Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Which means I am going to complain about something else besides the health-care bill.
The D-O-T, which is the affectionate name for the Department of Transportation, has issued a new directive for Airlines. Responding to the demands for a "passenger bill of rights" the DOT has now mandated, compelled, forced and otherwise required all Airlines to return passengers to the terminal when the wait on the tarmac exceeds 3 hours. In addition all airlines must provide food and drink and functioning toilets for passengers on-board on the runway when the wait exceeds two hours. And, in addition, all airlines must devote at least one full-time employee to the business of scheduling in order to try and avoid long delays.
So what's the problem? Isn't this a good thing? Don't these measures have value for consumers?
Sure they do. But, who is going to pay for this? The reflex answer is "the Airlines." The correct answer is "mostly the passengers – you and me, the travelling public - and those who supply the airlines."
Yes, but maybe it's worth it. Says who? Says the DOT. As I never tire of saying, the issue is not "what should be done?"; rather it is "who should decide?"
It is amazing to me that open-minded, open-hearted, "liberals" are so comfortable with coercion. As long as the cause is worthy in their eyes they are happy to tell other people what to do under pain of state-compulsion. They see the state at their instrument for the achievement of the society they want. In this case it is the instrument for forcing the airlines to bend to their will and to punish them for the suffering they have "caused" passengers.
Does it not occur to them that the Airlines themselves intensely dislike the long waits to which they sometimes (not that often) fell compelled to subject their customers? Does it not occur to them that if they could do so cost effectively the Airlines themselves would adopt measures to avoid these onerous delays? Does it not occur to them that maybe the problem is with the air traffic control system and how it allocates places in line to take-off using an antiquated computer system? Does it not occur to them that maybe the problem is insufficient take-off facilities, which is the result of the public ownership of airports? More airports and privatization of the system could bring competition and innovation. This does not occur to them because their mindset is to blame all the world's ills on the large companies that create value for them.
This clumsy, intrusive fix will have unintended consequences. It will cause more onerous delays and increases in already rising ticket prices. If a flight delay goes over three hours by even five minutes the flight will have to return to the terminal and will lose its place in line. The multiplying controls and regulations on air-travel are pushing up prices and this will make it worse.
Fundamentally these liberals are really thugs dressed up in the clothing of the compassionate. They are arrogant and incorrigible, so certain in the righteousness of their cause. And they are coming for you and me.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
For the life of me, I have not been able to understand how the “liberals” – many of them my friends – are not bothered by the exploding of government expenditure, deficits and national debt that we are witnessing. It seems self-evident to me that this is not only economically catastrophic, but also patently immoral. Why do they not share my concern and my moral outrage at the shouldering of future workers and future generations with mountains of debt? What am I missing?
I think it's not only stupidity on my part, it’s basically a lack of imagination. I don’t see things the way they do because I do not share their framework of resentment, their commitment to the notion of “equality of outcomes” – commitment to the eradication of social disparities – of gaps. An editorial in today’s WSJ suggested to me the answer.
Unconsciously or consciously this may be a strategy to increase taxation. First you lead with spending, then you follow with the unavoidable requirement to raise taxes to pay for it. “Don’t worry, government will take care of it. As long as the right people are in charge. They will tax the rich to pay for the these important social programs. Taxing the rich is a good thing!” Where I feel moral outrage, they feel the assuaging of their resentment against wealth. Taxing the rich brings a nice warm feeling. Schadenfreude masquerades as moral action.
It's maddening, but it’s also stupid. The “rich” are the only ones who really create jobs – by creating value. Government creation of jobs is an illusion. Government is a parasite. It cannot exist unless the private sector creates value that can be taxed. Taxation is the manifestation of the parasitic relationship. What happens when the parasite grows too big? Yes, Johnny it kills or debilitates the host. Not rocket science.
The evidence is overwhelming, despite those of you who want to deny it. Those economies with high levels of taxation have low rates or growth, high rates of unemployment, low rates of innovation, high rates of welfare-dependency and poverty, low levels of direct capital inflow, etc. High levels of taxation nearly destroyed the British economy prior to Thatcher and threatens to do so again. High levels of taxation WILL destroy the American economy as we know it. For God’s sake wake up!! This is no small matter.
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
In the meantime we should consider once again the basic logic exposing this façade. Its not rocket science, its not even climate science.
- Is the global climate warming?
- If yes, is this (partially) caused by CO2 emissions?
- If yes, is there anything we can do to significantly slow this down or even reverse global warming?
- If yes, is it worth the effort?
Friday, November 27, 2009
Tranquility, family, friends and great food – what is not to like? Time out to be thankful- I actually prefer the word "appreciative."
So when I was thinking about what it is that I have to appreciate, I realized that the most powerful emotion I was feeling these days was anger.
I am angry so much of the time. Mostly I am angry with the President and the Congress and the idiots who elected them. I am angry with those who continue to worship President Obama – witness the latest extravaganza that is nauseatingly perseverating on HBO. I am angry at stupidity and even more angry at hypocrisy.
Anger can be useful if channeled productively, but it is so often a destructive emotion. Better to appreciate what I have and find the good, than to fixate on the bad. At least I live in a country where one is permitted to express one's anger without fear. Good that many people seem to share my anger at the mounting deficits, and growing intrusions. Good that some people seems to have been enlightened by my messages, however small the number - from small things ... .
Maybe in the bigger picture this will turn out to be a short historical episode. Maybe the American spirit that I so much admire will, in the end, prove to be indomitable. Find some calm, if only for a moment, on this Thanksgiving day.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Witness- the unemployment rate is north of 10% and rising, aka, there has been a loss of more than 6 million jobs, most of it since the stimulus package was enacted.
In the face of this how can you claim to have “created” jobs? It seems you count any spending that results in the “creation” of a job.
Dare one ask how that spending was, and will be, financed, and, how many alternative jobs were, and will be, displaced in the process?
Even so, the number of jobs they can come up with is a few hundred thousand here and there.
How stupid do they think we are? Probably at least as stupid as they are.
Monday, November 16, 2009
For those with different presumptions – most of the rest of the world – it will be a less satisfying experience. But it is a book I cannot recommend highly enough, especially for those who disagree – if only they will read it carefully and agree, at least, to think about his assertions, which may strike many, at first, as preposterous.
The things that Gilder says could probably only be said by a non-Jew. He is uncompromising in the extreme. But, although his Judaophilia may strike some as excessive (even to me in his obsession with the likes of John von Neumann), his ideas, his historical characterizations, his economic insight need to be carefully considered.
Of particular value to me was his clear statement of the connection between the two major causes of my life – a connection I have been struggling to make clear and that Gilder has done masterfully. Namely, the connection between Israel and America is a connection based on achievement through economic freedom.
This is the reason they are connected in the minds of their many enemies who hate them both. It is what connects dubious bed-fellows like Chavez and Ahmadinhejad (a socialist dictator and a religious-fanatic dictator). It is what motivates the effete European intellectuals who love to sneer at America and politely vilify Israel and the Jews, looking on in silent satisfaction while Moslem immigrants vandalize Jewish property and terrorize European Jews.
Read the book, but if you don’t, at least read the review.
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Speech given recently by Dutch fim maker Geert Wilders MP at Columbia University
Ladies and gentlemen, it is a privilege and a great honor for me to speak at this fine academic institution, which gave the world so many Nobel Prize winners. As a Dutchman, I am proud that your first Nobel laureate, in 1906, was of Dutch descent: The youngest President of the United States: Theodore Roosevelt.
I thank Columbia University for inviting me, and I also thank the US border police for allowing me to enter this great country of democracy, liberty and free speech. Ladies and gentlemen, today, the dearest of our many liberties is under attack all throughout Europe. Free speech is no longer a given. What we once considered a natural element of our existence, our birth right, is now something we once again have to fight for.
I would not qualify myself as a free man. 5 years ago I lost my personal freedom. Since then I am under 24-hour police protection. In addition some people tried to rob my freedom of speech: A Dutch Islamic organization tried to stop the appearance of my documentary 'Fitna'. Because of 'Fitna' the most radical Dutch imam claimed 55.000 Euros in compensation for his hurt feelings. The State of Jordan is possibly going to issue a request for my extradition, to stand trial in Amman. I have been charged in France.
In my own country, the Netherlands, the Amsterdam Court of Appeal overruled the decision of the Dutch public prosecutor not to prosecute me. So, now I have to stand trial in my own country, next January.
But, it is not about me. I am not the only European who fights for freedom of speech, there are so many more: The Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard made a Muhammad-cartoon and all of a sudden we were in the middle of the so called 'Danish cartoon crisis'. The Italian author Oriana Fallaci had to live in fear of extradition to Switzerland because of her book 'The Rage and the Pride'. An Austrian politician, Susanne Winter, was sentenced to a suspended prison sentence because she spoke bluntly about the prophet Muhammad. The Dutch cartoonist Gregorius Nekschot was arrested by 10 police men because of his drawings. And the Dutch film maker Theo van Gogh was brutally murdered in the streets of Amsterdam by a radical Muslim.
Last February, I was invited by 2 brave members of the British House of Lords - Lord Malcom Pearson and Baroness Caroline Cox - to show 'Fitna' in the British Parliament. But upon my arrival at Heathrow airport I was denied entry into the UK, on grounds that I would threaten community harmony and therefore public security. Of course that was a ridiculous and politically motivated claim by the UK government. I was allowed to show 'Fitna' and deliver a speech in the US Senate, in New York, in Florida, in California, in Copenhagen, in Rome, in Jerusalem and next month in the Senate of the Czech Republic. But the British government refused my entrance into the UK, a fellow EU-country. Well, I think it was a splendid American idea, back in the 18th century, to kick the British out.
Last week, my appeal against the refusal by the British government, took place in London; and I won. Freedom finally prevailed! A UK Court ruled that the decision of the British Home Secretary to ban me was unjust, illegal and a violation of freedom of speech. Fortunately the British judges are a lot wiser than the British government. So, last Friday I went to London and met with my friends Lord Pearson and Baroness Cox and we agreed to show 'Fitna' in the House of Lords, next March. But let me tell you what also happened during our press conference. A Muslim mob demonstrated outside, shouting: "Shariah for the Netherlands", "Enemy of Islam Geert Wilders deserves capital punishment", "Freedom go to hell" and "Islam will dominate the world". Welcome to Europe today!
You can see all this for yourself on YouTube. This is exactly what we are fighting against. And it gets even worse. A few days ago British newspaper The Daily Telegraph reported that an Islamic group indeed launched a campaign to impose Shariah law in Britain, they will meet later this month in London for a procession to demand the full implementation of Shariah law. Before I want to speak about Islam, I first would like to say this: I have nothing against Muslims. There are many moderate Muslims. The majority of Muslims in our Western countries are law abiding people, who want to live a peaceful life. I know that. Therefore, I make a clear distinction between the people and the ideology, between Muslims and Islam.
What is happening in Europe should not come as a surprise. The reality is that where Islam roots, free speech dies. There is not a single Islamic country in het world where people are really totally free to say what they think. Ever since the so called prophet Muhammad ordered his men to kill the poet Asma Bint Marwan, the brave woman who warned her people against this murderous cult, radical Muslims think they have a license to kill anyone, who dares to criticize Muhammad's word or actions. Free speech is Islam's enemy. Islam is a threat to the Europe of Socrates, Voltaire and Galileo. As I said, there are many moderate Muslims. But there is no such thing as a moderate Islam. Islam's heart lies in the Koran. The Koran is an evil book that calls for violence and murder - Sura 4, Verse 89 and Sura 47, Verse 4 -, terrorism - Sura 8, Verse 60 - and war - Sura 8, Verse 39. The Koran describes Jews as monkeys and pigs - Sura 2, Verse 65 / Sura 5, Verse 60 and Sura 7, Verse 166. It calls non-Muslims liars, miscreants, enemies, ignorant, unclean, wicked, evil, the worst of creatures and the vilest of animals.
The problem is that the provisions in the Koran are not restricted to time or place. Rather, they apply to all Muslims, from all times. Apart from the Koran, there is also the life of Muhammad, who fought in dozens of wars, who spread Islam with the sword, sold imprisoned women and children as slaves, who was in the habit of decapitating Jews and who married and consummated the young girl Aisha before she was ten years of age. The problem is that, too many `Muslims, Muhammad is 'the perfect man', whose life is the model to follow. But the facts show that the so called Prophet was not a perfect man but a murderer and a pedophile. And inspired by him jihadists with the promise of a carnal paradise slaughtered innocent people in Washington, New York, Madrid, London, Amsterdam, Bali and Mumbai. Ladies and gentlemen, some time ago an interview was held in France with the French Muslim student Mohamed Sabaoui, who said the following, and I quote: "Your laws do not coincide with the Koran, Muslims can only be ruled by Shariah law", and "we will declare the town of Roubaix an independent Muslim enclave and impose Shariah law upon all its citizens, and "we will be your Trojan Horse, we will rule, Allah Akbar". End of quote.
Make no mistake: Islam has always attempted to conquer Europe. Spain fell in the 8th century. Constantinople fell in the 15th century. Vienna and Poland were threatened, and now, in the 21st century, Islam is trying again. This time not with military armies, but through migration and demography. For the first time in world history there are dozens of millions of Muslims living outside the Dar al-Islam, the Islamic world. Europe now has more than 50 million Muslims. It is expected that one fifth of the population of the European Union will be Muslim within 40 years.
In 1974 no one took the Algerian President Boumédienne all too serious when he said to the UN general assembly: "One day millions of men will leave the southern hemisphere of this planet to burst into the northern one. But not as friends. Because they will burst in to conquer, and they will conquer by populating it with their children. Victory will come to us from the wombs of our women". End of quote. And Libyan dictator Gaddafi said: "There are tens of millions of Muslims in the European continent and the number is on the increase. This is the clear indication that the European continent will be converted to Islam. Europe will one day be a Muslim continent". End of quote.
Indeed Gaddafi is telling the truth here, through the Islamic concept of migration - called Al Hijra - Europe is in the process of becoming Eurabia. In Europe churches are emptying out, whereas mosques are shooting up like mushrooms. Muhammad is the most popular name among boys in many European cities. Medieval phenomena as burkas, honor killings and female genital mutilation are becoming more and more prevalent. In the UK, by now 85 Shariah law courts are active, the same country where Islamic organizations asked to stop the commemoration of the Holocaust, and a minister is pleading to change the Red Cross logo, because it might offend Muslims.
In Austria, history teachers avoid teaching on the Austrian wars against the Islamic invaders. In France school teachers are advised to avoid authors deemed offensive to Muslims, including Voltaire. In Norway, children are made to sing Islamic songs as "Allah Akbar" and "Little Muslim, do you pray?" In Belgium, a man almost died after being beaten up by Muslims, because he was drinking during the Ramadan. Jews are fleeing France in record numbers, on the run for the worst wave of anti-Semitism since World War II.
The rise of Islam also means the rise of Shariah law in our judicial systems. In Europe we have it all: Shariah testaments, Shariah mortgages, Shariah schools, Shariah banks, as I said in the UK there are even 85 Shariah courts. Islam regards Shariah law to be above all man-made laws, including our constitutions. As you know, Shariah law covers all areas of life, from religion, hygiene and dietary laws, to dress codes, family and social life and from finance and politics to the unity of Islam with the state. Shariah law does not recognize free speech and freedom of religion. According to Shariah law, killing apostates is a 'virtue', but the consumption of alcohol is a crime. The introduction of Shariah law elements in our societies creates a system of legal apartheid. Shariah law systematically discriminates groups of people. I never understood why the leftish and liberal politicians are ignoring all this. Historically they were the ones fighting for the rights of women, gays, non-believers and others. All groups that would be the first to pay a high price if and when Islamic values would become dominant. Their silence is frightening.
Now, I am fighting their fight. I fight to protect those groups. I fight against the Islamization of our societies and therefore for the protection of the rights of women, homosexuals, Christians, Jews, apostates, non-believers and kafirs: the non-Muslims. I want to protect these victims for Shariah law. And we all should. If we ignore the problem it will not go away, if we don't act now, Shariah will be implemented more en more, slowly but gradually and that would mean the end of freedom of speech and democracy in Europe. This is what is at stake, nothing less than our freedom and democracy.
And please make no mistake: Islam is also coming for America. Last July, during a conference in Chicago, organized by Hizb-Ut-Tahrir, the international movement aiming to create an Islamic state under Shariah law across the world, the American imam Jaleel Abdul Adil promised to fight "until Islam becomes victorious or we die in the attempt". When asked: "Would you get rid of the United States Constitution for Shariah?" he answered: "Yes, The Constitution would be gone".
America is facing a 'stealth Jihad', the Islamic' attempt to introduce Shariah law bit by bit. Allow me to give you a few examples of Islamization in the United States: Muslim taxi drivers at Minneapolis airport refused over 5,000 passengers because they were carrying alcohol; Muslim students are demanding separate campus housing; Muslim women are demanding separate hours in gyms and swimming pools; schools are banning Halloween and Christmas celebrations - indeed, schools are taking pork off their cafeteria menus to avoid offending Muslim students. Ladies and gentlemen, be aware that this is only the beginning. If things continue like this, you will have the same problems as we are currently faced with in Europe. It is my opinion that Islam is more an ideology than a religion. To be precise, Islam is a political, totalitarian ideology, with worldwide aspirations, just like communism and fascism, because like those ideologies Islam does not intend to assimilate in our societies but wants to dominate and submit us all. In Islam there is no room for anything but Islam. I think the great Winston Churchill was fully right when he, in his book The Second World War, called Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf the new Koran of faith and war.
But, ladies and gentlemen, Islam is not the only problem. There is a second problem, a problem that is called cultural relativism. Our entire Western elite, whether they are politicians, journalists or judges, has lost its way. Their sense of reality has vanished. Those cultural relativists believe that all cultures are equal. They think that the Islamic culture is equal to our culture which is based on Christianity, Judaism and Humanism. Our culture adheres to freedom, human rights and the equality between men and women and not to violence and hatred.
To the cultural relativists, I proudly say: Our Western culture is far better than the Islamic culture. And we should be proud of that and defend it. Unlike most countries where the Islamic culture is dominant, we have a rule of law, a democracy, a functioning parliament, freedom of speech and a constitution that protects us against the government. It is clear that not everyone sees the danger. I quote a prominent American, who recently won a Nobel Prize: "Throughout history, Islam had demonstrated through words and deeds the possibilities of religious tolerance", and "Islam is not part of the problem in combating violent extremism, it is an important part of promoting peace", and "We celebrate a great religion, and its commitment to justice and progress". End of quote. I strongly have to disagree with this assessment. Islam has nothing in common with tolerance or peace or justice!
President Obama also celebrated the fact that when the first Muslim-American was elected to Congress, he took the oath using the same Koran that one of the Founding Fathers - Thomas Jefferson - kept in his personal library. It is interesting to know that Thomas Jefferson in 1801 was about to wage war against the Islamic 'Barbary' states of Northern Africa to stop the pillaging of ships and enslavement of more than a million Christians. The ambassador of these Muslim nations told Thomas Jefferson and John Adams that Muslims find the justification for their slaughter and enslavement of kafir in the Koran. Now I ask you, dear friends, could it be that Thomas Jefferson did not keep a copy of the Koran because he admired Islam but because he wanted to understand the ruthless nature of his enemies?
Ladies and gentlemen, I believe in democracy, I believe in the American people and the choices it makes, and normally, as a politician from Holland, I would never judge your President. But these remarks of President Obama, do not only affect America, but Europe too. I am afraid that President Obama's remarks could be a turning point in history. I fear that serious geo political changes are looming, changes that will alter our foreign policies, our view on free speech, changes that will alter the West, our way of life, and for the worse and not for the better.
In a matter of fact, it is already happening right now. Recently the United States joined Egypt in sponsoring an anti-free speech resolution in the UN Human Rights Council. You know that council that itself is an insult to human rights since the worst human rights offenders of the world like Cuba, Saudi-Arabia and Pakistan are members. The Obama-administration and Europe supported a resolution to recognize exceptions to free speech to any negative religious stereotyping. This appeasement of the non-free Arab world is the beginning of the end. An erosion of free speech and your own First Amendment. This UN resolution is an absolute disgrace.
As Professor Jonathan Turley of the George Washington University yesterday so rightfully stated in the newspaper USA Today, and I quote: "Criticism of religion is the very measure of the guarantee of free speech - the literal sacred institution of society" - end of quote. That the weak leaders of my own continent Europe supported such a terrible resolution does not come as a surprise to me. But it's a sad thing that for the first time in history, the American administration has taken a leading role against our right to free speech.
Ladies and gentlemen, there is one Western country that has been forced to fight the forces of jihad for its values since the very first day of its existence: Israel, the canary in the coal mine. Let me say a few words about that wonderful country. I had the privilege of living in Israel. However, in Europe being pro-Israel makes you an endangered species. Israel is a beacon of light in an area - the Middle East - that is pitch black everywhere else. Israel is a Western democracy, while Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Egypt are medieval dictatorships. I am very much in favor of a two-state solution. I mean Churchill's 1921 two-state solution, when Palestine was partitioned in a Jewish and an Arab part. Arab Palestine is now called Jordan, and therefore, there is already a Palestinian state. With eighty percent of the population having roots on the other side of the Jordan, there is no doubt Jordan is truly the state of Palestine.
The so-called 'Middle East conflict' is not about land at all. It is a conflict about ideologies; a battle between Islam and freedom. It is not about some land in Gaza or in Judea and Samaria. It is about Jihad. To Islam the whole of Israel is occupied territory. They see Tel Aviv and Haifa as settlements too. Islam forces Israel to fight, and Israel is not just fighting for itself. Israel is fighting for all of us, for the entire West. Just like those brave American soldiers who landed in Sicily in 1943 and stormed the Normandy beaches in 1944, young Israeli men and women are fighting for our freedom, our civilization.
Ladies and gentlemen, Europe ought to fully back Israel to the hilt in its relentless fight against those that threaten it, whether it is Hezbollah, Hamas or a nuclear Iran. Also, because of its history, Europe certainly has the moral obligation to prevent at all cost another Holocaust against the Jewish people. But most important of all: Israel is fighting the jihad that is meant for all of us. So we all should defend Israel. We all are Israel.
Ladies and gentlemen, there is good news also! Europe might slowly be awakening. More and more people are fed up with cultural relativism and politicians ignoring the negative effects of mass-immigration and the creeping Islamization of Europe. During the European elections last June the worst cultural relativists, the socialists, lost nearly everywhere: In the Netherlands, in Belgium, in Germany, in Austria, in France, in Spain, in Italy and, perhaps best of all, in the UK. But, my party, the Dutch Freedom Party was the winner in the recent elections for the European Parliament. Right now, in the polls, we even are number 1. If there would be elections in the Netherlands tomorrow, whether you like it or not, I could very well become the next Prime Minister of The Netherlands.
Ladies and gentlemen, time is running out, we need to act. As I already said, we need less Islam, and more freedom. We have to protect our most important right, our right to free speech. We have to protect our liberties. That is why I propose the following measures, measures to preserve our freedom:
- First. We have to end all forms of cultural relativism. For this purpose we need an amendment to our Western constitutions stating that our cultural foundation is the Judeo Christian Humanistic culture, and not Islam./font>
- Second. We have to stop the mass immigration from Muslim countries. Because more Islam means less freedom.
- Third. I have a clear message to all Muslims in our societies: If you subscribe to our laws, our values and our constitutions you are very welcome to stay and we will help you to assimilate.
- But, if you cross the red line and commit violent crimes or the implementation of Shariah law and start practicing jihad, you are not welcome anymore, then we will expel you if possible the same day.
- Fourth. We have to strengthen our laws regarding freedom of speech. In Europe we urgently need some kind of American First Amendment. And we have to resist UN-resolutions that intend to weaken our right of free speech in another attempt to appease the Islamic world.
- Fifth, last but not least. We have to elect brave leaders. Real leaders. We enjoy the privilege of living in a democracy. Let us use that privilege by replacing weak leaders with heroes. Let us have fewer Neville Chamberlains and more Winston Churchills! In short, ladies and gentlemen, my main message of today is that we have to start fighting back. No defense, but offence. We have to fight back and demonstrate that millions of people are sick and tired of losing, of giving in, of appeasing. We must make clear that millions of freedom loving people are saying: enough is enough.
Ladies and gentlemen, I leave you with this: I will never give in nor give up. And we should never surrender nor compromise about freedom, the most important right we still have in our free western societies. We have to win, and I am confident: we will win! Thank you very much.
Saturday, October 31, 2009
I hesitated to write this blog. It involves venturing into an area beyond my expertise – foreign policy.
On the other hand, how can a blogger stay silent on the most relevant issues of the day?
I offer these comments with uncharacteristic humility.
I refer to U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan (and, to a lesser extent, other places). This involvement is very costly – in terms of dollars and lives (even though modern technology has limited the loss of life in comparison to past wars, resulting, however, in a larger incidence of serious injury with enormous costs in dollars and pain and suffering). Like all government programs, military involvements must be financed by taxation and/or borrowing (future taxation). Like all government programs they are essentially parasitic on the productive efforts of private Americans – they result in a smaller and less productive private sector. Like all government programs they involve huge bureaucracies vulnerable to corruption and institutional inertia – they establish vested interests in their continuation. And like all government programs they have unpredictable unintended consequences.
The justification for all military projects is protection. In order to function a civil society must have secure property rights protected by the rule of law, which guarantees freedom of non-coercive action. With these basic, but elusive, institutions, any society will prosper, regardless of its circumstance or natural resources. But prosperity breeds resentment and envy which often results in foreign threats. There are few, if any, examples of democracies going to war with one another. Threats from outside are invariably from repressive dictatorships or fanatical revolutionary movements. The biggest threat facing the United States today is the one from Islamic fanatics who regard the existence of free societies as an unacceptable threat to their religious mission to impose Sharia law on the whole world.
This is the justification that was used for the invasion of Iraq (bolstered by the bogus accusation of weapons of mass destruction) and Afghanistan. Clearly the case for the latter is much stronger than the former, Afghanistan being the source of the 9/11 attacks. But both cases deserve further scrutiny.
The argument for military expenditures rests on the assertion that they are necessary to keep us safe from those who would destroy us. The most basic level of protection is protection from foreign invasion. One can, therefore, credit the need for an effort designed to identify and apprehend terrorist attacks on American soil. The argument extends, however, to efforts to root out terrorism abroad, before it becomes stronger and to establish "democracy" so as to export freedom and to deny the fanatics environments in which they may grow and expand. In other words, foreign military initiatives are seen as ideologically congenial preemptive efforts. But how is one to weigh the substantial costs of these efforts against the alleged benefit that they keep us safe for the long term?
One reason for skepticism is an evaluation of the results that have been achieved or could be achieved. Are these goals achievable by military efforts? Consider the establishment of "democracy." It is not clear what is meant by this term – hence the scare quotes. In practice it often seems to mean the establishment of open and free elections. This has proven very difficult to achieve, both in Iraq and in Afghanistan. Free elections often give way to predatory behavior based on deep seated tribal/ethnic rivalries. The kind of "democracy" we are seeking goes much deeper that the showcasing of people voting. It involves the acceptance of private property, protected by a viable legal system, one based on the rule of law, not the rule of a dictator or a privileged group. Without this, elections could not be free for very long.
But this kind of civil society cannot be imposed by military effort. It can only be the result of the voluntary efforts of the indigenous population over a long period of time. To imagine the emergence of a free and open society overnight in societies with centuries of tradition alien to such ideas, is an exercise in foolish wishful thinking.
Let me be clear. I am not defending some sort of moral or cultural relativism. I regard these systems as primitive and I would like to see them replaced so that more people could reap the substantial fruits of the prosperity that comes from Western (Classical) Liberalism – free trade, freedom of expression freedom of movement, and the explosion of options that this brings. What I am saying is that these things cannot simply be planted wherever we think they ought to be. Where they do emerge they are always the spontaneous flowering of local initiatives based on local conditions. I am not aware of any really successful exercise in the forceful imposition of democracy (in this broader sense) by a foreign power.
And if we fail in this "nation building" exercise we find ourselves in a prolonged and increasingly futile struggle that must ultimately be abandoned at great cost to those we leave behind, the best of intentions notwithstanding. (Of course, for many the intentions are not so good – being the protection of a reliable flow of oil – but I speak here of the widespread acceptance of military missions by the public at large being based on moral values).
How likely is it that viable durable democracies will be established in Iraq and Afghanistan? If the answer is not very likely at all, then what are we doing there and how and when will it end? Would we, and they, not be better off with a much more limited effort, one aimed at containing the export of nefarious ideas and actions. America has no imperialistic ambitions, yet we are continually being drawn into military adventures in far off places, often as a result of the past colonial screw-ups of the European governments who are now our biggest critics. Less idealism and more realism would result in more limited aims. We cannot save the world. And we cannot repair all the wrongs of the past. If we are to win this battle against terrorism it will only be because enough people in Moslem countries have rejected them and their message in favor of something more peaceful and tolerant of us. For the rest we have to be less ambitious.
Supporting Israel and Pakistan may, indeed, make sense, for different reasons. These are indigenous democracies and their collapse would credibly threaten the free world as a whole. In the case of Israel more effort should be involved in persuading Middle Eastern governments to help the Palestinians move beyond grievance to the pursuit of prosperity - by encouraging open institutions of learning, of trade, of development – but his will only happen when the Moslem world gets comfortable with the existence of a Jewish state, a free democratic state.
In the case of Pakistan, much depends on how far the Pakistani people are prepared to go to rid themselves of the Taliban. The Taliban are not going away. They have infinite patience and when suppressed simply fade away only to emerge another day. But they do rely on local support and that will be the key. In the meantime the U.S. is just pursing a holding action and maybe that is the best we can do.
So, thinking it through, I wonder if, instead of debating the commitment of more troops, we should not be pulling back, focusing on the possible and leaving the rest for another kind of fight, the battle of ideas. Having achieved unprecedented and unimagined freedom and prosperity, America is now in danger of destroying it at home by unrealistically attempting to impose it elsewhere. Live and let live.
And, by the way, we should abandon the terrible and costly "drug-war." But that is a subject for another day.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Saturday, October 10, 2009
On the one had one should not be surprised. After all this is the same crowd that awarded the prize to Yasser Arafat, one of the world's most accomplished and cynical murderers. Or to Jimmy Carter, perhaps the world's most influential anti-Semite. Yet, it strikes me there is something different about this one – it is more than just the usual hypocrisy and naiveté. This time there is an added dose of arrogance and smugness.
What the Nobel committee seems to be saying this time around is:
"Here is a prize for thinking and talking like us. We know you have not really achieved any of your stated aims for international peace, but you have acknowledged that our approach is right, that America has been mistaken and that you intend to make amends. And for this, for your enlightened contrition, we are going to give you this important prize. We hope it will help you achieve your noble (no pun intended) aims."
Most people realize that this award is so stupid that it is an embarrassment – and this includes many Obama supporters. A sample from the European press suggests however that the Europeans are not at all embarrassed. They think it fitting to reward Obama in a very public way for becoming more like them, for validating their worldview – including the denial of American exceptionalism. And they see nothing wrong in using this august prize as a political instrument, an instrument of propaganda to try and bolster a political agenda of which they approve. Their arrogance defies imagination.
The committee praised Mr. Obama for believing that "dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts" and also for believing in the seriousness of climate change! (I am reminded of Ayan Hirsi Ali's good friend Teo Van Gogh who was brutally stabbed to death for making a movie about the subjugation of Muslim women. While his crazed fanatical attacker was stabbing him Van Gogh turned to him and said, "Can't we talk about this?" Maybe he should have been awarded a posthumous peace prize, were there such a thing.)
The Nobel citation declares further that Mr. Obama's "diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world's population." As today's WSJ editorial notes, where is this majority? Most of the world lives in poverty under the rule of brutal dictatorships. The Western Europeans are in danger of being overrun by these cultures but for the power and vigilance of the United States of America whom they love to despise. They are so arrogant that they don't even realize they are not in the majority.
The unfortunate part of it is that the Obamananiacs have convinced many Americans that the Europeans are right. And when we become like Europe who will watch our back?
Friday, October 9, 2009
How to explain this?
If you are not depressed you either don't know what is going on, or else you are in the grip of some strange and diabolical moral code.
If the latter, as I suspect of many, it amounts to the belief that the "rich" are the one's who will be taxed for the benefit of the rest - and it is ok to plunder the "rich"! What about the burden that will be borne by future generations?
Do we have a right to plunder them as well? I am not sure how they answer this. Probably by saying: "Oh who knows what will happen, we have to do something now, lets worry about that later. And it will probably be on the 'rich' of the future generations anyway."
Really? Will there be any "rich" left?
Why are there so few who find this illogical and unconscionable? Will the majority come to its senses before it is too late?
See below from today's WSJ. Read it carefully, and weep.
The Greatest Show on Earth
Step right up: A new entitlement that cuts the deficit!
Mr. Baucus spends $10.9 billion to eliminate the scheduled Medicare cuts to physician payments—but only for next year. In 2011, he assumes they'll be reduced by 25%, with even deeper cuts later. Congress has overridden this "sustainable growth rate" every year since 2003 and will continue to do so because deeper cuts in Medicare's price controls will cause many doctors to quit the program. Fixing this alone would add $245 billion to the bill's costs, according to an earlier CBO estimate.
Senate Finance votes next week, and no doubt this freak of political nature will pass amid fanfare and self-congratulation that their new entitlement will reduce deficits. Never mind that such a spectacle has never happened in the history of the republic. P.T. Barnum had nothing on this crowd, and the bill hasn't even hit the Senate floor yet.
Meanwhile, the bill piles on new taxes, albeit on health-care businesses so the costs are hidden from customers. Insurance companies offering policies that cost more than $8,000 for individuals and $21,000 for families will pay $201 billion per a 40% excise tax, which will be passed down to all policy holders in higher premiums. Another $180 billion will hit the likes of drug and device makers, including $29 billion because companies won't be allowed to deduct these "fees" from their corporate income taxes. Then there's the $4 billion in penalty payments on those who don't buy insurance because all of ObamaCare's other new taxes and mandates have made it more expensive.
The Baucus bill also expands ailing Medicaid by $345 billion—even as it busts state budgets by imposing an additional $33 billion unfunded mandate. The only Medicare cut that isn't made merely on paper is $117 billion in Medicare Advantage, which Democrats hate because it gives one of five seniors private insurance options.
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
So now the Left-Democrats (Social-Democrats) are focused on somehow ramming the health-care public option through Congress – even though they know that a significant minority opposes it (maybe even a majority). They absolutely refuse to hear the word "No"! Anyone who opposes them is a traitor, a stooge of the Insurance Companies, the Hospitals, or some other interested exploiter – never a sincere objector.
But when pushed about the details of the plan they provide one or more of three unsatisfactory responses.
- The details have yet to be worked out
- The premiums paid to the public provider will cover the costs
- The private insurance companies are expensive because their profits are high – competition from the public plan will solve that
Let's consider these.
Number 1. is a cop out. For such a drastic proposal we need details. How is it going to be paid for? Who is going to pay for it? How much is it going to cost?
Number 2. is smoke and mirrors. Somehow the public provider will be able to cover its costs with premiums way below the private providers'. How can this happen? Which brings us to the number 3.
Number 3.- it's all the fault of the private insurance providers and their high profits. A lot of people believe this. They believe that medical insurance premiums are high because medical insurance companies make large profits. I find this puzzling. If their profits are so high (meaning their RATE of profit, not the absolute numbers) then why are there not more competitors. High rates of profit always attract competitors unless there is some real barrier to entry.
When I point this out I am told there is a barrier – the insurance companies are a cartel (a private monopoly) – they prevent entry by lower cost (premium) competitors. Really? How do they do this? And if this is the case, is not the appropriate response to break this cartel and allow vigorous PRIVATE competition? Why do we need a public, aka government, option. The government never does anything efficiently – why would anyone think the government would be good at producing medical insurance?
So where is this private medical insurance cartel and how do we break it up?
Understand this clearly, the public option, if it charges premiums below the competitive level will have to be subsidized. That means an extension of the model we have now for Medicare. Those who have private insurance will face even higher premiums, maybe much higher, because their medical costs will rise, so that the private plans end up subsidizing the public one. Private medical costs will rise becasue hospitals and doctors will not be able to make money on the public reimbursements (from the public insurer) so they will charge more to their private patients. But price-discrimination ("rich" pay more, "poor" pay less) can only be pushed so far. In addition there will be new heavy taxes – probably on the private insurance companies, which they will partially recoup by raising their premiums. The public option will grow. It will become bloated, inefficient and corrupt, like all the other public health systems - even the French one. And you and I will pay through the nose.
You can't get something out of nothing.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
In the immortal words of Joan Rivers, let's talk:
- Mr. Cohen's son: Dad, how come you go to shul?
- Mr. Cohen: What kind of a question is that?
- Mr. Cohen's son: I know you are a non-believer, an atheist, an agnostic, or whatever; so why would you go to shul?
- Mr. Cohen: Goldberg goes to shul.
- Mr. Cohen's Son: So what? What kind of an answer is that?
- Mr. Cohen: Goldberg goes to shul to talk to God, I go to shul to talk to Goldberg!
Thursday, September 10, 2009
Representative democracy may be compatible with the existence and maintenance of a free society, but it is neither necessary nor sufficient for it.
Representative democracy gone wrong can be a very dangerous thing. There are numerous examples from history, the most alarming being Nazi Germany – Hitler was elected and used the legislative process to get the laws he wanted. This example, while extreme, is only one of many. In fact it is probably more the rule than the exception, that representative democracies tend, gradually or rapidly, to erode the very freedoms that allowed them to be established in the first place. A dictatorship of a majority (or a plurality) is a dictatorship none-the-less, and it is not surprising that it often gives in to the temptations facing most dictatorships. In representative democracies this erosion comes from the tenacious pursuit by powerful interest coalitions of their economic and ideological self-interest (labor unions, environmentalists, steel producers, farmers of every kind, trial lawyers, you name it) – trying to obtain through the coercive political process what they cannot achieve through the competitive, but non-coercive, marketplace.
Barak Obama is the quintessential messiah of this erosion. It is his mission to use the democratic process to erode the respect shown to the competitive private property system on which our very civilization depends. How does this happen? Why do civilizations like ours flirt with suicide? Too big a question to answer fully in this space. The short answer consists of two elements – the free-riders and the economically-ignorant. Sometimes they overlap. The special interest groups, like the teachers unions who oppose the existence of free choice in education because they know it will threaten their incompetent existence, are free-riders; imposing the costs of their incompetence on the uneducated and mis-educated youth of America and the rest of us. The "liberal" ideologues who think that all the wrongs of the world are the result of the inequality in wealth and circumstance that accompany economic growth, and the evil intentions of those who benefit the most from it, are eco-ignoramuses. Sad to say, the majority of American Jews, who should know better, are part of this group.
Today's Wall Street Journal contains two pieces that address these issues. In a short editorial the editors bemoan the fact that, while the media's radar is fixedly tuned to the nationalization of health-care, the Obama administration has quietly killed a resoundingly successful education voucher program, benefitting 1700 low-income kids in Washington DC. This is a real scandal that deserves to be blasted from the rooftops. It is a sad and cynical example of both free-riding and ideological hubris backed up by economic ignorance.
The other piece is an article by Norman Podhoretz bearing the title of his just-published book, "Why are Jews Liberals?" It is truly astounding the extent to which America Jews evince a basic ignorance of the dangers of allowing government to accumulate too much power. It is astounding because if any group in history should understand that the power for good is also the power for abuse, it is they. It is they moreover who have been amongst the most prominent beneficiaries of the free-market system over the last 150 years. It is they who should understand that without freedom all of their other "progressive" social aims must fail. It is they who should understand that without freedom and secure property rights there can be no escape from poverty, that onerous taxation results in disinvestment and inefficiency and corruption – they should know this from their history if they would take the time to remember it.
As Podhoretz points out, however, the secularization of American Jews has resulted not only in the abandonment of their fundamentalist religious roots, but also in the passionate embrace of a new religion – the secular religion of the Democratic party that they call "liberalism" which should more accurately be called "statism." Having being given the freedom in America to choose to abandon their fundamentalist religious identities they are now leading the charge to have America abandon the essential ingredients of that very freedom itself. Could anything be more frustratingly ironic?
Secularization – the separation of religion and state, or, more importantly, the preventing of any religion from becoming law – is an absolute necessity in a free society. But if the benefits of freedom are to be sustained, the secularized must not be allowed to succeed in harnessing the power of the state for the achievement of their newly adopted secular "religion." This simply puts new, and deceitful clothes, on the same old pretender. The solution, however, is not a return to fundamentalism, as right-wing religious enthusiasts (Jews and Christians) think it is. It is rather an affirmation in concrete terms of the virtues of individual autonomy and the necessity of maintaining a break on the accumulation of power by any branch of government no matter how well-intentioned.
If this be seen as its own "religion," so be it. It is the only one that can save us from ourselves.
Saturday, August 29, 2009
One senses that we are at a pivotal moment in the early history of this administration.
Highest on the agenda of course is the health care initiative. What will happen when Congress reconvenes fresh from the experience of the summer town-hall meetings? The Republican strategy of full-out opposition to the health-care bill, in its various incarnations, will be put to the test. Will the bill die, or will some variant, however watered down, pass in both houses? The former would be the preferable outcome. But whatever happens, this has been an eye-opening episode not only for the Obamaniacs, but also for the rest of us - to realize what makes these guys tick. They are not the sophisticated idealists they portrayed in the slick presidential campaign. Rather, as one might have suspected, they are brutal, power-hungry politicians in single-mined pursuit of a slew of unrealistic goals designed to buy them support with special interests and a legacy in history. But what will they, the Obamaniacs, really be remembered for?
The health-care power-grab should have been an opportunity to clarify for the American people. instead it has left us even more confused. To be sure, health-care is multi-faceted and complicated. But the various proposals have not helped. They are long and involved and only those energetic enough to examine them carefully know what they really say. In addition, the picture has been clouded by the Obamic spin-doctors - who say things like "America has the highest cost health-care in the world" and various other untruths and half-truths designed to sow dissatisfaction and expectation for improvement if only we will accept "change." As complicated as it is there are a few simple facts and propositions worth noting - these should form the basis of an understanding prior to any intelligent conversation about change.
- When comparing the cost of U.S. health-care with that in other countries, like France and England, one needs to include the cost per taxpayer in taxes to fund the health-care system.
- The numbers frequently presented for the number of "uninsured" in the U.S. are misleading. They are overstated in that they fail to include many who have insurance - like illegal aliens insured under false identities. They also mislead by not noting that almost no-one in America gets turned away from health-care - though there are great variations in quality, even the lowest quality care in America is better than most places in the world. The poorest patients, who cannot pay, are routinely subsidized by the rest of us, who pay high prices for care and, consequently, for insurance premiums. We don't need a government initiative to make this happen, it's happening already and it does not work so badly. It is what economists call price-discrimination where those who can, pay more to help those who can't.
- Having said this, it is undeniable that the price of health-care is high and rising at a rate out of sync with other technology-driven sectors of the economy. There is something fishy going on. But to sort this out one has to begin from the most basic and undeniable of propositions: To reduce the price of health-care one has either to increase the supply or decrease the demand or both. There is no escape from this basic logic. If the price is "too high" it can only mean one thing - the supply is too low relative to the demand. In all of the various health-care proposals out there now and in the past generation I do not recall one proposal to significantly increase the supply of health-care services. Instead they all amount to pushing down the cost of what we have or reducing the demand - though they seldom say so. They all involve some sort of costly and frustrating rationing system.
- Chief among the restrictions on supply-growth is the shortage of doctors. This can be remedied by graduating more doctors - increasing the number of medical schools and their enrolment, by reducing the costs of training, for example by allowing entry to medical school without an undergraduate degree (as is the case in most other countries who produce very fine doctors), by expanding the scope of tasks that can be done by lesser trained professionals, like physician's assistants, by breaking the stranglehold that the medical profession has on the production of doctors and by recreating the attractiveness of medical practice for young idealistic, ambitious Americans.
- This last assertion relates to the fact that the various initiatives over the years, producing more administrators, more regulations and restrictions on doctors and patients, have resulted in a beating down of the joy of medical practice. The doctor-patient relationship needs to be restored - managed-care has not worked. With more doctors and less regulation second-guessing what they do, prices will come down and satisfaction will go up.
- Reform of tort law is absolutely key. The cost of malpractice insurance is debilitating. It is driven by the propensity of ambulance-chasing lawyers to prey on the predilection of juries to make ridiculous awards to patients they identify as powerless and poor against doctors they identify as powerful and rich, regardless of the law; as a result of which insurance companies prefer large settlements to even costlier law-suits, hence we have astronomical insurance premiums. First, abolish jury trials for malpractice suites. They are too complicated and involve statistical and medical evidence - there is precedent for this. Second, tighten up the standards for proof of malpractice and allow the use and upholding of private contracts to limit liability. This could all be done without spending a cent and would save hundreds of billions of dollars.
This is what an intelligent conversation in health-care would look like. What about some of the other issues on the table? Here are a few pointers.
Global warming: fact - there is not much we can do to stop it (if it is real). The latest evidence indicates that European economic growth will benefit slightly as a result of it. Third world countries would face the costliest adaptation, but its hard to predict. Methane reduction makes more sense than CO2 reduction. Taxing CO2 emissions is stupid.
Cash for clunkers. Newsflash - when you subsidize the purchase of an item and make it artificially attractive you do not improve the economic prospects for the long-term production of that item. The subsidies have to be paid for and should be added to the price of the car. This does nothing for the auto industry. It is simply an exercise in expensive and futile feel-good income re-distribution. This is not rocket science.
The stimulus - ah the stimulus! It has not worked, it has not even been tried. Most of the money created by the Fed is sitting in the balance sheets of the commercial banks waiting to explode into inflation. Hero Bernanke says he can stop this from happening. I want to know how. About 10% of proposed Treasury spending has actually been made and most of it has gone to the state governments for them to use in their favorite interest satisfying projects. The number of jobs lost since Obama said he would create three million jobs is about three million jobs. Not to worry, genius Nancy Pelosi tells us that in the absence of the (absent) stimulus, six million jobs would have been lost. I wonder how she knows this. Anyway, it's a nice idea, very hard to disprove.
The truth is, the economy is recovering in spite of and not because of anything the government has done. The market works - if it is allowed to. When housing prices fall to reasonable levels and resources have moved to other sectors, the economy will begin to grow again.
After the summer will we have a muting of this brash bunch of beatniks and the possibility of more rational conversation? Once certainly hopes so.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Recently the bad news has been mitigated by glimmers of hope – not exactly good news, but some intimations of a possible turn in the road ahead.
The President sees that some of his proposals are having severe labor-pains and may not emerge intact. So he is going to the airwaves – TV and radio, to address the American people. How ironic! This is a tactic most recently employed by the great communicator, Ronald Reagan. But Reagan did it in pursuit of smaller government – to bring about deregulation and a cut in entitlements. Now Obama uses this tactic to achieve the exact opposite. We will find out if this American public is so different from Reagan's or if they can be made to believe anything the President says eloquently enough. Eloquence rather than logic is being employed, when he says, for example, that the status quo in health-care is unacceptable, and, therefore, (any) change is to be preferred. It should not take a rocket scientist to realize that a very bad situation can almost always be made worse by ill-advised legislation.
The monstrosity of a health bill is having a rough time in Congress. Almost certainly what comes out of these deliberations will be very different from the blueprint the President provided. Hopefully, it will be much, much leaner. It is very important that this be seen as the President's first major failure, and a big one. The public needs some hard evidence to become disabused of the messiah illusion.
Signs of this surfaced recently in President Obama's laughable missteps surrounding the Gates arrest. Usually so smooth and so careful, the President found himself unable to control the link between the honest part of his brain and his mouth. Barak Obama, the first "black" president, ran a campaign that purportedly rose above race. He was first an American and second an "African." Race was pace. He was too sophisticated to stoop to Jesse-Jackson-like victimology. Well, it seems that this time the temptation was too great, and he succumbed. He paid the price, and came as close to an apology as his, much deemphasized, pride would allow. Retrospectively, it is hard to maintain that this incident was about race – though, clearly, stupid mistakes were made all round. Still, it has served a useful purpose in the exposition of fallibility.
Now the Congress has parted company with the President in seriously considering linking international trade barriers to emissions standards. The President, to his credit, is opposed. But, predictably, politicians, venal as they are, see a golden opportunity to buy votes by providing their local constituents with protection from international competition – at the expense of everyone else. This enviro-imperialism could cripple the world economy as successive rounds of retaliation lead to a "beggar thy neighbor" policy, as happened in the 1930's. There are some signs that the Europeans (the UK and Germany, in particular) will pull back from this, and hopefully so will we.
On foreign policy, the Obama administration has adopted a curious and shameful moral-ambiguity – abandoning the liberal universalism of its rhetoric for some type of inverted self-interest – in Honduras, in Israel, in Iran, in North Korea, in Russia – for God's sake find me an instance I can praise! Dare one hope the public will see through this before too long?
Price inflation has not surfaced yet, mainly because, as explained in earlier blogs, the lending-borrowing environment is very uncertain (mainly owing to the unpredictability of government regulation). So the massive expansion of bank-reserves (high-powered money – deposits held by the commercial banks at the Federal Reserve) are being stockpiled. Bernanke promises to mop them up. One wonders how, and one wonders why were they put there in the first place just to be "mopped-up" with great difficulty later. Whatever he does now will result in an explosion of the National Debt and will burden Americans for generations to come. Still, if, by some miracle, inflation can be avoided, that is to the good. This one is a long shot.
So you see it is not really good news. It is just a series of signs that the incompetence of government may result in helpful sorts of government paralysis that will lead to a return to the healthy skepticism of its powers.
Saturday, July 4, 2009
Having just returned from a short visit to South Africa, to celebrate a traditional Jewish wedding, I find myself thinking about the Jewish experience in South Africa, from the origins of the Jewish community until the present.
The last thirty years or so have been characterized by a fundamentalist turn in the South African Jewish community. What is this all about and how do we feel about it?
The extent of this shift is debatable. To me it seems very significant in scope, especially among the young. This mirrors developments in other parts of the world. Jewish communities in America, for example, have experienced a decline in the number affiliating Conservative and an increase in the numbers affiliated Reform and the various branches of Orthodoxy, especially Chabad and the Haredi outreach groups like Or-Sameach and Aish-Hatorah. But the latter movement, toward Orthodox affiliation, is dwarfed by the numbers in Reform and the numbers opting out of Jewish identification altogether through intermarriage or disinterest. Orthodoxy remains a small minority among American Jews (maybe around ten percent). In Europe, where these denominations do not really exist, the number of Orthodox has likewise increased, but not as fast as those assimilating. In Israel there has been a noticeable increase in Orthodox affiliators, and an increase in overall religiosity, allowing for the development of Conservadox alternatives, like the Shir-Chadash synagogue of the Shalom Institute of Rabbi David Hartman in Jerusalem.
In South Africa, where Reform has always been tiny, and Conservative Judaism non-existent, the shift has been from the unique variant of South African Orthodoxy, that developed in the generation after the first main Jewish immigration, to some variant of strict Orthodoxy, like Chabad or some other black-hat type. So the shift has been almost exclusively to the right, that is, out of the center toward more stringent Orthodoxy – in contrast to the U.S.
The reasons for this shift are also debatable. Most likely the uncertainties of the South African situation (high crime, rapidly changing demographics and technologies, economic fluctuations) have something to do with it. The revealed word provides a source of unchanging comfort for many. More specifically, the precipitous and ongoing decline in the size of the South African Jewish community (from a peak of about 120,000 to around 50,000!) may be a cause as well. Emigration tends to be selective, and perhaps the more secular are also more mobile. The matter awaits more scientific scrutiny.
Whatever the reasons, however, it is real and it has completely changed the character of the Jewish community.
The founding immigration to South Africa occurred from about 1890 – 1930, overwhelmingly from Lithuania. These were mainstream, non-Chassidic, Litvaks. Many of them were religious, like my grandfather. But, very soon their children faced hard choices and made predictable decisions. Similarly to America, this generation became rapidly secularized, choosing to work on Saturday and drive on Yomtov, eschewing kosher food, etc. but nevertheless holding fast to their Jewish identities. Unlike in America, there was no melting pot, no Conservative Jewish movement, very little intermarriage. In South Africa an affiliated Jew was affiliated Orthodox, even though the vast majority of the congregants were secular. This is not unlike the Conservative congregations of America, except that the religious leadership were Lithuanian (and sometimes other East European or British) orthodox Jews. Furthermore, the religious leadership was not theologically sophisticated, like the innovative Conservative rabbis of America. In fact theology, and religion as such, played very little role in the communal Jewish life of most South Africans. It was tradition more than religion. To be sure, the rabbis did their level best to increase the sorry state of awareness and observance among their congregants. But for the latter the rabbis were not very important. Mostly South African Jews of this generation, my and my parents' generation, went to shul to listen to the chazzan and the choir, rather than the rabbi – and to be with family and friends. Some rabbis attracted disproportionate attention with their oratorical eloquence (form rather than substance) and their charisma. But it was their personal magnetism, rather than their theology that was admired. And Jewish liturgical music was key – the choir and the chazzan were the center of the service, Friday night, Saturday morning and on Yomtov.
This mixture of loyal affiliation and secular pragmatism resulted in a vibrant, fiercely Zionistic, high-achieving Jewish community. Members of this community can be found all over the world today in successful businesses, leading professions, artistically prominent positions and community leadership. Their achievements were astounding for such a small proportion of the overall population. They are generally free-thinkers, modern in their approach, requiring reasonable evidence for any claim, not particularly troubled by the schism between the teachings of their religious leaders and their own critical beliefs. They are mostly secular and liberal (in the classical sense of upholding universal individual human rights). Many of their children in South Africa have succumbed to the temptations of the evangelical fundamentalists. Many have left. More will leave.
For me this is very sad. It is the final chapter of the losses I have experienced in the four-decade long emigration process. The country, the culture and the community I left no longer exists. In its place a narrower, more doctrinaire, superstitious, unthinking mixture of alternatives has arisen. To be sure, old-style South African Jews still live there, but they seem to be in the minority – just one of the many alternatives, and their numbers may be dwindling. South Africa may well be alright. It may overcome the multiple challenges it faces and remain the hope and salvation of Africa. But the golden age of South African Jewry has passed.
Monday, June 15, 2009
Yesterday's foreign policy speech by Benjamin Netanyahu provides an enlightening illustration of the capacity for self-delusion – an astounding instance of just how far off the plain meaning interpretation can be spun.
The Democratic "liberal" press are interpreting Netanyahu as having departed significantly and importantly from his hard-line opposition to the two-state solution; and in so doing providing president Obama with much of what he needs to co-opt the Arab world to his utopian vision of a regional peace. This interpretation adds to the impression that these Obamites have of their leader as someone who will benignly nudge Israel in the direction it needs to go – good for Israel good for America. And seeing this they give themselves one more pat on the back for voting for him. This includes most prominently the 78% of American Jews who voted for him, who continue reverently to sing his praises at every opportunity. I am as disgusted as I am frustrated at this unseemly arrogance and naiveté.
The only accurate interpretation of Netanyahu's speech is the one provided by the Arab press (how ironic!). They correctly understand that Netanyahu greatly clarified his continued opposition to their vision of a two-state solution. He did not move an inch toward Obama, but he did provide an articulate, reasoned explanation. A "two-state" solution is an empty phrase until one spells out the kind of states we are talking about. Israel is already a functioning, mature nation-state, operating under the rule of law, providing opportunities and free-choices for its citizens. It is also the only Jewish state in the world, in which capacity it provides a spiritual center for all identifying Jews around the world. There are at least 20 countries who identify as Islamic nations. They are all repressive dictatorships committed to the destruction of Israel. What kind of state is the Palestinian state going to be in this "two-state" story? That is the main, almost the only, theme in Netanyahu's address.
Do the fuzzy thinkers really think they can conjure to life a peaceful, secure neighbor from what now exists on the ground in the Palestinian territories? That would be nice. Who would not want that? Who would not accept that? Bring it about, says Netanyahu, and we will embrace it. Just make sure that in the process of trying, a belligerent, militarized alternative does not result. It would not be the first time.
As it stands there is no hope for a two-state solution that could satisfy Israel, the Palestinians and the Arab world. Netanyahu explained why. In so doing he did not move closer to the two-state solution and to Obama. Rather he delineated clearly the differences between them. This is not a cause for celebration – though I personally greatly welcome the clarity provided. It is rather a cause for concern – concern that Obama, with the support of the influential American Jewish community will pressure Israel into costly and exceedingly dangerous concessions – concessions that will cost lives as well as dollars.
Netanyahu spoke clearly to those who care to read what he said and not what they wish he had said. I cannot improve on it. But it is worth emphasizing one key point. The central stumbling block to any kind of peaceful coexistence is a refusal to accept the legitimacy of Israel as a national Jewish homeland. The whole Palestinian "problem" is dedicated to the eradication of Israel as a Jewish state. Before any kind of progress toward peaceful coexistence can be made, a credible recognition of Israel's right to exist must be given. As Netanyahu explains, Israel did not create the Palestinian problem and it cannot solve it. The Arab world created it and it does not want to solve it. Israel is an insult to the Islamic world. According to Islam, a non-Moslem governing body cannot be established in territory that was once in the heart of the Islamic empire. As the only valid religion, Islam has a claim on the entire world – the continued prominent existence of a successful, western, Jewish state in the heart of the Middle East is intolerable. This is not a controversial point of view held by a radical fringe in the Moslem world. It is a commonly held point of view – shared by hundreds of millions of Moslems. The Palestinians are pawns in this struggle. And the settlements have almost no relevance in the big picture.
The Obama-liberals great mistake is one of cultural arrogance. They assume that everyone thinks, or can be made to think, like they do. Netanyahu was addressing them as much as anyone. But will they hear him?