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Was Black Friday a Bust?

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014 - by Stephen Green

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You decide:

According to the National Retail Federation’s Thanksgiving weekend spending survey, 55.1 percent of holiday shoppers were expected to visit stores or go online over Thanksgiving weekend, down from 58.7 percent last year.

“A strengthening economy that changes consumers’ reliance on deep discounts, a highly competitive environment, early promotions and the ability to shop 24/7 online all contributed to the shift witnessed this weekend,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said in a statement.

According to the survey, the average weekend shopper was expected to spend $380.95, down 6.4 percent from $407.02 last year.

Of that amount, $159.55, or nearly 42 percent, was spent online, down from $177.67 spent online last year.

Total spending was expected to reach $50.9 billion, down from last year’s estimated $57.4 billion.

I’m a little wary, to say the least, of Shay’s estimation of a “strengthening economy.” That certainly doesn’t jibe with what we’ve seen happen to middle class incomes since the “end” of The Great Recession. Anecdotally, I have a contact in management at a local Target, who said to me with no small amount of sympathy that “crazy” Black Friday shoppers are buying things they simply can’t afford the rest of the year.

So what do all the numbers mean? Probably nothing until we get the Q4 GDP revision a few months from now.

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Cross-posted from Vodkapundit, image illustration via shutterstock / 

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12 Steps for a Perfect Pop Culture Christmas

Friday, November 28th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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Sometimes it takes an outsider to notice the confusion laced within a holiday message. When it comes to Christmas, the confusion is on overload. Somewhere along the way a religious message got smacked with a load of pop culture overtones to create a holiday lush with semiotic excess, too much for the brain or heart to process. So, allow me from my seat on the sidelines to create the How To guide so you can enjoy the perfect pop culture Christmas.

12. Shop early and shop often for things you’ll never need that are on sale at bargain basement prices.

Christmas really begins on Black Friday, or 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving, whichever you prefer. The holiday is about buying to your heart’s content and making sure everything you and your children have ever dreamed of is stacked up under that decorated tree. The bruises and broken limbs you get in pursuit of those awesome sale prices will be well worth it. Who needs teeth when they can have stuff?

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Is The Customer Always Right?

Monday, November 17th, 2014 - by PJ Lifestyle Daily Question

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Why China Won’t Fall Apart

Thursday, November 13th, 2014 - by David P. Goldman

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The default Western strategy towards China’s rise as an economic and military superpower appears to be to sit back and wait for it to fall apart. That isn’t going to happen, as the dean of Beijing’s foreign press corps, Francesco Sisci, observes in this short essay entitled, “The Great Resilience of the Communist State”:

As a modest chronicler of events in China for over a quarter of a century, I witnessed at least four events that might have caused the government to crumble, and yet nothing of the sort happened. These include the protest in Tiananmen in 1989, the demonstrations of the Falun Gong in 1999, the SARS epidemic in 2003, and the political attempt of Bo Xilai in 2012. Except for SARS, the other three were caused by deep rifts in the top leadership and efforts of one faction to eliminate another. They were violent internal power struggles causing more damage to Chinese politics than any foreign interference, and yet nothing happened to society.

The deep-seated reasons for this can be found in an essay I wrote a decade ago. True to that analysis, ten years later, and despite many predictions to the contrary, there still has been no revolution in China. The fact remains that while democratic protests have been raging for a month in Hong Kong, adjacent Shenzhen, whose people receive uncensored news from the territory, has shown no sign of contagion.

In a nutshell, now is no time for revolution for the Chinese people, who are experiencing a golden age in their history and have had no past experience with democracy to pine for.

China will need to reform at some point, Sisci argues:

This does not mean that revolutions or democratic demands are impossible in China. A mix of internal forces and international constraints could change the situation in the next decade. There are two elements which could drive change. The Chinese economy will be roughly as large as that of the US, and this will draw increased attention and fear from other countries because China does not share the political framework of the countries that have dominated the world over the past two centuries – the UK and US. Additionally, a large portion of the Chinese population will enjoy Western middle-class purchasing power, and private enterprises will be required to pay a larger portion of taxes as they will represent a large share of the GDP but as a whole they mighthave limited control over how their tax money is spent.

Dr. Sisci, the first foreigner to complete a Chinese-language doctorate at China’s Academy of Social Science, has been my colleague at Asia Times Online almost since its founding. He was right about China ten years ago and he’s right now.

For background on China’s economic resilience, see the presentation “China’s Two Economies” prepared by my colleagues and me at Reorient Group.

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The Progressive Income Tax: Which Side Is ‘Greedy’?

Saturday, November 8th, 2014 - by PJ Lifestyle Daily Question

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What 2 Retired Whores Can Teach Slut-Walk Feminists

Monday, October 20th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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A story about two old Jewish ladies is making the rounds in the Jewish press, but not for the reasons you may think. Sure, they’re bubbes. They’re children of a Holocaust survivor to boot. But the real reason they’re attracting so much attention is that they happen to be retired professional whores.

Dutch twins Louise and Martine Fokkens (probably not their real last name, since “Fokken” is a Dutch term for “old whore”) have become international celebrities since the 2011 release of their biographical documentary Meet the Fokkens. Women’s magazines like Cosmo picked up on their story shortly after the film’s release, publishing quick little details like:

Louise and Martine (mothers of four and three respectively) became prostitutes before the age of 20 in order to escape violent relationships.

It’s an interpretation that, at best, qualifies as a half-truth. Louise was forced into the sex trade by an abusive husband. Martine, however, became a prostitute out of spite:

Martine followed her sister into the trade, working first as a cleaning lady at brothels before she began turning tricks herself. “I was angry at how everybody around us shunned Louise,” Martine said. “I did it out of spite, really.”

Both women eventually divorced their husbands, whom they now describe as “a couple of pimps.” But they continued working in the district “because that had become our lives,” Louise said.

“Our life in the business became a source of pride, a sport of sorts,” Louise added.

In retrospect, both women say they regret becoming prostitutes.

Reading their story, one can’t help but wonder if mainstream feminist advocates for slut walks and “Yes Means Yes” legislation would condemn the pair for regretting the life they chose. After all, their body, their choice, right? They took control of their bad marriages, divorced the husbands they referred to as “pimps” and chose, fully of their own volition, to remain in the sex trade after their exes were fully out of the picture. Martine and Louise, it would seem, are the originators of the Slut Walk.

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10 Ways Not to Land Your Dream Job

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

Sure, you know how to write an assertive cover letter and you have a wardrobe of freshly pressed black and navy blue suits. But, just because you’re doing everything the manual tells you doesn’t mean you aren’t going to make a mistake in your job search. From my other life working in human resources, I give you the ten best mistakes applicants have made in pursuit of a job.

10. Want to include the fact that you taught an adult education course on photography on your resume? Don’t dub yourself “Adult Photography Instructor.”

Language matters. In the age of social media and Google, applicants should understand that lying on their resume isn’t an option. Just be sure you aren’t getting so creative with your wording that you make yourself sound more qualified for porn than a professional environment.

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Pacepa’s Seeds of Knowledge, Part 5: The Drug of Disinformation

Monday, May 5th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

The Introduction to Pacepa’s Seeds of Knowledge: Starting Down the Yellow Brick Road…

Part 1: The Mask of Marxism

Part 2: Getting to the Heart of Social Justice

Part 3: Who Needs a Brain?

Part 4: Are Conservatives Cowards?

“The August 1991 coup in Moscow collapsed three days after it had started, providing the ultimate, ironic proof that nothing, not even a coup, could succeed any more in a society whose vital arteries had been calcified by 70 years of disinformation and dismal feudalism. The main loser was the Communist Party.”

– Lt. Gen. Ion Mihai Pacepa

Both the Democrat and Republican parties have been disinformed by Marxism. The Liberal wing of the Democrat Party has been duped into putting their faith in Marxism’s many forms (socialism, economic determinism, progressivism), while the Republican Party has legitimized Marxism as a form of party politics instead of a murderous, atheistic religion that empowers despots. The Conservative movement, by and large, is slow to recognize Marxism’s true nature, because we are a nation that has been drugged by Disinformation. Pacepa continues:

At the end of the 2001 summit meeting held in Slovenia, President George W. Bush said: “I looked the man [Putin] in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy.” Unfortunately, even President Bush was deceived by disinformation. Putin consolidated Russia into an intelligence dictatorship, not a democracy. During the Cold War, the KGB was a state within a state. Under Putin, the KGB, rechristened the FSB, is the state. Three years after Putin enthroned himself in the Kremlin, some 6,000 former officers of the KGB—that organization responsible for having slaughtered at least 20 million people in the Soviet Union alone—were running Russia’s federal and local governments.

…Is it too far-fetched to suggest that this new Russia calls up the hypothetical image of a postwar Germany being run by former Gestapo officers, who reinstate Hitler’s “Deutschland Über Alles” as national anthem, call the demise of Nazi Germany a “national tragedy on an enormous scale,” and invade a neighboring country, perhaps Poland, the way Hitler set off World War II?

That is the secret power of disinformation.

Pacepa share these thoughts with me mere weeks before the Ukranian revolution and secession of the Crimea to Putin’s Russia. Disinformation is wielding its power on the American homefront as well. In his critique of Thomas Piketty’s new book Capital in the Twenty-First Century, David Brooks embraces Piketty’s idea of a tax on the wealthy’s investment capital in order to create intellectual equality among the classes:

Think of how much more affordable fine art would be. Think of how much more equal the upper class would be.

His musings aren’t that far off from those of Russian intellectuals, who are “making do” with their government’s clampdown on free media and the right to protest. In exchange for their rights, these Russians whose intellectual arteries have been “calcified by disinformation” are being doted upon by their increasingly despotic government:

All sorts of entertainment is being lavished on Russia’s hipsters. Their favorite public parks have splashy, beautifully designed restaurants and clubs, comfortable biking areas and luxurious places to chill. Sanctions or not, Fedoseyev’s friends can still dine out at restaurants full of expats, take shopping trips to Milan, or buy their electronic gadgets online. Fashion Week this weekend was another party blooming with charming models and celebrities; the usual hipsters clubs, Solianka, Simachev, Oldich Dress and Drink or Strelka, felt as cuddly and crowded as ever.

To paraphrase Brooks, it would seem that the fine art is quite affordable in Russia these days. Like junkies seeking a quick fix, Russian intellectuals pursue disinformation at the expense of their freedom. Is Brooks suggesting we do the same, or have we already succumbed to the addiction? In either case, what we need to know now is: What is the antidote to disinformation?

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HBO Green Lights Men & Capitalism

Tuesday, April 29th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

Warning: Not Safe for Work (profanity)

In his new HBO series Silicon Valley, Mike Judge turns his cutting sarcasm on the wunderkind of Silicon Valley, issuing awesome commentary on 21st century masculinity.

Thomas Middleditch portrays Richard Hendricks, a developer who creates a miracle algorithm with revolutionary file compression capabilities. He is the anti-Don Draper: a skinny, nervous twenty-something dressed in cargo pants and a hoodie; Hendricks is the lost member of the Big Bang Theory click. He lives with two other computer geeks in “the incubator,” a house owned by the overtly obnoxious yet humorous Erlich Bachmann (hysterically portrayed by T.J. Miller), whose app, Aviato, has turned him into one of the many tech venture capitalists in Palo Alto. 

Hendricks turns down a 10 million dollar offer from his tech guru boss Gavin Belson, owner of the fictional Google-ripoff “Hooli,” who is anxious to purchase the miracle algorithm. Instead, Hendricks elects to accept eccentric investor Peter Gregory’s offer of $200,000 for 5% of his start-up company, Pied Piper. It’s the best argument for capitalism and small business being made on television today. In electing to start his own business instead of running with the cash, Hendricks inspires his fellow nerds and is forced into maturity. Within the first three episodes he transitions from panic attacks to developing a business plan and entering his first series of negotiations.

With his 1999 hit Office Space, Judge issued a powerful statement about the death of masculinity in the corporate world. With Silicon Valley, his declaration is refined into a statement about how the free market can be used to empower men — primarily nerdy white guys and the Asians who hang with them. In the first episode, Hendricks declares:

Look guys, for thousands of years, guys like us have gotten the sh*t kicked out of us. But now, for the first time, we are living in an era where we can be in charge and build empires. We could be the Vikings of our day.

Judge also takes sharp jabs at the men who propagate corporate culture. Hooli’s Gavin Belson is a “global”-minded laughable yuppie with a Messiah complex who is “committed to social justice” and keeps a “guru” around to remind him how wonderful and unique he is. “If we can make your audio and video files smaller, we can make cancer smaller,” he proclaims as he races to compete with Pied Piper’s formidable nerds.

It will be interesting to see how women are treated within the show. In episode 3, Bachmann (who wears a shirt that reads “I know H.T.M.L.: How To Meet Ladies”) orders up an exotic dancer as a “gift” to reward the Pied Piper crew. The guys retreat to the kitchen, anxious to avoid an awkward scene. The one guy who she manages to trap declares his love for her, and is later found hanging out at the dancer’s home… playing video games with her children.

The series is peppered with Judge’s raunchy humor, but unlike Family Guy it is relatively sparse and works to advance instead of interrupt the story. The Big Bang Theory may have ushered in the era of the nerd, but Silicon Valley is taking America’s love affair with geeky guys and masculinity to a newer, deeper, and much-needed level of respect.

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Let Them Eat Lead

Monday, April 28th, 2014 - by Bonnie Ramthun

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A new policy change in Denver requires 911 dispatchers to contact a supervisor for immediate service when “Federal, State or Local Dignitaries (such as the Mayor or Governor) or personnel within their office requests or requires a police response on the dignitary’s behalf.”

Elected officials will now get preferential treatment by police officers in emergency cases of life and death. This is corruption, openly practiced.

Our justice system isn’t perfect. Celebrities often receive special treatment in court. The rich and powerful can afford a robust legal defense and if they sometimes slither through cracks in the system, well, the system still endures.

What our country cannot long endure is open corruption where elected officials are above the law. When a dispatcher sends a police officer to the Mayor’s house ahead of an ordinary citizen they are acting as a palace guard, and when they do it openly the rule of law is nullified.

To see the result of this failure you need look no further than our neighbor, Mexico, where corruption has led to a profound breakdown in society. Mexico is blessed with a mild climate, abundant natural resources and a hard-working and intelligent people. None of these benefits can overcome a government so bad that millions of citizens have fled for the economic freedom offered by the rule of law in the United States. In Mexico drug cartels have created unending cycles of terror and violence including human trafficking, prostitution, money laundering, rape and murder. When government operates by graft and corruption, the only businesses that thrive are ones who are just as corrupt.

Denver’s elected officials just chose to follow Mexico’s example and create palace guards who answer to their needs first. Denver police officers who take their jobs seriously should be outraged. If they allow this rule to stand, Denver police should find new uniforms to wear that more closely represent their new status. I suggest this one.

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Images of Louix XIV and Vatican guard courtesy Shutterstock: Vladislav Gurfinkel, Catarina Belova

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Pacepa’s Seeds of Knowledge, Part 2: Getting to the Heart of Social Justice

Friday, April 25th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

Editor’s Note: See the introduction here and Part I here to this ongoing series explaining the insights of Lt. Gen. Ion Mihai Pacepa, the highest ranking defector from the Soviet bloc

Most East European governments concealed their road to Communism by posting innocuous nameplates at the door, such as People’s Republic or Popular Republic.

Lt. Gen. Ion Mihai Pacepa

“People’s Republic” is such a chummy term. In fact, Marxism in general, with all it’s “redistribution of wealth” sounds so compassionate, at least to a Western, Judeo-Christianized mind. A Chinese mind familiar with Mao’s Great Leap Forward, for instance, may have a different take on the benevolent-sounding idea of a “People’s Republic” given the facts:

“State retribution for tiny thefts, such as stealing a potato, even by a child, would include being tied up and thrown into a pond; parents were forced to bury their children alive or were doused in excrement and urine, others were set alight, or had a nose or ear cut off. One record shows how a man was branded with hot metal. People were forced to work naked in the middle of winter; 80 per cent of all the villagers in one region of a quarter of a million Chinese were banned from the official canteen because they were too old or ill to be effective workers, so were deliberately starved to death.”

Mao couldn’t lie his way past a free press in the West. Nor could Khruschev, as Pacepa explains,

The 1963 missile crisis generated by socialist Cuba gave the socialist mask of Marxism a dirty name in the West, and few Marxists wanted to be openly associated with socialism anymore.

But, socialism is still hot. China is still The People’s Republic and “we’re all socialists now,” right? The last installment ended with the question: How have intellectual Wizards manipulated Marxism to acculturate the American mind leftward? Pacepa answers:

[Marxists] therefore began hiding their Marxism under a new cover called “economic determinism,” …a theory of survival rooted in Marx’s Manifesto (another theory of survival), but it pretends that the economic organization of a society, not the socialist class war and the socialist redistribution of wealth, determines the nature of all other aspects of its life.

The goal remained the same; the players simply put on a new mask. China has managed to be a People’s Republic that justifies murdering millions of its own people. Likewise, Marxist movements in the West masquerade under the guise of political generosity, often changing their names to suit the cultural climate:

When economic determinism lost credibility because of the devastating economic crisis in Greece, our Democratic Party began replacing it with “progressivism,” which has become the latest cover name for Marxism. …Today’s Progressive Movement was born in New York’s Zuccotti Park. It was first known as the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, which advocated the abolition of “capitalist America.”

Marxists in the West successfully propagate progressivism under the guise of “social justice“ that demands the redistribution of wealth to the less fortunate. Ironically, most people of the Judeo-Christian West accept this Marxist notion out of the goodness of their hearts. However, putting faith in the Marxist lie that human beings don’t have a heart (and therefore are incapable of compassionate decision making) requires handing over all financial power to the Marxist Wizards who proceed to dole out your funds as they see fit.

This speaks to the heart of the question, but how have the Marxist Wizards rendered us so seemingly brainless? 

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Does Admitting You Might Be Wrong Make You Right?

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014 - by Hannah Sternberg

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I just finished reading Freakonomics for the first time. I know, I’m behind the times. I picked it up out of curiosity (I’ve heard so many things about the book, its authors, and the subsequent podcast) and convenience (it was left by a previous employee in the office I just moved out of, and while I was packing up unwanted books to donate, I set it aside).

One thing that struck me is how often economist Steven Levitt’s self-deprecation is cited as proof of his sincerity and trustworthiness. Everyone is fallible (even economists!) but you can probably trust the guy who’s wise enough to admit it, right?

I won’t play a guessing game on whether Levitt uses self-deprecation cynically, to manipulate readers, or whether he really is that humble a guy. The thing is, either way, there’s just too much of it. My relief and pleasure at discovering an economist who admits he may be wrong was quickly dampened by irritation at the way self-deprecation is used to excuse whatever happens to come next.

It’s possible I’m wrong, and there are a lot of variables involved that are nearly impossible to scientifically measure, and you should do your own research and think critically before making up your own mind, but…I’d posit that Buffy the Vampire Slayer is actually a documentary. Cats are secretly in control of the White House. And we all live in a computer program called The Matrix.

Obviously, admitting my potential error before I drop these theories makes them no less ridiculous. But the example above illustrates how self-deprecation can really be a rhetorical device to persuade someone into hearing out your outlandish theory (“Well, if he admits he might be wrong, he can’t be that nuts — what’s he got to say?”) and also a verbal insurance policy (“You can’t hold me to that, I told you up front I might be wrong!”).

My question is: does that verbal insurance policy really cash out? Is “I told you I might be wrong” actually a good defense for sharing a theory that may not be completely sound, but may spread disinformation or encourage bad policy? (I’m done picking on poor Levitt now, and just wondering generally — though some of his more famous theories may be grouped by some readers in that category.) It’s actually a close cousin to an infamous tabloid journalism trick — start a statement with “rumor has it” and you’ve admitted the following report may not be totally factual, but most readers who remember it will just remember the claims in the story, not the qualifier that they may not be true.

I still enjoyed Freakonomics for its refreshing and unusual take on a variety of interesting subjects. I hope Levitt continues to do his work of overturning common wisdom and examining topics other economists consider beneath them. I just wonder if he, and other fans of his favorite rhetorical device, realize there are limits to a “I might be wrong” insurance policy.

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How Much Would You Pay for Grass Clippings?

Monday, April 21st, 2014 - by Leslie Loftis

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For Easter this year, Whole Foods sold Organic Timothy Grass for kids’ Easter baskets. The story sounds good, as usual—plastic is toxic and the stuff in the Easter baskets lingers for years on the planet. Not mentioned is how prevalent shredded, recycled paper has become for baskets or how the plastic grass lasts and gets reused year after year. That is, the menace of plastic grass is overstated. Also not mentioned in the real grass is great story, the price of the real grass.

As I first learned about the grass clippings in a Tweet from @johnrobison, “Salute the marketing geniuses at @WholeFoods for selling grass clippings for $23.96 a pound – More than good steak!”

Price Matters

A few months ago, Rhonda Robinson posted about a poor neighborhood that “ran off” a Trader Joe’s opening. The gist of the article and comments assumed the neighborhood had elevated politics over health and made a bad decision. She concluded, “The Portland African American Leadership Forum would much rather see empty decaying buildings in their neighborhood than give up their victim card.”

I doubt the neighborhood would rather keep vacant buildings. I also doubt that they objected to a grocery store opening. They likely objected to a Trader Joe’s opening.

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Imagine No Taxes

Friday, April 18th, 2014 - by Walter Hudson

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On Tax Day, I dared to wonder what happiness I might pursue with the money I earn but never see. I asked readers to join me in the exercise and imagine what they might do with the money they lost to taxes last year. Reader Mike Mahoney added this insightful comment:

I would probably wind up spending it on protection, roads, litigation services. If one looks at tax receipts and the portion of the budget that is enumerated as a power to do things in the constitution you’ll note a similarity. The rest is all done on borrowed money. So, if I didn’t pay taxes I would still pay.

Mike lands a fair point. Government certainly provides a value. In the absence of particular government services, we would need to pursue alternatives, thus incurring expense.

Of course, in that case, we could choose to pay as we saw fit, and would benefit from the cost and quality controls of the market. Whether we would pay as much for the same services under a private model is an open question. (I think it safe to bet we’d pay significantly less.) However, we know the percentage of our income spent on such services would decrease as we earned more, instead of increasing as it does today. Market-driven prices are rarely progressive.

You don’t pay more for groceries or fuel just because you earn more. So why should you pay more for the services provided by government, particularly if you prove less likely to use them?

An unspoken assumption which may inform Mike’s comment is that a world without taxes means anarchy. But that’s not necessarily the case. Dr. Yaron Brook of the Ayn Rand Institute here briefly explains how government could raise revenue without coercive taxation:

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Imagine the effect such an arrangement would have upon our incentives to produce and improve the lives of ourselves and others through trade. The sky would be the limit.

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Do Homeschoolers ‘Rob’ Public Schools of Tax Dollars?

Monday, April 14th, 2014 - by Paula Bolyard

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Marcia Clemmitt recently published an extensive report on homeschooling at CQ Researcher. In “Homeschooling: Do Parents Give Their Children a Good Education?,” Clemmitt, a “social policy researcher” and former high school teacher attempts to explain the economic impact of homeschooling in the United States:

Since public schools are allotted government dollars based on the number of pupils they enroll, districts where home schooling’s growth is greatest inevitably lose cash. Arizona’s Maricopa County school district, for example, had lost $34 million by the year 2000 because 7,526 students were being home-schooled.

While I do not doubt for a minute the propensity of government schools to “lose cash,” homeschooling is not to blame.

A report from The Heritage Foundation in 2009 found that just the opposite is true — homeschooling eases the burden on local public schools, saving them billions:

An additional benefit of homeschooling comes in the form of savings to taxpayers and school systems. Analysts have estimated that homeschooled students save American taxpayers and public schools between $4.4 billion and $9.9 billion annually. Other estimates are as high as $16 billion.

The argument that homeschoolers deprive public schools of tax money is based on the premise that each child represents a sum of money to which the school has an inherent right. When parents choose to educate their children outside the public school system, opponents of homeschooling say, those students are “robbing” districts of money to which they are entitled by virtue of the fact that the child happens to live in their district.

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The Rise of the Robot Employee

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014 - by Bonnie Ramthun

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President Obama’s new initiative is a higher minimum wage, and if he is successful the result will not be higher-paid employees heading off to work every day. Instead their jobs will be filled by an entirely new sort of worker: Robots.

Robots, unlike humans, don’t require pay or sick time or vacations. If they break they’re thrown out and recycled. Robots are expensive, but the threat of a higher minimum wage is now making a robotic worker more cost-effective than hiring a real person.

Across Japan the noodle-making chefs are now made of metal, and when you order a Big Mac at a MacDonald’s in Europe you do it by touch screen. A company called Momentum Machines in southern California has developed a robot that cranks out 400 perfectly-prepared burgers every hour. (Note: Robots do not sneeze. Ever. Think about that for a bit.)

Where is this going? Are we heading for a future where slinky femme fatale robots plot the destruction of mankind while wearing the perfect red dress?

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Altruism in Religion’s Free Market

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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My colleague Walter Hudson recently concluded that altruism has no place in Christian life:

Christian giving promotes life and health. Altruism promotes starvation and death. Altruism redistributes. Christian giving transacts. Christ’s own words assure us of greater blessing in giving than receiving. Christian giving leaves us better off, not worse. Altruism therefore proves atheistic, as Piper declares. We will never give more to others than God will give to us.

Walter’s basic conclusion is capitalist in nature: A Christian should be rewarded in kind (or over and above) for giving of their money, their time, or their talent. On the face of it, his argument makes sense, especially in light of congregational membership. My Christian friends often complain about the concept of “tithing,” a Torah teaching that is grossly abused by the religious establishment. Far too often, “tithing” translates into religious leadership putting pressure on church members to “donate” up to 10% of their annual income to their church. Synagogue membership, on the other hand, is rather simple: The same flat fee is charged to everyone on a yearly basis. No weekly passing of plates, no feeling ashamed; most synagogues have provision to assist members who may not be able to meet the annual sum. Programming fees are charged for additional events, like holiday services and Hebrew school. This model best fits Walter’s description of being rewarded in kind for monies given.

In the era where religious establishments have become places to fulfill business networking and social needs, it makes sense that you’d pay a fee for the religious service as you would any other mode through which these things would be accomplished. You pay for drinks at bars, JDate and Christian Mingle memberships, and head hunters; someone’s got to pay the electric bill so the lights are on when you’re shaking hands. The only question is, where is God in all of this? If the Bible is right, and we were put on earth to walk with Him in a personal relationship, what is He getting for His services rendered? That is, besides a corrupt priesthood on both sides of the aisle, pressuring congregants for cash and willing to let God take the back seat to a business deal?

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Is Income Inequality a Problem?

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014 - by Walter Hudson

Here, Ayn Rand Institute executive director Yaron Brook addresses the campaign against income inequality. What are the philosophical roots of this concern?

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Bill Gates Thinks ‘Pro-Capitalistic, Market-Driven People’ Should Embrace Common Core

Monday, March 17th, 2014 - by Paula Bolyard

On Thursday AEI’s Philanthropic Freedom Project hosted Bill Gates for a conversation with AEI President Arthur Brooks focusing on the role of philanthropy in addressing poverty. During the Q & A time Michael McShane, research fellow in education policy studies at AEI, asked Gates about the controversial Common Core standards. Gates, whose foundation has donated $150 million to facilitate the promotion and implementation of Common Core — including $1 million to AEI — ran through the usual list of talking points given by proponents of the new standards, which have been adopted by 46 states.

Gates thinks that, given the prospects for driving innovation, “pro-capitalistic, market-driven people” should embrace Common Core.

“If they have two [sets of standards] they’re comparing they oughta probably pick something in common because to some degree this is an area where, if you do have commonality, it’s like an electric plug,” Gates said. “You get more free market competition. Scale is good for free market competition. Individual state regulatory capture is not good for competition.”

Economies of scale refers to reductions in a producer’s unit costs as scale of output is increased. For a variety of reasons, it’s cheaper per unit to make a million electric plugs than it is to make one hundred — raw materials can be purchased in bulk for a lower price,  a larger company can afford sophisticated automation equipment, etc.  Gates thinks that this economic theory can be applied to the education of children. While it’s true that curriculum, tests, and even standards can be reproduced on a mass scale for a lower price than can the same items produced on a lower scale, the same cannot be said about the minds of children.

Human beings are not electric plugs. Schools are not molding soulless plastic objects, they are touching hearts and minds. Though Gates brushes off criticism of the standards by saying they’re merely a “written explanation of what kids should achieve at various milestones in their educational career,” the evidence shows that, whatever their original intentions, the standards have evolved into something that is not rigorous (by traditional American standards) and worse, will lead to continued cultural and moral degradation in our schools. Terrence O. Moore, professor of history at Hillsdale College has said that the new standards, as they are currently being implemented in schools across the country, will destroy minds and souls and lead students down “a depressing path of a prematurely jaded, post-modern, anti-heroic view of life.”

Plenty of industries can benefit from the economy of scale and even from shared services across states, but the idea of mass-producing education across the diverse landscape of the United States will ultimately lead to a Henry Ford-style education for all: You can have any kind of education you want as long as it’s of the approved, federal-centric, progressive variety.

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Our Bodies, Our Only Sense of Self

Thursday, March 13th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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The MSM’s latest fetish, college girls-turned-porn stars for tuition money, smacks of the rotten legacy of second-wave feminism’s “our bodies, our selves” mantra. Take the story of Belle Knox, a Duke University fresh-girl forced to do porn for the tuition money. While her sleaze-bag of an agent attempts to milk her 15 minutes with stories of a poor girl turned out by multimillionaire parents (a story she later changed when chatting with Piers Morgan), Belle Knox views herself as anything but a victim.

The 18-year-old appeared on front pages across the globe and sat down with Piers Morgan for a CNN interview using only her stage name and claiming that she was not ashamed of what she was doing and, in fact, felt ‘empowered’ by her career.

I’m not being exploited. I love what I’m doing and I’m safe,’ insists the women’s studies major.

Women’s studies major. Good thing she’s in porn, considering her future career choices at this point don’t rise far above McDonald’s worker (and we all know how poorly they’re paid). Seriously, though, paying for your women’s studies degree by doing porn? Has anyone stopped being sucked in by the rich-girl lifestyle to consider that glaring irony? Or the fact that her women’s studies major has justified her career choice?

She told her student newspaper in an interview last week: ‘My entire life, I have, along with millions of other girls, been told that sex is a degrading and shameful act. When I was five-years-old and beginning to discover the wonders of my body, my mother, completely horrified, told me that if I masturbated, my vagina would fall off.

‘The most striking view I was indoctrinated with was that sex is something women “have,” but that they shouldn’t “give it away” too soon -– as though there’s only so much sex in any one woman, and sex is something she does for a man that necessarily requires losing something of herself, and so she should be really careful who she “gives” it to.’

The vapid meanderings of Belle Knox illustrate the very scary impact of the second-wave feminist notion that our bodies really are our selves. Beyond our physicality, we have nothing left, no brain, no feeling, to “lose” or invest in a sexual encounter.

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Should Atlas Shrug Off Apple?

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014 - by Walter Hudson

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What would you do, as the owner of a company, if the manager you hired to run it rebuked your desire for the highest return on investment? Imagine that you approach your manager with concerns about his performance, and he tells you to stop worrying so much about profit.

Apple CEO Tim Cook did precisely that in a meeting with stockholders at the company’s Cupertino headquarters. Mashable reports on the confrontation with a group of stockholders objecting to Cook’s wasteful spending on environmental initiatives:

“We do a lot of things for reasons besides profit motive,” the CEO said:

We do things because they are right and just and that is who we are. That’s who we are as a company. I don’t…when I think about human rights, I don’t think about an ROI. When I think about making our products accessible for the people that can’t see or to help a kid with autism, I don’t think about a bloody ROI, and by the same token, I don’t think about helping our environment from an ROI point of view.

Anyone who had a problem with that approach? They should sell their Apple shares. “If you only want me to make things, make decisions that have a clear ROI, then you should get out of the stock,” Cook said to applause.

Emphasis should be placed on that applause. Stockholders went on to vote down a proposal to halt environmental efforts which hurt the company’s bottom line. In other words, stockholders voted against making money.

The episode evokes comparisons to Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged and the character of James Taggart, heir to a railroad company who squanders his inherited wealth on altruistic efforts which ruin both his company and the national economy. Like Cook, Taggart believes business should be motivated by more than profit. Like Cook, Taggart believes business holds some responsibility to help people.

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Crispin Glover’s Gripe with Back to the Future

Friday, February 28th, 2014 - by Walter Hudson

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Back to the Future actor Crispin Glover sat down with IGN recently to talk about his experience filming the classic time-travel adventure. Glover only worked on the first film in the franchise, though his likeness and select footage from the first film was used in the second.

In his interview with IGN, posted above, Glover explained some of the creative differences which contributed to his leaving the franchise. He objected to what he called “propaganda” in the film promoting “corporate interests.” Specifically, Glover felt that the ending of the first film, portraying the McFly family as happier and notably wealthier than when it began, sent the wrong message.

The happier was fine to me. And the idea of the characters being in love, I thought was excellent. But I thought – I saw that if there was a kind of a financial reward, where the son character cheers because he has a truck in the garage – I thought that the moral aspect ends up being that money equals happiness. And I questioned that, and that was met with a lot of hostility and upset.

Glover recalls watching old movies in revival houses as a teenager in Los Angeles, films which he felt “were questioning things.” He apparently did not want to be complicit in a film which takes for granted that “money equals happiness,” a message he felt deceived moviegoers into sacrificing their interests to that of corporations.

Propaganda is essentially fooling people into believing that there’s something good for them, but it’s actually in the interests of the corporations. I mean, you can call anything propaganda. You can say what I’m saying right now is propaganda. I mean, you’re saying – it’s propagating an idea. But the kind of propaganda that I’m speaking of, that I think is very damaging, is the propaganda that is making people at large feel that what’s being put forth to them is good for their own interests. But in fact, it’s actually best for the corporate interests and it ends up hurting the people at large.

And unfortunately, I think – even though there are very positive things about Back to the Future – there’s very good story structure. There was good writing within it. My argument was, if we just take out the element of wealth as a reward – and it was only that the characters were in love, I would like the film altogether wholly.

The philosophical notion fueling Glover’s objection was that money should not matter if you pursue those things which you love.

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The New Morality: Crying Over Served Cake

Thursday, February 27th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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In this day and age, why would you be stupid enough to use your religious beliefs as an excuse to deny someone services?

There are plenty of ways to avoid entering into a business transaction without having to appear discriminatory at all. When I worked for a private repair shop and encountered a client who seemed to be more trouble than they were worth for whatever reason, we used to simply say, “I am sorry, but we cannot provide service.” If people questioned why (which they did, very often and with plenty of attitude), we just kept repeating the same phrase: “I’m sorry, we cannot provide the service.” No one interpreted us as being discriminatory, or went as far as attempting legal action. We were simply annoying, so they moved onto a business that was willing to enter into the transaction. No harm, no foul.

That is the beauty of the free market: You have choices. If a bakery simply said “I am sorry, we can’t provide that service,” and left it at that, a gay couple denied service might interpret the owner’s choice as being discriminatory, but they wouldn’t have a leg to stand on in court. You can’t sue based on an inference. Progressives, however, rely on the courts to push their agenda because Big Government is their god. So the minute you breathe a hint of something that could be misconstrued as an opportunity for a lawsuit, they gain home-court advantage.

By simply saying, “I am sorry, we can’t provide that service,” you may be opening yourself up to some annoying picketing and internet memes, but what’s the worst that will do? Throw you in the same court as Chick fil-A? We all know how well that protest worked out. The bottom line is, you’re letting the free market decide your fate, not the courts.

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Minnesota Lawmakers Mock Poor with ‘Minimum Wage Challenge’

Thursday, February 20th, 2014 - by Walter Hudson

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Recently, I wrote of a Harvard/CUNY study, conducted by advocates of a single-payer healthcare system, which claims that over 17,000 people will die unless states expand Medicaid. The study rests upon a deeply cynical and inaccurate view of humanity inherent to the Left which regards people as helpless as houseplants.

Now, a group of state lawmakers in Minnesota have announced a political stunt demonstrating that same insulting view of humanity. ThinkProgress reports:

Five state lawmakers in Minnesota have decided to take on the “Minimum Wage Challenge” and live off of a typical budget for a worker who makes the federal minimum wage of $7.25.

The state has one of the lowest minimum wages in the country at $6.15 an hour, which means it gets trumped by the federal wage. A worker who puts in 40 hours a week at that level will earn just $290 before taxes. The challenge limits the lawmakers to $5 a day for food and $9 for transportation.

I am reminded of my high school health class, where it was expected students would learn the hardships of parenthood by carting around a bag of sugar taped to a Cabbage Patch Kids doll. This seems no less puerile.

Rep. Frank Hornstein (D) told CBS Minnesota that it made him take more notice of his costs. “An orange juice was $1.79. That’s not something that I would normally notice,” he said after getting breakfast from McDonald’s Dollar Menu. “Making the decision to take the bus today versus taking the car will save me a little money for dinner. For food,” he added.

Hornstein ought to recognize that the same process of rational judgment which prompts him to consider the price of orange juice while on his restricted budget would also apply when considering obligations like rent, marriage, and parenthood.

Gee, if I make minimum wage, maybe I shouldn’t rent a two-bedroom apartment. Maybe I should aspire to better means before taking on new costs.

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