Newsday December 30, 2010

Items of interest:

1) Charles Griswold, blogging for The Stone “On Forgiveness”:

We are in a season traditionally devoted to good will among people and to the renewal of hope in the face of hard times.  As we seek to realize these lofty ideals, one of our greatest challenges is overcoming bitterness and divisiveness.  We all struggle with the wrongs others have done to us as well as those we have done to others, and we recoil at the vast extent of injury humankind seems determined to inflict on itself.  How to keep hope alive?  Without a constructive answer to toxic anger, addictive cycles of revenge, and immobilizing guilt, we seem doomed to despair about chances for renewal.  One answer to this despair lies in forgiveness.

2)  Kent Bottles’s 3-part series for The Health Care Blog about the limitations of scientific knowledge and how understanding those limitations should inform our decisions about health care.  Very instructive for those unacquainted with the philosophy of science:

“The mind leans over backward to transform a mad world into a sensible one, and the process is so natural and easy we hardly notice that it is taking place.” Jeremy Campbell

On the same day in November, headlines from the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times reported on the same story about a federal panel’s recommendations on consumer intake of vitamin D.

“Triple That Vitamin D Intake, Panel Prescribes” read the WSJ story;

“Extra Vitamin D and Calcium Aren’t Necessary, Report Says” stated the New York Times.

3) I don’t doubt that those lusting for power understand the Constitution’s limits on government, they just think they can keep getting away with ignoring them. They’re happy with dictatorship, as long as they’re the dictators. Tyranny of the majority? They love it, too–as long as they control the majority through the media and the tax code.  W. James Antle III writes for The Spectator about Constitutional basics that every American needs to understand:

The U.S. Constitution is essentially a list of things the three branches of the federal government are permitted to do, with a few activities specifically prohibited. The entire American system of government is premised on the idea that the people delegated defined, specific powers to Washington. That doesn’t mean there are no problems of interpretation. But the doctrine of enumerated powers is basic.

Now you can edit Legal Affairs and write for the New Republic, the New Yorker, U.S. News and World Report, and the New York Times while guided by the apparent belief that these basics are incoherent mumbo-jumbo.

4) Merrill Matthews blogging for Forbes about “Obama’s New “Unreasonable” Standard”:

Last week we saw a troubling new pattern: The Obama administration is embracing an “unreasonable” standard — pun not necessarily intended, but it fits — for deciding if it likes what private sector companies are doing.

The unreasonable standard is being applied to both private sector health insurers and companies that provide Internet service.  But expect the White House to impose the standard on a lot more industries as the Obama blob continues to absorb every aspect of the economy.

What it means is that we are abandoning the rule of law for the rule by bureaucrats.  Unelected officials have been given the power to fundamentally remake industries based on their political and value judgments.

5)  James Antle, writing “In Defense of the Do-Nothing Congress” for Real Clear Politics:

Love it or hate it, the just-concluded 111th Congress was one of the most productive legislative sessions in recent memory. Departing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her Senate sidekick Harry Reid enacted an $800 billion stimulus package, created a new national health care program, imposed new regulations on Wall Street, and repealed the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy on gays serving openly in the military.

President Barack Obama isn’t likely to get nearly as much of his domestic agenda passed in the next Congress. Republicans will control the House and the Democrats will be far removed from their old filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. When gridlock inevitably ensues, Obama will no doubt run for reelection by campaigning against the “Do Nothing” Congress” — it worked for Harry Truman.

That Do-Nothing Congress has gotten a bad name. The Republican-controlled 80th Congress of 1947-48 was very productive in its own right. But instead of creating new government programs, it abolished them. Rather than boosting the federal budget, which had grown exponentially during the New Deal and World War II, this Congress cut spending.

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Racial Predatory Loans Fueled the U.S. Housing Crisis?

The other day a friend who proudly regards himself as a Liberal—and thus morally and intellectually superior to those of us who question pet orthodoxies of the Liberal Faith—called attention to an article from Reuters claiming that “Racial predatory loans fueled U.S. housing crisis.”  The article describes a study by Professor Douglas Massey, of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University, and PhD candidate Jacob Rugh, recently published in the American Sociological Review.  See the Reuters article here.

Now this same friend is fond of telling me that I must be wary of facts; that they can be misused to support false conclusions; and that the truth may not quite be what it seems.  (I’m not offended by the patronizing character of such remarks because I know he means well.)

I told him that the study—or at least the article describing it—is a perfect example of the misleading reliance on “facts” that he thinks I need instruction about.  Its misleading suggestion—that evil lenders caused the mortgage meltdown—relies on a limited set of facts cherry-picked to support a predetermined conclusion.

To me there’s no doubt that unconscionable housing loans in minority neighborhoods were a significant factor in the mortgage meltdown and ensuing economic crisis.  (Ironically, I know some other liberals who reject that claim because such loans comprised only a small fraction of the bad mortgage paper floated in the late ’90s & early 2000s.)  But the critical factor neglected in the “racially predatory lending” explanation for the crisis is the issue of what caused banks and other lending institutions to overthrow decades of traditional prudent lending practices and to make so many bad loans to so many bad credit risks in so many minority neighborhoods.

The answer is that they were pressured into it by changes in law sponsored by the Clinton administration, by civil actions brought by outfits like ACORN, and by federal prosecution that forced them to make such loans and then eased their risk exposure, first by shifting much of the risk to taxpayers through the quasi-governmental Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac, and then by deregulating derivatives trading—the proudest achievement of Larry Summers during his service as President Clinton’s Treasury Secretary.

Given the real history of racial discrimination and exploitation in America’s past, it’s certainly tempting to seek easy, black-and-white, melodramatic explanations for our problems. But to seek explanations by looking through a predetermined framework is to be just as biased as the bigots we despise.  And if we let our prejudices blind us to the truth, causing us to apply misbegotten solutions to falsely identified problems, then we might well end up making things worse, not better.

St. Bernard said that Hell is paved with good intentions. I suspect that it’s also pretty damned crowded with those who meant well but did evil—and who were too damned arrogant to admit and learn from their mistakes.

Incidentally, for those who are interested, the complete Massey-Rugh article in October’s American Sociological Review, titled “Racial Segregation and the American Foreclosure Crisis,” can be found here.

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New & Noteworthy — September 30, 2010

(1) Marc Kaufman reports in The Washington Post about the “First ‘habitable zone’ planet found outside solar system”

For the first time, astronomers have detected a rocky planet in another solar system that has the most basic and essential conditions needed to support extraterrestrial life.

…The planet, called Gliese 581G, is quite close at 20 light years from Earth’s solar system. It is considered to be in the habitable zone because of its distance from its sun and its size.

Full story here

No doubt real estate developers are already jockeying for political influence.  Any bets on whether Starbucks or Home Depot gets there first?

(2) James Ledbetter in Slate describes what he calls “Kindlerotica — The strange but inevitable rise of e-reader pornography”

For decades, romance and women’s fiction novels have featured fairly explicit sexual passages, which readers apparently feel comfortable with as long as they are surrounded by what one Amazon commenter labeled “a tastefully written story of deep love and emotional commitment.”

But as you scroll down the list of Kindle offerings, you can’t help but notice all of the steamy writing that seems to be targeted at men—an emotionally uncommitted genre which, if not exactly new, is associated with book publishing less commonly than with Penthouse Forum.

…Is it porn?  Well—would you tell your mother you were reading it?

Full story here

Should we really be surprised?  Just as porn quickly became the killer app for the Web, it now seems poised for a vigorous thrust into the explosively hot market for e-books.

(3) Laurie Goodstein in The New York Times recently reported that the “Basic Religion Test Stumps Many Americans”

Americans are by all measures a deeply religious people, but they are also deeply ignorant about religion.

Researchers from the independent Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life phoned more than 3,400 Americans and asked them 32 questions about the Bible, Christianity and other world religions, famous religious figures and the constitutional principles governing religion in public life.

On average, people who took the survey answered half the questions incorrectly, and many flubbed even questions about their own faith.

Full story here

Ironically, the folks who scored highest in the test were those who identified themselves as atheists and agnostics!

A 15-question self-test is available from Pew online here.  The Pew site also offers the full survey report here.

(4) Nick Gillespie, Austin Bragg, and Meredith Bragg of have put together some season-appropriate videos in which we can visit the “3D Fiscal House of Horrors!” and “Experience the true terror of out-of-control government spending!”

As the United States grapples with the grisliest economic downturn in decades, many politicians seem strangely unable or unwilling to stop their zombified shuffling toward a full-blown fiscal FUBAR.

President Barack Obama pushes for yet more stimulus spending and the Republican leadership pledges to stay mum on the prospect for serious spending entitlement reform until at least election day.

Given the decade-long spending binge that started under George W. Bush and a Republican Congress and has accelerated under Obama and the Democrats, America’s balance sheet hasn’t been this scary since World War II.

The only way to tell this story is in 3D: Debts, Deficits, and Despair!

See the full story and videos here

Videos in the series include I Spend on Your Grave!, Night of the Living Debt!, and Attack of the Killer Compensation! Don’t watch alone!  And not without plenty of garlic on hand!  (Too bad there are no silver bullets for these monsters.)

(5) Speaking of scary monsters, check out Reason editor Matt Welch taking Republican leaders to task in “Scary Monsters — The growth of government threatens freedom much more than mosque-building Muslims do”

Government spending and debt, in the current, near, and long term, are swallowing up the productive capacity of America’s wealth and ingenuity. The Congressional Budget Office, the International Monetary Fund, and even the administration’s senior economic officials all agree: The course we are on is unprecedented and unsustainable.

But you wouldn’t know it from listening to Newt Gingrich and John Cornyn. As the administration’s “Recovery Summer” was turning into an Endless Bummer of economic news as lousy as it was predictable, the two men—and countless other Republicans—focused like a laser beam on the real threat to the country: American Muslims proposing to build a prayer space and community center a couple of blocks away from the site of the World Trade Center.

…Gingrich and Co. aren’t just wrong about the mosque. They’re wrong about policy priorities. They should be considered no more reliable on the pressing issue of the day, restraining the leviathan of government, than Michael Moore should be trusted with dietary advice. There’s a reason why widespread disgust at the way Obama and the Democrats are running the country has not translated into enthusiasm for the unprincipled “American values” stew of 21st-century Republicanism.

Full story here

The November issue goes on to offer what neither the Republicans nor the Democrats will “man up” for:  concrete proposals for the sort of spending cuts — including trimming the fat from a few sacred cows — that are necessary to halt government’s unconscionable drive to plunge us all into national bankruptcy.

The time for kidding ourselves is past.  We can no longer afford to stick our heads in the sand or to distract ourselves with shiny toys.  We must find the courage to make some tough choices, and soon, or we will surely piss away the 200-year legacy we hold in trust for our children and grandchildren and the generations yet unborn.

(6) Matt Miller, writing in The Washington Post about Michael Lewitt’s new book, The Death of Capital, asks “Where’s the moral outrage on Wall Street?”

Lewitt’s great theme is that modern finance’s diversion of money and talent into speculation at the expense of productive investment has enriched a small class of Wall Street elites while doing next to nothing for societal well-being.

Full story here

Let’s see … you take the money-hungriest kids from a money-worshipping culture and train them to make the most money with the least effort, then send them to money Mecca, and what did you expect — Gandhi?

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New & Noteworthy — September 29, 2010

(1) Per Raf Cassert of the AP, “Anti-austerity protests sweep across Europe”:

European unions orchestrated a crescendo of anti-austerity protests across the continent Wednesday, sending workers ranging from Greek doctors to Spanish bus drivers to Lithuanian engineers out to vent over job cuts, higher taxes, soaring unemployment and smaller pensions.

It seems the cookie jar is empty and those who’ve been stuffing themselves at the public trough imagine their temper tantrums will magically refill it.  I’m reminded of Milton Friedman’s expression, TANSTAAFL:  There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.  Sooner or later, the check must always be paid.

This could well be our future, too, if we don’t get our act together… fast!

(2) Former presidential advisor Dick Morris, who helped Bill Clinton survive the Democrats’ debacle in ’94 by advising him to join the “Republican revolution,” now says that the coming election will “Obliterate a Generation of Democrats”:

Thanks to the leadership of President Obama, Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid, the Democratic Party is facing the biggest defeat in midterm elections in the past 110 years, perhaps surpassing the modern record of a 74-seat gain set in 1922. They will also lose control of the Senate.

We can only hope … and pray… and vote responsibly in November.

(3) Last night’s PBS News Hour story about the housing market featured a clip of President Obama speaking plain sense in contradiction to decades of disastrous Democratic Party housing policies:

If you want a house you got to save for a while. You got to wait until you have 20 percent down. You should go for a mortgage that you know you can afford.

You’ve got to — there shouldn’t be any surprises out there, right? That kind of traditional thinking about saving and thinking about the house not as something that is always going up 20 percent every year and you’re going to flip and take out home equity loans and all that….

I know it’s too much to expect the Dems to admit their role in causing the mortgage meltdown by subverting such prudent and responsible borrowing…but is it too much to hope that they’ve seen the error of their ways, even if they lack the integrity to admit it?

(4) Per the LA Times, CA Gov candidate Meg Whitman suddenly is under fire for having an undocumented maid as “Former Whitman housekeeper alleges she was treated like garbage”:

The California governor’s race took on a circus-like atmosphere Wednesday as a former housekeeper for Meg Whitman alleged the Republican gubernatorial nominee employed her for nearly nine years, even though Whitman knew the housekeeper was in the country illegally.

Note the involvement of notorious gadfly “activist” attorney Gloria Allred, representing the aggrieved maid, and also the documents produced by Whitman’s attorney in which the apparently illegal Ms Diaz lied about her status and provided a phony Social Security number.  So just when is it that we should believe a liar?  (I say not until she’s atoned and built a substantial track record of telling the truth.)

It should be interesting to see whether this charge carries any weight with the public.  After half the Senate decided that there’s nothing wrong with a sitting President perjuring himself and suborning perjury to avoid prosecution for sexual harassment of underlings, and that there’s nothing wrong with being a tax cheat as long as you’re a high ranking government official, I suspect we’re way beyond Nannygate these days.

(5) Centrist common sense from NY Times op-ed columnist Tom Friedman writing about what he calls “The Tea Kettle Movement”:

The issues that upset the Tea Kettle movement — debt and bloated government — are actually symptoms of our real problem, not causes. They are symptoms of a country in a state of incremental decline and losing its competitive edge, because our politics has become just another form of sports entertainment, our Congress a forum for legalized bribery and our main lawmaking institutions divided by toxic partisanship to the point of paralysis.

I’m not sure that the “solution” he imagines — the emergence of a “leader” with a plan for national salvation — is anything but Capraesque wishful thinking, but it’s nice to see at least part of the problem stated so bluntly in the Times.  (Don’t we all wish Congress really were paralyzed, instead of just lively enough to reach deeper into middle class pockets to fund whatever special interests happen to be pulling their strings?)

I suspect that most Tea Party sympathizers would also dispute Mr. Friedman’s “solution.”  What’s needed is not some demagogue who will show us the way, but rather a new crop of responsible public servants who will rein government in to its Constitutionally legitimate functions and size — thereby unleashing Americans’ creative energies to do what we’ve done so admirably well for the past 200+ years.

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Taking Truth Seriously

“Anyone who doesn’t take truth seriously in small matters cannot be trusted in large ones either.” ~Albert Einstein

I’ve always loved that statement by Einstein.  Like so many of his oft-cited quotes, it reeks of common sense.  Is it really necessary to be a certified genius like good old Al to understand something so simple and obvious?  Sure seems that way these days, at least judging from our nation’s public life as reflected in the political arena.  Too many of us discard all common sense in our credulous haste to be seduced by politicians whose glib falsehoods appeal to our prejudices.  It’s a great tragedy for our nation that so many fail to understand that liars cannot be trusted, even when–perhaps especially when–their lies tell us what we want to believe.

Which brings me to the charming item in today’s Washington Post penned by David Axelrod, President Obama’s Spinmaster-in-Chief who masterminded his successful campaign for the Presidency in 2008: Titled “The election campaigners we can’t see,” Axelrod’s piece is a lame attempt to discredit GOP candidates by revealing–gasp!–that they take contributions from special interests.  You don’t say?!

Axelrod paints a picture of nefarious behind-the-scenes interests pulling the strings of Republican candidates.  He reserves special venom for David Koch, lately the subject of smears by New York Magazine, The New Yorker, and Rachel Maddow.  All of them describe Koch as if he were a shadowy Machiavellian manipulator, a right-wing equivalent of leftist financier George Soros (well, maybe not quite that bad!), and they depict Koch’s Americans for Prosperity group as if it were nearly as insidious as ACORN.  Koch struck back at these charges  in an interview with Elaine Lafferty published by The Daily Beast on September 10:

The Beast piece even cites President Obama stooping to single out Americans for Prosperity:

as one of those particularly sinister groups with “harmless-sounding names” that may be up to no good. “They don’t have to say who, exactly, Americans for Prosperity are,” Obama said at a Democratic fundraiser in Texas last month. “You don’t know if it’s a foreign-controlled corporation” or “a big oil company,” he said, ignoring that, on the AFP website, staff and principals are named, and that the organization files, as required by law, federal 990 IRS disclosure forms.

(AFP website here: )

Koch’s response to this concoction of smarmy innuendo and outright falsehood?  “If what I and my brother believe in and advocate for is secret, it’s the worst covert operation in history.”

Half-truths, distortions, and lies of omission may not seem so despicable to some, but they are still lies, and those who utter them prove unequivocally that they cannot be trusted. Furthermore, the tellers of such lies demonstrate enormous contempt for their audience, believing them too stupid or lazy to check the facts, or too dishonest themselves to care. How anyone can support someone so contemptuous of the public and the truth is beyond me.

Finally, those who are neither stupid, lazy, nor dishonest will surely have gotten a hearty guffaw out of Democrat Axelrod’s chutzpah in condemning the Republicans for taking money from special interests.  Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!

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