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December 2010 Archives

December 4, 2010

TSA and the Maginot Line

When World War I was over the French built an impregnable Maginot Line to keep out any future German invasion. In World War II the Germans simply went around the Maginot Line to attack France--successfully.

The airport security we employ and endure today is the Maginot Line of the War Against Terrorism, the constantly updated effort to protect against the 9/11 terrorists' tactics, the shoe bomber, the underwear bomber. Our colleague John Wohlstetter explains the well-meaning futility of this strategy.

The purpose of terrorism is not to inflict casualties on enemy combatants, but to terrorize the civilian population. That aim succeeded after 9/11 when our stock market tanked and Americans undertook increasingly invasive searches at our airports before ticketed passengers board planes.

Meanwhile, what prevents terrorists from blowing up hundreds of passengers at the departure counters before they ever board?

Nothing more than prevents some Somali fanatic from blowing up the Christmas tree lighting crowd in Portland, Oregon; namely, FBI detective work. THe terrorists aren't stupid. They eventually will find their way to vulnerable football games in Nebraska, shoppers at Macy's and faith gatherings in American cathedrals. What stands in their way is not metal detectors or pat downs, but advance police work.

Memo to the incoming Congress. Ask the old 9/11 Commission: how are we doing?

December 5, 2010

Washington Post Sees "Censorship": Spare Me

For the past century or so decadence in art has always centered on shocking the middle class (épater les bourgeois ). Revenge of supposed free thinkers in society is a way of forging a union of the cultural left and the monied left. It's a pretty tired theme by now and requires ever more sensationalism to excite the old tittilation. If you can get the taxpayers to pay for offending their own deepest values, that at least improves the prospect of overcoming the majority of the public's indifference to your calculated insult.

The past week the the Smithsonian gained publicity for an exhibit at the Portrait Gallery called "Hide/Seek" that chiefly features assorted edgy sexual content and, among other things, a four minute video of ants crawling over Jesus Christ. The Smithsonian apparently thought that this would be a good seasonal antidote to too much Christmas cheer. However, the Catholic League protested and the National Portrait Gallery took down the video, but none of the rest of the exhibit.

The Washington Post went into a dither at that point. It's art critic railed two days ago. The editors ranted yesterday, criticizing the Republicans on the Hill for daring to criticize the exhibit, "The Censors Arrive." "'Hide/Seek' should be a platform for cultural debate, not the target of a misguided political vendetta," the Post snorted.

Wait a minute, isn't this the same Washington Post editorial page that five years ago objected to the showing of the film The Privileged Planet at the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History? Oh, yes, it is. The Post was entirely on the other side of the censorship barricade then. No talk in that case about a needed "platform for cultural debate."

So, smutty art is sacred. But a film that suggests that there is scientific evidence for design in the universe, that is just too offensive the Ruling Class to permit.

To say that the Post and the Smithsonian are both hypocritical on the censorship issue is putting too good a face on hypocrisy.

December 6, 2010

Hot News: No Global Warming for 15 Years

Was it only 12 months ago that we were chuckling over the plight of attendees at the world climate change (aka, "global warming") conference in Copenhagen? Remember how most world leaders fled early because of an impending blizzard? The US President had put his prestige on the line, imagining that his famous charisma would break the diplomatic ice and produce a treaty. It did not. The ice held.

Now, with much less publicity coming out of this year's conference in Cancun, it seems that the swell computer models that predicted a spectacularly warm 2010 have failed once again. So, of course, did the hurricane predictions for the 2010, but then, those unfulfilled predictions are becoming predictable. But the global warming predictions are more consequential, leading to untold billions in government spending and truckloads of new regulations. Now, David Rose reports for the Daily Mail in London, it seems that the temperature has not materially warmed for fifteen (not just ten) years.

The Daily Mail concludes, "The question now emerging for climate scientists and policymakers alike is very simple. Just how long does a pause have to be before the thesis that the world is getting hotter because of human activity starts to collapse?"

Here's another question: When do journalists start to realize that computer models often are completely unreliable in science? Why have people forgotten the very oldest maxim about computers: "Garbage in, garbage out"?

Cut State Salaries, Pensions--or Basic Services?

We have so many economic problems that stem from reckless federal government spending that financial problems in the states are getting relatively less attention. But the state problems--especially in big problem states, led by California--may be even worse than those in Washington, DC.

In the other Washington, the state, the voters last month defeated any attempt to raise taxes. So the governor and legislature are forced to choose now between cutting government salaries and pensions--which is very hard--or cutting basic government services--also very hard. Spending went up fast in the "fat years" and the only way to reduce it now may be to go back to the spending levels of several years ago.

The dominant Democrats are beholden to the public employee unions that supply much of the effective voter outreach in campaigns these days, so, in the end, rather than face their wrath, majority legislators may find it less painful (though horrible) to savage social programs for school children, the handicapped, the ill and prisoners. Regardless, the choices are grim. And Washington State is not at all atypical.

In fact, problems are much worse in California, Illinois and a few other notoriously spendthrift states. In California and Illinois the range of legislative choices will be greater, however. In addition to the options of salary and pension cuts and program cuts the option of still higher taxes will be very tempting. Democrats control Illinois and California, so expect to see the tax route followed in those cases. Unfortunately, higher taxes will not solve the problems of the biggest spending states, only damage the private economies that provide revenue in the first place.

Regardless, a bright light is going to be shown on completely unsustainable state and local salaries and pensions. The crisis developing in this sector is not unlike the mortgage bubble. And you know how that resulted.

Replacement for the Internet is Coming

The shift is as big as from telegraph to telephone.

Our founding Fellow, George Gilder, thinks the Internet already is on its way out. He explains why and how.

Federal Tax Fight; We'll Do it Again in '12

The sweeping tax deal worked out by President Obama and (mainly, it appears) the Republican leaders in Congress is the first fruit of the 2010 GOP victories in the House and, to a lesser degree in the Senate. Without those victories, no deal.

There is some question whether the Democrats led by Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid are going to go along. (Many liberal groups are livid.) Democrats in Congress really are stuck now. If they don't pass this deal, they spoil any chance for any other Lame Duck session legislation and will be blamed when the deal is enacted later--and with great disruptions--in the new Congressional session that begins in less than a month.

But this is certain: the decision to make only a two year extension in tax rates and the 35 percent tax cap on estates over $5 million (the "death tax") guarantees that these issues will be right back in the 2012 election debate. Maybe the White House thinks the public will back tax increases then, decoupled as they apparently will be from general tax rates. If so, President Obama, as a candidate (presumably), will benefit. But it may be that the public really don't want any tax increases, which seemed to be their mood in last month's election. If that is the case, it was a bad mistake for the President to arrange for the whole debate to get kicked into the next election cycle.

December 7, 2010

Another Science Scandal, Now at UCLA

You can put this in the growing file of "Faithless Stewards of Public Science Money." The account is from Los Angeles where the chair of the UCLA Department of Environmental Health Services is trying to fire a long time professor of particle physics and epidemiology. If the report in Environment & Climate News by John Dale Dunn is correct, Dr. James Enstrom is being dismissed because his "research is not aligned with the academic missions of the Department."

In other words, Enstrom's work has run afoul of the thought police. Here is the makings of another a science scandal.

Almost all science research is funded these days by the federal government. This leads to backscratching and logrolling by the old boy network in the bureaucracies of the government and academia. Certain things are considered sacred truth by the old boys, such as the perils of second hand smoke or of global warming. Enstrom has published scientific studies in places like the British Medical Journal that affront conventional ideology. He also published an embarrassing expose of a fellow scientist who made false claims of having a Phd.

A number of California state legislators have come to Prof. Enstrom's defense and challenged the attack on his academic freedom. As is, the termination date has been moved to March, 2011.

I'll say it again, possible misuse and abuse of federal science monies across several fields deserves a thorough review.

December 10, 2010

Cancun Chills Climate Talks--Literally

Last year it was snowdrifts in Copenhagen, at this year's climate conclave in Cancun it is decidedly un-tropical temperatures in the low 50s. They're calling it the "Gore effect."

Real Political Reform: Strengthen Parties

The Republican National Committee is asking the US Supreme Court to support greater coordination between political parties and party candidates' campaign committees. The case is from a 2008 campaign by Republican Anh "Joseph" Cao who was the party candidate for Congress in New Orleans. He won, but then was defeated in 2010. The issue is not really about him, but about whether a political party has the right to work with its own candidates. In this case, the "coordination" was only about the timing of a TV ad. Nonetheless, the principle is vitally important.

Our country's political system is founded on the principle of representative democracy. Within a few years of the Founding, political parties came into being as a natural means to express public will and to ally candidates. By the late 19th Century parties had become corrupt and in some cases tyrannous. In the past 120 years much has been done to correct the abuses of political parties, but now we are at the ridiculous point where candidates sometimes cannot even coordinate with their own parties. Before the whole electoral system implodes with silliness, the Supreme Court should look favorably on the request before it.

Remember, with political parties you can see what you get and the candidates of the party are responsible at least to the Republicans or Democrats. With ad hoc arrangements and specialized groups doing their own separate campaigning, accountability is vitiated. "Reform" these days means strengthening parties, not weakening them further.

December 12, 2010

A Scientific Investigation into Science

Slate's provocative essay by Daniel Sarewitz on why Republicans are unrepresented in science continues to ripple through the Internet.

Various answers are given and several have merit, but the strongest real reason is that contemporary science as taught in government supported universities (which is almost all of them) implicitly supports the ideological viewpoint of the left--since that supplies the money and is resistant to normative influences from tradition--and it is pervasively prejudiced against the kind of students found on the right, especially religious believers. A large share of America is cut off from science in universities on that account, and American science is the poorer for it. Now try studying that.

Terror Goof in Sweden Evokes New Film

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If you want to understand the bathos of the bumbled terror attack in Sweden this weekend, go see the English film, Four Lions. Mr. Taimur Abdulwahab is not a hero nor entirely a clown. His mission to blow up Swedish civilians shopping for Christmas presents failed; his bomb laden car burned instead of exploding. Shouting in Arabic, Abdulwahab did manage to blow himself up, while injuring two passersby. For this glorious deed, which also left the bomber's Swedish wife and three children back in England to fend for themselves, Al Qaeda has taken credit.

The reason to see the film Four Lions is that it follows a group of four similarly benighted young jihadis in the UK who have no commonsense, fumble everything, and likewise end up dead. Their cause is preposterous as well as wretched and even they don't understand it. Four Lions is about absurdity trying to find a purpose, a morality tale about the false god of celebrity martyrdom. The film is painful to watch, but very funny in a bitter way. (I thank our friend and colleague, the talk show intellectual and critic, Michael Medved, for recommending it.) Dr. Strangelove was an anti-war satire, Four Liions is an anti-terrorism satire.

Meanwhile, Swedes are probably wondering what got into this young man's head to try to kill them. The question will torment his family, too. What no one should imagine, however, is that the latest bumbling bomber was much more than a misled and wicked fool.

Medved Comments on FIFTH Lion

Michael Medved comments on the blog below and also notes the specific similarity of the failed Islamist bomber in Sweden to the bumbling jihadists of the film Four Lions.

"You're right, of course --- especially because this latest individual, like the lead character in Four Lions, seems to have been a nice-looking, reasonably well-integrated guy.

"The amazing thing about Naziism and Communism wasn't the existence of monsters -- like Hitler and Stalin themselves --- but the involvement of pleasant, well-adjusted, happily married individuals in the most monstrous imaginable forms of evil. (Extremist) Islam appears to offer the same devastatingly dangerous power to turn 'nice' into murderous. The striking thing about all the recent American cases of would-be jihadists is that, like the losers in the movie, they all seem perfectly ordinary and quotidian-- with perhaps more than ordinary levels of goofiness and incompetence."

December 13, 2010

An Olive Branch Grows Into a Christmas Tree

President Obama's olive branch to Republicans over taxes is going through a huge change in Congress. It is swelling and morphing into a familiar seasonal object, the legislative Christmas Tree. Its boughs now are hung with new treats for various constituencies--from ethanol subsidies to Samoan economic development. These baubles have little to do with taxes, of course, and they run up the cost of the bill so much that some Republicans now may vote no. The GOP could do better with a retroactive bill in January that preserved the original Obama-McConnell deal.

The Pelosi-crats in the House are ill-disposed to the tax compromise, anyhow, and media commentators are speculating on whether they will demand changes in order to allow passage. Actually, this has turned out to be a perfect time to do the lame duckery that Republicans have feared all along, engorging an already swollen budget deficit. Faced with defections from special interests (like Sen. Grassley of corn-rich Iowa), the Senate Minority Leader McConnell may find his filibuster numbers easily falling below 40.

lame-duck-congress.jpg

Continue reading "An Olive Branch Grows Into a Christmas Tree" »

December 14, 2010

The Legal Challenge to Obamacare is Serious

Discovery Senior Fellow Wesley J. Smith , among his other credentials, is an attorney with a long background in public policy law. As such, he is capable of a keen interpretation of the recent ruling against the Obamacare provision requiring each private citizen (adult) to purchase health care insurance. He has, indeed, provided such an interpretation at the online version of the journal First Things. Other websites are picking it up, too. The reasoning is fascinating. In sum, the legal issues are a lot more consequential than the mainstream media are suggesting.

The Giant Italian Shrug

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Reuters

The Northern European famously says, "The situation is serious, but not hopeless." The Southern European sums up his attitude as, "The situation is hopeless, but not serious." The American? Well, I always appreciated Democratic presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson's observation (I paraphrase): Some problems don't get solved, they just go away.

Take the notorious ungovernability of Italy. After World War II one kept reading news headlines screaming, "Government Falls in Italy." (As the Wall Street Journal's James Taranto might say, "Look out below!") It sounded terrible, but all that really was happening was that the governing coalition was dissolving and a new one needed to be formed. Like ocean currents below the whitecaps, the actual administration of the state continued despite all the frothy turmoil at the top.

That is one of the curiosities of watching the Perils of Belusconi in Rome these days. It sounds ominous, but nothing much changes. What soap opera could compare with this saga? Premier Berlusconi has taken European insouciance over leaders' private sex lives (in contrast to supposed American puritanism) to new extremes. He not only survives revelations about a parade of mistresses, but it doesn't seem to matter that some of the young ladies are really young, like underage.

And yet he survives politically. The government does not fall. He does not fall.

Italy is ungovernable. As ever. And life goes on.

Tech Continues to Lead Israel Boom

If the United States were growing as well as our Israeli ally, we'd be in fat city right now. The news from the little Mediterranean powerhouse just keeps looking up. GDP rose 3.8 percent last quarter, down from 4.5 percent in the previous quarter, but still very brisk. Technology stocks overwhelmingly lead the way.

George Gilder's thesis in The Israel Test is thus validated daily.

Imagine a developed country that sells more to China than it buys!

Curtail the Authority of Lame Ducks

It is hard to believe that Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi could damage the reputation of Congress further, but they are proving it's possible. The President's leadership is lacking, too, and his popularity sinking further. This Congress is America's rival to the infamous Long Parliament of England.

It's time to eliminate or legally curtail the authority of Lame Duck legislative sessions. What is happening now in Washington, DC shows that the repudiated majority in the House and the reduced majority in the Senate cannot handle the few things the public needs to have done and wants to have done before they leave and instead are trying to ram through legislation they couldn't pass earlier (when the voters had them in their sights).

Not only should these lame ducks fly home, this kind of abuse of public trust should be procedurally constrained in the future by a more reform-minded Congress.

December 17, 2010

Church of Science May be Losing Members


by David Klinghoffer

Slate startled us the other day by publishing an insightful essay asking whether political and worldview presuppositions drive the debate over climate change on both sides -- not only for those on the Right, but for combatants on the Left too, including scientists (who are mostly on the Left). It's an elementary observation that should be evident to anyone who follows the evolution debate, but of course a welcome surprise coming from a venue like Slate.

Author Dr. Daniel Sarewitz worries that because the ranks of scientists are so politically skewed, that threatens the trust that scientists currently enjoy among the public:

Continue reading "Church of Science May be Losing Members" »

December 21, 2010

Is a Crisis Still a Terrible Thing to Waste?

Former Presidential Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel is now running for Mayor of Chicago. Assuming he is able to establish residency, is his election something to be savored--by Rahm himself?

Chicago is overwhelmingly in debt. Mayor Richard E. Daley has left a huge, inevitable debt for coming years and has used up the resources he supposedly husbanded for the future. Chicago suddenly is in very bad shape.

Can the state of Illinois help? Nope. It is in terrible shape, too. Illinois is spending about 35 percent more than it is taking in. Its bond rating is the second worst in the country.

A hearing in Chicago was held today to decide whether Emanuel is even eligible to run for mayor, his having lived in Washington, DC rather than the Windy City the past couple of years. Given Chicago's financial prospects, he may hope that the ruling--expected next week--will not be favorable.

Sun to Blame; Maybe Time to Ban the Sun

We may be in for a mini-ice age. Some say it is the perverse responsibility of climate change (aka, "global warming"). The more you heat your house, the colder the climate. Make sense?

Meanwhile some say it is really the fault of the sun. As a result, many are figuring out how to ban the sun. Or sue it. Or regulate it. Has anyone contacted the EPA? The ACLU?

December 22, 2010

The Day the Spending Died

Discovery Sr. Fellow John Wohlstetter has a smart, tidy analysis of the impact of two conservative victories in Congress as the folks prepare to go home. It's in The Daily Caller.

The conservative failure on other matters--notably, the Don't Ask, Don't Tell bill and the SMART treaty (presumably)--are relatively less important than the success in continuing the current tax rates and the defeat of the omnibus budget.

December 24, 2010

2010 Christmas Lights a Bit Brighter

It took Christians a long time to recognize what was going on with the yearly news weekly cover stories explaining why modern "scholars" now have supposedly discovered that orthodox faith on such matters as the Incarnation and Virgin Birth, like the Resurrection, are just cultural reflections of various political and social movements. This kind of debunking in the past few years has recognized as the "war against Christmas," because serious religious faith (as opposed to consumerism and popular songs about winter) is a threat to another orthodoxy, secularism. The Christmas story has to be debunked or its public expression discouraged and/or banned.

Continue reading "2010 Christmas Lights a Bit Brighter" »

December 27, 2010

California's Latest Budget Buster

It is not enough that the State of California is nearly insolvent and headed into inevitable crisis; the state may be on the verge of another multi-billion dollar boondoggle that has nothing to do with serving the normal and necessary functions of state government and everything to do with runaway ambition, wishful thinking and waste. Wesley J. Smith, Discovery Sr. Fellow on Human Exceptionalism, writes about it in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Maybe Not "Death Panels," But Getting Close

The Obama Administration is trying on several fronts (FCC, EPA) to accomplish by bureaucratic executive fiat what Congress would not approve. And they are doing it during Christmas holidays, probably to prevent a bigger public--and Congressional--outcry. The latest example is the institution of end-of-life advice for senior citizens. Discovery Sr. Fellow, Wesley J. Smith, points out at National Review's "Corner" that having doctors seek directives of elderly patients on end-of-life or emergency care is innocuous on its own, but sets the stage for the kind of "death panels" and care rationing that Sarah Palin vividly described.

Continue reading "Maybe Not "Death Panels," But Getting Close" »

December 28, 2010

World Hails Claire Berlinski, Ben Wiker

Before this year of economic hope and ideological change concludes, I would like to record World magazine's citation of two of 2010's literary accomplishments, Claire Berlinski's "There is No Alternative": Why Margaret Thatcher Matters and Ben Wiker's Ten Books Every Conservative Must Read.

Actually, Basic Books brought out the Thatcher book in 2008, but it is becoming more topical--and popular--daily in the aftermath of the Tea Party's success and Mr. Obama's failures. Regnery's publication of the Wiker work is newer, but timeless in its application.

Both authors, saluted by editor Marvin Olasky in the December 18 issue, are Discovery Institute fellows. But you probably knew that.

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