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June 2011 Archives

June 6, 2011

Crime Really Doesn't Pay Now

It is getting harder to make a dishonest living these days. In particular, burglaring doesn't pay any more, just as running a movie rental outlet doesn't pay, or running a shop that makes photo copies. Technology is rendering old fashioned property crimes, at least, somewhat obsolete.

Most of us know now that crime rates have been going down, even during the recession (or whatever it is we have been in since 2008). One happy effect in social science is an end to claims that bad times cause bad crimes. It never was true. Crime rates were low in the Great Depression and high in the roaring '60s. Now even the media have caught on.

So what does account for falling crime rates? Several ideas are offered, and each has some validity. The most obvious explanation is that we have more criminals in prison now than ever before. For example, they can't rob people (except maybe other prisoners) when they are behind bars.

One excellent analysis was offered in the Wall Street Journal by James Q. Wilson, who sites a number of factors.
Dr. Wilson, the Christian Science Monitor and others make good points.

I'd just add this one, at least apropos property crimes such as burglaries and robberies: There is not as much around to steal that one can sell easily, and selling it doesn't bring in enough for a crook to live on.

1) There's not as much money lying around to steal. Pick someone's pockets and you'll find slim pickin's. You can't use the credit cards for long and the ATM cards are useless without the pin number. People just don't carry as much cash on them these days and they don't have it around the house, either.

Continue reading "Crime Really Doesn't Pay Now" »

June 1, 2011

Strong Texas Economy Boosts Perry Appeal

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The economies of Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston metropolitan areas grew faster than the rest of the country in April, accounting together for 82,000 net new jobs. The numbers suggest that Texas will continue to lead the rest of the country when May employment numbers come out for metro areas. In April, the Texas gains amounted to about 45 percent of the (revised) national gain of 177,000 jobs.

Meanwhile, announced today, the whole net employment gain nationally for May was only 38,000. The stock market, banks and economists are getting worried.

Texas has been hit by the national downturn, but has bounced back better. Most of its economic indicators are positive. Oil and gas have much to do with it, of course, but so do state fiscal policies under Governor Rick Perry that contain spending and regulation and hold down taxes. It has been a winning strategy in Texas and compares dramatically with the disastrous conditions in California and New York, Texas' rivals in size. Perry's policies also compare favorably with the Obama Administration on the national level.

Perry has a positive story to tell a nation longing for real "hope and change." His story versus Obama's story would set up the Texas governor for a strong presidential race. He's thinking about it.

June 3, 2011

Dr. Kevorkian Death was "Natural"

No "assisted suicide" for the doctor who promoted it for others--some of whom, autopsies showed, were not even ill.

Our Sr. Fellow Wesley J. Smith reports at National Review.

June 7, 2011

Strangeness & Importance of Turkey: Two Views

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Turkish national elections are next Sunday and the party of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to triumph. A number of Westerners have noticed the tendency of Erdogan to sue critics for slander if they say anything unflattering of him--and in Turkish courts he wins a number of those suits. If you want evidence of why the First Amendment is so crucial to American democracy, Turkey today provides an answer.

We at Discovery have a couple of friends who know Turkey well, though each in a different way. Usually these days Mustafa Akyol, a columnist in Istanbul, and Claire Berlinski, an American writer living there, disagree about Turkish policy, culture and foreign policy. But both have well-considered perspectives worth knowing. Mustafa is author of a forthcoming book on the reform path Islam might take (Mustafa, of course, is Muslim). He is irenic, pro-Western and cautious, but also very hopeful for the future of his country.

Continue reading "Strangeness & Importance of Turkey: Two Views" »

Hackers Steal Students' Summer in USA

At Real Russia Blog Discovery sr. fellow Yuri Mamchur describes a truly rotten act of cyber piracy: a group of Eastern European hackers robbed thousands of youth in that region of their chance to spend a summer working in the United States. I have encountered some of the student workers in the past--at resorts, National Park restaurants, etc. Working here is a great experience for them and for us. Now it is ruined for many.

Cyber crimes are increasing, yet it is hard to see that private companies or the government care enough to implement protective measures. Our IT guru says that protection is clumsy and time-consuming, especially if an organization has varied kinds of computers. Still....

June 8, 2011

Debate The Economy in Washington; Ask Mitch Daniels to Take the Case to the People

Many Americans feel as if we're in a railroad car on a runaway train, the train being the Obama Administration's economic policies. The car is connected, it can't decouple, and yet we, the occupants, know there is a problem with the engineer.

Maybe we are wrong, but the columns and commentaries giving one opinion, then another, don't enable most people to get a clear idea of what's happening to our economy, let alone what to do about it.

In a parliamentary system, a full fledged campaign would be taking place about now, as it did recently in Canada. Given a chance to consider the issues at length, the Canadian electorate surprised the Left--that forced the election this winter--by giving the Conservatives a real majority in Ottawa. But under America's presidential system, the cathartic election we need is still a year and a half away.

In this country, however, public opinion can still change public policies. Right now the public is divided and confused. The best ways to educate and then mobilize the public are 1) to run a high profile debate in Washington, where facts and solutions are forced to the surface; and 2) to take that debate to the country.

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Continue reading "Debate The Economy in Washington; Ask Mitch Daniels to Take the Case to the People" »

June 9, 2011

Political Reform Victory in 9th Circuit Court

It is time to reform the reforms. Two of the worst developments of the post-Watergate era were bans on political speech by corporations and limits on political parties' spending. Especially ludicrous was idea that political parties should not be able to actively support their own candidates. Eroding the power of parties has not led to better democracy but to empowerment of special interest groups that are unaccountable to anyone but their funders.

Fortunately, an opinion in the Ninth Circuit Court today, in a San Diego case, is finding these restrictions unconstitutional and effectively elaborates the earlier Supreme Court ruling on corporate independent expenditures in campaigns.

In a press release, James Bopp, Jr., counsel for the plaintiffs in the San Diego case, comments, "One of the important purposes of political parties is to elect their candidates to office. It is absurd to forbid them from giving money to support their candidates. The Ninth Circuit understood that the First Amendment gives citizens the right to band together in political parties, and that political parties have a First Amendment right to financially support their candidates." About the independent expenditure ruling, Mr. Bopp said, "The Supreme Court has ruled that there is no permissible reason for the government to limit independent expenditures themselves. This is true even when the expenditures are made by corporations. It naturally follows that if the expenditures cannot be limited, then money to groups making expenditures cannot be limited either, even when the money comes from associations and corporations."

Continue reading "Political Reform Victory in 9th Circuit Court" »

Apple's Orchard, an Act of Design Excellence

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Steve Jobs, who grew up in Cupertino, CA, has blessed his home town with a proposed new campus for Apple that is spectacular in its vision, as well as in its optimism about the company's future.

In a matter-of-fact presentation to the Cupertino City Council Jobs presented plans that were received with stolid approval, but that justified celebratory balloons and a town band. That's because the new scheme is a design breakthrough. The new headquarters Jobs wants to build will transform land that once was apricot orchards and is now a sprawl of undistinguished high tech office buildings into a spectacular single building that will house up to 13,000 people in a kind of donut shape of glass, steel and cement with a vast interior courtyard. It also restored much of the 150 acre landscape to its Old California feel.

Whereas 20 percent of the current property is devoted to landscaping, 80 percent will be so dedicated under the plan Jobs unveiled. There will be 7000 trees in space with 3700 trees now. Some of the new trees will be in apricot orchards, a perfect tribute to the pre-tech days of Silicon Valley. Ninety percent of the parking will be underground or in a new parking structure, whereas ninety percent today is in asphalt lots.

Energy for the new campus will go off-grid for primary usage (employing natural gas, Jobs says), reversing the company's current process that puts grid-use first, backed up by generators. For a computer company, that's quite a commitment.

One of the City Council members, undoubtedly thinking she was in some run of the mill rezoning hearing, asked Jobs whether he would provide some "benefits" for the public if his plan is approved, like, she suggested "free wi-fi". The Apple founder replied, drolly, "We pay taxes," and then added that Apple is, indeed, the biggest taxpayer in town, by far. You can use our tax monies on free wi-fi if you like, he suggested. A little fog lifted with that remark, and all the rest was well-deserved Council praise.

Photo: Reuters/Cupertino City Hall

June 10, 2011

Economic Growth, Not Just Budget Cuts

Numbers are wonderful, and budget numbers seem almost magical. Just as the "miracle of compound interest" should be taught to all teenagers (liberally quoting from the experience of Benjamin Franklin), what might be called the "nightmare of falling revenue" should be taught to all office-holders.

Republicans know that you won't get prosperity by raising taxes in a recession, but some seem to think you can get there through budget cuts alone. This country needs drastic reductions in spending, such as the plan advanced by Rep. Paul Ryan. But the sad reality is that budget cuts are therapeutic only to the point that a crashing economy doesn't force expenses on you (such as unemployment) that cannot be significantly reduced. If a rising tide raises all boats, a record low tide leaves everybody stranded.

Just as you can't spend your way to prosperity, or cut your way there, lower taxes alone also won't assure growth. However, what the supply siders say is that economic growth must be your object for any policy. "Dynamic scoring" of an economy is required when considering taxes, spending, regulation and all other policies. Do changes cause the economy to grow or shrink? How do real people respond to incentives and disincentives?

What need to hear now are a coordinated plan that combines spending cuts and tax cuts, ditches Obmacare and curbs jobs-killing regulations.

Continue reading "Economic Growth, Not Just Budget Cuts" »

June 17, 2011

Brilliant Budget Idea from Illinois

Lets hear it for State Senator John Mulroe of Chicago who has come up with a way to bail out Illinois' broke state government: corporate ads on license plates. Instead of "Land of Lincoln," they now can read whatever a advertiser thinks appropriate. For example, "Land of Lincoln Towncars." Or maybe "Make Old Style Beer Your One for the Road."

Spendthrifts in Springfield have found their salvation. The Associate Press quotes Kim Drummond, spokeswoman for a firm called "My Plates", who says the auto messages would be "little billboards" along the prairie highways and byways.

Sen. Mulroe, you need to keep going on this one. Since Illinois has an income tax you could have various ads placed in the refund checks sent by the state tax authority: "Special Offer Today if You Spend Your Refund at Sears!"

State office buildings could get big bucks for commercial messages that would captivate riders on elevators and amuse attendees at trials in state courts.

"Have you reached a verdict, Jurors?"

"Yes, we have, Your Honor, but first a message from our sponsors...."

Think of the naming rights for state buildings: Bankers Life and Casualty State Prison, Sara Lee State Prison for Women, Caterpillar Inc. Toll Road, the Walgreens State Capitol, the University of Illinois Motorola Stadium. In fact, given the tax deals Gov. Pat Quinn has been cutting to favor special friends in big business, the state could change its name to Archer Daniels Midland. No problem finding that on a map.

June 15, 2011

ISI Templeton Enterprise Award to Richards

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Each year the Intercollegiate Studies Institute gives three 'Templeton Enterprise Awards' for the best new books on enterprise, one of the themes close to the heart of the late Sir John Templeton, the investment entrepreneur. Yesterday, the Templeton "Silver Award" was announced for Money, Greed and God (HarperOne), by Dr. Jay Richards, Sr. Fellow of Discovery Institute and Co-Director (with George Gilder) of Discovery's new Center on Wealth, Poverty and Morality.

Presenting the award at a ceremony in suburban Philadelphia was Dr. John (Jack) Templeton, president of the Templeton Foundation. In his remarks, Dr. Templeton spoke on the relevance of personal character and the recognition of absolute truth, in contrast to relativism.

The "Gold" book award went to Dr. Ryan Hanley, for Adam Smith and the Character of Virtue. Hanley is an accomplished Adam Smith scholar at Marquette University and head of the International Adam Smith Society.

The third winner is Nicole Gelinas of the Manhattan Institute, for her book, After the Fall: Saving Capitalism from Wall Street and Washington.

Richards' award comes with a $7,500 prize. Dr. Richards began work on his book several years ago at Discovery Institute, but completed it at Acton Institute in Grand Rapids. He is back at Discovery Institute now, and, among other things, is co-authoring a book on the interaction of economic issues and social issues.

June 16, 2011

When Bad Riots Happen to Good Cities

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Vancouver anarchists, 2011

Vancouver, B.C. needs a little TLC about now. Locals are feeling embarrassed, even humiliated, by the rioting that followed the defeat of the Canucks in the Stanley Cup hockey finals two nights ago. This sort of thing is not supposed to happen in one of the world's most livable--and civilized--cities.

This Seattlite--who rooted for our neighbors' team in the Stanley Cup just as surely as some Nova Scotians apparently cheered for the Boston Bruins--remembers very well the disgrace my city experienced when the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle in December, 1999 was met by similar riotous behavior.

You can kibbitz about the police's tactics all you want, but the reality is that emotionally, as well as alcoholically, intoxicated youth do damage in mobs that they would never do by themselves. But there also was a trigger for the mobs in Vancouver, just as there was for the mobs in Seattle.

It seems there are organized anarchists in British Columbia and the Northwest US who are ideologically committed to destruction of civic order. They are ignorant and miseducated. They have been taught to vaunt their puerile self-righteousness. They combine stupidity with insolence.

In 1999 they organized in a camp in BC and in Eugene, Oregon to travel to Seattle and help trash the WTO meeting here. Most of the black clad romantics back then had no idea what the WTO was about, any more than the group that apparently organized to trash Vancouver after the Stanley Cup final--win or lose--knew anything but the frisson of destruction. They are heirs to a long tradition of spoiled brats in the liberal West.

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Seattle anarchists, 1999

People with genuine grievances are demonstrating peacefully in Syria tonight. Let's save our sympathetic understanding for them.

Therefore, Canadian friends, please don't wallow in unnecessary self-examination, let alone self-recrimination. Just find the incendiary little jerks and prosecute them.

Photo: Seattle Times

June 20, 2011

Why the Misery Index is Heading Higher

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Sec. George Schulz, President Reagan and Ed Meese review the "Misery Index"

The Misery Index is simply a combination of the unemployment rate and the inflation rate. Jimmy Carter coined it to attack Gerry Ford in 1976, when it served the Democrats as a good political weapon. But then under Carter the Misery Index went up again, this time because of high inflation.

One day in 1983, serving in the White House under Ronald Reagan, I thought to revisit the Misery Index. Sure enough, with inflation going down fast under Reagan, so did the Misery Index-- to 14.1, even though unemployment (a "lagging indicator") remained high for a long while.

At a Cabinet meeting Ed Meese presented the new and lower Misery Index to President Reagan, who sent me back a picture and note: "Thanks for your good work on the Misery Index chart. Now I'm feeling less miserable."

In subsequent boom days and low inflation the Misery Index dropped out of sight. Good news is no news. But now, my goodness! It's back. Continuing high recession level unemployment is being joined by a gradual ratcheting up of inflation--3.6 percent on an annualized basis.

So the Misery Index returns. At "12.7, it's higher than at any time since Ronald Reagan pulled us out of the '81-'83 recession. However, I don't think President Obama will appreciate anyone's pointing this out.

June 18, 2011

Father's Day, Gather 'Round The Tree of Life

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At first I didn't understand how Tree of Life, the film by Terrence Malick, could be getting such lavishly favorable reviews in the establishment media when it supposedly is a "spiritual" work. So I saw it.

I now understand it to be a work of highly original cinematic art informed by a Christian sensibility. Maybe (as some tell it) Terrence Malick, the son of an Assyrian Christian immigrant, is not religious. Regardless, his work speaks for itself.

But, everyone is free to draw his own conclusions. Roger Ebert, famous critic from the Chicago Sun-Times, in the course of an ecstatic review, somehow concludes that the movie is about--ahem--evolution.

Continue reading "Father's Day, Gather 'Round The Tree of Life" »

June 20, 2011

New Electric Car Charger: Consider the Source

The Japanese have come up with a new electric car charger that can provide a Nissan Leaf (for example) a complete charge, good for 200 miles, in only five minutes. It's a potentially serious advance.

However, it is important with all these stories to note that energy is still needed to CHARGE a car. You save gasoline (and its fumes) in this process, but you don't save net energy. If one lives in an area that generates energy through hydropower, it's all a plus; almost the same with nuclear power; less so with natural gas; none at all or even a minus with coal or oil.

Today's Miss USA Must be Politically Correct

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Pity the lovely contestants for the Miss USA title when they learned they should have an opinion on the propriety of teaching evolution in schools. They should have recognized it at once as a political litmus test. This contest is organized by the same gang that sandbagged a young woman a couple of years ago for a "wrong" answer on same sex marriage.

This time, at least a couple of the young women had the sense to give the politically correct answer: why, of course, "evolution" (undefined) should be taught in schools! Those two just happened to come in first and runner-up in the contest. All the others wasted their time, talent and beauty by failing to adapt to the contest supervisors' prejudices.

Survival of the fittest, ladies.

Evolution should, indeed, be taught in schools--including the increasing evidence that the standard neo-Darwinian model of evolution is flawed. Just don't try explaining that to the Miss USA organizers. From now on, expect similar political screens for "beauty in the eye of the beholder."

June 23, 2011

UK's Sigh of Relief That it's Not in Eurozone

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UK Prime Minister David Cameron once toyed with greater EU involvement, but avoided it to placate unreconstructed Thatcherites in the Conservative Party. However, he is quite clear now that Britain avoided a bullet by not joining the Eurozone.

Many good purposes of European union long ago were suffocated by bureaucracy, the delusional form of international government whose relentless will-to-power often challenges national democracy. The Brussels bureaucracy imagined that states like Greece eventually would be forced to whatever austerity measures would allow them to stay in the EU. Or out they'd go. That was the theory.

But, in the case of the Euro, strong states with strong economies (mainly Germany) also have major banks that made unwise investments in countries like Greece. Obviously, the Greeks need to take the medicine that is the only real cure for profligacy. The bureaucrats promised to enforce austerity in such cases.

The bankers in the north, however, don't want to suffer the pain with their debtors. So domestic political pressure is firmly exerted on the bankers' national governments to shift the consequences of Greek folly to northern taxpayers. Thus are the Europeans stuck in a political reality the bureaucrats never anticipated.

(The Greek government has adopted an "acceptable" set of new austerity measures, meanwhile. But it won't be the end of this story.)

Britain at least is prepared to take its own medicine. It doesn't have to take Greece's, too.

World Magazine Breaks the Silence Code

Everyone knows about the struggle between Darwinists and their critics--especially the intelligent design advocates. What is less well known is that there is a rift among conservatives over the issue, with libertarians tending to side with Darwinism and traditionalists tending to back ID (or even creationism). There is also a rift among Christians, especially among the numerous population of evangelicals. Many embrace criticism of Darwinism, but others are put off. They don't want to be isolated from their academic and church peers who are more liberal.

That is why the new issue of World Magazine, an orthodox evangelical news weekly edited by Marvin Olasky, is such a revelation. World's "Books of the Year" showcases in the latest issue two critiques of Darwinism in its theistic evolution (TE) guise--the position that says you logically can embrace both God and (Darwinian) evolution. The two books are Discovery Institute Press' God and Evolution: Protestants, Catholics and Jews Explore Darwin's Challenge to Faith, edited by Jay W. Richards and Should Christians Embrace Evolution?, by Norman Nevin, a British medical geneticist.

There are a couple of fascinating things about this prominent magazine notice: 1) World, by highlighting these books, rescues them from the shunning accorded critics of Darwinism by the mainstream press, including the religious mainstream press. 2) It asks Christians finally to take account of TE's heterodox religious views. 3) It examines for the first time the influence of the billion dollar Templeton Foundation, which has been wielded explicitly to promote "research academics who are critical of the anti-evolution intelligent design position."

As for the "Best Books" pick of World, I especially recommend God and Evolution for anyone who thinks he already knows what this whole debate is about. Reading about Protestant, Catholic and Jewish efforts to make Darwinism compatible with faith will reveal a great deal the reader did not know, I promise.

The significance of the World award is further highlighted on Evolution News in a recent post.

Estonia, the Anti-Greece

Estonia, Richard Rahn argues, has been doing everything right since the Soviets left, except perhaps for joining the Euro. That sounds about right. The little Baltic land, upon becoming free, decided simply to skip the "middle way" that trapped so many countries into welfare state socialism and instead go right to modern capitalism. Now, with a six percent growth rate, it is prospering mightily.

Unlike Greece or most American states, Estonia's bureaucracy is minimal. Indeed, Rahn reports, the Estonians handle their business with the government on the Internet. Having lacked real banks for so many decades they also never had checks; and today they just send transfers from their accounts to whatever store they are frequenting.

They have a flat tax. Their debt is 1.6 percent of GDP.

In some ways, Estonia makes the US, as well as places like Greece, look backward.

June 24, 2011

Evolution as a Political Speed Trap

Two kinds of issues are tough to handle in politics: ones where people use the same words to mean different things and ones where there are issues wrapped within issues. Evolution is both of those things, and also can be emotional--rather than logical--for both atheists and theists alike. (See previous post.)

Today's American Spectator contains a column by Jay Richards and David Klinghoffer on "the speed trap" of presidential politics. Their advice is sympathetic and sound.

Problem one: reporters like Juan Williams, wittingly or not, use "creationism" so loosely it can mean anything--from a religious representation of the first chapters of Genesis as a science text to a strictly scientific view that evidence increasingly contradicts Darwin's now 150 year old theory. And everything in between. Darwinists happen to like and to promote the confusion of terms. It allows them to stigmatize the unwary. But there is no reason for candidates (in this case Gov. Pawlenty) to buy into the confusion or the premise behind the question Gov. Pawlenty got.

There also are other issues within the evolution issue: from academic freedom within science faculties to the moral implications of Darwinism for social issues, such as euthanasia and assisted suicide, animal rights, and on and on. That is why the subject doesn't lend itself to tidy 30 second political soundbites.

The presidential candidate has to answer carefully because the subject is truly important and because people truly care about it. However, Richards and Klinghoffer explain how a responsible politician can zip through the sped trap undeterred and be on his or her way.

June 30, 2011

John Lennon, Celebrity Darwin Doubter

Classically, parrhesia is the willingness to speak one's mind freely, regardless of group pressures to conform. Since the Enlightenment, we all favor it, but in practice few are prepared to risk ostracism from the tribe by openly doubting the tribal religion. We're all for change, once we can see others changing.

Darwinism is the tribal religion of the modern elites, presided over by The New York Times, NPR/PBS and even The Wall Street Journal.

Hundreds of scientists have dared to criticize Darwin's theory, only to suffer attack. Get back in line or you'll get no more grants from NIH, no promotions, no tenure, no parking spot close to the lab. But what do you do to stigmatize rogue artists, especially if they expressly toe the party line on other issues? It's hard to fire an artist, especially a celebrity artist.

Parrhesia happened to Kurt Vonnegut, the writer (Slaughterhouse-Five, among others), when he was interviewed by Steve Inskeep of NPR in 2006. He was complaining about tribal behavior:

Mr. VONNEGUT: Where you can see tribal behavior now is in this business about teaching evolution in a science class and intelligent design. It's the scientists themselves are behaving tribally.

INSKEEP: How are the scientists behaving tribally?

Mr. VONNEGUT: They say, you know, about evolution, it surely happened because their fossil record shows that. But look, my body and your body are miracles of design. Scientists are pretending they have the answer as how we got this way when natural selection couldn't possibly have produced such machines.

He goes on, not seeming to fear retribution.

Now we discover in a neglected last interview that John Lennon, who once wrote the apparently atheist anthem, "Imagine", also doubted Darwinism. Lennon told a Playboy interviewer,

Continue reading "John Lennon, Celebrity Darwin Doubter" »

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