America not paying its fair share

By Mark Steyn
The Orange County Register
November 30, 2013

Previously on "The Perils of Pauline":
Last year, our plucky heroine, the wholesome apple-cheeked American republic, was trapped in an express elevator hurtling out of control toward the debt ceiling. Would she crash into it? Or would she make some miraculous escape?
Yes! At the very last minute of her white-knuckle thrill ride to her rendezvous with destiny, she was rescued by Congress' decision to set up... a Super Committee! Those who can, do. Those who can't, form a committee. Those who really can't, form a Super Committee – and then put John Kerry on it for good measure. The bipartisan Super Committee of Super Friends was supposed to find $1.2 trillion of deficit reduction by last Thanksgiving, or plucky little America would wind up trussed like a turkey and carved up by "automatic sequestration."
Sequestration sounds like castration, only more so: it would chop off everything in sight. It would be so savage in its dismemberment of poor helpless America that the Congressional Budget Office estimates that, over the course of a decade, the sequestration cuts would reduce the federal debt by $153 billion. Sorry, I meant to put on my Dr. Evil voice for that: ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY THREE BILLION DOLLARS!!! Which is about what the United States government currently borrows every month. No sane person could willingly countenance brutally saving a month's worth of debt over the course of a decade.


So now we have the latest cliffhanger: the Fiscal Cliff, below which lies a bottomless abyss of sequestration, tax-cut extension expiries, Alternative Minimum Tax adjustments, new Obamacare taxes, the expiry of the deferment of the Medicare Sustainable Growth Rate, as well as the expiry of the deferment of the implementation of the adjustment of the correction of the extension of the reduction to the proposed increase of the Alternative Minimum Growth Sustainability Reduction Rate. They don't call it a yawning chasm for nothing.
As America hangs by its fingernails, wiggling its toesies over the vertiginous plummet to oblivion, what can save her now? An Even More Super Committee? A bipartisan agreement in which Republicans agree to cave, and Democrats agree not to laugh at them too much? That could be just the kind of farsighted reach-across-the-aisle compromise that rescues the nation until next week's thrill-packed episode when America's strapped into the driver's seat of a runaway Chevy Volt careering round the hairpin bends on full charge, or trapped in an abandoned subdivision overrun by foreclosure zombies.
I suppose it's possible to take this recurring melodrama seriously, but there's no reason to. The problem facing the United States government is that it spends over a trillion dollars a year that it doesn't have. If you want to make that number go away, you need either to reduce spending or increase revenue. With the best will in the world, you can't interpret the election result as a spectacular victory for less spending. Indeed, if nothing else, the unfortunate events of Nov. 6 should have performed the useful task of disabusing us poor conservatives that America is any kind of "center-right nation." A few months ago, I dined with a (pardon my English) French intellectual who, apropos Mitt Romney's stump-speech warnings that we were on a one-way ticket to Continental-sized dependency, chortled to me, "Americans love Big Government as much as Europeans. The only difference is that Americans refuse to admit it."
My Gallic charmer is on to something. According to the most recent (2009) OECD statistics: Government expenditures per person in France, $18,866.00; in the United States, $19,266.00. That's adjusted for purchasing-power parity, and, yes, no comparison is perfect, but did you ever think the difference between America and the cheese-eating surrender monkeys would come down to quibbling over the fine print? In that sense, the federal debt might be better understood as an American Self-Delusion Index, measuring the ever-widening gap between the national mythology (a republic of limited government and self-reliant citizens) and the reality (a 21st century cradle-to-grave nanny state in which, as the Democrats' Convention boasted, "government is the only thing we do together.").
Generally speaking, functioning societies make good-faith efforts to raise what they spend, subject to fluctuations in economic fortune: Government spending in Australia is 33.1 percent of GDP, and tax revenues are 27.1 percent. Likewise, government spending in Norway is 46.4 percent, and revenues are 41 percent – a shortfall but in the ballpark. Government spending in the United States is 42.2 percent, but revenues are 24 percent – the widest spending/taxing gulf in any major economy.
So all the agonizing over our annual trillion-plus deficits overlooks the obvious solution: Given that we're spending like Norwegians, why don't we just pay Norwegian tax rates?
No danger of that. If (in Milton Himmelfarb's famous formulation) Jews earn like Episcopalians but vote like Puerto Ricans, Americans are taxed like Puerto Ricans but vote like Scandinavians. We already have a more severely redistributive taxation system than Europe, in which the wealthiest 20 percent of Americans pay 70 percent of income tax while the poorest 20 percent shoulder just three-fifths of 1 percent. By comparison, the Norwegian tax burden is relatively equitably distributed. Yet Obama now wishes "the rich" to pay their "fair share" – presumably 80 percent or 90 percent. After all, as Warren Buffett pointed out in The New York Times this week, the Forbes 400 richest Americans have a combined wealth of $1.7 trillion. That sounds like a lot, and once upon a time it was. But today, if you confiscated every penny the Forbes 400 have, it would be enough to cover just over one year's federal deficit. And after that you're back to square one. It's not that "the rich" aren't paying their "fair share," it's that America isn't. A majority of the electorate has voted itself a size of government it's not willing to pay for.
A couple of years back, Andrew Biggs of the American Enterprise Institute calculated that, if Washington were to increase every single tax by 30 percent, it would be enough to balance the books – in 25 years. If you were to raise taxes by 50 percent, it would be enough to fund our entitlement liabilities – just our current ones, not our future liabilities, which would require further increases. This is the scale of course correction needed.
If you don't want that, you need to cut spending – like Harry Reid's been doing. "Now remember, we've already done more than a billion dollars' worth of cuts," he bragged the other day. "So we need to get some credit for that."
Wow! A billion dollars' worth of cuts! Washington borrows $188 million every hour. So, if Reid took over five hours to negotiate those "cuts," it was a complete waste of time. So are most of the "plans." In fact, any "debt reduction plan" that doesn't address at least $1.3 trillion a year is, in fact, a debt-increase plan.
So, given that the ruling party will not permit spending cuts, what should Republicans do? If I were John Boehner, I'd say: "Clearly there's no mandate for small government in the election results. So, if you milquetoast pantywaist sad-sack excuses for the sorriest bunch of so-called Americans who ever lived want to vote for Swede-sized statism, it's time to pony up."
OK, he might want to focus-group it first. But that fundamental dishonesty is the heart of the crisis. You cannot simultaneously enjoy American-sized taxes and European-sized government. One or the other has to go.

U.N. says 'Aye' to Palestinian terror state

By P. David Hornik
November 30, 2012

Late Thursday evening, Israel time, the UN General Assembly voted to confer nonmember statehood on the Palestinian Authority by a sweeping majority.
Even Israel’s hopes of putting together a “moral minority” of Western-country nays had crumbled, with France and Italy pronouncing themselves in favor of the Palestinian nonmember state and Britain and Germany abstaining. Israel, the United States, Canada, and the Czech Republic stood virtually alone in opposing the move by Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas.
The nonmoral majority of Western countries ratified Palestine (actively with ayes or passively with abstentions) even though doing so is a blatant violation of the Oslo Accords they had once piously sanctioned. And they did so even though last week and the week before, Gaza—where almost half of Palestinian Authority Palestinians live—had fired 1600 hundred rockets at civilian targets in Israel, every single firing a manifest war crime intended to kill and injure men, women, and children.
It is said that the Gaza eruption led some European countries to change their minds and vote in favor of the resolution (or abstain) so as to strengthen Abbas’s “diplomatic” approach over Hamas’s violence. Abbas’s diplomatic polish and peacemaking disposition were well in evidence when he addressed the General Assembly in September, saying among other things:
During the past months, attacks by terrorist militias of Israeli settlers have become a daily reality, with at least 535 attacks perpetrated since the beginning of this year. We are facing relentless waves of attacks against our people, our mosques, churches and monasteries, and our homes and schools; they are unleashing their venom against our trees, fields, crops and properties, and our people have become fixed targets for acts of killing and abuse with the complete collusion of the occupying forces and the Israeli government.
As Israel’s UN ambassador Ron Prosor noted in a stinging op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, “Many countries in the Assembly are taking an approach to Palestinian statehood that is…Pavlovian…. For decades, the body has rubber-stamped any Palestinian whim no matter how ill-advised, ill-conceived or illogical.”
Prosor went on to list some glaring shortcomings of the Palestinian Authority/Gaza that—seemingly by any normal calculus of Western countries—would disqualify it rather than qualify it for statehood, such as:
● Lack of control over territory, with Abbas’s Ramallah-based, official Palestinian Authority having had zero control over Gaza since Hamas seized power there in 2007. Prosor could have added the tenuousness of Abbas’s rule in the West Bank itself, where towns are run by clan-based extortion gangs and Israeli forces are all that prevents a Hamas takeover.
● The fact that Gaza is a terrorist state in every sense of the term, “a haven for global jihadist organizations like al Qaeda,” a beachhead for Iran in its ongoing war for Israel’s annihilation.
● The fact that democracy has not exactly flourished in Islamist Gaza or, for that matter, in the West Bank, where “journalists, bloggers and activists continue to be jailed and tortured…for crimes such as ‘extending their tongues against the Palestinian President’” (see reportshere and here).
● The fact that the Palestinian Authority is bankrupt, totally dependent on foreign aid, yet “devotes 6% of its annual budget to payments for imprisoned terrorists and the families of suicide bombers”—while using its educational autonomy to instill a culture of hatred of Israel.
And to all this Europe voted yes—or at best took refuge in a cowardly neutrality.
It has been widely observed that, while General Assembly resolutions are nonbinding and lack standing in international law, the promotion to “state” status will give the Palestinian Authority access to world bodies like the International Criminal Court in The Hague, where PA figures have already threatened to file claims against Israel for “war crimes,” “occupation of a sovereign country,” and the like.
Considering the authority’s dependence on Israel and the West both to stay solvent and keep from being swept away by Hamas, many believe these threats are just bluster and the weak, aging Abbas won’t really seek such confrontations. The Israeli leadership, for its part, is taking a wait-and-see approach. On Thursday night U.S. senators were already threatening to cut aid to the Palestinian Authority and the UN.
But even if the General Assembly vote remains on the symbolic plane for now, the Palestinian access to the ICC entails future dangers for Israel and constitutes a victory over it. Those wondering about Israel’s “right-wing” or “nationalistic” tendency these days can find some explanation in the cynicism displayed by almost all the world’s countries in the General Assembly on Thursday.
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Brain-lock inside the beltway

It’s at times like this I’m ashamed to admit I live inside the Beltway.
Well, that’s probably not specific enough, since I’m usually ashamed to admit I live inside the Beltway.
Still, the second you try to explain the stupidity of this “fiscal cliff” fiasco to a normal person, it makes William F. Buckley’s famous declaration that he’d rather be governed by the first few hundred people listed in the Boston phone book than by the faculty of Harvard seem all the more reasonable.
While there are some responsible politicians and policymakers in Washington, if you look at the whole place collectively, Uncle Sam starts to look like a junkie. The logic of addiction dictates that you make a deal that allows you to avoid all of your problems now and enjoy a quick high in exchange for a painful confrontation with reality down the road.
Almost exactly a year ago, during the famed debt-ceiling negotiations, Speaker of the House John Boehner boasted that he’d forced tough concessions from the Democrats, achieving the first real cut in government spending in ages. He claimed his “real, enforceable cut” amounted to $7 billion for fiscal year 2012. The Congressional Budget Office objected, saying the real savings were closer to $1 billion.
“Which of these numbers is accurate?” asked columnist Mark Steyn at the time. Answering his own question, he wrote: “The correct answer is: Who cares?”
And he was right. At the time, the U.S. was spending $188 million of largely borrowed money every hour of every day. So, going by the CBO number, if you started watching the official Godfather trilogy box set right after the deal was cut, the government would have burned through its “savings” before Fredo went on his last fishing trip. If you went by Boehner’s math, you could actually watch the whole trilogy about four times before the “savings” ran out.
America already has a more progressive tax system than Europe, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The Democrats insist that the rich need to start paying their “fair share,” which means even more progressivity. The Republicans, meanwhile . . . agree! The difference is that the GOP wants to eliminate loopholes and exemptions while keeping rates where they are. Democrats would prefer simply raising the rates.
Now here’s a distinction that the first few hundred people in the Boston phone book would probably grasp better than the folks at Harvard (or in Congress): A tax increase is a tax increase. If I make the same amount of money as I did last year but pay more in taxes, then my taxes have gone up. If I pay less, my taxes have gone down. Whether the numbers moved this way or that because of closed loopholes or rejiggered tax rates, the result for me is the same. That doesn’t mean tax simplification doesn’t make sense, but dodging a rate hike isn’t the same as dodging a tax hike.
So the Republicans are, in fact, in favor of raising taxes by the rules of the real world. In exchange for doing this, they want the Democrats to deal with the real problem: spending. You could confiscate 100 percent of income over $1 million, and it would cover about a third of the deficit (and crush the economy in the process). You’d still have to deal with spending, particularly entitlement spending.
But the Democrats want to do . . . nothing. Or at least that’s the position they seemed to be taking this week.
The White House and the Democrats have been floating the idea that we can worry about entitlements later, if ever. The urgent thing is to raise taxes on the wealthy as soon as possible. When asked what he was prepared to cut, Senate majority leader Harry Reid said Wednesday, “Now remember, we’ve already done more than a billion dollars worth of cuts. We’ve already done that. So we need to get some credit for that.”
Okay, here’s the credit: That is about .09 percent of the deficit. Take .09 percent of a bow, Harry.
Meanwhile, the GOP seems to be obsessed with Talmudic interpretations of Grover Norquist’s anti-tax pledge. You see, if the Bush tax cuts expire, we’ll all pay a lot more in taxes. But letting them expire wouldn’t violate the pledge, while voting for a smaller net tax increase would.
As Republicans sort all that out, the guy who actually won the election by claiming he had a better plan hasn’t proposed any plan at all. That’s life inside the Beltway for you.
— Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. You can write to him by e-mail, or via Twitter @JonahNRO. © 2012 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

Cliff-jumping with Barack

By Published: November 29

The Washington Post

Why are Republicans playing the Democrats’ game that the “fiscal cliff” is all about taxation?
House Speaker John Boehner already made the preemptive concession of agreeing to raise revenue. But the insistence on doing so by eliminating deductions without raising marginal rates is now the subject of fierce Republican infighting.
Where is the other part of President Obama’s vaunted “balanced approach”? Where are the spending cuts, both discretionary and entitlement: Medicare, Medicaid and now Obamacare (the health-care trio) and Social Security?
Social Security is the easiest to solve. So you get a sense of the Democrats’ inclination to reform entitlements when Dick Durbin, the Senate Democrats’ No. 2, says Social Security is off the table because it “does not add a penny to our deficit.”
This is absurd. In 2012, Social Security adds $165 billion to the deficit. Democrats pretend that Social Security is covered through 2033 by its trust fund. Except that the trust fund is a fiction, a mere “bookkeeping” device, as the Office of Management and Budget itself has written. The trust fund’s IOUs “do not consist of real economic assets that can be drawn down in the future to fund benefits.” Future benefits “will have to be financed by raising taxes, borrowing from the public, or reducing benefits or other expenditures.”
And draining the Treasury, as 10,000 baby boomers retire every day. Yet that’s off the table. And on Wednesday, the president threw down the gauntlet by demanding tax hikes now — with spending cuts to come next year. Meaning, until after Republicans have fallen on their swords, given up the tax issue and forfeited their political leverage.
Ronald Reagan once fell for a “tax now, cut later” deal that he later deeply regretted. Dems got the tax; he never got the cuts. Obama’s audacious new gambit is not a serious proposal to solve our fiscal problems. It’s a raw partisan maneuver meant to neuter the Republicans by getting them to cave on their signature issue as the hold-the-line party on taxes.
The objective is to ignite exactly the kind of internecine warfare on taxes now going on among Republicans. And to bury Grover Norquist.
I am not now, nor have ever been, a Norquistian. I don’t believe the current level of taxation is divinely ordained. Nor do I believe in pledges of any kind. But Norquist is the only guy in town to consistently resist the tax-and-spend Democrats’ stampede for ever-higher taxes to fund ever more reckless spending.
The hunt for Norquist’s scalp is a key part of the larger partisan project to make the Republicans do a George H.W. Bush and renege on their heretofore firm stand on taxes. Bush never recovered.
Why are the Republicans playing along? Because it is assumed that Obama has the upper hand. Unless Republicans acquiesce and get the best deal they can right now, tax rates will rise across the board on Jan. 1, and the GOP will be left without any bargaining chips.
But what about Obama? If we all cliff-dive, he gets to preside over yet another recession. It will wreck his second term. Sure, Republicans will get blamed. But Obama is never running again. He cares about his legacy. You think he wants a second term with a double-dip recession, 9 percent unemployment and a totally gridlocked Congress? Republicans have to stop playing as if they have no cards.
Obama is claiming an electoral mandate to raise taxes on the top 2 percent. Perhaps, but remember those incessant campaign ads promising a return to the economic nirvana of the Clinton years? Well, George W. Bush cut rates across the board, not just for the top 2 percent. Going back to the Clinton rates means middle-class tax hikes that yield four times the revenue that you get from just the rich.
So give Obama the full Clinton. Let him live with that. And with what also lies on the other side of the cliff: 28 million Americans newly subject to the ruinous alternative minimum tax.
Republicans must stop acting like supplicants. If Obama so loves those Clinton rates, Republicans should say: Then go over the cliff and have them all.
And add: But if you want a grand bargain, then deal. If we give way on taxes, we want, in return, serious discretionary cuts, clearly spelled-out entitlement cuts and real tax reform.
Otherwise, strap on your parachute, Mr. President. We’ll ride down together.
Read more on this debate: George F. Will: A cliff of their own choosing Dana Milbank: The bare truth about the fiscal cliff Ruth Marcus: Teetering over the fiscal cliff Robert J. Samuelson: The fiscal cliff deal we need

Why Tolkien was a fine modern artist

The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit author was also a gifted illustrator, creating abstract and subtly beautiful works of art
By Jonathan Jones
The Guardian
29 November 2012
Tolkien's art work for Hobbiton-across-the-waterView larger picture
Sketches of Middle Earth … Tolkien's artwork, from The Art of the Hobbit. Photograph: The Art of the Hobbit
The film series of JRR Tolkien's The Hobbit is unlikely to come anywhere near matching the author's own visualisation of his imaginary world. We know what director Peter Jackson thinks the landscape of Middle Earth is like, from his previous films of The Lord of the Rings, as well as pre-released images from the first instalment of The Hobbit. Jackson's use of location to make the fantastic seem real is impressive. Yet his images are ponderous compared to the ethereal drawings and paintings in which Tolkien pictured places such as Rivendell and the Shire.
Tolkien imagined his otherworld of hobbits, elves and wizards in pictures, as well as words. The Hobbit was first published in 1937. As he wrote it, in the 30s, he made beguiling pictures and designs that map and depict the landscapes through which Bilbo Baggins was to journey.
Tolkien designed the cover for that first edition of The Hobbit. It immediately promises a rich and strange world within: layers of trees in green, white and purple fold over one another towards stylised mountain peaks and the great disc of the sun. Runes are inscribed along the edges of the design. Runic writing is the script of the elves in Middle Earth – but Tolkien did not invent it. Runes were used by the Vikings to inscribe memorials and spells. The Viking connection is telling, for Tolkien's art has a Scandinavian quality. The dreamlike elegance of The Hobbit's original cover is reminiscent of modern northern European art as well as ancient Viking designs.
One artistic cousin of Tolkien is the Russian early 20th-century painterNicolas Roerich, who was fascinated by the journeys of the Vikings into medieval Russia. Roerich's pictures of the Vikings share the intense quality of Tolkein's art. Roerich is most famous for designing the revolutionary ballet The Rite of Spring. The affinity between his vision of The Rite of Spring and Tolkien's images of Middle Earth is striking.
Tolkien, in other words, is a fine modern artist. His vision of The Hobbit in his original illustrations is very different from the bog-standard digitised fantasy art of today. Tolkien's Hobbit pictures are subtle, even abstract. A scene called The Trolls that he drew for The Hobbit depicts a curling, fantastical flame rising amid a nocturnal labyrinth of stippled trees. Hispainting Bilbo Comes to the Huts of the Raft Elves is a misty golden landscape you just want to walk into.
It is this sense of place, of a place so real in his mind that he can map or draw it, that makes Tolkien the greatest of all modern fantasy writers. His beautiful works of art reveal the crystalline eye of his genius.

The White House’s Benghazi bungling is proving a disaster

Barack Obama: a huge credibility problem on Benghazi
President Obama hasn’t even begun his second term yet, but his administration is already struggling with a huge credibility problem on the Benghazi front. Watch this video posted today at The Weekly Standard, which shows White House Press Secretary Jay Carney telling National Journal correspondent Major Garrett that Obama “is not particularly concerned” whether Susan Rice misled the American people in a series of talk show interviews following the killing of US Ambassador Christopher Stephens and three other US personnel in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11. Carney told the assembled White House press corps:
What the president is worried about, Major, is what happened and why in Benghazi. He is not particularly concerned about whether the ambassador or I went out and talked about the fact that we believed extremists might have been responsible. And whether we named them as al Qaeda or not does not–no, it certainly doesn't have any bearing on what happened and who was responsible as that investigation was continuing on Benghazi.
Carney’s response, as the president’s official spokesman is extraordinarily dismissive of the concerns of the American people as well as the United States Congress, and is representative of the administration’s shambolic handling of the Benghazi attack. Susan Rice is the US Ambassador to the United Nations and Obama’s likely choice to replace Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. What she misleadingly told millions of Americans on national television regarding the circumstances surrounding the first assassination of a US Ambassador since 1979 is of great public interest, and the nation deserves clear answers about what exactly the president and his top advisers knew before, during and after the Benghazi atrocity, and how they responded. As CBS’ Sharyl Attkisson asked earlier today, “who within the Obama administration deleted mention of "terrorism" and "al-Qaeda" from the CIA's talking points on the deadly Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S. mission in Benghazi?”
The lack of clarity from the White House on Benghazi is proving a disaster for the Obama administration, giving every impression that it is lacking in transparency, competence and accountability. During the secondpresidential election debate, Barack Obama promised to take responsibility for what happened. It is time for him to do so, and for his presidency to come clean over its handling of the intelligence relating to the Benghazi attack, and be held to account.

A cliff of their own choosing

By Published: November 28

The Washington Post

With a chip on his shoulder larger than his margin of victory, Barack Obama is approaching his second term by replicating the mistake of his first. Then his overreaching involved health care — expanding the entitlement state at the expense of economic growth. Now he seeks another surge of statism, enlarging the portion of gross domestic product grasped by government and dispensed by politics. The occasion is the misnamed “fiscal cliff,” the proper name for which is: the Democratic Party’s agenda.
For 40 years the party’s principal sources of energy and money — liberal activists, government-employees unions — have advocated expanding government’s domestic reach by raising taxes and contracting its foreign reach by cutting defense. Obama’s four years as one of the most liberal senators and his four presidential years indicate that he agrees. Like other occasionally numerate but prudently reticent liberals, he surely understands that the entitlement state he favors requires raising taxes on the cohort that has most of the nation’s money — the middle class.
Mitt Romney as candidate and others before and since have suggested increasing revenue by capping income tax deductions. This would increase that tax’s progressivity, without raising rates that would dampen incentives. Obama’s compromise may be: Let’s do both. Remember the story of when the British Admiralty sought six new battleships, the Treasury proposed four, so they compromised on eight.
Those proposing higher taxes on the wealthy note that when the income tax began in 1913, the top rate was 7 percent. But in 1917, war brought a 67 percent rate. Between 1925 and 1931, the rate was 24 percent or 25 percent, but in only five of the subsequent 80 years — 1988-92 — was the top rate lower than it is today.
Republicans, however, respond that because lower rates reduce incentives to distort economic decisions, they promote growth by enhancing efficiency. Hence restoration of the higher rates would be a giant step away from, and might effectively doom, pro-growth tax reform. Furthermore, restoration of the Clinton-era top rate of 39.6 percent would occur in the very different Obama era of regulatory excesses and Obamacare taxes. Hence Republicans rightly resist higher rates.
Given liberals’ fixation with the affluent paying their “fair share,” it might seem peculiar that they are so vehemently against Paul Ryan’s “premium support” proposal for Medicare. Their recoil is, however, essential to the liberal project.
Ryan’s supposedly radical idea is that people should shop for health insurance, with government subsidizing purchases by the less affluent. This would introduce what soon will be inevitable — means testing, a.k.a. progressivity. But liberals reject it with a word, the incantation of which suffices, they think, as an argument — “voucher.”
This is peculiar because perhaps the most successful federal program of the 20th century was essentially a voucher program. The purpose of the 1944 Servicemen’s Readjustment Act — a.k.a. the G.I. Bill of Rights — was to facilitate demobilization by helping men and women acquire educations and buy houses — and hence form families. The government did not build universities or houses. It, in effect, gave individuals conditional cash — vouchers — by helping to pay for home loans and college tuition.
Liberals’ strenuous objection to vouchers is that vouchers, as the functional equivalent of cash, empower individuals to make choices. It is the business of the liberals’ administrative state, staffed by experts, to make choices for inexpert individuals. This is why, while Democrats in Washington are working to reduce the portion of Americans’ private income that is disposed of by private choices, two tentacles of the Democratic Party — the Indiana and Louisiana teachers unions — are in their states’ courts waging futile fights against school choice programs, lest thousands of low- and moderate-income parents be as empowered as millions of demobilized servicemen were.
Washington’s contentiousness about the “cliff” is producing a blizzard of numbers. The argument, however, is not about this or that tax rate but about the nature of the American regime. When the Republican House majority acts as though it has a mind — and a mandate — of its own, this is not Washington being “dysfunctional,” it is the separation of powers functioning as the Founders intended. Their system requires concurrent congressional majorities — one in the Senate, with its unique constituencies and electoral rhythms, another in the House, with its constituencies and rhythms. And at least 219 of the 234 House Republicans won in November by margins larger than Obama’s national margin.
More on this debate: Ruth Marcus: Teetering over the ‘fiscal cliff’ Greg Sargent: Reasons to be encouraged about fiscal cliff endgame Joel Achenbach: Fiscal cliffing up a storm Marc A. Thiessen: The GOP should resist a ‘fiscal cliff’ down payment

The truth about gang rape in the U.K.

By Bruce Bawer
November 28, 2012

First of all, let me make it clear that I’m no fan of Yasmin Alibhai-Brown. Born in Uganda, she’s a British Muslim columnist who contributes regularly to the left-wing Independent, supports the Liberal Democrats, and has a habit of saying unpleasant things about white men. Her opinions on the issues of the day are, by and large, pretty much what you’d expect them to be given her religious, professional, and political affiliations. (Example: she complained on Question Time that Osama bin Laden hadn’t been given a proper burial.)
Still, I had to give her a cheer – not two or three cheers, mind you, but one – for an article that ran in the Daily Mail on Thursday.  It was occasioned by a new report from the British government’s Office of the Children’s Commission (OCC) summarizing the results of an investigation into the sexual abuse of young girls by gangs and groups. The report, noted Alibhai-Brown in her Daily Mail piece, “concludes that agencies that should have helped” many of these abused girls either “didn’t hear their stories or look after them as they should have.” Yet the OCC itself, Alibhai-Brown charged, was burdened by its own version of the same hear-no-evil affliction: as she put it, the authors of the report, headed up by Deputy Children’s Commissioner Sue Berelowitz, “try hard to side-step some difficult facts and even warn the rest of us from going where they have chosen not to tread.”
Alibhai-Brown illustrates her point by zeroing in on this sentence by Berelowitz & co.: “Perpetrators come from all ethnic groups, and so do their victims – contrary to what some may wish to believe.” In response to which Alibhai-Brown offers this comment: “Yes, we know they come from all backgrounds. But that rather cutting second line is directed at people like me who believe that in some British cities – especially in the North of England – circles of sexual hell for young girls are run by gangs of Muslim men (most of Pakistani or Bangladeshi heritage) who mostly prey on white girls….To generalise their crimes, and lump them in with all the other abusers across the country, is to deny what the victims of these men and their families are saying about the abuse that has gone on.”
Indeed. Of course, the OCC’s statement about perpetrators coming “from all ethnic groups” is yet another example of the handy PC dodge whereby the link between Islam and pretty much any of its more horrific aspects can be swept away by means of a simple rhetorical formula.  For example: “Honor killings occur in a wide range of religions.” Or: “Female genital mutilation is not an exclusively Islamic phenomenon.” Or: “The practice of forced marriages is not restricted to Muslim families.” All true – and all cynically designed to avoid the uncomfortable statistical reality, and to protect the speaker from being accused of racism or Islamophobia. (It’s no surprise that ITV’s brief online account of the OCC report actually made that insipid truism its headline: “Report: Child exploiters ‘come from all ethnic groups.’”)
“The report,” notes Alibhai-Brown, “points out that 28 per cent of the victims they found were of black and Asian background. But it doesn’t state what it should have: that some of the worst long-term abuse is carried out by mainly British Pakistani men targeting lost young white girls, often from troubled or poor families….The children are neglected and hungry for love. The men offer treats, car rides and kebabs, then drugs and alcohol; and then they corrupt them.” Alibhai-Brown argues that while authorities fear “that the racial aspects of child sex gangs will be hijacked by groups such as the English Defence League,” it is important to “confront some of the values that drive such men to prey on white females” and to look squarely at “some Asian cultural assumptions that make the paedophiles feel no guilt or shame about what they do.”
Exactly which “values” and “Asian cultural assumptions”  is Alibhai-Brown talking about? Alas, she doesn’t say. That’s where her article ends: with a gutsy-sounding call to face up to “values” and “Asian cultural assumptions” that, it appears, she would prefer not to identify at the present juncture.
What to say about this? Well, first of all, anyone who is genuinely interested in facing up to the truth of these matters needs to stop talking, as Alibhai-Brown does incessantly in her article, about race. This is not about race but about religion – not about black and white but about Muslim and infidel. Alibhai-Brown wants to be seen as bravely pulling back a curtain on an ugly reality, but her repeated reference to dark-hued men and “white girls,” and her use of that cowardly, dishonest (and, alas, ubiquitous) British euphemism “Asian” is nothing more than a way of skirting the truth – namely, that the “cultural assumptions” at work here aren’t “Asian” – aren’t Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Mongolian, or Thai – but Islamic. As she and most of her readers well know, countless Muslim boys are brought up to view infidel females as little more than whores whose “immodest” attire makes them legitimate targets for physical assault. Most Westerners who are seriously concerned about these matters have long since learned that the Koran itself condones such conduct, and that in cases of rape it is the victims, not the perpetrators, who are considered the guilty parties. These repulsive facts have been widely known in Europe for many years now.
For heaven’s sake, as long ago as September 6, 2001 – I’ve cited this article before, and I’ll cite it again – the social anthropologist Unni Wikan told the Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet that it didn’t surprise her that 65 percent of rapists in Oslo were “non-Western men” (that’s the Norwegian version of “Asian”), because, as she explained, “many immigrants” (that’s another euphemism – she’s not talking about immigrants from Canada) “think that Norwegian women are sending them signals that they want sexual contact.” Wikan, while serving up a rather pro forma-ish acknowledgment that rape is “never acceptable,” went on to make it sound, well, pretty darn acceptable. Noting that “rapists in most Muslim countries are hardly punished” and that most people in those places “feel that women are responsible for the rape,” she argued that “it’s reasonable for immigrants to bring such attitudes with them when they move here.” Their misunderstandings, in short, are “understandable.” By contrast, the naivete of many Norwegian women about Muslim views on rape is notunderstandable but, contrarily, “startling”; those women, Wikan insisted, “must realize that we live in a multicultural society, and adapt themselves to it.”
Wikan’s position – she actually declared that Western women raped by Muslim men are partially responsible for their own fate – may have been reprehensible, but in retrospect, at least, one has to admire her frankness about the Islam-rape nexus. But then, that Dagbladetarticle appeared before 9/11 – a full five days before. Since that fateful day, the willingness of Westerners in the public eye to connect these particular dots has declined significantly. Back in 2007, for instance, the London Times reported that a number of “Asian” men in Britain were forcing their attentions upon perhaps hundreds of “white girls as young as twelve,” but that the police weren’t doing anything about it because they feared “upsetting race relations.” “Asian,” “white,” “race”: how stubbornly determined the Times was to avoid the topic of Islam! Then, in 2010, as Alibhai-Brown herself points out, a police report noted that “gangs of Asian males” were “exploiting young white females,” one of whom told the Daily Mail at the time that most of these gangsters “are Asians of Pakistani origin. But very few of the authorities will say this.” And in this context, needless to say, virtually none of them would breathe the word Muslim.
So it goes, year after year. All that changes is the incidence of these crimes, which continues to climb along with the population of European Muslims. And year by year the government reports keep coming – providing a pleasant illusion that something is actually being done, even as they persist in delicately sidestepping the one little detail that explains everything.
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The Backlash Against Big Wind

By Robert Bryce
November 26, 2012

Last month, 60 residents of New York’s Herkimer County filed a lawsuit in Albany that provides yet another example of the growing backlash against the wind-energy sector. It also exposes the double standard that exists in both the mainstream media and among environmental groups when it comes to “green” energy.
The main defendant in the lawsuit is the Spanish electric utility Iberdrola, which is the second-largest wind-energy operator in the U.S. The Herkimer County residents — all of whom live within a mile or so of the $200 million Hardscrabble Wind Power Project — are suing Iberdrola and a group of other companies because of the noise and disruption caused by the wind project.
The lawsuit comes at a touchy time for the wind industry, which is desperately trying to convince Congress to extend the industry’s production tax credit that expires at the end of this year. The subsidy gives wind-energy companies 2.2 cents for every kilowatt-hour of electricity that they produce.
Wind-energy proponents claim that an elimination of this tax credit could result in the loss of 37,000 jobs, but they have not been able to silence the dozens upon dozens of groups that have sprung up to fight expansion of the wind sector. And few places in the U.S. have seen a bigger backlash than New York State. About two dozen New York towns have passed rules banning or restricting wind-energy development, and many rural residents have expressed ongoing concerns about turbine noise.
The noise issue is front and center in the Hardscrabble lawsuit. Neighbors of the project have been complaining about noise from the turbines since last year. Two noise studies done on the Hardscrabble facility found that the turbines sometimes exceed their permitted limit of 50 decibels. In response to the complaints, Iberdrola Renewables — which owns the Hardscrabble project — installed noise-reduction equipment on a handful of the turbines.
In the lawsuit, the residents claim that the noise produced by the turbines on the 74-megawatt facility causes headaches and disturbs their sleep. Some of the residents say they have abandoned their homes because of the noise. Others are claiming that the project has hurt their property values. The key paragraph in the suit says that the defendants “failed to adequately assess the effect that the wind turbines would have on neighboring properties including, but not limited to, noise creation, significant loss of use and enjoyment of property . . . diminished property values, destruction of scenic countryside, various forms of trespass and nuisance to neighboring properties, and health concerns, among other effects.”
For years, the wind industry and its many supporters on the “green” left have been trying to dismiss the turbine-noise issue — and the nearby residents who are complaining about the problem. In late 2009, the American Wind Energy Association and the Canadian Wind Energy Association published a paper that attempted to quiet critics of the noise problem; they stated in the paper that “there is no evidence that the audible or sub-audible sounds emitted by wind turbines have any direct adverse physiological effects.” The paper also suggested that the symptoms critics were attributing to wind-turbine noise were psychosomatic and declared flatly that the vibrations from the turbines were “too weak to be detected by, or to affect, humans.”
The Herkimer County lawsuit — Abele et al. v. Iberdrola et al. — will bring the noise issue into the legal arena where it can be properly adjudicated. But it’s not yet clear what the plaintiffs might get if they win, because the lawsuit doesn’t name a specific dollar amount in damages. Jeff DeFrancisco, one of the lawyers representing the plaintiffs, said that New York State doesn’t allow plaintiffs to put a dollar value on the damages. Further, DeFrancisco said the plantiffs cannot seek injunctive relief because the turbines are already in place. “All we can do is seek compensation,” he says.
DeFrancisco said the litigation was necessary because the residents living near the turbines had no other options. The plaintiffs, he says, “can’t live peacefully” in their homes. “These are people who never had a problem before.” Some of them, he says, “would like to move but can’t because they can’t sell their homes.”
In addition to illustrating the backlash against the wind industry, the Herkimer County lawsuit provides yet another example of the double standard that exists in media coverage of “green” energy. Rural newspapers in New York and a few anti-wind websites have covered the lawsuit, but it has not been mentioned in mainstream media outlets such as the New York Times.
It’s easy to imagine what the coverage in theTimes might look like if a lawsuit similar to the one in Herkimer County was filed against a company that was drilling for oil or natural gas. Last year, the Times ran a number of stories under a banner called “drilling down” — some of them were published on the front page — spotlighting hydraulic fracturing and the possibility of water contamination due to drilling.
The issues involved in oil and gas drilling and wind-turbine development are similar. They all entail new industrial activity in rural areas. All bring friction — truck traffic, noise, and other disruptions — to regions that are not accustomed to energy development. But the Times has never published a story on the backlash against the wind industry, even though New York is home to much of the backlash.
Although it’s easy to get riled about the newspaper of record, it’s mainstream environmental groups that display the most pernicious double standard. Sierra Club, Greenpeace, and other groups were founded on the notion of environmental protection. The Sierra Club’s mission statement declares that it wants to “educate and enlist humanity to protect and restore the quality of the natural and human environment.”
If that’s true, why isn’t the Sierra Club campaigning for the rights of the residents in Herkimer County? Don’t rural landowners have the right to a high-quality natural and human environment that is free from industrial intrusions, like, say, 470-foot-high wind turbines that are built within a few thousand feet of their homes?
The hard reality is that for groups such as the Sierra Club and their fellow travelers, the issue of climate change — and their near-religious belief that wind turbines are an effective method of cutting carbon dioxide emissions — trumps nearly every other concern. If rural residents in Herkimer County and elsewhere are getting steamrolled by wind-energy developers, well, then, that’s just too bad.
It will take months for the Herkimer County lawsuit to wend its way through the courts. But the lawsuit shows, once again, that the anti-wind backlash is growing. And that blowback will only get worse — with or without the help of the self-proclaimed “environmentalists.”
— Robert Bryce is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. 

Philadelphia: The Key

Nov 27, 2012 
By Daniel Pipes
The Second Hamas–Israel War, of November 10 to 21, inspired a mighty debate over rights and wrongs, with each side appealing to the large undecided bloc (19 percent of Americans according to CNN/ORC, 38 percentaccording to Rasmussen). Is Israel a criminal state that has no right to exist, much less to deploy force? Or is it a modern liberal democracy with the rule of law that justifiably protects innocent civilians? Morality drives this debate.
To any sentient person, it is obvious that Israelis are 100 percent justified in protecting themselves from wanton attacks. A cartoon from the First Hamas–Israel War, of 2008 to 2009, symbolically showed a Palestinian terrorist shooting from behind a baby carriage at an Israeli soldier in front of a baby carriage.
The tougher question is how to prevent further Hamas–Israel wars. Some background: If Israelis are 100 percent justified in protecting themselves, their government also bears complete responsibility for creating this crisis. Specifically, it made two misguided unilateral withdrawals in 2005.
From Gaza: Ariel Sharon won reelection as prime minister in January 2003 in part by mocking a rival who called for the unilateral withdrawal of all Israeli residents and soldiers from Gaza; then,inexplicably, he adopted this same policy in November 2003 and put it into effect in August 2005. I dubbed this at that time “one of the worst errors ever made by a democracy.”
From the Philadelphi Corridor: Under pressure from the U.S., especially from U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Sharon signed an agreement in September 2005, called “Agreed Arrangements,” that withdrew Israeli forces from the Philadelphi Corridor, a 14-kilometer-long and 100-meter-wide area between Gaza and Egypt. The hapless “European Union Border Assistance Mission at the Rafah Crossing Point” (EUBAM Rafah) took their place.
Trouble was, the Egyptian authorities had promised in their 1979 peace treaty with Israel(III:2) to prevent “acts or threats of belligerency, hostility, or violence” but in fact permitted massive smuggling of armaments to Gaza via tunnels. According to a former head of Israel’s Southern Command, Doron Almog, writing in early 2004, “smuggling has a strategic dimension” because it involves sufficient quantities of arms and materiel “to turn Gaza into launching pad for ever-deeper attacks against Israel proper.”
Almog considered these policies “a dangerous gamble” by the Mubarak regime and a “profound strategic danger” that could “endanger the Israeli-Egyptian peace accord and threaten the stability of the whole region.” He attributed the lax Egyptian attitude to a mix of anti-Zionist views among officialdom and a readiness to vent the Egyptian public’s anti-Zionist sentiments.
Sharon arrogantly signed the “Agreed Arrangements,” contrary to the strong opposition of Israel’s security establishment. Of course, by removing this layer of Israeli protection, an “exponential increase” in the Gaza arsenal predictably followed, culminating in the Fajr-5 missiles that reached Tel Aviv this month.
To permit Israeli soldiers effectively to prevent armaments from reaching Gaza, David Eshel of Defense Update argued in 2009 for the IDF taking back the Philadelphi Corridor and increasing its size to “a fully sterile security line of about 1,000 meters,” even though this would mean having to relocate about 50,000 Gaza residents. Interestingly, the Palestinian Authority’s Ahmed Qurei privately endorsed similar steps in 2008.
Almog goes farther: Noting deep Iranian involvement in Gaza, he advocates making the Philadelphi Corridor into a no-man’s-land by widening it to about ten kilometers. Ideally, he writes me, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will build this anti-smuggling obstacle and the American military will have a continued role policing the border. Second best, Israelis do this alone. (The still-operational Gaza-Jericho Agreement of May 1994 establishes a “Military Installation Area” under Israel’s full control — in effect, the Philadelphi Corridor — that provides Jerusalem with the legal basis to take back this crucial border.)
In contrast, Michael Herzog, formerly a high-ranking official in Israel’s defense ministry, tells me it is too late for Israel to take back the Philadelphi Corridor, that international pressure on Egypt to stop the flow of arms to Gaza is the solution. Likewise, former Israeli ambassador to the U.N. Dore Gold backs joint U.S.-Israel “arrangements” to keep out new weaponry.
I am skeptical about an effective American role, whether military or diplomatic; Israelis alone have the incentive to close down the arms transfers. Western governments should signal Hamas that they will encourage Jerusalem to respond to the next missile attack by retaking and enlarging the Philadelphi Corridor, thereby preventing further aggression, humanitarian tragedy, and political crises.
— Daniel Pipes is president of the Middle East Forum. © 2012 by Daniel Pipes. All rights reserved.