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The Therapy Sessions
Sunday, July 31, 2005
 

The AMT


We will hearing more about this:
The prospects for major tax changes in the Senate are unclear. The key may be the Alternative Minimum Tax, passed in the 1960s to apply to just a few high-income taxpayers but which, because it is unindexed for inflation, is slated to apply to about 10 percent of all taxpayers by 2010 and to far larger percentages in high-income states like New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and California. Those four states are represented by eight Democratic senators. Many of their votes come from high-income liberals who will be discomfited, to say the least, to discover that generous deductions will no longer apply to them because they have become subject to the AMT. Former New Jersey Sen. Bob Torricelli, always quick to sniff the political win, sponsored a bill for AMT repeal. Senate Democrats who want AMT repeal may find that they can get it only by supporting a tax bill with other measures they otherwise wouldn't vote for.

What? Tax breaks for the rich?

Saturday, July 30, 2005
 

Gitmo


Carter: Guantanamo Detentions Disgraceful:
Former President Carter said Saturday the detention of terror suspects at the Guantanamo Bay Naval base was an embarrassment and had given extremists an excuse to attack the United States...

..."I think what's going on in Guantanamo Bay and other places is a disgrace to the U.S.A.," he told a news conference at the Baptist World Alliance's centenary conference in Birmingham, England. "I wouldn't say it's the cause of terrorism, but it has given impetus and excuses to potential terrorists to lash out at our country and justify their despicable acts."

What a surprise.

After decades of consideration, the man who created Ayatollah Khomeini has pronounced his verdict on what causes terrorism.

When Carter was faced with the Iranian leader, Khomeini was confronting rebellious students who had seized territory belonging to the world's most powerful country.

The Ayatollah faced a dilemma:

Should he crush the students with his army, freeing the American hostages they'd taken?

Or should he face the wrath of a superpower that could have destroyed his armed forces from the air without breaking a sweat?

What did Carter do?

He sent Khomeini a letter - from "one man of God to another"- begging the Ayatollah to be merciful.

Khomeini said it best upon reading the letter: America isn't going to do a damn thing.

Well, with such expertise, Carter now feels that he should pontificate on what to do with the likes of Kahlid Mohammed - the planner of the WTC attacks.

There are really only three options:

1. Continue holding the prisoners at Guantanamo, trying the least dangerous ones in secretive military tribunals, freeing those who are found innocent.

2. Treat them as we treat American citizens, allowing them to defend themselves in American courtrooms. Of course, Al Qaeda would take great interest in knowing the exact name of the "trusted friend" in the Pakistani security forces who provided the information that led to Khalid Mohhamed's capture.

3. Free them all, so that they will be free to plan the next atrocity.

Well, what's it going to be, Jimmy?

Karl Rove (and no, he's going anywhere) is praying that the Democrats try to make an issue of this.

I'm serious: he is on his knees - hands folded - right now....

Wednesday, July 27, 2005
 

The world's dumbest bird meets its fate


"This image taken from NASA TV, shows a bird being hit by the nose cone during launch of Shuttle Discovery at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Tuesday, July 26, 2005. The illustration was shown during an afternoon news conference. (AP Photo/NASA TV)"




I was going to say the "world's unluckiest bird" but I figure that a bird that doesn't get out of the way when the shuttle thunders by is pretty damn dumb.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005
 

Maybe CEO pay is too high


Every now and then I read something that changes my mind - because it seems to make sense.

Yesterday, if you had complained about the need for government to "do something" about "excessive" CEO compensation, I would have yawned.

It is, after all, not your money.

If Cogswell's Cogs wants to pay its CEO $200 million, that's their business (and their business might suffer from their poor judgement).

Did the Chicago Bulls overpay Michael Jordan? It depends on what you think winning five national championships is worth.

But here's an interesting thing: CEO pay - like all company salaries - are TAX DEDUCTIBLE.

This is one of the reasons that they are growing so fast.

Democrats - who are always sniffing around for tax revenue - have noticed: You deserve a refund for fat CEO pay.

If companies themselves won't subdue CEO pay, Congress should, says US Rep. Martin Sabo, a Democratic prairie populist from Minnesota. Earlier this month he reintroduced a bill, the Income Equity Act, which would eliminate tax deductions for compensation that exceeds 25 times that of the company's lowest paid full-time employee.

Currently, the gap is more likely 300 to 500 times. The Sabo bill would mean that if the lowest-paid worker got $20,000, then the highest salary deduction the firm could claim would be $500,000. A company could pay its CEO more, but couldn't deduct more from its tax obligations.

Now that IS interesting.

I have quibbles with Sabo's bill. I think that no salary should be tax deductible. Salaries are an expense that companies must pay. Giving them a tax deduction for paying their workers is like giving me a tax deduction for paying for my groceries.

But I like Sabo's idea - I must admit - with one other reservation. Ending tax breaks will increase the revenue that the government extracts from the economy, and this will slow growth.

If we must take exta revenue here, we should offset that by decreasing government's revenue "take" somewhere else. I suggest that this tax hike be offset by a cut in the corporate tax. As Ireland has learned, that is a great way to stimulate growth.

What is wrong with my logic?

Why am I finding myself in agreement with "a prairie populist Democrat?"

I should point out that Sabo's bill has no hope of passing.

Republicans reflexively oppose anything that might be viewed as a tax hike, and Democrats - though they are loathe to admit it - get tons of money from CEO fat cats (right John Corzine?).

But that's life....

Monday, July 25, 2005
 

A bridge too far


Interesting:
Ashtrays have been disappearing in cars like fins on Cadillacs, and so could smoking while driving in New Jersey, under a measure introduced in the Legislature.

Although the measure faces long odds, it still has smokers incensed and arguing it’s a Big Brother intrusion that threatens to take away one of the few places they can enjoy their habit.

“The day a politician wants to tell me I can’t smoke in my car, that’s the day he takes over my lease payments,” said John Cito, a financial planner from Hackensack with a taste for $20 cigars.

What about smoking in your mobile home?


(Story via QandO)

 

It takes a village to raise a groom


Interesting:
Former US president Bill Clinton, who was visiting Kenya on Friday, will probably never hear about it but he's being offered 20 head of cattle and 40 goats for the hand of his daughter, Chelsea, in marriage.

The 36-year-old bachelor, Godwin Kipkemoi Chepkurgor, has waited five years after writing to the president and vows to remain unmarried until he gets an answer.

He will be waiting for his "no" for a very long time.

(From In The Bullpen)

Sunday, July 24, 2005
 

Something everyone can agree on


Right and left. Everyone should agree that it is time to end gerrymandering:San Antonio Express News:
Tanner's measure would require each state to create an independent redistricting commission of no less than five members. The commission would be charged with drawing that state's congressional district map once every 10 years, no more and no less.

Texans have some firsthand knowledge of how elected leaders of both parties can manipulate the redistricting process for partisan gain. The wounds of the 2003 redistricting fight - which redrew congressional boundaries for the second time in as many years - are still fresh.
That battle royal was a political payback for decades of redistricting that drew lines in a different direction.

Aside from the partisan acrimony, the current method of redistricting creates a stunningly uncompetitive political environment. Politicians stack and pack voters into safe districts for both Republicans and Democrats.

Outside of Texas, where four incumbent Democrats were targeted in redistricting and defeated, only three of 399 congressional incumbents who ran for re-election lost their seats last November.
There is a better way. A handful of states already have independent commissions that take redistricting out of the hands of partisan, elected officials.

Politicians need convince their voters. Not choose them.

Only three congressional incumbents lost their seats in an election? That is a scandal.

 

Tolerating intolerance


Samizdata.net:
For decades the supporters of multiculturalism have used tax money and government regulations to actively discourage assimilation of immigrants into the broader society, preferring to see communities develop which favour 'identity politics' better suited and more amenable to their own collectivist world views. And now we are paying the price for that. We will not be able to defend ourselves physically or preserve our liberal society unless we stop tolerating intolerance, and that includes not just fundamentalist Islam but also the anti-western bigotry of the multiculturalists.

Friday, July 22, 2005
 

Harsh headline


Appalachia image setback: Fighting toothlessness in Appalachia

Thursday, July 21, 2005
 

Bye Jacko


In America, his name is now synonymous with "really weird."

The minute he steps out of his limo, here people look at him strangely (and keep a tight grip on their children).

Will he say something stupid? Will he be holding hands with a chimp? Will his nose finally fall off?

The Europeans - apparently - don't know him that well. Yet.

So Europe, you're welcome to him: Michael Jackson wants to move to Berlin.

Maybe he'll creep Europeans out even faster.

But still consider a word to the wise: don't let him near your kids.

 

The death wedgie competition


"About 3,500 athletes from 100 countries compete for medals during the world's largest meeting of non-olympic sports from July 14 - 24."



Let me get this straight: curling is an Olympic sport but competitive wedging failed to make the cut?

Incidently, I'm a failed wedger from way back. My career as a wedger promptly ended when a frustrated camp counselor hung me from a nail by my underwear.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005
 

Common sense wins a round


File under 'Have They No Shame?:'
Michael Campbell was employed as the administrator of 'an anti-substance abuse program' at Intermediate School 72 in Staten Island, NY, when he was arrested in April 2002 for having 'a bag of marijuana on his person [and] sitting in a car containing 10 aluminum bags of cocaine.' While Campbell arranged a plea deal with prosecutors, agreeing to complete a drug-counseling program, the school district moved to terminate his employment. But termination proceedings were stopped when a hearing officer found that Campbell's completion of the counseling program entitled him to be reinstated.

Now, more than three years after Campbell was arrested, the state Supreme Court's Appellate Division has overruled the hearing officer's decision. Returning Campbell to his position would 'be irrational' and 'defy common sense,' the judges wrote. Said a spokesman for the city Law Department, '[W]e shouldn't have to spend years on litigation to remove an individual convicted of serious drug charges.'

 

Google Earth


This is the coolest piece of software I've seen in a long time: Google Earth.

It is a download that allows you to fly over the satellite maps of the Earth in virtual 3D. Type in any address, and it will zoom there. You can zoom in and out, or fly down streets, and check out the local geography.

It is especially cool to go aorund cities or fly through the Grand Canyon.

On the particular day when the satellite imaged my house, I can see my wife's car parked outside...

Very cool.

 

India sagging


There was a recent article in the WSJ about India's path to prosperity, and why it has not been as easy as China's:A Passage to Prosperity.

It notes that while India - because it's national language is English - has made great strides in growing its tech sector, industrial growth has lagged behind:

The single most important factor explaining these differences is the relatively poor performance of Indian industry. Whereas the share of industry in China's GDP rose from a high level of 42% in 1990 to 51% in 2000, it remained virtually stagnant in India. By contrast, Indian service grew rapidly, expanding its share from 41% in 1990 to 48% in 2000. This trend has continued in the last five years.


Why is this? India has labor that is every bit as cheap and productive as China's.

Of course, there are some reasons mentioned that are common to any developing country:
Indian industry needs better infrastructure.

Well, duh. My wife is currently working on a project in India where 130 information workers are attempting to communicate with the US using the equivalent of a single cable modem. And they shut off the power at night when the US offices are open.

Like that's going to work.

But infrastructural needs are something common to every developing country, including China. In most developing nations, industrial growth precedes tech growth, because industry needs less infrastructure.

What is screwing India up?

As usual, government has been getting involved:

(F)irms that employ 100 or more workers in India cannot fire them under any circumstances. This law has understandably deterred multinationals as well as large domestic firms from entering labor-intensive manufacturing.

Yeah, that would do it. And this won't help either:

The virtual ban on private universities in India is most puzzling. Many students would be willing to spend significant sums of money for a decent education, as shown by the expenditures they currently incur at U.S. universities. Given the high private returns to higher education, there is also a good case for the introduction of significant tuition fees in public universities to generate funds for the expansion and improvement of the quality of education.

India needs to learn some basic lessons about delivering services (readers who think national health care is going to solve anything, take note). As with any commodity or service, a government provider would like to promise three things:

1. It will be available to everyone
2. It will cheap
3. It will be high quality


You can have any two of those, but YOU CAN'T HAVE ALL THREE.

India is just rationing. And it is very unwise ration education, especially when there are people willing to pay for it.

I'd wager that if India were to change those two stupid laws, it's industry would take off like a rocket.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005
 

Pappa Ratzi with horns!


Picked up from Eabha The Kiwi:



You're going to tell me some editor didn't see that?

It jumped right out at me!

 

Celebrating mediocrity


I'm not alone.

My wife and I did not go my son's graduation party at his day care. It seemed pointless and stupid. For my act of rebellion, I endured the disapproving stares from day care workers who take themselves far too seriously.

What did we miss? Something like this:
Recently, I sat in the school cafeteria, surrounded by parents, grandparents, video cameras and bouquets of flowers. We all watched a stunning PowerPoint slideshow, listened to comments from speakers and applauded enthusiastically when the students strolled by wearing graduation caps and attire. Diplomas were granted, gifts were bestowed and tears were shed. A celebration brunch followed. What a proud day.

Welcome to preschool graduation.

....We are raising a generation of children who expect bigger, better, more, faster, fancier at every turn. Small wonder that my children expect to be paid for even the simplest of things, such as making their beds or helping take out the trash. No surprise that the 5-year-old ballerina seated next to me at a dance recital asked her parents, "Did you buy me flowers?"

I'm not just a grump.

Well, I am a grump, but there is something more important at stake here: when everything is celebrated, then nothing is. When you have a party for every grade change, what do you when your child really accomplishes something?

What will these kids expect when they graduate from college? By giving them prizes for mediocrity, what do you give them for excellence?

It's even infected sports:

No longer is the game MVP the player who actually outperformed the others. I congratulated my son for earning the "Player of the Game" certificate after a recent baseball game. "Oh, Mom," he said, "It doesn't mean I actually played a good game. They always give this to the kid who played the worst so he won't feel bad." Are we supposed to frame this certificate and hang it on the wall?

Oh brother.

Friday, July 15, 2005
 

Perfectly said


Victor Davis Hanson discusses the far left:
There are three sacraments to their postmodern thinking, besides the primordial fear that so often leads to appeasement.

Our first hindrance is moral equivalence. For the hard Left there is no absolute right and wrong since amorality is defined arbitrarily and only by those in power.

Taking back Fallujah from beheaders and terrorists is no different from bombing the London subway since civilians may die in either case. The deliberate rather than accidental targeting of noncombatants makes little difference, especially since the underdog in Fallujah is not to be judged by the same standard as the overdogs in London and New York. A half-dozen roughed up prisoners in Guantanamo are the same as the Nazi death camps or the Gulag.

Our second shackle is utopian pacifism: "war never solved anything" and "violence only begets violence." Thus it makes no sense to resort to violence, since reason and conflict resolution can convince even a bin Laden to come to the table. That most evil has ended tragically and most good has resumed through armed struggle - whether in Germany, Japan, and Italy or Panama, Belgrade, and Kabul - is irrelevant. Apparently on some past day, sophisticated Westerners, in their infinite wisdom and morality, transcended age-old human nature, and as a reward were given a pass from the smelly, dirty old world of the past six millennia.

The third restraint is multiculturalism, or the idea that all social practices are of equal merit.
Who are we to generalize that the regimes and fundamentalist sects of the Middle East result in economic backwardness, intolerance of religious and ethnic minorities, gender apartheid, racism, homophobia, and patriarchy? Being different from the West is never being worse.

These tenets in various forms are not merely found in the womb of the universities, but filter down into our popular culture, grade schools, and national political discourse — and make it hard to fight a war against stealthy enemies who proclaim constant and shifting grievances. If at times these doctrines are proven bankrupt by the evidence it matters little, because such beliefs are near religious in nature — a secular creed that will brook no empirical challenge.

These articles of faith apparently fill a deep psychological need for millions of Westerners, guilty over their privilege, free to do anything without constraints or repercussions, and convinced that their own culture has made them spectacularly rich and leisured only at the expense of others.

I wish I had written that.

 

Kyoto costs


Gotta love Tim Blair:
New Zealand's trustworthy treasury says the government's Kyoto Kaper will cost the pacifist islands only $303 million, although other estimates put the eventual cost at anywhere between $500 million to $1.2 billion. That's for a population of just four million. If similar debts were incurred by Australia and the US, we'd be looking - based on relative population size - at these remarkable figures:

NZ: $303 million. Australia: $2.2 billion. US: $22 billion.
NZ: $500 million. Australia: $3.75 billion. US: $37 billion.
NZ: $1.2 billion. Australia: $9 billion. US: $90 billion.

(Most of that cash, by the way, would be sent to Russia, who you might remember from such environmental successes as Chernobyl.) A group of Kiwi industrialists sensibly want the government to ditch its Kyoto policy. An election due later this year, however, may see the government itself ditched.

They should have emulated Europe, which ratified the treaty with great fanfare.

And then ignored the idea of complying with it.

 

Were the London bombers tricked?


I like to read Mike Spenis at the Feces Flinging Monkey because he is very good at informed conjecture. He takes the facts of a news story, and he comes at it form an angle that I don't usually see in other places. He might be right; he might be wrong. But he makes you think. Here he goes again:

Were The London Bombers Tricked?

Wednesday, 13 Jul 2005

This is speculation on my part, but after conversations with several people I have come to believe that the London bombers did not know they were on a suicide mission.

Here's why:

1) At least three of the four bombers died with their ID cards with them, leading police directly back to their homes.

2) The bombs went off simultaneously, strongly suggesting they were set off by either timers or remote control.

3) The bombs were unusually small and light, reportedly only ten pounds. They were carried in backpacks, not vests.

4) There were no boasting videos left behind, no suicide notes.

5) From what I have seen in the press, the bombers did not seem to fit the profile of suicide bombers we've seen in Israel - people with a personal score to settle, people with obvious jihadist ambitions, or people who have shamed their families and who are looking for redemption. Furthermore, bombers are typically nervous and quiet when approaching their targets; these guys 'were captured on CCTV at 8.20am walking through a subway at King's Cross. One security source said last night: 'They looked like they were going for a hike. They were chatting to each other and smiling.''

This is not to say they were likely to be entirely innocent, either; one left his car behind, presumably with more explosives inside. However, if these guys were tricked into carrying these bombs I think it would be a fairly big deal. For one, it would suggest that the bad guys have less influence in London then we feared, and secondly, it might generate some backlash against the bomb plot leaders from fellow Muslims, and make future recruits less willing to trust their handlers.

Just a thought, but a good one, I think.

 

It's about time


Have you notcied that beef prices have been outrageously high lately?

With prized tenderloins and ribeyes out my price range, I have been forced to make due with some lesser cuts.

In some ways, it's been great. Inside skirt steak is now one of my favorite cuts of meat (it is hard to find because restaurants buy this steak heaivly for use in things like fajitas).

But when you see chuck and round steaks at $8 a pound, and the usually excellent bargain flank steak at a pricy $14, something's up.

There's a reason, and it might be about to change: Court: Let in Canada cattle
SAN FRANCISCO - A federal appeals court ruled yesterday that Canadian cattle could again be imported to the United States, dismissing a lower-court decision that held that resuming imports could spread mad cow disease.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture was not immediately available to comment on when it would allow shipments of Canadian cattle to resume. The imports were banned in May 2003 after a cow in Alberta was found to have mad cow disease.

Just in time for some late summer grilling?

Wednesday, July 13, 2005
 

My son, the pervert


It seemed like a normal day when I arrived at day care to pick up my son.

Sean was sweeping up the floor. This is usually a good sign. (Sean sitting a chair alone with a frown is not a good sign.)

But one of his teachers signaled that she needed to talk to me.

Uh oh. What did he do?

She look at me grimly and talked in a low whisper: while at swimming lessons, Sean told a girl that he wanted to see what was under her panties. The girl complied, pulling down her panties in front of the whole class.

This teacher had been wringing her hands all day apparently. For a second, the teacher seemed to be asking me if this was a common behavior in the Rogers' household.

No, I replied. Pick up lines like that never worked for me. And if I tried that with my wife, she would just laugh (at me, not with me).

The teacher didn't think that was funny.

I have noticed Sean becoming very interested female anatomy. Although he is sometimes uncouth about it, it didn't have me worried. He's a four-year-old boy, and apparently he's not gay (not that there would be anything wrong with it if he was).

Well anyway, I was relieved when the teacher finally broke a smile.

"Kids are curious," she said.

Well, yeah. So are Dads. But we are just more discreet.

Apparently I could learn something from my son in the "pick up line" department.

 

Monsters


Remember, they are freedom fighters:
BAGHDAD, July 13 (Reuters) - At least 25 people, many of them children, were killed and 25 more wounded on Wednesday by a suicide car bomb near a patrol where U.S. forces were handing out sweets in Baghdad, police sources said.

A duty policeman at the Kindi hospital said 25 dead bodies and 25 wounded had arrived there.

'Most of them are children. The Americans were handing out sweets at the time of the attack,' he said.

It's one deliberate atrocity after another with these people...

 

Hardening attitudes


Britain is not like Spain:
The poll showed that the vast majority of Londoners intended to stick to their normal travel plans despite the attacks. Those living the furthest away from the capital were the most likely to change their travel plans or abandon trips to London.

A large majority supported measures to reduce the threat of any future terrorist attacks. Nearly nine out of ten favoured giving the police new powers to arrest people they suspect of planning terrorist acts (86 per cent), tighter controls on who comes into the country (88 per cent) and security check and baggage inspections at stations (89 per cent).

More than two thirds of the public (70 per cent) backed an increase in police powers to stop and search people on the street, while three fifths (61 per cent) said that they supported the introduction of ID cards. There are were marked regional variations.

Those living the furthest away from London were the strongest supporters of tough action.While 95 per cent of Scots support security checks and baggage inspections at stations, 84 per cent in London and the South East back this measure.
Working-class respondents were stronger supporters than the middle classes of giving the police new powers. While 93 per cent of unskilled workers wanted the police to have new powers to arrest people suspected of planning terrorist acts, 79 per cent of professionals and managers did so.

Security checks and baggage inspections at stations were backed by 92 per cent of women and 85 per cent of men.

There is steel in British hearts.

It's no wonder they've been undefeated at home since 1066.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005
 

Dumb pandas


No wonder they're almost extinct:
But Hsing-Hsing and Ling-Ling were not simply dull. They were also unpleasant. Confinement depresses zoo animals, and the pandas were no exception, behaving more like kooks than teddy bears. Ling-Ling, unprovoked, assaulted one of her keepers and gnawed on his ankle. The animals' decadelong attempt to mate was played as comic opera, but it was much darker. At first Hsing-Hsing failed to inseminate Ling-Ling because he tried to mate with her ear (aural sex? - JR) and her arm. (He may have been inept because he never learned about mating in the wild.) Then the zoo imported a male panda from London Zoo to mate with Ling-Ling. He mauled her instead. (So much for panda comity.) Eventually Hsing-Hsing got it right, and between 1983 and 1989, Ling-Ling bore five of his cubs. All of them died within days. One cub perished after Ling-Ling sat on it. Another seems to have been killed by a urinary tract infection acquired from Ling-Ling. Keepers believe Ling-Ling infected herself by sticking bamboo and carrots up her urinary tract, surely neurotic behavior.


From Best of the Web.

 

First hand report


Interesting:

Psychiatrist Graham W. Hoffman '78 (left, serving as medic on a civil-affairs patrol to renovate six schools near Samarra) joined the Army Reserve after September 11 and has completed his second tour in Iraq, treating mostly 20-something First Infantry Division soldiers (and some Iraqis, too) for post traumatic stress disorder. The Iraqi civilians were very nice to us again, even though Samarra had a lot of insurgents for much of my time there. And the kids love us, especially the little girls, who seem to feel all this democratic change will be good for them in particular. The whole mission is starting to feel like Peace Corps work, albeit you still have to be well armed. I am a political left-winger on most things, but on the Middle East business I think we are doing the right thing, mainly because that's what all these Iraqi civilians kept telling me. Not sure why you don't hear that kind of stuff on the media, except that most civilians there would consider it suicide to say good things about Americans on-camera.


I'm not sure either.

From Best of the Web.

Monday, July 11, 2005
 

A strange way to fight a war


Victor Davis Hanson:::
(T)he terrorists and their supporters understand that in a strange way the West is not only split, but also increasingly illiberal as well. It has lost confidence in its old commitment to rationalism, free speech and empiricism, and now embraces the deductive near-religious doctrines of moral equivalence and utopian pacifism. Al Qaeda's supporters will say that Thursday's victims were killed because of Afghanistan or Iraq. Westerners will duly repeat the dull refrain that 'Bush lied, thousands died' in their guilt-ridden search for something we did to cause this.

And so, rather than focus our attention on the madrassas and the mosques that preach hatred, we will strive to learn more about Islamic culture, as if our own insensitivity were the true culprit. Our grandfathers could despise Bushido - Japan's warrior cult - without worrying whether they were being unfair to Buddhists; we of less conviction and even less courage, cannot do likewise.

In short, we now know what to expect from the London bombings and the others to follow. There will be no effort to punish the states that subsidize al Qaeda. Critics will cling to the myth that the British got what they had coming. The primary obsession of many Westerners will be to extend sensitivity to Islam, not the victims of those who kill in its name. And all will be consoled that just a few dozen were harvested this time.

What a strange way to fight a war.

Friday, July 08, 2005
 

Just a minor NYT goof...


And I thought I screwed up once in a while:
The (New York Times) Op-Ed page in some copies yesterday carried an incorrect version of an article about military recruitment. The writer, an Army reserve officer, did not say, 'Imagine my surprise the other day when I received orders to report to Fort Campbell, Ky., next Sunday,' nor did he characterize his recent call-up to active duty as the precursor to a 'surprise tour of Iraq.' That language was added by an editor and was to have been removed before the article was published. Because of a production error, it was not. The Times regrets the error.

Did anything happen to that editor?

Was he fired? Slapped on the wrist? Promoted?

The New York Times! What has happened to you?

Thursday, July 07, 2005
 

African corruption explained


I witnessed so much waste and corruption when I was in Sierra Leone that interviews like this come as no surprise:

The Kenyan economics expert James Shikwati, 35, says that aid to Africa does more harm than good...

SPIEGEL: Mr. Shikwati, the G8 summit at Gleneagles is about to beef up the development aid for Africa...

Shikwati: ... for God's sake, please just stop.

SPIEGEL: Stop? The industrialized nations of the West want to eliminate hunger and poverty.

Shikwati: Such intentions have been damaging our continent for the past 40 years. If the industrial nations really want to help the Africans, they should finally terminate this awful aid. The countries that have collected the most development aid are also the ones that are in the worst shape. Despite the billions that have poured in to Africa, the continent remains poor.

SPIEGEL: Do you have an explanation for this paradox?

Shikwati: Huge bureaucracies are financed (with the aid money), corruption and complacency are promoted, Africans are taught to be beggars and not to be independent. In addition, development aid weakens the local markets everywhere and dampens the spirit of entrepreneurship that we so desperately need. As absurd as it may sound: Development aid is one of the reasons for Africa's problems. If the West were to cancel these payments, normal Africans wouldn't even notice. Only the functionaries would be hard hit. Which is why they maintain that the world would stop turning without this development aid.

Corruption is almost always endemic in tribal societies (which is why the corruption in Iraq does not surprise me in the slightest).

There are really basic reasons for this. In Sierra Leone, it was the idea of the Sababu.

A Sababu is an older person who helps you along the way. He might be an uncle who pays for your schooling or gives a place to live. You expect others to help you when you need help, and when you are prospering, you are expected to act as a Sababu for them in return.

It is a very nice idea, but it is at the heart of African corruption.

For example, if you achieve some level of sucess in Africa, you are expected to give your wealth back to everyone who has helped you along the way.

And to their friends and relatives.

This can get very expensive, but it is viewed as unthinkable to turn these people away. In Sierra Leone, these would be called "krabitz," one of the worst insults in their culture.

This puts real pressure on people.

A clerk earning $10/day can quickly find himself supporting several people, paying their school fees and giving them food.

He is under tremendous pressure to steal.

As a result, the mail in West Africa cannot be trusted. The governments bleed money and get nothing in return. In the Peace Corps, drivers often steal gasoline out of their own cars.

It a tremendous disincentive to economic growth. What incentive is there to to spend months of hard labor digging a fish farm if, in the end, the culture forces you to give away all of your fish to your relatives?

If West Africa is ever to grow, Sababu culture has to go.

But how?

I think that in most Sub-Saharan African countries, most aid given to the governments should be ended. Fifty years of it has accomplished nothing; its absence can hardly do worse.

We should marshal our resources for the few countries that are willing to take the painful steps needed to solve their problems.

Fortunately, American policy may now be moving in this direction. This will concentrate our aid in countries that might just use it wisely.

The painful steps are the very "structural adjustment programs" that liberals consider 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 is 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?

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 our 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, and Haiti 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.

And it would make the US richer too...


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