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Catfish and Cod
Wednesday, September 03, 2003
 
Operation Fisk the President!
(Link path: The White House)

The president says he's now paying attention to the loss of manufacturing jobs in America. But is he?

I would like to remind people that a culture of responsibility is coming in America. One of the reasons why is that we see every day people who are willing to serve something greater than themself in life. Our children see heroes again, because they see policemen and women and firefighters and emergency teams and military personnel who sacrifice for something greater than themselves in life. And for all the officers who are with us today, I thank you for your line of service for America. (Applause.)

The President, and his Democratic opponents, should take it into their minds that companies and executives and managers are part of America too. A true culture of responsibility, if there is to be one in America (and the works of Strauss and Howe suggest that there will be), must necessarily include everyone. The Second World War evoked the same strong sense of community and mutual support, and the President is obviously trying to renew that version of the Spirit of '76.

Today, I want to talk about our economy. I want people to understand that when somebody wants to work and can't find a job, it says we've got a problem in America that we're going to deal with.

Recognition is always the hardest part, George. Jobs have been disappearing at a record pace for two years, and only now do you notice. To be fair, most of America just now noticed, too. But do you really want a president with only average foresight?

We want everybody in this country working.

Pure hyperbole, of course; anyone who's taken Econ 101 knows there's a natural rate of unemployment. Only Communist countries employ everyone, and we all know where that leads.

We want people to be able to realize their personal dreams -- (applause) -- by finding a job.

The flip side of that, of course, is when economic policies make personal dreams impossible, people get really upset. Despite what the President has been led to believe, 9/11 hasn't yet destroyed the 50/50 nation. It won't take too terribly much to knock Bush off his pedestal. He had better deliver on job promises, or he'll be in deep trouble.

We've got a lot of strengths in this economy. One of the greatest strengths, of course, is the work force. We've got the best workers in the world. (Applause.) We're the most productive workers in the entire world. (Applause.)

True, but only because Europeans are too lazy -- er, unmotivated -- to work harder. They're more productive hour-to-hour.

Productivity is up. What productivity means is that we've got a lot of hard work and we're using new technologies to make people more effective when it comes to the job, and that's important.

Doesn't mean a thing when the jobs are fleeing the country. In fact, part of the productivity effect may be powered by the job flight -- eliminating the less productive workers, y'see.

You see, in 1979, it took more than 40 hours of labor to make a car, and now it takes 18 hours.

Primarily due to automation, knocking workers out of jobs.

We're productive. Our workers are really productive in America. Higher productivity not only means we can produce better products, but it means our people are better off. The more productive you are, the better off our workers are.

True -- for the ones who still have jobs. It does jack for anyone unemployed.

You see, it's better to operate a backhoe than it is a shovel. (Applause.)

Unless the choices are WPA or starvation.

That's what we mean by productivity. Higher productivity means that workers earn more. And it means it takes less time for workers to earn the money to buy the things they need.

But what happens when there are fewer jobs than households?

In 1908, the average factory worker had to labor for more than two years to buy a Model-T -- more than two years of work to buy a car. Today, you can buy a family vehicle for about seven months of salary. The higher the productivity rates, the better it is for American workers. We're a productive nation because of the good, hardworking Americans. And that's what we're here to celebrate today.

Comparing this nation to 1908, or even the fifties, is a strawman. Of course we're better off compared to our ancestors. The real question, as shown in election after election, is: "Are you better off than you were four years ago?"

You know, I also want you to focus on what we have overcome. I mean, we're a strong nation. We've got great foundations for growth, and we've overcome a lot as a country over the last couple of years. In early 2000, the stock market started to decline. That affects you. It affects your savings, it affects your pension accounts.

Due to a stock market bubble (economists and venture capitalists' overeagerness to blame), followed by inevitable scandal, and pumped by a sham California energy crisis that's directly traceable to energy deregulation. Yeah, the Republicans are totally blameless.

It was a forerunner of the recession that came. The first quarter of 2001, we were in recession. But we acted to come out of that recession. We acted with tax relief. And it created big noise and big debate in Washington. But here's what I believe and here is what I know. When you've got more money in your pocket, it means you're going to spend or save and invest. And when you spend and save or invest, somebody is going to produce a product for you to be able to spend your money on. When somebody produces a product, it's more likely somebody is going to be able to find a job. Tax relief was needed to stem the recession. (Applause.)

Tax relief was proposed when the Republicans were still in denial that a recession was even possible, much less coming, much less here. To suggest that tax relief ended the recession is a big fat lie. It especially won't float when many Americans don't believe the recession has ended, no matter what the economists say.

They tell me it was a shallow recession. It was a shallow recession because of the tax relief.

Don't believe everything people tell you.

Some say, well, maybe the recession should have been deeper. That bothers me when people say that. You see, a deeper recession would have meant more families would have been out of work. I'm interested in solving problems quickly. I want more people working.

"Slow and steady wins the race." Which would you prefer, Mr. President? Ten million people out of work for one year, or five million people out of work for five years? Think carefully.

Oh, but that question implies that your tax cuts had an effect on the economy, doesn't it? Never mind.

And so we began to recover from the terrorist attacks, and then we found out some of the citizens, some of the corporate CEOs forgot what it means to be a responsible American. They forgot to do their duty. They didn't tell the truth to their shareholders and their employees. So we acted. We passed two new tough laws. And now the message is clear: if you don't tell the truth, there is going to be serious consequences. We expect the best out of corporate America. (Applause.)

The best, of course, is more donations to the President's campaign. It's no accident that he's been able to fundraise better than any President in history... because he has been more friendly to corporate America than any President since before Theodore Roosevelt broke the trusts.

And yet the economy was still bumping along. We hadn't recovered from all the challenges, and so we passed tax relief again.

If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.

I called upon Congress to pass the jobs and growth package, and we lowered taxes once again to create jobs.

Since when does lowering taxes create jobs? Increased spending, I thought, was the way to do that. Or did I miss something in Econ 101?

When you reduce taxes, people have more money. And I'm going to remind you of what we did. If you're a mom or a dad, we increased the child credit to $1,000 per child, and we put the checks in the mail -- $400 additional per child for American families, so you get to decide to do with the money. It's your choice. You see, after all, in Washington we don't spend the government's money; we spend your money. (Applause.)

This is very true, and indeed is something that should be kept in mind. But I don't begrudge sending Washington money, as long as it's spent properly. If we spent more on the Forest and Park Services, and space research, and the occupation, and less on corporate welfare, I would be happy to refuse the extra tax rebate I didn't get.

We reduced the marriage penalty. What kind of tax code is it that discourages marriage? (Laughter.) We want to encourage marriage. We gave incentives to small businesses so that they can hire more people. We reduced taxes on capital gains and dividends to protect your savings accounts. We want the pension plans strong. We want the 401k's doing well. We reduced all taxes. We thought it was fairer not to try to pick and choose winners. If you pay taxes, you deserve relief. Three million people are now off the tax rolls; 3.9 million households received tax relief.

In the long run, these policies are probably correct; the Federal budget should be restrained and incintives to marriage, small business, and personal investment will be good, long term, for the country. (They'll encourage a higher savings rate by the general population, for instance, and continue the process of drawing the general population into the stockholding class, a necessity for eventual transparency and democracy in the corporate world.) But during a recession and a war, these policies are a disaster -- the debt is shooting for the moon, right before all the baby boomers retire and Federal entitlements explode. The Full Faith and Credit of the United States isn't looking too good...

No, we're making a difference.

Yes, you are. But not in the economy.

And the economy is beginning to grow, and that's what i'm interested in. I come with an optimistic message. I believe there are better days ahead for people who are working and looking for work.

Glad to hear it. You have some reason for saying so?

Economic output is rising faster than expected.

That's not saying very much.

Low interest rates mean that families can save billions by refinancing their homes.

Since when is a massive move for people to go further into debt a good idea?

I bet some of you have refinanced your homes. Put a little extra money into your pocket. Consumer spending is on the rise. Companies are seeing more orders, especially orders for heavy equipment.

If it's all built on debt and cheap credit, it's all a sham. One day, either the interest rates have to rise, or we become Japan. And believe you me, we don't want to become Japan.

No, things are getting better. But there are some things we've got to do to make sure the economy continues to grow. I want you to understand that I understand that Ohio manufactures are hurting, that there's a problem with the manufacturing sector. And I understand for a full recovery, to make sure people can find work, that manufacturing must do better. And we've lost thousands of jobs in manufacturing, some of it because of productivity gains -- in other words, people can have the same output with fewer people -- but some of it because production moved overseas.

So I told Secretary Don Evans of the Commerce Department, I want him to appoint an assistant secretary to focus on the needs of manufacturers, to make sure our manufacturing job base is strong and vibrant.


Oh, wow, just what we need, another public official. I'm sure that'll fix everything.

In other words, any part of a good recovery for the state of Ohio and other manufacturing states has got to be for the manufacturing sector to come around. One way to make sure that we -- the manufacturing sector does well is to send a message overseas -- say, look, we expect there to be a fair playing field when it comes to trade. See, we in America believe we can compete with anybody, just so long as the rules are fair, and we intend to keep the rules fair. (Applause.)

Yes. And part of "keeping the rules fair" is seeing to it that other people get benefits, just like in America. One of the big reasons that American jobs are losing out is that companies don't want to have to pay health insurance, and worker's comp, and all the wonderful things that Americans fought hard to win over a century. That's why, despite our high productivity, companies are moving their operations elsewhere. (It isn't, as the Administration contends, solely due to price manipulations by China and Japan. That doesn't account for, say, the flight of customer service and computer engineering jobs to India.) Corporate America considers its own workers overpriced. That can only be fixed by lowering prices here, i.e., cutting benefits, or by raising prices there, i.e., adding benefits. Guess which one will be easier to affect.

We have a responsibility that when somebody hurts, government has got to move.

Not necessarily in the right direction, though.

And that's why we've signed extensions to the unemployment insurance, so people can get their feet back on the ground.

So that they don't mob the polls.

Elaine's department, the Department of Labor, passes out emergency grants for people who are hurting to cover health care costs and child care costs and other critical needs. And that's a useful role for the government.

True, but if you did your job, it wouldn't be as necessary.

I proposed to Congress a new idea to help people get back to work, particularly those that had the hardest time finding work. We call them reemployment accounts. I proposed spending $3.6 billion to help a million Americans find work. We'd write -- put some money aside for somebody to use for day care or retraining, to be able to move. If they're able to find a job in a prescribed period of time, they'd be able to keep the difference between what we gave them to begin with and what was unspent. In other words, a reemployment bonus. It's a novel approach to help a million Americans who are having a tough time finding work to find work. Reemployment accounts make sense. Congress needs to act.

Only works if there are jobs to be had in the first place.

(More later.)
 
Interesting search requests: II.
(Catch of the day)

catfish receipt

The most rational reason for such a web search was the first hit: a receipt of an application for declaring the Yaqui catfish of Arizona as an endangered species. (With the amount of irrigation going on there, I think all native fish of Arizona are probably endangered species.) We're number twenty on the search list.

I wonder what they were looking for, and whether they found it...
Tuesday, September 02, 2003
 
Nature vs. nurture: IQ.
(Link path: The Volokh Conspiracy, Washington Post, Psychological Science 14(6) (in press))

A new report says that environmental factors determine IQ among the poor, while genetics controls IQ among the rich. This finding suggests that, for an individual to reach his or her full potential, there is a required level of the environmental factors generally referred to as "nurture".

It also suggests that not everyone is receiving that level of nurture.

The findings suggest that different strategies may be called for in preparing students of differing SES (socio-economic status). For instance, additional nurture is not helpful for purposes of raising IQ in wealthy households. If the child takes to additional educational stimuli, all well and good; but if the child isn't responding, compounding efforts will not help. On the flip side, there is a serious deficiency among lower-income households that is holding back poor students. The next obvious question: what deficiency is that?

The Post, being a good Democratic paper, says that means Great Society-style programs are worthwhile:

The results suggest that early childhood assistance programs such as Head Start can help the poor and are worthy of public support.

It doesn't suggest anything of the sort. It merely suggests that there is something wrong with the environment that poor children are raised in. (Not too terribly surprising.) But it doesn't suggest what is wrong with that environment. It might be something Head Start isn't touching, like parental tutoring or appropriate discipline. Who knows? No one -- the study only used SES as a variable, not any specific aspect of family life.

Journalists may not understand this, but other scientists do.

Marcus Feldman, a population geneticist at Stanford University who has studied gene-environment interactions, said the next big challenge is to find out what it is about socioeconomic status -- a measure that includes not only income but also parental education and occupational status -- that contributes to IQ, so social programs can more effectively boost those factors.

"SES is a surrogate for something that deserves further study," Feldman said. "A paper like this reemphasizes the importance of psychology and educational psychology and draws us somewhat away from genetics and back into the importance of the social sciences for understanding IQ. This says to me, let's spend the money and find out what it is about SES that makes the difference."


Don't get me wrong, we should study genetic factors too. But this study shows that works like The Bell Curve were built on biased evidence (collected solely from middle-class and wealthy families). Always be sure your data is reliable before drawing too many conclusions...

 
It turns out that Willis can articulate policy!
(Link path: Like Kryptonite to Stupid, Catfish and Cod, Like Kryptonite to Stupid)

Excellent, Smithers! Now we shall a real policy discussion, and take over all the wealth of Springfield!

But sir, you already control all the wealth of Springfield.

Don't interrupt me, Smithers! I have work to do!

Willis:
Some answers:

Iraq -
The administration still seems enamored with Chalabi and installing him in control somehow, especially if they can get out of Iraq quicker. This would be a band-aid approach to the problem, and blowback would be huge.


I continue to maintain that this scenario won't come to pass. The Administration will float the idea as a trial balloon, either here or in Iraq. In either place, it will be violently shot down (and rightly so). Then the Administration will hem and haw for a few more weeks before assembling a coalition (including Chalabi) to take over the government. In the meanwhile, the moderate Republicans and the Democrats will reap windfalls by pointing out the Administration's fecklessness.

The Marshall Plan was a good enough roadmap for the rebuilding effort in Europe, I can't see why we should allow some idiot terrorists to change that. There should be a plan, a clear one.

The problem is that the neocons in charge think they are following the Marshall Plan. I'm not sure whether we are or not, or whether the Marshall Plan is applicable without serious alterations. The Germans and Japanese never had an third party conducting a guerilla/terror conflict against the occupying power, for instance. But yes, we do need a clear plan.

Korea -
Yes, the recent talks were a step forward but I feel that by being belligerent towards the North Koreans we are aggravating the situation. You don't have to sit across the table from the North Korean ambassador to make it clear that we're advocating a certain posture.


True, we are not friendly to the Korean regime. But in North Korea's universe, there are "aggressors" and there are "non-threatening states". We'll never be "non-threatening" to them, so I don't see how our posture hurts us with the Norks directly. They would refuse to negotiate no matter, because it's standard operating procedure for them. They only agreed to Carter's proposals because he fooled them into thinking it was a U.S. concession. However, our posture might be hurting us with China, who are the real people that must be convinced. No deal is enforceable without direct Chinese pressure on the Norks to play fair. For instance, they've already told North Korea that if the Norks start a war, there will be no support from China.

Corporate Crime-
Use the EPA to actually enforce environmental laws, assess real penalties to companies who screw their workers and the environment. Punish companies who move offshore to escaoe taxation.


None of this will be truly enforceable unless we start to punish companies who move jobs overseas to evade all the regulations we heap on them.

President Bush advocated a "humble" foreign policy when he was running for President, and for once I think we could take his advice.
But just once.


That's because he ignored his own advice. On the other hand, I don't want "humble" to go too far, either. First among equals is our place.


 
Checks and balances -- it's not just for government anymore.
(Link path: Asymmetrical Information, The Economist)

Jane Galt doesn't like it that patents are being brok -- ahem, licensed in a mandatory fashion. She, as a libertarian economist, considers it an invasion of the economic sphere by government (which it is) and undesirable (which it is not).

Big Pharma is indispensible for R & D of new drugs, and for this they should get a profit. But that right to profit (or loss) is subject to a check by the government, who see to it that drugs are without contamination, available in a free market, acheive the results advertised, etc. Jane complains that Congressional criticism against "price gouging" led to the revocation of low prices in the Third World by Big Pharma. Once that occurred, the "mandatory licensing" scheme approved by the WTO was inevitable. It is therefore true that the blame for lost profits, if lost profits there be, reside with the U.S. Congress.

But is that bad? After all, the purpose of capitalism is to ensure the best result for consumers, not producers. So said Adam Smith. Big Pharma only has problems if it becomes unable to raise additional capital or to turn a profit. There are no signs that Big Pharma's lifeblood is threatened by IP "theft" the way Hollywood and Big Music are. And if that becomes the case, Big Pharma can shout to the rooftops (and rightly so) that they are being squeezed by unfair Congressional regulation. Rising drug costs and company failures would then pressure Congress to act --

--thus, the Medicare prescription drug benefit, a guaranteed contract and thus a windfall for Big Pharma.

Jane, if you want to complain at Congress, complain about how their reaction to a market hiccup during a budget crisis is to further increase spending. Don't complain about how they structure the market -- that's a check and balance on Big Pharma, so that they concentrate on producing better drugs and not on reaping meaningless windfalls such as "Nexium" and "Clarinex" (both metabolites of previous drugs, and thus nearly sure bets to pass Stage III clnical trials).
 
Ideologies run rampant.
(Link path: Washington Monthly; USS Clueless)

Josh Marshall sez:

Many pundits have mocked these constantly-shifting rationales as though the administration is somehow confused. But they only seem confused if you assume that the problem needing to be solved actually called forth the policy solution aimed at solving it. Once you realize that the desire for the policy is the parent of the rationale, and not the other way around, everything falls into place.

But:

What the public wants is its problems solved: terrorists thwarted, jobs created, prescription drugs made affordable, the environment protected.

When the opposition -- moderate Republicans or Democrats -- points out that the Administration has a pre-determined agenda and thus is not really trying to solve anyone's problems but their own, then the mood will shift against Bush. Bush has nothing to offer but promises and excuses. His agenda is ideological, not practical. What good the Administration has done in the last few years -- and it's done quite a good bit -- has come about despite their intentions, not because of them. The Bush Administration and its backers have a vision of a certain type of American government, and they intend to form it no matter the cost. In the middle of a job-loss economy and a war, this is an unacceptable policy. It is likely that the Administration will be called to task for this in 2004. They will be unable to respond, because they can't. They are unable to enact necessary policies because their ideology forbids them to even consider an entire galaxy of policy options. This mindset is crippling America and cannot stand -- nor will it.

Den Beste says that the culture of the State Department (like many government and quasi-governmental agencies lately) is out of control:
It seems that there's a culture now inside of State which thinks that it actually makes the policy, and that policy should flow up to the President instead of down. Instead of offering alternatives so that the President could make choices, the top bureaucrats at State seemed to want to make those choices themselves. As time went on, Bush more and more bypassed State entirely and implemented essential foreign policy decisions via resources associated with the Department of Defense or the National Security Council or through the White House staff, often over the objections of State, which were even publicly voiced a few times.

In other words, State has become ideological. This may well be true; I, for one, agree that State has its own policy ideas, isn't taking orders, and is too friendly with the UN, NGO's, and the EU nations. (This friendship, it should be noted, is due to the State Department's long-term task of building and nurturing all three institutions. Mother hens naturally feel protective for their chicks.) But the problem isn't just that State is ideological and won't listen to outside input. The White house is also ideological, and part of the reason State hasn't made anywhere near as much headway at reform under the Bush Administration is that competing ideologies are at work. This is a far more serious conflict than competing policies; if the Administration were proposing radically different ways of working with the UN and the EU, State would resist but wouldn't be nearly so recalcitrant.

The State Department needs to learn two lessons. First, it is out of touch with the American people. Americans want more co-operation, but not at the expense of sacrificing leadership or effectiveness in the international arena (the UN/NGO/EU transnational progressivists have often stated that hamstringing America is a priority). Second, it is ideological and needs a housecleaning. The Administration's own opposite ideology does not exonerate them from the need for flexible and adaptive thinking in these troubled times.
 
The danger in the occupation budget: II.
(Link path: Washington Post)
(Previous episode: I.)

Why are Halliburton's deals out of control? Because they've been assigned to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

For those not familiar with the Corps of Engineers: they are the most out-of-control, profligate spenders and wasters of money in the entire Federal Government. They don't even pretend to take orders anymore from the Executive Branch, when it doesn't suit them. Most Corps projects are directly entailed, earmarked, and directed by Congressional appropriations bills: in order words, they take orders directly from the legislature. And they are very good at lobbying for irrelevant and silly projects, just for purposes of job creation.

Example: My home state, Mississippi, is crossed by the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway. This engineering feat was supposedly intended to serve as a alternative and a backup to the Mississippi River as a shipping canal for barges. Proposed repeatedly since the eighteenth century, it was finally approved in the 1950's, and took nigh on thirty years to build. The total amount of earth moved was far in excess of the Panama Canal. In fact, the Corps had to be dissuaded from using tactical nuclear weapons in the blasting process. Vast locks and dams were built down the length of eastern Mississippi. The system was opened in the mid-eighties, to great fanfare.

Almost no one uses it. Ninety percent of all barge traffic continues down the Mississippi, same as before. A few small enterprises, such as marinas on the new lakes, were started. Most failed. Billions of dollars were spent, and (aside from the engineering patronages) no real economic results were acheived. The only way the Tenn-Tom will ever be worthwhile is if the Mississippi River becomes impassable to navigation. And I assure you, if that ever happens, the Corps has projects already in the works to fix it, quickly. And expensively.

Control of Iraq's reconstruction must be removed from the hands of the Corps of Engineers and handed over to the CPA, where it belongs, so that Iraqi companies may be awarded contracts. (And control must not go to the Governing Council just yet -- the opportunities to use the money for Iraqi political patronage jobs, as opposed to American political patronage jobs, would be too great at this stage.)
 
Blame game.
(Link path: The Grey Lady [free and pointless registration required])

Here we go again. The Chinese say we're the problem in the North Korean peace talks.

"Wang Yi, a vice foreign minister who was China's chief delegate at the negotiations, replied, 'America's policy toward the D.P.R.K. — that is the main problem we are facing.'"

In other words, North Korea's policy towards the United States is not the main problem. Now, I agree with Willis that the Administration could be a little less belligerent. I want North Korea gone, but I'm not willing to trade a million American and South Korean lives (in a nuking of. say, Honolulu, plus the shelling of Seoul) for several million North Korean lives. There is a better way, and it requires Chinese cooperation. And with this statement, the Chinese are saying that it's not their problem.

Now, don't get me wrong. The days when China would set up a Somebody Else's Problem field around North Korea and pretend their nuclear program didn't exist are gone forever. But China would still rather not have to pay the piper for the destruction of their client state. They'd far rather have their long-term rival (in their eyes), the U. S., pay the price for them. So they try this crud again, once again shifting the blame onto us, and with it the assumption that we have to fix the problem -- by giving concessions on how to implement the nonaggression pact.

It won't work. For one thing, the Administration is still pursuing Den Beste's strategy of "engaged apathy". For another, we now have the economic front with which to lean on China. We're having to lean on them anyway -- China's currency policy is contributing to our job-loss economy -- so we might as well lean harder, the better to influence peace negotiations.

China desires, long-term, to regain its ancient status as the Great Power of East Asia. But, "with great power comes great responsibility". China must take responsibility for its client state, North Korea, and reign in its nuclear program, for the good of not only the United States, but the entire East Asian region.

Monday, September 01, 2003
 
Israel's basic problem.
(Link path: The Grey Lady [free and pointless registration required])

I support Israel, but not without reservations. This article shows why.

As Noam Chomsky pointed out back in the Sixties, before he headed off to Moonbat Territory, Israel has a fundamental problem: it's based on prejudice. Israel, as currently constituted, exists primarily for the Jews. Not entirely for the Jews, but primarily for the Jews. While Muslims can live in peace under Israeli rule, they can be -- and are -- discriminated against. Even if all incitement and terror-money from the Arab governments stopped tommorrow, even if there was a real peace agreement with the Palestinians tommorrow, Israel would still have this problem, and the Israelis would still have to deal with it.

The Palestinians have the same problem in reverse: their society is based on prejudice, too. Palestine, as currently envisioned, will exist primarily for the Arab Muslims. Not entirely for the Arab Muslims, but primarily for the Muslims. While Arab Christians can live in peace under Palestinian rule, and (so they claim) Jews can live in peace under Palestinian rule, they can be -- and will be -- discriminated against. Even if Israel disappeared entirely -- or was conquered by the Palestinian terrorists -- Palestine would still have this problem, and the Palestinians would still have to deal with it.

As long as neither side admits that the "other side" is a domestic as well as a foreign policy problem, there will always be simmering tensions between Israel and the Palestinians. Alas, it will likely be a hundred years before the two sides lose their bloodlust enough to see the problems under their own noses. That is, if there's a peace agreement that ensures that the two sides have a hundred years to think about the problem. If there isn't, the two sides will be arguing the issue from afar, while returning for periodic radiation tests to find out how many years are left before the Holy Land is habitable again.
 
Portents of the New Holy Roman Empire: III.
(Link path: King of the Blogs, Roger L. Simon, An Unsealed Room, Yahoo/Agente France Presse, Yediot Aharonot)

Could this be the real reason France is continually supporting not just the PA, but also Arafat, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad?

Remember, nations in the European Union should only take actions together, in concert, and with unanimity -- unless the nation in question is France. Rules don't apply to France, for she is a World Power (TM).
 
The need for a new alternative.
(Link path: The Edge of England's Sword, The Guardian)

Andrew Graham argues that the BBC must be protected in order to balance the evil capitalist Murdoch's BSkyB. Telemachus points out that the BBC is an out-of-control socialist organization. Here, in a nutshell, we have the divide between the Left and the Right in America, or between Europe and America in foreign affairs.

If we allow private individuals, i.e. capitalists, to control the media, what do we get? Bias: a slant towards pro-capitalist positions, with a tendency towards sensationalism over real reporting.

If we allow the public, i.e., the government, to control the media, what do we get? Bias: a slant towards pro-socialist positions, with a tendency towards sensationalism over real reporting.

There must be a better deal than this. We need new concepts, a new actor on the stage, or a new partnership between public and private positions, with an eye towards more accountability and higher standards. This need goes far beyond mere journalism -- but journalism is as good a place to start as any.
 
Oliver Willis reality check.
(Link path: Like Kryptonite to Stupid)

Hey, Willis. I like your positions, and your man Dean, but if you're going to articulate policy ideas, can you at least make them coherent?

Occupying Iraq
...Solution: Prove to Iraq that we are in for the long haul and in their best interests by encouraging the Iraqis to plot their own path, not just the politically expedient one of installing Chalabi and his ilk.

Despite what you and Josh Marshall think (keep scrolling), I'm not sure installing Chalabi is politically possible after installing a Governing Council and a Cabinet that makes Chalabi just one party among many. If Chalabi was put in as pseudo-dictator, there'd be a bloodbath.

Go to the United Nations and get the rest of the world to be a part of the occupation and rebuilding effort,

They are part of the rebuilding effort now. I support the current efforts to get a UN mandate for the occupation, if it's sincere (you can never tell with this Administration). But I don't support handing control of anything to the UN -- their record on such in Bosnia is abomniable.

...don't allow the desire to give contracts to Halliburton and Co. become the reason for more US casualties.

I agree, but if we hand things over to the UN, then European companies (particularly French, German, and Russian ones) will get those contracts otherwise. The real answer is to hand the contracts to Iraqis.

Create a roadmap with timelines and goals for the occupation and its eventual end.

In other words, write our enemies a ticket for charging us with negligence when things inevitably don't go as planned. I've had quite enough of that in the Israel/Palestinian conflict, thank you very much.

Instruct our soldiers to become less heavy-handed with the men and women of Iraq, a multinational force and more troops will go thousands of miles towards improving the atmosphere.

I'm not sure of that, because no one else tries so hard to interface with locals (civil affairs and so forth) as we do. But it's sure worth a try. As to being heavy-handed, the best thing to do is to get the Iraqis to help out with security. If the troops perceive the Iraqis as helping the Americans, rather than silent potential terrorists, then the troops will relax and stop being heavy-handed. Telling them to play nice while they fell that their lives are in danger will only upset them and convince them that you don't know what you're talking about.

On the other hand, people who steal Johnny Walker's should be court-martialed publicly.

Afghanistan
Problem: Neglect of Afghanistan is allowing tribalism to resurface, our coziness with the Pakistanis may be allowing Bin Laden to hide.
Solution: Increase funding to Afghanistan,


Agreed, but last I heard, that's in the works already. Not least because Democrats caught the Administration neglecting Afghanistan last time.

push a harder line with Pakistan's leadership that will give us the authority to hunt down Bin Laden and Al Qaeda

Great idea, but how? And if bin Laden is where I think he is, the Pakistani government gave up trying to enforce any sort of rule of law there long ago.


North Korea
Problem: The rhetoric towards North Korea is aggravating an already unstable nuclear entity.
Solution: Address the Korean problem directly.

This was a valid argument until last week's six-nation talks. I'm not sure the Administration can still be charged with ignoring the problem.

Don't make it appear that we can be held hostage by nuclear threats, but appreciate the seriousness of what North Korea could do.

That's meaningless. If you mean "negotiate directly", say so. If you mean "be clear about consequences", say so. What you just said could be taken either way.


Taxes
Problem: Tax cuts overly targeted towards the rich do not sufficiently encourage investment in the economy while also weakening the social safety net of Medicare and Social Security

But you'll never get the Administration to admit that.

Solution: End the tax cuts for the top earners, the Ken Lay contingent, and instead give tax relief to groups that need it in the lower income brackets whose spending will stimulate the economy.

No -- give tax relief to the middle class first. They'll reward you with increased investment and spending both. Tax relief to the poor results in one spending burst and nothing else. I speak from experience.

There's also the matter of those deficits that portend disaster for future generations

Yes, there is that matter. What do you intend to do about it?

and the expressed desire of influential right-wingers to destroy social security, medicare, and other important social programs

Social Security is going to be destroyed by demographics; there's nothing to be done to save it. What we need is a good Democratic alternative, something that sounds even better. As to Medicare, it must be reformed. I don't know how to do it, though.

Civil Liberties
Problem: The PATRIOT Act shreds constitutional rights we hold dear, the attorney general is more interested in prosecuting marijuana users and pornographers than real live terrorists.
Solution: Appoint an Attorney General who will fight crime, not embrace a religious crusade. Rescind the PATRIOT Act.


Yes. No matter what else, Ashcroft must be evicted.

Corporate Crime
Problem: We haven't prosecuted the people on the top of the Enron debacle.

I understand that it takes several years to prepare the lawsuits in cases like this, precisely because the Enron boys spent millions and years making the paperwork obtuse. It's not anyone's fault. And before you consider these right-wing excuses, let me say that I got this information off a public radio station right here in Massachusetts.

The accounting regulations proposed are soft. Environmental regulation has been reduced to ridiculous self-policing. Enormous loopholes in our tax code still exist for corporations to bilk the government out of billions. Utilities whose services are essential to daily life are allowed to manipulate and "game" the system without consequence.

Solution: Do the exact opposite of all those things. Show Americans that business can be socially responsible while also being profitable.


What exactly does "the exact opposite" consist of? And while loopholes stink, please show me a loophole-free tax code. I'm not aware of any examples.

America
Problem: We can't look out for number one when we're bullying everyone else.
Solution: Promote the American ideals by living them. Show the rest of the world that along with economic success can also come social equality and progress. Stand up for true American values, not imperialistic whims and childish temper tantrums.


And that's the best example I've seen of saying great-sounding platitudes while advocating zero actual policy. Words are cheap, Willis. What's your position?

 
As usual, the Footballs misses the point.
(Link path: the Footballs of Rabid Pro-Semitism, MEMRI/al-Ahram)

The Footballs uses an al-Ahram editorial to build bile and venom up towards the Egyptian government. Emotionally satisfying, yes, but what's really going on? Let's look at the whole thing before we draw conclusions, yes? Fire up the griddle: time for a Catfish 'n Cod Deep Fried Fisking.

The holy city of Najaf, the site of the tomb of the Imam 'Ali, witnessed a horrible terrorist crime which claimed the lives of nearly 120 victims – and at the top of the list was Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir Al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. Nearly 200 more were wounded. This [happened] when a car bomb, parked near the entrance to the tomb of the Imam 'Ali, went off as the worshipers were coming out.

Straight reporting. No problems yet...

Although those responsible for this tragic event have not yet been apprehended, [we can say] that this is one of three incidents carried out in the same way – [the other two being] the bombing of the Jordanian Embassy in Baghdad and the bombing of the U.N. headquarters in the Iraqi capital – all carried out by exploding a car bomb.

Anyone can see that the three bombings are linked. But who's behind it?

They were all aimed at parties that irked the occupation forces, such as Jordan , following the hospitality it gave Saddam's daughters,...

Warning! Warning! Conspiracy theory detected! We like Jordan; we'd never bomb their embassy. As for Saddam's daughters, if we cared, we'd raise hell and demand to allow us to 'interview' them. We have no need to capture them (they weren't involved in Saddam's crimes, and indeed were kept out of most of the governmental process), and we certainly have no desire to take revenge on them.

...and the U.N., after a representative of its secretary-general announced in Iraq that the American occupation of Iraq humiliates and wounds the Iraqis.

We have our differences with the U.N., it's true. But we have better ways to express our displeasure than blowing up their offices. Like, you know, diplomacy. Or withholding dues. Stuff like that.

And, finally, [aimed] at Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir Al-Hakim, following the beginning of resistance operations in the Shiite regions, where the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution enjoys obvious influence.

Once again: we liked al-Hakim. Sure, there has been resistance, but al-Hakim was trying to get Shi'ites to work with the Iraqi Governing Council, saying that his desired Islamic state was best acheived through peaceful means. We certainly liked al-Hakim better than his rival, al-Sadr, who has been agitating for jihad for weeks.

While some members of the so-called transitional Governing Council, such as Ahmad Chalabi, blamed some of those who belong to the former Iraqi regime [for the bombing], the popular demonstrations seen in the Iraqi streets following this criminal act were all in agreement that the occupation forces were responsible for this incident,...


In Iraq, "responsibility" meant that we didn't provide enough security. But to the pan-Arabist propagandists at al-Ahram, "responsibility" means masterminding. See how screwy these guys are?

...as part of their effort to provoke conflict among the Shiites and between the Shiites and the Sunnis. This is a [policy] of 'divide and rule,' which occupation forces have used throughout history to rip apart the unity of peoples in countries under occupation.

Which assumes we want conflict... which, in turn, assumes that we intend to rule Iraq in opposition to the wishes of the Iraqi people. While there are certain policies that might be more friendly to Iraqis, we are definitely not interested in ruling with an iron fist. That's what Saddam did, and the last we want to do is look like "the new Saddam".

It is strange that the occupation forces, which are considered to have the most to gain from the incident,...

No, we have the most to lose!

...have as usual blamed Islamic terrorists. This is propaganda aimed at causing world-wide damage to Muslims,...

Only those Muslims that are trying to kill us.

...especially since no one denies that some of the Islamic extremists who carry out terrorist acts flourished under and were financed by some Western apparatuses during the war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.

At which time, both the Arab Afghans and the Egyptians thought we were the bee's knees for donating to the jihad against godless atheists. It's only later that they thought of attacking fellow Muslims and Americans.

In other words, responsibility for this very act of terrorism is Western responsibility – and, more specifically, American.

The obvious implication: America is financing al-Qaeda. The obvious fact being covered up: The Saudi Arabian government is financing al-Qaeda.

Regardless of the details of the terrorist crime in Najaf, it is essential that the Iraqi people and its true religious and political leaderships, not those imported from abroad, be wary of slipping into internal conflict. They must close ranks to work for the liberation and independence of their country on a general national basis, removed from any elements and factors that rip apart their national unity – [the unity] that is the most important pillar in regaining their independence and building a democratic state in the Land of the Tigris and the Euphrates.

While al-Ahram and its pan-Arabist masters think this should apply to opposing American influence in Iraq, it equally applies to attempts by other Muslim governments -- Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia -- to influence Iraq's domestic policy. And look at that last line: Egypt is now officially in favor of a democratic Iraq! Considering Egypt's socialist past, that's got to be good news.

The Footballs can only see the negative news: Egypt spews anti-American rhetoric. The Footballs can't see the good news: Egypt is having more and more trouble explaining away inconvienent facts, and now feels it necessary to support a democratic Iraq. How much longer before Egyptians demand a democracy of their own?

(Why do I call Charles Johnson the Footballs of Rabid Pro-Semitism?)

UPDATE: Transterrestrial Musings echoes the Footballs. Oh, and why do we pay Egypt anyway? Because it's the bribe we pay as part of the Camp David Accords to keep Egypt from attacking Israel. The real question that should be asked is, should we get more for our money?
 
Why are we still afraid of "funking out" in Iraq?: II.
(Link path: The Grey Lady [free and pointless registration required])

Friedman knows why.

I don't know what Mr. Bush has been doing on his vacation, but I know what the country has been doing: starting to worry. People are connecting the dots — the exploding deficit, the absence of allies in Iraq, the soaring costs of the war and the mounting casualties. People want to stop hearing about why winning in Iraq is so important and start seeing a strategy for making it happen at a cost the country can sustain.

It's not that it's wrong to invade Iraq. But are we doing it right? Do we know what we're doing? Did we ever? The Administration won't tell us. Even as things spiral out of control, "the White House and Pentagon have been proceeding as if it's business as usual."

Friedman also hits on a big reason why the U.S. (and not just this Administration) is rightfully apprehensive about handing full control to the U.N.:

If the U.N. is brought into the political rebuilding of Iraq, a way must be found to tightly define its role so that we don't have 15 chefs in the kitchen. That would make a mess.

Such as Bosnia, where the only thing the (mainly European) U.N. administrators can agree on is how to waste U.N. money and insure Bosnian dependence on a continuing occupation.


 
Fun with the United States Code: II.
(Link path: FindLaw)

Today`s installment: Title 44, Public Printing and Documents.

Section 4104. As used in this chapter, the term ''Federal electronic information'' means Federal public information stored electronically.

As opposed to... what, exactly?

Section 3310. When the Archivist and the head of the agency that has custody of them jointly determine that records in the custody of an agency of the United States Government are a continuing menace to human health or life or to property, the Archivist shall eliminate the menace immediately by any method he considers necessary. When records in the custody of the Archivist are disposed of under this section, the Archivist shall report their disposal to the agency from which they were transferred.

Tell me, what records could pose a "continuing menace to human health or life"? Do they mean documents dangerously infested with the Cyanide Slime Mold of Death? I might -- possibly -- understand destroying moldy documents that pose a occupational hazard. (Better to put them in better storage, yes?) But I suspect that's not the purpose; this probably refers to destroying documents relating to CIA operatives that might be assassinated if their identities were discovered in the U.S. Archives somewhere.

(The really scary thing is that any documents can be destroyed on the word of two government officials because they constitute "a continuing menace to property". Whose property? Who decides? Does this mean that it's legal for the EPA Director, say, to conspire with the Archivist and destroy documents proving contamination, because they pose "a continuing menace to property"? Fortunately, there's a commission to answer such deep questions for us. See Section 3316 et seq.)

Did you know that the government distributes several thousand copies of the Congressional Record every day, free? It's true. See Section 906. I wonder how much that costs? Why can't everyone read the Record online, and buy what paper copies they really need at the going rate?

Section 306. Only skilled workmen can work at the Government Printing Office. It's true! You have to demonstrate skill to work for these guys. I'm not sure whether this is superfluous -- or whether it should be applied to every government office, everywhere...


 
Interesting search requests: I.
(Link path: MSN Search)

jews catfish
We're number one! We're number one!

For the record: yes, catfish (as a bottom-feeding fish) is not kosher. I pity the Orthodox Jewish population, who are forever denied the savor of Mississippi catfish and chips...
 
The Golden Meme.
(Catch of the day)

Wolf Blitzer just came perilously close to saying something I've been waiting for months to hear. It'll be a key aspect orf any successful 2004 Democratic campaign.

"It's still the economy, stupid."

Bush gave a Labor Day speech in Ohio this morning -- to union workers. He (and/or his handlers) can read polls as well as anyone; they certainly realize that they have to respond to people's concerns about the economy.

But are they really going to do anything about the economy? Or will they just proceed on their pre-assigned policy and try to convince people that jobs will be grown anyway? Let's find out.

Developing...
 
Sacrilege: III.
(Link path: al-Jazeera)

Even Saddam wants to distance himself from the Najaf bombing.

Why?

Because he wants people to believe that he is "not a leader of a minority or a single Iraqi group. (Saddam Hussein) is the leader of all people of Iraq: Muslims, non-Muslims, Shia, Sunnis, Kurds and all other groups.”

In other words, even Saddam doesn't want to piss off the Shi'a that badly...


 
Why are we still afraid of "funking out" in Iraq?
(Link path: King of the Blogs, Washington Post)

The King of the Blogs is appreciative of John McCain's efforts to tell the American people how important the occupation of Iraq is. But if the president has put out the message that the occupation will be long-term and costly, and if both Democrats and moderate Republicans agree, why are people still worried about us "funking out"?

The cry that Bush claimed the war would be "quick and cheap" is part of the "BUSH LIED!!" meme, where the President's enemies continue to claim that he misled the American people. While there is no point at which it could be said that the President out-and-out failed to tell the truth, it is true that he played us all emotionally. The Administration created the feeling that the occupation would be an easier job than it has turned out to be. In order to garner support for the war effort, Bush and his political operatives made us all feel over-threatened and under-protected, with an inflated sense of our abilities in nation-building and a irrationally optimistic view of the task ahead. Emotionally, mnay Americans feel unprepared for the level of sacrifice and strife that the Iraq effort calls us to endure.

(Don't get me wrong; I think the invasion was the right thing to do. But we should have been told what we were doing and why, in clearer terms and with less spin than was the case.)

The danger is no longer that we will "funk out" completely by withdrawing from Iraq. It would be political suicide for any Administration (short of an improbable Kucinich or Nader Administration) to withdraw. The danger is that we will not invest sufficient resources: time, treasure, effort, and especially skull sweat. If we try to run the occupation "on the cheap", or try to ignore the occupation in favor of domestic politics, then we run the risk of either a revolt or an incarnation of the media's nightmare -- "another Vietnam".
 
Rule of law in Iraq: II.
(Link path: Boston Globe/AP)

The Governing Council has announced a Cabinet slate for Iraq.

Many people, both inside and outside Iraq, have complained that we haven't turned over the Iraqi government over to Iraqis again. American control of Iraqi institutions have led to friction and conflict, because the Iraqi people are unable to communicate effectively with their American occupiers. The formation of the Cabinet is the first step towards turning over the Iraqi government to Iraqis. Not necessarily the Iraqis that every Iraqi agrees should be in charge, mind, but an Iraqi nonetheless. If we can set up transparent and accountable government in Iraq, then the political hacks that get appointed will be turned out for incompetence and Iraq can build herself better government through her own efforts. Isn't that what we mean by a responsible democracy?

Of course, first we have to be sure that the CPA is transparent and accountable itself. They haven't been doing too good a job on that lately, have they? Could that be because they're underfunded? Too busy (i.e., not enough manpower)? Or maybe a few people in the CPA don't want to be accountable...
 
Rule of law in Iraq: I.
(Link path: Zogby Blog, News.com.au/Agente-France-Presse)

Zogby Blog grabs a great AFP story telling how the two self-confessed al-Qaeda agents that apparently set off the Najaf bombing were captured -- a case of being incompetently conspicuous. He points out that the fact that the mob hustled them to a police station, rather than tearing them limb from limb right then and there, shows respect in Iraq for the rule of law. There's more: it shows that Iraqis are ready -- hungry -- for proper institutions that will allow the rule of law to reign in Iraq. Iraqis are tired of turmoil and sick of opportunists, like those they perceive in the current political scene (both inside and outside the Iraqi Governing Council). They want stable, working institutions -- owned and operated by the Iraqi people -- that can fix the problems that exist in their land. In short, they want to govern themselves.

Shouldn't we let them do that?