Defending the virtues of liberty, free markets, and civilization... plus some commentary on the passing scene.

Freedom's Fidelity

Friday, February 27, 2004

InstaPundit Republish

I'm reposting this exactly as the InstaPundit did on his famous blog because it highlights such a clear example of the hypocrisy and politics surrounding the Iraq war, especially when contrasted with U.S. intervention in the Balkans. He quotes this article, ALBRIGHT LIED -- PEOPLE DIED:

THE HAGUE -- The prosecution in Slobodan Milosevic's war crimes trial moved yesterday to rest its case two days early as the chief prosecutor conceded her team had not produced "the smoking gun" to convict the former Yugoslav president of genocide, the most serious charge against him.

Glenn's comments:
No doubt we'll see handwringing, doubts about intelligence reliability, and charges that the Clinton Administration "sexed up" intelligence and misrepresented Milosevic as a genocidal dictator in order to build support for unilateral action that even Wesley Clark called technically illegal but justified on the basis of an "imminent threat" of genocide, one that is now, of course, completely undermined by the absence of a "smoking gun." Massive criticism of the Clinton Administration's warmaking, which landed us in a "Balkan quagmire" from which we have yet to extricate ourselves, is sure to ensue.

Yeah, right, that's going to happen.
Apparently bombs dropped by a president with a 'D' in front of his name are perfectly acceptable (even without UN approval) while those dropped by a president with an 'R' in front of his name are immoral.

What's more troubling though than this double standard is that Milosevic may not be found guilty of genocide. THAT'S THE WHOLE REASON WE INTERVENED!! We knew it was going on and there is no shortage of dead bodies in the region that also knew it. It speaks of the absolute incompetence of The Hague and provides yet another compelling reason why we should ignore the U.N.'s desire to hold Saddam Hussein's trial there. What a farce, I would feel more comfortable with the O.J. jury.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Gay Marriage in 2004

Yesterday Glenn Reynolds asked the Machiavellian question, "Is this why Bush made his statement right after Nader entered the race?"

Whether or not that was the thinking behind this I'm not sure, but Glenn does note here that the proposal changes the status quo in no real way. Individual states would still be allowed to decide for themselves whether or not they want to recognize same sex civil unions. This is the position that Bush and Kerry (and Edwards) take - they are against "gay marriage" but would allow for "civil unions."

So what makes the timing Machiavellian? This: Kerry can come off the fence and take the politically unpopular position of unqualified support for gay marriage, but he risks alienating a not insignificant part of his constituency. Blacks and union laborers are not traditionally sympathetic to gay issues but represent an important piece of the Democrats base. If Kerry were to take the "unqualified support" position it could easily tilt some of these union would-be Kerry voters towards Bush, especially if they supported the war. On the other hand, if Kerry continues to take the "civil unions" approach a significant number of people - gays and single issue voters on this - may be so offended by Kerry's reluctance to challenge Bush on the issue that they'll throw their support to Nader, who does support the right of gays to wed. In either case it seems quite plausible that the issue will cause Kerry to lose more votes than it will Bush. The decision left to the Kerry camp would then be to figure out which position causes him the least harm. On that I think they have spoken.

Of course, there are supporters of Bush that are disgusted with his position on this, I'm one of them, but I support the Bush doctrine on tax cuts and the war on terror. Both those issues trump gay marriage, and even if they didn't, people like me (Libertarians that support the war) would find little comfort in Nader's camp. There's just nowhere else to go.

As I said, I do support gay marriage, but I think this change should come through the legislature or state by state court rulings as happened in Massachusetts. Earlier this month that process was under way as the Massachusetts ruling turned the legal tide in favor of gay marriage. That tide is now threatened by the mayor of San Francisco who's decided to change the law according to his whim. I mentioned before that pushing the envelope in this way could invite a backlash, and it seems that is now fully underway. It threatens to roll back the recent progress that the Massachusetts court started. Unlike the civil rights movement there is no reason for civil disobedience here, the mythical concept of "separate but equal" (i.e. civil unions) was voided in the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling earlier this month, the country was put on course towards acceptance of gay marriage. Because of the circumvention of the courts and legislature in California now, we are straying from that path. That' not good for gays.

The Cubs Curse via The Bartman Ball

Okay, I shouldn't call it the Bartman ball, at least not in a way that faults the guy for the Cubs loss. They lost it, period. He did what any fan would do and a lot of fans were reaching for the ball, he just happened to touch it. But I can't help but think that this is why they hate us:
In the final months leading up to its execution, the condemned has been talked about ceaselessly, gawked at shamelessly, photographed excessively and guarded in a manner befitting royalty.

The last days of a young but illustrious life were spent mostly in seclusion, though the final 24 hours include plans for a whirlwind tour of the city, a national television appearance, an overnight stay in the sumptuous suite of a luxury hotel and, yes, a final meal of steak and lobster.

The end will come in spectacular, undoubtedly pyrotechnic fashion at precisely 7:31 p.m. Thursday, before a local throng and a global gallery, many of whom will celebrate what they believe in all their hearts to be the death of a curse and the exorcism of demons that have haunted this city for decades.

....For security reasons, DePorter has not publicized when the ball is to be displayed and frequently has it locked in a bank vault.

"It's kind of like a President Bush appearance," he said. "You don't want to broadcast plans."

Thirteen surveillance cameras are trained on the ball inside the reinforced, tempered-glass case, with two alarms tied directly to the police station. At its peak exposure, when the ball is traveling to Wrigley Field on Wednesday, a day before its destruction, 11 armed guards will accompany it, DePorter said.
It's very strange, the event is being covered worldwide, there is a news agency from Pakistan here to cover it. (Though I haven't seen any Al-Jazeera news vans tooling around town to date.) The details of the manner in which it is going to be destroyed have been kept secret, but it is supposed to be pretty spectacular. The guy in charge of its destruction won an academy award for his special effects work on "Jurassic Park" and is also an Oscar winner. For real.

The ball was purchased by a managing partner at Harry Caray's restaurant for $113,824.16, but given the publicity the ball's destruction will garner, this was nothing short than a publicity coup for him.

Some fans suggested ways to destroy the ball. I think my favorite was to start it on fire with Harry Caray's trademark coke bottle glasses and have Steve Bartman drop the ashes over Yankee Stadium. Too funny.

In all fairness I should note that the event, taking place tomorrow evening, hopes to raise $1,000,000 for diabetes. That's a noble cause, and probably another reason they hate us.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Just Dial 911?

From the Chicago Tribune:
A Wilmette man who was cited for violating the village's handgun ban after he shot an intruder in his kitchen has invoked U.S. Supreme Court rulings on sodomy and pornography laws to argue that the gun ban violates his privacy rights, his lawyer said.

Hale DeMar's attorney has asked a Cook County circuit judge to dismiss his case and order the village to pay DeMar's legal bills.

"I want the court to say, 'The Village of Wilmette cannot come into his home and take his gun under this ordinance. They are invading his right to privacy,'" said Robert Orman, DeMar's attorney.

But legal experts said that although the defense strategy is original and possibly unprecedented, it is a long shot, because the courts have wide latitude to determine what is protected under constitutional privacy guarantees.

Demar was charged with misdemeanors for illegally owning a pair of handguns and faces a fine of $750. Robert Orman (Demar's lawyer), cited the recent Supreme Court decision that upheld a right to privacy and overturned Texas' sodomy laws, and argues that the village and its gun-ban ordinance "punish Demar for protecting himself and his family" and "strip Demar of his constitutional right to privacy in the home." He also emphasized that they are not necessarily seeking to overturn the ban but instead add a "judicial gloss" that would prevent its enforcement in cases of self-defense.

Village attorney, Tim Frenzer, of course disagrees, characterizing Demar's defense as "completely lacking in merit" and "beyond reasonable debate." The default advice seems to be: "Just dial 911." But the police can't be everywhere and certainly can't prevent every crime. Lots of them happen (598 murders in Chicago last year - and the city has a gun ban). Not only can they not prevent all (or even most) crimes, the government has no legal obligation to do so. Courts have continually reaffirmed that police owe a duty to protect the public in general, but not to protect any particular individual.

So here's the situation, the government creates a police force and a 911 emergency system, then announces to the world that you are prohibited from obtaining private defense in the form of firearms. Of course, because the police can't be everywhere, violent criminals still possess these weapons and now they know that you don't.

Demar is all to aware of this. The intruder that he shot, Mario Billings, forced his way into his house for the second time in 24 hours. The police were unable to prevent the same crime perpetrated by the same man in the same location twice in the span of a day. If Demar had followed the law he and his family would have been left defenseless holding a telephone instead of a gun.

The police can't always protect you, so you rely on 911. Unfortunately, emergency response teams rarely get to the scene in time to prevent the crime, and they don't have a legal obligation to show up at all so you can't sue (assuming you've survived the incident). Too often citizens dial 911 and die, and assuming Demar loses his case, government policy will continue to turn people into crime statistics.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Don't mess with Rummy!

Poe News highlights the many fighting styles of Donald Rumsfeld.

There are so many good ones, you need to look at the whole collection, but here are a couple of favorites:



(link via InstaPundit)

UPDATE: I don't know why, but the pictures sometimes load slow or not at all, just follow the above link to see them all.

UPDATE II: Problem fixed.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

The Politics of Polio

Despite the Vatican's fancy that - but for the sins of U.S. drug companies - disease in Africa would be wiped out, the problems are actually complex and many:

Immunizing toddlers with mouth drops has reduced the number of polio cases from 350,000 children annually in the 1980s to fewer than 800 worldwide last year. Yet the virus is spreading again from Nigeria, where UN officials say a third of the world's cases are the result of a vaccine boycott.

Amid rising tensions worldwide between Muslims and the West, Nigeria's Muslims are heeding allegations that the vaccine is a U.S. plot to spread AIDS or infertility.

Since October, three northern Nigerian states have banned door-to-door vaccinations until they are satisfied the vaccines do not contain harmful substances.

"Since Sept. 11, the Muslim world . . . is beginning to be suspicious of any move from the Western world," said Sule Ya'u Sule, spokesman for the governor of Kano, one of the states where the vaccine is banned. "Our people have become really concerned about polio vaccine."
This statement is reflective of the blame America first (and for everything else) mentality. We suffer an attack perpetrated by religious fundamentalists so it is us that should be viewed suspiciously. Huh? Taken to its logical conclusion this means.... well it means there is no logic so I'm not going to look for it. It's conspiracy theory so thick that some choose to just die because they think the U.N. may be killing them. Here's more:
But fears mounted last year after Datti Ahmed, a Kano physician who heads a prominent Muslim group, the Supreme Council for Shariah in Nigeria, said polio vaccines were "corrupted and tainted by evildoers from America and their Western allies."

Subsequent tests initiated by the federal government in Nigeria and South Africa proved the vaccines were free of all harmful substances, officials say.

"We believe that modern-day Hitlers have deliberately adulterated the oral polio vaccines with anti-fertility drugs and contaminated with certain viruses which are known to cause HIV-AIDS," Ahmed, in glasses and a threadbare gray robe, said from his front porch in Kano.

Ahhh there we have it. The typical Islamo-Fascist battle cry cliche', mention American evildoers, make the Hitler comparison and create more sick and dying Muslims that can be blamed on the infidel. But these are the obstacles that we have and will continue to face. It's almost as baffling as it is tragic. Of course there are countless Nigerians that gladly benefit from the vaccine and modern medicine and if you think that these types of conspiracy theories (wacky as they are) are unique to Muslim culture then you need to ask some people where AIDS and crack may have originated. Even so, it's tempting to say that if we aren't going to be appreciated, lets keep our money and medicines for ourselves and go home. But that would be the wrong choice. We are the United States, and amidst all of our imperfections, this is what we do.

Guantanamo Bay and Living Standards

How high is our standard of living compared to the rest of the world? So high that our terrorist detention centers often provide prisoners with more amenities (like food!) than the backwards lands from which they were plucked:
NAW ZAD, Afghanistan -- Ismail Agha was a slight, illiterate village boy of 13 when his family last saw him 14 months ago. When he reappeared last week, he was 3 inches taller, his voice had deepened, his chin had sprouted a black beard, and he had learned to read, write and do basic math.

Agha's transformation occurred mostly in a place called Camp Iguana, a seaside compound within the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he and two other young Afghan teenagers suspected of belonging to the extremist Taliban militia were confined together for more than 12 months until their release Jan. 29.

The detention of minors at Guantanamo, where about 650 people with suspected links to Islamic militants are being held, has been criticized by human-rights groups.

But Agha, who spoke with a foreign journalist Wednesday in this town in the southern province of Helmand, described his experience as closer to being in a tropical boarding school than a prison.

"Me go to Cuba, speak English now," he said with a proud grin as he sat in the police station in Naw Zad. Agha's native village, Durabin, is a poor farming community in the mountains

Transplanted to a modern U.S. military base half a world away, the shy youth said he saw the ocean for the first time, played soccer, slept in an air-conditioned room and showered twice a day after growing up in a village without plumbing or electricity.

"We could even turn the lights on and off when we wanted," he said, lapsing quickly into native Pashtu.
Saddam's prisons had electricity too, unfortunately it wasn't of the type that could be flipped on and off at the prisoners will. Oh, and it was plugged into their private parts not an overhead reading light.
Once he arrived at Guantanamo, Agha said, there were no more questions and no more threats, only school, exercise, Muslim prayers and dorm life with two other young Afghans he had never met before. He said both were from Paktia province, one his age and one a little younger, and that he knew them only as Asadullah and Naqibullah.

The boys lived in a house with several rooms: a shared sleeping room and an adjoining room for eating and studying. On one side they could see the ocean, but the other three sides were blocked by high walls and barbed wire, and they never saw or spoke with the adult prisoners. They wore red pants and shirts at all times.

Each day, Agha said they were taught English, Pashtu and basic math by Afghan-American teachers. They were also given copies of the Koran. Each night, four U.S. soldiers took turns sleeping in the second room. On Wednesday, he asked to send greetings to all of them but said he never learned their names.

The most difficult aspect of his confinement, Agha said, was being out of contact with his family and worrying about them. As the oldest son, his father depended on him to help support the family.
What happened when it was time for Agha to leave for home?
"They gave me a party and said I could have anything I wanted to eat, so I asked for Pepsi and chicken kabob," he said. Then he and the other two boys were put on a plane, again in shackles but this time without being hooded.

"I didn't recognize my son even when he came up and kissed my hand," Hayatullah said. "He was much taller and a little fatter, and he had a beard. Also he told me he had learned to read."

The old man sat up and smiled. "My son got an education in America."

Agha is far from the first to come home with some extra weight, Slate first reported on the "Guantanamo 13" last May:
Is America the only country in the world that could run a prison camp where prisoners gain weight? Between April 2002 and March 2003, the Joint Task Force returned to Afghanistan 19 of the approximately 664 men (from 42 countries) who have been held in the detention camps at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay. Upon leaving, it has been reported, each man received two parting gifts: a brand new copy of the Koran as well as a new pair of jeans. Not the act of generosity that it might first appear, the jeans, at least, turned out to be a necessity. During their stay (14-months on average), the detainees (nearly all of them) had gained an average of 13 pounds.
And without McDonald's!?!

Governments all over the world imprison citizens simply for their religious beliefs. By contrast the United States takes measures to ensure that captives may continue to practice their religion, even if it was a warped version of those beliefs that drove them to take up arms against us in the first place.

Parties, food, education, fresh copies of the Koran, indoor plumbing, and electricity. With all the real human rights atrocities being committed in places such as North Korea, it seems a bit wasteful to spend resources criticizing the treatment of suspected terrorists, captured in battle, that are allowed religious freedom and fed full meals (in Afghanistan people often boil grass to survive). If anything, releasing them back to the Middle East may make thier lives worse.

Sunday, February 15, 2004

OPEC vs The Market

In my Chaos is Progress post I briefly discussed why the cartels such as OPEC rarely reach their goals. This Reuters story supports that:
OPEC members so far show no sign of meeting their pledge to stop 1.5 million barrels per day of over-production, with March crude allocations to key customers unchanged from those for February, traders said on Friday.

Trade sources named Iran and Kuwait as the latest OPEC members to have kept supplies steady, despite the cartel's announcement in Algiers on Tuesday that it would eliminate production above OPEC's official output ceiling with immediate effect.

Earlier this week, customers of Saudi Arabia in Europe and Asia said they expected March supplies to be unchanged from February levels, while oil traders said it would be very difficult for Nigeria to reduce March oil availability because most of it had already been sold.

Sales from the United Arab Emirates to their main customers in Asia also were unchanged.

"I haven't had any communication which says production will be coming down," said one trading source at a Nigerian producer.
The downside of collusion is that it creates a tremendous incentive for members to cheat, especially if they are motivated by money. OPEC's strategy is to keep prices artificially high by limiting output, if prices start to trend downward they will respond by cutting supply, or at least announcing they will. As the Reuters article indicates though, OPEC's declarations often don't translate into reality. The real world responds to incentives, and an artificially high price provides profit potential for increased production. Regular cheating has been a hallmark since OPEC's inception because of the prisoner's dilemma it creates. Each member nation could assume that every other member will follow the rules and everyone will be better off. Some members though will operate under the more realistic assumption that at least one other will ignore protocol. In this case, the members will find it in their own best interest to increase production and take the profits before the other cheaters do. The net effect is downward pressure on prices of gasoline and other oil based commodities - prices that, in real terms, have been steadily falling since the 70's. In my neighborhood a 20 oz bottle of water goes for about $1.25 and 64 oz of gas for $1.99. You do the math. OPEC is no match for Adam Smith's invisible hand.

Aww Christ!

This is an organization that for years has systematically covered up the molestation of children and still can't bring itself to live by a zero tolerance policy. An organization that views gay marriage as evil, but feels compassion for Saddam Hussein. An organization that now compares the acts of monsters like Hussein to that of U.S. drug companies that create jobs and lead the global advancement of medicine. Once again the Vatican shows that it just doesn't get it:

"Today, at least 400 people die in Kenya every day because of AIDS. Yet in Europe and North America it is no longer a fatal disease, it is only a chronic disease," said Father Angelo D'Agostino, a Jesuit priest who runs an AIDS orphanage in Nairobi.

"Why the difference? It is the genocidal action of the drug cartels who refuse to make the drugs affordable in Africa even after they reported a 517 billion dollar profit in 2002."
Apparently, working to create drugs that can actually treat AIDS is not enough, Western drug companies are now responsible for raising Africa's standard of living. Despite any prayers to the contrary, there is simply no way to "make drugs affordable." Prices are not just arbitrary numbers assigned to a product - they convey information, they tell us of the resources and trade-offs necessary for a certain output. If the price of drugs are "high" that is because the cost of researching and manufacturing them is also high. If the Vatican believes that drugs can cost less, they are free to show lead the way by assembling a team of researchers and developers that hold advanced degrees and will work for free. Otherwise, STOP condemning those that are actually doing something to help the problem and START codemning the culture of political corruptions and the conditions that feed its persistence.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Angry Gays and Marriage

Arthur Sibler has some scathing comments for John Kerry's stance on gay marriage, the offending remarks:
Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, the front-runner for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination, said last week: "I believe and have fought for the principle that we should protect the fundamental rights of gay and lesbian couples - from inheritance to health benefits. I believe the right answer is civil unions. I oppose gay marriage and disagree with the Massachusetts court's decision."
and Sibler's scathing response:
If Kerry believes in "the fundamental rights of gay and lesbian couples," then exactly why does he "oppose gay marriage"? Because of the name? Because of the label? Because it might make him appear to be too friendly with all those queers and faggots? Because it might cost him some votes?

I will be blunt: I'm sick of this shit. The answer to Mr. Kerry, and to any other Democrat who uses this evasive ploy, was contained in the Massachusetts decision that Kerry disagrees with (which I first excerpted here):

Go read the whole thing, the answer is quite devastating for those that seek this half position of a non-ban ban.

In a poll that Sibler links to the legalization of gay marriage is opposed by a 2-1 margin in the U.S. Interestingly enough, though 49% also opposed a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Sibler thinks that will make this a tricky election issue. I disagree. Assuming Bush doesn't come out for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage (and he won't) both candidates will continue to play the middle ground. Neither will outright support a constitutional ban, but both will qualify their stance with something along the lines of "Marriage, by definition, is between a man and woman" and then go on to talk about how they believe in equal rights for all people.

Don't look for a courageous stand by either candidate as both risk alienating a not insignificant core of their base. For the Republicans it is the religious right, and for the Democrats it is blacks and organized labor that are traditionally unsympathetic to gay issues.

All that said, the outlook for legalized gay marriage is bright. A constitutional amendment specifically supporting gay marriage is not necessary, or appropriate, as it is likely will be found already there. Which, incidentally, is probably why those that oppose gay marriage feel they need an amendment banning it. But the decision should be left to the states, that's what's nice about living in a federal system. If one state offers something more appealing you are free to go there. This has the nice effect of keeping states honest. That is, if one state's moral or tax laws become overbearing or offensive, one can simply relocate to one that is more congenial. Not everyone who likes life in Chicago would feel the same about Utah. And as much as some in Utah would like to impose their values on Illinois there is absolutely no reason to do so when both can be had.

With so many states forbidding gay marriage it is healthy to have a few in the union that don't. That is why the Massachusetts decision should be seen as a good thing. However, it would be wrong to allow a decision made by a few justices in Massachusetts to be imposed upon the other 49 members of the union. States should maintain the right to decide for themselves whether or not they want to recognize gay marriage, whether that be through legislative or judiciary channels. Without major public support for the effort though, trying to impose legalized same sex marriage on the country wholesale would risk the backlash of a constitutional amendment specifically outlawing it. Given that support for gay marriage among young people is high, the Massachusetts experiment could go a long way towards showing the rest of the country that the fabric of society won't tatter because gays can now be formally recognized for being in a committed monogamous relationship. If within 20 years gay marriage is not a widely accepted practice in the United States I would be awfully surprised.

Now, as to why homosexuals would want to become part of a failing heterosexual institution and allow a bunch of divorce lawyers into their collective pockets is quite another thing, but hey, that's their decision.

More War

I'm tired of writing about the war. I'm especially tired of revisiting the argument after it's been done. We've invaded Iraq and removed Saddam Hussein, what a horrible thing..... I guess the implication is that we should put him back in power, but I'd like to hear John Kerry say that. If that isn't his position then I'd like to hear some ideas on how he can make Iraq better, unless he plans a complete pullout. The "Bush lied people died" line makes a nice rhyme for a protester's construction board, but it has little basis in reality, as I've mentioned before here and here. (This second link is one of my first posts back in June. Here it is 8 months later and still an issue!) What makes it even more curious is that this was never a point of contention before the war. There was an incredible international consensus regarding Saddam's possession of banned weapons. The question was always what to do about it.

I think it's quite possible (even likely) that WMD's could still be found. We all saw the spider hole that Saddam was pulled from, there are quite a few holes out in the desert of Iraq. (Hey, we're still finding Hitler's weapons in Germany). It's all politics. I know this because there was never one public argument about the substance of the intelligence. The implication is that they supported the war because Bush tricked them. But since when did they start listening to Bush? No, the vast majority of those that were against the war believed that Saddam possessed WMD's but opposed action regardless. As far as I was concerned WMD was never the sole reason anyway. For an airplane to crash, it takes what they call a "cascading of events." In other words, lots of things that hardly ever fail individually all fail at the same time. There was a cascading of reasons to remove Hussein, it never hinged solely on WMD, at least as far as I was concerned. Here are some of them:

-- Saddam was in continued material breach of countless UN resolutions.

-- Saddam was the most brutal dictator in the world responsible for the deaths of up to 3 million people.

-- Saddam attempted to assassinate a United States President.

-- Saddam had a demonstrated desire to rule and control the oil rich region by force.

-- Removing Saddam would remove the most prominent obstacle to spreading tolerant and individual rights based societies in the region - the ONLY long-term solution to the war on terror.

-- The Israeli/Palestinian conflict could not be ended as long as one of the major financiers was still in power.

-- Saddam's ambition for weapons could not be stopped in any other way. He gave up billions of dollars in the form of sanctions to keep inspectors out.

-- In this country we don't trust corporations to show concern for consumers without massive safety regulations, why are we trusting Saddam to not pass along weapons or weapons technology to terrorist organizations?

Saddam is often referred to as a survivor, and to some extent that is true. However that doesn't mean he's not a mad man. Remember he started two wars with impossible odds of winning, openly supported terror of a nuclear neighbor, and bet that Bush would follow the lead of France when it came to America's foreign policy. Hardly the acts of a completely rational man.

But there I go again, the reason I started this entry was to point to this link filled post that ties the whole WMD and "Bush lied" silliness together. Go check it out.

(Link via InstaPundit.)

Saturday, February 07, 2004

More on Federalism in Iraq

As a follow up on my Chaos/Progress post, I want to point out some thoughts on a federalist Iraq from famed Iraqi blogger Salam Pax:
I have been standing on the wrong side of the fence concerning the Kurdish issue. Even before the war, when people were theoretically discussing future models of Iraq the idea of a federal state made me feel a bit uneasy, the thought that the Kurds might not like us Arab-Iraqis at all was always brushed away.

I needed to hear someone talk about the issue form a very Arab-Nationalistic point of view to realize that I am not looking at the other side at all. The Arab nation is a myth that many Arabs still believe in, the main problem with that point of view is that it forgets the diversity of traditions, culture and races in the so-called Arab world.

The way I saw it was, the Kurds HAD to stick to Iraq, the bonds, the ties, "Kurds and Arabs united" and all that. Well, it is all bullshit. It is actually Arab Iraqis who seriously need to beg Kurds to stay along for the difficult ride the rest of the country is going to go thru the next couple of years.

The Kurds have been thru this and an almost working democracy and governing system has emerged after 13 years of self rule. We will be the unwanted load on their shoulders. We should be grateful if they agreed to stay within the boundaries of Iraq as part of a federation.
It's a point I hadn't much thought of. The Kurds have been generally autonomous and self-ruling since Gulf War I. Their successes present a strong real world antidote to the "Middle East is culturally incapable of self-rule" meme and their experience should help to start Iraq down the right path.

Thursday, February 05, 2004

Amer Tehari: Chaos is Progress

Free societies are messy, especially in their infancy. Even mature democracies often appear disjointed and random. That is why I think Amer Tehari (a Middle East analyst that we should all be reading more of) writes that, in Iraq, much of this "chaos" is progress:
The new Iraq, as it is emerging, will be full of uncertainties. But that is precisely why the liberation war was justified. Under Saddam, the Iraqis faced only the certainty of concentration camps and mass graves.
The Iraqis are now free to debate all aspects of their individual and national life. Like other normal societies, Iraq is home to different, often conflicting, views on many issues. The fact that these views are now expressed without fear is a positive achievement of the liberation.
Democracy includes the freedom to demonstrate, especially against those in charge, and to "tear each other apart" in the media and town-hall debates. It includes the difficulty of reaching consensus on major issues. It is only in a despotic regime that complex issues can be settled with a nod from the tyrant.
Those who follow Iraqi politics would know that Iraq today is the only Arab country where all shades of opinion are now free to express themselves and to compete for influence and power in a free market of ideas. (Even the Ba'athists, whose party was formally banned after the liberation, are beginning to group in a number of local clubs.)
This is simply politics as usual. Yes, there are protests against the U.S. coalition. The Shi'ites, Kurds, and Arab Sunnis all have their own demands and are jockeying for political influence in the new Iraq. Some believe the constitution should name Islam as the official religion while others campaign for a secular state. Some (such as the Kurds) prefer a more federalist state that would allow for more regional autonomy, while others (such as the Sunni's and Shi'ite's) favor a strong central government.

What about foreign policy? Tehari summarizes these two issues that I think are of particular significance:
*Some parties want Iraq to withdraw from OPEC, the Arab League and the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) and, instead, seek some form of association with the European Union. Others insist that the new constitution should preserve Iraq's traditional foreign relations.

*There are deep divisions on economic philosophy. The Kurds, and some Arab Sunnis, seek a welfare state in which the public sector provides the basic services free of charge. Many Shi'ites want a free-enterprise market economy to prepare Iraq for joining the World Trade Organization.
These issues carry major implications for the future of Iraq. It would be in their interest to seek association with the EU. As troubled as it is, OPEC is much worse and would offer little benefit to a resource rich, free Iraq. The idea of collusion and price fixing is certainly attractive as a money making venture, especially when (as is the condition with OPEC) it is perfectly legal. The drawback of collusion though is that it ends up creating an even greater incentive for its members to cheat. For example, OPEC agrees to sell X number of barrels at a price of $30 a barrel. Each member could make even more money if, under the table, they were to sell more than X number of barrels at $29. That is why the price of commodities such as gasoline have (in real terms) continually DECREASED over the last 20-30 years, despite OPEC's goal of the opposite. The leaders of these Arab countries never offered much help for Iraqi citizens as they were tyrannized by Hussein anyway, it would be in Iraq's own best interest to return the favor. Embracing free markets, with an eye towards becoming a part of the global economy would be a nice start for Iraq.

But it's up to them. Whatever decisions are reached will lay the foundation for their society and of course, have a long lasting effect on the identity of Iraq. Given the gravity of these issues, it should be expected that passions run high during debate. The people and political figures have a right, indeed a duty, to listen to all sides, sophisticated or otherwise. Remember we are talking about a people that for the last thirty years have been tortured, jailed, or killed if they expressed their own opinions, a people that have experienced a lifetime of the horrors that concentrated political power can unleash. These experiences should cause them to be especially cautious about handing too much power to one position of government.

The coalition has been right so far to resist the temptation to acquiesce to specific interest groups. It is surely a difficult thing to resist though. After all, if the United States was not committed to democracy in Iraq they could simply enforce a harsh crackdown on the whole country. This would certainly reduce our own casualties we suffer, but the risks are too great. Ruling in the manner that Saddam did would fatally compromise our integrity and commitment to democratic Iraq. Despite the fact that it would probably save U.S. soldier's lives in the short term, the coalition is right to resist the iron fist ruling that is so prevalent in the Middle East.

Dictatorships by their nature project an air of stability, but realize this characterization is utterly false. Under a authoritarian rule the horrors perpetrated by the powers that be cannot be shown by the media, it is only in a free society with a free press that suffering can be dramatized, which of course makes those free societies easier to undermine. Iraqi's finally have a chance to make a new life for themselves and the majority wants to seize this opportunity and make the most of it. The fact that open debates and protests are occurring without the consequences of torture and massacre by the whim of a mass murderer certainly qualifies as movement in the right direction.

Monday, February 02, 2004

The Carnival of the Capitalists

This week's Carnival of the Capitalists is up. It's a roundup of the weeks best posts on business, economics, marketing, taxes, and more! Once again I am proud to have my latest post included for this week. Don't miss it!!


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