Man Without Qualities

Saturday, February 08, 2003

The Real MacKay

February is Black Histoiry Month. There are plenty of worthwhile contibutions to go around, but some claims are predictably more complex than others. For example, at this time of year one often sees the phrase "the real McCoy" flatly described as a reference to inventor Elijah McCoy, who was no slouch.

But the actual incomplete state of knowledge about the origins of this saying is more interesting - and possibly a nearly Proustian example of how alien phrases and concepts can merge with each other over time.
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A Zany New Franco-German Proposal

The French and Germans are reported to be readying a new proposal to avoid war in Iraq. The zany heart of the new proposal: the number of weapons inspectors should be tripled from the current 100 operating in Iraq. That is, the dishonest cat-and-mouse scavenger hunt now being played by 100 "inspectors" in a country the size of California would be expanded to the same cat-and-mouse scavenger hunt played by 300 "inspectors." The proposal would also pointlessly send thousands of U.N. troops - so-called "blue helmets" - "to enforce U.N. resolutions calling for Iraq's disarmament," apparently on the mistaken belief that the problem in Iraq is civil unrest, not pervasive dictatorial control directed to assembling the means of mass murder.

Other hilarious aspects are reported to include the proposal that the some 150,000 U.S. troops already deployed to the Gulf should stay in place to force Baghdad to cooperate and be ready to invade if it breaches the new proposed U.N. resolution. No mention is made of France or Germany actually paying any part of the many billions of dollars maintaining this semi-permanent police force would cost - and an actual authorization to invade would apparently still require a new Security Council vote which the French could veto. Gee, maybe the French and Germans should try turning their proposal around and propose that they assemble, maintain and finance a vast standing army and place it at the disposal of the United States. The proposal is predictably not reported to include any specific time frame for Iraqi compliance, although it does seem to contemplate creation of a whole new United Nations bureaucracy, including a new court and tighter controls on oil smuggling by Iraq's neighbors.

Oil smuggling by Iraq's neighbors? Leave it to the French and Germans to cut to the heart of the matter.

Der Spiegel said the initiative - uproariously dubbed "Project Mirage," but without apparent ironic intent - could help Schroeder out of the corner he seemed to have backed himself into over Iraq, risking international isolation if he sticks to his anti-war stance but political suicide at home if he changes course. And that's the underlying problem with the proposal. It is entirely and transparently structured to address pedestrian European political agendas in the most unimaginative and leaderless way, and addresses the real issues only as an afterthought. In short, it should be an embarrassment to it creators, who apparently have no shame and shockingly little political competence.

But Herr Schroeder should get used to that corner, because this plan is going exactly nowhere, nor should it.

UPDATE: Colin Powell nails the coffin.
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Consumer Debt?

Reuters reports:

U.S. consumers, saddled with huge debt loads, are poised to face even tougher times with more layoffs, rising oil prices and a looming U.S. war with Iraq, credit rating and asset-backed securities analysts said this week. ... Late loan payments and defaults have been climbing. Personal bankruptcy filings are expected to surpass last year's record. "Our outlook (for consumer credit) is absolutely bleak," said Jeff Salmon, head of asset-backed securities research at Barclays Capital.

But the Wall Street Journal reports:

Americans unexpectedly pared down their outstanding borrowing in December at the fastest pace in more than 10 years. .... [T]he Fed said outstanding balances of consumer borrowing, which includes car and credit-card loans among other forms of installment debt, fell $4 billion overall, or by an annual rate of 2.75%, to $1.722 trillion in December. The last time Americans cut their debt at a faster annual pace was in April 1992, when consumer credit declined by 3%, the Fed said. In dollar terms, the drop was the biggest since a $5.825 billion slide in December 1990. Economists were way off. They had predicted credit would increase by $4.3 billion in December, according to a survey by Thomson Global Markets. ... [T]he drops in November and December mark the first back-to-back declines in consumer credit since May and June of 1992, when the economy was still shaking off the effects of recession, the Fed said.
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A Final Note On The Most Recent Krugmania

It's a real steeplechase race, but perhaps the most fatuous criticism of Alan Greenspan that Paul Krugman releases in his most recent column may be this:

And [Mr. Greenspan] can't make the supply-side claim that tax cuts actually increase revenues, when just two years ago he argued for a tax cut to reduce the surplus.

Contrary to this most recent blast of Krugmania, Mr. Greenspan will have no trouble whatsoever before Congress, and he will not have to be opaque or gnostic to answer any of the silly questions Professor Krugman has ginned up in his column. Specifically, if Mr. Greenspan is asked, he can say that when he previously proposed that taxes be reduced to reduced the surplus he had a big tax cut in mind - one that would more than compensate for the supply side simulative effects. That is: he was then proposing a tax rate to the left of what might be called the "Laffer Point". But now he is advocating a smaller tax cut - one that will activate the supply side effect and raise tax receipts in the long run. In other words he can say that he views the President's proposed reduced tax rate to still be to the right of the Laffer Point. He could even say that additional tax cuts may be appropriate in the future.

Mr. Greenspan might also point out that the structure of these particular proposed tax reductions is especially likely to create long term stimulative effects - as Milton Friedman and others have noted. The elimination of the almost universally condemned "double taxation" of dividends will eliminate a substantial incentive for public companies to incur excessive debt and retain earnings for which they are not the best users. Further, rapid and permanent repeal of the "death" or "inheritance" tax will eliminate incentives for assets to be sold at the time of death, rather than the efficient time. So it is all the more reasonable to expect that this tax cut will increase long term revenue while previous proposals might only have reduced the surplus.

Contrary to the Krugmania version, the "supply side" argument posits only that at some point increasing tax rates suppresses economic activity and therefore tax receipts. One might call the rate of taxation at which tax receipts begin to go down the "Laffer Point." Professor Krugman doesn't like "supply side" theory, but here's a proof that the Laffer Point must exist that even Professor Krugman should be able to understand: Assume for the sake of argument that effective tax rates are set at 100% of wealth and income. Then nobody will engage in meaningful economic activity and tax receipts will be zero. So there must be a Laffer Point. There. Easy stuff, even for Professor Krugman.

Professor Krugman thinks that Mr. Greenspan is confined by intellectual honesty to always arguing that tax cuts increase tax receipts. But Mr. Greenspan is as aware as anyone that if tax rates are continuously reduced towards zero eventually tax receipts will be reduced, too. Here's a proof that Mr. Greenspan may keep written on his shirt cuff which even Professor Krugman should be able to grasp: Assume for the sake of argument all tax rates are reduced to zero. There will be no tax receipts, and zero is less than what the government collects now. There. Wasn't that easy? Professor Krugman should be confident that Mr. Greenspan - who is really pretty clever - has not overlooked this argument.

So Mr. Greenspan can hold his head high, his reputation and the national solvency secured!

No sweat.

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Friday, February 07, 2003

Wither The EU?

A number of commentators have raised the possibility that the current Iraq mess may result in the end of the United Nations - at least in the form it now exists. But the respected German newspaper F.A.Z. suggests that the EU itself may self destruct - or at least destroy its current form:

With their rejection of a U.S. attack against Iraq without a further UN resolution, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and, to a lesser extent, his French counterpart, Jacques Chirac, have forced European Union countries to pledge allegiance, either to Washington or to Brussels. ... Countries such as Great Britain ... have long kept the EU at arm's length, while embracing the United States both as an economic, political and military ally. ... The conservative Spanish prime minister, Jose Maria Aznar, has also worked hard at fostering his special relationship with U.S. President George Bush. No wonder, then, that these two countries spearheaded the open revolt against Germany and France, convincing three other EU countries and three eastern European EU candidates to sign a declaration underscoring their full support of the U.S. Iraq course. The implications of this declaration, hammered out behind closed doors without the knowledge of Germany, France or Greece, currently holding the EU's rotating presidency, had even hardened Brussels diplomats gasping for air.

The declaration came three days after all 15 EU member states had agreed to recommend prolonging and intensifying arms inspections in Iraq, a joint stance that was supposed to express a unified EU foreign policy. More ominously, the declaration was made public just two days before the newly ratified Treaty of Nice came into effect. The vision of a common foreign policy was a key provision of the Nice Treaty. It bars any EU country from actions that contradict a common EU position on foreign affairs.

In public, Berlin has played down this act of revolt. In the halls of Brussels, its diplomats have been thinking aloud about the possible consequences. Why, they ask, should Germany remain the main financier of Europe, lend an ear to the monetary demands of EU hopefuls Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, all of whom co-signed the letter initiated by Spain's Aznar. Going further, the SPD EU representative, Ulrich Stockmann said: “These countries have to decide which starred banners they want to stitch their stars onto.“

It didn't take eastern Europeans long to decide. Just hours after U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell held his long-awaited speech before the UN Security Council on Wednesday, 10 small eastern European countries slated for EU membership published a fresh declaration supporting the U.S. and its plans to attack Iraq. ...

Isolated internationally and in the EU, Schröder is counting on French support to uphold his position in the UN Security Council ... [But] it is doubtful whether Chirac will risk further burdening France's relationship with the United States.

Ulrich Stockmann has an interesting ability to make Donal Rumsfeld seem like a pussyfooter.

There's more.

In a separate but related editorial, the F.A.Z. also notes that the recent disastrous SPD election performance some observers said, ... forces the government into something approaching a de facto coalition with the CDU. And, returning to the first editorial cited above, the opposition Christian Democrats are apparently already making preparations for German reconciliation with the United States, perhaps under a new government. Seeking to assure the United States of her party's loyalty, Christian Democrat party whip Angela Merkel plans to fly to Washington to pledge the CDU's unwavering support of that country's Iraq plans.

That doesn't seem to give Mr. Chirac much to rely on the other side of the Rhine.
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Claremont Institute Blog

It's up. It's good. Everyone should read it regularly.
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Sedating The Latest Krugmania

Don Luskin does a commendable job explaining why Paul Krugman's latest column is just more hollow partisan hooting, uninformed by serious economics and failing to offer any stimulus plan as an alternative to the policies which are the focus of today's Krugmania.

From today's column it appears that Professor Krugman is no longer amused by Alan Greenspan. And this full Princeton professor of economics works himself into a positive lather over the prospect of what will be, in terms of a percentage of gross domestic product, a rather modest federal budget deficit.

Yes, Paul, yes. We all know you're very upset. But perhaps when you calm down you could explain how it is that it is so very important not to have a deficit now but, back when the Balanced Budget Amendment was up for consideration, balancing the budget was considered just plain loony by people like your good friend Brad DeLong.

Of course, Professor DeLong was considering a mandatory Constitutional amendment. But his economic reasons for disfavoring the Balanced Budget Amendment didn't have much to do with it's legal nature - just the economic effects of balancing the budget at the wrong time. And his arguments seem just as applicable now. For example, consider this DeLongian wheeze:

The balanced-budget amendment would do more than run the risk of creating a recession on its implementation. It would have damaging long-run economic consequences as well by eliminating the fiscal "automatic stabilizers" that moderate the depth of recessions. When the economy enters recession, government revenues automatically fall: as individuals' incomes and firms' profits decline, they owe less in taxes. When the economy enters recession, government spending rises as more people draw on unemployment insurance and other social welfare programs. The fall in tax collections and the rise in spending both act to boost the economy. They provide a cushion, keeping aggregate demand, and thus employment, from falling as much as they would otherwise.

Isn't Professor Krugman one of the nation's greatest heralds of weakness in the economy? Isn't he the one who sounded the alarm when Santa left a lump of coal last December for the nation's retailers?

And what about this fervid DeLongian concern:

The deficit reduction efforts already underway are putting a substantial burden on the current recovery. .... The rapid contraction in spending and increase in taxes resulting from hasty implementation of an amendment could shrink demand by enough to trigger a nationwide recession.

Dear me. Professor DeLong seems to warning us about raising taxes in a situation very much like the one we have now!

And maybe I'm just not as smart as Professor DeLong and Krugman - dammit, I admit it, I'm not that smart, nobody is that smart - but Professor DeLong's other arguments don't seem to be consistent with the current Krugmania, either. Perhaps when Professor Krugman returns from orbit he can explain some of this to me.

And, while he's at it, perhaps someone can remind him that the solvency of the United States is not at issue here. A reasonable person may support or oppose deficits of the order proposed by Mr. Bush - but the United States is not going to go broke because of them. And regardless of Professor Krugman's fulminations, Alan Greenspan's reputation as one of the most respected and successful - perhaps the most respected and successful - Federal Reserve Chairmen is not in any danger.

So maybe the Chairman of the Princeton Economics Department can drop by Professor Krugman's office and let him know - in a friendly way, of course - that when the Professor allows his Krugmania to extend to scribing sentences such as "Mr. Greenspan must know that many people, whatever they say in public, now regard him as a partisan hack" and "This may be Alan Greenspan's last chance to save his reputation — and the country's solvency" he sounds like a complete fruitcake.

On the other hand, there are some putative economists around whose reputations are now under serious attack and who have been seriously and widely accused of becoming mere "partisan hacks." But none of them has intitials "A.G." - and they don't still live in the Washington D.C. area.

MORE: Perhaps Professor Krugman is having trouble suggesting an alternative plan because, as the New York Times points out, the more people learn about the Democratic alternative the less they like it:

The Senate Democratic leader, Tom Daschle of South Dakota, announced a plan in January that would send checks equal to $300 for each adult in a family and another $300 for each of the first two children. Senator Byron L. Dorgan of North Dakota has proposed rebate checks of $500 for individuals and $1,000 for married couples.

Instinctively, however, many people seem to understand that a temporary tax cut is more like a gift than something that allows people to change their behavior.

When households got rebates in 1975 as part of President Gerald Ford's effort to help the economy, they spent about one-third of them, according to several studies. People behaved similarly in 2001, even though those rebates — a Democratic idea — were actually a down payment on a permanent tax reduction, said Joel Slemrod, an economist at the University of Michigan.

In the early 1980's, by contrast, people spent about 90 percent of the additional money that showed up in their regular paychecks from President Ronald Reagan's tax cut, according to Nicholas S. Souleles, an associate professor of finance at the University of Pennsylvania.

Mr. Slemrod said, "The more persistent people think a tax cut is, the more likely they are to incorporate it into decisions about how well off they are."

This Times article more or less gets it right, except I don't think its just public "instinct" that leads people to doubt the effectiveness of the Democratic proposals. A better term might be "intelligence and experience." The Democratic counterproposal is nothing more than a one-off gift, and most of us have the intelligence and experience to know how people respond to a gift.

Christmas, for example, is within most people's experience.

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Chromosome Poisoning

There is a recent vogue in some of the more septic corners of the left to refer to those with whom they do not agree as having an "extra chromosome."

TAPPED is the latest to employ this usage. TAPPED and its fellow travelers in this trashmouth should keep in mind that that kind of talk is banned on the better American grade school playgrounds - and the children who talk that way are brought to the principal's office and told that they are in school to learn better ways of expressing themselves.

What does the future hold? Will TAPPED soon refer to its political opponents as, say, "mongoloids or as having Down's syndrome?" Will some TAPPED-out wit think it would be just hunky dory to refer to women as "Y-chromosome deprived?" How about referring to men as "those of the species lacking two X chromosomes?" And as science continues to correlate various human frailties with particular defective chromosomes or genes, do TAPPED and its sympaticos plan to correlate those defects with the names they call their political opponents? Why stop at "extra chromosome" when one can sound so learned by referring to one's political opponents as "the Taye-Sacks afflicted in the crowd", for example?

Go, TAPPED, go! Do the PC dance just as fast as you can! The fun is just unbounded!

Link from Croooow Blog.

UPDATE: Croooow Blog correctly points out:

Bush 41's use of ["extra chromosome"], which he had to apologize for in December 1987... doesn't make TAPPED look any better.

In fact, it just makes the need for a TAPPED apology all the more obvious.
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Lifting The Second Veil

In yet another gesture reflecting his lack of political seasoning which nevertheless has its virtues, dazzling, refreshing, fresh-faced political greenhorn freshman senator John Edwards, who is running for President, has made a curious South Carolina choice to deliver some of his his trademark charming and boyishly attractive badinage: William Aiken House in Charleston, the home of the largest Civil War slaveholder in South Carolina, who was also a big supporter of the Confederacy. Indeed, Aiken turned his house over to Confederate Brigadier General Beauregard for use as a temporary headquarters during the Union shelling of lower Charleston.

Of course, the New York Times reports that, Democratic candidates for president are struggling these days to work their way through a bit of a headache: How to campaign in South Carolina, a state with a pivotal primary, without running afoul of an economic boycott intended to force the removal of a Confederate flag from the State House grounds -
a boycott which extends even to the hiring of hotel rooms. Senator Edwards has pledged to "honor" the boycott. But as the Times puts it:

Mr. Edwards is heading for South Carolina on Saturday, on a campaign excursion that is stirring much curiosity, and a little bit of sniggering, from Democrats in opposing camps anxious to see just how this first-term senator from neighboring North Carolina can pull it off.

"It is incredibly difficult," said Erik Smith, an aide to Representative Richard A. Gephardt, a Missouri Democrat who said he would not abide by the boycott. "No one has given a plausible explanation of how you can run an effective campaign. The boycott is more than sleeping in hotels. The boycott is everything from eating in restaurants to paying car services."

Well, that dazzling Senator Edwards seems to have come up with an imaginative solution. Instead of the facilities of some chain hotel, he's going to use the home of the largest Civil War slaveholder in South Carolina! Mr. Aiken was, after all, a Democrat who was arrested by federal authorities for refusing to attend the raising of the US flag at Fort Sumter after its capture by Union troops. So Senator Edwards' choice of the Aiken House during a boycott associated with South Carolina's use of a Confederate flag is particularly poetic.

Yes, indeed. This is the boy genius the Democrats are counting on to retake the White House.

FOOTNOTE: I do not wish to be read as suggesting that there is anything wrong with anyone holding a meeting at the Aiken House. The focus here is entirely on Senator Edwards' practical political abilities and judgment given the current operative facts in the Democratic Party, South Carolina and the nation as a whole. In short: Senator Edwards comes up short. Very short.
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Is Germany Completely Lost? II

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Friedbert Pflueger reports:

The core of Mr. Powell's facts have been known to all European leaders, including German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, for some time. They all have had the benefit of similar information from European intelligence agencies. Some of them have chosen to close their eyes or look away -- the German chancellor, for example. .... [T]he German public has been kept in the dark. Germans have not been informed about the findings of their own intelligence service, the Bundesnachrichtendienst.

The best chance of getting Germany on board is to point out that the facts and evidence of Iraqi plans for mass murder are overwhelming - and of all nations, Germany simply cannot afford to deny those kinds of facts. The case must be made directly to the German people, and Mr. Pflueger's article is a good start. Mr. Pflueger is a member of the Bundestag and the Foreign-Policy Spokesman of the opposition CDU/CSU-Parliamentary Group. If the German opposition parties take up this line of argument in force and in full generality, it may well prevail. Chancellor Schroder is without political courage or vision and will take the easiest way out. If public anxiety makes denialism a harder way than acceptance of the facts, he will choose acceptance of the facts - and not otherwise.

It's that simple. He's that empty.

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Hilarious Hans!

The Associated Press reports:

An Iraqi scientist's decision to be interviewed by U.N. inspectors suggests that Baghdad is "making an effort" to cooperate, chief U.N. inspector Hans Blix said Friday ahead of a key visit to Iraq. Asked about Thursday's interview with an Iraqi biologist, Blix said: "I think it seems as they are making an effort." But he added: "We want to see a lot more this weekend," when he and head nuclear inspector Mohamed ElBaradei meet with senior Iraqi officials.

So, two days after being shown proof that the Iraqis have been engaged in an effort to deceive his team - an effort so excessive and madcap that it could have come from an old Looney Tunes cartoon - and before he even talks to this one sad Iraqi scientist who is being offered up as the sacrificial victim, Mr. Blix is prepared to opine that "it seems as they are making an effort!"

What a card! Surely Mr. Blix is hoping for the Sargeant Schultz part in any new Hogan's Heros show! He even looks the part.

Mr. Blix, listen and repeat: "I see noth-ing! I see noth-ing!"

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Thursday, February 06, 2003

Times Versus Times

The Los Angeles Times reports today:

U.S. service businesses grew in January and some, such as wholesalers and media, hired workers for the first time in nearly two years, providing evidence that the economy's uneven recovery from recession may be solidifying. The Institute for Supply Management said Wednesday that its index of nonmanufacturing activity edged up to 54.5 from a revised 54.2 in December, posting a 12th straight month of growth. A jump in the new-orders component also provided hope for solid services growth in coming months. "There's no indication we're slipping back into recession," said Ralph Kauffman, ISM's director for the nonmanufacturing survey.

But the New York Times, which must be reporting on an entirely different United States economy than the one the Los Angeles Times is considering, reports:

The economy has fallen into its worst hiring slump in almost 20 years, and many business executives say they remain unsure when it will end. The employment decline has become even worse than it was at a comparable point in the so-called jobless recovery of the early 1990's, according to recently revised statistics from the Labor Department.

UPDATE: Today's New York Times reports:

The nation's unemployment rate dropped to 5.7 percent in January as businesses added 143,000 new jobs, a shot of good news for an ailing economy. The increase in payroll jobs ... was the largest since November 2000, said Friday's Labor Department report. The overall rate dropped by 0.3 percentage point from the 6 percent rate in December that matched an 8-year high. Analysts had expected the unemployment rate to hold steady at 6 percent for a third straight month, with a more modest increase in payrolls.

What a difference a day makes when you're the New York Times! On Thursday the hiring downturn is so bad that we're counseled that its the worst hiring slump in almost 20 years, and many business executives say they remain unsure when it will end ... and the very next day it does end.

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Senator McCain Sees Through The French

Senator John McCain says the only reason the French are being so difficult with respect to Iraq is to protect their oil contracts.

What he doesn't say expressly is that if his accusation is correct, the French will jump on board the American bandwagon when they come to understand that the Iraq incursion is inevitable.

But French President Chiac says that point has not yet been reached: "We refuse to think that war is inevitable"

Somebody should remind Mr. Chirac that in France the worst political sin is not corruption, it is stupidity. And it is never foregiven. Time is getting very short.

Of course, Mr. Chirac may just just trolling for formal assurances that French oil contracts will be assumed and respected - perhaps even enhanced - by the new American-imposed government. Indeed, it is so hard to believe that Mr. Chirac is not a whore - and so much easier to believe that he's just driving a hard bargain over the price.

UPDATE: One Financial Times columnist, François Heisbourg, doesn't expect the French to participate in an Iraq incursion - although he is curiously silent about a French Security Council vote:

The government in Paris may ... now believe there is relatively little to lose by confirming its anti-war stance. The damage has been done. A deep split has emerged in the Atlantic alliance and within the European Union. And while exclusion from a post-Saddam Iraq may cost it dear, France may also have something to gain. Rightly or wrongly, staying out of a war could open other doors in the Middle East. In any case, the French remember that their role in the Gulf war coalition did not secure them a substantial share of the post-war action.

Staying out of a war could open other doors in the Middle East? Really? Perhaps starting with the possible repudiation of all those Iraqi/French oil contracts and all that debt? And is Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iran or any other counrty that has just watched the United States utterly demolish Iraq going to go its merry way provoking and ignoring the demolisher? Can France think it will prosper by counting on such a calculus? If the Financial Times is right about this one then Mr. Chirac does need to be reminded what the greatest political sin in France really is.

In any event, Mr. Heisbourg's observation that the French remember that their role in the Gulf war coalition did not secure them a substantial share of the post-war action suggests that he, too, suspects that Mr. Chirac is just pimping France as a whore at the United Nations and in Washington.

It's sad that Mr. Chirac feels that to pay the rent he has to put Marianne on the streets.

FURTHER UPDATE: Tony Blair says he's still confident that France, Russia and others can be brought around.

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Another Big Loser For Democrats

The Los Angeles Times reports:

By a 2 to 1 majority, Americans approve of President Bush's call to strike down a race-based admissions policy at the University of Michigan and say that students should be judged only on their academic records, according to a new Los Angeles Times poll. However, when given a possible alternative, the respondents say they would support an affirmative action policy that gives a preference to individuals who come from an economically disadvantaged background, regardless of their race, ethnicity or gender.

How can this be? The New York Times assured us that the President's position was all smoke and mirrors and deceptive poll questions! The New York Times says that many Americans who say they favor ''affirmative action'' flip sides when asked about ''racial quotas.'' But that doesn't seem to hold up in the light of the Los Angeles Times poll findings: by about two-to-one people just don't like what Michigan is doing, no matter what it's called.

And for those who think that de facto affirmative action can be obtained under the guise of helping the economically disadvantaged, there is something else to keep in mind: recent history has shown that programs which some thought would benefit the "economically underprivileged" across the board don't do that. The big beneficiaries have been Asian Americans.

Yes, the Supreme Court is likely to ban Michigan style affirmnative action. That should increase pressure on the states to actually reform their education systems to focus on education - since the corrupt, racist alternative of not educating too many minority students and then forcing their advancement through higher education and employment by way of "affirmative action" is probably going to be disallowed. What this all really converges to say is that there is no substitute for educating every student. And that means taking on public school teachers and administrators - which, in turn, probably means vouchers. At least if a majority of the Supreme Court agrees with two-thirds of Americans.

Some state supreme courts have held that various provisions of their state constitutions require education reforms such as elimination of property tax financing for public schools. When will those state supreme courts wake up to understand guarantying universal education in modern America require states to create voucher alternatives to schools owned and run by the state?

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Is Germany Completely Lost?

Secretary of State Colin Powell seems to have settled some major points even in the minds of most of those adamantly opposed to war with Iraq: Iraq definitely has (1) a lot of chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction, (2) an active program to acquire nuclear weapons, (3) extensive contacts and cooperation with al Qaeda and (4) deliberately and energetically fooled the United Nations inspectors.

Even the ever willfully foolish New York Times has been forced to admit its prior denialist carpings were mostly in error, although the paper's foolish waffling on the al Qaeda connection remains:

Secretary of State Colin Powell presented the United Nations and a global television audience yesterday with the most powerful case to date that Saddam Hussein stands in defiance of Security Council resolutions and has no intention of revealing or surrendering whatever unconventional weapons he may have. ...
Mr. Powell's most convincing evidence was of efforts by Iraq to shield chemical or biological weapons programs from United Nations inspectors. The intercepted conversations of Republican Guard officers that he played, in which they urgently seek to hide equipment or to destroy communications in advance of inspections, offered stark evidence that Mr. Hussein has not only failed to cooperate with the inspectors, as Resolution 1441 requires him to, but has actively sought to thwart them. Mr. Powell also offered new evidence that Al Qaeda terrorists have found safe harbor in Iraq, but the links between Baghdad and the terror network seemed more tenuous than his other charges. ... It may not have produced a "smoking gun," but it left little question that Mr. Hussein had tried hard to conceal one. In response to Mr. Powell's presentation, the foreign ministers of France, Germany, China and Russia called for extending and strengthening the inspection program in Iraq.

Evidence and its presentation sufficient to bring even the blind dullards at the Times largely to heel is potent indeed. And because the evidence is so convincing, Germany's particular history may play a big role in whether its agreement to some form of new Security Council resolution is possible. German agreement to a resolution specifically authorizing a military incursion is unlikely. Gerhardt Schroeder has pointedly said he would not agree to such a thing and, since German voters are not amenable to an incursion, German government support would require the kind of real leadership from Herr Schroeder that he has singularly lacked.

But German agreement to a Security Council resolution declaring Iraq to be in "material default" is possible.

As distinguished from authorizing war, declaring a "material breach" is mostly a matter of fact: Does Iraq have weapons of mass destructions and is it hiding them from the inspectors? The answer is plainly "yes" and the evidence is strong. Is Germany ultimately prepared to deny the convincing nature of the evidence to the point of denying that there is a material breach here? The evocations here of holocaust denialism and the historical propensity of Germans to refuse to see signs of government preparations for mass murder are very strong. Perhaps they are strong enough to bring the German people and government around. There is some evidence that German officials sense the problem lurking here for them in particular. The Washington Post reports, for example:

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, a vocal opponent of war, supported the French proposal to extend the inspections. But, he pointedly noted, Germany does not "hold any illusions on the inhuman and brutal nature of Saddam Hussein's dictatorship. The regime is terrible for the Iraqi people." Fischer added that he lacked the technical expertise to assess whether the intelligence presented to the council by Powell was convincing.

The United States' public posture doesn't seem to take the Germans seriously, as the Post also reports:

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, in testimony before Congress today, lumped Germany with Libya and Cuba as countries that have ruled out any role in a U.S.-led attack or postwar reconstruction of Iraq. "I believe Libya, Cuba and Germany are ones that have indicated they won't help in any respect, I believe," said Rumsfeld, who last month angered the German and French governments by referring to them as "old Europe."

But if the United States decides it wants only a declaration of "material breach" from the Security Counsel, the Germans should not be written off too early. Since the establishment of their Federal Republic, one of the very good things the Germans have accomplished is repeatedly overcoming much of their societal inclination towards denialism, although in particular instances it has required a fair amount of public debate to bring about the proper result after initial resistance. In this respect Germany is light years ahead of Japan.

To get a real debate going in Germany, it would be helpful if a major internal German political organization had the guts to point out what is at stake here for the Germans in the denialism that would be implied by German refusal to acknowledge formally the existence of a "material breach." The Germans will pay for any such denialism for many years, especially once the incursion delivers even more evidence of Hussein's atrocities into the hands of the Americans. It may be that Chancellor Schroeder's political opponents are prepared to force his hand:

"The majority of our electorate, the conservative electorate, is against any military action, so we haven't wanted to put that to the test before," Christian Schmidt, the foreign policy spokesman for the opposition Christian Social Union, said in an interview Monday. "Now we will repeat a little louder what we said before - go back to the alliance." Many, not only opposition party members but German foreign policy experts, have been privately critical of what they have seen as Schroeder's unyielding position on Iraq, arguing that it has needlessly harmed German relations with the United States and caused divisions inside Europe.
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Spooky Goes Down, But There's Still A Place To Pray For The Souls Of The Departed (Or Is It The "Ejected")

Awesome footage from Kevin Higgins of a C-130A taking out an al Qaeda camp in Afghanistan while leaving its mosque intact.

The video leaves one with the impression that - to paraphrase Kliban - due to a convergence of forces far beyond their comprehension, these al Qaeda operatives were suddenly squirted out of the universe like watermellon seeds, never to be heard from again.

Courtesy of Jay Caruso.

I could have sworn that I permalinked to Jay ages ago, but checking my links shows otherwise. That is now fixed. Enjoy.
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Iraq-Al Qaeda At The New Yorker

Jeffrey Goldberg does a terrific job in this New Yorker article, which, among other things, describes the comedy of errors committed by the Clinton Administration in connection with al Qaeda and also why the CIA has recently changed its position to believe that there is a substantial Iraq-Al Qaeda connection. The whole article is worth reading as a supplement to Secretary’s Powell's impressive effort before the Security Council, since Mr. Goldberg focuses - but not exclusively - on evidence which the Secretary did not emphasize.

Mr. Goldberg appeared last night on the O'Reilly Factor (there does not yet appear to be an available transcript) to say that the CIA has mostly within the past six months captured a number of high ranking al Qaeda operatives who have been talking about Iraq's links with their former employer, although his New Yorker article does not extensively discuss the specific sources of the intelligence that led to the CIA reversal. Sample from the article:

According to several intelligence officials I spoke to, the relationship between bin Laden and Saddam's regime was brokered in the early nineteen-nineties by the then de-facto leader of Sudan, the pan-Islamist radical Hassan al-Tourabi. Tourabi, sources say, persuaded the ostensibly secular Saddam to add to the Iraqi flag the words "Allahu Akbar," as a concession to Muslim radicals.

In interviews with senior officials, the following picture emerged: American intelligence believes that Al Qaeda and Saddam reached a non-aggression agreement in 1993, and that the relationship deepened further in the mid-nineteen-nineties, when an Al Qaeda operative—a native-born Iraqi who goes by the name Abu Abdullah al-Iraqi—was dispatched by bin Laden to ask the Iraqis for help in poison-gas training. Al-Iraqi's mission was successful, and an unknown number of trainers from an Iraqi secret-police organization called Unit 999 were dispatched to camps in Afghanistan to instruct Al Qaeda terrorists. (Training in hijacking techniques was also provided to foreign Islamist radicals inside Iraq, according to two Iraqi defectors quoted in a report in the Times in November of 2001.) Another Al Qaeda operative, the Iraqi-born Mamdouh Salim, who goes by the name Abu Hajer al-Iraqi, also served as a liaison in the mid-nineteen-nineties to Iraqi intelligence. Salim, according to a recent book, "The Age of Sacred Terror," by the former N.S.C. officials Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon, was bin Laden's chief procurer of weapons of mass destruction, and was involved in the early nineties in chemical-weapons development in Sudan. Salim was arrested in Germany in 1998 and was extradited to the United States. He is awaiting trial in New York on charges related to the 1998 East Africa embassy bombings; he was convicted last April of stabbing a Manhattan prison guard in the eye with a sharpened comb.

Intelligence officials told me that the agency also takes seriously reports that an Iraqi known as Abu Wa'el, whose real name is Saadoun Mahmoud Abdulatif al-Ani, is the liaison of Saddam's intelligence service to a radical Muslim group called Ansar al-Islam, which controls a small enclave in northern Iraq; the group is believed by American and Kurdish intelligence officials to be affiliated with Al Qaeda. I learned of another possible connection early last year, while I was interviewing Al Qaeda operatives in a Kurdish prison in Sulaimaniya. There, a man whom Kurdish intelligence officials identified as a captured Iraqi agent told me that in 1992 he served as a bodyguard to Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden's deputy, when Zawahiri secretly visited Baghdad.

It's the guess of the Man Without Qualities that the CIA also has access to fairly extensive intelligence supplied by Iraqi insiders. How could a person with the personality of Mr. Hussein not spawn a virtual hoard of traitors? Of course, disclosure of intelligence provided from such sources is all but impossible, since disclosure would probably endanger the source. So Mr. Powell concentrates on satellites and Mr. Goldberg cites captured al Qaeda operatives with apparent CIA consent.

On the O'Reilly Factor, Bill O'Reilly expressed surprise that the Administration was not relying more heavily in its campaign of public persuasion on sources such as captured al Qaeda operatives. He even suggested putting them on the Factor to tell the story.

But, in my opinion, the Administration is going about this the right way. It is essential that the evidence presented by Secretary Powell be as stable as possible. Satellite photographs and tape recordings of intercepted Iraqi conversations cannot recant the way an al Qaeda operative could. The argument could be made in public that such operatives might have all manner of reason to tell their captors what they want to hear - look at the recent mess surrounding the confessions in the Central Park Jogger case. Worse, focusing on captured operatives could be presented - by, say, Maureen Dowd and other such sillies - as suggesting that the Administration is depending on the integrity of traitors.

Far better to have Secretary Powell depend on stable, technologically based intelligence in his official statements while information from al Qaeda operatives is released unofficially through the media to back up the official case.

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Tuesday, February 04, 2003

Another Hundred Years?

Stuart Taylor says "no," Excellent as usual from this source.
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Intelligent Design

Steve Verdon thinks Eugene Volokh has wandered off the reservation in his Volokheyrian musings about "intelligent design," especially his observation that "it tells us nothing about God. After all, the intelligent creators could well be alien beings from outer space." Steve says lots of smart things about William Dembski, complex structures in living organisms, information theory, probability theory and scientific reasoning - but I have what I think is a separate reservation about the Volokheyrian approach.

Simply put, I've always thought that "intelligent design" theory just posited that the operation of all known natural laws could not explain the development of life, especially human life. "Evolution" is just shorthand for that. So I agree with Steve that the Volokheyrian segue into "aliens" theory seems to miss the point pretty badly even at the level of understanding what the "intelligent design" guys are saying. Too many X-Files reruns?

But I agree with Volokh that proving "intelligent design" may not tell us much about God - only the limits of the scientific method in a way similar to the way Godel's incompleteness therem showed some limits to the logical axiomatic method. At one point people (Hilbert, Von Neumann) actually thought that mathematics could be reduced to a set of mathematical laws (axioms) and deterministic logical deductions from that set. Boy were they wrong!

To the extent it helps contain human intellectual arrogance, one of our more virulent forms of stupidity, knowing something about our limits is not a bad thing. As Woody Alen wrote: "God is silent! Now if only we can get man to shut up." So maybe establishing "intelligent design theory" could in that sense bring us closer to God.

A stronger version of "intelligent design" theory (which, to my knowledge, is not being pushed by anyone) would be a demonstration that no consistent extension of the currently known body of natural laws could explain human life. I call that a "relative miracle" in one of my prior posts.

Opponents of "intelligent design" have some things in common with those early opponents of quantum mechanics who were confident that the new, non-deterministic theory must be explainable by deterministic "hidden variables." Albert Einstein, for example, famously expostulated that "I defend the Good God against the idea of a continuous game of dice!" But it now seems that there cannot be deterministic "hidden variables" of which quamtum mechanics is but a probablilistic reflection - God does role dice with the universe - at least if one accepts the strong "Copenhagen" version of quantum mechanics.

Interestingly, Einstein also said "I believe in the God of Spinoza." I'm not sure what Einstein exactly meant by this, but Spinoza is often said to have believed that "God" is the aggregate of all natural laws, which he might have meant to include at least the ones known to him. So one shorthand formulation of a stronger "intelligent design" theory could be: "Spinoza was wrong."

I will leave any First Amendment consequences of this formulation to the reader.

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Monday, February 03, 2003

French Endgame

The collapse of the deliriously misconceived Franco-German Axis of Weasels is predicted by the International Herald Tribune, which, incidentally, is now completely controlled by the New York Times.

UPDATE: But there are now reports that Blair has failed.


A prior post noted that the best way for the United States and Britain to garner French support in obtaining a new Security Council vote is to make it clear and credible to the French that Iraq will be invaded regardless of whether a new United Nations resolution is forthcoming.

Well, it does seem as though the United States is going out of its way to make the point that France is not necessary:

France is no longer an ally of the United States and the NATO alliance "must develop a strategy to contain our erstwhile ally or we will not be talking about a NATO alliance" the head of the Pentagon's top advisory board said in Washington Tuesday.

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Sunday, February 02, 2003

About That Economy

For all of 2002, real disposable personal income, which is income after taxes and inflation, was up 4.5% from 2001. This increase occurred even though there was a modest rise in unemployment.

Construction spending was high in December as home-building activity hit a record monthly high.

And a report shows factory output had a third straight month of growth in January.

None of that seems like a bad thing.

Recent economic uncertainty has disproportionately affected parts of the country such as New York (investment banking; 9-11) and California (Silicon Valley) with unusually strong ties to economic reporting and has also disproportionately affected media companies (AOL Time Warner being the most spectacular example), especially through the prolonged downturn in advertising expenditures which has recently begun to reverse itself.

Could that be increasing the negativity of current economic reporting?

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Faux Los Angeles in China

"I liked it immediately — it is just like a house in California," exulted Nasha Wei, a former army doctor turned businesswoman, sitting on a white suede banquette in the four-bedroom home in Orange County (China) she moved into this year.


"Especially in Beijing, it's a kind of fashion — and if you don't chose a Western concept right now you're really out of it," said Victor Yuan, whose Horizon Market Research advises developers on how to set their buildings apart. In surveys, his company found that 70 percent of developers were emphasizing Western style as a marketing tool. ...

[A]t Orange County ... developers have promised clients the real deal — so long as they can afford the minimum half million-dollar price tag.

Houses are replicas of Southern California homes, designed by Southern California architects, with model homes decorated by Los Angeles interior designers. The basement pool tables are American. The appliances are imported. The tiles, wood siding and wall sconces are from the United States, too.


Weighdoon Yang, vice president of SinoCEA, the real estate development company that owns both Orange County and Watermark-Longbeach, showed off a yellow wood French country estate modeled, he said, on Coto de Caza. In 1999, he and his partner, Zhang Bo, traveled to California to research homes, coming back with a concept and a deal with a Newport Beach architect. ...

It is clear that their offering has tapped into a well of desire. Though an hour out of Beijing, all of the homes in Orange County, or Ju Jun in Chinese, were sold within a month. In this mix of free-standing tudor and stucco three- and four-bedroom homes, children play in the street and sport utility vehicles sit comfortably in driveways.

Homes in the more upmarket and more recently completed Watermark-Longbeach section of the compound cost $1.5 million and up, ranging from yellow French country estates to Spanish stucco castles, each model home a pumped-up version of the American dream.

Landscaped backyards sport barbecues, fountains and kidney-shaped pools. Girls' rooms are decorated with beach sets from Old Navy. Even though fire trucks are nonexistent here in the Chinese countryside, the toddler's room in one home is furnished in a fire engine theme.

What is on sale here is not just a dwelling but a dream — one that is just a fantasy for most Chinese, who make well under $500 a month. As in the case of its namesake, Orange County (China) is mostly a haven for conservative lawyers, businesspeople and celebrities, looking for a peaceful place to rear children.


"As soon as I saw the place I was very happy," Ms. Liang said. "In appearances, it's totally unlike other Chinese compounds, but more than that, we have the river to the south and the mountains to the north. The feng shui is excellent ..."

The compound's residents are all Chinese ...

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The French Games Continue Further

The Financial Times reports that Tony Blair hopes to obtain French backing for an attack on Iraq:

On the flight back from Washington on Friday night, he confidently told reporters: "I think there will be a resolution [from the Security Council authorizing an Iraq incursion]." However, British officials are not taking Mr Chirac's backing for granted. ... France's position is crucial.

As noted in prior posts, American action against Iraq becoming inevitable should trigger intense internal commercial pressure on the French government to support the incursion. This means that the best way for the United States and Britain to garner French support in obtaining a new Security Council vote is to make it clear and credible to the French that Iraq will be invaded regardless of whether a new United Nations resolution is forthcoming. That approach would maximize pressure on the French government from internal French interests who fear loss of existing commerical relationships under a new Iraqi government.

While some quarters of the media and Blogosphere have long viewed such an incursion as inevitable, it is fairly clear that Messrs. Schroeder and Chirac at least believed they could stop or postpone an incursion on the hope that American political resolve might eventually fade or be subject to distraction - by political dusts-up following in the wake of disasters such as the Columbia loss, for example. But many factors are now converging to make an incursion truly inevitable: the unexpectedly hard Blix report, release of American intelligence showing Iraqi dissembling, and the letter of support from eight European leaders - with a ninth (Ireland's) indicating that he would sign it if asked.

The official story being put out by Mr. Blair's aides is that the Prime Minister's "confidence" is based on the theory that Mr Blair's aides think Mr Chirac would have to think hard about defying the US at this critical moment, possibly being branded as the man who broke the UN's authority to act. But this explanation is unconvincing in the extreme. If Mr. Chirac opposes an invasion and thinks one would be a bad thing, then he would want to be known as the man who stopped the United Nations from authorizing one. It is much more likely that Mr. Blair simply knows that he can probably get the French on board by convincing Mr. Chirac that France is not necessary. Indeed, France had all but agreed to take part in an invasion before German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder convinced Mr. Chirac to try to obstruct the American plans. An aggrevating factor is that Mr. Schroeder is looking more and more like a serious, long-term, dead-weight loser inside of Germany itself. The opportunistic Mr. Chirac is probably wondering now if he really wants to tie his ship of state to a German one apparently close to foundering.

It's not hard to see why Mr. Blair might be reasonably confident that he will obtain French support notwithstanding the current public position of the French government.

UPDATE: Slovakia, Slovenia and Latvia have now added their support to the letter from Europe's leaders supporting the Iraq incursion.

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Already Political Squalor Among The Ashes

There are many valid public reactions to the Columbia disaster - and a lot more reactions that should only be allowed grudgingly and in private.

The apparent jubilation of some Iraqis and attempts to characterize the shuttle loss as an act of divine vengeance is obviously sacrilegious - on the order of certain comments by a few misguided American evangelists following 9-11. If loss of a space shuttle signifies divine displeasure, what is the loss of one's entire country in an international enforcement action?

But surely an attempt to direct generalized political "accountability" for this disaster - especially to remote elected officials such as the President or Congress - is merely squalid, such as this effort from New York Times:

President Bush will surely need to summon all the courage he can muster and more important, summon the nation's in the days and weeks ahead. For even as he tries to rally an anxious nation and doubting allies for a war, he will face a new, if predictable, challenge: public demands for answers and political demands for accountability.

Is that right? Is it “predictable” that the President will be subject to “political demands for accountability?” President Reagan wasn’t exposed significantly to such “demands” - so why are they “predictable?” Are such demands “predictable" to the Times because the Times itself is planning to make such demands – and, in fact, isn't the Times already making such demands through this very article?

Even after accepting the inevitability of the Times' dread that the President's standing will likely be enhanced if he handles this disaster well, couldn't the Times at least wait a day or so before treating its readership to political spin and this cynical “prediction”?

What is predicable is that NASA officials will be questioned (justly or not) about whatever risks they accepted, ignored or knew about, and political questions will be raised about the future of the manned space program. And it is also predictable that if the President fails to adequately address the nation's immediately emotional needs, or does not make good decisions about the future of the space program, his standing could suffer. But that's all very different than the Times' "prediction" that the President will be held politically accountable for the disaster itself.

Wouldn’t it be better for the Times to just accept the fact that a national leader is “accountable” for how he handles an actual crisis, rather than “predict” a wholly avoidable, squalid argument where none is needed?

MORE: The Times article cited above also includes the following curious passage:

For Americans already grappling with a confluence of threatening events, the instinctive reaction was, "What next?" Like the space shuttle Challenger disaster 17 years ago this week and the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the disintegration of the shuttle Columbia played out in real time before a nationwide television audience, sparking many of the same unsettled feelings.

The author of this article, Todd Purdum, is entitled to his own thoughts. But it is highly unlikely - to say the least - that a reporter can obtain any knowledge of "the instinctive reaction" of "Americans" within hours of such an event. And by what magic spell has Mr. Purdum put himself in contact with the minds of tens of millions of his countrypeople to report credibly that the Columbia disaster was "sparking many of the same unsettled feelings" through the nation as did the destruction of the Challenger? Has he traveled the highways and byways of America searching out the thoughts of the commonfolk in the, say, 27 hours between the disaster and the filing of his report? Of course not. He hasn't had time to talk to more than a handful of people about this disaster. Has the Times taken a quick poll? Mr. Purdum doesn't mention any.

It is obvious that Mr. Purdum is just making this stuff up and doesn't have any particular knowledge of the "instinctive reactions," "unsettled feelings" or whether any significant number of Americans saw this disaster as part of some larger "confluence of threatening events" that requires "grappling."

But Mr. Purdum's approach sure does make a reporter's job easier. Mickey Kaus quips ironically "Always generalize from personal experience!"

Mr. Purdum seems to have taken that Kaussian quip to heart in an extreme fashion that is anything but ironic.

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