Sunday, December 22, 2013

Barry and Kerry ignore history

There seems to be a remarkable degree of complacency over the recently negotiated "agreement" with the Iranians over their nuclear capability (or lack of it). Barry posits that "…I'm keeping all options on the table but if I can do it diplomatically, that's how we should do it. And…that, for sure, is the preference of the American people."

Speaking as one of those "American people," baloney.

My opposition isn't based on the current Iranian regime or its leadership. Rather, the history of negotiated settlements with Muslim leaders, especially when they've been the weaker party, has been one of total failure. These failures can be attributed to "taqiyya", a negotiating stance taken by Muslims which allows them to lie to "infidels" to protect themselves.

Allied with taqiyya principle is that of kitman, a tactic which allows Muslim negotiators to engage in un-Muslim behavior as a ruse to fool the infidels. This may involve the consumption of alcohol or the eating of pork - one who so indulges, comforts himself that he remains "mentally" committed to the tenets of his beliefs which, because it is done in the spirit of advancing Islam, absolves him of the transgression.

As Abu Bakr, himself a military leader, put it: "If I take an oath to do something and later on I find something else better than the first one, then I do what is better and make expiation for my oath." (Bukhari 78:618)

Nor do these mental and moral gymnastics end there. The most prominent tactic is that of the hudna or "treaty of convenience." It originated with Muhammed himself when he negotiated a 10-year treaty with Mecca (the Treaty of Hudaibiya). Within two years, Muslim forces broke the treaty and overran Mecca. They claimed that the attack was legitimate as an ally of Mecca attacked an ally of theirs. However, once the treaty had been established, the caravans once again began moving in great numbers… Muslim forces "waylaid every caravan from Mecca (for since the truce, traffic with Syria had again sprung up) and spared the life of no one.”

The precedent was set and duplicity in negotiations has become part and parcel of Islamic treaty making and breaking. (Doesn't anyone ever notice the frequent Mid-East "cease fires" that occur - only to be followed up some time later by "surprise" attacks by Islamic forces or rockets? Cease fires are nothing more than periods of re-armament and propagandizing.

Muslim scholar, Bassam Tibi explains: "In this sense Muslims believe that expansion through war is not aggression but a fulfillment of the Koranic command to spread Islam as a way to peace. The resort to force to disseminate Islam is not war (harb), a word that is used only to describe the use of force by non-Muslims."

A further refinement of taqiyya is the "we were attacked" justification. As many things Muslim, an attack can come in a variety of guises. Cartoons featuring Muhammed, the banning of the burqah, or supporting Israel are just a few of the actions that have prompted retaliation.

As Bat Ye'or notes in her must-read "Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis", it was almost fifty years ago that French scholar Charles-Emmanuel Defourcq "explained that according to the juridicial concept of jihad, war was the normal state of relations between Muslims and Christians. All…treaties between them were called 'truce treaties.' (6th edition, pg. 33)"

Under these conditions there has not, is not, and will not be a lasting peace with Islam. Those who indulge in the effort are wasting their time and affording the opposition an opportunity to improve their position - until such a time when they once again feel they have an upper hand, and hostilities WILL break out.

And I believe we've had enough of this "religion of peace" baloney (or globaloney) that's swept the world (or at least the political and journalistic portions). Following is a partial listing of Islamic peace initiative in JUST the middle portion of the 8th century:

635: Battle of Bridge, Battle of Buwaib, Conquest of Damascus, Battle of Fahl.
636: Battle of Yarmuk, Battle of al-Qādisiyyah, Conquest of Madain.
637: Conquest of Syria, Conquest of Jerusalem, Battle of Jalula.
638: Conquest of Jazirah.
639: Conquest of Khuzistan. Advance into Egypt. Plague of Emmaus.
640: Battle of Babylon in Egypt.
641: Battle of Nihawand; Conquest of Alexandria in Egypt.
642: Conquest of Egypt.
643: Conquest of Azarbaijan and Tabaristan (Mazandaran).
644: Conquest of Fars, Kerman, Sistan, Mekran and Kharan. Assassination of Umar. Uthman ibn Affan becomes the caliph.
646: Campaigns in Khurasan, Armenia and Asia Minor.
647: Campaigns in North Africa. Conquest of the island of Cyprus.
648: Campaigns against the Byzantines.
659: Conquest of Egypt by Muawiyah I.
660: Ali recaptures Hijaz and Yemen from Muawiyah. Muawiyah I declares himself as the caliph at Damascus.
670: Advance in North Africa. Uqba bin Nafe founds the town of Kairouan in Tunisia.[4] Conquest of Kabul.
672: Capture of the island of Rhodes. Campaigns in Khurasan.
674: The Muslims cross the Oxus. Bukhara becomes a vassal state.
711: Conquest of Spain by Tariq ibn Ziyad and of Transoxiana by Qutayba ibn Muslim.
712: Conquest of Sindh by Muhammad ibn Qasim
717: Beginning of the Second Arab siege of Constantinople. Death of Sulayman. Umar II becomes Umayyad Caliph. Pact of Umar.
718: End of the Second Arab siege of Constantinople.
721: First Turgesh invasion into Transoxiana
725: The Muslims occupy Nîmes in France.
732: The Battle of Tours in France.
742: The Muslim rule restored in Qairawan.
746: Battle of Rupar Thutha, Kufa and Mosul occupied by Marwan II.
751: In the Battle of Talas, the Abbasid armies defeat Tang Dynasty of China.
759: Abbasid conquest of Tabaristan.

Check out each of the following centuries and discover for yourself just how peaceful Muhammed's descendants have been.

Barry and Kerry (the former in trouble, the latter out of his depth) needed some "good news" and a pause to catch their collective breath. The good news just isn't that good (especially as there is Democrat grumbling over the agreement) and although a pause is much more enjoyable in Hawaii, the rest of the world (unlike our Congress) doesn't just doze off while Barry putts around the islands.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Make way for single pay - Pt. 2

On October 23 I suggested that Obamacare was a ruse to lead us to Fearless Leader's ultimate dream: Single Payer Medical Coverage. The Daily Beast chimes in:

"Could anger at the Obamacare rollout make Americans more receptive to a kind of Medicare-for-all system? That's what activists are hoping – and they're plotting a state-by-state fight. As the rollout of Obamacare clunks forward, activists who opposed the law from the beginning say it is time to seize the moment, to tear down the current healthcare edifice and start anew, especially now as frustration with the law's implementation is reaching a peak.

"On Monday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) introduced the American Health Security Act, which would require each state to set up a single-payer healthcare system and would undo the exchanges that have plagued Obamacare. Meanwhile, various state-led efforts are under way that advocates hope will sweep the country statehouse by statehouse, as soon as lawmakers see the advantage of a single-payer system."

The article goes on to suggest that the possibility "is gradually becoming more mainstream among the Democratic establishment…"

Meanwhile, as more and more individuals discover what their actual cost will be, and as more and more Millennials refuse to buy in, Barry's soon to be off on a 17-day vacation in Hawaii…the First Family reimburses the government for what the airfare would cost - you pay for the rest.

Last year (2012) similar trips and other expenses charged to the tax-payer by the Obamas logged in at $1.4 BILLION.

For a guy who doesn't know what the hell his subordinates are doing, he does know how to live and spend lavishly.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Gravity: another plotless light show

I make a habit of avoiding movies, even on Senior Citizen day. Most are too expensive, too long, too visual, and too short of the one component that makes a good movie: a good story.

Let's be real about this. Space Odyssey, another sic-fi space adventure, at least offered a more interesting character than George Clooney in HAL, the computer. It also had a plot that, at various stages, suggested a creation story, an evolutionary theory, and a man vs. machine confrontation. The film does feature Sandra Bullock, though, who performance is the movie's only highlight.  Gravity is just another disaster film, piling one unlikely adversity upon another upon another: BUT they occur in zero gravity, with the Earth as its backdrop, and (drum roll) in 3-D!!!

Totally Awesome, Dude!!!

Screenwriter,  Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men) adopted this story from a screenplay his son had written a number of years earlier. However, the script was hardly a script - it was more an outline of events (colossally tragic events) all to be shot (if possible) in lengthy"single takes." Which, more than anything else, explains the raves Bullock is receiving - she survived an endurance test and maintained her character - what little we know of that character.

As an early reviewer put It: "This character needs someone with some serious acting chops…This draft of Gravity – whichever draft it is – is pretty average. Despite that, I still think this is one of the microscopic sampling of subpar screenplays that can actually make a great film."

And: "While I know this is going to play out much more excitingly on screen, on paper it’s like watching Groundhog Day…" Another reviewer really nailed it: "The other criticism at this point, which goes along with the thin characterization of Ryan, is that the action is repetitive and unleavened by any humor. But if the technological ambition that is rumored for the film turns out to be true, this could still be a showstopper."

And so it has turned out to be: a real showstopper. But so, too, was Space Odyssey. While it also relied on some fairly advanced (for that time) special effects, the storyline came from Arthur Clarke, a very proficient creator of science fiction that featured plot, substance, and well-defined characters you cared about (or hated). Gravity, on the other hand, is a movie remarkable only for its technological achievements and selection of Sandra Bullock (rather than Scarlett Johansson). There are Oscars for those categories: "Special Effects" and Best Actress.

Best Movie? Hardly.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

All hail the party of the downtrodden

Several years ago I was looking through my grand-daughter's fifth grade history book. At the time her class was covering the New Deal and I thought it would be instructive to see how it was covered. Like most modern histories it was overwhelmingly laudatory over FDR's policies and there long-term benefits. As the narrative proceeded it mentioned that things hadn't changed remarkably in the initial years but by 1937 "things were looking better."

I turned the page, expecting to find a continuation of the topic. Instead there was a new chapter entitled "World War II." My grand-daughter and any other young person whose knowledge of American History ended with the fifth grade, would most likely spend the rest of their lives convinced that the New Deal was a roaring success. Only a few of the inquisitive would have gone on and learned that many of the programs were failures, others ruled unconstitutional, and still others remain on the books like vampire bats with an eternal meal.

When Barry was elected in 2008, it wasn't unusual to see a headline or column bruiting the idea of a "new" New Deal, as if this is just what the nation needed. My history education was significantly different. Not only were several semesters of American History required but many of those who taught it were sold-out advocates of FDR. Our junior year teacher, Ray Baker, went beyond advocacy and approached worship.

However, at that time, a fairly well educated high school junior, if he was paying attention, quickly discerned that the teaching had ended and the indoctrination had begun. A group of us made it our mission to go beyond our equally biased text book and do some independent research. Sure enough, there were some chinks in the great man's armor and we quickly brought them to Mr. Baker's attention.

I'll credit Baker with this: he didn't shut us up but engaged us in spirited debate. This does not happened today - the modern student who decides to engage his professor/teacher is very likely to pay a heavy penalty. It's very sad, but the modern university professor is rarely open to debate - many I would wager have had little exposure to the "other side."

As a result, the image of FDR remains much as his earlier biographers pictured him: a wealthy nobleman who stepped down from his Hyde Park Olympus to minister to the masses. Interestingly enough, we have another paragon who has descended from a different Hyde Park, making an attempt to save the nation from its baser instincts.

Trumpeting the battle cry of his party, "equality for everyone," Barry is attempting to build another social Utopia, counting on his supporters to recall the glory days of FDR and his progressive fore bearers. Which is enough for me to do a reconstruction of that period and that party and the many blessings it and they have brought upon us.

First, let's go back to pre-Civil War days to see how the party developed it's enduring love affair with the downtrodden. In 1846, a first-term, Democrat representative, David Wilmot , proposed that no funds be approved for war against Mexico without the express understanding that any new territory gained, would be slave-free. The resolution sped through the House with support from all sides, but once it hit the Senate, the southern contingent, with enough votes to successfully filibuster it, prevailed. Guess the party of those Senators.

Our next historical stop will be in the Progressive era, the time we chose to elect a full professor to the presidency. Woodrow Wilson, as governor of New Jersey established his "progressive" credentials by signing a bill which made it mandatory to sterilize criminals and the mentally retarded. Elected to the top spot and with the support of W.E.B. Du Bois, Wilson was sworn in on March 4, 1913. A little over a month later, at the suggestion of Post Master General Albert S. Burleson, a Texan, that the railway mail service be segregated.

Comforting himself with the thought that he had made “no promises in particular to Negroes, except to do them justice…”, Wilson did away with merit appointments for civil service jobs, required all applicants to provide a photo, and, for the next 35 years, those African-Americans fortunate enough to get a postal job, worked in the back room. (April 11, 2013, was the centenary of this moment but I don't recall a celebration…strange.)

Going further, Wilson saw that “the old political formulas do not fit the present problems: they read now like documents taken out of a forgotten age.” Going even further than today's moderns, Wilson asked for “permission — in an era in which ‘development,’ ‘evolution,’ is the scientific word — to interpret the Constitution according to Darwinian principle.”

Although that was never accomplished we did get the Fed, the income tax, Prohibition, and the 17th amendment…more accomplishments that no one celebrates. Guess the party of Woodrow Wilson.

Now we approach that most pivotal time: the Great Depression, the New Deal, and the wizard FDR. 
The picture one gets is similar to that of grade school or high school history text books. They paint a rosy picture of the era, its accomplishments, and its enduring quest to elevate the "common man." But to get a more balanced appraisal of the era, it's essential to avoid the hagiographers and search out a real historian. Ira Katznelson fits the bill with two books: "When Affirmative Action Was White" and  “Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time.”

Katznelson's labors are not attempts to diminish FDR but to accurately frame the conditions that drove the legislation that came out of his administrations. Putting it briefly and bluntly, successful legislation needed the support of Senators from the South…in 17 states segregation was still legal and these 34 Senators were able to block any legislation. Guess which party these Senators represented.

Some examples of what legislation was passed and is still considered remarkable are the labor laws of the New Deal and Fair Deal. Millions of workers secured minimum wages, maximum hours, Social Security, and the right to join industrial as well as craft unions. African Americans, on the other hand, missed out as the southern contingent saw to it that farm workers and household workers were denied these protections - of course, a substantial number were African American (In the spirit of equity, I have to point out that a majority of eligible white southern voters, the poor share-cropper and field worker, were also denied Social Security and the ballot as many could not pony up the poll tax.) .

(This "minor" withholding also initially cost working African-Americans [and impoverished whites] years and years of lost contributions to Social Security, as neither employee or employer were required to set money aside. In the longer run, with ever-increasing payouts, the losses were, and are, truly significant.)

Later even the GI Bill, despite the universal eligibility for the benefits offered, was written to make it possible to deny benefits to blacks. This was accomplished by allowing benefit approval to be administered locally - without national oversight. As a result, these benefits, including home loans (fully guaranteed by the federal government) were also refused to people of color. The education benefits of the GI Bill also wound up being dead letters as the segregation in higher education continued.

Even with the vote for GI's, the south prevailed. The 1944 Soldier Voting Act was to give every troop   a say in the upcoming election. However, with Senator James Eastland and Rep. John Rankin of Mississippi writing the bill, it stipulated that absentee votes be counted only in states where the governor and state legislatures approved the use of the federal ballot. Guess which states didn't approve. Name the party of their Senators.

What Katznelson saw as “a notable, even extraordinary, attainment,” was despite contrary developments in Italy, Germany, and Russia, the U.S. kept a strong legislature - although, at various times, both FDR and Truman attempted "to shift authority from the legislative branch to the executive." This may seem an unnecessary exaggeration, but upon assuming office,  George Kennan, who would later do much to shape American policy toward Russia and the Cold War, came to the conclusion that the U.S. would be more successful as an "authoritarian state." Walter Lippman, a Pulitzer Prize winning newspaper columnist and one-time adviser to Woodrow Wilson, informed FDR prior to assuming office that “you may have no alternative but to assume dictatorial powers.”

The next great period of dominant liberalism occurred in the '60s - years still viewed by many as the truly great years of the "American experiment." While the years 1932-1952 saw an unbroken string of one-party majorities in both houses and in the White House, Eisenhower brought in change. He waged no wars, built a substantial highway system, sent troops into Little Rock to enforce integration, and selected Earl Warren to be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court ("the biggest fool mistake I ever made.") It was a selection that would usher in a new wave of liberal intellectuals anxious to put their theories into practice.

JFK appeared to be the dream of the left: young, handsome, articulate, a war hero, a great speaker, and a Harvard grad. However, he quickly found himself, and his armed forces, involved in Berlin, Cuba, and Cuba again (during his 2-1/2 years in office I was asked to visit my Draft Board on three separate occasions - he might be your hero, he's not mine). On the civil rights front he dithered; on one of the days immediately preceding his assassination, the Chicago Tribune ran a front page cartoon showing Kennedy, as a football player, being called for two penalties; the white referee flagged him for "pushing," the black referee flagged him for "holding."

The LBJ years were fantastic for the left as they once again gave the nation two houses overwhelmingly dominated by one party. However, civil rights remained a real stumbling block for much the same reason it had been for FDR: southern Senators were still a power to be reckoned with, but with a little less clout than before. Nevertheless, the inter-party debates and personalities demonstrated the party's views on integration.

Here are a few quotes from the era - all from members of the same party:
“Today the Negro story and the American story fuse and blend . . . the two currents will finally mingle and rush as one great stream across the uncertain and the marvelous years of the America that is yet to come” as “the American Negro [claims] his freedom to enter the mainstream of American life.” - Name the president and his party

"I'll have those n*ggers voting Democratic for the next 200 years."
- Name the president and his party

"I am a former Kleagle [recruiter] of the Ku Klux Klan in Raleigh County . . . The Klan is needed today as never before and I am anxious to see its rebirth here in West Virginia. It is necessary that the order be promoted immediately and in every state in the union."
- Name the Senator and his party

"President Truman's civil rights program "is a farce and a sham--an effort to set up a police state in the guise of liberty. I am opposed to that program. I have voted against the so-called poll tax repeal bill ... I have voted against the so-called anti-lynching bill." -
Name the Senate Majority Leader, later President, and his party

"I did not lie awake at night worrying about the problems of Negroes."
- Name the one-time Senator, Attorney General, and assassinated Presidential candidate and his party

"Everybody likes to go to Geneva. I used to do it for the Law of the Sea conferences and you'd find these potentates from down in Africa, you know, rather than eating each other, they'd just come up and get a good square meal in Geneva."
- Name the South Carolina Senator, later 1984 candidate for nomination for President, and his party

"I do not think it is an exaggeration at all to say to my friend from West Virginia [Sen. Robert C. Byrd, a former Ku Klux Klan recruiter] that he would have been a great senator at any moment . . . He would have been right during the great conflict of civil war in this nation."
- Name the Connecticut Senator who, along with Barney Frank, authored a major piece of financial legislation, and his party

LBJ, of course, had his problems, too. Not the least of which was Viet Nam, the draft, the Gulf of Tonkin, the guns-and-butter agenda, Medicare, Viet Nam, Bobby Kennedy, J. Edgar Hoover, Viet Nam, Bobby Kennedy.

But his major initiative was the Voting Rights Act of 1964. The Bill passed and it has been considered a grand piece of legislation, mad possible only through a one-party super-majority. Or was it?

Let's look at the voting record for that Bill:

House bill (FOR-AGAINST):
Southern Democrats: 7-87 (7–93%)
Southern Republicans: 0-10 (0–100%)
Northern Democrats: 145-9 (94–6%)
Northern Republicans: 138-24  (85–15%)

Senate bill (FOR-AGAINST):
Southern Democrats: 1-20 (5–95%)
Southern Republicans: 0-1 (0–100%)
Northern Democrats: 45-1 (98–2%)
Northern Republicans: 27-5 (84–16%)

Conclusion: if the Northern Republicans had been as bigoted as popularly characterized, they could have successfully filibustered it, as their southern predecessors did.

Interesting Note: One year prior to the passage of the Voting Rights Bill, the Senate also passed the Equal Pay Act of 1963. which prohibited wage differentials based on sex. Howard Smith of Virginia chaired the House Rules Committee and hated the Civil Rights Bill. In an effort to get it defeated he added an amendment prohibiting sex discrimination. Later another representative observed that "Smith didn't give a damn about women's rights...he was trying to knock off votes either then or down the line because there was always a hard core of men who didn't favor women's rights."

We are now experiencing another incarnation of the dissatisfied liberal left. Once again, with super-majorities in both houses, they pushed through a piece of legislation which at the time, and now, is still opposed by a majority of Americans - a majority that's growing bigger daily as the real details of the bill act become apparent.

The current President is heavily supported by voters of color who have been sold the line that his party has been the one that has delivered. Despite a history of double-dealing and double-crossing, the party insists these groups "owe" him their support - they have been taught a history much like the one my grand-daughter experienced. Along with other smaller groups who for various social and financial reasons, have adopted the cloak of victimhood, and signed on to his great quest, there is a good chance my grand-children and yours will be saddled with another over-sized mandate which will not be effective or affordable.

But the votes, as usual, are being purchased with food stamps, housing allowances, welfare checks, disability allowances. Additional votes are being sought through a new immigration bill which will present newcomers with many of features enumerated above as well as a ballot and eligibility for Social Security payments. And as these goodies become more available, we are witnessing the undeniable emergence of a young, white (largely male) underclass, not too anxious to work or do much more than "kick-back." Many are into drugs, many still live with Mom and Pop, and many are, at best, semi-literate.

None of this bodes well for the country or its would-be leaders. Once the grasshoppers triumph over the ants, the leeches will assume power and we will, at long last, all be equal.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Make way for single pay

In retrospect, it may well be viewed as one of the cleverest legislative coups in U.S. history. From his earliest days, Barry has pitched the single-payer program as the ideal "solution" to the health care problem. Unfortunately (for him), it was a non-starter - far too many examples of that approach failing wherever it's been instituted.

However, a similar program, masquerading as a "compromise" between single payer and what is currently in place, had a chance - a slim one that would require a House majority and a Senate composed of at least 60 party-line Democrats. And it all came together with Minnesota's strange recount which ushered in the lamentable Al Franken.

From Day One, the proposal variously known as the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, or Justice Roberts' Rule of Disorder, never achieved majority approval among the American populace. Today it is losing even more public support. Why? Look at the following Barry quotes:

“If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor. Period. If you like your health-care plan, you will be able to keep your health-care plan. Period. No one will take it away. No matter what.”

“For people with insurance, the only impact of the health-care law is that their insurance is stronger, better, and more secure than it was before. Full stop. That’s it. They don’t have to worry about anything else.”

“If you already have health insurance, the only thing that will change for you under this plan is the amount of money you will spend on premiums. That will be less.”

“I want to be very clear: I will not sign on to any health plan that adds to our deficits over the next decade.”

“Health care reform will cut the cost of a typical family’s premium by up to $2,500 a year.”

But don't expect an apology...

Guys who find inspiration in the words of Saul Alinsky and who pal around with Jeremiah Wright, Billy Ayers and Bernie Dohrn don't apologize.

But they do plan. And if one wanted a Single-Payer plan but realized it wasn't achievable, why not push a compliant Congress into passing a piece of legislation that had similar characteristics. Then, once done, and clearing the Supremes, get your in-house gremlins to cobble together one of the lengthiest, most mind-boggling set of regulations possible - running some 22,000 pages.

Then, to top it off, give the regs (through a no-bid contract) to a Canadian subsidiary of an American outfit which already has a history of incompetence. Overpay them by hundreds of millions of dollars (enough to carry them through until the next government project), then delay giving that company all the regs until very late in the game and, guess what? You have a monumental so bad that even several among your brain-dead majority (but not Dick Durbin!) begins asking questions. Despite Hollywood intellectuals like Robert Redford and Chris Noth playing the always-convneient race card, support continues to dwindle and change becomes unavoidable

So a new program, one that's a reasonable facsimile, must be put in place - after all, a "majority" voted for "change." And it will be saved in the form of a "substitute" Affordable Care Act. It will look remarkably like a Single-Payer plan. It will pass through both houses as the Democrats maintain their majority in the Senate (with plenty of support from the Bobby Corker wing of the GOP). The GOP may well keep the House, but the party, lacking a Pamela Harriman, will remain incapable of taking advantage of the Dem's perpetual vulnerability. Only the remaining Tea Partiers will keep the faith (but the Supreme Court will most likely rule they "lack standing."

And Barry, once out of office, will undoubtedly leverage his success into headman at the UN or, dare I say it, chief of the New World Order. One thing is for sure - he will not go away. He will prove to be such an egregious interventionist, that Jimmy Carter and Billy Clinton will appear to be shy and retiring elder statesman.

(Of course, my predictions for Barry's future are growing a little dimmer every day as he has managed to tick-off the leaders of China, France, Germany, Russia, Brazil, and many others. But, who knows, he might be their man, sent here to deliver that "Arch Duke of Austria moment" when the whole world is thrown into disorder and the Four Horsemen of the Central Banks take charge.)

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

"Fear Not" - best ever scriptural advice

This sage bit of wisdom is used something like 200 times in the Holy Bible. I don't usually make references to the Bible as its mere mention, or that of its chief New Testament protagonist, Jesus Christ, might drive scores of unbelievers into paroxysms of doubt.

Nor do I often use the phrase "Holy Bible" - though it is more correct. I do so here because I can't help but notice that whenever Barry refers to the Quaran, it is to the "Holy Quaran" - with the appropriate guttural "R."

But "fear" is the topic and there's plenty of it being spread around. The partisan networks are its natural home but the financial news channels are running a close second. Unfortunately, if one bothered to take the time and make an effort, he (or she) would discover that most of the financial fear-mongers have "skin in the game."

Regardless, of the final draft, these people make a lot of money when the markets are open - but there's "A-Lot-Of-Money" and "A-Hell-Of-A-Lot-Of-Money." With a Clean Bill (sic) these sanctimonious twits will realize the latter. The nation may go broke, medical care may revert to that found in Bangladesh (expedited by the disputed, but accurately-named, "death panels"), the unemployment numbers (already in the stratosphere) will go higher, and those that hunger daily will have more company. And the new agreement, despite these minor caveats, will be characterized as a "solution." Unfortunately, however, it is structured will need to be addressed once again in a matter of months. The Tea Party will not be responsible for that.

Keep in mind, all of that will occur with a "compromise" solution (accurately translated, that means your usual, forever-in-office Republicans have, once again, capitulated to Chicago's Mugger-in-Residence. However, these sad deprivations will be attributed to the Tea Party which, in different venues, has been characterized as a "troublesome minority within a minority" to a Fascist movement intent on overthrowing the government.

Whoops, there's good old Harry Reid announcing "an agreement" has been reached and Ted Cruz the newest target of the left, announcing he will not filibuster. Time to cut this short and go sell or short some of those outrageous high flyers with little or no earnings - more later,

But, remember, "Fear not." This nation will continue on, not because of its leadership, but in spite of it.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Barry arms the street urchins

Apparently dis-satisfied with the progress being made by his right-hand man, Rahm, in Chicago, Barry has used his executive privilege to improve matters in Africa. There exists a statute entitled the Child Soldiers Prevention Act (CSPA). It was passed to prevent offering military assistance to those enlightened countries which, lacking popular support, arm their children (some as young as eight) to enforce their dictates.

Apparently none of these children, unlike Trayvon Martin, remind the Prez of his youthful self. As a result the girls and boys of Chad, South Sudan, and Yemen will now be able to carry American weapons (perhaps even assault rifles) in an unending quest to blow away various enemies, friends, relatives, and strangers.

It may "take a village" to raise a child, but one glib, well-dressed Chicago ward healer can have them blown away with the stroke of a pen - with nary a squeak from Sharpton, Jackson, or the presidents-in-waiting, Biden and Hillary.

Meanwhile, Congress has voted to ensure that the "non-esential" 800,000 federal drones not miss a paycheck.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Harry and Barry: shut-down engineers

Just a quick observation and one made on numerous other venues (with the exception of the major media and it half-witted step-sister, NPR): the House if fully within its rights to withhold funding for Obamacare. The House, and the House alone, determines funding. The current House majority (which, unfortunately, appears to be losing its nerve) has approved every other spending requested by Harry and Barry - and presented it to the former for approval. It has been rejected and, hence, the "shut-down."

Absent a package that includes EVERYTHING Harry and Barry want,  ALL governmental functions have ceased - this is called "negotiation."

The House was given this power because it was originally assumed that this body, being closer to its electors, would be more responsive to its will. And so it has become with the advent of the much-maligned Tea Party. Because of their responsiveness, they have called "extremists." And in an age when the electorate is considered important only when ballots are to be cast, following the will of your constituents is, indeed, extreme.

Absent that, the parks, monuments, and the giant money-sucking bureaucracy gets shut down for a matter of days (weeks?). In the past, it has not been unknown for these individuals to have been reimbursed for "lost wages" - which are not (when compared to the average working man and woman's income) insubstantial. Toss in public employee benefit packages and were talking about federal employees realizing twice the income as their employers - the tax-payers.

For clarification, I am not a member of the Tea Party and have no intention of becoming one.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

"I'm only really happy when I'm really, really angry!"

I haven't posted in quite some time. I had the entire month of August in which there were no mandatory events or other pressing obligations. I spent much of it watching TV and marveling at America's fastest growing commodity: anger. An ongoing anger that seems to characterize Americans of all stripes - but it's a different kind of anger. It's the type of anger that brings these individuals happiness. And it seems to be the only thing that makes them happy.

They've become Anger-Holics (AHs) and they've been a source of aggravation  for much of my life - with apparently few skills and outside interests, their sole purpose, beyond finding new things to be angry about, is broadcasting that emotion to all who care to listen - and to quite a few who don't. They cannot be shut-up and despite their insistence on talking your ear off, never stop to lsiten. Everyone is exposed to them - if you're not aware of them, you ARE one of them. Unfortunately, we've reached a point where the "contented few," the present-day remnant, are hopelessly besieged by unstructured rantings from marginally coherent products of the public schools.

For the most part, AHs are the kind of guys and gals who once were docile and soft-spoken; yet as we teach more and more individuals that their opinion is "as good as anyone else's", the tenor of our discourse has changed - as a result we have many among the formerly meek insisting on their inheritance now.

As a result, when offended by some bureaucrat, store clerk, or waitress, they turn into madding machines of verbal vengeance. To hear them tell it, they bullied their meter reader, Wal-Mart manager, or middle school principal into abject fear. Two weeks or months later they'll tell you of a new villain brutalized by new and improved tongue lashings - with few exceptions, the assaults are verbal, as the written word remains a serious obstacle. 

At first, these individuals evolve slowly  - new converts need time to search out agreeable (and volatile) source material. Novices, then, cultivate their initial causes with the patience of an orchid breeder. The truly addicted kvetcher discovers a new cause every other day.

Eventually, our progressive malcontent finds solace only in grand national, worldly, or galactic transgressions. The bigger the problem and the more unlikely it is to respond to their appeals, the more avid they become; through this bizzarre process, our AHs achieve some kind of temporary anger-happiness nirvana - the stay is, of course, short-lived as happiness has become a strange and uncomfortable emotion. So, our dedicated AHs quickly move on to another "unacceptable" transgression.

These "transgressions" are frequently real, but occasionally imagined; they can spring from the imagination or, more and more often, through governmental design. Governments, both local and national, have a vested interest in channeling these consumed individuals away from their representatives and towards a strawman or woman. Hence many of our current bureaucracies are not in place to actually solve the problems that naturally spring from prejudicially wrought legislation. 

Bureaucracies are a diversion. And their purpose wasn't truly apparent until Tom Wolfe unmasked it in 1970 with his book "Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers." The book is actually a two parter - the first is devoted to that late fathead, Leonard Bernstein, and his groveling admiration of the Black Panthers; in the second part, Wolfe describes how politically appointed stand-ins (Flak Catchers) are subject to daily verbal beatings (Mau-Mauing) by - you guessed it - a slew of AHs.

I eventually saw a Flak Catcher in action. It occurred during an early '90s Q&A session in a northern suburb of Chicago. Rumors were rife that Mayor Daley (the younger) had plans to build a new runway at O'Hare. He dennided it, but suburbanites learned quickly that a Daley promise was as good as gold in the city, but meant nothing elsewhere. 

The suggested take-offs and landings would have directed even more flights above our already over-overflown suburb. For close to three hours, one after another of these AHs stepped to the podium and repeated, more or less, exactly what the person before him had stated and what the individual following would reiterate. 

But it really made them feel better - and the editor of the local paper, being no dummy, carefully noted who spoke, and faithfully listed their names in the next edition. It just does not get better than that for the novice or professional AHs! 

The Flak Catcher? He walked out of there completely unfazed. Things had changed from the early days. I'm assuming there are special schools with specially trained (or naturally born) verbal abusers (closet AHs?) acting like Marine DI's who spend the day scorning and denigrating these individuals until there able to face the raging public (they probably make great husbands/wives).

But things have improved dramatically for the AHs. Talk radio kicked it off and still gets bigger. Almost anyone who can call in without using obscenities can speak his mind; the radio personalities, often cut from the same angry cloth can be anything from well-informed to hopelessly stupid. It really doesn't matter, though, as the topics covered and the arguments made have been made over and over again…there is no new ground. 

Then the geniuses behind publishing and website creation developed the "blog." No longer were AHs held at arms length by call-screeners. Now any clown with time on his hands (who me?), a random thought, and knowledge of a keyboard has access to the "world." He proceeds to foul the bandwidth with poorly developed thoughts that once, thank the Lord, would never have seen the light of day. 

But among these, there will be a few (very few) real gems. Other bloggers will re-post and maybe, just maybe, a piece will be good enough to get a mention by one of the Major Bloggers (I count as "major" any blogger who brings in enough cash to buy a six-pack and a pizza every week) or picked by some media maven like Arianna Stassinopoulos Huffington, a liberal-turned-conservative-turned liberal…she's a woman of strong beliefs.

Now, of course, AHs can really move into the major markets with the Fox, CNN, and NBC networks airing nightly free-for-alls with calls, tweets, and emails invited and (occasionally) read on the air. Add in my least-favorite venue, the Court TV crowd and their "legal experts," and you have enough topics of human arrogance and depravity to satisfy a world filled with AHs. 

We cannot leave the AH issue without a mention of You Tube and similar outlets that allow almost anyone to broadcast their AHs thoughts visually. In many, many cases these broadcasts are reminiscent of the old "Gong Show" - but with less polish. Will it never end? I doubt it. The destruction of the Tower of Babel has borne its ultimate fruit. We are doomed to speak to each other without understanding, without wanting to understand, and without listening. 

Monday, August 5, 2013

Grand plans from the Far North and Far East

For several years I was an occasional visitor to the Twin Cities as my younger brothers and sisters grew up there. I loved the visits and the people. If they received 3 feet of snow with 20 foot drifts they grabbed shovels, snow blowers, tractors, and whatever else was of use, and made the roads passable in a remarkably short period of time. School closings rarely lasted more than a couple of days, grocery stores weren't pillaged as long-time residents knew that events like this, while not uncommon, were ones for which one planned in advance. No one bothered to call FEMA, nor the president, nor the National Guard. 

Minnesota's citizens stand in sharp contrast to the New York's insular broadcast bobble-heads and their daily auditors who seem to view every dusting as a major event. A three-inch snowfall borders on an Oedipal tragedy and merits a query to the mayor's office about possible school closings. Simultaneously, a network lesser-light appeals to the National Weather Service for confirmation that the inconvenient inclemency is a product of global warming. (Apparently there's nothing "natural" about East Coast natural disasters - somebody or something is always at fault and "somebody" - meaning "somebody else" -  must always pay.)

Politically, Minnesota has far more in common with her liberal East Coast brethren. The state's Farm Labor Party has given the nation presidential hopefuls McGovern, McCarthy ("Clean Gene"), Humphrey, Mondale, and (maybe) Jessie Ventura; nor can we forget erstwhile comedian Al ("the 60th vote") Franken, Keith Ellison (the House's first Muslim member), and the state's home grown Charlie Weaver, Garrison Keillor. Little wonder then that Michelle Bachmann is viewed as some sort of alien creature (an experience common to many women of the right) - fresh perspectives, unlike fresh air, aren't always welcome.

(Several years back I read an article which noted that cabbies at the Twin Cities' airport were refusing to provide rides to passengers toting duty-free liquor, or accompanied by a dog - apparently the drivers' Muslim faith [approximately 70% of the drivers are Somali immigrants] these as terrible breaches. As a result [and because so many of the cabbies are followers of Islam], quite a few potential riders waited for inordinate periods of time before latching on to a non-Muslim hack [others, fortunate to get a ride, were dumped off well before their destination when their indignant driver learned of the "contraband."] I wrote one of my brothers concerning this and he responded that it was no big deal and that "there are more important things to worry about.")

Apparently not. The city council attempted to pass an ordinance that cabbies unwilling to carry alcohol-bearing or canine accompanied passengers would "top" their cabs with a specially colored light. However, even the good people of MSP, realizing that whether its tail is braided or not, a horse's ass is still a horse's ass, refused to accept these accommodations and now violators can be suspended. 

Nevertheless, this new social program will be instituted, funded, and put into motion. Its "successes" will be well publicized but difficult to quantify, and its shortcomings well disguised and difficult to identify. Some countries are famous for their multi-year plans - which, by the way, are rarely successful. For comparison's sake I chose to look at the most recent Chinese 5-year plan (initiated in 2011).

The Minnesota 30-year plan (as currently laid out) is broad in scope, short on detail, and leaves expectations unaddressed. The Chinese plan is far broader, significantly more detailed on many more socially important topics, and clearly stipulates goals.

Comparative Goals
Minnesota - in Black
Chinese - in Red

1. Preservation protects natural areas and resources for use and enjoyment today and into the future.
Chapter 49: Deepen the reform of price of resource products and fees for environmental protection

2. A vibrant and globally competitive economy creates opportunities for residents and employers.
Chapter 53: Actively participate in global economic governance and regional cooperation

3. Land use, development patterns and infrastructure align to make the best use of public and private investment.
Simultaneously promote industrialization, urbanization and agricultural modernization. Industry should support agriculture, city should support countryside,

4. Housing options give people in all life stages and of all economic means viable choices for safe, stable and affordable homes.
Chapter 35: Improve construction of affordable houses

5. A multi-modal transportation system safely and reliably connects people and freight with destinations in the region and beyond. 
Chapter 12: Construct comprehensive transportation system

6. A resilient region minimizes its contributions to climate change and is prepared for the challenges and opportunities of a changing climate.
Chapter 21: Actively cope with global climate change

While we in the states typically remain uninformed of any program's goals (even if they are enumerated and published - in comprehensible English), their authors and supporters thrive on them for years. 

China, by contrast, takes a very dim view of failure - especially expensive failure (are there any other kind when bureaucrats run a program?). Lengthy jail sentences and death are not uncommon. No one especially cares if the culprits are swell fellows and members of elite country clubs, or graduates of elite schools, or products of elite couplings. And they definitely don't care if the condemned are lawyers - China prefers engineers to lawyers in that the former rarely find multiple correct answers to straight-forward questions.

Friday, August 2, 2013

The economic future: 6 headwinds, 4 incorrect forecasts, and 2 options

Every once in a while I find among my readings something that brings joy to my heart: an opinion piece (by someone much brighter than myself) which supports a contention I recently advocated. Several weeks back I put forward the idea that we live in a "hockey stick" period of human economic history - that the progress that this country has become accustomed to, and that many believe will continue, is in fact a great anomaly...a one-off event that will never again be repeated and is already fading. 

John Mauldin has written a free weekly market letter for well over 10 years and one which I have followed faithfully. What I enjoy about Mauldin is not that he is always correct (although his record is better than most), but that he is always ready to concede that he has made mistakes and will recount them and search for elements he may have overlooked. 

In his most recent column he recounted the results of a paper published by Dr. Robert Gordon of Northwestern University. I could recount the highlights as I see them but you'll find an excellent synopsis here, or the original paper, which is actually a very good read, can be found here

So, just a few high points for those who dislike reading lengthy papers but which won't be found in the synopsis: on page six (6) of his paper he has shown two graphs, both of which demonstrate a "hockey stick" formation similar to those I used previously - unlike mine, though, Gordon continues his into the future and is bleak.

Gordon also supplies (pages 16-18) "six headwinds" that future generations must deal with if we are to avoid a diminishing standard of living. However, on page 15, Gordon provides some hope by giving four examples of recent "innovation pessimism" that have provenly woefully incorrect (including one from IBM's Watson and another from Microsoft's Gates).

And, finally, to demonstrate the relative importance of recent innovations with those of the past, the good doctor asks us to choose from two options:

With option A you are allowed to keep 2002 electronic technology, including your Windows 98 laptop accessing Amazon, and you can keep running water and indoor toilets; but you can’t use anything invented since 2002.

Option B is that you get everything invented in the past decade right up to Facebook, Twitter, and the iPad, but you have to give up running water and indoor toilets. You have to haul the water into your dwelling and carry out the waste. Even at 3 a.m. on a rainy night, your only toilet option is a wet and perhaps muddy walk to the outhouse. 

Which option do you choose? 

Afterthought: In his analysis, Dr. Gordon does credit World War II production as a factor in America's economic growth. However, I adhere to my contention that much of the sustained growth that followed the conflagration is attributable to the fact that every other major industrial power was crippled and required many years to rebuild the competitive industries we deal with today.

Monday, July 22, 2013

A confederacy of eunuchs

Due to re-districting we were to get a new Representative in the 2012 election. Although he would be new to us, he was a long time member of the House and his "new territory" now included us. To get an idea of what to expect, I attended a luncheon to hear him speak. It was a surprising and enlightening experience. Traditionally, Congress persons display a certain amount of restraint when speaking of their colleagues, regardless of their obvious stupidity or venality. 

However, in an unexpected departure from the usual "let me introduce myself" script, this gentleman took the gloves off and bluntly stated that a goodly number of his fellow representatives were less than bright. He frequently employed "clowns" as a descriptor and generally lamented the ignorance with which they approached legislation.

Although he artfully avoided specifying individuals or party, there seemed little doubt that he, like many in the "beltway", had come to the same conclusion: the arrival of the Tea Party contingent has been nothing short of a national disaster. (He may well have adopted this "no-name" strategy in conformance to Noam Chomsky's warning that "ridiculing the tea party shenanigans is a serious error.”)

Unsurprisingly, the congressman's public and scathing view was, and is, shared by the establishment elite. His case was further buttressed by a host of recently published and similarly themed books ("It's Even Worse Than It Looks", by Mann & Ornstein, "Do Not Ask What Good We Do", by Robert Draper, "Beyond Outrage", by Robert B.Reich, and "The Party is Over", by Mike Lofgren). 

Rarely have so few been so demonized by so many.

In any event, it's apparent that the (real or feigned) respect House members at one time showed each other, at least in public, has been thrown over for a newer, more aggressive, in-your-face approach. Long gone are the carefully researched position papers and informed debates which provided a rich mix of facts, history, and (occasionally) accuracy.  It seems important to figure out why this has developed and if, in fact, a functioning government is still possible.

If one studies what the House was been in the distant past and what it has evolved into, it's impossible to overlook that this body has lost (or given up) much of it's power and authority. The growth of the executive branch (the Imperial Presidency) is one factor. Back in '96 a Republican Congress and a Democrat President worked long and hard to create the first welfare reform package. Contrary to forecasts of terrible consequences, the new programs worked well. 

Yet, in one day, an Executive Order by the current President re-established the old, failed programs. Other signs of House (and Senate) weakness has been the abdication of the power to declare war, which was followed by a threat to unilaterally raising the debt ceiling, and, most recently and flagrantly, the refusal to implement part of the Obamacare package. (Under Article II, Section 3 he is required to implement the entire bill; not revise, amend, or line-item veto as the spirit moves him.)

While the Executive Order has been increasingly utilized to usurp powers constitutionally granted to the House (and Senate), the greatest loss of power has been though Congress' voluntary abandonment of authority to "regulatory agencies." 

Figuring that some issues were just to tough, complex, or time consuming, the country has had foisted upon itself the EPA, FDA, TSA, USDA (with 20 sub-agencies within it), the Dept.of Commerce (with 17 sub-agencies), Dept. of Defense (with 32 sub-agencies) and the list goes on and on. 

Each agency is staffed by unelected individuals, many with their own agendas, who dictate new regulations that carry the force of law. It's understandable that so much work has to be delegated, but to give agencies powers that were specifically meant to be held by Congress is a cynical dodge. Elected officials can be dumped for passing bad legislation; unelected bureaucrats cannot...many cannot even be fired.

Then, of course, there is "party discipline." Sam Rayburn of Texas, Speaker of the House for many, many years, gave each incoming freshman representative of his party one piece of advice: "If you want to get along, go along." And they did. Those that didn't faced many difficulties: in committee assignments, in getting their legislation to the floor, in receiving party re-election funds, and they're chances of becoming targets should redistricting become an issue.

Unfortunately, this approach worked, and worked well. As a result, many constituents found that the views they wished their midwestern representatives to promote in D.C., took a back seat to the views favored by New England party leaders - many of them with substantially different interests and goals. The "house of the people" became a house held hostage. Matters reached a new low in representative government when the other party, under Newt Gingrich, adopted the same process.

Then 2010 rolled around and enough citizens, aggravated at the apparent unresponsiveness of their representatives, threw many of them out and ushered in the Tea Party. A delicate balance had been disturbed and the both parties, used to newcomers adjusting to them, failed to realize that these "clowns" - these yahoos - actually believed in what they had declared and weren't interested in compromises. 

It is questionable whether the Tea Party will linger, prevail, or fail. Members of both parties are working against them and the "fascism" so feared by Chomsky may soon be stomped out. But for a brief period they have served as reminders that doing the people's business is serious business and that "a promise made is a debt unpaid."

For a brief period this collection of vagabonds has added a dose of virility to a confederacy of eunuchs.

Monday, July 15, 2013

"Three of These Things Belong Together"

Among The Muppet Show's recurring features was a variation on the above question. The show's creators used one of two songs to introduce these segments: "One of These Things" or "Three of These Things Belong Together." As in the simple challenge shown below, the answer is obvious.

Unfortunately, as we get older we are frequently required to make distinctions between things that aren't so clear cut…distinctions of a moral or ethical nature. Because ours is an age where many of these concepts are viewed as "inoperative," decision making becomes a problem. In fact, decision making could entail charges of intolerance or of being judgemental. 

Either because of, or in spite of, parental upbringing, education, religious affiliation, or philosophical bent, the "true path" has become an intellectual absurdity and righteous decisions are largely decided by hitching on to either "the popular opinion" or the opinion of the broadcaster(s) whose views are most congenial to ours. Despite a divided polity, decisions must be made and, perhaps, if we look at decision makers who shaped history, and, in a break from conformity, get a glimpse of the "right road."


Martin Luther King, Jr.

Edward Snowden


In the selections shown here, "Three of These Things Belong Together" - which one doesn't?

Socrates aggravated the leaders of Athens through "impiety" (refusing to honor the gods of the day) and by espousing "the view that it is not majority opinion that yields correct policy, but rather genuine knowledge and professional competence, which is possessed by only a few." Citizens of Athens, chosen by lot, convicted him and sentenced him to death. But in accordance to his philosophy of obedience to law, he refused and drank the hemlock.

In Socrates case, there were strong views on both sides as his conviction passed by about 30 votes (there could be several hundred on an Athens jury) and few seemed convinced that he would actually be put to death. (It was not uncommon for prisoners in similar situations to "escape"  - helped by financially well off friends like Crito...many felt that would occur.)  But in accordance with his philosophy of obedience to law, he refused and drank the hemlock.

Gandhi was already well known throughout the world when he adopted a campaign of "non-violent resistance" against the British government to gain independence for India. He combined this approach with hunger strikes undertaken while in prison. (The hunger strike was not a new approach but one which goes back in Indian history to 750 B.C. It was eventually outlawed in 1861.) But Gandhi re-instated it and, the British government, well aware of his international following and fearful of his death and subsequent recriminations, generally held him for short periods. But no one doubted his commitment. 

In his acts of disobedience it was not Gandhi's aim to break the law, but to go to prison as a demonstration of how strongly he felt over the injustices he had been protesting. In fact, the more dreary the jail, the better the support. With that in mind Gandhi wrote a letter (which auctioned off at $178,000 recently) to a British lord pleading that " is unthinkable that when India’s millions are suffering from preventable starvation and thousands are dying [while] the huge place in which I am being detained with a large guard around me I hold to be a waste of public funds. I should be quite content to pass my days in any prison...’

In his acts of disobedience it was not Gandhi's aim to break the law, but to go to prison as a demonstration of how strongly he felt over the injustices he had been protesting. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. adopted a similar tact and in his "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" observed that' "…there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "an unjust law is no law at all…One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust. and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law."

Which brings us to the Snowden situation. An interesting one in that some I'd expect to lead the prosecution are his strong advocates (e.g., the Progressive Change Campaign Committee). Others, normally staunch supporters of the whistle-blowing school, suggest he might deserve lengthy prison time (e.g., Dianne Feinstein). So, no "popular opinion" dominates - yet decisions must be made.

Now I've been unrelenting in my criticism of both the PATRIOT Act and the formation of Dept. of Homeland Security. But as terribly structured and operated as they are, they are supported by law. 

Snowden's actions were a well-deserved blow to a government that has become increasingly indifferent to public concern. However, in his unsuccessful attempts to find asylum in a foreign land, the country's attention is directed on the pros and cons of his actions rather than on those of the government. As such I believe he, the law, and the country would be better served should he surrender. 

Final "One of These Things" doesn't belong quiz: Thomas More or Dietrich Bonhoeffer? 

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Hockey sticks and their consequences

Ever since its introduction into the global warming debate, the "Hockey Stick" chart has been used to demonstrate an unusual acceleration in an otherwise fairly constant and predictable measurement. Statisticians and probability mongers seek elegant answers for their infrequent occurrences - and usually will point out that the phenomenon is not sustainable. Much like the "sand pile' demonstration, and complexity theory, the exponential move up is followed by a dramatic "crash."

The first three charts below are ones I have chosen to illustrate the point. All involve economic metrics and their performances over time. What is similar to all is the early upward gradualism of the move, followed by a dramatic spike up, and, eventually, a chaotic plunge.

The fourth graph, however, taken from Visualizing Economics (a truly fascinating site for economic issues that date back millennia), shows the growth (?) of per capita income over 2000 years. If you connect the green dots, it, too, is in a hockey stick formation.

Here's another version (this going back another 1000 years):

Unlike the preceding charts which demonstrate a gradually rising trend, these measuring man's economic "progress," are very disappointing over very long periods.

Consider this: world per capita income in 1 C.E. was $467; in 1000, $453; in 1500, $566, in 1900, $873. So far, a really dismal demonstration of human progress. But in 1950, a substantial jump to $2113; followed in 2000 by an incredible, $6005. 

In 1900 years incomes increased a pathetic 87%. 

in the following 100 years the increase is a staggering 687%.  

As poor as the progress was in the first 1,950 common era years, Gregory Clark In his book, "A Farewell to Alms" suggests that:

"Life expectancy was no higher in 1800 than for hunter-gatherers: thirty to thirty-five years. . . . average welfare, if anything, declined from the Stone Age to 1800."

It gets worse:

"The poor of 1800, those who lived by their unskilled labor alone, would have been better off if transferred to a hunter-gatherer band."   

What makes the numbers for this period even more remarkable is that the world population went from 1.6 to 6 billion, a 375% increase. This would seem to indicate that four times as many people are now living at least twelve times better than their "year one" ancestors. The question on the table is not whether this growth can be sustained (it can't), but can any meaningful future growth be anticipated?

Or are we in for a violent contraction? Or, even worse, a reversion to the mean?  I don't pretend to know, but I'm very skeptical that the world's current personal, financial, agricultural, and political regimes are capable of instituting and maintaining fiscal discipline and balance. And if they are capable, do they have the courage?

On the contrary, most indications point towards continued hard times. But just as I'm sure the common man of the "Dark Ages" didn't realize his age was "dark," nor that the common man of the Renaissance realized his was an age of reemergence ("I've been down so long. it looks up to me"). The Age of Enlightenment? A popular descriptor which indicated that although poverty and starvation still ran rampant, man now had explanations for their frequent occurrences.

Few of us can state with authority where we are...although we have just recently finished with an annual celebration in which speakers of all stripes (and stars) assure us that "The best days of America are still ahead."  Baloney... or as Claire Booth Luce put it "...his global thinking is, no matter how you slice it, still 'globaloney.'"

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Competing views on liberalizing immigration - which will prove more accurate?

Back in May I had planned an immigration follow-up that would have picked up with the Progressives' successful realignment and transformation of American politics. Their major legislative accomplishments included the passage of four Constitutional amendments: the 16th initiated an income tax; the 17th (and most dreadful) provided for the direct election of Senators; the 18th instituted Prohibition; and the 19th which gave women the right to vote. 

I had planned on going into some detail on each of the four (all finalized while professor Wilson occupied the White House) came into being. But with the recent Immigration bill passed by the Senate and its imminent arrival in the House, I thought I'd revisit (and update) some thoughts I had on the issue back in 2006.  

At that time I was reading Samuel Huntington's 1996 "The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order." Huntington's book was a response to his one-time student, Francis Fukuyama, and his 1992 tome, "The End of History and the Last Man."  Fukuyama, energized by the fall of the Soviet Union, felt that the result indicated an "unabashed victory of economic and political liberalism" - a victory that would be repeated throughout the world. 

Both books stirred considerable interest and controversy. Fukuyama's thesis opined that civilization had reached a point where "there will be more and more governments that use the framework of parliamentary democracy and that contain markets." Specifically, Fukuyama stated "I believe that the European Union more accurately reflects what the world will look like at the end of history than the contemporary United States."

Huntington's contention was that, while certain ideological issues might be agreed upon, it could only be accomplished through political order and that only through an "authoritarian transition." Without this transition, conflicts would always exist and the primary disputes would revolve around cultural and religious conflicts. Huntington's "modernizing dictatorship" would only rule until political order and a rule of law, resulted in successful economic and social paradigms. Then, like Cincinnatus, the dictatorship would withdraw leaving the resulting community to its own devices. 

To simplify then, "Fukuyama wants to see America actively promote democracy abroad [and at home]. Huntington, on the other hand…warns about the potentially disastrous effects of an arrogant and naive democratic imperialism [at home and abroad]."

One of Huntington's chapters (and one which is relevant to today's effort) is is his  chapter on "The Hispanic Challenge." In it he attempts to demonstrate that this is not just another immigrant group ready for American enculturation, but a high a hurdle that will severely test contemporary America. He stated his reasoning clearly:

"No other immigrant group in U.S. history has asserted or could assert a historical claim to U.S. territory...History shows that serious potential for conflicts exists when people in one country begin referring to territory in a neighboring country in proprietary terms and to assert special rights and claims to that territory."

A major change in immigration law is one of those and consideration should be given to whose scenario is more likely to play out: Huntington's or Fukuyama's. What kind of communities would develop? We have been told repeatedly of the "strength" that accompanies diversity. Maybe, does it also bring with it comity, brotherhood, and mutual trust...essential traits in a vibrant community? 

Harvard's Robert Putnam has studied "civic engagement", most notably documented in his best seller, "Bowling Alone." His studies revealed neighbors in greatly diverse communities were much less likely to trust one another, were less likely to volunteer, less likely to work on community projects, and found that virtually all measures of civic health were lower in more diverse settings.

And, quoting the 2007 New York Times: "…there is little reason to believe that the racial, ethnic, religious and linguistic antagonisms that have eroded support for social welfare programs in the United States are likely to abate any time soon. Indeed, the arrival of hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants a year from Latin America seems to be sapping support for public welfare."

Currently, there has been a clear pattern of newcomers adopting a form of self-segregation in the big cities of Florida and California. This also occurred toward the end of the 19th century and the early 20th as European immigrants flooded the big cities of the Northeast and Midwest. It took time (more in some places, less in others), but there was a gradual assimilation among those who wished to attempt it and those willing to consider it.

The important factors were, first, that the immigrants wanted to become part of the larger community and, second, that although their traditions, religions, and folkways could remain in tact, they were expected to embrace the American ethos: "a marriage of the practical values of thrift, hard work, education, community spirit, self-governing institutions, and opposition to authoritarianism both political and religious, with the scientific and tolerant values of the Enlightenment."

Among the Hispanic communities there are those who don't easily buy into the Franklinian view. Among them are MEChA and the Mexica Movement. MEChA (Chicano Students Movement - established in the '60s), envision the repatriation of most of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada, and Utah. 

MEChA, an organization with members on high school and college campuses, boasts among its membership, some politicians of note. Best known is Cruz Bustamante who finished second to Arnold Schwarzenegger in California's gubernatorial recall election. Another former member is Antonio Villaraigosa, one time Speaker of the California State Assembly and, until recently, mayor of Los Angeles.

The Mexica Movement came into being in the '90s and rejects all European borders as being false. The group lays claim to the land mass stretching from Central America north up to, and including, Canada. Therefore, anyone of European descent living on the North American continent is an illegal alien and trespasser. 

The Movement "is committed to a long-term liberation-by-education methodology which seeks to "change hearts and minds" by educating people of the civilized achievements of Indigenous people before 1492, and of the genocide and land/resource thefts committed by Europeans since that date."

Once the transition of power has taken place, and following a period of "civilized negotiation," the remaining white population, in addition to making reparations, would be repatriated to Europe. Subsequently, the national language and alphabet would be re-codified to more closely represent those embraced by earlier indigenous cultures.

Many of these issues were raised in 2006, although they never really became part of the debate. For those who claim that the current bill is "tougher" than its predecessor, the case is clearly made by noting that the current proposal stipulates a wall will be built. 

The 2006 legislation, favored by then Mexican president Vincente Fox (also the former president of Coca Cola's operations in Mexico and Latin America), contained a stipulation that no wall could be built without prior consultation with the Mexican Government (on various occasions, Fox referred to the U.S. as "the 'northern territory' or 'united North America'").

(To demonstrate some of the existing disparities in perspective that will have to be accommodated, Fox's latest endeavor is to have the U.S. legalize marijuana, at which point he would consider entering the business. His efforts are, of course, humanitarian: "This country's incredibly serious problem -- violence, crime and drugs -- can be solved by legalizing drugs. Trying to solve it with repression or violence just fosters more violence.")

It could be argued that, relatively speaking, these are small organizations with little "clout" and little hope of seeing their goals achieved. However, there is little dispute that many of those goals are shared by large portion of the several  Hispanic communities. 

These is no doubt at all that their combined numbers are significantly larger than those of the gay community. Yet that group has been notably successful in gaining support, mainstreaming their positions, and seeing them passed into law. Those groups originally pursuing same-sex marriage was even smaller, yet they, too, have prevailed. 

It may have once been true that it took significant numbers marching in the streets or creating civil unrest to get the public's and the politician's attention. It was evident in the pushes for Prohibition, Women's Suffrage, Civil Rights, and to End the War. Things move faster now - while the internet is given much credit, it should also receive much disdain. The "net" can be (and is) used by truth tellers and propagandists alike. 

And while much, much more is written, there are fewer and fewer original sources. Both the print and electronic media have fewer and fewer "feet on the ground." Organizations like Snopes are essential to provide a modicum of restraint on some of the blatant misrepresentations that crop up daily. Almost every blogger, myself included, depends on multiple sources (which we have come to rely on) to provide material for our scribbling. If our sources are tainted, so, too, are our posts. Therefore, the importance of checking the veracity of advocacy blogging.

At one time controversial initiatives that entail major societal realignments might have taken many years to work through the system…as well they should. Laws of longstanding can't be cavalierly dismissed because a new generation, or an emerging constituency feels they are "outdated" or contrary to those embraced by a dissimilar society. For the most part, existing laws have a robust history of consideration and debate. Because of that, laws, good and bad, have a tendency to remain on the books for years. It is important, then, that suggested changes, especially those of major proportions, merit careful consideration. 

The current debate on this proposed legislation appears to be less about principle and national and societal impact, and more about currying the electoral favor of the petitioners.