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The Therapy Sessions
Monday, January 31, 2005
 

The elections


The elections in Iraq are over, and apparently, they have been successfully conducted (and alot less violent than I thought they would be). Despite the threats of larval tyrants like Zarqawi, normal people turned in large numbers to send him a message.

It's beautiful.

But the next surprise will be the major one for the Left, or at least the paranoid left that has been nursed on the anti-Americanism of NPR and Michael Moore. Iraq's message will be made clear: we want a free, tolerant society that will crush the terrorist slime that keeps killing us. And we need American help.

The shock for the Left will be this: they want our troops to STAY.

 

A great idea


Absolutely:

In Europe, the wise old foreign-policy ''realists'' scoff at today's elections in Iraq -- Islam and democracy are completely incompatible, old boy; everybody knows that, except these naive blundering Yanks who just don't have our experience, frankly.

If that's true, it's a problem not for Iraq this weekend but, given current demographic trends, for France and Belgium and Holland a year or two down the line.

But, as it happens, it's not true. The Afghan election worked so well that, there being insufficient bad news out of it, the doom-mongers in the Western media pretended it never happened. They'll have a harder job doing that with Iraq, so instead they'll have to play up every roadside bomb and every dead poll worker. But it won't alter the basic reality: that today's election will be imperfect but more than good enough. OK, that's a bit vague by the standards of my usual psephological predictions, so how about this? Turnout in the Kurdish north and Shia south will be higher than in the last American, British or Canadian elections. Legitimate enough for ya?

But look beyond the numbers. When you consider the behavior of the Shia and Kurdish parties, they've been remarkably shrewd, restrained and responsible. They don't want to blow their big rendezvous with history and rejoin the rest of the Middle East in the fetid swamp of stable despotism. The naysayers in the Democratic Party and the U.S. media are so obsessed with Rumsfeld getting this wrong and Condi getting that wrong and Bush getting everything wrong that they've failed to notice just how surefooted both the Kurds and Shiites have been -- which in the end is far more important. The latter, for example, have adopted a moderate secular pitch entirely different from their co-religionist mullahs over the border. In fact, as partisan pols go, they sound a lot less loopy than, say, Barbara Boxer. Even on the Sunni side of the street, there are signs the smarter fellows understand their plans to destroy the election have flopped and it's time to cut themselves into the picture. The IMF noted in November that the Iraqi economy is already outperforming all its Arab neighbors.

You might not have gained that impression from watching CNN or reading the Los Angeles Times. The Western press are all holed up in the same part of Baghdad, and the insurgents very conveniently set off bombs visible from their hotel windows in perfect synchronization with the U.S. TV news cycle. But, if they could look beyond the plumes of smoke, they'd see that Iraq's going to be better than OK, that it will be the economic powerhouse of the region, and that the various small nods toward democracy going on in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and elsewhere suggest that the Arab world has figured out what the foreign policy ''realists'' haven't: that the trend is in the Bush direction. When Amr Moussa, secretary-general of the Arab League, warned that the U.S. invasion of Iraq would ''destabilize'' the entire region, he was right.

That's why it was such a great idea.

Iraq's Arab neighbors are paying attention.



 

BBC retracts


Interesting...

LONDON, Jan 29 (Reuters) - The BBC apologised on Saturday for erroneously reporting that U.S.-led and Iraqi forces may be responsible for the deaths of 60 percent of Iraqi civilians killed in conflict over the last six months.

The British broadcaster said on Friday in broadcasts and a news statement that its Panorama investigative show would air a report on Sunday citing "confidential" records from Iraq's health ministry to support the contention.

Iraq's health minister said the BBC misinterpreted the statistics it had received and had ignored statements from the ministry clarifying the figures.

"Today, the Iraqi Ministry of Health has issued a statement clarifying matters that were the subject of several conversations with the BBC before the report was published, and denying that this conclusion can be drawn from the figures relating to 'military operations'," the BBC said in a news statement on Saturday.

Thursday, January 27, 2005
 

A challenge


Against the war?

Go here and watch #499 (Iraqi Election Broadcasts).

And come back and tell me that the US is fighting the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time.

No, actually don't just tell me that.

Tell me why you can think that. Tell me how abandoning these people will make the world a better place.

(My apologies to the blogger on whose site I first saw this. I lost your url. If you see this and send it to me, I will gladly post it.

And thank you.)

 

African poverty revisited


In my earlier post on foreign aid, some commenters took me to task for my belief that foreign should only be spent on countries that enact needed reforms - the so-called "harsh" remedies for African poverty.

I ask those commenters, which of these do have a problem with? And why?

African nations must reduce budget deficits (which are the highest in the world). They desperately need to end price controls, particularly on food and energy. Price controls favor the rich in the cities while they impoverish farmers, encourage scarcity, and create black markets. Countries must stop recklessly printing worthless currency (which causes inflation), develop fair systems of taxation (so that citizens will develop a proprietary understanding of their governments), and clamp down on corruption (which is difficult if people do not have a proprietary understanding of their government).

It is vital for countries to open their borders to trade with (at least) other African countries. Right now, working for the customs department is the road to wealth for mid-level African bureaucrats: the bribes and tariffs are wealth creation, African style. Freeing trade will improve access to needed goods (especially food), stimulate competition and improve efficiency. Standards of living and diets will not be far behind.

State-owned enterprises, which fill the pockets of corrupt leaders, should be sold. Most of them divert government money and attention, and the collusion of business and government interests inevitably leads to corruption. (Imagine if the owner of your company could have you arrested and tortured for not working hard enough. This has been the case in the Congo. Cotonniere, the state-owned cotton monopoly, makes government officials rich and the police beat farmers when they fail to grow enough cotton.) Business and government interests are best kept separate. African property ownership thoroughly needs to be reformed and legitimized. Currently, Africans are allowed to work lands that have been in their families for centuries, but they do not own them and they can lose them at any time. Formal ownership of land would make households wealthier, give homeowners collateral so that they can formally borrow money, and reduce tribalism. It would also strengthen African legal systems, which in most cases are in their infancy.

What countries would practice such radical economic policies?

We live in one: these are the very same policies practiced by the rich nations of the world, and they are the primary reason that these countries maintain their wealth.

Anyone care to debate?

 

More haircut humor?


Giving your kid a mullet? Pretty damn funny.

Almost as funny as this.

 

Echoes of history?


Russian lawmakers target Jewish groups:
MOSCOW --A group of nationalist Russian lawmakers called Monday for a sweeping investigation aimed at outlawing all Jewish organizations and punishing officials who support them, accusing Jews of fomenting ethnic hatred and saying they provoke anti-Semitism.

In a letter dated Jan. 13, about 20 members of the lower house of parliament, the State Duma, asked Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov to investigate their claims and to launch proceedings 'on the prohibition in our country of all religious and ethnic Jewish organizations as extremist.'

In light of history, how could anyone support such an action?

Tuesday, January 25, 2005
 

Death to America. Not.


Interesting. Thomas Friedman:
Funnily enough, the one country on this side of the ocean that would have elected Mr. Bush is not in Europe, but the Middle East: it's Iran, where many young people apparently hunger for Mr. Bush to remove their despotic leaders, the way he did in Iraq.

An Oxford student who had just returned from research in Iran told me that young Iranians were "loving anything their government hates," such as Mr. Bush, "and hating anything their government loves." Tehran is festooned in "Down With America" graffiti, the student said, but when he tried to take pictures of it, the Iranian students he was with urged him not to. They said it was just put there by their government and was not how most Iranians felt.

Iran, he said, is the ultimate "red state." Go figure.


 

The Tenth Commandment, explained


Well said, from PJ O'Rourke:
And then there is the Tenth Commandment. "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is thy neighbor's." The Ten Commandments are God's basic rules about how we should live--a brief list of sacred obligations and solemn moral precepts. The first nine Commandments concern theological principles and social law. But then, right at the end, is "Don't envy your buddy's cow." How did that make the top ten? What's it doing there? Why would God, with just ten things to tell Moses, choose as one of those things jealousy about the starter mansion with in-ground pool next door?

Yet think how important the Tenth Commandment is to a community, to a nation, indeed to a presidential election. If you want a mule, if you want a pot roast, if you want a cleaning lady, don't be a jerk and whine about what the people across the street have--go get your own.

The Tenth Commandment sends a message to all the jerks who want redistribution of wealth, higher taxes, more government programs, more government regulation, more government, less free enterprise, and less freedom. And the message is clear and concise: Go to hell.

Absolutely.



Monday, January 24, 2005
 

Long boring post


(I love to read the Cranky Liberal because he is a thinking person who enjoys a good argument (I don't know if I'm a thiker or not, but I do love to fight). Anyway, a few weeks back he caught me glossing over a topic and he called me on it. It was just a quick post about the superiority of trade to aid in promoting Third World development (if you're a Blog Explosion reader who find such things terminally boring, now might be a good time to avert your eyes...). Cranky was right on everything he said, and much of what he'd said were things that I had wanted to touch on but did not - mainly because I was being lazy. So here I expound a little further to provide more clarity):

When I was a Peace Corps teacher in Sierra Leone, my principal surprised me one day with a gift: several cans of fish from Norway. My diet was low in protein and I enjoyed eating them. A few days later, I saw him and thanked him. He replied that I could thank him by helping him. He wanted to get a US government grant to build a pig farm for his school, and I could help.

The principal was a wealthy man, and he probably could have financed the pig farm with his own resources. The more I heard about his little project, the more it repelled me. The pig farm, which he said would be “for the students,” would be located behind his house, out of sight behind a wall. His wives and his seventeen children would take care of it.

But nothing raised my suspicion as much as this: I soon learned that the World Food Program had given him the cans of fish. They were for his students, and the principal was giving them away to make friends. Later, he started selling them to vendors in the market and pocketing the money.

Food intended to feed children was being used by the principal to make himself into a “big man,” a wealthy power broker in Africa.

Aid in Africa – and throughout the world - is often the story of unintended consequences.

When people argue about the necessity of giving more money in foreign aid to the poor countries of the world, I remember that “big man.” More foreign aid means more people like him being created. Foreign aid fans are horrified that one day the rich countries of the world will just stop giving foreign aid.

I’m ambivalent about that prospect: I think aid’s absence will make as little difference as its presence has in the last thirty years.

Africa, in particular, has systemic problems that will not be solved by a check from the West. We need new approaches to Africa.

Forty years of post-colonial guilt and aid money have not produced a single notable economic success. Not a single one. Nigeria, an oil-rich country which has received abundant aid, is every bit as poor per capita as Mauritania, which receives little aid and has little to sell. Kenya has received much: its economy is a mess, its government is increasingly repressive and its people are still very poor; Botswana has received little and its government is benign and its people are the wealthiest black Africans in Africa. Economic stagnation has affected all of these countries, with virtually every country in Sub-Saharan Africa facing a real decline in standards of living since the 1960’s.

I’m not talking about one time disaster aid; I’m talking about long term, government-to-government development aid. There is no correlation between this kind of aid received and economic growth. In contrast, the relationship between trade and development is sound. Countries that trade freely become rich. Half of Asia has already learned this lesson.

Aid, at least as it is currently known, does not generally solve problems in Africa. In the West, it may soothe consciences (the primary reason for it). But in Africa, aid is often part of the problem. It reinforces a toxic idea: in order to advance economically, Africans must curry favor with Western politicians.

The problem can be put bluntly: African governments are fakes. They have all the trappings of governmental authority: big buildings, presidential palaces, leaders in limos, and abundant office workers. But at the head of almost every agency is a corrupt man on the take, and the closer to the top you get, the more corruption you will see. Leaders pretend to fill a few vague criteria for donor nations, and then when the donor’s back is turned, they do pretty much as they please with the money in hand that they need to continue ruling. A typical country runs a budget that is largely financed by foreign aid, and every year these governments do precious little with it.

In addition, most foreign aid is tied; that is, it is to be used to purchase goods from the donor nations. Much of the aid money flowing into Africa comes in the form of food credits, allowing these countries to buy subsidized, artificially cheap grain from American and European farmers.

What danger is there in cheap food? The results can be seen in African markets, where food prices are kept so low that farming can never be made into a profitable enterprise. Food is Africa’s most pressing concern. Farming in Africa is difficult enough, even when farmers have a decent economic incentive to farm. But if you make grain as cheap as dirt, people will have to eat mud, because no one is going to grow anything.

Government officials somehow always end up with the cheap imported grain (a coincidence, certainly). They use it to make friends, much like my principal did. The lucky vendors with connections (instead of farms) can sell at any price, mainly because they have no farms and no overhead. All of the price is profit for them! Thus, connections to big men matter more than work and effort. Hard working farmers produce little, because there is no profit in doing so. They would be fools to invest in their farms, even if they could make enough money.

What do they do? The young enterprising farmers quit the farms altogether, and head for the cities where they hope to get jobs. There they live in huge shanty ghettoes. These de-facto cities are sanitation nightmares, and these young men, released from their obligations to Africa’s extended family network, often turn to crime to feed themselves.

And what do they eat? The cheap imported subsidized grain!

Of course.

According to the World Bank, African farms could potentially produce 100 times what they do today; yet most of the fields are fallow and most young men view farming as backward, impoverishing profession (imagine that!). Meanwhile, most African children suffer from malnutrition.

Imported subsidized grain helps keep farmers poor and keeps dictators in power. No one in Europe or the US intended this; they intended to “save family farms,” keep domestic food prices protected or feed the malnourished Africans.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Sadly, too, most of the cash that gets to Africa is wasted. There are thousands of examples of “white elephants,” foreign aid projects that have run amok in Africa: half-built dams that ran over budget because of corruption, tractors rusting in weedy fields, and paved roads that end mysteriously in the middle of nowhere.

Saying that the current strategy is not working is not the ranting of a conservative nutjob; it is recognizing an obvious fact. Americans are frustrated with achievements of all the aid, and this is understandable. The question is where we go from here. We shouldn’t merely continue as we are doing out of frustration.

The liberal bong dream right now is something along the lines of a Marshal Plan for Africa. Though certainly well intended, it would fail miserably. Europe – where th Marshall Plan did work - was a different case entirely. We had an advantage in Europe in working with modern, but devastated, economies (it was, in effect, disaster relief). If you wanted to build a hospital in West Berlin, you would be able to find plumbers, electricians, bricklayers, doctors, nurses…In Africa, you will find none of those things. What do you do when the electricity goes out? (Light a candle, just like the Africans do.)

This plan would see corrupt leaders grow fat and rich, their small apartments on the French Riveria replaced by luxurious villas and mansions. Africa would continue to fester.

I suggest a different approach. I think that in most Sub-Saharan African countries, most aid given to the governments should be ended, and we should marshal our resources for the few countries that are willing to take the painful steps needed to solve their problems. This will concentrate our aid in countries that might just use it wisely. The painful steps are the very structural adjustment programs liberals describe as “harsh.”

They are harsh, but they are necessary.

What are the painful steps? They are basic steps that any are the foundation of any working economy.

African nations must reduce budget deficits (which are the highest in the world). They desperately need to end price controls, particularly on food and energy. Price controls favor the rich in the cities while they impoverish farmers, encourage scarcity, and create black markets. Countries must stop recklessly printing worthless currency (which causes inflation), develop fair systems of taxation (so that citizens will develop a proprietary understanding of their governments), and clamp down on corruption (which is difficult if people do not have a proprietary understanding of their government).

It is vital for countries to open their borders to trade with (at least) other African countries. Right now, working for the customs department is the road to wealth for mid-level African bureaucrats: the bribes and tariffs are wealth creation, African style. Freeing trade will improve access to needed goods (especially food), stimulate competition and improve efficiency. Standards of living and diets will not be far behind.

State-owned enterprises, which fill the pockets of corrupt leaders, should be sold. Most of them divert government money and attention, and the collusion of business and government interests inevitably leads to corruption. (Imagine if the owner of your company could have you arrested and tortured for not working hard enough. This has been the case in the Congo. Cotonniere, the state-owned cotton monopoly, makes government officials rich and the police beat farmers when they fail to grow enough cotton.) Business and government interests are best kept separate. African property ownership thoroughly needs to be reformed and legitimized. Currently, Africans are allowed to work lands that have been in their families for centuries, but they do not own them and they can lose them at any time. Formal ownership of land would make households wealthier, give homeowners collateral so that they can formally borrow money, and reduce tribalism. It would also strengthen African legal systems, which in most cases are in their infancy.

What countries would practice such radical economic policies?

We live in one: these are the very same policies practiced by the rich nations of the world, and they are the primary reason that these countries maintain their wealth. Africa has suffered for thirty years with nationalized industries, Marxist leaders preaching economic self-sufficiency and independence from the outside world. Bad economic policy is at the heart of African poverty.

What can the U.S. do? We could certainly stop dumping cheap subsidized food on them, for one. But the most important thing is simple: give African countries freedom to sell their products on the American market. West Africa would love to sell its fine cotton and cloth to Americans, not to mention its fruit; Haiti (by any measure an African nation) would love to sell us sugar. If it weren’t for US law, the flood of hard currency would certainly transform these economies much more than any aid package would. The opening of the US market could be used as a reward for any country that is willing to undergo such painful structural reforms.

If countries are uncooperative, should we just give up? No, of course not. When we cannot work with governments, we should work with NGO’s. NGO’s are more credible and they are more concerned with results. Many dictators will find this unacceptable. They will insist that any money that is spent in their countries pass through their hands first. That should be all we need to know.

What policies will work? Who knows? Experiment!

Establish microcredit loaning programs with women in Ghana (something only an NGO could accomplish). Women will be more likely to save and spend profits on their children, improving nutrition and education.

Help NGO’s work with existing cooperatives to buy trucks to transport food from areas where it is plentiful to places where it is scarce. For example, helping coastal fishermen bring fish two hundred miles inland (or maybe even someday across borders) where they will fetch five times the price for the people who caught them.

Give start-up money to an NGO that wishes to start for-profit fish farms in Malawi. Cooperative fish farms were a dismal failure: a single farmer did all of the work, and his neighbors ate his fish. But there was nothing wrong with the ponds! An NGO wants to work with the farmer to sell his fish on the market? Think it won’t work? Let’s find out!

What works in Africa will be small scale and small impact, but at least it will work.

Africa’s situation is desperate. If it grows twice as fast as it grows now, it will still fall behind the rest of the world. Desperation, though, does not justify the rampant corruption and financial mismanagement that is so woefully common around the continent.

We are not using our brains if we think with our hearts. We should not give money just because it feels good. Such generosity helps no one. Africa’s situation is precarious, but there is still hope. But we must have the courage to discontinue failed policies.

Africa and the other poor nations of the world will not be saved by good intentions.

In fact, too many more “good intentions” just might do them in.

Saturday, January 22, 2005
 

Human tools


Back in 2003, the human shields in Iraq - amateur comics all - made history by proving themselves to be some of the biggest boobs in the history of boobdom.

These western "peace" volunteers traveled to Iraq with the intention of protecting Iraqi schools and hospitals with their precious western hides. Sites like this were naturally to be the first targets of the Great Hegemonster's genocidal carpet bombing campaign. The presence of white people would cause the US to rethink its racist strategy, and maybe even call off the war.

The human shields were shocked - shocked! - when Saddam deployed them to "protect" anti-aircraft missiles and Republican Guard barracks. The disillusioned among them quit right there ("Saddam is trying to get us killed!"), but the tools among them did Saddam's work for him anyway.

When Saddam was overthrown, the Iraqi people drove them out of town on a rail, and the human shields were confused. The people, it seemed, really did hate Saddam.

Imagine that!

Their net effect on US strategy was zero, and their deaths (had any occurred) would have been pointless. (A point lost on people like Rachel Corrie, who bravely went mano-a-mano with an Israeli bulldozer, protecting "the rights" of Palestinians to dig bomb smuggling tunnels.)

But they are still heroes on the left. So much idealism! Standing up for the Iraqi people and their rights in the face of certain death!

Now an American soldier in Iraq wonders why they aren't lining up to protect Iraqi election sites, where the will of the Iraqi people will be expressed on January 30th.

Hey, now there's an idea!

But something tells me they won't go for it.

Protecting people's right to vote? What kind of death would that be?

Friday, January 21, 2005
 

Funny pictures


From Dataste:






Thursday, January 20, 2005
 

They make Pennsylvanians look tough


N.C. Declares Emergency After Snow Storm:
RALEIGH, N.C. ? A surprise 1-inch snow that turned to ice on frigid roads crippled North Carolina's capital, trapping motorists in epic traffic jams and stranding some 3,000 pupils overnight at schools. The governor urged people to stay home Thursday while crews clean things up.

I remember growing up in NC, where a light dusting could get you out of school for the day.

We once got eight inches and we were off for the week.

It kicked ass.

I probably never made up for all the education I missed.

 

Weird turn of events


It's funny how life works...

A few weeks ago, I was reading some article in a newspaper about blogging. It seemed there was some new controversy or something: the Dean campaign had hired bloggers to help get the word out. Ho hum.

I did manage to read just far enough to see who was on the payroll. The DailyKos and Jerome Armstrong.

I was in the Peace Corps with a Jerome Armstrong, I thought.

We used to play volleyball. We secretly played chess to pass the boredom in the endless training sessions we were forced to attend. He kicked my ass at poker at a beach house reunion some of us volunteers had. We argued politics quite a bit, and we rarely agreed.

Could it be the same guy?

I did a Google Image search. Yep. It's him, alright.

The fucker is running a blog that gets about 7,000 hits a day (it takes two months for me to get that number of visitors).

Yes, my old friend Jerome. He's a Deaniac....but he's still a good guy.


 

A chilling read


Intrepid explorers from the Washington Post venture into the uncharted areas of the red states, trying to understand the depraved pathology of the hicks in the sticks. Skipping from one isolated primitive university sociology department to another, they meet the natives, sample the culture and come face to face with the darkness of their own souls: Heart Of Redness.

A sample:

Epstein was the legendary University of Iowa sociologist who knew the west Red Country better than any man in civilization. He knew their language, their mores, their favorite NASCAR drivers. It was rumored that he had even lived among them for a time, but my editors at the Post warned me not to speak to him of it.

We poured over maps and discussed logistics until 7:45, when Epstein called for us to adjourn.

"There's a faculty panel symposium on Cuban health care over at Schaffer Auditorium," he said. "I suggest we attend, because there won't be any more where we're headed...."

...The neon sign read "VFW Hall." A trailer marquee in front was even more explicit: "Friday Nite All-U-Can-Eat $5.95 Fish Fry."

Von Drehle was known in the Post pressroom as a thrill junkie, and this was exactly the type of place he would be unable to resist. I told Epstein to stop.

"You're a fool, Dionne - maybe even a bigger fool than Von Drehle," he snapped.

"And you're a bad liar, Epstein. You want to see what's going on inside of that VFW hall as much as I do."

A silence.

"All right Dionne," he said angrily. "But if anything starts going down, you're on your own."

I took a deep breath and tried to conceal my jagged nerves as we entered the Hall. They say the Nebraskaners can smell fear a mile away, and I would be damned if my life was going to end over a red plastic basket of deep-fried cod and a can of Falstaff.

I could feel the eyes of the lodge penetrating my coat as we walked across the linoleum and took a seat in a booth near the skee-ball machine. A zaftig waitress approached.

"Tell her I'd like the pan-seared mahi-mahi, and a glass of the house chardonnay," I instructed Epstein.

Before he could respond I was startled by two hulking, bearded men in snowmobile suits who began prodding my coat with their fingers. They traded gibberish with Epstein.

"They want to know what kind of coat that is," said Epstein, warily.

"Tell them it's from Burberry's," I said, trying to avoid eye contact.

"Buh-bay," said the men, curiously. "Buhhh-behh."

The two men began laughing menacingly, and gestured for the others to come and join in their fascination. I tried to ignore them, assuming they were simply drawn by the novelty of houndstooth wool. Then I peered up on the wall and saw a large nylon banner. On it was printed:

GO BIG RED

"Run, Epstein! Run!" I screamed, hurtling through the diamond-padded door.


Check it out. Great read.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005
 

Huh?


Wuhh?

Philadelphia is the eight most 'best-mannered city?'

Strange world.

Philadelphia was outraged that John Kerry - the poor naive soul - came here and tried to order a cheesesteak with Swiss cheese. Philly's sport fans pelted Santa Claus with snowballs and routinely boo their players ( uhh..the poor Todd Pinkstons and Mitch Williams). They cheered when a temporarily paralyzed Michael Irvin was taken off the field on a stretcher.

Don't get me wrong. I love Philly.

I just wonder what a rude city looks like.


 

Silly people


Listening to NPR again...

I heard from a homeowner whose house was destroyed by a mudslide ten years ago complaining. You see, he moved out of his shattered house to a new house across the street. It was destroyed by another mudslide two weeks ago. He was angry, he said, because the government was unwilling to do the things that he said would make his two homes safe...

Hmmm...

I can imagine being in a similar predicament.

I find a nice house on beautiful land in my price range....WOW!

But then the realtor beigns a sentence with "But...."

But what?

"There is a serious chance in the next decade a serious landslide will destroy the house and kill your family.

But - on the bright side - maybe the government will build a retaining wall or something!"

Hmmm, let's see: I would think that's a dealbreaker right there.

Apparently there are people that don't see it that way.

 

WHFS. RIP


When I was in high school growing up in Baltimore, I believed there had to be more to music than Huey Lewis and Madonna.

My savior was a great radio station, WHFS. I listened to DJ's like Weasel play real alternative music, from bands I had never heard but grew to love anyway. The Replacements, the Smiths, XTC, X, Edie Brickell...Interesting stuff.

I now do the same thing - find new bands - but I do it listening to satellite radio. (My choice is XM, but Sirius is just as good).

Apparently, I'm not the only one: WHFS closed its doors recently, and countless other small niche stations have done so as well. There are being replaced by bigger corporate terrestrial stations that play the same repetitive top 40 crap to the large audiences they expect will be there.

It won't work. In a sense, every listener is a niche listener. And this is why satellite radio - which provides a real choice - can only grow.

So long, HFS. I'm sorry you died, even though in your later years you kinda sucked.

But thanks for being there when I needed you.


 

Government bloat


You think we have a problem with government waste... France has a bloated central bank but no currency
WHAT DO they all do? France’s central bank employs 15,000 staff — more than seven times the number who work at the Bank of England — despite the absence of a currency to manage or interest rates to set. Furthermore, according to the 2005 Central Bank Directory from Central Banking Publications, despite the fact that the Banque de France lost control of interest rates in 1999, staff numbers have fallen by only 3.6 per cent.
Germany’s Bundesbank has been only a little more thrifty, cutting numbers by 14 per cent to 13,600 by 2004. The European Central Bank employed a relatively modest 1,300.

Across the eurozone, 52,321 people were recorded as central bankers. Replacing 11 currencies by one ought to cut out all the duplicate posts but has so far saved 7 per cent.


Saturday, January 15, 2005
 

Predictions in Iraq


Here's your chance to tell me how wrong I was in a month:

Judging by the hysterical coverage in our media, one gets the impression that we have already lost in Iraq, the elections will be violent farce, and Iraq will be in a civil war in a year.

The media may yet be right. But three things that have been conventional wisdom in the media for the past year now look unlikely:

1) America, appalled by the violence and the confusion, will pull out Iraq or try to get others to fight the war for us (despite the fact that it can only be won by us).

This became very unlikely with re-election of George Bush. One of the reasons why John Kerry lost was his wishy-washy approach to Iraq (it was the wrong war at the wrong time...blah, blah), but only he could win it (by convincing pussies like the French to fight it for us with their - ahem - military might).

Uh huh.

The American people wisely asked how the Senator could win a war that he didn't believe in.

There will be no pulling out: We're in Iraq come hell or high water.

2)The Iraqi populace, infuriated at American military actions, unites behind the terrorists, making the American position untenable.

This "cast out the infidels" idea is increasingly unlikely, though the media breathlessly reports that it's just around the corner. The insurgents have NO political support; on the contrary, most Iraqis favor crushing them. The terrorists can hold no territory (hence, their main strategy is random bombing to intimidate Iraqis and kill soldiers), and are divided about where they would take a "liberated" Iraq. They would take it to either more tyranny or civil war.

This negative vision (and the countless Iraqis they have murdered) has won them few friends in the country. Most Iraqis see their future as bright, peaceful and democratic. They realize that only America - bumbling and incompetent as it has been - can get them there.

3) Elections will be postponed due to the violence, for it is futile to hold an election as long as there are people in Iraq willing to set bombs.

There will always be people in Iraq willing to set bombs (at least for the foreseable future). This is the country that created Saddam Hussein, for Christ's sake. This militancy is a disease that afflicts not only Iraq but most of the Middle East, and it is the reason we are in Iraq.

An election delay has been called for by some Iraqi politicans, many world leaders and several UN officials. This is not because of any real concern about the "legitimacy" of the vote by these people (America is not going to be able to kill all the terrorists in Iraq with an extra month or two).

Postponement of the elections would confirm the suspicions of some disaffected Iraqis that the election was only an American sham. That is what these leaders want.

The elections are not an American sham, and they will happen as scheduled.



So the wise sages of the media have a bad track record thus far in Iraq. I bear these things in mind whenever I open up my morning paper. The media has been very wrong in the past.

And I think they are wrong now about the outcome of the elections. There are three ways this thing could play out.

The most likely (a mixture of 1 and 2 below) are both to America's advantage:

1)Election turnout is high (50%+) and violent. Iraqis endorse an anti-American government.

This scenario is possible (though not as likely as 2, or a mixture of 1 and 2), and the media will play it as a great defeat for America. They will quickly brush off the inspiring pictures of brave Iraqis defying the terrorists to get to the polls. The media will focus on Iraqis slaughtered for voting (and unfortunately, there will be many), and they will chatter on about how the Iraqi people have rejected George Bush's policies.

But in many ways, this may be the best outcome.

An anti-American government will have street cred among the Arabs, and it will be viewed as legitimate through much of the region and the world (leading other Arab citizens to wonder why they can't vote). America will respect the outcome, despite the fact that it doesn't like the politicians it will have to deal with (what an example to the region!).

But that government - like Ayatollah Sistani - will probably hold its nose and work with us anyway.

A government's first priority is to maintian power. After delivering a punch to George Bush, this government will have to face the primary threat to its power: the terrorists.

I don't believe they will ask the Americans to leave. I think they will view that as suicide. (But if the Iraqis are prepared to shoulder all of the fight themselves, more power to them.)

I think they will stomach the anti-Americanism and work with us. And they will still be viewed by the world as the true government of Iraq. A win-win situation, without looking like it.

The Americans and the new Iraqi government may be strange bedfellows, but together, we can take the fight to the terrorists. The Americans will respect the political legitimacy of the government. The terrorists will not.

Thus, the US can win by losing in this election. This will be a difficult political sell for George Bush, but it will American victory nonetheless. And that is what matters.

2)Election turnout is high (50%+) and violent. Iraqis vote for a pluralistic, but chaotic government that will compromise along the lines of the Iraqi interim constitution, and fight with us against the common enemy: the larval tyrants that the media calls "insurgents" and Michael Moore calls freedom fighters.

This is the most likley scenario.

Of course, there will be glitches. In addition to atrocities committed by the terrorists, there will be enough "voting irregulaties" to keep America-haters busy for years (they never seemed bothered when Saddam Hussein received 99.99% of the "vote").

Predictably, Jimmy Carter will declare the election to be poorly conducted, despite the fact that Iraq will at least have a free press (unlike the "free and fair" elections in Palestine and Venezuela - where the governments control all speech).

Some stridently anti-American types will be elected (as in 1), but they will never have anything resembling a majority (this is somewhat unfortunate). It will be diverse and chaotic. The government will be fairly liberal for the region.

It will fight the terrorists more strongly (Though Iraqi resolve against the terrorists has been one of the most underreported stories of this struggle: for every dead US soldier, there are three dead Iraqi policemen and soldiers. Iraq's population is 1/10th of America's. Percentage wise, a similar loss in the United States would mean the deaths of 30,000 US soldiers. Yet young Iraqi men still stand in line outside the recruitment offices, willingly putting themselves in harm's way.)

This scenario would be a slam dunk for America if not for one important problem: such a government will not be viewed by most of the world as having legitimacy. It will be viewed as an American puppet regime.

It won't be, but appearences matter. Particularly in this region.

3)Election turnout low (40%-) and violent. Iraqis endorse an illegimate, divided and benign government that isn't taken seriously by anyone in Iraq or the world.

Though much of the media thinks this is the likely outcome, I do not. I could be wrong (yes, it happens), but I see most Iraqis voting and respecting the outcome.



Will America's cost go down?

No.

I have been surprised by the resiliency of the terrorists. Their depravity and inhumantity are symptomatic of a deep sickness - a belief in the power of tyranny that Americans find difficult to comprehend. They seem to feel that if they can only kill enough Iraqis viciously and publicly, the Iraqi citizens will cower before them. (And if that doesn't work, they will ignite a civil war.)

Their have seldom been people in history who have fought for a more unworthy cause. The fact that large numbers of people throughout the world sympathize with them tells us alot about the rest of the world - and why its feelings about Iraq should be regarded with suspicion.

But I have been gratified by the resolve of America. At no time has a majority of Americans advocated leaving the field in Iraq.

With the elections, we will be turning a corner. I don't know what is around that corner, but there is good chance it will be a free and democratic Iraq.

And that is a chance worth taking.

Friday, January 14, 2005
 

So true



 

Health nazis


From Tom Carter:
I guess pretty soon we'll have new shows on TV about the courageous Anti-Smoking Squads that patrol our bars and restaurants. Something like 'ASS: New York' and 'ASS: LA' seems likely. I, for one, am glad to see our politicians, cops, and prosecutors finally get their priorities straight. I wonder, though, if you're attacked by crackhead gang bangers outside your favorite bar or restaurant, will the ASS guys interfere? I would hope not. They belong inside, where the real criminals are, instead of outside, where poor misunderstood 'youts' are just expressing their justifiable rage against centuries of oppression.

I agree.

Strange times we are living in. I'm not a smoker but....damn these health nazis!

Bars should be able to decide for themselves whether they will be smoking or non-smoking.

Is that so complicated?

Tuesday, January 11, 2005
 

Deceiving the willingly ignorant


The New York Times is reputed to be staffed by some of the smartest journalists around (smartest journalists...errr, no comment).

From this elevated perch, they crow about the problems of the day, and people take them seriously because they must know what they are talking about.

For critical thinkers, watching the Times editors bump into facts and not realize their import is quite frustrating. It is like watching monkeys trying to figure out how place boxes on top of one another to get at a banana. (Except the monkeys usually figure things out...)

Don't believe me?

Consider this argument, For the Record on Social Security:
In suggesting that 2018 is doomsyear, the president is reinforcing a false impression that the trust fund is a worthless pile of I.O.U.'s - as detractors of Social Security so often claim. The facts are different: since 1983, payroll taxes have exceeded benefits, with the excess tax revenue invested in interest-bearing Treasury securities. (An alternative would be to, say, put the money in a mattress.) That accumulating interest and the securities themselves make up the Social Security trust fund. If the trust fund's Treasury securities are worthless, someone better tell investors throughout the world, who currently hold $4.3 trillion in Treasury debt that carries the exact same government obligation to pay as the trust fund securities. The president is irresponsible to even imply that the United States might not honor its debt obligations.

This is the amazing financial ignorance the we must confront:

1. Social Security's "trust fund" full of treasury bonds (True.)

2. Treasury bonds are the safest investment out there, backed by the full faith and credit of the US government (True.)

3. When the time comes to redeem these bonds, the US government will go to the US government and ask it to pay the bond's price and its accumulated interest. (Hint: this might be a problem!)

4. The US government considers its Social Security obligations to be off-budget and it hasn't planned for them. But it will conjure up the money somehow
(trillions and trillions of dollars) and honor its obligations anyway, paying these treasury bonds plus interest because it always does.(Mayday! Mayday!)

5. Viola! Social Security is "solvent" until 2193 or something....(Hello?!!)

You could drive a truck through the holes in the argument.

But who are people going to believe? The Ivy-League educated, prize-winning journalists at the New York Times or some chimp form Crawford, Texas who pretends to be the President?

You see, the Times editors can't be wrong: they are the smartest journalists out there.

Sunday, January 09, 2005
 

The Palestinian elections


NPR is fixiated on what it thinks will be the earth shattering consequences of the elections today in the Palestinian Territories. I have my doubts, but I do think NPR might learn something (and teach its listeners something) if it focused on the reasons why those elections are occurring:

1. The passing of the profoundly evil Yasser Arafat, the Nobel"Peace" Prize winner whose death makes peace possible. (Unlikely, but possible.)

2. George Bush's dogged refusal - over the exasperated objections of all the Middle East sages throughout the world - to negotiate with a thuggish, dishonest government in the Palestinian Territories that was waging a war of intimidation against Israel. Indeed, Abbas was one of the only Palestinians who could be considered "moderate" enough to talk to the Bush Admistration ("moderate" in Palestine means that he still wants to seize Israel and slaughter its inhabitants, but he wants to get as far as he can using diplomacy).

3. The Israeli construction of a wall that prevents most terrorist attacks - Arafat's primary weapon. This wall has forced Palestinians to explore other avenues -like electing a "moderate" who can talk to America - if they wish their nationalist aspirations to be fulfilled.

The election of Abbas today vindicates Bush's vision (or if you prefer, the chimp's advisors' vision).

But that is not necessarily a reason for optimism.

We should remember that Hitler, Milosevic and even Arafat were all elected.

Once.

An election does not a democracy make. It is repeated elections - and an open exchange of political opinion - that characterize this thing we know as democratic governance.

And we should remember that there is no free press in the Palestinian territories: the government only allows the dissemination of stories and opinions that it considers favorable to itself.

One symptom of this is that there is no Palestianian peace movement, people in the PA actively working against their government's terrorist coddling policies. Israel's peace movement - as wrong as it is - is allowed to function because Israel is a free society. The Palestinians - like totalitarian societies everywhere - present one face to the world: one people, one message.

The problem in the territories is not just the Palestinian leadership. It is the Palestinians themselves: 70% of them want to see Israel's destruction. These Palestinians are dragging their country to war.

Of course, few actually want to grab a gun and invade Israel. They want the spoils without the sacrifice. Why risk your own life when you can get the retarded kid down the street to blow himself up on a bus filled with Israeli schoolchildren? Half the world can't even bring itself to condemn such an action, and everyone flinches from calling it what is - an act of war and a war crime.

Faced with such brutality and the world's indifference to it, Israel will cower in fear, giving them whatever they want.

Or so they thought.

Even though their media has not made it clear, this strategy was failing miserably even before the construction of the wall. It is the reason why Ariel Sharon -yesterday's washed up, hardline former general with a thuggish past - is today the twice-elected leader of Israel. The brutality of Palestian straegy has forced Israel to show some spine, and they have elected a leader who is prepared to go to war to keep them safe.

Now, the construction of the wall is depriving the Palestianians of the terrorist tool almost entirely (until they acquire new kinds of weaponry).

Very good.

But it is sobering to hear Abbas' campaign speeches: he is quite adept in the subtle references to the "struggle" that Arafat found familiar, and he has been cozy with all of the same bloody characters from Hamas and Hizballah. He tells them that now is not the time for terrorist attacks - meaning that the time for attacks may yet come.

That is not moderation. That is a threat. (Imagine if Bush said "now is not the time for a nuclear attack on Iran.....")

But in the end it doesn't matter where Abbas' heart is. And I don't think he - or anyone else - has the ability to drag the Palestinians to real peace with Israel. Real peace, after all, would mean that the Palestinians prosecute the people who kill Israelis as if they had killed Palestinians.

Yet Abbas says he will never consider extraditing or prosecuting the men who brag of killing Jews in Israel (Israel prosecutes Jews who kill Palestinians, unless they have killed in self defense - which is usually the case).

This is how the US and Canada manage to coexist: we extradite people who have committed crimes in Canada; we don't harbor them. The Palestinians are a far way from that. And that level of people-to-people respect is an essential prerequisite for peace.

So NPR and Jimmy Carter can wax eloquently about a new dawning of peace in the Middle East.

I don't see it coming.

Elections are great, but they don't prevent war. A prerequisite for peace on the borders of nations is peace in the hearts of the peoples of both nations.

In denying Israel a right to exist and harboring the criminals who have murdered Jews in Israel, the Palestinians are showing the world the true feelings that reside inside their chests.

Saturday, January 08, 2005
 

The importance of political seriousness


What political genius thought this up? Lawmakers Dispute Electoral College Results

Let's make sure we look like sore losers! Let's engage in utterly futile, certain-to-fail temper tantrum that will make us look unserious in front of America, and embarrass some of the Americans who voted for us.

These people are actually going to make Bush look the responsible adult (he does not deserve such credit) by their infantile displays.

I don't consider the Democrats to be out of things, but images matter. They should be sobered by their defeat in November, not enraged by it. Their attitude should be "the people spoke and it is time for us to get back to work." They should consider the proposals that the Republican majorities are putting forward - giving at least the appearence of deep thought. When possible, they should give the appearance of being cooperative (perhaps linking the establishment of independent saving accounts to a hike in the payroll tax income limit). A "take what you can get now" approach would reflect some confidence in their own ideals, and a confidence that they will eventually be rewarded at the polls.

Right now, they seem to be embarking on obstructionsim in places where the country has major problems: insisting that there is nothing wrong with Social Security, Medicare, the educational establishment, our tax system, our trial lawyers...these are conservative positions: conservative in the sense that they don't want to change anything.

Since those problems are real and will not go away, the Democrats are setting themselves up for a fall.

I think they know this. Hence, a temper tantrum.

Doesn't this country deserve a more serious Democratic Party?

The party of Daniel Patrick Moniyhan and Joseph Lieberman can win elections. The party of Ted Kennedy and Al Sharpton can't.


Friday, January 07, 2005
 

Required reading


Read this now.

Just do it. Come back if you please.


 

The brave Iraqi resistance


A suspected insurgent is found setting bombs underneath cars in Baghdad:

As you can see, the Iraqi populace rejoices at the presence of this comrade-in-arms, raising him up on their shoulders and praising his name.

Behold the freedom fighter!

No?

No. He is cowering before them, begging for them to be merciful.

They weren't. They beat him viciously. He's lucky if he's alive today.

Let them media say that the people killing Iraqi civilians are gaining support.

I like the polls, and there are lots of polls.This one is interesting. A poll of 4000 residents of Baghdad:
Will the security problems cause you to?

Not come out and vote the day of elections = 18.3%
Come out and vote the day of elections = 78.3%
No opinion = 3.4%

Do you support military action against the terrorists?

Yes = 87.7 %
No = 11.1%
Don’t Know = 1.2%


Will Iraqis have the courage to overcome the demons of their past? We should hope so. Because a region where people like this man command armies will never cease being a threat to the world.

Stay tuned.

Thanks to Michael J. Totten for the photo (and a large portion of the sentiment).


Thursday, January 06, 2005
 

We're from the UN, and we're finally here to help!


Oh brother: U.S. Military Relief Effort Panned: "
The U.N. official coordinating relief efforts on Sumatra island complained Thursday that the U.S. military's aid mission was failing to coordinate and provide critical information to other relief organizations struggling to help survivors of the tsunami.

Michael Elmquist said that while American helicopters were speeding relief supplies to villages isolated by the Dec. 26 disaster, their crews were not spending enough time on the ground to assess survivors' needs.

'They don't stop their engines. They're on the ground for five minutes,' Elmquist told reporters in the provincial capital of Banda Aceh, on the hard-hit northern tip of Sumatra. "

Why hurry?

The UN hasn't hurried. It has been taking its sweet time, dotting its "i's" and crossing its "t's," making sure all of its paperwork is just right.

The UN just now beginning to get down to business, doing the job right (or so they say). The US has been in theater for a week, working with several countries in the region (and its not just the Americans: the Austrailians, the British and other countries have been there as well).

Why rush things?



Oh yeah. Because millions of people need drinking water and food.

NOW.

They don't have time to wait for UN advance coordination teams to arrive. Just like they didn't have time to wait for Kofi to finish his skiing vacation.

Jesus. You get the feeling the if the marines did what the UN said, some UN officials would bitch and moan that the US was dragging its feet.

Oh wait, that's more than a feeling. They do that all the time.

 

The silliness of the aid crowd


Note: Upon reading this post, I'm aware that someone might confuse me for a critic of tsunami aid. Read closer: I'm not saying that. My wife and I have contributed to aid the victims of this natural disastar, and I encourage others to do so as well. In this post, I am referring to long term developmental assistance. It's track record is poor. But many people aren't concerned about track records and actually helping anyone. Their goal is redistributing wealth, and this is how they measure success.

I've been having problems with my internet connection lately (at least at home), so I haven't been able to blog much lately. This has had an unfortunate side effect: I am once again listening to NPR in the morning.

There has been a slight improvement in perspective there in the last few years. NPR's statists, for example, now acknowledge that when it comes to helping poor countries, there actually is a "debate" over whether trade or aid has a better track record.

Of course, in the real world - the world where we actually look at the historical performance of the two approaches - there is no debate: trade won this one decades ago.

Anyone doubting this need only look at the continent of Africa: the continent has been a recipient of aid for decades. States like Nigeria - which has recieved lots of aid - are just as corrupt and poor as countries that have recieved little, like Togo. Botswana and Mozambique - two countries that (until recently) recieved little aid - are among the best run countries on the continent (and consequently, they are among the fastest growing). Kenya - a huge aid recipient - is locked in corruption and decline.

What about trade's track record? Japan, South Korea (In 1955, the people of South Korea were about as well off as the people of North Korea), Taiwan, Western Europe, Mexico and Chile all attest to the ability of trade to lift nations out of poverty. China and India are currently tapping the power of trade. If they coninue to liberalize their economies, their futures will be bright.

But track records don't matter to the aid fans on the left. They just want to feel like they are helping. Whether they actually help anyone is irrelevant.

It is the primary sin of the Left: thinking with the heart instead of the head.

The way to eliminate poverty has never been clearer: FREE TRADE.

Rich countries need to stop protectionism, particularly in their agricultural sector.

This will benefit everyone.


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