2008 June 30 Monday
Romney VP Appeal: $60 Million Cash Quick To Get

Money raising ability makes Mitt Romney a front-runner to become John McCain's vice presidential running mate.

McCain sources tell Politico that they believe Romney could raise $50 million in 60 days. One close Romney adviser said it could even be $60 million.

But even with Romney and a large pile of cash McCain will still lose.

He's got some other big pluses. But McCain's campaign fears Romney will turn off southern Christian voters in states that Obama might run strong in.

Romney’s other advantages, according to people involved in McCain’s screening process:

— He is squeaky-clean and fully vetted by the national media.

— He has presidential looks and bearing and immediately would be a strong campaigner who could be trusted to stay on message.

— His family’s Michigan roots would help in a swing state that went Democratic in 2004.

Romney probably also poses another problem for McCain: A sufficiently accomplished history that Romney can probably think for himself and possibly try to disagree with McCain when McCain tries to do nutty things.

Obama can count on very high black turn-out and a much higher percentage of the black vote than previous white Democratic Presidential candidates could get. That puts him in a strong position in southern states with large black populations.

Suppose McCain goes with Romney for the cash. That won't put McCain in the lead for cash. Obama the fund-raising all-star has such an amazing track record on getting cash that he's is turning down federal matching funds so he can tap even larger sums from the private sector.

Obama has trounced McCain in fund raising, raking in $287.4 million to McCain's $119.6 million.

Obama is so flush he turned down about $85 million in federal matching funds, and he's so golden that his flip-flop from previously saying he would take matching funds was a non-issue.

People who fear Obama will be a socialist take note: He might be willing to be rented by the wealthy. This will place limits on his redistribution of wealth to the poor. Though this sort of influence-buying tends to corrupt markets and corrupt markets cause enormous damage.

Update: Obama might end up raising over a half billion dollars total by the time he's elected President.

Mr. Obama’s advisers said Thursday that they believed he could raise $200 million to $300 million for the general election, not counting money raised for the Democratic National Committee, if he were freed from the shackles of accepting public money.

By Randall Parker 2008 June 30 10:43 PM  Politics Money
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Nicholas Kristof: If Only Mugabe Were White

If the tyrant Robert Mugabe was a white man he'd already be a dead man.

When the white supremacist regime of Ian Smith oppressed Zimbabweans in the 1970s, African countries rallied against it. Eventually, even the white racist government in South Africa demanded change and threatened to cut off electricity supplies if it didn’t happen.

Yet South African President Thabo Mbeki continues to make excuses for Mr. Mugabe — who is more brutal than Ian Smith ever was — out of misplaced deference for a common history in the liberation struggle. Zimbabweans suffered so much for so many decades from white racism that the last thing they need is excuses for Mr. Mugabe’s brutality because of his skin color.

The cost of Mugabe's rule has wiped out most of the progress that white rule brought to Zimbabwe.

Life expectancy in Zimbabwe has already dropped from the low 60s to the high 30s.

Kristof claims Britain squandered its influence by complaining loudly about the plight of white farmers. Think about that. Why should complaints about the mistreatment (killings, rapings, dispossessions, etc) of white farmers cost Britain the standing to oppose Mugabe? Because in the twisted liberal moral calculus one loses status by complaining about whites in a black country. It just isn't done.

Few people care about the fate of Africa. In America even few black people care. We do not hear the NAACP or the Congressional Black Caucus calling on the US government to overthrow Mugabe. Bill Gates isn't offering a big cash prize to mercenaries to overthrow Mugabe's government. Yet cash for mercenaries is a really cheap way to make Zimbabwe a better place. Compared to other ways the US spends foreign aid it would be far more cost effective.

Paul Wolfowitz thinks Mugabe should be offered retirement.

Most importantly, dramatic action by the international community could embolden other Africans to confront the tragedy in their backyard. One step would be to offer Mugabe an honorable way out. South Africa or some other country should offer Mugabe a safe and comfortable retirement if he leaves without further violence.

But Wolfowitz admits that does not always work. Why not try bullets? One bullet in the skull would retire Mugabe.

One of the more complicated cases is that of Charles Taylor in Liberia, because he was offered exactly such a deal to leave Liberia and go to Nigeria. And I think that was a good thing. But what he did once he got to Nigeria was terrible, because he kept using communications and probably money to keep stirring up trouble in Liberia, and so eventually the Nigerians handed him over to the court. If I were going to get very explicit, I would say any deal with Mugabe has to make sure that he is no longer interfering in the affairs of Zimbabwe. It really has to be the end.

Zimbabwe just had a travesty of an election.

So, how'd the voting go in Zimbabwe today? John Simpson, the BBC World Affairs editor, reporting from Harare, said the atmosphere of fear and intimidation was the worst thing "he has seen in 40 years of reporting."

Many voters reportedly believed they would be subject to violence and harassment if their fingers were not dipped in red ink, a sign that they had voted. Although this might mean that they cast a protest ballot for Mr. Tsvangirai, don't bet on it -- election officials and Mugabe goons are requring voters to write down the serial numbers of their ballots, so they will have a record of everyone who voted for the opposition.

Over at the Foreign Policy Passport blog Blake Hounsell explains Africa's leaders stayed quiet about Mugabe at an African Union meeting because he shares too many characteristics in common with them.

The Post's Ellen Knickmeyer, I think, gets it right when she attributes the silence to the fact that a lot of the other folks in the room have also stolen power and maintained it by force. I mean, what could they say? Steal the election more artfully? Mugabe pretty much said the same last week at a campaign rally: "I want to see that finger pointed at me and I will check if that finger is clean or dirty." I wonder, though, if the tone would be different were the summit held in a democratic African country, as opposed to Mubarak's Egypt. Nobody wants to insult the host.

Rather than complain about Mugabe and propose impractical solutions for Zimbabwe the fastest way to improve the quality of its government is to pay some mercs to overthrow Mugabe and kill him and his top henchmen. Make them dead. Do it quick. Offer big cash prizes for the mercs who pull it off. The Executive Outcomes mercenaries from South Africa did an excellent job in Sierra Leone stopping rebels from killing lots of people until the IMF forced the President of Sierra Leone to fire them. He got overthrown a few months later and the place decayed once again. If the IMF politically correct liberal-minded fools hadn't interfered the conditions in Sierra Leone would have improved.

Zimbabwe needs overthrow of a government rather than the beating back of rebels. A private army could get this done.

By Randall Parker 2008 June 30 10:41 PM  Cultural Wars Western
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2008 June 29 Sunday
Nicholas Kristof On Israeli Colonization Of The West Bank

Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times says traveling thru the West Bank feels like traveling thru Israeli colonies. Er, this is supposed to be a revelation?

The security system that Israel is steadily establishing is nowhere more stifling than here in Hebron, the largest city in the southern part of the West Bank. In the heart of a city with 160,000 Palestinians, Israel maintains a Jewish settlement with 800 people. To protect them, the Israeli military has established a massive system of guard posts, checkpoints and road closures since 2001.

More than 1,800 Palestinian shops have closed, in some cases the doors welded shut, and several thousand people have been driven from their homes. The once flourishing gold market is now blocked with barbed wire and choked with weeds and garbage.

Sure, close 1800 Palestinian shops to allow 800 Israeli Jews live in the middle of a hostile population that feels like it is being invaded. Why not? After all. those Jews are following their interpretation of God's will. Even if we do not share their interpretation of God's will, well, who's to judge another person's religious beliefs? If you pay taxes to the United States government then thanks to the Jewish lobby your taxes help pay for this. Is this neat or what?

Some will think I'm being disrespectful when I say these people are nutters. Okay, I own up to that. Yes, I'm being disrespectful. Some human activities are so over the top in their foolishness and unfairness that disrespect is a rational response. It is not like respectful disagreement will help any. So why not go whole hog into disrespect?

Palestinian women have to give birth at checkpoints. Granted, the Palestinians are winning the battle of the womb. But is this sort of treatment necessary? Oh yes, it is. How else can "settlers" live in the midst of the Palestinians and take their land?

It is here in the Palestinian territories that you see the worst side of Israel: Jewish settlers stealing land from Palestinians (almost one-third of settlement land is actually privately owned by Palestinians); Palestinian women giving birth at checkpoints because Israeli soldiers won’t let them through (four documented cases last year); the diversion of water from Palestinians. (Israelis get almost five times as much water per capita as Palestinians.)

Where is the rule of law when lands can be taken that are owned by others? He says the Israeli courts periodically rule in favor of Palestinians. Well, what percentage of all the Palestinians who have had their land taken or their shop welded shut have gotten court rulings in their favor? Even 1% I doubt it.

Yet it is also here that you see the very best side of Israel. Israeli human rights groups relentlessly stand up for Palestinians. Israeli women volunteer at checkpoints to help Palestinians through. Israeli courts periodically rule in favor of Palestinians. Israeli scholars have published research that undermines their own nation’s mythologies. Many Israeli journalists have been fair-minded toward Palestinians in a way that Arab journalists have rarely reciprocated.

Yes, the Arabs definitely want only Arab Muslims to rule in the Middle East. I say let them. But at the same time keep them out of the West.

There are civilizations on this planet that are incompatible with each other. They should be kept separated by clearly delineated borders with substantial barrier walls. But in the case of the Israelis and the West Bank a clear line drawn between the Israelis and the Palestinians serves as an obstacle to the dreams of the Israeli fanatics who want to occupy all of the West Bank. The fanatics aren't making enough babies to carry out their dreams. The Israelis really ought to back off and live within demographically defensible borders. But the fanatics think they have God on their side.

By Randall Parker 2008 June 29 10:24 PM  MidEast Arabs Versus Israelis
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Algeria An Intellectual Battleground Between Islam And Secularism

The Algerian government is trying to reduce the Islamic content of what the Algerian schools teach.

ALGIERS — First, Abdel Malek Outas’s teachers taught him to write math equations in Arabic, and embrace Islam and the Arab world. Then they told him to write in Latin letters that are no longer branded unpatriotic, and open his mind to the West.

Malek is 19, and he is confused.

“When we were in middle school we studied only in Arabic,” he said. “When we went to high school, they changed the program, and a lot is in French. Sometimes, we don’t even understand what we are writing.”

But unlike confused teenagers in Western countries (at least non-Muslim teens in Western countries) Malek flirted with terrorism. Suppose some of these confused kids come into Western countries. Then our security services get to play a game of "how to identify and stop the terrorists". One hopes they play this game well. But better to keep out these confused kids in the first place.

The confusion has bled off the pages of his math book and deep into his life. One moment, he is rapping; another, he recounts how he flirted with terrorism, agreeing two years ago to go with a recruiter to kill apostates in the name of jihad.

Why feel confused when a Jihadist recruiter will tell you Islam has all the answers and that your life would have huge meaning and you could get lots of beautiful and virginal rewards in heaven? Harnessing the sex drive of teenagers toward killing enemies by offering lots of sex makes Islam quite the innovative 7th century religion. It sells a pretty unique product even today.

The government is trying to make the school curriculum less based around rote memorization and more oriented toward teaching critical thinking. Islamic teachers prefer rote memorization where people are taught to obey and accept what they are taught. But this teaching of critical thinking only has a chance with the children who are smart enough and curious enough to learn to think for themselves.

Now the government is urgently trying to re-engineer Algerian identity, changing the curriculum to wrest momentum from the Islamists, provide its youth with more employable skills, and combat the terrorism it fears schools have inadvertently encouraged.

It appears to be the most ambitious attempt in the region to change a school system to make its students less vulnerable to religious extremism.

The disenchanted young men are dropping out of schools? Suppose we administered IQ tests to the kids who drop out and the kids who graduate. Do you think we'd find any other difference besides disenchantment?

But many educators are resisting the changes, and many disenchanted young men are dropping out of schools.

The article offers interesting glimpses of the competing forces at work in Algeria. Fatiha Yomsi, a female advisor to the minister of education, comments she is "targeted for death". Algerians worry that the Muslim terrorism might start back up again. So glad I'm not there. Unless secularism clearly wins out I think we should minimize the number of Algerians that can come and live in the West for any significant length of time.

By Randall Parker 2008 June 29 04:46 PM  Civilizations Clash Of
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Child Brides In Yemen Rebel Against Brutal Primitive Custom

The little girls in Yemen are not showing enough loyalty to their authentic local non-Western ancient culture.

JIBLA, Yemen: One morning last month, Arwa Abdu Muhammad Ali walked out of her husband's house here and ran to a local hospital, where she complained that he had been beating and sexually abusing her for eight months.

That alone would be surprising in Yemen, a deeply conservative Arab society where family disputes tend to be solved privately. What made it even more unusual was that Arwa was 9 years old.

Within days, Arwa - a tiny, delicate-featured girl - had become a celebrity in Yemen, where child marriage is common but has rarely been exposed in public. She was the second child bride to come forward in less than a month; in April, a 10-year-old named Nujood Ali had gone by herself to a courthouse to demand a divorce, generating a landmark legal case.

How dare these 9 and 10 year olds oppose their culture. I see a parallel here. When British people try to oppose cousin marrriage of Pakistanis in Britain Harvard Law School professor Noah Feldman, writings in the New York Times, accuses the British of the heinous sin of prejudice and anti-immigrant feelings. Leave aside for the moment the fact that Feldman is a dangerous nutter and that modern left-liberalism is morally bankrupt. If opposition to the practice of cousin marriage is a result of evil prejudice surely the same can be said about child marriage. After all, it has been practiced for hundreds or thousands of years by certifiable real local indigenous non-white natives. Anyone who opposes this practice must be prejudiced.

So what we have in Yemen are evil children who are almost as bad as white people in England who oppose cousin marriage. Noah Feldman needs to prepare a lawsuit against these evil children. Surely he will see the same parallel with Nazism that he drew between the opposition to cousin marriage in Britain and the anti-Jewish actions of the Nazis. He ought to seek an injunction against any children who try to leave their 30+ year old husbands.

Look at it this way: Many Western countries outlaw child marriage and cousin marriage. If the banned practice disproportionately restricts non-whites more than whites we have disproportionate impact. The burden of proof of moral superiority in these matters always falls on those who would impose rules that fall more heavily on non-white patriarchal capitalist dominator males. By this logic the multiculturalists must support the right of adult Yemen men to marry little girls.

By Randall Parker 2008 June 29 01:09 PM  Culture Compared
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Americans Do Not Want To Hear About Iraq War

The press has reduced coverage of Iraq and think the public does not want to hear about it.

According to data compiled by Andrew Tyndall, a television consultant who monitors the three network evening newscasts, coverage of Iraq has been “massively scaled back this year.” Almost halfway into 2008, the three newscasts have shown 181 weekday minutes of Iraq coverage, compared with 1,157 minutes for all of 2007. The “CBS Evening News” has devoted the fewest minutes to Iraq, 51, versus 55 minutes on ABC’s “World News” and 74 minutes on “NBC Nightly News.” (The average evening newscast is 22 minutes long.)

CBS News no longer stations a single full-time correspondent in Iraq, where some 150,000 United States troops are deployed.

Paul Friedman, a senior vice president at CBS News, said the news division does not get reports from Iraq on television “with enough frequency to justify keeping a very, very large bureau in Baghdad.” He said CBS correspondents can “get in there very quickly when a story merits it.”

I write about Iraq a whole lot less than I used to because I feel like I've said almost anything worthwhile that I can think of to write about. If war supporters can't see by now that the war was a big mistake I seriously doubt that any additional argument can persuade them.

People do not want to hear about the war. Iraq is a bummer. Thousands of Americans dead. Probably at least tens of thousands of Americans have gotten brain damaged by concussions which have very long lasting effects. So it is not surprising to hear that journalists find Americans do not want to discuss it.

On “The Daily Show,” Ms. Logan echoed the comments of other journalists when she said that many Americans seem uninterested in the wars now. Mr. McCarthy said that when he is in the United States, bringing up Baghdad at a dinner party “is like a conversation killer.”

Next President Barack Obama will try to pull out US troops. But I expect a few arguments will be used against this move. First, some nuts will claim a withdraw will snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. John McCain, incorrectly trying to apply lessons he thinks he learned in Vietnam, will continue to argue that withdrawal will make our enemies more powerful. McCain wants to show strength in Iraq. Whereas I think spending one or two trillion dollars on a waste and getting a lot of our soldiers damaged and killed makes us weaker.

By Randall Parker 2008 June 29 12:44 PM  Mideast Iraq Exit Debate
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2008 June 28 Saturday
US Airline Industry Set To Shrink

Former American Airlines CEO Bob Crandall tells Businessweek some changes that would help the struggling airline industry.

--Revising U.S. bankruptcy laws to...

“...deprive failed carriers of the right to use lower costs to undercut the fares offered by their more prudent rivals, forcing both management and labor to face the twin specters of liquidation and unemployment.”

In other words, take away the option of Chapter 11 and force troubled carriers into Chapter 7 – the mere threat of which could force labor groups to offer concessions more readily, rather than being content to milk the cow until it keels over and only then consent to a lower wage scale. You know this will be popular with workers…

--Creating regulations that limit the number of scheduled flights to what the airport can handle. This is already a problem at airports like JFK in New York, which routinely slot far more flights than was ever intended – explaining why your 5 pm flight never leaves before 7 pm. Crandall argues that current schedules should be “reduced proportionally,” which would force each carrier to use the largest feasible aircraft in each slot. So bye-bye regional jets—and bye-bye competition.

The problem with takeoff and landing slots could be solved by selling them to the highest bidder. But the airlines have opposed this introduction of market forces for years. Business jet operators have opposed it even more because they want to land at places like JFK at peak times but would get outbid by jumbo jets.

As for bye-bye competition: if the slots were sold in a bidding process that would increase competition since airlines would compete to use each slot for the most profitable purpose. That would increase efficiency, reduce delays, and also reduce fuel usage as airplanes wouldn't circle waiting to land or idle waiting to take off. The ability to periodically bid for slots would allow new entrants to displace existing entrants.

Regardless of what the airlines do we are going to see less air travel in the United States and other Western countries as limited oil supplies and the bidding up of prices on those oil supplies by Asian countries drives ticket prices so high that passenger volume and number of flights will drop.

American and American Eagle are ending service to 8 airports.

American (NYSE: AMR), based in Fort Worth, Texas, and American Eagle serve 250 airports combined. The airports American will leave are: Oakland, Calif.; London Stansted; and Barranquilla, Colombia; and Albany, N.Y.; Providence, R.I.; Harrisburg, Pa.; Samana, Dominican Republic; and San Luis Obispo, Calif., for American Eagle, which also will close its maintenance base in San Luis Obispo.

The US airline industry is going to shrink back to where it was 10 years ago. Then it will shrink even further.

This week, the country’s two biggest airlines, American and United, announced plans to lop cities like Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and San Luis Obispo, Calif., out of their networks. Cuts also are taking place on international routes to cities like London and Buenos Aires, and even to popular vacation destinations in the United States like Las Vegas, Honolulu and Orlando.

With more reductions coming next year, all the domestic industry’s growth over the last decade will most likely be lost. “The U.S. industry is undertaking a historic restructuring,” Gary Chase, an industry analyst with Lehman Brothers, wrote in a research report Friday.

Some of the major airlines are headed for bankruptcy and liquidation.

In the hopes of bringing attention to the magnitude of the oil crises, Business Travel Coalition (BTC) commissioned AirlineForecasts, LLC to provide an analysis of what oil at several different price points means in terms of lost airline jobs, reduced seat capacity and increased fare levels.

AirlineForecasts concludes that if oil prices stay anywhere near $130/barrel, all major legacy airlines will be in default on various debt covenants by the end of 2008 or early 2009. The implication is that several large and small airlines will ultimately end up in bankruptcy, and of those, some will be forced to liquidate.

Each of the airlines is trying to survive until their competitors liquidate. With the resulting reduction in total capacity the survivors can raise fares to levels high enough to pay for higher fuel costs. So which ones will go into liquidation? Some of the liquidations have to involve big airlines because the amount of needed capacity reduction is quite large.

At current oil prices about 1000 airplanes will need to get parked by US airlines.

Every $10 increase in the price of oil results in $4 billion in additional costs for the 40 passenger-only airlines. Oil prices have spiked to $135/barrel from last year's $72/barrel average. With oil prices in the $135 range, the airline industry could be forced to park upwards of 1,000 aircraft and shed over 80,000 employees, and still not return to health.

1000 idled airplanes equal about one year of the combined output of Boeing and Airbus.

Airbus has a backlog of 3,655 planes, or more than six years of work. It delivered a record 453 aircraft last year and is planning to hand over about 470 this year. EADS Chief Executive Officer Louis Gallois said on June 18 there were no plans to slow the production increase.

Boeing, which had a backlog of 3,645 orders as of May, is in ``constant contact'' with customers and regards deferrals and cancellations as ``a normal part of its business,'' spokeswoman Sherry Nebel said last night by telephone. It plans to deliver 480 planes this year, up from 441 in 2007.

The older and less fuel efficient airplanes will get parked first. You might expect Boeing to benefit from this because of their new and highly fuel efficient 787 Dreamliner. But Boeing needs to delay 787 shipments yet again for some redesign work.

By Randall Parker 2008 June 28 08:30 PM  Economics Transportation
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Bill Clinton To Barack Obama: Kiss My Ass

Bill Clinton is still very mad at Barack Obama because Obama's supporters painted Bill as racist.

It has long been known that Mr Clinton is angry at the way his own reputation was tarnished during the primary battle when several of his comments were interpreted as racist.

But his lingering fury has shocked his friends. The Democrat told the Telegraph: "He's been angry for a while. But everyone thought he would get over it. He hasn't. I've spoken to a couple of people who he's been in contact with and he is mad as hell.

"He's saying he's not going to reach out, that Obama has to come to him. One person told me that Bill said Obama would have to quote kiss my ass close quote, if he wants his support.

"You can't talk like that about Obama - he's the nominee of your party, not some house boy you can order around.

Barring some unforeseeable event Obama is going to become the next president. Bill Clinton will probably get even madder as his friends all try to kiss up to Obama.

Bill had black loyalties when they did not have a black choice. The overwhelming black loyalty for Obama demonstrates the truth of an old saying: blood runs thicker than water. This tendency to put genetic loyalties and other loyalties ahead of a rational evaluation of the candidates reduces the quality of the people who win elections. We are going to see more of this in the future.

By Randall Parker 2008 June 28 05:32 PM  Politics American Presidency
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2008 June 25 Wednesday
Immigration Supporter Chris Cannon Loses Primary

Good riddance. Good decision by Utah voters.

Pro-amnesty crusader Chris Cannon, Republican congressman from Utah (motto: "We love immigrants in Utah. And we don't make the distinction very often between legal and illegal."), finally got his comeuppance Tuesday by losing a primary to Jason Chaffetz, who ran on, among other things, a hawkish immigration platform. This comes after two primary close calls against other challengers in 2004 and 2006. In this race, Cannon lost despite outraising Chaffetz nearly 7 to 1 and garnering the endorsement of President Bush. (On second thought, maybe that endorsement was part of the problem.)

When a challenger can win while getting outspent nearly 7 to 1 something has changed.

The weakening economy is going to increase the pressure to cut down on immigration, legal and illegal.

By Randall Parker 2008 June 25 07:23 PM  Immigration Policy
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2008 June 24 Tuesday
Working Dogs In the Workplace

Google and Amazon are two high profile companies with dog friendly workplaces. This is a growing trend. Dog friendly workplaces are draw for prospective employees.

"There are more companies that are shifting toward offering dog-friendly work policies because they can use that to attract employees," says Cameron Woo, publisher of Bark magazine. "People are realizing that the button-down white shirt and tie office environment that our parents grew up with doesn't have to [continue]."

According to the Society of Human Resource Management's (SHRM) 2007 Benefits Survey, 6 percent of respondents allow employees to bring pets to work, up from 4 percent in 2006. A newly released survey of 1,000 adults by the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association found that 17 percent are permitted to bring pets to the workplace.

Advocates of the policy believe it benefits both employers and employees. People working long days can bring an element of their home life into the workplace, while those who work regular hours needn't get antsy about dashing home to walk the dog. Another plus: Not having to pay for a dog-sitter.

The dogs are seen as breaking down barriers of communications and lowering stress.

One has to consider pack politics when choosing which dogs can stay in the office.

Policies vary from company to company. Many are thorough and clearly delineated. (Sermo, for instance, has an etiquette memo and stipulates that contract workers can't bring their dogs to work because they'll disrupt the harmony of the established pack.)

Whether that makes sense depends on how often regular workers bring their dogs and whether all dogs interact. Even in smaller companies people can be split up between buildings and packs can be pretty small.

By Randall Parker 2008 June 24 07:51 PM  Economics Labor
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2008 June 23 Monday
Religious And Tribal Factions Battle In Yemen

Rebel forces of Hashemite Shiites (and I thought Hashemites were Sunni royals like in Jordan) are fighting government forces of Zaidi Shiites and Sunnis in Yemen. Who knew?

SANAA, Yemen -- The boom of explosions swept across the high-walled compounds and minarets of this ancient Arab capital before dawn one day last week, as Shiite rebels battled for control of a mountain overlooking the city and its airport.

Government warplanes backed by artillery rebuffed the rebels, the latest skirmish in a largely hidden sectarian conflict that has drawn increasing attention from Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia, Shiite Iran and Sunni extremists eager for a fight.

Keep in mind that the people who belong to a particular sect are far more likely to marry other members of their sect than to marry other sects. The cousin marriage practice in the Middle East makes sects into extended families with complex tight tribal loyalties.

"I believe this war is a proxy war," Yemeni lawmaker Ahmed Saif Hashed said in Sanaa, where civilians of the same Shiite sect as the rebels say they are facing increasing detentions, beatings and surveillance.

The rebellion is being mounted by Yemen's Hashemite Shiites, who ruled the country for more than a 1,000 years until an alliance of Shiite and Sunni military officers deposed them in 1962. Yemen's president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, belongs to the country's larger Shiite community, known as the Zaidis.

But a different analysis of the war (see further down) argues the rebellion in Yemen is by Zaidis.

Lebanon is considered a pretty cool place and it is nearer Europe and Israel. So Lebanon gets lots of coverage. But Yemen is the pits. The major international rights groups do not find it either groovy enough or accessible enough to bother.

Major international rights groups largely bypass Yemen, leaving unexamined and unamplified allegations that government tanks, warplanes and artillery routinely bombard northern Shiite villages. Smuggled videos show that some villages around Saada have been gutted and largely emptied of all but Shiite fighters.

"If a cat dies in Lebanon, the world knows about it," said Muhatwari, who said his school and mosque in the capital have been shuttered by the government. "Here in Yemen, we are forgotten."

Yemen shows.

The fighting in Yemen can go on because the women are busy making lots of replacements for any men lost in fighting.

At any given moment, nearly 16 percent of women in Yemen are pregnant, according to the latest survey of health matters by the Ministry of Health. This is a very high number of pregnant women, particularly as the government has been trying to encourage people to carefully plan their families and space out births, so as not to risk the health of mothers and children. The strain of continuous pregnancy and birth can have a ruinous effect on women’s health, particularly if they begin having children at a young age. According to Yemen’s most recent Demographic, Maternal and Child Health Survey, 48 percent of women between the ages of 20 and 24 were married before the age of 18. Fourteen percent, meanwhile, were married before the age of 15.

Marrying this early is very dangerous to the health of a woman, because she risks early pregnancy, which can siphon away the nutrients her own body needs to develop properly. These very early marriages raise the number of pregnant women in Yemen at any given time, and expand the number of births they will go through during their life span, which could have a dramatic impact on their health. In a study conducted by Marie Stopes International in cooperation with the World Health Organization, fertility in Yemen, at 6.5 children per woman, is amongst the highest in the world.

I found an analysis of the Yemen conflict that makes it sound like Zaidi Shiites are driving the rebellion in Yemen.

Zaidi Shi'ism is one of three main branches of the Shi'a movement, together with "Twelver Shi'ism" and the Isma'ili branch. Unlike the other branches, the Zaidis are restricted almost solely to the Yemen area. Their form of Shari'a law follows the Sunni Hanafi school, which has aided in their integration with the Yemeni Sunnis. The Zaidi Imams ruled Yemen from the ninth century until 1962, with interruptions. The Shi'a represents roughly 40% of Yemen's 20 million people.

The Zaidi rebellion first erupted in 2004 after rebels began attacking army positions across the north of the state. The rebels—who called for the restoration the Zaidi imamate, which ruled the capital, Sana'a, until a 1962 coup by republican force regard the Saleh regime as illegitimate. The group took up positions in the mountains and has been able to inflict significant damage on the Yemeni army and undermine its control in the north. The conflict also assumed a regional dynamic as Saleh accused Iran of sponsoring the rebellion as part of its expanding effort to project its power across the region.

Since fighting began in 2004, the totality of Zaidism has been under attack. The Yemeni regime has prohibited some mainstream Zaidi religious literature, replaced Zaidi preachers with Salafis at gunpoint and even banned some Zaidi religious festivals. This caused considerable outrage among the believers.

My advice: Keep the tribal Middle Eastern Muslims out of the United States and then we can just read about these people in newspaper articles.

By Randall Parker 2008 June 23 10:39 PM  Ethnic Conflict
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2008 June 22 Sunday
Prosecution Of Illegal Border Crossers Cuts Illegal Immigration

Illegal border crossers are being held for prosecution rather than immediately delivered back into Mexico to try again.

March prosecutions numbered 9,360. That's small compared to the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants in the US. Nonetheless, "It's working," says Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington think tank that would like immigration levels reduced considerably.

The hike in prosecutions stems from an expansion of "Operation Streamline" last year by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Under the effort, undocumented aliens caught by border guards are no longer simply steered into "air-conditioned buses," as Mr. Krikorian puts it, and driven back across the border to try crossing again. Instead, they are charged with crimes and detained.

Note that the Christian Science Monitor uses the politically correct lie-speak term "undocumented immigrants". Try "illegal aliens" or "illegal immigrants".

It will be interesting to see whether President Obama continues the practice of prosecuting illegal border crossers. Strengthening immigration law enforcement could raise the wages and labor market participation of poor black men. This would also reduce the future growth of the welfare state and the prison population and the amount of crime and population growth.

Krikorian guesses that in the past, 800,000 to 900,000 illegal immigrants successfully entered the US every year, and about 400,000 left voluntarily or were deported each year – a net growth of about 500,000 illegal immigrants a year.

If current moves to restrain illegal immigration trim that growth by 100,000 to 200,000 immigrants, it should have some effect on the nation's labor supply, notes University of Chicago economist Jeffrey Grogger. He's coauthor of a paper calculating that a 10 percent increase in the supply of a particular skill group caused by higher immigration prompted a reduction in the wages of similarly low-skilled black men by 4 percent between 1960 and 2000, lowered their employment rate by a huge 3.5 percentage points, and increased their incarceration rate by almost a full percentage point.

As soon as the new Congress is elected it will be time to once again start flooding Congressional offices with faxes, emails, and snail mails demanding tougher immigration law enforcement.

By Randall Parker 2008 June 22 10:15 PM  Immigration Law Enforcement
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Gap In Black And White Views On Race And In Views On Obama

More blacks than whites admit to negative views of the other race and more blacks than whites see race relations in America as poor. (and Hispanics are invisible to the liberals at the Washington Post)

As Sen. Barack Obama opens his campaign as the first African American on a major party presidential ticket, nearly half of all Americans say race relations in the country are in bad shape and three in 10 acknowledge feelings of racial prejudice, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

I would love to see pollsters ask what indicators they use to measure the state of race relations. Are their views based on an assessment of how well blacks are doing, how much they think whites treat blacks unfairly, or their own experiences hearing views of others about race?

The gap in white versus black views of race relations has grown.

Overall, 51 percent call the current state of race relations "excellent" or "good," about the same as said so five years ago. That is a relative thaw from more negative ratings in the 1990s, but the gap between whites and blacks on the issue is now the widest it has been in polls dating to early 1992.

When blacks think about race relations one factor they consider is their relative status versus whites. Blacks make much less money and own much less than whites on average. As long as blacks drop out of high school and college at higher rates, study less valuable subjects in college (very few study engineering for example), get put in prison at much higher rates (and they commit crime at much higher rates), have kids out of wedlock at far higher rates, and otherwise perform at lower levels versus whites their status will remain lower. Why they behave and perform differently is another subject. Just focus on the difference. That difference makes many blacks resent whites and therefore more blacks view race relations as poor.

More than six in 10 African Americans now rate race relations as "not so good" or "poor," while 53 percent of whites hold more positive views.

A longitudinal view from 1984 to 2005 of median household net worth for 65+ year olds by race (click on indicator 10) shows how dramatically the white-black wealth gap is widening. A 2004 Pew study found that "the wealth of Latino and Black households is less than one-tenth the wealth of White households". So blacks aren't going to see themselves as doing well when comparing themselves to whites and hence many of them will see race relations as poor.

Many supporters of Barack Obama, both black and white, hope that having a black (okay, half black) US President will somehow improve black performance and black relative standing. Some think this will help by setting a positive example to emulate. Others think Obama will right various wrongs by cracking down on racists who they think hold back blacks.

African Americans are much more optimistic than whites on this score: Sixty percent said Obama's candidacy will do more to help race relations, compared with 38 percent of whites. Two-thirds of those supporting him for president think it will improve the situation.

I think the people who hold these hopes are deluding themselves with utopian dreaming. While Obama will likely turn the screws on corporations and force them to hand out more jobs based on racial preferences that'll do little to benefit most blacks. The marketplace can find many ways to adjust and reduce the cost of systems of racial preferences. For example, large corporations can (and will) outsource services to smaller companies that can fly under the radar of the government and also can outsource to India and China.

The already low black male labor market participation will not improve under an Obama presidency that supports large scale Hispanic immigration. The competition between Hispanics and blacks for a limited supply of less skilled jobs will continue to follow the pattern where Hispanics get more of those jobs than blacks. The median incomes of younger generations will decline as less skilled and academically lower performing blacks and Hispanics become larger percentages of 20, 25, 30 year olds. The already low black (and Hispanic) high school graduation rates will not improve under Obama. The kids won't all say "Hey, a black man is in the White House and so I won't drop out of school." Not gonna happen. I expect more of the same.

Obama decries the No Child Left Behind education legislation (which amounted to George W. Bush agreeing with the delusions of what liberal Democrat Senator Edward Kennedy wanted to do to improve education) as an unfunded mandate on schools to improve their performance. Obama would have us believe that black performance can catch up with white performance if more money is thrown at the problem (which is a very left-liberal position to take and has been tried before many times). Well, some states and the District of Columbia already spend large piles of cash per student with little to show for it.

New York State spent $14,119 per student — more than any other state in the nation — in the 2005 fiscal year, according to a national analysis of public school spending that the Census Bureau released today.

The analysis, Public Education Finances: 2005, placed New Jersey at No. 2 on the list, at $13,800, followed by the District of Columbia (which was treated as a state) at $12,979, Vermont at $11,835 and Connecticut at $11,572. Seven of the top 10 with the highest per-pupil expenditures were in the Northeast. Detailed tables [Excel] are available through the Census Bureau’s Web site. A graphic of the top five states (including the District of Columbia) is here.

Do I even need to mention that black scholastic performance in DC is terrible? Does Obama really believe he can do better? Utah spends a small fraction per student of what gets spent by NY, NJ, and DC and yet Utah's students do great on national tests. Obama has nothing new to offer here and so he's not going to score some new big success in education of blacks.

The overwhelming black vote for Obama is most likely driven by a belief that Obama will improve the economic standing of blacks.. Well, decades after the removal of legal and institutional obstacles to black advancement and with racial preferences in governments, universities, and corporations why should we expect more of the same to make a substantial difference? I do not see a reason to expect Obama can deliver on this hope. So at the end of an Obama presidency black views of race relations will probably be even worse than they are today.

By Randall Parker 2008 June 22 01:18 PM  Politics Ethnicity
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2008 June 21 Saturday
Exurban McMansion Neighborhoods To Become Slums?

Will an aging population, more childless families, and high gasoline prices push affluent people into the cities and drive poor folks out into exurban communities?

Recent market research indicates that up to 40 percent of households surveyed in selected metropolitan areas want to live in walkable urban areas, said Leinberger. The desire is also substantiated by real estate prices for urban residential space, which are 40 to 200 percent higher than in traditional suburban neighborhoods -- this price variation can be found both in cities and small communities equipped with walkable infrastructure, he said.

The result is an oversupply of depreciating suburban housing and a pent-up demand for walkable urban space, which is unlikely to be met for a number of years.

Developers can put up condos and apartment buildings in cities pretty quickly. So I do not see why this demand will be unmet for years unless city zoning prevents new construction.

Will McMansions get converted into multi-family dwellings for the poor?

But as the market catches up to the demand for more mixed use communities, the United States could see a notable structural transformation in the way its population lives -- Arthur C. Nelson, director of Virginia Tech's Metropolitan Institute, estimates, for example, that half of the real-estate development built by 2025 will not have existed in 2000.

Yet Nelson also estimates that in 2025 there will be a surplus of 22 million large-lot homes that will not be left vacant in a suburban wasteland but instead occupied by lower classes who have been driven out of their once affordable inner-city apartments and houses.

The so-called McMansion, he said, will become the new multi-family home for the poor.

I am not convinced by this argument. The most distant suburbs could become residences for those who can telecommute and those who control their own business locations. Developers could build office space in areas where housing is cheap so that companies can site offices where the workers can afford to live. Also, long distant commuters can trade up to compact hybrids and diesels.

But the poor have to wind up somewhere. Seems to me it makes the most sense for the poor to gravitate toward the most run-down inner suburbs while the upper class take over some city cores and other inner suburbs. Some inner suburbs could be built up into higher density housing for the poor with light rail lines to bring them to city jobs.

People who commute from West Virginia to the Washington DC area (amazing!) are seeing big drops in their housing prices.

Sky-high gasoline prices aren't just raising the cost of Eugene Marino's 120-mile (193-kilometer) round-trip to his job in the Washington area. They're reducing his wealth, too.

House prices in his rural subdivision beyond the Blue Ridge Mountains in Charles Town, West Virginia, have plunged as commuting expenses have soared. A four-bedroom home down the street from his is listed for $239,000, after selling new for $360,000 five years ago.

High gasoline prices are nature's way of telling you to not do that.

Some suburbs have amazingly high foreclosure rates.

In the Franklin Reserve neighborhood of Elk Grove, California, south of Sacramento, the houses are nicer than those at Windy Ridge—many once sold for well over $500,000—but the phenomenon is the same. At the height of the boom, 10,000 new homes were built there in just four years. Now many are empty; renters of dubious character occupy others. Graffiti, broken windows, and other markers of decay have multiplied. Susan McDonald, president of the local residents’ association and an executive at a local bank, told the Associated Press, “There’s been gang activity. Things have really been changing, the last few years.”

In the first half of last year, residential burglaries rose by 35 percent and robberies by 58 percent in suburban Lee County, Florida, where one in four houses stands empty. Charlotte’s crime rates have stayed flat overall in recent years—but from 2003 to 2006, in the 10 suburbs of the city that have experienced the highest foreclosure rates, crime rose 33 percent. Civic organizations in some suburbs have begun to mow the lawns around empty houses to keep up the appearance of stability. Police departments are mapping foreclosures in an effort to identify emerging criminal hot spots.

Distant suburbs of LA have seen the biggest drops in housing prices.

Price drops were especially steep in far-flung suburbs. The median price fell 38% in Lancaster and 42% in Palmdale, compared with 23% in Los Angeles County overall.

San Bernardino County saw prices drop by 31%, but it was worse in the remote town of Victorville, where values declined 43%.

Bargains are to be had for those who can telecommute.

By Randall Parker 2008 June 21 12:41 PM  Economics Housing
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2008 June 19 Thursday
High School Girls In Pact To Get Pregnant?

This begs the question: Should parents have the legal right to implant Norplant contraceptives in their under 18 daughters?

BOSTON — At least 17 girls at the public high school in the seaside town of Gloucester, Mass., are expecting babies, and a Time magazine report says nearly half became pregnant after making a pact to do so and raise the children together.

Local officials reached Thursday would not confirm the existence of such a pact but acknowledged that many of the 17 pregnancies — a total four times as many as last school year at the 1,200-student school — had been intentional.

In an earlier age these girls would have feared the shame of unwed pregnancy. In an earlier age adults would have condemned them from a position of confidence in their moral authority.

Maybe by getting pregnant as a group these Massachusetts girls can compete with Jamie Lynn Spears for fame.

Jamie Lynn Spears, the TV actress and sister of the singer Britney Spears, sent the celebrity gossip machinery into a lather last December when, at the age of 16, she confirmed to the world that “I’m pregnant.” Today, she’s rocketing to the top of Google’s search charts with the arrival, reported initially by People magazine, of Maddie Briann, weighing in at 7 pounds, 11 ounces. (The child presumably has a surname, but it isn’t mentioned in the report.)

By Randall Parker 2008 June 19 10:48 PM  Civilizations Decay
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France To Rejoin NATO Military Structure

The relationship between the United States and Europe is not falling apart.

More than four decades ago, Charles de Gaulle, angry with American and British domination of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, said France’s military integration into the alliance had been “stripped of justification.”

But now that the Soviet Union is gone and the European Union is more fully established, President Nicolas Sarkozy has decided that France is best served by participating fully with Washington and NATO, in part because the vast majority of members of the European Union are also members of the alliance.

NATO's purpose was famously put by British General Lord Ismay as "to keep the Americans in, the Russians out, and the Germans down." Well, it does not do the latter two any more. I suspect it is going to become a Western alliance to allow the Western powers to maintain influence around the world as Asian economies grow bigger and China becomes more influential. The leadership of France likely see that as far more important than anything that you might expect them to think about George W. Bush.

By Randall Parker 2008 June 19 09:44 PM  Europe and America
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2008 June 18 Wednesday
European Union To Threaten Illegal Aliens With Jail Time

If the EU tells you to leave and you dally for more than 30 days you could spend months in the slammer.

PARIS, June 18 -- The European Parliament approved new rules Wednesday designed to standardize the dramatic differences in member countries' treatment of illegal immigrants, whose presence is one of the most heated political issues in Europe today.

The measure, which would allow countries to jail illegal immigrants for as long as 18 months pending deportation, was decried by human rights organizations as promoting excessive detention. Supporters defended it as providing greater protections for the foreigners in countries that now permit indefinite detentions and grant detainees few legal rights.

This ups the costs of being an illegal alien. But how much will EU member states use this new legal power? Enforcement of tough laws would send most illegal aliens fleeing in short order. What is needed is the political will to enforce the laws.

By Randall Parker 2008 June 18 11:03 PM  Immigration Law Enforcement
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2008 June 17 Tuesday
Next Terrorist Attack To Come From Pakistan?

The 9/11 attackers had a home base in Afghanistan under rule of the Taliban. America sensibly overthrew the Taliban. Then we foolishly invaded Iraq. Now an area of Pakistan under very limited control from the Pakistani government serves as a training base for Al Qaeda terrorists. Yet our focus is still on Iraq. Go figure.

Pakistan is not our enemy, yet our enemy is operating safely from within its borders, concludes Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And there's not much we can do about it under the current political arrangement.

In Pakistan's western tribal regions, known as the FATA, al-Qaida's central command has set up its most secure base since the fall of the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan, Mullen says. And it's now training Western-looking terrorists there to slip security and hit America.

"I believe fundamentally if the United States is going to get hit, it's going to come out of the planning that the leadership in the FATA is generating," Mullen said in a recent interview. "I'm not saying it is guaranteed to happen, or that it's imminent. But clearly we know the planning is taking place."

We could shape an immigration and visa policy aimed at keeping these would-be attackers and their supporters out of the US. Immigration and visa policies ought to be some of our top anti-terrorist policies. We do not need Muslim visitors. So why take the risk?

By Randall Parker 2008 June 17 10:32 PM  Terrorists Activities
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Bush Administration To Let In Bulgarians Without Visas

Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies has a blog on immigration news. It has good stuff. He reports on a dumb Bush Administration policy change to allow poor Bulgarians to vist the US without a visa.

DHS announced today that the process leading to visa-free access to the United States has been started for, I kid you not, Bulgaria. Michael Chertoff said "I look forward to the day when we greet the first visa-free travelers from Bulgaria on our soil."

I don't. First of all, we still don't have a fully implemented entry-exit system, so we don't know whether a visitor actually left when he was supposed to — which means we don't know how many visa overstayers there are. A fully functioning exit-tracking system should be a prerequisite to a visa-waiver program, so that you can remove from the program any country whose people aren't leaving on time. And believe me, Bulgarians wouldn't leave; the country has a lower per capita income than Mexico or Turkey.

Mexico has a much lower per capita income than the United States and we know millions of Mexicans flood into the US illegally. Bulgarians will do the same. We have enough people already. Poor immigrants will make most of us poorer, not richer and not safer. This is a dumb policy.

Another post of his cites an example of how automation can reduce the need for low skilled and low paid workers in the restaurant industry.

Who says we need mass immigration because there's no way to automate the service sector? CNN has a piece on a restaurant in Germany where you order and pay at tabletop touch-screens and the food is delivered down spiral rails from the kitchen above. (The BBC's story is here, and the restaurant's home page is here.)

More automation will come to all industries and lift our living standards. The rate of automation will be faster if we stop letting in low skilled workers because reducing the supply of low skilled workers will drive up their wages and therefore increase the incentives for automation. Therefore our living standards will rise faster if we stop letting in 8th grade drop-outs.

By Randall Parker 2008 June 17 10:24 PM  Immigration Policy
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2008 June 15 Sunday
Tattoos On Women: What Do They Mean?

Steve Sailer thinks tattoos might signal that a woman is a bad decision maker.

"Whoa!" said the young man next to me, who looked like an unemployed bike messenger. "Check her out!"

"Yes, a beautiful girl."

"And she's got a lot of tattoos!" he exclaimed, with a wild look of excitement in his bloodshot eyes.

That struck me as, by far, the least of her charms. On further reflection, though, I assume that her tattoos signaled to him that, while you might think she wouldn't be interested in any fellow below the movie producer / hedge fund manager level, she was actually a really bad decision-maker. So, he had a chance!

Is she a bad decision maker? Does a tattoo lessen a woman's attractiveness to the most desirable males? Even if she is a bad decision maker what motivates the tattoo?

Half Sigma thinks tattoos are a sign of "prole drift".

If tattoos are becoming more popular, then it’s an example what Paul Fussell calls prole drift. Do tattoos make you more popular with the opposite sex? I don’t know the answer. I did, however, read a piece by a woman who was grossed out when she discovered her new boyfriend had a really ugly tattoo. Perhaps Roissy, who occasionally comments on this blog and who is an expert at knowing what turns on women, will be able to supply us with the definitive answer?

I know what turns me on, and women with tattoos don't do it for me.

I am confused by this. Did tattoos start out with the lower class and move upward? I associate tattoos with carnival freaks and enlisted men in militaries. Drunken sailors get tattooed while in port of some city. I thought tattoos have always been low class. BUt Wikipedia defines prole drift as the migration of upper class practices down into lower class use.

Anyway, I'm also curious what supposedly evil (with an evil retort) Roissy has to say about tattoos. I couldn't find anything relevant he said about tattoos on women. If you find anything please post in the comments. In his Dating Market Value For Women post he doesn't include tattoos in his rating system. In fact, in the comments someone even mentions this fact.

Alyssa Milano and Jessica Alba have tattoos. But they do not need a tattoo to be highly desired. Britney Spears has tattoos. But she also has poor judgment. Angelina Jolie has tattoos. But she also has a reputation for edginess. On the other hand Sarah Michelle Gellar and Jennifer Aniston have tattoos. Why? To seem more egalitarian? To show they are just as free to get tattoos as men are? To be rebellious?

By Randall Parker 2008 June 15 09:35 PM  Human Nature
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2008 June 14 Saturday
Will US Policy In Middle East Become More Realistic?

Rand Corporation analysts think the US and allies can not succeed in Afghanistan as long as the Taliban retain bases in Pakistan's wild frontier.

If Taliban sanctuary bases in Pakistan are not eliminated, the United States and its NATO allies will face crippling long-term consequences in their effort to stabilize and rebuild Afghanistan, according to a RAND Corporation study issued today.

The study, funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, finds that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate and Frontier Corps have failed to root out Afghan insurgent groups based in Pakistan and, in some cases, individuals from these Pakistani organizations have provided direct assistance to such groups as the Taliban and Haqqani network.

“Every successful insurgency in Afghanistan since 1979 enjoyed safe haven in neighboring countries, and the current insurgency is no different,” said report author Seth Jones, a senior political scientist at RAND. “Right now, the Taliban and other groups are getting help from individuals within Pakistan's government, and until that ends, the region's long-term security is in jeopardy.”

The study, “Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan,” is the latest in a series examining insurgency and counterinsurgency, and details how the United States should improve its capabilities for future conflicts. The capstone report of the series, “War by Other Means,” was released in February by RAND, a non-profit research organization.

But one Rand analyst says we have too few US troops in Afghanistan (what with so many of them busy trying to spread Jeffersonian democracy in Iraq).

US officials are wrong to blame Pakistan for instability and violence in Afghanistan, says Christine Fair, a senior political analyst at RAND Corp., a public policy group in Washington. Pakistan's border region, known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, will always be a sanctuary for terrorists that will want to target the US, she says, but to assign blame to Pakistan is to deny the real problem.

"It's become a bromide to externalize the failures in Afghanistan and blame them on Pakistan," says Ms. Fair. The US, she adds, must send a signal to Pakistan that it is serious about security by beefing up its own contribution of forces in Afghanistan. "It is a joke how few troops we have in Afghanistan," she says.

Still, how can the Taliban get wiped out in Pakistan when the Pakistani government makes secret deals to let Al Qaeda and the Taliban hang out in the area of Pakistan which the Pakistani government does not control?

A newspaper in Pakistan this week disclosed the leaked details of a secret agreement between the Pakistani government and certain tribes that allows Al Qaeda-linked militants to remain in North Waziristan, a strategically important region that borders Afghanistan. The move is the latest in a series of negotiations that Western officials worry will strengthen militants.

The agreement, between the government and leading Waziristan tribes, is the first known to directly address the issue of Al Qaeda. The document was signed in February and the Pakistani English-language Daily Times divulged the specifics on Sunday.

In a copy of the agreement made available to Daily Times, Al Qaeda-linked militants have been allowed to live in North Waziristan as long as they pledge to remain peaceful. However, a basic demand of the accord is that all foreigners leave the area. The agreement, inked between the government and the Utmanzai tribes on February 17 to fight Taliban-linked militancy through support from the local population, states that no parallel government of suspected Taliban militants would be tolerated. The Utmanzai tribes have also agreed that there would be no attacks on security personnel or government employees and no target killings would be initiated.

What about that democratic experiment in government that the US supports in Afghanistan with that high fashion chic leader Hamid Karzai? Euro and American elites are thinking that Hamid Karzai isn't up to ruling Afghanistan. My guess is that nobody (with the possible exception of an Islamic extremist) is up to ruling tribal, Islamic, and ignorant Afghanistan.

But there is a growing concern in Europe, the United Nations and even the Bush administration that Mr. Karzai, while well-spoken, colorful and often larger than life, is not up to addressing Afghanistan’s many troubles.

A senior State Department official questioned whether Mr. Karzai had the “trust and the backbone” for the job.

“Of course he’s a good guy, and therefore as long as he’s president we’ll support him,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the issue. “But there’s a lot of talk inside the administration saying maybe there’s a need for some tough love to push him to do the right thing.”

One European diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity under normal diplomatic rules, said, “We’ve got the standard administration problem of fascination with a flawed figure.” The diplomat likined the support for Mr. Karzai to American backing for President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan.

Will President Barack Obama share George W. Bush's love and affection for Hamid Karzai?

One senior Bush administration official said that Mr. Bush remained enamored of Mr. Karzai.

My hopes that Obama will set lower goals for US policy in the Middle East are tempered by at least two considerations. First off, Bush argues that to abandon the attempt to raise up Middle Easterners into democracy is racist. Well, this argument puts pressure on Obama to share this Bush delusion because it fits with Obama's whole left-leaning egalitarian post-racial theme. In Obama's world view the Afghanis and Iraqis must have the right stuff to make democracy work. Also, powerful interest groups want to see the US in the Middle East doing social engineering using the barrel of a gun.

Obama has one thing going for him if he wants to get realistic about the Middle East: He's half black and therefore much harder to label as racist. He's kinda like Nixon who could go to communist China because Nixon had such a strong anti-communist track record. Obama could make various excuses for why the US shouldn't pursue a democratization policy in the Middle East like "we can't impose our values" or "we can't dictate to other cultures how they should live their lives" and make his rhetoric anti-colonial in tone.

Can the US manage to pull out of Iraq? Lots of factions oppose a US withdrawal.

Fearful that Iran might march west or at least incite the Shi'ites of Saudi Arabia and those in other Sunni states, the Saudis wish the US to stay in the region, indefinitely, as a guardian against Iran. Israel is also worried. It is not just the fear of an Iran with nuclear weapons; Israel also fears the expansion of Iranian influence in Lebanon, where Hezbollah is probably closer to Iran's Quds Force than ever. Iran has even gained influence with Hamas - a Sunni group - in Palestine. The Saudis and pro-Israel groups are exerting pressure on the US to maintain its troops in Iraq. Each of those groups wields considerable influence throughout Washington. Combined, their influence will be very difficult to overcome.

The US military will also oppose large-scale withdrawal. The generation of officers who learned hard lessons in Vietnam are almost all gone now, leaving successors who are only vaguely wary of foreign quagmires. The torch has been passed to a new generation that believes in one main lesson from Vietnam: future wars must be seen through. The military thinks it has turned a corner in Iraq and that General David Petraeus' troop "surge" is working well.

It will ally with like-minded members of the US Congress, conservative media and think-tanks to argue the stay-put message. If a Democratic president were somehow able to overcome opposition to withdrawal, he would bring bitter enmity between the generals and his party, which is already disliked for its lineage to the antiwar movement of the Vietnam years and for trimming defense budgets. Leaving Iraq - cutting and running, as it is often called - would poison civil-military relations as never before in the nation's history.

Considerable portions of the public will oppose withdrawal - and react viciously to anything perceived as defeat or cutting and running.

My guess is that the lobby for protecting Israel has the biggest influence for a continued US military presence in Iraq followed by (with considerable overlap) all the people who do not want to admit they were wrong to support the invasion in the first place.

Financial pressures will build for a withdrawal. On the downward slope after Peak Oil tax revenues will fall every year while many costs rise. The Iraq war will come to seem an unaffordable optional venture with little return on investment.

Update: Here's a story about Israeli-Palestinian relations that won't get discussed in the US Presidential election.

Footage obtained by the BBC shows four masked Jewish settlers assaulting an elderly Palestinian goat herder and his wife with baseball bats last week. Thamam al-Nawaja, a 58 year-old shepherd, had her arm and cheekbone broken and spent three days in a hospital. The attack was caught on a camera distributed to Palestinians as part of an Israeli human rights group's campaign to allow Palestinians -- many of whom are being pushed off their land by Jewish settlers -- to have video and photographic evidence of such assaults.

The Jewish settlers on the West Bank steal land from the Palestinians and the Israeli government and US government let them do it.

By Randall Parker 2008 June 14 01:31 PM  Foreign Policy US Middle East
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High Commodity Prices Might Cause Stagflation

Countries that maintain dollar pegs with their currencies must relax monetary policy when the US Federal Reserve relaxes monetary policy. Otherwise their currencies would rise against the dollar. Well, the Fed relaxed monetary policy in 2007 and into 2008 in order to prevent the popping of the housing bubble from causing a recession. But East Asian countries relaxed their currencies too. This sped up the growth rate of their demand for commodities and in doing so contributed to the rise in commodity prices. The rise in commodity prices pushes up prices over a large range of goods and services and could force the Fed to raise interest rates even as unemployment rises.

"The important thing to recognize is that we are more interconnected financially with the rest of the world," says Tim Duy, an economist at the University of Oregon in Eugene. "The expectation ... was that oil prices were going to go down" as the US economy slowed, but that didn't happen, he says.

One reason is simply that the US, while still by far the world's largest single economy, is now counterbalanced somewhat by fast-rising emerging nations. Their continued strength has buoyed both the global economy and commodity prices.

But Mr. Duy says that another factor may be at work – an unintended consequence of the Fed's recent interest-rate cuts.

When the Fed eases monetary policy to stimulate growth at home, other nations with currencies pegged to the dollar also have to ease their monetary conditions in order to maintain their exchange rates. The result is more money in the global system, which translates into more upward pressure on oil, food, and other prices.

"That linkage of domestic policy having global impact [and then rippling back into US consumer prices] is new for the Federal Reserve," Duy says. "If it is true, I think it does represent a significant change."

The inflation rate is already higher than the Fed acknowledges.

Some argue that inflation is not out of control.

Nor has inflation spread across the rest of the economy. The core rate, which excludes food and energy, has been eerily consistent for a long time. In April, the annual core inflation rate was 2.3 percent higher than a year before. In April 2007, it was up 2.4 percent. In April 2006, 2.3 percent. A year before that, 2.2 percent.

I see two flaws in this argument. First off, the focus on "core inflation" is suspect since people spend real money on food and fuel. Second, rising commodity prices have squeezed producer profits and their input costs have gotten high enough that they are starting to pass along more costs.

Prices are 4.2% higher than a year ago. That is a substantial rate of inflation. The Fed has put other priorities ahead of price stability.

On an annual basis, inflation worsened for the first time in four months, running at 4.2 percent in May compared with a year ago.

The index, which rose more than economists had forecast, comes on the heels of repeated warnings about inflation from the world’s central banks. The chairman of the Fed, Ben S. Bernanke, joined other bank officials this week in focusing on higher prices, citing the economic damage wrought by the record run-up in food and oil prices.

Since the causes of inflation are worldwide only a worldwide recession will put a damper on inflation.

By Randall Parker 2008 June 14 12:36 AM  Economics Trade
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2008 June 11 Wednesday
Venezuela Caught Supporting Colombian Rebels

The Amerind leader of Venezuela engages in acts of war against the Spaniards who control Colombia.

On the same day Colombia said it had captured a Venezuelan national guard officer carrying 40,000 AK-47 assault rifle cartridges believed to be intended for leftist guerrillas, President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela said Saturday he would withdraw a decree overhauling intelligence policies that he had made earlier that week.

The rare reversal by Mr. Chávez came amid intensifying criticism in Venezuela from human rights groups.

The capture of the Venezuelan officer in eastern Colombia could reignite tensions between the neighboring countries over Venezuela’s support for the rebel group FARC.

The party will end for Mr. Chávez when Venezuelan oil production declines so far that even $250 per barrel of oil isn't enough to fund the Venezuelan government. In 10 years time living standards will plummet in Venezuela. Venezuelan oil exports are in decline. But the effect is being masked for now by the huge rise in oil prices.

Recently, there has been increasing attention paid to the declining net oil exports worldwide, and last week the Wall Street Journal published a very important article, “Net Oil Exporters Unable to Keep Up With Demand.” Neil King, the lead writer for this article, recently obtained updated 2007 net oil export numbers from the EIA. I was particularly struck by the net oil export decline rates for Venezuela (-7.6%/year) and for Mexico (-16%/year).

By Randall Parker 2008 June 11 11:38 PM  Ethnic Conflict
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Over 2 Million In US Jails And Prisons

Bad Boys, Bad Boys, whatcha gonna do.

The number of people under supervision in the nation's criminal justice system rose to 7.2 million in 2006, the highest ever, costing states tens of billions of dollars to house and monitor offenders as they go in and out of jails and prisons.

According to a recently released report released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, more than 2 million offenders were either in jail or prison in 2006, the most recent year studied in an annual survey. Another 4.2 million were on probation, and nearly 800,000 were on parole.

The cost to taxpayers, about $45 billion, is causing states such as California to reconsider harsh criminal penalties. In an attempt to relieve overcrowding, California is now exporting some of its 170,000 inmates to privately run corrections facilities as far away as Tennessee.

$45 billion isn't very much in the bigger scheme of government spending. The US federal government alone will have a $3 trillion budget in fiscal year 2009. We are burning thru money in Iraq at over 3 times the rate we spend on prisons. The entire war in Iraq could easily cost $3 trillion.

By Randall Parker 2008 June 11 11:28 PM  Economics Crime
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2008 June 09 Monday
Rural Folks Hardest Hit By High Oil Prices

Poor folks in rural areas have to drive farther and have less money for gasoline.

The disparity between rural America and the rest of the country is a matter of simple home economics. Nationwide, Americans are now spending about 4 percent of their take-home income on gasoline. By contrast, in some counties in the Mississippi Delta, that figure has surpassed 13 percent.

As a result, gasoline expenses are rivaling what families spend on food and housing.

“This crisis really impacts those who are at the economic margins of society, mostly in the rural areas and particularly parts of the Southeast,” said Fred Rozell, retail pricing director at the Oil Price Information Service, a fuel analysis firm. “These are people who have to decide between food and transportation.”

A survey by Mr. Rozell’s firm late last month found that the gasoline crisis is taking the highest toll, as a percentage of income, on people in rural areas of the South, New Mexico, Montana, Wyoming and North and South Dakota.

To a certain liberal reader who debates with me a lot in the comments: Instead of a simple minded welfare state that simply hands out money to poor people wouldn't it make more sense to offer poor people funding for moves that would put them closer to their jobs? Basically evacuate the poor people out of rural areas to put them nearer factories, slaughterhouses, and other places where they can work. Lower their cost of living.

For poor people in rural areas of colder northern states what would help is moves to apartment buildings in small sized cities. Heating would be a lot cheaper if they shared walls since shared walls reduce heat loss. Also, higher density living would reduce their need to drive to stores.

Americans on average now spend about 4 percent of their after-tax income on transportation fuels, according to Brian A. Bethune, an economist at Global Insight, a forecasting firm. That compares with 4.5 percent in early 1981, the highest point since World War II. At its lowest point, in 1998, that share dropped to 1.9 percent.

The early 1981 peak was very sharp and short-lived as compared to the rise in oil prices we are currently experiencing. Also, oil prices today haven't peaked yet and won't peak for some years to come.

Check out this interactive map of percentage income going to transportation fuel. Those areas with high percentages are going to hollow out as world oil production declines.

The rise in oil prices is even tougher to handle as it is accompanied by a rise in food costs.

"Some Americans have the luxury of an elastic expenditure -- they'll switch to hamburger when the price of higher quality meat goes up," said Kinsey, a professor and co-director of CFANS Food Industry Center. "But, if you're living in poverty to start with, a rise in food cost can be devastating to your lifestyle."

Kinsey found that Americans in the lowest income class (those who earn a household income of less than $10,579) spent an average of 31.5 percent of their income on food in 2005 and 33 percent in 2008, a 1.63 percentage point increase. At the other end of the spectrum, those in the highest income class (those who earn a household income of over $167,525) spent an average of 6.8 percent of their income on food in 2005 and 7.2 percent in 2008, a 0.4 percentage point increase.

Note that food production costs rise with higher energy costs. Peak Oil will make both energy and food less affordable for the poor especially.

Update: These rising food and energy costs come at a time when median income has been dropping.

From the end of the 2001 recession through last year, median household income fell almost every year even as the economy expanded and individual workers became more productive. The most recent official data indicate that in 2006, half of all families made more than $58,407 and half made less. That compares with an inflation-adjusted peak of $59,398 in 2000.

This financial stall marked the first time since World War II that the typical family was worse off at the end of an economic expansion than at the start, according to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), a left-of-center think tank in Washington, D.C.

"This is the first business cycle on record where the median family income failed to recover its previous peak," EPI economist Jared Bernstein says. "It's been a uniquely disappointing cycle from the perspective of the median-income family."

But rising transportation costs combined with a declining dollar will reduce competition from workers in developing Asian countries. So the big rise in incomes at the top end might moderate as they become less able to shift their labor demand abroad.

By Randall Parker 2008 June 09 10:48 PM  Economics Energy
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British Green Adviser Favors Net Immigration Halt

A British government adviser on environmental issues thinks Britain should aim for fewer immigrants and population reduction.

Britain should set an example to the world by reversing its steeply-rising population growth and allowing no more people into the country than leave, the Government's chief "green" adviser has said.

Jonathon Porritt, chairman of the Sustainable Development Commission, said it was entirely possible to be "very progressive" on immigration while still having a policy of "zero net immigration" and no further population growth.

Mr Porritt told an audience at the Cheltenham Science Festival, he would like to see Britain's population on a declining trend, instead of increasing to 65 million in ten years and to 70 million by 2031.

A halt to immigration will lower world population growth. An immigration amnesty in the United States triggered a big rise in fertility. Less immigration means fewer babies. The world is too populated and this is getting worse.

Population growth was a popular topic for environmentalists back in the 1970s. Then leftists decided that population growth was racists since almost all population growth was in non-white populations. But the environmental problems with population growth have become so large and noticeable and set to get so much worse that environmentalists are being forced to confront it. I expect population reduction to make a come-back as as a "green" issue. Humans are going to wreck the world if we do not control our numbers.

By Randall Parker 2008 June 09 10:16 PM  Immigration Population Growth
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Local Police Embracing Immigration Law Enforcement

Our overlords on Wall Street, K Street, in Congress, and the White House want us to accept a massive damaging demographic transformation of society. But a sheriff in Florida and local police are finding that the enforcement of laws against identity theft provide them with tools to enforce immigration laws.

Sheriff Wendell Hall of Santa Rosa County, who led the effort, said the arrests were for violations of state identity theft laws. But he also seemed proud to have found a way around rules allowing only the federal government to enforce immigration laws. In his office, the sheriff displayed a framed editorial cartoon that showed Daniel Boone admiring his arrest of at least 27 illegal workers.

His approach is increasingly common. Last month, 260 illegal immigrants in Iowa were sentenced to five months in prison for violations of federal identity theft laws.

At the same time, in the last year, local police departments from coast to coast have rounded up hundreds of immigrants for nonviolent, often minor, crimes, like fishing without a license in Georgia, with the end result being deportation.

What does it say that the parts of government close to the people are going in one direction while our elites go in another?

The states are where the action is in policy changes to increase law enforcement against illegal immigrants.

State lawmakers, in response to Congressional inaction on immigration law, are giving local authorities a wider berth. In 2007, 1,562 bills related to illegal immigration were introduced nationwide and 240 were enacted in 46 states, triple the number that passed in 2006, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. A new law in Mississippi makes it a felony for an illegal immigrant to hold a job. In Oklahoma, sheltering or transporting illegal immigrants is also a felony.

Will President Barack Obama try to undermine local law enforcement? Or will grassroots lobbying efforts of Congress block attempts to pass amnesties and foreign worker programs?

By Randall Parker 2008 June 09 10:02 PM  Immigration Policy State Local
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2008 June 08 Sunday
Will Obama Get To Do Big Spending?

I expect Barack Obama to win this election because the incumbent party always loses in a recession, the US unemployment rate just jumped up by the largest amount since 1986, people are feeling poorer from the popping of the housing bubble, and the price of gasoline is about $4 per gallon. That's far too much bad news for the incumbent party to emerge victorious. Oh, and the war in Iraq is unpopular and Obama is more against it than John McCain. So McCain does not matter and Obama is the only candidate worth discussing. With all that in mind: Obama can not fund his spending program by increasing taxes only on the wealthy.

Yet limiting tax hikes to the $250,000-and-up set probably won't pump enough money into the U.S. Treasury to pay for new spending programs and deal with the ballooning deficit, even when combined with proposed corporate tax increases. Analyst Daniel Clifton of Strategas Research Partners has tallied some $350 billion in promised new annual spending by Obama. He has outlined plans to pay for new programs without increasing the deficit, but budget analysts are skeptical. "Targeting just a fraction of the population [for an increase] is not going to generate the revenues they need," says Roberton Williams, an ex-Congressional Budget Office staffer now with the independent Tax Policy Center. Adds Clifton: "They are going to have to find a way to get more from the middle class."

Well, if Obama manages to pull US troops out of Iraq then he'd free up $150+ billion per year from the deluded fantasy (turned nightmare) project to bring democracy to the Middle East. He could then use some of that money to waste on Obama's own deluded fantasy about how another big increase in educational funding could turn dumb students into higher performers. Yes, Obama embraces the big Blank Slate illusion that education is the answer to the problems of a large dumb dysfunctional lower class. Never mind all the evidence to the contrary. Why is it that Washington DC attracts people who seem to focus and amplify the nation's delusions?

Having gotten shafted by George W. Bush how are we going to get shafted by Barack Obama? I figure he'll push harder for racial preferences. His views on race and those of his wife make that a certainty. Plus, he'll push for lots of social welfare programs and higher taxes. But a lot of economic trends are going to limit how far he can go with his agenda. James Pethokoukis points out that even before considering Obama's spending proposals we have serious problems in funding entitlements.

Obama has shown no interest in trimming future Social Security benefit growth while at the same time pushing more government spending, which Mallaby approves of. Now here, courtesy of the Congressional Budget Office, is what would have to happen to tax rates to pay for rising entitlement spending, not including all of Obama's spending plans:

The tax rate for the lowest tax bracket would have to be increased from 10 percent to 25 percent; the tax rate on incomes in the current 25 percent bracket would have to be increased to 63 percent; and the tax rate of the highest bracket would have to be raised from 35 percent to 88 percent. The top corporate income tax rate would also increase from 35 percent to 88 percent. Such tax rates would significantly reduce economic activity and would create serious problems with tax avoidance and tax evasion. Revenues would probably fall significantly short of the amount needed to finance the growth of spending; therefore, tax rates at such levels would probably not be economically feasible.

The entitlements problem is bad enough. But another big trend is going to hit hard during the Obama presidency: Peak Oil. Most worryingly, oil exports are in decline from major oil producers. Declining oil supplies will cause an economic crisis that will cut tax revenues and force yearly cutbacks in government spending for several years in a row.

By Randall Parker 2008 June 08 10:47 PM  Politics American Presidency
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Africa Attracts Farming Investments

The industrialization of China creates growing demand for both energy and food. That demand combined with the limits on oil production create enormous incentives to turn the lands of sub-Saharan Africa to productive uses.

Perhaps the most ambitious plans are those of Susan Payne, founder and chief executive of Emergent Asset Management, based near London.

Emergent is raising $450 million to $750 million to invest in farmland in sub-Saharan Africa, where it plans to consolidate small plots into more productive holdings and introduce better equipment. Emergent also plans to provide clinics and schools for local labor.

One crop and a source of fuel for farming operations will be jatropha, an oil-seed plant useful for biofuels that is grown in sandy soil unsuitable for food production, Ms. Payne said.

“We are getting strong response from institutional investors — pensions, insurance companies, endowments, some sovereign wealth funds,” she said.

The fund chose Africa because “land values are very, very inexpensive, compared to other agriculture-based economies,” she said. “Its microclimates are enticing, allowing a range of different crops. There’s accessible labor. And there’s good logistics — wide open roads, good truck transport, sea transport.”

The high prices of agricultural products and mineral commodities is creating pressures for a new form of imperialism. Capitalists and the Chinese government now have great incentives to create local areas of higher order inside of Africa. Can they manage to pull this off?

Oil money has made Nigeria less stable, not more. Nigerian oil production has been cut by about a quarter by attacks by a Niger Delta secessionist movement.

Port Harcourt, Nigeria - Militants in Africa's top oil producer are marking President Umaru Yar'Adua's first full year in power with fresh pipeline bombings, underscoring the difficulties that civilian rulers have had calming strife linked to Nigeria's notoriously weak and corrupt democratic system.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta's (MEND) latest attack – a nighttime bombing on a Royal Dutch Shell PLC operated pipeline – helped push global oil prices to $133 per barrel.

That explosion, the latest of nearly half a dozen in recent weeks, has raised fears of widening attacks on other oil facilities in Nigeria, the 4th-largest supplier of oil to the United States.

Can outsiders exert enough influence in Africa to make the place more useful for the industrialized and industrializing countries? Security companies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that run aid and advice programs, and corporations will all bring management skills and cash for buying influence. But can these more fragmented groups replicate the level of organization that French and British colonial administrators once brought Africa in an earlier era?

By Randall Parker 2008 June 08 12:53 PM  Economics Agriculture
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2008 June 07 Saturday
Growing List Of Political Figures Banned From Russian TV

Russia serves as a useful reminder that democracy does not always produce freedom of press and speech.

MOSCOW — On a talk show last fall, a prominent political analyst named Mikhail G. Delyagin had some tart words about Vladimir V. Putin. When the program was later televised, Mr. Delyagin was not.

Not only were his remarks cut — he was also digitally erased from the show, like a disgraced comrade airbrushed from an old Soviet photo. (The technicians may have worked a bit hastily, leaving his disembodied legs in one shot.)

Mr. Delyagin, it turned out, has for some time resided on the so-called stop list, a roster of political opponents and other critics of the government who have been barred from TV news and political talk shows by the Kremlin.

The march of freedom and democracy across the world is not inevitable. The West is not leading a sort of modern Manifest Destiny for how the whole world will function.

Lots of major political figures in Russia have disappeared from Russian television.

Onetime Putin allies like Mikhail M. Kasyanov, his former prime minister, and Andrei N. Illarionov, his former chief economic adviser, disappeared from view. Garry K. Kasparov, the former chess champion and leader of the Other Russia opposition coalition, was banned, as were members of liberal parties.

Of course, the United States has its own taboo views the utterance of which make people disappear regardless of how great their accomplishments.

By Randall Parker 2008 June 07 03:21 PM  Russia
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2008 June 05 Thursday
China And India Compete For Influence

The oil for India and China moves through sea lanes that both countries would like to control.

For decades the world relied on the powerful U.S. Navy to protect this vital sea lane. But as India and China gain economic heft, they are moving to expand their control of the waterway, sparking a new — and potentially dangerous — rivalry between Asia's emerging giants.

China has given massive aid to Indian Ocean nations, signing friendship pacts, building ports in Pakistan and Bangladesh as well as Sri Lanka, and reportedly setting up a listening post on one of Myanmar's islands near the strategic Strait of Malacca.

Now, India is trying to parry China's moves. It beat out China for a port project in Myanmar. And, flush with cash from its expanding economy, India is beefing up its military, with the expansion seemingly aimed at China. Washington and, to a lesser extent, Tokyo are encouraging India's role as a counterweight to growing Chinese power.

India's Navy probably won't be able to compete with the greater wealth that China will be able to invest in the Chinese Navy.

Pallavi Aiyar, a reporter from India who has recently written a book about China, says China's poor are on par with India's middle class.

Forever being asked, “Which is better, China or India?” Ms. Aiyar tackles the question. Though she says her perspective sometimes changes from day-to-day, in the main, she believes that society’s poorest are better off in China. In Ms. Aiyar’s experience, with respect to the availability of work, food, shelter, commodities, community and health-care, China’s poorest may rank alongside India’s middle-class. On the other hand, she writes that she found China to be an un-intellectual land, a place where the heated dissent that characterizes a pleasurable debate in India has been drilled out of the population’s repertoire of social interactions. For those lucky enough to count the demands of their intellect above those of their stomach, Ms. Aiyar thinks India provides a more comfortable environment.

China uses 9% of the world's oil while India uses only 3%. China is the more rapidly growing country and I expect Chinese affluence and influence to continue to grow faster than India's for decades to come.

By Randall Parker 2008 June 05 11:28 PM  China
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Russian Government To Shut The Exile?

The English language Russian expat newspaper The Exile is threatened with closure by the illiberal Russian government. Editor Mark Ames is perhaps sarcastically upbeat about their prospects under the new President Medvedev.

Welp, those dangerous days are behind us folks. Now that the liberal Medvedev Era has arrived, we can all breathe a sigh of relief. At last, after all of the assaults, lawsuits, threats, thefts, bad drug deals, false pregnancies and petty betrayals, after the terrifying presidencies of Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin, the light of liberal freedom is shining into our basement offices. We can already taste the fresh gusts of liberal-air blowing in from that little fella with the big floppy head and the stumpy arms—damn, he’s cute, ain’t he?

Of course Vladimir Putin decided to take most of the power with him to his new role as Prime Minister. So if The Exile gets shut down will it be killed off by Putin or Medvedev?

By Randall Parker 2008 June 05 11:08 PM  Russia
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2008 June 03 Tuesday
Illegal Immigration Driving Identity Theft

Steven Malanga reports on a huge rise in identity theft driven by illegal immigration.

As everyone knows, America is experiencing an epidemic of identity theft. In the last five years alone, complaints to the Federal Trade Commission from U.S. residents who have had their identity stolen have skyrocketed 60 percent, to 258,427 in 2007—one-third of all consumer fraud complaints that the commission receives. What’s less well understood, however, is how illegal immigration is helping to fuel this rash of crime. Seeking access to jobs, credit, and driver’s licenses, many undocumented aliens are using the personal data of real Americans on forged documents. The immigrants’ identity theft has become so pervasive that the need to combat it is “a disturbing front in the war against illegal immigration,” according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The FTC’s latest statistics help show why. The top five states in terms of reported identity theft in 2007 all have large immigrant populations—the border states of Arizona, California, and Texas, as well as Florida and Nevada. People who pilfer legitimate identities in these states are much more likely than in other parts of the country to use them to gain employment unlawfully—the most common reason that illegal aliens steal personal information. In Arizona, for instance, 36 percent of all identity theft is for employment purposes, compared with only 5 percent in Maine, a state with far fewer illegal aliens. “To many law enforcement leaders in Arizona, this suggests that Arizona’s identity-theft epidemic is directly linked to the problem of illegal immigration,” says a recent report by Identity Theft 911, an Arizona company that helps businesses and individuals protect themselves.

Getting your identity stolen can throw you into a nightmare.

Americans who have their identity stolen by these gangs are in for major headaches. Among the complaints filed with the FTC is that of a Texas man arrested for a crime committed by an illegal alien who had filched his identity. In another case, highlighted by Nevada senator John Ensign in last year’s immigration-reform debate in Congress, the Internal Revenue Service hit a woman with a $1 million back-tax bill, even though she was a stay-at-home mom. An investigation later found that 218 illegal aliens were using her Social Security number. A Los Angeles police detective—who, ironically, worked in the department’s fraud bureau—was unable to buy a home because of bills piled up by an illegal immigrant who stole his Social Security number to gain employment at a processing plant. Then the IRS served the cop with a bill for $40,000 in back taxes; when he protested, the agency threatened to send his case to collection. Other legal residents have had their unemployment claims or workers’ compensation cases rejected after government records showed that someone with their Social Security number was working.

When President Obama takes office you will need to demand your Congressional representatives pass legislation that cracks down on illegal immigration in general and identity theft in particular.

By Randall Parker 2008 June 03 10:36 PM  Immigration Law Enforcement
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2008 June 02 Monday
Iraq Oil Revenue Less Than Half War Cost

Remember when neocon former Defense deputy secretary Paul Wolfowitz famously predicted that Iraq's oil revenue would pay for all the rebuilding of Iraq? The United States still spends more than twice as much on the Iraq war as the Iraqis earn from oil exports in spite of a huge increase in oil prices.

In an interview with Reuters, Hussein al-Shahristani said he expects oil revenue to reach $70 billion this year if crude prices stay high and output flows remain stable.

Iraq's oil production barely equals the level before the invasion.

The country's exports reached 2.11 million barrels a day in March while the total output stood at about 2.5 million barrels a day, spokesman Assem Jihad told The Associated Press.


The Energy Information Administration, part of the U.S. Energy Department, estimated Iraqi production at about 2.6 million barrels a day in early 2003.

Iraq's government claims oil production will go up another 300,000 barrels per day this year. Even then American taxpayers will be paying more for the war than the Iraqi government earns from oil sales. Imagine we had instead spent $150 billion per year on hybrid cars, nuclear power plants, and building insulation. We could import far less oil and have the Middle East matter far less to us.

By Randall Parker 2008 June 02 11:07 PM  Mideast Iraq Costs
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Heather Mac Donald: Is the Criminal-Justice System Racist?

Heather Mac Donald has a new City Journal article entitled "Is the Criminal-Justice System Racist?". She says no. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton label whites as racist rather than admit that blacks commit crimes at much higher rates than whites.

At a presidential primary debate this Martin Luther King Day, for instance, Senator Barack Obama charged that blacks and whites “are arrested at very different rates, are convicted at very different rates, [and] receive very different sentences . . . for the same crime.” Not to be outdone, Senator Hillary Clinton promptly denounced the “disgrace of a criminal-justice system that incarcerates so many more African-Americans proportionately than whites.”

It is good of Senator Obama to remind us of what he believes. As President will he tilt the criminal justice system to make it biased in favor of black criminals?

The racial differences in crime rates show up in all the major ways of measuring differences in criminality.

Racial activists usually remain assiduously silent about that problem. But in 2005, the black homicide rate was over seven times higher than that of whites and Hispanics combined, according to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics. From 1976 to 2005, blacks committed over 52 percent of all murders in America. In 2006, the black arrest rate for most crimes was two to nearly three times blacks’ representation in the population. Blacks constituted 39.3 percent of all violent-crime arrests, including 56.3 percent of all robbery and 34.5 percent of all aggravated-assault arrests, and 29.4 percent of all property-crime arrests.

The advocates acknowledge such crime data only indirectly: by charging bias on the part of the system’s decision makers. As Obama suggested in the Martin Luther King debate, police, prosecutors, and judges treat blacks and whites differently “for the same crime.”

Crime victim reports on the race of perpetrators match the arrest statistics.

Let’s start with the idea that cops over-arrest blacks and ignore white criminals. In fact, the race of criminals reported by crime victims matches arrest data. As long ago as 1978, a study of robbery and aggravated assault in eight cities found parity between the race of assailants in victim identifications and in arrests—a finding replicated many times since, across a range of crimes. No one has ever come up with a plausible argument as to why crime victims would be biased in their reports.

Obama is in the ranks of those who tried to excuse some blacks in Jena who almost killed a white guy. The Jena episode shows what is wrong with liberals in America.

Moving up the enforcement chain, the campaign against the criminal-justice system next claims that prosecutors overcharge and judges oversentence blacks. Obama describes this alleged postarrest treatment as “Scooter Libby justice for some and Jena justice for others.” Jena, Louisiana, of course, was where a D.A. initially lodged attempted second-degree murder charges against black students who, in December 2006, slammed a white student’s head against a concrete beam, knocking him unconscious, and then stomped and kicked him in the head while he was down. As Charlotte Allen has brilliantly chronicled in The Weekly Standard, a local civil rights activist crafted a narrative linking the attack to an unrelated incident months earlier, in which three white students hung two nooses from a schoolyard tree—a display that may or may not have been intended as a racial provocation. This entrepreneur then embellished the tale with other alleged instances of redneck racism—above all, the initial attempted-murder charges. An enthusiastic national press responded to the bait exactly as intended, transforming the “Jena Six” into victims rather than perpetrators. In the seven months of ensuing headlines and protests, Jena became a symbol of systemic racial unfairness in America’s court system. If blacks were disproportionately in prison, the refrain went, it was because they faced biased prosecutors—like the one in Jena—as well as biased juries and judges.

Heather goes on to knock down myths about drug enforcement and incarceration. Read the whole thing if the topic interests you.

By Randall Parker 2008 June 02 11:04 PM  Ethnic Differences
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2008 June 01 Sunday
Global Food Prices Seen Rising Further

A report from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) projects even higher food prices in the coming decade.

Food prices in the past year have risen more than 20 percent in China, Kenya and Sri Lanka; more than 18 percent in Botswana and Pakistan; and 11 to 14 percent in Indonesia, South Africa, Egypt, Haiti and Bangladesh, according to the report.

No country has been immune. In the past year, the report says, the price of butter was up 50 percent in Poland, 40 percent in France and 36 percent in Jordan. Eggs rose 34 percent in the United States and 30 percent in Britain. The price of vegetable oil -- a key commodity in diets in developing countries -- rose 47 percent in Botswana and 18 percent in India. Meat prices jumped 45 percent in China.

The report predicts prices will continue their climb, on an average basis, in the coming decade. When the average for 2008 to 2017 is compared with the 1998 to 2007 period, beef and pork prices could be about 20 percent higher, raw and white sugar about 30 percent; wheat, corn and skim milk powder 40 to 60 percent; butter and oilseeds more than 60 percent; and vegetable oils more than 80 percent, the report says.

I think the authors of this report underestimate the extent of the coming food price rise because they incorrectly project lower oil prices.

The report estimates the cost of oil at $90 a barrel this year and next, gradually rising to $104 a barrel in 2017.

Peak Oil is starting to bite. Oil exports from big oil producers are declining. Natural gas is following oil up and that will continue to drive up the cost of ammonia for fertilizer and the costs of other inputs to farming that require energy.

By Randall Parker 2008 June 01 06:36 PM  Economics Food
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Massachusetts Legislators Threaten To Tax College Endowments

Harvard especially has grown conspicuously wealthy and can accumulate massive amounts of money tax free.

"Two things are on a collision course: The public anxiety about the cost and affordability of college is very, very high, while [wealthy institutions] ... are sitting on what appears to be huge pots of money," says Patrick Callan, president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education in San Jose, Calif.

The Massachusetts proposal would impose a 2.5 percent tax on the portion of endowments above $1 billion.

"There is an exorbitant amount of wealth that has been generated with these endowments, especially in the case of Harvard and MIT," about $35 billion and $10 billion, respectively, says state Rep. Paul Kujawski (D), who proposed the tax plan in part because the state is facing a $1.3 billion budget gap. "When is a nonprofit considered not a nonprofit?" he asks.

A few points: Huge amounts of money flow into Harvard from donors just to make their endowment even larger. Plus, Harvard is able to hire great fund managers who get high returns on investments for the endowment. Those fund managers might get a lot of useful tips from well-placed Harvard alumni. How else to account for the stellar returns on the Harvard endowment?

Harvard is just accumulating the money. If you want to donate to making education better Harvard is the wrong choice for a donation. They do not need their endowment for operations. It is just a huge status symbol.

If you want to fund research then fund individual labs. If you want to fund education then donate money to create high res video college course lectures downloadable on the web. You'll reach more people and do it for very low cost. Then fund some of the poorer small colleges to do web-based testing of students and periodic in-person testing to then grant college credit to whoever wants to try learning over the web.

Harvard provides a place for a small number of very bright people to go to school. The main benefit of the place is a combination of the connections formed with ambitious people and the ability to signal to everyone else that you were smart enough to get into Harvard. Any potential superiority of actual content of the courses is far less important assuming said superiority of courses even exists there.

Update: The Ivies are internationalizing in a big way. When will Americans become a minority at Columbia University?

Harvard’s 3,546 international students ranked behind Columbia University (5,278) and the University of Pennsylvania (3,712) in the Ivy League, but was almost double the number of foreign students at Yale University.

By Randall Parker 2008 June 01 06:30 PM  Education
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