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June 2012 Archives

June 4, 2012

For Greater Glory Inspires, Annoys Critics

One can expect film critics to lose their senses when the subject of a film touches on religion. With few exceptions, film critics are ardent secularists who don't get religion. Thus, there are (as expected) reviews of For Greater Glory that sneer about its failure to acknowledge the real reason the Cristeros rebellion ended; namely, that the US ambassador brokered a peace treaty in order to protect US interests in Mexico. Trouble is, that actually is the message of the film and it is one of the notes that is not quite right. In history, the peace treaty ended much of the persecution, but not all: the Calles government that led the persecution broke the treaty agreement and rounded up 3000 disarmed Cristero leaders and assassinated them. However some of the Cristeros kept on fighting, although in much diminished numbers. About 7000 took part in a Second Cristero Rebellion from 1934 to '39 under the Lazaro Cardenas regime. Cardenas was not as tough as Calles and killed hundreds where Calles killed thousands.

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Some of the reviews are glowing, such as Fox News and the Seattle Times. However, as you might guess, the San Francisco Chronicle is not pleased. Some critics are even skeptical about the seriousness of the Cristero rebellion. Maybe they should ponder the historical fact that there were 4500 priests in Mexico when the war stared and less than 500 when it ended. The balance were killed, exiled or fled.

Well, Raul Lequizamon, an Argentinian friend living in Mexico reports that the reaction to the Mexican version of the film, called Cristiada, evoked the same left/right passions when it came out last month. "The 'intelligentsia', especially from the UNAM (national university in Mexico City) and other state universities was very negative about it and said that it is just Catholic propaganda for next general election." The Christian universities (now allowed again) had a different opinion.

Photo Credit

Continue reading "For Greater Glory Inspires, Annoys Critics" »

Why Russia and China Do Not Act on Syria

By: Yuri Mamchur

As long as President al-Assad's regime causes instability, oil prices stay high; the Russian budget is balanced and Chinese gain the competitive advantage. This situation is the result of a series of decisions that stretch as far as 2005...

In a recent interview with the Business Insider, I said that "problems in Iran and Syria are 'wonderful for the Russian economy.'" I meant it. Mark Taylor's article "For all the bluster, these three reasons show Russia's position on Iran may be surprisingly sane" explores well why Russia is interested in the ambiguity around Iranian nuclear program. In brief, two things to keep in mind: the unstable region means higher oil prices (good for Russia), and Iran as a neighboring Islamic nuclear power means an imminent threat to Russia beyond any American's imagination (bad for Russia). However, after all, world economics and politics are a fine art of balancing, and that's what Russia is doing; playing a dangerous game, that's paying off well so far with Putin's balanced federal budget.

Continue reading "Why Russia and China Do Not Act on Syria" »

June 5, 2012

Turks Now Glad They're Not "In Europe"

Turkey has been kept out of the Europe club for a generation. The attitude in response has been, We'll show you!

Well, they have done that. The Istanbul Stock Exchange was established only in 1986, but it is outperforming all of Europe at this point. In fact, along with Israel, Turkey is one of the few countries to buck the current slump. Even if it succumbs eventually it is not going to sink as far as its neighbor and ancient rival, Greece. Turkey has a strong work ethic, minimal social legislation, little regulation and a pro-growth government. And, sweet irony, it has been saved from the Euro. (Can you imagine the Turks being asked to bail out the Greeks?)

Nick Slepko is blogging regularly on world markets from a hideaway somewhere in the Andes, so far as I can tell. Somehow, he nails fascinating information and insights on a number of countries from there, including these on Turkey. From Motley Fool:

Turkey's Got Talent

Turkey is No Turkey

Welcome to Facebook City, Turkey

No One's Business But the Turks

Avoid the Professional Jive Turkeys when Investing in the Istanbul 100

June 6, 2012

The Time it Takes to Change a Trope

The grinding sound you heard on your television set last night was the media machine flailing and failing to get its election reporting out of first gear. The problem was that the actual election results in Wisconsin were not fitting the tropes used in the past.

It's often good to put down a marker for old political tropes that are breaking down. One is trust in exit polls. Seemingly everyone on the right is laughing at the mainstream media idea that President Obama was the winner of a moral victory in Wisconsin (according to MSNBC, among others) because exit polls showed voters preferring him by 11 points (later reduced to seven points) over Mitt Romney. The trouble, as former Bush aide Ari Fleischer tried unsuccessfully to point out to his CNN colleagues, the same exit polls showed Governor Walker, who beat the Democratic candidate, Mayor Tom Barrett, by seven points, was supposed to be in a "50-50" race. If the polls are so wrong on a race that is contradicted by actual results how predictive can they be on a different matter?

Another trope that got a well-deserved blow: that a recall is somehow a justifiable "last resort" (as E. J. Dionne of the Washington Post called it) for policy differences. It's not. The Progressive Era reformers much admired these days on the left did not intend the Recall process they invented to become a kind of second chance to change a policy direction. Gov. Walker was loathed and confronted because he tried to curb the public employee unions, not because of some malfeasance or corruption. Maybe future recall attempts after this will have a harder time getting launched.

Another enfeebled trope: a politician can't cross the public employee unions. Well, one just did and in his fight against the recall attempt has helped educate the American people about the dangers of excess public employee power in government. I call it "government of the government, by the government and for the government." Sometimes I have despaired of the voters ever realizing that spending and taxes and regulation are out of control not just because of politicians, but also because of government unions that have too much influence on those politicians. It is encouraging that stories from the Walker camp that many state employees support his reforms were born out in estimates that 38 percent of union members voted for Walker.

I won't despair any more after yesterday's vote in Wisconsin.

June 8, 2012

Honesty, at Last, for 2012 Graduates

They have many fine qualities that go with being young, including openness, good humor and enthusiasm; they haven't been beaten down by experience. But they also have been told too often how special they are, how "uniquely" clever and dear, and what a bright future they have, how the older generation has made a mess and now it's youth's responsibility to fix things; how they--the dears--"are the future". That kind of fulsome praise cannot be helpful in the long term.

One commencement speaker apparently has dared to tell the truth. David McCullough told a class at Wellesley High School in Massachusetts that it's a great thing to be human, but each of us is not distinguished or "the best", or even special. It's refreshing tough love.

As long as commence speech cliches are being dumped, how about the one that you should always "follow your passion" in work? What if your passion has no utility for other people and you weren't born rich enough to support yourself collecting matchbooks or postcards, or performing in a rock band, or whatever else it is you have a passion for? How about dedicating your work life instead to something that at least some other people are willing to pay for? How about the dignity of earning a living and supporting a family?

Pretty special, that!

June 9, 2012

Demographics Are Not Destiny

The argument is being made that while the condition of the economy favors Mitt Romney, changing demographics--where the percentage of whites is declining and minorities are growing--is good news for Obama campaign and Democrats in general. I have touched on this theme before, but count me a skeptic on the claim that demographics are destiny, at least in respect to politics. (I have been on this case for a while!)

Issues matter. Candidates matter. Events matter. Party organization and patronage matter. An overwhelmingly white and Republican country became an overwhelmingly white and Democratic country during the Great Depression thanks to the appeal of Franklin Roosevelt. It was not primarily relevant to race and ethnicity . (Eastern and Southern European immigrant families were still growing faster than the national average at that point, however.)

In recent years in Canada, the same trends toward ethnic diversity have been underway as here, yet Canada's Conservative Party, after decades out of office, burst forth as a majority at the last election. That wasn't a fluke and it was not about demographics. In Britain under Margaret Thatcher, the population already was becoming more diverse, yet Mrs. T managed to change the political complexion of the polity--and so much so that when the Labour Party came back under Tony Blair, many of the same policies were retained. How come?

Continue reading "Demographics Are Not Destiny" »

June 8, 2012

Prometheus Unwound

Our dutiful colleague David Klinghoffer has gone to see Prometheus and is impressed. Yes, the movie does have something to do with intelligent design.

June 14, 2012

Berlinski and Metaxas Take Manhattan


David Berlinski and Eric Metaxas shared the stage Tuesday night at the University Club in Manhattan. The occasion was a "Socrates in the City" event with Berlinski speaking on "The Devil's Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions." David was outstanding and thoroughly delighted the crowd of 300-plus.

After a characteristically hilarious introduction by Metaxas, Berlinski stepped to the podium and delivered a sustained and scathing critique of the attitude of condescension that accompanies scientific pronouncements that God is dead. Starting with Copernicus, Berlinski described the roots of modern science as flowing from the idea of two books -- the book of God's words and the book of God's works.

Scientists, of course, devoted themselves to studying the latter of the two, and this inevitably kicked off a struggle for power between two priesthoods, each drawing authority from their respective book.

Without for a moment denying the great achievements of physics and astronomy, Berlinski eloquently made the simple point that these accomplishments do not speak in any direct way to the existence of God. He therefore derided attempts to explain God away -- by, for example, conjuring up a physical explanation for the Big Bang -- as obvious overreaching.

Berlinski drew his conclusion from the book of Daniel, where the message written on the wall by the disembodied hand was, "You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting." The priesthood of scientific atheists has, in effect, sent this message to masses. Berlinski thinks it's time for the masses to send it back to them.

June 16, 2012

Behind the Syria Headlines

The world is preoccupied with Greece just now, and Americans are subjected to history's longest Presidential election campaign, but events in Syria are ominous in ways they deserve more attention than they are getting. The Russians, one way or another, are sending armaments to the Assad regime. France, under Hollande as under Sarkozy, is leading Europe's support for the rebels. (Remember, less than a hundred years ago France was a colonial power in Syria.)

What is getting too little attention is the attitude of the Turks. The Wall Street Journal, in an article today by Nick Mallas, notes at the tail end of an account of European attitudes that "Turkish officials have said they are militarily prepared for a safe zone along their border, but need what one regional official called 'the ironclad backing of the U.S. and others."

Will they get it? If they don't, the bloodshed will continue until the Assad military kills enough protestors and militants to intimidate the rest of the country. If they do get U.S. and other support, a Turkish zone of safety might become the launching area for an assault on Assad that finally could topple his regime.

A Turkish zone of safety presumably would extend into Syria itself, though that is not manifestly clear.

Turks were crucial in aiding the Libyan revolution and they could be again in respect to Syria, Iran's chief ally in the region. If foreign support for the rebels can be accomplished with some assurances about the subsequent safety of Syrian minorities--notably Christians and Alawites--this development could be profound in its consequences.

History won't wait for elections in Europe and the U.S.

June 17, 2012

Church Membership Up, Not Down, in UK

A new study in Britain shows that, contrary to expectations, church membership in the UK is growing. Despite the rampant secularism advocated by the likes of Richard Dawkins and fostered in much of academia and the media, the general trend is toward most church attendance.

Closely examined in the Church of England newspaper, the study from Cranmer Hall in Durham suggests that there is concurrent decline in Christian churches--even closure of various parish churches--while elsewhere and perhaps less noticed new church plants are taking place, people moving to boom towns are joining congregations and black immigrants from the Global South are finding worship homes. Prosperous London is especially notable for growth, including in the Church of England.

Overall, it would seem that new independent churches are outperforming mainline denominations. In a small way, the trend seems to echo the general trend in the world, where Global South churches and churches of newer denominations are gaining adherents, while the establised European churches, Catholic and Protestant, are declining.

In the US church attendance (as of 2010) is growing slightly, probably along the same lines. In all these cases, it has to be said, there is evidence that some people tend to exaggerate their church attendance.

June 19, 2012

How Should Pro-Life People Argue?


I had the pleasure of meeting the spirited Maria McFadden Maffucci, editor of The Human Life Review, over breakfast in Manhattan recently. It had to be in Manhattan, probably, because the dedicated Ms. Maffacci seldom leaves the Big Apple. She doesn't doesn't like to fly and doesn't drive. With us was our Discovery Sr. Fellow Wesley J. Smith, whom the Human Life Review deemed Defender of Life for 2008. Our topic was a lively online symposium on the means by which the ends of pro-life policies should be advanced.

Wesley argues, much like C. S. Lewis, that people of faith should engage in secular dialogue, since the secular world will marginalize them otherwise and because there are perfectly good secular arguments for pro-life positions. Interestingly, the Rev. W. Ross Blackburn wrote in to disagree, and so the symposium was born.

Introducing the symposium, which boasts such heavy hitters as Timothy Cardinal Dolan of New York and both editors of First Things (R. R. Reno and David Mills), along with David Klinghoffer (another DI Sr. Fellow), Ms. Maffucci notes that, "In the eight additional commentaries that follow, the reader follows the twists and turns of a fascinating discussion which reflects the richness of our Western, Judeo-Christian culture. Contributors look to, for example, ancient Greece (Hippocrates, Euclid), the Talmud, the Gospel and papal encyclicals, to natural law, and to American history and the abolitionist movement. Remarkably, you may come away agreeing with both Blackburn and Smith."

Or not. Regardless, this is the kind of introspection usually lacking in national political discourse these days. I recommend it.

June 21, 2012

EU to Squeeze Off Oil from Iran

Oil prices are falling, which cannot be good news for Iran (or Venezuela, or Russia, for that matter). Meanwhile, the European Union seems serious about punishing Iran for its failure to stop developing nuclear weapons. The just-concluded multi-lateral talks with Iran held in Moscow were a failure (as usual). Hence, the EU shut off of Iranian oil imports as of July 1.

Iran can still sell to China, of course, but even there the market is slowing. Oil is one of Iran's few foreign trade assets. Japan is the major country other than China that buys Iranian oil. We and the EU should have more influence with the Japanese than with the Chinese, surely.

As its oil sales decline, the Iranian economy will continue to ratchet downward. The question, of course, is whether public discontent and internal government dissent will happen faster in Iran than the development of its bomb. Another question is how much the continuing drop in government revenues in Iran will effect that country's several billion dollar a year subsidy of the Assad regime's army in Syria.

June 20, 2012

The US Credit Crisis Already is Here

Here is Discovery fellow Scott Powell's revealing letter published today in the Wall Street Journal. It should open the eyes of thinking that spending and credit problems in Europe are so dissimilar to our own.

Your editorial "Obama's Debt Boom" (June 6) states that it will be around 2025 when Social Security, health-care entitlements and interest on the national debt would absorb the entire tax-revenue base--leaving the building of roads, basic research and the defense budget to be deficit financed. You also point out that between 2022 and 2025 the federal debt requiring interest service will hit the critical 100% of GDP.

The fact is the U.S. is close to the "bang" point of crisis right now. Government pensions, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and the welfare and education budgets are projected to absorb more than the $2.5 trillion tax-revenue base this fiscal year. Thus, the defense budget, plus general government operations--including police, prisons and courts, transportation, agriculture and basic research--are already being funded by debt-financed deficit spending.

As for the debt-to-GDP ratio, Moody's and S&P have pointed out that when state and city municipal bond debt and the debt of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (now wards of the state) are added to the national balance sheet, public debt today in the United States exceeds 100% of our GDP.

In addition, at the present level of indebtedness, each 1% increase in interest rates adds $116 billion to the budget in terms of nondiscretionary debt-servicing costs. The U.S. has benefitted from the fact that fiscal problems elsewhere are more obvious, but the S&P downgrade last summer was a warning of the close proximity of the bang point, when the credit-worthiness of the U.S. will collapse.

Scott S. Powell
Discovery Institute

June 25, 2012

Saudi Arabia's Ideas for Future of Iran

One of the mysteries of developments in Iran is the failure of minority rebellions to ignite. The mullah regime in Teheran oppresses all modernists, of course, but it also has earned the enmity of the sizable regional minorities, such as the Sunni Arabs in the South (where, by the way, the oil resides), the Azerbaijanis in the north and the Kurds in the west. Yet, if there have been outbreaks of palpable resentment, they are being kept secret.

The US and Israel obviously would appreciate seeing some anti-government agitation in Iran from almost any quarter, but their ability to promote them apparently is limited. Not so, necessarily, the Saudis.

The Asia Times carries an article by Brian M. Downing suggesting that the Saudis do not especially fancy a US or Israel attack on Iran's nuke facilities because they think such would be unsuccessful in the long run and unify the Iranian people behind the regime. Instead they hope to hurt the regime by pushing oil prices down, on the notion that lower prices can be endured better in Riyadh than in Teheran and by currency manipulation to contribute to the Iranians' fiscal woes. They also would like to stir up Iran's minorities, most of whom are Sunni.

Trouble is, the ability of the Saudis to control oil prices is not as great as some imagine, and currency exchanges are even more problematic. However, if the Saudis were committed to getting Iranian Sunnis to cause trouble, they probably could succeed.

Of course, then the Iranians would find ways to repay the compliment--among Shiites in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states.

One way or another, things are abubble in the Middle East in new ways. Turkey's growing antipathy to Iran client-state Syria, Russian President Putin's visit to Israel and the fall of oil prices--regardless of whether the worldwide recession or some country's policies is causing it--all are heating the pot. The fact that the US media and public are distracted by domestic politics is incidental at this point.

June 26, 2012

Medved Sees Jewish Faith Shift; Politics, Too


Our colleague and friend Michael Medved has an analysis up at The Daily Beast that tells the remarkable story of growth in the population--from high birth rates and conversions--of Orthodox Jews in the United States. He concentrates on New York City's metro area, in some ways the hub of Jewish life in America, noting that Jewish population is increasing there for the first time in five decades. Moreover, it apparently is all due to an increase in the numbers of Orthodox believers. As a consequence the percent of all Jews who are Orthodox (rather than Reform or Conservative or secularized) has grown to 40 percent. He says that 74 percent of all Jewish schoolchildren in New York are Orthodox.

Medved goes on to point out a political implication: while Jewish voters overall supported Barack Obama by 78 percent in 2008, Orthodox supported John McCain by 70 percent. The key is the direction of change.

June 28, 2012

Obamacare Ruling Reflects Technocratic Imperative

By: Wesley J. Smith

Why is anyone surprised? Obamacare was never going to be overturned. Not that it is constitutional, as the Constitution was originally conceived. It surely isn't. But that Constitution has been terminally ill for a long time. Now it is dead.

Why would the Supreme Court's conservative chief justice rewrite the individual mandate's penalty to be a tax, when the law's authors unequivocally stated it was not a revenue generator during the legislative process? Let's call it the "technocratic imperative" -- faith in big government solutions for societal problems -- a mindset that generates a far stronger gravitational pull than the standard conservative/liberal paradigm. The technocratic imperative is why, when push comes to shove, conservative judges almost always move "left" and liberal judges almost never move "right."

Continue reading "Obamacare Ruling Reflects Technocratic Imperative" »

June 29, 2012

No More Left for Defense, Foreign Policy

It's hard to find out what Obamacare will actually cost the national budget. It takes a sense of humor to believe it will save money, as the Administration pretends. The Congressional Budget Office does not use dynamic scoring (that is, it doesn't figure in the changes that tax and spending make to personal and business behavior), yet last March the CBO estimated a ten year cost addition of $l.6 trillion dollars. It may be $500 billion more now.

That all is on top of the burden on growing entitlement spending (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, pensions, education, etc.). Discovery fellow Scott Powell points out that those add up to $2.5 trillion, equal to all the revenue the federal government generates. That means that everything else the government spends on--including defense ($650 billion) and foreign policy (State Department, AID, etc.) and transportation and infrastructure are being financed by borrowing. That will come to about $1.1 trillion to $1.3 trillion this year.

The left thereby is achieving the aim of making our economy more like that of Europe--heavily taxed and regulated (we actually are becoming more regulated than Europe), spending everything we generate on entitlements and digging a huge hole for our children. The difference? The Europeans already have dropped out of defense spending. They are counting on us!

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