Archive for October, 2010

bin Laden’s October surprise ?

Friday, October 29th, 2010

The 2004 Madrid train bombings occurred the week of a national election and cost the Prime Minister Aznar his job. This was widely seen as punishment for Spain’s participation in Iraq and the new Socialist government quickly turned tail and fled.

Last week, a UPS cargo flight crashed because of a fire in the cargo hold, thought to be caused by lithium batteries. Now, we see several more instances of UPS planes with potential bombs hidden in altered ink cartridges.

Is this bin Laden telling us that he can still do damage from his palatial home in Pakistan ? I think this is just the beginning of this story.

An example of how uncertainty kills jobs.

Saturday, October 23rd, 2010

This account of how a Seattle area lumber yard is trying to survive the age of Obama shows the effect of uncertainty on unemplpyment. Anyone who reads modern analyses of the Depression realizes that the causes included uncertainty about regulation and tax policy by Roosevelt. He is once described as having chosen the price for gold that day by choosing his lucky number. He was completely ignorant of economics. There was some excuse for it then because no one really knew how macroeconomics worked. Read Amity Schlaes book, The Forgotten Man, and the conclusions pour forth about how the New Deal prolonged the Depression. There is no excuse for repeating the policies that prolonged the Depression.

Dunn’s great-grandfather, Albert L. Dunn, founded the company in 1907. It has never failed to turn a profit. But now, that streak is at risk. Dunn points to an atmosphere of uncertainty at all levels of government — on taxes, healthcare, and a host of economic issues – that is stifling demand for his products. “When rules are changing and taxes are increasing and regulations are increasingly, it causes everyone to pause, and that’s what we’re seeing today, a pause,” Dunn says.

This is exactly what happened in the Depression as policies changed and professors experimented with the economy.

“Business owners have no idea what government’s going to do to them; they don’t know what health-care is going to cost, they don’t know about the 2001, 2003 tax cuts, whether they’ll be reauthorized or not,” Rossi said. “For someone to actually invest and grow their business too, they’re going to have to be able to plan two, three, five years in advance, and right now you can’t plan for next week.”

Rossi’s opponent, Patty Murray, has to be the dumbest member of the Senate but Washington is a deep blue state, like California. Barbara Boxer would put up a stiff competition as the dumbest Senator if a contest were held. Rossi was denied the governorship of Washington two years ago through fraud when a box of ballots were “found” in a Democrat poll worker’s car during the recount. Let’s hope Washington state, where I once owned property, has learned something since then.

How To Sell Global Warming To Those Bitter Clingers In Flyover Country

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

(Cross-posted from SD Rostra).

By Bradley J. Fikes

From the New York Times, via Climate Depot:

“Don’t mention global warming,” warned Nancy Jackson, chairwoman of the Climate and Energy Project, a small nonprofit group that aims to get people to rein in the fossil fuel emissions that contribute to climate change. “And don’t mention Al Gore. People out here just hate him.”

Focus instead on the quaint religious beliefs and nationalistic values of the natives, the article states:
If the heartland is to seriously reduce its dependence on coal and oil, Ms. Jackson and others decided, the issues must be separated. So the project ran an experiment to see if by focusing on thrift, patriotism, spiritual conviction and economic prosperity, it could rally residents of six Kansas towns to take meaningful steps to conserve energy and consider renewable fuels.

And above all, don’t mention the C-word or the G-word, says the New York Times, dripping with condescension for the ignorant indigenous residents.
Only 48 percent of people in the Midwest agree with the statement that there is “solid evidence that the average temperature on earth has been getting warmer,” a poll conducted in the fall of 2009 by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press showed — far fewer than in other regions of the country.
The Jacksons already knew firsthand that such skepticism was not just broad, but also deep. Like opposition to abortion or affirmations of religious faith, they felt, it was becoming a cultural marker that helped some Kansans define themselves.

Yes, to the all-knowing East Coast elites at the New York Times, and those transplants in the unlettered wilderness of the Midwest, differences of opinions on these issues or “affirmations of religious faith” can’t be the result of informed views, just a “cultural marker” to help those Kansas morons deal with the world.

Nevertheless, Ms. Jackson felt so strongly that this opposition could be overcome that she left a job as development director at the University of Kansas in Lawrence to start the Climate and Energy Project with a one-time grant from the Land Institute. (The project is now independent.)

It’s a good thing for Ms. Jackson that those ignorant Bible-thumping Kansas rednecks don’t know how to read, or they’d be very angry.

(DISCLAIMER: This is my opinion, and not necessarily that of my employer, the North County Times).

More reasons to get out of Afghanistan

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

Here is more to add to my previous reasons for getting out.

Word had come down the morning Brooks spoke to this reporter that watch towers surrounding the base were going to be dismantled because Afghan village elders, some sympathetic to the Taliban, complained they were invading their village privacy. “We have to take down our towers because it offends them and now the Taliban can set up mortars and we can’t see them,” Brooks added, with disgust.

I can understand minimizing civilian casualties by making certain of your target. What is accomplished by this nonsense ?

“I don’t think the military leaders, president or anybody really cares about what we’re going through,” said Spc. Matthew “Silver” Fuhrken, 25, from Watertown, N.Y. “I’m sick of people trying to cover up what’s really going on over here. They won’t let us do our job. I don’t care if they try to kick me out for what I’m saying — war is war and this is no war. I don’t know what this is.”
To the soldiers and Marines risking their lives in Afghanistan, restrictions on their ability to aggressively attack the Taliban have led to another enormous frustration stalking morale: the fear that the Karzai government, with the prodding of the administration of President Obama, will negotiate a peace with the Taliban that wastes all the sacrifices by the U.S. here. Those fears intensified when news reached the enlisted ranks that the Karzai government, with the backing of senior Obama officials, was entering a new round of negotiations with the Taliban.
“If we walk away, cut a deal with the Taliban, desert the people who needed us most, then this war was pointless,” said Pvt. Jeffrey Ward, with 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, who is stationed at Forward Operating Base Bullard in southern Afghanistan.

We can’t replace Karzai. That was a fatal mistake we made in Vietnam. It may be that Obama’s promise to bail out next summer may have poisoned the relationship with Karzai. I fully expect him to move to the French Riviera when we leave.

From the front lines, the U.S. backing of the Karzai government, widely seen as riddled with corruption by the Afghans living in local villages, has given the Taliban a position of power in villages while undercutting U.S. moral authority.
Corrupt government officials have made “it impossible for us to trust anyone,” said elder Sha Barar, from the village of Sha Joy. The people of that village and many others profess fear of the Taliban, and recount tales of brutality and wanton killings by the Taliban and their sympathizers. But they don’t see the Karzai government as a positive force in their lives.

This is a dilemma with no possible solution that I see.

Islam and the west

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

UPDATE #3″ The three judge panel that was conducting the trial of Geert Wilders has been dismissed for misbehavior. One of them had discussed the case with another person and they refused the defense’s request to have him testify about that conversation. They refused and were dismissed. The trial is over and will probably not be attempted again.

Geert Wilders has been on trial in the Netherlands for hate speech and the prosecutors have now recommended that he be acquitted. Those unaware of the differences between Anglo-American jurisprudence and the European version, think his trial is essentially over. That is not true. In fact, the prosecutors did not want to charge him in the first place. It was radical judges, overcome with multiculturalism, who insisted on the prosecution and they have yet to rule. His defense begins next week. Acquittal is not assured. What was his offense ?

Wilders compares Islam to Nazism, a provocative stance, to be sure. But how should such provocative criticism be received? With open debate, or with the criminalization of opinion? It is extremely pertinent in the Wilders case to ask whether his trial means that Europe’s commitment to freedom is already dead.

Is a comparison of Islam to Nazism beyond the limits of free speech ? It was the opinion of great philosophers in the 1930s that the two movements had great similarity.

during an interview conducted in the late 1930s (published in 1939), Karl Jung was asked: “ … had [he] any views on what was likely to be the next step in religious development?” Jung replied, in reference to the Nazi fervor that had gripped Germany:

We do not know whether Hitler is going to found a new Islam. He is already on the way; he is like Muhammad. [emphasis added] The emotion in Germany is Islamic; warlike and Islamic. They are all drunk with wild god. That can be the historic future.

Also published in 1939 was Karl Barth’s assessment (from The Church and the Political Problem of Our Day) of the similarity between Fascist totalitarianism and Islam:

Participation in this life, according to it the only worthy and blessed life, is what National Socialism, as a political experiment, promises to those who will of their own accord share in this experiment. And now it becomes understandable why, at the point where it meets with resistance, it can only crush and kill — with the might and right which belongs to Divinity! Islam of old as we know proceeded in this way. It is impossible to understand National Socialism unless we see it in fact as a new Islam, its myth as a new Allah, and Hitler as this new Allah’s Prophet.

I wonder what the Dutch court’s response to those opinions would be? Fortunately, Jung (one of the founders of psychiatry) and Barth are beyond their reach.

Then we have the myth of the moderate Muslim.

Wilders’ assessment not only comports with scholarly observations made (primarily) before the advent of the postmodern Western scourge of cultural relativism, it is supported by contemporary hard polling data from 2006 -2007, and a more recent follow-up (pdf) reported February 25, 2009. At present, overwhelming Muslim majorities — i.e., better than two-thirds (see the weighted average calculated here) of a well-conducted survey of the world’s most significant and populous Arab and non-Arab Muslim countries — want these immoderate outcomes: “strict application” of Shari’a, Islamic law, and a global caliphate.

Specifically, the World Public University of Maryland poll (released February 25, 2009) indicated the following about our putative Muslim ally nations of Egypt and Pakistan: 81% of the Muslims of “moderate” Egypt, the largest Arab Muslim nation, desire a “strict” application of Shari’a, Islamic law; 76% of Pakistan’s Muslims — one of the most important and sizable non-Arab Muslim populations — want this outcome. Furthermore, 70% of Egyptian Muslims and 69% of Pakistani Muslims desire the re-creation of a “single Islamic state or caliphate.”

The description of Egypt as “moderate” is a political convenience since we send them billions of dollars in aid, but it is not true. Michael Totten, a reliable observer, has the following opinion.

I’ve been to more than a dozen Muslim countries and seen for myself how extraordinarily diverse they are. Some are as secular and irreligious as the nations of Western Europe. Egypt, though, is by far the most politically Islamicized place I’ve ever seen. And by that I don’t mean that Egyptians are more likely to pray and go to the mosque than people in other countries. The Kurds of Iraq are by and large conservative Muslims, but political Islamism barely registers there and is held in contempt by the majority.

In Egypt, it’s different, and you can see it and feel it in Cairo. The liberal and moderate Egyptians I spoke to were keenly aware that they’re part of a small minority that has no political future right now.

His conclusion ?

Mubarak’s ideology and government is rejected by a huge number of Egyptians for many of the same reasons the Shah’s regime in Iran was in the late 1970s. The Muslim Brotherhood will be a likely replacement if Mubarak’s government implodes or is overthrown. Given that the Brotherhood is becoming more extreme rather than less, the West may want to brace itself.

Bill O’Reilly may have apologized for blaming all Muslims for 9/11, but he got the basic concept right. I strongly encourage anyone who wants the unvarnished truth to read this piece by an expert on radical Islam.

One point is raised in the comments that is significant.

A muslim reporter asked the Ayatollah Khomani If islam is so superior to th west, why is it the west invented cars, planes computers etc. And islam didn’t? He thought about that for a moment and then told the eagerly awaiting crows, “It’s because they had help from SATAN. It the only explaination.”

I don’t know the provenance of this comment but it parallels my own question. Fascism and its child Nazism, and the related ideology of communism were the scourge of the 20th century. Islam, which has similar features, may well be their equivalent in the 21st.

UPDATE: Here is a discussion of the difference between Sunni Islam and Christianity (and Judaism) regarding logic and why Islam is backward.

UPDATE #2 : Juan Williams is fired by NPR for commenting that Muslims in religious dress make him nervous on airplanes. Here is evidence of a creeping trend toward Eurabia among left wing sources. No tolerance there.

The rule of law.

Thursday, October 7th, 2010

People make jokes about lawyers but the law is foundation of prosperity in this and all prosperous societies. Joel Mokyr, in his books on the history of economics and technology, concludes that the reason why technology and progress in the Roman empire ended with the fall of Rome was the lack of laws that protected inventors and those who developed new technology. A working steam engine was invented in Alexandria in about 62 AD by Heron (often spelled Hero) of Alexandria. It was used to open temple doors and there were other applications. Inventions continued through the Middle Ages but the Industrial Revolution required laws, including patent laws, so that people who did the work would be rewarded in some logical way. In addition, another example may well be the revocation of the Edict of Nantes by Louis XIV in 1685, which sent the Huguenots fleeing to other countries, principally England and Holland. The exodus included 400,000 Protestants who were among the most inventive and industrious of France’s citizens. With them, went the Industrial Revolution.

Why do I bring this up now ? The Obamacare legislation is an attack on the rule of law in this country’s health care economy.
UPDATE: The Obama supporters, like this New York Times reporter have a laughingly ignorant concept of what the rule of law means.

Representative Paul D. Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin, alluded to “The Road to Serfdom” in introducing his economic “Roadmap for America’s Future,” which many other Republicans have embraced. Ron Johnson, who entered politics through a Tea Party meeting and is now the Republican nominee for Senate in Wisconsin, asserted that the $20 billion escrow fund that the Obama administration forced BP to set up to pay damages from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill circumvented “the rule of law,” Hayek’s term for the unwritten code that prohibits the government from interfering with the pursuit of “personal ends and desires.”

The law, of course, is written down. The problem is with people who don’t follow it. Such is the state of knowledge at the New York Times.

On September 30th, Janet Adamy reported for The Wall Street Journal that McDonald’s was considering canceling its health insurance plan for nearly 30,000 hourly restaurant workers unless new Obamacare regulations were waived. The White House pushed back hard with U.S. Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman Jessica Santillo claiming: “This story is wrong. The new law provides significant flexibility to maintain coverage for workers.” But this Tuesday we learned that Adamy was correct. According to Bloomberg News McDonald’s had sought, and eventually won, a waiver from the upcoming Obamacare regulations. This allows them to continue providing health insurance coverage to 115,000 workers. In fact, McDonald’s workers were just some of the over 1 million of Americans who were spared losing their current health care coverage thanks to one-year waivers from the Obama HHS.

The big companies are gaining waivers while small business will face all the onerous regulations of the bill.

a letter HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius sent to the nation’s health insurers threatening to exclude them from the yet to be implemented Obamacare health exchanges. The letter warned there “will be zero tolerance” for “falsely blaming premium increases” on Obamacare. And who would determine if premium increases were or were not due to Obamacare? The Obama administration of course.

So health insurance companies can be excluded from participation if they tell subscribers that the new legislation will raise premiums. What law authorizes this ? None.

We now know that 22,000 bureaucrats will be hired to write regulations that no one knows now and which are based purely on the bureaucrat’s opinion. The law will be entirely enacted by “Administrative Action”. There is no law saying what the principles should be. Congress passed a bill it had not read and which establishes a framework for bureaucrats to write the laws.

Enactment of PPACA is the first step to this control; the law must be implemented by administrative action. While it is detailed in some instances, PPACA is largely aspi­rational; it directs the Administration to achieve various universally desired goals—better quality of health care, improved access to care, and increased efficiency of delivery. It constructs the scaffolding of federal control and gives the Administration very broad authority to achieve these aspirations.[3] Each of the many actions taken to implement it will determine the shape of that control. Implementation will be technically difficult and politically charged.

PPACA is based on the premise that the federal government can—and must—regulate the details of the health care financing and delivery systems. With its enactment, health care has been thoroughly bureaucratized—since it must be implemented by public servants—and politicized by the Administration and Congress. Bureaucratization and politicization are the inevitable characteristics of government action.
Health care is infinitely complex. Patients and those who provide and pay for their care engage in millions of discrete but interrelated transactions. It is hubristic to believe that the federal government can determine the one “right” approach to organizing the health care system. Yet PPACA attempts to do just that. PPACA represents an effort to impose a uniform template on the health care system. It sig­nificantly reduces the ability of patients and providers to choose how to accommodate their different circumstances and individual desires.

If you would like an example of what happens when people ignore the rule of law in commerce, here is one. Dubai is one of the United Arab Emirates. It was an oil state but, as the oil flows has declined, the ruler decided to build a commercial center. Many rushed to invest.

Today, Dubai has emerged as a global city and a business hub.[7] Although Dubai’s economy was built on the oil industry, currently the emirate’s model of business, similar to that of Western countries, drives its economy, with the effect that its main revenues are now from tourism, real estate, and financial services.[8][9][10] Dubai has recently attracted world attention through many innovative large construction projects and sports events. This increased attention has highlighted labour rights and human rights issues concerning its largely South Asian workforce.[11] Dubai’s property market experienced a major deterioration in 2008 and 2009 as a result of the worldwide economic downturn following the Financial crisis of 2007–2010.[12]

In fact, its property market collapsed. Now some investors have discovered that getting their money back may be very difficult as the laws are changing every month.

Dubai’s real estate regulators have issued a flurry of rules since 2008 to clarify the situation and to comfort potential investors. But new rules sometimes contradict others issued just months earlier, often in ways that leave developers with the advantage and property buyers in a legal limbo, making many wary of ever investing in Dubai again.

Without the rule of law, no one knows what anything is worth or what sort of return one might expect from an investment. The Obama Administration seemed to have taken its approach to law from the Dubai model.

UPDATE: Here is a very good article by Amity Schlaes on the sanctity of contracts. Harding and Coolidge ended a severe recession after World War I by cutting government spending and leaving the economy to pull itself out of the ditch. That worked much better than FDR’s efforts or Obama’s stimulus.

The Whitman maid dirty trick

Tuesday, October 5th, 2010

Everybody in California knows the story by now, if not everybody in the nation. Ten years ago, Meg Whitman and her neurosurgeon husband hired a part-time maid from an agency that certified her as a legal resident or citizen. In 2003, the family got a “no match” letter from Social Security about the maid. The letter DOES NOT say she is illegal and has all sorts of disclaimers in it. The letter can be seen here and there is a note, probably written by the husband, asking the housekeeper to “look into this.” The housekeeper kept the letter all this time (It was sent in 2003) and one wonders why. Finally, this spring, Whitman became aware that the maid was not legally here and had been lying all this time. She contacted her attorneys to see if she could do anything to help the maid legalize her status and they told her they could not help. At that point she fired the maid as the only thing she could do, especially as she was running for governor. An otherwise inflammatory web site confirms that Whitman did get legal advice to see if she could help her.

In June 2009, Allred says, Nicky spoke to Ms. Whitman and her husband Dr. Harsh for help to get legalization.

At that point Nicky Diaz Santillan picks up the story:

“I explained that I was married and our economic situation in Mexico was very bad…no job, no food, no place to live and that is why we came here…and that is why I need help… Ms. Whitman just laughed (Nicki starts to cry)…

“Dr. Harsh came in and said ‘I told you she was going to bring us problems.’

“Ms Whitman said, ‘calm down, calm down’ (Nicky breaks down and cries).

“I told them I believe in people and I told them people deserve a chance. I told them I don’t wish them any harm.

“Ms.. Whitman said ‘I don’t know what I can do but let me see what my lawyer can do.’

“On Wednesday June 29 she called me, ‘I talked to my lawyer and he told me can not do anything for you she said, I cannot help and don’t say anything to my children, I will tell them you have a new job, and have gone to school….I don’t know you, and you don’t know me, I have never seen you, and you have never seen me, understand’ (continues to cry)”
She throws me away like a piece of garbage

Aside from the emotional stuff, it is clear that Whitman, by the maid’s own statement, tried to help her. The maid has committed several felonies by this time and Whitman had no choice but to do what she did or break the law. It’s also clear that Allred and the Brown campaign have now focused a spotlight on this particular illegal alien for deportation. Whitman did not call immigration.

Illegal immigration is a serious problem and one that threatens to overwhelm California. The 1986 amnesty promised border enforcement but that promise was never kept. It is also clear that the emotional atmosphere about this subject has changed in the past 30 years. My closest friend in medical school was one of 10 or 12 children of a couple who may have come illegally into the country. I think the issue was much less formally treated in the distant past. His father had a welding shop where he made wrought iron gates and the like. His mother, who did not speak English, made her own tortillas. All the the children but one had graduate degrees.

My wife taught school in east Los Angeles, near the medical school and County Hospital. Most of the children in her class were Hispanic and many of the parents did not speak English. She quickly learned that if a child was not doing homework or putting out maximum effort, she must be very careful about how she mentioned this to the parents. Sometimes the child would come to school the next day with bruises. The parents were adamant that their children learn English and grow up educated. Slowly, that ethic has diminished and we now see the sort of pathology seen in the inner city black communities. Boys are in gangs and girls have out-of-wedlock babies in increasing frequency.

I have spent many years caring for illegal aliens, many of them trauma cases. One that stands out in my mind was a young man who was walking with a friend on the railroad tracks listening to his SONY Walkman when the train came. They didn’t hear the train, of course, and the friend was killed. This young man came in with a massive liver fracture bleeding into his chest and abdomen. I managed to pull him through although it took 60 units of blood to do it. After he went home, he came to the office for his first post-op visit with his brother, who spoke English. In talking to them, I learned that they had a lawn care and gardening business in San Juan Capistrano. I had had many uninsured patients pay me back through some sort of barter. One woman who had a housecleaning business, cleaned my house for six months. I suggested to this young man that he could cut my grass for a year to pay me back for saving his life. No, he said, they were too busy.

A couple of months later, an attorney for the railroad contacted me and we had a discussion. The young man was now trying to sue the railroad. We had a good laugh about it as I told him I had a conflict of interest. If he should win such an unlikely lawsuit, I might get paid. Not only was there no gratitude, but they were now trying to play the system.

I retired with my own medical problems some years ago and I now review claims for workers compensation. The only claims I see are those with an unusual aspect to them; routine care is handled by nurses. About two-thirds are Hispanic names and, of those, about half do not speak English. In the histories where such information is collected, the claimants list education often. It is usually second grade education and almost all are illiterate in Spanish, let alone English.

I think there has been a change in the immigrants in the past 30 years. There is a lower level of skill and education, for one thing. For another, there is a sense of entitlement. Listen to the tone of the Whitman maid’s statements. There have been lots of activists, many of them Democratic Party activists, telling these people that they are not illegal. There is no such thing as an illegal immigrant. Our highly educated president even made a statement that there were Mexicans here even before the founding of the United States. In fact, Mexico broke from Spain in 1821 but we have learned not to follow the president too closely on his facts. We see groups like MECHa organizing on college campuses and demanding courses on Chicano Studies as one more useless degree program.

The problem is worse now than it was in 1986, partly because the tone has changed. There is also the question of the employability of the newer immigrants who lack any education even in Spanish. Another hazard lurking in the background is the potential collapse of Mexico as a functioning state.

UPDATE: Here is an interesting post at NRO on income inequality contrasting the usual left wing approach to some data driven observations. The author agrees with me on illegal immigration.

Globalization is accelerating the long-term trend, but other factors are at work, as well. For example, one that Pearlstein managed to ignore was that our nearly open borders have meant the United States has imported millions of low-skilled, low-education workers from South of the Border. As my colleague Robert Rector has observed, we are literally importing poverty. Often hard-working, illegal immigrants nonetheless anchor the income distribution while they compete away low-skilled jobs from American citizens. Income inequality must increase if we import millions of low-wage workers. That is not a political observation; it is not anti-immigrant; it is a mathematical fact.

And look at Rector’s point, one I have made based on observation. He has data.

Today’s immigrants differ greatly from historic immigrant populations. Prior to 1960, immigrants to the U.S. had education levels that were similar to those of the non-immigrant workforce and earned wages that were, on aver­age, higher than those of non-immigrant workers. Since the mid-1960s, however, the education levels of new immigrants have plunged relative to non-immigrants; consequently, the average wages of immigrants are now well below those of the non-immigrant population. Recent immigrants increasingly occupy the low end of the U.S. socio-economic spectrum.[2]

The current influx of poorly educated immigrants is the result of two factors: first, a legal immigration system that favors kinship ties over skills and education; and second, a permissive attitude toward illegal immigration that has led to lax border enforcement and non-enforcement of the laws that prohibit the employment of illegal immigrants. In recent years, these factors have produced an inflow of some ten and a half million immigrants who lack a high school education. In terms of increased poverty and expanded government expenditure, this importation of poorly educated immigrants has had roughly the same effect as the addition of ten and a half million native-born high school drop-outs.

Based on the data I have seen, just in workers comp cases, a large share of those immigrants are third grade dropouts.