Sunday, August 29, 2010

Illinois Pension Liability Worst In Nation

In order to wake up my progressive friends who don't realize that excessive spending and entitlements are driving us to the brink of economic ruin, I have been forced to turn to a liberal source: the Huffington Post.

Illinois' Pension Liability Worst In Nation, Could Sink State Economy

02-18-10 02:17 PM

A new report by the Pew Center on the States shows Illinois facing the largest unfunded pension liability in the country.

Nationwide, 84 percent of pension liabilities for state employees are funded--that is, states have set aside 84 percent of the money they've promised their retirees. This, the report says, is good news; anything above 80 percent is considered responsible by economists.

As of 2008, Illinois' pension liability was only 54 percent funded, the worst figure in the nation. And new estimates put that figure below 50 percent.

Part of the problem is that, under indicted ex-governor Rod Blagojevich, Illinois borrowed against the money it expected to earn from its pension fund. But the recession has undercut those earnings; the fund now earns 3.8 percent, as opposed to the anticipated 8.5 percent.

The state has resorted to borrowing and accounting tricks to duck its obligations, the report says. But Pew Center managing director Susan Urahn warns that the mounting liabilities "could have significant consequences -- higher taxes, less money for public services and lower state bond ratings."

Though it is worst in the nation, Illinois is hardly alone. Only two states, New York and Florida, had fully funded pension liabilities; 19 states were listed by the report as meriting "serious concern" in the area.

A new report by the Pew Center on the States shows Illinois facing the largest unfunded pension liability in the country.

Nationwide, 84 percent of pension liabilities for state employees are funded--that is, states have set aside 84 percent of the money they've promised their retirees. This, the report says, is good news; anything above 80 percent is considered responsible by economists.

As of 2008, Illinois' pension liability was only 54 percent funded, the worst figure in the nation. And new estimates put that figure below 50 percent.

Part of the problem is that, under indicted ex-governor Rod Blagojevich, Illinois borrowed against the money it expected to earn from its pension fund. But the recession has undercut those earnings; the fund now earns 3.8 percent, as opposed to the anticipated 8.5 percent.

The state has resorted to borrowing and accounting tricks to duck its obligations, the report says. But Pew Center managing director Susan Urahn warns that the mounting liabilities "could have significant consequences -- higher taxes, less money for public services and lower state bond ratings."

Though it is worst in the nation, Illinois is hardly alone. Only two states, New York and Florida, had fully funded pension liabilities; 19 states were listed by the report as meriting "serious concern" in the area.

Public Sector Unions and State Debt

For those who take 5 minutes to look at the numbers, there is a clear and disturbing connection between public unions and state government debt.

Public sector unions and state debt go hand in hand


Online Opinion Editor


There are hundreds of reasons why states accrue debt. In some cases, it has to do with special programs they pursue. (See RomneyCare.) In others, it has to do with their method of taxation.
But the states with the highest per-capita debt all have something in common: Robust public-sector unions that have, over the years, cut sweetheart deals with politicians -- usually, but not always, Democrats.

In the graph below, each blue square represents a state (some are labeled), plotted by its per-capita debt and the percentage of state and municipal workers in public sector unions.

The data comes from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Tax Foundation, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, whose labor numbers are charted in this paper from the CATO Institute. The numbers for unionization run from 2006 through 2009, and the numbers for debt are 2007, before the current crisis. If anything, this presents a rosier picture for most states than the current one.
A rigorous study would control for dozens of factors, but this chart demonstrates the correlation between state unionism and debt.
As you can see in the graph, the states coalesce into three main groups:
Among states whose government workers are less than 40 percent unionized, median per capita state debt is $2,238.
Among states with between 40 and 60 percent of their government workers in public sector unions, the average debt is $3,609.
Among states with more than 60 percent of the government workforce unionized, the average (median) per capita debt is $6,380.
As you keep an eye on the fiscal collapse of California, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's (R) efforts to rein in the unions' power next year, bear in mind that this is quickly becoming the biggest fiscal issue in America today.
Do public sector unions really protect workers from exploitation, or do they merely bankrupt the treasuries of states nationwide? And more immediately, will the states that made poor fiscal choices get a second bailout from the federal taxpayer after the 2009 stimulus package?

Borat For Governor of California!

Since California's debt is considered riskier than Kazakhstan's, perhaps they should elect Borat as Governor? As long as he doesn't declare war on Uzbekistan or adopt the disastrous "progressive" policies that have plunged California into debt, they will be better off.

California's Debt: Now Riskier Than Kazakhstan's - And A Bigger Worry Than Greece?

Ryan McCarthy

03- 1-10

Just how dangerous is California's budget crisis?

Extremely dangerous, according to two recent evaluations of California's debt by financial industry insiders.

California's debt is seen by investors as riskier than Kazakhstan's, according to Bloomberg News. Five-year credit default swaps tied to California's debt, which are a key measure of the market's belief in the likelihood of default, are actually trading at 100 basis points above those of Kazakhstan. In other words, the market believes a developing country of just 15.7 million people is actually less likely to default on its debt than California, which makes up the eighth-largest economy in the world.

Here's Bloomberg News:

Kazakhstan and California, the lowest-rated U.S. state, share a Baa1 ranking, three steps above non-investment grade, from Moody's Investors Service. California was given a BBB by Fitch Ratings and A- by Standard & Poor's, four levels above non-investment grade. Both companies rate Kazakhstan lower, at BBB-, one step above high-risk, high-yield junk.
And last week, Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan, the nation's second largest bank, warned that California's $20 billion budget gap could pose a bigger risk than the Greek debt crisis. Here's Dimon: "Greece itself would not be an issue for this company, nor would any other country. We don't really foresee the European Union coming apart."

In January, Standard & Poor's cut California's debt rating amid concerns that the state was not doing enough to bolster its budgetary woes. Reporting on the downgrade, Reuters pointed out that there are several countries with debt trading at levels above California's: "The cost to insure California's debt with credit default swaps is now higher than debt of developing countries, such as Kazakhstan, Lebanon and Uruguay. It costs $277,000 per year for five years to insure $10 million in California debt, compared with $172,000 for Kazakh debt."

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ICE Chiefs Slammed With "No Confidence" Vote.

Very interesting, very important, another example of a basic function of government getting unduly politicized by the Obama Administration. Yet, this has received very little attention from the media.

ICE chiefs slammed with "no confidence" vote from agents

August 5th, 2010 6:05 pm ET

Members of Obama's national security team are getting low marks including ICE's John Morton
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents overwhelmingly say that their department's leadership has become politicized to the point of affecting the effectiveness of ICE.

ICE agents through their union claim their leaders have little regard for the safety of American people. Their union has released a letter announcing its recent unanimous “vote of no confidence” in ICE agency heads, accusing them of “misleading the American public” regarding illegal immigration in order to further a pro-amnesty agenda.

The National Immigration and Customs Enforcement Council and its affiliated local councils cast a unanimous 259-0 vote of no confidence in ICE Director John Morton and Assistant Director Phyllis Coven, according to Fox News Channel's Martha MacCallum.

The National Council members criticized the ICE leadership and claim they created "misguided and reckless initiatives,” and claim ICE managers “abandoned the Agency’s core mission of enforcing United States immigration laws and providing for public safety, and have instead directed their attention to campaigning for policies and programs related to amnesty.”

Besides Morton's and Coven's low marks, the Obama Administration recently appointed a former police chief, who believes in illegal alien sanctuary city policies, to command the immigration enforcement program that entails federal agents working with local police departments on cases involving illegal aliens.

As part of the Homeland Security Department's anti-terrorism mission, the new director for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Office of State and Local Coordination is now Harold Hurtt, an outspoken critic of immigration enforcement on the local level such as Arizona's new immigration enforcement law.

"As police chief in two different cities with huge illegal alien populations—Phoenix and Houston—Hurtt enforced don’t-ask-don’t-tell immigration measures that prevented officers from inquiring about a suspects’ legal status in the U.S.," according to officials at Judicial Watch, a non-partisan, public-interest group that investigates public corruption.

In his new post, Hurtt will receive a salary $180,000 a year plus benefits to oversee outreach and communication between federal immigration staff and local law enforcement agencies. He is charged with strengthening the collaboration between local police and federal immigration officials in an effort to combat a crisis that has rocked practically every major U.S. city and many small municipalities, according to Judicial Watch officials.

Homeland Security officials are promoting Hurtt as “a respected member of the law enforcement community” who will be an “invaluable asset to ICE’s outreach and coordination efforts.”

However, the reality is quite different, say proponents of tough immigration enforcement. Chief Hurtt is on record opposing immigration enforcement and as police chief protected the most violent of criminals. Hurtt has even testified before Congress that local police should not assist with immigration enforcement, say officials at Judicial Watch.

President Barack Obama has ordered the Justice Department to fight the Arizona law, which he claims is racist and unconstitutional. Officials in sanctuary cities couldn’t agree more and they want illegal aliens in their beloved city to feel safe.

"We can expect Chief Hurtt to continue to 'protect' criminal aliens as part of the Obama Administration's 'national security team" that includes other leftists who side with criminal aliens such as Attorney General Eric Holder, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and other Obama appointees," said former military intelligence officer and NYPD police detective Mike Snopes.

His pro-immigration policies enabled illegal immigrants with extensive criminal histories to murder two police officers and seriously injure another while he was chief in Phoenix and later in Houston. Judicial Watch filed a lawsuit against Hurtt on behalf of the deceased Houston officer’s wife for implementing the sanctuary policies that led to her husband’s murder at the hands of an illegal alien fugitive.

In the 2007 incident, Officer Rodney Johnson was brutally shot by a previously deported illegal immigrant during a traffic stop. The illegal alien, Juan Quintero, had an extensive criminal record and had been deported three years earlier for molesting a child.

The Mexican national had also been in trouble for driving while intoxicated, driving with a suspended license and for failing to stop and provide information after an automobile accident. When Johnson arrested him, Quintero shot him four times in the back of the head with a 9 millimeter handgun concealed in the waistband of his pants.

Some illegal aliens in the United States have been arrested and incarcerated in federal and state prisons and local jails, adding to already overcrowded prisons and jails. On April 7, 2007, the US Justice Department issued a report on criminal aliens that were incarcerated in federal and state prisons and local jails.

In the population study of 55,322 illegal aliens, researchers found that they were arrested at least a total of 459,614 times, averaging about 8 arrests per illegal alien. Nearly all had more than 1 arrest. Thirty-eight percent (about 21,000) had between 2 and 5 arrests, 32 percent (about 18,000) had between 6 and 10 arrests, and 26 percent (about 15,000) had 11 or more arrests. Most of the arrests occurred after 1990.

They were arrested for a total of about 700,000 criminal offenses, averaging about 13 offenses per illegal alien. One arrest incident may include multiple offenses, a fact that explains why there are nearly one and half times more offenses than arrests. Almost all of these illegal aliens were arrested for more than 1 offense. Slightly more than half of the 55,322 illegal aliens had between 2 and 10 offenses.

"[Hurtt's] appointment is simply one more nail in the coffin of America's soverignty," Det. Snopes said.

The Great Reckoning

We are very, very deep in debt, yet the most modest proposals of spending cuts or social security reform sends Democrats into hysterics and very few Republicans recognize the need for to increase taxes. I predict that neither party will take serious measures and sooner or later we will face a great reckoning, a severe correction brought on by unsustainable economic and social structures. The size and scope of government with sharply contract and the many individuals, groups and industries that have become utterly dependent on the grandiosity of the state will be forced to dramatically change their behavior. Without heavy state subsidies, social pathologies like single motherhood will become a luxury that few will be able to afford. The sharp contraction of the welfare state will limit opportunities of extreme individuality and force individuals to turn to family, community and (gasp) churches. This great reckoning will even be felt in the philosophical realm, progressive positions that treat economics as arbitrary, wealth as a given, individuals as victims of, rather than creators of their social and economic realities will be increasingly untenable. And faced with growing scarcity, intellectual and cultural relativism will become luxuries few can afford. Stay tuned; exciting times lay ahead.

July 31, 2010

What Can't the U.S. Afford?

By Jack Curtis

Most know that the country is broke, paying its bills with borrowed or magic money under an overhang of debt nobody's talking about repaying. The politicians who lead the country while repeating that this is somebody else's fault keep spending without mentioning what will have to be given up for a balanced budget. In fact, Congressional Democrats have so far refused to even provide a budget for this cycle, likely a response to the coming November elections. But 2010's plan is known and it's reasonable to expect 2011 to be similar.

Spending was budgeted to exceed income for a deficit of $1.17 trillion; reality now is $1.47 trillion per the Office of Management and Budget. That's what must stop to balance the budget. Here's the budgeted 2010 spending with percentages, in billions:

Social Security, Medicare & Medicaid $1,447.7B 40.76%
Health, Veterans, Housing, Education, Community Svc. $226.5B 6.38%
Defense $663.7B 18.69%
Interest on National Debt $164.0B 4.62%
Transportation, Energy, Environment $109.3B 3.08%
State Department, Foreign Aid etc. $51.7B 1.46%
Homeland Security, Justice $66.6B 1.88%
Agriculture, Commerce, Labor $53.1B 1.49%
Corps of Engineers, Nat'l Infrastructure Bank, NASA $28.8B 0.81%
Science, Small Business $7.7B 0.22%
Interior, GSA, Disaster Costs $23.6B 0.66%
Treasury $13.3B 0.37%
Other Programs required by law $571.0B 16.08%
Other Discretionary $124.8B 3.51%
TOTAL SPENDING $3,551.9B 100%

The $1.47 trillion cutback needed to balance the budget is about 41 percent of the total; neither party's politicians want to talk details about cutting that much from federal programs that directly affect so many voters, especially approaching an election. But unless taxpayers are willing to pay a great deal more to government, the cutting must be accomplished before too much longer; a country can't overspend its income indefinitely just as individuals can't. In billions for easier comparison to the table, the needed spending reduction is: $1,470.0B.

Together, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and Defense (Iraq, Afghanistan etc.) are almost 60% of the spending; everything else is insignificant by comparison. The 16% other category covers many smaller programs that shouldn't be considered as a lump.

The politicians of both parties have created the problem by promising more than the economy can provide as older users of promised benefits increase and new young, well-educated, employed workers to pay for the benefits decrease. The problem is complicated by the declining family earnings brought on by globalization (another government product) and by Democratic policies that add costly services like ObamaCare, raise living costs like green energy programs or increase existing benefits like endless (until after elections, anyway) unemployment insurance extensions.

The unmentionable (by either party) truth is, federal spending has to be cut by 41% to balance the budget and that ignores the equally needed cuts at state and local levels for similar reasons. Consider for a moment the effect on a family of four with a $150,000 mortgage, $9,000 credit card balances and typical car payments if their combined wages of $80,000 were suddenly permanently reduced to $47,200. Government, unlike the family, can't receive absolution and a new start from a bankruptcy court.

Combined federal, state and local government debt (owed by taxpayers) is nearly $150,000 per taxpayer and rising. To pay that off over 30 years at 5% would require payments of about $805 per month per taxpayer. For a two taxpayer family, it's $1,610. That 41% spending reduction doesn't provide for debt repayment so spending will have to shrink further. Then, there's the fact that both Social Security and Medicare taxes are no longer sufficient to support the costs of the programs. That isn't provided for either. The real spending cut needed to balance the budget is considerably more than 41%. That's what the politicians are looking at and refusing to face because after all, it's their programs and promises that have produced the situation, something they cannot admit.

The U.S. probably can't afford nearly half of what it's buying with borrowed and magic money; the income to pay for it isn't there. When the flow of fools' gold stops, the people directly and indirectly tied to that flow of fiat and borrowed money will be unemployed and those who depend on their spending will, too. That is a lot of unemployment to add; there will be no money for unemployment benefits on that scale. A balanced budget will not fund military superpower, let alone foreign wars and it will not fund retirement and medical care on the current scale, forget the additions from ObamaCare.

Great Britain has replaced its Labour Party with its Conservatives; they are shutting off spending and cutting back, the opposite of the U.S. Democrats. The Brits are decentralizing their struggling National Health Service while the U.S. adds ObamaCare.

The Democrats have run out of other peoples' money to fund their promises; the Republicans have run out of money to support superpowerism. When they admit that, much of their campaign funding will dry up along with the believability of their promises. So they will not admit it, just as they don't admit that unemployment is about 21% rather than the jiggered numbers they publish (See:

Every level of government is raising taxes, sucking more money from the only productive parts of the economy. The impact of the increases has yet to be felt; it will be severe. And the Democrats' leaders want much more of that, though some of their following is losing enthusiasm. What the Republicans want remains unsaid; something that, if one thinks about it, is scary. Their leadership and the Tea Parties have not accommodated but neither appears readier than Democrats to recognize the reality of a nearly 50% percent spending cut. No more do most citizens, but from the 2010 budget model, that's the price of living within the country's means. It's what the U.S. can afford. Continuing to ignore reality is what the U.S. can't afford.

Staying Away From the Federal Courthouse

Mr. Wilton Strickland puts forth a compelling argument why conservatives (and by extension liberals) should, as much as possible, avoid federal courthouses as a means of addressing state and local laws that they view unfavorably. He believes that by using the federal government to "win a battle," we are "losing the war" against the rapid expansion of federal power at the expense of state and local self governance. While I am not in complete agreement with Mr. Strickland, he does provide some important points that are worth considering.

Staying Away From The Federal Courthouse

Tue, Jun 22, 2010

Featured Articles, Political Philosophy, State Sovereignty, Wilton Strickland

by Wilton Strickland

In a previous article, I offered suggestions for the states to achieve independence by weaning themselves from the federal government and the quasi-religious sentiment now surrounding it. One ingredient I neglected to mention is rather important because it lies squarely within our power as private citizens; at the same time, it is difficult to swallow because it challenges firmly held notions about the Bill of Rights.

Specifically, we must stop running to the federal courthouse whenever a state or local law displeases us. “Making a federal case” out of every nuisance has become a national pastime rivaling baseball, and no corner of America will achieve independence or liberty until we learn to solve our problems within our communities rather than seek federal intervention from without.

My proposition may sound ludicrous because almost everyone now considers it the role of the federal courts to enforce the Bill of Rights against any local, state, or federal antagonist who would dare violate it. On the left side of the spectrum, we find litigants eager to disrupt any attempt by state or local authorities to uphold community standards of decorum; to prevent abortion; to acknowledge God in the public sphere; or to preserve our ability to hire, fire, sell, lease, or otherwise associate as we choose.

On the right side of the spectrum, we also find litigants who make avid use of federal courts, but for different reasons. This sort of litigation is geared toward disrupting attempts by state or local authorities to license professions; to regulate economic affairs; to take or burden private property; to remove religious symbols from public life; or to impose restrictions on gun ownership.

State and local authorities thus find themselves buffeted on all sides by litigation that gives federal courts an obscene amount of power to decide each community’s destiny, which goes a long way toward explaining why “community spirit” has become a quaint notion indeed. In the process, the courts have pummeled the Bill of Rights into an unrecognizable carcass.

A history lesson is in order here. Rightly suspecting that the newly hatched federal government would roam beyond its enumerated powers, the “anti-federalists” insisted on adding the Bill of Rights as a redundant safety device to emphasize certain areas where the federal government could never tread. This was an “exclamation point” to drive home the concept of limited federal power — it was not meant to restrain the states, who were not the object of everyone’s anxiety, and who retained vast power to govern as they saw fit.

Even the acclaimed John Marshall recognized this when ruling in Barron v. Baltimore that the Bill of Rights restrains only the federal government. The Constitution imposes only a handful of restrictions on the states. For example, they cannot exercise the narrow powers delegated to the federal government; impose ex post facto punishment; enact bills of attainder; or impair contracts.

Accordingly, states acted in a manner unthinkable today, such as by supporting churches and restricting broad areas of speech. Any state that abused this power would harm only itself, since the people could vote with their feet and diminish the tax base. Interstate competition thus served as a far better check against governmental abuse than a monolithic, all-powerful central government possibly could.

Today the Bill of Rights functions in exactly the opposite manner as intended: to restrain the states and empower the federal government. This began during the twentieth century (of course), when the Supreme Court “incorporated” the Bill of Rights against the states even though their broad powers do not accommodate it. Since the Bill of Rights is a mirror image of enumerated federal power, applying such rights to the states resembles pounding a square peg into a round hole.

As the Supreme Court kept pounding, the contours of the Bill of Rights grew fuzzy, generating “exceptions” and “penumbras” that appear nowhere in the Constitution’s text. States steadily found themselves able to do less while the federal government reaped the benefit of these exceptions and began doing more.

To illustrate, consider the First Amendment’s charge that “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech[.]” Nothing could be clearer than this. The federal government may not curtail any speech. The state governments, on the other hand, may restrain speech if their citizens choose to, and the federal courts have no proper say in the matter. This simple, workable distinction has been eradicated.

Instead, the First Amendment now supposedly handcuffs the states from regulating everything from schoolhouses, flag burning, “exotic dancing,” and even the states’ own courts of law. To allow some police powers to survive, the federal courts poked holes in the First Amendment for regulating defamation, “fighting words,” and a few other areas that the courts in their infinite wisdom find appropriate. Apart from the indignity of having federal courts ration powers that belong to the states, these unwritten exceptions to the First Amendment are now available to the federal government, which regulates speech in violation of its founding charter.

How did the federal courts get away with this? The answer lies in the Fourteenth Amendment, which was (debatably) enacted after the Civil War and says in pertinent part as follows:

No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Unlike the few other prohibitions that the Constitution imposes on the states, this one is vague, which has allowed federal courts to claim the titanic ability to strike down virtually any state law with which they disagree. But it did not have to be this way. In the 1872 Slaughterhouse Cases, the Supreme Court had its first chance to abolish an unpopular state law under the Fourteenth Amendment but rightly refused to do so.

The court explained that the Amendment had a narrow goal: to protect the ex-slaves — African-Americans — and ensure they were not deprived of their civil rights. The Amendment was not designed for every Tom, Dick, and Harry disgruntled about his state’s legislation. Since the dispute before the court involved a mere licensing law rather than an attack on ex-slaves, the court exercised a restraint now extinct and made a prescient warning:

Was it the purpose of the fourteenth amendment . . . to transfer the security and protection of all the civil rights which we have mentioned, from the States to the Federal government? . . . [S]uch a construction . . . would constitute this court a perpetual censor upon all legislation of the States, on the civil rights of their own citizens, with authority to nullify such as it did not approve as consistent with those rights, as they existed at the time of the adoption of this amendment. . . . [T]hese consequences are so serious, so far-reaching and pervading, so great a departure from the structure and spirit of our institutions; . . . the effect is to fetter and degrade the State governments by subjecting them to the control of Congress, in the exercise of powers heretofore universally conceded to them of the most ordinary and fundamental character.
This warning was deadly accurate, as the modern court relishes its role as “perpetual censor” and has inverted the constitutional order. Under the Constitution of the Founders, the states decided which powers the federal government would have; today, it is the federal government that decides which powers the state governments will have.

“Conservatives” and “libertarians” who run to federal court and beg for this treatment are their own worst enemies. Their quest for a federal veto on local matters such as gun control or property takings does just as much harm as the American Civil Liberties Union’s quest to eradicate religion from public view or to establish abortion as a secular sacrament.

Liberty cannot survive without independence, and a temporary victory in federal court today blazes a path to a thousand defeats tomorrow. As the Founders understood, any power that might be abused will be abused, so it must be avoided. Although the states abuse their power as well, such abuses have limited geographic scope and allow us to escape as a last resort. There is no escape from federal power, unless one wishes to expatriate or renounce citizenship (which the federal government is making more difficult every day).

If you confront an unjust law in your state, advocate its repeal. If that doesn’t work, vote for candidates who will one day repeal it. Failing that, bring a challenge in state court based on the state constitution – the U.S. Supreme Court cannot interfere unless the case involves the U.S. Constitution or federal law. And as mentioned before, leave the state if you are ultimately unsatisfied with it; do not spoil it for the others who wish to remain there.

Another Bad Idea From Barry!

In the short term Obama's $26,000,000,000 "job bill" sounds like a good idea, because no one is thrilled by the prospect of having state and local government's lay off teachers and other government workers especially during our high unemployment rate. However, in the long run this is an absolutely awful policy; it allows local government's to avoid making tough choices and addressing the policies that brought them to the brink of financial insolvency. Without Obama's bailout, local governments would have been forced to do what any rational household does to avoid bankruptcy: live within their means by lowering their expenditures and raising their revenue. Cities like Chicago desperately need to trim their bloated bureaucracies, reform their pension systems, create a truly competitive bidding system, address the effect of public unions on the costs and quality of schools and vote out the Daley Dynasty. But, as long as federal dollars flow into corrupt and poorly run systems, the chances of reform are slim to none.

President Obama signs $26 billion jobs bill to aid state payrolls

By Lori Montgomery and Nick Anderson

Washington Post Staff Writers

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

President Obama approved a final spurt of spending Tuesday to shore up the sluggish recovery, signing into law a $26 billion plan to save the jobs of thousands of teachers and other government workers. The measure brings total direct federal spending on the economy to nearly $1.2 trillion since the nation descended into recession in late 2007.

With economic growth faltering and unemployment stuck at 9.5 percent, some economists are urging additional action. But senior Democrats and administration officials said the package of state aid is likely to be the last major effort at economic stimulus -- at least until after November congressional elections, for which the soaring national debt has become a major issue.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), determined to demonstrate a commitment to fighting job losses, summoned lawmakers back from their August vacation for an unusual one-day session to vote on the package. Democrats argued that it would preserve the jobs of more than 300,000 workers by helping state governors plug their own budget holes.

"We can't stand by and do nothing while pink slips are given to the men and women who educate our children and keep our communities safe," Obama said at a Rose Garden news conference, flanked by Education Secretary Arne Duncan and two public school teachers.

Republicans derided the measure as a handout to teachers' unions, a key Democratic constituency, and argued that it would be no more successful at promoting a robust economy than the massive stimulus package Obama signed shortly after taking office in January 2009.

"This is a bailout. This is another bailout. . . . Let's not do this!" Rep. Steve Buyer (R-Ind.) yelled during House debate. "We're facing almost a $1.5 trillion budget deficit. America, please, please wake up. And remember in November."

In the Washington area, where budget troubles have forced school boards to freeze salaries, trim programs or cut staff, the bill would provide about $70 million for the District, $450 million for Maryland and $540 million for Virginia, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Maryland's schools superintendent, Nancy S. Grasmick, said the "money will be helpful" in reducing class sizes and rehiring reading teachers and other specialists.

In a midday vote, the House approved the bill 247 to 161, with all but two Republicans voting no. The measure would provide governors with an additional six months of federal assistance: $10 billion for education and about $16 billion for Medicaid, which will allow them to avoid shifting cash away from other priorities.

The sum is about half what Obama requested. Democratic leaders were forced to scale back the package by rank-and-file Democrats concerned about how more spending would play with angry voters. They also had to cover the cost of the measure so that it would not increase future deficits. The bill includes nearly $10 billion in new taxes on U.S. multinational corporations that do business abroad, and it rescinds after 2014 an increase in food stamp payments enacted in last year's $862 billion stimulus package.

That measure was by far the largest attempt by the federal government to stimulate economic activity. It was not the only such measure enacted to combat the recent recession, however. A $170 billion package, composed mainly of tax cuts, was enacted in 2008 under President George W. Bush, and other measures have been approved under Obama, including multiple extensions of long-term unemployment benefits and the "Cash for Clunkers" auto program.

All told, according to a recent paper by economists Alan S. Blinder of Princeton University and Mark Zandi of Moody's Analytics, Congress has authorized more than $1 trillion in fiscal stimulus. Rescue efforts for the financial system, including the Troubled Assets Relief Program and actions by the Federal Reserve, are not included. The authors -- supporters of the stimulus -- estimate that the ultimate cost to taxpayers for all federal actions in response to the recession will be around $1.6 trillion.

Despite those expenditures, the economy continues to struggle. The prospect of layoffs or tax increases by state officials who are almost uniformly required to balance their budgets remains a major worry. The package approved Tuesday represents less than a quarter of the $116 billion shortfall that states face over the next two years, according to the National Governors Association. "This isn't plugging the hole. This is helping to transition," said David Quam, NGA director of federal relations.

Schools have been particularly hard hit. With the start of school just a few weeks away, class sizes have been on the rise across the country, school bus routes have been cut and a plethora of programs, including summer school, arts, physical education, and health and counseling services, have been slashed. Some school systems even trimmed the length of the school year to make ends meet. As of this month, it remained unclear exactly how many workers had been let go.

By voice vote, the House also approved a $600 million bill to shore up surveillance and security along the troubled U.S.-Mexico border. Senate leaders said they could return to Washington to push that measure to final passage as soon as next week.

The Best & The Brightest?

While discussing immigration policy, a good friend of mine asked me to conceptualize of the United States as the most sought after basketball team in the league that can recruit the best and brightest players to benefit all of the team members. But, for some inexplicable reason, places talent and potential very low in their criteria for recruitment. This came to mind when I read of several recent plots involving American citizens of Somali, Afghan and Pakistani descent. The United States can take its pick from a pool of millions of bright, hard working, talented individuals who dream of immigrating to the United States and this is the best we can do? This is not to say that there aren't Somalis that can and do economically and culturally contribute to the United States and positively integrate themselves into the fabric of American life. But, clearly whichever government bureaucrats chose these individuals to immigrate did not focus on bringing in the best and brightest. Did they even look for red flags that would indicate an inclination towards radical Islam? Presumably he was satisfying some sort of diversity fetish based on the belief that an individual contributes to American life merely through their diverse culture. Ideas have consequences and bad ideas are very costly to the American people.

U.S. indicts 14 on charges of supporting Somali terror group

Most of those charged are U.S. citizens of Somali descent. They are accused of sending money and fighters to Shabab, an Islamist army.

August 5, 2010

WASHINGTON – Fourteen people are accused of providing support to the Somali terrorist group al-Shabab in indictments unsealed Thursday that shed light on "a deadly pipeline" of funding and fighters to the group from cities across the United States, Attorney General Eric Holder said.

Most of those charged were U.S. citizens of Somali descent. It has long been known that disaffected Somali-Americans were leaving their homes in Minnesota and other states to join al-Shabab, an Islamist army whose several thousand fighters are battling Somalia's weak government. The indictments show that the U.S. government is directing significant investigative resources at the problem.

Al-Shabab, which routinely beheads its enemies, has been branded a terrorist group by the U.S. and other nations, and in turn has declared war on the United Nations and humanitarian organizations in Somalia. The group claimed responsibility for a bombing last month that killed 76 people, including an American aid worker, who were watching a World Cup soccer match in Uganda's capital. It is not known to be responsible for an attack on U.S. soil.

Some of those charged already were in custody, but earlier Thursday, FBI agents arrested two women, Amina Farah Ali, 33, and Hawo Mohamed Hassan, 63, both naturalized U.S. citizens from Somalia and residents of Rochester, Minn. Each is charged with one count of conspiracy to provide material support to al-Shabab from September 2008 through last month. Ali is also charged with 12 counts of providing material support to al-Shabab, while Hassan is charged with three counts of making false statements.

"As demonstrated by the charges unsealed today, we are seeing an increasing number of individuals – including U.S. citizens – who have become captivated by extremist ideology and have taken steps to carry out terrorist objectives, either at home or abroad," Holder said at a news conference.

A report in May by the Rand Corp. documented 14 domestic terror plots by U.S.-based Muslim extremists in 2009 and 46 since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The list includes the case of Najibullah Zazi, a permanent U.S. resident from Afghanistan who pleaded guilty in February to planning a suicide attack in New York, possibly on the subway; and that of Nidal Malik Hasan, a U.S. Army major charged with opening fire in November on fellow soldiers at Ft. Hood, Texas, killing 13.

Other plots emerged this year, including that of "Jihad Jane," the suburban Philadelphia native accused of supporting terrorism, and Faisal Shahzad, the Connecticut resident suspected in the Times Square bombing attempt.

The indictment accuses Ali and Hassan of raising money to support al-Shabab through door-to-door solicitations and teleconferences in Somali communities in Minneapolis, Rochester, and elsewhere, in some cases "under the false pretense that they would be used to aid the poor and the needy."

Ali made 12 money transfers to al-Shabab in 2008 and 2009 totaling $8,608, the indictment said. On July 14, 2009, the day after the FBI executed a search warrant at her home, Ali allegedly told another conspirator, "I was questioned by the enemy here ... they took all my stuff and are investigating it . . . do not accept calls from anyone."

The U.S. government designated al-Shabab a foreign terrorist organization in March 2008, and said it has ties to al-Qaida.

The indictments allege illegal conduct in Minnesota, Alabama and California.

The Minnesota investigation has been unfolding for some time. Roughly 20 men — all but one of Somali descent — left Minnesota from December 2007 through October 2009 to join al-Shabab, which seeks to establish an Islamic state in Somalia with an ideology akin to the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Two indictments unsealed in Minnesota on Thursday added five new names to a list of people charged in the investigation in that state, bringing the total charged there to 19. Nine have been arrested in the U.S. or overseas, five of whom pleaded guilty, Holder said. Ten are at large, believed to be overseas.

Al-Shabab members began pledging allegiance to al-Qaida last year. One of its most famous members is known as Abu Mansour al-Amriki, or "the American," an Alabama native who speaks English with an American accent. He appeared in a jihadist video in May 2009.

In another unrelated case, a 26-year-old Chicago man was charged Wednesday with plotting to go to Somalia to become a suicide bomber for al-Qaida and al-Shabab.

Prosecutors told a judge that the Chicago man, Shaker Masri, attempted to provide support through the use of a weapon of mass destruction outside the United States.

In other terrorism-related developments Thursday, the State Department released its annual country report on terrorism. Among the report's findings were that there were more suicide bombings in Pakistan and Afghanistan last year than in Iraq, a sign of how the threat has shifted.,0,3404285.story

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Guns, Gays & Immigration

What do guns, gays and immigration have in common? In a short period of time, judges have negated the will of voters, communities and state governments by overturning laws regarding the aforementioned issues. At its core, these cases involve a clash between various social goods and the right of self governance that offer no easy answers. And on a broader level, these cases represent the ongoing clash between forces that seek an even greater concentration of political power in the federal government, as well as the judicial branch against those who seek to maintain the rights of states and communities to manage their affairs. On far too many occasions, the left and the right alike have turned to the courts and federal government to enforce their will on communities, blind to the fact that they are granting the government increased power that may one day be used against them. And more importantly, they are eroding the principle of self governance that has been so essential to American Democracy.

The first instance involves the Supreme Court case of McDonald et al. v. the City of Chicago. The lead plaintiff was an elderly African-American man who wanted to purchase a hand gun to defend his home against gangs and criminals, but was barred from doing so because of the City of Chicago's hand gun ban. In a 5 - 4 vote, McDonald was victorious and Chicago's handgun ban was overturned. As someone who supports the Second Amendment and opposes King Richard Daley II's absurd handgun ban, I was initially thrilled. After all, the ban did nothing to keep weapons out of the hands of violent criminals and merely limited the capacity of law abiding citizens to defend themselves. But, further reflection, I became more ambivalent. I do recognize that there were times in which the intervention of courts and the federal government were necessary to address grave abuses of power by local governments, the move to end government mandated segregation being the best example. But, I also believe that in a healthy democracy, we must be extremely reserved about overturning the rights of local communities to direct their social, economic and political life. As idiotic as the ban may have been, I would have liked to see it debated and eventually overturned by the people of Chicago via the electoral or proposition process.

The second example involved Judge Walker overturning Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage. As a civil libertarian who opposes the state limiting the rights of individuals, I was pleased by Judge Walker's ruling. But, the thought of a single judge overturning the will of at least 7,000,000 voters is deeply undemocratic and is a prime example of the undue concentration of power in a single government functionary. Of course I recognize that the electorate should not have unlimited power to promulgate any law they desire, especially laws that curtail the rights of individuals. Without a doubt, a law that prohibited gays from pursuing their lifestyle and enjoying the legal and financial benefits of domestic partnership would have been a gross violation of individual rights. It would have constituted an example of the state limiting an individuals right to privacy and the pursuit of happiness. However, as much as I support gay marriage, I am not certain if a ban on it constitutes a fundamental violation of individual rights. Why? Because although democracy requires communities to tolerate behaviors that they find perverse, a community is not required to recognize or affirm that behavior. Ultimately, I would like to see communities and states support gay marriage through gradual social evolution that comes through healthy debate, but imposing gay marriage through the heavy hand of the courts will create an angry, unhealthy backlash. And progressives should bear in mind that one day the political and social pendulum may swing the other way and activist courts may overstep their boundaries and negate progressive laws and initiatives.

The third example of court intervention, when a federal judge overturned several key components of SB1070, Arizona's immigration enforcement is the most complex and contentious. Even though I question the wisdom and effectiveness of this law and I recognize that immigration policy is fundamentally the responsibility of the federal government, I am troubled by the heavy handed action against a state's efforts to address a very real problem. This must be looked at in the context of a federal government who for lack of political will or ability has done little to address the challenges that Arizona faces as a border state. What also troubles me is that in spite of their rhetoric, the federal government's actions appear to be driven more by political than constitutional concerns. If the Obama Administration's concern were that states and communities were usurping the role of the federal government, they would be equally critical of sanctuary cities like Chicago that have enacted de-facto amnesties, as they are of localities that seek to enforce existing federal immigrating laws.

Yes, there are times when the federal government or the courts must override the will of states and communities, but if we are to remain vigilant against a dangerous centralization of power, this must be the very rare exception. We must err on the side of allowing self governance, only intervening when local policies offer a clear and present danger to individual liberty. And conversely, to allow a sole individual or organization to so readily use the courts to overturn any law that they view unfavorably will make governance even more costly, litigious and inefficient. Even when communities are able to win court battles and uphold their desired laws, the astronomical cost of their legal defense has a chilling effect on the democratic process. The thought alone of facing months or years of costly litigation will make other cities and states unduly cautious in crafting laws and policies to address the social and economic ills that their members face. To this many progressives will respond - why is the abuse of power on a federal level any worse than the abuse of power on a local level? In the case of ill governed cities and states, individuals can vote with their feet. That is, if they are sufficiently alienated with their local government and see no prospect of change, they will leave and seek out localities that reflect their values and visions. This is precisely what the millions of Americans who have fled Chicago and California have done. But, when the federal government imposes terrible policies across the land, to where can aggrieved citizens run?

Friday, August 20, 2010

A Clash of Cultures from Paris to Postville

I recall a conversation with a progressive friend of mine about pretty serious riots in France involving Muslim immigrants. The discussion prompted the broad question: what was France thinking when it invited in several million deeply traditional and largely uneducated North African Muslims? A large number of their children were clearly not socially or economically assimilating themselves into the fabric of French society. The end result being growing alienation within Muslim communities and tension with the French Christian majority. My progressive friend cleverly responded, "they should deport the racists who stir up trouble." This response reflects the deeply held progressive narrative of racist white majorities creating social tension through their hatred and harassment of innocuous minorities. Indeed, there are many examples were this narrative holds true, such as the brutal persecution of African Americans during the Jim Crowe Era. But, more often than not, the truth is far more complex and ambiguous with few outright villains or victims. And throughout this discussion, we should keep in mind that in the realm of social interaction, perception is reality. In other words,
social reality is determined less by the intent of behaviors and more by the manner in which individuals and groups interpret those behaviors.

NPR had a very interesting piece about Stephen G. Bloom's book, Postville: A Clash of Cultures in Heartland America, which was named the Best Book of the year by MSNBC, The Chicago Sun-Times, the Rocky Mountain News, The Chicago Tribune, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. To listen to this piece click on the following link:

To view a more extensive (and interesting) documentary, click on the following link:

In the book, Bloom documents the influx of Hassidic Jews into the rural and overwhelmingly white and Christian town of Postville Iowa. On one hand the Hassidic influx brought in economic revitalization via a large kosher slaughterhouse and other investments. On the other hand, social tension that emerged between the Hassidic minority and the Christian majority, which thankfully never resulted in violence or vandalism. The author, who is Jewish, tried to the answer the question of whether "the Iowans [were] prejudiced, or were the Lubavitchers simply unbearable?" What is most surprising is that he attributed much of the tension to the behavior of the Hasidim, in particular their insularity and their disdain for the social and at times legal norms of the town. Newcomers were perceived as being unwilling to partake in the broader social life and respect the norms of the community. While I do believe that some of the townspeople had underlying anti-Semitic inclinations, I am inclined to accept Mr. Bloom's analysis is that the complaints of the townspeople were almost identical to those that secular Israelis direct towards their Hassidic brethren. On a broader level, we are witnessing some basic law of communal life in action:

1. The more diverse groups maintain their distinct culture and fail to adopt shared values and traditions, the less integrated they will be into the broader community. The question is not one of good or bad, but of cultural compatibility.

2. Diversity and community are two positive phenomena that at times are incompatible.

3. Diversity and demographic shifts will result in increased social tension.

In comparatively tolerant, democratic and economically free societies like the United States, this will rarely take the form of outright hostility, instead manifesting itself in mutual social segregation. In less tolerant, more socialist oriented societies the risk of violence is far more pronounced.

I believe that like Postville, most instances of inter-communal conflict in modern, democratic societies do not conform to the dominant progressive narratives of villains vs victims. Most instances are not black and white (no pun intended), but are grey examples of the tension that arises when the incompatible values and conduct of diverse communities clash. And in most cases both communities can simultaneously have legitimate grievances. Returning to the initial example of France we can ask the questions: Is the French majority legitimate in their desire for Muslims to better assimilate towards the cultural and behavioral norms of French society? Yes. Is the Muslim minority legitimate in their desire to maintain their distinct culture, values and identity? Yes. Are Muslims rightly offended by cartoons that denigrated their prophet? Yes. Are the French right to be concerned that many Muslims may be openly hostile to values their cherish, such as the right of freedom of expression? In light of the riots that emerged over the Muhammad Cartoons, I would say - Yes. And do Muslims have legitimate grievances against the racism and discrimination instituted by a minority of Frenchmen. Yes. Although both sides have legitimate desires, when they clash, as a general rule the French position should take precedence for three reasons. One, their presence in France predates the presence of Muslim immigrants. Two, if North African Muslims feel that France is limiting the pursuit of their cultural and political expression, they can return to their countries of origin, whose laws and institutions reflect Arab-Islamic country. Three, the French socio-cultural model has been vastly superior to the Arab-Islamic one; the prosperity, peace and freedom that it has produced are what attracted the Muslims migrants in the first place.

The inter-communal tensions in the United States are not nearly as acute as what we find in Europe. One important reason is because the majority of Americans believe that identity is defined by language, loyalty, culture and conduct, whereas most Europeans place a far greater emphasis on birth and blood. In other words, I consider my Chinese or Hispanic neighbor 100% American if they speak English, are loyal citizens, share certain basic values and adhere to certain basic standards of conduct. On the other hand, few Germans will consider their third generation Turkish neighbor fully German, even if they are fully assimilated.

In the United States, one area of concern is the growing tension between whites and Hispanics. One one level the nexus of the clash is seen in the ongoing battle over immigration policy, which on a deeper level it reflects a clash between differing visions of rule of law, sovereignty and assimilation. Most Americans are troubled by large scale undocumented immigration, because they view it as an erosion of the rule of law and national sovereignty. And they perceive the widespread Hispanic opposition to immigration enforcement as an unwillingness to respect the long established laws, customs, culture of the land. Equally, many Hispanics perceive the drive to enforce immigration laws as racist and xenophobic attacks against them.
We can debate the merits of enforcement versus amnesty centered policies and the intentions of their proponents, but in the realm of social interaction, perception is reality. Rational or irrational, a perceived insult stings as sharply as an intended insult and just as quickly leads to inter-communal conflict.

Just like the previous example of French Christian and Muslim Migrant conflict, we see examples of a clash of legitimate communal desires. Was it reasonable for undocumented immigrants to cross the border given the dire economic circumstances in their nations of origin and the unwillingness of most American employers and politicians to enforce the law? Yes. Are American citizens justified in being troubled by the widespread disregard for their laws? Yes. Are Latino citizens right to flex their political muscle to defend the undocumented members of their family and community from tough enforcement measures? Yes. Is it understandable that many Americans view this as a troubling example of putting narrow ethno-political interests over the general welfare of the nation. Yes. Are Latinos right to be troubled that the United States would allow many of their brethren to spend years in the United States working hard, building businesses, setting down roots, raising families, only to deport them based on a sudden policy reversal? Yes. Are Americans right to be offended when people knowingly violate their rules and then complain about the consequences? Yes. The growing span of the conceptual divide between most Americans and Latino becomes evident when we discuss issues of the millions of children who are legal American citizens, but whose parents are undocumented immigrants. To most Latinos that is one of the most clear and compelling arguments for a broad amnesty. However, to many Americans that is a clear example of why the United States must end birthright citizenship (as virtually every European nation has done). We can endlessly argue over who is right and who is wrong, but the inescapable fact is that we are witnessing a clash of communities with no clear cut victims or villains.

A major source of the perceptual difference stems from the greater value that rule of law holds in Anglo-Saxon culture relative to Latin-American culture. If you doubt this, I recommend that you read up on the history and current affairs of Latin America. And for good and for bad, in Hispanic culture the welfare of family and friends almost always trumps civil society and national interests. This explains why friendship and family life is so rich in Latin America, but corruption and nepotism is endemic. The violation of laws and regulations have become so endemic in Latin Americas that it has overcome the capacity or will of the state to enforce them. And were politicians to execute an about face and enforcement the laws, they would actually create greater social and economic disruption, so most support the de-facto amnesty of non-enforcement. This is eerilly similar to the manner in which the American government addresses the issue of large scale undcoumented immigration.
To argue over the relative merits of Anglo-Saxon, Hispanic or any other culture is a largely irrelevant undertaking, the topic at hand is the social tension that inevitably emerges when assimilation falters and cultures clash. Clearly the progressive narrative needs to be rewritten or thrown away; the driving force between this clash is not racism and few of the actors in this drama are true villains or victims. Of course progressives are right to promote tolerance and resist racism, but when formulating immigration and social policy, we must look at the facts on the ground. We must look at how individuals and communities are, not how we wish them to be. We must study history to understand how groups in diverse communities interact, not how we wish them to interact. Whether you are in Paris or Postville, the starting point of fostering peace and prosperity in diverse communities is to be brutally honest in our assessment of the world, while holding firm to our idealism.

A Political Culture Gone Bad

Picture Above: Douglas Murray, the Director of the Center For Social Cohesion

Very interesting article about radical Islam and multiculturalism in England. In light of the recent terrorist attacks executed by native born, middle class British Muslims, it's essential that the British people honestly explore issues of culture, identity and assimilation. Mr. Douglas Murray, the Director of the Center For Social Cohesion offers a thoughtful and forthright exploration of these topics, that also hold great relevance to the United States.



Douglas Murray says it’s five minutes to midnight in Britain’s battle against radical Islam.

Listening to Douglas Murray, one gets a picture of a world turned on its head, one where relativism has trumped common sense, where the state pays its enemies more than its soldiers and where turning in the inciters becomes an act of incitement.

Murray is the 31-year-old director of the Center for Social Cohesion, a London-based think tank that studies radicalization and extremism in the UK, and he is an outspoken critic of the British government’s response to the challenge of radical Islam.

Our meeting takes place shortly after the fifth anniversary of the 7/7 attacks, four suicide bombings committed by British Muslim men that killed 52 people and wounded hundreds of others. Murray believes that while the security services have learned the lesson of that event, government and politicians have so far failed to do so.

Britain’s thinking and its political culture, Murray says, have “gone bad” and it has become afraid to state its own values. Britain has become a society that no longer knows how to draw the line.

He is particularly critical of the government’s “Prevent” strategy, set up after the 7/7 bombings to tackle Muslim radicalization by providing a counternarrative. “Prevent,” says Murray, is an example of the government attempting to “do theology.”

“When the British government comes out after 7/7 and says, ‘Islam is a religion of peace,’ you can understand the reasons it is saying this – it is trying to reach out – but obviously there is something terribly counterproductive about this,” says Murray. “The problem is that the government seems to believe it can do theology. I’m a small government guy and I like government to do as little as possible.

The way I see it is that government can’t do many things very well – it doesn’t even do taxes very well, it doesn’t do policing very well, but the thing it definitely can’t do very well is theology, in particular a theology it knows very little about, or is only starting to learn about.”

For Murray the answer lies not in outreach, but in affirming the values of the state and in laying down the law.

“Instead of getting embroiled in endless wars and debates about a religion which is not our national religion, which after all is a minority religion and has no particular history of any significance in Britain – instead of getting involved in that conflict, which may or not be won by the progressives, you say what you are as a state,” he declares.

“A lot of young Muslims have said to me in recent years, ‘You ask me to integrate, but what are we integrating into? What is Britain, what are British values?’ It’s very hard to tell people to integrate if you don’t tell them what they are integrating into. It’s very hard to tell them to be British if they don’t know and you don’t know what Britishness is. The fact is that we have been very poor in saying what we are and we have also been very poor is saying what we expect people to be. We’ve been very good in stressing what rights people get when they come to Britain and very bad at explaining what responsibilities come with them.”

Britain, says Murray, has made a terrible mistake in the direction it has taken with its Muslim minority since the Salman Rushdie Satanic Verses affair.

“The problem is,” he explains, “that the British government has pushed young Muslims into becoming young Muslims when it should have pushed them into becoming young Brits. In other words, the direction of travel it sent them in has been deeply backward.”

MURRAY DESCRIBES himself as a long-standing critic of multiculturalism.

“Pluralism or multiracial societies seem to me to be good and desirable things,” he says. “Multicultural societies, where you encourage group differences, seem to me to be a very bad thing.”

For Murray, multiculturalism is a moral vacuum, and “into a moral vacuum always bad things creep.”

The Eton and Oxford educated Murray quotes Saul Bellow in his introduction to The Closing of the American Mind: “When public morality becomes a ghost town, it’s a place into which anyone can ride and declare himself sheriff.”

“Once so-called multicultural societies decided that they didn’t have a locus, that they didn’t have a center of gravity, anyone could ride in and teach the most pernicious things,” Murray expounds. “It didn’t matter. It was just another point of view.

“It’s an extraordinary situation. We allow absolutely anything. This is the reason the British police used not to investigate certain types of killing, like honor killings. This is a community matter, they’d say. Police have admitted that now. This is why tens of thousands of women from certain communities have been genitally mutilated. We have made ourselves entirely relative and it's time to change that.”

Another instance of multiculturalism gone mad that Murray cites is a 2007 case where a Channel 4 documentary, Undercover Mosque, uncovered in the West Midlands clerics who they recorded preaching murder of minorities. The police were sent the tapes by Channel 4 and infamously decided to try to prosecute Channel 4 for incitement in broadcasting this material.

Murray says that a few months after the case, while lecturing senior police officers, he mentioned it and was told by one officer that he “had to understand we live in a very multicultural area.”

Murray replied to the officer that he was basically stating that to pursue the multicultural dream, he would allow certain minorities to have their lives threatened by other minorities because it would cause too much trouble. “He wouldn’t comment,” says Murray, “but this was clearly the decision they had made.”

Murray charges that because of its multicultural approach, the government has allowed certain groups to be approached through self-appointed leaders such as the Muslim Council of Britain.

“In Islam in Britain we have a bizarre situation where people are spoken of, or spoken to, through clergy,” he explains. “If I’m a young man born to Anglican parents, the idea that I can only be accessed via my local vicar is mad, but you now have this weird situation where, as it were, the more religious you are, the more devoted you are to the mosque and to the political organization of certain mosques in Britain, the more likely you are to have a voice.”

Murray paraphrases Henry Kissinger’s famous comment: “What number do I dial to reach Europe?” by saying that the British government has basically decided what number to dial to reach its Muslim minority, handing over the community’s voice to the clergy.

“It’s a pathetic, ridiculous idea,” he charges. “My belief is that you should encourage people to believe that they are represented in the same way everybody else is represented, by their MP, by their local councilor and so on. An Irish immigrant friend of mine put it to me rather beautifully when he said that the moment when you become most integrated into a society is not when you get special bribes, special rights, special laws etc., but when you have to put up with the same sh*t as the rest of us.”

Murray gives what he calls the tragic example of a “very unpleasant sinister figure” from the Muslim Council of Britain, Inayat Bunglawala.

Bunglawala is quoted in Kenan Malik’s book From Fatwa to Jihad: The Rushdie Affair and Its Legacy as saying that Rushdie affair is what radicalized him, what got him politicized. He says he didn’t really go to the mosque that much, hadn’t really read the Koran, but that he heard about the novel and he thought, “Why are we being singled out? Why are they only attacking us.”

“This is a tragedy,” says Murray, “because this was the moment when somebody in a position of power could have said: ‘You know what? You’re not being singled out; you are being subjected to exactly the same treatment that free societies exact on everyone.’ Nobody said that. It was repeatedly given out that there was a justifiable grievance and that’s what’s still understood today. We should have at that point said at that point in 1989 said that a society where even your deepest feelings can be trodden on is the only society worth living in. We should have said a long time ago and it’s still not too late to say it now.”

Murray calls Britain a “soft touch” on immigration and welfare, citing the case of Anjem Choudary, a co-founder of the now proscribed Al- Muhajiroun movement, whom he describes as “one of the most notorious loud-mouthed idiots in Britain.”

“Choudary has a few children and a wife – he’s a qualified solicitor but as far as we know has never sought employment. He receives £25,000 a year in benefits, untaxed, and among other things he and his welfare jihadi friends go and abuse British soldiers coming home from Afghanistan when there are homecoming parades."

“Now this has caused a lot of bitter and understandable resentment in Britain. The thing that people haven’t quite realized is the most perverse about this is that a soldier in Afghanistan, starting out, fighting for Britain, receives something like £15,000 a year on which he is taxed to fight the Taliban, whom Choudary and his supporters support. So the British state will currently give you £15,000 if you’re willing to fight her majesty’s enemies and £10,000 more if you are willing to support her majesty’s enemies.

It’s probably not the first time in history where one side has paid its enemies and its own men, but it's probably the first war in history where somebody has paid its enemies better than its own men.”

MURRAY SAYS that the Mike’s Place bombing in April 2003, when two British Muslim suicide bombers attacked a bar in Tel Aviv, killing three people, was a transformative moment for him.

“If you have a problem you export, it does come home,” he says. “When those two young men, one of them from Kings College in London, came out to Tel Aviv, that should have been a moment when not just the British police and the British security services, but the British government and the British people woke up, to what they have made.”

Asked why is it that many of those Muslims who have committed terrorist attacks in the West have been very much a product of the West, affluent and privileged rather than poor, marginalized and alienated, Murray points to Britain’s universities as hotbeds of radicalism.

“The Christmas Day bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a rich Nigerian boy, lived in his father’s flat in the most expensive part of London and got radicalized while at University College London,” says Murray as an example. “I've said a lot in recent years on the university issue; I’ve kept on trying to get the universities to wake up to this. My center published a report called ‘Islam on Campus’ in 2008 which got huge attention because of very worrying findings, like a third of Muslim students saying that killing in the name of their religion could be justified, things like that.

“I have kept trying, the center has kept on trying to explain to the universities that this is their problem. Omar Sheik [a former student at the London School of Economics best known for his role in the kidnapping and execution of Daniel Pearl], Assaf Hani [one of the Mike’s Place bombers] and another LSE graduate, Abdulmutallab. The list is now pretty long."

“The only explanation I have for why it hasn’t been dealt with is that it goes so much against the narrative that privileged white Western liberals have got, that they can’t think their way out of it even when the evidence is to the contrary. If you believe Islamist terrorism is caused by poverty, lack of opportunity, lack of education, Israel, then you need things to fit that. Now you can put up with one thing bucking that trend, but when it happens repeatedly some people just dig themselves in and ignore it even more. In Britain, at any rate, you are more likely to become a terrorist if you go to university.”

Again Murray blames a failure to stand up for liberal values. “You are more likely to become a major terrorist if you’ve gone to university because, among other things, these places have two factors: one you come across the very softest, most apologist form of education you could find; you come across soft liberal Western opinion that cannot decide where to draw lines, cannot decide how to defend itself, cannot explain the superiority of some liberal values and won’t argue its case. Then you come across the thing that has taken advantage of this – Muslim groups who week in, week out bring in radical speakers from the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Hizbullah.

“Abdulmutallab, the Christmas Day bomber, is sitting in his penthouse in a country that he doesn’t know very much and he will probably notice the following. He would notice that you aren’t allowed to recruit for the British army at University College London, but he would also notice that pretty well known jihadis can speak on campus. In other words this young man can get in touch with the top jihadis via his Islamic studies society.”

Referring to an earlier he comment on how when people see a strong horse and a weak horse, they will always back the strong horse, and how if people see that the state is weak, unbothered even by its assassins, then they will not back the state, they will not back the country they are in and they will not integrate further, Murray says: “You would get a very warped idea about which was strong horse and which was the weak horse if you were Abdulmutallab. After Christmas Day I assumed it would stop, I have to say I’m still waiting for it to happen. I don’t know what it takes, in other words. I thought after Mike’s place they’ll wake up, they must wake up now. I thought that after 9/11, I thought that after 7/7.

After every incident you say, surely they are gong to wake up now. The only good thing is that some people do and everyone that breaks the silence encourages other people to do the same.”

MURRAY DOES feel, though, that with the recent election of a new Conservative-led government the situation has improved somewhat, but on the other hand he says he is “very concerned about the Liberal Democrats, the junior partner in the coalition, because of their tendency to harbor rabid anti-Semites, people like Jenny Tonge.”

“I’m not a supporter of any of the parties,” says Murray, “but the Conservatives do have some people who do get this. [Secretary of State for Work and Pensions] Ian Duncan Smith has stated his desire to stop the welfare culture. He hasn't said this, but it is the welfare culture which has fueled a lot of this in Britain – the situation where you do jihad on the dole.

“Others have signaled they know the right way to go. The new home secretary [Theresa May] banning [radical Muslim preacher] Zaki Naik was a good example. She said entry to Britain is not a right, it’s a privilege, so he’s not coming in. There are some signs, but to my mind to sort this out now requires a huge degree of political leadership and I don’t think there is any of that or much of that around. You have to break through a set of barriers in order to deal with this.”

While Murray feels the clock is now showing “five minutes to midnight” and the danger exists of a European city falling to Islam – and in Britain the possibility of “no go areas” in Birmingham, the country’s first Muslim majority city – it is not yet too late to turn the situation around, he says.

One of the things Murray calls for is a clampdown on immigration.

“There has to be a clampdown,” he says, “There has to be severe restriction on it. It seems very obvious to me that a society that does not believe it has anything it needs to protect, that it has no identity to keep, will melt down and end. There is a level of immigration above which you cannot integrate people, and I believe that is what we’ve seen in Britain.”

There is, he adds, also a level at which people can be integrated. “It is generally accepted now that the grandparents of young Muslims today are better integrated then their grandchildren are,” he says. “There is something seriously wrong when you are practicing reverse integration like that.”

Dealing with immigration is just the start for Murray. He also calls on the government to take strong line on hate speech and incitement, to expel foreign clerics if necessary and not to allow Britain “to remain a retirement for would-be jihadis who then claim European Convention of Human Rights grounds for not going to other countries.”

He says that Britain must step out of the CHR. “You have to have a British bill of rights,” he says, “which means some of the insanities that now hinder some of Britain’s own fight are not allowed to persist. You have to end the era of funding Muslim groups, you take away the idea that you can get special access to Downing Street or the UK government just for being a so-called, self-appointed Muslim leader.

You say no, like the prime minister of Denmark did during the cartoon crisis when the delegates of Muslims came to him to complain. He said, ‘No, they will have to learn. I am not seeing them; they will have to learn.

We have a free press and the government does not control that; the sooner they learn that, the better.’” Turning the situation around will be the work of at least a generation, probably more, says Murray. But at the end of the day, he adds, what Britain has to do is to return to a period in which it says: “This is what we stand for, this is what we permit and this is what we do not permit. We are not an entirely relative society. We believe some aspects of our society are better than aspects of other societies. We have allies, and we have friends that we stick beside, and that’s nonnegotiable. We don’t put up with blackmail.”

He also believes that one of the things that needs to be tackled to turn the clock back is the UK’s attitude to Israel, which he likens to appeasement. “If it [the British government] continues to feed the lies that have been told, Britain will suffer angst. It is astonishing that the no major politician since [Tony] Blair has understood Israel’s right to defend herself.

“They consistently speak about such a right in theory, but whenever in practice, whether it's Gaza or the flotilla, they don’t, and they condemn Israel on it. I hate reverting to 1930s quotes, because I don’t think history is an endless lesson of repeating the 1930s, but you know [Winston] Churchill’s famous description of an appeaser as someone who feeds the crocodile and hopes it will eat him last. Some major leader has to explain in relation to Israel and Britain that this crocodile would eat us next, not last. Therefore it would be a very very stupid thing, for your own security, as well as your own sense of what’s morally right, to keep sacrificing Israel in this way.”

ARE YOU optimistic that the battle will be won? I ask Murray in conclusion.His answer is not entirely reassuring; the clock, he says, will continue to tick down. “The problem is that it’s five to midnight. The reason it’s so close is that this is seen currently as being unturnaroundable, and I think it can be turned around because I have faith in the fact that things will happen that will mean that the politicians, eventually, at one minute to midnight, will realize how badly they screwed up and this will have to be rectified.

“I’ll tell you why I’m optimistic, which is this. I honestly believe that our values are better; the values of democratic pluralistic societies are better. I honestly think that in a debate between a rigid totalitarian interpretation of my ideology and liberal democracy, liberal democracy has everything going for it and Islamism has nothing going for it. And if we explain ourselves better, we win. If we explain ourselves as badly as we are at the moment, then we lose.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

From Taboo Breakers, to Taboo Makers (Part II)

Honestly assessing the costs and benefits of demographic change, in its present form, is but the first of several taboos that must be broken if we are to reach the goal of creating policies that maximize the long term social and economic welfare of all Americans. Once we acknowledge specific examples were the costs of demographic change may be unduly high, the next step is to determine the causes and formulate a solution.

A racist will attribute it to what they believe are fundamental defects in a racial or ethnic group, a position which I absolutely reject. Most progressives will exclusively attribute poor socio-economic outcomes to external forces, such as racism and oppression. Indeed, there are instances in which racism is a real factor, however more often than not it is but one factor in an equation. For example, Jews faced severe discrimination in much of Europe, but in most cases their educational, cultural and economic output surpassed that of their Christian neighbors. And no one can say that East Asians have enjoyed social or legal privileges in the United States, yet by and large they have surpassed whites in educational and income levels. And while racism is a significant factor in the socio-economic difficulties that African-Americans face, one cannot ignore cultural factors, such as the 70% rate of out-of-wedlock births and attitudes towards education and money management. So, how do we explain the fact that otherwise astute progressives ignore the obvious? I believe that it stems from the strong progressive taboo against offering any form of criticism against "the underdog." And on an even deeper level it represents the progressive tendency to view individuals and groups as passive agents, rather than active agents whose choices shape their circumstances.

So, if we reject racist or progressive explanations of the positive or negative socio-economic outputs of different groups, to where can we turn? Economists and "culturalists" understand that at its core, immigration policy implies the selection of a particular segment of a nation, either through the allocation of visas or through the non-enforcement of laws. To say that 10,000 Iranians immigrated to the United States tells us very little. To determine their social and economic impact, we would have to know: what segment of Iranian society predominate in the select group? The highly educated elite or poor, uneducated Persians? Secular, western oriented Iranians or deeply religious Shi'ites that support theocratic rule? Urban or rural? Each of the said groups emphasizes very different aspects of Iranian culture and would have a markedly different impact on economic and cultural life of the United States. The same goes for any other ethnic group, be they European, Latin-American, African or Asian. An economist will declare that the level of education of an individual is the greatest determinant of their economic output. A "culturalist" will agree, but also ad that certain cultures may predispose their members towards educational achievement and social mobility, more than others.

Naturally, the world view of racists, progressives, economists and culturalists engender different solutions towards difficulties brought on by demographic change. A racists would simply ban the further immigration of groups that they deem undesirable; a solution which I completely reject. Most progressives completely reject moves to alter or limit the flow of immigration, instead proposing 101 costly programs to bridge the socio-economic gap between different groups. There are two problems with this approach. First, its proponents fail to realize that altering the flow of future immigrants and promoting positive social and economic among present immigrants and their offspring are often inseparable policies. For example, there is not a government policy or program in the world that can improve wages and employment opportunities for California's low skill immigrant workers, without first curbing the perpetual increase in the supply of low skilled labor. And in order to improve the educational opportunities for the children of working class immigrants, the last thing in the world we want to do is to increase the number of students that already overcrowded and underfunded schools have to educate.

Second, progressives often avoid troubling demographic issues, by circumventing the facts on the ground. For example, when presented with the troubling statistic that the drop out, incarceration and out-of-wedlock-birth rate for Hispanics is over 200% greater than that of whites, the sole progressive solution is the expansion of federal government initiatives to address racism and the educational gap. While these programs may be noble in intent, there is no evidence that they are effective. So, when we explore the impact of projected demographic change, we must base our calculations on the facts on the ground; we cannot base them on the assumption that any group will improve their social and economic output, either through government intervention or through their own initiatives. The does not mean that we as a nation shouldn't do all that is possible to bridge the social and economic gaps faced by our Hispanic brethren. We must boldly pursue educational initiatives to assist Hispanics that already reside in the United States, while altering our selection of future immigrants. Our economy will continue to offer diminishing returns for all unskilled workers, so the most logical course of action is to shift our focus to highly skilled, highly educated immigrants. To ensure the prosperity of the United States, it's vital to bring in the best and brightest workers and entrepreneurs from all over the world, regardless of their race or national origin. This will ensure that increased diversity will not be exacerbate our growing levels of poverty, economic and educational inequality. Cowering behind progressive taboos may spare us from difficult discussions, but it does little to address the social, economic and political challenges that we as a nation must face.