Jon Stewart on Mumbai

Pretty funny.  Even funnier when you consider it is probably the most dead-on analysis of terrorism you will see in the MSM this week.

Posted on December 4, 2008 at 09:44 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

So, We Are All to Blame

I blame the English and all of us in the media for the 9/11 attacks on Manhattan.  If we had just stuck with "New Amsterdam" rather than having the name forcibly changed to New York by Anglo chauvinists, the WTC would never have been attacked.  We all conspired in this tragedy by continuing to call it "New York."

Crazy?  I would have thought so, but apparently this logic is quite in vogue


Postscript:  I find it moderately hilarious to see folks on the left defending names imposed by western colonialists over indigenous names.  But if it makes us Westerners to blame for terrorism, I guess it's in a good cause.

Posted on December 3, 2008 at 10:28 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

"All of America's Problems"

I am starting to discover that I am an exception in the blogosphere, which seems to turn its collective noses up at the Olympics.  Well, my family loves to watch the Olympics together, and it is a real event in our house these two weeks.

Anyway, I was watching Bob Costas interview President Bush last night, and he asked a question I would paraphrase as "how is the US going to exercise influence on China given China's increasing strength and all the problems we have in the US."

Now, I am the first one to criticize the US and its government on any number of dimensions, but when one pulls back to an international view, one has to have some perspective.  What are these overwhelming problems we face when compared to the struggle for freedom and/or economic sufficiency in much of the world?  The US media has developed a bedrock assumption that the US is some kind of wasteland in need of total overhaul, when in fact we are the example all the world emulates.  Just look at the images from China -- sure there are a lot of unique cultural differences, but in many ways you see a people trying to be like us.

Posted on August 11, 2008 at 09:43 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

The Aid Conundrum

I think there are a lot of us who scratch our heads over foreign aid.  While open to helping starving kids, its not always clear how to do so without simultaneously reinforcing and strengthening despotic regimes and dysfunctional cultures that caused the problems in the first place.  At least not without sending in the US military along with a trillion dollars or so for a decade or more.

This question could lead to a fairly interesting discourse, but in reality it does not.  Expressing the above quandary merely gets one labeled as unfeeling and insensitive.  One of the problems with having a reasonable debate is that the people and groups in the West who most support aid also are philosophical supporters of many of the failed leftish regimes that caused the aid to be needed in the first place, or else they are strong advocates for cultural relativism that feel that it is wrong to criticize any non-western culture for any reason.

While he does not offer any answers to this question, it is nice to see Kevin Myers at least try to raise these complexities, especially at a time when Barrack Obama is trying to make all these questions seem easy:

I am not innocent in all this. The people of Ireland remained in ignorance of the reality of Africa because of cowardly journalists like me. When I went to Ethiopia just over 20 years ago, I saw many things I never reported -- such as the menacing effect of gangs of young men with Kalashnikovs everywhere, while women did all the work. In the very middle of starvation and death, men spent their time drinking the local hooch in the boonabate shebeens. Alongside the boonabates were shanty-brothels, to which drinkers would casually repair, to briefly relieve themselves in the scarred orifice of some wretched prostitute (whom God preserve and protect). I saw all this and did not report it, nor the anger of the Irish aid workers at the sexual incontinence and fecklessness of Ethiopian men. Why? Because I wanted to write much-acclaimed, tear-jerkingly purple prose about wide-eyed, fly-infested children -- not cold, unpopular and even "racist" accusations about African male culpability.

Am I able to rebut good and honourable people like John O'Shea, who are now warning us that once again, we must feed the starving Ethiopian children? No, of course I'm not. But I am lost in awe at the dreadful options open to us. This is the greatest moral quandary facing the world. We cannot allow the starving children of Ethiopia to die.

Yet the wide-eyed children of 1984-86, who were saved by western medicines and foodstuffs, helped begin the greatest population explosion in human history, which will bring Ethiopia's population to 170 million by 2050. By that time, Nigeria's population will be 340 million, (up from just 19 million in 1930). The same is true over much of Africa.

Thus we are heading towards a demographic holocaust, with a potential premature loss of life far exceeding that of all the wars of the 20th Century. This terrible truth cannot be ignored.

But back in Ireland, there are sanctimonious ginger-groups, which yearn to prevent discussion, and even to imprison those of us who try, however imperfectly, to expose the truth about Africa. And of that saccharine, sickly shower, more tomorrow.

via Maggies Farm.

By the way, does it seem odd to anyone else that we in America get accused of having "unsustainable" lifestyles and we are urged to return to simpler, less technological, less energy-intensive lives like those in Africa?  I would have argued that "sustainable" means to be able to support your own people with their own effort.  By this definition, the US is the most sustainable country in the world.  Our prospective efforts not only sustain us so well that even our poorest 20% live better than the upper middle class in African nations, but we also help sustain the rest of the world.  We create so much wealth that we are able to consistently import more than we export, creating jobs around the world.  And we send more aid to other countries than most of the rest of the world combined.

Posted on July 27, 2008 at 01:06 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Will Mexico Follow Chavez?

As in Venezuela, the Mexican government is facing the problem of declining oil production in a state whose national government relies on oil revenues for much of its operating funds.  And, like Venezuela, this is a problem that is self-imposed. 

The ignorance with which most of the media writes about oil reserves is staggering.  Most writers fall in the trap of talking about oil reserves as if they are big pools underground that will eventually be sucked dry and have a fixed recoverable size.  The reality is that the amount of oil that can be pumped from any field depends greatly on how much capital investment one puts into the field.  In the short term, wells even in perfectly viable fields will start to fall off in production unless they are reworked every so often.  Longer term, addition of pumps, water/steam/CO2 injection, drilling deeper, etc. all can greatly extend the life of fields.  There are fields in Texas just as old as those in Mexico which continue to be reinvigorated by investment.  And we continue to find new fields in the US through exploration investment, and would find more if the government did not restrict the most promising areas from exploration.  (by the way, this is why much of the peak oil analysis is BS)

The problem, then, is not that Mexican oil reservoirs are going dry but that the amount of investment required to keep them producing is rising as they age (the converse of the law of diminishing returns is the law of increasing capital investment requirement).  And the Mexican government, like that in Venezuela, is committed to siphoning off oil revenues for short term political spending and to provide gas at below-market pricing rather than reinvest the money in the fields.  In this context, the Mexican government is seeking foreign investment to help bail them out of this problem, while the socialist elements want to keep foreign corporations out.

For once, I agree with the socialists.  I see no reason why US oil companies should venture back into a country that still celebrates as a holiday the day in 1938 when the Mexican government stole the assets of US oil companies.

Postscript: 
special recognition to the AZ Republic writer who gratuitously tried to justify nationalization of assets owned by US citizens by claiming that the US oil companies essentially asked for it by "evading Mexican taxes and paying meager salaries."  The entire history of the third world oil industry can be written as follows:
1.  US companies invest huge amounts of capital and know-how to build oil industry
2.  Once things are producing, local government steals it all
3.  Oil fields go into extended decline due to short-term focused and incompetent government management
4.  US companies invited back int to invest huge amounts of know-how and capital
5. repeat

Update: Here is a great example of why peak oil analysis is probably flawed -- such analysis assumes that the size of reserves are static.  But in fact they are not.  They can vary greatly with the price of oil, because the size of the recoverable reserves, as discussed above, depends on how much one is willing to invest in recovering them and that depends on price.

In the next 30 days the USGS (U.S. Geological Survey) will release a new report giving an accurate resource assessment of the Bakken Oil Formation that covers North Dakota and portions of South Dakota and Montana. With new horizontal drilling technology it is believed that from 175 to 500 billion barrels of recoverable oil are held in this 200,000 square mile reserve that was initially discovered in 1951. The USGS did an initial study back in 1999 that estimated 400 billion recoverable barrels were present but with prices bottoming out at $10 a barrel back then the report was dismissed because of the higher cost of horizontal drilling techniques that would be needed, estimated at $20-$40 a barrel.

Posted on April 8, 2008 at 12:54 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

Open Up Trade with Cuba

Cuba, Castro, Che Guevara, etc all suck.  It is ridiculous to even have to keep making this point against folks who are trying to sanctify them.

That being said, it is way past time to open up Cuba to US trade.  When will we learn that we are doing the Castros work for them?

  • If the US did not go out of its way to limit contact with Cuba, the Castros would have to try to do it.  We are just playing into their hands.  Totalitarian governments have a very dicey time in this era of free communications.  China interacts with the west, and is improving.  North Korea blocks all contact and is not.
  • The economic boycott gives the Castros a fig leaf to hide behind as their entire population wallows in poverty.  Yes, they are poor, and they are poor because of communism, but the Castros are able to blame the failure of their country on the US embargo.

But they have free health care!  They get all the leeches they want.

Posted on February 21, 2008 at 10:08 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

The UN Joke Just Continues

The UN remains a caricature of itself.  I hadn't known this, but am not surprised:

In the 17 months since [the UN Human Rights Council's] inception, the body has passed 13 condemnations, 12 of them against Israel.

LOL.  I'm not a huge Israel fan (its socialist to a stupid degree and maintains what are effectively two-tiers of individual rights, for its Jewish and Arab residents) but this is absurd.  Apparently the Council has the same problems as the human rights commission it replaced:

The problems begin with the council's composition. Only 25 of its 47 members are classified as "free democracies," according to Freedom House's ranking of civil liberties. Nine are classified as "not free." Four -- China, Cuba, Russia and Saudi Arabia -- are ranked as the "worst of the worst." These nations are responsible for repeated violations of the U.N.'s own Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Yet it is they who dominate the council, leading a powerful bloc of predominantly Arab and African nations that consistently vote as a unit.

Its predecessor human rights commission played a central role in my guide to "how to spot a dictatorship."

Update: More here

Posted on January 29, 2008 at 07:35 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Libertarian Foreign Policy Problem

Outside of trade policy and climate treaties, I very seldom discuss foreign policy.  First, because it is not my first interest.  Second, because I am not an expert and do not spend the time to keep myself sufficiently informed on the issues to have useful insights.  Third, because of exactly this problem stated so well my Megan McArdle:

I periodically flirt with isolationism, or if you prefer, "non-intervention". Like most libertarians, I'm attracted to "high concept" political philosophy: simple rules that can be stated in a sentence or less. No arguments about causus belli, blowback, or ultimately unknowable political ramifications; just a simple "yes or no" test. Did a foreign army invade the United States? For "Yes", press one; for "No", press two, and go back to arguing about what should replace child welfare laws in the coming anarcho-capitalist society.

Besides, all the foreigners hate having us there. Why not leave, and see if absence makes the heart grow fonder? (I suspect that many nations which have come, over long decades, to regard regional peace as some sort of natural law, will get a rather nasty surprise. This might make our influence look, in retrospect, rather appealing.)

But anyone who thinks at all seriously about libertarianism will, fairly early on, be faced with a very high hurdle. There are a handful of wars in which American intervention unambiguously halted gross abuses of human liberty. World War II is one, though many end up going around, rather than over . . . arguing that the Nazis were the direct result of American intervention in World War I; or that it was justified because Japan attacked us1; or that Russia and Britain would have defeated Hitler anyway2.  The American Civil War, however, is by far the highest leap; and the hardest to dodge.

In theory, every state has the right to secede, and the stated Federal rationale for the Civil War--preserving the union--was the vilest tyranny. In practice, chattel slavery was a barbarism even viler.

And so we killed 20-30% of the Confederate Army, not a few of our own, and uncounted numbers of civilians. That's not counting the wounded, who probably outnumbered the dead. All we managed to achieve, at this horrendous cost, was a corrupt and brutal occupation, followed by the "freedom" of Jim Crow, sharecropping, and "separate but equal". And it was worth it. The good guys won. We didn't do everything we wanted to, or even everything we could have, or should have. Jim Crow was putrid. But it was nonetheless so much better than slavery that it was worth the horrendous cost--in my opinion, and that of almost everyone in the world.

For me, a big part of the problem is one of information -- generally, most of the information one might find useful in deciding if X is a good war to pursue is from the government, an institution that demonstrably cannot be trusted based on past history when it makes this case.  Non-interventionism seems the right way to go, except for the (relatively few) times it is not.  The problems is, to paraphrase the famous dictum about advertising money, "half (or more) of our wars are a waste -- we just don't know in advance which half."  Megan uses the example of the Civil War, saying that that war was worth it because we got rid of slavery.  But the war by no means began that way.  It wasn't really until well into the war that both sides were pretty much in agreement that the war was about ending or retaining slavery. I would argue that in advance, that war looked like an awful, terrible, horrible proposition.  The initial value proposition was "let's go to war so the Feds can have a bigger empire to run."  Only later did it become, "let's go to war to free a large part of our population."  There was a female professor, I forget her name, who made the point that the Emancipation Proclamation changed the war from a bloody waste of time to a moral positive.  But that came years into the fight.

The other problem I have is that the war is fought by, well, the government, the institution for which I have no trust.  One way of thinking about it is that every time we go to war, we put our lives and treasure and very future as a country in the hands of the Post Office.  Eeek.

Posted on January 6, 2008 at 10:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (21)

So Much for Cultural Relativism

From Sudan:

Thousands of Sudanese, many armed with clubs and knives, rallied Friday in a central square and demanded the execution of a British teacher convicted of insulting Islam for allowing her students to name a teddy bear "Muhammad."

In response to the demonstration, teacher Gillian Gibbons was moved from the women's prison near Khartoum to a secret location for her safety, her lawyer said....

They called for Gibbons' execution, saying, "No tolerance: Execution," and "Kill her, kill her by firing squad."

"This an arrogant woman who came to our country, cashing her salary in dollars, teaching our children hatred of our Prophet Muhammad," he said.

Um, this is a woman who merely went along with a group of small children who named a stuffed animal "Muhammad", a name I would guess a large number of the kids shared.  Fortunately, the government is much more reasonable than these extremists.  They only fired her from her job, slammed her in jail, after which time they will deport her.  But it could have been worse:

The protesters streamed out of mosques after Friday sermons, as pickup trucks with loudspeakers blared messages against Gibbons, who was sentenced Thursday to 15 days in prison and deportation. She avoided the more serious punishment of 40 lashes.

Some cultures just suck.  Period.

Posted on November 30, 2007 at 02:10 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)

Libertarian Split on Non-Intervention

Megan McArdle does a pretty fair job of outlining the issues that have split libertarians over the Iraq war.  A snippet:

If you are not willing to posit that Americans should stay home even when millions are being senselessly slaughtered, then you end up in sticky pragmatic arguments about the possibilities of inherently untrustworthy state power to counteract even more noxious state power, and how much in the way of cost we can reasonably be expected to bear in order to advance liberty. I don't think there's an inherently libertarian answer to those questions. Libertarians should be inherently more suspicious of the American government's ability to make things better than other groups--but by the same token, it seems to me that they shoul

Posted on November 27, 2007 at 08:16 PM | Permalink | Comments (14)

Do I have No Role in Iraq?

From Owen West, in the WSJ (emphasis added):

I tried to make sense of it. Not the encounter but the sheer madness of the surroundings. Runners were chattering about school applications and subprime predictions. Yet most of them told pollsters that Iraq was the single largest anxiety in their lives. Like the majority of the nation, they were exhausted by a war in which they had no role. And they wanted out.

This must be the new pro-war talking point, because I have seen it several times of late.  How does it make sense, goes the argument, that soldiers who risk their lives and are displaced from their families are ready to stay the course but average citizens with now skin in the game are not?

Two thoughts.  One, our whole effort in Iraq will very likely cost a trillion dollars before all is said and done.  That's more than $3000 for every man, woman, and child in America.  Given the regressiveness of the tax structure, that probably means that my family is in for $40,000 or more.  Don't tell me I have no role.  The next, likely Democratic administration is going to raise taxes substantially, and they are going to be able to justify it based on deficits created by this war.

Two, there is a big difference between having volunteered for a task and being drafted.  I am happy we have a high-morale volunteer army that does not wilt under adversity.  Cool.  But the money to pay for it is taken out of my pocket by force without my consent.  So the moral (or whatever) equivalence here is non-existent.

As I have said before, though the decision to invade Iraq was a bad one, I can kind-of sort-of go along with the argument that given where we are, we have an obligation to leave the Iraqi people in a better position.  But I am not going to apologize for being weary -- weary of the failures and incompetence of leadership, weary of the lack of clear goals and strategy, weary of the opacity of gaging progress.  And weary of the huge financial cost taken from me by force.

Posted on September 12, 2007 at 11:26 AM | Permalink | Comments (19)

Help Me Out on Darfur

Many of the very same folks who are vocal critics of the war in Iraq have "Save Darfur" banners on their web site.  I followed one, and clicked around a lot to find out what the hell they thought should be done.  They have some woman on the home page "running for Darfur" but I am not sure that is much of a practical solution.  I see they also want to send in the UN peacekeepers, but they seem to imply the problem is that the government needs to go, and I have never known UN peacekeepers to overthrow any governments (or to do anything really, other than maybe participate in some of the looting themselves).  And I can't believe that any adult really thinks sending aid money to this area with a rapacious government is going to help one bit.

Isn't the only real solution to send in troops, overthrow the old boss, and hang around for a decade or so until the new boss is stable?  And how is that any different than Iraq.

Seriously, I thought opposition to Iraq was about not engaging in wars we don't have to for mainly humanitarian reasons.  I am very sympathetic to this position, but it means that you are just going to have to watch and weep when the inevitable Darfurs come along.  But all this Darfur stuff is making me think that the opposition to Iraq is more about wars started by our guy vs. wars started by your guy.  I think it is perfectly valid to have a discussion about whether we want to try to take on by military force every bad government in the world (see: Cleaning the Augean Stables).  Unfortunately, I think the discussion is instead devolving into whether we should use our army to attack governments George Bush doesn't like vs. those Bono doesn't like.

Posted on September 5, 2007 at 11:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (12)

US Finally Fulfills Treaty Obligations, Maybe

After more than a decade, the US may finally allow Mexican truckers on US highways, something we actually agreed to in NAFTA:

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco late on Friday denied an emergency petition sought by the Teamsters union, the Sierra Club and consumer group Public Citizen to halt the start of a one-year pilot program that was approved by Congress after years of legal and political wrangling.

I guess I can understand the Teamsters attempt to have the government shield them from competition -- that has practically become a national sport.  And I presume that the Sierra Club has some environmental concerns with Mexican trucks, though that seems flimsy given trucks must meet US environmental requirements and my guess is that Mexican trucks are at least as fuel efficient as US trucks.   But how can a nominal consumer group possibly justify this action?  Blocking competition in any part of the economy can only increase prices and reduce choices for consumers, particularly in an area like trucking that has almost no impact on the safety of the products actually being shipped.   I wish I could say this was some strange exception, but  consumer groups have for years backed protectionist efforts that do nothing but hurt consumers.

Via Cafe Hayek

Posted on September 4, 2007 at 07:36 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

Is Belgium Collapsing?

The amount I know about Belgium could probably be written on a post card (except for its role in military history, which is substantial due to its location and its famously brave stand against Germany in the opening act of WWI).  So this article about the tremendous split developing between French (Wallonia) and Flemish (Flanders) Belgium was new to me.  In particular, I noted this:

Every year 6.6% of Flanders’ GDP is spent on welfare in Wallonia. The money has not helped the Walloons but turned them into welfare addicts. Belgium is a case study of how socialist redistribution schemes lead to economic perversions.

It appears that 60% of Wallonians are either unemployed or on the government payroll (roughly the same thing in Europe), vs. just 28% in Flanders.  And this despite the fact that Brussels and the EU HQ are in Flanders.

Posted on August 21, 2007 at 01:08 PM | Permalink | Comments (11)

Time to Switch From Meese's to Gipper's

From Daniel Griswold at Cato:

One sure sign of a hyperinflation is that the central bank must issue new currency notes in ever higher denominations so that people won’t have to carry bags or wheelbarrows of money around to make everyday purchases. Sure enough, the government of Zimbabwe is now wrestling with that very question. According to the FT story:

The launch yesterday of a new large-denomination bank note of Z$200,000—worth [US$13] at the official exchange rate and [US$1.30] at the more realistic parallel rate—underlines the disarray. The central bank had wanted to issue a Z$500,000 note, but a bank official said this was vetoed by the finance ministry because senior staff thought such a large denomination would have reinforced an impression that inflation was out of control.

At a 13,000 percent rate, that cat is probably already out of the bag.

What a mess.  Explanation of the post title here.

Posted on August 3, 2007 at 03:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

A Real Mixed Week for Free Speech

On the positive side, the Supreme Court has struck down portions of the BCRA, also known as McCain-Feingold:

The Court concluded that Wisconsin Right to Life's ads, which urged people to contact their senators (including one who was up for re-election) about the confirmation of judicial nominees, did not constitute either. The majority said "a court should find that an ad is the functional equivalent of express advocacy only if the ad is susceptible of no reasonable interpretation other than as an appeal to vote for or against a specific candidate." To put it another way, BCRA's pre-election blackout cannot be constitutionally applied to a spot that reasonably can be viewed as an issue ad, which means interest groups are once again free to engage in public policy debates on the air, no matter what time of year it is.

By the way, does anyone on the left feel at all worried that the four liberal judges were on the "limit speech" side of this issue?

But at the same time, the Supreme Court upheld speech limitations against High School students based on the content of the speech.  The rights of non-adults is a complicated issue, but precedent has been set that student speech is generally protected unless it is significantly disruptive of the school's functioning.  Except, it appears, when it is related to drugs.  This is part of a disturbing trend where an increasing number of topics, from "hate" speech to drug legalization speech are considered to be exceptions to the First Amendment.  However, almost everyone on the court seemed to have a different view on this, so it may be hard to generalize here.  Even the concurring opinions ranged the gamut from "this is narrowly aimed only at speech about narcotics" to "there is no free speech right in schools for minors."

And, speaking of hate speech, out in wacky Oakland, the world leader in Ebonics studies,

Marriage is the foundation of the natural family and sustains family values. That sentence is inflammatory, perhaps even a hate crime.

At least it is in Oakland, Calif. That city's government says those words, italicized here, constitute something akin to hate speech and can be proscribed from the government's open e-mail system and employee bulletin board. ...

Some African American Christian women working for Oakland's government organized the Good News Employee Association (GNEA), which they announced with a flier describing their group as "a forum for people of Faith to express their views on the contemporary issues of the day. With respect for the Natural Family, Marriage and Family Values."

The flier was distributed after other employees' groups, including those advocating gay rights, had advertised their political views and activities on the city's e-mail system and bulletin board. When the GNEA asked for equal opportunity to communicate by that system and that board, it was denied. Furthermore, the flier they posted was taken down and destroyed by city officials, who declared it "homophobic" and disruptive.

The city government said the flier was "determined" to promote harassment based on sexual orientation. The city warned that the flier and communications like it could result in disciplinary action "up to and including termination."

We might as well just repeal the First Amendment now and save time if we continue to believe that the government should ban any speech that offends someone.

Oh, and while we were talking about kids and drugs, check out this awesome rant by Mayor Cory Booker of Newark.

He wants to reserve prison cells for those who do violence and divert the nonviolent drug offenders into treatment programs and halfway houses.

He wants to change the New Jersey laws that bar many ex-cons from getting a driver's license. He wants a black kid from Newark who sells marijuana to clear his record as easily as the white kid from the suburbs who buys it.

He wants to stop banning ex-cons from such a long list of jobs, including warehouse jobs at the nearby airport.

The scale of the problem is staggering: About 1,500 convicts are released from state prison to Newark each year, and 1,000 of them will likely be arrested again within three years -- mostly for drug crimes.

"The drug war is causing crime," Booker says. "It is just chewing up young black men. And it's killing Newark."

Good, its about time.  Not to be misunderstood, I would kick my kid's asses from here to the moon if I found them doing hard drugs.  But I want the responsibility to mold and repair their behavior to be mine, an option that is cut off if they get thrown in jail (which they probably wouldn't, since my kids are well off and white).  It is fine and fairly rational that we have determined as a society that kids can mess up their life doing drugs.  It is insane -- totally insane -- that our response is that we will respond by ... messing their life up even worse by throwing them in jail.

Posted on June 25, 2007 at 03:05 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

College Kids: Suck it Up

Of late, it certainly appears that many colleges have invented a new right:  The right not be be offended.  Many college speech codes still are alive and well, and the broadest of them ban any speech that any particular listener "finds offensive"  (this example at Brandeis University carries especially sweet irony).  As I have written a zillion times, bans on hate speech are usually the leading edge of attempts to apply fairly comprehensive speech controls.

So Kudos to MIddlebury's President Ronald D. Liebowitz, as quoted at FIRE, who makes what should be an obvious point, that there is no crime in speech that makes you uncomfortable.  Speech one disagrees with needs to be answered with more speech.

But greater diversity means change, and change on college campuses is almost always difficult. Few 18 to 22 year olds are skilled in inviting or tolerating perspectives that are vastly different from than their own. Frankly, the same goes for 30-, 40-, and 50-something-year-old academics. Even though a campus may become more diverse in terms of the numbers of underrepresented groups present, the level of engagement can still be inconsequential if those representing different viewpoints are not encouraged and supported to express them. If an institution is not prepared to make space, figuratively speaking, for previously excluded groups, and support their presence on campus, its diversity efforts cannot succeed. And if the wariness about discomfort is stronger than the desire to hear different viewpoints because engaging difference is uncomfortable, then the quest for diversity is hollow no matter what the demographic statistics on a campus reflect.
 
In order for the pursuit of diversity to be intellectually defensible and valuable to those seeking a first-rate education at places like Middlebury, it needs to result in deliberation. It cannot simply facilitate the exchange of one orthodoxy or point of view for another. The best liberal arts education requires all voices, those of the old order as much as those of the new, and even those in between, to be subjected to the critical analysis that is supposed to make the academy a distinctive institution in society.

Lots more good stuff in the speech.

Posted on June 5, 2007 at 11:38 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

We Should Just Say "Thanks" Instead

Don Boudreaux argues that we should not retaliate vs. countries who subsidize exports to the US.

I know of no cases in which a country was impoverished, or even measurably damaged, by its refusal to "retaliate" against alleged instances of foreign subsidies. This fact, combined with the ease of abusing the ability to accuse foreign rivals of being subsidized, counsels strongly in favor of our own government turning a deaf ear to such accusations.

I have never, ever, ever understood how the average person in the US could actually get mad that a foreign government taxes its people for the sole purpose of subsidizing lower prices in the US.  I have the same reaction to "dumping" accusations, where folks get upset that some foreign company is allegedly selling its products in the US below cost.   Instead of complaining, I think we should just say "thanks."  And maybe "cha-ching!"  Nothing like getter over on the taxpayers of China or Japan. 

Posted on March 9, 2007 at 08:54 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Time for Francisco d'Anconia

Update from Venezuela:

Even Chavez’s own energy officials are getting nervous …

Last week, for the 10th time, Chavez announced his plan to confiscate four Orinoco Belt extra-heavy-oil projects run by six Western companies…

Rather than allow Chavez’s state oil company to become the majority partner in its investment, Exxon could… just walk away - a possibility that’s keeping Venezuelan energy officials up at night.

Rather than let its Cerro Negro operation be turned into a Chavista workers collective, with Exxon there to pay the bills and provide the technology and its workers suddenly state employees, Exxon could just pull out…

Courtesy of TJIC, who suggests a similar approach but from a different fiction source.

Posted on March 3, 2007 at 07:19 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Open Up to Cuba

The Bush administration is in the unenviable but not historically unprecedented position of not really being able to accomplish much of anything over the next two years.  Bush's credibility is such that a solid majority in Congress may oppose any plan he suggests, just because he suggested it.  Also, it is unlikely that any third-rail-type reforms will be considered in a presidential election cycle.  And I am generally OK with government legislative inaction.  In fact, it would be great if the Democrats chose to pursue impeachment hearings, not because Bush is any more or less a lying sack of shit than other politicians, but because it would divert Congress onto an enforced lassaiz faire path on every other issue.

However, one thing Bush could productively accomplish is to open up relations with Cuba.  If we are ready to pull out of Iraq after five years, even at the cost of being seen as "losing," we should be ready to reconsider our cold war with Cuba after over 46 years.  After all, our cold war with Russia, if dated from the end of WWII, only lasted 44 years.  We trade freely with communist China, and even with communist Vietnam, despite the fact that we were in a shooting war with them more recently than the Castro takeover.  And what have we accomplished?  Cuba is nowhere close to an anti-communist revolution, and its people suffer.  In fact, I think the embargo on Cuba, by turning Cuba's attention away from its natural trading partner the US, causes it to look for allies in places like Venezuela.

I think history has proven time and time again the power of open commerce and interchange in bringing closed, unfree societies into the modern age.  I can't for the life of me figure out why we still pursue the proven-pointless embargoes against Cuba except:

  • The sugar lobby like it that way
  • The Cuban expat community, operating on wounded latin pride, have stubbornly made it clear that anyone who suggests opening up to Cuba will lose the typically tight vote for Florida's key electoral votes.

With GWB's lame-duckracy and his brother moving on from the Florida governor's mansion, no Bush has to run for election in Florida again. With Castro's death (I'm not dead yet - yes you are, you'll be stone dead in a moment) the anti-Castro movement in the expat community loses focus, and might be reshaped into what it should be, that is pro-Cuba rather than anti-Castro.  I think these two stars are lining up to provide a unique opportunity to do something about Cuba, and in fact might be a useful step in counterpoint to Hugo Chavez's recent actions. 

Posted on February 20, 2007 at 10:14 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

Chavez Declared Dictator

Hugo Chavez has had himself declared dictator of Venezuela

Venezuela's National Assembly has given initial approval to a bill granting the president the power to bypass congress and rule by decree for 18 months.

President Hugo Chavez says he wants "revolutionary laws" to enact sweeping political, economic and social changes. He has said he wants to nationalise key sectors of the economy and scrap limits on the terms a president can serve.

Mr Chavez began his third term in office last week after a landslide election victory in December.

The bill allowing him to enact laws by decree is expected to win final approval easily in the assembly on its second reading on Tuesday. Venezuela's political opposition has no representation in the National Assembly since it boycotted elections in 2005.

Recognize that Chavez is the man, more than any other world leader, that progressives in this country have adopted as their hero.  Nowhere will you see a better illustration of what end-game progressives are really after.

Posted on January 21, 2007 at 07:41 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

All Your Bsae Are Belong to Us

Bsae

All your bsae are belong to us.  (Explanation of pop culture reference here)

From Yahoo news.  Cindy Sheehan gets the award this week for being a worse speller than I am.  By the way, I believe the issue at hand is actually a base relocation rather than an expansion, but I may be behind on the story.

Posted on November 25, 2006 at 08:39 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Should We Retreat from Iraq?

Glenn Reynolds quotes Ann Althouse as follows:

ANN ALTHOUSE IS DEPRESSED: "It's the failure of Americans to support the war. It's the folding and crumpling because things didn't go well enough and the way we conspicuously displayed that to our enemies. They're going to use that information. For how long? Forever."

Despite my initial opposition to the war in Iraq, once we were there I have always been a stay the course guy.  Partially for the reason that Althouse mentions, the damage to our credibility, and partially just because we have made a commitment to the Iraqi people and it would be dishonorable to leave them in the current mess without help.

What Althouse misses is this:  American's are not necessarily ready to give up on the war in Iraq, but they are ready to give up on the Administration's management of it.  One definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  This is how many folks, including myself, see our effort in Iraq.  We beat our head over and over against the same wall in the same place, expecting different results, and we don't get them.  People need to see an acknowledgment that the current approach is not working, so we are going to try X instead.

In this context, "stay the course" looks less attractive.  Because no one can seem to communicate what the extra time is going to buy us.  What will be done in three more years that was not done in the last three?  Or will we have to support the Iraqi's for decades against their own desire to tear themselves apart, so twenty years from now we can say "well, it took all our capacity and the military got nothing else done, but we finally converted one bad regime out of about fifty out there to a democracy."

I am willing to give the administration one more shot to define success in Iraq and a plan for getting there.  Right now, many Americans feel like the only two choices are "retreat now, with Iraq still a mess" and "retreat in five years, with Iraq still a mess and after a lot more casualties."  The administration is going to have to define an option 3 to get people back on board.

Posted on November 10, 2006 at 07:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (10)

Ah, Vindication

I love it when I get proven right, especially just days after my post, where I said:

I just don't know why conservatives are so afraid to let folks like Khatami speak in the US. Sure, he is a lying dictatorial human-rights-suppressing scumbag, but so what?  Its good to let people like this speak as much as they want. They always give themselves away

And, shazam!  Both Khatami and Hugo Chavez bury themselves in a deep hole with their verbal idiocy.  Both did more for to rally support against themselves in the last few days than a hundred speeches by their detractors.

PS- My company is cutting up all its Citgo cards on Monday.

Posted on September 21, 2006 at 11:57 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sanction of the Victim

This has been an incredible week in the ongoing culture clash between the western democracies and radical Islam.  In a series of events right out of the Onion or Monty Python, radical Muslims around the world protested the Pope calling them violent with ... waves of violence.  Once his remarks were proven right in such an obvious and public way the Pope reacted by ... apologizing for his remarks.**   

I am tired of apologizing to radical Islam (for some silly, bland cartoons, for god sakes!)  I am tired of bending over backwards into pretzels to give them the benefit of the doubt.  I am extremely tired of being told these folks are just aggrieved and in reality they share my values, because it is very very clear that they don't share my values.  I am tired of being told most Muslims are peaceful --  when these peaceful folks give their sanction and support to the violent ones and accept the most radical as their leaders. 

Radical Islam is, with the downfall of soviet communism and the painfully gradual opening up of China, the most illiberal force in the modern world. By a long shot.  It treats individual life with contempt, has no concept of rights, and in particular treats women far worse than apartheid South Africa ever treated blacks.  The theocracy we fear from certain Republican 700 Club folks is like 3.2 beer compared to full 200 proof Islamic theocratic fascism. 

I don't know why the left in this country has been hesitant to call out illiberal practices in the Middle East as vociferously as they have in other circumstances.  A part of this hesitation is probably opposition to the Iraq war, and fear that denouncing radical Islam for its faults might somehow give the administration a stronger mandate for more military adventures.  A less charitable explanation is that the hesitation is an extension of political correctness and cultural relativism run wild).

Well, I opposed the Iraq war:  The Augean stables are just too dirty to clean up by sending the military from dictator to dictator. I will go further and say I actually think the terrorist threat is exaggerated (and yes I do remember 9/11) in order to keep giving the FBI more powers and help politicians get elected.  Get tough on terrorism is sort of the new get tough on crime election speak.

But I don't think the threat to liberal values posed by Islamic fundamentalism is exaggerated.  And the first step in fighting it is to not give it, as Ayn Rand would say, the sanction of the victim.  People sometimes email me and say "who are we to talk -- America is not clean."  I will agree we have our warts - and much of this blog is taken up with pointing some of them out.  But what I always tell people, and still believe, is the following:

The US does harm when we fail to live up to our values.  Radical Islam does harm when they successfully pursue what they value.

**Postscript:   I don't pretend to understand all the 13th century quotations in the Pope's speech.  I don't think it matters.  If he had simply said "radical Islam preaches too much violence and it has to stop" he would have gotten the same reaction.  By the way, every person in the world seems to say bad things about the US, many of these comments are untrue or apply only to a minority of our leaders and not to myself. I can't remember anyone ever apologizing to me.   This story  that Muslims will do more violence unless the Pope apologizes some more reminds me of Sir Robin in the Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  "Perhaps if we run away more..."

And here is my message to the right -- I acknowledge that radical Islamic leaders treat apologies, backing-down, etc. as weakness to be exploited rather than preludes to reasonable compromise.   For this reason, I thought the invasion of Afghanistan was a necessity.  However, this general fact does NOT automatically justify the Iraq war.  If it did, it would also justify invading any Islamic country we want.  I still don't understand the strategic sense of Iraq and now we are stuck there, because I agree that once in, backing off will only embolden the radicals in the area to further hi-jinx.

Posted on September 19, 2006 at 10:37 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Confirming What We've Suspected

I usually try to wait a while to let sources like this get vetted.  With the proviso that it may turn out that this guy didn't have the access he says he had, this certainly is pretty damning, though I don't think many Bush critics will be surprised.  This is a quote in a local paper from an interview of Brigadier General Mark Scheid, who claims to be one of the top planners for the Iraq war (Hat tip:  Orin Kerr at Volokh, emphasis added)

A day or two [after 9/11], Rumsfeld was "telling us we were going to war in Afghanistan and to start building the war plan. We were going to go fast.

Then, just as we were barely into Afghanistan ... Rumsfeld came and told us to get ready for Iraq." . . .

Planning was kept very hush-hush in those early days.

"There was only a handful of people, maybe five or six, that were involved with that plan because it had to be kept very, very quiet."

There was already an offensive plan in place for Iraq, Scheid said. And in the beginning, the planners were just expanding on it.

"Whether we were going to execute it, we had no idea," Scheid said.

Eventually other military agencies - like the transportation and Army materiel commands - had to get involved.

They couldn't just "keep planning this in the dark," Scheid said.

Planning continued to be a challenge.

"The secretary of defense continued to push on us ... that everything we write in our plan has to be the idea that we are going to go in, we're going to take out the regime, and then we're going to leave," Scheid said. "We won't stay."

Scheid said the planners continued to try "to write what was called Phase 4," or the piece of the plan that included post-invasion operations like occupation.

Even if the troops didn't stay, "at least we have to plan for it," Scheid said.

"I remember the secretary of defense saying that he would fire the next person that said that," Scheid said. "We would not do planning for Phase 4 operations, which would require all those additional troops that people talk about today.

"He said we will not do that because the American public will not back us if they think we are going over there for a long war."

If true, this is hard to defend.  I guess the administration could argue that they didn't want to clutter up their core planning effort with contingencies.  Beyond this being pretty bad planning practice, it also makes no sense because at the time this planning started, according to the administration time line, the Iraq War itself was just a contingency.

Posted on September 8, 2006 at 10:12 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

Circumscribing the "War on Terror"

One of the reasons I blog is that the act of writing helps me clarify my thinking on certain issues.  I have written a number of times about my concerns over the "war powers" this administration is taking upon itself.  Arnold Kling's article in TCS Daily helped me clarify a better framework for thinking about my issues.  I can now put my concerns in two categories:

  • The administration is going too far in using the war as an excuse to circumvent a number of Constitutional protections, from habeas corpus to search and seizure.  This does not mean that I am necessarily against all new activities, but they need to be initiated within our Constitutional framework.  Take surveillance activities.  Its not unreasonable to think that terrorism demands new surveillance tools.  But the principle we have always followed for surveillance is that Congress authorizes the power and the judiciary gets some type of review of the targets and methods.  Bush seems to have become impatient with separation of powers to the point that he does not even try to engage the other arms of the government, instead using the war to claim a fiat power.  (It should be noted that even when the separation of powers is respected, as with the Patriot Act, mistakes are made and we can go too far.  However, at least we can debate it and there are Congressmen we can hold accountable).
  • The second category of problem I have is with the open-ended nature of the war.  Calling this the "War on Terror" is only marginally more precise and limiting than saying we are fighting the "War against Bad Stuff."  If one asks, "Who are we fighting", the administration answers "Whoever the President says we are fighting against".  If one asks "When is it over" the administration either answers "Whenever the President says it is" or else, probably more honestly, they say "not for a long, long time."

In terms of civil liberties, the second point may be the most problematic.  Most citizens will grant the President some special war powers (as in fact the Constitution does), though we can argue whether the current administration has gone too far in defining these powers for themselves.   But if you combine this with letting the administration define exactly who the enemy is and how long the war lasts, it makes for a combination deadly to civil liberties.

Take the example of detention of enemy combatants.  Administration supporters argue that we have always been authorized to hold enemy combatants until the end of the war, as we did in WWII.  And so we did.  We were at war with Germany, so we detained German soldiers we captured until the end of the war.  Note that these are definitions that everyone at the time could agree on -- ie everyone knew what a German soldier was and everyone knew that "end of the war" meant when we marched into Berlin.  Few German detainees were held for much more than a year.  By the way, it is interesting to note that even in WWII, we abused this notion.  The administration defined "enemy combatant" as "anyone in the US of Japanese descent", so that we ended up interning innocent American citizens for years, much to our shame today.

However, in the current "war", an enemy combatant is anyone the administration says is an enemy combatant (at least in their theory) and "for the duration" means as long as the administration cares to hold them, up to and including "forever." 

Conservatives wish to argue that the "War on Terror" is a new kind of war and demands new tools to fight it, which they use to justify all kinds of secret searches and detainments.  Fine, but then it also needs new types of civil liberties checks.  Coming back to our detention example, in WWII it was not really necessary to have some kind of judicial review on the question of whether a captured German soldier was an enemy combatant;  the uniform was a pretty good giveaway.  However, such a review is necessary today, since the enemy combatants languishing at Gitmo (many of who I am willing to believe are bad guys) don't have any identifying uniforms or paperwork.

If I read him right, Kling is saying something similar:  Some security activities that were traditionally not allowed may be necessary, but for every civil liberties give-back there needs to be a countervailing new control or check on government activity:

On the whole, Posner makes a persuasive case for tilting the judicial balance in favor of reasonable efforts to promote security rather than strict-constructionist civil libertarianism. However, I believe that what we need to do is re-build our civil libertarian fortresses, not simply retreat from them. That is why I favor much stronger accountability for agencies engaged in surveillance. It is why I am proposing here a formal process for naming our enemies.

Posted on September 8, 2006 at 09:50 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Update: Children in European Restaurants

Not really forewarned about this social trend in advance, my family was surprised to find that many restaurants in smaller English towns would not let us in with our children.  I wrote about the strange Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang-esque reactions we got to our children here.

Reader Tom Van Horn sends in this update from Newsweek:

a recent British study showed a house's value drops by 5 percent if neighbors move in with teenage kids. Hotels are catering to the childless, too; Italy's La Veduta country resort promises, "Your Tuscan holiday will not be shattered by the clamor of children." In Rome, many restaurants make it clear that children are not welcome—in some cases by establishing themselves as "clubs," where members must be older than 18 to join.

*shrug*  There are times when my wife and I like to get away from kids too, and we have a couple of them.  I know a few couples who have chosen to remain childless and I can assure you they are sick and tired of being asked about their childlessness like it was some kind of disease.  I am sure they will welcome a sense of normalcy for their chosen way to live.  Combining this trend with my observation that Parisians will take their dog anywhere, it is probably not long before there are public places in Paris where dogs are welcome but kids are not.

That doesn't mean that everyone shares my willingness to let folks live in peace like they choose.  Certain politicians around Europe seem to want to intervene (and isn't that why people become politicians in the first place -- to force other people into making choices that they would not have made for themselves?)

Politicians and religious leaders warn darkly of an "epidemic" of childlessness that saps the moral fiber of nations; they blame the child-free for impending population decline, the collapse of pension systems and even the rise in immigration. In Japan, commentators have identified the "parasite single" who lives off society instead of doing his duty to start a family

In Germany, where the childless rate is the highest in the world, at 25 percent, the best-seller lists have been full of tomes forecasting demographic doomsday. In "Minimum," the conservative commentator Frank Schirrmacher describes a "spiral of childlessness," where a declining population becomes ever more reluctant to have kids. Media reports have stigmatized the "cold career woman"—one such recent article came with mug shots of childless female celebs—accusing them of placing their jobs before kids. Never mind that Germany trails its neighbors in the availability of child care, or the amount of time men spend helping around the house.

From Germany to Russia, there is increasing talk of sanctions against the childless. In Slovakia, a leading adviser on the government's Strategic Council on Economic Development proposed in March to replace an unpopular payroll tax with a levy on all childless Slovaks between the ages of 25 and 50. In Russia, where the birthrate has dropped from 2.3 in the 1980s to 1.3 today, a powerful business lobby has called for an income-tax surcharge on childless couples. In Germany, economists and politicians have demanded that public pensions for the childless be slashed by up to 50 percent—never mind that such pensions were invented as an alternative to senior citizens' having to depend on their offspring.

Posted on August 30, 2006 at 12:47 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Iraqi Dead Man's Switch

I was thinking on the airplane today about how to categorize our current situation in Iraq.  Its hard to draw exact conclusions about where we are there, because I don't think anyone is giving the whole story.  I am willing to believe that we have done a better job than the media has portrayed of rebuilding infrastructure and schools and wells and all that stuff, though at a horrendous cost.  I am also willing to believe that the Bush administration is downplaying crucial problems of factionalism and tribalism that they grossly underestimated before getting involved there.

My fear is that we have turned Iraq into a big dead man's switch, with the US army's finger on the button to keep things from blowing.  My fear, and I think a lot of people share it, is that as soon as we leave, and take our finger off that figurative switch, the whole place is going to blow up.  And, to overextend the metaphor, I can't see what the US is doing or can do to disarm the thing.  Its a lose-lose, as far as I can see, with a costly long-term occupation leaving us open to the "imperialism" meme on one hand, and reduced long-term credibility on the other, with a pull-out letting future allies and enemies alike know that there is a point at which we give up.  Its back to the old Wargames conclusion:  "Strange game -- the only winning move is not to play."

Posted on August 28, 2006 at 11:08 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

The Problem With Sanctions

For years I have argued against economic boycotts against nations such as Cuba and China, arguing instead for business interaction and engagement.  In China, for example, I think Pandora's box is open, and there's no reversing the effects of China's engagement with the US, no matter how much the Chinese government may think they can control the tide of modernity. 

Jacob Weisberg has similar thoughts in Slate, and argues further that sanctions merely play into the hands of dictators:

America's sanctions policy is largely consistent, and in a certain sense, admirable. By applying economic restraints, we label the most oppressive and dangerous governments in the world pariahs. We wash our hands of evil, declining to help despots finance their depredations, even at a cost to ourselves of some economic growth. We wincingly accept the collateral damage that falls on civilian populations in the nations we target. But as the above list of countries suggests, sanctions have one serious drawback. They don't work. Though there are some debatable exceptions, sanctions rarely play a significant role in dislodging or constraining the behavior of despicable regimes.

Beyond the propaganda value Weisberg discusses, sanctions also create scarcity which is useful to the most brutal dictators, as they can use their powers of allocating resources to reward supporters and starve out opponents.  My guess is that Saddam Hussein used his oil for food resources in this way.

I would be interested in a historical analysis of the effect of sanctions in the South African decision to end apartheid.  Was this more due to sanctions or engagement, since a mix were employed.

Posted on August 7, 2006 at 02:53 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

World's Largest Banana Republic

Unfortunately, it is behind the WSJ paid firewall and not on their opinion journal site, but Gary Kasparov has a very interesting editorial that confirms my fears about Russia:

Russia may not have much industry or democracy left, but we do have massive amounts of oil and gas plus other natural resources. When combined with our nuclear weapons, these resources are sufficient to buy entry into the G-8 despite Mr. Putin's transformation of Russia back into a one-party dictatorship. This newfound international sway is also having serious repercussions inside my country. Many here would like to believe that Mr. Putin is ushering in a return to our Soviet superpower glory

He tells some pretty amazing tales of self-dealing by government officials on a massive scale. 

In perhaps the best example, the giant energy company Yukos was dismembered and its chairman jailed. Next, Yukos assets were put up for auction and the crown jewel, oil unit Yuganskneftegaz, was purchased at a bargain price by the state-owned company Rosneft, which received billions in mysterious loans. On July 14, Rosneft had an IPO in London to sell these stolen assets and, of course, the money didn't go into the treasury. This isn't nationalization, it's simple robbery. In Russia the expenses are nationalized and the revenues are privatized.

That last line is a great one.  I for one have scratched my head at why Bush as consistently given Putin a pass.  My only guess is that he has prioritized his war with Muslim fundamentalism so high that he needs Putin as a potential ally in the area, though Kasparov presents evidence that Putin is likely exactly the opposite.  He concludes:

The West is making a terrible mistake by mixing realpolitik with a battle of values. Drawing and defending moral lines is the first and most essential step in combating extremism and there is no room for double standards. If the West is keeping track of its friends, it's time to take Mr. Putin off the list.

Posted on July 31, 2006 at 10:29 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Eek! Children!

A while back Glenn Reynolds had a series of posts on European birth rates and the social costs of having children (I would link the articles but my timer on this computer in the library is running out and I don't have time to search). 

Our first few days here in the [English] countryside have really reinforced different cultural attitudes about children.  The first night here, we walked into a restaurant with our kids, and the whole place went silent, staring at us.  We were told children were not allowed.  In retrospect, it felt like that scene in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang when the townspeople are all staring at the family because in that town kids are illegal.  The next restaurant did not let kids in after 7.  The next saw us and said that they had a large group arrive and couldn't serve us (despite the fact the parking lot and restaurant were empty). 

We thought at first this might have something to do with liquor laws, since many local restaurants are also the pub.  But that first night when we finally found a restaurant that would serve our children, they said we could not sit in the restaurant but they could seat us in the bar!

Not sure I have a conclusion here, except to observe how different attitudes about children and families are here.  Kids here are also much quieter in public than American kids, perhaps because they have learned to keep a low profile in a society that doesn't always want them around.  It will be interesting to see if London is any different.

Bonus trivia question, answer below the fold:  The writer, producer and several of the actors in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang also were responsible for what other quite famous series of movies?

Update:  I left off that it was in the English countryside (near the border of England and Wales).  Sorry.  I am finally on a decent Internet connection and just caught onto the confusion.

James Bond.  Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was written by Ian Flemming and the movies were produced by Albert Broccoli.  Coggins and Q are played by Desmond Llewelyn.  Gert Frobe played both the baron and Goldfinger.

Posted on June 27, 2006 at 01:57 AM | Permalink | Comments (14)

Oh, Those Sophisticated Europeans

Per the NY Times:

As he left the soccer field after a club match in the eastern German city of Halle on March 25, the Nigerian forward Adebowale Ogungbure was spit upon, jeered with racial remarks and mocked with monkey noises. In rebuke, he placed two fingers under his nose to simulate a Hitler mustache and thrust  his arm in a Nazi salute.

In April, the American defender Oguchi Onyewu, playing for his professional club team in Belgium, dismissively gestured toward fans who were making simian chants at him. Then, as he went to throw the ball inbounds, Onyewu said a fan of the opposing team reached over a barrier and punched him in the face....

Players and antiracism experts said they expected offensive behavior during the tournament, including monkey-like chanting; derisive singing; the hanging of banners that reflect neofascist and racist beliefs; and perhaps the tossing of bananas or banana peels, all familiar occurrences during matches in Spain, Italy, eastern Germany and eastern Europe.

I am sure many American black athletes still have stories to tell about encountering racism, but didn't we at least climb out of this kind of pit of overt racism forty years ago or so?  While European sophisticates have looked down their noses at US racial problems, European monocultures seem now not to be ahead of us but behind us in dealing with ethnic diversity.  Though there do seem to be plenty of Americans who long to take our country back to being a monoculture.

Posted on June 6, 2006 at 08:40 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

So Why Not Cuba?

This week, the US took a step to normalize relations with Libya:

The United States restored full diplomatic ties with Libya on Monday, rewarding the longtime pariah nation for scrapping its weapons of mass destruction programs and signaling incentives for Iran and North Korea if they do the same

The logic was that Libya still is a sucky dictatorship, but it has taken some important steps forward into the light which we want to reward.  Perhaps more importantly, the administration acknowledges that increasing intercourse with the western democracies tends to have liberalizing effects in countries in this world of open communications (see: China).  Its a difficult trade-off, but I am fine with this.  Certainly we are no virgin in terms of having diplomatic relations with bad governments.

My question is:  Why doesn't this same logic apply to Cuba?  I think it is pretty clear that embargo and shunning over the past 40+ years have had as much effect as they are going to have.  Why not try engagement?  I think this particularly makes sense well before the chaos that may ensue after Castro's death.  If anything, just by reading the behavior of Cuban expats, Cubans remind be of the Chinese in terms of their entrepreneurship, and I certainly think engagement has worked better than shunning in China. 

Of course I already know the answer to my question:  Because Cuban expats make up a large voting block in the most critical presidential election swing state and no candidate wants to be soft on Castro.  But this seems to make it even more of an opportunity for a second-term president who doesn't have to contest Florida again.

Update:  Yes, I did indeed spell it "Lybia" at first.  Seems vaguely Feudian.  Excuse 1:  Blogging is a real time function.  Excuse 2:  Its just a hobby.  Excuse 3:  I was a mechanical engineer in school

Posted on May 17, 2006 at 10:57 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Immigration and the "Legality" Issue

I know some may be bored with my immigration posts, so if you are, that's cool, you can ignore the rest.  I have done something of late I normally don't do:  I have tuned into conservative talk radio for bits and pieces of time over the last several days to get the gist of their arguments to limit immigration.  The main arguments I have heard are:

  1. Illegal immigrants are breaking the law
  2. We should not reward law-breaking with amnesty.  We need to round these folks up that are breaking the law and teach them a lesson.  Or put them in concentration camps if that were logistically feasible
  3. We don't like first generation Mexican immigrants carrying the Mexican flag in parades. (though we love it when 4th generation Irish carry Irish flags in parades)

A recent commenter on my post defending open immigration, which is superseded by this pro-immigration post I like better, had this related insight:

1.  YOUARE ILLEGAL
2. YOU ARE ILLEGAL
3. YOU ARE ILLEGAL
4. YOU ARE ILLEGAL
5. YOU ARE ILLEGAL
6-10000000 YOU ARE ILLEGAL

DO I NEED TO WRITE THIS IN SPANISH SO THAT THE ILLEGALS CAN UNDERSTAND. IF YOU CAN READ THIS THEN YOU DID PASS THE BASIC ENGLISH TEST THAT IS RREQUIRED OF ALL LEAGAL MIGRANTS !!!

OH, BTW,  I HAVE THE RIGHT TO SAY THIS, BECAUSE I AM LEGAL!!

It sure is comforting that us "leagal migrants" have to pass a basic English test, or we might come off as idiots when we post comments online.  But you get the gist.  My first thought is that this is certainly a circular argument.  To answer my premise that "immigration should be legal for everyone" with the statement that "it is illegal" certainly seems to miss the point (it kind of reminds me of the king of swamp castle giving instructions to his guards in Monty Python and the Holy Grail) The marginally more sophisticated statement that "it is illegal and making it legal would only reward lawbreakers" would seem to preclude any future relaxation of any government regulation.

Many people writing on this topic today lapse into pragmatic arguments ala "well, how would we pick the lettuce without them?"  Frequent readers of this site will notice I seldom if ever resort to this type argument (except perhaps when I argued that immigration might be a solution to the demographic bomb in medicare and social security).  My argument is simpler but I hear it discussed much less frequently:  By what right are these folks "illegal"?

What does it mean to be living in this country?  Well, immigrants have to live somewhere, which presupposes they rent or buy living space from me or one of my neighbors.  Does the government have the right to tell me who I can and can't transact with?  Most conservatives would (rightly) say "no,"  except what they really seem to mean is "no, as long as that person you are leasing a room to was born within some arbitrary lines on the map.  The same argument goes for immigrants contracting their labor (ie getting a job).  Normally, most conservatives would (rightly again) say that the government can't tell you who you can and can't hire.   And by the way, note exactly what is being criminalized here - the illegal activity these folks are guilty of is making a life for their family and looking for work.  Do you really want to go down the path of making these activities illegal?  Or check out the comment again above.  She/he implies that immigrants without the proper government papers don't even have speech rights, rights that even convicted felons have in this country. 

By the way, I understand that voting and welfare type handouts complicate this and can't be given day 1 to everyone who crosses the border -- I dealt in particular with the issue of New Deal social services killing immigration here.

Our rights to association and commerce and free movement and speech flow from our humanity, not from the government.  As I wrote before:

Like the founders of this country, I believe that our individual rights exist by the very fact of our existance as thinking human beings, and that these rights are not the gift of kings or congressmen.  Rights do not flow to us from government, but in fact governments are formed by men as an artificial construct to help us protect those rights, and well-constructed governments, like ours, are carefully limited in their powers to avoid stifling the rights we have inherently as human beings.

Do you see where this is going?  The individual rights we hold dear are our rights as human beings, NOT as citizens.  They flow from our very existence, not from our government. As human beings, we have the right to assemble with whomever we want and to speak our minds.  We have the right to live free of force or physical coercion from other men.  We have the right to make mutually beneficial arrangements with other men, arrangements that might involve exchanging goods, purchasing shelter, or paying another man an agreed upon rate for his work.  We have these rights and more in nature, and have therefore chosen to form governments not to be the source of these rights (for they already existed in advance of governments) but to provide protection of these rights against other men who might try to violate these rights through force or fraud.

These rights of speech and assembly and commerce and property shouldn't, therefore, be contingent on "citizenship".  I should be able, equally, to contract for service from David in New Jersey or Lars in Sweden. David or Lars, who are equally human beings,  have the equal right to buy my property, if we can agree to terms.  If he wants to get away from cold winters in Sweden, Lars can contract with a private airline to fly here, contract with another person to rent an apartment or buy housing, contract with a third person to provide his services in exchange for wages.  But Lars can't do all these things today, and is excluded from these transactions just because he was born over some geographic line?  To say that Lars or any other "foreign" resident has less of a right to engage in these decisions, behaviors, and transactions than a person born in the US is to imply that the US government is somehow the source of the right to pursue these activities, WHICH IT IS NOT.

Disclosure:  A number of my great-grandparents were immigrants from Germany.  When they came over, most were poor, uneducated, unskilled and could not speak English.  Several never learned to speak English.  Many came over and initially took agricultural jobs and other low-skilled work.  Because the new country was intimidating to them, they tended to gather together in heavily German neighborhoods and small towns.  Now, of course, this description makes them totally different from most immigrants today that we want to shut the door on because...um, because, uh... Help me out, because why?

PS - And please don't give me the "government's job is defend the borders" argument.  Government's job is to defend its people, which only occasionally in cases of direct attack involves defending the borders.  I am sick of the rhetorical trick of taking people like the "minutemen" and describing them as patriots defending the border, when this nomenclature just serves to hide the fact that these folks are bravely stopping unarmed human beings from seeking employment or reuniting with their families.  And I will absolutely guarantee that the borders will be easier to patrol against real criminals and terrorists sneaking in when the background noise of millions of peaceful and non-threatening people are removed from the picture and routed through legal border crossings.

Posted on April 5, 2006 at 12:12 AM | Permalink | Comments (16)

Congrats to the Iraqis

Though I opposed starting the war in Iraq (via the Augean Stables argument here), I, unlike other anti-war folks who tend to horrify me, am happy the Iraqis seem to be making progress:

There may not be the same sense of history this time round, but the joy and determination of Iraqi voters emerging from dictatorship is still evident.   

Young and old, able-bodied and infirm, they streamed to polls for the third time in 11 months on Thursday, this time to elect a four-year parliament.   

While not as novel as the first post-Saddam Hussein election in January, participation was more widespread. Sunni Arabs, who boycotted the earlier poll for an interim assembly, flocked to vote this time, determined not to miss out on power again.

"I'm delighted to be voting for the first time," said 21-year-old driver Jamal Mahmoud in Ramadi, a Sunni Arab city west of Baghdad that has been at the front line of the anti-American insurgency for the past two years.

Hat tip: Best of the Web.

Posted on December 15, 2005 at 03:24 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Intifada or Welfare State Fallout?

Rioting in the immigrant-heavy, Muslim-heavy quarters of France continues

The unrest started last Thursday when angry youths protested the accidental deaths of two teenagers in Clichy-sous-Bois, who were electrocuted when they jumped a wall surrounding a high-voltage electrical transformer while fleeing police. The anger spread across the housing projects that dominate many of Paris’ northern and northeastern suburbs, which are marked by soaring unemployment, delinquency and a sense of despair.

The rioting has grown into a broader challenge for the French state. It has laid bare discontent simmering in suburbs where immigrants — many of them African Muslims — and their French-born children are trapped by poverty, unemployment, discrimination, crime and poor education and housing.

There are those who want to call this the beginning of a new European Intifada, a war of Muslims against non-Muslims.  They want to portray these riots in the same context as Islamic terrorism and Al Qaeda. 

Call me slow, but I just haven't seen evidence that the recent violence in Paris has religious overtones.  Maybe it is under-reported, but I haven't seen any targeting of Christians or Jews or Jewish Temples and such that one might expect in intifada-type violence. 

So far, a better explanation seems to be that these neighborhoods have been the victim of of the current form of Euro-socialism.  In this economic model, a whole collection of laws make it very expensive for companies to hire anyone.  If you do hire anyone, you have to pay them a very high salary, give them a fat package of benefits, weeks and weeks of paid vacation, and they only have to work 36 hours a week for you.  And, if the person doesn't do a good job, too bad because it is nearly impossible to fire them.  This may appear to be a great system for those who already have a job, but for the unemployed, the young, and the unskilled, it is a disaster.  Who in their right mind is going to take a chance on a young, unskilled employee who you have to pay a fortune and who you can't fire if they aren't any good.  And in particular, who is ever going to hire a young, unskilled immigrant for a job in France?

The answer is no one, which is possibly another reason for the rioting.  France has an unemployment rate that has hovered around 10% for years, but the unemployment rate for those under 25 years old is a truly shocking 23% and I would bet the unemployment rate for young immigrants may be as high as 40-50%. 

In the US, we have gone through phases of this same type of economic thinking.  A big part of motivation behind the original passage of minimum wage law, including the recently famous Davis-Bacon law, was to protect skilled white laborers against wage competition from blacks and immigrants.  Fortunately, the US has always stopped short of the radically distorting labor market laws they have in Europe, but new efforts in this country to raise minimum wages and generally make it harder for immigrants to enter the labor market should worry all of us, particularly those of us in immigrant heavy states like Arizona.

Posted on November 4, 2005 at 08:30 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Agenda for UN Internet Conference

COYOTE BLOG EXCLUSIVE!!  We have obtained the preliminary agenda for the upcoming UN Internet Conference in Tunisia.

AGENDA

Day 1

Dinner
Benon Sevan has generously offered to supply dinner from a selection of the food provided to the Iraqi people under the UN Oil-for-food program. Unfortunately, it was found at the last minute that no one in the oil-for-food department has any contacts with companies that actually sell food. The French delegation has generously stepped in the last minute with chicken and Vichy water for everyone.

After-Dinner Keynote Address:  Fighting Hate Speech
Wen Jaibao
Premier, China

All of us are concerned with the growth of hate speech on the web.  Spread by foreign anarchists and CIA operatives called "bloggers", these lies present a constant danger to all of our governments..  Premier Wen, whose country under Chairman Mao broke Germany's and Russia's records for the most people sent to government-sponsored sensitivity training, outlines some of the technologies China is using to protect Chinese citizens from foreign deception.  He also will discuss how he got US companies like Cisco and Microsoft to abandon their public principles in exchange for promises of large contracts

Day 2

Pricing for Domain Names
Kojo Annan

Kojo will discuss a number of technical issues associated with domain name pricing.  Among the topics discussed will be "how large a kickback should be demanded of large US companies renewing their domain name registrations", "how should kickback money be distributed between general assembly members", "how can sub-contracts be funneled to key family members", and "how Paypal can be used to facilitate 'courtesy' payments".  Kojo will also discuss the mechanics of Swiss banking as it applies to government Internet supervision.

Pornography on the Web
Hassan al Saud
Saudi Arabian Security Service

Director al Saud will discuss approaches for limiting pornography on the web, such as photos showing NFL Cheerleaders, hot protest babes, or any woman with tattoos, body piercings, or a bare midriff, including nearly the entire UC-Santa Barbara female population.  Al Saud will review his groundbreaking work filtering news service web pages for the names of women and women authors and replacing them with men's names.  Afterwards, al Saud will be signing copies of his bestseller "Gone with the Wind".

Lunch
Robert Mugabe has generously offered to supply lunch from the fine farms of Zimbabwe.  Unfortunately, unforeseen...technical problems will make that impossible.  We ask that all delegates go outside the meeting hall and fend for themselves for lunch.

Future of email scams
Dr. Hamzu Kalo
Lagos Nigeria

Many of us are concerned with the growth of email scams.  In this important discussion, Dr. Kalu will discuss topics including "How can other countries get a piece of Nigeria's lucrative email scam business", "how can UN imprimatur be used to increase email scam returns", and "how should government's tax email scam revenue".  Working papers from Dr. Kalo's last conference can be found here.

Shortsighted Nationalization
Hugo Chavez
President, Venezuela

Mr. Chavez will argue his controversial hypothesis that it is shortsighted to immediately nationalize US corporate assets when taking office.  His premise is that it is better to wait 6-12 months, after companies have become complacent, before seizing their operations.  Mr. Chavez will also address the difficult issue of how to attract new foreign investment when every successful foreign enterprise in the history of your country has been nationalized.

Snack Break
Sponsored by Cisco and Microsoft to introduce their joint Internet initiative with the United Nations entitled "We are for freedom and democracy, except when we're not."

Promise of the Internet for Managing elections
Jimmy Carter
ex-President, United States of America

Everyone should be familiar with President Carter's outstanding work courageously certifying the election in Venezuela while challenging corrupt elections in Florida and Ohio.  President Carter will address the topic of using Internet technology for elections.  He will show that paper ballot technology can still leave a potentially dangerous paper trail, while Internet voting allows for nearly total ability to manage elections to make sure that the will of the people is not thwarted by CIA-financed lying upstarts.

Farewell Dinner
Dinner was to be provided by the United States delegation, but US authorities could not provide documentation that no genetically modified foods were used to prepare the meal.  It has been decided that it is better for the meeting delegates to go hungry than risk eating any GM crops.

Transportation
No transportation has been arranged, but officials are encouraged to nationalize any assets they need to reach the conference.

Email
In the spirit of promoting the Internet and Tunisia's leading role in it, all participants will be allowed full access to email while in the conference.  All email will be downloaded by our WIFI (Working-group Investigating Foreign-corruption via the Internet) and printed out for our guests.  Conference participants should note that emails with language directly threatening the state** will not be passed on.

**Note that this includes any references derogatory to the Tunisian government, its officials, and its ruling party, as well as any comments defaming the governments of Libya, Syria, Iran, Venezuela, Cuba, North Korea, or any ally of Tunisia or in fact any other country that is not the United States.  It also includes any references to women without clothes, women working, women driving a car, or women doing anything outside of the house or their male family members' control.  It also includes mentions of provocative terminology and hate speech, including the words freedom, free press, free speech, democracy, property, capitalism, non-Muslim religions, George Bush, the state of Texas, Shiner Bock Beer, or the Dallas Cowboys.  Making fun of the Arizona Cardinals, however, is always OK.

Update:  This column is obviously a failed parody, because to be ironic you have to exaggerate reality at least somewhat.  I may have actually fallen short of reality:

As Tunisia prepares to host the controversial World Summit for the Information Society in November, Tunisian opposition activist Neila Charchour Hachicha informs Global Voices that the online freedom of speech protest site launched by Tunisians on Monday, www.yezzi.org has already been blocked by the Tunisian authorities.

The online protest, called “Freedom of Expression in Mourning,” is organized by The Tunisian Association for the Promotion and Defense of Cyberspace (Association Tunisienne pour la Promotion et la Défense du Cyberespace).

More on the UN Internet conference here as well.

 

Technorati Tags:  , ,

Posted on September 30, 2005 at 10:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Update on Iraq

Here is my update on Iraq:  We are still there, and will be there for a while.  And we are still spending nearly every available financial and human resource, not to mention all of our national attention and available goodwill, on the effort to make Iraq a prosperous and successful free and independent nation, to the exclusion of being able to bring much change about anywhere else in the world.

I can't tell you whether the effort in Iraq is going well or poorly.  Certainly if I pay attention to the major media alone I would assume it's a disaster, but we all know the media has a bias toward negativity that trumps any political biases it might have (after all, your local news station learned long ago that "your kids are happy and healthy, story at 11" is not a very good way to tease the evening news).  Being familiar with alternate sources on the Internet, I know that there are successes as well as failures on the ground.  In fact, you can even sort of deduce the successes from the major media coverage.  When the NY Times stops writing about blackouts in Iraq, you know that the electrical system is fixed.  When the WaPo stops writing stories about shortfalls in re-enlistment rates, you can infer that the rates are back up.

But to me, all this back and forth over success and failure in Iraq is only peripheral to my main problem with the war.  Let's for the sake of argument posit that things are going swimmingly, and we are able to start removing assets and support from Iraq next year.  That will mean that for four or five years, the entire attention and resources of the only country in the world that is able to substantially influence the behavior of other countries will be focused on just one country. 

During the Iraq war and occupation, we have not had the "bandwidth", either in attention or moral authority or resources, to help stave off Sudanese genocide, to steer Zimbabwe off its destructive path, to influence the course of events in Iran or North Korea, to change the behavior of terrorist sponsors like Saudi Arabia, or even to head off Russia's apparent slide back toward totalitarianism. 

Now, one could easily argue that its not our job to fix these things.  And I go through phases of agreeing with this.  However, our invasion of Iraq is predicated on the assumption that it should be our foreign policy to try to fix the worst of these problems.  And if it is, does it really make sense to invest everything we have and more on one country for four or five years (or more?)  From the first days of the war, I have called this my "cleaning of the Augean stables argument".  There are just too many messes in the world to head them all off by military invasion.  Afghanistan probably justified such a military effort, given its direct connections to 9/11, but I am still confused as to why Iraq justified this attention more than 20 or so other nations I could name.  Afghanistan  convinced the world that the US was ready to use the military if it had to, and helped to reverse the perception of weakness left by Carter's response to the Iranian hostage takers, Reagan's bailing out of Lebanon, and Clinton's running form Somalia and refusing to respond to the Cole attacks.  9/11, for all its horors, gave us a certain moral authority in the world to try to clean things up.  This credibility and authority could have given new life to non-military efforts, but we chose not to use them.

Now that we are there in Iraq, I tend to be in the stay the course camp.  There are too many recent examples, such as those cited above, where bailing out has created a perception of weakness that have encouraged our enemies to more boldness.  The situation we are in with the Iraqi people is much like the obligation the police have to a mafia informant that the police have convinced to turn state's evidence with the promise of protection against retribution.  If you suddenly throw the guy back out on the street to be killed publicly, its going to be really hard to get anyone else to trust you in the future.

I will confess that there are two things that from time to time cause me to have some doubts about my  stance.

The first was the seeming cascade of good news from surrounding countries in the middle east last January, as a successful Iraqi election emboldened opposition forces in a number of countries, including Lebanon, Egypt, and Iran.  If the neocons are right, and successful democracy in Iraq leads to a cascade effect in the surrounding nations, then my argument about spending too much time and effort on one country loses some of its power.

The second and perhaps more powerful input that sometimes causes me to rethink my opposition to the Iraq war is the insanity that tends to emerge from others who are anti-war, and with whom I do not want to be associated.  Take Cindy Sheehan and her beliefs, since she seems to have been adopted as a spokesperson and mascot by much of the vocal anti-war left. (I promised myself I would never mention Cindy Sheehan in this blog, but if she can meet with the president once and later claim that the president won't meet with her, then I guess I can write about her once and then claim I won't ever mention her).

Ms Sheehan has stated, as have many others in the anti-war movement including Michael Moore, at least five reasons for their being anti-war that drive me nuts:

Insurgents are Freedom Fighters:  Sorry, but no.  Most of the insurgents are ex-Baathists or Muslim extremists who want to reinstate a fascist state in the mold either of Saddam's more secular version or Iran's more fundamentalist version.  The insurgency is the equivalent of what Germany would have been like had the SS followed through on its promise to continue fighting a guerrilla war from the Bavarian Alps.  The world is a better place without the Baathists in power, and the insurgents do not have good aims for the Iraqi people.  Period.

Its all a Jewish plot:  Everything old is new again, and this particular brand of anti-Semitism, seeing Jewish cabals everywhere pulling strings of the government, seems to be back in vogue.  However, is there any particular reason Israel would want to shake the tree in Iraq?  After all, the last and only time they were attacked by Iraq directly was the last time the US went to war with Saddam.  Israel is still surrounded by enemies, with or without Saddam in power in Iraq.  In fact, one could argue that what Israel should really want is for Iraq and Iran go back to beating the crap out of each other in war after war.

It was all for oil:  How?  People always say this, but they can never explain to me the mechanism.  If it was to put US companies into ownership positions over Iraqi oil, we did a damn bad job since the Iraqi's seem to still own all their own oil (though we did head off the French from grabbing the oil).

War is never justified:  I don't think war was justified in this case, but never?  If you make this statement, then it means you have to be willing to live with anything, from genocide to totalitarianism, up to and including in your home country.  As long as there are people who only know how to live by force and wish to rule me, war always has to be an option.

Iraqis were better off under fascism when they had security:  I am not an Iraqi, so I won't try to make this trade-off for them.  However, I would like to point out a huge irony about the folks, mainly on the left, who make this argument.  The very same folks who make this argument for the Iraqis have been faced with the same choice themselves over the last few years:  Would you rather an increased risk of domestic terrorist attack, or greater security at the cost of reduced freedoms via the Patriot Act, more random searches, profiling, surveillance, etc. etc.  Most on the anti-war left have shouted that they will take the extra risk of violent attack in order to retain their individual liberties.  I agree with them.  The difference is that I don't project exactly the opposite choice onto the Iraqi people.

Update:  Professor Bainbridge seems to be in roughly the same boat.

Posted on August 30, 2005 at 09:13 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Time to Thaw Relations With Cuba

First, a couple of disclaimers:  The human rights situation in Cuba still sucks, and Castro still is a reprehensible leader.

That all being said, its time to try a different policy vis a vis Cuba.  While the strict embargo of all things and all people back and forth to Cuba may well have been appropriate in the 1960's to make sure Cuba and the world understood our displeasure with Castro, its not working for us now.  Forty-five or so years later, nothing has really changed in Cuba.  Heck, that's more years than the Cold War with Russia lasted.  And, since the economic blockade has become pretty much unilateral, with the US about the only country in the world still observing it, its hard to see Castro throwing up the white flag any time soon.

The US has made its point -- we think Castro is a brutal totalitarian.  Castro has made his point -- Cuba is not going to fall based on US economic pressure.  Its time to try engagement.  This does not mean that the US sanction the human rights situation in Cuba.  It does mean that we acknowledge that engagement with western ideas through trade and commerce have done more to liberalize countries like China, India, and southeast Asia than any other policy we have tried.

Fareed Zakaria has a nice article in the International Edition of Newsweek advocating just this approach, not just in Cuba, but all over the world:

For almost five decades the United States has put in place a series of costly policies designed to force Cuba to dismantle its communist system. These policies have failed totally. Contrast this with Vietnam, also communist, where Washington has adopted a different approach, normalizing relations with its former enemy. While Vietnam remains a Leninist regime in many ways, it has opened up its society, and the government has loosened its grip on power, certainly far more than that of Fidel Castro. For the average person in Libya or Vietnam, American policy has improved his or her life and life chances. For the average person in Iran or Cuba, U.S. policy has produced decades of isolation and economic hardship.

Don't get me wrong. I think the regimes in Tehran and Havana are ugly and deserve to pass into the night. But do our policies actually make that more likely? Washington has a simple solution to most governments it doesn't like: isolate them, slap sanctions on them and wait for their downfall....

Critics could argue that I'm forgetting the many surprising places where regimes have fallen and freedom has been given a chance to flourish. Who would have predicted that Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan would see so much change in the past year and a half? But these examples only prove my point. The United States had no "regime change" policy toward any of these countries, and it had relations with all of them. In fact, these relationships helped push the regimes to change and emboldened civil-society groups.

Ah, you might say, but these regimes were not truly evil. Well, what about Mao's China at the height of the Cultural Revolution? Nixon and Kissinger opened relations with what was arguably the most brutal regime in the world at the time. And as a consequence of that opening, China today is far more free—economically and socially—than it has ever been. If we were trying to help the Chinese people, would isolation have been a better policy?

For years I think we feared to normalize relations with Cuba because we were afraid of looking weak;  however, today, after kicking regimes out of Afghanistan and Iraq and threatening four or five others, I am not sure this is a concern.  Besides, we are normalizing relations with Vietnam, who we actually fought a war against and who are at least as bad at human rights as Cuba. 

I fear that what may be preventing a new policy with Cuba is the electoral college.  Or, more specifically, the crucial status of Florida as a tightly-contested presidential election swing state and the perception (reality?) that there is a large high-profile Cuban population in Florida that opposes normalization, at least as long as Castro can still fog a mirror.

 

Posted on June 24, 2005 at 02:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

More Suggestions for Helping Africa

Reason has a good article on helping Africa.  To some extent, their arguments echo the ones I made in my previous post:

Despite political pressures, increasing the U.S. foreign aid budget would be a mistake. The true cause of Africa's poverty is the continent's long history of crippling misgovernance—a problem that is exacerbated by rich countries' trade protectionism, particularly with respect to agriculture....

The aid is ineffective because of the appalling way in which Africa is governed. In recent decades, of each dollar given to Africa in aid, 80 cents were stolen by corrupt leaders and transferred back into Western bank accounts. In total, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo estimated, "corrupt African leaders have stolen at least $140 billion from their people in the [four] decades since independence." All that is left when these regimes eventually collapse is a massive public debt.

The article discusses how US and European agricultural subsidies really hurt the poorest nations:

While advocates of current market-distorting agricultural policies do not intend to harm developing nations, the collective effect of U.S. farm policies is devastating for producers of agricultural goods worldwide. American farm policies might provide short-term benefits for agricultural producers in the U.S., but those benefits are more than offset by the cost to American consumers who pay higher taxes to support the U.S. farmers and higher prices for agricultural products. Meanwhile, U.S. tariffs, quotas, and export subsidies exacerbate poverty in regions like sub-Saharan Africa where people are heavily dependent upon agriculture....

U.S. agriculture policy undermines U.S. efforts to alleviate poverty because it drives down global agricultural prices, which in turn cost developing countries hundreds of millions of dollars in lost export earnings. The losses associated with cotton subsidies alone exceed the value of U.S. aid programs to the countries concerned. The British aid organization Oxfam charges that U.S. subsidies directly led to losses of more than $300 million in potential revenue in sub-Saharan Africa during the 2001/02 season. More than 12 million people in this region depend directly on the crop, with a typical small-scale producer making less than $400 on an annual cotton harvest. By damaging the livelihoods of people already on the edge of subsistence, U.S. agricultural policies take away with the right hand what the left hand gives in aid and development assistance.

Posted on June 18, 2005 at 09:05 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Aid to Africa

I'm blogging here at about 300 baud so I will have to, for once, keep it brief.  There appears to be a fair amount of momentum building to do "something" about conditions in sub-Saharan Africa, which have sucked, still suck, and will probably continue to suck without some help. 

Unfortunately, many of the usual suspects are pushing the "US does not send enough aid" line as the main failure mode for Africa.  A full fisking of this will have to wait for a better connection, but suffice it to say that we have already dropped billions in direct aid and billions more in loans and loan forgiveness, without much benefit.

Who do you give the aid to?  The vast majority of sub-Saharan governments are full of corrupt looters, who will always find ways to put most of the aid money in their own pocket and those of their cronies.  Just look at what happened to oil for food money in Iraq, and that money had MUCH better oversight than the money that goes to Africa. 

Even when the aid does not come in easily looted currency, but rather in food or vaccines distributed by NGO's, the aid can help support totalitarianism and even genocide in disturbing ways.  The problem in Africa are the same that financial aid faces anywhere, ie:  NGO's can only go where the dictator allows.  Dictators only allow NGO's to go to towns or regions that support him, limiting access and starving out other areas of the country.  Food aid also hurts local farmers by depressing local prices.  To some extent, well-meaning NGO's fulfill the role of Carmella Soprano, helping the brutal criminal she is married to maintain a facade of stability and normality to the outside world.

Zimbabwe is a classic example.  People are clearly suffering there, but it is just as clear that any aid given to the people there just give comfort and additional power to Robert Mugabe, who has single-handedly engineered the current disaster.

The first thing we need to do in Africa is drop our trade barriers with them.  More than ephemeral aid, they need the chance to build real businesses and real markets, and the US is the only real candidate (the EU certainly won't do it unilaterally).  Its insane to me that a few Carolina-based Senators are so terrified of competition from these nations, and have to date blocked this obvious move.

The second thing we need to do is to find a country and make an example of it.  Lets find a single country that has a reasonably freedom-oriented government with (for Africa) moderate levels of corruption and lets focus our aid and effort at them -- lowered tariffs, aid, pressure for more liberalization, loans, vaccines, the works.  African countries have had negative reinforcement for bad government for years - lets try positive reinforcement, making it clear that democracy and good government can provide an entre to prosperity and to participation in the world community.

Posted on June 16, 2005 at 10:27 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Disaster in Zimbabwe

I am a little late linking this, but the world is in the midst of one of those pure, tightly controlled experiments to demonstrate the true price of socialism.  And, as usual, no one will learn from it.  Via Jane Galt:

It is depressing to look back at history and see how regularly the same nice-sounding idea--"let's take the land from the rich people who unjustly own it and give it to those who need it"--turns into tragedy for everyone. It's even more depressing to realise that despite the seeming predictibility of the result, lots of people want to do it anyway.

The Atlantic, which she quote in a follow up post, has more detail:

Mugabe decided on what he called "fast-track land reform" only in February of 2000, after he got shocking results in a constitutional referendum: though he controlled the media, the schools, the police, and the army, voters rejected a constitution he put forth to increase his power even further. A new movement was afoot in Zimbabwe: the Movement for Democratic Change—a coalition of civic groups, labor unions, constitutional reformers, and heretofore marginal opposition parties. Mugabe blamed the whites and their farm workers (who, although they together made up only 15 percent of the electorate, were enough to tip the scales) for the growth of the MDC—and for his humiliating rebuff.

So he played the race card and the land card. "If white settlers just took the land from us without paying for it," the President declared, "we can, in a similar way, just take it from them without paying for it." In 1896 Africans had suffered huge casualties in an eighteen-month rebellion against British pioneers known as the chimurenga, or "liberation war." The war that brought Zimbabwean blacks self-rule was known as the second chimurenga. In the immediate aftermath of his referendum defeat Mugabe announced a third chimurenga, invoking a valiant history to animate a violent, country-wide land grab...

The drop-off in agricultural production is staggering. Maize farming, which yielded more than 1.5 million tons annually before 2000, is this year expected to generate just 500,000 tons. Wheat production, which stood at 309,000 tons in 2000, will hover at 27,000 tons this year. Tobacco production, too, which at 265,000 tons accounted for nearly a third of the total foreign-currency earnings in 2000, has tumbled, to about 66,000 tons in 2003.

Mugabe's belief that he can strengthen his flagging popularity by destroying a resented but economically vital minority group is one that dictators elsewhere have shared. Paranoid about their diminishing support, Stalin wiped out the wealthy kulak farming class, Idi Amin purged Uganda's Indian commercial class, and, of course, Hitler went after Jewish businesses even though Germany was already reeling from the Depression. Whatever spikes in popularity these moves generated, the economic damage was profound, and the dictators had to exert great effort to mask it.

Overall, the country has gone from a net exporter of food to outright famine.  For this particular experiment, I am happy to live in the control group.  Stay tuned, as this show is likely to hit the road soon and move to Venezuela

Posted on June 10, 2005 at 08:58 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Yalta

GWB seems to have riled lots of folks up over his reference in a recent speech to Yalta.  If you have read any of the comentary from the left, you might be imagining he said all kinds of wild things.  I read much of the commentary before I ever read Bush's words, so I was prepared for a real gaffe.  After reading his speech, I was left wondering if those attacking Bush heard the same speech.  Here is the key paragraph:

As we mark a victory of six days ago -- six decades ago, we are mindful of a paradox. For much of Germany, defeat led to freedom. For much of Eastern and Central Europe, victory brought the iron rule of another empire. V-E Day marked the end of fascism, but it did not end oppression. The agreement at Yalta followed in the unjust tradition of Munich and the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Once again, when powerful governments negotiated, the freedom of small nations was somehow expendable. Yet this attempt to sacrifice freedom for the sake of stability left a continent divided and unstable. The captivity of millions in Central and Eastern Europe will be remembered as one of the greatest wrongs of history.

I am not sure how you can disagree with this.  I think the US owes Eastern Europe a big appology for selling them out at Yalta.  Now, one can argue that we had some reasons for our actions at Yalta.  First and foremost, we were exhausted from the worst war in history, and no one had the energy to gear up for a new confrontation.  Also, one can argue that it may be 20/20 hindisght that causes us to be more aware of Soviet hegemonic intentions than the actors at the time might have been (though certainly Churchill was fully cognizant of the dangers).  But, no matter how you cut it, small countries like Latvia were wiped out of existance and handed over to the Soviet Union by the Yalta agreement, and Bush's audience was made up of people still stung by this.  I think the comparison to Munich is very apt - the US post-WWII was exhausted and was more than ready to suspend disbelief and hope that appeasing Soviet territorial ambitions would head off a fresh confrontation no one had the will to fight.  Reason's hit and run has a nice roundup and further analysis.

The only explanation I can come upfor the uproar is that FDR, like Reagan and Kennedy, has an incredibly powerful though informal legacy protection society that leaps into action at even the smallest attempt to besmirch his historical halo.  In this case, Bush rightly does not even mention FDR; however, since FDR was the main advocate for pandering to Stalin at Yalta (against Churchill's vociforous but ultimately ignored objections), his defense forces feel the need to jump into action.  I would have hoped that with 3 generations separating us from FDR, we could finally look at him objectively.  He fought a fabulous war, in some sense carrying the whole free world on his shoulders for four years.  But he fumbled the peace, though, and screwed up at Yalta.

UPDATE:  Professor Bainbridge has this nice quote from Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga a few days before Bush's speech:

In Latvia ... the totalitarian occupation ... of Nazi Germany was immediately replaced by another – that of Stalinist totalitarian communist Soviet Union and was one that lasted a very long time. The day we shall be commemorating does have double significance and by coming to the Baltic States President Bush is, I believe, underscoring this double meaning of these historic events. 60 years ago when the war ended it meant liberation for many, it meant victory for many who could truly rejoiced in it.

But for others it meant slavery, it meant occupation, it meant subjugation, and it meant Stalinist terror. For Latvia the true day of liberation came only with the collapse of the Soviet Union as it did for our neighbours Lithuania and Estonia.

Sounds a lot like what Bush said.  Seems like Bush is in pretty good touch with the sentiments of the Latvian people he is speaking to.

 

Posted on May 11, 2005 at 09:21 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

A Couple of Thoughts on John Bolton

I don't know John Bolton from Michael Bolton, so I can't comment on whether he is an appropriate choice for the UN.  Nevertheless, there are a couple of things I do know:

  1. Absolutely no one in the Senate gives a crap if Bolton has a temper or sometimes was tough on subordinates.  I am willing to wager about any figure you can name that many of the Senators commenting on Mr. Bolton are themselves strutting prima donnas who have blasted subordinates.  I remember that former CA Governor Gray (Grey?) Davis supposedly had some incredible temper tantrums with subordinates, but at the time that was not thought to be a disqualifier for office.  Why is it that stupid issues like this (or the immigration status of nannies) seem to dominate confirmation hearings rather than the person's qualifications and philosophy?
  2. I have worked for not one but two men who have been featured on that famous "Toughest Bosses in America" list.  Compared to some of my encounters with these two, the stuff being talked about with Bolton is a joke. 
  3. When you hear "the UN" when any senator is talking, substitute the word "Enron".  This is not quite appropriate, because in many ways, as referenced here, the UN scandals are much worse than Enron.  However, if this comparison is at all apt, why is it so inappropriate to send an ambassador who is openly skeptical of the UN in its current state?  When the feds sought out a prosecutor to oversee the Enron investigations, did they go looking for a person who had a high degree of respect and friendship for Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling?

Posted on April 21, 2005 at 02:48 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

More on the UN

Awesome article in the Observer via the Guardian Online on the UN by a former UN Human Rights lawyer:

Having worked as a UN human rights observer in Somalia, Rwanda, Haiti and Liberia, there are two savage paradoxes for me here. The first is that, while the media and conservative politicians and pundits have suddenly discovered that the UN has been catastrophically incompetent, this is very old news to anyone with the mud (or blood) of a UN peacekeeping mission on his boots...

The second searing irony for me is that the American neoconservative right has occupied the moral high ground in critique of Annan, outflanking the left, which sits on indefensible territory in his support. But if prevention of genocide and protection of the vulnerable are not core priorities on the left, then what is? If anyone's values have been betrayed, it is those of us on the left who believe most deeply in the organisation's ideals. I am mystified by the reluctance of the left both in the US and the UK (the Guardian 's coverage, for example) to criticise Annan's leadership. The bodies burn today in Darfur - and the women are raped - amid the sound of silence from Annan. How many genocides, the prevention of which is the UN's very raison d'être, will we endure before the left is moved to criticise Annan? Shouldn't we be hearing the left screaming bloody murder about the UN's failure to protect vulnerable Africans? Has it lost its compass so badly that it purports to excuse the rape of Congolese women by UN peacekeepers under Annan's watch? Is stealing money intended for widows and orphans in Iraq merely a forgivable bureaucratic snafu?

The article includes many detailed anecdotes of failure and corruption. 

It is time to fix the UN, or better yet, replace it.  Many UN defenders want to blunt attacks on the UN by somehow implying that UN critics are against international cooperation.  This is silly.  Attacking Enron for being corrupt does not mean that I am against the concept of gas pipelines, just as attacking Bernard Ebbers as corrupt does not put me in opposition to long distance telephony.  In fact, just the opposite.  It is clear that Kofi Annan is trying to protect the UN as an institution, even if it means that the UN is so passive it gets nothing done.  Just check out this quote from the above article:

Next to these tributes [in the Rwanda genocide museum] is another installation - a reproduction of the infamous fax by the UN Force Commander, General Romeo Dallaire, imploring the then head of UN peacekeeping, Kofi Annan, for authority to defend Rwandan civilians - many of whom had taken refuge in UN compounds under implicit and sometimes explicit promises of protection.

Here, too, is Annan's faxed response - ordering Dallaire to defend only the UN's image of impartiality, forbidding him to protect desperate civilians waiting to die. Next, it details the withdrawal of UN troops, even while blood flowed and the assassins reigned, leaving 800,000 Rwandans to their fate.

 

Posted on April 6, 2005 at 09:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

When Peace Prize Winners Actually Helped People

Instapundit has several links to biographies of Norman Borlaug, who won the Nobel Peace prize for starting the green revolution and perhaps single-handedly saving hundreds of millions from starvation.  This is a particularly interesting one.

Borlaug won his prize, of course, back when the Nobel Peace prize was actually given to people who made the world a better place.  Today the prize is typically given to whatever person did the most to appease a major dictatorship or terrorist or to whoever was most vocal worldwide in their socialism or  anti-Americanism.  This description of the Nobel committee's criteria may sound flippant, but it is clear to me that the committee is dominated by those who favor peace ahead of anything else.  Which, in real life, means that you have to be ready to live with ... anything else, including murder, rape, genocide, totalitarianism, etc. 

Just look at the list of recent winners.  In 1985 they gave the peace prize to the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, who as a group systematically opposed everything the US was doing at the time which in 5 years would result in a true reduction in the risk of nuclear war.    In 1988 they gave the award to the serial rapists in the UN peacekeeping forces.    For God sakes in 1994 Yasser Arafat won, perhaps the single person most responsible for chaos in the Middle East.  In 2001 Kofi Anan won, at the very time he was out-Enroning Ken Lay by helping Saddam Hussein steal $20 billion while enriching his own son with contractor kickbacks.  And of course in 2002 Jimmy Carter won for appeasing just about every dictator in the world, but North Korea in particular (interestingly, Jimmy Carter is the only US president since Woodrow Wilson to win the award.  Can you think of any president in the last 60 years who has done less than Jimmy Carter to create a free and peaceful world?)

As a footnote, it would be impossible for Norman Borlaug to win the Peace prize today.  Greens and environmentalists have never liked him, and the politically correct Nobel Committee would never make a choice today that would irritate these groups.  People like Wangari Maathai who fit into the progressive-green sustainable development camp are preferred, even if they don't have nearly the same impact in actually saving or improving lives.

Posted on March 25, 2005 at 10:36 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

How to Spot a Dictatorship

Unfortunately, the libertarian "bloc" in the country tends to be a bit too small for either of the two major parties to fight over - kind of like expending energy on wooing left handed Eskimo pipe-welders.  However, last year, with many libertarians opposing key parts of the Patriot Act, the growth in government spending, and the war in Iraq, the left and the Democratic Party made a bid to woo libertarians over to the Kerry camp. 

I would have found this argument more compelling had the left proven themselves to be a bit more consistent supporters of democracy and individual rights around the world.  Many on the left bent themselves into pretzels supporting blatant totalitarians in hopes of seeing George Bush fail.  Other leftists continue to be strong Marxists, supporting socialist regimes with a blind eye towards their human rights records.

While the socialists are probably a loss, there is still hope for much of the left to craft a freedom- and individual-rights-based foreign policy that libertarians could find compelling -- I handed out some free advice here.  However, before they left can really make progress here, the need to learn how to recognize a dictatorship:

You Know its a Dictatorship When:

  1. Michael Moore portrays the country as a kite-flying paradise
  2. Jimmy Carter sanctioned their last election
  3. The UN certifies that there is no genocide
  4. They sign friendship pacts with other dictatorships (also here and here and here too)
  5. They are a member of the UN Human Rights commission (not 100% foolproof but getting closer every year)
  6. They were once a French colony, and/or France is opposing sanctions against it (also here too)
  7. Their people are impoverished and they lag the world in economic growth

Update:  Welcome Powerline and Instapundit readers. 

Posted on March 13, 2005 at 09:05 PM | Permalink | Comments (31)

Do US Soldiers Need Better Weapons Training?

Italian communist Giuliana Sgrena claimed to have been specifically targeted by US troops, and had hundreds, perhaps thousands of rounds shot at her oncoming vehicle from a US checkpoint.  She even claims to have been shot at by a tank.  We mourn the loss of and the needless death of her translator, but must observe that, based on her story, US soldiers don't seem to be able to hit the broadside of a barn.  Courtesy of LGF, here's her car:

Sgrenacarap1lgclick to enlarge image

Note that the front end, which should have taken the brunt, looks almost pristine.  One hit in the windshield, one in the left-front tire, and one or more in the drivers side window.  More pictures here.  More too at Captains Quarters.

Further, Ms Sgrena

said her car was hit by 300 to 400 bullets from an armored vehicle. She said she was picking up handfuls of spent rounds from the seats.

OK, maybe I was wrong.  If hundreds of rounds went into the car, they must have all gone through that same single hole on the windshield.  That's GREAT shooting.  So I guess what is really needed is better weapons penetration.  Its a pretty pathetic bullet from an armored vehicle that would enter a car and have so little energy left that it would just land on the seats in piles.

Look, here is some advice.  Take it from the CBS memo forgers.  If you are going to make something up, know your subject.  If you are going to forge a memo from a typewriter, make sure you know how typewriters worked.  And if you are going to exaggerate a story about military weapons, make sure you understand weapons.  Rounds entering the car would not build up in a pile on the seat so that she could scoop them up - they would have embedded in things.  And, if enough rounds were fired that they started building up on the seats, then no one would be alive to scoop them up. 

I have no doubt that this was a harrowing experience for all concerned, especially in the midst of their exhilaration at being released.  It was a tragedy that neither the drivers nor the Italian government knew enough about the rules of engagement on that road to recognize that speeding toward a checkpoint might be dangerous.  But it is also clear that Ms. Sgrena is exploiting the death of her comrade for personal and political gain, just as the Italian government is exploiting the incident to take attention away from the fact that they basically just established a bounty for kidnapping westerners.

 

Posted on March 8, 2005 at 05:39 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

I Would Be Thrilled to Admit I'm Wrong

From David Ignatius in the Washington Post (via Captains Quarters):

The leader of this Lebanese intifada is Walid Jumblatt, the patriarch of the Druze Muslim community and, until recently, a man who accommodated Syria's occupation. But something snapped for Jumblatt last year, when the Syrians overruled the Lebanese constitution and forced the reelection of their front man in Lebanon, President Emile Lahoud. The old slogans about Arab nationalism turned to ashes in Jumblatt's mouth, and he and Hariri openly began to defy Damascus....

"It's strange for me to say it, but this process of change has started because of the American invasion of Iraq," explains Jumblatt. "I was cynical about Iraq. But when I saw the Iraqi people voting three weeks ago, 8 million of them, it was the start of a new Arab world." Jumblatt says this spark of democratic revolt is spreading. "The Syrian people, the Egyptian people, all say that something is changing. The Berlin Wall has fallen. We can see it."

I opposed the war in Iraq not because I thought there was any ethical problem in throwing out Saddam, but because it seemed to require an awful lot of time and energy and lives to overhaul one country.  I support a strong US role in the promotion of democracy, but given the long list of totalitarian states in the world, the approach in Iraq seemed inefficient.

However, my argument loses power if our efforts in Iraq start to cause spontaneous changes in other countries in the region.  To be fair, many made this very argument for the war, but I have been skeptical.  I would love to be proved wrong.

Posted on February 24, 2005 at 08:49 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Lessons for the UN from the American Civil War

The United Nations is broken -- this is beyond question.   The only thing left to argue about is if it is Worldcom-broken, where the basic business model is OK but the management is corrupt; or Internet-startup-broken, where the whole mission and business model is wrong.  I would contend that the answer is a little of both.

One of the sources of confusion in discussing the UN is that the organization has several very different missions.  These missions fall in roughly two categories:

  1. Distribution of aid and relief, including funds and training for education, public health, and poverty mitigation.
  2. Helping to manage relationships between nations and, sometimes, between nations and their people

The first mission, of administering aid, is plagued mainly by corruption and bureaucratic waste and mismanagement, and would probably be fixable to some extent with better leadership in place.  Personally, I think much of the aid provided is well-intentioned but misguided.  Poverty generally results from corrupt, confiscatory, totalitarian regimes.  As a result, much of the aid (see oil for food in Iraq) gets siphoned off as graft by rulers, and the rest may alleviate some suffering but provides no long-term progress toward fixing the real problems the poor face.  However, given that so many people and nations feel conscience-bound to keep sending the aid, and given that some of the aid does in fact help, a cleaned-up UN is probably a reasonable vehicle for delivering it.

My main focus in this post, however, is on the second UN mission listed above, that of managing the relations between peoples and nations.  The fundamental problem is that we as Americans (rightly) expect the UN to carry a set of values into its dealings with nations that the majority of its member nations do not share.  Here, I am not even talking about contentious issues that even Western democracies might argue about (e.g. abortion, capital punishment) but the basics -- things like free elections, free expression, and free markets.  Just scan the list of member nations, or, even more revealing, the list of countries on the UN Human Rights committee (yep, you can bet that Sudan brings a lot of moral authority to that committee).  The UN is a dictators club.

The best analogy I can come up with is the United States in the decade before the Civil War.  Imagine that rather than being split 50/50, the majority of states in the US at the time supported slavery.  In those circumstances, how much chance would there be that the Congress would successfully pass a law outlawing slavery?  Right, none.  In the same way, it is unreasonable to expect a UN that is majority-controlled by totalitarians to take any meaningful steps to support freedom and plurality.

Until the Civil War, states in the South believed that the Constitution allowed them substantial, in fact near total, leeway in setting their own laws and standards.  While in a Federalist system this is always somewhat true, what the Civil War was really about was the United States establishing that there are certain minimum standards that member-states will be held to, even if enforcement of those standards requires the use of force.   Ever since, though states may vary in terms of tax rates and such, there are minimum standards that are non-negotiable  (though sometimes this gets carried away - was the 55 mile an hour speed limit really a necessary element of these minimum standards?)  The civil rights movement of the 1960's was another such time when the US enforced a minimum standard on its individual states.

Bringing this analogy back to the UN, the UN is weak because there are no minimum standards for membership.  An immoral nation alone is immoral.  A grouping of immoral nations is still immoral - the grouping does not confer any moral authority.  When the UN was founded, it was thought that having as many of the world's nations as possible as members would confer the maximum moral authority on the body, sort of like having a higher turnout in an election tends to increase the perceived mandate and legitimacy of the victors.  Its becoming increasingly clear, though, that having all the nations of the world, many of them dictatorships, as members is in fact destroying any moral authority and effectiveness the UN might have.

Since 9/11, the United States has adopted a dual foreign policy of fighting terrorism and promoting democracy around the world.  Most Americans support these goals, thought many disagree with any number of the tactics over the last several years.  In achieving these goals, it would be far better for the US to be able to pursue them as part of a coalition, an alliance for freedom and democracy, rather than on its own.  As has been made pretty clear, the UN is not going to be that vehicle.  It houses too many terrorists to ever agree to fight terrorists (it cannot even agree on a definition of terrorism) and it encompasses too many totalitarians ever do anything meaningful to fight for individual rights (see Sudan, Congo).  Of course, this doesn't stop the UN from trying to take credit for progress made by others.

What is needed is a new organization with a core group of countries strongly committed to democracy that can act with greater moral authority than any single country but who will not be hamstrung by members who oppose strong interventions because they fear being the next target.  This article by Jonathon Rausch in Reason shows encouraging steps in the right direction:

Since 1996, a handful of foreign-policy wonks have been kicking around the idea of a "democracy caucus" at the U.N. Two administrations, first Bill Clinton's and then George W. Bush's, took quiet but significant steps in that direction. Now, according to Bush administration officials, the concept will be test-flown at the six-week meeting of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights that began on Monday in Geneva.

He concludes:

"United Nations" is an oxymoron. Democracies and dictatorships are mongoose and cobra, with no real hope of uniting except opportunistically. But a community of democracies—that might just work. It already works in NATO and the E.U. The new community is a fledgling, but many readers of this article may live to see it soar.

UPDATE:  By the way, a reader pointed out to me one other problem the UN has:  their mission has been perverted from one something like "working toward a more peaceful world" to "peace at all costs".  The problem with peace at all costs, and something the American left and many of my fellow libertarians need to do a gut-check on, is that if you seek peace above all else, it means that you are willing to live, literally, with anything else.  That can mean anything from living with genocide (Sudan) to living with totalitarianism (N. Korea) to living with sponsorship of terrorism (Iran, Syria). 

By the way, I will pre-empt the obvious straw man here:  opposing peace at all costs does not mean favoring war as a first option.  I approved of the war in Afghanistan, but opposed invading Iraq, though in the latter case I am hopeful for the Iraqi people and that the example of Iraq may be setting a good example elsewhere, as in Jordan.

Posted on February 22, 2005 at 05:28 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Dutch Ban Display of Dutch Flag

Via Volok:

At the Groene Hart Lycee [an elite high school] in the city of Alphen-on-the-Rhine, the three colors that are the Dutch flag have been looked upon as evil for the past year. No symbols that identify specific groups are considered acceptable and any student may be permanently expelled for coming to school with flags on their clothing, shoes or briefcases. Earlier this week readers reacted with fury to another school in IJsselstein, this school forbids any display of flags because this would provoke students of other nationalities.

I find this amazing.  Apparently, the Dutch flag is considered by some to be insulting to non-Dutch.  A couple of reactions:

  • The Dutch have more to be proud of than any other nation.  The Dutch in many ways led the whole world, or at least the western portion of it, into the modern world of free, secular, capitalist society.  What does it say that they are rejecting this heritage?
  • Somehow in the US we have managed to avoid a connection between the flag and nativism.  For all but a few hard-core America haters, the flag represents the melting pot, not an individual ethnic background.
  • How are we ever going to get out of this culture of hyper-sensitivity, where words and flags have to be banned?  People are suing others every day for huge damages over mere words or gestures or symbols. 

UPDATE:  Volokh has another good post on hyper-sensitivity to mere words in this good post on academic freedom.

Posted on February 7, 2005 at 10:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

UN Is Pretty Shameless

Despite opposing the war in Iraq for reasons related to its cost and probability of success, I am perfectly able to cheer the recent elections and wish the Iraqis all the best (more here);  unlike many who seem to root for Iraqi failure, I would be thrilled to be proved wrong.   However, despite being more upbeat about Iraq, I am not shameless enough for suddenly try to somehow ex-post-facto take credit for the results of a war I opposed. 

But that is exactly what the UN is doing in recent blogads from the UN Foundation.  What's more, the ad taking credit for Iraqi elections is probably the least outlandish of the two.  The second, trying to push the benefits of an oil for food program that has proved completely riven with corruption, is just insane.

By the way, the UN is running these ads at the same time it is happily allowing genocide to proceed unchecked in Darfur.  Of course, the UN won't call it geneocide.

Posted on February 1, 2005 at 08:06 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wanted: Foreign Policy Alternative

Forward:  The following post contains criticism of the administration's foreign policy, including the war in Iraq.  However, I am not one who wishes to see Iraq fail, just to make me feel better about my criticisms.  In this critical week for Iraq, I wish the people of that country all the best with their fledgling democracy and I am thrilled that their elections seem to be going well.  Writing from here in the US where millions of people don't bother to vote if it's raining, the people of Iraq who are risking their lives to vote have my deep respect.

Summary:

From time to time, like many libertarians, I tend to isolationism -- but as tempting as isolationism may be, that approach is just not supported by history.  As the richest, strongest nation in the world, we run and hide from the rest of the world. In fact, I think the world is well and truly screwed if the US does not actively involve itself in making the world a better place. Since the cold war ended, the US has the luxury of intervening in world affairs and conflicts solely based on its values, such as promotion of democracy or end to genocide, rather than merely to check Soviet power. No longer do we need to support jerks like the Shah of Iran because we feel we must have allies in a particular area. GWB has outlined a fairly clear foreign policy for using American power to unseat dictators using whatever force is necessary. It is fair for us to oppose this policy for being too impatient, too violent, too expensive, too dependent on the military -- but shame on us for ceding the moral high ground of promoting democracy and opposing totalitarianism, as Democrats and many libertarians have. You can’t oppose spreading democracy (or set a low priority to it, as Kerry explicitly said he would) and win with the American people. Heck, this is the Democrats’ issue – how can they give it up to Republicans? When did pragmatic amorality rather than idealism become the hallmark of Democratic foreign policy? Where is the party of Kennedy and Truman and Roosevelt? Democrats have no one to blame but themselves for not clearly outlining a foreign policy alternative to GWB’s for using the US’s strength to do good in the world.

Some History

I am by no means an expert on foreign policy, so I guess it might be useful for me to define what I mean by "having a foreign policy", since my definition may differ from the "experts".  I consider a foreign policy to be a framework for taking action vis a vis other countries and for creating responses to the actions of these other countries.  An example helps, I think.  From about 1945 to 1989, the foreign policy of this country boiled down to "contain communism and thwart its spread".  This evolved some over the years - for example, Reagan's foreign policy probably more rightly could be described as "destroy communism altogether". 

Nevertheless, this simple framework determined most of our foreign policy decisions.   Why ally, for example, with Pakistan?  We have virtually nothing in common, their civil rights records suck, but they were strategically positioned next to the soft underbelly of Russia, and a hedge against socialist, sometimes Russian-leaning India.  Ditto for the Shah of Iran - his human rights records sucked too, but again he was anti-communist and created a difficult strategic problem for Russia.  El Salvador and Nicaragua?  For years both countries had civil wars between one side that were brutal totalitarians and the other side who were... brutal totalitarians.  Why get involved at all?  Because one side was anti-communist, and the other side pro-communist. 

By the end of the 80's, the Republicans' idealism was focused narrowly on eliminating the evil empire, and they pragmatically tolerated other human rights problems elsewhere to reach that goal.  From time to time, the Democratic Party provided a useful opposition voice urging more focus, for example in the case of Iran, on human rights and democracy and less raw we-will-accept-any-type-of-abusive-government-as-long-as-they-are-anti-communist pragmatism.

Anyway, in 1989 the Berlin Wall, and soon the Soviet Union, fell.  And with that fall, the US foreign policy of over 40 years became obsolete.   For the next 12 years, the US really had no defining foreign policy, no overarching goal or credo.  Through these years, without the strong magnetic pull of the Soviet Union, our attention became attracted by conflicts and injustices in many smaller, previously overlooked parts of the world.  Haiti, Kosovo, Somalia, Rwanda, East Timor, and Chechnya all attracted our attention.  However, without a clear framework in place, our response varied, from none to half-hearted to strong.

GWB was really the most unlikely of people to change this state of affairs.  GWB ran against Gore (as Clinton did, in fact, against GWB's dad) on a platform of thinly disguised isolationism.  Rush Limbaugh spoke for many conservatives in 2000 by disparaging the use of the US military in places like Kosovo, calling them a series of "pizza-delivery" operations.

All this changed, of course, on 9/11.  GWB, with philosophical backing of the neocons, went out and not only shaped a coherent (meaning consistently articulated) US foreign policy, but grabbed the moral high ground that the Democratic Party should have been expected, at least historically, to have staked out for itself.  Here was the Republican party saying that its foreign policy would be energized by promoting democracy and human rights.  And, simultaneously, we saw a Democratic candidate criticizing the Republican for being too idealistic and arguing for a return to raw pragmatism in foreign policy. 

No Discernable Democratic Foreign Policy Exists

In the last election, as I wieghed my choices between two flawed candidates, many of my friends asked me "how can you even think about voting for Bush given his foreign policy?"  My answer to this was, first, that my vote for Bush would be based on tax and regulatory policy, not social or foreign policy.  Second, though, I would point out that on foreign policy, Bush was essentially running unopposed.  Bush has crafted a foreign policy which boils down to:

"Aggressively promote democracy around the world with methods up to and including the use of the US military; acknowledge that security at home sometimes requires aggressive, unilateral actions to snuff out threats overseas".

Can anyone tell me in one sentence what the Democratic Party's foreign policy is?  I can come up with two different summaries, each of which is lame:

  1. "Don't Do What George Bush is is Doing".  Uh, OK, thats fine as far as it goes, but its a tad unhelpful if you actually take office and GWB is gone.  Now what do you do?
  2. "Be Respected - Get Other Countries to Like Us Again".  I guess all things being equal, being liked is fine, but imagine this situation:  You see two moms sending their kids off to the first day of school.  The first mom says to her child "be good, and if you have a chance, try to help the other kids to be good as well".  The second mom tells her child "Do whatever it takes to be liked".  Which advice do you find more compelling?  You may disagree with the first mom as to the values she has taught her child, and you may disagree that the child should try to spread those values to others, but it sure stands up better than "be liked".

The Democratic Party in general find themselves in a position of defending current institutions (e.g. public schools, affirmative action, social security, the tort system, the UN) against any change, even when the average person is well aware that those institutions are in need of change.  However, in foreign policy, the Democratic Party finds itself defending NOTHING.  The recent Condi Rice confirmation hearings reveal the party as purely in opposition, totally without an offered alternative. 

But the story gets worse for the Democrats.  Because Kerry's foreign policy message was both vacillating and indistinct, the Democrats allowed their most radical opposition voices by default to define the Democrats foreign policy message.  Politics abhors a vacuum, and into that vacuum rushed Michael Moore and the radical left.  Moore, for example, went well beyond a rational opposition to the war in Iraq to actually supporting Saddam Hussein and the Baathists.  He portrayed Saddam as a reasonable man, pre-war Iraq as a kite-flying paradise, and Baathist terrorists as minute-man-like freedom fighters.  He and others in the far left painted all of the world's problems as America's fault.  Without an alternative official Democratic position that anyone could understand, and by feting Moore at their convention, the Democratic Party in effect became associated with hating America and supporting a genocidal totalitarian butcher. 

Bad move. 

What the Democrats missed in the election is that while many Americans were frustrated with the course of events in Iraq, they liked having a foreign policy energized by idealism and the promotion of democracy.  They liked the notion of using our unique wealth and power in the world not for zero-sum squabbling with another super-power but for making the world a better place.  And most Americans, surprise it may be over at the Democratic Underground, like America.

To this day, few prominent Democrats have given anything but lukewarm support to the Iraqi people and the current elections -- Kerry goes over there, and spends his time trying to convince the Iraqis everything is screwed up rather than trying to give them the courage and stamina needed to make democracy work.  Democratic bloggers have spent most of today denying ignoring the elections in Iraq, or lamenting that so many millions of Iraqis could be turned into American puppets.

Going Forward

What a mess!  How did the party get so far away from its ideals, that its position is best described as supporting totalitarianism and hoping free elections fail? 

The American political process depends on a viable opposition.  Someone in the Democratic Party needs to reinvent their foreign policy.  Why can't they get out in front of Republicans?  Why can't they say something like:

We are thrilled by the elections in Iraq.  However, the administrations single-minded reliance on massive military intervention to build democracies is bottlenecking our progress-- we only can take on one country at a time when each intervention requires $300 billion and the majority of available military forces.  America should be pushing forward on multiple fronts, in Saudi Ariabia (which Republicans have ignored), in North Korea, in Cuba.  Millions have died in the Sudan but we have been unable to stop it, because all of our military is tied up in Iraq.  We advocate a new approach to move the world to democracy faster, including....

You get the idea --  I am not going to do their work for them.  Note that crafting a credible foreign policy alternative will require Democrats to deal with some of their historic ideological baggage:

  • Acceptance that the use of the military is sometimes justified.  This will be a problem for many in the left, but peace is not an end in itself.  Peace is more important than anything else only if you are willing to live with ... anything else.
  • Develop confidence in capitalism and trade as tools for promoting freedom and democracy.  Most of the progress of the last 20 years in places like Eastern Europe and China have been through private interaction rather than any public initiatives.  Many on the left will have a HUGE problem with this, but Bill Clinton understood it, so there is hope in the party.
  • Willingness to accept that the UN is deeply troubled and be ready to radically restructure it.  Work to recreate the UN as primarily a human rights and democracy proponent, rather than a massive beauracracy to do... whatever it is they do.
  • Recognize that to make progress in the world, everyone will not always like us.  A good president minimizes problems with allies, but doesn't put being liked above doing the right thing
  • Shut Jimmy Carter up.  No President in the last 50 years has done more damage to US foreign policy, and, but the way, has there ever been a dictator that Carter didn't want to cozy up with?

UPDATE:  some similar thoughts from, of all places, Democratic Underground.  Also more here via Instapundit.

UPDATE#2:  Jackson Diehl in the Washington Post (via VodkaPundit) gets the idea - stop bashing Bush efforts to promote democracy adn instead get out in front, pushing the administration to do more.

Posted on January 30, 2005 at 09:41 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

I Hope This is Good News

From Yahoo News:

Pro-West opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko claimed victory in Ukraine's historic presidential election rerun, telling supporters the vote was a triumph for the country and proclaiming that "now we are free" from dominance by neighboring Russia.

This seems like good news, especially given the creeping fascism in Russia.  However, we've been disappointed by putative democrats before.

Posted on December 26, 2004 at 09:20 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Demographics of Terrorism

I thought this demographic and psychological study by the Foreign Policy Research Institute (caution:  I have not idea who these guys are) and linked via Little Green Footballs is pretty interesting.

Most people think that terrorism comes from poverty, broken families, ignorance, immaturity, lack of family or occupational responsibilities, weak minds susceptible to brainwashing - the sociopath, the criminals, the religious fanatic, or, in this country, some believe they’re just plain evil.

Taking these perceived root causes in turn, three quarters of my sample came from the upper or middle class. The vast majority—90 percent—came from caring, intact families. Sixty-three percent had gone to college, as compared with the 5-6 percent that’s usual for the third world. These are the best and brightest of their societies in many ways.

Al Qaeda’s members are not the Palestinian fourteen-year- olds we see on the news, but join the jihad at the average age of 26. Three-quarters were professionals or semi- professionals. They are engineers, architects, and civil engineers, mostly scientists. Very few humanities are represented, and quite surprisingly very few had any background in religion. The natural sciences predominate. Bin Laden himself is a civil engineer, Zawahiri is a physician, Mohammed Atta was, of course, an architect; and a few members are military, such as Mohammed Ibrahim Makawi, who is supposedly the head of the military committee.

This is not particularly surprising to me.  The "terrorism comes from poverty" mantra has more to do with trying to make a political point (generally to excuse terrorism and totalitarianism and often to blame the US) rather than any particular facts on the subject.  In fact, the description above matches surprisingly well with US domestic terrorists and mass murderers.  Though there is a lot of argument nowadays about this stereotype, Phillip Simpson describes the FBI's serial killer profile (emphasis mine):

He is usually a white male between twenty-five and thirty-five years old, though of course there are teen-aged and elderly serial killers as well. Generally, the male serial killer is at the height of his physical powers, a fact which not only serves him in the practical matter of overpowering victims but also empowers him in the public arena: his strength and apparent potency (and of course, choice of innocent victims) render him an effective media monster. He is also likely to be an eldest son or an only child and of average or above-average intelligence. His childhood may have been marked by incidents of sexual or physical abuse, and his parents may be divorced or flagrantly unfaithful to one another. He usually possesses a strong belief that he is more intelligent and privileged than ordinary people (a belief that only grows stronger when confronted by evidence to the contrary) and thus exempted from the social restrictions that govern the masses. No safe predictions can be made about his economic origins, but as Leyton notes, serial murder in our era is more a crime of the middle classes than of the lower or upper ranges of the socioeconomic hierarchy.

The sexual material may or may not be parallel, though it is interesting to think about in terms of the anti-women male dominance of radical Islam.

Posted on December 18, 2004 at 09:57 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Battle of the Bulge

Powerline notes that this week is the 60th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge, or Wacht am Rhein as the Germans called it.  However, I will say that "nuts" was not my favorite quote coming from the 101st Airborn.  My favorite was the one from about every soldier in the 101 when asked how it felt to be "rescued" by Patton.  Their nearly universal answer was, and still is, that no one in the 101st ever thought they needed to be rescued.  I don't know if it is apocryphal, but as Captain Winters in Band of Brothers says "We're paratroopers, we're supposed to be surrounded."

Posted on December 16, 2004 at 12:10 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Time to Open Up Relations with Cuba

Yes, I know the Cuban government sucks.  No, I do not want to give it a moral sanction.  However, our continuing total embargo of Cuba smacks more of saving face at this point rather than a very effective strategy to end communism on the island. 

While it is important to have sanctions against totalitarian governments, cutting off all contact with the democratic nations is just counter-productive.  Cross-pollination of democratic ideas has done more to bring countries like China and South Africa closer to the democratic fold than any number of sanctions.  In particular, limitations even on intellectual contact between Americans and Cubans makes no sense any more.

Posted on December 16, 2004 at 11:36 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Good Stuff at Scrappleface

First, Scrappleface reports:

After a week of tough negotiating by France, Germany and Britain, the Islamic Republic of Iran has conceded to reduce the size of nuclear warheads it will use in the eventual bombing of Paris, Berlin and London.

I might have thought this was humor until I read this line, which seems all too real:

Iran has pledged to stop enriching uranium, while retaining 20 operating centrifuges, and continuing to process plutonium

LOL.  Even better, Scrappleface also reports that CBS is considering emulating recent moves by the Ukraine press to abandon bias:

Inspired by a public pledge from Ukrainian TV journalists to provide unbiased reporting from now on, CBS News has launched an internal investigation to assess the potential impact of such a move.

Go read it all.

Posted on November 27, 2004 at 03:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Democracy Bloc at the UN

This is a great idea, and one I missed the first time it came around.  It seems that the US has finally gotten tired of the U.N. being a big dictators club (the membership of the U.N. human rights committee is particularly appalling) and is doing something about returning the U.N. to some sort of sane and moral mission.  More here about the newly forming democracy bloc at the U.N. in a Reason article by Jonathan Rauch.

The idea has been given new currency with the growing movement to draft Vaclav Havel to replace the reprehensible and corrupt Kofi Annan, a movement currently being cheerled by Glenn Reynolds

Posted on November 26, 2004 at 08:12 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Building Capitalism in Iraq

The Knowledge Problem makes a good point:

Why has this administration said so little publicly about the development of capitalism, not merely democracy, in Iraq? Vernon [Smith] said that it's probably because we don't know how to "build" a market, and certainly Hayek and other Austrians would agree.

If the neocons are going to argue for aggressively promoting our values while toppling totalitarian regimes, they better figure out how to do it.

Posted on November 25, 2004 at 04:27 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Two Faces of Islam

For years, a number of more conservative groups have been warning that the messages given by Islamic leaders and holy men in English for world consumption were far different than the messages given to their own people in Arabic.  And indeed, their translations of Arabic speech aimed at Muslims can be pretty scary.  Few Westerners believed or wanted to believe these warnings, preferring to hope that most arabs were like themselves, basically peaceful and supportive of democracy and plurality. 

For years, I was skeptical of these claims.  I felt like it would require extraordinary laziness and incompetance on the part of the media to just digest the English statements of Islamic leaders without ever checking out what they were saying in Arabic.  However, over the past couple of years, I have lost all faith in the work ethic, intelligence, and dilligence of the western media, and have come to believe that it would be enitrely possible for Arab leaders to manipulate Western media in this way.

For this reason, a part of this article (hat tip LGF) about German reactions to Musilm violence in the Netherlands is interesting to me.  It seems that, after the recent violence, the media finally had the idea to actually listen in on what some Islamic religeous leaders are saying in Arabic:

"These Germans, these atheists, these Europeans don't shave under their arms and their sweat collects under their hair with a revolting smell and they stink," said the preacher at the Mevlana Mosque in Berlin's Kreuzberg district, in the film made by Germany's ZDF public TV, adding: "Hell lives for the infidels! Down with all democracies and all democrats!"

Beyond the bizarre body hair reference, this is NOT what the media has been saying that Islam is teaching here in the west (I don't imply this represents the majority, but the media has essentially claimed it does not exist at all).

By the way, the proposed "solotions" strike me as nuts, and should also be enlightening to anyone in the US who looks up to Continental Europe as a counter-weight to percieved creeping fascism with the Bush Administration.  I may not be a fan of the Patriot Act, but nobody in the Bush administration, with far more provocation, has suggested anything as loony as making all religeous ceremonies English-only.

Posted on November 17, 2004 at 10:36 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sarin Gas in Fallujah?

See Updates Below -- Update #1: Sarin test kits, most probably. Update #2: MSM still waddling along, left in the dust by blogs

This is not a huge surprise, but it is still bad news.  Sarin find announced a few days ago confirmed in pictures, and it sure looks legit.  Memo to Republicans:  This is bad news.  Do not make the same mistake as Democrats in deciding what is good and bad news based on how it vindicates or hurts Bush.

Sarin

Larger version is picture #2 in USA Today Slideshow

Story courtesy of Powerline and Captains Quarters

Update #1

More information in the link above at Captains Quarters.  The betting line now is that these are Sarin test kits, rather than Sarin, which makes more sense anyway given how they were found.

It is amazing to me that USAToday and others could have this story now for days, and make less progress on what is really in this picture than amateur blog readers can in a couple hours in a comment thread.  Interesting.

UPDATE #2 (1AM EST Thursday): 

It has been well over 8 32 hours since readers at a number of sites, including Powerline and LGF, deconstructed this photo and concluded that these were Sarin test kits.  USAToday has still not changed their story or their caption.

Posted on November 17, 2004 at 12:16 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Alternate Obituaries for Arafat

Some of the "official" biographies of Arafat in the media are starting to make me sick.  Arafat was not a slightly flawed statesman and freedom-fighter.  Arafat was a leading terrorist who has squandered the Palestinians chances to get a real homeland for themselves.  When given the chance at statehood, he was unwilling and unable to create any sort of rule of law, and quickly demonstrated that he was really seeking violence and chaos, not stability and happiness, for his people.  You can find "alternate" obituaries here and here.

Posted on November 11, 2004 at 09:32 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thanks, By the Way

America experienced no major terrorist attack on its soil in the run-up to the election.  This can't be for lack of trying.  If the terrorists bombed Spain, at best a peripheral country in the war on terror, to influence its election, you know that they would have loved to have bombed the Great Satan.  But they didn't.  All we got was a VHS valentine from Osama.

Thank you to the US Military, to the administration, to the department of homeland security, to the FAA, to the Phoenix Police, to the FBI, to the CIA, and to everyone else who made this non-event possible.  And, thank you to all the citizens of the US, who, whatever issues they might have with those in power, would never harbor a terrorist.  This sounds like an obvious statement, but its not.  It is in fact our best defense against terrorism.  Europe is much more vulnerable, because it has communities and groups and various cities who ARE willing to aid and abet terrorists.

Posted on November 5, 2004 at 11:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

So different in our basic assumptions

I posted here a while back about folks that seemed to be living in a very different universe, whose assumptions about the world were nearly unfathomable to me. This article by John Leo seems to get at this issue pretty well. It helps explain why, though I tend to be skeptical about the war in Iraq, I could so easily get turned off by the anti-war left.

Posted on October 23, 2004 at 11:24 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

French vs. Anglo-American "Imperialism"

For some reason, a portion of our country has adopted France as the standard bearer of "anti-imperialism" (or at least anti-US imperialism). France publicly positions itself similarly, trying to make itself the leader and counterweight to US "Imperialism". I will leave aside for now the argument as to whether the US's recent actions constitute "imperialism". I will instead focus on the French as a role model.

The first thing that struck me was how long the French tried desperately to hold on to their colonial empire. Both the US and Great Britain either liberated or came to an acceptable living arrangement with their major colonies within a few years of the end of WWII. Both seemed to come to terms with the fact that the colonial era was over. The French, in contrast, were still involved in bloody conflicts in Indochina and Algeria to retain their empire through the late 50's and even into the early 60's.

So, I decided to do a little research to understand the relative success of French and Anglo-American colonies. Of course, when judging the success of a former colony, a lot of things come into play, and certainly the freed colony must take a substantial amount of responsibility for its own success and political freedom. However, after a bit of research, it is instructive to see how well prepared for independence Britain, France, and the US left their colonies. Did they leave the country with democratic systems in place and a capable local ruling class, or did they just suck the country dry and try to prevent any locals from gaining any capability.

To make this analysis, I have selected a number of each country's key colonies. Some of the smaller African and island nations have been left out. I also realize that I left off some of the ex-British middle eastern colonies, but I am too tired now to add them back in.

I have used two pieces of data to judge an ex-colony's success. First is GDP per capita, corrected for purchasing power parity, found in the 2003 CIA fact book via World Facts and Figures. The second is the Freedom index prepared by Freedom House.

The results are striking. When arrayed in order of GDP per capita, ex-French colonies occupy only 4 of the top 25 spots. And, if you leave out Louisiana and Quebec, which one can argue are much more shaped by the US and British, and if you leave out Mexico, where there is arguably little French influence and none in the last 150+ years, then ex-French colonies occupy only 2 of the top 25 spots. When arrayed by the Freedom Index, and again leaving out Quebec, Louisiana and Mexico, ex-French colonies only occupy one of the top 25 spots! The ex-French colonies occupy 14 of the bottom 20 poorest slots and 11 of the bottom 15 least free slots. Finally, one could argue that none of the ex-French colonies have really grown up into world players, while British colonies in America, Australia, India, South Africa, Palestine (Israel) and even Egypt play a significant role on the world stage.

Colonies Sorted by Current GDP Per Capita

Parent

Colony

GDP per Capita

Freedom (1=free, 5+ = not free)

GB

United States

37.8

1.0

GB

Bermuda

36.0

1.0

GB

Cayman Islands

35.0

FR

Louisiana

33.3

1.0

FR

Quebec

30.5

1.0

US

Alaska

30.1

1.0

GB

Canada

29.7

1.0

GB

Australia

28.9

1.0

GB

Hong Kong

28.7

1.0

US

Hawaii

28.2

1.0

GB

Falklands

25.0

GB

Singapore

23.7

4.5

GB

New Zealand

21.6

1.0

GB

Israel

19.7

2.0

US

Virgin Islands

19.0

1.5

GB

Brunei

18.6

5.5

GB

Malta

17.7

1.0

FR

French Polynesia

17.5

GB

Gibraltar

17.5

US

Puerto Rico

16.8

GB

Bahamas

16.8

1.0

GB

Barbados

16.2

1.0

GB

Cyprus

16.0

1.0

GB

British Virgin Is.

16.0

1.5

FR

Martinique

14.4

GB

Antigua & Barbuda

11.0

3.0

GB

South Africa

10.7

1.5

FR

Mexico

9.0

2.0

GB

Malaysia

9.0

4.5

GB

Botswana

8.8

2.0

FR

French Guiana

8.3

US

American Samoa

8.0

FR

Seychelles

7.8

3.0

FR

Tunisia

6.9

5.5

FR

Algeria

5.9

5.5

FR

Fiji

5.8

3.5

FR

Gabon

5.5

4.5

GB

Grenada

5.0

1.5

GB

Swaziland

4.9

6.0

US

Philippines

4.6

2.5

FR

Morocco

4.0

5.0

GB

Egypt

3.9

6.0

GB

Jamaica

3.8

2.5

GB

Sri Lanka

3.7

3.0

FR

Montserrat

3.4

GB

Lesotho

3.0

2.5

GB

India

2.9

2.5

FR

Vietnam

2.5

6.5

GB

Ghana

2.2

2.0

GB

Zimbabwe

1.9

6.0

FR

Mauritania

1.8

5.5

FR

Laos

1.7

6.5

FR

Cambodia

1.7

5.5

FR

Senegal

1.6

2.5

FR

Haiti

1.6

6.0

FR

Togo

1.5

5.5

GB

Uganda

1.4

4.5

FR

Djibouti

1.3

5.0

FR

Central African Rep,

1.2

6.0

FR

Chad

1.2

5.5

FR

Burkina Faso

1.1

4.0

GB

Sudan

1.1

7.0

GB

Kenya

1.0

3.0

FR

Mali

0.9

2.0

FR

Madagascar

0.8

3.0

FR

Niger

0.8

4.0

GB

Nigeria

0.8

4.0

GB

Zambia

0.8

4.0

FR

Congo

0.7

6.0

Colonies Sorted by Freedom Rating

Parent

Colony

GDP per Capita

Freedom (1=free, 5+ = not free

GB

United States

37.8

1.0

GB

Bermuda

36.0

1.0

FR

Louisiana

33.3

1.0

FR

Quebec

30.5

1.0

US

Alaska

30.1

1.0

GB

Canada

29.7

1.0

GB

Australia

28.9

1.0

GB

Hong Kong

28.7

1.0

US

Hawaii

28.2

1.0

GB

New Zealand

21.6

1.0

GB

Malta

17.7

1.0

GB

Bahamas

16.8

1.0

GB

Barbados

16.2

1.0

GB

Cyprus

16.0

1.0

US

Virgin Islands

19.0

1.5

GB

British Virgin Is.

16.0

1.5

GB

South Africa

10.7

1.5

GB

Grenada

5.0

1.5

GB

Israel

19.7

2.0

FR

Mexico

9.0

2.0

GB

Botswana

8.8

2.0

GB

Ghana

2.2

2.0

FR

Mali

0.9

2.0

US

Philippines

4.6

2.5

GB

Jamaica

3.8

2.5

GB

Lesotho

3.0

2.5

GB

India

2.9

2.5

FR

Senegal

1.6

2.5

GB

Antigua & Barbuda

11.0

3.0

FR

Seychelles

7.8

3.0

GB

Sri Lanka

3.7

3.0

GB

Kenya

1.0

3.0

FR

Madagascar

0.8

3.0

FR

Fiji

5.8

3.5

FR

Burkina Faso

1.1

4.0

FR

Niger

0.8

4.0

GB

Nigeria

0.8

4.0

GB

Zambia

0.8

4.0

GB

Singapore

23.7

4.5

GB

Malaysia

9.0

4.5

FR

Gabon

5.5

4.5

GB

Uganda

1.4

4.5

FR

Morocco

4.0

5.0

FR

Djibouti

1.3

5.0

GB

Brunei

18.6

5.5

FR

Tunisia

6.9

5.5

FR

Algeria

5.9

5.5

FR

Mauritania

1.8

5.5

FR

Cambodia

1.7

5.5

FR

Togo

1.5

5.5

FR

Chad

1.2

5.5

GB

Swaziland

4.9

6.0

GB

Egypt

3.9

6.0

GB

Zimbabwe

1.9

6.0

FR

Haiti

1.6

6.0

FR

Central African Rep,

1.2

6.0

FR

Congo

0.7

6.0

FR

Vietnam

2.5

6.5

FR

Laos

1.7

6.5

GB

Sudan

1.1

7.0

GB

Cayman Islands

35.0

NR

GB

Falklands

25.0

NR

FR

French Polynesia

17.5

NR

GB

Gibraltar

17.5

NR

US

Puerto Rico

16.8

NR

FR

Martinique

14.4

NR

FR

French Guiana

8.3

NR

US

American Samoa

8.0

NR

FR

Montserrat

3.4

NR

UPDATE #1:

One other interesting benefit of making your colonies strong.  In WWII, ex-British colonies United States, Canada, Australia, and India all made substantial contributions to helping Britain out in perhaps the most dangerous time in their history.  The French were helped out by, uh, the same British colonies.

UPDATE #2:

Welcome new visitors.  If you are not tired of post-election posts, this libertarian's take is here.

Posted on October 19, 2004 at 09:39 PM | Permalink | Comments (25)

Before We Argue - Lets See If We Are Living In The Same Universe

Back some years (decades, eek!) ago when I was in college, I used to really burn hot in political arguments. I could not let any statement go from anyone without an argument. And, being a libertarian, I could always find something to disagree with someone about. Since then I have mellowed a lot, and can let a lot of things pass.

Today, its hard to resist arguing about the war in Iraq, but I often find myself in the odd position of opposing the war in Iraq but disagreeing with most of the premises and assumptions of other people I meet who are opposed to the war. Though I oppose the war, I find myself sharing assumptions about the world that are more prevalent among proponents of the war. This might have made me uncomfortable at one point of my life, but as a small-government individual-rights libertarian you get used to this kind of thing, after seeing everyone argue if the government should be in the boardroom (Democrats and increasingly Republicans) or the bedroom (Republicans and some Democrats) or both (Pat Buchanan).

Over time, I have devised a couple of tests to get at these conflicting assumptions. These tests have evolved over time but they seem to retain their power to sort out people who are operating in an alternate reality.

Here are the two tests, in their current form (though longer for this print edition). In each case, choose either A or B, based on which seems more correct to you. Elements of both A and B will have been true from time to time and in isolated incidents. Try to choose which represents the fundamental truth to you.

1. On America

A. Over the last 100 years, America has, by a wide margin, been the world's single greatest force for good, in terms of promoting freedom, democracy, and individual rights. By defeating totalitarianism in Germany, Germany again, and the Soviet Union, and attempting to check its spread in Korea, Vietnam, Kuwait, and any number of other countries, the United States has nearly single-handedly been responsible for the success of plurality in the world today. Going forward, the US, given its ideology and its relative military and industrial power, is in the single best position to make the world a better, safer place and is probably the only real hope available to peoples living under totalitarianism today. As its economy grows, the US and its corporations continue to bring prosperity to more and more people around the world. This is not to say that the US is perfect, and, as it is governed by fallible humans, has made mistakes in the world. These mistakes tend to be exceptions, and are generally corrected over time.

B. The United States represents the greatest source of instability, grief, and misery in the world today. Its corporations bring misery to the poor the world over, greedily forcing the poor out of the rural lives they have known for centuries into low-paying sweatshops. The imperialist American military mostly acts at the beck and call of these wealthy interests, attacking or threatening countries to gain access to their natural resources or to protect their commercial interests. The American military has no qualms about waging brutal campaigns in countries like Kosovo and Iraq that kill thousands of innocent civilians who just want to live in peace. American adventurism is primarily responsible for creating most of the terrorist organizations in the world, who rise up in opposition to US hegemony.

2. On Our Enemies.

A. The Islamic fundamentalist terrorists we face, and the countries that harbor them, are among the most brutal totalitarians in modern history. The societies they come from and want to spread to the rest of the world are horribly repressive. Most are effectively apartheid states, keeping their female population more thoroughly suppressed than blacks ever were in South Africa. Their terrorists have no desire to live in peace and harmony with the rest of the world. And, like any bully, they understand only violence and react to weakness and conciliation with more forceful attacks.

B. Muslim insurgents are driven to violence as a last resort because of the indignities forced on them by America and her allies (particularly Israel). America and Israel have waged brutal oppressive war on the Islamic people for decades, leaving millions of Palestinians homeless and killing and disrupting the lives of Arab people who just want to live in peace. While many Muslim nations are not exactly democratic, they have the kind of government that they want, and most of their people are not ready for democracy. If the Americans gets their military out of the Middle East and Israel will finally give up sufficient territory to the Palestinians and stops taking preemptive action against Palestinian government officials under the guise of anti-terrorism, then most terrorist activity would stop.

Obviously these are closely correlated questions, so most people are either A-A or B-B. I have found that as an A-A, it is very difficult to argue with a B-B, because we start with such fundamentally different views of the world.

By the way, this does not mean that all A-A's will agree. Far from it. For example, while I supported the war in Afghanistan, I have never been comfortable that the Iraq invasion was the right next step in fighting terrorism. The war in Iraq strikes me as a lot of time and effort and money to neutralize a country that is not necessarily even in the top 5 remaining sponsors of terrorism. I think we invaded Iraq because we could, not because they were necessarily the highest priority target. Yes, Saddam sucked (please, anti-war commentators, stop defending this jerk) and I am happy he is gone, but there is not enough money in the treasury to cleanup all the brutal dictators in the world one-by-one by military overthrow. Many A-A's disagree with me, and many B-B's agree with me, but for very different reasons reasons (e.g. this whole thing about not having the French allied with us - come on, the French were allies of Saddam - we were more likely to get Mussolini to join the allies against Hitler).

I think that many anti-war folks have gone overboard in their anti-Americanism. I can't figure out if they were always B-B's, which drives their being anti-war, or if being anti-war have changed their perception of the world into the B-B camp. As I observe them, though, B-B's seem to make at least three logical mistakes in arguing their case:

The first mistake is taking historical actions out of context. One can list a a number of questionable international moves the US has made over the last 50 years. In particular, you can rattle off a series of names, from Batista in Cuba to the Shah in Iran to Hussein in Iraq to the Taliban in Afghanistan who we have supported at one time or another, much to our current embarrassment. It continues to piss me off how bad we screwed up blindly supporting Batista or the Shah. However, trying to paint our support for these jerks as a result of systematically evil intentions is ridiculous - in most of these cases we were trying to find allies to counterbalance what at the time seemed the greater evil (in these cases, the Soviet Union and Fundamentalist Iran). The fact is that when we move outside of North America and Europe, and we go looking for allies, their are dang few ethically acceptable regimes out there. For God sakes, we allied with Stalin for 5 years in WWII! Just walking in the door of the UN as a member forces one to accept scores of brutal dictators as one's peers and to treat these thugs as legitimate statesmen. I will say that we as a nation have an irritating tendency to give these allies-of-convenience a complete pass on human rights -- I do think we can be more aggressive about applying pressure to get our friends to clean their own house, but that is another topic.

The second mistake is in setting up outrageous moral equivalencies. For example, while soldier's isolated misdeeds in Vietnam or in Iraqi prisons should rightly embarrass us all, they do not by any stretch of the imagination put us in the same category as our enemies, who are filling mass graves with bodies. Oddly enough, mistake 2a, which I have heard B-B's make in the same sentence as mistake 2 --is to take morally equivalent situations and declare them to be different. While no B-B would ever accept a religious fundamentalist authoritarian society for themselves, they declare it to be OK for those in the Middle East, who they claim are not ready for democracy (which, to my southern ears, sounds suspiciously like what bigots used to say about African-Americans).

The third mistake is one of transference. Many people tend to transfer their own values and outlook to our enemies. They assume that since they themselves desperately want peace and justice, and would never imagine using violence for violence sake, they assume our enemies are the same and are motivated by the same things. The fact is that our enemies are not like us and do not think like us. My wife expressed a mild version of this mistake the other day. She wondered out loud why the 9/11 terrorists, many of whom lived in our country for months, did not, by living in our society, recognize its virtues. This logic might have worked for the average eastern European citizen trapped on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain, but it does not work for our current enemies. In point of fact, the 9/11 terrorists were probably horrified by what they saw of our society, the freedom of expression, the freedom and power granted to women, the dominance of the secular over the religious. Living in our free society probably strengthened their resolve.

UPDATE

By the way, now that we are in Iraq, I think it would be a disaster to cut and run - whether we should have gone to Iraq or not, we are there now and need to make it work - we can't run away like we did, with disastrous consequences, from Lebanon under Reagan and from Somalia under Clinton. I am not very happy about picking up the check, but I am thrilled to see millions of Iraqis trying to make a go of democracy, and millions of women released from virtual slavery. It would be criminal to leave these folks hanging, to fall into the chaos and misery that is nearly inevitable without our military trying to keep some order.

Posted on October 17, 2004 at 09:28 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

That Awkward Global Test, Part 2

In part 1 of this series, I didn't talk much about the "global test" but rather spent some time giving my views on the war in Iraq. In brief, I opposed this war, but for reasons very different than that of most anti-war activist. I appreciate the need for the US to use force in the world from time to time, not the least for the quite salutary effect it can have on other miscreants who foresee that they might meet with the same fate (e.g.m see "Lybia").

One argument that I did not ever find compelling was the fact that we did not have enough allies or a large enough coalition. First, those putting forward this argument tend to go so overboard that they tend to insult those who did join us as "coerced" or "bribed". I think we owe a lot more to countries like Great Britain, Australia, Poland, Italy, and Spain (v1.0) than to intimate that they were suckers to join us. And what's with the strategy of saying that we did not have a large enough coalition, then actively trying to reduce it?

My hypothesis from day 1 of the war was that France was an ally of Iraq, and never going to join us, but that it didn't matter one way or another because alliances in the Muslim world would be much more important than with countries of fading glory in Western Europe. Therefore, the rest of this post will address two issues:

1. How realistic or unrealistic it was to expect help from our "traditional allies" and 2. Our mixed record of success with the allies that may matter more

Germany and Japan

Germany and Japan spent much of the 20th century unsuccessfully attempting to export totalitarianism to their neighbors by force. Both countries are rightfully reluctant to send their forces on cross-border adventures (in fact, Japan in prohibited in doing so by the constitution the US wrote for it). I have no problem with both countries taking a 100-year or so timeout on foreign adventurism.

France and Russia

The evidence continues to flow in. France and probably Russia were active allies of Saddam and the Baathist dictatorship in Iraq. Period. No amount of diplomacy, short of maybe a nuclear threat, was going to cause them to support an invasion of Iraq. They were no more likely to join in on an attack on Iraq than Mussolini and Italy were likely to join the Allies in WWII against Germany. The evidence emerging includes:

1. France and Russia were given a deal not long before the war to split the development rights to all of the oil in Iraq. Though it was not known then, the Duelfer report shows this to have been a direct strategy of Saddam to gain their security council vetoes. MSNBC had an article BEFORE THE WAR discussing the deal with France and Russia. Incredibly, America Haters, and even the author of this article, spend more time talking about the US going to war in Iraq for the oil. There has never been a scrap of evidence that the US went in for the oil, and very clear evidence that France and Russia were given lucrative oil deals to prevent the invasion. So who was acting for the oil?
2. France and Russia were easily the largest arms suppliers to Iraq. We knew this before the war and we have confirmed it in spades today. Every day our troops get attacked by French weapons, most of which were shipped to Saddam AFTER the embargo was in place and many within months of the start of the war. Iraq is not the only place where this is happening. While the US has in the past been careless or outright irresponsible in some of the places its weapons have ended up, today France, China, and Russia are not the key arsenals of totalitarianism.
3. France and Russia were key enablers in the UN, both passively, by defeating safeguards, and actively, by playing a direct role, of Saddam Hussein's stealing billions of dollars from the oil for food program. This story is still unfolding, and at this point I will leave aside the payments of oil vouchers to individuals, because it is not clear whether these acted as bribes (though they sure look like them). However, even without this aspect, the rape of the oil for food program is a miserable story of corruption, as detailed in part here and here.

The Scotsman has been on top of this story, and has a couple of great articles here and here.

Other Nations?
What about other nations. China? Yeah, right, the boys from Tiananmen square love promoting democracy over totalitarianism. Their actions to protect the Sudanese government from criticism over the current genocide there (again, in part, to protect their oil rights) have shown their true colors. And who else is left? Send in the Peruvian Air Force? The answer is, no one who could really help. When people say that we did not have a coalition, they primarily mean France, and you can see how likely that would have been. As an aside, I find it incredible that liberals of all stripes want to align themselves with French Foreign policy, perhaps the most illiberal in the last 50 years of all the wester democracies and certainly the country most responsible for making colonialism a bad word.

Allies that Really Matter in this War

In attacking Afghanistan and Iraq, the allies that should really matter are its powerful neighbors. I would argue that Pakistan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia are all more important allies in these wars than France. So how have we done with these countries - the answer is a mix of successes and failures.

In Pakistan, we probably have had our greatest diplomatic success. Certainly, on 9/12, as we were trying to decide what to do next, Pakistan seemed to be more of a problem than part of the solution, and certainly their nuclear program was worrisome. But the Bush Administration has done a good job at turning Pakistan into an ally (at least in the near-term), with Pakistan agreeing to base troops and fighters in the country, agreeing to renounce ties to the Taliban, and, perhaps most amazing, agreeing to actually use its troops and security personnel to help hunt down hiding Taliban members. Without Pakistan on our side, defeat of the Taliban would have been impossible, with Pakistan acting as a safe harbor for terrorists much like Laos and Cambodia did in the Vietnam war. Even better, all this has been achieved without ruffling too many feathers in India, which is in itself a diplomatic victory, similar to wearing a Yankees shirt in Fenway Park and not starting a fight. I know that Pakistan still has a ton of problems, but we are getting as much as we could ever expect from them in the near-term (heck, even allying with Stalin made sense for a few years get reach some key goals).

In countries like Saudi Arabia and Indonesia, we probably reached about a diplomatic draw. Neither country would be highly enthusiastic about either an invasion of Afghanistan or Iraq, but both provided at least modest logistics support. Neither, however, have ceased being tremendous breeding grounds for terrorism or have done much to deter those in their countries supporting terrorism. Certainly a reckoning is coming sometime in the future with Saudi Arabia, but, for now, they have been about as supportive as necessary (and no more).

It is difficult to paint our diplomatic efforts with Turkey in the run-up to the war as anything but a failure. Turkey clearly had many concerns about the war, from negative economic impact to encouraging their own Kurdish minorities to get frisky should Iraq's Kurds gain their freedom. However, given our good relations with Turkey over the last half-century, we should have been able to find a diplomatic formula to secure their cooperation. Even more, our failure was particularly deep given that Turkey's support seemed to fall apart at the eleventh hour, when these type of things should already have been worked out.

In Summary

It still flabbergasts me that so many people run around worrying about France's participation in our alliance. It strikes me that France's participation was both stupendously unlikely as well as of little practical value (beyond their UN veto). Much more important was our success with Pakistan and failure with Turkey. A new type of war in different parts of the world will require different alliances than the European wars of the 20th century.

UPDATE

Interesting post from Captains Quarters about the complicated nature of our relationship with Pakistan and the change in Al-Qaeda strategy to try to drive Pakistan out of its alliance with the US.

Posted on October 10, 2004 at 11:24 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

That Awkward Global Test, Part 1

The Duelfer Report has become sort of a political Rorschach test for both opponents and supporters of the war in Iraq. Opponents of the war (examples here and here) will point to the findings that Iraq, at the time of the invasion, did not have WMD's and probably got rid of them soon after sanctions began and that inspections seemed to be working. War supporters (examples here and here) will point to the findings that Saddam was carefully maintaining the capability to produce WMD's in anticipation of restarting the programs when sanctions lifted. Rather than read all these conflicting reports, go to the original - the executive summary of the report is clear and you can get the gist in a page or two.

The point of the post is really not about WMD's, but about other countries and their attitudes about US and the war. As quick background, I supported the war in Afghanistan, because they obviously harbored those who attacked us and I felt it was important to set the example of a strong response to a terrorist act (rather than the weak response to the USS Cole or the first WTC bombing). The fact that Afghanis are having their first election in millennia and tens of millions of people, particularly women, are freed from the shackles of totalitarianism is just gravy. I opposed the war in Iraq, mostly because I did not think it was our job as a country, or my job as a taxpayer, to help clean up the world. I am not dumb -- I get the argument about stopping Hitler in Czechoslovakia, but I was worried that success would be pushing on a balloon - we might push back terrorism and totalitarianism in Iraq, but what about Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt, Iran, etc?? Hitler was a one-headed monster - Islamic fascism unfortunately seems to be a many headed hydra. I know that President Bush would argue that a free and sortof democratic Iraq could be the seed around which moderation crystallizes in the Arab world. I would dearly love this to be true, but I fear that it is wishful thinking.

However, I will say that I have occasionally wavered in my opposition to the Iraq war. One reason is that I am thrilled to see Saddam gone and the Iraqi's trying to make a go of a free society. I wish them well. I cannot understand nor tolerate people who allow their opposition to the war and/or the president to cause them to root for failure as the Iraqi people try to make a go of it.

Second, as is sometimes the case as a libertarian, I have found myself, in my opposition to the war, uncomfortable with many of my bedfellows.

For example, many folks who oppose the war seem to feel that they actually have to go overboard and defend Saddam and pre-war Iraq. An extreme example is Michael Moore's ridiculous Fahrenheit 9/11, which tried to paint a happy picture of Saddam dominated Iraq. I find that position indefensible. Saddam sucked, and Iraq under Saddam sucked. The lighter version of this position is the Kerry campaign's position that we have substituted one bad thing (Saddam) for another (chaos and violence), with the implication that the Iraqi people are (or should be) unhappy with the trade. This is ridiculously disingenuous. Absolutely no one taking this position, that chaos is worse than dictatorship, would take this position for their own country. The proof? When faced with the choice of adopting a more statist security system in this country (Patriot Act, detentions, etc.) to avoid chaos and violence (e.g. future terrorist attacks) the anti-war crowd opposed these measures. And I promise, for all the talk of Bushitler, etc, these measures are trivial compared to what was done to keep "order" in Saddam's Iraq. So it strikes me as tremendously hypocritical to advocate for the Iraqi's a course no one would consider here in the US.

The other issue on which I disagree with my anti-war brethren is this notion of not building up a sufficient alliance or getting enough global approval. This is actually the point I have been trying to get to in this post. For months, I have suspected that this discussion was both naive and misdirected. Naive, because all along I was pretty sure that France and Russia were Saddam's allies, and no more likely to join a coalition against him than Mussolini was going to join the allies against Germany. Misdirected, because if we are going to wage a war with Islamo-fascists, help from countries like Turkey, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Indonesia is probably far more important than getting a few hundred MP's from France or Germany. Recent reports, including the Duelfer report and investigations of the ongoing UN oil-for-food program scandal, have begun to put factual flesh on the bones of my suspicions.

Since this post is going long already, I will continue in part 2.

UPDATE #1

I had a couple of emails already on Iraq. Let me clarify. I do not outright oppose the use of the military, even unilaterally, as a foreign policy tool. Also, I am not one of those idiots that somehow want to believe that terrorists are only attacking us because they have some valid complaints, and if we would just peacefully resolve their valid complaints, they would go away. Most terrorists and the nations that support them are bullies that hate our entire way of life, and who respond to nothing other than force. I have no problem agreeing that fighting terrorism will require military action against sponsoring nations, not just police work.

However, the attack on Iraq and its timing never quite made sense to me. I think of Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia, et al as a bunch of teenage boys who have been raising hell in the neighborhood for over a decade. After years of ignoring their crimes or at worst giving them a stern talking to, we suddenly take one aside (and not necessarily even the one most culpable) and shoot him. This made some sense with Afghanistan, since we could draw a direct line of culpability between the Taliban and the 9/11 attacks. But was it time to shoot Iraq? And while there certainly were links between Iraq and terrorists, were they really worse than Syria's or Iran's or Saudi Arabia's. Certainly shooting Iraq got the group's attention, that we can hopefully mine diplomatically over the coming years, but shooting Afghanistan should have had a similar effect, and we never really tried to leverage that before we moved on to Iraq.

UPDATE #2

By the way, leaving now in Iraq and giving up and/or giving in would be a disaster. Reagan's retreat from Lebanon and Clinton's retreat from Somalia were disasters to US Foreign Policy. Our best weapon is to give the opposition no hope of victory. Once you demonstrate there is a point at which you back down, you will always be driven to that point by the opposition. I disagreed with the decision to invade Iraq, but now that we are there, there is no turning back the clock. Our presence is a fact and we must make it a success or it will really be a waste. Good article by Orson Scott Card on this subject here. Relevant quote:

However, there is an element of truth in Roberts's remark. For a time, the humiliatingly rapid defeat of Iraq's military (with the tacit consent of many Iraqi soldiers, it's important to add) will cause angry young men in the Muslim world to enlist in greater numbers in the effort to wipe out that stain on Muslim honor.

But it is not an infinitely expanding cycle. There is not an endless supply of young Muslim men willing to kill -- or die -- to inflict painful but strategically meaningless attacks on a grimly determined America.

But if America is not grimly determined, then that changes everything. Instead of recognizing the futility of giving their lives to kill Americans, these Muslim young men will be filled with hope that their sacrifice might yield results.

Posted on October 9, 2004 at 10:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Be Careful Forwarding those Emails!

Got another email today from a friend sending around the "Its time to panic they are going to reinstate the draft" email. This is the third time in a week I have been forwarded this email. Unfortunately, the email is an urban legend at best, or a campaign tactic at worst, and has been debunked all over - the best is at FactCheck.org. I guess I can forgive my friends, since CBS News fell for it too. I once embarrassed myself forwarding a similar fake email about a change in credit privacy laws. I sent it indignantly to senators and web sites and friends. OOPS, all a hoax.

Please, please. Before you pass on these emails to your friends and embarrass yourself like I did, Google it. Just plug in the email subject line, like I did here for the draft email. You will see a bunch of fairly ideological sites promoting the same story - with exactly the same language - this should be big red flag. You will also see a number of credible 3rd parties and urban legend sites debunking it.

The point of this post was about crazy emails floating around, but given that I mentioned the draft one, the house voted down the draft bill sponsored by a Democratic representative 402-2 today.

PS - if you have not seen FactCheck.org, check it out. They seem as fair as anybody in terms of equal opportunity debunking of both political parties.

UPDATE

Never trust men over 60 with the computer. Our Vice President managed to direct tens of millions of debate viewers to FactCheck.com, which is a anti-Bush/Cheney site. LOL. Perhaps even funnier, by the time debate viewers found the real site at Factcheck.org, they likely saw this headline on the front page:

Cheney & Edwards Mangle Facts. Getting it wrong about combat pay, Halliburton, and FactCheck.org.
OOPS. Dick, just answer the question yourself.

Posted on October 6, 2004 at 12:51 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)