Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Bleeding Heart Tightwads

By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

This holiday season is a time to examine who’s been naughty and who’s been nice, but I’m unhappy with my findings. The problem is this: We liberals are personally stingy.

Liberals show tremendous compassion in pushing for generous government spending to help the neediest people at home and abroad. Yet when it comes to individual contributions to charitable causes, liberals are cheapskates. (link)

Comment

This article sites a couple of different sources to show that conservatives are quite a bit more charitable than liberals, about 30% more charitable. Not only are they more charitable with giving money, but they volunteer more often. I am not surprised by this finding.

A few months ago several of my family members were having an email exchange and someone said something about the difference between conservatives and liberals. A very close family member commented that she tells her children that the difference between liberals and conservatives is that liberals are generous and caring and conservatives are greedy. This self-righteous attitude of moral superiority seems to be very common among liberals. It was hard not to respond but I restrained myself and did not. I am better at exercising restraint in an email exchanges than I am in person. We have had enough conflict over politics in my family that I thought it best to let this one slide.

What I wanted to say, but glad I didn't, is that the difference between conservatives and liberals is that conservatives are generous with their own money and liberals are generous with other peoples money. Since the above article was written by a good liberal, there is a chance that this close family member may come across it. I hope so.

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Caroline “you know” Kennedy For Senator

I think, you know, that this is sort of like, um, this is ah, ah, like you know, like unbelievable. If ah, if ah, um, you know, if Sarah Palin had talked like this, um, she would, you know, have been the butt of a, um, a lot of, um, brutal jokes. You Know?

This is painful to listen to. I feel embarrassment for her. Maybe, she was just having a bad day. This is the only time I have ever heard Caroline Kennedy speak so maybe this is not typical. She sounds like a young, uneducated, lower class, pothead. She comes from one of the wealthiest and most powerful families in America and she is a graduate of Radcliffe College, Harvard, and Columbia Law School. Why can she not talk? Caroline Kennedy would be hard to satirize because you could not make her sound any worse than she sounds.

I don’t really like the idea of political dynasties and inherited political positions and was hoping that when Ted is finally gone from the scene, that we would have seen the last of the Kennedys. Ted should have been such an embarrassment that the Kennedy mystique was by now tarnished forever, but apparently it is not. So, I hope they go ahead and put Caroline Kennedy in the Senate and let her be the new image of the Kennedys. It could be fun.

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Friday, December 26, 2008

Don’t Blame the Community Reinvestment Act

It has almost become conservative orthodoxy to blame the current housing crisis on the Community Reinvestment Act. The line of argument is that the housing crisis was caused by loaning money to undeserving borrowers and these loans would not have been made if not due to pressure from the government forcing lenders to make bad loans. Despite this argument having been repeated over and over, I am not buying it.

When I have read some of the columnist making this claim, I have often wondered what expertise they had to support their conclusion and what evidence they had to support their claim. I often wonder if commentators are not listening to the echo chamber and repeating each other without a firm basis for reaching their conclusion.

The CRA has been around since 1976; only in the past three years did we start seeing the massive mortgage defaults. Since 1976 we have had many years of Republican dominance of the House and Senate and we have had Presidents Ford, Reagan, Bush 41 and Bush 43. If the CRA was so bad, why have Republicans not repealed it?

I have a background in mortgage lending and have been the Director of Housing Services for a non-profit housing counseling agency since 1996. I have helped hundreds of low-income people become homeowners. The people I helped have usually gotten FHA loans and had to meet standard underwriting guidelines. The help I provided was getting them eligible for the loans. I taught them money management skills, helped them repair and improve their credit and educated them to be good consumers. They often did get down payment assistance, but otherwise met the same underwriting guidelines as everyone else who got good loans.

Below is a condensed version of a speech given by Federal Reserve Board Governor Randall S. Kroszner at the Confronting Concentrated Poverty Policy Forum of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System in Washington, D.C. on December 3, 2008.

Before becoming a member of the Federal Reserve Board, Dr. Kroszner was Professor of Economics at the Graduate School of Business of the University of Chicago from 1999 to 2006. He was also Assistant Professor (1990-1994) and Associate Professor (1994-1999) at the University. Dr. Kroszner was Director of the George J. Stigler Center for the Study of the Economy and the State and editor of the Journal of Law & Economics. He was a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research, and a director at the National Association for Business Economics. Dr. Kroszner also was a member of the Federal Economic Statistics Advisory Committee at the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Department of Labor.

You will note that Dr. Kroszner is well credentialed including an association with AEI, a free market think tank. I think Dr. Kroszner’s evaluation is a more accurate portrayal of the roll of the CRA in the current crisis than what we are hearing from many conservative columnist.

The Community Reinvestment Act and the Recent Mortgage Crisis
By Randall S. Kroszner

Some critics of the CRA contend that by encouraging banking institutions to help meet the credit needs of lower-income borrowers and areas, the law pushed banking institutions to undertake high-risk mortgage lending. We have not yet seen empirical evidence to support these claims, nor has it been our experience in implementing the law over the past 30 years that the CRA has contributed to the erosion of safe and sound lending practices. The findings of a recent analysis of mortgage-related data by Federal Reserve staff runs counter to the charge that the CRA was at the root of, or otherwise contributed in any substantive way, to the current subprime crisis.

In the 1970s, when banking was still a local enterprise, the Congress enacted the CRA. The act required the banking regulators to encourage insured depository institutions--that is, commercial banks and thrifts--to help meet the credit needs of their entire community, including low- and moderate-income areas. The CRA does not stipulate minimum targets or goals for lending, investments, or services. Rather, the law provides incentives for financial institutions to help meet the credit needs of lower-income people and areas, consistent with safe and sound banking practices, and commensurately provides them favorable CRA consideration for those activities. By requiring regulators to make CRA performance ratings and evaluations public and to consider those ratings when reviewing applications for mergers, acquisitions, and branches, the Congress created an unusual set of incentives to promote interaction between lenders and community organizations.

Given the incentives of the CRA, bankers have pursued lines of business that had not been previously tapped by forming partnerships with community organizations and other stakeholders to identify and help meet the credit needs of underserved communities. This experimentation in lending, often combined with financial education and counseling and consideration of nontraditional measures of creditworthiness, expanded the markets for safe lending in underserved communities and demonstrated its viability; as a result, these actions attracted competition from other financial services providers, many of whom were not covered by the CRA.

In addition to providing financial services to lower-income people, banks also provide critical community development loans and investments to address affordable housing and economic development needs. These activities are particularly effective because they leverage the resources available to communities from public subsidies and tax credit programs that are targeted to lower-income people. In just the past two years, banks have reported making over $120 billion in community development loans nationwide. This figure does not capture the full extent of such lending, because smaller institutions are not required to report community development loans to their regulators.

Over the years, the Federal Reserve has prepared two reports for the Congress that provide information on the performance of lending to lower-income borrowers or neighborhoods--populations that are the focus of the CRA. These studies found that lending to lower-income individuals and communities has been nearly as profitable and performed similarly to other types of lending done by CRA-covered institutions. Thus, the long-term evidence shows that the CRA has not pushed banks into extending loans that perform out of line with their traditional businesses. Rather, the law has encouraged banks to be aware of lending opportunities in all segments of their local communities as well as to learn how to undertake such lending in a safe and sound manner.

Recently, Federal Reserve staff has undertaken more specific analysis focusing on the potential relationship between the CRA and the current subprime crisis. This analysis was performed for the purpose of assessing claims that the CRA was a principal cause of the current mortgage market difficulties. For this analysis, the staff examined lending activity covering the period that corresponds to the height of the subprime boom.

The research focused on two basic questions. First, we asked what share of originations for subprime loans is related to the CRA. The potential role of the CRA in the subprime crisis could either be large or small, depending on the answer to this question. We found that the loans that are the focus of the CRA represent a very small portion of the subprime lending market, casting considerable doubt on the potential contribution that the law could have made to the subprime mortgage crisis.

Second, we asked how CRA-related subprime loans performed relative to other loans. Once again, the potential role of the CRA could be large or small, depending on the answer to this question. We found that delinquency rates were high in all neighborhood income groups, and that CRA-related subprime loans performed in a comparable manner to other subprime loans; as such, differences in performance between CRA-related subprime lending and other subprime lending cannot lie at the root of recent market turmoil.

In analyzing the available data, we focused on two distinct metrics: loan origination activity and loan performance. With respect to the first question concerning loan originations, we wanted to know which types of lending institutions made higher-priced loans, to whom those loans were made, and in what types of neighborhoods the loans were extended. This analysis allowed us to determine what fraction of subprime lending could be related to the CRA.

Our analysis of the loan data found that about 60 percent of higher-priced loan originations went to middle- or higher-income borrowers or neighborhoods. Such borrowers are not the populations targeted by the CRA. In addition, more than 20 percent of the higher-priced loans were extended to lower-income borrowers or borrowers in lower-income areas by independent nonbank institutions--that is, institutions not covered by the CRA.

Putting together these facts provides a striking result: Only 6 percent of all the higher-priced loans were extended by CRA-covered lenders to lower-income borrowers or neighborhoods in their CRA assessment areas, the local geographies that are the primary focus for CRA evaluation purposes. This result undermines the assertion by critics of the potential for a substantial role for the CRA in the subprime crisis. In other words, the very small share of all higher-priced loan originations that can reasonably be attributed to the CRA makes it hard to imagine how this law could have contributed in any meaningful way to the current subprime crisis.

Of course, loan originations are only one path that banking institutions can follow to meet their CRA obligations. They can also purchase loans from lenders not covered by the CRA, and in this way encourage more of this type of lending. The data also suggest that these types of transactions have not been a significant factor in the current crisis. Specifically, less than 2 percent of the higher-priced and CRA-credit-eligible mortgage originations sold by independent mortgage companies were purchased by CRA-covered institutions.

I now want to turn to the second question concerning how CRA-related subprime lending performed relative to other types of lending. To address this issue, we looked at data on subprime and alt-A mortgage delinquencies in lower-income neighborhoods and compared them with those in middle- and higher-income neighborhoods to see how CRA-related loans performed. An overall comparison revealed that the rates for all subprime and alt-A loans delinquent 90 days or more is high regardless of neighborhood income. This result casts further doubt on the view that the CRA could have contributed in any meaningful way to the current subprime crisis.

Our analysis of the data on loan performance and the roll of the CRA revealed the following:
  • Some lower-income lending by institutions subject to the CRA law was outside their local communities and was unlikely to have been motivated by the CRA..
    Delinquency rates for subprime and alt-A loans in neighborhoods just below the CRA-eligibility threshold are very similar to delinquency rates on loans just above the threshold, hence not the subject of CRA lending.
  • Most foreclosure filings have taken place in middle- or higher-income neighborhoods; in fact, foreclosure filings have increased at a faster pace in middle- or higher-income areas than in lower-income areas that are the focus of the CRA.
  • In conclusion, I believe the CRA is an important model for designing incentives that motivate private-sector involvement to help meet community needs. Contrary to the assertions of critics, the evidence does not support the view that the CRA contributed in any substantial way to the crisis in the subprime mortgage market.

    To read the uncondensed version and see the supporting research, visit this link: http://www.federalreserve.gov/newsevents/speech/kroszner20081203a.htm

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    Tuesday, December 23, 2008

    Merry Christmas

    To all my Democratic family and friends:

    Please accept my best wishes for an environmentally sensitive, politically correct, socially responsible, health-conscious, gender-neutral, Merry Christmas or Happy Kwanza, or Happy Holiday or celebration of the winter solstice, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, or secular practices of your choice. These wishes or sent to you, of course, with the utmost respect and sensitivity for the religious/secular persuasion and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all, as the case may be.

    I also wish you financial success, personal fulfillment and good health in this the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2009, but not without due respect for your sensitivities of the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make America great. Not to imply that America is necessarily greater than any other country, of course. Also in wishing you a financial success that is not to imply that you seek to acquire more that your fair share of earth’s bounty or that your financial success would be acquired at the expense of others or that you would use that financial success to engage in vulgar consumerism; I just hope you have all you need to be happy. Also, this wish is made without regard to the race, creed, color, age, physical ability, religious faith or sexual preference of the recipient of these good wishes. Gee, I hope I haven’t offended you.


    To my very religious conservative friends and family:

    Merry Christmas! I apologize if I sent you a secular Christmas card instead of religious card or if I inadvertently said "Happy Holidays"; and yes, I know Christ is the reason for the Christ-mas season!

    To everyone else:

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

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    Monday, December 22, 2008

    An Elephant Tale

    It seems that I get lots of heartwarming stories forwarded to me this time of the year. I normally do not post them or forward them, but I wanted to share this one. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. This story has no political message and I will let you draw your own conclusion as to the moral of the story. Rod

    An Elephant Tale

    In 1986, Peter Davies was on holiday in Kenya after graduating from Northwestern University...
    On a hike through the bush, he came across a young bull elephant standing with one leg raised in the air. The elephant seemed distressed, so Peter approached it very carefully.
    He got down on one knee, inspected the elephants foot, and found a large piece of wood deeply embedded in it. As carefully and as gently as he could, Peter worked the wood out with his knife, after which the elephant gingerly put down its foot.

    The elephant turned to face the man, and with a rather curious look on its face, stared at him for several tense moments. Peter stood frozen, thinking of nothing else but being trampled. Eventually the elephant trumpeted loudly, turned, and walked away. Peter never forgot that elephant or the events of that day.

    Twenty years later, Peter was walking through the Chicago Zoo with his teenage son. As they approached the elephant enclosure, one of the creatures turned and walked over to near where Peter and his son Cameron were standing. The large bull elephant stared at Peter, lifted its front foot off the ground, then put it down. The elephant did that several times then trumpeted loudly, all the while staring at the man.


    Remembering the encounter in 1986, Peter could not help wondering if this was the same elephant. Peter summoned up his courage, climbed over the railing, and made his way into the enclosure. He walked right up to the elephant and stared back in wonder.

    The elephant trumpeted again, wrapped its trunk around one of Peter legs and slammed him against the railing, killing him instantly.

    Apparently it wasn't the same elephant.

    (If you would like to suggest a moral to the story or an analogy please feel free to post a reply. Rod)

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    Sunday, December 21, 2008

    Christmas Party Memo

    GCF: Christmas Party Memo
    FROM: Pat Lewis, Human Resources Director
    TO: Everyone
    RE: Christmas Party
    DATE: December 1

    I'm happy to inform you that the company Christmas Party will take place on December 23, starting at noon in the banquet room at Luigi's Open Pit Barbecue. No-host bar, but plenty of eggnog! We'll have a small band playing traditional carols... feel free to sing along. And don't be surprised if our CEO shows up dressed as Santa Claus!

    FROM: Pat Lewis, Human Resources Director
    DATE: December 2
    RE: Christmas Party
    In no way was yesterday's memo intended to exclude our Jewish employees. We recognize that Chanukah is an important holiday which often coincides with Christmas, though unfortunately not this year. However, from now on we're calling it our "Holiday Party." The same policy applies to employees who are celebrating Kwanzaa at this time.

    FROM: Pat Lewis, Human Resources Director
    DATE: December 3
    RE: Holiday Party
    Regarding the note I received from a member of Alcoholics Anonymous requesting a non-drinking table ... you didn't sign your name. I'm happy to accommodate this request, but if I put a sign on a table that reads, "AA Only"; you wouldn't be anonymous anymore. We're not trying to exclude anyone, honest! How am I supposed to handle this? Somebody?

    FROM: Pat Lewis, Human Resources Director
    DATE: December 7
    RE: Holiday Party
    What a diverse company we are! I had no idea that the party occurs during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which forbids eating and drinking during daylight hours. There goes the party! Seriously, we can appreciate how a luncheon this time of year does not accommodate our Muslim employees' beliefs. Perhaps Luigi's can hold off on serving your meal until the end of the party -- the days are so short this time of year or else package everything for take-home in little foil swans. Will that work?
    Meanwhile, I've arranged for members of Overeaters Anonymous to sit farthest from the dessert buffet and pregnant women will get the table closest to the restrooms. Did I miss anything?

    FROM: Pat Lewis, Human Resources Director
    DATE: December 8
    RE: Holiday Party
    So December 22 marks the Winter Solstice... what do you expect me to do, a tap-dance on your heads? Fire regulations at Luigi's prohibit the burning of sage by our "earth-based Goddess-worshipping" employees, but we'll try to accommodate your drumming circle during the band's breaks. Okay???

    FROM: Pat Lewis, Human Resources Director
    DATE: December 9
    RE: Holiday Party
    People, people, nothing sinister was intended by having our CEO dress up like Santa Claus! Even if the anagram of "Santa" does happen to be "Satan," there is no evil connotation to our own "little man in a red suit." It's a tradition, folks, like sugar shock at Halloween or family feuds over the Thanksgiving turkey or broken hearts on Valentine's Day. Could we lighten up for a minute

    FROM: Pat Lewis, Human Resources Director
    DATE: December 10
    RE: Holiday Party
    Vegetarians! ?!?!? I've had it with you people!!! We're going to keep this party at Luigi's Open Pit Barbecue whether you like it or not, so you can sit quietly at the table furthest from the "grill of death," as you so quaintly put it, and you'll get your salad bar, including hydroponic tomatoes. But you know, they have feelings, too. Tomatoes scream when you slice them. I've heard them scream, I'm hearing them scream right now!

    FROM: Teri Bishops, Acting Human Resources Director
    DATE: December 14
    RE: Pat Lewis and Holiday Party
    I'm sure I speak for all of us in wishing Pat Lewis a speedy recovery from her stress-related illness and I'll continue to forward your cards to her at the sanitarium. In the meantime, management has decided to cancel our Holiday Party and give everyone the afternoon of the 23rd off with full pay.
    (Author unknown)

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    Friday, December 19, 2008

    GOP slams Bush over bailout

    I may have been a little hasty and a little harsh in my criticism of Republican legislators. It seems we do have some Republicans with courage and principle. They are making me proud.

    Politico just reported, "Republican leaders across the board have let loose on President Bush’s auto industry bailout in what may be some of the toughest GOP criticism of the Bush presidency." And, a "cast of other angry fiscal conservatives" are criticizing Bush.

    According to Politico, John McCain is leading the charge. "It is unacceptable that we would leave the American taxpayer with a tab of tens of billions of dollars while failing to receive any serious concessions from the industry,” McCain is quoted as saying.

    Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) makes the point that it is an illegal use of the TRPA funds to use those funds to bailout the auto industry. “These funds were not authorized by Congress for non-financial companies in distress,” Gregg said, “but were to be used to restore liquidity and stability in the overall financial system of the country and to help prevent fundamental systemic risks in the global marketplace.”

    It is probably too late to impeach Bush. There is probably no easy mechanism to stop the President from misappropriating funds. I wish someone would introduce legislation to repeal TRPA or impound the remaining funds. This abuse of power should not be allowed to stand.

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    Bush orders emergency bailout of the auto industry

    The AP just reported: “Citing imminent danger to the national economy, President Bush ordered an emergency bailout of the U.S. auto industry Friday, offering $17.4 billion in rescue loans and demanding tough concessions from the deeply troubled carmakers and their workers.”

    It looks like President Bush has determined to take one more dictatorial action before he leaves office and again give the Constitution the middle finger. I would like to throw a shoe at him.

    The auto bailout failed. Congress has spoken. We live in a Democracy with an elected legislature and when Congress voted against the bailout that was supposed to end it. The Troubled Asset Relief Program was not passed to become the President’s private slush fund. Congress did not give Bush a blank check to spend that money however he wanted. The TARP was clearly appropriated to purchase troubled assets from financial institutions and restore liquidity to the market. It is illegal to take money specifically appropriated for one purpose and spend it on something else. If Congress appropriates money for children’s health care, is it OK if a president takes it and uses it to fund a military campaign? There is no difference. I more upset by the abuse of power than I am that the auto industry will get the bailout. If this is the way we are going to do business, we might as well abolish Congress and vest all power in a single individual.

    Since the majority of the Democrats desire to bail out the auto industry, they won’t challenge Bush on this decision. Republicans, most of whom do not want the bailout, won’t mount a challenge a President of their own party who is on his way out the door. Bush will get by with this abuse of power.

    For Democrats, I am convinced that what is achieved is much more important than how it is achieved and for Republicans, I am convinced that party is more important than principle. No one gives a damn about the separation of powers and the Constitution.

    I am glad the Bush era is over, but with an acquiescent Congress and a public that doesn’t give a damn, I don’t expect any restraint on Obama or any future Presidents who may decide to rule dictatorially. I don’t expect Obama to govern with any greater respect for the Constitution than Bush; Obama has praised Bush’s decision.

    I don’t expect it, but I hope someone in Congress has the balls to challenge the legality of the Presidents decision to commit this abuse of power.

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    Wednesday, December 17, 2008

    Restoring my faith in America

    Senate Panel Condemns Torture, Blames Rumsfeld

    Last week, The Senate Armed Services Committee issued a report that blames Donald Rumsfeld and other top Bush Administration officials for torturing suspected terrorists at Guantanamo and the detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad. The 25-member Senate panel, without one dissent among the 12 Republican members, unanimously approved the resolution.

    The Committee Reported: "The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees."

    The Bush Administration had insisted the torture of prisoners in the war on terror was the fault of a "few bad apples," and that the U.S did not engage in torture. At the same time however, Bush defended harsh interrogation techniques and redefined what had generally been considered torture as not constituting torture.

    The controversial interrogation practices condemned in the report including forced nudity, painful stress positions, sleep deprivation, extreme temperatures and the use of dogs. "These policies are wrong and must never be repeated," Senator John McCain said in a statement.

    The United States has long been on record as opposing torture. Numerous laws, the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and various treaties clearly prohibit it. The US was instrumental in drafting the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which bans all forms of torture. In 1990 Congress ratified the UN’s Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. We have had a record of which we could be proud.

    With the start of the war in Iraq, the United States began redefining and equivocating on US policies that prohibit torture. Waterbording which had long been considered torture was redefined as not being torture. In 2003, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld approved the use of 24 specific interrogation techniques for use on detainees at Guantanamo Bay. In court filings, FBI agents reported that detainees at Guantanamo Bay were chained in a fetal position to the floor for up to 18 hours without breaks and had to lay in their own waste, were subjected to extremes of temperature, were gagged, held in stress positions while shackled, and subjected to loud music and flashing lights. Senior administration officials denied that these techniques were torture.

    In 2004 the Abu Ghraib story broke and told of sadistic humiliation of prisoners and accounts of abuse, torture, sodomy and even the death of prisoners while being interrogated. Some military personnel were punished for the abuses at Abu Ghraib, but it became clear that Abu Ghraib was not simply a case of an isolated incident of individuals violating established rules but a case of there being a climate that tolerated, condoned, or ignored torture.

    In 2005 in response to the outcry over the Abu Ghraib scandal, Congress passed the Detainee Treatment Act which banned all cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment and required that all military interrogations comply with the Army Field Manual. From 2006 to 2008, in military appropriation bills and other legislation, Congress further defined and outlawed torture.
    In 2006 the military issued updated field manuals and reiterated that "no person in the custody or under the control of DOD, regardless of nationality or physical location, shall be subject to torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, in accordance with and as defined in US law." Specific techniques which were listed as prohibited including waterbording and many of the techniques used at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.

    Torture should not be practiced by the United States. Torture is counterproductive. It elicits false confessions and it turns the people we are trying to help against us. Abu Ghriab was a recruiting opportunity for Al Qaeda in Iraq. By the U.S. actions at Abu Ghriab we created our own enemies. After seeing the pictures from Abu Ghriab, I can understand how a neutral Iraqi would join the forces fighting the United States.

    Torture is not only wrong because it is a counterproductive means of interrogation and wrong because it turns people against us. It is simply wrong. It violates standards of human decency.

    I am not naïve. We live in a mean, harsh world. I don’t believe in turning the other cheek. I accept that innocent people die in battle. I accept that under the pressure of war people do things they would not normally do. I am not a pacifist, nor do I believe that if we are only nice enough our enemies will learn to love us. However, we must treat people with basic human dignity. To commit acts of cruelty and torture robs us of our own humanity. It makes us no better than our enemies.

    I do not want America to be the kind of nation that tortures people. That is not who we are. That is not the United States that I know and love. I want to be proud of the United States of America and proud of our men and women in uniform. In the past, Americans could say with a clear conscious that American does not condone torture. We could say it is not American policy to treat people inhumanly. However, for a while, we could not say that.

    President Bush and Donald Rumsfeld brought shame upon our county. I am glad that the US Congress and the military have put the U.S. back on record as unequivocally not engaging in torture and cruelty. My faith in my country is being restored.

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    Tuesday, December 16, 2008

    On auto crisis, Sen. Corker is the voice of reason

    By Gail Kerr, The Tennessean, December 16, 2008

    Bob Corker was right.

    You can say whatever you want about the motivations of the junior senator from Tennessee — that he was trying to set up a favorable labor environment to greet the new Volkswagen investors in his hometown of Chattanooga, that he's a union buster, that it's easy for a multimillionaire to coach from the sidelines.

    Still, he was absolutely right. If the United Auto Workers and other unions and employee groups don't realize they've got to bend right now, they're going to be out of work. (link)

    Comment
    Gail Kerr is exactly right and she says it well.

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    Groping Hillary


    President-elect Obama's chief speechwriter Jon Favreau was photographed groping a stand-up photo of secretary of state nominee Sen. Hillary Clinton.
    I have no brilliant insight or cutting commentary about this. I am posting it just because I find it funny.

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    The Cost of Green

    By INVESTOR'S BUSINESS DAILY, Wednesday, December 03, 2008 4:20 PM PT

    Economy: Stimulating the economy with massive new investments in "green" infrastructure seems to be a popular idea, and President-elect Obama has made it a centerpiece of his program. Will it work? We doubt it. (link)

    Comment
    I accept the scientific consensus that global warming is occurring and is primarily caused by human activity. I believe we must address the issue. However, the claim that solving the problem will be easy or cheap, I have always thought was pure unadulterated propaganda and wishful thinking. To go green will take money. It will take lots of money. It will require making everything that emits CO2 more expensive by either a carbon tax, or a hidden carbon tax in the form of a system of cap and trade; or massive subsidies to make alternatives cheaper; or regulations to prohibit carbon emissions and thus forcing consumers to use more expensive sources of energy and buy more expensive products. Take your pick but no matter how we approach it, it will be very costly.

    This article says that the claim that “investments” in green technology will create five million jobs is simply false. It is more likely that 900,000 more jobs will be lost than created. I think we must get serious about addressing global warming, but don’t start by telling fairy tales.

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    Sunday, December 14, 2008

    How to get a Bailout










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    Saturday, December 13, 2008

    Vantage Point

    Forest Whitaker, Dennis Quaid, William Hurt, and Matthew Fox star in director Pete Travis' Rashomon-style thriller in which an assassination attempt on the president of the United States is detailed from five unique perspectives. As the president arrives in Salamanca, gunshots ring out. An American tourist has captured footage of the would-be assassin on videotape, and now, as the stories of the other four witnesses unfold, each essential piece of the puzzle quickly falls into place. Only when all of the stories are told will the chilling truth to this shocking crime finally emerge. ~ Jason Buchanan, All Movie Guide


    Comment: I watched this movie last night. I highly recommend it! From the start to the very end, it keeps you on the edge of your seat and the adrenalin flowing. For some reason the critics didn't like, but I thought it was great.

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    Friday, December 12, 2008

    Reexamining U.S. Cuba Policy

    December 4, 2008

    President-elect Barack Obama
    P.O. Box 8102
    Chicago, IL, 60680

    Re: Reexamining U.S. Cuba Policy

    Dear President-elect Obama:

    We would like to extend to you our sincere congratulations on your historic election to the presidency of the United States.

    We are pleased that your promises of change include U.S. policy toward Cuba. It is time for the United States to rethink its approach to the Cuban government and the Cuban people. You have already indicated that you support suspending restrictions on family remittances, visits, and humanitarian care packages from Cuban Americans. These are excellent first steps but we urge you to also commit to a more comprehensive examination of U.S. policy, one that will have the power to transform Cuban society without costing U.S. taxpayers and one that will greatly benefit U.S. businesses.

    When Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy initiated restrictions against Cuba, they did so in the face of clear national security challenges and with the support of much of the international community. Today, the United States maintains the embargo despite the absence of an obvious national security threat and against nearly unanimous international opposition. Moreover, as countries like Venezuela and China invest increasing amounts of money in the Cuban economy, it is clear that the embargo is not having – and will not have – the type of economic impact that might influence the behavior of the Cuban government. It is time to consider new approaches that would benefit U.S. national security and economic interests, as well as the Cuban people.

    Current policies towards Cuba have clearly not achieved their objectives. Without the support of our allies and the larger international community, U.S. sanctions serve only to remove the positive influences that American businesses, workers, religious groups, students and tourists have in promoting U.S. values and human rights. Sanctions are also blunt instruments that generally harm the poorest people of the target country rather than that country’s leaders.

    There is no better example of the ineffectiveness of unilateral sanctions than the case of Cuba. During the Cold War, Soviet assistance helped bolster the Cuban economy in spite of U.S. sanctions. The Cuban economy struggled – but did not collapse – during the “special period” in Cuba following the end of Soviet aid, while Fidel Castro was able to blame shortages at the time on the U.S. embargo. Today, tourism from Europe and Canada, investment from China, Latin America, Canada and Europe, and a more diversified economy have helped to stabilize the Cuban economy and marginalize the impact of U.S. sanctions. Venezuelan financial assistance in the form of petroleum sold at below market prices has also helped prop up the regime.

    While the current isolation of Cuba has far outlasted its original purpose, U.S. policies impose real costs on America. For American businesses, the U.S. International Trade Commission estimated in 2001 that the Cuba embargo costs American exporters up to $1.2 billion annually in lost sales. The U.S. government focuses attention and resources on the Cuba embargo at the expense of more urgent pursuits such as halting flows of money to al Qaeda and keeping terrorists and criminals out of the United States. Using scarce resources to investigate and prosecute minor violations of Cuba sanctions ignores the infinitely greater challenge of securing the homeland from more serious national security threats.

    The real cost, however, is the influence that the United States has lost by voluntarily isolating itself from Cuba during an important moment of transition. Far from providing leverage, U.S. policies threaten to make the United States virtually irrelevant to the future of Cuba.

    Your administration has a unique opportunity to take steps to end nearly 50 years of isolation from Cuba and the Cuban people. We support the complete removal of all trade and travel restrictions on Cuba. We recognize that change may not come all at once, but it must start somewhere, and it must begin soon.

    The United States could engage in bilateral discussions with the Cuban government. Beginning a dialogue on issues of mutual interest could begin the process of repairing the complicated relationship between the United States and Cuba, but that process will take time.

    The United States should immediately remove travel restrictions and allow Americans to act as ambassadors of freedom and American values to Cuba. From farmers and manufacturers to human rights and religious groups, as well as a large and growing number of Cuban Americans, the American people increasingly recognize the unfairness and incongruity of restricting travel to Cuba. It is simply wrong that American citizens cannot travel freely to Havana but are not restricted by the United States from traveling to Pyongyang and Tehran.

    Your administration should also consider removing certain restrictions on trade to allow American companies to help Cuba to respond more effectively and meaningfully to the devastating humanitarian crisis in the wake of Hurricanes Gustav and Ike. For example, the United States could exempt agricultural machinery, heavy equipment and other exports from the embargo which would provide the goods and technology needed to rebuild from recent storms.

    The United States could also license direct banking services in order to facilitate these sales. American businesses stand ready to help Cuba rebuild and hope to play a constructive role in reaching out to the people of Cuba.

    We urge you to support the immediate reconsideration of U.S. Cuba policy, and to convene a bipartisan commission tasked with looking at U.S. policies in their entirety. Continuation of the status quo could leave the United States isolated from the Cuban people for another generation. As you have said, the time for change is now.

    Sincerely,
    American Farm Bureau Federation
    American Society of Travel Agents
    Business Roundtable
    Coalition for Employment through Exports
    Emergency Committee for American Trade
    Grocery Manufacturers Association
    National Foreign Trade Council
    National Retail Federation
    Organization for International Investment
    U.S. Chamber of Commerce
    U.S. Council for International Business
    USA*Engage

    Comment:
    I could not agree more. Certainly ever since the fall of the Berlin Wall, and perhaps for as far back as the Nixon opening to China, our policy toward Cuba has been wrong-headed, illogical, and counterproductive. We have trade and commerse with out former enemy Vietnam but not Cuba; what kind of logic is that. Vietnam is now a less doctrinaire Communist country, no doubt in part due to trade with the west. Opening commerse and trade with Cuba will not change our society but it will change theirs. Changing our policy toward Cuba is one promise I hope Obama keeps.

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    Wednesday, December 10, 2008

    NBC Edits ‘Saturday Night Live’ Sketch

    By Brian Stelter, New York Times, Oct 8, 2008

    NBC has taken the unusual step of editing the online video version of a “Saturday Night Live” skit.

    Two characters in a sketch about the Congressional bailout are no longer labeled “people who should be shot” in the revised version of the video, which was posted online Tuesday night. Those two characters represented actual people, Herb and Marion Sandler, who sold subprime loans to Wachovia. (link)

    Comment:
    I had forgotten part of the orginal skit! The version I show in the post below has more of the orginal skit than that showing on YouTube and other sites now, but it is not complete. It edits out the offending portion about Wachovia.

    This reminds me of how the old Soviet Union used to retouch official photos to remove the images out-of-favor former leaders.

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    SNL Housing Bailout Skit: Hilarious unedited version!




    This is hilarious! I think it is very close to representing the truth. As a housing counselor I see many clients who really were victims or people who just made poor decsion, but I also see people like the couple of guys in this skit who represent the undeserving homebuyer.

    This is the unedited version. When this first appeared it was widely available then inexplicably the full versions just disappeared and I really had to search to find the unedited version. I am not one who subscribes to conspiracy theories and I am not joining the tinfoil hat crowd, but for some reason YouTube removed the uncut version and now only show a version that removes the best parts. All across the net the unedited version simply disappeared. Watch it while you can. Please endure the 30 seconds of advertisement, the skit appears shortly (I hope).

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    Tuesday, December 9, 2008

    Praying for a Bailout




    SUVs at altar, Detroit church prays for a bailout

    By Kevin Krolicki and Soyoung Kim DETROIT, Dec 7 (Reuters) - With sport-utility vehicles at the altar and auto workers in the pews, one of Detroit's largest churches on Sunday offered up prayers for Congress to bail out the struggling auto industry. (link)


    Comment:

    Oh Lord, want you buy me a Mercedes Benz?

    Something seems a little unseemly about this. Does God answer the prayers of those who want a bailout? Does God have a team of economic advisers he confers with before considering such prayer? Not only are they praying for a bailout, they are anointing cars with oil and it is not motor oil. It looks like their prayers are about to be answered. Those who oppose the bailout better start praying.

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    Senator Corker on the Bailout Plan

    Corker Disappointed in Initial Outline of Auto Bailout Plan Being Developed by White House and House Democrats

    December 6, 2008 CHATTANOOGA, TN – U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-TN), a member of the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee, today issued a statement following reports of an auto bailout plan being developed between House Democrats and the White House.

    “Based on the outline we’ve seen so far, we are disappointed in the plan that is being developed between House Democrats and the White House,” said Corker.

    Earlier this week at the Senate Banking hearing Sen. Corker outlined a plan which states: “Before we even contemplate making a loan to these companies, we need to put in place specific and rigorous measures that include:

    • “One, give existing bondholders 30 cents on the dollar to help reduce their overall debt load.
    • “Two, bring wages immediately in-line with companies like Nissan and Volkswagen.
    • “Three, GM owes $23 billion to the United Auto Worker’s VEBA (voluntary employees’ beneficiary association) account. The union must agree to take half of that payment in GM stock.
    • “Four, the union must agree to do away with payments to workers who are still receiving almost full compensation up to four years after their jobs have ended.

    “These are the same types of conditions a bankruptcy judge might require to ensure that these companies become viable and sustainable into the future, and if they will agree to these terms then we have something to talk about. The process I have suggested would allow them to avoid the problems and stigma that accompany a formal bankruptcy, while forcing them to do the things they need to do to be successful companies.”

    Comment: Yes! This makes sense to me. The comment about Nissan and Volkswagen are especially relevant to me as a Tennessean. Not all cars are made in Detroit. Both Nissan and Volkswagen have plants in Tennessee and are large employers. Not only do these two companies employ a lot of people but many more people are employed by smaller companies that supply or support, in some way, these two companies. Why should taxpayers subsidize union wages that will produce cars that will be in competition with cars produced in Tennessee where the wages are not subsidized?

    If the taxpayers are going to bail out the Detroit auto industry, we should not put conditions on them that equate to micromanagement. Congress shouldn't design the cars or tell Detroit what to produce. We should impose conditions that force them to become competitive.

    I am proud of Senator Bob Corker and respect and admire him. I agree with his common sense conservative values and admire his intellegence and hardwork.

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    Monday, December 8, 2008

    Alan, buy yourself a new pair of pants!

    I was telling Pattie, my co-worker about the disreputable pair of jeans I saw at Posh with a $250 price tag and she said, “What about Alan Jackson? Why does he were the pants with holes in the knee?”

    Yea, I don’t get that either.

    Alan Jackson is one of my favorite contemporary country artists. I love his music, but I do not understand the worn out knees of the pants.

    Alan, you have got to have made a lot of money by now. You have sold over 50 million records. You have had twenty-four number one country songs and had more than 50 singles reach the top forty on Billboard’s County charts. You have won ACM’s and CMA’s and a Grammy and you pack out stadiums all across the county. Why do you wear the pants with the torn out knees? I really don’t understand the expensive designer western shirts matched with the pants with the worn-out knees. Alan, buy yourself a new pair of pants! Please. You can afford them.

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    Why do people pay good money to look very poor?

    Sunday my wife and I went to our favorite coffee shop in Hillsboro Village. I like HillsboroVillage. It is near the university area and is always lively and interesting with boutiques, book stores, several resturants, coffee shops and an art gallery. We sat in the Provence Café and Louella had her cream brulee and cappuccino and I had the house coffee and a scone as we read the Sunday paper. Although cold, it was a pretty day and after our visit to Provence we decided to walk a couple blocks before heading back to the car. Strolling through the village we window-shopped and went into a couple stores.

    One of the stores we visited was a clothing store called Posh. In the store was a female manikin in a pair of tight fitting blue jeans. The jeans were frayed around the cuffs and from the knees upward the front of the pants were faded. They were not faded to a light blue or white but a kind of rusty dirty color. The pants looked like someone had also painted in them. On the front, in the upper thigh region they had what looked like a few small paint spatters. On a couple or more places it looked like someone had tried to wipe off the paint spatter and the paint was smeared. I looked at the tag. The brand was Diesel and the price of the pants was $250.

    I don’t get it. They looked like Goodwill rejects. I cannot for the life of me understand why someone would want to wear pants that looked like they were pulled out the trash. They were just plain ugly. You know the people who buy them are probably little rich girls who attend Vanderbilt University. Why do people pay good money to look very poor? Can someone explain this?

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    Saturday, December 6, 2008

    Change we can believe in? Yes we can! I Hope.

    The lefties are not yet livid yet, but they are starting to mummer and grumble. I am sure some on the left would not be satisfied with anything short of Bill Ayers being appointed Secretary of State and Jeremiah Wright being Chief of Staff. Well, it does not look as if it will happen.

    Not a single anti-war person has been appointed to his national security team. He is keeping Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense. Hillary Clinton who voted for the war in Iraq is getting Secretary of State. His economic team is composed of people that Wall Street find reassuring.

    Columnist David Brooks says his appointees are “admired professionals” and “not ideological” and “not excessively partisan.” Henry Kissinger has praised the cabinet choices saying, "It took courage for the president-elect to choose this constellation." Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer has also praised Obama for his cabinet choices. What many on the right feared and what those on the left hoped for is not happening. Obama is staffing his leadership team with bright moderate centrist Washington insiders.

    Not only are the Obama appointments reassuring, but Obama is also backing away from most of his campaign promises. Almost daily the transition team is letting it be leaked or are announcing policy changes.

    Recently Obama’s economic advisers outlined a plan that would raise tax rates on capital gains and dividends from 15% to 20% for individuals making more than $200,000 and on family incomes above $250,000. This was good news. Previous policy positions had led investors to fear Obama would double the 15% tax rate on capital gains and raise the 15% rate on dividends to 40%.

    The Obama team also have announce that now is not the time to repeal the Bush tax cut for the wealthy. They won’t be adding additional income taxes to those making over $250,000. Also, they have announced they have changed their mind about a windfall profits tax on the oil companies.

    Obama was never the most anti-war of the Democrats but did promise to get US “combat” troops out of Iraq within sixteen months. Now it seems that the distinction between combat troops and other troops is a big distinction and a residual force of up to 70,000 troops may be left in Iraq. He has also said he would listen to the advice of Gates and uniformed commanders on the ground in setting the pace for the partial withdrawal. This is reassuring.

    Obama’s team have even let it be known that they will not move for months, and perhaps not until 2010, to ask Congress to end the military's ban on open homosexuals serving in the ranks, known as the “don’t ask; don’t tell” policy. The Obama position on this issue and on issue after issue is being modified or implementation of promised new policies is being delayed.

    Except for a handful of ideologically committed leftist, it looks like Obama can change his positions without his supporters even noticing. The mass of people, who swooned at the mention of his name and cried on election night and whose Thanksgiving thing they were thankful for was the election of Obama, will apparently let him lead them anywhere. In a way this is reassuring. Those voters were not voting for specific leftwing policies but had an emotional response to the man Obama.

    We should not be surprised that Obama would break campaign promises and shift his positions. If you recall, he promised to accept public financing of his campaign and then changed his mind. He started moderating his positions and moving toward the center immediately after winning the Democratic primary. He is continuing along the same trajectory. Anyway, only a fool stays the course and refuses to change his mind when circumstances indicate a need for a change in policy. And only a fool would raise taxes when the economy needs a stimulus and only a fool would radically change our nations defense and security team in the mist of a war and when terrorist are plotting another attack on this country. I am reassured that Obama is no fool.

    I am not catching a case of Obamania but I am pleasantly surprised at some of his appointments and changes in policy. If he continues down this path, he may be Ok for America. So far, he is showing me some change I can believe in.

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    Thursday, December 4, 2008

    PR suggestion for the Big 3

    The Big Three automaker CEOs return to Washington today with tin cup in hand asking for a $34 Billion bailout. This time they arrived by hybrid vehicles. The last time they arrived seeking a dose of corporate welfare they asked for $24 Billion and they flew in, each in his own private jet. Last time they got a chilly reception and a tongue lashing; this time the reception was a little warmer. It seems that symbolism will always win out over substance in Washington. And, elected officials seem to like supplicants to grovel a little. If a $24 Billion bailout for the auto industry was a bad idea when the CEO’s flew in on their private jets then $34 Billion is a bad idea when they drive to Washington in a hybrid vehicle.

    If they don’t get the handout they want, I have some advice for them. Next time, come to Washington by bicycle and roller skate. Also, instead of staying at the Renaissance Mayflower, stay at the Motel 6, or better yet camp out. Also, instead of dining at a fancy upscale Washington restaurant bring your lunch. Just open your briefcase and eat right there in the hearing room in front of everyone at the table where you are sitting. One of you could bring a peanut butter and jelly sandwich; one could eat a bologna sandwich, and one a tuna sandwich. Hell, that ought to be worth, maybe, $52 billion?

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    Monday, December 1, 2008

    The ignorance if frightening

    If you have watched The Tonight Show with Jay Leno very often you have probably seen the segment called “jaywalking”. In this segment, Leno interviews people on the street, the objective of which is to find humor in showing how ignorant people are. The questions Leno ask his subjects may be something like, “What two countries fought in the Spanish-American war?” or, “What does Bush 43 mean?” It is quite funny. Few people have the self-confidence, or whatever it takes, to say “I don’t know.” Most people take a guess or make something up. (If you would like to view some jaywalking segments, click here: Jaywalking.)

    I have laughed along with the audience and enjoyed it but found myself amazed that people could be so ignorant. I have wondered if the producers did not have to shoot hours and hours of footage to be able to compile five minutes of dumb answers that they could show on TV. I know I don’t personally know anyone as ignorant as the people you see on jaywalking.

    Occasionally however, I run into people who will spout some pretty ignorant stuff. Once I was at a family gathering and said something about a recent trip my wife and I taken to Spain and a distant in-law asked me if we drove or we flew to Spain. She was a teenager and I assume she was of normal intelligence. Occasionally, I will encounter people who I suspect are probably really dumb but I really don’t know if for a fact. Sometimes someone will make a comment that is a generalization about a country or ethnic group that displays a bigotry that I assume is rooted in ignorance. I will also occasionally hear someone say something about the age of the earth or something about geography or history that will show his or her ignorance.

    The press release from Intercollegiate Studies Institute posted below is really disturbing. I am astonished that less than half of the people surveyed can name all three branches of the government. I would expect every person of normal intelligence to know that.

    We live in an era when it has never been easier to be informed. We have the world at our fingertips. Cable TV has cultural and educational programs carried on channels like The History Channel and The Learning Channel and there are several stations carrying news and commentary twenty-four hours a day.

    I watch a lot of Book TV. On Book TV, every weekend you can watch scholars discuss their research and expound on the topic of which they are expert. I watch CSPAN and am often impressed at the brilliants of some of our representatives. I remember watching the confirmation hearing of Supreme Court nominees and felt like I was sitting in the presence of very wise men. Even those men and women with whom I disagree, when they questioned the nominee I felt like they were asking meaningful questions and showing a depth of knowledge. They were not merely playing “gotcha.” they were probing to discover fine philosophical nuances. We can sit in the presence of greatness every day if we wish. We have opportunities they were once reserved for the very few.

    With the availability of the Internet, the knowledge that in the past could only be acquired by sitting in a university classroom or spending hours in a major library can now be obtained in minutes wherever you may be, whenever you wish. We have never in the history of mankind had as much information available so cheaply and easily. And yet, I wonder if the average person is any better educated than their great grandparents.

    The lack of knowledge and understanding of basic economics, history, and civics is frightening. It is worrisome to think that the fate of our country and our freedom is in the hands of people who cannot name even one right or freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment. It is scary to think that these people vote. Not only do they vote, they get elected to public office. Given the ignorance of such a large segment of the public, I wonder how long we can remain free.

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    Sunday, November 30, 2008

    NEW STUDY FINDS AMERICANS IGNORANT OF HISTORY AND ECONOMICS

    Third Intercollegiate Studies Institute Report on Civic Literacy Suggests There is an Epidemic of Historical, Political and Economic Ignorance in America; Colleges Must be Main Part of Cure

    Washington, D.C., November 20, 2008 – Are most people, including college graduates, civically illiterate? Do elected officials know even less than most citizens about civic topics such as history, government, and economics? The answer is yes on both counts according to a new study by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI). More than 2,500 randomly selected Americans took ISI’s basic 33question test on civic literacy and more than 1,700 people failed, with the average score 49 percent, or an “F.” Elected officials scored even lower than the general public with an average score of 44 percent and only 0.8 percent (or 21) of all surveyed earned an “A.”

    Even more startling is the fact that over twice as many people know Paula Abdul was a judge on American Idol than know that the phrase “government of the people, by the people, for the people” comes from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

    Complete results from ISI’s third study on American civic literacy are being released today in a report entitled Our Fading Heritage: Americans Fail a Basic Test on Their History and Institutions. The new study follows up two previous reports from ISI’s National Civic Literacy Board that revealed a major void in civic knowledge among the nation’s college students. This report goes beyond the college crowd however, examining the civic literacy of everyday citizens,
    including selfidentified elected officials. But according to ISI, the blame and solution again lie at the doorstep of the nation’s colleges.

    “There is an epidemic of economic, political, and historical ignorance in our country,” says Josiah Bunting, III, Chairman of ISI’s National Civic Literacy Board. “It is disturbing enough that the general public failed ISI’s civic literacy test, but when you consider the even more dismal scores of elected officials, you have to be concerned. How can political leaders make informed decisions if they don’t understand the American experience? Colleges can, and should, play an important role in curing this national epidemic of ignorance.”

    A large majority of respondents agree colleges should prepare citizen leaders by teaching America’s history, key texts and institutions. Seventy two percent of respondents with a high school diploma believe colleges should teach our heritage as do 74 percent with graduate degrees. However, the impact of college in advancing civic knowledge, as evidenced in ISI’s first two studies, is minimal. In the new study, this trend is confirmed. The average score among those who ended their formal education with a bachelor’s degree is 57 percent or an “F”, which is only 13 percentage points higher than the average score of 44 percent earned by those who hold high school diplomas. And when you hold other noncollege influences constant, the gain from a college degree drops to about 6 percent, quite consistent with past ISI findings.

    Further demonstrating the minimal influence of college in advancing civic literacy, ISI discovered that the civic knowledge gained from the combination of engaging in frequent conversations about public affairs, reading about current events and history and participating in advanced civic activities is greater than the gain from an expensive bachelor’s degree alone. Conversely, talking on the phone, watching owned or rented movies and monitoring TV news broadcasts and documentaries diminish a respondent’s civic literacy.

    “People may be listening to television experts talk about economic bailouts and the platforms of political candidates, but they apparently have little idea what our basic economic and political institutions are,” observes Dr. Richard Brake, ISI’s Director of University Stewardship. “Our study raises significant questions about whether citizens who voted in this year’s landmark presidential election really understand how our system of representative democracy works.”

    For example, Brake points out that less than half of all Americans can name all three branches of government. And only 21 percent know the phrase “government of the people, by the people, for the people” comes from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, which President elect Barack Obama cited in his acceptance speech on Election night.

    Following is a sampling of other results from several basic survey questions:
    • 30 percent of elected officials do not know that “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” are the inalienable rights referred to in the Declaration of Independence; and 20 percent falsely believe that the Electoral College “was established to supervise the first presidential debates”
    • Almost 40 percent of all respondents falsely believe the president has the power to declare war
    • 40 percent of those with a bachelor’s degree do not know business profit equals revenue minus expenses
    • Only 54 percent with a bachelor’s degree correctly define free enterprise as a system in which individuals create, exchange and control goods and resources
    • 20.7 percent of Americans falsely believe that the Federal Reserve can increase or decrease government spending
    “The nation’s ignorance of the kind of knowledge necessary for informed and responsible citizenship—and the failure of our nation’s colleges to effectively address and fix this problem— would certainly be unacceptable to our founding fathers, who believed that the university would create leaders to preserve liberty,” asserts Dr. Brake. “Our report demonstrates that Americans today expect no less from our colleges than our founders did.”

    The report calls upon elected officials, administrators, trustees, faculty donors, taxpayers and parents to reevaluate collegiate curricula and standards for accountability. Some of the questions ISI believes need to be asked are the following:
    o Do colleges require courses in American history, politics, economics and other core areas?
    o Do colleges assess the civic or overall learning of their graduates?
    o Do elected officials link college appropriations to real measures of civic or overall learning?

    “Citizenship is a lifelong commitment,” says Bunting. “Colleges need to do their part to help young citizens keep their commitment. In the process, they will be helping to preserve the civic vitality of our nation.”

    The ISI test was administered in conjunction with Dr. Kenneth Dautrich of the University of Connecticut and Braun Research, Inc. All 33 questions and ISI’s Our Fading Heritage report are
    available at http://www.americancivicliteracy.org/.

    About the Intercollegiate Studies Institute: The Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) (www.isi.org) was founded in 1953 to further in successive generations of American college youth a better understanding of the economic, political, and ethical values that sustain a free and humane society. With ISI’s volunteer representatives at over 900 colleges, and with more than 65,000 ISI student and faculty members on virtually every campus in the country, ISI directs tens of thousands of young people each year to a wide array of educational programs that deepen their understanding of the American ideal of ordered liberty.

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    Wednesday, November 26, 2008

    The Perfect Thanksgiving

    By Erick D. Snider (link)

    A Conservative's Guide to the Perfect Thanksgiving

    Pause and reflect on the first Thanksgiving, way back in 1621. The savage Indians, tragically unacquainted with God, were so grateful to the Pilgrims for bringing them the light that they prepared a feast for them. In return, the Pilgrims taught the Indians to abandon their primitive ways and embrace Christianity. And thanks to those early settlers converting or killing everyone who opposed them, America has been a Christian nation ever since!

    A Liberal's Guide to the Perfect Thanksgiving

    Be sure to pause for a moment and reflect on the first Thanksgiving, when America's legacy of arrogance and aggression was just beginning. Unbidden and unwelcome, our forefathers took food from passive Native Americans whose tribes had existed in complete peace and harmony for hundreds of years without a single inter-tribal conflict. In return, we introduced them to guns, deprivation, and death.

    Comment
    I wish I had written this. Click the above link for the complete article. It is very clever.
    Happy Thanksgiving!

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    Trade versus Protectionism

    Walter E. Williams, Wednesday, November 26, 2008

    There's a growing anti-trade sentiment in our country. Much of the dialogue is grossly misinformed. Let's try to untangle it a bit with a few questions and observations. (link)

    Comment:
    Since the economic downturn I also have observed the growing protectionist sentiment. Even among people who I suspect are normally conservative you hear comments about how we need to "buy American" and "stop sending jobs overseas."

    Last week I attended a screening of a documentary, I.O.U.S.A. This film addressed the problem of the enormous debt burden of the US government as well as American households. About 150 people or so attended the event. Following the film there was a lively discussion that lasted about forty-five minutes. The solution offered by several participants was to buy American made products. Some, went as far as to suggest we should buy locally produced products whenever possible. Not just "buy American" but "buy Tennessee." I fear that as this economic downturn continues that we could see protectionism take on a patriotic fervor. A resort to protectionism will grantee that the current economic difficulties become a world-wide, long-lasting depression.

    Protectionism is the worse possible response to the current crisis. I hope rational thought will prevail and the new administration and Congress does not give in to the rising demand for protectionist policies.

    This is a good article by Walter Williams. Please read it. One argument he makes is that contrary to popular opinion, we are not losing our manufacturing base. We just make different stuff and it takes fewer people to make it. Manufacturing output is actually growing. People seem to know this in agriculture. It takes a lot fewer farm workers to produce the food we need and markets adjust, yet many people seem to think that they should be entitled to the same manufacturing jobs that their daddy had.

    One argument you often here is the demand for retaliatory trade barriers. This is often the disguised as a call for "Fair Trade." Williams makes this argument:

    Japanese protectionist restrictions on rice imports force Japanese consumers to
    pay three or four times the world price for rice. How much sense does it make
    for Congress to retaliate against Japan by imposing restrictions on their
    products thereby forcing American consumers, say Lexus buyers, to pay higher
    prices? Should our rule be: If one country screws its citizens we should
    retaliate by screwing our citizens?
    Bad times can bring out the worst in people and people often look for scapegoats. When you combine this impulse to look for places to lay the blame combined with economic ignorance, we may see a demand from the people for the government to really screw us and adopt policies that will grantee this crisis last a long, long time. I hope our representatives are a lot smarter than the people they represent.

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    Sunday, November 23, 2008

    The God problem


    Call them “values voters” or “social conservatives” or “the Christian right” or whatever term may you may wish to use to refer to them, but I believe that that faction of the Republican Party is becoming a drag on the party and it is time their influence was lessened.

    Ever since about 1979 when Jerry Falwell founded the Moral Majority, the religious right has been an important segment of the Republican Party. The party’s victories for the last thirty years would likely not have occurred without this faction. They consistently vote, contribute and volunteer. But, I now suspect that they drive more people away than they attract. The identity of the Republican Party as the party of prudes and religious fanatics is harming the party.

    Now don’t get me wrong. I oppose gay marriage, I would like to see abortion restricted, and I respect tradition; so I guess to a certain extend, that makes me a “values voters” also. However, I am just not comfortable with a lot of the religious right. I do not want creationism taught as science. I think if science can be advanced by stem cell research using embryos that are to be discarded anyway, then we should do it. While I want my local schools to acknowledge Christmas and I think it is OK if a Christmas carol is sang at school or played by a high school marching band, I think we should try to keep Christmas primarily secular in the public square and not use it as a government sponsored opportunity to proselytize.

    It is more than a disagreement over specific issues that make me uncomfortable with the religious right. I am just not comfortable with people who think God is on their side. I am OK with people who talk to God; people that God talks to concern me.

    The religious right often appears angry, judgmental, intolerant, and self-righteous. Also, I fear that if they had their way they would like to do more than they now do to impose their morality. I suspect that they would drape all the art that featured the nude human form, they would mandate modesty, make all TV safe for their nine year-olds to watch, lock up homosexuals, ban co-habitation of unmarried people, close stores on Sunday, and ban the sale of alcohol. I bet most of those people who pressure politicians to “clean up the city” are religious Republicans.

    Also, the religious right folks are just not a lot of fun. If I was a non-political young person and could attend either the Republican Convention or the Democratic Convention, which one would I choose to attend? Somehow, I just think the Democrats would be a lot more fun.

    On election night the Republicans unexpectantly won both houses of the Tennessee State legislature. At the Williamson County Republican Party election night party, those attending joined hands and had a prayer of thanksgiving. I would rather be at a party where victory calls for breaking out the Champaign.

    I suspect that there are people who are, or would be, economic conservatives, and national defense conservatives, and moderate social conservatives but who are not Republicans. These are people who are essentially secular and cannot feel at home at a gathering dominated by people who take their religion so seriously. Face it, there are a lot more secularist and people who take their religion with a grain of salt than there are devout Christians. If the Republican Party becomes the Christian Party, we will loose.

    I don’t like the blending of the sacred and the political. I would prefer to let the Church concern itself with man’s eternal soul and my political party concern itself with this world and the hear and now. Recently there has developed a modest movement of a more liberal branch of evangelical Christians. I think this is a welcome development. We should welcome the separating of religious faith from political affiliation. It will be good for the Party if evangelicals are not automatically assumed to be Republicans. If a Bible-believing, teetotaler, praying-in-tongues person might also be a Democrat that is a good thing.

    Now the Democrats get all or the hedonist and the Republicans get all of the real Christians. Let some to the Bible-thumpers become Democrats. I will trade you one Christians liberal for two hedonists who want to cut taxes.

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    Giving up on God

    By Kathleen ParkerWednesday, The Washington Post, November 19, 2008; 12:00 AM

    As Republicans sort out the reasons for their defeat, they likely will overlook or dismiss the gorilla in the pulpit.

    Three little letters, great big problem: G-O-D. (link)

    Comment: This is an important article on the future of the Republican Party. My commentary on the topic will follow.

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    Courage Under Fire

    I watch a lot of movies but only occasionally find one I like well enough to recommend. This is one. It is one of those movies that when it ended, I didn't want to immediately do anything else. I wanted to just sit and watch the final credits play and come down from the emotional ride and contemplate what I had just watched. The movie is both heartbreaking and exhilarating.

    The final scene of the movie has Colonel Serling standing before the headstone of Captain Walden in Arlington Cemetery. In the voice of Captain Walden, the letter she wrote to her parents to be read if she died in battle is recited. This may bring a lump to your throat and a tear to your eye.

    Below is a synopsis of the story provided by the Blockbuster website.

    A soldier discovers how elusive the truth can be in this first major film about America's role in the Gulf War. Lt. Col. Nathaniel Serling (Denzel Washington) was the commander of a unit during Operation Desert Storm who mistakenly ordered the destruction of what he believed to be an enemy tank, only to discover that it actually held U.S. soldiers, including a close friend. Since then, Serling has been an emotional wreck, drinking heavily and allowing his marriage to teeter on the brink of collapse. As a means of redeeming himself, Serling is given a new assignment by his superior, Gen. Hershberg (Michael Moriarty). Capt. Karen Walden (Meg Ryan) was a helicopter pilot who died in battle during the Iraqi conflict, and the White House has proposed that Walden be posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Serling is asked to investigate Walden's actions on the field of battle, but he quickly discovers that no two stories about her are quite the same; Ilario (Matt Damon) says Walden acted heroically and sacrificed herself to save the others in her company, while Monfriez (Lou Diamond Phillps) claims she was a coward who was attempting to surrender to enemy troops. Meanwhile, reporter Tony Gartner (Scott Glenn) is hounding Serling, trying to get the inside story on Walden and on Serling's own difficulties. ~ Mark Deming, All Movie Guide

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    Friday, November 21, 2008

    The shocking Sarah Palin turkey story

    The folks over at Huffington Post are shocked, shocked I tell you, that Sarah Palin would be interviewed while turkeys are slaughtered in the background.

    Here is the story:

    Some videos you just have to see to believe. On Thursday, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin appeared in Wasilla in order to pardon a local turkey in anticipation of Thanksgiving. This proved to be a slightly absurd but ultimately unremarkable event. But what came next was positively surreal. After the pardon Palin proceeded to do an interview with a local TV station while the turkeys were being SLAUGHTERED in the background!!

    Seemingly oblivious to the gruesomeness going on over her shoulder, she carries on talking for over three minutes. Watch the video below to see for yourself. Be warned, it's kind of gruesome.

    They just can't believe it. It is "positively surreal". Huffington even has to put "slaughtered" in all caps. They have to use two exclamation points to make their point. It is "gruesome." OK, watch if for yourself.



    I am really not grossed out. I am not shocked.

    I did not grow up on a farm, but we had a couple acres and raised chickens and pigs. I never witnessed the slaughter of the pigs, but saw the dead carcasses after they had been killed and cleaned. I have eaten the sausage and bacon and ham of the pigs I fed every morning and enjoyed it. I have caught chickens and cut their heads off for my mom to cook for dinner. My classmates were farm kids and raised calves for their 4-H project. They fed them and groomed them and showed them at the county fair where they were sold at action to become meat.

    I never went hunting myself; my dad was not a hunter. But, I grew up with people who regularly went hunting. The seasons of the year were rabbit season, and deer season, and dove season.

    I think that Sarah Palin can give an interview in front of a man going about the business of killing turkeys and think nothing about it, is an indication of a cultural divide. I doubt people in Alaska think it is that unusual that animals are killed for food. It is probably something they take for granted. I doubt Sarah Palin has been socialized to be squeamish about it or be sensitive to the squeamishness of others. The fact that animals are killed for food is not something so strange for her or for many of us who grew up in rural areas. I know that fewer and fewer people have a connection to the food they eat, but guess what: that meat in the supermarket wrapped in cellophane and Styrofoam was once an animal. Shocking to discover, I know. I have known for a long time were meat comes from.

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