Monday, April 29, 2002

Bowling a Strike Against Capitalism

Looking for a hip, stylish way to celebrate murderous totalitarianism? Look no further; the folks at Mother Jones are more than happy to supply you with a V. I. Lenin-themed bowling shirt. While your indie rock friends are busy finding gas station attendant shirts with the original names stitched in, you'll be way ahead of them on the coolness curve with the Father of the Revolution printed on your back. As Reason magazines remind us, if you can't afford the $39.50 purchase price, you can surely expropriate it from the kulaks next door before liquidating them and their surplus-value leeching ways. The great Soviet experiment has come to this at last - communist kitsch as capitalism commodity.
Good News for Rushdie

Is the Islamic Republic of Iran on the verge of collapse? Michael Leeden seems to think so. There do seems to be some cracks in the facade of the nation's repressive theocracy. Despite an official pro-suicide bombing stance in sympathy with the Palestinians, a leading Iranian cleric has issued a fatwa denouncing such attacks. A situation to watch.

Friday, April 26, 2002

The Voice of our Saudi Allies:
Allah Commands You to Pillage Israeli Women

As President Bush is hosting a delegation of Saudi officials at his home in Crawford, Texas, there is this. Saudi propaganda can get pretty bad at times, but this surpasses even the even the broadest of diplomatic excuses:

"The Saudi Information Agency has obtained a tape by prominent government official cleric Shaikh Saad Al-Buraik calling for enslaving Jewish women. The tape is called 'a Monkey Desecrates Mosque,' and was delivered in a Riyadh government mosque. The monkey refers to Jews.

"Al-Buraik was the host of the two-day long telethon raising funds for Palestinians, which raised $109 million. He is also the host of 'Religion and Life,' a program on government television Channel One and on MBC television owned by Prince Abdul Aziz Ben Fahd. Al-Buraik said on the tape that the money raised would go to Palestinian fighters.

An excerpt of the tape:

"Muslim Brothers in Palestine, do not have any mercy neither compassion on the Jews, their blood, their money, their flesh. Their women are yours to take, legitimately. God made them yours. Why don't you enslave their women? Why don't you wage jihad? Why don't you pillage them?"

With allies like this, who needs enemies?

Listen to the entire tape.
Thanks to National Review Online.

No Oil for Blood

The government of Egypt has apparently gotten tired of the 23 years of relative peace they've enjoyed with Israel and has begun to shop the nation around as a pan-Arab mercenary tool. When challenged by an Abu Dhabi newspaper on why Egypt hadn't attacked Israel on behalf of the Palestinians, Egypt's prime minister said "If you want to undertake an action and be ready to face up to challenges, you need at least $100 billion," going on to add "Let the Arab world give $100 billion from Arab funds deposited around the world. Let it say to Egypt: 'This is a budget for confrontation. This budget is at your disposal. Undertake confrontation.'" I can see the future of Arab panhandlers: sitting on a sidewalk with a cardboard sign reading "Will Invade Israel for Food."
Shame: A Post

I like Salman Rushdie, but in his op-ed today on the apathy of the French Left, he runs into trouble. His premise is that the sensible (leftist) part of the French public has become so uninterested in politics that they've allowed the right-wing forces of Jean-Marie Le Pen to gain an unsettling amount of influence. But the only reason Le Pen came in second (defeating socialist prime minister Lionel Jospin) in the first round of presidential elections was that the left-leaning parties fielded a dozen different candidates while right-leaning parties ran only a few. How can a larger number of candidates seeking power be a reflection of apathy? It seems the real problem is over-confidence, not disinterest.

Worse is Rushdie's application of the same logic to the Thatcher revolution in Britain and the results of the 2000 U.S. presidential election: "Every so often, an electorate will shrug its shoulders and decide there isn't much difference between the main contenders for office. The day after the election, reality bites, but by then it's too late. When it last happened in Britain, the consequence was Margaret Thatcher's long, damaging reign. Voter apathy was also a crucial factor, perhaps the crucial factor, in the Bush-Gore presidential election; as a result, the fiasco in Florida turned into the decisive event it should never have become."

So the only reason Lady Thatcher was Prime Minister of Great Britain for eleven years was that voters thought there wasn't much difference between her and her main opponents for power? That might come as a surprise to a lot of people who opposed the policies of her government. And Bush and Gore indistinguishable? The fact that they had opposing opinions on abortion alone is enough to make up the minds of a large segment of the U.S. electorate. Gore supported extending government health coverage, Bush supported a large tax cut. Gore likes environmental restrictions on energy production, Bush favors greater domestic oil exploration. Where is the mass of voters Rushdie refers to that couldn't tell the candidates apart?

One final fact: neither Thatcher nor Bush are even remotely comparable to Le Pen. Neither are xenophobes or racists, the sins Le Pen is most frequently castigated for. That Rushdie would attempt to implicitly put them all in the same category is insulting.
Real Energy Reform Runs Out of Steam

The Senate energy bill passed last evening with the overwhelming support of 88 Senators. This is disappointing for a number of reasons. The Senate version does nothing to increase domestic energy production, but does contain provisions that would make appliances (efficiency mandates) and gasoline (ethanol mandates) more expensive. While the House energy bill, passed last year, attempts to make greater amount of affordable energy available to consumers, its Senate counterpart seems content to do nothing grander than continue subsidies for the same inefficient alternate fuels.

The Post this morning emphasizes how far apart the two sides will be when the two bills come to conference committee. House conferees will fight to have Arctic drilling in the final bill, but that seems unlikely. I have even less hope that Bush will end up brushing the cobwebs away from the Veto stamp, as he should.

Thursday, April 25, 2002

Pay the Nerd Tax

Finally a House candidate with some fresh ideas. Michael Williams of Alabama's Fifth District wants to see the U.S. get back into serious space exploration, and he's got an innovative new financing plan - a tax on science fiction novels, comic books (sorry, graphic novels) and related merchandise. This 28-year old Publix Super Market employee is also taking the long view. He's already got a plan for holding a constitutional convention when the population of either the Moon or Mars exceeds 30,000. He has some homework to do, though, since he doesn't seem to have actually filed the necessary paperwork to join the current field of six candidates running is Alabama's fifth.

Tuesday, April 23, 2002

From the Streets of Cambridge

Congratulations to the editors of The New Republic for seeing through Cornel West so completely. It seems not even a University Professorship at Harvard can console someone who has been "disrespected" by a bully like Lawrence Summers, in West's words, the Ariel Sharon of American higher education. Considering how West and his ideological compatriots no doubt feel about Sharon, that could be one of the most ludicrously inflammatory things he's ever said. And that itself is saying something. Too bad for Princeton, hiring a prickly opportunist with breathtakingly thin credentials. Could Provost Snoop Dogg be far behind?
Questioning the French: Have You Hugged An Arsonist Today?

The Washington Post, like everyone else, is editorializing about the outcome of the first round of the French presidential election. The "extreme rightist" Jean-Marie Le Pen won a surprisingly large number of votes, alarming the leftist elites both in France and across Europe. The Post sees this as a reason for France leaders, among other things, to undergo a self-criticism encounter on race: "France's leaders, beginning with President Chirac, ought to reexamine whether their government is doing enough to foster tolerance toward immigrants, particularly those from the Muslim world, while combating growing anti-Semitism." A balanced recommendation? If both groups were currently facing the same deadly peril, perhaps. If I were handing out recommendations to France's President, however, I'd suggest he spend more time prosecuting the Muslins that have burned down French (and Belgian) synagogues and worry about whether enough tolerance was being fostered toward Muslin immigrants some other day.
Breaking a Few Eggs on Behalf of Wilderness

Deroy Murdock's syndicated column this week reminds us of the perils of trusting federal bureaucrats with an institutional agenda. This is especially true of green-leaning officials who want more land under federal control and more federal land off-limits to recreation and development.

Monday, April 22, 2002

(Washington) Post Post: Blog World

Washington Post columnist Howard Kurtz has finally done his own inevitable media critic blog story. Highlights include this quote from John Scalzi: "There's just one minor problem with this 'blog reaching critical mass' story: It's a lie. Or more accurately, any representation by the 'blog nation (or its compatriots) as being a threat to the conventional media . . . is wildly overstated." Thoughtful and humble; what a guy.
Me Wantee Shirteee

The Abercrombie and Fitch racial stereotype scandal has gotten more interesting. You may remember that a few days back Asian-Americans began registering their displeasure with new t-shirt designs that included drawings of slant-eyed, coolie hat-wearing caricatures and broken English word play not seen since anti-Japanese World War II propaganda posters. The company professed shock that anyone would find them offensive, but promised to stop making the inexplicably unacceptable designs.

As with any hastily discontinued consumer product, however, the shirts have quickly become high-priced collectors items - CNN notes that they were going for $249 on eBay as of Saturday. Things have changed in the past couple days, though, as very unlikely bids have topped $10,000 a shirt. It seems Asian-American activists are risking the very real threat of negative feedback to keep the shirts out of the hands of racially insensitive collectors. I would have preferred a boycott to online fraud, but it nice to see the legendarily humorless proprietors of race politics exhibiting some creativity.

Friday, April 19, 2002

Fish, Wildlife & Parks Hits Cyberspace

...And none too soon, FWP joins the ranks of government agencies who have moved into the technological revolution. Though arguably four or five years behind the times, FWP introduced its Automatic Licensing System last week to allow hunters and fishermen to expedite the procurement of licenses. Turns out, surprisingly, that FWP did not hire the most capable of engineers for their endeavor maddening hunters all over the state who attempted to buy licenses and had to wait for hours instead of minutes, some going home without a license at all. Now I know that in Montana, we are busy spending our government money on bodyguards for our beloved governor, but I think we might have invested in this project a little more carefully. Or perhaps left the system alone.
In the old days, licensing required the horribly tedious process of writing down the name, address, and phone number of the hunter or fisher and providing a receipt to him or her. Instead, they now get to wait for up to two hours for the state computer system to crank out a receipt and add this information to a database. I am sure there must be some bizarre use for this hunting license information. Unlike, the state of Montana does not send out yearly invites for hunters and fishers nor do I see how that information could be remotely useful in database form. FWP is demanding that people issuing the licenses keep a separate phone line for license transactions. It is a miracle that there is even one phone line 22 miles up the Boulder drainage, where I spend my summers, but FWP has not provided any info on how a second phone line could be put in or even be funded by a small non-profit organization like ours and others along the drainage. I suppose, this summer, the fishing license signs will start to come down causing even more distaste. No matter, FWP says they have to give their customers some time to get used to the "burn in" period while everything goes wrong, in order to instill confidence in the system. I think most people are just plain mad and want those paper licenses back.
Case in point, this morning's paper carried a story about a Thompson Falls man who got so fed up with being charged for incomplete licenses that he shot the computer with a 20-gauge shotgun.
But budgetary waste is evident in a state where dinosaurs still seem to be roaming around. If you don't believe me, just check out more from FWP and read this useful little article on becoming an outdoor woman. When you get stuck in the snow, you should yell oopsie and men will teach you how to cook outdoors, just in case you have never been out of doors before and need to resume your duties. Fitting in a state where the governor’s husband has "never beaten her because [she has] never given him a reason to."
Pig Farmer Pork

Impossible though it may sound, the agricultural bill for this year is getting even worse. Subsidies for cotton growers are now estimated at $3 billion this year; the corn growers will likely be getting $3.5 billion. The bill will also revive the payment of food stamps to non-citizens and ban the shocking practice of meatpackers owning cattle and hogs. No vertical integration for your industry, Mr. Hormel. Fans of this monumental waste can thank Senator Kent Conrad of North Dakota.

Thursday, April 18, 2002

The Whole Arab World

A follow-up letter in the L.A. Times on Robert Scheer's repellent Tuesday column:

"Robert Scheer has reached a new level of Orwellian doublespeak in his April 17 commentary comparing Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. How is it that Israel can be an occupying power when the Arabs outnumber the Jews 20 to 1? And this is a struggle between the whole Arab world and the Jews. Are Israeli troops, who are fighting house to house to smoke out terrorists, in order to save Palestinian civilian lives that would be lost through airstrikes and artillery barrages, really equivalent to suicide bombers?

"And finally, invoking the proud legacy of Israel's founders to prove his points is truly nauseating. David Ben-Gurion, Golda Meir, Menachem Begin and others all extended their hands in peace toward the Arab people. And time after time they were told thanks, but no thanks. We don't want any Jews here. Get out."

-Bob Korda Los Angeles

Couldn't have written it better myself, Mr. Korda.
Rafting into the Sunset

Noted Norwegian adventurer and anthropologist Thor Heyerdahl is dead at the age of 87. He combined intellectual curiosity with physical courage and a tenacious spirit. Known and respected by people around the world, he was declared Norwegian of the Century by vote of his countrymen in 1999. Obituaries can be found at CNN and Fox News.
Fighting for the Moral Legitimacy of the Automobile

For those that don't think automobiles are the spawn of Satan, George Will has an interesting comparison between two major car company CEOs - William Clay Ford, Jr. of Ford Motor Company and the newly installed Robert Lutz of General Motors. Of the two, Lutz certainly seems to be more in love with cars. You can see it in the ads - GM has billboards of classic car designs with witty slogans attached, playing to guy on the street who thinks chrome and horsepower are things to be admired. On the surface, Ford seems to be on the same track with Bill Ford himself recently appearing in TV commercials stressing how he loves riding his SUV through the outdoors. These ads, however, are mostly damage control trying to obscure the fact that he's a sellout to environmental groups who make a living out of demonizing the automobile and it's liberating legacy.

Bill Ford is a good example of what happens when companies are inherited by scions who are embarrassed by their own products. The Houston Chronicle reported on March 31st:

"Before he became chief executive of the Ford Motor Co., William Clay Ford Jr. made a point of joining the environmental camp.

"Global warming, he wrote in a citizenship report last year, 'stands out from other environmental issues because of its potentially serious consequences and its direct relationship to our industry.'

"Global warming? Auto executives talk about cars, golf and every tenth of a percentage point of market share. But they do not speak of global warming, unless prompted, and then only to dismiss it as scientifically unproved.

"Such statements made Ford - a vegetarian, guitar-strumming black belt in tae kwon do - the Motor City's most outspoken executive on environmental issues."

He has, not surprisingly, moved back from such pronouncements recently - especially with the company suffering large losses. Of course, there's nothing wrong with developing a fuel efficient car, as long as there's someone to buy it. His lean toward the green left, though, struck some people as hostile to the lifestyle that a lot of Ford customers - especially truck buyers - embrace. From last October's Automotive News:

"Ford is embroiled in a passionate and divisive debate in the West over land use and natural resources. Led by Chairman William Clay Ford Jr., an avowed environmentalist, the automaker has cast itself as an environmentally friendly company. For example, Bill Ford led the automotive industry in acknowledging the existence of global warming.

"Now, Ford Division dealers say the company's attitude is contributing to lost sales among ranchers, miners, loggers and farmers in the western United States.

"'Ford has donated money to environmental groups. One of them is the National Audubon Society. These environmental groups are spending a lot of money putting timber, livestock grazing and everything else out of business in the West,' said Doc Lane, director of natural resources for the 2,000-member Arizona Cattle Ranchers Association and a meeting participant. 'Our concern is why would Ford be paying to put their customers out of business?'

"Last week, the protesting groups asked Ford to underwrite a multi-million-dollar national educational campaign promoting American agricultural and forestry products.

"Last week's meeting followed a similar session this month in Montana with protesting members of the logging industry.

"'These are not just complaints. This is costing sales' said Udon McSpadden, owner of McSpadden Ford-Lincoln-Mercury in Glove, Ariz., and a meeting participant. 'There were three people in the cattle ranching industry in the meeting that drove Fords their whole life and who now own General Motors products for the first time.'

As the new pro-SUV commercials attest, Ford has learned that environmental groups aren't the only ones that can put activist pressure on a corporation.
Bring the House Lights Up

Washington Post columnist Jim Hoagland gets dramatic today. He writes a stage monologue for Arafat:

"At Camp David, Clinton wanted to make me the George Washington of Palestine. But I would have had to sell out my people, in the miserable camps of Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, to become emir of the West Bank. Remember, that was the deal on offer. The money underneath the table was already pretty good -- not as good as what Saddam offers, but more secure.

"Those Israeli hacks say I could have achieved my strategic goals without bloodshed with that deal. But they miss the point. Bloodshed is the point. I had to seize, not passively receive. The Israelis now give me total credit for this intifada. History will remember me as warrior, resister, struggler.

"I am not a turncoat. Armed struggle has always been my way, my meaning, my religion. The borders of Palestine will be traced in blood, as a great nation's should be. The frontiers will be demarcated and protected by international troops, not by a groveling peace treaty. That is and was my plan. When Israel elected Sharon, to prove to us that brute force could make Israelis secure, it fell into place: We had to show them they were wrong.

"These fools in Washington and Europe chase their own tails by debating whether I am a terrorist or not. Did I ever shrink from murder when it was needed? They think if they come up with the right label, like 'Enduring Freedom' or 'homicide bombers,' then everything is fixed. And they say we Arabs are prisoners of rhetoric."

It has the ring of truth. The real Arafat has shown himself to be if not stranger, than at least more perverse than fiction.

Tuesday, April 16, 2002

Sharon is No Milosevic

While the Arabs have been busy comparing Ariel Sharon to Hitler, one American columnist has stopped just short by comparing him to someone who was himself often compared to Hitler. Robert Scheer in the Los Angeles Times writes: "What is the fundamental difference between Slobodan Milosevic and Ariel Sharon? The former is on trial for war crimes, while the latter still leads an occupying army." This column might require the construction of a whole new wing of the Flawed Analogy Hall of Fame.

To take just one point: "Milosevic, like Sharon, cited the terror tactics of neighboring peoples - Croatians, Bosnians and ethnic Albanians who stood in the way of his vision of a secure Yugoslavia - as a rationale for preemptive use of massive military force against them." The obvious implications is that Milosevic's citations were merely an excuse to terrorize his neighbors, and that Sharon's justifications are the same. One difference of course - the former provinces of Yugoslavia didn't band together and declare that it was their religious and moral duty to destroy Bosnia forever and drive all of its inhabitants into the Adriatic sea. The Arab world's well known hostility to Israel's very existence turns the current situation distinctly un-Serbian in character. Milosevic also had in mind the establishment of a "Greater Bosnia," which would require the absorption of surrounding provinces. Not only does Israel not have expansionist plans, they gave up most of the West Bank to Palestinian control on their own. They even offered Arafat sovereignty, and he turned them down.

You cannot take Palestinians by themselves as the "other side" in this conflict. The other side is the entire Arab world - Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia especially have been funneling hundreds of millions of dollars to support the Intifada. Israel faces a stronger foe than merely the rag-tag Palestinian refugees in the streets. The suicide bombers have the hidden and in some cases explicit support of every other country in the region. And except for the fitful support of the U.S., Israel is alone.
Ethanol Update

The opposition is mounting: both the New York Times and Washington Post editorial boards now thinks that ethanol programs are a bad idea. In an editorial today on the main provisions of the Senate energy bill, the NYT wrote:

"The provisions the Senate seems ready to pass are mainly dubious. One of these, the brainchild of farm- and plains-state senators, is a so-called ethanol mandate that would triple the amount of ethanol used as a fuel additive. Senator Charles Schumer of New York, among others, has correctly called this a giveaway to the farm states (ethanol is derived from starches, mainly corn), a potential drain on the Highway Trust Fund and a threat to clean air."

And the Washington Post piles on:

"The four Democratic senators from California and New York are calling this ethanol provision what it is: a scheme to funnel money to agribusiness and corn states at the expense of the rest of the country. One amendment to limit the ethanol mandate was rebuffed last Thursday, but there may be another chance today. The Senate should back the effort to remove the ethanol provision from the energy bill, and Sen. Daschle should not resist, despite his farm-state loyalties. Democrats have been trying to score points against the Bush administration by demonstrating the link between corporate lobbyists and the White House energy policy. If the Senate's Democratic leaders now use the energy bill to funnel money to Archer Daniels Midland and its ilk, they'll look like hypocrites."

Let the Caribou Eat Corn

In an effort to deflect criticism from his support for drilling in ANWR, the President spent time yesterday sucking up to corn-growing yokels in Iowa by endorsing ethanol as a substitute fuel. This an echo of the same shameless displays that go on every four years during the Iowa Caucuses, where primary opponents fall over each other to be the biggest advocate for ethanol subsidies. As my good friend Ben Lieberman has written, the case for ethanol as an alternative to gasoline is an extremely poor one. Bush is already getting failing grades and daily attacks from the environmental movement. With nothing left to lose he might as well stand on principle.

Monday, April 15, 2002

The Palestinian Authority's Double Agent

After September 11th, many Americans wondered how the U.S. intelligence community could have failed the nation so dramatically. Some security experts pointed out that the CIA and other agencies lack agents fluent in Middle Eastern languages and familiar enough with the culture to operate undercover. Now it seems the the situation is worse than that. According to William Safire, Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet was personally played by a Palestinian Authority official named Jabril Rajoub who claimed to be providing counter-terrorism information to the CIA. It has now been shown that he was part of the Palestinians' suicide bombing campaign and used his influence with Tenet to point U.S. intelligence agents in the wrong direction. What has the U.S. intelligence community come to when a terrorist is planning suicide attacks against civilians one minute and has the eager ear of the DCI the next?
It's Difficult to Negotiate with a Vest Full of Dynamite

Get ready to be surprised: Officials at the Palestinian Authority have decided not to give up suicide bombings as a political tool. In related news, there will be a rally for U.S.-Israel unity rally on the west lawn of the Capitol today at 1pm.

Sunday, April 14, 2002

The commentary on President Bush's political agenda and general intellect lead me to some general non-referenced musings. First off, kudos to the Good Morning Haifa post. But our nation is indeed hypocritical. We all stand in gaping shock that the revered Colin Powell, the political equal of Air Jordan, has somehow managed to stand around in Israel and Palestine watching things deteriorate further-- with only futile paperwork and postponed meetings to show for it. Why do we think that the American government is infallible? Why does America stand and nod for George Bush when we look at the following:

1. We are one of if not the most technologically advanced nations in the country. We can watch people walk down the street and listen to their conversations from space satellites yet we missed the complex and lengthy planning sessions of terrorists leading up to the September 11th attacks. And we still don't know where Waldo, oops I mean Osama Bin Laden, is hiding. (And he is about as hard to find I am sure. Perhaps we should send the kindergartners since they are already raising money for the "war" on terrorism.)

2. We are the same disorganized menagerie that granted US visas to two of the September 11th terrorists. Then claim to have no idea why and fire the incompetent people who were responsible. Why were they ever hired in the first place? Yes indeed the government needs an overhaul but I am unsure if Bush has the political forethought or afterthought for that matter to lead such an effort.

3. As previously stated, we (America) are the only ones who can fight the war on terrorism. Everyone else needs to back up and be nice so we Americans can have our gasoline for our SUVs and snowmobiles. Amen.

4. And did anyone else see Laura Bush on Jay Leno a couple of months ago? She relayed that the night of September 11th, she and the president were VERY tired. The darn secret service agents got them, and the dogs, out of bed however, because there was an unidentified plane in the area. They had to go all the way downstairs where the secret service agents pulled out another bed so they could finally get some rest. (After all, why pull an all-nighter when everyone is already dead.) But the liberal media somehow never got ahold of that interview.

5. Whatever happened to Enron? And Dick Cheney? And the economy? Osama? Waldo? All that I see in the Billings Gazette is about our own ridiculous governor, Judy Martz, and her escapades. And Colin Powell...
Betting Against the Slavery Jackpot

More on the folly of the reparations movement by NPR's Juan Williams:

"There is nothing wrong with a fantasy about every black person getting a check for all that black people have gone through. But too much time spent in fantasy land is wasted time. If this reparations movement goes on much longer, history will view it as self-indulgent hysteria by people intoxicated by their rising power. The passion that currently goes for reparations would better be spent in other areas, such as confronting teachers unions, civil-rights leaders and everyone else involved in our failure to educate minority kids.

"Reparations are a dangerous, even evil, idea because they contradict the moral authority of black America's claim to equal rights. Pushing them through would only hurt race relations by encouraging negative stereotypes about blacks at a time when the nation is more diverse and the need for interracial understanding is at its greatest."
Confronting the Threat of Inexpensive Pakistani Pillows

George Will has a good column in the Sunday Post taking the Administration to task for its inconsistent trade policy. Despite the invaluable assistance granted to American forces by the government of Pakistan, for example, we've responded rather coldly to their requests that we lower textile tariffs on pillows, sheets, towels, underwear and the like. Rewarding our allies and implementing the President's desire for freer trade around the world would seem to be a natural combination, but not in this case. Worse yet, the recent tariffs imposed on steel and Canadian lumber are only likely to inspire further rounds of industry rent-seeking. As Will writes, "protectionism breeds protectionism."
Can Blair Deliver?

The split between Prime Minister Tony Blair and traditional Labour party constituencies continues to widen. Former Scotsman editor Tim Luckhurst writes that Blair's unwavering support for Bush's Iraq agenda may be the least of his problems. Most Britons don't like the idea of Blair as Bush's foreign policy lap dog, of course, but what they like even less is an inefficient National Health Service, teachers going on strike, and trains that don't run on time. Blair was supposed to be the man who could reform the nation's public services by slitting the difference between the pro-union left and the pro-privatization right. The country's still waiting.
The Ballad of Jim Traficant

As many of us have known for years, nothing can keep the Honorable James A. Traficant, Jr. down. Not being convicted on a 10-count federal indictment, not even calls from the Democratic House leadership to resign. His response to the Minority Leader: "As for Dick Gephardt, I meant it when I told him to go f--- himself. I didn't ask for him to resign as a result of him being an impotent leader and for having screwed up the party." There's the Traficant I love. The good news is that he is not resigning his House seat, and is going ahead with plans to run for re-election as an independent. For those new to the Traficant story, David Grann's New Republic profile on the man and his colorful hometown is required reading.

Saturday, April 13, 2002

One Bicycle Please, No Rind

The superlative standards the city of Washington, D.C. has come to expect from its public school system have been reinforced yet again. In an effort to help students prepare for upcoming standardized tests, the District sent elementary school kids home with a 20-page study guide that included such passages of questionable grammatical quality as "learning to rind a bicycle," "Pur the ginger ale into the glasses," and "it should be called the President' House."

The man apparently responsible for this display of illiteracy, DC school official Duvon Winborne, had these reassuring words to say to those concerned: "Most of the children throw these things away, so it's not really a major problem in terms of outcomes." Thank God. If the kids could be expected to actually read the study materials you gave then, then we'd really be in trouble.

This is, of course, not the first time that the DC Public Schools have had trouble finding the right words. Metro buses last year carried the motivating phrase "DC Public Schools Wants You!!! Go To Class -- It' a Blast!!!" I'm not sure which is more disturbing - the fact that they can't get their verbs and subjects to agree or the fact that the DC government feels the need to advertise the virtues of an institution at which attendance is compulsory.

By the way, Duvon Winboune is the "Executive Director of Education Accountability" for the D.C. Public Schools. You can contact him at 202-442-5562.
And You Thought Maxine Waters was Trouble

Jonah Goldberg's Friday column about the conspiracy-mongering Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-GA) is a bracing read. According to the original Washington Post article, Rep. McKinney not only believes that the Bush administration knew about the September 11th attacks before they happened, but decided to do nothing to stop them so that friends of the Administration could become war profiteers in the resulting conflict. That she would make such a charge, in the absence of any evidence whatsoever, sets a breathtaking new low of irresponsibility for a public official. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, though, she stands by her comments. Interested parties might want to direct campaign support to her primary challenger, former State Court judge Denise Majette.
Forty Acres and an Audit

Supporters of reparations for slavery are becoming more brazen. The movement was energized a couple years ago with the publication of Randall Robinson's book The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks. Just in the past few weeks, we've seen a lawsuit filed that demands reparations from companies that allegedly profited from the slave trade. Now, the Treasury Department has reported that an increasing number of black Americans are no longer waiting for the federal government or the courts - they've decided to give themselves a reparations credit on their personal tax returns.

Even more alarming than the fact that thousands of Americans think they can simply tell the government to give them thousands of dollars based on their racial identity is the reality that the government has, in many cases, complied. From

"The IRS received more than 77,000 tax returns last year claiming $2.7 billion in reparations refunds, up from 13,000 the year before. Last year, the IRS discovered that some erroneous refunds were being issued but was only partly effective in stopping them.

"The Treasury inspector general for tax administration, David C. Williams, said in Senate testimony this week that refunds of more than $80,000 were issued 'in some instances' to married couples when each spouse claimed the reparations credit.

"In 2000 and the first four months of 2001, Williams said, more than $30 million in erroneous reparations payments were paid. After April of last year, a computer program developed by the inspector general identified an additional $16.1 million in claims before they were paid."

How is this happening? Is isn't as though there's an extra line at the bottom of the 1040 where you can fill in whatever tax credit you'd like to receive. Even worse, the IRS has known about this for a long time; their website contains an entire section devoted to scams, including this statement on reparations scams from January. People have been going to jail for receiving fraudulent credits and preparing illegal returns for others for years. Why is the IRS still unable to keep its offices from writing five-digit checks to likely felons?
Lottery Libel

The list of lottery fantasies just got more diverse. In my 4/9/02 post I mentioned that I had never heard of anyone who, when asked what they would do with a lottery jackpot, had plans more interesting than the purchase of a new house or car. Now the New Yorker has presented us with an exception - and a minor scandal. When asked what she would do with jackpot winnings, environmental scientist Dana Fisher told an ad agency creating billboards for the New York state lottery that she would "Establish a foundation that would deal with global environmental issues." As it turns out, the agency picked her as one of their models and put her face up on a billboard. Unfortunately, they decided that her quote was a little dry, so next to her photo was the statement that if she won a million dollars, she would "buy a car and a cute driver to go with it."

She was less than amused, and her faith in the whole campaign has faltered:

"The experience has made Fisher wonder about the quotes on the seven hundred and ninety-seven other Lotto ads around the city. Are they fictional, too? 'There's an older woman on one poster,' Fisher said. 'Her quote says she'd buy a house where she could live with her grandkids. And I'm thinking, Hmm. Does she even have grandkids? She might be sad and alone and live with a lot of cats. Or she could be a lesbian who never had children.'"

In all likelihood, we'll never know. Thanks to Francie Burkhart for the story.

Thursday, April 11, 2002

What's Good for Zimbabwe is Good for General Motors

The Post reported today that Oxfam International, an activist group that agitates for Third World aid and associated causes, has publicly embraced international trade and free market policies as advantageous to the developing world. This a breakthrough for a group like Oxfam, whose associates tend toward the radical anti-globalization left. Hopefully they will be spared calls of "apostate!" from their friends, though I doubt it.

From the Post:

"According to the report, 'History makes a mockery of the claim that trade cannot work for the poor' -- some of the most prominent examples being the nations of East Asia, where, 'since the mid-1970s, rapid growth in exports has contributed to a wider process of economic growth which has lifted more than 400 million people out of poverty.'

"The problem is that many poor countries have been unable to share in the prosperity fostered by trade, according to the report, both because of barriers to their products and subsidies that rich countries give to some of their producers, especially farmers. To illustrate the point, Oxfam created a 'double standards index,' measuring 10 dimensions of rich-country trade policies including average tariffs and restrictions on imports from developing countries."

Finally a group that understands the difference between true free market policies and the frequently unprincipled compromises of U.S. trade policy. Now would be a good time to start driving a wedge between people who are truly interested in Third World economic development and the anti-globalist brick throwers.

Thanks to Megan McLaughlin and Thomas Pearson for drawing my attention to the story. Also posted at

Wednesday, April 10, 2002

How Washington Thinks 101

As it does each year, Congress is currently working on an agriculture bill. As usual, it will end up larded with dozens of programs to subsidize the cultivation of any product grown in a state with a powerful enough congressional delegation. Since the family farmer (the only politically untouchable category left that includes white males) is sacrosanct, there is little debate over whether to spend tax money to make food more expensive and subsidize risks that farmers themselves can't afford. AP reports on how negotiations are going: "Congressional negotiators say they want to finish work quickly on an overhaul of agriculture and nutrition programs, but first they must resolve a dispute over how to subsidize grain and cotton farmers." Not whether to, just how to. Now there you have a healthy debate between two competing interests - the Democrats who think subsidies should be tied to changes in commodity prices and the Republicans who prefer sending farmers a fixed yearly check. With conflict like this, who needs bipartisanship?
Good Morning Haifa

If the "Bush Doctrine" means anything, it means eliminating terrorists and terrorist activity where ever it may exist, at home and abroad. Tens and soon maybe hundreds of Israeli citizens are dying due to terrorist suicide bombers. The Israeli government has chosen to combat this threat to the life and welfare of their citizens by eliminating the terrorists and terrorist networks responsible. How is this different than the justification for the United States' entry into Afghanistan? Why is Bush, at the very moment of opportunity to show the Arab world he means what he says about the war on terrorism, treating Israel as an aggressor and not the aggrieved? Bush is reinforcing the old diplomatic ways of a wink and a nod to the Arab world's secretive support of extremists in exchange for normal relations. Continuing to treat Arafat and his gang of murderers as the moral equivalent of Israel is wrongheaded and will prove fatal to prosecuting this war on terrorism. We should stop asking the Arab world to stand up to Arafat, and take a stand against him ourselves, either rhetorically or in action, based on the principles of the Bush Doctrine. If anything is true about Arab politics, you must puff and strut and scream and threaten regardless of your intentions to back up your rhetoric, to be respected or taken seriously. If they haven't already, the Arab world will soon lose any fear they may have had of Bush and his war on terrorism.

And regarding Powell's mission, Kristol and Kagan hit the nail on the head with this one.

Tuesday, April 09, 2002

Chances of Getting Struck by Lightning: 1 in 709,260

The Post has a features piece today on the region's impending "Big Game" lottery drawing, currently valued at around $155 million. There's always something desperately sad about the stories newspapers and local news shows do right before a big jackpot is awarded. The minimum wage convenience store clerks, the blue collar lottery addicts, and the ill-concealed self-loathing of players who have no better strategy for improving their lives than playing 76,000,000-to-1 odds. Even the stoic souls who refuse to be seduced by vain dreams of unearned wealth seem unhappy. They aren't even allowing themselves to dream.

Take 64-year-old tour bus driver Jesse Johnson, who spends $20 a day on lottery tickets. Even if he only bought them on weekdays, that's still over $5,200 a year, with no jackpot to show for it thus far. Of course it's not as though players like Mr. Johnson get nothing out of the transaction. I've spent enough time daydreaming about the possibilities of windfall wealth with lottery-playing friends and relations to know that there are pleasures to be had just from holding the ticket in your hand.

What continues to surprise me, however, is the consistently modest scale of people's lottery fantasies. A new dream house seems to be the biggest ambition most lottery players have for their future wealth. Even with jackpots like this week's that would allow the winner to take an immediate lump sum payment of over $80 million. None of the man-on-the-street interview subjects plan to start their own foundation, build a charter school, or assemble a harem of nubile young pleasure servants. They want to buy a new truck, go on a tropical vacation, or help a friend with medical bills. Things that many of them could actually do if they saved and invested the money they spend, year after year, on the lottery. I wonder what would happen if they all eventually realized that.
Professor Bush

Has President Bush finally shaken his reputation as a policy simpleton? According to the Washington Post's Eric Pianin, George W. has become as good at slinging Beltway jargon as anybody:

"Lately, Bush has been throwing these terms around as if he were a lecturer at the Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies. 'Zinni will stay there,' Bush said on March 30, 'to push for a process that will ultimately get us into Mitchell.' Three days earlier, Bush noted that Zinni would 'work with both parties, regardless of whether or not they're headed to Beirut,' in hopes of 'getting into Tenet.' Bush dropped 'Beirut' as shorthand for the Arab League meeting, 'Tenet' for cease-fire and 'Mitchell' for a peace deal.

Will Molly Ivins issue an apology for implying that the President is a borderline Mongoloid who needs extensive prep-work to keep from drooling on himself in public? I doubt it. Fortunately, though the President has maintained enough of his folksy 'plain-spoken' style to address straightforward, barnyard issues:

"At his news conference last month, Bush reverted to Texas form while describing a trade dispute over poultry. 'We've got a issue on chickens,' he said. 'We've made it pretty darn clear to them that I think we probably ought to get this chicken issue resolved and get those chickens moving.'

Amen. Let's roll, and let's get those chickens moving, too.
The Sky is Warming! The Sky is Falling!

Many people have come to believe that global warming is the most serious threat facing human beings in the next few hundred years. On the other hand, the planet also faces global peril on the same scale from natural causes - such as a large asteroid impact. Yet which one is a more scientifically demonstrated risk? Dr. Sallie Baliunas of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics has an interesting answer.
Beam Me Up, Your Honor!

Congressman James A. Traficant, Jr. is now waiting on a verdict in his bribery trial in Cleveland, Ohio that may very well end his colorful political career. I can't dislike this man. He's funny, he's courageous, he's a fighter, he's probably the most corrupt politician in the House, and I just love him to bits. I want to forgive him his transgressions and set him back up as Youngstown's champion Congressman, who's not afraid of anybody: not afraid of the Democrat leadership and especially not the federal government. He's certainly never needed anyone's help, though. Here's a guy who took several thousand dollars from the mob as Sheriff of Mahoning County, Ohio, and beat a federal bribery wrap representing himself during the trial. Who cares how, he beat a federal wrap on his own two feet, riding the success to Congress in 1984.

But Traficant has seen better days. Traficant bucked the Democrat leadership, who attempted to unseat him in a primary he won handily in 2000, by voting for Dennis Hastert for Speaker. The Dems look away all his committee assignments. The Ohio Legislature redistricted Traficant's district out of existence for 2002. Neither party will touch him because of his indictment. Remembering their fate from years past, the Feds have tried to put together an air-tight case. They've got physical evidence and they've got credible direct testimony from witnesses. (Not that they didn't in 1983.) So even if Traficant wins the case, his political prospects are bleak. But, I wouldn't bet against him quite yet. And I wouldn't be so quick to judge him. To poorly paraphrase a quote, former Senator Alan Simpson, himself a unique character, had a favorite axiom that stated every group deserves and gets representation in Congress: the crooks, the liars, the egomanias, everyone. Everyone plays a part in our unruly democracy, and I wouldn't change it for the world.

Monday, April 08, 2002

Aloha from London

Yet another Blog-trend piece in the Financial Times, judged well and fairly as usual on The Scene. The theme is that now that Andrew Sullivan has announced his profitability, the trend is worth noticing. I'd say it was worth noticing before. The Hawaiian-sounding Louise Kehoe also mentions the lame Alex Beam piece from the Boston Globe, reporting that "His column had bloggers fuming ad nauseam." True enough, if an awkward use an unnecessary Latin phrase.
Taking the Long View

In most public policy debates, it's not possible to reach a conclusive verdict during an individual's lifetime. The debate over whether socialism was superior to capitalism as a practical political system, which began for real with the Bolshevik revolution, didn't end for most people until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989. Strom Thurmond was already in high school and assumably observing world affairs by then, but most people involved in the struggles of those days never lived to see if their side won. Because history tends to remember the winners best, we often get a lopsided view of history. Today it's difficult to imagine, for example, just how many smart people in 1935 thought that American-style democracy was doomed, and that the rest of the developed world would slowly move farther and farther toward the socialist model.

In an attempt to hold such people responsible for their wrong-headed predictions and reward visionaries who saw the shape of the future while all others called them mad, the Long Bets Foundation was established, allowing future-focused thinkers to put their cash on the line while making predictions on issues "of societal or scientific importance." Most bets so far tend to be on slightly more quantifiable events, such as whether by 2030 a significant number of commuters will be flying in pilotless airplanes. But the idea is a fascinating one that can easily be expanded to any number of different areas. Minimum bet is $1,000 and any winnings will be donated to a charity of the bettor's choice. Challengers welcome.

The Long Bets Foundation concept recalls the famous bet between the late economist Julian Simon and the biologist (and Malthusian alarmist) Paul Ehrlich about natural resource depletion and the ability of human ingenuity to overcome such obstacles. Simon won, by the way.

Teenagers for Free Speech

The number of groups challenging the constitutionality of the recent campaign finance bill just got a little bigger. The Christian Coalition and a group of apparently anonymous teenagers are adding their suits to the ones filed by Sen. Mitch McConnell and the NRA. According to AP, "The teen-agers are contesting language that bars minors 17 years and younger from making political contributions, ... [and the Christian Coalition] is contesting provisions that they believe would make it illegal to send out voter guides before an election." I wonder who organized the group of 17-year olds. Maybe it was a high school civics project. In any case, good luck to them. The fight for freedom of expression is as likely as any to produce a strange bedfellows-type coalition.

Friday, April 05, 2002

Robert Ebert is a Big Fat Idiot

How do you write a movie review that expresses your own personal political commentary and rambling estimation of an author, while rendering virtually no judgement on the particular qualities of the movie? Ask Roger Ebert. I haven't even seen this movie, but I'm sick of Ebert. His reviews are awful. For a long time I haven't trusted his judgement on movies, but now his reviews are unreadable. The writing is banal, his criticisms picayune, and his praise is always overwrought and misplaced. If at least he could present it with panache and make his reviews interesting for movie lovers or film buffs, I would give him a pass on his final judgements. But, as a reviewer of entertainment, you have to at least be entertaining yourself. I have no idea how many movie reviewers there are in America, but even if there were only ten, why would we continually look to this man for his opinion? Force of habit is all I can think of.
Taking the Crazy Train to Washington

According to the BBC and The Express, George W. is a big fan of MTV's The Osbournes, and has invited Ozzy for a White House visit. I looked for an April 1 date on this story, but it appears to be genuine. I assume I'm not the only one unnerved by the idea of the President rescheduling calls with world leaders so that he can watch Elijah Wood help clean dog piss off of Sharon Osbourne's new couch, as entertaining as that is. Then again, if celebrities are going to be invited to the White House, Ozzy beats out Barbra Streisand and Alec Baldwin any day.
A Week to Remember

First Alex Beam's Boston Globe article trashes the blog concept and now it gets fawning praise from Norah Vincent in the Los Angeles Times. She sees political blogs as part of a right wing counterrevolution, assumably in league with talk radio and Fox News (which of course has its own weblog feature on Perhaps that's so. As many, many writers have pointed out, most political blogs seem to come from a conservative or libertarian point of view.

It's interesting, though, that she rips into "the self-important New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post and their toady satellites, much of whose reporting has become hardly less biased than the bloggers'" in a piece published in the Los Angeles Times op-ed page. That fact that her piece was published in a large newspaper would seem to be at least a partial rebuttal to her thesis that the elite media is threatened by the popularity of blogs.

Virginia Postrel also posted an especially good and critical dissection of Vincent's column at The Scene.

Thursday, April 04, 2002

Dirt Bikes for Freedom

The New York Times editorializes today on off-road vehicles on federal lands, urging the Bush administration not to allow people to use snowmobiles, dune buggies, and the like in national parks. The Times seems to feel that the only people in favor of off-roading in places like Yellowstone are "snowmobile manufacturers and local dealers," who recently put pressure on the Administration to reverse a ban on off-road vehicles originally issued by the Clinton administration. This scenario follows an old pattern - if there's a policy that is considered anti-environment, it must be the result of corporate meanies out to rape the wilderness for disgusting profits.

Then again, maybe the policy reversal has something to with the over 10,000,000 off-road vehicles in the country, and the people that like to ride around in them. After all, where did the nation's snowmobile manufacturers get so much big-money clout unless there are legions of Americans who purchase their products? The truth is that millions of Americans like off-roading. Possibly even more Americans than read the New York Times editorial page or start hyperventilating at the thought of someone enjoying their horsepower in the pristine wilderness of Yellowstone. That, no doubt, is why the Times made sure to dismiss the idea that people should be allowed to pursue the activities they actually enjoy, and instead be required to swallow a big dose of enviro-statist cod liver oil: "Giving local communities — or political leaders — what they want is not a sound basis for rational policy on the federal estate." Of course not. What could be more irrational than giving people what they want?

Wednesday, April 03, 2002

Queen Mommy Dearest

Who can take the memory of a beloved elderly woman and recast her as an idle, reactionary philistine? Why, Christopher Hitchens can. In Monday's Guardian he spares not the memory of the dear Queen Mother, recounting everything from her frequent drinking to her embrace of Chamberlain's appeasement at Munich. Reading it makes one realize just how baroque and irrelevant the British monarchy has become, even as a figurehead institution. As an American, I find the idea of a hereditary head of state (even an essentially ceremonial one) repellent. As a distant observer of island kingdom, however, I find the contemporary reaction to the royal family fascinating. As long as its members no longer have the power to blockade Boston Harbor, I say long live the House of Windsor.
Treeless Terror

The inhabitants of Afghanistan are facing a number of problems these days. Smoldering infrastructure, tribal rivalries, Taliban holdouts, and even a recent earthquake. According to Mother Jones magazine's Michael Kamber, though, that's only the beginning. You probably didn't realize that Afghanistan is also facing an environmental crisis. Warlords might be roaming and unexploded munitions might be maiming, but MJ is concerned with the trouble the soot from wood fires is causing. Not only that, deforestation is being exacerbated by "a large timber mafia that smuggles wood out of the country" to towns in Pakistan. I didn't realize that firewood was banned from international commerce. Bad news for Canada, I guess.

Not all is lost, however. It seems that the unexploded bombs and other hazards of war might actually be good for the environment:

"Some environmentalists, searching for a silver lining among the ruins, are hoping that the landmines and dormant bombs will indirectly help protect some of Afghanistan's wildlife - even though they also pose a threat. 'Landmines tend to keep people out of areas,' says Dr. Joshua Ginsberg, Asia Director of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). 'That can be good for animals.'"

We've found the secret to wildlife preservation in the Third World - landmines. If only Princess Diana had lived to learn that they are "good for animals," she might have had more free time.
Puppy Love

It was only a matter of time, really. An Oklahoma woman has been arrested for attempting to trade her baby for a puppy. The folks at PETA, and all the animal activists that devote their time and attention to narrowing the gap between man and beast, should be very pleased by this.
Mideast Paralysis

The Los Angeles Times has a good reminder from Robert Satloff about President Bush's role in the current state of war between Israel and the Palestinians. He did not, through lack of involvement, cause the current state of violence:

"When President Bush came to office in January 2001, the Palestinian uprising against Israel was 4 months old, and the promise of the Camp David peace talks was a distant memory. The uprising already had morphed from a popular revolt to a full-scale guerrilla war. It was clear then that Yasser Arafat had violated the basic foundation on which the entire Oslo edifice was constructed: renouncing armed struggle."

The same people who are blaming Bush for not pulling the Israelis and Palestinians apart and giving them a good shake are the same people who believed round after round of diplomatic talks were the route to lasting peace. Even after overwhelming evidence that the Palestinian Authority was not negotiating in good faith and continued its involvement with the suicide bombers, high-minded opinion makers around the world had only one solution: the United States should force both sides back to the table. Arafat counted on world opinion to force Israel to give him everything he wanted - and they almost did. Israel offered him a sovereign state and he turned it down. That should give the world some idea of the size of his ambitions.

Not that total inaction on Bush's part is a good thing. Outlets like the Washington Post are also reporting on Bush's performance, comparing it negatively to his leadership of the war with Afghanistan:

"Bush's instincts to see the war on terrorism as one of good vs. evil served him well after Sept. 11, as he rallied an international coalition for a military campaign in Afghanistan that dislodged the Taliban regime and at least dispersed the al Qaeda terrorist network responsible for the attacks on the United States.

"But as he has confronted the escalating war between Israel and the Palestinians, Bush has sounded anything but certain, the black-and-white rhetoric of his war on terrorism replaced by what administration critics have described as hesitancy, inconsistency and ambiguity."

Conventional wisdom has it that this ambiguity comes from trying to support Israel and secure Arab allies for a war against Saddam Hussein at the same time. That, we hear, puts us in a terrible bind. But need we bind ourselves? Barbara Lerner has an interesting answer to that in her National Review Online column "Who Needs the Arabs?":

"That wisdom is summed up in the self-defeating non sequitur that could be heard, hourly, on every newscast in America as Vice President Cheney toured the Middle East: To make war on Iraq — repeat after me — 'We need Arab allies.' There are two main problems with this journalistic cliché: first that it isn't true, and second that it's against our interests. Pack journalists offer four reasons for it: because without Arab allies, we'd be at war with the whole Muslim world; because we need military bases in Arab lands; 'stability in the Middle East'; and Arab oil. All four are false."

Worth considering.
Culture Vultures

The French are amusingly iconoclastic, especially in regards to anything culturally American. French trade in "culture" as if it were a commodity to be cultivated domestically and exported, or as an import, embargoed to protect a cottage industry. The very self-consciousness that accompanies the French attempt to develop culture strikes one as odd and affected. Because of France's global irrelevance, politically, economically, and culturally, all this cultural contrarianism seems harmless. But, it can go too far, as this new book that is flying off Parisian bookshelves proves. Thierry Meyssan's book L'Effroyable Imposture (The Appalling Fraud) suggests that the September 11th terrorist attack on the Pentagon was staged by the United States government. One could not think of a more offensive and absurd thesis than to suggest the U.S. government inflicted this sort of violence on itself. The fact M. Meyssan wrote this outrage isn't as appalling as the fact that the French are clamoring to buy and, presumably, read it. Do they really hate America that much as to believe it would act upon itself in such a way? Truly the meanness and arrogance of French democracy is unrivaled, and in that they eternally remain culturally distinct.

Tuesday, April 02, 2002

Drilling for Jobs

A split in the Labor-Left coalition?

For some time now there has been a rift between the environmentalist wing of the Democratic party and its traditional support by organized labor. Some locals even endorsed Bush for President. Now the jobs-minded Teamsters are being encouraged to support drilling in the Arctic. Not that they need the prodding. To their credit, they know the difference between feel-good greenie obstructionism and an oil strike that could mean thousands of new, living-wage jobs. A flourishing economy needs affordable energy. And if exploiting 1% of an otherwise frozen wasteland can bring us that, then break out the diamond-tipped drills. It's nice to keep a polar bear from being annoyed by far-off noise. It's even nicer for a hard working American to be able to support their family with a steady job.
Psychedelically Fresh Breath

And so the countdown begins. How long will it take the DEA to list Salvia divinorum, the newly popular hallucinogenic herb from Mexico, as a controlled substance? That depends on how well-known it becomes. If it were not for national news attention from organizations like ABC News, it might have had a chance of staying legal indefinitely. But of course that's hardly possible now. All it takes is one e-commerce pioneer spamming Hotmail with a subject line that reads "The New LSD!!!! Totally legal high!!!!!!!" and the humble plant's fame is assured. As with LSD itself, the idle attentions of the non-drug using public rarely contribute positively to the future of a controlled substance.

Ethnobotanist Daniel J. Siebert seems to be more optimistic about the potential of this member of the mint family, however: "If you choose to pursue a relationship with this plant please treat it with respect and care. Perhaps if people can use the plant safely and responsibly it will be able to grow and thrive freely into the future." Ignoring for a moment the cloying hippie talk of 'pursuing a relationship' with the plant, I find it hard to understand that he would actually believe this. As the prohibition of marijuana makes painfully clear, the trigger for prohibiting a substance in this country has nothing to do with negative health impacts and everything to do with the ability of the government to fit it into a selective and emotionally defined category. If it's pleasantly mind-altering and not patented by a pharmaceutical company, it belongs in the Just Say No category.

Keep an eye out for DEA press conferences. The clock is ticking.
The Folly of the False Dichotomy

The Cybercast News Service has an article today on the future of windmill-generated electricity, in particular whether the federal government should continue to subsidize its production. The headline reads "Wind Power: Folly or Future?" Only the most naive of editors could think that, when Congress is involved, the two were mutually exclusive.
Illusory Universalism

Mark Bowden, author of Black Hawk Down, had a compelling op-ed in the Los Angeles Times yesterday. The War on Terrorism, we are often told, is not against the people of the world, only a few crazy fringe operators and a handful of oppressive tyrants. This is not a war against Muslims, the Arab world, or the Middle East. The vast majority of the people in those categories are just like us - hungering for the Western ideals of freedom and democracy. In fact, when it comes to their aspirations and desires, The Common People all around the world are Americans at heart. Bowden disagrees:

"We cling to this belief despite ample evidence to the contrary, whether it is political oppression in China, racial hatred in Zimbabwe, religious fanaticism in Iran, tribal conflict in Somalia or ethnic battles in the former Yugoslavia. The fact that these conflicts persist is blamed on backwardness or the bad influence of oppressive leaders. We assume that the people who inhabit these countries, unlike their leaders (who are not chosen democratically, after all) long for peace, freedom and prosperity, a world where differing races and religions are respected, even treasured, and where the human family is enriched by variety and the free exchange of ideas. Well, we are not the world."

He speaks the truth. During the Cold war, there were two competing system - ours and theirs. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, we assumed that ours had won and the rest of the world would start coasting, as various speeds, toward the American ideal without serious impediment. It turns out that many of the places around the world we expected to emulate us actually despise us. They think freedom is chaos and toleration is blasphemy:

"In most places, people long for victory, not peace. Their lives are shaped as much by fear and hatred as by acceptance and love. They are often complicit in the crimes of their leaders. At heart, they want their tribe, their race, their political system or their god to rule. They want not only to live their lives in the manner they choose but to compel others to do so. They want to kill their enemies, establish traditional homelands, avenge historical wrongs and preserve ways of life many Americans fled on their way here."

Words of warning to whatever international body ends up overseeing a new Afghanistan. Just because the Taliban is gone doesn't mean that the population has changed into a cadre of fresh faced American suburbanites, eager to get back to the building a productive economy and flourishing civil society. The institutions and values that define us didn't exist there before, and they're not likely to in the near future.

Monday, April 01, 2002

Labour's Love Lost

Lady Thatcher is retired from public life for one week and already it starts.

The rift between New Labour's version of Third Way politics and the Labour party's base is becoming clearer every day. Take this week's declaration by the UK's largest teachers' union that it's going to go on a limited strike over working hours. The National Union of Teachers is demanding a 35 hour work week - down from the reported average of 53 hours a week. The union says that "teachers are fed up waiting for improvements," but education secretary Estelle Morris was decidedly unsympathetic, reportedly feeling "disappointed and furious." An exotic combination indeed for a member of a Labour cabinet faced with an unhappy teachers' union.

This on the heels of PM Blair's characterization of opponents of public service privatisation as "wreckers," a comment many union leaders though was aimed squarely at them. Blair not only stuck with the comment in the face of criticism, however, but went on to deny that he had apologized for it. Echoing that recent controversy, Tory shadow education secretary Damian Green attempted to reassure the teachers' unions that they had friends on the Right, saying "Teachers are not wreckers. They are hard-working professionals who are doing their best under increasingly difficult circumstances." Green reportedly faced "heckling" from the union representatives during his speech.
An Embarrassment of Riches

Bill Clinton's shamelessness never ceases to amaze me. He's made a new statement about the Marc Rich pardon which is classic Bill. He maintains that he did nothing wrong in granting Rich a pardon, and that despite significant and compelling evidence to the contrary, there was no quid pro quo arranged by Denise Rich to benefit the Clintons. Asked if he would do it all over again, however, he says that he wouldn't. Why? According to the former President, "It wasn't worth the damage to my reputation." So despite the fact that he believes Marc Rich was innocent and did indeed deserve a pardon, if Clinton had it to do over again he wouldn't give him one because of the damage to his own reputation. I hope one of the Kennedy kids is coming out with a revised edition of Profiles in Courage soon. This belongs in some Appendix of Shame near the back.
John McCain Corruption Alert

Could it be that Microsoft is not the only one who knows how to manipulate market conditions for its own profit? Today Robert Novak points out the surprisingly large amount of campaign contributions received by state Attorneys General from Microsoft's rivals, such as Oracle and Novell. Why would they contribute the campaigns of state Attorneys General? Why, because the AGs are the ones who are suing Microsoft, and who get to decide if any proposed settlement punishes the company enough. And who is most interested in seeing Microsoft kept in court through the next several waves of innovation? Naturally enough, the companies that have been trying, often unsuccessfully, to compete against the big M's products. Why bother coming up with a strategy for winning in the software market when you can buy a strategy for winning in the market for political influence?
Tell it to the Bankruptcy Judge

Somehow Enron is still near the top of the Fortune 500 - moving up from no. 7 last year to no. 5 this year. Perhaps Fortune magazine, which is up there with Don Jones, Inc. as a brand name source for business information, should consider re-calculating their famous list. Being de-listed from their exchange and forced into bankruptcy should merit at least an asterisk next to their rank.