Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Political Digest for December 29, 2010

I post articles because I think they are of interest. Doing so doesn’t mean that I necessarily agree (or disagree) with every—or any—opinion in the posted article. Help your friends and relatives stay informed by passing the digest on.

Important: The West and the Tyranny of Public Debt
Excerpt: The history of public debt is the very history of national power: how it has been won and how it has been lost. Dreams and impatience have always driven men in power to draw on the resources of others—be it slaves, the inhabitants of occupied lands, or their own children yet to be born—in order to carry out their schemes, to consolidate power, to grow their own fortunes. But never, outside periods of total war, has the debt of the world’s most powerful states grown so immense. Never has it so heavily threatened their political systems and standards of living. Public debt cannot keep growing without unleashing terrible catastrophes. Anyone saying this today is accused of pessimism. The first signs of economic recovery, harbingers of a supposedly falling debt, are held up to contradict him. Yet we wouldn’t be the first to think ourselves uniquely able to escape the fate of other states felled by their debt, such as the Republic of Venice, Renaissance Genoa, or the Empire of Spain.

Has Regulation Put An End To Rule Of Law? by Thomas Sowell
Excerpt: The Constitution of the United States begins with the words "We the people." But neither the Constitution nor "we the people" will mean anything if politicians and judges can continue to do end runs around both. Bills passed too fast for anyone to read them are blatant examples of these end runs. But last week, another of these end runs appeared in a different institution when the medical "end of life consultations" rejected by Congress were quietly enacted through bureaucratic fiat by administrators of Medicare. Although Congressman Earl Blumenauer and Sen. Jay Rockefeller had led an effort by a group of fellow Democrats in Congress to pass Section 1233 of pending Medicare legislation, which would have paid doctors to include "end of life" counseling in their patients' physical checkups, the Congress as a whole voted to delete that provision. Republican Congressman John Boehner, soon to become speaker of the House, objected to this section in 2009, saying: "This provision may start us down a treacherous path toward government-encouraged euthanasia."

What the Election Means
Excerpt: At the end of 2007 America began its economic decline. It started in the Bush administration, continued in the Obama administration, and is likely to be with us many months or even years longer. The federal deficit soared to $1.3 trillion from $161 billion in 2007. Unemployment in the same period rose to 9.6 percent from 5 percent. But the good news is that as the American people began to see the decline, they began to do something about it. In November of 2009 they threw out the Democratic incumbent governor in New Jersey and in Virginia elected a Republican to take over. Governors Chris Christie (R-NJ) and Bob McDonnell (R-Va) began to improve their states. Next came Republican Scott Brown's stunning victory in the Massachusetts special January 2010 election to fill the seat of the late Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy who had served in the Senate for 47 years. On November 2nd voters spoke even more forcefully, continuing to voice their belief that the current government was doing badly. Republicans added six senators, over 60 congressmen and at least 675 state legislators. The North Carolina state senate became Republican for the first time since the 1870s and the Alabama chambers swung to the GOP for the first time since Reconstruction. Republican gained more than 100 seats in the New Hampshire House and flipped the Michigan House from 64-42 Democratic to 63-47 Republican. In Iowa the House Republicans went from a 12 seat deficit to a 20 seat majority. Republicans now hold 29 of the governorships and 53% of all state legislative seats. They will control 54 of the 99 state legislative chambers, their largest number since 1952.

New German Airports Chief Calls For Passenger Profiling
Excerpt: The incoming president of the German Airports Association called in an interview Tuesday for Israeli-style profiling of passengers to expedite security lines and improve safety. Christoph Blume, who is also the head of Germany's third busiest airport in Duesseldorf, told the daily Rheinische Post that frequent travellers with a long and clean track record could get express treatment at security checks. "Israel for example uses a risk-based approach," said Blume, who will become president of the ADV airports association in January.

Move Forward Free Trade with Turkey
If they were more trading with us, might moderate their behavior a bit. If BO says no, he’s “Islamophobic!” If he says “yes,” he’s anti-union! What fun. ~Bob. Excerpt: Pop quiz: what emerging market Islamic nation that has been an American military ally for more than half a century is not a major trading partner with the U.S.? The answer is... Turkey. Though hopefully that answer will soon change. The U.S. currently has Free Trade Agreements (FTA) with 17 countries. Close military allies (Israel), Muslim countries (Jordan), and emerging economies (Chile) are all represented. So, yesterday’s submission to Congress calling for an FTA with Turkey is certainly overdue. Opening up trade with a NATO member who possesses the 17th largest economy in the world, and is being compared to rising economic powers such as Brazil, is a no-brainer for the United States, especially considering the economic benefits of free trade. First, an FTA would lower Turkish tariffs on American goods, especially American food and agricultural products (which are currently under 18% tariffs). These decreased production costs would allow US companies to expand their business, creating jobs and stimulating the economy in the process.

Worth reading: Things the chattering class got wrong
Excerpt: As 2010 draws to a close, the list of items going down the memory hole -- the place reserved for mistakes by liberal elites -- is long. Before they are gone for good, let's recount a few. "The public will learn to love ObamaCare." The voters never have, and it remains more than a policy nightmare, with soaring costs and unintended consequences strewn about, a rallying cry for fiscal conservatives. It was a unifying force, but unfortunately for Democrats, it was the independents and conservatives who were bound together in common dislike of a massive new entitlement program. "Republicans can't win because they are unpopular." In myriad formulations, liberal pundits and activists trotted out that line. It turns out what matters in a midterm election is how popular -- and successful -- the incumbent party is. "The Bush administration erred in being too close to Israel." This, and a host of other ill-conceived notions, drove the Obama administration and its spinners to argue for a tougher-line against our democratic ally and to raise expectations for a Middle East peace deal. Instead of peace, Obama "achieved" strained relations with Israel and the frustration of the Arab states (who preferred he go after Iran rather than apartment buildings in East Jerusalem). Worse still, he embarrassed himself and delivered a blow to American prestige at a time a robust U.S. presence in the region is most needed.

Chris Matthews Asks Obama to Release Birth Certificate
Interesting. I’m not a birther. My opinion is it’s a distraction, because you could have video of Obama being born on Mars and the court would not overturn the results of an election, but would find a way to rule in his favor. Especially because removing Obama judicially would result in riots in our inner cities, with thousands dead and billions of dollars in destruction, with another hit to the economy. But what does he say to liberals calling for this? ~bob. Excerpt: Chris Matthews, the anchor of MSNBC's "Hardball" program, is now calling for Barack Obama to release his original, long-form, hospital-generated birth certificate to put to rest any doubts about the president's constitutional eligibility to hold office. On last night's edition of his show, Matthews stated: "I am not a birther. I am an enemy of the birthers." But he continued with the questions, "Why doesn't the president just say, 'Send me a copy right now?' Why doesn't Gibbs and Axelrod say, 'Let's just get this crappy story dead?' Why not do it? ... If it exists, why not put it out?" Matthews was joined by Clarance Page of the Chicago Tribune and David Corn of Mother Jones, who both agreed with the call for Obama to publicly release the document, which to this point has remained under wraps.

The New York Times Concedes 'Decades of Overspending' by State Governments
Excerpt: In the midst of an otherwise predictable editorial today on "The Looming Crisis in the States," in which the New York Times calls for state tax hikes and more aid from Washington, we find this sentence: "Starved for revenue and accustomed to decades of overspending, many states have been overwhelmed." "Decades of overspending." I must have missed the many Times editorials over recent decades condemning such overspending. But no matter. What a concession! Not just a few years of overspending—decades! For surely if there have been decades of overspending, there need to be serious cuts in or elimination of many programs that have ballooned in recent decades—not just some spending trims, or returns to (say) 2009 or 2008 levels.

Excerpt: The federal government has accumulated more new debt–$3.22 trillion ($3,220,103,625,307.29)—during the tenure of the 111th Congress than it did during the first 100 Congresses combined, according to official debt figures published by the U.S. Treasury. That equals $10,429.64 in new debt for each and every one of the 308,745,538 people counted in the United States by the 2010 Census. The total national debt of $13,858,529,371,601.09 (or $13.859 trillion), as recorded by the U.S. Treasury at the close of business on Dec. 22, now equals $44,886.57 for every man, woman and child in the United States.

College Censors: Get Ready To Open Your Wallets
Excerpt: This year, for the first time in FIRE’s [Foundation for Individual Rights in Education] memory, a (former) university president has been held personally liable for violating the constitutional rights of a student. Ronald Zaccari, then president of Valdosta State University in Georgia, summarily expelled student Hayden Barnes after he posted a collage on Facebook making fun of the president’s project to build two parking garages on campus. For this heinous crime, he woke up one morning to a letter under his dorm room door telling him to get out. Barnes took Zaccari to court, where, in what will be a landmark precedent if upheld on appeal, Zaccari was determined to have ignored “clearly established” law in punishing Barnes and therefore did not enjoy qualified immunity for his offense against the First Amendment. This has the potential to fundamentally change the incentive structure that leads to campus censorship. Instead of indulging the natural tendency to silence one’s opponents or capitulating to censor-happy pressure groups on campus, public university presidents and other administrators will have to consider, “Is silencing my critics or placating these people really worth the possibility that I will be paying thousands of dollars of my own money?”

How I learned to stop smoking and love Global Warming
Excerpt: About a thousand years ago, a remarkable change occurred among all Arctic peoples from Siberia to Greenland in a period of less than 200 years. People moved long distances. New technologies supplanted old. Ground slate harpoon blades replaced chipped stone. The sea mammal hunting Thule people of Northern Canada completely replaced the land based Dorset culture that had been in place for thousands of years. The Inuit language spread from Northwestern Alaska to Greenland, the greatest areal extent of any language on earth. Whale hunters migrated across northern Canada, following whales across the ice-free Arctic Ocean. The tree ring record reflected these cultural changes. Across the Bering Strait and into Interior Alaska, increasing temperatures and changing precipitation patterns were recorded in tree rings from Siberia to Fort Yukon around 1,000 BP. Something was afoot and my further research revealed the Alaskan signature of the Medieval Warming Period (MWP) that had been experienced across North America, Iceland, Greenland and Europe. So you can imagine my surprise to see the infamous Hockey Stick graph appear in the 2001 IPCC Report, completely missing the MWP that I knew from multiple independent data sets, as well as the subsequent Little Ice Age that brought to an end the European occupation of Greenland. Later IPCC reports and subsequent media hype increased my discomfort with the concepts of Anthropogenic Global Warming and the insistence that presently observed climate change is driven primarily by human greenhouse gas emissions. Archaeologists are “hard” scientists, driven by data, uniformitarianism, and a deep time perspective on human and natural history. My research demonstrated that humans had reacted to complex climate variation from Lake Baikal to Greenland over the past 100,000 years, climate variations that occurred in the complete absence of human greenhouse gas emissions. I see no reason to accept the automatic assumption that observed rising CO2 levels are solely the result of human emissions, or that the observed increase is significant with respect to the geological record of CO2 and temperature fluctuations. (While the physical sciences reveal many uncertainties about AGW, it is the historical sciences that reveal it as hogwash. Ron P.)

Stop the State Bailouts Before They Start
Excerpt: Hamtramck, Michigan, is running out of money. City Manager William Cooper tells The New York Times: “We can make it until March 1—maybe.” And Hamtramck is not alone. According to the Times, 15 municipalities have pursued bankruptcy in the past two years. And if the economy does not improve revenues, many other local governments will be in the same boat. Many of these cities, like Hamtramck, have already cut spending on parks, senior centers, and road maintenance. But there is one area they can’t cut: salaries, benefits, and pensions of government workers. According to the Times, 60 percent of Hamtramck’s general fund goes to paying 75 current police officers and firefighters and about 240 worker and spouse pensions. “They kind of have the Cadillac plan,” Cooper tells the Times, “and we’d kind of like the Chevy.” Reforming how police and fire workers are paid is an uphill climb politically, but polling shows that once voters are educated, they are open to change. A recent poll by the Florida League of Cities on Police and Fire Benefits found that, initially, most respondents did believe police and fire benefits were “about right” or “too low.” But when told that police officers and firefighters can retire after 20 years of service and receive 80 percent of their salaries for the rest of their lives, 66 percent of respondents strongly opposed this policy. And when asked if they knew that the retirement pay for an average police officer was over $70,000 per year, 71 percent said that was too high.

The Muslim population has grown from 1.65 million to 2.87 million since 2001, say researchers. What does this mean for liberal Britain?
Excerpt: The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life estimates that there are 2,869,000 Muslims in Britain, an increase of 74 per cent on its previous figure of 1,647,000, which was based on the 2001 census. No demographic statistics are reliable in an era of open borders, but such an expansion is unprecedented. The figure of 2.87 million was first published by Pew in a little-noticed press release last September, announcing a report on Muslim Networks and Movements in Western Europe. The Pew Centre, based in Washington DC, is one of the most respected demographic research bodies in the world; its methodology is scrupulous and its approach non-partisan. The new total for British Muslims means that, so far as this country as concerned, Pew’s major 2009 report Mapping the Global Muslim Population is already spectacularly out of date.

David Cameron Must Face the Challenge of Islamization
The leader of Ukip, Nigel Farage MEP, must have groaned when he learned that the French National Front is now modelling itself on his party. Marine Le Pen, who is poised to take over leadership of the Front National (FN) from her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, describes it as a "patriotic" party that has more in common with Ukip than the BNP. Given the sinister resonances that the words "National Front" have in Britain, Miss Le Pen has presented Ukip's opponents with a seasonal gift. "Ukip – backed by the French National Front" is a rhetorical swipe worthy of David Cameron's description of the party's supporters as "fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists". We should not, however, be too quick to dismiss reports that a sanitised Front National has succeeded in reaching out to a new constituency. The FN's selling point is its opposition to the "Islamisation" of French public life – but not, it is careful to add, to Islam itself. Miss Le Pen claims that pork is being taken off the menu in French schools and that state funds are being used to build "ostentatious mosque cathedrals". She may never be elected president, but over a quarter of French voters approve of her; at no point in the history of the Fifth Republic has an aggressive Right-wing party enjoyed such support among the middle classes. It may seem inconceivable that British politics could move in the same direction. But we should not be too relaxed about the fact that populist Right-wing parties have never broken into the mainstream of our politics. Two points need to be made. First, that Muslims have migrated to Britain in enormous numbers over the past 40 years; one of the heaviest waves of immigration was encouraged by the last government. The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life estimates that there are 2,869,000 Muslims in Britain, an increase of 74 per cent on its previous figure of 1,647,000, which was based on the 2001 census. No demographic statistics are reliable in an era of open borders, but such an expansion is unprecedented. The second point is that – different political traditions notwithstanding – Britain is beginning to experience French-style anxiety about Islamisation.

EPA, Texas go to war over carbon-emission rules
Excerpt: And so it begins, and on the most fertile red-state territory in the nation. Texas, which got four more seats in the House through the 2010 Census reapportionment, has had its air-quality rules superceded by the EPA as part of its aggressive new action on carbon emissions. Governor Rick Perry promises a fight: The federal Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday effectively declared Texas unfit to regulate its own greenhouse gas emissions and took over carbon dioxide permitting of any new or expanding industrial facilities starting Jan. 2. The EPA also set up a framework for regulating greenhouse gas emissions in seven other states: Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Oregon and Wyoming. In addition, the agency set a timetable on establishing regulated levels of greenhouse gas emissions. (When the EPA came out with their determination that CO2 is a poison gas (they didn't phrase it that way, but that's what it meant) which they would then regulate, it was a backdoor way to get the Global Warming legend in as fait accompli without having it debated and voted on in Congress. This was a tremendous step in the wrong direction, and a blatant overreach of EPA authority. And it was going to lead to problems for industry, which is exactly what this article is about. Go Texas! --Del)

Be thankful Obama broke his promise on Guantanamo
Excerpt: It was perhaps the simplest, clearest promise of the Obama campaign. From the moment he declared his candidacy in early 2007 through election night 2008, Obama pledged to shut down the terrorist detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba -- no ifs, ands or buts about it. After the election, members of the outgoing Bush administration tried to warn the incoming president that it wouldn't be that simple. "It's not so easy just to say that you're going to close Guantanamo," White House press secretary Dana Perino said a week after the presidential election. "These issues are complicated." Obama would hear nothing of it. "I intend to close Guantanamo, and I will follow through on that," the president-elect told CBS on Nov. 16, 2008. Doing so, Obama explained, would be "part and parcel of an effort to regain America's moral stature in the world."

Obamacare: Barely implemented, but already over-budget and under-serving
Excerpt: One of the few programs already active in Obamacare is the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Program, a temporary measure that provides money for states to establish high-risk health insurance pools for people with pre-existing conditions.
Unfortunately, the program's results so far leave much to be desired. The problem is not that it isn't working for the people in it. The problem is that very few people seem interested, and the government is paying through the nose just to accommodate the few who enrolled, The Washington Post reports: Last spring, the Medicare program's chief actuary predicted that 375,000 people would sign up by the end of 2010. In early November, the Health and Human Services Department reported that just 8,000 people had enrolled. HHS officials refused to provide an update, although they collect such figures monthly, because they have decided to report them on a quarterly basis.

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