Are the American people as corrupt as the Clintons?

May 21st, 2015 - 5:57 am

From Asia Times.


I have been reading Peter Schweizer’s book Clinton Cash with brief pauses to wipe the puke off the computer screen. For the past fifteen years, there has been no sewer too stinky for Bill and Hillary to bathe in. Most of Schweizer’s research has already made the mainstream media, but the sheer mass of it still amazes. It’s not one malfeasance or three, but an unbroken pattern of overtly corrupt behavior trading half-million-dollar speaking fees and multi-million-dollar payoffs to the Clintons’ foundation in return for billion-dollar mining concessions and corporate takeovers staged by the most revolting gangsters in the jungle of Third World governance. The English language needs a word like the Yiddish term “chutzpah” to describe them, but without the connotation of modesty and discretion.

What kind of people are we Americans, that we allow these kleptocrat’s hirelings to persist in public life? The answer, I fear, is that we have become corrupt ourselves. I’ve seen enough corruption in the Third World to know that it requires the consent of the governed. Between 1988 and 1993, I directed a Mexican research project on tax and regulatory reform. In 1990, I advised Violeta Chamorro after her election victory over Nicaragua’s Sandinistas for exactly one week, coaching her team in negotiations with the International Monetary Fund. Back then I was chief economist for the consulting firm Polyconomics, and I canceled the contract after one of Mrs. Chamorro’s advisers handed me our fee in the form of an envelope full of $100 bills–duly declared and reported to the U.S. tax authorities. In 1992, I was asked to advise Russian Finance Minister Yegor Gaidar on currency stabilization after the fall of Communism, and made several trips to Moscow. I never did meet Gaidar, but I saw enough of the looting of state assets to persuade me to get out of Dodge. Rather than pursue emerging markets, I shifted to quantitative modeling of high-grade bonds. Even that field turned rotten in the subprime scam two decades later, but that’s another story.

Corruption in Third World kleptocracies starts at the top but trickles down to the grass roots. Every bill-collector for the public utility takes bribes not to turn off the gas or electricity–it’s cheaper to pay a bribe than to pay the bill. Every secretary in a government office takes a tip to give you the form you need to fill out to hand to the boss who will take another mordida, or bite. Everyone hustles, everyone has a scam. The people at the bottom look up in envy and contempt at the billionaire thieves who run their country, but live their lives in emulation of them; if they were tough or smart enough, they would steal billions, too. We Americans used to be better than at. I don’t think we are any longer.

As Schweizer reports, America’s favorite power couple made millions from Kazakhstan dictator Nurslatan Nazarbayev. In 2005 Bill came to the homeland of Borat with Canadian penny-stock speculator Frank Giustra. Giustra’s  shell company UrAsia Energy, a paper entity with no track record, beat out bigger competition to scupper Kazakhstan”s uranium mining concession. Bill endorsed Nazarbayev’s bid to head the Organization for Security and Cooperation Europe. a human rights organization founded by the 1975 Helsinki Accords, despite Nazarbeayev’s execrable human rights record. Senator Hillary Clinton lifted her previous objection to Kazakhstan’s chairmanship of the organization.

Schweizer reports:

In the months that followed, Giustra gave the Clinton Foundation $31.3 million. It was the first of several large donations he would make as he went on to secure other lucrative national resources deals in development countries around the world…

At the time of Clinton’s visit, Kazakhstan was on the verge of a national election. Days after Clinton departed, the opposition party’s campaign headquarters were ravaged by fire in an arson attack. On October 12 heavily armed policy temporarily arrested the opposition party’s leader….In December 2005 Nazarbayev won reelection with more than 90 percent of the vote. Bill sent him a note of congratulations. “Recognizing that your work has received an excellent grade is one of the most important rewards in life,” he wrote. “At the start of your new term as president, I would like to express confidence that you will continue to live up to the expectations of your people.” The Kazakh dictator promptly released Clinton’s congratulatory note to the public.

There’s more, and more, and more in Schweizer’s book. Less astonishing than the facts he has assembled is that everything is on the public record. They put the Mexicans to shame. Latin American dictators and their cronies don’t twerk their wallets in front of the television cameras. For example: During the “reform” administration of Carlos Salinas de Gortari, the government privatized billions of dollars of state assets, including the country’s largest commercial banks. Mexican politicians bought shares through secret Caribbean bank accounts from the government and flipped them back to private buyers at a higher price, and the private buyers took the deal as the price of admission. I know this from private-sector bidders for state assets who turned the deal down. None of it was traceable, much less visible to the public; if some public officials made vast sums from the scam, they didn’t flaunt their ill-gotten gains. They kept them in offshore bank accounts and lived with a minimum of publicity. Bill Clinton does his act in front of any gangster who will pay him–including two in Lagos, Nigeria for $700,000 each, in return for evident favors to unspeakably corrupt Nigerian “businessmen.”

Americans are becoming a nation of hustlers. 87% of American men of working age used to belong to the labor force. Now it’s down to 70%.


What are the other 30% of American men doing? Nicholas Eberstadt gave part of the answer in his 2012 book A Nation of Takers:

Although almost all families with seniors use government benefits, over a third of families without any seniors were on at least one government benefit program—even before the Great Recession.

In 2010, over 34 percent of American households received means-tested benefits—households which included nearly half of America’s children. Yet the poverty rate was only 15.1 percent.

In 1983, fewer than 30 percent of households received one or more government benefits. By 2011, this number had skyrocketed to 49 percent. Source: Eberstadt, 31–32. The growth in entitlement spending is a bipartisan phenomenon. In fact, for the last half-century, entitlement spending has grown faster under Republican presidents than under Democratic presidents.

From 1940 to 1960, entitlement transfers accounted for under a third of federal spending. Today over two-thirds of federal spending goes to entitlements. In 2010 alone, governments at all levels oversaw a transfer of $2.2 trillion—three times as much as all military and defense spending that same year.

It isn’t just government handouts, though. The subprime scam of 1998-2008 corrupted a higher proportion of Americans than any economic phenomenon since slavery (and slavery, although wicked, was legal). Filing a false mortgage application is a felony, and millions of ordinary homeowners engaged in serious fraud during the peak years of the housing boom. The chart below was included in a 2010 FBI study of mortgage fraud:


Scamming the government or scamming the banks is so commonplace that we take fraud for granted. Why shouldn’t we? The financial industry has no qualms about it. Researchers from the University of Notre Dame’s business school (courtesy of Dealbreaker)  interviewed 1,200 respondents in the U.S. and UK and found that

More than one-third (34%) of those earning $500,000 or more annually have witnessed or have first hand knowledge of wrongdoing in the workplace

23% of respondents believe it is likely that fellow employees have engaged in illegal or unethical activity in order to gain an edge, nearly double the 12% that reported as such in 2012.

-One in 10 respondents has signed or been asked to sign a confidentiality agreement that would prohibit reporting illegal or unethical activities to the authorities.

-This figure surges to 25% for those respondents earning $500,000 or more annually.

After the biggest scam in U.S. financial history, the Obama administration has put exactly zero bankers in jail. Of course, it has levied tens of billions of dollars of fines on the banks, which is to say on the shareholders of the banks, who are mainly pension funds and life insurance companies. In other words, the Obama Justice Department taxed the savings of ordinary people to punish the malfeasance of the bankers. The bankers who committed the crimes walked away with their bonuses except in a small number of cases.

It’s like the old joke about the housewife who calls her husband during the evening commute and says, “Be careful, dear–the television says there’s a lunatic driving in the wrong direction on the freeway.” “What do you mean, ‘lunatic?’, the husband says, “There are thousands of them!”

Democracy exists to give people the kind of government they deserve. If the American people do not have the moral fibre to extirpate corruption on the Clinton scale, they will deserve what’s coming to them.

Ted Cruz is intellectually arrogant, like Ronald Reagan. The difference is that Reagan masked his arrogance with self-deprecating humor. Sen. Cruz does a Reagan impression that would do a nightclub comedian proud, but he doesn’t have Reagan’s easy and spontaneous humor.

One doesn’t think of Reagan as arrogant,  but he was in fact the most arrogant leader we have had since Lincoln. He ignored the whole of the foreign policy establishment in his conviction that America stood to win the Cold War and bring down Communism. Then as now, the foreign policy establishment resembled Jonathan Swift’s scientists on the floating island of Laputa, treading perilously close to the edge with noses in the air.

Sen. Cruz is authentically bright, sufficiently so for the liberal Alan Dershowitz to declare that he was the best student he had ever had at Harvard’s Law School. The conservative legal theorist Robert P. George, who taught Cruz at Princeton, says the same thing. He’s so smart that he is not the least impressed by the conservative foreign policy establishment.

That’s what qualifies Ted Cruz for the presidency.  Among the Republican candidates, Cruz is the only one to state plainly that we stayed too long in Iraq and erred in trying to turn it into Switzerland. (I exclude Rand Paul, who is a dumb rube isolationist of the old school and unqualified for national office.) Contrast this to Jeb Bush, who thinks we didn’t stay long enough. Cruz still has some things to learn, to be sure. Sending arms to Ukraine, as he proposes, is pointless. Russian leader Vladimir Putin wants to keep Ukraine in civil war indefinitely, and will match whatever we send in order to do so. Putin wants revenge for the West’s effort to break Ukraine out of the Russian sphere, and leaving the West with a bloody, bankrupt, ungovernable mess on its doorstep is his best move.  As Prof. Angelo Codevilla told a Claremont Institute gathering last October, the way to frustrate Putin is to let him keep the Russian-majority Eastern Ukraine, a rust-bucket and money pit of no value to the West; the Western part of Ukraine would then be Catholic and pro-Western.

Sixteen years of George W. Bush and Barack Obama will leave the next president with a different world: a new Sino-Russian entente directed against the US, and chaos in most of the Middle East. Both are the consequence of foreign policy utopianism.  We destroyed the century-long balance of power in Iraq and Syria by forcing majority rule in Iraq, and stood godfather to a perpetual Sunni-Shi’ite civil war. We tried to flip Ukraine to the West, and Putin allied with China. We have scored nothing but own-goals. We are spending a trillion and a half dollar on the Edsel of the air, the F-35, and have allowed China to narrow the technology gap that once made the United States the dominant superpower.

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From Asia Times


There is one leader in the world who has taken courageous steps across religious boundaries to help Middle Eastern Christians in their hour of need, breaking precedent and in many cases offending adherents of his own religion.

Of course, I am not talking about Pope Francis, but about Egyptian President Fatah al-Sisi, a devout Muslim who appeared last Christmas at the cathedral of his country’s Coptic Christians, the first Egyptian leader to do so. The Copts are a persecuted minority who comprise about a tenth of the Egyptian population. The Coptic language derives from ancient Egyptian, and the Copts are the remnant of old Egypt, conquered by Alexander the Great and Christianized by Constantine, before the Arab invasion of the 7th century C.E. Standing next to the Coptic Pope Tawadros II, al-Sisi declared, “We cannot say anything but: we, the Egyptians.”

President al-Sisi is locked in a life-and-death battle against the terrorists of the Muslim Brotherhood, allied to elements of al-Qaeda. During the Muslim Brotherhood’s less than year-long reign as Egypt’s government during 2012-2013, forty Coptic churches were burned to the ground, 23 were damaged, and hundreds of Coptic Christians murdered. For the moment the Copts are secure, but we are witness to “the twilight of Middle Eastern Christianity” in the Levant, as Hisham Melham wrote 28 February in al-Arabiya.

While the government of Egypt stands siege against the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the Palestine branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, namely Hamas, got a boost from the Vatican May 13 when the Vatican announced that it would recognize a Palestinian State. Although the titular president of the Palestine Authority Mahmoud Abbas sat in the Vatican garden with Pope Francis for the announcement, Hamas has a margin of support over Abbas’ feckless Fatah party of 2:1 by most estimates. Abbas is in the eleventh year of a five-year term, and cannot call elections because Hamas would win. He holds office because the Israeli Army props him up in power against the radical majority.

In the Levantine war of all against all, Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood are not quite the same entity as ISIS, which beheads Christians en masses, rapes and enslaves Christian girls, and razes Christian churches in Iraq and Syria. Last month ISIS fighters besieged a Hamas-controlled Palestine refugee settlement at Yarmouk in Syria, killing a hundred Palestines including two Hamas leaders. But dozens of terror cells in the Gaza Strip, notionally controlled by Hamas, now are loyal to ISIS.

Judging from the opinion polls, a State of Palestine today would have a Hamas majority of about two-thirds, with substantial representation from elements of ISIS. Why would the Vatican wish this plague upon itself? If a Palestnian State rules the Old City of Jerusalem, the Christian holy sites will be razed by Muslim radicals, just as they were in Iraq. Christianity survives in Judea and Samaria because Jews are willing to die for Jerusalem. How many Christians are willing to die for Jerusalem? The Vatican should ponder this question.

There are two answers. The first is that for the most part, Arab Christians are Arabs first and Christians second, just as French and German Christians in 1914 were French and Germans first, and Christians second. The leadership of the Arab churches in confession with Rome has always tried to prove its loyalty tot he Arab cause by taking an especially vociferous stand against Israel, for example, during the 2010 Synod of Middle East Bishops. I reviewed the sad history of Levantine Christianity in a 2009 essay for Asia Times. It is impossible to exaggerate the anguish of a Church on the verge of extinction in his historic cradle.

The second answer lies in the peculiar theology of Pope Francis himself, who has a pronounced millennarian streak, as I wrote in this space last year. For reasons we may never learn, his predecessor Benedict XVI abdicated his office in good health and fullness of intellectual powers. Benedict wanted a smaller but more devout Church; Francis wants a big tent that includes everyone, including people whose nominal acceptance of Catholic doctrine is tenuous or heretical. God in this case is in a position like that of the bondholders of Argentina, who have been neither paid nor repudiated, but wait indefinitely for the Holy Spirit to motivate some future Argentine government to make them whole. Francis is a pope for people who want the warm feeling of Catholicism without its obligations, and that is what makes him so popular.

It is one thing to forgive one’s enemies, and quite another to encourage them. That is what Pope Francis has done by recognizing the fiction of a Palestinian State. When the pope visited the Holy Land last year I warned, “ear that the Church, the founding institution of the West, its pillar and mainstay, has lost its moorings. The State of Israel will do quite well without it; it was founded in 1947 against the opposition of the Church then immeasurably more influential, and does not require the blessing of the Church to flourish today. But Bergoglio’s behavior in the Holy Land bespeaks a dilution of the Church’s self-understanding and a deviation from its mission.”

Benedict XVI emphasized God’s particular love for Israel; Francis hopes that all will be saved. Except for the good offices of the Egyptian Army and the Israel Defense Force, his hope will be vain where Middle Eastern Christians are concerned.


Muslims, Europeans and Boiled Frogs

May 7th, 2015 - 7:26 pm

from Asia Times:

Today’s New York Times editorial on the Garland, Texas affair protests a bit too much. One might expect liberal journalists to express solidarity with their murdered colleagues at Charlie Hebdo. Instead, the Times offers outright condemnation:

Some of those who draw cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad may earnestly believe that they are striking a blow for freedom of expression, though it is hard to see how that goal is advanced by inflicting deliberate anguish on millions of devout Muslims who have nothing to do with terrorism. As for the Garland event, to pretend that it was motivated by anything other than hate is simply hogwash.

Not to quibble, but a cartoon contest in Garland, Texas, like the 2005 Mohammed caricatures in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten and the 2014 Charlie Hebdo depictions, only reached a large Muslim audience because Muslim organizations chose to make an issue of images that appeared in obscure publications with a small circulation. The cartoonists did not cause the anguish of millions of Muslims: Muslim authorities of various sorts elicited the anguish of their constituents by denouncing them. If Muslim leaders had ignored the cartoons, the millions of devout Muslims cited by the New York Times would have gone about their daily lives suffering anguish from another source: the cruel and inevitable encroachment of modernity on traditional life.

Islam is fragile, far more fragile than the traditional Catholicism which flourished in Italy, Spain, Ireland and Quebec only two generations ago and now is in shambles. We know this because the number of live births to Muslim women is falling faster than in any documented case in the history of the world.


Fertility and faith are inextricably linked; academic literature on the theme is deep and persuasive (I reviewed it in my book How Civilizations Die (and Why Islam is Dying, Too). As Mary Eberstadt argued in her 2013 book How the West Really Lost God (which I reviewed here), sterile societies lose their desire to bring children into the world before they admit that they have lost their faith.

Europe had two centuries in which to adapt to the great wave of secularization, and the old adage about how to boil a frog comes to mind: drop a frog into hot water and it will leap out of the pot, but a frog left in cold water that is slowly heated will not notice that it is being boiled. The Europeans suffered the latter fate, although traditional society in some cases raged against its end, for example Spain’s Civil War. Europe had the advantage of two centuries of wealth creation, an explosion of scientific knowledge, social mobility and modern governance; Islam has the disadvantages of two centuries of economic stagnation, isolation from the scientific revolutions, the prevalence of tribal society and governance that is as cruel as it is corrupt. Modernity crept up on the Europeans, but has hit most of the Muslim world with the suddenness of a boiling bath.

That is the source of the anguish of millions of Muslims. Unlike their grandparents, who sent missionaries to the Muslim world to open Western universities that would bring the benefits of Western civilization to Muslims, today’s liberals agonize over Muslim anguish. A notable example is President Obama’s mother Ann Dunham.

Ms. Dunham abandoned her young son to return to Indonesia to complete her doctoral dissertation, entilted, “Peasant blacksmithing in Indonesia: surviving against all odds.” Her struggle to help the traditional craftsmen of Indonesia in their resistance to globalization clearly formed Obama’s view of the world. He  (or perhaps Bill Ayers) wrote in Dreams of My Father;

And yet for all that poverty [in the Indonesian marketplace], there remained in their lives a discernible order, a tapestry of trading routes and middlemen, bribes to pay and customs to observe, the habits of a generation played out every day beneath the bargaining and the noise and the swirling dust. It was the absence of such coherence that made a place like [the Chicago housing projects] so desperate.

Nostalgia for the supposedly halcyon past of traditional society, and fear for the consequences of modernity, lead the likes of the New York Times’ editors to twist themselves into pretzels when they address such issues. The Times in 1999 endorsed the showing at a public museum in New York of a supposed art work consisting of a crucifix in a vial of urine, arguing, “A museum is obliged to challenge the public as well as to placate it, or else the museum becomes a chamber of attractive ghosts, an institution completely disconnected from art in our time.” This blatant contradiction at the Times has become a staple of conservative bloggers.

In Yiddish, one says: es soll gor nisht helfen (it won’t help at all). Europe’s confrontation with modernity in the 19th and 20th centuries was tragic; Islam’s encounter with modernity, I believe, is more likely to be terminal. Some parts of the Muslim world cannot sustain the transition. A Chinese expert on South Asia told me not long ago, “Pakistan is simple. DO NOT MODERNIZE. Keep them feudal. Just make sure that the army chief of staff is the biggest feudal landlord.” That is sad to hear, but the Chinese are connoisseurs of civilization. China is proof that large populations can make the transition to modernity from traditional life. But China was “modern” in a sense from inception: it united countless ethnic and language groups into a culture founded on a common system of characters and a system of governance that at its best was a meritocracy, often destroying unruly barbarians on its borders who failed to assimilate. Most of the Muslim world by contrast is tribal. Where Muslim societies try to modernize, they typically proceed from infancy to senescence in a single generation (as in the collapse of Iran’s fertility rate from 7 children per female in 1979 to 1.6 children in 2012).

Civilizations that become aware that they have past their best-used-by-date typically destroy themselves. That is not inevitable. Some Muslim countries may succeed. Egypt is most likely to, after rejecting a brief experiment in Muslim Brotherhood rule in favor of a true moderate, President al-Sisi. Most, however, will not.

There is no greater anguish than knowing that your grandchildren–if any there be–will look with disgust at your photograph, at the quaint costumes of traditional society and antique poses, the relics of a world with which they have nothing in common. To know that the certainties of your daily life will dissolve and disappear, to be replaced by alien nations, is a kind of living death. That is the fate of traditional society everywhere. It was the fate of many of the Europeans a generation or two ago and it is the fate of the Muslims today. The survivors–if any there be– will be countries whose culture was modern from the outset–the United States of America in one way, China in another, and in yet another way Israel.

Muslim anguish will deepen, whether or not anyone publishes nasty cartoons about Mohammed (which I do not do, because I do not like vulgar insults against anyone’s religion–although I will defend to the death the right to do so). Liberals will agonize along with them. The millions of devout Muslims mentioned by the Times deserve a modicum of sympathy, for life has dealt them a losing hand. The liberals on the other hand provide a fine opportunity for Schadenfreude.

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Why can’t Muslims laugh at Mohammed?

May 6th, 2015 - 12:16 am

Cross-posted from Asia Times.

In Mel Brooks’ comedy “History of the World Part I,” Moses is shown descending from Mount Sinai with three stone tablets in hand. As he declares, “I give you the Fifteen Commandments,” one falls and breaks, and Moses corrects himself, “er, Ten Commandments.” Jews, including the observant, find this funny rather than offensive. As we learned once again in Garland, Texas, Muslims do not laugh at jokes about Mohammed, the purported author of the Koran (as Moses is the author of the Torah). Two wannabe Jihadists with assault rifles and body armor were no match for an off-duty Texas traffic cop with a sidearm, but the incident might have turned into a massacre worse than the murder of the Charlie Hebdo staff in January.
Why do Jews as well as Christians–but not Muslims–laugh at jokes about the founders of their faiths?

The answer is that radically different deities are in question. Judaism begins with a covenant between God and human beings–Abraham and his descendants–that is a partnership in which God is normally, but not always, the senior partner. As Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks observes, the Jewish sages of antiquity envisioned Moses acting as a judge for God, permitting God to annul his earlier vow to destroy the Jewish people after the sin of the Golden Calf. This is unimaginable in Islam, just as unimaginable as the Christian God who humbles himself on the cross.

That does not diminish the sanctity of holy writ: if a Torah scroll is dropped accidentally during Jewish services, Jewish law binds the congregation to a month of fasting. But the Jewish (and hence also the Christian) God allows his children to give him an argument, as Abraham does in the matter of Sodom and Gomorrah, and Moses does on several occasions. Humor arises from the impossible tension between an infinite God and finite man. “Humor is intrinsic to Christianity,” wrote the great Danish theologian Soren Kierkegaard, “because truth is hidden in mystery.”

Jewish and Christian Scripture are human reports of an encounter with the Divine. The foundation of the Christian Bible are four separate reports of the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth that in some respects contradict each other. The Koran, to be sure, has contradictory elements, which are addressed through so-called Abrogation Theory (Naskh), allowing one Koranic verse to be nullified by another. But Mohammed’s revelation of the Koran is not a human report so much as a stenographic transcription of the purported words of Allah. No Muslim argues that Mohammed was more than human, but for practical purposes he is indistinguishable from Allah, because he was simply the vessel into which Allah supposedly his directions.  To make light of Mohammed is to impugn Allah. It is not blasphemous to laugh at Moses, whose human failings prevented him from leaving the people of Israel into the promised land. To humanize Mohammed, though, is an act of lèse-majesté against the Muslim God. That is not quite the same thing as joking about Moses or St. Matthew.

Personally, I find most convincing the argument by the German convert to Islam, Prof.Muhammed Sven Kalisch, that the Prophet Mohammed did not exist in the first place–at least not a man who in any way resembles the figure portrayed in the standard Muslim account. That is in some ways beside the point: there is no divine-human encounter in Islam, no revelation, only the selection of a human mouth as the loudspeaker by which Allah declares his Koran. Allah could as well have employed a talking rock. The Muslim god therefore remains utterly remote from humans, unconstrained in power and arbitrary in his actions. It is Allah’s caprice that electrons spin around an atom’s nucleus, or that planets describe an ellipsis around the sun.

As Franz Rosenzweig observed, the actions of God are indistinguishable from naive observation of the natural world. They simply are the way things are, and for no other reason than it is Allah’s whim that they be that way. An atheist who believes that the world is utterly chaotic and random will see the world in precisely the same way, with one grand difference: the way things are, to Muslims, includes the sedimentary layers of centuries of tribal practice: wife-beating, slavery, punishment by amputation, female genital mutilation (depending on the tribal history), and so forth. To slight Mohammed, and by extension Allah, means the ruin of the way things are, the dissolution of the ties that hold society together. To question the way things are is to inspire social chaos.


That is why most Muslims in the most populous Muslim countries (with the notable exceptions of Indonesia and once-secular Turkey) believe that apostasy should be punished by death. It is also why the moment that the literacy rate in Muslim countries reaches the 80% mark, the proportion of people claiming to be non-religious jumps. I published the chart below in 2006:


Iran, the first Muslim country to approach universal adult literacy, is by far the least religious, despite its theocratic regime. When the regime falls, as it eventually must, we will discover that there are no more Muslims in Iran than there were Communists in the Soviet Union. Iran’s mosque attendance rate is the lowest in the Muslim world at less than 30% by one estimate (see chart below), and much lower by other estimates.

Religious Participation among Muslims: Iranian Exceptionalism (Tzcur, Azadarmaki and Bahar, Journal of Critical Religious Studies, Fall 2006)

Religious Participation among Muslims:
Iranian Exceptionalism
(Tzcur, Azadarmaki and Bahar, Journal of Critical Religious Studies, Fall 2006)

To question the way things are is blasphemy in Islam. Religious observance in Iran collapsed in tandem with the country’s fertility rate (down from 7 children per female in 1979 to just 1.6 in 2012), a gauge of how rapidly traditional society has dissolved.

The organizers of the Garland, Texas exhibition of Mohammed caricatures–the Dutch politician Geert Wilders and the anti-jihad campaigners Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer–have proven their point: To placate Muslims in their resistance to modernity would require the West to give up being the West. Today’s resurgence of Muslim fundamentalism is something of a Ghost Dance, a grand flourish of existential despair before the way things are turns into the way things were, and never will be again.

Baltimore burns and America declines

April 29th, 2015 - 12:12 am

Crossposted from Asia Times


When do you declare a point of no return? The burning of Baltimore might appear in future history texts as the turning-point in America’s fortunes. Six years after the election of America’s first African-American president, the prospects of black Americans seem bleaker than at any time since the First World War, when the great migration began from the cotton-fields of the South to the factories of the North.

Percentage of births outside of marriage

Percentage of births outside of marriage

Nearly three quarters of black children are born outside of marriage, which means that the vast majority of black children are raised by single parents. Black women, meanwhile, are carrying the economic burden of their families more than men. Roughly 3 black women are employed full time for every 2 black men (for American whites, the ratio is 3:2 in favor of men).




It is hard to blame racism for this discrepancy: why should there be less discrimination against female black job applications than against male job applicants? Two-thirds of Bachelor’s degrees awarded to African-Americans, moreover, go to women. No people in the history of the world has managed to raise and educate children without a father’s contribution to family income. Where are the black men? For every 100 black adult women not in jail, the New York Times reports, there are only 83 black men. The missing 17% are dead or in jail.


The reason that so many black men are in jail is because they have committed crimes. There is an argument, to be sure, that many black men are incarcerated for “non-violent” crimes such as selling illegal drugs; the counterargument is that the drug business is inherently violent, and that it is easier to catch a miscreant selling drugs than to catch him in the act of shooting a rival. In any case, America’s higher incarceration rate has coincided with a drastic drop in the incidence of violent crime. Statisticians will argue ad infinitum about causality, but a common-sense reading of the data tells us that there is less crime because more violent offenders are in jail.

The criminal justice system has contained crime in America, at dreadful cost: One in 87 white men of working age is incarcerated, vs. 1 in 36 Hispanic men and 1 in 12 African American men. There are more African American men aged 20 to 34 without a high school diploma or GED are behind bars (37 percent) than are employed (26 percent).

It is nonsense to suggest that police violence has much impact on the big picture: 94% of black murder victims are killed by blacks. Black men have a 1 in 21 chance of being murdered, vs. 1 in 131 for white men.

No matter what anyone does, things will get worse before they get better. Never in his history has the United States spent so much to support a nonworking population. As Nicholas Eberstadt observed in his 2012 book “A Nation of Takers,” one out of every three American households has at least one person receiving some kind of means-tested government payment.

If African-American rage takes the form of arson on a mass scale–after the election of a black president–there is no apparent solution. It is merely a symptom of American decline.

Armenia’s Genocide and Obama’s Shame

April 22nd, 2015 - 2:05 pm

Despite a 2008 campaign promise “to recognize the Armenian genocide,” President Obama refuses to follow Pope Francis’ example and call the murder of 1.5 million Armenian civilians by its right name. Of all the despicable things this administration has done, this one stands out for vile hypocrisy. CNN reports:

President Barack Obama, wary of damaging relations with Turkey amid growing unrest in the Middle East, won’t use the 100th anniversary of the massacre of Armenians under the Ottoman Empire to declare the brutal episode a genocide.

Despite Obama’s campaign promise in 2008 to “recognize the Armenian Genocide” as president, the White House on Tuesday issued a carefully worded statement on a high-level administration meeting with Armenian groups that avoided using the term “genocide.”

An administration official said Obama, who will mark the centennial this Friday, would similarly avoid using the word. The term angers Ankara, which denies that Ottoman Turks carried out a genocide.

“President Obama’s surrender to Turkey represents a national disgrace. It is, very simply, a betrayal of truth, a betrayal of trust,” said Ken Hachikian, the chairman of the Armenian National Committee of America.

Despite the threat of retaliation against Turkey’s small and defenseless Christian community–the remnant of what once was a fifth of the Turkish population–the Vatican has had the courage to use the word genocide, and first did so in 2000. Not Obama, whose concern for Muslim sensibilities outweighs every other consideration.

If you don’t think telling the truth matters, think again: The world’s disgusting indifference to the Armenian genocide is what convinced Adolf Hitler that he could get away with genocide, too. This is what Hitler said about the matter in 1939:

My decision to attack Poland was arrived at last spring. Originally, I feared that the political constellation would compel me to strike simultaneously at England, Russia, France, and Poland. Even this risk would have had to be taken….Our strength consists in our speed and in our brutality. Genghis Khan led millions of women and children to slaughter — with premeditation and a happy heart. History sees in him solely the founder of a state. It’s a matter of indifference to me what a weak western European civilization will say about me.

I have issued the command — and I’ll have anybody who utters but one word of criticism executed by a firing squad — that our war aim does not consist in reaching certain lines, but in the physical destruction of the enemy. Accordingly, I have placed my death-head formations in readiness — for the present only in the East — with orders to them to send to death mercilessly and without compassion, men, women, and children of Polish derivation and language. Only thus shall we gain the living space (Lebensraum)which we need. Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?

43 countries–including Russia, Italyk, France, Sweden Poland and the Netherlands–recognize the Armenian genocide. Not the United States of America. It is a shame and disgrace.


David Brooks shares a stage with pundits during a panel discussion, “2012: The Path to the Presidency”, at the University of Chicago on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2012. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Dear David Brooks:

We have never met, and I do not regularly follow your work. Because you are a public intellectual of Jewish origin, though,  your spiritual peregrinations are of broader interest. It may be chutzpah for me to offer you advice, but I could not help thinking of the case of Franz Rosenzweig while reading a post at Aletaia claiming that you may convert to Christianity. Rosenzweig, one of the great Jewish thinkers of the 20th century, had decided to convert to Christianity. Raised in a secular family and trained in the high tradition of German critical philosophy, Rosenzweig nonetheless thought that he should do so as a Jew. He attended the Day of Atonement services at a Berlin shtuebl with Polish Jews, and liked it so much that he not only remained Jewish, but devoted the rest of his sadly short life to Judaism.

Of course, you have attended Day of Atonement services (in fact, we have done so at the same Conservative synagogue in New York, Or Zarua, albeit in different years). My experience, though, was that my conversion to Judaism began after I left “Conservative Judaism” and began observing Shabbat, eating kosher and wrapping tefillin. In retrospect, it occurred to me that the rarified Judaism I encountered in the progressive Jewish world was really a strange form of Christianity, Methodism with a yamulka. There is a word for rarified Judaism, and that is Christianity: living in an ambient Christian culture, I could not help but bring Christian sensibilities to a Judaism without the commandments. In a sense I was a Christian, despite my best intentions, and had to “convert” to Judaism. I did this while an editor at First Things, then the premier Christian intellectual magazine in the United States.

I suspect that your experience is not too different, which is why I am kibbitzing. There is the matter of the bagel that you offered to The Forward’s editor Jane Eisner, in the middle of the Passover holiday, when Jews are forbidden any matter of leavened bread. Observing Passover is the first of all commandments, given to us the night we left Egypt, before the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai. To eat leavened bread on Passover (and to offer it to another Jew) suggests that there is not a shred of Jewish practice in your everyday life.

I find it hard to get worked up over reports that you might convert to Christianity. In a way, you (like me) were always there. I do not judge the religious lives of others — I am the last person who should, considering that I spent the first half of my life as the most egregious sort of atheist. But you might try Judaism. It’s well and good to read Joseph Soloveitchik’s “The Lonely Man of Faith,” an essay written for a Christian audience, and a marvelous book, but you should also keep in mind that Rav Soloveitchik supervised kashrut in Boston.

Why is it so fundamental to eat kosher? Permit me an almost-rational argument: There are things that Torah tells us, that no prior document in the whole history of humanity told anyone else, for example, to regard every human being as an image of God, with the attendant reverence. There is no philosophical justification for this: it is beyond reason. But (as Michael Wyschogrod argues) we are not wholly different from the animals. We recognize that in refraining from eating cats and dogs, for example. Which animals may we eat? That question is above our pay grade, and we accept a divine answer to that question (ruminants but not swine, for example). Precisely because we accept a divine mandate in the matter of meat consumption, we also accept it in the requirement to view human life as sacred, and each human as an image of God. 

Judaism lives in the details of everyday life, “in the pots and pans in the kosher kitchen,” as our mutual friend Rabbi Meir Soloveichik put it, in the rules of Sabbath rest and the sublime commandment to put on tefillin. One can’t intellectualize this: to describe what it’s like to live like a Jew (as opposed to theorizing about it) is like the difference between actually having sex, and reading a sex manual. You won’t make any sense of this without doing it. I am not trying to persuade you of the benefits of Jewish practice. I am daring you to try it. Read up on Rosenzweig. Don’t consider becoming a Christian until you’ve at least tried being a Jew.

I mean this respectfully. I have a couple of friends with secular Jewish backgrounds who converted to Christianity, and lead happier lives for it. My respect for Christianity and my affection for Christians is a matter of public record. Nonetheless, I cannot see how you would fail to benefit from learning what it is like to be a Jew.

Yours sincerely,

David P. Goldman, Aka “Spengler”

April 21st, 2015 - 2:43 pm

How Americans became poor

Crossposted from Asia Times

Americans are poorer –poorer by half—then on the day Ronald Reagan took office in January 1981. By this I mean simply that the per capita income that Americans can expect to earn on their aggregate wealth is half of what it was in 1981. How did it come to this?

1981 2014
Nominal Wealth (Bns) $11,975 $97,067
Wealth in 1982 Dollars (Bns) $13,639 $41,107
Per Capita Wealth in 1982 Dollars $59,539 $128,457
Income Per Capita from Wealth, 1982 Dollars $9,387 $6,089


On paper, to be sure, the wealth of Americans has risen to $97 trillion in 2014 from $11.975 in 1981. After adjusting for inflation, wealth has tripled from $13.6 trillion in 1982 dollars to $41.1 in 1982 dollars. Adjusting for the growth in population, per capital wealth has doubled, to $128,457 per American in 1982 dollars from $59,539 per American in 1982 dollars.

If we were Scrooge McDuck, and enjoyed wallowing in a swimming pool filled with currency, there would be no problem. But people accumulate wealth in order to earn income. The incomethat Americans can earn on their wealth has shrunk, because prospective returns to capital have fallen. Long-term medium-grade (Moody’s Baa-rated) bond yields are the lowest in half a century.  At a yield of just 4.74% for long-term corporate bonds, the aggregate wealth of Americans would generate a paltry $1,903 per capital in 1982 dollars, against $3,965 per capital in 1981. In its capacity to generate income, the wealth of Americans stands at half the level of 1981.

1981 was a bit of an anomaly, because bond yields were extraordinarily high due to inflation and the Fed’s monetary tightening in response to inflation. But it’s clear from the chart below showing per capita interest income on the aggregate US private wealth that the great period of US wealth creation was between 1962 and 1975, when the Great Stagflation of the 1970s began. Since then, per capital income on wealth has fluctuated in the range of $6,000 to $8,000 1982 dollars.

There are two reasons that interest rates are so low. First, the Federal Reserve has kept short-term rates at the lowest level in history after adjusting for inflation since the 2008 financial crisis, and has added more than $4 trillion in bonds to its balance sheet. Both suppress the yield on all financial instruments.


Second, the prospective return on capital investments is low. We know this because US nonfinancial corporations have shifted from net borrowing during the 1980s and 1990s, to net lending during the 2000s. This is a long-term factor that monetary policy can’t change. Raising prospective return on capital would require drastic fiscal and regulatory reform.


US corporations can’t reinvest their profits in new projects, and overall economic growth remains at much lower levels than the growth rate that prevailed since the early 1980s. S&P corporations have doubled the amount of cash on their books in the past ten years.


This corresponds to what Nobel laureate Edmund Phelps calls a “structural slump,” characterized by a downshift in the growth rate of GDP.




Two rounds of capital misallocation–the Internet bubble of the 1990s and the housing bubble of the 2000’s–dissipated the gains of the Reagan era. America might have gotten away with one decade of misspent capital. Two decades made Americans poor. It is a Shibboleth that free markets allocate capital efficiently. No such thing is the case: allocation of capital ultimately depends on investors’ vision of the future, and a vision of the future founded on (for example) downloading pornography, games and popular music was warped to begin with. That was the issue I addressed in the first “Spengler” column for Asia Times Online in January 2000: if Internet stocks were not a bubble, it would mean that American culture had become pathological. By the same token, uninterupted increases in home prices were not consistent with a declining rate of family formation.

Another hallmark of shrinking growth expectations is the collapse of the “real” interest rate, gauged roughly by the yield on inflation-protected government bonds.

The income available on assets has shrunk. The present value of assets has risen because shrinking future growth prospects has reduced the discount rate on assets. America’s prospective retirees, including the top 20% of income earners who own most of the assets, are rich on paper but poor in terms of income. That helps explain why the consumer spending boom forecast by the consensus macroeconomic model never materialized.

Note: Part of this essay was published by Reorient Group Ltd (“The US Savings Gap: Implications for Consumer Spending”).

Over at Mosaic magazine, Tikvah Fund president Eric Cohen offers an essay on the “Spirit of Jewish Conservatism” without, however, mentioning the subject of Judaism — that is, Judaism in the normative sense of observance of Jewish law and Torah study. This is pointed out in the most courteous manner by a distinguished Jewish public intellectual, Herzl Institute president Yoram Hazony, in a response published in Mosaic this morning. As Hazony explains:

I am troubled, however, by one central issue. I do not understand the absence of God and Scripture from Cohen’s list of central “values and ideas” that he wants Jewish conservatives to conserve. To me, if his ambitious vision is to succeed, these have to be positioned at the head of the line…

Everyone understands that the Jews came into the world to fight for certain principles and to teach certain things. Everyone understands that Israel’s God and the tradition handed down from Sinai are at the very heart of the matter, and until only very recently have been the basis of all subsequent Jewish moral and political thought. The question facing us is whether, in formulating a new conservative-Jewish “ideology” (Cohen’s term), we can afford not to place front and center the principles that undoubtedly form the core of Jewish teaching—and that have animated and preserved the Jewish people for the last 25 or 30 centuries.

I have had some minor quibbles with Yoram Hazony, but I offer him the heartiest “yasher koach” (“More power to you”) for his riposte. The liberal Jewish denominations, which long confounded Judaism with what they mistake for social justice, have discovered that one doesn’t have to be Jewish to be a liberal, and are at risk of disappearing as a result. Their congregants cease to be Jews, but remain liberals. Neither does one not have to be Jewish to be a conservative. There are, I argued in this space earlier this month, inherently Jewish reasons to be conservative, but that is a different matter.

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