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May 2012 Archives

May 1, 2012

Peas On Earth, Bad Will Toward Men

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In the clash of world views, unborn babies do not have rights so far as the left is concerned. Some even believe in the reductio ad absurdum of post-birth abortion. However, in the same left wing world--say, the world defined by the New York Times--plants do have rights. They are a "who", not a "what".

Part of the effectiveness of Alice in Wonderland as satire is that the occupants of the story don't get the humor. Thus, the same Times that brings us articles justifying infanticide bring us articles calling for plant rights. Discovery sr. fellow Wesley J. Smith, long a critic of the cheapening of human rights, this weeks takes on the peas-niks.


Photo Credit: Deviantart.com

May Flies in Seattle

Seattle's anti-WTO demonstrations of December, 1999 were something of a template for rioting in the 21st century: high tech, high self-confidence by the entitlement generation and reckless disregard of collateral damage. "Occupy" is a son-of-WTO production, the pathetic gyrations of frustrated youngsters in the throes of political confusion. These unfortunate kids think they actually are accomplishing something.

They don't know much about history; don't know much about economics. Don't know how to get a job, for that matter. But they know they are really, really mad.

This morning, Seattle public radio (the station that regards conservatives as non-existent) was very excited about the day's events. A professionally cheerful police representative said that the force was out to protect both the demonstrators and the public and certainly hoped everyone had "fun" exercising their First Amendment rights; but, alas, he said he also had evidence that there were elements determined to make the protests violent.

Not so, said the Occupy spokesman, also on the program. If there was evidence of threats, the police should provide it. Otherwise, it would seem that the only threat to the peace was from the police department itself. So, the Occupy spokesman was suspicious of the police but had no words of admonition for any would-be disrupters of the peace.

Well, the day was still young when little black shirted provocateurs with face masks were out on the street attacking stores, the police and (a big mistake) news reporters. And, just as in the WTO riots, the shrouded petty terrorists were also hypocrites. Kids trashing the NIke store wearing Nikes on their own feet.

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Photo credit: Kirotv.com

May 3, 2012

Medved on Jews, Evangelicals and Israel

It's not so difficult to understand, George Gilder (author, The Israel Test) quipped at a Los Angeles synagogue: the reason that President Obama is so much more popular with American Jews than he is with Israeli Jews is that the Israelis are "smarter". The fact that so many evangelical Christians oppose Obama actually is a plus for him in the eyes of some Jewish voters in this country and yet irrelevant in Israel. In an extensive article in this month's Commentary magazine, another Discovery Institute fellow, the radio commentator and columnist Michael Medved tries to explain the strange aversion many Jewish voters in the U.S. have toward Christians in general and evangelicals in particular. It's not so difficult, they are secular liberals first, and Jews second, if at all.

Regardless, the reason politically conservative Christians tend to support Israel is hardly out of some domestic political calculation about winning Jewish support in this country. Nor is it from some belief in acceleration of the religious end times (who supposes that Christians spend a lot to time on that subject anyhow?). Israel is so important to the US--evangelicals, Catholics, and a majority of everyone--because of its cultural legacy, its democratic example, the growing economic contributions it makes to the US economy, and, of course, regional defense. If some liberal American Jews can't see that as clearly as conservative Christians, that's their problem.

However, it may not be such a big problem. We are still early in the 2012 election cycle, but there definitely does seem to be some movement evident among Jewish voters, http://campaign2012.washingtonexaminer.com/blogs/beltway-confidential/obama-still-behind-2008-pace-jewish-voters/511516. Jewish voter support for President Obama is slipping substantially from his 2008 margin of 78 percent, Michael Barone reports. It's now 61 percent. Romney is at only 28 percent, but these percentages are soft. Support for Obama is high on health care and the economy, but much lower on defense and foreign policy. The relative weight of these issues may change, and with them the numbers.

Progressive Seattle is Soft on Anarchists

Liberal Seattlites, which is to say nearly all the politicos and media, are eager to deplore the anarchists who trashed the downtown on May Day, but they are just as eager to assert their sympathy for the concerns of the Occupy protestors. The anarchists, they declare, are detracting from the reform appeal of the Occupy crowd. The trouble is, those fine Occupy folk don't necessarily see it that way.

A Seattle Times editorial this morning preached to the Occupiers, "The reminder for the legitimate marchers is to never forget their efforts are ripe for exploitation by costumed poseurs from a graphic novel" (the anarchists). The Times and other writers want the Occupy movement to focus on "educational" efforts to show how the economy was damaged and the Great Recession caused by privileged elites (banks and the "One Percent," I guess). "Help citizens understand what happened and how it can be corrected," proposes the Times. "Next time the crowd could be 10 times larger. And the feckless punks even more irrelevant."

Maybe the Occupy people could gather in city parks to read out loud past Seattle Times editorials on the roots of the recession.

You would think that the term"Occupy" meant "hold peaceful demonstrations," instead of, well, occupy public buildings and spaces and shut down normal business activities. Of course, that is not how the Occupy movement has been defined since its beginning, how it broke the law last fall and set up camps at Westlake Mall and the Seattle Community College campus, and why it is not disposed to disown the anarchists and bar them from its ranks. Indeed, last year, the Occupy movement really was "10 times larger", but the "feckless punks" were just as "relevant" then.

Occupy members themselves are refreshingly unencumbered by the the bourgeois illusions of the media and political left. For example, deep in The Times' own news story today on the riot aftermath, we learn that "Ian Finkenbinder, an Occupy Seattle member who helped organize the May Day protests" says "he doesn't 'support or condemn' the property destruction and violence." (My emphasis.) Finkenbinder, a fellow with a dazzling pink Mohawk, displayed in a front page Times photo, said "he wasn't surprised by the turn of events, given the public anger with the government and corporate America. 'When you have the inequality we see today, there will be a few broken window,' he said."

So, maybe Mr. Finkenbinder is not exactly the best instructor to conduct a course in economics.

If progressives do want such an educational course they might start by presenting the public with more than one point of view on what really did cause the economic meltdown, and what perpetuates the slow growth economy the nation is enduring now. It isn't just elites on Wall Street, a good number of whom, by the way, are liberals in good standing. (Does the name Jon Corzine ring a bell?) Rather, it largely is the government, aiming to do good with mandates for sub-prime mortgages and doing damage instead.

Meanwhile, there is a reason that places like Seattle and Oakland and Berkeley tend to have riots and less progressive cities do not. Elsewhere, there is less cooing over "legitimate" radicals.

May 4, 2012

When Unemployment Reaches Zero

The good news today is that unemployment has dropped from 8.2 percent to 8.1 percent, entirely because so many workers are dropping out of the job market and no longer are listed as "looking for work." These are "discouraged workers."

When all of us lose our jobs and finally give up hope of finding new ones America will reach zero unemployment and zero employment at the same time. Then President Obama can boast that we have finally achieved a balanced economy.

May 14, 2012

Banks Quietly Brace Against Greek Collapse

The Open Europe organ of the European Union is a commendably fair daily account of news about Europe--from within Europe itself. Today brings the news I haven't seen much elsewhere that a possible (or is it probable) collapse of the Greek government's agreements on austerity measures already is being discounted by European central banks.

Reports an Open Europe headline, "Belgian and Irish Central Bank Governors suggest a Greek exit would be manageable".

Euro finance ministers were meeting today as conflicting stories come out of Greece. One is that polls show support for staying in Europe and using the Euro. But other polls show no appetite at all for sacrifice. The way this commonly is represented is, "We stay in, the Germans pay our bills." That doesn't sound so good to, say, the Germans.

Continues Open Europe, "Luc Coene, Governor of the Central Bank of Belgium, said in an interview with the FT (Financial Times) that, 'I guess an amicable divorce [between Greece and the eurozone] would be possible, but I would still regret it.' Patrick Honohan, Irish Central Bank Governor, told a conference in Estonia at the weekend, 'Things can happen that are not imagined in the treaties...Technically, [a Greek exit] can be managed...It is not necessarily fatal, but it is not attractive.'"

Open Europe also notes that "Der Spiegel reported over the weekend that, according to a leaked document from the German Finance Ministry, even if Greece leaves the euro, it will still require financial support and as an EU member, this could be provided by all EU member states. However, today's front-page of the magazine still calls for Greece to leave the euro." (My added emphasis.)

Meanwhile, in Britain, the Cameron government's Foreign Secretary William Hague says this would not be a timely occasion for a vote on whether the UK should reduce its ties to the EU. I'd say he's got that right!

May 15, 2012

"Indivisible" in Barnes & Noble Top 100

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It isn't The Hunger Games, but for a non-fiction book, Indivisible by James Robison and (Discovery Sr. Fellow) Jay Richards is doing very well. It's now number 24 on the Top 100 Bestsellers of the Year at Barnes & Noble. Our folks are right between John Grisham and Stephen King, make of that what you will.

New Greek Elections and Turmoil Ahead

Train jpgOpen Europe reports that new Greek elections now seem likely as a technocratic caretaker administration takes over after failure of any party to form a governing coalition. However, it is hard for anyone to imagine a sustainable coalition resulting from the new elections, either.

The debate among German leaders is whether to pull the subsidy plug now or later. If money is cut off for Greece now the nation's economy could collapse even before the new elections. One wonders whether in that event the present number two party, the public employee-dominated Syriza, will gain or lose. Their whole claim is that Germany is bluffing. How credible will that claim be once the Germans follow through?

Whenever the collapse occurs and Greece pulls out of the Eurozone--or is thrown out--the cost to the French government alone is estimated at between 50 billion Euros and 58 billion, not counting private banks' exposure. The official amount alone comes to about $1,200 US for each Frenchman. Germans and Dutch will be hit for comparable sums.

Then, after Greece, comes potential collapses in Spain, Italy, etc.

The big spending gravy train is in a slow rollover.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

May 19, 2012

In Tennessee, the Girls Call Me Darlin'

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Jack Daniels on the rocks
Lynchburg, TN
Unemployment in Nashville is 6.6 percent (in contrast to 8.1 percent nationally). In Chattanooga, where I also visited last week, it is 6.9 percent. These cities and the state of Tennessee are a refreshment for a public policy wonk who is used to following the job markets of states oppressed by public employee unions, high taxes and regulation (e.g., California and New York). Moreover, construction is booming in Nashville, in particular, as the capital of the state government and the capital of country music adds to already imposing health care and tourism resources.

The contentment is shown in the demeanor of the citizenry, unfailingly friendly and outgoing. The ladies call you "darlin'", apparently without fear of sex discrimination suits, and waiters wish you "a blessed evening" as you leave a restaurant, unintimidated by possible threats from the ACLU. The air is clean, the water tasty, the rolling countryside picturesque. The food's delicious--if you go for Southern cooking, which I do at every opportunity.

Locals are proud that when floods swamped Nashville, the city recovered quickly, unlike New Orleans. The difference? Nashville didn't look to Washington for help. Tennessee is one of the nine states (so far) that have no income tax. It's a good place for business.

The state legislature recently passed a law making sure that science teachers are allowed to present all scientific sides of controversial issues such as Darwinian evolution or global warming. It took some courage as well as a good sense to do this. Yes, the president of Vanderbilt, making $1.9 million a year, meanwhile has done his best to run Christian student organizations off campus and the pliant trustees have gone along. Yes, the major newspapers are just as biased to the left as in the rest of the country and even more out of touch with their communities. And, yes, Al Gore lives in the sumptuous suburb of Belle Meade, from which his private jets fly off with huge contrails to save the world from global warming.

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Pucketts Bi-Rite, Leipers Fork, TN
But mostly there is a gentle, common sense peace about Tennessee. Twenty minutes outside Nashville is Franklin, looking like an idealized Disneyland small town, except that there are churches on every corner downtown and a booming Christian music industry. (It also is rising population, as is Murfreesboro, one of the fastest growing cities in the nation.) Up in the countryside nearby is a tiny crossroads, Leipers Fork, with a single supermarket--Puckett's Bi-Rite--that closes at dusk to become a bustling country music venue. Their first rate musical fare can be found, streaming, on the Internet.

Even the tourist sites seem well-done. Rock City on Lookout Mountain, above Chattanooga, provides a tasteful and amusing geological visit, and the mountain's Point Park and the Civil War battlefields there and below (Missionary Ridge) offer careful and provocative educational experiences for all ages. They might hate the description, but "wholesome" might describe the bars downtown, and they certainly can wear out anyone's desire for non-stop live musical tourism. For a refresher course on their provenance, try the Country Music Hall of Fame.


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Country Music Hall of Fame
Nashville
Tennessee's population (6.5 million) is going up faster than that of the nation as a whole, and the eastern part of the state seems especially prosperous and vital. I have a short list of the nation's most under-appreciated states. Pennsylvania would be on the list in the North. Indiana in the Middle West. Utah in the West. Tennessee in the South. I make a deep and courtly bow in its direction.


May 18, 2012

"Hair of the Dog" Won't Ease Economy's Hangover

Slowly the stock market is telling us to expect another recession, even while there is a kind of wobbling improvement in the depressed housing sector and the unemployment ranks.

Writes Comstock Partners to investors:

"At best, we think the economy will be disappointing in the period ahead. Consumers, who account for about 70% of GDP, are hamstrung by debt. In addition they have kept up their spending only by running their savings rate back down to 3.8% of disposable income, only the fifth month below 4% since 2007. Other limiting factors are low wage growth, high unemployment, the large numbers of workers who have dropped out of the labor force, declining home prices, higher tax payments and a flattening out of transfer payments. Therefore it no wonder that consumer confidence still remains at recessionary levels.

"Still ahead is the so-called "fiscal cliff", another conflict as we approach the debt ceiling again, a contentious election, and the continued inability of a dysfunctional congress to get anything done."

To that you can add the worsening credit crises and an accompanying slump in most of Europe and the slowing of growth in China and India.

The policy purveyors on both sides of the Atlantic, at least, are at odds within their own countries and trans-nationally. Germany, for now, is doing well, obviously, as is adjacent Austria. The Merkel regimen of low and declining deficits, relatively low taxes and reduced regulations, along with cuts in entitlement spending have kept Germany out of the grim conditions prevailing in Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy. Looking over here, the Germans find it hard to believe there is any merit to the stimulus practices of the Obama Administration, since their whole policy is to avoid that approach.

Surely the Germans mostly have it right. What is lacking, however, is a strong enough supply side focus: extensive lowering of tax rates and reductions in regulations. Even though, as in Canada, the locals can see that they are doing better than citizens in more profligate lands, sobriety alone doesn't sell.

Much of the West has been on a binge. The left offers Hair of the Dog, though the pleasant effects are fleeting. Vitamins, solid food and exercise surely are in order; but it helps to emphasize as well the brighter future ahead. Mr. Romney needs and the Republicans in Congress need to get this advoce even more urgently than Mrs. Merkel.

May 21, 2012

New Chapter in Religious Freedom Being Written

The clumsy actions of the Obama Administration to require church-related institutions such as hospitals and schools to provide insurance covering contraceptives, sterilization and abortifacents, has been turned into a question of feminist rights by some in the media and politics. So it is useful to review just what has happened and where the debate is headed. George Weigel's article in National Review is the best summary of this topic I have seen.

Meanwhile, the political class is about to get a surprise in the form of two films on an era in Mexico--80 years ago--when an anti-religious government turned persecution of the Catholic Church into a physical policy of oppression. Two films about the Cristero rebellion happen to be coming out at the same time. For Greater Glory (Cristiada, in its Spanish version), starring Andy Garcia, Peter O'Toole and Mexican star Eduardo Verastigui, is being screened privately around the country this month. Meanwhile, at The Seattle International Film Festival and elsewhere, a Mexican/Dutch film, only in Spanish, Los Ultimos Cristeros (The Last Christeros), is seeing its first performances in America.

I haven't seen either film yet. However, I know enough about the Cristeros to note that even in the depths of the US Depression, at a time when anti-Catholic sentiment was strong, the US government was appalled by the killing and harassment of the Church by the Marxist regime in Mexico. It might bear notice by contemporary progressives in this country that while the government prevailed in the short term in Mexico, that country went on to become one of the most religious in the world. The history of persecution suggests that fierce secularism often backfires.

Organic Foods Can Make You Mean, Scientists Say

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Hate Food?

A paper published in Social Psychological and Personality Science says that eating organic foods can tend to make people judgmental. At least, that is the way the story is being covered in a number of places. The journal's abstract seems to bear that out.

A number of commentators are having fun with this, as well they should, though perhaps for reasons not connected to organic food. First, this is another example of misleading "science" studies that actually are little more than Onion-style pieces taken seriously. Surely, it is not the eating of organic food that makes one judgmental, but rather, some judgmental people gravitate to any life-style appurtenance that allows them to feel superior to other people--to put others in the wrong, as C. S. Lewis said. It could be diet or politics or religion or even musical preferences. Jerks are jerks and will find ways to exhibit their disposition. In other words, the premise of the study would seem to be wrong, and not "science" anyhow.

Second, materialism is the superstition--disguised as science--that wants to assert a material cause for practically anything. In this case, we have the amusing post-hoc-ergo-propter-hoc error of thinking that because someone eats organic food and also is judgmental, that the action causes the attitude.

I know organic enthusiasts who are delightful people. Same with vegetarians (my wife, for example). And I know other people who believe that chemicals grow produce bigger and better (and cheaper) and in seasons when they might not otherwise be available--and some of those people are jerks.

In any event, I have a particular affection for "Scientists Say" headlines. They often reduce to government-financed fairy tales. The only element missing in the present story is that there is an evolutionary cause for linking mean people and organic foods. Maybe it's that humans were so much more violent in ages past when all the food was organic, while the introduction of pesticides and additives, canning and freezing, etc. have bred our present race of relatively pacifistic people. Quick, we have our theme, so get me a grant!

Photo Credit

May 22, 2012

Traffic Getting Better; Economy, Not

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Inrix, the Kirkland, WA based international traffic data gatherer, is making news with a study showing a steep--30 percent--decline in traffic in the US this year. As CEO Bryan Mistele explains on FOX Business report, that is good news for you as a driver, but a serious caution for our economy. Higher fuel prices are part of the explanation, but so, apparently, are decreased employment and construction.

Misele, among his distinctions, is a Board Member of Discovery Institute.

May 23, 2012

Failure: Obama Dithering Over Syria

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If a civilian falls outside TV camera range does his death make a noise? Maybe not. The inability of international media to continue covering the civil war in Syria has given the Obama Administration an excuse for downplaying it. Worse, Administration failure to remove de facto support for Assad early on helped the Assad regime in power. Gary C. Gambill describes it today for the Foreign Policy Research Institute.

Continue reading "Failure: Obama Dithering Over Syria" »

May 25, 2012

More Missing Links--Darwin, Eugenics and Hitler

Yale Magazine has done the world a favor by exposing one on the universities own skeletons--the eugenics movement.

Richard Conniff, though himself a Darwinist, pulls few punches. A century ago, he explains, well meaning professors who contributed in positive ways to economics and conservation nonetheless also provided an intellectual weapon for evil that rocked the 20th Century. A young activist in Germany was impressed. The movement started by Darwin's cousin, Francis Galton, was carried to an extreme by this man and his friends in the decades to follow.

"Writing Mein Kampf in his cell, Adolf Hitler complained that naturalization in Germany was not all that different from 'being admitted to membership of an automobile club,' and that 'the child of any Jew, Pole, African, or Asian may automatically become a German citizen.' Now, though, 'by excluding certain races' from the right to become American citizens, the United States had held up a shining example to the world. It was the sort of reform, Hitler wrote, 'on which we wish to ground the People's State.'

Continue reading "More Missing Links--Darwin, Eugenics and Hitler" »

May 26, 2012

Obama, Senate Hostile to Private Rail Role

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It is harder and harder to find consensus on the simple proposition that passenger rail should play some part in the nation's transportation mix and that the private sector should have as large a role as possible in making that possible. Right now, some of the supposed biggest proponents of passenger rail--in the Federal government--are its most serious adversaries in practice.

Start digging and you find out the problem. Just as public employee unions have helped put state governments in the red, unions in the federally chartered Amtrak corporation are trying to prevent the private sector from bidding on passenger rail service. This, despite the perpetual budget deficits run by Amtrak and the growing despair over publicly invested high-speed rail projects in California and other states.

Most conservatives have come to think of passenger rail as a preposterous boondoggle, while liberals in Washington, DC are intent on a publicly owned system (whatever its costs) and--perversely--on preventing private operators from showing what they can do to turn things around.

Continue reading "Obama, Senate Hostile to Private Rail Role" »

May 28, 2012

Men are Cads, Scientists Say

Memo: I don't know who around here is keeping the "Scientists Say" file, but a new study that shows young men as vulgar and crass when it comes to sex should be filed there. I know we all are shocked.

May 29, 2012

Film Will Spark Much Needed Debate

For Greater Glory, the US/Mexican film set to open June 1, is a rousing, rollicking epic about a censored and tragic era in Mexican history. The 142 minute show is possibly still not long enough to do full justice to a complex history of something one doesn't see often in cinema, a fight over religious freedom. Between a useful prologue and epilogue are several interwoven stories and a half dozen major military battles and minor raids. The beautifully evoked scene is Mexico of the 1920s, but the feel is that of a sweeping Russian novel. Several lead American actors are joined by a superb Mexican cast, most of whom will be newcomers to US audiences.

For Greater Glory breaks new ground on several fronts. One is the fruitful US/Mexican production team's seamless artistic coperation. Another is the surprising timeliness of the subject matter, which is strictly an accident, since the film has been in the works for a decade, long before President Obama's quarrels with Christians in general and the Catholic Church in particular, and even before the latest persecution of the Copts in Egypt and the Christians in Iraq and Syria. And the film definitely breaks new historic ground in a way that will send many viewers to the internet and history books to study the fascinating events in the films.

Even some Americans who think they know Mexican history are puzzled by the Cristero Rebellion of 1926-29. In Mexico itself the government suppressed study of the era in school textbooks. It is an uncomfortable story for many, since it describes a violently divisive time and raises the issue of religious freedom today.


Continue reading "Film Will Spark Much Needed Debate" »

May 30, 2012

Chavez' Health, Dry Oil Wells & Cuba's Future

Oil Photo in Cuba.jpg Hugo Chavez' cancer is terminal and the end is near, according to a source of Dan Rather's.

Meanwhile, Repsol, the giant Spanish energy company, is giving up on oil drilling off the Cuban coast. The Chinese have literally a handful of exploration wells, including the one shown here. But there is scant sign of success with them, either, and, for that matter, the Chinese really don't "get" the Latin culture of Cuba. Let's just say, their idea of communism and the Castro brothers' are different.

What this suggests is that we may witness a serious crisis soon in the never-robust Cuban economy. When Chavez goes, Venezuela may lose interest in supplying Cuba with subsidized oil. If they cut off the 110,000 barrels a day they ship to Cuba, the Cubans will be hard pressed, and quickly. After Russia cut off its highly preferential sugar/oil swaps with Cuba when the Soviet Union collapsed, Cuba went into a deep depression. That can happen again.

Cuba has gorgeous weather much of the year, fine beaches, fabulous music and more historic sites than Americans imagine. The people are delightful. What they don't have is an obvious way, other than tourism, to keep 11 million people busy and productive.

It has been assumed in Havana and Washington that a reconciliation will have to wait until the Castro brothers die. But a steep economic crisis could change that.

This, then, may be a moment for statesmanship of a very high order. Cuban-Americans understandably are not interested in ending the embargo just for the heck of it. They want to see democracy, guaranteed human rights and free enterprise in Cuba. The availability of huge private financing for a modernized Cuban economy is clear. Nobody wants to go back to the corruption of the Batista era or to the historic lack of support for health and education. But a modern economy will require an accounting for the past and an achievable plan for reform.

So, on that basis, can we talk?

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