Thursday, January 02, 2014

2014: A Bad Year for the Left?

Most political indicators point to a terrible 2014 for American leftism amidst an auspicious resurgence of conservatism throughout the nation.

As Americans continue to suffer in the weak Obama-era economy and as their anxiety over President Obama’s hated health care program grows, an electoral tsunami appears to be in the offing.

Americans have never bought into President Obama’s contention that income inequality was what he called “the defining challenge of our time.” The AP-Times Square New Year’s Eve Poll conducted by GfK shows under 1 percent considered that issue the most important news story of 2013. Topping the list of issues was the implementation of Obamacare which was deemed the number one issue in 2013 by 26 percent of respondents. The next-highest ranked issues were identified as the “death of Nelson Mandela” and the “federal government’s budget troubles: sequestration, the fiscal cliff and the government shutdown,” both weighing in at a mere 8 percent each.

Obama’s approval ratings continue to drop and Americans now consider big, overweening government to be the biggest threat to the nation. An astounding 72 percent of Gallup respondents now believe that big government poses a greater threat to the U.S. than big business or big labor, a record high since Gallup started asking the question almost a half century ago. “(The findings) may be partly a reaction to an administration that favors the use of government to solve problems,” the Gallup organization said in a quaint understatement.

Democratic strategists who say that the public is warming up to Obama and Obamacare  are in denial. Millions of Americans, largely in the individual marketplace, have lost their health insurance because of the misnamed Affordable Care Act. Next year tens of millions of Americans will lose their employer-sponsored health coverage as Obamacare works its mischief on the nation’s health care system. The continuing catastrophe that is Obamacare will be the political gift that keeps on giving all the way to the midterm congressional elections in November. (To boot, a slew of new Obamacare taxes takes effect in days.)

Republicans are pummeling Democrats in CNN’s generic congressional ballot by 49 percent to 44 percent after Obamacare implementation began on Oct. 1. As The Hill newspaper observes,

“That’s a huge 13-point swing from October, when Democrats had the edge following the government shutdown. At that point, Democrats were up by 50 percent to 42 percent on a generic ballot test. The new numbers are the latest bad polling news for Democrats, indicating the GOP has a chance to pick up House seats and win control of the Senate.”

With critical midterm elections now less than a year away, and assuming that present trends will continue, Republicans seem certain to take over Congress. Republicans are poised to retain majority control of the House of Representatives and are also on-track to easily take over the Senate. The only question is how big the GOP Senate majority will be.

This does not, however, mean that 2014 will be the year in which the leftist project is finally discredited, as some high-profile conservative pundits gripped by an irrational triumphalism have predicted in recent weeks. Obamacare’s failures will not somehow finish off progressivism. The programs and fallout from the abysmal failures known as the New Deal and the Great Society are still with us and yet a large segment of the population continues to believe that redistributionism works. When and if Obamacare collapses, leftists will simply start over again, this time pressing for the single-payer universal health care system that they’ve always wanted.

Of course, Republicans could still snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

For example, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) continue to send out signals that they intend to capitulate to the open-borders lobby next year. Boehner and McConnell support a politically unpopular amnesty for potentially tens of millions of illegal aliens, which is the key policy component of so-called comprehensive immigration reform.

They do so in the mistaken belief that flooding the labor market and rewarding illegal behavior will somehow make left-leaning voters and immigrants on a path to citizenship fans of the Grand Old Party.

Passing amnesty legislation would seriously undermine conservative grassroots support for Republican candidates.

But that doesn’t mean the congressional GOP won’t do it.



People who are religious or spiritual have 'thicker' brains which could protect them against depression

A large cortex is the chief brain marker of humanity so are religious people more evolved?

They say religion is a matter of the heart – but it seems the shape of our brains could also have a role to play.

Believers or those with a spiritual side have ‘thicker’ sections of brain tissue than other people, a study suggests.

And in welcome news for the faithful, the researchers think that this thickening could also help to stave off depression.

‘Our beliefs and our moods are reflected in our brain and with new imaging techniques we can begin to see this,’ Dr Myrna Weissman, a professor of psychiatry and epidemiology at Columbia University, told Reuters Health.

‘The brain is an extraordinary organ. It not only controls, but is controlled by our moods.’

While the new study suggests a link between brain thickness and spirituality, it cannot say that thicker brain regions cause people to be religious or spiritual, Dr Weissman and her colleagues noted in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

It might hint, however, that being religious can enhance the brain's resilience against depression in a physical way, they wrote.

Previously, the researchers had found that people who said they were religious or spiritual were at lower risk of depression.

They also found that people at higher risk of depression had thinning cortices, compared to those with lower depression risk.

For the new study, the researchers twice asked 103 adults between the ages of 18 and 54 how important religion or spirituality was to them and how often they attended religious services over a five year period.

In addition to being asked about spirituality, the participants' brains were imaged once to see how thick their cortices were.

All the participants were the children or grandchildren of people who participated in an earlier study about depression.

Some had a family history of depression, so they were considered to be at high risk for the disorder. Others with no history served as a comparison group.

Overall, the researchers found that the importance of religion or spirituality to an individual - but not church attendance - was tied to having a thicker cortex. The link was strongest among those at high risk of depression.

‘What we're doing now is looking at the stability of it,’ Dr Weissman, who is also chief of the Clinical-Genetic Epidemiology Department at New York State Psychiatric Institute, said.

Her team is taking more images of the participants' brains to see whether the size of the cortex changes with their spirituality.

‘This is a way of replicating and validating the findings,’ she said.

Dr Dan Blazer, the Professor of Psychiatry at Duke University Medical Centre in Durham, North Carolina, said the study is very interesting but is still exploratory.

‘I think this tells us it's an area to look at,’ Dr Blazer, who was not involved in the new study, said. ‘It's an area of interest but we have to be careful.’

For example, he said there could be other areas of the brain linked to religion and spirituality. Also, spirituality may be a marker of something else, such as socioeconomic status.


Free to be hired

John Stossel

If you saw a fat man in a sleigh distributing presents this week, he was in violation of several government regulations.

The Federal Aviation Administration has complaints about his secret flight path. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources might shoot his unauthorized reindeer the way they shot a baby deer named Giggles at an animal shelter this year. His bag of gifts definitely violates numerous charity tax rules.

In real life, government barely lets people give each other rides in cars. But now the Internet has given birth to some exciting new businesses that challenge this conceit.

Companies called Lyft, Uber and Sidecar offer a phone app that allows people who need a ride somewhere to connect to a driver nearby who'd like to make a few extra bucks. It's like creating an instant taxi business -- which is why it makes existing taxi businesses nervous.

I became a Lyft driver. Once I passed a criminal background check and got my Lyft driver app, I pressed a button on my phone saying I was "available." I quickly got a message from someone nearby who wanted a ride.

My passenger was easy to find -- my phone gave me directions. He wanted to go to a grocery store. After I dropped him off, I told my phone app I was "available" again. No cash changed hands. My passenger's phone suggested he give me a credit card "donation" based on time and distance. He could have stiffed me, but if he did, it would appear on his Lyft "rating," and he'd have trouble getting another ride.

My next passenger was a woman. Why would she feel safe getting into a stranger's car? Again, the rating system protects both her and me. Her phone showed her my picture and ratings from other passengers (with me, she took a chance, as I was a new driver).

Because of the ratings, both passengers and drivers have an incentive to behave well. The higher your rating, the easier it is to get or give rides. In the end, I made money, and my passengers saved money (Lyft rides are about 20 percent cheaper than taxis). Win-win!

But regulators and taxi companies don't see it that way.

Taxi companies aren't happy about losing business to people like me, driving my own car. One cabbie complained, "We have to pay big money for licenses, get fingerprinted, have commercial insurance. (Lyft) has nothing! Sidecar has nothing!"

But it's not "nothing." I had to have a driver's license, a state-inspected car and there was that background check. But more useful than all that: the ratings. This instant feedback gives drivers and customers more reliable information than piles of licensing paperwork spewed out by regulatory agencies.

Do you pick a contractor or dentist after examining their licenses? No, you consult friends or websites like Yelp to determine the sellers' reputation. Feedback from customers is more useful than any bureaucrat's stamp of approval. Internet apps like Lyft's make this feedback ever better.

Will government crush innovations like Lyft? Maybe. Seattle moved to limit it. Nashville declared it illegal to charge anything less than $45 for rides, so there's no way for a company like Lyft to compete by undercutting regular cabs' prices.

Regulators want their fingers in everything. A new idea gives them an excuse to draw attention to themselves as "consumer protectors." In addition, existing taxi companies request regulation. They want politicians to regulate new competition out of existence.

Luckily, technology and capitalist innovation sometimes move faster than the lazy dinosaur that is government. Lyft, Uber and Sidecar have quickly become popular, and this may help them avoid being crushed. By contrast, politicians don't hesitate to destroy things that people think of as weird or dangerous.

Ride-share companies, perhaps sensing that it's better to ask for forgiveness than permission, offered rides without first seeking approval from every regulator. Now they have millions of customers. Politicians often fear regulating things that are widely liked.

Government is as crude and annoying as a speed bump, but individuals looking for better ways to do things keep cruising ahead. Sooner or later, if we restrain the regulators, the market might even produce flying sleighs.


The English question will need an answer

I think England should have a purely English assembly to decide on domestic English matters.  Non-English MPs could simply be asked to abstain on such matters  -- JR

By Allan Massie

In September, we in Scotland may vote for independence, thus bringing the United Kingdom, which came into being when the Treaty of Union was signed in 1707, to an end. As Michael Caine might have said, “Not a lot of people know that”; or, more precisely, a lot of people in England don’t seem to have realised that this may happen. Some of those who have are, it seems, quite relaxed about it. They think they might be better off if they were rid of us, and many assume that our departure would free them from the possibility of ever again suffering a Labour government.

I think they are wrong there; people get tired of governments and eventually vote for change. If, however, they are right, that would be bad for England too, for it would leave the Labour-voting North permanently disgruntled and in effect disfranchised. England would then be an uncomfortably and bitterly divided country.

There would be other unhappy consequences south of the border. Tax revenues from North Sea oil may be lower than they were when Margaret Thatcher was able to rely on them to finance her political programme, but they are still substantial, and most would now flow to the Scottish treasury, not to London. This would make it even more difficult for an English chancellor of the exchequer to reduce the government’s structural deficit and eventually balance his budget.

So a Scottish secession wouldn’t be all good news for England, no matter what some think. And this is before you take into account the diminished status – all right, only somewhat diminished status – of the no longer United Kingdom. London would remain what London is, a great global city and financial powerhouse, but the break-up of the UK would be widely regarded as further evidence of Britain’s, now England’s, post-imperial decline.

Of course, it may not happen. Present indications are that it won’t. Opinion polls in Scotland have steadily shown a majority in favour of the Union. Things may change over the coming months. There may be a nationalist surge. Yet the bookies (often better judges than political pundits) still make the Unionists odds-on favourites. If they’re right, the UK will hold together, a bit shaken by the winds of nationalism, but not uprooted.

Even so, things won’t remain just as they are. In negotiating the agreement that enabled the Scottish Parliament to hold the referendum, David Cameron insisted that there should be only one question on the ballot: Independence, yes or no? However, previously opinion polls had indicated that a second question offering an extension of devolution would have commanded more support than either independence or the status quo.

Recognising this, the three Unionist parties have all promised that they will at least consider how best to grant further powers to the Scottish Parliament, even beyond those it will have when the Scotland Act of 2012 comes into force. There is much to be said for this. In particular, the Scottish executive should have responsibility for raising most of the money it spends, rather than receiving this as a block grant from the Treasury in London. This would make for more responsible administration in Edinburgh, and might remove, or at least alleviate, an English grievance.

It is also true that further devolution of powers to the Scottish Parliament – and also to the Welsh Assembly, possibly to the Northern Irish one, too – would materially alter the structure of the United Kingdom. The country would end up being reshaped in an asymmetrical federal or confederal form. This might satisfy the Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish, all enjoying – if that is the right word – a considerable degree of self-government. But where would it leave England?

A light would then be shone on the English question (otherwise known as the West Lothian question), which is something easier to state than to solve. There would be matters in the devolved parts of the UK over which Westminster and the UK government had no control. Those same matters, notably health and education, would in England remain the responsibility of a Parliament and government drawn from all parts of the UK. They might be affected by the votes of Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs. Moreover, the UK government itself – especially if it was led by Labour – might have no majority on purely English matters. But the Westminster Parliament and the government drawn from its members would be England’s only political authority.

There is no evident appetite for an English parliament, still less for the creation of elected regional authorities. The proposal that the Speaker of the House of Commons might designate certain measures as “England only”, and debar members from the devolved parts of the Kingdom from participating in debates or voting on such measures, has its attractions. Yet, conceivably, this might mean that a government with a majority on UK measures had no majority on England-only ones.

The English problem is already apparent. It will be more acute when more powers are devolved to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Whatever the result of the Scottish Referendum, England will have to brace itself for change. Is it ready to do so?



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the  incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of  other countries.  The only real difference, however, is how much power they have.  In America, their power is limited by democracy.  To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already  very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges.  They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did:  None.  So look to the colleges to see  what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way.  It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH,   EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and  DISSECTING LEFTISM.   My Home Pages are here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here


No comments: