Tuesday, February 28, 2006

History Re-Examined

Vodkapundit makes an unusual but compelling case that Gulf War I was a complete disaster. And that we're still paying for it today. It's unconventional, but pretty creative and brings up a lot of things relevant to the war now.

First, there's our current push to "liberalize" and "democratize" the Middle East, which Green thinks is all repair job from back then:

Quite unintentionally, the way we "ended" the Gulf War demonstrated to the world that the status quo in the Middle East, no matter how illiberal, was just dandy with us. Insane dictator? Not our problem. Oil-soaked sheiks lost their homes? We'll co-sign the mortgage with blood. All this in a region full of lopsided applecarts, all waiting for a good push.


Then there's perhaps the fact that the first war was too multilateral, and the US probably could've used a few less unsavory characters as allies:

To be fair, seeking UN approval probably wasn't such a bad thing. But out choice of allies was akin to George Washington getting a lapdance from Mao Tse-Tung. I mean, really – was it wise to demonstrate solidarity with Syria, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia? Was "we're standing shoulder-to-shoulder with your oppressors!" the right message to send to the people of the Middle East? Liberals and conservatives alike marveled at GHW Bush's Rolodex, and his ability to call in favors from despots near and far. Fifteen years later, we're still paying for his long distance bill.

Having left Saddam in power, we were also forced to leave troops behind in Saudi Arabia. For that reason, Osama bin Laden declared war on us for Despoiling the Holy Places, or Loitering on the Sacred Loam, or something. That one sure came back to bite us on the ass. In all fairness though, Osama is a clever fellow and undoubtedly would have eventually found some reason to smite us. That new Gillette Fusion, for example, is allowing millions of dhimmi to keep their faces infidel-smooth, and in record time. Nevertheless, our decisions back then handed Osama a loaded gun. In retrospect, it's no surprise he fired it at us.


Then there's the mindset it cursed us with afterward:

It's said that our military's history-making victory cured us of Vietnam Syndrome – the idea that any American use-of-force was doomed to failure abroad and division at home. First off, that's just plain wrong. After President Bush presented his ultimatum to the Taliban in October, 2001, Senator Harry Reid asked what "our exit strategy" would be. I dunno, Harry – retreat from Manhattan? Vietnam Syndrome isn't gone; it's infecting probably 20% of our population and at least a third of Congress. In addition, Gulf War I seems to have left us with a new disease, which I've creatively named "Gulf War Syndrome."

Gulf War Syndrome manifests itself in delusions that all wars can be fought quickly, cleanly, and with a minimum of fuss. Additional symptoms include feverish reliance on the Smiling Kofi, nervous trembling at the thought of a sustained effort, and in extreme cases, a partisan form of Tourette's Syndrome.


So there's Gulf War I, re-thought in some pretty convincing ways. And with little relation to the commonly parroted "we should've taken Saddam out when we had the chance" meme.

Boned By My Union (Again)

Those who hoping for government personnel reform (including concerned federal employees like myself) will have to wait. Again. At issue are DOD and DHS' proposed pay-for-performance reforms. Those not down with government reform (everyone), might ask what is pay-for performance? The pay-for-performance system is actually a pretty sensible reform that allows federal managers to actually choose an employee's salary from a range of dollars according to how well they've done on the job. Sounds simple and noncontroversial, right? Wrong.

In a 77-page decision, U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan ruled that the Pentagon's National Security Personnel System (NSPS) fails to ensure collective bargaining rights, does not provide an independent third-party review of labor relations decisions and would leave employees without a fair process for appealing disciplinary actions.

"Taken as a whole, the design of these regulations appears to rest on the mistaken premise that Congress intended flexibility to trump collective bargaining rights," wrote Sullivan, who noted that the new regulations "entirely eviscerate collective bargaining."

The ruling marked the second time in six months that a federal judge has stiff-armed the Bush administration in its ambitious plans to rewrite federal personnel rules to curtail the power of labor unions, more strongly tie pay raises to job performance, and make it easier to hire, promote and discipline federal employees.

The two court decisions mean the new systems at Defense and the Department of Homeland Security -- each more than two years in the making, and affecting nearly 800,000 civilian employees -- appear destined either for lengthy court appeals or time-consuming revisions. Also in limbo are the administration's plans to overhaul federal pay at agencies government-wide.


Yuck. And of course here comes the union gloating:

The American Federation of Government Employees and 12 other unions representing more than 350,000 defense employees sued in November challenging the new system. The unions argued it would gut collective bargaining and that Pentagon officials did not meet their obligation, spelled out in the 2003 law that paved the way for the changes, to consult with employees' representatives in crafting a new labor management system.

"This is a big win," said AFGE President John Gage. "I think the judge very clearly showed in his decision that this was not collective bargaining by anybody's definition."


I would like to say John Gage and his AFGE numbskulls do a spectacular job of representing whatever is the OPPOSITE of my interests. Pay for performance, or pay-banding as it's called by us feds, is so superior to the General Schedule in so many ways I can't begin to count them. A few key ones are that the GS is entirely based on seniority and longevity, so that you can only get raises and promotions by being around for humongous blocks of time, and also that often these raises (steps) are automatic and have little to do with any results achieved. Also, in "competing" for higher grades in the GS system, length of tenure always trumps all other factors for qualifying applicants. But there are a lot of other things. Pay for performance gives bosses the flexibility to give raises or not raises, and it doesn't have to be based on seniority. In the worst case that the boss does give it out based on seniority. . .hey, it's no worse than the GS!

The unions, in defeating these personnel reforms, have achieved an incredible victory in protecting incompetent and non-performing employees from any kind of accountability. I'm not making this argument to rip on all my fellow government employees. Most of them are hardworking people who do their jobs better. And evidence from pilot programs of pay for performance shows actually that most of them do better on that kind of personnel system in terms of pay and promotions than on the GS. Which is precisely the point. This is isn't about punishing federal workers, this is about making their bosses better able to reward them. In the few cases the system is used against them, it's an isolated incident and usually pretty deserved.

The unfortunate fact of it is that the Bush Administration has included what might be called (in shrill tones of exaggeration) "union-busting" measures in these personnel reforms. I think people should get a chance to appeal if their pay is lowered under the system, but for me that's less important than getting some kind of system like this in place as soon as possible because the negatives of the GS outweigh just about all the positives that come from what the AFGE does. And it's these measures that keep derailing the reforms themselves as the unions successfully again and again over lack of collective bargaining rights, sending the baby out with the bathwater. While that's a legitimate gripe, I think it's an equally legitimate gripe by most federal employees that collective bargaining itself isn't helping do much besides cement the awfulness of the GS and protect the incompetent. The unions themselves are also so against anything other than the GS, that they refuse to even be involved with discussions about pay-for-performance. I can hope personnel reform will happen one day, but as long as people like John Gage are involved it won't. And federal employees will suffer because of it.

All Aboard the Crazy Train

PETA is upset and raising a mini-raucous over a high school agriculture class demonstration of a pig castration. My big problem with PETA has always been their hypersensitivity to non-examples of animal cruelty. While some of their causes are laudable, often times they display a shallow understanding of reality.

This situation is a clear example of that. Animal castration is a part of agricultural life and is necessary to manage the livestock. It improves the quality of the meat and calms male animals. The classroom exercise was meant to show future farmers how the procedure is done; but the demonstration was not a mandatory part of the class. In letters and statements, PETA and its supports have claimed that by teaching it in this one particular class, it is desensitizing youth to animal cruelty and might even be responsible for the prevalence of violence in school children.

These claims are completely ridiculous. PETA would be much more productive and respected if it focused on examples of real animal cruelty instead of demonstrating how extreme it is by attacking non-issues like this one.

Darfur Expands

The horrific massacres in Darfur by militias armed and sponsored by Sudan's government has been showing signs of moving beyond Sudan's borders for a long time. The attempts have grown ever more blatant, though, with the Janjaweed apparently unwilling to let the people of Darfur escape into neighboring Chad.

The chaos in Darfur, the war-ravaged region in Sudan where more than 200,000 civilians have been killed, has spread across the border into Chad, deepening one of the world's worst refugee crises.

Darfur War Spreads Arab gunmen from Darfur have pushed across the desert and entered Chad, stealing cattle, burning crops and killing anyone who resists. The lawlessness has driven at least 20,000 Chadians from their homes, making them refugees in their own country.

Hundreds of thousands more people in this area, along with 200,000 Sudanese who fled here for safety, find themselves caught up in a growing conflict between Chad and Sudan, which have a long history of violence and meddling in each other's affairs.

"You may have thought the terrible situation in Darfur couldn't get worse, but it has," Peter Takirambudde, executive director of the Africa division of Human Rights Watch, said in a recent statement. "Sudan's policy of arming militias and letting them loose is spilling over the border, and civilians have no protection from their attacks, in Darfur or in Chad."

Indeed, the accounts of civilians in eastern Chad are agonizingly familiar to those in western Sudan. One woman, Zahara Isaac Mahamat, described how Arab men on camels and horses had raided her village in Chad, stealing everything they could find and slaughtering all who resisted.


And no longer is this only about Sudan perpetrating a genocide within its own borders. It's spreading. And as Darfur has been basically destroyed, these murdering gangs are probably ready to turn Chad into their next killing field. Combine that with the utterly unapologetic attitude of Sudan's government for arming these killers, especially Bashir, who was recently noted for saying "Darfur will be a graveyard for any foreign troops" that might intervene. Well, now the violence is beyond Sudan's own borders, and has turned into state-sponsored terrorism and genocide against its neighbors, and not just it's own citizens. Ignoring this problem is only going to make it worse in an already unstable environment. Something must be done. Too bad only the US has been pushing for a larger UN force.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Picking on Princezz




Princezz has an excellent post about the recent St. Louis Ex-Gay Extravaganza over on her own blog. And if you're interested in more on this interesting bunch of self-delusion artists, you can find it at the almighty venom-spitting Pandagon, where I found the above priceless picture.

More Than Meets the Media

Reason takes a look at a lot of things that the South Dakota Roe v. Wade killer bill may cause as consequences, and they're not pretty:

For example, the bill defines "unborn human being" as an "individual living member of the species, homo sapiens, throughout the entire embryonic and fetal ages of the unborn child from fertilization to full gestation and childbirth; and "fertilization" as "that point in time when a male human sperm penetrates the zona pellucida of a female human ovum."

Prolifers on the Supreme Court (whoever they may be) could use this bill as an excuse to rule that all fertilized human eggs are people. Such a ruling would criminalize human embryonic stem cell and cloning research.

On a somewhat less consequential front, this bill would also seem to outlaw in vitro fertilzation in which not all embryos are implanted in a patient's womb. To get around this problem, the bill might be interpreted to require that all embryos produced by IVF be implanted even if they are genetically defective.


William Saletan has long argued that the pro-life movement would logically have to make war on IVF, but I think this is something that everyone except its most ardent supporters doesn't realize. Here we have the beginning of it though. If life truly begins at conception/fertilization, IVF becomes almost impossible. And the South Dakota bill, if it delivers the sort of judicial fireworks its supporters hope for, might do it.

I Double Dare You

If this continues, China might opt for the physical challenge.

Defying warnings from China and the United States, Taiwan eliminated its National Unification Council Monday, saying only the Taiwanese people can decide whether they want to rejoin the mainland.

The decision was expected to have little immediate impact on how the independence-minded President Chen Shui-bian governs; The 16-year-old council has long been dormant, and there is no prospect of reunification anytime soon.

[snip]

Chen had promised repeatedly since his ascension to the presidency in 2000 to keep the reunification body in place. The promise was one of several undertaken by Chen to allay fears that his ardent nationalism could lead him to make reckless decisions that would raise the danger of conflict in the Taiwan Strait. His decision on the council raised fears he could be tempted to go back on other issues as well, such as revising the constitution, for instance, or changing the island's formal name from Republic of China to Taiwan.


This is a really bold move for Chen. The details point to it all being a symbolic move, but it's one hell of one. Even if the Unification Council did little in theory, its existence created some sort of unification process and implementation at least on paper. That Chen booted it with a bold statement of self-determination, after promising to the mainland to keep it intact, is a spit in the face to China. Not that I don't support it, I think it's a stance of admirable integrity and one full of meaning for democracy. I just wonder whether it's a smart one. The U.S. hasn't been so great about supporting Taiwan as of late, and China could easily decide to make moves against Chen. They could revoke his Presidency, suspend future elections, or more. And the "or more" could be uses of force if the situation slips out of control.

Abiding China's strnaglehold and going with its plan may be more like negotiating the terms of surrender, but when you're backed into a corner you may not have any other options. I hope Chen's move has positive results, and that China doesn't react to it with the ham-handed communist oppression they wrote all the books on, but I'm not optimistic in this case. And, as all things China vs. Taiwan, it continues to put the U.S. in an awkward position, especially when China's support against the looming threat of Iran is becoming critical.

Maybe It Was Fiction Too

I realize that sometimes it seems like I am obsessed with The DaVinci Code. True, I did enjoy the fast-paced story and the radical take on history. But I also like how the story itself creates some really dramatic news items.

This time though, I am not going to editorialize on the latest news, mostly because I don’t really understand it. Apparently, the authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail are suing Dan Brown for stealing their ideas. In their book, authors Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln claim that Jesus Christ survived the crucifixion and moved to France with Mary Magdaline to start a new blood line. The secret is protected by a group that calls itself the Priory of Sion. This might sound familiar because Brown did use some of these elements in his book (except the idea that Jesus survived).

What I don’t understand though is how authors of a supposedly non-fiction book can sue a fictional author for copyright infringement. The characters in Dan Brown’s book mention both Holy Blood, Holy Grail, as well as The Templar Revelation, as sources for their belief that Jesus fathered a child. But if these books are supposed to be treated as serious historical works, I cannot see how they can object when their findings are treated as factual by characters in a work of fiction.

Either there is something I don’t understand about copyright law, or two of the authors (one is not participating in the lawsuit) are just trying to capitalize on the success of Dan Brown's book and the Ron Howard movie due out this May.

Update: Here is how the authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail describe their book: In addition, the plaintiffs say, their book is not "a historical account of facts and it does not purport to be such," but is, rather, "a book of historical conjecture setting out the authors' hypotheses" — and thus protected by copyright. I am sorry, but that is a bunch of nonsense. Brown's publisher (also Holy Blood, Holy Grail's publisher) is defending The DaVinci Code and is particularly worried about how a decision against Brown could affect similar novelists like Michael Crichton that rely on the original research of other authors.

Closing Ceremony

I could spend my time talking about all of the negative stories of this year’s Olympics. I could talk about having to suffer through an over-hyped Bode Miller who leaves the games with zero medals, an irrelevant dispute between American speed-skaters, and an early exit by Michelle Kwan (who found her way onto the team without performing in US qualifying). Instead, I am going to talk about an exciting men’s hockey tournament that I am sure few American’s watched.

Yes, I was able to watch Olympic hockey, despite NBC’s best efforts, and saw the best hockey I will see all year. On Saturday, Russia was shutout for the second game in a row. The Czech Republic won the bronze and showed that it is a serious international hockey team even without Dominik Hasek.

With big-name teams like Russia, Canada, and USA not in the gold-medal game, it could be expected that the game might not be exciting or close. In this case though, Finland and Sweden showed that they were the two best teams in the tournament and gave us one of the most exciting hockey games I have seen in years (despite being aired at 8:00 Sunday morning). There was never more than a one goal difference between the teams, but it was Nicklas Lidstrom’s goal ten seconds into the third period that was the deciding factor. Thus, Sweden won its second gold medal in 12 years. This was a crossroads year for Sweden. Mats Sundin, Peter Forsberg and Nicklas Lidstrom have probably played their last game together, but goalie Henrik Lundqvist appears to be the future for Swedish hockey (and the NY Rangers).

Maybe one of these years the NHL will realize how exciting international hockey is and increase the width of its hockey rinks. Until then, I will wake up at 8:00 AM any weekend morning to watch this kind of hockey.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Real Change or PR Move?

The title of an LA Times article reads, "Wal-Mart Says It Will Boost Health Benefits". It sounds good, right? Maybe Wal-Mart is finally caving in to all the recent pressure regarding health care spending on its employees. So how is it boosting health care?

First, it is going to decrease the current two year waiting period after which employees can buy cheap health insurance from the company. Wal-Mart hasn't said what the new wait period will be though (one year and 11 months?).

Also, Wal-Mart plans to expand its pilot program offering health clinics at the store for its employees. The company will now offer the clinics at 50 sites (Wal-Mart has 3,850 domestic locations). None of this is too encouraging.

Then there is this from the LA Times:

A company memo leaked just after Scott's pledge outlined stark recommendations for reining in healthcare costs, such as making jobs more physically rigorous to discourage unhealthy workers and using more part-time workers.

The memo also recommended boosting the company's image by touting initiatives such as the ones Scott plans to highlight Sunday.

Wal-Mart has said that the memo was a preliminary document and not a final list of proposals.


It looks as if the only thing Wal-Mart has learned from the negative publicity is that they need to do more misleading PR campaigns. Although I disagree with the legislation that was passed in Maryland (similar legislation is being proposed in other states like California), I can see why they are popular.

Missed the Joke

I need to watch the Daily Show more often. Actually, that should have been my New Year's resolution.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

For You

There are two articles on Slate that you might be interested in. First, there is a somewhat sympathetic take on the resignation of Larry Summers from Harvard. I am not sure you will agree with it as the author has a clear bias, but it does give a different perspective than you might find elsewhere.

Also, there is a post about the real Bob Marley, and how his early work is different (and better?) than Legends. While many view Marley as a loving and peaceful pot-head, the author claims that Marley's lyrics were much more belligerent.

Operator

Slate has a brief but informative post on the functions and responsibilities of a port operator. Unfortunately, the article doesn't have enough detail to really understand their role, but it is a good place to start.

Powder Keg

The violence in Iraq mounts by the minute. Media reports paint a grim picture, but on-the-ground it's even worse. A sunni blogger at Healing Iraq writes that the Sunni neighborhoods have erupted into street clashes between Interior Ministry troops and armed Sadrite mobs. over 100 mosques have been destroyed in reprisal attacks, and many Sunni Imams have been killed. Iraq the Model essentially corroborates it, discussing the role of Sadr in the attacks and the political fallout it's causing by dismantling the nascent Iraqi government. Whoever pulled this off knew exactly what they were doing, and they suceeded. The goal of pitting the Shiites against the Sunnis and undermining the new government is achieved, without a doubt. In this kind of environment, the U.S. has a real Sophie's choice. It can:

1) Try to stop the armed Shiite mobs. If US forces fire on these groups, who are acting with help from the Interior ministry police and others in carrying out their attacks on Sunnis, it risks inflaming the situation further. Instead of directing their anger at the Sunnis, Shiites will likely turn on U.S. soldiers as well. It also further undermines the Iraqi government by putting it between its "constituents" and the U.S. forces it is relying on for security.

2) Let the Shiites commit their violence. This one is equally bad. First because who knows how long this will go on. Second because this will be the last straw to the Sunnis. If they see that the new political order and the U.S. doesn't care while armed mobs roam about killing them and destroying their mosques, joining the insurgency doesn't become as bad as it may have seemed before. If the Sunnis lose all hope in the new political order, the insurgency will probably get a further lease on life and stronger support.

So which one? There's really no hope of a peaceful solution unless the Shiites decide to calm down, but they're not likely too. Then there's the idea that this could get worse and mushroom into a full-scale war beyond the armed skirmishes now taking place. Again, whoever did this knew exactly what they were doing, and they accomplished it.

Turning Point Update

Violence has broken out in Iraq as a response to the bombing of a Shiite shrine. Reports estimate that more than 100 people have been killed.

Yesterday I expressed optimism (naivety?) that the bombing would actually weaken the foreign-lead insurgency in Iraq. Unfortunately, since some in the country are actually blaming this on the United States (either indirectly or directly), this might do nothing to the insurgency. And despite calls for calm by religious and political leaders in Iraq, the country is dangerously close to civil war.

Why I Hate NBC

Once every four years, hockey fans are blessed with the Olympics. International hockey rules allow for a much faster and more exciting game due to wider rinks and less clutching and grabbing than is found in the NHL. Olympic hockey also brings super-teams, thanks to a growing international diversity in the sport. Russia, the United States, and the powerhouse that is Canada can find plenty of competition from the Czech Republic, Sweden, Finland, and Slovakia.

So my only question is why are there no hockey games on during prime time? I was so excited to have Olympic hockey that I was ready to block off these two weeks just for that. Instead, the games are only being aired between 5:00AM and 11:00 AM, which only allows for the unemployed to watch. Apparently, all the hype about the intense Olympic coverage NBC was going to provide was just that, hype. But of course, there has been no shortage of luge or speed skating coverage - probably because you only have to show certain competitors (Americans and athletes that will medal) which allows for the maximum number of events in the shortest time.

The most exciting hockey only comes around once every four years, and NBC decides it isn't worth showing - especially since the US lost without getting a medal. But then again, so did Canada.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Drumbeat

The war over Roe is beginning for real now. An Alito-assisted overturn seems more and more likely, with the Court ready to hear partial-birth abortion. While some may believe that's the only issue they might be deciding, I predict there's a possibility of some pretty strong precedent-shredding there. Maybe even a complete overturn of Roe itself. But even if the ultimate shield of the pro-choice movement survives this challenge, South Dakota is already cooking up a mother of one for the next round.

Lawmakers here are preparing to vote on a bill that would outlaw nearly all abortions in South Dakota, a measure that could become the most sweeping ban approved by any state in more than a decade, those on both sides of the abortion debate say.

If the bill passes a narrowly divided Senate in a vote expected on Wednesday, and is signed by Gov. Michael Rounds, a Republican who opposes abortion, advocates of abortion rights have pledged to challenge it in court immediately — and that is precisely what the bill's supporters have in mind.

Optimistic about the recent changes on the United States Supreme Court, some abortion opponents say they have new hope that a court fight over a ban here could lead to the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that made abortion legal around the country.

"I'm convinced that the timing is right for this," said State Representative Roger Hunt, a Republican who has sponsored the bill, noting the appointments of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. to the court.

"The strong possibility of a third appointee sometime soon makes this all very real and very viable," Mr. Hunt added, a reference to conjecture that Justice John Paul Stevens, 85, might soon retire. "I think it will all culminate at the right time."


There are many possibilities of what could happen here. If I was the pro-choice movement, I would do the following: stop counting on (or rhetorically resting on) Roe, and get to work. And by work, I mean legislation. Pro-choice advocates and those sensitive to their arguments need to prepare for a post-Roe future, and start working on it now. That means getting abortion legalized on the books (even though it's already legal) in as many states as you can. Also, other areas that Roe penetrates into (contraceptives and such) will also need an affirmative defense. Also, abortion bans at the state level will need serious attention now, and not the vain hope that a court will defend it. Ideally, a lot of this stuff should've been done ages ago. And, of course, there's the ultimate affirmative defense, pushing a Constitutional Amendment for the Right to Privacy. While such a thing is not likely to pass, it will mobilize a lot of center-left to left people the way the Federal Marriage Amendment did the right, and is innocuous sounding and far reaching enough to perhaps pull support from political independents and weak pro-choice Republicans.

I've articulated before my fears of the Roe overturn, despite my skepticism of much of the pro-choice movement and disagreement with many of its central propositions. Mostly because while conservatives like to harp that it will just bring the fight back to the state level (as if that's not a big deal, which it is), I don't believe that rhetoric for an instant. The current Congress and President have been some of the greatest enemies of real federalism since LBJ, and I don't think they'll suddenly return to principal on an issue like abortion. Expect a full-out nationwide ban, commerce clause be damned! That is not a state of affairs I can live with. The future is here, and it's looking like a post-Roe future. Scary as it is, it's time to acknowledge it and begin the real political struggle.

Turning Point

The recent bombing of a Shiite shrine by insurgents will likely have one of two possible effects. Shiites could respond by attacking Sunni holy sites (there are some unconfirmed reports of this already), or it could put one of the final nails in the coffin of the insurgency.

Although civil war is always a possibility, with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani calling for peace and morning, there is hope that it will be avoided. Also, there has been growing dissatisfaction with the insurgency even among nationalistic Sunnis - upset that attacks by foreigners are directed towards Iraqi Shiites and not Americans. I truly believe that Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia continues to alienate itself with attacks like this and will soon find that it has no domestic support in Iraq.

Bring On Dubai!

After considering everything I've read about Dubai World Ports, I have decided I have no issues with the deal at all. A lot of what convinced me can be seen in this Reynolds rampage. First questioning the deal, Glenn was basically annihilated by arguments for and against, and he has more than a dozen blog links that thoroughly transverse all the terrain here. I'm in favor of the deal now for three reasons:

1) Making Inroads. Obviously the U.S. could use more friendly ties to Arab countries. This helps with that. Nixing the deal quite obviously doesn't. Arab countries everywhere would perceive any cancellation of the deal (and rightly so) as xenophobic discrimination, or worse anti-Muslim. Dubai acquired the British firm, fair and square. To then deny them the chance to deliver the services would be pretty messed up without a clear reason. So allowing the deal helps build a positive business relationship between UAE and the US. Whatever reasons to strike it brings me to number 2.

2) Security Risk. What security risk exists seems overstated. UAE troops have fought in Afghanistan with the U.S., and UAE has for the most part been a military ally in the Middle East. If we trust them with our military operations, why not trust them with the ports? Also, if our ports were secure to being with this wouldn't be an issue. How about addressing that underlying issue instead? As an additional rejoinder, it's unlikely Dubai will be bringing in foreign-born workers suddenly to the US to staff these ports and replacing the workers. They will use Americans. Most likely they will retain the management staff from the British firm as well, since that's usually how acquisitions work for contracts like this. Next.

3)Bad Congress. I've spent a lot of time recently decrying the Imperial Presidency of C-Plus Augustus, and whining about how we need more Congressional Oversight. This is one of those instances where the shoe is on the other foot. Congress is getting way too up in the President's grill for something way less consequential than the other million things they actually SHOULD be getting up in his grill for. You don't like it? Write some policy about it and try to solve the issue next time. An ad hoc broadside banning one deal is a waste of Congress' time, and interferes with the Executive Branch's ability to do its job. It's Congressional Oversight by knee-jerk, exactly the kind we don't need. It would be more constructive for Congress to provide overall guidance by specifying what it would like than governing by saying "not it" whenever it sees something it doesn't like.

So, while there are maybe other ways to go, I think I side with Bush on this one. There's nothing clearly wrong with this deal, and there's a lot clearly wrong with the critics of the deal and their arguments. If you want to see said arguments and defenses, again I recommend the Instabandit roundup.

Getting Nothing Useful

The Dubai Ports World controversy is growing by the day. President Bush has said he will veto any legislation to block the deal and assures us it is safe. On the other side, some Democratic and Republican Congressmen are looking for more time to review the deal while others are even proposing to prevent the operation of American ports by foreign-owned corporations altogether.

Right now, neither side is making me feel very good about the situation. The Bush administration assures us (unconvincingly) that this is safe while leaving no time for discussion; but critics’ complaints are extreme and bordering on xenophobic. The bottom line is that the administration needs to convince us that this will not create opportunities for terrorists. At the same time though, the critics should do a better job of articulating what really bothers them (and it needs to be more than the fact that the company is owned by Muslims).

UPDATE: Apparently President Bush had no idea about the potential sale until very recently. Although I am not surprised that Bush delegates so freely, it does concern me a little in situations like this.

And Now, the Pope's Moment of Zen

The Pope named 15 new cardinals, including his successor at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Archbishop William Levada (San Francisco), long-time John Paul II secretary and KrakowArchbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, and Joseph Zen, of Hong Kong, "who has been outspoken in the need for religious rights of Roman Catholics in China."

I suspect Church conservatives will be upset about Levada's appointment but gladdened by Zen's. The Dziwisz appointment is probably solid on merit, but seems also a graceful and touching reward to a longtime friend and confidant of the late pontiff.

As a non-Catholic admirer of the man formerly known as Joseph Ratzinger, however, I'm glad to see signs that he will carry on John Paul's legacy of confronting authoritarian regimes which deny their people the freedom of religion.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Latest on Darfur

There were some new and interesting developments over the weekend concerning Darfur. President Bush called for a larger NATO role and indicated that there needs to be at least double the number of troops to have any hope of bringing security to the region. NATO discussed increasing support for African Union peacekeepers but indicated that significant numbers of European troops deploying to Sudan is unlikely. Finally, the Vice President of Sudan (chief of PR / spin doctor) said that they would not accept UN peace keepers in the country but is committed to supporting a peace settlement.

To recap, President Bush called for more action (but without American troops), the international community mostly resisted action, and Sudan completely rejected any real action. Maybe the recent developments weren’t that new or interesting.

Sanctions or Concessions

In Saturday's New York Times, there is a column that adds an interesting perspective on the debate over internet policies ($) between China and American firms. Joe Nocera basically shows that companies like Google, Windows, and Yahoo! have actually been following the lead of Congress.

The author compares Apartheid South Africa to the current situation in China to make his point. During that time, some American companies chose to boycott South Africa with little actual effect on the policy of apartheid. It wasn’t until international sanctions were imposed that South Africa was forced to change. In dealing with China, the US government, along with the international community, has decided that dealing with China is better than using sanctions. Since that is the case, it shouldn’t raise major concerns when American companies chose to take a similar path. (That being said, there are certain actions - Yahoo! in particular - that were clearly wrong.)

Wal-Mart in France?

The author of Naked Economics wrote a column comparing the French economy with the American economy. Charles Wheelan describes some of the controls on labor the French government uses to protect workers; minimum wage is high, there is universal healthcare, and it is difficult to fire employees. The author then uses Wal-Mart as an example of America’s free-market capitalism, where firms are free to pay for labor only what it is worth. The two different systems create different incentives for firms. The argument is that French firms are less willing to hire new employees because they would have to pay them more than they are worth to the company. These differences are said to account for France’s high unemployment compared to America (and high unemployment was at least one cause of the French riots).

While I agree with the main idea of the article, I don’t think Wal-Mart is the right example of free-markets in America. Economists in many articles defend Wal-Mart by claiming it is only paying for labor the price it is worth to the company. But they often ignore an important distinction. While no company that wants to survive will pay more for labor than it is worth, they will have no problem paying less for labor than it is worth. My argument has always been that Wal-Mart uses its control over the labor market to artificially drive labor prices down. While I mostly support our free-market economic system, in certain situations there needs to be pressure applied to firms that are taking advantage of their power over labor in the quest for enormous profits. We can still protect a system that encourages firms to hire new employees while also limiting the ways in which companies can take advantage of their power to the extreme that Wal-Mart does.

Encouraging Adoption- But By Straights Only

One of the pillars of the whole anti-abortion movement has been to encourage the practice of adoption as an alternative. Dubiousness of that argument aside, it's becoming more and more clear that adoption is okay, but only by a certain group of people.

Steps to pass laws or secure November ballot initiatives are underway in at least 16 states, adoption, gay rights and conservative groups say. Some - such as Ohio, Georgia and Kentucky - approved constitutional amendments in 2004 banning gay marriage.

"Now that we've defined what marriage is, we need to take that further and say children deserve to be in that relationship," says Greg Quinlan of Ohio's Pro-Family Network, a conservative Christian group.

[snip]

Election-year politics. Republicans battered by questions over ethics and Iraq "might well" use the adoption issue to deflect attention and draw out conservatives in close Senate and governor races in states such as Missouri and Ohio, says Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, University of Southern California political scientist.

The aim is to replicate 2004, says Julie Brueggemann of the gay rights group PROMO: Personal Rights of Missourians. She says marriage initiatives mobilized conservative voters in 2004 and helped President Bush win in closely contested states such as Ohio. Republicans "see this as a get-out-the-vote tactic."

Republican pollster Whit Ayres is skeptical. Adoption, he says, "doesn't have the emotional power of the gay marriage issue because there is no such thing as the phrase 'the sanctity of adoption.' "


Beating up on gays for political advantage continues, and it's very sad. It's hard to reconcile any notion of a real culture of life when you're busy continuously enshrining discrimination into your state constitutions. Can adoption really do what a lot of right wingers hope it can if you continually work to weed out the people who can adopt? Shouldn't family values be about encouraging the strength and growth of families instead of legally excluding certain kinds of them? I'm sure such questions are the farthest thing from the minds of the brimstone-spewers pushing these initiatives.

Radio Evolved

The Music Genome Project has lead to the creation of a new forum for listening to music. By typing in the name of an artist or song, it will play streaming music similar to what you indicated you wanted to hear. What makes this website amazing is that their understanding of similar music is much more in-depth than just a broad definition of genre. Not only does this allow you to listen to a specific type of music, it is also a good way to discover new artists.

You're welcome.

This Is Why I'm Glad I Have No Roommate

Thursday, February 16, 2006

I almost forgot...

If you're looking for a serious post extolling the virtues of the moderate Republican party, please continue on down the page. However, if you're looking for asinine commentary that will have little-to-no effect on a kindergarten class, much less the world's political spectrum - WELL STOP RIGHT THERE AND SIT A SPELL, COWBOY!

In my endless pursuit of all things inflammatory, I stumbled upon this John Carrol article nestled in the supple bosom of a friend's blog. It's a hilarious "manifesto" from the Unitarian Jihad movement. Read it and be happy... or be offended and watch me give a shit. If you have a free moment and portion of your soul worth killing off, take a deeper, more penetrating look around his site.

A while ago, I wrote a post in The $tevil Empire (Shamelessly plug much? NEVER!) about all things globally annoying. I never threw my (admittedly unwanted) two cents into the conversation here on Restlessmania about the cartoon riots, Hamas or the SOTU, so here's where you can find those ironically nonsensical cents. Please pay special attention to the interesting Avnery article on Hamas and the funny Heuvel article, which decodes the State of the Union address.

Share and Enjoy!

Too Little Too Late

Great move, trying to use some good ol' soft power. Only it's about five years late.

Under the proposed supplemental request for the fiscal 2006 budget, the administration would use $50 million of the new funds to significantly increase Farsi broadcasts into Iran, mainly satellite television broadcasting by the federal government and broadcasts of the U.S.-funded Radio Farda, to build the capacity to broadcast 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

An additional $15 million would go to Iranian labor unions, human rights activists and other groups, generally via nongovernmental organizations and democracy groups such as the National Endowment for Democracy. The administration has already budgeted $10 million for such activity but is only just beginning to spend the $3.5 million appropriated in 2005 for this purpose.

Officials said $5 million will be used to foster Iranian student exchanges -- which have plummeted since the 1979 Iranian Revolution -- and another $5 million will be aimed at reaching the Iranian public through the Internet and building independent Farsi television and radio stations.


The rub?

But Martin S. Indyk, a Clinton administration official who now heads the Saban Center on Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, said the democratic forces the administration wants to support have failed in the past to take on the clerics and have little basis of support -- and would be tainted by U.S. aid. "It's hard to see how $75 million makes a dent in that political reality," Indyk said.

The Clinton administration, under pressure from Congress, tried to assist such groups in the 1990s, Indyk said, but Iran interpreted the effort as an attempt to overthrow the government and responded by funding a series of terrorist attacks in Israel.


Regime Change Iran, as always, has much more. This is the sort of move that needs to be made, although it will be more difficult to pull off than it sounds getting the money to the people who need it so that they can use it. The symbolism, though, is powerful. It clearly shows the U.S. is ready to put its money where it's mouth is in terms of displacing the Mullahs from power. It's a gamble, but it could work to help further exacerbate the tensions currently happening in Iran between ultra hard-line Ahmadinejad and his various less insane detractors. That's where it should come in most handy. But, again, it would've been helpful to move on this with these kind of resources much earlier.

UPDATE: France calls it as it sees it. That's refreshing. I don't think things will go well at the Security Council for Iran. They have the miniscule hope of being saved by Russia's (or China's) veto, but even that's not looking as good as it was. (H/t: Balloon Juice!)

Whistleblowers Go to Hell

What a big surprise that whistleblowers haven't been faring well these last few years. It's also no surprise that payback against them has taken some pretty ingenious and devastating forms.

Richard Levernier is one who went public with his security concerns - and feels he's paid a heavy price. He first reported security breaches at the Department of Energy's nuclear weapons sites to management. Seeing no changes, he released an unclassified report to the media. While government investigators found his concerns credible, he lost his security clearance. Four years later, he's unemployed and, he says, unemployable.

"I spent my whole life in the nuclear security business. And you can't get a key to the men's room without a clearance," says Mr. Levernier, one of five whistle-blowers who spoke Tuesday before the Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats, and International Relations.

Army Spc. Samuel Provance was demoted after disobeying an order not to speak to the press about prisoner mistreatment at Abu Ghraib in Iraq. "Young soldiers were scapegoated, while superiors misrepresented what had happened.... I was ashamed and embarrassed to be associated with it," he told the House panel.

Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer lost his security clearance after testifying to the 9/11 Commission and Congress about Operation Able Danger, a program that he says tagged four 9/11 hijackers before the attacks.

Former FBI special agent Michael German and former intelligence officer Russell Tice also testified that they felt they'd been retaliated against for speaking out about problems, and both lost their security clearances.

"Security clearance revocation is the new harassment of choice against national security workers," says Thomas Devine, legal director for the Government Accountability Project, a nonprofit public-interest law firm in Washington that assists whistle-blowers.


The Shays hearings are a big deal. And that Cheney's hunting accident has taken them straight out of the news is the biggest boon for the Administration yet. And it's not as though these situations necessarily benefit one political side or the other (see Able Danger catastrophe). Taking away someone who's working in national security's clearance away is a lot like taking a doctor's license. There's not much left they can do. While I understand the need to punish leaks, in the end what are these people to do? When their bosses ignore things critical to national security and there is life and death at stake can you blame them for leaking some of these things? There's got to be a better way. Of course, we can't get a new Whistleblower bill, and the House version that actually does exist would leave national security workers in the cold. The message sent is no dissent will be tolerated, regardless of the consequences.

Will to Power

George Will comes out against C-Plus Augustus' Imperial Presidency.

The next time a president asks Congress to pass something akin to what Congress passed on Sept. 14, 2001 -- the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) -- the resulting legislation might be longer than Proust's "Remembrance of Things Past." Congress, remembering what is happening today, might stipulate all the statutes and constitutional understandings that it does not intend the act to repeal or supersede.

But, then, perhaps no future president will ask for such congressional involvement in the gravest decision government makes -- going to war. Why would future presidents ask, if the present administration successfully asserts its current doctrine? It is that whenever the nation is at war, the other two branches of government have a radically diminished pertinence to governance, and the president determines what that pertinence shall be. This monarchical doctrine emerges from the administration's stance that warrantless surveillance by the National Security Agency targeting American citizens on American soil is a legal exercise of the president's inherent powers as commander in chief, even though it violates the clear language of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which was written to regulate wartime surveillance.

[snip]

The administration, in which mere obduracy sometimes serves as political philosophy, pushes the limits of assertion while disdaining collaboration. This faux toughness is folly, given that the Supreme Court, when rejecting President Harry S Truman's claim that his inherent powers as commander in chief allowed him to seize steel mills during the Korean War, held that presidential authority is weakest when it clashes with Congress.


This is, as most of Will's critiques of Bush, sweetened with some back-handed praise:

Congress should make all necessary actions lawful by authorizing the president to take those actions, with suitable supervision. It should do so with language that does not stigmatize what he has been doing, but that implicitly refutes the doctrine that the authorization is superfluous.


Will doesn't think what Bush did was wrong. That Bush is trying to render Congress irrelevant now that they want to exercise oversight is what bothers him. As it should bother everyone. Bush fans really need to realize that someday someone else from another party might be in office, and might build on these precedents of supreme Executive Power to do things they actually disagree with. And, as it is virtually a scientific law, power and authority accountable to no one will always be abused and applied haphazardly, because there are no incentives or consequences for getting it right or wrong. Congress in this time of unified government is slowly rendering itself irrelevant because they treat Bush with kid gloves. And that treatment is going to be hard to reverse later.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Ron Howard: Troublemaker

I love watching people squirm when their beliefs are challenged, which is why I get such a kick out of the reactions of Christian groups over The Da Vinci Code or Harry Potter (not really a challenge to Christianity). I don’t think it is healthy for anyone to skate through life without ever seriously considering what they believe and why. Many churches, though surviving on faith, don’t actually trust that their followers can watch a movie or read a book without buying into whatever blasphemous idea is put before them. Since I wasn’t old enough to appreciate the controversy surrounding The Last Temptation of Christ, I am really excited for this spring’s release of the movie version of Dan Brown’s best-selling book.

It needs to be noted that there are churches using the book and movie as discussion topics among their faithful; and of course this is how it should happen. In fact, I think those that buy into the ideas put forward in the book should also challenge themselves and hear the criticisms. I have read some of the many responses that have come out to The Da Vinci Code book. Some were silly and pathetic, but a few really looked at history and challenged what characters in Dan Brown’s book were saying. This may sound obvious, but everyone who is interested should find out what both sides are saying.

At least I can sleep easy knowing that no matter how many protests there will be over the movie, there will not be the violence we have seen in other parts of the world over unholy portrayals of a religious deity.

Bruce Willis Republicanism

This is making the rounds. It's an interview Bruce Willis did, and the most detailed one is there at CHUD. First, Andrew Sullivan celebrated it. Then Matt Yglesias (and some of his commenters) tried to portray Willis as dumb, that he somehow "doesn't get it." I have to say Yglesias and his commenters are the ones who don't get it, and while Willis' comments are problematic, they're not all that out of line. Especially with a more moderate Republican from the Northeast like Willis. I think it again shows how profoundly much liberals often don't get why people are Republican, and why a vast number of people who are Republican don't necessarily follow all of the talking points.

Q: You are one of the few major Hollywood stars who are proud to be Republican...

Willis: Let me stop you right there. I'm a Republican — and everybody write this down because I'm sick of answering this fucking question.

Q: Can I continue –

Willis: You can continue, but let me answer that part of it. I'm a Republican only as far as I want a smaller government, I want less government intrusion, I want them to stop pissing on my money and your money, the tax dollars that we give 50 per cent of or 40 per cent of every year, and I want them to be fiscally responsible, and I want these goddamn lobbyists out of Washington. Do that and I'll say I'm a Republican. But other than that, I want the government to take care of people who need help, like the kids in foster care, the half a million kids who are in orphanages right now, they call them foster homes but they're orphanages. I want them to take care of the elderly and give them free medicine, give them whatever they need. There's tons, billions and billions of dollars that are just being wasted. Okay? I hate government. I'm apolitical. Write that down. I'm not a Republican.

Q: I thank you for this

Willis: There you go. Now you can finish your question.

Q: Can I change my question?

Willis: Go ahead. I just need to get that Republican shit out of the way.


This sort of rant implies that he would like to see government dramatically cut. But then, when you read it, there's so much he wants to increase and fund. What is to drop and what is to grow? Of course Yglesias and co. from the left want to hold this as some sort of example of how Republicans want to have their cake and eat it too. The fabled "mystery waste" Yglesias invokes in trying to portray Willis as uninformed. Yglesias (somewhat rightly) points out tha so many Republicans pay lip service to small government, but they really want to fully fund everything. That they're against big government but for big programs. BUT that doesn't represent all of what Willis had to say. Then there is one other point of interest:

Schoolteachers too, while we're talking about being political. 100 grand, let's throw money at them. In ten years we'd have a much smarter group of kids coming out of the schools because you'd get great teachers. Great teachers can't work as teachers now because they can't afford to raise kids on 35grand a year. So let's throw some money at the problem. Let's not build one more rocket, let’s take one rocket less, one bomb less, and you can solve a lot of problems.


He makes the same point about th epolice. First of all, if you read Yglesias' idiotic statements, you can tell he completely missed this part of the interview. Willis obviously has liberal tendencies when it comes to education, which is nothing odd when comparing him to moderate Republicans from the Northeast. Such Republicans tend to be greatly skeptical of government, but at the same time that doesn't make them strangle-government-in-the-bathtub Grover Norquists. Clearly Willis here is advocating where a big chunk of the waste and tradeoffs are: DOD weapons-systems. Now it's probably making sense why I'm leaping to Willis' defense, but he clearly does indicate where he would like to see some things cut and others added to.Clearly Willis indicates several times that he doesn't trust politicians and government doesn't operate efficiently. These are basically objective facts, as much as liberals want to try to explain them away. Willis is clearly indicating that he would like to accomplish the goals liberals hold in mind, but 1) government has shown itself incapable of doing it and 2) he's not getting best-value for his tax dollars. Again, I think these are pretty much objective facts.

Yglesias is insane if he thinks that "waste isn't the problem" as one of his commenters states. Dropping any liberal into the federal bureaucracy for a few months is likely to change their perspective on waste. Granted, cutting waste isn't going to balance the budget. But people like Willis have every right to lose faith in government and to be angry about the use of their tax dollars when it exists. And, as much as one tries to label Willis "conservative", does he ever say that in the interview? Nope. He calls himself Republican, but his viewpoints are clearly more to the moderate part of that continuum. Sure he "hates government", but that doesn't mean he doesn't wish it could accomplish plenty.

Maybe I'm overreading Willis here, but I think right trying to find everything about big-government conservatism you despise in Willis' words is the same overread. I'm not saying Bruce Willis is a genius, but I'm also saying he's not an idiot by a long shot. And let's see Yglesias make a movie pitch and generate a complete political theory at the same time too.

Budgeting for Humiliation

It would be nice if we didn’t need to use budgeting to show the costs the military’s dehumanizing “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. But until people actually consider how something like this impacts the people it targets, cost – benefit analysis will have to work as a way to show how bad of an idea it is.

The Riots Continue




You're gonna die, clown!

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Sleep Easy

Every one of us has a demon - a secret fear - that keeps us up at night. For some, it is zombies; for others it is ghosts. But if you fear a robot insurrection, your survival guide has finally arrived in Daniel H. Wilson's book, How To Survive a Robot Uprising : Tips on Defending Yourself Against the Coming Rebellion. You're welcome.

Scream Insanity!

Looks like Virginia doesn't want DC to beat it to the punch.

The Virginia Senate voted Monday to ban smoking in restaurants and virtually all other public places, an extraordinary sign of cultural change in a state that is home to the worldwide headquarters of Philip Morris and whose agricultural economy has been rooted in tobacco farming for almost 400 years.

The bill is unlikely to survive review in the House of Delegates. Yet its passage on the floor of the Senate -- where smoking has never been formally banned and lawmakers lit up openly even until the late 1990s -- signaled mounting popular support for smoking restrictions.

The chamber narrowly approved the measure after a short but intense debate over consumer choice and the public health risks of secondhand smoke.

Senate Bill 648, sponsored by a Republican from Roanoke, would make smoking illegal in all public workplaces with the exception of certain tobacco stores and offices. The prohibition would extend to bars, restaurants and bowling alleys.


Read again. Sponsored by a Republican. Not in all my years of watching Virginia politicians defer to the Tobacco lobby on just about everything could I ever have imagined something such as this. The House of Delegates, being down to the man a bunch of wackos, is unlikely to pass it as the piece points out. But it's surprising even the typically moderate and conservative Senate strutted forward and did this. It's appearing more and more that within the next few years the entire DC area may be smoke-free, not just the District itself and Montgomery Co.

Monday, February 13, 2006

The More Things Change...

I feel like I become more confused about foreign policy with each passing day. As I matured and learned more about what happened in Rwanda, I wondered why didn’t act. I look at Darfur and ask why we aren’t acting now. Despite all of the logistical reasons often given, I am sure part of it boils down to the fact that Darfur and Rwanda are actually just a few of the many conflicts around the world. Those two get mentioned (barely) because they are / were genocide. But that shouldn’t necessarily make them more deserving of attention than civil wars and major humanitarian crises in Haiti, Zimbabwe, Congo, Eritrea, Sri Lanka, or anywhere else.

The truth is that there are so many problems it just gets overwhelming. I am beginning to look at the world around me and realize that since we have limited resources, we can only hope to deal with a few of these – or, more likely, none at all. We faced similar problems during the Cold War where we tried to achieve our ends in many different countries using minimal resources. We can look to Nicaragua, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, and Iraq to measure our successes. Rumsfeld’s latest visit to Algeria to discuss arms sales is reminiscent of these previous policies considering that country’s poor human rights record and still unstable nature since its civil war.

During President Bush’s State of the Union, he talked about decreasing our dependence on foreign oil (although without any real consumer sacrifices). This is a goal that people like Thomas Friedman have been advocating for longer than I can remember. But this will not necessarily change the world around us. In the short term, it will give us the freedom to ignore conflicts in the Middle East like we do in Africa. With the rest of the world bound to continue consuming oil at ever increasing levels, it is unlikely to change the nature of the governments there or anywhere else.

I realize this post has kind of wandered without really going anywhere. I think what I am trying to say though is that what we have tried didn't work. Turning our backs on conflicts isn't right (and energy independence will only grant us that much) and our big and small (Vietnam / 1980s Afghanistan) interventions did not work either. The bottom line is that we never really worked to seriously improve the situations in developing countries. Unless we get serious about that, things are not likely to change.

One-Eyed Friedman

There is a really interesting Q & A (hat tip, Freakonomics) with Milton Friedman (where Reagan and Thatcher looked for economic policy) at New Perspectives Quarterly. His comments on American monetary policy, the direction that China is headed, and the state of socialism are concise and informative. Read the whole thing, but here are some highlights:


NPQ: Does the large US fiscal deficit worry you?

Friedman: Not at all. It is the spending that got us there that worries me. If the US government spends 40 percent of the nation’s income, as it does through either borrowing or taxes, that income is not available for people to spend. The deficit is an indirect method of taxation. Of course, politicians prefer to borrow instead of tax because then someone down the road has to deal with the consequences.
[Emphasis added]

[Edit]

NPQ: In the end, your ideas have triumphed over Marx and Keynes. Is this, then, the end of the road for economic thought? Is there anything more to say than free markets are the most efficient way to organize a society? Is it the “end of history,” as Francis Fukuyama put it?

Friedman: Oh no. “Free markets” is a very general term. There are all sorts of problems that will emerge. Free markets work best when the transaction between two individuals affects only those individuals. But that isn’t the fact. The fact is that, most often, a transaction between you and me affects a third party. That is the source of all problems for government. That is the source of all pollution problems, of the inequality problem. There are some good economists like Gary Becker and Bob Lucas who are working on these issues. This reality ensures that the end of history will never come.



Granted, the questions are obviously biased, (I don't think it is accurate to say that Friedman's theories have won out over Keynes') but Friedman's responses are definitely worth thinking about.

Sex on the Job?

In Spotsylvania, sheriff's deputies are receiving sexual services as evidence against prostitution establishments. I am going to wait a minute and let that sink in...

After hearing that, you might think that the leadership just didn't think it through before they approved this policy. Nope, they gave it some thought, and here is what they came up with:

Spotsylvania Sheriff Howard D. Smith said that the practice is not new and that only unmarried detectives are assigned to such cases.

Apparently sex with a prostitute is legal and ethical as long as the officer is unmarried.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Last Stand....of a franchise?

Howdy folks. It's everyone's fearless leader back on the scene. Evidently, the federal government saw it fit to have analysts review portions of the gargantuan defense budget. And based on the actual line-items, it seems our reviews were merely symbolic. For the last few months, my token work product has more or less precluded me from posting anything minutely worthwhile to the blog, and my sabbatical will likely continue. But while I have a few minutes to breath this weekend, I would like point out one thing for Mr. Proliferation's sake regarding the upcoming Xmen sequel. Try not to laugh too hard.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Weaponized Idiocy

Max Boot hacks and slashes the new Defense Budget.

The old assumption that the armed forces must be ready to fight two conventional adversaries at once has been eliminated. Now the U.S. must be ready for only one conventional foe (say, Iran or North Korea) "if already engaged in a large-scale, long-duration irregular campaign." The QDR acknowledges that concepts such as "swiftly defeating" the enemy may not be applicable in this type of campaign, and that it will call for very different skills from our warriors, who will have to "understand foreign cultures and societies and possess the ability to train, mentor and advise foreign security forces."

This is a welcome reversal of years — make that centuries — of conventional thinking among the upper echelons of the armed forces. But what is the Pentagon doing to realize this bold vision?

The defense budget announces a few positive steps, such as 30% increases in the number of special operations, psychological operations and civil affairs units. Unfortunately, whatever the rhetoric of the QDR, too much of the $439-billion 2007 defense budget is still devoted to conventional weapons platforms left over from the Cold War.

For example, the Pentagon is continuing to fund three ruinously expensive short-range fighters — the F/A-22 Raptor, the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter — even though we already have total dominance in the air. The entire budget for language and cultural training — $181 million — comes to less than the cost of one F-35.

Also being funded is the Virginia-class nuclear attack submarine, with the QDR calling for an eventual increase in its procurement from one sub a year to two. These $2.4-billion subs are now being sold as great tools for gathering intelligence, firing Tomahawk missiles and inserting Special Forces units into enemy waters, but they were designed to fight Soviet subs and surface ships, and that's still what they're best suited for.

Even more ill-suited for irregular warfare are two other ships whose development will eat up untold billions: the CVN-21 and the DD(X), a next-generation aircraft carrier and destroyer, respectively.

Attack submarines, aircraft carriers and fighter aircraft may be glamorous, but they are almost entirely useless for the challenges the United States faces today in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan. There, the fighting is being done by Army and Marine infantrymen — and there are not nearly enough of them.


Among the fat WTFs this should pull out, there's also a reduction in the overall numbers of military personnel planned. So the QDR has great rhetoric, but puts the money in all the wrong places. This is again the source of much of our current budget woes. For all the talk of eliminating pork and earmarks, the greatest pork of all are these non-functional and un-necessary weapons systems ill-suited for the current war. These behemoth furnaces in which to burn all of our money only receive this funding because the contractors are savvy enough to position the plants and jobs so that key legislators would never want to hurt their own constituents by de-funding them. So we strip mine programs in the civilian agencies, which may not be effective programs, but when cut generate miniscule savings compared to these monstrosities.

I have no problem with big military spending. I only ask that it be on stuff that is actually USEFUL TO NATIONAL DEFENSE, not a vanity project for Senator Foolhead or Congressman Dumbass to gush to his constituents about that never ends up working. Ditch the relics. Then, if you want to reallocate it to defense, fine, but find something better than this baroque war machinery. Why not platinum-plated tanks or M16s? That might even be a better use than some of this stuff.

Freedom's On the (Death) March

I understand and expect that Europe may never be as "free" as America is in terms of the absolutism of freedom of press, religion, speech, etc., but I mean, c'mon:

GERMAN cops will use sweeping powers to collar England fans doing Basil Fawlty-style Hitler impressions at the World Cup.

Yobs will be instantly banged up for TWO WEEKS if they goose-step like John Cleese in his most famous Fawlty Towers scene.

And hard core louts who give Nazi salutes — like the one jokingly made by Michael Barrymore in Celebrity Big Brother — could be hauled before a judge within 24 hours.

If convicted of inciting hatred they will face jail terms of up to THREE YEARS.

Wearing joke German helmets or any offensive insignia will also result in a stretch behind bars.

That on top of this and it just makes me fear that in Europe, freedom is on a long, gradual death march.

Program; not Programme

Reading the previous issue of the New York Review of Books, I came across a review of the Volker Commission’s full report on the UN Oil-for-Food Program. I expected to find what I already knew; that the program was an immense failure, that a number of UN employees used the program for their own personal gain including Kofi Annan’s son Kojo, and that Saddam was able to obtain considerable kickbacks from the program.

Many of these accusations, which came out before the Volker Report was released, turned out to be either untrue or wildly exaggerated (William Safire was especially guilty of this). For example, it turns out that the accusations against Kofi and Kojo Annan were dismissed by the report. Only one UN employee has been accused of receiving illicit money. I say only because previous reports made the corruption seem more widespread than it was.

The news reports also made the program out to be a total failure that only made Saddam much richer. Although Saddam did make a considerable amount of money off the program through kickbacks, he made much more through the illegal sale of oil to Jordan and Turkey. The Security Council knew about this but turned a blind eye because those two countries were suffering as a result of the sanctions against Iraq.

There was an obvious flaw of the program - it allowed Saddam to select the contractors. With this power, he could request kickbacks to his administration as well as choose to give out the contracts to firms in countries that might support him in the United Nations. I haven’t seen a good explanation for why Saddam was given this power.

In the end, I think we can say that the program was relatively successful; food and medical supplies were sent to people who needed them. But administration in this case was a serious problem - a function of the United Nations as an institution. The UN has no structure for dealing with unique programs like this one and is unlikely to set one up. As long as this is the case, similar programs will face similar problems. Hopefully the press will be a little more patient next time before throwing around wild accusations.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

More Cartoon Crap

I would blog about something else, but apparently there isn't too much out there happening except people angry about Danish cartoons. I did run across this, though, which made me feel better about the whole thing.

Zahny, originally from Egypt, says the recent republication of Danish newspaper cartoons depicting Muhammad, the messenger of Islam, as a terrorist is a sign of great disrespect for Muslims that's caused him pain. "There is no joke to be made about prophet Muhammad," he says.

But other American Muslims say their fellow adherents are overreacting. "When can we begin a civilized conversation, instead of this undignified and sometimes violent answer to what was quite simply an insult?" a member of the Progressive Muslim Union asked on an online forum.

The two sides illustrate the diversity of American Muslim opinion about the simmering global controversy. But they also dramatize a larger divide within the community about Islam's attitude about free expression. Many of America's estimated 2 to 3 million Muslims are angry, but instead of throwing stones, they are calling for American-style protests, such as boycotts of Danish products like cheese and yogurt.


It goes on to discuss some boycotts, like the Philadelphia Inquirer, etc. etc. But it does show something interesting. America, for all its flaws, I think simply has done a better job integrating Muslims into its society than many European countries. The American Muslim community is obviously vibrant, and they are responding to it as citizens in a liberal democracy generally should. So there are signs of hope about this whole mess, and not everywhere with a Muslim population is denigrating into riots or trying to supress free speech.

UPDATE: Unfortunately, in Europe things are still looking grim.

Specter's Plan

I think this sounds like the answer:

A special federal court would be given power to supervise the Bush administration's warrantless surveillance program under a bill being written by a key Senate Republican.

Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in an interview Wednesday that he wants to “assert Congress' constitutional authority” while allowing the anti-terrorism program to continue under court supervision.

Specter said he hopes to work with President Bush on the bill but is trying to build a bipartisan coalition to override a potential presidential veto.

Bush and Specter haven't discussed the bill, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said. On Monday, Specter held a Judiciary Committee hearing in which he and other senators told Attorney General Alberto Gonzales they had doubts about the program's legality.

“We welcome ideas that they have,” McClellan said.

Specter said his proposal would empower the court established by the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to review the National Security Agency's domestic anti-terrorist surveillance every 45 days to ensure it does not go beyond limits described by the administration. Currently, Bush himself reviews the program and signs off on its continuation every 45 days.


Like Kaus, I think a lot of the rhetoric involving FISA can get overheated on the liberal side, and I don't have a problem with eavesdropping so long as there is some accountability. And, the more this issue is fought out the more it actually makes Bush look good to a lot of people. Would you rather go too far for the purposes of national security or not far enough? The FISA debacle has a lot of people asking that question and that is why it hasn't seem to have hurt Bush. His approval ratings have remained pretty much constant since this started.

Specter's plan gives the President a lot of power, but also exercises ex post controls over the activities. Bush will likely veto it, which is a shame, but it would provide that layer of accountability that changes the situation from having a President and Administration completely unanswerable to anyone but themselves.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

The Crippler!

I've been wondering for a long time whether or not the Democrats were ever going to find anyone credible enough to run against George Allen for sent here in VA in 2006. For awhile it looked as though Warner might run, which would have made for a tough battle for Allen, but then Warner relented. Most likely building his campaign war chest for President. So Virginia Democrats demurred without their dream candidate, too busy fighting for Tim Kaine's election and dealing with crazy rumors like Ben Affleck running on the Democratic ticket to actually get anyone of the ground. I've always favored a candidate that may not when, but just take enough wind out of Allen's sales to prevent an 08 Presidential run. We may have him now.

James Webb, who served as President Ronald Reagan's Navy secretary, said Tuesday that he will seek the Democratic nomination to run against U.S. Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) this year, hoping to challenge the one-term incumbent on foreign policy and the conduct of the war in Iraq.

"I don't wake up in the morning wanting to be a U.S. senator," Webb said in an interview. "I wake up every morning very concerned about the country. We need to put some focus back in our foreign policy, a different focus."

Webb, who has been flirting with a Senate bid for months, declined to elaborate about his decision or his campaign plans. But he said he will file papers this week to officially become a candidate. He said he will formally announce his plans as early as next week.

"Yes, we're going to file papers later this week," he said. In addition to a focus on foreign policy, he said his campaign would "look very hard at all the notions of fairness in our society."


A former Navy Secretary (under Reagan no less!) should likely have some hefty foreign policy credentials to bring to the fight, and most likely he will remain moderate on social and economic issues. Even better?

A former Marine, Webb served in Vietnam and was awarded the Navy Cross, the Silver Star, two Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts. On his personal Web site, he describes having been raised in a family with "a strong citizen-soldier military tradition."

He is also a novelist and filmmaker, having written "Rules of Engagement," a 2000 film that opens with a confrontation involving U.S. Marines in Yemen.

But winning the Democratic nomination in Virginia this year will require Webb to explain his Republican roots.


Republican roots in Virginia? How is that not a plus? Also Miller (a former lobbyist), his only current competition, is not generating any enthusiasm. So a decorated war veteran and former Reagan official running against Allen? I think this might actually be a real fight, though Allen obviously has the upper hand. At least I have something to get excited about this campaign season.

2006 Preview


Wonkette has managed to get their hands on a leaked copy of the opposition research they've done on all the people vying for lead of the Democratic Party. Here's the new set of talking points! Those Republicans, so much power in their simplicity. These sort of charges won't be easy to rebut!

FISA Mania! and Historical Revisionists

Many in the administration continue to claim that they did nothing wrong under FISA. They just have a different interpretation of it. An interpretation they view as particularly valid and within FISA. Wouldn't that seem odd if right when FISA was passed, certain administration mainstays were violently opposing it precisely because it wouldn't allow what it is they're doing now? I would say it would seem odd. But the truth is often odd.

An intense debate erupted during the Ford administration over the president's powers to eavesdrop without warrants to gather foreign intelligence, according to newly disclosed government documents. George H.W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney are cited in the documents.

The roughly 200 pages of historic records obtained by The Associated Press reflect a remarkably similar dispute between the White House and Congress fully three decades before President Bush's acknowledgment he authorized wiretaps without warrants of some Americans in terrorism investigations.

[snip]

"We strongly believe it is unwise for the president to concede any lack of constitutional power to authorize electronic surveillance for foreign intelligence purposes," wrote Robert Ingersoll, then-deputy secretary of state, in a 1976 memorandum to President Ford about the proposed bill on electronic surveillance.

George H.W. Bush, then director of the CIA, wanted to ensure "no unnecessary diminution of collection of important foreign intelligence" under the proposal to require judges to approve terror wiretaps, according to a March 1976 memorandum he wrote to the Justice Department. Bush also complained that some major communications companies were unwilling to install government wiretaps without a judge's approval. Such a refusal "seriously affects the capabilities of the intelligence community," Bush wrote.

In another document, Jack Marsh, a White House adviser, outlined options for Ford over the wiretap legislation. Marsh alerted Ford to objections by Bush as CIA director and by Rumsfeld, Henry Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft over the scope of a provision to require judicial oversight of wiretaps. At the time, Rumsfeld was defense secretary, Kissinger was secretary of state and Scowcroft was the White House national security adviser.


They opposed passage of FISA precisely because they thought it abridged the Imperial Executive power they wanted to enshrine so much. So it seems hardly possible to me now that they think they were following FISA when they thought FISA didn't allow this stuff when it was passed in the first place! The Judiciary Committee and key Republicans don't seem anymore convinced by Alberto Gonzalez' John Kerry-esque performance trying to redefine various positions and stances to the point of meaninglessness. It's evident to me that they don't agree with FISA's existence, and are essentially trying to execute some sort of end-run by interpreting the law into nothingness. It's insincere and duplicitous and it shows. But will anyone call them on it or, accomplishing that, stop them? Probably not. Hat tip to Yglesias, who has this last little nugget:

It seems, meanwhile, that beneath all the smokescreens what they're really trying to say is that they think FISA is unconstitutional, so they ought to be allowed to violate it. What I can't understand is why they won't just say so and see if they can get a court to agree. Are the legal arguments here so terrible that there's no chance even the new, Alito-ified court won't agree?

Mad at the Grainfield

As the Danish Cartoon War reaches ever higher levels of desperate thuggery, governments are actually taking action. Against the Danish government! Well, specifically one government . . . Iraq! Nevermind that this is incredibly ironic given that the Danish government has actually contributed a lot to Iraq's reconstruction. Iraq the Model has the news, and some smart commentary on this whole business.

We have a piece of wisdom here that says "The bird got mad at the grain field!" which as you can see means that sometimes people make stupid decisions that can harm only their own interests yet they think that by doing what they did they would harm those they're boycotting.

This saying applies to all Muslim countries in general and to our interim government in particular.

Our brilliant transportation minister Salam al-Maliki who is a Sadrist by the way announced that his ministry will suspend all projects and contracts with Denmark and Norway and said that Iraq will stop accepting any donations or offers concerning Iraq's reconstruction!

Who are they harming by doing this? Denmark? No…they are harming no one but Iraq and Iraqis.

I give up! I have to comment on the general situation…I swear that 90%+ of the protestors in Muslim countries have not seen the cartoons and do not know the name of the paper and when I say that I'm sure of it because I have access to the web 24/7 and I spent a really long time searching for the cartoons and couldn’t find them until a friend emailed me a link and.

You know that those cartoons were published for the 1st time months ago and we here in the Middle East have tonnes of jokes about Allah, the prophets and the angels that are way more offensive, funny and obscene than those poorly-made cartoons, yet no one ever got shot for telling one of those jokes or at least we had never seen rallies and protests against those infidel joke-tellers.

[snip]

One last thing, even if the entire EU apologizes it won't change a thing; fanatics in our countries here had always considered the west their infidel arrogant crusader enemy and no apology no matter how big or sincere can change that.


You gotta trust people on the ground. Omar's perspective is interesting, being that he's in the middle of all this and has some of the same conclusions as a lot of us watching it from afar. Especially the last bit, which is pessimistic but probably totally on-point. If people think they can make better for this somehow, they're already heading down the wrong road.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Don't Get Him Angry

I was prepared to criticize Barack Obama’s decision to distance himself from McCain’s lobbying reform efforts and stick with the Democrats. But the more I think about it, the more I wonder if it will really make a difference. McCain’s proposal is probably the only one that could really make a difference. Right now he is calling for a special working group to investigate the problems and come up with a recommendation - and McCain knows that any real recommendation would include eliminating earmarks.

After reading Birnbaum’s column though, I have to agree that not much will really come of this. Congress will do as little as possible when it comes to lobbying reforms. Democrats will try their hardest to smear Republicans; Republicans will try to look earnest in their reform attempts; and very little change will really come about. So maybe Obama should show party solidarity on this issue, and not risk a backlash supporting something with little chance of passing.

I would recommend reading the article just to see how tough McCain is on Obama. He is obviously really disappointed that Obama isn't more independent from the party. I bet he was hoping for another senator in the Lieberman mold.

MoveOn to Somewhere Else

You may know that I oppose the excessive grabs at executive power that President Bush has undertaken recently. But I want to be clear that I also oppose the inflated rhetoric coming from the far left. I can’t pinpoint when it started, and I am afraid it might not go away, but it seems like every time we have a legitimate criticism of Bush administration policy, someone from the far left goes overboard and kills any hope of swinging public support to our side.

The latest TV commercial by the geniuses at MoveOn is doing it again. By comparing Bush to Nixon, the advertisement loses all credibility and makes any criticism of NSA domestic spying seem equally trite. That type of commercial only appeals to the liberal whack-jobs that currently support them and does nothing to gain new converts. The ad is counter-productive - but the self-righteous MoveOn group is too oblivious to notice something like that.