BAGHDAD — Iraqis across the country voted Saturday in provincial elections that will help shape their future, but regardless of the outcome it is clear that the Americans are already drifting offstage — and that most Iraqis are ready to see them go.
The signs of mutual disengagement are everywhere. In the days leading up to the elections, it was possible to drive safely from near the Turkish border in the north to Baghdad and on south to Basra, just a few miles from the Persian Gulf — without seeing an American convoy. In the Green Zone — once host to the American occupation government, and now the seat of the Iraqi government — the primary PX is set to close, and the Americans have retreated to their vast, garrisoned new embassy compound. Iraqi soldiers now handle all Green Zone checkpoints.
American helicopters and drones may be in the sky, but Iraqi boots are on the ground. The Americans are already worried about securing the road to Kuwait because soon they will have to start hauling out much of the infrastructure they have built on bases across Iraq.
Saturday, January 31
Figuring out the direction President Barack Obama’s foreign policy will take has become a full-time job for pundits and foreign diplomats in Washington. And a key question on everyone’s mind is how exactly Obama will seek to exert influence as the American Empire shrinks.
A clear consensus among Washington cognoscenti on the direction of “Obadiplomacy” has yet to emerge, despite nearly two years of presidential campaigning and a full slate of Cabinet nominees. This points to two possibilities. First, that Obama has a coherent foreign policy vision and a strategy to implement it, but that he and his aides are keeping it top secret—a great skill for those who want to win victories in the games that nations play.
Or that Obama does not have a grand diplomatic strategy à la Cold War containment or the “war on terror.” If such is the case, the evolution of foreign policy under Obama could be a process of trial and error, a cost-effective diplomatic approach in which major decisions are made in response to political and economic pressures at home and abroad.
If the second possibility eventually comes to define the Obama presidency, we can be certain of one thing—the Washington foreign policy elite will not be sated. Whether they are on the right or the left, hawks or doves, liberal internationalists or neoconservatives, foreign policy “professionals” tend to gravitate to grand strategies that reflect their favorite intellectual fads or narratives—like Fukuyama’s End of History, Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations, Kaplan’s Coming Global Anarchy, or the neocon’s Islamofascism threat. Intellectuals are drawn to global crusades to promote a collective good that tends to be transfused with a sense of adventure and romance.
But after eight years of foreign policy fantasies, the notion of an Obama administration muddling through foreign policy choices should be welcomed, even by those who will be disappointed if the new president’s choices fall short of our high expectations.
In making our predictions about Obama’s policies, many of us project our hopes and fears. Many opponents of the neoconservative agenda supported the Obama candidacy based on his opposition to the invasion of Iraq, stated willingness to dialogue with Iran and Syria, and apparent commitment to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Compared to the ideologues and fanatics who were recently in charge of U.S. diplomacy, Obama has seemed a staunch member of the antiwar camp. This explains much of the enthusiasm that he garnered among antiwar bloggers during the Democratic primaries, when he challenged then-Sen. Hillary Clinton, who had voted in favor of the congressional resolution authorizing the invasion of Iraq.
But there is a certain element of wishful thinking in this image of Obama. Obama’s earlier opposition to the Iraq War corresponded to the constituency he represented as an Illinois State Senator. But he never proposed that his position on Iraq was grounded in any leftwing or progressive anti-interventionist principles. Instead, he reiterated several times during the campaign that he respected the realpolitik types who were responsible for the more traditional diplomacy of the first President Bush. In fact, the Wall Street Journal reports Obama consulted with one of these realist luminaries, former national security advisor Brent Scowcroft, about his foreign policy picks for the new administration.
Some hopes of progressive and libertarian antiwar activists were already dashed when Obama announced he would retain Robert Gates as defense secretary, and nominate Hillary Clinton as secretary of state and retired General James Jones as his national security advisor. The non-interventionists’s mood was probably not improved after reading reports about the potential role that former Clinton administration aides like Martin Indyk, Dennis Ross, or Richard Holbrooke—known for their pro-interventionist approaches—might play in the administration. Indeed, those of us who were hoping, wishing, and praying for the making of a new U.S. foreign policy paradigm—that would disengage militarily from the Middle East, end the special relationship with Israel, withdraw from NATO, terminate military pacts with Japan and South Korea, and take a less belligerent approach towards Russia—were bound to be disappointed by many of Obama’s selections for his foreign policy team.
But then Obama never stated that he would embrace the non-interventionist agendas of Taft Republicans or McGovern Democrats. President Bush père and President Clinton have been his role models when it comes to diplomacy and national security. And these two were both committed to maintaining the U.S. dominant position in the post-Cold War era, including through the use of military force. It is true that neither Bush pèrenor Clinton embraced the more ambitious neoconservative policy proposals that called for invading countries in the Middle East and establishing a permanent U.S. military presence there. And while they and their aides had occasionally employed Wilsonian rhetoric, they never had any urge to “liberate” Iraq and implant democracy in the Middle East. Theirs was a pragmatic—or opportunistic—foreign policy that took advantage of the collapse of the former Soviet Union, the only potential challenger of U.S. hegemony, as well as America’s economic might, to establish a dominant U.S. position in the Middle East and East Asia, to expand NATO to the borders of Russia, and to continue calling the shots at the United Nations and other multilateral organizations. Under them, Washington was able maintain an American Empire whose military and economic costs were largely acceptable to the U.S. public.
Obama, with the help of the Clintonites and the Scowcrofts, is hoping to recreate that kind of cost-effective Pax Americana. Applying diplomatic means to reach a “grand bargain” with Iran and to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process could permit the United States to withdraw its troops from Iraq and reassert its influence in the region. Creative statesmanship could also help reduce tensions in South Asia and create the conditions for stability in Afghanistan. Working more closely with the European Union (EU), the country could bargain and make deals with the Russians. And then there is America’s “soft power,” pumped-up by the sex-appeal of Mr. Cosmopolitan Cool himself, which might win the hearts and minds of Muslims everywhere.
Indeed, during his inaugural address, Obama seemed to reiterate the kind of internationalist and realist principles embraced by Bush père while avoiding any mention of “axis of evil' or the term “war on terrorism.” Instead, he projected a mix of tough pragmatism and soft idealism. '”We will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist,” he said, sending a message to Iran, Syria, and other governments Bush II refused to engage and sought to isolate. And he specifically addressed the Muslim world, “To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.”.
Two days after entering office, Obama announced that former Sen. George Mitchell would be his special envoy to the Middle East to help revive the Israeli-Palestinian process, and that former Clinton aide Richard Holbrooke would serve as his special envoy to South Asia. Obama’s selection of the Lebanese-American Mitchell and not of Dennis Ross, an American-Jewish diplomat perceived as being one-sidedly sympathetic to Israel, was seen by some as an indication that Obama intends to embrace a more even-handed approach towards the Israeli-Palestinian issue.
Moreover, there is a rising expectation in Washington that Obama will use his charismatic and cosmopolitan persona, including his quasi-Muslim roots, to re-energize U.S. diplomatic influence and accentuate its commitment to be an honest broker in the Middle East. Obama and his skilled foreign policy advisors will demonstrate that Washington can revive now the dormant Israeli-Palestinian peace process, overcome the many obstacles to a political settlement, and help bring peace to the Holy Land.
At least that’s the way many in Washington and the media seem to see things. They insist that not before long, the Obama administration will bring stability and peace to Middle East (and South Asia and the Caucus and to…) where supposedly everyone is waiting for the United States to exert its leadership role. If Obama builds America’s “standing” in the world, they—the Israelis and Palestinians (and Indians and Pakistanis)—will come to the negotiation table and make peace.
But once again, these high expectations may not be fulfilled. The problem is that the United States of 2009 has clearly lost its position as the Global Number One. It could find it very difficult to secure even the less ambitious goal of being first among equals. The debacle in Iraq coupled with the horrific costs of the financial crisis have eroded U.S. military and economic power and, by extension, its diplomatic influence. This change in the balance of power is driven to a large extent by growing public opposition to the Iraq War and to new military interventionism.
The country’s diminished leverage is also demonstrated in the failure to contain Iran’s rising power and growing influence through surrogates in Iraq, Lebanon, and Palestine. Notwithstanding strong opposition from the Bush administration, Israel decided to open negotiations with Syria while Lebanon invited Hezbollah to join the government. Moreover, the Europeans and the Egyptians—not the Americans—played the leading role in achieving a cease-fire during the recent Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip.
If Washington could not get an Israeli-Palestinian peace process going at the height of the 2000 “Unipolar Moment”—when the Israelis and the Palestinians were less radicalized and led by strong and moderate leaderships—there is little reason to expect President Obama will become an instant Holy Land peacemaker. With a worn-out military and an economy in a down-turn trajectory, Obama and the rest of Washington will be forced to recognize this reality, sooner or later. But the process of a great power adjusting to changes in the balance of power tends to be long and painful.
Economists have drawn attention to the time lag between when an actual economic shock (such as sudden boom or bust) occurs, and when it is recognized by economists, central bankers, and the government. The existence of this time lag—or, to use the economic term, recognition lag—explains why, for example, it has taken economists so long to signal the current economic recession..
One can identify a similar lag between the time when an international crisis, like a military conflict, takes place, and the time when officials, pundits, and the public recognize its effect on the global balance of power. Hence, in the immediate aftermath of World War II, which devastated the military and economic power of the two leading empires, Great Britain and France, it was still common for officials and journalists to refer to these declining nation-states as Great Powers.
The same kind of lag can be observed in the way officials and pundits have failed to recognize the combined impact of the Iraq War and the financial crisis have had on U.S. long-term standing in the international system. There is a tendency in Washington to attribute its declining influence to the Bush administration’s mismanagement of U.S. diplomacy and national security policy. But even the most visionary and competent U.S. president will be constrained in his ability to “do something” whenever an international crisis takes place or to create incentives for global and regional players to work with it.
Will Iran be interested in playing diplomatic ball with the U.S.? Will the Europeans continue to follow U.S. leadership or will they try to make separate deals with Russia? China and India are climbing up the economic and military ladder just as America seems to be stepping down. Realpolitik in the Obama Age could prove to be a painful cost-cutting exercise as Washington readjusts to the realities of the post-neoconservative era. In that case, imperial retrenchment could prove to be the default choice of the new president.
Leon Hadar, a research fellow at the Cato Institute and a contributor to PRA’s Right Web (http://rightweb.irc-online.org/), is author of Sandstorm: Policy Failure in the Middle East (2006). He blogs at globalparadigms.blogspot.com.
Following my having said (previous post) that any political position will find some human-science results obnoxious, a reader asked me, off-line, to identify a finding — not a practice, like embryo-destructive stem cell research, but a finding — that is obnoxious to conservatives.
I think the leading candidate here is the work on child development showing that parenting styles don’t matter much, perhaps not at all above a certain very low level (locking the kids in the basement and feeding them cat food). The canonical statement was given by Judith Rich Harris in The Nurture Assumption: “Group socialization theory makes this prediction: that children would develop into the same sort of adults if we left their lives outside the home unchanged — left them in their schools and their neighborhoods — but switched all the parents around.” That’s got to be painful for a family-values conservative to read, yet it seems to be the current consensus.
For the Left, pretty much anything to do with heritability of human characteristics, other than undeniable visible ones, is obnoxious because such things violate the “psychic unity of mankind” (in its modern reading, which seems to me not precisely congruent with Bastian’s). Most obnoxious of all to the Left is the idea that homo sap., like any other widely-distributed species, exhibits regional variations between its big, old, settled, mostly-inbred populations.
It’s an interesting question whether the Right or the Left is more science-hostile, net-net. I insist that ideologues on both sides are science-hostile; but which kind of politics is more of an obstacle to the advance of our understanding, is arguable. Since science is mostly carried out in places where Right Creationists, Geocentrists, etc. have no influence, but blank-slate Left “culturists” and po-mo words-have-no-meaning deconstructionists have tremendous influence, I’d guess the Left has the potential to do more damage, at least in the human sciences. I’d defer to Mr. Hume on this, though, as he’s better acquainted with the situation on the ground, in actual labs and institutes.
The Japanese doctor pipes up and says: 'Medicine in my country is so advanced that we can take a kidney out of one man, put it in another, and have him looking for work in six weeks.'
The German doctor says: 'That's nothing, we can take a lung out of one person, put it in another, and have him looking for work in four weeks.'
The British doctor says: 'In my country, medicine is so advanced that we can take half of a heart out of one person, put it in another, and have them both looking for work in two weeks.'
Not to be outdone, the Texan says: 'You guys are way behind. We just took a man with half a brain out of Texas, put him in a white house, and now half the country is looking for work!
Friday, January 30
Sheyla Hershey’s massive 38KKK breasts have been declared the world’s biggest boob job.Yes, she's from Texas....what a country.
The 28-year-old American housewife and model has undergone nine ops to get her amazing figure.
And even though medics have warned that her breasts are in danger of exploding, she does not seem to care.
She had to go to Brazil for her last op after US doctors refused to carry out any more surgery.
Her British ex-boyfriend started paying for her plastic surgery, but she left him after he begged her to stop.
She said: “I loved him very much but I had to leave him to follow my dream.”
Here is a story from last June at 34FFF
BAGHDAD — The director of an orphanage in Tikrit says she must remove the shoe sculpture set up to honor the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at former U.S. President George W. Bush.Seems they need to find private property for it.
Fatin al-Nassiri says Iraqi police told her the statue had to be removed because government property should not be used for something with a political bias.
She says the statue was taken down on Saturday.
A sofa-sized shoe statue was formally unveiled to the public Thursday in the hometown of the former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
Baghdad-based artist Laith al-Amari described his fiberglass-and-copper work in Tikrit as a homage to the pride of the Iraqi people.
I'm 2/3 this cycle: Obama over McCain/Clinton, Steele over the other 5 RNC candidates, but Elwyn Tinklenberg fails to overtake
Ambers sums things up:
In the United States, in 2009, the head of the Democratic Party and the head of the Republican Party are black.
Granted, one has much more power than the other. (One is titular, the other is de jure.)
And one may have been chosen in reaction to the other.
But -- for a party that was not too longer ago openly dedicated to a strategy of using racial fears to attract white votes, it's something.
In a short stemwinder, Steele promised to broaden the party's geographic base and "stand proud" as the country's conservative party.
"It's time for something completely different," he said, to cheers.
"To my friends in the Northeast, get ready baby, we're going to turn it on. We're going to win in the Northeast. We're going to continue to win in the South... In the West."
"To those who are ready to obstruct," he warned. "[G]et ready to get knocked over."
Did Republicans choose Steele as a token? Some RNC members will think so, as will many skeptical Democrats. But Steele won this thing by himself. The RNC is a fractious, uncooperative bunch. And Steele patiently politicked his way through six ballots. Just a few hours ago, my correspondent Will DiNovi saw Steele and Ohio's Kenneth Blackwell face to face in the hall. "I know we've disagreed on a lot of things," Steele was telling him. Blackwell waited a little -- then he endorsed Steele.
Steele's election won't help the party attrack black voters immediately, but if Steele sets the right tone, he could help the party compete for them in the (way) future. As GOP strategists have always known, and noted, somewhat dyspeptically, it's white suburban voters, particularly women, who are responsive to a diversity message. The RNC isn't diverse yet; only five black delegates were chosen to attend the national convention. Steele was disgusted by that. It prompted him to run.
Even more than race, even as Steele lauded the party's conservative members, his election marks a step away from the balkanized Southern white ethos of the party. Steele, pro-life, has worked with moderate Republicans all of his life, although he did his best during the campaign to minimize those ties. If he reverts to form, it means that the RNC has just selected a chairman who will not prioritize social issues above economic issues. When people speak of broadening the party's geographic diversity, they are speaking in code. They mean that the party needs to welcome more moderates; needs to be more forgiving of departures from orthodoxy; need to be less antagonistic to pro-choicers and gays.
For those jonesing for some kind of election-related activity, today's balloting for the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee is, well, at least mildly interesting.I will be very surprised if Steele doesn't win now. Better stock up on that champagne.
After the first ballot, the hand-picked-by-Bush incumbent, Mike Duncan, was in the lead with 52 votes. Michael Steele was a close second with 46, followed by South Carolina GOP chair Katon Dawson with 28. On the second ballot, Duncan and Steele were tied at 48, with Dawson in third with 29. On the third ballot, Steele pulled ahead with 51 votes, while Duncan slipped to second with 44, and Dawson holding on with 34.
And at that point, Duncan decided to call it a day, withdrawing from consideration."Obviously the winds of change are blowing at the RNC," Duncan said, adding that he trusts the "vision" of his fellow members. "I understand what's going on."The low profile Duncan served through the Republican collapse of the late Bush term, and received little blame for GOP defeats, but had little record of success to point to.
"At this time, I wish to withdraw my name from nomination as chairman as the RNC," he said, to a standing ovation.
Voting begins in two hours, but the chatter in the halls of the Capital Hilton is that Michael Steele has benefited from a last-minute surge of support. Steele's team estimates that he has at least 40 first-round votes in the bag, second only to current RNC chairman Mike Duncan, who will probably finish the first round with between 55 and 65 votes.Now that's Republican change I can believe in.
During a private meeting with members last night, Steele vociferously defended his personal views -- he's pro-life -- and his intention to broaden the party's reach to include those who disagree. He was well-recieved.
A: I have been sent by a respected and impartial NGO to investigate the carnage inflicted by Israel in the Gaza Strip.
Q: Which NGO would that be?
A: An NGO that uses an ostensible human-rights agenda as camouflage for an anti-Zionist, anti-Semitic program.
Q: So you’ve been south. What did you see there?
A: Collateral damage.
Q: Collateral to what?
A: To Israel’s right to defend itself.
Q: And what else?
A: To courageous Palestinian resistance against Zionist imperialism.
Q: What targets were hit?
A: Homes, schools, hospitals, military installations, and firing positions.
Q: How do you tell one from the other?
A: If you are Palestinian, you don’t bother.
Q: And if you are Israeli?
A: You shoot anyway.
Q: Could you be more specific? If you are a Hamas guerilla fighter, what is a legitimate military target?
A: Every outpost of Zionist imperialism.
Q: And what is an illegitimate civilian target?
A: Come again?
Q: The Israelis bombed homes and schools containing non-combatant men, women, and children.
A: They were being used as firing positions and endangering Israeli forces.
Q: How were they being used?
Q: And what the hundreds of deaths this caused?
A: They were tragic.
Q: What about the tunnels from the Gaza Strip to Egypt that Israel bombed?
A: They were lifelines for a besieged civilian population.
Q: Didn’t Hamas use them to smuggle rockets and other weapons?
A: Of course, the tunnels were a threat to Israeli security.
Q: Now that you’ve been to Gaza, what do you think of Hamas?
A: Hamas is fanatical Islamic movement sponsored by Iran that seeks Israel’s destruction.
Q: So Israel has a right to be concerned.
A: No, because Hamas is the national resistance movement of an oppressed people.
Q: And what do you think of us Israelis?
A: You are brave and determined.
Q: So you like us?
A: I suppose. Of course, you are the descendants of apes and pigs.
Q: Why did Israel invade?
A: It was provoked.
Q: And why did Hamas bombard Israel’s southern cities?
A: It was provoked.
Q: Couldn’t they have responded differently?
A: No, because the other side understands only force.
Q: What did Israel achieve?
A: All its goals.
Q: And what did Israel fail to do?
A: Finish the job.
Q: When will Hamas stop attacking Israel?
A: When it destroys the Zionist entity and liberates the al-Aqsa Mosque.
Q: And what did it inflict on Israel in this engagement?
A: A decisive loss.
Q: And what has Israel regained?
A: Its deterrence.
Q: What was the outcome of the war?
A: A cease-fire.
Q: What was the immediate cause?
A: The end of a cease-fire.
Q: Hey, where are you going?
A: Back home to a place where clichés don’t kill so many people.
According to new research for The Sunday Times by the Centre for Economics and Business Research, state spending as a percentage of GDP has now reached 49% for the UK as a whole.At what point does it become communism?
That's bad enough as it is – the government now controls practically half of the UK economy – but when you look at the regional figures the picture is even worse.
In the Northeast, state spending is 66.4% of GDP. In Wales, it's 71.6%. And in Northern Ireland, it's a whopping 77.6%.
I don't think the Soviet Republics ever managed to achieve quite that degree of state dominance.
The USA is at about 33% (20% federal, rest state/local)
Thursday, January 29
WASHINGTON (AP) — Samantha Power, the Harvard University professor who earned notoriety for calling Hillary Rodham Clinton a "monster" while working to elect Barack Obama president, will take a senior foreign policy job at the White House, The Associated Press has learned.
Reason beats the horse some more:
Now that George W. Bush has finally left office, here's a challenge to a nation famous for its proud tradition of invention: Can somebody invent a machine capable of fully measuring the disaster that was the Bush presidency?
Yes, yes, I know that attitudes towards presidencies are volatile. Harry Truman was hated when he left office and look at him now; he's so highly regarded that President Bush thought of him as a role model. There are, I'm sure, still a few William Henry Harrison dead-enders around, convinced that the 31 days the broken-down old general spent as president will someday receive the full glory they deserve.
In a way that was inconceivable when he took office, Bush—the advance man for the "ownership society," smaller and more trustworthy government, and a humble foreign policy—increased the size and scope of the federal government to unprecedented levels. At the same time, he constantly flashed signs of secrecy, duplicity, ineffectiveness and outright incompetence.
Think for a moment about the thousands of Transportation Security Administrationscreeners—newly minted government employees all—who continue to confiscate contact-lens solution and nail clippers while, according to nearly every field test, somehow failing to notice simulated bombs in passenger luggage.
Or schoolchildren struggling under No Child Left Behind, which federalized K-12 education to an unprecedented degree with nothing to show for it other than greater spending tabs. Or the bizarrely structured Medicare prescription-drug benefit, the largest entitlement program created since LBJ. Or the simple reality that taxpayers now guarantee some $8 trillion in inscrutable loans to a financial sector that collapsed from inscrutable loans.
Such programs were not in any way foisted on Bush, the way that welfare reform had been on Bill Clinton; they were signature projects, designed to create a legacy every bit as monumental and inspiring as Laura Bush's global literacy campaign.
The most basic Bush numbers are damning. If increases in government spending matter, then Bush is worse than any president in recent history. During his first four years in office—a period during which his party controlled Congress—he added a whopping $345 billion (in constant dollars) to the federal budget. The only other presidential term that comes close? Bush's second term. As of November 2008, he had added at least an additional $287 billion on top of that (and the months since then will add significantly to the bill). To put that in perspective, consider that the spendthrift LBJ added a mere $223 billion in total additional outlays in his one full term.
If spending under Bush was a disaster, regulation was even worse. The number of pages in the Federal Registry is a rough proxy for the swollen expanse of the regulatory state. In 2001, some 64,438 pages of regulations were added to it. In 2007, more than 78,000 new pages were added. Worse still, argues the Mercatus Center economist Veronique de Rugy, Bush is the unparalleled master of "economically significant regulations" that cost the economy more than $100 million a year. Since 2001, he jacked that number by more than 70 percent. Since June 2008 alone, he introduced more than 100 economically significant regulations.
At this late date, it may be pointless to argue about the grounds for the invasion of Iraq, which even Bush has (finally) acknowledged were built on sand rather than bedrock. The Iraq war has lasted longer than any American conflict except for Vietnam and has cost more than any shooting match except for World War II. Leave aside for a moment the more than 4,200 U.S. deaths and 30,000 casualties, and ask a very basic question: Did President Bush's prosecution of the war—he declared an end to major hostilities in May 2003—and his direction of the ongoing occupation make you feel better about the government's ability to execute core functions?
Or, like the bungled federal response to Hurricane Katrina (later made good by shoveling billions of pork-laden tax dollars to the Gulf area) and the rushed, secretive, and ever-changing bailout of the financial sector, did it make you want to simply despair?
Bush's legacy is thus a bizarro version of Ronald Reagan's. Reagan entered office declaring that government was not the solution to our problems, it was the problem. Ironically, he demonstrated that government could do some important things right—he helped tame inflation and masterfully drew the Cold War to a nonviolent triumph for the Free World. By contrast, Bush has massively expanded the government along with the sense that government is incompetent.
That is no small accomplishment—and its pernicious effects will last long after Bush has moved back to Texas, and President Obama has announced that his stimulus package, originally tagged at $750 billion and already up to $825 billion, will cost $1 trillion or more. Bush has cleared the way for President Obama to intervene more and more in the economy and every other aspect of American life.
Last July, the political scientists Philippe Aghion, Yann Algan, Pierre Cahuc, and Andrei Shleifer wrote a paper titled "Regulation and Distrust" (PDF). Using data from the World Values Survey, the authors convincingly argue that "distrust influences not just regulation itself, but the demand for regulation." They found that "distrust fuels support for government control over the economy. What is perhaps most interesting about this finding...is that distrust generates demand for regulation even when people realize that the government is corrupt and ineffective."
George W. Bush has certainly taught us that government really can't be trusted to be very effective, or open, or smart. He has also taught us that government can always get bigger on every level and every way. It's a sad lesson that we'll be learning for many years to come.
1) Bigger government
2) Manifestly incompetent governance
3) Greatly harming the good name of small-government conservatism
Best case scenario for the country, Obama's Democrats only accomplish #1. Worser case they also accomplish a bit of #3 because they give big-government a better name by running the country more competently than Bush's purported "small government" .
(Free advice: if you must have a bigger government, get Democrats to run it instead of Republicans. They know how to do it with some effectiveness because the people they appoint are relatively intelligent "public servants" rather than party hacks who are philosophically against doing their own damn jobs effectively.)
Worst case scenario for the country is Democrats actually manage to do #2 instead of #3. And this bad scenario is the only one that helps the right's electoral prospects.
What a terrible pickle Bush Republicanism has left us in.
Representative Virginia Foxx, Republican of North Carolina, said that former President George Bush’s signature tax cuts in 2001 had created years of growth but that the nation’s problems started when Democrats regained majorities in Congress in the 2006 elections.Noam Sheiber fumes:
Really? So the Democrats came into office and a housing bubble retroactively inflated and began to pop? Mortgage-backed assets worth trillions less than their stated value just magically appeared on bank balance sheets and in hedge fund portfolios?
Just to clarify, did all this happen on election night 2006, or was it not until January of 2007, when Nancy Pelosi officially became Speaker?
5:46 P.M. EST
Q Mr. President, thank you for this opportunity, we really appreciate it.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you so much.
Q Sir, you just met with your personal envoy to theMiddle East, Senator Mitchell. Obviously, his first task is to consolidate the cease-fire. But beyond that you've been saying that you want to pursue actively and aggressively peacemaking between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Tell us a little bit about how do you see your personal role, because, you know, if the President of the United States is not involved, nothing happens -- as the history of peacemaking shows. Will you be proposing ideas, pitching proposals, parameters, as one of your predecessors did? Or just urging the parties to come up with their own resolutions, as your immediate predecessor did?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think the most important thing is for the United States to get engaged right away. And George Mitchell is somebody of enormous stature. He is one of the few people who have international experience brokering peace deals.
And so what I told him is start by listening, because all too often the United States starts by dictating -- in the past on some of these issues -- and we don't always know all the factors that are involved. So let's listen. He's going to be speaking to all the major parties involved. And he will then report back to me. From there we will formulate a specific response.
Ultimately, we cannot tell either the Israelis or the Palestinians what's best for them. They're going to have to make some decisions. But I do believe that the moment is ripe for both sides to realize that the path that they are on is one that is not going to result in prosperity and security for their people. And that instead, it's time to return to the negotiating table.
And it's going to be difficult, it's going to take time. I don't want to prejudge many of these issues, and I want to make sure that expectations are not raised so that we think that this is going to be resolved in a few months. But if we start the steady progress on these issues, I'm absolutely confident that the United States -- working in tandem with the European Union, with Russia, with all the Arab states in the region -- I'm absolutely certain that we can make significant progress.
Q You've been saying essentially that we should not look at these issues -- like the Palestinian-Israeli track and separation from the border region -- you've been talking about a kind of holistic approach to the region. Are we expecting a different paradigm in the sense that in the past one of the critiques -- at least from the Arab side, the Muslim side -- is that everything the Americans always tested with the Israelis, if it works. Now there is an Arab peace plan, there is a regional aspect to it. And you've indicated that. Would there be any shift, a paradigm shift?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, here's what I think is important. Look at the proposal that was put forth by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia --
THE PRESIDENT: I might not agree with every aspect of the proposal, but it took great courage --
THE PRESIDENT: -- to put forward something that is as significant as that. I think that there are ideas across the region of how we might pursue peace.
I do think that it is impossible for us to think only in terms of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and not think in terms of what's happening with Syria or Iran or Lebanon or Afghanistan and Pakistan. These things are interrelated. And what I've said, and I think Hillary Clinton has expressed this in her confirmation, is that if we are looking at the region as a whole and communicating a message to the Arab world and the Muslim world, that we are ready to initiate a new partnership based on mutual respect and mutual interest, then I think that we can make significant progress.
Now, Israel is a strong ally of the United States. They will not stop being a strong ally of the United States. And I will continue to believe that Israel's security is paramount. But I also believe that there are Israelis who recognize that it is important to achieve peace. They will be willing to make sacrifices if the time is appropriate and if there is serious partnership on the other side.
And so what we want to do is to listen, set aside some of the preconceptions that have existed and have built up over the last several years. And I think if we do that, then there's a possibility at least of achieving some breakthroughs.
Q I want to ask you about the broader Muslim world, but let me -- one final thing about the Palestinian-Israeli theater. There are many Palestinians and Israelis who are very frustrated now with the current conditions and they are losing hope, they are disillusioned, and they believe that time is running out on the two-state solution because -- mainly because of the settlement activities in Palestinian-occupied territories. Will it still be possible to see a Palestinian state -- and you know the contours of it -- within the first Obama administration?
THE PRESIDENT: I think it is possible for us to see a Palestinian state -- I'm not going to put a time frame on it -- that is contiguous, that allows freedom of movement for its people, that allows for trade with other countries, that allows the creation of businesses and commerce so that people have a better life.
And, look, I think anybody who has studied the region recognizes that the situation for the ordinary Palestinian in many cases has not improved. And the bottom line in all these talks and all these conversations is, is a child in the Palestinian Territories going to be better off? Do they have a future for themselves? And is the child in Israel going to feel confident about his or her safety and security? And if we can keep our focus on making their lives better and look forward, and not simply think about all the conflicts and tragedies of the past, then I think that we have an opportunity to make real progress.
But it is not going to be easy, and that's why we've got George Mitchell going there. This is somebody with extraordinary patience as well as extraordinary skill, and that's what's going to be necessary.
Q Absolutely. Let me take a broader look at the whole region. You are planning to address the Muslim world in your first 100 days from a Muslim capital. And everybody is speculating about the capital. (Laughter.) If you have anything further, that would be great.
How concerned are you -- because, let me tell you, honestly, when I see certain things about America -- in some parts, I don't want to exaggerate -- there is a demonization of America.
THE PRESIDENT: Absolutely.
Q It's become like a new religion, and like a new religion it has new converts -- like a new religion has its own high priests.
THE PRESIDENT: Right.
Q It's only a religious text.
THE PRESIDENT: Right.
Q And in the last -- since 9/11 and because of Iraq, that alienation is wider between the Americans and -- and in generations past, the United States was held high. It was the only Western power with no colonial legacy.
THE PRESIDENT: Right.
Q How concerned are you and -- because people sense that you have a different political discourse. And I think, judging by (inaudible) and Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden and all these, you know -- a chorus --
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, I noticed this. They seem nervous.
Q They seem very nervous, exactly. Now, tell me why they should be more nervous?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think that when you look at the rhetoric that they've been using against me before I even took office --
Q I know, I know.
THE PRESIDENT: -- what that tells me is that their ideas are bankrupt. There's no actions that they've taken that say a child in the Muslim world is getting a better education because of them, or has better health care because of them.
In my inauguration speech, I spoke about: You will be judged on what you've built, not what you've destroyed. And what they've been doing is destroying things. And over time, I think the Muslim world has recognized that that path is leading no place, except more death and destruction.
Now, my job is to communicate the fact that the United States has a stake in the well-being of the Muslim world, that the language we use has to be a language of respect. I have Muslim members of my family. I have lived in Muslim countries.
Q The largest one.
THE PRESIDENT: The largest one, Indonesia. And so what I want to communicate is the fact that in all my travels throughout the Muslim world, what I've come to understand is that regardless of your faith -- and America is a country of Muslims, Jews, Christians, non-believers -- regardless of your faith, people all have certain common hopes and common dreams.
And my job is to communicate to the American people that the Muslim world is filled with extraordinary people who simply want to live their lives and see their children live better lives. My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy. We sometimes make mistakes. We have not been perfect. But if you look at the track record, as you say, America was not born as a colonial power, and that the same respect and partnership that America had with the Muslim world as recently as 20 or 30 years ago, there's no reason why we can't restore that. And that I think is going to be an important task.
But ultimately, people are going to judge me not by my words but by my actions and my administration's actions. And I think that what you will see over the next several years is that I'm not going to agree with everything that some Muslim leader may say, or what's on a television station in the Arab world -- but I think that what you'll see is somebody who is listening, who is respectful, and who is trying to promote the interests not just of the United States, but also ordinary people who right now are suffering from poverty and a lack of opportunity. I want to make sure that I'm speaking to them, as well.
Q Tell me, time is running out, any decision on from where you will be visiting the Muslim world?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I'm not going to break the news right here.
THE PRESIDENT: But maybe next time. But it is something that is going to be important. I want people to recognize, though, that we are going to be making a series of initiatives. Sending George Mitchell to the Middle East is fulfilling my campaign promise that we're not going to wait until the end of my administration to deal with Palestinian and Israeli peace, we're going to start now. It may take a long time to do, but we're going to do it now. We're going to follow through on our commitment for me to address the Muslim world from a Muslim capital. We are going to follow through on many of my commitments to do a more effective job of reaching out, listening, as well as speaking to the Muslim world.
And you're going to see me following through with dealing with a drawdown of troops in Iraq, so that Iraqis can start taking more responsibility. And finally, I think you've already seen a commitment, in terms of closing Guantanamo, and making clear that even as we are decisive in going after terrorist organizations that would kill innocent civilians, that we're going to do so on our terms, and we're going to do so respecting the rule of law that I think makes America great.
Q President Bush framed the war on terror conceptually in a way that was very broad, "war on terror," and used sometimes certain terminology that the many people -- Islamic fascism. You've always framed it in a different way, specifically against one group called al Qaeda and their collaborators. And is this one way of --
THE PRESIDENT: I think that you're making a very important point. And that is that the language we use matters. And what we need to understand is, is that there are extremist organizations -- whether Muslim or any other faith in the past -- that will use faith as a justification for violence. We cannot paint with a broad brush a faith as a consequence of the violence that is done in that faith's name.
And so you will I think see our administration be very clear in distinguishing between organizations like al Qaeda -- that espouse violence, espouse terror and act on it -- and people who may disagree with my administration and certain actions, or may have a particular viewpoint in terms of how their countries should develop. We can have legitimate disagreements but still be respectful. I cannot respect terrorist organizations that would kill innocent civilians and we will hunt them down.
But to the broader Muslim world what we are going to be offering is a hand of friendship.
Q Can I end with a question on Iran and Iraq then quickly?
THE PRESIDENT: It's up to the team --
MR. GIBBS: You have 30 seconds. (Laughter.)
Q Will the United States ever live with a nuclear Iran? And if not, how far are you going in the direction of preventing it?
THE PRESIDENT: You know, I said during the campaign that it is very important for us to make sure that we are using all the tools of U.S. power, including diplomacy, in our relationship with Iran.
Now, the Iranian people are a great people, and Persian civilization is a great civilization. Iran has acted in ways that's not conducive to peace and prosperity in the region: their threats against Israel; their pursuit of a nuclear weapon which could potentially set off an arms race in the region that would make everybody less safe; their support of terrorist organizations in the past -- none of these things have been helpful.
But I do think that it is important for us to be willing to talk to Iran, to express very clearly where our differences are, but where there are potential avenues for progress. And we will over the next several months be laying out our general framework and approach. And as I said during my inauguration speech, if countries like Iran are willing to unclench their fist, they will find an extended hand from us.
Q Shall we leave Iraq next interview, or just --
MR. GIBBS: Yes, let's -- we're past, and I got to get him back to dinner with his wife.
Q Sir, I really appreciate it.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you so much.
Q Thanks a lot.
THE PRESIDENT: I appreciate it.
Q Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
END 6:03 P.M. EST
Wednesday, January 28
They get this interesting response:
Your atheist readers make the classic move of pretending to be the referee when in fact they are just another player on the field. They are treating it as an intellectual puzzle rather than what it actually is for every last of us: a lived commitment. This is why the term "Atheist" itself is so misleading. You're an atheist, fine. I'm an A-Vishnuist, and an A-Buddhist, and an A-Teapotist. Telling me what you don't believe tells me very little, but it's a really cool way to get into the conversation in such a way that everyone has to defend their positions except you -- you get to attack.Analogies can be fun: what if I live on a boat in international water -- or would that be agnosticism?
This would be valid were this merely an intellectual exercise. There you can usefully indulge the distinctly modern prejudice that doubt is more reasonable than belief. But you can no more avoid making a positive choice about the source of meaning in your life and the universe than you can avoid living in some country. You can talk about which country is best to live in, but the atheist pretends you can live in no country at all.
You gotta live somewhere, and you gotta believe in something, because your beliefs are being expressed every day in how you live your life. Atheists should be forced to articulate their positive position (say, secular humanism) as price of admission to the conversation. So when your reader wants to "put the burden of proof on the one making a specific, positive claim," I simply point out that living your life is a specific, positive claim, and thus everyone has to bear the burden of proof equally.
But I don't see why we should have to bear a burden of proof if I'm not making a positive claim. I too am an A-Vishnuist, an A-Buddhist, an A-Teapotist, but also an a-theist. Living my life is not a "specific, positive claim" any more than a monkey or a dog living its life is a "specific, positive claim". We're all atheists unless we have a positive belief in something that qualifies as "theism". Some of us atheists might be "secular humanists", others not.
I am secular. But I am not a humanist, because I believe that future nonhuman sapient beings should be persons too. There is nothing about my philosophy of life that restricts itself to humanity, other than the fact that humans are currently the only known sentient beings.
Come on m'am, the point of a stimulus during a recession is for the government to borrow at low rates and spend it _now_ to prop up the economy into recovery, then pay for it later. Of course there's going to be interest on borrowed money, that's what happens when you spend money ahead of time. But to argue that $35 billion/year is an unreasonable interest rate is ridiculous. That works out to approximately 4.24% average APR on $825 billion. If this were unreasonable then nobody would ever get a mortgage.
And the total nominal interest on a 250K 15 year mortgage @ 5% is over 100 thousand dollars. On a thirty year it would be nearly equal to the original principal amount. And I didn't even need government accountant to tell me that.D'oh
345 billion over ten years is:
0.2% of likely GDP over that period
about 4% of our current debt load
about half of what our deficit is going to be just this year.
Numbers without context are something I expect from various nanny state scaremongers and others with similar aims.
TPM: Republican National Comittee members decide they no longer like President Bush, just in time for his no longer being president anymore.
Sigh. Mostly lockstep support for 8 years, but now:
As they begin meeting in Washington today, many members of the Republican National Committee are focusing their ire against what they considered George W. Bush's anti-conservative policies and trying to dump the man he tapped to run the GOP.They're right, Bush represents an abandonment of the Goldwater-Reagan conservatism I'd like to support again. But for them to come out and say so now after he's done all this damage to the conservative cause is immensely frustrating. The GOP has no credibility with the public at this late hour. It's become the party of the Bush-Cheney-Palin axis, and it will take a decade to recover from that image.
Tuesday, January 27
Someone needs to educate the WSJ on how human capital works.
The terrorist aim of getting under our skin and provoking irrational behavior has been accomplished.
Monday, January 26
Gov. Jim Doyle signed an executive order Friday creating a new office to advise officials on how to spend the potentially billions in federal stimulus money the state is expected to receive from President Barack Obama’s administration in the coming months.Yay, more bureaucrats! No word yet on new positions in the Office of Redundancy Office.
The Office of Recovery and Reinvestment is designed to help the government spend the money quickly and wisely by identifying potential spending obstacles and working with schools and local governments, according to Doyle spokesperson Carla Vigue.
One of the goals is to jumpstart the economy through job growth in a variety of different sectors, including University of Wisconsin System projects, Vigue added.
It turns out Ecuador has no death penalty, so Pedro, who has served the maximum sentence of 20 years, was secretly released in Colombia in 1999. So he served about three weeks for each person he killed. That seems fair.!! More at CRACKED.
But now: parody!
- ► 2010 (454)
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- Now you tell us
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- The end of the culture wars
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- ▼ January (254)