Egyptian democracy activist Jihan Shabaan speaks for many when she predicts a democratically elected government in Egypt will be more anti-American and anti-Israeli than the current dictatorship.
"If things really change here, America's illusions that its interests in the region would be advanced by democracy will be laid bare,'' she says. "A real democratic government in Egypt would be strongly against the US occupation of Iraq and regional US policies, particularly over Palestine. We are strongly against US influence."
Despite apparently genuine sentiment, Kifaya organizers say there's also practical reasons to make the distance from the US clear. The government has tried to paint democracy activists as foreign puppets in the past, alleging they take foreign money. "The regime are the ones taking American money. But they always accuse us of having foreign money whenever there are calls for democracy," says Shabaan.
Attitudes like Shabaan's point to a frequently overlooked disconnect. America's conviction that its rhetoric will help secure its interests in the region often clash with the anti-US leanings of many of the Arab world's democracy activists, who generally belong either to Islamist parties or to left-leaning, anti-US groups.
"We want a transformation against America and all its projects in the region,'' says Abdel Halim Qandeel, an editor at the anti-regime Al Arabi newspaper and one of Kifaya's key activists. "There's a historical irony here. We have two kinds of resistance in the region - armed resistance as in Iraq and Palestine, and political resistance in the Arab capitals ... and all of the opposition movements are staunchly anti-imperialist, whether Islamists" or secular nationalists.
Paranoid delusional conspiracy theory: A secret cabal of American capitalists, frustrated by its attempts to get the United States to adopt a more isolationist and neutral stance in the Middle East, helped engineer the rise of the neocons in order to bring about a democratic revolution the Middle East that will force the United States to withdraw from the region. In this interpretation the neocons are just foolish tools whose ideological blindness is being used to undermine their beloved Israel. Keep in mind that noone that competent is behind the scenes pulling strings in America's interest.
The nightmare scenario for Israel would be the rise of even more anti-Israeli Arab governments that are more powerful because they enjoy greater popular legitimacy as a consequence of being democratically elected. If some of those popularly elected anti-Israeli governments are openly Islamist then all the worse for Israel.
Gotta be careful what you wish for. You just may get it.
Also see my previous post "Will Democracy Make Middle East Governments More Anti-American?"
Update: Mustapha Kamal Al-Sayyid, Cairo University Political Science Professor, is on C-SPAN at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace at the moment talking about US influence in the region. He said that when the US ambassador gave $6 million to some Egyptian NGO(s) (forget if he said a single NGO or a group of them) this made those NGOs very unpopular in Egypt. Al-Sayyid says Bush should turn to someone other than Natan Sharansky for expertise on democracy in the reigon. He says if the US government does not want to consult Arab academics there are many American academics who know the region better than Mr. Sharansky.
Al-Sayyid makes a great point about Sharansky in my view. Sharansky belongs to a faction in Israel that appears to offer two options: A) The Palestinians act so good that there is no reason to withdraw settlements from the territories or B) The Palestinians act so bad that they deserve to have settlements placed among them and to eventually be forced out of the territories.
Amr Hamzawy of the Carnegie Endowment sees a relegitimation of the nation-state happening in Arab countries. Political claims are not just pan-Arab or pan-Islamic. Claims in Egypt are made about local conditions there. He sees the same happening in Lebanon with demands about what happens within Lebanon's borders.
Hamzawy also sees the emergence of broad popular alliances for democratization. Hamzawy says that in the 1980s and 1990s Mubarak made a number of concessions for the operation of opposition political parties. He sees the legitimization of the political space as creating the conditions for more pragmatism and less emphasis on anti-Americanism and anti-Israeli attitudes as the main issues.
Hamzawy sees the potential for ethnic religious conflicts in Bahrain (an excluded Shiite majority), Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia (a Shiite minority in that case). Of course such conflicts can become civil wars as Lebanon has shown.
Al-Sayyid and Hamzawy wonder whether the changes in Egypt are cosmetic. Will the changes build momentum that will eventually bring elections for the President? Greater allowance of political participation by opposition parties might eventually lead to elections in which the opposition will be allowed to participate. Al-Sayyid says Mubarak says Muslim Brothers (aka Muslim Brotherhood) will be allowed to participate through existing parties but will not be allowed to form their own party.
Nathan Brown of the Carnegie Endowment jokingly suggests the United States should embrace the Muslim Brothers in order to give them the kiss of death. Make the Islamists unpopular by giving them US support. I wonder if that would work. Probably not.
Al-Sayyid thinks the Muslim Brothers and other Islamists have fairly good chances of winning elections if fully free elections were held. So Al-Sayyid doubts that external actors such as the United States would be successful in convincing Arab governments to allow the Islamists to participate in elections.
A human rights activist in the audience worried in a queston that the Islamists would violate human rights - especially women's rights - if they came to power through elections. Al-Sayyid thinks that some Islamists such as the Muslim Brothers are more in favor of women's rights than other Islamists. But if women are allowed to vote will they vote in the Muslim Brothers? Will their fathers and husbands tell them to vote for Islamists?
An Arab journalist pointed out that the terms "liberalization" and "democratization" do not even translate into Arabic. There are no Arab words that mean these things. Direct translation results in words that Arabs simply do not understand. Al-Sayyad and Hamzawy says these terms have to be explained when they are used.
Al-Sayyid thinks tensions in Lebanon including attacks on Christian areas may eventually lead to conditions similar to those which existing before the civil war in 1975. He also doubts that there is a relegitimization of the nation-state in Iraq because the Kurds are resisting it and as a reaction some southern Iraqis are supporting autonomy for southern Iraq as well.
Al-Sayyid thinks that part of the lack of legitimization of the Jordanian, Egyptian, and Tunisian regimes is due to their diplomatic relationships with Israel. Well, if Arab government legitimacy is not compatible with peace with Israel then factions competing to be democratically elected are going to advocate for severing of relations with Israel or more demands placed on Israel.
Bad move, guys. The "diversity" mongers have just brought up the one thing that they should have stayed far far away from: the web. Newsweek's technology columnist Steven Levy has declared that the lack of "diversity" among the web's most popular blogs requires corrective action. The goal? A blogosphere whose elite tier "reflects the actual population" — i.e., where female- and minority-written blogs are found among the top 100 blogs in the same proportion as females and minorities are found in the general population.
Levy's complaint comes on the heels of Susan Estrich's campaign against the Los Angeles Times for allegedly refusing to publish female op-ed writers, a campaign that has caused widespread wringing of editorial hands about male-dominated op-ed pages. For Levy to have mentioned the web at this moment is about as smart as inviting Stephen Hawking to an astrologers' convention: The web demolishes the assumptions behind any possible quota crusade.
So why, when millions of blogs are written by all sorts of people, does the top rung look so homogeneous? It appears that some clubbiness is involved. Suitt puts it more bluntly: "It's white people linking to other white people!"
Levy's argument is an insult both to blog writers and blog readers. I have lots of people coming through my blogs reading just a single post that they found through a search engine or through a link from a blog list or because someone emailed a URL to my site (I can even tell some of these by seeing referring URLs that are for Yahoo mail pages for example) or because a news site linked to something I wrote. So I get lots of one-time visitors. The vast bulk of them do not return. I know that because if even a tenth of them did return I'd have one or two orders of magnitude more regular front page visitors. The point is that lots of people can find blogs using a variety of methods and can choose whether they want to come back again. No "old boys network" is necessary.
Does Levy want to argue that Google is an old boys network? Does Google have a special algorithm for detecting male versus female writings styles in order to bring searchers to male writing or does Google have a racial writing style detector? Levy is supposed to be a technology columnist. Look at what his embrace of leftist ideology has done to rot his brain. He should be ashamed of himself.
In a way these "diversity" advocates are doing us a favor by trying to pressure top bloggers to adopt racial and sexual preferences in their linking. Why? Blogging is an environment where there is extreme ease of entry, total absence of gatekeepers, and fierce free competition. By objecting to the outcomes in the blogging environment the diversity scamsters are showing that they clearly oppose outcomes that are the result of differences in talent and effort. The advocates for racial and sexual preferences in hiring are not seeking to make advancement and success in our society more achievement-based. Their goal is obviously not to produce environments which are more competitive as a result of fewer obstacles to entry and achievement. They want entitlements based on sex, race, sexual orientation, and whatever else will benefit whatever group they feel they belong to.
Big liberal media organizations have implemented policies that give preferences to women, blacks, and Hispanics. But an increasing portion of all opinion and analysis writing is being done by self-chosen volunteers working for free and is delivered outside of the major media organs. Therefore the whole preferences/diversity racket is being undermined by competition. Unless the racketeers can find some way to regulate bloggers (time to buy a gun) I think their influence in the media and on the public has peaked.
If, for example, fewer women than men want to work for free or peanuts writing blog posts why is this a bad thing? Maybe the bad thing is that so many men are willing to waste their time in financially unremunerative activities when they really ought to be putting more time into paying work (and this is an on-going debate for myself in my own mind). But bad for who? If some people want to trade off on how they spend their time and make less money but have more influence shouldn't they be free to do so? If others would rather only work for pay or around the household raising their own kids (and women obviously have stronger preferences in the latter direction) to get more direct benefits from their labor, again, why shouldn't they be free to do so?
The diversicrat scamsters are unwilling to accept that various groupings of humans have different preferences on average and that those differences in preferences produce different patterns of achievements and in uses of time both in and out of jobs. The irony then, is that the self-proclaimed advocates of "diversity" are opposed to the outcomes that inevitably result when populations are diverse in their abilities, preferences, interests, values, and drives.
It is not surprising to see the "diversity" scamsters come after blogs. Blogs are problematic for their world view. If a medium which has no gatekeepers ends up being dominated by white males then doesn't that strongly suggest that other pursuits notable for their white male dominance (e.g. top academic math, physics, and engineering departments or Fortune 500 top management or software development and engineering teams) are that way due to differences in interests, drives, and abilities between the various under- and over-represented groups? If free competition results in differences in ethnic and racial composition of the top people in various fields (and this does not always work in the favor of white males: look at the NBA for example) then the bar for proof of discrimination should be raised from the automatic assumption of unfair discrimination to instead require empirical proof for accusations of unfair treatment.
Steve Sailer has previously quoted Slate editor Dahlia Lithwick who states that orders of magnitude fewer women try to write op-eds.
I can also swear to the fact that as an editor, the number of pitches I receive from men outnumbers the pitches I see from women by several orders of magnitude. I can add, again purely anecdotally, that women largely send in pitches for reported pieces, and are far less inclined to frame a piece as an "argument"—which may prove Tannen's point that argument is not necessarily a comfortable or natural mode of communication for women (a phenomenon I observed in law school as well). This is, in short, an insanely interesting thought problem to which we are applying very little interesting thought.
Steve attributes this difference to a preference on the part of women for more practical pursuits.
Women are simply, on average, more practical than men. They aren't as interested in big issues where they are unlikely to have much impact. They are more interested in how to improve their own lives and those of the people they care about.
I've spent enormous amounts of time standing around magazine racks in my life, and I can assure you that women almost never look at the prestige section where they group together "The Economist," "The New Republic," and "The National Interest," and other journals that don't have anything to do with your personal life. Attractive single women look at fashion and beauty magazines. Attractive married women look at expensive home decorating magazines.
From the standpoint of natural selection this female preference makes perfect sense.
The median woman's life is simply more important from a Darwinian perspective than the median man's life because women are the limiting resource in reproduction, so they can't afford to waste their lives on disinterested interests, like all those guys who submit op-eds to Dahlia Lithwick about, say, the Lebanese situation even though, in practical sense, Lebanon is irrelevant to their lives.
One way to look at the complaints of Estrich and company is that they either want women to be more like men or they want men to make it easy for women to get as much prestige and power as successful men get but without all the hard work it takes to come influential and successful.
Gee, thanks, Susan. Political pundit Susan Estrich has launched a venomous campaign against the Los Angeles Times’s op-ed editor, Michael Kinsley, for alleged discrimination against female writers. As it happens, I have published in the Los Angeles Times op-ed pages over the years, without worrying too much about whether I was merely filling a gender quota. Now, however, if I appear in the Times again, I will assume that my sex characteristics, rather than my ideas, got me accepted.
Ms. Estrich’s insane ravings against the Times cap a month that left one wondering whether the entry of women into the intellectual and political arena has been an unqualified boon. In January, nearly the entire female professoriate at Harvard (and many of their feminized male colleagues) rose up in outrage at the mere suggestion of an open discussion about a scientific hypothesis. That hypothesis, of course, concerned the possibly unequal distribution of cognitive skills across the male and female populations.Harvard President Lawrence Summers had had the temerity to suggest that the continuing preponderance of men in scientific fields, despite decades of vigorous gender equity initiatives in schools and universities, may reflect something other than sexism. It might reflect the fact, Mr. Summers hypothesized, that the male population has a higher percentage of mathematical geniuses (and mathematical dolts) than the female population, in which mathematical reasoning skills may be more evenly distributed.
Meanwhile there's science. It is becoming harder and harder to deny what it is saying about human nature. Cognitive differences in averages and distributions between sexes and races are going to get hammered down at the genetic level. What are the leftists going to do then? Reject all of science?
If women want to be heard on various political issues there are no obstacles in the way of blogging. Women can make names for themselves (and a few do; economist Lynne Kiesling has a high position on my FuturePundit blog roll due to the quality of her posts). It only takes hard work and talent. Male chauvinism is an increasingly unconvincing explanation for what is happening in the blogosphere or in the rest of society.
In addition, China or its businesses have reportedly:
• provided a radio-jamming device for a military base outside the capital, preventing independent stations from balancing state-controlled media during the election campaign;
• begun to deliver 12 fighter jets and 100 trucks to Zimbabwe's Army amid a Western arms embargo; and
• designed President Robert Mugabe's new 25-bedroom mansion, complete with helipad. The cobalt-blue tiles for its swooping roof, which echoes Beijing's Forbidden City, were a Chinese gift.
China is increasingly making its presence felt on the continent - from building roads in Kenya and Rwanda to increasing trade with Uganda and South Africa. But critics say its involvement in politics could help prop up questionable regimes, like Mr. Mugabe's increasingly autocratic 25-year reign.
China is surpassing the United States as the largest trading partner for an increasing list of nations. The Chinese economy's hunger for oil and natural resources and is going to give countries in the Middle East, Africa, and other regions a major power to turn to for support against the United States and Europe. China is a competing model for less developed countries to aspire to. It is becoming affluent without democracy and with little sign that it will become democratic, let alone a liberal democracy.
China's influence is going to prop up regimes that really deserve to fall. Mugabe's regime in Zimbabwe is a poster child for what is wrong with governments in Africa. Though even without China's growing role of supporter of tyrants and bad governments it is unlikely that America and Europe would do much about the quality of governance in the basket case countries of the world. Post-colonial guilt stoked by lefists combined with a reluctance to pay the cost of imperialism leaves the West unwilling to pay to reestablish some form of colonial rule in Africa and other failed states (e.g. Haiti).
Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times reports that many people in Zimbabwe wish the white government of Rhodesia could resume rule in Zimbabwe.
The hungry children and the families dying of AIDS here are gut-wrenching, but somehow what I find even more depressing is this: Many, many ordinary black Zimbabweans wish that they could get back the white racist government that oppressed them in the 1970's.
"If we had the chance to go back to white rule, we'd do it," said Solomon Dube, a peasant whose child was crying with hunger when I arrived in his village. "Life was easier then, and at least you could get food and a job."
Well maybe the Chinese will find ways to effectively rule parts of Africa while pretending not to. Unburdened by guilt or the need for openness and motivated by desire for access to lots of raw materials they might be able to stealthily rule whole countries and take on what may some day be called the yellow man's burden.
Will future superpower China improve the lot of the people living in the more chaotic regions of the world? What do you think?
The editors of the Christian Science Monitor call current enforcement of laws against hiring illegal immigrants "pathetically inadequate" and call out for tougher enforcement of laws against hiring illegal immigrants.
Ha ha ha. That's a good one. Wal-Mart, a company with $285 billion in sales, gets fined a mere $11 million earlier this month for having hundreds of illegal immigrants clean its stores.
The federal government boasts it's the largest fine of its kind. But for Wal-Mart, it amounts to a rounding error - and no admittance of wrongdoing since it claims it didn't know its contractors hired the illegals.
The Monitor's editors point out that the big surge in illegal immigrants is depressing wages of Americans and that the claim illegals take jobs Americans won't do is false.
The Wal-Mart fine is unusual. Enforcement actions against employers have declined from low to near non-existent.
Even so, the sanctions' decline is staggering. In 1999, fines totaling $3.69 million were collected from 890 companies. Last year, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) collected $118,500 from 64 companies. But it levied zero fines. Zero.
Lax enforcement spans administrations, and experts blame the twin pressures of ethnic advocacy and business interests.
If Hillary Clinton sticks with her tough rhetoric against illegal immigration and the Republican Party nominates an Open Border Bush clone I'm voting for Hillary in 2008.
Robert Samuelson of Newsweek asks will oil prices stay high as a consequence of rising demand in China?
Americans consume almost 21 million barrels of oil a day, a quarter of the world total of 84 million barrels a day, reports the International Energy Agency. But China is now second at 6.4 million barrels a day, and its demand could double by 2020, various analysts told a conference held last week by the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) in Washington.
China currently produces 3.5 million barrels of oil per day. That production probably will not rise. So all of China's increase in demand is likely to come from imports.
In 15 years China may have 6 times as many cars and trucks as it has now.
China now has about 20 million cars and trucks, energy consultant James Dorian said; by 2020, it could have 120 million. (In 2001, the United States had about 230 million cars, vans and trucks.)
Demand from America will rise. Demand from many other parts of the world will rise. At the same time, production will decline in most countries that produce oil as their oil fields become more depleted.
You can read texts from the CSIS conference (PDF format) that inspired Robert Samuelson's column.
From the conference James Dorian's speech on China's present and future energy usage is particularly interesting. Coal is currently China's biggest source of energy and in part due to expected growth in coal consumption China may surpass the United States in carbon dioxide emissions by 2020. (PDF format)
Coal makes up roughly 70 percent of China’s energy mix and will remain the most dominant energy source over the next few decades. Coal accounts for about 70 percent of China’s power production as well, in addition to hydro and nuclear. This is very important as much of the attention paid to China by the international media seems to focus on oil and gas—yet coal represents the backbone of the nation’s economy. At least 6 million persons are employed in China’s huge coal industry, and thousands of mines of all sizes dot the countryside. Coal provides a significant 7 percent of urban industrial jobs, in a country with rising urban unemployment. In recent years, however, numerous coal mining accidents, transportation bottlenecks, and inefficient pricing mechanisms have plagued the sector, putting additional stress on an already highly strained electric power generation system. China’s future economy may indeed be affected by coal industry bottlenecks—assuming that they are not adequately dealt with by the Chinese leadership.
A huge majority of Chinese power plants are in fact coal-based or coal-fired--reflecting coal’s overwhelming importance to the country’s economy—and since coal will likely remain the primary power source for decades to come, there is some likelihood that air quality will not improve noticeably in the immediate years ahead. With regard to China’s air pollution problems, on its present course, China may overtake the US in emissions of carbon dioxide by 2020, which poses some difficulty for the world community considering that China—as a developing country—is exempt from cutting greenhouse gas emissions under the Kyoto Protocol.
Dorian sees increasing competition for oil.
Clearly, rapid energy growth in China is leading to dramatic impacts throughout the world in terms of commodity markets and prices, and within China, growing thirst for energy is creating a new sense of urgency and energy insecurity. Indeed, the means by which Beijing chooses to deal with its energy security will not only affect the Chinese economy, but the global economy as well. China’s energy needs have global implications today, as was witnessed last year through competition with Japan for imported oil from Russia. Ultimately the US, China, and Japan will be vying for the same Middle Eastern crude oil. Over the next two decades, China will play a larger and larger role in the Middle East since the country is so dependent on foreign oil imports, as well as Central Asia, West Africa, and other parts of the world which could help meet China’s growing energy requirements.
At an earlier January 11, 2005 CSIS presentation Herman Franssen argued that independent oil companies (IOCs - not government owned) expect long term oil prices to be well above previous expectations of $20 per barrel.
First and foremost is the tightening of the entire oil supply chain from the upstream to the mid and downstream. One does not have to be a convert to the “Peak Oil” concept to be aware that outside the FSU oil production appears to be very near peaking, with output from new discoveries just barely offsetting depletion in mature producing conventional oilfields. Several recent well-documented technical assessments of FSU production capacity point in the direction of output peaking in the FSU sometime by the middle of the next decade. Within OPEC perhaps one third of the countries have either reached or are likely to reach peak capacity sometime in this decade. As for the other, high oil reserve OPEC countries, the pre-2000 prevalent perception of ever expanding OPEC conventional oil production capacity to meet ever growing future oil demand, has been gradually been abandoned in favor of more constrained scenarios.
Up until recently IOCs used $18-20 ($16-20 prior to 2000) as a benchmark/hurdle rate price to test the economic viability of upstream projects. While they are still cautious, most IOCs now use a price level closer to $25 for this purpose and several CEOs of major IOCs have publicly stated that we are now in a $30-plus oil market. The $18-20/B long term equilibrium price has disappeared from the literature.
For the United States 21 million barrels per day times 365 days per year is 7,665 million barrels per year. Therefore each 1 dollar increase in oil prices costs $7.665 billion dollars to the US economy. Since the United States imports almost 60 percent of its oil each dollar increase in oil prices worsens the yearly US trade deficit by about $4.6 billion. The percentage of oil which is imported will continue to rise as US production declines and demand increases.
Currently oil prices are bouncing around north of $50 per barrel. A recession in China and the United States may eventually temporarily dampen demand. But I think we have entered a period of sustained high energy prices that will last until cheaper non-oil energy sources are developed. We could hasten that day with an aggressive and wide-ranging program of energy research to the tune of about $10 billion per year. The cost would be equivalent to less than $2 per barrel of oil consumed in the United States. The future benefits would include much lower energy prices, higher living standards, a cleaner environment, a more favorable trade balance, and a lessened need for the United States to involve itself militarily and diplomatically in the Middle East.
Steve Sailer just bought a Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner so that one of his children could get a rabbit even though another of his children is allergic to animal fur. Steve uses his Roomba as a starting point to examine labor shortages as an incentive for very beneficial innovation.
Recall that a 1997 National Academy of Sciences study found that an immigrant with less than a high school education will on average cost the taxpayers $100,000 more in government spending over her lifetime than she will pay in taxes.
One lesson of history since the start of the Industrial Revolution 250 years ago is that countries don't advance economically by importing unskilled workers to "do the jobs that natives won't do," but by substituting machines for human labor.
For example, because the Roman Empire exploited countless slaves conquered in foreign wars, it lacked incentives to increase labor efficiency through mechanization. Productivity never took off, and eventually the civilization collapsed into poverty.
As I pointed out here a year ago [Japanese Substitute Inventiveness for Immigration], the Japanese have become obsessed with the promise of robots.
It is extremely disappointing to me when I read some supposed expert or commentator arguing for more immigration claim that the United States will be short x many million workers 10 or 20 years from now. There was a time in this country when the standard response to labor shortages was to look for ways to automate. American business developed the automated factory to the point of becoming an envy for the entire world. The term "Yankee ingenuity" embodied a major part of America's image at home and abroad.
Nowadays throwing more labor at a problem is the first solution proposed in political discussions. Schools perform poorly? Hire more teachers. Crime too high? Hire more police. Why not automate instead? Most teachers are mediocre. Why not film the very best teachers and let everyone watch the best? We could simultaneously improve quality and lower costs! Why not develop more automated means to detect and track criminals and to protect assets from being stolen? Why not stop letting in people who commit crimes at high rates and deport the foreign criminals who are already here? We should innovate our way to a better society rather than import labor that pays little in taxes while imposing medical and other costs.
People who have 8th grade educations bring more costs than benefits. Few Hispanic immigrants are going to be technological innovators. They come from societies that are notably lacking in scientific and technological achievements. In America as a group they do poorly in school across generations. They are not going to supply many engineers to develop more efficient factories or better product designs. They are not going to produce many medical researchers.
Cheap labor decreases the incentive to automate. Businesses derive a short run benefit to their bottom lines but at the cost of delaying efforts to improve productivity and quality through automation. Innovations that automate production can improve quality and lower costs more effectively than cheap imported labor.
Even with a large pool of cheap foreign labor, there will always be some increases in harvest labor productivity. Capital or machines are normally substituted for workers when wages rise, but there may be reasons to substitute capital for labor that aren't related to wages. For example, as water became scarcer and more costly in the 1980s and 1990s in California, more farmers turned to drip irrigation — it uses less water and, almost as an afterthought, also saves millions of hours of labor. Similarly, picking wine grapes by machine can improve the quality of the wine in hotter areas because the machines can harvest at night, so most of California's wine grapes are now picked by machine.
But the basic truth still holds — foreign farm labor keeps wages low and serves as a disincentive to mechanization. In fact, the wages of farmworkers have been decreasing over the past decade. A March 2000 report from the Labor Department found that the real wages of farmworkers have fallen from $6.89 per hour in 1989 to $6.18 per hour in 1998. A new guestworker program, or continued official encouragement of illegal immigration, is likely to continue this downward trend in farmworker wages. This may seem superficially appealing to farmers, but from a competitive point of view, vying with low-wage countries on the basis of labor costs is a dead end — no modern society, will ever be willing to reduce farmworkers' wages enough to match those paid in third world countries.
Toyota, faced with the competitive threat of cheap Chinese labor, has opted to pursue development of robots that will allow Toyota to compete while still retaining production facilities in Japan. We can relearn from the Japanese an attitude our society used to accept as a given: Continuously increasing productivity is the path to higher living standards, not the importation of low skilled laborers who drive down the hourly labor costs of the lower classes while simultaneously sticking American taxpayers will big bills for police, jails, medical care, and other costs.
Composed of mostly Salvadorans and other Central Americans—many of them undocumented—the gang has a uniquely international profile, with an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 members in 33 states in the United States (out of more than 700,000 gang members overall), and tens of thousands more in Central America. It's considered the fastest-growing, most violent and least understood of the nation's street gangs—in part because U.S. law enforcement has not been watching as closely as it might have. As authorities have focused their attention on the war against terrorism, MS-13 has proliferated. In the FBI's D.C. field office, the number of agents dedicated to gang investigations declined by 50 percent.
The article says MS-13 is found even in such places as Boise Idaho and Omaha Nebraska. Yes, Hispanic immigration can ruin even the plains states and the states in the Rockies.
Oscar Bonilla of El Salvador's National Council for Public Security says MS-13 in the United States may become as well organized and therefore more effective as it is in El Salvador.
If MS-13 is seeking to create a national command in the United States, it would be emulating its model in El Salvador. There, says Oscar Bonilla, director of the National Council for Public Security, the gang is "highly organized and disciplined ... with semi-clandestine structures and vertical commands." As a result, its criminal operations are all the more efficient and pervasive. The administration of President Tony Saca has responded with a super mano dura ("super hard hand") policy, reforming the penal code to facilitate gang prosecutions. "We're not dealing with Boy Scouts or bums," Saca told NEWSWEEK. "We're dealing with true assassins, rapists."
To native American citizens I ask this question: Hasn't mass Hispanic immigration become a case of Monty Pythonesque "Getting Hit Over The Head Lessons"? Why inflict a massive killer gang on ourselves? And, yes, we are inflicting it on ourselves by allowing our elites to leave our borders uncontrolled and our immigration laws poorly enforced. It is possible to stop 99.99% of illegal immigration and to deport the vast bulk of the illegals that are already here. Just one year of government costs for treating illegal aliens would pay for a border barrier with Mexico. Stopping the influx would lower the rates of rape, attempted murder, murder, assault, robbery, and a long list of other crimes that Hispanics commit at higher rates than whites.
Crime is just one part of the Hispanic immigration problem. Another big part is their group's abysmal failure in our school systems. In the Los Angeles Unified School District only 39% of Hispanics graduate from high school.
The state has reported a graduation rate of 87 percent, but the Harvard researchers found an overall graduation rate of 71 percent for 2002. Graduation rates for non-Asian minority students were significantly lower, with a 57 percent rate for blacks, 60 percent for Latinos and 52 percent for American Indians. For minority males, the figures were even worse: 50 percent for blacks, 54 percent for Latinos and 46 percent for American Indians.
In the LAUSD, just 39 percent of Latino students and 47 percent of African-American students graduate in four years.
Six of the state’s largest ten school districts graduate less than half of their Latino students: Los Angeles, San Diego, Fresno, Oakland, Sacramento City and San Bernardino City.
75% of Los Angeles students are Hispanic. So their school system is going to be a permanent basket case. Even if LAUSD was to improve to the point of approaching national Hispanic high school graduation rates that would not help much. Nationwide only 47% of Hispanic males graduate from high school. Heavily Hispanic Texas now has the lowest high school graduation rate in the country.
Contrast those Hispanic and black LA graduation figures for 2002 with another study that looked at graduation rates in states in 1998. States with few blacks or Hispanics have very high high school graduation rates.
Looking at statewide numbers, Iowa led the way with 93 percent of its public high school students graduating in 1998, followed by Wisconsin and North Dakota (both 87 percent), and Nebraska, Pennsylvania and Vermont (all 85 percent). Minnesota, Illinois, Connecticut, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Montana also were at 80 percent or better.
America does not have a happy melting pot future. The wealth gap between the races is widening. Some argue that this situation will fix itself as immigrant groups improve in later generations. However, all evidence supports the argument that "Immigrants Do Not Improve Academically In Later Generations". A previous post takes this information from a Samuel P. Huntington article in Foreign Policy. Check out the abysmal performance of later generations of Mexican immigrants to the United States.
Update: One argument made by defenders of massive immigration from Mexico is that the initial immigrants may not be well educated but the successive generations of their children and grandchildren will eventually approach US norms. Well, no. The most stunning table in Huntington's article shows little improvement in education attainment across generations of Mexican immigrants.
Education of Mexican Americans by Generation (1989-90)
* Except Mexican Americans, 1990
First Second Third Fourth All Americans * No high school degree (%) 69.9 51.5 33.0 41.0 23.5 High school degree (%) 24.7 39.2 58.5 49.4 30.4 Post high school degree (%) 5.4 9.3 8.5 9.6 45.1
Look at the bottom row showing post-high school achievement even into the fourth generation. This is happening in spite of the fact that racial quotas for college admissions used by so many colleges and universities have long applied not just to blacks but to Hispanics as well. This is a stunning result. I honestly expected a higher figure just because enough universities have enough dubious departments with low standards that it is possible to get a bachelor's degree without studying much difficult material.
It is extremely irresponsible for America's elites to continue to support mass Hispanic immigration.
Note: Thanks to TangoMan of the Gene Expression blog for a heads-up on the Newsweek article.
The trust fund for Social Security will go broke in 2041 -- a year earlier than previously estimated -- the trustees reported Wednesday. Trustees also said that Medicare, the giant healthcare program for the elderly and disabled, faces insolvency in 2020.
But the real financial crisis will come much sooner.
Equally important are when benefits paid to the elderly start exceeding the payroll taxes designated to support the two programs. That's when the government will have to increase its borrowing on financial markets, raise taxes or divert money from other government programs to sustain Medicare and Social Security at current levels.
For Medicare, the threshold when benefits exceed program income occurred last year. For Social Security, that threshold will be crossed in 2017, one year earlier than the 2018 date projected in last year's report.
In 2004, combined benefits paid out by Social Security and Medicare exceeded the programs' tax revenues by less than $50 billion. By 2017, that shortfall is projected to hit $515 billion, or 2.3% of GDP.
While Medicare outlays currently equals 2.6% of GDP and Social Security is 4.3% at some point in the future the more rapid growth of Medicare will make Medicare a larger percentage of GDP than Social Security. Medicare's unfunded liabilities are several times the size of Social Security unfunded liabilities. This is, parenthetically, one reason why I'm far more interested in health policy than I am in Social Security reform.
To pay all scheduled benefits over the next 75 years, the government would have to raise an additional $4 trillion in today's dollars, $300 billion higher than the figure projected last year.
I think these projections understate the size of the problem because medical science is going to advance more rapidly and extend life expectancy more rapidly than the actuaries are assuming. We need to raise the retirement age. We need much more medical research aimed at developing treatments that will delay the onset of deterioration and diseases that reduce the ability of people to work in late middle age.
One way to measure that shortfall is to calculate how much you would need to raise payroll taxes to keep the system solvent for the next 75 years. Based on the latest numbers, the payroll tax would have to be raised 1.92 percentage points to 14.32 percent of wages. Currently, the payroll tax rate is 12.4 percent, half of which is paid by employers and half by employees.
Another way to measure it is in terms of benefits, which would need to be cut by 13 percent to achieve solvency over 75 years.
I think the voters are too ignorant and lazy to think their way through the choices and trade-offs. Most people don't want to accept that they must either get less benefits or pay more in taxes. So demagogues in Congress will probably manage to derail any reforms.
After adjusting for inflation, average weekly wages for production and non-managerial workers fell o.4 percent last month, and dropped 0.8 percent over the 12 months that ended in February, the department said. Those employees account for about 80 percent of the labor force.
In addition to energy prices, another reason for rising inflation pressures is that the economy has been growing rapidly so far this year, at about a 4.5 percent annual rate, according to some estimates, fueled by strong consumer spending and business investment.
The economy is growing rapidly and yet wages are not keeping up with inflation. Why? Rising oil prices are one reason for this. But Morgan Stanley chief economist Stephen Roach says this recovery is different because foreign workers are competing more directly with American white colllar workers and keeping down white collar wages.
This development stands in sharp contrast with real wage patterns in earlier periods. This can best be seen by looking at cyclical patterns in average hourly earnings, a series that has a longer history than the ECI. In contrast with the real wage stagnation 39 months into the current recovery, real wages have normally risen 1-2% by this point in the past four business cycles. While that doesn’t sound like a huge bonanza for the American worker, it underscores one of the time-honored axioms of economics: Over the broad sweep of time, real wages are closely aligned with underlying productivity growth. Ironically, there was a tighter linkage in past cycles, when US productivity growth was running at only a 1.6% average pace over the 1970-95 period, than there has been in the current cycle, when productivity trends have accelerated to a more robust 3.1% annual pace in the post-1995 period. Obviously, something very unusual has gone on in the current cycle -- first a jobless recovery of record proportions and now an unprecedented degree of real wage stagnation.
The most likely explanation, in my view, is a new strain of globalization. The global labor arbitrage has a rich and long history, but for some time I have argued that it has entered an entirely different realm in the Internet age (see my 5 October 2003 essay, “The Global Labor Arbitrage”). Courtesy of e-based connectivity, both tradable goods and an increasingly broad array of once non-tradable services can now be sourced anywhere around the world. That has turned low-labor-cost platforms in places such as China (goods) and India (services) into both wage- and price-setters at the margin. During the early stages of the current recovery, I argued these offshore employment options played an important role in crimping domestic hiring. Now, I suspect these same forces are having an important impact on the US real wage cycle. Put yourself in the position of an American corporate decision maker: Why pay up for a software programmer at home when you can get the same functionality at a fraction of the cost from Bangalore?
The reading on the Consumer Price index, the government's main inflation gauge, came in higher than most economists had forecast. The Labor Department said CPI rose 0.4 percent in February after a 0.1 percent increase in January. It was the biggest increase since October.
The "core" CPI, which excludes often volatile food and energy prices, rose 0.3 percent after a 0.2 percent January increase, the department said.
The Fed nudged up short-term interest rates for the seventh time in the last year, raising the federal funds rate on overnight loans between banks to 2.75 percent from 2.5 percent. It restated its intention to keep raising them at a "measured" pace in the months ahead.
While high oil prices and foreign competition are keeping down real wages America is running a huge and unsustainable trade deficit. We could hit a point where the dollar starts declining against East Asian currencies causing inflation in imported goods prices while interest rates rise as East Asian central banks stop heavy buying of US Treasuries. The US could be pushed into a recession by all these pressures.
A closely watched civil rights lawsuit involving the Berkeley Unified School District was settled out of court yesterday. African American and Latino students who filed a federal class action lawsuit, Smith v. Berkeley Unified School District, in August 2004 for being wrongfully expelled from Berkeley High School will be allowed to return to classes. The students alleged that they were denied their constitutional right to a formal hearing before being excluded from school for various disciplinary reasons.
"This is a noteworthy victory for the students and the community," said William Abrams, co-counsel on the case and senior partner at the law firm Pillsbury Winthrop LLP, who represented the plaintiffs on a pro bono basis. "Now that their due process rights have been enforced, the students can get back to the classroom and move forward with their education."
This is a noteworthy defeat for teachers, well behaved students, and the community.
I wonder whether William Abrams recognizes the right of better behaved students to not be assaulted or threatened or to not have their class time disrupted by unruly students. The victims of court rulings of this sort are the better behaved students who are prevented from learning by ill-behaved students and the teachers who are afraid (with good cause) of violent adolescent males. Better teachers are scared away from the schools which have the most dangerous students. Students are distracted from learning and are presented with the worst sorts of role models in the form of the most dangerous students.
The civil rights movement legal activists have become a mockery of what they purport to defend. Turning every institution in America into an extension of the legal system does not make the society more fair overall. Putting more obstacles in the way of school administrators who are trying to maintain a safe learning environment does very real harm.
The court should butt out of areas that are better controlled by elected school boards, elected local governments, and elected state governments. Judges acting as legislators are a bane on American society.
"Prime Minister Koizumi of Japan said his country 'in general' needed to consider diversifying its foreign currency reserves, the world's largest. 'I think it's necessary to diversify the investment destinations' of foreign reserves, Koizumi said. 'At the same time, we have to make a judgment in general, considering what's profitable and what's stable.' This is a big step for Japan, as they have generally always talked about their reserves as a monetary policy tool, rather than a financial investment. With $820 billion now at stake it is clear that the government is concerned about their returns, and the returns of dollar assets to a global investor have recently been ugly. If Japan is going to start moving $820 billion dollars around, it is inevitable that others will try to get ahead of them." (Bridgewater)
Immediately, Japanese Ministry of Finance officials began to either outright deny Koizumi's statement or suggest that the press did not understand the clear intentions of his words. But understand this, if the dollar were to drop 15% against other Asian currencies, while Japan fought to maintain their dollar yen ratio above Y100 to the dollar, Japan would lose over $100 billion in purchasing power. That is not small potatoes. Koizumi recognizes this and also recognizes the serious strain that their government deficits and huge debts have on their economy. Koizumi was clearly stating that losing $100 billion is not going to be politically acceptable.
As I said a few weeks ago, the dollar is going to become the Old Maid. It is going to start being passed around from country to country in an effort to lessen the impact of a falling dollar in the local economy.
At some point East Asian policy makers are going to accept that they can't keep propping up their currencies against the dollar.
Morgan Stanley chief economist Stephen Roach also thinks the US trade deficit and the East Asian holdings of US debt have both gotten so large that East Asian central banks are going to start looking for ways to minimize their losses when the dollar inevitably declines against their currencies.
And so the US must then run massive and ever-widening current account deficits to attract that foreign capital. And ever-widening it is: America’s broadest measure of its external shortfall was just reported to have hit an all-time record of 6.3% of GDP in 4Q04 -- an astonishing 1.8 percentage point deterioration from the 4.5% deficit a year-earlier in 4Q03. Not only is this a record current-account deficit for the US, but it is also a record financing burden for the rest of the world. Based on the annualized current account deficit of slightly more than $750 billion in the final period of 2004, America now requires an average of $2.9 billion of capital inflows each and every business day to keep the magic going.
Roach says the foreign buyers of US Treasuries are on the verge of deciding that adding ever larger quantities of US Treasuries to their portfolios is too bad of an investment to continue buying much longer.
The Washington spin is that foreigners can’t get enough of dollar-denominated assets and the returns they offer in an otherwise return-starved world. Don’t kid yourself. This rush of foreign capital is not about private investors plunging back into US assets. It is a conscious policy move on the part of foreign central banks. The US Treasury data do not accurately reflect the obvious -- an extraordinary build-up of dollar-denominated official foreign exchange reserves held by the world’s monetary authorities. By our estimates (based on IMF data), total reserves increased by about $700 billion from year-end 2003 to year-end 2004. Assuming that the dollar share of such holdings held steady at around 70% (an official BIS estimate as of late 2003), that implies an increase of nearly $500 billion in dollar-denominated holdings of the world’s central banks -- confirming that foreign central banks financed about 75% of America’s current account deficit last year. That policy-driven financing is a bold effort on the part of foreign central banks to keep their currencies from rising and defer what could be an otherwise painfully classic US current account adjustment -- complete with a further decline in the dollar and sharply higher US interest rates. The resulting subsidy to US interest rates -- and the asset-driven consumption that engenders -- goes a long way in cushioning the blows of stagnant real wages and surging oil prices that might have otherwise clobbered the American consumer.But the message from overseas is that this game is just about over. One by one, Asian central banks -- America’s financiers at the margin -- have dropped the not-so-subtle hint that they are saturated with dollar-denominated assets. From Korea and Japan to China and India -- not to dismiss Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Singapore -- there is a growing protest to massive dollar overweights in official reserve portfolios.
Andy Xie, also of Morgan Stanley but stationed in Hong Kong, says property bubbles in the United States and China can not go on indefinitely.
What may occur soon is another scare, in my view. Property bubbles support demand in the US and China. Until property prices begin to decline in New York and Shanghai, the game is not over.
Household real estate values in the US increased by $2 trillion or 13.4% in 2004 compared to $1.4 trillion or 10.5% in 2003. US personal consumption rose by $505 billion in 2004. On the surface, the balance sheet of the US household sector is much stronger than one year ago due to asset inflation. As long as property prices keep appreciating at the current pace, why should the US consumer stop spending and start saving?
Strong US consumption has kept China’s exports strong. Hot money continues to pour into China. China is not investing all the money that it has. The surplus liquidity in the banking system is very high. China’s property sector continues to expand rapidly. Over the past three years, property prices have doubled in major cities in the Yangtze Delta region and increased by 60% in most provincial capital cities. The sales of new properties reached 7.4% of GDP from 4.7% three years ago and 2.1% in 1997. New property projects have been growing at 15% per annum in square meters in the past three years. The properties under construction, when completed, are worth more than one-third of GDP at current prices. As most developers expect double-digit price increases, the inventory-carrying profit is expected to exceed 3% of GDP per annum. The profits of S&P 500 companies are only 3.5% of the US’s GDP. This is why the investment desire is so strong in China.
The problem with the US property bubble is that it is making people think they are worth more and therefore they are more eager to spend money than they ought to be. By purchasing such large quantities of US Treasuries East Asian central bankers have created large distortions in American market's demand for capital, housing, and consumer goods. When East Asian central banks slow or stop their US Treasury bond buying spree interest rates in the US will rise and that will put a big crimp into US housing prices. Prices of imports will rise while at the same time foreign demand for US products combined with a shift of US demand from foreign to local goods will create additional inflationary pressures. The coming decline of the East Asian demand for US debt will therefore likely trigger an inflationary recession.
The US Department of Homeland Security has written up 12 terrorist attack scenarios and 3 natural disaster scenarios in a document entitled National Planning Scenarios which showed up on a Hawaii state government web site.
WASHINGTON — A truck driven by terrorists goes down the streets of five large cities over two weeks quietly spraying anthrax spores, ultimately exposing 328,000 people and killing 13,300 while costing the economy billions of dollars.
It's a chilling possibility, one of 15 doomsday scenarios that Homeland Security authorities developed at the request of President Bush to better focus funding and to help state and local officials plan for terrorism and natural disasters.
The three most deadly scenarios outlined iin this report are explosion of a liquid chlorine tank (17,500 dead), a truck that sprays anthrax in 5 cities (13,500 dead - that is the NY Times figure), and the obvious nuclear bomb. Note that out of those three the one that is most avoidable is probably the attack on the chlorine tank. If chlorine processing plants were sited in very low population density areas and heavily automated to boot then blowing one up couldn't kill very many people. So what is the cost of moving a chlorine processing plant?
The problem with avoiding deaths from anthrax is that a lot of people would develop advanced infections before even a single patient was properly diagnosed. That would give the anthrax in their bodies time produce a lot of toxins. If anthrax diagnoses can be made earlier then very few people would have to die. The pathogen is easily killed off by a wide range of antibiotics and antibiotics delivered in the first few days of infection would prevent the bulk of the toxin production. The ability to detect an attack in its early states could greatly reduce the death toll. Though if a truck was driving from city to city to spray anthrax the challenge would become to figure out for which cities to do massive administration of antibiotics and to have enough drugs to use for this purpose. Obviously, sensors developed to detect an anthrax attack and deployed in cities would make that job much easier. The death toll from an anthrax attack could be greatly reduced by development of drugs that neutralize anthrax toxins and some promising preliminary work to develop anti-toxins has been done. Another possibility is the development of a really cheap and fast test that could be easily performed in emergency rooms. That would likely lead to detection of an attack at an earlier stage.
By contrast, terrorists using a small aircraft to spray chemical blister agent over a packed college football stadium would leave 150 dead and 70,000 taken to hospital, costing $500 million (£261 million).
If terrorists released sarin gas into the ventilation systems of three large office buildings, it would kill 6,000 and cost $300 million.
Note that so far Al Qaeda has been a combination of too dumb and too damaged by US and allied intelligence and law enforcement operations to carry out any big attacks post-9/11.
The report also included 3 natural disaster scenarios.
To ensure that emergency planning is adequate for most possible hazards, three catastrophic natural events are included: an influenza pandemic, a magnitude 7.2 earthquake in a major city and a slow-moving Category 5 hurricane hitting a major East Coast city.
I am personally worried more about getting killed in the outbreak of a new deadly strain of flu than I am about any of the terrorist scenarios. If avian flu establishes itself in human populations we'd all be in danger of dying.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said Wednesday it was a mistake for Hawaii to post a confidential report on its Web site, but the department will continue to communicate openly with state and local authorities about potential terror threats.
The released report was on Hawaii's web site for over three months before it was noticed by the mainstream press. My guess is there are enough radical Islamic hot heads out there trolling the internet that they managed to get a copy before it got pulled. There is an obvious lesson from all this: We ought to try harder to keep terrorists from crossing our borders.
State officials claim the report was not marked as secret or confidential or anything that suggested it not be released to the public. But Chertoff makes it sound like the report was pulled simply because it was not a finished product.
''My understanding is that this was an error,'' Chertoff said.Noting the report was still in draft stages, Chertoff said Homeland Security wanted ''a finished product out there. So that's unfortunate. But it's not going to deter us from working closely with our state and local partners in fashioning these plans.''
Any discussion of our greatest vulnerabilities and what to do to lessen those vulnerabilities inevitably tips off our enemies as to what those vulnerabilities are and how best to exploit them. But in most cases the public discussion seems necessary. In the cases where reducing vulnerabilities will cost a lot of money a public airing is necessary to be able to form a consensus on whether some cost must be incurred. Also, some of the outlined methods of attack are pretty obvious and have been discussed publically on other occasions.
One reason terrorism is so attractive to terrorists is that terrorist attacks can be so visually dramatic. Fear of a chlorine tank's exploding and killing tens of thousands of people is a small thing compared to the threat of natural mutations in influenza viruses producing a strain that could kill tens or perhaps hundreds of millions of people. Yet there are far smallers effort under way to develop protections against a killer flu strain than against various terrorist attack scenarios.
Washington Post reporter Jefferson Morley, in responding to questions and criticisms from readers, notes that the replacement of dictatorships with democracies in the Middle East may well produce democratic governments that are far more opposed to US policies than the elites in charge of current that will be replaced.
Your question about what would Bush do if democratic forces in the Middle East attempt to defy American interests is very much to the point. Indeed, it is the question of U.S. policy in the Middle East for the foreseeable future.
President Bush said today that tyrants become fearful in the face of democracy. Those "tyrants" (in the case of Egypt and Saudi Arabia) are also reliable American allies who do not cross U.S. policymakers when it comes to oil and Israel. If they are replaced by more democratic but more anti-American governments, what will the U.S. do? Its a very good question.
Democratically elected governments will simultaneously find it easier to resist American demands. At the same time they will find it harder to give into American demands as they will feel pressure to respond to popular wishes in order to remain in office. How will this trend affect US national security? Will these nations with democratically elected governments be better or worse breeding grounds for terrorists and for radical Islamists that help create the environment that breeds terrorism? I'm guessing democratically elected governments will give greater leeway to the radical Islamic clerics and some of those clerics and their followers will make it into government.
A recent poll found that 49% of Lebanese see US influence in the world as mainly negative versus 33% who see it as positive. Muslim and democratic Turkey puts US influence as 62% negative and 18% positive and Muslim and democratic Indonesia sees the US at 51% negative and 38% positive.
Parenthetically, even though our elites have allowed tens of millions of Mexicans to enter and live in the US legally and illegally and the government has granted citizenship to tens of millions and to their children 57% of Mexicans see the US as a negativee influence on the world and only 11% see the US as positive. Perhaps familiarity breeds contempt and resentment. Why don't we try to make the Mexicans a lot less familiar with us by deporting all the illegals and building a barrier on the US-Mexican border to keep them out?
Speaking of democratic processes that do not always produce pro-American or pro-capitalist governments, Steve Sailer observes that the trend in Latin American democracy is running in a very leftist and anti-market direction.
The Tidal Wave of Capitalist Democracy is so ten years ago in Latin America, where leftism is on the rise again ... democratically, of course, while the pro-capitalists are reduced to searching for non-democratic means to prevent leftists from winning elections. In Mexico, Fox conspires with his former enemies in the PRI to find a technicality to prevent the leftist mayor of Mexico City, Lopez Obrador, from running for President in 2006 on the PRD ticket. In Venezuela, the Bush Administration backed a military coup that briefly overthrew the Fidelista president Chavez, until people power in the streets intimidated the military into saying, "Never mind."
As I pointed out in my review of "Hotel Rwanda,' when George W. Bush says "democracy" he actually means, in effect, "Anglo-Saxonism:" in other words, rule of law, checks and balances, independent judiciary, a settled distribution of property, free speech, an open economy, habeas corpus, graciousness in defeat, the urge to compromise, gentlemanly treatment of women, etc.
But what people in oppressed countries hear when he says "democracy" is "majority rule," which is not the same thing.
This difference is missed in most efforts made to measure the prevalence of democracy in the world. For some measures of the difference see the UN Human Development Report 2002 (2.7 Megabytes in PDF format or individual chapters can be downloaded separately - my own experience is that if you download a large PDF to your hard disk and then open it the viewing is faster). For example, check out Figure 1.3 on Acrobat Reader page 30 where between 1980 and 2000 the press in Latin America on average did not become any more free even though Latin America became more democratic over that period of time. Then move forward to page Acrobat Reader page 54 (or document page 38) for the table "A1.1 Subjective indicators of governance". Compare entries in it to Acrobat Reader page 56 (document page 42) entries in table "A1.2 Objective indicators of governance". The A1.1 table has political liberties ratings including press freedom and the A1.2 has measures of how recently elections were held and what the turn-outs were. The press freedom score ranges from 0 to 100 where lower is better. Sri Lanka had a 2001 election with 80% turn-out but has a press freedom score of only 74. By comparison the US and Canada both scored 15 by UN reckoning and Norway scored 5. Granted, any measure of press freedom is imperfect. But the gap between Sri Lanka and Western democracies is huge. On civil liberties where lower is better Sri Lanka scored 4 while most of the Western countries (the US included) scored 1. Well, democracy is not automatically providing Sri Lankans with press freedom and civil liberties protection. I predict it will not do so for Iraqis either.
Democracy is not going to turn the people of the world into Anglo-Saxons. There's an old saying that is applicable to those feeling happy about the spread of democracy: Be careful what you wish for. You may just get it.
C-SPAN broadcast a hearing from yesterday of the US Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security (and here are transcripts of most of the testimony - though apparently not the revelations from the Q and A sections) . Thomas Walters of the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) says about a million illegals are caught per year. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) said that perhaps a half million a year are not caught. Walters says he doesn't know which estimate for illegal crossings is realistic (and some estimates run much higher). California Senator Dianne Feinstein (D CA) tossed out some numbers on how many "Other Than Mexicans" (or OTMs) are caught and the number is going up. Many of them are still caught and released. I went digging for some precise numbers. OTM border crossings on the US-Mexico border are rising rapidly.
Most of the illegals are poor Mexican laborers looking for work. But officials are alarmed that a growing number hail from Central and South America, Asia, even Mideast countries such as Syria and Iran. In 2003, the Border Patrol arrested 39,215 so-called "OTMs," or other-than-Mexicans, along the Southwest border. In 2004, the number jumped to 65,814.
One theme of the hearing was that the huge influx of illegal aliens across the border makes it easy for terrorists to get into the United States. My guess is that this route hasn't been used more heavily to launch an attack because the overthrow of the Taliban combined with much more vigorous investigation of terrorist groups by many countries around the globe have severely disrupted Al Qaeda and like minded groups. But the US should have more in depth defenses against terrorist penetration.
The people smugglers are becoming more sophisticated.
Moody's agents are up against increasingly sophisticated smugglers. Even as the Border Patrol has gotten new high-tech equipment, so have the people they're trying to catch. Smugglers use two-way radios, cell phones, global positioning systems and other high-tech equipment to watch agents' movements and alert each other when the coast is clear.
"Ten years ago, they probably could not have bought a pair of infrared night-vision goggles on the open market, but now they can," says Robert Boatright, assistant chief of the Border Patrol in El Paso. "We see them changing tactics as we change tactics."
Between Nov. 1 and Nov. 23, there were 51,759 apprehensions of undocumented immigrants along the U.S.-Mexico border, according to preliminary federal estimates. This is a 14 percent increase over the 45,355 apprehensions during the same period a year ago.
Year-to-date apprehensions for fiscal year 2005, which began Oct. 1, are up 15 percent over the previous year.
One big advance in border enforcement was revealed by a question from Feinstein: Fraudulent and stolen passports are now always taken from the person who has it. This tough response to the use of fake documents is an advance over previous practice. How recent an advance? Surely it has been in practice since 9/11? Nope. Feinstein said (and Walters agreed) that the obvious step of border control agents taking away fake and stolen documents was finally implemented as a required course of action starting January 1, 2005. This means that, yes, previous practice was that some of those fake and stolen passports were being returned by US government agents to the people who were illegally using these documents to try to enter the United States or who were entering surreptitiously but carrying fake documents. Feinstein is introducing legislation to make use of fake and stolen documents into an aggravated felony.
Elaine Dezenski, a deputy secretary at DHS, told the hearing that people using fraudulent documents are even getting looked at more closely with checking in additional databases. Thomas Walters claims these people with false documents are not allowed to enter the country. But then are all of the OTMs that are captured and released into the United States not carrying fake documents? It was not clear from the hearings that Walters was speaking from his knowledge or just saying what sounded reasonable.
Doris Meissner (former Clinton Administration INS commissioner and now at the Migration Policy Institute) said 28 million visas were granted in 2003. She wants plenty of immigration. Sounds like she is for illegal immigration amnesty but didn't want to come out and say it. Feinstein to Meissner: "And Doris, I wish I agreed with you that the border can't be enforced. I think it can". Go Dianne! For a Democratic Senator from California Feinstein took surprisingly hard line in favor of tough border enforcement and interior enforcement to catch illegals. Meissner denied she is defeatist about border enforcement. Meissner wants accountability of employers on whether they are employing illegal people and to give employers a way to verify legality. This is very reasonable.
In her testimony (my excerpt of which comes from the Migration Policy Institute web site) Meissner discussed progress in rolling out the US-VISIT system to track and collect more information on visitors. While biometric data is now being collected on some visitors the US-VISIT system has yet to start tracking departures in order to detect who is overstaying their visas. (PDF format)
In addition, technology at ports of entry has improved substantially. With the design and implementation of US-VISIT, vast amounts of detailed information about visitors and other classes of non-immigrants, including biometrics, are being gathered and stored. Inspectors and immigration officials have access to greater stores of information than ever before, and controls have improved significantly as a result.
However, the integration of federal data bases still needs improvement; training and staffing at ports continue to be insufficient; and entry/exit controls will not be fully in place until December 2005. Analyses and strategies need to be developed that effectively use all the new tracking information to strengthen immigration enforcement and increase law enforcement and intelligence officials’ understanding of possible national security threats. In the face of this unfinished agenda, it would be highly premature to change the length of admission of visitors without first fully implementing measures that have shown their anti-terrorism effectiveness and then learning whether the length of admission bears any relationship to national security vulnerabilities.
Meissner expects that once exit information collection begins the data collected may be of some use in detecting terrorist movement patterns as distinct from other categories of visitors.
Progress toward the implementation of biometric passports came up repeatedly in the Senate subcommittee hearing. The implementation has already been delayed from October 2004 to October 2005. But roll-out probably won't happen until 2006 both because various countries are not developing their own biometric passport systems fast enough and also because US government development of systems for their use is lagging.
Janice Kephart, who served as September 11 Commission Staff Counsel and who is now at the Investigative Project on Terrorism (founded by Steven Emerson), told the subcommittee "Border security is national security." This is slowly sinking through in Washington DC. But Bush Administration budgeting priorities (e.g. the lack of funds to hold all captured "OTMs" for deportation) show that the Bushies just don't get it.
Although the government has added about 1,300 agents to the force since 2001, there still aren't nearly enough to patrol the 6,900 miles of border with Mexico and Canada.
Recognizing that need, Congress late last year authorized a near doubling of the size of the agency by adding 2,000 agents a year for the next five years. But this month, the Bush administration's budget requested $37 million to pay for one-tenth as many agents - 210 - in 2006.
Kephart advocates the creation of a separate department of border security and immigration. Kephart considers the set of policies and laws and the politics behind them to be extremely complex and that this complexity requires a singular focus. She says immigration has 40,000 employees alone and that exceeds the size of 5 existing departments in the government.
• Lack of clear guidance on admission rules and tourist length of stay. Immigration inspectors do not have any discretion in determining a tourist’s length of stay. Tourists on visas receive an automatic six-month length of stay and are not required to produce a return ticket. Therefore, when the immigration inspector asks the tourist how long he intends to stay, and the answer is, (as was the case with a few of the 9/11 hijackers), “a few weeks,” the inspector is required by law to give that visitor a six month length of stay. Ironically, visitors from visa waiver countries, which are considered lower risk than visa country visitors, are only permitted a three-month stay by law. In contrast, immigration inspectors have full discretion when granting a business length of stay, and views about the “standard” length of stay for business visitors differs amongst inspectors; there are no standard rules for these types of visitors.
• Inadequate primary inspection training and no secondary inspection training. Prior to 9/11, immigration inspectors only received about a half-day training in primary inspections (a 45 second to 1 minute interview) and none in secondary inspections. The hijackers were referred for a total of six secondary inspections, four immigration secondaries and two customs secondaries. One result of the lack of standardized training for these inspectors was that a “red flag” to one primary inspector meant nothing to others- for example, sufficiency of funds. Therefore, the very reason one of the hijackers (Saeed Al-Ghamdi) was referred to secondary inspection was considered of little interest to other primary inspectors with similar information presented to them by hijackers. That also meant that when Al-Ghamdi was interviewed in secondary inspection, the inspector who conducted his interview did not consider sufficiency of funds valid criteria for questioning, and admitted him.
Feinstein advocated the implementation of systems that would make it easy for employers to determine whether a job applicant has a right to work in the United States. This is in line with what Mark Krikorian calls "virtual checkpoints" for interior immigration law enforcement. That has to be a key element of a successful plan to stop and reverse the influx of illegals.
Another essential element is a barrier wall along the border with Mexico. A border barrier which would be a layer of walls and fences would cost between $2 billion and $8 billion and would pay for itself in avoided medical costs for illegals alone. A barrier combined with interior enforcement are needed to deal with an illegal alien problem that might be as high as 20 million illegals in the United States.
Steve Sailer expands on this theory that NASCAR is a white ethnic pride festival and explains that Republicans win elections because white males are angry over decades of being beat up on by liberals.
After that, I started to notice some other institutions were in the business of providing covert identity politics for people who aren't to practice identity politics publicly. Indeed, that perspective provided a novel answer to a couple of that a lot of people are asking:
"Why do Republicans win so much these days? But why do they then so seldom use their power to do anything conservative?"
Admittedly, this new theory is more subjective than my recent quantitative articles in VDARE.com and The American Conservative explaining the 2004 red state - blue state gap: "The Baby Gap," "The Marriage Gap," "The Mortgage Gap," and, underneath it all, "The Dirt Gap."
I guess you can call this one the White Guy Gap.
I suspect that liberals are now paying the price for decades of insulting white men. White males make up about one third of the population, but the problem with white guys, from a liberal perspective, is that they happen to be the people who get most of the big things done in this country. That's just unfair, no, that's downright evil of them.
Steve sees voting Republican as a covert exercise in identity politics for white men. But since it is covert and since liberals still set the mainstream rules for what demands and complaints are morally legitimate white men fail to effectively advance their own interests explicitly enough to get the Republican Party to translate those demands into policy.
There's nothing unnatural about the people who keep the country running wanting to have a large say in running the country. The problem, though, is that white male identity politics is the self-love that dares not speak its name.
So, many Republican white men studiously avoid endorsing policies that would actually help white male Republicans, such as immigration restrictions. They are too intimidated by fears of being accused of bias in favor of themselves. Of course, every other group in America is free to be flagrantly biased in favor of its own members' welfare, but white males aren't allowed that freedom.
As a tragic result white males have, by voting Republican inadvertently empowered the neoconservatives to pursue a foreign policy strategy that is harmful to US interests.
So, instead, Republican white men meekly accept their leaders' Invade-the-World-Invite-the-World policies to show how unprejudiced, how self-sacrificing they are. They send their sons to die in Iraq so that some medieval anti-American Ayatollah can win an election.
Some neocons, on their more honest moments, are open about their ideological approach to politics (really, read to the end of this article and again look for the mention of the word "ideological"). So the first generation neocons might have been ex-Trotskyites but while they changed to a different abstract model of politics too many kept an unempirical theoretical approach to reasoning about the human condition. Traditional conservatism is in a sense the antithesis of an ideology because conservatives have a distrust for highly systematized political philosophies and for the idea that humans can create utopias. I think the neocons, not being real conservatives, are motivated in foreign policy by a mixture of interest in Israel and their misguided desire to spread their own form of utopian democratic liberalism.
The Democrats probably can't adjust their message to once again attract white males because the Democratic Party is too intent on attracting lots of other identity groups such as blacks, Hispanics, career women, welfare recipients, gays, and others. The Dems are going to continue to be willing to discriminate against and transfer assets away from white males to serve these other groups - all the while labelling large numberes of white males violent, racist, and assorted other derogatory terms. As a consequence the battle over the Republican Party is going to remain the most important political battle in America for a while longer - at least until demographic patterns shift power more permanently to the Democrats and the US becomes more like Latin America. If white males become angry enough to reject left-liberal definitions of what is moral and what is acceptable then we could stop invading other countries and even implement a much more restrictive immigration policy. But don't expect any help to come from a serious attempt by the Democrats to compete for the white male vote. The Dems have too much invested in serving their main constituent groups and justifying their policies with their own list of lies about human nature.
No, what I said was, "Now, white men are probably the most tolerant and forbearing of any American group—they've been raised to take it like a man—but they are also only human." In your Midwestern state, for example, whites likely pay over 90% of the taxes that support your university and your Ph.D. program. Yet, while ethnic groups who contribute far less to the upkeep of your university insist upon ethnic cheerleading for themselves in programs like "African-American Studies," whites are expected to pay to be derided in your program.
That's quite remarkable. The only way to explain it is that the liberal settlement that emerged from the civil rights era is based on the notion that whites are not an ethnic group with their own ethnic interests. Instead, they are just The Majority, and they can afford to subsidize Minorities, because the cost per individual member of The Majority is limited.
In the long run, the liberal arrangement is threatened by immigration, since The Majority, who is supposed to subsidize Minorities, won't be a majority forever, and the cost per individual member of the former majority will soar.
But, obviously, the liberal dispensation is also headed for big trouble if whites are considered no longer to be just The Majority but are instead considered to be just another ethnic group. Indeed, you should point out to your professors that they should be careful what they wish for. No recognized American ethnic group puts up with subsidizing being insulted, and if your department succeeds in getting whites to think of themselves as an ethnic group, then continued taxpayer funding for your department would be threatened.
On the other hand, your professors aren't quite that dim. Indeed, they sense that they can profit financially from raising white ethnic consciousness. See, the more white ethnic activism they elicit, the more they can claim that they must be subsidized by the state to squash it by indoctrinating in whites the belief that they are the Evil Ethnicity, and therefore must pay to be insulted. It's another political perpetual motion machine.
The liberal arrangement is also threatened by an aging population. The oldsters are going to take such a large portion of transfer payments and other government mandates that the economy just isn't going to have enough resources left over to pay for the tax that racial preferences for blacks and Hispanics exacts on whites. Also, those costs from "affirmative action" racial preferences make the economy function more poorly. People are put into jobs that they do poorly while other people who could do those jobs are prevented from doing so. As old people become a growing portion of the labor force we will need the most economically efficient allocation of all working age labor.
The liberal arrangement is also threatened by the march of biotechnology. The myths that serve as the justification for racial preferences that discriminate against whites are going to be crushed by cheap DNA sequencing and other technologies that will lead to the discovery of the causes of differences in ability between individuals and groups.
Whether the liberal arrangement will be threatened by rising anger of white males remains to be seen. White males elected George W. Bush and he turned around and had Alberto Gonzales gut the government case against University of Michigan on discrimination against whites for the benefit of blacks and Hispanics.
The Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences (which I'm guessing does not include some of the specialized schools such as the medical school) voted for a motion stating a lack of confidence in Harvard President Lawrence Summers.
``This was a resounding statement that this faculty lacks confidence in President Summers and President Summers should resign,'' said anthropology professor J. Lorand Matory, author of the motion.
The measure passed 218 to 185 with 18 abstentions.
A less stern motion taking Summers to task for his comments on women and his leadership also passed 253 to 137 with 18 abstentions, faculty members said.
A parochial and small-minded Harvard faculty turns its back on science. How pathetic.
What is missed in the Boston Herald report above but brought out in a Harvard Crimson report on the same vote is that Matory is also an African Studies prof.
Wielding a giant “report card” failing Summers in every category of leadership, the rowdy group also surrounded Professor of Anthropology and of African and African and African American Studies J. Lorand Matory ’82 as he issued a statement to the press.
Matory submitted the lack of confidence motion that the Faculty passed—with 218 in favor, 185 opposed, and 18 abstaining—at yesterday’s meeting.
Many ethnic studies departments have low academic standards and were created as a sop to assorted ethnic groups. Summers earned the ire of the African Studies profs at Harvard when he criticised then Harvard African Studies prof Cornel West for spending most of his time in unscholarly pursuits. Summers' drive to raise the standards in ethnic studies departments made him a lot of enduring enemies. The racial preferences racket and the sexual preferences racket are natural allies in a battle against Summers.
In these two votes the Harvard faculty seems to have more severely disapproved what Summers said about women than they did about his performance overall. Well, the text of what Summers said about women (which I urge you to click thru to) was quite reasonable and was consistent with the existing body of social science and biological science research on sex differences and on psychometric research in particular.
It says something disappointing about the human race in general that so many high IQ faculty at Harvard University can be so blatantly irrational and in denial about human nature. Higher IQ combined with large amounts of education are obviously not sufficient to ensure that people are willing to learn and accept the truth regardless of any implications. Therefore when genetic engineering to raise IQ becomes possible large groups of humans will continue to embrace mythologies all the while proclaiming themselves to be reasonable and well-informed.
Steve Sailer says Harvard's elite has unresolved contradictions in their beliefs about IQ.
Yet, Harvard's IQ elitism sharply contradicts its professed egalitarianism. The typical Harvard professor or student considers himself superior to ordinary folks for two conflicting reasons: first, he constantly proclaims his belief in human equality, but they don't; and second, he has a high IQ, but they don't.
Further, he believes his brains weren't the luck of his genes. No, he earned them. Which in turn means he feels that dumb people deserve to be dumb.
For insights into why a mostly male and very high IQ faculty would vote to condemn a highly rational and informed discourse on sexual differences see Steve Sailer's essay Why (Some) Men Don’t Support Summers.
Should Summers have made his speech in the first place? I have to take issue with Razib over at Gene Expression on his contention that it was unwise for Summers to make his sexual differences speech.
OK, as president of Harvard, this was a stupid thing to say. That's pretty obvious. This sort of stuff is left to academics who have tenure and who are battling it out in journals. In fact, some of the scholars Summers cited are doing just that.
If academics are busy arguing about, say, some 2 million year old skull or the intricacies of quarks in physics there are probably no implications for university governance in such disagreements. But the whole reason Summers was invited to give his talk in the first place is that the question of the causes of differences in sexual representation on the faculty of Harvard has policy implications for the governance of Harvard. If sexist male faculty members are the cause of the difference in sexual representation on Harvard's faculty then that has very different policy implications than if less female interest in working 80 hour weeks or a narrower IQ distribution in females are the reasons for the difference in outcomes. Summers can not responsibly carry out his job and make correct decisions if he ignores the scientific evidence on sexual differences. He can't ignore the evidence and still have an honest discussion with Harvard faculty and sexual representation at Harvard.
The correct policy response for one factor (say unfair discrimination) as a cause of the male domination of Harvard faculty is the wrong policy response if another factor (say a smaller standard deviation in female IQ or average difference in interests or in drive) is the cause. Many women faculty members are making demands on the Harvard Corporation that may be entirely unjustified if unfair discrimination is not the reason few women get tenure at Harvard. So how can Summers not address the possible reasons for the difference in outcomes when he responds to these women?
Imagine the women were demanding that Harvard propitiate the rain god that is causing too much rain to fall in Cambridge Massachusetts. Should Summers respond by saying he'll take their complaints under advisement and then let the faculty debate the causes of the rain god's anger at Harvard? Or should he trot out scientific research on what causes weather? Are our universities to be justified based on Enlightenment principles about truth and reason and science or not? To argue that Summers should not discuss social and biolgical science research underlying sexual differences is to accept the attempts of irrational people to control the debate in universities. The people opposing Summers are ideologues. They should be treated as such. Arguments that are presented with rigor and scientific evidence should always be treated as legitimate in academia.
One other point: Harvard is hypocritical when it comes to whether under and overrepresentation of groups is acceptable. Don't expect to hear Harvard's faculty complaining about overrepresentations of a number of other categories aside from males.
And one final point: the obvious character flaws of Harvard's elite serve as a useful reminder that the nation needs to embrace technology that breaks up the higher education oligopoly. Mass filming of college lectures would bring true competition for each individual course. Rather than signing up for education at a single college you could pick and choose over hundreds of thousands of courses of lectures. Individual courses should be unbundled and made available cheaply.
From the perspective of non-Chinese East Asians, Americans, and Europeans here are what I see as the key questions about China's future:
One argument advanced for why China has to become a democracy is that only a democracy will be able to control corruption well enough to prevent corrupt officials from undermining private enterprise. But first note that China has to achieve only a quarter of American per capita GDP in order to have a much larger economy than the United States. If corruption prevents China from becoming more than a third as efficient as the United States then China will still become the most powerful country in the world.
One argument made against non-democratic systems is that the quality of the leadership will typically change much more from generation to generation than is the case with democracy. Democracy will not reach peaks of good government as high as the best dictators have managed. But it will not hit troughs in leadership quality (or so the argument goes) that are as low as that which will be found when, say, a king's eldest son is a moron. However, note that a period of relatively good dictatorial leadership can last for decades. China might well be on such a roll.
We should be reluctant to assume that dictatorships always will turn in worse economic records than democracies for another reason: Most of the countries that are poor failed states and not democracies may not be failed states because of a lack of democracy. Rather, they may be failed states economically for the same reasons that they failed to achieve or sustain liberal democracy. Instead of democracy that is making some states wealthy other factors (e.g. intelligence distributions, culture, religion, location, etc) may be making some countries both wealthy and capable of supporting a democracy.
One advantage of democracy is that the ballot box sometimes provides an effective means to limit the excesses of corruption. However, in the current era democracy also comes with Robin Hood voters who vote for taxes to fund welfare state transfer payments. While democracy is a net benefit for many countries it is far from clear that a better economic growth is an assured outcome of democracy in all societies at all times.
When dictators have both sufficient virtue and a firm grasp of market economics then one potential gain from a dictatorial system could be a more pragmatic Benthamite utilitarian approach to managing a society. The Chinese have an obvious successful modern model for this approach to government with Lee Kuan Yew who ruled Singapore for decades in an only superficially democratic system. But can an undemocratically chosen much larger mainland Chinese government possibly become as well run and uncorrupt as Singapore became under Lee Kuan Yew?
The question of how well run pre-democratic or non-democratic China will be in the future depends in large part on how leaders will be chosen in absence of mass vote. One possibility is something akin to early American and early British democracy where only land owners or title holders were allowed to vote. There is a mechanism for how this could be accomplished without public elections. China still has an official communist party. The party now attracts the new capitalists of China as members. One potential direction of development for China's political system would be to develop a leadership selection system where the wealthiest become party members and choose regional and national leaders. Anyone know whether China's capitalists are getting involved in selecting party leaders? Or do the capitalists limit themselves to just bribing whoever is in power?
I do not view the transition of China toward Western style liberal democracy as inevitable. My guess is that the Chinese are more interested in having a "good emperor" than in having a democracy. To some extent they may even have enough animosity toward Westerners for some of them to see democracy as not authentically Chinese. Still, maybe China will become a democracy some day. Maybe China will even become a liberal democracy with widely popular protections for free political speech. But in my mind this outcome is still in doubt.
Nor do I believe that democracy would necessarily make China into a benign nation in relation to the rest of the world. Intensely nationalistic feelings in China - especially among professionals and intellectuals - have been compared by some commentators to those of Wilhelmine Germany. The Chinese strike me as feeling aggrieved with a lot of resentment toward Japan, Europe, and the United States.
Okay, I hear some of you saying "But I just know that economic development will lead to democracy in China". Well, okay, maybe you are right. That still leaves one problem: timing. Germany eventually became a liberal market democracy. But unfortunately it industrialised and carried on a couple of really big wars before making the transition into "nothing to worry about here folks" category of countries. Japan went through a similar rough transition period. Will China?
Airline passengers are giving an ever-increasing portion of their travel dollars to Uncle Sam, according to data released by MIT's Global Airline Industry Program and Daniel Webster College.
Airline ticket prices overall have actually dropped over the past several years, the researchers emphasize. However, many of the taxes and fees passengers pay, which fund a significant portion of the costs of U.S. air-traffic control and airport systems, are not linked to the base price of the tickets and have remained about the same.
As a result, the effective tax rate on airline tickets is steadily increasing, and will increase more under the Bush administration's recently released federal budget proposal, researchers report.
After the administration's proposed hike in security fees, passengers would, on average, pay 19 percent in taxes and fees on top of the ticket price, the researchers found in their update of last year's study. In 2004, passengers paid 16.1 percent in taxes on top of the price of a domestic ticket. This is up from 15.5 percent in 2002 and 10.9 percent in 1993.
Professor Joakim Karlsson of Daniel Webster College explains the significance of the study's results: "The airlines have lost the ability to raise airfares, even to just keep pace with inflation. The average round-trip ticket has dropped 40 percent in real terms since 1993. Meanwhile, average ticket taxes and fees have stayed relatively constant at $45 per ticket."
Karlsson adds: "With the total cost of taxes changing only slightly, the relative share of each ticket that goes to taxes and fees has been steadily increasing."
The federal government and airports currently add four types of taxes and fees to the basic cost of each domestic airline ticket. The administration's new proposal increases the security fee associated with passenger and baggage screening by up to $6.
$45, let alone $51 with the proposed new fees, strikes me as a lot of money for the government's portion of the costs for getting passengers from point A to point B. Where does that money go?
Private companies have to find cheaper ways to do things. By contrast, government services can become more expensive and, well, government does not have to worry about a competitor offering a cheaper alternative. Of course the terrorist threat has increased the amount of security precautions that are necessary. But the government probably doesn't need as much money per ticket to run the air traffic control system per passenger as it used to. The cost of operating the air traffic control system surely must scale up more slowly than the number of passengers carried. Airplanes have gotten bigger and so carry more passengers per flight. Also, computers have become far more able to track flights and route flights to avoid collisions and computers have become cheaper. Also, the basic software development costs for the system don't go up much as traffic goes up.
Governments need to try to develop ways to automate more government functions. Ticket fees for air flights are a reminder that all government services need to be scrutinized to look for obvious inefficiencies. The market is not going to enforce enough cost discipline on governments. Government operational costs need to be published in formats that would allow better outside scrutiny by knowledgeable citizens to identify areas ripe for potential savings
BEIJING Mar 8, 2005 — China unveiled a law Tuesday authorizing an attack if Taiwan moves toward formal independence, increasing pressure on the self-ruled island while warning other countries not to interfere. The United States said Beijing should reconsider.
Taiwan denounced the legislation as a "blank check to invade" and announced war games aimed at repelling an attack.
China has warned Australia to be careful about the way it treats the ANZUS alliance with the US in dealing with the Sino-US conflict over Taiwan.
Beijing is reportedly demanding the Howard government review the 50-year-old military pact, saying the alliance could threaten regional stability if Australia is drawn into taking sides on the Taiwan issue.
South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun says South Korea will resist US efforts to use South Korea as a base from which to defend Taiwan.
"I clearly state that the U.S. Forces Korea should not be involved in disputes in Northeast Asia without our consent," Roh said in a speech at an Air Force Academy commencement ceremony.
It was the first formal response from the country's leader to a U.S. plan to use its troops in South Korea as a regional force, with missions to handle conflicts outside the peninsula.
Joshua Kurlantzick has written an important article in Prospect Magazine surveying changing attitudes in an increasingly powerful China and among East Asian countries toward China.
This growth has created a new confidence among ordinary Chinese; many believe that the government has been correct to focus on economic rather than political liberalisation. After Tiananmen there has been no anti-Mao campaign in China as there was an anti-Stalin campaign in Russia. This confidence convinces Chinese that their country should take a leading role in the world, even if it means challenging the US. The Asian affairs writer Daniel Snider reports that ordinary Chinese boast "about how Japan and South Korea now depend on selling their goods to China." Chinese strategists are advocating a "great power mentality" in foreign affairs.
In the past, state media, still the main source of information for most Chinese, rarely mentioned foreign policy. Today they constantly feature China's successes abroad, and harp on the problems of the US. Papers like the People's Daily run endless commentaries on America's "failing" foreign policies from unfriendly sources, such as Arab newspapers. Historians appear in the press to discuss China's imperial-era control of Vietnam, Korea and other parts of Asia. And as a 2002 report by the US congressional commission on China showed, official media often characterise the US as a "hegemon" or an "imperialist"—even comparing it to Nazi Germany.
The booming economy has lured overseas Chinese back to China, including former Tiananmen dissidents who have traded their pro-democracy stances for power and wealth. Several former dissidents have become hi-tech entrepreneurs and have backed a code of internet self-censorship.
Kurlantzick reports that while in public and in diplomatic channels China non-interference opposition to pressures from American in private they are talking about domination of Asia and creation of an empire.
Many members of the Chinese elite recognise that this advocacy of "multipolarity" and "non-interference," masks an aspiration to convert "comprehensive national power" into dominance, even military dominance of Asia. Beijing has not dropped its claims over the entire South China sea, and still refers to many parts of Asia as virtual Chinese possessions. In private, Chinese leaders admit that their goal is to build an empire in the region. And when it suits it China often acts unilaterally, as it has done by damming its part of the Mekong river despite protests that it has destroyed the livelihoods of thousands of Thais, Cambodians and Laotians who depend on its water.
Kurlantzick lists Burma, Laos, Thailand, and East Timor as countries which now assign greater importance to their relations with China than their relations with the United States. He notes that a number of other countries, notably South Korea, while not primarily oriented toward China are no longer reliable allies to the United States. The decline in American influence is well under way. But for cultural and historical reasons some countries may resist being captured in China's orbit. Vietnam, for example, sees China as an ancient and enduring enemy. The animosity between Japan and China makes Japanese subservience to China less likely. Filipinos and Indonesians resent their own Chinese economic elites and this may translate into greater resistance to China's overtures. However, Indonesian Muslim resentments toward America have reached such an intensity that China has an opening with Indonesia. The Australians are also likely to resist Chinese dominance. But all of these countries are going to develop far larger trade relationships with China than with the United States and money talks.
Kurlantzick sees the Bush Administration's single-minded focus on the war against terrorists as causing the priorities of Asians to be ignored and for Asian countries to feel ill treated by Washington DC. Kurlantzick advocates wiser policies by the Bush Administration to prevent so many East Asian countries from drifting into China's orbit. Certainly the Bush Administration has exacerbated the problem and accelerated the drift away from Washington. But the underlying cause of this trend is China's own continued economic development combined with the fact that some not-exactly-liberal governments (and not-exactly-liberal populations in many cases) in the region prefer to have their primary diplomatic relationship be with another unliberal regime.
Barring a revolution or war China looks on course to become the second largest economy and eventually the largest economy in the world. Authoritarian China will promote a different set of priorities around the world and serve as a very different role model than has democratic and liberal America. The continued rise of China is not a development that I'm looking forward to.
March 9, 2005 — A secret FBI report obtained by ABC News concludes that while there is no doubt al Qaeda wants to hit the United States, its capability to do so is unclear.
"Al-Qa'ida leadership's intention to attack the United States is not in question," the report reads. (All spellings are as rendered in the original report.) "However, their capability to do so is unclear, particularly in regard to 'spectacular' operations. We believe al-Qa'ida's capability to launch attacks within the United States is dependent on its ability to infiltrate and maintain operatives in the United States."
US law enforcement agencies haven't been able to find any sleeper cells in the United States. Though if you read the full article you will see they cite instances of Al Qaeda members marrying Americans to get access to the US and other connections between Muslims in the US and Al Qaeda members.
The 32-page assessment says flatly, "To date, we have not identified any true 'sleeper' agents in the US," seemingly contradicting the "sleeper cell" description prosecutors assigned to seven men in Lackawanna, N.Y., in 2002.
Of course it is possible that some sleeper cells have been missed. But we have not been attacked again in the US for about three and a half years. Internal monitoring efforts have been greatly increased since 9/11. Before 9/11 lots of areas of enforcement related to terrorist threats were incredibly lax. In spite of considerable Bush Administration efforts to keep border and immigration enforcement lax for the benefit of illegal immigrants the overall trend has been toward more rigorous efforts to track potentially dangerous foreigners.
Europe faces a much larger threat because Muslims are a larger percentage of the population of some European countries, have more fellow Muslims to relate to in Muslim cliques. They are also in closer proximity to and able to maintain more on-going relations with Islamic co-religionists in their countries of origin. My guess is we will see one or more terrorist attacks in Europe before we see another attack in the US.
While the Bush Administration is expending a great deal of blood and money to politically remake the Middle East it continues to be my view that most of our efforts at defense against terrorists ought to be focused on a layered defense of our own territory. We should be pursuing more policies designed to make it hard for terrorists to enter and operate in US territory. Tougher rules on visa eligibility coupled with bigger efforts to investigate the backgrounds of visa applicants would pay far richer dividends for fewer dollars expended than multiple hundred billion dollar invasions. Serious efforts to enforce border security by making illegal entry from Mexico impossible would close off a major alternative means of entry for terrorists.
An increase in efforts to do data mining to search for financial transactions that connect terrorists would be cheap and highly cost effective. However, such efforts elicit a lot of political opposition. Obstacles to the use of electronic means to track terrorists have gotten so ridiculous that one government panel opposed the use of Google searches by intelligence agents to find connections between potential terrorists. Also, opposition to religious and ethnic profiling erects additional barriers in the way of efforts to identify terrorists.
Kenneth Pollack thinks the US and Europe could stop Iran's nuclear program with the threat of economic sanctions combined with an offer of great trade ties if Iran would just give up ints nuclear weapons development efforts.
Although Iranian leaders agree on the strategic value of a strong nuclear program, they are divided over just how strong it should be. Conservative ideologues press for a nuclear breakout in defiance of international opinion, whereas conservative realists argue that restraint best serves Iran's interests. The ideologues, who view a conflict with the United States as inevitable, believe that the only way to ensure the survival of the Islamic Republic—and its ideals—is to equip it with an independent nuclear capability. Ali Akbar Nateq-Nuri, a conservative presidential candidate in 1997 and now an influential adviser to Khamenei, dismissed Tehran's recent negotiations with the Europeans, noting, "Fortunately, the opinion polls show that 75 to 80 percent of Iranians want to resist and [to] continue our program and reject humiliation." In the cosmology of such hard-liners, nuclear arms have not only strategic value, but also currency in domestic politics. Iranian conservatives see their defiance of the Great Satan as a means of mobilizing nationalistic opinion behind a revolution that has gradually lost popular legitimacy.
In contrast, the clerical realists warn that, with Iran under intense international scrutiny, any act of provocation by Tehran would lead other states to embrace Washington's punitive approach and further isolate the theocratic regime. In an interview in 2002, the pragmatic minister of defense, Ali Shamkhani, warned that the "existence of nuclear weapons will turn us into a threat to others that could be exploited in a dangerous way to harm our relations with the countries of the region." The economic dimension of nuclear diplomacy is also pushing the pragmatists toward restraint, as Iran's feeble economy can ill afford the imposition of multilateral sanctions. "If there [are] domestic and foreign conflicts, foreign capital will not flow into the country," Rafsanjani has warned. "In fact, such conflicts will lead to the flight of capital from this country."
While Pollack places great importance on the power of economic sanctions to bring Iran to shelve its nuclear weapons development program trends in trade are well along the way toward making that threat very hollow. The United States and the EU are going to become less important in world trade as China, India and other south and east Asian countries develop.
The Iranians are moving to reduce their reliance on customer countries that are allied with the United States. Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh says Iran is going to replace Japan with China as Iran's biggest oil customer.
"Japan is our number one energy importer for historical reasons . . . but we would like to give preference to exports to China," Zanganeh was quoted as saying in China Business Weekly magazine.
Earlier this month, Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing, who has just crowned a year of negotiations between the two countries, paid a rare visit to Tehran. In a meeting with Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, Li said Beijing would oppose US efforts to refer Iran to the UN Security Council over its nuclear program.
China would probably be joined by Russia and perhaps even France in voting in the UN Security Council against trade sanctions on Iran.
In turn, China has become a major exporter of manufactured goods to Iran, including computer systems, household appliances and cars. "They have industry and we have energy resources," said Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran's former representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency.
China's trade with Iran also is weakening the impact on Iranian policy of various U.S. economic embargoes, analysts here say. "Sanctions are not effective nowadays because we have many options in secondary markets, like China," said Hossein Shariatmadari, a leading conservative theorist and editor.
In 2003, China raced past Japan to become the world's second biggest consumer of petroleum products after the US.
In 2004, its thirst grew by 15%, while its output only rose 2%.
The US Central Intelligence Agency has submitted a report to US Congress stating that Chinese companies have "helped Iran move toward its goal of becoming self-sufficient in the production of ballistic missiles". In the ongoing controversy over Iran's uranium enrichment program, China has also opposed bringing the issue before the UN Security Council, and has even threatened to veto any resolution that is brought against Iran.
TEHRAN -- Speaking of business as unusual. A mere two months ago, the news of a China-Kazakhstan pipeline agreement, worth US$3.5 billion, raised some eyebrows in the world press, some hinting that China's economic foreign policy may be on the verge of a new leap forward. A clue to the fact that such anticipation may have totally understated the case was last week's signing of a mega-gas deal between Beijing and Tehran worth $100 billion. Billed as the "deal of the century" by various commentators, this agreement is likely to increase by another $50 to $100 billion, bringing the total close to $200 billion, when a similar oil agreement, currently being negotiated, is inked not too far from now.
US influence on the world has peaked. Rumoured plans for a US air strike against Iran's nuclear weapons development facilities are probably the only practical option available for delaying Iran's nuclear program. But even air strikes will not prevent Iran from eventually developing nuclear weapons. Also those air strikes will cost the United States diplomatically. My guess is that the Bush Administration will probably carry out those air strikes. Though I'm unsure on this point.
The Bush Administration is unlikely to strike hard at Iranian oil and natural gas production facilities because to do so would cause skyrocketing energy prices. The US economy would suffer along with the rest of the world and the United States would be widely (and correctly) seen as responsible for bringing on a world economic recession. My guess is that even Bush will shrink from making such a move.
Newsweek has an article about the increasing "soft power" influence of China as the Chinese economy continues to grow and its trade increases.
Beijing's diplomats are tireless salesmen. While America's emissaries rail against tyranny and terror—and vow to spread democracy throughout the world—China's envoys aren't pushing any kind of ideology. And they're not squeamish about human rights; they've cut deals with Burma, Cuba, Sudan, just about anybody. The only thing Beijing asks for is new opportunities for Chinese entrepreneurs to trade and invest—and a promise that its foreign friends will support China's claims on the island of Taiwan. The Beijing official says: "We don't preach like the U.S. does."
Note the non-judgemental utilitarian approach that the Chinese take toward foreign policy. An increasing number of countries are going to see in China an alternative to dealing with a preachy and pushy Washington DC power structure. US influence is set to decline dramatically in the coming decades.
With the growth of Chinese power and influence in mind I am trying to come up with a list of questions about China's likely longer term ambitions. One underlying assumption to these questions is that China's economy will continue to grow more rapidly than the US economy for the next few decades and its energy and other raw materials imports will grow along with its economy.
I do not have answers to these questions. I also suspect I'm leaving out some important questions about China's role in the world in the future. What do you all think? What do you see China doing in the world in the future?
You know how you can feel a lot of satisfaction finding that some person or group you respect turn out to agree with you on a subject? That is my reaction to a survey of Chief Financial Officers. US corporate Chief Financial Officers think rising medical costs are more important that Social Security reform.
To understand the causes of this reduced optimism, the survey asked executives to choose the top four items, from a list of 16, that are concerns for their companies. The results showed that intense competition is the number one concern among CFOs around the world, with more than half listing competition among their top concerns. In the United States, 53 percent of CFOs cite high health care costs as a top issue. CFOs expect health care costs to increase by 9 percent in the coming year. High fuel prices, increased interest rates and fears about increased regulation round out the top concerns for U.S. CFOs.
European and Asian CFOs do not list health care costs as a major issue, but do cite concern about world economic stability and reduced pricing power.
"Nearly two-thirds of U.S. CFOs say that it is very important for Congress to address the cost of health care, and another 29 percent say that it is somewhat important," Graham said. "A similar percentage say that it is important for Congress to address the budget deficit. Only 31 percent say that it is very important to implement Social Security reform."
Granted, the reason CFOs are concerned about medical costs is their own corporate bottom line. But if costs are rising for corporations then costs are rising for the rest of us. The corporate CEOs correctly see medical care as a souce of rapidly rising costs of production.
My lack of enthusiasm for Bush's Social Security private investment accounts stems in part from the future expected growth of medical costs. Both Medicare and Social Security have large unfunded liabilities. But medical care is a rising cost for the entire population. See my previous post "Medical Costs To Be 18.7% Of US Economy In 2014" for some background information on the problem. Medical costs are the more interesting and more pressing problem for a few reasons. First of all, medical costs are rising across the board regardless of whether the medical care is being paid for by the government or private insurance. Secondly, the potential solution of accelerating the rate of biomedical science and biotechnology would be both incredibly bullish for economic growth. Picture a much healthier work force that can work for more years. Also, picture medical treatments that are much cheaper and more effective. Thirdly, the result of dealing with medical costs by accelerating the rate of advance of medical science would make each of us individually healthier and happier. Whereas the choices for how to solve the Social Security problem do not provide an option which has anywhere near the potential upside for us as individuals or for the economy and society as a whole.
Another reason that health care as a policy area is more interesting than Social Security is that medical spending accounts could accomplish some of the same things that privatized Social Security accounts would accomplish (e.g. more savings and more investment). But the medical spending accounts would have more far reaching and beneficial effects because medical spending accounts would also remove layers of middlemen in the buying of health care. The use of medical spending accounts to buy high deductible medical insurance would cut employers and insurers from many transactions in the relationship between patient and care provider. So medical spending accounts would have more pro-market effects than Social Security accounts.
If you are of the opinion that biomedical advances can't make a huge impact on rising health care costs check out what some smart money is saying about the prospects for getting control of health care costs using biotechnology (Sorry I don't have the transcript of the show but the 3 people from the Charlie Rose show I refer to there really did express the sentiment that I attribute to them). We need to treat our aging population as a financial problem that has a technological solution.
Update: For more on the Social Security debate see Tyler Cowen's posts on Social Security reform proposals.
"Americans end up owning a reduced portion of our country while non-Americans own a greater part," he writes. "This force-feeding of American wealth to the rest of the world is now proceeding at the rate of $1.8bn daily."
"Consequently, other countries and their citizens now own a net of about $3 trillion of the US. A decade ago their net ownership was negligible."
I do not buy the arguments that we shouldn't be worried and that the market will work it all out. No, this can not possibly be a net benefit or a neutral development for the United States.
“A country that is now aspiring to an “Ownership Society” will not find happiness in – and I’ll use hyperbole here for emphasis – a “Sharecropper’s Society,” added Mr Buffett. “But that’s precisely where our trade policies, supported by Republicans and Democrats alike, are taking us.”
"Without policy changes, currency markets could even become disorderly and generate spillover effects, both political and financial," Mr Buffett warned. "Such a scenario is a far from remote possibility that policymakers should be considering now," the billionaire said, though he conceded policymakers' "bent, however, is to lean towards not so benign neglect".
Should we worry? I think so.
At the time I'm typing this Buffett's letter for 2005 hasn't shown up on the Berkshire Hathaway web site. I'll try to update this post when it does.
Buffett previously wrote an essay about Squanderville and Thriftville where he proposed a system of Import Certificates to bring the US trade deficit under control.
The time to halt this trading of assets for consumables is now, and I have a plan to suggest for getting it done. My remedy may sound gimmicky, and in truth it is a tariff called by another name. But this is a tariff that retains most free-market virtues, neither protecting specific industries nor punishing specific countries nor encouraging trade wars. This plan would increase our exports and might well lead to increased overall world trade. And it would balance our books without there being a significant decline in the value of the dollar, which I believe is otherwise almost certain to occur.
We would achieve this balance by issuing what I will call Import Certificates (ICs) to all U.S. exporters in an amount equal to the dollar value of their exports. Each exporter would, in turn, sell the ICs to parties -- either exporters abroad or importers here -- wanting to get goods into the U.S. To import $1 million of goods, for example, an importer would need ICs that were the byproduct of $1 million of exports. The inevitable result: trade balance.
Because our exports total about $80 billion a month, ICs would be issued in huge, equivalent quantities -- that is, 80 billion certificates a month -- and would surely trade in an exceptionally liquid market. Competition would then determine who among those parties wanting to sell to us would buy the certificates and how much they would pay. (I visualize that the certificates would be issued with a short life, possibly of six months, so that speculators would be discouraged from accumulating them.)
By putting forward this proposal Buffett is basically saying he doesn't trust the currency market to set currency values at levels that will balance trade. Well, he is right after all. Otherwise the US wouldn't be moving to bigger and bigger record trade deficits. The US achieved a record $617.7 billion trade deficit for 2004 which was 24.4% above the previous 2003 record of $496.5 billon. This is insane. We also have a large government deficit and unfunded old age liabilities calculated to be in the neighborhood of $70 trillion by one accounting.
Writing for the Christian Science Monitor reporter Annia Ciezadlo had already filed a story about the dangers of checkpoints in Iraq before American soldiers opened fire on a car carrying a Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena after insurgents released her. The short summation is that US checkpoints are poorly marked and Iraqi drivers have been conditioned by Saddam's rule to speed by government buildings and soldiers.
As an American journalist here, I have been through many checkpoints and have come close to being shot at several times myself. I look vaguely Middle Eastern, which perhaps makes my checkpoint experience a little closer to that of the typical Iraqi. Here's what it's like.
You're driving along and you see a couple of soldiers standing by the side of the road - but that's a pretty ubiquitous sight in Baghdad, so you don't think anything of it. Next thing you know, soldiers are screaming at you, pointing their rifles and swiveling tank guns in your direction, and you didn't even know it was a checkpoint.
If it's confusing for me - and I'm an American - what is it like for Iraqis who don't speak English?
In situations like this, I've often had Iraqi drivers who step on the gas. It's a natural reaction: Angry soldiers are screaming at you in a language you don't understand, and you think they're saying "get out of here," and you're terrified to boot, so you try to drive your way out.
Do I have to even explain that this is stupid on the part of the American occupation forces?
Making this problem far worse is the fact that under Saddam Iraqis were conditioned to go fast past government building and to never look at the buildings or the soldiers guarding them.
I remember parking outside a ministry with an Iraqi driver, waiting to pick up a friend. After sitting and staring at the building for about half an hour, waiting for our friend to emerge, the driver shook his head.
"If you even looked at this building before, you'd get arrested," he said, his voice full of disbelief. Before, he would speed past this building, gripping the wheel, staring straight ahead, careful not to even turn his head. After 35 years of this, Iraqis still speed up when they're driving past government buildings - which, since the Americans took over a lot of them, tend be to exactly where the checkpoints are.
Do generals running the occupation forces even know what this reporter learned from her Iraqi drivers? I doubt it. Else I'd expect them to change the structure of checkpoints and put up better signs and signals to clearly instruct drivers what to expect and when to expect it.
The Iraqis misunderstand what the Americans want at checkpoints and do not always figure out what are checkpoints to avoid being shot at. The flip side is that the Americans at the checkpoints sometimes misunderstand the intentions of the Iraqis driving up to them. Worse still, the Iraqis can not always recognize American checkpoints as truly being American checkpoints. The Iraqi soldiers who are often around American checkpoints might just as easily be insurgents who are dressed in Iraqi military uniforms (and some insurgents are in the Iraqi military) looking to do kidnappings or killings.
If the neocons want the US military to become an army of occupation then the neocons are going to have to make sure the those soldiers are taught how to do occupations.
Update: Greg Cochran points me to a report about the killing of the Italian agent by US soliders. The Italians have been paying the insurgents a lot of money in order to get Italian hostages released.
President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi announced that he was posthumously awarding Italy's highest military honour, the Medaglia d'Oro, to the ex-immigration officer who became a hostage negotiator, overseeing the release of six Italians abducted in Iraq in the past year.
After weeks of haggling, the ransom for Ms Sgrena had finally been agreed: at least $6m (£3.1m), according to the Italian press, and perhaps as much as $8m, had been handed over.
Not surprisingly the American and British military are none to happy about these ransom payments. Suppose the amount paid per Italian released is $6 million each time. Then the Italians may have paid the insurgents $36 million dollars in the last year. That has got to be going toward funding attacks that kill American soldiers. So how many American deaths has the Italian government funded?
Update II: Greg Cochran points me to yet another report, this on the rules of engagement for American soldiers. Writing for the New York Times John Burns (an absolutely first class journalist in my estimation) reports on Iraqis confused by the American rules of engagement and the many Westerners who have been shot at by US soldiers.
Ms. Sgrena and her companions were not the only Western civilians to have come under American fire, according to a series of unclassified government reports that receive extremely restricted circulation, copies of which have been made available to The Times. The reports outline at least six incidents since December in which American troops have fired on vehicles carrying Westerners in the area around the airport.
The reports chronicled one incident in January at a checkpoint near the airport road when an American soldier fired at a car even though it was moving slowly and the driver was holding his identification card in plain sight out of the window. The soldier finally waved the car away and forced it to drive down the wrong side of a road.
In early February, a private security company carrying Western clients was fired upon by American troops on the airport road itself. "This is the second time in three days," the report on the incident noted. Later that month, a Western contractor approaching a checkpoint at roughly five miles an hour after dropping off a passenger at the airport heard gunfire, assumed he was coming under attack by insurgents and tried to speed away.
But the fire turned out to have been from American troops, who fired warning shots, then hit the passenger side windshield, forcing the driver to stop, climb from the car and put his hands in the air.
Many of the people delivering passengers to the airport are ex-military guys hired to do security tasks. If even they can't figure out when US soldiers are trying to direct them to do something what chance does the average Iraqi have of understanding? Also, what does it say about the signs (or lack thereof) that the American soldiers are using to control vehicles? I can see why a new temporary roadblock might not have all the right equipment. But the approach roads right at Baghdad's airport have been under American control since the invasion. Why doesn't the US military have a better system for bringing vehicles into the airport?
This sentence especially stands out describing how soldiers are supposed to keep Iraqi vehicles away from US military convoys:
Generally, the machine-gunner in the last Humvee is instructed to raise a clenched fist - a military gesture meaning "stay back" that few Iraqis understand - then to wave both arms, and throw water bottles or anything else available.
Frequent misunderstandings on both sides are getting lots of innocent civilians killed. Putting lots of soldiers from a different culture and with a language barrier and insufficient training for handling an occupation and counterinsurgency into urban areas to fight an insurgency is a sure fire recipe for getting lots of dead innocent civilians and for stoking resentments among the occupied population.
The latest incident with the dead Italian government agent is obviously part of a larger pattern of poor management decisions on roadblocks and methods of communicating with civilians.
When a teen lifted his baggy shorts and flashed a swastika and German army tattoos at Kenny Turner outside his high school last June, the popular black Lake Elsinore senior just kept walking.
"It was the second-to-last day of the school year," recalled Turner, now 19. "I didn't want to be in trouble with one day left."
But Turner and two witnesses said the young man, armed with an ice pick, ran after him and stabbed him while screaming a racial slur. It's an incident that, although rare, is emblematic of a growing problem in the Inland Empire, authorities say.
The number of reported hate crimes in Riverside and San Bernardino counties has risen sharply in recent years, fueled in part by dramatic demographic changes that experts say are bringing more minorities into a region that has long been home to pockets of white supremacists.
What would be those dramatic demographic changes? Hispanics, of course.
So are you expecting the guy's name to be Smith or Clarke or Jones? Nope:
Last month, Armando Perez, 19, pleaded guilty to a felony hate crime assault for stabbing Turner. Perez could not be reached for comment.
Perez identified himself as white to the police. Well, this is not implausible. Some people from Mexico are pure Spanish. Spain is as European as, say, Italy or Serbia. Perez is expected to be out of jail in 6 months. So why, under America's system of racial preferences for the supposedly oppressed non-whites, should Perez be eligible for racial preferences as a Hispanic if he applies to college or to get a government job? Should DNA testing be instituted for Hispanics to separate out the pure Europeans and make them ineligible for preferences?
Update: Because of racial intermarriage the question about DNA testing strikes me as something that may be taken seriously at some point in public policy discussions. Suppose Bob Smith marries Maria Gonzales and they have a kid named Bill Smith. Then suppose Bob's sister Betty Smith marries Maria's brother Juan and they have a child named Pedro Gonzalez. Do you think the admissions officials at, say, Harvard are going to treat Bill Smith and Pedro Gonzalez equally? Of course not. Who will get to define what race you are in the future?
Indeed, a new Pew Research Center survey released on the same day as the President's announcement finds that backing for new accounts has dipped to 46%, from 58% in December, an ominous sign for the traveling Salesman-in-Chief.
Bush Administration Treasury Secretary John Snow says that the Administration is willing to consider private retirement accounts that would be funded by an increase in Social Security taxes or as a new separately named tax.
Mr. Snow said the administration wanted to encourage the development of as many ideas as possible and that it was open to looking at personal accounts that would supplement Social Security rather than, as in the plan President Bush has proposed, replace a portion of the traditional government-paid benefit.
Treasury Secretary John Snow said he, Bush and other administration officials will spend the next two months barnstorming the country to try to build support for Bush's plan to allow younger workers to divert some payroll taxes into stocks and bonds.
"I don't want to take something to the Senate floor where I've got every one of the members across the aisle saying there's a problem," Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said Tuesday. "In terms of whether it will be a week, a month, six months or a year as to when we bring something to the floor, it's just too early (to tell)."
Some Republican politicians believe that it is a mistake to lead with a proposal built around private accounts using existing Social Security tax revenue. Such a proposal puts Democrats in the position of being able to demagogue by claiming that Republican financial interests are conniving to rip off Social Security for the benefit of rich people. So Senator Charles Grassley wants to shift the focus of the debate toward Social Security solvency.
Like other GOP leaders, Sen. Charles Grassley said he personally supports Bush's plan to divert payroll taxes into personal accounts. But Grassley, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee that would consider Social Security legislation, added that the controversy surrounding it is giving Democrats an excuse to ignore the program's serious financial problems.
"Maybe we ought to focus on the solvency and bring people to the table just over what do you do for the solvency for the next 75 years," Grassley, R-Iowa, said Wednesday.
Grassley said "personal accounts don't have a lot to do with solvency," a distinction that Bush glosses over but that his advisers concede.
"It really has given the Democrats an opportunity to focus on the personal accounts and avoid the responsibility that we all have about the solvency of it," Grassley said in an interview with Iowa reporters.
One quibble with Grassley's argument: To the extent that personal accounts are used to replace current uses of Social Security tax revenue the personal accounts will raise labor market participation rates and economic growth. Therefore they could contribute to lessening of the Social Security funding crisis. See below for more on labor market participation rates as a key but rarely mentioned element on the old age retirement funding debate.
But what date that Social Security Trust Fund theoretically runs out of money is not the first moment of crisis. The crisis will be begin as the baby boomers start to retire. In order for Social Security to be able to pay future retirees it must take back money it loaned to the US Treasury and getting that money back is going to be hard to do. The US Treasury will need to borrow enormous amounts of money on the open market to raise the funds. Plus, the Treasury is already running a large deficit which is partially hidden by the amount it borrows from Social Security. When the Trust Fund starts spending as much as it takes in (en route toward spending much more than it takes in) Treasury will have to start borrowing much larger sums on the market for its own needs. That increase in Treasury borrowing will come even before it starts to borrow even greater sums to pay back the Trust Fund. Massive borrowing on top of the existing federal debt could drive up US interest rates and choke the economy. Bush's private accounts proposal falls far short of addressing the borrowing problem.
Plus, Social Security is not even half the old age retirement benefits cost problem. Medicare is in even worse financial shape and Bush helped make Medicare's financial condition worse by supporting a huge expansion of Medicare liabilities with his support for the addition of an expensive drug benefit to Medicare.
My take on financial changes of the sort that Bush is proposing is that they fail to address the deeper root problem: The ratio of workers to retirees is going to become too low.
In 1950, there were 16 workers paying taxes into the system for every retiree who was taking benefits out of it. Today, there are a little more than three. By the time the baby boomers retire, there will be just two workers who will have to pay all the taxes to support every one retiree.
Fewer workers for more retirees mean each worker bears an increasing financial burden to pay the benefits that Social Security has promised. The original Social Security tax was just 2 percent on the first $3,000 that a worker earned, a maximum tax of $60 per year. By 1960, payroll taxes had risen to 6 percent. Today's workers pay a payroll tax of 12.4 percent.
It is going to get much worse. In order to continuing funding retiree benefits, the payroll tax will have to be raised to more than 18 percent. That's nearly a 50 percent increase.
Shifting money into new accounts and investing more money in the stock market will not make that dependency ratio problem go away. The stock market can not generate enough wealth to pay for the coming increase in the number of retirees. If the dependency ratio reaches 2 to 1 then the taxes needed to pay for Social Security and Medicare will shift the American economy toward the European model of lower labor market participation rates, slower growth, lower per capita GDP, and lower living standards. Our financial problems will grow worse as workers work fewer hours and therefore earn less and pay less in taxes. Therefore a big hike in taxes can not solve the problem either. What we need is for people to work longer and to be physically able to work longer. Already disability is coming a decade later for those born in the early 20th century as compared to those born in the early 19th century. The Bush Administration is making a big mistake by causing biomedical research funding to fall behind the rate of inflation. We need to accelerate research in biomedical sciences to produce more treatments that slow and delay aging and disability. Then people could work longer and the worker dependency ratio could be higher and less burdensome. Even with today's average level of health of people in their 60s the retirement age could be raised with the addition of early retirement for the small fraction of the population who have aged more rapidly and become unable to work.
Eminent historian Robert Conquest, who for decades wrote politically incorrect but true things about Stalin and the Soviet Union and who for his effort was heavily criticised from the Left, has an essay in The National Interest taking on a different group of believers in false panaceas. This time Conquest's target is the mad crowd that sees democracy as the universal solution for political problems.
The common addiction to general words or concepts tends to produce mind blockers or reality distorters. As Clive James has put it, "verbal cleverness, unless its limitations are clearly and continuously seen by its possessors, is an unbeatable way of blurring reality until nothing can be seen at all."
"Democracy" is high on the list of blur-begetters--not a weasel word so much as a huge rampaging Kodiak bear of a word. The conception is, of course, Greek. It was a matter of the free vote by the public (though confined to males and citizens). Pericles, praising the Athenian system, is especially proud of the fact that policies are argued about and debated before being put into action, thus, he says, "avoiding the worst thing in the world", which is to rush into action without considering the consequences. And, indeed, the Athenians did discuss and debate, often sensibly.
Its faults are almost as obvious as its virtues. And examples are many--for instance, the sentencing of Socrates, who lost votes because of his politically incorrect speech in his own defense. Or the Athenian assembly voting for the death of all the adult males and the enslavement of all the women and children of Mytilene, then regretting the decision and sending a second boat to intercept, just in time, the boat carrying the order. Democracy had the even more grievous result of procuring the ruin of Athens, by voting for the disastrous and pointless expedition to Syracuse against the advice of the more sensible, on being bamboozled by the attractive promises of the destructive demagogue Alcibiades.
His use of the Clive James quote about verbal cleverness strikes me as a subtle (or perhaps not so subtle) allusion to neoconservatives.
So how about instant democracy of the sort that the neocons want spread over the Middle East? By Conquest's standard it is worthless because it does not emerge from an existing tradition that will support it.
As to later elections, a few years ago there was a fairly authentic one in Algeria. If its results had been honored, it would have replaced the established military rulers with an Islamist political order. This was something like the choice facing Pakistan in 2002. At any rate, it is not a matter on which the simple concepts of democracy and free elections provide us with clear criteria. "Democracy" is often given as the essential definition of Western political culture. At the same time, it is applied to other areas of the world in a formal and misleading way. So we are told to regard more or less uncritically the legitimacy of any regime in which a majority has thus won an election. But "democracy" did not develop or become viable in the West until quite a time after a law-and-liberty polity had emerged. Habeas corpus, the jury system and the rule of law were not products of "democracy", but of a long effort, from medieval times, to curb the power of the English executive. And democracy can only be seen in any positive or laudable sense if it emerges from and is an aspect of the law-and-liberty tradition.
I typed the above before reading the rest of his essay and, lo and behold, Conquest has disparaging things to say about "instant democracies". Hey, and I already thought highly of this guy!
The countries without at least a particle of that background or evolution cannot be expected to become instant democracies; and if they do not live up to it, they will unavoidably be, with their Western sponsors, denounced as failures. Democracy in any Western sense is not easily constructed or imposed. The experience of Haiti should be enough comment.
Conquest says democratization is sometimes used as a tool to ruin institutions.
Democratization of undemocratizable institutions is sometimes doubtless the expression of a genuine utopian ideal, as when the Jacobins by these means destroyed the French navy. But more often it is (in the minds of the leading activists, at least) a conscious attempt to ruin the institutions in question, as when the Bolsheviks used the idea to destroy the old Russian army. When this, among other things, enabled them to take power themselves, they were the first to insist on a discipline even more vigorous.
So then are some advocates of democracy really preaching it in order to cause destruction and general mayhem? How about, say, a civil war between majority and minority groups in Middle Eastern countries? Could this in fact be a conscious but unspoken goal?
Disappointed by the lack of insights to be gleaned from 99.9+% of the commentators you read? Go read his full essay. The mind that wrote it was born July 15, 1917 which makes him 87 years old. I hope my mind can work that well should I live to be that old.