Sunday, March 30, 2008

No sympathy for thieves who become victims

An elderly woman was robbed of $7 by an intruder, and what's her reaction?
Younge, a Democrat, said she didn't recognize the man, who wore a red hat and red jacket and dark pants. She said she's going to pray for him.

"This robbery and what's happening to this community is the result of a lack of a supportive system for our youth. We need jobs," she said. "This happened in broad daylight at noon. We need a mental health support system. This is further evidence of that."
No, it's actually further evidence that she's a moron. Bleeding heart liberals will never get it. They'll never understand crime or how to deal with it. They view violent crime as a "disease," or stemming from "economic conditions," when in fact the crimes are simply a product of people's conscious desires to infringe upon others' rights. (This is in contrast with conservatives' belief that victimless crimes, such as non-violent drug addiction, should be punished as severely, if not more so, than crimes with real victims.)

Now consider this. She was robbed of a mere $7. As part of the state legislature, how many people has she robbed via taxation?

Update: my friend Billy Beck linked to this story. All it takes is some balls, figuratively speaking, to stand up to a wannabe criminal and kick him in the balls, literally speaking. And yeah, I share Billy's desire. I'd have loved to see the punk get what he deserved. Criminals deserve no mercy, whether they're street punks or government-empowered thieves.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Will Krugman ever get anything right?

Paul Krugman, who predicts economic Armageddon after another in the hope he'll eventually be right, did a curious thing in his new op-ed "Partying Like It's 1929": he didn't blame George W. Bush or Republicans, contrary to his norm. But as is his norm, he demonstrated a lack of awareness of real economics and history.
If Ben Bernanke manages to save the financial system from collapse, he will — rightly — be praised for his heroic efforts.

But what we should be asking is: How did we get here?

Why does the financial system need salvation?
The opening is mild enough, if you put aside that Bernanke is hustling along the inflation and deserves no accolades for anything.
Why do mild-mannered economists have to become superheroes?
Those of us who understand Krugman know that here he's not just talking about Bernanke, but about himself too.
The answer, at a fundamental level, is that we’re paying the price for willful amnesia. We chose to forget what happened in the 1930s — and having refused to learn from history, we’re repeating it.
This is true to some extent, but only because Krugman is making generalities. It's not completely true, semantically, because most people today, especially lenders, never understood the problems of the 1930s and hence could never have chosen to forget it.
Contrary to popular belief, the stock market crash of 1929 wasn’t the defining moment of the Great Depression. What turned an ordinary recession into a civilization-threatening slump was the wave of bank runs that swept across America in 1930 and 1931.
As an academic, "one would think" Krugman would know enough to be more precise in his phrasing. (I put "one would think" in quotes because it's a common rhetorical trick Krugman uses, to imply an absolute with which no one can disagree.) Just what does Krugman mean by "defining moment"? It's a ridiculous cliché, and most often used to reference time periods too long to properly be called a "moment." Krugman really wants to reduce two years to a "moment"? Well, when he fudges numbers to prove his agenda, why should we be surprised when he fudges language too?

But let's play Krugman's game, both with his imprecise use of "defining moment" and his assumption that it was "the wave of bank runs." The American economy had already slipped into a recession about in August 1929, but it wasn't quite apparent to the regular American. At the end of October 1929, however, most Americans knew something was wrong. Is Krugman really suggesting that news about the crash, and neighbors jumping out windows, also didn't "define" for Americans (or however he's using "defining moment") that the economy was in trouble, that it was the bank runs that didn't occur for several more months?

Or is Krugman merely trying to correlate modern events with past events, fudging historical details just like he does with numbers and words?
This banking crisis of the 1930s showed that unregulated, unsupervised financial markets can all too easily suffer catastrophic failure.
If Krugman isn't blaming Bush and/or the GOP, it's a safe bet he's at least blaming the free market. Thankfully we had Milton Friedman to tell us that it was the Federal Reserve that directly caused the Great Depression by sparking and fanning the initial financial crisis. The economy was already under strain in the late 1920s; the last thing it needed was a deflationary shock. This isn't natural, mild deflation that my friend Josh Hendrickson has talking about, but a massive slashing of the money supply, far greater than anything possible under the free market during the same period of time, that confuses borrowers and lenders alike, preventing them from making the right decisions.

There was a mild, lesser-known recession in 1927 to which the Fed responded, but in 1928, the Fed already began tightening monetary policy. It "raised the discount rate from 3.5% to 5%. Because nominal prices were falling, the latter translated into a real discount rate of 6%, which is quite high in a year following a recession." Now, some erroneously claim that the Fed was even trying to expand the money supply. That argument ignores that when the Fed "made major purchases of U.S. securities, and cut interest rates from 6 to 4 percent," that still didn't undo that the Fed had previously sold three-quarters of its Treasury holdings, and that interest rates were higher than when the Fed started! So let's not emphasize the bank failures themselves, which are merely a symptom. The cause was the monetary policy that affects all banking operations.

The Fed didn't reveal to the public precisely what it was doing, so its monetary machinations confused buyers and sellers in any market. People knew something was wrong, but everyday people can't readily perceive that there are fewer dollars going around. What people at the time did know was that big layoffs were taking place, and those who couldn't find new jobs in time had to, naturally, tap into their savings. Their expectation was that they can withdraw a dollar at a dollar's value. It's true that banks lend out most of their savings at any given time, but it was more than millions of Americans trying to pull their money out at once. The sum of their claims exceeded what was now there: eventually the Fed's actions reduced the money supply by nearly a third.

If the money supply is cut, most prices can adjust as sellers become aware. Deflation increases a currency's purchasing power, so prices will go down. Wage earners can be paid less, and in fact must be, because sellers must cut prices. This, though, is a problem for borrowers and lenders. Deflation means that as people earn less, they'll find it harder to repay existing loans -- not inherently bad if it's natural, but the deflation of the Great Depression was artificial, not to mention much larger than anything naturally occurring. Today, we just can't conceive the havoc of having to repay loans with a money base only two-thirds of what it was.

You may wonder why I've been talking about this for four paragraphs, to counter just one line, but it's to demonstrate that by a simple examination of history, Krugman is flatly wrong to blame the "free market" for the banking problems.
As the decades passed, however, that lesson was forgotten — and now we’re relearning it, the hard way.
Krugman is correct here, but again, only because he's speaking so generally.
To grasp the problem, you need to understand what banks do.
If there's one thing we've learned from Krugman over the years, it's that we should be skeptical of what he says, especially when he assumes this smug "professor" tone.
Banks exist because they help reconcile the conflicting desires of savers and borrowers. Savers want freedom — access to their money on short notice. Borrowers want commitment: they don’t want to risk facing sudden demands for repayment.
Krugman's explanation is unnecessarily complex. Banks are simply "brokers," middlemen who create a marketplace where buyers and sellers can come together. The sellers are those who wish to lend, and buyers are those who wish to borrow.

Krugman's explanation is also partly wrong. It's based on the liberal myth of "zero-sum" (that if someone gains, someone by definition must lose). The desires of borrowers and lenders are actually no more "conflicting" than a deli's desire to earn money conflicts with my desire to buy lunch. Borrowers wish to borrow money at a certain premium, and lenders wish to get a return on money they cannot touch.

He's furthermore wrong in his explanation of what savers and borrowers want. Savers don't necessarily "want freedom — access to their money on short notice." Savings are often tied up and cannot readily be liquidated at face value, which savers accept when they invest in instruments of a clearly specified duration (CDs, bonds, notes, etc.). Conversely, borrowers do "want commitment" in a way, but when Krugman says "they don’t want to risk facing sudden demands for repayment," it's meaningless because it's obvious. Loans are made on terms, whether mortgages, auto loans, credit card and other revolving loans, even margin calls. What borrowers do want is assurance that they won't have to pay back more than what the contract says, or pay it back earlier than specified.

After spending three short paragraphs explaining bank runs (which is correct because he kept it simple), Krugman praises intervention:
That, in brief, is what happened in 1930-1931, making the Great Depression the disaster it was. So Congress tried to make sure it would never happen again by creating a system of regulations and guarantees that provided a safety net for the financial system.
Indeed! The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, coupled with Fed action (to "inject liquidity" however and as it deemed necessary), successfully prevented bank runs. It did not, however, eliminate the fundamental problem of banks making bad loans. The very existence of the FDIC, coupled with the promise of central bank action, created a moral hazard. Banks were hardly discouraged from making riskier loans than if they had to eat the losses, and moreover, the implicit promise of a bailout encouraged them to make riskier if not corrupt loans -- whether the S&L bailouts two decades ago, or the subprime situation now.

Ultimately, "safety net" means that the responsible American is made to pay for the sins of the irresponsible, which is in line with Krugman's collectivism.
And we all lived happily for a while — but not for ever after.

Wall Street chafed at regulations that limited risk, but also limited potential profits. And little by little it wriggled free — partly by persuading politicians to relax the rules, but mainly by creating a “shadow banking system” that relied on complex financial arrangements to bypass regulations designed to ensure that banking was safe.

For example, in the old system, savers had federally insured deposits in tightly regulated savings banks, and banks used that money to make home loans. Over time, however, this was partly replaced by a system in which savers put their money in funds that bought asset-backed commercial paper from special investment vehicles that bought collateralized debt obligations created from securitized mortgages — with nary a regulator in sight.
Do you see? Like above, Krugman isn't talking about preventing problems, only lamenting that they weren't FDIC-insured, which is the same to wish that "If only the federal government were responsible for bailing these people out."

The Federal Deposit Insurance Reform Act of 2005 and its followup Federal Deposit Insurance Reform Conforming Amendments Act of 2005 set a top limit of the Deposit Insurance Fund at 1.5% of all insured deposits. That means anything over 1.5% is shifted to the American taxpayer. That prompted Congressman Ron Paul to warn about the Reform Act in 2005 from a practical perspective as well as constitutional: "In the event of a severe banking crisis, Congress likely will transfer funds from general revenues into the Deposit Insurance Fund, which would make all taxpayers liable for the mistakes of a few."

As we've seen, though, the federal government didn't need the Act or anything similar to bail out the S&Ls in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Today, Krugman wants it to happen again with those who invested in mortgage-based securities, or at least laments it can't happen by the FDIC? Why should the rest of us pay for the foolishness of others? Anyone who shifted investments to CDOs did so deliberately, and with the knowledge they could lose value. Just like stocks, corporate bonds, etc., CDOs simply aren't covered by the FDIC, and investors knew that every time they looked at a prospectus. If they didn't bother to look at a prospectus, well, that's their fault.
As the years went by, the shadow banking system took over more and more of the banking business, because the unregulated players in this system seemed to offer better deals than conventional banks. Meanwhile, those who worried about the fact that this brave new world of finance lacked a safety net were dismissed as hopelessly old-fashioned.
Until now, I thought even Krugman knew that if you wanted to earn maximum returns, you had to accept maximum risk. Why should collateralized securities be considered "safe" and thus subject to a taxpayer-provided bailout?
In fact, however, we were partying like it was 1929 — and now it’s 1930.

The financial crisis currently under way is basically an updated version of the wave of bank runs that swept the nation three generations ago. People aren’t pulling cash out of banks to put it in their mattresses — but they’re doing the modern equivalent, pulling their money out of the shadow banking system and putting it into Treasury bills. And the result, now as then, is a vicious circle of financial contraction.
After talking about the evils of this "shadow banking system," why isn't Krugman happy that people are getting out of it? After all, he shouldn't be calling it a crisis, but a correction.

In fact, Krugman should be delighted that this gives the federal government more money to spend, and that those evil capitalist bankers have less capital available. The rest of us know that the way the federal government spends, our money is far more at risk of being wasted by Washington than being lost in CDO investments.
Mr. Bernanke and his colleagues at the Fed are doing all they can to end that vicious circle. We can only hope that they succeed. Otherwise, the next few years will be very unpleasant — not another Great Depression, hopefully, but surely the worst slump we’ve seen in decades.

Even if Mr. Bernanke pulls it off, however, this is no way to run an economy. It’s time to relearn the lessons of the 1930s, and get the financial system back under control.
Ron Paul also said when opposing the Reform Act, "Immediately after a problem in the banking industry comes to light, the media and Congress inevitably blame it on regulators who were 'asleep at the switch.' Yet most politicians continue to believe that giving more power to the very regulators whose incompetence (or worse) either caused or contributed to the problem somehow will prevent future crises!"

Similarly, Krugman expects the Federal Reserve and the federal government, the very engineers of the current financial crisis, to "fix things"? It was the Federal Reserve that caused the Great Depression, the stagflation of the 1970s, the 1990-91 recession (look at the rates from the late 1980s through 1990 and tell me what 8% and 9% FFRs will do for economic growth), the 2001 recession, and now the subprime mess. I had the pleasure of meeting Bruce Bartlett a couple of weeks ago, and one thing we talked about was our central bank. As he so well put it, "The Fed always overdoes it." It tightens too much, or loosens too much. I'll add that it creates bubbles and pops them.

Then there's the federal government. Besides the moral hazard of bailouts, it pushed mortgage lenders to lend more money to minorities. Stan Leibowitz wrote an excellent history of how ACORN complained in the 1980s that low-income minorities weren't getting as many loans. The fact that banks rejected loans on the basis of ability to repay, not race, didn't deter Congress and the Clinton Justice Department from using legislative and executive blackmail to force lenders to make less unsound loans. It turned out, not surprisingly to those of us who understand market forces, that banks didn't want to make the loans because of the high risk they wouldn't be repaid. Yet the liberal media turned this into headlines like, "Minorities hit hard by rising costs of subprime loans."

And Krugman really believes that more regulation, more oversight, will prevent crises in the future? Well, I suppose that when you're delusional enough to blame the "free market" for what it didn't do, you're delusional enough to believe the Fed and government will "rescue" us from the financial monster they created.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The latest winner of the Goddamn Idiot Award: Greg Nickels

Appropriately, it's some moron nicknaming himself "Treehugger" who's boasting that Seattle's mayor ordered the city to stop buying bottled water. When you hear someone warning about a "carbon footprint," you automatically know the person is a fool.

There evidently is something in Seattle's water that makes government officials even more stupid than they inherently are. So Greg Nickels is following in the footsteps of Gavin Newsom, the original mayor with a phobia of bottled water. Again, I'm putting aside the economics of employee benefits, because it's irrelevant. "Saving money" is also irrelevant, and Nickels' own words here prove it. His past actions prove it, also, such as spending hundreds of thousands on his "green initiatives," and at least $114 million to plant trees (plus the costs of future maintenance).

It's said that "By their fruits shall ye know them." In the face of his actions, who is deceived enough to believe Nickels really cares about saving $58,000? Nickels' ultimate agenda is all about forcing people to obey his "environmentalist" lunacy. That's it.

Most infamously, but you may not have heard of it from liberal media sources, Nickels is the one who told little children -- children -- that if they don't use eco-friendly light bulbs, Santa and the reindeer will drown.

If Nickels wants to demonstrate that last week's scare of prescription drugs in the water is probably nothing to worry about, he can argue using raw science instead of his environmentalist nonsense. Studies so far are showing extremely small concentrations of drugs, and such low levels may not have much (if any) impact on human bodies. So some people suddenly go bonkers over this, but they ignore the very real dangers of fluoride that's deliberately put into many municipal water sources?

It should be mentioned that once the news came out, Patrick Kennedy became a big fan of tap water. For him, it saves costs in more than one way.

If the people of Seattle would really like its government to save money, I have a much better idea. How about cutting the salaries of the 230 officials who each make over $100K a year? Firing Nickel's idiotic ass all by itself will save the city at least $150K a year. I say "at least" because the best I could find is 2005 info, and Nickels and the city council by now have voted themselves more raises.

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Never mind what "the law" says -- it's about rights

"Justices Agree on Right to Own Guns" proclaims the headline.

Say this in your best Captain Kirk voice: Riiiight.

If you read the article, you'll see that nothing has been decided yet. There have been no rulings from those nine self-anointed masters of the law. They can claim that they "agree" on "gun rights" all the live long day, and all it will take is five to write an "opinion" declaring that "D.C.'s ban is a reasonable limitation." Your rights, according to the law.

My friend Billy Beck was already pessimistic, "I believe that this will not go well." I share the sentiment.

The problem is like how the old song goes: "I fought the law, and the law won." When rights fight the law, sadly, the law usually wins.

In just over three years (I missed my own blog's anniversary!), my blog is a fossil record of the evolution of my economics, politics and philosophy. I've learned that even something like the Constitution isn't as important as what is right. Compare here and here with what I'm about to say. What's spelled out in the Bill of Rights, as nice and good as they may sound, is not as important as the absolute fact of people's God-given rights, which existed a priori to men chiseling laws in stone, applying ink to parchment, or even realizing that they had rights. But mankind has grown so dependent on law that whether you're in Russia, China, the Philippines, Burma, Saudi Arabia, Zimbabwe, Venezuela, Mexico, the United States, nearly every nation on this planet, people are accustomed to following, no, not just that, but obeying "the law."

There are only two problems with that. First is that the law can be (and historically often is) "interpreted" however a ruling authority desires, no matter how well-intentioned, benevolent or foresighted the law's framers were. I will get to the second later on.

Coming up on three years later, who -- besides Billy -- remembers the horrific Kelo decision? Still a lot of people, you say? Granted. But how many of them simply accept what happened? And how many are still angry enough that, as I put it, "five of the nine justices...finished killing the Bill of Rights by effectively declaring that private property rights exist only insofar as government permits"? Who is livid that Kelo and others, for fighting for their rights to keep their homes, were charged back rent?

It hasn't quite been two weeks since the California Supreme Court ruled that homeschooling is illegal. But do you see the problem with the homeschooling advocates' methods? They tried to argue about the law, not what was right.
Michael Smith, president of the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), said in a March 3 statement that the organization "strongly disputes this interpretation of California law" and is studying the decision.
"But," you might say, "they'd lose if they argued about moral principles." So? They lost anyway! At least if they had argued that the law was wrong, they'd have lost while making a principled stand. They'd have made a point, instead of fighting a losing battle over what the law "means." The law was rendered simple by the court: children are the property of the state, to be educated according to the state's wishes and demands.

Aren't your rights too important to be left to others' interpretation?

The second problem is that laws are not inherently correct or just. Don Boudreaux is worth quoting over and over:
Just because words are written on paper and subjected to hocus-pocus beneath a soaring marble dome does not mean that these words are truly “law,” or even that the government officials who wrote and voted for them want them to be taken literally.
I don't expect many today remember, or even have heard of, Hiibel v. Nevada. The facts were never disputed: Hiibel and his daughter were both arrested over complete horseshit. It was eventually proved that there wasn't even enough to create "suspicion" of the supposed domestic violence, and the pigs arresting Hiibel had to admit (at least tacitly) that he had done nothing wrong. What was continued to be disputed was whether Hiibel was required by the law to give ID. Hiibel refused to submit to tyranny, and eventually the Supreme Court said he had to: "Papers please!" A week later, Hiibel's op-ed was published in the Los Angeles Times, with the very apropos title "He fought the law, and the law won." Exactly! Hiibel was right by any principle of true liberty, but he was wrong according to the law. People think the Fourth Amendment will protect them, but "the law" is meaningless when even the best-intentioned law can be perverted. Read again about the Kelo decision, and how the Fifth Amendment should have been invoked to stop eminent domain, not encourage it.

Conservatives have no right to be surprised that the law can be turned against people who have committed no crime. After all, they're the ones who cry loudest for "law and order," who insist "But it's the law and must be obeyed and enforced!" when it comes to illegal immigration, anti-abortion laws, laws that allow police to trample people's rights, "vice" crimes, sodomy, and anything else they don't like. Conservatism boasts plenty of morons like Mark Levin who are lawyers yet haven't the first clue as to what "the rule of law" means. Ironically their "But it's the law" stance disappears when it comes to gun control and things they don't like.

I usually don't talk too much about this. You see, I was much like Hilbel's daughter. Like her, I was once the victim of "peace officers" and their miserable lies. "Overzealousness" nothing -- they abused their authority, barged into our family home with no probable cause let alone a warrant, threatened my safety, . Like with Hilbel's daughter, the "domestic violence" charges against me were dismissed, because the alleged victim was not harmed and never wanted the charges pressed in the first place! Fortunately for me, I was not arrested, but I nearly was. Twice: first during the encounter, then later because the county DA failed to notify me to appear in court. This after the alleged victim personally told the DA to stop the nonsense of prosecuting a non-crime!

In the Hilbels' situation and mine, it didn't matter what was right, only that the law gave authority to government to override our rights. Law today involves so much, too much legal positivism. Legal positivism has been rightfully criticized by freedom-minded invididuals like Friedrich Hayek. Morally, "there can be no law without a legislative act," which effectively reduces law to permitting people to do certain things within what legislators allow. Practically, because law must define everything people can do, it's unnecessarily complex than the simpler "negative concept of liberty": "people are free to do what they want except," and as espoused by classic liberals like Frederic Bastiat, "except" means "except for what infringes on others' same rights." But most of all, legal positivism rests on a law's infallibility.

My friend Charlie has pointed out this of the Utah Code. the first is dangerous for the two, because it's wide open to interpretation. Even if you're interfering with a "peace officer" who is committing a crime (such as wrongly apprehending an innocent person), you've broken the law and can be punished. And this with this are bluntly evil, because of their circular logic. It's a crime not to reveal your identity to a police officer, and a police officer can stop and demand your ID etc. if he suspects you are committing or have committed a crime, so he could stop you if he suspects you won't reveal your ID. Such a combination makes Larry Hiibels out of all of us -- or as Ayn Rand warned,
There's no way to rule innocent men. The only power government has is the power to crack down on criminals. When there aren't enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws.
As I've said elsewhere, good law ties down government, not people. Good law defends rights, and if it defines actions, it's only to define how government is to administer itself, not tell people how to live their lives. Bastiat taught us that "Life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws. On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty, and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place." Rights are superior to law, because law is merely to defend rights.

O.J. Simpson's criminal trial resurrected the concept of "jury nullification" in modern America, but a completely flawed one. Jury nullification was the people's way of nullifying what they deemed was a bad law. But now court proceedings are legal positivism whereby a judge instructs jurors that they must decide according to the law, instead of leaving them free to decide according to what is right. Ask Laura Kriho, who by her conscience and view of the evidence wanted to acquit. Isn't law subservient to the people, or are the people subservient to the law? If the former, then the people have the right to ignore and/or overturn the law, no matter what the legislative, executive or judiciary branches can say. If the latter, then judges are well within their rights to hold jurors in contempt, as one did with Kriho.

We have dark times ahead; this country can only get worse before it gets better. Those of us who believe in liberty must fight based on the principles of what is right and just. We only entangle ourselves by focusing on "the law," whether it's arguing our own "interpretations" or seeking to pass/repeal laws. Doing so is only playing government's game, by government's rules, and even if we do win an occasional battle, it's only by technicality, and we'll eventually lose the war.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

To recap what I reproduced three years ago, courtesy of Irish Island,

Saint Patrick was a gentleman,
Who through strategy and stealth,
Drove all the snakes from Ireland,
Here's a toasting to his health.
But not too many toastings
Lest you lose yourself and then
Forget the good Saint Patrick
And see all those snakes again.

Beannachtam na Feile Padraig! I'm off soon for a night out.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

If these conservatives looked past their anti-liberal myopia, they'd realize Ferraro was partially right

Hillary "Say Anything" Clinton has apologized to black voters for what Geraldine Ferraro, now Hillary's ex-informal campaign advisor and fundraiser, recently said about Obama. And the only people who cheered louder than Obama's supporters were...certain Republicans?

Yes. Elephants are said to never forget, and in this case the elephant is an apt symbol of the GOP. Republicans still remember 1984 so well, and just can't let go that Ferraro was half of an ultra-liberal ticket that dared to challenge one of conservatism's biggest icons. These Republicans really are so myopic that they can't admit Ferraro was right, not completely, but still partially.

First, Michelle Malkin and her fanbase gloated about Ferraro's resignation. Then in a case of true myopia, not just "narrow vision" but the lesser-remembered definition of focusing on trivial details, Malkin seized on Ferraro's insignificant protest about being quoted. So far, nowhere has Malkin quoted what Ferraro said, or Ferraro's real defense of her remarks.

You'd think Republicans would be up in arms to defend Ferraro, perhaps not to defend everything she said, but because Republicans for the last four decades have been the historical victims of liberal media's accusations of sexism or racism. But I suppose Republicans will mount a defense only when the media's target is another Republican. I, on the other hand, am not above giving credit where credit is due, regardless of the person's politics.

It all started when Ferraro was asked a blunt question and gave a blunt answer. "And I'm going to address those, and let me put them in context, which is what is absolutely necessary. So I was asked after this speech; what is the reason that you see that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are at this level together? Could I have said because his experience is what puts him there? No."

And what did Ferraro say a week ago that was so offensive? Never mind what the AP and AFP have quoted. Let's look at the original interview with the newspaper. The Daily Breeze quoted Ferraro as saying,
"I will probably start with a personal account, drawing attention to the historic firsts of both these candidacies in our party, and point out specific, significant differences between Hillary's campaign and mine," said Ferraro....
It's really a shame that this poor reporting omitted what Ferraro said about the two candidacies. As serious as I can be, that would have been the most interesting part of the interview. Instead, like sensationalist-bent reporters are wont to do, this "Jim Farber" decided to make it an explosive issue. Is he hoping this will land him a gig with the AP?
"I think what America feels about a woman becoming president takes a very secondary place to Obama's campaign - to a kind of campaign that it would be hard for anyone to run against," she said. "For one thing, you have the press, which has been uniquely hard on her. It's been a very sexist media. Some just don't like her. The others have gotten caught up in the Obama campaign.
Ferraro is half-right here. The media isn't necessarily sexist, but it has certainly been favoring "clean" Obama over She With Much Negative Baggage.
"If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position," she continued. "And if he was a woman (of any color) he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept." Ferraro does not buy the notion of Obama as the great reconciler.
That's it. That's all she said in the interview that was quoted in the article, yet it was enough to provoke hyperbolic "outrage" from Obama's campaign. Really, without reading the original quotes from the interview, you'd have thought Ferraro called him some racial slur or referred to his middle name Hussein! I'd have expected race riots in, say, L.A., Oakland and Detroit, if such "protests" wouldn't create a backlash against Obama.

I won't even begin to count how often Ferraro has been misquoted, let alone taken out of context. A Google search shows that ABC News is at the top of the list. Let's go back and read what Ferraro actually said, shall we? She didn't say Obama is where he is because he's black, only that "a white man" or "a woman" of any ethnicity would not have achieved this. It may seem like semantics, but there is a big difference, and Ferraro's statement isn't even that insulting when you read what she actually said, let alone what she meant.

Remember the movie "A Time to Kill"? The young defense attorney, played by Matthew McConaughey, made a impassioned defense of his client, played by the ever-fabulous Samuel L. Jackson. The defendant had gunned down two white men who did unspeakable things to his black daughter. But what really solidified the defense's closing arguments was, "Now imagine she's white."

Imagine that Obama were a 46-year-old white man who's barely served three years -- THREE YEARS! -- as a U.S. Senator, after serving 16 years in the state legislature of Illinois. Because he's not a war hero (which is what John Kennedy initially known to the American public), this white equivalent has only his speaking abilities and political career as qualifications. Pretty bland, really, and everyone would say he just doesn't have the political experience. Even if this white guy did make a great keynote address at the last Democratic National Convention, so what when his campaign merely harps on change, with supporters chanting mindlessly like they're out of a 1930s Munich rally? Even Bill Clinton, who made a great speech at the 1988 convention, didn't become a "superstar" like this.

Why can't Obama or his black supporters admit the plain truth that they support him first because they share the same skin tone? Add to that enough people with "white guilt," and he started winning primaries. The primary poll numbers didn't lie when they showed consistently high percentages of black Democrats flocking to Obama's camp, though the Clintons have enjoyed strong black support for years (even in their Arkansas days). Obama's black supporters are the first to accuse Ferraro of racism, but in fact they are the ones who have made it a racial issue, not those of us who point it out. Similarly, I had an Italian-American co-worker who loved Rudy Giuliani ever since she met him in person, and she wanted to see him run for President, "Because it's time we had an Italian in the White House." She'd be called racist, but black Americans aren't racist when all they know is that Obama's black while vacuously harping on "change" in every speech?

Better yet, now imagine she's white. Imagine that Geraldine Ferraro were instead a black woman from the South, and that she made such comments. She would have been called a traitor to her race," but she there wouldn't have been this implied charge of "racism" and the resulting pressure on her to resign.

The next day, Ferraro had to defend herself. She said, "I said this (Obama's) is one of the best campaigns. I speak about his star quality. I talk about how exciting it is to have two campaigns, but you know, the truth is the truth is the truth."

Elsewhere, when she got more defensive, she said, "Racism works in two different directions. I really think they're attacking me because I'm white. How's that?"

She also said, "I have to tell you that what I find is offensive is that everytime somebody says something about the campaign, you're accused of being racist."

Welcome to the fight, Gerry. If we didn't know better, we'd think you were a closet Republican!

Obama's campaign has further made a racial issue out of one that did not previously exist, by throwing around the "racism" charge whenever it's convenient. As much as I detest Bill Clinton, I'll defend even him for his "fairy tale" comment, quoted out of context and/or misunderstood by most everybody including the New York Times. What he really said was that "This whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I've ever seen," but when you watch the Google video of everything he said, it's obvious he wasn't dismissing Obama's campaign as a fairy tale, but the myth of Obama's "consistent" stance on Iraq. Yet as part of damage control, Bubba had to call Al Sharpton, and that article couldn't even get it right on what he actually said.

This reminds me of December 2005, when the NYC Metro Transit Authority went on strike. NYC Mayor Bloomberg said that the union was acting like "thugs" -- they were, after all, committing extortion against the city -- and the union accused him of racism. Why? Because the union happens to be 70% black and Hispanic. How is that racism? "If the shoe fits," as the old saying goes. Is it also "racist" to observe that black Americans, being only an eighth of the population, commit nearly half of all violent crimes?

There's so much to dislike about the Clintons, but even I will say they've been given a raw deal. Not that they don't deserve some measure of karma, mind you: I wonder how the Clintons like the same treatment that the liberal media consistently gave to their Republican opponents.

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The audacity of liberals' stupidity

A week ago, Frank Rich tried the self-contradictory trick of painting John McCain as liberal but reminding us of his conservative position on Iraq. Via Yahoo News, I came across an op-ed Rich wrote in February in which he blamed Hillary's problems on her support for Iraq:
WHEN people one day look back at the remarkable implosion of the Hillary Clinton campaign, they may notice that it both began and ended in the long dark shadow of Iraq.

It's not just that her candidacy's central premise — the priceless value of "experience" — was fatally poisoned from the start by her still ill-explained vote to authorize the fiasco. Senator Clinton then compounded that 2002 misjudgment by pursuing a 2008 campaign strategy that uncannily mimicked the disastrous Bush Iraq war plan. After promising a cakewalk to the nomination — "It will be me," Mrs. Clinton told Katie Couric in November — she was routed by an insurgency.
If Rich actually knew something about politics, he'd know that Hillary's troubles are s all because of her negative baggage over the last 16 years, not because she's a woman. Despite the claims of a misogynistic media and unfairly critical media, her gender is irrelevant. The American people really do look past that. Some Americans maybe still cannot put their fingers on it, but many Americans know something about her makes them distrust and dislike her. Rich himself provides the most obvious. Ironically, his opening paragraphs are a contradiction to his stated thesis, as so well document Hillary's arrogance. It's true that the Clintons reorganized and restored the Democratic Party, which in their eyes made it their party to run as they see fit. That's why Obama and John Edwards' serious candidacies are such an affront to Hillary: she was the anointed one, dammit, and how dare anyone else oppose her when it was her time?

Then there's the common perception that Hillary willfully ignored her husband's obvious philandering over the years, and not out of "love," but to stay in power. As someone said, "Hell, look at Hillary- she (publically) dotes on an asshole slimeball philandering motor-mouth pus-bucket retard fascist genetic error...only because he managed to hornswoggle 43% of the voting public. She'd be kicking him the gonads if he were just the ex-governor of a backwater cousin-mating nowhere state like Arkansas. It's all glitz and PR. There's nothing real left." The guy said that back in 1996, before the Monica Lewinsky thing, and before it became obvious that Hillary was willing to overlook it.

Americans who have paid more attention see Hillary as secretive, from the White House files to the secret HillaryCare meetings, and for those who noticed, the squelching of anything about Bill Clinton's pardon of Marc Rich pardon after his wife so coincidentally contributed to Hillary's campaign. Earlier this month, Clinton Library archivists blocked the release of any papers about pardons that Bubba issued. He may have opposed that GWB's 2001 executive order "broadened former presidents' prerogative to block the release of internal White House records," but Bubba certainly hasn't minded taking advantage of it. And who's naive enough to believe that First Lady "We are the president" Hillary wasn't just aware, but involved in releasing these records? As co-president, they were theirs after all, right?

Most damningly, Americans have seen in Hillary's presidential campaign that she really will say anything, like flip-flopping in the space of two minutes in the same debate, much like, as Maureen Dowd herself admitted, Bubba would flip-flop in the same day as he sought to curry favor with Muslims.

Even worse, as has been pointed out for months, Hillary has been poorly imitating local regional accents to the point that I forget what her natural "Shrillary" voice sounds like.



And this is how a lot of Hillary's own party views her! Hillary already chained herself to her huge ball of negative qualities, and if Rich paid any attention to debates, op-eds and her opponents' speeches, Iraq simply wasn't an issue. It was never necessary for Obama, Edwards or even Dodd to hammer her on the fact that her own "withdrawal plan" could take years. Hillary may have had tremendous financial backing and existing party loyalty, but it wasn't enough when she found herself competing against someone with tremendous charisma. Rich himself revealed a week after this op-ed that
[Obama's] upbeat notion of a yes-we-can national mobilization for the common good, however saccharine, speaks to the pride and idealism of Americans who are bone-weary of a patriotism defined exclusively by flag lapel pins, the fear of terrorism and the prospect of perpetual war.
As I pointed out previously, Obama's followers are chanting just like Germans several decades ago would shout "Sieg heil!" It's much like a lot of the GOP hoped Fred Thompson would be a "blank slate" for them to imbue with conservative qualities. Obama is that "blank slate" for those Democrats who wanted not so much a fresh face, but an alternative to the Clinton machine. These Democrats turned out to be more "Anybody but Hillary" than Republicans.

The rest of Rich's op-ed does accurately talk about the Clinton campaign's inferiority to the cohesive network behind Obama's campaign, but like his later op-ed where he says McCain is as liberal as Hillary but watch-out-for-McCain's-position-on-Iraq, then what the hell was Rich talking about in the first place?

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

"But can you blog amidst distraction?"

That twist on a "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" line refers to part of a post from two nights ago. I originally wrote, "You should experience no more surprise than looking at pictures of an 8-pound newborn, then pictures of it grown up to be 30 pounds at 30 years old." With everything going on at home, and having to write the post in bits and pieces, I did a cut-and-paste on the second half to improve the phrasing. However, my friend Charlie mentioned that my numbers sounded weird, and I then realized I hadn't edited the sentence completely. I actually meant, "You should experience no more surprise than looking at pictures of an 8-pound newborn, then pictures of it grown up to be 250 pounds at 30 years old." The post has been amended.

Most of you probably understood my point anyway. Changing data points is a common way to lie with statistics, much like scientists cherry-pick and/or massage data to prove a preconceived "conclusion." Don Luskin often catches liberals who use the same trick of carefully selecting time endpoints. You don't need to take a statistics class to understand that if you choose a year earlier or later, like a peak year, then shift the end to a bottom year, you'll naturally skew any conclusions you'd draw from a more objectively chosen time period.

Add to that verbs like "jumped," and the deception is complete. For the last couple of years, ever since the mainstream media wanted to create the myth of a bad economy, it's been common reporting that if a stock exchange lost a tiny fraction of a percent after a day's trading, somehow it "tumbled." My favorite is when an online news article proclaims something like "Jitters cause markets to fall in morning trading," but the markets already "recovered" are in positive territory for the day.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The New York Times damns McCain for being...liberal?

It's been observed by numerous people, from your regular blogger to well-known pundits, that McCain was once considered "Democrats' favorite Republican," but now that he's the nominee, he's suddenly the second coming of George W. Bush.

The New York Times already tried allegations that McCain had an affair with a lobbyist. When those didn't stick, they tried the non-issue of questioning his citizenship and whether he's qualified to be president. That still didn't take hold, so what's left?

Well, instead of painting him as a secretly rabid conservative so that Democrats would be sure to vote against him, Frank Rich of the New York Times decided upon a different tactic: trying to discourage Republicans from voting for him, by painting him as "channeling his inner Hillary."

McCain isn't the most conservative. He's not even very conservative. But just because McCain isn't Rush Limbaugh choice (putting it mildly) doesn't mean McCain is horribly liberal. There are plenty of conservatives and Republicans who think Rush Limbaugh is a blowhard, not to mention a hypocritical druggie/ex-druggie, and not always right like he thinks he is. And curiously enough, with Ann Coulter coming out against McCain as the GOP nominee, suddenly the NYT references her straightforwardly, not even implying but acting as if it's a given that she's right!

If Jonathan Chait of the TNR is so sure that McCain is so liberal, then let him put his vote where his mouth is, and vote for McCain in November. Is he willing to vote for McCain's "liberal" agendas on "immigration, campaign-finance reform, stem-cell research, global warming, oil drilling in Alaska, waterboarding, Gitmo," when a vote for McCain means a vote for a very anti-liberal platform of -- gasp -- Bush-style tax cuts, except this time coupled with the promise of pork-cutting? Is Chait going to vote for McCain, who said he's willing to keep American forces in Iraq for as long as is necessary, even if it means 100 years?

What Rich and Chait conveniently ignore is that McCain was right on "the surge." The American military toppled Saddam's army with ease, but it was unprepared to deal with the aftermath until McCain's strategy of the surge. I opposed sending more troops, not because I opposed the principle of the surge, but because I believed we already had the numbers for it: McCain's strategy wasn't so much about the numbers as it was about redoubling efforts to fight the insurgents.

But how come so many Americans disagree with McCain? And note that Rich has switched gears: in the same article, suddenly McCain isn't painted as Hillary-liberal, but too pro-war for the American public! Well, despite Rich's claim, "only 43 percent of Americans see an upturn in Iraq" is not contradictory with "the majority of Americans believe the surge is succeeding." When it comes to the war and fishing for anti-Bush poll numbers, the Democrats' news allies (CNN, CBS et al) for the last few years have resorted to asking exceedingly complex questions, full of nuance. Thus a majority of Americans can believe that the surge is working to root out insurgents, but a majority can also see that Iraq isn't getting better overall. Key words are often omitted as needed to advance the agenda behind the "news story."

Another example is, "Do you believe the country is going in the right direction?" Polls for months have proclaimed things like, "A majority of Americans think the country is headed down the wrong road." Someone like me would agree the country is not in the right direction, but for a very different reason than your typical Democrat. Yet on the same poll, we'd be giving the same answer.

Rich maintains,
Though Mr. McCain maintains that Republicans were routed in the 2006 midterms because of Congressional overspending and corruption, that’s wishful thinking. With all due respect to Mark Foley, Jack Abramoff and the bridge to nowhere, that election was mostly a repudiation of a war that was as unpopular then as it is on the eve of its fifth anniversary in 2008.
Rich is making too much out of only one factor. Iraq was a factor in 2006, but not as much as 2004 when John Kerry kept pushing it as "the wrong war in the wrong place in the wrong time." Conservatives like Thomas Sowell and, yes, Rush Limbaugh, have explained that Republicans in 2006 tried to be so middle-of-the-road that they were beaten by centrist (even conservative), populist Democrats. My former Congressman Sue Kelly portrayed herself as "independent," environmentalist and even slightly liberal. What happened? She lost to a genuine liberal, John Hall, who's so extreme that he wants to impeach Bush and Cheney mainly so that Nancy Pelosi can become President. Add to that the anti-war crowd and constant news stories of GOP corruption (released as close to the elections as possible without arousing too much cynicism), and that's why the GOP lost control of Congress.

So far we have obfuscation, deceit, and historical revisionism. Add to that a complete misrepresentation of something McCain said, and you have a New York Times op-ed. "Mr. McCain was reduced to arguing that such annoying little details are out of bounds because they belong to 'the past'" is a willful misquote of what McCain really said. McCain never said "annoying little details," meaning Rich put words into McCain's mouth (a common liberal trick), and his reference to "the past" was to point out that Obama is campaigning on what we should have done then (i.e. moot) rather than telling us what he thinks we should do now. And so what if McCain's "'what we are going to do now' in Iraq is merely more of what he did then"? One should respect that McCain is sticking to his belief, rather than flip-flopping like Hillary has on Iraq.

Rich mentioned in passing, "the Vietnam War hero Jim Webb," but hypocritically didn't extend the same to McCain. And strangely enough, other liberals like Gloria Steinem, having hypocritically forgotten John Kerry's biggest self-promotion act in 2004, have claimed that McCain's POW status isn't a qualification for the presidency, notwithstanding McCain hasn't claimed that!

But Rich's misrepresentation doesn't end yet:
Since the mere mention of Iraq is dangerous to Mr. McCain's and Mrs. Clinton’s claims about the exalted value of their experience, they have countered by trying to portray Mr. Obama as a foreign policy moron. They’ve even alighted on the identical bogus charge, accusing him of threatening to recklessly bomb our dear ally Pakistan. What Mr. Obama actually said last summer was that he would go after Al Qaeda operatives in Pakistan’s mountains when there was actionable intelligence even if a recalcitrant President Musharraf refused to act.

As with his early opposition to the Iraq war, Mr. Obama has proved to be prescient once more. His Pakistan stance anticipated both the latest Bush administration policy — the C.I.A. killed the senior Qaeda commander Abu Laith al-Libi in just such a unilateral strike within Pakistan in late January — and Mr. McCain's own campaign posture. When Mr. McCain promises to follow Osama bin Laden to "the gates of hell," he too is vowing to go after Al Qaeda in Pakistan without restraint.
Obama is a foreign policy moron. While the U.S. would be justified in pursuing terrorists across a border, even and especially a friendly nation's border, that action must yield to the bigger picture. It's been pointed out for a long time now that if the U.S. simply bombed a part of Pakistan, it would destabilize Musharraf's government. Musharraf isn't the nicest guy on the planet, granted, but if he lost control of the government, imagine Pakistan's nukes in the hands of Islamic extremists after a coup d'etat? It's that sort of multi-step reasoning, not dissimilar from looking several moves forward in a chess game, that evades Obama.
In desperation to land some knockout punch, some McCain supporters, following the precedent of Clinton surrogates, are already invoking Mr. Obama’s race, middle name and tourist snapshot in Somali dress to smear his patriotism. The idea is to make him a Manchurian candidate, a closet anti-Semitic jihadist trained in a madrassa run by, say, Louis Farrakhan.
Journalism, even op-ed writing, still cannot take liberty with the facts. What actually happened is that while Obama smartly distanced himself from the anti-Semitic Farrakhan, McCain likewise distanced himself from the Tennessee GOP that released the photo of Obama in Somalian dress. You have both Hillary supporters and Republicans who are indeed trying to portray Obama as secretly Muslim, and so long as the official campaigns aren't doing anything, there really isn't anything the candidates can do to stop it.

On a side note, Obama allegedly being a Muslim secret in secret is to the point that my family in London, who see all around them what British Muslims are doing, think Obama really is a closet Muslim. A lot of Brits are wary of anyone who even harbors sympathy toward Muslims, including the current Archbishop of Canterbury.
What repeatedly goes unrecognized by all of Mr. Obama’s opponents is that his political Kryptonite is the patriotism he offers in lieu of theirs. His upbeat notion of a yes-we-can national mobilization for the common good, however saccharine, speaks to the pride and idealism of Americans who are bone-weary of a patriotism defined exclusively by flag lapel pins, the fear of terrorism and the prospect of perpetual war.
Rich has a strange concept of "patriotism." Is it really people chanting "O-Ba-Ma! O-Ba-Ma!" like you'd expect at a Young Jihadists meeting, or people who blindly vote for someone just because he promises "change"? Maybe if Obama gave specifics on what "change" means, I might have respect for him as someone who had principles, even if I disagreed with those principles.

Just remember that several decades ago, people shouted "Sieg heil!" at rallies and embraced someone who promised to restore strength and pride in the Vaterland. I'm not calling Obama a Hitler or implying he's a proto-dictator, but I'm merely comparing two different generations of two very different peoples who exhibit the natural human tendency to follow charisma without thinking.
A few more "macaca" moments for the nearly all-white G.O.P. could spell its doom. Recognizing the backlash that has followed the racially tinged smears leveled at Mr. Obama so far, Mr. McCain wasted no time in publicly scolding the right-wing radio talk-show host who railed against Barack Hussein Obama at one of his rallies last week. Or perhaps, as those of us who like Mr. McCain want to believe, he is simply a man of honor: he knows that history will judge him exactingly on how he runs against America's first black or female presidential nominee, win or lose.
Since even Rich acknowledges that McCain has repudiated race- and religion-based attacks on Obama, Rich's close is bordering on a non sequitur, which is appropriate because he closes his op-ed after exhausting every liberal trick of rhetoric.

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Monday, March 10, 2008

Latin America: like the French, they're there when they need you

Tony Saca, el presidente of El Salvador, wants the U.S. to create a "Marshall Plan" to invest massively in South America. There's only one phrase to describe what he and other Latin Americans want of the United States: wealth redistribution. Free trade is one thing, but when other nations bring up the Marshall Plan and "investment," Americans had better watch out for their wallets.
WASHINGTON -- El Salvador's President Tony Saca, a close U.S. ally, can scarcely contain his frustration.

He calls U.S. politicians "shortsighted" for failing to reform U.S. immigration laws. He says Latin American populism is "a pendulum swing towards disaster" that deserves more U.S. attention.

"The United States, in my judgment, should invest enormous resources in Latin America, along the lines of a Marshall Plan," he said in a recent interview. "Generally speaking, when you want to have a neighborhood that gives you peace of mind, you have to invest in that neighborhood."
"Extortion" is the only word to describe this. If you Americans don't appease us, he's saying, we're going to make you very sorry. It's no different than American citizens demanding that the government "invest" money in poor neighborhoods, with the implied threat that it prevents riots. Real, voluntary investment is one thing, when entrepreneurs realize a profit opportunity and seize upon it. But when government "invests" in American neighborhoods, or Latin American countries, it's as voluntary as a mugger stealing my wallet to give to Greenpeace (or any other organization I would never willingly give money to).

Saca isn't even to the level of being a "mojado." At least illegal immigrants from Latin America make the effort to come to the U.S. Saca wants to stay at home and receive American dollars.

I'm pretty open on immigration, believing the United States should welcome people who yearn for real freedom, but what I do not believe in is the redistribution of wealth -- whether it's by my neighbors "voting" to seize my property, by "Pablo" and "Maria" coming across the border so my tax dollars can pay for their health care and their children's education, or Latin Americans who feign "friendship" just so the U.S. will tax me to send them more money. American governments are as stupid and naive as a schoolboy who considers classmates his "friends" when they're merely taking advantage of toys and treats he gives them. It's worse with government, though, because the schoolboy's parents can realize his errors and put an end to it. Government, with its usurped power to lay its hands upon any and all tax dollars it can, has no such limitation.
There may be little the United States can do for Saca. President Bush has increased aid to Latin America by record amounts and visited Latin America more than any of his predecessors, but he remains unpopular and unable to pass initiatives that Latin Americans want, like immigration reforms and free-trade pacts. His legacy may be the biggest loss of U.S. influence in the Western Hemisphere in recent memory.
This is no different than schoolyard "friends" who are never satiated with what they're given, complaining "I thought you were my friend!" when the schoolboy in fact has already given much.
"Requiem for the Monroe Doctrine" is how academic Daniel Erikson put it in an article for Current History, referring to the 1823 declaration by President James Monroe that put the Western Hemisphere off-limits to outside powers.
Erikson is the latest demonstration that "academics" tend to not know what the hell they're talking about. The Monroe Doctrine wasn't about the United States continually taking from American citizens to give "aid" to Latin America. The Doctrine was a warning to European nations that they were to cease colonization in the Americas and henceforth not interfere in the affairs of nations in the Americas, and that the United States would forcibly defend them against European incursions. Unfortunately, this sense of "guardianship" bred such arrogance that the U.S. did plenty of its own meddling in Latin American affairs during the 20th century, but that's a topic for another time.
Trade between South America and China is booming. Governments from Canada to Iran are cutting deals in the region, and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has made challenging U.S. interests his foreign-policy mission, through everything from sweet oil deals to a TV news channel that rivals CNN.
If you read the rest of the article, the U.S. is still the most important trading partner of all Latin American nations. If they don't like what the U.S. is doing, fine, but the fact is that they need the U.S. a lot more than the U.S. needs them.

If Latin America can do so well without the U.S., why are economists worried that any U.S. economic slowdown will trickle south to Latin America?

Furthermore, why should the U.S. fear additional trade anywhere? "A rising tide lifts all boats," whether it's China trading with Mexico, or Canada importing ethanol from Brazil. This "news" article is employing the old liberal fallacy that if your neighbor grows more prosperous, it somehow "steals" or at the very least "competes" with your own prosperity. Nothing could be further from the truth. If China grows more prosperous, that's more real wealth flowing through the global economy. Everyone -- that is, everyone competitive -- can benefit from the increased wealth, which creates a greater capability to buy goods and services from others, and invest in others who provide goods and services.

What also couldn't be further from the truth is believing that Chavez is a threat to the U.S. For all his saber-rattling, as McQ noted at QandO, the U.S. is still his most important buyer of Venezuelan crude, and one of the few buyers who can actually do something with Venezuela's somewhat unique type of crude oil. And if you want to talk about Chavez's alleged competitor to CNN, playing along with the ludicrous notion that CNN is some gold standard of journalism, Chavez's "news" isn't based on competition, but shutting out the competition so it can control what's broadcast, including broadcasting soap operas so that the regular Venezuelan Jose en la calle ("Joe on the street") doesn't know about the anti-Chavez protests.
Think-tank specialists are debating whether Bush, globalization or both are to blame, and whether a change in the United States' unpopular position on Cuba might help. Democrats say the Bush White House has ignored the region. But the reality is that whoever wins the White House in November will confront a dramatically different geopolitical situation from the one that Bush faced when he was inaugurated in 2001.
The "reality," as the article admitted just a couple of paragraphs before, is that Bush has been throwing more money at the problem than anyone before ("President Bush has increased aid to Latin America by record amounts and visited Latin America more than any of his predecessors"), but his political opponents at home have prevented him from pursuing his desired policies toward Latin America.
"The world has changed in fundamental ways, and the big question is whether the next administration can understand that and adjust to that," Michael Shifter, with the Inter-American Dialogue think tank, told a recent gathering in Washington.

"The United States is not as important as it used to be. A lot of countries -- I'm talking about Brazil, Mexico, Venezuela -- have much more complicated international relations," he added. "There are much more options than there were before."
If the United States is so now unimportant, then let Latin Americans prove it. They can stop trading with the United States, and they can stop trying to immigrate here. Let's see who missed the other side first, shall we?
In the 1990s, most of Latin America and the United States shared a common purpose of promoting free trade, democracy and free-market reforms known as the "Washington Consensus."

But many Latin Americans became disenchanted with economic reforms of the 1990s and resented the Bush administration's focus away from the region after the Sept. 11 attacks. The Iraq invasion only angered Latin Americans more.
Naturally. They wanted to be the center of attention, and they looked at all the money being spent on Iraq and wished they could have the money spent on them.
"There was a rejection of Washington Consensus-era policies," says Geoff Thale, with the left-leaning advocacy group Washington Office on Latin America. "We haven't had anything to offer in its place."
Contrary to the article's implications (since it is, after all, talking about "free trade"), Thale is a socialist who doesn't care about free trade so much as he wants the United States to wave a magic wand and fix Latin America's self-induced problems of "poverty" and "income equality."

That's right: Latin America's problems are self-induced. Back in 1996, Peter Hakin wrote a piece for Foreign Affairs that half-blamed the U.S. but also pointed out that "The United States is not the only culprit, however. Latin American leaders have also performed badly. Most Latin American governments have only partially completed the political and economic reforms needed to sustain robust growth and healthy democratic institutions. They have mostly neglected the region's deep economic inequities and social tensions. Too often, Latin American governments have only grudgingly cooperated with the United States and one another. Some of the region's leaders have turned to populist and anti-American rhetoric to win supporters and votes."

Back to the Miami Herald's propaganda:
At the same time, other countries have stepped up their diplomatic and commercial outreach, with Europeans and Canadians pointing out that their foreign policy is more aligned with Latin America's preference for multilateral actions.
The same "multilateral actions" that failed to stop Hitler in 1938 are failing to control Chavez today. Just because several nations come together in agreement does not mean the agreement is correct or just.
The European Union has signed trade and investment agreements with Mexico and Chile, and is negotiating similar pacts with Central America and the Andean Community of Nations, which includes Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru and Colombia. The Europeans have also signed an "Economic Partnership Agreement" with the 15-member Caribbean Community.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, declaring Latin America a priority of his administration, last summer embarked on a week-long tour of Chile, Colombia, Barbados and Haiti.
As I said above, this is nothing to fear. My neighbors' prosperity does not steal from my own, and in fact may sooner or later help to increase my own.
He cast Canada, which is close to signing a free-trade agreement with Colombia, as a middle course between the United States' hard-edged capitalism and Venezuela's state-centered populism.

"Canada's very existence demonstrates that the choice is a false one," he said.
And in the time for Harper to say this, another Canadian went south of the border for American health care, rather than risk death while waiting at home in Canada.

Logically speaking, Harper's a moron, i.e. on par with your typical Canadian PM. There are always choices, good and bad, righteous and evil. Now as a matter of political philosophy, he's even more of a moron. The only choice is between freedom and coercion. It's still coercion, still tyranny, whether you call it "democracy," "socialism," "fascism" or anything else you want.
Canada is the region's second-largest investor, owning assets worth more than $96 billion. The Canadians are in free-trade talks with Caribbean nations and trade more than $1 billion a year with Cuba.
And why doesn't the article mention here who is the largest investor? Because it happens to be the United States.

Then there's China.

Bilateral trade between China and Latin America jumped from $200 million in 1975 to $47 billion in 2005. According to the U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, between 2000 and 2006 Brazil increased its imports from China six-fold, to $8 billion. China is Chile's second-biggest market.
It's not all Latin America, despite what the article would have you think. The main driver is China as an emerging export powerhouse. Still, it's wonderful that China and Latin America have grown so prosperous. What rational person wouldn't be happy that the Chinese are exporting so much to Brazil, and that Brazilians and Chileans have become wealthy enough to afford each other's products?

Even so, these statistics aren't as great as you'd think. For one, they're over thirty years, which is hardly a "jump." Now adjust the 1975 figure for inflation, and it becomes more like $790 million. You should experience no more surprise than looking at pictures of an 8-pound newborn, then pictures of it grown up to be 250 pounds at 30 years old.
While seeking raw materials for its industries, China has kept a low political profile, maintaining friendly ties with Cuba and Venezuela but not directly challenging U.S. interests.

China also has historic ties with big left-wing parties in Mexico, Peru and Argentina, writes Argentine scholar Sergio Cesarín in a recent Woodrow Wilson International Center report on China's rise in Latin America.

"When Chinese leaders speak out about their aims and goals in the region, they utilize concepts like growth, mutual benefits, non-interference in internal affairs and, most importantly, development," he writes. These are more palatable to left-wing leaders than free trade or free-market reforms recommended by Washington, he adds.

In 2005, Air China started weekly flights between Beijing and Sao Paolo, the first such route between China and Latin America by a Chinese carrier. Presidents Hu Jintao of China and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva swapped visits in 2004.
The U.S., surprisingly, could take a real lesson from China here. China, at least not overtly, isn't looking to interfere with the governments; it's only looking to trade peacefully.
Since 2005, Chávez and Iran's President Ahmadinejad have visited each other seven times, signing deals on issues as varied as tractor manufacturing and oil exploration and establishing a direct flight between Caracas and Tehran, with a stopover in Damascus. Ahmadinejad and other Iranian officials have also visited Chávez's allies in Nicaragua, Ecuador and Bolivia.
Tyrants tend to ally with other tyrants. Why shouldn't we be surprised that a known terrorist like Madman Mahmoud wants to be friendly with the likes of socialist dictators Chavez, Daniel Ortega and Evo Morales, and terrorist ally Rafael Correa?
The United States, of course, remains the hemisphere's dominant power. Brazil imported six times more from the United States than China. Immigrants to the United States sent $45 billion in remittances to their families in the region last year.
Of course. Without the United States, the main economic engine of the world, where would Latin America be?
And Bush administration officials dispute the notion that they've ignored the region.

The State Department routinely lists achievements like a $3.4 billion debt-relief package for the hemisphere's five poorest countries, an ethanol-promotion deal with Brazil and a new $1.4 billion anti-drug-trafficking aid package for Mexico and Central America awaiting congressional approval.

Total U.S. aid to Latin America jumped from $1.2 billion in 2001 to -- if Congress approves a budget request -- $2.7 billion in 2009, according to the aid-tracking website justf.org.
But as I noted above, this is not about encouraging Americans to make true investments in Latin America. It's taking Americans' money against their will and giving it to Latin American governments. And as long as Latin American governments anticipate the steady stream of money continuing, they have no need to pursue necessary economic reforms, let alone be prudent about how they spend the "aid."
Bush has negotiated numerous free-trade deals and met his Brazilian counterpart Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva nine times. Bush's trip to Latin America last year was his eighth, more than any president in U.S. history.

The free-trade umbrella now includes Chile, Central America, the Dominican Republic and Peru, with Colombia and Panama waiting in the wings.
What would go a long way is if the U.S. government stopped the half-dollar tariff on Brazilian ethanol. For a couple of years, Bush has talked about reducing the tariff, but it's gone nowhere.
But all that doesn't impress the critics.

"Certainly, there is no consistent pattern of interest or concern in the administration for Latin America," said Riordan Roett, of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and an informal advisor to Sen. Barack Obama's campaign. "Maybe we can't expect this, but there's been no grand scheme, broader integration between the U.S. and Latin America. We're each kind of going our own way."
"Consistent" meaning what? Bush has gone above and beyond liberals' own standards of "foreign aid." Or does Roett use "integration" to mean even more forcible redistribution of Americans' wealth to Latin America?

Why should sovereign American individuals, let alone Brazilians and Colombians and everyone else in the Americas, be subjected to the U.S. and Latin American governments' "grand scheme, broader integration" of their lives?
Luigi Einaudi, a former U.S. diplomat and head of the Organization of American States, says the United States would generate more goodwill if it shuttered the Guantánamo Bay detention center in Cuba, passed a free-trade agreement with Colombia and stopped deporting 70,000 "criminal aliens" every year to countries in Latin America and the Caribbean ill-equipped to receive them.

Some critics say changing the Cuba policy also will help. A new Cuba approach, says Lawrence Wilkerson, a former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, would be a "superb opening toward refurbishing" the Latin America policy that he describes as "bordering on failure."
While it might "generate more goodwill" to shut down Gitmo, it's still fact that a lot of the "detainees" were captured on the battlefield. They're now being given opportunities for trial, albeit military trials, but most were, after all, taken prisoner while fighting American soldiers. It's true that some have been released after having been found innocent (typically turned over to Americans by neighbors with whom they've had feuds), but we've also released "detainees" only to fight and capture them again.

But that, "free trade with Colombia" and Cuba relations are red herrings. The main thing is that Latin America wants unfettered immigration to the U.S. It isn't out of some notion of "freedom," but because their own economies can't sustain the populations, and they need their people to head north and send American dollars back home.
One program initiated by Bush is seen as working: the Millennium Challenge Corporation, which gives aid to countries that pass a set of 17 development indicators, put together by outside watchdogs like Transparency International.

John Danilovich, who heads the program, says MCC is so popular that even Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, an old Cold War foe and Chávez ally, had to admit as much when he visited an MCC program in the northern town of Chinandega.
Once more, it's government taking money from Americans and giving it to Latin Americans. And of course Ortega would be very pleased at the "success." Who doesn't like free money? Returning to the example of schoolchildren, a classmate will happily pretend to like someone, if it means candy and getting to play with toys.
With Danilovich at his side, Ortega ended his speech at a local plaza with the words "Viva Estados Unidos!"
While this sounds very friendly toward the United States, an examination of the Spanish reveals what Ortega really said. He was not referring to the United States. He said only "Estados Unidos," not "los Estados Unidos" or "los Estados Unidos del Norte de America." The latter is the United States' proper name in Latin American circles: "the United States of North America." Along the same lines, Mexico is officially "Estados Unidos Mexicanos," and what Ortega is actually referring to is a union of states, nations, across the Americas.

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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Blast from the past: McCain zinged Obama...two years ago

McCain's February 2006 letter to Obama provides all the background we need:
Dear Senator Obama:

I would like to apologize to you for assuming that your private assurances to me regarding your desire to cooperate in our efforts to negotiate bipartisan lobbying reform legislation were sincere. When you approached me and insisted that despite your leadership's preference to use the issue to gain a political advantage in the 2006 elections, you were personally committed to achieving a result that would reflect credit on the entire Senate and offer the country a better example of political leadership, I concluded your professed concern for the institution and the public interest was genuine and admirable. Thank you for disabusing me of such notions with your letter to me dated February 2, 2006, which explained your decision to withdraw from our bipartisan discussions. I’m embarrassed to admit that after all these years in politics I failed to interpret your previous assurances as typical rhetorical gloss routinely used in politics to make self-interested partisan posturing appear more noble. Again, sorry for the confusion, but please be assured I won't make the same mistake again....

If the jugs don't fit, you must acquit

This post is dedicated to Lord Boner. And this time, I'm not talking about "jugs" as in pottery.

I think anyone, male or female, can laugh at this. It's a nice chuckle after sifting through all the generally bad news in a day.
Big breasts help actress to get conviction overturned

Actress Serena Kozakura's conviction for willful destruction of property has been overturned by the Tokyo High Court because her large breasts revealed flaws in the testimony against her.

Reconstruction during an appeal hearing of the 38-year-old actress's alleged crime of breaking down the door in a man's apartment showed her breasts prevented her from climbing through a door as the man testified she had done, casting doubt on his reliability.

The high court overturned a district court ruling that found Kozakura guilty of willful destruction of property and sentenced her to 14 months in jail, though the sentence was suspended for three years.

Kozakura was delighted by the ruling.

"I lost work after being charged, but justice prevailed in the end," she said at a news conference she held in Tokyo after the conviction was overturned. "I was always worried about being a bit fat, but this time I was glad."

Kozakura was charged with having kicked down the door of a man's apartment after she had been kicked out following an argument with another woman there in November 2006. In July last year, the Tokyo District Court found her guilty of willful destruction of property, but she appealed against the conviction.

During the appeal hearing, the court heard testimony from the man and a witness who both said Kozakura had kicked a hole in the door, through which she wriggled through to re-enter the apartment.

The hole in the door was a rectangular shape 72 centimeters long by 22 centimeters wide. But Kozakura has a 101-centimeter bust and her breasts alone extend out 29 centimeters from her chest bone.

The appeal hearing conducted a reconstruction of the alleged crime and found that it would have been extremely difficult for Kozakura to squeeze through the hole in the door as witnesses testified she had. Further doubt was cast on the validity of the man's testimony because the clothes she had been wearing at the time of the incident were not damaged as they would have been had she gone through the hole, nor did her feet show any signs of marks that would have occurred had she kicked the door.

"There are considerable doubts about the man's testimony," Presiding Judge Kunio Harada said.
Elsewhere,
"I used to hate my body so much," Kozakura, who has appeared in product commercials on television, told the private Asahi network in an interview aired Tuesday.

"But it was my breasts" that won in court, she said.

The case was splashed through the Japanese media on Tuesday, with the Asahi network even inviting her to demonstrate how she could not fit through the opening....

"The judges were very good-mannered as they showed no expressions on their faces. I guess they're well-trained," Kozakura said.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Once again, the New York Times doesn't know what it's talking about

From the front page to Paul Krugman's columns, "All the News That's Fit to Print" is filled with such tripe that about all you can consider factual are sports scores. I wouldn't even trust the weather updates.

Last week, the Times launched its first major smear of John McCain. Never mind the recycling of decade-old allegations of lobbyists' ties, and McCain's involvement with Charles Keating: what the Times wanted to imprint upon people's memories was the allegation that McCain had an affair. And what were the sources? "The anonymous kind, Chief." Such "unimpeachable" ones, I suppose, as Dan Rather's sources for the forged Bush memos.

After a week, the story had gone nowhere quickly. So now the Times had to resort to something else. Now they question whether McCain is in fact a natural-born American citizen, because Article II of the Constitution requires that any presidential candidates born after the Constitution's ratification must be natural-born citizens. McCain's parents were both natural-born American citizens, but McCain was born in the Panama Canal Zone.

So? Here's a free clue for the morons at the Times. U.S. naturalization law, specifically Title 8 of the U.S. Code, Chapter 12, subchapter III, part I, § 1403:
(a) Any person born in the Canal Zone on or after February 26, 1904, and whether before or after the effective date of this chapter, whose father or mother or both at the time of the birth of such person was or is a citizen of the United States, is declared to be a citizen of the United States.

(b) Any person born in the Republic of Panama on or after February 26, 1904, and whether before or after the effective date of this chapter, whose father or mother or both at the time of the birth of such person was or is a citizen of the United States employed by the Government of the United States or by the Panama Railroad Company, or its successor in title, is declared to be a citizen of the United States.
A few liberal blogs are dismissing this, gleeful at any chance to disqualify McCain. Their claim is that such people are made naturalized U.S. citizens, when in fact, no. The law declares that the people are citizens, not that they are made citizens.

If it weren't that obvious, U.S. law provides for "citizenship through derivation": a child born abroad to U.S. citizens can be registered with the State Department and considered a natural-born U.S. citizens. Thus the U.S. primarily practices jus soli (citizenship by birthplace), but also a form of jus sanguinus. I'm personally familiar with this because it applies to me. I was born a U.S. citizen, even though I was born in the Philippines. My U.S. citizenship was derived from my father, who was a natural-born U.S. citizen, and it's documented by my State Department "Report of Birth Abroad of a Citizen of the United States of America" FS-240. (So when a certain self-righteous socialist ignoramus threatens to deport me, he'd better think twice about putting his empty words up against the promise of real action.)

Despite the clear fact that John McCain is a U.S. citizen, and therefore qualified under Article II to run for president, the Times has to ignore the facts and muddy the waters. Otherwise, how can it make this non-issue look real?
...a musty debate that has surfaced periodically since the founders first set quill to parchment and declared that only a "natural-born citizen" can hold the nation's highest office....

...To date, no American to take the presidential oath has had an official birthplace outside the 50 states....

...Sarah H. Duggin, an associate professor of law at Catholic University who has studied the issue extensively. "It is not a slam-dunk situation." ....
In fact, it is, per the above portion of United States law. Whoever this Duggin is, like most law professors who claim to "study" the Constitution and constitutional law, she in fact doesn't know what she's talking about.
...Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and one of Mr. McCain's closest allies, said it would be incomprehensible to him if the son of a military member born in a military station could not run for president.

"He was posted there on orders from the United States government," Mr. Graham said of Mr. McCain's father. "If that becomes a problem, we need to tell every military family that your kid can't be president if they take an overseas assignment."
I have no love for the protectionist Graham, but I still wouldn't be surprised if the Times selectively quoted him, in case Graham indicated the real reason he finds it "incomprehensible" is because he knows there's a law about it.
The phrase "natural born" was in early drafts of the Constitution. Scholars say notes of the Constitutional Convention give away little of the intent of the framers. Its origin may be traced to a letter from John Jay to George Washington, with Jay suggesting that to prevent foreigners from becoming commander in chief, the Constitution needed to "declare expressly" that only a natural-born citizen could be president.
If Duggin knew anything about the Constitution or constitutional law, she'd know that this is why Article I, Section 8 gives Congress the power "To establish a uniform rule of naturalization": the Constitution specifies "natural-born," and Congress through law can define just what that means.
Ms. Duggin and others who have explored the arcane subject in depth say legal argument and basic fairness may indeed be on the side of Mr. McCain, a longtime member of Congress from Arizona. But multiple experts and scholarly reviews say the issue has never been definitively resolved by either Congress or the Supreme Court.
What "experts"? Which "scholarly reviews"? And what exactly did they say? As we've already seen, the law is very clear.

But of course the Times won't provide any concrete facts. It can't let an inconvenient thing like truth stand in the way of its story.
Ms. Duggin favors a constitutional amendment to settle the matter. Others have called on Congress to guarantee that Americans born outside the national boundaries can legitimately see themselves as potential contenders for the Oval Office.
Duggin wants a Constitutional amendment because she's ignorant of what the document and Congressional law already laid out.
"They ought to have the same rights," said Don Nickles, a former Republican senator from Oklahoma who in 2004 introduced legislation that would have established that children born abroad to American citizens could harbor presidential ambitions without a legal cloud over their hopes. "There is some ambiguity because there has never been a court case on what 'natural-born citizen' means."
Nickles' very job was to exercise the powers given to Congress per the Constitution, yet he's still ignorant of Constitutional law. Unfortunately, he's a typical Washingtonian who understands little of the document, let alone the concepts behind the document, yet wielded power over the American people as if he did.
Mr. McCain's situation is different from those of the current governors of California and Michigan, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jennifer M. Granholm, who were born in other countries and were first citizens of those nations, rendering them naturalized Americans ineligible under current interpretations. The conflict that could conceivably ensnare Mr. McCain goes more to the interpretation of "natural born" when weighed against intent and decades of immigration law.
Irrelevant. These people were born outside the United States as citizens of the other nations. Their parents were also not American citizens.
Mr. McCain is not the first person to find himself in these circumstances. The last Arizona Republican to be a presidential nominee, Barry Goldwater, faced the issue. He was born in the Arizona territory in 1909, three years before it became a state. But Goldwater did not win, and the view at the time was that since he was born in a continental territory that later became a state, he probably met the standard.
This is the Times' Constitutional ignorance at its finest. It didn't matter that Arizona became a state later, only that Goldwater was born in a U.S. possession. Under previous U.S. naturalization law, and clarified with the 14th Amendment, federal jurisdictions counted in the same way as the several States. Otherwise, what about people born in Washington, D.C.? It's never been a state, so are people born there born into some sort of citizenship limbo until they're naturalized? Of course not.
It also surfaced in the 1968 candidacy of George Romney, who was born in Mexico, but again was not tested. The former Connecticut politician Lowell P. Weicker Jr., born in Paris, sought a legal analysis when considering the presidency, an aide said, and was assured he was eligible. Franklin D. Roosevelt Jr. was once viewed as a potential successor to his father, but was seen by some as ineligible since he had been born on Campobello Island in Canada. The 21st president, Chester A. Arthur, whose birthplace is Vermont, was rumored to have actually been born in Canada, prompting some to question his eligibility.
Provided that all of these men were born to parents who were already U.S. citizens, and the parents had resided in the U.S. for at least five years prior to the child's birth, there would have been no question about natural-born citizenship and hence qualifications to run for president. The Times is throwing out more irrelevancies to making the issue more unnecessarily complicated. Then again, how else would it meet the minimum-length requirement, let alone turn a non-issue into an issue?

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