2006 January 28 Saturday
Aaron Brown Says Cable News Viewers Want Shallow Fare

After getting replaced by Anderson Cooper Aaron Brown says that TV news viewers click away from intellectually heavy news stories.

Brown said he tried to give viewers a balanced diet of light and serious news with NewsNight. "But I always knew when I got to the Brussels sprouts, I was on thin ice," he said.

When NewsNight spent four hours covering the arrest of actor Robert Blake for the murder of his wife, Brown received thousands of e-mails criticizing the amount of time the show spent on the story. Nevertheless, that show, which aired in April 2002, received the highest ratings of any program since NewsNight's coverage of the November 2001 crash of American Airlines flight 587.

"Television is the most perfect democracy," Brown said. "You sit there with your remote control and vote." The remotes click to another channel when serious news airs, but when the media covers the scandals surrounding Laci Peterson, the Runaway Bride or Michael Jackson, "there are no clicks then," the journalist said.

Over half the US population have IQs below 100 and the percentage of lower IQ people is growing. So what does he expect? Any coverage that attempts to explain the complex causes of events goes over the heads of at least three quarters of the public. Most people just can't handle that much complexity and see no reason to put themselves through intellectual workouts when watching the news.

Also, my guess is that smarter people in America are either watching C-SPAN or financial news or, more likely, get their news from reading. TV news tends to appeal to those who do not want to read or can not read (Peter Sellers as Chance the Gardener/Chauncey Gardiner: "I like to watch TV").

The irony about Aaron Brown pining for the old pre-cable days when the regular nightly news anchors ruled the air is that the famous nightly news anchors of previous decades in America (Walter Cronkite, Dan Rather, etc) were not brilliant men. They were smarter than average. But they did not have special insights and there was never a great renaissance in TV news reporting. The skills required to make appealing news anchors never overlapped well with the skills needed to understand economics, history, science, technology, and other areas which can provide real understanding.

Then there are problems in human cognition aside from IQ. People get a drug-like high from shutting down their reasoning facilities in support of their political tribe. So Fox News functions to give junkies their fixes. So does partisan coverage on other news channels. You can't appeal to addicts with reason. They want their partisan fix.

By Randall Parker 2006 January 28 02:00 PM  Media Critique
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2006 January 26 Thursday
Hamas Victorious In Palestinian Territories Elections

The US faith-based initiative to spread democracy in the Middle East as a way to stop terrorism and create a friendlier neighborhood for Israel bears more bitter fruit with a big political victory for the Palestinian Muslim political party Hamas.

Hamas's triumph on Thursday in winning 76 seats in the 132-member Palestinian parliament against 43 for Fatah was widely seen as a political earthquake in the Middle East, triggered by voter disenchantment with corruption.

The same qualities of Arab nations that lead to corrupt governments also make democracy unlikely to improve the situation. Successful democracy is an outgrowth of qualities of a culture which must already be present before democracy is established. Well, some of those qualities are missing from most of the world.

Hamas is a Muslim Brotherhood spin-off dedicated to the destruction of Israel.

Founded in the crowded Gaza Strip in 1987 as an outgrowth of the Egyptian fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, the group, whose name means "zeal," is an Arabic acronym for the Islamic Resistance Movement. Its birth coincided with the start of the first Palestinian uprising against Israel and its covenant, published a year later, called for a zealous campaign to destroy Israel.

"Holy war," the document declared, is a duty binding on all Muslims whenever "enemies usurp Islamic lands."

George W. Bush has pressured Middle Eastern regimes to conduct elections that bring Islamic victories.

Only a few years ago, political Islam was considered to be on the decline, partly stunted by the 1991 cancellation of elections that Algeria’s Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) was set to win. The move by the military plunged the country into a long civil war and devastated the FIS, serving as a bleak warning to other Islamists aspiring for power through the ballot box.

The September 11 2001 attacks also put Islamist parties on the defensive, and gave Arab regimes an excuse for harsher crackdowns.

But as US pressure for democratisation in the region has gained momentum, Islamists, whether militant or non-violent, have been the most adept at capitalising on the popular discontent with existing governments.

The Hamas victory is part of a much larger pattern in the Middle East where democracy brings Islamic election victories.

Recent history shows the pro-American side doesn't always win elections in the Arab world. Far from it: Besides Hamas, which has roots in the Islamist movement and Palestinian nationalism, Islamic parties have done well in recent elections in Egypt, Morocco and Iraq.

The most notorious example may be Algeria, where the Islamic Salvation Front won a first-round election victory in December 1991, only to have further balloting halted. An army crackdown targeted the Islamists and fueled a civil war that claimed more than 100,000 lives, according to the CIA's World Factbook.

Democracy means theocracy in the Middle East.

Martin Walker says there are three reasons why the US and European refusal to deal with Hamas will not last.

There are, however, three powerful reasons why this ban may not last, or at least may not mean quite what it says. The first is that a similar ban on dealings with the Palestinian Liberation Organization did not prevent discreet talks through third parties, usually the Algerians.

The second is West is financial. The spending of the PA government, including the salaries of its officials, health service and construction industry, is very largely dependent on funding from the European Union. The economic collapse and social despair that are likely to follow a complete breakdown of the Palestinian state could swiftly become a humanitarian crisis.

The third and probably crucial reason why Hamas may yet end up talking to the West is that there is a profound contradiction between a ban on talks with Hamas and the Bush administration's commitment to promote democracy in the Middle East.

Walker points out that the Bush Administration will be under intense pressure from Jewish groups to maintain the US ban on Hamas. How can democracy be the fount of moral legitimacy when elections can bring to power governments which would like to destroy other democracies?

If it is the democratic will of the Palestinians to wipe the Israelis from the face of this Earth then how can that will be illegitimate? Western liberals and neocons alike strike the rhetorical pose that the democratic will of the majority is the definition of moral legitimacy.

Will Hamas make sure it never loses future elections?

The world should be on alert, however, for a move by Hamas to slowly take over the machinery of elections to prevent itself from being voted out. That wouldn't be unusual for a fundamentalist Islamic group that relies on a rigid hierarchy for its internal affairs.

In many nations, from 1930s Germany to modern third-world nations with elected leaders-turned-dictators, democracy has too easily been hijacked by those who use it merely to gain power and then hold onto it by manipulation of that power.

Islamists will fail to fix what ails the Middle East. Democracy in the Middle East will be a disappointment for the Arabs and for the neoconservatives around Bush. Who will each group blame for the outcomes?

By Randall Parker 2006 January 26 09:30 PM  MidEast Arabs Versus Israelis
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2006 January 25 Wednesday
Two Reports See US Military As Overstretched

Two reports see the US military as overextended by Iraq and Afghanistan.

WASHINGTON - A pair of reports by outside experts in the last two days warn that the Army has been stretched thin by repeated combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and could soon reach the breaking point.

The first, a report on the Iraq war that was commissioned by the Pentagon and made public Tuesday, said defense officials risk "breaking the force" if current troop levels are maintained in both countries without increasing the size of the Army or slowing the pace of deployments.

The second, issued Wednesday by Democrats on Capitol Hill, warned that unless the strain on the Army and Marine Corps is relieved soon, "it will have highly corrosive and potentially long-term effects on the force." Over time, it argued, the services would be weakened and the country would be more vulnerable to potential enemies.

One report was done for the Pentagon.

The report's author, retired Lt Col Andrew Krepinevich, a Vietnam veteran and former adviser to three defence secretaries, says the decision to reduce troop numbers in Iraq was an admission that the military was overstretched.

If the 500,000 strong force does not win its "race against time", leaders "risk breaking the force in the form of a catastrophic decline" in recruitment and re-enlistment.

The recruiting slump could turn down even more drastically.

As evidence, Krepinevich points to the Army's 2005 recruiting slump -- missing its recruiting goal for the first time since 1999 -- and its decision to offer much bigger enlistment bonuses and other incentives.

"You really begin to wonder just how much stress and strain there is on the Army, how much longer it can continue," he said in an interview. He added that the Army is still a highly effective fighting force and is implementing a plan that will expand the number of combat brigades available for rotations to Iraq and Afghanistan.

He wrote that the Army is "in a race against time" to adjust to the demands of war "or risk 'breaking' the force in the form of a catastrophic decline" in recruitment and re-enlistment.

The report from the Democrats was done by former Clinton Defense Secretary William Perry and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Perry and Albright advocate increasing the size of the deployable force.

The Perry/Albright report specifically recommends enlarging the Army's active-duty force by 30,000 troops and creating 48 combat brigades -- six more than the service now plans. The former officials recognize that, given the Army's failure to meet recruiting goals in 2005, substantially increasing the size of the force will take time.

It would come with a hefty price tag: about $1.5 billion to stand up and equip each new brigade, according to the study. Army leaders have opposed efforts in Congress to authorize a much larger force, arguing that doing so would jeopardize their high-priced plans to transform the service technologically.

But where could the US military get the troops to create new brigades? In an increasingly desperate attempt to find new soldiers the US military is already dipping much lower in the IQ scale (confirming what House Rep. John Murtha claimed) and offeriing bigger bonuses while still failing to recruit enough soldiers. The US military is becoming dumber.

Join the US Army and expect to go on multiple tours to Middle Eastern combat zones.

To support its conclusions, the Democrats' report noted that "every available combat brigade from the active Army has already been to Afghanistan or Iraq at least once" and many units are on a second tour. About 95 percent of the Army National Guard's combat battalions and special operations units have been activated since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, leaving little force available for call up without a new presidential declaration of a national emergency, it said.

Also, all active duty Marine Corps units "are being used on a tight rotation schedule" with less than a year home between seven-month deployments, it said.

The California-based 1st Marine Expeditionary Force now is deploying to Iraq for the third time since early 2003. About one third of the enlisted Marines in those units are facing their third combat tour while another third will be going for a second time.

I can't see how the US could attack Iran except with air strikes. The US would first have to withdraw from most of Iraq in order to launch an attack and Iran has three times the population of Iraq. An Iran invasion would be much harder.

By Randall Parker 2006 January 25 08:56 PM  MidEast Iraq Military Needs
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2006 January 24 Tuesday
States Step In To Enforce Immigration Controls

The battle against illegal aliens is shifting toward the state and local levels.

Frustrated by congressional inaction and pushed by anger at home, state legislatures across the United States are debating tough new restrictions on illegal immigrants.

For years, states deferred to the federal government on immigration matters, but as illegal immigrants have spread throughout the country and Congress has been unable to pass an immigration reform bill, that has changed. In the first six months of last year, states considered nearly 300 immigration-related bills and passed 36 of them, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Bush and the US Senate are going to continue to put business interests and Hispanic votes ahead of the will of the majorty and the best interests of the nation as a whole. So popular anger will continue to build and states will pass more legislation aimed at illegal aliens.

Georgia's legislature is considering proposals aimed at illegal aliens.

Cracking down on employers who either willfully or negligently employ undocumented immigrants seems to be gaining favor not only with the federal Department of Homeland Security but with lawmakers in statehouses and Congress. And Georgia is no exception.

Several bills are before the Georgia Legislature this session that would address the issue. In Georgia, an estimated 4 percent of workers are illegal immigrants, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

While officials in Los Angeles predictably decry the move some Orange County California police departments are among the first to train to enforce immigration laws.

The Costa Mesa Police Department and Orange County Sheriff's Department are developing plans for their officers to be trained alongside federal immigration agents so they can understand and help enforce immigration laws.

They are among the first in the nation to seek the training, and their effort has generated both interest from other agencies and protests from immigrants' rights groups.

"Dozens of jurisdictions have reached out to us and asked us for copies of this policy," said Jon Fleischman, a spokesman for the Sheriff's Department. "Like with any instrument that provides a resource to find criminals, departments are looking at this to see if this will help fight crime."

The editors of the Christian Science Monitor argue that state level activity in making immigration policy is a symptom of the unwillingness of the US federal government to enforce immigration laws.

But the bottom line is that the US is a country of laws. Illegal immigration is a large-scale abuse of the law, with social and economic costs. The fact that states considered more than 300 immigration bills last year shows the absolute failure of the federal government to enforce immigration laws.

Only popular anger will force the idiots in Washington DC to crack down. But the anger has to build a lot more before the Senators will listen.

By Randall Parker 2006 January 24 09:34 PM  Immigration Law Enforcement
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Mexican Soldiers Cross Over Into United States Smuggling Drugs

Jerry Seper reports on Mexican soldiers crossing the US border helping drug smugglers.

The U.S. Border Patrol has warned agents in Arizona of incursions into the United States by Mexican soldiers "trained to escape, evade and counterambush" if detected -- a scenario Mexico denied yesterday.

The warning to Border Patrol agents in Tucson, Ariz., comes after increased sightings of what authorities described as heavily armed Mexican military units on the U.S. side of the border. The warning asks the agents to report the size, activity, location, time and equipment of any units observed.

It also cautions agents to keep "a low profile," to use "cover and concealment" in approaching the Mexican units, to employ "shadows and camouflage" to conceal themselves and to "stay as quiet as possible."

The bad President in the White House and the elite club of fools in the US Senate do not care about this sort thing.

Rafael Laveaga of the Mexican embassy in Washington DC would like us to believe that drug smugglers are just dressing up to look like Mexican soldiers. The head of the Border Patrol union thinks this claim is ridiculous.

Laveaga said some drug smugglers headed "both north and south" wear uniforms and drive military-type vehicles, and might have "confused" U.S. authorities.

"Give me a break," said T.J. Bonner, a 27-year Border Patrol veteran who heads the National Border Patrol Council. "Intrusions by the Mexican military to protect drug loads happen all the time and represent a significant threat to the agents.

The FBI acknowledged a recent border stand-off.

SIERRA BLANCA, Texas – Men dressed as Mexican Army soldiers, apparent drug suspects and Texas law enforcement officers faced off on the U.S. side of the Rio Grande, an FBI spokeswoman said Tuesday.

Andrea Simmons, an agency spokeswoman in El Paso, told The Associated Press that Texas Department of Public Safety troopers chased three SUVs, believing they were carrying drugs, to the banks of the Rio Grande during Monday's incident.

Men dressed in Mexican military uniforms or camouflage were on the U.S. side of the border in Texas, she said.

The statement by Andrea Simmons of the FBI confirms claims by local officlals of a stand-off with Mexican soldiers and civilian smugglers.

Mexican soldiers and civilian smugglers had an armed standoff with nearly 30 U.S. law enforcement officials on the Rio Grande in Texas Monday afternoon, according to Texas police and the FBI.

Mexican military Humvees were towing what appeared to be thousands of pounds of marijuana across the border into the United States, said Chief Deputy Mike Doyal, of the Hudspeth County Sheriff's Department.

Mexican Army troops had several mounted machine guns on the ground more than 200 yards inside the U.S. border -- near Neely's Crossing, about 50 miles east of El Paso -- when Border Patrol agents called for backup. Hudspeth County deputies and Texas Highway patrol officers arrived shortly afterward, Doyal said.

"It's been so bred into everyone not to start an international incident with Mexico that it's been going on for years," Doyal said. "When you're up against mounted machine guns, what can you do? Who wants to pull the trigger first? Certainly not us."

An FBI spokeswoman confirmed the incident happened at 2:15 p.m. Pacific Time.

US federal officials will avoid saying that elements of the Mexican military are crossing over into the United States to smuggle drugs. While it is obvious this is happening do not expect the Bush Administration to send US soldiers down to the border to shoot the border crossing corrupt Mexican soldiers.

Congressman Rick Renzi wants the US to protest diplomatically.

WASHINGTON -- An Arizona congressman yesterday demanded the State Department take "immediate diplomatic action" to stop Mexican military incursions into the United States, saying U.S. Border Patrol agents face a continuing threat of being killed by rogue soldiers protecting drug smugglers.

Two-term Republican Rep. Rick Renzi, in a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, said reports of Mexican military units providing armed escorts to drug and alien smuggling operations represent "narco-terrorism in its purest form."

"Our borders are under attack by sophisticated organizations that have no qualms about firing on our Border Patrol units," Mr. Renzi said. "As we get tougher and more committed, so do the organizations committed to smuggling death and terror across our borders."

I think a border wall and some battle-hardened US military veterans brought home from Iraq and sent out to shoot at Mexican Army drug smugglers on US territory would be a better response.

The Minutemen say they have a video of an earlier Mexican military incursion from 2004.

The Minuteman Civil Defense Corps said the 2004 video is an example of the incursions made by the Mexican military during the past 10 years, first reported in the Daily Bulletin on Jan. 15.

"(Minuteman co-founder) Chris Simcox and others were in that area watching for people illegally crossing when they stumbled upon these Mexican soldiers on our side of the border," said Connie Hair, a spokeswoman for the group.

In the video, at least three men in military-style uniforms run from the border fence with automatic weapons toward a Humvee on the Mexican side of the border.

Hair said the incident happened at the border near the San Pedro River in Arizona.

The Bush Administration is morally decadent because they let this nonsense go on. Their protestations of being good Christians count for nothing with me. Their actions and inactions speak louder than their prayers.

By Randall Parker 2006 January 24 09:00 PM  Immigration Border Control
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Larry Franklin Gets 12 Years For Spying For Israel

Jail time for a neocon.

A veteran Pentagon analyst who admitted using his Defense Department position to illegally disclose classified information to officials of an influential pro-Israeli lobbying group was sentenced yesterday in federal court to 121/2 years in prison.

Lawrence A. Franklin, 59, was named in a six-count grand jury indictment handed up in May in U.S. District Court in Alexandria. He was accused of disclosing the information to two officials at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). He pleaded guilty to the charges in October.

Franklin is going to get a chance to reduce his sentence by tattling big time on accused co-conspirators and former AIPAC employees Steven J. Rosen and Keith Weissman. Franklin is smaller fish compared to Rosen and Weissman.

Plato Cacheris, a lawyer for Mr. Franklin, said, "Mr. Franklin will not have to commence his sentence until after he completes his cooperation, at which time the court will entertain a motion to reduce his sentence."

The US grand jury indictment of Franklin, Rosen, and Weissman makes for interesting reading. Note the US government officials who were passing along classified information as far back as 1999 when the FBI started watching them.

In furtherance of the conspiracy and to effect the object thereof, defendants FRANKLIN, ROSEN, and WEISSMAN did commit overt acts in the; Eastern District of Virginia and elsewhere, including but not limited to the following:

1. On or about April 13, 1999, ROSEN had a conversation with Foreign Official 1 (FO-1) and told FO-1 that he (ROSEN) had "picked up alt extremely sensitive piece of intelligence" which ROSEN described as codeword protected intelligence. ROSEN then disclosed to FO-1 national defense information concerning terrorist activities in Central Asia.

2. On or about May 12, 1999, ROSEN and FO-1 met for lunch and further discussed the disclosure ROSEN made on April 13, 1999.

3. On or about June 11, 1999, WEISSMAN had a conversation with FO-1 and told FO-1 that a "Secret FBI, classified FBI report" on the Khobar Towers bombing had been prepared and that he (WEISSMAN) had gotten this information from three different sources, including United States government officials.

4. On or about June 11, 1999 , WEISSMAN had another conversation with FO-1 and told FO-1 that he (WEISSMAN) had gotten a member of the media interested in the abovereferenced classified FBI report on the Khobar Towers bombing

5. On or about December 12, 2000, ROSEN and WEISSMAN met with a United States government official (USGO‑1). Following the meeting, ROSEN had a conversation with a member of the media to whom he gave information about classified United States strategy options against a Middle Eastern country and the internal United Stales government deliberations on those options. USGO‑1, with whom ROSEN and WEISSMAN met, had access to the classified information ROSEN disclosed.

6. On or about January 18, 2002, ROSEN met with another United States government official (USGO‑2). After the meeting and on that same day, a memorandum containing information ROSEN had obtained from USGO‑2 was sent to fellow AIPAC employees. The memorandum contained classified information provided by USGO‑2.

7. On or about January 23, 2002, ROSEN had a conversation with a foreign national and disclosed classified information provided to ROSEN by USGO‑2 during their January 18, 2042 meeting.

If Rosen and Weissman get convicted and face long sentences will either of them be willing to turn on some of their informants in the US government?

Rosen and Weissman go on trial in April 2006.

The two former AIPAC lobbyists, Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, are scheduled to go to trial in April.

Their lawyers have argued that they were engaged in routine lobbying work and were not trafficking in classified information.

I hope these prosecutions eventually lead back into the US government but at higher levels than the level Franklin worked.

By Randall Parker 2006 January 24 07:27 PM  Elites Betrayal And Incompetence
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2006 January 22 Sunday
Iraq Oil Production Falls 3 Months In A Row

Oil production is down.

Three years after Bush administration officials predicted that oil revenues would fund the country's reconstruction, the industry is in turmoil. Attacks that knocked out pipelines in the north have combined with bad weather in the south to drive Iraq's oil exports last month to their lowest level since September 2003, in the aftermath of the US-led invasion.

Bush Administration predictions on oil production were so very wrong. I think we should pay more attention to track records on predictions and accord less weight to those who make many big incorrect predictions.

Our side can't fix the oil equipment faster than the insurgents can blow it up.

But US officials acknowledge that increase will only happen if Iraqis can protect the entire pipeline.

''If you could repair it faster than they could destroy it, you'd win the battle. But you can't," said Lowell Feld, analyst with the Energy Information Administration, an arm of the US Department of Energy.

The insurgents have insider information on some (all?) oil facilities and use it to target and time attacks.

Guarding the Fatah oil refinery used to be a pretty straightforward job for Saif Mohammed. Insurgents hit only sporadically, and usually missed important targets. But by early last year, attackers were using rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and heavy machine guns in brazen daylight assaults. They seemed to know about everything and everybody in the refinery. Ambushes were common. "We were afraid to even take vacation and go home," says 26-year-old Mohammed. "The people who worked with us used to tip off the fighters. They wanted to play both sides—to keep their jobs and be informants for the terrorists."

In addition to granting women more legal rights than they currently enjoy Saddam Hussein was also capable of protecting his oil facilities from internal opponents.

For the cost of the war in Iraq we could fund a lot of energy research, heavily insulate all government buildings, and take other steps to reduce our reliance on oil.

By Randall Parker 2006 January 22 10:40 PM  Mideast Iraq Economics
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2006 January 16 Monday
Liberalism Continues Retreat In Russia

Writing for the Christian Science Monitor Christopher Walker of Freedom House argues that freedom is on the retreat in Russia and countries of the former Soviet Union.

NEW YORK – President Vladimir Putin is poised to give the Russian government the tools to exert even greater control over the country's already beleaguered nongovernmental sector. The restrictive NGO law that awaits his signature broadens the grounds for denying registration to or closing Russian NGOs, setting the stage for greater government interference in their work. The draft law on his desk, however, represents only the most recent blow in what is a larger, systematic effort by the authorities to curb independent voices in Russia.

Moreover, this Kremlin measure is just the latest in a string of repressive steps throughout the former Soviet Union. This tightening by autocratic regimes is in no small part a reaction to the recent democratic movements in neighboring countries. The ferocity with which post-Soviet strongmen have reacted, while not entirely surprising, confirms that these regimes are dropping even the pretense of democratic practice.

I haven't written as many posts as I should have on the decay of democracy in some parts of the world including the former Soviet Union. I read the reports of liberal aides forced out of the Kremlin in Moscow and TV stations brought under government control and it just seems so depressing. I'm not surprised really. But the reality is such at odds with the neocon and liberal faith in inevitable democracy (assumed to be liberal and free of course) as the cure for what ails the world. In reality breaks with historical patterns of cause and effect do not happen as often or as easily as the promoters of the latest Panglossian fad for how to fix the world would have you believe.

Russia's a great example of how historical patterns keep recurring. Paul Hollander has a review of Richard Pipes' latest book on Russia Russian Conservatism and Its Critics: A Study in Political Culture. Pipes sees a recurring pattern of authoritarian rule under Tsarist and communist Russia and again in the current trend toward greater authoritarianism. Pipes believes local conditions and history provide explanations for why Russian political culture remains so different from that found in Europe and the United States.

Another question often raised by historians is why the evolution of Russia diverged so sharply from that of other European states, and especially those in the West. Part of the answer is that Russia has never been a fully European country, neither geographical ly nor culturally. Secular political theory in Russia did not emerge until the 18th century. Russia did not benefit from the Renaissance or the Reformation - phenomena that in Western Europe promoted individualism, political pluralism, a sense of property rights, and a work ethic.

But, as Mr. Pipes points out, there are further, more specific explanations of why a country such as Russia was more likely to become (and remain) autocratic. As a large country, it had insecure borders, and so was exposed to foreign invasion. Such insecurity created pressures for a centralized government, and the state's expansion by conquest created a diverse ethnic composition that added to the authorities' determination to bring and keep things under control. Nor were 2 1/2 centuries of subjection to Mongol rule conducive to nurturing self-government, political pluralism, and habits of tolerance.

Local conditions and the nature of the local people also keep the Middle East so different from the West.

Meanwhile Ukrainian President Victor Yushchenko's attempt to democratize Ukraine may be backfiring because he's devolved power to a thoroughly corrupt and illiberal parliament.

Mr Yushchenko's main difficulty is that, under the deal that saw his predecessor Leonid Kuchma surrender office peacefully just over a year ago, power is being transferred from the presidency to parliament. In theory this should strengthen Ukrainian democracy by reducing the possibility of a future president establishing a Kuchma-style authoritarian regime. In practice, the reform is moving power from Mr Yushchenko - the one man who was able to rally Ukraine's democratic forces - to an assembly riddled by corruption and self-interest and easily exploited by the Kremlin. With parliamentary elections due in March, deputies are more concerned about saving their seats than saving the country.

Will Ukraine become more Western and liberal or will it follow Russia back into authoritarianism? The US and Europe have a far better chance of influencing Ukraine's development than the Middle East. Though whether a big push to Westernise Ukraine will be made remains to be seen. The EU seems more bent on bringing in a far less tractable Muslim Turkey than in trying to modernize Ukraine. Bush has his attention diverted by the mess he's gotten us into in Iraq. Putin might be able to pull Ukraine back in Russia's orbit.

Dahlia Khalifa seems to think the democratic minority in the world are getting too condescending and dictatorial toward the non-democratic majority.

Carrying such exclusionary logic further, this emerging "democratic-caucus" is now laying the groundwork for the disenfranchisement of all states who are not members of the club. The argument here is while the United Nations is based on the democratic principle of one-nation, one-vote, this is not actually democracy because not all the states represented at the United Nations actually democratically represent their respective peoples. Accordingly, if the government itself is not of a democratic state, how can it have a vote at the United Nations and still maintain that the United Nations is democratic?

Once again, while interesting selective reasoning, with perhaps some slight fallacy in composition, it flies in the face of the very essence of the United Nations in respecting all nations, large and small, based on the sacrosanct principle of state sovereignty and inclusionary diplomacy.

What then is the emerging scenario from this logic? As of 2004, there were 88 countries rated by Freedom House as being free or democratic. The United Nations has 191 member states. Do states such as China, Russia, and even Iran then lose their right to vote at the United Nations? Shall the other 103 states be stripped of their sovereignty and be relegated, perhaps, to observer status, like the Palestinian Authority, while the club of 88, assuming they even all want to join the caucus, then vote on all issues before the United Nations such as the respect and creation of international law, to maintain international peace and security and promotion of human rights?

You might say that the democratic minority are not respecting the rights of the undemocratic majority. Oh the irony.

By Randall Parker 2006 January 16 10:21 PM  Democracy Failure
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US Leans Toward Supporting Sunnis Against Shias In Iraq

Writing for the Christian Science Monitor Charles Levinson reports that the United States is trying to support the Sunni Arabs to an extent that is creating strong Shia resentment.

Increasingly, the US is throwing its weight in Iraq behind Sunni Arabs, about 20 percent of the country, to ensure they are part of a new coalition government.

Analysts say the US is convinced reconciliation with Sunni Arabs will help stop the insurgency. There is also an American unease with the growing influence of Iran on Iraq's dominant Shiite bloc.

But Shiite leaders have responded defiantly, threatening unflinching stands that could push the country closer to full-scale civil war.

Read the full article. It has lots of fascinating quotes from Iraqi political players about their reaction to the shift of the US toward supporting the Sunnis in their power struggle with the Shias.

Recall what I said yesterday about the idea of the US shifting support toward the Sunnis.

I do not see that a continued US military presence will help reduce the problems flowing from inter-group rivalries. The US occupation forces would have to morph into a protective force for the Sunnis against the Shias in order to change Sunni attitudes toward the US military. But even if that happened the Sunnis would resent their protectors and the Shias would see the US forces as enemies.

If the US goes too far with this it could find itself once more fighting the Mahdi Army. Tribal societies are very hard to manage unless one is willing to ruthlessly kill random members of extended tribal families when any member steps out of line. But the US isn't going to rule as Saddam did. So US attempts to balance the power aren't going to work too well.

By Randall Parker 2006 January 16 10:07 PM  Mideast Iraq Ethnic Conflict
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2006 January 15 Sunday
Dimitri Simes: Jihad Unintended

Dimitri Simes, president of The Nixon Center and publisher of The National Interest says a Carter Administration covert operations in Afghanistan helped push the Soviets to invade.

ACCORDING TO former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, now one of the most acerbic critics of President Bush's handling of both Iraq and radical Islam, the Carter Administration authorized a covert CIA operation, notwithstanding an expectation that it would provoke a Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In an interview in Le Nouvel Observateur in 1998, Brzezinski said that clandestine U.S. involvement in Afghanistan began months before the Soviet invasion; in fact, he added, he wrote a note to President Carter predicting that "this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention." As Brzezinski put it, "we didn't push the Russians to intervene, but we knowingly increased the probability that they would." And even in hindsight, Brzezinski thought "that secret operation was an excellent idea", because "it had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap" and exploited "the opportunity of giving the USSR its Vietnam War."

Of course, this is not what the Carter Administration told Congress or the American people at the time.

In view of Soviet expansionism elsewhere, the United States had little choice but to fight the invasion of Afghanistan once it occurred. But supporting resistance to a Soviet occupation is very different from intentionally "increasing the probability" of a Soviet invasion.

More recently, Brzezinski has acknowledged that one of his motives in entangling the Soviet Union in Afghanistan was promoting the liberation of Central Europe by diverting Soviet attention from responding more forcefully to Solidarity's challenge. Yet, desirable as this end might have been, one may question whether it justified using means that would provoke an almost decade-long war in Afghanistan that both devastated the country and jump-started a global Islamic jihad against America.

The US use of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to funnel support to Afghan rebels helped push the rebellion in a more Islamic direction and helped to radicalize many Saudis. Plus, Pakistani ISI agents developed lots of relationships with radical jihadists. This helped the Taliban come to power and stay in power. Suppose the CIA had put more effort into directly supporting the insurgency against the Soviets rather than use Muslim intermediaries. The CIA might have been able to favor relatively less religious insurgents. Though it would have taken a fair amount of foresight for the CIA to appreciate how big a problem the Muslims were going to become.

Simes also says the US could have prevented the rise of the Taliban by compromising with the Soviets to keep a coalition government in power on Soviet withdrawal. He also says the Clinton Administration rejected Russian proposals for joint action against the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

Simes points out that in some cases where the US government claims to take a position based on principle it supports outcomes which have important implications for many other border disputes and legitimacy questions.

What if Russia takes the predictable position that what is good for Kosovo should be good for other unrecognized but de facto independent states such as Nagorno-Karabakh or the Transdniester Republic? What of separatist regions like South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which share borders with Russia and where local populations overwhelmingly do not want to be a part of Georgia? In the latter case, the United States would face a series of unpleasant choices. Would the United States, in the name of principle, compel a pro-American Georgian regime to abandon its desire to restore the country's territorial integrity? Or would Washington side with Tbilisi, especially if it decides to use force to recapture these regions? If the latter, the United States could find itself embroiled in a major dispute with Russia that could effectively end cooperation on other matters of vital importance to the United States. And how would the United States force a resolution granting independence to Kosovo through the UN Security Council over probable Chinese objections, without offering guarantees that Taiwan will never become a separate, independent state? Or argue that Kosovo deserves full independence without setting a dangerous precedent that the Kurds of Iraq and Turkey may seek to emulate? The potential for trouble seems serious and real.

One thing I find annoying about Bush Jr Administration rhetoric on foreign policy is the seeming sincerity with which Bush and his underlings claim they are taking principled positions. The many inconsistencies in the Administration's positions make the claims of principle really hard to believe. When Bush Senior claimed we were fighting Saddam over Kuwait due to considerations of high principle I was gratified to know that he didn't really believe this (James Baker off-the-record to the NY Times: “We are talking about oil. Got it? Oil, vital American interests.”). Bush was just trying to prevent Saddam from becoming too powerful and to send a message to other governments (especially governments eyeing oil properties) not to go on wars of conquest. But Bush Jr. often seems too intellectually lazy to bother thinking out the many ramifications of his decisions. Simple moral principles can not replace the need for understanding the rest of the world. Clinton also made mistakes (many outlined by Simes) though not so much due to intellectual laziness as due to beliefs in myths.

Simes thinks in a calculus considerably more nuanced than what we hear from the Bushies or many ex-Clinton Administration foreign policy makers. It seems fitting that Simes runs The Nixon Center. Nixon would have understood these calculations and he would probably have made better decisions than Clinton or Bush II on events in Kosovo, Afghanistan, Russia, and other foreign lands.

Read the full Simes essay. It reminds me of just how ignorant not just US presidents but many US foreign policy makers tend to be about just how different foreign lands are from the US. The belief in the universalism of US or Western values continually trips up US policy makers who seem unable to grasp just how different other ethnicities, cultures, societies, and religions really are.

By Randall Parker 2006 January 15 09:40 PM  Politics Grand Strategy
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Anthony Cordesman Sees Signs Iraqi Insurgents Still Potent Force

Anthony Cordesman argues that the Sunni rebellion strategy is to discredit the new Iraqi government and to widen rifts within that government.

If one "red teams" insurgent motives, there are also reasons for insurgents to be more optimistic about what they can accomplish during the coming year:

—They still can mount large numbers of attacks. The Coalition forces stress that the number of attacks has risen, but that successes have dropped. It is far from clear this is true about success if one considers the impact of the attacks, and the key point is that the insurgents are still strong enough for the number of attacks to increase.

It is also worth noting that the ability of the insurgents to cause casualties is undiminished.

—Some key aspects of the fracture lines between Sunni and Shi'ite are growing. The Arab Sunni vs. Arab Shi'ite and Kurd tensions in the security forces are more serious, although the US and UK have made major efforts to control and ease them. Sectarian divisions within the Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Interior continue to grow. The new army is becoming steadily more Shi'ite and there are growing problems in promoting Sunni officers. The police remains divided along sectarian and ethnic lines. These problems are being increased by rushing new Iraqi units into the field, many in areas where they create sectarian friction. (There seems to have been some manipulation of readiness data to get the number of battalions with level 3 and level 2 readiness up to 50. Low quality units may have been added somewhat prematurely to the level 3 readiness total in spite of poor quality and experience.)

The Kurds in the Iraqi Army aren't really in the Iraqi Army. Effectively they are Kurdish Army units getting paid by the Iraqi government. They might serve that government to hunt down Sunni rebels, especially in areas where populations are a mix of Sunni Arabs and Kurds. But their larger purpose will be to serve the de facto semi-independent Kurdish government. The Iraqi Arab Army is going to be dominated by Shias. The Sunnis are going to increasingly see the Shia Army as having the primary purpose of putting down the Sunni rebellion.

I do not see that a continued US military presence will help reduce the problems flowing from inter-group rivalries. The US occupation forces would have to morph into a protective force for the Sunnis against the Shias in order to change Sunni attitudes toward the US military. But even if that happened the Sunnis would resent their protectors and the Shias would see the US forces as enemies.

I think the death tolls say a lot about how the war is progressing. Check out the Iraq Coalition Casualties web page. The daily average death rate for coalition (mostly US and UK) forces has not been trending downward. Though Iraqi civilian casualties have gone down a lot from the summer of 2005 peak.

By Randall Parker 2006 January 15 07:49 PM  Mideast Iraq Insurgency
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Sicker People Should Pay Less To Lower Cholesterol

A Rand Corporation study found that people at greater risk of heart attacks and strokes should pay less for statin drug co-pays than people at lower risk.

Cutting drug copayments for people taking cholesterol-lowering medication can keep them healthier and save more than $1 billion a year in medical costs in the United States, according to a RAND Corporation study issued today.

The study found that when cholesterol-lowering drugs cost less, patients are more likely to take the prescribed medication. As a result, many people have fewer health problems and are hospitalized less often.

The Rand researchers were able to get at the effects of co-pays by using data from many health insurance plans that differed in their levels of co-pays.

Researchers based their findings on estimates that about 6.3 million U.S. adults with private insurance or Medicare coverage take cholesterol-lowering medication. The study says cutting copayments to make the drugs cheaper for the sickest patients would avert nearly 80,000 hospitalizations and more than 31,000 emergency room visits each year – accounting for the more than $1 billion in savings.

RAND Health simulated the impact of a variable copayment plan by analyzing information from 88 health insurance plans that served more than 62,000 patients who began taking cholesterol-lowering drugs between 1997 and 2001.

“Reducing drug copayments for the sickest patients taking certain drugs can be a way to both improve patient care and hold down rising costs,” said Dana Goldman, director of health economics at RAND Health and lead author of the study. “There are obstacles to these policies, but our research suggests they should receive wider consideration.”

The RAND work needs to be duplicated for other drugs and diseases. This would be an interesting way to get at the general efficacy of a large assortment of drugs to find out which one really help reduce the incidence of disease and which ones best reduce other medical costs.

The study found that patients who had $10 per month copayments for their cholesterol-lowering medication were 6 to 10 percent more likely to fully comply with doctors' orders to take the drugs than patients who had $20 per month copayments. High-risk patients were less likely to be influenced by higher costs.

In addition, researchers analyzed the link between patients' drug compliance and their use of medical services for up to four years after starting cholesterol-lowering therapy. The researchers found that patients who were more compliant in taking their medication had lower hospitalization rates and emergency room use, particularly patients who had a higher risk profile.

Using these findings, researchers simulated the impact of a policy that eliminated copayments for both high-risk and medium-risk patients, but raised monthly copayments required for low-risk patients from $10 to $22.

While the approach appears promising, researchers warn that there are some potential problems their study did not resolve. For example, health plans with lower drug copayments for high-risk and medium-risk patients may attract higher numbers of sick patients, while discouraging healthier patients who may perceive they are penalized by being charged higher copayments.

Note that the existence of a large variety of health care plans ends up being a big experiment. Data mining on records from those health care plans could turn up many other insights on what works and what doesn't work to reduce the incidence of disease and medical costs.

By Randall Parker 2006 January 15 06:36 PM  Economics Health
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Better Neighborhoods Do Not Help School Test Scores

A paper entitled "Neighborhoods and Academic Achievement: Results from the Moving to Opportunity Experiment" by Lisa Sanbonmatsu, Jeffrey R. Kling, Greg J. Duncan, Jeanne Brooks-Gunn and just published on the National Bureau of Economic Research web site finds that housing vouchers that allowed families to move to neighborhoods with lower poverty rates did not improve test scores of children in those families.

Families originally living in public housing were assigned housing vouchers by lottery, encouraging moves to neighborhoods with lower poverty rates. Although we had hypothesized that reading and math test scores would be higher among children in families offered vouchers (with larger effects among younger children), the results show no significant effects on test scores for any age group among over 5000 children ages 6 to 20 in 2002 who were assessed four to seven years after randomization. Program impacts on school environments were considerably smaller than impacts on neighborhoods, suggesting that achievement-related benefits from improved neighborhood environments are alone small.

Social scientists who have faith in the Standard Social Science Model (SSSM - see here for an essay on the SSSM) keep trying to find ways to make social environments overcome genetic endowment. They keep failing too. But liberal social environmental determinist hope springs eternal (or at least for another 5 years). So they'll keep trying until the genetic reductionists are able to demonstrate in great detail down at the biochemical level why they are engaged in an exercise in futility.

Mind you, even without cheap DNA sequencing to allow identification of all the alleles that really matter for scholastic performance social science evidence is already available in copious quantities to disprove the SSSM. But the evidence is ignored. Though cracks in the SSSM are going to bring it down in several years in a way reminiscent of the collapse of faith in communism.

By Randall Parker 2006 January 15 05:29 PM  Education
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Immigrants Outnumber Natives On US Territory Of Saipan

Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, has written an article on the results of the United States government's policy of allowing the elites of Saipan to set their own immigration policy. Krikorian starts out with a great quote from Teddy Roosevelt about immigrants as human capital versus immigrants as citizens.

Never under any condition should this nation look at an immigrant as primarily a labor unit. He should always be looked at primarily as a future citizen.
-- Theodore Roosevelt, 1917

The Rough Rider got it exactly right. Do we want a nation of citizens? Or do we want a nation of economic work units who plug into their workplaces to produce goods? For the latter needs we are better off developing robots. But immigrants inevitably become political actors. Sometimes this is for good and sometimes for ill. That they will take on the responsibilities of citizenship and act as citizens act is by no means assured. Lots of countries have populations but few real citizens. Citizenship is an alien concept in the Middle East for example and the body politic there has essentially summoned up an immune response to this Western concept (really a British and French concept) and rejected the role of citizen.

The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) was granted control of business regulations and immigration policy when they become territories of the United States after World War II. The elites of CNMI took this as an opportunity to import a massive foreign labor force and work that labor force at very low wages and appalling conditions.

But rather than using the control over immigration to preserve their "culture and community," the island elite and outside businessmen combined it with other loopholes (tariff-free exports to the U.S. and the right to claim "Made in the USA" for locally assembled garments) to upend the intent of the immigration exemption by importing a large foreign workforce. Foreign workers, mostly Filipino and Chinese, now account for the majority of the population of 80,000.

The abuse of the workers became so bad that for a while the Philippines stopped allowing Filipinos to travel to Saipan for work.

The result was not a libertarian paradise. CNMI has high native unemployment and welfare dependency. Most natives work for the government. This is what Open Borders advocates would inflict upon the US mainland if they could get away with it.

Distortion. But moves to limit abuse are irrelevant to the more fundamental impact of a foreign-labor program: the abnormal development of the host society. The foreign-labor program has completely transformed the CNMI's society in a single generation. About 70 percent of the population is now foreign-born, almost all of it non-citizen. Chamorros, the main indigenous ethnic group, used to be a clear majority; they are now barely a quarter of the population.

The guestworker system has also reinforced in the locals a culture of pervasive dependence on government. Fully 70 percent of the labor force is non-citizens, and at least 85 percent of all private-sector jobs are held by Asians. U.S. citizens have an unemployment rate triple that of non-citizens; of the indigenous Chamorros who do have jobs, 56 percent work for the government, fueling a doubling in the size of the bureaucracy since 1980.

The 2000 census found a poverty rate on the islands of 46 percent, up significantly from just two years earlier, and nearly quadruple the U.S. rate. A recent survey found that two-thirds of children in the Commonwealth received food assistance from the local or federal government. The number of people receiving federal Food Stamps specifically has increased more than sevenfold in less than a decade.

The corrosive effect on the work ethic and morals of the American citizens is so bad that, in 1995, the government actually had to issue a directive prohibiting welfare recipients from hiring foreign maids. "Free-market success," indeed.

Welfare recipients with foreign maids. The maids are cheap when there is no minimum wage and they can get imported from countries with much lower average wages.

Do you want the United States to become like Kuwait?

The CNMI's experience over the past 20 years is a clear warning against any of the foreign-worker proposals before Congress. A new guestworker program in the U.S. would have the same basic results: widespread permanent settlement, increased illegal immigration, exploitation of foreign workers, and distortion of our economy and society. "Only a few countries, and no democratic society, have immigration policies similar to the CNMI," wrote the bipartisan Commission on Immigration Reform. "The closest equivalent is Kuwait." This is not a club we should want to join.

The "Proposition Nation" neocons make a big deal of their own concept of core American values. Well, one of my core American values is self-reliance. Unlimited immigration creates a culture of dependency. Take away labor laws and workers become treated life indentured servants. This is not self reliance. It is not freedom either.

All the babies being born to imported workers on Saipan and other CNMI are born with the right of American citizenship. But what lessons do they learn about citizenship growing up there under the conditions created by the corrupt CNMI elite? What sorts of "citizens" will they become?

Also see my post "How Jack Abramoff Made Labor Cheap On Saipan". Corrupt American elites and corrupt Saipan elites are like birds of a feather. We should reject these people and take their power away and put an end to America's immigration madness.

Update: Krikorian explains in a nutshell why we are in this mess.

The illegal population in the United States has grown to some 11 million people, not because immigration is some kind of irresistible force, like the tides or the weather, but because the special interests that benefit from uncontrolled immigration -- employers of cheap labor, ethnic pressure groups, left-wing organizations, immigration lawyers -- are not counterbalanced by any special interests that benefit from immigration controls.

Research has shown that the gap between the views of the public and the elite (Big Business, Big Labor, Big Religion, Big Journalism) are wider on immigration than on any other issue. This has resulted in a body of immigration law that looks tough on paper (to satisfy the public), but which is not enforced (to satisfy the elite).

The centerpiece of the Sensenbrenner bill is an attempt to change this, by requiring all businesses to verify new hires' Social Security numbers through an online system, which has been field-tested for nearly a decade. The bill would also expand border fencing to help state and local police deal with the illegal aliens they encounter and make it a criminal offense to be an illegal alien (you thought it already was?).

Krikorian is referring to James Sensebrenner's bill H.R. 4437, the Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005, which passed the US House of Representatives on Dec. 16, 2005.

On December 16th, the United States House of Representatives passed by 239 to 182 votes a bill sponsored by James Sensenbrenner, a Republican from Wisconsin. This would make illegal immigration a felony, create a crime of employing or aiding undocumented migrants, and order “physical infrastructure enhancements” (ie, a fence) along more than a third of the 3,100 kilometre (2,000 mile) border.

The New York Times and other liberal media are joining ethnic activists and business interests to prevent the passage of the bill in the US Senate. The New York Times is not happy.

The Times warned darkly that the bill "would broaden the nation's immigrant-smuggling law so that people who assist or shield illegal immigrants would be subject to prosecution. Offenders, who might include priests, nurses or social workers, could face up to five years in prison. The proposal would also allow the authorities to seize some assets of those convicted of such a crime." Moreover, the bill "could also subject the spouses and colleagues of illegal workers to prosecution."

Business interests oppose any measure that will reduce the supply of labor and drive up labor costs.

At the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Randel Johnson said Wednesday that the business group wanted a more comprehensive approach. The group favors both a program for temporary workers and a "pathway to legal status" for undocumented immigrants, he said.

"The House bill is unacceptable to the business community," said Johnson, chamber vice president for labor, immigration and employee benefits.

I'd love to make employers of imported labor pay for all the costs of that labor. Right now they get subsidized labor where many of the costs are paid for by the rest of us.

Note how "true immigration reform" is a code term for amnesty and open borders.

Democrats Gwen Moore of Milwaukee and Ron Kind of La Crosse plan to vote no.

Moore, citing the absence of a guest worker program, said the bill fell short of true immigration reform. The measure "generally diminishes the chances that immigrants have of becoming permanent citizens," she said

The US House more closely represents the will of the people. The US Senate and President tend to be more closely allied with elites. So Sensenbrenner and allies face an uphill battle trying to get more border fences and interior enforcement of immigration controls. So far America's traitorous elites are winning and America as a whole is losing on immigration.

Update II: Sensenbrenner's bill has all sorts of measures aimed at improving border security.

H.R. 4437 gives more direction to the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Secretary of Defense in five specific areas:

  1. It calls for them to develop a plan to increase the availability of the Department of Defense surveillance along the U.S. international land and maritime borders
  2. To assess border security vulnerabilities on Department of Interior land directly adjacent to the U.S. border
  3. Conduct a training exercise on border security information sharing
  4. Establish a Border Security Advisory Committee
  5. Establish a university-based center of Excellence for Border Security

Additionally, the bill also requires that the Secretary of DHS place any alien, unless from Mexico or Canada or who has not been admitted or paroled, into expedited removal if apprehended within 100 miles of the border and within 14 days of unauthorized entry.

If public anger continues to build on immigration the bill might eventually pass.

By Randall Parker 2006 January 15 11:56 AM  Immigration Societal Decay
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2006 January 11 Wednesday
Who Believes Bush Democracy Doctrine?

Leslie Gelb thinks most top Bushies do not believe the Bush Administration's doctrine of democracy as cure-all to end the threat of Islamic terrorism.

First of all, the real policymakers in the administration come down to six people, and while President Bush might well believe his new doctrine, he has no track record on the subject before entering the White House. Nor did he say much on this subject broadly during his first term. Vice President Cheney, on the other hand, is a hard-headed conservative pragmatist whose history would suggest great skepticism about policies designed to transform the world. Secretary of State Rice spent most of the Clinton years calling that administration dangerously naive for fomenting notions like human rights and democracy. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld delights in debating doctrines, not advancing them. Stephen Hadley, the national security advisor and consummate policy lawyer, never met a generalization, let alone a high-falutin' idea, he liked. Karl Rove, the key White House political strategist, probably doesn't object to promoting democracy abroad as long as it helps Mr. Bush and hurts the Democrats at home. (And who could be surprised to find such noble motives in American politics?) One other, now departed, was present in the Pentagon at the creation of the democracy doctrine-Paul Wolfowitz, who almost certainly believed it then.

Before Mr. Wolfowitz and many other top officials left the administration, they wedged hordes of neoconservative acolytes into the bureaucracy. They remain true believers. As for the throngs of career underlings throughout the government, they generally convey careful reserve, bordering on insouciance, about the doctrine.

So, we can say with confidence that at least one senior member of the administration is devoted to the doctrine, namely, Mr. Bush himself. His adherence to his own doctrine is no trivial matter. It means that he will insist on repeating it and that the secretary of state will join in regularly. The doctrine will not be discarded as was the anti-nation-building doctrine.

So Bush and some neocons are true believers. But most of Bush's top people probably do not believe the doctrine will work.

Gelb points out that Bush is not trying to spread democracy in Saudi Arabia. Now why would that be? Of course Al Qaeda's core comes from Saudi Arabia. Also, to my knowledge no Iraqi flew into skyscrapers. So why target Iraq rather than Saudi Arabia?

By Randall Parker 2006 January 11 10:55 PM  Religion Secular Ideologies
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2006 January 09 Monday
US Medical Spending Reaches 16% Of GDP

Medical costs keep eating up an increasing portion of the US economy.

Rising health care costs, already threatening many basic industries, now consume 16 percent of the nation's economic output -- the highest proportion ever, the government said yesterday in its latest calculation.

...

The health care increase of 7.9 percent in 2004 was almost three times the overall national inflation rate, which was 2.7 percent. The average hourly wage for workers in private companies was essentially unchanged that year, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

A prescription drug spending increase of 8.2% is seen as good news because it is the first non-double digit increase sinc 1994.

Spending on prescription drugs rose 8.2 percent, to $188.5 billion in 2004, the government said. This was the first year of single-digit growth in retail drug sales since 1994.

But spending on hospitals and doctors' services surged in 2004, and the nation spent far more on them than on prescription drugs.

The 8.6 percent increase in spending for hospital care and the 9 percent increase in payments to doctors were the highest recorded since 1991.

An aging population is contributing to this trend. So are technological innovations that produce new treatments for previously untreatable conditions.

Rising health care costs are eating in to part of raises in salaries.

Meanwhile, workers are expected to shoulder a 10 percent increase in annual health insurance premiums, according to Towers Perrin, a management consulting firm.

"In 2005, health insurance premiums rose by 9.2 percent, which was three times the increase in wages," says Larry Levitt, vice president for communications and online information at the Kaiser Family Foundation, which studies health care issues. "Certainly, there are no signs of that abating. It's very likely that in 2006, health care costs will continue to squeeze out wage increases."

Whether health care costs are rising faster than income increases depends on your age and income level. Self insurance costs rise more rapidly for the middle aged. Lower income people have to spend larger fractions of their income on medical insurance and bills.

The growing Hispanic portion of the US populace contributes to the rise in the uninsured and in taxes to take from the rich to give to the medically uninsured. A decline in the size of the smarter white upper middle class means fewer people will have to pay more money to support the rising fraction of the population that is poor and uninsured.

Of course America's useless corrupt and traitorous national elites are divided between, on one hand, Democrats who want to import more poor people to use them as reliable Democrat voters and, on the other hand, Republican business interests that want cheap labor now and to hell with the future. Top Congressmen are too busy going to vacation junkets paid by business interests to bother thinking about the consequences of their terrible misrule.

By Randall Parker 2006 January 09 10:35 PM  Economics Health
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2006 January 08 Sunday
Iraq War Might Cost $2 Trillion Or Higher

Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government have released a paper which argues that the total cost of the Iraq war to the United States will be $2 trillion or even higher.

Three years ago, as America was preparing to go to war in Iraq, there were few discussions of the likely costs. When Larry Lindsey, President Bush’s economic adviser, suggested that they might reach $200 billion, there was a quick response from the White House: that number was a gross overestimation.[2] Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz claimed that Iraq could “really finance its own reconstruction,” apparently both underestimating what was required and the debt burden facing the country. Lindsey went on to say that “The successful prosecution of the war would be good for the economy.”[3]

Many aspects of the Iraq venture have turned out differently from what was purported before the war: there were no weapons of mass destruction, no clear link between Al Qaeda and Iraq, no imminent danger that would warrant a pre-emptive war. Whether Americans were greeted as liberators or not, there is evidence that they are now viewed as occupiers. Stability has not been established. Clearly, the benefits of the War have been markedly different from those claimed.

So too for the costs. It now appears that Lindsey was indeed wrong—by grossly underestimating the costs. Congress has already appropriated approximately $357 billion for military operations, reconstruction, embassy costs, enhanced security at US bases and foreign aid programs in Iraq and Afghanistan. This total, which covers costs through the end of November 2005, includes $251bn for military operations in Iraq, $82bn for Afghanistan and $24bn for related foreign operations, such as reconstruction, embassy safety and base security. [4] These costs have been rising throughout the war. Since FY 2003, the monthly average cost of operations has risen from $4.4bn to $7.1 bn – the costs of operations in Iraq have grown by nearly 20% since last year (whereas Afghanistan was 8% lower than last year).[5] The Congressional Budget Office has now estimated that in their central, mid-range scenario, the Iraq war will cost over $266 billion more in the next decade, putting the direct costs of the war in the range of $500 billion[6].

Stiglitz and Bilmes are confident that the costs are north of $1 trillion and many of those costs are not paid by the US government directly as line items labelled as being for Iraq.

These estimates, however, underestimate the War’s true costs to America by a wide margin. In this paper, we attempt to provide a range of estimates for what those costs have been, and are likely to be. Even taking a conservative approach, we have been surprised at how large they are. We can state, with some degree of confidence, that they exceed a trillion dollars.

Providing even rough order of magnitude estimates of the costs turns out to be very difficult, for a number of reasons. There are standard problems in cost allocation; there are future costs associated with the Iraq war that are not included in the current calculations; there are marked differences between social costs and prices paid by the government (and it is only the latter which traditionally get reflected in the cost estimates); and there are macro-economic costs, associated both with the increase in the price of oil and the Iraq war expenditures.

How to quantify the costs of lives lost in Iraq?

Consider, as an example, accounting for the value of the more than two thousand American soldiers who have died since the beginning of the war, and the more than sixteen thousand who have been wounded. The military may quantify the value of a life lost as the amount it pays in death benefits and life insurance to survivors – which has recently been increased from $12,240 to $100,000 (death benefit) and from $250,000 to $500,000 (life insurance). But in other areas, such as safety and environmental regulation, the government values a life of a prime age male at around $6 million, so that the cost of the American soldiers who have already lost their lives adds up to around $12 billion[7].

The standard estimates of the death costs also omit the cost of the nearly one hundred American civilian contractors[8] and the four American journalists that have been killed in Iraq, as well as the cost of coalition soldiers, and non-American contractors working for US firms.

I think I see an oversight on their part: They need to adjust for the background death rate of soldiers who are not deployed and calculate how many more died because they were in Iraq. My guess is that the increase in the number killed was not proportionately as great as the proportion who suffer permanent damage. Some of that permanent damage to brains happens without even any physical injuries. Under intense stress parts of the body decay in ways we can not fix. Also, the soldiers are exposed to toxic substances at a much higher rate when in a combat zone. That also doesn't show up in casualty figures.

They account for a large variety of costs including opportunity costs such as wages not made in the private sector because National Guard and Reserves were called up, interest costs on the money borrowed to fight the war, care of permanently injured soldiers over the rest of their lives, accelerated depreciation of military hardware, and macroeconomic effects such as on the cost of oil. Even if you think their macroeconomic calculations are too high the costs they add up before bringing in the macroeconomic effects (see figure 3) are still between $839 and $1104 billion.

My guess is that the amount of permanent damage done to troops in combat has been underestimated because we lack the ability to measure some of the damage. So, for example, brain damage that lowers intelligence by only, say, 5 IQ points or that causes emotional problems will mostly go unmeasured and unquantified. Also, if someone comes back from the war mentally damaged in ways that cause them to be violent how to quantify the costs to friends, families, or strangers who end up on the receiving end of this violence? (aside: higher crime rate immigrant groups impose similar costs on a much larger scale)

They assume a gradual withdrawal of US troops until 2010. That seems realistic. Bush will resist a total withdrawal. A new President entering office in 2009 will not feel as great an obligation to defend Bush's mistakes.

Click through on the link and read the whole thing.

Stiglitz points out that his cost estimates do not include costs to the UK or Iraq.

Mr Stiglitz told the Guardian that despite the staggering costs laid out in their paper the economists had erred on the side of caution. "Our estimates are very conservative, and it could be that the final costs will be much higher. And it should be noted they do not include the costs of the conflict to either Iraq or the UK." In 2003, as US and British troops were massing on the Iraq border, Larry Lindsey, George Bush's economic adviser, suggested the costs might reach $200bn. The White House said the figure was far too high, and the deputy defence secretary, Paul Wolfowitz, said Iraq could finance its own reconstruction.

Three years later, with more than 140,000 US soldiers on the ground in Iraq, even the $200bn figure was very low, according to the two economists.

Eventually I expect medical costs to be lowered by advances in gene therapy, stem cell therapy, and other types of therapies coming in the future. However, those costs will not begin to fall for some years going forward.

Also see a New York Times article entitled "The Struggle to Gauge a War's Psychological Cost".

By Randall Parker 2006 January 08 08:11 PM  Mideast Iraq Costs
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How Jack Abramoff Made Labor Cheap On Saipan

Free vacation trips to Saipan assured that Congressmen would vote for importing cheap labor to Saipan.

At a New Year's Eve dinner at the Hyatt Regency, Saipan's best hotel, DeLay knew it was time to give credit where it was due. Giving the toast, the then third most powerful Republican in the US Congress declared: "When one of my closest and dearest friends, Jack Abramoff, your most able representative in Washington DC, invited me to the islands, I wanted to see first-hand the free-market success and the progress and reform you have made."

Giving his audience what they wanted to hear, he dismissed the notion that the US government was about to enforce American work practices in the far-off Pacific.

He declared that the islands' garment industry, which employed imported labour from Bangladesh, China and other countries, was a great American success story. "You are a shining light for what is happening to the Republican Party, and you represent everything that is good about what we are trying to do in America and leading the world in the free-market system."

Three years later, the influential congressman all but single-handedly blocked a law that would have imposed US labour standards, including paying workers the minimum wage, on the Marianas garment industry. Thanks to DeLay's manoeuvrings the issue never even reached the floor of the House of Representatives.

So a great American success story is importing lots of labor from dirt poor countries to pay that labor well below the US minimum wage. The success story is achieved by what are essentially bribes. I wonder what the average wage is in the Saipan garment industry.

If you ever wonder why America's elites defy the wishes of the majority on immigration just remember the Saipan story. Money talks.

By Randall Parker 2006 January 08 11:09 AM  Immigration Money Politics
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2006 January 05 Thursday
Bush Losing Popularity In US Military

The Military Times polled active duty readers of their newspapers (not the military as a whole) and found Bush is down to a 54 percent approval rating among the military personnel polled.

Support for President Bush and for the war in Iraq has slipped significantly in the last year among members of the military’s professional core, according to the 2005 Military Times Poll.

Approval of the president’s Iraq policy fell 9 percentage points from 2004; a bare majority, 54 percent, now say they view his performance on Iraq as favorable. Support for his overall performance fell 11 points, to 60 percent, among active-duty readers of the Military Times newspapers. Though support both for President Bush and for the war in Iraq remains significantly higher than in the public as a whole, the drop is likely to add further fuel to the heated debate over Iraq policy. In 2003 and 2004, supporters of the war in Iraq pointed to high approval ratings in the Military Times Poll as a signal that military members were behind President Bush’s the president’s policy.

73% expect the US to succeed in Iraq. I wonder what they define as success. I'm expecting corruption and a democratic Shia theocracy which has warmer relations with Iran than with the United States and which will be just as hostile toward Israel as Saddam Hussein was.

The military trusts its own officers more than the President and the President more than Congress.

• 58 percent agreed that President Bush had their best interests at heart, down 11 percentage points from a year ago.

• 64 percent agreed that senior uniformed leaders had their best interests at heart, down six points.

• Congress saw the most dramatic drop: Just 31 percent agreed Congress looked out for their best interests, less than half the number a year ago.

The military holds the press in even lower regard.

I wonder what the longer term trend will be in terms of the military's trust in civilian institutions.

By Randall Parker 2006 January 05 10:33 PM  Mideast Iraq
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2006 January 04 Wednesday
US Influence Waning In Iraq As Iranian Influence Grows

A Christian Science Monitor article argues that US influence in Iraq is declining for multiple reasons.

As the weight of the Shiite Islamist victory in Iraq's election is still being calculated, US influence in the country - in reconstruction, security, and politics - is steadily receding.

While a diminished US role in Iraqi affairs was inevitable, the speed of the retreat raises some risks to the establishing of a stable, US-friendly Iraq. The Shiite parties that dominated the vote in December have closer affinity to Iran than to the US. At the same time, the Bush administration is planning sharp cuts in reconstruction aid, a major point of leverage in Iraqi affairs.

The Shias in Iraq know all the Sunni Arab governments do not like seeing Shias running Iraq. So that'll drive the Shias even more toward the Iranians.

But what alliances will the de facto Kurdish state form? They are landlocked. Will they build alliances with Syria? Iran? Are friendly relations with Turkey out of the question?

The Washington Post reports that the Bush Administration is going to greatly cut rebuilding in Iraq. Much of the reconstruction budget got shifted toward security and other needs.

BAGHDAD -- The Bush administration does not intend to seek any new funds for Iraq reconstruction in the budget request going before Congress in February, officials say. The decision signals the winding down of an $18.4 billion U.S. rebuilding effort in which roughly half of the money was eaten away by the insurgency, a buildup of Iraq's criminal justice system and the investigation and trial of Saddam Hussein.

A decline in the aid budget means a decline in money available to temporarily buy loyalties. This might cause an increase in the size of the insurgency.

The US government shifted much of the allocated $18.4 billion toward building up the Iraqi military, providing security on reconstruction projects (about 25% of their costs), to build prisons, and for other expenses. So the US probably didn't even spend half

The Iraqi economy was doing better before the war by some important measures.

Oil production stands at roughly 2 million barrels a day, compared with 2.6 million before U.S. troops entered Iraq in March 2003, according to U.S. government statistics.

The national electrical grid has an average daily output of 4,000 megawatts, about 400 megawatts less than its prewar level.

The article reports that more than $1 billion earmarked for electricity was shifted to fund police and security. The US government originally expected to achieve 6,000 megawatts of capacity. Read the full article for more details.

By Randall Parker 2006 January 04 10:35 PM  Mideast Iraq
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2006 January 03 Tuesday
Bush To Meet All Past Secretaries Of Defense, State On Iraq

George W. Bush has invited all living previous US Secretaries of Defense and State to a meeting on Jan. 5, 2006 on Iraq andd other foreign policy issues. Is Bush desperately seeking advice or trying to win support for an increasingly unpopular policy?

Among them will be several who have left little doubt that they think Mr. Bush has dangerously mishandled Iraq, ignored other looming crises, and put critical alliances at risk.

The meeting was called by the White House, which sent out invitations just before Christmas to everyone who once held those jobs.

The invitees were told that they were being asked to attend a briefing on Iraq and other issues. It was unclear, one recipient said, "how interested they are in what we are thinking."

Will Bush just try to lobby all these people with his customary demand that all good Americans must agree with him? Or is he just looking for a photo op? Or is he trying to form a consensus around a big shift in US policy toward Iraq? In the privacy of his own mind have real doubts finally intruded? Or does he still see that his main problem is with the American public? Just what is the guy thinking?

Retired Lt. Gen. and former NSA head William Odom has taken on all the reasons put forth for staying in Iraq and Odom argues that the Iraq war's proponents have got it exactly wrong on all counts. Read that link. It is a good summary of many rational arguments against the war.

Andy Berman was kind enough to send me a copy of David Pryce-Jones' The Closed Circle: An interpretation of the Arabs. I'm finally reading this book which I've wanted to read for a long time (having lost my own copy after lending it out). The book reinforces my belief that what is wrong with the Arabs, culturally, religiously, and otherwise, can not be sorted out and set in the right direction by a US invasion of an Arab country. Such an invasion does not begin to change what makes the Arabs the way they are and it ignores the waves of invasions and colonial administrations which already failed make lasting changes. The neocons and Bush are ahistorical about the Middle East. No, the whole world is not on the verge of becoming like America if only a few small obstacles can be gotten out of the way. There are deep seated reasons the world is the way it is and if only Bush and his advisors could find their way toward joining the "reality-based community" they might stand a chance of learning why.

By Randall Parker 2006 January 03 10:17 PM  Mideast Iraq Exit Debate
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2006 January 01 Sunday
Turk On Trial In Turkey For Insulting Turkishness

Talk about Turks killing Armenians during World War I is forbidden in Turkey.

Turkey's best-known novelist, Orhan Pamuk, faces criminal charges and the prospect of time in jail. His crime? Publicly insulting Turkish identity. Pamuk, in an interview published in February, said that "30,000 Kurds and a million Armenians were killed in these lands, and nobody but me dares talk about it."

Those words constitute a criminal violation of Article 301 of Turkey's penal code. The charges that have landed Pamuk in court highlight a fast-approaching day of reckoning for Turkey. The nation has been unwilling and unable to confront its past and that clouds its future. Turkey wants to join the European Union, but the prospects for that are jeopardized by its failure to allow freedom of expression.

Pamuk will not be tried for insulting the Turkish military (though he violated that law too). But he will be tried for insulting "Turkishness".

Turkish prosecutors have dropped their case against novelist Orhan Pamuk for allegedly insulting Turkey's armed forces, but the writer still faces charges that he insulted "Turkishness."

Pamuk's case has become a hot potato in Turkey getting passed around Turkey's ruling elite. A judge has decided to force the elected government to decide whether to go ahead with the trial.

The lose-lose scenario became clear this week when a judge kicked the case against Orhan Pamuk back to the country's Justice Ministry, demanding that the government first approve it.

...

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his Cabinet will discuss the case Monday — analysts say the government likely will recommend that the case be dropped — but it is clearly an issue the government was trying to avoid.

Erdogan's Muslim religious party is between a rock and a hard place. They want to prosecute Pamuk. But they also want to gain admission to the European Union. The EU ought to take a hard look at a country that would prosecute someone for such an insult and realize that such a country is too unlike the existing EU members to warrant admission.

To many nationalists, Pamuk's remarks were especially upsetting because they were made to a foreign newspaper.

"To the great majority of the Turkish people Pamuk is a heretic," said Duygu Bazoglu Sezer, a professor of political science at Ankara's Bilkent University.

Erdogan's party's gut reaction is to oppose "what they would call a slur on Turkish identity," she said.

"The more pressure that came domestically and internationally the more confused (the government) became," she said.

Once Turkey makes it into the EU will Turkey's government become more repressive? Once they no longer have to worry about being rejected by the EU will they feel less constrained to pursue their preferred domestic policies?

By Randall Parker 2006 January 01 01:34 PM  Civilizations Clash Of
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Quality Of Average College Graduates Dropping In America

The US Department of Education National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) recently released their 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) and one result has attracted a fair amount of attention: prose skills of graduate students have declined since 1992.

The test measures how well adults comprehend basic instructions and tasks through reading -- such as computing costs per ounce of food items, comparing viewpoints on two editorials and reading prescription labels. Only 41 percent of graduate students tested in 2003 could be classified as "proficient" in prose -- reading and understanding information in short texts -- down 10 percentage points since 1992. Of college graduates, only 31 percent were classified as proficient -- compared with 40 percent in 1992. Schneider said the results do not separate recent graduates from those who have been out of school several years or more.

The results were based on a sample of more than 19,000 people 16 or older, who were interviewed in their homes. They were asked to read prose, do math and find facts in documents. The scores for "intermediate" reading abilities went up for college students, causing educators to question whether most college instruction is offered at the intermediate level because students face reading challenges.

I am not surprised by this. College education has been held out as a panacea. In order to boost enrollment colleges have had to lower standards. Smarter people were already going to college. To get more people to spend more years in college it was necessary to recruit from lower down on the IQ scale. At the same time, US immigration policies have increased the percentage of the populace that have lower intelligence levels. Sending those people off to college with racial preferences of course has lowered the quality of college graduates.

Fools argue that since people who get college degrees do better then the solution is to send more people to college. But a college education is just a proxy for a higher level of intelligence. The preference employers have for college graduates is a preference for higher intelligence employees. A repeal of the foolish US Supreme Court decision Griggs v. Duke Power would allow employers to use IQ tests instead and reduce what is effectively a big tax on the economy levied by educrats. This would save a lot of time and money now wasted on education that does not provide either marketable skills or real insights.

I wonder whether the decline has been greater for females than for males. Women are a higher percentage of college students than men. My guess is that at lower IQ levels women are a lot more likely to go to college than men of equal IQ and that the growth in the number of women going to college has lowered the average quality of those women who attend.

NCES Commissioner Mark Schneider made comments that support the argument that having a larger fraction of the population attending college does lower the average quality of students.

I will now present the results on change in scores between 1992 and 2003 for selected educational attainment levels. There were no increases in literacy in any of any of the educational attainment levels. Prose literacy decreased among adults at every level of education. This decrease calls out for more research. On the quantitative scale, there were no changes in literacy at any level of educational attainment. For document literacy, those with higher levels of education showed a decline while those with less education had no change. With scores dropping in prose literacy for every level of education, you might wonder why there was no overall decline in the average score for this type of literacy. This is because adults with higher educational levels tend to outperform those with lower educational levels, and the percentage of adults with high educational levels-those with "some college" or more-has been increasing, while the percentage with low levels of education has been declining. We have more higher-scoring adults with high levels of education, and fewer lower scoring adults with low levels of education, which offsets the fact that average scores for highly educated adults are declining.

My interpretation: lower IQ people are spending more time in school and while they are not rising up to the level of performance of the higher IQ people they are developing better language skills by attending school for longer periods of time.

The poorly educated college students remind me of poorly educated 12th graders. Stephan and Abigail Thernstrom report that 12th grade Hispanics know little more than 8th grade whites.

"Blacks nearing the end of their high school education perform a little worse than white eighth-graders in both reading and U.S. history, and a lot worse in math and geography. In math and geography, indeed, they know no more than whites in the seventh grade. Hispanics do only a little better than African-Americans. In reading and U.S. history, their NAEP scores in their senior year of high school are a few points above those of whites in eighth grade. In math and geography, they are a few points lower."

Also see here for more on the Thernstrom data.

By Randall Parker 2006 January 01 11:06 AM  Education
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