Saturday, April 30, 2016

Anti-Semitism on the Left

I have long hypothesized that President Obama, among his many dubious achievements, has made anti-Semitism respectable again. Surely, his open contempt for the prime minister of Israel sends a message. It’s acceptable to hate Israel, to hate the leader of the Jewish state and to hate Jews.

It’s not for nothing that Obama comes to us from the church of Jeremiah Wright or that Wright is bosom buddies with Louis Farrakhan or that both of them have been trafficking the idea that Jesus was a Palestinian. It was about the company you keep. It still is.

In Obama’s old bailiwick, Harvard Law School a recent incident showed the extent to which the school and even Jewish students—to their everlasting shame- were willing to defend an anti-Semite.

Kevin Williamson has the story:

In the United States, the Harvard Law Record went to some lengths to conceal the identity of a law student who attacked a visiting Israeli dignitary as — in the classic anti-Semitic formulation — “smelly.” That student was Husam El-Qoulaq, a Palestinian leftist. The campus Left has, to no one’s surprise, rallied to his defense. Among those defending him were a number of Jewish law students, who insisted that El-Qoulaq couldn’t possibly have known the anti-Semitic history of “smelly Jew” rhetoric, in spite of his having been reared at the world center of such nonsense.

It almost goes without saying, but if Husam El-Qoulag had uttered the least disparaging word about a transgendered individual, he would have been run off the campus. Had he uttered the least racist slur he would have been expelled. But, when he harassed an Israeli woman in public—note that she was a woman—many at Harvard stood up for him.

If things are bad over here, they are worse in Great Britain. Especially in the British Labor Party. Anti-Semitism has now become coin of the intellectual realm in the Anglophone left.

Writing in Time Magazine Rabbi David Wolpe calls our attention to the current bigotry in the British Labour Party:

The Labour party is enduring a spasm of public anti-Semitism. First MP Naz Shah posted on her Facebook page: “Solution for Israel-Palestine conflict. Relocate Israel into the United States… The transportation costs will be less than 3 years of defence spending.” Shockingly she was then defended by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who said in a dizzying display of spin: “She made remarks … that she doesn’t agree with.”

The public outcry led to her suspension and to an apology. The deeper question is not her retraction but the constituents who, presumably aware of her beliefs, voted her into office in the first place.

 Into the fray steps, or rather goosesteps, the egregious former Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone. He delivered himself of this inaccurate scurrility: “Let’s remember when Hitler won his election in 1932,” he told BBC Radio London. “His policy was then that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews.” Livingstone followed this up byinsisting that it is “over the top” to equate racism and anti-Semitism.

Now, we should not be surprised to see this disease take root in the Labour Party. After all, its leader, Jeremy Corbyn is a rabid anti-Zionist.

Richard Ferrer writes in the International Business Times:

The Labour leader appears to hate Israel and all it stands for. The psychopaths of Hamas seem to be his "friends", and Israel his enemy. He has an unshakable one-eyed view of the Jewish state – refusing even to utter the word "Israel" after being forced to speak at a Friends of Israel fringe meeting at last year's party conference.

Alongside George Galloway and Ken Livingstone, Corbyn is a poster boy for the British anti-Zionism movement. When the Labour Party, in an act of self-slaughter, crowned him leader, the Jew-haters began hovering around to Her Majesty's Opposition like flies to honey.

No one should really be surprised. Those who hate Western civilization, who consider it a criminal conspiracy, who want to repeal the Industrial Revolution and return to the state of nature, who want to fight against capitalism and liberal democracy in the name of a gauzy ideal of social justice, must hate the religion that provided the foundation for the civilization they hate. And they surely must hate the nation that proves, by its successes, that Western values and Western culture have a valid claim to superiority.

Writing in National Review Williamson takes the measure of the newly fashionable anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic sentiment. He addresses the argument that the Israelis stole land that belonged to someone else. He does not accept that Allah deeded Palestine to the Palestinian people for all eternity.

Anyway, Williamson addresses the argument:

It is true that most of the current Jewish population of Israel descends from people who were not precisely sons of the soil they now inhabit. But then, neither are the so-called Palestinians, who are Arabs. Arabs famously come from Arabia, but they are located all over the world. No one talks about the need to get the Arabs out of Egypt or Libya — or Palestine, for that matter — any more than anybody seriously thinks about returning the Americas to the descendants of the aboriginal population, which, of course, wasn’t aboriginal, either, but merely the first to emigrate. The Irish are descended of people not native to Ireland, as indeed ultimately is every population in the world, including those in the African cradle of humanity.

He continues:

And it isn’t because the establishment of Israel is, relatively speaking, fresh in the historical memory, and therefore an open wound. Before the end of World War II, there was no Pakistan, and to the extent that there was an “India,” it was a geographical rather than a political term, much like “Palestine.” There was no independent Ireland until the 1920s and no Republic of Ireland until 1948. There was no People’s Republic of China until 1949. There was no Zimbabwe until 1980, no Czech Republic until 1993, and no modern Democratic Republic of the Congo until 1997. Israel is an ancient state compared with geopolitical newcomers such as the 30-odd countries created since 1990.

So much for the argument that Israel is a special case. Williamson might have added that one Osama bin Laden believed fervently that Andalusia had to be returned to the Moors. We will avoid the argument of who was there first: clearly Jews occupied the land that constitutes Israel well before Islam existed.

In America, today’s anti-Semitism is often couched in terms of an attack on Wall Street. A leading Democratic presidential candidate—who is apparently Jewish—has been railing against Wall Street bankers and has been attracting legions of brainwashed youth.

The Occupy Wall Street movement was tinged with anti-Semitism, sometimes not so well hidden:

For Henry Ford and more than a few on the modern left, the Jews are the international bankers secretly pulling the strings of the global economy. As one widely circulated Occupy video put it: “The smallest group in America controls the money, media, and all other things. The fingerprints belong to the Jewish bankers who control Wall Street. I am against Jews who rob America. They are 1 percent who control America. President Obama is a Jewish puppet. The entire economy is Jewish. Every federal judge [on] the East Coast is Jewish.”

And then there are the culture wars. Following Edward Said, the radical left believes that the Jews are colonialists who are forcing capitalism, liberal democracy and the Industrial Revolution on the noble savages of the Middle East:

For those who learned at the feet of that old fraud Edward Said, the Jews are the colonialists, the European modernists inflicting capitalism and technology upon the noble savages of their imaginations. The Israeli Jews commit the double crime of insisting upon being Jews and refusing to be sacrificial victims. They were okay, in the Left’s estimate, for about five minutes, back when Israel’s future was assumed to be one of low-impact kibbutz socialism. History went in a different direction, and today Israel has one of the world’s most sophisticated economies.

The problem with Israel and the problem with Jews in general, to say nothing of the problem with Western civilization is its success and its achievement. Israel and Jews did not succeed because they were constantly complaining about being oppressed and persecuted. They did not succeed by finding excuses for repeated failures. They put it behind them and got down to work.

Williamson explains it well:

Throw the Jews out of Spain, and they thrive abroad. Send them to the poorest slums in New York, and those slums stop being slums. Keep them out of the Ivy League and watch NYU become a world-class institution inspired by men such as Jonas Salk, son of largely uneducated Polish immigrants. Put the Jewish state in a desert wasteland and watch it bloom, first with produce and then with technology. Israel today has more companies listed on NASDAQ than any other country except the United States and China. The economy under Palestinian management? Olives and handicrafts, and a GDP per capita that barely exceeds that of Sudan.

That is why the Palestinians hate Israel. Its success makes them look like especially miserable failures.

Williamson concludes:

Israel isn’t my country, but it is my country’s ally, and it is impossible for a liberty-loving American to fail to admire what the Jewish state has done.

And that, of course, is why the Left wants to see the Jewish state exterminated.

Vive la France!

Woman arrested in France after she asked police officers to check the purity of her cocaine because 'she didn't want people to die of an overdose'
  • The woman entered the police station and produced three bags of drugs 
  • She asked if the cocaine powder and crack cocaine was pure in quality 
  • The stunned French police officers took her into custody and a court ordered her to attend a hearing in January

Vive la France!

Friday, April 29, 2016

Can Republicans Govern Their Mouths?

Back in the day, back in a time that some of us still remember the Republican Party was the party of self-control, self-discipline, modesty, decorum and propriety. The Democratic Party had gathered all the ill-tempered louts, the obnoxious graduate students, the hippies, the yippies, the campus Red Guards and Brown Shirts, and the Occupy Wall Street protesters.

On the one side was the uber-polite George H. W. Bush. On the other side was an adulterous predator named Bill Clinton. Republicans embodied civic virtues, the values of patriotism and loyalty, while Democrats were self-absorbed, self-indulgent, drug-taking, sexually-liberated narcissists.

People are saying that Donald Trump will attack Hillary Clinton because she enabled her husband’s bad behavior. And yet, the Democrats will almost assuredly, at a time and place of their choosing, offer a one name counterthrust: Dennis Hastert. As you know the Republican former Speaker of the House of Representatives is going off to jail for fifteen months for trying to bribe victims of his child molestation into silence.

So much for the Grand Old Party. So much for the party of political virtue.

Now that the Republican Party seems to have become Donald Trump’s Party, one might say that, if anything, Trump, who recently waxed inelegant about John Kasich’s table manners, did not get to the verge of locking in the Republican presidential nomination by manifesting good manners, decorum or propriety. We are a long way from Ronald Reagan’s eleventh commandment: thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican.

The Donald has been vulgar and repugnant and offensive. He has almost encouraged thuggery. He has insulted his way to the nomination. Rush Limbaugh is becoming joyfully paroxysmic over the thought that Trump is going to attack Hillary Clinton. If Rush imagines that the Clinton machine will not respond in kind, Rush is allowing his emotions to cloud his reason. As I said, think Dennis Hastert.

Now that the Republican Party has plight its troth to Donald Trump, we have the unseemly spectacle of the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, one John Boehner, letting loose, expressing his true feelings, breaking Ronald Reagan’s eleventh commandment by speaking very, very ill of another Republican.

Speaking at Stanford University, the deposed Speaker, a man who was clearly not up to the job, blamed it on Ted Cruz. Calling Cruz “Lucifer in the flesh,” Boehner went on to say that:

I have Democrat friends and Republican friends. I get along with almost everyone, but I have never worked with a more miserable son of a bitch in my life.

As it happens, Boehner golfs with Donald Trump. He exchanges texts with Donald Trump. As the voice of a repudiated Republican establishment, Boehner can live with Donald Trump. He cannot live with Ted Cruz. 

For his part Boehner declared that he would never vote for Ted Cruz. He added that his fellow Ohioan John Kasich is difficult.

Cruz responded that Boehner was channeling his inner Donald Trump, but clearly the Republican establishment hates Cruz because Cruz was instrumental in bringing down Boehner. Now we find that Republican primary voters are voting for Trump because they have been led to believe that he is the anti-establishment candidate. Insiders know that the establishment can live with Trump because Trump does not know enough to cause them very much trouble. Cruz does. They are horrified at the prospect of facing a President Cruz. Things are getting curiouser and curiouser.

And, let’s not forget that Rep. Peter King, normally sane and sensible, said that if Ted Cruz is the nominee he would take cyanide. Now we know the issue in the campaign: Lena Dunham and Rosie O'Donnell leave the country or Peter King kills himself.

King said:

“Maybe he gives Lucifer a bad name by comparing him to Ted Cruz. Listen, what John Boehner was most concerned about was Ted Cruz perpetrated a fraud and a hoax when he brought about the shutdown of the government on some kind of a vague promise that he was gonna be able to take Obamacare out of the budget or to end Obamacare.

Surely, it is possible for grown adult men to have a difference of opinion over tactics. You might think that fighting over Obamacare was a losing proposition, but you might also think that it would have been worth some political points to stand up for a principle and to force an Obama veto.

Forget the arguments. Forget the substantive disagreement over tactics and strategy. Forget it all. These men are allowing their emotions to overthrow their rational faculties. They have certainly commanded the news cycle, but they look like indecorous and disloyal loudmouths. Worse yet, they look like they have no self-discipline

At the least, they are showing that the Republican Party is divided against itself. They are showing that they do not hold to the virtue of party loyalty and do not know how to control their mouths. If you cannot govern your mouth how can anyone entrust you with governing the country.

As I said, in the bad old days, Republicans had some manners. They did not speak ill about their fellow Republicans. They did not divide the party over issues of personal pique. They did not try to destroy each other.

The least we can say is that the Grand Old Party has not been doing very well in the polls. Its reputation has declined markedly over the past several months. Politicians might not care about it, but we should not ignore these new polls, reported by Eric Levitz in New York Magazine:

Back in October, Pew found 37 percent of the country viewed the GOP favorably, while 58 percent saw it in a negative light. Today, those numbers are 33 and 62, respectively. That downturn is driven almost entirely by Republicans souring on their own party: In the current poll, 68 percent of red America views the GOP favorably, down from 79 percent last fall.

Trump is doubtlessly responsible for much of that dip. The GOP front-runner has alienated Republicans who don’t like menstruation jokes and anti-trade populism, while simultaneously encouraging those who do like those things to see the party as a corrupt institution hell-bent on defying their will.  

Meanwhile, 61 percent of Hispanics and 79 percent of African-Americans have a negative view of the Party of Lincoln, while majorities in both groups approve of Democrats. Even white people are losing their taste for elephant, with 58 percent giving the GOP a thumbs-down. The party’s friendliest audience is whites without college degrees — and 52 percent of them don’t like Republicans.

It doesn’t seem like a formula for victory, but, what do I know. The Republicans still have Hillary to unify them, and the populace does not much like the Democrats either:

America isn’t crazy about Democrats either. Half of the country views Team Blue unfavorably, while 45 percent approve. And a full quarter of the American public says, “A pox on both their houses.”

Still, Republicans are in a much worse place than their friends across the aisle. The last time 62 percent of the country disliked the GOP was 1992. Oddly enough, that was also the last time a (non-incumbent) Democrat named Clinton won the White House.

Or else, as Ross Douthat puts it:

No Republican (or Democratic) primary in generations has produced a nominee with anything like Trump’s unfavorable ratings or long general-election odds, and you would think the combination of eight years of Obama and the hated Hillary waiting in the wings would have concentrated voters’ minds on that, ah, problematic aspect of Trump’s candidacy.

But, he continues, most Republicans, following the lead of Rush Limbaugh, have now convinced themselves that Trump is the most electable candidate.
Douthat addresses the argument, proposed by Will Rahn, that Trump has a good chance to win because his policies are moderate and non-ideological. If the American electorate is fed up with ideologues, he might be just the antidote.

Rahn wrote:

Hillary’s weak points aside, Trump also has one main advantage, which is that he’d be probably the most moderate nominee in decades. Now, Trump is not normally what we think of when we think of moderates – “reactionary moderate” is perhaps the best term to describe him. But border walls and Muslim bans aside, Trump really most closely resembles an old-school northeastern centrist Republican.

Trump likes the welfare state. He’s made protecting entitlements central to his pitch. It’s safe to say that he’s likely, at heart, socially liberal — the story of how he became anti-abortion, for example, doesn’t make a great deal of sense. … And given the milieu he’s always existed in, it’s hard to believe he really opposes gay marriage, either.

Rahn added that Trump has done well to avoid taking positions on policy issues, because that gives him more flexibility. But, we do not know whether Trump can stand up in an extended one-on-one debate over policy and history.

Of course, many Republicans believe that nominating a moderate candidate is a very bad idea. That being the caveat, we note Douthat’s point, namely that many people who hold moderate viewpoints will not vote for Trump because they viscerally do not like Trump, as a human being. As you know, we do not vote for ideas; we vote for people. And we rarely vote for people we do not respect and do not like:

… this logic lacks the cultural imagination required to see that Trump’s positions won’t get a hearing with groups that might find them appealing otherwise, precisely because they’re associated with, well, Donald Trump himself.

Are there Hispanic swing voters who would vote for a Republican who promised to protect entitlements and avoid messy foreign wars? Sure. Are there upper-middle-class white women who would vote for a Republican who seemed to be friendly to gay rights and favorably disposed to Planned Parenthood? No doubt. Are there African-American voters who would support a candidate who wants to renegotiate trade deals, limit low-skilled immigration and spend more money on U.S. infrastructure? I’m certain there are.

But will any of these constituencies vote for Donald Trump? For Trump the rank misogynist, Trump the KKK-flirter, Trump the deport-the-Mexican-rapists candidate? If you read seven of Trump’s positions to the median Hispanic voter, they might agree with five or six of them … but Trump’s favorability/unfavorability ratings with Hispanics are 12/77. If you go back to last August, before the campaign began, Trump had a 20 percent favorable rating with African-Americans; by Republican standards that’s not terrible. Six months of race-baiting later, he’s winning 5 percent of the black vote against Hillary Clinton. And women … well, he’s losing women, let’s put it that way, on a scale that no Republican nominee ever has before.

Good luck with all that.  

Thursday, April 28, 2016

"Make America Solvent Again"

Are we all just whistling past the graveyard? Could it be that America’s real problem is insolvency? In this Sunday’s New York Times, President Obama will proclaim that the economic recovery he engineered is the greatest the world has ever seen—or something close to it. But, we also know that he, with the help of the Federal Reserve, has driven the nation deeper into insolvency.

So says James Grant in a recent cover article from Time Magazine. Before you guffaw at the notion of taking Time Magazine seriously, I would point out that Grant, the proprietor of a newsletter called Grant’s Interest Rate Observer, is very highly respected by the sages of Wall Street. They read him religiously.

To be fair and balanced, Paul Krugman derides Grant’s views, because Krugman believes dogmatically that government spending is good… unless something goes wrong, in which case the problem lies with the Republican Party. For Krugman there seems to be no such thing as too much spending. If he understood a certain subgenre of Victorian fiction he would know that he is saying that there is no such thing as too much sex.

We do better to recall that somewhere around 2006-2007 Grant declared that mortgage backed securities were a disaster waiting to happen. How did that one work out?

So, Grant has earned his good reputation. Moreover, the laws of contrary opinion—in this case the fact that his views elicited derision and yawns—tell us that he is on to something.

The system might not come crashing down within the next six months—after all, the Federal Reserve Board is chock full of Democrats and they will print as much money as they can to keep the government afloat as long as Obama is in charge. But, if Grant is right, at some point it will come crashing down. Given today’s Federal Reserve it will happen when Republicans can be blamed for it.

Were he a candidate for public office, Grant would be running on the idea of: Make America Solvent Again. By his lights solvency is a good thing and debt is a bad thing. You probably know this already from personal experience.

Debt is a worse thing when you lose your line of credit and you cannot borrow enough to fund your operations. For now, Grant says, the government does not have this problem because the Federal Reserve prints money and buys the debt—that is, it loans money to the government—but the situation, he says, is unsustainable in the long term. By increasing the demand for government debt and drives down interest rates.

If you had a counterfeiting machine in your basement and if you were allowed to pay off your debts with counterfeit dollars and keep borrowing, to your heart’s content. Tell me that that would not make you happy… and irresponsible.

And yes, some have suggested that if the government cannot borrow at reasonable rates, it is preparing a countermove. It will force everyone who has a retirement account to invest in government bonds, thus, to lend the money to the government. I don’t think it’s too alarmist to consider this eventuality. It will be proposed as a way to help retirement savers to avoid losing money.

You probably know by now that I am anything but an expert in these matters. I barely have the competence required to write a blog post about them. I will try to present Grant’s views, because if the readers of Time Magazine can understand them, then presumably I can too.

Here is Grant’s opening gambit:

This much I have learned about debt after 40 years of writing and study: It is better not to incur it. Once it is incurred, it is better to pay it off. America, we have a problem.

We owe more than we can easily repay. We spend too much and borrow too much. Worse, we promise too much. We conjure dollar bills by the trillions–pull them right out of thin air. I won’t insist that this can’t go on, because it has. I only say that it will eventually stop.

I don’t know the date, but I believe that I know the reason. It will stop when the world loses confidence in the dollars we owe. Come that moment of truth, the nation will resemble Chicago, a once prosperous polity now trying to persuade its once trusting creditors that it is actually solvent.

He continues:

To understand our financial fix, put yourself in the position of the government. Say you earn the typical American family income, and you spend and borrow as the government does. So assuming, you would earn $54,000 a year, spend $64,000 a year and charge $10,000 to your already slightly overburdened credit card. I say slightly overburdened–your outstanding balance is about $223,000.

Of course, MasterCard wouldn’t allow you to run up that kind of tab. At an annual percentage rate of 15%, the cost to service a $223,000 balance would absorb 62% of your pretax income. But the government is different from you and me (and Chicago). It has a central bank.

The Federal Reserve is the government’s Monopoly-money machine. It sets some interest rates and influences many others. It materializes dollars. It regulates–now regiments–the nation’s banks. It pulls levers to make the stock market go up.

It’s one thing to pay your debts at a 15% rate. It’s quite another to pay them off at a 1.8% rate… as our government, thanks to the Federal Reserve, does. You can comfortably borrow much more money and have the same monthly payment. If perchance the Fed loses control of the bond market and interest rates begin to rise in earnest, well, you can see that that would pose something of a problem.

Grant continues that we used to have a gold standard, which means that the government had to live within its means. Now, successive presidents have detached the currency from any tangible store of value. This has allowed them to borrow and spend as much as they want, seemingly without having to pay any price, political or economic. Obama might be the champion of profligate spending, but he is certainly not the first president to do so.

Grant explains:

Easy money rarely fails to please–at first. It buoys stocks, bonds and commercial real estate. House prices jump, and car sales zoom. (Average auto-lending rates, now 4%, have been nearly sawed in half since 2007.) Politicians, noticing how a bull market fattens public pension funds, ratchet up the benefits they promise to retirees (a fact that state and federal pensioners are encouraged to remember on Election Day).

Periodically, the buzz wears off. What remains is a hangover of debts and promises. The proliferating dollars facilitate heavy borrowing. Ultra-low interest rates mask the cost.

Now, all of this free floating money tends to enrich bankers. And the bankers lend it out to make more money. But, what happens, as happened in 2008, when the borrowers can no longer service their debt and the banks suddenly find themselves facing their own insolvency. Well, they go to the government and get bailed out. Of course, the government could have allowed the banks to go bust, but the money the banks wrote off would, after all, be someone’s savings. And a bank that had no money to lend out would seriously crimp economic activity.

If you have $100,000 cash on hand and you want to build a building you can spend exactly that amount. But if you have $100,000 cash on hand and $900,000 in a line of credit at the bank, you can build a bigger building, make a bigger profit, hire more people and contribute more seriously to economic growth. Without bank lending the economy stagnates. Just examine those cultures that refuse to allow money to be loaned out at interest. See how vital their economies have been.

If you are building a building on credit, the cost of money counts as an expense. If you are paying off your line of credit at 2%, you will be paying much less than if you are paying it off at 6%. Thus you will be able to charge a lower price for the condos. Low interest rates mean lower costs, more jobs for everyone and easier sales. Higher interest rates mean the opposite.

In any event, the federal government does not, apparently, play by the same rules. It does not need to balance its budget. It creates the dollars itself, so it declares that they are not legitimate currency. For now, everyone seems to be happy to go along with the game, but, Grant cautions, at some point people might decide that those dollars are not worth the paper they are printed on.

Grant continues to tell the tale of woe:

Maybe you had a taste of modern economics in school. If so, you probably learned that the federal budget needn’t be balanced–it’s nothing like a family budget, the teacher would say–and that gold is a barbarous relic. To manage the business cycle, the argument went, a government must have the flexibility to print money, to muscle around interest rates and to spend more than it takes in–in short, to “stimulate.”

Oh, we have stimulated. Between the fiscal years 2008 and 2012 alone, federal deficits totaled $5.6 trillion. The public debt nearly doubled in the same span of years, to $11.2 trillion. The Federal Reserve tickled $1.6 trillion in new digital dollars into existence. True, our Great Recession proved no Great Depression, but the post-2008 recovery is the limpest on record.

It matters more because no one has noticed it, but the current recovery seems almost entirely to have been built on increasing the debt. And keeping interest rates low through the intervention of the Federal Reserve.

When the time comes to sell the building that has been built on this credit expansion, there will be a reckoning. One understands that if you build the building and cannot sell it right away you can roll over or refinance your debt. This assumes that you have enough capital to make the monthly payments. If you cannot, you can go broke and stiff the bank. It all depends on the interest rate you will be paying. If you are the government, presumably you can do it forever, or, as long as you can set the interest rate..

So we have led to believe. James Grant tells us that it is not true.

The public debt will fall due someday. (Some of it falls due just about every day.) It will have to be repaid or refinanced. If repaid, where would the money come from? It would come from you, naturally. The debt is ultimately a deferred tax.

But, what happens to the federal budget when interest rates rise? Grant has the numbers:

In the short term, the debt would no doubt be refinanced, but at which interest rate? At 4.8%, the rate prevailing as recently as 2007, the government would pay more in interest expense–$654 billion–than it does for national defense. At a blended rate of 6.7%, the average prevailing in the 1990s, the net federal-interest bill would reach $913 billion, which very nearly equals this year’s projected outlay on Social Security.

Grant has been a consistent proponent for a return to the gold standard and a return to living within our means. You might have noted that gold—the barbarous relic-- and silver are having a very good year thus far.

Grant also likes the idea of a flat tax. He recommends that, instead of having the government take its tax money out of your paycheck before you see it, you get it all and pay the taxes yourself. This means, of course, that you see with your own eyes how much money the government is taking from you. At which point you might feel more responsible about allowing it to spend money as though there were no tomorrow.

Of course, the project is slightly unrealistic. Most people would spend the money before their taxes came due and would have to go into debt to pay off the IRS. But, perhaps it will be a good learning experience.

And yet, one should take James Grant seriously. He might sound like a lone voice crying in the wilderness, but in the financial world and in the bond market and in the Bible that is the voice that is most often prophetic:

I propose a slight alteration in payday policy. Let each wage-earning citizen hold the whole of his or her untaxed earnings–actually touch them. Then let the government pluck its taxes.

“Such a payroll policy,” wrote Kellems in her memoir, Taxes, Toil and Trouble, “is entirely legal and if it were universally adopted, in six months we would have either a tax revolution or a startling contraction of the budget!”

Black ink, sound money and the spirit of Vivien Kellems are the way forward. “Make America solvent again” is my credo and battle cry. You can fit it on a cap.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

When Women Can't Compete

One day a light-headed public official got the idea that there is no significant or relevant different between men and women. So, he mandated that women must be allowed to fight alongside men in the infantry.

Call it the tyranny of an idea, a manifest failure to differentiate equality from sameness. but contemporary feminism has imposed its views on the culture at large… to the point where you almost put your life in danger if you dispute the point.

If women warriors are incapable of completing the same basic training as men, the solution is obvious. Culture warriors take the results as de facto proof that the training itself is sexist. Thus, standards must be lowered so that women can compete.

But, what happens to military units when they are forced to accept members who cannot compete at the same level as men? Surely, it undermines group cohesion. If the person next to you is appreciably weaker and has been admitted to the unit by different standards you are going to be thinking, in the back of your mind, that you must protect her. And that thought will distract you from the task of fighting the enemy.

And then you might ask yourself, if she did not earn her way into the unit, is she there to serve another purpose?

Same-sex groups do not function like coed groups. It ought to be obvious, but making a group coed changes the group dynamic, changes what may and may not be discussed, changes the meaning of different gestures.

A Princeton professor who was the lead parent for his children like to take them to the park. There he discovered that the mothers did not much want him around. They did not want to damage their group by introducing an alien element. Nowadays, as the profession of psychotherapy becomes more female dominant, and as more and more men avoid it, the women in charge do not want very many men around.

And yet, when a male group prefers to remain a male group, its members are denounced and even sued for discriminating.

How do men’s groups resist the feminist onslaught? How do they protect their domain against those who are so enamored of the ideal of equality that they want everyone to accept their own distortion of reality?

You know the answer: in the world of work men work very long hours, they work endless hours, to the point where precious few women have any interest in keeping up. Women prefer career paths that give them the time to make homes for their families and to care for their children; men prefer career paths that are more grueling, more of a test, more competitive… and involving very long hours.

Derek Thompson calls it a values gap. Members of different sexes tend to have different priorities. But, do they not have the right to determine their own values? This feels like reality biting back at the ideologues; the ideologues take serious offense at it. Note well: when Thompson says that American men are obsessed, he is saying that they are suffering from a mental illness. If only they can get a tune up from one of our nation's more motherly feminist therapists everything will be fine.

Thompson writes:

Students’ values shape their majors and their jobs. Those who want to make a lot of money (on average, more men) are more likely to major in economics or business; men are more than 50 percent more likely than women to major in economics at every Ivy League university. Those who prize flexibility and accept lower pay (on average, more women) are more likely to be in the humanities. When Wiswall and Zafar followed up several years later, they discovered that college values predict first jobs: “Students with strong preferences for flexible hours and distaste for hours” were more likely to be in jobs with flexible hours and fewer hours.

Despite the best efforts of feminists and other agents of indoctrination, men still continue to gravitate toward jobs that are more competitive and more demanding. They are born to compete for status, and this has obvious consequences in marriages. The ideal of the egalitarian marriage rarely survives its confrontation with reality.

Thompson writes:

When Harvard Business School surveyed 25,000 of its male and female graduates, it found that high-achieving women failed to meet their career goals. At graduation, most women said they expected “egalitarian” marriages, where both spouses’ careers were taken equally seriously, but several years later, more women had deferred their husbands’ careers. This study, and others, suggest that while married couples often make work-and-home decisions as a unit, the cultural expectation that men be the top providers proves to be an insurmountable force, even (or especially) among the best educated households.

Without our ideological blinders we would probably not be worrying our delicate minds about this issue. Men and woman are different. They function differently.  They have different priorities. Efforts by investment bankers to force men to work less have generally failed.

The New York Post reports on the phenomenon:

Investment bankers aren’t the only ambitious New Yorkers pushing themselves to the brink with intense hours. Law-firm partners, chief executives, physicians and even chefs work considerably longer hours than the US Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2014 national average of 7.8 hours per workday.

“[These people] won’t drop their work,” [career coach Roy] Cohen adds. “These folks are hard-wired to compete and work without limits. They also know that if they drop the ball, there are dozens of others eager to retrieve it.”

If men are hard-wired to compete, if competing is in their nature, why have these companies decided to go to war against nature?

Naturally, the cultural warriors have set their sights on these men. Social psychologists have produced research studies proving that too much work is bad for these men, that it makes them less productive. Besides, other men in other nations do not work such long hours. And they are happier.

We are happy to be judged by some kind of happiness quotient, but the proof lies in how much the economy is growing or not. When it comes to military units the proof lies in victory, not in gender equity or work/life balance.

Of course, one must take these ideologically-driven studies with more than a few grains of salt. Another recent study supposedly proved that fathers bond with their children just as well as mothers, a fiction that is belied by the most elementary observation of mothers and fathers with infants.

Apparently, the study wanted to prove that there is no such thing as a maternal instinct and therefore that if Mr. Mom is bringing up a child, the child will have lost nothing. Of course, if both Mr. Dad and Mr. Mom have careers, then both will be consigning themselves to a certain level of mediocrity.

It’s always interesting to see mindless ideologues attempting to use their pseudo-science to re-invent human nature. Apparently, they believe that God got it wrong. Or else, if you prefer, that evolution went awry.

One day someone will decide that the problem can only be solved if men are forced to work less, if they are simply deprived of their freedom to work longer hours.

If investment bankers in New York decide to slack off, others will take up the slack. The business might go elsewhere, perhaps to a place where men have better work/life balance and do inferior work. It might also go to a place where everyone is not being assaulted by the feminist thought police.

Besides, the next time we are fighting a war we can now, thanks to the latest academic research, send out battalions of female foot soldiers led by lawyers from the ACLU. The experts will have produced studies assuring us that we will not be compromising readiness or combat effectiveness.

And, if that doesn’t work, we can send in Katniss Everdeen with her bow and arrow. That will strike fear in the hearts of our enemies.

The Nation's Report Card: F

The news from the National Assessment of Educational Progress is not good. Even though high school seniors are more likely to graduate and are more likely to go to college, they are not prepared to do college work. The Nation’s Report Card shows too many students getting a failing grade. By implication, the nation, the academic establishment and the culture are failing too. Nevertheless,, they give the children passing grades and hand the problem off to others.

Only 37% of American 12th-graders were academically prepared for college math and reading in 2015, a slight dip from two years earlier, according to test scores released Wednesday.

42% of these students will enter college. Many are unprepared and will require remedial work. In most cases, it will not be enough. 

One adds that the tests were administered to children in private and public schools. You can imagine what the score would have been if only public school students had been tested.

The Journal continues:

Educators and policy makers have long lamented that many seniors get diplomas even though they aren’t ready for college, careers or the military. Those who go to college often burn through financial aid or build debt while taking remedial classes that don’t earn credits toward a degree.

Bill Bushaw, executive director of the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees the test, said the board was pleased that high school graduation rates were rising, but disappointed in the lack of progress in boosting students’ skills and knowledge.

“These numbers aren’t going the way we want,” he said. “We just have to redouble our efforts to prepare our students to close opportunity gaps.”

As has happened in the nation’s economic life, the best did better and the worst did worst. Students at the bottom of the socioeconomical ladder dragged down the scores for everyone.

The biggest problems came at the bottom, with growth in the share of students deemed “below basic” in their abilities. In math, 38% of students were in that group in 2015, compared with 35% two years earlier. In reading, 28% of students were “below basic,” compared with 25%.

Strange to say, part of the problem seems to be that there are fewer dropouts. If underachieving students do not drop out when they are 16 they reduce the percentages.

We are not surprised to see Asian students leading the pack in these tests:

In reading, 49% of Asian students performed at or above proficiency last year. So did 46% of white students, 25% of Hispanic students and 17% of black students.

In math, the average score of 152 out of 300 points was one point lower than in 2013. A significant drop in math scores was seen among students whose parents didn’t finish high school.

“In math, the decline is real,” Ms. Carr said. “Students at the lower end are getting worse.”

English-language learners fared better than previously, she said, mostly because of gains among Asian students.

In math, 47% of Asian students performed at or above proficiency. So did 32% of white students, 12% of Hispanic students and 7% of black students.

Of course, if you do not know what the problem is you are very unlikely to fix it. While the Age of Obama might have provided some pride to minority students, clearly this did not have any influence on their test scores. If the message of the Obama presidency was that the president was going to take care of them and that they did not need to work very hard, then this did not do anyone any good.

And one is intrigued by the correlation between the evident inequality in these test scores and the increasing economic inequality gap.

What caused the problem in minority communities? Obviously, broken homes and unstable families contributed mightily to it. But we must also add that the Asian students who did so much better than everyone else were more likely to have Tiger Moms. One suspects that they also had more stable communities.

We know that Asian culture is routinely derided because it supposedly produces more mental illness and suicide. And, these Asian children are such grinds that they are missing out on all the fun. Yet, the Tiger Moms do shield their children from the pathogens that are freely floating through American culture. It ought to give us pause.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

"Girls, Wake Up"

Camille Paglia seems to have given a lot of interviews lately. I find her views on current cultural matters to be of great value, mostly because I agree with her. Strangely, she is a notable leftist, yet, she is far more sensible than most of those who inhabit the radical, academic and cultural left today. Then again, Paglia has never belonged to the academic elite, that is, to the Ivy League.

Speaking about today’s college students and their crusade to produce an ideal culture, Paglia points out that they are fiddling while Rome burns. Barbarians are at the gates and young people today are out having a party. They are involved in late stage sexual decadence.

It is worth mentioning, as a commenter on this blog pointed out recently, but Paglia has often promoted the raw sexual energy of youth, especially of performers like Madonna. On that score, she is hardly alone. Yet, with age comes wisdom and Paglia has, like many of us, come to see the larger context.

She says:

They [college students] have no sense of the great patterns of world history, the rise and fall of civilisations like Babylon and Rome that became very sexually tolerant, and then fell. If you’ve had no exposure to that, you can honestly believe that ‘There is progress all around us and we are moving to an ideal state of culture, where we all hold hands and everyone is accepted for what they are … and the environment will be pure…’ – a magical utopian view that we are marching to perfection. And the sign of this progress is toleration – of the educated class – for homosexuality, or for changing gender, or whatever. –

“To me it’s a sign of the opposite, it’s symptomatic of a civilisation just before it falls: ‘we’ are very tolerant, not passionate, but there are bands of vandals and destroyers circling around the edge of our civilisation who will bring it down.

These students have no sense that a war is going on. They are not ready to fight and they are not ready to compete. They are indulging what I would call a perpetual state of therapy.

In Paglia’s words:

This hyper-self-consciousness about ‘Who am I? Where exactly am I on the gender spectrum?’ is mere navel-gazing, while in the Middle East ISIS is beheading people. It is a kind of madness of self-absorption.”

The current fevered debates over transgendered restrooms reflect the dissolution… not only of behavioral norms but of mental acuity.  Paglia makes an important point here, one that has rarely been pointed out, namely, that the public debate over choosing one’s gender identity is influencing many confused and disturbed young people to become convinced that they are transgendered, thus that God made a mistake. It is producing more of these cases, not solving them.

I refer everyone to Ethan Watters’ fine book, Crazy Like Us, in which he demonstrates how media attention and concern about certain mental health issues tends to produce epidemics of the same issues.

Paglia also mentions the fact that young people, sometimes children, are being shot up with hormones in order to reverse puberty. The fact that children should never be allowed to make such choices is bad enough. It is obviously a form of mutilation. People are going beserk over the fact that some states will not allow Tom or Dick to use the ladies’ room, but no one has any objection to chemically mutilating children. Paglia also notes, wisely, that we do not even know the long term effects of these and other hormone treatments.

Paglia says this:

“I really pity young people today in this environment because the pressures are enormous. It’s one thing to feel, ‘I’m not quite comfortable in the gender I was assigned at birth,’ but the pressures are to change, change, change, and to telegraph it to the world. People are pushed into making choices about surgical interventions and taking hormones, which is dangerous, and they will have all kinds of medical problems in the long run, I believe…

“I think there are authentic transgender people who had a genetic issue from the start, but they are a tiny, tiny minority of the population, and medical science is still developing to help these people.

“But now it’s become a fashion statement, or a mask [for other problems]. People are being induced to think that all their unhappiness -- in family life, in school, in relation to society – is to do with this gender issue. Well, maybe it isn’t. Maybe there are other issues a person needs to deal with.

“In the old days there were different kinds of guidance to help you focus and develop yourself psychologically, spiritually, culturally. Instead, now, all the unhappiness that people feel in these areas is consolidated in the gender issue. Maybe there is a gender issue for you, but it’s not the whole issue.”

As for the current firestorm about rape culture, Paglia takes a stand against the typical feminist distortion of the issue. She wants girls to take some responsibility for their own behavior and to recognize that their needs and boys’ needs are not the same. Why we should need a renegade leftist intellectual to explain this to campus rabble rousers is beyond me, but since we have gotten to the point where college girls are being pimped out by their feminist teachers, someone had to say something:

“How can [a girl] be so stupid”, says Paglia, as to accept an invitation from a boy at a fraternity party to ‘come to my room’ and not know that he means ‘come and have sex’?

“She doesn’t want sex with strangers. Girls don’t want hook-ups, they want boyfriends ; the boys just want hook-ups. But in gender studies they are told that everything is exactly equal between boys and girls, and if boys are behaving badly they have to learn to be more like girls; they have to talk like girls, act like girls – and if you don’t, you are sexist. At the heart of this is a lack of respect for sexual differences … and I’m saying, Girls, wake up!”

Monday, April 25, 2016

America Has Become More Depressed and More Suicidal

Seven years of Barack Obama’s bright and cheery optimism and America is suffering from despair. The president and his flunkies assure us that things are great. The economy has recovered; unemployment is low; the stock market is high; everyone has health insurance; black lives matter; white privilege has been diminished; we have declared war on climate change.

No one much cares about winning wars. We now care that the military is politically correct. No one much cares about growing the economy. We now care about social justice. We are not debating tax policy. We are mired in a public discussion about transgendered restrooms.

For those who believe the goals are not incompatible, the evidence says otherwise.

However good the Obamaphile media thinks the country is doing, a closer look at the American psyche tells a different story. Suicide rates have not quite reached 1932 levels but they have been going up.

For most of America the Obama recovery has been a mirage. The rich have gotten richer while the rest have languished. The middle class has been hit the hardest. More and more people have fallen out of the middle class and are just scraping by… if that.

The good economic news seems more to have been produced by the Federal Reserve. Moneyprinting has enriched a precious few while economic policy has left the rest behind.

In a self-pitying essay for The Atlantic Neal Gabler recently described his own financial problems. Perhaps it’s a symptom of our times that writers are obliged to write about their penurious circumstances and their financial mismanagement, but one would have preferred that he had been more discreet. To be fair, more discreet means fewer readers and lower fees. In our culture, exhibitionism pays. Surely, this fact contributes to the general despondency.

Americans are living through a period of economic decline. Beyond the misery lie the statistics. The one that stands out, to Gabler and to us is this: How many Americans have enough emergency funds on hand to pay for an unexpected $400 expense?

The response amazes:

The Fed asked respondents how they would pay for a $400 emergency. The answer: 47 percent of respondents said that either they would cover the expense by borrowing or selling something, or they would not be able to come up with the $400 at all. Four hundred dollars! Who knew?

A once great nation has been brought low by electing the wrong politicians. Never let anyone tell you that the Obama administration has not been transformative. It has just transformed the nation for the worst. It looks good on the outside, but the façade covers up a rotting interior.

With the economic decline Americans have also suffered a loss of self-respect. Or is it vice versa. When the president and the first lady do not have pride in their country—or better when they believe that the only reason to have any pride lies in the fact that the country put them in the White House—everyone else will lose pride, lose confidence, lose their optimism and fall into despondency and hopelessness.

Peggy Noonan describes what a political operative found when he was walking through a New Hampshire neighborhood trying to collect votes for Jeb Bush:

Out door-knocking for Jeb Bush, “I was struck as I walked along a neighborhood using the app that described the voters in each house. So many multigenerational families of odd collections of ages in houses with missing roof shingles or shutters askew or paint peeling. Cars needing repair.”

What was the story inside those houses? Unemployment, he thought, elder care, divorce, custody battles. “It was easy to see a collective loss of hope in a once-thriving town.” He sensed “years of neglect and sadness. Something is brewing.”

It’s not just the economic loss. Many Americans feel that they have fallen down and do not know how to get up again. Or better, they do not think that they will ever get up again. Within three generations the greatest and most dynamic nation in the world has been rendered weak and ineffectual, humiliated on the world stage, led by a man who does not believe in America. When you elect Jeremiah Wright’s protégé, what do you expect?

Moreover, Noonan’ observes that Americans are suffering from broken homes and families, from broken communities. They no longer know who they are and where they belong. All the talk about being a fully-actualized individual has produced a nation where more and more people feel alone and isolated, cut off from their social moorings. This has led to more despair and more suicides.

The New York Times offers an interesting report:

Suicide in the United States has surged to the highest levels in nearly 30 years, a federal data analysis has found, with increases in every age group except older adults. The rise was particularly steep for women. It was also substantial among middle-aged Americans, sending a signal of deep anguish from a group whose suicide rates had been stable or falling since the 1950s.

The suicide rate for middle-aged women, ages 45 to 64, jumped by 63 percent over the period of the study, while it rose by 43 percent for men in that age range, the sharpest increase for males of any age. The overall suicide rate rose by 24 percent from 1999 to 2014, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, which released the study on Friday.

The increases were so widespread that they lifted the nation’s suicide rate to 13 per 100,000 people, the highest since 1986. The rate rose by 2 percent a year starting in 2006, double the annual rise in the earlier period of the study. In all, 42,773 people died from suicide in 2014, compared with 29,199 in 1999.

Middle aged women had been told that they did not need a man and did not need a marriage. All they needed was career success. How did that work out? Young white women, we learn, are becoming more suicidal. The situation for teenaged girls—the sexting generation, a generation that has been spoon-fed feminism--  was not very encouraging, either:

Researchers also found an alarming increase among girls 10 to 14, whose suicide rate, while still very low, had tripled. The number of girls who killed themselves rose to 150 in 2014 from 50 in 1999. “This one certainly jumped out,” said Sally Curtin, a statistician at the center and an author of the report.

The white lower middle class has suffered the most. Told that their accomplishments counted for nothing, they began to die off sooner. They were told that they has gamed the system by profiting from white privilege and that they needed to be knocked down a peg, the better to give everyone else a chance. They were told that there is nothing special about America and that there was nothing exceptional about the nation they worked to build and to defend. Bereft of their pride, they are living in hopelessness and misery:

 Recent research has highlighted the plight of less educated whites, showing surges in deaths from drug overdoses, suicides, liver disease and alcohol poisoning, particularly among those with a high school education or less. The new report did not break down suicide rates by education, but researchers who reviewed the analysis said the patterns in age and race were consistent with that recent research and painted a picture of desperation for many in American society.

The federal health agency’s last major report on suicide, released in 2013, noted a sharp increase in suicide among 35- to 64-year-olds. But the rates have risen even more since then — up by 7 percent for the entire population since 2010, the end of the last study period — and federal researchers said they issued the new report to draw attention to the issue.

Psychiatrists believe that the solution is more psychiatric treatment. Surely, there is some truth in the proposition. And yet, the problem is also political and sociological. Even the best medication is unlikely to heal this condition.

The Times analyzes the social aspect of the problem, the social isolation and the anomie:

Julie Phillips, a professor of sociology at Rutgers who has studied suicide among middle-aged Americans, said social changes could be raising the risks. Marriage rates have declined, particularly among less educated Americans, while divorce rates have risen, leading to increased social isolation, she said. She calculated that in 2005, unmarried middle-aged men were 3.5 times more likely than married men to die from suicide, and their female counterparts were as much as 2.8 times more likely to kill themselves. The divorce rate has doubled for middle-aged and older adults since the 1990s, she said.

Disappointed expectations of social and economic well-being among less educated white men from the baby-boom generation may also be playing a role, she said. They grew up in an era that valued “masculinity and self-reliance” — characteristics that could get in the way of asking for help.

“It appears this group isn’t seeking help but rather turning to self-destructive means of dealing with their despair,” Professor Phillips said.

Another possible explanation: an economy that has eaten away at the prospects of families on the lower rungs of the income ladder.