Thursday, January 31, 2019

Is Belarus ("White Russia") another East Germany?

Belarus gets a bad name in the West because of its authoritarian government.  They do have elections there which are not a total sham but President Lukashenko always gets big majorities. So we tend to expect only bad things from the place.

I was talking recently to a lady of Belarusian heritage who still speaks Russian and who still has close family in Belarus.  She reports that people who know Belarus are often very complimentary about it.  It seems well-organized and orderly with very little crime.  It is not a rich country (average income of $8,000 pa) by Western standards but most people eat well and products from all over Europe are to be found in the shops.  Some people who know the place say that Belarus is the best country in the world to live in.

There are occasional big demonstrations about the government but that is true of the USA as well.  Demonstrators will demonstrate.

That is such a different view to what I had expected that I did a little research to see what support I could find for it.  Belarus is however not a place of much interest to the rest of the world but I did find a few interesting facts.

* It is heavily industrialized but is also about 40% primeval forest. Greenies should love it.  It has about the same population as Sweden -- about 8 million.  It lies between Russia and Poland so was the most "Western" part of the old Soviet Union. It is now an independent country.

* The capital city, Minsk, has a population of about 2 million. It was completely destroyed during the Second World War, but, following the example of Warsaw, it was rebuilt in the same place and now is an attractive city

* Minsk is a very green and clean city. In addition to numerous parks, here is the third largest botanical garden in the world.

* Minsk is a very safe city. In the list of 378 most dangerous cities from Numbeo, Minsk was on the 351th place in terms of danger and became the safest city among the former Soviet Union countries. Belarus itself is one of the safest countries in the world according to statistics.

​​* Compared to many large cities, there are very few traffic jams in Minsk.

* It is also surprising for big cities that it's relatively quiet at night, relatively few nightclubs and bars.

* Public transport is always on time. Surprisingly, but it's true: the schedule is maintained with a possible deviation of a couple of minutes.  The American Green/Left wants to get people out of their cars and onto public transport.  Belarus shows it can be done.

So you see what people mean when they find a lot to like about Belarus.  What it reminds me of is the old East Germany.   After German reunification, some East Germans moved to the West and a lot visited the West.  They were mostly not very impressed.  They liked the higher salaries, larger apartments and the up-to-date technology in the West but were very scornful of the social life there.  The old East Germany had a generally fraternal feel while the West is definitely a dog-eat-dog society.  East Germans called it an "elbows" society, where people had little care for one another.

So it should not be a surprise but it is clear that socialism does have an appeal for a lot of people. Living under an authoritarian government that organizes everything can be fairly relaxing as long as it provides a reasonable level of prosperity, which East Germany did and which Belarus does.

So an intriguing possibility which exists is that some Germans could return to a society like the old East Germany.  Very little remains -- even in the Eastern lands of modern-day Germany -- of the old Eastern system but Belarus has something similar. Even the language  would not be a problem for many Easterners.  Russian was taught in the schools of the old East Germany.

If you don't speak Russian, however, forget it.  Russian has about twice as much grammar as German and German is frustrating enough for English speakers.

For my previous comments on East Germany, see here and  here

See also below:


In Defense of Assimilation
The worst thought crime is the one you don’t realize you’re committing. So it was with NBC News legend Tom Brokaw, who — for good reason — didn’t understand that assimilation is now a third rail of American politics.

He caused a furor with comments on the venerable Sunday news program “Meet the Press” over the weekend, including, most controversially, his statement that he believes “that the Hispanics should work harder at assimilation.”

The condemnations were swift and sweeping, and a sign that being a beloved media figure who has never before said anything that could legitimately be considered bigoted is no defense when the furies descend.

It was Presidential Medal of Freedom to white hood in one sound bite. A group called Latino Victory hit Brokaw for allegedly giving “credence to white supremacist ideology.”

Typically, his apologies were deemed insufficient and part and parcel of the original offense.

Let’s stipulate that using a definite article to refer to any minority group will always strike people as tone-deaf, but what Brokaw was getting at — the importance of assimilation to cultural cohesion — should be uncontroversial.

It isn’t anymore. The head of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists rejected the very idea of assimilation, which he decried as “denying one culture for the other.” It is astonishing that in that formulation “the other” is American culture. We are perhaps the only nation in world history that has sought to “otherize” its own culture.

It’s also been a trope to accuse Brokaw, as Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro did, of xenophobia. But saying immigrants should assimilate is the opposite of xenophobia — it is an expression of a belief that they can be and should be fully part of the American mainstream.

The old American ideal of the melting pot is that immigrants become wholly American (learning the language, embracing the folkways and traditions, becoming deeply patriotic), but also make a distinctive contribution to our national culture, which is organic and open to a variety of influences. It is wrong to view this dominant culture as hateful or exclusionary.

As Michael Lind wrote in his brilliant 1995 book, “The Next American Nation”: “The common culture of the American nation is a unique blend of elements contributed by Algonquian Indians and Midwestern Quakers and black Americans and Mexican mestizos and New England patricians. The national culture is not a white culture; black Americans have shaped it far more than the most numerous white immigrant group, German-Americans.”

In his comments, Brokaw focused on assimilation as a function of individual effort on the part of immigrants. The real problem is that we have fashioned an immigration system that is not geared toward assimilation.

In 1920, when we were absorbing another historic wave of immigrants, the newcomers were evenly distributed across nationalities. No single group predominated. In contrast, the wave of the last few decades has been heavily tilted toward Mexico in particular and Latin American countries in general.

In the early 20th century, we also reduced numbers of immigrants after 1924, facilitating the breakup of ethnic communities and a de-emphasis on ethnic identity.

We have never tapped the brakes on the current wave. A National Academy of Sciences study noted that Spanish-speaking immigrants are acquiring English more slowly than other immigrant groups: “A major reason is the larger size and frequent replenishment of the Spanish-speaking population in the United States.”

Reducing levels of immigration would aid in assimilation, if that is still considered a universally desirable goal.

In the play that that gave us the phrase “the melting pot,” Israel Zangwill wrote, “Yes, East and West, and North and South, the palm and the pine, the pole and the equator, the crescent and the cross — how the great Alchemist melts and fuses them with his purging flame!”

The Brokaw controversy is a sign that the great Alchemist may soon be looking for work.



White House Eyes Reducing Capital Gains Taxes Without Congress

The White House is having internal discussions about the prospect of executive action by President Donald Trump to hold down capital gains taxes, said Larry Kudlow, director of the president’s National Economic Council.

“I personally have campaigned for inflation indexing of capital gains for at least three decades,” Kudlow told The Daily Signal during a press gaggle Thursday at the White House.

The Trump administration’s goal, in theory, would be to end unfair taxation on income from stocks, real estate, or other investments that come from inflationary gains.

“I still strongly support it and I know the president has a very positive view about it,” Kudlow said of indexing. “We are talking about it internally. We are still talking about it internally.”

The development comes after 51 leaders of conservative groups asked for the executive action in a Jan. 22 letter to Trump. Among the groups are Americans for Tax Reform, Citizens Against Government Waste, and the American Legislative Exchange Council.

The Daily Signal asked Kudlow whether the law allows the president to act without Congress, something the top economic adviser said is under review.

“Many lawyers believe he can. Not all lawyers believe he can,” Kudlow said. “I’m not a lawyer.” “I have a hard enough time doing my own thing,” he quipped. “[But] inflation indexing in cap gains, would love to see that.”

The letter to Trump—also signed by leaders of the 60 Plus Association, American Conservative Union, and Club for Growth—notes that because Democrats control the House and Republicans control the Senate, it’s not likely lawmakers would pass the proposal.

“With a divided Congress, any effort to pass Tax Reform 2.0 or additional middle-class tax reduction is unlikely,” the letter from conservative leaders says. “On the other hand, ending the inflation tax can be achieved through the administration’s executive authority.”

The capital gains tax is imposed on the profit from sale of certain assets, such as a stock, bond, or real estate. The rate on capital gains taxes is based on a taxpayer’s income tax bracket, ranging from 0 to 15 percent.

In laying out the case to the president, the letter, spearheaded by Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist, states:

When a family or a business saves money and buys a stock, real estate, or any other asset, the investment grows in value over time. Some of that growth is due to the asset appreciating in real terms, and some of that growth is merely due to the effect of inflation making everything more expensive.

Our tax system does not distinguish between these two increases in savings—the economic growth increase and the merely inflationary increase. The whole gain is taxable. According to the nonpartisan Tax Foundation, fully one-third of all unrealized capital gains are due only to inflation. …

According to legal scholarship going back decades, the executive branch can define cost basis in an investment in such a way that the inflation tax on savings can be eliminated. Rather than having to pay tax on both real and inflationary gains, a family or business selling an asset would only pay tax on the real gain, or the gain derived from economic growth.

Last June, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told The Wall Street Journal the administration would prefer that Congress pass legislation, but could act on its own in lieu of that.

Without weighing in on the issue of executive action, Adam Michel, a senior policy analyst for The Heritage Foundation who specializes in tax policy, said indexing capital gains is good policy. Heritage was not among the groups represented in the letter to Trump.

“Indexing capital gains taxes is a necessary policy to alleviate the inflation tax on investment in America,” Michel told The Daily Signal. “It is silly for the government to tax inflation. Indexing would be sensible.”



Conservatives are united in opposing H.R. 1, the attempt by House Democrats to fundamentally undermine the American electoral system

While they cloak the bill in terms of “restoring democracy” and “preventing corruption,” the legislation has one goal: to protect incumbents, at the expense of the First Amendment, federalism, and individual voter integrity.

H.R. 1 undermines the First Amendment. H.R. 1 undoes key Supreme Court cases that protect elections as fundamental to free speech. It would allow the Federal Election Commission to track and catalogue more of what Americans are saying, register even very small political donations, and make public those who donate to different charitable and nonprofit organizations. The legislation will subject private citizens to intimidation and harassment for their private and political beliefs, far broader than what was done in the IRS targeting scandal in 2013.

H.R. 1 yanks election authority away from the states. H.R. 1 reasserts the ability of the federal government to micromanage state elections through a process known as “preclearance.” Preclearance, which was previously overturned by the Supreme Court, requires states to get permission from the federal government for changes as small as modifying the hours of an election office, or moving a voting location from a school gym to the library. Critically, none of these practices would undo any fraud or corruption. Rather, these same practices result in incorrect registrations and inaccurate voter data, while failing to address actual corrupt practices like ballot harvesting. Moreover, they are all designed to eliminate the federalism that keeps elections transparent, local, and fair.

H.R. 1 attacks individual voter integrity. America was founded on the principle of “one person, one vote.” H.R. 1 turns this on its head by weaponizing every aspect of the political regulatory system. The Federal Election Commission, which is currently a neutral body, would be given a 3-2 makeup, guaranteeing a partisan outcome with little accountability toward the actual votes which are cast. H.R. 1 also includes a 600 percent government match for political donations, and authorizes even more public dollars to campaigns. The bill also wants to make Election Day a new paid holiday for government workers, with additional paid vacation given to bureaucrats to oversee the polls. All of these changes are designed to distance the outcome of the election from those casting their votes.

H.R. 1 would also implement the following changes:

* Forces states to implement mandatory voter registration, removing civic participation as a voluntary choice, and increasing chances for error.
* Mandates that states allow all felons to vote.
* Forces states to extend periods of early voting, which has shown to have no effect on turnout.
* Mandates same-day voter registration, which encourages voter fraud.
* Limits the ability of states to cooperate to see who is registered in multiple states at the same time.
* Prohibits election observers from cooperating with election officials to file formal challenges to suspicious voter registrations.
* Criminalizes protected political speech by making it a crime to “discourage” someone from voting
* Bars states from making their own laws about voting by mail.
* Prohibits chief election officials in each state from participating in federal election campaigns.
* Mandates free mailing of absentee ballots.
* Mandates that states adopt new redistricting commissions.

H.R. 1 would cause sweeping and irrevocable damage to the free speech, privacy, and integrity that are central components to free and fair elections in America. We oppose H.R. 1 in the strongest terms, and urge all conservatives to do likewise.



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCHPOLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated),  a Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on THE PSYCHOLOGIST.

Email me  here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or  here (Pictorial) or  here  (Personal)


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