Saturday, June 30, 2012

The President's Biggest Success

Mr. Obama has squandered billions trying to stimulate jobs in green energy industries and elsewhere, all to little effect. But there's one industry that's prospering richly from having Mr. Obama in the White House - the firearms industry.

Gun sales have soared since Mr. Obama was elected, the industry has not laid off employees, and, not coincidentally, violent crime has been declining;;. In fact there seems to be a correlation between declining crime and the increase in states that issue concealed carry permits.

The Washington Times' Emily Miller has the story:
Gun-control advocates are noticeably silent when crime rates decline. Their multimillion-dollar lobbying efforts are designed to manufacture mass anxiety that every gun owner is a potential killer. The statistics show otherwise.

Last week, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) announced that violent crime decreased 4 percent in 2011. The number of murders, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults all went down, continuing a pattern.

"This is not a one-year anomaly, but a steady decline in the FBI's violent-crime rates," said Andrew Arulanandam, spokesman for the National Rifle Association. "It would be disingenuous for anyone to not credit increased self-defense laws to account for this decline."

Mr. Arulanandam pointed out that only a handful of states had concealed-carry programs 25 years ago, when the violent-crime rate peaked. Today, 41 states either allow carrying without a permit or have "shall issue" laws that make it easy for just about any noncriminal to get a permit. Illinois and Washington, D.C., are the only places that refuse to recognize the right to bear arms. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence did not respond to requests for comment.
As for gun sales Miller writes:
"Firearms sales have increased substantially since right after the 2008 election," said Bill Brassard, spokesman for the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), which represents the $4 billion firearms and ammunition industry. "There was a leveling off in 2010, but now we're seeing a surge again."

The FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) serves as one of the best indicators of gun sales because it counts each time someone buys a gun. Checks hit an all-time high of 16.5 million last year. In the first five months of this year, the numbers have gone up 10 percent over the same period last year as Americans rush to the gun store in case President Obama decides to exercise "more flexibility" in restricting guns in a second term.
Perhaps when Mr. Obama said that the private sector was doing fine he had firearms manufacturers in mind:
Sturm, Ruger & Co. sold 1 million firearms in the first quarter of 2012 - an amazing 50 percent increase from the first quarter of 2011. The jump was so steep that the company stopped accepting orders from March to May to catch up with demand for its products.

Last month, Smith & Wesson announced a firearm-order backlog of approximately $439 million by the end of April, up 135 percent from the same quarter in 2011. Sales in that period were up 28 percent from 2011 and 14 percent over its own predictions to investors. NSSF estimates the industry is responsible for approximately 180,000 jobs and has an annual impact on the U.S. economy of $28 billion.
So, not only can Mr. Obama claim credit for thousands of jobs "saved or created" in the firearms industry he can also take credit for the drop in violent crime that this industry's products have facilitated. I wonder if he realizes how helpful this would be to him in the election if more people knew about it. As one gun dealer told me a couple of years ago "If I would've known how good Obama would be for my business I would've voted for him myself."


Friday, June 29, 2012

The Implausibility of Unguided Human Evolution

Evolution News and Views takes a look at a new book by biologists Ann Gauger, Douglas Axe and lawyer Casey Luskin titled Science and Human Origins. One of the ideas the authors want us to understand is the very great difficulty, assuming that only blind mechanistic processes were at work, of constructing a plausible pathway from an ape-like ancestor to Homo sapiens. In her chapter Gauger writes this:
Let's begin by considering what distinguishes us from great apes. What are our distinctive characteristics? There are significant anatomical differences, of course: Our upright walking, longer legs, and shorter arms, changes in muscle strength, our significantly larger brains and skulls (three times bigger than great apes), and our refined musculature in hands, lips and tongues.

There are also our relative hairlessness and changes to our eyes. More importantly, there are whole realms of intellect and experience that make us unique as humans. Abstract thought, art, music and language: These things separate us from lower animals fundamentally, not just in degree but in kind....

Chimps are suited for life in the trees. Humans are suited for life on the ground, walking and running. The anatomical changes needed to move from tree-dwelling to complete terrestrial life are many. To walk and run effectively requires a new spine, a different shape and tilt to the pelvis, and legs that angle in from the hips, so we can keep our feet underneath us and avoid swaying from side to side as we move.

We need knees, feet and toes designed for upright walking, and a skull that sits on top of the spine in a balanced position. (The dome of our skull is shifted rearward in order to accommodate our larger brain and yet remain balanced.) Our jaws and muscle attachments must be shifted, our face flattened, and the sinuses behind the face and the eye sockets located in different places, to permit a forward gaze and still be able to see where to put our feet.
How many mutations would these changes require and how much time was available in which they could occur? ENV gives us some idea:
Varki and Altheide (2005) document hundreds of phenotypic traits that differ between humans and great apes.

Gauger goes on to consider whether there has been enough time (roughly one and a half million years) to render plausible the number of instances of anatomical novelty that are required to change an Australopithecus afarensis into a Homo erectus. Citing Durrett and Schmidt (2007, 2008), Gauger draws on their conclusions that "for a single mutation to occur in a nucleotide-binding site and be fixed in a primate lineage would require a waiting time of six million years" and that "it would take 216 million years for the binding site to acquire two mutations, if the first mutation was neutral in its effect."

Since the transition from our last common ancestor with chimps to modern humans is only about six million years, argues Gauger, the time allowed is nowhere near enough to accomplish such a feat of genetic and anatomical re-engineering, especially since "many of the anatomical changes seen in Homo erectus had to occur together to be of benefit."
That humans evolved from apes certainly seems possible, maybe even probable. That they accomplished this by the unguided forces posited by Darwinian evolution, however, seems improbable in the extreme. Indeed, it would be almost miraculous. The more one reads about evolution the more one sees it as a strong argument for the necessity of a superintending mind directing the process. It simply takes too much faith to think that it could have happened without one.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Either/Or

The Supreme Court ruling this morning on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) upheld the law, including the mandate compelling all Americans to buy insurance. What I've seen on their reasoning so far seems to me very odd. For three years the Democrats, from the president on down, have been assuring us that the penalty one must pay if one does not purchase insurance is not a tax. They have been adamant about this because Mr. Obama repeatedly promised in his campaign that he would not raise taxes on families making under $250,000 and if the penalty is a tax, rather than a fine, it would violate this promise.

Here are a few instances of the Democrats' insistence that they weren't trying to impose a tax:
Now, as I understand it, the rationale used by the majority of the Court in upholding the mandate is that the penalty is indeed a tax and that since Congress has the constitutional authority to levy taxes, the mandate passes constitutional muster.

In other words, the Court is saying that the president and his surrogates lied to the American people to get us to accept the ACA, but since lying is not unconstitutional, the ACA stands. (There is, of course, the remote possibility that all the Democrats and their vast army of lawyers and advisors were simply mistaken and that they really didn't realize it was a tax when in fact it was. One could believe this, I suppose, just as one could believe that Santa Claus visits every house in the world on Christmas Eve.)

This is the victory the left is celebrating. If all the people in that video were telling the truth and the mandate was indeed not a tax, it should have been struck down, but since it is not what they represented it to the American people to be it's constitutional.

Either they were telling the truth on the video, in which case the majority of the Court has committed a grievous error, or the majority was correct to rule as they did because the Democrats, including the president, were lying about the nature of the mandate. Thus, either the Court made a terrible mistake or our president and his people are egregiously dishonest.

So far from going around high-fiving because they won the case, the Democrats right now should be either saddened at the Court's misjudgment or deeply ashamed of their own behavior, or both.

How Overturning ACA Could Help Obama

Most commentators are assuming that if the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is struck down by the Supreme Court today it'd be a severe blow to President Obama, but there's one possible outcome of voiding the law that would actually make him look good, at least to those not paying close attention.

Becky McCaughey explains how striking down the law could redound to the president's benefit in an article at Investor's Business Daily. She writes that an Obamacare defeat would probably produce a hiring boom for which the president would doubtless take credit even though it would have resulted from the ignominious defeat of his signature legislation. Here's the heart of her argument:
If the justices rule that mandatory health insurance is unconstitutional, they will also strike down a big chunk of the health law — all of Title 1 — including the burdensome "Employer Responsibility" provision that has struck fear in the hearts of employers and deterred hiring.

Beginning in 2014, the "Employer Responsibility" provision would require employers with 50 or more workers to provide health coverage or pay a penalty. Not just any coverage, but a package of expensive benefits that the president deems "essential."

In most states, that requirement would add $1.79 per hour to the cost of a full-time employee. That would amount to the biggest hike in labor costs in American history. Employers in New York and New Jersey, where health plans are the most expensive, would be hit even harder.

There, according to economist James Sherk of the Heritage Foundation, the employer requirement would add more than $2 an hour to the cost of employing someone.

Many employers who already provide health plans will be hit with higher labor costs in 2014 unless the Supreme Court strikes down Title 1 or all of ObamaCare. The law takes away employers' option to provide low-cost mini-med plans, which are common in retail, fast food and other industries employing large numbers of low-wage workers. Mini-meds cap what the insurer has to pay out in benefits over a year or a lifetime. Employers opt for them on the philosophy that providing low-cost coverage is better than none at all.

But ObamaCare outlaws this option. Andrew Puzder, CEO of a chain of Carl's Jr. and Hardee restaurants, testified before Congress that switching to the one-size-fits-all government-mandated health coverage would more than double his company's health insurance costs.

Employers can refuse to provide the mandated coverage in 2014, but those who do will be hit with a $2,000 per employee yearly penalty (applied to all but the first 20 employees). Spread over a year, the penalty would add 95 cents an hour to the cost of a full-time worker.

No wonder businesses are reluctant to add employees. According to a March 2012 survey by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, 73% of small businesses said the Obama health care law made it more difficult for them to add new hires.
So if SCOTUS strikes down the law today, employers will breath a sigh of relief and start hiring again. The economy will be given a jolt, the numbers will start looking good, and Mr. Obama could go into November boasting how his policies are taking hold and how we're moving in the right direction and all that. Given the indifference of much of the American electorate and the partisanship of our mainstream media he just might get away with it.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Who Is Karl Rove?

Demonstrators in D.C., evidently paid by someone to participate, recently marched to express their displeasure at Karl Rove because Rove is .... well, some of these concerned citizens don't seem to have any idea who, or what, Rove is. For these marchers, or at least those on the video, he's apparently a kind of Emmanuel Goldstein character that all good citizens must execrate for two minutes every day even though no one knows anything about him.
Doubtless these people will vote in November. No wonder our nation is in such a mess. The Blaze has more on the demonstration.

What Happens Next?

The House of Representatives is scheduled to vote tomorrow on whether or not to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress. If they do it'll be the first time in history that an AG was the subject of such a vote, and the question I've been hearing - and wondering myself - is what happens next? Where does Congress go with the matter once they vote tomorrow?

Josh Chafetz, a Cornell law professor, has a column in the Washington Post in which he lays out the possibilities and explains which he thinks most likely and why.

The options Chafetz discusses are these:
  1. Refer the matter to the Justice Department for prosecution in federal court.
  2. Sue him in federal court to get him to comply with their demand for documents.
  3. Have the House sergeant-at-arms arrest him and hold him in jail until the contempt is purged.
None of these is a good idea for reasons Chafetz explains. Thus the most likely path, in his opinion, would be one of the following:
  1. Impeach Mr. Holder and have him tried in the Senate.
  2. Cut funding for the entire Department of Justice.
  3. Refuse to pay Holder's salary until he complies with their demand for documents on the operation.
The fact that Mr. Holder is prepared to undergo any of these ordeals rather than turn over the documents certainly heightens the suspicion that he's trying to hide something extremely damaging to him and/or the White House. The American people have a right to know what it is, and they have the right to know it before they vote in November.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Ex Nihilo

An article at Space.com promotes the exceedingly odd idea that the universe popped into existence from nothing. All the matter and energy we see in the billions of galaxies that fill space, according to the scientists quoted in the piece, all somehow just suddenly came into being ex nihilo. Here's an excerpt:
Our universe could have popped into existence 13.7 billion years ago without any divine help whatsoever, researchers say. That may run counter to our instincts, which recoil at the thought of something coming from nothing. But we shouldn't necessarily trust our instincts, for they were honed to help us survive on the African savannah 150,000 years ago, not understand the inner workings of the universe. Instead, scientists say, we should trust the laws of physics.
Actually what the theory offends is not our instincts but our reason. To believe that sheer nothingness - a matterless, energyless state - could give rise to a universe of matter and energy requires that we suspend our rational faculties and embrace fantasyland. But there's more:
In the very weird world of quantum mechanics, which describes action on a subatomic scale, random fluctuations can produce matter and energy out of nothingness. And this can lead to very big things indeed, researchers say.
With all due respect, this is incoherent. If quantum mechanics acts on the subatomic scale then there must be subatomic particles, or their energy equivalents, in existence. The universe, if it was produced by a "quantum fluctuation" didn't arise out of "nothingness," it arose out of a preexisting quantum matrix.

When these scientists say the universe came from nothing they evidently don't really mean nothing. Nothing is the absence of anything, but these scientists are saying that there really was something. Moreover, they tell us, it's not just the stuff of the quantum world alone which generates the universe. There's more to it:
"The Big Bang could've occurred as a result of just the laws of physics being there," said astrophysicist Alex Filippenko of the University of California, Berkeley. "With the laws of physics, you can get universes."
Well, maybe so, but where did the laws of physics come from and where, exactly, do they exist when there's no universe for them to manifest themselves in? If there's no preexisting matter and energy then there simply would not be any physics nor any laws of physics.

When one reads a little further one finds that "nothing" as these scientists conceive it is actually even more densely populated. Not only does it include the quantum flux and the laws of physics, it also includes time, space, and even minds:
"Quantum mechanical fluctuations can produce the cosmos," said panelist Seth Shostak, a senior astronomer at the non-profit (SETI) Institute. "If you would just, in this room, just twist time and space the right way, you might create an entirely new universe. It's not clear you could get into that universe, but you would create it. So it could be that this universe is merely the science fair project of a kid in another universe," Shostak added.
So an agent has only to twist time and space and shazaam a universe exists. But where did time, space, and the agent come from? How can any of these exist independently of matter?

The fact is that if something comes into being it must be brought into being by something that preexists it, whether some science fair participant in another universe or whatever. Ultimately, the chain of causation must terminate in something that itself doesn't come into being and thus requires no cause.

One of the scientists in the article addresses this but does so in a rather unsatisfactory way:
The question, then, is, 'Why are there laws of physics?'" he said. And you could say, 'Well, that required a divine creator, who created these laws of physics and the spark that led from the laws of physics to these universes, maybe more than one.' But that answer just continues to kick the can down the road, because you still need to explain where the divine creator came from. The process leads to a never-ending chain that always leaves you short of the ultimate answer.
This simply isn't true. A divine creator, if one exists, has necessary being. That is, if it exists it must exist. It is not the sort of thing that's caused by something else. It might be asked why the laws of physics could not be this necessary being, the uncaused cause which creates the world. There are at least two reasons why:
  1. Physical laws are simply descriptions of the way matter behaves. They're ideas. In the absence of matter and in the absence of a mind they have no existence.
  2. The laws of physics are either eternal or they had a beginning. If the latter then obviously they are not the beginningless something we're looking for. If they are eternal, and they're the ultimate cause of the universe, then we can ask why the universe is not also eternal. An effect will be produced by a cause as soon as the conditions are in place to produce it. If the cause of the universe are the eternal laws of physics then the universe should be co-eternal with the laws that caused it, but as the first quoted sentence above indicates, these scientists believe the universe had a beginning 13.7 billion years ago.
Unless there is an uncaused ultimate cause of the universe the universe would not have had a beginning, but an uncaused cause is exactly what God is. In their struggle to escape the conclusion that a divine cause is the only adequate explanation of the existence of the world, the researchers in the article have defined "something" as "nothing" and then tried to convince us that this is good science. It sounds to me more like very confused metaphysics.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Have You No Shame?

Bill Whittle's Afterburner video on the Fast and Furious scandal tends to treat what is at this point a surmise a bit too much as though it were established fact yet he does raise most of the essential questions and his assertion that F&F was a deliberate attempt to weaken opposition to gun control in the U.S., though one hopes it's not true, is unfortunately more plausible than the DoJ's explanation that the operation was intended to find out where the bad guys were holed up.
Ed Morrissey at Hot Air adds this about the Obama administration's assertion of executive privilege to prevent Congress from reviewing the relevant documents on the matter:
The executive-privilege claim won’t hold up in court, and even the ideologues at the White House have to know that much. Furthermore, in order to make the claim stick, the White House will have to produce a “privilege log” that describes each document they shield through the privilege claim for a court to assess, so we’ll know who was involved in the conversations even before a court rules on the privilege claim itself. [Whittle's] accusation is very strong, but if it proves true, then Holder’s resignation won’t suffice to deal with the aftermath — and this highly suspect claim of privilege shows that the White House very much fears disclosure, for whatever reason.
Whatever happens next the Democrats' attempts to divert attention away from the real issues by calling the hearings a "partisan witch hunt," by alleging racism, and by falsely claiming that the operation started under the Bush administration, are shameful and hypocritical. Were a Republican administration and a Republican run operation similarly implicated in the murders of hundreds of Mexicans and two U.S. agents the Democrats and the media would rightly be in a frenzy of outrage, and anyone associated with the GOP who tried to defend the tactic of stonewalling Congress with the obfuscations that we've been hearing all week from the Democrats and their media surrogates would be made a national laughingstock.

In fact, Jon Stewart of the Daily Show has already taken the early lead in the laughingstock department:
See also Stewart's take on the White House's use of executive privilege here.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Conversion of an Alarmist

Over the last decade or two a lot of environmentalists have tried to cajole and browbeat the rest of us into accepting that the earth is warming at an alarming rate, that this warming will have devastating consequences, that human activity is the cause, and that we need to stop pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere immediately if we're to avoid global catastrophe.

Skeptics, citing the ambiguities in, and the thinness of, the evidence, have been, well, skeptical. It turns out that they're in good company. One of the founding fathers of the global warming movement, James Lovelock, has not only modified his former stance but he's also become very critical of the warmist "hysteria." The Toronto Sun has the story. Here's the crux of it:
Two months ago, James Lovelock, the godfather of global warming, gave a startling interview to msnbc.com in which he acknowledged he had been unduly “alarmist” about climate change. The implications were extraordinary.

Having observed that global temperatures since the turn of the millennium have not gone up in the way computer-based climate models predicted, Lovelock acknowledged, “the problem is we don’t know what the climate is doing. We thought we knew 20 years ago.” Now, Lovelock has given a follow-up interview to the UK’s Guardian newspaper in which he delivers more bombshells sure to anger the global green movement, which for years worshipped his Gaia theory and apocalyptic predictions that billions would die from man-made climate change by the end of this century.

Lovelock still believes anthropogenic global warming is occurring and that mankind must lower its greenhouse gas emissions, but says it’s now clear the doomsday predictions, including his own (and Al Gore’s) were incorrect.

Among his observations to the Guardian:

(1) A long-time supporter of nuclear power as a way to lower greenhouse gas emissions, which has made him unpopular with environmentalists, Lovelock has now come out in favour of natural gas fracking (which environmentalists also oppose), as a low-polluting alternative to coal.

As Lovelock observes, “Gas is almost a give-away in the U.S. at the moment. They’ve gone for fracking in a big way. This is what makes me very cross with the greens for trying to knock it … Let’s be pragmatic and sensible and get Britain to switch everything to methane. We should be going mad on it.” (Kandeh Yumkella, co-head of a major United Nations program on sustainable energy, made similar arguments last week at a UN environmental conference in Rio de Janeiro, advocating the development of conventional and unconventional natural gas resources as a way to reduce deforestation and save millions of lives in the Third World.)

(2) Lovelock blasted greens for treating global warming like a religion.

“It just so happens that the green religion is now taking over from the Christian religion,” Lovelock observed. “I don’t think people have noticed that, but it’s got all the sort of terms that religions use … The greens use guilt. That just shows how religious greens are. You can’t win people round by saying they are guilty for putting (carbon dioxide) in the air.”

(3) Lovelock mocks the idea modern economies can be powered by wind turbines. As he puts it, “so-called ‘sustainable development’ … is meaningless drivel … We rushed into renewable energy without any thought. The schemes are largely hopelessly inefficient and unpleasant. I personally can’t stand windmills at any price.”

(4) Finally, about claims “the science is settled” on global warming: “One thing that being a scientist has taught me is that you can never be certain about anything. You never know the truth. You can only approach it and hope to get a bit nearer to it each time. You iterate towards the truth. You don’t know it.”
In an age of politicized science, Lovelock seems to be one of a diminishing breed. He seems to be a scientist actually concerned with believing what's true and following the evidence wherever it leads. When nonagenarian philosopher Anthony Flew, impressed with the mounting evidence of design in the universe, abandoned his life-long atheism critics attributed his conversion to his advanced age and mental dodderiness. I wonder if the 92 year-old Lovelock will be the target of similar cheapshots.

Humility

I mentioned about a month ago that a friend of mine named Stephen Martin had recently written a wonderful book titled The Messy Quest for Meaning which I highly recommended for the lessons Steve imparts about life and the delightful style which he employs to impart them.

As it happens Steve also has a blog called Messy Quest in which he uses anecdotes, often self-deprecating and humorous, to illustrate how we might live a fuller more meaningful life. It's really very good, but one post in particular, a homily on humility is especially worth reading.

He starts it off this way:
The other night, for the first time, I showed up for men’s doubles night at some local tennis courts. There’s a hierarchy that determines the court on which you play. I was assigned to the court reserved for those with the lowest skill level, based on the fact that I’d never played there before and perhaps because the tennis pro in charge intuited how bad my backhand really is.

I was wandering around trying to locate Court #6 when a very tall, very old guy with exceptionally creaky knees stopped and pointed me in the right direction. As I thanked him, I couldn’t help thinking, “What the heck is that guy doing here? He can barely move.” But he was in fact there to play. And he was heading, quite slowly, toward Court #6.

When we got there, along with two other guys about my age, he introduced himself as Mac. Then he told us he’d been playing on the tennis club’s courts since 1965.

Math has never been my strong suit. But it didn’t take long to calculate that was five years before my parents had even met. No, wait, six years!

We warmed up by hitting some balls across the net to each other. I did my best to hit them right to him, so close that he wouldn’t have to take a step. I’m not always the most astute of men, but I definitely didn’t want to go down in history as the punk who, on his very first night on the courts, felled one of the club’s Founding Fathers with a deep lob.
Go to Messy Quest and read how the rest of Steve's story unfolds. You'll enjoy it.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Why Invoke Executive Privilege? (Pt. II)

Yesterday we raised the question why the president would invoke executive privilege to prevent documents associated with Operation Fast and Furious from being released to the House Oversight Committee. It would seem that doing so just casts suspicion on the White House and smells of a cover-up of involvement at the highest levels of government.

Today we'll consider one possible answer to that question, an answer I doubted when I first heard it several months ago but which makes more sense as time goes on. But first a little background.

When Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF) agents first alerted us to Operation Fast and Furious, the rationale offered by DoJ for the fiasco was that it was designed to allow BATF to track and prosecute the leaders of the Mexican drug cartels. As more information surfaced from the Mexican government and the BATF's Mexican bureau chief specifying that none of them knew anything of this operation this explanation became increasingly incredible and untenable.

If the Mexican authorities had not been notified of the operation, if even the BATF's own agents were not authorized to operate in Mexico, then the DoJ's justification made no sense for the simple reason that once those guns made it into Mexico, there was no procedure in place to track them to their supposed targets. The illogic of this made reasonable people suspect that something else was afoot in the DoJ about which Mr. Holder wasn't willing to be forthcoming.

Russ Vaughn at American Thinker argues that F&F was part of a surreptitious plan to undermine Americans' opposition to gun control. I quote him at length:
For those who keep a constant wary eye on the left's never-ending war on our 2nd Amendment right to keep and bear arms, the increasingly fishy smell emanating from Washington led to connecting the dots back to the year-earlier revelations in the liberal media that weapons being used in Mexican crimes were traceable back to American sources more than 90% of the time. That false meme had spread quickly through the major liberal media, along with calls for stricter gun control laws in this country by...our president, our secretary of state, our attorney general, and other notable Democrats....

Here we had an operation mounted by the executive branch of the United States, an operation which had as its stated goal -- after being outed, that is -- the targeting of Mexican drug lords on sovereign Mexican soil. Yet this was done without the knowledge of anyone in the Mexican government. Quite clearly, a secret and subversive operation had been conceived and implemented against our sister nation to the south -- subversive because, again, quite clearly, the American government was subverting the sovereign authority of Mexico without that nation's knowledge.

If the goal was, as stated later by DoJ, to track guns into Mexico to the purchasing sources in the cartels, then was there not some diplomatic requirement to notify the Mexican government that we were arming their most violent criminal elements? And what was the need for keeping our own BATF agents in Mexico -- the only American agents with Mexican presence to conduct such surveillance and tracking operations on Mexican soil -- equally in the dark?

For those who haven't really followed the Fast and Furious scandal, here's a five-step summary of how the operation was supposed to work:
  1. Allow guns to flow freely to criminal elements in Mexico, where they are naturally used in the extremely violent and deadly criminal activities of the drug cartels.
  2. When sufficient guns of American origin have been used in such criminal activities, enlist the willing services of the liberal media to announce the discovery thereof to the world.
  3. Enlist multiple prominent Democrats to untruthfully proclaim that 90% of the guns used in Mexican crimes originate in the U.S.
  4. Use steps one through three to substantiate the liberal fallacy that private gun ownership leads to increased gun violence by gun owners.
  5. With the compliance of a thoroughly duped American public, enact increasingly restrictive gun ownership policies through federal agencies, bypassing Congress and the Supreme Court.
When looked at this way, doesn't Obama's statement to a group of gun control advocates in March 2011 that he was taking steps to further gun control restrictions, but "under the radar," now seem less cryptic than it did at the time? For those who still don't believe Fast & Furious was an end-run on the 2nd Amendment by a liberal, gun-averse administration, here are five questions to consider:
  1. Could the possibility that this plan was concocted at the very top of the administration, putting it on par with Watergate, explain Eric Holder's entrenched refusal to release the tens of thousands of documents being sought by congressional investigators?
  2. Is the liberal media's refusal to investigate this scandal due to the fact that they suspect that the acts of this administration may rise to criminal and impeachable offenses?
  3. Has the reluctance of the Republican leadership to more aggressively support the House investigation been attributable to the same possibility -- that full exposure could lead straight to the Oval Office and the politically unsavory possibility of impeachment of the nation's first black president?
  4. Does anyone really think an ambitious politician like Holder would risk career-ending contempt of Congress charges to protect some incredibly stupid subordinates who supposedly, all by themselves, planned and implemented such a boondoggle?
  5. In an administration known for its quickness in throwing friends and associates under the bus in matters of self-preservation, is it not remarkable that rather than being so dispatched by Holder, many of the key players in F&F have been promoted despite denials by their bureau?
Fast and Furious bids fair to become this generation's Watergate, but no one lost their lives in Watergate. The weapons this operation "walked" into Mexico were used in the murders of two American agents and at least two hundred Mexicans.

If it turns out the White House okayed it, and especially if they did so for political reasons, Mr. Obama will join, even surpass, Richard Nixon as among the most disreputable presidents of the last hundred years. If that turns out to be the case it'll be no wonder that, like Nixon, he has invoked executive privilege to keep the evidence from being made public.

Defection

You may have heard of the defection of a Syrian air force pilot on Thursday morning who flew his jet to Jordan and requested asylum. Debkafile has some interesting details:
Syrian President Bashar Assad Thursday night, June 21, ordered his entire Air Force fleet of fighter bombers grounded, for fear that more pilots might defect after Col. Hasan Merhi al-Hamadeh flew to Jordan aboard a MiG-21.

Syrian officials are convinced that the defection of the pilot with his plane was organized by the Americans and that more are in the pipeline in an attempt to show the Syrian people and Arab world that even the Syrian air force, the part of the armed forces most loyal to Assad, was in fact slipping out of his hands.

Debkafile’s military and intelligence sources report that, early Thursday, Col, al-Hamadeh flew out of the Khalkhala air base, which is situated between the southern towns of Deraa and Suweida not far from the Druze Mountain.

While his MiG belonged to the 73rd Air Brigade, he was a member of the Syrian Air Force’s 20th Division and commander of the MiG-21 test squadron, which regularly inspects those aircraft at southern air bases to check if they are flight worthy.

That is why no one at the Khalkhala base saw anything amiss when this officer climbed aboard one of the aircraft and suddenly pivoted the plane at a sharp angle - even when he failed to respond to control tower signals. But before they could catch on, the MiG-21 was gone over the border to Jordan, a flight of no more than 90 seconds.

Because the Jordanians were not forewarned about an incoming Syrian air force plane, Col. Al-Hamadeh requested permission from the control tower at Al Hussein air base in northern Jordan to make an emergency landing. As soon as the MiG came to a stop on the runway, the Syrian colonel jumped out, shed is uniform and prayed.

Our sources disclose that the defector came from the village of Meles in the Idlib district of northern Syria where he has left his wife, four children and family. This village is one of the few parts of the embattled district to remain in Free Syrian Army rebel hands. Their agents were certainly involved in helping to arrange his escape.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Why Invoke Executive Privilege?

President Obama's decision to invoke executive privilege (EP) to prevent documents related to the Fast and Furious operation from being handed over to the House Oversight Committee is very puzzling. It's hard to see how the decision could withstand legal scrutiny and thus hard to understand why the President would have done it in the first place, unless he's desperately trying to hide something.

There are at least two reasons to think Mr. Obama's assertion of EP will not hold up in court. First is that EP applies only to the president and his staff in their role as advisors to the president. It does not apply to cabinet officials or to anyone outside the president's staff.

Second, it does not apply in cases where the purpose of soliciting the documents is to determine whether there has been government misconduct, which is the very reason the House Oversight Committee has subpoenaed them.

The fact that Mr. Obama chose to take this route suggests an atmosphere of panic in the Oval Office, but why? It's hard not to think that either the White House knew about Fast and Furious early on, even though they've denied it, or worse, that White House personnel, possibly the President himself, were actually involved in the decision to go ahead with the operation. If this were the case it would be extremely problematic for Mr. Obama to have signed off on an operation that subverted the law, subverted a foreign government (Mexico's), and resulted in two hundred dead Mexican civilians and the deaths of two American agents, all for an operation the rationale for which is incoherent, as we'll discuss tomorrow.

Meanwhile, Ed Morrissey has some helpful details to add at Hot Air on the use of executive privilege. This is not going to go away, and I suspect that within a couple of days even the mainstream media will start reporting on it.

Is Time Slowing Down?

The assumption among scientists has been that, except for situations in which special or general relativity applies, time always flows at a constant rate. A hundred years today is the same as a hundred years a billion years ago. Now, apparently, there are some dissenters from this view who think that time is actually slowing down:
People often say that time speeds up as we age, but if the latest scientific theory is true the opposite could well be the case. The radical theory by academics suggests that time itself could be slowing down - and may eventually grind to a halt altogether.

The latest mind-bending findings - put forward by researchers working at two Spanish universities - proposes that we have all been fooled into thinking the universe is expanding. In fact, they say, time itself is slowing down until eventually, in billions of years time, it will cease altogether.
If this is true then was time passing much more quickly in the distant past such that an event which, say, takes an hour to complete today might have taken only a minute to complete a billion years ago? If so, if a billion years in today's time is much longer than a billion years at the time of the universe's inception what does that do to claims that the universe is thirteen billion years old?

What is time anyway? Is time something "out there," objective, such that were there no minds to experience it it would still exist? Or is time, as Kant thought, a way our mind processes experience so that were there no minds there'd be no time?

If it's the latter, if time is a subjective phenomenon, then until human beings (or at least minds of some sort) appeared in the universe there would have been no time. There would have been only events occurring willy-nilly compressed in a timeless matrix perhaps like data compressed in a zip-file.

If that's so then to ask how much time elapsed from the Big Bang to the appearance of minds is a nonsense question. There was no time. It's as if all the events recorded on a movie film are run through the projector at near infinite speed. All the events happen and they all happen in the same relation to each other but they do so instantaneously.

To ask the question, then, about the age of the universe is to ask simply how long it would have taken to go from the Big Bang to the appearance of minds if someone was somehow observing the process.

It's all very strange.

Yet Another Evolution

The dictionary defines "chutzpah" as unmitigated effrontery or impudence. It defines "hypocrite" as a person who falsely professes beliefs and values he doesn't really possess. I leave it to the reader to decide which of the two, if either, applies to our president.

Yesterday, Mr. Obama granted his Attorney General "executive privilege" so that he would not have to submit subpoenaed documents to the House Oversight Committee trying to get to the bottom of the ignominious Fast and Furious debacle.

Whether the courts will allow this use of executive privilege to stand is uncertain. It's unclear what grounds Mr. Obama has for asserting executive privilege when national security is not at issue and the matter does not involve the White House (of course, we only have Mr. Obama's and AG Holder's word for it that F&F doesn't involve the White House. The fact that EP is being employed leads one to suspect that perhaps they're trying to hide something damaging).

In any case, executive privilege is something to which Senator Obama took a dim view when it was invoked by a Republican president.
This makes about the five thousandth flip-flop Mr. Obama has executed since becoming president. Like a freshly landed trout he twists and gyrates whenever he thinks it'll confer a political advantage to abandon any belief he professed in the past. He certainly gives the appearance of lacking any underlying core principle that guides those beliefs. Perhaps his apologists will construe this invocation of EP as merely another evolution in the President's thinking, like his reversal on gay marriage, Gitmo, the Bush tax cuts, and numerous other positions, but taken together with so many other such reversals, it begins to give one the impression of a hollow man devoid of any real character or virtue.

Now comes on top of all these a biography of Mr. Obama by David Maraniss in which he reveals that the President's autobiography Dreams of My Father is riddled with dozens of false claims about his family and himself. The man is simply not who he has claimed to be. It's very sad for the country.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Music of the Spheres

There's a cool video at New Scientist for all you math types.

Musician Michael Blake has composed a piece of music based on the Golden Ratio. The Golden Ratio is an irrational number whose decimal places go on to infinity. It has fascinated mathematicians, architects, artists, and musicians for two thousand years.

Blake assigned a musical note to each of the first fifteen digits and as the music plays he adds instruments to the composition producing a beautiful melody. Here it is:
Isn't it a rather startling coincidence that the mathematical structure of the universe should be musical? How did that happen?

Dreadful Public Policy

The Supreme Court is expected to hand down its decision on the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) in the next few days, but economist Robert J. Samuelson at the Washington Post argues that whether the legislation is constitutional or not it's terrible policy. Samuelson writes:
We pay our presidents for judgment, and President Obama committed a colossal error of judgment in making health-care “reform” a centerpiece of his first term. Ahead of the Supreme Court’s decision on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) — and regardless of how the court decides — it’s clear that Obama overreached. His attempt to achieve universal health insurance coverage is a massive feat of social engineering that, by its sweeping nature, weakens the economic recovery and antagonizes millions of Americans.
He goes on to list five reasons why the ACA (“Obamacare”) is "dreadful" public policy:
  1. It increases uncertainty and decreases confidence when recovery from the Great Recession requires more confidence and less uncertainty.
  2. The ACA discourages job creation by raising the price of hiring.
  3. Uncontrolled health spending is the U.S. system’s main problem — and the ACA makes it worse.
  4. Obama’s program also worsens the federal budget problem.
  5. The ACA discriminates against the young in favor of the old.
Samuelson fleshes out each of these problems in his column and concludes with this:
To all the ACA’s substantive defects is now added a looming political and constitutional firestorm. Whether the Supreme Court upholds the whole law, strikes it all down or discards only parts, anger and outrage will ensue. The court may be accused of usurping legislative powers or of cowering before White House intimidation. The ACA has become an instrument of the political polarization that the president regularly deplores.

When historians examine Obama’s first term, the irony will be plain. A president bent on burnishing his legacy acted in ways that did the opposite. It’s a case of bad judgment.
It's a very informative piece and causes one to hope that the Supreme Court strikes the whole thing down.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Why It's Hard to Trust Liberal Media

I don't like to accuse the media of being dishonest, but at least at MSNBC it's getting ever more difficult to avoid that conclusion. A few months ago they edited George Zimmerman's 911 call before he shot Trayvon Martin to make it sound as if Zimmerman was racially motivated when in fact the full audio provides a completely different picture than the MSNBC edit.

Now the same network has edited a portion of Mitt Romney's speech in Pennsylvania the other day to make it appear as if "the rich guy" is completely out of touch with common people, and then they laugh about it after they air it. Here's Andrea Mitchell doing her best to make Romney look like a buffoon:
The problem for MSNBC, however, is that someone recorded the whole speech on a cell phone, and it's obvious from the context that what Romney was doing was not expressing astonishment at WaWa's touch screen technology but rather making the point that private initiative is far more innovative and efficient than the ponderous bureaucracies spawned by government:
In her attempt to impugn Romney as someone who lives in a different world from the rest of us and thereby discredit him in the eyes of the average voter Andrea Mitchell only succeeded in shining a light on her own dismal professional ethics and/or competence.

This is the sort of thing that evidently passes for journalism at NBC.

Why Mr. Holder Must Go

Attorney General Eric Holder is scheduled to meet today with the House Oversight Committee to try to bamboozle them enough to avert a vote on a contempt of Congress citation tomorrow. How successful he'll be we should know by this evening, but I'm not optimistic that he'll be any more forthcoming today than he has been over the last 18 months of hearings on the ill-conceived Fast and Furious operation.

In any case, Clarice Feldman at American Thinker walks us through all the reasons for thinking that Eric Holder is either the the most incompetent or the most corrupt Attorney General in American history. Whichever of those two disjuncts you find most agreeable there's not much doubt that it's time Mr. Holder decided to "spend more time with his family" and the sooner the better.

Feldman's bill of particulars against Mr. Holder includes an examination of his shameless cover-up of the Fast and Furious shipwreck, the racial bias of the department he runs, and sundry other malfeasances and pecadilloes. Feldman writes:
Whether he resigns or is removed or spends the rest of this year responding to Congressional inquiries, Attorney General Holder has treated the Department of Justice as a partisan arm of the Obama Administration. Now and for the foreseeable future he is just another albatross around Obama's neck.
You can read the unpleasant details of Mr. Holder's tenure at the link.

Dawkins Shows His Sensitive Side

At Richard Dawkins' website there's a story about how a video on evolution shown to a middle school class caused a young girl to begin to cry. The video, she said, went against everything she believed. There was very little sympathy among Dawkins' epigones at the site for this distressed eighth grader, least of all from Dawkins himself who weighed in with this boast:
I too caused a girl to cry, for the same reason, when I made a cameo appearance in a classroom at a small university in America earlier this year. I felt remorseful at the time, but afterwards I thought about it and remorse turned to anger. Anger at the girl's stupid parents. Anger at the girl herself for being so weedy. What the hell did she think a university was for, if not to encourage her to think in new and unfamiliar ways, going beyond what she was exposed to when living with her ridiculous family? I didn't in any way insult the girl herself or say unpleasant things about her or her family. I didn't even tell her to grow up, although I should have. All I did was lay out the facts of evolution and the evidence for it, in unemotional, scientific terms. And that was enough to make the little fool cry.

The story above is about a school, not a university but, even so, what a pathetic little idiot. All remorse having left me, I now think the undergraduate I encountered thoroughly deserved her self-imposed distress, and it sounds to me as though the teacher in the present case was bending over backwards, further than she should, to be nice and accommodating.
I suppose calling a young girl whose worldview he was shattering a "fool" and a "pathetic little idiot" made Dawkins feel pretty macho. I wonder how macho he felt as he shrank from debating philosopher William Lane Craig last October on the existence of God. People like Dawkins feel tough making young coeds cry but cringe from facing someone who's not intimidated by his overblown reputation. It's the mark of a coward that he feels smug about devastating helpless victims but flees in fear from those he knows will make him look bad. It's the sort of person for whom the word "punk" is perhaps not too strong a descriptor.

Thanks to Evolution News and Views for the link.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Rapid Evolution

In announcing Friday that he was going to do what in 2011 he said he lacked the legal authority to do, i.e. grant de facto amnesty to over 800,000 illegal aliens under the age of thirty, the President said this:
They play in our neighborhoods, they're friends with our kids, they pledge allegiance to our flag. They are Americans in their heart, in their minds, in every single way but one -- on paper.
I wonder whether halting the deportation of those who can't produce the paper to prove they were born in the U.S. was motivated by sympathy or empathy.

In any event, here's Mr. Obama - a constitutional scholar, mind you - declaring in 2011 that such presidential action exceeds his constitutional authority.

Evidently, not only has President Obama evolved rapidly on this issue, as he has on gay marriage, so has our constitution. Charles Krauthammer, however, thinks it's more about disregard for the law than it is about evolution:

Krauthammer may be understating the case. What Barack Obama has done in choosing not to enforce the law, just as he has in choosing not to enforce The Defense of Marriage Act, is to effectively change the law without congressional review. This is the sort of thing dictators do. We live in a constitutional republic where the elected representatives of the people decide what the laws will be. If the President isn't going to enforce those laws he invites impeachment proceedings for violating his oath of office and failing in his constitutional duty to uphold the laws of the United States.

Same Old Song

The Republican National Committee has produced a funny video (well, I think it's funny) which juxtaposes President Obama's recent speech in Cleveland, Ohio with another speech he gave last April.

It's one thing to borrow a few phrases from previous speeches, simply repeating an earlier speech almost word for word gives the impression that the President is either too lazy to put some fresh material together or has exhausted his store of ideas. In either case perhaps he deserves to have a little fun poked at him:

There's more on the President's speech at Hot Air.

I wonder how many times between now and November we're going to hear Mr. Obama blame George Bush for our economic troubles:

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Fathers' Day Contemplation

Since tomorrow is Fathers' Day here in America let's talk about a couple of fathers. First is the father in Shiner, Texas who beat a man to death when he discovered the victim sexually molesting his four year-old daughter. The story received a lot of publicity, and watercooler talk all across the country focused on whether the man should be prosecuted for homicide.

Then, just as that case began to fade from the news reports, we found ourselves confronted with yet another variation on the theme. The LA Times reports the story:
Barry Laprell Gilton and Lupe Mercado watched, dismayed and helpless, as their 17-year-old daughter was lured away from home by a known Compton gang member, who wound up as her pimp.

The couple tried to persuade the teenager to break ties with 22-year-old Calvin Sneed. They sought help from law enforcement — to no avail — and later added the girl to several missing and exploited children registries, according to their lawyers.
According to prosecutors Gilton went looking for Sneed and shot and killed him. His defense attorneys deny it.
Sneed, officials said, was gunned down in his car on June 4 at 2 a.m. by Gilton, who allegedly fired a .40-caliber weapon from a silver Mercedes-Benz SUV.

District Attorney George Gascon said that as a father, he understood "the frustration that the parents must have felt.... But taking the law into your own hands is not an acceptable solution."

Gilton, 38, and Mercado, 37 — who began dating in middle school and have three younger boys — were deeply concerned for their daughter, who left home about a year ago, Safire said. They had discovered that she was appearing in escort ads, and that she seemed to be working for Sneed.

"They … had come to learn that she was being unduly influenced by this fellow," Safire said. "They encouraged her to stay away, and tried to get help to encourage him to stay away."

The 17-year-old returned with Sneed to the Bay Area on the weekend of June 2 to visit an ailing relative, Safire said. She argued with her parents, who tried unsuccessfully to get Sneed to leave.
Remember that according to reports Gilton had gone to the police and other agencies to plead for help, but no one would, or could, help them, so Gilton apparently felt he had no recourse if he was going to save his daughter than to take matters into his own hands.
Dean Maye said he had known Gilton since he was a guard on the Mission High School basketball team. Maye later coached him in the San Francisco Bay Area Pro-Am Summer Basketball League. Gilton since has volunteered countless hours to the league, helping Maye scout prospects and working with local college players, while also coaching at the nearby Boys and Girls Club of San Francisco.

"He's a dedicated father, a great father," Maye said. "We're shocked about this. I know the whole family. I can't picture it. I don't believe it."
Okay. Let's stipulate that the LA Times has the essential facts correct. Let's also stipulate that the parents really were the shooters and that Sneed wasn't the victim of some random act of violence as Gilton's defense attorney is alleging. What should happen to the girl's parents? What is justice for the fathers, in both Shiner and Los Angeles, of these two daughters? Do the two cases differ in any significant respect? What would you do if you were the father of either of these two girls?

Happy Fathers' Day

Contempt

Polls indicate that only about 50 percent of likely voters have either “very closely” or “somewhat closely” followed the Fast and Furious scandal as it has unfolded so a lot of people are probably wondering why the Republicans are so upset over a movie and why they're so mad at that nice man, Mr. Holder.

Eric Holder, the Attorney General of the United States, is facing contempt of Congress charges (I'll bet you're surprised that it's a crime to hold Congress in contempt) for refusing to comply with demands for documents related to the Department of Justice's Fast and Furious debacle.

What happened, for those who may have been trying to make a living the last year or so and don't have time to follow the news, is the DOJ, or more specifically its Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, set up a secret operation wherein they colluded with gun dealers to sell guns illegally to people who had no business buying them because ATF knew that the buyers were drug cartel thugs and that they would smuggle the guns into Mexico to be used in violent crimes.

The ostensible purpose of this bizarre ploy was to somehow track these guns to the criminals who used them and thus, and here it gets murky, to somehow more easily apprehend them and their bosses. At least that's the official rationale. Many people suspect, and there's some evidence to support the suspicion, that the guns were allowed to "walk" into Mexico because the Obama administration wanted them to turn up at crime scenes so Mr. Obama would have justification for arguing for more stringent gun control laws. That seems awfully cynical, but ....

Anyway, the whole operation blew up in the DOJ's collective face when several of the weapons were found at the scene of the murder of an American Border Patrol agent, not to mention having been used in dozens, if not hundreds, of crimes in Mexico.

Congress started holding hearings to try to find out who approved this ridiculous operation and what the motivation was behind it. To that end they have subpoenaed tens of thousands of documents from the DOJ, but Attorney General Holder has refused to turn them over. Moreover, the DOJ has sought to punish those whistleblower employees who have provided information to Congress.

Consequently, the House of Representatives is going to declare Mr. Holder in contempt next week which, unless Mr. Holder has a change of heart and produces the materials, will probably end his career - a denouement devoutly wished for by a large segment of the population. Indeed, polling data shows that 40 percent of likely voters want Mr. Holder to resign, whereas only 27 percent think he should stay. The rest are, for one reason or another, undecided.

You can read more about some of the latest developments in this case here.

It all got me thinking that June could potentially be an absolutely devastating month for Mr. Obama's reelection prospects. In addition to the possible contempt vote on his AG next week, the Supreme Court is also scheduled to hand down its decision on both the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and the DOJ's lawsuit against Arizona for enforcing federal immigration law that Mr. Obama won't enforce. If those decisions go badly, and if the jobless numbers still hover around 8.3% or worse, and if the Eurozone looks like it's going to break up, Mr. Obama might find himself begging somebody else to take over the job so that he can just play golf and go on vacations.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Crony Capitalism

The Wall Street Journal has a story that recounts how Big Pharma and the Obama administration climbed in bed together to get Obamacare passed. It's a story of "Crony Capitalism" that seems to recur frequently with this administration. Here's the lede:
On Friday House Republicans released more documents that expose the collusion between the health-care industry and the White House that produced ObamaCare, and what a story of crony capitalism it is. If the trove of emails proves anything, it's that the Tea Party isn't angry enough.

Over the last year, the Energy and Commerce Committee has taken Nancy Pelosi's advice to see what's in the Affordable Care Act and how it passed. The White House refused to cooperate beyond printing out old press releases, but a dozen trade groups turned over thousands of emails and other files. A particular focus is the drug lobby, President Obama's most loyal corporate ally in 2009 and 2010.

The business refrain in those days was that if you're not at the table, you're on the menu. But it turns out Big Pharma was also serving as head chef, maƮtre d'hotel and dishwasher. Though some parts of the story have been reported before, the emails make clear that ObamaCare might never have passed without the drug companies. Thank you, Pfizer.

The joint venture was forged in secret in spring 2009 amid an uneasy mix of menace and opportunism. The drug makers worried that health-care reform would revert to the liberal default of price controls and drug re-importation that Mr. Obama campaigned on, but they also understood that a new entitlement could be a windfall as taxpayers bought more of their products. The White House wanted industry financial help and knew that determined business opposition could tank the bill.
The long and short of it is that in return for industry support, including $80 billion in rebates, the Obama administration put language in the legislation that would prevent drug re-importation - the practice of importing back to the U.S. prescription drugs that were originally manufactured in the U.S. and exported for sale in another country such as Canada and Mexico. These drugs are often manufactured in the U.S., but price controls in countries like Canada keep the costs of prescription medications lower than the U.S. market prices. Re-importing drugs on a large scale would be devastating to pharmaceutical companies' profits and R&D.

The WSJ notes that:
Crony capitalism undermines public trust in capitalism itself and risks blowback that erodes the free market that private companies need to prosper and that underlies the productivity and competitiveness of the U.S. economy. The political benefits of cronyism are inherently temporary, but the damage it does is far more lasting.

As for Big Pharma, the lobby ... avoided some truly harmful drug policies — for now. But over the long term their products are far more vulnerable to the command-and-control central planning that will erode medical innovation [under Obamacare], and their $80 billion fillip is merely the teaser rate.
Read the whole thing for an example of how an administration that promised us an end to this sort of collusion between government and business has been instead an eager practitioner of it.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Case for Staying Out of Syria

Foreign policy expert Daniel Pipes of the Hoover Institute argues compellingly that the United States should avoid overt involvement in Syria:
As the Syrian government makes increasingly desperate and vicious efforts to keep power, pleas for military intervention, more or less on the Libyan model, have become more insistent. This course is morally attractive, to be sure. But should Western states follow this counsel? I believe not.

Those calls to action fall into three main categories: a Sunni Muslim concern for co-religionists, a universal humanitarian concern to stop torture and murder, and a geopolitical worry about the impact of the ongoing conflict. The first two motives can be fairly easily dispatched. If Sunni governments – notably those of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar - choose to intervene on behalf of fellow Sunnis against Alawis, that is their prerogative but Western states have no dog in this fight.
Pipes considers the reasons, including the humanitarian rationale, for intervening in Syria and finds them all problematic. He then looks at the matter from a purely strategic point of view and writes this: Finally (as earlier was the case in Iraq), protracted conflict in Syria offers some geopolitical advantages:
  • It lessens the chances of Damascus starting a war with Israel or re-occupying Lebanon.
  • It increases the chances that Iranians, living under the thumb of the mullahs who are Assad's key ally, will draw inspiration from the Syrian uprising and likewise rebel against their rulers.
  • It inspires greater Sunni Arab anger at Tehran, especially as the Islamic Republic of Iran has been providing arms, finance, and technology to help repress Syrians.
  • It relieves the pressure on non-Muslims: indicative of the new thinking, Jordanian Salafi leader Abou Mohamad Tahawi recently stated that "The Alawi and Shi'i coalition is currently the biggest threat to Sunnis, even more than the Israelis."
  • It foments Middle Eastern rage at Moscow and Beijing for supporting the Assad regime.
There's more at the link but the upshot is that we're better off staying out of the Syrian morass. I agree that we should not do what we did in Libya, but then I didn't think we should do in Libya what we did in Libya. Nevertheless, anything we can do, short of direct military involvement that would save lives, prevent massacres, and make life miserable for Bashar Assad and his lovely wife, should be on the table.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Recolonizing the Bottom Billion

Some years ago while reading Paul Collier's book on third world poverty titled The Bottom Billion I was surprised to see his suggestion that perhaps the only way to save the state basketcases in Africa and Haiti is to, in effect, return to colonialism. That's not how he put it, exactly, but he essentially called for managing the economies of these nations and being willing to intervene militarily in their domestic affairs. It was a particularly surprising proposal given that Collier has a reputation as a liberal and liberals tend to abhor not only colonialist policies but also the suggestion that blacks cannot manage their own affairs and that they need white supervision.

Even so, many of those who deeply care about doing something that works to help the people of black Africa and Haiti seem to be increasingly coming around to the view that the only way these dysfunctional states can be saved is for first world nations to pretty much take over their governance.

This, at any rate, is the gravamen of Hannes Wessels' essay at Taki's Magazine. Wessels writes:
In his book The Trouble With Africa, Robert Calderisi recounts the sad story of two African teenagers who stowed away in the cargo hold of a Brussels-bound Airbus. They died on the journey from asphyxiation and cold. One of them was still clutching a crumpled note that lamented their misery while petitioning Europe:
Therefore, we African children and youth are asking you to set up an efficient organisation to help with the development of Africa. Thus, if we are sacrificing ourselves and putting our lives in jeopardy it is because we are suffering too much in Africa and we need your help to fight against poverty and bring war to an end in Africa.
The left-of-center British monthly Prospect has also ventured out of comfortable territory with an intriguing article by Paul Romer on “charter cities.” He makes a strong case for the construction of metropolitan areas under a charter granted to a foreign entity. Using Hong Kong as an example, he argues in favor of importing experts to Africa who know how to create the conditions needed for economic prosperity.

He argues that hundreds of billions in foreign aid have already been squandered and proposes that future financial flows to Africa should be channeled into schemes which will provide engines for economic growth. “The answer to Africa’s gloom is obvious: Reinstate the rule of law through intervention that leads to effective governance.”

Both The Trouble With Africa and Paul Romer’s article appear to call for a form of neo-colonialism. A relentless flow of empirical evidence from Harare to Haiti and from Dakar to Detroit shows that “black”-dominated administrations follow a familiar path. They destroy established structures, leading to degradation, ruin, and chaos.

In South Africa the Western Cape Province (which includes Cape Town) is one of precious few highly developed, heavily populated areas on the continent where there is a semblance of order, where services are provided and the rule of law is enforced. It is also the continent’s last white-led political entity of any significance. The Provincial Administration is led by the formidable Helen Zille of the Democratic Alliance, who is setting an embarrassing example of good governance for the ANC, which rules all the other eight provinces with varying degrees of incompetence and dishonesty. Mrs. Zille recently attracted furious fire from the media and the ANC leadership for referring to people streaming west from the atrociously governed Eastern Cape as “refugees.” She was right, but she struck a raw nerve.
There's more at the link. The suggestion that white nations need to rescue those run by blacks by taking them over is a mortal sin in the catechism of the politically correct, but what's the alternative? We can go on pretending that someday those failed states will somehow manage to pull themselves together and that meanwhile we should continue to squander billions of dollars in aid until they do, or we can ignore them altogether and let them go their own way, or we can do something that will actually help them. The latter may require that we set aside our "white guilt" and our fear of being labelled "racist" and recognize that, as Wessels concludes, "unpalatable as it may be, without the intervention of 'white' governance skills, there is little hope for Africa." He may have also said the same about Haiti.

Repeating Rwanda

New York Times writer Nicholas Kristoff is an Obama supporter who's finding it increasingly difficult to suppress his disillusionment with what he sees as Mr. Obama's fecklessness toward both Sudan and Syria. The regimes in both countries are conducting genocidal war against their own people, but the situation in Sudan gets considerably less attention on the evening news than that in Syria.

The government in Khartoum is seeking to exterminate the people of the Nuba Mountains through bombings and deliberate starvation, and the U.S. is apparently doing little to save them and is even discouraging rebel forces from preventing the Sudanese government from bombing their villages.

Kristoff writes:
When a government devours its own people, as in Syria or Sudan, there are never easy solutions. That helps explain President Obama’s dithering, for there are more problems in international relations than solutions, and well-meaning interventions can make a crisis worse.

Yet the president is taking prudence to the point of paralysis. I’m generally an admirer of Obama’s foreign policy, but his policies toward both Syria and Sudan increasingly seem lame, ineffective and contrary to American interests and values.

Obama has shown himself comfortable projecting power — as in his tripling of American troops in Afghanistan. Yet now we have the spectacle of a Nobel Peace Prize winner in effect helping to protect two of the most odious regimes in the world.

Maybe that’s a bit harsh. But days of seeing people bombed and starved here in the Nuba Mountains have left me not only embarrassed by my government’s passivity but outraged by it.

The regime of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir is dropping anti-personnel bombs full of ball bearings on farming villages. For one year now, Bashir has sealed off this area in an effort to crush the rebel force, blocking food shipments and emergency aid, so that hundreds of thousands of ordinary Nubans are now living on tree leaves, roots and insects.

What should I tell Amal Tia, who recently lost a daughter, Kushe, to starvation and now fears that she and her four remaining children will starve to death, too? “We’ll just die at home if no food comes,” she told me bleakly.

Perhaps I should tell her that Nuba is an inconvenient tragedy, and that the White House is too concerned with Sudan’s stability to speak up forcefully? Or that Sudan is too geopolitically insignificant for her children’s starvation to matter?

Nothing moved me more than watching a 6-year-old girl, Israh Jibrael, tenderly feed her starving 2-year-old sister, Nada, leaves from a branch. Israh looked hungrily at the leaves herself, and occasionally she took a few. But, mostly, she put them into her weak sister’s mouth. Both children were barefoot, clad in rags, and had hair that was turning brown from malnutrition.

Their mother, Amal Kua, told me that the family hasn’t had regular food since the Sudanese Army attacked their town five months ago. Since then, she said, the family has lived in caves and subsisted on leaves.

Yet the Obama administration’s special envoy for Sudan and South Sudan, Princeton Lyman, generally a smart and hard-working diplomat, said in a December newspaper interview: “We do not want to see the ouster of the regime, nor regime change.” Huh? This is a regime whose leader has been charged with genocide, has destabilized the region, has sponsored brutal proxy warlords like Joseph Kony, has presided over the deaths of more than 2.5 million people in southern Sudan, in Darfur and in the Nuba Mountains — and the Obama administration doesn’t want him overthrown?

In addition, the administration has consistently tried to restrain the rebel force here, led by Abdel Aziz Al-Hilu, a successful commander who has lived in America and projects moderation. The rebels are itching to seize the South Kordofan state capital, Kadugli, but say that Washington is discouraging them. In an interview in his mountain hide-out, Abdel Aziz noted that his forces have repeatedly been victorious over Sudan’s recently.

“Their army is very weak,” he said. “They have no motivation to fight.” He seemed mystified that American officials try to shield a genocidal government whose army is, he thinks, crumbling.
Kristoff has more to say about what should and could be done at the link. It's fascinating to see liberals who were so outraged that George Bush refused to allow tyranny to prevail in Iraq and Afghanistan now perplexed and dismayed that Obama is doing the same thing in Sudan that Clinton did in Rwanda, i.e. nothing.

He closes with this:
Obama was forceful in demanding that President George W. Bush stand up to Sudan during the slaughter in Darfur, so it’s painful to see him so passive on Sudan today. When governments turn to mass murder, we may have no easy solutions, but we should at least be crystal clear about which side we’re on. That’s not too much to expect of a Nobel Peace Prize winner.
I don't know why it'd be "painful." It's not as if in the Sudanese tragedy the pattern of candidate Obama's words being ignored by President Obama is appearing for the first time. One would think that people like Kristoff would be used to it by now.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Unbroken

Last Memorial Day I began to read a book by Laura Hillenbrand titled Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. Upon its release in 2010 it zoomed to number one on the New York Times bestseller list and was named the top book of 2010 by Time. Once I started it I could scarcely put it down. Hillenbrand skillfully relates the story of Louie Zamperini, who, I'm ashamed to admit, I had never heard of before.

Zamperini was a juvenile delinquent in the 1920s who transformed himself into a world famous Olympic class long distance runner in the 1930s. When war came Zamperini served as a bombardier in the Pacific. While doing search and rescue duty his plane went down and all but three of the eleven-man crew were lost. The survivors, including Zamperini, bobbed on a tiny raft in the Pacific for 47 days until they made landfall on an island held by the Japanese.

The account of how Louie and his pilot Russell Allen Phillips survived the ordeal (the third man died at sea) is astonishing, but their travails were just beginning. Once captured by the Japanese they were sent to one POW camp after another where they endured unimaginable hardship and brutality for two and a half years.

To give an indication of what it was like for these men I'll quote a passage from Hillenbrand's account:
In its rampage over the east, Japan had brought atrocity and death on a scale that staggers the imagination. In the midst of it were the prisoners of war. Japan held some 132,000 POWs from America, Britain, Canada, New Zealand, Holland, and Australia. Of those, nearly 36,000 died, more than one in every four. Americans fared particularly badly; of the 34,648 Americans held by Japan, 12,935 - more than 37 percent - died. By comparison only 1 percent of the Americans held by the Nazis and Italians died.

Japan murdered thousands of POWs on death marches, and worked thousands of others to death in slavery, including some 16,000 POWs who died alongside as many as 100,000 Asian laborers forced to build the Burma-Siam Railway. Thousands of other POWs were beaten, burned, stabbed, or clubbed to death, shot, beheaded, killed during medical experiments, or eaten alive in ritual acts of cannibalism. And as a result of being fed grossly inadequate and befouled food and water, thousands more died of starvation and easily preventable diseases. Of the 2,500 POWs at Borneo's Sandakan camp, only 6, all escapees, made it to September 1945 alive. Left out of the numbing statistics are untold numbers of men who were captured and killed on the spot or dragged to places like Kwajalein to be murdered without the world ever learning of their fate.

In accordance with the kill-all order, the Japanese massacred all 5000 Korean captives on Tinian, all of the POWs on Ballale, Wake, and Tarawa, and all but 11 POWs at Palawan. They were evidently about to murder all the other POWs and civilian internees in their custody when the atomic bomb brought their empire crashing down.
Even those who survived and returned home were permanently disfigured, physically and emotionally, by their experience. It was horrific. Reading Hillenbrand's account I found myself asking over and over how civilized human beings could behave like this. It was the same question I had when reading about the "Rape of Nanking" in the 1930s, where hundreds of thousands of Chinese were tortured and murdered by Japanese forces in the city of Nanking.

One might be inclined to attribute the Japanese soldiers' suppression of their humanity to their militaristic, racist, totalitarian society, but I think it goes deeper than that. To be sure, people often fall into cruelty when they believe they're racially and ethnically superior to others, but when racism is conjoined with a lack of belief in one's accountability to God it issues in something especially virulent, savage, and demonic. Contrarily, when people have been steeped in the teaching of Christ to love their enemies, to see others as loved by God, and to see themselves as accountable to God for how they treat others they'll be far less likely to submit to their basest hatreds, prejudices, and desires.

Cruelty and savagery lurk in every human heart. Take way the constraints imposed by belief in the Christian God, replace them with racism and militarism, and the awful horrors perpetrated by the German Gestapo and the Japanese military are what one should expect. In a world without God rape and genocide, torture and massacre, violate no moral law because there is no moral law. Nor are they criminal when it's the legal authorities who order the atrocities. Indeed, if the Axis powers had won the war the loathsome architects of these evils would have been feted as heroes. As it is many of the worst tormenters of the American POWs, as Hillenbrand tells us, never had to pay for their crimes.

Zamperini's amazing story doesn't end with his liberation from the camps. I suggest you buy the book and read it. The heroism and courage on display, not just by Zamperini but many, many others, including some Japanese who tried to do what they could to mitigate the POWs suffering, will inspire you.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Is Darwinism Losing It's Grip in Asia?

Darwinian evolution is the view that all of life came to be what it is today through purely natural processes like natural selection acting on chance variations. The popularity of this view, which technically makes no allowance for the action of an intelligent designer, seems to have crested in the mid-twentieth century and is showing signs today of being in retreat.

Nowhere is this more evident, perhaps, than in Asia. Even in China, whose ruling communists cast a hostile eye on anything that might suggest that atheistic explanations of origins are inadequate, there's reason to think that that may be changing.

Evolution News and Views has a report that discusses some of these developments. Here's part of it:
While some Darwinists have worriedly taken note of spreading doubts about evolutionary theory in Europe, Asia has emerged as the hottest new frontier for the scientific critique of Darwinism.

In Korea, a mainstream publisher of popular and science texts, Book 21 Publishing Group, has brought out an edition of Explore Evolution, a textbook presenting both sides of the evolution debate. The translation was done by a pair of Korean academics, Seung Yup Lee and Eung Bin Kim, whose scientific specialties are respectively in biomimetics and environmental microbiology. Both teach at universities, Sogang and Yonsei, ranked in Korea's top ten.

Dr. Lee's research fuels his questions about macroevolution. His work on the amazing "natural design" of the South American Hercules beetle and its humidity-sensing shell was highlighted in Nature. In the Preface to the Korean Explore Evolution, Lee advocates investigating "alternative theories" to undirected Darwinian evolution.

Korea also has its own Research Association for Intelligent Design, with an impressive masthead of biologists, chemists and other scientists at top research institutions. Sogang University in Seoul hosts an Annual Symposium on Intelligent Design. The event has included presentations on William Dembski and Robert Marks's Law of Conservation of Information and on protein translation as evidence of intelligent design.

China, of course, is Asia's biggest market for ideas. Illustra Media has had considerable success distributing DVDs of prime ID-related titles there....

Producer and director Lad Allen had Unlocking the Mystery of Life and Privileged Planet dubbed into Cantonese and Mandarin, moving a hundred thousand copies into China via Hong Kong. He estimates that three or four times that many DVDs were illegally pirated and copied. "They're sold on the street for a buck," said Allen, who's not complaining. Non-existent copyright enforcement is a fact of life in China.

Illustra has completed a Japanese translation of The Privileged Planet, lip-synced by Japanese actors in Tokyo. But Unlocking the Mystery of Life is Illustra's most-translated film, with editions in Khmer (Cambodian), Thai, Sri Lankan, and Mongolian as well as a variety of European languages.
The problem Darwinians face, whether in the East or the West, is that unless students already have a prior commitment to naturalism the argument that massive amounts of information, plus levels of complexity in every microscopic cell that exceed anything ever built by human beings, just happened to arise by blind processes acting on random mutations is literally incredible.

Darwinian evolution is a major prop of naturalism which would have far less purchase were it shown that Darwinism were doubtful. Yet to sustain one's belief in Darwinism one almost must be a priori committed to naturalism. Those whose minds are metaphysically open to the possibility of intelligent agency, on the other hand, often find that the evidence being adduced almost daily by scientists in the field often strongly suggests an intelligence underlying the phenomena they're studying.

This is why Darwinians fight with almost superhuman tenacity to prevent students from being made aware of alternatives to the naturalistic explanation of origins. When students are made aware of the difficulties with Darwinism and of the arguments for intelligent design they'll abandon Darwinism in a nonce. The Darwinians know this and it gives them, or at least some of them, night terrors.

Distinctions

Bill Whittle explains in the following video why Gov. Scott Walker's decisive victory in the recent Wisconsin recall election gives America hope.

For those who may be a little confused by all the talk in Wisconsin during the last year of public vs. private unions Whittle's explanation will be especially helpful. Check it out:

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Dan Quayle Was Right

Perhaps you remember George H.W. Bush's Vice-President Dan Quayle. I've mentioned him in a couple of posts recently, mostly in the context of how he was dismembered by our cultural sages for misspelling "potato" on national television. You might also recall the savage drubbing he suffered at the hands of those same folks for proffering the opinion that unmarried motherhood was causing a lot of problems in our society and that it didn't help matters to have a popular television show (Murphy Brown) depict its lead character having a child without benefit of matrimony.

The media cacophony this seemingly innocuous and self-evident assertion ignited was startling. One might have thought that Quayle had desecrated the grave of Martin Luther King or something of similar magnitude.

Isabel Sawhill, however, writes in the Washington Post that now, some twenty years later, Quayle has been vindicated. Here's her lede:
On May 19, 1992, as the presidential campaign season was heating up, Vice President Dan Quayle delivered a family-values speech that came to define him nearly as much as his spelling talents. Speaking at the Commonwealth Club of California, he chided Murphy Brown — the fictional 40-something, divorced news anchor played by Candice Bergen on a CBS sitcom — for her decision to have a child outside of marriage.

“Bearing babies irresponsibly is simply wrong,” the vice president said. “Failing to support children one has fathered is wrong. We must be unequivocal about this. It doesn’t help matters when prime-time TV has Murphy Brown, a character who supposedly epitomizes today’s intelligent, highly paid professional woman, mocking the importance of fathers by bearing a child alone and calling it just another lifestyle choice.”

Quayle’s argument — that Brown was sending the wrong message, that single parenthood should not be encouraged — erupted into a major campaign controversy. And just a few weeks before the ’92 vote, the show aired portions of his speech and had characters react to it.

“Perhaps it’s time for the vice president to expand his definition and recognize that, whether by choice or circumstance, families come in all shapes and sizes,” Bergen’s character said.

Her fictional colleague Frank, meanwhile, echoed some of the national reaction: “It’s Dan Quayle — forget about it!”

Twenty years later, Quayle’s words seem less controversial than prophetic. The number of single parents in America has increased dramatically: The proportion of children born outside marriage has risen from roughly 30 percent in 1992 to 41 percent in 2009. For women under age 30, more than half of babies are born out of wedlock. A lifestyle once associated with poverty has become mainstream. The only group of parents for whom marriage continues to be the norm is the college-educated.
"Yes, but so what?" ask those who see marriage as little more than a temporary alliance that need not impose any constraints of any sort on the participants.

Sawhill answers the question:
There are three reasons to be concerned about this dramatic shift in family life. First, marriage is a commitment that cohabitation is not. Taking a vow before friends and family to support another person “until death do us part” signals a mutual sense of shared responsibility that cannot be lightly dismissed. Cohabitation is more fragile — cohabiting parents split up before their fifth anniversary at about twice the rate of married parents.  Often, this is because the father moves on, leaving the mother not just with less support but with fewer marriage prospects. For her, marriage requires finding a partner willing to take responsibility for someone else’s kids.

Second, a wealth of research strongly suggests that marriage is good for children. Those who live with their biological parents do better in school and are less likely to get pregnant or arrested. They have lower rates of suicide, achieve higher levels of education and earn more as adults. Meanwhile, children who spend time in single-parent families are more likely to misbehave, get sick, drop out of high school and be unemployed....

Third, marriage brings economic benefits. It usually means two breadwinners, or one breadwinner and a full-time, stay-at-home parent with no significant child-care expenses. Unlike Murphy Brown — who always had the able Eldin by her side — most women do not have the flexibility afforded a presumably highly paid broadcast journalist. And it’s not just a cliche that two can live more cheaply than one; a single set of bills for rent, utilities and other household expenses makes a difference. Though not necessarily better off than a cohabiting couple, a married family is much better off than its single-parent counterpart.
Perhaps equally as important, marriage often establishes a family support structure that extends beyond just the two parents. One of the advantages that children of married couples have that children of single moms don't is two sets of grandparents plus a network of uncles, aunts, and so on, all of which have resources and connections which they're often willing to contribute and from which children often derive enormous advantages. One reason it's hard to break out of poverty, even if one earnestly wants to, is that this adult support structure is often lacking for many poor children of single mothers.

Sawhill has more to say in her article. Give it a read and give Dan Quayle a thumbs up for having the guts to stand against the liberal zeitgeist and brave the demeaning slings and arrows those folks often substitute for reasoned argument.