Freitag, Juni 29, 2007

Why the Democrats aren't ready for the White House...

I've met Robert Reich a few times and he's one of the sharper folks out there, even if he is a Democrat.

He's got an excellent commentary in today's FT, unfortunately behind their subscription firewall, but here's the link to the begin of what he says.

Fundamentally, the Democrats aren't ready for the White House: they continue to not understand how the economy works and what role the President can play in setting up the parameters for long-term, sustained growth.

Reich properly takes the Democrats under Clinton to task for failing to invest in US infrastructure, lambasting Bush as well, but also goes the further step of showing that the current gaggle of presidential candidates fails miserably in understanding what needs to be done.

Fundamentally, infrastructure investments are both critical and unloved. They cost real money, tie down real resources, and those that benefit include everyone, but most importantly business profits from good infrastructure. We're talking things like streets, pipelines, rail, ports, transportation centers, etc.

Now, there is a good argument to be made that this isn't the job of the government, but rather of private businesses to do so (basically Bush's position: let companies make more money and they will invest where it is needed. The problem is that what a company might need isn't necessarily what we all need, and there is the problem of the commons, i.e. there are investments that benefit everyone, but no single person will invest, as they cannot recoup their investment).

Getting back to Robert Reich's point: the Democratic contenders for 2008 don't understand that a budget deficit is not necessarily a bad thing. This is completely strange and bizarre, as it was the Democrats who back when larded Reagan's budget up with civilian pork. Reagan was happy to do so, since he understood that the SovUnion was at the breaking point, and he was more than happy to throw money at the problem, which solved the Cold War by breaking the SovUnion once and for all.

Running a budget deficit responsibly means investing the difference between revenues and outlays: the German constitution, as a matter of fact, requires this, something that the last several German administrations have chosen to ignore and is quietly accepted because to expose it would mean, fundamentally, declaring the German government to be in violation of the German constitution (actually, it's called the Basic Law).

Running a budget deficit purely for consumption purposes makes only sense when you are using the government to spend the economy out of a recession: Roosevelt II understood that.

Now the Democratic contenders are talking about having to balance the budget, the absolute need to balance the budget: there is no such thing. They fear that the Republicans will use the tax & spend Democrat argument against them, rightfully so. But the reason that the Republicans can use that argument so tellingly against Democrats is that the Democrats have been, in the past, currently and will continue to do so in the future, fiscally irresponsible, as they have fundamentally not understood that political pork projects, the kind that bought Democratic acquiescence to Bush's policies in his first term, isn't the same as infrastructure renewal and investment projects that are needed to ensure stable and solid long-term growth.

And that is why the Democrats aren't ready for the White House. I'm not saying that the Republicans are either: the idea that the private sector will invest where needed for their own growth does not address the problem of the commons.

Making it clear...

This is one of the best posts I've seen yet on what assimilation really means: it means letting go.

One of the truly great things about the US is the fact that anyone can come and become an American: you don't have to be born there, you don't have to accept a state religion, you don't have to do anything except try to realize the American dream.

What is that? Simply put, to make the best out of your life, put the bad behind and go forth into the future. Make the future yours, not what someone else wants it to be for you.

This is the key quote:

You start as the Outsider and wind up the Insider, or at least being viewed as such by the newest Outsiders. We are a nation of still-startling social fluidity. Anyone can become "American," but they have to want to first.

That's about as clear as anyone can make it.

And it's also the problem with the illegals: they're not here to become Americans, they're here for the money.

If you want to become an American, you have to want it: you have to accept the obligations with the rights and privileges. Illegals don't: they refuse the obligations, wanting something for nothing, refusing to give up the old for the new.

Meaning, as well, that they'll never become Americans. They've already become a secondary society, apart, resistant and rejecting of the American dream.

And there are people want to make them citizens? Who want to give them amnesty?

That'd be a lovely gesture. But political suicide.

For my European readers...

I've mentioned my old friend Udo Ulfkotte more than a few times here. He's now involved in setting up an anti-Islamist demonstration in Bruxelles:

But calling it anti-Islamist is the wrong word: it's a pro-European demonstration.

Long-time readers know that I am not always the keenest fan of European politics. There's more than one reason why: as a long-term resident here I see the problems that people have here and the absolute disregard that their politicians hold for the average Joe and Jane here, let alone their real-world, day-to-day problems.

What Udo is doing has nothing to do with right-wing nationalism. As a matter of fact, right-wing nationalist groups are explicitly barred from this demonstration in Bruxelles: it is a NOT a demonstation against Islam, but against the mindless post-modernist, multi-cultural politic of appeasement and cowardice that dominates European politics of today.

If you have the time on 11 Sep 2007 and are of mind to show that there are those who don't agree with the faceless technocrats that are running Europe into the ground, then by all means click on the above list and let Udo and his friends know that you will come.

Don't know if I can make it (that's in the middle of my forecast round for 2007Q3) or whether I should (I'm an American, a guest in Europe: it's one thing for me to complain and bitch here, it's another thing to demonstrate against politicians that I neither elected, nor could elect...or would). But I may go with my wife, who is Austrian and dead-set against the slimy post-modernist, multi-culture politics of appeasement that her elected officials support.

Like I said, click and see how you can help.

Donnerstag, Juni 21, 2007

Truly appalling...

So, let's get this one right.

Gerhard Schroeder, former German chancellor, is under severe criticism from at least some corners for cutting a deal at the very end of his term of office (after losing the election that he should have, by all rights, probably won) with GazProm to build a pipeline, including loan guarantees.

After leaving office, scarcely after unpacking his bags and waiting for the dust to settle, he all of a sudden, magically, becomes a member of the board of the company that will build the pipeline.

Now, if that wasn't enough to turn your stomach, then look what he is doing now: he's accepting an honorary degree from the University of Damascus. This from the country which is actively involved in destabilizing Lebanon, where a German prosecutor - oh irony of history - put together the case that the Syrian government basically orders the assassination of anyone in their way.

Hat Tip to David's Medienkritik for coining the phrase "Gerhard Carter": this sort of behavior is truly, truly appalling.

But not entirely surprising...

Mittwoch, Juni 20, 2007

Why Hamas Won and Why It Matters...

Ralph Peters is someone who I've quoted more than once.

He has a new piece up which wraps up the problem better than anyone else.

What we are seeing in the Middle East is basically no different than what went on during the Thirty Years' War: it's a religious war, which is fought with no holds barred and a clear willingness to die for your cause, which, given the secular nature of the opposition, means that you only need a few fanatics to take over Gaza.

Only 0,3% of the population in Gaza was involved in the fighting, and if you applied the usual military calculus, Hamas should have been destroyed. The difference is that Hamas was willing to die for its cause and the secular Fatah was not.

That's key to understanding the whole problem, that and the fact that conflict resolution must include the underlying conflicts, resolve them, rather than being conflict postponement or conflict avoidance. Such wars are like earthquakes: once the tension along fault lines starts to build up, it is either released gradually in a series of small shocks until the tension is relieved, or there is a major earthquake that realigns the entire region until the tensions start building up again.

In this case, the Middle East is a legacy of the conflicts in the Cold War, where the Soviets financed and trained many, many frustrated and angry young men who are now leading the various political-religious splinter groups into chaos.

The question becomes whether one can merely wait out the smaller shocks or whether they are less indicative of a release of tension as more indicative that the tension continues to build.

PS: I found this here with someone who was there and saw how Hamas won. They won because Fatah didn't fight...

Still Not Understanding It...redux

The FT once again doesn't get it.

In one of today's editorials, here, they lament the deaths of children in Afghanistan and make it the fault of the US - well, the West - for this happening. Hearts and minds, after all.

But do they take even a nanosecond to consider why this is happening?

It's not because the West fails to discriminate and simply kills everyone on sight. Even the FT says that new rules of engagement aren't needed: they call, instead for a "sharper" sense of deciding to kill Talibans with the risk of civilian casualties or to let them get away, and that the decision is one that should be made throughout the military chain of command.

What I don't understand is why it's our fault: the Taliban chooses to hide amongst civilians, avoiding open combat (which they know they cannot win). What the coalition in Afghanistan needs to make clear is that civilians need to know this as well: if you let the Taliban hide amongst you, your children may die because we will go after them.

That is the recipe for winning hearts and minds, not abdicating the battle space to the Taliban by allowing them to hide in civilians. When civilians die, the West needs to have its people there telling the rest of the population that this is regrettable, that this is not what we wanted to do, the cowards that are the Taliban are responsible because they chose to hide amongst you, and if you let us know where they are, help us find them, we'll keep you out of the line of fire and destroy them without hurting you.

Fail to do that, and the civilian casualties will continue, because the Taliban aren't dumb: they know that the West doesn't want to kill civilians.

Which is exactly why they hide amongst them.

Change the population's willingness to hide them, and their game is over. That is the solution.

Instead, the editoriall writer of the FT wants the coalition there to, basically, allow the Taliban to continue to use civilians as shields - I scarcely must say that this is, of course, contrary to the Geneva Conventions - because civilians might be killed if the coalition goes after them.

Who do they want to win over there?

That is not entirely a rhetorical question.


This is a must-read post from someone over there, who has been over there for quite a while, and who is walking the walk. Read it.

Read it and understand what it means. Churchill is right: we, the US, usually make a muddle of everything before we figure out what to do and then do it right. And it looks like we are going to set it right.

Our only real danger is to take counsel of our fears, as manifested by defeatists, those who fear so desperately what will happen when we win that they vastly prefer that we lose.

PS: Go donate to Michael Yon. I just did.

Dienstag, Juni 19, 2007

The FT Really Doesn't Get It...

Sigh. In today's FT there is an editorial that, taken in context, explains why the West will never, ever, have a successful foreign policy in the Middle East.

The Ttitle for the online version is "The West should not pick sides in the Palestinian conflict." The dead tree version is "Beware of backing Abbas to the hilt."

Sounds like a proper warning, what? Not get involved in what looks to be a family feud, the West will try to micromanage their involvement, and the West is hypocritical anyway. After all, the West called for elections, but then cut off aid when Hamas was elected; the government, such as it is, in Palestine needs to be inclusive, and the real reason everything is so terribly wrong is that the fundamental Arab-Israeli conflict hasn't been resolved.

What absolute, unmitigated and laughable poppycock. Or, in a more direct vernacular, the editorial board of the FT has no fucking clue what they are talking about.

First of all, the title in the paper version gives it away: it makes it sound like if the West chooses to back Abbas, then it must always back Abbas, as backing him means backing "to the hilt", their words.

If you look at how politics actually works in the Middle East, there is only one constant: alliances, coalitions, etc., are all in flux and your friend of the day may be your enemy tomorrow. I know, in the West that's a hard concept to get your mind around, given the way our politics works. Someone who bolts from a coalition in order to form a new one with his rivals in order to get another party out of power because there is something that they want which the third party is blocking is something that is viewed in the West as something fundamentally dishonest and untrustworthy. Entering into a political coalition is, in the West, more akin to getting married than it is to a business deal. Once you make the commitment, you stick with it until your principles - and indeed generally politicians do have some, people like Reid and Pelosi, Clinton and Gore, notwithstanding - are threatened, and then you go through the usual messiness of a divorce.

Not so in the Middle East: politics there is more like we understand how business works. It is completely, totally and so completely old-school to think that businesses work with other companies over the long-term because they're buddies and pals: in reality, especially in the usual widget business, long-term relationships prosper for one reason and one reason only, which is that it is beneficial for both parties. Change that, disappoint a long-term customer by screwing up quality control, or disappoint a long-term supplier by dicking around with his profit margin, and that long-term relationship is gone, replaced by someone who is going to deliver. Nothing changes a long-term business relationship like dicking around with the profit margin, especially in those industries that produce commodity parts.

That's how Middle Eastern politics works: you have rival factions, all chasing the holy grail of power. Only despots chase power merely for power's sake: you chase power because it will make you and yours rich, while confounding the plans of whoever your competition may be.

Hence you see coalitions in the Middle East that confound the casual observer, with the US first fighting the Sunnis, then cooperating with them to destroy al-Queda in Iraq, and with whom the US still has some unfinished business. That sounds treacherous, deceitful, foreign to Western sensibilities.

Yeah. Welcome to the 21st century.

But my real point is the absurdity, the absolute ignorance of the editorial writer of the FT: the West "should not pick sides", but rather should try and get everyone together.

What, to sign "kumbaya" around a campfire?

The problem with the FT's editorial writer is that he (or she) obviously doesn't realize that in the Middle East, you can't not choose sides, especially - and pay attention here - when the other side has already chosen sides and is killing those who oppose them. Hamas isn't some sort of basis-democratic political group, but is a tool of Iranian foreign policy, bought and paid for, which is also showing results that fit nicely with the Iranian political goals in the Middle East.

Not getting involved means literally throwing away any chance to determine the outcome. While the West sends people to the West to learn how to manage cities and provides them with technocratic skills, Iran and their jihad is taking political power, sometimes one small step at a time, sometimes simply by throwing anyway standing in their way off a tall building. By following what the FT thinks the West should do, in this case, ensures that in 6 months the West Bank would also fall to Hamas, as they will not be afraid of killing anyone who stands in their way, while the West wrings its hands and stupidly asks why it isolated Hamas and made it so radical.

This is what people don't understand: when Hamas takes over Gaza, the game is over. They will ruthlessly kill anyone protesting - they have fired on protesters who don't want them there - and they will pursue their goal, the destruction of Israel.

The resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, thinks the FT, can be done by granting the Palestinian terror groups control over the Palestinians and paying for them to not be so terrible.

That's the reaction of cowards. Give in, pay Danegeld. Of course, once the Danes get the appetite for Danegeld, they come back and want more. Give Hamas millions and it will start killing in order to get tens of millions.

The real solution to the conflict is the massive repression of terror groups, hunting them down and killing them, explicitly and with the clear message that using terror is no solution. But it also means that there needs to be a second solution, one with jobs to end the misery there. But it's sheer lunacy to think that the misery in Gaza and the West Bank is the cause of the terrorism: it's an excuse, nothing more. The West is being hypocritical when it thinks that the entire history of the Palestinians is one of repression and disfranchisement, when it reality they have been pawns in the political struggles amongst the Arab countries after they were so badly mauled by the Israelis.

Following the advice of such ignorant experts that has formed the policies that stand behind this editorial is what got us into the problem in the first case. Listening any further to these folks means that the problem will get worse as the terror merchants learn to milk sentimental fools in the West.


Freitag, Juni 15, 2007

Still Not Understanding It...

Dumb looks still free - great blog name - has basically a good post up, but he hasn't completely thought things through.

September 11th wasn't merely an attack on the US. It really does mark a watershed in terms of how the US will deal with the world.

At the blog ut supra, the blogger - who calls himself simply "A Jacksonian" brings the following description of the Defeatocrats:

Major Symptoms
  • An individual constantly criticizes the current Administration for conduct in conflicts in Afghanistan and/or Iraq.

  • An individual constantly criticizes the Secretary of Defense for having *shaken things up* or *gotten rid of future systems* or *pissing off long-term careerists in the Pentagon*.

  • Takes *any* opportunity that may look even a smidgen bad upon soldiers to indict the entire effort to fight to victory.

  • An individual states that Vietnam has proven that all wars are unwinnable and wrong, contrary to centuries of won wars that have established the basis for Nations, liberty and freedom.

  • An individual states that NOTHING is worth fighting for, ever, using force of arms.
Now, there are a couple of points that need to be expanded.

First the last: radical pacifism of the Quaker ideal, where indeed violence is eschewed as being fundamentally a sin, regardless of the situation and of the consequences. The Quaker philosophy works fine as long as the Quaker can count on others, sinners, to take care of evil: evil cannot be transcended by good works and prayer. And the completely naive idea, coupled with such radical pacifism, that wars are unwinnable and fundamentally wrong, is exactly that: naive. Wars do settle problems between countries: more often than not they create more problems than they solve (see Iraq), but wars do serve a purpose. The whole field of conflict resolution has been perverted by radical pacifism into conflict avoidance: the two are not the same. Conflict resolution is the attempt to avoid war by resolving the conflicts inherent in international relations: conflict avoidance is the attempt, doomed to failure, of avoiding having conflicts come to the point where there is a war. The one solves the problem, the other tries to pretend that it does not exist, or can be dealt with without resolving the problem. This has been the problem in the Middle East since 1948: conflicts there have rarely been resolved, only postponed via cease fires. The conflicts remain and fester, resulting in the Hobbesian chaos we now see.

But go back up that list to the criticism from the Defeatists: that changes after September 11th, 2001, have failed to serve their purpose and it would have been better to have not changed anything: this is the position of the entrenched establishment anti-Rumsfeldoids, who would have followed the book after September 11th, playing directly into al-Queda's game plan.

You see, the enemy studies us, and studies us well. The attacks on 11 September weren't merely designed to kill as many Americans as possible in an act of random terror, but were also aimed at generating a reaction, one that followed logically from past US reactions when attacked in such a manner. The US didn't declare war and go after the perpetrators, but rather exercised an ultimately futile conflict management scenario, where cruise missiles were fired at targets of opportunity in order to revenge attacks on US personnel, buildings and the like. Works fine in the metaphysical space of escalation management from the Cold War, fails miserably in the War On Terror.

The Taliban and al-Queda expected the US to attack Afghanistan with major armored assets, brought in over 6 months to 1 year, made very difficult by the position of Afghanistan and the terrain. They wanted to suck the US into a repeat of the Soviet experience there, or, in an equally attractive scenario for al-Queda and the Taliban, they wanted to expose the US as a paper tiger, unable to respond to such an attack. In both scenarios, the Taliban and al-Queda win, since on the one hand a massive invasion would have generated the same resistance as the Soviet invasion did, which they consider to have been won by the Islamic movement in Afghanistan, and on the other hand by failing to respond in such a way as to generate deadly danger to the continued existence of the Taliban and al-Queda, the US would have lost face.

Now, as we all know - or should know - the US chose option 3, which was to enlist Afghan forces by hiring them as mercenaries and to use massive air power to decimate the Taliban forces in Afghanistan. Hence the Afghan gambit failed for the Taliban and al-Queda, but less because they failed to get a US response, as much more the US failed to react in the way that they had expected.

Which gets us back to a Jacksonian's point: without having shaken things up, by instituting a revolution in military affairs, Rumsfeld and his approach to US military power was successful in confounding the intents of the enemy.

Critical, that.

The Jacksonian's secondary criteria is also illuminative:

Secondary Conditions
  • An individual offers NOTHING BETTER to achieve victory in any conflict or war that the Nation is involved in.

  • An individual states that leaving Iraq before it is stable is 'the only thing we can do' to save the troops or that it is 'unwinnable' or a 'quagmire'.

  • An individual states that the United States is *the problem* in anything that happens anywhere.

  • An individual states that 'free trade' will bring liberty to the world and NOT give cheap arms and armaments to the enemies of the Nation.

  • An individual states that Nations cannot achieve 'peace through strength' and that is just another guise of militarism.

  • An individual states that there are no individuals trying to establish an Empire that would endanger Free People.

  • An individual states that money spent on the military is a *waste* of money.

  • An individual states that 'mounting death tolls' indicate defeat and will not use that for *anything* else in any other circumstance to indicate same.

  • An individual constantly asks - 'Why do they hate us?'
This underscores the problem of conflict avoidance: an individual how constantly asks why someone hates is avoiding resolving that hate; wars are things to stop, and not resolve.

I'd expand this list with a small extension: that complete and total ignorance of the military is a prerequisite for making recommendations regarding the military.

One meme that is starting to appear in the discussions, albeit rarely, is the fact that it took the US decades to fight for its independence and to create this "more perfect Union", not a matter of mere months. To demand, as the Defeatocrats do, that everything be nicely tied up in a matter of months is to set an impossible goal that per definition cannot be met.

Iraq is a broken country, a failed state, a debilitated and destroyed society. But it was that way before the US intervened.

That is what no one seems to realize. The US didn't march on a lively and healthy society, one that was dedicated to the betterment of Iraqi culture, but one that was centered, by deadly force and torture, on worshipping the worst kinds of thugs and criminals. It didn't invade a functioning economy, but one that had been destroyed not by sanctions, but by rapaciousness and greed. It didn't conquer a unified, civil society, but rather one that had been deliberately radicalized against itself in order to divide and control the frustrations and anger of the population against crushing poverty and despair.

The challenge in Iraq - one that the President has richly documented and always emphasized that would require hard work and sacrifice - is to transcend the catastrophic situation under SH and his Ba'athist thugs and to create an Iraq that actually has a future. Achieving that would be the greatest turning point in the Middle East since the building of the temples in Jerusalem.

That is what the Defeatocrats say must be defeated.

They still do not understand it. At all.

Freitag, Juni 08, 2007

The Doable and the Divine

Clive Crook, in today's FT, unfortunately behind their subscriber firewall, is finally on to something. His OpEd, titled "Bush may be on to something..." recognizes, finally, belatedly, that having a workable solution is better than truculently insisting that you're right and the other fellow is not only wrong, but a stupid git for not realizing just how wrong he is.

His final sentence is telling:

Cutting carbon is what matters, not building a global government.

All I can say is ... hah!

Sorry, but that is what Kyoto and the entire global warming business - and I use that word business deliberately, as it is just that - is about: building a global government. Yesterday's aggreement in Heiligendamm reasserted the role of the UN in governing any future Kyoto-like agreement (and just where will the next conference be held? The poor, suffering dears will have to suffer the unpleasantness of going to Bali to discuss the follow-on to Kyoto! Oh the horror, the horror...), and if you scratch away the veneer of almost any serious carbon-reduction politics, it comes down to a perceived necessity of controlling how the world economy develops.

This is all what is behind the global warming business: trying to take control of the economy away from the shareholders and managers and putting into the hands of people who know better for you.

You will see this in the next months: the repudation of Merkel's compromise of Heiligendamm, the continued vilification of any sort of sensible agreement to reduce pollution, and the continuing forward thrusting of the global warming hysteria.

Crook **is** on to something. He's realized that the politicians are going to do something that none of the global warming scaremongers has dared to do: to talk about what actually can be done, realistically, in the political arena.

Kyoto has been, is and will always be a failure, a fundamentally flawed exercise in political power-grabbing and "feel-good" policies of the worst kind. The fundamental flaw was the desperate attempt back when to at least agree on something, anything that weak politicians could take back home and wave like a Chamberlain from his balcony, an appeasement to the vociferous charlatans of the sky-is-falling global-government-is-necessary crowd.

The Heiligendamm agreement holds the death-knell for this group: it reaffirms the dominance of the political decision over the "scientific" one, due in no small part to the emininently sensible and solid US position, as well as to the fact that neither China nor India is that stupid.

There is always tension in politics between the doable and the divine, between that what is and that what should be. In a perfect world, progress is measured not by what one consumes and uses, but by the purity and beauty of the soul. For all of our sins, we do not live in a perfect world, nor does that perfect world exist except in the imagination - febrile or otherwise - of fantasists, or much more rarely, visionaries.

What will grow from the Heiligendamm agreement? Nothing less than a global agreement on pollution - after all, what use is carbon reduction if, for instance, heat pollution, toxic wastes, etc., are left alone? - that might actually succeed in making life in the terribly polluted, stinking and deadly Third World much better for everyone, not merely the upper levels of society.

And given the inefficiencies of Chinese and Indian industries - think of the US in the 1950s and you have a good idea of what these countries are facing - there would also be a huge incentive for companies to reduce their costs and improve their productivity, which just happens to impact the bottom line. China needs a Clean Air Act, India needs bureaucratic reform and massive investments in infrastructure (China is doing that already), both of which can only happen if those countries continue to develop, with an increasing number of people there in the emerging middle classes.

Replace global warming hysteria with anti-pollution activism, working in those countries that need it the most, and you will have policies that are doable. These succeed: the demands of the global warming business - of seceding national sovereignty to some sort of shadow world government - is doomed to failure.

But as Crook points out, if you're actually interested in reducing pollution, then you'd better be interested in achieving the reasonable, rather than hyping utopia.

Montag, Juni 04, 2007

The Real Cover-Up...

The Watergate scandal and the collapse of the Nixon presidency wasn't so much about the break-in, but much more about the cover-up. It was the cover-up that killed his presidency.

We see now in Washington a cover-up of similar dimensions, as can be seen here.

It's old news by now: Sandy Berger, President Clinton's National Security Adviser, stole documents from the National Archives and was convicted of that.

But now the plot thickens: he has voluntarily given up his law license, meaning that he can no longer practice law. He hasn't done this as part of his deal with the Department of Justice, but rather to stop an investigation by the DC Bar into what was taken from the National Archives.

That's right, he did it to stop an investigation. The DC Bar can investigate members of the bar who belongs to it for behavior unbecoming to the profession.

What is the cover-up here? The article that I linked to points out that giving up a law license is fairly unprecedented to begin with, and for someone to give it up in order to stop an investigation is completely unprecedented.

So why is he doing it?

To protect Clinton and what's left of his legacy. Clinton's broad legacy was ruined by his impeachment - for which the Senate declined to convict him - and by his failure to get Arafat to toe the line and sign a peace accord with the Israelis.

Clinton's legacy right now is with the faithful of the Democratic Party: those who view his impeachment as being fundamentally unfair, who view Clinton's policies as the cat's meow, who believe the man could do no wrong, whose judgment (apart from interns) was impeccable, a smart and savvy guy who deserved more than he got from history. That's what's gotten him his big-figure speaking engagements, his sweetheart book deals and the like.

I think that what Berger - who can only be seen as throwing himself in his figurative sword to save his emperor - has hidden, both by destroying the documents in question and by supergluing his mouth shut, is that Clinton made some abysmally bad judgments that not only allowed Osama bin Laden to escape, but more importantly showed that Clinton didn't care.

Five memos were destroyed, or more exactly five copies of one and the same memo. Why would he destroy all the copies of one memo? Probably because penciled in the margins were comments like "we don't want bin Laden" or "the government has no interest in al Qaeda" or words to that effect.

Otherwise why would Berger be taking this extraordinary move to voluntarily resign his law license? Like I said, this is unprecedented under any circumstances.

This is the real cover-up: that at the end of the day, Clinton's legacy will be at least his abject failure to properly assess the threat and most likely his willful and deliberate failure to protect the United States because he couldn't be bothered. Berger needs to 'fess up as to his motives: otherwise this is the interpretation that people will put on this cover-up.

It's the cover-up that La Clinton needs to deal with before she has any sort of a chance to become president: if the story comes out and this is the case, she will be unelectable.

Which is probably why Berger is taking the fall.

Sonntag, Juni 03, 2007

The Turth About Kyoto...

Now you don't have to believe me: believe, all of sources, the Guardian, not exactly the most conservative of UK newspapers.

CDM, the Clean Development Mechanism, is a scam. The alternative, run by the EU, handed a windfall to big, bad oil companies:

While the CDM is run under the umbrella of the UN, the second market is overseen by the European commission. Before launching, it churned through a mass of figures and produced a maximum number of tonnes of carbon dioxide which could be produced by each nation in the scheme; each nation then handed its big corporations and organisations a set number of permits - EU allocations - defining the number of tonnes of carbon dioxide they could produce between January 2005 and December 2007. But they got their sums wrong.

The carbon market's leading analysts, Point Carbon, recently calculated that this scheme handed out 170m too many EUAs. In the early days, nobody realised quite how badly the commission had miscalculated, and so the price of the EUAs was quite high, at up to €30 a tonne. But individual companies, particularly energy companies, rapidly saw they had millions of tonnes of EUAs that they didn't need, and so they sold their surplus, making huge profits. A 2005 report by IPA Energy Consulting found that the six UK electricity generators stood to earn some £800m in each of the three years of the scheme.

They "got their sums wrong" is actually incorrect: the reality is that there are no "right" sums in this scam, but only wrong ones.

And this really underscores how shifty the whole set up is:

...there is evidence that a significant percentage of current and future CDM reductions, possibly as many as 20%, may have been wrongly checked. This effects not just the 50m tonnes of CERs which have been issued already, but a massive quantity which is sitting in the pipeline as a result of hedge funds pouring an estimated €4,000m into high-profit carbon projects.

In other words, the chaps in charge have bungled this beyond belief. But it gets even better!

Until July 2006, the CDM executive board did not reject a single project. It was short of staff, short of experts and short of funds. So it relied on the specialist companies to get it right. Since those specialist companies are hired by the projects who stand to earn big profits if they are accepted, that is an inherently weak structure. As one carbon analyst put it: "The verifiers are being paid by the people they are verifying. If it turns out the verified is a bad guy, he is paying the policeman to sign him off as a good guy."


The whole point of these carbon credit schemes is to make it even remotely possible to reduce emissions without throttling the economy into slow death.

Instead, the lunatics are running the asylum.

Samstag, Juni 02, 2007

Third Rails and Reality...

There are three "third rails" in US politics. That phrase "third rail" refers to the part of a subway rail system that carries power from the electrical system to the subway cars themselves, and if you touch the third rail, generally speaking you die: it carries high-voltage, high-amperage electricity, and the human body does not cope well with such things.

The first of the three rails is social security. The second is immigration policy. The third is abortion. There's no particular ranking there: each of them is as deadly as the other. Let's take a look as to why one differs from the other two and why each is such a third rail.

First, and most deadly for any politician, is social security. Social security was a reaction to the first really severe economic crisis in American history, the Great Depression. Sure, there were recessions and economic slowdowns in the past, but in the Great Depression you had the largest relative destruction of financial assets in US history that affected a greater number of people than ever before, and were, if anything, a symptom of neglect and abuse of the financial system. Social security was created to provide retirement income for everyone, so that no one would be either dependent on the kindness of strangers or on family for their retirement. As with all pension systems, you have the problem of the current generation, those who are working and want to benefit from the plan: those that are close to retirement age when the plan is implemented either don't benefit meaningfully (but have to pay!) or their retirement funds have to come from somewhere else.

In the US, as is many countries, social security was set up so that those currently benefiting use revenues generated from those currently working. It's an implicit generational contract, with young paying for old, and for many decades the deal was particularly sweet for those grandfatheed into the system, as they received payments well in excess of whatever they had paid into the system.

Such as system - some have compared it to a Ponzi scheme, but that is being unfair - can only function based on two assumptions: first, that demographics will allow the system to continue to work as such, and that excess funds are used to create a buffer to avoid having to cut benefits during economic slowdowns.

The problem, of course, is that the US is not immune to demographic decline: there are more old folks wanting their social security benefits than is good for the system, meaning that when one works through the accounting, a 21-year old that started work yesterday will not receive that which he paid in: there won't be enough young people paying benefits for retirees in 2052 or whenever that person retires. You can deal with this in three ways: increase payments into the system, raise retirement age or change the demographics.

Now, why is this a third rail? Simple: it's a functioning system, and fiddling with it today for the benefit of someone in 50 years is simply too far-sighted for your average voter. Especially when it means cutting benefits: this is, for the vast majority of politicians, something that you simply don't fiddle with, as you can only lose.

The second third rail is abortion. This is so heavily laden with religious and moral opposition to abortion, coupled with progressive demands for abortion, that finding a position in the middle means that you will be unacceptable to everyone for whom this is a major political issue. Suffice to say that most moral, responsible people do feel abhorrence for abortion, but there is also the damning fact that women will seek abortions regardless of the laws. The current situation is ugly and abhorrent for those who believe that any abortion is murder, and barely adequate for those who believe it is the fundamental right of any woman of any age to have the option of abortion. The current situation is satisfying to neither party: those who demand abortion rights ride roughshod over the religious beliefs and sensibilities of those who abhor abortions, and the anti-abortionists invariably fail to recognize that people are fallible and when it comes to romance and sex make mistakes, for which they are not willing to accept responsibility, preferring instead to abort rather than carry to term (I'm ignoring the pregnancy-by-rape argument for now): women have always chosen this option when they see it as necessary, legal or not, and indeed it makes little sense to unnecessarily criminalize desperation.

The third issue, the newest and in many ways most uncomfortable one, is immigration. The US controls its immigration to avoid taking in people who are more of a liability than being or becoming assets to the US economy and political system, and has done so basically from the birth of the republic. The US is, fundamentally, a immigrant society, but has learned that you do have to control immigation in order to avoid creating major societal problems of the kind you can see in the film "Gangs of New York".

Today the problem is more complex. In the past, many immigrated to get away from lack of economic options or because of political repression. There wasn't much of a welfare system outside of private and church support for recent immigrants. Qualified immigrants - educated, trained, with desirable skills - also were quickly assimilated, as they were able to adjust to their new environment more quickly and with less loss than those from less educated and more dogmatic population groups who refuse to give up their identities to become Americans.

Today, the problem is that people come here because they know that they will be better off, vastly so, than if they stay at home. But not because they are working and are climbing up in the economic system, but rather simply because they are here and can exploit the system for really good health care and the like while either working illegally in legal jobs or becoming criminals. The US economic and infrastructure system is simply too attractive for many, who are literally willing to give their entire fortunes and indeed their lives to simply cross the border without being caught.

And they've been successful: there are anywhere between 7 and 20 million people in the US illegally, ranging from highly successful people to absolute losers, deeply criminal. We want the former and I don't think anyone has problems with integrating them: no one wants the latter group. The problem is identifying, finding and successfully resolving the illegal residence in the US.

Now, looking at these three third rails in US politics, we see that abortion is probably the least problematic, driving, if anything, personal commitment for activists on both sides in the political process. Roe vs. Wade remains the law of the land, and it's a good solution because it makes both sides angry: it doesn't outlaw something that will happen anyway, and it doesn't allow it as if it were going to the dentist.

Social security is the one that no one wants to touch, because the point where a hard decision has to be made is far off into the future, especially in political terms (few if any politicians think beyond the next election: the good ones almost always tend to...). To his credit, Bush broached solving the social security system - that the system will run out of money to pay the intergenerational at some point - by moving some of the revenues into personal accounts, i.e. people would also be accumulating capital, rather than simply transferring between generations. As things were/are, the political time is not ripe, nor is it, strictly speaking, necessary: while the sooner one starts accumulating capital, the better, the system itself can bear another 20 years before the problem appears directly looming.

Now, immigration is the biggest current problem. Like I said, the US is a country of immigrants, one with clear and fairly precise principles about immigration that are reflected in the laws of the country. What makes this a third rail is the fact that these laws have been, are and in all likelihood will continue to be broken and ignored: the desire of those outside the US to come here when they cannot get official visas is greater than the fear of being caught. Bringing people into the US illegally is also very lucrative, and simply being in the US is usually very lucrative for the illegals: health care is basically free (the hospitals will not turn you away), you can con your way to welfare, food stamps and other benefits, and even if you find a "legal" job and pay taxes, you'll still be earning vastly more than what you could have back where ever home was.

In other words, just coming to the US is for many a huge incentive to break the law and come here illegally.

Now, this has been a problem for decades, especially in those states bordering Mexico. It's been ignored because there are activists who view it as right and proper that any and everyone should be able to come to the US, the hell with the law, and because of the inherent difficulties in cleaning up the illegal aspects of immigration: arrest and deport, and they'll be back next week.

But now there are demands for amnesty: of legalizing breaking of the law, and more importantly, of fast-tracking illegals to be permanent residents and ultimately US citizens. This last is the critical point, as citizens vote. Illegals aren't supposed to (and there has been voter fraud involving illegals here), but I think that the political calculation of legalized illegals voting for whoever gives them voting rights is fairly accurate.

That's why immigration has become a third rail in US politics: amnesty for illegals, if they achieve citizenship, would significantly change the demographics of a number of US states, and sets a terrible precedence that basically rewards those breaking the law and effectively makes those who took the legal route, with all the costs and delays that includes, to be fools for obeying the law.

Hence the animosity of conservatives to any sort of amnesty. The US government is on the horns of a horrible dilemma: on the one hand, it would be extremely difficult to deport all illegals without screwing it up terribly and creating a huge problem; on the other hand, you simply can't make it legal for people to be here.