Infiltrated

by Jay Richards


Knowledge and Power

by George Gilder


Darwin's Doubt

by Stephen C. Meyer


Wealth and Poverty

by George Gilder


Indivisible Review

by Jay W. Richards


The Israel Test

by George Gilder


God and Evolution

Edited by Jay Richards


Signature in The Cell

by Stephen C. Meyer


Support Discovery
Institute Today!


Search Discovery News

« August 2009 | Main | October 2009 »

September 2009 Archives

September 2, 2009

September Election Could Move Germany to Right

by Mathias Brucker

Merkel%2BAttends%2B60%2BYears%2BFederal%2BRepublic%2BGermany%2B3CIVF9PvmFXl.jpg
All smiles in the CDU


This month may see one of the world's most important elections for the year. Germans will decide on September 27 whether their country--by far the largest economy of Europe--will get a relatively conservative government (with lower taxes and spending and support for the Afghan war) or another "Grand Coalition" of the Conservatives and their current government partners, the Socialists. Not only would spending and taxation remain high, support for the allied cause in Afghanistan would continue to erode. The Conservatives (the CDU) would be under constant pressure to slip further left in order to keep the Social Democrats (the SPD) from going on the attack.

Today the CDU forces seems to be on the path to victory, but the scene was much the same during the 2005 campaign, when the actual election turned out to be so close that a coalition government became necessary. What helped the SPD close the gap in that campaign was a barrage of claims that CDU tax reform was "socially unjust".

A similar thing seems to be happening now. In addition, public support for the Afghan War is dropping

So there are two possible outcomes: the conservative parties (CDU and the Free Democratic Party, the FDP, its smaller ally) will get a majority and form a conservative government. The other possibility is that the same will happen as it did in 2005, and the conservatives won't have a majority of seats in the Bundestag, and neither will the SPD and its Green Party allies. The party making the difference would likely be Germany's fifth party, the post-communist "Linkspartei" (literally, the leftist party). As no one wants a coalition government consisting of three parties, especially with the communists, a Grand Coalition would be the only option.

Ominously, the Linskspartei did pretty well in the state elections that were held last Sunday, whereas conservatives as well as social democrats lost votes. This surely adds momemtum to the leftist party's federal campaign. However, it should not be exaggerated; the left won in the former East as well as the party leader's tiny home state of Saarland, "the Delaware of Germany." Its standing in the far more densely populated western Germany is still small.

A more conservative government in Germany might help slowly to move Germany as well as Europe to the right, but there will be no sizable conservative revival, even then. The German "conservatives" are just too centrist to instill enthusiasm for true conservative reform. Come to think of it, Germany is probably one of the most leftist countries in Europe, with but a few conservative strongholds here and there. The incorporation of formerly communist Eastern Germany really hurt Germany as a whole. It made a conservative country -- and one of the richest in the world, one might add -- much more leftist. Since reunion the German economy has been doing not as well as before, with the country spending some 6% of its GDP on "structural reform" in the former East (more even than the entire American defense budget as a percentage of GDP). Also, many formerly eastern Germans still have communist sympathies and perspectives. Overall, whatever else it accomplished, reunion has damaged the right.

Americans will want to watch the German elections closely. The policies that are adopted after it will bear greatly on the German contribution to world economic recovery and NATO support for the War in Afghanistan.

September 3, 2009

Liberal Impatience and Canada's Confusion

Canadian Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, lacking patience, has decided to force a vote of no-confidence in the Stephen Harper-led Conservative government, and thus precipitate a national election this fall. He may succeed in winning that election.

But then what?

The latest poll shows the Liberals and Conservatives tied at 32.6 percent each, with the balance supplied by Canada's three other contending parties--the labor-left oriented New Democrats, the Bloc Quebecois, and the Greens. Even last spring, as the international recession worsened, the Conservatives held a strong polling lead, largely because Canadians had just had a string of national elections that had led to more, rather than less, turmoil. Canadians don't like turmoil. They wanted to give the Tories more time.

Now the boredom factor may be setting in, however, and a jolly election campaign might be just the thing to enliven the lengthening autumn gloom. If the vote were to take place, oh, say, next week, one suspects that the Liberals might win it. Ignatieff is the most articulate politician in Canada, with real intellectual heft and campaign stump appeal. He looks good, sounds good and inspires confidence.

That doesn't mean, however, that he necessarily wears well or is a magician who can turn thin gruel into Beef Stroganoff. Upon inspection, the Liberal complaints against the Tories seem small, if not contrived. Supposedly the Harperites are responsible for raising the budget deficit from an expected $32 billion (Canadian) to $52 billion and have done to little to promote international trade. They also are said to be deficient on issues as pension insurance and limiting ATM fees. As a platform, these planks appear too weak to carry the burden of even Canada's relatively short federal campaign of six weeks' duration.

Anyone want to go to the barricades over ATM fees?

Of course, the real issue, as everywhere, is the economy. But 1) Canada is hardly alone in suffering from the recession and it just doesn't ring true to blame the Harper government for--say--the auto industry's woes. 2) Harper has avoided the wild budget spree of the Obama Administration in the U.S., while nonetheless giving the economy a big Canadian goose of stimulus spending. In all this, Harper (correcting an earlier inclination) has consulted with his opposition a lot more than previous prime ministers in similar situations.

Mr. Ignatieff reproaches the p.m. for not doing more for trade. Mr. Harper has been in office four years and yet "he's never visited China," Ignatieff charges. An outsider might observe that it is hard for a prime minister to tour the world when he has a minority government whose opposition threatens an election at any moment. As for China, Mr. Ignatieff just cancelled his own China tour because of election considerations.

The Conservative campaign has its own problems. Tory TV ads trying to paint Ignatieff as a elitist dandy don't seem to have worked at all. But, eventually the Tories will figure out that people care about interests closer to home. Expect Stephen Harper to jab Michael Ignatieff hard on his current promise to close the budget deficit without added taxation, a position that is especially suspect in light of his statements a few months ago that more taxes might be needed. Blaming Conservatives for the deficit is not persuasive. Worrying voters that the Liberals will raise their taxes potentially is persuasive.

So why do the Liberals pine for the polls? Well, even Canadians, as I say, get bored and there usually is great fun in the prospect of a big fight.

Yet, if the big fight is merely tendentious, public boredom can turn to annoyance. And even assuming that they do win, the danger for the Liberals is that, once back in office, but as a minority, they may find themselves even more hogtied than the Tories today. How patient will the public be then with the currently impatient Liberals?

Hard to Keep Up: More Praise for The Israel Test

The Israel Test by George Gilder continues to get stunningly positive reviews by conservatives, such as this one today by Clifford May in National Review.

Somehow, however, the liberal media are pretending not to notice.

September 4, 2009

"Bloggingheads" Faces the Guillotine

guillotine19811_1.jpg

How many intellectuals and media conveyers will defend free speech and the importance of an unfettered debate of ideas? Fewer and fewer. We are witnessing in America a kind of academic French Revolution, where leading opinion is fratricidal, enraged, fanatical--and then overthrown to make room for a newer fanaticism.

People are not getting their heads chopped off physically, of course, but careers are being sliced off and reputations ruined. Fear is in the air.

There are manifold efforts to chase down, stigmatize and eradicate intellectual dissent, almost all of them in universities and media outlets. There is no recourse for the honest scholar or commentator except to stand up to the bullies, pay the price and then live in peace with his conscience, whatever his resulting--usually diminished--station might be.

But I am most familiar, of course, with the tawdry campaign of Darwinists to misrepresent and punish those scientists and science writers who dissent from Darwinism, or merely are known to associate with dissenters. Think I am exaggerating? Forget the film Expelled and what it revealed. Forget that the man in the film who simply defended the rights of dissenters, Ben Stein, himself has been punished. Just look at what the Darwinists are doing to one another when someone dares to talk to dissenters. The recent Evolution News articles about the fuss at Bloggingheads has a number of excellent pieces on this affair. David Klinghoffer in his article employs the apt metaphor of "ritual contamination."

I use the French Revolution metaphor above. But one also might mention McCarthyism--not the reality alone, but also the hysteria around it. A Christian, citing Dante, among others, could mention human nature and the temptation to pride and its brothers, envy and spite.

But let us also invoke the metaphor of evolution. Would the Darwinists like to explain how natural selection works to cause otherwise mature people in universities and media to ostracize--excommunicate--colleagues who dare to dissent from someone's concept of orthodoxy? Is there a gene for persecution that causes them to hector not merely dissenters but those who are guilty merely of taking the views of dissenters seriously?

Or maybe we should just invoke a television metaphor about childishness: "I have my fingers in my ears! La, la, la, la! I can't HEAR you!"

This Will Not Help the Liberal Campaign in Canada

In something of a surprise, Canada seems to have turned the corner on jobs, adding 27,100 this past month, according to Statistics Canada. That's not a lot and they are all part-time and the unemployment rate still climbed a notch, to 8.7 percent. But new jobs represent a kind of fresh breeze in a long, stale recession. They point up the fact that Canada has done better on the jobs scene than the U.S. American unemployment is up to 9.7 percent now.

Even some limited good news in the economy will be a boon to Conservatives if, as expected, the Liberals force an election this fall. (See my post below, from September 3.)

Labor Day Weekend Reading and Viewing; C-Span Features "Signature in the Cell"

Don't miss Steve Meyer, author of Signature in the Cell--introduced by yours truly--on these Labor Day Weekend C-Span showings:

Saturday, September 5th at 7pm (ET)
Sunday, September 6th at 7am (ET)
Monday, September 7th at 12pm (ET)
Tuesday, September 8th at 12am (ET)

Do your homework for the show by reading the new American Spectator and its insightful review of Signature in the Cell, "Blown Away," by Dan Peterson. Meyer's book, says Brown, is a "defining work in the discussion of life's origins and the question of whether life is a product of unthinking matter or of an intelligent mind."

HarperOne, the publisher, is pleased to report that the book is now in its Third Printing and selling briskly. Order one briskly, and see for yourself.

September 7, 2009

Outstanding in the Field, a Cultivated Taste

surfers_walking.jpg

If you are like me, you will enjoy this video of a phenomenal American character and the curious phenomenon of culture he has created. Ephemeral art on the beaches of California are glorious expressions of individuality, causing us to ruminate on the transitory nature of this life. Lovely garden-farm meals for hundreds (bring your own plate) cause the overly-urban to ruminate on mankind's ineffable ties to the land.

But the art is captured for posterity only through photography. It is performance art, a cultivated taste for the cultivated aesthetic palate. Likewise, meals that cost each person (except participating local farmers) about $125 a "plate" are the luxuries of an urbanized society that has produced enough surplus that the products of the pre-industrial world may now be savored as piquant symbols of an elevated sensibility, as miuch as delectable morsels from the soil.

Among conservatives, you may want to consult Crunchycons, by Rod Dreher, celebrating the nexus of practical frugal living and voting with the environmental ethic that sees man as steward of the natural gifts of God. This is not Gaia-worship, it is a worldview for sober men and women who cherish an ancient heritage that has been lost by alienated moderns.

But also note Money, Greed and God by Jay Richards (Discovery Sr. Fellow, Acton Fellow, now Discovery Fellow once again) and his explanation of how crunchy conservatism is only achievable in a society that has attained a high degree of specialization and, let's face it, successful mass production. As I say, it is a luxury. It's a fine, desireable luxury, and one to be encouraged (in Dr. Richards' opinion, and my own). But it does not lead to a description of how Everyman should be pushed to live, let alone how the government should order our economy. It usually has to be subsidized, one way or another.

Surely we should aspire to be a Western society where small scale farms and local produce, backyard gardens and an appreciation for the land are more easily sustained. But they constitute a social good, not so much an environmental solution. We need to find reasonable ways to make such goods sustainable and not exaggerate their potential to make our environment sustainable.

September 8, 2009

From Fat to Smart in One Easy Operation (or Two)

All of us who have a little spare tire that we would like to dispose of, and all of us who would like to reverse the tide of dying brain cells, not to mention replace injured knee cells, must rejoice in the news that Stanford scientists have found a way to convert yesterday's over-indulgence at dinner into tomorrow's cause for a Nobel Prize or Olympic Gold Medal. Eventually, as Dr. Joseph Wu suggests, you may be able to trade in your fat for whatever you need elsewhere, including brain cells.

America is to fat what Saudia Arabia is to oil. It is one of our most abundant resources and the one natural deposit that just keeps increasing. Give our unprecedentedly fat bodies over to the Stanford folk and we soon can become history's smartest and most fit people as well. Who knows what genius and agility are locked in our meandering midriffs and marbled thighs?

Meanwhile, the real news is that science is killing the argument for the necessity of embryonic stem cell research. That pathway is not only immoral, but also a dead end.

Stanford University is in California, of course, the state that is so broke it can't pay its employees. Yet the Golden State governing class set aside several billion dollars for embryonic stem cell research. If the fat in their heads had been converted into brain cells, maybe they wouldn't have made such a blunder.

The Creeping (and Creepy) Culture of Euthanasia

NR%20Cover.jpg

Discovery Senior Fellow Wesley J. Smith has the cover story this week in National Review, "The Creeping Culture of Euthanasia." If you suppose that this is a side issue, think again. Despite all the keening denials, the health care legislation being discussed in Congress absolutely sets the nation on the path to rationing care at the end of life to save money. Where else, after all, are they going to save billions?

And, as Smith makes clear, this reality is not something he alone is asserting. "Compassion and Choices," the latest euphemism for the pro-assisted suicide organization previously known as The Hemlock Society, is taking credit for this development in the health care bill.

"Health care" has become yet another euphemism.

Smith's article deserves wide distribution and National Review great credit for running it.

September 9, 2009

Down with the Czar(s)!

czars.jpg

The destruction of language proceeds apace with the planned creation of yet another "czar" in the Obama Administration, this time a "manufacturing czar".

The idea is preposterous. What is meant is that someone will appear on the White House staff roster who effectively has the power to over-ride the mere cabinet secretaries responsible for Commerce and Labor, and maybe Trade, Treasury, Transportation and the Office of Management and Budget. As Oklahoma Senator Tim Coburn, among others, has noted, there is questionable constitutionality in a person who exercises such authority without the consent of the Senate. Why require Cabinet secretaries to be confirmed if mere White House staffers--elevated to Czardom--can control them?

But I suspect that all the many Obama "czars" are just gentrified presidential assistants, people who in practice seldom will over-ride anyone. Calling them a "czar" is just a public relations sop to some constituency and a paper mache crown for the deluded staffer.

Meanwhile, am I alone in not liking the idea of "czars" in America or in thinking it odd that a liberal president would want to boast of such a person? Czars were Russian, not American. They wielded absolute and arbitrary power. They made King George III, again whom we rebelled, look like Dr. Phil conducting a TV town hall. Real czars most often were tyrants and were regarded as such.

They also ruled alone. There was no stable of "czars", a "czar" for this and a "czar" for that. Who is President Obama kidding? And why is the media contributing to this misunderstanding?

The 35 or so Obama "czars" either are glorified presidential assistants (as I suspect) and should be called such, or they are tinpot despots, in which case someone--in the name of the American Founders--should sue!

September 10, 2009

Great News at Last! Economy is Solving Income Inequality

richman1022_DV_20081022095346.jpg

Equality is the explicit, if unachieved, goal of communism, the promise of socialism and the sly aspiration of liberalism. When some people have much more than others, it is a cause for alarm, and we have so many alarmed studies to exhibit this worry that one only has to go back to--guess when?--August 21 to find an example.

But, today comes news in The Wall Street Journal that the trend has turned and income inequality is eroding in the new economic era of government ownership of the means of auto production, government squeezes on unjust executive compensation, government bailouts, runaway deficits and presidential jaw-boning of greedy businessmen and investors. What has not been achieved in ending inequality will soon be targeted by repeal of the Bush tax cuts and added taxes on top of that. This is the age of redistribution, even if it is only redistribution of poverty, not wealth.

Unemployment may be nearly 10 percent, but the Recession already has slashed the share of the economy that is enjoyed by the country's top one percent of income earners.

Companies may be cutting back or failing, but at least chief executive pay is down 15 percent. Huzzah for the White House Pay Czar! ("Long live the Czars!")

Investors in new products may be spooked, but at least the rich are not buying so many new cars and homes.

"In the brutal second half of last year, the number of charitable gifts of $1 million or more...fell by more than a third" (according to the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, as reported by the Wall Street Journal), and that is surely a happy result of the fat cats having to tighten their belts. All the good liberals in America's foundations and non-profits must be doing high-fives.

Many rich, like the family head and immigrant Anthony Carmenate who is interviewed by the Journal'sBob Davis and Robert Frank, may have dropped a few economic notches, and are looking for work, but that is a small sacrifice to make for real change, don't you agree?

After all, even though people with money say they no longer can finance new job-creating enterprises, the Administration has a way to make them cough up. The higher tax rates that are coming will give the Federal Government the money to "invest" for them.

Once the Recession ends, and then as it swoons again in a year or so, we finally will achieve the new achievement of "Social Justice." The motto is, "Share the Poverty".

You can't see it, but I'm doing hand-springs.

The Greatest Show on Earth -- Another Circus Comes to Town

flea_circus_red_indoor100_72dpi.jpg

The New Scientist may sound like a scholarly science publication, but in covering news it often revels in uninformed and unprofessional attacks on critics of Darwinian evolution. So it is somewhat of a surprise to see the publication produce a not-so-veiled pan of The Greatest Show on Earth, Richard Dawkins' new book. If the evident disappointment expressed by science filmmaker Randy Olson is at all valid, Dawkins' resemblance to the creator of the original "Greatest Show on Earth," 19th Century circus entrepreneur P.T. Barnum, is confirmed.

Dawkins doesn't address his real adversaries. He simply ignores Stephen Meyer, whose Signature in the Cell is now leading the science book parade in several Amazon categories. He just dubs opponents creationist reactionaries and assumes that his haughty air will delight his claque and daunt everyone else. He has plenty of ringmaster bluster left, but nothing much to say.

Reviewer Olson, a relentless Darwinist himself, has to complain of Dawkins, "Implying that your audience is stupid does not qualify as a great new angle."

Dawkins not only refuses to debate the likes of Stephen Meyer, he doesn't even take note of answers to his classic arguments. For example, watch this clip, "Climbing Mt. Improbable," from the soon-to-be-released film, Darwin's Dilemma. It's a fine take-down of Dawkins' case for the nearly unlimited power of natural selection.

P.T. Barnum's famously asserted, "There's a sucker born every minute." C. R. Dawkins must be hoping that the suckers still will buy his books.

September 11, 2009

The Darwinian Creation Story is a Snoozer

creation_darwin.jpg

"Charles Darwin!" jokes Mathias Brucker, an Austrian friend (adopting the tone of the secular Left), "Why, he was the most important person since Jesus Christ--except, of course, that Jesus wasn't real."

That pretty much sums up the attempted hagiography of the anti-religious crowd in recent years. So a film about the personal life of Darwin, supposedly the greatest man of all time--the one whose birthday, February 12, is to supplant Abraham Lincoln, the current occupant, in American schools--should be a sure-fire seller. Candles will be lit before the movie posters in homes of skeptics around the world.

But the new flick Creation does not seem likely to add to the campaign for sainthood. Like Darwin's concept of life's origins, it just never seems to get started. Even Roger Ebert is rather discouraged.

What to do? Well, the earnest star, Paul Bettany, wants you to know that, contra Ebert, this really is about deicide, after all. The movie, he says, "happens to be about Darwin, who is in the process of killing God."

If that publicity doesn't pack the theaters, what will?

September 12, 2009

Excellent Decision at Census

Newly installed Director of the U.S. Census Bureau, Dr. Robert Groves, has made an important decision that bodes well for the conduct of the 2010 Census. By dropping any dealings with the community activist group Acorn he confirms the Bureau's absolute insistence on transparence and integrity in its operations.

September 14, 2009

Water and Rumblings in Turkey Warn Politicians, Too

turkey-rain4.jpg

Turkey had a serious, Katrina-like major flood last week, that somehow has not been much noticed in in the rest of Europe and U.S. The scene apparently was messy and residents are complaining that Prime Minister Erdogan, when he was mayor of Istanbul, bears some responsibility for faulty planning.

Turkey also has been hit by a number of earthquakes recently that, likewise, have not been reported much outside that country. Claire Berlinski, author, has seen the hand of corruption in certain building failures and worries that a big quake could be disastrous.

If the flooding hasn't made the news in the US, I have to imagine
that the series of small earthquakes we've had here in the past few
weeks hasn't, either.

It's hard to know what this means. Seismologists are divided. Some
think it's good news (pressure is being relieved in small quakes,
making a bigger quake unlikely); some think it's very worrying -- a
sign that things are unusually active below the ground. The building
I'm living in now was recently renovated to bring it into compliance
with earthquake safety codes. A few days ago I spoke to the engineer
who supervised this work. He told me that every day he walks through
the city and feels unspeakable dread."

Turkey has suffered worse than most nearby countries from the current international recession. Putting it all together, a major U.S. ally could be in for inevitable political upheaval in months to come, in addition to its other woes.

September 15, 2009

Canadian Waterdrip Torture

The prospect of an election in Canada was put off another indefinite period as the Bloc Quebecois decided to vote in favor of the Conservative Government's budget. But a no-confidence vote could be raised by the Liberals in a couple of weeks anyhow. This can't be good for the Conservatives--to have their position determined entirely by the opposition parties.

That's what you get with a minority government.

Parliamentary government has its strengths. And its weaknesses.

Listen Up, Little People!

Rhetoric has been a substitute for substance for some time in this Administration. It's great rhetoric, but it lacks a foundation. The health care speech--now remembered mainly by the controversy over a Congressional heckler--has been followed by an empty speech on the economy.

The President went to Wall Street yesterday to tell off the daytime residents. But it is doubtful if they were impressed. No matter, they weren't the true audience.

No, the President really was hoping to speak over the heads of the greedy Wall Streeters (many of whom voted for him) to the Little People of America. The trouble is, the predictable drone of vacuous generalities is not really getting the Little People's attention any more. Reality is.

Back in Washington, DC, the news is that the economy there, at least, is holding up. Another 140,000 jobs are expected next year. They are all in the government. We, the Little People, are paying for them.

September 16, 2009

Speculation on Possible Catholic-Orthodox Reunion

The Catholic Archbishop of Moscow seems to be engaging in wishful thinking in a statement that reunion of Catholics and Orthodox could be close at hand. But there is no doubt that the magnetism of the two major Christian traditions--split for a thousand years--is greater than it ever has been.

The consequences of such a reunion would extend far and deep into the future of the Christian faith worldwide, of course.

Gratitude

There is much to be grateful for tonight here in Washington. Our senior fellow John Wohlstetter, who is writing on nuclear proliferation, a public policy topic so old it is new again (or going to be), just held an exquisite book party to celebrate his Discovery colleague George Gilder's The Israel Test (#590 on the Amazon list, #1 on the subject of Israel). In John's apartment in the famous Watergate, looking over the Potomac at sunset, George described the inspiration of his father, who visited Germany in 1936 and vowed to come back to the U.S. and do all he could to defeat Hitler. His father did that--a mere 22 year old, but well-connected in New York society--and then enlisted as a pilot in what became the Second World War, and died.

In The Israel Test, George has written an astonishing love letter to Israel that somehow also manages to be a new treatise on his long time theme of capitalism as a system that prizes human exceptionalism. He sees the need to defend Israel and the potential for Israel truly to become again a light to the nations.

Human exceptionalism is also the theme, as it were, of Stephen Meyer's Signature in the Cell. As George Gilder says, Meyer's book is a debate changer, the most comprehensive examination yet of the issue of Darwinism versus design. No one can claim to understand that debate without it. (The American Spectator reviewer, Dan Peterson, described himself as "Blown Away".) It's 700 on Amazon's list, and tops in at least two science categories.

Then there are all the books that have come out lately from Ben Wiker (Darwin's Myth) and Jay Richards (Money, Greed and God), among them, and hold your breath for David Berlinski's forthcoming The Deniable Darwin. Senor fellow Wesley J. Smith's current cover story in National Review, on Creeping Euthanasia, is a prelude for his new book this winter.

I add the film on the Cambrian Explosion of life forms 580 million years ago--"Darwin's Dilemma"--by Illustra Media that is just about to premier at the Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, featuring many Discovery fellows. Adolescent-acting Darwinists are trying to disrupt the opening, but their Acorn-style agitation only will add to the piquancy of the film's signal achievement. I was a guest at an early screening and conclude that it is going to be another winner.

The materialist Left is losing out.

One walks down Sixteenth Street near the White House and sees the monstrous, four story posters for "card check" and "full employment" on the lobbying organizations that now sidle up to power. One hears the stories, on the other hand, of the plain folk who showed up on the Mall in the hundreds of thousands last week to protest government health care, and one sees the cracks in our social consensus.

But that is the present. The future is in the minds--and writing--of colleagues like Gilder and Meyer, et al. In a gloomy time, they are a reason for gratitude and good cheer.

September 17, 2009

Was there a Deal Behind the Missile Shield Decision?

alg_missle_sun.jpg

Russian authorities are happy, Czech and Polish officials feel as if they have been used and abused by the United States, and Republicans are outraged that President Obama has decided to scrap plans to build a missile defense in Eastern Europe. The stated purpose was to guard Europe against intimidation by a nuclear Iran, but Russia professed to feel threatened and encircled. Now, presumably, Russians don't feel threatened and Iranians feel liberated to move ahead with nuclear development.

But here is the real test of this decision: did the U.S. gain anything by it in terms of protection of Europe (and Israel) against Iranian nukes? The next few months will tell.

The USSR and the USA were strangely but truly united in working against nuclear proliferation for a couple of decades--the 70s and 80s. In my time as US ambassador to the UN Organizations in Vienna in the 1980s this was the one field of relations in which mutual cooperation was sincere and real. Indeed, the way in which the United States came closer to the USSR at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) after the Chernobyl nuclear accident in the Ukraine in 1986 may be cited as a key turning point in the Cold War. The Soviets realized that we really didn't want to humiliate them, but only to help them deal with a real crisis. It led to a breakthrough that extended beyond the nuclear realm.

In those days the Soviets were clear that they did not want Iran to develop nuclear arms. Now, with the new Russian regime, oddly, the government's posture is not so sure. If the Russians really do think that Iran--snuggled right up against them--poses no nuclear danger, their leadership surely has lost its sense of long term strategy.

As is, it appears that the Obama Administration has managed to offend our Eastern European allies and to make a unilateral concession to Russian sensibilities. Other allies are sure to take note and become cautious. Maybe (as I believe) the missile system was over-rated and presented in a strangely maladroit manner. Still, it hardly makes sense to give it up for nothing in return.

But what if there is a background understanding between the White House and the Kremlin? If there is, and Russia comes around to joining Europe and the US in firmly opposing Iranian nuclear ambitions, it will be a major Obama accomplishment as well as a real "reset" of US-Russian relations.

If nothing is given in return, just more weapons sent from Russia to Iran, well, that will say something, too, won't it?

Think, meanwhile, of that recent, very quiet visit to Moscow by Israeli P.M., Benjamin Netanyahu. No comments were made by any of the participants.

(Cross-posted on RussiaBlog.)

September 18, 2009

Iraqi Future Needs Champions in the U.S.

iraqi-boy-celebr-withd-us-troops-mosul-june-30-09-khalid-al-mousuly-reuteurs.jpg

Iraq--other than Egypt, perhaps--is the essential Arab country. With a free, democratic Iraq you have the potential for serious long term peace in the Middle East. Afghanistan is important and Iran must be prevented from gaining nukes, but even victory in Afghanistan and a peaceful revolution in Iran would not generate the dynamic and models that a stable, Western-friendly Iraq would provide the region.

Iraq has a relatively educated population with a long, noble history. Iraq has oil--the fourth largest supply. It has water (the Tigris and Euphrates of storied past) and therefore agriculture. It has sunshine--albeit with the liability of terrible heat in summer. It has fishing in the south and pasture land in the rolling green north. It has access to the sea and shipping lanes. It could be peaceful and prosperous. It could provide leadership for peace in the Middle East.

Our friends at "Iraq the Model", the popular, prize-winning Iraqi blog-site, Drs. Muhammed Fadhil and Omar Fadhil, with their bother, Dr. Ali Fadhil--have matured in the process of reporting on developments in Iraq in a style and with a sensibility that should bring encouragement to Americans. They have a faithful following of about 1000 visitors a day.

It was a mystery to me over the years how they kept safe. But, in fact, they were not safe. The terrorists eventually found and killed their brother-in-law. So it was that the Fadhils joined their political ally, Mithal al-Alusi (a member of Parliament) in making blood sacrifice for their country's future. (Mr. al-Alusi, as I have reported in the past, saw his two sons killed before his eyes and has been attacked himself many times and nearly went to prison for daring to travel to Israel. Fortunately, the new Iraqi court system has protected him from his enemies.)

I met with Muhammed and Omar today and concluded that their admirers in America need to help them establish a permanent program. If you have any ideas how to do so, contact me. There needs to be an American outlet for their talent that will assist them in promoting the cause of liberty in their part of the world.

Despite the hundreds of billions the US government is spending on the Iraq war and reconstruction, there apparently is almost nothing to build the civil society that needs to emerge now. This is a call to the private and non-profit sector. Who will answer?

September 21, 2009

Intensity of Opinion Most Important on Health Care Issue

HCReformStatic-thumb-600x450.png

Machiavelli, the Dick Morris of medieval Florence, warned readers of The Prince that when opinion is divided between a minority that feels passionately and a majority whose passion is weak, the minority may prove more potent in the end. The passionate minority will act on their feelings, while the uninspired majority may not.

Right now, as polls show, opinion on health care reform (so called) is about evenly divided. But polls are only snapshots of opinion and the proponents are counting on a vague appeal--not specific elements in a bill--to win the day. But, opponents are confident of long term success on the politics because the members of the public who are suspicious of what is going on in Washington on this issue are almost sure to remember it and vote accordingly.

Thomas Sowell on the Underdog

thomassowell.jpg

George Gilder considers Thomas Sowell to be America's leading intellectual. That embraces his economics, legal insights and philosophy, at the least. "He could have held all kinds of jobs in government," George says, "but he just wants to write!"

He also can write for the ordinary person, in a way reminiscent of Ronald Reagan. Here's an example you can share with your kids. (It's also a fit thought for the end of the baseball season.)

September 22, 2009

Census Cancellation is Embarrassment for Russia

russia_pictures_door.jpg

A developed country does not cancel its regularly scheduled census of population, especially when one is constitutionally required. So it is not a surprise that the decision of Rosstat, the Russian State Statistical Service, to "postpone" the 2010 census on budgetary grounds was taken over the objection of Rosstat's highly regarded professional staff and at the behest of politicians in the Kremlin. The political leaders don't realize the seriousness of their mistake.

This may seem like a minor matter, except that it reflects high-level confusion about reality--the kind of reality a census captures. Indirectly, it damages economic prospects because it shows that public statistics cannot be accepted as reliable for planning and marketing purposes. If the Kremlin hopes that a several year delay will help it disguise negative demographic trends, it is deluded. Observers now will imagine far worse than an accurate census would show.

The decision is particularly unfortunate in light of the notorious statistical deceit that characterized the USSR. In that grim era statistics might as well have been another branch of state propaganda. Population and other numbers were so decrepit that the best analysis of the true condition of Russia demography probably came from Dr. Murray Feshbach, a brilliant analyst at the United States Census Bureau and, later, the State Department.

Feshbach, an amiable, chatty person in private, was amazingly adept at collecting and deconstructing official Soviet numbers, cross referencing with odd information--such as train schedules and shipping notices--to gain an insight into the truth that the Kremlin in those days hid. He was so good that Soviet statisticians repeatedly sought him out at international conferences to obtain copies of his reports to help them fill in the holes in their own. Feshbach was able to give them the kinds of data that they were not allowed to collect, or--in some cases where they did collect it--data they were not allowed share with their own domestic colleagues.

Are we going back to those days? Dr. Feshbach, now 80, retired in 2000, but maybe he can be pressed back into service--not service to the US government, but to beleaguered statisticians and businessmen in 21st century Russia.

September 23, 2009

How to Keep Your Own Doctor Under New Senate Bill

SFC%20Mark%20Flow%20Chart%209%2022%2009_Final.jpg

In case you want to pick your own doctor, examine the linked chart. Republicans on the Joint Economic Committee are having a good time explaining to people how the health care bill drafted by Sen. Max Baucus (D-Montana) actually will work in practice. It makes dealings with your private insurance company look like a snap in comparison.

Some news stories say that President Obama supports the Baucus bill, though, truly, it is next to impossible to pin the White House down on exactly what bill and its provisions the President does back. The President's "plan" is thus a constantly moving target. How does one chart that?

September 24, 2009

Dr. John DeVincenzo, R.I.P.

DeVincenzo.tif_031135.jpg

Dr. John DeVincenzo, a distinguished California businessman, orchardist and community leader, died this week, a loss to leadership on many levels. He is remembered in the San Luis Obispo Tribune also as "a dedicated family man - energetic, funny, full of life and always pushing the limits on traditional thinking."

Dr. DeVincenzo professionally was an orthodontist who was generous with his skills and resources. Throughout the past decade he was an enthusiastic supporter of Discovery Institute and its Center for Science and Culture.

We note with final gratitude that the family has named Discovery Institute as one of John's favorite charities. Those who wish to help further our work in his memory can do so by utilizing this online link or by sending checks marked the "DeVincenzo Fund" to the attention of Kelley Unger at Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture.

September 25, 2009

Health Insurance Shocker: Buy, Pay Fine or Face Jail

hcuffd3.jpg

Whenever someone says that the terms of the proposed health care are not as onerous as critics allege, the response is to charge the critic with distortion, even deceit. Now Senator John Ensign (R-NV) has squeezed out of the Joint Committee on Taxation staff the fact that, yes, if you fail to have health insurance and refuse to buy it, you can face a fine of $1,900, and if you don't pay that you can go to jail.

The acknowledgement came after Sen. Ensign pursued tough questioning to get at the truth. This is how the committee process is Congress is supposed to operate and too seldom does.

Psst! There's an Election in Germany, and it's Close

One of the most important elections not covered much in the (US) media in recent years is the one taking place this Sunday in Germany. The question seems to be whether Prime Minister Angela Merkel's conservative coalition can manage a substantial enough victory to claim a clear-cut mandate or whether the P.M.--who sought headlines at the G-22 Summit in Pittsburgh as her best last-minutes chance for publicity back home in Germany--will be forced into another coalition with the Social Democrats.

I'll be watching to see if the Linke leftists, successors to the old communist party of East Germany, as well and the Greens, continue to pick up the support slipping away from the lackluster Social Democrats.

610x-1.jpg

The outcome matters more than people here in America seem to have noticed. Even though Merkel has joined the panders blaming the greed of bankers for the current recession, her real causes are tax cuts that can revive the German economy (and indirectly help ours) and continued support for NATO's war in Afghanistan.

The linked story from The Independent ends with some funny combinations that victory might bring, depending on the various political parties' traditional colors. Here in America, we are stuck with basic red (state) and blue (state) imagery, and even that isn't very well-established. I'll still take our two party system to the confusion of theirs.

September 26, 2009

May we Now Call it "Terrorism" Again?

610x.jpg

Instead of abating, terrorist threats have increased in recent weeks and months as allied resolve in the face of Muslim extremists' pressures has wavered. In an effort to influence the Sunday elections in Germany, the Taliban and al Qaeda are proposing attacks on that country--naming today's Oktoberfest crowds in Munich as a prime sensitive spot--unless the Germans remove troops from Afghanistan. Most famously, a terrorist attack in Madrid in 2003 led to a change in Spain's government and the removal of Spanish troops from Iraq. In other words, the tactic is known to work.

Meanwhile, the FBI is busy rounding up terrorism suspects in Dallas, New York and Seattle, among other places. A Dallas plot was at the point of execution when foiled--the FBI had had a secret agent in place.

In Seattle, we heard as early as 2006 of efforts locally to recruit for al Qaeda among the population of immigrants from Somalia. So, fortunately, did the FBI.

On the world stage we have the spectacle of Iranian perfidy and the biggest terror plot possible, the development of nuclear weapons and a stated desire to see Israel and the U.S. destroyed. Now the Russians are noticing, which could be progress. (However, this commentator thinks the Russians will never get serious about Iran because their own purposes are better served by distracting and weakening the U.S.) We'll see. Actions will speak louder than words now.

But what about "words"? The Obama Administration has all but banned use of the phrase "War on Terror". A lot of good it has done. Does anyone still really think we merely are facing assorted criminals?

September 27, 2009

Win in Germany will Give Heart to US Center Right

capt.5004f082582e470faf2b2eeebdecd603.germany__elections_cdu141.jpg


The traditional conservative parties in Germany, the Christian Democrats (CDU) and their Bavarian state counterparts, the Christian Social Union (CDU) managed to meet 33 percent at the polls today, and their desired free market allies, the Free Democrats (FDP) substantially increased their numbers from 9.8 percent in 2005 to just under 15 percent today, according to exit poll projections.

This means that Prime Minister Angela Merkel can dissolve the government links with the sagging Social Democrats (SPD), who achieved an historic low 23 percent, while also preserving a small parliamentary majority over the combined power of the parties of the left, including the Greens and the former East German communists, the Linke.

Immediately, this points to continued support for NATO in Afghanistan, where Germany has been solid, despite the unpopularity of the war, and it means belt-tightening for government spending and, possibly--given FDP policies--investor stimulation in the way of tax cuts.

All of this will give courage to conservatives elsewhere, not only in America and Canada, but in the U.K., where national elections are expected soon and the Labor government of Gordon Brown is in increasingly distress.

Update: Expect German Tax Cuts, and More Nuclear Power

The showing of the conservative parties was even stronger than the exit polls suggested, though not exactly a landslide. The weaker-than-usual showing of the CDU/CSU and the strongest-ever showing of the FDP now indicate that Angela Merkel can well justify significant, if not sweeping, tax cuts to spur new job creation and de-regulation. And unapologetic nuclear power for energy also seems likely. Her coalition tilts right on economic recovery policies and toward reality on energy.

Can you imagine such a recovery program in the United States just now? Talk it up!

When Government Regulators Outsmart Themselves

Hance Haney of Discovery's Technology and Democracy project describes the peculiar state of technology in this economy in which Verizon simply opts out of the regulated (over-regulated) field of landline telephony because unregulated wireless is more lucrative. Thus has government (the FCC and Congress) outsmarted itself and failed the consumers--that is, the people who pay the Feds' salaries.

September 28, 2009

Public Doesn't Know the Truth About Social Security

The news is that Social Security will pay out more than it takes in for the next two years because job layoffs and early retirement decisions have increased the demand for payments. True enough.

But how many Americans (may we see a poll?) understand that there is no Social Security fund in the first place, that the money you pay each month in Social Security taxes goes into no such fund--but into the general coffers of the Federal Government--and that we really are at point (and past it for the next two years) when spending on Social Security finally exceeds income from Social Security taxes?

Can a tax hike and/or benefits reductions be long away?

Meanwhile, add this new item to the list of runaway Federal deficit spending.

September 29, 2009

Health Care Plan(s) Lose More as Public Learns More

Public support for passing what is called "health care reform" (any of the several bills before Congress) is lower than ever (41%), according to the new Rassmussen Poll; this, despite last week's furious presidential publicity campaign for "reform". Only 33% of senior citizens back the bill, and the great majority of seniors not only oppose it, but are "strongly" opposed.

On health care, I have invoked in the past the Machiavellian political precept that an angry minority opposition is more significant than a supportive majority that is only luke-warm. (The angry minority will take action, while the passive majority is less likely to do so.) Now, however, the Obama Administration appears to face a majority that is hostile and motivated.

large_young_voters_obama-bidensigns-meye1.jpg (That was then.)

The mystery remains the young. Several analyses have pointed out that young, healthy people are going to be forced to buy expensive health insurance, or failing to do so, will be fined or even put into jail. Somehow, that reality has not yet sunk into the awareness of the great mass of young voters--still the strongest bastion of support for the Administration's health care ambitions. Maybe no one on university campuses or on The Daily Show has bothered to tell them.

(Update: Senate panel fails twice to adopt "public option".

Brazil's Bizarre Foreign Policy; Obama's Amoral Foreign Policy

manuel-zelaya-cp-w6957887.jpg

Silva de Lula of Brazil is coming under well-deserved domestic criticism for his bizarre decision to allow former Honduras President Manuel Zelaya--a pal of Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro--to use the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa as his campaign headquarters in a running dispute with the current leaders of Honduras.

Why the U.S. is playing along with Zelaya and his far left cronies is a mystery. Zelaya defied the Supreme Court of his country when it ruled his actions to perpetuate his rule unconstitutional. There has been almost no discussion of the reality on the ground, except by Anastasia O'Grady of the Wall Street Journal and the paper's editorial writers.

Silva de Lula plainly is pandering to his otherwise-neglected far left base; he has not proven to be the demagogue he first appeared--except in this instance. In so doing, he gives assistance to Hugo Chavez who usually is his hemispheric foe.

The role of the USA is even stranger, part of a general policy, it seems of attacking our friends and giving comfort to our foes.

Top Discovery Articles

USAToday

First Things

First Things

Weekly Standard

Center for Bioethics and Culture

Featured Video

The Magician's Twin

The Magician's Twin

edited by John G. West
Purchase