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Saturday, May 31, 2008

What do Al Qaeda and the Democratic Party have in common? 


What do al Qaeda and the Democratic Party have in common? The women are pissed!


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A few P-Rade pictures 


I missed most of my 25th reunion, which saddens me, but I did get to the dinner on Friday night and the class picture and P-Rade on Saturday. Otherwise, responsibilities kept me away. Sorry to have missed you!

Anyway, here are just a few pictures for the faithful or the curious. Here I am on Blair steps for the class picture. I'm the grinning guy looking down to my right, and the smiling guy with the grey moustache next to me is one of my roommates from back in the day. Guess "TigerHawk roommate's" profession for TigerHawk points and glory.


TigerHawk and a roommate at the class picture at Blair


This was the year that our class led the P-Rade, so here we enter FitzRandolph Gate. The classes will fold in behind us as we march, starting with the oldest alumni and finishing with the graduating seniors.


The Class of 1983 walks through FitzRandolph Gate


Through the gate, with Nassau Hall in front, and we're off to the races.


Nassau Hall from the front of the P-Rade


And, finally, regular TigerHawk commenter Indispensable Destiny! (Sorry about the poor focus...)


Indispensable Destiny


For better or for worse, you see much less P-Rade from the front, unless of course you wait in the grandstands at the end to watch the rest of it.


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Friday, May 30, 2008

I made it to reunions 

Moments ago, in preparation for our 25th Reunion class dinner. "Coach" does not normally look like that -- he is trying hard not to laugh.


TigerHawk and "Coach"


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Live-blogging Princeton Reunions: Panel discussion on "Post-Surge Iraq" 


I have made it to my 25th reunion, at least for the time being, and am watching a panel discussion about Iraq "after the Surge." Here's the description from the reunions calendar:

Alumni-Faculty Forum: Prospects for Post-Surge Iraq Moderator: Barbara Bodine, Lecturer in Public and International Affairs and Ambassador-in-Residence, Woodrow Wilson School. Panelists: Joseph Nye ’58, University Distinguished Service Professor and Sultan of Oman Professor of International Relations, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University; Alison Ryscavage ’83, Lt. Col, U.S. Army; Eric Young ’98, Former Lieutenant, Multi-National Force—Iraq; Peter Hegseth ’03, Executive Director, Vets for Freedom. To 3:30 PM. Sponsored by the Alumni Association of Princeton University.

The panel itself -- all alumni -- is extremely distinguished and knowledgeable, and seemingly balanced in its view of the war, ranging from two articulate veterans of the war to Joseph Nye, most famous for his advocacy of "soft power." Ambassador Bodine's commitment in her introduction was promising, insofar as she promised to focus entirely on the future, rather than dwelling on the arguments over the justification for the war or its conduct to date.

Hegseth is a huge believer in the importance of confronting and defeating both Sunni jihadis and Iranian-backed militias, but left Iraq in 2006 "hugely frustrated." He had read deeply on the subject of counterinsurgency, and felt that the military did not understand it. The Petraeus strategy represents a sea-change, a "180 degree reversal" of American tactics, and it has been accompanied by "an Iraqi surge six times our own." Sectarian violence has fallen 90% around the country, 95% in Baghdad, and Iraqis are assuming control. Success is an Iraq is stable, is allied with us, and which is able to take the fight to its enemies -- al Qaeda in Iraq and Iranian-backed militias.

Hegseth was exceedingly articulate, and should be on television every day explaining why persistence in Iraq, rather than retreat from it, is strategically essential.

My classmate Alison Ryscavage largely echoed Hegseth's report, but allowed that there was the difficult possibility that we might win the battle and lose the war, in that it might be that Iraq was continuing to radicalize Muslims around the world. Or maybe not; it is impossible to know right now whether the trade is worthwhile.

Eric Young served in Iraq from December 2006 to December 2007. He discusses the sharp changes in strategy from General Casey to the Petraeus/Crocker strategy; under the former, the minimization of casualties was the watchword ("we were not in the counterinsurgency game, we were in the casualty mitigation game"). Under Petraeus, the rules completely changed.

Most interesting point was that Petraeus, unlike Casey, would not telegraph what he wanted to see from the intelligence officers. Under Casey, intelligence findings that did not meet preconceived notions were ignored (my interpretation of Young's more diplomatic characterization), and Casey and his team signaled in advance what they wanted to hear. Petraeus refrained from such signalling, so the intelligence officers became much more creative and out-of-the-box in the assessments that they provided.

Petraeus was also willing to absorb casualties initially in return for the benefit of greater insertion into the population. "Everything is tied together," and better security led to much better performance on the part of the Iraqi government.

Young was if anything more positive of the Petraeus/Crocker strategy than Hegseth.

Nye: "I'd like to make seven points in five minutes." I ended up missing some of his points, or collapsing them.

First, if you look at the soldiers who have served in Iraq, they are extremely competent and impressive and treated as heroes on their return.

Second, the surge has had a very positive influence on security. The question is whether it will lead to political compromises.

So, the question is what ought the vision be for the future of Iraq? "The idea that we are going to stay in Iraq long enough to make it look like Japan and Germany is grandiose, not accurate." The vision the President propounds is ahistorical.

Alas, we have no vision for the future. We have made a sufficient mess that our vision should be damage limitation. Internally, we should try to build up Iraqi forces sufficiently that they avoid mass killings. Externally, we need to involve other countries. Either way, it is hard to see upside, only the possibility for preventing disaster.

Bodine: So where do we go from here? How do we build on the tactical successes, and do they have the seeds of further problems (by increasing divisiveness, for example).

Hegseth: You cannot understate the importance of security. We must not draw down troops until they are really ready to take over security. Violence has stayed down as the surge has drawn down because we have been very careful, under Petraeus, not to hand over areas to the Iraqis until they are truly ready to hold them. "Iraq is not going to look like Germany or Japan, it will look like Iraq. It will be messy, but that does not mean that it cannot be pretty peaceful, an ally of the United States, an Arab-style democracy, and opposed to al Qaeda and Iranian influence."

Nye: One of the ways we confuse ourselves is to believe that an election equals democracy. We have replaced a tyranny of the minority with a tyranny of the majority. "One of the things we need to do is to get these groups to bargain with each other."

Me: But isn't that what we are doing? Was not the Awakening project implicit bargaining with the Shiites? Nye seems to be operating with 2006 assumptions, but perhaps he is the realist and I am the blind optimist.

Question: Are we not handicapped by a shortage of Arabic speakers?

Bodine says yes, Ryscavage says that the situation is improving significantly. Recent graduates entered the field knowing that they might serve, and are much better prepared to enter intelligence as a result.

[The audience, mostly older Princeton alumni from the class of '58, is obviously exceedingly anti-war. Or perhaps the anti-war folks were just more disrespectful, snorting derisively at decisive moments. It is also deaf, insofar as people keep asking for speakers to repeat themselves even when they are perfectly clear. That will be me in 25 years, leaving out the disrespectful part.]

Bodine: Believes that Iraqis want a unified state, and believes that ultimately they will be able to establish a national government that works again.

Question: As the violence has gone down, has the standard of living gone up? Eric Young says that it has -- "as the surge progressed, Iraqis in general had better access to hospitals, heatlh care, and you slowly began to see these things changing."

There was more, but nothing newsworthy.

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Cubs Fever! 

Don't look now, but with last night's come from behind win over the Rockies, the Cubs have won four games in a row and have the best record in baseball.

There are those who will admonish me, this being May and all. But hey, May has always been the best time to blog about the Cubs. By September we usually move on to college football.

But maybe, just maybe, this year will be different. (Yeah, right).

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One reason to vote for McCain 

Liz Smith:

SUSAN SARANDON, who appeared in three films last year and won kudos for her TV movie "Bernard and Doris," is still not a contented soul. She says if John McCain gets elected, she will move to Italy or Canada.

Don't get your hopes up. She made a similar vow in 2000 in the event of a Bush presidency, along with her husband Tim Robbins and many others. But we're still stuck with 'em.

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Another gem from the housing crisis 

When the history of the housing crisis is written, future generations will either think us insane, or believe us to be liars. Here's just one more example.

It would be profoundly uncool of me to swipe the Real Homes of Genius title used periodically at Dr. Housing Bubble's entertaining blog. But if this choice piece of real estate doesn't qualify for the category, than nothing would.

Teaser: The current listing price is $109,900, the last recorded sale was $620,000, and the home features an "adult entertainment room" in the basement.

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Goldberg on McClellangate 

Is there anything more tedious than the next superfluous Bush-bashing "tell all" insider memoir? Do people actually read these things? I suspect the talking heads will be moving on to new topics by the weekend, but at times like these one must at least pause and savor the few choice bits from favorite columnists that such events inspire, when we are lucky.

Goldberg on McClellan:

It’s been rumored that McClellan was hired by the Bush White House to appeal to a specific sub-constituency: pasty middle-aged men with a thumbless grasp of the English language. The veracity of this rumor has long been undermined by the assumption that Bush had locked down this constituency all on his own.

And this:
I have not read the book. I will once I finish eating the contents of my sock drawer (which ranks slightly higher on my to-do list). But in interviews, McClellan’s argument boils down to the fact that the White House employed a high-pitched media campaign to persuade the American people and push the press to more favorable coverage.

Apparently this is something new in McClellan’s eyes. Perhaps such visitor-from-Mars cluelessness will prompt him to report in his next tell-all that when you pull a hidden lever behind a white bowl in the Oval Office bathroom, a sudden burst of water appears and then swirls down the bottom. Some of a suspicious bent might guess that such a system was invented for Bush to quickly jettison damning documents.


RTWT

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Chicago book notes 


Lexington Green at the Chicago Boyz nominates his choice for the best book written about the Cold War among several possible options.


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One for the Tigers: Reunion logos 


I am trapped at the office and may or may not put in more than a cameo appearance at the 25th reunion of my Princeton class, which is starting roughly now. Sadly. Scouting around Princeton's website for the schedule of events, however, I did stumble across a page with all the themes for this year's returning classes. No, I cannot explain the cow with the prominent udder.


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Inconvenient Truth: The Opera 


If this is not evidence that climate change activism has jumped the shark, I do not know what would be:

First it was the film and the book. Now the next stop for Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" is opera.

La Scala officials say the Italian composer Giorgio Battistelli has been commissioned to produce an opera on the international multiformat hit for the 2011 season at the Milan opera house.

Fortunately for the producers, there is no shortage of "husky" opera singers, so we do not have to worry about insufficient verisimilitude.

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Free TiVo! 


I would be remiss if I did not report that Amazon is offering a free TiVo High-Def Digital Video Recorder with the purchase of a Samsung hi-def television. If you do not have them already, you need both.


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America alone: News from the Anglican Communion 


The official newspaper of the Church of England is predicting that England will be a Muslim state within a generation:

If recent reports of trends in religious observance prove to be correct, then in some 30 years the mosque will be able to claim that, religiously speaking, the UK is an Islamic nation, and therefore needs a share in any religious establishment to reflect this. The progress of conservative Islam in the UK has been amazing, and it has come at a time of prolonged decline in church attendance that seems likely to continue.

This progress has been enthusiastically assisted by this government in particular with its hard-line multi-cultural dogma and willingness to concede to virtually every demand made by Muslims. Perhaps most importantly the government has chosen to allow hard-liners to act as representing all Muslims, and more liberal Muslims have almost completely failed to produce any leadership voices to compete, leading many Britons to wonder if there are indeed many liberal Muslims at all, surely a mistake.

At all levels of national life Islam has gained state funding, protection from any criticism, and the insertion of advisors and experts in government departs national and local. A Muslim Home Office adviser, for example, was responsible for Baroness Scotland’s aborting of the legislation against honour killings, arguing that informal methods would be better. In the police we hear of girls under police protection having the addresses of their safe houses disclosed to their parents by Muslim officers who think they are doing their religious duty.

Of course, those of you who took our advice and read Melanie Phillips' book Londonistan have been aware of this issue for a long time.

I am not a very religious person. Nor do I disrespect religious people. In that sense, I am a multiculturalist myself. But I do know this: Liberal religions do not survive. It is long past time for the Church of England and other Western faiths to remember that the essence of faith is believing that those who do not believe as you do are wrong.

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Falafel face 


Regular readers know that we believe that mocking and ridicule are legitimate weapons of war, to wit:

On the lighter side of Sadr's history (you know, before his militia killed and tortured thousands), one childhood acquaintance said of the younger Sadr, "his brain was thick." Others recounted his tendency to stuff himself with as many as a dozen falafel at a time. Dr. iRack thinks this latter factoid may explain Sadr's, um, Reubenesque figure, as well as the tendency of U.S. military folks in Baghdad to refer to him simply as "that fat f*ck" during Dr. iRack's last visit.

A dozen falafel is a lot of falafel, unless they are little bite-sized falafel suitable for cocktail parties.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

So, the ecotourists are traveling through the Northwest Passage... 


A boat full of ecotourists, sailing the Arctic to see the ice "before it is gone," get stuck in the supposedly thin and disappearing ice and cannot free themselves for seven days.

Bwahahahaha!


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Hints of victory in the wider war 


A couple of years ago I wrote a long post proposing victory conditions in the war against Islamic jihadists (most recent version). It remains my single favorite post, so if you are new to this blog you might want to take a look.

The heart of the argument was that victory over al Qaeda and its cognates would come only when its ideology had been discredited by repeated military failure.

There are hints -- footprints in the media, really -- that al Qaeda has a serious and growing credibility problem that will eventually undermine its ability to recover from losses.

Lawrence Wright, the very thoughtful author of The Looming Tower, had this to say on NPR the other day:

He says al-Qaida is unraveling in some respects.

"But in some respects, they are not losing, they are regenerating. But they're still much reduced from what they were. They're clearly losing in Iraq. Their popularity all across the Muslim world is plummeting because Muslims are the main victims. And people are beginning to question the use of violence not only in the case of al-Qaida but even in resistance movements in Palestine."

Whether or not this constitutes al Qaeda "losing," its leadership would only reconsider tactics espoused and acted upon for fifteen years if they were no longer effective. They are no longer effective because the global counterinsurgency against al Qaeda, led by the United States, has made it massively more difficult for the jihad to damage targets that the wider Muslim population wants to see damaged. Al Qaeda "central," for example, famously declared that Iraq was the central front of its war against the United States and its allies. Unfortunately for the jihadis, the United States military presented a much harder target than it anticipated, and George W. Bush was far more determined -- stubborn, if you do not like him -- than his predecessor. Once al Qaeda realized that it could not directly drive the United States out of Iraq it tried to spark a civil war that would make Iraq ungovernable. To do that, it had to kill a lot of innocent civilians. The Muslim world noticed, and was, in the main, disgusted.

Then there is this from Strategy Page:
Al Qaeda web sites are making a lot of noise about "why we lost in Iraq." Western intelligence agencies are fascinated by the statistics being posted in several of these Arab language sites. Not the kind of stuff you read about in the Western media. According to al Qaeda, their collapse in Iraq was steep and catastrophic. According to their stats, in late 2006, al Qaeda was responsible for 60 percent of the terrorist attacks, and nearly all the ones that involved killing a lot of civilians. The rest of the violence was carried out by Iraqi Sunni Arab groups, who were trying in vain to scare the Americans out of the country.

Today, al Qaeda has been shattered, with most of its leadership and foot soldiers dead, captured or moved from Iraq. As a result, al Qaeda attacks have declined more than 90 percent. Worse, most of their Iraqi Sunni Arab allies have turned on them, or simply quit. This "betrayal" is handled carefully on the terrorist web sites, for it is seen as both shameful, and perhaps recoverable.

This defeat was not as sudden as it appeared to be, and some Islamic terrorist web sites have been discussing the problem for several years. The primary cause has been Moslems killed as a side effect of attacks on infidel troops, Iraqi security forces and non-Sunnis. Al Qaeda plays down the impact of this, calling the Moslem victims "involuntary martyrs." But that's a minority opinion. Most Moslems, and many other Islamic terrorists, see this as a surefire way to turn the Moslem population against the Islamic radicals.

Al Qaeda's switch to the wholesale slaughter of Muslim civilians did not happen by accident. In the early days it attacked military or governmental targets: Mogadishu, Khobar Towers, the African embassies, the USS Cole, the Pentagon, and United Flight 93's likely target (the World Trade Center was civilian, but a symbolic bastion of the infidel power structure and not a Muslim target in any case). Then the United States moved the fight to the heart of the Muslim world with invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Al Qaeda needed to achieve palpable victory over the United States and its allies in those theaters in order to sustain its credibility as an organization and the credibility of its ideology. When the United States proved impossible to dislodge by direct attacks, al Qaeda had no choice but to resort to terrorism against Muslim civilians, and that is proving to be its undoing.

We have them on the run. Let us hope that when President Obama actually gets to see the war from the inside he changes his point of view.

CWCID: Dawnfire82.

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Regulating greenhouse gases through the polar bear 


The great global law firm of Latham & Watkins (of which I am a grateful alumnus) has written a "client alert" describing the impact of the Fish and Wildlife Service's designation of the polar bear as "endangered" by dint of climate change. Money quote:

Historically, the listing of a species under the ESA only impacts activities and projects in the area in which the species is located—potentially affecting local development or increasing local conservation requirements. Some environmental advocates, however, assert that for listed species impacted by global climate change, this traditional construct is no longer appropriate.

Environmental groups and project opponents are demanding ESA consultation for agency decisions that may result in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that potentially could affect species at risk due to climate change factors, regardless of the location of the emissions. Guidance issued by the FWS rejects such consultation requirements, but this guidance also undoubtedly will face challenges by environmental groups.

The client alert has the usual citations and footnotes for those of you interested in digging more deeply.

Here's a risk-free prediction to consider: Judges appointed by Barack Obama will be far more willing, on average, to entertain vexatious greenhouse gas litigation than those serving today.

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Reasons to vote for McCain 


Regular TigerHawk commenter Georgfelis has come up with reasons to vote for John McCain, notwithstanding his unhappiness with the available choices. My favorite line:

The Democrat candidates believe we should fight Al-Qaeda everywhere in the world, unless we are already there, in which case we should leave.

Bizarrely true.

UPDATE: More along the same lines, only wittier and with bad words, here.

Personally, there is much I like about John McCain. Yes, he has a disturbing regulatory bent, but it is nothing compared to Barack Obama's.

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A short note on AssassinationGate 


I have not written about Hillary Clinton's repeated references to Bobby Kennedy's assassination as evidence that in days of old Democratic primary campaigns have extended into June. I'm too busy, and the controversy is too tedious. That said, if you dislike Hillary Clinton you really should not miss Keith Olbermann's extended evisceration of her on account of same. Talk about your incandescent rage.

Taking Olbermann seriously for a moment -- always dangerous, to be sure -- may I respectfully suggest that his singling out of the use of the word "assassination" as somehow vastly more offensive than mere allusions to it strikes me as contrived. Or if it is not contrived then it is just another example of post-modern ideological rage arising from nuance in language.

More troubling, Olbermann's suggestion that we somehow live in times that are troubled comparably to 1968 strikes me as delusional. This is a foolish conceit that is popular among lefties of, well, Olbermann's age. There is nothing particularly troubled about 2008. Yes, we are on the brink of a recession, and yes the country is burned out -- again -- on a presidency that seems to have gone on longer than anybody wishes it had. But there is nothing comparable to the social upheavals of those horrible, destructive years from the late 1960s to the mid-1970s. There are no massive demonstrations, no riots, no armed takeovers, no domestic terrorism, no shattering cultural changes, no assassinations or assassination attempts, notwithstanding the "fears" of leftists who think that Barack Obama is a target. He has criss-crossed the country for two years and nobody has even hinted at a threat. Back in the day there were two attempts on the life of Gerald Ford, for heaven's sake, in less than a month. Nobody has so much as taken a shot at George W. Bush, who has done far more to irritate the left than issuing an unpopular pardon.

That said, there is no way that Hillary repeatedly mentioned Bobby Kennedy's assassination purely to introduce evidence that nominating campaigns extend into June. She is much smarter than that. But she was not inviting Obama's assassination, either. I believe that she was trying to trigger flashback anxiety on the part of her base, which is older than Obama's and will in many cases remember how terrible those times were. No, let's not promise too much change again.

Olbermann, meanwhile, has gotta chill-ax, as my daughter would say.


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A vast plethora of cork screws 


I will admit, I never knew there were this many different cork screw technologies.


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Are we at a tipping point? 

With oil apparently establishing a new floor north of $130 a barrel, we may be approaching a tipping point where Americans actually modify behavior in response the the higher prices. Those of us who lived through the 1970s remember a time when it was part of the culture to work hard to conserve gas, but that has not been the case for a long time. (TH blooged on the lack of conservation effort more than two years ago, when oil what was then a shocking $67 per barrel and gas was less than $3).

But change is in the air. I walked by the bulletin board at work a few minutes ago and saw the first car pooling request from someone who lives at a large development about 20 miles away. To me that indicates a fairly dramatic shift in attitude.

I read a couple of weeks ago that SUVs have virtually no trade-in value. That represents a fairly dramatic change.

Meanwhile, over the weekend Drudge linked to an article entitled Energy fears looming, new survivalists prepare.

If you're on the fringe like me, you'll note there is nothing in this article that isn't discussed regularly over at survivalblog or on the boards at Life After the Oil Crash. The "new survivalism," if you want to call it that, has been active and growing for a couple of years now. In these circles, The Rainwater Prophecy has achieved near mythic status since it appeared in Fortune in 2005.

But the vast majority seems to have believed the line that new technology would solve our fuel problems, be it wind, solar, hydrogen cars, hybrid SUVs or whatever, and this view has not been discouraged by the oil industry or the media. It is interesting to see all this suddenly getting play in the MSM.

If you're just getting your wake up call about the oil situation, I imagine it could be pretty disheartening. All those alternatives you may have been hanging your hat on? They don't yet exist, are years away, and will cost a lot more than oil does even now. We are way past the time when we should have started thinking about this problem. I have been and am still surprised at the degree to which energy has been ignored as a serious campaign issue this election year.

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The Fall of the Bear 

Today's WSJ ($) has the first in a three part series on the ignominious end of Bear Stearns. This will eventually be spun into a Wall Street thriller, akin to Ken Auletta's outstanding tale Greed and Glory on Wall Street: the Fall of the House of Lehman. Auletta's work should be required reading for anybody interested in learning about the innards of Wall Street and some of its history.



Each of the these stories has its similar characters, and Lew Glucksman and Jimmy Cayne may be compared someday as the trading leaders who let their business slip away. And there will be players in the book -- like Jimmy Robinson, Peter Cohen, Pete Peterson, Steve Schwartzman and Dick Fuld -- who emerge as larger players in subsequent histories (American Express, Blackstone and the newer Lehman). But the Bear story is unique for this moment. Why did it happen?



Well, the shared character trait of arrogance runs across all these stories. But there is a particular failure to the governance of Bear Stearns -- unlike the old Lehman which was a private partnership -- which exacerbated the arrogance of an individual and turned it into a tragic institutional flaw.



When, in the late summer of 2007 the Bear Stearns Board had the key, life or death decision to make as to which of its leaders it could rely on to take the firm into the future, they made the wrong choice. They may not have recognized it at the time. They may not have appreciated the gravity of the moment. They only came to acknowledge the failure later, when they had to make another change at the top mid-crisis. And now they had fewer, and worse choices. This sealed the Company's fate, and condemned it to JP Morgan's control on exceptional terms; terms devastating to Bear's shareholders.



What am I talking about?



Bear's board, in this author's (that's me) opinion, fired the wrong guy in the summer of 2007. They fired Warren Spector - the head of Bear's trading divisions. Jimmy Cayne protected his job and position as CEO by pinning responsibility for Bear's problems on Spector. But Spector was the highest IQ player at Bear equipped with the experience and acumen to deal with the Firm's trading and associated financial and liquidity issues. Cayne was arrogant and past his best days. But the Board failed this first and most crucial test. They picked the wrong guy.



Markets were quick to make clear that the Cayne choice was a poor one. And as the Wall Street Journal story makes clear, it only took a few months for the pressure to build too replace Cayne. But now, the only clear internal successor was Alan Schwartz. What was wrong with him? He had completely the wrong training and experience to deal with the balance sheet and liquidity crisis - he was an investment banking business generator and merger professional. He had zero trading experience. When named CEO, I figured his job would be to make a deal, raise money, sell the bank. Fine I suppose, but it's hard to sell a burning house. You need to put out the darn fire, and this guy hadn't worked a hose before. Forget the fact that he and the Board didn't smell smoke or see flames until they were engulfed.



Bear may ultimately have succumbed anyway to the overwhelming balance sheet with which it was faced by the end of 2007. But the Board's key management decisions were failures. It may be that more experienced and skilled leadership trained to address the balance sheet challenges the Firm faced could have allowed Bear to live to fight another day.



One such example -- but which happened in the private company format -- was Goldman Sachs at year end 1994. In that fateful year, Goldman blew up. It suffered the same pressures we are currently witnessing besiege other firms, just from different sources. In 1994, the losses stemmed from the substantial rise in rates (again triggered by Fed contraction), the attendant fall in Treasury prices and widening of credit spreads.



Faced with an effective loss to the General Partners and therefore an extremely leveraged balance sheet, Goldman made management changes and raised capital. And, as a private company, this financial crisis would have been personal and terrifying. As to the former, then CEO Steve Friedman stepped down (of his own accord, apparently due to the health strain put upon him by the pressure associated with the crisis), and the Firm's management committee named John Corzine the new CEO, and anointed Hank Paulson President and COO. To complete the imperfect analogy, Corzine was the equivalent of Bear's Spector, the head of Fixed Income (i.e. author of the losses), and Paulson was, like Schwartz, the Head of Banking. The difference was Goldman's Cayne, Steve Friedman, got out of the way, and let the younger, more effective trader, Corzine address the Firm's troubles without remorse. Though Corzine did lead the offending division, he was more capable of harnessing that group's capabilities to rebalance the Firm's capital -- something with which Paulson, like Schwartz, would likely have struggled.



Goldman also tapped its existing private Limited Partners -- from whom they had first raised capital in 1986 -- to reinvest a portion of their profit distibutions from the prior 8 years and buy more of the Firm. Sumitomo and Bishop Estate's renewed capital commitment to Goldman ensured confidence in the Firm's longevity. Goldman managed to achieve a successful management transition which both Bear and Lehman before it had failed to devise. At the moment of truth, Lehman and Bear management and governance failed and Goldman's did not.



There are so many human and commercial lessons about hubris and culture and confidence and so forth, but I will let that rest. For now.

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Monday, May 26, 2008

News to be thankful for 


Twenty-six days into May, we have this bit of news to be thankful for: The month-to-date rate for Coalition fatalities is lower than at any time since the invasion. Previous dips in casualty rates have proved to be ephemeral; perhaps this one will not be. Either way, it is Memorial Day news to be grateful for.


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Recruit them for the Hawkeye Marching Band 

Impressive as the Hawkeye Marching Band can be, these guys topped them.

Eighteen thousand men formed the Statue of Liberty at Camp Dodge, Iowa, ninety years ago. How many of them did not return from France?


Liberty


We could use more of that here in the early 21st century.

CWCID: Gateway, via Doc Clouthier.


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Barack Obama: Gaffe machine? 


This is truly hilarious:


On this Memorial Day, as our nation honors its unbroken line of fallen heroes -- and I see many of them in the audience here today -- our sense of patriotism is particularly strong.

Anyway, Mr. Hinderaker goes on to rip Obama for the substance of his Memorial Day speech. While I am a bit less irritated that Obama used the audience to push for his long litany of domestic programs, this bit (my emphasis) is certainly true:
He continued with a town hall-style question and answer period that cast veterans in the only role with which the Democrats are comfortable--victims--and sought to politicize the holiday.

Lots of victims are, of course, necessary to sustain statism, because non-victims can deal with their problems without any need for politicians. Still, the quantity of victims seems to increase during election years, particularly when Democrats are trying to take over from Republicans. Presumably the quantum of supposed victims in our society will decline in 2009 almost no matter who wins the White House, only to pick up again in the months before the next election.

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.

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Sunday polocrosse 


Sorry to have missed you yesterday. We devoted fourteen hours to a polocrosse rally and logistical considerations attendant thereto. Polocrosse is as it sounds -- lacrosse on horses -- with rules changes to account for, well, horses (lots o' helpful links here). Anyway, I snapped the obligatory action shots of the TH Daughter:


Polocrosse


Downfield


Action shot


Polocrosse tangle


No, that is not her usual mount. She borrowed "Jack Be Nimble" for the day. The small ponies have an advantage in the game because they are able to turn in a much narrower radius. True, they give up a lot of checking power against the bigger horses, but from my observation the increased maneuverability is worth it, at least at the novice level.

Note to fascinated friends and relatives: If you click through any of the pictures and jump to the Flickr polocrosse set there are more.


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Sunday, May 25, 2008

I don't think that's going to discourage them 

Wolf whistle works, woman strips | U.S. | Reuters
Road workers in a small New Zealand town got their wish granted when a woman stripped saying she was fed up with their wolf-whistles.

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Saturday, May 24, 2008

A possible reason to vote for John McCain 


I think it is important to take prospective presidential children into account when casting one's vote. You know, because we do not need another Amy Carter fiasco. Accordingly, I provide you with this picture of Meghan McCain so that you can do due diligence.


Meghan McCain


Her blog is here.


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Welcome home 



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Advice to toothpaste manufacturers 


The world needs a good three ounce tube of toothpaste.

Twenty months ago, the crackerjack thinkers at the Transportation Security Administration limited air travelers to containers for their liquids, gels, and pastes that could hold no more than three ounces. Yet today when you go shopping for toothpaste in a typical drug store or supermarket in a town with people who travel by air a lot -- say, Princeton, New Jersey -- you cannot find a three ounce tube. Your choices are a minuscule "sample size" tube of 0.75 ounces, which is really not enough to last for more than a few days of anything more than Third World brushing, or four ounce (and larger) containers that blow the limit. The former are a useless rip-off, and the latter are verboten.

The only saving grace is that the TSA guys usually do not bust you for the four ounce tube. When they do, though, you draw the full pat-down search and are stuck buying an emergency tube for a king's ransom in the extortionate "gift" store in the airport or at your destination.

So, why is it that almost two years after the passage of this rule Colgate-Palmolive cannot get its act together to fill and stock three ounce tubes? Go ahead and label it "traveler's size" and charge a premium over the four ounce. C'mon brand managers, get a clue!


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How not to visit the Adirondacks 


Regular readers know that we are big fans of the Adirondacks; I have spent time there every summer of my life. If you have never been, this summer might be a great time to visit. Just do not make these five mistakes.


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Signs of the times 


For those of you who believe that ridiculous lawsuits are a purely American phenomenon:


A SEX swap instructor at an all-female driving school was left devastated when the Sheffield husband of one of her pupils threatened to sue her firm - for sending a man to teach his Muslim wife.

Emma Sherdley - formerly a married dad of two called Andrew but now legally a woman - has the full support of her boss Joanne Dixon who says she is a popular and respected instructor with 32 female pupils on her books who have no problem with her past.

Emma, aged 42, has a birth certificate and a "gender recognition certificate" to prove her legal status as a woman although she is still waiting for final surgery to make her transition from male to female physically complete.

She says she has never had a problem with any of her other pupils and says the complaints made by the man from the Meadowhall area of Sheffield, were: "hurtful, offensive and deeply upsetting".

If I were Emma, I would not count on the local imams issuing a fatwa recognizing "gender recognition certificates" any time soon.

CWCID: Kate.

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Friday, May 23, 2008

Eagle attacking 



There's a metaphor in here somewhere.


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Pretty cool 

Check out Lionel Lueke:

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America's contribution to the world's energy supply 


If you are not a transnational progressive, you will find it appealing to think of energy this way:

Candidate Obama, like so many lefties, seems to believe anything bad about the United States, without even submitting it to critical thinking. He said on May 19, 2008, for example, that 3% of the world’s population (i.e., in his calculation, the United States) accounts for 25% of the greenhouse gases put into the atmosphere. In the 1970s, the lefties used to talk about 6% of the world’s population using 25% of the world’s energy. Even before Obama, they were blaming America first.

The left’s figures depend on what is meant by “energy.” Before the founding and development of the United States, “energy” meant the human back, beasts of burden, windmills, waterwheels, burning wood, coke, and coal, and the like. The United States is certainly not using 25% of the energy generated by those means today. I don’t think so, although it might be. The darn country is just so efficient.

But if we mean by “energy” only the modern sources of energy – electricity, the Franklin stove, the steam engine, the piston engine propelled by gasoline (and now by electric and/or hydrogen batteries), the processing of crude oil into gasoline, nuclear energy, the jet engine, the development of ethanol and other fuels derived from plants, and other devices – all of these except one were invented by the people of the United States, as their gift to the world. (The exception was the steam engine, invented by our cousins in Britain, and further developed here as well as there.)

In other words, the United States has invented nearly 100% of what the modern world means by “energy.” And it has helped the rest of the world to use 75%.

Why can’t the other peoples of the world learn how to discover, invent, and develop new kinds of energy? Why must the whole burden be placed upon the people of the United States?

All good questions. In the end this is just another variant on the anti-Americanism of people who assume that the world's wealth was found in the ground or given to us by Allah or extracted from the stolen labor of working people. If you believe -- as I do -- that wealth is the surest expression of human creativity, then you also believe that America's great inventions spring from our system, not the natural resources with which we have been endowed or the winnings of imperialism. But most peoples of the world (including American leftists) do not understand this -- which is why they do not invent anything important -- and instead view American wealth as if it were looted, rather than created. Hey, if I thought America was rich from theft rather than creativity, I'd feel guilty too.

MORE: Several astute commenters have pointed out that the quoted text in the link above is less than entirely accurate. Or worse.

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"Windfall" profits and bashing big oil 


We're almost at the summer driving season and gas prices are high, so it is time for Congress to bash the oil companies. Democratic Representative Cynthia McKinney Maxine Waters [oops] rolled out the nationalization card. Just what we need, the people who brought you the post office hunting for new energy. I thought we learned our lesson with Jimmy Carter's "synfuels" project, but apparently not.

Michelle Malkin has a long list of medicinal links on the matter of oil company profits. Good for her.

For those of you who want to tax "windfall" profits (a concept steeped in hogwash, by the way), answer this: How will lowering the rate of return on capital invested in new oil production increase supply?


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Terms of surrender 


There is endless speculation, including on Drudge's front page, about Hillary Clinton's terms for ending her campaign. Rumor has it that Bill is pushing for Veep.

The latest round of calls was a tacit admission that while the battles aren't over, the war has been lost. It also raises the question, What will Clinton's terms of surrender turn out to be? Her husband, for one, seems to have a pretty clear idea what he thinks she should get as a consolation prize. In Bill Clinton's view, she has earned nothing short of an offer to be Obama's running mate, according to some who are close to the former President. Bill "is pushing real hard for this to happen," says a friend.

While I believe -- on little more than gut -- that Hillary Clinton would be a better president than Barack Obama, I also believe that Obama would be insane to let the Clintons -- they come as a pair -- into his campaign or administration in any way, shape, or form. Indeed, nothing would more completely prove that Obama lacks the judgment necessary to be president than selecting Hillary as his running mate. Whatever one thinks of the Clintons, this much is virtually incontestable: The Clintons are too powerful to control, too ambitious to control themselves, and too untrustworthy to appease.

MORE: Heh.

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In re "polygamy ranch" 


Tom Kirkendall has some good thinking on the Texas polygamy ranch case, including yesterday's appellate decision that the State of Texas had illegally grabbed the kids.


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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Disingenuous carbon regulation 


Glenn Reynolds links to Megan McArdle:

We seem to have a grand national amnesia when it comes to carbon and flying. Cap and trade isn't going to do any good unless we do less of things like drive and fly--and most of the city loving coastal types I know want to do much, much more flying, because international travel is incredibly important to them. Yet a few long haul flights a year are the carbon equivalent of driving an SUV in an exurb.

Either we get upset about doing less driving and flying, or we get upset about climate change. We cannot simultaneously fix both problems.

It is not amnesia. It is disingenuous intellectual dishonesty. There is a difference.

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Why simply "talking" with enemies can be a problem 


There are many reasons why Barack Obama's repeated insistence that he will "meet" with Iran without preconditions might be very dangerous. One of them is that all official contact between adversarial nations sends a signal, intentionally or otherwise, and not always one that is well-understood at the time. Even a president who understood Chamberlain's failure at Munich sent a nearly catastrophic signal to Nikita Kruschev:

Those who have grown up believing that John Kennedy's finest moment was the Cuban Missile crisis will be disappointed to learn that he may have contributed to the face off: widely considered the moment the world came closest to Central Nuclear War, by telegraphing weakness by his eagerness to "talk" to his adversaries....

JFK had repeated Chamberlain's key mistake at Munich. He sent a signal of abject weakness to an aggressor held back only by fear. He walked into shark-infested water bleeding and ringing the dinner bell. And although the US was overwhelmingly stronger than Khruschev's Soviet Union, the wily old Bolshevik judged it safe to hustle the "very inexperienced, even immature" Leader of the Free World. The Soviet strongman struck while the going seemed good.

This is not to say that we should not negotiate with Iran; clearly, that is what we have been doing for several years now. The only debate is over the preferred method of communication, and whether it should include the idiom of force. Iran clearly believes that it should and has acted accordingly. So -- probably -- does the Bush administration believe that coercion must be part of the negotiation, at least to the extent of responding to Iran's proxies with proxies of our own. Does Barack Obama?

MORE: In other words....

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Biting my tongue 


Some stories write themselves:

A Muslim convert with a history of mental illness was being held under armed guard tonight after he apparently detonated a nail bomb in a family restaurant.

The interesting question is, which factor -- Islam or mental illness -- dominated? The thesis of the story was that he was "preyed upon" by Islamic radicals. Since they believe in weaponizing children, it should not surprise us that they would do the same to a deranged person. Not that I'm suggesting in any way, shape, or form that Islamic radicals are not themselves deranged. Allah forfend.

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Unreasonably Unlikely 


Mr. Mortgage’s Guide to the TRUTH! » Mr Mortgage - ‘Short-Refinances’ Gaining Popularity..
Mortgage modifications are hot right now. Most lenders are working with borrowers who have a desire to stay in their home and CAN AFFORD to make the payments.

I have heard of some great deals out there, such as balances being cut in half . Just recently I was told by a friend of a big-named national bank lowering the rates on a primary and second home Home Equity Line of Credit for the same borrower to 3.45% fixed. .... I can’t tell you the name of the bank but they have $84 billion in 2nds on their balance sheet…


Dear Lender:

The combined loan-to-value on my primary residence is easily less than 0.4, and I have a steady job which provides income:debt&amp;tax service in excess of 20X. I am current on my mortgage and HELOC, have a clean credit history and have resisted the temptation to lever myself into oblivion. My current mortgage rate is 5.5% fixed with about 26 years remaining and the HELOC, which I used to renovate my basement after a flood, is LIBOR-based, currently at 5.25%. Surely I qualify for a rate reduction. What can you offer me?

Yours,
Dreck

Not holding my breath. These incentives are as perverse as FAFSA.

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A Riddle 

What do Barack Obama, Nikita Khrushchev, and a dog have in common?

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Global temperature: No meaningful change 


Anthony Watts takes a close look at global temperature data for April. The part about no net warmth for ten years continues.


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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The "American Idol" finale 


I have only a passing interest in "American Idol," having seen at most five of the shows since they got down to the final 12. Generally, I found it to be a mildly amusing show. The finale, though, sucked a transporting suckage. I just wanted it to end, and only my 192 unread emails prevented me from draining my wine glass and hitting the hay long before we learned that Cook was the, er, "winner."


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As if it were almost a gaffe.... 


Fighting Words - WSJ.com
In traditional sellout theory there is always some grand cause or principle that is being exchanged for immediate gain – artistic independence, for example, or the fate of the panda, trembling piteously before the onrushing bulldozers of modernity.

...Fortunately, there were a few plainspoken men of the market present at the gathering to set things straight. Capitalists were the world's real heroes, they reminded us, delivering value to the public and seeing that value quantified precisely by the numbers on the balance sheet. That was reality. the idea that "there's something special about nonprofits," scoffed one forthright fellow – "well, that's crap. Nonprofits are an artifice of the law, and what's special about them is not that they do different things or that they are organized in a special way, it's that they don't pay taxes."

Personally, I would take this hard line one step further: Selling out is not a threat to the market order; selling out is how the market gets its way. Just look at the city in which all these remarks were made. Private-sector Washington is one of the wealthiest places in America. Public-service Washington lags considerably behind. The chance of ditching the one for the other is what accounts for everything from the power of K Street to the infamous "revolving door," by which a public servant takes a cushy corporate job after engineering some extravagant government favor for the corporation in question – or its clients.

The libertarian nonprofits that line the city's streets often serve merely to rationalize this operation after the fact, giving a pious shine to the policies that are made in this unholy manner.

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The Iraqi army gets grudging respect from the New York Times 


The New York Times spills some front-page ink this morning on the Iraqi army's successful ("so far") occupation of Sadr City this week. The article is also useful for its implied concession that Iran is waging a proxy war in the Baghdad slum and Lebanon, and may be redeploying assets from one front to the other:

While the planning continued, American military officials cited reports that Mahdi Army and Iranian-backed commanders were sneaking out of Sadr City and perhaps even Iraq. People close to Mahdi leaders in Sadr City said they knew some who were leaving for Lebanon by way of Iran.

“We have seen a lot of indications that some of the senior leaders within JAM and the special groups are preparing to leave or have already left Sadr City,” Colonel Hort said last week, referring to Jaysh al Mahdi, as the Mahdi Army is known, and the Iranian-backed militias the military refers to as special groups.

Iran, according to some Western analysts, was also focusing on developments in Lebanon, where it has been supporting the militant group Hezbollah, and seemed interested in an arrangement in which the groups it backed in Sadr City would withdraw to fight another day.

This is more evidence -- if you needed any -- that the confrontation with Iran in Iraq is a regional struggle, notwithstanding the view of many on the left that it is an unrelated distraction. Iraq, like Lebanon, is a battlefield in a wider struggle, and it should be surrendered to the forces of radicalism only with great reluctance.

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VP 

Turning towards the McCain candidacy for a moment, speculation has commenced with respect to his potential running mates. I've heard Romney, Huckabee, Lieberman...nothing terribly creative. One name I haven't heard, but I like quite a bit.

How about Petraeus?

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The free trade paradox 



The Clinton and Obama campaigns are falling all over themselves to denounce free trade, but their policies would actually hurt the voters they are pandering to. The New Yorker (of all magazines):

At times, the campaign has looked like a contest over who hates free trade more: Obama has argued that free-trade agreements like NAFTA are bought and paid for by special interests, while Clinton has emphasized the need to “stand up” to countries like China. Two weeks ago, both senators signed on as sponsors of a new bill that would effectively impose higher tariffs on China if it doesn’t revalue its currency. The candidates are trying to win the favor of unions and blue-collar voters in states like Ohio and West Virginia, of course, but their positions also reflect a widespread belief that free trade with developing countries, and with China in particular, is a kind of scam perpetrated by the wealthy, who reap the benefits while ordinary Americans bear the cost.

It’s an understandable view: how, after all, can it be a good thing for American workers to have to compete with people who get paid seventy cents an hour? As it happens, the negative effect of trade on American wages isn’t that easy to document. The economist Paul Krugman, for instance, believes that the effect is significant, though in a recent academic paper he concluded that it was impossible to quantify. But it’s safe to say that the main burden of trade-related job losses and wage declines has fallen on middle- and lower-income Americans. So standing up to China seems like a logical way to help ordinary Americans do better. But there’s a problem with this approach: the very people who suffer most from free trade are often, paradoxically, among its biggest beneficiaries.

The reason for this is simple: free trade with poorer countries has a huge positive impact on the buying power of middle- and lower-income consumers—a much bigger impact than it does on the buying power of wealthier consumers. The less you make, the bigger the percentage of your spending that goes to manufactured goods—clothes, shoes, and the like—whose prices are often directly affected by free trade. The wealthier you are, the more you tend to spend on services—education, leisure, and so on—that are less subject to competition from abroad. In a recent paper on the effect of trade with China, the University of Chicago economists Christian Broda and John Romalis estimate that poor Americans devote around forty per cent more of their spending to “non-durable goods” than rich Americans do. That means that lower-income Americans get a much bigger benefit from the lower prices that trade with China has brought.

Then, too, the specific products that middle- and lower-income Americans buy are much more likely to originate in places like China than the products that wealthier Americans buy. Despite a huge increase in imports from China—they sextupled as a percentage of U.S. imports between 1990 and 2006—Chinese products are still concentrated mostly in lower-price markets. (By some estimates, Wal-Mart alone has accounted for nearly a tenth of all imports from China in recent years.) By contrast, much of what wealthier Americans buy is made in the U.S. or in high-wage countries like Germany and Switzerland. This is obvious when it comes to luxury goods—Louis Vuitton bags, Patek Philippe watches, and so on—but it’s also true of many other goods, like electronics, kitchen appliances, and furniture, categories in which American and European manufacturers have continued to thrive by selling to the high-end market. According to the Yale economist Peter K. Schott, machinery and electronics products made in developed countries sell in the U.S. for four times the average price of Chinese products. And, since the late nineteen-eighties, that price gap has widened by almost forty per cent.

Sunday morning news show "journalists" would -- if they cared about policy rather than politics -- force protectionist politicians to reconcile this point. Do not hold your breath. Nobody in a position to ask Barack Obama questions is going to force him to reconcile his soaring rhetoric with the frankly obvious consequences of the policies he espouses.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Boycott opportunity: Urban Outfitters glorifies the slaughter of Israeli civilians 


If you were going to spend money -- or, more likely, give your teenagers money to spend -- at Urban Outfitters, consider whether you want to do business there. I do not.


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The difference between hating religious opinions and hating people identified with religions 


The London police have issued a citation to a teenager who demonstrated against the Scientologists, declaring their religion to be a "cult."

A teenager is facing prosecution for using the word "cult" to describe the Church of Scientology.

The unnamed 15-year-old was served the summons by City of London police when he took part in a peaceful demonstration opposite the London headquarters of the controversial religion.

Officers confiscated a placard with the word "cult" on it from the youth, who is under 18, and a case file has been sent to the Crown Prosecution Service.

A date has not yet been set for him to appear in court.

The decision to issue the summons has angered human rights activists and support groups for the victims of cults.

The incident happened during a protest against the Church of Scientology on May 10. Demonstrators from the anti-Scientology group, Anonymous, who were outside the church's £23m headquarters near St Paul's cathedral, were banned by police from describing Scientology as a cult by police because it was "abusive and insulting".

Unfortunately, the sensitive people of the world -- both "secular" and religious -- have so confused the question of criticizing religion in general or religions in particular with the mistreatment of religious people that we are left with an untenable assymetry: people who cloak their opinions in religious rhetoric are free to say just about anything, but those who attack those opinions in secular rhetoric incur oprobrium, from disapproval to discipline to citation or even arrest. Let me clarify the situation with a few basic points which ought to be supported by the law, at least in civilized countries:

1. Religious faith ought to be regarded as another form of opinion, no more or less protected then any other opinion. Religious speech ought to be protected to the same extent -- no more or no less -- than other speech. Religious practices, including ceremonies and gatherings, ought to be protected to the same extent as other public assembly. Religious political protest ought to be protected to the same extent as other political protest. The right to engage in religious speech, writing, and practice ought to be regarded a subset of freedom of speech, the press, and peaceable assembly, all of which are fully guaranteed by the United States Constitution and ought to be fully guaranteed by every other government on the planet.

2. Similarly, a person should be free to criticize, denounce, or mock religious opinion, speech, or practice to precisely the same degree that one can criticize, denounce, or mock any other opinion, speech, or practice. I should be equally as free to say "Catholicism is a cult" as I am to say "Scientology is a cult," or "the Republican party" or "Communism" is a cult. Moreover, I should be as free to insult religious figures from history as I am any other dead person. If I want to say that "Jesus was a fraud" or "Mohammed was a liar," the law should not only permit me to do so but should protect me from torts or crimes against me by people I enrage.

3. We should carefully distinguish between discrimination or other abuse of a person because of his status instead of his beliefs. For example, I should not be able to mock a Jewish or Muslim person because his ancestors were Jews or Muslims or he has a Jewish or Muslim-sounding name. I should be able to mock a Jewish person for not eating cheeseburgers just as I am free to mock a vegan for not eating cheeseburgers or a Japanese for not eating garlic. Similarly, if a Muslim wants to walk around in a burka we should feel free to comment on her poor fashion sense just as we would if we encountered any other poorly dressed person. What's the difference? None. She has her opinions about dress, and we have ours. It should be as lawful and socially acceptable to criticize her burka as it is to mock a harvest gold liesure suit.

4. I should be able to discriminate against somebody for their religious beliefs, just as I am allowed to discriminate against them for other opinions. If, for example, one man does not allow his wife to drive a car or see other men or have a job because he is Muslim, and another imposes the same rules because he simply holds that women are subservient, I should be able to avoid doing business with either man because I hold his views to be repugnant.

5. However, I should not be able to discriminate against somebody because I believe him to hold certain opinions merely because he identifies himself consciously or by conditions of birth as of a particular religious faith. So, for example, I should not be allowed to discriminate against somebody with the name of Ali because I have lept to the conclusion that somebody with such a name must believe that women are subservient. Maybe that is an opinion he does not have, and I should not imagine that he holds to an idea because of his name or even his representation that he is a "Muslim".

Is this not a much better way to define the respective rights of religious people and those who disagree with them than the asymmetrical approach, which holds that a hideous and offensive opinion is legally protected because it is couched in religious rather than non-religious thinking or tradition?

Release the hounds.

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On the loose 



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The honest Japanese 


The Japanese are the least likely to say that they are willing to make great personal sacrifices to arrest anthropogenic global warming:

Japan may be at the cutting edge of green technologies, but its capital has the least environmentally conscious residents of eight of the world's richest cities, a poll showed.

More than four in 10 Tokyo residents -- 41.6 percent -- said they "don't want to sacrifice a convenient lifestyle to prevent global warming," according to the poll results published recently by Japanese advertising agency Hakuhodo.

The percentage was the highest among the residents of Tokyo, New York, Paris, London, Milan, Moscow, Toronto and Frankfurt, and well above the average of 29.7 percent, according to the survey of 2,600 people.

In light of the obvious unwillingness of the residents of these other cities actually to cut their carbon dioxide emissions by 80% (the recommended reduction among the politically correct), I'd say this poll simply reveals the Japanese as the most honest people among those surveyed. Or the smartest. It is difficult to know which.

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An army of Janes 


I have long known of Jane Novak's commitment to Yemen, in particular, via her blog Armies of Liberation, and her efforts on behalf of a dissenting journalist there (her blog has been on my roll forever, but I am embarrassed to say that I only get to it occasionally). The New York Times has now written a great story about Jane, a Monmouth County mom about my age who is driving the criminal government of Yemen completely insane. This bit is great:

Ms. Novak has become so well known in Yemen that newspaper editors say they sell more copies if her photograph — blond and smiling — is on the cover. Her blog, an outspoken news bulletin on Yemeni affairs, is banned there. The government’s allies routinely vilify her in print as an American agent, a Shiite monarchist, a member of Al Qaeda, or “the Zionist Novak.”

Jane is all of those things, and not a word about her outsized American carbon footprint? The Yemeni propagandists have lost a step.

Start with an energetic American who gives a damn, add one blog, change world. Good job, Jane.

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Monday, May 19, 2008

Legislating honor 


This is nothing if not a sorry commentary on the collapse of Britain's national confidence:

Following a series of incidents in which servicemen and women in uniform have been barred from stores or abused on the streets, a report ordered by the Prime Minister has recommended legislation to outlaw discrimination.

The Nation Recognition of our Armed Forces report, written by Quentin Davies, MP, highlighted one incident in which an officer in full dress uniform was refused entrance to Harrods after attending a Remembrance Sunday parade.

The store, owned by Mohamed Fayed, has insisted on barring troops in combat fatigues which the report said was “quite unacceptable”.

It is very difficult for an American to imagine any business more mainstream than a Left Coast head shop -- much less an iconic department store -- barring soldiers in uniform. Apart from the sheer offensiveness of it, the commercial consequences would be disastrous. Even five years into an unpopular war our most left-wing presidential candidate would denounce any business that dared discriminate against American soldiers in uniform. It is a tragedy for Britain that the same is not true there, and it makes me wonder whether America is indeed alone.

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Inflation 


Somehow I surfed to an early episode of the Mary Tyler Moore Show from the early 1970s. Apart from the clothing, the prices date the show. Mary's rent, for that beautiful apartment in Minneapolis: $125 per month. Rhoda's rent in the same building: $87.50. A visit from the plumber to fix a faucet: $28.50. Assuming that these prices were plausible, plumbers did pretty well back then, earning around a week's rent on a nice apartment in one housecall. Do they still earn that much?


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Ouch 


Maybe We Can't:
As the son of a Baptist minister, I can attest that Wright is and was an extreme aberration from how the overwhelming majority of black Christians worship. In church, black people hear about Peter, Paul, Mary, and how to get into heaven. How to forgive. How to love. Not how to vote.

But here was Barack suggesting that Wright's behavior was commonplace in black churches: "I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community." He generalized Wright's ridiculousness to distract from his individual choice to worship under a buffoon for two decades. I have a cousin who attended Wright's church for three weeks and then left, never to return. She had no interest in hearing his nonsense from the pulpit.

Barack obscured the true nature of black religious life because, to do otherwise, he would have had to answer the question, "Why are you a member of a church that is this racially divisive and such a sharp aberration to how the rest of black people worship?" When Barack beautifully suggested that the beliefs pronounced from the pulpit of Trinity in Chicago are not uncommon, he was feeding us garbage. But Barack needed to protect his reputation as a race-healer and unifier, so he told a lie about black religious life to help keep the glow of his own reputation alive. And now the evidence suggests that Barack didn't, in the end, break with Wright over his outrageous racial claims, but over his suggestion that Barack is just a politician.

That so many people have a stake in ignoring these real concerns is troubling. At least the Hillary supporters I know seem to be aware of her more unsavory traits: that she carries a knife with her that she could pull out at any minute. Not so with Obama's fans. It's nearly impossible to get them to admit any wrong in him. Given the choice, I prefer to side with the group that knows their candidate can be a jerk, rather than the group that believes their candidate is Jesus.


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Feelings, not markets! 

Read the whole thing. I'm with Yves, I'm amazed Shiller could even make this argument.

Shiller is an interesting guy. He makes very well-supported arguments about asset valuations and puts together very useful long-term data series, but he seems determined to clothe them in the weirdest demeanor, least compelling presentation style and, in this case, bizarre tangential arguments. He's very idealistic, and it tends to lend a sort of surreal air to his empirical analysis.

btw, I still think the key chart to IE is presented in misleading scale. It was compelling enough without the exaggeration.

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Dangerous iPods 


I sometimes worry that my children will ignore hazards around them because they are plugged in, particularly to their iPods. Still, it never occurred to me that one of those risks was that a helicopter might fall on them. Nor does the risk of falling helicopters seem like a good reason to regulate iPod use, notwithstanding the linked story's suggestion that it might be.


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Obama plays the fear card 


The Imperfect Vessel took an interesting approach with the old folks yesterday:

Hours before being greeted by the biggest crowd of his campaign, Democrat Barack Obama quietly told a small group of seniors Sunday that Republican John McCain would threaten the Social Security they depend on because he supports privatizing the program....

"We have to protect Social Security for future generations without pushing the burden onto seniors who have earned the right to retire in dignity," he said.

Apart from the substance of Obama's point -- Obama wants to push the burden on current taxpayers who do not believe that they will ever "retire in dignity" -- I have a question: When did the "politics of fear" suddenly become A-OK with the Obama campaign? Well, when there is a chance to drive a wedge between the senior citizen candidate and senior citizens, that's when.

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Sunday, May 18, 2008

A short note on Desperate Housewives 


Yes, I admit that I watch Desperate Housewives.

Now that we have that painfully unmanly confession out of the way we can get on to the point of the post: That Tom Scavo's hideous daughter falsely accused Lynette of beating and burning her and complained to Child Protective Services about her, all in an elaborate plot to get Lynette sent away for good. Lynette is arrested, perp walked out in front of her biological children by a cop who assumes that she is guilty, and is told by her lawyer that she might lose all her children if the charges stick.

Scary, primal stuff, to be sure, but not just that. Also, a broadside attack on the "guilty until proven innocent" approach that the law sometimes takes to people accused of child abuse. It is interesting -- and a good sign -- that 20 years after the atrocity of the Fells Acre Day School case the pop cultural tide has turned to such a degree that the writers of Desperate Housewives knew that they could tweak the deep-seated, but very modern, fear of false accusations of child abuse.


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Geography 


Less than a week after the 57 states kerfuffle, Barack Obama quite obviously forgets that Kentucky shares a border with Illinois, the state he represented in the United States Senate. Either that, or he thinks that Democratic primary voters are idiots (a not unreasonable assumption, but unwise to admit). It is hard to think of a third explanation.

Of course, since Obama is a Democrat, expect no mocking from the chattering classes.


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McCain on SNL 


If you don't think this is hilarious, then you don't know what funny is:



If we are going to have multi-year presidential contests, politics needs to be funnier. Generally, our new fear of being accused of being racist, sexist, ageist, anti-military, or of being morally degraded in some other way, inhibits what ought to be a hilarious moment in our great political history. Fortunately, Saturday Night Live seems to have carved out a free-fire zone of sorts, a valuable and culturally essential niche for eighteen months every four years.

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.


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Saturday, May 17, 2008

Self-hating Germans 


I suppose the world should be grateful that the Germans have so submerged their pride in nation that their chancellor can lick the boots of a Latin American dictator without getting hammered in the press and at the polls. But still, isn't Merkel's groveling a bit difficult to take in?


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Jihadi mores 


Among the delights of counterinsurgency in a Muslim country, there is the problem of weaponized children:

Military sources say a bomb that wounded two Canadian soldiers near Kandahar on Friday was carried by an 11-year-old boy and was detonated by remote control, killing the boy.

The two Canadian soldiers were not badly hurt, but the blast also struck two Afghan soldiers patrolling with them, one of whom later died.

Jeez. When we catch the guys who did this we should toss them in Gitmo and throw away the key, or at least put them at the end of the line for a tribunal. I really do not care if that pisses off the Europeans or the Democrats or the Canadians who do not care about children or their own soldiers, I don't see how we can do less. Hey, I can see keeping them in there three or four years before they're released. Really. Turning children into bombs? That's bad shit.

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Can Oliver Stone "embarrass" anybody? 


The Telegraph speculates that Oliver Stone's forthcoming film about George W. Bush -- curiously slated for release in October -- could "embarrass Tony Blair." I doubt it. It is hard to imagine a film by Oliver Stone embarrassing anybody other than Oliver Stone. And the hapless actors who agree to work for him, of course.


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Another solution for healing the Democratic Party 


In Princeton, where the genteel, affluent liberals prefer civility within the left -- consider the local deification of Stalinist Paul Robeson, for example -- almost as much as they dislike conservatives, this classic from the McCaffrey's parking lot probably seems like a reasonable step toward, you know, healing:


Hillary now, Obama later


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Is Blackberry down? 


I've had no email service since early this morning via my Blackberry; are there other Blackberry users out there with the same problem, or is it idiosyncratic to me?


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Who is Irena Sendler? 


Irena Sendler is one of the nominees who did not get the Nobel Peace Prize won by Al Gore. Did the Nobel committee choose wisely?


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Friday, May 16, 2008

A great reason to fear Obama 


Four months ago I figuratively shivered at the thought of John Edwards at the helm of the Justice Department. Jonah Goldberg feels the same draft.

What a horror show that would be.


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Notes on the most recent global climate data 


The National Climatic Data Center's April report came out yesterday, and it contains the usual interesting nuggets. Key point:

Based on preliminary data, the globally averaged combined land and sea surface temperature was the thirteenth warmest on record for April and the January-April year-to-date period ranked twelfth warmest.

The year is a third done and it does not yet rank in the top ten. This is a particularly sharp drop from the same period last year, which was the hottest on record in the Northern Hemisphere.


jan-april global temp


As has generally been the case, Eurasia has experienced the warming climate more tangibly than North America (a condition which I believe explains much of the difference in American and European attitudes about climate change). For example, there was a huge disparity in snowcover across the Northern Hemisphere in April.

[T]he mean Northern Hemisphere snow cover extent during April 2008 was below average. Similar to the month of March, snowfall across the Northern Hemisphere was variable during April. The Northern Hemisphere had the 8th least snow cover extent on record....

Across North America, snow cover for April 2008 was above average, the 9th largest April extent since satellite records began in 1967....

Eurasia's snow cover extent during April 2008 was below average. This was the least snow cover extent over the 41-year historical period for April, surpassing the previous least snow cover extent set in 1990.

Finally, the sea ice data were interesting, especially given this week's ruling by the Department of the Interior that the polar bear is endangered.
According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, the April 2008 Northern Hemisphere sea ice extent, which is measured from passive microwave instruments onboard NOAA satellites, was below the 1979-2000 mean, but greater than the previous four years. This was the eighth least April sea ice extent on record. The past four years had the least April sea ice extent since records began in 1979, with 2007 having the least April sea ice extent on record.

But wait, the sea ice has been increasing in the Southern Hemisphere:
Meanwhile, the April 2008 Southern Hemisphere sea ice extent was much above the 1979-2000 mean. This was the largest sea ice extent in April (17.5 percent above the 1979-2000 mean) over the 30-year historical period, surpassing the previous record set in 1982 by 4.1 percent. Sea ice extent for April has increased at a rate of 2.5 percent per decade.

The trends are no less interesting:




Maybe we should transplant a few polar bears to Antarctica, just to be on the safe side. Although I suppose the penguins wouldn't appreciate it.


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Thursday, May 15, 2008

Seattle and "don't walk" signs: Liberal fascism? 

As previously reported, I flew home from Seattle on the first flight this morning. I drove directly to a conference room where I have been ever since and expect to remain for at least another 12 hours. It is hard to believe that just yesterday morning I was standing in front of the first Starbucks ever looking at this view of the harbor and the Olympic Mountains beyond:


Olympic ships


That scene and the aforementioned fountainhead Starbucks were about a mile from my hotel (up near Swedish Hospital), so I walked down the hill and up again all before about 7 am. The streets were essentially empty of cars, so being an Easterner I skipped merrily along with little regard for the status of the pedestrian Walk/Don't Walk signs.

Then I noticed that the few other peds were just standing there waiting for the "Walk" signal to come on even when there was not a car in sight. Not surprisingly, they all looked at me like I was a middle-aged feminist at an Obama rally, so I also stopped violating the crosswalk lights.

When I landed I reported all of this to a friend of mine who claims to hate Seattle -- how can anybody actually hate Seattle? -- and she said "Of course, Seattle is basically just a suburb of Canada."

Like that explained it. Although it sort of does.

Anyway, other than in Washington, DC -- which back in the day raised money by assigning cops in unmarked clothes to write jay-walking tickets -- I've always thought of crosswalk signals as purely advisory. Not the command "Don't Walk," but more like "probably not a good idea to walk, because the cars have a green light." That is certainly the rule in any city in which I have lived or worked, including both New York and Chicago. In Seattle, though, pedestrians comply with crosswalk signals almost to the extent that motorists obey traffic lights. You know, they wait for the light to change even when there is neither a car nor a cop in sight. It is bizarre, and really quite un-American.


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What Does Ben Know 

That we don't know.
"Firms are hunkering down," Bernanke said at a conference in Chicago today. "They have at least partially replaced the losses with new capital raising, but not entirely."

Hmmm.

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On the Stretching of Resources 

One of the arguments posited by proponents of US withdrawal from Iraq has been that it stretches our resources in such a fashion that it reduces our commitment to, and therefore our ability to succeed in Afghanistan.

I happen to think that's bunk. First of all, it's a hypothesis. Fine. No problem. But there is no evidence to suggest it's correct. It should therefore not be accepted as gospel. And we won't in fact know until years from now.

Let me posit a counter-hypothesis. Being in Iraq and Afghanistan makes our effort against Al Qaeda more effective, not less. It does so because we have superior resources than our enemy does, and it forces Al Qaeda to stretch its resources. Furthermore, since General Petraeus mounted a new counterinsurgency strategy, we have imposed a far greater cost on all of our regional enemies, including Al Qaeda, Iranian proxies led by Sadrist Shiite militias, and even Iranian forces directly committed to Iraq.

This is one war comprised of several theaters. Our presence surrounds Iran and breaks Al Qaeda into several pieces, where they cannot consolidate. Our resources are in fact superior than that of our enemy, and by working closely with the leadership and military of Iraq and Afghanistan, we multiply our strength. Finally, where necessary, Israeli military force has been brought to bear upon Syria and Hezbollah, further stretching and costing enemy resources.

And we still have most of our ground forces and entire air and naval capability in reserve. So please spare me the "we are stretched" argument. It doesn't hold water to me. Is this demanding and does it impose sacrifice upon our men and women overseas? Of course. Is it dangerous? Yes indeed. But this is what the military does, and they are absolutely amazing in their capacity to deliver. Certainly better than our brilliant legislators.

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On my way home 


I'm on my way home from Seattle this morning on a really packed plane. Indeed, I cannot remember when I have been on a plane that was not packed. This business about the airlines running at high load factors is really very painful. If it is this way when the economy is soft, what is it going to be like when we return to some decent growth?

We need more airports or to expand the ones we have. It is time to expand Trenton/Mercer County to take regular jet service, Yardley suburbanites be damned!


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