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July 2012 Archives

July 2, 2012

People Seen as a "Plague"

Lord Christopher Monckton, who criticizes the climate change people for a vast over-reach, was at the recent Rio Summit. The gathering received little coverage, but it is worth noting its tone.

"(D)uring the UN's Rio+20 summit last week, the walls of the conference center were festooned with disturbing images, many painted by children under the rubric, 'children teaching their parents.'

"In one painting, a child painted the sun, dressed as a doctor taking the temperature of the earth. The diagnosis? 'I'm sure you have humans!'

"Our children are being taught by fraudulent scientists and extremists that people are a plague!"

Left's Bold Policy: More Borrowing and Inflation

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The great Paul Krugman, economist and New York Times star columnist, goes to Europe, sees the colossal damage going on there and pronounces, "What would it really take to save Europe's single currency? The answer, almost surely, would have to involve both large purchases of government bonds by the central bank, and a declared willingness by that central bank to accept a somewhat higher rate of inflation."

Get that? "Somewhat higher rate of inflation." Krugman is scornful of the German effort to promote fiscal austerity. Has he forgotten how the modern era came apart after World War I when the Weimar Republic suffered catastrophic inflation? Among other things it led to was a triumph of Hitler.

Krugman doesn't back his prescription with much and doesn't hold out much hope for it, either.

He says, "Even with these policies, much of Europe would face the prospect of years of very high unemployment. But at least there would be a visible route to recovery."

We already have had attempted solutions tied to bonds and bail-outs. It hasn't done much at all. As for inflation, in these days when the Supreme Court, the President and Mr. Romney all have trouble recognizing whether something is a "tax" or not, the most notorious hidden tax of all is inflation. It takes from the earning power of citizens without the politicians having to vote for it. It brings in more government revenue in the short term, but making the all-important cost of government borrowing much higher.

It is being reported in the same New York Times that young people are no longer as enthused by the "Hope and Change" president as they were. Small wonder. Student loan breaks or not, they are graduating into a failing economy that seems to lack opportunities for them.

Won't someone--maybe one of those well-funded super-PACs--use some of their advertising budget to explain why not paying one's bills can lead to bankruptcy for nations as well as individuals? And that spending money you don't have is just a way of putting off the inevitable?

Gov. Scott Walker showed in Wisconsin that even modest retrenchment by government can salvage a budget. Short term pain happens, but it turns out to be mild. The alternative is long term and protracted pain.

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Terrific British Economics: Raise Taxes to Cut Government Revenue

The supposed Conservative-led coalition government in Britain has raised taxes in a recession, along with cutting expenditures, and hoped to move the country to prosperity and fiscal responsibility. Well, the pain has been felt, but there has been no benefit. Turns out (as per the Supply Siders, led by Art Laffer) that raising taxes may depress revenues rather than increase them.

This is what we are in for in the United States if our government remains the same: some budget restraints (including cuts in defense. though not in entitlements, accompanied by an end to the so-called Bush Tax Cuts of a decade ago and a 3.8 percent tax increase on the "rich" and a "penalty/tax" ("Whatever you want to call it," according to Nancy Pelosi) on mostly young people who don't have health insurance now. Throw in the virtually arbitrary regulatory powers of the Consumer Finance Protection Board and you will have an economic decline in full swing.

July 3, 2012

Shovel-Ready Fertilizer in Iowa

Pigs

You probably thought that federal stimulus money was all spent, didn't you? But one tends to underestimate the time it takes for shrewd business minds in the U.S. Government to pick winners and losers--or winners that turn into losers--and make a government business "investment" shovel ready.

In Iowa, eyebrows are being raised about a plan to construct a nitrogen fertilizer plant slated for 300 acres in rural Wever, near Fort Madison, on behalf of investors from Cairo, Egypt. The Iowa Fertilizer Co. is supposed to reach full production in 2015, with a budget of $1.3 billion dollars. Of that budget, the Egyptian investors are putting up all of $70 million of their own money (about 5.5 percent), while $1.2 billion is being provided through federal flood-relief funds (remember the big flood four years ago?).

Not content, the Egyptian company, Orascom Construction, writes Deborah D. Thornton in a paper for the Public Interest Institute at Iowa Wesleyan College in Mt. Pleasant, "is taking advantage of every economic development incentive they can wrangle out of the state of Iowa and local governments." These include $1.6 million in "forgivable and low interest loans from the state," $2 million "for road and rail improvements" and various local incentives, including job training assistance. President Obama probably will want to go out to the swing state of Iowa to witness the ground breaking.

Continue reading "Shovel-Ready Fertilizer in Iowa" »

Austria Lost its Independence; A Boy Became a Man

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When you read When Hitler Took Austria, by Kurt Von Schuschnigg and Janet Von Schuschnigg, you keep trying, as in a spy novel, to figure out a way for the heroes to escape. But the reader will be defeated, because Kurt Von Schuschnigg's father, of the same name, was the unfortunate prime minister of Austria in 1938, left without recourse when confronted by Hitler's demands for an Anschluss.

The United States was largely indifferent. England and France were in their appeasement phase and Italy, a seeming backer early on, itself had joined the Axis powers. Domestically, Schuschnigg was squeezed between the Communists, who bombed like the terrorists and the Nazis who committed street violence and planned a putsch. Polls showed that some 65 percent of the Austrian people would have voted for continued independence if Hitler had not invaded before Schuschnigg could execute a referendum on the question. Yet we also all know of the huge crowds that greeted Der Fuhrer.

Imagine yourself in this environment. If you were Jewish and had figured things out--and had the means--you might have fled. Many didn't.

Continue reading "Austria Lost its Independence; A Boy Became a Man" »

July 5, 2012

A Paen to Opportunity

Jeffery Lord has written an inspiring, elegiac essay on American exceptionalism, describing the life of an immigrant and two native-born tribunes of freedom, Jack Kemp and our own George Gilder. It's at The American Spectator It's just the thing people should be reading in this country over the long Independence Day week.

July 9, 2012

Must Scientists Credit Violent Anarchists' "Legitimate Concerns"?

TheNew Scientist regrettably reveals itself often as just another example of those turgid science organs that have turned into ideological propagandists. And so it is again with publication of an article that starts by deploring anarchist attacks against scientists and winds up trying to defend anarchism.

The surprise is that anyone in a science journal would try to rationalize away the motives of terrorists. The shoe-on-the-other-foot test shows the folly. Imagine, for example, an article about some critic of Darwinian theory or global warming who so much as used violent language about scientists involved. You wouldn't hear the end of it.

Critics of Darwin or global warming theory don't use violent language, of course, and they are vilified nonetheless in the New Scientist, among other leftist magazines that purport to speak for science these days. But when it comes to people who shoot scientists engaged in nuclear research or run biological research labs, the magazine seems to feel called upon to plead with the terrorists rather than demand their arrest and conviction.

The same has been true for years in respect to animal research for medical purposes. You have to be way over on the left to get away with this sort of deference toward the indefensible.

"Why would they choose (violence)?" asks Randall Amster. "The answer, I think, is that they have legitimate concerns about the role of science and technology in modern society." So do a lot of people with more scholarly arguments, but they don't victimize anyone and don't get such fawning respect in response.

July 10, 2012

Hard Times for Boondoggles in the Boondocks

Windmill

Once more the good people of Iowa seem set for shucking like an ear of corn.

Last week (see below, July 3) brought the story of a shaky federal stimulus program to provide Lee County, Iowa with a 1.3 billion dollar, taxpayer-secured private nitrogen fertilizer plant, a deal in which the Egyptian owners are putting up only $70 million. The Wall Street Journal tells us this week of another likely hornswaggle, also in Iowa. This time it is in West Branch, boyhood home of (let us recall) Herbert Hoover, U.S. President at the start of the Great Depression.

Acciona Windpower generators are being produced in West Branch, but the national market is not promising. The reason is that wind power is out of breath. Slower than the Chevy Volt assembly line--where California state rebates at least keep the cars moving a bit. The only thing sustaining the wind power market is a two cents a kilowatt hour federal credit and that ends December 31. Already the expectation at Acciona Windpower is that "installations of new equipment could fall by as much as 90% next year."

Republican as well as Democratic officials in Iowa think the taxpayer subsidies should continue. It is not known how they stand on Obama Administration efforts to prevent a privately funded natural gas pipeline from Canada that would go through neighboring Nebraska. The Keystone XL Pipeline project would provide reliable energy, jobs and substantial tax revenue. Without the federal bucks, all the wind mills generate is unsteady energy, eye-popping visual blight on the horizon and bird kills; oh, and more government debt.

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July 12, 2012

Higher Ed Outburst Proves Critics Right

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Two well-known reformers in higher education, Clayton Christensen of Harvard Business School and Henry J. Eyring, an administrator at Brigham Young University, signed a letter of support recently for ACTA, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, that also works for education reform. The main causes of ACTA are 1) the responsibility of university trustees (or regents) and alumni groups to take an active role in the direction of higher education; and 2) turning back the near-universal demand for political correctness on campuses, thereby restoring the tradition of the university as a home for free speech and the exchange of contrasting views. ACTA also promotes cost savings in higher ed, such as the introduction of new technologies for instruction. Christiansen and Eyring are advocates of "disruptive innovation" (their recent book is The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education.), and their views coincide with the those of ACTA on many points.

But Christiansen and Eyring have come under attack by the old guard administrators and faculties of higher education, and the professional organizations they control. It seems that these gentlemen are to be stigmatized by association with ACTA. And why is that a stigma? Because ACTA has criticized the educational establishment. Get it? It is the old tautology of the Left: criticism is unsavory because it comes from a disreputable group. And why is the group disreputable? Because it makes unsavory criticism.

In a post yesterday, Wall Street Journal online commentator, James Taranto, observes that the Left routinely ignores the arguments of its adversaries in order to disqualify them from the outset and marginalize them. It is happening in the sciences (especially in respect to criticism of neo-Darwinism, global warming, embryonic stem cell research and assisted suicide), but also in economics, welfare, family issues such as abortion and much else. Since the Left now dominates the faculties of almost all universities and the faculties have a domineering attitude towards the Administrations of those schools, outsiders like ACTA that want to see trustees take up the responsibilities that are legally entrusted to them (that is why they are called "trustees," right?), must be stonewalled, and then anathematized.

Continue reading "Higher Ed Outburst Proves Critics Right" »

CBS News Chief Statement Sets Tone

It's been over a month since a Los Angeles Times story covering the 150th fundraiser President Obama had attended (this one at $25,000 a head), this one held in Los Angeles on a gay theme. The end of the story carried the startling acknowledgement by one attendee, CBS News head Les Moonves, that he and his wife were there because he thinks the President has done a wonderful job in supporting gay marriage. As to the appropriateness of a broadcast network news chief giving public support to a candidate, the LA Times reported, Moonves said that "ultimately journalism has changed ... partisanship is very much a part of journalism now."

Well, now that's settled. Perhaps conservatives will remember that the next time CBS calls to request an interview.

Of course, there is a conservative slant to several Fox TV commentators and certainly a "progressive" slant to MSNBC. At a movie theater in Seattle the other evening an ad appeared before the film with Rachel Maddow of MSNBC standing in front of a field of windmills like a cheerier Don Quixote. This is the future, she declared, and the future is with MSNBC. "Forward" said the big print across the screen. Of course, Forward is also the slogan of the 2012 Obama Campaign.

All in all, maybe it is progress to know where folks are coming from.

July 13, 2012

So, If "Psychology Isn't Science".....

Every so often an article appears taking psychologists to task for claiming the purple mantle of "science". As Alex B. Berezow explains in the Los Angeles Times, in the latest of such articles, the rules of science are strict.

"Psychology isn't science," he contends, (b)ecause psychology often does not meet the five basic requirements for a field to be considered scientifically rigorous: clearly defined terminology, quantifiability, highly controlled experimental conditions, reproducibility and, finally, predictability and testability."

Are those, in fact, the agreed requirements of science? Sometimes one sees them applied in similar fashion to intelligent design. But, strangely, they don't seem to get applied to evolutionary biology, and specifically to neo-Darwinism. In that field, terms' definitions often change depending on the audience ("evolution" itself being an example). Quantifiability? (How?) Highly controlled experimental conditions? (You've got to be kidding.) Reproducibility? (Name one.) And, "finally, predictability and testability." You can get a lot of hand waving over this topic, but no precision.

It seems that the term "science" itself is not very scientific. Perhaps Alex Berezow needs some new, post-modern, fully reductionist criteria that apply when judging sciences of which he approves, such as Darwinian evolution, and others he uses for those, like psychology, of which he does not approve.

July 14, 2012

Yet One More Energy Stimulus Investment Failing

It's hard to get information on Nevada Geothermal Power. The company itself is publicizing an "annual and special" meeting of shareholder on July 24. However, the Washington Times (see Chuck Neubauer's article) and The Hill have reported that it is on the ropes.

The darling of Sen. Harry Reid, Majority Leader, NGP received $98 million from federal taxpayers in the hopes of creating lots of energy and jobs. Today, it seems its stock is down to four cents. Yesterday it was two cents, so at least there is an upward trend.

According to Rep. Jim Jordon ((R-Ohio), chairman of a subcommittee of the House Oversight and Regulatory Reform subcommittee, "The company was in danger of defaulting on its financial obligation, and the (Department of Energy's) assistance served as a de facto bailout." But, "After receiving a taxpayer-backed $98.5 million loan guarantee, the company is still struggling."

Green commentators suggest it should be given some more support.

Maybe everyone in Nevada should be required to buy stock in the company, and those who fail to do so should pay a "penalty". That would be constitutional, since it could be considered a "tax". Any way, you pay.

July 13, 2012

The Drive to Discredit American Heroes

A team of noted historians have examined the allegations that Thomas Jefferson fathered a child with his slave, Sally Hemings. What they have concluded is that he didn't. The evidence that he did not only is circumstantial (common DNA), but it applies to a dozen or so males in the Jefferson family, several of whom would have been more likely to father a child with a slave. Other evidence suggests that Jefferson did not provide any special privileges for Sally Hemings.

None of this should matter much to the reputation of Thomas Jefferson. That he was a slave holder is a serious enough negative on his otherwise stellar biography. What the report shows, however, is that there is a campaign in academia generally to denigrate American heroes and historical achievements. This has infected many high schools and a large share of universities.

Once again we see that cynicism is a form of naivete, and among the worst. A gullible acceptance of allegations of wickedness in leaders is surely even more reprehensible than a gullible disposition to imagine them all as blameless.

July 16, 2012

Obama Working to Promote Gilder Book

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The new edition of George Gilder's classic Wealth and Poverty (first published in 1981), with a new prologue and epilogue, doesn't come out until next month, yet already President Obama seems to be teeing it up. What I have in mind, of course, is the President's speech in Virginia telling entrepreneurs that they can't take credit for their own successes. He believes it takes a state to raise a business.

Mr. Obama thus chooses to minimize the responsibility that successful people have in creating wealth, while Gilder shows carefully and profoundly, how personal talent, skill, hard work and service to yet-unknown customers makes the individual entrepreneur vital to economic growth. This contrast makes Mr. Obama's case for the decisive role of government in economic development the best possible foil for the new edition of Wealth and Poverty.

Some people around here dispute this conclusion of mine. They think that if the President truly wanted to help Mr. Gilder sell his book he would have waited until the official pub date of August 20 before he started attacking small businessmen and entrepreneurs. I think that doesn't give the President enough credit. After all, he probably knows that Freedomfest, the huge libertarian gathering in Las Vegas just showcased Gilder and Wealth and Poverty, while Amazon.com already is allowing pre-orders of the book. So, this is the very best time to start the buzz. Surely Mr. Obama knows this and is doing what he can to help our George succeed.

After all, George couldn't do it alone.


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July 18, 2012

Expect More Broke States and Localities

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How bad is it at the local and state level? So bad it is hard to imagine. Bob Williams, founder of the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, describes it this way in a mailing EFF friends:

"How much is $4.6 trillion?

"With tightly packed $100 dollar bills, you can put $100 million on a pallet. Take a forklift and start filling warehouses with those $100 million pallets-you'll need 46,000 pallets to rescue taxpayers from a looming crisis.

"$4.6 trillion is the amount of the unfunded state and local pension liability according to new analysis by State Budget Solutions. According to Bob Williams, if we don't solve this problem soon it will compromise critical public services and bankrupt many local governments.

"The trouble with pensions is that by the time the crisis is felt-in service cuts, plummeting bond ratings, and increasing taxes-it can be too late. The time to solve this problem is right now, with a transition away from "defined benefit" plans (control by politicians) to 401(k)-style accounts (control by workers)."

Meanwhile, the response of President Obama is to campaign for new entitlements and special programs, such as a proposed billion dollar "master teacher" program. At this point, all he is interested in doing is enthusing his base, in this case the teachers unions, but more generally, the public employee unions.

Get out some more pallets!

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Iceland Avoids the Fire

Iceland FireYet another private club is having a hard time attracting members. In this case, the club is the European Union, apparently regarded by Iceland as a firetrap.

According to an account in Handelsblatt. both of last month's candidates for president in Iceland, who together won 85 percent of the vote, want to withdraw their country's application to join the Eurozone.

The current president, Olafu Ragnar Grimsson and the election runner-up, Thora Anorsdottir, think that joining now would be (in Anorsdottir's phrase) like "rent(ing) a room in a burning hotel."

Iceland's hotel effectively burned down a few years ago and only now is being safely rebuilt. The withdrawal of application to the EU could become effective early in 2013.

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That Memorable Sneer

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Political speech is often couched in ways that different people hear different things, so President Obama and his speechwriters probably thought he was safe when he railed against the idea that businesspeople and others who have achieved success did it on their own.

The line that "If you've got a business, you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen." has been parsed by friends and foe alike. The friends argue that the President was only trying to correct for the efforts people make to give sole credit for success to the entrepreneur or other successful person. The foes argue (correctly, I think) that almost no one takes full credit for his own successes. The whole attack is against a straw man. Instead, the speech, taken as a whole, by assuming the worst of achievers in society, is scornful of them. Politically, of course, it is a not so subtle excuse for class warfare. Remember, even if the Obama tax increases on the "rich" go through, the huge deficits are only dented. So why this constant theme?

So, apart from the speech content, there is the sneer, the sly way the President talks about this subject. It suggests to me that Mr. Obama doesn't understand entrepreneurism and truly doesn't respect the entrepreneur--except perhaps as a campaign donor. It's like the person at the dance performance who points at the stage and declares, "I could do that."

Sure he could.

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July 19, 2012

What About the Christians in Syria?

News stories are breaking fast: the Assad regime is nearing its end. Assad himself reportedly has fled Damascus for his stronghold in Latakia by the coast. Today the Syrian rebels seized the Iraqi border posts and executed the regular troops there. They are taking over posts along the Turkish border, and that will embolden Turkey to provide them direct aid. Suddenly, the Iraqis that fled the violence in their country and found sanctuary in Syria are desperately eager to get home.

The United States government behind the scenes is helping the rebels, if only because that is the only way to have influence over them after the removal of Assad. As elsewhere, the new regime could wind up introducing new forms of oppression by militant Islamists. The New York Times reports that the U.S. is especially concerned about the minority Alawite Muslims that now dominate the government and have participated in the attempts to quell the rebellion by the Sunni majority. (Of course, we also are worried about the possibility that Assad will use chemical weapons on his own people, or let such weapons fall into the hands of al Qaeda units within the new Free Syrian Army.)

But, what about the Christian minority in Syria? They number about two and a half million, with large and ancient Orthodox and Roman Catholic populations and some protestants. With few exceptions, they have not had a part in the killing, though some have supported Assad in the past out of fear of the militant Islamist alternative. It would be understandable if the U.S. government did not want to emphasize a concern over their fate, lest that provoke the very attacks Christians fear. Still this concern definitely merits attention. In Iraq it got little attention, official or unofficial, and the Christian population there has been devastated since 2003. We didn't help them enough in Iraq; we should in Syria.

According to Catholic World News today, "'On the streets of Damascus you see people fleeing, there are refugees who, desperate, cross the city in search of a refuge,' said (Maronite Catholic) Archbishop Samir Nassar. 'The lack of charity structures, the embargo, and the limited resources available do not help to face this emergency and contribute to fueling anxiety."

One can argue that it might hurt rather than help Christians in the Middle East for the U.S. to promote their safety openly. But we certainly can campaign for the safety of all religious and ethnic minorities, emphatically including the Christians. It won't do for the U.S. to take a hands-off position.

July 31, 2012

U.S. Christians Should Speak Out More Forcefully on Persecution Overseas

An article in the Wall Street Journal by Ben Cohen of New York and Episcopal priest Keith Roderick of Illinois describes the death sentence against a long time Christian pastor in Iran. It is no surprise. (See my immediate previous post on Syria.)

Regrettably, it also is not much of a surprise that US official protests of this and other cases is so muted. Defending Christians or Jews is not a high priority of the Obama Administration, which on the domestic level is straining relations with Christian churches anyhow and beginning to test the patience of long-standing allies among American Jews. But, then, the official policies of the Bush Administration's State Department were not much better, at least in respect to protecting Christians overseas. Of all things, the United States seems to be embarrassed to defend persecuted Christians.

What surprises even more is the continuing failure of major Christian denominations, organizations and media outlets to protest more vigorously and imaginatively the abuse of religious liberty. Churches are burned and Christians are murdered in Mali or Kenya or Nigeria, and there is barely any notice in the pulpits of America. The government in this democracy reacts to public pressure, and so far there isn't much. That needs to change.

Why, for example, are we giving foreign aid to governments that will not protect their own people? The answer is, if it is not a high priority for us, why should it be for governments in Pakistan, Indonesia or several countries in Africa? A lot goes on behind the scenes, but often a low profile seems to embolden extremists and make our protestations seem weak and even craven.

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