Saturday, June 28, 2008

TIME magazine for Socialism

Anyone who is still wondering why the so-called "mainstream media" was so hostile toward Congressman Ron Paul's campaign for the Republican presidential nomination will find an answer in the June 2 issue of Time magazine. Congressman Paul is a deeply educated student of economics, among other things, and an unabashed advocate of economic freedom and limited constitutional government; Time magazine is staffed by socialist ideologues who display little or no evidence of ever having studied economics at all.

The second paragraph of "How the Next President Should Fix the U.S. Economy," by one Justin Fox, explains the real problem as Time sees it: Americans enjoy too much economic freedom. The natural solution, therefore, is to strip them of their freedom with higher taxes, more regulations, and greater regimentation of their lives. The cause of all of today's economic problems, says Time, is of course Ronald Reagan, who supposedly cut taxes, went about "slashing regulation," and preached "the gospel that individual Americans were better suited to make economic decisions than bureaucrats in Washington were." Where on earth did Americans ever get such a crazy idea?

But there is hope, says Time. "There are signs that . America's 25-year love affair with tax cuts and deregulation" is ending. One reason for this is that the federal budget is "way out of balance." According to Time, the fact that the Bush administration has been even more spendthrift (on domestic spending as well as military) than the notorious Johnson administration, and has accumulated huge budget deficits, is evidence that Americans have too much freedom and too much money in their pockets. They need to be taxed more severely in the name of budgetary "balance." Not one word is devoted to the idea of cutting spending of any kind by a single dollar, let alone abolishing entire government bureaucracies altogether.

Then there are "soaring energy prices," caused by increased worldwide energy demand coupled with sluggish supply growth that has been blocked by environmental regulation. This would include the regulations that prohibit oil exploration in 85-90 percent of the outer-continental shelf off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, as well as in most of Alaska. Even though regulation has caused this problem, the "solution," according to Time, is more regulation of the energy industry.

A third reason for "hope" that Americans will give up their economic freedom is the housing crisis, which again was caused primarily by the Fed-generated boom-and-bust cycle, with a little help from the government's thirty-year policy of forcing banks to make bad loans to uncreditworthy borrowers under the Community Reinvestment Act. Time wants to blame it all on the free market, however, and makes no mention at all of the role of monetary policy in generating the housing-market crisis.

Health-care costs began spiraling out of control as soon as government became involved in the post-World War II era, especially with the advent of Medicare and Medicaid. Health care and health insurance are arguably the most heavily regulated industries in America; decades of cost-increasing regulations have been the main cause of the "health care crisis" that the socialist ideologues at Time are so worried about. Government control of health-care markets is the problem; therefore, the obvious "solution" is even more government control of health-care markets, says Time.

Time's Justin Fox presents a tired, old, laundry list of failed socialistic interventions. These include protectionism; more income "redistribution" (a.k.a., legal theft) via the tax system, i.e., "heavy taxes on the rich"; more pork-barrel "infrastructure" spending - and higher taxes to pay for it; an additional round of tax increases "to close the budget gap" (which of course tax increases never do); yet another round of tax increases on oil, gas, and natural gas to "steer" consumers away from these items; more tax increases still in the form of elimination of the mortgage-interest deduction, which "costs the government about $80 billion a year"; and, of course, socialized medicine, the tax increases for which would entirely swamp all of the previously mentioned tax increases. (Time promises to explain how to "make universal health care work" in a separate article. I can't wait.)

What Time's "fix" involves is essentially the Sweden-ization of America, where the average working family would be handing over 65-70 percent of its earnings to government bureaucrats, with regulation-induced price increases eating up perhaps another ten percentage points. This all needs to be done at the very beginning of the next administration, moreover, for "putting off change won't be an option much longer." It is a perfect recipe for impoverishing America.


Ethnic independence helps keep the peace

President George W. Bush recently visited Slovenia for a summit between the United States and the 27-nation European Union. Slovenia is the only success story emanating from the violent ethnic break up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s after the Cold War ended. The reasons for its success, and lack thereof in other new states originating from the now defunct Yugoslavia, should inform policy decisions in faraway Iraq.

Unfortunately, in the 1990s, violence during Yugoslavia's break up tended to be directly proportional to the ethno-sectarian diversity of the geographical entity. Slovenia-the most ethnically, religiously, culturally, and linguistically homogeneous of the former Yugoslav states-had the least violence during the disintegration. After a war of independence from Yugoslavia in 1991 that lasted only 10 days and killed only 70 people, Slovenia has flourished politically and economically. In contrast, in the more ethnically and religiously diverse Croatia, severe violence occurred in its subsequent war of independence. Even worse, the most ethnically and religiously heterogeneous piece of geography in the former Yugoslavia-Bosnia-had a brutal civil war with the worst atrocities committed in Europe since World War II. The Western powers, led by the United States, became involved and forced the parties into the uneasy Dayton peace accord.

The primary reason that Bosnia has not exploded into renewed civil war since the 1990s is the Dayton accord's creation of a decentralized Bosnian state. Such a governing arrangement allows each group-the Serbs, the Croats, and the Muslims-to have autonomous governance and a veto over decisions by the weak central government. The structure is not perfect, but it has helped prevent further eruptions of ethno-sectarian carnage.

Although faraway geographically, culturally, ethnically, and religiously from the former Yugoslavia, Iraq, like Bosnia, is an artificial country containing many ethno-sectarian divisions. Also as in Bosnia, politically correct Western do-gooders-some of whom histrionically argue that decentralized autonomous rule by ethno-sectarian groups constitutes "apartheid"-would like a stronger central government in Iraq. In fact, the already decentralized Iraqi governance needs to allow even more autonomy to ethno-sectarian and tribally based jurisdictions. Apartheid-in which one dominant group enforces racial, ethnic, or sectarian separation using coercive means-is much different from boundaries for autonomous governance created voluntarily by ethno-sectarian groups. We in the wealthy United States may not choose this type of voluntary ethno-sectarian-based governance-although the United States does have voluntary ethnically or racially homogeneous areas-but it may be the only means to achieve a modicum of stability in some developing countries racked with internecine ethno-sectarian violence.

Unfortunately, many areas in Iraq have become more homogeneous because of forced ethnic cleansing between ethno-sectarian populations. But returning refugees to their homes would probably only rekindle the slaughter. Instead, if new autonomous regions are created, incentives may have to be provided to get them, and people stuck on the "wrong" side of the boundaries, to permanently relocate to safer areas.

In the short-term, the United States has reduced the violence in Iraq. It has done so, however, by reinforcing ethno-sectarian identities-for example, by arming and training former Sunni guerrillas and Shi'i militiamen and by relying on Iran to broker a cease-fire with the Shi'i militia of Moktada al-Sadr, instead of undertaking a U.S. attempt to defeat this force. At the same time, the United States has contradictorily demanded that these same parties reconcile and share control of a central government.

Given Iraq's history of one group dominating the central government machinery-the Sunnis-and using it to oppress the other groups-the Kurds and the Shi'a-the groups will likely eventually fight over any significant central government power. Thus, to prevent an all-out civil war when the United States finally pulls its finger out of the dike and withdraws its military forces from the country, the power of the Iraqi government will probably have to be reduced to a weak confederation of autonomous regions based on voluntary tribal or ethno-sectarian associations. And even then, the best Iraq can probably hope for is uneasy stability-similar to than afforded to Bosnia by its weak confederation.


Iranian corruption

Underneath Iran's imperial ambitions and messianic pretensions suppurates a pre-modern patronage system that corrupts everyone who comes near it. The system is rotten, and must either break down, or break out, that is, through military adventures. Western observers who hope for reduced tensions through replacing the feckless Ahmadinejad with Majlis (parliament) speaker Ali Larijani will be disappointed. On that more below.

Iran's economic disaster looms large in the twilight war now in progress in the Middle East. Israel has just conducted the sort of public display of force that a nation does not do if it actually plans a surprise attack. Israel engages Syria, Egypt engages Hamas, and everyone else engages Iran - but to what end? It may be Sitzkrieg (sitting or phony war), but it is war nonetheless. Wars arise not from whim, but from circumstances that the prospective belligerents cannot bear. Iran has shown in the most vivid fashion that it cannot solve its internal problems. It is therefore likely to seek an external solution.

What happened to the US$35 billion of oil revenues that Iran's Shabab News, in a now notorious account, claims disappeared from official accounting during the year through March 2008? Half the country's oil revenues disappeared from the books. A great deal of it left the country for banks in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and elsewhere; capital flight already was running at a $15 billion annual rate last year, by my estimate.

During the past year, though, conspicuous consumption in the form of a luxury housing boom has absorbed even more of Iran's oil windfall. Luxury apartments in Tehran's better neighborhoods now sell for $15,000 per square meter, Agence France Presse reported May 26, equal to the best neighborhoods in Paris or New York. A 200-square-meter apartment in northern Tehran sells for about $1 million. Real estate prices in outlying suburbs and some provincial cities have doubled over the past year.

Corruption has metastasized, that is to say, for the scale of the property boom implies that tens of thousands of Iranians are taking six-to-seven figure bites out of the oil budget. Rather than a handful of officials siphoning state funds into bank accounts in Dubai, an entire class of hangers-on of the Islamic revolution is spending sums beyond the dreams of the average Iranian, and in brazen public view.

Ahmadinejad's patronage system generates payoffs to the political class that have set in motion uncontrolled inflation - officially 25% per year but certainly much higher - and a rush into real assets. A side effect is that the average Iranian urban household, which spends $316 a month, is gradually being priced out of the rental market.

Not only rents but foodstuffs, fuel and other essentials have registered double- or triple-digit price increases during recent months, according to fragmentary reports trickling out of the country. The government's 25% inflation figure cannot be correct. The German Suddeutsche Zeitung's Tehran correspondent wrote on June 17, "Price increases follow one another in batches. After the prices of rice and detergent suddenly jumped by a multiple, tea prices have their turn. In just a few days different types of tea have become 300% to 700% more expensive." It is too early to speak of hyperinflation, but the the Iranian bazaar already presents with symptoms of incipient hyperinflation. How do households survive?

"Iranian urban households spent an average of 35 million rials (US$$3,700) for current annual living expenses (about 2.9 million rials per month)" in fiscal year 2005-2006, reports the country's central bank, of which just under 30% bought food. But it also reports that "urban households had an annual average gross income of 31,674 thousand rials [US$$3,423], about 2,640 thousand rials per month, out of which 74.6% was the share of money income and 25.4% was the share of non-money income."

These are the most recent data available from the central bank, which does not explain how it is possible for households to spend more than they earn in a country that has no consumer credit (nor for that matter what "non-money income" involves). Part of the explanation seems to be that every poor Iranian has a part-time job, from selling black-market gasoline to prostitution. The latter appears to be the most lucrative source of extra household income. Some 300,000 prostitutes ply the streets of Tehran, or one out of 10 of the city's female population of child-bearing age, [1] according to the most frequently cited sources (see Jihadis and whores Asia Times Online, November 21, 2006.)

In addition, tens of thousands of Iranian women are working as prostitutes abroad, notoriously in the Gulf States, but in Europe and Japan as well. The US State Department recently downgraded Iran to a "Level III" country, that is, one that does nothing to suppress the trade in female flesh.

Prostitution incorporates such a large proportion of Iran's marriageable females as to accelerate the country's demographic decline, which by 2030 will leave Iran with as high a proportion of pensioners as Western Europe, just as its oil reserves run out. Unlike Norway, which entrusted its oil windfalls to a national trust under professional management, Iran has allowed the political class to steal its patrimony.

The Persian pocket empire never had a government or a civil society: it only had a court and a bazaar, which are incapable of managing the affairs of a modern society. There is no political party, no social movement, in fact no form of popular organization of any kind capable of handling $350 million a day of oil revenue at present prices.

"Regime change" is a buzzword among Western strategists, but it is not at all clear what sort of regime might replace the court-and-bazaar combination that has characterized Persian politics for the past 2,600 years. Apart from a thin crust of Western-oriented students in the larger cities, the Iranian population remains sullenly dependent on state subsidies as well as its own cupidity.

Apart from oil, Iran exports mainly fruits and nuts. Its most talented people have emigrated, leaving behind only the leeches of the bazaar who hope to grow fat on state oil money. Its demographic problems are insoluble. It has no employment to offer its last generation of young people, half of whom have no visible employment, and no way to support a rapidly aging population. I am in no position to judge the likelihood that the Twelfth Imam of Shi'ite soteriology will reappear in the near future, but it is a fair assertion that nothing else is likely to steer the Persian pocket empire out of the ditch. Western analysts start with the premise that a solution exists for every problem, and set out to find it. I do not believe there is any way to save Iran from terminal dysfunction; it is only possible to prevent Iran's problems from turning into a disaster for the region.

It is no surprise that Iran's leaders remain obsessed with Shi'ite revolution. Larijani told the Islamic Coalition Party on June 19, "The jihadi forces of the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas are the pioneers of change in today's world," Iran's official press agency reported. Larijani added, "Interpreting the moves made within the Islamic World as terrorism under such conditions that the Islamic society enjoys the pride of having jihadi combatants is a grave mistake, since those groups are the soldiers of Almighty Allah." IRNA continued:
Larijani reiterated, "During the course of the 33-day war [in 2006] the global arrogance invaded against an oppressed nation with all its might having assumed that they could in confrontation with the jihadi combatants fighting for Allah's sake crash them fatally."

He reiterated, "The US Secretary of State had at that time directed the March 14 group to disturb the internal situation, assuring them that the Zionists, backed by the US, too, would wrap up the work of Hezbollah, and that was their strategic mistake." The parliament speaker said, "The Lebanese nation, in the framework of Hezbollah, resisted against the United States and Israel so that even their friends confessed to their defeat."

Larijani said, "The sagacious stands adopted by [Hezbollah leader] Seyyed Hassan Nasrallah regarding the recent developments in Lebanon revealed the plots hatched by the arrogance and they begged assistance from the small country Qatar, where they yielded to the presence of Hezbollah in Lebanon."

He considered all such jihadi victories as fruits of the martyrs' pure blood, arguing, "The martyrs were those who changed the conditions and were involved in deciding the fates of nations."
The fact that Larijani holds a doctorate in European philosophy and has authored books on the philosopher Immanuel Kant impressed political observers in Germany, that is, until he spoke at the annual Munich Conference on Security in February 2007. As Der Spiegel reported, "Larijani was cornered. In his answer he talked about an 'overreaction' to the Holocaust. In any case, he said, 'That's a historical matter,' which has 'nothing to do with us'. He was 'neither for, nor against' the idea that the Holocaust had really occurred, saying it was an 'open question'. He thus delicately danced around a straight denial of the Holocaust, which is illegal in Germany. If Larijani had voiced the well-known opinion of his own president, Mahmud Ahmadinejad, he could have been arrested."

Adhmadinejad is a boor from the back streets of Tehran, while Larijani is the polished son and the son-in-law of two ayatollahs. No matter; German universities during the 1930s were crawling with Kant scholars who enthused for Adolf Hitler. Larijani's enthusiasm for the blood of martyrs as the determinant of national destiny is not a philosophical, but an existential view, and Iran is one of the few venues in the world in which existential despair is sadly justified.


Photo crackdown hits parents' proud moments

Comment from Australia

ACCORDING to recent reports, parents have been forced to ask for permission to photograph their kids at some children's sporting clubs. Other clubs have prohibited the taking of snapshots altogether. Many parents are understandably distressed at the idea that they cannot provide themselves or their children with permanent and special images of their offspring's athletic accomplishments. But what do these extraordinary measures suggest about us as a society?

What point have we reached when we either have to ask permission or are prevented from doing what parents have done ever since the camera was invented: that is, create pictorial records of our children playing sport? What sort of hysteria is guiding these decisions? Suddenly, any adult with a camera within range of a child is looked at askance, and their motives are not only under suspicion but also their entire character is assassinated. Many adults with cameras at playing fields on weekends have reported being verbally abused, to the point where threats were made against them and accusations screamed, often in front of their own, shaken and confused, children.

Recent debates in the media and interest-group fuelled fears have ensured that no longer are these snap-happy grown-ups able to lovingly capture moments to place in the scrapbook of memories. No. Instead, innocent adult intentions are maligned and these people are branded pedophiles - loudly and publicly by other angry and frightened mothers and fathers.

Some people are attributing this extreme response to the recent Bill Henson photographic exhibition fiasco. But I'm afraid they're off the mark. This same excessive effect has occurred before, such as when bathing children at South Bank were surreptitiously photographed a couple of years ago.

While Henson's provocative images have allowed an important debate about children and sexualisation to continue, we also have to be sensible around these types of discussions and the outcomes they generate. But instead of moderation, we're allowing frenzied desperation, finger-pointing, ugly and unjust accusations, demonisation and panic to govern our responses.

We start to see "peds under beds" everywhere and construe the most benign and innocent of gestures as sexual; the most normal and natural of desires (such as wanting to photograph children) as sick and unnatural. In other words, we start to view other adults through a pedophile's lens.

There's no doubt that pedophiles and their perverted practices sicken most people. But the fact is that pedophiles sexualise children no matter what. They are aroused by images and ideas that bear little or no relation to what would be considered sexual by those with normal, healthy, adult appetites. They delight in the combination of innocence and provocation and seek out that kind of stimulus and generally, no matter what preventive measures we put in place, find or create it, even where none originally exists. They also hide their practices and are, generally, very successful at this - hence the huge police operations to uncover pedophile rings and the shock when one is unearthed.

The overwhelming majority of us are not pedophiles. It may come as a surprise considering the alarmist rhetoric out there, but most of us are decent and caring and appreciate young people and want the best for them. Sometimes, that means hugging them when they're upset or hurting, even when they're not our children. It can also mean taking photographs as significant mementos of childhood experiences. It also means setting reasonable and realistic boundaries around children and those who come into their orbit and organising and monitoring our children's exposure to age-appropriate material throughout their developmental years.

Being aware of and concerned about pedophiles does not and should not mean viewing every adult in a child's life with a jaundiced and unhealthy eye. As Professor of Media Studies at the University of New South Wales, Catherine Lumby, stated in a 60 Minutes segment on Sunday night, "we don't want to raise our children to believe that their bodies are dangerous" or "that they can somehow provoke child sexual abuse with what they wear or what they don't wear".

The one thing we must not do as a community is live our lives or constrict our children's because we're afraid of pedophiles. If we do that, then our children are already victims - and so are we. If we allow this misguided and now misdirected, panic-stricken fear of pedophiles to regulate our actions and reactions, then the pedophiles have already won. Our fear has managed to control us and our relationships, to our children's and everyone's detriment. To label someone a pedophile because they show a "normal" level of interest in children is ridiculous. It is also slander. To hurl abuse at them in public because we're suspicious and judgmental is highly dysfunctional and sad.

Soon, everyone will be a pedophile and we'll end up raising a generation of detached and lonely youngsters afraid of shadows we have created and ashamed of what their little bodies might potentially arouse in a person they will likely (thank goodness) never meet. It is so important that we continue to discuss issues around childhood protection, sexualisation and pedophiles, but not at the expense of those we're trying to shelter.



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, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For times when is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.


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