December 31, 2004

$10,000,000

I stopped watching and the numbers still went up! I am starting to believe that maybe the refrigerator light really does go off when the door is shut!

The Amazon/Red Cross figure is now $9,478,527.00 -- surely not stingy Americans, I bet time will prove that Scandinavian governments are driving the totals up.

I asked my friend yesterday if we should be short Amazon, thinking they were eating the credit card charges (3% of 10M is $300,000). He assured me that Amazon has a pretty special relationship with the credit card folks and will probably pay little or nothing on this.

Happy New Year everybody! Cheers!

UPDATE: Tim Blair enumerates Capitalist giving and Socialist-sniping from the Guardian.

Posted by jk at 03:43 PM | What do you think? [0]

December 30, 2004

Stingy?

day-by-day12-30-2004.gif


So good to have Day by Day back! Always on the blogroll!

Posted by jk at 11:55 AM | What do you think? [0]

Sluggish?

My beloved in-laws talk about the "recession;" Mom-in-law said she was glad we put up a Christmas tree "to bring joy to the people depressed by the bad economy." The whole group is employed in the public sector and their belief in dark days is unshakeable.

Reading MSM, though, it's easy to find support for their theories, not in news articles but in the headlines.

The brave warriors at the WSJ Ed Page fight that meme with a lead editorial today.

Google the words "sluggish U.S. economy" and "2004," and in 0.40 second you get 4,540 results. "Weak employment report points to still-sluggish U.S. economy," reads a recent headline, on the news that "just 112,000" jobs were added in November.

Well, we live in a world economy, so when headline writers use the word sluggish, we have to ask: Sluggish compared with whom? According to the November forecast of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, gross domestic product in the U.S. is expected to increase by 4.4% in 2004. Elsewhere, the OECD predicts growth of 4% for Japan, 2.7% for the U.K., 2.1% for France and 1.2% for Germany. For the 12-country euro zone, the figure is 1.8%. To put matters in historical perspective, the last time Japan, Britain, France and Germany had growth rates at or in excess of 4.4%, the years were 1990, 1994, 1989 and 1991, respectively.

But, some say, America's current economic performance is sluggish compared with its past performance. So let's look at the data again. From 1997 through 2000--the great Clinton go-go years--U.S. growth averaged 4.25%. For Mr. Clinton's first term, the average was 3.3%. For the eight years of the Reagan presidency, it was 3.4%. By what standard, then, can this year's forecasted 4.4% be described as sluggish?


The article is on the free site, and takes down these misguided perceptions one at a time. It is well worth a whole read.

They won't read it but that's okay -- Love you guys!

Posted by jk at 11:52 AM | What do you think? [2]

Russian Economic Regression

While America leads a "coalition of the willing" in spreading liberty and economic prosperity in developing countries, Russia appears to be rushing headlong back to its communist roots.

"MOSCOW, Dec 28 (AFP) - A top economic adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday slammed the government's takeover of the main asset of the Yukos oil giant as the "swindle of the year" and warned of growing state interventionism.

(...)

Gazprom, the state-controlled gas monopoly, had been seen as the likely winner of the forced auction, but it withdrew from the bidding because of a US legal injuction barring it from participating.

In the end, Yuganskneftegaz, a company that pumps a million barrels a day and owns 17 percent of Russia's vast oil reserves, was sold to the previously unknown Baikalfinansgroup.

Rosneft, which is to merge with Gazprom shortly into a new state-run energy corporation, subsequently announced that it had bought Baikalfinansgroup.

Analysts said that the sale, officially to pay off 27.5-billion-dollar tax claims levied against Russia's biggest oil producer, was a means for the Kremlin to reassert control of the strategic energy sector and crush a powerful political opponent, Yukos' imprisoned founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

The attack on Yukos and Khodorkovsky is believed to have been orchestrated by Igor Sechin, a senior Kremlin official who is part of an influential group of ex-KGB hardliners who surround Putin, himself a former spymaster.

Illarionov lamented the "destruction of the most efficient oil company in Russia" and described it as "expropriation".

The economist did not rule out that other Russian companies might suffer the same fate as Yukos.

He said Russia had abandoned the path of economic liberalism and "has moved to an interventionist model".

(...)


And now other firms have come under fire as analysts warn that government officials appear to have a green light to abuse their authority and go after the private sector.

One of them is Russia's largest cell phone operators, VimpelCom, which faces 157 million dollars of tax claims that are seen as the result of a commercial dispute between the company's owners and a government minister."

The message is clear - private investment and private commercial success in Russia are only safe if you stay on the good side of the relevant government minister.

Posted by JohnGalt at 08:16 AM | What do you think? [1]

December 29, 2004

Intelligent, Cogent UN Criticism

To atone for my bilious jeremiad below, I will link to an articulate, thoughtful and well-researched condemnation of the UN from Claudia Rosett, who deserves six Pulitzers for her groundbreaking work on UNSCAM).

In the OpinionJournal - The Real World column today, Rosett calls for "Regime Change" at the U.N.:

To this scene in recent months we may add the reports of rape and child molestation committed by U.N. peacekeepers in Africa, allegations of sexual harassment involving the heads of both the U.N. refugee agency and the internal audit division, a revolt against "senior management" by the U.N. staff union, the findings of an internal U.N. integrity survey that a lot of U.N. employees fear retaliation if they speak out, and the statements of a few brave whistle-blowers, fighting for their jobs, to precisely that effect. Plus, if you like, there's the expanding saga of how the secretary-general until confronted by the press allegedly failed to notice that his son had allegedly been doing lucrative business deals with a major U.N. contractor under the Oil for Food program. All of which has been subject to the marvelously circular argument that the press should shut up until the U.N., in between firing off hush letters to its contractors and employing Mr. Annan's U.S.-taxpayer-funded staff to lambaste the U.N.'s critics, can carry out allegedly full and independent investigations of all these troublesome matters.
[...]
If all this starts to sound a bit dizzying, a bit amorphous, a bit too complicated after a while even to bother about anymore, that, dear reader, is precisely the problem. The Secretariat has had a year of gagging contractors, threatening the jobs of whistle-blowers, and pounding out letters to the editor explaining that the Secretariat should not be blamed for anything because it is in fact responsible for nothing--though somehow more money, especially from the U.S., is always wanted. A few senior officials are now due to depart. Several thick reports on various fronts are due to be filed, and perhaps here or there a head will roll.

But to suppose that the United Nations will reform itself from within is to miss the eerie unreality of the place. It is not simply changes in some of the staffing that are needed, or U.N. commissioned reports recommending that the U.N. "reform" by way of doing even more of whatever it does already. What's needed is something that among sovereign states we have come to call regime change--the basic alteration of a system that in its privileges, immunities and practices resembles rather too closely some of the dictatorships that still pack its ranks.


For alternative history, it's hard to beat "The Nation" (hat-tip Sugarchuck), who see nothing wrong, just a ginned-up neocon plot "Just like the Swift Boat Vets!" but have found the real villain in the story: (cue portentous organ-music)............Halliburton!
If the Democrats want to do that, they should begin by distancing themselves from the Democratic Leadership Council's shameful call for Annan's resignation and join those who signed Representative Dennis Kucinich's letter deploring the attacks. And they should join Representative Henry Waxman in demanding that the Governmental Reform Committee investigate the real oil-for-food scandal: what happened to the more than $8 billion unspent from the oil-for-food program that the United States insisted be handed over to the "Iraq Development Fund," overseen by US occupation authority head Paul Bremer. The rest of the Security Council reluctantly agreed to this payment, but only on condition that the fund be monitored by international auditors. The auditors were never allowed to do their work, and it is now suspected that most of that money went to Halliburton on no-bid contracts. Now there are grounds for some resignations. But you know who won't be calling for them.

Posted by jk at 02:57 PM | What do you think? [0]

JK Goes "Black Helicopter"

$1,999,520.59 has been given by "stingy" Americans to the Red Cross, privately through Amazon, in addition to government coerced contributions of at least $20 million..

Amazon’s alone would be more than ten times France's $177,000 contribution. But who's keeping score?

My distrust for and disagreements with the UN have now metastasized into full loathing. Seeing that Norwegian Bastard on TV during the first tsunami reports calling for greater taxation -- presumably so that we could route the money through his corrupt bureaucrat mafia -- was really too much to bear.

Nor can I look at SecGen Kofi Annan anymore. The man has so much blood on his hands, including the poor people in Iraq, Bosnia, Rwanda and Sudan that his organization has ignored, robbed or raped. Plus all the terrorist attacks in Israel that he has helped finance. All so he can feign importance in front of the other blood-soaked representatives of despots in Marble Quarters at Turtle Bay.

It is noticeable, when President Bush delivers a speech at the UN that NO American government building features the ostentation and superciliousness of the UN. Its dais towers above the people being addressed -- perfect for penny-ante thieves playing dress up democracy.

I had some hope of reform in the wake of oil-for-food (UNSCAM), but now my hope is for complete reform or US withdrawal. The USA, and free people in general, get no benefit out of the UN anymore.

Pardon the rant, days after I criticized another, but I have reached a new position: US out of UN, now!

I am Googling to find the link, but somebody (Nordlinger? Geraghty? Henninger?) said "If Canada were to disappear tomorrow, it would be too bad for the 60 million citizens, but if the US were to disappear tomorrow, it would be 1,000 years of darkness for the whole world." If you know who that was, please let me know. I will keep looking.

UPDATE: In the 15 minutes I spend writing this angry screed, the total went from $1.8M to over $2M: two hundred thousand dollars in a quarter hour. And it seems to be rising exponentially; yestreday's blogs marvel at the same change over four hours.

Posted by jk at 11:33 AM | What do you think? [3]

Perfect Writing

LILEKS (James) :: The Bleat December 29, 2004:

I's not for the dead we send the money, of course -- It's for those whose lives have been scoured down to the bone, but you can't help but think that your contribution somehow mitigates the awful numbers. It doesn't. And if your money makes its way to a small village, and ends up as a box of clean underwear and toothpaste and batteries and aspirin dropped in the lap of a man who watched his entire family scraped off the face of the earth and swallowed by the brutal, implacable and mindless hand of nature, well, know that it probably won't make much difference. It can't. But someone has to get him clean underwear and aspirin.

Perfect.

Posted by jk at 09:27 AM | What do you think? [1]

Como você diz "Schumpeterian Gales?"

Where to begin with this NYTimes piece, Survival of the Biggest: Supermarket Giants Crush Central American Farmers -- where to start?

You could start with admiration. I assume that every word is true, it has a stunning depth that few other papers could dream of bringing to this story, and equally inspiring breadth, as it covers much of Latin America. The writing is good, as is the editing and the photography. Nobody but the Times could do this story.

Or you could start with bias. Nobody else could be so blind to reality. Poor people, living miles away from the Hudson and the D-line can get an assortment of inexpensive, high-quality vegetables, reliably supplied in a clean environment.

So the Times takes four (web) pages describing how difficult it now is for low quality producers and unhygienic processing facilities to prosper:

Squatting next to his field, Mr. Chinchilla's rugged face was a portrait of defeat. "They wanted consistent supply without ups and downs," he said, scratching the soil with a stick. "We didn't have the capacity to do it."

Across Latin America, supermarket chains partly or wholly owned by global corporate goliaths like Ahold, Wal-Mart and Carrefour have revolutionized food distribution in the short span of a decade and have now begun to transform food growing, too.

The megastores are popular with customers for their lower prices, choice and convenience. But their sudden appearance has brought unanticipated and daunting challenges to millions of struggling, small farmers.


No doubt if cold fusion were perfected, the Times would interview minority oil-field workers who risked displacement.

All the info they need to refute their story is, well, in their story:

Farmers who do not or cannot afford to change fast enough to meet the standards set by supermarkets are threatened.

Do the writers read their stories? How's this for appetizing?

Mr. Chinchilla, 46, drove his battered, 20-year-old pickup, laden with crates of tomatoes, into his cooperative's spacious packing shed. The building and the business are in decay.

The water had been cut off. Toilets no longer flushed. The roof was missing over the bathroom, its floor covered with bird droppings. The live-in caretakers who sort the co-op's tomatoes had only an open pail of rainwater to wash their hands. They wore no gloves while handling the fruit.

Typically, each farmer is growing less than an acre of salad tomatoes in rustic greenhouses that are fast deteriorating. Their production has plummeted because of the blight that dries out the plants, which then yield very small tomatoes.


Schumpeterian gales can bring some pain. But American farmers went through this same development a couple of centuries ago, and some ended up enjoying work as computer programmers and writers for the New York Times.

Hat-top: The Intellectual Activist

Posted by jk at 01:03 AM | What do you think? [0]

December 28, 2004

Kudlow on Fire!

Lawrence gets some award for posting six entries to his Money Politic$ blog in eight minutes. That's ROI! They are all good, as well.

One concerns the $26 million hush money golden parachute offered to Franklin Raines. Some numbers stun me -- I remember one of Johnny Carson's ex-wives saying that she "couldn't possibly live on $250,000 per month."

She presumably earned her alimony. I feel Dick Grasso earned his generous retirement as well. Now, in the shadow of Sarbanes-Oxley, the quasi-private Fannie Mae, under a cloud of unreported losses and artificially smoothed earnings, packs its former CEO with quite a bundle to take home and show mom:

A twenty-six million dollar farewell compensation parachute, plus $116,300 per monthly pension, for former Fannie CEO Frank Raines seems a bit much. Make that way too much. The books were cooked, and all the top executives benefited handsomely. Isn't this fraud? Lining one's own pockets at the expense of shareholders? Violating regulatory accounting rules? Somebody needs to take a good hard look at this. If it were Enron, total disgorgement would be undoubtedly be the solution. Why shouldn't the government-sponsored Fannie be treated the same?

Next he points out Don Luskin's article on the government’s Thrift Savings Plan as a model for Social Security reform:
Don Luskin wrote a great piece, “The Lesson of Thrift”, on NRO about the Thrift Savings Plan of the US federal government. On K&C last night, he told us that the plan not only yielded 9% per year to its participants, but its administrative costs are only about 6 basis points (six one-hundredths of one percent) of invested assets. This is critic-slaying work by Mr. Luskin. It is an important policy contribution to the somewhat mangled debate. I can only add that for decades, state and local pension retirement plans for police, fire, and teacher’s unions have been successfully investing in private markets. Why shouldn’t Social Security contributors have the same rate of return benefits? Paul Krugman and Michael Kinsley never tell you this. But Mr. Luskin does.

I saw that K&C last night. He left out the best part, which was merciless bashing of Enron-advisor-turned-NYTimes Editorialist Paul Krugman.

Posted by jk at 02:27 PM | What do you think? [0]

Dave Berry's Year in Review

Funny stuff! What to excerpt? It's all good. Hmm, how about this bit from "August:"

On the political front, the Republicans gather for their national convention in New York City, which welcomes them with open armpits. But the hot political story is the allegation by a group of Swift Boat veterans that John Kerry exaggerated his Vietnam accomplishments, and that in fact his boat was, quote, "not particularly swift." This story produces a media frenzy of charges and countercharges that soon has the entire nation riveted to reruns of "America's Funniest Home Videos."

In weather news, an unprecedented series of hurricanes -- Arnie, Barb, Chuck, Deb, Ernie, Francine, Gus and Harlotta -- all head directly for Florida, causing millions of Sunshine State residents, by longstanding tradition, to throng to home-supply stores in an effort to purchase the two available pieces of plywood. Damage is extensive, although experts say it would have been much worse if not for a dense protective barrier of TV news people standing on the beaches and excitedly informing the viewing audience that the wind was blowing.

In other bad news, the Department of Homeland Fear, acting on credible information, raises the National Terror Index Level to "EEEEEEEE," which is a level so high that only dogs can detect it.


The whole thing is great. Hat-tip: http://andrewsullivan.com/

Posted by jk at 11:35 AM | What do you think? [0]

Great Iraqi Blog

Democracy in Iraq is a new and very inetersting blog written by a 25-year old Iraqi male who is looking forward to Democracy.

The whole blog is well worth a read. Here's a taste:

Uncle Usama has appeared on television again, just like last time, he is concerned about elections. This time he is telling us Iraqis not to vote. This is nothing more than desperation on his part. Whatever support he may have had has slowly eroded. People are realizing that there is no real benefit to supporting or even working with Usama and his minions. I mean what will the end be if a person was to align themselves with Usama? Death, living in a cave, living in a Saudi state, or God knows what else.

[...]The thing that really gets me about Usama and his ilk, these Wahhabis or whatever you want to call them is that they always talk about Muslim brotherhood and the like for their own causes, but they have no problems attacking and killing other Muslims who do not agree with them. They even say some Muslims are not Muslims, like they do with Shias. It stinks of hypocracy and the use of religion for jealous means.

I am not even a religious person, but these people who use religion for their own goals really irk me. Such rhetoric is especially dangerous nowadays in Iraq as it is being used in attempts to polarize Shias and Sunnis. The one ironic thing is that in my childhood, I remember Shia and Sunni were rarely heard words. But Saddam began making differentiation during the Iran Iraq War, and later when the Shias started rebelling. Al-Qaeda and the Wahhabis are only continuing Saddam's program in an effort to fracture Iraqis.


Hat-tip: Virginia Postrel

Posted by jk at 11:04 AM | What do you think? [0]

Where do you give?

To help the tsunami victims?

Hugh Hewitt recommends World Vision Online. I guess the natural choice is the Red Cross, but I don't want my money funding stress-tests at Gitmo because of the color of the food trays in the cafeteria. I suppose the organization compartmentalizes pretty well and would direct Asian tsunami relief money to the cause.

I don't know. I'll give some dough, but I have to ask where. I am very distrustful of all these organizations. (By the way, anybody who recommends the UN will be banned for life...)

UPDATE: Glenn sez:

A LOT OF READERS complain that the Amazon tsunami donation page sends money to the Red Cross. But a lot of their complaints are aimed at the ICRC -- the International Committee of the Red Cross -- and not the American Red Cross, a different organization, and the one that's actually getting the money. I donated to them, but if you're uncomfortable, there are lots of places you can give money to. What interested me most about the Amazon phenomenon was how quickly and dramatically it worked, raising lots of money without a lot of overhead.

(I was one of those ankle-biting readers, by the way. This is as close as I will get to an Instalanche -- which is good as I am in enough trouble with my hosting company.)

And yes, I gave there. Like the Jerry Lewis telethon when I was a kid, it is fun to see the total go up and feel some ownership. With my small contribution, the Amazon group is now almost ten times the contribution of France. Stingyu-ass Americans, indeed!

Posted by jk at 10:12 AM | What do you think? [0]

December 24, 2004

Think Before You Click

If you click "Continue Reading..." you will see an email I received this Christmas Eve.

I have told you about my friend who mailed me Fahrenheit 9/11. I signed up for a music list and she hijacked the distribution. She is sweet, advanced in years and has some health problems. I don't know the details but I very rarely respond and never respond aggressively.

Today she sent a NYTimes story (via TrueMajority.org, which I assume is a site dedicated to conclusive proof that President Bush really did win Ohio...) titled "U.S. Cutting Food Aid Aimed at Self-Sufficiency." In the spirit of Christmas I will not comment on the possibility that subtle bias exists in that headline.

I expect that I am the only one on the list that did not write in Kucinich in 2004. But here is a response that so pleased her, she shared it with the whole list. I think it is so whacked out as to be funny. But please be forewarned -- if you do not to endure hateful rhetoric on Christmas, then don't click

___________ has never commented before on any of my "political" emails!
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Hey there.
You know, I don't find anything surprising at all in this "president's"
behavior... he's going right along with his party, which believes, for
some reason, that poor people all want to be that way, and are doing
everything that they can to stay that way.

Remember how it was Reagan who told us how the homeless families we saw
suddenly (during his time) all deserved to be that way? He made it very
fashionable to hate your fellow American, blame him if he hit hard
times, and NOT to give a damn about anyone but yourself. He truly
brought out the worst in our thinking, and these idiots we have now
worship him like he was someone worth paying attention to. I find our
current state to be quite indicative of his (Alzheimer's induced)
thinking, and they think that is just wonderful.

They are the ones who passed welfare "reform", something that was only
costing us 1% of the budget, yet it was the thing blamed for the
downfall of America. And the vast majority of that went to families
trying to raise children on next to nothing, with no real way to get out
and get a damned job in the first place.

These people have NO shame. They have NO compassion. What the hell ever
happened to George the first's "Kinder, Gentler America"? It is doing
just what they want, turning us back to the 1900's when there were NO
unions, NO ability to protect yourself against anyone with more money,
and NO ability to ask the gov't for help of any kind. These morons LIKED
Herbert Hoover, he did NOTHING to help anyone. That is why W is so
intent on having just the same kind of legacy as Hoover.

That being said, are you really surprised at W's actions, here? I'm more
surprised that ANY of the repubs think it's a bad idea.

But just remember, if a politician's lips are moving, he's LYING. Plain
and simple. IMHO, we should take ALL of them out and push them into the
ocean, and see how THEY like being up the creek without a damned paddle.
Maybe it would teach them a little compassion, though if they were all
out there sinking, I doubt that anyone with a brain would do much except
let them drown. They have proved that they deserve it.

And that is my statement on this topic. I just hope that the dissenting
voices win out and show this asshole in office that he is just making
things worse for all of us. But to be honest, if this group was so
willing to screw American children, why would they give a damn about
those in other countries? They see it more like if they kill off all the
kids everywhere, there won't be any future terrorists. In his twisted
brain, W thinks he's making us all safer.

JEEZ, don't get me started on this kind of thing! I just found out the
other day that we as a country spend a whopping 14 cents of every $10.00
on the rest of the world. Is it any wonder that we are looked at with
disdain by the rest of the world? Japan used to be on the bottom of the
list in terms of international assistance to other countries, and now we
beat them hands down. We are supposed to be showing the world how it's
done, and we are just pitiful. We don't care about our own citizens
anymore, and now we have taken that ideal to the rest of the world.

By what stretch of the imagination do these people call themselves
Christians? They are the LEAST Christ like people I've seen since the
Nazi's. I can't believe just how hypocritical they are, and they prove
it to me almost every day. It's driving me crazy day by day, and it just
amazes me that they don't see just how pig headed they are. They are
also the least AMERICAN people I've seen in my life.

The big difference between "them" and "us" is that we have always
thought that Americans should discuss things, and come up with the best
ideas from that discussion. We WANT people to have other ideas, that is
how you learn. They want NO discussion, they want you to fall in line
and believe what they do, and YOU ARE EVIL if you don't think like they
do. They have NO acceptance of other ideas, they have NO respect for
anything other than their own way. Anything that they disagree with is
automatically wrong, no discussion allowed. THIS IS TOTALLY UNAMERICAN.
Where would this country be if we hadn't been born of argument and
discussion? We'd have a king, and would be just another country in the
world instead of the one place that damn near everyone in most countries
wants to come to.

Can I stop now?

[ummmm, yeah -- jk]


UPDATE: My response (which got me kicked off the list):

In the spirit of the season, I will respond as well!

People starve because of bad government – not lack of US Federal largesse.

Examine the Heritage House Index of Economic Freedom (http://www.heritage.org/research/features/index/countries.html ) the freest countries are the wealthiest.

Your friend is no fan of President Reagan, but I’d suggest you both consider the improvement of GDP and life quality in the countries that have escaped Soviet Communism: Estonia is now ranked as the 6th freest country and the report says “The economy continues to grow: GDP increased by 6.4 percent in 2000 and 5.4 percent in 2001. Today, Estonia has the most advanced information infrastructure among the formerly communist Eastern European states.”

Real estate is rapidly appreciating in Kabul and Baghdad it is too soon to tell, but I believe liberty is clearly an important component to ending poverty.

I don’t understand why you and your friends who don’t trust the government to act on anything other than self-serving financial interests suddenly want these same people managing charity and giving. One would think we might find a rare bit of common ground in wishing that the Feds would get out of the charity business so that we might better direct out portion of the efforts.

Merry Christmas, I hope somebody gives your friend the gift of sedatives

Posted by jk at 02:10 PM | What do you think? [7]

Merry Christmas

I have just added AnySoldier.com to the blogroll. I also have Books For Soldiers. These are both great places to get addresses and needs for care packages for our brave men and women.

The messages are powerful. Some are friendly, some spell and write better than others -- but they are all poignant and a brief read-through will fill you with pride. I don't have a favorite, but here's one to give you a flavor:

24 Dec 2004:

I am Company Commander from Shreveport, LA. I have about 100 soldiers in my command. I am submitting this request for them. So I can share the generosity from back home that so many people feel for us over here. This is truly for them.

I myself understand how you feel back home. Most people I talk to support our mission 1000% and that is great. By mail, even a letter, is something tangible that these soldiers can hold.
Alot of them are young boys that have just started that journey of life and what ever I can do to make this experence better, I will do. Thank you for all you do, because with out you back home, with your support and love, this vital mission fails.

CPT Harry Wilson


Humbling to share a country with these folks. Humbling.

Hat-tip: Sgt. Lizzie. She and her brother both serve and blog. Do not miss her Christmas Card List

Posted by jk at 10:02 AM | What do you think? [0]

December 23, 2004

Stones

I love this man. My President plans to renominate 20 judges who did not get a vote in the 108th Congress.

WASHINGTON - Refusing to be brushed off by Democratic opposition in the Senate, President Bush plans to nominate for a second time 20 people who did not receive up or down votes on their nominations for federal judgeships.
[...]
"I was extremely disappointed to learn today that the president intends to begin the new Congress by resubmitting extremist judicial nominees," Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said in a statement. "Last Congress, Senate Democrats worked with the president to approve 204 judicial nominees, rejecting only 10 of the most extreme."

How could anyone not like politics? This is great -- I bet Estrada might even get renominated straight to SCOTUS.

Posted by jk at 04:23 PM | What do you think? [0]

The Best of Carols, the Worst of Carols

Nothing to add, just drop what you're doing and read A TCS Christmas Carol

It's Christmas time, and that means it's time to enjoy A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens' melancholy tale of a productive businessman who gets worked over by three meddling supernatural social workers one Christmas Eve, transforming him into a simpering socialist.

So, Douglas Kern treats us to some other treatments of the story.
John Edwards: Tiny Tim sues his parents for wrongful life, and his doctors for wrongful death. His crusading attorney makes a small fortune when the doctors settle out-of-court, even though they know perfectly well that Mrs. Cratchit's C-section didn't cause Tiny Tim's birth defects. Tiny Tim's cut of the settlement allows him to go to Oxford. For a week.

Ayn Rand: The ruggedly handsome and weirdly articulate Ebeneezer Scrooge is a successful executive held back by the corrupt morality of a society that hates success and fails to understand the value of selfishness. So Scrooge explains that value in a 272-page soliloquy. Deep down, Scrooge's enemies know that he is right, but they resent him out of a sense of their own inferiority. Several hot sex scenes and unlikely monologues later, Scrooge triumphs over all adversity -- except a really mean review by Whittaker Chambers. Meanwhile, Tiny Tim croaks. Socialized medicine is to blame.

The Libertarian Party: It's pretty much the same as the Ayn Rand version, but about halfway through the story, we learn that Scrooge is an alcoholic wife-swapping embezzling weirdo who's wanted for back child support payments in several states. Even readers sympathetic to the Libertarian story throw up their hands in disgust and grudgingly seek out the Republican version.

M. Night Shyamalan: In a completely unexpected twist, it turns out that Scrooge is the dead one, and the "ghosts" are actually the people that he's haunting.


And so on -- great stuff! Hat-tip: Glenn

Posted by jk at 08:38 AM | What do you think? [0]

December 22, 2004

A Bull's Bull's Blog

Larry Kudlow (co-host of the greatest show on TV that doesn't have vampires in it) has a great new blog: Kudlow's Money Politic$ Now available on the Berkeley Square blogroll.

He has an optimistic outlook for a dollar rally (that I could use!), a short piece about assetizing Social Security, and a heapin' helpin' of supply-side economics:

Bush's tax-cut on investor dividends is, well, paying dividends. Year to date, S&P dividend stocks have gained 16.7% versus 9.8% for non-dividend companies based on data from FactSet Research Systems. Recent dividend announcements from BellSouth, GE, Dow Chemical, Edison International, Pfizer, and Exxon Mobil underscore the point. Microsoft's 32-billion-dollar one-time distribution is a macroeconomic event.

This blog is the perfect antidote to the CW you encounter everywhere in the Media. Pro-growth, pro-American, pro-business commentary from a guy who knows what he's talking about.

Posted by jk at 05:09 PM | What do you think? [0]

Price Controls Hamper Drug Innovation

Stop the presses! A new study casts a bad light on foreign price controls' effect on both drug innovation and patient care. I would say "duh!" to the first assertion (being the flowery prose-maven that I am) but the second assertion is a surprise. Citizens in the nations with price-controls not only get less effective medication (expected), but also get less value (unexpected).

Kevin Hassett writes in TCS:

Yesterday, the Department of Commerce released a detailed and shocking study of the impact of the drug purchasing practices of our OECD trading partners on U.S. citizens. While academic economists always seem to be wishy-washy about making conclusions on the effects of such practices, the authors of this economic study had no such problem. Foreign price controls discourage research and new drug development. Foreign price controls harm patients. Our OECD trading partners are free riding on U.S. innovation. What is worse, our OECD trading partners are not saving all that much money in the process. The study catches them red-handed. They are steering monies away from the best drugs towards outmoded generic drugs that are sold by local companies at inflated prices.
[...]
The chapter describing the price controls presents a veritable rogues gallery of intrusive government practices. Foreign governments, it seems, have lots of tricks up their sleeves. They explicitly set sales prices, and prohibit sales at any other price. While lower prices might lead to increased volumes, spendthrift governments have that covered too. Explicit volume controls are also often imposed, effectively rationing prescription drugs. In order to keep spending on foreign products down, countries are often very slow in approving new drugs as well.

And, you know where I'm going with this. The cost to all of us is reduced innovation:
All of this lowers the revenue that innovative manufacturers can expect to receive for their products. The Commerce team estimates that such practices decrease revenues in OECD countries by $18 to $27 billion annually, representing a 25 to 38 percent potential increase over 2003 revenues. That is a lot of money, but it is less than the amount that governments overpay because of their protectionist generic practices.

What does that lower revenue for patented medications mean? The literature is quite clear on this. When revenues drop, research does as well. Using standard industry relationships, the study shows that R&D in the U.S. would increase sharply if foreign price controls were relaxed. And the benefits to patients would be substantial. The number of new molecular entities hitting the market in the U.S. would increase in response to that R&D by about 10 percent.


Those evil drug companies -- how dare they sell a little pill for $27?

Posted by jk at 04:43 PM | What do you think? [0]

December 21, 2004

Social Security -- Problem Solved

Let it not be said that Berkeley Square Blog will not stand up to the tough problems. Here is a platform for Social Security reform that, as a sideline, obviates the gay marriage contretemps.

My plan is to assetize Social Security, moving it from an unfunded liability to an actual personal asset. The vehicle to begin this process was suggested by Holman Jenkins in the OpinionJournal Political Diary on December 6:

Don't finance the creation of new private accounts with payroll tax revenues. Keep sucking this revenue stream into Washington and paying it out to current beneficiaries. But now, instead of a worker's payroll contributions disappearing annually without so much as a receipt from the federal government, he'd get back a Social Security Administration zero-coupon bond with a face value equal to a proportion of his future Social Security benefit. These bonds would be fully tradable, fully liquid, and would go right into an IRA account for each worker (to make sure the money is saved for retirement). Workers would be free to hold the Social Security bonds or cash them out and reinvest the money in a stock mutual fund, Treasury bond or any other approved savings vehicle.

Presto, under the current whackadoodle system of federal accounting, there'd be no cash transaction that would increase the visible federal deficit. In fact nothing would change except that a worker's individual Social Security entitlement would now become a liquid asset.

Now, it's absolutely essential that these Social Security bonds be issued as what's called "agency debt" -- they would NOT be backed by the full faith and credit of the federal government like a U.S. Treasury bond. They'd be obligations of the Social Security Administration. That's because the problem we're trying to recognize is the long-term unsustainability of Social Security's current benefit structure. Not only would our approach have the cosmetic advantage of not relying on a cash transaction that would appear to increase the federal deficit, but the market value of the bonds would reflect a realistic assessment of Social Security's ability to meet its promises out 10 years, 20 years, 30 years, etc. Each worker could judge for himself. He'd be free to bet on these bonds being honored at face value when he retires -- or free to sell them at the market value and reinvest the funds for a better expected long-run return.


Inspired genius. It took me a few days to see what was wrong with this proposal, but then only a few minutes to fix it. Here, then, is the jk blueprint for Social Security reform.

The key is assetization, Jenkins is absolutely right to take the unfunded liability of Uncle Sam's promise to keep me in guitar strings in my dotage and formally recognize that as an asset. A zero is a perfect vehicle; and issuing them from SSA and not the Treasury is correct.

The problem is the gub'mint's statistical expectation of my mortality. If my SS is given to me as a bond and I die on my 65th birthday, they have given me money I wouldn't otherwise collect.

I have left this bond to my wife (and presumably kids, mutatis mutandis). This money will no doubt be a great comfort to them. Especially since the jk plan eliminates spousal and dependent child benefits for Social Security.

All benefits accrue to the worker, the family will not get benefits (unless they work and retire) -- but they will have the breadwinner's benefits as a real asset.

This fixes Social Security, recognizes exigencies in contemporary family arrangements, gives the SSA a true accounting and transparent visibility of future obligations, and gets the government out of the marriage business as the worker can bequeath his/her retirement assets to anybody he/she chooses.

Most importantly, it changes SS from a welfare program to a retirement program. The enacting or future Congresses can shape the liquidity of these bonds, what percentage can be traded for private assets and the like. But President Bush, with help from jk and Holman Jenkins, Jr., has done the heavy lifting of converting unfunded liabilities to assets. Everything else will follow.

Posted by jk at 02:10 PM | What do you think? [6]

Social Security

Several thoughts on this topic.

Not to be flippant, but the first is "MERLE HAGGARD FOR POET LAUREATE!" (That woke up Sugarchuck!) So says PowerLine. It's like Vaclav Havel for UN SecGen -- we know we can't, but why? He has been a true American Voice for many years. And the NYTimes Ed Page would consider it the first sign of the apocalypse.

(The allusion, of course, it to Big City: "And keep your retirement and your so called social security. Big City turn me loose and set me free.")

Second is yet another disagreement between me and Bill Kristol. It is starting to scare me -- I respect him highly. There is really no better advocate for conservative positions. Yet he chose Senator McCain over President Bush on a few occasions. There's no law against that, but it does not demonstrate sound judgment.

The FoxNewsSunday AllStars panel last week was interesting. Bill sided with the liberal members Juan Williams and Cici Connely. Brit Hume held the Administration's position strongly, respectfully calling his usual-ally "General Kristol." Ouch.

Kristol opposed Hume not only on Rumsfeld, but also expressing caution that Social Security reform is too risky and threatens to undermine other elements of the President's agenda. Kristol thought permanent tax cuts were more important and might be put at risk.

Sorry William, we part one more time. Social Security reform is part of the ownership society. -- a change from "the government takes care of you" to "you own assets." Huge and important.

Larry Kudlow sums it up in NRO Financial. The 2nd term economic agenda is big, audacious and consistent:

Over two days last week, George W. Bush gave three full-fledged statements on his economic intentions. Reading through his comments one is struck by the clarity of his message. Each of his key points is pro-growth, incentive-based, and investor- and owner-oriented. His economic message favors entrepreneurs, importuning for more saving and capital formation as well as a healthy dose of deregulation.

In short, Bush is prescribing market-oriented measures that will spur prosperity and wealth creation. He's clearly rejecting government planning and entitlement. This is another dose of cowboy capitalism from the president. It is Schumpeterian capitalism. Entrepreneurial capitalism. Ownership capitalism.


Kudlow doesn't do it here, but he loves to quote Patton in times like these: "l'Audace, l'Audace!"

Posted by jk at 11:32 AM | What do you think? [3]

Still Fighting Saddam

The lead editorial in today's WSJ, "The Enemy In Plain View" defines the insurgency better than most: they're the old regime and the war is not over.

Do we need any clearer picture of the stakes, and the nature of our enemy, in Iraq than the photo of those assassinations that appeared on yesterday's front pages? The dead Iraqis were targeted precisely because they are trying to build a new, democratic Iraq. Their killers can't abide a free election, or a newly legitimate Iraqi government, because they know it will make it less likely that they can ever return to power. The car bombs targeting Shiite Muslims in Karbala and Najaf are sending the same brutal message.

These events ought to put to rest the canard that what we are facing in Iraq is some kind of "nationalist" uprising opposed to U.S. occupation. The genuine Iraqi patriots are those risking their lives to rebuild their country and prepare for elections. They are being threatened, and murdered, by members and allies of the old regime who want to restore Sunni Baathist political domination. Or to put it more bluntly, we haven't yet defeated Saddam Hussein's regime.


Maybe we can declare victory after a Jan 30 election but I hope we use the month to execute a few more Fallujahs and take out another large segment of the terrorist population.

Posted by jk at 10:17 AM | What do you think? [1]

December 18, 2004

First, They Came for Merck

and I did not speak out, because I was not a Merck shareholder.
Then, they came for Pfizer
and I did not speak out, because I was short Pfizer.
Then when I got MS, there was nobody to make drugs for me...

I apologize to Pastor Martin Niemöller for borrowing this powerful poem. It's out of line to cheapen it.

Yet the deionization of the pharmaceutical industry buggers belief. The ambulance chasers are already trolling for Vioxx users on Cable TV. And they just got an early Christmas present with the report on Celebrex. Pretty soon everybody taking pain medication will be a client -- who needs John Edwards in the Vice Presidency?

My buddy Hugh Hewitt can be way too socially conservative for me. But his economics is always spot on. Today he examines -- as the MSM will not -- the cost of not taking, developing, or investing in drugs.

Quick: What did the new study say about Celebrex? And how many people died from Vioxx? The media's not well known for calculating risk-return ratios, but since no one will ever be able to figure out lives lost due to the nonappearance of drugs that might have saved them, reporters will never have to answer for the cures they prevented even as they conducted weekly cheering sections for embryonic stem cell research.

The last thing we need is a witch hunt that shutters the drug development process. The "buy Canadian drugs" chorus is already targeting the American pharmaceutical industry, an industry already absorbing the extraordinary costs of the plaintiffs' bar. I am still on the right side of 50, but seniors and sufferers from any serious disease should shudder when the Lou's and Aaron's of the world start calling for more regulation, which means fewer drugs and fewer cures.


This is one of media's great crimes. The guy who gets his toe run over by a fire truck gets the front page. Shall we ban fire trucks? The obvious example is firearms. Everybody hurt is a news item; everybody saved is a news story averted.

John Stossel's Give Me a Break is one of my favorite books on this topic. Stossel covers several of the great media scares from BIC lighters to spontaneously-combusting Mr. Coffee pots. He shows what a microscopic risk they are compared to real but quotidian risks like automobile accidents. Stossel also shows the lives lost to poverty.

The witch hunts have begun. Hewitt’s story hinges on two cable specials about Merck and Vioxx. They are adding little to the public debate -- but they make seniors afraid to take their medication -- and rational people afraid to invest in the pharmaceutical sector and fund the next generation of cures.

I guess Silence is right. Maybe the free market does kill people. The media and the trial bar have a full court press on to keep me from ever finding a cure.

Posted by jk at 11:58 AM | What do you think? [5]

Baba O'Reilly Factor

Ed Driscoll writes in The Weekly Standard about the proceeds of Live Aid's being funneled to prop up a dictator, thus perpetuating poverty.

The money allowed Mengistu to string out his war efforts for six more years. Between starvation and outright murder, the war cost more than 100,000 Ethiopian lives.

DURING THE SHOW, The Who performed their '70s anthem, "We Won't Get Fooled Again." The Boomer and MTV generations frequently forget how often they get fooled again.

While Live Aid was spectacular television, it was just another in a series of Big Events from people who believed that throwing money at a problem eventually solves it. Eerily, it forecast how the left would interact with Iraq: Substitute Mengistu for Saddam Hussein and it's amazing how all the rest of the players stay the same--the BBC, the United Nations, and celebrities who believe that despots can be reasoned with to do the right thing. We won't get fooled again? Of course you will.


Bono was on Fox News Channel last night. I gave him a lot of credit, years ago, for two things: picking the serious topic of African debt relief and working to solve it without partisanship. He famously met with Senator Jesse Helms for a long afternoon session, where the two unlikely allies found a surprising amount of ideological overlap.

I'll still credit Bono with seeing more deeply into an issue than his typical Hollywood counterparts who think "they're starving? Let's send $30 and buy them brunch!"

Yet I still cannot take Mr-Cool-Eyewear seriously in the policy department. The cure for African AIDS? Well, the US pharmaceutical firms can just send over a bunch of drugs. Even his view of debt relief is simplistic. To Bono, all the debt is detritus from the Cold War to be thrown away like cement powder from the Berlin Wall.

Too much "relief" will always drive up the beta of a debt investment in a developing nation. Driving up the yield for a continent is not so benevolent.

I think they all got fooled again. The bright political mind in music was Sonny Bono (R-CA), not Bono (Voc - U2). But I'll give the latter credit for his not marrying Cher.

Posted by jk at 11:16 AM | What do you think? [0]

December 17, 2004

Insane But...

The Washington Gubernatorial race defies belief. John Fund writes in today's OpinionJournal Political Diary:

Election officials of Seattle's King County believe they may have "discovered" yet another 162 misplaced absentee ballots in the chaotic gubernatorial race in Washington State. Today Dean Logan, the vote-finding magician who serves as the county's elections director, will enter a locked "cage" in a warehouse to see if he can find the plastic mail tray he believes may contain the missing ballots. Let's hope he has nothing up his sleeve.

I think the Democrats are going to steal an election from a Republican who rightfully won it. That is sad and I hope it does not happen. But if it does, I will have to stand by it.

??? Because in 2000 I supported Katherine Harris's right to stop the counting. More than SCOTUS's decision in Bush v. Gore, I have always held that the 2000 election was legitimate because the elected Secretary of State in Florida was within her ambit to certify the vote. The Constitution is clear: "Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress..."

Ergo, Katherine Harris was empowered to stop the count. In that same spirit, I have to admit that the Democrats elected in Washington are also empowered to continue counting.

Hate to open old wounds. I think President Bush had a hat-trick with Katherine Harris, a GOP majority in the House, and the Bush v. Gore decision.

Posted by jk at 03:07 PM | What do you think? [0]

How Low Can They Go?

Mickey Kaus wonders about lowering journalistic standars in l'affaire Kerik:

Hasn't Bernard Kerik performed a huge service for journalism (and the Republican party)? Because of his sacrifice, we now have a dramatically lowered standard for when the New York Times will report the intimate details of public figures' private lives.

Kaus also wonders if the Times'll apply these same standards on Hillary Clinton.
I especially look forward to the paper's multiple-reporter investigation of Hillary Clinton's erotic life when she runs for Senate in 2006. All of her housekeepers need to be produced, of course, and if she has any lovers other than her faithful husband we'll find that out too! ... P.S.: Plus, following the Kerik precedent, it will be enough if "someone who spoke to" Hillary about any relationship can vouch for it. Hearsay evidence about sex is good enough for the Times!

Probably just another example of Conservative Bias at Slate...
Hat-tip: Instapundit

Posted by jk at 02:53 PM | What do you think? [0]

December 16, 2004

Johngalt, Dagny -- Move to France!

No, I'm not picking a fight. It's funny, being around Europe that they sometimes have policies of great freedom that we couldn't imagine, even though collectivism smothers their economy and lifestyle.

Samizadata compliments a new bridge in France, built with private money, new technology and design (Reardon Metal?), and a funding source recently discussed in this blog:

This bridge gives the world perhaps its biggest and juiciest taste so far of just what a huge impact on road transport the era of road pricing, now getting seriously underway, is destined to have. At first, environmentalists favoured road pricing, because they thought it would discourage cars. Alas for vain hopes. Road pricing make it possible for the private sector to build more and more magnificent roads. This bridge could never have been contemplated, let alone built, had the French not long been in the habit of paying to use their fastest roads.

Oui, oui -- that bastion of freedom and personal responsibility! Rousseau and Robespierre are twisting...

MillauViaduct.jpg

The Millau Viaduct

Posted by jk at 10:38 AM | What do you think? [2]

Cry Havoc!

The internecine dogs of war have slipped. NRO Editors have a trenchant editorial today on l'affaire Rumsfeld. And again, I have to come down on their side.

Behind much of the criticism of Rumsfeld is the idea that he has disastrously skimped on troop levels, especially when it comes to the occupation. But insurgencies aren't crushed by sheer numbers. Would that it were so. Counter-insurgency depends on intelligence and a sound political strategy, which in this case involves integrating Iraqi forces into the fight and moving ahead with the elections. Given that more troops would require an even larger logistical tail (read: more Humvees and "soft" vehicles carrying supplies, i.e. more targets) to support them, it makes sense that commanders on the ground aren't asking for significantly more troops.

The agenda of most of Rumsfeld's critics is clear: to wound the administration and discredit the war effort by taking the scalp of one of its architects. Some of those coming at Rumsfeld from the right have a more subtle concern. They can't bear to admit that Iraq has been more difficult than they ever dared imagine, because of the irreducible reality of political and social conditions on the ground. Remaking societies by military means can be harder, bloodier work than some neoconservatives care to acknowledge. That doesn't mean it's not worth it, or that our project still won't succeed in Iraq. We suspect that the January elections will produce a strong a civic statement of the sort we saw in Afghanistan, and thus help shift the political dynamic against the forces of violence.


Jonathan Last again defends his boss on the Galley Slaves blog. And The Corner features a letter from a person boasting proudly that they will subscribe to NR and not The Weekly Standard. The link is broken, but he says "Dear Mr. Goldberg, I just wanted to let you know that Mr. Kristol's recent (illogical) criticism of Secretary Rumsfeld means that I will not be renewing my Weekly Standard subscription next year and thus I'll soon be changing to National Review instead."

'Sus, Marie, Josef and NED! Buy whatever magazine you want, bro. But respect the right of a magazine to criticize the administration. I must admit, contra the letter writer, that I appreciate The Weekly Standard more than NR. I will continue to subscribe to both. NR has been a little too religious for me -- I've been hanging around Johngalt too long.

Posted by jk at 10:20 AM | What do you think? [4]

December 15, 2004

Unusual

I opened my desk drawer at the office today and found 78 ballots for the Gubernatorial election in Washington. That seems weird, but I had better pass them along to the Secretary of State.

Posted by jk at 11:24 AM | What do you think? [0]

Accurately Rated

I don't find much occasion to link to SPIN magazine, but this article caught my eye:

Give Me Centrism or Give Me Death! :: THE TEN MOST ACCURATELY RATED ARTISTS IN ROCK HISTORY!

However, I am not interested in overrated and underrated bands.
It's too easy, and all it means is that somebody else was wrong. I'm obsessed with bands that are rated as accurately as possible -- in other words, nobody thinks they're better than they are, and nobody thinks they're worse. They have the acceptable level of popularity, they have attained the critical acclaim their artistry merits, and no one is confused about their cultural significance.

Not really fitting the SPIN demographic, I only knew four of the ten, but it's hard to argue with The Beatles or Van Halen's reaching the appropriate level.

Goofy fun. I’d add the Rolling Stones, Phil Collins and Taj Mahal. Taj deserves a lot more than he gets but he is a big fish in a small pond, that's not too bad. The Stones got a lot but they contributed a lot. Most people I know hate Phil Collins but he finished Phil Spector's work, creating a "wall of sound" in his case with a small ensemble (or in his case, a drum fill with gated reverb).

Posted by jk at 11:18 AM | What do you think? [0]

Long Knives

When Senator McCain blasted our Secretary of Defense, I didn't pay much attention. Now that his friend Bill Kristol has chimed in, I am trying to be open minded.

In a WaPo column, Kristol demolishes Rumsfeld:

Actually, we have a pretty terrific Army. It's performed a lot better in this war than the secretary of defense has. President Bush has nonetheless decided to stick for now with the defense secretary we have, perhaps because he doesn't want to make a change until after the Jan. 30 Iraqi elections. But surely Don Rumsfeld is not the defense secretary Bush should want to have for the remainder of his second term.

The internecine strife has kicked up some dust around the Conservosphere. The NR people seem to be holding with the SecDef, Jonathan Last perhaps represents the bulk of the rest of the Weekly Standard crew behind their fearless leader. And Andrew Sullivan is dancing in the street with excitement.

No, Jonathan, I don't want to blindly support Sec Rumsfeld because is an administration player. But I'm not going over to MoDo's side either.

Mistakes were made in Iraq, but I'm not ready to blame Rumsfeld, Bremer, Bush, or Schrödinger’s cat. Rumsfeld's call for a lighter-faster-smarter military seems perfect for the times. His forthrightness with the Press was excellent. And, ummm, we did win, guys. You'd never sense that from the dispersion of blame.

I am going to break with Kristol here and support Secretary Rumsfeld.

Posted by jk at 10:30 AM | What do you think? [1]

December 14, 2004

Schumpeterian Gales of 100 Knots

That's my shipping forecast for Blockbuster. They announce today a less aggressive policy on late fees, but Jonathan Last says it is too little, too late.

I've long been impressed by how arrogant and stupid Blockbuster has behaved as an institution. They had a near monopoly on the video rental business and a chance to extend that monopoly as the market changed, first with the DVD, then with the internet, and finally with the supremacy of sales over rentals. And at every step, instead of innovating and adapting, Blockbuster sought to fight the future and maintain the status quo.

A word in there that's wrong? Own the market and watch it dissipate because you spend all your time defending the turf you've established, not looking at new trends and opportunities.

I haven't set foot in a Blockbuster for years. I am far from a movie buff, but they have nothing to offer me.

Posted by jk at 02:42 PM | What do you think? [2]

Quote of the Day

Theo Van Gogh, translated by Peaktalk blog:

The dead poor sheep farmers on Sicily at the turn of the century argued that America must be heaven on earth as emigrated family members relayed messages of having meat for dinner everyday. That was a mouthwatering experience for people who could enjoy that privilege maybe once in a lifetime. You can argue that particular instinct to be ˜ordinary" or "superficial" like so many do here, but it is way beyond me to look down on it. America is hated because it embodies the hope of people that yearn for a better life, to have meat everyday, but also to believe in the God they choose, or not. To say what you want without being persecuted. To be a woman without a veil, with the right to vote, free expression and adultery, without being stoned.

Hat-tip: The Corner where Andrew Stuttaford says "It is impossible to read those words, and others that you can see up on the site, without being profoundly moved - and remembering that Theo van Gogh was murdered for his opinions. Slaughtered for speaking his mind. In Europe. In 2004."

Hollywood's continued silence on the murder of a filmmaker in a free country for his beliefs is too much to bear.

Posted by jk at 02:29 PM | What do you think? [0]

Deals are Back

$80 Billion of M&A deals have been unveiled in the month of December. There is no shortage of glum news (is there ever?) but investors are valuing equities enough to fund some big deals: Oracle-PeopleSoft, Sprint-NexTel (or is it Verizon-Sprint now?), and today, Symantec is looking at Veritas (a former competitor of mine with an 11.5 Billion cap).

The Fed can bump 25 basis points every meeting for a while and still leave the liquidity needed to fuel these big deals -- times are not so bad.

The WSJ news page sez:

"The environment for risk-taking has changed in the past six months," says Jack Levy, co-chairman of mergers at Goldman Sachs. "Before then, boards [of directors] were fearful the market would not reward deal-making."

Indeed, U.S. companies are paying a premium of 28% above the share prices of targeted companies to get them to agree to deals, compared with 22% in 2003. That suggests buyers are more willing to open their wallets for the right acquisition -- and that they feel pressure to shell out now before an improving economy sends deal prices even higher. Shares of General Electric Co., for instance, are up 10% since Nov. 1, despite three expensive pending purchases, including a $1.1 billion acquisition of water-treatment company Ionics Inc., for which GE is paying a nearly 50% premium.


The next paragraph admits that we are not back to 90's M&A activity, but good deals are making money again.

Side note: at a family gathering last weekend featuring in-laws, not my crazy Nader-lovin' crew, all the pubic sector employees were talking glumly about how bad times are. The three of us in the private sector were discussing the growth we see in our companies and the economies at large. Stark contrast.

UPDATE: My post suggested the FOMC could raise rates "250 basis points every meeting." I meant 25 and have corrected it. Two-fifty might not be so good...

Posted by jk at 10:51 AM | What do you think? [0]

December 13, 2004

Band Aid

(...or "Do They Know It's Crap?")

A great benefit of being a jazz snob is easy avoidance of most of the nonsense that goes on in the pop world. I didn't avoid Band-Aid the first time, but this time -- even with a #1 record -- I wouldn't know it was on except for this hilarious post from Samizdat David Carr:

Two decades after the original Big Top and the Circus of Guilt comes rolling into town again though I am relieved to note the distinct absence of national fanfare and clappy-happy exultation that accompanied the first great feast of famine back in the mid 1980's. Twenty years on and my stomach is still churning from the experience.

But this time I have even further cause for complaint. Christmas? Christmas??!!. Just what message are these insensitive, monocultural, fascist bastards trying to send here? This is just Vocal Imperialism, pure and simple.

Less pure and less simple, I wager, are the motives of the organisers. Two of the prominent names are Bob Geldof and Bono, both ageing rockers who have managed to sustain lucrative careers long past their sell-by dates by successfully reinventing themselves as saviours of the planet. Hey, it's all about getting down the with kidz, man. Or something. To me, they have more in common with American TV evangelists. They also promise salvation provided you send them your money.

Lining up alongside them are a rabble of pasty-faced no-talents, has-beens, wannabes and never-wases: a million mediocrity march. But together they can make a big noise and that matters a lot in an industry where the noisiest wins. In fact, if they owe anything to Africans at all then it is not spurious Christmas wishes but a royalty cheque and a big thank you for being the best marketing tool in the world.


Merry Christmas Mr. Carr. Have a great Kwanzaa.

Posted by jk at 10:54 AM | What do you think? [0]

I Blinked and Missed It

I was not jacked into the matrix on Saturday. I was reading fiction (new Tom Wolfe -- pretty good) and did a little Christmas shopping. Sunday night, folks are talking about Kerik's withdrawn nomination and I had to scramble to figure out what happened.

A Nanny problem? A Nanny-problem excuse to avoid all manner of nefarious things that would have come up in confirmation hearings? Rats Ass, boys -- I was already sleeping better at night knowing that we were gonna have one tough hombre running the (Orwellian-named) Dept. of Homeland Security.

Me and Hugh are disappointed.

If Tommy Franks had had a "nanny problem," would he have been allowed to command two of the greatest military operations in history?

I am sorry to see Bernard Kerik withdraw from the confirmation process because I thought him uniquely suited to the urgency of the task --the sort of qualification that comes from a career in police work, actually having been there when the Towers fell, and service in Iraq. There aren't many people who bring that set of experiences, and thus genuine, first-person urgency to the task of homeland security.


Also bummed: Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard. On the Fox News Sunday Panel. He said (quoting from memory) that there are "different standards" for New York pols.

I don't think that I am being partisan when I say that I am willing to overlook a bit of nanny-W4-ing to get a tough, New York cop on the beat in Homeland Security.

Posted by jk at 09:52 AM | What do you think? [5]

Five Million Blogs

Mom always said I was "one in a million," but it seems I am more like one of five million. Technocrati says there are 5,043,995 blogs. Glenn and I are surprised.

Rather than navel-gazing at my lack of significance, let's look at people searching online for people (including, but in no way restricted to, Internet dating). AMERICAN DIGEST notes:

If all online was a only collection of data bases, data dumps, bots, and a hoary assemblage of mediators/librarians/whatever ... then we'd see a lot less emotion, time, and thought expended on it. Many people read and are moved by various online interactions. Few people are moved by encyclopedias and databases although all would agree they are useful. Even if online were all of the world's records stored on an infinite hard drives and accessible to all at any moment, it would still be nothing more than a card catalogue as high as the sky. We'd use it but it wouldn't seem any more compelling than the reference section.

Quite the contrary, online is a state that evolves from the wish not to be solitary. It arises from the desire to be "connected" on a new level to others -- to their knowledge, their businesses, their tastes as they choose to reveal them, to their personalities as they choose to construct them. The gravitational attraction of online for people is other people.

WiFi cybercafes, as a group, are emblematic of this state. Where a cafe's business plan once stopped at beverages, sandwiches and pastry, one that does not offer WiFi today is a cafe heading for oblivion. Those that offer free WiFi are the one's heading for success. Touted by the cafe conglomerate Starbucks as "the third place" in American life, the addition of WiFi to this place weaves all those places into a single space that is both of and beyond the physical location in which an espresso and a laptop rests on a table.


As I said. I once had hopes of a big influential blog (I always grab for the gold ring) but I enjoy posting something and thinking "This'll make Silence mad!" You folks all rock!

Posted by jk at 09:09 AM | What do you think? [2]

December 10, 2004

Quote of the Day

Brian Micklethwait at Samizdata rightly credits Capitalism for his ability to indulge his love of classical music with cheap Bach CDs. (Talk about what we take for granted -- the richest Kings in history couldn't hear what they wanted when they wanted. Yet I have access to more than 1500 CDs on a plane thanks to my RCA 40GB MP3 player.)

Brian sez:

People who say that money can't buy happiness are just no good at shopping.

Amen.

Posted by jk at 02:38 PM | What do you think? [4]

Ho Ho Ho

I know "Coals to Newcastle" linking to Instapundit, but this was too good not to share!

baghdadxmassm.jpg

Posted by jk at 02:27 PM | What do you think? [0]

In a nutshell

I've always wondered how to describe "Republican" and "Democrat" reasonably fairly to a 12 year old. John Fund, in today's OpinionJournal Political Diary, puts two Democrats' quotes together that do a decent job.

"Republicans decided to tell a simple story back when Reagan was president," former Clinton strategist James Carville told me. "We are for smaller government, less taxes and beating up on our enemies. The fact that they don't always follow that line doesn't mean people haven't believed them." Donna Brazile, who was Al Gore's 2000 campaign manager, agrees that Democrats need a clear and simple message. "How about shared responsibility, shared opportunity," she asks. "We have to return to some set of values."

Smaller Government, less taxes, beat up on our enemies. It's not cerebral or Hayekian, but I can go along. Shared responsibility, shared opportunity describes the Ds pretty kindly. ("Appeasers, liars and professional bureaucrats" was taken -- kidding!)

From here, I could tell that young niece or nephew about the virtues of individual responsibility and achievement -- and the perils of too much forced sharing. I may try to keep these quotes handy.

Posted by jk at 11:01 AM | What do you think? [15]

Friday Funny

Email from a friend says "There are two reasons why it is nearly impossible to solve a redneck murder:"
-- One, all the DNA is the same.
-- Two, there are no dental records.


Posted by jk at 09:58 AM | What do you think? [0]

20-20 on Global Warming

I get John Stossel's email newsletter. His book, "Give Me a Break," captures a lot of things I believe in, touching on economics, liberty and the media.

Tonight's show sounds Germaine:

Friday on "20/20" I talk to Michael Crichton about his new book, "State of Fear," which made me laugh with delight, because the villains are ... well, I won't tell, because I don't want to give the plot away. But finally! A star Hollywood writer/producer is scientifically literate. The "Jurassic Park" author spent three years doing climate research and discovered what he'd heard about global warming made little sense. But he almost didn't write "State of Fear" because he knew it would anger his friends. I'm glad he wrote it, and OK, I'll give it away: the villains are environmental groups! What a switch! In my interview with Crichton, he says: "environmental organizations are fomenting false fears in order to promote agendas and raise money."

UPDATE: Steve Hayward (whom I think of as a Weekly Standard guy) is writing a piece for National Review "using the Crichton book as a hook." He wonders:
One big thing to watch is whether Hollywood will buy the movie rights, and then make a film, of this book, or whether Hollywood is too narrow minded to move beyond "The Day After Tomorrow." I'm guessing Hollywood will take a pass on this one, and you'll also start to hear whispers from the trade that Crichton is an awful person, etc. He has, over the years, delivered some less than flattering assessments of how Hollywood has adapted his novels, so this could be the excuse for payback.

Posted by jk at 08:30 AM | What do you think? [2]

December 09, 2004

1960's Jazz Art

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Now he thinks he's Lileks...

Nope, no delusions there. But a workmate brought in his father-in-law's collection of jazz memorabilia -- I scanned a few for your enjoyment.

Click "Continue Reading" to see all the pictures. If you want high resolution scans, there is a link below each of the pictures -- enjoy!

 





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Posted by jk at 05:02 PM | What do you think? [0]

Reporter Coaches Soldier?

DRUDGE sez an embedded reporter had coached soldiers to ask Secretary Rumsfeld tough questions on armor. And Mr. Drudge has an email from the reporter, gloating:

I just had one of my best days as a journalist today. As luck would have it, our journey North was delayed just long enough see I could attend a visit today here by Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. I was told yesterday that only soldiers could ask questions so I brought two of them along with me as my escorts. Before hand we worked on questions to ask Rumsfeld about the appalling lack of armor their vehicles going into combat have. While waiting for the VIP, I went and found the Sgt. in charge of the microphone for the question and answer session and made sure he knew to get my guys out of the crowd.

So during the Q&A session, one of my guys was the second person called on. When he asked Rumsfeld why after two years here soldiers are still having to dig through trash bins to find rusted scrap metal and cracked ballistic windows for their Humvees, the place erupted in cheers so loud that Rumsfeld had to ask the guy to repeat his question.


You never know whether a Drudge story will be true. I almost never link there. This would be another stain on the fabled MSM if it pans out.

Either way, I agree with many I have read who enjoy this as a description of the special nature of the US. By all means show it on al-Jazeera, let its viewers imagine the fate of a young, low ranking soldier who dares to publicly question the head of the military.

This is a special nation -- hats off to the brave men and women who wear its uniform. And hats off to the tradition of grumbling troops and the right to question authority.

Hat-tip: pstupidonymous

Posted by jk at 03:58 PM | What do you think? [3]

Will they go now?

The AP Headline reads: 9/11 Kin Praised for Pushing Intel Reform and the lede is impressive:

WASHINGTON - The families of the 9/11 victims are being credited with pushing the intelligence reform bill through Congress. The Senate on Wednesday voted 89-2 to send President Bush (news - web sites) legislation that would implement the biggest overhaul of U.S. intelligence in a half-century, replacing a network geared to the Cold War fight against communism with a post-Sept. 11 structure requiring military and civilian spy agencies to work together against terrorists intent on holy war.

Who is praising them? Apparently the AP is, although five paragraphs in we get kind words from Senator Collins (Rino - Me.).

Very sorry for your loss people, but your group has been an embarrassment as you have leveraged sympathy and good will into partisan politics during the election and have now carried that into the Intel reform bill.

These people do not necessarily have a keener insight than me into the best structure for US Intelligence. I understand their concern and their insight into its importance -- but I am still concerned that we rearranged the deck chairs to suit their taste.

Too harsh?

UPDATE: Not too harsh, considering the lead editorial in today's WSJ:

The best that can be said for this bill is that it might not do too much harm as our government's spies divert their attention from catching terrorists to moving furniture. Somehow, eventually, maybe, the bureaucracy may even make it all work. But we sure wish everyone in Washington would stop with the back-slapping about how this reform rush-job is going to make us safer.
[...]
Note that in neither scenario is something useful accomplished. No spy satellite is boosted into orbit. Nobody is taught to speak Urdu, Farsi, Pashtun or Arabic. No intelligence assets are recruited in Iran or Syria or any other country that actually threatens us.

Another permanent layer of bureaucracy in Washington. I am glad the "kin" are pleased.

Posted by jk at 08:45 AM | What do you think? [5]

December 08, 2004

Judicial Solutions

... to legislative problems gave us Roe v. Wade, Brown v. Board, and Dred Scott v. Sanford. I used to think that that was one out of three, but have read some convincing material that it is actually zero out of three. It has been mentioned that Brown was not a blow for freedom and equality but just an invitation for the government to meddle incessantly in educational affairs. Over time all of life desegregated (except for the NHL) yet only public schools were stuck with the baggage of a Federal protectorate.

Now, Rich Brookheiser has an interesting piece in the Observer about Raich v. Ashcroft, the Medical Marijuana case.

Brookheiser is sympathetic to the cause, but asks a good question of guys like me who are rooting for Raich.

Rolling back the marijuana laws via lawsuit is entering the great crap shoot of the modern courts. The bench where John Marshall once sat has become like the fortune-telling chicken in Chinatown. Will Nino persuade Sandra? Will Kennedy stick with Souter? Medical marijuana has had more luck at the state level. This November, Montana became the ninth state to approve medical marijuana in a referendum. (The measure won 62 percent of the vote; President Bush, who carried the state in a landslide, won only 59 percent of the vote.) Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Maine, Nevada, Oregon and Washington have all passed medical-marijuana referendums. Voters in Washington, D.C., almost certainly approved such a measure a few years ago, but Congress, which runs the district's affairs, didn't allow the vote to be officially tallied. Two states, Vermont and Hawaii, have enacted medical-marijuana laws through their legislatures.

It is a very good article, going through the precedent of Wickard v. Filburn and contrasting the moderate success by referenda with much less success by state legislators.

Posted by jk at 12:49 PM | What do you think? [0]

December 07, 2004

Makes You Go "Hmmm"

Antoine Clark at Samizdata wonders why the US Libertarian Party is carrying water for Senator Kerry by sponsoring an Ohio recount. This allows Senator Kerry to not appear as a sore loser, yet still pursue a judicial tactic.

But the best question might be:

It occurs to me that it is a very strange way of promoting the Libertarian message to waste $1.5 million of Ohio taxpayers' money. The recount is not going to change the overall result and could only conceivably cause the Libertarian candidate to finish behind the Constitutional Party or the Greens finish behind a local independent.

I don't really expect anything out of the LP of any sense or substance, but I would love to see an answer to that.

Posted by jk at 12:42 PM | What do you think? [1]

Appreciation

From today's OpinionJournal Political Diary:

"An Iraqi businessman was negotiating several months ago to sell a prime piece of commercial real estate in central Baghdad. He had tentatively agreed on a price with a Kuwaiti investor, who planned someday to build an electronics superstore on the 9,850-square-foot property. But after President Bush was reelected in November, the Iraqi jacked up the price 25 percent. The prospect that a reelected Bush administration would stay and fight -- and ultimately stabilize Iraq -- had instantly made his property more valuable" -- Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, reporting from Iraq.

Posted by jk at 12:19 PM | What do you think? [6]

Definitive Proof

I live for comment arguments around here; they're much better than the stuff I post.

I was amazed awhile back when Silence doubted the existence of an "Elite Liberal Intelligencia." To paraphrase, he thought it somewhat a lazy rhetorical device because I could associate beliefs to this group without quote or attribution. I think it was compared to the "Vast Right Wing Conspiracy."

I must share, to those with strong stomach, an email sent to me by a beloved but wacko friend. She is not only of the Michael Moore wing, she actually sent me the movie before the election.

Today she sends me a link to (and this is not a parody) Bill Moyers's accepting the Center for Health and the Global Environment's annual Global Environment Citizen Award from Harvard Medical School. It was presented by Meryl Streep. (No, I am not making any of this up!)

I think I have unearthed definitive proof of the feared ELI -- let's listen in shall we?

The environment is in trouble and the religious right doesn't care. It's time to act as if the future depends on us -- because it does.

Moyers:
I accept this award on behalf of all the people behind the camera whom you never see. And for all those scientists, advocates, activists, and just plain citizens whose stories we have covered in reporting on how environmental change affects our daily lives. We journalists are simply beachcombers on the shores of other people's knowledge, other people's experience, and other people's wisdom. We tell their stories.

The journalist who truly deserves this award is my friend, Bill McKibben. He enjoys the most conspicuous place in my own pantheon of journalistic heroes for his pioneer work in writing about the environment. His best seller "The End of Nature" carried on where Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring" left off.

Writing in Mother Jones recently, Bill described how the problems we journalists routinely cover – conventional, manageable programs like budget shortfalls and pollution – may be about to convert to chaotic, unpredictable, unmanageable situations.


Bill Moyers, Harvard, Meryl Streep, the high altar of journalism, Mother Jones magazine, "Silent Spring" -- all in three paragraphs.

Silent Spring is a great example of the dangers of listening to these people. Rachel Carson wrote a book, her followers got a worldwide DDT ban enacted, wealthy countries found alternatives. Fine, but tens of millions died in poor countries of malaria when there was a cheap and effective insecticide. Smaller doses could likely have been effective without environmental impact. But no. Better to let millions of children die. It's not like they are white or anything.

Thanks to Moyers's contemporaries, the scientific discrediting has never been relayed. So "starting where 'Silent Spring' left off" is still a compliment.

Posted by jk at 11:41 AM | What do you think? [16]

December 06, 2004

Absurd passing law

I have noticed recently signs here in the Denver area have been posted along all the highways stating "Keep right except to pass". Along metro highways this borders on absurd for 90% of the time. There is not room for all the cars in all the lanes so the concept of attempting to pack them all into one is ridiculous. On an open road I suppose there is some merit to the concept, although I suspect it, like speed limits, has more to do with revenue generation than safety. So what about the times when the highways are not crowded, is it safer to have everyone packed into the right lane, especially in areas where there are entrances and exits every mile? Why also do we want to pay for and have the inconvenience of repairing that one lane more often than the other(s)? How much did I just pay in taxes to have these signs installed so that I can now be fined for driving otherwise legally but in the wrong lane? Maybe the intent is to strictly enforce the new law to add coercion to utilize our forthcoming mass transit system. Is it not enough to have social engineering legislation to force mass transit by allocating nearly all our transportation funds to trains and busses?

Posted by Silence Dogood at 10:27 AM | What do you think? [7]

Health Care Exigencies

A column in TCS, "Nationalizing Compassion: The Canadian Free Lunch," looks at the hard fact that health care is a scarce resource, and that economic systems exist to allocate scarce resources.

But because resources are limited -- there are only so many physician hours, hospital beds, pharmaceuticals, ad infinitum available -- we cannot consume all the medical care that we would prefer. Instead, we are forced to make often-hard choices, as is the case with nutrition, housing, education, and all the rest.

And so all economic systems, whatever they are called and however organized, must find ways to allocate resources among competing uses. In a word, rationing in some form is the common characteristic of all such systems and the eternal misfortune of mankind ever since the debacle in the Garden of Eden. We can ration by price, favoring the nonpoor over the poor. We can let people fight it out: Violence, the oldest rationing mechanism known to man, favors the young and the strong. We can resort to queuing, favoring those whose value of time is relatively low. We can choose to favor beauty, which is timeless, supposedly, but what is incontrovertible are the advantages of the beautiful over the rest of us in the eternal struggle for resources. And so on.

Say what you will about the evils of price rationing in the context of the health care market, but it does offer two huge advantages: It imposes discipline on the consumption of health care and it yields incentives for providers to continue providing in the long run. We do, after all, care about the children, do we not?

In the discussion about health care, this seems to be infrequently admitted. As if there is surely some program that will make a gallon of paint cover a large house, if we would only get the right policy wonks to come up with a plan.

You have to ration it somehow. Free market economics seems heartless to some. Yet it has proven to be the fairest and most effective means to distribute goods fairly.

Posted by jk at 10:03 AM | What do you think? [0]

Day by Day is on Board

Vaclav Havel for SecGen? Sam and Damon think so!

Posted by jk at 08:53 AM | What do you think? [0]

The Academy Award Goes To...

San Diego Punter, Mike Scifres.

My beloved Broncos had every chance to win last night, and I certainly credit their mistakes with the loss, plus grudging respect for the Chargers' Defense. It certainly wasn't the fault of the official --

-- BUT: I was haunted all evening by the penalty that Mr. Scifres drew in the last two minutes. He dove to the ground, untouched, and drew a 5-yard "running into the kicker" penalty. This negated a bad kick and a good return, and took an extra 10-15 seconds off the clock. A little better field position, a little more time, and the Broncos could've pulled it off.

I guess that's good "inside" football. I can certainly see playing it up when you do get hit. Yet the replay of the punt had me wanting to institute hockey's rule against "taking a dive."

Posted by jk at 08:45 AM | What do you think? [0]

December 05, 2004

Movie Review

The Incredibles is indeed, incredible. A new high-bar for computer animation (it is lit like a movie), funny dialogue, and a Randian subplot. I give it 5 stars!

Posted by jk at 10:44 AM | What do you think? [1]

December 04, 2004

Day By Day

So good to have Day By Day by Chris Muir back. And he's beating up on Bill O'Reilly, so that's a two-fer.

I watch "The Factor" now and then but Bill -- entertaining though he can be -- is a complete nut-job demagogue on many topics. His defense of Rather seems morally cloudy at best to me.

I'm not going to post the strip -- click over there so he can see that we're all back!

Posted by jk at 10:12 AM | What do you think? [0]

December 03, 2004

VDH

Victor Davis Hanson is on, as usual, in National Review Online today. I break with the professor on immigration economics but bow to him on all things martial, from the Peloponnesians to Fallujah.

Today's article is how quickly we have assimilated and forgotten our achievements and advances in Afghanistan and Iraq. True and expertly told, but I love this coda at the end:

If Bill Clinton could run America with 43 percent of the popular vote in 1992, if Lincoln could conduct a war after receiving 40 percent in 1860, and if the Supreme Court could adjudicate the electoral mess of 2000, so then the Kurds and the Shiites, if need be, can hold elections in Iraq with participation of 70 percent of the people. As for the Muslim clerics, Saddamites, and al Qaedists of the Sunni triangle, rest assured that there will be elections and you shall all end up on the wrong side of history. How absurd it is that the Sunni Triangle is the heart of an insurrection that feeds off either subsidy, appeasement, or the indifference of its citizenry, only then to plead that its own malfeasance should earn special dispensation from others who chose hard work and sacrifice and the chance for democratic law. Let them participate in history or watch it steamroll by from the sidelines -- but let them not stop it.

Posted by jk at 09:33 AM | What do you think? [0]

Quote of the Day

A WSJ editorial on President Bush's need to stand firm on the side of democracy ends with this jewel:

A final note: We hear that Mr. Bush has been reading Natan Sharansky's fine new book on democracy. It includes the following passage: "More than 15 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the free world continues to underestimate the universal appeal of its own ideas. Rather than place its faith in the power of freedom to rapidly transform authoritarian states, it is eager to achieve 'peaceful coexistence' and 'detente' with dictatorial regimes."

Posted by jk at 08:57 AM | What do you think? [0]

Ché

I think one is morally bound to point out certain uncomfortable exigencies about Ché Guevara wherever possible. I don't yell at the trust fund babies walking around Boulder in their T-shirts, but I always make my feelings known to any businesses that are trading in Ché-wear.

A very nice guy imports cigars and Cuban coffee (good stuff!) into Ireland and the UK; he has a store in Dublin. He had some disposable lighters with the murderer's visage and we had a pretty good talk. He knew he couldn't make any better excuses than "I can sell some of these."

The WSJ's "Tony & Tacky" page talks about a boycott. There is hope kids!

CLI-CHÉ: It's no surprise that Burlington Coat Factory is selling Ché Guevara T-shirts to cash in on this year's hagiographic movie, "The Motorcycle Diaries." It's hardly surprising that Burlington has made an ad dubbed "Values" featuring the Marxist who quashed a democratic Cuban revolution and presided over firing squads. Who said that retailers couldn't discount their conscience too? What is interesting is the discovery that there are still plenty of Guevara detractors with the energy to shout "murderer!" They're inviting people to join them in a boycott on Dec. 4 at selected outlets of what protesters like to call "The Burlington Ché Factory."

Posted by jk at 08:43 AM | What do you think? [0]

December 02, 2004

A TNR Must Read

You shall hold your manhood cheap if you don't read Peter Beinart's Cover Story in TNR. I don't think a subscription is required (if so, this piece is worth $20)

Beinart reads the riot act to the Democrats, as this magazine did to the non-anti-communist liberals in the late 40s. There is some hard medicine in here, but the party would be wise to respect its source.

Kerry was a flawed candidate, but he was not the fundamental problem. The fundamental problem was the party's liberal base, which would have refused to nominate anyone who proposed redefining the Democratic Party in the way the ADA did in 1947. The challenge for Democrats today is not to find a different kind of presidential candidate. It is to transform the party at its grassroots so that a different kind of presidential candidate can emerge. That means abandoning the unity-at-all-costs ethos that governed American liberalism in 2004. And it requires a sustained battle to wrest the Democratic Party from the heirs of Henry Wallace. In the party today, two such heirs loom largest: Michael Moore and MoveOn.
[...]
Moore is the most prominent soft in the United States today. Most Democrats agree with him about the Iraq war, about Ashcroft, and about Bush. What they do not recognize, or do not acknowledge, is that Moore does not oppose Bush's policies because he thinks they fail to effectively address the terrorist threat; he does not believe there is a terrorist threat. For Moore, terrorism is an opiate whipped up by corporate bosses. In Dude, Where's My Country?, he says it plainly: "There is no terrorist threat." And he wonders, "Why has our government gone to such absurd lengths to convince us our lives are in danger?"

I just finished the article and there is already much commentary up about it. Both the right and left question whether the party as a whole wants any part of this medicine, hard or not.

A letter writer to Andrew says it:

Only one problem with Beinart's thesis. People like me will not vote for the kind of Democrat he pines for. And people like me are the base of the Democratic party. I would not vote for Joe Lieberman or any Iraq-war supporting Democrat (that includes Hillary, by the way). People like me are the mirror images of the Republican right. We would rather lose than sacrifice our principles. The operative principle here is our opposition to big-foot neoconservatism which views the entire world as America's playground. You may think we are wrong but understand this: we are the Democratic party (which is why Lieberman sank so quickly). Our model is that of the Goldwaterites. They did not change. They fought and eventually they prevailed. We will prevail too. Iraq is our trump card. And maybe Iran. The continued ascendancy of neoconservatism guarantees the triumph of neoisolationism. As George Mc Govern said, "come home, America." The day is coming.

Taranto at Best of The Web is skeptical form the other side:
But there's a big difference between 1947 and 2004: In 1947, the Democrats were still the majority party, and domestic liberalism was ascendant. This made it easier to marginalize the "softs" and turn the party hawkish. As Beinart notes, when the New York Times asked delegates to the 2004 Democratic Convention "which issues were most important," only 2% mentioned terrorism, 1% defense and 1% homeland security. If there's a significant constituency for a 21st-century ADA, the Democratic Party probably isn't where it's likely to be found.

Color me skeptical too -- though the Ds may have to shed their "softs" and rebuild to become politically viable -- again.

Posted by jk at 03:47 PM | What do you think? [7]

December 01, 2004

Day By Day is Back!!!!

I have been counting the days! Chris Muir's Day By Day cartoon is back!

(I'm glad he drew me with more more kindness than he used on Dan Rather...)

Posted by jk at 11:36 AM | What do you think? [0]

Oil For Terrorism

Senator Norm Coleman writes a guest editorial, Kofi Annan Must Go in today's WSJ, and it is reprinted on the free site.

First. Let me salute Sen. Coleman. When I see the future of the GOP, I see more guys like Norm. He is not a rabid partisan, not a religious-righter (he's Jewish as it happens), he is not even a scary Southerner. I don't know all his policies but he has really impressed me so far -- maybe Sugarchuck knows some bad things about his Senator that I don't.

Second. Without The Wall Street Journal Editorial Page, this story would not happen. Claudia Rosett has yet another devastating piece today. The Weekly Standard and National Review have done some stories, but they tend to be summaries of Ms. Rosett's outstanding investigative reporting.

Third. This is known as "Bush's War" all over the world. Perhaps that's fair as he was the only one with the stones to do what's right. But really, the people who could have stopped this war are Saddam Hussein and Kofi Annan. Not to put equivalence between the two but The UN made this war possible by doling out sufficient funds to keep Saddam afloat and would-be allies paid off.

Senator Coleman:

Since it was never likely that the U.N. Security Council, some of whose permanent members were awash in Saddam's favors, would ever call for Saddam's removal, the U.S. and its coalition partners were forced to put troops in harm's way to oust him by force. Today, money swindled from Oil-for-Food may be funding the insurgency against coalition troops in Iraq and other terrorist activities against U.S. interests. Simply put, the troops would probably not have been placed in such danger if the U.N. had done its job in administering sanctions and Oil-for-Food.

That's all you have to know. But it is so perfect, you gotta read the whole thing.

Mr. Annan was at the helm of the U.N. for all but a few days of the Oil-for-Food program, and he must, therefore, be held accountable for the U.N.'s utter failure to detect or stop Saddam's abuses. The consequences of the U.N.'s ineptitude cannot be overstated: Saddam was empowered to withstand the sanctions regime, remain in power, and even rebuild his military. Needless to say, he made the Iraqi people suffer even more by importing substandard food and medicine under the Oil-for-Food program and pawning it off as first-rate humanitarian aid.

Claudia Rosett, on the same page takes on Kofi's claim that "[His son Kojo] is a grown man, and I don't get involved with his activities and he doesn't get involved with mine," or: No, I am not in any way responsible for this obvious nepotismal graft.
But at no point did the secretary-general suggest that he himself bore any responsibility for this glaring conflict of interest. That evasion deserves a closer look. It is a terrific cameo for the U.N. mindset that brought us the Oil for Food swindle in the first place--a culture in which secrecy is the norm, the buck stops nowhere, and some of the resulting surprises have most recently have included at least $17 billion grafted out of a U.N. relief program for Iraq, charges of rape and pedophilia among U.N. peacekeepers in Africa--and now this tale of the secretary-general's family ties.
[...]
It is a disturbing pattern that this information had to be dredged up after-the-fact, in fragments, by the press, rather than being publicly disclosed at the time by a secretary-general who has better access both to U.N. records and to his own son. What Secretary-General Annan neglected to mention, moreover, is that he himself does bear responsibility for how his Secretariat handles its procurement procedures, and what level of disclosure the U.N. requires of its contractors, and provides to the public.

Posted by jk at 11:24 AM | What do you think? [0]

WAL*MART II

The WSJ News page agrees in theory to my Wal-Mart/Target suggestions of yesterday.

When she set out to do her Christmas shopping last weekend, Terry Snook skipped Wal-Mart and instead drove several miles to Target. The 43-year-old Houston audiologist says she wanted to avoid the crowds she sometimes runs into at Wal-Mart. And she found better deals on toys at Target: She bought a Little Mommy shopping cart for her daughter and a CD player and board games for her son. "Target had some really good specials," she says.

When Wal-Mart lets down its guard, the competition came out swinging.

The nation's largest retailer is still expected to ring up nearly $300 billion in sales this year. But its surprisingly poor kickoff to the Christmas selling season last weekend revealed that the seemingly invincible company has vulnerabilities that rivals can quickly exploit.
Wal-Mart has readily admitted it faces stronger competition than ever, as it explained its disappointing weekend sales. Target Corp., which is pushing its fashion edge and continually adding more food offerings, is one of its hottest rivals. And Wal-Mart faces several other increasingly savvy competitors, including Best Buy Co., Richfield, Minn., in consumer electronics and Bed Bath & Beyond Inc., of Union, N.J., in home furnishings.


Posted by jk at 08:55 AM | What do you think? [0]
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