Friday, February 25, 2011

NPR & Political Theater

One issue that has been misrepresented by much of the left and right are federal subsidies towards PBS. After considering the numerous pros and cons, I am not supportive of funding cuts to NPR. Although I strongly affirm the need for government spending cuts, the $50 million in spending is such an infinitesimally small portion of the over $1 Trillion dollar federal deficit, that I consider it meaningless political theater. It is a distraction from the four segments of the budget that account for 75% of all spending: Medicare & Medicaid (21%), Social Security (20%), Defense (20%) and Safety Net Programs (14%). Without fundamentally reforming the first three, there is absolutely no way that the rapid inflation of federal debt will be brought under control. Of all of the costly federal subsidies, those going towards increasing educational and cultural opportunities for the public are the least destructive. Until we seriously explore the $20 billion in deeply flawed agricultural subsidies, including over $1 billion that goes towards tobacco, NPR should not even be up for discussion. The right is not the only source of misrepresentation. Many progressives have engaged in histrionic, political theater, stating that federal cuts spelled the end of NPR. The numbers simply do not support this; only 15.7% of funds come from federal, state and local governments. The majority comes from individual, corporate and university contributions. And keep in mind that the cuts in question are federal, not the portion that come from states and local governments. Individuals, communities, corporations and states that value public radio are welcome to maintain or even increase their contributions to make up for the federal cuts. If anything, the reason why PBS and NPR has offered (mostly) quality programs is because they are not fully dependent on the federal government. They are subject to market discipline, or more specifically if they allowed their service to be as awful as those offered by most government agencies, their private funding would quickly evaporate. To be fair, NPR must take some responsibility for this situation. Being a public interest organization that receives tax payer dollars implies that it must strive for neutrality and refrain from partisanship. But, several recent scandals, such as Ronald Schiller's rants against "racist tea parties" and the public defamation of Juan Williams, call that neutrality into question. And if you behave as political partisan, you cannot complain when opposing partisans hit back. More subtle liberal bias is demonstrated by the stories, figures and organizations that NPR chooses to present or not present. To NPR - please reaffirm your mission as a non-partisan organization that strives to offer quality news and educational programs to the publicly. To Republicans and Democrats, if you want to partake in drama, sign up with a community theater group, but while you are at work, we your employers, the American People ask that you focus on the real fiscal and economic problems that beleaguer the United States.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Moral & Fiscal Degradation Caused by Entitlements

It was come as a surprise to many of my readers that in theory I support generous subsidies to health care and education, but my reservations lie in the unintended consequences that they engender. When I ask prospective renters how their credit is, on quite a few occasions they respond "my score isn't too high, but that's only because of medical and student loan collections." While some individuals face astronomical medical bills that are beyond their capacity to pay, others have a string of modest collections (as low as $46) that are in their power to pay, but they simply choose not to. The same goes for individuals with student loan payments that their income would permit them to pay, but they choose not to.What is the source of this blasé attitude regarding the costly medical care and educational subsidies generously provided to them by the public? The answer is clear: those who believe they are entitled to something are rarely grateful for it. And those who believe that any goods or services are "free" will often squander them at a great cost to the public. This moral and fiscal degradation did not occur over night; I have had the pleasure to speak with a few WW II veterans who were forever grateful for the education they received via the GI Bill. Even though they risked their lives on the hellish battlefields of Europe and the South Pacific, none of them expressed the belief that a subsidized education was an entitlement, rather it was part of a social pact in which rights were balanced by responsibilities. How much we've changed...

Prager University: Key to Happiness and Goodness

This brief video departs from the usual themes of the Chicago Freedom Forum, but it is insightful and uplifting. Enjoy!

Ottoman Public Debt Administration

If you want to better understand the ruinous effect that debt has on a nation, I reccomend that you read up on the history of the Ottoman Empire. Through out of control spending driven by warfare, public works and corruption and by the 1870's, the empire was plunged deep into debt. In 1875 it was unable to continue payments to its foreign debtors and in 1881, after years of contentious negotiations, the Ottoman Public Debt Administration (OPDA) was established. The OPDA was controlled by the European creditors and bond holders. They exercised enormous power over the empire, by directly collecting taxes from the most lucrative sectors of the Ottoman Economy, such as the tobbaco, timber, silk & alcohol industries. The increasingly heavy tax burden places on peasants and religious minorities, that contributed to serious unrest, was at least partially driven by financial obligations to foreign creditors. Most painful to the Ottomans was the erosion of sovereignty brought on by the OPDA; they rewrote laws to the benefits of western powers and granted considerable extraterritorial rights to westerners and wealthy Ottoman minorities. Thankfully the United States is nowhere near this point, but it would be wise for more Americans to aquaint themselves with the experiences of other nations ruined by foreign debt. With a better understanding of this history, more Americans would be willing to part with unsustainable warfare, welfare and tax rates, in order to get our fiscal house in order. Our choice is to suffer austerity now, or future prospects of reduced sovereignty under the auspices of an American Public Debt Administration headed by China, Japan and our many other foreign creditors.

Borrowing in the Ottoman Empire by the government and within the private sector.

Throughout most of its history, from 1300 to 1922, the government of the Ottoman Empire relied on short-term loans from individual lenders as well as currency debasement and short-term notes to resolve fiscal shortfalls. On occasion, the Ottoman government just confiscated the monies needed, either from the lenders or from state officials. In the private sector, individuals, who only sometimes were professional moneylenders, lent their surplus to others. Both public and private borrowers commonly paid interest for the privilege. Both public and private borrowing persisted until the end of the empire - although confiscation became rare after about 1825. Very important changes occurred in the forms of borrowing, within and outside the government, beginning about 1850, when foreign capital became available and assumed an unprecedented role.

In many ways, the international borrowing experiences of the Ottoman Empire during the nineteenth century anticipated those of today's third-world nations. The Ottoman economy was competing in a world dominated by the industrialized nations of the West, which possessed superior military technologies and political and economic power. Ottoman survival strategy required large, modern military forces and state structures. As both were exceedingly expensive, government expenditures mounted accordingly. Unlike the economies of many of the countries with which it was competing - notably Britain and France - the Ottoman economy remained essentially agrarian and incapable of generating the funds needed for increasingly complex and costly military and civilian structures. Thus, the government borrowed to modernize and survive.

Acutely aware of the dangers, Ottoman statesmen resisted international borrowing until the crisis provoked by Ottoman participation in the Crimean War, 1854 - 1856. International loans then quickly succeeded one another, on decreasingly favorable terms. These loans were private, the creditors being European bankers and financiers who were usually given diplomatic assistance by their own governments. By the early 1870s, Ottoman state borrowing too easily substituted for financial planning; between 1869 and 1875, the government borrowed more than its tax collectors took in. The Ottoman state suspended payments on its accumulated debt in 1875, after crop failures cut revenues between 1873 and 1875 and the global depression of 1873 dried up capital imports.

Perhaps fearing occupation by the European governments of its creditors, the Ottoman government eventually honored its obligations. Prolonged negotiations resulted in a reduction and consolidation of the total Ottoman debt and the formation, in 1881, of the Ottoman Public Debt Administration; this body took control of portions of the economy. The Ottoman Public Debt Administration supervised the collections of various tax revenues, turning the proceeds over to the European creditors - an international consortium representing bond-holders of Ottoman obligations. Residents of France, Great Britain, and Germany held most of the bonds. The ceded revenues came from the richest and most lucrative in the empire - taxes imposed on tobacco, salt, silk, timber, alcohol, and postage stamps.

Although nominally a branch of the Ottoman government, the Debt Administration actually was independent and answerable only to the bondholders. Many scholars consider its founding as the beginning of Ottoman semicolonial status - when the state lost control over parts of its economy. Still worse, perhaps, the state's legitimacy and relevancy also declined in the eyes of subjects who had to pay their taxes to a foreign group rather than their own state. The Debt Administration represented a true loss of Ottoman sovereignty, but, as the government may have hoped, the consortium reassured foreign investors, who provided still more loans to the state, which needed still more cash to finance modernization.

Foreign capital invested in the Ottoman private sector became significant only after 1890. A part of the more general diffusion of European capital into the global economy, these investments also derived from the comforting presence of the Debt Administration, which was involved in many of them. Industrial or agricultural investment was nearly completely absent. Railroads, port facilities, and municipal services absorbed most of these monies, more firmly linking the Ottoman and international economies by facilitating the outward flow of raw materials and the import of finished goods. French financiers were the most important single source of funds, while the British and Germans also were significant providers. Almost all these new loans were administered by the Debt Administration.

By 1914, Ottoman public and private debts to foreign financiers consumed, in roughly equal shares, more than 30 percent of total tax revenues. In one way or another, the Debt Administration administered virtually the entire amount. This pattern of indebtedness makes clear the ongoing subordination of the late Ottoman economy to the European until the demise of the empire after World War I.


Blaisdell, Donald. European Financial Control in the OttomanEmpire. New York: Columbia University Press, 1929.

Issawi, Charles. An Economic History of the Middle East and NorthAfrica. New York: Columbia University Press, 1982.

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Prager University: The Middle East Problem

Clear, correct and concise analysis of the Israeli-Arab Conflict:

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Does Culture = Educational Destiny?

Every three years, the Paris-based Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation& Development (OECD) holds its Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests of the reading, math and science skills of 15-year-olds in developing and developed countries. Interestingly, 4 out of 5 of the top performing countries were East Asian, with the Chinese Students of Shanghai receiving the highest rank (556). In contrast, America's performance (500) was mediocre, prompting Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to declare:

"We have to see this as a wakeup call...I know skeptics will want to argue with the results, but we consider them to be accurate and reliable, and we have to see them as a challenge to get better,” he added. “The United States came in 23rd or 24th in most subjects. We can quibble, or we can face the brutal truth that we’re being out-educated.”

The story becomes much more fascinating and relevant, when you analyze the performance of American students based on their race and ethnicity. To more clearly view the rankings, click on the graph provided. American students of Asian descent received the second highest international rank (541). American students of European descent outperformed (525) the students of every European nation except Finland (536). American students of Hispanic descent outperformed (466) the students of the 8 Latin American nations that were tested, yet scored substantially lower than the American average (500). On average, African-American students outperformed (441) the students of each African and Afro-Caribbean nation. In other words, there is a huge correlation between academic performance and ethnic origin, regardless of the nation that a student resides in. And we also see that for all its faults, the American educational system has augmented the academic performance of students relative to their ethnic compatriots. Granted, the quality of a school certainly influence academic performance, but in the same schools, where each student enjoyed the same level of resources, the relative achievement of ethnic groups held steady.

During my time as a Spanish and History teacher, in my classroom, working class Chinese immigrants outperformed White, Hispanic and African-American students, even though they barely spoke English, let alone Spanish! I presume that this will elicit protests or nervous silence from progressives, but the conclusions are clear as day: in matters of education, culture is destiny. Clearly some cultures encourage education, discipline and investment more than others. This leads me to believe that a huge component in the educational challenges that the United States faces are cultural. The larger and more controversial challenge will be to factor this data into the generation of public policy that will increase our international educational and economic competitiveness. In the long run, school reform that is not accompanied by shifts in culture and behavior, will fail. But, such changes cannot simply be legislated into existence, they must "organically" occur overtime via the aggregate effect of the choices that individuals, families and communities make. It took decades for educational "experts" and cultural figures to erode discipline, competition and achievement-orientation via a focus on self esteem, cultural relativism and a host of other questionable pedagogic theories and it will take decades to repair the damage.

While there is little that the government can do to effect immediate cultural changes, policies can alter demographic trajectories in a manner which will impact future educational and economic outcomes. To put it simply, the surest way to raise the mean educational level of a nation is by increasing the number of educated oriented individuals and families. A good starting point would be to realign immigration policies away from chain migration towards one that focuses on bringing in highly educated, highly skilled workers and their families, regardless of race or national origin. The implications of such a shift cannot be overstated, because of the strong correlation that exists between the educational and economic output of 1st generation immigrants and that of their 2nd, 3rd and even 4th generation descendants. Unfortunately any serious discussion of culture and ethnic origin will crash head long into a wall of taboos and intellectual dishonesty.

Joseph Schumpeter: Austria's Greatest Economist, Horseman & Lover?

While the majority of European and American intellectuals spent inordinate amounts of ink and energy attacking capitalism, the great Austrian Economist, Joseph Schumpeter was one of its earliest and most articulate defenders. He predicted that the success of capitalism would spawn and fund a large class of intellectuals who were hostile to free enterprise, private property and entrepreneurship. My university experience inclines me to agree with him; the majority of my professors were hostile or indifferent to capitalism, even though their generous salaries were only possible through the success and strength of entrepreneurs and "evil corporations."

Mr. Schumpeter also possessed a good sense of humor. "He claimed that he had put forth three goals in life: to be the greatest economist in the world, to be the best horseman in all of Austria and the greatest lover in all of Vienna. He said he had reached two of his goals, but he never said which two.[3][4] Although, he is reported to have said that there were too many fine horseman in Austria for him to succeed in all his aspirations!"

Enclosed is a brief but interesting article on Mr. Schumpeter:

"Can capitalism survive? No. I do not think it can." Thus opens Schumpeter's prologue to a section of his 1942 book, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy. One might think, on the basis of the quote, that Schumpeter was a Marxist. But the analysis that led Schumpeter to his conclusion differed totally from Karl Marx's. Marx believed that capitalism would be destroyed by its enemies (the proletariat), whom capitalism had purportedly exploited. Marx relished the prospect. Schumpeter believed that capitalism would be destroyed by its successes. Capitalism would spawn, he believed, a large intellectual class that made its living by attacking the very bourgeois system of private property and freedom so necessary for the intellectual class's existence. And unlike Marx, Schumpeter did not relish the destruction of capitalism. He wrote: "If a doctor predicts that his patient will die presently, this does not mean that he desires it."

Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy was much more than a prognosis of capitalism's future. It was also a sparkling defense of capitalism on the grounds that capitalism sparked entrepreneurship. Indeed, Schumpeter was among the first to lay out a clear concept of entrepreneurship. He distinguished inventions from the entrepreneur's innovations. Schumpeter pointed out that entrepreneurs innovate, not just by figuring out how to use inventions, but also by introducing new means of production, new products, and new forms of organization. These innovations, he argued, take just as much skill and daring as does the process of invention.

Innovation by the entrepreneur, argued Schumpeter, led to gales of "creative destruction" as innovations caused old inventories, ideas, technologies, skills, and equipment to become obsolete. The question, as Schumpeter saw it, was not "how capitalism administers existing structures,... [but] how it creates and destroys them." This creative destruction, he believed, caused continuous progress and improved standards of living for everyone.

Schumpeter argued with the prevailing view that "perfect" competition was the way to maximize economic well-being. Under perfect competition all firms in an industry produced the same good, sold it for the same price, and had access to the same technology. Schumpeter saw this kind of competition as relatively unimportant. He wrote: "[What counts is] competition from the new commodity, the new technology, the new source of supply, the new type of organization... competition which... strikes not at the margins of the profits and the outputs of the existing firms but at their foundations and their very lives."

Schumpeter argued on this basis that some degree of monopoly was preferable to perfect competition. Competition from innovations, he argued, was an "ever-present threat" that "disciplines before it attacks." He cited the Aluminum Company of America as an example of a monopoly that continuously innovated in order to retain its monopoly. By 1929, he noted, the price of its product, adjusted for inflation, had fallen to only 8.8 percent of its level in 1890, and its output had risen from 30 metric tons to 103,400.

Schumpeter never made completely clear whether he believed innovation was sparked by monopoly per se or, rather, by the prospect of getting a monopoly as the reward for innovation. Most economists accept the latter argument and, on that basis, believe that companies should be able to keep their production processes secret, have their trademarks protected from infringement, and obtain patents.

Schumpeter was also a giant in the history of economic thought. His magnum opus in the area was History of Economic Analysis, edited by his third wife, Elizabeth Boody, and published posthumously in 1954. In it Schumpeter made some controversial comparisons between economists, arguing that Adam Smith was unoriginal, that Alfred Marshall was confused, and that Leon Walras was the greatest economist of all time.

Born in Austria to parents who owned a textile factory, Schumpeter was very familiar with business when he entered the University of Vienna to study economics and law. He was one of the more promising students of Friedrich von Wieser and Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk, publishing at the age of twenty-eight his famous Theory of Economic Development. In 1911 Schumpeter took a professorship in economics at the University of Graz. He served as minister of finance in 1919. With the rise of Hitler, Schumpeter left Europe and the University of Bonn, where he was a professor from 1925 until 1932, and emigrated to the United States. In that same year he accepted a permanent position at Harvard, where he remained until his retirement in 1949. Schumpeter was president of the American Economic Association in 1948

The Golden Calf of Social Security

So, how far in the red does social security have to go before politicians and the public stop treating it as an untouchable golden calf? To keep social security afloat we will have to siphon more and more resources from non-discretionary spending, such as education.

Social Security posting $600B deficit over 10 years



Social Security will post nearly $600 billion in deficits over the next decade as the economy struggles to recover and millions of baby boomers stand at the brink of retirement, according to new congressional projections.

This year alone, Social Security is projected to collect $45 billion less in payroll taxes than it pays out in retirement, disability and survivor benefits, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said Wednesday. That figure swells to $130 billion when a new one-year cut in payroll taxes is included, though Congress has promised to repay any lost revenue from the tax cut.

Last year, Social Security posted its first deficit since the program was last overhauled in the 1980s. The CBO said at the time that Social Security would post surpluses for a few more years before permanently slipping into deficits in 2016.

But the new projections show nothing but red ink until the Social Security trust funds are exhausted in 2037.

The outlook has grown bleaker as the nation struggles to recover from its worst economic crisis since Social Security was enacted during the Great Depression. In the short term, Social Security is suffering from a weak economy that has payroll taxes lagging and applications for benefits rising. In the long term, Social Security will be strained by the growing number of baby boomers retiring and applying for benefits.

More than 54 million people receive retirement, disability or survivor benefits from Social Security. Monthly payments average $1,076.

The deficits add a sense of urgency to efforts to improve Social Security's finances. For much of the past 30 years, Social Security has run big surpluses, which the government has borrowed to spend on other programs. Now that the program is running deficits, the federal government will have to find money elsewhere to pay back Social Security, so it continue to issue benefits.

"I've received the lash from those who say, 'Well, you shouldn't have to cut Social Security because there are trillions of dollars of assets,'" said Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. "It is true there are trillions of dollars of assets. It is true that they're backed by the full faith and credit of the United States. It is also true that the only way those bonds get redeemed is out of the current income of the United States."

Other lawmakers said Social Security's financial problems are not that urgent.

"In the last 75 years, in good times and in bad times, Social Security has paid out every nickel owed to every eligible beneficiary at a relatively modest administrative cost," said Sen. Bernie Sanders, who organized the first meeting of the Senate Social Security caucus Thursday.

"We are getting very tired about hearing our Republican and right wing friends telling us about how Social Security is collapsing when the reality is, Social Security today has a surplus of $2.6 trillion," Sanders said. "Social Security can pay out every benefit owed to every eligible American, for the next 27 years."

Social Security has built up a $2.5 trillion surplus since the retirement program was last overhauled in the 1980s. Benefits will be safe until that money runs out. That is projected to happen in 2037 — unless Congress acts in the meantime. At that point, Social Security would collect enough in payroll taxes to pay out about 78 percent of benefits, according to the Social Security Administration.

The $2.5 trillion surplus, however, has been borrowed over the years by the federal government and spent on other programs. In return, the Treasury Department has issued bonds to Social Security, guaranteeing repayment with interest.

It's a bad time for the nation to be hit with more financial obligations. The federal budget deficit will surge to a record $1.5 trillion flood of red ink this year, congressional budget experts estimated Wednesday, blaming the slow economic recovery and a tax cut law enacted in December.

Lawmakers from both parties have vowed to address the nation's financial problems, including such contentious issues as Social Security and Medicare. The political climate, however, has made it difficult. Some Democrats have criticized plans to cut Social Security benefits as secret plots to destroy the program. Many Republicans have refused to consider tax increases.

"We need to get past the politics of the past and deal with this issue, making the hard decisions that have to be made," Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, said Thursday at a Senate hearing on the budget deficit. "As we move forward in that context, I personally believe strongly that all aspects of the spending and revenue side of the equation must be on the table."

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., accused congressional Republicans of wanting to end Social Security by privatizing it.

"Privatize means end," Schumer said Thursday after the meeting of the Senate Social Security Caucus.

Schumer was referring to a widely distributed plan by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., chairman of the House Budget Committee. Ryan's plan would offer workers under 55 the option of investing over a third of their current Social Security taxes into personal retirement accounts.

Social Security has been supported by a 6.2 percent payroll tax paid by both workers and employers. In December, Congress passed a one-year tax cut for workers, to 4.2 percent. The lost revenue is to be repaid to Social Security from general revenue funds, meaning it will add to the growing national debt.

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Excellence & Equality In Evanston

I was very pleased when President Obama spoke about the need for a "Sputnik Moment," calling on the United States to focus its energy on improving educational outcomes. The President is correct, our economic competitiveness and creativity is inseparable from the level of achievement of our students. Unfortunately, excellence does not seem to figure prominently in the hierarchy of progressive values. Of course, most liberals value achievement, however excellence is almost always eclipsed by their focus on perceived social goods, such as achieving equality of outcomes. This was apparent when Evanston Township High School eliminated an honors English class for freshman, because African-Americans were underrepresented in the said class. Administrators responded to outraged parents with the dubious claim that "high achievement students will profit from experiencing multiple perspective and diversity in their classes to gain cultural capital..."

This is not an isolated incident; in the Masters in Education Program at Loyola University, my professors were virtually unanimous in their opposition to academic tracking and levels. They believed that "solidarity," "diversity" and "equity" trumped the need to maximize achievement. This may have been feasible when the United States towered over the world, but now that we are competing against rapidly rising powers like China, India and South Korea, we do not have this luxury. We must do all that is possible to foment achievement and excellence. And while the administrators are correct that we must bridge the achievement gaps that exist between different ethnic groups, stifling our best and brightest, committed and capable students is not the way to achieve this.

Evanston High School Drops Honors Course

Jim Breeling


By Jim Breeling

Being an elected member of a public school board must be one of the toughest jobs in a democratic society. Unless committed to some political or educational creed that puts ideology first and students as an afterthought, the board member seeks to do "what's best" for students when it is often not at all clear what "best" may be.

Constraints on good decision-making are mines in a mapless minefield: budgetary allocations, teacher hiring/firing/retention, selection and purchase of educational materials (hard- and software)), objective measurement of academic achievement by the student bodies, how to improve academic performanc if that becomes an issue (as it almost always does), security and student safety, quality of foods if the school has a school breakfast ot lunch program, and etc., etc., etc.

An etc. that can be a very explosive constraint on objective decision-making is social/cultural/racial diversity of the student body, with related issues of equity in access to highest quality education, and fairness in assessment of academic performance.

Dealing with these "diversity" issues opens questions as broad as any in a democratic society--e.g., what are the pruposes of public education in a democratic society? What roles should public education fill in addressing social/cultural/racial inequities? Are these questions that need to be addressed by the elected board of an individual public school?

A question that has nefarious connotations but one that a board member must ask is whether standards of academic performance should be altered to accomodate more "fairness" in access to education. What is "best" for students? Would "best" be most harmoniously achieved by some form of compromise?

Evanston Township High School District 202 board members spent agonizing weeks in addressing just such issues, and ended up with a compromise (Chicago Tribune December 12, 2010). The board ended up voting unanimously to eliminate an honors English course for entering freshmen who have records as high academic achievers. The ratio of white to "minority" students in the high-achieving freshmen has usually been heavily skewed to whites. This statistic prompted the question for the school board to address: Did this honors course for entering freshmen begin a process of differentiating high-achieving white students from "other", a process that could influence how students are perceived academically all the way through high school? According to the Tribune story, data collected by the school show that white students are far more likely to qualify for honors and Advanced Placement courses with high academic standards and "stepping stones" to continuation in education after high school.

Did the board make the "best" decision for all students? Many parents of students thought not, and made their views known at board meetings and by petitions. In the end, however, the board voted to do away with the freshman honors course that selected students based on test scores--a method felt unfair to minorities. The decision is seen as a move toward opening academically advanced courses to a broader range of students.

It may be that the decision was the best that the board could make, given all constraints on decision-making. The decision does not affect me personally because I do not live in Evanston and know no students who attend this school. I do, however, regret the board's decision. I regret a decision that fails to encourage intellectual achievement--no matter if achievement is assessed by test scores.

There is a powerful current of anti-intellectualism in American culture and students of high intellectual achievement should be encouraged to swim against it. Among sub-teen and teen-age students there is often powerful peer pressure to be a low academic achiever, to be "cool" or whatever sobriquet is current for putting a high value on low academic performance. Students need all the help they can get to resist such peer pressure.

It is unfortunate that in order to be broadly equitable in opening educational opportunity, a school board must close its eyes to the presence of intellectually exceptional students and let them find their own way to a properly stimulating education.

The effect of anti-intellectualism in American life is now on display in the publication of 2009 data by the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), administered by the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development. PISA compares academic performance of 15-year-olds from 60 countries in science, mathemetics and reading. An average score is 500. The 5,233 U.S. students from 165 schools scored 487 in mathematics (31st place in rankings), 502 in science (23rd place in rankings), and 500 in reading (15th place in rankings. Not too many years ago, U.S. students were at or near the top in academic performance. In 2009 PISA ranking, students in Shanghai outperformed all others in all categories. Students in China, Japan, Korea and Singapore were high performers in all categories.
Tagged Evanston township high school district 202 decision--oh my

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Monday, February 14, 2011

The Dream Act as a Rorschach Test

The Rorschach Test involves presenting an abstract ink blot to an individual and having them interpret it. The individual's response speaks far more about their own psychological and cognitive processes than it does about the actual pattern. And the response of different viewers can diverge to the point were it seems as if they were viewing completely different objects. In many ways the topic of the Dream Act functions like a political Rorschach Test. Most people will agree that the large presence of undocumented students who have resided in the United States for years is symptomatic of a broken immigration system. But, a huge gulf exists between the manner in which different people interpret this phenomena, which speaks more about the subject than the object.

To the supporter of the Dream Act, it's quite obvious: these minors were brought to the United States at no fault of their own and spent the vast majority of their lives in the United States, so the only logical conclusion is to help them pursue a higher education. Not only will this help the prospective students, but it's also in the general economic and social interests of the nation for all residents to become more educated and productive. To the supporters, having so many individuals reside in a legal limbo is inhumane and warrants comprehensive immigration reform. And given the extent of the undocumented population, a return to the enforcement of the law would create significant social and economic disruptions in so many families and communities. So, of course they are inclined to view any opposition to the Dream Act as stemming from racist and anti-immigrant sentiments.

To the opponents of the Dream Act, the fact that these undocumented students and their families lived, worked and studied for so many years is indicative of the systematic failure of the government to enforce existing immigration laws. To these critics the question is not why won't we subsidize the higher education of these students, but why did we offer tax payer funded public education, health care and other services to unlawful residents for so many years? Or, to put it simply, why did the government knowingly not enforce its own laws?

While most critics acknowledge that it's heart breaking to see the lives of well settled and (mostly) hard working individuals being disrupted, they lay the blame on the actions of the parents and the long term inaction of the government. By breaking the law the parents put their children in limbo or at risk. And if the government had enforced the law from the beginning, rather than spent so many years sending mixed signals, the said families would not have invested so much time and energy setting roots in the United States and would not be in their current predicament.

The most notable difference in which both sides interpret this political Rorschach Test is that the proponents tend to focus more on its immediate, emotional aspects, whereas the opponents tend to focus more on the broader, historical elements. The former seeks to alleviate the present situation of students, while (apparently) putting little thought into the future consequences. Whereas, the latter inquire about how we arrived at this impasse in the first place. To them the cause and solution to the problem center on the socio-economic "magnets" that attract undocumented immigrants to the United States in the first place, primarily the relatively easy access to jobs, government services (including free public education) and birthright citizenship.

Since past amnesties and systematic non-enforcement were followed by a marked increase in undocumented immigration, critics reason that the Dream Act will do the same. They believe that it's an example of the government's practice of "kicking the can further down the road," which allowed the problem to grow larger and larger, ensuring that the inevitable return to the rule of law would be more painful and disruptive to more families and communities. Now, we are forced to choose between the social and economic disruption that the enforcement of existing laws would cause or yet another piece meal amnesty that will do nothing to address widespread undocumented immigration. The ruling elite is aware that in cities like Los Angeles, the enforcement of existing laws would create riots and bring the economy to its knees. So, in effect the sovereign right of citizens to determine immigration policy has been substantially eroded. For this reason, a political ink blot that inspires hope for some , causes great indignation for others. As with all Rorschach Tests, the problem is that meaningful debate and the establishment of common ground is challenging at the best of times and provokes rancor at the worst of times.



Sunday, February 13, 2011

Hiddent Inflation: Food Prices Flying Under the Fed's Radar

Critics of the federal reserve cite the inflationary risks implicit in quantitative easing and other stimulatory policies. Defenders of such policies downplay these concerns by pointing out that the official rate of inflation has held steady. But with most government policies, G-d is in the details. Specifically, the core inflation index does not factor in food & gas costs in its calculations, both of which have substantially risen in the last year. Clearly, natural rises in demand and disruptions in supply are factors, but I strongly suspect that fiscal policy is a significant factor. In addition, government subsidies that direct corn towards ethanol production must not be overlooked. I anticipate that inflation will become more apparent once an economic recovery stimulates an increase in demand. This is not an abstract issue; rising food prices caused riots in Algeria and many other nations.

Hidden Inflation: Food Prices Flying Under the Fed’s Radar

Jan 28, 2011

By Jason Simpkins, Managing Editor, Money Morning

Soaring food prices have been, perhaps, the most pressing global issue of the past two years – yet the U.S. Federal Reserve has taken a “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil” approach to the global crisis.

Instead, the Fed has dutifully maintained its focus on so called “core inflation” in the United States – even as Americans suffer the consequences of the “hidden inflation” the government refuses to account for.

The Federal Reserve excludes food and fuel prices from its preferred gauge of inflation because they are often influenced by erratic weather patterns and political turmoil. That at times has been the case over the past few years.

Droughts in Russia and floods in Australia, for instance have helped drive food prices to record highs. However, the Fed’s monetary policy has also affected prices. The U.S. dollar has fallen substantially in the past three years, and the prices of agricultural commodities – which are priced in dollars – have reflected that decline. The result has been a chilling effect on consumers in local grocery stores and gas stations.

An 8.5% monthly gain in gasoline prices pushed the transportation costs up 2.3% in December, making it the driving force behind the consumer price index’s 0.5% headline gain. Core inflation, which excludes food and energy prices, rose just 0.1%.

Oil prices rose 10.2% in the period from Nov. 1 to Dec. 31, as rising demand in emerging markets and a subservient greenback pushed the price of crude over $90 a barrel for the first time in two years.

U.S. food prices rose 0.1% in December following a 0.2% increase the month prior. Prices were up 1.5% for all of 2010, with meat and dairy products making the biggest jumps. Beef prices were up 6.1% in December 2010 compared with a year earlier, while pork prices jumped 11.2% last month compared with December 2009.

And food prices are poised to climb substantially higher in 2011, spiking 2% to 3%, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service. That price jump will impact prices at grocery stores and restaurants.

For instance, a food basket survey by The Tennessean earlier this month found a 12.5% increase in prices for a typical grocery basket full of staples compared to November 2009. And McDonald’s Corp. (NYSE: MCD) – the world’s largest food chain – said yesterday (Tuesday) that it plans to raise prices this year to help offset an expected rise in its grocery bill for the 10 commodities that account for around 75% of its food preparation costs.

“As commodity and other cost pressures become more pronounced as we move throughout the year, we will likely increase prices to offset some but not necessarily all of these increases,” said McDonald’s Chief Financial Officer Peter Bensen.

The average price McDonald’s pays for its most used ingredients – beef, chicken, cheese, and wheat – is expected to go up by 2-2.5% this year.

The restaurateur’s major rival Yum! Brands Inc. (NYSE: YUM) and packaged food companies like Kraft Foods Inc. (NYSE: KFT) and Sara Lee Corp. (NYSE: SLE) are likely to see similar price increases.

Still, U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke insists that price pressures in the United States remain subdued.

“Longer-term inflation expectations have remained stable, but measures of underlying inflation have continued to trend downward,” the FOMC said in a statement following its Dec. 14 meeting.

The FOMC today (Wednesday) will conclude its first two-day meeting of 2011, and likely announce no significant changes to its monetary policy.

“While the Fed may identify higher commodity prices as a potential concern, policymakers are not likely to reverse course and tighten policy unless higher commodity prices push through to core inflation,” said University of Oregon economics professor Tim Duy. “Such an outcome appears unlikely given persistently high unemployment.”

In the meantime, the United States isn’t the only country suffering from higher food costs. In fact, pressures here are tame compared to the rest of the world.

A Global Epidemic

World food prices hit a record high in December, jumping above the 2008 food crisis levels and developing into an “alarming” situation, according to a report released earlier this month by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The FAO’s Food Price Index, which tracks the prices of 55 food commodities, climbed for the sixth consecutive month to hit 214.7 points in December, its highest reading since the measure was first calculated in 1990. This beat the previous June 2008 record of 213.5 and is a 25% increase from December 2009.

Soaring prices for sugar, corn, grain, meat and oilseeds pushed the index to its new peak. Sugar recently hit a 30-year high, U.S. corn prices surged 52% last year, European wheat prices doubled and U.S. soybean prices rose 30%.

Unfavorable environmental conditions, such as floods in Australia, contributed to the surge in prices. But observers have pointed out the prices were rising long before these events culminated in what’s fast becoming a global crisis.

In parts of Australia, retail fruit prices jumped 17% between the September and December quarters last year and vegetable prices rose 15%.

Surging food prices in 2008 led to riots in more than 30 countries and this year have already touched off protests in Tunisia and Algeria.

European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet earlier this week urged central bankers everywhere to ensure that higher food prices don’t get a foothold in the global economy. Indeed, Trichet emphasized overall inflation, rather than the core measures favored by the U.S. central bank.

“In the U.S., the Fed considers that core inflation is a good predictor for future headline inflation,” he said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. But elsewhere around the world, “core inflation is not necessarily a good predictor.”

A Bountiful Harvest for Agricultural Stocks

While rising food prices are a burden for most Americans, they’re a boon for the U.S. agricultural industry.

U.S. farm income last year probably exceeded the 2004 record of $87.3 billion, and cropland values gained as much as 10%, Neil Harl, an agricultural economist at Iowa State University and former adviser to the governments of Ukraine and the Czech Republic, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Higher prices will push U.S. agricultural exports up 16% to a record $126.5 billion this year, according to the Department of Agriculture.

The Department of Agriculture anticipates corn inventories will decline 5.5% this year to the lowest level in 15 years. Corn prices rose nearly 75% last year, catapulting shares of agribusiness companies and exchange-traded funds (ETFs).

The Teucrium Corn Fund (NYSE: CORN), which tracks the price fluctuations of corn, is up about 60% in the past year. And the Market Vectors Agribusiness ETF (NYSE: MOO), which offers broader exposure to the agricultural sector, is up 26%.

Companies that produce genetically engineered seeds that increase crop yields – like Monsanto Co. (NYSE: MON) and E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. (NYSE: DD) – also stand to gain.

Deere & Co. (NYSE: DE), the world’s largest farm equipment manufacturer, has seen its shares surge more than 66% in the past year on higher commodities prices.

But if you really want to profit from the agricultural boom, you should pick up the Money Map Report’s “2011 Investor’s Forecast,” which has already been delivered to subscribers. In it you’ll find an industrial-equipment maker that’s becoming the global leader of the worldwide agricultural boom and getting ready to blow past even Deere. If you’re not a Money Map subscriber you can sign up to receive the report by clicking here.

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Question on Egyptian Constitution

Important constitutional questions remain in Egypt, such as:

Now that he has left office, will Hosni Mubarak retain his pharaonic privilege of being mummified and buried with his 101 eunuch servants and concubines?

Friday, February 11, 2011

A Cautious Congratulations to Egypt

The people of Egypt deserve our congratulations; by remaining steadfast and united, they were able to remove a kleptocratic leader. If the military is supportive of their efforts, they may be able to establish truly free elections. I urge caution, because leaders like Mubarak are not only a cause of corruption, they reflect the culture and norms of a people. In Egypt and many other nations, "bakshish" and nepotism run rampant, from the smallest policeman to the highest reaches of government. The standard refrain that "poverty causes corruption," is simply inaccurate, because it is just as prevalent among the wealthy elites. In addition, core democratic principles and practices, like tolerance for dissent, fair treatment of minorities and the rule of law are lacking in large segments of the population. So, paradoxically, revolutions and dramatic acts of reform are not as challenging as reforming the customs and daily habits of a people.

More than anything we must caution the people of Egypt (and the United States) to not put too much faith in the power of politicians to change basic economic realities. The government will not be able to legislate rampant poverty, unemployment and economic inequality out of existence. The temptation will be to create jobs by expanding Egypt's already bloated and inefficient public sector, which may work in the short term, but is fiscally unsustainable for the long run. The temptation to seize wealth from one segment of society to give to another must be resisted , because it will create much discord, while doing little to alleviate long term poverty. And the temptation to blame Israel and America will be strong, but fixating on real or imagined historical grievances will not address a single social or economic ill.

The most we can hope for is have the government avoid policies that stifle the creation of new and more competitive enterprises. But, it is up to the people to create those businesses and jobs through hard work, saving and investing. And it is up to each individual and family to promote the education and equality of their sons and daughters. More than anything I wish the people of Egypt good luck and wisdom, because history clearly shows that the real challenge of a revolution is to establish ordered liberty. Failure to do so will bring chaos, which always heralds a new and more vexing dictatorship.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Bizarro World of Multiculturalism

In England, a community organization that was created to "help women and children build multicultural friendships and empower them with knowledge about the local community" turned back two women and their children because they were British. The irony is that the women brought their children to the play group, because they wanted them to get to know "culturally diverse children." Grant it, this is an extreme case, but it does demonstrate that rather than foster "unity through diversity," government sponsored multiculturalism often erodes shared community and social cohesion and promotes ethnic separatism. And many of its proponents are unable or unwilling to recognize the contradictions in the programs that they support.
When this was brought to the administrator's attention, he refused to condemn the blatant act of exclusion. To highlight the bizarro double standards that some progressives hold, all you have to do is substitute one nationality for the one originally cited in in the director's response.

"There were ‘plenty of other alternatives for British / Pakistani Immigrants mothers in the town...We get the money on the basis it’s a group for ladies from other nations / who were born in England). We’re not sure they would give us the money if we were offering just the same services for local people / non-British people (...This isn’t racism. What we are doing is helping people from other countries / white people."

Clearly he is utilizing the appalling "separate but equal" argument that racist Americans used to justify segregation. At first I assumed the director's response was simply indicative of his own bizarre philosophical contradictions, but the response of the spokesman for the Communities Development Foundation demonstrates that it represented an institution wide philosophy:

"It is up to [Making Links] to say who can’t come."

The question to ask is if this individual would have also defended the institutional autonomy of a government funded organization that sought to exclude people of color? Only in the bizarro world is it possible to promote integration by encouraging separation. And only in the bizarro world do we not hold all groups equally accountable for their bigoted and exclusionary practices.

Two mothers and their toddler children banned from council-funded playgroup - for being BRITISH


Last updated at 12:45 AM on 20th January 2011

Two British mothers have been banned from a publicly funded women’s group and creche because it was set up exclusively for foreigners.

Emma Knightley and Kimberley Wildman thought the group would be the ideal way for them and their children to make friends.

They were encouraged to come by a mixed-race friend who attends meetings despite being born and raised in Britain.

But when they arrived for their first session, a female volunteer told them they weren’t welcome because they were British-born.

The Making Links group in St Neots, Cambridgeshire, was set up to help integrate foreigners and their children aged under five into the community.

It receives money from the town council and the Department for Communities and Local Government.

But yesterday legal experts warned the group could be in breach of the Race Relations Act, and faces action in a civil court which could order it to pay compensation.

Shop worker Miss Knightley, 25, who lives in the town with her 21-month-old daughter Imogen, said: 'The first thing I was asked about was my nationality and when I said I was British I was told we had to leave‘.

‘She said “Are you not aware this is for foreign people only?” I said I knew it was trying to integrate people into the community but didn’t realise that meant British people and their children were banned.

‘I felt humiliated. You wouldn’t get away with a British-only mum and children’s group.’
Trainee midwife Miss Wildman, 27, who has two daughters, Georgia, five, and 18-month-old Olivia, added: ‘It’s a real shame.

‘I want my children to play with children from other races and integrate in the community because that stops discrimination.’

When the pair were challenged last week, Miss Knightley pointed out that their friend, who is of Indian and Malaysian descent, was born and bred in Britain too.

The volunteer replied: ‘But her parents aren’t.’
Ministers said the group was ‘divisive’ and ‘racist’.

Last night the Department of Communities and Local Government announced it would effectively abolish it by cutting its public funding.

Communities and local government minister Bob Neill said: ‘It is a real cause for concern that monies allocated for community development are being spent in such a divisive manner.

‘Rather than building good community relations, such an insensitive approach that seemingly discriminates against British people threatens to undermine community cohesion.’

Justice minister Jonathan Djanogly, whose Huntingdon constituency includes St Neots, added: ‘I’m upset to hear that constituents have had a racist experience. There is a question here of legality and also of sensitivity. Teaching people how to integrate involves allowing people to integrate.’

St Neots is in the heart of a region that has been a magnet for economic migrants in recent years because of the wealth of jobs available. These include vegetable picking on farms and food processing or packing work in factories. ­Making Links is run by a charity called Heart of the Community Trust and used by more than 70 women from 30 countries.

The group is staffed by volunteers and receives £11,000 each year from a variety of sources. St Neots Town Council gives £1,000, while Faiths in Action, which is funded by the Community Development Foundation, a quango answerable to the Department for Communities and Local Government, hands over £5,000.

On application forms it sent applying for funding, it said that its weekly sessions help free women and children from ‘feelings of isolation, help them build multicultural friendships and empower them with knowledge about the local community’.

Making Links administrator Roger Owen said there were ‘plenty of other alternatives for British mothers in the town’.

He added: ‘We get the money on the basis it’s a group for ladies from other nations. We’re not sure they would give us the money if we were offering just the same services for local people.

‘This isn’t racism. What we are doing is helping people from other countries.’

St Neots mayor Gordon Thorpe said officials had checked Making Links’ constitution before handing over its grant. A spokesman for the Communities Development Foundation said: ‘It is up to [Making Links] to say who can’t come. It is not in the terms of the grant.’

But a Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman said: ‘We will not be issuing new guidelines but this group is going to be abolished by withdrawing funding in future and its public body status will be removed.’

A source at the department added: ‘We have not been very impressed with what they have been doing. We think it is a misinformed decision they have taken.’

A spokesman for the Equalities and Human Rights Commission said: ‘Whether or not this group is breaking equality law is a matter for the court to decide.

‘However, under the Equality Act 2010 there have to be good reasons why some people are excluded from using a service such as this.’

Read more:

Going Agains The Tide

In 2001, few politicians were willing to openly question the flawed reasoning and outright lies used to justify the impending war in Iraq. Those who did so risked being accused of being "soft on terrorism" on "unpatriotic." No politician went against the tide as much as Ron Paul. So called conservatives should understand that the impulse to intervene, build and shape other nations represents the height of the statist-leftist hubris that they so detest. They wisely question the wisdom of allowing the state to freely engage in social and economic engineering within the United States, yet they encouraged it to do so in other nations, at such a great cost in lives and money.

Ron Paul on Another War Against Iraq

by Congressman Ron Paul, MD

I strongly oppose House Joint Resolution 75 because it solves none of our problems and only creates new ones. Though the legislation before us today does wisely excise the most objectionable part of the original text of H.J. Res. 75 – the resolution clause stating that by not obeying a UN resolution Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein has been committing an "act of aggression" against the United States – what remains in the legislation only serves to divert our attention from what should be our number one priority at this time: finding and bringing to justice those who attacked the United States on September 11, 2001.

Saddam Hussein is a ruthless dictator. The Iraqi people would no doubt be better off without him and his despotic rule. But the call in some quarters for the United States to intervene to change Iraq's government is a voice that offers little in the way of a real solution to our problems in the Middle East – many of which were caused by our interventionism in the first place. Secretary of State Colin Powell underscored recently this lack of planning on Iraq, saying, "I never saw a plan that was going to take [Saddam] out. It was just some ideas coming from various quarters about, 'let's go bomb.'"

House Joint Resolution 64, passed on September 14 just after the terrorist attack, states that, "The president is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on Sept. 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons." From all that we know at present, Iraq appears to have had no such role. Indeed, we have seen "evidence" of Iraqi involvement in the attacks on the United States proven false over the past couple of weeks. Just this week, for example, the "smoking gun" of Iraqi involvement in the attack seems to have been debunked: The New York Times reported that "the Prague meeting (allegedly between al-Qaeda terrorist Mohamad Atta and an Iraqi intelligence agent) has emerged as an object lesson in the limits of intelligence reports rather than the cornerstone of the case against Iraq." The Times goes on to suggest that the "Mohamad Atta" who was in the Czech Republic this summer seems to have been Pakistani national who happened to have the same name. It appears that this meeting never took place, or at least not in the way it has been reported. This conclusion has also been drawn by the Czech media and is reviewed in a report on Radio Free Europe's Newsline. Even those asserting Iraqi involvement in the anthrax scare in the United States – a theory forwarded most aggressively by Iraqi defector Khidir Hamza and former CIA director James Woolsey – have, with the revelation that the anthrax is domestic, had their arguments silenced by the facts.

Absent Iraqi involvement in the attack on the United States, I can only wonder why so many in Congress seek to divert resources away from our efforts to bring those who did attack us to justice. That hardly seems a prudent move. Many will argue that it doesn't matter whether Iraq had a role in the attack on us, Iraq is a threat to the United States and therefore must be dealt with. Some on this committee have made this very argument. Mr. Speaker, most of us here have never been to Iraq, however those who have, like former UN Chief Arms Inspector Scott Ritter – who lead some thirty inspection missions to Iraq – come to different conclusions on the country. Asked in November on Fox News Channel by John Kasich sitting in for Bill O'Reilly about how much of a threat Saddam Hussein poses to the United States, former Chief Inspector Ritter said, "In terms of military threat, absolutely nothing...Diplomatically, politically, Saddam's a little bit of a threat. In terms of real national security threat to the United States, no, none." Mr. Speaker, shouldn't we even stop for a moment to consider what some of these experts are saying before we move further down the road toward military confrontation?

The rationale for this legislation is suspect, not the least because it employs a revisionist view of recent Middle East history. This legislation brings up, as part of its indictment against Iraq, that Iraq attacked Iran some twenty years ago. What the legislation fails to mention is that at that time Iraq was an ally of the United States, and counted on technical and military support from the United States in its war on Iran. Similarly, the legislation mentions Iraq's invasion of Kuwait more than ten years ago. But at that time U.S. foreign policy was sending Saddam Hussein mixed messages, as Iraq's dispute with Kuwait simmered. At the time, U.S. Ambassador April Glaspie was reported in the New York Times as giving very ambiguous signals to Saddam Hussein regarding Kuwait, allegedly telling Hussein that the United States had no interest in Arab-Arab disputes.

We must also consider the damage a military invasion of Iraq will do to our alliance in this fight against terrorism. An attack on Iraq could destroy that international coalition against terrorism. Most of our European allies – critical in maintaining this coalition – have explicitly stated their opposition to any attack on Iraq. German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer warned recently that Europe was "completely united" in opposition to any attack on Iraq. Russian President Vladimir Putin cautioned recently against American military action in Iraq. Mr. Putin urged the next step to be centered around cutting off the financial resources of terrorists worldwide. As for Iraq, the Russian president said, " far I have no confirmation, no evidence that Iraq is financing the terrorists that we are fighting against." Relations with our European allies would suffer should we continue down this path toward military conflict with Iraq.

Likewise, U.S. relations with the Gulf states like Saudi Arabia could collapse should the United States initiate an attack on Iraq. Not only would our Saudi allies deny us the use of their territory to launch the attack, but a certain backlash from all Gulf and Arab states could well produce even an oil embargo against the United States. Egypt, a key ally in our fight against terrorism, has also warned against any attack on Iraq. Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher said recently of the coalition that, "If we want to keep consensus...we should not resort, after Afghanistan, to military means."

I do not understand this push to seek out another country to bomb next. Media and various politicians and pundits seem to delight in predicting from week to week which country should be next on our bombing list. Is military action now the foreign policy of first resort for the United States? When it comes to other countries and warring disputes, the United States counsels dialogue without exception. We urge the Catholics and Protestants to talk to each other, we urge the Israelis and Palestinians to talk to each other. Even at the height of the Cold War, when the Soviet Union had missiles pointed at us from 90 miles away in Cuba, we solved the dispute through dialogue and diplomacy. Why is it, in this post Cold War era, that the United States seems to turn first to the military to solve its foreign policy problems? Is diplomacy dead?

In conclusion, this legislation, even in its watered-down form, moves us closer to conflict with Iraq. This is not in our interest at this time. It also, ironically enough, could serve to further Osama bin Laden's twisted plans for a clash of civilizations between Islam and the West. Invading Iraq, with the massive loss of life on both sides, would only forward bin Laden's hateful plan. I think we need to look at our priorities here. We are still seeking those most responsible for the attacks on the United States. Now hardly seems the time to go out in search of new battles.

December 21, 2001

Dr. Ron Paul is a Republican member of Congress from Texas.

David Cameron on Multiculturalism

British Prime Minister David Cameron offered an insightful and balanced critique of state sponsored multiculturalism, bereft of any racist or xenophobic impulses. When exploring the issue of native born Islamic terrorists that murdered their fellow British citizens, Mr. Cameron demonstrates that both hard right and left explanations fall short. Those who say that terrorism is intrinsic to Muslims fail to note that the vast majority are peaceful citizens. And the left is wrong to attribute terrorism to poverty, because the majority of the home grown terrorists were middle class professionals. He points out what should be obvious (to all but the indoctrinated): policies that discourage the democratic assimilation of individuals and groups towards a shared culture will erode community and social cohesion. If only our leadership were this intellectually honest...

Part I

Part II

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Netflix: An Engine of Economic Inequality?

Progressive are correct that we should be troubled by growing economic inequality and unemployment, but they mistakenly present government policies as the primary culprits. Their narratives usually attribute the GW Bush Tax Cuts and "anti-union policies," whereas I believe that globalization and technological innovation play a much larger role in the increasingly skewed distribution of wealth.

One sector of the economy that offers insight into this phenomena is the video rentals industry. Growing up, I recall there were quite a few smaller, independently owned video stores. So, we can presume that the distribution of the AIE (aggregate industry earnings) was fairly equitable. In the late 1980's, Blockbuster Videos rapidly expanded, becoming a multi-billion dollar national chain. Because of its scale of production, it was able to offer lower prices, a larger selection and more extensive marketing than its competitors, which drove most of them out of business. In addition, they expanded into music and video game rentals. This resulted in a less equitable AIE, with a greater share of "video rental wealth" being concentrated in the hands of Blockbuster.

Out of nowhere, Netflix blazed onto the scene and in a remarkably short time tore into Blockbuster's market share. I am quite certain that this was a major factor in Blockbuster's recent declaration of bankruptcy. And with each store closure, the AIE are concentrated in fewer hands and employment opportunities are at least nominally diminished for low skill workers. Conversely the growth of Netflix generated employment opportunities mostly for highly skilled, highly paid workers, such as network architects, web designers and data analysts. We see that an industry that once required (let's say) 100,000 workers is now able to provide consumers better service, greater selection and lower costs with 1/5 the workers.

Although most Americans are not pleased with shifts in the income distribution, I don't know a single person who is willing to leave Netflix and support Blockbuster via their own consumer or tax dollars. In the end, the best we can do is provide greater educational opportunities for those who wish to develop the skills necessary to fill or (better yet) create high tech, high paying jobs. For companies and individuals unwilling or unable to evolve, there is little we can do.

Coptic Christians: The Other Side of Egypt (Part III)

Few westerners are aware of the denigration that religious minorities experience, even in "secular" Muslim majority nations like Egypt. To this day churches in Egypt are governed by the Hamayouni Decree of 1856, which states that the construction of a new church requires a presidential decree and even minor repairs, like repairing a broken window require the special permission of a governor. Not surprisingly, these restrictions do not apply to mosques. In practical terms, this means that some Coptic Christian communities have waited years for government permission to repair their churches. And when out of frustration they decide to undertake the repairs without government permission, the same lethargic state rapidly responds with crushing force. In a recent incident, 4 Copts were wounded, 68 injured, 200 were arrested and construction supplies were seized. Many Copts believe that their status would deteriorate if the Mubarak Regime were replaced by a more democratic government, because such a government would almost certainly be more Islamic.

EGYPT:Four Copts killed in clashes outside Giza church

3rd December, 2010

Four Copts were killed and at least 50 were hurt last week when members of a church in Talbiya, Giza, clashed with security officials trying to stop their building work.

The violence began at 3am on 24 November when nearly 5,000 security officers surrounded a site where a community centre is being built on the property of St Mary's Church.

This was the security forces' third attempt to stop construction in less than a fortnight and 200 Copts, including women and children, were keeping a vigil inside the church.

Security forces first attacked the site of the Coptic Church of St Mary and St Michael on 11 November and stopped construction work at its community centre. The church is situated in Talbiya in Giza, south of Cairo, and serves an area that is densely populated by Christians but does not have enough church buildings to accommodate them. The reason given by the authorities for the stoppage was that the work was not in accordance with the drawings presented. The church leaders insist that they have all the necessary construction permits.

Construction work was in the final stages, with the builders completing the roof. A spokesman of the ruling National Democratic Party said that the local authorities took action when they saw "a dome" rising over the building. Priests and members of the church were inside when the security forces surrounded it. The authorities eventually withdrew.

On 22 November, security forces stormed the church a second time to stop construction, besieging the building from midnight to 6am. They confiscated four concrete mixing vehicles containing mixed concrete, all of which was spoiled, at great cost to the Coptic community. The security forces withdrew after a standoff. One of the building contractors said, "for the police officers and district officials to come so late at night, shows that what they are doing is wrong."

The crisis escalated on 24 November. Security forces surrounded the site at 3am, while builders were working on the roof and 200 people were keeping vigil inside. The security forces used tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition, and angry Christians hurled stones. Four church members were killed and 68 were wounded, many seriously. The medical care provided to some of them has been very poor.

It is estimated that at least 2,000 local Copts came to demonstrate after they heard that the security forces had halted the construction work. At least 200 Christians were arrested, accused of possession of explosives, attempted murder of police, sabotage and assault. They have been denied access to lawyers. About 20 police officers were injured.

The authorities claim that the church leaders have a permit to expand property owned by the church, but not to erect a church building: they consider that the appearance of the extension suggests that it will be used as a place of worship, which would require a separate permit. Because of the difficulty in obtaining church building permits in Egypt, the extension of church property to form places of worship is sometimes resorted to, and has been tolerated by some local officials.

The President of the Egyptian Union of Human Rights, Dr Naguib Ghobrial, issued a statement on 22 November, calling for the dismissal of the local authority chief who issued the order. "The church has all the permits," he said. "By this behaviour the chief of the local authority is encouraging Islamists to fight with the Christians because of the Church and therefore causing sedition." (AINA, Almasyalyoum, AP, Assist News Service, Irish Times, Middle East Concern, Release International)

Coptic Christians: The Other Side of Egypt (Part II)

The majority of Egyptian Muslims (who comprise approximately 90% of the population) are descendants of Coptic Christians and Jews who were converted by the sword or became Muslims to avoid the crushing taxes and legal restrictions imposed on Dhimmis. The status of non-Muslims began to improve under the reign of Muhammad Ali (1805 - 1848) and then significantly improved under direct British Rule and the British dominated Kingdom of Egypt (1882 - 1952). But, after the nationalist-socialist revolution of 1952, the status of minorities began to deteriorate and within a decade, the majority of Jews and Greek Christians had fled, with a more gradual exodus of Copts. And in the last 30 years, the resurgence of Islam has led to a sharp increase in attacks against Coptic Christians. Here is a partial list of attacks; keep in mind that this does not present the daily discrimination and low grade harassment that Non-Muslims experience:

6 November 1972
Muslim mob attack and burn a prayer meeting by Egyptian Christian Copts at the Holy Scripture College, an attack which preceded the infamous Khanka attacks on the Copts.[25]

June 1981
81 Copts were killed by a mob of Muslims. Interior Minister Abu Pasha blamed the deaths on a lack of adequate security measures for which his predecessor Ennabawy Ismael was responsible (according to Abu Pasha).[25]

17 November 1981
Coptic priest the Reverend Maximose Guirguis is kidnapped and threatened with death he does not denounce his Christianity and publicly convert to Islam. He refuses and his throat is cut leaving him bleeding to death.[25]

20 September 1991
Muslim mob attacks Copts in Embaba, an outer suburb of Cairo.[25]

9 March 1992
Manshiet Nasser, Dyroot, Upper Egypt. Copt son of a farmer Badr Abdullah Massoud is gunned down after refusing to pay a tax of about $166 to the local leader of Islamic Group. Massoud's body is then hacked "with knives."[26]

4 May 1992
Villages of Manshia and Weesa in Dyroot, Upper Egypt. After being Manshiet Naser's Christians for weeks, an Islamic extremist methodically shoots 13 of them to death. Victims included ten farmers and a child tending their fields, a doctor leaving his home for work, and an elementary school teacher giving a class.[26]

12 May 1992
A bloodshed in Manfaloot, Upper Egypt, on the Coptic Easter day with 6 Copts murdered and 50 injured, followed by some 200 arrests.[25]

15 & 16 October 1992
Muslim mob attacks with burning and looting of shops and 42 houses owned by Christian Copts, with 3 Copts injured and the destruction of an estimated 5 Million pounds of property, live stock, merchandise and work places Kafr Demian in Sharqueyya in the Nile Delta.[25]

2 December 1992
Muslim mob attacks Copts in the city of Assiut, Upper Egypt.[25]

December 1992
Muslim mob attacks Copts in the Village of Meer, Al Quosseya, Upper Egypt, murdering four Copts and slitting the throat of a Coptic jeweller for refusing to pay protection money.[25]

13 March 1997
Muslim mob attacks a Tourist Train with Spanish Tourists, killing 13 Christians and injuring 6, in the Village of Nakhla near Nagge Hammadi.

The terrorists increased the frequency of their attacks and widened it to include whom the viewed as collaborators with the security force, launching an attack on the eve of the Adha Eid using automatic weapons killing Copts as well as Muslims.[25]

Abu Qurqas. "Three masked terrorist" entered St. George Church in Abu Qurqas and shoot dead eight Copts at a weekly youth group meeting. "As the attackers fled, they gunned down a Christian farmer watering his fields." [27]

January 2000
Al Kosheh, a "predominantly Christian town" in southern Egypt. After a Muslim customer and a Christian shoe-store owner fall into an argument, three days of rioting and street fighting erupt leaving 20 Christians, (including four children) and one Muslim dead." In the aftermath 38 Muslim defendants are charged with murder in connection with the deaths of the 20 Copts. But all are acquitted of murder charges, and only four are convicting of any (lesser) charges, with the longest sentence given being 10 years." After protest by the Coptic Pope Shenouda the government granted a new trial.[28]

19 November 2000
Muslim mob attempt to force a Copt to pronounce the Islamic faith declarations (Shehadas) then beat him to death when he refuses their demand.[25]

19 April 2009
A group of Muslims (Mahmoud Hussein Mohamed (26 years old), Mohamed Abdel Kader (32 years old), Ramadan Fawzy Mohamed (24 years old), Ahmed Mohamed Saeed (16 years old), and Abu Bakr Mohamed Saeed ) opened fire at Christians on Easter's Eve killing two (Hedra Adib (22 years old), and Amir Estafanos (26 years old)) and injuring another (Mina Samir (25 years old)). This event was in Hegaza village, Koos city. On 22 February 2010, they were sentenced to 25 years of jail while crimes of this level in Egypt should face death penalty.[29][30]

6 January 2010
Main article: Nag Hammadi massacre
Machine gun attack by Muslim mob on Coptic Christians celebrating the Egyptian birth of Christ. Seven are killed (including a Muslim officer in his trial to defend them) and scores injured, and lots of lives ruined.

April/May 2010
In Marsa Matrouh, a mob of 3,000 Muslims attacked the city's Coptic Christian population, with 400 Copts having to barricade themselves in their church while the mob destroyed 18 homes, 23 shops and 16 cars.[15]

01 January 2011 (On New Year's eve)
A car bomb exploded in front of an Alexandria Coptic Orthodox Church killing at least 21 and injuring at least 79. The incident happened a few minutes after midnight as Christians were leaving a New Year's eve Church service [31][32][33]

11 January 2011
A policeman opened fire on 6 christians in a train in Samalout station in Minya province resulting in the death of a 71-year old man and injury of 5 others. [34]

Coptic Christians: The Other Side of Egypt (Part I)

Picture above: Coptic Christians, Another Endangered Group?

Few Americans are aware that Christians comprise at least 10% of Egypt's population. While very few Egyptians are fond of Hosni Mubarak's long running kleptocracy, many Coptic Christians fear that his fall would herald a deterioration of their status. Some look at Iraq as an example of the perils that democratization holds for Christians in Muslim dominated lands. One of the few positive aspect of Saddam Hussein's authoritarian regime was that it protected Iraq's significant Christian minority from harassment from Islamic Fundamentalists. As Iraq became more democratic, it naturally began to reflect the strong Islamic sentiments of much of its people. At its best, this represented a fall to second class citizenship and low grade harassment via the implementation of Shari'a. At its worst, it equalled the open season for criminal elements to rob, rape and murder Christians without impunity. This demonstrates that true democracy is far more than majority rule, it is a culture of pluralism, rule of law, respect for dissent and the defense of the rights of minorities. It anticipate the establishment of free elections in Egypt, but it will be a far greater challenge to establish a democratic culture. Because of the watchful eye of the west, I do not anticipate massacres of Christians, but rather an acceleration of their exodus. And without its enterprising, educated Coptic population, Egypt will surely be materially and culturally worse off.

Egypt's uprising stirs fears of persecution of minority Coptic Christians

By Michelle Boorstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
February 3, 2011

With attacks on Christians already increasing in the Middle East, the populist uprising in Egypt has triggered fears among some that the region's largest non-Muslim population - Egypt's 7 million Coptic Christians - could be at risk.

Copt leaders in the United States said they are terrified that a new Egyptian government with a strong Islamic fundamentalist bent would persecute Christians. They are quietly lobbying the Obama administration to do more to protect Christians in Muslim countries and are holding prayer vigils and fasts, such as one that ended Wednesday evening at Copt churches across the country, including four in the Washington area.

"The current situation for the Copts stinks, but [longtime Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak is the best of the worst for us," said the Rev. Paul Girguis of St. Mark Coptic Orthodox Church in Fairfax County, which has about 3,000 members. "If Muslim extremists take over, the focus will be extreme persecution against Copts. Some people even predict genocide."

Some major U.S. Christian figures, including well-known evangelical leaders and representatives of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, declined to publicly discuss the situation in Egypt, saying they wanted to avoid bringing dangerous attention to the country's Christians by appearing to complain or to advocate for a particular political outcome.

Their trepidation stems from repeated attacks on churches in Iraq, where hundreds of thousands of Christians have fled in recent years, and from the New Year's Day bombing of a Coptic church in Egypt that killed almost two dozen worshipers and wounded nearly 100. The Coptic Church is one of the oldest Christian institutions in the world and is based in Egypt.

"Egypt is the bellwether because its Christian community is so large and is the strongest in the Middle East," said Paul Marshall, a global religious freedom expert and a fellow at the conservative Hudson Institute. "What happens to Christians in Egypt is very significant. Everyone is watching."

But not all American faith leaders are bracing for the worst. Joel Hunter, an evangelical pastor of a Florida megachurch and a frequent adviser to President Obama, said he's hearing a lot of optimism from Egyptian Christians who believe the uprising will lead to more freedom and religious liberty.

Many younger Christians in the United States also see the protests as something to celebrate, Hunter said, and older, more politically conservative Christians tend to be more skeptical of Islam generally and are worried about how a new Egyptian government will treat Israel.

So far, the protests have focused on jobs, free speech and democratic elections, not religion, so it's unclear what the end of Mubarak's rule would mean for religious minorities. But in recent years, Iraq has lost about half its historical Christian population because of persecution, and Christians have been leaving Iran and Lebanon in lesser numbers.

After last month's bombing of the Coptic church in Alexandria, Pope Benedict XVI publicly urged the Egyptian government and other leaders in the region to protect religious minorities. Egypt's Foreign Ministry spokesman said the pope's comments were "an unacceptable interference" in the country's internal affairs, and Egypt withdrew its ambassador to the Vatican in response.

Some U.S. Christian leaders said the situation in Egypt might put the issue of religious persecution abroad back on the radar of American Christians. A decade ago, the freedom of Christians to worship in such places as Sudan was a top agenda item for American Christians, particularly evangelicals. But this week, experts said that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have absorbed people's attention.

At a congressional hearing last month about the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, Christian leaders urged the administration to lean harder on Egypt's leaders to investigate violence against religious minorities and to lay out a clear strategy in Iraq for their protection.

A 2009 survey by the nonprofit Pew Forum that measured governmental and societal restrictions on religion found that a number of the world's least tolerant countries are Muslim-majority. The list included Iran, Egypt, Indonesia and Pakistan as well as India, which is majority Hindu. Concerns include bans on public preaching and conversion and the lack of prosecution for religion-based violence.

Some advocates for religious freedom note that moderate Muslims and non-majority Muslims also suffer attacks and that the problem is extremism, not Islam.