Thursday, May 28, 2009

Sotomayor, a Trailblazer and a Dreamer -

Woman in the News - Sotomayor, a Trailblazer and a Dreamer, May 27, 2009

Libertarian on Sotomayor and Merit

Sotomayor Pick Not Based on Merit, by Ilya Shapiro
This article appeared on on May 27, 2009

In picking Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama has confirmed that identity politics matter to him more than merit. While Judge Sotomayor exemplifies the American Dream, she would not have even been on the short list if she were not Hispanic.

She is not one of the leading lights of the federal judiciary, and far less qualified for a seat on the Supreme Court than Judges Diane Wood and Merrick Garland or Solicitor General Elena Kagan.
To be sure, Sotomayor has a compelling story: a daughter of working-class Puerto Ricans raised in Bronx public housing projects, diagnosed with diabetes at 8, losing her father at 9, accolades at Princeton and Yale Law, ending up on the federal bench.

Still, in over 10 years on the Second Circuit, she has not issued any important decisions or made a name for herself as a legal scholar or particularly respected jurist. In picking a case to highlight during his introduction of the nominee, President Obama had to go back to her days as a trial judge and a technical ruling that ended the 1994-95 baseball strike.

Moreover, Sotomayor has a mixed reputation among lawyers who have practiced before her, some questioning her abilities as a judicial craftsman, others her erratic temperament, according to a piece by Jeffrey Rosen in The New Republic, which itself has come in for criticism.

Such anecdotal criticism is to be taken with a grain of salt — while Justice Antonin Scalia's bench-side manner is more vinegar than honey, even his detractors recognize his brilliance — but it does need to be investigated. So, too, do certain statements she made in presentations at Berkeley and Duke, respectively, the former arguing that a Latina necessarily sees the law differently than a white man, the latter suggesting that, at least to some degree, judges make rather than interpret law.

Again, this does not mean that Sotomayor is unqualified to be a judge — or less qualified to be a Supreme Court justice than, say, Harriet Miers. It also does not detract from the history she would make as the first Hispanic Supreme Court nominee — if you don't count Benjamin Cardozo, a descendant of Portuguese Jews. But a Supreme Court nomination is not a lifetime achievement award, and should not be treated as an opportunity to practice affirmative action.

Ironically, it is race-based employment practices of another kind that will likely get this nomination in hottest water. Sotomayor was on a panel that summarily affirmed the dismissal of claims brought by firefighters, including one Hispanic, whose promotions were denied because they would be based on a (race-neutral) exam whose results didn't yield the "right" racial mix. Curiously, the Ricci v. DeStefano appellate panel issued a cursory "unpublished" opinion that failed to grapple with the complex legal issues presented in the case.

Sotomayor's colleague José Cabranes, a liberal Democrat, excoriated the panel, without expressing a view on the merits of the case. Cabranes' dissent from the Second Circuit's decision not to rehear the case caught the Supreme Court's attention and, based on the oral argument, the court will probably reverse Sotomayor's panel when it rules on the case next month. Sotomayor 'the new face of America'

We are thus likely to have the unusual scenario of a Supreme Court decision having a direct personal effect on a nominee's confirmation process, which will not only force Sotomayor onto the defensive but cost the president significant political capital. It will also show that Obama's calls for "empathy," echoed by Sotomayor's citing her personal experiences as a Latina, ring hollow.

If Frank Ricci, a dyslexic fireman who sacrificed significant time and money and was denied promotion solely for his skin color, is not an empathetic figure, I'm not sure who is. And that is the larger point: A jurisprudence of empathy is the antithesis of the rule of law.

As then-Judge John Roberts said at his confirmation hearing: "If the Constitution says that the little guy should win, then the little guy's going to win in the court before me. But if the Constitution says that the big guy should win, well then the big guy's going to win, because my obligation is to the Constitution."

In any event, Senate Republicans will now have to decide what posture to take: combative or deferential, political or analytical. With the president still at the height of his popularity and solid Democratic control of the Senate (even without Arlen Specter and Al Franken), the GOP is unlikely to sustain a filibuster or even, unless outrage over the Ricci case grows, vote Sotomayor down.

What they should do instead is force a full public debate about constitutional interpretation, probing Sotomayor's judicial philosophy and refusing to accept nonresponsive answers that mouth platitudes or avoid taking firm legal positions.

Now is the time to show the American people the stark differences between the two parties on one of the few issues on which the stated Republican view continues to command strong and steady support. If the party is serious about constitutionalism and the rule of law, it should use this opportunity for education, not grandstanding.

And if Democrats insist on playing identity politics, I suggest a two-word response: Miguel Estrada, the Honduran immigrant with his own rags-to-riches story whose nomination to the D.C. Circuit Democrats successfully filibustered, effectively preventing George W. Bush from naming the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice.

The Transportation-Housing Trade-Offs of Suburban, Urban and Rural Living

The Tipping Point: The Transportation-Housing Trade-Offs of Suburban, Urban and Rural Living. By Alan Pisarski
Heritage White Paper, May 22, 2009

In March 2009, the Secretaries of the Departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development issued a joint press release announcing a new interagency partnership and task force to create "affordable, sustainable communities." Among the several projects this partnership and its task forces will take on is the development of a new cost index that combines housing and transportation costs by "redefining affordability and making it transparent."

Efforts to "redefine" and "make transparent" housing and transportation costs have been the subject of a growing debate over the past decade as opposing sides of the cities versus suburbs debate and the cars versus trolleys debate have offered up conflicting data on the relative costs of these choices. How the new DOT/HUD partnership will address these issues and competing contentions is unknown, but many recent state and local trends on these issues suggest a narrowing of opportunity for the average household is the chief risk.

The recent jump in gasoline prices has heightened interest in these issues as Americans have cut back on their driving, while transit has captured at most about 3 percent of this decline. Some wonder if these Hummer-loving, McMansion-living families are finally getting what's coming to them. And will they all come crawling back to the city to live in apartments and bicycle to work?
Many issues have been raised as the call increases for policy intercession, which basically take offense at the public's choices:
  • The public spends too much on transportation.
  • The low-income population is "transportation poor."
  • The transportation trade-off with housing costs has created losses for households.
  • The sprawling of jobs to the suburbs is a problem that needs to be solved.
Do these things happen because the public is coerced by circumstances, or are they just making really dumb choices? Somehow the sense is that these mistaken choices can be resolved by everyone coming back to the cities and the jobs returning with them.

This presentation works its way through the morass of conflicting claims and provides some factual outlines for a sensible policy structure. The presentation focuses in particular on two issues in this debate: 1) The transportation–housing trade-offs of suburban, urban, and rural living, and 2) the massive importance of access to skilled workers in our future economy.


WaPo: Why Chinese consumers need to be an integral part of the global recovery

In Search of Buyers. WaPo Editorial
Why Chinese consumers need to be an integral part of the global recovery
WaPo, Thursday, May 28, 2009

CHINA LENT it, the United States spent it, is a boiled-down description of the economic relationship between the two countries over the past decade. U.S. consumers gobbled up inexpensive Chinese goods (as well as those from other countries), fueling high levels of global growth. The Chinese amassed huge savings, which were in large part used to fund U.S. borrowing. That's not exactly a virtuous cycle, but it's one that became hard to break -- and for the most part, no one really wanted to.

However, it is highly unlikely that U.S. consumers will spend us out of this downturn. Research from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco suggests that U.S. household leverage, which increased from 65 percent in the mid-1980s to 130 percent today, will come down significantly from such stratospheric levels, dampening U.S. consumption growth for quite some time. This deleveraging is in order -- such high debt rates are clearly unsustainable -- but it could also jeopardize what is likely to be a shaky recovery if there is no clear alternative purchaser of the world's goods. Though the United States and other governments are doing their parts through massive coordinated stimulus policies, that will not serve as a permanent solution. As last week's warning from Standard & Poor's about a possible downgrade of Great Britain's AAA bond rating made clear, countries with deficits will have to turn their attention from borrowing to closing their budget gaps once the recovery takes hold.

With its high saving rates and massive population, China has naturally attracted attention as a potential driver of consumption growth. Chinese families haven't been big spenders in the past (the country's spending has been more focused on government investment), due to cultural norms and low incomes. One of the largest factors is a lack of safety net and insurance programs, which forces families to set aside much of their incomes as precautionary savings. Measures to broaden the Chinese middle class and provide some basic economic security could free up immense amounts of cash that could be used to help get the global economy back on its feet. Indeed, the Chinese government has recently introduced new health-care and pension benefits, which should contribute a good deal to Chinese families' spending.

Pressures to speed up the process or to move it in a certain direction are unlikely to be greeted warmly by China. For years, the International Monetary Fund has been urging it to take measures to increase household incomes and the flexibility of its currency. The Chinese respond that they would like to take a bigger role in governing the IMF, not just take guidance from it. Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner will have to approach the topic delicately during his trip to China next week.

The match that lit Germany's radicals was a Stasi spy - Karl-Heinz Kurras

Ghosts of the '60s in Germany. WSJ Editorial
The match that lit Germany's radicals was a Stasi spy.
WSJ, May 28, 2009

The past can never be predicted, and perhaps never more so than when it comes to the German left. Two years ago, we learned that Nobel Laureate Günter Grass -- the literary scourge of all things fascist, especially America -- had himself been a member of the Waffen SS. Now comes another zinger that casts the radical political and social upheavals of the late 1960s in new and revealing light.

The historical surprise concerns a turning point whose ripple effects were felt in Europe and beyond. On June 2, 1967, a West German policeman fatally shot an unarmed, 26-year-old literature student in the back of his head during a demonstration in West Berlin against the visiting Shah of Iran. Benno Ohnesorg became "the left wing's first martyr" (per the weekly Der Spiegel). His dying moments captured in a famous news photograph, Ohnesorg galvanized a generation of left-wing students and activists who rose up in the iconic year of 1968. What was a fringe soon turned to terrorism.

To them his killer, Karl-Heinz Kurras, was the "fascist cop" at the service of a capitalist, pro-American "latent fascist state." "The post-fascist system has become a pre-fascist one," the German Socialist Student Union declared in their indictment hours after the killing. The ensuing movement drew its legitimacy and fervor from the Ohnesorg killing. Further enraging righteous passions, Mr. Kurras was acquitted by a court and returned to the police force.

Now all that's being turned on its head. Last week, a pair of German historians unearthed the truth about Mr. Kurras. Since 1955, he had worked for the Stasi, East Germany's dreaded secret police. According to voluminous Stasi archives, his code name was Otto Bohl. The files don't say whether the Stasi ordered him to do what he did in 1967. But that only fuels speculation about a Stasi hand behind one of postwar Germany's transformative events.

Mr. Kurras, who is 81 and lives in Berlin, told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper that he belonged to the East German Communist Party. "Should I be ashamed of that or something?" He denied he was paid to spy for the Stasi, but asked, "What if I did work for them? What does it matter? It doesn't change anything." Mr. Kurras may be the monster of the leftist imagination -- albeit now it turns out he is one of their own.

To answer his last question, this revelation matters. It belies yet again the claims of the '68 hard left, passed on to our times as anti-globalization riots, that a free market and liberal democracy are somehow "fascistic." This brand of intolerance is at core prone to violence. The true, ruthless heirs to National Socialism and the Gestapo were the East German regime and the Stasi, the Soviets and the KGB. And in turn, some of the terrorist groups that emerged from the radicalization of the 1960s.

Present in Berlin that June day in 1967 were Ulrike Meinhof and Gudrun Ensslin, who went on to found the "Baader-Meinhof Gang," aka the Red Army Faction. From 1968 until 1991, the RAF carried out dozens of kidnappings, bombing and murders -- all to fight the "roots of capitalism" and a "resurgent Nazi state." As 1968 historian Paul Berman notes, the most famous terrorist organization born in this era was the Palestinian Liberation Organization. The analogue in the U.S. became the Weather Underground.

Some '68ers grew up and peeled away. Others took time to see its dark side. An early reveille came at the 1972 Munich Olympics, when PLO gunmen aided by a leftist German group, the Revolutionary Cells, took hostage and killed 11 Israeli athletes and coaches. The 1974 publication of Alexander Solzhenitsyn's "Gulag Archipelago" was another. So was Pol Pot, the Vietnamese boat people; the list goes on.

Historical amnesia makes us vulnerable to repeating mistakes. Particularly in an America, where many quickly forgot the lessons of the Cold War and of 9/11. More than most nations, Germans are condemned to a living history. That turns up the kinds of surprises that force a hard re-examination of the past and the present.

The disciplanarians of U.S. policy makers return

The Bond Vigilantes. WSJ Editorial
The disciplanarians of U.S. policy makers return.
WSJ, May 28, 2009

They're back. We refer to the global investors once known as the bond vigilantes, who demanded higher Treasury bond yields from the late 1970s through the 1990s whenever inflation fears popped up, and as a result disciplined U.S. policy makers. The vigilantes vanished earlier this decade amid the credit mania, but they appear to be returning with a vengeance now that Congress and the Federal Reserve have flooded the world with dollars to beat the recession.
Treasury yields leapt again yesterday at the long end, with the 10-year note climbing above 3.7%, its highest close since November. Treasury yields had stayed low, and the dollar had remained strong, as long as investors were looking for the safest financial port amid the post-September panic. But as risk aversion subsides, and investors return to corporate bonds and other assets, investors are now calculating the risks of renewed dollar inflation.

They have cause to be worried, given Washington's astonishing bet on fiscal and monetary reflation. The Obama Administration's epic spending spree means the Treasury will have to float trillions of dollars in new debt in the next two or three years alone. Meanwhile, the Fed has gone beyond cutting rates to directly purchasing such financial assets as mortgage-backed securities, as well as directly monetizing federal debt by buying Treasurys for the first time in half a century. No wonder the Chinese and other dollar asset holders are nervous. They wonder -- as do we -- whether the unspoken Beltway strategy is to pay off this debt by inflating away its value.

The surge in the 10-year note is especially notable because its rate helps to determine mortgage lending rates. The Fed is desperate to keep mortgage rates low to reflate the housing market, and last week it promised to inject hundreds of billions of dollars more in this effort. This week the bond vigilantes are showing what they think of that offer, bidding up yields even higher. It's not going too far to say we are watching a showdown between Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and bond investors, otherwise known as the financial markets. When in doubt, bet on the markets.

Autism Exploitation

Autism Exploitation. By Marvin Schissel
ACSH, May 27, 2009

The rate of diagnosed autism in the country today has increased from 1 in 10,000 in 1995 to 1 in 150 today. However, this likely reflects increased information and awareness about autism, the expansion of diagnostic criteria, more thorough and accurate diagnoses, and the classification of many cases as autism that would previously have been recorded as mental retardation. Autism is a lifelong condition that has a devastating effect on individuals and on their families. It is understandable that those involved with the autism spectrum can be desperate for help, for any hope of help. And this desperation makes them ready prey for charlatans.

There are therapies, ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis) and CBT (Cognitive,Behavior Therapy), that are considered helpful. But they are not widely available, can be expensive and time consuming, and may offer only limited progress. This sets the stage for sham artists who eagerly hurl themselves into the breach with information and treatment that is false, ineffective and harmful.

The false assertion that connects autism with vaccines and mercury has led to lower vaccination rates and a marked increase in those major diseases that vaccination protected against; should the trend continue we may be faced with an epidemic. But promoters of this deceit are cashing in with books, lectures, and, worst of all, scientifically unsupported treatments that are not only ineffective but can be dangerous. Such treatments include chelation, hyperbaric oxygen, lupron, and a wide variety of other questionable therapies, diets, and ineffective behavioral regimens.

The vaccine quackery started in 1998 with a published paper by Andrew Wakefield and twelve others that suggested a link with MMR vaccine and autism. This study was criticized as flawed and ten of its twelve authors have since disassociated themselves from its assertions.

Subsequently it was revealed that previous to the study Wakefield had received well over a half million dollars from lawyers hoping to sue vaccine companies. Recently it was claimed that Wakefield falsified his data. Worse yet, it has been discovered that Wakefield, prior to his publication, had applied for a patent for a new measles vaccine: if he could prove the old vaccine was dangerous a new vaccine would be very profitable. But the bottom line is that with all the studies that have been done worldwide involving over half a million children, no association between autism and vaccines has ever been demonstrated, and this counterfeit controversy has been scientifically laid to rest. Unfortunately, this phony issue still rages among the scientifically ignorant public.

In the news recently have been the activities of Dr. Mark Geier and his son David, longtime campaigners in the arena of dubious autism activity. Mark Geier has appeared as an "expert" witness in over a hundred cases, although he has been criticized by courts for being intellectually dishonest and not having appropriate training, expertise and experience. Reputable scientists have repeatedly dismissed the Geiers' autism research as seriously flawed. A front-page article in the NY Times actually made fun of the pretentions of the Geiers and their naive lab facilities. But they are not deterred by criticism, and their latest venture is opening clinics around the country offering autism treatment with the dangerous drug Lupron. Lupron alters levels of testosterone and is sometimes used to chemically castrate sex offenders; no scientific support exists for it to treat autism. To use it for autism has been called irresponsible.

Wakefield and the Geiers are by no means the only offenders in the autism world. They are just two examples of the probably thousands of impostors exploiting the desperation of the autism community. The only solution will be a better understanding on the part of the public of the principles of science, and a much clear-cut and louder noise made by the legitimate scientific community.

Dr. Marvin J. Schissel is a dentist and an advisor to the American Council on Science and Health, the National Council Against Health Fraud, and the Committee for Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal and has a son with autism.

Pres. Clinton Concedes Spain’s Green Jobs Program “Has Cost Many Jobs”

In España, Veritas: Pres. Clinton Concedes Spain’s Green Jobs Program “Has Cost Many Jobs”
Former president channels Prof. Gabriel Calzada in delivering veiled rebuke of Obama’s Spanish-inspired green jobs plan
The Institute for Energy Research , May 27, 2009

Washington, DC – Spain’s decade-long program to subsidize the creation and continued existence of so-called green jobs through a massive infusion of taxpayer resources “has cost many jobs,” former President Bill Clinton admitted to a Spanish audience at the European University of Madrid this week, according to the Spanish daily newspaper El Mundo (a translated version of the piece can be found below).

The statement mirrors closely the findings of a recent study authored by Professor Gabriel Calzada of Spain, a report that has attracted attention in the United States as the current president continues to cite Spain as a model to be followed in promoting a similar green jobs plan here at home.

In response to former President Clinton’s comments, Institute for Energy Research (IER) president Thomas J. Pyle issued the following statement:

“Though efforts continue to be made in the United States to discredit the Spanish green jobs study, and even personally attack its author, President Clinton’s affirmation of its core findings serves as just the latest reminder that the facts are what they are – and they aren’t pretty. More than 10 years and nearly $40 billion in public investment later, Spain still only acquires less than one percent of its power from solar, and the vast majority of the so-called green jobs created by the government to support that industry are no longer in existence today. If this is the model for near-term economic growth and long-term energy security that President Obama envisions for our country, we may be in for a longer, more severe recession than we know.”

Please find below the translated version of the El Mundo article:

–Clinton: Green Energy “Has Cost Many Jobs”
J. G. Gallego/C. CaballeroEl Mundo, p. 46May 23, 2009

Madrid — Former US President turned ecologist Bill Clinton is aware of the impact on employment by the development on renewable energy. Even though he is, as a former dweller of the White House, one of the most visible supporters in that industry, the US Democrat recognized yesterday that clean energies “have cost many jobs” in Spain.

Though without citing it directly, Clinton was acknowledging yesterday during his conference in Madrid that the study about the impact of public support on renewable energies, released by Universidad Rey Juan Carlos, has very valid conclusions.

That report, which has received enormous coverage in US media and been used against Barack Obama’s energy policy, argues that every job in renewable energies created in Spain in the year 2000 has cost 571138 Euros and has been the cause of the loss of 2.2 jobs elsewhere in the economy.

Bill Clinton recognized yesterday that “this commitment to clean energy has cost many jobs” while at the same time calling for Spain to intensify investment in this industry to be able to turn high costs into new jobs.–

NOTE: Former President Clinton’s comments in Madrid making the link between “green” government intervention and the hemorrhaging of jobs and opportunity follows a statement he made last year in which he suggested that “we just have to slow down our economy … because we’ve got to save the planet for our grandchildren.”

More from IER on the fallacy and unintended consequences of “green jobs”:

Spanish Report: Study of the Effects on Employment of Public Aid to Renewable Energy Sources
Study: Green Jobs: Fact or Fiction?
Study: Seven Myths about Green Jobs
Blog: Green Jobs That Nobody Wants
Blog: It Takes a Lot of Government Green to Create a Green Job