2006 December 28 Thursday
The Iraqi Civil War Where America Is Fighting

Mark Santora of the New York Times spent a couple of days embedded with an American training on patrols with Iraqi soldiers in Baghdad. Santora found the Sunnis see the Iraqi military as agents of Shia ethnic cleansers and high level Iraqi government officials as obstructors of military operations that might hurt the standing of their factions.

BAGHDAD, Dec. 27 — The car parked outside was almost certainly a tool of the Sunni insurgency. It was pocked with bullet holes and bore fake license plates. The trunk had cases of unused sniper bullets and a notice to a Shiite family telling them to abandon their home.

“Otherwise, your rotten heads will be cut off,” the note read.

The soldiers who came upon the car in a Sunni neighborhood in Baghdad were part of a joint American and Iraqi patrol, and the Americans were ready to take action. The Iraqi commander, however, taking orders by cellphone from the office of a top Sunni politician, said to back off: the car’s owner was known and protected at a high level.

For Maj. William Voorhies, the American commander of the military training unit at the scene, the moment encapsulated his increasingly frustrating task — trying to build up Iraqi security forces who themselves are being used as proxies in a spreading sectarian war. This time, it was a Sunni politician — Vice Prime Minister Salam al-Zubaie — but the more powerful Shiites interfered even more often.

George W. Bush's coming big surge of US troops into Iraq will just train more Shias to fight Sunnis. The Shias will receive their training as soldiers in the Iraqi government. They will then proceed to use their skills and equipment to cleanse Baghdad of Sunnis. Some will do this while acting as Iraqi soldiers. Others will leave the Iraqi army and attack Sunnis in cooperation with the Shias who dominate the Iraqi security services. We call this "nation building".

“I have come to the conclusion that this is no longer America’s war in Iraq, but the Iraqi civil war where America is fighting,” Major Voorhies said.

Major Voorhies sees the obvious. Our soldiers are tasked with pretending there is a non-sectarian middle in Iraq that has control of the Iraqi central government. The idea is that if we just provide enough support and training to those officially part of the central government then the central government will become the more powerful middle against the sects and factions all around it. But there's no non-partisan center in Iraq. There's no objective and impartial civil service staffing the ministries. We are dealing with tribes motivated by clan loyalty which is sustained by the practice of cousin marriage.

American soldiers working with (predominately Shiite) Iraqi soldiers do searches for weapons in the Sunni Ghazaliya neighborhood of Baghdad. The Mahdi Army are battling to push out and kill the Sunnis in Ghazaliya. The net effect of US involvement is to help the Shias disarm the Sunnis so that the Shias can kill and push out the Sunnis when the Americans are not around.

“Anyone leaving Ghazaliya will get killed because they know you are Sunni,” said Fadhel A. Zaidan, who had lived in nearby Huriya for 50 years. “Now the Americans are taking our weapons, and when they leave, the Mahdi militia will attack.”

Mr. Zaidan has it right. Of course, some of those weapons are used to kill Americans. Though Shias are probably more often targets, both in defense and offense. The article reports that dozens of dead bodies are found on the streets of Baghdad every day. My guess that most of those dead are Sunnis. I'd be curious to know what the trend is in the ratio of Sunni to Shia dead. Probably rising.

American commanders say they are aware of this danger. In part, that is why residents are allowed one AK-47 and two cartridges.

The United States is effectively fighting on the side of the Shia majority against the Sunni minority. Never mind that Shias kill US soldiers just like Sunnis do.

If we were honest about the net effect of our actions we could at least help the Sunnis move away from the Shias so that fewer Sunnis would die in the process. But America's ruling elite and talking heads aren't up for that level of brutal honesty.

By Randall Parker 2006 December 28 11:42 AM  Mideast Iraq Ethnic Conflict
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Gerald R. Ford Opposed Iraq Invasion

Gerald R. Ford was a better judge of policy questions than George W. Bush.

Former president Gerald R. Ford said in an embargoed interview in July 2004 that the Iraq war was not justified. "I don't think I would have gone to war," he said a little more than a year after President Bush launched the invasion advocated and carried out by prominent veterans of Ford's own administration.

In a four-hour conversation at his house in Beaver Creek, Colo., Ford "very strongly" disagreed with the current president's justifications for invading Iraq and said he would have pushed alternatives, such as sanctions, much more vigorously. In the tape-recorded interview, Ford was critical not only of Bush but also of Vice President Cheney -- Ford's White House chief of staff -- and then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who served as Ford's chief of staff and then his Pentagon chief.

Ford was the accidental President due to Watergate and Spiro T. Agnew's ethical failings. I worry that someone with such good judgement can not make it through the primary process today - not in either party.

Ford opposed a global war to spread democracy.

"Well, I can understand the theory of wanting to free people," Ford said, referring to Bush's assertion that the United States has a "duty to free people." But the former president said he was skeptical "whether you can detach that from the obligation number one, of what's in our national interest." He added: "And I just don't think we should go hellfire damnation around the globe freeing people, unless it is directly related to our own national security."

The article also offers great Ford observations on Dick Cheney, Henry Kissinger, and Donald Rumsfeld. Ford was a great judge of character and more balanced than the people serving under him. Many of those same people made worse decisions serving under the much lousier decision maker George W. Bush. Oh, and Ford elevated Brent Scowcroft to National Security Adviser and of course Scowcroft also saw the Iraq invasion as a mistake.

Also, to anyone who thinks that George W. Bush is a hard core conservative and that Ford was a moderate by comparison: Ford set some sort of modern record for number of spending bills vetoed because they cost too much. Bush, by contrast, supported big increases in spending and provided little opposition to Congressional spending.

By Randall Parker 2006 December 28 09:33 AM  Mideast Iraq Exit Debate
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Failure To Understand Cousin Marriage Blinds Policy Makers On Iraq

Writing for the Christian Science Monitor Anne Bobroff-Hajal joins the too short list of writers who appreciate the problem that consanguineous (cousin) marriage poses for the US intervention in Iraq.

All too often, the US carries out foreign policy with little comprehension of the societies it confronts. This can lead to unintended - often destructive - results.

One central element of the Iraqi social fabric that most Americans know little about is its astonishing rate of cousin marriage. Indeed, half of all marriages in Iraq are between first or second cousins. Among countries with recorded figures, only Pakistan and Nigeria rate as high. For an eye-opening perspective about rates of consanguinity (roughly equivalent to cousin marriage) around the world, click on the "Global Prevalence" map at www.consang.net.

But who cares who marries whom in a country we invade? Why talk to anthropologists who study that arcane subject? Only those who live in modern, individualistic societies could be so oblivious. Cousin marriage, especially the unique form practiced in the Middle East, creates clans of fierce internal cohesiveness and loyalty. So in addition to sectarian violence in Iraq, the US may also be facing a greater intensity of inter-clan violence than it saw in Vietnam or the ferocious Lebanese civil war.

She gets it right about Westerners being oblivious. Middle Eastern societies are fundamentally different. Bonds created by marriage practices make them different. Western small family units and atomized individuals can feel loyalty toward a whole nation. Leftists who imagine themselves as more enlightened even want us to shift our loyalties toward the whole world (which is a few steps beyond the biological limits of how the human mind works). But the Iraqis have very strong loyalties which are far more local, loyalties that make Western style societies and governments unachievable by Iraqis or other Arab societies.

Here's a sentence that covers a lot of ground:

The US can't deal with a problem it doesn't recognize, let alone understand.

That does not just apply to Iraq. How about education and immigration? Left wing intellectuals have decided to deny and ignore human nature when facts about human nature suggest limits on what can be achieved through social engineering. Even though the Soviet Union has collapsed and New Soviet Man was a tragic failure the desire to radically rearrange social orders and habits has lived on. The Iraq debacle is a result of both liberal and neoconservative beliefs that a New Liberal Man could be created in Mesopotamia.

Anthropologist Stanley Kurtz has described Middle East clans as "governments in miniature" that provide the services and social aid that Americans routinely receive from their national, state, and local governments. No one in a region without stable, fair government can survive outside a strong, unified, respected clan.

Kurtz knew well before the war that Middle Eastern family structures posed a huge obstacle to efforts to create proper nation-states in the Middle East. See my post Consanguinity prevents Middle Eastern political development. Journalist Charles Glass who was held hostage (and escaped) in Beirut during the Lebanon civil war wrote a book whose title captures the essence of what Middle Eastern governments are like: Tribes With Flags. We can not change Middle Eastern political behaviors unless we stop the practice of cousin marriage. Well, that's a very tall order for social engineers and would take generations to accomplish. But our policy makers are either ignorant of this or find the facts too inconvenient to acknowledge.

Bobroff-Hajal has even read Steve Sailer's Cousin Marriage Conundrum essay for which I've included a link here:

The flip side of favoring relatives is that, as Steven Sailer observed in The American Conservative in 2003, it leaves fewer resources "with which to be fair toward non-kin. So nepotistic corruption is rampant in countries such as Iraq."

Be sure to click through and read if if you haven't already.

How many of the deaths in Iraq are caused by clans attacking other clans?

I have been struck since early on in the Iraq war by how little Americans know about the groups the US so vaguely labels "insurgents." US ignorance is now further camouflaged by the label "chaos." I wonder whether, if US citizens took the time to "know thy enemy," they would learn that there are many forms of logic in the layers of Iraq's so-called chaos. I wonder if the almost daily discovery of 40, 50, or even 60 Iraqi bodies, kidnapped and tortured before being murdered, are clans battling one another.

Yes, some of the violence is inter-clan violence. Here are some examples:

Remember in October 2006 when Sadr's militia rushed into Amarah? At first glance the press reports gave the impression that the fight was a Mahdi Army challenge to the government. But the Amarah fighting was a tribal clash.

BAGHDAD, Oct. 20 -- Members of the Mahdi Army, a powerful Shiite militia headed by firebrand cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, briefly took over the southern Iraqi city of Amarah and battled with the local Shiite police before withdrawing on Friday, in a bloody feud that illustrated deepening rifts within Iraq's largest sect and the growing turmoil in the south.

As many as 25 people, including 10 policemen, were killed in street fighting and mortar attacks that raged in Amarah, a predominantly Shiite city about 190 miles southeast of Baghdad, from midday Thursday until about 2 p.m. Friday. The militia attacked the headquarters and two stations of the city police department, which is reportedly aligned with the Badr Brigades, an arm of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a powerful Shiite religious party.

Each side blamed the other in a cycle of retaliatory clashes with tribal overtones.

...

In Baghdad, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, Brig. Abdul Karim Khalaf Kinany, said the clashes were not driven by intra-Shiite conflict, but by tribal differences.

"The clashes in Amarah were not between the police and the Mahdi Army," he said. "Police had in fact interfered to settle a tribal dispute between the tribe of the police officer, the head of the intelligence division . . . and the tribesmen of the suspects who were arrested by the police on suspicion of carrying out the assassination."

What percentage of the deaths in Iraq are due to inter-tribal violence?

No need for a criminal justice system with prisons when killers can be forced by tribes to pay for the lives they take,

A little later, Sheik Fawzi Kaabi entered. Everyone in the room stood. "Take your rest," Aidani said afterward.

Kaabi, a stout man in a head scarf checkered white and black, is 46, but said he should be 460: "Every year has become 10 years because of the problems." Kaabi, called "the judge" by a friend, had come to mediate another dispute.

Men from Aidani's tribe had killed three people from the Abadi, a neighboring tribe, although the circumstances were in dispute. A death these days costs between 20 million and 25 million Iraqi dinars, or $13,300 to $16,600. Each person in the tribe is expected to contribute, effectively an insurance policy. But Aidani was resisting, pleading his case that the neighboring tribe had refused to pay blood money earlier.

"We're on standby," the sheik warned, with the mildest bluster.

He said no more. Everyone understood it meant sending his armed men to settle it another way.

"It's like a serial," the sheik said after Kaabi left. "It never has an ending."

This is not remotely like America. But the neocons fantasized Iraq would rapidly Westernize as soon as Saddam fell. What fools.

By Randall Parker 2006 December 28 01:06 AM  Mideast Iraq Ethnic Conflict
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International Crisis Group Advice On Iraq

The International Crisis Group (ICG) has written a response to the Iraq Study Group in which the ICG calls for greater changes in US policy toward Iraq and the Middle East.

Slowly, incrementally, the realisation that a new strategy is needed for Iraq finally is dawning on U.S. policy-makers. It was about time. By underscoring the U.S. intervention’s disastrous political, security, and economic balance sheet, and by highlighting the need for both a new regional and Iraqi strategy, the Baker-Hamilton report represents an important and refreshing moment in the country’s domestic debate. Many of its key – and controversial – recommendations should be wholly supported, including engaging Iran and Syria, revitalising the Arab-Israeli peace process, reintegrating Baathists, instituting a far-reaching amnesty, delaying the Kirkuk referendum, negotiating the withdrawal of U.S. forces with Iraqis and engaging all parties in Iraq.

Engaging all parties in Iraq? Does that count every neighborhood militia? How about every criminal gang? The country is so fragmented that engaging all the factions isn't practical.

The ICG thinks a multinational group could get all the Iraqi factions to make an agreement that will bring peace to Iraq.

But the change the report advocates is not nearly radical enough, and its prescriptions are no match for its diagnosis. What is needed today is a clean break both in the way the U.S. and other international actors deal with the Iraqi government, and in the way the U.S. deals with the region: in essence, a new multinational effort to achieve a new political compact between all relevant Iraqi constituents.

The Shiites want an outcome where they are in charge. The Sunnis want an outcome where the Sunnis are not under the Shias and preferably one where the Shias are under the Sunnis. Given that the US is for democracy (amounts to majoritarian rule by Shias) the US is against the Sunnis getting satisfaction. How can such huge differences be reconciled? The stakes are too high in their minds.

The International Crisis Group says political leaders in Iraq are becoming warlords. That's true. Each ministry has its own guards who are involved in ethnic cleansing.

A new course of action must begin with an honest assessment of where things stand. Hollowed out and fatally weakened, the Iraqi state today is prey to armed militias, sectarian forces and a political class that, by putting short term personal benefit ahead of long term national interests, is complicit in Iraq’s tragic destruction. Not unlike the groups they combat, the forces that dominate the current government thrive on identity politics, communal polarisation, and a cycle of intensifying violence and counter-violence. Increasingly indifferent to the country’s interests, political leaders gradually are becoming warlords. What Iraq desperately needs are national leaders.

In spite of what Mick Jagger has sung, you can't always get what you need. National leaders? Iraq has one of the highest cousin marriage rates in the world. As a result loyalties heavily focus on the extended family (tribe) and one's sect of Islam. There's no room left over for feelings of loyalty toward a national government. The ICG and ISG do not explain how we can get the Iraqis to stop feeling the pull of tribal loyalties or how we are going to get them to adopt political beliefs that are incompatible with the political beliefs taught by Islam.

The International Crisis Group exaggerates the extent to which neighboring countries are driving Iraq into chaos. I think the Iraqis do not need any help to make that happen.

As it approaches its fifth year, the conflict also has become both a magnet for deeper regional interference and a source of greater regional instability. Instead of working together toward an outcome they all could live with – a weak but united Iraq that does not present a threat to its neighbours – regional actors are taking measures in anticipation of the outcome they most fear: Iraq’s descent into all-out chaos and fragmentation. By increasing support for some Iraqi actors against others, their actions have all the wisdom of a self-fulfilling prophecy: steps that will accelerate the very process they claim to wish to avoid.

The countries that are supporting the Sunnis do not want a united Iraq if that means democratically united under Shia rule. Are the Sunni countries more worried about Iraq's fragmentation or Iraq's unification under Shia rule?

The ICG correctly points out one problem with the Bush Administration's approach: Support for the Iraqi government really amounts to support for a few factions that have control of pieces of the national government. Many other factions (militias, gangs, political parties) aren't on the inside and so support for the current members of government amounts to support for some factions against other factions.

Two consequences follow. The first is that, contrary to the Baker-Hamilton report’s suggestion, the Iraqi government and security forces cannot be treated as privileged allies to be bolstered; they are simply one among many parties to the conflict. The report characterises the government as a “government of national unity” that is “broadly representative of the Iraqi people”: it is nothing of the sort. It also calls for expanding forces that are complicit in the current dirty war and for speeding up the transfer of responsibility to a government that has done nothing to stop it. The only logical conclusion from the report’s own lucid analysis is that the government is not a partner in an effort to stem the violence, nor will strengthening it contribute to Iraq’s stability. This is not a military challenge in which one side needs to be strengthened and another defeated. It is a political challenge in which new consensual understandings need to be reached. The solution is not to change the prime minister or cabinet composition, as some in Washington appear to be contemplating, but to address the entire power structure that was established since the 2003 invasion, and to alter the political environment that determines the cabinet’s actions.

Sadr's militia has splintered. His party did well in the last election and he has control of a few government ministries. Yet he doesn't control as many militia fighters as he used to since the militias have splintered. Though if a new election was held his party would probably gain Shia voters due to his image of protector of Shias from Sunnis.

Do these ICG people understand the implications of Iraq's tribal structure and sectarian splits? Might the US government officals ignore consanguineous (cousin) marriage in their public pronouncements about Iraq while carrying out policies which are based on an understanding of tribal society? Based on experience watching the Iraq debacle so far I find that unlikely.

By Randall Parker 2006 December 28 12:11 AM  Mideast Iraq Ethnic Conflict
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2006 December 26 Tuesday
Congress Wants Big Illegal Amnesty

Our masters do not want what we want.

WASHINGTON, Dec. 25 — Counting on the support of the new Democratic majority in Congress, Democratic lawmakers and their Republican allies are working on measures that could place millions of illegal immigrants on a more direct path to citizenship than would a bill that the Senate passed in the spring.

The lawmakers are considering abandoning a requirement in the Senate bill that would compel several million illegal immigrants to leave the United States before becoming eligible to apply for citizenship.

Never mind that the vast majority of the American people oppose our current level of immigration and want a reduction. Never mind that the Hispanics do poorly as measured by educational attainment, IQ, income, crime rates, illegitimacy, and other measures. Our elites have decided that they can change reality just by dreaming that truths are falsehoods and falsehoods are truths.

They do not want to build the fence. This means that not only do they want to make millions of illegals into legal residents and citizens (i.e. voters for the Left), they also want to keep the supply of illegals coming.

The lawmakers are also considering denying financing for 700 miles of fencing along the border with Mexico, a law championed by Republicans that passed with significant Democratic support.

The result will surely be the end to the United States as a high trust society, a low crime non-gated community society, as a limited government republic, and other characteristics that we still possess to a constantly dwindling extent. Idiocracy is our future. We already face a big enough dysgenesis problem from the fertility trend. Why make the problem even bigger?

Left liberalism combined with narrow short term business interests make for an especially destructive alliance in American politics.

By Randall Parker 2006 December 26 09:14 AM  Immigration Elites Versus Masses
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2006 December 25 Monday
New York Times Wants Bigger Army

You might think by now the editors of the Gray Lady might have figured out that giving a US President a big military is asking for trouble. But no. The editors of the Gray Lady think future Presidents should be able to send larger occupation forces abroad in foreign adventures (really, I'm not making this up).

Military reality finally broke through the Bush administration’s ideological wall last week, with President Bush publicly acknowledging the need to increase the size of the overstretched Army and Marine Corps. Larger ground forces are an absolute necessity for the sort of battles America is likely to fight during the coming decades: extended clashes with ground-based insurgents rather than high-tech shootouts with rival superpowers.

Why should we want to get into extended clashes with ground-based insurgents? By what logic does the United States need to become a neo-colonial power that occupies other countries with hostile populaces for extended periods of time? How is the United States made more secure by this practice?

To put it another way: What list of countries does the New York Times editorial board think make candidates for future American military occupation and to what end? Long term occupations are expensive in dollars and manpower and in deaths and maimings of soldiers. The $170 billion we are wasting this fiscal year in Iraq is not a pattern we should try to emulate in other countries in the future.

Foreign occupations do not uplift and enlighten the occupied peoples. Most countries that do well by occupation tend to be more advanced and organized in the first place (e.g. Germany and Japan). The truly messed up places that get occupied again and again (e.g. Haiti) stay messed up. That's a pattern that will recur until we develop the ability to do genetic engineering on occupied peoples.

The Gray Lady notes that the Pentagon has wanted to invest in more powerful naval and air assets.

When the 21st century began, Pentagon planners expected that American forces could essentially coast unchallenged for a few decades, relying on superior air and sea power, while preparing for possible future military competition with an increasingly powerful China. That meant investing in the Air Force and Navy, not the Army and Marines.

Money wasted in Iraq is money not available for building up the US military to meet real threats that could emerge such as China. We are better off spending on the Air Force and Navy. Oceans and air space separate us from any serious potential future challengers.

If the goal is to protect ourselves from the Muslims the best way to do that is to separate Muslims from Western countries by keeping them out of the West. That would buy us more security than a big Army, and Marines big Navy, or big Air Force. Also, we should work seriously to develop energy technologies to make non-oil energy sources cheaper than oil. Cheaper nuclear, solar, and other non-oil energy technologies would reduce the flow of money to the Middle East, the idleness that oil money makes possible for in Arabs in oil states, and the problems that come from an old saying my grandmother used to say "Idle hands are the devil's workshop".

By Randall Parker 2006 December 25 09:41 PM  Military War, Rumours Of War
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Cheap Subsidized Immigrant Labor Discourages Farm Automation

An article in the editorially pro-Open Borders Wall Street Journal conveys facts which very much contradict the Open Borders argument that we need cheap subsidized (we pay their medical, educational, and other costs) immigrant labor.

Immigration restrictionists, among others, point to the success of mechanical tomato harvesting when the Bracero guest worker program for seasonal Mexican farm workers ended in 1964. Since then, harvests of tomatoes that go into processed foods have quadrupled, while labor use has dropped by 72%, says the Western Growers Association, a California trade group.

Some other industries that rely on low-skilled labor also have mechanized. The poultry industry now uses machines to catch, kill, pluck and eviscerate chickens. The housing industry is moving more work onto factory assembly lines.

But labor economists say that's not much headway. "What struck me was how few examples there were of employers thinking ahead," says University of California at Davis economist Philip Martin, who spent a month last year looking for innovations that lessen U.S. reliance on illegal, low-skilled labor, and found almost none.

Take away the necessity that drives so much invention and industries will not innovate. If Washington DC would send a clear loud signal that the supply of subsidized cheap foreign labor is coming to an end then and only then would the row crop farmers get serious about making a huge step forward in automation.

Much of the problem, he says, is that guest worker proposals circulating in Washington are "sending the signal that the supply of unskilled labor will continue" to be high. That has largely dissuaded government and industry from investing in research and development, he adds.

The Agriculture Department -- which helped pay for the tomato-harvest research at UC Davis -- ended all funding for mechanization in 1979 after unions representing agriculture workers sued the university for endangering their jobs.

As Socrates said in Plato's Republic long before Benjamin Franklin strode this Earth:

" A State, I said, arises, as I conceive, out of the needs of mankind". . ."let us begin and create in idea a State; and yet the true creator is necessity, who is the mother of our invention."

If Congress wants productivity of American industry to grow by leaps and bounds then it should cut off the supply of cheap imported subsidized foreign labor. Force industries to find ways to get tasks done with less labor and industries will invest in the engineering development to bring new labor saving equipment to market.

Also see Robert Samuelson and Steve Sailer on Philip Martin's views about agricultural automation and cheap labor.

By Randall Parker 2006 December 25 08:27 PM  Immigration Economics
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2006 December 24 Sunday
Bush Supports Social Security Tax Increase

George W. Bush, the man who brought us a war that is now going to cost $170 billion in this fiscal year and who also signed into law a huge expansion of Medicare with a drug benefit, has backed away from his pledge to oppose all Social Security payroll tax increases.

"So far, no one in the administration has simply stood up and said, 'We will not raise payroll taxes in any way, shape or form,' " said Pete Sepp, a vice president for the National Taxpayers Union, which led a coalition of several dozen groups to write a letter asking for such an assurance.

Meanwhile, the House's top Republican on tax cuts, outgoing Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas, warned last week that the White House has hinted that it will accept a tax increase on higher-income families in order to win accommodations from Democrats.

Upper class people helped get Bush elected in the first place. They got a lot of tax cuts from him in his first year in office and have done well as a result. Can't say I feel a lot of sympathy for them at this point. But I fear that the term "upper class", when used in the context of tax increases, extends all the way down to my level of income.

Bush wants to make a deal with the Democrat-controlled Congress on how to once again "save" Social Security.

Social Security could be the first test. Since November, Mr. Bush has said everything should be on the table in the effort to fix the program's finances -- a statement in sharp contrast to his declaration after the 2004 elections that "We will not raise payroll taxes to solve this problem."

I oppose this sort of thing because I want a financial crisis in old age retirement programs to force a big rise in the eligibility date to begin collecting. In a nutshell, since people are living longer they should work longer. We can not afford to have so many people not working, especially since medical costs per retired person are rising so rapidly (as are all medical costs).

Bush's attempt to create private Social Security accounts was a foolish and deceptive proposal that would have made the problem worse, not better. Though his now dead Social Security privatization proposal is small potatoes in the folly leagues as compared to his immigration amnesty and guest worker program proposals. If we to continue to take in any immigrants at all we need to demand that all immigrants are revenue positive, meaning they will pay more in taxes than they receive in benefits. Otherwise they just make an already huge problem even worse.

I also think that attempts to fix the underfunding of Social Security amounts to political grandstanding because Medicare is the far larger problem and Bush has made the Medicare problem worse, not better. Medicare is projected to consume 24% of all federal income taxes by 2019 and 51% by 2042.

Even the debt and deficit numbers you read about understate the size of the current US federal deficit. The audited financials of the US government show a deficit more than twice the officially reported one. Similarly, the cost of the Iraq war is far greater than the amount appropriated for it each year while the war is fought. Joseph Stiglitz estimates the total cost of the Iraq war might be as high as $2 trillion. Among the costs we will pay for in the future: long term care of the maimed soldiers who survive; interest on the debt incurred to fight the war; opportunity cost of pulling people out of the private sector to go fight in the war; and interest on the debt accumulated to pay for the war.

All these hundreds of billions and trillions of costs and unfunded liabilities add up. The United States has peaked as a world power. For demographic reasons (aging population and declining average IQs - and more here) and other reasons we are going to decline as a world power.

By Randall Parker 2006 December 24 01:55 PM  Economics Government Costs
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Baghdad Ethnic Cleansing Continues

The inevitable continues unabated.

Large portions of Baghdad have become Shiite in recent months, as militias press their fight against Sunni militants deeper into the heart of the capital, displacing thousands of Sunni residents. At least 10 neighborhoods that a year ago were mixed Sunni and Shiite are now almost entirely Shiite, according to residents, American and Iraqi military commanders and local officials.

For the first years of the war, Sunni militants were dominant, forcing Shiites out of neighborhoods and systematically killing bakers, barbers and trash collectors, who were often Shiites. But starting in February, after the bombing of a shrine in the city of Samarra, Shiite militias began to strike back, pushing west from their strongholds and redrawing the sectarian map of the capital, home to a quarter of Iraq’s population.

I've been saying for years now that we are basically marking time in Iraq while the Shias and Sunnis ethnically cleanse their own areas of influence. The Sunnis had the upper hand at first because were more angry about their fall from power. But the Sunnis have so enraged the Shias (the Samarra Golden Mosque bombing was the final straw) that the Shias are striking back relentlessly. The Shias are more numerous and control the government. So they are winning battles for control in areas along the boundary of the Sunni and Shia spheres.

Bush wants to "surge" some US troops into Iraq for 6 to 8 months. In the short term that might slow up the rate of ethnic cleansing. But since the new US focus is on training the Iraqi military and security forces I predict this latest change in US strategy will increase the rate of ethnic cleansing. Why? Because the Shia-dominated Iraqi military and security forces help the Shia militias do ethnic cleansing. The more Iraqi Shias we train in the art of war the more will be available to join the Shia militias and help the Shia militias purge Baghdad of Sunnis.

What I want to know: Once the Shias dominate just about all of Baghdad and once the areas with mixed Shia and Sunni populations all over Iraq become pure Sunni and pure Shia what will the two sides do next? Will they negotitate a confederation? Or will they split by mutual agreement? Or will the Shias take the war to the Sunni areas to try to force the Sunnis to submit?

I figure neither the Shias or Sunnis want to accept rule by the other. But neither side wants to admit they don't get to control all of Iraq. Yet the Shias and Sunnis do not want to fight far from their tribes. So I do not see one side winning a conventional battle for control of whole country. But I also do not see them admitting any time soon that they are better off divorcing. So I do not see how it will turn out. Anyone have any guesses?

By Randall Parker 2006 December 24 01:26 PM  Mideast Iraq Ethnic Cleansing
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Non-Profit Employment Growing Faster Than Economy

In the United States employment in non-profit organizations is growing faster than employment in the overall economy.

Employment in the U.S. nonprofit sector has grown faster than overall employment in 46 of the 50 states, according to a new report by the Nonprofit Employment Data Project at The Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies.

As of the second quarter of 2004, the latest year for which data on nonprofit employment are available, American charities employed 9.4 million paid workers and engaged another 4.7 million full-time equivalent (FTE) volunteer workers for a total workforce of more than 14 million workers.

Between 2002 and 2004, the nonprofit workforce, including paid and volunteer workers, grew by 5.3 percent, with both the paid and volunteer portions of the nonprofit workforce growing by more than 5 percent. By contrast, overall employment in the economy declined by 0.2 percent during this same period.

"The nonprofit workforce, including volunteers, now represents 10.5 percent of the country's total workforce," said Lester M. Salamon, director of the Center for Civil Society Studies within the Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies and a leading expert on nonprofits. "Put in perspective, this means that American charities boast a larger workforce than the utility, wholesale trade, and construction industries combined."

But the wages in those other industries combined are much larger. See below.

Do the Northeast and Midwest have more non-profit hospitals? Did the rapid population growth of the southeast give for-profit hospital chains the opportunity to build lots of new hospitals and pick up market share?

1. The nonprofit share of the total workforce is especially high in the Northeast and Midwest, where it ranges from 10.7 to more than 14 percent. In the South and West, as well, the nonprofit workforce still accounts for a considerable 8.1 to 9.5 percent of the total workforce.

2. Nonprofit-paid workers received $321.6 billion in wages in 2004, more than the wages paid by the utility ($50.1 billion), construction ($276 billion), and wholesale trade ($283.7 billion) industries, and almost as much as the finance and insurance industry ($355.8 billion).

More than half of non-profit employment is in health services. That probably explains the rapd growth in non-profit employment.

3. Charitable nonprofit employment is scattered across a wide variety of fields, from information and scientific services to religion and civic affairs. The bulk of this employment, however, is in human services, with hospitals alone accounting for one-third of all nonprofit employment, and other health providers, such as clinics and nursing homes, accounting for another 21 percent.

4. The average weekly wage in the nonprofit sector, at $627, was well below the $669 average in the for-profit sector. However, in the fields where nonprofits and for-profits are both actively engaged, average nonprofit wages were actually higher. For example, average wages among nonprofit hospital workers were 7 percent higher than they were among for-profit hospital workers, and average wages among nonprofit social assistance workers were 25 percent higher than their for-profit counterparts.

A doctor in private practice who also sees patients at a non-profit hospital makes far more money than the nurses working in that same hospital. I suspect that doctors who see their patients in hospital aren't showing on as employees of those hospitals. Likely the hospitals pay the doctors for services billed corp-to-corp rather than as employees. So those wage figures are misleading. All the other service providers that non-profits use similarly do not show up as employees. The prevalence of out-sourced information processing services means software developers and computer administrators aren't going to show up on the employment rolls of many non-profit hospitals and clinics either.

Since over half of non-profit sector workers are in the medical industry and medical spending is rising rapidly we should epxect a continued rapid growth in the non-profit sector.

In 2004 (the latest year data are available), total national health expenditures rose 7.9 percent -- over three times the rate of inflation (1). Total spending was $1.9 TRILLION in 2004, or $6,280 per person (1). Total health care spending represented 16 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP).

U.S. health care spending is expected to increase at similar levels for the next decade reaching $4 TRILLION in 2015, or 20 percent of GDP (2).

In 2006, employer health insurance premiums increased by 7.7 percent - two times the rate of inflation. The annual premium for an employer health plan covering a family of four averaged nearly $11,500. The annual premium for single coverage averaged over $4,200 (3).

Effectively, a growing fraction of the economy occurs in institutions that are exempt from the corporate income tax. I wonder if this fact has been modelled by economists to project future corporate income tax revenue. I suspect this just translates into more wages for employees of the non-profits and since they pay taxes on their income the effect might be a wash.

By Randall Parker 2006 December 24 10:10 AM  Economics Industry
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2006 December 23 Saturday
Illegal Alien Meat Packing Plant Raids Raise Wages

Immigration agents raided 6 Swift & Co. meat packing plants in 6 states and rounded up over a thousand people. The result? Large numbers of US citizens queued up in line to get the new job openings created by round-up of illegals.

GREELEY - The line of applicants hoping to fill jobs vacated by undocumented workers taken away by immigration agents at the Swift & Co. meat-processing plant earlier this week was out the door Thursday.

We keep getting told there are jobs we won't do. We keep getting lied to by companies and lobbyists who just want to pay less to get the work done.

Swift plants were raided in Hyrum Utah, Worthington Minnesota, Greeley Colorado, Grand Island Nebraska, Cactus Texas, and Marshalltown Iowa.

The raids have created job openings for white workers.

OMAHA - Fewer Hispanic immigrants are being hired to replace meatpacking workers arrested at Swift & Co. plants in Grand Island and Greeley, Colo., during last week's immigration raid, union officials said Tuesday.

Local 22 union president Dan Hoppes said Tuesday that 40 to 50 new workers have been hired at the Grand Island plant since the raids.

“The lion's share of those people were Caucasian,” Hoppes said.

9% of Swift's 15,000 meat packers were arrested.

Washington, D.C. — The arrest of workers at meatpacking giant Swift & Co. — the largest such raid in U.S. history — shows that the government is serious about cracking down on illegal immigration, officials say.

This time, federal agents were armed with criminal charges, accusing some workers of identification theft and forgery, and disrupted not just one work site but an entire company. Arrested were 1,282 Swift workers, about 9 percent of the work force at six plants.

The Feds were asking Swift for employee records in the months leading up to the raids. Swift started interviewing employees about whether they are here legally and managed to scare off or fire 400 illegals before the Feds did a formal raid.

About 400 workers were fired or left the plants voluntarily in the fall after Swift demanded interviews of workers it suspected of being in the country illegally. Immigration officials criticized Swift for not notifying the government that the employees had left. The agency has been unable to find them.

You have to figure that during this time Swift also became pickier about who they hired. So the 400 departures probably understates how much their work force shifted toward legal workers before the raid. Also, some workers were sick, on vacation, or not working the shift when the raids happened. So many got away.

The departure of 400 illegal workers before the raid was enough to raise salaries by $1.95 per hour. Maybe the raid will force salaries up by another $1 per hour.

The United Food and Commercial Workers filed grievances over the company’s interviews, although after the workers left, the Marshalltown plant raised its starting wage from $9.55 to $11.50 in an attempt to fill the vacancies, said Jim Olesen, the union’s local president.

Swift has been getting ready for the raid by raising salaries.

Meanwhile in Nebraska, union officials said Tuesday that 40 to 50 workers had been hired at the Grand Island plant, one of six Swift plants raided by the ICE in a sweep that led to nearly 1,300 arrests. And funny thing — they say Swift has been improving its wages, benefits and bonuses since before the raids.

As United Food and Commercial Workers spokeswoman Jill Cashen told the Associated Press: "They're trying to staff up their plants, and they've been raising their wages the past few weeks."

It's not clear at this writing if Swift saw the raids coming. What's clear is that its upgraded compensation is drawing more non-Hispanic white job-seekers, who made up most of the new hires at Grand Island.

Swift officials tried to prevent the raid and even went to court to try to stop it.

Consider this: Swift & Co. executives have said they tried to work with immigration officials to prevent the raid and that - once they became aware of government interest in their work force in March - conducted internal interviews of employees.

More than 400 workers left the company. According to Swift's general counsel, at one point, Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigators asked company officials to stop the interviews - which probably alerted workers a sweep was coming.

So Swift managed to scare off a few hundred illegals since they knew the feds were watching. To compensate Swift had to raise salaries by a couple of bucks an hour. But their processing plants did not stop running. The new salaries are still too low to buy medical insurance for a family. The jobs are difficult and unappealing. Yet they only need to offer $11.50 per hour to get them filled. The argument that the US economy can't operate without illegal alien labor is a big lie.

Here is a familiar pattern: Immigration law enforcement is causing many more illegals to self-deport before they get caught.

That's where a half-dozen processing plants between Worthington and Madelia employ hundreds of immigrants, most of whom are Hispanic.

"They're afraid to go to the bank, to the stores," Amaya said. "They don't take their things. They just pick up and go, and it's hard, because they work really hard."

Hours after the Worthington raid, much of the city's Hispanic community, estimated at 3,500 people -- about half of whom are thought to be in the country illegally -- began clearing out.

After 9/11 more intense immigration law enforcement caused tens of thousands of Pakistani illegals to deport themselves back to Pakistan before they got caught.

Worthington police Sgt. Kevin Flynn said officers frequently encounter the problem while responding to calls or making traffic stops. Illegal workers would identify themselves by their real names, but also carried documentation stolen from U.S. citizens.

"They'd just be real upfront with us," Flynn said. "And the documents they had were actual documents. They weren't forgeries or fakes of any kind. They were the real deal."

By Tuesday night, immigration agents had arrested 230 workers at the Swift plant. But Andrade and others in the community say maybe twice as many workers fled town, or plan to leave soon, to avoid the risk of being arrested.

Tens of thousands of people work in meat packing plants in the United States. They could all enjoy higher salaries, better benefits, and better working conditions if the Tyson, Swift, and Cargill had no more access to labor from Mexico, Guatemala, and El Salvador.

By Randall Parker 2006 December 23 12:12 PM  Immigration Economics
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2006 December 20 Wednesday
Fiscal Year War Costs Could Hit $170 Billion

The rate of waste and folly is going up. Asymmetrical warfare with a hostile tribal Muslim population is very expensive.

The Pentagon wants the White House to seek an additional $99.7 billion to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to information provided to The Associated Press.

The military's request, if embraced by President Bush and approved by Congress, would boost this year's budget for those wars to about $170 billion.

When they speak of this year's budget keep in mind that the US government's fiscal year starts in October.

The money spent during the war is just the tip of the iceberg of total costs. Lots of worn out equipment is piling up.

At the Red River Army Depot in Texas, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported in October that at least 6,200 Humvees, Bradley Fighting Vehicles, trucks and ambulances were awaiting repair because of insufficient funds.

There's a virtual graveyard of tanks and fighting vehicles at the Anniston Army Depot in Alabama. Depot spokeswoman Joan Gustafson said that the depot expects to repair 1,885 tanks and other armored vehicles during the fiscal year that began on Oct. 1. That's up from the 1,169 and 1,035 vehicles repaired in the prior two fiscal years

For the soldiers coming back from Iraq there are the medical costs and costs in decreased ability to work and make a living.

More than 73,000 soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and with problems such as drug abuse and depression. That's enough people to fill a typical NFL stadium.

The ones coming back without limbs, with brain damage, with severed spinal cords, and other missing and damaged parts add a whole lot of other costs that will show up in future years as goods and services not produced, taxes not paid off of income not earned (due to less ability to work), and costs paid out by the government to take care of the veterans.

Iraq will be more expensive than Vietnam by spring.

The length of the Iraq war surpassed that of World War II last month. The costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the global fight against terrorism are expected to surpass the $536 billion in inflation-adjusted costs of the Vietnam War by spring. That's more than 10 times the Bush administration's $50 billion prewar estimate.

What a tremendous waste. Economist Joseph Stiglitz has previously estimated a total cost of $2 trillion for the Iraq war. But the accelerated tempos of spending and US casualites and likely future increases in the number of troops in Iraq suggest that his figure might be too low.

All this money is not buying us victory.

As he searches for a new strategy for Iraq, Bush has now adopted the formula advanced by his top military adviser to describe the situation. "We're not winning, we're not losing," Bush said in an interview with The Washington Post. The assessment was a striking reversal for a president who, days before the November elections, declared, "Absolutely, we're winning."

We can not win without a huge increase in the number of troops employed. But even a victory would be fleeting. If we put in a few hundred thousand more troops we could get control of a number of cities. But then what? As soon as we left the various factions would start fighing again.

Bush is going to support an increase in the authorized and funded size of the military. But can youths be enticed to sign up in sufficient numbers?

U.S. officials said the administration is preparing plans to bolster the nation's permanent active-duty military with as many as 70,000 additional troops.

...

Every additional 10,000 soldiers would cost about $1.2 billion a year, according to the Army. Because recruitment and training take time, officials cautioned that any boost would not be felt in a significant way until at least 2008.

The people recruited by the military will get pulled away from more productive work in the private sector. Since soldiers are smarter than the average American citizen their deaths and injuries in the battlefield will be especially costly to the economy and dysgenic as well.

The Iraqis will fight each other much more cheaply and with more decisive results if US forces withdrew from Iraq. For a small fraction of what we are spending now we could influence which factions come out on top by funding factions and by bribing powerful Iraqi figures. But it is not clear to me that we should care how the Iraq civil war comes out.

By Randall Parker 2006 December 20 08:56 PM  Mideast Iraq Costs
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2006 December 19 Tuesday
Joint Chiefs Split With Bush On Iraq Troop Surge

The US military Joint Chiefs of Staff oppose a several month troop surge in Iraq.

The Bush administration is split over the idea of a surge in troops to Iraq, with White House officials aggressively promoting the concept over the unanimous disagreement of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, according to U.S. officials familiar with the intense debate.

Sending 15,000 to 30,000 more troops for a mission of possibly six to eight months is one of the central proposals on the table of the White House policy review to reverse the steady deterioration in Iraq. The option is being discussed as an element in a range of bigger packages, the officials said.

US officers see the White House's surge gambit as a sign of desperation given the lack of other alternatives that are acceptable given Bush's stated war aims.

But the Joint Chiefs think the White House, after a month of talks, still does not have a defined mission and is latching on to the surge idea in part because of limited alternatives, despite warnings about the potential disadvantages for the military, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the White House review is not public.

The military believes a US surge will pull in more foreign fighers and present more US targets to kill. The military also believes Shia militias would just lay low and act like civilians until the surge is over. Then they'd pick up their arms again and conditions would return to the current status quo or worse. The US military is correct.

I suspect this information is getting leaked in part because the military doesn't want to get blamed for the inevitable failure of what passes for strategy in the Bush Administration. But they also don't want to throw away American lives and resources for no worthwhile result.

If Bush goes through with the surge plan he's setting himself up for a big political fall once it fails. Therefore the surge plan might well serve the best interests of the United States in the longer run.

The violence in Iraq has soared to a new high.

The Pentagon said yesterday that violence in Iraq soared this fall to its highest level on record and acknowledged that anti-U.S. fighters have achieved a "strategic success" by unleashing a spiral of sectarian killings by Sunni and Shiite death squads that threatens Iraq's political institutions.

In its most pessimistic report yet on progress in Iraq, the Pentagon described a nation listing toward civil war, with violence at record highs of 959 attacks per week, declining public confidence in government and "little progress" toward political reconciliation.

"The violence has escalated at an unbelievably rapid pace," said Marine Lt. Gen. John F. Sattler, director of strategic plans and policy for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who briefed journalists on the report. "We have to get ahead of that violent cycle, break that continuous chain of sectarian violence. . . . That is the premier challenge facing us now."

The 50-page Pentagon report, mandated quarterly by Congress, also stated for the first time that the Shiite militia of radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has replaced al-Qaeda as "the most dangerous" force propelling Iraq toward civil war, as Shiite militants kill more civilians than do terrorists.

Iraq is getting driven toward civil war? Look, the Sunnis have decided they will not be ruled by a Shia majority. The Sunnis will keep killing Shias as long as the Shias rule them. Shiite cleric and militia leader Sadr's response seems inevitable. "You kill mine and so I kill yours". It makes sense. Plus, it is even constructive. Either the Mahdi Army death squads will kill so many Sunnis that the Sunnis surrender or the Sunnis will flee from Shia-controlled areas and the country will become effectively partitioned. The killings drive events toward some sort of resolution.

Granted, few want to admit the need for killings of human beings in order to solve problems. But realistic alternatives require more honesty and realism than exists in Washington DC or among the Iraqis. Bush won't admit the scale of the Iraq problems and hence won't support less deadly ways to pull the Sunnis and Shias apart. Also, most Sunnis and Shias still want a united Iraq (at least I see no indications to the contrary) but continue to contest over the question of which group will rule the other.

Ivan Eland has an interesting list of 10 things not to do in Iraq. Here are 4 and 5

4. Don’t use any extra U.S. troops to train Iraqi forces. Even if the Iraqi army and police could be made larger and better quickly—which they can’t be—the biggest difficulty is not their competence. The main problem is that they will fight for their religious sect, ethnic group, or tribe, not for their country.

5. Don’t think that training Iraqi security forces is a viable U.S. exit strategy. Because of the fragmented nature of Iraqi society, training such forces is merely enabling one side’s combatants in an accelerating civil war. Many of those already trained are now operating as Shi’ite death squads attacking Sunnis.

A continued Bush Administration fantasy is that an objective Iraqi military force can be created that will be impartial between Shias and Sunnis, between tribes, between factions. Not going to happen.

The Iraqis are going to have to keep ramping up their attacks on each other and on US forces before realistic resolutions to the conflict will become acceptable.

By Randall Parker 2006 December 19 09:43 PM  MidEast Iraq Military Needs
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2006 December 17 Sunday
100,000 Contractors In Iraq

Add 100,000 contractors to the size of the occupation force in Iraq.

There are about 100,000 government contractors operating in Iraq, not counting subcontractors, a total that is approaching the size of the U.S. military force there, according to the military's first census of the growing population of civilians operating in the battlefield.

The survey finding, which includes Americans, Iraqis and third-party nationals hired by companies operating under U.S. government contracts, is significantly higher and wider in scope than the Pentagon's only previous estimate, which said there were 25,000 security contractors in the country.

Those 100,000 contractors do the work that conventional soldiers would otherwise do. Therefore their number belongs in a count of the total forces in Iraq. As of October 2006 over 162 thousand troops from several nations were in Iraq. So the total order of battle - not including Iraqi soldiers - is over a quarter million.

These numbers make me wonder whether even Rand Corp. analysts James Quinlivan and James Dobbins underestimated the number of soldiers needed to occupy Iraq. While pre-invasion Anthony Zinni at Centcom was claiming a need for 350,000 to 380,000 soldiers pre-war Dobbins was claiming a full half million were needed and he said 1 soldier is needed per 50 civilians. But we effectively have half that number now (with another 20,000 or so likely to be sent soon to little effect) and I have a hard time imagining that doubling that number would bring Iraq under control.

The United States can not bring order to Iraq - at least not for a cost that is anywhere near a price the American people would be willing to pay. The conflict will continue while the American people continue to go through a very slow and limited learning process. If our elites were not so fundamentally wrong and dishonest in their public pronouncements about human nature we could go up the learning curve a whole lot quicker. But instead we'll have to lose many more lives and hundreds of billions of dollars.

By Randall Parker 2006 December 17 09:35 AM  MidEast Iraq Military Needs
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2006 December 16 Saturday
China Demonstrates Flaw In David Ricardo Trade Theory

Political economist David Ricardo famously argued for the benefits of trade due to comparative advantages where each participant in trade comes out ahead. Steve Randy Waldman argues that Ricardo is dead.

First, the current incarnation of free trade is coming under pressure not because people are stupid, but because people are smart. The publics in countries like the United States and Britain have been remarkably tolerant of free trade over the last two decades, because the policy-relevant public "gets it", has been persuaded by economists from Ricardo on down that free trade is a positive-sum good thing.

Free trade is a positive sum thing if it is truly free trade and not the result of political distortions of markets. But that's not the world we live in.

Ricardo argued that free trade is mutually beneficial because it leads to specialization. But what happens when trade does not lead to greater specialization?

Free trade is positive sum because of specialization. The idea is that if someone else makes cars better or more cheaply than the UK can, Brits will do some other thing in which they have a comparative advantage, maximizing both overall productivity and the wealth of both nations. But there's a catch to this ancient Ricardian reasoning, a hidden assumption: The other thing that Brits do has to be tradable. If the UK stops building cars, and instead concentrates on home-building and retail sales, then there are no certain gains to trade.

In a nutshell: America is exporting debt rather than exporting products. So we aren't exchanging Chinese towels and shoes for US goods in industries where we specialize. Instead we are just exporting debt in growing piles while a succession of industries cuts back on production. In an amazingly long list of industries the US runs a trade deficit with China. This is madness.

Free trade is failing for a couple or reasons. First off, currency manipulation. The East Asians are buying large amounts of US debt in order to keep their currencies cheap. As a result the US trade deficit keeps growing and growing. Second, intellectual property theft is a problem. A US company that has to buy legal software and pay for the creation and use of intellectual property is at a competitive disadvantage to a Chinese manufacturer who can operate with all illegal software and use intellectual property of others without compensation.

The intellectual property theft problem reduces the amount of new intellectual property generated. If companies can not earn back the costs of developing intellectual property then they'll make less of it.

During recent talks with US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson Chinese Vice Premier Wu Yi argued that China has to run a huge trade surplus with the United States and manipulate currencies in order to compensate for China's past abuse by colonial powers.

Wu's opening statement Thursday included a lengthy account of China's widespread poverty and history of colonial domination.

"It is our hope that by making an introduction on China's development road and economic strategy for our American friends (we can show) why we have chosen this development road and where it will lead us in the future," she said.

She thinks those Americans who oppose running a huge trade deficit with China do this because we misunderstand China.

"We have had the genuine feeling that some American friends are not only having limited knowledge of, but harboring much misunderstanding about, the reality in China," she said, according to a text of her speech released by the government.

Why should our understanding of China - or lack thereof - have anything to do with the desire to avoid America becoming what Warren Buffett calls Squanderville?

Treasury Secretary Paulson made it clear to the Chinese that he wanted a reduction in our trade deficit because the American public is mad - not because the trade deficit is harmful to the national interest.

"The way I've articulated the situation to the Chinese is to look beyond Congress," Paulson said. "Congress is a reflection of the American public, and the American public has a perception that the benefits of trade between our two countries aren't being shared equally or fairly."

Following the talks, officials on both sides avoided any suggestion of concrete progress on the principal American demand that China should stop undervaluing its currency as a way to promote exports.

So sorry Chinese leaders. We'd be happy to go along with the Squanderville status quo. But our public forces us to go through the motions of complaining to you in hopes you'll stop pegging your currency. Not to worry though. We are just going to complain and then go home and do nothing. We are on your side on this and trying to ignore our own masses to the extent possible.

I do not think we should be bargaining with the Chinese over their currency manipulations and over our mounting debts to the world. We should just enact tariffs and gradually raise them till the trade deficit declines to a balance. But that course of action is anathema to the "free trade" zealots.

By Randall Parker 2006 December 16 09:36 AM  Economics Trade
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2006 December 13 Wednesday
Non-Profit Hospitals Provide Better Care

The profit motive is not entirely compatible with optimal delivery of medical care.

BOSTON-December 11, 2006 - Patients are more likely to receive high quality of care in not-for-profit hospitals and in hospitals with more registered nurses and advanced technology, reports a comprehensive Harvard Medical School (HMS) analysis published in the Dec. 11 Archives of Internal Medicine.

Anyone surprised? I'm not. Quality of care is hard for patients to measure. So the market is not very good at rewarding those who deliver higher quality care. The profit motive is not sufficiently well disciplined by the market in the medical marketplace.

Bruce Landon, MD, MBA, associate professor of health care policy at HMS, and colleagues found that overall, not-for-profit hospitals consistently performed better than for-profit hospitals when it came to delivering high-quality care for three common medical conditions: congestive heart failure (CHF); heart attack (acute myocardial infarction, AMI); and pneumonia. Hospitals with higher registered nurse staffing levels, more advanced technology, and federal or military designation all had high performance.

"Our study is the first to comprehensively examine the characteristics of hospitals that are associated with higher quality of care for these three important medical conditions," said Landon, who is also an associate professor of medicine at HMS and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

This study assessed the quality of care for CHF, AMI, and pneumonia in more than 4,000 hospitals in the U.S. that reported data to the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations or the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Since the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003, hospitals have been required to report their performance on 10 measures in the areas of CHF, AMI, and pneumonia in order to receive their full Medicare payment update. The study also examined what hospital characteristics (such as ownership, size, location, teaching status, and proportion of Medicare or Medicaid admissions) were associated with high-quality performance.

Non-profits and military hospitals scored highest.

Overall, 76 percent of patients hospitalized with CHF, AMI, or pneumonia received recommended care. To assess this, Landon and colleagues evaluated how many patients received appropriate care across all of the measures for the three medical conditions.

Not-for-profit hospitals consistently performed better than for-profit hospitals for each condition, and federal and military hospitals had the highest performance.

A Congressional alliance called "The Promise Keepers" have caused a huge surge in spending for the Veterans Administration in the last several years. I suspect the huge piles of dollars spent on the VA have caused some of the high performance reported here.

I suspect that VA doctors might be more amenable than more independent private practice doctors to attempts by administrators to encourage the following of best practices. A lot of best practices (e.g. give aspirin to heart attack patients) are not difficult to understand. But they require discipline and a willingness to follow checklists.

"Because a large portion of federal and military hospitals are part of the Veterans Health Administration, this suggests that lessons learned from their decade-long experience in quality improvement deserves further study," said Landon. "It seems likely that the information technology and computerized reporting systems at the VA contributed to their high performance."

Hospitals with lots of poor patients deliver lousier care. It pays to live in affluent areas so that your hospitals have lots of paying customers.

Hospitals that served greater proportions of Medicaid patients had low quality of care across all conditions studied. Hospitals in the Midwest and Northeast, not in rural areas, had better performance, as did hospitals with more advanced technology available.

We'll get better care when computers track care and provide more guidance on what are best practices and when they are being followed.

By Randall Parker 2006 December 13 11:14 PM  Economics Health
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2006 December 12 Tuesday
Saudis Demand US Not Abandon Iraqi Sunnis To Shias

The Saudis are going to line up on the side of the Iraqi Sunnis when the US withdraws (and probably sooner).

WASHINGTON, Dec. 12 — Saudi Arabia has told the Bush administration that it might provide financial backing to Iraqi Sunnis in any war against Iraq’s Shiites if the United States pulls its troops out of Iraq, according to American and Arab diplomats.

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia conveyed that message to Vice President Dick Cheney two weeks ago during Mr. Cheney’s whirlwind visit to Riyadh, the officials said. During the visit, King Abdullah also expressed strong opposition to diplomatic talks between the United States and Iran, and pushed for Washington to encourage the resumption of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, senior Bush administration officials said.

The Saudi warning reflects fears among America’s Sunni Arab allies about Iran’s rising influence in Iraq, coupled with Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

You can read the above like blackmail if you choose. But look at it from the Saudi standpoint. Bush messed up Iraq and created the problem. Bush doesn't want US troops to leave. But his power is declining and he'll be out of office in a little more than 2 years. The Saudis are signalling to all of Washington DC that they have a stake in the outcome of the Iraq civil war.

But the Saudis face a tricky situation even among the Iraqi Sunnis. The Al Qaeda types want to overthrow the Saudi monarchy. The Saudis will funnel money to some Sunni tribes. Can the Sunni tribes beat the extremist Sunnis even while battling the Shias?

The Shias could go too far in their ethnic cleansing and cause the Sunni governments to intervene on behalf of the Sunnis. The US might reduce the odds of that by helping the Sunnis move away from the Shias. But Bush Administration does not want to admit the inevitability of continued ethnic cleansing. So rather than help the Shias and Sunnis move away from each other the death squads will continue their operations.

The Middle East has become the new Great Game. The Israelis and Jordanians and Saudis share a common opposition to a nuclear Iran. The Saudis are ready to spend their oil revenue to fund the minority Iraqi Sunni rebellion against majority Iraqi Shia power. Other Sunni governments will also side with their Sunni co-religionists. Bush wants to side with the Shias because the Shias can win (maybe). But the Sunni governments are going to oppose this move.

By Randall Parker 2006 December 12 10:15 PM  Mideast Iraq Exit Debate
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2006 December 10 Sunday
Afghanistan: Tipping Point For Civil War?

The Iraqis are not going to hell in a handbasket all by themselves.

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN — The conflict in Afghanistan has entered a dangerous phase, and the next three to six months could prove crucial in determining whether the United States and its NATO partners can suppress a revitalized enemy — or will be dragged into another drawn-out and costly fight with an Islamic insurgency, according to senior military and security officials and diplomats.

"I think we are approaching a tipping point, perhaps early in the new year," said a Western diplomat in the region, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the situation publicly.

I think we'll be dragged into another costly fight with an Islamic insurgency. Where's the effort needed to prevent that outcome? The US is tapping out its Army just trying to deal with the deteriorating situation in Iraq. Well, Iraq is going to get worse still. I do not expect Afghanistan to get the attention it warrants until the tipping over has already happened.

The Taliban are running a parallel government in some provinces.

"Their support network has improved, and in some areas they've been able to operate and control roads and villages and the like," said Seth Jones, a counterinsurgency expert at the Rand Corp. who was recently in Afghanistan for field research. "The Taliban have created a shadow government in a number of provinces — people going to Taliban governors rather than centrally appointed governors on rule-of-law issues."

Attacks have increased 4 fold since 2005. The Taliban may have lost as many as 7,000 fighters as compared to 180 for NATO and allies. But Americans are becoming less popular in Afghanistan just as happened in Iraq.

In much of the country, the lack of security has severely stunted development projects, which in turn has fostered widespread disillusionment. Particularly in dirt-poor rural areas, many Afghans believe their daily lot has improved little since Taliban times, and tend to cast the blame on the same Americans they once hailed as liberators.

The Bush Administration invasion of Iraq has been a distraction from the countries that really matter in the battle against Islamic terrorism. Afghanistan was where Al Qaeda trained to launch their terrorist attacks in the United States. Pakistan was the backer of the Taliban and some top Pakistani intelligence officials were on friendly terms with Al Qaeda. Oh, and Pakistan has nuclear bombs. Plus, the 9/11 attackers were mostly from Saudi Arabia.

In spite of all this Bush invaded Iraq. The neocons were thrilled that the Iraq invasion would make the Middle East safer for Israel. But they were wrong about that. Bush thought he was going to fight an easy war that would boost his domestic popularity. He was wrong about that. Now he doesn't want to admit the scale of his mistake. So he won't pull out American troops from Iraq. Well, some of those troops are needed in Afghanistan.

By Randall Parker 2006 December 10 08:33 PM  MidEast Afghanistan
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2006 December 09 Saturday
Official Figures Understate Housing Price Declines

David Leonhardt of the New York Times reports that official figures on housing prices understate the extent of the recent housing price drops. An auction of houses in Naples Florida showed a 25% decline in housing prices in the last year.

The highest bid on one three-bedroom ranch house with a pool was $671,000. In 2005, the same house sold for $809,000. Another house, just steps from Naples Bay, received a high bid of $880,000, compared with $1.35 million a year earlier. On average, the bids suggested that the houses at the auction had lost about 25 percent of their value since 2005, according to Thomas Lawler, a real estate consultant who analyzed the results.

After tripling since 2000 the 25% decline still leaves Naples with very expensive housing.

Many sellers hold off from selling when prices decline. Auctions show what prices are at when sellers are committed to selling. Though perhaps auctions draw lower prices because they only bring in buyers who are on the market looking on the day of the sale.

The US government thinks Boston area prices rose by 1% in the last year. But industry sources put the price drop at anywhere from 10% to 20%.

In reality, homes across much of Florida, California and the Northeast are worth a lot less than they were a year ago. The auction in Naples may have exaggerated the downturn in the market there, but not by much. Tom Doyle, a Naples real estate agent, estimated that a typical house there, sold in the normal way, would go for about 20 percent less than it did the previous fall.

In the Boston area, prices have fallen about 10 to 15 percent since the middle of 2005, estimated Chobee Hoy, who owns a real estate brokerage firm in Brookline. Jerome J. Manning, who runs the Massachusetts-based auction company that conducted the Naples sale, told me he thought that values had dropped about 20 percent around Boston. (The government, meanwhile, says the average price rose 1 percent from last summer to this summer. But here’s all you need to know about how well the government tracks the Boston market: the index excludes any mortgage larger than $417,000.)

People pulled so much money out of their homes with mortgage refinancings that the average home owner in the Boston area has no more paid equity in their home than they did in 2000. What else has changed since 2000? The nation as a whole has sold huge amounts of government debt to foreigners as we've run increasingly larger trade deficits.

Are we looking at a asset bubble burst recession in 2007? I can think of one way for the US government to economize as tax revenues decline: Pull out of Iraq.

Leonhardt sees three reasons why the real estate price index reported by the US government's Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight is misleading:

But it has three big weaknesses that end up making it much less useful than it could be. First, it excludes any mortgage over $417,000, because Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — the two big mortgage buyers — don't own loans so large. Obviously, many mortgages on the coasts are bigger than that.

Second, the data for individual metropolitan areas includes not just house sales but also appraisals done for a mortgage refinancing. Appraisal values, as many people know, tend to be inflated.

Finally — and by necessity — the index includes only houses that have actually sold lately. In a falling market, with an enormous number of properties for sale, the houses that are selling tend to be more appealing than the average house.

What I wonder: When the baby boomers start retiring will there be a big bust in housing prices?

Paul L. Kasriel, Senior VP and Director of Economic Research at the Northern Trust Company, has written a great article arguing that the real estate bust has quite a ways to go to hit bottom: The "Carry" Trade in U.S. Housing Looks to be Over.

Former Fed Chairman Greenspan has recently commented to the effect that the worst of the housing recession is behind us. History is not on the side of this view. Chart 3 shows the peak-to-trough percentage declines in the GDP line item, real residential investment. In the prior nine housing cycles, the average peak-to-trough decline is 24.6%; the median is 22.6%. The peak-to-trough decline to date in the current housing recession is 7.9%. Unless this turns out to be a more moderate than usual housing recession, unlikely given the amount of speculation and leverage involved in the boom, then we have "miles to go" before we can put this housing recession "to sleep." Thus, don't look for the carry trade in housing to turn profitable any time soon.

Prices are down. Prices will probably fall further. But will the affordability of housing return to what it was, say, 10 years ago?

By Randall Parker 2006 December 09 08:12 PM  Economics Housing
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3000 Iraqis Leave Iraq Every Day

The Iraqi refugees fleeing to other Middle Eastern countries are creating population booms and problems.

As they leave Iraq at a rate of nearly 3,000 a day, the refugees are threatening the social and economic fabric of both Jordan and Syria. In Jordan, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis are trying to blend into a country of only 6 million inhabitants, including about 1.5 million registered Palestinian refugees. The governments classify most of the Iraqis as visitors, not refugees.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimated in a report released last month that more than 1.6 million Iraqis have left since March 2003, nearly 7 percent of the population. Jordanian security officials say more than 750,000 are in and around Amman, a city of 2.5 million. Syrian officials estimate that up to one million have gone to the suburbs of Damascus, a city of three million. An additional 150,000 have landed in Cairo. Every month, 100,000 more join them in Syria and Jordan, the report said.

In a report released this week, Refugees International, a Washington-based advocacy group, put the total at close to two million and called their flight “the fastest-growing humanitarian crisis in the world.”

The initial wave of Iraqis was more upper class and Sunni. But lower class and Shia Iraqis came more as the civil war in Iraq intensified.

Curiously, Kuwait does not show up as a destination for the refugees. Are the Kuwaitis especially vigorous about catching and deporting Iraqis? Syria is getting 60,000 a month while Jordan is getting only half that number. But proportionate to their population sizes the impact is much greater for Jordan. Jordan has 5.9 million people whereas Syria has 18.9 million or more than 3 times as many.

The government of Jordan is focusing its deportation efforts on catching Shias.

Partly as a result of such strife, refugees here claim, there is a growing sectarian dimension to the official crackdown. They say the authorities of this officially Sunni country have paid more attention to deporting Iraqi Shiites, fearing that their militias are trying to organize here.

No mention of Kurdish refugees. My guess is they are all fleeing the Arab areas of Iraq to Kurdistan.

Californians can appreciate this. The huge influx of people has tripled real estate prices in Amman Jordan.

The average price of a three-bedroom apartment in upscale West Amman has risen to up to $150,000 from about $50,000. Apartments that once rented for $400 now rent for $1,200, pricing out the average Jordanian, who earns between $500 and $750 per month.

So the war is impovershing lots of Jordanians. But is it causing a housing boom?

You know how Muslims apologists try to argue that Islam tolerates believers in other religions? Shiites in Jordan are not allowed to create prayer halls in overwhelmingly Sunni Jordan.

Many refugees say the crackdown has focused attention on Shiites, even as the government has hunted down Al Qaeda. Even before this, Shiite prayer halls, known as Husseiniyas, were strictly banned here.

Muslims do not like religious freedom.

By Randall Parker 2006 December 09 05:57 PM  Mideast Iraq Exodus
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Iraq Study Group Ignored Advice Of Military Advisors

Michael Gordon of the New York Times reports that the retired military officers who advised the Iraqi Study Group does not think the ISG's plan for US forces in Iraq can work.

Ever since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the United States has struggled in vain to tamp down the violence in Iraq and to build up the capacity of Iraq’s security forces. Now the study group is positing that the United States can accomplish in little more than one year what it has failed to carry out in three.

Most of the US soldiers in Iraq are supposed to be shifted into advisory and training capacities attached to Iraqi units. But the greater wilingness of insurgent and militia groups to fight demonstrates the main problem with the Iraqi military is the lack of motivation that Iraqi soldiers feel to fight for the central government.

One retired general who advised the ISG says the report says more about the lack of will in Washington DC than about how to prosecute the war in Iraq.

“By the first quarter of 2008, subject to unexpected developments in the security situation on the ground, all combat brigades not necessary for force protection could be out of Iraq,” the study group says.

Jack Keane, the retired acting Army chief of staff who served on the group’s panel of military advisers, described that goal as entirely impractical. “Based on where we are now we can’t get there,” General Keane said in an interview, adding that the report’s conclusions say more about “the absence of political will in Washington than the harsh realities in Iraq.”

The faction that does not want to admit defeat is not a big enough to win huge resources (on the order of hundreds of billions of dollars per year and hundreds of thousands of drafted soldiers) needed to win the war. At the same time the faction that favors withdrawal is not yet big enough to force US troops to leave. We are stuck in a political stalemate in Washington DC.

It will take further decay in Iraq to break the stalemate in Washington. I'm confident the Iraqis can and will escalate the sectarian and factional fighting and force partition through ethnic cleansing. They'll continue to use rival government ministries as bases from which to attack each other's factions. They'll continue to run death squads and drive the middle class out of the country while religious factions flee from proximity with each other. The de facto partition will continue.

The officers who advised the ISG were cut out of the process of making military recommendations. Obviously the politicos did not want their political calculations constrained by what is possible to accomplish.

The group’s final military recommendations were not discussed with the retired officers who serve on the group’s Military Senior Adviser Panel before publication, several of those officers said.

Will Bush be able to block a reduction in US forces throughout 2007? If he doesn't then as US forces withdraw the Shias will feel much more emboldened to carry out attacks against the Sunnis. The ultimate outcome of the Iraq civil war is going to depend most of all on how hard and well the Shias fight to put down the Sunni rebellion against Shia majority rule.

If the Shias won't fight far from home then the southern Iraqi Shias won't be able to prevent the creation of an independent Sunni state in the Sunni Triangle.

The Iraq Study Group's report demonstrates that official Washington is not ready to face the hard ugly facts on Iraq. The Bush Administration and Congress matter less in Iraq than the Iraqis do. Well, the Iraqis are busy trying beat each other down so that one faction comes out on top and forces all other factions to submit. I do not expect that battle for absolute dominance to stop. The Iraqis do not understand equality. They see relationships in terms of dominance and submission.

The US attempt to train the Iraqi soldiers amounts to training factional fighters. Iraq has no center but only battling clans held together by consanguineous marriage and the genetic loyalties that result.

Update: The Bush Administration is developing other options for Iraq that are not on the ISG's list of possible policy choices. This press report once again mentions the idea of leaning more heavily toward the Shias and I think the Bushies are going to do that.

The major alternatives include a short-term surge of 15,000 to 30,000 additional U.S. troops to secure Baghdad and accelerate the training of Iraqi forces. Another strategy would redirect the U.S. military away from the internal strife to focus mainly on hunting terrorists affiliated with al-Qaeda. And the third would concentrate political attention on supporting the majority Shiites and abandon U.S. efforts to reach out to Sunni insurgents.

American even-handedness between the Shias and Sunnis has become an unaffordable luxury. Siding with the Shias makes sense for supporters of simple majoritarian democracy because the Shias are the majority. Also, the old regime was Sunni and one objective is to make sure the old regime doesn't return to power.

Shifting more responsibility onto the Shias also makes sense for the American domestic political scene. When the Shias fail to measure up the Bush Administration can point to the Shias and say "It is the fault of the Shias that Iraq is not a better place and therefore it is not the fault of the Bush Administration.

But the growing undercurrent of discussions within the administration is shifting responsibility for Iraq's problems to Iraqis. Sources familiar with the deliberations describe fatigue, frustration and a growing desire to disengage from Iraq.

In a way what is happening now is that the Bushies are running down though the list of all the things that they could try so as to exhaust that list. The faster they do that the sooner we can move on to withdrawal. US forces in Iraq still serve a useful purpose: The attacks on them serve to educate the American public on what results from trying to convert Arabs to liberal democracy.

By Randall Parker 2006 December 09 11:00 AM  Mideast Iraq Exit Debate
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2006 December 07 Thursday
US Vegetable And Fruit Farmers Want Subsidies Against Foreign Competitors

The row crop growers are joining the grain crop growers in the line asking for federal government hand-outs.

FRESNO COUNTY, Calif. — For decades, the fiercely independent fruit and vegetable growers of California, Florida and other states have been the only farmers in America who shunned federal subsidies, delivering produce to the tables of millions of Americans on their own.

But now, in the face of tough new competition primarily from China, even these proud groups are buckling. Produce farmers, their hands newly outstretched, have joined forces for the first time, forming a lobby group intended to pressure politicians over the farm bill to be debated in Congress in January.

Low priced illegal alien farm labor from Mexico can't compete with far cheaper farm workers in China.

Although some farmers may be suffering, American consumers have been big beneficiaries of cheap food imports. On the United States wholesale market, for example, Chinese garlic costs almost half the price of garlic that is grown domestically.

The farmers need to embrace automation and push for big innovations in farm equipment designs. They can't compete on labor costs. Their only chance for survival is to use more capital and far more advanced and robotic capital equipment.

I'd rather the US government spend on automation research and development than on subsidies. The research would eventually lower costs and prices. The subsidies to the growers will keep up prices and delay the development of productivity enhancing equipment that the growers need to stay competitive. We doom our domestic industry to backwardness if we subsidize backwardness.

The fruit and vegetable farmers produce much economic value on about 5% of the land area that the major grain crops use.

The group’s combined cash receipts of $52.2 billion rival or exceed those of the five major commodity crops, which are expected to generate $52 billion this year.

...

While generating close to half of farm receipts, the specialty crops are grown on just 11 million acres of farmland, versus 215 million for the major commodity crops.

China subsidizes its farmers. Plus, it buys large amounts of US government debt in order to keep down the exchange rate for the yuan so that Chinese imports are cheap in dollar terms.

China’s farmers, who are broadly subsidized, have the advantage in that their nation’s currency, the yuan, is tightly regulated to maximize trade opportunities. And the country has a glut of workers for the labor-intensive jobs of growing and harvesting fruits and vegetables.

Why not order the US Federal Reserve to buy Chinese debt as a way to drive down the price of the US dollar against the yuan?

But the foreign competition extends well beyond China. Brazil and Mexico have longer growing seasons and more sunshine from locations closer to the equator. US agriculture must compete with technology and capital equipment. No imported labor can lower labor prices low enough to make US farmers competitive. Plus, the imported labor is subsidized labor. We pay for the schools, medical care, crime, and other costs that the farmers do not pay when they hire illegal aliens.

By Randall Parker 2006 December 07 11:17 PM  Economics Globalization
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Bush Opposes Big Iraq Study Group Recommendations

I think old dogs can learn new tricks. This makes them better than the President of the United States. George W. Bush is going to reject the biggest recommendations of the Iraq Study Group report.

But Mr. Bush, making his first extended comments on the study, seemed to push back against two of its most fundamental recommendations: pulling back American combat brigades from Iraq over the next 15 months, and engaging in direct talks with Iran and Syria. He said he needed to be “flexible and realistic” in making decisions about troop movements, and he set conditions for talks with Iran and Syria that neither country was likely to accept.

Bush isn't going to pull troops out of Iraq until Congress makes him do it. So when will Congress make him do it?

Iraq is going to get worse. Bush is stuck in his own mind. The Iraqis will continue to do things in Iraq that push along the debate in America. Eventually the Iraqis will manage to do enough to each other and to US forces to push American opinion far enough to overcome Bush's stubbornness. I wonder how many more Americans will get killed and maimed before that happens.

By Randall Parker 2006 December 07 11:01 PM  Mideast Iraq Exit Debate
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US Wages Finally Start Beating Inflation

How long will the good times last?

After four years in which pay failed to keep pace with price increases, wages for most American workers have begun rising significantly faster than inflation.

With energy prices now sharply lower than a few months ago and the improving job market forcing employers to offer higher raises, the buying power of American workers is now rising at the fastest rate since the economic boom of the late 1990s.

The average hourly wage for workers below management level — everyone from school bus drivers to stockbrokers — rose 2.8 percent from October 2005 to October of this year, after being adjusted for inflation, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Only a year ago, it was falling by 1.5 percent.

Will the housing slump pull the entire economy down into a recession and end this brief period of wage gains?

If wages rise for only a few months, the current expansion, on the verge of entering its sixth year of growth, would still stand out as an unusually bad one for workers — indeed, the only one since World War II without a sustained pay increase.

In the third quarter, which included the early weeks of the recent pay increases, the share of the nation’s economic output going to workers’ pay and benefits fell to its lowest level in 40 years, according to the Commerce Department.

Further, the average hourly wage for a worker in a nonmanagerial position, $16.91 an hour in October, was about the same as it was in 2003 when inflation is taken into account.

Bringing in large numbers of low skilled and low wage Hispanics only makes this problem worse. We do not benefit from growth in the size of our lower classes.

Downward pressures on wages are a really big reason why the Democrats did so well in the recent elections:

In the exit polls conducted on Election Day last month, on the other hand, only 30 percent of voters said they expected life to improve for the next generation of Americans.

America has big demographic problems that are going to make future generations do less well on average. The most obvious problem is the rising HIspanic fraction of the population. On average they do not do as well in school or rise as far in careers as whites do. So as they become a larger fraction of the population the average wage will stagnate and economic growth will slow.

Another problem is the aging of the population.In its earlier stages it was a net plus in one respect: The average experience level of the workforce rose. The rise of middle aged workers increased productivity in highly skilled occupations. But the trend toward an older population is going farther toward the ages where productivity declines and people stop working altogether.

By Randall Parker 2006 December 07 10:28 PM  Economics Labor
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Pro And Anti Immigration Republicans Compared In Election

A previous post showed Numbers USA figures on how immigration restrictionist Republicans won reelection at higher rates than House Republicans as a whole. This led to the question of what rate did House Republicans who were not in Tom Tancredo's Immigration Reform Caucus (IRC) win reelection. On the Audacious Epigone blog crush41 has crunched the numbers more carefully than the Numbers USA folks and found while only 5.9% of Republican IRC members lost 16.7% of non-IRC Republicans lost.

Transferring the caucus status of seats thrown up for grabs due to a would-be incumbent not running for re-election to the Republican candidate trying to fill the seat (with the would-be incumbent followed by the candidate who ran to fill his spot), Republican members of the IRC suffered a loss rate of 5.9% as a group (six of 101) . The victims were:

Hayworth, AZ
Beauprez/O'Donnell, CO
Ryun, KS
Bradley, NH
Sweeney, NY
Taylor, NC

Republican Congressional members not party to the caucus suffered a loss rate of 16.7% as a group (22 of 132).

JD Hayworth's loss has been pointed to by Open Borders supporters as proof that immigration restriction harms election prospects. But all 4 measures aimed against illegal aliens on the Arizona ballot won by overwhelming majorities.

Arizona voters have approved four ballot measures affecting illegal immigration by about a 3-to-1 advantage.

The four Legislature-referred ballot propositions related to illegal immigration are said by supporters to be necessary protections for Arizona’s taxpayers. But opponents have characterized them as bad policy at best and mean-spirited at worst.

More on those landslide votes here.

Renember: Republicans ate it in this election primarily because of Bush's handling of Iraq. Ethical problems also contributed to Republican losses. I also suspect a rising backlash to the effects of outsourcing, rising imports, and other pressures on the lower classes are pushing lower class whites back toward the Democrats. Populists are not driven more by economic than moral issues.

By Randall Parker 2006 December 07 09:44 PM  Immigration Politics
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Dot Com Bubble Excesses Seen As Exaggerated

The Wall Street Journal reports on some researchers who have found the dot com failure rate was not out of line with other industries in their formative years.

A recent paper suggests that rather than having too many entrants, the period of the Web bubble may have had too few; at least, too few of the right kind. And while most people recall the colossal flops of the period (Webvan, pets.com, etoys and the rest) the survival rates of the era's companies turns out to be on a par, if not slightly higher, than those in several other major industries in their formative years.

The paper is being published in a coming issue of the Journal of Financial Economics. As noteworthy as the findings are, even more interesting is the process that led to them. The work is an outgrowth of the Business Plan Archive at the University of Maryland. Its goal is to become a kind of Smithsonian Institution of the Internet bubble, saving for posterity every business plan, PowerPoint presentation and venture-capital term sheet -- the more frothy and half-baked, the better -- that it can get its hands on.

Perhaps then the venture capitalists have not increased the availability of capital to the extent that we are led to believe. If they really had increased the availability of capital then as a result I'd expect a higher rate of new business failures. Though another interpretation is that the VCs increased the availability of management talent so that the amount of capital invested could increase without higher rates of business failures.

Quite a few of the start-ups still exist but are smaller firms.

The study suggests, though, that the dimensions of that crash might be misunderstood. Nearly half of the companies they studied were still in business in 2004. Prof. Kirsch says that most people believe just a few percent made it through.

The study found that the attrition rate for dot-com companies was roughly 20% a year, which is no different from what occurred during many other industries, such as automobiles, during their early boom periods.

So the dot com boom was just a typical period of irrational exuberance. Nothing out of the ordinary.

By Randall Parker 2006 December 07 05:58 PM  Economics Industry
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2006 December 06 Wednesday
Survey Shows Popular-Elite Gap On Immigration

While our elites are broadly supportive of high levels of immigration yet another survey, this one from the Center for Immigration Studies, shows once again that the public wants less immigration, not more.

A. Neutral Questions Prompt Strong Opinions.

In October 2006, a month before the November mid-term elections, the Center for Immigration Studies commissioned a poll of likely voters by the polling company. The findings show that when presented with hard facts about the number of immigrants (both legal and illegal) currently in America, voters made clear that there are currently too many immigrants crossing our borders. In addition, the public wants the U.S. government to intensify its efforts to enforce current immigration laws (with the intent of causing illegals to go home over time) and rejected any increase in legal immigration levels. The views espoused by most Americans were those encapsulated by the bill passed earlier this year by Republicans in the United States House of Representatives. This suggests that the losses House Republicans sustained this election season are not linked to their stance on immigration, which was actually quite popular with voters.

B. When Presented with the Facts, Voters Say they Want Less, Not More, Immigration.

When given details about the number of immigrants (both legal and illegal) already in America and the number entering each year, 68 percent of likely voters thought the number of immigrants (regardless of legal status) crossing our borders was "too high," while just 21 percent said it was "about right," and 2 percent believed it was "too low." It didn’t take fancy turns of phrase or inflated figures to lead them to this conclusion. This would seem to contradict those who argue that the only concern of voters with respect to immigration is illegality, rather than the sheer number of immigrants in the country.

C. Data Contradict Other Polls Showing Support for Legalization.

Several advocacy groups and even some media outlets have released polls showing support for legalizing current illegals. However, those polls often gave voters a very limited choice between large scale deportations or earned legalization. This survey also finds some support for earned legalization. However, when given the third choice of across-the-board enforcement with the goal of causing illegals to go home on their own (which is the basis of the bill passed by the U.S. House), the public strongly favored this "attrition strategy" over mass deportations or earned legalizations.

D. Very Little Support for Increasing Legal Immigration.

There appears to be minimal support for the kind of large increase in legal immigration found in the bill passed recently by the U.S. Senate (S2611). Across the political spectrum voters felt legal immigration levels were either too high or just right. When asked specifically about legal immigration, only 8 percent said it was too low.

In fact, 70 percent of voters said they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who supported doubling legal immigration, compared to just 21 percent who said they would be more likely to vote for such a candidate (a warning to Senators who support S2611 which would just that). And the intensity of opposition was overwhelming, with 48 percent saying they would be much less likely to vote for a candidate that wants to double immigration, compared to only 7 percent who said they would be much more likely to vote for such a candidate.

E. Immigration Plan Passed by the U.S. House by Far the Favorite.

Voters generally rejected the extremes of mass deportations or legalization of illegals. When asked to evaluate several proposed immigration policies, Americans rallied most forcefully around the House of Representatives plan. The House plan, which increases enforcement with the intent of causing illegals to go home, was the most popular when tested alone and when stacked up against other plans. Futhermore, when given three simple choices, across the board enforcement was the most popular: with 44 percent favoring the House’s attrition approach, 31 percent supporting an earned legalization, and just 20 percent in favor of large scale deportations. Enforcement without an earned legalization or an increase in legal immigration is clearly the public’s choice. No matter how the questions were asked, the results were virtually the same.

F. Voters Skeptical of the Need for Unskilled Immigrant Labor.

When presented with two competing views regarding the need for immigrants to supplement the low-wage, low-skill workforce, more than 70 percent of voters agreed that there were, "plenty of Americans to do low-wage jobs that require relatively little education, employers just need to pay higher wages and treat workers better to attract Americans." Less than one-third that many (21 percent) said the country needed immigrants because there are not enough Americans to do such jobs.

G. Lax Enforcement Partly to Blame for Illegal Immigration.

Nearly three-out-of-four voters said that the United States had done too little to enforce immigration laws. And three-quarters also agreed that the reason we have so many illegals in this country is that past enforcement efforts have before "grossly inadequate." Only 14 percent felt the government has made a "real effort" to enforce our laws and the reason we have so much illegal immigration is that we are not allowing in enough immigrants legally. This is a key argument posited by those who argue in favor of increased legal immigration and is a central tenet of the Senate plan.

H. Republican Most Strongly in Favor of Enforcement, but Independents and Many Democrats also Oppose Legalization.

While there were members of all three political persuasions (e.g. Republican, Democrat, and Independent) on both sides of the issue, overall Republicans were the most likely to believe that immigration was too high, and were most supportive of an enforcement approach. However, a majority of Democratic voters also felt overall immigration was too high and preferred either large scale deportations or an attrition strategy over earned legalization. There was little supporting for increasing legal immigration among adherents of any party.

I. Traditionally Democratic Voters – Including Minorities and Low-Wage, Low-Skill Workers – Split from Party on Many Aspects of Immigration.

Voters whose life and livelihoods are perhaps most apt to be directly affected by the presence of immigrants – those who are potentially being passed over for jobs in favor of immigrants who will accept lower wages and fewer benefits – split from their traditional Democratic roots and sided with Republicans. They were much more likely to believe the current number of immigrants in the country was too high and more favorable towards enforcement policies – including those that simply rounded up illegals and deported them.

The lower classes know they are most heavily shafted by immigration because the low skilled immigrants drive down their wages and worsen their working condtions. Plus, the immigrants increase crime in low income neighborhoods.

Will Jorge W. Bush and the Democrats pass a huge immigration amnesty in 2007? That is what they want to do. Will the public get mad enough to stop them?

By Randall Parker 2006 December 06 11:16 PM  Immigration Elites Versus Masses
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2006 December 05 Tuesday
Iraq Debate In Washington DC Fades In Importance

The question arises: Will George W. Bush ever revisit the assumption on which he has built his Iraq policy?

Commission members say they concluded that Mr. Bush’s strategy so far has created an expectation that the United States will always be there to hold Iraq together. Breaking that culture of dependency, they concluded, is the key to making the long-discussed “Iraqification” of the country’s security a reality. But they are uncertain whether they can persuade a famously stubborn president to adopt that view.

“Is George Bush ready to hear that?” one commission member asked over the weekend. “I don’t think any of us really know. I don’t know if the president himself knows.”

Much of the debate about Iraq in the American press revolves around factions in Washington DC. Will Democrats force a reduction in US forces? Has George W. Bush finally felt some serious doubt about his own decisions and his own judgment? Are the divisions within the Bush Administration deepening? Will Bush decide to drop attempts to treat the Sunnis and Shias equally and side with the Shia Arabs against the Sunni Arabs? But all these debates are becoming steadily more irrelevant as the Iraqis scale up their civil war and US forces fail to make much of a dent in the civil war, the corruption, the division of the Iraqi government into groups of ministries run by different militias, death squads operated by militias allied with top Iraqi government officials, and all the rest of the hell which Iraq has become.

The Iraq Study Group headed by James Baker and Lee Hamilton will make many recommendations in their forthcoming report. One of the recommendations which Bush will agree with is the need to move more US military units into training and advising positions for the Iraqi army.

Administration officials say Mr. Bush is likely to embrace that part of the report, which will call for vastly increasing the number of American trainers embedded in Iraqi units, along with other provisions that he can argue are already being implemented.

These US soldiers will make the Iraqis more effective, but not enormously so. Iraqi forces that have American advisors still choke on the battlefield.

BAGHDAD, Dec. 2 -- The bullets flew from every direction -- from rooftops, windows, alleys and doorways.

Soldiers from the Iraqi army's 9th Division were pinned against a wall. They were under a covered sidewalk. According to accounts from U.S. forces who were with them on Friday, a suspected insurgent with an AK-47 assault rifle aimed at them from a doorway. Pieces of concrete fell as the insurgent's fire ripped into the wall above the Iraqi soldiers.

That's when they froze.

Teams of U.S. advisers remained close, but planned to leave the fighting to the Iraqis.

"It started out that way. But about five minutes into it, we had to take over," Staff Sgt. Michael Baxter, 35, said.

Would you believe that the US soldiers on the ground with these Iraqis painted a bleaker picture of their performance than US military PR flacks did?

While President Bush might still harbor no doubts as to the wisdom of his decisions on Iraq (after all, he prayed to God for guidance as he made these decisions) recently former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld advocated many changes in strategy right before he left office.

But the defense secretary's unusually expansive memo also laid out a series of 21 possible courses of action regarding Iraq strategy, including many that would transform the U.S. occupation.

Michael O'Hanlon, a defense analyst at the Brookings Institution, said the revelation of the memo would undercut any attempt by President Bush to defend anything resembling a "stay the course" policy in Iraq.

"When you have the outgoing secretary of defense, the main architect of Bush's policy, saying it's failing, that puts a lot more pressure on Bush," he said.

Does Bush really feel that pressure? I doubt it. But, again, it does not matter. The Iraqis are going to continue running death squads for ethnic killing and cleansing. The de facto partitioning will proceed apace as the middle class and the Christians who can find ways out of Iraq continue to flee. The next election (if there is one) will boost Shia cleric warrior Moqtada al-Sadr's share of the Parliament and cabinet positions.

People in Washington DC have dwindling influence over the course of events in Iraq. What's more important about the debate in DC is whether America's elites are going to become more realistic about human nature as a result of the Iraq debacle. The huge costs of Iraq could pay some dividends if the fools we have for elites admitted that Islam is not compatible with democracy, separation of religion and state, and equal treatment of non-believers. We'd get benefits if our elites admitted that Muslim immigration into the West is harmful to us. But so far even this enormous mistake has not been enough to get the fools who rule over us to step out of the liberal mental straitjackets that set the parameters for how they look at the world.

By Randall Parker 2006 December 05 10:03 PM  Mideast Iraq Exit Debate
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2006 December 04 Monday
Immigration Restrictionists Beat Other Republicans In Election

Numbers USA has crunched the numbers to look at how Republicans in Congress did in the recent election based on their positions on immigration. The immigration restrictionists did better than other Republicans in getting reelected.

  • About 7% of the Members of Tom Tancredo’s Immigration Reform Caucus lost their seats in the election;
  • But among all Republican seats in Congress, the rate of loss was about twice as high a rate—12%.

Where an A means the strongest voting record for immigration restriction the ones with F grades fared the worst.

Loss of Election by Republicans Based on Their Immigration-Reduction Grade of This Congress

  • 9.6% with an A grade lost;
  • 25.0% with an F grade lost;
  • 9.2% with a B grade lost;
  • 6.4% with a C grade lost;
  • 9.5% with a D grade lost.

Exit polling failed to show any sign that voters disliked the immigration-reduction positions of the Republicans they were turning out of office. Rather, the polling found they were voting primarily on the basis of scandals and the war.

One has to consider the factors that cause Republican reps to take more or less restrictionist positions may also increase and reduce their chances of getting reelected for other reasons. For example, a district that is majority Democrat that is represented by a Republican probably has a more moderate or left-leaning Republican. So one would need to take these numbers and then look at the districts where candidates lost and see what other characteristics these districts share. For example, Republicans do well in districts that have higher white populations and higher percentages of married couples with children.

Courtesy of Numbers USA you can send a free fax to both your US Senators and Congress Rep in support of immigration restriction and against amnesty and against a temporary workers program.

By Randall Parker 2006 December 04 11:18 PM  Immigration Politics
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Shiite Leader Asks Bush To Take Shia Side Against Sunnis

One of the options left for the Bush Administration to try in Iraq is to tilt in favor of the Shias. Shia leader and Iran ally Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim wants the US to kill more Sunni insurgents.

"The strikes they are getting from the multinational forces are not hard enough to put an end to their acts, but leave them (to) stand up again to resume their criminal acts," said Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) after White House talks with President Bush. He spoke at the U.S. Institute for Peace, a U.S. government-funded foreign policy institute.

Using the terms Shiites use to describe al-Qaida and the Sunni insurgents, Hakim called for tougher U.S. military action. "Eliminating the danger of the civil war in Iraq could only be achieved through directing decisive strikes against the Taqfiri terrorists and Baathist terrorists in Iraq," he said.

SCIRI runs the Badr Brigade militia. By contrast, Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who runs the Mahdi Army, didn't want Prime Minister Maliki to meet with Bush in Jordan recently.

Hakim is fading. If a new election was held analysts think Sadr would gain and perhaps become able to form a government without either Dawa or SCIRI. It would appear that al-Sadr's willingness to send his militias out to kill Sunnis (many of those killed just being Sunnis and not insurgents) while his party holds 6 cabinet positions has made him very popular among the Iraqi Shiites. So obviously the Iraqi Shiites put the willingness to kill Sunnis ahead of closer ties with Iran.

But Hakim's support in Iraq is ebbing, and there's talk in Baghdad of a new coalition to replace Maliki that would include neither Maliki's Dawa party nor Hakim's SCIRI.

If the neocons are correct in arguing that Iranian influence in Iraq is too great and a big threat then the US government should support new elections. SCIRI would go down to defeat and Iran's influence would decline. But my guess is that the neocons have greatly exaggerated Iran's influence in Iraq. The Iraqis do not need outside agents spurring them on to kill each other. They can get all worked up to do that on their own.

If the Badr Brigade had a larger roll in the death squad killings the neoconservatives would be touting this as proof that Iran is the real culprit. But the relative restraint (at least by Iraqi standards) of the Badr Brigades doesn't support that interpretation.

What I want to know: Will either the Badr Brigades or the Mahdi Army soldiers become willing to go into the Sunni Triangle and put down the Sunni rebellion against Shia rule? If they are just as unwilling to do that as the regular army Shia then I do not see how Iraq can be kept in one piece. If Iraqi soldiers will only fight for their own neighborhoods and towns then partition seems a more likely outcome as US forces are withdrawn.

By Randall Parker 2006 December 04 11:06 PM  Mideast Iraq Ethnic Conflict
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2006 December 02 Saturday
Iraq Exit Debate Shifts To Vietnamization

The emerging consensus in Washington DC outside of the Bush administration is that it is time to start pulling out US combat units from Iraq in 2007.

The bipartisan Iraq Study Group plans to recommend withdrawing nearly all U.S. combat units from Iraq by early 2008 while leaving behind troops to train, advise and support the Iraqis, setting the first goal for a major drawdown of U.S. forces, sources familiar with the proposal said yesterday.

The commission plan would shift the U.S. mission in Iraq to a secondary role as the fragile Baghdad government and its security forces take the lead in fighting a Sunni insurgency and trying to halt sectarian violence. As part of major changes in the U.S. presence, sources said, the plan recommends embedding U.S. soldiers directly in Iraqi security units starting as early as next month to improve leadership and effectiveness.

Note this is the bipartisan Iraq Study Group. The Republicans want out of Iraq. Bush's position is still that US forces should not leave until the Iraqis are ready to take over the fighting. But in spite of Bush family ally James Baker as co-chair of the group they are still going to issue a report which will recommend a US withdrawal. The report might have caveats about Iraqi readiness. But part of the purpose of the report is to put pressure on the Shia-dominated Iraqi government to get government security forces ready more quickly.

Why the desire for exit on the Republican side? The Republicans do not want to get a another wupping from the electorate in November 2008. Bush wants to stay in Iraq. But he's not running for reelection whereas a third of the Senate and all of the House is and so will the Republican nominee for President. These people are going to put their collective careers ahead of Bush's desires.

Iraqi government forces do not need to get ready in any case. The Shiite militas could take on the Sunni insurgency groups right now.

The US will leave a large contingent of Vietnamization-style advisers working with Iraqi units.

Pulling out combat units would not mean the end of the U.S. military involvement in Iraq, which could continue in a different form for years. The withdrawal would be partially offset by an influx of advisers, trainers and embedded troops. The number of such troops now stands at roughly 5,000 and should be quadrupled to about 20,000, the group's plan says, according to a source. The commission envisions leaving at least several thousand quick-strike U.S. combat soldiers to protect all those other American troops.

Who still thinks the US can accomplish any of its goals in Iraq? Perhaps a few faithful in the White House and some neocon warhawk bloggers. But even the major neocons are now focused on sniping over who caused the Iraq intervention to fail so badly. Those neocons are still in error because their arguments erroneously assume there was a correct way to invade Iraq and produce a beneficial outcome.

Meanwhile, the internal policy debates in the Bush administration center around whether to tilt toward the Shias and give up on attempts to form a consensus with the Sunnis.

WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration is re-evaluating its efforts to unite Iraq's fractious sectarian and political factions in an attempt to preserve U.S. options in Iraq no matter what happens, officials familiar with an internal administration review of Iraq policy said Friday.

A senior U.S. official said that as part of that examination, the administration has debated whether to abandon U.S. efforts to bring Sunni insurgents into the political process to stabilize Iraq and instead leave that outreach to the majority Shiites and Iraq's third major group, the Kurds. No decision has been made.

The Bush administration can't try to make deals with the Sunnis because the Shias have already decided they want to fight it out. Maliki isn't going to rein in the Shia militias which are killing not just Sunni insurgents but also any Sunnis they get their hands on. The Sunnis have so enraged the Shias that they're way past negotiation.

The Washington Post's editors wonder if the study group and Bush administration proposals are built on false assumptions.

The study group proposals, like those being developed by the Bush administration, assume that the army and government of Mr. Maliki are worth a continued, if slowly diminishing, commitment of U.S. military support -- with an inevitable cost in American lives. But are they?

Yes, their assumptions are still erroneous. No, the Iraqi government is not worth continued American support. But the Bush administration isn't going to admit that.

If the Bush administration decides to ally with the Shias against the Sunnis then Bush's spokesmen will face a lot of questions about how can the US line up behind factions that are causing all sorts of atrocities. Well, since no major Iraqi faction is morally virtuous the only other option is total withdrawal. US policy in Iraq has failed and Humpty Dumpty is shattered.

Update: When trying to figure out the eventual outcome of the Iraq civil war my main question revolves around how far away from home either Sunni or Shia fighters will be willing to travel and fight. Already Shias from the south of Iraq serving in the Iraqi military have been unwilling to travel up to Baghdad to fight against Sunnis there. Baghdad is far from their clan relations. Why go fight for other tribes? Meanwhile, the Kurdish project to create a separate Kurdish nation proceeds apace.

If the Shias remain unwilling to fight for distant Shia tribes (let alone for control of non-oil areas populated by Sunnis) then the most likely outcome is either an outright split of Iraq into 3 separate ethnic territories or a confederation with a weak central government. As the US withdraws will Shia willingness to travel increase at all? Will the Shia government be able to form a large Shia military willing and eager to fight over the entire range of Arab Iraq?

By Randall Parker 2006 December 02 10:26 PM  Mideast Iraq Exit Debate
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2006 December 01 Friday
Nigerian Elections Contested With Murder And Bribery

Nigeria contains one sixth of the population of Africa and the New York Times reports signs that democracy is failing in Nigeria.

ADO EKITI, Nigeria — Early one Sunday morning in June, a mysterious text message flashed across Kayode Fayemi’s cellphone.

“Since you continue to oppose Governor Fayose, we shall kill you,” the message read, referring to the bare-knuckled incumbent at the time, Ayo Fayose. It was signed, “THE FAYOSE M SQUAD.”

Mr. Fayemi, a candidate for governor in this tiny state in southwest Nigeria, tried to brush off the threat. But if there was any doubt what the M in the message stood for, it evaporated six weeks later, when another candidate for governor, a World Bank consultant, was stabbed and bludgeoned to death in his bed.

So lucrative is public office here that even in a backwater like Ekiti, a state of only 2 million people in a nation of 130 million, the state house and the spoils that come with it are apparently worth killing for. Of Nigeria’s 36 governors, 31 are under federal investigation, mostly on suspicion of corruption, and 5 have already been impeached, including Mr. Fayose in October. He is now in hiding.

“This is democracy at work in Nigeria,” Mr. Fayemi muttered as he drove between campaign stops in Ekiti in early November. “Murder and money, violence and fraud.”

Since the military dictatorship ended in Nigeria 7 years ago public trust in democracy has plummeted to to less than a quarter of the population.

Nigerian oil money goes to whichever politicians are brutal enough to kill, stuff ballot boxes, intimidate, and bribe to get and keep power.

Here in the state of Ekiti, that check is typically $14 million, but lately it has been more than double that because of soaring oil prices. In a tiny state like this, that money could go far toward meeting the basic needs of the population — schools, roads, health clinics, running water.

In reality, many governors steal with impunity, buying the loyalty of the legislature and using state money to erect systems of patronage that help keep incumbents in office, analysts and political leaders say.

Democracy is supposed to be a panacea according to neoconservatives and liberals. Use of the popular will to choose leaders is supposed to result in wiser government and much preferred to any other form of government. Democracy and liberal government are supposed to be the universal aspiration of all mankind (and womynkind). But reality is far from these pretty myths. The belief in myths about human nature does not make the world a better place. The mythical beliefs that lie at the foundation of the Iraq debacle have cost thousands of Americans dead, tens of thousands (perhaps more) permanently damaged, hundreds of billions of dollars wasted, and even larger human costs incurred by the Iraqis.

The evidence that makes Nigeria easily understandable has been ruled taboo by America's Leftist commissars. So the New York Times article above sketches political behavior in Nigeria while providing no insight into why Nigeria is in such a wretched state and likely to remain that way for a long time to come. Mainstream political debate now stagnates in an ignorance about human nature that the elites have imposed upon themselves.

By Randall Parker 2006 December 01 07:48 PM  Democracy Failure
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Corruption Surges In Venezuela

Writing for the libertarian Cato Institute Gustavo Coronel says Hugo Chavez's government in Venezuela is very corrupt.

Gustavo Coronel was a member of the Board of Directors of Petróleos de Venezuela (1976–79) and, as president of Agrupación Pro Calidad de Vida, was the Venezuelan representative to Transparency International (1996–2000).

Executive Summary

Corruption has existed in Venezuela since at least 1821, when it gained independence. In the 19thand 20th centuries, the level of corruption fluctuated, depending on the government in power. During the government of President Hugo Chávez, however, corruption has exploded to unprecedented levels. Billions of dollars are being stolen or are otherwise unaccounted for, squandering Venezuelan resources and enriching high-level officials and their cronies.

The windfall of oil revenues has encouraged the rise in corruption. In the approximately eight years Chávez has been in power, his government has received between $175 billion and $225 billion from oil and new debt. Along with the increase in revenues has come a simultaneous reduction in transparency. For example, the state-owned oil company ceased publishing its consolidated annual financial statements in 2003, and Chávez has created new state-run financial institutions, whose operations are also opaque, that spend funds at the discretion of the executive.

Corruption now permeates all levels of Venezuelan society. Bureaucrats now rarely follow existing bidding regulations, and ordinary citizens must pay bribes to accomplish bureaucratic transactions and have to suffer rampant neglect of basic government services. All this has been encouraged by a general environment of impunity: officers implicated in major corruption scandals have sometimes been removed from their posts, but they have not otherwise been held legally accountable.

The dramatic rise in corruption under Chávez is ironic since he came to power largely on an anti-corruption campaign platform. To truly fight corruption, the government needs to increase the transparency of its institutions and reduce its extensive involvement in the economy, something that has placed Venezuela among the least economically free countries in the world.

Chávez was democratically elected by Amerinds voting against Spaniards. Neoconservatives and liberals who extol democracy as a cure for what ails societies around the world need to take a hard look at Venezuela. How can a democratically government be such a disaster? Could it be that some electorates are incapable of the minimum wisdom needed to make democracy work? Could desire to support those who share a common ethnic identity trump the need to vote for the most competent and most honest?

You can read the full report (PDF format).

By Randall Parker 2006 December 01 07:41 PM  Democracy Failure
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