely a construct of the late-nineteenth century debate over evolution. The primary medieval astronomy textbook was titled, On the Sphere.)

A short version of Stark’s thesis is in “How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and the Success of the West.”

None of this, of course, is a denial that much cruelty and stupidity has been carried out in the name of Christianity. Thus the need to look primarily to the source: Christ, his life and teachings, and their implications for how we each ought to lead our lives.



If innovation dies, it was killed by regulation

Economic historian Martin Hutchinson has some bearish Christmas thoughts for us below

In 2012, Robert Gordon postulated the thesis that innovation was slowing to a halt, so that we should not expect to continue getting the productivity gains we had enjoyed in the 19th and 20th centuries. He propounded four "headwinds" that were causing this: demographics, education, debt and inequality. At the time he wrote, this column suggested he was somewhat too pessimistic, since there were a number of technologies on the horizon that would provide further breakthrough periods. I now think I was too optimistic. I failed (as did Gordon) to take account of a fifth headwind, stronger than all the other four, which would cause the 21st century to be very different from the previous two: the dead hand of regulation.

If Thomas Malthus had lived in an era of regulation, he would have postulated a new Malthusian law: regulation expands exponentially, whereas productivity improvements occur only linearly. Hence in a modern society regulation will always outstrip productivity growth and eventually send productivity into a decline from which there is no exit. Regulation expands from two directions: from the growth in regulatory agencies (each one has to justify its own existence) and from the creation of new economic activities (regulators and special interests can find new and hitherto unimaginable dangers in anything that hasn't been done before).

When regulations must pass Congress one by one, there is some chance of technology getting there first—otherwise we wouldn't have the lightbulb. However, each new agency that is established is given devolved powers by statute, after which it is able to write regulations in its own area without effective Congressional supervision. The result is a proliferation of "glue-in-the-works" regulations that add ever-more costs to the economy, slowing innovation.

The European Union has devised an even more effective barrier to technological progress: an unaccountable bureaucracy and court system that has considerable instinctive hostility to a market economy and seeks by all means to advance its control over the economies of the union's nation states. Needless to say, with the EU now consisting of 28 members, the efforts by any one of them to resist this bureaucratic Leviathan on behalf of its own infant industries are doomed to failure.

Examples abound. Uber consists mostly of clever software to manage a taxi fleet. However in almost all cities, incumbent taxi services are able to bring sufficient pressure on the regulators to prevent Uber from taking their business. In an efficient free market, taxi services that did not have access to Uber-type technology would quickly go out of business, while new services would appear, each with a different version of the new software. Uber is thus not guiltless here; it uses the over-expansive software patent system to inhibit new entrants to its new product area of software-driven taxi services. So competition and innovation are prevented by two sets of incumbents: existing taxi services city by city and Uber itself in the software area.

Energy is an especially expensive example of regulatory overreach. Fracking, the new technology that has brought sanity to the oil market, could not be banned nationally because the EPA were not quick enough. By the time it realized the danger of the technique to their preferred "green" future, fracking had taken off. However the regulators were not hampered completely. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has now announced a state-wide ban for New York, which possesses part of the Marcellus Shale that has resulted in massive new production in adjacent Pennsylvania. As a result, the city of Binghamton in New York is condemned to continued poverty, welfare dependence and drug abuse. In last week's other Cuomo-related announcement, it won't even get a casino.

Every move in the market can be used by regulators as an excuse to impose their will. Now that oil prices have declined, you can bet that regulators will seek to cap the amount of fracking activity and Canadian tar sands production. They know that industry resistance to their diktats will be weakened, because many such projects are unprofitable at today's lower prices. Even the Keystone XL pipeline, a modest and entirely environmentally benign project that has been blocked for six years of high oil prices and massive potential profitability is now likely to be doomed by low oil prices. (In 2012, this column calculated that its annual value of the XL pipeline, given the $20 difference between Canadian and U.S. oil prices, was some $27 billion, giving it a payback period of less than four months on its initial $7 billion investment.) Even if the incoming Republican Congress uses political capital to force the project's approval, it is now very likely not to be built because in an era of low oil prices. Much of the tar-sands oil is uneconomic and the U.S./Canada price differential has more or less disappeared. Needless to say, if oil prices rise again in a few years' time, and the project's sponsors try to revive it, the regulators will find a new way to prevent them doing so.

The financial crisis of 2008 has thrown up entirely new layers of regulation in the financial industry, most of them ineffective. When the banks wanted to remove a protection in the Dodd-Frank legislation, separating the riskier swaps from the deposit-guaranteed balance sheets of the big banks, they were able to do so. Conversely, mortgage companies are now being forced to offer mortgages with a mere 3% down-payment to borrowers who might not otherwise qualify. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an entirely new agency set up free from Congressional oversight, is every day drafting new regulations to suit some lobby or another, at the cost of increased inefficiency and costs in the market for consumer finance.

As scientific advances have grown further beyond "common-sense" comprehension, the chance of crippling regulation has grown. It's much easier to use the public's fears and ignorance to prevent a technological advance that has not already manifested itself. Three advances in particular seem likely to meet with a blizzard of regulatory obstacles.

First, the enthusiasm two years ago for Amazon's announcement it would use drones for package delivery appears to have been misplaced. The regulators have determined that drones must be regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration, requiring a separate licensed pilot to operate each flight. This is akin to the pre-1896 British regulation requiring a man with a red flag to walk in front of each automobile—it effectively kills the new technology stone dead. One can have doubts about the desirability of unlimited droning (as I do) without wanting it to be held up unduly by this kind of bureaucratic obstruction.

A second, more important innovation that will meet with bureaucratic obstruction is that of self-driving cars. The technology is already here in embryonic form, but it is clear that the regulators will go down fighting on this one. Estimates when the cars first appeared two years ago that they could be fully in use within a decade now seem hopelessly over-optimistic, as obstacles to their development and testing are generating at all levels. Unlike drones, these could genuinely revolutionize the lives of many people, in particular the old and those with limited eyesight. Regulation may prevent that potential from ever coming to fruition.

Finally, and most important, there are the host of regulations in the field of genetic engineering. This is by far the most important group of innovations of the next 100 years, enabling us to conquer disease and aging, and possibly to improve the genetic makeup of future generations. It is however already the object of Luddite levels of regulation, to the extent that many promising fields of experimentation are already illegal in the U.S. There is some hope that the Asian countries, whose Confucian ethical backgrounds raise fewer problems with genetic manipulation than do the Abrahamic religions, may push humanity forward in this area. However, even then, any advances are likely to face massive bureaucratic resistance internationally from the U.S. and Europe.

The inexorable decline in U.S. productivity growth over the last 40 years is no accident. It has coincided with advances made by the regulatory state. As Leviathan's power becomes exponentially greater, its ability to obstruct major innovation increases. New forms of social media and new cellphone games will be invented. They pose no threat to the regulatory state, but they also do little if anything to improve productivity and living standards in any fundamental way. But the major innovations that change our lives and make us all richer look increasingly likely to face permanent or near-permanent obstruction.

Thus Gordon's nightmare of ever-slowing innovation seems likely to be fulfilled, but not because of any lack of inventiveness in the tech-savvy population, now multiplied many-fold by the spread of modern education to China, India and other emerging markets. Instead, the regulators will first slow innovation then, as they move closer to omnipotence, prevent it altogether. For the world's living standards, Malthus' gloomy prediction of universal immiseration will come to fruition, but through a mechanism that, writing in the loosely regulated small-government 18th century, he could never have imagined.



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated) and Coral reef compendium. (Updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten.

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