Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Great American Divide

Pictured Above: Nouriel Roubini

In the following video, the well respected economist Nouriel Roubini explains in clear terms that once you calculate our federal, state & local debt and unfunded liabilities (from social security, medicare & pension plans), the United States is in deep trouble. By any measure, the fiscal status quo is completely unsustainable and will lead to national bankruptcy, yet during recent debates on the debt ceiling, it was clear that few Republicans and even fewer Democrats are willing to pursue fundamental change. Between both sides, virtually every unsustainable program and policy (in their present forms) from social security to military spending to our current tax rates, were "off the table." Hence, the Great American Divide that will define politics in the coming years will be between those who will defend a broken status quo and those willing to acknowledge that we must undertake dramatic reforms. This will not only effect the size and scope of government, but almost every facet of economic, political and social life. Such changes can either be undertaken with thoughtful planning and foresight or forced on us as the welfare and warfare state collapses under the burden of unfunded liabilities. Paradoxically, the most ardent defenders of the status quo are self proclaimed progressives.

Hats Off To Representative Ted Poe (R - TX)

In this speech, Representative Ted Poe (R-TX) highlights the absurdities in our system of foreign aid. Given the fact that we are deeply in debt, his words are all the more noteworthy.

Dr. Ron Paul: Leave Libya Alone!

Once again Dr. Ron Paul is one of the few voices of conscience and reason in Washington, a true critic against the broken bi-partisan policy of reckless foreign intervention, endless warfare and nation building. Specifically he warns against involvement in the Libyan Civil War, especially while we are still involved in the costly quagmires in Iraq and Afghanistan. How anyone who claims to be an anti-war liberal can support Obama is beyond me. How anyone can call themselves a small government conservative and support the most reckless form of state intervention, (non-defensive) warfare is even more mind boggling. Listen and learn:

The Real Problem With The Bush Tax Cuts

Over the last few years the Bush Tax Cuts have become the great bogeyman of the left. Indeed they are correct that Bush's tax policies have had a negative fiscal impact, but not for the reasons that they commonly hold. A close look at the hard numbers show that the problem is not that the "rich aren't paying their fair share of taxes," but rather that a record number of Americans are paying no federal taxes. According to CNN and Yahoo News, this number has approached 47% of tax payers. And in spite of Bush reducing the tax rates for higher tax brackets, their share of total contributions have steadily increased.  According to the Tax Foundation, in 2008 the top 1% earned approximately 20% of national income, while being responsible for the payment of nearly 38% of taxes.
While the figures are fairly straight forward, their implications are up for debate. Personally I believe that having a growing number of Americans not contributing to the government services that they enjoy will increasingly have a negative fiscal and political impact. To address our growing fiscal ills, taxes may have to be raised on upper income brackets, but without expanding the tax base to include at least some of the net tax consumers, this will barely dent our national debt. And on a broader level it will further erode civic involvement. Common sense and basic economics dictates that those who do not pay for goods and services will have little or no incentives to:

1.  Economize their use of the said goods and services.

2. Ensure their efficient and cost effective production and distribution.

3. Control the growth of government spending.

4. Increase their personal productivity (through education, hard work, saving and investment) in order to afford their desired level of consumption.

5. Vote for fiscally responsible candidates.

But it's always easier to master the use of empty sound bites rather than lean about and apply accounting and economics to current affairs, so keep on ranting about the "greedy rich" rather than the out of control inflation of government spending.

Why the Pope should call for the return of the Hagia Sophia

I wish I could say that I was the author of this very thoughtful article. He discusses the lack of cultural confidence of (large segments of) the west, which is increasingly leading to an asymmetrical relationship, in which we are (justifiably) apologetic for our colonial transgressions, while we do not demand that the Islamic world address their past and (more importantly) present abuse of their Christian and Jewish minorities. Owing to widespread historical illiteracy of the current generation of Americans and Western Europeans this article will probably not resonate with many readers. Such individuals are unaware that while the Crusades were filled with much bloodshed, it was in response to an ongoing jihad that has seized vast stretches of territory that formed the spiritual and economic heartland of Christendom. And for over a thousand years at the heart of this land was the magnificent Hagia Sophia that was forcibly converted into a mosque by the Ottoman Turks, along with 100's of other churches. After a long lull, this process accelerated during the Genocide of Armenians in 1915, in which hundreds of historical monasteries and churches were converted or razed to thee ground. The fact that so few westerners are concerned, let alone aware of the ongoing destruction of Jews and Christians in the middle east is a testament to an erosion of culture and identity. Read, enjoy and learn!

December 7, 2007

Holy Wisdom
Why the Pope should call for the return of the Hagia Sophia.

by Bruce S. Thornton

Many in the West are congratulating Pope Benedict XVI’s recent trip to Turkey, where in the Blue Mosque he prayed facing Mecca and made other gestures meant to salve the wounds raised by his references to Islam’s history of violence. Personally, I found the whole scene a depressing exhibit of the West’s terminal failure of nerve, one particularly distressing given this Pope’s documented understanding that what we call the “war on terror” is in fact the latest episode in the centuries-long struggle with a militant Islam.

In the Pope’s visit and the media response to it, we once again witnessed the one-way street of “religious tolerance” and “respect.” In other words, the West is supposed to respect and tolerate Muslims and Islam, all the while that no such respect is afforded to Christians and Jews. The West is supposed to feel guilty and obsess over its putative crimes against Islam, all the while that the longer chronicle of Islamic assault against the West is forgotten. Hence the ridiculous ignorance of those who think the Crusades were “holy wars” akin to jihadic aggression. Somehow it’s forgotten that the Holy Land was Greco-Roman and Hebraic and Christian for centuries before the armies of Allah destroyed that cultural continuity and imposed a new culture and religion at the point of a sword.

This double standard was particularly obvious given the backdrop of the Pope’s visit –– the city of Istanbul. Once known as Constantinople, this was one of the great cities of Classical and Christian culture, home to one of Christendom’s most magnificent churches, Hagia Sophia, the church of the Holy Wisdom. On May 29, 1453, Constantinople ceased to exist, falling to the armies of the Sultan Mehmet II: “By noon,” John Julius Norwich writes, “the streets were running red with blood. Houses were ransacked, women and children raped or impaled, churches razed, icons wrenched from their golden frames, books ripped from their silver bindings. . . . In the church of St. Saviour in Chora the mosaics and frescoes were miraculously spared, but the Empire’s holiest icon, the Virgin Hodegetria, said to have been painted by St. Luke himself, was hacked into four pieces and destroyed. The most hideous scenes of all, however, were enacted in the church of the Holy Wisdom. Matins were already in progress when the berserk conquerors were heard approaching. Immediately the great bronze doors were closed; but the Turks soon smashed their way in. The poorer and more unattractive of the congregation were massacred on the spot; the remainder were lashed together and led off to the Turkish camps, for their captors to do with as they liked. As for the officiating priests, they continued with the Mass as long as they could before being killed at the high altar.”

Ancient history, you say, irrelevant to the present? But do not the Muslims repeatedly invoke the historical crimes of the West to justify terrorism? Are not the sins of colonialism and imperialism continually cited, even though France and England’s 150 years in the Middle East and North Africa are dwarfed by Islam’s several centuries in Spain and the Balkans and the cradle of the West, Greece? Is there some statute of limitations on conquest and the transfer of territory that attends it, so that the conquests of Islam are legitimized by time, while those of the West can never be?

Why do we accept this double standard? Why are the continuing persecution of Christians today, despicable anti-Semitic slanders, and the desecration of temples and churches in Muslim lands shrugged away in the West, while trivial cartoons and mere statements of historical fact are met with hysteria, violence, and threats? Why are churches disappearing throughout the lands of Christianity’s birth and growth, while huge mosques are going up in London and Milan? Why are Christians and Jews forbidden entry into Saudi Arabia, while Muslims in Europe demand special privileges and recognition of their faith?

Nowhere is this insane, groveling capitulation of the West more obvious than in its treatment of Israel. By all rights, when Israel recaptured Jerusalem from Jordan –– in a defensive war Israel did not want, a war Israel literally begged Jordan to stay out of –– Israel could have razed the Aqsa mosque and rebuilt the temple on the site it had stood on for centuries before Islam even existed. Instead, the Temple Mount is still controlled by Muslims, who are free to worship in the mosque all the while they allow the children of Allah to throw stones on the Jews who come to worship at the few scraps of the temple wall, all that is left to them of their holiest site. Meanwhile the countries of the West decry the “illegal occupation” of Jerusalem and Judea and Galilee, refuse to put their embassies in the capital of Israel, and continually demand more and more concessions to a people who have made it clear that their conquest of Jerusalem is legitimate, that Israelis, not they, are the interloper in the Jews’ historical homeland, and that violence against innocents is justified to undo a history deemed to violate Allah’s will.

When will we learn that this forbearance is not a testimony to our strength but rather a sign of our cultural sickness? Would that the Pope had stood in Hagia Sophia and asked the Turks to restore this Christian monument to the Orthodox Church, as a sign that Turkey is sincere about entering the modern world and accepting its canons of reciprocal tolerance, not to mention showing the sort of regret for its ancestors’ crimes that the West is continually dunned to show. What do you think the reaction would have been? How many Christians would have died in the ensuing riots by the adherents of the “religion of peace”? And how many Western commentators would have scourged the Pope for his blinkered intolerance and insensitivity?

No, the enemy knows that what we pretend to be “tolerance” and “respect” are merely the camouflage of spiritual exhaustion and fear. We have fewer and fewer men like those who created the West in the teeth of Islamic aggression, men like the Byzantine Greek Lucas Notaras. After the sack of Constantinople, the Sultan demanded Notaras’s beautiful 14-year-old son for the royal harem: “When Notaras still defied the Sultan,” Steven Runciman writes, “orders were given for him and the two boys [his son and son-in-law] to be decapitated on the spot. Notaras merely asked that they should be slain before him, lest the sight of his death should make them waver. When they had both perished, he bared his neck to the executioner.” As Nestor says in the Iliad, “Men like those I have not seen again, nor ever will.”

©2006 Bruce Thornton

Beneath The Veil Of The Immigration Debate

During the debate on SB 1070, Arizona's controversial immigration law, its more sophisticated critics argued that it was a flawed means to address illegal immigration. They voiced concerns that it could lead to racial profiling that would adversely effect Americans citizens and legal immigrants. Whether this would have come to fruition is uncertain, but as someone who strongly supports civil liberties, I recognize that this is a legitimate concern. Opponents of this law also questioned its constitutionality, arguing that Arizona was usurping the federal government's role as the sole author and enforcer of immigration law. While I was not completely convinced about the veracity of their argument, I respect those who seek to adhere to the letter and spirit of the constitution. Ultimately, I decided to give the critics of this and other tough enforcement measures the benefit of the doubt and assume that they understood the importance of immigration control and rule of law, but were simply concerned about the means used to achieve these ends. But, a closer look at some recent events cast some serious doubt on this premise. I am lead to believe that beneath the veil of nuanced policy debates lies a deeper divide in which one side fundamentally opposes the basic enforcement of existing immigration laws and the other seeks its realization.

Not surprisingly, the first and most blatant example occurred in our very own political cesspool, the State of Illinois. In 2008, Illinois became the only state to pass a law banning the use of E-Verify, which is "a free (and voluntary) program run by the United States government that compares information (veracity of a social security number) from an employee's Employment Eligibility Verification Form I-9 to data from U.S. government records. If the information matches, that employee is eligible to work in the United States. If there's a mismatch, E-Verify alerts the employer and the employee is allowed to work while he or she resolves the problem; they must contact the appropriate agency to resolve the mismatch within eight federal government work days from the referral date." Agreeing with the federal government, the US District Court overturned the Illinois law and now employers can voluntarily participate in this program. In 2009, the US Senate and House dropped a requirement that companies receiving stimulus funds must use E-Verify. And recently Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) warned President Obama that if a proposed bill for the expansion of this program passsed, he would lose Latino votes in the 2012 election.

Thus we see that the opponents of E-Verify fear it NOT because they believe it is ineffective and would lead to racial profiling, but rather because it does work. In other words, its opponents seek to block the enforcement of existing immigration laws. While Mr. Gutierrez's pursuit of immigration reform is legitimate, blocking the enforcement of existing laws erodes the rule of law and has an element of third world corruption.

An even more controversial is Secure Communities, "an American deportation program that relies on partnership between federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies." Participating states and localities share data of incarcerated individuals to determine their legality and facilitate the deportation of the most serious offenders. In this program, agencies are not asked to siphon limited time and resources to track down illegal immigrants (rather than serious criminals), but to cross reference the status of those they have apprehended for other violations. Primarily due to the efforts of Governor Quinn and Luis Gutierrez Illinois was the first state to withdraw from this program and was subsequently followed by Massachusetts, New York and several municipalities. Theis opposition is based on the allegation that a significant portion of those deported were either charged with a misdemeanor or no crime at all. During a no confidence vote against their appointed directors, Union of Immigration and Custom Enforcement disputed this claim as a wilful misrepresentation of the data. Either way, it's clear that Governor Quinn and his allies are opposed to the enforcement of existing immigration laws. Granted, on an emotional level I do find it deeply disconcerting to see the prosecution and deportation of individuals who are not serious criminal offenders, but the basic tenants of the rule of law dictates that we cannot selectively choose which laws we do or do not enforce. Until comprehensive immigration reform is enacted, Secure Communities must remain a vital bridge between federal and local law enforcement agencies.

Admittedly the argument that states should focus its limited resources on serious crime rather than harassing undocumented immigrants is appealing, however at a closer look it becomes apparent that this is an act of sophistry that bears no semblance to the modus operandus of state, local and federal authorities. First, they would never make the argument that we should cease enforcing the multitude of other burdensome rules and regulations, because of the presence of serious crime. No Chicago or Illinois politician has ever adcocated that we cease penalizing small businesses that do not comply with required licenses, permits and procedures, because we should be focusing our resources on murderers and rapists. Although the police department's priority is to prosecute dangerous criminals, a police officer will not think twice about heavily fining someone for parking a work truck on certain residential streets. I can think of no other federal law that Illinois's state and local officials opt out of, so clearly their considerations are political and not one of good governance.

But what of the claim that these laws should not be enforced because they impose undue hardships on good, hard working immigrants and their families? This line of argumentation is compelling, because each year, deportations ruin the lives of countless individuals and tear families apart. But, is this also not the case for the enforcement of 1001 other laws that few bother to question? Have they ever called for the non-enforcement of any other law or ordinance becauase its violators are "good and hard working"? If I am unwilling or unable to pay taxes, will the government not impose great hardships on my family and I, by seizing my assets, imprisoning me and separating me from my loved ones? Why do Quinn and Gutierrez not demonstrate similar sympathy for the countless families who are torn apart, who are economically ruined by imprisonment of the father or mother for the "crime" of smoking marijuana? If they are so concerned about imposing undue hardships on "otherwise hard working and law abiding families" and "siphoning time and resources away from the prosecution of more serious crimes," why do they aid and abet the more senseless aspects of the federal government's war on drugs? The answer is simple: their selective application of the law is driven by political, not economic or humanistic concerns. Specifically, they do not want to alienate the perceived interests and desires of a growing component of the democratic party: Latino Voters. The reason I use the qualifier perceived, is because unlike Quinn and Gutierrez, I have faith that the majority of my Hispanic neighbors are good, patriotic citizens whose focus is the economic and social welfare of all Americans, not narrow ethno-identity politics. And even though those of good conscience cannot help but be moved by the plight of undocumented immigrants, more than anyone, those who have left Latin America are painfully aware of economic, social and political cost that the erosion of the rule of law imposes on all, lessons we hope that more American politicians will heed.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Diminishing Returns On Environmental Regulation?

I am generally more sympathetic to environmental regulation than many of my conservative compatriots. Even those who deny man's role in climate change, agree that promoting clean air and water for the sake of human health and welfare is an undeniable good. Nations oriented towards democratic capitalism always outperformed their socialist counterparts in environmental matters, yet it cannot be denied that regulation is a key component in this success. But, in the context of the global economy, environmental regulation does offer diminishing returns. Up to a certain point, most businesses will bear the added costs that government intervention imposes. But, once we cross that cost point, we see a rapid rise in the outsourcing of production to China and other countries that either do not have or (more often than not) choose not to enforce costly regulation. And the added carbon emissions that this shift implies will on a global level offset the carbon savings occurring in the United States and Western Europe. Understanding the dynamics of diminishing returns should not lead us to eliminate environmental regulation, but to simply accept the wisdom in adopting more modest goals that will paradoxically offer a higher net gains on a global level. Another option would be to level the playing field by imposing "environmental tariffs" on China and other heavy polluters. But, given the amount of American debt that China holds, this is politically and economically impossible. I believe that one of the long term consequences of our fiscal irresponsibility will be an increasingly diminished capacity to pursue important environmental goals.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Listen to Lee Kuan Yew!

I found it quite puzzling that few proponents of multiculturalism study the paths of diverse nations that have achieved true social and economic progress. Quite the contrary, Maoist China and Socialist Cuba were the darling of the left, while the quiet success stories like Singapore were largely ignored. Most likely because they pursued market reform and westernization. Since it's independence in 1965, Singapore's economic and social achievements have been stellar: it's per capita GDP grew from $511 to $36,537, dramatically raised living standards of the majority of its citizens, an effective health care system was instituted and illiteracy was virtually eliminated. Now Singapore is known as one of the safest and cleanest cities in the world. While its political system does have autocratic elements, it has moved towards democratization in the last decade. And given its track record, Singapore's efforts at political liberalization are likely to be successful.
Much of the credit goes to Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew and of course the economic dynamism of the (primarily) Chinese citizens. In an interview with Farees Zakaria, he offered some insightful observations of economic and social developments, which are refreshingly free of the political correctness that shakles most western politicians. Lee Kuan Yew also reflected on the strengths and weaknesses of the American system. And more than anything he emphasizes the power of culture in shaping economic and political outcomes. Of course comparing an East Asian city state to the United States is like comparing apples and oranges, but never the less there are important lessens to be had. Agree, or disagree, the thoughtful insights of successful outsiders should never be disregarded.

March/April, 1994

Foreign Affairs

Culture Is Destiny; A Conversation with Lee Kuan Yew

By Fareed Zakari

"ONE OF THE ASYMMETRIES of history," wrote Henry Kissinger of Singapore's patriarch Lee Kuan Yew, "is the lack of correspondence between the abilities of some leaders and the power of their countries." Kissinger's one time boss, Richard Nixon, was even more flattering. He speculated that, had Lee lived in another time and another place, he might have "attained the world stature of a Churchill, a Disraeli, or a Gladstone." This tag line of a big man on a small stage has been attached to Lee since the 1970s. Today, however, his stage does not look quite so small. Singapore's per capita GNP is now higher than that of its erstwhile colonizer, Great Britain. It has the world's busiest port, is the third-largest oil refiner and a major center of global manufacturing and service industries. And this move from poverty to plenty has taken place within one generation. In 1965 Singapore ranked economically with Chile, Argentina and Mexico; today its per capita GNP is four or five times theirs.

Lee managed this miraculous transformation in Singapore's economy while maintaining tight political control over the country; Singapore's government can best be described as a "soft" authoritarian regime, and at times it has not been so soft. He was prime minister of Singapore from its independence in 1959 (it became part of a federation with Malaysia in 1963 but was expelled in 1965) until 199o, when he allowed his deputy to succeed him. He is now "Senior Minister" and still commands enormous influence and power in the country. Since his retirement, Lee has embarked on another career of sorts as a world-class pundit, speaking his mind with impolitic frankness. And what is often on his mind is American-style democracy and its perils. He travels often to East Asian capitals from Beijing to Hanoi to Manila dispensing advice on how to achieve economic growth while retaining political stability and control. It is a formula that the governing elites of these countries are anxious to learn.

The rulers of former British colonies have been spared the embarrassment of building grandiose monuments to house their offices; they simply occupy the ones that the British built. So it is with Singapore. The president, prime minister and senior minister work out of Istana (palace), the old colonial governor's house, a gleaming white bungalow surrounded by luxuriant lawns. The interior is modern light wood paneling and leather sofas. The atmosphere is hushed. I waited in a large anteroom for the "SM," which is how everybody refers to Lee. I did not wait long. The SM was standing in the middle of a large, sparsely furnished office. He is of medium build. His once-compact physique is now slightly shrunken. Still, he does not look 70.

Lee Kuan Yew is unlike any politician I have met. There were no smiles, no jokes, no bonhomie. He looked straight at me he has an inexpressive face but an intense gaze -- shook hands and motioned toward one of the room's pale blue leather sofas (I had already been told by his press secretary on which one to sit). After 30 awkward seconds, I realized that there would be no small talk. I pressed the record button on my machine.

FZ: With the end of the Cold War, many Americans were surprised to hear growing criticism of their political and economic and social system from elites in East Asia, who were considered staunchly pro-American. What, in your view, is wrong with the American system?
LKY: It is not my business to tell people what's wrong with their system. It is my business to tell people not to foist their system indiscriminately on societies in which it will not work.

FZ: But you do not view the United States as a model for other countries?

LKY: As an East Asian looking at America, I find attractive and unattractive features. I like, for example, the free, easy and open relations between people regardless of social status, ethnicity or religion. And the things that I have always admired about America, as against the communist system, I still do: a certain openness in argument about what is good or bad for society; the accountability of public officials; none of the secrecy and terror that's part and parcel of communist government.

But as a total system, I find parts of it totally unacceptable: guns, drugs, violent crime, vagrancy, unbecoming behavior in public -- in sum the breakdown of civil society. The expansion of the right of the individual to behave or misbehave as he pleases has come at the expense of orderly society. In the East the main object is to have a well-ordered society so that everybody can have maximum enjoyment of his freedoms. This freedom can only exist in an ordered state and not in a natural state of contention and anarchy.

Let me give you an example that encapsulates the whole difference between America and Singapore. America has a vicious drug problem. How does it solve it? It goes around the world helping other antinarcotic agencies to try and stop the suppliers. It pays for helicopters, defoliating agents and so on. And when it is provoked, it captures the president of Panama and brings him to trial in Florida. Singapore does not have that option. We can't go to Burma and capture warlords there. What we can do is to pass a law which says that any customs officer or policeman who sees anybody in Singapore behaving suspiciously, leading him to suspect the person is under the influence of drugs, can require that man to have his urine tested. If the sample is found to contain drugs, the man immediately goes for treatment. In America if you did that it would be an invasion of the individual's rights and you would be sued.

I was interested to read Colin Powell, when he was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, saying that the military followed our approach because when a recruit signs up he agrees that he can be tested. Now, I would have thought this kind of approach would be quite an effective way to deal with the terrible drug problem you have. But the idea of the inviolability of the individual has been turned into dogma. And yet nobody minds when the army goes and captures the president of another state and brings him to Florida and puts him in jail. I find that incomprehensible. And in any case this approach will not solve America's drug problem. Whereas Singapore's way, we may not solve it, but we will lessen it considerably, as we have done.

FZ: Would it be fair to say that you admired America more 25 years ago? What, in your view, went wrong?

LKY: Yes, things have changed. I would hazard a guess that it has a lot to do with the erosion of the moral underpinnings of a society and the diminution of personal responsibility. The liberal, intellectual tradition that developed after World War II claimed that human beings had arrived at this perfect state where everybody would be better off if they were allowed to do their own thing and flourish. It has not worked out, and I doubt if it will. Certain basics about human nature do not change. Man needs a certain moral sense of right and wrong. There is such a thing called evil, and it is not the result of being a victim of society. You are just an evil man, prone to do evil things, and you have to be stopped from doing them. Westerners have abandoned an ethical basis for society, believing that all problems are solvable by a good government, which we in the East never believed possible.

FZ: Is such a fundamental shift in culture irreversible?

LKY: No, it is a swing of the pendulum. I think it will swing back. I don't know how long it will take, but there's already a backlash in America against failed social policies that have resulted in people urinating in public, in aggressive begging in the streets, in social breakdown.


FZ: You say that your real concern is that this system not be foisted on other societies because it will not work there. Is there another viable model for political and economic development? Is there an "Asian model"?

LKY: I don't think there is an Asian model as such. But Asian societies are unlike Western ones. The fundamental difference between Western concepts of society and government and East Asian concepts -- when I say East Asians, I mean Korea, Japan, China, Vietnam, as distinct from Southeast Asia, which is a mix between the Sinic and the Indian, though Indian culture also emphasizes similar values -- is that Eastern societies believe that the individual exists in the context of his family. He is not pristine and separate. The family is part of the extended family, and then friends and the wider society. The ruler or the government does not try to provide for a person what the family best provides.

In the West, especially after World War II, the government came to be seen as so successful that it could fulfill all the obligations that in less modern societies are fulfilled by the family. This approach encouraged alternative families, single mothers for instance, believing that government could provide the support to make up for the absent father.This is a bold, Huxleyan view of life, but one from which I as an East Asian shy away. I would be afraid to experiment with it. I'm not sure what the consequences are, and I don't like the consequences that I see in the West. You will find this view widely shared in East Asia. It's not that we don't have single mothers here. We are also caught in the same social problems of change when we educate our women and they become independent financially and no longer need to put up with unhappy marriages. But there is grave disquiet when we break away from tested norms, and the tested norm is the family unit. It is the building brick of society.

There is a little Chinese aphorism which encapsulates this idea: Xiushen qijia zhiguo pingtianxia. Xiushen means look after yourself, cultivate yourself, do everything to make yourself useful; Qijia, look after the family; Zhiguo, look after your country; Pingtianxia, all is peaceful under heaven. We have a whole people immersed in these beliefs. My granddaughter has the name Xiu-qi. My son picked out the first two words, instructing his daughter to cultivate herself and look after her family. It is the basic concept of our civilization. Governments will come, governments will go, but this endures. We start with self-reliance. In the West today it is the opposite. The government says give me a popular mandate and I will solve all society's problems.

FZ: What would you do instead to address America's problems?

LKY: What would I do if I were an American? First, you must have order in society. Guns, drugs and violent crime all go together, threatening social order. Then the schools; when you have violence in schools, you are not going to have education, so you've got to put that right. Then you have to educate rigorously and train a whole generation of skilled, intelligent, knowledgeable people who can be productive. I would start off with basics, working on the individual, looking at him within the context of his family, his friends, his society. But the Westerner says I'll fix things at the top. One magic formula, one grand plan. I will wave a wand and everything will work out. It's an interesting theory but not a proven method.


FZ: You are very skeptical of government's ability to solve deeper social issues. But you're more confident, certainly than many Americans are, in the government's ability to promote economic growth and technological advancement. Isn't this a contradiction?

LKY: No. We have focused on basics in Singapore. We used the family to push economic growth, factoring the ambitions of a person and his family into our planning. We have tried, for example, to improve the lot of children through education. The government can create a setting in which people can live happily and succeed and express themselves, but finally it is what people do with their lives that determines economic success or failure. Again, we were fortunate we had this cultural backdrop, the belief in thrift, hard work, filial piety and loyalty in the extended family, and, most of all, the respect for scholarship and learning.There is, of course, another reason for our success. We have been able to create economic growth because we facilitated certain changes while we moved from an agricultural society to an industrial society. We had the advantage of knowing what the end result should be by looking at the West and later Japan. We knew where we were, and we knew where we had to go. We said to ourselves, "Let's hasten, let's see if we can get there faster." But soon we will face a different situation. In the near future, all of us will get to the stage of Japan. Where do we go next? How do we hasten getting there when we don't know where we're going? That will be a new situation.

FZ: Some people say that the Asian model is too rigid to adapt well to change. The sociologist Mancur Olson argues that national decline is caused most fundamentally by sclerosis -- the rigidity of interest groups, firms, labor, capital and the state. An American-type system that is very flexible, laissez-faire and constantly adapting is better suited to the emerging era of rapid change than a government-directed economic policy and a Confucian value system.

LKY: That is an optimistic and attractive philosophy of life, and I hope it will come true. But if you look at societies over the millennia you find certain basic patterns. American civilization from the Pilgrim fathers on is one of optimism and the growth of orderly government. History in China is of dynasties which have risen and fallen, of the waxing and waning of societies.

And through all that turbulence, the family, the extended family, the clan, has provided a kind of survival raft for the individual. Civilizations have collapsed, dynasties have been swept away by conquering hordes, but this life raft enables the civilization to carry on and get to its next phase. Nobody here really believes that the government can provide in all circumstances. The government itself does not believe it. In the ultimate crisis, even in earthquakes and typhoons, it is your human relationships that will see you through. So the thesis you quote, that the government is always capable of reinventing itself in new shapes and forms, has not been proven in history. But the family and the way human relationships are structured, do increase the survival chances of its members. That has been tested over thousands of years in many different situations.

FZ: A key ingredient of national economic success in the past has been a culture of innovation and experimentation. During their rise to great wealth and power the centers of growth -- Venice, Holland, Britain, the United States -- all had an atmosphere of intellectual freedom in which new ideas, technologies, methods and products could emerge. In East Asian countries, however, the government frowns upon an open and free wheeling intellectual climate. Leaving aside any kind of human rights questions this raises, does it create a productivity problem?

LKY: Intellectually that sounds like a reasonable conclusion, but I'm not sure things will work out this way. The Japanese, for instance, have not been all that disadvantaged in creating new products. I think that if governments are aware of your thesis and of the need to test out new areas, to break out of existing formats, they can counter the trend. East Asians, who all share a tradition of strict discipline, respect for the teacher, no talking back to the teacher and rote learning, must make sure that there is this random intellectual search for new technologies and products. In any case, in a world where electronic communications are instantaneous, I do not see anyone lagging behind. Anything new that happens spreads quickly, whether it's superconductivity or some new life-style.

FZ: Would you agree with the World Bank report on East Asian economic success, which I interpret to have concluded that all the governments that succeeded got fundamentals right -- encouraging savings and investment, keeping inflation low, providing high-quality education. The tinkering of industrial policies here and targeting sectors there was not as crucial an element in explaining these countries' extraordinary economic growth as were these basic factors.

LKY: I think the World Bank had a very difficult job. It had to write up these very, very complex series of situations. But there are cultural factors which have been lightly touched over, which deserved more weightage. This would have made it a more complex study and of less universal application, but it would have been more accurate, explaining the differences, for example, between the Philippines and Taiwan.

FZ: If culture is so important, then countries with very different cultures may not, in fact, succeed in the way that East Asia did by getting economic fundamentals right. Are you not hopeful for the countries around the world that are liberalizing their economies?

LKY: Getting the fundamentals right would help, but these societies will not succeed in the same way as East Asia did because certain driving forces will be absent. If you have a culture that doesn't place much value in learning and scholarship and hard work and thrift and deferment of present enjoyment for future gain, the going will be much slower.

But, you know, the World Bank report's conclusions are part of the culture of America and, by extension, of international institutions. It had to present its findings in a bland and universalizable way, which I find unsatisfying because it doesn't grapple with the real problems. It makes the hopeful assumption that all men are equal, that people all over the world are the same. They are not.

Groups of people develop different characteristics when they have evolved for thousands of years separately. Genetics and history interact. The Native American Indian is genetically of the same stock as the Mongoloids of East Asia -- the Chinese, the Koreans and the Japanese. But one group got cut off after the Bering Straits melted away. Without that land bridge they were totally isolated in America for thousands of years. The other, in East Asia, met successive invading forces from Central Asia and interacted with waves of people moving back and forth. The two groups may share certain characteristics, for instance if you measure the shape of their skulls and so on, but if you start testing them you find that they are different, most particularly in their neurological development, and their cultural values.

Now if you gloss over these kinds of issues because it is politically incorrect to study them, then you have laid a land mine for yourself. This is what leads to the disappointments with social policies, embarked upon in America with great enthusiasm and expectations, but which yield such meager results. There isn't a willingness to see things in their stark reality. But then I am not being politically correct.

FZ: Culture may be important, but it does change. The Asian "model" may prove to be a transitional phenomenon. After all, Western countries also went through a period in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries when they were capitalist and had limited participatory democracy. Elites then worried -- as you do today -- that "too much" democracy and "too many" individual rights would destabilize social order. But as these societies modernized and as economic growth spread to all sections of society, things changed. Isn't East Asia changing because of a growing middle class that demands a say in its own future?

LKY: There is acute change in East Asia. We are agricultural societies that have industrialized within one or two generations. What happened in the West over 200 years or more is happening here in about 50 years or less. It is all crammed and crushed into a very tight time frame, so there are bound to be dislocations and malfunctions. If you look at the fast-growing countries -- Korea, Thailand, Hong Kong, and Singapore -- there's been one remarkable phenomenon: the rise of religion. Koreans have taken to Christianity in large numbers, I think some 25 percent. This is a country that was never colonized by a Christian nation. The old customs and religions -- ancestor worship, shamanism -- no longer completely satisfy. There is a quest for some higher explanations about man's purpose, about why we are here. This is associated with periods of great stress in society. You will find in Japan that every time it goes through a period of stress new sects crop up and new religions proliferate. In Taiwan -- and also in Hong Kong and Singapore -- you see a rise in the number of new temples; Confucianist temples, Taoist temples and many Christian sects.

We are all in the midst of very rapid change and at the same time we are all groping towards a destination which we hope will be identifiable with our past. We have left the past behind and there is an underlying unease that there will be nothing left of us which is part of the old. The Japanese have solved this problem to some extent. Japan has become an industrial society, while remaining essentially Japanese in its human relations. They have industrialized and shed some of their feudal values. The Taiwanese and the Koreans are trying to do the same. But whether these societies can preserve their core values and make this transition is a problem which they alone can solve. It is not something Americans can solve' for them. Therefore, you will find people unreceptive to the idea that they be Westernized. Modernized, yes, in the sense that they have accepted the inevitability of science and technology and the change in the lifestyles they bring.

FZ: But won't these economic and technological changes produce changes in the mind-sets of people?

LKY: It is not just mind-sets that would have to change but value systems. Let me give anecdotal evidence of this. Many Chinese families in Malaysia migrated in periods of stress, when there were race riots in Malaysia in the 1960s, and they settled in Australia and Canada. They did this for the sake of their children so that they would get a better education in the English language because then Malaysia was switching to Malay as its primary language. The children grew up, reached their late teens and left home. And suddenly the parents discovered the emptiness of the whole exercise. They had given their children a modern education in the English language and in the process lost their children altogether. That was a very sobering experience. Something less dramatic is happening in Singapore now because we are not bringing up our children in the same circumstances in which we grew up.

FZ: But these children are absorbing influences different from your generation. You say that knowledge, life-styles, culture all spread rapidly in this world. Will not the idea of democracy and individual rights also spread?

LKY: Let's not get into a debate on semantics. The system of government in China will change. It will change in Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam. It is changing in Singapore. But it will not end up like the American or British or French or German systems. What are we all seeking? A form of government that will be comfortable, because it meets our needs, is not oppressive, and maximizes our opportunities. And whether you have one-man, one-vote or some-men, one vote or other men, two votes, those are forms which should be worked out. I'm not intellectually convinced that one-man, one-vote is the best. We practice it because that's what the British bequeathed us and we haven't really found a need to challenge that. But I'm convinced, personally, that we would have a better system if we gave every man over the age of 40 who has a family two votes because he's likely to be more careful, voting also for his children. He is more likely to vote in a serious way than a capricious young man under 30. But we haven't found it necessary yet. If it became necessary we should do it. At the same time, once a person gets beyond 65, then it is a problem. Between the ages of 40 and 60 is ideal, and at 60 they should go back to one vote, but that will be difficult to arrange.


FZ: Change is often most threatening when it occurs in multiethnic societies. You have been part of both a multiethnic state that failed and one that has succeeded. Malaysia was unwilling to allow what it saw as a Chinese city-state to be part of it and expelled Singapore from its federation in 1965. Singapore itself, however, exists peacefully as a multiethnic state. Is there a solution for those states that have ethnic and religious groups mixed within them?

LKY: Each state faces a different set of problems and I would be most reluctant to dish out general solutions. From my own experience, I would say, make haste slowly. Nobody likes to lose his ethnic, cultural, religious, even linguistic identity. To exist as one state you need to share certain attributes, have things in common. If you pressure-cook you are in for problems. If you go gently, but steadily, the logic of events will bring about not assimilation, but integration. If I had tried to foist the English language on the people of Singapore I would have faced rebellion all around. If I had tried to foist the Chinese language, I'd have had immediate revolt and disaster.

But I offered every parent a choice of English and their mother tongue, in whatever order they chose. By their free choice, plus the rewards of the marketplace over a period of 30 years, we have ended up with English first and the mother tongue second. We have switched one university already established in the Chinese language from Chinese into English. Had this change been forced in five or ten years instead of being done over 30 years -- and by free choice-- it would have been a disaster.

FZ: This sounds like a live-and-let-live kind of approach. Many Western countries, particularly the United States and France, respectively, have traditionally attempted to assimilate people toward a national mainstream -- with English and French as the national language, respectively. Today this approach is being questioned, as you know, with some minority groups in the United States and France arguing for "multiculturalism," which would allow distinct and unassimilated minority groups to coexist within the nation. How does this debate strike you as you read about it in Singapore?

LKY: You cannot have too many distinct components and be one nation. It makes interchangeability difficult. If you want complete separateness then you should not come to live in the host country. But there are circumstances where it is wise to leave things be. For instance, all races in Singapore are eligible for jobs and for many other things. But we put the Muslims in a slightly different category because they are extremely sensitive about their customs, especially diet. In such matters one has to find a middle path between uniformity and a certain freedom to be somewhat different. I think it is wise to leave alone questions of fundamental beliefs and give time to sort matters out.

FZ: So you would look at the French handling of their Muslim minorities and say "Go slow, don't push these people so hard."

LKY: I would not want to say that because the French having ruled Algeria for many years know the kind of problems that they are faced with. My approach would be, if some Muslim girl insists on coming to school with her headdress on and is prepared to put up with that discomfort, we should be prepared to put up with the strangeness. But if she joined the customs or immigration department where it would be confusing to the millions of people who stream through to have some customs officer looking different, she must wear the uniform. That approach has worked in Singapore so far.


FZ: Let me shift gears somewhat and ask you some questions about the international climate in East Asia. The part of the world you live in is experiencing the kind of growth that the West has experienced for the last 400 years. The West has not only been the world's great producer of wealth for four centuries, it has also been the world's great producer of war. Today East Asia is the locus of great and unsettling growth, with several newly rising powers close to each other, many with different political systems, historical animosities, border disputes, and all with ever-increasing quantities of arms. Should one look at this and ask whether Europe's past will be East Asia's future?

LKY: No, it's too simplistic. One reason why growth is likely to last for many years in East Asia -- and this is just a guess -- is that the peoples and the governments of East Asia have learned some powerful lessons about the viciousness and destructiveness of wars. Not only full-scale wars like in Korea, but guerrilla wars as in Vietnam, in Cambodia and in the jungles of Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines. We all know that the more you engage in conflict, the poorer and the more desperate you become. Visit Cambodia and Vietnam; the world just passed them by. That lesson will live for a very long time, at least as long as this generation is alive.

FZ: The most unsettling change in an international system is the rise of a new great power. Can the rise of China be accommodated into the East Asian order? Isn't that kind of growth inevitably destabilizing?

LKY: I don't think we can speak in terms of just the East Asian order. The question is: Can the world develop a system in which a country the size of China becomes part of the management of international peace and stability? Sometime in the next 20 or 30 years the world, by which I mean the major powers, will have to agree among themselves how to manage peace and stability, how to create a system that is both viable and fair. Wars between small countries won't destroy the whole world, but will only destroy themselves. But big conflicts between big powers will destroy the world many times over. That's just too disastrous to contemplate.

At the end of the last war what they could foresee was the United Nations. The hope was that the permanent five would maintain the rule of law or gradually spread the rule of law in international relations. It did not come off because of Stalin and the Cold War. This is now a new phase. The great powers -- by which I mean America, Western Europe as a group if they become a union, Japan, China and, in 20 to 30 years time, the Russian republic -- have got to find a balance between themselves. I think the best way forward is through the United Nations. It already has 48 years of experience. It is imperfect, but what is the alternative? You can not have a consortium of five big powers lording it over the rest of mankind. They will not have the moral authority or legitimacy to do it. Are they going to divide the world into five spheres of influence?

So they have to fall back on some multilateral framework and work out a set of rules that makes it viable. There may be conflicts of a minor nature, for instance between two Latin American countries or two small Southeast Asian countries; that doesn't really matter. Now if you have two big countries in South Asia like India and Pakistan and both with nuclear capabilities, then something has to be done. It is in that context that we have to find a place for China when it becomes a major economic and military power.

FZ: Is the Chinese regime stable? Is the growth that's going on there sustainable? Is the balancing act between economic reform and political control that Deng Xiaoping is trying to keep going sustainable after his death?

LKY: The regime in Beijing is more stable than any alternative government that can be formed in China. Let us assume that the students had carried the day at Tiananmen and they had formed a government. The same students who were at Tiananmen went to France and America. They've been quarreling with each other ever since. What kind of China would they have today? Something worse than the Soviet Union. China is a vast, disparate country; there is no alternative to strong central power.

FZ: Do you worry that the kind of rapid and unequal growth taking place in China might cause the country to break up?

LKY: First, the economy is growing everywhere, even in Sichuan, in the heart of the interior. Disparate growth rates are inevitable. It is the difference between, say, California before the recession and the Rust Belt. There will be enormous stresses because of the size of the country and the intractable nature of the problems -- the poor infrastructure, the weak institutions, the wrong systems that they have installed, modeling themselves upon the Soviet system in Stalin's time. Given all those handicaps, I am amazed that they have got so far.

FZ: What about the other great East Asian power? If Japan continues on the current trajectory, should the world encourage the expansion of its political and military responsibilities and power?

LKY: No. I know that the present generation of Japanese leaders do not want to project power. I'm not sure what follows when leaders born after the war take charge. I doubt if there will be a sudden change. If Japan can carry on with its current policy, leaving security to the Americans and concentrating on the economic and the political, the world will be better off. And the Japanese are quite happy to do this. It is when America feels that it's too burdensome and not worth the candle to be present in East Asia to protect Japan that it will have to look after its own security. When Japan becomes a separate player, it is an extra joker in the pack of cards.

FZ: You've said recently that allowing Japan to send its forces abroad is like giving liquor to an alcoholic.

LKY: The Japanese have always had this cultural trait, that whatever they do they carry it to the nth degree. I think they know this. I have Japanese friends who have told me this. They admit that this is a problem with them.

FZ: What if Japan did follow the trajectory that most great powers have; that it was not content simply to be an economic superpower, "a bank with a flag" in a writer's phrase? What if they decided they wanted to have the ultimate mark of a great power -- nuclear weapons? What should the world do?

LKY: If they decided on that the world will not be able to stop them. You are unable to stop North Korea. Nobody believes that an American government that could not sustain its mission in Somalia because of an ambush and one television snippet of a dead American pulled through the streets in Mogadishu could contemplate a strike on North Korean nuclear facilities like the Israeli strike on Iraq. Therefore it can only be sanctions in the U.N. Security Council. That requires that there be no vetoes. Similarly, if the Japanese decide to go nuclear, I don't believe you will be able to stop them. But they know that they face a nuclear power in China and in Russia, and so they would have to posture themselves in such a way as not to invite a preemptive strike. If they can avoid a preemptive strike then a balance will be established. Each will deter the others.

FZ: So it's the transition period that you are worried about.

LKY: I would prefer that the matter never arises and I believe so does the world. Whether the Japanese go down the military path will depend largely on America's strength and its willingness to be engaged.


FZ: Is there some contradiction here between your role as a politician and your new role as an intellectual, speaking out on all matters? As a politician you want America as a strong balancer in the region, a country that is feared and respected all over the world. As an intellectual, however, you choose to speak out forcefully against the American model in a way that has to undermine America's credibility abroad.

LKY: That's preposterous. The last thing I would want to do is to undermine her credibility. America has been unusual in the history of the world, being the sole possessor of power -- the nuclear weapon -- and the one and only government in the world unaffected by war damage whilst the others were in ruins. Any old and established nation would have ensured its supremacy for as long as it could. But America set out to put her defeated enemies on their feet, to ward off an evil force, the Soviet Union, brought about technological change by transferring technology generously and freely to Europeans and to Japanese, and enabled them to become her challengers within 30 years. By 1975 they were at her heels. That's unprecedented in history. There was a certain greatness of spirit born out of the fear of communism plus American idealism that brought that about. But that does not mean that we all admire everything about America.

Let me be frank; if we did not have the good points of the West to guide us, we wouldn't have got out of our backwardness. We would have been a backward economy with a backward society. But we do not want all of the West.


THE DOMINANT THEME throughout our conversation was culture. Lee returned again and again to his views on the importance of culture and the differences between Confucianism and Western values. In this respect, Lee is very much part of a trend. Culture is in. From business consultants to military strategists, people talk about culture as the deepest and most determinative aspect of human life.

I remain skeptical. If culture is destiny, what explains a culture's failure in one era and success in another? If Confucianism explains the economic boom in East Asia today, does it not also explain that region's stagnation for four centuries? In fact, when East Asia seemed immutably poor, many scholars -- most famously Max Weber -- made precisely that case, arguing that Confucian-based cultures discouraged all the attributes necessary for success in capitalism.

Today scholars explain how Confucianism emphasizes the essential traits for economic dynamism. Were Latin American countries to succeed in the next few decades, we shah surely read encomiums to Latin culture. I suspect that since we cannot find one simple answer to why certain societies succeed at certain times, we examine successful societies and search within their cultures for the seeds of success. Cultures being complex, one finds in them what one wants.

What explains Lee Kuan Yew's fascination with culture? It is not something he was born with. Until his thirties he was called "Harry" Lee (and still is by family and friends). In the 1960s the British foreign secretary could say to him, "Harry, you're the best bloody Englishman east of the Suez." This is not a man untouched by the West. Part of his interest in cultural differences is surely that they provide a coherent defense against what he sees as Western democratic imperialism. But a deeper reason is revealed in something he said in our conversation: "We have left the past behind, and there is an underlying unease that there will be nothing left of us which is part of the old."

Cultures change. Under the impact of economic growth, technological change and social transformation, no culture has remained the same. Most of the attributes that Lee sees in Eastern cultures were once part of the West. Four hundred years of economic growth changed things. From the very beginning of England's economic boom, many Englishmen worried that as their country became rich it was losing its moral and ethical base. "Wealth accumulates and men decay," wrote Oliver Goldsmith in 1770. It is this "decay" that Lee is trying to stave off. He speaks of the anxious search for religion in East Asia today, were from the book East Asia: Tradition and Transformation, by John Fairbank, an American scholar. and while he never says this, his own quest for a Confucian alternative to the West is part of this search.

But to be modern without becoming more Western is difficult; the two are not wholly separable. The West has left a mark on "the rest," and it is not simply a legacy of technology and material products. It is, perhaps most profoundly, in the realm of ideas. At the close of the interview Lee handed me three pages. This was, he explained, to emphasize how alien Confucian culture is to the West. The pages
Link to original article:

How Far We've Fallen Since JFK (A Message to Senator Robert Menendez)

In his famous inauguration speech President John F Kennedy exhorted his fellow Americans to:

"ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country."

Fastforward to 2011, Senator Robert Menendez (D- NJ) responded to the debt crisis not by asking his constituents to make shared sacrifices for the good of the nation, but resorted to ethno-political fear mongering, claiming that the paltry budget cuts proposed by the Republicans would hurt Latinos. Among the figures that he cited were that 59% of Latino families utilize the WIC Program and 36% of recipients of Head Start are Latinos, which is quite high considering that they comprise approximately 16% of the nation. If Mr. Menendez were truly concerned about the welfare of Hispanic-Americans and that of this nation, he would have offered the following speech:

"My fellow Americans of Hispanic descent, the majority of our community is hard working and has made great contributions to the economic and cultural life of the United States. From the toil of farm and factory workers, to the burgeoning number of educated professionals, we are an indispensable part of this nation. But, a disproportionate number of our people have become dependent on welfare and government subsidies.

I am not heartless, I understand that we are living in hard economic times that have thrust many working families into poverty. But even before the economic downturn, the number of families trapped in long term dependency was troublingly high. And now that we are facing an unprecedented fiscal crisis, a tidal wave of debt and unfunded liabilities that threatens the economic and social foundation of our great nation, we cannot afford this. I will fight to eliminate oil and farm subsidies and obscene defense spending, but that will not be enough. Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and other entitlements comprise over 60% of our budget. If we are to get our financial house in order, you too must sacrifice, for it is essential to lessen the number of Latinos and other Americans who have become dependent on the welfare state.

We must turn to our greatest strength: our sense of family and community. For generations we understood that it was our job, NOT the government's to care for our downtrodden neighbors and family members, but through the tyranny of good intentions, the welfare state has eroded this spirit and now we must revive it. But, more than anything, we must understand that these sacrifices are not just for the broader nation, but for our own community, for our own children. When so many of our young have become accustomed to the grandiosity of the state at such a young age, it does not bode well for their future social mobility. We did not struggle to come to this nation to offer this dismal future to our children. We can and we must do better. So, we must ask not what our country can do for us, but what we can do for our country, what we can do for ourselves."

Senators Menendez, Reid & Begich Discuss Impact of Extreme GOP Budget Cuts on Hispanic Community

Senators Host First Hispanic Task Force Meeting of the 112th Congress

April 7, 2011

WASHINGTON - U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Chairman of the Hispanic Task Force, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and U.S. Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK), Chair of the Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee, outlined the impact that the Republicans’ budget cuts would have on the nation’s Hispanic community, especially in the areas of health, education, and economic prosperity. The Senators hosted the first Hispanic Task Force meeting of 2011 with Democratic Senators and Hispanic Leaders from across the country to discuss priorities for the 112th Congress.

At the meeting, National and local Hispanic leaders had the opportunity to voice their concerns and ideas on the ongoing budget negotiations and the issues important to Hispanics across the country. Among other programs, the extreme GOP cuts would harm the 400,000 Latino children in Head Start, the 59 percent of Women with Infant and Children beneficiaries who are Hispanic, and over 1 million Latino college students who depend on Pell Grants.

According to new census numbers, Hispanics continue to be the largest and fastest growing minority, with one in six Americans being of Hispanic descent.

Senator Menendez said, “Show me your budget, and I’ll show you your values. Republicans have shown us that issues important the Latino community –strong schools, safe communities, and new good-paying jobs – are not a concern for them. Democrats believe the Hispanic community is a priority, our budget invests in their future, and we will continue to fight on behalf Hispanics across our country.”

Senate Majority Leader Reid said, “We understand the need to cut wasteful spending like tens of billions in government giveaways to big oil companies. However, too many Latino families in Nevada and across the country will suffer if the TEA Party gets its way and enact their reckless spending plan. Their extreme proposal slashes Head Start when 36 percent of the program’s participants are Hispanic. It makes drastic cuts to community health centers, when Latinos comprise the largest number of our nation’s uninsured. Furthermore, it puts the Minority Business Development Agency on the chopping block, a program that helped almost 1,500 Latino small business owners in 2009 alone.

“Republicans need to join Democrats in rejecting this extreme proposal and work to toward a bipartisan agreement that cuts wasteful spending, protects jobs and avoids a devastating government shutdown.”

Senator Begich said, “Senate Democrats know and understand how important the Latino community is to our great nation. As Chair of the Senate Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee, it is my privilege to partner with Senator Robert Menendez and the Hispanic Task Force to ensure that we communicate about our shared goals and shared concern about the reckless budget cuts our Republican colleagues are proposing. The Hispanic community in Alaska and America is rapidly growing and I am encouraged to see so many key Latino leaders actively mobilizing their communities to speak out against the immediate and detrimental effect these cuts would have on programs critical to millions of Americans. As I have repeatedly said, I hope Republicans will join us at the table so we can get a real budget plan that not only reduces our deficit, but also ensures that the economy is growing, businesses are thriving, and our communities are protected.”

A record number of 14 Democratic Senators participated in the meeting, including: Chairman of the Hispanic Task Force Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Senate Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL), Senator Mark Begich (D-AK), Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Senator Daniel Akaka (D- HI), Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO), Senator Mark Warner (D-VA), Senator Mark Udall (D-NM), Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT).

Hispanic Population Numbers

As of the 2010 Census numbers, Hispanics are estimated to number more than 50 million (about 16.3%), [U.S. Census Bureau, 2011]

There are 1.5 million Hispanics in New Jersey, representing 17.7% of the total population. Latinos are now the state’s second-largest population group in New Jersey [U.S. Census Bureau, 2011]

Over the last 10 years, the Latino population grew by 39.2%, while the non-Latino population declined slightly by 0.8%. [U.S. Census Bureau, 2011]

Population by State

Geographically, most Hispanics still live in nine states that have large, long-standing Latino communities—Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, New Mexico, New Jersey, New York and Texas—but the share living in other states has been growing.

In 2010, 76% of Latinos lived in these nine states, compared with 81% in 2000 and 86% in 1990. (In 2000, 50% of Hispanics lived in California and Texas alone. In 2010, that share was 46%.)

The states with the largest percent growth in their Hispanic populations include nine where the Latino population more than doubled, including a swath in the southeast United States—Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee and South Carolina. The Hispanic population also more than doubled in Maryland and South Dakota.

Impact of Proposed FY2011 Funding Cuts on the Latino Community

Cuts to Head Start directly impact underserved communities

The Head Start Program gives low-income children in pre-school access to early childhood education and nutrition. [Report]

About 36%, or 400,000, children in the Head Start program are Latino. [Report]

H.R. 1 cuts the program by 20%, ousting 218,000 children and forcing 55,000 layoffs. [Office of Head Start]

Cuts to the Women with Infants and Children (WIC) program will heavily impact many Latino families’ abilities to meet their nutritional needs

The Women with Infants and Children (WIC) program provides low-income pregnant women, postpartum and breastfeeding women, and infants and children under 5 years of age who are at risk of not having safe, nutritious and balanced meals with nutritious meals, nutrition education and health resources. [Report]

H.R. 1 would cut funding for WIC by $747.2 million

59% of Hispanic families with children under the age of five participate in the WIC program

Massive cuts will impact Latinos’ access to higher education: over 1 million Latino college students depend on Pell Grants to pay for their higher education.

Latinos are 14% of all Pell Grant recipients. [National Center for Education Statistics]

The House of Representatives spending bill would cut individual Pell Grant awards by $845. [Congressional Research Service]

Cuts will hurt the 1.14 million Latino Veterans:

Proposed cuts target homeless veterans by eliminating funding for new HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) vouchers.

About 11,000 eligible veterans would be affected [CNN]

Cuts endanger Hispanic Health Services of Latinos:

Hispanics are the largest group among the uninsured, with 38.9% going without coverage in 2010. (Gallup).

Community Health Centers provide primary care to 20 million Americans with limited financial resources, and are often located in communities that are economically distressed.

Hispanics are nearly a third of all Community Health Center patients. [NACHC].

Proposed cuts of $1 billion for community health centers equate to nearly 11 million patients losing health care services and 90,000 fewer jobs in communities with health centers. [Center for American Progress].

Cuts to USDA’s Commodity Assistance Program will endanger the health of vulnerable low-income Latinos at the time of most need

The Commodity Assistance Program provides low-income Hispanics with food and nutrition assistance through the Farmer’s Market Nutrition Program, Soup Kitchens or Food Banks, The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), disaster support, infrastructure and modernization support, and the Commodity Supplemental Food Program. [USDA]

Proposed cuts of $20 million to the Commodity Supplemental Food Program within the Commodity Assistance Program will endanger the health status of the 467,000 low-income individuals that participate in this program each year. [USDA, Food & Nutrition Services]

Cuts to EPA’s enforcement of the Clean Air Act will put Latinos at significant increased risk of developing acute and chronic illnesses like asthma and other pulmonary and respiratory diseases from exposure to air pollution – including greenhouse gases

In a major 2006 study, it was found that 30 million Latinos – at that time 72% of all Hispanics in the U.S. – live in areas that do not meet federal air pollution standards for one or more pollutants. Further, over 28 million Latinos lived in areas that do not meet the federal standard for ozone.

Cuts to the Emergency Food and Shelter Program (EFSP) will deprive the most vulnerable in society of food and shelter.

EFSP provides shelter, food and supportive services for the nation’s hungry, homeless, and people in economic crisis.

Proposed cuts of 50% to EFSP will impact Latinos particularly hard during the current economic climate, considering Hispanics are being hardest hit by the foreclosure crisis and face unemployment rates above 15%.

Cuts to the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) will result in greater unemployment among older adults.

SCSEP provides subsidized, service based training for low income persons 55 or older who are unemployed and have poor employment prospects, with the goal of placing 30 percent of its participants into unsubsidized employment each year.

SCSEP serves a large number of Latinos

H.R. 1, which proposed cutting funding for the program in half, would result in less training and less employment opportunities for older adults.

Cuts to Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Office of University Programs will hamper college and university involvement in Latino community development.

H.R. 1 zeroes out the Hispanic-Serving Institutions Assisting Communities program which provides competitive grants to HSIs to assist in local community development.

This cut hurts both already underfunded HSIs and the low-income communities they serve.

Riders that block funding for expenditures on particular government activities would have a disproportionate impact on the Latino community:
USCIS Citizenship and Immigrant Integration Grants were prohibited from appropriations by one rider added to H.R. 1. These grants help fund programs to teach immigrants citizenship classes, integrating new Americans into U.S. society and enabling them to be more successful U.S. citizens.

One environmental rider in H.R. 1 would prevent EPA from limiting toxic emissions from cement plants, stopping the agency’s efforts to keep 16,000 pounds of mercury a year out of the air, with obvious detrimental impacts on public health, especially for Latinos, who suffer disproportionately from mercury exposure due to proximity to environmental justice sites.

Another environmental rider in H.R.1 would prohibit the federal government from paying the legal fees of individuals or citizens groups that successfully sue it under environmental laws. The impact of this rider would be devastating for many low income and minority populations that cannot seek justice through legal action if they and their attorneys receive no compensation should they win environmental justice cases.

Future vs Present Orientation Among Different Ethnic Groups

An recent article in Reuters discussed research that shows that relative to other groups, middle class African-Americans save and invest less. This is interesting for two reasons: first, it is one example among many of the power that culture has over economic behavior of individuals and nations, second, the explanations provided by the authors demonstrates the pervasive power of political correctness.

Culture is not just food and rituals, but the predominant values, norms and behavioral patterns in groups that has a major impact on social, economic and political life. For example, the private and public savings rate in  East Asian countries was much higher than that that of the United States and Western European nations. Furthermore, a study found that when presented with the option to participate in a 401K, Asian-Americans were more likely than whites and other groups (of individuals of the same income level) to participate. It appears that African-Americans lie at the other end of the culture spectrum. When we analyze a host of other socio-economic phenomena, such as the pursuit of education, the rate of out of wedlock births and crime we find similar rankings (from optimal to more problematic): Asian-Americans, Whites, Hispanics and African-Americans. I believe that the underlying factor is: future vs present orientation. In other words, those who are oriented towards the future are more likely to save, invest, pursue education, avoid having children outside of  refrain from committing crime than their present oriented compatriots.

Regarding the cause of the savings rate, the authors of the article provided the following explanation:
"African-Americans distrust the financial system because it has excluded them for so long" and “have not effectively engaged" them. While these may be viable factors, the fact that the author does not even explore the possibility that culture and values may be a factor, demonstrates the pervasive manner in which political correctness narrows debates. If he was intellectually honest, he would note that Asian-Americans were also excluded from the financial system for years and not engaged by investment firms, yet they have surpassed European-Americans in their savings and investment rate. Hence, his explanation is limited to say the least. While political correctness may spare feelings, it limits our capacity to generate viable solutions to pressing social and economic ills.

Why don’t blacks save more?

APR 12, 2011 16:33 EDT

Yet another survey confirms what we already know: Blacks don’t save as much as their white counterparts.

According to Prudential’s new study — the African American Financial Experience — 60 percent of African-Americans have less than $50,000 in company retirement plans and only 23 percent have more than $100,000. They’re also three times more likely to raid their 401(k) or other retirement plans to meet immediate financial needs, the study says.

Prudential’s findings echo research by Ariel Investments, which looks at middle class blacks. (According to Ariel’s July 2010 study, the median assets blacks have retirement plans is about half the amount that whites have accumulated: $56,000 compared to $106,000.)

This issue has not gone unnoticed in corporate boardrooms. One company that is trying to narrow the retirement savings gap among minority workers is McDonald’s, which uses some unconventional (along with very traditional) methods to get black and Latino employees to save for retirement.

Some highlights from Prudential’s research:

African-Americans are more likely than the general population to cite charitable donations as an important goal (68 percent vs. 55 percent). College education — without debt — is also important.

Only two in 10 African-Americans believe that they are on track to meet their planning and savings goals for retirement, and nearly twice as many say they are way behind or haven’t even started.

African-American decision-makers tend to be more independent learners when it comes to finances, relying on books, financial websites, financial seminars and conferences and their employers for information. They also show a high interest in learning about financial issues through faith-based organizations.

African-American women are driving financial decisions in their households. Of the African-American women surveyed, 72 percent indicated that they are the primary financial decision-makers in their households and do not share financial decision-making equally. This compares with 69 percent of African-American men, and 54 percent of the general population.

African-Americans are nearly twice as likely to have a dream of starting a small business as those in the general population (35 percent vs. 19 percent), and view starting their own small business as a path to financial freedom. However, more than half of those with an interest in starting a small business say a lack of capital has been the primary hurdle to getting started.

Why don’t blacks save more? Experts say African-Americans distrust the financial system because it has excluded them for so long. In fact, 78 percent of respondents to the Prudential survey said they feel financial services companies “have not effectively engaged the African-American community.” Most of them do not use or have access to financial advisers.

That’s a big problem for the minority community, in general. And with America’s ethnic make-up changing rapidly, the color of money is changing, too.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Ahhhh, In The Good Old Days!

Ahhhh, in the good old days the United States and IMF would lecture irresponsible third world despots on the need for fiscal responsibility and sound economic policies. Now that the IMF is lecturing us, it would appear as if we have joined the rank of the irresponsible. And much like the third world intellectuals of old, I am sure that many of our own will decry the IMF's interference via the imposition of austerity measures. But, only we are to blame, for allowing yourself to become indebted to foreign nations and international bodies is always accompanied by an erosion of national sovereignty.

IMF Says U.S. Lacks 'Credible Strategy' On Debt

Eric Lach

April 12, 2011, 6:15PM

In what The Financial Times describes as an "unusually stern rebuke," the International Monetary Fund says that the United States "urgently" needs a "credible strategy to stabilize public debt."

An IMF analysis points to the United States as the world's "only large advanced economy" - with the exception of earthquake-ravaged Japan - that's looking at an increased deficit this year.

Further, the IMF's April 2011 World Economic Outlook, reaads:

[T]he right policy mix for the United States is one of continued monetary accommodation alongside moves to put fiscal balances on a sounder footing. A credible strategy to stabilize public debt in the medium term, and a down payment on fiscal consolidation in 2011, are urgently needed.

"It is a risk that if it materialises would have very important consequences ... for the rest of the world," Carlo Cottarelli, head of fiscal affairs for the IMF, told The Financial Times. "So it is important that the US undertakes fiscal adjustment in a way sooner rather than later."

In response, the U.S. Treasury told Reuters that the U.S. is committed to meeting its G20 deficit targets.

"We will meet our commitments to the G20 in Toronto and look forward to working with Congress to establish a credible, multiyear path to ensure our fiscal sustainability while delivering strong economic growth," a spokeswoman said.

President Obama plans to outline a long-term debt plan in a speech on Wednesday.

AS Debt Grows, So Does US Exposures to Attack

I came across this must read piece in the Christian Science Monitor.


As debt grows, so does US exposure to attack

As President Obama and Republicans duke it out over the federal debt, they must bear this fact in mind: Growing federal debt threatens the long-term national security of the United States.

By Travis Sharp / April 14, 2011


On Wednesday, President Obama grabbed onto one of the most highly charged issues in American politics: deficit reduction. The president’s speech offered a sensible way forward, even if his proposal was light on specifics. Now that the cameras are off, however, the real political challenges begin. Whether pursued through changes to tax rates, Medicare, or military spending, deficit reduction presents limitless ways for politicians to lose their jobs. And yet the American people demand that their elected leaders accept these risks, and are right to make such demands, because they sense what many experts now know: Growing federal debt threatens the long-term national security of the United States.

“The single-biggest threat to our national security is our debt,” Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said last year. It was a powerful acknowledgment from the high-spending Pentagon. Over the last two years, US federal debt increased from $6.9 trillion to $9.7 trillion. In 10 years, it is projected to reach $18 trillion, equaling 77 percent of GDP, the largest debt-to-GDP ratio since 1950, when the US was still recovering from World War II-related costs. At that point, federal spending on net interest related to the debt will surpass spending on the US military.

Since US economic prowess has long fueled US global influence and military power, Americans must understand the threats this situation presents.

First, long-term federal debt could gradually crowd out investments in the US military, which protects American interests and promotes international stability and peace. A similar situation developed in Britain at the turn of the 20th century, when British leaders’ focus on national efficiency and other peripheral issues distracted them from making the changes required to improve economic performance, bolster military capability, and prepare the nation for an uncertain future.
While Britain had the United States to help bail it out during World War I, no such savior exists for the United States today

As President Obama and Republicans duke it out over the federal debt, they must bear this fact in mind: Growing federal debt threatens the long-term national security of the United States.

Second, increased federal debt could leave the US more vulnerable to economic coercion. Such coercion could take the form of another nation withholding valuable natural resources or militarily sensitive goods during a conflict over repayment, cutting back purposefully on its holdings of US dollars to inflict economic damage, or interfering directly or indirectly in US attempts to finance its debt.

Chinese leaders have publicly discussed such a strategy, a worrisome development considering that China owns a sizable and growing portion of US debt. Last year, Chinese Major General Luo Yuan told state-run media that in response to American arms sales to Taiwan, China could attack the United States “by oblique means and stealthy feints,” including “using economic means, such as dumping some US government bonds.” In 2009, the Pentagon conducted a war game to explore this scenario. According to reports, China emerged victorious after using financial weapons such as stocks, bonds, currencies, and gold reserves to damage the United States. While such a strategy also would hurt China because of our nations’ economic codependence, one cannot rule it out during a crisis.

Third, the cost of servicing US debt could harm the long-term health of the US economy and erode America’s global stature and soft power. Washington would become less able to exert influence in multilateral fora, less able to borrow at affordable rates, less able to head off financial crises, and less able to convince rising powers of the comparative merits of market-based capitalism. Shorn of its international influence, the United States would find itself struggling to guarantee the security of its citizens and allies.

The US serves as the linchpin of an interconnected alliance system of more than 60 nations that has gradually provided more prosperity, freedom, and security to people all over the world. Bolstering our preeminent position in this system depends on relieving federal indebtedness, which poses a real and growing threat to the economic foundations of American power. Our leaders must keep these higher stakes, not the political risks that are superficial in comparison, firmly in mind as they work on a deficit-reduction compromise that will put the United States on a more sound fiscal footing.

Travis Sharp is a research associate at the Center for a New American Security and author of the Center’s recent report, “The Sacrifice Ahead: The 2012 Defense Budget.”