Archive for June, 2011

Tax the Rich 2

June 30, 2011

In the early 1920s the highest tax rate was 73%. In 1921 President Harding appointed Andrew Mellon to be Secretary of the Treasury. Over the next eight years he reduced the top rate to 24%. The result, federal revenue increased from $700 million to over $1 billion. Every year that decade the federal government ran a surplus, hard to believe I know. Unemployment and inflation were at record lows.

It may seem counter-intuitive that lowering tax rates would increase revenue but it is actually easy to understand. In general, people do not like paying taxes. They will often go out of their way to avoid paying taxes by exploiting any loopholes in tax codes, decreasing any activity that is taxed, consuming less of any commodity, or just plain cheating. If tax rates are relatively low, it is not worth the trouble and people go ahead and pay their taxes. If tax rates are relatively high, then people start putting their money in tax shelters.In other words, people don’t just sit still and allow themselves to be taxed. They take action to limit their tax burden as much as possible.

The reason I mention all of this is that there seems to be a movement among the Democrats to raise taxes in order to lower the deficit. They believe that the reason that we are in the fiscal mess we are in is because people, especially the greedy rich, just do not pay enough in taxes. The problem is that raising taxes simply will not produce the bonanza of increased revenue that they expect. Raise taxes on the wealthy and they will send their money abroad, or not invest, or do what it takes to pay as little as they can. I know I am being repetitive, but I cannot seem to pound that concept into Progressives’ heads.

In any event, revenue to the federal government as a percentage of GDP seems to hover at about 19%, regardless of tax rates as shown here and here. And check out this chart here. The US has the honor of having the second highest corporate tax rate in the developed world, 13% higher than the OECD average. This is not exactly helping our recovery.

John Lennon a Republican?

June 29, 2011

No way! Well, according to his assistant in this story from the Toronto Sun, way!

Fred Seaman worked alongside the music legend from 1979 to Lennon’s death at the end of 1980 and he reveals the star was a Ronald Reagan fan who enjoyed arguing with left-wing radicals who reminded him of his former self.

In new documentary Beatles Stories, Seaman tells filmmaker Seth Swirsky Lennon wasn’t the peace-loving militant fans thought he was while he was his assistant.

He says, “John, basically, made it very clear that if he were an American he would vote for Reagan because he was really sour on (Democrat) Jimmy Carter.

“He’d met Reagan back, I think, in the 70s at some sporting event… Reagan was the guy who had ordered the National Guard, I believe, to go after the young (peace) demonstrators in Berkeley, so I think that John maybe forgot about that… He did express support for Reagan, which shocked me.

“I also saw John embark in some really brutal arguments with my uncle, who’s an old-time communist… He enjoyed really provoking my uncle… Maybe he was being provocative… but it was pretty obvious to me he had moved away from his earlier radicalism.

“He was a very different person back in 1979 and 80 than he’d been when he wrote Imagine. By 1979 he looked back on that guy and was embarrassed by that guy’s naivete.”

 

Who was it who said that anyone under 30 who isn’t a liberal has no heart and anyone over 30 who isn’t a conservative has no head? Where does that leave me, since I’ve always been a conservative?

Thanks to Drudge for this.

Dangerous Talk

June 27, 2011

I noticed that one of my referrers is from dangeroustalk.net, which is an Atheist/Progressive site. They had a link to my post Ban the Bible. I hope nobody is terribly disappointed if they read my post and discover that I am not, in fact, for banning the Bible.

Reading the Hadith

June 27, 2011

A while back I mentioned that I was starting to read the Hadiths of Sahih al-Bukhari. I thought I would write a post now and then over what I have been reading. It would be nice to try something like David Plotz‘s Blogging the Bible which he later expanded into “The Good Book“, or Robert Spencer’s Blogging the Koran, but I don’t have the time or energy for such an ambitious undertaking. Instead, as I said, I will write about some of the more interesting things I come across.

The Hadith of al-Bukhari is divided into nine volumes. There are 93 books divided according to subjects, mostly issues of behavior or jurisprudence. There are some books about Islamic beliefs, and Mohammed’s actions, which, of course, serve as an example to Moslems to this day. I have already described the structure of each hadith, the isnad or chain of narrators and the matn or actual anecdote, etc.

Incidentally, there is a former Moslem over at Islam Speaks who is featuring some of the sillier or objectionable stories from Islamic scriptures, especially the Hadith, but he is not reading it from beginning to end.

Dissecting the Holocaust

June 27, 2011

I am not sure how it happened but Amazon.com is recommending this book to me. It’s not clear just what it is about. There are no reviews posted and the description is a little coy, but based on the other books in the series about the “alleged Holocaust”, I’m guessing that it is not a collection of scholarly articles on the history of the Holocaust.

The Genesis of Science

June 27, 2011

The popular idea of the Middle Ages in Europe is that it was a thousand year period of ignorance and barbarism between the fall of the Roman Empire and the Renaissance, a time of nearly complete intellectual stagnation. Everyone is supposed to have been illiterate with the exception of a few clergymen and the Catholic Church kept a tight rein on all learning,  burning any scholar who dared to have an independent thought or challenge the authority of Scripture.

Historians have recognized for some time that this stereotype is entirely false. The Middle Ages, or “Dark Ages” were, in fact, a time of extraordinary fertility and progress. Many of the concepts and institutions that came to distinguish Western Civilization were developed in this era, especially the beginnings of the intellectual enterprise we call science.

In his book “The Genesis of Science”, James Hannam traces the development of science, or natural philosophy as it was then known, through the Middle Ages, from the fall of the Roman Empire to the trial of Galileo. He begins in the very depths the Dark Age, the chaotic 5th to 7th centuries, where even then the Europeans were beginning to pull ahead in practical technology with such useful tools as the moldboard plow and the horse collar, which revolutionized agriculture.

The discovery of ancient Latin and Greek manuscripts from the Arabs and Byzantines led to the rise of the Scholastic theologians of the 11th to 13 centuries. The Scholastics, under the influence of Aristotle, established reason as the method for learning about God and His creation. There was some controversy in the Catholic Church about pagan learning but the Scholastics, especially Thomas Aquinas showed that faith and reason could be reconciled and the Church accepted the ancient learning to the extent that it did not contradict Christian doctrine. With the acceptance of reason as an adjunct to faith, the philosophers of the Middle Ages were prepared to see the natural world around them as the rational creation of a rational God, forming the foundation for later scientific thinking.

The Scholastics did not slavishly follow Aristotle, however. They were capable of observing that he was wrong in some instances and were willing to move beyond him. In fact, some of their ideas about motion and forces were surprisingly modern. Some, especially Roger Bacon stressed the importance of careful observation of the natural world.

With the increased knowledge of ancient Greece and Rome during the Renaissance of the 13th to 15 centuries, much of this learning was disregarded and forgotten. The Renaissance Humanists venerated the ancients and so were inclined to denigrate the achievements of their immediate predecessors. The authority of Aristotle and others was more respected than the thoughts of more recent philosophers. The Protestant Reformation did not help matters, as the Protestants were not eager to give the Catholic Church any credit.

Still, progress continued and in the last section of his book, Hannam explores the scientific revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries.  He closes with an account of Galileo. Although Galileo was a brilliant scientist who practically invented physics, he owed far more to his medieval predecessors than he was ever willing to admit. As for his troubles with the Inquisition, they had less to do with any Catholic opposition to science and were more due to politics and the folly of implying that the Pope was a simpleton.

The Genesis of Science is worth five stars. The perhaps over long summary that I have given above is only the merest foretaste to this brilliant work. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Climate Depot

June 26, 2011

Here’s a resource I found to answer any questions you about have about global warming/climate change/ climate catastrophe/ whatever. Climate Depot is chock full of facts, articles, and information to give you all the ammunition you need when debating someone who is still drinking the Kool-aid. If you are one of those who are still drinking the Kool-aid, you might want to be careful. Too much exposure to actual facts might cause your head to explode.

Travels in Saudi Arabia

June 26, 2011
Map of the territory and area covered by prese...

Image via Wikipedia

Meanwhile, Allahpundit links to this interesting article written by a Jew, Joshua Muravchik who managed to get into Saudi Arabia.

The application for a visa to Saudi Arabia asked for my religion. In inviting me to give some lectures and interviews, the American embassy in Riyadh had already suggested I answer “non-Muslim”–its standard advice to American visitors, I was told. But I did not feel comfortable with this evasion, so I put “Jewish.” My visa came through nonetheless.

He found that Saudi Arabia wasn’t a bad as he thought, not good, but not that bad.

After a few days, and despite the warnings, I came to feel at ease. I had had the experience on other trips of arriving in Egypt, Israel, or the Palestinian territories right on the heels of terrorist events. To a visitor such acts are not only appalling but also always frightening, even if there is a greater likelihood that one will become a random victim of reckless drivers than of terrorists. Saudi Arabia has more than its share of the latter, but it has even more of the former–the result, I conjectured, of too many young men with too much access to money and too little access to other worldly thrills. The newspapers during my stay carried stories of suicidal motorcycle daredevils and homicidal drag races and other automotive antics; on a couple of occasions I caught glimpses of such near-mayhem on the road. A Saudi woman who advocates women’s rights quipped to me: “I would like to be able to drive here once Saudi men learn how to drive better.”

If I did not find the country exceptionally scary, I did find it rather bleak. To begin with, alcohol was entirely absent. I had read that Christopher Hitchens secreted a bottle of booze into the kingdom in his luggage. I might have tried the same, but having put a higher priority on my prayer book, I figured that two items of contraband would have pressed my luck.

He found the people surprisingly friendly, even to an infidel.

A young man named Khaled told me that he had studied at a small school in St. Louis, where after an initial bout of homesickness he gradually fell in love with the American way of life. After his studies were finished and his student visa had expired, he stayed on, having decided to become an American by hook or by crook. Then came 9/11, and he was picked up in a sweep. A neighbor whom he had befriended, an elderly secular Jew, knocked on official doors on his behalf, and after three weeks, satisfied that Khaled constituted no threat, the authorities released him, giving him time to put his affairs in order and buy himself a ticket home. “My greatest fear,” he told me, “was that I would not readjust to Saudi life.”

After our interview, Khaled invited me to visit his home. “My father would love to meet you. He is a neocon,” he said. I asked what it meant to be a Saudi neocon, and Khaled replied: “He supports you guys.” A few days later, taking him up on the invitation, I headed off to an older, poorer section of Riyadh for the Saudi equivalent of cocktail hour. My cab driver was guided via cell phone to a landmark, where Khaled met us in his pick-up and led us the rest of the way. Once there, he took me into the majlis, a square room in the outdoor courtyard, lacking furniture except cushions along the walls to make sitting on the floor comfortable.

The standard fare at these pre-dinner sittings is dates, tea, and Saudi coffee–tannish green and heavily laced with cardamom; but Khaled had graciously thought to stop for doughnuts and American-style coffee as well. His father, a retired customs clerk who spoke no English, presented me with a gift of a string of white prayer beads. Other male relatives arrived, one of whom regaled me with memories of “the happiest three-and-a-half years of my life” when he studied engineering at a New England college. In deference to his elders, Khaled shrank into a corner and kept mostly silent. Not once did I spot a female family member. As I left, Khaled translated his father’s farewell wish that I learn Arabic so that next time we could talk with each other.

I was warmly received everywhere in Saudi Arabia, though I always identified myself as a Jew and as a neoconservative. The latter term, much as at home, has become a buzzword throughout the Arab world for everything disliked about U.S. policy. (An interviewer for an Islamist news organization in Egypt once put it to me: “‘neoconservative’ sounds to our ears like ‘terrorist’ sounds to yours.”) But Arabs value politeness, and to avoid confrontation they often say, “We like the American people, just not your government.” I always tried to block this retreat from controversy by asserting that I was one of those Americans who supported the very policies of my government that Arabs were angry about. Nonetheless, interviews with me in the Saudi media were respectful, fair, and accurately reported.

Saudi Arabia, for all its traditional ways is modernizing, faster than some would wish.

Such meetings brought home the way in which Saudi Arabia is like a vast battleground between antiquity and modernity–a battle conducted more on the personal than on the political level. The enforcers of the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, called the mutawa or mutawa’een, roam the streets and the malls, spying out derogations from the country’s strict code of morals and decorum. Young people, and others, push against the restraints. A woman journalist told me she was working on a story about fashions in abayas, which were starting to appear with embroidery and shapes suggestive of the female figure. Diplomats told me that if invited to a Saudi home for dinner, they felt obliged to bring wine, available in the diplomatic quarter and much appreciated outside it. Although many families still select spouses for their children, young Saudis maneuver to meet members of the opposite sex. Every restaurant and café has separate seating areas for men and women, but youngsters get around this through text-messaging. Boasting of his adeptness at recognizing various makes and models of cell phones, a young man explained to me how, after launching a conversation by text-message, he would scan the women’s section and quickly figure out which girl he was flirting with by identifying her phone.

Even today, Saudi traditions remain extremely insular. The exclusion of Israelis (and once, apparently, Jews) was just part of a bigger picture. Until a year ago, Saudi Arabia did not issue standard tourist visas. Historically, the only foreign visitors to reach the kingdom in large numbers were pilgrims. Much insularity remains within as well. The Shiites who constitute an estimated 10 percent of the Saudi population are largely segregated geographically (in the eastern regions) and to some extent socially and professionally. A leading liberal declared to me un-self-consciously that he believed in the equal dignity of all: “Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Shiites.”

***

These are the veils of isolation that were pierced by the discovery of oil in 1938 and that in the last four decades have been shredded by the avalanche of wealth that has generated an intense demand for foreign labor. A Saudi economist who briefed me estimated the country’s population at 17 million Saudis and 6 million foreign workers. The foreigners include Westerners who fill skilled positions in management and technology and Asians or other third-world immigrants, sometimes illegal, who perform less skilled jobs. As a result, English is the lingua franca, spoken widely in the cities, and the country boasts two good English newspapers, the Arab News and the Saudi Gazette, each replete with help-wanted notices.

The pace of Westernization is of course uneven. Once, when I asked for directions, I was told that my destination was on a certain street near another street: “We haven’t yet gotten to putting numbers on our buildings.” Still more uneven is the pace of cultural change. Corporal punishment is still practiced in the kingdom in the name of Islamic law. Although I did not choose to visit “chop-chop square” in Riyadh, where public hangings and mutilations take place, the papers reported enough floggings to satiate the Marquis de Sade. For the most part, I learned from a local journalist, Saudi criminal law specifies no punishments, leaving the matter entirely to the wisdom of judges. Some are draconian, while others are experimenting with the idea of community service for minor crimes. (Since almost no private voluntary organizations are allowed in Saudi Arabia, this takes the form of mosque-cleaning.) A highly publicized charity run by a member of the royal family works to free murderers on death row by securing forgiveness from the families of the victims, often in exchange for the traditional monetary restitution.

Saudi Arabia is one of the least free countries in the world, but they are making some progress

On the political level, Saudi Arabia remains one of the least free countries in the world. But here too the situation is not static. In annual Freedom House surveys, Saudi Arabia has always ranked among the ten or so countries scoring a rock-bottom 7.0. In last year’s report, for the first time, Saudi Arabia climbed out of this “worst of the worst” category to score a 6.5. According to Freedom House, the change was based on an improving atmosphere of academic freedom.

Reforms in governance are modest in the extreme. A new rule has been promulgated specifying the procedure for selecting the crown prince. Succession has always entailed internecine politics within the sprawling royal family, but now the process will be formalized. The Shura council, entirely appointed by the king and not empowered to make law, has begun to conduct hearings at which government ministers are subjected to questioning. Municipal elections were held in 2005, albeit for only a restricted share of seats in bodies with limited authority.

Yet the progress in freedom of expression was greater than I expected. True enough, I read no criticism whatsoever of the royal family or the basic system of government. And the English papers I read were probably freer than the Arabic press. But they did keep up a drumbeat of criticism on the subject of women’s rights. They also carried investigative reports and stories of societal self-criticism. Their opinion pages offered a range of views, mostly from American and British sources. And even their news coverage of Israel, to my surprise, could be reasonably fair. (For reasons one can guess, the Arab News often ran headlines biased against Israel atop stories that were objective and balanced.)

Then there is the Internet. Websites can be censored. (A spokesman for the commission insisted that 95 percent of the blocked sites are pornographic and only 5 percent are political.) I made my way to one censored site and found a one-line message announcing the blockage and also two links. You could click one link to send a message arguing that the site should not be blocked, and you could click the other to volunteer the URL’s of additional sites that you felt needed to be blocked. Of course, by clicking either one you would be informing the mutawa’een that you had attempted to visit a forbidden site.

The Internet has also given rise to bloggers, perhaps a bit tamer than elsewhere but still with a great deal of independence. The one blogger who has most aroused the wrath of the authorities goes by the handle “Saudi Eve,” and what has gotten her in trouble is frank discussion of her love life. Yet in contrast to Egypt, where several bloggers have been incarcerated and one has been sentenced to a four-year term, the Saudi government has struck at offenders only by temporarily blocking their sites. As Saudis are increasingly switching to satellite Internet providers, the government will find it technically difficult to exert this kind of censorship.

Saudi Arabia is not a paradise by any conceivable stretch of the imagination, nor even really a very nice country but Joshua Muravchik said he would be eager for another visit.

Once back home, I received an e-mail from Prince Turki bidding me to “come back again, with your family and friends.” For my part, based on twelve days of observing this once-forbidden and still most distant of lands, I would be eager for another visit. My wife and daughters will not want to accompany me until they can go around without having to don abayas.

I don’t know what to make of all of this. I hope that Saudi Arabia does manage to reform itself and fully enter into the modern world. With their wealth and the prestige they command as the birthplace of Islam, if they can somehow manage the trick of balancing between modernity and Islamic traditions, they could go a long way in showing the rest of the Islamic world that such a balance is possible. Frankly, I am not optimistic. Even if the Saudi leadership is sincere about reforms ( a big if) they have a long way to go in this most traditional kingdom.

American Jews Welcome in Saudi Arabia

June 26, 2011
Saudi Arabia and Solar Energy

Image by martnpro via Flickr

Allahpundit would like everyone to know that just because you’re Jewish, there is no reason why you can’t take your next vacation in the sunny Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. They won’t let you in if you have an Israeli passport, or if you have an Israel stamp on your passport, but they do not discriminate according to religion.

I’m overstating it a little. Even so, good news for Jewish readers: If you haven’t made any vacation plans this summer, there’s an exciting new option on the table.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia today issued the following statement regarding the false story being circulated on the Internet regarding implications of Saudi Arabian Airlines membership in the Delta Airlines SkyTeam Alliance:

“Rumors being circulated via the Internet regarding passenger flight restrictions on Saudi Arabian Airlines are completely false. The Government of Saudi Arabia does not deny visas to U.S. citizens based on their religion.”

And Delta Airlines released this statement:

Delta Air Lines does not discriminate nor do we condone discrimination against any of our customers in regards to age, race, nationality, religion, or gender.

Delta does not operate service to Saudi Arabia and does not codeshare with any airline that serves that country. Delta does not intend to codeshare or share reciprocal benefits, such as frequent flier benefits, with Saudi Arabian Airlines, which we have confirmed with SkyTeam, an Amsterdam-based 14-member global airline alliance.

Delta’s only agreement with Saudi Arabian Airlines is a standard industry interline agreement, which allows passengers to book tickets on multiple carriers, similar to the standard interline agreements American Airlines, US Airways and Alaska Airlines have with Saudi Arabian Airlines.

All of the three global airline alliances – Star, which includes United Airlines; oneworld, which includes American Airlines, and SkyTeam, which includes Delta – have members that fly to Saudi Arabia and are subject to that country’s rules governing entry.

Well, I’m glad that’s all cleared up.I think I’ll start packing right now. Of course you still can’t bring any non-Muslim religious article or literature into the country so I’ll have to leave my Bible behind and make sure I’m not wearing a crucifix or something. I wonder if Saudi customs would search through my Kindle.

Geert Wilders Not Guilty

June 23, 2011
Geert Wilders

Image via Wikipedia

From Dutch News. A great victory for freedom today. Geert Wilders was found not guilty of inciting hatred. This should never have gone to trial in the first place and it is a shame that it all went on for so long.Even the prosecution called for a not guilty verdict.

MP Geert Wilders has been cleared of charges of inciting hatred and discrimination by a courtu in Amsterdam.

The court ruled that some of Wilders’ statements were insulting, shocking and on the edge of legal acceptibility, but that they were made in the broad context of a political and social debate on the multi-cultural society.

The only reason the case went forward was that “anti-racism” campaigners protested when the prosecution declined to prosecute Wilders earlier.

Holland, and the rest of Europe badly needs some equivalent to the US first amendment.


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