Friday, August 05, 2011

Debt ceiling more an abyss

By Mark Steyn
The Orange County Register
August 5, 2011

On Thursday, in honor of Barack Obama's 50th birthday, the Dow dropped 10 points for every year he has walked among us. It was the ninth-largest drop in history. We should be relieved he wasn't turning 80.

The markets are apparently concerned that the entire global economy may be "stalling."

You don't say? Observant fellows, these market chappies.

And yet, in a certain sense, these are still the good times. At the end of the week, U.S. Treasury yields plunged to Eisenhower-era rates. America, explained Ethan Harris of Bank of America Merrill Lynch, "still gets the safe-haven money." That's to say, as crazy as Washington is, Europe is perceived to be crazier. In confirmation of the point, over in Italy, which is (believe it or not) a G7 economy, police raided Moody's and Standard & Poor's over allegations that all the meanie things that the rating agencies have been saying about the Italian economy were having an impact on Italian stock prices. Apparently that's a crime in Italy. They're not yet shooting the messenger. But they are dragging him through the streets in chains pour encourager les autres. Good luck with that.

But I wonder if "the safe-haven money" is quite as safe as its investors assume. Under the "historic" "resolution" of the debt crisis (and don't those very words "debt crisis" already feel so last week?), America will be cutting federal spending by $900 billion over 10 years. "Cutting federal spending by $900 billion over 10 years" is Washington-speak for increasing federal spending by $7 trillion over 10 years. And, as they'd originally planned to increase it by $8 trillion, that counts as a cut. If they'd planned to increase it by $20 trillion and then settled for merely $15 trillion, they could have saved five trillion. See how easy this is?

As part of this historic "cut," we've now raised the "debt ceiling" – or, more accurately, lowered the debt abyss. Do you ever discuss the debt with your neighbor? Do you think he has any serious intention to repay the 15 trillion racked up in his and your name? Does your congressman? Does your senator? Look into their eyes. You can see the answer. And, if none of these parties seem inclined to pay down the debt now, what are the chances they'll feel like doing so by 2020 when, under these historic "cuts," it's up to 23-25 trillion?

Like America's political class, I have also been thinking about America circa 2020. Indeed, I've written a book on the subject. My prognosis is not as rosy as the Boehner-Obama deal, as attentive readers might just be able to deduce from the subtle clues in the title: "After America: Get Ready For Armageddon". Oh, don't worry, I'm not one of these "declinists". I'm way beyond that, and in the express lane to total societal collapse. The fecklessness of Washington is an existential threat not only to the solvency of the republic but to the entire global order. If Ireland goes under, it's lights out on Galway Bay. When America goes under, it drags the rest of the developed world down with it.

When I go around the country saying stuff like this, a lot of folks agree. Somewhere or other, they've a vague memory of having seen a newspaper story accompanied by a Congressional Budget Office graph with the line disappearing off the top of the page and running up the wall and into the rafters circa mid-century. So they usually say, "Well, fortunately, I won't live to see it." And I always reply that, unless you're a centenarian with priority boarding for the Obamacare death panel, you will live to see it. Forget about mid-century. We've got until mid-decade to turn this thing around.

Otherwise, by 2020 just the interest payments on the debt will be larger than the U.S. military budget. That's not paying down the debt, but merely staying current on the servicing – like when you get your MasterCard statement, and you can't afford to pay off any of what you borrowed but you can just about cover the monthly interest charge. Except in this case the interest charge for U.S. taxpayers will be greater than the military budgets of China, Britain, France, Russia, Japan, Germany, Saudi Arabia, India, Italy, South Korea, Brazil, Canada, Australia, Spain, Turkey and Israel combined.

When interest payments consume about 20 percent of federal revenue, that means a fifth of your taxes are entirely wasted. Pious celebrities often simper that they'd be willing to pay more in taxes for better government services. But a fifth of what you pay won't be going to government services at all, unless by "government services" you mean the People's Liberation Army of China, which will be entirely funded by U.S. taxpayers by about 2015. When the Visigoths laid siege to Rome in 408, the imperial Senate hastily bought off the barbarian king Alaric with 5,000 pounds of gold and 30,000 pounds of silver. But they didn't budget for Roman taxpayers picking up the tab for the entire Visigoth military as a permanent feature of life.

And even those numbers pre-suppose interest rates will remain at their present historic low. Last week, the firm of Macroeconomic Advisors, one of the Obama administration's favorite economic analysts, predicted that interest rates on 10-year Treasury notes would be just shy of nine percent by 2021. If that number is right, there are two possibilities: The Chinese will be able to quintuple the size of their armed forces and stick us with the tab. Or we'll be living in a Mad Max theme park. I'd bet on the latter myself.

Did you know there's a U.S. Bureau of the Public Debt? Hey, why not? There's a bureaucracy for everything else. I'm sure somewhere or other there's a CBO graph showing that by 2050 all federal revenue will be going either to the Chinese Politburo or to the lavish pension plans of retired officials of the Bureau of the Public Debt. At any rate, the BPD is headquartered in Parkersburg, West Virginia, and it's easy to find because it's the only building in the state other than the Klan lodge not named after Robert C. Byrd. The Bureau uses as its motto the words of Alexander Hamilton:

"The United States debt, foreign and domestic, was the price of liberty."

But in the early 21st century foreign and domestic debt is a threat to liberty. As the Brokest Nation in History drowns in its profligacy, its commissars will grow ever more rapacious and desperate. If you think Obama's dreary attempt to blame America's woes on corporate-jet owners is unbecoming to the chief of state, wait till he's reduced to complaining about two-car families. By the way, if you're reading this out on the runway at O'Hare, what's the difference between a corporate jet landing and Obama flying in?

With Air Force One, even when they switch the engines off, all you can hear is the whining.

No author writes a dystopian apocalyptic doomsday book because he wants it to happen: Apart from anything else, the collapse of the banking system makes it hard to cash the royalty check. You write a doomsday book in hopes you can stop it happening. But time is running short. If you think we've got until 2050 or 2025, you're part of the problem.


Thursday, August 04, 2011

New Muslim 'Reality' Show Is Anything But

by Raymond Ibrahim
August 4, 2011

The American TV network TLC recently announced that it is making a reality series following the lives of Muslims living in America. The program—called "All American Muslim"—will follow five Muslim families in Dearborn, Michigan, hoping to expose the "misconceptions and conflicts" they face "outside and within" their own community…In a statement TLC's general manager Amy Winter said:…"Through these families and their diverse experiences, we will explore how they blend their values and traditions with everyday life in America." She added the program would provide: "Insight into their culture with care and compassion."

In other words, at a time when the need for objective knowledge concerning Islam is at a premium, many Americans are to be subliminally indoctrinated on what Islam is really about—not through Muslim theology or history, nor yet politics and current events—but rather by a "reality" show of a handful of American Muslims.

One of TLC's goals in airing this program is to show us "diversity" in Islam: According to the network's statement: "The families featured in the series share the same religion, but lead very distinct lives that oftentimes challenge the Muslim stereotype."

For example, there is a girl that "sports piercings and tattoos"—as if the fact that a tattoo-wearing American female who identifies herself as a Muslim is supposed to tell us anything about Islam. Other characters are not so colorful, but are formulated simply to gain sympathy for Muslims: their claim to fame is that they are "trying to find the balance between their traditional Muslim roots and American culture," or working "tirelessly to educate … about the Muslim religion in an effort to reduce discrimination and ignorance."

In short, through five families who supposedly represent a religion of over one billion, the show is dedicated to depicting Muslims as "just like us." Indeed, one might argue that these five families are not even representative of their own Muslim neighbors in Dearborn, chosen by the producers for having "one of America's largest Muslim populations and has the largest mosque in North America."

In fact, Dearborn is also a hotbed of Muslim extremism, where the FBI had a shoot-out in the streets with jihadists; where a former resident was indicted in a Hezbollah terror plot targeting Israel; where one American politician says Sharia law holds sway; and where a Christian preacher was threatened by shouts of "Allahu Akbar!"

Will these sorts of "diverse experiences" find their way into the reality show?

What is more ironic is that TLC's motives appear superfluous and unnecessary: the same report does not conclude by saying that, because anti-Muslim sentiment is on the rise in America it needs to be combated by such shows, but quite the opposite: "The announcement comes as positive attitudes in America towards Muslims appear to be on the rise. Earlier this year CNN found that 46 percent of Americans have a positive view of American Muslims, while 26 percent have an [sic] negative view. In 2002, the number of Americans with a positive view of Muslims stood at 39 percent."

One may argue that this is just a show, and that people should know better than to base their opinions of Islam on it. While this is true, it is also true that the ideas and images that the media presents to us tend to condition people's perceptions and opinions— a consequence especially critical at a time of war.

If one truly wished to understand the differences between the Muslim and Western mindsets, one need only look to their respective medias. Far from trying to depict the "other"—the infidel—as "just one of us," the Arab media is devoted to making the West look as if it is on a "crusade" to destroy Islam, and that the Jews are "pigs and monkeys" who are behind any number of animal-related conspiracies. Meanwhile, here is America's media, floating in an idealistic, Utopian bubble, conditioning minds accordingly.
Raymond Ibrahim, a widely published author on Islam, is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and an Associate Fellow at the Middle East Forum.

Today's Tune: Billy Joe Shaver - Georgia on a Fast Train (Live)

AAA or AA: Important for Choosing Batteries Not for Our Financial Future

By Claude Sandroff
August 4, 2011

Standard and Poor's has warned that there's a 50% chance it would downgrade the credit rating of the United States of America from its once-untarnished AAA perch to a Spain-like AA. It seems that the credit rating agency and its peers including Moody's are finally concerned about the creditworthiness of the US, even with a debt ceiling compromise. And they are looking for firm government commitments to large cuts in spending, perhaps as large as $4 trillion. Or else.

First, what took them so long? Second, who cares? After all, it was once the case that S&P and the other ratings agency declared Freddie and Fannie mortgage obligations to be AAA as well. We might forgive their incompetence and conflict-laden corruption if they hadn't been a major agent in the mortgage meltdown disaster of 2008 and all that it engendered, from TARP to the 2009 stimulus and from QE 1 to QE 2. But who, at this stage in our country's path to insolvency and currency degradation, is naive enough to take any proclamation by a rating agency seriously?

The opportunity to downgrade our debt for maximum effect has long since passed. A downgrade might have riveted our attention had it come in January 2010 a year after the stimulus package added $860 billion to our debt but led to no rise in employment levels therefore providing no new source of organic growth to offset Obama's added debt. Or perhaps a downgrade might have been welcome on March 22, 2010, the day after ObamaCare passed, promising to add another $1 trillion to the national debt. Maybe a downgrade was appropriate last Friday, completely unrelated to the debt ceiling negotiations, but rather reflecting the downward revision in gross domestic product to under 1% for the first half of 2011.

Instead of enduring another dead-boring press conference presided over by Obama, Reid, or Boehner, S&P, Moody's, and Fitch should have scheduled their own press conferences on stages festooned with black bunting. That might have helped rouse the country from its slumber of dependency.
But even in less turbulent economic times, downgrades by the ratings firms have a mixed predictive history. Tom Lauricella of the Wall Street Journal cataloged the effect of agency downgrades on stock, bond, and currency markets, in several countries with original AAA ratings. In Australia in 1986 and Canada in 1995 the major indices rallied after the downgrade. And in Australia the dollar rallied as well, though in Sweden in 1991 the krona crashed after the downgrade. Clearly a ratings agency downgrade is hardly a death knell, and each unhappy country is unhappy for its own reasons.

Of course, the US is not Australia, Canada, or Sweden, at least not yet. It possesses the world's reserve currency and the deepest, most liquid bond markets. So a US debt downgrade by any of the major ratings firms might cause a reflexive sell-off in US financial assets. But then again, perhaps the opposing reflex will prevail. Investors might panic because Obama has dragged us down from our once-exalted and exceptional heights. Or, investors might be temporarily consoled that with the downgrade will come a corrective remedy to our fiscal follies. We might arrive at the long-awaited recognition that much of our recent affluence was illusory based on excessive debt not on private productivity. Or maybe S&P will just be ignored, and the wisdom of markets alone will determine how much and at what terms the world will lend to us. The credibility of the agencies might be so damaged that everyone decides to completely ignore their belated wake-up call.

Indeed, it's our overspending government, underperforming economy, and flagging dollar that pose our major long-term problems, not our ability to borrow based on agency ratings. An indication of this came during a dizzying 12-hour period from Sunday night into Monday that first saw the Dow futures up nearly 200 points when a debt ceiling breakthrough compromise was announced and futures markets immediately relieved, soared euphorically only to crash on Monday when a miserable Institute for Supply Management number was reported. Well below estimates of 54.5%, the July ISM report came in at 50.9%, indicating a manufacturing sector on the verge of contracting. The real economy trumped the ratings bureaucrats.

Whether or not S&P decides to follow through on their threat of a downgrade (and they might be intimidated to shelve it), a downgrade is among the least of our financial worries. Our legislative branch seems to believe that adding only $7 trillion to our debt between now and 2020 instead of $10 trillion represents a victory for prudent budgeting. And even that modest $3-trillion haircut is merely a theoretical or aspirational number. Nothing can bind a congress in 2018 to follow the will of Americans expressed in 2011. And that's a more frightening thought than any credit downgrade.

Claude can be reached at

When Obama Hands You Lemons...

By Mark Steyn
August 4, 2011

. . . the state enforcers won’t let you make lemonade.

Iain Murray wrote yesterday about the spate of lemonade-stand crackdowns by this once great republic’s depraved regulatory class. This is not a small thing. A land in which a child requires hundreds of dollars of permits to sell homemade lemonade in his front yard is, in a profound sense, no longer free: It is exactly the kind of micro-regulatory tyranny of which Tocqueville warned two centuries ago.

Guest-hosting for Rush a week or two back, I suggested en passant that we needed a children’s version of the Tea Party — a Lemonade Party. I see now that a concerned citizen is organizing a Lemonade Freedom Day for August 20th.

By the way, our fellow NR cruiser Ed Driscoll has posted an excerpt from my new book about another curious priority of the control freaks of the Brokest Nation In History: The church bake-sale pie crackdown. I hesitate to channel Martin Niemöller (“First they came for the kid next door’s lemonade stand and I did nothing, then they came for the widder woman across the street’s maple pecan pie”), but this is a sustained assault by the state on civic participation, and thus on citizenship itself.

The proper response of any self-respecting seven-year-old girl on being told she needs the state’s permission to sell homemade lemonade is, “You’ll never take me alive, copper!”

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Environmentalists give pass to eagle-killing windmills

By Ralph Alter
August 3, 2011

Greenies love their wildlife, and go ga-ga over eagles. But they are willing to overlook horrific raptor carnage caused by windmills. According to Louis Sahagun at the L.A. Times, windmill farms have been decimating bird and bat populations nationwide for over a decade.
Nationwide, about 440,000 birds are killed at windfarms each year, according to the (Federal) Wildlife Service.
Finally federal Fish and Wildlife Services authorities are investigating the deaths of golden eagles at the Pine Tree Wind Project in the Tehachapi Mountains outside Los Angeles. Unlike the logging industry in the Pacific Northwest, whose activities were seriously curtailed to protect the spotted owl, or the Alaskan oil pipeline, whose construction was delayed by the propaganda generated by the New York Times in the interest of protecting caribou herds, environmentalist wackos have remained silent about the slaughter of birds by dangerous and unproductive windmill farms.
Wind farms have been killing birds for decades and law enforcement has done nothing about it, so this investigation is long overdue (said Shawn Smallwood, an expert in on raptor ecology and wind farms.) Its going to ruffle wind industry feathers across the country.
Golden eagles are big birds, weighing up to 40 pounds and their large size and wing speed make it difficult for them to navigate amongst wind turbine blades spinning at up to 200 mph, especially when in pursuit of prey. 6 golden eagle deaths have been reported at Pine Tree and an average of 67 golden eagle deaths annually are reported at the larger Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area in Northern California. All told, it is estimated that 1,595 birds die each year at the Pine Tree Wind Project.
Local authorities seem inclined to downplay or disregard the deaths as they seek to reach Los Angeles's goal of 35% of its energy generated by renewables by 2020. The American Wind Energy Association, flacks for the windmill brigade, would have us believe that
...far more birds are killed by collisions with radio towers, tall buildings,airplanes and vehicles and encounters with household cats (than with windmills.)
I know I don't want any windmills in my neighborhood. They are unsightly and a preposterous excuse for energy generation. Then again, I don't think I am ready for neighbors with housecats that prey on golden eagles either.

Ralph Alter is a regular contributor to American Thinker.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Forsyth’s Shadowy Jackal Celebrates 40 Years of Assassination: Interview

By Hephzibah Anderson - Jul 31, 2011

Frederick Forsyth, author of "The Day of the Jackal." Photographer: Gill Shaw/Random House via Bloomberg

Over the course of 14 novels, Frederick Forsyth has manipulated Nazis, terrorists and kidnappers. In the name of research, he has hobnobbed with drug dealers, infiltrated the arms trade and weathered an African coup. Yet the bestselling thriller writer is no match for an excitable Jack Russell puppy.

We’re on the wisteria-clad terrace of his home in England’s bucolic Buckinghamshire, and the aptly named Sassy is running circles around him. Literally.

She’s the youngest in a dynasty of terriers that Forsyth began acquiring when he left London for a farm after his first marriage ended in 1988. Though he has now remarried and downsized (even with a farm manager, 400 ewes were a handful), he still needs time alone, he says. It’s one of the traits this otherwise bluff, convivial 72-year-old shares with his celebrated villains.

“Some people are terrified of being alone,” he says over hot tea and ginger cookies. “I’m absolutely the reverse. There are periods when I need to be alone, like Greta Garbo.”

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the publication of “The Day of the Jackal,” which features one of popular fiction’s most memorable loners, the nameless assassin hired by the Organisation de l’Armee Secrete (OAS), a real-life French extremist group, to kill President Charles de Gaulle.

Portable Typewriter

It was Forsyth’s first novel, written in just 35 days at the start of 1970. He’d returned to a particularly frigid London, worn out from reporting on the Biafran conflict. Unemployed, sleeping on a friend’s couch and badly in need of cash, he sat down at his bullet-scarred portable typewriter and began bashing out a novel he’d conceived years earlier, as a “junior junior” foreign correspondent in Paris.

His job back then had been to trail de Gaulle in case he was assassinated -- which seemed a good possibility in the wake of Algerian independence. The young Forsyth figured otherwise.

“I was watching, and worked out in my head that the OAS were not going to get him. His security was too good and they were too amateurish. I thought to myself the only way they could get him is by bringing in an outsider.”

Four publishers turned the novel down, unable to see the point in a book about killing de Gaulle when de Gaulle was already in retirement. Where was the suspense? The point is to find out how close the Jackal gets, Forsyth says.

Seeing the World

Growing up in a small English market town, Forsyth had two aspirations, neither of them literary: to fly and to see the world. National Service granted his first wish and work as a foreign correspondent the second. Journalism also taught him the research skills that define him as a novelist.

Though he has switched from a manual to an electric typewriter, Forsyth refuses to have anything to do with computers, which rules out the Internet as a research tool. His preference is for first-hand observation, and it has landed him in some tight spots.

In 2009, for example, he was investigating the global cocaine trade for his most recent novel, “The Cobra.” Guinea- Bissau turned out to be an unexpected hub, and so off he set, arriving just in time to witness the start of a bloody coup d’etat.

The research is the only part of the writing process that Forsyth will admit to enjoying. “I’m a very unwriterly writer,” he says with a pinch of pride. He likes to play the mercenary, insisting that he became a novelist solely -- and misguidedly, he concedes with a laugh, given the fate of most first books -- for the money.

Backyard Fish Pond

The world has changed considerably in the four decades since “Jackal” was released, and I can’t help noticing that Forsyth is looking a little out of place even in his own home. Thanks to his wife’s passion for all things Oriental, this quintessential English buffer has a pair of plump Buddhas flanking his front door, an enormous Shinto bell sitting in the hallway and a Japanese bridge spanning the fish pond out back.

Fortunately for his fans, he has been stockpiling against obsolescence. “I have three of those still in the maker’s wrapper,” he says, gesturing to the Nakajima typewriter on his desk. “I’m just hoping that they’ll see me through. I’ll tap my last line as I hop off into the next world, leaving a ‘Goodbye,’ typewritten.”


A 40th-anniversary edition of “The Day of the Jackal” is published in the U.K. by Hutchinson (358 pages, 20 pounds). To buy this book in North America, click here.

(Hephzibah Anderson is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own.)

To contact the writer on the story: Hephzibah Anderson in London at