Archive for July, 2011

Moody’s Investors

July 31, 2011

And on that note we have this from the Hill.

The “limited magnitude” of both debt plans put forward by congressional leaders would not put the nation’s AAA credit rating back on solid footing, Moody’s Investors Service announced Friday.

“Reductions of the magnitude now being proposed, if adopted, would likely lead Moody’s to adopt a negative outlook on the AAA rating,” the credit rating agency said in a new report. “The chances of a significant improvement in the long-term credit profile of the government coming from deficit reductions of the magnitude proposed in either plan are not high.”

It added that “prolonged debt ceiling deliberations” have increased the odds of a downgrade, but that the firm is still confident policymakers will avoid a default.

“It remains our expectation that the government will continue with timely debt service,” the firm said.
It also clarified that as far as it is concerned, the nation will only default if it misses an interest or principal payment on U.S. debt, not if it misses payments on other obligations like federal employee salaries or Social Security benefits.

The report also gives credence to a claim popular among Republicans: that the government has enough cash to avoid a default even past the Aug. 2 deadline set by the Treasury Department.

“If the debt limit is not raised before August 2, we believe that the Treasury would give priority to debt service payments and could thus postpone a potential debt default for a number of days,” it said. “Revenues would be more than adequate for some period of time to meet those payments, although other outlays would be severely reduced as a result.”

Moody’s previously put the nation’s top credit rating on watch for a downgrade on July 13, as lawmakers continue to fight over a deal to raise the debt limit.

While Moody’s is confident it will not have to downgrade the nation’s rating because of a default, it maintained that long-term debt and deficit problems will continue to weigh on the AAA mark.

As Republicans and the White House fight over the length of a debt limit increase, Moody’s said it would not reaffirm the nation’s AAA rating unless there is at least a six-month boost to the debt limit.

However, if the nation were to default for a short period of time, Moody’s said it would knock its credit rating down to AA, under the assumption that the default would be quickly rectified and investor losses would be minimized. However, in the “extremely unlikely” situation that investors do lose on Treasury investments, a lower rating could be given.

Nobody in Washington is seriously trying to balance the budget. The Republicans are too timid. They are afraid to make anything more than nominal cuts that won’t even come close to being enough. The Democrats are oblivious. They are still trying to protect stupid stuff like cowboy poetry reading festivals from being cut. I am afraid that we are doomed.

The Debt Ceiling

July 31, 2011

I haven’t been following the debate very closely, just on and off. Right now I am not sure what is happening. I see a report through Drudge that they are very close to a deal. But, as I read through the story, I don’t see any details. Evidently there will be no new taxes but I don’t see what they might cut.

WASHINGTON (AP) — The top Republican in the Senate said Congress and the White House were very close to a deal on raising the limit on U.S. borrowing that would avert an unprecedented default on America’s debt, ending one of the nastiest partisan fights in recent memory.

Senate Majority Leader Mitchell McConnell said he was nearing a recommendation of the tentative agreement to Republicans in the upper chamber. It would, he said, likely extend U.S. borrowing authority, which expires on Tuesday, beyond the 2012 presidential and congressional elections, a fundamental demand of President Barack Obama.

At the same time, the agreement would include none of the tax increases Obama has sought and Republicans had steadfastly rejected. It also includes, he said, the requirement that both houses of Congress vote on a constitutional amendment to balance the budget. That outcome of that vote, however, would have no effect on raising the debt limit.

Senior White House adviser David Plouffe said that both sides are generally in agreement on an emerging package that would cut the deficit in two stages, with key details still being worked out.

Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer said there still was no deal and talks on many issues still needed to be settled. Although he said there was “relief” in Congress and the White House because serious negotiations were now making headway.

The deal, negotiated late Saturday night, would raise the nation’s debt limit would rise in two steps by about $2.4 trillion and spending would be cut by a slightly larger amount, according to officials close to the talks. The first stage — about $1 trillion — would take place immediately and the second later in the year.

The officials who described the talks did so on condition of anonymity, citing their sensitive nature.

Obama is seeking legislation to raise the government’s $14.3 trillion debt limit by enough to tide the Treasury over until after the 2012 elections. He has threatened to veto any legislation that would allow a recurrence of the current crisis next year but has agreed to Republican demands that deficits be cut — without tax increases — in exchange for additional U.S. borrowing authority.

The alarming thing is that this isn’t the real crisis. The real crisis is that we are 14.3 trillion dollars in debt and as far as I can tell this deal only gets us further in the hole. We have got to start balancing our budget right now. We have got to come up with a credible plan to begin to pay down that literally astronomical debt. Frankly I think it might have been better to not raise the debt ceiling and deal with a default right now. If things go on as they have been, we will have a default in our lifetime, probably sooner rather than later.

Scientology Book Author Reveals Church’s Inner Workings

July 31, 2011

From Yahoo News and Reuters. Janet Reitman has written a book on the mysterious and somewhat frightening Scientology cult titled Inside Scientology. They really don’t like negative publicity so I imagine that researching this book must have been at least a little dangerous. Of course I don’t think they still break into offices but you never know. L. Ron Hubbard’s  paramilitary organization SeaOrg is still in business.

Judging from this interview though, I am not sure that Ms. Reitman has revealed anything particularly new or surprising to those who already know about this cult. We already knew they were more of a business than an actual religion, that they attract not too bright celebrities to improve their public image, etc. Here are some excerpts

A: Is Scientology still a big religion in celebrity circles?

Reitman: I totally think that celebrity Scientologists are hesitant to be public about it these days, but I don’t think they’ve ever had as many celebrities as people think. There are really very few. Cruise is a big celebrity. Travolta is a long-time celebrity. Jenna Elfman had a TV show, but most of these people aren’t huge celebrities. Kabbalah has gotten the superstars. Demi Moore, Ashton Kutcher, Madonna — those are big stars.

Q: How effective has Cruise been as the public face of Scientology?

A: I don’t believe he’s been an effective face in terms of getting new members, but he’s been very effective in terms of getting the existing members excited. There was a specific strategy in place to make Cruise into the model Scientologist. It was a promotional strategy and it’s been good and bad.

Existing members are not necessarily aware of how the church is perceived. They are told they should not read newspapers, they would not have watched the “South Park” episode that makes fun of them, and they would not have read the magazine article that became the basis for my book. So from their viewpoint, Cruise’s behavior would be perceived completely differently than what we see. It would have made them really excited to see him jumping on Oprah’s couch.

 

Q: Why do you think Scientology remains so controversial?

A: I think it has to do with its history of secrecy and also its history of litigiousness. I do think that’s changed slightly. In so many ways it tries to not be so secretive anymore. It tries to be less aggressive than it was in the past. You don’t see them filing those giant lawsuits any longer. I think it’s a residual effect. They pled guilt to conspiracy once. They conducted a domestic espionage operation. And you have all these people who left the church coming out about their experience.

Q: What shocked you the most about Scientology?

A: I didn’t expect to find out how much of a business they were. They are almost like a multi-level marketing firm. They have a very shrewd marketing sense. They are drilled on how to sell. They use a book written by a car salesman that talks about sure-fire sales techniques and it shows you how to close the deal. It’s an essential part of their training.

I think that L. Ron Hubbard’s death might have caused them to mellow a little, along with the very negative publicity when the details of more of their more unsavory and illegal actions came out.

I am not sure I will get around to reading this book. I already know enough about Scientology. On the other hand, if I discover hundreds of one star reviews on Amazon.com that were obviously written by the kool-aide drinkers, I might just buy it out of spite.

 

 

The Politically Incorrect Guide to Global Warming

July 31, 2011

Whether you are a true believer worried about the terrors of global warming (climate change/climate catastrophe) or a skeptic who wants some solid information to convince your friends, you have to read The Politically Incorrect Guide to Global Warming and the Environment. If this well-researched book does not play an important role in finally debunking the global warming scare, then nothing ever will. Alas, I fear that nothing ever will since the hypothesis of manmade global warming has proved to be strangely unfalsifiable.

Even those who have followed this issue closely are sure to find at least one eye opener in this book. Just a few examples include,

 

  • The earth has not gotten warmer since 1998
  • There is no direct link in the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the earth’s temperature. Solar activity has far more influence
  • The 1990’s had a higher temperature than average because the weather stations in Siberia were closed down after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
  • The Kyoto treaty is completely ineffective. Most of the countries that are increasing their carbon emissions, including China, India, Brazil, are exempt. Assuming the alarmists are correct, then at best, the Kyoto treaty will reduce the temperature increase by .07 ° C. That is assuming that the emission targets are met, which is impossible.
  • Evil corporations do not fund the global warming skeptics. In fact there are several corporations that stand to benefit from global warming legislation, including Duke Energy, DuPont, and BP

 

If after reading this book, you still are not convinced, ask yourself this. Why do the alarmists resort to deception so often?  From the climategate scandal to the hockey stick fraud, they exaggerate and lie. Why do they try to suppress dissenting views, if the science is all on their side? Why do they claim a consensus when none exists?

 

This Sums it All Up

July 28, 2011

I think this cartoon sums up the debt situation so far.

Thanks to Conservative Byte for showing it.

Demonic

July 28, 2011

Ann Coulter can be called many things; controversial, partisan, pugnacious, acerbic. One thing she never is dull or uninteresting in her writing.  Coulter is a natural polemicist and pulls no punches as she attacks Liberals. Her jabs are always right on target and do not fail to draw blood. Although she writes with a cutting tone, she is able to display a leaven of humor that distinguishes her from mere spewers of bile from the Left and Right.

In her latest work, Demonic: How the Liberal Mob is Endangering America, Coulter uses  the 1896 book by French sociologist Gustave Le BonThe Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind, to explain the actions of Liberals, especially their preference for acting in mobs. This might seem to be her usual partisanship but even a casual observer of politics cannot help but notice that Liberals often form mobs and protest. Conservatives never do. The TEA parties might fairly be called anti-mob s since the participants obeyed the laws and even picked up their trash.

The best part of Demonic is part 2, the Historical Context of the Liberal, in which Ann Coulter gives a brief summary of the French Revolution and contrasts it with the American Revolution, emphasizing the preference of the former’s leaders for mob rule and the latter’s for ordered liberty.

The only fault that I can find with Ann Coulter is that she is sometimes overly simplistic, equating Democrats with Liberals with both being irredeemably bad. For example, in Chapter 12, she relates the history of political violence in America, noting that every presidential assassin has been a Liberal. That is true of Charles Guiteau, Leon Czolgosz, and Lee Harvey Oswald, but it is a stretch for John Wilkes Booth. The Ku Klux Klan was, largely, a Democratic organization, but the men who made up the Klan had a very different viewpoint than most Democrats today.

Still, I highly recommend Demonic to any Conservative who wants to know more about why Liberals act the way they do, or who just wants something fun to read. Liberals with a weak heart should probably avoid reading anything by Ann Coulter.

Obama Actually a Moderate, Conservative President

July 27, 2011

That’s what Paul Krugman thinks. I wish I knew what medication he is on. I would like some too.

Here is some more of his madness.

Watching our system deal with the debt ceiling crisis — a wholly self-inflicted crisis, which may nonetheless have disastrous consequences — it’s increasingly obvious that what we’re looking at is the destructive influence of a cult that has really poisoned our political system.

And no, I don’t mean the fanaticism of the right. Well, OK, that too. But my feeling about those people is that they are what they are; you might as well denounce wolves for being carnivores. Crazy is what they do and what they are.

No, the cult that I see as reflecting a true moral failure is the cult of balance, of centrism.

Think about what’s happening right now. We have a crisis in which the right is making insane demands, while the president and Democrats in Congress are bending over backward to be accommodating — offering plans that are all spending cuts and no taxes, plans that are far to the right of public opinion.

Imagine making insane demands like actually balancing the budget, or at least not running trillion dollar a year deficits before the credit rating agencies down grade us. Crazy!

Mustafa Akyol

July 27, 2011
Taken from Mustafa Akyol site"

Mustafa Akyol

Over at National Review Online, Kathryn Jean Lopez interviewed Mustafa Akyol, a Turkish Muslim who wrote a book titled, Islam Without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty.  In his book and interview, Aykol makes the case for an Islam more receptive to Western ideas about liberty and freedom. He does not believe that it is necessary to abandon Islam in favor of westernization but argues that Islamic traditions and scriptures favor freedom.

LOPEZ: You ask, “Could authoritarian Muslims be just authoritarians who happen to be Muslim?” But isn’t it a huge obstacle that they have as much Islamic material to work with?

AKYOL: Sure, there is a lot of material in the classical Sharia that Muslim authoritarians of today can refer to — as they do. But I am showing that those materials were also products of authoritarians who happened to be Muslim a millennium ago. One of my basic arguments is that most authoritarian elements within the Sharia come from post-Koranic (i.e., “man-made”) parts of Islam. I also show that the more liberal strains within this “man-made” tradition were suppressed by the more rigid camp, which we face in the modern world, in its purest form, as Wahhabism.

So, essentially, he argues that Islam, in its purest form is not an authoritarian ideology, but rather that authoritarians in the early, formative years of Islamic law strongly encouraged the development of authoritarian strains in the laws and traditions of Islam. I like how he implies that the supposedly ultra-conservative Wahhabis are, in fact, innovators.

Naturally, he contends that the worst practices associated with Islam are based more in culture than in anything the Koran commands

LOPEZ: Honor killings and female-genital mutilation: Even if in your reading the Koran doesn’t prescribe them, does it matter when this seems to be a growing or widespread — or at least not uncommon — problem among Muslims?

AKYOL: When you show believers that what they consider God’s commandment is just the tradition of men, you have a better chance of convincing them to abandon the terrible elements in those traditions. (Jesus, too, criticized the Pharisees for holding fast to “the tradition of men,” while leaving “the commandment of God.”) Horrors such as honor killings and female-genital mutilation are such terrible traditions, which come from patriarchal taboos, not Islam. (Female-genital mutilation has no place in the Koran. As for honor, the Koran also considers adultery a grave sin, but finds the male and the female equally guilty, and yet I have never seen a boy or a man falling victim to an “honor killing.”)

LOPEZ: Is this book a call for a Muslim reformation?

AKYOL: Well, if that is a reformation with a capital R, as in Christianity, no. For, as I have said, we don’t have a central religious authority in Islam that we can reform. But I certainly argue for renewing our understanding of Islam, rather than preserving it as it was interpreted 1,000 years ago. The medieval division of the world into “House of War” and “House of Islam,” for example, is totally irrelevant today, for many Muslims feel much safer in lands that are ruled by non-Muslims.

Good point about honor killings. I have a feeling that  that practice would end quickly if it were applied to men. I am not sure how any Muslim scholar could reliably differentiate between the teachings of God and the teachings of men. As far as I know, everything in the Sharia is supposed to be of God.

It is interesting that many Muslims would feel safer in non-Muslim countries. Back during the Crusades, many of the Muslim population of the Holy Lands preferred to live under the rule of the Crusaders, to the disgust of Muslim chroniclers. It would seem that the Crusader tax collectors were not as rapacious.

LOPEZ: Should Muslims and non-Muslims be able to work together on the issue of religious freedom? We are facing some serious threats to individual conscience rights of religious people here in the U.S. Could there be a real coalition?

AKYOL: Of course. Actually, many pious Muslims will be positively surprised to learn that there are Westerners who really care about religion and want to cooperate for the rights of all religious believers. For historical and geographic reasons, most Muslims know the West only from Europe, which is, as you know, thoroughly secular. That is, in fact, one of the reasons that many pious Muslims reject any reform in their tradition. Once a prominent Islamic intellectual in Turkey told me, “We don’t want to begin with concessions, in order to end up like those godless people in Amsterdam.” He probably would find more common ground with people from America’s Bible Belt.

I thing that Akyol is absolutely right about this. I don’t imagine that our incredibly vulgar popular culture is winning us many friends in that part of the world. Conservative Christians and Muslims probably would get on well together if it weren’t for the ‘kill the infidel’ thing and the anti-Semitism.

LOPEZ: You don’t appear to have a problem with Sharia courts in England. This isn’t a matter of religious intolerance but justice and practicality: How can a country with dual legal systems possibly work?

AKYOL: I look at that as I look at the Halakha of Orthodox Jews. The British “Sharia courts” actually evolved from the same arbitration courts that Orthodox Jews also have used for decades. And their scope is limited to issues such as settling financial and family disputes. If they violated any basic human right, such as ordering a corporal punishment, I would certainly oppose them. But there is no harm, I believe, in allowing conservative communities to settle some of their disputes according to their traditions, as far as they remain under the umbrella of the law of the land. This is not a dual legal system, which had its merits in the pre-modern times, but a sub-level system under a single national law.

Another example might be canon law, which governs the Catholic Church. I don’t the precedent though and I think it is only a matter of time before Sharia courts in Britain begin to demand jurisdiction in criminal cases.

LOPEZ: The issue of Israel is one that seems to be an irresolvable one in the Middle East. As a Muslim, do you believe there is a realistic peace plan?

AKYOL: Sure. It is commonly known as the two-state solution. And, on both sides, there are people who would settle with that solution, along with people who have more maximalist goals. On both sides, I support the minimalists.

Here, let me also add that I don’t see the Palestinian–Israeli conflict as a religious one: It is a land dispute between two nations. Yes, Jerusalem is sacred for Muslims, as it is to Jews and Christians, but, as a Muslim, I am not horrified to see it under the Israeli flag as long as the Dome of Rock is open to Muslim worship — as it is now. I value Palestinians’ claim to East Jerusalem as well, but out of a respect for their national aspirations, not any theological necessity.

He’s right but he misses the essential point. Until the Muslim world abandons the Islamic version of the Brezhnev Doctrine, Muslim territories must be Muslim forever, Palestinian-Israeli conflict is going to continue.

LOPEZ: You’re a fan of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, but he’s moved the country a little more Islamist than some would like, hasn’t he?

AKYOL: Well, I would not define myself as a “fan” of Erdoğan, though I value the political change that Turkey has gone through under his party, the AKP. I also see the AKP as the most important experiment of democracy within the Muslim cultural sphere. (The Turkey before AKP, which was kept hyper-secular by a bunch of sinister generals, did nothing but give a bad name among Muslims to the secular state.)

Meanwhile, though I disagree with Michael Rubin and his very pessimistic outlook on Turkey, I do see problems in Erdoğan’s style, such as his confrontational tone and intolerance of criticism. But these are issues with his personality, and problems with Turkish political leaders in general. (As I once said, “AKP is not too Islamic, it is too Turkish.”) Personally speaking, my ideal Turkish leader is President Abdullah Gül, whose worldview is similar to Erdoğan’s, but whose tone is much more conciliatory, modest, and nuanced.

LOPEZ: What was your lesson from seeing your father in jail for writing? It might have made some young boys look for a different career.

AKYOL: I think it showed the eight-year-old me that there are tyrants in the world, and they can hurt your beloved ones for no reason. It also taught me, as I figured later, that secularism is no guarantee for freedom or democracy. (It was the all-secular Turkish military, after all, which imprisoned hundreds of thousands of Turks and tortured many of them.)

Here is another point: In the past decade, Americans have repeatedly heard the stories of ex-Muslims such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali, explaining how they, in their childhood, were oppressed by some ruthless cleric in a radical madrassa. My story reminds them that Muslim kids can be oppressed by some ruthless officer in a secular garrison as well. When people see both of these stories, perhaps, they might feel that the problem with tyranny is not a direct problem with Islam.

LOPEZ: Does it worry you that there is as much court action by the Turkish government against journalists as there is?

AKYOL: Yes, it does worry me. But I was more worried in the ’90s, when death squads, on the orders of Turkey’s overbearing generals, were assassinating journalists. What I mean is that press freedom has always been attacked in Turkey, and things are actually better now than they were before. This should not minimize today’s problems, but it should put them in context. The basic trouble is that we have illiberal laws about “insulting state officials” or “spreading terrorist propaganda,” and courts are often aggressive in executing them.

Moreover, the recent impression that whoever criticizes the AKP goes into jail is simply not true. A few journalists are in custody (wrongly in my view) for allegedly taking part in coup schemes, whereas most others are accused for pro-PKK propaganda, or membership in Marxist-Leninist terror groups.

LOPEZ: The murder last year of Catholic bishop Luigi Padovese doesn’t suggest everything is as peachy for Christians in Turkey as you paint it, does it?

AKYOL: No, it is not peachy at all. Not just Bishop Padovese, but also Fr. Andrea Santoro and three Protestant missionaries were brutally killed in Turkey in the past decade. But please note that these murders were committed by ultra-nationalists, not Islamists. (In Turkey, the Islamist movement has been largely peaceful, whereas violence has been a hallmark of Kurdish separatists, Turkish fascists, and the Communists.) It might be worthwhile to note that some of the people suspected of arranging the killing of the three missionaries in eastern Turkey were also the same people who are on trial for conspiring a military coup against the AKP.

It is a good, and forgotten,  point that the military rulers of Turkey were not exactly paragons of human rights. I am far less confident than Aykol is about Erdogan and the AKP. I think there is a good chance that Turkey will go the way of Iran under the AKP, though I’m sure Aykol knows far more about Turkish politics than I do.

LOPEZ: Would you encourage full transparency in the building of mosques? Would you be supportive of communities asking questions — such as, who is funding this? — before permits are issued? A board member who supports Hamas, for example, would understandably be an issue.

AKYOL: I would care more about the content of the preaching in a mosque, than about its financial resources. As for supporting Hamas, well, I condemn the terrorist actions of that organization, but I see that it is also a political party with hospitals and charities. (Had they been more strategic about it, they might have made the IRA/Sinn Fein division that the Irish nationalists did.) So, any support for terrorist acts is of course intolerable, but holding someone responsible for donating to, say, a Hamas-related hospital or kindergarten, and opposing a mosque for simply getting money from that same donor, might be too much.

In Turkey, we have similar questions regarding the PKK, the Kurdish terrorist group. My take is to condemn the violent acts of the PKK, but also to understand that it has a political wing and many social networks, which I don’t oppose. I actually think that tolerating the peaceful side of a quasi-militant movement might be a better strategy for its moderation, rather than blocking it by all means.

I am not for letting Hamas off the hook quite so easily as that. Bad people do good deeds for all sorts of reasons, good public relations, salving consciences, etc. Hitler was nice to his dog and his secretary.

I hope that Mustafa Akyol is successful in his efforts, both for the West’s sake and the Middle East’s. I can’t say that I am very optimistic though and I think that he downplays just how difficult modernizing Islam is likely to be. At the very least the Sunni Muslims are going to have to reopen the door of Ijtihad, or Islamic jurisprudence that was closed around a thousand years ago. This will not be easy or safe as anyone who proposes new interpretations of the Koran or Sharia stands a good chance of being labeled an apostate or heretic.

Moral Equivancy about Norway

July 26, 2011

I didn’t think that it would take the Left long to exploit the killings in Norway to promote their own agenda and I was right. At the very least they will use this atrocity to pretend that Christianity is somehow inherently violent while still refusing to make the connection between the violent teachings of Islam and the violent acts of some of the adherents of that faith.

Consider this cartoon which appeared in USA Today today.

If I were unencumbered by facts and logic as many liberals are,  I could see the parallel between two isolated incidents sixteen years apart and the more than 17,000 terrorist attacks by Jihadists in just the last ten years since 9/11. Not to mention the fact that Timothy McVeigh identified himself as an agnostic and was inspired by “The Turner Diaries“, which was written by William Pierce, a neo-Nazi who had contempt for Christianity.It’s not clear yet what Anders Breivik’s religious affiliation is, but it is notable that, as far a I know, he did not quote from the Bible to justify his murders, nor have any Christian leaders, of any denomination done anything to condemn both of these murderers. In contrast, Osama bin Laden was considered a hero by many Muslims and violence is still preached in all too many mosques in the West.ut

There is simply no parallel between the actions of an evident lunatic and terrorists acting on the teachings of a religion that does indeed preach hate and intolerance. But, look for this distinction to be blurred by the media in the coming days, weeks, and years.

Norway Killings

July 25, 2011

I haven’t posted anything on the terrible events that occurred in Norway last Friday because I didn’t want to say anything without knowing what had happened, and I don’t imagine that I have anything useful to contribute. It is a terrible misfortune that  seventy-six people lost their lives because of that lunatic. It is a somewhat lesser misfortune that since he claimed to be acting to stop the the Muslim takeover of Europe, the European Left will certainly use this crime to justify suppression of legitimate concerns by Europeans over immigration and the radicalization of their Muslim minority.

If there is any question of Anders Breivik’s sanity, take a look at this report on his manifesto. Evidently he was an admirer of Vlad the Impaler aka Dracula.


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