2008 August 31 Sunday
Garages And Fawning Servants Key To Manhattan Lifestyle

A couple of articles from the very liberal New York Times provide chuckles about what the Times thinks its readers want to know. First off, a garage in Manhattan is great and it boosts your real estate's market value.

A recent check of real estate Web sites turned up about a dozen listings for town houses with private garage space in Manhattan and Brooklyn, ranging in price from $1.195 million, for a brownstone in Crown Heights, to $18.75 million for a restored carriage house in Greenwich Village. "I can’t imagine any greater luxury than a garage,” said Kirk Henckels, a Stribling & Associates broker. ”It’s not the square footage in Manhattan that counts. It’s the amenities.”

Town houses with existing garages and curb cuts on the sidewalk command a premium when the houses are resold. That is partly because getting approval from the city to create a new curb cut involves navigating a thicket of building regulations and approvals.

The Gray Lady observes that permits needed for installing a garage are hard to get. But the idea of actually complaining about government regulations probably doesn't cross the minds of the reporter or editor of this piece.

The Department of Buildings has approved only 54 new curb cuts in Manhattan so far in 2008, and only 57 curb cuts in all of 2007.

However, they report the troubling fact that some who can afford their own garage in Manhattan find that it gives them a taste of suburban life and they decide to move to the suburbs. This brings into question the whole idea that Manhattan is a great place to live. So garages bring risks.

Another article for the upper class about thrifty ways to upgrade your co-up building offers the useful advice that if your doorman isn't sufficiently obsequious that, well, you deserve better than that and should get your servants better trained.

“If you’re looking to buy in a building, and the staff is curt or not polite or disheveled, that is very important in determining property values,” said David Kuperberg, the chief executive of Cooper Square Realty Inc., which manages about 200 co-op and condominium buildings, mostly in Manhattan. “And if you have a surly doorman, it’s going to affect your quality of life adversely, because there’s nothing better than coming home at night and being greeted by a happy face and, ‘Hello, how are you doing Mr. or Ms. So-and-So.’ ”

Many people settle for a happy greeting from a dog. But in Manhattan you must receive a happy greeting from a doorman or you just haven't arrived.

By Randall Parker 2008 August 31 09:31 PM  Economics Elites
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Russia Threatens European Oil Cut Back

The Russians want the European countries to know that they are powerless to force Russia to pull out of Georgia.

Reports have begun to circulate in Moscow that Russian oil companies are under orders from the Kremlin to prepare for a supply cut to Germany and Poland through the Druzhba (Friendship) pipeline. It is believed that executives from lead-producer LUKoil have been put on weekend alert.

"They have been told to be ready to cut off supplies as soon as Monday," claimed a high-level business source, speaking to The Daily Telegraph. Any move would be timed to coincide with an emergency EU summit in Brussels, where possible sanctions against Russia are on the agenda.

Europe would be lucky in the long run if Russia cut back on oil supplies to Germany. That would serve as an enormous wake-up call to the Germans. They'd be forced to revisit their planned nuclear power plant phase-out and would likely shift toward building new nukes instead. Also, they'd further ramp up wind and solar and shift toward a more electrical economy.

Moscow is not above playing the oil card.

Supplies were cut to Estonia in May 2007 following a dispute with Russia over the removal of Red Army memorials. It was blamed on a "repair operation". Latvia was cut off in 2005 and 2006 in a battle for control over the Ventspils terminals. "There are ways to camouflage it," said Vincent Sabathier, a senior fellow at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

These rumors are probably part of an effort by Putin and company to intimidate the Europeans from punishing the Russians for their partial occupation of Georgia.

European diplomats say Moscow has sent a clear signal it will retaliate if the EU imposes sanctions arising from the Georgia conflict during an emergency summit of to be held on Monday.

The Russians are denying the rumours. They do not need to admit that they started the rumours. The rumours have already achieved their desired result.

Russia's energy minister and a top oil company denied on Friday they were preparing to cut oil flows to Europe in response to threatened sanctions, a step Moscow never took even at the height of the Cold War.

At this point Europe needs Russia more than Russia needs Europe. The Russians can buy goods from the Far East if the Euroes put any restrictions on their exports. The Russians can afford to cut back on oil production given how much they can make off of higher oil prices.

The coming peak in Russian oil production is close. The world oil production peak is near as well. Therefore the European countries all need to make plans for how to gradually replace the oil and natural gas from Russia. The Russians would do them a favor by cutting back on fossil fuels exports at this point in time. Such an act would spur the Europeans to develop alternatives that they need to develop anyway.

By Randall Parker 2008 August 31 03:27 PM  Russia
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2008 August 30 Saturday
Sarah Palin As Rorschach Blot Test

Lots of people are reacting in all sorts of ways to John McCain's pick of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his Veep. A woman named Susan had this to say about Sarah Palin on the comments of an LA Times article:

I don't know who Bill Kristol spoke with but most people I know were personally offended by McCain's choice. It exemplifies the current state of politics, it's a game. All the republican party has in its pocket is the pro-life, pro-gun, anti-gay fear mongering. Bringing in an hugely inexperienced policitian who has nothing more than her gender and her Christian ideologies creates a lightning rod of distraction to the real, immenient issues that we face as Americans. I used to respect McCain. No longer, this choice is an insult to all those who love this country.

I think the intensity of these reactions indicate that people are getting bored with gushing Obamamania. They want a new thrill already. Obama needs to hire some script writers and a camera crew to create a reality TV out of his campaign. Then he needs to hire some campaign staffers who are good at comedy acting, tragic acting, and other roles. He can strike back if he can fashion a really good hit TV show loosely organized around his campaign. Then a vote for Obama can be seen as a vote for a much larger cast of entertaining and novel characters. He needs to admit that he needs supporting actors with charisma as well. Look, Jerry Seinfeld is a funny guy. But Kramer and the other characters were essential for making his show a multi-year success.

The New York Times editorialists were happy that John McCain opted to add a diversity talisman to his ticket. Without diversity the forces of evil will take over and plunge us into a dark ages. All hail diversity.

The Republican Party has hardly been a champion of diversity in recent memory. So it was heartening to see Senator John McCain choose Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska as his running mate.

We would be criticized for cynicism if we were to suggest that Mr. McCain might also be hoping to sow a new round of gender discord in the wake of the Democrats’ unexpectedly unifying convention. We didn’t have to.

Governor Palin (who was on almost no one’s short list) left no doubt of her mission, as she eagerly praised the “determination and grace” of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, who failed to make the Democratic ticket. “But it turns out that the women in America aren’t finished yet, and we can shatter that glass ceiling once and for all,” she vowed.

Plus, Palin lets them be cynical even as they embrace the diversity talisman. Is that cool or what?

Clark Stooksbury points to a National Review Corner blog post by Jay Nordlinger where he once again demonstrates an enormous acumen for gushing.

She is leaderly. That’s not quite a word, but I have employed it often. (It ought to be a word.) Governor Palin is strong, assured, natural — and leaderly. I’m not sure she is less presidential — to say nothing of vice-presidential — than any of the other three on the national tickets.

Like many Americans, she says “Eye-rack” and “Eye-ran” (for two neighboring countries in the Middle East). Some people mock this, but it is very American. And — speaking of mockery — she also says “nuke-u-lar”: like George W. Bush, Jimmy Carter (who was a nuclear engineer), and Eisenhower.

I feel all choked up. Gush, er, I guess I mean gosh.

Dennis Dale says we've fully embraced personality politics as more important than boring old issues politics.

Everyone who is anyone seems by now in agreement that the presidency and thus the vice presidency should be about personality and perception, because that’s what television media is calibrated to deliver. The resemblance of political news to celebrity news has gone beyond deliberate to become unavoidable. Soon there will be no dividing line, and the non-telegenic will be barred from public service as if bound by physical deformity. We are now into our second and third generations of television journalists who deliberately feed the public superficial pulp; they are no longer capable of making the distinction themselves. This might explain their bemusement and occasional outrage at the blogs. Journalists don’t ask tough questions of leaders because they don’t want to get the public started. We could start asking tough questions of them.

Any contrarian voice against this order of things is probably the sort of eccentric character that still talks of enumerated constitutional powers and congressional declarations of war. Cut to Chris Matthews assessing how the new gal looks cradling an AR-15. At moments coverage may resemble fetishistic soft-core guns & girls pornography. This is the zeitgeist. We really deserve whatever deprivations come at this point.

Well, at the right time I think Sarah ought to do an episode where she goes skeet shooting with a rifle. Then maybe Sarah could do Iditarod sledding. We want authenticity in our Alaskans. Just because she's going to spend most of her time in the lower 48 doesn't mean she can't entertain us with her Alaskan roots. We expect some pioneer wilderness scenes in this election. Little House On The Tundra.

In a post entitled "Palin Rocks" Scott McConnell argues that Palin is great because she's not a neocon and supported Pat Buchanan. I agree with Scott that her support for Buchanan is promising.

Indeed Palin is, if anything, the Lieberman antithesis. The blogosphere has begun to chew on the fact that she apparently played some role in the Buchanan campaign of 1996, and perhaps in 2000 as well. There remains a constituency in this country for the idea that Buchanan is the devil incarnate, but if he’s not correct on absolutely everything, his views on American foreign policy have proved more prescient than any single sitting Republican senator. The Palin choice promises to instigate a boomlet of old Buchanan controversies, including a criticism of the Israel lobby which has become increasingly mainstream since the Iraq war went south. Sarah Palin may not have supported Pat in 1996 primarily because of his foreign policy views, but clearly she wasn’t put off by them, despite the hysterical anti-Buchanan frothings of every neoconservative and neoliberal media outlet in the country. You have to think a hockey mom mother of five would be more resistant to the American Enterprise Institute world view than anyone else McCain could conceivably have chosen. If there’s a good argument for John McCain, it might be that he’s old, has a history of serious illness, and has chosen Sarah Palin as his veep.

I hope Palin doesn't cave in and let her foreign policy views get dictated to her by the neocons.

Kevin Michael Grace says Sarah Palin brings a form of exoticism to this election. This of course breaks the Obama monopoly on exoticism.

WASHINGTON—Americans reacted mostly positively Friday to the surprise selection by John McCain of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as Republican nominee for Vice President. The 37-year-old Palin continued her meteoric rise to political demigod status, which began just 9 years ago, when she was elected Mayor of Kolyma, AK, population 79, and continued two years ago when she was elected Governor after the entire Republican state hierarchy was indicted for corruption and then photographed in a giant hot tub with underaged Boy Scouts.

In an already historic Presidential year, one that has seen left-field Democratic candidate Barack Obama ride a wave of guilty hysteria to triumph over supposed sure-thing Hillary Clinton, Gov. Palin brings her own considerable exoticism to the table. A working mother, she is married to her dog-mushing school sweetheart, Ookpik, who runs a thriving seal-gutting business when not doing something or other for Alaska's only major employer, Big Oil. Ookpik, who is 1/32 Eskimo on his stepmother's side, is an X-treme moose-eating champion and enjoys staring at the aurora borealis. The Palins have five children, Truck, Trig, Sine, Cosine and Hypotenuse.

What I want to know: Is Sarah's husband related to Michael Palin? If not, could we at least pretend he is? Then she could bring fear, surprise, ruthless efficiency, an almost fanatical devotion to the pope, and nice red uniforms to the job.

Update: Maria Bartiromo interviewed Sarah Palin on oil in Alaska a few day before Palin was chosen as McCain's Veep. She's quite well spoken.

By Randall Parker 2008 August 30 07:53 PM  Politics American Presidency
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Obama Tries To Silence Critics

Barack Obama's campaign lawyer is trying to prevent the use of free speech and freedom of the press.

``Barack Obama is friends with Ayers, defending him as, quote, 'Respectable' and 'Mainstream,''' the group's ad states. ``Obama's political career was launched in Ayers' home. And the two served together on a left-wing board. Why would Barack Obama be friends with someone who bombed the Capitol and is proud of it? Do you know enough to elect Barack Obama?''

In a letter to station managers, Obama campaign lawyer Robert Bauer wrote: ``Your station is committed to operating in the public interest, an objective that cannot be satisfied by accepting for compensation material of such malicious falsity.''

Bauer also wrote to Deputy Assistant Attorney General John C. Keeney, noting that the ad is a ``knowing and willful attempt to evade the strictures of federal election law.''

A group opposed to Obama is publicizing the friendship between Obama and former 60s Weathermen (later Weather Underground once they became feminist) radical Bill Ayers. Whether or not one believes the more critical interpretations of that relationship is really besides the point. I do not think that US Presidential campaigns should use legal means to try to silence critics.

I am not writing this to puff up John McCain. His own record of trying to regulate political speech through campaign finance laws is pretty bad. But Obama isn't exactly coming across here as a great civil libertarian.

Update: If you are curious about the Ayers-Obama relationship see Stanley Kurtz for the details.

Although the press has been notably lax about pursuing the matter, the full story of the Obama-Ayers relationship calls the truth of Obama’s account seriously into question. When Obama made his first run for political office, articles in both the Chicago Defender and the Hyde Park Herald featured among his qualifications his position as chairman of the board of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, a foundation where Ayers was a founder and guiding force. Obama assumed the Annenberg board chairmanship only months before his first run for office, and almost certainly received the job at the behest of Bill Ayers. During Obama’s time as Annenberg board chairman, Ayers’s own education projects received substantial funding. Indeed, during its first year, the Chicago Annenberg Challenge struggled with significant concerns about possible conflicts of interest. With a writ to aid Chicago’s public schools, the Annenberg challenge played a deeply political role in Chicago’s education wars, and as Annenberg board chairman, Obama clearly aligned himself with Ayers’s radical views on education issues. With Obama heading up the board and Ayers heading up the other key operating body of the Annenberg Challenge, the two would necessarily have had a close working relationship for years (therefore “exchanging ideas on a regular basis”). So when Ayers and Dorhn hosted that kickoff for the first Obama campaign, it was not a random happenstance, but merely further evidence of a close and ongoing political partnership. Of course, all of this clearly contradicts Obama’s dismissal of the significance of his relationship with Ayers.

When Kurtz appeared on a Chicago radio station to discuss Ayers the Obama campaign organized an attempt to silence Kurtz.

Stanley Kurtz's appearance on the Milt Rosenberg radio program in Chicago last night provided an unsettling look into the authoritarian tactics being employed by the Obama campaign to stifle and intimidate its critics.

I happened to be in the WGN studios for the entire affair because my friend, Zack Christenson, produces the show in question. He was aware of my previous reporting on the Obama-Ayers connection and kindly invited me to sit in on the two-hour interview. (For full disclosure, I work for two other radio stations in Chicago, WIND, and WYLL).

As I arrived at the downtown Chicago studios a few hours before show time, the phones began ringing off the hook with irate callers demanding Kurtz be axed from the program. It didn't take long to discover that the Obama campaign—which had declined invitations to join the show for its duration to offer rebuttals to Kurtz's points—had sent an "Obama Action Wire" e-mail to its supporters, encouraging them to deluge the station with complaints.

Do you like free speech? Do you like freedom of the press? This sort of tactic shows a distinct lack of respect for free speech and freedom of the press.

By Randall Parker 2008 August 30 01:17 PM  Politics Free Speech
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Russia Manipulates Europe With Energy Supplies

Zeyno Baran argues Russia is deepening divisions in Europe with energy and the Georgia invasion. I say she should go further and proclaim that Europe is Russia's bitch.

We saw the same fault line at the NATO summit in April that failed to offer a membership action plan (MAP) to either Georgia or Ukraine, further emboldening Mr. Putin to provoke the Georgians into an unwinnable war. It is simply not possible for the European Union to be united in what Russia considers to be its "sphere of influence" unless the Kremlin's gas leverage over the Continent is broken. Russia is Europe's single largest supplier of natural gas. As there is no global market for gas, the construction of costly pipelines effectively locks consumers into lengthy contracts with producers. This means that Moscow can (and does) easily manipulate dependence into political and economic leverage.

Germany, for example, imports almost 40% of its gas from Russia -- the most of any West European country -- and plans to increase this figure to over 60% by 2020. Six East European countries are entirely dependent on Russia for their natural gas imports. Yet they are also the most vocal about the EU's need to diversify away from Russia. That's because they know Russia can turn off the taps in a second -- as in Latvia in 2003, Lithuania in 2006 and the Czech Republic in 2008 -- with little reaction from Brussels. Russia managed to divide the EU by being a reliable supplier to Western Europe, while continuing to treat Eastern Europe as its "backyard."

The Eastern Europeans are far more outspoken and critical of Russia's Georgia invasion. They know that the current occupants of the Kremlin in Moscow wants them all back under Moscow's thumb.

But think about Russia's strategy. What can they hope to accomplish?

The Russian plan is rather simple: Punish countries that refuse to come under its influence by building new gas pipelines that bypass them, while rewarding countries and political leaders that cooperate with Russia with lucrative energy deals.

If the Eastern Europeans are smart they will make a huge push to break away from dependence on Russian oil and natural gas. Build nuclear power plants, wind farms, and put up solar panels. This will lessen their vulnerability to Russian machinations. But it will also reduce the economic damage to their economies when Russian oil and natural gas production start declining.

While debate about Western responses to Russia over Georgia focus on the short term the Western countries really should focus on a longer term response that involves developing non-fossil fuels energy sources. A push to do that would undermine Russian influence. Plus, it is necessary in the long run because Russian oil and natural gas production will be lower 10 years from now and even lower 20 years from now.

By Randall Parker 2008 August 30 12:48 PM  Russia
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Sarah Palin: Iraq War Not Worth It For Oil

Before becoming John McCain's vice presidential pick Alaska Governor Sarah Palin expressed the view that the Iraq war is not worth fighting for energy.

“I always looked at Senator McCain just as a Joe Blow public member, looking from the outside in,” she said. “He’s been buttin’ heads with Republicans for years, and that’s a healthy place to be.” Then again, on McCain’s signature issue—the prosecution of the war in Iraq—she did not sound so gung-ho. Her son is a soldier, and she said, “I’m a mom, and my son is going to get deployed in September, and we better have a real clear plan for this war. And it better not have to do with oil and dependence on foreign energy.”

The fact that she's going to shortly have a son in Iraq means that she's got far more at stake in this war than McCain, Obama, and Biden. What makes it worth it to put her own son at considerable risk? If she makes it into office she'll bring a perspective that McCain needs to hear.

Lucky for Palin's son, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other top Iraqi leaders are trying to end street patrols by American soldiers in the summer of 2009 and to get US combat soldiers out of Iraq by the end of 2011. That, parenthetically, would remove the Iraq war as an issue in the 2012 US presidential elections.

"There is an agreement actually reached, reached between the two parties on a fixed date, which is the end of 2011, to end any foreign presence on Iraqi soil," Maliki said in a speech to tribal leaders in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone.

"An open time limit is not acceptable in any security deal that governs the presence of the international forces," he said.

The Bush Administration is reluctant to sign up for a fixed timetable for withdrawal. The Iraqis need a timetable for internal consumption but the Iraqi leaders are reluctant to totally commit to a fixed withdrawal in case an insurgency pops up in the mean time and threatens to overthrow them.

Underlying Maliki's remarks is the political reality that he must sell the accord to a fractious political establishment and the Iraqi public, which to a large extent views the U.S. military presence as an occupation that should end as soon as possible.

"The agreement will be met with significant public discomfort," said an aide to Maliki. "So Iraqi officials will resort to using the dates mentioned in the agreement to sell it to the public, even though they might be intended to be used in a guidance way."

Bottom line: The Iraqi leaders want to remain in power and they will take whatever decision most seems like guaranteed to keep them in power.

By Randall Parker 2008 August 30 11:29 AM  Mideast Iraq Exit Debate
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2008 August 29 Friday
Barack Obama As Tony Rezko Enabler

Steve Sailer points out how saint Barack Obama enabled Tony Rezko to corrupt the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board. Surely the saint did not understand the consequences of his actions.

For example, Rezko is going to prison in large part for packing the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board with five of his lackeys so they would approve hospital construction in which he had an interest. That Board used to have 15 members, making it hard for Rezko to corrupt it, but in 2003, a bill passed the Illinois legislature reducing the number of members from 15 to 9. And who was the chairman of the Illinois Senate Health and Human Services committee that recommended that bill? Why, Rezko's $250,000 friend, the Presidential nominee ...

By the way, something that's long bothered me is this. Obama wrote that the hero of his youth was Malcolm X. Now, Malcolm was assassinated in 1966 by Black Muslim hitmen working for Elijah Muhammad. The chief long term beneficiary of the murder was Louis Farrakhan, who earlier had written that Malcolm deserved death. Whether Farrakhan was directly involved in the killing is unknown -- a number of years ago, one of Malcolm's many daughters hired a hitman to rub out Farrakhan in revenge. Even if he wasn't involved in the conspiracy, Farrakhan's sentiments are clear: he gave Malcolm's old job to one of the murderers when he was finally released from prison.

Yet, where's the outrage against the Black Muslims on Obama's part? If somebody important was tied into the murder of a hero of my youth, like Jerry West or Fernando Valenzuela, I sure wouldn't treat him as evenhandedly, with a mixture of sympathy for his goals and sarcasm at the impracticality of his economics, as Obama treats Farrakhan in Dreams from My Father. Nor would I have chosen a minister who went with Farrakhan to visit Gadafi in Libya in 1984 and gave Farrakhan his Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007. Nor would I be happy about having a fairy godfather like Rezko who is up to his eyeballs in dealings with Elijah Muhammad's heirs.

Meanwhile, that nutcase McCain really wants to choose Joseph Lieberman as his vice presidential running mate. I hope he does it because then it will be clear that we have two Democratic Parties in this election.

By Randall Parker 2008 August 29 07:31 AM  Politics Money
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2008 August 27 Wednesday
Poorly Behaved Children Lower Learning For All

One of the characteristics of our era is the need to rediscover common sense. For example, our schools suffer from the effects of supposed expert educators who insist upon less discipline and the placement of problem children into mainstream classrooms. This and other causes of decay have necessitated flight to exurbs as people try to protect their children from schools damaged by leftist ideology. Now some UC Davis researchers have rediscovered that poorly behaved children disrupt the learning of better behaved children.

Troubled children hurt their classmates' math and reading scores and worsen their behavior, according to new research by economists at the University of California, Davis, and University of Pittsburgh.

The study, "Externalities in the Classroom: How Children Exposed to Domestic Violence Affect Everyone's Kids," was published this month by the National Bureau of Economic Research and is available online at http://papers.nber.org/papers/w14246.

Scott Carrell, an assistant professor of economics at UC Davis, and co-author Mark Hoekstra, an assistant professor of economics at the University of Pittsburgh, cross-referenced standardized test results and school disciplinary records with court restraining order petitions filed in domestic violence cases for more than 40,000 students enrolled in public elementary schools in Florida's Alachua County for the years 1995 through 2003.

One rotten apple spoils the whole bunch.

Not only did children from troubled homes suffer, however: Test scores fell and behavior problems increased for their classmates as well.

Troubled boys caused the bulk of the disruption, and the largest effects were on other boys. Indeed, Carrell and Hoekstra estimate that adding just one troubled boy to a class of 20 children reduces the standardized reading and math scores of other boys in the room by nearly two percentile points. And adding just one troubled boy to a class of 20 students increases the likelihood that another boy in the class will commit a disciplinary infraction by 17 percent.

Troubled girls, in contrast, had only a small and statistically insignificant impact on the test scores or behavior of their classmates. The study did not investigate the reasons for the gender differences.

It would be reasonable to keep the trouble makers out of the classes that most children sit in. Such a change would allow most children to learn more quickly.

By Randall Parker 2008 August 27 02:15 AM  Education
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2008 August 24 Sunday
US Federal Reserve Holds Interest Rates Low To Help Banks

The central bank of the United States basically is transferring money from everyone else to bail out banks.

Ben S. Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, rejects that thinking, as do a majority of the Fed’s policy makers. They argue — and several of them repeated their arguments in interviews here that were mostly off the record — that they had no choice but to cut the key lending rate that the Fed controls to 2 percent from 5.25 percent in just eight months. Otherwise, they said, the housing and credit crises would have resulted in much more damage to the economy.

The Fed is basically using low interest rates to subsidize banks. The low interest rates boost inflation and therefore take money away from everyone else. The money gets transferred ot banks. The Fed exists to protect bank shareholders. You pay bank shareholders via inflation and via lower interest rates you get paid on bank accounts and bonds.

Now, they argue, the so-called federal funds rate must be kept at 2 percent — for no one knows how long — so that banks and other lenders can borrow at low rates and lend at higher ones, using their fattened earnings from this process to rebuild the capital they need. The banks’ capital eroded as numerous loans made during the bubble years went bad and were written off, reducing their ability and willingness to lend to the public.

“Lenders have been hit by a shock so severe that they are contracting and withdrawing from private sector lending,” Janet L. Yellen, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, said in an interview.

Lower interest rates mean that if you are a saver and put your money into certificates of deposit (CDs) at banks then you get paid less. Basically, part of the money to help banks recover is getting taken from you and the interest rate you get paid isn't enough to keep ahead of inflation. You aren't compensated for this. You aren't getting shares in these banks in exchange for helping to build up their capital reserves.

Do the rest of us derive a big enough benefit to make subsidizing banks in this fashion justified for the common good?

By Randall Parker 2008 August 24 08:05 PM  Economics Financial
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Mexico Oil Production Decline Continues

Mexico's oil production is past peak and continues its sharp decline.

LOS ANGELES, Aug. 23 -- Production from Mexico's Cantarell oil field fell 36% over the past year, reducing the country's overall oil production and creating a sharp decline in its exports.

"New fields aren't coming on line fast enough to replace Cantarell," said Jesus Reyes Heroles, general director of Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex).

Reyes' remarks coincided with an announcement by Pemex that in the first 7 months of 2008 the state firm produced an average of 2.84 million b/d of oil, down 10% from the same period in 2007.

Exports declined at a 16.3% rate which is steeper than production. Total revenue surged on higher oil prices. But eventually exports will decline so far that higher prices won't compensate for lower exports. This spells big trouble for Mexico's government and economy. The Pemex oil company in Mexico is owned by the government. Mexico's government relies on oil for a third of its tax revenue.

The biggest vulnerability posed by declining oil production lies with government revenue. Total oil-related revenue equaled just over one-third of total government revenue in 2007. Fiscal revenues from the oil sector exceeded 8 percent of GDP in 2007, almost equaling the 9 percent of GDP that comes from income tax and value-added tax. Total tax revenues from the non-oil sectors of the economy were below 11 percent of GDP in 2007, low by regional standards. The failure to build a stronger non-oil tax base has led Mexican governments to depend heavily on Pemex's resources, thereby depleting the company's ability to modernize and undertake more exploration and production.

Mexico is going to be hit by much higher internal fuel prices, less government, revenue, and less export revenue. We need a barrier wall along the entire US-Mexico border to keep out the Mexicans who will experience declining living standards.

Petroleum geologist Jeffrey "westexas" Brown expects Mexico will stop exporting oil by 2014.

Venezuela is showing a long term net export decline, and Mexico is on track to approach zero net oil exports by 2014. In October, 2007 these two countries accounted for more than 20% of total US petroleum (crude + product) imports.

For other countries when their oil fields peaked oil exports declined more rapidly than oil production. Jeffrey Brown and other analysts who have looked at this pattern have found it so consistently that they expect Mexico, Russia, Venezuela, and other big producers of today to follow the same pattern.

By Randall Parker 2008 August 24 12:40 PM  Economics Energy
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2008 August 23 Saturday
Republicans For Obama And Democrats For McCain

Audacious Epigone points out that more Democrats support McCain than Republicans support Obama.

"Republicans for Obama" and the various media reports that Obama will appeal to many GOPers aside, McCain has greater support among Democrats than Obama does among Republicans. A Pew survey taken earlier this month shows 10% of registered Democrats supporting McCain, while 7% of registered Republicans support Obama.

Those figures are nearly identical to what occured in the '04 Presidential election, when 11% of Democrats voted for Bush and 6% of Republicans voted for Kerry, and also in '00, when 11% of Democrats voted for Bush and 8% of Republicans voted for Gore.

But which side is more demoralized and less up for even going to vote? The Democrats seem all pumped up. Many are thrilled at the prospect of voting for such a novelty. Many Republicans are demoralized by the Bush presidency and thoroughly unthrilled by the Iraq war.

Still, McCain has one thing going for him: Obama's image has gotten excessively inflated. Obamamania has made him vulnerable to a counterattack that undermines Obama's pretensions. Obamamania worked better in the Democratic primary than it will in the general election.

But Obama has something really big working for him: recession works against the incumbent party. But most of the times when the incumbent party lost during a recession the president or vice president was running. Does McCain pick up the blame for the recession?

We have had only one election since 1900 where there was no president or vice president on the national ticket and also there was a recession in the year of election. That was 1920, and the incumbent Democratic Party did lose in a landslide. But that is a single data point. Will voters this time around blame John McCain for a recession or lousy economy caused by a collapsing housing bubble?

Speaking as someone who thinks both McCain and Obama will make a bad president I do not feel like I have a dog in this fight. I can't figure out which of them will be worse. If we are lucky the Iraqi government will make the US withdraw our military even if McCain gets elected. So maybe McCain's position on the Iraq war won't matter that much. But if Obama wins and Peak Oil begins to bite then the Democrats get the blame and I'd rather the Republicans not get blamed for the economic contraction that is coming.

By Randall Parker 2008 August 23 10:22 PM  Politics Elections
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UK Inflation Rate Higher For Students

Economists frequently speak of a single inflation rate for an entire nation. Other times they distinguish between inflation rates in different parts of a country. But inflation rates are really more meaningful by social class and age. In Britain inflation for students is 1.5 times that for the general population because more of a student's budget goes for goods with high inflation rates.

The first Student Price Index survey, from the Open University, found that the true inflation rate for undergraduates in England is almost 7%, compared to the Consumer Price Index which currently stands at 4.4%.

This is because, compared with other households, students spend a higher share of their total budget on items which have risen in price fastest over recent years - goods such as food and drink, clothing, tobacco, personal care products, housing and travel, plus tuition fees.

Students spend 75% of their budget on these items altogether, compared to just over 50% for the average UK household. Overall, their living costs are rising at 1.5 times the rate of that of the general population, it found.

Students are (with the exception of tuition and books) more like the permanently poor in their spending since they are, at least temporarily, poor. So this result tells that poor people are probably experiencing an inflation rate far higher than middle class and upper class people are experiencing. This isn't surprising when you think about it. Food costs are rising rapidly and food makes up a much higher percentage of the income of the poor than of the rich. Ditto for some other basics which are rising faster in costs.

You might think that this result is just due to rising tuition costs. But no. Housing, food, and travel together are going up 12.8% in Britain.

These include tobacco, housing, travel, clothing and food and drink, which the Bank of England has calculated is rising at 12.8 per cent annually.

Home computers and other electronic gadgets aren't going up much, if at all, in price. Ditto many luxury goods. New housing prices are actually declining. So if you have a lot of cash to spend on the good life your biggest inflation hits are going to be from gasoline and airplane tickets. But if you are poor you are getting hit a lot harder.

So then is effective inequality increasing? Maybe not. The downturn in stocks and corporate profits mean that many of the wealthier folks are losing ground in net worths. Also, the middle and upper classes have houses which are going down in value. But my guess is that poorer people are experiencing a bigger drop in living standards.

Update: Some things are dropping in price (this is a measure in the US).

The consumer price index for durable goods — things like furniture and cars — is down 0.8 percent over the last 12 months. That’s not an aberration either; it has been down year-over-year in every month since late 2005. What’s more, that may understate the deflation.

So if you can afford to pay for the food and gasoline it is a great time to buy furniture and cars.

But as prices in New York City demonstrate, if food is a big part of your budget then you are hurting.

In the past year, grocery prices in the metropolitan area have risen 7.3 percent, the biggest increase in any 12-month period since 1990, Mr. Dolfman said. Prices of a range of foods, including seafood, apples, potatoes and snacks, rose by 0.8 percent from June to July alone.

Electricity, natural gas, and gasoline are all rising rapidly. So the plasma TV gets cheaper as the electricity to power it goes up.

Adjusted for inflation real earnings in the US dropped 3.1% in the last year.

After adjusting for inflation, the average weekly paycheck dropped by 0.8 percent in July from June, extending an ongoing slide in real income. That left real earnings 3.1 percent lower in July than they were a year ago.

But how is that earnings drop distributed? Whose earnings are declining the most and whose the least? Which occupations are hit the hardest?

By Randall Parker 2008 August 23 09:20 PM  Economics Living Standards
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2008 August 21 Thursday
Three Quarters Of Americans Want Tougher Border Control

A Rasmussen poll finds an overwhelming majority of Americans do not want people to be able to traipse into the country illegally. Fancy that.

A growing majority of Americans believe that gaining control of the border is more important than legalizing illegal immigrants, and three out of four (74%) say the government is not doing enough to make that happen.

Sixty-nine percent (69%) of voters in a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey say controlling the border is more important than legalizing the status of undocumented workers, while just 21% think legalization is more important.

Only 14% think the government is doing enough to secure the borders.

Regardless of whether Obama or McCain wins the White House we stand a decent chance of cutting back on illegal immigration. The bigger battle shaping up is over legal immigration. The supporters of illegal immigration want to make legal immigration so much easier that efforts to cut back on illegal immigration will not cut the rate of immigration.

A battle over increased legal immigration at least opens up the opportunity to raise the standards on the quality of immigrants. If we could stop the deluge of high school drop-outs and even grade school drop-outs then the damage from immigration would be substantially reduced. The immigration would still be contrary to the interests of the nation in my view. But any rise in quality of immigrants would reduce costs on citizens.

Update: Did you know that the average Mexican immigrant to the US has an 8th grade education. But the average Mexican in Mexico has an even lower level of education. Also, while the children of Mexican immigrants go further in school than their parents they do not go very far and after the second generation immigrants do not improve further scholastically. Also, see a table on Mexican immigrant educational attainment across 4 generations. Note that the percentage of them that graduate from college stays below 10% even into the 4th generation.

By Randall Parker 2008 August 21 08:56 PM  Immigration Law Enforcement
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If You Do Not Know How Many Houses Obama Owns

you are out of touch with the struggles of most Americans.

CHESTER, Virginia (Reuters) - Democrat Barack Obama attacked Republican John McCain on Thursday for not knowing how many houses he owns and said it proves his presidential rival is out of touch with the economic struggles of most Americans.

Am I really supposed to follow this election and blog on what Barack Obama and John McCain say as it if they are making serious utterances on weighty matters? Should I read up on what the "house flap" is about that I see on the front of Google News? (and Google News needs a feature for excluding any stories that mention certain politicians) I read that first paragraph on that Reuters story and couldn't read the whole thing.

I do not know how many houses Barack owns. I also do not know how many houses Cindy McCain owns. But unless she likes to keep almost all her money in negotiable securities she probably owns more houses than Barack.

But since I do not know the answers to these weighty matters I am out of touch with the economic struggles of most Americans. Geez, I unfortunately do not feel out of touch.

My ambition: To become so rich and well insulated from what is going on around me that I can really be out of touch with the economic struggles of most Americans, Brazilians. Chinese, Japanese, Germans, Rumanians, Bolivians, absolutely all Nigerians, definitely almost all Georgians (though I hear they are very hospitable and friendly), and emphatically any Iraqis and Afghanis in Iraq or Afghanistan. If I'm leaving out anyone I do not mean to insult.

Update: Glancing at yet another article excerpt on the front of Google News now makes me think that the "that he owns" refers to McCain's houses, not Obama's. Reuters expects me to really be on top of this incredibly important story. McCain doesn't know how many houses he owns. This is an important crisis or turning point in the campaign. I see it now. Maybe it means that Cindy goes out and compulsively buys homes while John campaigns.

Update: So I went to Daniel Larison's blog hoping maybe he'd be writing about Georgian Orthodox Christianity as distinct from the Russian Orthodox flavor. But no. More McCain and Obama. I can't escape them. They are everywhere. But Daniel makes some good points. In a nutshell: McCain compensates for being rich by knowing less. Yup. We aren't an intellectually serious country. George W. Bush demonstrates the electoral value of a lack of curiosity in America.

Tagging Obama as aloof was not entirely new in February, but my commenters at the time thought I was off the mark.  Politico apparently made the same claim in a December ‘07 article.  However, I think the aloofness goes hand in hand with the wonkishness and expertise, so that while it is electorally a problem it is a signal of other desirable qualities.  It’s just not often the case that someone with this combination prevails in a popular election.  Most of McCain’s critics probably think that it deals him a serious blow to describe McCain as a visceral, emotionally-driven person, but I think those of us who are against McCain (regardless of whether we are for Obama) make a mistake if we treat this as an electoral weakness, just as we are missing something when we emphasize how little McCain knows about any policy questions.  They are the sources of his strength as a candidate, and I suspect that they are part of the explanation for why he continues to run far ahead of the generic GOP candidate.     

I'm trying to compare McCain and Obama the way Roissy might do it. On the one hand Obama is younger and supposedly therefore more virile. But he's too skinny to be all that virile and he has big ears. But McCain is old with a lopsided face. Who comes out ahead? At least McCain was a pilot which is a virile alpha male occupation. McCain has more money but he married it.

McCain's tax returns showed a total income of $405,409 in 2007. According to her 2006 tax returns, Cindy McCain had a total income of $6 million. Her wealth is estimated by some at $100 million, based on her late father's Arizona beer distributorship. She has not released her 2007 returns, which she files separately from her husband.

Obama and his wife, Michelle, reported making $4.2 million in 2007.

Obama made his money off of a book. Sorry, that's not an alpha male way to make a lot of money. Besides, he's got a feminist wife with a resentful attitude. I figure McCain wins points for not knowing how many houses he owns. You aren't supposed to spend all your time counting your stuff.

By Randall Parker 2008 August 21 08:01 PM  Human Nature Status
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2008 August 19 Tuesday
Nouriel Roubini Expects Deep Recession

NYU economist Nouriel Roubini called our economic crisis but few believed him.

On Sept. 7, 2006, Nouriel Roubini, an economics professor at New York University, stood before an audience of economists at the International Monetary Fund and announced that a crisis was brewing. In the coming months and years, he warned, the United States was likely to face a once-in-a-lifetime housing bust, an oil shock, sharply declining consumer confidence and, ultimately, a deep recession. He laid out a bleak sequence of events: homeowners defaulting on mortgages, trillions of dollars of mortgage-backed securities unraveling worldwide and the global financial system shuddering to a halt. These developments, he went on, could cripple or destroy hedge funds, investment banks and other major financial institutions like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

They didn't believe him. Some economists today even argue that Roubini has been incorrectly pessimistic in the past and now finally a downturn comes along that lets him be right by accident.

The audience seemed skeptical, even dismissive.

Roubini came to his predictions about the US economy by studying economic crises in other countries which were running large trade deficits.

The ’90s were an eventful time for an international economist like Roubini. Throughout the decade, one emerging economy after another was beset by crisis, beginning with Mexico’s in 1994. Panics swept Asia, including Thailand, Indonesia and Korea, in 1997 and 1998. The economies of Brazil and Russia imploded in 1998. Argentina’s followed in 2000. Roubini began studying these countries and soon identified what he saw as their common weaknesses. On the eve of the crises that befell them, he noticed, most had huge current-account deficits (meaning, basically, that they spent far more than they made), and they typically financed these deficits by borrowing from abroad in ways that exposed them to the national equivalent of bank runs. Most of these countries also had poorly regulated banking systems plagued by excessive borrowing and reckless lending. Corporate governance was often weak, with cronyism in abundance.

Roubini expects the current recession to deepen into the worst downturn since the Great Depression. Though he's not expecting a full-fledged depression. He expects we'll hit bottom in 2009. But the recovery will be slow. He expects lot of bank failures and credit problems that extend far beyond mortgages.

I do not see a bottom at least until the US trade deficit vanishes. The US has a lot of bad trends working against it including a disastrous demographic trend.

The recovery will be aborted if world oil production stays on a plateau. If oil production starts declining the downturn will deepen.

By Randall Parker 2008 August 19 09:11 PM  Economics Business Cycle
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2008 August 18 Monday
Kindergarten Delay Provides Only Small Benefit By 8th Grade

Delaying entry of kids into kindergarten is a waste of time that just delays the entry of kids into adult roles.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — New research challenges a growing trend toward holding kids out of kindergarten until they’re older, arguing that academic advantages are short-lived and come at the expense of delaying entry into the workforce and other costs.

The findings show older kindergartners fare better academically largely because they learn more before starting school, not because age improves aptitude, said Darren Lubotsky, a University of Illinois economics professor who co-wrote the study.

Older students post higher test scores than younger peers during the first few months of kindergarten, but their edge soon fades and nearly vanishes by eighth grade, according to the study, which will appear in the Journal of Human Resources.

The findings counter decades of research linking age to academic achievement that has led states to push back kindergarten entrance age deadlines and convinced more parents to start children later than the once-traditional age of 5.

In 2002, nearly 21 percent of 5-year-olds were not yet enrolled in kindergarten, up from less than 10 percent in 1980, according to the study, co-written by former U. of I. economist Todd Elder, now a professor at Michigan State University.

Though older students have an early edge based on an extra year of skill development, the study maintains that older and younger students learn at the same pace once they enter school, based on a review of federal education data.

The study found, for example, that older kindergartners scored 24 percentage points higher than younger peers on standardized reading tests, but the gap narrowed to less than 4 percentage points by eighth grade.

While they have a small advantage over other 8th graders they are probably lagging other kids their same age who are already in 9th grade. Those other kids will hit the job market sooner and probably will make more money total in their working lives.

Slowing up learning of kids is a really stupid trend. As I've argued previously in my post Accelerate Education To Increase Tax Revenue, Reduce Costs, we need to move kids through school more rapidly. Starting a year later works against this goal. One way to speed up the educational process is to separate instruction from testing and allow people to take standardized tests to earn credit in various subjects. Charles Murray takes a similar position in his new book Real Education: Four Simple Truths for Bringing America's Schools Back to Reality where he argues for more certification tests for a variety of occupations. He points to the CPA test for accountants as an example of this approach.

It is my understanding that the state of Virginia allows people to take the state bar exam for lawyers without first attending law school. This is another example of that same style of establishing competency to work in an occupation.

By Randall Parker 2008 August 18 10:50 PM  Education
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Extra Homework No Help To Most Students

Yet another unrealistic hope for turning up the performance of most students gets shot down.

BINGHAMTON, NY - While U.S students continue to lag behind many countries academically, national statistics show that teachers have responded by assigning more homework. But according to a joint study by researchers at Binghamton University and the University of Nevada, when it comes to math, piling on the homework may not work for all students.

Published in the July issue of the Econometrics Journal, researchers found that although assigning more homework tends to have a larger and more significant impact on mathematics test scores for high and low achievers, it is less effective for average achievers.

"We found that if a teacher has a high achieving group of students, pushing them harder by giving them more homework could be beneficial," said Daniel Henderson, associate professor of economics at Binghamton University. "Similarly, if a teacher has a low ability class, assigning more homework may help since they may not have been pushed hard enough. But for the average achieving classes, who may have been given too much homework in an attempt to equate them with the high achieving classes, educators could be better served by using other methods to improve student achievement. Given these students' abilities and time constraints, learning by doing may be a more effective tool for improvement."

The Bush-Kennedy legislative monstrosity known as No Child Left Behind has created pressure on schools to assign more homework in hopes of raising standardized test scores. The continuing quest to turn America into Lake Woebegone (the mythical town where all children are above average) keeps running up against the genetically determined intellectual limits of the real world students.

"There has been an extensive amount of research examining the influences of students' achievement, but it has been primarily focused on financial inputs such as class size or teachers' credentials," said Eren. "Our study examined the affect that additional homework has on test scores." While past studies suggest that nearly all students benefit from being assigned more homework Henderson and Eren discovered that only about 40% of the students surveyed would significantly benefit from an additional hour of homework each night.

According to Henderson, the findings should be of particular interest to schools who have responded to the increased pressures to pass state-mandated tests by forcing students to hit the books even harder. "This does not mean that homework is unimportant for average achievers," says Henderson. "But it does mean that this population may also benefit from other activities such as sports, art or music, rather than additional hours of math homework."

The best way to raise test scores is to make students smarter. Women could eat more salmon while pregnant and then breast feed. Both these activities will probably boost IQ by providing growing brains with more omega 3 fatty acids. Beyond that women could try harder to hook up with smarter guys in order to give their offspring smarter genes. But legislated changes in school environments aren't going to help much if at all.

The best way to improve education is to break the link between schools and certification.

By Randall Parker 2008 August 18 10:26 PM  Education
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Passport Weapon For Russian Expansion

Here's your term for the day: Passport Diplomacy. Will Russia target Ukraine next with passports and then a move to protect Russian citizens?

Mr Medvedev also sent an undisguised message to other ex-Soviet countries thinking of challenging Russia's authority.

"If anyone thinks that they can kill our citizens and escape unpunished, we will never allow this," he said. "If anyone tries this again, we will come out with a crushing response. We have all the necessary resources, political, economic and military."

Russia justified its invasion of Georgia in terms of defending its citizens of South Ossetia and Abkhazi - although it only gave Russian passports to the inhabitants of the two provinces five years ago. In the past week Ukrainian politicians have claimed that Russia has been doling out passports to residents of the Crimea, which has strong allegiances to Moscow, raising fears about the Kremlin's intentions in the region.

One Ukrainian member of parliament says the Russians are handing out large numbers of passports on Sevastopol.

Mykola Stretovych, an MP with Ukraine's ruling orange coalition, claimed that Russia was engaged in a massive operation to hand out passports in Sevastopol, home to 400,000 people, many of whom have historic ties with Russia.

Anatoly Gritsenko, chairman of the Ukrainian parliament's national security committee, launched a probe into the claims which, if true, would represent "a threat to national security", he said.

While President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia certainly blew it by sending troops into South Ossetia my fear is that Russia was just looking for an excuse to invade and even helped provoke Saakashvili. Putin was already very mad at the prospect of NATO membership for Georgia.

Three weeks later, Mr. Bush went to the Black Sea resort of Sochi, at the invitation of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. There, he received a message from the Russian: the push to offer Ukraine and Georgia NATO membership was crossing Russia’s “red lines,” according to an administration official close to the talks. Afterward, Mr. Bush said of Mr. Putin, “He’s been very truthful and to me, that’s the only way you can find common ground.” It was one of many moments when the United States seemed to have missed — or gambled it could manage — the depth of Russia’s anger and the resolve of the Georgian president to provoke the Russians.

If the people in control of Russia are executing a plan to rebuild the Russian Empire then Ukraine seems like a logical next target. The Russian speakers in Ukraine are an even higher percentage of the population than those classified as Russian.

Officially, 17.3 per cent of people living in Ukraine are ethnic Russians (around 8 million people). But more have Russian as a first language and they are concentrated in the east of the country, which nationalists in Moscow argue is culturally indivisible from the old Slavic motherland. Ukrainian nationalists vehemently disagree. The same goes for Belarus (official Russian population: 11.4 per cent, around 1 million people).

The Baltic states also have substantial Russian populations.

But the greatest tensions are in two of the Baltic States: Latvia (29.6 per cent Russian) and Estonia (25.6 per cent Russian). Although they formed part of the Russian empire in the 19th century, the Balts broke away when the Soviet Union was formed and were only forcibly reassimilated during the Second World War. Stalin then waged a brutal demographic war, shipping ethnic Latvians and Estonians to Siberia, and settling Russians in their place.

The Ukraine needs to negotiate a redrawing of borders that shifts Russians into Russia. Only then can Ukrainians feel secure within the borders of Ukraine. The Russians in the Baltic are more recent arrivals and paying Russians to leave the Baltic nations probably is the best way to assure territorial integrity of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia.

Demographic wars matter most in the long run. America is also in a demographic war of its own and America's most productive people are losing our demographic war.

By Randall Parker 2008 August 18 09:47 PM  Russia
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2008 August 17 Sunday
Pay Russians To Leave Former Soviet States

As events in the Caucasus demonstrate, having ethnic groups within your borders who have loyalties toward Moscow is a recipe for getting your country beat up by the Russian military. Okay, what to do about it? Modest proposal: US and European aid should go toward paying Russians to leave the former Soviet and former Russian Empire states. Ukranians worry they are next up for Russian aggression.

The sense of alarm may be greatest here in Ukraine. Since the Orange Revolution began in 2004, bringing the pro-Western Viktor A. Yushchenko to power after widespread protests, Ukraine has been a thorn in Moscow’s side, though perhaps not as sharp as the outspoken Georgian president, Mikheil Saakashvili.

“We’re next,” said Tanya Mydruk, 22, an office assistant who lives in Kiev, the capital. “Sooner or later our president is going to say or do something that goes too far, and then it will start.”

I think the Ukrainians ought to do less to aggravate the Russians while they try to get into NATO. This attempt to restrict the Russian Black Sea fleet seems like a bad idea.

Ukraine has done little to win Russia’s favor since the crisis in the Caucasus began. On Wednesday, Ukraine announced that it would restrict the movements of Russia’s Black Sea fleet into Sevastopol, on the Crimean peninsula. On Friday, the Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying it was prepared to give Western countries access to its missile-warning systems.

17% of the people in Ukraine are Russians. So that's about 7.8 million people who could be offered financial incentives to move over the border into Russia. A lot of people. But NATO could offer money as a much cheaper way than weapons to make Ukraine a more secure place.

Yet despite fears of a Russian resurgence, Ukraine remains deeply tied to Russia by culture and history. Its ethnic Russian minority, largely in the south and east of the country, is roughly 17 percent of a total population of 46 million.

According to one estimate about 45,000 South Ossetians were in South Ossetia when the Georgian military tried to reestablish control over South Ossetia. As recently as the 1979 census only 2% of the South Ossetian population were ethnic Russians while about two thirds were Ossetians. Those 45,000 South Ossetians (which Wikipedia claims had a per capita GDP of only $250 in 2002 - seems too low) could have been bought out and, with their Russian passports, they could have been paid to move into Russia. The Georgian government could have asked for Western aid to pay to buy out whole villages and gradually turn South Ossetia Georgian.

The Baltic states ought to consider buying out their Russian citizens. Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania could avoid future trouble by paying Russians hefty sums of money to leave. Russia has massive open spaces. The influx would not create a strain since Russia is shrinking by 400,000 people per year.

Update: Writing in the Times of London Sally Baker thinks Russia sees its invasion as a way to keep Georgia out of NATO.

Russia is in a determined mood and is actively encouraging secessionists in South Ossetia and the other breakaway region of Abkhazia. It appears that Moscow has calculated that it can destabilise Georgia through such a showdown and there is precious little that the United States can do about it. Moscow’s military intervention will have the dual purpose, it reasons, of creating an unstable Georgia that therefore cannot join Nato and at the same time demonstrating to the West that it has gone too far.

Ukraine wants into NATO too. Will Russia look to destabilize Ukraine by encouraging terrorist attacks or large scale political protests by Russian ethnics in Ukraine?

By Randall Parker 2008 August 17 11:11 AM  Russia
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2008 August 16 Saturday
US Congress Moves Toward Price Controls On Education

The United States government has poured large quantities of money into higher education. As a result prices have risen. Increases in demand often cause prices to rise. Now the morons in the US Congress are going to try to pressure colleges to ignore the extra market demand created by the government.

New legislation, expected to clear the House and Senate after press time on July 31, includes provisions designed to put pressure on colleges, universities, and states to rein in the escalating price of a college education.

The best potential for doing so, some experts say, lies in the searchable college data that the US Department of Education will post online to bring transparency to tuition rates and the "net price" students pay after receiving aid.

One set of lists would spotlight the 5 percent of institutions with the largest percentage tuition increase over the past three years – in categories such as public, private, four-year, and two-year. They would have to report to the Ed Department the reasons for the tuition hikes.

Why not address the costs of higher education by reducing the need for people to go to bricks and mortar 4 year colleges in the first place? The most obvious way to do that is to deliver more course content over the internet and to provide ways to do testing for most subjects over the internet. Recorded lectures and automated testing software could greatly reduce the labor needed to deliver courses. People all over the country or all over the world could watch the same lectures and take the same tests. The cost reductions due to economies of scale will be enormous.

The US Congress wants to force states to keep up college level spending even when recessions happen. Congress does not want cost reductions.

To push states to do their part, the law requires that their higher education funding each year be at least as much as their previous five-year average (excluding capital and research and development). Such "maintenance of effort" provisions are common in K-12, but this sets a new precedent in higher education, Mr. Hartle says.

As the federal government increases student aid, "states should not see that as an opportunity to take their own funding out at the bottom," says Rachel Racusen, spokeswoman for the House Education and Labor Committee. Last fall, Congress provided about $20 billion in federal aid for students over the next five years.

The government aid reduces the incentive to develop lower cost ways of delivering college courses. The US government impedes educational innovation. There's no need for thousands of people every year to deliver first year calculus lectures or lectures on differential and partial differential equations. There's no need for thousands of introductory physics courses or organic chemistry courses or accounting courses. Lectures on these and many other subjects could be delivered over the web for much lower cost.

A more automated electronic approach to education would not just lower costs. It would also provide much greater convenience since people could watch web prerecorded lectures at their own pace and at the times of their choosing.

Update: An article in the Christian Science Monitor focused on the drive of colleges to recruit more students from low income families (in part to get around legal obstacles to the use of racial preferences for blacks and Hispanics) describes efforts by Amherst College to boost enrollment of low-income students. The amazing thing: Amherst claims that it costs $80k to feed, house, and educate each student. This shows how far costs have gotten out of control at colleges.

Some parents wonder if their child might be paying more to subsidize low-income students, Parker says, but that's not the case, because funding for financial aid primarily comes from colleges' endowments. Many donors, in fact, dedicate their endowment gifts to financial aid. Even students who pay the full price of tuition, fees, and room and board – about $47,000 – aren't paying the full amount it costs for the college to house and educate each student, which adds up to nearly $80,000.

That number shows why automated education is the solution. More subsidies for colleges will just further bloat their already bloated cost structures.

Update: I've been arguing for years that automated delivery of standard tests across the internet could enable testing and teaching to be sold as separate services and that this could cut enormously cut the costs of education while making it more convenient and tailored to individual needs. Charles Murray has now written a book entitled Real Education: Four Simple Truths for Bringing America's Schools Back to Reality where Murray makes the case for certified examines to demonstrate subject mastery modeled after the CPA examination.

The model is the CPA exam that qualifies certified public accountants. The same test is used nationwide. It is thorough -- four sections, timed, totaling 14 hours. A passing score indicates authentic competence (the pass rate is below 50%). Actual scores are reported in addition to pass/fail, so that employers can assess where the applicant falls in the distribution of accounting competence. You may have learned accounting at an anonymous online university, but your CPA score gives you a way to show employers you're a stronger applicant than someone from an Ivy League school.

The merits of a CPA-like certification exam apply to any college major for which the BA is now used as a job qualification. To name just some of them: criminal justice, social work, public administration and the many separate majors under the headings of business, computer science and education. Such majors accounted for almost two-thirds of the bachelor's degrees conferred in 2005. For that matter, certification tests can be used for purely academic disciplines. Why not present graduate schools with certifications in microbiology or economics -- and who cares if the applicants passed the exam after studying in the local public library?

Certification tests need not undermine the incentives to get a traditional liberal-arts education. If professional and graduate schools want students who have acquired one, all they need do is require certification scores in the appropriate disciplines. Students facing such requirements are likely to get a much better liberal education than even our most elite schools require now.

Read the full article for more details. This approach would provide many advantages. For example, a smart adolescent kid in a rural town bored out of his mind in grade school and high school (I'm thinking of my childhood) could watch lectures on the internet and study and then take tests to start earning certificates of mastery of subjects years before graduating from high school. State governments could fund the recording of lectures at state colleges to make them freely downloadable (or charge a fee) so that someone could watch all the courses in a college without ever setting foot on a bricks and mortar campus.

People could pace their own education. If you wanted to learn at a very fast rate you could watch all the courses in a year of organic chemistry in a couple of weeks of very long hours of watching. Or you could watch every lecture produced by a big college history department in several months of long hours. Or you could spend a couple of months watching nursing lectures to help you decide whether you wanted to become a nurse.

Bricks and mortar colleges and universities will still survive as research centers and also for teaching advanced subjects that are constantly changing. But we currently employ easily an order of magnitude more people in higher education than would be needed if we embraced recorded lectures and certificate exams for most subjects.

By Randall Parker 2008 August 16 10:27 PM  Education
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David Remnick On Russian View Of West And Georgia

Writing in The New Yorker David Remnick usefully tries to look at the events in the Caucasus from Vladimir Putin's perspective.

Taken individually, the West’s actions since the collapse of the Soviet Union—from the inclusion of the Baltic and the Central European states in NATO to the recognition of Kosovo as an independent state—can be rationalized on strategic and moral grounds. But taken together these actions were bound to engender deep-seated feelings of national resentment among Russians, especially as, through the nineteen-nineties, they suffered an unprecedentedly rapid downward spiral. Even ordinary Russians find it mightily trying to be lectured on questions of sovereignty and moral diplomacy by the West, particularly the United States, which, even before Iraq, had a long history of foreign intervention, overt and covert—politics by other means. After the exposure of the Bush Administration’s behavior prior to the invasion of Iraq and its unapologetic use of torture, why would any leader, much less Putin, respond to moral suasion from Washington? That is America’s tragedy, and the world’s.

Imagine that Georgian President Saakashvili was a KGB plant. He couldn't have done a better job than what he did of giving Putin's gang an excuse to solidify their hold on South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Saakashvili was like a bull who saw red as Russian and South Ossetian puppeteers provoked the Georgian response that gave Putin the opening he was looking for.

There is little doubt that the Georgian President, Mikheil Saakashvili, provided Putin with his long-awaited casus belli when he ordered the shelling of South Ossetia, on August 7th. But Putin’s war, of course, is not about the splendors of South Ossetia, a duchy run by the Russian secret service and criminal gangs. It is a war of demonstration. Putin is demonstrating that he is willing to use force; that he is unwilling to let Georgia and Ukraine enter NATO without exacting a severe price; and that he views the United States as hypocritical, overextended, distracted, and reluctant to make good on its protective assurances to the likes of Georgia.

Putin's demonstration war should be treated as a wake-up call for European economies increasingly dependent on Russian oil and gas exports. Europe needs nuclear, wind, and solar energy in order to free itself from dependence on the KGB alumni who run Russia.

Remnick finds the rhetoric that compares Putin to Stalin and Hitler as overblown and not useful. I agree. We would do a much better job of understanding the world if we didn't limit ourselves to so much repeated use of the same small bag of World War II analogies. Human history is long and vast and full many many subtleties. Remnick says that the game Putin is playing is subtle. Our response should be subtle, clever, and wise.

But how high are the stakes? I doubt Russia will be able to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO. Also, I do not expect Russia to try to invade any NATO countries. So the stakes seem limited to the Caucasus. Russia might get some more oil profits in the future since any new oil pipeline through Georgia will be seen as too risky to construct. But what else does Russia gain? A greater feeling of pride, of having power that the Russians can exercise.

But Georgia isn't the only economy that now suffers from a risk premium as a result of the war between Georgia and Russia. Russia itself has a bigger risk premium for investments in part due to the events in Georgia but also because of the way the Russian government puts the squeeze on foreign investors in the oil industry. Russia is a dangerous place to invest where the government is not seen as an impartial arbiter in commercial disputes.

Russia's recent gains in the Caucasus will matter little in the long run. Russian power is set to decline for both demographic and energy related reasons. First off, Russia's population is shrinking by about 400,000 per year with some projections putting Russian population below 110 million by 2050, Muslim ethnicities within Russian borders are making more babies than ethnicities that are non-Muslims, and Russian oil production is near peak and might already be in a permanent decline.

Russia's turn-around since bottoming out around 1998 has been based largely on commodities, most importantly, oil and natural gas. Russia's industrial sector outside of the extractive industries shows few signs of positive developments. Unless Russia can find a lot of oil offshore in the Arctic what we are witnessing right now is probably the peak of power for post-Soviet Russia.

By Randall Parker 2008 August 16 06:58 PM  Russia
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2008 August 15 Friday
Russian General Threatens To Nuke Poland

Poland and America just signed a deal to place anti-missile defenses in Poland. Russia's response? The Russian military's deputy chief of staff threatened to nuke Poland.

Only 24 hours after the weapons agreement was signed Russia's deputy chief of staff warned Poland "is exposing itself to a strike 100 per cent".

General Anatoly Nogovitsyn said that any new US assets in Europe could come under Russian nuclear attack with his forces targeting "the allies of countries having nuclear weapons".

He told Russia's Interfax news agency: "By hosting these, Poland is making itself a target. This is 100 per cent certain. It becomes a target for attack. Such targets are destroyed as a first priority."

The Russian leaders haven't let feminism dampen their masculine ardor.

Russian homies feel disrespected.

Russia’s military offensive into Georgia has shattered, perhaps irrevocably, the strategy of three successive presidential administrations to coax Russia into alliance with the West and integration into its institutions.

From Russia’s point of view, those efforts were never truly sincere or respectful of its own legitimate political and security interests. Those interests, it is now clear, are at odds with those of Europe and the United States.

Been having retro feelings? Want to drive an old car? Maybe see Dr. Strangelove on DVD? These UN Security Council scenes seem like the good old days of the Cold War.

The United Nations Security Council has reverted to a cold-war-like stalemate, with American and Russian vetoes blocking meaningful action over Georgia and other issues.

I like a stalemated UN Security Council. World government is a bad idea. Russia's votes on the Security Council remind us that world government amounts to government by less free nations.

The Russian military moves in Georgia serve as a useful reminder: The world is not a nice place. Progress isn't inevitable. Democracy with limited government and freedom is not on the march.

But the Russian moves also make a lot of sense: Non-Georgians didn't want to be ruled by Georgians. Ethnic groups didn't want to be ruled by other ethnic groups. The US government backed this desire in the case of Kosovo. But in the case of the South Ossetians the US government backs the right of the government of Georgia to rule Ossetians (and also backs the right of Israeli Jews to rule Palestinians).

What else is interesting in all this? President Mikhail Saakashvili was dumb enough to invade South Ossetia and give the Russians the excuse they were looking for to invade Georgia. You might wonder: how did such a fool become President of Georgia? Well, billionaire George Soros put up the money that funded Saakashvili's path to power.

A year after he was made justice minister, he resigned, declaring that Mr. Shevardnadze was complicit in the criminality bedevilling Georgia.

In opposition, he caught the eye of George Soros, the American billionaire and philanthropist who had initially become involved in Georgia at Mr. Shevardnadze's request. Mr. Soros also had become irritated by the Silver Fox's go-slow approach, and he decided that Mr. Saakashvili was the embodiment of Georgia's future.

The Soros foundations began pouring millions of dollars into organizations that were nominally interested in free media and democracy building but mainly served to undermine Mr. Shevardnadze's rule and push for Mr. Saakashvili to succeed him (including the youth movement Kmara, which would provide the backbone of the protests during the Rose Revolution).

Soros bears part of the responsibility for this disaster.

By Randall Parker 2008 August 15 11:09 PM  Russia
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Actuaries Call For Raising Age On Social Security Retirement

The age of eligibility for retirement with government funded pension should be raised.

Last week the American Academy of Actuaries issued a rare "public interest" statement advocating raising Social Security's age when an eligible retiree receives full pension benefits another two years to 69. (A 1983 law boosted the age gradually from 65 to 67.)

An increase in retirement age delivers a double benefit. First off, people start collecting later and so they collect less money total. Second, since they work longer they pay more in taxes.

"Holding the retirement age constant is a certain prescription for future financial problems," the 16,000-member academy stated. "Raising it to reflect increasing longevity would contribute to solving those problems."

Such a change would be equivalent to about a 14 percent average cut in Social Security retirement benefits.

For a few reasons I think the US government's Social Security old age retirement entitlement program is in worse shape than the actuaries imagine. First off, other demographic changes will lower the earning potential of younger generations. Less earnings means less taxes collected to pay for the retirees. Peak Oil will also cut economic growth and declining oil production will cause a long recession when the oil decline really starts to bite. So the revenue expectations for Social Security seem excessively optimistic to me.

Third, advances in medicine will raise life expectancies a lot faster than the actuaries assume. The advances in microfluidics, stem cell research, gene therapy, and other areas of biotechnology are going to lead to the ability to replace and repair old body parts. Full body rejuvenation will become possible at some point in the 21st century. We will accelerate past the historic rate of life expectancy advance as new treatments reverse the changes caused by aging.

By Randall Parker 2008 August 15 11:08 PM  Economics Demographic
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2008 August 14 Thursday
Upper Classes Pulling Ahead On School Test Scores In Britain

A big British Labour government spending program to raise student performance in government funded schools is failing to close the gap with private schools.

A-level results published on Thursday reveal record numbers of sixth-formers gained top grades this year. Fewer than three in every 100 exams was failed as the pass rate rose for the 26th year in a row and for the first time more than half of entries were awarded A or B grades.

Perhaps this result comes as a consequence of more mating between people of similar intellectual abilities and personality types. Greater mobility and greater education of smarter women puts smarter women and smarter men more in each other's company.

Despite a £28 billion-a-year increase in education spending under Labour, analysis of the results shows improvements are driven almost entirely by the success of the independent sector and selective grammar schools.

Figures published by the Joint Council for Qualifications showed the gulf between private schools and comprehensives widened over the last six years - just as Labour's education reforms should have been paying dividends.

I like the "should have been paying dividends". Why? Why expect more money spent on education to raise student performance? Hope springs eternal. But reality suggests this expectation is very unrealistic.

The smarter upper class folks who make enough money to pay for private education are having smarter kids (the apple doesn't fall far from the genetic tree) and those kids are pulling ahead of the dumber masses.

The independent sector saw a 9.1 percentage point increase in the number of A grades awarded between 2002 and 2008 - from 41.3 per cent to 50.4 per cent. Over the same period, top grades in comprehensives increased by 3.9 points to 20.4 per cent.

I see a ray of hope in all this. The smarties are managing to separate their kids from the dumber masses and not letting foolish and wrong egalitarian educational ideals from holding back the intellectual development of their children.

By Randall Parker 2008 August 14 09:30 PM  Education
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2008 August 13 Wednesday
Fear Of High Gasoline Prices Peaks?

$4 gasoline is not enough to scare everyone into compact cars and hybrids.

"In May, June and July, people were just stunned" by $4 gas, says Jeremy Anwyl, CEO of Edmunds.com. Now, "It's kind of a return to rationality, where the singular fixation on fuel economy is gone. As people think things through clearly and a little more calmly, they'll make different decisions."

...

In June, 31.4% of recent new car buyers surveyed said the purchase was motivated by a desire for better gas mileage, Acxiom says. That's up from 21.1% in February, but still less than a third of buyers. There is "not this huge flood to one segment in the auto industry," says Tim Longnecker of Acxiom's automotive practice. "There's still going to be this huge desire for utility."

People need to learn the hard way. There will be corrections in oil prices during the big march to higher prices. But future rallies will take oil to much higher price points and future spikes will force a larger fraction of the driving population toward the most efficient vehicles.

By Randall Parker 2008 August 13 11:03 PM  Economics Energy
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Whites Become Minority In America In 2042

Hispanic children will exceed white children in number.

Minorities, about one-third of the U.S. population, are expected to become a majority by 2042 and be 54 percent of U.S. residents by 2050.

The shift will happen sooner among children, 44 percent of whom are minority. By 2023, more than half are expected to be minority, and by 2050, the proportion will be 62 percent.

The largest share of children, 39 percent, is projected to be Hispanic, followed by non-Hispanic whites (38 percent), African Americans (11 percent) and Asians (6 percent).

The academic performance of Hispanics is so far below whites that basically America is dumbing down. The economic effects of this trend will become more pronounced with time.

A larger fraction of whites will be pulled into jobs such as medicine that involve servicing other groups that do not produce as many people skilled enough to do those jobs. That pulls skilled people away from wealth-producing jobs such as engineering, software development, and management of industrial enterprises. This will cause per capita incomes to stagnate and decline.

By Randall Parker 2008 August 13 10:45 PM  Immigration Demographics
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2008 August 11 Monday
Muslim Honor Killings Come To US, Canada, And Britain

Muslim honor killings of daughters came to Georgia last month.

A Pakistani immigrant who strangled his daughter because she wanted to end her arranged marriage did it because she "would disgrace the family," according to an arrest warrant.

Chaudhry Rashid, 56, of Jonesboro, told police he is Muslim and that extramarital affairs and divorce are against his religion. That's why he killed her, the Clayton County arrest warrant says.

In court this week Rashid said, "I have done nothing wrong."

This is nature's way of telling you to keep Muslims out of your country. Pakistan only got around to pretending to treat honor killing as a crime in 2004.

Pakistan passed a law in 2004 banning honor killings, but the practice hasn't slowed, according to a United Nations committee charged with promoting women's rights. Honor killings stem more from tribal traditions and are not supported by religious doctrine.

John P. Avlon argues that in multi-cultie America it takes the death of a blonde girl to get people upset. The murders of Muslim girls don't create cable TV feeding frenzies.

When a blonde girl goes missing, cable networks stop in their tracks - but when a Muslim woman is murdered by her father, there's not a ripple of sustained interest. Where's the outrage?

Maybe it's muted because we've grown reluctant to pass judgment on other culture's customs - but multiculturalism hits a crossroads when honor killings come to America.

But our lefties will just wave those foreign culturalists through any crossroads and tell them to keep driving into the heartland - and build a mosque to show your foreignness. CNN created a new segment on Muslim honor killings without mentioning Islam.

Quite a feat: CNN has pulled off the MSM equivalent of describing a spiral staircase without using one's hands. It has managed to produce a segment on "honor killings" and related violence in the UK . . . without using the word "Muslim" or "Islam."

Jeff Jacoby points to other recent honor killings and attempted killings in America.

In Upstate New York a few weeks earlier, Waheed Allah Mohammad, an immigrant from Afghanistan, was charged with attempted murder after repeatedly stabbing his 19-year-old sister. The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reported that Mohammad was "infuriated because his younger sister was going to clubs, wearing immodest clothing, and planning to leave her family for a new life in New York City" - she was a "bad Muslim girl," he told sheriff's investigators.

The honor killings range from Texas to north of the US border up in Ontario Canada.

On New Year’s Day 2008, in Lewisville Texas, teenage sisters Sarah and Amina Said were shot to death in a taxi — allegedly by their Egyptian Muslim father, a taxi driver who was charged with the murders and who remains at large.

The reported motive? The girls had dated non-Muslim boys.

A month earlier, across the border in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, 16-year-old Aqsa Parvez was strangled to death by her Pakistani father, for refusing to wear the hijab or head scarf. She was also “guilty” of changing into Western clothes once she got to school.

Muslims aren't content to only repress their women. Muslim governments are trying to make it a violation of international law to criticize Islam.

Canada’s Maclean’s magazine (involved in another controversial human rights case that I wrote about here and here) has published an extensive article detailing the “remarkably successful” campaign to make “defamation of religions” a violation of international law. (H/t: Volokh Conspiracy)

Led by the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), a Saudi-funded international body made up of 56 Islamic states from around the globe, the push seeks to empower all governments to punish citizens who “defame” any religion — particularly Islam.

With 56 Islamic states already we should draw the line and prevent the infiltration of Islam into still more countries.

By Randall Parker 2008 August 11 10:52 PM  Immigration Culture Clash
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Housing Boom Caused By Flight From Illegal Immigration?

Steve Sailer sees illegal immigration as a big driver of the housing boom that recently crashed.

Similarly, in trying to explain this decade's socioeconomic logic, you end up with thought processes like this:

Q. Why did we need so many illegal immigrants?

A. To build all those McMansions out in the distant exurbs.

Q. Yes, but why did so many Americans want to move to the exurbs?

A. To escape all the illegal aliens flooding their neighborhoods and schools.

Q. Okay, so then why did we need so many illegal aliens?

A. To build all those McMansions out in the distant exurbs.

Everything just spins around and around, like those chrome wheel rims, those insanely expensive hubcaps that were the signature useless extravagance of this decade.

But now that the boom has crashed in part due to rising fuel prices Americans are becoming less able to move away from poor criminals and poorly performing schools overrun by our imported and growing lower classes. The coming world decline in oil production is going to force our middle class back toward cities. I'm expecting a new boom in building jails as the new form of construction aimed at allowing the middle and upper middle classes to live near cities. Also, home schooling and private schooling will become more popular. Though even at $10 per gallon some will find commuting from distant suburbs cheaper than private school tuition. The more kids you have the more a Prius and gasoline make sense as a way to escape cities and near suburbs. People with school age kids will be most reluctant to abandon the exurbs.

By Randall Parker 2008 August 11 10:39 PM  Immigration Economics
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2008 August 10 Sunday
East Hampton NY Symbolizes American Decay

A town with a huge concentration of wealthy summer residents is deeply in debt. Just like America.

East Hampton, one of the main towns on the eastern end of Long Island that make up the Hamptons, is burdened with a deficit that could exceed $12 million. And that has become a rich source of irony, given the community's spectacular wealth and its concentration of Wall Street money-management talent.

The United States as a whole has a deficit of about a half trillion dollars.

East Hampton has a demographic profile that billionaires love. Half the workers are illegal immigrants below the poverty line. The wealthy are getting domestic help as cheap as it can come within the borders of America.

East Hampton — which includes such hamlets as Montauk and Amangansett and parts of Sag Harbor — has about 21,000 year-round residents, but its population can swell to 80,000 or 90,000 in the summer, when the haves and the have-mores show up. "There really are two Hamptons," said McGintee's predecessor, Jay Schneiderman. "The disparity between rich and poor is probably unmatched anywhere in the world. You have the heads of multinational corporations, billionaires, but of the year-round population, half the work force are undocumented immigrants living below the poverty level."

This is the America of our future unless we stop the influx of Third World immigrants and unless we stop running massive budget and trade deficits.

By Randall Parker 2008 August 10 04:54 PM  Civilizations Decay
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Sudan Exports Food While Darfur Refugees Starve

The Sudanese government is engaged in a multi-billion dollar program to grow food for export while the people in Darfur starve.

ED DAMER, Sudan — Even as it receives a billion pounds of free food from international donors, Sudan is growing and selling vast quantities of its own crops to other countries, capitalizing on high global food prices at a time when millions of people in its war-riddled region of Darfur barely have enough to eat.

Why should we effectively subsidize a country that has decided to starve a portion of its population? I can think of other ways to deal with the situation. For example, Western diplomats could propose to spin off Darfur into a separate country with the argument that the Sudanese government has decided that it does not want the Darfur populace anyway.

This question is part of a bigger issue illustrated by Bosnia and Kosovo in the former Yugoslavia and South Ossetia in Georgia: should ethnic conflicts compel redrawing lines of sovereignty? The US government seems to oppose this when it sees advantage in opposing redrawn lines but at the same time it favors the redrawing when policy makers see some sort of advantage for perceived US interests. Though the policy makers are often not good at calculating US interests.

We send Sudan sorghum at considerable expense and they export a similar quanity of sorghum. Why not just buy the sorghum in Sudan and ship that sorghum into Darfur?

Take sorghum, a staple of the Sudanese diet, typically eaten in flat, spongy bread. Last year, the United States government, as part of its response to the emergency in Darfur, shipped in 283,000 tons of sorghum, at high cost, from as far away as Houston. Oddly enough, that is about the same amount that Sudan exported, according to United Nations officials. This year, Sudanese companies, including many that are linked to the government in Khartoum, are on track to ship out twice that amount, even as the United Nations is being forced to cut rations to Darfur.

The higher Sudanese sorghum output suggests they have plenty to sell to aid agencies. But the aid agencies say the Sudanese can make more money selling to Arab countries. The Arabs provide the money for agricultural investments to put more land under plow. The Nile provides the water. Does the US subsidize its sales of sorghum to aid agencies? I do not understand why US sorghum should be cheaper. Maybe the Sudanese quote a higher price to the aid agencies than what they sell for to Arab Muslim countries?

Getting aid through to the refugees is becoming more difficult.

That leaves the United Nations and Western aid groups feeding more than three million Darfurians. But the lifeline is fraying. Security is deteriorating. Aid trucks are getting hijacked nearly every day and deliveries are being made less and less frequently. The result: less food and soaring malnutrition rates, particularly among children.

Sudan's 40 million population is growing at over 2% per year. While 70% are Sunni Muslim the CIA World Factbook puts Sudan at only 39% Arab. So a substantial fraction of the blacks are Muslim as well. If we supplied and promoted birth control device usage in Sudan then we could reduce the hunger problem. Though that would probably not make the Sudanese government any more accepting of Christian and animist black Africans within the sovereign borders of Sudan.

By Randall Parker 2008 August 10 01:27 PM  Ethnic Conflict
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2008 August 09 Saturday
Can Obama Laugh At Himself?

A commenter on the Ann Althouse blog named Revenant answers a question someone else raised.

Can Obama laugh at himself?

Of course not. That would be racist.

Via Lexington Green of the Chicago Boyz.

The prospect of an Obama presidency has brought us into a season where lots of claims are flying around that this or that statement by McCain supporters is racist. The claims of racism have reached parody level. This reminds me of the feminist hysterics during the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearing. One could not tell it at the time but it marked a peak in feminist influence in deciding what what constitutes unfair sexism. The more doctrinaire feminists so overreached that when they subsequently defended Clinton's behavior toward Monica Lewinsky and other women they seriously undermined their credibility.

We might be headed into a period where the liberal press will get into such a frenzy looking for imagined racial slights that people will become desensitized to claims of racism. Almost all American presidencies in recent decades have ended in great disappointment. When that disappointment gets strong enough in Obama's case the very technique he and his supporters have used to defend him against critics - label much criticism as racism - will undermine and discredit that technique.

Since an Obama presidency won't be able to substantially improve the economic and social standing of blacks versus whites, south Asians, and East Asians the bitterness at the end of the Obama presidency will be felt most severely among the blacks who support him 9 to 1.

As Stanley Kurtz points out race is central to Obama's thinking.

Any rounded treatment of Obama's early political career has got to give prominence to the issue of race. Obama has recently made efforts to preemptively blunt discussion of the race issue, warning that his critics will highlight the fact that he is African American. Yet the question of race plays so large a role in Obama's own thought and action that it is all but impossible to discuss his political trajectory without acknowledging the extent to which it engrosses him. Obama settled in Chicago with the declared intention of "organizing black folks." His first book is subtitled "A Story of Race and Inheritance," and his second book contains an important chapter on race. On his return to Chicago in 1991, Obama practiced civil rights law and for many years taught a seminar on racism and law at the University of Chicago. When he entered the Illinois senate, it was to represent the heavily (although not exclusively) minority 13th district on the South Side of Chicago. Indeed, race functions for Obama as a kind of master-category, pervading and organizing a wide array of issues that many Americans may not think of as racial at all. Understanding Obama's thinking on race, for example, is a prerequisite to grasping his views on spending and taxation. Thus, we have no alternative but to puzzle out the place of race in Obama's broader political outlook as well as in his legislative career.

When it comes to issues like affirmative action and set-asides, Obama is anything but the post-racial politician he's sometimes made out to be. Take set-asides. In 1998, Obama endorsed Democratic gubernatorial hopeful John Schmidt, stressing to the Defender Schmidt's past support for affirmative action and set-asides. Although Obama was generally pleased by the U.S. Supreme Court's 2003 acceptance of racial preferences at the University of Michigan, he underscored the danger that Republican-appointed justices might someday overturn the ruling. The day after the Michigan decision, Obama honored the passing of former Atlanta mayor Maynard Jackson Jr., eulogizing Jackson for creating model affirmative action and set-aside programs that spread across the nation.

In 2004, a U.S. District Court disallowed the ordinance under which Chicago required the use of at least 25 percent minority business enterprises and 5 percent women's business enterprises on city-funded projects. In the immediate aftermath of the ruling, Obama and Jesse Jackson were among the prominent voices calling for a black leadership summit to plot strategy for a restoration of Chicago's construction quotas. Obama and his allies succeeded in bringing back race-based contracting.

When you make Americans think about a topic a great deal then they will change their minds - and not always in ways that the promoters of the topic intended.

Update: Ross Douthat observes yet more manifestations of Obamamania and insanity in the liberal media.

And speaking of the rapture ... actually, no, I don't think I have much to say about this nonsense, except that the people who think Obama might be the Antichrist and the people who think the McCain campaign is cannily designing its campaign ads to exploit fears that Obama might be the Antichrist deserve each other. (The difference, of course, is that the former group consists of minor-league kooks, obscure bloggers and chain-email peddlers, whereas the latter consists of Democratic strategists and writers for Time Magazine - the same Time, one might note, that has not once but twice put Barack Obama on its cover with a halo around his head.)

A halo! Twice already. This illustrates a double standard of the liberal media. They'll promote Obama to an absurd degree and then overreact when fringe critics with very small platforms use opposing imagery that is also very unrealistic.

By Randall Parker 2008 August 09 10:53 PM  Politics Ethnicity
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John Edwards Private Life Fair Game?

On Slate E.J. Graff complains about the media coverage of the John Edwards affair. Er, complaining about it is itself coverage.

I am incredibly annoyed that we have to waste any air, print, or pixel time on this. Why do I care about some dude's marriage and marital problemsunless he did something that in any way abuses public power? Comstockery, as I wrote in CJR once upon a time. Celebtainment and domestic voyeurism disguised as politics.

I just don't care what politicians do with their zippers, so long as their policies and votes are in order.

But the coverage is there because lots of people eat up this sort of thing. So Graff is really complaining about the public. Also, read the last sentence above carefully. A lot of Democrats were willing to defend Bill Clinton against assorted attacks based on his sexual escapades. But a fair number of them will attack a Republican on the same sorts of private activities because, well, in the minds of the attackers those Republicans do not have their policies and votes in order. So I'm skeptical when Democrats claim that private lives should not matter.

In the very next blog post on Slate Hanna Rosin argues basically that once people open up their private lives in order to promote themselves whatever happens in their private lives becomes fair game.

I find this Elizabeth Edwards post on Daily Kos excruciating. We are supposed to ride with this couple through her cancer diagnosis and relapse, through their son's death, their fertility treatments, and the rededication of their marriage, but then we are supposed to butt the hell out when the story line veers from the tragedy and heroics. If you believe in a system, you have to live and die by it. Elizabeth Edwards buys into the culture of overconfession.

I'd love to see politicians not use their families as props. But politicians trot out their families and use stories from their past because it works. One reason for this is that people want to look at the families of politicians as a way to help form a judgment about the whole person. Another reason is that a large fraction of the voters are pretty shallow in how they appraise candidates. Watching a political couple get interviewed on Larry King Live is as easy as watching Oprah. No need to think difficult thoughts about foreign countries or economics or the real causes of poverty.

There's an old say "He who lives by the sword dies by the sword". That's certainly the case with the political career of John Edwards.

Update: My assumption is that all Slate writers are Democrats. Maybe they have a house Republican. I don't know. But my guess is that Melinda Henneberger is a Democrat too. Well, Melinda's got zippo sympathy for Edwards.

When Elizabeth waited to tell you that she had a lump in her breast the size of a golf ball because she swore to God after Wade died she'd never give you any bad news ever again ... your way of repaying her was with the news you'd betrayed her, Cate, Wade's memory, and the babies she gladly took dangerous hormones to conceive? Got it.

Oh, and just one more: Remember all those holier-than-Bill Clinton remarks? So do I. If you think anyone in the universe believes your beyond Clinton-esque "I was standing on one foot when we did it so it doesn't count'' nonsense, or cares whether you used the L-word, or trusts for a single segundo that you're not the baby daddy? I think you're about to find out how cold it can get in summer, senator.

What I want to know: Where did the money come from to run the cover-up and support the mom and baby? I saw a tabloid publisher claiming it came from a big campaign donor. Do some of the people who invest in candidates lay out big money to cover up scandals? How far does this sort of thing reach and how much influence does this give the donors?

By Randall Parker 2008 August 09 09:33 AM  Media Critique
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Iraq Government Wants US Troops Out In 2 Years

Even if John McCain wins the Presidency US troops are probably going to leave Iraq in a couple of years.

BAGHDAD (AP) | Iraq and the U.S. are near an agreement on all American combat troops leaving Iraq by October 2010, with the last soldiers out three years after that, two Iraqi officials said Thursday. U.S. officials, however, insisted no dates had been agreed upon.

How can we possibly ignore the demands of the democratically elected Jeffersonian freedom loving government of Iraq?

By Randall Parker 2008 August 09 12:15 AM  Mideast Iraq Exit Debate
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2008 August 06 Wednesday
Muslim Holiday Replaces Labor Day In Tennessee Plant

Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies reports that a union in Tennessee has replaced Labor Day with the Muslim Eid al Fitr as a holiday.

The union at Tyson's Shelbyville, Tenn., chicken plant has negotiated a new contract that adds Eid al Fitr as a paid holiday for all employees, and drops Labor Day. A few observations: First, just complaining about illegal immigration won't do — this change was made to accommodate Somali and other Muslim (legally admitted) refugees, sought out by Tyson (and other meatpackers) as an alternative to illegal Hispanic workers.

Second, this is just another example of the conflict between mass immigration and modern society, specifically in this case, modern elites' unwillingness to require newcomers to conform to our ways, and instead conforming to theirs. And finally, the irony of a labor union dispensing with Labor Day just underlines my contention that the unspoken motto of the Left is immigration uber alles — there's no interest or constituency that the Left won't abandon if it conflicts with open borders.

Are we ruled by wimps, pussies, and fools? It sometimes seems that way. An earlier era America wouldn't have put up with this b.s.

Our problem with immigration is not just restricted to illegal immigration. Legal immigration can be just as destructive as illegal immigration. But most destructive of all: the beliefs that make this sort of nonsense possible.

It is not too late to turn back the clock. Spain is now paying some immigrants to leave.

In Spain, where legal immigrants alone make up nearly 9 percent of the population, Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero surprised many at the start of his second term this spring by directing an about-face of his administration's previously lenient immigration policies.

In June, just three years after authorizing a mass legalization of 750,000 undocumented workers, Mr. Zapatero expressed support for the EU's Return Directive – a policy that allows member states to hold undocumented migrants, including minors, for up to 18 months, and, if deported, bans them from returning.

Faced with a 10.7 percent unemployment rate, Zapatero's new labor minister has announced a plan that would pay jobless immigrants to return to their home countries.

This is not an original idea.

By Randall Parker 2008 August 06 09:33 PM  Immigration Culture Clash
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2008 August 04 Monday
Illegal Immigrant Backlash In Italy Against Gypsies

The Italian military has been sent into the streets to cut down on crime in Italy.

ROME — Soldiers were deployed throughout Italy on Monday to embassies, subway and railway stations, as part of broader government measures to fight violent crime here for which illegal immigrants are broadly blamed.

By the time it is fully effective next week, the effort will flank regular police officers and the military police with 3,000 troops, a visible signal to citizens that the government “has responded to their demands for greater security,” Defense Minister Ignazio La Russa said in an interview on the Italian Sky News channel.

The Italian government is conducting a census of the Gypsies.

Italy has also started a controversial census of Roma which involved the fingerprinting and photographing of all adults and children over 14 years old.

Roma - sometimes referred to as gypsies - are often blamed in Italy for the rising crime rate across the country and in recent weeks camps in Naples and Rome have been targeted in arson attacks.

In May an alleged Gypsy attempt to steal a baby resulted in vigilante groups in Naples chasing Gypsies out of town.

The incidents in Naples began when a 16-year-old Roma girl was caught inside an apartment last weekend, allegedly trying to steal a six-month-old baby girl.

Her arrest has sparked two days of bitter protests.

On Wednesday night, vigilante groups in the suburb of Ponticelli took to the streets chasing the Roma out of two squatter camps.

Molotov cocktails were thrown into makeshift huts as the Roma fled for the local police station. When they had gone, the two camps were torched.

Dublin Ireland has Gypsy troubles. The collapse of the Soviet bloc has released gypsies into Western Europe and Gypsy crime has predictably resulted in backlashes that are politically incorrect by American standards.

A recent arrival of a bunch of illegal immigrants (mostly from Africa) by boat shows that Italy's illegal immigrant problem goes well beyond the Gypsies.

Some 800 immigrants arrived in Southern Italy on Thursday (31 July), just a few days after the country declared a national state of emergency over what it describes as the "exceptional and persistent influx" of irregular immigrants.

A boat with some 400 hundred people on board was guided by Italian Coast Guard officers into the port of Lampedusa – a small island south of the Italian mainland, the Associated Press reports.

Subsequently, a series of smaller boats bearing some 400 additional people were intercepted by the Coast Guard, bringing the total number of detainees to 876, according to Italian news agency Adnkronos.

Some governments of Europe are cracking down on illegal immigrants much more aggressively than the US government has so far. But since Obama just caved on offshore drilling I figure there's a chance we can pressure him into tougher immigration restriction measures as well.

Update: Go read Stephen Browne's Rants and Raves blog post about Gypsies.

By Randall Parker 2008 August 04 10:18 PM  Immigration Crime
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2008 August 03 Sunday
How Many Viewers On Hit Chinese TV Shows?

The satirical web site The Onion draws attention to China's enormous population with an article about a Chinese TV show that failed since it had only 180 million viewers.

BEIJING—Hijinx Of The Masses, a Chinese sitcom about 16 twentysomethings who live above a tea shop, was canceled Monday after the series premiere was only able to draw a disappointing 180 million viewers.

I was recently watching a real lecture by a UC Berkeley prof of mechanical engineering and he mentioned that China now has more commercial building space than the United States. China is rapidly growing past the US by many measures and will continue to do so by many other measures.

By Randall Parker 2008 August 03 12:32 AM  China
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2008 August 02 Saturday
China Nears US In Number Of Physics Papers Published

China continues its rapid ascent toward displacing the United States as most powerful country in the world.

Judged by the astonishing increase in journal papers written by scientists in China, there can be little doubt that China is finding its place as one of the world's scientific power houses. Michael Banks, Physics World's News Editor, quantifies this surge in scientific output from China and asks whether quality matches quantity in August's Physics World.

Nanoscience, quantum computing and high-temperature superconductivity are three of the cutting-edge areas of physics that have seen particularly large increases. Published journal articles in nanoscience, for example, with at least one co-author based in China, have seen a 10-fold increase since the beginning of the millennium, rising to more than 10,500 in 2007.

China has already overtaken the UK and Germany in the number of physics papers published and is beginning to nip at the heels of the United States. If China's output continues to increase at its current pace, the country will be publishing more articles in physics - and indeed all of science - than the US by 2012.

Quantity alone however is not enough. The number of times a journal paper is cited by other academics in their own journal papers is often used as a guide to journal papers' quality. Unfortunately for China, they are currently a long way from the national citation top spot, ranked in 65th for physics, just ahead of Kuwait, with an average of 4.12 citations for each of the papers published.

As China has only just started to publish large volumes of work, it is not a fair reflection. Werner Marx, an information scientist from the Max Planck Institute for Solid State Research in Stuttgart, Germany, who carried out a bibliometric study for the Physics World article, said, "The figure is still quite impressive, and I estimate this will rise substantially in the next few years."

We are going to witness a big downturn in American exceptionalism rhetoric as China surpasses the United States as top in science, technology, total economic output, and many other measures. Both the Left and Right in America are in for a rude awakening as this happens. The argument that liberalism is one right way to organize a society is going to take some heavy hits as rather illiberal China becomes the dominant power and many societies try to ape China rather than the United States. Liberal Manifest Destiny isn't going to happen.

By Randall Parker 2008 August 02 08:55 PM  China
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John Zogby Confuses Novelty With Positive Change

John Zogby believes this election is historical. But I think Zogby confuses the novel with the good.

But think about it, a young African-American (with roots in Kenya, Indonesia, Hawaii and Kansas, certainly not the path taken by Chester A. Arthur or Calvin Coolidge) defeated a woman senator (from New York, Arkansas, Illinois and Washington, D.C.) for the Democratic nomination for the presidency of the United States.

And he is running against a 72-year-old former prisoner of war, who was tortured for five-and-a-half years.

Think about it. This is history. I have written before about the other historical aspects of the 2008 election-change like 1932 and 1980-but when the votes are finally tallied, records will be set, adding to records already established during the primary season.

So what does this tell us about ourselves? In short, Americans are ready for change, even if it means the oldest man ever elected to a first term or an African-American candidate. This election is very much the story of the maturing of a people.

Do these two choices show wisdom on the part of the electorate? Obama seems like a standard left-liberal with the added racial element to make him seem novel and a change. But the racial element is in large part a distraction from his liberal agenda. As for McCain's former POW status: I do not see how this somehow compensates for his aged brain, his lack of understanding (e.g. of economics and foreign affairs), or his temper. If we ignore their novelties they are not good candidates.

Lots of fools live in each of the place Obama has lived. A small number of wise people have as well. Some people develop a great understanding of the world without living lots of different places. Others live in lots of different places and come out none the better for their experience. Some people seem to have gained wisdom from suffering (Alexander Solzhenitsyn comes to mind). But maybe they would have become wise even without that suffering. Others get seriously damaged by their suffering and come out as unwise as they were when they started their ordeal.

I see Dwight D. Eisenhower as one of the most competent and successful of the US Presidents. He didn't suffer. His upbringing wasn't exotic (someone correct me if I'm wrong). He seemed outwardly a boring and conventional WASP. Yet he was a highly competent and wise president, far more competent than many of his critics saw him at the time. He entered the Presidency with a far greater record of accomplishment than the records of our two US Presidential candidates of 2008. His military service war far more relevant to the running of the country than McCain's service.

Suffering in a North Vietnamese prison was a horrible ordeal that gives me sympathy for McCain and others who went through that ordeal. But I fail to see how that ordeal makes McCain more competent to serve as President. Rather, I suspect the ordeal accelerated his brain and body's aging process and leaves him less fit to sit in the Oval Office and make decisions.

Update: I was watching David Broder interview George Will on C-SPAN today. George Will said that people end up feeling bitter about Presidents because prospective Presidents are oversold in terms of what they can reasonably hope to accomplish. The President is in charge of just one branch of one of our governments (other governments being at the state, county, and local level as well as assorted agencies that have separate sets of elected officials such as school boards). He says Obama has so unrealistically stoked expectations that he'll meet the same fate. Will also commented that the Presidency is not a sacerdotal office. In other words, it is not religious.

By Randall Parker 2008 August 02 04:57 PM  Politics Incompetence
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