Sunday, December 31, 2006

I’ve had a blast this year

2006 ends with a Packers victory over the Bears in Chicago. Immediately afterwards Brett Favre acts like he knows it is his last game. A Bears fan writes about the opponent.

Rick Moran: But Favre is more than simply a mold-breaker. He is a true throwback – an in your face, smash mouth, chip on the shoulder, swaggering gunslinger of a signal caller with the heart of a champion and the soul of a warrior. He is not enamored of football as a ballet or an art form as some who may take pride in the beauty of a well executed play or the breathtaking thrill of a perfectly spiraling ball arching over the hands of a DB into the waiting arms of a receiver hit in full stride.

It’s not that Favre is incapable of such play; it’s just that his brilliance lies not in perfection but rather in what might be termed anti-perfection. I have seen Brett Favre complete passes 20 yards down the field while in the grasp of two tacklers and on the way down to the ground. I have seen him throw a two handed, basketball-like chest pass for a first down. I have seen him throw the ball sideways, sidearm, underhanded like a bowler and pushed like a shot putter.

And he is as tough a customer as anyone who ever played football. I’ve seen him absorb titanic hits and get up laughing. I have seen him take off running for a first down and by the sheer power of his will, bull his way for the necessary yardage. He has started in 236 regular season games, more than any other quarterback in history. He has done this despite broken fingers, tender toes, twisted knees, cracked elbows, sprained ankles, and numerous other nicks and bruises too many to list.

I like the idea of Favre the “anti-perfectionist”. In the comments there is a story where Favre leans over to friend and backup Doug Peterson in a team meeting and asks, “What the hell is a nickel defense?” Brett always conveys the feeling the bosses have the business worries and the players are simply there to play. In his post game interview number 4 says, “I’ve had a blast this year”.

Friday, December 29, 2006

WI Healthcare Primer

The Wisconsin Policy Research Institute has a good overview of the coming healthcare reform debate. I think it is important to understand that one major reason for the increasing cost of healthcare is that the historical insurance model began as a means to insure the hospitals and doctors were paid for their services. In other words, from the beginning the focus of third party financing has been on the right of the providers to be paid.

Wisconsin Healthcare Cost Primer (pdf): How did the Wisconsin health care consumer become a passive cog in a very expensive machine? Interestingly, the answer has its roots in the Great Depression when health care consumers were divorced from decisions about spending on their health. Hospitals, hit hard by the Great Depression, rushed to embrace plans for prepaid health care as a way to survive. In 1939 the American Hospital Association began allowing plans that met its standards to use the Blue Cross name and logo. State legislatures agreed not to treat Blue Cross plans as insurance, based on the rationale that they were owned by hospitals. This permitted Blue Cross plans to operate as non-profit corporations, escaping the 2% to 3% premiums generally charged private insurance companies, and exempted them from insurance company reserve requirements.

Worried that the hospitals would expand the Blue Cross concept into physician services, physicians began thinking about their own organization. By 1946 all of the prepaid physician services plans had affiliated and became known as Blue Shield. Since the primary concern of the early Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans was to ensure that hospitals and physicians were paid, the plans covered all costs, and everyone in the same geographic area paid the same price. This encouraged patients and their doctors to use medical care without worrying about costs. …

Two clear choices face those who would shape future U.S. health care policy. Continuing to follow old habits of layered regulation, third party payment, and increasing government control will continue the current cost spiral and the recent deterioration in patient care. To protect a bankrupt Medicare program, government involvement will be extended into every nook and cranny of U.S. medical care. The regulatory overload will end private medicine and encourage those who can afford it to purchase their health care abroad.

The other choice is to deregulate, returning insurance to its traditional role as protection against bankruptcy and promoting savings to pay for the higher health expenses that generally accompany old age. Let consumers spend their own money on health care, free of interference from professors with statistical studies and bureaucrats with specific notions of how people ought to behave. This is the choice that has the potential to stop the cost spiral, lower costs, and provide better health care for all Americans.

Americans can be good value consumers, but the medical community has successfully positioned themselves as deserving to be above market demand because of their special knowledge. Admittedly, medicine has increasingly shifted from a diagnostic to a therapeutic service and pricing should reflect the quality of service, but medicine is still fundamentally a commercial exchange, as opposed to a social entitlement, and consumer market forces need to come back into play.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Globalization Pullback

Those wacky capitalists at Wal-Mart are making a move to expand into India. Apparently the increasing wealth of the sub-continent is to tempting for the Americans to ignore. The only problem is that India does not allow direct foreign investment in retail so the creative minds find a local phone company which is willing, for the right price, to open a whole lot of stores.

India's Bharti to Invest 7.0 Billion Dollars in Deal with Wal-Mart: India's Bharti Enterprises, which tied up with Wal-Mart to start a nationwide chain of retail stores, said it will invest about 7.0 billion dollars in the project by 2010, according to a report. The group, which owns the country's top private phone firm, said it will set up 200 large stores and hundreds of smaller ones to cater to the increasingly affluent Indian middle class, estimated to be made up of 300 million people.

Globalization has removed many barriers to the flow of money across national borders, but after entering a country the cash flow is directed and divided according to the unique and local laws of local sovereignty. In other words, the flow of capital itself has virtually no predictive value on the resulting social outcomes. There are voices on the left ready to pronounce globalization a failure poised for retreat back into the presumed normalcy of local economies meeting the needs of local populations.

Globalization in Retreat: The process by which relatively autonomous national economies become functionally integrated into one global economy was touted as “irreversible.” … Fifteen years later, despite runaway shops and outsourcing, what passes for an international economy remains a collection of national economies. These economies are interdependent no doubt, but domestic factors still largely determine their dynamics. Globalization, in fact, has reached its high water mark and is receding.

The globalization of finance proceeded much faster than the globalization of production. But it proved to be the cutting edge not of prosperity but of chaos. The Asian financial crisis and the collapse of the economy of Argentina, which had been among the most doctrinaire practitioners of capital account liberalization, were two decisive moments in reality’s revolt against theory.

Even the studious capitalists at Morgan Stanley are willing to concede the world economy is due for some adjustments precisely because the results of spending are so different for capital and labor.

Global Economic Forum: Looking to 2007: On one level, there seems to be no stopping the powerful forces of globalization. Not only has the world just completed four years of the strongest global growth since the early 1970s, but in 2006, cross-border trade as a share of world GDP pierced the 30% threshold for the first time ever -- almost three times the portion prevailing during the last global boom over 30 years ago. What a great testament to the stunning successes of globalization!

On another level, however, there are increasingly disquieting signs. That’s because of a striking asymmetry in the benefits of globalization. While living standards have improved in many segments of the developing world, a new set of pressures is bearing down on the rich countries of the developed world. Most notably, an extraordinary squeeze on labor incomes has occurred in the industrial world -- an outcome that challenges the fundamental premises of the “win-win” models of globalization.

It is a great theory -- but it’s not working as advertised. The first win -- that going to the developing world -- is hard to dispute. China has led the way, with more than a quadrupling of its per capita GDP since the early 1990s. Other developing countries have lagged the Chinese experience but have still made considerable progress in boosting living standards.

The problem lies with the second win -- the supposed benefits accruing to the rich countries of the developed world. And that’s where the going has gotten especially tough. … I am not heralding the demise of globalization. What I suspect is that a partial backtracking is probably now at hand, as a leftward tilt of the body politic in the industrial world voices a strong protest over the extraordinary disparity that has opened up between the returns to capital and the rewards of labor. The extent of any backtracking is a verdict that lies in the hands of the politicians -- specifically, how far they are willing to go in legislating an effort to narrow this disparity.

What all this points to is a coming year where the politicians claiming to represent the working person are going to be shrill in their demands for economic change, and oblivious to the fact that money itself is not the problem. The way legislation treats money is the real issue. The one thing we know for sure is that the socialist model of confiscation and central planning is the wrong path for reform.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Will Funding Revive the Cold War?

Russian born Canadian academic Sergei Plekhanov postulates that world concerns about nuclear weapons are missing the proverbial elephant in the room.

The Nightmare Scenario: Now, the reality is that of the world’s estimated 22,000 nuclear weapons, about 21,000 belong to the U.S. and Russia, each of the two possessing nearly equal numbers and keeping about 1,000 of them ready for launching within 30 minutes. The rest are distributed in batches of a few hundred among France, the UK, China and Israel, while the new members of the “nuclear club,” India and Pakistan, possess a few dozens each. (Itemized inventories: The World's Nuclear Arsenals). …

This progress in arms control reflected the liberal internationalist worldview of the Clinton administration, which believed that U.S. interests would be better served by significant progress in nuclear arms control. As far as Russia was concerned, it needed deep reductions both because it could not afford the Soviet-era capabilities and because its new leadership, accepting the basics of the liberal internationalist outlook, did not need those capabilities. In 2000, governments were changed in both capitals, and U.S.-Russian relations entered a new stage.

Plekhanov makes the case that continuing to pretend the Russians were strategic equals kept their military and political fears in check, and allowed for planned stockpile reductions to move forward. He believes the movement towards disarmament ended abruptly when the Bush administration stopped pretending and began their aggressive pursuit of the war on terrorism. In other words, the Bush White House acknowledged that Mutually Assured Destruction is no longer a reality and that truth really scares the old communists.

The Rise of U.S. Nuclear Primacy: “Today, for the first time in almost 50 years, the United States stands on the verge of attaining nuclear primacy. It will probably soon be possible for the United States to destroy the long-range nuclear arsenals of Russia or China with a first strike. This dramatic shift in the nuclear balance of power stems from a series of improvements in the United States’ nuclear systems, the precipitous decline of Russia’s arsenal, and the glacial pace of modernization of China’s nuclear forces. Unless Washington’s policies change or Moscow and Beijing take steps to increase the size and readiness of their forces, Russia and China—and the rest of the world—will live in the shadow of U.S. nuclear primacy for many years to come.”

It is generally assumed President Reagan won the Cold War by forcing the Soviets to admit they could not compete financially. What is of concern going forward is Vladimir Putin observing and learning that oil money closes the financial gap significantly. In July 2003 the Russian government begins criminal prosecution of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, eventually resulting in the de facto nationalization of YUKOS Oil Company. This month Putin seizes effective control of Sakhalin Energy from international corporations. What waits to be seen is if oil money is used to clean the rust off the rockets.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Somalia Military Actions

In one of these seeming paradoxes, Ethiopian military operations Christmas Day may be doing more to achieve peace on Earth than all the family and community fellowship.

Al Jazeera: Fighters were also reportedly retreating on two other fronts in the war for control of Somalia. On the northern front, government and Ethiopian soldiers entered the town of Bulo Barde, where just two weeks ago a Muslim cleric said anyone who did not pray five times a day would be executed.

Also on Monday, Ethiopian fighter jets bombed the airports of Mogadishu and Baledogle, Somalia's largest military airfield, 100km to the west. … In November, a UN arms-monitoring group reported that flights originating in Eritrea, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Djibouti and Syria landed in Mogadishu and Baledogle. The UN and the Somali government said that many of the flights carried arms and military supplies for the Islamic Courts.

The monotheism of execution or conversion is marching for political power over the lands and people of Somalia. The Jerusalem Post provides a background synopsis.

Somalia nearing Islamist takeover: A new force emerged in war-torn Somalia this year under an enigmatic title, the Taliban-like Islamic Court Union, also known as the Council of Islamic Courts. Initially led by Sheikh Sharif Ahmed Muhammad, this loosely-organized body of 11 autonomous courts in the capital, Mogadishu, wants to implement Sunni Shari'a in the entire country.

A typical Islamic court has three elements: a shura council composed of respected clan leaders; a chairman appointed by the shura; and a militia commander appointed by the chairman. The ICU courts are financed by a combination of "taxation" at militia checkpoints and private contributions, largely from Mogadishu businessmen who are tired of warlord rule. … Once the ICU took control of Mogadishu, it turned its attention toward the south-central city of Baidoa, the seat of the country's internationally recognized government, the Transitional Federal Government.

Surrounded by Muslim populations, Christian Ethiopia decides direct aid to the official Baidoa based government of Somalia is in their best interest. The United Nations also reacts with their own time tested method of responding to a disturbance in the peace. Diplomacy springs into action and sanctions will be adjusted post-haste.

UNSC holds emergency meeting on fighting in Somalia: The UN Security Council called an emergency meeting Tuesday on the fighting in Somalia between Ethiopian forces backing the country's weak transitional government and the powerful Islamic militia that controls most of the country.

Some say 2006 was A Good Year for Our Enemies. I would remind our enemies that our compassion and restraint are not weakness and mercy is a gift from justice.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Funky Sun Frenzy

NASA announces their scientists are expecting the sun to burn with above average frenzy for the next three to four years.

Scientists Predict Big Solar Cycle: Solar cycle 24, due to peak in 2010 or 2011 "looks like its going to be one of the most intense cycles since record-keeping began almost 400 years ago," says solar physicist David Hathaway of the Marshall Space Flight Center.

"When a gust of solar wind hits Earth's magnetic field, the impact causes the magnetic field to shake. If it shakes hard enough, we call it a geomagnetic storm." In the extreme, these storms cause power outages and make compass needles swing in the wrong direction. Auroras are a beautiful side-effect.

Astronomers have been counting sunspots since the days of Galileo, watching solar activity rise and fall every 11 years. Curiously, four of the five biggest cycles on record have come in the past 50 years. "Cycle 24 should fit right into that pattern," says Hathaway.

The solar irradiance hitting the Earth varies with solar cycles and “four of the five biggest cycles on record have come in the past 50 years”. You know, smug certainty about the fate of the planet would be so much easier if the infinitely complex were just simpler.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

A Lizard not a Snake

Saw this coming. Royal Dutch Shell caves under to Russian pressure selling controlling interest to state owned gas monopoly Gazprom. Japanese investors Mitsui and Mitsubishi are also expected to sell about half of their equity stake in the Sakhalin-2 oil and gas project. As noted last week, the ex-communists utilize Natural Resources Minister Yuri Trutnev and a series of environmental regulations, citations and work shut downs to force this end result. It is of some interest then, when the Wisconsin DNR puts out public notice a legless lizard lies in the new pipeline path.

Pipeline expansion may result in incidental taking of rare lizard: MADISON – The construction of a portion of a 321-mile long 42 inch-diameter underground liquid petroleum pipeline and a 20 inch-diameter diluent return line across the state of Wisconsin could result in the incidental taking of a type of lizard listed as endangered species under state law.

Wisconsin under Jim Doyle is not yet Russia under Vladimir Putin, so the DNR is simply following the rules in announcing they will not be using this roadblock under their control in this case. The pipeline project map shows the Wisconsin link in improving the oil infrastructure between Midwest America and Western Canada. From Doyle’s perspective it also means years of good jobs for potential voters.

Enbridge Inc: The Enbridge-GPP Alliance Agreement will mean that hundreds of skilled workers, many of whom are local residents in Wisconsin and Illinois, will work over the next three years on these major expansions to the nation's energy infrastructure," Burgess noted. "Overall, these projects and this construction contract are a win-win for workers, local contractors and consumers, who will benefit from this boost in the region's secure access to vital North American petroleum resources, while complying with environmental permits and safety standards."

In this decision between jobs for voters and the slender glass lizard, Doyle reigns in his barking dog DNR. This is not necessarily tragedy for all the Ophisaurus attenuatus, who reportedly move pretty fast and have relatives all the way down to Texas and Florida.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Point Beach Indicator

Wisconsin Energy announces their intent to sell Point Beach Nuclear Power Plant to Florida based FPL Energy and the Citizens Utility Board immediately reacts with reflexive outrage. Kind of like how a jolt of electricity can cause a knee to jerk.

Point Beach Nuclear Power Plant Should Not Be Sold: Power plants not owned by regulated utilities are able to make huge profits in Midwest electricity markets. If the sale of Point Beach is approved, a large power plant will no longer be owned by a power company regulated by the PSC: FPL Energy would not have to return excess profits to ratepayers, as is the case for power plants owned by regulated utilities.

In addition to higher costs for ratepayers, the State of Wisconsin will lose jurisdiction over what is arguably the state’s most polluting industrial operation: Point Beach produces thousands of pounds of radioactive wastes every year, for which there are no safe means of disposal. FPL Energy could run the plant to maximize profits instead of safety.

Let’s do a quick checklist of the evils. Profits (huge, excessive and maximized) – yes, yes and yes. Profits over safety – yes. Reduced government jurisdiction over rates – check. Reduced government jurisdiction over pollution – absolutely. This is a socialist nightmare scenario which CUB must vehemently oppose. FPL Energy on the other hand envisions a normal business transaction where assets are voluntarily transferred from private owner to private owner and legal contracts are honored.

Press Release: Under the terms of the agreement, a wholly-owned subsidiary of FPL Energy will purchase the Point Beach Nuclear Power Plant for a total of approximately $998 million, including nuclear fuel, inventory and other items. The $998 million price represents $783 million for the plant itself and $215 million for fuel, inventory and other items.

All of the power from the Point Beach Nuclear Power Plant will be sold under a long-term contract to We Energies through the current NRC license terms of 2030 for Unit 1 and 2033 for Unit 2. The power from Point Beach is competitively priced and escalates each year of the contract.

FPL Energy has agreed to retain non-bargaining unit employees at Point Beach at comparable wages and benefits for 18 months following the close of the sale. In addition, FPL Energy will honor all labor agreements for bargaining unit employees.

Uh, CUB - aren't the rates fixed for the next quarter of a century? This will be a telling example of the direction newly re-elected Governor Jim Doyle will take the state. His environmentalist supporters will want him to manipulate the Public Service Commission like it was the State Election Board. Someone should let FPL Energy know there is still time to write that $50,000 check for the second term inauguration extravaganza. Money can still buy you gov’y love in Wisconsin.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

TV Drug Ads Under Review

I'm shocked. Nobody’s Senator makes the news. Herb Kohl is ready to curtail the drug ads interrupting our entertainment with images of dysfunctional body functions.

DRUG ADS: KILL THE MESSENGER? Ads just give us choices. Yet when Congress reconvenes next month, Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wisc.) is expected to file legislation to ban or severely limit ads for prescription drugs. … The idea is that consumers simply can't be trusted to confer with their doctors to make informed decisions about their own health care.

We all know the drill. Ask your doctor if the most expensive pill may be right for you! The onslaught of consumer direct prescription drug marketing begins in 1997 when the Clinton Administration FDA drops the requirement for full disclosure and adopts partial disclosure guidelines for broadcast media. The issue lodges directly at the intersection where first amendment free speech butts up against the duty of government to protect the public.

Full disclosure requires pharmaceutical companies to divulge every bit of verbiage the agency approves when granting U.S. marketing rights to a product. This includes all the pharmacokinetics, pharmacodynamics, dosing guidelines and clinical testing details. Since this volume of information is unworkable for 30 second airway spots, the government agrees companies can skip the details of first order kinetics and elimination half lives and proceed directly to the fact that nausea and flatulence are reported side effects. In this sense the decision leans in the direction of free speech, as awful as free speech can be sometimes.

The Democrats desperately want legislative achievements in health care policy so it is no surprise everything even remotely touching on the cost of fixing what ails you is under review. Protecting what is good in American medicine is now completely the task of the Republicans. The good doctor at ShrinkWrapped reminds us this is serious duty.

Stupid Politician Tricks: Today's extremely expensive medicine is tomorrow's cheap cure. We should all encourage the drug companies to make fantastic amounts of money. The more incentive they have to find new and more effective medications, the better for all of us.

The leading edge of any technology is always more expensive than eventual mass production of the proven successes. Politicians will try and obscure the difference between the patent protected and generic drug markets, so it is important to remember that those cheap $4.00 a bottle pills at Wal-Mart were the most expensive things on the market in their heyday.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Bascom Hill Socialists

I missed that Howard Zinn was honored by the UW Madison Havens Center. The Professor accepts an award for Lifetime Contribution to Critical Scholarship from our flagship campus of higher education. A transcript of his talk is online and if you have any doubts the socialists hate America, then read the entire presentation.

Howard Zinn: Madison is a very special place. I always have a special feeling when I come here. I have a feeling I am in a different country. And I’m glad, you know. Some people get disgusted of the American policy, and they go to live in some other country. No. Go to Madison.

Whether you call yourself a totalitarian state or you call yourself a democracy, it works the same way, and that is, the leaders of the country are able to cajole or coerce and entice the people into war by scaring them, telling them they’re in danger, and threatening them and coercing them, that if they don’t go along, they will be considered unpatriotic. And this is what really happened in this country right after 9/11. And this is happened right after Bush raised the specter of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and got for a while the American people to go along with this.

When you know history, you know that governments lie, as I.F. Stone said. Governments lie all the time. Well, not just the American government. It’s just in the nature of governments. Well, they have to lie. I mean, governments in general do not represent the people of the societies that they govern. And since they don’t represent the people and since they act against the interest of the people, the only way they can hold power is if they lie to the people.

It’s very important to know this, because the culture tries very hard to persuade us that we all have a common interest. If they use the language “national interest” -- there’s no national interest. There’s their interest and our interest. National security -- now, whose security? National defense, whose defense? All these words and phrases are used to try to encircle us all into a nice big bond, so that we will assume that the people who are the leaders of our country have our interests at heart. Very important to understand: no, they do not have our interests at heart.

The socialists are exactly their stereotypes. Their hatred of the military and violent conflict is such that our actions in WWII are on the same moral plane as the Nazi aggressors. Slavery was abolished in our country through activism over time and not the lives of Union soldiers. The world is only the oppressed and the oppressors and the United States is most definitely not a force for good in the world.

It is fair to say that Howard Zinn is at the extreme of leftist beliefs, but this is only to say he believes the truth of his principles with more passion and detail than the bulk of the left. It is much the same way Osama bin Laden and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad believe the tenets of Islam with more fervor than the average Muslim shopkeeper. For his lifetime of zealotry the UW Madison Sociology Department buys him lunch with our collected money. Thanks U dub.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Concerned and Vacuous

I’m with Vicki McKenna on this issue. The Wisconsin State Journal has become vacuous – completely devoid of significance or point. This editorial would be cheesy copy for a high school paper and is undeserving to be published in a paper of record. Allow me to highlight the conclusion.

Search for peace must go on: The stunning continuation of horrific acts aimed at undermining people's best instincts must stop. Such acts demonstrate how little the murderers value human life. Yet the rest of the world must not become immune to the almost daily reports of chilling bloodshed. The world must defiantly hold the value of life high and continue its difficult and so far illusive search for peace.

In the perceptive words of Edie Brickell – “choke me in the shallow water before I get too deep”. Or to go retro colloquial – “gag me with a spoon”. Our morning daily discovers people are killing people in Muslim countries and the world really needs to teach them that life has value and murder is not nice. This level of insight into reality may be why professional journalists are loosing the public trust. It may also be the reason they can’t figure out why.

The news media meltdown: And if all that were not enough, the American public shows little interest in or sympathy for the press. Worse, the press is losing the public’s trust. The latest survey by the Pew Research Center shows a sharp decline in trust for even the news organizations ranked highest by respondents who were asked if they believed all or most of what the news organizations reported. From 1998 to 2006, The Wall Street Journal dropped 15 points (41% to 26%). In television news, CNN dropped 14 points (42% to 28%). Local print and TV news suffered similar declines in confidence.

So yes, the search for peace must go on and it would help if the American press would stop the relentless criticism of any and all imperfection in the courageous efforts to stop the people with guns, explosives and complete contempt of American values.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Dale Watson Night

Get a clue: Dale Watson in the Club Tavern with a Lone Star.

Lola says we are now in attendance double digits for Dale Watson shows. I believe she is correct and know for sure the first time was in the basement of the Great Dane Pub a block off Capital Square on July 20, 1999. Lola immediately senses there is something special in this band from Austin, Texas who are picking up a last minute paying gig on a trip up north.

Moose must have also sensed the vibe because the story goes he gave the boys food to eat, a place to crash and a stage to play whenever they found themselves in the neighborhood. Every Dale Watson night since has been remarkably unique. Tonight the stage banter muses about the inferior product corporate music is marketing, so it is no longer appropriate to call his work country music. Moose proposes calling it roadhouse music for historical accuracy, but Lola and I agree the proper term is honky-tonk. Music of the people, by the people and for the people people with kick ass guitars and a fiddle player.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Six Party Talking Again

Kim Jong-il will be sending his minions to Beijing for the resumption of the Six Party Talks on Monday. Vladimir Putin will also have a henchman present according to US diplomat Christopher Hill. “Ambassador Alekseyev is expected to be there. As many of you know, he's been ill in recent weeks but apparently he's made a full recovery”. A Russian diplomat with a mysterious illness and sudden recovery. How Cold War is that cover story?

As a non-government organization, the Council on Foreign Relations can be a little blunter than our official public servants.

Dim Hopes for Six-Party Progress: “The pretend objective, about nuclear weapons, may yield some pretend results,” but how the United States and China negotiate with each other will prove to be the most important aspect of the talks. China pressed North Korea to rejoin Six-Party Talks in late October. But China is likely to be satisfied with North Korea merely resuming a diplomatic process and is not expected to push for immediate results.

In fact China expert Adam Segal thinks the only reason North Korea is coming back to the negotiating table is because the US squeezed them where it really hurts. The Macau bank where North Korean accounts remain frozen seems to gotten beloved leaders attention.

Expectations for North Korea Talks ‘Extremely Low’: I think a successful meeting will be an agreement to have more meetings. At this point there has been some discussion about the possible makings of compromises at the margin over, for example, this issue of the Banco Delta Asia in Macao [a bank sanctioned for allegedly laundering counterfeit American currency produced by North Korea]. It seems as if [Assistant Secretary of State Christopher R.] Hill, the chief U.S. negotiator, has sent some signals that the North Koreans would be willing to work with [the] Treasury [department] to try and disentangle some of the North Korea’s legal business operations from its illegal ones.

The money motive also appears in comments from Secretary Hill when North Korea offers to come back and again attend the regional diplomacy game.

Christopher Hill: I didn’t ask them why they came back today, but they did not make resolution of the financial measures a condition. What they wanted us to be prepared to discuss, [was] to address the financial measures in the six-party process. And we’re prepared to do that.

After looting his country to build a military without an economic substructure, even Kim Jong-il probably understands that millions of unpaid people with guns is not a good option. Still, getting the dictator to acknowledge, even privately, that his house of cards is built on counterfeit money is going to be hard. Of course, buying rocket fuel without cash or credit is also a difficult trick to master.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Trolley Madness Continues

Mayor Dave Cieslewicz will ruin Madison aesthetically and financially if residents allow him to tear up our roads so streetcars requiring a dangling mess of overhead wires can substitute for a bus. The construction company that stands to make big profits from city tax dollars has a draft plan of the streets to be sacrificed in an idealistic attempt to recreate last century’s rejected technology. The meetings are ongoing downtown.

Trawling for trolley tracks: The public will help narrow down the options the committee has developed, said Nicole Anderson of Vandewalle & Associates. The firm is part of a consultant group headed by HDR Corp. that is working with the study committee to examine land use impact and work on public outreach, Trowbridge said.

Paying for Mayor Dave's streetcar desire: Cieslewicz says the city could use a combination of tax-incremental financing, room tax and other local funds to pay for a streetcar system, which could cost tens of millions of dollars. By using local funds, the city could avoid federal restrictions, like a "Buy American" clause that requires the purchase of streetcars made in the U.S.

Pacific coastline restricted big city Portland, Oregon is the model plan Cieslewicz wants to impose on small Midwestern Madison. At least in Portland the government is honest enough to admit their goal is to create traffic congestion. They also acknowledge remodeling of a functional transportation system is absurdly expensive, thus requiring shorting funds for other maintenance.

Streetcar planning calls for patience: While the streetcar remains popular with developers and “smart growth” activists, how it expands will affect Portlanders – whether they get around town by trolley, car or bike. For one thing, the money used by the city and TriMet to operate the streetcar line currently comes from funds that otherwise could be fixing potholes or providing better bus and light-rail service. “That is a tradeoff, and folks need to be absolutely up front about it,” Commissioner Sam Adams said, referring to the city’s contribution. “That is money that otherwise would go toward maintenance of streets, roads and bridges in the city.”

In Portland area, congestion can be a means to an end: “This region, more than any other region in the United States, has decided that we will live with more congestion,” said Bruce Warner, former head of the Oregon Department of Transportation and the current executive director of the Portland Development Commission. … Portland has quietly embraced congestion as a means to an end. Spending less on roads has allowed more spending on mass transit and livable, walkable communities, Warner said.

Portland’s road to utopia, however, has started showing potholes. Early this year, for instance, gas prices jumped $1 a gallon – but ridership on TriMet buses and light-rail lines did not grow. How could this be?

There is the money issue. With a million more people expected here in the next two decades, the price tag for needed transportation projects in the region runs $10 billion, compared to the $4 billion the region presently expects to have on hand. As a result, Cotugno said, Metro’s sophisticated transportation forecasting shows that in 20 years “traffic becomes pretty horrendous.”

You might say Portland’s unceasing need for more money isn’t directly comparable because a million people are not going to be added to millions already here, but that is exactly the point. Madison has no need for a complete transportation transformation. Madison simply needs better roads, more efficient traffic control and a rational bus system.

What bothers me most, however, is that everything Environmentalist Mayor Dave is trying to achieve with his smart growth planning is ultimately motivated not for the benefit of the people who live in Madison, but because he truly believes free people spread across the land and driving is bad for nature. This flaw in his values makes him very, very bad for our city.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Augusto Pinochet

This is about as eloquent as the point can be stated: “The rule of law was developed because anyone with too much power is capable of despicable acts”. - Alvaro Vargas Llosa commenting on the legacy of deceased Chilean General Augusto Pinochet.

Pinochet, The Man in Full: The first lesson is that social utopias always end in tears. Chile had a democratic tradition when the Marxist left came to power in 1970, but that tradition was not strong enough to withstand the revolutionary path that President Salvador Allende chose to take. Scorning the institutions that had allowed it to gain power, the left pushed the system beyond its limits, thereby causing a brutal military reaction.

The second lesson is that there is no such thing as an "emergency" dictatorship. Those who called for military intervention, among them the center-right Christian Democrats, made a colossal error of judgment in thinking that the armed forces would go back to their barracks as soon as the "emergency" was over.

Communists, Socialists, Marxists, and Progressives all hate Pinochet with a passion. Chile was to be the socialist utopia in South America and the General crushed the experiment with cruel brutality. To this day, advocates for government control of the economy believe in their hearts that Allende and his followers would have created a just society from the inequities of Latin America.

Pinochet Descends: The dictator is dead. May he rest in agony. General Augusto Pinochet crushed the dreams of democratic socialists throughout Latin America, and indeed throughout the world, when he overthrew Chile’s Salvador Allende in 1973. … The U.S. government was behind Pinochet, every bloody step of the way. When Allende came to power, Henry Kissinger infamously said: “I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist because of the irresponsibility of its own people.”

Greg Palast: For nearly a century, copper has meant Chile and Chile copper. University of Montana metals expert Dr. Janet Finn notes, “Its absurd to describe a nation as a miracle of free enterprise when the engine of the economy remains in government hands.” Copper has provided 30% to 70% of the nation’s export earnings. This is the hard currency which has built today’s Chile, the proceeds from the mines seized from Anaconda and Kennecott in 1973 - Allende’s posthumous gift to his nation.

With the perspective of time it becomes increasingly clear events in Chile in the 1970’s were invaluable to the end of the Cold War a decade later. Still, tyranny is tyranny regardless of the justifying philosophy.

The Economist Obit: General Pinochet liked to portray himself as the selfless defender of God and country against atheist communism. Some of his friends, chief among them Lady Thatcher, appeared to support this view, ostentatiously taking tea with the doddering old man and stroking him with praise. But it emerged that he had up to $27m stashed abroad, as well as several false passports. That made him look like just another grasping, brutal caudillo. The courts closed in. Only claims—often unconvincing—of poor health blocked a trial. He insisted that he had acted for the benefit of all Chileans. By the end, few believed him.

History will undoubtedly consign the General to realm of those with no real honor.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Putin's Environmentalist Gambit

Hat Tip to Boots & Sabers for noting a blatant move back towards Communist style control of industry in Mother Russia. The Financial Times Fact Sheet and the Sakhalin 1 webpage both detail how foreign investment capital is building a massive oil and natural gas production facility on an island off Russia’s Pacific coast. With construction on phase 2 nearly complete, it appears the Russian government now wants control of the complex as investment makes the turn towards return on investment.

Russia: Gazprom Closes in on Sakhalin-2: The Russian government, through the Natural Resources Ministry, has orchestrated an investigation into Sakhalin Energy, the operator of the Sakhalin-2 natural gas and oil project in the Russian Far East. Following talks Dec. 8 between the head of Russian state-controlled energy giant Gazprom and Jeroen van der Veer, head of Royal Dutch/Shell (the majority stakeholder in Sakhalin-2), it appears that Gazprom is poised to gain a controlling stake in the project.

Gazprom monopolizes natural gas exports from the country and has near total control of production. Foreign control of the Sakhalin-2 project, achieved due to a 1990s-era production sharing agreement, has not only (in Russia's mind) robbed Gazprom of an asset, but it has also impeded the Kremlin's policy of imposing maximum control over the strategic energy sector. Under sustained pressure, Royal Dutch/Shell agreed to a deal in July 2005 that would allow Gazprom a blocking stake in Sakhalin-2 and give the Anglo-Dutch company a 50 percent share in the Zapolyarnoye field, a potentially productive asset connected to Russia's export infrastructure. However, cost overruns at Sakhalin-2 have caused Gazprom to reconsider the deal, and the energy giant has since adopted a much more aggressive policy.

After the Russian government's maneuvers to suspend licenses, press criminal charges and otherwise pressure Sakhalin Energy, Royal Dutch/Shell is looking like it will give up a 30 percent stake in Sakhalin-2 (of its original 55 percent), and the other shareholders -- Japanese firms Mitsubishi and Mitsui -- might give up as much as 10 percent each. The details of the final deal, which could be completed as soon as the first quarter of 2007, might never be made public; Royal Dutch/Shell is likely to be embarrassed by the terms, which will definitely not favor the company.

The fact, which should be carefully noted by the American business community, is when Russia decides to the make the move towards seizure of effective control, the strategy is to use the Natural Resources Ministry and an endless series of environmental bureaucratic harassments. The approach is not old fashioned government appropriation by force, but it is just as effective while keeping Western environmentalists silent. This is a very shrewd move by Vladimir Putin who is still KGB to the core.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Brainstorming Tobacco Prohibitionists

With the political power of the trial lawyers on the ascent is it any surprise the anti-tobacco zealots are buzzed about new pools of money to extort?

Evidence, Schmevidence: An article in the journal Tobacco Control suggests suing doctors for failing to nag patients who smoke about quitting. Noting that the U.S. Public Health Service has issued "Treating Tobacco Use and Dependence Clinical Practice Guidelines" that recommend informing patients about the health risks of smoking and steering them toward "effective and inexpensive treatments for nicotine addiction," the authors argue that doctors who don't comply with these guidelines could successfully be sued for malpractice.

Oh Please! This is a total non-starter. The American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society are the benefactors advancing the smoke free America movement to all their victories over individual free choice, commercial free choice, the application of scientific rigor and a realistic free society definition of acceptable risk. People who want tobacco prohibited should keep their focus on that goal and forgo looting their allies.

Actually the very first commenter captures the prohibitionist mindset quite succinctly. “Sometimes shortcuts are necessary when human lives are on the line”. In other words, death can be used to justify almost any desired action. The health worship movement is awash with contempt for ‘premature death’ which is a meaningless term unless 'mature death' is an establish standard. If Mother Nature is the source for answers and nature provides little evidence supporting hanging around once the succeeding generation starts breeding, I suppose it is logical to make dying before age 45 a crime and afterwards an obligation. Well … maybe not. Prohibitionists, back to the drawing board please.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

French Presidential Politics

France elects a new President this spring and since I am no expert on their politics, Wikipedia’s French Political Parties cheat sheet is a handy dandy aid to trying to understand the players wanting to lead the country. Ségolène Royal is the Socialist Party candidate who will face the person selected by the Union for a Popular Movement (UPM) Party of current President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin.

Defence Minister confirms she will challenge Sarkozy: French Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie has confirmed she plans to seek the nomination of the ruling UMP party to run in next year's presidential election, challenging party frontrunner Nicolas Sarkozy. … The declaration, … pits her against Sarkozy, the tough talking interior minister and UMP party chief, who confirmed last month he would seek the nomination at a special party meeting on January 14.

Despite the late challenge, Nicolas Sarkozy, UMP Party President and the Minister of the Interior, is expected to be the center-right challenger to the socialists. Sarkozy will probably take French foreign policy in a different direction than Chirac. Familiarity occasionally breeds contempt and the two old men really don’t like each other.

The Middle East Plagued by Confusion and Opportunism: The Left in France - as well as many prominent Gaullist figures - fear that if Sarkozy is elected president he will move France into the U.S.-Israeli camp and abandon Chirac's policy of non-alignment, which has sometimes been tinged with mild pro-Arab sentiments. Although they are both in the same right-wing camp, Chirac and Sarkozy make no secret of their mutual antipathy. It is even said in French political circles that Chirac would rather vote for Ségolène than see Sarkozy succeed him.

The issue of how France should deal with Islam appears to underlie all political debate about immigration and assimilation, Israel and Lebanon, Iran and the bomb, and admitting Turkey into the European Union. The foreign policy direction France should take is such a deciding issue that the neophyte socialist candidate feels compelled to visit the Middle East for first hand experience. By most accounts it is political amateur hour in every respect, including a meeting in which she politely listens to a Hizbullah Minister compare southern Lebanon to Nazi occupied France.

The Very French Rise of Ségolène Royal: Royal willingly met with a Hizbullah MP at an official dinner in Lebanon while his Party of Allah was laying siege to the Siniora government, listened politely while he lambasted the Zionist entity and the demented Americans. She thanked him for the frank expression of his opinions, said she agreed with much of what he said, especially concerning the United States, and begged to remind him that a state is not an entity.

Segolene Royal, Israel, and a Policy of Oblivion: “I was going to the complicated East with simple ideas”. The lesson learned by Charles de Gaulle was not remembered by Segolene Royal. The Socialist candidate came to the region without any ideas, forgetting that Hizbollah is off limits. It was involved in the Drakkar attack, killing 58 French soldiers in Beirut in 1983, after the attack that took the lives of 241 American marines.

The French people will have a meaningful choice to make about their future and there is little doubt that a large portion of our Democratic Party solidly support the socialists.

Howard Dean Joins European Socialists at Annual Meeting: France's socialist presidential candidate Segolene Royal, right, shakes hands with Howard Dean, chairman of the United States Democratic Committee, during the Party of European Socialists congress in Porto, northern Portugal Thursday, Dec. 7, 2006.

Being socialists, I’m sure there is serious non-judgmental listening to every point of view before reaching the consensus to reject dismantling our welfare states. The early French polls have the race neck and neck so world events these next four months may determine which consensus wins the power.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Rumsfeld Says Goodbye

There are tasks needing urgent completion and tasks requiring patience to achieve. The swift, efficient and successful military operations in both Afghanistan and Iraq are a testament to the leadership Donald Rumsfeld brought to the Pentagon. The transformation of two countries long controlled by authoritarian use of pain and death into societies with consensual government and the humane rule of law, is a task longer than any individual should be expected to undertake.

Rumsfeld Bids Farewell to Pentagon: Rumsfeld went from being a sensation during the press conferences after 9/11 to one of the more controversial figures in recent American history because of his handling of the war in Iraq.

It should be recalled, though, that he certainly didn’t need this job and has sacrificed mightily in adding six more years of public service after a long career. The man gave up a cushy, high-paying job outside the limelight to take over a job he had had a quarter century earlier.

His efforts to transform the Pentagon were controversial but, mostly, dead-on. The military is much more joint than ever in its history and he managed to bull his way through a moribund bureaucracy to kill some ridiculously expensive weapons systems that we surely did not need.

One of the questions following his talk is: “Mr. Secretary, how do you want history to remember you”? To which he answers: “Better than the local press”. If in time, Muslims transform their societies to respect women, cherish the gift of individual free will and renounce the deterministic fatalism of unquestioning subservience to violent human authority, then Donald H. Rumsfeld will be remembered as a remarkable man.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Climate Porn Reporting

Climate porn is saturating the main stream media. Vicki McKenna hosts two guests commenting on yesterdays Hearing on Climate Change and the Media at the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee. Oklahoma Republican James Inhofe continues to assert the importance of differentiating between fact and fiction in the way issues are presented to the public.

Senator James M. Inhofe: There are three types of climate research: first, the hard science of global warming by climate scientists, second, the computer modelers, and finally the researchers who study the impacts. Rather than focus on the hard science of global warming, the media has instead become advocates for hyping scientifically unfounded climate alarmism – and I’m not the only one who believes this.

So the alarmism not just continuing in the media, it’s advancing. They are becoming more desperate because former supporters of their views are now changing their position. Former advocates such as David Bellamy, Britain’s famed environmental campaigner, and Claude Allegre, a French geophysicist and former Socialist Party Leader who is a member of both the French and U.S. Academies of Science. Allegre now says the cause of warming remains unknown and the alarmism “has become a very lucrative business for some people.” In short, their motivation is money. And he’s right… its about money.

The Business and Media Institute is keeping track of the complete and total breakdown of any pretense of journalistic objectivity.

Dan Gainor: Journalists pledged to be neutral, long ago gave up their watchdog role to become lapdogs for one position. The media became alarmist claiming the planet is at a “tipping point” as if at any moment everything would go over the edge. … This goes against the basic tenets of journalism to be skeptical of all sides of an issue. It also violates the ethical code of the Society of Professional Journalists which urges the media to “Support the open exchange of views, even views they find repugnant.” That code calls for reporters to “Distinguish between advocacy and news reporting.”

Personally, I think the ‘objective’ standard of reporting has always been more of an idealized goal rather than a working imperative. Furthermore, I am inclined to believe that as editors brainstorm ways to stay profitable in a rapidly changing media market, the temptation to go emotional has won a complete victory over all other more self restrained business models.

Media Shows Irrational Hysteria on Global Warming: "There is an overwhelming bias today in the media regarding the issue of global warming. In the past two years, this bias has bloomed into an irrational hysteria. Every natural disaster that occurs is now linked with global warming, no matter how tenuous or impossible the connection. As a result, the public has become vastly misinformed."

The full weight of the media wave for climate change inspired political action has not peaked, and it is a pity the resistance to Chicken Little hysteria will be working from the minority position in congress.

UPDATE: Senator James Inhofe makes public A Skeptic's Guide to Debunking Global Warming Alarmism as a 66 page pdf file. The report reflects the findings of his Senate Committee and includes a compellation of research and media sources on the subject of the politically inspired and media assisted false hysteria on the effect of CO2 on the climate. It is time to put a stop to liars, frauds and their media enablers.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

COWS For Universal Healthcare

The socialist plan for America is being developed at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Joel Rogers runs a personal think tank called COWS that operates under the protection of the university. It is in effect a Wisconsin taxpayer subsidized research unit for the Democratic Party. The latest publication further develops their theoretical basis for expanding government control of health care financing.

When Work Doesn't Pay: Hard, consistent work does not always pay enough or provide health insurance for families. Of the $1.85 billion spent on programs, fully 45 percent of this money—$837 million—goes to year-round working families. Despite these families’ commitment to work, they must rely on the state to make ends meet. By far the most important and expensive support to year-round working families is medical assistance which accounts for 38 percent of this money. When workers cannot rely on employer provided health insurance, they turn when they can to the state for medical assistance. Employer provided health insurance is in decline, which means that the medical assistance costs of low-wage jobs will continue to grow.

The essential point of contention is the difference between compensation for work (pay) and inducements to work for a specific company (benefits). Socialists consider benefits indistinguishable from pay. From this false premise they build a case that when compensation for labor is inadequate to meet the expectations of employees for third party products and services, then either the state must control wages or the state must control payments for the products and services with regulatory and taxing mandates.

What the socialists take as a given is the assumption that while there is a right to charge an individual for healthcare, the obligation to pay those fees can be transferred to other individuals. In our private insurance system, individuals voluntarily pay the bills of others until and unless they have their own bills to pay. The advocates of government control apparently believe the obligation to pay the charges of healthcare providers is primary over the right of private money to remain private. In other words, since money is needed (for the greater good), then there is a need to take money.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Vietnam Hangover Ends

The Mifflin Street Co-op formed in the revolutionary baby boom atmosphere of 1969 as a working example of how the world could be a better, more communal place to live. Time keeps moving on despite the tenacious hold of the forever rebels down the western slope of Capital Hill.

Mifflin Street Co-op: Its time is over: After almost 10 years without a profitable quarter and with thousands of dollars owed to the Internal Revenue Service for unpaid payroll taxes, the 800-square-foot natural foods grocery will close its doors Friday after nearly 38 years in business.

I think it is fair to say, that like most economic theories conceived in the center of Madison, the long term survival of this grand experiment was doomed without taxing authority.

Monday, December 04, 2006

When Will The Snowe Go?

I am a global warming denier. I AM a global warming denier. I am a global warming DENIER! ... Huummmh … there is no wrong way to say it. The Wall Street Journal prints an Extortion Letter and exposes the players.

Global Warming Gag Order: Washington has no shortage of bullies, but even we can't quite believe an October 27 letter that Senators Jay Rockefeller and Olympia Snowe sent to ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson. Its message: Start toeing the Senators' line on climate change, or else.

Variations of the root word 'deny' are used eighteen times in the Senator’s short missive so the political message is bright sunny day clear: deniers in denial about the undeniable are not to be encouraged and will not be tolerated. Of all the reactions this one may be the most concise.

Don Surber: If the science is there, then arm-twisting is not needed. Since they are threatening to twist arms, the science is suspect.

But this one is simply the best. Please … read the entire thing.

Show Trials to Follow; Economy to be found Guilty: Short story: Mr. Tillerson is told to confess to crimes against the state, spend his shareholder’s money only on politically correct projects, and never, ever, indulge in any kind of independent thinking. They don’t mention it directly, but the underlying current is that much unpleasantness could have been avoided for some additional funding supporting the political ambitions of a couple of unnamed Senators I’ll refer to as Rocksferbrains and Sleete to protect their identities.


Sunday, December 03, 2006

Hugo Chavez Wins Again

Apparently the United States ability to manipulate foreign elections came up short on this one. When, when, when is Karl Rove going to learn how to get the fix in? In retrospect, maybe Tom DeLay was the true genius on Capital Hill.

Chavez Reelected President of Venezuela: According to the first preliminary results from Venezuela's National Electoral Council, President Hugo Chavez won the presidency with 61.4% of the vote to his challenger's 38.4%.

The election seems to have been conducted without major problems even though voter ID is required. Isn’t it ironic that Hugo Chavez takes voting accuracy more seriously than Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle?

Venezuelan Elections: Calm & Tranquil: Voting was swift and extraordinary simple – a fingerprint, a name and identification check, a brief explanation of how to vote and use the electoral machine, and then a touch of a name, a confirmation and the printing out of a paper receipt, which once double checked against the machine vote by the voter in secrecy and deposited in the ballot box, completed the process. All of it took under two minutes and supervisors from the National Elections Council, Venezuela’s electoral body, were on hand at every site to help out in case of any irregularities or problems.

So Chavez is a socialist with the legitimate support of the poor. At this point in time, Venezuela is still enough of a democracy that a unified opposition can generate over a third of the votes. Since a true tyrant arranges for 100% voter approval, Hugo still has room to develop. Personally, I have no doubt he will continue to strive for unchallenged approval because in his heart, he wants to impose good as he understands it.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Smoothing Ruffled Turkey Feathers

Pope Benedict XVI safely returns from his trip to Muslim Turkey where he takes the opportunity to look Islamic religious leaders in the eye. The Pope makes news when he prays facing Mecca in an historic Mosque, as if the location and direction of prayer makes any difference. Catholics, after all, don’t worship a spot on a planet. Turkey’s largest paper Zaman extensively covers the visit but also reports a strange meeting with U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, Matt Bryza.

Coupe in Strong Turkish Democracy Unimaginable: “I can’t imagine why that need [for a military intervention] would arise at this point. Turkey is a strong democracy,” said Bryza. “Any sort of deviation from Turkey’s strong democratic principles undermines the strategic value of Turkey to the U.S.”

Asked whether the United States would possibly back a military intervention aiming to protect secularism in Turkey, and whether this would be a post-modern intervention or an explicit coup d’etat?, Bryza said “no” and explained, “Turkey has a secular democracy in which the military plays a role that is different than other countries, unique, in my experience. But it is precisely the strength of Turkey’s secular democratic institutions with its Muslim majority that makes Turkey strategic to the US significantly.”

This classic example of diplomacy in action is triggered by comments of Bryza’s long time ‘girlfriend’ and Hudson Institute Policy Analyst Zeyno Baran, in a Newsweek article. Ms. Baran is an expert on Central Asia and the role of Islam. In a detailed report this July she points out a core difference in Muslim nations the West can not ignore.

Islamic Radicalism in Central Asia and the Caucasus: July 2006 (pdf). The one point on which Islam in Central Asia and the Caucasus followed the Arabs was its close links to political power. St. Paul’s dictum to “Render unto Caesar…” has no meaning for either Arab or Central Asian Islam, which assume instead that the secular power’s first responsibility is always to protect the faith.

Serge Trifkovic, author of The Sword of the Prophet, states the only reason modern Turkish society does not resemble something between Egypt and Iran is because the Turkish Army imposes a secular façade on a population culturally inclined toward being a traditional Muslim society.

Realism About Turkey: If we are to have a serious debate on America’s long-term interests in eastern Mediterranean, the Middle East experts in Washington should stop pretending that Turkey is democratic. At present it is, at best, a "guided democracy" in which no institution, judicial or civil, is independent of the state and the lurking power behind the state, the generals of the Turkish army whose tough Kemalist ideology is all that stands between Turkey and chaos.

It is also time to admit that any real "democratization" of Turkey will mean its irreversible Islamization. This is because Turkey is a polity based on an Islamic ethos, regardless of its political superstructure…. Just as enormous oil revenues could not resolve the problem in Iran, there is no reason to believe that the proposed massive injections of foreign aid and support, of whatever kind, will do the trick in Turkey. The Kemalist dream of strict secularism has never penetrated beyond the military and a relatively narrow stratum of urban elite centered in Istanbul.

If Turkish military elites are the reason the country is not the next Iran, then it is understandable why our diplomats are Johnny on the spot to smooth any ruffled feathers. It’s also a factor Europe needs to consider carefully before adopting the country into their family.

Friday, December 01, 2006

John Edwards Book Tour

John Edwards is running around Iowa promoting his book consisting of stories he collected about childhood remembrances of home. It is his book because he did the editing. The ability to critically read and correct the work of others may be one of the skills America wants when choosing our next President.

Home: "What became clear to me after reading those essays was that whatever superficial differences, the wealth we grow, the place we grow up in, there are similarities in values. The result of that is there is a connectedness to all of us." … A childhood home is about the safety and security we hunger for today in a dangerous adult world.

Very interesting. The centerpiece of Edwards 2004 pursuit of the White House is his Two Americas Speech of us vs. them outrage. This time around his effort operates as the One America Committee. After years of being at home in his big house on his expansive estate, he has apparently concluded that wealth is a superficial difference between citizens and what is really important are the common values we share.

Edwards promotes 'Home' in Iowa: Chief among Edwards' platform is battling poverty, both at home and abroad. An increase in the minimum wage is a good start, he said. … Edwards admitted his Senate vote to authorize the war was a mistake and said changes must now be made to begin bringing troops home, as well as demanding more accountability from the new Iraqi government. "The choices are bad and worse; there are no good choices. Anyone who thinks this is not a civil war is living in never-never land," he said. "I think we need to take steps to leave, and the best way to leave is to do that, not just talk about it."

A poor child who became rich through lawsuits rather than commerce, John Edwards was and still is the favorite of the Madison socialists exactly because of his belief that government is a force for good and corporations are not.

Joel Rogers: Where Edwards diverges from Kerry is in addressing a series of issues of distinctive concern to progressives--inequalities of race and class, abusive corporate power, neoliberal globalization, ghetto poverty and prison, and the importance of worker and community organization outside the state. And what makes him distinctive is not just that he regularly touches these third-rail issues but is effectively running on them. He is unabashedly pro-union. He regularly challenges white audiences to confront "the white problem" of continued racial injustice. His "two Americas" stump speech is all about class. He appreciates and notes the sheer pervasiveness of corporate crime--from tax evasion to union avoidance, predatory lending to environmental degradation, unsafe working conditions to subsidy abuse. He is sharply critical of the "Washington Consensus" on international trade and finance.

I concede the desire to be safe in our homes is a common bond between all of us, but the question is how best to achieve this dream. The socialists believe they can retreat from conflict and the consequences will not harm us, just like the consequences of retreat from Vietnam only affected people of color over there. I’m not convinced that cut and run will have the same benign results for Americans in this very different conflict.