Black Shards Press – Electronic Gumbo is Our Specialty

Bush’s Bailout

31.08.2007 (6:42 pm) – Filed under: Finance ::

President Bush outline a plan today that would help bail out hundreds of thousands of borrowers who have been unable to pay off their mortgages.

CNN says:

Foreclosure rates have soared over the past year as homeowners struggle to pay off loans that have become more expensive as they mature. Many are hybrid adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs), the so-called toxic ARMs, that carried very low initial interest rates (“teaser rates”) for the first two or three years of their term but then reset to much higher rates after that.

The proposals put forward by the president included increasing the help offered by the Federal Housing Authority to troubled borrowers. That may take the form of expanding the pool of borrowers who can apply to the FHA to refinance their loans.

The president wants to work with Congress to temporarily suspend the tax liability that can take effect when borrowers lose their homes through short-sales, and when lenders forgive mortgage debt. That will enable borrowers to more easily rework their loans.

“I believe we need to change that code,” said the president, “so people won’t be penalized when they refinance their homes.”

Bush also discussed putting together a coalition of community groups, government agencies and government-sponsored enterprises, such as Freddie Mac to help homeowners refinance onerous loans. That would include making credit available as well as counseling borrowers on credit issues.

The president also wants to press efforts to combat predatory lending where unscrupulous mortgage brokers and lenders take advantage of naive consumers by steering them into mortgages that are extremely profitable for the brokers and lenders but ultimately unaffordable for borrowers.

Another of the president’s goals is to increase transparency in lending practices so consumers would better understand the true risks and costs of loans they sign up for. That could reduce the number of borrowers facing the loss of their homes in the future.

One thing the president promised not to do was a direct bailout of homeowners facing foreclosures or of lenders with financial problems traced to portfolios of defaulting subprime loans.

Such bailouts, he said, “would only aggravate the problem.”

Bailing people out of loans they entered into is a terrible idea because it rewards riskly, unwise behavior. Yes, the homeowners who have defaulted on their loans are in for some rough times. But is that a problem that has anything to do with the rest of us?

Indirectly, yes, as a wave of failed investments tends to ripple through other areas of the economy, as the article says:

The fallout from the mortgage meltdown crisis has spread beyond the home-lending and housing industries. It has resulted in a liquidity squeeze that has reached into the corporate world and increased borrowing costs for any less than low-risk propositions.

Does that matter? Not in my view. As the perceived risk in making loans increases it’s natural that lenders expect additional compensation for taking on the extra risk. That’s a feature of the lending system – it’s supposed to happen.

Bush is correct that creating a precedent by assisting participants in the subprime lending market would make the problem worse in the future. But that principle applies to all involved.

There are always people who suffer economic setbacks, the dynamics of a free economy make that a given. But a massive set of failed loans such as this indicates that a large number of both borrowers and lenders were gambling on interest rates continuing to be low indefinitely. As we now see, that was a sucker’s bet. But don’t we owe it to the people who lost their bets to see that they keep their homes?

No. The problem is that any sort of assistance given to the borrowers represents a transfer of money from people who did meet all of their mortgage and tax obligations to those who did not. It is, in effect, a tax on economic competence in that regard, one that is particularly unjust because it penalizes people for living within their means and rewards those who failed to plan properly.

It would be even worse to bail out failing corporations whose business it is (or was) to make sound lending decisions. It’s one thing for Joe Sixpack to get talked into a bad ARM deal and lose his shirt. Joe should have known better – computing interest is something they teach in high school and before these days – but he took a chance on rates staying at 50 year lows and lost. It happens.

But making a large number of bad loans is not supposed to happen to mortgage companies. They’re supposed to know better. That’s what their business is. Yet they destroyed their companies by making bad investments in people they should never have agreed to do business with.

Rewarding this sort of incompetence is in my view unthinkable. The market should be allowed to eliminate these inefficient companies and let new, better ones rise up in their place.

If Bush were a fiscal conservative he would know this and realize that sometimes it’s better to do nothing.  Sadly, that sort has not been seen in Washington much lately.

Cross-posted at The Van Der Galiën Gazette.

A Study in Cowardice

29.08.2007 (10:26 pm) – Filed under: Iraq ::

The Center for America Progress’ (CAP) recent study entitled “How to Redeploy: Implementing a Responsible Drawdown of U.S. Forces from Iraq” (PDF alert) features a quote from Sun Tzu, author of The Art of War:

“No nation has ever benefited from protracted warfare.”

This is meant to lead us into the center’s belief that America should abandon Iraq to its own destruction in a year’s time. That’s the thesis of How to Redeploy, a 28 page plan to bolt as fast as possible from the mess the U.S. has made in Iraq.

Of course, it’s not a case of protracted warfare that’s gotten us into trouble in Iraq. If anything I would assert that it’s the opposite: We ended the war in Iraq too soon, before we secured the borders and eliminated the enemy, and before we even came close to delivering on our promise of a stable democracy for the people of Iraq.

By bungling the initial invasion, the White House bogged America’s troops down in an untenable police action, not an unwinnable war, a war that in a sense was never really fought. Only in recent months have the gloves come part way off and, as Michael discussed earlier, some progress seems to be happening in Iraq as a result.

Some Democrats in Congress have changed with positions publicly, including including Brian Baird of Washington state who is now paying the price politically for visiting Iraq and coming away with the desire to do what is right:

For more than three hours Monday night, Rep. Brian Baird was verbally flogged by hundreds of his constituents for no longer supporting the quick withdrawal of troops from Iraq.

More than 500 people packed a high school auditorium in Vancouver while another 175 or so were unable to get inside. And virtually everyone who got a chance to address the Vancouver Democrat were harshly critical – including several who said they had been long-time supporters and friends.

While some people left the Vancouver meeting saying they respected Baird’s sincerity, the town hall had to have been a particularly brutal experience for the congressman. At several points, he pleaded with the crowd to let him finish his explanation. One woman told him the blood of the troops was now on his hands, and several said he was violating the wishes of his constituents.

“We don’t care what your convictions are,” said Jan Lustig of Vancouver. “You are here to represent us.”

Some of the angriest comments came from Vietnam veterans. “I was part of another surge in 1968 (in Vietnam), based on another pack of lies,” said Vancouver resident Bob Goss, who served in the Army there. “I really think it’s time to get out.”

As the evening wore on, Baird repeatedly insisted that Iraq would descend into worse chaos if the U.S. withdrew precipitously, with Iran gaining greater influence. “I think the probability is 95 percent if we withdraw prematurely, in our hearts we will live to regret it,” he said.

Baird said industries are starting to reopen and things are starting to get better. “We’re putting people back to work and that is good news,” he said.

“I am truly impressed by Brian’s willingness to stand here and take it gracefully,” said Joy Overstreet, a Vancouver writer, as the meeting passed the two-hour mark. But she said she would consider voting out the congressmen next year if there is a “viable alternative.”

“It could well cost me the next election,” Baird said at the end of the meeting. “That’s alright.”

Good for Baird. It’s refreshing to see a representative who will vote his conscience, consequences at the polls be damned. We need more people like him in leadership positions.

More from a transcript of an interview with Baird here:

I believe frankly that the invasion of Iraq was one of the greatest foreign policy mistakes in the history of the country and I still believe that. However, once we had made that commitment and were on the ground I’ve pretty steadfastly opposed a timeline for withdrawal. Recently our party put forward a resolution really aimed at making sure that the preparedness of our soldiers was not sacrificed for this war and I did support that. But I really believe what we need to do now is stop looking at backwards and look at where we are today. The fact is, this country is trying to rebuild from very difficult circumstances. Their police were disbanded, their military was disbanded, the civil government was taken apart, the infrastructure was destroyed, and the borders were left open. To expect any country to rebuild from that in three brief years is I think not realistic. We have a strategic interest in seeing that this mission succeeds, we have a moral responsibility to the Iraqi people and the region, and I think we are seeing signs of progress and it is worth letting Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus have their time and breathing room to move their project forward.

I know painfully well, that if we decide to keep troops on the ground for a longer period of time it will mean more American casualties and more lost US dollars, but I believe the outcome if we pull out precipitously would be far worse. And because of that I think the right course is to keep the presence on the ground probably through to next spring and then begin a gradual withdrawal. And I think it’s also important to note that what we say and do here have real consequences on the ground in Iraq in terms of how we impact their efforts to resolve things politically and we need to be very careful with what we do.

This is in stark contrast to the vision that CAP puts forth in How to Redeploy:

A phased military redeployment from Iraq over the next 10 to 12 months would begin extracting U.S. troops from Iraq’s internal conflicts immediately and would be completed by the end of 2008.

Nor would we leave the region entirely. To maintain an offensive and deterrent capability in the region, U.S. troops would temporarily station 8,000 to 10,000 troops (two brigades plus support and command elements) in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq for one year to prevent the outbreak of Turkish-Kurd violence and protect that region of the country from Iraq’s multiple civil conflicts. Marine Corps units would be tasked to provide security for personnel at the U.S. embassy. Another ground brigade and tactical air wing would be based in Kuwait.

The time for half-measures and experiments is over; it is now time for a logistically sound strategic redeployment.

A 10 to 12 month withdrawal will ensure that no critical supplies—arms and ammunition, sensitive equipment, such as computers, communications gear, or armored vehicles—will be left behind while non-essential equipment will remain or be destroyed. It is simply not cost effective, in terms of money and, most importantly, our troops’ lives, to delay withdrawal for the sake of totally dismantling our PXs, gymnasiums, housing trailers, headquarters buildings, maintenance
facilities, fast food restaurants, and other non-essential facilities and associated equipment. Ours is not a “no FOB left behind” policy.

In the final analysis, redeployment from Iraq is crucial to a broader reset of the United States’ position in the Middle East and the world. For this reason, we need to begin planning now for the deliberate drawdown of our military forces in Iraq.

Yes, we should plan for an eventual exit from Iraq. But as Rep. Baird came to realize, now is not the time. Nor will there ever be a time by which such a departure should be run by mandated timetables known to our enemies. The time to leave is when when and if the situation in Iraq becomes demonstrably untenable for U.S. troops. This has not yet taken place.

A MvdG post from earlier this week generated heated arguments against the modest offensive strategy being conducted in Iraq including this gem:

Yes, supporting the surge makes you responsible for the troops that will die. It makes you responsible for the loss in function of the Army.

An honest war supporter says, “Yes, I am willing to sacrifice young Americans to further our interests in the Middle East. It is important the the occupation continue, and hundreds of Americans potentially be killed, on the admittedly slim chance that Maliki is able to turn everything around in Iraq.”

That’s exactly right, except for the bit about Maliki. Our interests in the Middle East and the world require our troops continued presence in Iraq. Maliki or his replacement needs our assistance and we are obligated by the Iraqi blood that we’ve shed to provide it.

Unfortunately this does mean that some Americans, mostly young men, will die policing that country. I don’t like that this will happen. But I accept my portion of the responsibility, as required by the commentor.

A Diversion in Statistics

Let’s assume that 1000 troops will be killed in the next 12 months in Iraq, a number that is not far from historical averages.

Now, consider this somewhat dated report (PDF alert) from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s National Center for Statistics and Analysis. In it we see that in 2001 42,000 Americans were killed in traffic accidents and that 16-24 year olds accounted for 24% of these fatalities, or roughly 10,000. Of these, the intoxication rate was 18%, meaning approximately 1800 young men and women of an age with the buck soldiers in Iraq were killed by driving drunk and drunk drivers.

It’s saddening when any young person with a life full of potential is killed too soon. It truly is.

But it seems to be a bit of a stretch to say that “Bush’s War” in Iraq is killing our up and coming generation out of proportion to the value their service renders when 10 times as many young people are killed annually in automobile accidents alone and almost twice as many essentially kill themselves by driving drunk.

Back on Track

CAP’s report is undoubtedly meticulously researched. It may also prove to be right, eventually. And its authors do raise one important point that is very rarely discussed in anti-war circles. That is, what will happen to the tens of thousands of Iraqis who worked with the U.S. troops during our efforts there?

CAP says this:

As the United States withdraws from Iraq, it must find a way to ensure that Iraqis who have worked with the United States have a way out of Iraq. Currently, there are about 120,000 Iraqis working as contractors for the United States, including large numbers of Iraqis who have worked for American diplomatic and military forces as translators or in other capacities. The United States has a responsibility to begin planning to move those Iraqis and their families who have risked their lives to help us in Iraq while we plan our redeployment. The best way to serve our moral obligation to these Iraqis is to increase the number allowed into the United States as refugees from the current paltry total of 8,000 to 100,000, as laid out in our earlier report, Strategic Reset.

Officials at the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security are sure to say that the mere 8,000 refugees are all that can be physically accommodated in the system. In the first six months of 2007, just 200 Iraqi refugees were admitted due to the Department of Homeland Security’s inability to screen these refugees fast enough. We must do better.

Indeed. One wonders how many Iraqis working with the U.S. have been killed already and imagines that it’s far more than 200, including Anwar Abbas Lafta, the CBS translater abducted and killed last week.

These paragraphs prove that CAP recognizes our obligation to help Iraqis; they simply get the definition of help wrong. Retreating in a cloud of dust will help no one in Iraq or, I should say, no one that deserves help. For there are those who would benefit from America’s absence – those who terrorize Iraq’s streets and people even now.

America’s duty extends, as Brian Baird knows, to all Iraqis of good heart. We destroyed their country – quite literally destroyed it – and we have to do something about that. Packing up in the dead of night or over 12 months and leaving them with the empty shells of our troops canteens won’t rebuild Iraq. Only a determined effort from Americans and Iraqis both can do that.

In my opinion, Baird is right about something else, that invading Iraq was a huge foreign policy mistake. I don’t think that’s even something that can be debated. It’s also utterly irrelevant.

Cross-posted at The Van Der Galiën Gazette.

Football, Sport of Chumpions?

27.08.2007 (8:28 pm) – Filed under: Crime,Education,Sports ::

Is it just me or is football – the American variety, I should clarify, lest Europe be swept by another plague of soccer hooliganism because of this blog – the employer of a disproportionately large number of socially maladjusted freaks who either don’t know right from wrong or simply don’t care to acknowledge the norms that bind the behavior of the rest of us?

The NFL is, of course, the Holy Grail of football, drawing to itself the best athletic talent in the world and, all too often, some of the worst character individuals as well.

It would be easy to pick on Mike Vick right now, what with his recent conviction for participating in a dog fighting ring. However, with respect to the PETA crowd it’s hard to get overly worked up about the fate of a few dogs what with Iraq, Afghanistan, and all going on. To my knowledge Vick never harmed or threatened a fellow human. Yes, he broke the law. But the PC bloodhounds are snarling and snapping after him for their own sport, just as Vick’s fighting dogs went at each other and with a similar result.

It’s far harder to ignore the criminal shenanigans of one Mr. “Pacman” Jones who, according to the all-seeing eye of WikiPedia:

…has been arrested 5 times and questioned by police 11 times since he was drafted by the Titans in 2005. Many NFL commentators are quick to point out that Jones has more arrests than interceptions since being in the NFL.

One of the events was this little ditty:

On the morning of February 19, 2007 during the 2007 NBA All-Star Game weekend in Las Vegas, Jones is alleged to have been involved in an altercation with an exotic dancer at a local strip club. Cornell Haynes Jr. and Jones patronized the club on the evening in question. Haynes began to shower the stage with hundreds of one-dollar bills, an act known as “making it rain”. Jones then joined Haynes by throwing his own money for “visual effect”. Club promoter Chris Mitchell then directed his dancers to collect the money. According to the club’s co-owner, Jones become enraged when one of the dancers began taking the money without his permission. He allegedly grabbed her by her hair and slammed her head on the stage. A security guard intervened and scuffled with members of Jones’ entourage of half a dozen people. Jones then allegedly threatened the guard’s life. During this time Mitchell and a male associate left the club with a garbage bag filled with $81,020 of Jones’ money and two Breitling watches, which police later recovered. After club patrons exited following the original confrontation, the club owner says a person in Jones’ entourage returned with a gun and fired into a crowd, hitting three people, including the security guard involved in the earlier skirmish. The guard was shot twice, and one of the people hit, former professional wrestler Tommy Urbanski, was paralyzed from the waist down. Jones maintains that he did not know the shooter, although the club’s owner insists that Jones did.

One could go on and on listing the names of pro football players who have been in trouble with the law, including Ray Lewis and Rae Carruth, both of whom were charged with murder a few years back, but why bother? I think you get the idea, which is that for every class act like Tony Dungy or Walter Payton, or Texas’ own very cool but under-skilled David Carr, there is a Pacman Jones ticking like a time bomb waiting to explode.

The irony is, of course, that these rotten apples are paid millions to be bad-asses and strut their stuff on the field. All they have to do to live their entire lives in the kind of luxury that few people can dream of is play the game they love for a few years. But too many of them cannot learn to color between the lines during the off-season or even between games and end up like Vick, the Pacman, or worse.

As pathetic as it was watching Vick finally admit that he’s not above the law, what really bothers me about the criminal element in football is what happens at the lower levels of the game. There are only 2-3000 pro players in the U.S. at any given moment – how much trouble can they cause?

Actually quite a lot, if one considers the ripple effect of their influence.

In college football, for example, football players who have absolutely no business being on a college campus based on their academic prowess (pardon me while I choke…) are treated like demigods by their intellectual betters and fanatical sponsors alike. These players are pumped up on so much artificial self-esteem that it’s hardly surprising that so many have been guilty of criminal misconduct vis-a-vis members of the opposite sex. The classic case took place in Colorado where Gary Barnett presided over a culture of rape that practically screamed, “You’re a football hero – you deserve it! Heck, you’re doing her a favor by raping her with your godly gridiron groin!”.

In fact C.U. is is hardly an isolated case. The same thing happened in Minnesota and Tennessee, and numerous other states in recent years.

Charming.

As if that weren’t bad enough, there’s just as much or more wrong with high school football as their is with the college game/business. Several high school football coaches have been arrested for having sexual relationships with students in recent years. Although dated, the Houston Chronicle published a lengthy writeup on the subject in 2001.

The Chronicle article clearly shows the problem is NOT limited to football or even to male coaches. Even so, my point is valid, especially in a state like Texas where a high school football coach in a small town is like a demigod in his own right. He’s an older, usually chunkier version of the star athlete on campus, just as important and even more powerful because coaches are almost always placed in positions of authority over classrooms as well as their players on the field.

For me this is what takes the cake – the fact that the education process is diminished, even corrupted by schools that insist on using football and other coaches to teach in classrooms as if they were capable, competent, interested educators.

Too broad a brush? Perhaps. But if you find a coach who demonstrates all three of the characteristics I listed above, by all means hang on to him or her – that coach is a rare individual. Even in a best-case scenario, coaching takes an extraordinary amount of time, time that’s going to come from somewhere. Coaches have to sleep and spend time with their families. Unfortunately, too often the classroom is what is compromised when coaches teach.

Suffice it to say that this post would make me a rather unpopular fellow and derail my campaign for the school board before it even starts if the folks in my home town happen to read it. Should they, I doubt if what I have to say would change a single mind. But another football season is starting and hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of American children will be given a sub-par education this year. And for what? So their town can feel better about its shortcomings by opening a can of whup-ass on the school in the next burg down the road?

Wow! That’s really showing ’em, to say nothing of the Indian and Chinese kids who are studying their booties off overseas and practically licking their chops at the idea of coming to the States to take the jobs that we’re not preparing our own kids to do.

In a way this is a hard post for me to write because I actually like football and many other sports. My kids play sports in school. I played them too and the best times I had in school were sports-related, bar none.

Nevertheless, if we’re going to make athletics the existential religious experience they’ve become then we should be willing to pony up the whole cost of the game. That is, pay coaches to coach, teachers to teach, and never the twain shall meet. This is especially true in regard to football coaches.

Cross-posted at The Van Der Galiën Gazette.

Buckley: No More Unassimilable Muslims

25.08.2007 (2:36 pm) – Filed under: Islam ::

Writing about the problem of assimilating illegal immigrants earlier this year I said:

…this is exactly what assimilation demands – the cutting of ties with the former mother country and the leaving behind of other loyalties. Immigrants who come to this country and then actively seek to change the laws, values, and norms of their new host country are not participating in that country. Instead, they are subverting it.

Now someone important – William F. Buckley – has come to the same conclusion. More importantly he’s written a column about it that, unlike the Opus cartons, could not be censored. With regard to the British way of life Buckley writes:

But the threat to it is not, this time around, in the shape of a continental army threatening invasion or Nazi bombers darkening the sky. The threat now is the Muslim immigration. There are fewer Muslims in Britain than in France — 2 million — but that’s still a lot. For many years Britain faced the problem of its commitment to members of its empire: Any citizen could leave Malaysia or Pakistan or India or Jamaica and simply show up, declaring himself a British resident. That problem was hotly debated in the days of Enoch Powell, when he insisted, departing England for a constituency in Northern Ireland, that some limits had to be observed or the British way of life would disappear.

The crisis is focusing now on the schools. The Muslim community has demanded its own schools. Wherein what, exactly, will be taught?

There are many interpreters of the true meaning of the commandments of the Quran. But among them are men and women who are prepared to end their own lives for the satisfaction of defying the British way of life. Four such persons, in the summer of 2005, attached themselves to bombs and blew up handy British targets, including three Underground trains.

What one got then from assorted imams, and continues to get now, is reverent disapprovals of incidental killings as contrary to the faith. But in the name of jihad — holy war — such homilies against murder and arson are satellized by the dominant commands of the Quran to make war against infidels.

Infidels = non-muslims, natch.

Buckley concludes:

Still, when the United States was seriously inconvenienced by our commitment to freedom of religion, we found means to handle Mormon polygamy. All the world waits to see how Parliament handles this threat to the British way of life.

In principle the comparison of Muslims to Mormons may be something of a parallel. However, it has been quite a long time indeed since Mormons partook of any religiously-oriented killing. In fact, the number of people killed by Mormon radicals in all of their history is probably far less than were killed by Islamic terrorists in Iraq last week alone.

But Buckley’s main point is quite right. The entire world, excepting those whose heads are firmly buried in the sand, is watching Britain and the rest of Europe to see how these democracies will deal with the threat that is embedded within them.

“No more” sounds like a good place to start.

Cross-posted at The Van Der Galiën Gazette.

Censoring Satire

24.08.2007 (9:45 pm) – Filed under: Islam,Media ::

It seems the Washington Post and a large number of other mainstream U.S. newspapers will refuse to run the next two Sunday’s worth of Berkely Breathed’s Opus cartoon strip. Why? Judge for yourself:

Pretty mild. And mildly funny. Certainly not worth censoring, voluntarily or otherwise.

There are times when it can be embarrassing to be an American, like when George Bush 41 lost his lunch on the Japanese Prime Minister’s shoe or when bearing witness to pretty much anything done by Britney Spears. But these sorts of cultural setbacks could happen in any country. Bush probably had some bad sushi, that’s all, and Britney, well, lots of people actually like to shop at Wal-Mart, too.

But I always thought that the American press, for all of its liberal foppery, would at least guard its own domain, that of free speech.

It’s suicidal, really, this decision, because it says that the press is frightened of offending and willing to placate a noisy sub-culture that is openly using the country’s legal, social, and now journalistic institutions against it. Against mainstream America.

It’s one thing for a fundamentally biased media to sell out America’s traditional values as they’ve repeatedly done. One could write that off to a legitimate belief in their values, however misguided. But it is quite another for the WaPo, et al, to cede their own domain without so much as a protest.

Happily, the ‘Net is here to take up the slackers’ slack. I’m glad Al Gore invented it!

Cross-posted at The Van Der Galiën Gazette.

Going Down for Drugs

24.08.2007 (5:30 pm) – Filed under: Crime,Drugs,Islam ::

What won’t those daffy drug dealers do to disseminate their deadly produce? In Texas they dig tunnels hundreds of feet long so as to bypass border security.

Now the Houston Chronicle reports they’ll even build their own pseudo-submarines like this one:

311xinlinegallery.jpg

The Chronicle says:

The drug cartels are taking trafficking to new depths.

The latest example is the seizure of a submarine-like vessel off the Pacific coast of El Salvador that was packed with 5.5 tons of cocaine worth $352 million. The craft was operated by four suspected smugglers, who sank the vessel shortly before they were arrested by U.S. Coast Guard officials.

Wild. Is there anything these guys won’t try? Besides getting jobs and leading useful, productive lives, I mean.

Of course, smugglers wouldn’t be spending so much time and effort on the problem of getting their merchandise in-country if their local dealers weren’t moving the product at street prices that are vastly inflated by drugs’ illegal status.

The relationship between drug abuse and poverty is, in regard to drug prices, somewhat counter-intuitive. Yet according to a study by Chamberlain C. Diala, Carles Muntaner, and Christine Walrath:

A high rural household income was protective, but rural and urban households reporting wealth of $10,000-$49,000 are positively associated with drug disorders. In addition, respondents without health insurance were more likely to have drug disorders across geographical contexts.

In this study, occupational stratum was the class measure most powerfully associated with alcohol and drug disorders. The polarization of the U.S. socioeconomic structure in the last decades (46) has produced a shortage of previously well compensated blue collar jobs in the craft and precision production occupations accessible to workers with high school degrees. As rural America has disproportionately suffered as compared to other regions from a relative deficit in job growth (47), this may be related to both the mental health–increased levels of stress, anxiety and depression (48)–and substance abuse and dependence among rural populations reported here for that occupational group.

So poverty has a tendency to correlate with – I would say “lead to” – drug abuse. But where would poor drug users get the money needed to support their habits? Crime, where else?
The relationship between drug use and crime is obvious enough that even the White House, never interested in discussing any cessation in the so-called “War on Drugs”, acknowledges the causal relationship:

Drug-related offenses and drug-using lifestyles are major contributors to the U.S. crime problem and are the focus of this fact sheet.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) conducts an annual National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (NHSDA) that asks individuals living in households about their drug and alcohol use and their involvement in crimes (see table 1). Provisional data for 1997 show that respondents arrested in the past year for possession or sale of drugs and driving under the influence had the highest percentage of illicit drug use in the past year. Past year illicit drug users were also about 16 times more likely than nonusers to report being arrested and booked for larceny or theft; more than 14 times more likely to be arrested and booked for such offenses as driving under the influence, drunkenness, or liquor law violations; and more than 9 times more likely to be arrested and booked on an assault charge.

Drug habits cause crime. That should not be a surprise – the cause-and-effect relationship is obvious – but increase in theft arrests, 16 times higher than a non-user is tremendous. I believe that a large portion of this difference is due to the street price of drugs and that, if it was lower, drug-related crime would decline as a natural result.

This is not surprising either. Prohibition provides a case study that is very similar to the current situation with illegal drugs. Alcohol use remained prevalent during Prohibition and illicit trafficking in booze became its own criminal industry. Eventually we gave up trying to dictate personal behaviors and repealed the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, one that should never have been enacted. Yet here we are again, fighting a losing battle to regulate the intake of certain plant extracts at the cost of billions.

According to drugsense.org, the current bill is at $33 billion dollars and counting. What a waste of money. But not only our hard-earned tax dollars are being wasted. drugsense.org also claims that:

Arrests for drug law violations in 2007 are expected to exceed the 1,678,192 arrests of 2003.

That’s a staggering number. At what point does it become necessary for a government to admit that a policy is not supported by the people and that it’s time to do something different?

The truth is that drug use is not even a crime in the conventional sense. That is, no direct harm is done to any party save the imbibee. Yes, my wife, children, friends, and relatives may be saddened if I O.D. But I do not injure them by shooting up, I hurt only myself. The government is acting as a nanny, protecting us from ourselves, when all that is needed is enforcement of standard criminal laws. If I drive high and crash into someone, that’s a real crime. But if I stay home and watch Monty Python, who is the drug czar to say I’m wrong?

I’m not saying that governments cannot legislate morality – that’s what law is. But the purpose of law is not to codify the right and wrong of every possible choice in life or to ensure that every person has the best possible outcome in life. Rather, it is to define, as narrowly as possible, those actions that are definitely wrong, as determined by society.

Viewed in that light the war on drugs is a complete disaster that should be ended immediately. The cost to the U.S. in terms of wasted lives is huge. According to Human Rights Watch:

According to the latest statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice, more than two million men and women are now behind bars in the United States. The country that holds itself out as the “land of freedom” incarcerates a higher percentage of its people than any other country. The human costs — wasted lives, wrecked families, troubled children — are incalculable, as are the adverse social, economic and political consequences of weakened communities, diminished opportunities for economic mobility, and extensive disenfranchisement.

Contrary to popular perception, violent crime is not responsible for the quadrupling of the incarcerated population in the United States since 1980. In fact, violent crime rates have been relatively constant or declining over the past two decades. The exploding prison population has been propelled by public policy changes that have increased the use of prison sentences as well as the length of time served, e.g. through mandatory minimum sentencing, “three strikes” laws, and reductions in the availability of parole or early release.

Although these policies were championed as protecting the public from serious and violent offenders, they have instead yielded high rates of confinement of nonviolent offenders. Nearly three quarters of new admissions to state prison were convicted of nonviolent crimes. Only 49 percent of sentenced state inmates are held for violent offenses.

Perhaps the single greatest force behind the growth of the prison population has been the national “war on drugs.” The number of incarcerated drug offenders has increased twelvefold since 1980. In 2000, 22 percent of those in federal and state prisons were convicted on drug charges.

No one wants their kid doing coke or horse. But imagine if one could pick up a line down at CVS that’s guaranteed to be safe and probably cut down to some reasonable level of dilution, as is done with beer in the U.S. What exactly is wrong with that picture?

Drug prices would fall immediately as competition drives profit margins down to corporate levels. Overdose cases would fall among those capable of reading a safety label. Drug-related crime would fall to near zero. How many criminals do a B&E to get enough money to buy aspirin? Not many.

Personally it makes no difference to me. I do not indulge and have done my best to ensure that my kids will keep themselves safe.

As a matter of principle, however, it seems to me that most drugs should be legalized. Perhaps then the “Columbian navy” could stay ashore and save a few lives to boot.

Cross-posted at The Van Der Galiën Gazette.

Elvira Arellano, Martyr

22.08.2007 (1:04 pm) – Filed under: Immigration ::

I recently discussed the arrest of Elvira Arellano, the flamboyant illegal immigrant who took refuge in a Chicago church to avoid deportation and proceeded to attach U.S. immigration policy from her sanctuary.

One commenter to that post noted that he wasn’t all worked up about illegal immigration. But I can’t understand the attitude that condones 5% of the U.S. population being illegal aliens who are, for the most part, never even challenged about their immigration status.

Sister Toldjah, a favorite blogger of mine, is a little worked up too. Actually, she’s “a lot” worked up about Arellano’s legal status, behavior, and the support she’s now getting.

To quote:

I didn’t stand shoulder to shoulder with most conservatives on the immigration bill, which went down in flames earlier this year, but I will stand shoulder to shoulder with any conservative or liberal who comes out and condemns this nonsense about Elvira Arellano being “today’s Rosa Parks” for what it is: a slap in the face to the civil rights movement of the 50s and 60s, a movement that demanded civil rights for legal citizens of this country who happened to be black.

This “Elvira is today’s Rosa” is very similar to the baloney comparisons that the gay rights community routinely makes between their ‘plight’ and that of black people in the 60s. Uh, no. It doesn’t work that way. Get back with me, moral relativists, when both gay people and illegals have to drink from separate water fountains, eat at different lunch counters, have to sit in the back of the bus … you get the picture.

Undercover Black Man, in a post about another ridiculous comparison to Elvira Arellano (that of a ‘slave on the run’), cuts to the heart of the matter on the idiotic comparisons:

Hey, take your best shot, J.J. But don’t expect any black people to stand in solidarity with you on open immigration when you disrespect our struggle. Illegal immigration isn’t comparable to black slavery in any way.

One, nobody is dragging Mexicans here against their will. Two, no U.S. immigration official has lashed the bare back of any Mexican with a whip, as used to happen to “runaway slaves” who got caught. Three, Mexican workers get paid; they send billions of dollars per year back home to Mexico.

ST adds: Four, Mexican illegals have been coming here for years in order to obtain “free” healthcare that was not available to slaves. Five, Mexican illegals have never had to use a separate water fountain, have never been ordered to sit in the back of the bus, never had to worry about “whites only” restuarants, etc. Six, Mexican illegals, under our current no-enforcement laws, are pretty much free to come and go as they please…

Right on, sister.

This is a supposition, but I believe that illegals represent some of the best people from their home countries. They come here primarily because poor leadership in those countries – e.g., Mexico – has led a lack of economy prosperity, corruption, and high tax rates. What couldn’t the ~10 million illegals from Mexico do to improve their own country? That Mexico’s leaders encourage illegal immigrants to come to the U.S. to work, both tacitly and directly, only shows their own ineptness. Many Americans would do well to consider that the next time an occasion to snipe at George Bush arises.

It is true that illegal aliens do a lot of work in this country and these people are just as “good” as Americans in every sense of the word save for economic production. But that is not the issue save in the minds of the illegals’ defenders who, for lack of a better argument, persist in framing the debate in terms of civil rights.

The one civil right that illegals have in the United States is to be escorted safely back to their country of origin. That’s it. No more. The end.

The notion that America’s border is a suggestion and not a legal boundary and that anyone who comes here is entitled to the benefits of citizenship upon arrival is simply false. Yes, illegals provide labor that would cost more if Americans were to do it. But their presence here also depresses wages at the lower end of the job market and adds a considerable burden to our infrastructure in terms of health care, transportation, and insurance costs. Is it any wonder that an artificial minimum wage is needed when the bottom of the wage market is being undercut by 10-20 million undocumented workers?

For the politicians who enable the current state of affairs to continue, failing to acknowledge the economic burden illegals put on U.S. citizens is wrong; failing to defend our right to define our own nation’s policies is unforgivably.

To the extent that immigrant labor is needed it is incumbent on the federal government to draft the rules that will control the pool of laborers while discouraging illegal workers from coming here and from being hired after they are here. It is also the fed’s job to police the borders properly, something that they’ve failed miserably at. Immigration reform is needed. It may already be too late.

As for Ms. Arellano, she deserves only a courteous deportation, not a platform to espouse her anti-American views, nor unearned comparisons to real American heroes, and certainly not the tragic martyr’s pose she’s been striking in the press.

Cross-posted at The Van Der Galiën Gazette.

NPR, PBS, and your money

21.08.2007 (11:36 am) – Filed under: Taxation ::

Every now and then, I swallow a couple sedatives and visit the moveon.org web site. I figure it’s my duty to head over there, if only to confirm in my own mind my views. Needless to say, it provides fodder for discussions in arenas like here.

At any rate, there’s a current campaign to elicit fellow liberals out there to send an email to congress demanding that they do not cut the funding for PBS. As they quote in their email that will be sent:

Congress must save NPR and PBS once and for all. Congress should guarantee permanent funding and independence from partisan meddling.

Isn’t this just like a liberal?

The thing we lose sight of is that when they refer to permanent funding, they’re talking about OUR MONEY. Funding, as we hopefully all know, comes out of the taxes we all pay. So, those wonderful people over there at moveon.org want us to be forced to support PBS – they just don’t view the money stolen from us as OUR MONEY, they view it as THEIR MONEY to spend as THEY wish.

Don’t get me wrong, I have listened to NPR from time to time, and I do agree PBS produces quality television, but do I think I should be forced to pay for it, at the point of a figurative gun? No.

If we reduce the funding of PBS, it just means that they will have to pursue other forms of funding. We might end up seeing formal commercials on the broadcasts. We might have to endure the funding drives on a more freguent nature. And, to be honest, we might end up seeing PBS folding.

Will I be sad to see that? Yes. Does that change my view? No. If PBS can’t survive without government funding, maybe it didn’t deserve to remain alive at all.

The point is, funding should come from those people who want to watch the programs – they have to be the ones that are willing to invest in it. They shouldn’t have to force those that don’t even watch to pay for the support of it.

I can hear it now: “PBS provides a public service and therefore requires us all to pay our fair share.”

Yes, just like a liberal…

Don’t ever be late!

21.08.2007 (11:09 am) – Filed under: Humor ::

I got this in an email from my dad, and I couldn’t resist posting it.

A priest was being honored at his retirement dinner after 25 years in the parish. A leading local politician and member of the congregation was chosen to make the presentation and give a little speech at the dinner.
However, he was delayed, so the priest decided to say his own few words while they waited. “I got my first impression of the parish from the first confession I heard here. I thought I had been assigned to a terrible place.

The very first person who entered my confessional told me he had stolen
a television set and, when questioned by the police, was able to lie his way
out of it. He had stolen money from his parents, embezzled from his employer, had an affair with his boss’s wife, taken illegal drugs, and gave VD to his sister.

I was appalled. But as the days went on I learned that my people were not all like that and I had,  indeed, come to a fine parish full of good and loving people.”

Just as the priest finished his talk, the politician arrived full of apologies at being late. He immediately began to make the presentation and  gave his talk. “I’ll never forget the first day our parish priest arrived,” said the politician. “In fact, I had the honor of being the first person to go to him for confession.”

Moral: Never, Never, Never Be Late!

Multiculturalism in Education

20.08.2007 (10:03 pm) – Filed under: Education,Islam,Society ::

School is about to start in Texas and all over the state children and teenagers are alternately awaiting and dreading the beginning of another 180-odd days of enlightenment that will be delivered by the finest teachers a sub-standard pay rate, a regressive labor union, and a back-end loaded retirement system can deliver (along with more than a few woefully underqualified football coaches who must darken a classroom doorway or two lest their irrelevance in the education process be noted). But this post is not about them.

Along with the life wisdom that will be dispensed this year will come an unhealthly dollop of multicultural spam thick and disgusting enough to stop an artery or a brain dead in its tracks. Western democracies, these fragile young minds will be told, are no better than any other form of society found on Earth, of which there are several that are – or were – just as laudable. In particular, no particular preference should be given to America and her traditional values of strict constructionism, Christianity, the Protestant work ethic, the rule of law, or even the English language itself. What is better, is relative to one’s perspective, after all. Or so they will hear.

Elan Journo of the Ayn Rand Institute disagrees, writing:

Many parents and teachers regard multiculturalism as an indispensable educational supplement, a salutary influence that “enriches” the curriculum. But is it?

With the world’s continents bridged by the Internet and global commerce, multiculturalism claims to offer a real value: a cosmopolitan, rather than provincial, understanding of the world beyond the student’s immediate surroundings. But it is a peculiar kind of “broadening.” Multiculturalists would rather have students admire the primitive patterns of Navajo blankets, say, than learn why Islam’s medieval golden age of scientific progress was replaced by fervent piety and centuries of stagnation.

Leaf through a school textbook and you’ll find that there is a definite pattern behind multiculturalism’s reshaping of the curriculum.

What these textbooks reveal is a concerted effort to portray the most backward, impoverished and murderous cultures as advanced, prosperous and life-enhancing. Multiculturalism’s goal is not to teach about other cultures, but to promote–by means of distortions and half-truths–the notion that non-Western cultures are as good as, if not better than, Western culture. Far from “broadening” the curriculum, what multiculturalism seeks is to diminish the value of Western culture in the minds of students. But, given all the facts, the objective superiority of Western culture is apparent, so multiculturalists must artificially elevate other cultures and depreciate the West.

If students were to learn the truth of the hardscrabble life of primitive farming in, say, India, they would recognize that subsistence living is far inferior to life on any mechanized farm in Kansas, which demands so little manpower, yet yields so much. An informed, rational student would not swallow the “politically correct” conclusions he is fed by multiculturalism. If he were given the actual facts, he could recognize that where men are politically free, as in the West, they can prosper economically; that science and technology are superior to superstition; that man’s life is far longer, happier and safer in the West today than in any other culture in history.

It is a gross misconception to view multiculturalism as an effort to enrich education. By reshaping the curriculum, the purveyors of “diversity” in the classroom calculatedly seek to prevent students from grasping the objective value to human life of Western culture–a culture whose magnificent achievements have brought man from mud huts to moon landings.

Indeed. In America multiculturalism is arguably less malignant than in Europe. Yet on both continents it is still a corrosive, self-defeating mental balm intended to ease the minds of sensitive souls who feel the pain of other people’s injustices so intensely that they would destroy their own society rather than accept the guilt of having made a judgment against their way of life.

In my opinion a discussion of multiculturalism is most relevant in the context of Islam, its rejuvenated war against the west, and the reasons why Muslims are actively seeking to destroy the world’s democracies.

Melanie Phillips says:

The Islamist goal is to destroy the virus of freedom and modernity before it infects the Islamic world, and to replace it with Islam. That is the core of the profound threat it poses to the west, a threat mounted through the pincer movement of both terrorism and cultural takeover.

But many in the west do deny it. They ignore the clear evidence of the goal of Islamising the west. They choose to believe instead that the reason for Islamist terror lies in the wrongs the west has done to the Islamic world —Iraq or Palestine, discrimination or Islamophobia. Indeed, even to speak in this way is to invite the deadly label of Islamophobia — a term invented to shut down legitimate and vital debate about Islamism. Far from defending core liberal values that are thus singled out for destruction, such people thus side with or appease those who attack them. So Europe — bastion of free speech — attacked those newspapers which published and re-published the Mohammed cartoons. And liberals committed to human rights march on the streets of London, behind banners saying Free Iraq and Free Palestine, shoulder to shoulder with Islamists who believe in death to gays.

Why is a liberal society so reluctant to defend its own most cherished values of freedom and tolerance?

My answer, which I believe to be the fundamentally correct one, is that people in the west have lost the ability to make independent judgments about what is right and wrong. In one respect, the cause of this is obvious: objective standards have been replaced by rules of tolerance. Everything is acceptable under the new way of thinking, even the path toward appeasing a terrible, ruthless enemy.

This is true. But the truth is, as always, more complex than that. The one exception I take to Journo’s article is this sentence: “Many parents and teachers regard multiculturalism as an indispensable educational supplement”.

In reality, many, many more parents and teachers understand that multiculturalism is a waste of educational resources at best and a divisive element that is undermining western society at the worst. But they do not act on their knowledge. Why? Because they are held in check by the power structure that, in significant ways, has already been corrupted.

It is difficult or impossible for an individual to act against the forces of multiculturalism because its proponents have one very effective weapon – that of victimhood, alleged or otherwise – and are not overly discriminating in its use. To oppose them is to be a woman-hater, a gay-basher, a racist, or a Christian fundamentalist wacko. Political correctness demands obedience.

Melanie Phillips again:

Many people think multiculturalism just means showing respect and tolerance to other cultures and faiths. If that were so, it should be unarguable. We should all support respect and tolerance. But that’s not what multiculturalism is at all. It holds that all minority values must have equal status to those of the majority. Any attempt to uphold majority values over minorities is a form of prejudice. That turns minorities into a cultural battering ram to destroy the very idea of being a majority culture at all.

Multiculturalism has produced furthermore two particularly lethal effects. First, it has left all immigrants abandoned, and none more lethally so than young Muslims. For if there is no longer an overarching culture, there is nothing into which minorities can integrate. Many young Muslims in Britain, stranded between the backward Asian village culture of their parents and the drug, alcohol and sex-saturated decadence that passes for western civilisation, are filled with disgust and self-disgust. They are then given, in our multicultural schools and wider culture, absolutely nothing to educate them about or fill them with respect and affection for the western society of which they are citizens.

Melanie wrote this months before the Brits in their wisdom decided that Winston Churchill wasn’t relevant to children’s history lessons any longer. Not relevant? Sorry, but there wouldn’t be a United Kingdom if not for Churchill. The courage he exhibited in the face of the Nazi attacks is needed in Europe now just as much as it was during WW II. Sadly, it is sorely lacking there as the Brits, while standing more or less with America abroad, consistently appease Muslims at home in the U.K and are losing their national identity as a result. Winston Churchill once noted, “An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping that it will eat him last.” Yet this is exactly what his country is doing in its domestic policy. Small wonder he had to be excised from history.

Easy for a damn Yankee to say, isn’t it? After all, America’s Muslim population isn’t as virulent as that of Europe. That brings me to my most important point, the question of where it will stop.

It will stop, this business of allowing Muslim viewpoints to disproportionally impact western civilization from within. It is only a question of when that happens. Will Americans, the British, et al, decide act on their own initiative and say, “No more Muslim foot baths will be paid for with tax dollars when Christian organizations are banned from campus” or “We’ll run cartoons of Mohammed the Mad Bomber whether you like it or not”? Or will they wait until the war against the west is utterly undeniable, like the Allies watching Poland burn?

At the risk of plagiarizing Ms. Phillips, here’s one more quote that says it all:

Liberals also think they are superior in intelligence to everyone else. So they don’t understand that the Islamists are actually playing them for suckers, exploiting the intrinsic weakness of a liberal society they correctly assess as decadent: no longer prepared to fight for its values because it no longer even knows what they are.

What we are living through in the west is nothing short of a repudiation of the Enlightenment, a repudiation of reason; and its substitution by irrationality, obscurantism, bigotry and clerical totalitarianism — all facilitated by our so-called ‘liberal’ society, and all in the name of ‘human rights’. Western liberalism now embraces its Islamist mortal enemies and attacks its American and Israeli allies in the fight to defend civilisation.

We are giving the Islamists the message that we are theirs for the taking. This is how liberalism may disappear up its own backside.

In short, we must stand up for what we know to be right and demand that our public institutions do the same.

Cross-posted at The Van Der Galiën Gazette.