You are browsing the archive for 2014 December.

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Time to Close the Government to Close the Government

December 31, 2014 in Economics

By Doug Bandow

Doug Bandow

The year is drawing to a close and we are supposed to be happy that the lame duck Congress survived its usual year-end brinkmanship and threats of a government shutdown. Horrors! What would the helpless people do if politicians weren’t able to legislate, regulate, and dictate in the “public interest”? Why, the republic would collapse.

Not!

The traditional civics book notion of government at all levels is that the state does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. That’s typically seen as creating the framework for a free society—police, courts, defense, basic health and safety, “public” goods which otherwise wouldn’t be provided.

If the state was this focused on its most important and basic tasks, we might notice if it closed. If you rely on government as a matter of necessity for something that truly matters, then it’s obvious when it’s not there.

Unfortunately, the state has turned into something very different. It’s now a welfare agency for the wealthy, a vast soup kitchen for special interests, an engine for social engineering at home and abroad, and a national nanny determined to run citizens’ lives.

While the beneficiaries of programs get excited when the money disappears, no one else cares. To the contrary, closing down Washington’s great income redistribution racket actually would help most Americans.

Yet perhaps the most irritating, even infuriating, government activity is paternalism. What is worse than government taking your money in order to run your life? Often the worst culprits are at the state or local levels.

It’s the basic difference between a gang of highwaymen and caucus of legislators. The first group takes your cash and then leaves you alone. The second group empties your wallet or purse, and then insists on sticking around for your benefit to make sure you’re eating and dressing right, have correct posture, aren’t taking undue risks, and are exercising properly. Your new overseers expect not only regular payment but eternal gratitude for their services.

Consider the concerted campaign against smoking. I’ve never liked the habit. But adults are entitled to smoke cancer sticks if they like. And the idea that not one restaurant or bar in a city of thousands or state of millions can allow someone to smoke is, well, outrageous, especially when people continue to prattle on about the U.S. being a free society.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg attempted to ban large cups of soda. He’s the worst sort of “public servant,” …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Circus Harmony Coming to Fractious Ferguson

December 31, 2014 in Economics

By Nat Hentoff

Nat Hentoff

Increasingly known throughout the United States and abroad, the “Circus Lady” – the founder, executive and artistic director of St. Louis-based Circus Harmony – “has a long history of building bridges,” as St. Louis Public Radio’s Linda Lockhart reports (“Reactions to Grand Jury’s Decision Reflect Diversity of Perspectives,” Linda Lockhart, stlpublicradio.org, Nov. 25).

“Over the past 10 years,” Lockhart writes, “she has developed youth circus troupes that consist of Jewish, Christian, Caucasian, Hispanic, African-American and Asian children from throughout the St. Louis area.”

And, the Circus Lady “has gone all the way to Israel,” where this past summer, she “took members of her tumbling group, the St. Louis Arches.

“There, the Arches joined with Arab and Israeli youth from the Galilee Circus, where they work and learned together, setting aside religious, political and cultural differences.”

This Circus Lady is Jessica Hentoff, my daughter. I have written about her and her involvement in Circus Harmony before – my interest as a reporter going far beyond parental pride, which certainly does exist.

“I’m following in your footsteps,” she once said to me.

But I haven’t traveled an inch near the life-changing effect she has had on the members of her circus troupes.

The mission of the nonprofit Circus Harmony is clear: “Through teaching and performance of circus arts, we help people defy gravity, soar with confidence, and leap over social barriers, all at the same time” (circusharmony.org/about).

As she has explained to me and others: “Children involved in Circus Harmony learn how to defy gravity, becoming part of a creative team, and how to overcome the prejudices society places upon them because of race, religion or socioeconomic standing.

“Our programs teach valuable life skills like perseverance, focus and teamwork. Learning circus with others teaches trust responsibility and cooperation.

“Perhaps the most important experience we give our participants is the opportunity to meet with and interact with children from different socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds than their own.

“Many children live under certain labels imposed on them because they are a certain race or from a particular neighborhood. Our students learn to define themselves as capable community members and creative performing artists … the circus has given them confidence and the courage to be themselves.”

When Circus Harmony starts a troupe in Ferguson, Missouri, in February (funded in part by a social impact grant from the St. Louis Regional Arts Commission), the Circus Lady intends to have her experienced students take charge of teaching their …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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PTSD for Christmas—The Boredom, Dispatch 6

December 31, 2014 in Blogs

By Political Zach Foster

This dispatch is way overdue but thanks for bearing with me.
Catch up with
An Afghan policeman stands with a British mercenary
The 24th day of The Boredomwas a lovely, sunny Sunday in Southern California. I woke up with plenty of time for leisure and knocked through a chapter of Erik Prince’s book Civilian Warriors: The Inside Story of Blackwater and the Unsung Heroes of the War on Terror. It’s a dynamite read so far, and as a libertarian I like reading about the ups and downs of the military’s private sector.
Later in the morning I took my mom with me to the Christmas service at the First Baptist Church of San Dimas. The First Baptist Church is the oldest church and building in my town—118 years old. It’s always been a small congregation—thirty or fewer people usually come to Sunday morning service, and there may be ten or fewer at evening service. However, it’s the small congregations where I feel most at home.
It’s written that “…if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst” (Matthew 18:19-20).
The mostly-white church interior was lined at the front with pine garlands and bright red poinsettias, all running along the piano, pulpit, and communion altar. It was simple but tastefully elegant. The highlight (other than the Salvation message, which is open to ALL people, regardless) was the Christmas music.
In the first twenty minutes the congregation sang Christmas songs from the old hymnal. Then, several members either sang or performed on instruments in front of the whole congregation. Kudos to the Santana siblings and their killer saxophones! The pastor rounded the service out with …read more

Source: ZACH FOSTER RANTS

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Your Health Choices: Should You Make Them, or Should Government?

December 30, 2014 in Economics

Obesity remains a serious health problem and it is no secret that many people want to lose weight. Behavioral economists typically argue that “nudges” help individuals with various decisionmaking flaws to live longer, healthier, and better lives. In an article in the new issue of Regulation, Michael L. Marlow discusses how nudging by government differs from nudging by markets, and explains why market nudging is the more promising avenue for helping citizens to lose weight.

…read more

Source: CATO HEADLINES

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Slovak Politics and Gay Rights

December 30, 2014 in Economics

By Dalibor Rohac

Dalibor Rohac

Post-Communist countries can be likened to Western societies operating with a time lag — repeating the same debates that their Western counterparts had some 10 years ago. One such example is Slovakia’s current controversy over gay marriage and adoption by same-sex couples.

Although the institutionalization of gay marriages or child adoptions by same-sex couples hardly figures on the agenda of most political parties, the country has come a long way since its first Gay Pride event in 2010, which was disrupted by neo-Nazi youths. Because it is probably just a matter of time until gay unions and same-sex adoptions become palatable to most Slovaks, opponents of these reforms have launched a pre-emptive assault to make these reforms legally and politically costly.

Earlier this year, Slovakia’s Christian Democrats teamed up with the governing left-populist party, “Smer” (“Direction” in Slovak) of Prime Minister Robert Fico to pass a constitutional amendment to “protect the Slovak family,” vaguely reminiscent of the infamous Defense of Marriage Act, overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court last year. Since this past September, the Constitution of Slovakia thus stipulates that “marriage is a union solely between man and woman. The Slovak Republic fully protects marriage and provides all means to secure its wellbeing.”

Encouraged, Slovakia’s traditionalists are on the offensive. Following a petition organized by the civic campaign Alliance for Family, a nationwide referendum has been called for February to provide answers to several questions, including whether any form of partnership other than between a man and a woman could be called a marriage and whether a ban should be imposed on adoption of children by same-sex couples. The initial proposal contained another question — whether any other form of cohabitation should be given the legal attributes of marriage — which was ruled invalid by the country’s Constitutional Court, as it could violate people’s fundamental rights.

Anton Chromik, one of the leaders of the Alliance for Family, claims that “homosexuals are not asking just for ‘rights,’ but want to shut the mouths of other people. They will be making decisions over other people’s lives, careers, and that has always in history resulted in dictatorships and sometimes even in mass murders.”

Supporters of the campaign also question why professional psychological and psychiatric associations, or the World Health Organization, declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder in the latter half of the 20th century, and point to allegedly successful examples of “therapy” provided to gay people.

For …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Risky Business of New Year’s Forecasts

December 29, 2014 in Economics

By Richard W. Rahn

Richard W. Rahn

How many hurricanes do you think will hit the East Coast of the United States in 2015? Will the Arctic ice sheet disappear next year? How fast will the U.S. economy grow? What will the level of the Dow Jones stock index be at the end of 2015? Which team will win the World Series?

Go back and look at predictions made by the experts, and then look at what really happened. The climate alarmists 15 or so years ago were forecasting catastrophic events by this time. Yet sea levels have not been rising any faster than they have been for centuries. The major climate models were projecting steady rises in global warming each year, yet average temperatures have not risen for 17 years. Al Gore and his alarmist crowd told us that the Arctic would be free of sea ice during the summer by now and that we would be having more and stronger tornadoes and hurricanes. The Arctic sea ice is still with us, and few ships dare sail there. Many tornado and hurricane records have been broken — not because there were more — but because there have been fewer. Florida has gone a record nine straight seasons without a significant hurricane.

None of the above disproves climate change, but it should caution those who have made many rash predictions. The economist-philosopher F.A. Hayek warned about “the limits of knowledge” and the “fatal conceit” exhibited by so many “experts.” The communists and socialists claimed that they could allocate resources and income better than markets. These false claims ultimately destroyed the lives of tens of millions and caused untold human misery. Despite the never-ending failures of socialist and other collectivist schemes (such as Obamacare), colleges, governments and the media are still filled with smug — but ignorant or uncaring — individuals (think Jonathan Gruber) who still think they are smarter than markets, and thus have the self-appointed right to control your life.

Economists have little to crow about when it comes to forecasting. Most of them missed calling the Great Recession. The Federal Reserve, which employs hundreds of economists, many from the best schools, kept predicting 4 percent-plus economic growth each year, after the recession bottomed in 2009. In fact, actual growth has been about half of what they predicted — but perhaps 2015 will be the year of 4 percent growth. Too many of my fellow economists, including …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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In 2014 Fear Trumped Empathy, and Other Smart Insights

December 27, 2014 in Blogs

By Michele Filgate, Salon

Looking back on a long, hard 2014, communal panic was a dominant theme, says the critic Leslie Jamison.


Leslie Jamison’s “The Empathy Exams” came out from Graywolf Press to much acclaim, and people bought and read and discussed her brilliant essay collection with such rare gusto that it landed on the New York Times best-seller list. She has a remarkable ability to take other people’s stories alongside her own and present necessary narratives that stay with the reader long after finishing the book.

As part of Salon’s series of year-end conversations with some of the most essential nonfiction voices of 2014, we spoke both over the phone and then by email about everything from Ebola to selfies to tattoos.

Your collection is in so many ways about pain, about how we face and discuss and experience illness and pain. So I’m curious about a story that broke after your book was published: How do you think our country is handling Ebola victims and the medical workers who have traveled overseas? 

I was doing an event in Chicago a few days after Craig Spencer was diagnosed with Ebola — after returning from his work for Doctors Without Borders — and all of New York was going crazy and the Internet was publishing maps of where he’d gone bowling in Williamsburg and where he’d eaten a snack and which subway lines he’d ridden. Somebody asked me whether I felt like Americans were showing enough empathy about Ebola. It was something I’d already thought about in relation to the uproar over Spencer — how sometimes fear can be the enemy of empathy.

If this man were going through something similar in a faraway place — i.e., he’d been doing important medical work and had gotten diagnosed with a potentially fatal illness — people might have respected his bravery. But in this case, many people’s primary reactions had to do with their own proximity to danger. It was striking to me how that sense of fear — a kind of communal panic — seemed to trump feeling empathy for him, much less respecting him for …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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Two Robins Wish You a Very Happy Christmas

December 27, 2014 in Blogs

By Robin Koerner

I arrived in England yesterday from my home in the States and the jet-lag had the better of me this Christmas morning by 4.45 am.

Dad, whom I have traveled across the Atlantic to spend Christmas with, is still in bed as I write this, and I am sitting alone on his couch in a silent house.

Nevertheless, I have already received my biggest Christmas greeting of the day. A little bird came to give it to me.

Creeping around Dad’s house with my first cup of tea in hand, so as not to wake anyone, I wondered over to the living room window to see the dawn – something my body clock prevents me from doing when I am not jet-lagged. Peering out, I saw in the little garden below me a rather stereotypical bird house. Perched on top of it, right there on the front of the roof of the box, was a robin – the very symbol of an English Christmas.

I smiled at the coincidence of it; the simplicity of it; the Christmassyness of it. It was as if the universe had just conspired to make me a Christmas card in the three dimensions of reality.

Of course, the little robin wasn’t there to deliver to me a Christmas greeting. After all, he didn’t know I was going to look out of the window right then. And he couldn’t – because he’s a robin.

People often say that we “come into the world”. But we don’t: we come out of it. As the wonderful Alan Watts used to say, just as an apple tree “apples”, so the universe “peoples”. It also “robins” and, I’m pleased to note, it also “Robins”, for Robin happens to be my name.

Since Isaac Newton, it has been fashionable to believe that consciousness is an “emergent property” of physical stuff, which might fancifully be expressed as the idea that consciousness is fundamentally a very complicated rock. But that idea is a noetic and cultural fashion: it’s not scientific as much as it is scientistic.

As much as I love the intellectual sincerity and commitment to empiricism of people like Richard Dawkins, who would essentially agree with that view, I don’t hold to it. More like most people throughout most of history and most of the world, I suspect the opposite is closer …read more

Source: ROBIN KOERNER BLOG

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The Most Awkward Sex Ever? 8 Epic Holiday Hookup Tales

December 27, 2014 in Blogs

By Jenny Kutner, Salon

“I asked if he wanted to have sex — while he was talking about his dad having a stroke.”


It happens to the best of us: Home for the holidays, overwhelmed by clucking family members, one thing leads to another, and we hook up with people. Exes. Old friends. New friends. Neighbors. These sexual experiences happen for any number of reasons — curiosity, stress, desperation or straight-up opportunism — and are, so often, totally regrettable. But they are almost always hilarious.

Salon recently asked friends and readers for their most memorable holiday hookup stories. Below are amazing amazing anecdotes that run the gamut: Sex with an ex in his little brother’s bed. A bloody first time with a virtual stranger. The inadvertent taking of virginity. Each is as cheery as it is awkward.

Happy holidays, and enjoy:

(Editor’s note: The following responses have been lightly edited. Subjects’ names have been changed.)

1) The bloody sucker

Like many young ladies, I went off to college a little more demure than some of my friends. I had boyfriends in high school, but I had never looked a penis directly in the face. It was harder to meet people in college, though, so when I went home for winter break freshman year, I decided just to get it over with and lose my virginity to a guy there – preferably a boy I never had to see or talk to again, which would be a relief to me.

Late one night I got a text from Jack, a guy I had worked with at my shitty retail job the previous summer. We would flirt all the time, but had never seen each other socially, or at all outside work for that matter. We made plans to meet up later that night. Once I got to Jack’s house, it was only a matter of minutes before he was pawing at me vigorously. He picked me up and tossed me onto his bed, which I found to be hot, and tried to suck various pieces of flesh from my body, which I found to be aggressively un-hot. He pulled …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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American Sniper Feeds America's Hero Complex, and It Isn't the Truth About War

December 27, 2014 in Blogs

By Alex Horton, The Guardian

Real life is not like the movies. So why does Hollywood keep trying to make us believe that elite commandos can do anything, and save anyone, all the time?


Like most people, I could only imagine what war was like before I got there myself. At one point, I was outside of the less than 1% of Americans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan, where a minuscule fraction of that population would see ground or aerial combat. The average person has likely never met a modern combat veteran.

So as my deployment to Iraq got closer and I imagined what this war would look and feel like, I thought about America’s favorite storytelling medium: the movies. I pictured Baghdad as Black Hawk Down’s Mogadishu, all claustrophobic and high-contrast gun battles with desperate men in dark alleys, and mostly I heard Ride of the Valkyries, that grim killing opus in Apocalypse Now, retrofitted for our urban assaults and nighttime raids.

But the stories I came back with don’t really look like anything in the new breed of Hollywood war films, where central truths about war have all but vanished, even though they’re mostly based on real life. Now tales of elite troops are reshaping the public perception of war, even though war is still a tragic grind far more complex than any film of this era has shown.

American Sniper is the latest movie to capitalize on our insatiable hunger for stories about unstoppable commandos. Lone Survivor, the highest grossing war film of this era, portrays Navy Seals so adept at killing the Taliban that it seems their only weakness is mercy on goat-herders. In Zero Dark Thirty and Captain Phillips, Seal teams emerge only at the climax, with the long tail of logistical support from conventional aviation, infantry and intelligence units obscured by the shadow of the elite.

In American Sniper, Bradley Cooper portrays Chris Kyle, famously credited as the most lethal sniper in US history. Marines and Army infantrymen, who took back Fallujah in brutal house-to-house fighting during Kyle’s deployment in 2004, are …read more

Source: ALTERNET