View From a Height
Commentary from the Mile High City
Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Bonus Peanuts

Here are reprinted, in their entirety, the Carter Center descriptions of the Iranian hostage crises and the Palestinian question. They are presented as a public service. Further commentary would be superfluous.

Iranian Hostages

On November 4, 1979, Iranian militants stormed the United States Embassy in Tehran and took approximately seventy Americans captive. This terrorist act triggered the most profound crisis of the Carter presidency and began a personal ordeal for Jimmy Carter and the American people that lasted 444 days.

President Carter committed himself to the safe return of the hostages while protecting America's interests and prestige. He pursued a policy of restraint that put a higher value on the lives of the hostages that on American retaliatory power or protecting his own political future.

The toll of patient diplomacy was great, but President Carter's actions brought freedom for the hostages with America's honor preserved.

Palestinian Question

Palestine - Whose Homeland?

The growing Jewish presence in Palestine in the late 1940s brought trouble for Palestinian Arabs. When war broke out in 1948, tens of thousands of Arabs fled Palestine. While Jewish refugees became Israeli citizens, many Palestinian Arabs became homeless refugees

The 1967 War drove even more Palestinian Arabs from their homes. Those not trapped in refugee camps lived in the Israeli occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Fire by stories of a homeland taken from them, generations of Palestinians fought to create their own nation. The cycle of violence continued unbroken.

The Peanut Center

Well, it had to be done. You're in Atlanta, you check out the doings at the Carter Center. Maybe it's dinner with Jimmah and Roz. Maybe it's a Carter Center researcher explaining how human rights defenders are being attacked after 9-11. By us. Maybe it's someone discussing the benefits of unilateral diarmament. In this case, it's a 1/12 scale model of Mount Vernon. Home of the man who made history by quitting, hosted by the man who doesn't know when his term ended.

You enter through the museum gift shop. Usually on a tour, you exit through the gift shop, but many of the visitors actually remember the 70s, so the Center probably thinks it's safer to get their cash up front. I did actually see one man buying a copy of Why Not the Best? One answer in 1976, another in 1980.

After passing through the auditorium, you pass the Wall of Presidents. The lineup ends with Carter himself, something beyond even his mighty efforts. There's a portrait, some period photographs, and a few paragraphs describing the president's life, times, and contributions to arms control, or as Jimmy likes to call it, "peace." I'm not making this up. Harding's greatest accomplishment was the 1921 Washington Conference on Naval Disarmament, which led more or less directly to the War in the Pacific, 15 years later. Eisenhower's "eight years of peace stand as his greatest achievement," though there's no mention of how handy the bomb was in ending the Korean War. The 1967 Six-Day War is presented as an obstacle to arms control. Remade the map of the Middle East. Earned Jimmah a new best friend in a Kaffiyah. Obstacle to arms control.

Ah, yes. Arms Control Negotiations. My old friend, I hardly recognize you. Let's see, in 1955, the Soviets reject Eisenhower's Open Skies proposal. Next year's Budapest Tanks on Parade goes unmentioned. "Late in his term, President Johnson approached the Soviets about starting negotiations. Talks faltered, however, when the USSR invaded Czechoslovakia in August 1968." June 1979, Salt II is signed, Carter kisses Brezhnev on the lips. December 1979, and tanks roll into Kabul. Notice a pattern here? There's talk of an "arms race," the only actual balance-of-power numbers ever mentioned are the US's 6000-200 nuke lead in 1960. It's actually been proposed by the Left that we had to let them catch up so they'd have something to negotiate away. Why let the rape of a couple of dozen countries get in the way of a good arms-control strategy?*

As for the Middle East, "four wars and constant small-scale violence have ravaged Arabs and Israelis alike." Think this is related to "HRH King" Fahd of Saudi Arabia's status as a Center Founder, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as a Center Sponsor? No, I didn't think so, either.

Then, there are the Hostages. We're informed that ordering a military strike would have been the "easy" thing to do. Um, no. Carter actually did the easy thing: negotiate while pretending not to, order a rescue operation sketched on the back of a restaurant napkin, hide in the Oval Office wearing out the carpet while agonizing through his "personal ordeal." Reagan, by threatening the "easy" solution, got to announce that the plane had left airspace during his inaugural address.

Then there's the whole Human Rights thing. Jay Nordlinger has amply shown how Carter's sympathy only extended to those suffering under military juntas. Maybe he was so tough on the South American dictators because we didn't have any canals to give back. Adam "Bigtime" Clymer gets the Senate ratification byline in the NYT: we were "moving to establish a new spirit of relations with Latin America." So evidently, if there's a retreat to be made in front of a dictator, in this case the much-beloved Brig. Gen. Omar Torrijos, he of the white suits and fine cigars, it really doesn't matter what his persuasion is. If the canal had been built through Nicaragua instead, and the treaty negotiations had been going on at the same time as the Sandanistas revolution, the internal contradictions alone might have exploded poor Jimmy's head. Give now, or wait till you can give to Communists? It's a miracle that Panama didn't turn around and invade Colombia.

The museum doesn't talk much about the economy, but it does mention the "energy crisis," the "moral equivalent of war (MEOW)", and the "crisis of confidence." (Somehow, "malaise" didn't make the cut.) There's an actual yellow cardigan from one of his fireside chats, the fire a reminder of the heat people couldn't afford, and the sweater meant as a suggestion.

Carter clearly wants to focus on foreign policy. But if you look at his professed goals, almost all of them were achieved in the 12 years after he left office. Latin America is now run by democracies, with whom we really do have more in common. Nuclear weapons have been reduced. The hostages were free minutes after he left office. Actually defeating the Soviets was never on his list, but he did get to see all those newly-freed Olympians forget to thank him in Atlanta in 1996. The lone exception is Israel, which still exists, although President Clinton sure tried hard.

On the way out, the list of sponsors and founders makes interesting reading. We've already mentioned that the Saudis get double-billing. You would expect major individual and corporate donors, prominent Democrats, local companies, and so on. But did he really have to take money from avowed Communist Armand Hammer? Adnan Khashoggi is represented - an arms dealer donating to a center for "peace." And the Playboy Foundation gets Sponsor status - maybe in thanks for that interview.

Look, you don't go to a Presidential Museum and Library expecting an objective treatment of its subject. Certainly an element of popularizing - in this case, we call it "whitewashing" - is to be expected. But given his behavior after the fact, it's obvious that Carter really believes all this stuff. And the gymnastics necessary to recast his presidency in their light are a lesson in polemics that any student of politics can't miss.

* Couple of dozen:

  • Russia

  • Latvia

  • Lithuania

  • Estonia

  • Poland

  • Romania

  • Hungary

  • Czechoslovakia

  • Bulgaria

  • Vietnam

  • Laos

  • Cambodia

  • Cuba

  • Nicaragua

  • Angola

  • Ethiopia

  • Grenada

  • Finland

  • Armenia

  • Azerbaijan

  • Georgia

  • Kazakhstan

  • Kyrgyzstan

  • Uzbekistan

  • Tajikistan

  • Mongolia

  • Turkmenstan

  • Belorus

  • Ukraine

  • Afghanistan

Indian Gaming Moves East

The Rocky reports this morning on an effort to designate certain land east of DIA as an Indian reservation and put up a casino there. In theory, this would be compensation for the Sand Creek massacre. I, like most Coloradoans in a poll cited, am sympathetic to the Indians, and would like to see them do well for themselves. But this plan needs to be carefully considered before we act out of guilt for a century-old injustice.

First, the tribes apparently would like to claim the whole northeast quarter of the state as compensation, and then trade it for this particular piece of high-value real estate. Secondly, there's the question of taxes and political influence. California has seen its Indian tribes go from being poor cousins to perhaps the single most powerful political influence in the state. They have been able not only to get prime real estate deignated "reservation land" for the purposes of development, but have also been able to use vague references to un-designated "religious sites" to exclude others from development. (Under such rules, the tribes are able, I'm not kidding here, to prevent development within, say, 10 miles of a religious site, which they don't need to designate until they want to. The potential abuse of such a system is blindingly obvious.)

Also, the poll cited creates a false equivalence between the rejected effort to put slots at racetracks, which would have generated revenue for the state at the expense of increasing gambling's availability, and the proposed Indian casino, constructed to benefit a tribe with no other visible means of support. Obviously people are going to be more sympathetic to Indians than to out-of-state corporations with no tie to the community.

Dan Weintraub at the Sacramento Bee has mentioned these abuses in the past. "Historic Tribal Land" could be used to include just about anything between the oceans. Before we start arbitrarily handing over real estate to Indian casinos, we need to make sure that we're not creating a political monster. One thing the Colorado Indians have going for them is that they actually seem to be real tribes, rather than faux concoctions created for the purpose of putting up a casino. It adds considerably to both the credibility and sympathy factors.

Constructive suggestions: 1) makes sure the casinos pay state taxes; 2) make sure the tribes are bound by campaign finance laws, including full disclosure; 3) don't let them offer more or different games from what towns can now vote to offer.

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Harrison Bergeron

Guy over at Damascus Road first noted this travesty of education a couple of days ago. Boortz points out that the guy never talks about earning money, but I think he misses the point. It's actually kind of a clever experiment, making the kids compete on unequal terms like that. But I don't think the mittens stand for what he thinks they mean.

The problem with the way the lesson gets taught is that the mittens only stand for externally imposed restraints. And they equate results with the means. So, for instance, if you have to try to pick up pennies wearing mittens, it's because it's already been determined that you won't end up with as many pennies. And it's because this thing called "society" has detemined that you won't end up with as many pennies.

Maybe the mittens should stand for something called "talent," or "ability" or "interest." Maybe you start the kids out with different numbers of pennies, unrelated to those talents. Maybe the kids with the mittens get to team up, shoveling the pennies into the scoops and splitting the haul. There are a million ways this cute project could be used to teach something really valuable and encouraging. There's about one way it can be manipulated into proto-Marxist propaganda. Leave it to an education "expert" to dig that one out.

Back when anyone cared what Kurt Vonnegut wrote, I read a short story of his, "Harrison Bergeron." The notion was that, sometime in the not-too-distant future, we'd be banned from discriminating on the basis of ability. Gifted dancers and athletes would have to wear weights. Smart people would have their thoughts interrupted every so often. And everyone accepted it in the name of fairness, and avoiding hurt feelings. There was a time when I thought it was just a metaphor.

Our Friends The Saudis

The Wall Street Journal reports on the growing European displeasure and frustration with Saudi Arabia. The Germans, in particular, seem to be getting fed up with the Saudi government providing diplomatic cover to radical imams, and the abuse of German law to promote their agendas.

European police and intelligence officials, however, say cooperation has been spotty. Although Saudi Arabia has won high marks in Washington recently for its willingness to cooperate in fighting terrorism, European law-enforcement officials say that they have found teamwork to be minimal. Germany, for example, waited six months before receiving a reply to questions about a Saudi diplomat alleged to have supported extremists. German federal police say cooperation with Saudi counterparts is almost nil, even though Saudi citizens are under investigation in Germany for links to terrorism. "Nothing has changed," says a German police official.

It seems that a Muslim school, initially intended for the children of Arab diplomats, applied to be able to teach German citizens. When the application was turned down, they used a loophole in the law to do so anyway, and now 40% of their students are Germans.

People involved in the school deny that it taught radicalism. Mohammad Hobohm, who retired last year as director of the academy, says: "The school offers much more than just Islam. The school offers the same curriculum offered at any school in Saudi Arabia."

For some reason, this is supposed to be comforting.

If the Germans, French, Dutch, and British really can be moved to take all this more seriously, they may rediscover what we have in common with them. Now, if we can only get them to understand the dangers of the home-grown variety.

This...Is CNN

The first thing you notice is a large billboard across the way saying:

Come Home, Connie
CNN Needs You
Brought to you by your friends at FOX News.

This sort of corporate jousting isn't unheard-of. At one point, Kodak Japan bought a blimp to fly around Tokyo, routinely buzzing the Fuji offices there. But it is more satisfying.

The next thing, after buying the tickets for the tour, is the airport-level security. I'm sure this is run by TSA, except the guards speak English. You disgorge every bit of metal you're wearing or carrying, just like at DIA, and go through a metal detector, just like at DIA. The unworthies are further wanded, just in case. (At the stop, someone asked where the servers were located. "Undisclosed location," we were told. Remember these things the next time Aaron Brown smirks when discussing airport security, or the whereabouts of the Vice President.)

As you get to the top of the escalator, awaiting Those Who Have Been Wanded to join you, there's a display where you can pick a date and watch it's news. No doubt some of the younger folks can pick their actual birthday, where I'd have to be satisfied with a newspaper or an old B&W of Uncle Walter. Now, the networks, including CNN, have enbargoed replaying the 9-11 footage out of fear of "inciting" something or other. Naturally, the date someone had chosen as I walked by was 9/11/01. As nearly as I could tell, nobody who passed the display began shouting anti-Arab slogans.

It's the same impulse that leads CNN-Airport to run CNN on a 10-second delay, so as not to show alarming images to people in airports. I can see where children might be upset by this, but the docent didn't mention "children," only "people."

Much of the tour was pretty routine, getting to see the studios of the various networks, the news floors with the gatherers, writers, producers, and editors tapping away. Pretty much all the talking heads use Teleprompters, and few of them actually write their own stuff. They're actors playing themselves, and they do a good job of it, I'm sure.

Sad and peculiar that as nice a place as Atlanta could have produced both Ted Turner and Jimmy Carter. I had a chance yesterday to tour CNN studios, and today the Carter Center. For the moment, CNN. (Carter needs a little digesting.)

Southern Hockey

Here's a tidbit: why the Atlanta "Thrashers?" Why not, say, the Atlanta Taras, or the Atlanta Mouths (they were owned by Ted Turner), or the Atlanta Marauders, or the Atlanta Fire? (I always thought the Atlanta Flames, before they moved to Calgary, was a bit of a "Gone With the Wind" Joke.

Turns out that, according to a historical marker outside the Georgia Bar building on Marietta St., that the original name for the settlement was "Thrasherville," after a Mr. Thrasher who founded the place in the 1830s. So, the Atlanta Thrashers.

Retention Woes?

Today's Denver Post reports on problems that the Army is having meeting its reserve retention goals. Actual recruiting doesn't seem to be a problem, and the active services are having no trouble meeting their recruiting goals, so the slight margins by which people are leaving the reserves don't seem to be much to worry about.

Watchdog Bites Man

The Sunday Times of London has a report (not available online) that the appropriately-named Lord Dubs, outgoing chairman of the Broadcast Standards Commission, the British equivalent of the private Standards Boards we have here, has been - ready for this? - biased towards Muslims.

The BSC recently upheld a complaint about the use of the phrase "Jesus f****** Christ" by Jamie Oliver, the chef, on Channel 4. The Right Rev Richard Holloway, former bishop of Edinburgh and a member of the BSC board, said this would not have been aired had it been about the prophet Muhammad. "There is much more sensitivity to disturbing Islam," he said.

"It is partly because the Muslim community does not have a tradition of humour about religion, although Christian leaders will stand up for things which are fundamentally important."

The Muslim community doesn't have a tradition of mocking and ridiculing things that are deeply important to it, anby more than any current Western religion, such as Environmentalism, does. It takes its religion seriously, in a way that the current Church of England, for instance, clearly doesn't. It takes some things a little too seriously, like comments about Muhammed and the Miss World pageant. It's obvious that the BSC has adopted this attitude, that Christianity isn't a serious religion, while Islam is. What's more alarming is that the Church seems to have, as well.

Powerline has noted that among the fundamentally important things that Christian leaders will stand up for is Saddam Hussien.

Judaism has a tradition of humor, even about things religious, but keeps it within bounds. On Purim, pretty much everything is fair game, but only on Purim. This allows for a certain level of humor, serious criticism levelled with a smile, while discouraging the corrosive effects of unbridled satire and laughter at the sacred.

Monday, December 29, 2003

Gay Marriage in Colorado

The Rocky today carries the results of a statewide poll on gay marriage, and the results are not encouraging. The state seems split on the Constitutional Amendment proposed by two Colorado reps., Rep. Marylin Musgrave and Senator Wayne Allard, and generally favors the notion of civil unions.

However, only about 35% on each side "feels strongly" about their position. This suggests that there's plenty of room for the debate to move. It's also discouraging that while the right, say, on NRO, has been vigorously debating both issues, the Left has just made up its mind not only to support gay marriage, but also that opposition to it cannot be principled, and de facto constitutes bigotry.

My own opposition has been based both on religious principles, but also on the fact that gay men are far less committed, both in polls and in behavior, to the notion of fidelity that marriage requires. Moreover, I consider it critical to distinguish between individuals and relationships. While we may not discriminate against individuals, we need not as a society provide public support and sanction to certain relationships.

Sunday, December 28, 2003

Long-Term Politics

Bret Stephens has an insightful article parallelling the misfortunes of three of the West's most venerable political parties, Israel's Labour, Britain's Conservatives, and America's Democrats. He rightly traces the decline of all three to ideas: the lack of ideas, a split over ideas, or being on the wrong side of an idea. Sometimes the lack of ideas results from having your previous ideas win out. Stephens sees this as the problem with both Israel's Labour and the Conservatives. I think this analysis is about 75% right. There's no doubt that the Tories suffer from more than a style issue; New Labor has conceded most, if not all, of Thatcher's gains, and the Tories have little to offer in the way of an alternative.

Sharon has adopted some of Israeli Labour's ideas, if only to the extent of disengagement, and abandoning the notion of a Greater Israel. But to say that Labor will have the better of the argument when Israel is secure enough to focus on economic and social issues seems to me to be wrong. Likud, especially Netanyahu, has taken on Histadrut, looked to deregulate, and put the Israeli economy on a more capitalist and less socialist footing. Social issues may favor a greater secularization and religious pluralism, but the wildly left-wing Meretz and Shinui, currently in government with Likud, have made those their core issues. There's no particular reason for it to favor Labor over Likud.

Stephens almost certainly overestimates the long-term decline of the Democrats, however. It's true that the party has been in decline since at least the late 1970s, when it became clear that it wasn't up to the last major foreign policy challenge. But while the bench may look thin now, there's still a very skilled Clinton waiting in the wings. Georgia and Arkansas have both produced Democratic presidents, both smaller to mid-size states from the South, and with 50 states, new talents isn't constricted by a national pipeline to the same extent as in Britain or Israel.

Also, the War on Islamism could develop into a low-level throb rather than continuing as a sharp pain. If this were to happen, many, if not most, elections over the next few decades could be determined either by social or economic issues. Much as it pains me to say it, the Democrats seem more attuned with the country on the first, and the latter always offers opportunities to the party out of power.

Stephens has to go back to the pre-Civil War Whigs to find a major party that actually goes out of existence. This is almost certian not to happen to the Democrats, for many of the above reasons, but also because of the size and complexity of American politics. Third parties almost always have a short shelf-life. Their issues are almost always narrow; once they begin to make a dent, one of the major parties, with broader appeal, sees the threat and absorbs their issues into its own platform. Social fractures large enough to produce wholly new, comprehensive world views almost never arise.

Finally, even long-term minority status doesn't mean either impotence or extinction. Leave aside the obviously partisan control of the bureaucracy, education, judicial, and news establishments (this and other blogs notwithstanding). The Senate Democrats have been very adept at promoting their agenda. The Republicans didn't hold the House for 40 years, but elected Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan, and Bush I.

As a partisan Republican, and as a supporter of Likud, there's a side of me that can't help but want this. It's a temptation to resist. Parties are sharpened by opposition and in opposition. Political debate deteriorates when one side needn't pay heed to the views of the other. Political elites ossify when personal advancement depends mainly on party favors. One-sided control of government tends to breed radicalism on the opposition benches.

Politics is about substance. But politics is process. It is not only the laws that are enacted, but the to-and-fro that precedes their enactment. For that to work well, there's nothing better than robust government and healthy opposition. As in love and marriage, you can't have one without the other.

Perhaps the most telling difference between the two parties right now is that you can't really imagine any of the leading Democrats making such a statement.

The Gravitas of Print

Yours truly gets a "token conservative" mention in today's Denver Post, in an article about how the Western Left is using blogs to organization. Of course, there are many more Western conservatives than liberals, making far better use of the blogosphere than the Left is, but the focus of the article is on the "liberal rage" spurring their flight to the Internet.

While the article does a credible job of analyzing the self-destructive dynamics of the current Democratc party, it does make a couple of mistakes. Republican rage at Clinton was not only less psychotic, but also eventually resulted in a candidate and a platform that was positive and stood for something. It's worth repeating that Clinton presided over uniform losses for his party, which Bush has presided over gains for his.

More saliently, the article tries to make the blogosphere into a leftist version of talk radio - a place for the excluded to go develop an audience and an agenda. But the right was also first into the blogosphere, and has certainly made better grass-roots use of it so far. The left is playing catch-up, and, as with their "liberal talk radio network," the effort is top-down rather than bottom-up.

Friday, December 26, 2003

Georgia Reconnaisance

I'm here visiting my family in Atlanta for a week, taking time to take the political temperature here in the South. Steve actually seemed to think that Andrew Young has a shot at Zell Miller's Senate seat next year. Young can certainly claim foreign policy credentials, but as former Ambassador to the UN, they're the kind that are more likely to hurt than help down here. They've got a road named after him, but then, they also have the Carter Center, and he couldn't get elected dogcatcher.

I'll actually be visiting the Carter Center on Sunday. We already have a pretty good idea of what the ex-President wants us to think of his legacy. I may or may not eat beforehand.

Also, I've seen only Dean lawnsigns and bumperstickers since I've been here. Not many, to be sure, but none for anyone else. Barring disaster, President Bush has exactly zero chance of losing this state to Dean. I'm the black sheep of the family, a lifelong Republican courtesy of the man from Plains. Everyone else, Mom, Dad, Ellen, and Steve, voted for Clinton twice and Gore last time. The dinnertime conversation last night was about the Democratic candidates, and their discontent with the fact that Dean is being conceded the nomination so early.

And they'll all vote for the President if Dean is nominated. We had bagels and lox for breakfast, and the little aluminum foil tops to the cream cheese containers would make perfect yarmulkes for the Jewish Dean supporters.

Quo Vadis Internet?

The guys over at Powerline are speculating on the future structure of a revenue-producing Internet. Since the clicks-and-mortar sites are making money, the biggest concern is for the news and opinion-driven, content sites. Hinderaker suggests that they'll eventually be paid by ISPs for generating traffic, which raises the question of the future of non-profit sites like blogs.

I'd suggest that the money is, and will, flow in the other direction. I pay the hosting company for a certain amount of disk space and bandwidth as it is. There's no reason that can't continue. Some news sites already are able to charge for access, such as the Wall Street Journal. More will try, at subscription rates, to do the same thing.

My bigger worry is that the use of packet-tracking software, in large part developed at the behest of that beacon of freedom, the Chinese Government, will spread. This will almost certainly have no real effect here in the US, but may curtail the Net's role as an unblockable entrance for subversive ideas into closed societies.

Thursday, December 25, 2003

Owens Still Riding High

Despite the state's budget issues, his separation, and the defeat of a water project referendum, Governor Bill Owens is still wildly popular among Coloradoans. Owens has handled the separation from his wife the right way, not trying to hide the fact, or pretend in a sham marriage (Mr. & Mrs. Clinton, take note), but not inviting the public in for close inspection of the details. The Governor's main weakness seems to be on the environment. As usual, the environmental movement brooks no dissent, in this case preferring gridlock to wider roads.

It's hard to square this with his lack of leadership on the budget issue, especially since he almost certainly owes a great deal of his popularity to TABOR. One hopes that he provides an energetic defense of that measure against Democratic attacks on it.

Travel Day

This morning was one of those sunrises you get as a dividend for living in Colorado. A low cap of clouds, extending just far enough east to let the sun sneak in underneath, giving you the progression in the southeast from purple to pink to orange to yellow. Then, the same progresion in the west, against the mountains. Finally, leaf-less trees lit up against the dark clouds. It's a great show. You move here for the mountains, and they throw this in as a bonus.

Merry Christmas

To my fellow RMAB members, and to all of you. You know who you are.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Colorado Stays Red Ryder

Next time Hugh comes back to go snowboarding or snowmobiling or whatever tree-endangering sport he decides to attack next, he might spare a little time for a side visit here.

Colorado Stays Red

Democrats hoping to stem the upcoming Republican tide in the Senate will have to look somplace other than Colorado. Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell has a commanding lead in polls pitting him against both specific and generic Democrats. Congressman Mark Udall had been rumored as a challenger, but fares poorly outside his home district. Former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb had been testing the waters over on the Western Slope, but may be keeping his powder dry for a 2006 run for governor.

Campbell has always been popular in Colorado. When the Republican won control of Congress in 1994, he switched parties, but not really voting pattern. He'd been a centrist and remained a centrist. He's got an odd public persona, playing off his Indian background, wearing a ponytail, and riding a Harley. I've never really warmed to deliberate eccentrics; the main event is always the voting record and policy proposals. On the whole, Campbell seems harmless enough, and should keep the seat warm while the state Republicans try to produce a successor.

Howling Into the Wind

The Madeline Albright Reputation Resurrection Tour continues, with a stopover at the Aspen Institute. The wholly uncritical response she no doubt got at this liberal think-tank is matched only by the wholly uncritical reporting.

Albright continues to receive a fawning media reception despite her almost complete substantive irrelevance. It's instructive to compare the vacancy of her speeching with the weight of Henry Kissinger's, although he's been out of office forover 25 years at this point.

The article notes that "Albright, the first female secretary of state and the highest-ranking woman in the history of American government, was known for wearing brooches that were said to reflect her attitude: A snake for discussing Hussein, an eagle for some other foreign officials." Nominations are being accepted for Albright's own avatar.

Monday, December 22, 2003

Scrooge McLileks

Both the Denver Post and 9News (the text's the same; view the TV news report) are reporting that the fine folks who brought you the Northern Alliance of Blogs are giving free one-way bus tickets to homeless people, 4500 over the last four years. Sixty-three of them ended up here.

To be fair, many more ended up in Illinois, probably Chicago, where at least they'll be able to vote five or six times before being picked up. So far, they've spent $370,000 on this program over that time. Now, I'll admit that the "homeless advocates" here in Denver go a little overboard:

"Denver never has and never would use such a program," White said. "Homeless people are part of our community. We should be embracing them and finding them a home and providing for the stranger in our midst, not sending them away."

This is certainly more in the spirit of the season, although it's probably a little more than most people who've been drooled on while having their spare snacks tossed back at them can honestly agree to. Ski bums, we can ship off to Vail and Aspen. But...bums?

While I can see why anyone would want to get away from Minnesota during the winter, Colorado only ranked 13th out of 48 "destination states." (This had to include Minnesota, so there seems to be a little intra-league trading going on here, too.) I will bet you dimes to doughnuts that California, Arizona, and Florida ranked higher.

"We're not a travel agency and we're not pushing people out of the state," [Commissioner Mike] Opat said. "We're not going to just give them a bus ticket and say, 'Here, now you are Denver's problem.' We are going to make sure they have a family, a job offer, something at the end of the line before we put them on a bus."

Sure! A job offer! How exactly do you verify this, Mr. Opat? I'd love to hear that conversation. I'm sure there are construction companies and restaurants and executive consulting agencies all over the country looking to hire, sight unseen, people whose phone interviews are punctuated by shouts of "Time's up!" and "My dealer's supposed to call three minutes ago!" How delighted they'll be when their prize new hire shows up at work stoned out of his mind and needing the shower that their plumbing is going to provide that family of 5 in Aurora.

Where's the Northern Alliance on all this? They're probably out there helping these guys pack! I'm sure Atomizer has better things to worry about now, but Mitch, in the past, has had lots of time on his hands. Hell, I'm surprised the guys at Powerline didn't put him on a Greyhound to Boulder. I will say this for them: they're subtle. I've had hits originating from the Hennepin County Public Library in the past. In retrospect, it's clear that they were bums, steered to the site by the Alliance, doing advance work in return for, oh, $5 or a bottle of Thunderbird. Or maybe a bus ticket.

Now that we've uncovered the problem, I just have two words for you guys: Security Fence.

More Property Rights

This time in Clear Creek County, where the Norsemen of the Rockies, a fellowship lodge of Norwegians, is having an easement condemned so a developer can build on prime land located above their lodge. Now, an easement is different from having your whole property whisked out from under your feet, it's true. Still, the guy has other access routes. The access route is, theoretically, only for the reservoir he wants to build. To serve the community he's developing. None of the rest of the development has approval yet, either.

You can argue that it's not fair for the Norsemen to sit athwart the tide of development, shouting "Halt!" or whatever it is they shout in Norwegian. But it's not like Mr. Pals didn't know they were there when he bought the land. He claims this deal is better than the alternative. I say that's for them to decide. He claims they don't live or vote in Clear Creek County. Thus says Harlan Pals, of Harlan Pals & Associates, based in St. Charles, Mo. I'd say they have a lot close relationship to the county than he does.

The again, since they're Norwegian, maybe he just wants to buy them a one-way ticket to Minneapolis. See Above.

One notion of Jewish law is that it affects every aspect of your life, including business affairs. With All Your Possessions is Rabbi Meir Tamari's authoritative look at economic life under Jewish law. He points out that the Rabbis claim that the Jews only earned the loss of the Temple and exile when they "sold the poor people cheaply." They interpret this to mean that the wealthy bought land surrounding that of the poor, cutting off access and forcing them to sell cheaply. Whether or not you buy this, indeed, whether or not you're even Jewish, the lesson is clear - you can't just alienate the common man from the economic system around him. A society like ours works best when it's free from envy. But dispossessing people unfairly only feeds that beast, and helps to break down common bonds and community.

Sunday, December 21, 2003

Oh, The Cowboy and the Driller Should be Friends (should be friends)

Today's Denver Post also carries a story about the conflicts between natural gas drillers and ranchers, who often don't own the mineral rights to their ranges. The water that methane drilling produces is often too salty for plants, although evidently people and cattle can tolerate it. So much of it is produced that it often floods productive land, too.

Key points: 1) the drilling is lucrative enough that the drillers want to find a way to solve the problem so they can keep their contracts. 2) the people defending the land are working farmers and ranchers, showing once again that the best stewards of the land, long-term, are the people who have to live on it.

Aviation Luddites

Ed Quillen, whom I actually like to read, has a piece in today's Denver Post explaining why flight's not such a good thing. Among his reasons:

  • Loss of train travel

  • Loss of air rights

  • Global Warming, of course

  • Long lines and invasive searches

  • War

OK, maybe "Luddite's" a little strong. But the real reason you don't have a train depot in Salida any more is the car, not the plane. And I say this as someone who likes trains.

And how often did anyone use the space 1000 ft.over his head, anyway? It's not as though I lost the right to build a 100-story skyscaper here on South Monaco.

As for global warming, the people think cow farts contribute to that, so a single, speculative study by a guy whose livelihood is tied to crying that the sky is falling isn't going to persuade me of anything.

And with regards to war, one can easily make the argument that air power has shortened war and made it more humane, using Iraq as a case-in-point. In any case, militaries will always use whatever tools they have at hand. I have no idea what blaming the plane for its use in war is even supposed to mean.

Finally, flight itself isn't the reason that the air transit system is an ongoing affront to human dignity. In any case, there's plenty of flight, in fact *most* flight, happens well below 30,000 ft. I've got a private pilot's license, and there's nothing quite like seeing the earth from 1,000 ft. Go celebrate. Take a flight in a C-172.

Gay Marriage Poll

The New York Times poll out today show a broad support for a Constitutional Amendment to codify marriage as, well, marriage. This is good news, and even the Times seems disinclined to try to spin it the other way. While the numbers outright opposed to such a ban (40%) are a lot higher than I'd like, the country is pretty much about where any acute observer would have placed it. No big surprises here, except that as people focus more on the subject, the less they like it.

What the gay lobby deliberately obscures is the difference between the gay person and the gay relationship. We can, as a society, rightly decide that a person's orientation is none of our business, but that we don't wish to enable certain relationships with legal support and sanction. It's a distinction that the country still seems able to make. Certainly, if we ever want to reverse this trend, out first step is to refuse to continue to retreat.

"The Republican House leadership is having its own internal fight to determine what to do," said Winnie Stachelberg, political director of the Human Rights Campaign. "There is no consensus among conservatives, libertarians and Republicans," she said. "Many of them say they don't support marriage for same-sex couples, but to amend the Constitution for social issues is a very bad idea."

Unless, of course, it's the courts doing the amending. In a country where the courts seem more and more willing to ignore the plain meaning of the text to satisfy their own notions of morality, I'm not sure that even a Constitutional Amendment, in the long run, will have any meaning.

Colorado Stays Red

Good News: Barring a meltdown the President will carry Colorado. Bad News: he probably won't be making any more visits here. A poll of registered voters has the President beating the "unnamed Democrat" by 10 points. This almost certainly understates his support, since in all other polls I've seen, named Democrats fare far worse than unnamed ones. Since to be elected President, one must legally have a name, this makes it harder for the Dems. Also, polls of likely voters consistently put the President (and usually Republicans in general) further ahead.

One bit of bad news/good news is that as the Iraq situation appears to stabilize, it also becomes less of an issue of voters. However,

In a hypothetical contest pitting the president against a generic Democratic nominee, Coloradans give Bush a 10-point lead, 46 percent to 36 percent. Of those who picked the Democrat, 62 percent opposed the war from the beginning and 19 percent said they once were for it but reconsidered. A solid 90 percent who picked Bush supported the war from the start.

Pollster Lori Weigel said that partly explains the strength of former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean in the race for the Democratic nomination, since he is the one top-tier candidate who said he opposed the war from the beginning. But support for the war among overall respondents suggests Dean could have an uphill battle in a general election, she said.

Interestingly, the poll calls this bad news: "One troubling poll result for Bush was that his job-approval rating was 44 percent among Colorado voters who said they or someone in their household was worried about losing a job in the next six months."

That means that his numbers are fairly good even among those who are concerned about their jobs. As the economy continues to rebound, this group is going to shrink. Altogether, it looks like the national Democrats in this state are pulling from a pool that's going to dry up as the election year moves on. Now, if we could just translate that to the 1st District...

Friday, December 19, 2003

Red Sox Come Up Short Again

The Red Sox wanted to trade Manny Ramirez to Texas for Alex Rodriguez. Both players have enormous contracts, but A-Rod's is a 10-year, $250 million deal. The Red Sox won't pay that, so they worked out a deal with A-Rod to restructure his contract. The deal was agreeable to both player and team. The Players' Associate nixed the deal, because they didn't like the give-backs.

Can somebody please explain to me how on earth the Players' Association gets to veto a deal that doesn't violate league minimums? The Rangers made a terrible mistake hamstringing themselves with this contract. Numbers like that won't show up again for another 15, 20 years. If A-Rod wants to take a pay cut to get a ring, it's not like he's undercutting the market. What business is it of Don Fehr's?

Budget Woes Continued

In what's shaping up to be the big Colorado political story of 2004, the state is trying to do something about its budget problems before the next recession. We may have sailed between the Scylla of TABOR and the Charybdis of Amendment 23 this time, but the point of the Odyssey is that Odysseus is the only one that makes it back.

Amendment 23 requires state spending on education to rise by inflation +1% every year until 2010. TABOR requires that the state balance its books from year to year, can't raise taxes without asking the people about it, and that the amount of spending can only rise by the population change + inflation, from the previous year. The Gallagher Amendment keeps the percentage of total property taxes paid individuals, instead of businesses, at 45%. Since more people move into an area than businesses, the individual property tax rate tends to fall.

So here's the problem. Amendment 23 means that an ever-growing dollar amount needs to be spent on public education. (For some obscure reason, judges don't appear to consider this a violation of local control...) TABOR keeps spending well in check, but it also has a downward ratchet from recessions. Rather than using a given year as a baseline, it uses last year, which means that absent high inflation, you can't ever make up lost ground. And the Gallagher Amendment tends to reduce the per-person amount of property tax collected.

This means that the amount of money left over for discretionary spending keeps falling. The college presidents are going nuts, since their tuitions count against TABOR. They've not done anything to structurally reduce spending (aside from a few well-publicized layoffs; I don't see the administration or tenured faculty offering to take pay cuts or go to fewer well-catered conferences to save the jobs of those staff they profess to love). And they see that they're going to have to compete fiercely for a shrinking pie.

This doesn't mean the problem isn't real. It is. State Treasurer Mike Coffman is trying to get everyone to give a little. The voters rejected a change to Gallagher, but they may not have grasped the full import. The Democrats want to gut TABOR, seeing it as a the tether that it is. Coffman is willing to set a given year as the baseline, getting rid of the downward ratchet. At the same time, the Coalition for Children, or whatever, is threatening to lie down in front of bulldozers or something to keep that extra +1% in Amendment 23. Coffman is proposing killing the 1%. His proposals seem reasonable enough to me.

At the same time, there's talk of a "rainy-day" fund, which sounds a lot like a scam to me. Rainy-day funds, in the hands of elected officials with constituencies to please, tend to get used up in a light drizzle. The only reason we didn't run through it a year ago was because it wasn't there. Once that cushion exists, bet on committees saying to themselves that, "well, there's always that rainy-day fund."

Pretty much any change is going to have to go to the voters, since these provisions are all written into the state constitution.

The big disappointment here has been Governor Owens. He owes a lot of his popularity to TABOR, which predates him by years. Because of it, raising taxes was never really an option, and Colorado managed to avoid a lot of the fiscal problems faced by other states. Having weathered the storm, he's not come forward with any real proposals short of securitizing the tobacco settlement money, and putting it in, you guessed it, a Rainy Day Fund. This is Owens's big chance to show leadership and broker a deal putting his successor in better shape, and he's been all but AWOL on it. Some local Republicans, wishing to preserve his viability for the 2008 Presidential race, are willing to make excuses for him. I say that if he can't show leadership now, he's got no shot at being President, anyway. And this is the job he's got now.

Why do you care, especially if you don't live in Colorado? Because this story is likely you state's story, too, only with higher taxes now. California Democrats just pushed Arnold away from any actual spending or taxing restraints. Your state probably raised taxes in the middle of a recession or an incipient recovery to make ends meet. Given that, TABOR has started to sound real good to a lot of people living elsewhere, and if we lose faith in it here, you'll never see it in your state.

And you won't even have the option of moving here to enjoy it.

Not Very Presidential

Now, Howard Dean is running against the Washington Post. And he's sounding less pacifist and more, well, weird.

"For the past four days, the Washington Politics as Usual Club has taken every opportunity for attacks on me and my campaign that go far beyond questioning my position on the war," Dean said in a campaign stop. "The capture of one very bad man does not mean this president and the Washington Democrats can declare victory in the war on terror."

So now he wants to continue the war? I thought he wanted to get us out of Iraq sooner than possible. What I think now is that Saddam's capture has sucked the wind out of America's discomfort about being there, and running against the larger war no longer looks like a winner. The Democrats, and Dean himself, are doing everything they can to make the war a non-issue, since their real strength is domestic policy and the welfare state. I haven't heard any of the other Democrats declare victory. They're just all trying to find some way to neutralize an issue that none of them, with the exception of Joe Lieberman, really gives a damn about.

At a news conference after his speech, Dean was asked repeatedly about a Washington Post report that detailed instances in which his comments on a variety of subjects proved to be untrue or misleading. Dean did not address the article's specifics, but said voters can believe him "or they can believe The Washington Post."

Sorry, Howard. Maybe the reason the Clintons hate you so much is that you're trying out their style. But you have neither the charm nor the national complacency to pull it off. You may yet get the nomination, but a liberal trying to run against the Post would be like Tom DeLay claiming that Fox News was sabotaging his agenda.

So Much for the Big Fist Theory

When Israelis reacted to Arafat's declaration of war by electing Ariel Sharon, Leon Wieseltier famously called Sharon "nothing but a big fist," while still defending the Israelis' choice of him to lead them through this time. Now, by declaring his intention to take the first steps to imposing a unilateral settlement, Sharon has shown a subtlety denied of him by his critics.

Sharon can't afford to offend the US, of course, so he needs to cloak these moves in the guise of "implementing the road map," and denying that the fence will be the permanent border. There probably will be adjustments. But the inexorable logic of the fence is that Israel can't spend time or lives defending those Jews on the other side. Deacon at Powerline considers this "something for nothing." Sharon's too good for that. The implied threat is that everything behind the fence is defensible, and if you don't cooperate, we'll just hold onto it, forever if need be. Any honest appriasal would, by those criteria, make the fence the permanent border. After all, it does seem to be working, which it why the Islamofascists are screaming so loudly about it.

The other thing this does is relieve Israel of the burden of providing security to the Palestinian population centers. So far, the PA has refused to confront Hamas and Islamic Jihad, instead allowing them to do their fighting, while ceding more and more popular support to them. Either the pathological society that the Palestinians have become rights itself, or it devours itself. But Israel can't determine that, and with the fence, it can finally, relatively safely, get mostly out of the way.

A Little More Humiliation

Bret Stephens of the Jerusalem Post explains why Tom Friedman got it half-right when he talks of the importance of honor to the Arabs. While Friedman argues that we need to pay homage to that principle, Stephens thinks it's our job to break it. Charles Krauthammer makes a similar, but slightly different, point in this morning's Post. He seems to be saying that Hussein's humiliation works within that "culture of honor" to destroy both his personal myth and that of Baathism.

I think they're both right. It's much easier to destroy a man, or even a movement, within a political and social culture, than it is to radically change that culture. But the first step in doing so is thoroughly discrediting the products of that culture.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Littwin and the Democrats

Price: Well, don't bother, Sefton. I don't like you, I never did, and I never will.

Sefton: A lot of people say that, and the first thing you know it, they get married, and live happily ever after.

       Stalag 17

The other bit of Littwin's column involves his complaints about the trailing Democrats attacking Howard Dean's foreign policy positions and experience. Littwin's in a snit because:

And the other suggests another kind of desperation. In this kind, they're so desperate to catch the front-runner, they're prepared to tell Democratic voters it's more important that they beat Dean than it would be for Dean to beat Bush. Try that on as a campaign slogan.

No, Mike, their slogan is that it's more important that they beat Dean, because Dean can't beat Bush. That's what the whole primary nomination process is about, I've heard those ads, and they're legitimate critiques, certainly far more on the up-and-up than the NAACP suggesting that Bush was driving the truck that dragged James Byrd to death. They're reasoned appeals to Democrats not to nominate a guy who'll take the party's snowmobile into a tree.

I don't know what Littwin's worried about. That the intramurals will get so rough that the winner won't be able to lead the varsity? It seems to me that Al Gore was nominated real good, even though he didn't get elected. And John McCain managed a serious run at the nomination, enough to give Governor Bush a scare. Bush's father famously called Reagan's economy-reviving tax plan "voodoo economics," and they did marry and live happily ever after, though once the separation was final Bush pere reverted to his old ways. Coronations are better for sitting Presidents, since a real internal challenge means his own party's not happy with his on-the-job performance. Parties take a little longer to decide on challengers, and a good race toughens 'em up a little. And then they can bring the also-ran on board to "broaden their appeal" and "reach out to the other factions."

The nominating process is about finding someone who can a) win, and b) represents the party's ideals, and c) can lead once he wins. Sometimes you have to compromise on b) to get a). Sometimes you end up ditching a) to get b), just ask the California Republicans. But it's perfectly legitimate to run ads reminding primary voters that the guy they're considering getting married to has some deficiencies in a) and c), and is he really all that much b), after all? Remember, this year's process is so front-loaded that the game will likely be over by March. If the Democrats go ahead and hand Dean the first round, there's not gonna be a second round for second thoughts.

Which brings us to the dynamics of caucuses and primaries. About which I know almost nothing. Deacon and Trunk over at Powerline has posted a couple of articles about the alternatives to Dean, and the chances that he'll be stopped. Peter Schramm over at No Left Turns is arguing that Clark's the guy to do it. (He also finds it interesting that Sharpton is ahead of Kerry and Edwards, but that doesn't surprise me. It's almost certainly entirely the black vote. Sharpton ran for office, what, three times in New York? And he always ended up with the same percentages, and it was always the same voters. The fact that he's picking the same faces out of a larger crowd shouldn't surprise anyone. Disappoint, disturb, and dismay them, yes. But not surprise.)

I know this much. If Clark somehow turns into Frank Reich and gets the nomination, his only card is his foreign policy "experience." Aside from the part of alienating every military officer who'll talk about him, that rests on his role in Kosovo. The Balkans, as Tina Brown, plumping for Hillary, points out, is full of unpronounceable places and people. Expect the debate moderators or Clark himself to bring those up, just to get Bush to try. Expect the papers the next day to lead with whatever happens.

Littwin and the Iraqis

Jared has a fine take-down of Mike Littwin's latest this morning. Littwin's basic thesis is that the Iraqis aren't celebating more because we're doing the work of scrubbing the Baathists, not them. That when Ceaucescu went down, at least it was to Romanians, but when a foreigner does the work, it the "us" in "us vs. them" includes the dictator. There's some evidence for this, although citing the Los Angeles Times rather than this Washington Post report calls into question his taste in newspapers.

I confess to understanding the Sunnis on this point. It's the same reason people went crying through the streets rather than celebrating when Stalin died. The man failed in just about every mission he set for Soviet society, and his failures resulted in the occupation of Central and Eastern Europe than eventually fractured his country. The fear of the unknown is often worse than the terror of the known.

There's another point here, too. The Iraqis may be embarassed that Saddam looked more like the Cowardly Lion than the Lion of Baghdad. But when the guys crawls out of his hole looking like he's been collecting cans and bottles for the deposit money, your second or third thought may be, "shoot, I could take that guy." And you'll be embarassed that you didn't. There's a notion in Judaism that when you're judged, you're shown your "evil inclination," the force behind the little red devil on your right shoulder whispering, "go ahead, do it." The righteous will see it as a mountain, and ask themselves, "how could I have overcome that?" The, um, not-so-righteous will see it as a hair, and ask themselves, "how could I have not overcome that?" I think there's a little of that in the Iraqi reaction, too.

WSJ on the Sleuths

The Wall Street Journal has a great piece today on the two junior military intelligence analysts who got Saddam. Lt. Angela Santana, 31, and Cpl. Harold Engstrom, 36, of Alpha Company, 104th Military Intelligence Battalion, did the detective work to hunt him down. Remember how some New York cop looked through every New Jersey parking ticket to help nail Son of Sam?

The two officers say Maj. Murphy's orders to them were: "Figure it out, draw the lines, make me a chart and find every crucial person connected to Saddam."

Their first thought: "Is he joking? This is impossible. We can't even pronounce these names," says Lt. Santana.

But soon Lt. Santana, a former executive secretary in Ohio and Cpl. Engstrom, a former high-school English teacher in Phoenix, started poring over about 9,000 other names.

By mid-September, after many sleepless nights spent sifting through tens of thousands of pages of information, Lt. Santana and Cpl. Engstrom had narrowed their list to 300 names.

The chart showing the names and their connections was incredibly complicated, showing the family, tribal, and organizational connections among the subjects. The two analysts weren't trained for any of this, yet managed to pull together enough to see that:

As the chart grew, the pair started to see patterns. They realized the resistance was multilayered, as they pieced together who was related to whom among the tribes. The tribal leadership was tightly linked through a web of marriages and intensely loyal to Mr. Hussein, the analysts concluded. Below that level were a number of other people clearly part of the insurgency. These fighters were likely in it for the money.

The two sleuths noticed how few of the resistance fighters who had been caught planting bombs or carrying out raids were relatives of the tribal principals. They concluded that the bosses were distancing themselves from the rank and file.

"We learned about the Iraqi army, structure, history and tribal culture before we got here, but it wasn't until we started working on the chart that it really hit us. The extent and depth of how much the tribes were intertwined and integrated was beyond our expectation and frankly shocked us," says Cpl. Engstrom.

That nugget came with the man the military calls "the source," who led an army of 600 troops to a farmhouse in the village of ad Dawr where Mr. Hussein was hiding. His name, which the military hasn't disclosed, first appeared on Lt. Santana and Cpl. Engstrom's list in early summer, when several detainees named him as an influential leader financing the resistance.

Lt. Santana and Cpl. Engstrom spent many hours mapping his ties to Mr. Hussein and others on their list. When they were finished, they knew he wasn't an ordinary suspect. If captured he could offer substantial clues to Mr. Hussein's whereabouts. They alerted the Fourth Infantry Division to hunt him down. The informant, who is described as middle-age and from an area near Tikrit, escaped capture several times. Finally, he was arrested in a house raid in Baghdad last Friday and immediately brought to Tikrit for interrogation. Mr. Hussein was captured the next day.

"When I heard this source was captured, I knew we were onto something. We had someone who was very close to Saddam talking so there was a great chance we would find him that night," says Lt. Santana, who has been in service for 11 years and served in the Gulf War in 1991. She says she joined the army "because I was hyper and wanted a good outlet for my energy."

On Saturday night, Lt. Santana and Cpl. Engstrom sat inside an operations room at the military's headquarters in Tikrit and waited anxiously for news of the search. They listened to one of the commanders speaking to Col. James Hickey, who led the Fourth Infantry Division's First Brigade, on the radio. Shortly after 8 p.m., Lt. Santana heard Col. Hickey's voice announcing, "We got him."

She was ecstatic. "We got him?" she recalls screaming, throwing up her arms and jumping to her feet. "We got him, we got him!" she continued shouting as she ran from room to room in Saddam Hussein's former palace.

In one of those twists that makes you proud, Cpl. Engstrom joined the Army after September 11, to help do something. Not only did the attacks make us willing, they made us able. I seem to remember a lot of naysayers saying that we were babes in the woods, too naive to penetrate anything as dense and difficult as Iraqi society. These two had been on the job for less than two years. Nothing in their training, not their language skills, not their analytical training, not their societal or cultural background, prepared them for this. They made it work, anyway.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

The Economic Picture

The Wall Street Journal has a page showing the main economic indices, with links to the most recent government report for that statistic. We tend, as news consumers, to get these numbers piecemeal. Unless you really make a point of following this stuff, the reporting is just too granular, and comes freighted with the interpretations built in. Not only can't you put a picture together, you don't even know where the edge pieces are.

First of all, the economy has been growing for two years now. Secondly, despite ongoing cries of a "jobless recovery," which we hear during the opening stages of any recovery, the unemployment rate has been declining for almost half a year now. There's also an interesting correlation between the two.

Both sets of sales had been growing through 2002, but really took off in the last half of this year, the same time that unemployment began to drop significantly. Also, note that even 2001 wasn't really that bad, even though September saw a drop in both numbers, naturally.

These last three are fascinating. Throughout 2001, 2002, and 2003, retail sales grew steadily, accelerating a little during this year. Ignoring the drop in 9/01, and the rebound as people started buying again in October, it's a pretty steady curve. That's what's show in the consumer spending graph, too. The numbers fluctuate in a narrow, 0-1% band right around 0.5% per month increase, again with an anomaly for September and October 2001. At the same time consumer confidence is dropping, rebounding in early 2002, and coming back some this year from further drops. What's going on here?

What's going on, I think, is that the two statistics measure different things. Consumer confidence measures an abstraction. "How do you feel about the future of the economy?" or even "How do you feel about your personal financial future?" are abstractions, and closely related to each other. People will form their opinions about the economy based on news reports. These reports have been continuously, relentlessly gloomy, even as the charts show more or less continuous improvement. So if someone asks about the future of the economy, people will respond with their mood based on the adverbs used to describe the charts. Here's the methodology.

Actual spending, though, is a concrete action, and you only spend money you have (or, if you're foolish, you think you will have). So that continues to increase, even as people abstactly worry about the economy. In fact, unemployment, although it certainly hit me personally, never got that high for the economy as a whole, although whenever that number's going up, jobs are hard to find. This corroborates the data. People were worried about the abstract "state of the economy." but since most of them hadn't lost their jobs, they tended to keep spending.

Ahhh, here's the tough one. Because we're all kind of mercantilist at heart, aren't we? Ask Paul Craig Roberts. This news about a new southward extension of NAFTA must be killing him. And, to be sure, a $480B trade deficit sounds like a lot. Until you realize that we have an almost $12 trillion economy. This is not to say we're immune from the Financial Forces. We're not. But it's the key to understanding what's been going on with the dollar, and where some dangers may lie.

The only way to pay for these deficits is with dollars that foreigners buy. But direct foreign investment has been falling the last half of this year. As a result, we sell the dollar more cheaply, offering more of them to foreigners. That's why the dollar has been falling. One way of attracting more foreign capital is to raise interest rates. If people in Japan see that they'll get a better return on their dollars, they'll buy more of them. At this point, though, the Fed is committed to low interest rates, so the dollar will probably keep getting weaker. This makes imports more expensive, which could fuel inflation. I have to believe that if the US economy continues to grow at anything like 4-5%, it'll be an attractive place for foreign capital.

And unlike China, you can actually believe our numbers.

100 Years

One hundred years ago today, the Wright brothers flew. Underdogs in a race to powered, heavier-than-air flight, they won. Rand Simberg over at NRO has a fine layman's description of how all the pieces came together. Although he misses a key technical point, which we'll get to later.

I'm the proud holder of a Private Pilot's license, issued by your FAA. William Langewiesche wrote an article for the Atlantic, reprinted in 1998 after JFK, Jr.'s death, called "The Turn," explaining some basic aerodynamics. That article is one of the main reasons I started flying. The whole operation not only made sense, it sounded attainable, which it was. And is.

Langewiesche knows what he's talking about. His father was Wolfgang Langewiesche, who wrote Stick and Rudder, one of the classics of flight instruction. For those of you not inclined to climb into a single-engine Cessna, Stick and Rudder is the next-best thing. A Cessna 172 is basically the same thing that was flying in the 1930s. The landing gear is different, the avionics are better, but the controls and the aerodynamics are almost exactly the same.

It was Wolfgang who made that point about the Wright Brothers. When turning the plane, the pilot has control over how much to bank the plane and how much to turn the nose. To keep the plane, and the pilot, from sliding all over the place, the turn has to be coordinated, those two control have to be made in tandem. The Wrights linked the two inputs so their turns were always coordinated. Today's pilots have to manage them separately. This might seem to be extra work, but trust me, it's invaluable in a cross-wind landing.

I love flying because you see the world differently from 500 or 1000 ft. up. You see more than you do from ground level, and you see more than you do from 30,000 ft., too. There's nothing quite like seeing your own neighborhood, or city, or house, from 50 or 75 stories up. City planning either makes sense, or it doesn't. Traffic patterns make sense. Get out over the plains and follow that survey line as it turns from road to fence, to path, to divider between fields. I have circled over Devil's Tower, flown directly over the Black Hills, and then seen Mt. Rushmore from the air. And I have flown over Hayden Pass, above the mountain-tops but also between them. (Just stay clear of the Military Operations Area.)

Flying in a small plane is a transcendent experience. If you've got $100, go down to your small airport - Centennial or Jefferson County, near Denver - and tell one of the flight school pilots you want a tour.

Axis of Weevils

We need a name for the steady drip-drip-drip of Democrats, some of them quite liberal otherwise, who are taking a responsible position on the war. So far, we've got Roger L. Simon, Sen. Joe Lieberman, Rep. Gephardt, Sen. Zell Miller, and now Orson Scott Card. I like, "Axis of Weevils."

When I was growing up, the term for a right-leaning Democrat, usually from the South, was "Boll Weevil." He could be counted on to give something like the Reagan tax cuts a fair shot. They competed with the left-leaning Republicans, usually Northern, called, "Gypsy Moths." I suppose the idea was that each was a pestilence to his party's leadership.

if anyone fits the bill it's Sen. Miller, but you don't hear the terms so much any more. Part of the reason is that the species themselves are rarer, although the Republicans are certainly more competitive in the northeast that the Democrats are in the South.

Kol Hakavod, Jared!

Just in case you were wondering, Jared, over at the Exultate, was the sneaky Smeagol who tipped off Medved about the Sean Astin's efforts on behalf of the US military. Astin's a good guy, and it's probably a good thing for Viggo Mortensen that most of the filming was done before September 11.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Last Word on Saddam

Monday, December 15, 2003

Daredevil Hugh

Grand Poobah of the Bologsphere, Hugh Hewitt, was in town over the weekend for a Young Life fundraiser/Christmas party.

Godspeed, Hugh, and come back soon, um, maybe during the Summer.

UPDATE: The Mangled Cat is propsing giving Hugh a new title...

The Company You Keep

Imam Kazerooni, it would appear, is allowing these people to sell a tape of one of his lectures. These charmers create Islamic software, but are also working on a fairly extensive "Boycott Israel" Campaign, one extensive enough to include most of the Fortune 500. It's a comprehensive campaign, and we would strongly encourage you to patronize any and all of the targeted companies.

They also have pictures of lots of Islamofascist, anti-Israel, anti-American rallies and protests:

At the same, they do produce actual Islamic-oriented software. This kids game is guaranteed to produce hours of fun and a lifetime of bigotry and hatred:


You are a farmer in South Lebanon who has joined the Islamic Resistance to defend your land and family from the invading zionists.

While this shot from an "Art of the Islamic Revolution" CD is just the thing to whip out in your indignation at having your patriotism questioned:

"The Vampires of the West and East all feeding on the Muslim Ummah."

I'm sure that Imam Kazerooni would be appalled, just appalled, to see his Koran tapes being distributed by these people. Never mind that the link from his mosque leads directly to the site.

Local Iraqis Celebrate

The Denver Post has a nice article about the reactions of local Iraqis to the news that the witch is dead. For some reason, they seem to equate justice more with results that with process.

Kazerooni has the "but" part of the argument.

Axis of Weasels' Guest Fifth Columnist

Ibrahim Kazerooni, Imam of the larger mosque in Denver, and refugee from Saddam Hussein's Iraq, has thrown his support behind Saddam's backers as only the enemy of his enemies could do. Kazerooni's considered a moderate, which means he isn't calling for the all-out destruction of the country that saved both him and his homeland from the freakish monster now in custody, and starring on the late-night talk show monologues. No, he just wants us to turn everything over to the UN, after apologizing to them.

Kazerooni is a Shiite. This isn't a problem in and of itself, of course. Lots of people, including all the pro-American Iranians demonstrating in the streets, are Shiite. But in an Iraq where the Shiite clergy is currently trying to rig the process so they get to start out with all the goodies, one has to wonder a little about the code words this Shiite cleric is using.

By dismissing smart political theater as mere stuntsmanship, Kazerooni downplays the symbolic aspects of this struggle. One doubts that they'd bother him so much if they weren't so effective. Apologize to the UN? What, is he nuts? Every sin he accuses us of is one we'd accuse the UN and our so-called allies of. What's more, we were right, and they, simply, were wrong.

Finally, he wants the UN to run the economic and political reconstructiong efforts because we lack credibility with the Iraqis on the street. Exactly whom does he really think will have more credibility: those who tried to keep Saddam in power, or those who now have him in prison?

Muslims Promote Tolerance

For themselves. Look, they're right. Most American Muslims are good citizens, like you and me. One of my profs this coming quarter is an Iranian who's been in the states for years; very pro-American, would like nothing better than for the mullahs to be swinging from lampposts. That's they're best advertising: walking the talk. Not sitting there playing the crimeless victims, beating us over the head, telling us how bad we ought to feel for worrying that some of them might be hostile.

There are about 4 million Muslims in the US. In a country with over 290 million people of other religious faiths, almost all of which have suffered some ill-treatment by Muslims abroad, there have been a handful of violent incidents, and a handful more of graffiti or vandalism. In France, a country with a few million Muslim immigrants, there have been hundreds of violent anti-Semitic attacks, against the persons, possessions, and synagogues of the Jews there. You do the math.

Belated Welcome

To Guy Cannon, and his Damascus Road Blog, to the Rocky Mountain Alliance. Now blogging regularly, Guy takes a look at things from the northwest suburbs, a place called Arvada. Close enough to Boulder to keep an eye on it for us, but not so close that he'll need regular detoxification or a chem suit.

As we've said before, it's not a closed club. Come on in, the water's fine.

Visiting Iraqis React

The Rocky Mountain News reports on the reactions of the visiting Baghdad City Council members to Saddam's apprehension:

Council member Dr. Riyadh Nassir Al Adhadh turned on the television and saw Iraqis dancing in the streets. "I was dancing for them," he said, beaming.

But Amir A. Abbas, an Iraqi engineer now helping to train the new council members in democracy, said he had found the dictator so terrifying that he first reacted with fear at the sight of Saddam's face on television early Sunday. It took a moment for him to remember "he's gone."

These guys are the real McCoy. They're not longstanding exiles. They're not Americans. They're not interlopers, and they're not former Ba'athists. They can't be accused of not knowing the situation on the ground. They manage to get through the whole article without using the word "but," and they take a thoroughly optimistic view of the situtation. Then again, they can't afford not to. If you can cut and run whenever you like, or if you think your country's security doesn't depend on success, you can be as negative as you like.

Sunday, December 14, 2003

Iraqis in Denver

It turns out that several members of the Baghdad City Council are in Denver, as part of a USAID pilot program, to learn how government Not-From-The-Barrel-Of-A-Gun works. They'll be here for the week.

Let's just hope nobody tells them about this. (Adobe Acrobat PDF Reader Required.)

Human Rights Watch, Don't Call Us, We'll Call You

Human Rights Watch is concerned that Saddam get a real trial, not a show trial. While they concur that the man was a monster, apparently they trust neither the US nor the Iraqis to deal with this man without their expert assistance. Does the arrogance of these people know no bounds?

We'll Always Have Paris

Chirac & Hussein - 1974

Not the Founding Fathers

Fox News is reporting the collapse of the EU Constitution talks. One of the sticking points is the sharing of power among large and small states. France and Germany want the large countries to have power; Spain and Poland want a more even distribution. Now, we solved this problem with a bicameral legislature. But, of course, Europe doesn't have anything to learn from us about these things.


OK, I know the big news of the day, and we'll get to that shortly. But at the moment, CSPAN II is airing a tape of Diane Rehm's public radio interview with Jimmy "Mr. Peanut" Carter about his new novel. (Diane Rehm is the host on whose show Howard Dean all but accused President Bush of having been warned by the Saudis about 9-11.) The novel is set during the colonial period, and a caller just asked about the status of slaves during the Revolution, when the British encouraged them to flee in order to destabilize the states and the Revolution.

Our ex-President just said that the "Governor of Virginia actually free several hundred slaves, to form units to help fight against the Revolution. Unfortunately, that effort was aborted when the soldiers in those units contracted smallpox."

Yes, that's right ladies and gentlemen. "Unfortunately" soldiers fighting for the British died. I give you our 39th President. Do with him what you will.

Friday, December 12, 2003

Jared, I Feel Your Pain

As the proud holder of a Private Pilot's license from the FAA, I know just what you mean.

Back to the Senate

The Rocky reports that George Nethercutt is considering hiring Dick Wadhams to run his campaign against Sen. Patty Murray. The headline, "Dems have GOP 'attack dog' laughing like hyena," is less than flattering. But Wadhams is a smart operator, doesn't pull punches, and can run a campaign outside Colorado. Nethercutt defeated sitting House Speaker Tom Foley in 1994, and has a real shot at taking out Murray next year. Hiring Wadhams would just about guarantee that Apple-Staters will hear a lot about Osama bin-Laden's philanthropic efforts to build day-care centers in Afghanistan.

The Single-Payer Flu

For those of you still looking for a good reason to avoid the southward drip of the single-payer system, check out today's article on future flu-shot technologes in the Denver Post. The money paragraphs:

But flu shots are historically unprofitable for manufacturers, and converting to the new technology would cost $200 million to $300 million, said Dr. Richard Duke of Denver-based GlobeImmune, a company that develops several vaccines, but not one for the flu.

"Every time you do something new you have to go through the whole FDA (approval) process, and that's expensive. Who's going to pay for it?" he said. "The real problem is there is no motivation to anyone to do this, because in the end the government" doesn't adequately reimburse manufacturers.

Flu vaccine already operates on the single-payer system. The government, on the recommendation of the CDC, orders a certain number of doses and agrees to pay a certain cost. And kids are dying because there's no money to implement new technologies, which are expensive because of government regulation. Remember this the next time some Democrat tries to sell you a new health insurance system. All together now: "price controls create shortages; subsidies create surpluses; extended subsidies create inflation."

Oh, and Mrs. DeGette? The next time you're looking for someone to blame for this problem, open up your compact and look in the mirror.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Werewolves of the History Channel

Just discovered this. The History Channel's Time Machine is running a two-parter on the Post-WWII Nazis known as the Werewolves, and their attempts to keep fighting a guerilla war against our occupation. I'll post more on how it was later.


...or "why you can't read this posting during November 2004."

Jonah Goldberg wants to know why the blogs have been quiet about McCain-Feingold. I can only speak for myself, but I have a couple of reasons. First, I like to defer to people who actually know what they're talking about. I'm not a professional pundit; I have a job; and I do not have time to read a 90,000-word opinion on why "Peace" means "War." Secondly, I'm stunned that any member of the Supreme Court of the United States, during any era, at any time, could bring himself to belive that "Peace" means "War." Taken in combination, they mean that I sit here in stunned silence, feeling hollowed out that our freedoms are being hollowed out.

Then there's the question of a plan. If, like Humpty-Dumpty, they Supreme Court can use words to mean "whatever they like, no more and no less," what can we do? Can we pass more laws? If they're not Constitutional Amendments, they'll be subordinate to this eviscerated First Amendment. If they are, they'll be interpreted however these weasels want to interpret them. This is a profound ruling, and I wonder if there isn't a sense that paper, not pixels, is the only thing weighty enough to deal with this justly.

Where is the Congress? Where is the President? They passed and signed this bill into law, hoping that the Supreme Court would save them from their own cravenness. They abdicated their rights, their historical responsibilities, to discuss the Constitutionality of a bill before it became law. This was noted at the time, but shouted down, since we all knew the Court wouldn't go for the worst parts of the law, right? Well, now we've got the worst parts thrown in there together.

I'm not an attorney. I have no idea to what extent this law applies. The ACLU can't criticize a candidate just before an election. Can I, a private individual take out an ad? Or hand out flyers downtown? What if a group of fellow bloggers decides to do so, is that a group to be regulated? What if we get together year after year to do so; is that a group to be regulated? I have no idea what the standards are here, and I suspect that part of the blogosphere's silence is related to that. I do know that a court that can make the ruling it just did may be able to expand restrictions over time, by lawsuit, without the legislature even needing to act.

Every Presidential candidate should be asked about it, and should be ridiculed and heckled and verbally tortured until they say stop. The President needs to be asked about it, and needs to introduce legislation to revoke that portion of the act. Every Senator and every Congressman need to be asked relentlessly about this from now until Election Day. Every Town Meeting needs to have this question asked:

Mr. or Madame [Senator, Congressman, President], the Supreme Court has just rendered you immune from paid public criticism for 14 days prior to an election. What on earth give you that right, and what are you going to do about it?

Persuade Me

In response to a couple of off-line comments, I should point out that TABOR does not make it illegal to increase spending. It makes is illegal to increase taxes without coming to the people for approval. Yes, you can raise my taxes, but you have to persuade me that there's a good reason for it. Some people may take more persuading than others. I'm a harder case than most, I admit, but that's why we have elections and referendums. You don't like it? Go live in Zimbabwe. Or New York.

Colorado Budget Woes

Colorado gets a lot of credit for the TABOR Amendment, and rightly so. It's been successful at keeping spending under control, and now it's being proposed as a model for Collyfornia under the Governator. The problem is, it's part of a hamentaschen of a problem afflicting the state budgeteers. They can't raise taxes, but the Gallagher Amendment tends to reduce property taxes, and Amendment 23 forces education spending to rise by more than inflation. So education spending consumes an ever-growing portion of the budget. We've weathered the storm this time, but the next recession is going to make a lot of ex-Golden-Staters who've come here wonder why.

State Treasurer Mike Coffman is trying to adhere to the spirit of all three laws by having each give a little. The Rocky has a terrible piece of reporting on this, giving virtually no details. Naturally, the tax-raisers and teachers unions get the ink complaining, though. The State Senate Minority leader, Andrew Romanoff, wants to raise taxes. The Colorado Children's Campaign (beware anything that's "for the children") will defend Amendment 23 to the death. And the Bell Policy Center is trying to give them the intellectual ammunition to do it. This is a powerful coalition, and Coffman will have to be careful not to let them sneak in the camel's nose under the tent, as the law students like to say.

Coffman is being mentioned at Governor Owens's successor, in a race against Democrat Ken "When means Only" Salazar. Navigating through this and getting an agreement passed will go a long way towards proving he's got the mettle for the job. Colorado has been a national leader in passing this tax-restrictive legislation, and a failure of nerve here will kill the idea before it can achieve national prominence.

More Time for Hugh

Hugh's on drive-time here in the afternoon in Denver. So there's a way to commute without it being a complete waste of time. RTD, our regional transit authority, wants us to spend billions of dollars on a light-rail system and a "transit hub" in old Union Station. Of course, the system will be made to move people into and out of downtown, from a few selected points. It would include a commuter rail north of town to Boulder. Sounds great.

Except that Union Station can't be an all-purpose hub, since the light-rail and regional busses don't terminate there. I've seen this before in DC, and cross-county commuting inevitably overtakes traditional breathe-in, breathe-out commuting, and all these lines run into and out of downtown. People don't use these things in anything like the numbers required to relieve congestions, so traffic will be every bit as bad. The whole thing is a boondoggle, predicated on the idea the nobody ever learns anything. The Post has an op-ed by Daniel Jennings making these and other points. Let's kill this thing now.

In the meantime, the one good idea, the C470/E470 Beltway, is almost completed, stopped only by the mayor of Golden standing athwart the roadbed shouting, "Stop!" Golden's concern, says the mayor, is that its real purpose (delivered in hushed, conspiratorial tones), is to open up even more land for development. Gov. Lamm, in 1975, killed funding for the beltway. That would have at least had a coherent plan. Now, it's happened anyway, just piecemeal.

Look, Governor, Mr. Mayor, what you people never learn is that that development is going to happen anyway, as long as Denver remains a desirable place to move to. It won't happen because of the roads, it will happen with or without them. Only then, if you don't plan ahead, people will be screaming about the commutes and the congestion and there won't be anyplace to put the roads without tearing up their houses.

I've seen this before in DC, as I mentioned above. When our family moved there, they had built a Beltway so far out it would never become clogged. By the time I left, most of the commuter traffic was along the Beltway, and Maryland was fighting tooth and nail against anything that even looked like an outer Beltway. Upgrade US-301 out East? No. Upgrade US-15 on the Western side? No. Built a road between PG and Montgomery Counties in Maryland? Nyet. It didn't stop the people from coming, and it just made life miserable for people who were already there.

Business move and people move. Unless you want to start passing minimum-lease-30-years laws for businesses, and strapping ankle-bracelets with leashes onto people, they're never going to live near their jobs in large numbers for any length of time. They also like houses with land, where they can turn up their stereos and sit outside. As long as these two facts remain, you will never be able to build mass transit flexible enough to "solve the traffic problem." Like Lileks, I like busses because people need a cheap way to commute. But people will put up with a lot to keep the flexibility of having their own cars at work.

Even if it means having to listen to Hugh.

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