Monday, July 31, 2006

Quote of the Day

What Is the Easiest Question in the World to Answer Today [John Podhoretz]
Here it is: Is Mel Gibson an anti-Semite?
Posted at 2:20 PM
J-Pod and I have finally found something we can agree on!

J-Pod and Genocide

A couple days ago I linked to an Op-Ed by John Podhoretz claiming the perhaps our greatest mistake in Iraq was that we failed to systematically target and slaughter Sunni males between the ages of 15 and 35. Along with many other bloggers, I argued that any serious consideration of such a course would be tantamount to advocating a policy of genocide.

In response to these accusations, J-Pod claims that the purpose of his column "was [to show] that there are measures entirely closed off to us because of the nature of our civilization and that this puts us at a unique disadvantage when fighting a stateless foe of unique ruthlessness." J-Pod does not lament the fact that we have in sense been forced to fight with one hand tied behind our backs, but at the same time he wonders how we should/would proceed if it turns out that the only way we can defeat Islamo-Fascism is by perpetrating pitiless acts of inhumanity.

I'm not sure I'm convinced by J-Pod's attempts to clarify his position. While on the face of it it seems clear that J-Pod doesn't think we should immediately start subjecting Iraqi or Lebanese cities to Dresden-style bombing raids, I think he's standing on a pretty slippery slope here. J-Pod has been nothing but clear in his belief that the likes of Hezbollah, Al-Qaeda, Iran, etc., pose as great a threat to Western civilization as the Axis powers once did during the 1940s. Naturally then, he has been a strong advocate of the idea that Islamo-Fascism is a military problem, and that the only way to defeat it is via the application of massive amounts of military power - hence his affinity for labeling an appeaser anyone who thinks our aims in the war on terror would be better served by getting out of Iraq or pursuing a policy of diplomatic engagement with Iran. Yet in addition to reflecting a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of the terrorist threat, the problem with such a Manichaean mindset is that the longer and tougher the struggle against terrorism becomes, the more difficult it will be for J-Pod to maintain the kind of cognitive normative barriers to brutal action that he appears to now applaud. Were there to be another major terrorist attack on U.S. soil or were the situation in Iraq to reach a point where U.S. soldiers start dying at a rate of 15-20 per day instead of the current rate of 2-3 per day, I think its fair to say that J-Pod would be advocating the use of far more - not less - violence.

UPDATE: Having re-read this post and found it less than satisfying, I decided to re-write the last few lines in an attempt to clarify my position.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

More Lebanon

I couldn't agree more with Peter. Strikes like the one that occurred today in Qana will merely work to exacerbate the problems facing Israel (and the U.S). I don't think you have to be an expert in counter-terrorism or guerrilla warfare to understand that bombing civilian populations plays into the hands of Hezbollah. That Israel seems to be oblivious to this basic fact is truly baffling. As Kevin Drum noted the other day:
But if there's any country in the world that should understand the nature of war against a guerrilla organization, it's Israel. Wanting to give an enemy a bloody nose is one thing, but they can't possibly have believed that an air campaign would do lasting damage to a broadly-supported indigenous guerrilla group like Hezbollah. Nor could they have seriously entertained the notion that they could bomb Beirut around the clock and create free-fire zones in southern Lebanon and still retain the sympathy of any substantial bloc of the Lebanese citizenry. Nor, having been the proximate cause of the rise of Hezbollah in the first place, could they have had any illusions about what effect a major war would ultimately have if it failed to utterly destroy its target.

But apparently they did. And now they don't know how to get out.

What is Israel doing?

If we were playing the blame game for the current conflict, I would point to Hezbollah for inciting Israel, after Hamas had already captured a soldier. Hezbollah expected a response, just not something so powerful.

However, Israel has taken its retaliation to a different plane. It has set the Lebanese economy back by a decade, at a time when the country was just recovering. It has bred a new hatred in the Middle East, regardless of whether its response was warranted. Country's like Saudi Arabia, who at least rhetorically accepted Israel (even while paying $5,000 to suicide bombers) are now publically siding with Hezbollah. If nothing else, Israel's response has unmasked the true hatred for its existence in the Middle East.

Israel's immediate goal is to push Hezbollah roughly a mile from the border, to create a buffer zone from future attacks and more missiles. Since it will not re-occupy territory, an international force will patrol this zone. With Hezbollah's current missile range, and its ability to get future technology from Iran, this 1 mile swath of land will have little effect, if the group wants to continue lobbing missile accross the border. It has also tried to weaken Hezbollah by bombing the organization's infrastructure. However, it has gone far beyond this, bombing power plants, bridges, the airport, etc. as well as inflicting severe collateral damage on civilian populations.

While I am sure that Israel can accomplish its immediate goals of pushing back the border and destroying Hezbollah's infrastructure, the response is likely to make Hezbollah stronger rather than weaker. It will receive increased funding from surrounding states and greater popularity at home. Israel's future seem more tenuous today than it did 19 days ago.

What is Israel doing? It realizes that peace is the only chance of a normal existence. But it's as though it wants to bomb Lebanon back to the stone age; It's as though it believes this extreme response will convince Lebanon never to attack it again; It's as though it believes that by showing Lebanon the horrors of war, the country will dream only of peace; It's as though it is tired of limited responses, and the failure of proportionality; It is like a bear caught in a cage, with the wolves creeping in.

I hope that Israel knows what it is doing, because I see a conflict that is breeding hatred rather than laying the ground work for peace.

Passionate but Irrational

Here is the latest email from a Lebanese student at my school. As the war goes on, you can see that he becomes consumed by anger. In this email, the muslim version of the axis of evil (bush-blair-israel) is responsible for the current situation, and he claims, incredibly, that " before the intervention of israel, USA and blair in our world there was no problems, we were living in peace."

These emails are from a graduate student in London. He is from an 'elite' social class in Beirut. I can only imagine what the less educated Lebanese are thinking.

Dear all,

Today, and after 18 days of the barbarian, terrorist attack of israel, USA and blair on Lebanon, israel did a new massacre, its the biggest, today they killed 58 kids, and 11 elderly in a basement next to the UN base in southern Lebanon (the same place where they did a massacre in 1996).
israel announced it used the new "smart-bomb", which is the one sent by the USA two days ago using the British airports.

more than 750 dead till now and more than 3000 injured, more than a million displaced, refugees to other cities, and around 20000 building in Lebanon completely destroyed, other than all kind of infrastructure in Lebanon destroyed... the terrorist israel, and the dog blair with his master bush said that killing all these people, and recently the last massacre is a military mistake that happens!!! well I do not believe that more than 750 dead in their houses and in civilian cars are killed by mistake.. I do not think destroying all these buildings and infrastructure is a military mistake...I do not think when the UN soldiers are killed, and the UN can not even say its wrong, is a mistake...
This bush-blair-israel plan is killing innocent people, as it did in Iraq and still doing, in Afghanistan... in the whole world...These terrorists who laugh when they are asked about the kids killed in Lebanon, and say its a new Middle East...believe me people, before the intervention of israel, USA and blair in our world there was no problems, we were living in peace, but when the greed of these three take them to kill innocent people, and destroy a whole country this is terrorism...THIS is TERRORISM...

Where is this fair world???what happened to human rights??what happened to countries rights?? are 2 israeli soldiers taken to be exchanged by 7 Lebanese prisoners who have been for 30 years deserve all this?? why israel has the right to detain more than 10000 Palestinian prisoners and we have no right to ask for them?? why when israel kill innocent people in Lebanon and Palestine every single day is a right to defend itself, but when Lebanon or Palestine fight against israeli soldiers its a terrorist attack!!! Why israel has the right to occupy lands in Lebanon, Syria , Palestine???and if we ask to get them back, and build a resistance (which is allowed by the UN and Geneva convention) to fight against the occupying force, they consider it a terrorist organization??
Why USA soldiers and UK soldiers are allowed to kill, occupy Iraq , but the Iraqi are not allowed to fight back??

What world is this???

Sorry if you think my email is harsh, but the terrorist israel, bush and blair are killing us every single minute...
We want our prisoners back, our land back...and most importantly we want israel to stop killing us everyday by a green light of bush and blair...cease fire....

Saturday, July 29, 2006

J-Pod v Stuttaford

Regular readers of The Corner are likely to be familar with Andrew Stuttaford. A voice of moderation and reason, Stuttaford frequently clashes with some of NRO's more zealous ideologues. Stuttaford's most frequent sparring partner is John Podhoretz (J-Pod), a former Reagan speechwriter and the father of Podenfreude, a term coined by J-Pod's "Washington Times colleagues in the 1980s, to describe their ritual of gathering to read aloud from his columns in his absence and share a good laugh."

The latest installment of Stuttaford v. J-Pod centers on the conflict in Lebanon, particularly on the issue of whether or not a ceasefire is in America and Israel's interest. The opening salvo was fired by Stuttaford, who quoted approvingly from this Warren Christopher piece calling for an Israeli ceasefire. Rather than grapple with the important - and in my eyes laregly appropriate - suggestions raised by Christopher, J-Pod fired back with this:
Andrew Stuttaford's Umbrella [John Podhoretz]
Did you buy Chamberlain's at an auction?
Posted at 1:06 PM
The Chamberlain J-Pod is of course refering to is Neville Chamberlain, the infamous British PM who failed to stand up to Hitler at Munich in 1938. Yet rather than succumb to Podenfreude and revel in the sheer idiocy of J-Pod's insult, Stuttaford countered by arguing that things are far more complicated than J-Pod would have us believe:
Substantive, carefully argued criticism, John, but my point doesn't change. The West (and by that, I mean primarily the nation that is doing most of the work, the US) is, as you may have noticed, involved in a very wide-ranging, and complex, struggle with Islamic extremism, a struggle that, to varying degrees, has spread over a disturbingly large part of the globe. The US currently faces no greater challenge and, quite conceivably, danger. When America considers, therefore, how to react to what is occurring in the Lebanon, it has to ask itself the question whether what is now happening there is helping its efforts in a wider struggle that this country needs to win. That's a more complicated question than it sounds, of course, but I'm pretty sure that the answer is no.
Failing to grasp the larger points raised by Stuttaford, J-Pod continued to reiterate the standard neocon script about how terrorits are evil, we are good, and therefore surrender equals appeasement. Patient as ever, Stuttaford once again hammered away at the big picture by outlining the pitfalls associated with lumping Al-Qaeda and Hezbollah together in the same category and warning that a protracted military stalement with Hezbollah would only exacerbate Israel's (and our) dilemma. Completely out-argued, out-classed, and out of his league, J-Pod was again forced to invoke the appeasement canard.

I think this exchange demonstrates just how myopic and dangerous the worldview of right-wingers like J-Pod actually is. Instead of pointing to our (and Israel's) shortcomings in Iraq and Lebanon as evidence that we don't understand the complex political, social, and cultural dynamics of Muslim societies, that terrorism is in the first instance a political problem and not a military one, or that perhaps Iraq wasn't (and still isn't) the best place to wage the war on terror, J-Pod-types chalk up our failures to a lack of resolve. According to this line of argument, when the going gets tough, all the more reason to apply more military power. As J-Pod put it earlier this week:
What if the tactical mistake we made in Iraq was that we didn't kill enough Sunnis in the early going to intimidate them and make them so afraid of us they would go along with anything? Wasn't the survival of Sunni men between the ages of 15 and 35 the reason there was an insurgency and the basic cause of the sectarian violence now?
Is that what conservative opinion on the war has come to? Are they seriously arguing that genocide is a possible policy option that we need to be taking seriously? If so, such thinking represents the height of irresponsibility and immorality.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Minimum Wages

Greg Mankiw's post on the minimum wage today illustrates how most Republicans respond to calls for an increase. As with most economic research, there are contradictory findings. Mankiw and others make a simple supply and demand argument: raise the price of X and people will demand less of X. In this case, make poor labor more expensive, and employers should hire fewer low skilled workers. There is another theoretical argument that employers have market power and pay workers less than they deserve. The empirical evidence suggests that there is little to worry about:
[W]e find no evidence for a large negative employment effect of higher minimum wages. Even in the earlier literature, however, the magnitude of the predicted employment losses from a much higher minimum wage would be small: the evidence at hand is relevant only for a moderate range of minimum wages, such as those that prevailed in the U.S. labor market during the past few decades. Within this range, however, there is little reason to believe that increases in the minimum wage will generate large employment losses.
~David Card and Alan B. Krueger, Myth and Measurement: The New Economics of the Minimum Wage, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995, p. 393).

The Lebanese Perspective

I received this email from a schoolmate. US news offers, what is essentially, the Israeli perspective on the conflict. It is fascinating to read about the conflict from the perspective of Lebanese graduate student. Reading this email illustrates why it is so difficult to find peace in the region:

Dear friends,

Hope you are all doing well, and working well on your dissertation.

I am not asking for a political stand, but a Humanitarian one....

israel is detaining 3 Lebanese prisoners since 30 years, and 4 Lebanese since 12 years, that is other than the 10000 Palestinian prisoners held since years and years...all of them without a trial. Plus israel is still occupying a part of Lebanon in the south, and it is still breaking the Lebanese sea, land, and air everyday since 1978 with its fighter planes, military ships, and tanks.

The UN and Geneva convention allows all countries who have occupied land, prisoners, or any kind of attack by another country to have a resistance to fight back and free the land and prisoners in all ways possible that abide by human rights.

Our brave resistance, abiding by Geneva convention that allows to capture soldiers if fighting countries has prisoners in one side, as to exchange them, has captured 2 israeli soldiers and our government said we want to exchange them with Lebanese prisoners in israel. But israel does not give us that right, neither the USA, neither Blair, nor the EU. That is why israel, backed by those people started attacking Lebanon with a plan put previously to be done in September, unfortunately started on the 12th of July.

The barbarian attack of israel, backed by USA, Bush and Blair, on my country Lebanon is crossing all kind of humanitarian agreements. The israeli forces are using illegal bombs, such as phosphoric and chemical(Human rights watch announced this yesterday), killing innocent citizens, they are even killing the United Nations forces in the south of Lebanon. They have destroyed all our infrastructure, all bridges in Lebanon, our airports, our sea ports, any road that connects cities, electricity plants, TV stations, broadcasting stations, houses, villages in the south were completely destroyed with their occupiers inside dead, by now there is about 600 killed, around 2000 injured, and more than 750000 forced to move from their houses. israel did not stop here, it even bombed all food and commercial factories, hospitals in the south, even the red cross cars where bombed, plus all kind of trucks, whatever they are carrying, food supplies, or even medical aid brought by the UN and red cross and EU were bombed. The suburb of Beirut the capital was completely destroyed, all kind of petrol stations were destroyed, even civilian ones...

Massacres are done in front of the UN and ambassadors of the EU and USA, the israeli forces asking all the people in the south to leave the houses, when they leave they bomb their cars on the roads and kill them. Entire families were killed, children, elderly, women... \n\nThey are killing everyone, except the army and our brave resistance, that they should dare and fight with them.\nBut unfortunately, israel backed by the USA and Blair, are using their technological arms, air fighters, and smart bombs to kill and destroy my country Lebanon in all means. Bombs of 25 tons (which is heavier than the nuclear bomb on Hiroshima, Japan) are used to destroy buildings in the country. By now more than 20000 bomb is being used against Lebanon. \n\nAll of this and the USA, israel, Blair, and EU are not allowing us to defend our country and bring back our prisoners and occupied land. They are saying we are terrorists!!! Remember all when UK was on the edge of being attacked by Hitler, Churchill created the national resistance, France with Degaulle created the French Resistance, each and every country has resistance when its land is occupied or threatened by another country.. Why are we not allowed to do so? we just want our land, prisoners, and security back... Lebanon now has a huge shortage of money, food, medical supplies, cloth, bedding... The people who were able to leave their houses are staying in schools, public gardens, government buildings... Any kind of supplies coming is being bombed by israel, but sometimes the red cross and UN are able to convince israel not to bomb their trucks that move food supply. My message here is because I am starting a donation campain. So if you would like to donate please contact me and I will arrange it for you, as transferring money to Lebanon will cost a lot. I will take the money from you and transfer its equivalent from my Lebanese account to an A-political charity working in the south that is in need for money.

Massacres are done in front of the UN and ambassadors of the EU and USA, the israeli forces asking all the people in the south to leave the houses, when they leave they bomb their cars on the roads and kill them. Entire families were killed, children, elderly, women...
They are killing everyone, except the army and our brave resistance, that they should dare and fight with them.

But unfortunately, israel backed by the USA and Blair, are using their technological arms, air fighters, and smart bombs to kill and destroy my country Lebanon in all means. Bombs of 25 tons (which is heavier than the nuclear bomb on Hiroshima, Japan) are used to destroy buildings in the country. By now more than 20000 bomb is being used against Lebanon.
All of this and the USA, israel, Blair, and EU are not allowing us to defend our country and bring back our prisoners and occupied land. They are saying we are terrorists!!! Remember all when UK was on the edge of being attacked by Hitler, Churchill created the national resistance, France with Degaulle created the French Resistance, each and every country has resistance when its land is occupied or threatened by another country.. Why are we not allowed to do so? we just want our land, prisoners, and security back...

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Six degrees of "ruthless"

Is it just me or has The New Republic lost it? Check out these excerpts from TNR's last two editorials:
Issue 7/31/06: The various Islamist movements pose various threats; but here is Islamism incarnated in a large and ambitious state. For this reason, U.S. policy toward Iran must consist of more than an attempt to frustrate its nuclear designs. If we do not isolate Iran regionally and globally, if we do not do everything we can to support the democratizing forces in Iran, and of course if we do not move ruthlessly to prevent Iran from acquiring the deadliest arsenal of all, then we will have presided over the creation of a nightmare worse than the nightmare of Saddam Hussein. [emphasis added]

Issue 8/7/06: Soon, the diplomats will bring an end to the hostilities. What remains to be seen is whether they can also end the conditions that created the hostilities. Will Hezbollah be disarmed? Will Syria be persuaded to desist from its regional intrigue? Will the West finally get ruthlessly serious about Iran? (No, bombing is not the only instrument of policy we have.) [emphasis added]
Since Matt beat me to this I'll give him the last word. Besides, he puts it far better than I ever could have anyway:
In all ruthless seriousness, what does this mean? That bombing would be insufficiently ruthless and we should mount a full-scale invasion? That we should engage in ruthless measures short of military action? Which measures? Ask the Europeans nicely to impose sanctions? How ruthless is that? What's the difference between getting ruthlessly serious about something and getting seriously ruthless about it? How serious is it to play footsie with the idea of starting a war and then totally fail to say what you're talking about?

Quote of the Day

"We helped make this mess. Instead of relentlessly destroying terrorists and insurgents, we tried to wage war gently to please the media. We always let the bad guys off the ropes - and apologized when they showed the press their rope burns."
Ralph Peters on why we're losing in Iraq. Notice how the onus of failure is put on the media rather than where it truely belongs. And to think that this stuff actually gets published...

Understatement of the Day

"Think of what you hate most about your job. Then think of doing what you hate most for five straight hours, every single day, sometimes twice a day, in 120-degree heat," he said. "Then ask how morale is."
Army Staff Sgt. Jose Sixtos on U.S. troop morale in Iraq

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

McCain Flunks at Drum Major

In trying to predict the Republican nominee for '08, I've been reviewing the records of some of the front runners, including John McCain. The Drum Major Institute for Public Policy rates congress members based on their past voting record and how it affects Middle-Class Americans. The scale is painfully subjective (for example, free trade is considered anti-Middle-Class), but they highlight some of McCain's less flatering votes:

He voted against raising the minimum wage. He voted for Big Business on the Bankruptcy Bill. He voted against the Support for Social Security resolution.

I do not want to manipulate McCain's voting record the way Republican's manipulated Kerry's, but McCain is not the champion of the middle class that he often claims. After the beating he took by Bush in 2000, and his questionable voting records, he is weakened for national elections. And turning 70 next month, McCain will have a hard time winning the presidency, let alone the Republican nomination.

McCain Flunks at Drum Major

In trying to predict the Republican nominee for '08, I've been reviewing the records of some of the front runners, including John McCain. The Drum Major Institute for Public Policy rates congress members based on their past voting record and how it affects Middle-Class Americans. The scale is painfully subjective (for example, free trade is considered anti-Middle-Class), but they highlight some of McCain's less flatering votes:

He voted against raising the minimum wage. He voted for Big Business on the Bankruptcy Bill. He voted against the Support for Social Security resolution.

I do not want to manipulate McCain's voting record the way Republican's manipulated Kerry's, but McCain is not the champion of the middle class that he often claims. After the beating he took by Bush in 2000, and his questionable voting records, he is weakened for national elections. And turning 70 next month, McCain will have a hard time winning the presidency, let alone the Republican nomination.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

US Median Wage Growth

In case people need more evidence that Joe American is getting pissed on by the current administration, Edward Luce and Krishna Guha report that:

The US is now in its fifth year of growth since the last recession. Yet median
weekly earnings ... have fallen by 3.2 per cent in real terms since the start of
the recovery in October 2001. Similarly, average hourly earnings for
non-managerial workers have fallen by 0.6 per cent since the last quarter of
2001, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. This contrasts with
previous US recoveries, in which wage growth started to overtake inflation at a
much earlier stage in the cycle.

In other words, the wealthy are pocketing all the gains from the current economic expansion, while the middle class and below were wealthier 5 years ago than they are today. Good thing Bush fired 50% of the estate tax auditors working at the IRS: it'd be a real shame if his friends were caught in ritual tax evasion.

Hat Tip: Economist's View

Stat of the Day

Via the Washington Times:
Half of Americans now say Iraq had weapons of mass destruction when the United States invaded the country in 2003 -- up from 36 percent last year, a Harris poll finds.
I'm speechless.

Quote of the Day

The administration, then, must match its goals in Iraq to the resources it is prepared to deploy. Since it cannot unify Iraq or stop the civil war, it should work with the regions that have emerged. Where no purpose is served by a continuing military presence — in the Shiite south and in Baghdad — America and its allies should withdraw.

As an alternative to using Shiite and American troops to fight the insurgency in Iraq’s Sunni center, the administration should encourage the formation of several provinces into a Sunni Arab region with its own army, as allowed by Iraq’s Constitution. Then the Pentagon should pull its troops from this Sunni territory and allow the new leaders to establish their authority without being seen as collaborators.
Peter Galbraith, in the New York Times today, echoing what has become painfully obvious to anyone serious about getting the most out of what's left of our disastrous intervention in Iraq. It's time to set in motion a plan for significant troop drawdowns and redeployments. Read the whole thing. For Galbraith, the only thing we can do now is to try to "keep Al Qaeda from creating a base from which it can plot attacks on the United States." We should go about doing this not by maintaining 130,000 boots on the ground throughout Iraq or by shifting more troops to Baghdad, but "by placing a small “over the horizon” force in Kurdistan."

For more on Galbraith see here. This guy played a big role in uncovering Saddam's Anfal campaign against the Kurds back in 1988 and was a big supporter of the U.S. invasion back in 2003. We should be heeding his advice.

So which is it?

As part of his effort to render talk of a diplomatic solution in the Middle East tantamount to surrender, NRO's Stanley Kurtz argues that Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon back in 2000 "has resulted in more terrorist strikes, not less." That's interesting, especially in light of Matt's recent - and diametrically opposite - take on this very same issue:
Hezbollah attacks on Israelis were far lower in the post-withdrawal era than in the pre-withdrawal era. Withdrawal from Lebanon brought other benefits as well. With Israeli forces no longer on Lebanese territory, the nominal rationale for Syria's presence in Lebanon was undercut. This, in turn, played a key role in the Lebanon's recent political evolution in the direction of independence and democracy.
Though my understanding of the effects of the withdrawal is more in line with Matt's interpretation, I'd be open to changing my mind if Kurtz provided some evidence to back up his claim.

Milton Friedman on Federal Spending

I was struck by a comment in one of Milton Friedman's recent interviews:

"During the 1990s, you had the combination that is best for holding down spending. A Democrat in the White House and Republicans controlling Congress. That's what produced the surpluses at the end of the Clinton era, and during the whole of that era there was a trend for spending to come down."

Milton falls into the same trap as many Republicans (and Democrats) of continuing to view the political parties through anachronistic lenses. As with the Labor party in Britain, Democrats in the US are increasingly fiscal conservatives; likewise, republicans came to power on promises of "compassionate conservatism." As political parties have done throughout history, they are competing over a shifting middle ground.

I agree that a Democratic victory in the White House would cause a decrease in Federal spending, but not merely because of conflict between those two branches of government. Bush, like Regan, has purposefully ballooned defense spending and increased US debt by cutting taxes. Whatever party takes control in 2008 will have to make painful financial decisions. As the opposition party, the Democrats are most likely to abandon the failed Republican policies and put the country on a new path; as the party in power, the Republicans are most likely to continue their trend of "staying the course," as the ship of state continues to sink.

World War What, Part 2

Yesterday Gregory Djerejian linked to a superb Financial Times piece by Gideon Rachman explaining why interpreting the conflicts in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan - together with the confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program - as evidence of the onset of World War III totally misrepresents the nature of what it is we are fighting. One of the reasons so many neo-conservatives love the "World War" analogy is that it allows them to affix the "appeaser" label on anyone who views Islamo-Fascism as anything other than a military target. But as Rachman notes,
there have been other events in history besides appeasement and there are other decades that can be learnt from besides the 1930s. In fact, the struggle between western liberalism and Islamism may end up looking a lot more like the cold war than the second world war....Then, as now, there were episodes of “hot war” – in Korea and elsewhere. But the cold war ultimately turned on a struggle between ideologies and social systems, rather than armies.

Communism finally imploded because it could not produce prosperity or a decent society. Militant Islamism – a miserable, medieval philosophy – is bound ultimately to go the same way...Incapable of offering the hope of a decent life (at least on earth), Islamism’s only real recruiting sergeant is an appeal to a sense of Muslim humiliation and rage against the west. There may be further occasions when the “war on terror” requires military action.

But each new military front will be eagerly greeted by Islamists as a validation of their world view. It is no accident that one man who would happily embrace Mr Gingrich’s vision of a “third world war” is Osama bin Laden.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Republican Infighting

I take comfort in Arlen Specter's attempt to retain oversight of the President's legislative footnotes, known as signing statements. More than the political infighting, it is nice to see that Republicans have started to think independently.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Taking Jon Seriously: Part 2

For all of his silliness, Jon Stewart's comment on Bush's inconsistent morality is spot on. If one takes Bush's core argument for banning stem cell harvesting, it is essentially about protecting human life which is incapable of protecting itself. As the US champion executioner, Bush does not mind killing those who are guilty of crimes; as with his dismissal of abortions, the morality for stem cell protection rests on two pillars: 1) They are integral to human life and 2) They need the government to defend them, since they cannot defend themselves.

Civilians are also incapable of protecting themselves; they are also innocent. Unlike stem cells, there is no dispute about whether civilians consitute life. To be consistent Bush should take an equally strong stance on civilian casualties as he does on stem cells.

As some without a christian morality I make different arguments on both of these issues.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Taking John Stewart Seriously

Though John Stewart's business is political satire, I wonder if he hasn't made an important point in noting that the President's opposition to stem-cell research doesn't sit altogether comfortably with his support for his military intervention in Iraq. On the stem-cell front, the President argues that destroying embryos (a bad thing) as a means to saving other human beings (a good thing) is immoral. All sorts of slippery slope-type arguments are evoked to reinforce this point. Yet when it comes to Iraq, the President insists that civlian casualties (a bad thing), although horrible, are unavoidable side-effects of our efforts to promote democracy (a good thing). Thus, in one case doing evil in order to do good is beyond the pale, while in the other it is described as a lamentable side-effect. Now I realize that I'm oversimplifiying quite a bit here but couldn't slipperly slope-type arguments apply just as forcefully in the case of our military intervention in Iraq? Anyone think Stewart is on to something here or is reasoning by analogy in this case the wrong move?

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Discretionary Spending

It's increasingly easy to cite CATO for something useful; here is a graph of Federal Discretionary Spending over the last 15 years. To fiscal conservatives: this is a reason to bring Democrats back to power.

Hat Tip: Angry Bear


According to the Associated Press, Israel is hinting at a full-scale invasion. Based on the article:
"There is a possibility — all our options are open. At the moment, it's a very limited, specific incursion but all options remain open," Capt. Jacob Dallal, an Israeli army spokesman, told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

This does not sound like a hint to me. Given the amount of international pressure, and Hezbollah's control of terrain, it is unlikely that Israel would invade. Israel would also gain very little from invading; indeed, it is unclear how much they gain from their current bombing campaign. Although they have killed Hezbollah guerrillas, destroyed missiles and command posts, they have also created 500,000 refugees, killed a couple hundred civilians, and created a renewed hatred in the Middle East. That is the price of a 'disproportionate' response.

But I thought Iraq was on our side

Guess who has emerged as one of the biggest critics of Israel's bombing campaign in Lebanon? If you guessed Egypt, Jordan, or Saudia Arabia, you'd be wrong. If you guessed Iraqi prime minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, you'd be right. Via the Times:
“The Israeli attacks and airstrikes are completely destroying Lebanon’s infrastructure,” Mr. Maliki said at an afternoon news conference inside the fortified Green Zone, which houses the American Embassy and the seat of the Iraqi government. “I condemn these aggressions and call on the Arab League foreign ministers’ meeting in Cairo to take quick action to stop these aggressions. We call on the world to take quick stands to stop the Israeli aggression.”
In other news from Iraq, the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq reported yesterday that more than 100 Iraqis died per day during the month of June while sectarian violence has forced more than 1,000 Iraqi families to abandon their homes in mixed Sunni/Shia areas of Baghdad.

Quote of the Day

But Hezbollah garnered the second largest number of electoral seats in the Lebanese parliament, having joined up with Nabih Berri's Amal Party. Hezbollah, in fact, has some 35 seats in a 128-strong parliament, second only to the 72 seats of "Future Tide", Said Hariri's anti-Syrian coalition. How do you just eradicate an entire political party, that enjoys major support from the country's Shi'a population (keeping in mind the Shi'a are the single largest religious sect in Lebanon, representing 30-40% of the population)? And does anyone believe reducing rows of apartment complexes in southern Beirut to heaps of rubble, imposing an air and naval blockade, and pummeling Shi'a towns in the south is the answer to this conundrum? Are the Shi'a of Lebanon going to wake up the day after and say, gosh darnit, Nasrallah is just an out and out sonafabitch, and thanks to the Israelis for getting rid of him? Well of course not.
Gregory Djerejian on the "Jacobin-like" fantasies emanating from the Weekly Standard and NRO. Can anyone seriously maintain that these guys have America's best interests at heart?

Pierce goes Overboard

Let me get this out of the way first. I think that President Bush's stance on embryonic stem-cell research is absolutely deplorable. That he used his first veto in six years to torpedo funding for measures that nearly everyone within the scientific community, 70 percent of the American public, and many Republicans agree are absolutely necessary is indicative of, among other things, the pernicious influence exercised by the radical Christian right over White House social policy. That said, I think that Charles Pierce's emotional and generally spot-on critique of the President's stance of this issue is undermined by this line:
Is there any doubt that, if this guy (President Bush) got Parkinson's Disease, he'd eat those little buggers out of the petri dish with a spoon, probably dribbling some of them on Tony Blair in the process?
Personal attacks like this contribute nothing to the debate and will likely give critics on the right ample ammo to continue their campaign to paint Democrats as a bunch of baby-killing/uncompromising extremists.

Israel, Lebanon, and Just War Theory

While I sympathize with some of the points made by NRO's Andy McCarthy in this post, I'm pretty sure I don't agree with the heart of his argument:
Ten civilian casualties can be ten too many if there is no military value in the target. (See, e.g., the typical terrorist suicide bombing.) Hundreds (even thousands) of civilian casualties can be justified if they are fall-out from an appropriate military operation and/or if, in the long run, enduring them means fewer civilian casualties (e.g., strikes that destroy the capabiities of a terrorist organization that hides among civilians).
The big question here concerns what constitutes "an appropriate military operation". While targeting Hezbollah in southern Lebanon is certainly an appropriate response, I'm not sure McCarthy's logic applies as cleanly when it comes to lobbing shells into civilian areas in Beruit. Moreover, if evidence on the ground suggests that a UN orchestrated cease-fire would be more likely to bring an end to the conflict, then it is incumbent upon Israel to pursue a diplomatic solution. As Matt notes, given Israel's long and bloody relationship with Hezbollah, "it seems very unlikely that weeks or months of anti-Hezbollah actions are going to provide a permanent solution to Israel's problem on the northern border."

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Bernanke set to Pause

In his congressional testimony today, Bernanke provided a laundry list of reasons to pause the the Fed's interest rate hikes. (From Bloomberg)

Buoyed by ``strong'' global growth, ``the U.S. economy seems poised to grow in coming quarters at a pace roughly in line with the expansion of its underlying productive capacity,'' Bernanke said.

``The anticipated moderation in economic growth now seems to be under way, although the recent erratic growth pattern complicates this assessment,'' he said. ``That moderation appears most evident in the household sector.''

He further tempered his remarks, based on the higher than expected inflation figures: "The recent rise in inflation is of concern.''

Overall, he has set himself up to hold the nominal interest rate steady. As I noted in a previous post, I would add another 1/4 point hike, based largely on the small real interest rate, and the fact that higher energy prices are just now working their way into core inflation. But, Ben has a little more experience than me on this one, so I will defer to his better judgement.

For my friends abroad: be prepared for a weaker dollar following this testimony and then again if he does hold rates steady in August.

In Iraq, Civil War All but Declared

So reads the headline of a front page story in today's LA Times. I wonder how the boys over at Power Line are going to try and spin this one.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

World War What?

Colbert at his finest. Hat Tip: John Amato

Quote of the Day

The administration, justly criticized for its Iraq premises and their execution, is suddenly receiving some criticism so untethered from reality as to defy caricature. The national, ethnic and religious dynamics of the Middle East are opaque to most people, but to the Weekly Standard -- voice of a spectacularly misnamed radicalism, "neoconservatism" -- everything is crystal clear: Iran is the key to everything.
George Will (I also referred to this column in my previous post), taking on the Weekly Standard for the nonsense it keeps peddling about how we need to knock off just about every regime in the Middle East. Read the whole thing. As J-Pod put it over at the Corner, the piece might "prove to be the most discussed op-ed of the year."

Gary Becker on Women in College

Gary Becker had a post on women in college yesterday:
A report released last Tuesday by the American Council on Education, and discussed in various media articles this week, indicates that over 55% of college students are women. This reflects a continuing upward trend in women's share of enrollments for the past 30 years.

On pretty much all objective measures, women deserve to have greater college representation than men because they study harder, get better grades, are more likely to graduate from high school, complete their school work in a more timely fashion, write better, and in other ways outperform young men. Schools competing in trying to get the best students naturally respond to this, and end up selecting larger numbers of young women than young men. Women still remain a minority, however, in the sciences, engineering, business, and economics ...

... gender pay convergence slowed during the 1990's even though the education of women in the labor force continued to grow relative to that of men. This slowdown in convergence is consistent with my belief that earnings of the average women in the labor force will not rise above that of the average man, although an increasing fraction of women in the labor force will have higher hourly earnings than men. While the gap between the education of women and men in the labor force will continue to
grow, the commitment of women to careers will remain below that of men, despite the claims about their career ambitions from the selected college women in the media stories on the enrollment gap.

Although I do not support much of Becker's work, I agree with most his analysis here. I believe that an increasing number of women will break through the "glass ceiling" to obtain top corporate jobs, but that men will maintain the pay advantage. However, unlike Becker, I believe that there will be a further narrowing of the pay gap, especially as US fertility rates fall for most educated women (there is a negative correlation between female education and fertility rates). Educated women are also more likely to demand that their less educated husbands bear more of the child rearing costs, especially if women have a greater opportunity cost of staying at home. For an economist, it is preferrable to have the more productive women at work.

In the end, gender relations change slowly, so there will not be a sudden on rush of stay-at-home dads. However, don't be surprised if women begin earning equal pay with men: in most cases, they deserve it.

Winning or Losing in Iraq?

King posted a great quote by Peter Schoomaker yesterday. The army chief of staff must take lessons from the same speaking coach as Bush, to offer such a muddled response; at the same time, he was faced with a difficult question. Are we winning in Iraq?

As I've argued before, winning or losing depends on the objective. If the objective is overthrowing Saddam Hussein, we won years ago, "Mission Accomplished." If the mission is to build a stable, democratic Iraq, we never should have put our uniforms on and left the balls on the bus: we've been losing that war since the invasion. Bush Senior (and Powell) decided not to sack Baghdad in Gulf War 1 for this very reason.

PowerLine at it Again

A few days ago, the boys over at PowerLine pointed to comments made by some prominent Democrats suggesting that President Bush's post-9/11 policies were at least in part responsible for the unrest currently engulfing the Middle East as evidence of just how shameless and partisan Democrats have ostensibly become. "In terms of the style of its propaganda, this is a party in which Joseph Goebbels would feel at home," remarked Paul Mirengoff.

Fortunately, not all conservatives have succumbed to the kind of delusional musings typical of the likes of Mirengoff. Writing in today's Washington Post, conservative columnist George Will notes the following:
"Grotesque" was Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's characterization of the charge that the U.S. invasion of Iraq was responsible for the current Middle East conflagration. She is correct, up to a point. This point: Hezbollah and Hamas were alive and toxic long before March 2003. Still, it is not perverse to wonder whether the spectacle of America, currently learning a lesson -- one that conservatives should not have to learn on the job -- about the limits of power to subdue an unruly world, has emboldened many enemies.
Who knew that Will was such a fan of Goebbels!

Monday, July 17, 2006

Quote of the Day

The question was, do I think we're winning in Iraq?....

[Long silence, sound of papers shuffling.]

I, y’know....

[Another silence.]

I think I would answer that by telling you I don’t think we’re losing.
Army Chief of Staff Peter Schoomaker at a recent CATO seminar responding to a question on how we're doing in Iraq. Hat Tip: Kevin Drum

NeoCon Delusions

Though many neo-conservative commentators have long been arguing that Israel and the United States must overthrow the Iranian and Syrian regimes, the current Israeli/Hezbollah crisis has increased the frequency with which these calls are being made (see here, here, and here). While there are many reasons why military confrontation with Syria and Iran would be devastating for the US, the Middle East, and the world, perhaps the most dire consequence would be the price paid by our soldiers in Iraq. As Lawrence Kaplan notes,
when Teheran's mullahs boast that neither the United States nor Israel can touch them, they have a point. The point seems to have been lost on those encouraging Israel to consider a strike on Iran. But it ought not to be. The Bush team has evidently, and rightly, decided that Israel's right to self-defense trumps America's longer-term aims in Lebanon. It does not, however, trump America's own self-defense in Iraq...

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Who Controls Lebanon?

Some pundits were arguing on TV today that Israel should cease its attacks and allow the Lebanese government to control Hezbollah. Although this sounds like a brilliant strategy, it rests on the crucial assumption that the Lebanese government would be able to control Hezbollah. In reality, Hezbollah seems more powerful than the state government; it is the de facto government of southern Lebanon.

Negotiations are the only possible means of achieving peace. Israel is surrounded by countries that detest its existence. Unless it wants to commit mass genocide in the Middle East, the Israeli government will have to negotiate the end to this conflict. Given the current antagonism in the region, I don't believe that either side wants to stop the fighting yet, and I would wager that we are going to see Israeli ground forces cross the border into Southern Lebanon.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Wiretapping Democrats?

Over at AngryBear, they're compiling some speculative evidence that the White House wiretapping program may have involved spying on Democratic opponents. Bushgate?

New AP-Ipsos Poll: Advantage Dems

The AP-Ipsos poll conducted earlier this week gives Democrats the advantage in November.

81 percent of self-described liberals said they would vote for the Democrat. Among moderates, though, 56 percent backed a Democrat in their district and (almost shocking!) nearly a quarter of conservatives — 24 percent — said they will vote Democratic.

Only 1000 people were surveyed and I don't know the geographic distribution. Because Republicans have so successfully manipulated congressional districts, a poll like this doesn't tell us very much about who will actually win.

It's still good to hear that a quarter of conservatives are willing to admit they've been wrong.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

This is Ugly

Israel has launched its greatest attack on Lebanon since the 1982 invasion. President Bush has laid total blame on Hezbollah, which will only further alienate the US in the region. Iran remains defiant to international demands; given Israeli aggression and the US presence in Iraq, there is little hope of getting Iran to forsake nuclear weapons.

The Arab league is meeting in Cairo to discuss the situation. Of the many possible ends to this situation, a peaceful, soft landing is unlikely.

Back at Home:
The markets have panicked and crude oil surged above $73 a gallon, a new intraday record. I'd rather see government taxes bumping up gas prices, but this will only help the environmental lobby. Energy security resonates more closely with the American people than an idealistic, "Save the Whales" mantra; the Dems can get mileage out of this in November, by connecting it to their longstanding demands for alternative fuel and by blaming prices on the Iraq war (reality rarely matters in politics).

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

This will get Ugly

Hezbollah, a terrorist group that makes Al-Qaeda look like the girl scouts, just captured two Israeli soldiers along the Lebanese border. As U.S. Assistant Secretary of State David Welch said, this is "a very dangerous escalation."

Israel crossed the border immediately following the attack, preceded by bombing the interior of Lebanon, in an attempt to get the two soldiers back.

While Hezbollah supporters cheered in southern Beirut, Israel was certainly developing plans to get the soldiers back. I doubt that it will be through peaceful negotiations, despite Israel's prisoner swaps with Hezbollah in the past. As Prime Minister Olmert said. "There are people ... who are trying to test our resolve. They will fail and they will pay a heavy price for their actions."

As I have mentioned in previous posts, Israel cannot negotiate with a democratically elected government that refuses to accept its right to exist. Hezbollah will be treated as a conspirator with Hamas, and, if Israel is strong enough to fight both groups ... it will do so. Things in the middle east are about to get very ugly.

Here are two of the potential broader implications of an expanded Israeli offensive:
1) Iran will be less likely to give up its nuclear ambitions
2) If Israel invades Lebanon, Iraq might become stable as the Shiite's shift their attention.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Swastikas in Italy

Aside from the possible racial comments made by the Italian team on the field, the New York Times reports more racial unrest growing in the Boot.

Following the celebrations of its victory over France, Swastikas were discovered in an old Jewish ghetto.

An ex minister also enflamed the situation by declaring that the Italian team had vanquished a team of "Negroes, communists and Moslems."

FIFA is going to investigate the Zidane headbutting incident. I wouldn't be surprised if Materazzi gets a suspension in the end. Unfortunately, this is a World Cup to remember for all of the wrong reasons.

Zidane's Headbutt

Speculation continues to rage concerning what provoked Zinedine Zidane to spear head-butt Marco Materazzi during the World Cup final on Sunday. Initially it was said that Materazzi called Zidane a "dirty terrorist". Yet Materazzi has vehemently denied this and the consensus now seems to be that the Italian referred to Zidane's sister as a prostitute (still other reports suggest that Materazzi insulted Zidanes wife while others claim that Materazzi told Zidane to go fuck himself). Whether or not Zidane plans on revealing his version of events remains to be seen (The Independent seems to think that he will do so in the next few days). Perhaps his testimony will add yet another unforseen twist to what has already become one of the bizarrest incidents in the history of the World Cup.

A quick note on this Materazzi character before closing out this post. Mutoni over at Mutoni's Musings managed to compile a few videos showing Materazzi being less than kind on the pitch (Hat Tip: Goal Post). Apparently, he's one of the dirtiest players in Italian football. If that wasn't enough, check out Materazzi's response to the rumour that he called Zidane a terrorist:
"I did not call him a terrorist... .I am not a cultured person and I don't even know what an Islamist terrorist is. For me the mother is sacred, you know that."
This just keeps getting weirder and weirder.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Kaplan Bombshell?

For those of us following the Ackerman/Kaplan Iraq debate over at TNR, this admission by Kaplan strikes me as a potentially radical change in his "stay the course" position:
The fact is, there is very little that we can do to dampen the sectarian rage and pathologies tearing Iraq apart at the seams. Did the Army make a mistake when it banished "counterinsurgency" from the lexicon of military affairs? Absolutely. Does it matter in Iraq? Probably not. How can you win over the heart and mind of someone who sews a dog's head on a girl? Would more U.S. troops alter Iraq's homicidal dynamic? Not really, given that, on the question of sectarian rage, America is now largely beside the point. True, U.S. troops can be--and have been--a vital buffer between Iraq's warring sects. But they cannot reprogram their coarsened and brittle cultures. Even if America had arrived in Iraq with a detailed post-war plan, twice the number of troops, and all the counterinsurgency expertise in the world, my guess is that we would have found ourselves in exactly the same spot. The Iraqis, after all, still would have had the final say.
To be sure, many of Kaplan's dispatches for TNR from Iraq have echoed similar sentiments. What's more, he isn't calling for the withdrawal of U.S. troops. But it seems to me that if you harbor the sentiments expressed by Kaplan above, the only real option left is some kind of plan for eventual withdrawal.

UPDATE: Kevin Drum has some more thoughts on Kaplan here.

International Tax Rates

Greg Mankiw has a post today on marginal tax rates for select countries. The disparity in tax rates is very interesting to me. These are estimates from Ed Prescott (at the Fed) for the 1990s

Italy .64
Germany .59
France .59
Canada .52
United Kingdom .44
United States .40
Japan .37

What's amazing to me, is that Italy's marginal tax rate is 27 percentage points higher than Japan, but Italy actually great at a faster rate than Japan during the 1990s. Japan grew at an average rate of 1.609 and Italy grew at an average rate of 1.636 (data from the IMF)

Republicans like to talk about the importance of tax cuts for economic growth, but the relationship is dubious in the long term. Tax rates are important, but they cannot explain the large differences in growth rates across countries.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

O, to raise or not to raise ... the Fed Funds Rate

The Bureau of Labor Statistics published its June numbers yesterday. As always, the markets are trying to gauge whether the economy is overheating or slowlying down, and what the Fed will do about it.

Aside from the figures that newspapers focus on, like the unemployment rate, non-farm payroll employment, inflation and the wage rate, I also like to look at the hours worked.

Here are the key numbers for me:
Unemployment Rate: 4.6%
Non-Farm Payroll: 121,000 (a drop from the 176,000 ave. in the first quarter)
Inflation: Unknown for June, but 4.1% in the 12 months to June
Wage Rate: Average earning up 8 cents in June and 3.9 percent over the past year.
Hours Worked: Up .4, from 104.6 to 105.0

As always, these numbers are like reading tea leaves. The lower payroll increase could suggest a slowing of the economy, but the wage rate creates inflationary concerns.

Inflation is running ahead of the wage rate. The lower non-farm payroll numbers combined with the hours worked suggests that executives may be adding extra hours rather than add permanent staff, due to lowered expectations for the future.

If I were Big Ben, I would raise the interest rate another quarter of a percent. The real interest rate is still low and he needs to prove his resolve to the markets. 121,000 new jobs is also nothing to scoff at, and the energy prices likely haven't fully worked their way into prices yet. Of course, he could get away with pausing right now as well, and that's what makes his job so damn fun.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Quote of the Day

But that's really just a single piece of a broader, and even more remarkable turn of events: the Bush administration literally seems to have no foreign policy at all anymore. They have no serious plan for Iraq, no plan for Iran, no plan for North Korea, no plan for democracy promotion, no plan for anything. With the neocons on the outs, Condoleezza Rice at the State Department, and Dick Cheney continuing to drift into an alternate universe at the OVP, the Bush administration seems completely at sea. There's virtually no ideological coherency to their foreign policy that I can discern, and no credible followup on what little coherency is left.

As near as I can tell, George Bush has learned that "There's evil in the world and we're going to stand up to it" isn't really adequate as a foreign policy for a superpower but is unable to figure out anything better to replace it with. So he spins his wheels, waiting for 2009. Unfortunately, the rest of us are left spinning with him.
Kevin Drum on the growing incoherence of Bush's foreign policy.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

North Korea and its Bottle Rockets

Is it just me, or does North Korea launch Taepodong missiles like they were 5 cent bottle rockets? They just finished launching 7 and they're suddenly planning for 5 more. They didn't even hit the cooler on the way back to their stash.

There isn't much the US can do in this situation besides pressure the Chinese and hope Beijing realizes that N. Korea creates more insecurity for Japan and the US than its own military build-up.

Diving Italian Style and CEO pay

My sister just sent me this nice little clip of the Italian soccer team training.

What bothers me about the Italian team isn't that they fake injuries, it's that the current system gives them the incentive to do so and has yet to punish them for the behavior.

This is the same way I feel about the current CEOs earning mega-million incomes, regardless of their companies' profits. Although the CEOs disgust me for adhering to the Republican mantra that "people deserve what they get," I am more interested in changing the culture which tolerates these people, than of scolding the individuals themselves. Just because the CEO receives 30 million dollars a year, does not mean that they are worth that much money. This holds for non-profits as well: College presidents often earn over 1 million dollars; a monkey would have gotten in less trouble than Larry Summers (as much as I like him as an Economist).

As much as Europeans will disagree, soccer needs to incorporate some review for yellow and red cards and especially for fouls resulting in goals (penalty kicks and direct kicks near the goal). Since the typical game only has a couple of yellow cards and a few goals, this would not ruin the flow of the game. It may also make the game more popular with US tv stations, who could use the time for commercials.

Quote of the Day

So why would you, if you're Boot, remain committed to the continuation of a war whose strategy you think is doomed to failure? An awful lot of the more intelligent hawks seem to be in this position. They don't want to endorse withdrawal, but they have no good-faith belief that continuing the war on any realistic course will produce a positive outcome. That, to me, is near the height of irresponsibility.
Matt Yglesias on the growing insanity of many of the explanations given for why we need to stay in Iraq.

U.S Troop Immunity in Iraq

More evidence that Maliki is attempting to unite Iraq around the banner of resistance to the U.S. occupation.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Bush on North Korea

I'll give credit where credit is due. Bush has toned down his rhetoric regarding North Korea and, from the available information, is handling the North Korean situation well. He is focusing on diplomacy and I agree that we should not engage in unilateral talks with the government. For diplomacy to work will require the input of China, South Korea, Russia and Japan, in particular, as well as the US.

Now begin a phased withdrawal of Iraq, cut military spending, throw out your prescription drug bill, make the tax code more progressive, stop subsidizing oil companies ... etc, and I'll be a happy man.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Bush CV

This has gone around for awhile in email attachments. I get a kick out of it, even if some of the facts are disingenuous (Bush presided over the highest nominal gas prices, but not real prices; He is not solely responsible for some of the claims; most claims are obviously subjective). I wouldn't try to defend eveything written below, however, it's good partisan rhetoric and highly enjoyable.

George W. Bush
The White House,


I was arrested in Kennebunkport, Maine, in 1976 for driving under the influence ofalcohol. I pled guilty, paid a fine, and had my driver's license suspended for 30 days. My Texas driving record has been "lost" and is not available.

I joined the Texas Air National Guard and went AWOL. I refused to take a drug test or answer any questions about my drug use. By joining the Texas Air National Guard, I was able to avoid combat duty in Vietnam.

I graduated from Yale University with a low C average.

I ran for U.S. Congress and lost.
I began my career in the oil business in Midland, Texas, in 1975. I bought an oil company, but couldn't find any oil in Texas. The company went bankrupt shortly after I sold all my stock. I bought the Texas Rangers baseball team in a sweetheart deal that took land using taxpayer money. With the help of my father and our right-wing friends in the oil industry (including Enron CEO Ken Lay), I was elected governor of Texas.

I changed Texas pollution laws to favor power and oil companies, making Texas the most polluted state in the Union. During my tenure, Houston replaced Los Angeles as the most smog-ridden city in America.

I cut taxes and bankrupted the Texas treasury to the tune of billions in borrowed money.

I set the record for the most executions by any governor in American history. With the help of my brother, the governor of Florida, and my father's appointments to the Supreme Court, I became Presidentafter losing by over 500,000 national votes.

I am the first president in U.S. history to enter office with a criminal record.

I invaded and occupied two countries at a continuing cost of over one billion dollars per week.

I shattered the record for the largest annual deficit in U.S.history.

I set an economic record for most private bankruptcies filed in any 12-month period.

I set the all-time record for most foreclosures in a 12-month period.

I set the all-time record for the biggest drop in the history of the U.S. stock market. In my first year in office, over 2 million Americans lost their jobs and that trend continues every month.

I'm proud that the members of my cabinet are the richest of any administration in U.S. history. My "poorest millionaire," Condoleeza Rice, has a Chevron oil tanker named after her. I set the record for most campaign fund-raising trips by a U.S. President.

I am the all-time U.S. and world record-holder for receiving the most corporate campaign donations. My largest lifetime campaign contributor, and one of my best friends, Kenneth Lay, presided over the largest corporate bankruptcy fraud in U.S. History.

My political party used Enron private jets and corporate attorneys to assure my success with the U.S. Supreme Court during my election decision.

I have protected my friends at Enron and Halliburton against investigation or prosecution.

I presided over the biggest energy crisis in U.S. history and refused to intervene when corruption involving the oil industry was revealed.

I presided over the highest gasoline prices in U.S. history. I changed the U.S. policy to allow convicted criminals to be awarded government contracts. I appointed more convicted criminals to administration than any President in U.S. history.

I created the Ministry of Homeland Security, the largest bureaucracy in the history of the United States government.

I've broken more international treaties than any President in U.S. history. I am the first President in U.S. history to have the United Nations remove the U.S. from the Human Rights Commission.

I refused to allow inspectors access to U.S. "prisoners of war" detainees and thereby have refused to abide by the Geneva Convention.

I am the first President in history to refuse United Nations election inspectors (during the 2002 U.S. election).

I set the record for fewest number of press conferences of any President since
the advent of television.

I set the all-time record for most days on vacation in any one-year period.

After taking off the entire month of August I presided over the worst security failure in U.S.history.

I garnered the most sympathy for the U.S. after the World Trade Center attacks and less than a year later made the U.S. the most hated country in the world, the largest failure of diplomacy in world history.

I have set the all-time record for most people worldwide to simultaneously protest me in public venues (15 million people ), shattering the record for protest against any person in the history of mankind.

I am the first President in U.S. history to order an unprovoked, pre-emptive attack and the military occupation of a sovereign nation. I did so against the will of the United Nations, the majority of U.S. citizens, and the world community.

In my State of the Union Address, I lied about our reasons for attacking Iraq, then blamed the lies on our British friends.

I am the first President in history to have a majority of Europeans (71%) view my presidency as the biggest threat to world peace and security.

I have so far failed to fulfill my pledge to bring Osama Bin Laden to justice.

All records of my tenure as governor of Texas are now in my father's library, sealed and unavailable for public view.

All records of SEC investigations into my insider trading and my bankrupt companies are sealed in secrecy and unavailable for public view.

All records or minutes from meetings that I, or my Vice-President. attended regarding public energy policy are sealed in secrecy and unavailable for public review.

Happy 4th of July

Today, remember that our country was formed by a bunch of people who didn't want to pay their taxes and questioned the authority of their government. Now, pay your taxes (because you have representation and our social system is essential to our prosperity); but always question the government: it's the essence of being an American.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Friend in Baghdad

A friend of mine is working in Baghdad at the moment and recently sent me an update. Parts of the email are anonymous, so I'm taking the liberty of posting some of his remarks. Besides his dry wit, he has some cutting analysis of life on the ground.

Baghdad gets better every day. You think I'm joking, but I'm not. If people knew what it was like in the IZ, they'd pay to come here. Instead, people somehow intuit what they think the life of those people administrating a war and reconstruction should be like, and assume it is like that. Instead, Jesus, the Embassy is like MTV Spring Break Baghdad. Bunker mentality like all hell. The civil servants are on rotations of six months or less, and most of them never step outside of the wire. It's just impossible to work that way.

The synopsis is this: Legions of dedicated, passionate, sincere, intelligent people are frustrated to their wits' end by an utter absence of leadership from the top echelons of government. They're frustrated by the ineptitude displayed in planning from day one, frustrated by the bunker mentality, and frustrated by the abysmal misapplication of resources. (That pool is never out of service. Never.)

Football and Taxes

Are you a world leader in need of some way to push through controversial legislation? Solution: Hope that your football team is good enough to get to the World Cup semis!

Hat Tip: Passport

1776 Reversed

In the Academy-Award winning documentary The Fog of War former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara argued that the U.S. should never use its vast military or economic power in a unilateral way. If we can't convince nations with comparable values of the merits of our cause, he noted, then we need to reexamine our reasoning.

A recent survey conducted by the Daily Telegraph reveals that a reexamination of America's public diplomacy strategy (and general approach toward the world in general) is long past due. The report is full of many depressing statistics, some of the most salient of which show that 65% of Britons regard America's influence in the world today as predominantly malign while 69% of Britons say their overall opinion of the US has gone down in recent years.

Quote of the Day

"Well, I'm a Democrat, and I'll say it: anyone we capture on a battlefield should be subject to the minimum standards of decency outlined in the Geneva Conventions. That includes terrorists. It's our way of telling the world that we aren't barbarians; that we believe in minimal standards of human decency even if our enemies don't. It's also a necessary — though not sufficient — requirement for winning this war."
Kevin Drum, responding to Jonah Goldberg's claim that "smart" Democrats would not want terrorists to "fall under the Geneva Convention."

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Hamas Militant Demands

The militants should realize that Israel should never and would never accept ransom demands. They have asked Israel to free 1,000 prisoners. If Israel were to accede to the request it would only further encourage the militants. The militants should realize that usual guerrilla tactics against colonial powers do not work; in fighting for its existence, it will never tire of fighting. Hamas cannot continue to deny Israel's right to exist, or Israel will do the same to Palestine.

Israel should realize that its continual bombing in Gaza only further motivates the militants, while doing little to stop the rocket attacks. Impoverishing the Palestinians creates a situation in which they have nothing to lose and people with nothing to lose are very dangerous. People without jobs, with no prospects for employment, have no reason to steal. People under constant attack, losing family members in bombings, with no security, will not accept their lot in life. Israel acts as if the the Palestinians will never accept peace, and creates its own nightmare. As the party with the most power in this conflict, it must take the lead.

Both sides must realize that peace is the only acceptable solution.