Friday, September 26, 2014

The resveratrol myth is slowly unwinding

That anti-oxidants in food are good for you has by now been extensively debunked.  There is some evidence that they are bad for you. See here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here, for instance.   And a favorite anti-oxidant is resveratrol.  The latest report:

Pregnant women who have the odd drink should avoid red wine, researchers suggest.  They say that an ingredient in the wine that is normally viewed as healthy could harm their unborn child's pancreas.

Resveratrol has been credited with having protective effects against heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer's disease and a number of other conditions.

Naturally present in red wine, red grapes and some berries, it is also available as a supplement.

However, a study now suggests it can lead to developmental abnormalities in the foetal pancreas. The study was carried out by the Division of Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism and the Division of Reproductive and Development Science at Oregon Health and Science University in the United States.

Lead researcher on the study Dr Kevin Gove said: 'This study has direct relevance to human health. 'Resveratrol is widely used for its recognised health benefits, and is readily available over the counter.

'The important message in this study is that women should be very careful about what they consume while pregnant, and they should not take supplements, like Resveratrol, without consulting with their doctors.  'What might be good for the mother may not be good for the baby.'

As part of the study, Dr Grove and colleagues gave resveratrol supplements every day throughout pregnancy to obese macaque monkeys eating a Western diet.

A second group of obese monkeys was not given the supplement, and both were compared with lean monkeys fed a healthy diet.

The animals were closely monitored for health complications, and blood flow through the placenta was determined by ultrasound.

The foetuses were analysed for developmental abnormalities, and findings showed definitive evidence of pancreatic abnormalities.

The study was published in the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology Journal.



A Potentially Deadly Denial of Reality

The ideologically-inspired bankruptcy of the Obama administration and the Democratic Party remains unrelenting.

Last Thursday, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) introduced a bill in the Senate that would revoke citizenship for Americans who join ISIS. Believing time is of the essence, Cruz sought to fast track the Expatriate Terrorist Act, meaning he bypassed the normal Senate committee process. He did so because the Senate is nearing the end of its current session and having the bill go through committee “would mean that it could not pass in time to prevent Americans fighting right now with ISIS from coming back and murdering other Americans,” he said. "There is an urgency and an exigency to this situation,“ Cruz added.

Unfortunately, fast tracking the bill left it vulnerable to defeat if a single Senator objected. Enter freshman Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) who blocked the bill because "legislation that grants the government the ability to strip citizenship from Americans is a serious matter raising significant constitutional issues.” And as surely as night follows day, White House press secretary Josh Earnest confirmed Monday that reports citing an unnamed senior administration official claiming that some of those Americans had in fact returned home were accurate.

There are no exact numbers, but the National Counterterrorism Center estimates more than 100 Americans have gone overseas to join the battle against their own country. “It includes those who’ve gone, those who’ve tried to go, some who’ve come back," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity at a briefing. He sought to reassure the public, insisting "the FBI is looking at them.”

Such reassurances ring exceedingly hollow. The same FBI spent considerable time "looking" at Fort Hood shooter Maj. Nidal Hasan, and did nothing. They also looked at Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev, before they ultimately decided there was no merit to the Russian warning that Tsarnaev was associating with Islamic terrorists.

The common denominator? The same stifling political correctness likely to render the FBI equally impotent in their effort to keep track of American born traitors.

Rep. Tim Bishop (D-NY) epitomizes the logic-numbing contradictions that arise when one seeks to reconcile such political correctness with daunting reality. “One of the concerns is the number of U.S. citizens who have left our country to go join up with ISIS,” he noted during a speech last week. “It is believed there have been some number up to 100 that have done that.” He then shocked the crowd. “It is also believed that some 40 of those who left this country to join up with ISIS have now returned to our country,” he revealed, also adding the ostensible the reassurance about the FBI “looking” at them.

After that Bishop proceeded to go over the politically correct cliff, insisting that “at the present time, the intelligence is ISIS does not present a threat to the homeland,” even as he hedged, noting that such a reality is “not something that will remain static going out into the future.”

One is left to wonder about the quality of that intelligence. In an interview last week, Director of Intelligence James Clapper, who once told the nation that the Muslim Brotherhood was a “largely secular” group that had “eschewed violence," admitted his agency had "underestimated” ISIS’s capacity even as he further noted that he couldn’t provide a timeline about how soon the terrorist group would have the capacity to attack the United States.

Clapper is not anomalous. Last Wednesday, Francis Taylor, under secretary for intelligence and analysis at DHS, testified at a Senate hearing that ISIS terrorists are known to be plotting ways to infiltrate our porous Southern border, even as he laughingly insisted that he was “satisfied we have the intelligence and the capability on our border that would prevent that activity.” When Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) pointed out the absurdity of that claim, noting that activist James O'Keefe had videotaped himself crossing the border – wearing a Bin Laden mask in one attempt – Taylor had no response.

Taylor’s cluelessness is apparently shared by DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson. During a House Homeland Security hearing last Wednesday, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) asked Johnson if he was aware of any “apprehensions of suspected or known terrorists” attempting to illegally enter the United States. “Sitting here right now, no specific case comes to mind,” Johnson responded. “That doesn’t mean there is none.” Chaffetz asked Johnson if he knew four suspected terrorists with “ties to known terrorist organizations in the Middle East” were detained at two different locations on the Southwest border Sept. 10. "I’ve heard reports to that effect. I don’t know the accuracy of the reports or how much credence to give them, but I’ve heard reports to that effect,“ Johnson responded.

Johnson does get credit for opposing a plan by the Obama administration to lift an 1983 ban on Libyans coming to America – to study aviation or nuclear sciences. Remarkably, both the State and Defense Departments claim the ban is outdated because such training would help Libyans reconstitute their military. They further insist the screening process preventing potential terrorists from obtaining the necessary visas is much improved, and that the ban in unnecessary because Libya has "evolved” since it was imposed.

Libya has indeed “evolved.” Courtesy of the president’s “leading from behind” campaign that toppled Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya has evolved into “a chaotic failed state that exists in name only,” in which “radical jihadist groups have free rein," explains former House Intelligence Committee chairman Pete Hoestra. Despite Johnson’s assurances, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte (R-VA), along with Reps. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) and Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), have said they will continue moving forward with a bill to lock in the ban. "Libya’s government remains unstable today and the country is becoming more dangerous as rival rebel groups battle each other for control of Libya’s cities,” they said in a joint statement. “It’s necessary that we keep this ban on Libyans in place so that we protect Americans and our national security from threats in Libya.”

And from the Obama administration as well.

In a National Review column aptly titled “A Confederacy of Dunces?” historian Victor Davis Hanson chronicles the track record of Obama administration officials who remain in “resolute denial” regarding radical Islam. They include Clapper and his aforementioned admissions, as well as CIA Director John Brennan, who once dismissed the notion of an Islamic caliphate as “absurd,” and has referred to jihad on a number of occasions as “a holy struggle,” and “a legitimate tenet of Islam.” Hanson also reminds us that former DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano gave us the term “man caused disasters” as a substitute for terrorist attacks, even as she claimed “the system worked” when Omar Farouk Abdulmutallab was able to board a jetliner with a bomb that failed to detonate. Secretary of State John Kerry once assured us that Bashar Assad was a “man of his word” and “generous,” before he himself evolved and threatened Assad with strikes that would be “unbelievably small” for crossing a chemical “red line” that both he and Obama subsequently disavowed.

As for President Obama himself, perhaps nothing illuminates a resolute denial of reality better than his contention that the self-identified Islamic State in Iraq and Syria “is not Islamic.” Such utterly pernicious nonsense is dismissed by examples from the Koran itself:

“I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them” (8:12).

“When the sacred months are over slay the idolaters wherever you find them. Arrest them, besiege them, and lie in ambush everywhere for them. If they repent and take to prayer and render the alms levy, allow them to go their way. God is forgiving and merciful” (9:5).

“Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth” (9:29).

And while Islam’s defenders point out there ware verses such as “In matters of faith there shall be no compulsion” (2:256), they conveniently omit to mention the concept of "abrogation,“ which posits that later revelations supersede earlier ones.

The verses advocating violence against unbelievers come after the ones urging peace and conciliation.

Yesterday, the Obama administration embarked an a bombing campaign against ISIS in Syria. Why the sudden urgency? A previously unidentified terrorist offshoot of Al Qaeda, the Khorasan Group, "was in the final stages of plans to execute major attacks against Western targets and potentially the U.S. homeland," said Lt. Gen. William Mayville, the director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

That would be the same U.S. homeland that suddenly seems far more vulnerable to attack than we’ve been led to believe by perhaps the worst assemblage of security experts this nation has ever endured. An assemblage that must be dragged kicking and screaming towards the most important reality they continue to deny: time is of the essence.

Every day we pretend that "non-Islamic” ISIS and other terror organizations can be “managed” by airstrikes alone is a day when more Americans recruits can be drawn to a jihad whose attractiveness increases in direct proportion to the Obama administration’s increasingly feckless denial of reality. Make no mistake: we are in the midst of a civilizational struggle. If we fail to meet it with the necessary force and clarity, America will indeed be “fundamentally transformed” – one domestic attack after another.



Should the UN be shut down?

Philanthropist Kenneth S. Abramowitz has issued a call to "save western civilization from itself" by shutting down the United Nations, among other measures.

As part of a general effort to fight the false narratives and terminology propagated by the left wing, Abramowitz says that the UN should no longer be portrayed as an important advance for world peace. In fact, he states, it has been taken over by dictatorships and should be closed.

Abramowitz says that the rational citizens of the West must cease using the enemy's terms - like "Second Intifada" for the terror war unleashed against Israel in the wake of the Oslo Accords, or "occupation" and "West Bank" for the Jewish liberation of the Biblical heartland of Judea and Samaria.

Among the most noxious false narratives in the world today, Abramowitz identifies the description of Islam as "a religion of peace" when in fact its terror arms an only be defeated by military means; the belief that a "peace process" will placate Israel's Arab enemies when in fact, appeasement guarantees war - and the claim that the West suffers from irrational, racist "Islamophobia," when in fact it simply exhibits "a normal, rational fear of Islamists - not Muslims."

Abramowitz depicts the global struggle as one in which "rational centrists" in Western civilization are under attack from within - by leftists, as well as naïve isolationists - and from without - by Islamists and the United Nations.



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, September 25, 2014

ObamaCare Devalues Life

Over the last several decades, Americans have statistically had one of the lowest mortality rates in the world. This fact can be attributed to advances in medicine, surgical procedures and lifestyle changes amongst our populace to prolong life. Americans valued life – and most still do. Many Americans, both young and old, have turned to dieting, exercising and taking vitamins and supplements to enhance their immune system to try to live longer. In the words of health policy guru Ezekiel Emanuel, these choices and activities can now be defined as a culture of the “American immortal.”

According to Emanuel, however, “living too long is also a loss.” In his writing he opines that once a person reaches a point in life where he or she can’t contribute to society any more, it’s time for them to consider making choices that will allow them to leave the world sooner rather than later. He argues that since many elderly often become mentally incapacitated and the chances of having a stroke, heart attack and cancer increase, they and those around them would be better off if their life was not prolonged. After all, who wants to be left with taking care of someone who can’t take care of themselves, and who wants to pay for all those medical bills?

“By the time I reach 75,” Emanuel writes, “I will have lived a complete life. I will have loved and been loved. My children will be grown and in the midst of their own rich lives. I will have seen my grandchildren born and beginning their lives. I will have pursued my life’s projects and made whatever contributions, important or not, I am going to make.” Why should someone who has lived a long, full life need to live any longer?

Because life is precious. Life is valuable. For numerous reasons, humans generally desire to live as long as possible. If we as human beings didn’t place such a high value on life, then why would so many people seek to improve their health, visit the doctor to receive treatment for illnesses, take vitamins and do as much as possible to keep those around us alive for as long as we can?

To be clear, Emanuel does not advocate (at least in the article) for euthanasia, or for physician assisted suicide. But he suggests the burden of an elderly person’s life is not worth the cost to have them kept alive for their last remaining years.

That may be a legitimate question for us to consider individually and with our families as we age, but Emanuel’s thoughts are particularly influential. He is director of the Clinical Bioethics Department at the U.S. National Institutes of Health, and he heads the Department of Medical Ethics & Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania. But more than that, he was a chief architect of ObamaCare.

His devaluation of old age is a huge warning sign pointing to public policies featuring the notion that elderly people don’t need to live past a certain point. If likeminded people get their way, writes National Review’s Wesley J. Smith, then “it won’t be so much about choosing not to receive expensive care after 75, but being unable to get it even if that’s what you want.”

Surely this can’t happen, not in America. Not after being told that more Americans have access to better health insurance than ever before. Not after being told that premiums for average households would go down. And certainly not after Barack Obama himself declared that if you like your doctor you can keep your doctor. But what if we’re told when we can see our doctor? If the recent findings of the Veterans Administration in Phoenix are any indication as to what the waiting list might look like for our entire nation under government run health care – and we think they absolutely are – then we’re in serious trouble.

Regarding the deaths of up to 40 veterans, Inspector General Robert Griffin stated in a recent report, “I think that in our report a careful reading shows they might have lived longer or had a better quality of life” if there had not been delays in care. If veterans have to wait for care and treatment, then what will the wait for tens of millions of people look like under ObamaCare? Will those who have “lived long enough” be moved down the list to make room for younger people?

Bureaucrats can’t make the best choices for you and your family. Individuals should have the freedom to choose which doctor they see and what (if any) treatment to receive (and when to receive it) based on advice from their doctor and family members. Public policies that deny this choice not only devalue life, but deny it. Denying life is one of most egregious crimes against society that a government can commit, and we the people cannot tolerate it.



Hillary Clinton's Letters to Saul Alinsky Prove Her Radicalism

Correspondence between Hillary Clinton and leftist organizer Saul Alinsky was recently made public by The Washington Free Beacon, and it proves the danger posed to this country should Clinton win her as-yet-unannounced bid for the White House. One thing is clear: Hillary is no “moderate.”

Clinton wrote the letters in 1971 while she was living in Berkeley, California, interning at Trehauft, Walker and Bernstein, a leftist law firm that counted the Black Panthers among its clients. In the exchanges, Clinton inquired about the expected publication of Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals,” his work on organizing for socialist change that has since become the bible for leftist activism. “I have just had my one-thousandth conversation about Reveille [for Radicals] and need some new material to throw at people,” she wrote.

Of his “Rules for Radicals” (which by the way was dedicated to Lucifer), Alinsky wrote, “The Prince was written by Machiavelli for the Haves on how to hold power. Rules for Radicals is written for the Have-nots on how to take it away.” Note: If you’re in a middle-class family struggling to make ends meet, Alinsky would have considered you a Have, not a Have-Not.

Clinton corresponded with Alinsky between 1968, when she was a Wellesley student writing a thesis about him, and his death in 1972. Some of their exchanges detailed not only her adoration for his ideology and political strategy, but her thought process on going to law school to work to achieve change from the inside. Alinsky’s view of achieving radical social change was to work incrementally both within institutions and outside them. He recognized, particularly through viewing the failures of the New Left during the late 1960s, that America was not ready for socialism. His methods called for ideological stealth and gradualism under the cover of pragmatism.

While Clinton turned down an invitation to work for Alinsky, she never forgot his guiding principles. She offered only a paragraph about him in her book “Living History,” deliberately playing down the man who obviously figured prominently in her political education. Another fine example of pragmatic cover a la Alinsky was that her Wellesley thesis was sealed from public view until 2001 at the request of the Clinton White House. Alinsky’s disciples go to great lengths to cover their tracks.

Hillary was a principal force in the White House that pulled Bill to the left during his presidency. In fact, it was many of her actions during the early years of the co-presidency that caused Democrats to lose Congress in 1994 and almost cost Clinton re-election. Is there any reason to believe that Hillary has mellowed in recent years? None at all.

A Hillary Clinton presidency would be an opportunity for her and her leftist friends to push their agenda even further than they did under Obama. This country may not survive two Chicago activists in a row. It will be hard enough to undo the damage Obama has done. If Clinton follows him into the White House, it will be like a third Obama term that will embed ObamaCare into our society forever, send the investment class permanently overseas, and leave the economic scraps for her fellow domestic Alinsky disciples.



What Jack Ma Can Re-Teach America

Jack Ma is the founder of the Chinese Internet retailer Alibaba. According to The New York Times, Alibaba is “the world’s largest Internet commerce company, with 231 million active buyers using its site, 11.3 billion annual orders and $296 billion in annual merchandise sales.” Its initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange established its value at $168 billion, 2-½ times the size of eBay. But, unlike the fairy tale Ali Baba, Jack Ma is no thief. He has, however, “borrowed” from American ideals we seem to have forgotten in an age of envy, greed and entitlement. Incredibly, he has become a success in communist China, an unlikely place to find such principles practiced.

While there are legitimate concerns over how the Chinese government might capture and use credit card numbers and other information that flows through Alibaba’s website, the philosophy Jack Ma embraced on his road to success is straight from an older and nearly forgotten America.

In addition to business advice, the website has compiled some of Ma’s sayings that are the antithesis of Mao Zedong’s “Little Red Book” in which Chairman Mao laid out Communist Party principles.

Here are some thoughts from Chairman Jack:

“What is failure: Giving up is the greatest failure.”

“What your duties are: To be more diligent, hardworking and ambitious than others.”

In modern America we punish the fruits of hard work and ambition with higher taxes and more regulation, forcing many businesses to seek relief by moving overseas. As The Wall Street Journal reported last week, “With the developed world’s highest corporate tax rate at over 39 percent, including state levies, plus a rare demand that money earned overseas should be taxed as if it were earned domestically, the U.S. is almost in a class by itself. It ranks just behind Spain and Italy, of all economic humiliations. America did beat Portugal and France, which is currently run by an avowed socialist.”

To those who waste energy complaining, Jack Ma offers this advice: “If you complain or whine once in a while, it is not a big deal. However, if it becomes habitual, it will be similar to drinking: the more you drink, the stronger the thirst. On the path to success, you will notice that the successful ones are not whiners, nor do they complain often.”

To an older generation these truths are beyond debate and when applied they can improve any life.

Jack Ma has scrupulously avoided politics and advises people in business to do the same, which is probably why the Beijing dictatorship has allowed him to pursue his goals. Apparently, they do not see him as a threat to their hold on power.

Still, the principles Ma used to build his giant firm are ready-made for the Republican Party, which seems to have no positive message and is cowering in shadows for fear of being demonized by media and the left.

Jack Ma has some wisdom on that score. He says you can’t unify everyone’s thoughts, but you can unify everyone through a common goal.

While his message applies to anyone, anemic Republicans could use it most. They should stop whining about President Obama and start focusing on principles with a track record of success.

Unlike in the fairy tale, such a treasure doesn’t need a secret phrase to unlock it. It’s right in front of them and there for the taking.



Ret. Marine General: Obama’s ISIS plan hasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell of succeeding

About two weeks ago, President Obama laid out his ISIS strategy, and he is struggling to garner support - not only from an alliance or coalition (which is lacking, as no one is naming the countries or their level of support) - but also from senior military generals and defense officials, current and retired, who certainly know something about battle. The latest torpedo comes from a former Commandant of the US Marine Corps, General James Conway.

As reported by The Daily Caller, "The man who was the top Marine general from 2006 until his retirement in 2010 says President Barack Obama's strategy to defeat the terrorist group, Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, is doomed to fail. "I don't think the president's plan has a snowball's chance in hell of succeeding," retired Marine General James Conway, who served as the 34th Commandant of the Marine Corps during the end of the Bush administration and the beginning of the Obama administration, said at the Maverick PAC Conference in Washington, D.C. Friday, according to a source in attendance."

You can always count on a Marine to not mince words. Then again, this is something we all knew was the case two weeks ago, when Obama delivered his 15-minute empty speech which focused more on what he was not going to do along with self-righteous indignation in dismissing ISIS' Islamic ideology.

Another highly decorated and regarded US Marine General chimed in on the subject. As the Daily Caller reports, former CENTCOM Commander retired General James "Mad Dog" Mattis told the House Intelligence Committee, "You just don't take anything off the table up front, which it appears the administration has tried to do. Specifically, if this threat to our nation is determined to be as significant as I believe it is, we may not wish to reassure our enemies our enemies in advance that they will not see American ‘boots on the ground.' If a brigade of our paratroopers or a battalion landing team of our Marines would strengthen our allies at a key juncture and create havoc/humiliation for our adversaries, then we should do what is necessary with our forces that exist for that very purpose."

Even former Obama administration Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, has confided in an interview that he was against the withdrawal of our forces from Iraq. So who does Obama listen to? Obviously not the people assigned to key national security positions. I suppose being a complete political animal means he only confides in Darth Vader's sister, Valerie Jarrett. Of course if this were a campaign, then David Axelrod and David Plouffe would be in charge. Maybe behind the scenes, Chicago is still running our country.

We are slowly watching the demise of our nation at the hands of an egomaniacal intransigent ideologue. We will be ultimately victorious, but the pain is going to be rather intense for a period of time.



Obama hits at companies moving overseas to avoid America's high taxes

The Treasury passed rules Monday to discourage U.S. companies from moving overseas in an attempt to escape the nation's ravenous tax laws. They are effective immediately. There was no public comment period, no debate in Congress. One day, Barack Obama was complaining, Warren Buffett was investing in Burger King's inversion and we were making jokes about donut burgers.

The Treasury ignored the true problem of America's failed tax laws, refusing to create a climate that would encourage businesses to return to this country, and instead made polices that would eat into the profits on inverting companies. One swoop, one day and there are more shackles on America's economy. The Leviathan hath moved.



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)


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Is Obamacare Working?

Yes, according to Paul Krugman, Ezra Klein, and the Commonwealth Fund. But all these folks were cheerleaders for the Affordable Care Act from day one.

Sarah Kliff, another Obamacare supporter, estimates that health reform has enabled about 5 million people to become newly insured. But that’s only about 10 percent of the uninsured. What happened to the mandate that required that everyone have health insurance this year or face a fine? Turns out that the mandate doesn’t actually apply to millions of people. In fact, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that 90 percent of the uninsured are exempt from the mandate.

Certain exemptions are written into the law itself. For example, the mandate doesn’t apply to American Indians, to people who have religious objections, or to people who earn too little to be required to file an income tax return. But as I wrote at Forbes the other day:

"... the administration has piled on with 14 ways people can avoid the fine based on hardships. These include homelessness, domestic violence, being evicted from a residence, having a utility cut off, property damage from a fire or flood, and even a canceled insurance plan. Also, people can avoid the penalty if a close family member has died recently or if they have medical expenses resulting in substantial debt."

It gets worse. Many of the people who signed up didn’t pay their first premium. Of those who did, many have stopped paying. For example, Aetna is estimating that by the end of this year they will have lost about 30 percent of their initial enrollees. There is a report of similar attrition out of Florida, which has apparently lost one-fourth of its initial enrollees already. The administration, which has access to national numbers, has refused to release any information on such “buyer’s remorse” since May.

Underlying all this is the fact that millions of newly insured people didn’t understand what they were buying, even though their premiums are being heavily subsidized. As Lena Sun, writing in the Washington Post, reported:

"Nonprofit organizations across the country are being swamped by consumers with questions. Many are low-income, have never had insurance and have little knowledge of the health-care system. The rampant confusion poses a potential hurdle for the success of the health law: If many Americans don’t understand how health insurance works, that could hurt their ability to use their benefits – or to keep their coverage altogether."

Health insurance guru Robert Laszewski puts it this way:

"So what you’ve got is an insurance industry that did not do a good job in gearing up for a population that has never had health insurance before, an Obama administration that did a horrible job on the back end, resulting in a flood of calls to insurer call centers, and a population that is low-income and is not health-insurance literate. Put those things in a bag and you’ve got a problem."

So if Obamacare is failing miserably at insuring the uninsured, what difference does it make? Even though the health insurance mandate is affecting very few of the uninsured, it is having a major effect on people who are insured.

Up to 80 percent of the people who had individual insurance last year will lose their coverage by the time all the Obamacare rules completely set in. Up to 90 percent of the plans that cover people at work will lose their grandfathered status. In many of these cases, people are being forced to buy richer and more expensive plans — with more coverage than they want or need. In other cases, they may lose insurance altogether.



Why Rouhani loves New York

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s trip to New York next week will be a welcome relief for the Iranian leader. Finally, he’ll be somewhere where he’s appreciated, even loved.

Ahead of his trip to America, the US media continued its practice of presenting Rouhani as a moderate, and a natural ally for the US. NBC News’ Anne Curry interviewed Rouhani in Tehran, focusing her attention on his dim view of Islamic State.

Rouhani told Curry, “From the viewpoint of the Islamic tenets and culture, killing an innocent people equals the killing of the whole humanity. And therefore, the killing and beheading of innocent people in fact is a matter of shame for them and it’s the matter of concern and sorrow for all the human and all the mankind.”

The US media and political establishment’s willingness to take Rouhani at his word when he says that he’s a moderate is one of the reasons that [Israeli] Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz was in such a desolate mood on Wednesday.

During a briefing with the foreign media, Steinitz described the state of negotiations between the US and its negotiating partners – Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany – and Iran regarding its illicit nuclear weapons program.

The briefing followed the latest round of the biennial Israeli-US strategic dialogue. Steinitz led the Israeli delegation to the talks, which focused on Iran, the week before nuclear talks were scheduled to be renewed.

One of Steinitz’s chief concerns was the US’s insistence that Rouhani is a moderate.

In his words, “The only thing that has changed [since Rouhani replaced president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad] is the tone. The only difference is that the world was unwilling to hear from Ahmadinejad and [his nuclear negotiator Saeed] Jalili, what it is willing to listen to from Rouhani and [Iranian Foreign Minister Javad] Zarif.”

Unlike the Americans, the Iranian people are through with the fiction that Rouhani is a moderate, which is why he no doubt will be happier in New York than in Tehran.

Rouhani’s trip to New York coincides with his one-year anniversary in office. Since he took power, a thousand Iranians have been executed by the regime. Forty-five people were executed in just the past two weeks.

According to Iranian scholar Majid Rafizadeh, the public’s tolerance for regime violence has reached a breaking point.

In an article in the Frontpage Magazine online journal, Rafizadeh described how 3,000 people descended on regime executioners as they were poised to kill a youth in Mahmoudabad in northern Iran. The protest forced them to call off the show.

They murdered the young man the next day, when no one was looking.

As Iran scholar Dr. Michael Ledeen has explained, the rise in regime brutality is directly proportional to the threat it perceives from the public.

And the regime has good reason to be worried.

Anti-regime protests and strikes occur countrywide, every day.

For instance, from September 9-14, MEK, an Iranian opposition group, documented public protests against security forces and attacks on regime agents in Tehran, Zanzan, Bane, Qom, Karaj and Bandar Abbas.

These actions ran the gamut from a strike by a thousand gas workers in the Aslaviyah gas fields who protested searches of their dormitory rooms by regime agents, to two separate assaults on military vehicles in Zanzan, to youth responding violently in cities throughout the country when regime agents tried to enforce Islamic dress codes on women and girls.

Under the same Rouhani who waxed so poetically against beheadings when speaking to an overeager NBC reporter, not only have state executions have massively intensified. Public floggings, public hand amputations and other public demonstrations of regime brutality have also expanded to levels unseen in recent years.

Rouhani promised to protect women’s rights. Yet since he took office, women’s rights have been severely curtailed.

Last month, the Revolutionary Guards barred women from working as waitresses. In July, Tehran’s mayor barred women from sharing workspace with men. These moves and others like them, aimed at enforcing gender apartheid in all public places in the country, force millions of women into poverty. The official unemployment level for women is already hovering around 20 percent.

Then there are Iran’s other social ills, for instance drug addiction.

Iran has the highest level of drug addiction in the world. According to Babak Dinparast, a senior Iranian drug enforcement official, some 3.5 million Iranians, or 4.4% of the population, are drug users.

In April, Dinparast made the stunning claim that 53% of drug users are government employees.

According to the Iranian parliament’s research institute, the average productive hours of Iranian workers is 22 minutes a day.

In Transparency International’s ranking of administrative and economic corruption, Iran ranks 144th out of 177 countries.

In other words, Iran is coming apart at the seams. The people cannot stand the regime. The regime, incompetent and unwilling to tackle any of Iran’s problems, responds to the public’s outrage with massive, brutal repression.

If left to its own devices, in all likelihood, the Iranian regime would have been toppled five years ago when it falsified the results of the 2009 presidential elections, and so fomented the Green Revolution But the people of Iran didn’t bet on the regime’s ace in the hole: the Obama administration.

The same Obama administration that supported the overthrow of US allies in the war on Islamic jihad – Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi – stood by the Iranian regime as it massacred its people in the streets of Iranian cities for daring to demand their freedom.

If the 2009 Green Revolution was the gravest threat the regime had faced since the 1979 revolution brought it to power, today the regime is also imperiled.

On Monday, Iran’s dictator Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was released from the hospital after undergoing prostate surgery. Several strategic analyses published since then claim that his days are numbered and that as a consequence, the regime faces a period of profound uncertainty and instability.

The Iranian people are watching all of this, and waiting.

As was the case in 2009, the disaffected Iranians, who hate their regime and want good relations with the US and the West, remain the greatest threat to the regime.

Beyond its borders, Iran is also under stress. With its Revolutionary Guard and Hezbollah forces committed to Syria in defense of Bashar Assad, Iran finds its position in Iraq threatened by the rising power of Islamic State.

Yet, as happened in 2009, in the midst of this gathering storm, the Obama administration is rushing to the mullahs’ rescue, begging Iran to support US efforts to fight Islamic State, indeed claiming that securing Iran’s support and cooperation is a necessary precondition for the mission’s success.

To say that this US policy is madness is an understatement.

As Michael Weiss documented in Foreign Policy in June, Iran and its puppet, the Syrian regime, played central roles in facilitating the development and empowerment of Islamic State both in Syria and Iraq. A defector from the Syrian Military Intelligence Directorate reported in January that the regime helped form Islamic State.

First, it sprang Sunni jihadist leaders from Sednaya prison in 2011. Then, it facilitated in the creation of the armed brigades that became Islamic State.

The idea was that through Islamic State, it could tarnish the reputation of all of its opponents by claiming they were all jihadists.

US military officers with deep knowledge of Iran’s role in Iraq told Weiss that Islamic State’s leadership entered Iraq from Iran.

A key al-Qaida financier, Olimzhon Adkhamovich Sadikov, was charged in February by the US Treasury Department with “provid[ing] logistical support and funding to al-Qaida’s Iran-based network.”

US Army Col. Rick Welch, who served as the military liaison to both the Sunni tribes and the Shi’ite militia in Iraq during the 2007-2008 US military surge, told Weiss that the assessment of Iraqi Sunnis and Shi’ites alike was that “Iran was funding any group that would keep Iraq in chaos.”

Iran sought chaos in order to prevent the establishment of a stable Iraqi government allied with the US while incrementally establishing Iranian control over the country.

Iran’s actions in Iraq and Syria, in other words, have for the past decade been focused on expanding Iranian power at the expense of the US and the Iraqi and Syrian people.

This behavior of course is in line with Iran’s global strategy. From its support for Hamas to its control over Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad, from developing a strategic alliance with Venezuela to expanding its presence throughout South and Central America, through its closely cultivated relationship with Russia, Iran’s every move involves expanding its power and influence at America’s expense.

And yet, despite this, the Obama administration has made strengthening the Iranian regime and appeasing it the centerpiece of its Middle East policy.

President Barack Obama told Jeffrey Goldberg in March that Iran is a rational actor that the US can do business with.

He said, “If you look at Iranian behavior, they are strategic, and they’re not impulsive. They have a worldview, and they see their interests, and they respond to costs and benefits.”

As Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry apparently now perceive things, Iran opposes Islamic State, and therefore it will play a supportive role in the US campaign against Islamic State. Moreover, by participating in the campaign, Iran will demonstrate its good faith and so make it possible for the US to cut a deal with the mullahs that will legitimize their illicit uranium enrichment – because really, how big a threat can a country that opposes Islamic State be?

As for Iran, it sees its interest as having the US destroy Islamic State, and if possible, having the US pay Iran for the privilege of fighting Iran’s war – against the foe Iran did so much to create.

And this brings us back to Steinitz’s gloomy assessment of the talks with Iran. Steinitz warned against the growing prospect of the US caving in to Iran’s nuclear demands as a payoff for Iranian support against Islamic State.

In his words, “Some people might think, ‘Let’s clean the table, let’s close the [nuclear] file,” in order to get Iran on board against Islamic State.

Unfortunately for Steinitz, and for the rest of the world, including the US, the Obama administration seems bent on proving him right.

Today the Iranian regime is weaker than it has been since it violently repressed the Green Revolution.

And that is why Rouhani is happy to be coming to New York.

He is certain that now, as then, the Obama administration will save the regime. This, even as the mullahs advance their goal of becoming the hegemons of the Middle East at the US’s expense, and completing their nuclear weapons program, which will secure the regime for decades to come, and threaten America directly.



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, September 23, 2014

Even Hong Kong has too much government

You often read very thoughtful progressives explain why the government sector in the US is too small. You'd think 40% of GDP would be enough, but they insist we have "unmet needs" for a single-payer health care system (18% of GDP), universal preschool, etc. We should be spending something closer to 50% to 55%, like France or the Nordic countries.

If you ever find yourself starting to be persuaded I suggest you visit Hong Kong. I just got back from a trip to Hong Kong (previously I had visited in 1991 and 1999), and marveled at the world class infrastructure. Others seem to have been similarly impressed, as a recent study ranked Hong Kong's infrastructure number one in the world. This in an economy where government spending is 18.5% of GDP, vs. 41.6% in the US.

I don't know how good their schools and health care are, but their life expectancy is third highest in the world (trailing Japan and Singapore) despite bad air pollution. And they score very well on international education rankings.

Hong Kong does have its share of problems. I've mentioned air pollution--although in fairness a lot of that is beyond the government's control--drifting down from the heavily industrialized Pearl River Delta. They also have a lot of income inequality. I'd say that's partly offset by two factors. Many of the poor are immigrants from much poorer countries, who come to HK to do jobs like housekeeping. And all classes in Hong Kong are vastly better off than a few decades ago.

Hong Kong's per capita GDP (PPP) is now about the same as the US. The appearance of the city is a real hodgepodge, with older buildings in Kowloon looking awful, unless you have nostalgia for the HK of films like Chungking Express and In the Mood For Love. (And what movie buff doesn't?) But those old concrete tenements are rapidly being replaced by glitzy new buildings. There's a big hole in the ground where they're building a new high-speed rail station. Imagine getting on the train in tropical HK, and getting off the train in wintry Beijing, the very same day.

What impresses me the most is not so much the current position of Hong Kong, but rather it's trajectory. Unlike the US and Europe, it is still seeing rapid improvement. The fact that an economy can do so well with the government spending only 18.5% of GDP makes me even more skeptical of the progressives' call for a bigger welfare state in the US. If we are spending 41% of GDP, then the problems here are not due to any lack of resources for the government.

Now let's consider what is universally viewed as Hong Kong's greatest failing---housing. It's very expensive, and even middle class people live in very small apartments in high-rise towers. Now consider that real estate is the one sector where Hong Kong's government is heavily involved in the economy. They own most of the land, and sell only very limited amounts of land for new construction. Many people in otherwise laissez-faire Hong Kong live in public housing projects. So it appears that the biggest problem in relatively libertarian Hong Kong is too much government. More specifically, too much government involvement in housing. They should privatize both the land and the public housing projects. Here's an interesting article by Richard Wong of the University of Hong Kong:

The value of Hong Kong's housing capital last year was estimated at HK$6.8 trillion, or 320 per cent of gross domestic product. This is the net value of private residential housing at market prices, based on gross market value minus the value of outstanding mortgage loans. Total loans were a modest HK$900 billion - a mere 11.8 per cent of the gross market value.

In Hong Kong, private residential housing only accommodates about half the population. The other half is in government-provided public rental housing and subsidised ownership homes, mainly tenant purchase scheme and homeownership scheme flats.

The market value of government-provided housing is very substantial, but because there are extremely severe restrictions limiting their use either as rental property or as assets for sale on the open market, their values are highly discounted. They simply provide shelter for the original occupants. As such, they are marginal to the market economy and measured GDP.

Privatisation of public rental units and deregulation of sale restrictions for ownership units, on the other hand, would substantially enhance the market value of government housing. What would be their market value if such steps were taken?

Based on the open market transaction prices of HOS and TPS flats, the gross market value of public rental housing units is estimated at HK$2.45 trillion, TPS homes at HK$410 billion, and HOS flats at HK$1.56 trillion. The total value of government subsidised housing is therefore HK$4.42 trillion, or 208 per cent of GDP.

What will be the economic gain to society from the privatising of public rental housing and waiving or substantially lowering of unpaid land premiums on all government-subsidised housing units? The value of private and public housing stock would easily amount to HK$11.24 trillion, or 528 per cent of GDP.

To put this percentage into perspective, consider Piketty's estimates of the value of all forms of capital (and not just housing capital) as a percentage of GDP. He found this to be 617 per cent in France, 543 per cent in Britain, 418 per cent in Germany, 417 per cent in Canada, and 456 per cent in the US.

Hong Kong could be a very capital-rich city if only government housing units were privatised and deregulated, which would put an additional HK$3.36 trillion housing value in the market.

First, half the population would be happier because the gap between the rich and the poor would be sharply reduced in one fell swoop.

Second, the pressure on government to finance rising health care costs, old-age social welfare payments, education spending, and even housing investment would be indirectly alleviated, as many underutilised public housing units would become unlocked and return to market circulation.

Third, new economic activity at the grass-roots level could be spawned. Mortgaging parents' homes is often a key way to raise capital among those without credit rating.

Fourth, mortgaging parents' homes would also provide an important source of upward intergenerational mobility, both in providing human capital investments to children and making down payments for their home purchases.

Fifth, these benefits would come at no one's expense. The government would not even need to raise taxes.

PS. Whenever I do these posts people complain that Hong Kong is not a typical country. It's a single city, with only 7.3 million people. That's true, but of course there are many European economies with similar populations, and in most modern economies only about 3% of the population is farmers. You could argue that at least in terms of demographics Hong Kong and Sweden are more alike than either place is like the US, which has a much larger and more ethnically diverse population.



Has ‘The Strike’ already started?

One of the first things you notice when you go looking for “mainstream” reviews of the film “Atlas Shrugged: Who Is John Galt?” is how few there are.

In fact, it would appear the hope that “John Galt” might sink like a stone without trace actually outweighed the modest personal gratification these critics might have gotten by individually shredding its low-budget lack of slam-bang action and its “mean-spirited” theme.

One of them, however, did break ranks and weigh in last week with a very curious criticism of a scene that occurs near the beginning of the film, as Dagny Taggart suffers a sprained ankle after literally crashing her way into Galt’s Gulch.

The Dagny character (Laura Regan, in this outing) is examined by a physician, using a hand-held scanning device of his own invention that appears to operate like a miniature fluoroscope. The physician is played by a fine character actor named Steven Tobolowsky. Dagny recognizes him as someone who had been a famous neurosurgeon “on the outside.” He smilingly says he now practices “a different kind of medicine” here.

Anyway, the Tobolowsky character states “Every physician should have one of these.” Our trusty statist reviewer seems to have interpreted this to mean Tobolowsky’s character was somehow greedily withholding this invention from those in the “outside world” because they wouldn’t pay him enough, just as Galt is withholding his source of cheap electric power. (When all this time we thought it was the Greedy Oil Companies!)

So . . . a millionaire brain surgeon is willing to give up all that wealth and prestige in order to be a GP in a little mountain village -– accepting a vast reduction in standard of living -– but the meaning of this scene is that he’s “too greedy” to share his invention? Might it not be a tad more reasonable to assume the point is that in today’s heavily regulated (in fact, government controlled) medical field, no single individual could hope to win “FDA approval” of such a device in a time period measured in less than decades or for a cost measured in less than millions, even though a single inventor, working in some mountain village, has here managed to get one up and running in only a matter of months, and is obviously willing to employ it without demanding any vast fee?

Look at all the iconic breakthrough firearms invented by John Moses Browning, working at his private workbench in Utah, back before 1920. Today, any single individual seeking to invent and manufacture the Browning Automatic Rifle would be jailed, if he didn’t die in a hail of ATF gunfire in the initial government raid. (What’s that? “All you need is a license”? Write in and apply for one, then, informing the ATF that in keeping with the 2nd and 14th Amendments you plan to sell your new machine gun to any “civilian” who can come up with the cash, just as John Browning did. Let me know how you do.) And it follows as the night from day that the pace of medical innovation in America will also now slow, under the regulation and rationing imposed by ObamaMedicare.

But Tobolowsky’s character is withholding his invention because he’s “greedy”?

When Rand predicted in her 1957 masterpiece that even physicians might someday join her “strike of the productive class” -– millionaire neurosurgeons preferring to accept a much reduced standard of living rather than put up with a government regulatory takeover of the entire field of medicine — critics jeered that this was far-fetched nonsense. But today, a “government takeover of medicine” is so close to being a fait accompli that Rand gets little credit for having shown any great powers of foresight and extrapolation here -– the average younger viewer apparently just dismissing this as “The same right-wing ‘Tea Party’ whining we’ve been hearing for years — these greedy right-wingers just want all the poor people to get sick and die.”

This is not all just “theoretical.” I happen to know a few physicians who are either recently retired or in the process of retiring, years earlier than might otherwise have been expected. Why? They tell me “Medicine is no fun anymore.” Why? For the most part these guys aren’t doctrinaire Objectivists, or Libertarians, or political animals of any stripe. They tend to draw few distinctions between Medicare and private insurers and the new regulatory purveyors of Obamacare. They still enjoy diagnosing and healing. They just noticed that every year they were spending less time and money on practicing medicine, and more on a growing office staff that spends its days on the telephone or on their computer monitors, seeking “permission” from some far-away, anonymous bean-counter (who DOESN’T have a medical degree) before the doctor is allowed to proceed with each (progressively more curtailed) step of testing, diagnosis, and treatment.

These medicos are not writing long-winded political diatribes to their local newspapers. They’re just throwing up their hands, folding their tents, telling the spouse “Honey, we’ve got enough money, this is no fun anymore and it’s getting worse, let’s retire and enjoy life for however many years we’ve got left.”

They may not all be moving to the same mountain valley in Colorado. But they are going on strike. We are losing their services, and the bright kids who should have succeeded them are wisely going into management or Big Pharma.

I believe I can even tell you how it’ll end up. Washington will promise everyone the same quality of medicine, all essentially for free, and that’s what they’ll deliver: Soviet-style medicine, with really long lines and increasing mortality rates (which they’ll fudge to look better), for the “bottom 93 percent” of us.

For the 7 percent who can pay cash? The best quality medical treatment will now be available in sparkling modern clinics operated by the best and the brightest American-trained doctors . . . just not in the U.S.A.

Where was it the leaders of the Soviet Union used to go for their medical treatment? I don’t think it was Leningrad.



Secret courts have worrying implications

Did you know that if the U.S. government decides that it wants to violate, i.e. trash, provisions of our Constitution and Bill of Rights, it simply creates secret federal courts of law that will rubber stamp all that it desires?

Well, now we know a small part of the ugly truth about our federal government, and we have exiled hero Edward Snowden to thank for it. He’s revealed some of the nasty secrets and Uncle Sam is out to get him for it.

We know, for example, that Uncle Sam secretly threatened to fine Yahoo $250,000 a day in 2008 if it failed to comply with a broad warrantless demand to hand over user communications — a request the company believed was unconstitutional — successfully forcing the company to participate in the National Security Agency’s controversial PRISM program.

Yahoo resisted the government’s demands but ultimately lost the battle in a secret court -- the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review -- which decided that the Fourth Amendment requirements for search warrants may simply be ignored when the government deems it necessary for national security purposes.

Now NSA enjoys extensive warrantless access to records of online com­munications by users of Yahoo and other U.S.-based technology firms. Eventually, most major U.S. tech companies, including Google, Facebook, Apple and AOL, also complied in secret. Microsoft had joined earlier, before the ruling.

PRISM was first revealed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden last year. It allowed the NSA to order U.S.-based tech companies to turn over e-mails and other communications to or from foreign targets without search warrants for each of those targets. Other NSA programs gave even more wide-ranging access to ­personal information of people worldwide, by collecting data directly from fiber-optic connections. And the tech companies were bound by law to keep the governments nefarious activities secret.

Now we know that secret courts are constitutional because the secret judges say so, and using secret courts to trash the Bill of Rights is constitutional because the secret judges say so.

The implications are that our government is essentially lawless -- no provision of law in the United States of America is beyond the reach of government trashing in secret with secret courts.



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, September 22, 2014

Mr Key has the keys to New Zealand

NZ is a nation of only 4 million people so might seem of no importance.  But for people tired of the squabbles of the big world it could be very important indeed.  It is about as far away from Europe as you can get and has a very large ocean separating it from the USA.  And perhaps most importantly, NZ consists of two large and beautiful islands (imaginatively named North Island and South Island) with a very mild climate.  Even in the South of the South island, snow very seldom stays on the ground for long.  And they speak English (in a rather odd way) and you can drink the water!  And you never have to Press 1 for English.  Worth thinking about  -- particularly for soon-to-be snowed-in residents of the Northern USA

New Zealand's ruling National party secured a third term in government in the election on Saturday, winning an outright majority on a platform to continue strong economic growth.

Prime Minister John Key's centre-right party received 48.1 per cent of the vote, giving it 62 of 121 parliamentary seats and improving its performance on the previous vote in 2011.

The 53-year-old former foreign exchange dealer triumphed despite allegations of dirty political tactics involving government ministers, and claims that a government spy agency had planned mass secret domestic surveillance.

The National Party was set to make electoral history under the proportional voting system by being able to govern on its own, but is seen as having strengthened its majority by renewing support deals with minor parties which formed the previous coalition government.

The leader of the opposition Labour Party, David Cunliffe, conceded defeat yesterday, with the centre-left party winning 24.6 percent of the vote.  "The truth is, the party vote has returned a National government, and over the coming days and weeks we will need to reflect upon why," Mr Cunliffe said in his concession speech. He said he had called Key to congratulate him on his victory.

"It is rare for any government to be defeated while surfing an economic rebound with around a four percent growth rate, even though the longer-term problems remain to be addressed," Cunliffe added.

Key said he was "ecstatic" about the result. "It's a great night," he said. He added that people could see the nation was moving in the right direction and that he was grateful to them.

Key campaigned on the government's record of economic management and strict controls on spending, which helped New Zealand record decade-high growth.



The Scottish Fascists showed true Fascist form

Nationalism plus socialism is the formula for Fascism and the Scottish National Party embodies  both of those.  And the behaviour of many of their supporters recently was much like that of the supporters of Hitler and Mussolini. If you doubt that, read on

By Jim Murphy (A Scottish Labour party member of the British parliament)

I always knew the independence referendum would be the most important event I would ever be involved in, the most important event for Scotland. Because of that I decided to campaign in a totally different way, going back to an old-fashioned politics predating social media and spin doctors. I embarked on a 100-stop tour of open-air meetings across my beautiful country.

It was just me, my microphone, my makeshift stage of two Irn-Bru crates and whoever turned up.

And I loved most of it. I visited places I’d never been to before and discovered that the best comedians aren’t only found at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Many were in the crowds with a wry comment or a well-timed put-down. I’m not sure I got the better of every exchange.

However sometimes it became far more sinister. There is a dark corner of Scotland where an intolerant Scottish nationalism lives. We all know that no political movement is without its idiots. But what went on at times in the referendum was of a different nature altogether – it wasn’t the occasional fool but an orchestrated campaign.

In places like Motherwell, Dundee and Kirkcaldy, Yes groups organised big crowds of their followers to drown out our events, preventing undecided voters from joining open-air democracy. In their dozens and sometimes in their hundreds they screamed ‘Traitor!’, ‘Scum!’, ‘Quisling!’ and even ‘Terrorist’.

And there was one more vile insult they hurled at me. In the midst of the campaign, new details appeared in the media about alleged 1970s child abuse in and around Westminster. To some of my opponents, it didn’t matter that I was in primary school when these terrible cases were alleged to have taken place. Instead it became a regular insult to scream ‘Paedophile!’ at me throughout my street meetings.

An anti-English group, Siol nan Gaidheal – or ‘Seed of the Gaels’ – boasted that they had been ‘following Murphy’ for ‘in-your-face confrontations’. And there was a lot of publicity for the least-skilled egg thrower – it took him four eggs before he hit me. But I couldn’t care less about an egg thrower, what was worrying was their determination to deny us space in Scotland’s streets.

And it wasn’t just me; Ed Miliband and others were also in their sights, and the BBC’s Glasgow HQ was targeted by Yes protesters because of unfounded allegations of anti-independence bias at the BBC.

I know the vast majority of Yes supporters would never dream of behaving like this. They decided to support the Yes campaign because they believed it was best for their family and our country. They are decent and honest people, many of whom are hurting this weekend.

But wherever we went there was often a noisy crowd that followed us. Rightly, nothing like this ever happened to Alex Salmond or the Yes campaign.

After a while my meetings became impossible places to guarantee public safety – I had to halt my tour and seek police advice. To this day, I still don’t know how high up in the Yes campaign these actions were sanctioned, but I do know how widespread they became.

I lost count of how many No voters told me they were too worried to wear a sticker or display a poster. The effect was that visually, the Yes campaign appeared to speak for the majority. If the vote was decided by which campaign had the most window posters, then Scotland would be independent.

Fortunately windows don’t vote.


Chris Brand has further details of Scotland's descent into Fascist street thuggery.  He lives in Edinburgh so saw some of the aggression personally.


A German's View on Islam  -- from a few years back but well worth repeating

I used to know a man whose family were German aristocracy prior to World War II. They owned a number of large industries and estates. I asked him how many German people were true Nazis, and the answer he gave has stuck with me and guided my attitude toward fanaticism ever since.

  'Very few people were true Nazis,' he said, 'but many enjoyed the return of German pride, and many  more were too busy to care. I was one of those who just thought the Nazis were a bunch of fools. So, the majority just sat back and let it all happen. Then, before we knew it, they owned us, and we had lost control, and the end of the world had come.’

  ‘My family lost everything. I ended up in a concentration camp and the Allies destroyed my factories.'

  ‘We are told again and again by 'experts' and 'talking heads' that Islam is a religion of peace and that the vast majority of Muslims just want to live in peace. Although this unqualified assertion may be true, it is entirely irrelevant. It is meaningless fluff meant to make us feel better, and meant to somehow diminish the specter of fanatics rampaging across the globe in the name of Islam.’

  ‘The fact is that the fanatics rule Islam at this moment in history. It is the fanatics who march. It is  the fanatics who wage any one of 50 shooting wars worldwide. It is the fanatics who systematically slaughter Christian or tribal groups throughout Africa and are gradually taking over the entire continent in an Islamic wave. It is the fanatics who bomb, behead, murder, or honor-kill. It is the fanatics who take over mosque after mosque. It is the fanatics who zealously spread the stoning and hanging of rape victims and homosexuals. It is the fanatics who teach their young to kill and to become suicide bombers.’

  ‘The hard, quantifiable fact is that the peaceful majority, the 'silent majority,' is cowed and  extraneous. Communist Russia was comprised of Russians who just wanted to live in peace, yet the Russian Communists were responsible for the murder of about 20 million people. The peaceful majority were irrelevant. China 's huge population was peaceful as well, but Chinese Communists managed to kill a staggering 70 million people.’

  ‘The average Japanese individual prior to World War II was not a warmongering sadist. Yet, Japan murdered and slaughtered its way across South East Asia in an orgy of killing that included the systematic murder of 12 million Chinese civilians; most killed by sword, shovel, and bayonet. And who can forget Rwanda , which collapsed into butchery? Could it not be said that the majority of Rwandans were 'peace loving'?

  ‘History lessons are often  incredibly simple and blunt, yet for all our powers of reason, we often miss the most basic and uncomplicated of points: peace-loving Muslims have been made irrelevant by their silence. Peace-loving Muslims will become our enemy if they don't speak up, because like my friend from Germany , they will awaken one day and find that the fanatics own them, and the end of their world will  have begun.’

  ‘Peace-loving Germans, Japanese, Chinese, Russians, Rwandans, Serbs, Afghans, Iraqis, Palestinians, Somalis, Nigerians, Algerians, and many others have died because the peaceful majority did not speak up until it was too late.’

  ‘Now Islamic prayers have been  introduced in Toronto and other public  schools in Ontario , and, yes, in  Ottawa ,  too, while the Lord's Prayer was removed (due to being so offensive?). The  Islamic way may be peaceful for the time being in our country until the  fanatics move in.’

  ‘In Australia , and indeed in many countries around the world, many of the most commonly consumed food items have the halal emblem on them. Just look at the back of some of the most popular chocolate bars, and at other food items in your local supermarket. Food on aircraft have the halal emblem just to appease the privileged minority who are now rapidly expanding within the nation's shores.’

  ‘In the U.K, the Muslim communities refuse to integrate and there are now dozens of "no-go" zones within major cities across the country that the police force dare not  intrude upon. Sharia law prevails there, because the Muslim community in those areas refuse to acknowledge British law.’

  ‘As for us who watch it all unfold, we must pay attention to the only group that counts - the fanatics who threaten our way of life.’



ObamaCare, the gift that keeps on giving for Republicans

ObamaCare is the political gift that keeps on giving for Republicans hoping to take control of the U.S. Senate. Not only are millions of Americans projected to tragically have their insurance policies cancelled due to the law's onerous regulations, but in the state of Minnesota, the largest provider to those who signed up using the state's health insurance exchange has found that they cannot afford to continue doing business in the state under the law.

But cancellation notices are not the only way that ObamaCare will negatively impact Democrats' political fortunes. Voters will be hit hard later this month and in October with notices that their insurance premiums are rising 7.5 percent on average, or more than four times this year's inflation rate.

Quite a different story than what was promised during the president's push to pass the bill.

While most people remember the "if you like your health insurance, you can keep it" lie, the other major sales pitch for passage of the failed law centered around the promise that health insurance rates were going to go down by $2,500.

This claim was laughed at as being absurd, given the law's increased mandates on what and who health insurers had to cover. In spite of legally mandated increased costs, somehow advocates of the law claimed that health insurers were going to magically be able to significantly lower rates.

Now that health insurers have had a year to digest the underlying costs of providing coverage with the exchanges in full effect, this naive or deceitful promise is being laid to waste by reality.

Supporters of the law are expected to take two tacks in explaining away the increase. Most will say that a 7.5 percent increase is a good thing, because it was less of an increase than they feared. This ignores the fact that the average annual income for workers has declined nearly $5,000 for the median worker since 2007, and this past year remained virtually the same as the year before.

Into this reality of stagnant wages, an ObamaCare-triggered 7.5 percent health insurance increase is devastating to families just trying to survive, and poison to Democrats who imposed it on the people.

And contrary to the assertions of some, it isn't the health insurers' fault. This is an ObamaCare-driven cost increase passed directly onto the consumer. No matter how much supporters of the law may scream desperately trying to shift blame from themselves, those who voted for the law own the higher cost to consumers.

The premium notices arriving in the weeks prior to the election should serve as a painful reminder to voters about their member's ObamaCare vote. If the rates had decreased, you can be assured that Democratic politicians would be bragging about their support for the law. Instead, they can only hope that voters can be convinced to blame someone else.

For those who opposed ObamaCare, this final vindication that the cost savings pillar of the law is falling should not bring glee. Their constituents are hurting, and rather than crowing, they need to redouble their efforts to repeal this poorly conceived law.


There is a  new  lot of postings by Chris Brand just up -- on his usual vastly "incorrect" themes of race, genes, IQ etc.  This time with additional commentary of Scotland's independence referendum


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, September 21, 2014

Brain chemistry as a determinant of mood

All the happiness research concludes that happiness is dispositional:  No matter what happens to us, we return after a while to our genetically pre-set level of happiness.  And happiness is also a strong differentiator of liberals and conservatives.  So liberals are born unhappy, which is why they are always wanting to change things in the futile search for a system that they will be happier with.  The research reported below is concerned with a closely related topic, pessimism/optimism so we may be getting closer to seeing exactly what makes liberals the angry and irrational creatures they are

If you find it hard to look on the bright side and your glass is half-empty rather than half-full, blame your lateral habenula.

Scientists say chemicals in this small part of the brain are crucial to feelings of disappointment. If the chemistry is right, we may find it easier to brush off the bad times.  But if it is out of balance, we may feel set-backs more keenly.

Researcher Roberto Malinow said: ‘The idea that some people see the world as a glass half-empty has a chemical basis in the brain.’

To work out why some people find it hard to be optimistic, the professor looked at the chemistry of a lateral habenula, a tiny area deep inside the brain.

Studies on monkeys have shown the lateral habenula becomes very active when the creatures are denied a fruit juice they are expecting.

In experiments on rats and mice, Professor Malinow showed the balance of two brain chemicals in the region to be key.

One, called glutamate, ramps up activity in the area, while the other, GABA, dampens it down.

Rats with depression made less GABA than others. But when they were given an anti-depressant, levels increased.

It is thought pessimists naturally make less GABA. This would make them feel knock-backs more deeply – and so expect bad things to happen more often.

The finding suggests making enough GABA is crucial to dealing with disappointment.

Professor Malinow, of the University of California, San Diego, said: ‘What we have found is a process that may dampen the brain’s sensitivity to negative life events.’

His research, published in the journal Science, doesn’t just help explain why some people are more pessimistic than others – it could also help in the search for new treatments for depression.



Losing the Half-Century War on Poverty

We were only a few short years into the War on Terror when the Left demanded we pull the plug because of a lack of results. Yet 50 years into the War on Poverty declared by President Lyndon Johnson in 1964, we’ve spent an estimated $22 trillion trying to alleviate poverty with little to show for it.

One in seven Americans still live in poverty, roughly the same rate as when the policies began to take effect in the late 1960s. The 2013 poverty rate of 14.5% was the first decline in the year-over-year rate since 2006, as the 2012 rate was 15%. But even during flush economic times, we’ve never driven the poverty rate below 10%.

Despite the stagnation in the poverty rate, the changes wrought by Johnson’s “Great Society” have manifested themselves in a number of societal ills that were uncommon five decades ago. Many of those stem from an out-of-wedlock birthrate that has skyrocketed from single-digits in 1964 to over 40% today. With the marriage rate in steep decline, we could call it the era of the “baby daddy” – despite recent U.S. Census reports indicating a female-headed single-parent family is five times more likely to be poor than a married-couple one. Marriage really does matter.

On the other hand, to be poor in this day and age carries with it a number of advantages even middle-class families could only dream of a generation or two ago. Contrary to popular perception, the average poverty-level family likely has a car (and perhaps two) as well as their own place to live, whether a single-family home or apartment – less than one in 10 live in a mobile home or trailer. Just 4% of those considered poor are homeless at some point during a calendar year, according to Census Bureau statistics. (The Heritage Foundation has done an outstanding study detailing these and other facts about our poor.)

The dirty little secret about America’s “poor” is that most of the dozens of means-tested government programs aren’t considered income for recipients. If these programs were given an income equivalent, only a tiny percentage of the 45.3 million Americans who fall below the poverty line would be considered poor and the perceived need for these programs would decrease. Last year the Cato Institute put out a controversial study claiming that welfare programs in many states paid more than minimum wage jobs, providing a disincentive to work but a tremendous incentive to vote in such a way as to assure the gravy train will continue to roll. The more people who are touched by government assistance, the easier it is for politicians distributing the “help” to maintain power. As the saying goes, those who rob Peter to pay Paul can always count on the vote of Paul.

In short, the Great Society has created the great dependent underclass, a massive voting bloc that is now beholden to statists. No longer do we hear of the generation too proud to accept “relief” from the government. And no longer do we subject our dependent class to the humiliation of cashing welfare checks or counting out food stamps – now it’s as easy as swiping a credit card, only with no payment due. Meanwhile, those from the faith-based community who used to provide for society’s less fortunate by providing a hand up rather than a handout are more and more shut out of the process.

The stated intention of the Great Society was to simply provide the tools to bring people out of poverty – they still had to do the work. But work is hard and handouts are easy, and that simple truism has brought us to the unsustainable situation we’re in today, with no end in sight unless radical change comes from the very government that has become the vote-gathering provider to so many. It won’t be under this regime, of course, as Barack Obama has put us on a path to throw another $13 trillion at the problem over the next fruitless decade.



Bobby Jindal Sets Up 2016 Presidential Bid

Republican Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal released a comprehensive energy plan this week that he believes will put America on the road to energy independence while reinvigorating the economy and reducing government interference. It also serves to set him apart from other prospective 2016 GOP presidential candidates.

This 48-page policy vision covers six major areas of the energy debate, and also spends a fair amount of ink criticizing the Obama administration and its leftist cadres who would love nothing better than to create scarce resources and higher prices.

The plan, released by Jindal’s nonprofit policy group “America Next” and co-written by Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX), calls for promoting responsible development of domestic energy resources and building an infrastructure to transport it. This means supporting oil and natural gas exploration and refining, going forward with the Keystone XL pipeline, and embracing clean coal and nuclear power as the viable energy sources that they can be.

Jindal’s plan also examines the negative impact government regulation is having on the energy industry, and proposes eliminating the most burdensome and redundant restrictions that keep the energy industry from growing. He wades into the debate over renewable energy, recognizing that there is great potential for jobs and fresh energy sources. He believes the government should encourage technological innovation, but he points out that the crony capitalism of the Obama administration has created a rigged game where ineffective companies like Solyndra get pumped up with taxpayer dollars and then fail miserably.

The proposal emphasizes how a clear energy strategy can guide America to a stable future. More jobs and cheaper energy in the long term will be an obvious boost to the economy. Energy independence will make the nation safer and less reliant on foreign sources, many of which are in the hands of America’s enemies.

Jindal faults the Obama administration and the environmental lobby for deliberately creating a situation where energy is more expensive and consumers pay more for it. Environmentalists always turn against forms of energy as soon as they become widespread and inexpensive. Leftists love it when natural gas was expensive, he said, but “as soon as it became affordable, all of the sudden they decided they didn’t like it so much.”

This is because, as Jindal explains, scarcer, more expensive energy gives the government a foothold on greater control of the economy. Energy scarcity is a myth; there is more than enough natural gas, oil and coal under our feet in this country alone to power this nation at current levels of consumption for decades, if not centuries. But Obama would have us believe that we are approaching crisis levels, thereby creating an excuse for greater regulation, when then artificially raises prices. In effect, he’s arbitrarily deciding which companies win and lose in the marketplace.

Jindal’s energy policy is not without its controversies. Calling for the phasing out of ethanol and lifting the ban on oil exports, though reasonable, will create arguments within GOP circles. But he is stirring the debate, much like he did with the release of his health care proposal in April. In the coming months he will be releasing similar policy plans on education, defense and jobs.

These policy prescriptions together make for an interesting presidential platform. Jindal says he hasn’t decided whether he will run, but none of the likely candidates have made formal announcements yet. That won’t happen until after the dust from the midterms settles. Jindal does have a name recognition problem; few people in the general electorate know much about him.

On the plus side, Jindal has been vocal about the problems of the Obama administration. More importantly, at each step, he has offered alternatives to the statist policies wrecking our country. Anyone who can do that deserves to be heard.



The Jihadi Logic

What was the Islamic State thinking? We know it is sophisticated in its use of modern media. But what was the logic of propagating to the world videos of its beheadings of two Americans (and subsequently a Briton) – sure to inflame public opinion?

There are two possible explanations. One is that these terrorists are more depraved and less savvy than we think. They so glory in blood that they could not resist making an international spectacle of their savagery and did not quite fathom how such a brazen, contemptuous slaughter of Americans would radically alter public opinion and risk bringing down upon them the furies of the U.S. Air Force.

The second theory is that they were fully aware of the inevitable consequence of their broadcast beheadings – and they intended the outcome. It was an easily sprung trap to provoke America into entering the Mesopotamian war.


Because they’re sure we will lose. Not immediately and not militarily. They know we always win the battles but they are convinced that, as war drags on, we lose heart and go home.

They count on Barack Obama quitting the Iraq/Syria campaign just as he quit Iraq and Libya in 2011 and is in the process of leaving Afghanistan now. And this goes beyond Obama. They see a post-9/11 pattern: America experiences shock and outrage and demands action. Then, seeing no quick resolution, it tires and seeks out leaders who will order the retreat. In Obama, they found the quintessential such leader.

As for the short run, the Islamic State knows it will be pounded from the air. But it deems that price worth paying, given its gains in propaganda and prestige – translated into renown and recruiting – from these public executions.

Understanding this requires adjusting our thinking. A common mantra is that American cruelty – Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, “torture,” the Iraq War itself – is the great jihadist recruiting tool. But leaving Iraq, closing Abu Ghraib and prohibiting “enhanced interrogation” had zero effect on recruiting. In fact, jihadi cadres from Mali to Mosul have only swelled during Obama’s outstretched-hand presidency.

Turns out the Islamic State’s best recruiting tool is indeed savagery – its own. Deliberate, defiant, triumphant. The beheadings are not just a magnet for psychopaths around the world. They are choreographed demonstrations of its own unbounded determination and of American helplessness. In Osama bin Laden’s famous formulation, who is the “strong horse” now?

We tend to forget that at this stage in its career, the Islamic State’s principal fight is intramural. It seeks to supersede and supplant its jihadi rivals – from al-Qaeda in Pakistan to Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria – to emerge as champion of the one true jihad.

The strategy is simple: Draw in the world’s great superpower, create the ultimate foil and thus instantly achieve supreme stature in radical Islam as America’s nemesis.

It worked. A year ago, the world had never heard of this group, then named ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria). Now it is the subject of presidential addresses, parliamentary debates and international conferences. It is the new al-Qaeda, which itself has been demoted to JV.



TSA Demands to Search Man AFTER Plane Lands. He Filmed His Response

More boneheaded bureaucracy

Kahler Nygard, 22, of Minnesota was called off a plane by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) when it landed in Colorado earlier this month. He filmed his unsettling encounter with the agency.

"I'm the only one walking off the plane," Nygard states in the first video he posted on Youtube six days ago. "They let me fly all the way to Denver. Everyone's wondering what's going on with me," he says as heads turn toward him. "No, I have not committed a crime."

His plane tickets, like those of about 14,000 other individuals, are apparently marked by the TSA "SSSS" for Secondary Security Screening Selection. That means he gets to go through all those extra pat-downs every time he wants to travel through the air for unknown reasons based on hazy criteria.

His second video has all the creepy action. Once he gets off the plane, a TSA agent named Andrew Grossman claims the screening of Nygard was "not completed" in Minnesota, so they need to re-examine "his body and his bags" now. The agent calls Nygard "pretty objectionable" for filming the encounter, demands to see his boarding pass, and threatens to call Denver police on him for not complying.

Regarding the boarding pass, Nygard responds "I misplaced it." This seems to stump Grossman, as do Nygard's many valid questions. He repeatedly asks if he's being detained, and gets a different, mushy answer each time. He asks why he needs to be screened after a flight since he traveled safely from one location to the other, and the agent says, "I'm not going to argue with you." He asks under which statute or law he's being detained, and the agent replies, "I'm following my orders."

He walked out of the airport despite the agent's demands, and according to NBC, "Nygard says he flew back to Minneapolis [last] Thursday. Besides another pat-down, he says there were no issues." He wasn't arrested as the agent threatened, but the TSA says it "is investigating the case."



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)