24 November 2010

RESOLVING THE KOREAN DILEMMA

The North Korean artillery fire into South Korean territory is clearly an act of war. Four people were killed and significant damage was sustained. This is being attributed to internal North Korean machinations as the dictatorship changes hands, but an explanation is not an excuse. North Korea has embarked on a continued path of aggression for years without paying any price. The response so far has been inadequate, particularly from China, which continues to prop up this criminal state, allegedly for fear that refugees would flood into China.

There are 28,500 American troops stationed in South Korea and currently in harm’s way. We have had this burden since the end of the Korean war, which clearly has not really ended. Apart from a show of overwhelming military force, we must be prepared for the possibility that these incidents may escalate, entirely due to the insanity reining in North Korea.

I believe there is a solution to this otherwise intractable problem, and that solution involves a deal with China. One of the reasons China continues to prevent the North Korean regime from collapsing is that it would result in a state containing US forces right on China’s border. This is understandably unacceptable to the Chinese, and pointless for the US if the Korean peninsula is reunited under South Korea. We should offer the Chinese a guarantee that we will remove our forces from Korea if they will pull the plug on North Korea. There is then far less reason to prop up the regime, and it is a win-win all around. The Chinese don’t lose face, we are relieved of the burden of interminably stationing troops in Korea, and the North Korean regime would be history. This has to happen before they get a nuclear weapon, which they are on the verge of doing, with terrible consequences for proliferation around the world. Mopping up and reuniting with the north would then be South Korea’s problem, and that country is wealthy enough to take on that burden.

22 November 2010

THE MYTH OF CORE INFLATION

Core inflation is based upon the core consumer price index, which excludes energy and food. The Federal Reserve can feel justified in printing $600 billion because the core index is so low, having risen only 0.6% in October, the lowest rate on record. Energy and food prices are considered to be too “volatile” to include in the index, which removes it from reality. The problem with this is that to anyone living in the real world food and energy prices are rising, and judging by increasing farm and commodity prices will rise a lot more in the future. Real people in the real world spend a substantial portion of their income on food and energy. If these prices are rising the true cost of living is rising as well and people have less to spend on other things.

If the same gallon of gasoline that cost $2.75 a few months ago now runs as high as $3.25 that is price inflation. If a basket of groceries has increased in price while incomes are stagnant, it costs significantly more. If things that people spend a substantial portion of their income on are not included in the price index, how accurate is it? It is obvious that our monetary policy is being predicated upon false assumptions. The true rate of inflation is clearly higher than the “official” estimate. In anticipation of this we should adjust our behaviors accordingly.

13 November 2010

AN EMBARRASSMENT IN ASIA

Who could ever have imagined that the US would take a position to the left of the rest of the world on economic affairs, even to the left of China and Brazil? But this is what has occurred on the President’s Asia trip, culminating in the G20 summit, which has largely been a failure. The “world” wanted Obama, and has him now, but the US is now coming across like a weak sister, rather than the world’s leading economic power. We have the improbable situation of the Chinese lecturing the US on free markets, and the Germans on currency stability. Unfortunately they are right.

The President attended these meetings already weakened by the election results, and further diminished by failure to gain agreement on a single objective. No one should want the President of the United States to be weak vis a vis the rest of the world, but that is where we are now, and we can only pray that no major international crisis erupts over the next two years, considering the hand we have been dealt. From its apex in recent years American power is now at its nadir.

The position the government has taken makes us look ridiculous and hypocritical. How can we possibly expect complaints about currency manipulation to be taken seriously when we ourselves are printing money to inflate the economy and weaken the currency? How should the rest of the world react to the world’s reserve currency being manipulated for political ends, while they are stuck holding trillions of dollars? We are the ones introducing instability into the world economy rather than stable predictability. It is no wonder that all of the administration’s proposals were rebuffed by the G20, with foreign governments uniformly taking the more conservative position. This is a major embarrassment. Never has the US been so diminished. It reinforces the notion that American power peaked with the Bush administration, and now is on an inexorable decline. We have an administration that actually wants to push this process along, while remaining clueless about international as well as domestic problems.

But there is nothing inevitable about American decline. It is the result of destructive fiscal and monetary policies that are taking us in the wrong direction. This can still be rectified by very strong budgetary restraint with an eye towards reducing our debt burden, and an end to funny money policies that are certain to induce inflation. Prices of commodities are already increasing steeply and higher prices for consumers are a virtual certainty. We need a government that will be committed to price stability, a strong dollar, and maintaining America’s pre-eminence in the world. That can’t happen fast enough.

11 November 2010

RULE BY EDICT?

Last week’s elections already seem remote although there are still some unresolved contests. Results show there are not really red states and blue states, as the outcomes were nationalized. Even here in New York despite weakness at the top of the ticket, at least five house seats changed hands, with one pending, and Republicans recaptured the state senate, putting them back in the game. The oddity is California, once the trend-setter for the country, now the exception and in inexorable decline due to government excess. Even there, after spending $140 million Meg Whitman should have been elected, but was undone by a sleazy lawyer parading an illegal housekeeper who was paid $23 per hour complaining about her employer.

Notwithstanding the results the administration is in denial, attributing defeat to a “communications failure” rather than policy rejection. As polls have indicated, this was not a vote for Republicans, but a vote against the Democratic congress. Republicans now have to prove themselves by sticking to principle. But even with a majority of governorships, state legislatures, and the house, the possibility of reversing course is limited. It is unlikely that this President is going to moderate given his attitude, which means we can look forward to two years of gridlock. Gridlock at least puts the brakes on moving in the wrong direction, but won’t do much to resolve long-term problems.

But this administration is not out of options, given its ideological extremism. My guess is that it will try to do an end run around the states and congress by attempting to rule by fiat- that is to say Executive Orders, that vastly expand the powers of the Presidency and pre-empt the congress. We have already seen a bold power-grab by the EPA in its claim to regulate carbon as a threat to the environment, which covers just about everything. The administration could attempt to expand bureaucratic power comparably in other areas simply by issuing decrees. The congress and the states will have their hands full simply in resisting these efforts, most of which will wind up in the courts. With an administration hell bent on getting its way despite public opinion, and a congress likely to be resistant, not much of substance is likely to be resolved until after the 2012 elections. Meanwhile we will have to muddle through the uncertainty and an economy that is unlikely to strengthen much as a result.

28 October 2010

NPR NUTTINESS BUT.....

I’ve been watching the world go by for the past week, and a recurring theme has been the nuttiness at NPR that has resulted in the firing of Juan Williams for remarks deemed insensitive to Moslems. Juan Williams is hardly a right-winger, and is generally perceived to be a fair-minded commentator. I found this whole situation to be hysterical, particularly in terms of what is says about how NPR pretentiously perceives itself. So Juan Williams has a gig at Fox News, and um, NPR. How that ought to come down and did is a no-brainer, even though many affiliate stations were very unhappy about this.

Notwithstanding that I am about as friendly to NPR as anyone can be, largely because the stations are just about the only source available for classical music and programs like Music from the Hearts of Space. I even go to fundraisers for my local station, although I could certainly live without the rest of NPR. But even then I recall one time hearing an interview with Jacques Barzun discussing his epic masterpiece on Western civilization (From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life 1500 to the Present). I don’t know where else that kind of thing can be found. To me it is more disconcerting that intellectually stimulating material falls into such a narrow band and gets mixed up with “progressivism.” Overall, as far as content goes, NPR does cover things that no one else does, and does a reasonably good job of it. It is only the political slant that sometimes enters that diminishes it, as with the firing of Juan Williams. Lurking behind all of this may be the influence of the evil currency speculator George Soros, who recently gave a large donation to NPR.

However, leaving ideology aside, I don’t believe that taxpayers should have to fund this network. I find some value in it so I provide support. I don’t expect that everyone else should have to. It really isn’t a function of government. Meanwhile the only result of this is that Juan Williams will go on to bigger and better things.

15 October 2010

RACE TO THE BOTTOM

The federal reserve apparently believes there is not enough inflation and they would like to get it above 2% to 3% or 4%. This would be done by printing money and buying government bonds. The administration’s economists want a weaker dollar to encourage exports. Of course other countries feel the same way andwant their currencies to depreciate for the same reason, and all want the Chinese yuan to rise, presumably to slow down their export machine. But it is the height of irresponsibility for the country with the world’s reserve currency to manipulate its currency rather providing a predictable and stable store of value. Furthermore all this does is make all of us poorer. It is obvious that if you have something of value, if it is worth less it is in fact worth less. That means the dollars you have buy less.

We are seeing commodity prices escalating upward as a result, for everything from the corn and soybeans that are vital to the food chain, to oil, to gold. This means higher gas prices, as well as higher food prices. That certainly looks like inflation that people can ill afford. Seared in my memory is the misery of the Carter years with double-digit inflation worthy of a banana republic, with instability and sky high interest rates. That won’t exactly prop up the housing market. Runaway inflation is inevitable down the road unless we stop printing money, slash government spending and begin reducing debt instead of increasing it. To get economic growth to resume we need to assure a stable business climate, reduce regulations and red tape, and cut taxes to encourage new investment, which is the only way to create jobs. What we have now is a climate of uncertainty to the point where, incredibly, we don’t know what our taxes are going to be next year due to an irresponsible congress that has failed to pass any legislation.

It is ridiculous to blame the Chinese for this, when it is all of our own doing. Consider our deal with China. They sell us really cheap stuff, which goes into the hands of people who could otherwise not afford it. What do they get from us? A lot of paper debt that is worth less each day. If Chinese goods cost more the people most hurt are those with the least amount of resources. Much of these goods are the products of American companies. For example, Apple designs everything here but builds it in China. Trade is a net plus for this country in terms of job creation, and clearly in terms of prices. We have a trade deficit because Americans save too little and spend too much. But rather than encouraging savings the government is penalizing the thrifty with miserably low returns on savings accounts due to the easy money policy.

We need a strong and stable dollar to assure that we remain the world’s foremost economic power. Instead of racing for the bottom we should be reaching for the top. None of these inflationary policies and wasteful government spending are going to create jobs. The only way that that will happen is with a positive business environment and taxation that encourages, rather than discourages investment. Unless current policies are changed we will continue to be victims of a no-growth environment.

RACE TO THE BOTTOM

The federal reserve apparently believes there is not enough inflation and they would like to get it above 2% to 3% or 4%. This would be done by printing money and buying government bonds. The administration's economists want a weaker dollar to encourage exports. Of course other countries feel the same way andwant their currencies to depreciate for the same reason, and all want the Chinese yuan to rise, presumably to slow down their export machine. But it is the height of irresponsibility for the country with the world's reserve currency to manipulate its currency rather providing a predictable and stable store of
value. Furthermore all this does is make all of us poorer. It is obvious that if you have something of value, if it is worth less it is in fact worth less. That
means the dollars you have buy less.

We are seeing commodity prices escalating upward as a result, for everything
from the corn and soybeans that are vital to the food chain, to oil, to gold.
This means higher gas prices, as well as higher food prices. That certainly
looks like inflation that people can ill afford. Seared in my memory is the
misery of the Carter years with double-digit inflation worthy of a banana
republic, with instability and sky high interest rates. That won't exactly prop
up the housing market. Runaway inflation is inevitable down the road unless we
stop printing money, slash government spending and begin reducing debt instead
of increasing it. To get economic growth to resume we need to assure a stable
business climate, reduce regulations and red tape, and cut taxes to encourage
new investment, which is the only way to create jobs. What we have now is a
climate of uncertainty to the point where, incredibly, we don't know what our
taxes are going to be next year due to an irresponsible congress that has failed
to pass any legislation.

It is ridiculous to blame the Chinese for this, when it is all of our own doing.
Consider our deal with China. They sell us really cheap stuff, which goes into
the hands of people who could otherwise not afford it. What do they get from us?
A lot of paper debt that is worth less each day. If Chinese goods cost more the
people most hurt are those with the least amount of resources. Much of these
goods are the products of American companies. For example, Apple designs
everything here but builds it in China. Trade is a net plus for this country in
terms of job creation, and clearly in terms of prices. We have a trade deficit
because Americans save too little and spend too much. But rather than
encouraging savings the government is penalizing the thrifty with miserably low
returns on savings accounts due to the easy money policy.

We need a strong and stable dollar to assure that we remain the world's foremost
economic power. Instead of racing for the bottom we should be reaching for the
top. None of these inflationary policies and wasteful government spending are
going to create jobs. The only way that that will happen is with a positive
business environment and taxation that encourages, rather than discourages
investment. Unless current policies are changed we will continue to be victims
of a no-growth environment.

02 October 2010

THE CAPITAL STRIKE

There are literally trillions of dollars sitting on the sidelines in corporate treasuries and private accounts because of continuing uncertainty about taxes and the economy. The congress adjourned without passing any tax legislation in lieu of the expiring Bush tax cuts, leaving everything up in the air. As a result new investment in the U.S. is suffering. New investment is the only way jobs are created and without it the economy is going to continue to stumble along with little growth and unemployment near 10%. As a result the U.S. has actually fallen behind Brazil, China, and India as the best place to invest.

This is a “no confidence” vote on the part of people in a position to invest in the current government if ever there was one as a result of its anti-business policies. I have no great love for the wealthy. A majority of them voted for Obama, and in one sense should get what they deserve in terms of taxes. Unfortunately there is no way to tax the liberals without hurting everyone else. I also don’t understand their obsession with money above everything else in life, because you can’t take it with you. However, in simple terms it is a question of who gets control of the money. The left views money as something that is theirs to redistribute rather than the property of its owners, but then the left has never understood economics. The issue is simply who gets to allocate the money- those who own it, or the government. As Margaret Thatcher once said, “the trouble with socialism is that sooner or later you run out of other people’s money.”

Those who possess wealth can do one of three things with it- spend it, invest it, or keep it on the sidelines or in some nonproductive asset like gold. Suppose they spend it on luxuries like yachts. Some might disapprove of conspicuous consumption but the reality is that someone has to build that yacht and workers get paid for doing so. Someone has to supply the company building the yacht, which helps small business. Spending money then is actually a transfer to other people directly or indirectly. If instead they invest it, they take some risk for reward, but in the process create jobs, new business, and economic growth.

The alternative is for the government to tax and spend it through punitive taxes. But the government is notoriously inefficient and incompetent at most things it attempts to do. It is the grand conceit of the elites of the left that they somehow “know better” than other people how to run things, and therefore should be given control of their resources in order to achieve “social justice.” As we are seeing now, what they don’t achieve is economic growth and full employment. We have a clear example of this ideology in the government’s “stimulus,” which has stimulated nothing but more government.

Unless people know that there is a stable, predictable environment friendly to business they will sit on their hands, as it doesn’t pay to invest or even to work that hard if the government is going to tax away most of what they earn. The United States always had a reputation for being a free, stable, and welcoming environment providing opportunity for anyone willing to work, save and invest. That has been seriously damaged by this administration, and as long is its policies persist there will be continued high unemployment and low growth as the capital strike continues.

23 September 2010

WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO LIBERAL PATRIOTISM?

A left-wing professor in Illinois objected to a crowd shouting “USA” at a football game because it might “offend Muslims.” In this case the Muslims are getting a bad rap from this leftist dog as being unpatriotic. But it brings up a larger question. There was a time when at least every one could agree on flag and country. Now there are people who actually object to our national symbols as offensive. Thus the people being “offended” are not Muslims but liberals.

One would have thought that the election of Obama would have brought some resurgence in patriotism on the left, but on contrary, internationalism rules the day from White house on down. This is a pretty sad state of affairs and was not always the case. Once there was “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and Roosevelt during World War II. This shared patriotism continued at least through the Presidency of John F. Kennedy, but then the left went over the cliff in the 60s and now actually opposes patriotic display and expressions.

In this respect it is no surprise that most of the armed forces and casualties are from “red” states, or more precisely “red” counties. By the way how did the right become “red,” a color that was always associated with the left and communism? I remember when it was “better to be dead than red.” I think it was actually based on the colors chosen for the election board on NBC or one of the network news programs. We apparently are stuck with it now. In any case it is clear there are people on the left who are filled with loathing for Americans and our way of life, particularly in universities, where tenured radicals rule. I wish they’d leave the country.

22 September 2010

POLITICAL PASSION

Nutty ex-President Jimmy Carter, has pronounced that the country is more divided today than at any time since the Civil War. This is factually incorrect. There were over 600,000 dead in the Civil War. Where are the casualties in the “culture war?” Furthermore, anyone who was around in the late 60s/early 70s knows that the country was far more divided then than it is today. Indeed the same people on both sides are still around, and yes, still divided. The difference today is that there is alternative media. Back then, the news was owned by the three liberal networks and the NY Times, and the whole narrative was told from a left-wing perspective. Thus they wrote of i.e. the “youth,” the “women” etc. as if all had the same viewpoint, never acknowledging that there were plenty of us on the right. The effect of this myopic monopoly back then was to alienate the public and increase support for the right, leaving the elites in shock when it turned out there were far more conservatives than they could have imagined.

While what is happening today is similar from the elite standpoint, it is nowhere near as intense as four decades ago. The news monopoly has been broken, and even as the establishment controls a shrinking piece of the pie, there are media alternatives today that lean right. Political differences at the ideological level are fundamentally a clash of values. There is no lower common denominator and that is why we have politics- to settle these divisions in a civil manner. Values in and of themselves are not rationally derived, but stem from family, custom, and belief. The establishment media and academia have continuously portrayed the values of the right as “irrational,” never realizing that their own fundamental values also have no rational basis.

After decades of ideology I have come to realize that it can lead to a type of tunnel vision. That is to say that politics dominates all discourse and judgment and is the prism through which the world is viewed. It involves focusing on one topic- politics, with religious fervor, to the exclusion of everything else. This sort of behavior is actually far more characteristic of the left than the right, because they are the ones who politicize everything and attempt to bring all aspects of life into the public sphere. The right reacts when is basic values are challenged, but it is the left that has made every aspect of life political. The right recognizes a far larger private sphere that ought not to be political, whereas the left wants to subject everything to public policy. This sort of fanaticism results in failing to see the interwoven complexity of things and how millions upon millions of individual decisions are the crux of real life. Ironically it is the “liberals” who are most intolerant. They look at everything in political terms, so that in coming upon something new the first question they ask is where this thing or person stands politically, even though it may be totally apolitical to everyone else. They cannot escape the ideological lens, so that ironically the “progressives,” as they now call themselves, are the most illiberal people on the planet. Conservatives are the true liberals, and indeed in virtually every other place in the world what Americans call conservatism is considered “liberalism.” Milton Friedman spent his life trying to rescue that term but never succeeded. Perhaps it is time to explore the true meaning of liberalism.

Meanwhile the “progressive” establishment media continues to portray the Tea Party as a kind of lunatic fringe that is irrational, extreme, etc. In fact given its focus on government spending, excess, and debt, which are undeniable facts, the Tea Party is actually tone of the most rational movements to ever come along.

11 September 2010

THE TWO 9/11s

I will never forget the reaction of people in New York on September 11, 2001. Most broke into spontaneous chants of patriotic songs or chants of USA, but in Union Square the people started singing “Imagine.” That more than anything symbolized to me the divide between left and right in this country, or more accurately between the left and the rest of the country. Not surprisingly we see the same division on the location of a mosque at ground zero, nine years later.

For the left, the United States is a deeply flawed society responsible for most of the evil in the world. That hard core amounts to those not part of the 88% that approved of George Bush after 9/11 in a moment of national unity and resolve. Yet improbably, nine years later “Imagine” made its way to the White House and contributes to the current unpopularity and mistrust of this administration.

No matter how much we might wish to stand down, there will always be evil in the world, sometimes controlling governments, sometimes revolting violently against them, but with a constant disregard for human life and joy in mass murder. We did not “bring this on ourselves;” it came to us. There are only two choices- surrender or fight. There is no middle way with this enemy. No matter how painful it is to revisit, we must keep alive the horrible images of innocent bodies jumping from the burning towers to remember what we are up against, even as we finally begin the process of rebuilding the WTC site.

Hollywood has noticeably been AWOL on this, and if anything has produced anti-American propaganda. The old patriots who once controlled the studios and built the industry are long gone. There was one production that was truly excellent in laying out the facts. It was “The Path to 9/11” which aired on ABC. However they have refuse to rerelease it or produce it on video to avoid offending the Clintons, even though the show did not particularly blame them outside of laxity in government agencies.. It was an objective and sobering account. Everyone should call on ABC to release this production in its original format

02 September 2010

FAREWELL TO MEN

A recent survey indicated that women 22-34 now out earn men in their age group. This is largely a result of being better educated, as women now outnumber men in college. The social implications of this are profound and do not bode well for women as well as men. If women are better educated and earning more than their male peers, the prospects for finding a suitable mate are significantly reduced. The pool of marriageable men simply isn’t large enough. This also results in an increase in dysfunctional males avoiding, or unable to assume responsibility, and is a contributing factor in the rise in illegitimate births. The problem is less acute for affluent, college-educated couples who will go on to traditional social arrangements. But it also leaves an increasing underclass of fatherless children, who in turn will likely father and abandon children of their own.

This is exacerbated by the liberals war on traditional males. Nowadays in movies and tv shows we routinely see women kicking male butts, which is pure fantasy. It is a product of sissified Hollywood. Long gone are men like Clark Gable and Gary Cooper, never mind John Wayne. They have been replaced by boys or fools that never grow up. Where are the positive role models for young men? This is not simply a male complaint, for I cannot believe that women want these types for partners.

As the male role continues to be diminished we inevitably run up against the natural world, with destructive consequences. These conditions are only possible in civilized societies with the rule of law, but they are but a moment in the history of our species. Such a sudden shift is bound to have a profound effect on the psyche by upending all that has been built into us over countless thousands of years. I am not arguing for any government solution to a problem it has contributed to, but a cultural shift back to understanding what it means to be a man.

14 August 2010

NO MOSQUE AT THE WTC!

I belonged to and was married in a small church in the shadow of the World Trade Center. St. Nicholas had been a former tavern and was rectangular in shape, made a perfect form fill between the two WTC towers. If there were fifty people in it, it was crowded, but it was a charming little space in the midst of great towers. That church was destroyed on September 11 along with the World Trade Center.

To me the building of a mosque on this hallowed ground is doubly offensive and I think we must be prepared to prevent it by whatever means necessary. It is a desecration and offense to the memory of all those who died that day as well as all those who continue to die in the fight against radical Islam. It belongs there about as much as a cathedral in Mecca.

Yes despite overwhelming public opposition the political class is supporting this abomination in the name of religious freedom. Mayor Bloomberg, Governor-in-waiting Andrew Cuomo, and President Obama have all expressed support for this project, and deserve to be turned out of office on this basis alone. For implicit in their position is a contempt for public opinion similar to the attitude taken by elites towards the tea party protests. They “know better” than the ignorant mass of people who have been led astray by right-wing cheerleaders to upend the “proper” world view. This is how things work in Europe, where elites govern as they see fit, largely ignoring the public will. For example the public in many countries supports capital punishment, but the ruling class opposes it so it is banned.

There are even some “conservatives” who share this elitist world view, i.e. when it comes to someone like Sarah Palin. But never has the gap been wider between the government and the people on a whole range of issues. These rascals deserve to be voted out in November producing a clear message.

I would argue further that the mosque supporters, who generally are the same people quick to ban Christian symbols from the public square, show the need for a constitutional amendment. This amendment would explicitly recognize the Christian foundation of this nation. I advocate this even though I am personally agnostic, because it is an undeniable part of our heritage. In the past it was not necessary to state the obvious, but as liberals have chiseled away at our traditional foundations, largely through the courts, it has become necessary to restate the basic tenets of America.


05 August 2010

THE PEOPLE VS. THE COURTS

Yesterday’s ruling by federal district judge in California overturning Proposition 8, which denied gay marriage rights is a travesty beyond measure. This basically denies the fact that society has the authority to define marriage, rendering it meaningless. You can be sure the nutty 9th Circuit Court of Appeals covering the area will rule along similar lines, and the Supreme Court is uncertain as it may decide to grab the power to decide this itself. Leaving aside the issue of gay marriage itself, what we have here is a judge overruling a sovereign vote of the people. This passed as a public referendum in California. No court should have the authority to overrule a referendum.

What will follow soon is a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman whatever the courts do, but this is a tedious process. We also need a constitutional amendment banning judges from overruling the results of a referendum period. No individual or court should possess such authority, and the judiciary has no right to grab it for itself.

04 August 2010

FEDERAL THEFT

We live in an upside-down country today where the prudent are penalized and the profligate are rewarded. The traditional wisdom about saving for a rainy day and retirement has virtually been abandoned by the government. By keeping interest rates so low for so long the Federal Reserve has been punishing savers while printing money to satisfy an omnivorous government, which can borrow for virtually nothing and continue to spend beyond its income putting the burden on future generations.

It is also harming the present older generation, particularly those at or near retirement. As one gets older the prudent thing to do is avoid riskier investments and keep money in safer places such as savings accounts. But with interest rates so low the yield is insufficient to provide an adequate income for most people. As a result in order to try and achieve returns that were projected years ago people continue to invest in riskier assets like stocks. Long term this can pay off, but perhaps not in time for retirees.

Policies currently in place basically steal from those who have done the right thing in favor of those who have been profligate or are dependent upon the government for support. This can only get worse down the road as soaring debt leads to hyperinflation and the value of money declines. Inflated currency over centuries has long been the government way to work out debts, which is basically theft from those who have put their trust in it. Thus savers lose either way, with either diminished asset value or low to no returns. The only beneficiaries are the government, all those connected to it financially, and the big banks, which are able to borrow for virtually nothing from the government and earn returns from debt instruments with little risk.

Thus what it cannot get through taxation the government takes anyway through other means. If we are to avoid being left poorer in the future the government must be limited. This means slashing spending, reducing bloated government payrolls, cutting taxes and an end to currency manipulation. It cannot happen too soon.

24 July 2010

THE BEST OF TIMES

After several decades it is apparent to me now that the best years of our lives occurred early on, in the 1950s. It is still the time period most people prefer, when everyone was happy but the liberals. The liberals hate the 50s and anything associated with it, making their own fantasy nightmare out of it. So we have the Hollywood version- that is today’s dismal Hollywood, not the one that used to have glamour and excitement. In this version film noire continued into the fifties, with heroic lefties being persecuted by ant-communist fanatics. Never mind that most of these people were traitors to their country and that communism was a real existential threat to our way of life. It was not at all clear which side would triumph in that conflict, which was an all-consuming struggle.

It was a time before family life disintegrated and fathers could support their families while mothers were able to stay home and raise the kids if they chose to. Then they were still having kids and the future looked a lot brighter. The foundation of belief in God and country were virtually universally shared. There was a faint echo in the 1980s, when much of the world of today was born; if you look back cell phones, personal computers, etc. that are so much a part of our lives today were around then, albeit in what now looks like a primitive state. But it was already there, and for that matter there really hasn’t been anything new, i.e. in music since then.

There was a time when liberals shared a love for this country. Indeed through WWII they were patriotic. There was once a macho left that would actually fight for something, heading off to the Spanish Civil War or whatever. Through Viet Nam there were strong anti-communist liberals. But then the 60s happened and shattered everything. By “60s” I mean that period that actually ranged from 1965 onward for about a decade. The earlier 60s were still in the 50s milieu. The left totally freaked out, nearly destroyed the country and ultimately brought the right to power, but their poisonous attitudes towards this country, its history, its people, its reality, remain to this day in the media, in education, in Hollywood, and all those institutions that in some way influence people’s perceptions. It is no wonder they have lost legitimacy.

Will we ever know better times again? Will there ever be a common understanding of what this country is about, and how life ought to be? There is yet a long political struggle ahead until the underlying consciousness has changed.

11 July 2010

THE ROLE OF LUCK

Several days ago a storm hit Bridgeport Connecticut and caused widespread damage. I’m sitting across the Long Island Sound from there but all that happened here, while expecting a storm, was a slight drizzle. Many years ago my grandmother’s family used to own half of downtown Waco Texas. Then one day a tornado came along, or a cyclone as she used to call it, and destroyed a whole block of their property. The other side of the street was totally spared and left standing. You never know where severe storms are going to hit, what is going to be destroyed, and what will be bypassed. It is purely a matter of luck, along with many other things in life.

The older I get the more aware I am of how much of a role luck plays in our lives. The rich and powerful often think they are where they are because of hard work and smarts. But many other people work hard or have smarts, but they are nowhere near the pinnacle of success as we see it in this life. The difference is based on luck, pure and simple. It is often a matter of just being at the right place at the right time, of knowing the right people, along with focused ambition. Of course talent is important, at least when it is exceptional, but innate natural talent that is easily recognizable is relatively rare.

Luck determines which animals are on the outside of the herd and get attacked by predators. Luck determines most of the outcomes in our lives. You may consider yourself lucky or unlucky, but most of us fall somewhere in the middle, neither exceptionally fortunate nor exceptionally unfortunate. Thus you may not win the big lottery, but you also won’t die horribly in some kind of terrorist attack. For must of us the mean is the rule as we muddle our way through life.

23 June 2010

SO WHERE'S THE RACISM?

Election results from South Carolina’s primary are very enlightening. A first generation Indian-American woman, Nikki Haley won the Republican primary for Governor, which would make her the second Indian-American Republican Governor in the south, after Bobby Jindal of Louisiana. More telling was the victory of a black Republican in the state’s first congressional district, handily defeating the son of long time Senator and 1948 Dixiecrat candidate for President Strom Thurmond. Both won their primaries handily and will very likely be elected in the fall.

This is in South Carolina, the most confederate state of the Confederacy. South Carolina, where the Civil War began. The first state to secede from the union. If this doesn’t bury the shibboleth of “racism” in this society nothing will. The left has continuously used “racism” as a tool to pummel the right, now demonstrably without any foundation whatsoever. It is time to bury this myth in contemporary American once and for all.

The other notable tidbit in this election was that both candidates were picked by Sarah Palin. She has had a remarkable batting average thus far in picking winning candidates, is looking stronger every day, and can no longer not be taken seriously.

22 June 2010

ANCIENT COMPUTING

Anything on a computer is ephemeral. If you don’t get your work produced in the real world you are on very dangerous ground. Computers have improved a lot but they are still not completely reliable. Hopefully we back things up, but I’ve come across a larger long term problem; unexpected obsolescence.

I’ve been preoccupied lately trying to salvage about fifteen years worth of files from obsolete computers. I use mostly Macintoshes, and before the current very stable OS X came along they would frequently crash, sometimes seriously enough to have to reformat the hard disk. Fortunately I had backups of most of the data, but unfortunately it was written to cartridges that require a SCSI connection, which Apple used to use before making it obsolete along with all the peripherals that used to connect with it. I have one computer left with this type of system but it is flaky and unstable. Still I’ve been able to recover a lot of data.

Now comes the really challenging part. A lot of it was created in programs that no longer exist so there is no way to read the contents without the old program, including finding anything online since this is all pre-Internet stuff. Many companies have simply gone out of business or discontinued products with no support. Current programs can’t read the files. I’ve been struggling to find the old program installation floppy disks to try and reconstitute the programs. The reason a lot of this stuff didn’t get carried forward and translated into a newer format is that most of it consists of notes of ideas for future use as in a scratch pad, or musical improvisations; generally things done on the fly.

I’m making some progress in recovery, but what this tells me is that nothing that is current is necessarily going to be around in the future. There is no guarantee decades ahead that there will be programs capable of reading all that you’re doing now. Obsolescence is an ongoing problem with technology, and if we’re not carefully conscious of this fact much can be permanently lost.

10 June 2010

THE UNEXPECTED HAZARDS OF NATURE

Most lovers of nature tend to be city people. They appreciate the natural beauty of undisturbed places with reverent enthusiasm. Those who live and work in such places, on the other hand, view nature as something you use for some productive purpose, and a place that is not without hazard. Thus, the appreciation of nature as such is something confined to city people who don’t have to live with it. For those in the country such as farmers, it is something you use when not full of nuisances and menace.

This thought recurred to me after clearing a small wooded patch of brush at my summer house. I managed to get Lyme Disease for the third year in a row, after getting a few tick bites, and actually extracting a live tick from one of them more than a day later, observing its kicking little legs through a magnifying glass. The bites were swollen up in a familiar, unmistakable pattern. The first time it happened the disease had progressed pretty far; I was sore, listless, and had malaria-like symptoms of chills on a hot day. An antibiotic prescription cured the problem, but the following year and this year again I got the same bites so I immediately emailed my doctor for another prescription.

At the time I had taken all necessary precautions- I was fully clothed with long sleeves but they still managed to hit more or less the same area on my belly and this time on my butt. I finished the pills, but the sores still haven’t gone away completely; they take a long time to heal. Somehow the disease made its way from Lyme Connecticut across the sound to here in Long Island. It is generally carried by deers, although I haven’t seen one here since last year. This just goes to show that even a semi-suburban patch of woods has its hazards. For now I’m leaving this patch of nature to the rabbits.

11 May 2010

THE DISEASE OF THE WEST

Nihilism is an affliction gripping the west, particularly in elite circles. It is rampant among liberals and the Left in the U.S.A., as well as much of Europe. It is characterized by a loss of faith- faith in God, faith in one’s country, its culture and history, as well as its institutions. For those of this mindset there is nothing to believe in, everything is relative, and the nation’s history is all bad. They are contemptuous of those who love their country and have simple faith, because they presumably know better. In Europe this is the result of two world wars and a completely secular outlook. For the American Left, the country was founded and is based on racism, genocide, and religious fanaticism. Thus the reaction of the mainstream media to recent headlines is characteristic of this attitude.

Initially there was an impression that the Times Square bomber was a “white man,” based on a fuzzy video image. There were actually expressions of disappointment when it turned out to be yet another Muslim. Then there were expressions of sympathy regarding his foreclosed home, never mind that he could afford to take several trips to Pakistan where he linked up with the Taliban. This man intended to kill as many innocent civilians as possible, yet the liberal media downplayed his evil intent given guilt over our presumed “shortcomings.”

Then there is the case of the five students who had the temerity to wear American flag decorated clothing on “cinco de Mayo.” In order to avoid potentially offending Mexican students they were actually sent home by the loony liberal school administrators. Even the San Francisco area district superintendent found this to be unwarranted. But again we have hyper “sensitivity” to possibly offending minorities rather than encouraging them to assimilate into this society.

In Europe Greeks were on the street throwing a tantrum at austerity measures designed to reduce an unsustainable public debt with ripple effects all across Europe and the markets. This is only the tip of the iceberg as most European states come to grips with unsustainable welfare states financed by public debt, while lacking population growth sufficient to pay it off. They are simply not having children and face an actual population decline, coupled with increasing unassimilated Muslim minorities. Why is this? Because they have no faith in the future, in their country, in themselves and thus they choose to live only for today with what amenities they can obtain. Nihilism pure and simple.

These sentiments are shared by the American left, which has similar behavior patterns and attitude. Unfortunately the nihilistic sentiment goes beyond the left, as much of the American population of European descent fails to reproduce itself. The spending and policies of the administration would move us ever closer to the European welfare state model, which is morally, politically, and financially bankrupt in the long run. The conditions in Europe should serve as a warning of what is to come unless this direction is reversed. We must stop the spread of this disease of increasing government dependency, trashing of western civilization, and indulgence of every minority demand. We must just say no to nihilism.

29 April 2010

PROMOTING DIVISION AND DISUNITY

For some time the liberal Democrats have sought to organize minorities against white people, indulging every “grievance” and using the hammer of “racism” against Republicans and conservatives. Rather than encourage national unity they have encouraged group identity and the politics of resentment. Now we have the sorry spectacle of the President of the United States weighing in, encouraging blacks, Latinos, and “women” to come out in support of Democrat policies. Imagine the outcry if a Republican had called upon white people to stand up.

But now you have to be an idiot not to realize where he is coming from. This is a White House where Al Sharpton is a regular visitor. The dignity of this office has been has been sharply downgraded by the administration. This was supposed to be a “post partisan” President. He was supposed to be a unifier, not a divider. That was the impression most people had during the campaign due to posturing along these lines, a favorable media, and a lousy campaign by John McCain which refused to raise any questions about the dark side. But now we see the roots in Chicago politics, Reverend Wright, Bill Ayres, etc. increasingly exposed to anyone who cares to look.

This is a truly awful situation, coupled with a radical runaway congress. Never in the history of America has the government been at more variance with the sentiments of the people. There is only one corrective possible- a resounding defeat of the Democrats in the fall election and in 2012. It cannot come too soon.

26 April 2010

SIMPLE IMMIGRATION REFORM

Congress is being pressured to pass an immigration bill that would provide a “path to citizenship” for some eleven million illegal residents in this country. Given the blatant violation of our laws it is breathtaking to watch advocates press demands. On the other hand there is the reality that these people exist here and the question is what our policy ought to be. There is an alternative to legalization that ought to be considered.

In ancient Greece people residing in city states who were not citizens were considered metoikoi, or resident aliens. This status afforded them the opportunity to live in communities other than those of their origins. What we should do is develop a similar category for resident aliens that legalizes their presence here without granting full citizenship. This is a lot simpler than requiring them to jump through hoops to attain citizenship status. They would simply apply for it, and if they lack a criminal record, be granted resident status.

It is unfair to grant citizenship to those who have jumped the line, but there is no reason why we cannot provide another form of legal status. The law still needs to reformed to provide preference to higher-skilled applicants, real border enforcement and to allow for “guest workers,” who are needed particularly in agriculture. Apart from this resident alien status would seem to be the best solution for the rest.

22 April 2010

THE IMMUTABLE FORCES OF NATURE

In any contest between man and nature, nature inevitably wins, as evident in the recent grounding of all flights in Europe due to ash from a volcano in Iceland. With but a few more volcanic eruptions the disaster could have been far worse, resulting in a pronounced climate change. This has occurred many times in the past. Another eruption in Iceland in 1783 was noted by Benjamin Franklin while residing in Paris. He realized that a large amount of volcanic particles in the atmosphere would reduce the earth’s temperature by blocking the sun’s rays from reaching the surface. The Tambora eruption in Indonesia in 1815 resulted in a “year without summer” across the globe. These have occurred in relatively recent historical times, but have been happening continuously across the ages.

Earth has been a fireball, and was utterly transformed into a frozen snowball over the eons. The continents have reconfigured themselves in unrecognizable forms over millions of years as the earth beneath our feet literally continues to move. Geological changes are constant over time and can have a profound effect on life on earth. We as a species began populating the earth and expressing ourselves only 40,000 years ago in relatively sweet time. This is but a fragmentary moment in processes that have gone on for millions; billions of years. These benign conditions allowed our civilization to develop some ten tnousand years BC with the beginning of agriculture and towns.

Throughout all of our history we have been subject to the forces of nature. For most of that time these were attributed to often angry gods and it was only in the twentieth century that the full scope of geological time and effects was fully comprehended. The world of today is but an infinitesimal moment in long term processes that will continue with or without us, but upon which we can no effect whatsoever.

Alongside these forces the impact of man-made global warming is negligible. Even controlling for that, at a cost of trillions of dollars, will not immunize us against the forces of nature. Beyond volcanic eruptions, a change in solar flares would have immeasurably more impact on the planet than anything we have done. Given this reality rather than attempting to stop inevitable climate change we should be devoting resources to ameliorating the consequences, rather than to self-destructive, quixotic prevention. This includes greater emergency preparedness, better intelligence regarding natural forces, and steps to avoid the consequences of unstoppable changes. For the fact remains that even if we could slightly alter the debatable effects of human activity we can do nothing to stop the forces of nature.

20 April 2010

THE STUPID CENSUS

First came a letter, announcing that census forms would be coming. Then three forms came for a one family house, one of which was completed and returned. Then another three forms came, followed by a pair of postcards. Is it any wonder that the government is broke?

More insidious is the stupid, if not offensive questions asked. It asks for race, which for most people only allows only for white or black. Yet on Hispanics it asks for a breakdown between Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Cuban, etc. On Asians it asks for Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, etc. It is thus pre-configured with a bias towards these groups. What about everyone else’s origins? What about Germans, Irish, Italian, etc.? What about people who are multiracial? Just what is the purpose of these questions, and why are they so skewed?

The census is simply supposed to provide a head count every ten years according to the constitution, primarily in order to properly proportion the House of Representatives. Everything else is superfluous and arbitrary. Some have revolted against all of this by checking “Other” for race, or are otherwise uncooperative. I don’t recommend this because an accurate count is important. But there surely are more efficient ways of doing this.

Private pollsters, opinion, and consumer researchers are far more efficient at this kind of thing. Why not contract it out at a fraction of the ten billion that is being wasted on this. The only upside is for the administration in showing a “jobs increase” due to 48,000 temporary census hires. It is too late to do anything about this now, but congress should determine that the next census be a head count and nothing more. It is time to put an end to official group identity and the inevitable “grievances” that follow.

15 April 2010

SAY NO TO THE VAT

Nancy Pelosi and other liberals are mulling over imposing a VAT (Value Added Tax) on America to cover the unsustainable deficits they have run up as well as ambitious new social spending programs. This tax is common in Europe, where it ranges as high as 21%. It is in effect a national sales tax that is applied at each stage of production. The imposition of such a tax would provide the government with a new stream of revenue that would be invisible.

Given the proclivities of the current government you can expect things to cost a lot more in the future. Either they will impose a VAT, or otherwise will inflate the currency to devalue debt and screw the bondholders, causing everything to cost more. Anyone who remembers the nightmare of the late 70s inflation must already be concerned about this.

The Left essentially wants to emulate the European welfare states, and so would adapt their methods, beginning with health care. But when it comes to the VAT America is different. There are states and local governments that also tax, but they are conveniently usually left out of comparisons with other countries. We already pay state and local sales taxes as high as 10% in some localities. Will we now pay another federal sales tax? The VAT would result in an endless expansion of government if the Social Democrats have their way. This will come at the expense of the private economy, which will result in slower growth and fewer jobs.

Under this proposal you will find yourself with less money in your pocket while looking at higher prices for everyday expenses. On this Tax Day it is time to say enough! The only hope is that in November these scoundrels will be voted out and replaced by fiscailly prudent representatives.

05 April 2010

LET THE ENEMY FIND HIS OWN IEDS

I recently read an article in the Wall Street Journal about how battlefield medicine has improved, saving many more lives, particularly of soldiers who step on IEDs. Nevertheless the loss of limbs infuriated me. In one case a British Captain had his legs blown off, one arm, and four fingers on the other, leaving him with one finger. There is no reason in the world why we should continue to absorb such casualties. We should have had a technology to detect these things by now. In the absence of such methods I believe what we should do is put enemy POWs in front of our troops so they become the victims instead of our young men. I don’t want to hear any more about the rules of war, the Geneva convention, etc. because none of that applies here. These enemy combatants are not state actors, they recognize no rules of conduct, they have no respect for life, and are happy with death and martyrdom anyway. They would eventually think twice about planting IEDs if they themselves were to be the victims and it would help curtail this treacherous tactic. There are those who would fret about “world opinion,” i.e. left-wingers, but think of all the lives that could be saved, and of all those young men now sitting in hospitals missing limbs. Let us use the enemy against the enemy. It is only justice.

31 March 2010

THE REAL COST OF LIVING

While the administration and congress have forced through a radical health overhaul certain basic questions have not been directly addressed. Are we responsible for keeping everyone who is living today alive? Does this mean everyone in the United States or does it also mean the developing world as well, as some would have it? These are difficult moral questions, but there is nothing in the constitution to suggest that the state has any responsibilities along these lines. One could stretch the meaning of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” in the Declaration of Independence to encompass this, though it is unclear to what extent the state could guarantee life any more than it can guarantee happiness.

Are we responsible for taking care of those who will not bear the cost of taking care of themselves? Those who cannot already have support systems, no matter how imperfect. Clearly before any attempt to overhaul the health care system is attempted these basic questions ought to be thoughtfully addressed given that there is no consensus on them.

The left would establish a “right” to health care for everyone, thus assigning the state the responsibility for life itself. On the other hand many on the right emphasize the sanctity of life and oppose abortion and euthanasia and would involve the state in these matters. Thus there is an odd convergence of opinion that the state ought to be involved in some sense with the matter of life, although understandings as to what this means differ widely. For any overhaul to be acceptable there has to be some agreement on fundamentals. Any new right ought to have the broad base of a constitutional amendment, if not an amendment itself.

Health care literally constitutes the fundamental “cost of living.” For countless centuries basic human needs have consisted of food, shelter, and clothing. Over the past hundred years as life spans have increased due to medical innovation, health has become another need, in that people can live into old age to the extent they are healthy. In prior centuries little could be done to extend lifespans and the average person died at a considerably younger age. What was “old” in the past is now relatively young. This is what accounts for much of the increase in health care costs over the years. This is the real “cost of living,” and the administration’s health care program would effectively make this a responsibility of the state, thus transforming a need into a right. Even if such a right was established it does not follow that government should manage it, anymore than it manages our choices in food, shelter, or clothing. But they go even further, not only creating a right but a requirement.

However most of the innovation has come from society’s institutions, not the state, whether it be new drugs, medical devices and procedures, or cures for disease. Can the state effectively “control” this innovation? Or will it stifle further improvement? Part of the reason American health care costs are so high is that we are effectively subsidizing the rest of the world in terms of innovation, as reflected i.e. in domestic drug prices. As long as innovation continues unfettered there may well be an increase in the cost of living, unless or until yet other innovation leads to cost savings. This is clearly possible, as in the case of procedures that once required extended hospitalization and that can now be done on an outpatient basis. Thus innovation cuts both ways, but once the government takes control this engine will be stifled. The fallacy of the Democratic health care plan is that conditions that exist today are going to prevail in the future. Thus apart from cost factors, the Democratic plan represents a closed system based upon present day assumptions. But no one can accurately predict the future more than a few years out. Rather than expanding care it would effectively freeze it.

In addition to costs, the long term consequences of state control have not been seriously thought out. Suppose a procedure to extend lifespans was developed. There would certainly be a cost involved with this, which would effectively add to the cost of living. Would it then be then the responsibility of the government to guarantee an extended lifespan to everyone, regardless of their living habits? Prudence would indicate that we ought to think through exactly what responsibilities the state would assume. Unless and until there is a broader consensus change should be incremental at most and this monstrous legislation must be undone.

28 March 2010

COZUMEL

As I return from vacation to hundreds of Emails, I realize how temporary and fleeting everything is and how quickly obsolescence sets in. Nothing fades like yesterday’s news. I usually don’t write about travel, but since Cozumel is a place I have revisited many times I feel as though I ought to give it a mention here. I go there often because it has some of the best scuba diving in the world, since Jacques Cousteau first discovered it in the 1950’s. I’ve never had a bad dive there. The only problem nowadays is packing dive gear given the way airlines are all scrimping. I put it all in a suitcase and put all my clothes in a carry-on.

Cozumel is an island off of Mexico in the Caribbean, just off the mainland and Cancun. However, unlike Cancun it is not overdeveloped and overrun with drunken American students. To be sure there has been some change since I started going there in the early 90s. Back then it was frequented mainly by divers and dive shops outnumbered restaurants. Now many of the diving establishments and other shops have been pushed a few blocks further in from the main road along the shore in San Miguel, the only real town. They have been replaced by large jewelry stores catering to the duty-free cruise ship crowd, since it has become a frequent stop on the Caribbean cruise routes. I noticed as many as seven cruise ships docked during the day, which is not a particularly good time to be in town. But the cruise passengers are taken to town or public beaches south of it so they don’t really inconvenience longer-term visitors.

I recommend visiting the island for a spell rather than a cruise stop to really enjoy its laid back atmosphere. It provides the best of the Caribbean as well as Mexico. Virtually the entire side of the island facing the mainland is a marine park full of gorgeous reefs and 100+ feet of visibility. This is where most of the hotels face, but there are no huge edifices and most are of moderate size. If you don’t dive there are plenty of offshore snorkeling opportunities, particularly at a park called Chakanaab.
Away from the shoreline most of the island is undeveloped jungle. We went horseback riding for nearly three hours through the jungle to some Mayan ruins, which left me quite sore. We also took a drive across the island to the “wild side” facing the ocean, which remains virtually undeveloped due to rough water and strong currents, although it does seem to be attracting a few surfers now. At the south end of the island is a national park where you are taken on a ride in an elevated vehicle past alligator swamps to a lighthouse at the end. That’s basically all there is to do, so you can have a perfectly good time lounging at the pool at a resort or on the beach. It is also only a short ferry ride to the mainland where you can visit ruins at Chichen Itza, Coba, and Tulum.

There are many good hotels that cater to divers, but for a general vacation I highly recommend the Melia Maya at the north end of the island where we have a timeshare. It has an excellent beach, nicely appointed facilities and impeccable service. There are many good dive operators on the island, where safety is a priority and generally the best thing to do is pick one that has been in business for a good number of years. I’m not going to recommend any particular dives because they are all good, and wherever your dive boat takes you, you are sure to enjoy it.

I don’t recommend doing an all-inclusive resort deal, at least not for a whole week as there are too many good restaurants in town. Among them are Pepe’s, which is a world class restaurant serving great meals like our favorite, Chateaubriand for two followed by Crepe Suzettes prepared at the table, at less than half the price you’d pay in New York. For Mexican fare, including local specialties we always go to La Choza, Casa Mission, CafĂ© Denis, Ernesto’s Fajita Factory, and Pancho’s Back Yard at Cinco Soles, a wonderful store that is always full of surprises and original material. All of these places are quite inexpensive and serve excellent food. In most places there are troubadors making the rounds in song and worth tipping. They all tend to be older, so it may something you won’t see forever.

It was unusually cool when we arrived but quickly warmed up. The climate is almost always mild, but don’t be fooled by occasional cloud cover, because you can still wind up with a sunburn. Be sure to go to the town square Sunday evening, when there is live music and dancing and the locals congregate with the tourists. Although others have now appeared, the best guide to the island is still a little Blue Book that is widely available for free. English is widely spoken and American money is the de facto currency. Finally, Cozumel is one of the safest places on the planet and crime-free. I highly recommend you pay a visit one day.

19 March 2010

SHREDDING THE CONSTITUTION

As I am preparing to leave on a twice-postponed trip to Cozumel I won’t be here for the vote on the Democratic Health care bill(s). I cannot recall a time when the constitution has been so blatantly ignored, in order to achieve, what the proponents of this travesty perceive to be the “greater good.” This is a terrible precedent in trashing the Rule of Law, which I’ve written on previously. The Democratic leadership of the House cannot even muster up enough votes to pass the Senate version of the Health Care bill. Instead they are resorting to an unprecedented maneuver, in which they vote on changes to that bill but "deem" it passed without ever voting on it and then the Senate votes on the changes.

It was a stretch to use the reconciliation process in the Senate in order to pass with only 51 votes for a major piece of legislation. But this is sheer lawlessness. The constitution clearly states "Votes of both Houses shall be determined by yeas and Nays, and the Names of the Persons voting for and against the Bill shall be entered on the Journal of each House respectively." But with these maneuvers no single bill with all features will ever have been voted on in the House.

This is an unprecedented travesty, the consequences of which cannot be foretold. Once the spirit of the law is violated can it be put back together again? We now have the prospect of a major piece of social legislation becoming "law" despite the massive opposition of the people and the unrepresentative methods that have been used to achieve it. These are desperate people who put an ideological commitment ahead of the rule of law and democracy itself. Opposition must not cease, but instead be further intensified. The perpetrators must be voted out, the legislation repealed (although that will face a presidential veto), and further no funds be appropriated for it. It will also be subject to court challenges on numerous grounds and could also be overturned by the Supreme Court anyway. One way or another it must ultimately be undone. Truly this will not stand.

14 March 2010

THE MYTHOLOGY OF RACISM

“Racism” is a term that gets bandied about very loosely these days to the point that it is virtually meaningless. This society is described as “racist” by leftists and black militants, but the truth is if anything it is profoundly anti-racist. That is why “racist” is about the worst thing you can call anyone, and once stung with it the consequences for careers can be devastating. Of course this is a term that can only be ascribed to whites. But the term is used so loosely today that it has come to mean little more than “unfair.”

Given the pervasiveness of this paradigm it is not surprising that the goofy actor Tom Hanks would describe the Pacific war as “racist,” on our part, and apparently so is the war on terror. Never mind that even if you construed this war as something on Islam it would not be in any sense racial. As for the Pacific, Hanks ignorance is truly breathtaking. Given the liberal mindset it is not possible for anyone other than white people to be racist, so it never occurs to them that the Japanese were in fact truly racist in their approach to the war. The regime regarded their race as superior to everyone else and thus their occupation of other countries was brutal. Furthermore they attacked us, and it was their own policy not to surrender and to die to the last man. On 9/11 we were also attacked.

It is unfortunate that there is a segment of this society that promulgates the view that this country was founded on “racism and genocide,” and unfortunately they occupy positions of influence in education and entertainment. Thus they warp and trash our history and encourage every minority to have some kind of grievance. This is the tragedy of our times. Our children are being fed lies by political fanatics, when the truth is there is no more open society in history. The “facts on the ground” belie this depiction and it is high time we stood up and disregarding the fear of being called “racist” and say enough!

07 March 2010

THE FRAUDULENT HEALTH CARE PROGRAM

The President and the Democratic congress are trying to ram through their health care “reform” package despite serious flaws and public opposition. The only thing good about this Kamikazi attack is assured self-destruction of this radical regime. Should this monstrosity pass the opposition must run a focused campaign on repealing it. The analysis provided by Representative Paul Ryan is clearly devastating.

He points out that this plan is based upon the subterfuge of applying ten years of revenue to six years of expenditures to support the claim of budget neutrality. It provides ten years of tax increases and Medicare cuts, not a continuation of existing programs. The plan does not control costs. It does not reduce deficits despite claims to the contrary. “What this bill essentially does is treat Medicare like a piggy bank. It raids half a trillion dollars out of Medicare, not to shore up Medicare solvency, but to spend on this new government program.” There are also double accounting gimmicks but in the end the ten year cost of the bill has a $460 billion deficit, with the next ten years running a $1.4 trillion deficit. It is a total fraud and people can see through this when presented with the facts. The administration has no credibility on this issue.

It is nothing short of revolutionary to nationalize one sixth of the economy with a dubious scheme, rather than an incremental approach that would work first towards reducing costs. This disastrous course must be stopped or we all are going to pay a heavy price.

05 March 2010

TRIALS AND TRIALS

Nothing is more indicative of the current government’s warped priorities more than the case of the three Navy Seals and the trial of 9/11 terrorists. The three Navy Seals are charged with….. punching a prisoner in the stomach. How horrible! We handle terrorist murderers with kid gloves while persecuting our own troops. The government is going to spend millions trying the terrorists in the United States with the full legal rights of citizens, even though they acknowledge that they are at war with the United States. They should be treated like any other enemy combatant.

You can’t help getting the impression that the people in charge of this country don’t really like it. They are more concerned with “world opinion” than American security. They think it is a flawed country that must be corrected and radically “reformed” even though they have little in the way of public support. Never has the divergent dichotomy between government and public opinion been so pronounced. We can only hope that they continue to choke on their own paralysis and ideological stupidity until November and thus minimize the damage they are doing to this country.

28 February 2010

SETTING REALISTIC BASELINES

One of the basic problems we face today is that our appetites exceed our resources. Privately we are in debt, often to buy stuff we don’t really need, while publicly we are saddled with increasing public debt for things the government shouldn’t be doing. Americans at least have been paying down personal debt. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the federal government, which continues to run up record deficits. Many states are in even worse shape because unlike the feds, they cannot print money.

How have we arrived at this juncture? By allowing ourselves to be deluded by the sunshine scenario- that is that things are going well and will only get better so there will be more money in the future. This is how states like New York, California, Illinois, and others have gotten into trouble, along with countries like Greece and countless individuals who have overextended themselves. These states spent every penny of incoming revenue and then some at the height of an economic boom, then filling budget gaps with gimmicks to maintain a level of spending that never should have occurred in the first place. By taking the best case scenario as their baseline they have presumed that things will only get better with more growth generating more revenue. The logic here is that people are making more money so we should increase our cut. When revenues fall short their solution is ever higher taxes rather than spending cuts, which only drives people away if they are lucky enough to be able to move.

The great error here is using the sunshine scenario as a baseline by assuming that henceforth this is the minimum we will take in. As a result these states were thoroughly unprepared for a drop in revenues. The more prudent course would have been to baseline on more conservative assumptions, i.e. what current conditions yield, so that any further increase would ideally then go to tax reductions. The wise course would be to accept the current situation as the new normal, and use it as the baseline for future projections. There is a lesson to be learned here if politicians will adhere to it. Individuals in the U.S. are finally saving and cutting back, which in the real world ought to be a good thing, though some economists think it is bad. But financing the world economy on credit cards is as unsustainable as the current federal deficits we are running. These are also projected on the assumption of future growth. What we need is a zero baseline. That is the only way that government can be contained and get its fiscal house in order. Rather than projecting increasing deficits, we need a deficit reduction plan now. Then perhaps we can begin to align our appetites with our resources.

25 February 2010

TOYING WITH TOYOTA

Congressional demagogues hauled in the head of Toyota for a grilling over safety issues that Toyota found and is already addressing through a recall. It is not as though these interlocutors are objective, given that many of them receive contributions from the UAW, which shares ownership of GM with the government. The UAW has long chafed at the fact that it has been unable to organize Toyota plants in the U.S. and that seems to be the main “crime” here. There is no conclusive evidence to suggest that sudden accelerator syndrome consists of anything more than drivers stepping on the gas pedal instead of the brakes. Further the same complaints follow “American” cars. Floor mats are another issue, which Toyota is correcting, but all this does is subject Toyota to numerous product liability suits by the legal eagles, even though there is no evidence for such claims. It is just an excuse to bash Toyota.

Many years ago I used to laugh at “foreign” cars, but nowI drive a ten year old Lexus RX300 made by Toyota. It was the first “crossover” vehicle back when most cars on the road looked like either Jeeps or Tauruses. I have never once had to open the hood, although I do take it to Lexus for periodic service. I’ve never had a car this long, and one that still has a lot of life in it. Before this one I drove only American cars, (except for one European sports car I had all of two weeks before it crashed and burned on the West Side Highway in New York) which turned over every few years. Toyota’s cars are built with exceptional quality and that is what has enabled them to become the largest auto manufacturer in the world, entirely through internal growth.

This is not a knock on American cars. They are still saddled with the UAW but they have come a long way to near parity and I’d like to buy a Ford some time in the future. The truth is there aren’t many bad cars on the road these days. Years ago you used to see numerous cars on the side of the highway with various problems. That is a pretty rare site today. But that in large measure is due to the fact that competition from companies like Toyota made all the rest shape up. I think they are getting a bad rap here.

20 February 2010

NUCLEAR NONSENSE

Joe Biden articulate another stupid policy in a speech on nuclear weapons, reiterating President Obama’s call for the elimination of all US nuclear arms. This is total insanity while rogue regimes continue to develop them, not because we have them, but because they want to use them either directly, or indirectly as intimidating threats to their neighbors. Without nuclear weapons we could one day find ourselves in a ground conflict that costs us many thousands of lives because of the lack of such a deterrent.

Much of the nuclear game involves talks with the Russians. This is their main ticket to continuing great power status, and while further arms reductions may be possible, trying to eliminate them now would be in no one’s interests. The Russians will never give up nuclear weapons. It would be self-destructive for them to do so. This is a country with a declining population holding a huge territory. Its only protection against the invasions it has experienced over the centuries is nuclear weapons, now more than ever, not vis a vis the US, but its southern neighbors.

This is one area we ought to take our cues from the Russians. A realistic view of today’s world, that might some day throw up millions of jihadists makes the clear case for maintaining a military deterrent that will not needlessly cost western lives. What we should be doing is beefing up anti-missile defenses since there is virtually no chance this administration is going to deter the rogue states from developing weapons of mass destruction.

19 February 2010

ADRIFT IN IRAQ

Leave it to Joe Biden to claim that Iraq is one of the great successes of the Obama administration, never mind that Obama strongly opposed the surge that made victory there possible. Unfortunately much of what we fought for may go down the drain if we simply walk away with nothing gained. The administration has set a firm date for a complete troop withdrawal even as the political situation there remains somewhat unsettled. One can argue about the wisdom of the war in the first place, but that is academic now. What matters is the current situation, where Iranian influence is boldly growing and further reconciliation of Iraqi factions has hit a dead end. The now-empowered Shiites are refusing to allow virtually anyone who was a member of Saddam’s B’aath party to run for office, even though that may have been the only way to get a job and their involvement was otherwise limited. This precludes a significant number of Sunnis from running for office. The Sunnis pose no threat to majority Shiite domination of the government so some conciliation would be advisable, but American efforts have been insufficient to bring this about.

Behind the scenes lurks the presence of Iran, which is manipulating various Shiite factions, violating Iraq’s borders and otherwise gaining influence in the country. If we simply ignore Iraq now we will have fought a war just to turn it into an Iranian satellite. Steps must be taken to counter the influence of the illicit Iranian regime now. Otherwise this administration may not be responsible for “success” in Iraq, but an avoidable failure. Sour grapes over Bush is not a reason to abandon a successful policy. The administration itself has adapted the surge strategy in Afghanistan, and if that works it can properly claim credit for it. But claiming success in Iraq is a little premature.

14 February 2010

HOW THE FAR LEFT CAME TO POWER

Polls show that 40% of Americans consider themselves conservative. That’s even more than moderates, at 36%. Only 20% of the population calls themselves liberal, and of these not more than 10% could be considered left or far left. So how did the ideology of 10% come to so much power? First there is the White House. Obama successfully portrayed himself as a reconciler, above partisan divisions, who would be a centrist and calm and thoughtful as president. He still speaks in these soft tones, but what he says and what he does are two different things, which has become increasingly apparent to the public as his poll numbers decline. At the subcabinet level he has appointed, or attempted to appoint a band of radicals. His radical past was submerged in the election, because John McCain stupidly refused to raise questions about Rev. Wright and Obama’s radical affiliations, and otherwise ran a lousy campaign, incredibly losing such states as North Carolina, Virginia, and Indiana. But even then it took a financial crisis to put Obama over the top.

But far worse is the House of Representatives, where radicals rule under Nancy Pelosi. But how did the House of Representatives become so unrepresentative? This came about as a result of safe seats and gerrymandered districts, which has tended to put the most left-wing members in positions of power in committees due to seniority. Thus, for example, the black caucus is vastly overrepresented in important committee chairmanships due to safe seats in gerrymandered districts. Similarly San Francisco would re-elect Pelosi into eternity. As a result we have the most left-wing members leading the congress, preparing legislation, and seeking to enact a radical agenda that most of the public opposes. Nevertheless it is still the position of the administration and house that the people don’t know any better and they intend to move forward with their agenda. Only the Senate is more representative since it cannot be gerrymandered, and even though controlled by Democrats, it is the only roadblock as the majority there is far more moderate.

If this continues and a radical minority holds sway due to the reasons cited above, it will be a disaster for the country as well as the Democratic party. This fall’s elections should be corrective as the public reacts to these circumstances. Hopefully the damage can be contained until November, when there is likely to be a significant turnover in the congress. But the seats that are likely to change hands are mostly held by moderates, who represent competitive districts. The radicals will certainly all return, as they face virtually no opposition in their safe seats. We can only hope that there will be sufficient change so as to remove them from the hold on power they now enjoy.

12 February 2010

GOING NOWHERE IN SPACE

The United States is about to blow a forty year lead in space by putting the Constellation program in mothballs, and effectively cancelling the Ares-1X heavy lift booster, which has already been successfully tested. That is the vehicle that is designed to replace the space shuttle. Without it we have no way of getting to the International Space Station and other objects in near earth orbit. The only way up or down, for the present, is via the Russians, who now having a monopoly are sure to raise prices, making the $3 billion savings from Constellation ephemeral. The administration expects that private industry will fill the gap. The trouble is there is no evidence that is happening at present. Unbelievably this is killing the dream of manned space efforts for the United States for the first time in fifty years. In addition, thousands will be thrown out of work for a tiny fraction of what the “stimulus” cost, and we will soon lose our collective memory, knowledge, and skills developed over decades if this happens.

Meanwhile the Chinese are shooting for the moon, and producing engineers and scientists while ours are retiring, while also pirating American space technology. Dongfan Chung, a former stress engineer with Boeing, was convicted of economic espionage involving 300,000 pages of sensitive data, including information about the space shuttle and the fueling system for America's biggest booster rocket, the Delta IV. In his ruling, the judge in the case noted that Mr. Chung, a U.S. citizen, had decided "to serve the [People's Republic of China], which he proudly proclaimed as his 'motherland.' " The Chinese have already had success in near earth orbit, and are planning to go to the moon within a decade. Their space program is well-funded and supported by its leadership, while ours is being killed by a total lack of vision. Even the Indians are not far behind.

We need a vehicle for near earth orbit, a capability that we have had for fifty years, where much of the activity in space is taking place. We have one planned. It is total insanity to cancel something that is already in the works. Yet we are going to spend billions on something as speculative as “clean energy” while discarding something we know how to do. Rather than inspiring dreams of the future this administration seems determined to kill them, and to rid any sign of American exceptionalism.

10 February 2010

PUBLIC FINANCE

Greek civil servants went on strike today to protest government austerity measures. In Greece there are a lot of them; an incredible one out of three Greeks works for the government with cradle to grave security. Among the “austerity” measures being protested today is raising the retirement age to 63 in 2015. This is a sad example of what happens when rampant public spending spins out of control. Public debt is currently more than four times greater than the EU ceiling allows, threatening the entire Euro-zone. Portugal, Spain, Ireland and Italy are almost in as bad shape and the European central bank is struggling to contain the crisis.

This is one of the reasons pressure on the dollar has not been as strong as it might otherwise be, because Europe is in worse shape. But for how long? If we continue to expand public employment and have situations where government employees earning over $100,000 can retire in their 50s with 90% of their salary we are certain to go broke, only there will be no one to bail us out. Gross public debt has risen from 57.4% of GDP in 2001 to an estimated 98.1% in 2010 before exceeding 100% in 2011. This is simply unsustainable.

Worse, this does not include state and local government finances, which in many cases are in dismal shape. There we have a zero-sum game, where raising taxes further does not produce more revenues, but rather refugees. New Jersey lost over 70 billion in wealth over the course of a decade due to people fleeing high taxes. We’re tapped out. No one wants to pay for more government. We need to implement austerity measures now, such as freezing government salaries and employment, raising the retirement age, and cutting spending. That’s only going to happen if we fire the government employees responsible, namely our elected representatives this November. Civilization has learned a great many things from the Greeks in terms of art, science, philosophy, etc., but public finance should not be one of them.

08 February 2010

ECONOMIC PROSPECTS

Americans are finally saving and paying down debt rather than increasing it. Unfortunately the government is increasing debt, with Treasury debt up 41% over the past year while consumer and business borrowing is down 20%. So we have an odd situation of people behaving properly while their government goes profligate “stimulating” nothing but government growth. The more this goes on the harder it is going to be to undo, and the result will be catastrophic national bankruptcy. But I’m optimistic it will be undone because the public will demand it, and it can’t happen too soon.

Productivity has been skyrocketing, increasing at a 5.7% rate last quarter. These are the only silver linings in this recession, as they provide a potential foundation for stable, robust growth in the future. But presently no one is hiring, unemployment is at 10%, and closer to 17% if you include those not looking for work or underemployed. Instead more and more productivity is being wrung out of existing employees who are often sullen and overworked. Capital is on hold as companies put off the purchase of capital goods, which would otherwise revive the industrial economy, which has been hit hardest. So how do we get these people back to work? The answer is new investment in industrial production, which ought to be encouraged with rapid depreciation and tax policy. Instead, apart from a bone thrown at small business, we are “investing” in government, which will not produce anything and instead will tax the economy with further burdens and thereby slow growth and recovery.

Thus the answer is pretty simple. People are unemployed in the private economy. The only way to get them employed is to encourage investment, which in turn will encourage production. To the extent that government gobbles up resources, and worse, runs up debts, there is that much less left to spur private investment and growth. The more incentives there are to invest in new goods and activities, the more jobs will be available and the more the economy will grow. What we need then is smaller government providing tax incentives and reductions to spur growth. Instead we currently have a growing government that will only increase the burden on everyone. This is the real “change” we need.

02 February 2010

WE NEED AN "OTHERNET"

The NSA is now working with Google to investigate the recent spate of cyberattacks emanating from China. It is high time more attention was focused on this issue, for what is clear is that potential foes now realize they don’t need nuclear weapons and all out war to destroy the United States; they can instead attack it electronically and wreak havoc with commerce, the countries infrastructure, communications systems, and anything else that is wired. Thus far effective defenses against such attacks have been limited, but this should be one of the highest security priorities. Virtually everything is wired today, and all aspects of life could easily be brought to a standstill. Obviously one way to deal with this is to hire hackers to probe for weaknesses and plug them before our enemies can get to them
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What is most disturbing in all of this is that the government itself is not protected sufficiently. Although I was in New York during the horror of 9/11, what disturbed me more even then was the fact that the Pentagon was so vulnerable to attack. It has also been subject to cyber attacks and has been hacked. This is totally unacceptable and a solution must be found that is foolproof.

The Internet initially came to life through DARPA and the Defense department. Given how ubiquitous it is now I believe we need something more fundamental than plugging leaks and fixing break-ins after they occur. Something new is required that will wall this stuff off from the Internet. Top security matters should not be connected to an entity anyone can use. What we need then is an Uber-net, an OtherNet that cannot be penetrated from the existing Internet, particularly for military and security information. This new net would be designed from the bottom up with security as a foremost concern. It ought to be possible to come up with the protocols and even the infrastructure necessary to accomplish this. I’ve come up with the concept, now the people working in these agencies should figure out how to engineer it. I encourage anyone reading this to forward it to the responsible parties.

31 January 2010

ON BOOKS

Thomas Jefferson once said “I cannot live without books,” and so proceeded to amass a library of over 10,000 volumes. Unfortunately I decided to emulate him, and over the course of my life largely succeeded. Now I find myself trying to divest myself of some of what I accumulated. I intend to keep the ones that are rare and valuable, or that hold some value for me, but dispose of many of the rest. It is the ones that are not that give me the most grief. I find selling them tedious, but in my mind the notion is fixed that every book has some value. if not I want to dispose of it. In reality this is not the case. Some, indeed many, books are clearly worthless insofar as there is no demand for them.

You see this at book and library sales (which I no longer frequent), where on the last day, remaining books, even if they are totally free, have no takers. They probably wouldn’t even make the $1 bargain shelf at most used book stores. These, unfortunately, are declining in number. I hate big chain stores stocked mainly with best sellers and never go to them, but take pleasure in browsing the one-of-a-kind shelves of used bookstores where you never know what you’ll discover. Years back the Isaac Mendoza book store was located around the corner from my office. It was the oldest book store in New York City, and I enjoyed browsing there, but unfortunately the rent was raised and the store went out of business, as have too many others. These are irreplaceable resources simply because they contain so much that is now scarce and out of print. This is partially offset by things like BookFinder on the Internet, where the inventories of thousands of used booksellers can be checked provided you know what you’re looking for. But it still doesn’t compare to a musty old store with classical music playing in the background.

Is all of this obsolete now due to electronic readers and the new Apple IPad? To me they are useless. I can read a pdf on my laptop so what do I need a dedicated reader for? Obviously there is some market for them, but nothing compares to holding a book in you hand and turning the pages. This is especially true of a classic in a well-made edition, which is about all I read (the only new books I read are nonfiction). I think every literate person should devote time to reading the “great books;” they are “great” for a reason, even though “multiculturalism” has removed many from college curricula, that is all the more reason to compensate for the semi-literate education people receive today.