Monday, December 31, 2012

The Great Silence (On Race & Culture) Part II

In our previous post, we discussed the increasingly evident flaws in the official narrative of race and culture in America, which have led a great silence, an unwillingness or inability of most Americans to engage in open, honest discussions. From math, to science, to economics and studies of culture, all systems of knowledge and understanding are structured like a pyramid. Basic empirical and philosophical givens form a foundation, from which one systemically constructs a more advanced understanding of particular phenomena. If two individuals do not acknowledge a basic foundation for any given area of knowledge, it is virtually impossible to have a productive discussion. This is somewhat analogous to language: if we do not agree on the alphabet, we cannot form words and if we cannot form words, meaningful exchanges of ideas, via sentences, would be out of the question. For example, it was virtually impossible for Louis Pasteur to convince others of the nature and merit of vaccinations who did not first accept the Germ Theory of Disease, rather than previously accepted Miasma Theory and the concept of Spontaneous Generation. And how can you convinced someone on the hazards of price controls, if they believe that prices and wages are arbitrary, rather than fundamentally determined by supply and demand?

Regarding our previous discussion, it is virtually impossible to convince others of the power of values and cultural norms in determining economic and social outcomes for individuals and nations, if they are unfamiliar with the concept of Cultural Capital. Without a basic familiarity of how Jewish, Japanese and Armenian disaporas thrived in the face of discrimination, a discussion on the nexus of wealth, commerce and culture will be impoverished (pun intended). Those who do not understand the many ways in which Anglo-American, Latin-American and Arab-Islamic culture have shaped political and economic outcomes across the globe, will not be able to fully grasp the importance of assimilation. To put it boldly, in the absence of these givens, one cannot engage in a meaningful, informed dialogue on immigration, diversity, demographics and a host of other essential and interconnected topics. This means that we will have to hit the reset button and begin anew with a discussion of the basic empirical and conceptual building blocks that are required to construct an honest and accurate narrative that will break the great silence.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Great Silence (On Race & Culture) Part I

When Eric Holder declared that the United States was "a nation of cowards" on matters of race, because "we, as average Americans, simply do not talk enough with each other about race," he was largely correct. On one hand, from classrooms to newsrooms, we are bombarded with talk of diversity and discrimination. But, these "discussions" almost never take the form of open, honest exchanges of ideas, but rather of monologues, in which the unwritten rule is that the listener's only options are to affirm the prescribed narrative or to remain silent. To question the speaker or to departs from accepted orthodoxy, will elicit hostile censure. Even those who do not fear the social or professional consequences that accompany open dissent, usually remain silent. The reason being is that increasingly, common narratives do not convey the complex and often contradictory feelings that most Americans hold about issues of race, religion and culture. This is essential, because our primary means of understanding the world and communicating our sentiments, are popular narratives that reduce complex, number driven explanations of economic, social and political life to broad generalities and truisms. Not only do narratives give clarity and reason to our sentiments, but they allow us to work with others to achieve common goals. Without the Founding Father's eloquent, yet eminently understandable narrative on liberty and self government, few Americans would have fought for their independence. Without the disturbing, yet apparently compelling Jihadist Narrative, well educated, wealthy Saudis would not have been compelled to leave the comfort of their homes to fight in Afghanistan, first against the Soviets and later against the Americans.

Occurrences that contradict well worn narratives will cause cognitive dissonance for many individuals and will largely be ignored by the public. For example, a report indicated that in Los Angeles, 69% of hate crimes against African-Americans were committed by Latinos and in 61% of hate crimes against Latinos, the perpetrators were African-Americans. This is most significant, because African-Americans make up only 9.6% of the city's population, i.e. they are over-represented in hate crimes against Latinos by a factor of 6.
Yet, I can think of no civil rights leader who has called upon either group to address the racism present in their communities. Presumably this is because the dominant, liberal narrative presents "communities of color"
as potential victims of,  rather than the purveyors of hate and intolerance. When over time, a dominant explanation contradicts our common experience and fails to stand up the the scrutiny of the statistical minded, it looses it hold on the nation. And as ever greater portions of the nation withdraw from a real interchange, defenders of the rusting narrative, such as Mr. Holder, frantically raise their volume and accusations. A symptom of this decline in confidence is the growing divide between public rhetoric and actual behavior. In the last days of the Soviet Union, citizens publicly proclaimed their faith in socialism, while in private, they participated in the black market, in order to enjoy a glimmer of western consumerism and capitalism. In the United States, even the most outspoken proponents of multiculturalism practice segregation in their private affairs, straining their finances to ensure that their children do not have to live in a truly diverse community. And in the remaining areas of social life were integration is not mandated by the state; churches, friendship and marriage, even among self proclaimed liberals, segregation continues unabated. Perhaps, the disingenuous rhetoric and the silence masks sentiments that if publicly aired would add to social tension. But, democracy cannot function if broad swaths of society cannot express their true hopes and fears. For that reason, the growing divide between rhetoric and reality is more characteristic of an authoritarian society.

When we survey the narratives on race we encounter a divide. At one end we find liberal discourses that present diversity as a universal imperative and an unambiguous good. And it is an a priori truth that any differences in social or economic outputs between ethnic groups must stem from discrimination or privilege.
This is naturally appealing, because it appeals to the goodwill and optimism of most Americans. And most Americans rightly find racism morally repugnant. But, over time, this explanation has become increasingly less compelling, most notably to Americans who live in multicultural cities. The notion that white privilege is the primary determinant of economic outcomes fails to explain how the average household income of Indian-Americans ($90,525), Filipino-Americans ($79,336) and Taiwanese ($79,596) significantly exceeded the average American household income ($51,222). And Asian-Americans have more favorable outcomes than European-Americans in questions of: healtheducation, incarceration and out of wedlock births. Those who are aware of these trends cannot help but view culture, values and concrete behavior, not race and racism, as the primary determinants of success. It would be more accurate to say that cultural capital determine one's trajectory, rather than current status. Given that this success has not produced widespread envy and rancor, the notion that white supremacy is deeply entrenched in the American Psyche, does not seen credible. In fact, even supposed racists, such as Charles Murray have argued that Americans should emulate the beliefs and behaviors that have contributed to East Asian success. But, at least publicly, the culturalist narrative has not been widely adopted, because it departs from the face of the race centered explanations that have dominated public discourse for nearly half a century.

The question of diversity is more perplexing. Large segments of American Society enjoy the fruits of multiculturalism: Thai Food, French Film, Salsa Dancing and of course the numerous African-American originated musical forms: Blues, Jazz, Soul, Funk, Gospel, Reggae and Rap. They welcome the hard work and contributions of most immigrants, from revolutionary innovators like Sergey Brin, to migrant farm workers that put food our tables. And on a personal level, a growing number of Americans work with, live next to, love and marry people of different racial and cultural backgrounds, while at the same time experiencing unease about some aspects of diversity and demographic change. Most of these skeptics abhor racism and share the goals of multiculturalism; they truly want people of different races and cultures to get along, but they are aware of the serious challenges that multicultural societies face. They realize that while individuals of different backgrounds can thrive together, tension and conflict among groups is the norm in diverse societies. They understand that while differences do make life more interesting, heterogeneous societies that do not possess strong shared values and norms are harder to govern and more prone to conflict. Robert Putnam of Harvard University documented that the more diverse a community is, the less social trust, civic involvement and cooperation we find. Harvard Economist Alberto Alesina found that across the globe, in more diverse societies, individuals were less willing to invest in the common good. The implications of this research is that while we must strive to stamp out racism and discrimination against the diverse communities that already reside in the United States, policies that actively seek demographic transformation, undermine assimilation and promote ethno-identity politics are fraught with long term hazards, most notable increased communal conflict. The chance that the majority of the public will openly adopt this vision is slim, because for years the nation has been fed a dualistic narrative that presents our only options as either an unconditional embrace of multiculturalism or succumbing to racism and xenophobia. For this reason, it is much safer for the reasonable majority, who cannot accept either extreme, to remain silent or to parrot the party line.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Lifting The Veil On Turkish History

This year a photographic exhibition highlighting the non-Muslim minorities, such as the Armenian Christians, Syriac Christians and Yezidis, that once thrived in the city of Diyarbakr. To those unfamiliar with Turkish history, this does not seem newsworthy. But, this is a sharp depature from the historical narrative that the Turkish State promoted for over 80 years. In Turkish history books, the presence of minorities that predated the Islamization and Turkification of Anatolia by 3,000 years was significantly downplayed. And when groups like Pontic Greeks were mentioned, it was usually in the context of their "treason" and "perfidy". During my visit to the historical museum of Erzerum, I was shocked that I did not find one mention of the Armenians, who until 1915 had thrived in the region. When I brought this to the attention of the manager, she angrily pointed me to a small exhibit that discussed a massacre of Turkish villagers. That is equivalent to a history museum in Montana presenting a one sided narrative of Custer's Last Stand, that villified the Lakota Tribes, as the only mention of Native Americans. So, this exhibit represents greater openess, honesty and self reflection, at least among educated Turks.

Exhibition removes veil of history obscuring Anatolian minorities

ISTANBUL-Hürriyet Daily News

Some 200 photographs are on display at an exhibit ‘Cultural Diversity in Old Diyarbakır,’ which relates the lives and commercial contributions of Diyarbakır’s long-forgotten peoples

The exhibition in Istanbul’s Tophane provides a rare glimpse into the history of Armenians living in Diyarbakır.
The exhibition in Istanbul’s Tophane provides a rare glimpse into the history of Armenians living in Diyarbakır.
    Vercihan ZiflioğluVercihan Ziflioğ
    The Birzamanlar (Once Upon a Time) Publishing House has launched a photography exhibition in Istanbul’s Tophane neighborhood, providing a rare glimpse into the history of non-Muslim minorities living in the southeastern province of Diyarbakır. 

    “Official history teaches us that all these cities were created by the Turks, and that all the fair deeds of the past were done by them. Those who are not Turks or Muslims are depicted as unfavorable figures,” Osman Köker, the owner of the Birzamanlar Publishing House, recently told the Hürriyet Daily News. “The cultures, faiths, traditions and genetics of the peoples of old are also part of the reality we call the Turkish nation.” 

    Cultural Diversity in old Diyarbakır 
    Around 200 photographs compiled from 40 different sources are on display at the “Cultural Diversity in Old Diyarbakır” exhibition, which is being jointly organized by the Birzamanlar Publishing House and the Anatolian Culture and Global Dialogue, an Istanbulbased nongovernmental organization. The exhibition at Tophane’s Tütün Deposu began Feb. 10 and will continue until March 10. 

    “Eastern Anatolia was much richer at the turn of the 20th century than it has been in the Republican period, both culturally and materially,” Köker said, adding that the memories of old were still very much alive in Anatolia. 

    The exhibition, which relates the lives and commercial contributions of Diyarbakır’s long forgotten peoples, such as the Armenians, Syriacs, Chaldeans, Anatolian Greeks and the Yezidis, also features explanatory notes in Turkish, English and Kurdish. 

    “Armenian newspapers were published and theaters [staged plays] not merely in Diyarbakır, but also in many other [nearby] places like Elazığ, Erzurum, Van and Erzincan. There were many factories [making various kinds of produce] ranging from the silk industry to metal wares. These [factories] did not [produce] solely for the domestic market but also for exports,” Köker said. 

    Turkish people are now striving to learn about the truth instead of the bragging of official history, he said. “All of us have grown weary of such vein boasting.” 

    Old shopkeepers and artisans in the region readily confide they had learned their skills from Armenians and Syriacs, he said. 

    Köker said they had already taken the exhibition to many different corners of the world, including Armenia and that Anatolian peoples had always shown great interest in the exhibition at every stop. 

    “Diaspora Armenians know precious little of the things they see in the exhibitions. They see the concrete [images] of things that seem to them like the stuff of legends. Moreover, they are nonplussed that this project has been undertaken by a person of Turkish-Muslim identity from Turkey,” he said. 
    Köker also said they had conducted research in the Orlando Carlo Calumeo Collection, the 

    Boston-based Project SAVE Armenian Photograph Archive, as well as the Annuaire Oriental, an annual commercial almanac that has been published since the mid-19th century, while they were preparing for the exhibition. 

    “When [we] examine the 1914 edition of the commercial almanac’s section on Diyarbakır, [we see that] many trades people were Armenian, including [the owners of] all of the 12 firms dealing in jewelry, 10 of 11 stone masons, nine copper merchants and 10 firms that produced silk fabric. The city’s sole hotel was also operated by an Armenian,” he added. 

    The Birzamanlar Publishing House has also attracted a lot of attention both in Turkeyand abroad with other exhibitions, such as the “Armenians in Turkey 100 years ago,” and the “Freedom’s Heirloom – Postcards of the Constitutional [Period].”

    Chicago, Most Corrupt City In The Nation

    According to a recent study published by the University of Illinois, Chicago is the most corrupt city in the nation. Between 1976 and 2010, there were 1,531 convictions for public corruption in the federal district dominated by Chicago. Illinois is considered the 3rd most corrupt state, which is a bit surprising considering that 4 of the last 7 governors have been jailed for corruption.

    Addressing this will be very difficult, primarily for cultural reasons. In country-by-country surveys, we find that culture, rather than the system of governance, is a greater determinant of the level of political venality. For example, in the Arab-Islamic world, over the last 50 years there has existed a remarkable degree of political diversity. From conservative royal, to secular nationalist, Marxist and Islamic regimes, corruption has been endemic. And this is not a question of laws, because in most states, strong anti-corruption policies exist on the books, but in practice they have virtually no impact. Conversely, the index of corruption has been extremely low in Scandinavian Countries, because of its strong civic, ethical culture. While I am not placing  Chicago on the same dismal footing as Cairo or Gaza, the corporatist ethos of the Chicago Machine that makes public graft possible, is deeply entrenched in the city's culture.

    As a conservative, I am always tempted to say that Chicago's corruption is a product of its expansive government, but as previously mentioned, the least corrupt nations are found in Scandinavia, which are heavily statist in nature. But, we can say that cities that do not enjoy a strong track record for clean government, should seek to minimize the size and scope of the state, so that they can limit the potential for graft and economic mismanagement. And while there are many examples of multiparty systems wracked with corruption, the chance of fostering good government in a single party state is always less. In other words, greater competition both between and within political parties would be in the interest of the city. But, with the recent victory of State Representative Derrick Smith (D-Chicago), an individual who was expelled from the Illinois House of Representatives on charges of having accepted bribes, over an independent candidate with a clean record, the public's appetite for change seems minimal.

    Sunday, December 23, 2012

    The Folly Of Fuel (And Other) Subsidies

    Huge protests erupted in Nigeria when President President Goodluck Jonathan removed fuel subsidies. The idea of subsidies are intuitively appealing to most people, after all, who does not want to increase the consumption of vital goods and services to the poor and other segments of society? But, a brief economic analysis shows that the hazards of subsidies, especially for fuel, greatly outweigh their benefits.

    Let's start off with opportunity costs: In the case of Nigeria, fuel subsidies cost $8 billion a year and consume 25% of the federal budget. No credible arguments can be made that investing these funds in public health, education and infrastructure would better serve the poor.

    Studies show that fuel subsidies are highly regressive in nature, that is, their benefits are disproportionately enjoyed by the wealthy. The per capita use of fuel is higher among wealthy individuals who are more apt to drive their own vehicles, rather than utilize public transportation.

    To make matters worse, subsidy regimens fuel corruption (all puns intended). For example, the Nigerian government was officially subsidizing the purchase of 59 million liters of petrol a day, when the nation only consumes 35 million liters a day. Hence, at least $4 billion amounted to politically connected individuals massively defrauding the public. Another unintended, but highly predictable consequence of this policy is smuggling: criminal syndicates have made a fortune purchasing fuel at below market value and selling it in neighboring countries at the market rate.

    Subsidies almost always lead to economic inefficiency, specifically artificially cheap fuel destroys incentives to pursue greater fuel efficiency and environmentally friendly transportation. In the case of Nigeria, this has led to the unintended consequence of increased air pollution.

    One of the most damaging elements of subsidies is their addictive quality; once they are instituted it is politically impossible to wean the public from them. The short term pain that their elimination would cause blinds much of the indirect damage that they cause to economic and environmental health.

    Granted, not all subsidies are this poorly administered, but this example does highlight fundamental hazards of undue government interference in markets. And we see that from Africa to America, the shortsightedness of politicians is endemic, because the longer the state distorts a market, the more painful its inevitable correction will be.

    Wednesday, December 12, 2012

    What's Wrong With (Most Of) The Public?

    Whenever a sex scandal or the personal foibles of a politician come to light, they will saturate the airwaves and dominate the conversation of countless Americans for weeks on end. Yet, when truly significant news emerges, we barely hear a peep. For example, count how many of your acquaintances mentioned the Anthony Weiner sex scandal or Christine O'Donnell's brief comment on witchcraft and then recollect how many times you heard it mentioned that Illinois is facing the worst deficit in the nation. One reason why our fiscal state has deteriorated is because so many Americans are addicted to sensationalism and even among the educated class, most discourse centers on generic soundbites. Those with a modicum of civic responsibility should acquaint themselves with the hard numbers that have a huge impact on our economic and social welfare, or refrain from voting.

    Auditor General report says Illinois has worst budget deficit in the nation

    June 21, 2012

    Quinn Ford

    Illinois Auditor General William Holland released a report Thursday which announced the state's overall budget deficit has more than doubled in the past five years.
    The audit report analyzed the Illinois State Comptroller's comprehensive annual financial report which lists all state government assets and liabilities for fiscal year 2011.
    The report said Illinois is now $43.8 billion in the red, making it the worst state budget deficit in the nation.
    Brad Hahn, a spokesperson for Illinois State Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, said legislators took positive steps during the spring session to address the deficit, but he said the state faces a "colossal mess" and has a long way to go.
    "Comptroller Topinka is once again warning that's it's another cautionary note, that the state needs to reign in spending and address growing costs like Medicaid and pensions that are devouring the state budget," Hahn said.

    Monday, December 10, 2012

    Demographics Is Destiny: In Israel & Beyond

    Disturbing story of ultra-orthodox zealots harassing an 8 year old orthodox girl, in the town of Beit Shemesh, for "not dressing modestly enough." While there are many religiously observant Jews that "live and let live", there is a growing number of religious fascists who seek to impose their ways on secular and even on modern-orthodox Israelis. Not only is this a social issue, but it also has real economic repercussions, because of the inadequate secular education and participation in the labor market of many Haredim. What is most disturbing is that Israel's dynamic, democratic, pluralist, prosperous, capitalist qualities will erode as its Haredi population continues to grow, for demographics is destiny. Even if good governance were to remain, no policy, no program can make a nation better, more productive and progressive than its people are. The great irony is that the modern, secular majority is funding its own displacement via a welfare system that allows for the Haredi to have large families that few could possibly maintain on their own.

    Israelis Clash Over Strict Religious Codes

    An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man (left) and a secular man argue during a protest against the strict religious codes favored by the ultra-Orthodox in the Israeli city of Beit Shemesh.
    An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man (left) and a secular man argue during a protest against the strict religious codes favored by the ultra-Orthodox in the Israeli city of Beit Shemesh.
    text size A A A
    December 28, 2011
    According to Israel's President Shimon Peres, a fight is under way, for "the soul of the nation and the essence of the state." But the threat isn't coming from outside Israel. It's over differing interpretations of Judaism.
    Recently, a bespectacled 8-year-old girl was filmed by a local TV station being harassed by ultra-Orthodox Jews for — in their view — not dressing modestly enough. The episode took place in Beit Shemesh, a city between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem that has become a symbol of this growing battle in Israel.
    In a protest that swelled into the thousands on Tuesday evening, demonstrators in Beit Shemesh rallied against what they say is the imposition of strict codes of religious behavior in communities across this country.
    "It's enough, it's enough," says Dov Liptman. "It's reached a point where we have to stop it, and we are going to stop it."
    Liptman belongs to the modern Orthodox sect of Judaism. While religiously observant, the modern Orthodox are not as strict as the ultra-Orthodox, or Haredim, who practice gender segregation. Also, many Haredi men devote their days to religious study and are not part of the workforce.
    There are many different strands of Judaism, and the Haredim are one of the fastest-growing populations in Israel. In Beit Shemesh, they make up about half of the residents.
    Liptman says that as their numbers have grown they have been trying to force their values on the larger community.
    "It's not an ultra-Orthodox city," he says. "It's a city for Jews, including ultra-Orthodox. We welcome them, but it's for all the populations."
    Girls Complain Of Harassment
    Most of the girls who study at an all-girls school on the edge of an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood say harassment is a regular occurrence.
    "My sister and I walked down this street to school," says 15-year-old Yael. "I was wearing a long-sleeved shirt and a three-quarters-length skirt, and they spat at us. They didn't like the way we were dressed. It happens all the time."
    The Haredim also enforce gender segregation on public transport — women are required to sit in the back of the bus.
    In Beit Shemesh, the ultra-Orthodox population has even sent out "modesty patrols" to enforce chaste female dress.
    Yossi Shain, who heads the department of diplomacy at Tel Aviv University, says religious battles like this one will get worse as the Haredi population gets larger and its political clout grows.
    "This is going to be exacerbated in the next few years because the demography is changing," Shain says. "The ultra-Orthodox have become, very much, I would say, intransigent, in some respects. It seems to be very powerful. It plays a very important role in the government, and its leadership has become, much more, I would say, extreme in its views."
    The ultra-Orthodox have two political parties that play a pivotal role in Israel's coalition politics. Critics say successive governments have given in to their demands and turned a blind eye to their excesses in the name of political expediency.
    Israel has always sought to balance its democratic and Jewish identities, and secular Jews say recent developments have upset the balance.
    "It is a battle for the soul of Israel," says Rabbi Shmuel Jakobowitz, an ultra-Orthodox leader.
    He says people misunderstand the Haredim. They don't favor a kind of Jewish version of the Iranian theocracy that was ushered in with the Iranian Revolution three decades ago.
    "People are understandably afraid of Khomeinism," Jakobowitz says, in a reference to Iran's revolutionary leader, Ayatollah Khomeini. "We as Haredi Jews are definitely not Khomeinist in our attitudes to the contemporary world."
    He says that Haredi Jews should be allowed to live the way they wish.
    "We find a lot of things abhorrent in the liberal way of living which is very permissive, which is very promiscuous, if I may use the word, which is very immodest to our mind. The dignity of women is protected much more with our method, with our system, than it is protected with the other system."

    Wise Words From Dr. Thomas Sowell

    Wise Words From Hayek

    Wise Words From Frederic Bastiat

    Sunday, December 9, 2012

    How To Fix Government Pensions (And Prevent a Financial Meltdown)

    Unfunded pension liabilities in Illinois have reached $83 billion, with an appalling funding ratio of 43.4%. Unless this is seriously addressed, our state's credit rating will be downgraded and taxes on businesses and families will soar to fund this growing gap. Over the long run, federal entitlements face even larger per capita unfunded liabilities. The questions are: how did it get this bad and what can be done? To understand this issue, we need to briefly explore the two most common forms of pensions. A Defined Contribution Plan is one in which:

    " which the amount of the employer's annual contribution is specified. Individual accounts are set up for participants and benefits are based on the amounts credited to these accounts (through employer contributions and, if applicable, employee contributions) plus any investment earnings on the money in the account. Only employer contributions to the account are guaranteed, not the future benefits. In defined contribution plans, future benefits fluctuate on the basis of investment earnings."

    In Defined Contribution Plans, such as 401(k) accounts,  a participant's future earnings are not guaranteed, rather they reflect the contributions (both by the employee and employer) + the appreciation of the investment. If funds decline because of poor management or market downturn, tax payers will not be held liable. If the participant in these plans do not properly plan for their retirement, they do run a greater risk of facing financial difficulties. Understandably, the vast majority of private sector retirement funds operate under this system.

    In a Defined Benefits Plan: "an employer promises a specified monthly benefit on retirement that is predetermined by a formula based on the employee's earnings history, tenure of service and age, rather than depending on investment returns." The problem with this type of plan, is that the employer will be liable for any shortfall between the participant's contributions and their defined benefits. Since the vast majority of defined benefit plans are enjoyed by public sector employees, this means that you and I, the tax payer, will bear the burden of the unfunded liability. This is made worse by the fact that politicians, public unions and public workers often collude to raise defined payments to unsustainable levels, because they know that a third party (tax payers) can be forced to foot the bill. Up until now this has been true, but there is a limit; once unfunded liabilities reach a tipping point, tax payers will call upon public workers to fund their own retirements. And there's no rational reason why their pension plans should not transition to defined contribution plans. Not only is this an ethical imperative, but it is the only way to prevent the financial meltdown of Illinois. 

    The Illiberal Consequences of Liberal Immigration Policies

    The Netherlands is considered to be one of the most tolerant, open nations. The Netherlands were almost always ahead of the curve on issues of religious and cultural tolerance. In 1593 Crypto-Jews from Spain and Portugal were allowed to settle in Amsterdam. Not surprisingly, the Netherlands adopted a liberal immigration policy, which in the last decade resulted in a large increase in their Muslim Population. While a good number of Muslim Immigrants, particularly educated individuals from Iran, have assimilated into economic and social life, a good numbers, particular those from the Maghreb, have not. This is seen in the formation of the Dutch Muslim Party, which seeks to reverse the Netherlands' liberal policies towards gay marriage, cannabis and free speech. And to make matters worse, it has also contributed to a growth in anti-Semitic harassment and gay bashing, whose perpetrators are overwhelmingly Muslim Immigrants. So paradoxically, their liberal immigration policies are having a most illiberal effect.  Take heed, it is the nature of most human beings to recreate the social environments of their nations of origin.

    Testimonial On Medical Marijuana

    Compelling testimonial on the value of medical marijuana from
    a good blogger and a great friend:

    Adult Medicine

    A number of years back I was in an accident.
    The lowest disc in my spine shattered and the
    shards floated into the spinal canal and began
    to carve up the spinal root sac.

    I had a number of surgeries and treatments
    and years of rehab.

    I also had loads of pills. I had morphine, Vicodin,
    Felxerall, Valium, Oxycontin and Lyrica just to
    name the main drugs I was taking.

    And they didn't work. Or rather, they did work for
    pain in the sense that if I took enough, eventually
    I would pass out and not feel the pain. But there
    was no in-between; either I took enough to get
    unconscious or I was devastatingly
    high but still in pain.

    I have been prescribed medical cannabis.

    And it works. I am functional, I can work,
    I can interact and it more effectively deals
    with the pain and nerve involvement than any pill
    I've taken.

    These doctors have given me back a life.

    What I don't understand is who is against this
    treatment? Why is it even an issue? How can
    anyone imagine that Medical Marijuana
    is worse than the pills they gave me?

    It's nice to be treated like an adult and get the
    most effective treatments with the fewest
    side-effects. Why can't everyone have this?
    Why do you need to be in the right location,
    the right State or Country? Why do you need
    to go through years of disgusting and
    noneffective treatments before they finally
    give you something cheap and simple that works?

    And every single person I see at the dispensary
    says the same exact thing. Every time a doctor,
    nurse or staffer walks by they are greeted by a
    row or people all of whom stop them and thank
    them and are grateful for getting their lives back.
    Cancers, MS, Accidents and more...across the board.

    It's a flower, a plant. Please stop being stupid.
    It's time we stopped putting religion and politics
    above the well being of real people.

    Don't Listen To Grover (Norquist)!

    Maximizing the extent to which the American People can enjoy the fruits of their labor is an admirable goal, yet at this time, I have to question the wisdom of Grover Norquist's pledge to "oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal tax rate for individuals and business; and to oppose any net reduction of elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates."

    The problem boils down to this - Mr. Norquist approaches fiscal matters as if they existed in a vacuum. Even if the national debt crisis could be addressed strictly through spending cuts, political reality would never permit this course of action, it would too readily lend itself towards the liberal narrative that conservatives are "obstructionist" who "only care about the wealthy." For example, Mit Romney's rejection of a hypothetical offer to cut $10 in spending for $1 in tax hikes was one factor, among several, that contributed to his generally poor public image, which ultimately led to his defeat.

    Underlying Mr. Norquist's vision is the belief that tax cuts will Starve The Beast, i.e. the lack of revenue will force the federal government to shrink. Nothing could be further from the truth. Deprived of tax revenue, the beast continued to grow, but on borrowed money. The only way to cure the public's unhealthy appetite for an expansion of the welfare and the warfare state is to make them bear its true costs. We can be certain that if the majority of the American People had to pay the full cost of the programs that they considered indispensable, many more would begin to see the merits of limited government. Take the example of the Iraq War: if each citizen was handed a bill for their share of the cost, perhaps even John McCain would have joined the anti-war movement! Only when the debt had been paid down, would it be fiscally responsible and politically feasible to push for tax cuts.

    Obama To Fiscal Conservatives: Go To Hell

    Even though I often disagree with the President's policies, I assumed that his calls for a "balanced approach to deficit reduction" were issued in a spirit of honesty and good will. As much as it pains some conservatives to admit, for fiscal and political reasons, all reasonable approaches to deficit reduction must include increases in revenue. Although the President's plan to increase taxes on the wealthiest Americans would barely make an impact on our rising debt, the unwillingness of Republicans to accept it, made me question their willingness to put the welfare of the country above petty partisanship. But, when I learned that the white house's plan to avert the fiscal cliff included $200 Billion In Stimulus Spending, my belief in the President's goodwill was substantially diminished. Let's look at the math: when we subtract the benefits ($56 billion) of the tax increases from the cost ($200 billion) of the stimulus measures, we are left with a net loss of $144 billion. Hence, the underlying message of this dubious additional to the President's "balanced" plan is: I won the election; fiscal Conservatives, go the hell.

    The Federal Government: Stuck In Cruise Control

    An adequate driver is one who is pays close attention so that they can adjust to any unexpected hazards and changes that  emerge. They slam on the breaks to avoid rear-ending the car in front of them or swerve to avoid an errant jaywalker. Whereas a good driver scans ahead and anticipates hazards before they even emerge. Combining a sharp eye and good common sense, they anticipate the wall of traffic or drunk Cubs Fans crossing Clark Street and change their course, thus avoiding the problems before they even emerge. But, the very worst drivers are stuck on cruise control; they are either unaware of indifferent to the hazards and the opportunities that lie ahead. No matter what the traffic conditions are like, they are cruising in ahead, in a straight line, at 45 miles per hour, jabbering away on their cell phones, while flipping through the radio station and somehow downing their morning latte. And when questioned by the police officer about how they could run over the cyclists, they always answer with a lie: he came out of nowhere. 

    The reckless, third category, the driver stuck in cruise control characterizes the majority of our elected officials, especially those at the federal level. We are headed straight for fiscal ruin, yet for all practical terms, the president and most of the congress are desperately clinging to the status quo. The Congressional Budget Office projects a federal deficit of $1.0 trillion in 2013, yet the crux of President Obama's deficit reduction strategy is to raise taxes on the top 2%, which according to NPR would only reduce the deficit by $56 billion, or 5.6%. If Democrats and Republicans were serious about raising revenue, they would call for the elimination of the Bush Tax cuts for all Americans, which would lower the deficit by only 37%. And if they truly wanted to increase revenue generated from the wealthy, while not harming investment, they would eliminate costly loopholes. But just when you think that Republicans are willing to boldly venture beyond the status quo, they shrink back when asked for the specific loopholes that they would eliminate.

    Clearly, the only possible way to eliminate the deficit would be to significantly lower spending.  Nearly sixty percent of federal expenditures goes towards entitlements, which means there is absolutely no way that the budget can be balanced without significantly reforming social security, medicare and medicaid. And evidence indicates that the numbers will get worse, for example, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the Social Security Disability Fund is scheduled to go broke in 2016. Yet, the vast majority of politicians, especially Democrats, rigidly adhere to the status quo. 

    Governing by cruise control effects more facets of policy that just fiscal issues. Even as the United States faced record levels of unemployment, we maintained a legal immigration level of 1,000,000 per year. A "dynamic driver" of immigration policy would accelerate, decelerate and change course according to the conditions of the road. Specifically they would lower the number of visas granted during times of high unemployment and raise them when acute labor shortages emerged. An especially careful driver would pay close attention to the segments of the labor force that faced surpluses (high unemployment) and those that fa     ced shortages and adjust the distributions of visas accordingly. They would find that any policy that increased the supply of low skilled workers would aggravate unemployment, while a judicious addition of skilled workers would help foster increased economic growth. And the truly future oriented driver would even consider the 3rd generation descendants in constructing a wise and beneficial immigration road map.  

    I suspect that beneath this sclerotic rigidity and shortsightedness is the strong aversion to momentary discomfort or even postponement of gratification, that has taken hold in large segments of American Society over the last few decades. Many parents avoid discipline, even though it may spare future problems. Many educators have inflated grades, out of the fear that they will harm the self esteem of those who do not succeed, even though this approach will limit their future development. This zeitgeist is also seen in much of the corporate world, where a focus on short term profit, over long term development and even medium term risk management, has undermined key sectors of the American Economy, especially banking and finance. All of this begs the question - what are the chances that a long term oriented politician that tells uncomfortable truths would get elected?