Thursday, September 30, 2010

U.S. turns to Web censorship to fight man-caused disasters

The government will stop at nothing to prevent terrorism — pardon, Ms. Napolitano, "man-caused disasters" — nothing, I tell you, except keeping potential terrorists out of the country. That would be discrimination. Shutting down Web sites — now, that's a different story.

The Los Angeles Times reports:
Militant websites are becoming more accessible and appealing to Americans, experts told members of Congress on Wednesday, adding that the sites must be monitored and some should be shut down. …

Militant websites are said to have influenced several recent terrorist acts in the U.S., said Mansour Hadj, director of the Middle East program at the Middle East Media Research Institute.

Hadj said YouTube is a "primary clearing house" for Anwar Awlaki, an American who is among the most wanted terrorists. Awlaki was apparently in touch with U.S. Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, accused of killing 13 people at Ft. Hood, Texas, in November. After Awlaki's website was shut down, videos from it were moved to YouTube, which removed them just hours after the November shootings, Hadj said.
Of course, we could stop importing Muslims, some of whom will be terrorist plotters, in our masters' grand scheme of population replacement. 

The "progressives" bristle at the idea of any kind of immigration restriction, but go into cardiac arrest at the suggestion of refusing immigrants whose political-religious system is incompatible with American values. And our state security agencies go right along. Better to have NSA computers listening in on every phone conversation and reading every e-mail. Better to run every airline passenger (except Muslims) through a degrading security clearance for every flight. Random searches of commuters, that's the ticket. And shut down Web sites and YouTube videos.

It's true that the enemy uses electronic media for recruitment and training. What good would it do them if we didn't invite them to send sleeper cells into the U.S.? Why not simply stop allowing the "militants" to establish colonies here? But our politically correct rulers, with the potential power to shut down any Web site, would rather put all Americans through the wringer than offend Muslim opinion. They see themselves as defenders of Islam, not America.

I predict that, unless there is a change of course, restrictions on free speech will get tighter and tighter (just like in the U.K., where objecting to Muslim immigration is a "hate crime") the more home-grown man-caused disasters there are.

What do you do if a pipe bursts in your house and it's flooding the place? If you're stupid, you bail out the water. If you're smart, you shut off the flow.


Monday, September 27, 2010

Which thimble is the gold under?

Suspicion is growing that the United States's supposed gold reserves are largely vapor, and that the government and the Fed are playing a game of sleight-of-hand. Dennis Mangan has a posting about the lack of transparency in their gold holdings. You'd think the American people would have a right to an independent accounting, wouldn't you? It's their money, isn't it? 

No, and no. It appears that the government would sooner reveal all it knows about captured UFOs, if any, than the actual status of the gold it claims to have socked away.


It's not an academic issue. With faith in all major currencies sinking rapidly, gold is luring investors who don't want to see their dollars or pounds sterling or yen dissolving in an acid bath of hyperinflation. A planned second round of "quantitative easing" (dubbed QE 2) risks further diluting the value of currency.

It's been decades since dollars have been legally convertible into gold or silver, but the U.S. dollar has generally kept its place as the international primary medium of exchange because of the country's financial strength — scratch that one — and the assumption that ultimately the gold hoard was there as a backup.

If the second condition is shown to be false, the economic fallout not only for the United States but for the world monetary system could be catastrophic.


Meanwhile, the debate over gold's role as an investment vehicle rages. Its price continues to rise, although relatively gradually, which is probably a good sign that it will continue its upward trajectory. Some commentators believe gold is just another bubble, like tech stocks or real estate, and point to the metal's long slump after scraping the sky in the early '80s.

Tyler Durden, at Zero Hedge, disagrees:
The only reason the market has found some validation to the September risk asset surge, is the "certainty" of QE2. Were this to be taken away, stocks would plunge, as would all other assets. And since the Fed is uncontrollable, and unaccountable to anyone, it is now impossible to prevent this line of action, whose outcome is what some may be tempted to call, appropriately so, hyperinflation. 

The direct outcome will be an explosion in all asset prices, although we continue to believe that of all assets, gold will continue to outperform both stocks and bonds, as recently demonstrated. Those who are wishing to front-run the Fed in its latest and probably last action, may be wise to establish a portfolio which has a 2:1:1 (or 3:1:1) distribution between gold, stocks and bonds, as all are now very likely to surge. 

We would emphasize an overweight position in gold, because if hyperinflation does take hold, and the existing currency system is, to put it mildly, put into question, gold will promptly revert to currency status, and assets denominated in fiat, such as stocks and bonds, will become meaningless.
This might be a good time to ponder La Rochefoucauld's aphorism: "Nothing is as bad — or as good — as it seems."

Assuming you want to get on the gold train before it leaves the station, you are confronted with the hotly argued question of what form to buy and hold it in — principally, in an ETF like GLD or as coins and bullion. GLD was previously discussed here and here.


It seems to me that no format for owning gold is risk-free. If you own physical gold and hoard it through a hyperinflationary crisis, you might come out way ahead … once the crisis is past, but you are unlikely to be able to benefit from it during the crisis, when it will probably be subject to government confiscation or criminal larceny (assuming there is any difference). If you hold your precious metal through an intermediary such as an ETF, you are probably safe from losing it in a home burglary, but confiscation will be even easier. And as noted in the earlier postings, there are doubters about the actual holdings of the intermediaries as well.

In my own case I unloaded my GLD shares. Even though I thought the risk of flim-flam on the sponsor's part was small, it was more risk than I wanted to take on.

But I've again become convinced that it's a good idea to put some of my family's assets in gold. This is not advice. Do your own research and make your own decisions. I have discovered a gold open-ended fund that I am a little more comfortable with, ETF Securities Physical Swiss Gold Shares, SGOL. The company says:
ETF Securities commissions a biannual independent audit of the bullion held in the Trust vaults. The audit is carried out by Inspectorate International. Inspectorate International is a global company providing inspection, testing, and analysis of commodities worldwide. There is one audit that takes place at year end, 31st December and one random audit that is carried out at the discretion of ETF Securities management. All audit reports are published on our website The audit focuses on the amount of bars and that they are LBMA or LPPM good delivery standard.

In addition to the stringent audit procedures set in place by ETF Securities, the custodian also conducts their own audits as part of their custodial duties. 
The auditor, Inspectorate, seems about as solid as you can ask. A sample audit report is available here — click "Download audited gold bullion bar count."

Aside from all that, SGOL is relatively little known at the moment, so it presumably has nowhere near the volume of gold that GLD says it holds, making auditing easier and the possibility of fiddling less. Even so, it is not absolutely safe. My professional work involves risk management. In my line we understand that risk can only be mitigated, not eliminated.


Friday, September 24, 2010

Broken souls fixed while-U-wait

Much pondering has gone down in the blogosphere and elsewhere about Obama's single-minded determination to radically transform America — along with his seeming indifference to the outrage he has generated. It is as though he cannot be troubled about counter-revolution because he knows that history has already happened, and it's on his side. There's also a quasi-religious component to his sacrifice-the-troops, human-wave assault on our constitutional foundation, which he neither understands nor cares about. He is the Soul Fixer.


An article titled "The Stakes of Obamacare" on the web site of the Claremont Institute quotes Michelle "Madame Defarge" Obama thus: 
Her husband "knows that at some level there's a hole in our souls," she often said, and he "is the only person in this race who understands that before we can work on the problems, we have to fix our souls. Our souls are broken in this nation."

Part of the soul-fix was to reawaken Americans' belief in "the audacity of hope," the notion that big changes were still possible in politics if only the people would put aside their cynicism and fear, enlist behind a leader capable of seizing the moment, and together chant, "Yes, we can." The Obama campaign seized that moment and did not let go, but the point was not merely to win the election but also to change the country. He knew it was impossible to fix the American soul without working on "the problems," too, without showing that change could be embodied in new programs and institutions that would in turn shape a better American soul.
It's a long article, but worth the read for its analysis of the value system and strategy of the Soul Fixer and his followers. The piece, by Charles R. Kesler,  focuses on the Obamacare law, but only as an example of the operating principle behind it. Essentially, the Fixer and his apostles believe that they were put on earth to conquer human nature once and for all; to create an earthly paradise where poverty, illness, inequality, and a poor self-image are against the law.

Obviously, mere individuals are incapable of bringing this to pass by themselves; the same applies to privately held institutions (businesses, if one has to be vulgar) and governments that are relatively close to the people, such as state and local. Only a central government of the wise and far-seeing will do.
Among its other effects, this act marks a new stage in the decline of constitutional government in America. One sign of this was House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's remark, "we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it, away from the fog of the controversy." After shepherding the equally massive financial regulation bill into law, Senator Christopher Dodd was moved to say something very similar: "No one will know until this is actually in place how it works." In late August, Senator Max Baucus, Finance Committee chairman, chimed in: "I don't think you want me to waste my time to read every page of the health care bill....We hire experts."
These statements make both an epistemological and a political point. The first is that these bills are so long, complicated, and unreadable that no one who isn't an expert can possibly decipher them. That implies, in turn, that no amount or quality of democratic deliberation can clarify them to citizens, and in most cases to legislators, in advance. Indeed, Pelosi suggests that political debate itself, "controversy," mostly dims public understanding by generating "fog."
The second point is that neither she nor Dodd nor Baucus is especially troubled by this breakdown in democratic accountability. With this kind of legislation, they imply, there's no choice but to trust the experts—not merely those who patch the law together, but perhaps more importantly those who implement it. For the truth is that this kind of bill, almost 3,000 pages long, will mean what the bureaucrats say it means.
But even that is only an epiphenomenon of the state of mind of which Obamacare is both product and promoter. To wit: Everything that is good and desirable (and arguably much that isn't) is a human right. But humans — ordinary humans, that is — can't guarantee those so-called human rights. Everything's stacked against you: business, the economy, the cost of valuable things like medical care, and the refusal of reality to yield to dreams.


You have only one player on your side (so this line of thinking goes): a big central government that can order all these others to yield. Big dogs, look out: bigger dog moving in.

The trouble is, even if the Government Colossus could make all your wishes (excuse me, rights) come true — which it can't — the price is a hole in your soul that makes the one Obama sees look like a subatomic particle. It's the price, simply, of self-respect, of knowing that you (not some far-off bureaucracy) are responsible for yourself and those you love. And learning how to live up to that responsibility, to be an adult, not a perpetual child.


"The Welfare State," Malcolm Muggeridge wrote, "is a kind of zoo which provides its inmates with ease and comfort and unfits them for life in their natural habitat." I think he was too optimistic, but he was writing in the 1950s, when even a conservative like Muggeridge could take the state's IOUs seriously. Soul Fixer Obama and his kind will bring us neither ease, nor comfort, nor the ability to live in the world that is our habitat.


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Visiting old haunts

The recent vacation trip included visits to several historic houses. On such occasions, I generally ask the guides or caretakers if any apparitions have been seen. You might be surprised how often the response is yes, with a detailed description of the revenants, either first- or second-hand.

My wife and I went to see some stone houses, among the oldest in the United States, built by Dutch settlers in the 17th century at New Paltz, New York. One house, I was told, is still inhabited by a previous resident from long ago.

Even more interesting was the Wilson Castle, near Rutland, Vermont.

It's the sort of eccentric place I love, with elegant touches and furnishings that suggest individual tastes, not a designer showpiece. The grounds, and the view of the Green Mountains, are lovely.

Wilson Castle also has invisible former inhabitants who have moved to the Other Side but drop by frequently.

I learned about them from the young man who led us and a few others on a tour. (Incidentally, Wilson Castle is almost unique in that you can actually wander around the rooms — albeit with the guide present — and not be restricted to peering in from behind ropes at the entrance.) 

As soon as we arrived, I told the guide that my wife and I were interested in the decor but that I was especially keen to hear about paranormal events going down on the premises. Normally I am skeptical of guides who bang on about "haunted" houses. Not that I necessarily disbelieve they are haunted, but I tend to suspect the stories are embroidered or invented to give the tourists a thrill and enhance the house's billing as a mysterious attraction. 

Our guide, however, who had lived in the house for four years, was obviously intelligent and not given to recounting "legends." He further won my confidence by expressing his distaste for "ghost hunters" who show up frequently. (A team from a TV program, in fact named Ghost Hunters, had taped a segment in the house recently, and our guide was not complimentary about their methods.)

Here are some of the activities that he had personally experienced.

When he carelessly draped a jacket over the back of a chair, he returned to find it folded neatly on the seat. One of the departed residents was quite the neatnik.

He heard the sounds of footsteps when he was alone in the house. Lights turned themselves on automatically.

The Wilson family had been musically inclined, and installed no fewer than three pipe organs in the building. Our guide had heard them being played by unseen hands. (As the old song goes, "I hear music and there's no one there.")

One room had been redecorated. He could sense the disapproval of one or more spirits.

I rather admired his sang-froid in living alone in the place. Spirits almost never physically harm anyone, but they can toss things around (which apparently was not the case there) and make a lot of racket if they're mischievous (i.e., poltergeists). We're surrounded by spirits all the time: some of them are in the room with you at this moment. But I like to be able to see my company. At the very least, if I had to live in the Wilson Castle, the organ player and I would need to reach an understanding.


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Report from the north country

Home, after a vacation (by car, mainly on secondary two-lane roads) to the Hudson River Valley, western Vermont, and the northwest corner of Massachusetts (Williamstown and the Berkshires).

I won't try to describe it all, but a few observations might be interesting.

This is an unusual, perhaps unique, part of the country. It isn't "New England" -- most of New England isn't New England, having lost its Yankee roots to industrialization, waves of immigration, and big corporations. But the area I visited is recognizably historic and traditional.

Lots of small towns, many of which seem to be thriving. Of course I don't know, just from driving through, what life is like for their residents. Probably the Great Recession has taken a bite out of their lives, as it has of most people's. But I was impressed, and not a little surprised, at the enterprise and civic pride on view. Some towns that I recalled as decrepit from my last visit decades ago, such as Glens Falls, N.Y., now look pretty spiffy.


The architectural heritage is amazing. Some villages (we're talking about ones far from the interstate highways) seem hardly to have changed in a hundred years. Colonial and Victorian buildings, both residential and public, line the streets. Even more heartening, they aren't crumbling, but are lovingly restored and used. People live in them and do business in them.

As if that weren't enough, most of these towns are towns in the original sense. In most of today's America, what looks like a town on the map, a little dot, actually turns out to be a highway strip of cheap-jack modern construction and malls on either side of a decayed old center. I saw little of that. Instead, old-fashioned clusters of houses near enough to each other to provide a sense of neighborliness but separated enough for privacy. I'm probably idealizing, and the reality may be different, but in appearance they are the traditional core of what we once were as a nation.


Churches: a fantastic variety of styles, from typical white wooden miniatures to grand edifices of stone and brick. Lots of Victorian gingerbread detailing and stained glass. I couldn't tell if they still have much in the way of congregations, but they look like they are still a functioning part of the community. (For once, I think the much misused word "community" might actually apply.)

If you're wondering about the politics of the area, which at least in Vermont have the reputation of being ultra-liberal, I didn't see much evidence one way or another. There were far fewer Obama bumper stickers than in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, although that might be only because everyone knows everyone else is an Obama backer and it isn't necessary to proclaim it.


Of course there are signs of political correctness. The Shelburne Museum in Vermont, dedicated to Americana, had a special exhibition of "crazy quilts." Dating from the latter part of the 19th century, women stitched them together from lots of mismatched patterns in random configurations, delightfully playful. The descriptions on the wall were mostly informative and, presumably, historically accurate. But one annoying sentence "explained" that these offbeat creations were a reaction against the rigid and conformist lives women had to endure.

Must everything worthwhile now be defined as an act of rebellion? Did the women who made crazy quilts actually say or think, "I'm going to make a quilt to throw off oppression and gender roles, by golly"? To imply that they did seems to me patronizing. Maybe they made them that way just for pleasure, with no ideological message.


Similarly, in an exhibition of 19th and early 20th century toys, a display case showed children's savings banks. Some were ingeniously mechanical, involving humans or animals tossing pennies into slots. The label acknowledged that they were cleverly designed, but -- I'm quoting from memory, but I think this comes pretty close -- "unfortunately, some of these devices made fun of political and racial minorities."

Huh? Since when is it taboo to make fun of political factions? That's supposed to be one of the glories of our system. You know, free speech. As to racism in kids' banks, perhaps so, but nothing in the display seemed to bear out the statement. There was a bank with three black baseball players, a pitcher, a batter, and a catcher: if the batter missed a penny tossed by the pitcher, the coin went into the catcher's First National Tummy Bank.

I could see nothing demeaning about it. The players were not caricatures. They could just as well have been white. The curator apparently just assumed that if a toy featured black figures, it was bigotry.


But on the whole, I came away from my travels with a feeling of having seen something of the American soul that is rapidly vanishing elsewhere, neat old towns that still have a well-functioning center. Current politics aside, it is no exaggeration to say that this is a conservative part of the country. Conservatism isn't just about the size of government; it involves a connection with a past that is still part of the present, expressed in physical surroundings as well as tradition. By that measure, the mid- to upper Hudson Valley and adjacent parts of Vermont and Massachusetts are surprisingly conservative.


Monday, September 13, 2010

From Coxsackie, New York

Coxsackie. Dutch name, like many around here. From a long time ago; today I saw, in New Paltz, a half dozen stone-walled houses built in the early 18th century.

This is the Hudson River valley, 20 miles south of Albany, but still basically out in the country. One thing I like about upstate New York is that the cities don't sprawl as much as they do elsewhere. Especially Albany: it's part of a triangle that includes Troy and Schenectady. If you were locating a business, where would you pop it? Exactly -- bang inside the triangle. Outside, there are still a lot of farms. Houses with big, I mean big, lawns. Too bad about the winters.

I like upstate. The people are friendly and unpretentious. It's 30 years since I've been here and I'd forgotten the beauty of the landscape. Hills and cleared land mingled. Puffy Ruisdael clouds modulating all over the gray scale.

So far my better half and I have visited two historic houses, both in Tarrytown, not far north of New York City, but already half in, half out of the urban mindset. The two couldn't have been more different. Lyndhurst is a neo-Gothic mansion that went through three families and wound up as a "cottage" for Jay Gould, job description Robber Baron. The interior -- done to his taste, I suppose -- is impressive. I disliked it. Lots of 19th century luxe, so-so taste, no warmth. A nice place to show off in, entertain the other nobs in, tote up your profits in.

Washington Irving's house, Sunnyside, is charming. It bespeaks an artist's sensibility. Not grand, but comfortable and a real home. My mind wandered during the guide's spiel, as usual, but I seem to have picked up that Irving helped design it himself, and his muse was influenced by the many years he spent in Europe before he returned to settle on the slope above the Hudson. Call the style Dutch-Mediterranean-English cottage. It's a writer's house, lots of books around, in easy reach, not behind glass in fancy cabinets.

The porch is made for sitting and contemplating the river. Today the Hudson was mostly calm, a light breeze making wavelets as if an invisible hand were plucking a harp. The commuter train runs between the house and the river, but the railroad was there in his day, too, and while it might have disturbed the peace he made a good few dollars from selling the right-of-way. Irving was an immensely popular writer, both at home and abroad, the first American writer to be taken seriously in Europe. Yet although he made decent money for a writer, he didn't shy from spending it, and the iron tracks perhaps added to as much as detracted from his satisfying vista.

His one and only lady love died of consumption and he never married. But he was hardly alone at Sunnyside, which was occupied by his (again, if I remember right -- I keep being distracted from guides' practiced talk) brother and about six nieces. His own passing was as gentle as you like: in bed, in his favorite room, with relatives in constant attendance.

We visited the old Dutch church at Sleepy Hollow, just north of Tarrytown, with a huge cemetery the likes of which will never be recreated in modern times, land prices being what they are; we can't afford enough room for the living, much less the dead. Some of the weathered tombstones have flags and markers to indicate the graves of people who fought in the Revolution.

We were told that Washington Irving got the idea of the Headless Horseman in his story from a real incident in the war. A Hessian soldier rescued a baby from a burning house. The soldier was later decapitated by a cannonball, and although he was an enemy and the child's mother was a patriot, she was grateful enough to see that he was buried in the Sleepy Hollow cemetery. Washington Irving is interred on rising ground that overlooks an oddly empty spot with no mortuary monuments. They say the headless soldier lies there. They say that, still, after so many years have come and gone.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

On the road

I'm leaving on vacation today ... a road trip! Imagine no airport! No security lines! No three-ounce containers in carry-on luggage! No scowling TSA uniforms! No baggage charges! No "unattended baggage" messages blaring over the loudspeakers every five minutes! No squeezing items into overhead bins! I am the Party of No!

Posting during the next week and a half will be fitful, limited to occasions when a public computer is available. Regular blogging will resume on or after September 23.


Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Cairo Time


Cairo Time shouldn't be dismissed as a chick flick. Or if it is, it's a good one.

The storyline is slight enough. Juliette (Patricia Clarkson) arrives in Cairo expecting to be met by her husband Mark, who is some kind of official with an aid agency, but he has been called to Gaza and delayed getting back to Cairo. Instead, Juliette is met by Tariq (Alexander Siddiq), a former colleague and friend of her husband. As she waits in her hotel for Mark to return, time weighs heavily. Juliette and Tariq connect again; they pass the time in various exotic locations in the city and surroundings; an is-it-or-isn't-it? romance develops between them.


Above all, Cairo Time is Clarkson's film. I've admired her in everything I've seen her in, starting with the TV series Murder One in the mid-'90s. Her Botticelli-angel face and clarinet-toned voice are memorable, but she is a humdinger of an actress as well, and her abilities are much on view here.

She can play "on the lines" when the script gives her anything special to work with, not that often in Cairo Time, but also has the rarer capacity to reveal her character between the lines. You can observe how she works in the very first scene, at the Cairo airport. She instantly (almost) conceals her surprise when Tariq, rather than Mark, shows up; she is gracious to Tariq, and you sense that it's not only out of politeness — and certainly not attraction yet — but because of her innate decency; and without being obvious, she also lets you know she's groggy and jet lagged from the flight.


Her performance in this film reaches its height in an almost wordless scene toward the end. I won't describe it since it might be a spoiler. You'll know which I'm talking about.

Siddiq's character isn't particularly well developed; we meet his former lover, Yasmeen, and pick up a few details along the way, although his inner life remains something of a mystery. But Siddiq, too, is a good actor and invests the part with enough magnetism that Juliette's attraction to him is believable.


There's an interesting scene where Juliette wanders into a mosque (would this actually be allowed?), but other than Tariq identifying himself as a Muslim, references to Islam remain subdued. That seems like a reasonable artistic choice. To delve into the social, political, and religious implications raised would be to turn Cairo Time into a different kind of movie.


Director Ruba Nadda is a new name to me. Nothing about her work here is outstanding — unless it was partly responsible for the excellence of the leads — but she doesn't make any major goofs, either.

The city, of course, plays its own major role, although it strikes me as rather unreal and glamourized. (I've never been to Cairo, but I know people who have.) The swank old palace of a hotel Juliette inhabits is colorful, though I suspect typical only of very-high-end rich-foreigner Cairo. A romantic scene at the Pyramids of the couple, who have the place almost to themselves, seems absurd: tell me a time from sun-up to sundown when there aren't 20 coaches parked on site and tourist group armies.

Atmospheric cinematography, in a 2.35-to-1 (widescreen) aspect ratio.


Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Obama doggedly defends himself

White House occupant leads unidentified figure in a moment of lighthearted sport.

The Supreme Leader, Barack Hussein Obama, complains that lèse majesté is in the air. He showed his canine teeth to those who disrespect him.
“Some powerful interests who had been dominating the agenda in Washington for a very long time and they’re not always happy with me,” he told a union crowd in Milwaukee. “They talk about me like a dog. That’s not in my prepared remarks, but it’s true.”
They talk about him like a dog? Where did he get that idea? I've never heard a dog say a word about him.

But when the mainstream media talk about you as God, you'd better not stand near any mirrors, which will reflect your name as Dog.

I agree with him, it is disrespectful to talk about Obama like a dog. That's why I've referred to him as President-for-Life, the Messiah, Imam Obama, His Worship, and The Emperor.

Describing him as a dog is completely out of line. A dog is man's best friend. A dog is loyal. Your Worship, I'm sorry I hurt your feelings. That line about hoping the voters keep you on a short leash was just a metaphor, believe me.


Sunday, September 05, 2010

Guardian: Emperor Obama can order amnesty


A columnist in The Guardian, Britain's hard left paper of record, says that "we" -- meaning, presumably, him and Emperor Obama -- can't wait for amnesty to be passed by the people's unrepresentatives. Making border jumpers legal American residents should be engineered by a nod from His Worship.

No doubt encouraged by the British Labour government's 12-year successful campaign of population replacement in the U.K., Stewart J. Lawrence sees no reason why mere public opinion should stand in the way. These bloody Yanks and their ancient piece of bumf they call "the Constitution," really, they are the limit.
With Republicans still hostile to comprehensive immigration reform, Democrats prefer to punt on immigration until after the mid-terms. But with the GOP surging fast, that's likely to delay further progress until after the 2012 elections – and perhaps even longer.

America, already convulsed by nativism on a scale not seen since the 1920s, can't afford to wait that long. And neither can the president's restive Latino base. We need to act now.

As the nation's chief executive, Obama has the power to institute policy action on immigration that does not require a formal vote by congress. It's not a power he should use lightly, but it's there, and current circumstances warrant its use.
"Current circumstances." May we translate that as, "Even owning both houses of Congress, the Emperor of the Teleprompter can't persuade his party members, who have to answer to the folks back in the swamplands, to vote themselves a new population."
There are two areas of executive action on immigration that the president should consider.

First, in deference to those seeking a legalisation program, Obama should issue an executive order to temporarily suspend the deportation of certain classes of illegal aliens. "Deferred enforced departure", or DED, as it's known, wouldn't give aliens green cards, but it would protect them from deportation for a set period. It could also serve as a prelude to full-scale legalisation, if congress so chooses.
Amnesty until ... Congress so chooses. Congress can't choose against amnesty, but if His Worship "suspends" deportation for a "set" period -- until the suspension is renewed -- we can have a pre-amnesty amnesty.
Two obvious candidates for DED are the children of illegal aliens who migrated when they were still minors, and the illegal alien spouses of US soldiers in uniform. Their numbers are less than 9% of the total illegal alien population. Many in both groups have lived in the US for years.
Yes, many of them have lived illegally in the U.S. for years, because spineless politicians working both sides of the street (for corporations and for immigrant wrongs groups) have looked the other way. Possession, or location, is nine-tenths of the law?
Presidents in both parties – Ronald Reagan, no less than Bill Clinton – have previously extended DED or "temporary protected" status to large classes of illegal aliens, including Central American and Liberian asylum-seekers. Arguably, these quasi-refugees faced danger back home, had they been deported. But everyone knows this was largely a fiction in the Central American case. It simply made sense, politically, to grant them a temporary stay.
That last sentence is at least honest, maybe the only honest one in the whole piece.
At a time when the public discourse on immigration is degenerating into near-hysteria, and congress remains paralysed, even-handed executive action can point the country forward. It sends a powerful signal to voters that the president still has the courage to stick his neck out, even when a nervous and recalcitrant congress, including members of his own party, won't.
One example of discourse on immigration degenerating into near-hysteria leaps to mind. Only this left-wing fascist and those like him (although they may be the majority of the power structure in the U.K.) can imagine that an imperial order from the most loathed president in American history will "point the country forward." Still, that's what you have to do, when a "nervous and recalcitrant congress" (no capital C for these creatures), through some vestigial fear of the people who sent them to Washington, refuses to rubber stamp the wishes of the Emperor Obama, who is forced to breathe the same air as people who cling to their guns and their God.
The entire country – Democrats, Republicans and independents alike – would stand up and cheer.
Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ... Oh, sorry, Stewart old boy. I forgot you were still there.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Do you sincerely want to be rich? Well, tough


When an aristocratic Victorian paterfamilias gambled or drank away the family fortune, leaving his heirs a coat of arms and a few soup plates, the genteel expression for their plight was that they were living in reduced circumstances. If the American economy continues on its present course, most of the middle class will be living in reduced circumstances. The difference is that it will be corporations and government, not necessarily themselves, that put them there.

Michael Snyder, writing at Business Insider, offers … wait. I've been reading Tom Wolfe. Got to try it myself. Ready? Michael Snyder, writing at Business Insider, offers 30 statistics — 30 statistics! — that "prove the elite are getting richer," and you aren't, you sad-sack, frayed-collar piece a nothing.
In case you haven't been paying attention over the past couple of decades, what we have in America today is a system that is designed to funnel as much wealth into the hands of the elite as possible. …

Every single year, the U.S. Congress passes law after law after law that makes it easier for big corporations to dominate and makes it easier for the rich to get even richer.

America's economy is not about competition anymore. It is about eliminating competition.

And unfortunately for middle class Americans, the giant predator corporations that now dominate our economy are realizing that they don't really need nearly as many American workers anymore. Instead, they are slowly but surely shipping our jobs off to the other side of the world where workers are willing to work for about a tenth as much.

And yet we still run out to the "big box" stores and fill up our carts with a bunch of plastic crap made on the other side of the world by these giant corporations. Meanwhile, those giant corporations are taking the profits they make out of our communities and they are taking our jobs and are shipping them overseas.

So in the final analysis, is it any wonder why the income inequality gap is growing?

Here are a few of the statistics Snyder cites.
Even official government figures bear out the fact that the rich are getting richer. An analysis of income-tax data by the Congressional Budget Office a few years ago found that the top 1% of all American households own nearly twice as much of the corporate wealth as they did just 15 years ago.

Most Americans have suffered during the last few years, but not the boys and girls down on Wall Street. New York state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli says that Wall Street bonuses for 2009 were up 17 percent when compared with 2008.

Government anti-poverty programs are exploding in size in response to the recent economic difficulties. USA Today is reporting that a record one in six Americans are now being served by at least one government anti-poverty program.

The number of Americans in the food stamp program rose to a new all-time record of 40.8 million in May. That number is up almost 50 percent since the beginning of the recession.

The number of Americans who cannot afford even the basic necessities is absolutely staggering. A whopping 50 million Americans could not afford to buy enough food in order to stay healthy at some point over the last year.
And a lot more in that vein. Statistics, of course, can be fiddled in gross or subtle ways. But I think most of us, even if we're lucky enough to still have jobs, can feel in our bones that the U.S. is going through something worse than a common-cold recession. This is a structural change. It's not just downer psychology. We have a lot more to fear than fear itself.

We were conned big time by the apostles of globalization. First we scuppered our decent-paying factory jobs and sent the work to Chinese coolies. For a time, the middle class was down with it. What did they care if a bunch of bolt twisters and lunchbox toters saw their livelihoods evaporate like the morning dew, if it meant el cheapo video games and digital cameras? Anyway, we were all Knowledge Workers now in a Service Economy. From shoe shiner to IT professional in one great leap forward.

Then globalization reached the pod farms. The very kewwl communication technology that made us all Knowledge Workers meant that the back office jobs could now be done in India instead of South Dakota. The In Tray doesn't stop here anymore.

Who's next? Could it be those very Hedge Fund-amentalists that rode through in their carriages, holding a scented handkerchief to their faces as the ghostly faces of the poor filled the streets on every side? Paolo Pellegrini, who appears to be a hedge fund manager (I've never heard of him), thinks the system is collapsing on one and all:
Since the 70s, and most sharply since 2001, the US labor force's share of the economic pie shrank dramatically. The combination of technological advances and free trade suppressed the purchasing power of an ever increasing proportion of American workers. … Compensation of employees as a percentage of GDP declined from approximately 58% in 2001 to approximately 53% in the first quarter of 2010. The increase of household borrowings, from a range of 2.5%–5% of GDP in the 90s to approximately 7.5%–10% in 2002–2006, masked the economic and social consequences of this shift in income distribution.
Here's the sting in the tail:
The policy choices that helped spur the debt bubble concealed the inconvenient twin realities of uncompetitiveness and gaping distributional imbalances. Postponing the political resolution of the problem has only caused it to get bigger. Unfortunately, the US government is continuing to dig the hole deeper, now with a coarser, less-efficient version that uses sovereign borrowing in place of private debt to fill the demand of the deficit created by the labor force's ongoing income decline.
We are not far off from a time when most of the "developed" world's work will be carried out in countries where authoritarian governments keep wages down and encourage strikers to disappear. The whole labor union movement might as well never have happened, except that unions can now flex their muscle to keep government employee salaries, benefits, and pensions soaring. Only a managerial elite, hopping from one of their satrapies to the next in their Gulfstreams, will be left in the private sphere.

Meanwhile, the federal government is throwing its immense blubber behind the invasion of "migrants," adding millions to the rolls of the unemployed and unemployable, and good liberals rally for a Victory Mosque at Ground Zero, a monument to suicidal tolerance.

Something's got to give.


Wednesday, September 01, 2010


Reclaiming Western civilization is hard work. Take a little break. You've earned it.

I wrote about Tommy Cooper here and here.