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January 2011 Archives

January 3, 2011

Death Panels in State Health Plans

by Wesley J. Smith (posted originally at National Review Online's "Corner")

Norman Ornstein had a piece in the Washington Post railing against "death panels" in Indiana and Arizona, both of which involved Medicaid budget limits. He omitted the death panel in Oregon -- perhaps because it is a liberal state? -- which has explicitly rationed care under Medicaid since being allowed to conduct rationing under the Clinton administration. In Oregon, Medicaid has a list of over 700 procedures, and will cover only the number permitted by their budget, usually in the low- to mid-600s. All those procedures on the wrong side of the line are not paid for by Medicaid.

The point of Oregon's experiment was to expand coverage at the expense of cutting off the sickest people. For example, double organ transplants have been refused. That hasn't worked, but the state has kept its rationing scheme anyway. As a consequence, many poor Oregonians have, over the years, been denied potentially life-extending treatments. In 2008, two late-stage cancer patients were denied chemotherapy that could have extended their lives by Medicaid -- but were offered payment for their assisted suicides!

What is the common thread that connects the death panels in these three states? Medicaid is a single-payer system in which budgets are limited. When the money runs out, people's options shrink. See also, the U.K.'s NHS and, increasingly, Canada's national health-care system, in which life-extending chemotherapy has also been restricted in some places.

Many Obamacare supporters see the ACA is a necessary step to the ultimate goal, a federal single-payer system. But those who are attracted to this option should learn from Indiana, Arizona, and Oregon: Government can get away with treatment restrictions that would never be countenanced within a market-based system in which regulators would be on the side of the patients, rather than the government funder. In other words, if you like death panels -- as Norm Ornstein points out, although he probably missed his own message -- single payer is the way to get them.

-- Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute's Center on Human Exceptionalism

Grand Mufti Assails Terror "Outrage" in Egypt

The Grand Mufti of Egypt, Dr. Ali Gomaa, has denounced the terror bombings of Christian churches in Egypt, especially the New Year's attack in Alexandria. This normally might not be news, except that such high level support for anti-terrorism policy is necessary and welcome in Muslim lands. Unfortunately, it is all too rare, or is provided in too oblique a fashion--and, even then, not reported well in local and international media. The exploitation of "anti-blasphemy" laws in Pakistan, for example, is so accepted by the public there that the government dares not repeal the laws or provide reliable court interpretation to prevent capricious arrests.

Christians are under increasing private pressure and public persecution in most Muslim lands, including formerly tolerant lands like Morocco. Nowhere, except possibly Indonesia, are they safe both to practice their religion and free to open churches. This really is the scandal of modern Islam and demands action from within the Islamic community.

Meanwhile, with all the arrests in Europe and the US recently, anti-terror proclamations and news articles might seem to be called for. It would help if there was half as much attention given to combatting terrorism as there has been to supposed civil liberties violations at Guantanamo. Is one reason that Western elites are so reluctant to challenge persecution of Christians the reality that the guiding secularism of the West is itself ambivalent towards Christianity and seeks ever increased infringements on religion?

Federal Transportation May Skid Off the Road

Proposals are under consideration to change the way transportation is funded nationally, and the consequences are not very promising for transportation, or, for that matter, the federal budget. The reforms put forward by Republicans Bud Schuster and Don Young, and enacted by a Republican Congress, a dozen years ago guaranteed transportation trust fund spending levels. The rules change proposed by the new House GOP leadership would allow the guaranteed level to be lowered by the Appropriations Committee, thereby essentially putting the Transportation Trust Fund budget--still funded mainly by transportation taxes--into the same pot as other general expenditures.

It is a poor idea, but more important, it seems like a bootless enterprise, and a potentially time consuming one. It would cost its Republican proponents some of the momentum they now enjoy. Opponents already are energized. Moreover, it is a big change that should be debated, not rushed through as a rules change, as apparently some intend. This is the very sort of thing that Republicans objected to when it came from Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Beyond that:

1) Transportation is one of the core functions of government since the Founding. There is nothing fuzzy or vague about it. It is not social engineering, but real engineering. It is literally concrete. Transportation is a time honored role of government--harking back to post roads and canals--that, if anything, has been downgraded by all the new obligations that have supplanted it in the affections of the Left. Each decade it becomes a smaller part of the US Budget.

While there has been plenty of Tea Party opposition to certain transportation earmarks, such as the "bridge to nowhere," there has been no principled or practical opposition to transportation programs per se. Reform of how transportation projects are selected and undertaken would be helpful. For example, there should be more of a role for private finance and for achieving efficiencies through project operations that connect design, building and operate (DBO or DBM--design, build, maintain). It is also worthwhile to consider a requirement for more local matching money for road, bridge and rail projects that primarily benefit an intra-state region as opposed to a true inter-state constituency. But the rules change scheme is something else, a way to use transportation revenues to cover shortfalls in non-transportation programs.

2) Linking transportation spending to transportation revenue was the product of a reform several decades ago. There is a direct linkage now, unlike the various novel programs that have been added to government since the New Deal and the Great Society. Severing such a linkage between transportation tax revenue and transportation spending would destroy a valuable pay-as-you-go precedent and establish a dangerous new spending temptation for future Congresses. It also would decrease whatever predictability transportation planning has now.

3) Transportation infrastructure, as the recent winter storms have underscored, is in bad condition, unable to respond adequately to emergencies as mundane as snow and ice, let alone real man-made or natural disasters. If people can't move, nothing gets done, personal or corporate or communal. Why pick a time when a fragile economic recovery is underway to stymie transportation improvements? Infrastructure spending is one of the few government stimulus programs that actually stimulate anything.

4) You can be sure that the construction and union lobbies will be out in force against this change, as will Chambers of Commerce, municipalities and states. Public opinion is not likely to be directly mobilized at first because people are not even aware that transportation is threatened. But when they are, they probably will not approve of their transportation tax dollars being spent on other things.

So, politically speaking, even if somehow this change passes the House (with blood flowing copiously in the gutters), it will not be sustained in the Senate, and if it adopted there, it likely would face a Presidential veto.

So what's the point? The undoing of one reform to achieve another--and only to achieve it as a lost cause? We are not in our financial bind because of transportation spending, and sacrificing it will not help us get out of our bind.

January 4, 2011

True Grit, and Animal Rights

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Paramount Pictures

Wesley J. Smith reviews True Grit, Academy Award nominee for Best Picture, making the sage observation that while the movie stealer in the original was John Wayne, the movie stealer in the remake is Hailee Steinfield, the female lead. More than that, Smith notes that the film raises a moral issue that undoubtedly will get lots of comments: a horse is ridden to death to save a human life. Is that defensible?

To the animal rights crowd, maybe not. Fortunately, the film takes another view.

January 5, 2011

Death Panels: Fear of Rationing

If you have insurance, America's health care is probably the best in the world. Even if you don't, it's up there with the second tier. What you also have is a certain amount of patient control, an ability for you and your family and your doctor to shape your care. At worst, if an insurance company refuses to pay for some procedure, you can pay for it yourself. In many socialized systems, you can't do that. In order to make the system work, private citizens are stripped of the option to buy their own health treatments.

That is why rationing is so feared by Americans. At some point, the government, lacking money for comprehensive coverage, decides who gets treatment and who doesn't. At an extreme, the government encourages old and very sick people to stop fighting the odds and make an end-of-life plan that eases a medical decision to cut off care--and save the government money. A "living will", sadly, seems to be sensible mainly when one signs it, but not necessarily so sensible (as my late mother found out) when emergency care is needed. In my mom's case, she was intubated after a heart attack, even though her living will said she shouldn't be. She was greatly relieved later that the living will had not been consulted; the oversight saved her life.

Wesley Smith, of our Center on Human Exceptionalism, blogs today at First Things about the latest decision of the Obama Administration to pull the plug on what seemed to be another try--administratively--to adopt what Sarah Palin dubbed "death panels."

Continue reading "Death Panels: Fear of Rationing" »

Political Poetry Reading on the House Floor

They are reading the whole Constitution on the floor of the US House today, and it seems to annoy the media and many Democrats. If these folks were smart, they would use the occasion to state their own views on the Constitution rather than protesting the "Constitution worship" with which they accuse Republicans. Instead, they have reacted as conservatives predicted, with attempted ridicule and petulance.

Conservatives are right to revere (they don't worship) the Constitution, along with the Declaration of Independence. At a singularly propitious point in a new country of only three million people, a uniquely remarkable group of leaders came together to establish by reflection and consultation the finest guiding document in political history. It is principled and yet capable of amendment. It has lasted longer than any comparable document.

Unfortunately, since at least the Progressive Era, the Left that supposedly trusts the people has sought to avoid the amendment process as a way of modernizing the Constitution and to change the document's plain meaning by judicial decree and administrative fiat. Today the new House leaders are calling them on it. So, what it is the Left is really feeling today is not amusement or annoyance, but embarrassment. The more liberal (er, "progressive") critics carry on, the more they reveal their ignorance and bias. A lot of Americans accordingly are getting a bit of education in civics.

January 7, 2011

The Latest Story of Israel "Atrocities"

Remember the news over the holidays about the poor Palestinian shepherd who was minding his sheep when a gang of Israeli settlers drove up, attacked him and set fire to the hillside, killing much of his flock? Well, it seemed strange, and, in any case, it was untrue.The shepherd set fire to the hillside himself, by accident, and decided to blame the Israelis.

A little hole in his story got wider with the telling. He said the settlers were Orthodox Jews wearing kippahs (skull caps) and performed their attack on Saturday. Not only was there no good motive for such an attack, but Orthodox Jews wouldn't be driving on the sabbath, or setting a fire on that day.

Caroline Glick's fine website carries analysis at length, helping to give us again an illustration of the way a lie about Israel can travel have way around the world (to paraphrase Churchill) before the truth can put on its shoes on. Indeed, I'm not sure the truth's shoes are fully on yet. While I saw the news about the initial charge, I haven't seen any follow up stories in the US mainstream media showing it to be a fraud.

January 9, 2011

Mental Illness Makes Sense of Arizona Killings

The wrong lessons, as usual, are being taken from the weekend attacks in Tucson, AZ.

The first reports on the shooting of some 18 people in Arizona--with six dead, including a federal judge, and the critical wounding of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Tuscon--led almost at once to speculation that the shooter might have been someone influenced by the tea parties and by Sarah Palin, in particular. The fact that the Congresswoman was a Democrat who had been opposed by a tea party backed candidate in the last election gave rise to this assertion, but in no way justified it.

Now that we know that Jared Loughner, 22, was a mentally disturbed person with a grab bag of incoherent grievances about the government's supposed control of grammar and interference with consciousness, there obviously is no future in trying to blame conservatives for the killing spree. (The federal judge who was killed, in fact, was an appointee for Pres. George H. Bush). So, instead, there are mutterings about "hateful speech" in the media (meaning conservative talk radio, one guesses) that would inspire such an atrocity. The New York Times even hints that the controversy over federal funding of health care may be responsible.

That is exploitative, free-floating speculation. Promoting civility in public life is a great idea. But there is nothing at all to suggest that this deranged young man was motivated by anyone in or out of politics.

Here instead is the real question: what was such a sociopath doing on the loose? Why was he not in a mental institution? Let that question guide the investigation ahead. It's the best way to make sense of this and similar terrible incidents, and to prevent more of the same.

The most perverse message film of all time may have been One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest in 1975. Brilliantly scripted and acted, the movie that won five Oscars; however, as several reviewers noted at the time, it lent itself to political assumptions against mental hospitals that were overwrought, at the least. The film and other tales of wrongful incarceration of people whose only offense was harmless eccentricities, led to a spate of laws to deinstitutionalize the mentally ill and raise the bar even for compulsory incarceration of those who are potentially dangerous to society. As I said at the time, it forged an unholy alliance of politicians eager to save money and politicians eager to advance libertarian individualism.

In recent years I have seen examples of how good care can salvage the life of a mentally ill person who is, indeed, potentially dangerous. But such cases take attention and professional services. Unfortunately, since the 70s, neither political party has made mental illness a high priority. Yet who among us would disagree that Jared Loughner should have been in an institutional setting, not loose on the street?

Every time we have one of these "senseless killings", as they usually are called, it seems that an unbalanced person is involved. Every time there nonetheless are media voices trying to find some political explanation or demanding a ban on guns. Isn't it time to get serious about such killings and provide help for the mentally ill who are potential killers--and safety for the rest of society?

January 11, 2011

"Stamp Out Hate": Ode to the N.Y. Times

Day after day, in editorials and columns, the way the New York Times and similar media organs attempt--against any evidence--to link the Jared Loughner murders in Tucson to political conservatives. It has become the kind of slander that even one of the few moderates at the Times, David Brooks, descries as "vicious charges made by people who claimed to be criticizing viciousness." He was not naming his own paper, but his observation is so apt as to indicate that he will not be allowed on the op-ed page much longer if he continues in that vein.

Here is the Times editorial that sets the party line:

"It is facile and mistaken to attribute this particular madman's act directly to Republicans or Tea Party members. But it is legitimate to hold Republicans and particularly their most virulent supporters in the media responsible for the gale of anger that has produced the vast majority of these threats, setting the nation on edge. Many on the right have exploited the arguments of division, reaping political power by demonizing immigrants, or welfare recipients, or bureaucrats......

"That whirlwind has touched down most forcefully in Arizona, which Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik described after the shooting as the capital of "the anger, the hatred and the bigotry that goes on in this country." . . .

"Now, having seen first hand the horror of political violence, Arizona should lead the nation in quieting the voices of intolerance, demanding an end to the temptations of bloodshed, and imposing sensible controls on its instruments." (Italics added.)

The Times editors and their like remind me of a satirical song (lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, music by Mary Rodgers) from the 1960s, when lumpen revolutionaries were preaching "peace" in very unpeaceful ways. The difference between then and now is that then the vicious peaceniks were in the streets and now they are in editorial offices and faculty lounges.

Here is part of the "Hate Song".

We're gonna stamp out hate
That's our creed
Wipe out violence, intolerance and greed
We're gonna start right now
Tomorrow is too late
We're gonna stamp out hate.

We're gonna stamp out hate
Stamp it in the ground
And then take happiness and spread it all around
We'll put an end to grief
We can hardly wait
We're gonna stamp out hate.

We're gonna stamp out hate
Sock it in the eye
Shoot it in the stomach yelling, die, die, die!
We'll pull its insides out
And look at look at what it ate
We're gonna stamp out hate.

We're gonna stamp out hate
Lash it with a switch
Amputate its arms and legs and see how long they twitch
We'll put its toes on hooks
And dangle them for bait
We're gonna stamp out hate.

January 13, 2011

Get Back to the Housing Recession

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Distracted all week by the terrible Arizona shootings, the Congress returns now to the long range problems of cutting the budget and the immediate fiscal crises in the states. But the nagging, murky saga of housing foreclosures also demands attention, because it is involved in all of our financial difficulties.

Peter J. Wallison, former Presidential Counsel to Ronald Reagan and a former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, now at AEI, published a column in Monday's Wall Street Journal that deserves careful study. Wallison's perspective is deeply knowledgeable. The story he tells (it will surely become a book, I think) is complicated for laymen, but it is too important to be neglected.

Look: jobless claims are up again and housing foreclosures are volatile. We need careful, extensive, deliberative examination of the roots of the housing collapse (especially the roles of Fannie and Freddie) and the options for moving forward. The new House leadership should hear from Wallison soon.

January 14, 2011

Persecution of Christians Worsening Worldwide

The media in America, including some of the supposed conservative right, are ignoring the persecution of Christians that is emerging more and more in Muslim lands. Moderate Muslims seem intimidated, often for good reason. Worse, Western media that should be covering these crimes and connecting the dots--from Indonesia now, to Pakistan, to Iran, to Iraq, to Egypt, to Morocco. There are few Christians left in the West Bank and almost none in Hamas-ruled Gaza.

A few comprehensive articles on the problem are appearing by experts such as Clifford May of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and Paul Marshall of Hudson Institute. But broad circulation papers and broadcast media seem indifferent or unimpressed. They were practically hysterical in efforts to connect dots that didn't exist in the case of the recent Arizona killings (and some continue on the theme even after the president has conceded there is no relevance). It also doesn't seem to stop the scapegoating and score-settling when fellow liberals criticize the smears. But they just can't see any pattern in the religious cleansing--beatings, burnings and killings--of Christians in Muslim dominated lands. They'd rather not hear about it. They certainly don't see any reasons for a coordinated Western response.

I submit that one reason for the diffidence of the left on religious liberty issues overseas is that so many in the Western media--and in academia and government agencies and private foundations--are disposed against the influence of Christianity and Christians in the West. As a result, they have a hard time identifying with persecuted Christians elsewhere. It's just not an issue they are willing to notice.

Show me wrong.

January 17, 2011

Martin Luther King Continues to Speak

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Re-reading A Letter from a Birmingham Jail (April, 1963) provides a glimpse into the mindset on all sides of the segregation issue, and, as such is a pleasant, if quaint, reminder of how far we have come. I heard Dr. King preach at Harvard's Memorial Church in 1962--the theme was doing all work, any work, "to the glory of God"--and George Gilder and I were able to hear his great oration at the Lincoln Memorial, the summer of '63--"I Have a Dream."

But there are many useful quotations from King that tend to surprise. In a "Letter" his most serious concern is the indifference of people who should be on his side. I like this one from "Letter," about the "white moderate":

"Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will."

Global Warming Linked to Political Collapse

It already happened, in fact.....at the end of the Roman Empire. There is no word about whether the Emperor and Senate failed to control CO2 emissions. The London Telegraph has the story.

Sneak Hit Film Heads to Oscars

Duty, family, self-abnegation, friendship: these are not the usual themes of winning movies these days. It is wonderful, therefore, to see The King's Speech--an English film that opened in only a few theaters appealing to the art house crowd over 55--slowly surge on word of mouth reviews and become a runaway hit.

It's a come from behind story a bit like that shown in the film.

January 18, 2011

Hey, Boeing, Time to Move Hq. Back to Seattle?

Nine years ago, The Boeing Company, founded in Seattle by Bill Boeing and long associated with the Puget Sound region, decided to move its corporate headquarters and its top staff to Chicago. The stated reasons were notions about the advantage of not collocating administrative headquarters with airplane production and the "strategic" worth of being in an central airport hub rather than in one corner of the country.

But, below the surface, it was plain to all that Boeing executives were frustrated by Washington State's corporate taxes and seemingly punitive policies that seemed to treat big companies as cash cows--making Boeing pay for an access road to a new plant in Everett, for example. Also, Chicago and Illinois officials were so welcoming.

Well, the great State of Illinois, following at least a decade of profligate spending, now has some of the highest corporate taxes and is raising them 50 percent under Gov. Pat Quinn. The state has a personal income tax and that is going up 67 percent (which those Boeing executives must appreciate). A state death tax is being enacted.

Illinois neighbors Wisconsin and Indiana are enjoying the discomfiture of the Illinois business community and trying to poach among them as fast as possible. But even those states have income taxes.

Meanwhile, back "home" in Washington State, the governor and legislature are dealing with the reality that voters last fall once, by a margin of two to one, once again defeated enactment of an income tax (even though it was one supposedly targeted only to the "rich"). Voters in the same election also removed some earlier taxes on soft drinks. As a result, the Democratic governor and legislature are taking a very different tack than their co-partisans in Illinois: cutting spending rather than raising taxes.

If there is an advantage--besides low crime rates, beautiful scenery and a highly educated work force--that distinguishes Washington from states like Illinois, it is the absence of a personal income tax.

If the highly taxed Boeing officers and board are looking for consolation, maybe it's the defeat of the Seahawks by the Bears last weekend. Now the Boeing crowd can go out to Soldiers Field this Sunday and watch the home team play the Packers. The weather prediction is 19 degrees Fahrenheit, and snow.

Canada's Prime Minister Harper, Five Years On

Peter Mansbridge of "The National", the Canadian Broadcast Corporation's (CBC) news program, interviewed Prime Minister Stephen Harper last night on his five years in office so far. It's a surprise for me to realize that Harper's Conservatives have lasted that long and that their position is as stable as it seems. From the very beginning, the Tory minority-run government in Parliament was seen as a short term reaction against corruption and incompetence among the long-dominant Liberals. Then it became mostly a popular rejection of talk of a coalition between the Liberals and the New Democratic Party (NDP). The Conservatives were, more or less, the only option left. (The Bloc Quebecois are formidable in French-speaking Quebec, but have no appeal elsewhere.)

Five years ago many Canadians were anxious about a Conservative government, mainly because most Canadians are probably center-left, not center-right. It is the splintered nature of the left--Liberal, NDP, Bloc Quebecois and Greens--that made the Conservative victory possible. One had to wonder how long a Tory minority plurality in Parliament could be sustained with losing a vote of confidence.

But in the ensuing years, despite the international recession, Harper & Company have conducted themselves with aplomb. As he said in the CBC interview, the Government under Harper has had had serious scandals and has avoided disastrous mistakes on both the domestic or international fronts. In fact, Conservative adroit economic policy has helped position Canada as a rare standout performer among developed nations. Canada's dollar (the Loony) is a cent above the US Dollar--in great contrast to a decade ago--and the housing industry is in much better shape than America's. Gas-fed exports fro Alberta help Canada maintain a healthy trade posture.

Harper is not given to chest thumping, but he rightly noted to Mansbridge, "I think arguably we are running right now the freest, the most free enterprise government in the developed world. ... We're one of the few countries reducing our taxes. Even with our deficits and debt we're at some of the lowest levels in the developed world in these areas."

This situation, he observes, is the "reality" of Conservative government, not an ideological abstraction.

Canadians don't much like abstractions, actually. Their philosophical leaning may be center-left, but they are temperamentally conservative. They don't like radical change. That may help explain their current satisfaction with Mr. Harper. He doesn't enjoy a permanent mandate or even a long term one. But Canada has mature, reliable leadership right now and the country seems to respect it. Respect is a big political advantage in any country.

Part two of the Peter Mansbridge interview of P.M. Harper is tonight--on what the Conservatives would do in the (probably unlikely) event they were able to obtain a clear majority, not just a plurality in the House of Commons.

January 21, 2011

Trash "Continent" is a Litter Bit Less

There really is a lot of trash floating in the sea. When it hits shore, we should pick it up. (Attention, Summer Interns!) But what if it is a vast "continent" (as most of us now have heard) in the middle of the ocean, coagulated in a "gyre," a kind of circling current? (I suspect the word "gyre" is inspired by Lewis Carroll's nonsense poem, "'Twas Brilling" in Alice in Wonderland. "Gyre and gimble" is what the "slithey toves" did.)

Well, there is one particularly trashy area stuck in an oceanic gyre, but it's not quite the nightmare you've heard about. Discovery Sr. Fellow Jay Richards investigated for an article at The Enterprise Blog (hosted by American Enterprise Institute). The area where trash is more than usually common is only about one percent the size of Texas. (What is that, the size of Delaware?)

If a skeptical view of a trash "continent" is warranted, as Jay says, I tend to be skeptical as well that cleaning it up would take many times more energy than the plastic float represents. You wouldn't have to clean it all up to make a litter difference.

Lovable Vienna "Most Livable"

Vienna always votes Socialist, but its manners are mostly conservative. In what other big European city will you see people wearing notably native costumes to work, church, theaters? Of course, the Austrian "trachten" is fashionably presented, especially for women. Moreover, the trachten-wearers show up at some of the finest opera productions, philharmonic concerts and museum exhibitions in the world. Even the churches abound in world-class music, perhaps because Vienna still attracts young musicians and they welcome the chance to share, and show, their talents.

A new most livable cities report (see this London Telegraph article) also lists other European cities highly, but somehow favors the middle-size big ones over the giants like London and Paris and Rome, which, in fact, are the most stimulating.

Yet, Vienna, through it was one of the largest cities in the world a hundred years ago, is now still charming and human scale, without the soulless crush of cities that seem to have burst their seems. For example, Vienna's multi-mode transportation system is both quaint and efficient.

Meanwhile, the current Austrian government follows more conservative economic policies than some of the EU's derelict nations and therefore is relatively more prosperous. That is evident in Vienna, where it took a half century after World War II to recover the pre-war glamor and shine. But they are back. The old imperial grandeur is seen only in the beautifully maintained palaces, but the city compensates for political excitement by hosting a constant parade of international conferences.

In North America, the clean and vibrant city of Vancouver stands out in the "most livable" report. Vancouver doesn't have Seattle's major league sports or front ranking arts groups, but it keeps improving. Vancouver enjoys a coffee culture much like Seattle and Portland and has even more rain. The city's zoning allows a mix of high rises and single family residences, providing an adequate and attractive density to support a fine transportation system and thriving shopping districts.

January 22, 2011

'Single Payer' is Explanation for 'Death Panels'

The death of an Arizona man after Medicaid ran out of funds to pay for a liver transplant for him has raised the charge of "death panels", but from the left. Are they right? Discovery Fellow Wesley J.Smith says, no. Here's why.

New Wave of Arrests of Christians in Iran

The persecution--and prosecution--of Christians in Iran and other Muslim lands is under-reported. Here is another story that only made a ripple in the news, this time about 15 Christian converts on their way to a church meeting when the state security in Iran pulled them over, arrested them and put them in jail. Over Christmas, another 70 Christians were arrested in Iran.

January 24, 2011

Jobs Alone Don't Justify Transportation Spending

by Mike Wussow

A conventional measurement used to assign value to transportation expenditures--job stimulus--is myopic and unsustainable according to analysts at the Washington, D.C.-based Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC). The president and members of Congress have called for rebuilding the country's sagging infrastructure, citing the jobs such projects will create. But on the eve of the State of the Union speech, a new report from the BPC suggests that transportation spending needs to be justified on more than temporary employment spikes created by construction projects. If there is a justification it is primarily on long-term economic benefits.

Continue reading "Jobs Alone Don't Justify Transportation Spending" »

True Love: The Trial Bar and Global Warming

The hyping of global warming was designed to get around public reluctance to let environmental/social engineers dictate energy policy and public spending. It hasn't completely worked out the way they would like. Now come the trial lawyers, seeing in climate policy the opportunity to sue for big stakes.

Moscow Style Attack Possible in United States

I never have written down this nightmare scenario before because who would want to give ideas to terrorists? But now the nightmare has been given an unavoidable real life demonstration at the airport in Moscow. The suicide bomber at Domodedovo Airport killed 35 and injured 168. That would be seen as catastrophic even in Iraq or Afghanistan, and it is unknown in recent European experience.

Very simply, a new door to terror has been opened. It leads right into the waiting areas of air terminals. Not the areas where passengers go after they have been checked by security, but the areas where people gather to meet arriving passengers or to queue up for ticketing. Sometimes there are hundreds of people in such spaces, more people than fly on a large airplane. They may have surveillance, but no baggage checks.

In the US right after 9/11 there were checks of incoming cars before they reached an air terminal. There were police inside the terminals. In Baghdad--at least when I visited there a few years ago--you were checked a mile from the airport--everything--then again when you came into the terminal, and then again before you boarded the plane. It seemed a huge, but necessary, hassle.

This attack in Moscow is setting off bells at Homeland Security and in the halls of Congress, I'm sure. No airport in the U.S. or Europe is safe from this kind of attack right now. Ultimately, the best protection against terrorists is police and FBI detective work that finds terrorists before they find their targets.

UPDATE: Yuri Mamchur, at our Real Russia Blog, describes a similar reaction. And consider: There were metal detectors at the Domodedovo Airport's waiting area, but they weren't being used. That will cause widespread questioning in Moscow. But one might question back, when it's 9 degrees Fahrenheit out, how do you get hundreds of people to queue up for the metal detectors outdoors? If they do line up, what's the keep the bomber from attacking the line?

January 25, 2011

It's Tough to Get the Truth About "Non-Profits"

Non-profits now supposedly account for one tenth of the nation's employment. But what does that mean? Are non-profits an ornament of a successful capitalist economy, or have they also become a hidden engine of growth and economic stability? Does non-profits' growth provide economic growth overall?

Jeff Cain of Philanthropy Daily contends that the latter proposition is getting undeserved support in a new stuy on non-profits in Michigan by the C. S. Mott Foundation, assisted by the US Labor Department and the Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies. To read the Mott report, one would think that the non-profit sector in Michigan is a true silver lining in an otherwise cloudy economy. Non-profits, the report claims, have become "a major economic force" in Michigan, and presumably across the land.

Continue reading "It's Tough to Get the Truth About "Non-Profits"" »

Memorable 1st Speech of New Member of Washington House

Whenever a new member of a legislative body rises to give his first speech it is always a poignant moment; even old heads turn to listen. The newest member of the Washington State House of Representatives, Hans Zeiger, is also possibly the youngest--24. He won his race from Puyallup after an exhaustive recount confirmed his winning margin of only about 20 votes.

Zeiger won election over a top ranking incumbent. He did it with shoe leather campaigning and hundreds of volunteers. But his serious, scholarly side also gives hope to those who are on the lookout for intelligent, informed and creative leadership in the next generation.

If you listen to his first speech--on Dr. Martin Luther King and the civil rights tradition of Washington State--you will see why he is stirring interest from many quarters. Consider how much he communicates in only four and a half minutes.

January 26, 2011

Egypt Rioting Presents New Dangers for America

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Popular opposition to the Mubarak regime in Egypt--a government with $1.3 billion of US annual support--is on the edge of protests turning into rebellion, as happened in Tunisia. Claire Berlinski, who is affiliated with Discovery Institute, writes at Ricochet that the news blackout in Cairo is clouding developments there. But some tweets and other communications indicate a quickly deteriorating government position. The fact that protestors have not been stopped suggests that we may be witnessing a classic popular revolt: an aged autocrat is ousted by widespread steet protests and a collapse of police morale.

Then what? No matter how it comes out, there is potential trouble for the US. The Bush Administration wanted democracy for the region, but that's not how we are perceived there, even after the example of Iraq.

If Mubarak goes, the USA will be cited as weak and vulnerable. Pressure on Israel, via Gaza, will grow. If he stays, the repression will be blamed, collaterally, on us. The only happy outcome would be for the protests to be stilled, but a plan for democratic transition implemented. Even then, there is danger that the Muslim Brotherhood could regain support in an election cycle.

UPDATE: Much as the news, as in the Iranian attempted revolt last year, is coming from social media, including Twitter. For example, see: http://twitter.com/search?q=%23jan26

January 27, 2011

An Uptight Priest Attempts Elvis Imitation

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The first part of President Obama's State of the Union address, to paraphrase Daniel J. Henninger's column this morning in the Wall Street Journal, sounded like a Ronald Reagan speech written by Discovery Sr. Fellow George Gilder. But then the address veered off into another wish list of new and expanded government programs that sounded unlike the Gipper and more like Jimmy Carter.

Why does this happen? How is it that even when Mr. Obama sings Reaganesque lyrics he can't carry the tune? He sounds instead like an uptight Episcopal priest trying to channel Elvis Presley.

One reason is that the current president has a liberal's prejudiced understanding of capitalism, business and wealth creation. He can't get past the left wing supposition that government action is responsible for the successes, if any, of business. When he is told that he is viewed as hostile by the business community he makes friends with the CEO of General Electric, commits the government to supporting GE projects and appoints the CEO of GE to a council on, of all things, "competitiveness." When he does try to embrace capitalism, he does not seem to get the difference between true capitalism and crony capitalism.

Deep down he does not seem to see the moral dimension to the free market. He thinks it mainly has to do with greed.

In contrast, The American, the online magazine of the American Enterprise Institute, today highlights an article by Discovery Sr. Fellow Jay Richards on the spiritual basis of wealth creation. In a list of top ten ingredients for wealth creation, nine either are immaterial or have a immaterial/spiritual dimension. Government's role in fostering wealth creation, in this (realistic) understanding is not to pick winners and losers, but to provide for "rule of law" that does not discriminate.

One Man's Dissent Tells Real Story of Housing and Financial Meltdown

The best possible contemporary example of the law of unintended consequences is the federal policy (actually several policies) enforced since 1992 to expand home ownership through promotion of non-traditional, sub-prime mortgages. This policy, enforced to an extent not even known to the government at the time, let alone to the financial community, provoked a US housing bubble that grew for more than ten years--and then deflated as 27 million government-induced bad mortgages began to go under. A financial panic ensued and a recession soon followed. Trillions of dollars of public funds were spent. The repercussions were international.

The true story of the public policy blunders that created the housing and financial crisis has been sidestepped for two years now . A new Congressionally commissioned report out today would like to continue down the path of truth avoidance. But a courageous, well-researched and ultimately devastating report by a dissenting member of the Commission, Peter J. Wallison, a former Counsel to President Ronald Reagan, serves to expose the problem--and the Commission majority cover-up.

The majority (Democratic) report of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission issued today seems to have been written to support preconceived opinions that the financial crisis was the product of Wall Street greed and under-regulation from Washington. That is an ideological fairy tale. The minority report of three of the Republican members, though better, mainly widens the responsibility for the financial crisis so far as to become nearly useless itself. It finds fault with so many public and private entities, and every conceivable exterior development and force short of global warming, that one is left feeling that, since everyone is responsible, no one is responsible. Neither report gives to the truth.

The Commission report therefore would be a one-day news story except for the explosive, factual revelations in the 98 page, dissenting report by Wallison. A lawyer who served in the Reagan Treasury before his White House stint, Wallison is one of the very few people who warned for years about the dangerous lowered loan standards being enforced, first on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government chartered agencies, and then the banking world.

Wallison provides evidence now of the determinative role of "NTM" (non-traditional mortgages) in the housing bubble and ensuing financial collapse.

Continue reading "One Man's Dissent Tells Real Story of Housing and Financial Meltdown" »

January 28, 2011

In Egypt, Facebook Stoked the Revolution; But Can it Govern?

The revolution in Egypt is another historic product of alternative media, espeically Facebook, home to the "April 6 movement" that commemorates the brutal beating death of a young Egyptian blogger who had exposed the 2008 beating of a demonstrator in the industrial city of El-Mahalla El-Jubra. Instead of stopping the communication, the police beatings provoked a huge following. And then a revolution.

Sonia Verma reports in The Globe and Mail (Toronto), "An estimated 3.4 million Egyptians use the (Facebook) social networking site, the vast majority under the age of 25. Egypt is the number 1 user of Facebook in the Arab world, and No. 23 globally." Many have mobilized behind the April 6 movement.

Twitter, meanwhile, keeps cryptic messages pouring out, some from foreigners imposing their own interpretations on Egyptian events (such as a crowd of enthusiasts from Chavez' Venezuela), but most from Egyptians telling fellow protestors where to show up for the next demonstration. YouTube videos provide homemade news coverage that leaves international broadcasters one step behind. The Mubarak government cracked down on cell phones and the internet for a while, but tonight some reportedly are operating again.

Continue reading "In Egypt, Facebook Stoked the Revolution; But Can it Govern?" »

January 29, 2011

Meanwhile, Back in Tunisia, A Peaceful Aftermath

The new Foreign Minister of Tunisia, Ahmed Ounaies, a professional diplomat, was at pains today to say that Tunisia is not trying to offer itself to Egypt as a model for change, even though the protests that led to the ouster of Tunisia's long term dictator ten days ago helped inspire the subsequent protest movement in Egypt, as well, perhaps, as those in Yemen, Algeria and Jordan.

Tunisia is managing quite well after its "Jasmine Revolution," as international media dubbed it. The corrupt ruling Ben Ali family has departed and its cronies were not accepted, either. A new crowd is in, elections are likely. Protests have died out and what's left of the protestors are being dispersed by security officials.

What is interesting is that there has been no sign yet that Islamists are able to exert any successful influence on the new government in Tunis. Tunisia has a relatively well-educated population, a sizable middle class and a secular tradition. Indeed, women are discouraged from wearing conservative Muslim garb and men with ambitions for government service are not allowed to grow the beards that Islamists favor.

If Egypt were to emerge from its present convulsions with a political profile like Tunisia's, many in the West would sigh with relief. However, to repeat what I've warned before, Middle Eastern countries are all different. Egypt, too, has a young population and an educated middle class. Egyptians supply engineers, journalists and teachers to oil sheikdoms throughout the Arabian Gulf region, for example. Among the Egyptian middle class there is broad religious tolerance. The country is well-connected to Western commerce. It is worlds apart from, say, Afghanistan.

But Egypt also has the Muslim Brotherhood, and that group in turn has ties to Hamas, which is virtually a client of Iran.

January 31, 2011

Why California's Folly Threatens US Recovery

California's Gov. Jerry Brown has just announced plans to raise taxes. He'll ask for a public vote, which is risky for him once voters figure out how little the state government is prepared to cut spending and how much prices are going to rise due to the state's manic environmental policies. Regrettably, the whole country will be affected. Here is George Gilder's article on it, "The California Green Debauch," featured prominently in the new issue (February) of The American Spectator.

by George Gilder

California's Treasurer Bill Lockyer has a bridge he wants to sell you. No, he is not putting the Golden Gate on the market. That would actually find buyers. He is trying to foist a "bridge loan" on the country that in effect would require us to buy the entire state.

Shuffling off the streets of Sacramento into the bond market a few weeks ago seeking to raise some $14 billion in so-called "revenue anticipation notes," Lockyer is offering notes that can be repaid only by future revenue anticipation notes, in a delusional statewide recycling binge of bonds on bonds.

Since the state at the same time officially projected $20 billion annual deficits for the next six years (Governor elect Jerry Brown says $28 billion in 2011), the end of this road is another of those bridges to nowhere that politicians believe stimulate an economy but ordinary people prefer not to drive on or off. So now Lockyer is following up with a drive to get the federal government to guarantee California's debt against default, which means the taxpayers will have to be the ultimate buyers.

Before we close the deal to purchase the state, however, ordinary financial due diligence would require Congress to make California rescind a "poison pill" provision in its state laws. This poison pill is not medical marijuana. But it renders any bridge loan or "revenue anticipation note" utterly hallucinogenic.


Continue reading "Why California's Folly Threatens US Recovery" »

Israelis United--in Fear of Post-Mubarak Egypt

The prospect grows that Hosni Mubarak will step down, one way or another, and the military will take charge temporarily in Egypt. Then what?

Caroline Glick, one of the most sage observers of politics in the Middle East, writes in the Jerusalem Post that the U. S. policy (wobbly as it seems) may result in a much worse Egyptian government. Whatever the balance of feelings in the Cario demonstrations, the great majority of people in Egypt, Glick writes, are anti-US, anti-Israel and supportive of greater Islamic influence in government. Writes Glick:

"According to a Pew opinion survey of Egyptians from June 2010, 59 percent said they back Islamists. Only 27% said they back modernizers. Half of Egyptians support Hamas. Thirty percent support Hizbullah and 20% support al Qaida. Moreover, 95% of them would welcome Islamic influence over their politics. When this preference is translated into actual government policy, it is clear that the Islam they support is the al Qaida Salafist version.

"Eighty two percent of Egyptians support executing adulterers by stoning, 77% support whipping and cutting the hands off thieves. 84% support executing any Muslim who changes his religion."

Numbers like that have to give pause to all (small "d") democrats in America who think democracy will work out for the best in all situations. Our own nation's Founders enacted a constitution that protected minorities, divided power and made impulsive actions by government difficult. What chance does Egypt have of achieving such checks and balances?

Egyptian Muslim Group Sees New Glimmer of Hope for Reform Within Islam

The same proto-revolutionary activities in Egypt that terrify Israelis are giving some observers hope that a necessary encounter of Muslims with reform will be benefited from regime change in Cairo. It seems that efforts of voices of reform in Islamic circles in Egypt have gained courage in recent days and are proposing departures from the stern religious line laid down by the Mubarak establishment.

A clearer picture emerges of the religious policy followed by Mr. Mubarak and his ally, the Grand Imam of Al Azhar University. It has been to allow modest freedom, but restrain simultaneously 1) political action by Christians; 2) reform advocacy by Muslim clerics; 3) growth of the radical Muslim Brotherhood. President Mubarak and his ally, the Grand Imam, wanted all of these players kept in check. Mubarak probably reasoned that support for greater freedom for Christians or for Islamic reformers would give ammunition to the puritanical Muslim Brotherhood.

However, in recent days, notice has been taken at the Vatican of a group of Muslim scholars in Egypt who, with the demonstrations offering an opening of free speech, are calling for essential religious reforms.

Continue reading "Egyptian Muslim Group Sees New Glimmer of Hope for Reform Within Islam " »

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