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November 2011 Archives

November 5, 2011

Government Indirectly Subsidizes "Occupy" Camps

The various "Occupy" camps around the country are flagging in participation and public support. So now the government sponsored colleges of metro USA are providing classes for the campers as a way to encourage them. It is showcased in Seattle, as the Associated Press describes, but is also happening elsewhere.

Who pays the salaries of the community college professors? You do.

November 7, 2011

Darwinism and the N.C. Eugenics Scandal

NBC has shown a valuable program on eugenics and the price paid by women, many young and completely unaware, who were sterilized by the state.

The story is playing out as a racial issue, though there were many white victims, as well as blacks. What is not mentioned is the Darwinian theory that made eugenics a popular cause in the first place. Darwinians would like to ignore this past, but it is unavoidable....except, apparently, on network TV. Here it is a morality tale seemingly without a moral.

November 9, 2011

Check-Out-Line Style Hypocrisy

A number of significant insights are emerging from the charges of sex harassment lodged against Herman Cain. It may be wise to withhold judgement about the particulars so far. There are a number of groups operating behind the scenes to drive the story one way or another.

However, it's not too soon to note the way job problems in our times are converted into legal problems. I have commented on the tendency of lawyers for businesses and even governments to discount charges of sex discrimination and sexual harassment by settling out of court--the supposedly "cheaper" outcome for otherwise costly lawsuits. Obviously, if there really has been an illegal action or pattern of behavior the business or agency should settle, and effectively admit wrongdoing. If not, the "cheaper" outcome may become an expensive one--at least in terms of publicity.

In The American Spectator, Lisa Fabrisio makes another relevant arguement: that the Cain issue reeks of hypocrisy. Here is a modern media/entertainment culture steeped in soft porn, where new breakthroughs in lowered standards are accomplished constantly. And yet it is this same debased culture that acts offended by some official's conversational gaffe or unintended double entendre!

What Fabrizio is describing is the moral stance of the scandal monger who reports moral offenses with false shock and secret delight. It is, in short, the morality of the check-out-line pulp magazine become the morality of polite society.

November 10, 2011

Goon Squads Preview 2012 Campaign

It quickly is becoming standard operating procedure for the "Occupy" crowd to invade the speaking engagements of other people to shout them down. Today it was an interruption of Rep. Michele Bachman in a South Carolina speech. A few days ago it was disruption of a speech in Chicago by Gov. Walker of Wisconsin.

The media that looked really hard to find something distasteful or bigoted at Tea Party gatherings have been pretty lax on these palpably anti-democratic mobs. The experience of verbal violence is frustrating for speakers and for audiences, of course. However, the disruptions do provide an unintended message of their own, a lesson of their own and a powerful political commentary. Check out the history of 1968.

November 13, 2011

A Visit to Occupy Wall Street

by Matt Scholz

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Arriving at Zuccotti Park from the 9/11 Memorial I was surprised to find out how small it is, both in geographic size and in the number of protesters. The park itself is only about 100ft wide and maybe 300ft long. Handfuls of protestors occupy it.

There were far more tourists and police around the periphery, hovering, looking in. Among the tourists a carnival atmosphere prevailed, with lots of food vendors amidst the middle aged businessmen posing for photos in front of the park, brandishing their Bank of America portfolios, no doubt to post on Facebook and amuse their friends back home and irritate their disaffected teenage children.

I entered the camp itself in a suit and tie and immediately was stopped by a guy who wanted to know what business I had inside. I was viewed with great suspicion and supervised closely. Someone was always nearby to alert others, not too subtly, that what they assumed was "a corporate person" was on hand.

What the protestors lack in numbers or purpose, they make up for in organization. OWS is like a tiny military base. There are tents set up for general information, for training and propaganda, for food and medical care. There were several souvenir stands (I don't think they probably would like that term and it was unclear if items like freshly spray-painted shirts could be acquired for money or trade). The hygiene and sanitation in the little camp was less than one would find in a military camp, certainly, but you get the idea.

I suspect there are more people at the "general meetings" and some of the more prominent marches but all in all it was a little disappointing. The literature and ethos seemed more fitting for a small commune than a nationally hyped political movement. Indeed, consider that in a metro area of nearly 19 million people there were fewer than 100 protestors present when I visited. I suspect there are more bankers that rightly should be incarcerated in the buildings surrounding the protests than there are protestors. One thing is certain though, these latter-day hippies aren¹t the 99%; they aren't even representative of one percent of the 99 percent. By the numbers, the protestors are the 0.001%.

Bring Back the Rooming House

Neal Peirce--than whom there is none more knowledgeable on the subject of cities--has a column today on efforts to bring back the custom of rooming houses, places where "boarders" could live in their own rooms, but with some common facilities. The costs of rented rooms were almost always lower than in apartments and the community life was sometimes better.

Usually the rooming house of old was a former large house; think "Bed and Breakfast" in scope, but with less involvement by the owners. Peirce, following the ideas of Mark Hinshaw, a Seattle planner, and David Smith of Recap Real Estate Advisers of Boston, see the modern rooming house as a housing solution especially for young people trying to make their way in tough economic times.

Continue reading "Bring Back the Rooming House" »

November 14, 2011

Malefactor Cronies of Great Wealth

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The trenchant and often amusing critic of government waste, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), has issued a report on "Subsidies of the Rich and Famous," a list of tax reductions and entitlements spent on millionaires and billionaires. The total amounts to $30 billion.

The list includes tax write-offs for ranch preservation and energy conservation, but it also includes Social Security, which is not supposed to be a welfare program but an insurance plan, and unemployment compensation, which, again, people pay for as insurance. The real total that could be cut seems to come to $1.5 billion--unless you include mortgage deductions. Without ending such reductions, it certainly might make sense to limit them. Why should any taxpayers subsidize a rich man's house?

In any case, there are plenty of other, more questionable policies, such as ethanol subsidies that primarily benefit wealthy companies (and individuals) such as Archer Daniels-Midland (AMD), do come to much more. As Joe Lawler points out at The American Spectator, these adds up. Ending questionable handouts to the rich can provide the "revenue" that liberals demand to justify a general lowering of tax rates--a lowering that will do more than "stimulus" to spur economic revival.

Coburn's attack, meanwhile, should be complimented by the much more serious problem of crony capitalism. This is not rich people taking advantage of the law, but rich people taking advantage of who they know and whom they support in politics. The Solyndra scandal is just the most famous of the cases where certain big businessmen exploit political contacts to win what look like--and probably are--sweetheart deals.

Capitalism--the free market--is getting a bum rap from the Occupy Wall Street crowd. The problem is not capitalism, it is the politicization of capitalism over recent years. The politicos and their business cronies use each other--for power and for financial benefit. Both come at the expense of legitimate competition and legitimate competitors. That's what needs to be emphasized nationally. Show how we got to this point, and how to get on a path to reform.

November 15, 2011

"Play the Man, Master Ridley"

Just before they were burned at the stake at Oxford in 1555, Hugh Latimer famously said to Nicholas Ridley, "Play the man, Master Ridley; we shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out."

It would be nice to imagine that the auto de fe no longer occurs in university towns, but it does when someone dares challenge Darwinian evolution. And it does so on that topic more than any other--including global warming. Two writers in the Wall Street Journal, Raymond Tallis and Matt Ridley, show how hard it is for even fair-minded intellectuals to own up to the reality.

David Klinghoffer, Discovery sr. fellow, enjoyed the same insightful article by Raymond Tallis that I read in the weekend Journal--a review of books on the subject of brain vs mind. David also came to the same conclusion: Raymond Tallis endorses Darwinian evolution only because he has to in today's PC climate before he can proceed to assail its works. (Dr. Tallis is himself the author of Aping Mankind: Neuromania, Darwinitis and the Misrepresentation of Humanity.)

Continue reading ""Play the Man, Master Ridley"" »

November 16, 2011

Banks Hammered; That's Good, Right?

Occupy Wall Street plans to put "tens of thousands" into Wall Street tomorrow to shut it down. They are going to show the big bad banks and brokerages what's what. This is exciting news for progressives.

Today, losses in bank stocks led the market down again, hitting stocks in general. It's a good thing you and I don't have any money in those banks, isn't it? Oh, wait, we do?

Well, at least our retirement funds are not invested in stocks and bonds, right? Oh, wait, they are?

Pension funds, too? Really.

At least those of us in non-profits don't have to worry about an impact on donations? Oh, oh, not that, too!

And nobody we know is trying to start a new business or expand a business or get a job at a company owned by filthy stockholders and managed by rich people. What, you know such people?

Well, in any event, the "1 percent" are going to have to pay more. What's that, they already pay 38 percent of the total income taxes the Feds get? And, as a result of the recession the numbers of millionaires and billionaires is going down--39 percent between 2007 and this year?

Are you trying to say that we're all in this together? Do tell.

I suppose the next thing you'll say is that attacking banks and rich people per se isn't smart policy.

Ah, but is it smart politics?

November 17, 2011

Are Legal Settlements in the Public Interest?

Discovery Sr. Fellow Wesley J. Smith, drawing on years as an advocate on legal issues, contends in the San Francisco Chronicle today, that there are too many private lawsuit settlements--as in the alleged Herman Cain sex harassment cases.

The points Wesley makes are sensible and probably just. Of course, a newspaper like the Chronicle is always happy to print an article calling for "less secrecy", which, frankly, is not in the article's favor, however. Society today could stand a little more privacy, if not secrecy, and I don't think we should let businesses that profit from scandalmongering (e.g., the media) dictate how to shape the law on such subjects. There is a difference between the public interest and a news organization's interest. They'd move into your house--literally--if they thought they could get a story out of it.

My own concern as a member of the public is the misuse of the legal process and the PC push of the 70s to intimidate corporations into cash settlements that may have no basis in truth. This is indirectly corrupting of the law. The idea of the "settlement" is that the complainant will stop making the claim, but these private agreements increasingly have a way of becoming public if enough publicity is attached to the original target of the complaint. Barrack Obama probably would not would not have been elected to the Senate from Illinois in 2004 (only seven years ago!) if the leading contender for the job, the Republican Jack Ryan, had not had his "sealed" divorce records spread all over the Chicago Tribune, which sued successfully to have them opened.

Continue reading "Are Legal Settlements in the Public Interest?" »

November 18, 2011

"Jobs, Not Cuts" Theme is Beside Point

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Their big signs say "Jobs, Not Cuts" as twenty somethings stop traffic around the country in the "Occupy" movement and confront the police. They are lionized on NPR and Cable news, but there is little attempt to engage them in economic substance because they seem ignorant.

How about instead jobs AND cuts? That's cuts to the Federal budget--which runs 40 percent in the red--and jobs enabled in the private sector?

Meanwhile, if you really want jobs and you are the President, you would not be halting oil and gas fracturing in Ohio or stopping the Canada pipeline in Nebraska.

Why is a rich country like ours getting deeper and deeper in debt while it declines to take advantage of economic opportunity? The "banks" and the "rich" are not doing this (the banks, in fact, paid back their bailouts), the government is.

November 21, 2011

The Answers are Simple, But Not Easy

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Ronald Reagan used to say, "The truth is, there are simple answers, they just are not easy ones."

That's where we are after collapse of the Congressional Super Committee on the deficit. We all know that the problem is a deficit with a built-in escalator. Europe is in even worse shape only because Social Democracy has advanced further and faster there. (You don't hear the U.S. left saying any more that we need to be "more like Europe," do you?)

Meanwhile, the Democrats' emphasis on "taxing the rich" is a distraction, since such tax increases would not make much of a dent in the deficit (or slow the escalator) while it would retard job creation by making entrepreneurship even harder. Wall Street deal makers wouldn't be hurt much; high tech startups, old people selling their business or farm would be.

Republicans are a bit more willing to identify the root problem: entitlement spending. The US government would not be borrowing 40 cents on each spent dollar without rising Medicare and Medicaid spending, as well as Social Security. This has been known for years, but political punishment is swift and sure for anyone saying so.

Looked at properly--that is, from the perspective of history--our entitlement problem mainly reflects the progress of medical care in the past eighty or so years. People lived to an average age of 61.7 when Social Security was passed in 1935; now it's 78. 1. This is very good news for the individual, but it is unaffordable for the federal budget. (It's the downside of personal savings for retirement, too!)

As an economy, we can't go on like this. You can't have job creation without economic growth. A deficit, if sometimes stimulative in a recession, is not stimulative now when indebtedness has reached the point that government is borrowing 40 percent of every dollar spent. The private sector for the past couple of years has beenshedding debt--paying it down--but the federal government is more than sopping up the difference in continued rises in spending. The new supposedly draconian cuts that follow collapse of the deficit committee are actually only reductions in the rate of growth of the deficit, they don't even kick in until 2013 and they probably will be repudiated by then, regardless of who wins the 2012 election.

The present presidential campaign format does not allow these issues to be discussed at any length. The educative role of the campaign, therefore, is deficient. My candidate would be Paul Ryan. I think he not only knows more about the subject than anyone else on the Hill, but he also is personable, articulate and honest. He is the classy guy who is also your friendly neighbor. He also--alas!--is not running for President.

Getty Images

November 22, 2011

Jingle Bells: Cities Ignore Group Shoplifters

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A flash mob robbery in Philadelphia

Shoplifters get away with it. That's the message from downtown shopping districts and malls where police are loathe to respond to shoplifting alerts and, store managers say, resent the time it takes to make out reports once the crimes are over. Stores need the police reports in order to collect from insurers. The insurance companies, in turn, pass the costs on the store chains and the chains pass the bill to....guess who? You and me, of course.

The latest wrinkle in shoplifting is the group theft--a variation on the "flash mob" that can be any group activity in public. In the case of the group theft, a team of thieves--amateur or pro--descend on a convenience store or other outlet where only a few employees are on hand. Some 50 thieves showed up a Maryland store recently, but the smaller operations are happening daily all over the country.

I have talked with the store manager at a Walgreens drug store who tries to catch the thieves in the act. If he succeeds he takes back the stolen merchandise and tells the thief not to come into the store again. That's it; that's the end of it. Until the thief reappears, reoffends and gets the same lax response. The reason, explains the store manager, is that the corporation does not want to deal with long drawn out court cases and is afraid, in addition, of counter-suits for supposed harassment or discrimination. As in so many areas of law these days, it is cheaper to put up with crime than to suffer high legal charges.

At a large mall, also in the Seattle area, the manager of a women's apparel store dreads the repeated attacks of groups of mature young women who surge into the store and take large quantities of goods, often several of each kind, stuffed openly into shopping bags as the understaffed clerk team try to restrain them. Security guards are not around, and police are not eager to hear about the whole thing. Again, the corporation has a no-questions-asked return policy that allows the thieves to take the goods from one store and return them for cash or gift cards (to be fenced at a discount elsewhere) at another store in the same chain. And again, the store mostly doesn't want any trouble, so prosecutions don't take place. Imagine: a woman walks into a store to "return" a half dozen expensive garments. She has no receipts. No problem. She gets cash or gift cards and goes on her way, until she does it again.

Guess what? As the word gets out, shoplifting is sure to become even more of a growth industry in urban America. Mayor Giuliani of New York solved such low-level crime problems by firm enforcement, because studies show that unpunished petty crimes lead to more serious crimes. Well, that was New York, and that was then.

Cities that tolerate crime are sure to have more and more of it. Happy holidays.

November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving: Put Politics and Public Policy on "Pause"

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Gibbon, in The Decline and Fall, observed famously that history is "little more than the register of the crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind." That on this Gibbon was wrong is evident all around us. Who would trade his life in 21st century America for one in the Roman Empire?

For much of our manifest progress in America, at least, we owe the brave men and women who put God above familiar comforts and dared to settle a hostile wilderness. Almost four centuries have passed since the Pilgrims celebrated their survival with thanksgiving. In my own lifetime the well-being of the average American gradually exceeded what the kings of the 17th century enjoyed in health, food and the comforts of home. The whole world in the past generation has made exponential gain in relative health and prosperity. More importantly, though challenged, we do enjoy great liberty thanks to our ancestors' courage and the vigilance of millions today.

Whenever I start to grouse about lack of diversity in intellectual life in America, I stop to think how much more civilized the West is, at least, when compared to the intolerant depredations of the past.

It is a sin to be ungrateful; it also spoils one's appetite as well as everyone else's mood. Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at Discovery Institute.

November 26, 2011

Why More and More Government is Necessary

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Dairy farmers are complaining that the current price support program of the Agriculture Department--subsidized by you, the taxpayers--is inadequate and what they need is guaranteed revenues. They can achieve this by law, though the guarantees will come in the form of higher milk and other dairy prices for consumers--guess what, that's you again! The U.S.G. "would have to get back into the business of managing the nation's milk supply," explains Scott Kilmana of the Wall Street Journal.

Why do dairy farmers need this change? Because, as Kilman learned from the National Milk Producers Association, "(T)he current price-support program...doesn't keep prices high enough to cover the surging cost of corn they feed their cows."

Unmentioned is the reality that corn costs are so high because the very same U.S.G. is articificially subsidizing ethanol production made with corn. In other words, the government subsidizes the creation of the problem, then it subsidizes the "solution", too, and at each point passes the bill to you.

Would any of the candidates for President want to respond to this Alice in Wonderland economic policy, say before the Iowa caucuses?

November 30, 2011

Payroll Tax Cut, a Totally Political Budgetary Idea

The fact that President wants another payroll tax cut displays a lack of seriousness about the economy and a great fascination with election year politics--eleven months before the election. He assumes that people don't know that an extended reduction in payroll taxes that fund Social Security and Medicare will do nothing to stimulate the economy. It puts a few unnoticed bucks in the pockets of people who already have jobs. It does nothing to create jobs or change investment behavior. It does increase the deficit and the national debt.

Sadly, Republicans may go along with it--if compensatory cuts can be made, they say. Compensatory cuts? In the trillions that we already are in the hole?

Non-Existent Nuke Plants Explode

Iran denies it is building nuclear bombs. and Israel doesn't acknowledge destroying them. It is the biggest non-story of the day, and nearly non-reported.

We are living in remarkable cloak and dagger days that affect the security of the world. Yet it almost seems to happen outside the notice of major media.

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