OpinionMeister

Thursday, March 31, 2005

The Downside of Hate Speech Laws

Cybercast News Service reports on efforts to repeal a religious hatred law after two Christian pastors are convicted for reading and explaining Muslim texts to their congregation in church. Link.
A campaign to dump a religious hatred law in Australia is winning growing support from churches -- including some whose opinion on the law has shifted since two Christians were found guilty of vilifying Muslims.

Mainstream church leaders are adding their voices to other Christians asking the State of Victoria's Labor government to rescind the legislation, saying it poses a danger to freedom of speech.

Victoria's Racial and Religious Tolerance Act made headlines around the world after Muslims took two pastors before a tribunal, complaining about a post-9/11 seminar designed to explain Islam to a Christian audience. (...)

He said both Islam and Christianity were missionary religions, and Muslims and Christians alike should have the liberty to make disciples in Australia.
The trend toward outlawing speech that some may find offensive is spreading around the world. It is wrong wherever it occurs. It is hard to think of any statement that someone, somewhere will not find offensive. Whether one if facing expulsion from school or going to jail, if it is for expressing one's opinion and not calling for violence toward others, that should be protected speech.

This is totally different from laws against inciting to violence, and that is the very area where western governments tend to look the other way as Muslim imams call for death to Christians, Jews and other infidels. In this country, justices keep finding new rights that were never in the Constitution, but those that are clearly in the First and Second Amendments, are deemed negotiable.

How Not to Have a Baby

The Associated Press reports on a most unusual birth. Link.
A woman rushing to a hospital to give birth hit a few stops along the way - first at a gas station where she delivered the baby herself, then when confused police ordered her out of the car at gunpoint.

Debbie Coleman, whose 3- and 4-year-old daughters were asleep in the back seat, pulled over at a gas station just after midnight Tuesday.

"I asked if she needed help, and she just leaned back in the seat, hollered a little, and I looked down and there was the baby's head," said station co-owner Lloyd Goff, who was alerted to the emergency at pump No. 7 by a customer.

Goff said Coleman "threw her leg over the steering wheel, groaned once, and the rest of the baby came out.

"She caught that baby, put it to her chest, gave me a look, like, 'I gotta go,' closed the door, put the van in gear and away she went." (...)

But another caller mistakenly reported someone trying to throw a baby from a van.

Coleman said she noticed several cruisers following her before one cut her off. With guns drawn, officers ordered her out of the van with her hands up.

"I opened the door and said, 'I just had a baby' and just let them see everything," she said.

Officers sent Coleman on and let the hospital know she was coming.

What can I possibly say that would not be topped by the bare facts of the story? The one area that can use a comment is the call about "someone trying to throw a baby from a van." There was no explanation in the article, but my guess is that the mother disposed of the afterbirth by throwing it out of the van window. Thus, we do have a felon, guilty of littering, but the police still overreacted.

Some Thoughts on Terri

I have not written about the Terri Schiavo ordeal before this. With so much being written about it, there was little I could add. I found it almost impossible to take sides. Although the law was clearly with the husband, justice appeared to be both with the husband and with the parents.

Now that all can agree that she is heart dead as well as brain dead, I have a few observations that do not fall on either side. The first is that there was a serious question of fact, and the judge was wrong to act before it was resolved. Modern technology could have answered definitively whether Terri was brain dead. A PET scan could have detected and measured brain activity outside of the medulla, which had kept her heart and lungs working. If it determined that she was brain dead, it would have avoided the passionate activism of the last 13 days. If it was determined that she was not brain dead, her parents should have received custody. They were willing to care for her at their own expense.

The second problem with this ordeal will probably require new legislation by the states to fix. I have read many times during the last 13 days that the hospice could not do anything to speed up the death, but could only act passively by removing the feeding tube. If it had been determined scientifically that Terri was brain dead, the judge should have had the power to declare her legally dead, so that it would not be murder or assisted suicide to administer something to stop the heart quickly. The MSM stressed that Terri was felling nothing during the last 13 days, but that misses the point. The process of having her slowly wasting away for 13 days was cruel and unusual punishment of the parents, and, for that matter, of the rest of the world that was watching.

The circumstances of the Terri Schiavo case cannot be unique. There will be other instances when a person with no living will lies in a lifeless state, while relatives argue over treatment or lack thereof. We need new laws, passed away from the heat of passion, when nobody is slowly dying as the lead story in every newspaper and TV news show, to define how this can be handled humanely.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Tax Tips

Forbes.com publishes a list of the best on-line resources for tax planning. Link. Besides those you may want to check on now, if you haven't filed yet, there are several worth bookmarking for future reference.

How to Handle Hecklers

Ann Coulter gave a speech at Kansas University and, according to the Lawrence Journal-World, there were hecklers. Link.
Coulter received several standing ovations during her speech, but she also found herself interrupted several times by a small, scattered group of hecklers.

"I think there are some people in the audience who meant to be at the sexual reorientation class down the hall," Coulter said, in response to the heckling.

Moments later Coulter stopped and called for assistance from students when hecklers started in again and no one of authority was seen trying to stop them.

"Could 10 of the largest College Republicans start walking up and down the aisles and start removing anyone shouting?" Coulter asked.

Her humor is sometimes over the top, but it is fun to watch how she affects leftists.

Europe Backing Wolfowitz

BBC reports that Paul Wolfowitz has received European backing to be the next president of the World Bank. Link.
Paul Wolfowitz looks set to be confirmed as the new head of the World Bank in New York on Thursday, after winning Europe's backing.

The US deputy defence secretary's nomination stirred controversy, given his key role in the Iraq war and lack of development experience.

But after a meeting on Wednesday in Brussels, European leaders said they expected approval of his nomination.

Europe is hoping to secure one of the two vacant vice-presidential posts.

So much for the MSM columnists and talking heads, who assured us that Mr. Wolfowitz could never receive the European votes necessary to assume the post. I posted on March 16 that I think Wolfowitz is perfect for the post, given the reforms needed at the World Bank. It is good to see that the Europeans can overcome their single-issue objection to him (Iraq) in order to see how well qualified he is to run the bank. If the World Bank starts to have money follow liberalizing reforms, rather than throwing good money after bad at dictators, whose policies perpetuate the poverty that the World Bank is trying to alleviate, we can start to see some real progress on having poverty decline.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

More UN Backpedaling

The New York Sun reports that Kofi Annan has reversed his decision to reimburse Benon Sevan for his legal expenses. Link.
On the eve of a crucial report on Secretary-General Annan's role in the oil-for-food scandal, and amid a flurry of new press allegations of improprieties at the organization, the United Nations was forced to reverse a decision to reimburse Benon Sevan for his legal expenses.

One week after The New York Sun disclosed that Mr. Annan had decided to cover Mr. Sevan's legal expenses, using an account that drew on Iraq's oil money, spokesman Fred Eckhard said yesterday, "It has been decided that it is not appropriate" that the fees be paid by the U.N.

The original reimbursement plan was an abomination on several counts. It is not unusual for an organization or government to reimburse an officer for legal expenses incurred in the course of his performing his duties, but it is difficult to argue that participating in the largest bribery and kickback scheme in history was part of Mr. Sevan's official duties. Secondly, the source of the money couldn't have been worse. By reimbursing him from funds that remained in the Oil For Food program after the kickbacks drained it, Mr. Annan wanted to use funds that were designated for food and medicines for the people of Iraq. If that is the extent of the priority that is given to the people of Iraq by the UN, it is no surprise that masses of its officials enriched themselves by stealing from this supposedly humanitarian program.

Oh!! You Mean THAT Anthrax!

The Washington Times reports that buried in the final report of the Iraq Survey Group may be the answer to what happened to the anthrax Iraq was known to have when the first Gulf War ended. Link.
An Iraqi scientist has told U.S. interrogators that her team destroyed Iraq's stock of anthrax in 1991 by dumping it practically at the gates of one of Saddam's main palaces, but never told U.N. inspectors for fear of angering the dictator. (...)

The Iraqis said they destroyed all of the anthrax in mid-1991 at their bioweapons center at Hakam, 50 miles southwest of Baghdad.
The U.N. specialists, who scoured Iraq for banned arms from 1991 to 1998 and again in 2002 and 2003, confirmed anthrax had been dumped at Hakam. (...)

The British-educated Mrs. Taha, who ran the Hakam complex in the 1980s, told interrogators her staff carted off anthrax from Hakam in April 1991 and stored it in a bungalow near the presidential palace at Radwaniyah, 20 miles west of Baghdad, the U.S. teams report.
Later that year, the crew dumped the chemically deactivated anthrax on grounds surrounded by a Special Republican Guard barracks near the palace, the report says. (...)

Then, through the years, Mrs. Taha and other Iraqi officials denied the "missing" anthrax ever existed.
"The members of the program were too fearful to tell the regime that they had dumped deactivated anthrax within sight of one of the principal presidential palaces," the Iraq Survey Group says.

If even Saddam didn't know that all of the anthrax had been destroyed, and Iraqi generals all thought that they had it at their disposal if needed, it is rather ingenuous for the left to claim anybody "Lied!!!" for believing that it still existed. Revisionists claim that WMDs were the only reason given for going to war. Anyone who reads the speeches that preceded the war knows that it was only one among many reasons, and even then it was not the existence of WMDs, but Saddam's refusal to verify their destruction, that was the one among many reasons.

Monday, March 28, 2005

North Korean Economic Reforms?

The New York Times reports from the Chinese side of the border on economic reforms in North Korea. Link.
North Koreans who have recently arrived in China, and Chinese businessmen who have extensive experience in North Korea, speak of significant changes in the economic life in a country with a reputation as one of the most closed and regimented.

They say the changes, which were officially started in 2002 and have gradually gained momentum, have undone many of the most basic tenets of North Korea's Communist system, where private commerce was banned, private property circumscribed, and an all-powerful state the universal employer and provider.

Now in ways that many Chinese say remind them of their own early economic reforms a quarter century ago, North Korean farmers are allowed to take over fallow land and plant it for their own profit, selling their products in markets. (...)

In the cities, Mr. Yu and others say, the changes have been even more noticeable, with people being allowed to trade goods for profit in newly created public markets, including 38 in the capital, Pyongyang. These days, traders sell everything from clothing and bicycles to televisions and refrigerators, mostly imported from China. (...)

On the other hand, there are downsides.
"Pretty much everyone in business is an official of one kind or another," said one Chinese investor who is a frequent visitor to North Korea. "Ordinary people simply don't have the money, and if they had money, they'd be asked where they got it, and get in trouble."

The businessman said corruption, abuse of office and the seemingly arbitrary application of rules were the biggest weaknesses in the country's new policy drive. "Changes are declared," he said. "They are spoken, but it's not put into law, and this makes it very difficult for business." (...)

One city dweller told a story of how the government had engineered the introduction of new banknotes for the won, the currency, as part of the economic changes. With little explanation except a vague discussion of addressing social inequality, people were ordered to turn in their old won for new ones, the woman said.

"No matter how much of the old money you turned in, each family was given 4,500 new won," she said. "You didn't dare complain. If you did, you would be denounced as an enemy of the people."

If it is true, this is encouraging. I wish it came from a more reliable source than the NYT. Remember this is the publication that, for the entire length of the multi-year, Stalin-designed Ukrainian famine that killed over 7 million Ukrainian peasants, failed to see its existence and even denied that it was occurring. Their man in Moscow won the Pulitzer Prize for that reporting.

However, necessity, as they say, is the mother of invention. Starvation is a pretty sizeable necessity, and it may be forcing the North Korean government to ease up a little. I have read many other reports of North Koreans making it into the Chinese border region, and being floored by the affluence there. Compared with North Korea, rural China is affluent.

Ambassador Stops Bin Laden Hunt

In The New York Sun, Richard Miniter reports on an incredible story. Link
A lone U.S. ambassador compromised America's hunt for Osama bin Laden in Pakistan for more than two years, The New York Sun has learned.

Ambassador Nancy Powell, America's representative in Pakistan, refused to allow the distribution in Pakistan of wanted posters, matchbooks, and other items advertising America's $25 million reward for information leading to the capture of Mr. bin Laden and other Al Qaeda leaders.

Instead, thousands of matchbooks, posters, and other material - printed at taxpayer expense and translated into Urdu, Pashto, and other local languages - remained "impounded" on American Embassy grounds from 2002 to 2004, according to Rep. Mark Kirk, Republican of Illinois. (...)

Mr. Kirk discovered Ms. Powell's unusual order in January 2004 and, over the past year, launched a series of behind-the-scenes moves that culminated in a blunt conversation with President Bush aboard Air Force One, the removal of the ambassador, and congressional approval for reinvigorating the hunt for Mr. bin Laden.

I have often commented before how US ambassadors can see their jobs as preventing any unpleasantness that would make their lives any harder. We have seen many instances of ambassadors acting as representatives of the country they serve in, but this seems to be the first case of a US ambassador working for the good of Al Qaeda. Ms. Powell has been removed from her post as ambassador to Pakistan, but she still holds an important job in the State Department. Can we afford to have people like this even employed in Washington, where the harm they can do is minimized?

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Stirrings in Zimbabwe

BBC reports on the beginnings of a Ukraine, Georgia or Kyrgyzstan in Zimbabwe. Link.
A senior Church leader in Zimbabwe has openly called for a peaceful uprising against President Robert Mugabe.

Catholic Archbishop Pius Ncube told the Johannesburg-based Sunday Independent newspaper he hoped the people would oust Mr Mugabe after Thursday's poll.

He said the parliamentary ballot had already been fixed to ensure the ruling Zanu-PF party won, and urged a "non-violent, popular mass uprising".

Mugabe is an example, all too common in Africa of "One Man. One Vote. One Time." He was elected in 1980, and that was the last fair election Zimbabwe has had. He is a thug, with a lot of blood on his hands. However, that does not mean that his security forces will necessarily side with him if a truly mass, peaceful revolt arises. If huge numbers of unarmed citizens come out for a nonviolent demonstration after another crooked election, security forces will have to decide either to shoot them down or to let Mr. Mugabe fall.

MSM and the Blogosphere

James D. Miller has a disturbing column in Tech Central titled "The Coming War on Blogs" Link.
It's a universal law of capitalism: when an industry faces a new and significant threat to its profits and powers it turns to the government for protection. Well, bloggers who write on current events are challenging the mainstream media (MSM), the most politically well-connected industry in America. Watch for the MSM to start using their political influence to burden bloggers.

He sees three areas of attack: Using campaign finance laws to restrict blogs in ways that the MSM are exempt from, using libel law to bankrupt the blogs in ways that the MSM are largely protected from, and using copyright law to prevent bloggers from quoting them. He predicts that the Democrats will be only too happy to carry the MSM's water on this issue, and he hopes, but is not supremely confident, that the Republicans will side with the bloggers.

It makes a lot of sense, but let's hope that he is wrong.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Wonderful if it is True

The Financial Times reports that Baathist insurgents (but not the Zarqawi crowd) are looking for an exit strategy. Link.
Many of Iraq's predominantly Sunni Arab insurgents would lay down their arms and join the political process in exchange for guarantees of their safety and that of their co-religionists, according to a prominent Sunni politician.

Sharif Ali Bin al-Hussein, who heads Iraq's main monarchist movement and is in contact with guerrilla leaders, said many insurgents including former officials of the ruling Ba'ath party, army officers, and Islamists have been searching for a way to end their campaign against US troops and Iraqi government forces since the January 30 election.

“Firstly, they want to ensure their own security,” says Sharif Ali, who last week hosted a pan-Sunni conference attended by tribal sheikhs and other local leaders speaking on behalf of the insurgents.

Insurgent leaders fear coming out into the open to talk for fear of being targeted by US military or Iraqi security forces' raids, he said.

Things may be wrapping down there. Many Sunni organizations and leaders now want in on the political process. The election really took a lot of steam out of the insurgency. If the home-grown insurgency ends, and we only have the easily identified foreigners, led by Zarqawi, to deal with, our job will be very much easier. The more his fight seems hopeless, the harder it will be for Zarqawi to recruit, and we will then have a mere low-level problem that the Iraqi security forces should be able to deal with, with only minimal help from us. We can concentrate on training new members of the security forces.

Friday, March 25, 2005

The MSM Can Notice Things When Their Ox is Gored

The Washington Post reports on a friend of the court brief filed by 36 news organizations, including The Washington Post and major broadcast and cable television news networks. Link.
A federal court should first determine whether a crime has been committed in the disclosure of an undercover CIA operative's name before prosecutors are allowed to continue seeking testimony from journalists about their confidential sources, the nation's largest news organizations and journalism groups asserted in a court filing yesterday.

The 40-page brief, filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, argues that there is "ample evidence . . . to doubt that a crime has been committed" in the case, which centers on the question of whether Bush administration officials knowingly revealed the identity of undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame in the summer of 2003. Plame's name was published first by syndicated columnist Robert D. Novak and later by other publications.

If the MSM were interested in truth, rather than left wing partisanship, back in the summer of 2003 they should have been contending "A federal court should first determine whether a crime has been committed in the disclosure of an undercover CIA operative's name before" a special prosecutor is appointed. Back then, I read in dozens of blogs that no crime had been committed, I saw the relevant statute quoted, and saw explanations of how the known facts did not violate the statute. However, the Washington Post and its MSM peers were demanding a special prosecutor.

There are several problems I have with special prosecutors. The first is that they are not answerable to anyone. The attorney general cannot force them to abide by prosecutorial ethics. The second is that, having been appointed to spend years and millions of dollars looking at one incident, they usually feel compelled to justify their budget and time by finding a crime, even if none existed.

The MSM were unrelenting in their contention that serious felonies had been committed. It is only now that reporters on on the legal line that they have actually looked at the facts and seen what was obvious to others more than a year ago. No crime was committed. This investigation is a total waste of money and prosecutorial time.

Soros Guilty of Insider Trading

Bloomberg reports that a French appeals court upheld the conviction of George Soros on insider trading charges. Link.
Billionaire investor George Soros was found guilty of insider trading by a French appeals court, upholding a 2002 conviction in a case that he's been fighting for 16 years.

The Paris appeals court ruled that Soros's 1988 purchase of Societe Generale SA shares with the knowledge that the bank might be a takeover target broke French insider trading laws. The court today confirmed an earlier order asking Soros to pay back his 2.2 million euros ($2.9 million) in gains. Prosecutors didn't ask for punitive damages and Soros faces no other penalties or restrictions in France.

I have no knowledge of the case itself, so I will not comment on it, but I have some observations on the sentence. If an investor with inside information gets to keep the money if he is not caught or convicted and only has to return his profit if he is caught and convicted, this is no deterrence. He cannot lose. The worse that can happen is a break-even. It is so rare that someone trading on inside information gets caught and convicted, that the penalty should far exceed the profit.

That seems especially true in this case. The $2.9 million fine is pocket change to George Soros. He gave nearly ten times that amount to 527s trying to defeat President Bush. Isn't a punishment supposed to make the felon feel punished?

Victory For Free Political Speech

The LA Times reports on a court victory for the governor, that may have broader implications. Link.
California politicians can raise unlimited amounts of money to promote ballot initiatives, a judge said Wednesday, handing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger a significant victory as he promotes his political agenda this year.

In a preliminary ruling, Sacramento Superior Court Judge Shelleyanne Chang said forcing Schwarzenegger to abide by fundraising limits for initiatives would unfairly trample on his right to free speech and would not subdue "the demons" of political corruption. (...)

Last month Schwarzenegger, Citizens to Save California and other groups promoting initiatives sued the Fair Political Practices Commission, the agency that enforces state campaign laws. They asked Chang to overturn a regulation prohibiting politicians from "controlling" initiative groups that raise unlimited amounts of money from donors. (...)

Chang's ruling is especially important to the Republican governor, because he has partly staked his political future on overhauling government at the ballot box rather than through the Democratic-controlled Legislature. The governor is expected to support at least four propositions in a possible special election this November, a campaign Schwarzenegger estimated would cost at least $50 million.

The preliminary ruling means Schwarzenegger can actively control Citizens to Save California and other groups promoting ballot initiatives, without having to abide by the contribution limits that apply to his reelection fund. He can accept no more than $22,300 per donor in that account.

It is only a preliminary finding, but it is about time that some judge found that any form of political speech overrides "campaign finance reform." If only five of nine supreme black robes felt the same. The Internet allows instant disclosure of large contributions. That is the only campaign finance reform that the nation or any state needs. As long as the voters know before the vote who is financing a candidate, no amount of campaign contributions will corrupt an election. We do not need laws that limit contributions in violation of the First Amendment. What we need are stricter laws on disclosure, which now often occurs after an election has been held.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Sugar Pills for the Dying

A Wall Street Journal editorial asks why terminal cancer patients must be given a placebo, rather than a drug that may save their lives, in order to satisfy FDA bureaucrats. Link.
The problem here is the FDA's unethical -- and let us stress, unscientific -- insistence on gathering information about drugs by way of "blinded" placebo-controlled trials, in which a subset of study patients are knowingly denied the new treatment and in some cases denied access to any active treatment at all. This may be moral with an antihistamine; it's certainly not with treatments for a terminal disease. What's more, it's entirely unnecessary. We already know what happens to most cancer patients who don't get treated. They die. We generally know, on average, how long that will take.

So placebo groups are entirely unnecessary to prove significant anti-cancer activity, as the yet-unnamed Bayer (BAY 43-9006) and Pfizer (SU 11248) compounds have already done. Yet the FDA is mandating an unethical placebo trial for the Bayer drug. (The Pfizer drug is at least being tested against another form of care, albeit one that's already all but certain not to work as well.) A deadly follow-on effect of the placebo fetish is that it gives companies a disincentive to run compassionate use programs for unapproved drugs. That's because companies won't be able to satisfy FDA demands to enroll patients in placebo trials if patients know they can get the drug for sure (instead of running the risk of getting a sugar pill) through compassionate use. (...)

In almost all recent cases of FDA dawdling, the drugs are proving to be far more beneficial in practice than even the supposed "gold-standard" of placebo trials would have ever suggested. So could someone explain, again, what the benefit is of doing such trials? We're not suggesting Dr. Pazdur is some kind of ogre. But he seems to be more worried about letting drug companies get away with a so-called "race to the bottom" on trial design than he is with getting good drugs to patients. And it's obvious that he can't (or won't) be educated in modern scientific and statistical methods that would allow drugs to be released sooner. (...)

Instead of restricted-access placebo trials, drug researchers could be using large, open access trials in which everyone who wants the new drug can get it. They could then take advantage of advanced statistical methods to figure out whether the drug is working. Wall Street traders use these kinds of math tools all the time, and so do economists. So-called Bayesian statistics are already used in medical device regulation, where even the FDA recognizes that randomizing people into sham surgeries is simply beyond the pale.

For all practical purposes, it is impossible to reform an existing federal agency. It is a better idea to abolish the agency and replace it with a new one that is designed the way you want it. In a January 26 post, I argued that the FDA should be returned to its original purpose of approving only the safety of drugs, not their efficacy. Nearly every medical specialty has an organization that certifies doctors in that specialty. I would rather trust those organizations to decide on the efficacy of drugs than federal bureaucrats. They are far more likely than bureaucrats to keep up with the latest advances in statistical testing, and could identify efficacious drugs without murdering large numbers of Americans in order to satisfy their obsolete standards of proof.

Kyrgyzstan Government Ovethrown

BBC reports that the president's palace was stormed. Link.
The opposition in Kyrgyzstan says it has taken control of the capital, Bishkek, after overrunning the president's palace.

Protesters confronted supporters of President Askar Akayev before flooding into government offices.

A prominent Kyrgyz opposition leader, Felix Kulov, made a televised appeal for calm after being freed from jail. (...)

Kyrgyzstan's Supreme Court has annulled February's controversial elections and recognised the former parliament as the legitimate legislature, Russia's Itar-Tass news agency quoted court chairman, Kurmanbek Osmonov, as saying.

Ireland On Line further reports:
Embattled Kyrgyzstan's President Askar Akayev and his family have left Kyrgyzstan’s capital by helicopter, heading toward Kazakhstan, the Interfax news agency reported today.

Interfax said Akayev had flown to Russia.

It seems like there has been a sharp acceleration in the time line between phony elections in autocratic former-Soviet republics and the overthrow of those governments. However, this one happened so fast that I worry about what will follow. There was little or no time for planning a replacement. The best case will be for the former parliament to act as interim government and run the country while new and honest elections are organized. The worst case will be civil war between ethnic Uzbeks and Kyrgyz or between the radical Islamic groups and the rest of the country. Western diplomacy should give high priority to seeing that the best case prevails.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Things Boiling Over in Kyrgyzstan

The foreign editions of the Wall street Journal have two articles on the growing revolt in Kyrgyzstan. Here and Here.
The two rounds of Kyrgyzstani elections took place on Feb. 27 and March 13. During the polls, President Akayev packed the parliament with cronies and relatives, including his son and daughter. Observers from the U.S. and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe called the elections flawed. As in Ukraine, the opposition demanded a rerun and, as in Georgia, called for the president's immediate resignation.

According to his entourage, Mr. Akayev is considering changing the Kyrgyz Constitution and running for a third term in October, something most Kyrgyz oppose. Mr. Akayev, who has been in power since 1991, is reportedly tired and not really interested in remaining in office. But he is being egged on to stay by his influential wife and other family members, who enriched themselves during his rule. As a result, his once-sterling reputation of a democrat, philosopher and writer has shrunk like Dorian Gray's picture. (...)

Kyrgyzstan today is a quintessence of everything that is wrong with post-communist Central Asian regimes. It did not have a "velvet revolution." Instead Mr. Akayev took over when the Soviet Union collapsed, but the elite remained Soviet in essence. Even the opposition leaders come from this elite, instead of being dissident figures like Lech Walensa and Vaclav Havel. But that has not stopped them from championing popular discontent with the ruling family's corruption, and demanding more democracy than Mr. Akayev is willing to grant. (...)

Lurking in the background ready to exploit the situation are radical Islamic groups. In Kyrgyzstan, and especially in Uzbekistan, a clandestine group called Hizb ut-Tahrir al Islami, or the Party of Islamic Liberation, is recruiting supporters by the thousand. Two prominent Kyrgyz politicians rank among its supporters. Hizb's goal is the creation of a worldwide Califate, a military dictatorship based on Shari'a law, and dedicated to waging a jihad against the West. (...)

Kyrgyzstan is on the brink. In 1992, ethnic Uzbeks and Kyrgyz were at each other's throats in Osh, with the death toll reaching 2,000. Moreover, the split between North and South in Kyrgyzstan is significant, like the chasm between East and West in Ukraine, or the split between the northern and southern clans in Tajikistan.

This one could go either way. It is important that the US and Europe keep pressure on the Kyrgyz President to step down when his second term is up, as is required by the Kyrgyz constitution, and to hold a fair and supervised election. It looks like both a carrot and stick are needed, with the West aiding the government when it acts in a democratic direction and opposing it when it acts in an authoritarian one. I think that this story will keep popping up in the news for quite some time.

Mapes Sells Book Rights

Crain's New York Business reports that Mary Mapes has found a buyer for her book defending the authenticity of the forged Killian memos. Link.
St. Martin's Press has agreed to pay in the high six figures to publish a book by Ms. Mapes tentatively titled The Other Side of the Story. According to publishing executives who met with the news producer last week, the book is still in the early stages, but will focus on the 60 Minutes Wednesday report that filled in the missing details--and painted a highly unflattering picture--of President George W. Bush's Air National Guard service. The story was discredited when memos at the heart of the reporting could not be authenticated.

Ms. Mapes continues to insist that the story was accurate, and that the documents were not forged. The book will present a detailed counterattack against an independent panel's findings that the segment should not have aired, and will include documentation and analysis that she says backs up her reporting and which the panel did not release.

On March 2 I wrote about this, when she was still shopping the book. My comments are still relevant.
You have to feel sorry for a publisher who buys a book that later proves to be a fraud, but how can you feel sorry for a publisher who buys a book that was proven to be a fraud before the rights were purchased. If anyone wants the rights to this clunker, I have some underwater real estate that you really should have a look at.

I guess it's time to contact my real estate broker and have him get in touch with St. Martin's Press.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Important First Amendment Case

Power Line pointed me to an article by Thomas Lipscomb in Editors and Publishers that is very disturbing. Link.
Sheik Khalid Salim a bin Mahfouz has allegedly endowed and arranged financing for a number of Islamic charity organizations that have been accused of funding terrorism. Ehrenfeld asserts, “There are currently over 10 lawsuits outstanding by numerous plaintiffs in the United States claiming billions of dollars in damages from Mahfouz's alleged involvement in financing the 9/11 attack of the World Trade Center." (...)

In an attempt to circumvent the First Amendment protection of American writers like Ehrenfeld, Mahfouz has successfully sued or settled with over 30 publications and authors for defamation and libel in British courts for years. "That many legal actions brought in a plaintiff-friendly jurisdiction evidences a consistent campaign by Mahfouz to silence any author, journalist, or publication who attempt to analyze or document any role he may have had in funneling the money of the Saudi royal family or wealthy Saudi families to terrorist activities," Korenstein points out.

While the standards for libel and defamation in the United States put the burden of proof on the plaintiff, in the United Kingdom it is up to the defendant. And credible testimony alone does not establish proof. If an author cites a quotation by the former secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, which is attacked as defamatory, the direct testimony of Albright is insufficient proof without the underlying material she based her statement upon.

Because of the heavy expenses involved in countering Mafouz's suits and the very different standards of proof in British courts, authors and publications with assets in the United Kingdom have settled, including The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and The New York Times.

But the most amazing part is yet to come.
But Ehrenfeld never published "Funding Evil" in the United Kingdom. Fewer than 30 copies entered the United Kingdom, presumably through Internet sales and special orders following its publication in the United States in 2003. And yet she had a default judgment entered against her by British Judge Eady on December 7, 2004, for defamation of Mahfouz. A penalty hearing has been set for April 29 to consider Mahfouz's claim for legal expenses and damages, a retraction by Ehrenfeld of the passages objected to in the suit, and injunctive relief preventing any further appearance of her book in the United Kingdom. (...)

As an American citizen, Ehrenfeld has ignored the Mahfouz British action and default judgment. "If American authors can be silenced by actions of foreign courts in their own home jurisdiction in the United States, what use are the First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech?" she said. "To establish that protection for myself and other writers, I have sued Mahfouz in the United States Federal Court in the Southern District of New York in December."

If a libel suit can be brought in a plaintiff-friendly country where the book had not been published, then the First Amendment protections for an author are meaningless. This is important enough for the president or our ambassador to the Court of St. James to speak about with the British prime minister. Our government opposes the International Criminal Court because it would put our soldiers under foreign legal jurisdiction. How about the administration taking a stand to keep foreign courts from crushing freedom of speech in the US.

UN Lied About Paying Sevan's Legal Bills

The New York Sun Reports:
After months of denials, the United Nations admitted yesterday that, in an exception to its own rules, it has paid for the legal defense of Benon Sevan. The U.N.'s own investigation panel denounced Mr. Sevan for his central role in the oil-for-food scandal that has engulfed the world body. (...)

Up until late last week, the U.N. said it had not paid any of Mr. Sevan's legal fees. But yesterday, U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard told The New York Sun that the U.N. had been paying his legal bills up until last month.

Mr. Eckhard refused to disclose the sum paid, saying that the legal bills submitted by Mr. Sevan "will be reviewed" by U.N. legal experts, indicating that the exact figure may change. Sources who refused to be named told the Sun, however, that the costs exceed $300,000.

Like with Watergate, the coverup was far worst than the original offense. Kofi Annan may or may not have authorized the payments, which violated UN rules, but he must have known that such payments were being made, and he must have known that UN spokesmen were lying about the payments. The long list of reasons why Mr. Annan is a total disgrace to the UN and must leave office just keeps getting longer and longer. No democratic government in the world would allow a prime minister or president with Mr. Annan's record to remain in office. The largest corruption scheme in history, rape and pedophilia by UN peacekeepers, despotic regimes sitting on the Human Rights Commission, and now lying about breaking UN rules to support the head of the Food For Peace bribery collection office. How much longer does the list have to grow?

Judicial Fight Gets Boost

Peter A. Brown of the Orlando Sentinel has a column titled "Here's how Bush may win by losing." Link.

In the long run, those unhappy with (a California judge's decision to legalize gay marriage) may come to view it as a catalyst that advanced their overall agenda — and not just when it comes to same-sex marriage.

Gay-rights proponents may well wonder, as they did after last November's election, whether court victories are worth the political cost.

That's because the decision likely will help President Bush win the upcoming war over judicial confirmations about to engulf Washington, D.C. Such a victory could tilt the national verdict on many issues. (...)

For the most part, Republicans who oppose gay marriage also don't like abortion, tax increases, business regulation, too much government spending, the United Nations and efforts to restrain U.S. power. (...)

Bush will say he wants only judges who will follow the law and let the people decide political questions. He'll dare the Democrats to act like sore losers and question, as he did successfully last fall, whether they have any ideas of their own or are just reflexively against anything the GOP favors. (...)

That's why the ruling in California can't do anything but help confirm the kind of nominees who could help his team's agenda for years to come.

There is a long history of the left pushing too far and forcing the right, especially social conservatives, to fight back even harder. The so-called "Christian Conservatives" used to eschew politics. Their concerns were other-worldly. They did not enter politics to push their beliefs on the rest of the country. They became politically active only after the atheist left forced more and more of their beliefs on the body politic. If the left had been content to force only welfare state policies on the rest of us, there would be no "Christian block" within the Republican Party, and the Democrats would control Congress, where it could legislate spending, tax, regulatory, environmental and redistribution policies, but not morality.

It was the left, not the right, that first legislated (or more precisely judiciated) their version of morality. In doing so, they awoke a "silent majority" that used to stay out of politics but is now probably in it to stay.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Interview With Hernando de Soto

Stephen Pollard posts an interview that the Belgian think tank Liberales had with Peruvian free-market economist, Hernando de Soto, who is near the top of my personal most admired list. Link. The entire interview is worth reading, but here are a few highlights.
If you are poor, like the majority of the people in the Third World or the former Soviet Union, you have only two things that allow you to survive —where you are living and whatever you are working with to provide you with an income. Poor people, for instance, put their simple belongings on a piece of unoccupied ground in the countryside or in the (...) shantytowns around big cities in the developing world. If no one disputes his or her claim, a bit of a roof follows. As time goes by, and as the neighbours come to recognize the newcomer’s property, a regular structure will be added. Over time, not only do the neighbours recognize the squatter’s property, but also informal organizations may ‘register’ the ownership — unofficially, of course. The occupants have to dedicate all their time to protecting their possessions against such enemies as poachers, intruders, and, of course, the government. (...)

Almost 5 billion people out of the 6 billion in the world live in either developing or formerly communist countries, where much of the economy is extralegal. Capitalism doesn’t thrive in these countries because of their inability to produce capital. However, capital is the force that raises the productivity of labour and creates the wealth of nations. It seems that poor countries cannot produce capital for themselves no matter how eagerly their people engage in all the activities that characterize a capitalist economy. In fact, the poor inhabitants of less developed countries do have things, but they lack the process to represent their property in such a way that it can create and transfer capital. They have houses but no titles; crops but no deeds; businesses but no statutes of incorporation. In other words: their property is not registered, not formally legalised. This last fact is crucial, for only through property rights is it possible to obtain credit. Property converted into capital provides the potential to create, to produce, and to grow. Landownership can only be exchanged for a loan if it is registered. The main objective of the ILD is to establish and incorporate the invisible network of laws that turns assets from ‘dead’ into ‘liquid’ capital. (...)

Look at the situation in Egypt. There, extralegals have accumulated up to $ 248 billion in their enterprises and homes. This is 37 times more than all the loans received from the World Bank. It is 55 times greater than all the direct investments in Egypt and 35 times more than the value of the companies listed in the Cairo Stock Exchange.

In fact, the total value of the assets held but not legally owned by the poor in the Third World and former communist nations is at least $ 9.300 billion. So, the poor are obviously the solution. (...)

If a squatter wanted to acquire a legal title to his or her property, it would take at least 13 years in the Philippines, over 11 years in Haiti, and 6 years or more in Egypt.

Moreover, in business, it takes you 549 days to get a license to operate a bakery in Egypt and that is with a lawyer. Without a lawyer, it takes about 650 days. In Honduras, it costs an individual entrepreneur 3.765 dollar and 270 days to legally declare, register, and start up a business.

To create a mortgage in Mexico it takes 2 years. It takes 17 years to get a title on a house in Egypt; in Peru it used to be 21 years before we corrected that, and in the Philippines it’s 24 years. (...)

In the case of Egypt, we found that 92% of all the constructions and the land and 88% of all enterprises are outside the legal system. This means that the large majority of owners are not registered as such and are therefore not visible to councils, town planners, investors, banks, post offices, water companies, electricity providers, and other firms. (...)

Seventy-eight million Mexicans — this is almost 80 percent of the total population — is either living or working in the extralegal economy. They produce approximately 35% of the GNP. In total there are about 137 million hectares of rural real estate, 11 million houses, and 6 million businesses that are not registered. Those are assets that can only be used as a shelter or as business tools, but not as a means to obtain collateral for a loan, to generate investment or to create additional functions to obtain surplus value. The whole value of this ‘dead capital’ amounts to $ 315 billion. That is equivalent to seven times the value of all known oil reserves in the country and 31 times the value of foreign direct investment.

Spreading political democracy is very important, but without a legal system that recognizes property rights, countries will not see their populations rise out of poverty. The masses are not just mouths to feed. They and their property are the largest natural resource that most developing countries possess. The key to development and wealth is simple. Get out of the way, and let the people do their thing. Make every business legal, so the owners can enforce contracts in the legal system, and do not have to pay bribes to continue in business. Large numbers of small businesses are the key to the future, not the few, old giants that have always had legal recognition.

Shlaes on Bolton and Wolfowitz

Amity Shlaes has a very good analysis on the appointment of John Bolton to the UN and of Paul Wolfowitz to the World Bank. Link.
Multilateralists around the globe ought to be thrilled about these choices. These men are not going to endanger the future of the UN or the World Bank. Those futures are already in danger. Rather, the new candidates may turn out to be the institutions' salvation. For both men are strong enough to bring about change when change is necessary. Theodore Roosevelt gets cited too often in the context of the Bush administration but this time the comparison is apt. "Speak softly and carry a big stick." If Messrs Bolton and Wolfowitz get their jobs, they will practise muscular diplomacy. (...)

The new nominees by contrast are not conciliators. Mr Bolton wants to defenestrate the most egregiously corrupt diplomats and to steer the body back toward to the original intent of its framers: war prevention. Mr Wolfowitz served at the Pentagon in a period when it led the restructuring of Nato. On Friday he said carefully that he will not impose a "US line" at the World Bank. Still, he is likely to mount a similar restructuring there and shift its emphasis to nation-building and economic growth. His World Bank projects will reflect his experience in Indonesia where, as ambassador, he promoted stability and growth by promoting openness (read: democracy). In the 1990s, Mr Wolfowitz wrote prescient papers on the costs of inaction in foreign policy. He will make a good partner for Karen Hughes and Condoleezza Rice at the State Department in facilitating the creation of economic opportunity in the Middle East (translation: pressuring dinosaur Egypt).

It is ironic, but these nominations show that President Bush has not totally lost faith in these seemingly worthless organizations. Rather than write them off and send mediocrities to positions there, he is sending his best in an attempt to save them. It is arguable whether these two organizations are worth saving, but it appears beyond argument that these two men are among the best available bets to reform them in ways that might make them meaningful in the future.

Germany Cuts Corporate Tax Rate

If you can't beat them, join them. An op-ed in Opinion Journal reports that German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, a long-time opponent of EU countries cutting any tax rates but especially corporate tax rates, has proposed corporate tax cuts in Germany. Link.
When eight formerly communist countries in central Europe joined the EU last May, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder was among the earliest and loudest critics of their tax-cutting ways. Low tax rates "are not the way forward" for Germany's new eastern neighbors in the EU, he warned on the eve of the Union's enlargement.

Well, what a difference a year makes. Last week the German chancellor announced plans to cut the federal corporate tax rate to 19% from 25% -- which just happens to be the corporate tax rate of Poland, one of the new EU member Mr. Schröder was so critical of last spring.

German unemployment is at a record, and with several alternatives within the EU to do business far cheaper, businesses or business expansions are moving elsewhere. A table in the article shows the degree of tax difference:
















Combined national and local rates of tax on corporate income
2005 2000
Ireland 12.5 24.0
Hungary 16.0 18.0
Poland 19.0 28.0
Slovakia 19.0 29.0
U.K. 30.0 30.0
Netherlands 31.5 35.0
Belgium 34.0 40.2
France 34.3 37.8
Italy 37.2 41.2
Germany 38.3* 52.0
U.S. 39.4 39.4
Japan 40.9 40.9

* Current rate, which consists of federal and local taxes. Gerhard Schröder proposes to cut the federal part of to 19% from 25%, making a combined federal and local rate that would average about 32%.

It tells you a lot when the US ranks behind France, Italy, Germany, and Belgium in any economic measure. That the measure involved something that can cause companies to relocate or outsource should be a big warning. Ireland got the ball rolling, and now that most of the new Eastern European members of the EU have low corporate taxes, the Old Europe dinosaurs will either cut their taxes or face the same fate as the real dinosaurs.

The EU still has a lot of overregulation that keeps us competitive, despite our high corporate tax rates, but if that overregulation ever abates, or if ours continues to get worse, we will be in the same position as Old Europe.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Biden and Leahy Back Wolfowitz

The Daily Standard had quite a shocker. Link.
TODAY SENATOR JOE BIDEN, vice chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a leading Democratic foreign policy voice in that body, voiced strong support for Paul Wolfowitz as President George W. Bush's choice to head the World Bank.

Biden described Wolfowitz, currently deputy secretary of defense, as a man with an "active and fertile mind" who believes in the work of multilateral institutions. Asked for his reaction to the selection, Biden responded with one word: "Solid." (...)

The position does not require Senate confirmation but depends on the approval of European leaders. Biden said he believes Wolfowitz will enjoy strong support in Europe. "I've had a lot of talks about Paul in European capitals. They know him as a serious intellectual and an engine of change."

Although some Democrats have criticized the selection, notably House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, others have praised the pick. "I know him to be an extraordinarily intelligent, creative thinker who has the potential to do a good job at the World Bank," said Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, regarded as one of the Senate's most partisan members.

I hope it is not just their desire to get him out of the Pentagon. The fact that senatorial confirmation is not needed seems to give some Democrats the leeway to speak truth. If there were going to be senatorial hearings, the Dems probably would be unanimous in denouncing Wolfowitz. Whatever the reason, I am glad to see it.

Four years of pure obstructionism must be wearing some of them down. They probably came to Washington wanting to do something more than just shout "No!" That is what the Democratic leadership has been demanding of them consistently, and this may be the first signs that a few of them are tired of it. After all, they are senators. They represent the voters of their entire state. What kind of prestige can that job hold if they let themselves act like messenger boys for the leadership, and the only message they are asked to deliver over and over again is "No!"

More UN Peacekeeper Pedophiles

The Weekly Australian reports on pedophiles among the Jordanians in the UN peacekeeping force in East Timor. Link.
AUSTRALIAN soldiers drew arms to protect themselves from Jordanian peacekeepers after a Digger blew the whistle on other Jordanian soldiers' sexual abuse of East Timorese boys.

Corporal Andrew Wratten had to be evacuated and Australian commandos sent to protect Diggers in Oecussi, an East Timorese province in Indonesian West Timor, after he told the UN of the pedophilia that occurred in May 2001. (...)

Corporal Wratten, who was working at a fuel dump in the enclave, was told by a group of children that Jordanian soldiers had offered food and money in exchange for oral sex and intercourse.

The allegations involved East Timorese minors, all boys, the youngest of them just 12 years old.

"Wratten informed PKF (peacekeeping force) that he had been receiving complaints from local children about Jorbatt (Jordan Battalion) abuse," said a senior UN official who was based in Oecussi at the time.

"A Jordanian officer in HQ informed Jorbatt that he had ratted on them. Wratten and his guys manning the helo (helicopter) refuelling pad in Oecussi town started getting threatened.

I cannot think of a single instance where UN "peacekeepers" actually helped the population they were supposedly protecting. If one side wants to massacre the other side, UN peacekeepers stand aside and let it happen, even when they are European (Srebrenicia).

The last time the UN accomplished anything positive was Korea 1950-53. In the case of Israel and the Palestinians, the UN has kept festering a conflict that would have been solved fifty years ago if the UN either did not exist or totally stayed out of it. As an organization, the UN props up dictators and only accuses democracies of human rights abuses. It is worse than useless. It is an odious force for evil in the world.

The G20 Wants Farm Subsidies Ended

BBC reports that the G20, an organization of 20 developing countries (including India, China, Argentina and Brazil), called on the developed nations to end farm subsidies. Link.
Twenty developing countries have called on rich nations to scrap their farming subsidies within five years.

Brazilian Trade and Foreign Minister Celso Amorim, who heads the group known as the G20, said the handouts were "the most harmful single piece of commerce". (...)

Developing nations accuse rich countries of driving down the price of produce worldwide through subsidies and protecting their own markets. (...)

The United States, European Union and Japan have offered to reform their agricultural policies, but developing countries do not think they go far enough.

The 25-member EU - which gives the most generous breaks to its farmers - offered last year to phase out its subsidies but did not set a deadline.

On this topic, I agree entirely with the developing nations. Farm subsidies are more harmful to poor countries than any other outside force. Internal policies of the poorest countries can be even more harmful, but no other external force is.

The first priority of a developing country should be to build up agriculture. This is where most of its population is working, and it needs to be brought up above subsistence. If crop prices are held artificially low (the EU model), as crop subsidies in trading partners can do, that effort becomes much more difficult. Even where you have price supports that keep prices high (the US model), it still can hurt them, since then the government is likely to institute "food aid" that gives away the excess crops the government is forced to buy to support the prices. It is that or burn it up, and "humanitarians" cannot see burning food when people are hungry overseas. They fail to see that their "food aid" is a major cause of those people overseas being hungry.

When subsidies and price supports disappear, truly free trade in agriculture will feed the whole world in a much more equitable manner.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

An Auction for Labor

Deutsche Welle has an article on a new website that sprang up in Germany in response to that country's record unemployment. Link.
When Fabian Löw unleashed jobdumping.de on the Internet, he had an inkling it would be provocative. Because at a time when job seekers have it tough, his job auctions are won by those willing to work for the least pay.

The concept of jobdumping.de is simple. An employer posts a job that needs doing, along with the maximum wage he or she is willing to pay. Interested job seekers then compete with each other for the job by underbidding, meaning the employer ends up with the person willing to do the job for the least amount of money.

The system can also work the other way, with workers entering their skills in the auction at the minimum price they're willing to work for, and interested employers then push the wage up as they outbid each other. (...)

All the users on jobdumping.de are obligated to abide by current tax, labor and insurance laws. (...)

Dirk Niebel of the Liberal Democratic party even went so far as to call the premise "immoral" in an interview printed in the Berliner Zeitung on Tuesday. "I find it strange," he said. "It smacks of a slave market"

After reading that, it is hard not to reach for a copy of George Orwell's 1984 to reread that classic example of Newspeak "slavery is freedom." Orwell knew his European bureaucrats and politicians so well. Niebel only inverted it to say, "freedom is slavery." Germany's labor market is so frozen that it needs more entrepreneurs like Löw to try to defrost it a bit. Otherwise the country is doomed to eventual third world status.

Iran Got Nuclear-Ready Missiles from Ukraine

The Guardian reports that Ukrainian groups not affiliated with the government sold missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads to Iran and China. Link.
Ukrainian weapons dealers smuggled 18 nuclear-capable cruise missiles to Iran and China during former President Leonid Kuchma's administration, prosecutors said Friday. The missiles have the range to reach U.S. allies.

The Kh55 cruise missiles were smuggled out of Ukraine four years ago, the Prosecutor General's office said Friday in a statement. Prosecutors said the missiles, which have a range of 1,860 miles, were sold illegally and were not exported by Ukrainian enterprises.

Here is a question for the European diplomats negotiating with Iran to stop development of nuclear weapons. If Iran is only pursuing peaceful uses of nuclear energy and not weapons, why do they need missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads?

If Iran were to have nuclear weapons, even if it did not have the capability to deliver them, it would still be an unacceptable threat to US security, as Iran is the number one state sponsor of international terrorism. If they also were to have a delivery system that could reach some of our allies, even if they could not reach US soil itself, that should be grounds for an invasion.

How to Buy a Law

A small group, working out of public sight, spend $123 million to lobby for a pet cause that has little or no support among the electorate. They buy press support, that paints a picture of a mass movement demanding this new law. They support the campaigns of congressmen and senators who support their bill. It is so obviously unconstitutional that nobody is afraid that it will stand up to judicial review, so opposing congressmen, afraid of the wrath of the voters, vote for it, and the president, who opposes it, signs it. Wasn't stuff like this supposed to be wiped out by campaign finance reform. The problem is, this is the story behind the McCain-Feingold law that supposedly reformed campaign financing. It is revealed in a must-read article in the New York Post. Link.
CAMPAIGN-FINANCE reform has been an immense scam perpetrated on the American people by a cadre of left-wing foundations and disguised as a "mass movement."

But don't take my word for it. One of the chief scammers, Sean Treglia, a former program officer of the Pew Charitable Trusts, confesses it all in an astonishing videotape I obtained earlier this week. (...)

Charged with promoting campaign-finance reform when he joined Pew in the mid-1990s, Treglia came up with a three-pronged strategy: 1) pursue an expansive agenda through incremental reforms, 2) pay for a handful of "experts" all over the country with foundation money and 3) create fake business, minority and religious groups to pound the table for reform.

"The target audience for all this activity was 535 people in Washington," Treglia says — 100 in the Senate, 435 in the House. "The idea was to create an impression that a mass movement was afoot — that everywhere they looked, in academic institutions, in the business community, in religious groups, in ethnic groups, everywhere, people were talking about reform." (...)

Treglia's revelations help put in context a report just out from a group called Political Money Line, "Campaign Finance Lobby: 1994-2004," which follows the money behind campaign-finance reform.

That cash, it turns out, was the one thing about the "movement" that was masssive: From 1994 to 2004, almost $140 million was spent to lobby for changes to our country's campaign-finance laws.

But this money didn't come from little old ladies making do with cat food so they could send a $20 check to Common Cause. The vast majority of this money — $123 million, 88 percent of the total — came from just eight liberal foundations.

These foundations were: the Pew Charitable Trusts ($40.1 million), the Schumann Center for Media and Democracy ($17.6 million), the Carnegie Corporation of New York ($14.1 million), the Joyce Foundation ($13.5 million), George Soros' Open Society Institute ($12.6 million), the Jerome Kohlberg Trust ($11.3 million), the Ford Foundation ($8.8 million) and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation ($5.2 million).

This follows the pattern of the left's rejection of democratic politics. They have lost almost every level of elected office, so they turn more and more to unelected judges to pass their laws for them. A few billionaires supplied much of the money spent campaigning for Kerry, while millions donated to the Bush campaign and the 527s that supported him.

There are plenty of reasons to repeal McCain-Feingold, especially its violation of Freedom of Speech and its shifting of power from the political parties to private groups like the 527s. We now have a further reason that the campaign that passed it was a total sham.

A Tale of Two French Polls

Two separate articles in the Washington Times report on two polls in France, the first of more consequence and the second the more interesting. The first showed a majority in opposition to the EU Constitution for the first time. Link.
The political elites of France and the rest of Europe were shocked yesterday by an opinion poll that for the first time suggested a majority of French voters will reject the European Union Constitution in a referendum in 10 weeks. (...)

The figures were bad news for President Jacques Chirac, who has put his political weight behind the EU Constitution, and showed the difficulties of mobilizing support for a document that few people understand. (...)

The document, which is meant to streamline decision making in the expanding bloc, must be ratified in all 25 member states. And observers don't see how it could survive in its existing form if turned down in one of the European Union's largest and most important countries.

The second asked for the greatest Frenchman of all time. Napoleon failed to make the top ten. He ranked 16. Link.
Military genius, conqueror of Europe and Egypt, lawmaker, looter of art without equal and lover: None of Napoleon's extraordinary talents has saved him from the indignity of failing to make a Top 10 of greatest Frenchmen or women. (...)

The final lineup, listed alphabetically, includes Gen. Charles de Gaulle, scientists Louis Pasteur and Marie Curie, singer Edith Piaf, explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau, giants of French literature Moliere and Victor Hugo, comedians Coluche and Bourvil, and the only living contender, the 92-year-old philanthropic priest Abbe Pierre. He helped Jews to escape from the Nazis and later campaigned tirelessly for the poor.

The first poll is the more important of the two. The biggest pushers of the EU Constitution have been the governments of France, Germany and Belgium. If the French reject it in their May 29 referendum it will be a crushing blow to the Eurocrats. Everyone expected the Brits to be wary of it, but the French rigged the original EU to give themselves much more than they put in, and to live off the other members. If it has less than 99% support in France, you know it is in trouble.

The second poll seems to show that while the French elites pine for the days of French power and glory, the people, who bore the brunt of the costs of that glory, prefer a peaceful Europe and a merchant France. It still is not a total rejection of the military, since de Gaulle made the list. Defending France is still popular. Aggressive conquest for the glory of France is off the table.

Friday, March 18, 2005

EU Bans Hezbollah TV

Haaretz reports that the EU has banned Hezbollah's TV channel from European satellites. Link
Hezbollah's al-Manar television channel, branded a terrorist organization by the United States, will no longer be available on European satellites from Monday, media regulators said Thursday.

The announcement came at a meeting of European Union broadcasting regulators in Brussels, where national watchdogs from the 25-nation bloc agreed to step up action against TV broadcasts which incite hatred or promote racism and xenophobia.

It is hard to believe that it is only now, more than 20 years after Hezbollah killed 241 US Marines with a suicide car bomb that crashed into their barracks in Beirut, the Europeans are finally acknowledging that they are terrorists, or more correctly that they "incite hatred or promote racism and xenophobia." As of September 10, 2001, Hezbollah had killed more Americans than any other terrorist organization. They still are in second place.

Internet Exemption to McCain-Feingold

In the spirit of a stopped clock being right twice a day, Ankle Biting Pundits tells us that Harry Reid has actually come up with a good idea. Link.
According to Daily Kos, Senate Democratic Minority Leader Harry Reid has introduced a bill that would exempt internet communications from campaign finance laws. Here’s the relevant passage: (PDF required)

Paragraph (22) of section 301 of the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 (2 U.S.C. 431(22)) is amended by adding at the end of the following new sentence: “Such term shall not include communications over the Internet.”

If it passes, it will almost make me feel guilty being exempted from unconstitutional abridgments of Freedom of Speech that Congress and the courts have allowed to be imposed on others. This is better than nothing, but how about a bill saying "McCain-Feingold is hereby revoked."

It is also amusing that the first voice raised against the three Democrat members of the FEC who want to expand their tyranny to bloggers is of a leader of the Democrats. I have yet to hear a peep from a Republican. It is the very factors that elected George W. Bush in 2004 that these FEC Democrats want to squash. Why is it that most Republicans, upon being elected to Congress, become invertebrate? Let's hope the president can kick some backbone back into them.

Hillary Takes on Hollywood

Brent Bozell writes of Senator Clinton's jabs at Hollywood. Link.
It's too bad John Kerry never had the courage to take on Hollywood as a presidential candidate. (...)Would it surprise you that Hillary Clinton is not going to make that mistake?

Last week, the Kaiser Family Foundation released a new study on the media habits of children. They found that the bedrooms of America's youth have become multi-media centers, from the iPod, to the Gamecube, to the TV, ripe with raunch. Sadly, the children surveyed said most parents don't set or enforce any rules on media usage.

There, in the Kaiser spotlight, was Senator Clinton to lend her star power to the message as their keynote speaker. She noted she has worked on a bipartisan basis with Senators Rick Santorum, Sam Brownback and Joe Lieberman to get the federal government to research the media's effects on children. She expressed support for parents and even grandparents raising children and the need to support them by talking about media literacy and putting more emphasis on showing parents a program's rating after every commercial.

It appears that the village it takes to raise a child has now boiled down to parents and grandparents, and, for a Democrat, the federal government of course. Hillary knows politics and she wants to run for president. She knows that voicing far-left-wing ideas drives away the mainstream of American voters. If she spends the next three years saying sensible, middle-of-the-road things, it is possible she might even convince herself. Doubtful but possible. We can always hope.

Meltzer for Wolfowitz

Economics professor Allan Meltzer has a column in Opinion Journal strongly endorsing Paul Wolfowitz to head the World Bank. Link.
resident Bush's nomination of Paul Wolfowitz to lead the World Bank is an inspired choice. It suggests that the president's commitment to spreading democracy is not merely rhetorical. It shows also that he recognizes that democracy involves more than the ballot box. Institutional reforms that encourage development of markets, the rule of law, protection of human and property rights, and openness to trade -- all these sustain democracy by giving people opportunity, hope and higher living standards. (...)

The World Bank could, and should, play a leading role in making the case for democracy, improved living standards and the quality of life in the poorest countries of the world. As part of its efforts to spread democracy around the world, the U.S. and its friends must encourage the Bank to set standards for countries that receive its assistance. It should require evidence that loans do not go to tyrants and dictators and that they are used effectively. Democracy and institutional reform do not guarantee good outcomes; they increase the probability of a good outcome.

Paul Wolfowitz is exceptionally bright, engaging and imaginative. He knows the developing world and many of its problems from his very successful service as U.S. ambassador to Indonesia. At the time, Indonesia had rapid growth, rampant corruption and cronyism; the latter problems are repeated in many countries. He knows how to function, and get things done, in a large bureaucracy, as his service as undersecretary of defense demonstrated. In these positions and others, he demonstrated a rare ability to introduce new approaches and make them work. (...)

Development assistance works best when local officials commit to making it work. The success stories are rarely, if at all, the result of outside experts leading the way. The critical word is "incentives." If a local leader wants to improve living standards and the quality of life, the Bank can provide support and technical assistance. It must give up the myth that it can negotiate some conditions on its loans and expect them to be implemented. It doesn't happen unless local leaders choose to make it happen. Often they take the money and run from reforms.

My comments of March 16 are much in line with Professor Meltzer's, so I will just point to them rather than commenting again here.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Al Qaeda Losing Iraqi Hearts and Minds

Strategy Page has a fascinating post titled "IRAQ: Fiction Outsells Non-Fiction." Link. It deals with the many Iraqi stories that the MSM miss, holed up on one hotel in the Green Zone and not venturing out where it is dangerous, but where the real stories are. The biggest story in my opinion:
Iraqi popular opinion has turned against terrorism in a big way. Apparently the key event was the revelation that Osama bin Laden had appointed Abu Musab al Zarqawi as "Emir" (leader) of al Qaeda efforts in Iraq and commanded him to go forth and kill big-time. But as suicide bombing attacks increasingly failed to reach American targets, and killed Iraqis instead, it appeared that a Saudi (bin Laden) was telling a Jordanian (Zarqawi) to kill Iraqis. This attitude never made headlines, but it slowly spread among Sunni Arab Iraqis over the last year. Sunni Arab areas where were most of the violence was, particularly after Shia Arab demagogue Moqtada Sadr stopped instigating violence (because he found that he had much less popular support than he believed). Once the Sunni Arabs turned against terrorism, the terrorists found themselves operating in an increasingly hostile environment.

It is obvious that the effectiveness of the terrorists has declined sharply. I am sure that there are many reasons, including the effectiveness of US forces and the growing number and ability of Iraqi security forces, but this has got to be a big one. Mao described how guerrillas are like fish swimming in friendly waters. If the waters become unfriendly, the fish cannot swim there. It doesn't matter whether the cooperation comes from support or fear, as long as it is there. The terrorists in Iraq are now acting more and more despite the local population, not with its help and support.

Even Handedness, UN Style

The New York Sun reports that, among the world leaders in Jerusalem for the dedication of a new Holocaust museum, Kofi Annan made a side-trip to lay a wreath on Yasser Arafat's Grave. Link
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's decision to lay a wreath at the grave of Yasser Arafat while on his way to the dedication of a Holocaust museum in Israel is infuriating New York politicians and Jewish leaders, some of whom are labeling Mr. Annan's gesture "outrageous," "grotesque," and an example of "mindless incompetence."

The secretary-general joined world leaders in Israel on Tuesday to commemorate the opening of a new Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. His visit Monday to Mr. Arafat's grave rankled some representatives of the United Nations' host city, who said Mr. Annan had damaged the world body's already poor public image and may have further imperiled U.N. plans to expand into neighboring parts of Turtle Bay.

I am surprised he forgot to stop off in Berlin on the way to lay a wreath on the spot where Hitler was cremated. The two men equally shared a desire to kill Jews. Only the numbers they were able to get to differed.

Ashley Smith's Story

Peggy Noonan gives in its entirety the testimony that Ashley Smith gave to reporters she met in her lawyer's office. Link. It is a must read in its entirety, so no excerpts.

You will never see a story like this out of Hollywood. A scared, angry murderer on the run kidnaps a young woman in order to hide in her apartment. She is a devout, believing Christian and they talk calmly for seven hours, and she reads him a passage from a religiously-inspired book. At the end, he surrenders to the police without a fight, apparently a changed man.

Just about the only thing you read or see in the media concerning religion, is when a suicide bomber kills innocent infidels for Islam. Yes, people have done terrible things in the name of religion, but the worst atrocities of the last century were committed in the name of atheistic isms. It is a wonderful read to be reminded that religion also can inspire people to do good and commit selfless acts. I hope some judges who believe that the Constitution requires that any hint of religiosity be removed from any govenrmental action or facility read Ms. Noonan's column.

Maybe a Real Budget

The Wall Street Journal has an editorial telling us that 25 Republican back-benchers stared down the leadership and got a clause in the budget that will allow them to force floor debate any time an appropriation exceeds the budget. Link. (subscription required)
(T)hey wanted some guarantee that the spending limits they approve at the beginning of the year -- which are announced with great fanfare -- will be enforced at the end when fewer Americans are watching.

That hasn't been the case for decades. The current Congressional budget process was designed by Democrats (and passed over a Watergate-weakened Richard Nixon's veto in 1974) expressly to disguise how much Congress spends. An annual budget resolution is passed each spring, but it lacks the force of law and the Members routinely exceed it when they pass individual spending bills. (...)

Enter the Revolutionary 25. They united to oppose this week's budget resolution unless they were allowed to file a "point of order" on the House floor if individual spending bills exceed their budget resolution limits. Congress could still spend the money, but it would require a floor debate and majority support.

"The rank-and-file believe it is important that Members of the majority have the power to enforce the budget of the majority," says Indiana's Mike Pence, one of the ringleaders. "We want a budget, not a mirage." Because the budget resolution is usually a party-line vote that all Democrats will oppose, these 25 Members could have defeated the resolution this week if they hung together.
It is difficult for a fiscal conservative to truly call himself a Republican, since most Republicans in Congress spend our money like drunken sailors, just with one drink less than a Democrat. When Republicans were in the minority, they constantly called for budget reform, but once they got the committee chairmanships, they dropped this issue like a hot potato. Enforcement of restraint is supposed to come from presidential vetoes or threats thereof, but we had none of that during the first Bush term. Thank G-d for the back-benchers. If they stick together when the appropriations come to the floor, we may just get some real restraint this year.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Maybe It's Not Just With Other People's Money

The Hill has an article about members of Congress running up high credit card debt. Link. The gist of the article was to ask whether members with high credit card debt would be more sympathetic to others in such a situation when considering the bankruptcy bill. Their conclusion: it made no difference in their support.

However, I had more interest in who the record-holders were.
The lawmaker reporting the highest credit-card debt was Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), who noted that in 2003 he had between $80,000 and $175,000 spread across seven credit cards. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, listed five accounts with a total of $75,000 to $250,000 in debt. New York Democrat Gary Ackerman was third in the survey, listing "various credit cards" with a total balance of $50,000 to $100,000.

I wondered how these three, who handled their own finances so poorly, handled the public's finances. I went to the National Taxpayers Union to see how they rated these three in their 2004 ranking for fiscal responsibility. You also can use this link to see how your congressman ranks. Two of the three scored an F, Scott, who ranked 431st among his peers and Ackerman, who ranked 385th. Hunter has a middle-of-the-road C+, with a rank of 137th.

Interview With John O'Neill

Little Green Footballs has an American Enterprise interview with John O'Neill of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, concerning the founding of the group and its early difficulty. Link. A sample:
TAE: At the Swift Boat veterans’ May 4 press conference you had an open letter calling Kerry unfit to be Commander in Chief. It was signed by virtually all of John Kerry’s commanders in Vietnam. Yet the story fell flat. The media ignored it. How did your group react to the media blackout?

O’NEILL: We were shocked. We couldn’t believe it. I haven’t been involved in politics or media relations, and I thought the job of the media was primarily to report the facts. It was obvious to me that many hundreds of his former comrades coming forward to say that he lied about his record in Vietnam and that he was unfit to be President would be important information for Americans. I only then became aware of the bias of the media.

TAE: How do you explain the media’s response?

O’NEILL: The establishment media was very pro-Kerry. They were opposed to any story that was critical of Kerry, and I believe that they were captured by their own bias. We met with one reporter around that time. We told a story to him relating to Kerry’s service. He acknowledged it was true and terribly important. And he told us he would not print it because it would help George Bush. That’s when we began to realize we had a real problem on our hands.

The Swift Boat Vets disproved all the leftist claptrap about money buying elections. MoveOn and ACT spent $65 million, mostly of Soros' money. but they did not buy a single vote because their ads were a pack of obvious lies, and they only preached to the converted. With half a million dollars and the truth on their side, the Swift Boat Vets turned the election around. When Kerry's own comrades stepped forward to tell the American people about his war service and how his congressional testimony hurt our POWs, people listened. They were the most credible and trustworthy group of people I have ever seen in any election campaign.

Wolfowitz to World Bank

The Associated Press reports that the president has chosen Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretary of Defense, to head the World Bank when World Bank President James Wolfensohn steps down. Link.
The United States is the World Bank's largest shareholder in the development bank. The bank traditionally has had an American president. Its sister institution, the International Monetary Fund, traditionally has been headed by a European.

Bush noted that he had called Premier Silvio Berlusconi to talk about Iraq and other issues earlier in the day and said that he had discussed Wolfowitz, "my nominee," with the Italian leader. (...)

A conservative scholar and veteran of six administrations, Wolfowitz earned a reputation for being a foreign policy hawk — representing the view that the United States should use its superpower status to push for reforms in other nations.

The problems at the World Bank, which has a history of throwing vast quantities of money at socialist dictators that waste or steal it with no benefit to their citizens, is philosophical not administrative. The Bank needs to focus on poor countries that are moving toward free markets, and preferably toward free political systems as well. Such countries are far more likely to spend the money in ways that develop their economies and help their people. Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan, among others, have barely any natural resources and were very poor when they adopted freer market economies and freer legal systems. Any country can become reasonably wealthy if it follows their examples.

Wolfowitz's strong suit is his extremely strong commitment to democracy everywhere. In my opinion, that makes him ideal for the top spot at the World Bank. When countries whose people were starving got the most from the World Bank, their leaders made sure the people starved. If they start to see that they will get the most by moving their economic policies toward free markets, the incentive will be there for them to do that. Their people will be the beneficiaries.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

See Your 500,000 and Raise You 300,000

The Washington Times reports that crowds of 800,000 to 1 million rallied in the streets of Beirut to demand a Syrian pullout, after Hezbollah got 500,000 in the streets in a pro-Syrian-occupation rally. Link.
Waving Lebanese flags and signs that read, "No to half-measures," the marchers held Syria accountable for the death of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in a mysterious bomb blast one month ago.

They also demanded that Syrian troops end a three-decade-long occupation of Lebanon as required by a U.N. Security Council resolution passed this fall.
Syria has already repatriated about 4,000 of the 14,000 troops who were in Lebanon at the time of Mr. Hariri's death and has begun moving the remainder into the Bekaa Valley near its border.
Terje Roed-Larsen, an envoy of the United Nations, said over the weekend that Syrian President Bashar Assad had promised to withdraw all the remaining troops and intelligence agents, meeting the provisions of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559.

I loved the sign "No to half-measures." The Arab street is now quoting that warmongering, cowboy idiot, just like the anti-Iraq-war liberals said they would. It's funny how everything that the administration did was wrong, but the results just keep getting better and better.

They Chose the Wrong Man for Bad Reasons

American Spectator has an article by Reid Collins, a former CBS correspondent, about how Dan Rather got the job everyone thought Roger Mudd had in the bag. Link.
One day, six months before Cronkite was ready, top brass at CBS had an announcement: Cronkite's replacement would be -- Dan Rather -- and almost immediately. (...)

What happened? Rather's agents had lined him up with ABC News and told the CBS brass it was now or never; fork over the Cronkite job or we move Rather to ABC (cue sound of cheap suitcase collapsing). As the late ABC News chief Roone Arledge wrote in Roone: A Memoir, "What startled me most though, in scrambling to get Rather, CBS had pressured Cronkite into stepping aside six months in advance of his scheduled retirement."

So to keep from losing second-rater Dan Rather,CBS passed over, and soon lost to NBC, Roger Mudd and kicked out their superstar anchor, Walter Cronkite. What they got in return for giving in to near-extortion was third place ratings and a black eye to their credibility from which they may never recover. How's that for a deal?

Monday, March 14, 2005

Condi Rules out 2008 Presidential Run

In a Washington Times report last week, Condi Rice said "I have never wanted to run for anything." Everybody appears to have jumped on that statement as "She did not close the door" or "She did not rule out." In response, the Associated Press reports that she has now made it more definitive. Link.
She closed the door in appearances on Sunday talk shows, telling NBC's "Meet the Press," "I will not run for president of the United States."

"I won't run," she told ABC's "This Week." "I won't. How's that? Is that categorical enough?"

I am a huge booster and admirer of Dr. Rice, but I had problems with the idea of her running for president in 2008. Not because I do not think she would make a good president; I do. However, electability is a problem. Can you name a single person who ever was elected president who had not previously held elective office, besides victorious generals? That is not necessarily a problem for the vice presidential slot, and I think she would make an excellent running mate to just about any Republican governor or ex-NYC mayor who wins the top slot.

Is the Airbus Safe?

The Mail and Guardian reports of major problems with the rudder of the Airbus. Link. Thanks to Glenn Reynolds for the link.
At 35 000 feet above the Caribbean, Air Transat flight 961 was heading home to Quebec with 270 passengers and crew. At 3.45pm last Sunday, the pilot noticed something very unusual. His Airbus A310's rudder -- a structure over 8m high -- had fallen off and tumbled into the sea. In the world of aviation, the shock waves have yet to subside.

Mercifully, the crew was able to turn the plane around, and by steering it with their wing and tail flaps managed to land at their point of departure in Varadero, Cuba, without loss of life. But as Canadian investigators try to discover what caused this near catastrophe, the specialist internet bulletin boards used by pilots, accident investigators and engineers are buzzing. (...)

He and his colleagues also believe that what happened may shed new light on a previous disaster. In November 2001, 265 people died when American Airlines flight 587, an Airbus A300 model which is almost identical to the A310, crashed shortly after take-off from JFK airport in New York. According to the official report into the crash, the immediate cause was the loss of the plane's rudder and tailfin, though this was blamed on an error by the pilots.

There have been other non-fatal incidents. One came in 2002 when a FedEx A300 freight pilot complained about strange "uncommanded inputs" -- rudder movements which the plane was making without his moving his control pedals. In FedEx's own test on the rudder on the ground, engineers claimed its "acuators" -- the hydraulic system which causes the rudder to move -- tore a large hole around its hinges, in exactly the spot where the rudders of both flight 961 and flight 587 parted company from the rest of the aircraft.

That's a lot of incidents involving one kind of rudder. There has to be something very wrong either with the rudder itself or with how it is configured on the planes. Should the FAA continue to allow the Airbus in US airspace until the problem is identified and corrected? Prudent passengers may wish to avoid carriers flying the Airbus until a fix is found and made.

Slow Steady Progress if Afghanistan

The Wall Street Journal reports that the take-it-slow approach we have been following in Afghanistan is paying off big time. Link. (subscription required)
Rather than trying to force radical change overnight, the U.S. has been patient. It has avoided confrontations with tribal elders and warlords -- letting them until recently keep their private militias and weapons and even paying the salaries of their fighters -- while building a credible central government in Kabul. (...)

When the Americans arrived 3½ years ago, Afghanistan was a shattered country. Twenty years of conflict had left almost no infrastructure intact and its territory was carved up by powerful warlords, hostile to outsiders. Experts warned that the U.S., which has 18,000 troops in the country, would be lucky to do as well as the Soviets, who invaded Afghanistan in 1979 and retreated a decade later in defeat.

Instead, the U.S. has fared much better, especially in the past six months. Afghans' deep fatigue with war has helped but so has the slow U.S. approach. Warlords around the country are now peacefully ceding power to President Hamid Karzai's government, which won national elections last October. The U.S. has trained a multiethnic military that is taking over security around the country. (...)

Late last year, counternarcotics officials in Washington proposed using the U.S. military to conduct an aerial spraying program against Afghanistan's poppy crop. But Mr. Karzai opposed the move, and he was backed by U.S. officials in Kabul.

They argued that it risked alienating thousands of Afghans whose incomes are tied to the pervasive drug trade. And they worried it could drive them into a stronger alliance with Taliban insurgents. U.S. military officials were especially worried that U.S. forces would be blamed for health problems in villages that were sprayed and that such tactics threatened to make the U.S. resemble heavy-handed occupiers, as the Soviets were viewed in the 1980s. (...)

Instead, U.S. officials here talk about getting a grip on the heroin trade over the next three years, beginning with ground eradication, education programs, alternative crops and stepped-up training of police.

The U.S. has also taken a deliberate course in handing over responsibility for overseeing big chunks of the country to the Afghan National Army, the country's first force in which Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazaras and Afghanistan's other ethnic minorities are combined into single units.

It was farsighted for the administration to recognize the vast differences between Afghanistan and Iraq, and to come up with such vastly different plans that fit so well for the two. The Afghan warlords were a totally different animal than the Baathists. They could be kept in place while the government gelled. To keep the Baathists and Sadam's army in place in Iraq, as many critics claim should have been done, would have killed any chance of forming a democratic government there. We would have had to settle for the "realist's" approach of replacing one brutal dictator with another one, slightly more friendly to us. In Iraq, we had to move very quickly, even though the costs have been far higher than in Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, we had the luxury of moving at a gradual pace that allowed us to maintain 18,000 troops there, rather than 138,000.