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Monday, January 31, 2005

Flashpoint Turkey

Turkey's Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul sent a message to Rice congratulating her and expressing eagerness to work with her:
''Joint interests of Turkey and the United States will gain more importance while a new period is starting in Afghanistan and Iraq. I am pleased as I will work with you,'' he added.
Gul stressed in his message, ''we are expecting your visit to Turkey in coming days. Your visit will be a chance to discuss recent developments.''
Although Turkey is officially insisting that talks on EU membership are on course, and that they expect eventual full membership, it's clear that in practice they don't expect EU membership. In the linked sample article of the type of discussion going on, it's clear they are now seeking bargaining room. Talks appear to have been delayed another year:
EU Commissioner for Enlargement Olli Rehn said during last week’s Sacrifice Fest that the screening process would start in October and that this would last for one year, which means, EU membership talks will start in October 2006, that is, one year after the date given to Turkey. Meanwhile, the EU is putting pressure on Turkey to make a concession for a solution to the Cyprus issue until October this year. I believe the EU will corner Turkey’s EU membership, but it also doesn’t want to exclude Turkey completely.
Both First Army Commander Gen. Yasar Buyuanit and Deputy Chief of General Staff Gen. Ilker Basbug stated that not a single Turkish soldier would be withdrawn from the island without a permanent peace and solution in Cyprus. Both commanders said the Cyprus issue shouldn’t be a hindrance before Turkey. Actually this message was for some politicians and businessmen who want Turkey’s EU membership at any cost. Firstly, we should understand that Cyprus is increasing Turkey’s geopolitical and geographical importance. Although I consider Turkey’s full EU membership a dream, Turkish-EU relations should continue for economic interests. On the other hand, the EU is putting pressure on us concerning our domestic and foreign security. We can manage these two issues together and this is called the art of diplomacy. The important thing is to know what you want and what you present to the other side. The cooperation and concession are two different things.
The calls to Rice and the consistent statements in the last two weeks about the importance of US/Turkish relations are a signal that Turkey believes itself out of EU running. In another news brief:
Deputy Chief of General Staff Gen. Ilker Basbug yesterday briefed the press mostly about the Iraq issue, especially Kirkuk. Kirkuk will prepare a basis for conflicts in Iraq, regardless of the Kurdish autonomy in northern Iraq. Turkey will be an intervener this way or the other. However, it will also cause problems in Turkish-US relations. Yesterday Basbug spoke on these issues during the press briefing. Turkey left out the US’ requests for Incirlik headquarters due to the Kirkuk and PKK terrorist organization issues. Although Basbug didn’t speak on this issue yesterday, some people have been talking about it for a long time.

Turkish soldiers are located in Afghanistan on behalf of the UN. The US benefits from this situation the most. Basbug said that the reaction and separatism were important issues and that the fight against corruption would continue. The aim of the briefing was to determine Turkey’s stance concerning all sorts of developments following the elections to be held in Iraq on Sunday. Turkish politicians, media and people are making recommendations. During yesterday’s briefing, our concerns were mentioned clearly and the broad dimension of our relations with the US and the possibility of a civil war in Iraq following the elections were emphasized. In any case, important developments will occur next month and they will influence not only our region, but also the world politics.
And here's a recent editorial by Cuneyt Ulsever about Bush's inauguration, Bush II's Second Ascending To The Throne. (When reading "must have", substitute "should have".):
In line with the principles of practical politics, I had argued that Turkey must actively participate into the US’ inevitable attack on Iraq. I still believe that Turkey must have approved the bill permitting the US troops’ deployment in the Incirlik base. I had stated that pursuing a passive policy in this war would be more harmful to our country than being an active party. As a matter of fact, the number of Turkish casualties in this war is more than the British ones, because we don’t have our soldiers there to protect our citizens.

Turkey’s already in Iraq but its hands are tied.

I believe that the second term of Bush II will be more aggressive than ever. The US is aware of the fact that the European Union, Russia, China and even India are capable of turning the world’s balances upside down in the 21st century. Therefore, Washington is expected to attempt to monitor the energy resources directly.
The author is arguing for an active partnership with the US, for a quid pro quo of course:
The US won’t stop until it manages to establish administrations obeying its demands in our neighbors like Syria. This situation bothers me because we’ve chosen to watch the war!
Internally, it might even be necessary for the survival of Erdogan's government to substitute a proposed and ballyhooed partnership with the US for the one with the EU. I don't think they are making these moves to put pressure on the EU. They believe they will never be allowed into the EU, and are searching for a way to prevent this from appearing a defeat. Instead of looking toward Europe their first instinct is to look toward a regional coalition with the US.

Now may be the time that Rice can broker a partnership between the Kurds, Allawi, and Turkey. The problem is the military faction; it does not seem able to accept the idea of Kurds in geographical control of the northern Iraqi oilfields. Turkey has also been pushing the idea that it is a force for stability in the Middle East and can assist in damping Palestinian/Israeli conflict.

This is going to be a wild ride.

Die Laughing With Me

Remove all liquids from the vicinity of your computer. Check the chair to make sure you are firmly seated. Then click on over to this post at Betsy's Page. It appears that no journalist anywhere can even imagine the concept of verifying the authenticity of documents before making a fool out of his- or herself. Read about The Case Of The Purloined Doodles:
A spokesman said: "Following the press conference given by the prime minister, Bill Gates and Bono in Davos on Thursday, a number of newspapers printed stories claiming that a page of notes and doodles left behind on the platform belonged to Tony Blair, and provided an insight into the mind of the prime minister.

"They were in fact doodles made by Bill Gates.

"We look forward with amusement to explanations by a variety of psychologists and graphologists of how various characteristics ascribed to the prime minister on the basis of the doodles, such as 'struggling to concentrate', 'not a natural leader', 'struggling to keep control of a confusing world' and 'an unstable man who is feeling under enormous pressure', equally apply to Mr Gates.

"We are astonished that no-one who ran the story thought to ask No 10 if the doodles were in fact Mr Blair's, particularly as it was obvious to anyone the handwriting was totally different."
Bill Gates has not disputed his doodle authorship. No word on whether Bill is planning to seek counseling from Dr. Sanity or Sigmund, Carl and Alfred to assist him in his travail. Betsy has a nice selection of all the different diagnoses.

Through European Eyes

This article in the Arab News about anti-Semitism in Europe is a must read:
Go to a dinner party in Paris, London or any other European capital and watch how things develop. The topic of conversation may be Iraq, it may be George Bush, it may be Islam, terrorism or weapons of mass destruction. However it starts out, you can be sure of where it will inevitably, and often irrationally, end — with a dissection of the Middle East situation and a condemnation of Israeli actions in the occupied territories. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen it. European sympathy for the Palestinians runs high, while hostility toward Israel is often palpable.

And the anger is reaching new — and disturbing — levels: A poll of 3,000 people published last month by Germany’s University of Bielefeld showed more than 50 percent of respondents equating Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians with Nazi treatment of the Jews. Sixty-eight percent of those surveyed specifically believed that Israel is waging a “war of extermination’’ against the Palestinian people.
Basically, the emerging doctrine is that the US and Israel is conspiring to control the world. Any action or initiative the US takes is often seen through that perspective. It's a new form of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. We do nothing except to forward our hegemony; the war in Iraq was for oil; our pressure on the UN to intervene in the Sudan is about oil, and we're religious to boot. Read this english-language Spiegel article by Thilo Thielke about Sudan:
On Sunday, Jan. 9, the once bitter opponents signed a 240-page peace treaty, marking the end of a two-decade civil war in Sudan that has claimed upwards of 2 million lives. The man who brokered the deal, United States Secretary of State Colin Powell, also made a brief appearance, although he didn't stay to celebrate the treaty with the assembled African leaders and their 10,000 invited guests.
Good news, right? But:
But while the north-south military clash has been stilled for now and signs that the Darfur slaughter may also be brought under control in the not-too-distant future, a new conflict is now threatening to unfold in Sudan. An economic one. Sudan, after all, has large oil reserves and China has, until now, been the country's biggest customer. With peace -- and a lifting of a US economic embargo -- on the way, American oil companies now have their eyes on the country.

Which is one reason the US government has been active in seeking a solution to the Sudan problem. There are others as well, of course, ranging from a desire to improve relations with a country long viewed as a potential breeding ground for terrorism (after all, Osama bin Laden was once a guest of the Bashir regime) to a need to appease influential Christian fundamentalists in the United States who insist on reducing the protracted Sudanese civil war to a simplistic war of faith.
Believe me, I have not quoted the worst. The only reason for the US concern about the deaths in Sudan and attempt to bring an end to the conflict was that we had laid sanctions against oil companies dealing with Sudan, and we wanted the oil. The underlying theme of the article, although it is never explicitly stated, is that in pursuit of the oil the US will set Africa on fire:
This could just be the beginning. Once the spark of secession jumps to more populous nations like Congo and Nigeria, Africa could be consumed by social and ethnic upheavals and military conflicts of unforeseeable proportions.
Of course, if the overriding US goal was to get oil contracts in Sudan, we could have just lifted sanctions and allowed our companies to deal with Sudan. That fact is conveniently ignored.

EU Promises Assistance To Iraq

Monday Javier Solana, the Foreign Affairs Chief for the EU, congratulated Iraqis and said that they could count on EU support and financial assistance. He said the European countries would help with drafting the new constitution and training police as well:
"That is the only problem of a good day that was yesterday," he said. "Everybody will do the utmost so Sunnis participate in the writing of the constitution."

Solana congratulated "the Iraqi people, who have shown the courage to go to vote in good numbers under circumstances which were very difficult."

"That shows very clearly the will of the Iraqi people to move the country forward in peace and through democratic means," he said. "That's very good news."
Exactly. More of the Iraqi people voted than often vote in EU referendums in various European countries, so they can hardly criticize on turnout. Too bad Kerry couldn't have conceded the same thing.

I am still puzzling over what Kerry could have possibly meant by this (emphasis added below):
No one in the United States should try to overhype this election. This election is a sort of demarcation point, and what really counts now is the effort to have a legitimate political reconciliation, and it's going to take a massive diplomatic effort and a much more significant outreach to the international community than this administration has been willing to engage in. Absent that, we will not be successful in Iraq.
First, the real significance of the "demarcation point" is that the Iraqis are beginning to take their future into their own hands. So it's no longer a "we will be successful in Iraq", but whether they will be successful. If they are, we will be able to withdraw. It's pretty clear from yesterday that a majority of the people want sovereignty and a peaceful legal process. Without their determination, we would be stuck in a quagmire.

But what did Kerry mean about "a legitimate political reconciliation"? Did he mean that the Sunnis had to come into the government? By saying it required a massive diplomatic effort and a much more significant outreach to the international community, he seemed to be implying the problem was international. Well, guess what. If there is a government in Iraq of any sort, the EU is going to accept it. Did he mean Turkey? Because that's a problem of a different sort.

Anyway, this is the first step of many, but it shows that the Iraqi people is willing and eager to engage in the process.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Poor Kerry

I don't think Kerry's appearance with Tim Russert was well-timed. The transcript is here.

Yesterday, Soros said the problem was the candidate:
Soros, chairman of Soros Fund Management LLC, spent $26 million in last year's campaign that he said was undermined by the candidate he supported.

``Kerry did not, actually, offer a credible and coherent alternative,'' Soros, 74, said yesterday in an interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. ``That had a lot to do with Bush being re-elected.''
But Soros said he's glad he spent the money and he thinks it was important to stand up for principles. He wishes Kerry would have run more on his anti-war record.

Today, Tim Russert kind of quietly handed Kerry a whole lot of rope and watched Kerry get tangled up in it:
And they refer, Senator, to a speech on the floor in which you said that you were there, that the president of the United States was saying you were not there, that there were troops in Cambodia. You have the memory seared in you. In a letter to the Boston Herald, you remember spending Christmas Eve '68 five miles across the Cambodian border. You told The Washington Post you have a lucky hat given to you by a CIA guy "as we went in for a special mission to Cambodia." Were you in Cambodia Christmas Eve, 1968?
Kerry said he was going to sign Form 180 (full release of his military records); Kerry said he still has the CIA guy's cap, and admitted that he wasn't in Cambodia on Christmas Eve in 1968, but said he did go five miles into Cambodia and that he had photographs, that he had just jumbled two nights together. He can prove it, Kerry said.

Russert was also talking to Kerry about his positions on Iraq and the national security issue, and Kerry gave a pretty confusing rendition of his positions:
MR. RUSSERT: But you voted against Condoleezza Rice to be secretary of state. That's not finding common ground. She is qualified to hold that job, no?

SEN. KERRY: Yes, and I said so. But I also said that she was a principal architect, implementer and defender of a policy that has made the United States of America less secure in the world.
MR. RUSSERT: Is the United States safer with the newly elected Iraqi government than we would have been with Saddam Hussein?

SEN. KERRY: Sure. And I'm glad Saddam Hussein is gone, and I've said that a hundred times. But we've missed opportunity after opportunity along the way, Tim, to really make America safe and to bring the world to the cause.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe that Iraq is less a terrorist threat to the United States now than it was two years ago?

SEN. KERRY: No, it's more. And, in fact, I believe the world is less safe today than it was two and a half years ago.
I hate to say it, but this Russert interview looked to me like fodder for anti-Kerry ads if he tries to run again. Kerry looked good, very healthy and much more rested. I wish him well, but I wish he hadn't done this interview, and especially not today. It wasn't wise for him politically, and I don't think it helped the Democratic party one bit.

Condi's First Challenge

The mood in Turkey has shifted rapidly since the middle of December. If Turkey truly felt it was likely to gain membership in the EU, I doubt this would be happening. Obviously they have assessed events and fear that it is an unlikely possibility, although Erdogan is still saying it will happen. And now both the generals and Erdogan are openly speaking of Kirkuk, and the possibility of sending a military force into Iraq is being brought up by various politicians and military heads within Turkey. Some of this talk is obviously aimed at trying to get the US to prevent a strong Kurdish regional government from being formed in northern Iraq.

From the Turkish Press, listening to Basbug:
Northern Iraq is not only a shelter for PKK militants, but also a place of ‘political activities.’ This is a serious threat for Turkey, but the US doesn’t act against this. Changing the demographic structure in Kirkuk shows the nationalistic ambitions of the Kurds. Words about targeting Diyarbakir slip out of Massoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani. Would they not use the PKK against Turkey? The US doesn’t take any action about Kirkuk. What are Turkey’s choices? Should it enter Iraq and take Mosul? Should it break up with the US and look for other allies? Basbug has clearly explained the choice of a military operation into the region by reminding of the period in 1923-26. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk refused to make military operations to Mosul, which was included in the national border of Turkey. We could enter Mosul, but we would find ourselves in a very difficult situation at that time. We agreed on today’s borders in 1926 and we are loyal to it. Today’s situation in the region is worse than it was in the 20’s.

The second choice is to search for other allies than the US. Basbug reminded that the situation in Iraq is not caused by any bad intentions of the US, but by US not being able to dominate the events in Iraq. ‘Our relations with the US is so broad and comprehensive that we can’t relate them with a single issue unless it is a vital one,’ said Basbug. We have to strengthen our relations with the US. A valid option for Turkey would be to use its diplomacy with the support of our political, economic and military potential.

We have to ask the questions of how our Kurdish citizens are influenced by Turkey’s stance in Iraq and how we can develop economic and social integration policies to strengthen our national unity? Turkey is entering a very difficult period.
From Spiegel's English-language press review:
The paper also notes the bitter fight for power and influence in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk. The Kurds want the oil-rich city to become a fourth province in their region, but the city is home to many Arabs who are resisting the move. To assuage the Kurds, Iraqi officials have said they will allow them to vote in regional elections, which could lead to the Kurds getting the most power in the regional council.

(The Kurds appear to be a small majority) and:
The fact that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said an election victory of the Kurds in Kirkuk would be a "reason for war," has created a special problem for Europe, which is considering Ankara for EU membership. The conservative daily Die Welt notes that Iraq and Turkey have shared a border since 1919 and Ankara has never turned its sights from it, since Kurds are located on both sides. Since the first Iraq war in 1991, when the US began patrolling the skies separating the Kurdish northern Iraq from southern Iraq, the Kurds have lived in relative autonomy. Now, if the US leaves, the region will be left to its own devices, and "it will only be a matter of time before Kurds in the north (Turkey) and the south (Iraq) unite." That, Ankara, believes, would create an existential crisis for the Turkish state. The situation could backfire for politicians in Berlin, Brussels and Washington who are calling for Turkey's EU membership. "If Ankara threatens to march into Iraq and battle the Kurds, the brutal realities of the Middle East will come to Europe like a bull at the gate."
If? It is and has been happening. From Kurdish sites I have seen reports of Turkish tanks on Iraqi soil.

Namik Tan speaks diplomatically:
'It is necessary to avoid statements and initiatives which risk to drag Iraq into an undesired anarchy, instability and internal clash,'' said Foreign Ministry Spokesman Namik Tan on Friday.
When a reporter asked about participation of Iraqi Turkmens in Iraqi elections and Kirkuk, Tan said, ''Iraqi Turkmen community, which suffered throughout their history, decided to participate in the (Iraqi) elections behaving responsibly. But they are also asking for their legitimate rights.''
I think Turkey is trying to prevent the development of a Kurd-dominated military force in the north, or any strong Kurdish regional government. Kirkuk and Mosul are also critical for control of Iraq's northern oil fields. Here is a small map of this area. Here is a brief overview of the oil situation. The largest pipeline out of the country goes to Turkey.

"We Have No Fear"

Sing with them. Polls have closed, and the turnout is estimated at 72%. At least 36 people were killed while attempting to vote. From Fox News:
Rumors of impending violence were rife. When an unexplained boom sounded near one Baghdad voting station, some women put their hands to their mouths and whispered prayers. Others continued walking calmly to the voting stations. Several shouted in unison: "We have no fear."

"Am I scared? Of course I'm not scared. This is my country," said 50-year-old Fathiya Mohammed, wearing a head-to-toe abaya.

At one polling place in Baghdad, soldiers and voters joined hands in a dance, and in Baqouba, voters jumped and clapped to celebrate the historic day. At another, an Iraqi policeman in a black ski mask tucked his assault rifle under one arm and took the hand of an elderly blind woman, guiding her to the polls.
So much for those who said Iraqis were incapable of self-government and that a dictatorship was the best form of government they could handle. The voting in Iraq has got to be one of the greatest civil rights marches the world has ever witnessed. Under the protection of the UN and the US air patrols, the Kurds had already established a localized democratic system in the North. The Shiite coalitions have been extremely responsible in their agenda; they are attempting to put forth a moderate and inclusive political agenda which allows Shias equal religious rights but does not attempt to institute a Shiite religious rule over the country.

Today the people of Iraq made an immense and courageous statement about human beings and their potential.

Here's what one of them said: This is my Eid and I felt like a king walking in his own kingdom.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Voles Are Tough - Are People?

A new study conducted on voles by the University of Toronto at Scarborough found that exposure to higher than average background radiation had a good effect on their health!!!
The findings, published in the latest issue of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, found that low, chronic doses of gamma radiation at 50 to 200 times background levels had beneficial effects on the stress axis and the immune axis of natural populations of meadow voles. The paper provides evidence of hormesis from the only large-scale, long-term experimental field test ever conducted on the chronic effects of gamma radiation on mammals.
Mind you, I'm not recommending that you send your kids to play near the local power plant. Voles only live a few years. High levels of gamma radiation are found in the upper atmosphere (flight attendants and pilots) and space. I believe some studies have been done showing that commercial pilots and flight attendants tend to get cancer at slightly higher rates than the rest of the population, but there is scientific dispute over the conclusions of those studies.

This page has a lot more information about background radiation. There are certain areas on earth where there are much higher levels of natural radiation than across most of the earth's surface:
Naturally occurring background radiation is the main source of exposure for most people. Levels typically range from about 1.5 to 3.5 millisievert per year but can be more than 50 mSv/yr. The highest known level of background radiation affecting a substantial population is in Kerala and Madras States in India where some 140,000 people receive doses which average over 15 millisievert per year from gamma radiation in addition to a similar dose from radon. Comparable levels occur in Brazil and Sudan, with average exposures up to about 40 mSv/yr to many people.

Several places are known in Iran, India and Europe where natural background radiation gives an annual dose of more than 50 mSv and up to 260 mSv (at Ramsar in Iran). Lifetime doses from natural radiation range up to several thousand millisievert. However, there is no evidence of increased cancers or other health problems arising from these high natural levels.
The UN did a study that claimed more people were killed by the effects of the programs to help the population living around Chernobyl than by the accident itself.

I suppose all of this is good news, because if we want to cut greenhouse gases, we are certainly going to have to rely on nuclear power.

SC&A, the box, and Native Girl

What are you doing here? Go on over to Sigmund, Carl and Alfred and read about the ceremonial box presentation. High-level diplomatic negotiations are taking place even as I type, and updates are promised!

It's Not About Us

I'm getting sick and tired of reading analysis about the Iraqi elections that concentrates on what it means for the US, or Europe, or Bush's political opponents, or Bush's political supporters. Tomorrow is the day of the average Iraqi. It's the day when the voice of the ordinary citizen gets a chance, for the first time in a very, very long time. Tomorrow is their day, not your day, or Bush's day, or our day.

The best roundup of resources from a more Iraq-focused POV I have found is at Pajama Hadin. This is a really, really excellent resource. One of his posts ( this also explains a lot about the vote and the process ) displays this quote:
Tomorrow I and the Iraqis that are going to vote will rule, not the politicians we're going to vote for, as it's our decision and they'll work for us this time and if we don't like them we'll kick them out! Tomorrow my heart will race my hand to the box. . .
Yup, that's democracy. It makes no difference that the names of a lot of candidates have had to be concealed because of fears of assassination. What makes a difference is that when leaders know they can be thrown out by the voting public, their priorities change. This process starts tomorrow. More power to 'em.

No Losers Here

Ahem. In case you thought Dr. Sanity was exaggerating about the effects of the self-esteem theory, here's an example of the type of education philosophy the self-esteem movement has generated. In this case, a school system decided to cancel participation in a spelling bee because most of the kids wouldn't win (emphasis added):
Newman said she and the district's elementary school principals made a unanimous decision to cancel their local competition shortly after the January 2004 event, agreeing that a spelling bee does not meet the criteria of all children reaching high standards, the Woonsocket paper said.

She argues that professional organizations now encourage elementary school children to participate in activities that avoid winners and losers, which is why sports teams have been eliminated for that age group.

Building self-esteem is the emphasis.

"You have to build positive self-esteem for all kids, so they believe they're all winners," Newman told the Call. "You want to build positive self-esteem so that all kids can get to where they want to go."
One of my brothers who lives in a very liberal area in CA told me that he knows several of his co-workers who have recently pulled their kids out of public schools and decided to homeschool them. It's not because they are offended by what is taught at the school, but because they are disturbed about what their children aren't learning. The purpose of education is to teach, and elementary education is to teach the basic building blocks of education. A supportive environment is important, but not to the extent that you focus more on feelings than education.

Notice that sports teams aren't allowed in that school system either. This is almost an entire educational philosophy by now.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Losing Our Religion

Sniff. Whimper. Dr. Sanity serves notice; the era of self-esteem is now over. You want to read the whole post, but here is her conclusion:
The pop-psychology that promulgated the widespread belief that if you nurture kid's self-esteem neglected to mention that if the sense of self was already damaged, all you managed to do was to create a narcissistic monster...it was a waste of time and money--as this article reports. If the 19th century was the age of hysteria (and basically, Freud was responding to the excessive sexual repression present in that century); then the 20th was the age of narcissism. In this new century, that narcissism seems to be morphing into an even more malignant sociopathy that pervades society and impacts almost all our social, political, and educational institutions.

Our cultural focus on enhancing "self-esteem" has resulted in the near-worship of emotions and feelings at the expense of reason and thought; on emphasizing "root causes" and victimhood, instead of demanding that behavior be civilized and that individuals exert self-discipline and self-control--no matter what they are "feeling".
I also blame the wackier elements in feminism.

A movement that started out emphasizing women's strength, competence and flexibility ended up frantically espousing the idea that a woman's entire career could be destroyed because she noticed a man at her workplace staring at her chest, making her feel bad, and thereby creating a hostile environment. All of that was going on while breast enhancement surgery became one of the most common cosmetic medical procedures and women's magazines discussed how to get really, really inventive in bed "to give him a night he'll never forget".

Nipped and tucked and surgically enhanced, many a woman stalks daintily through the corporate halls of power just waiting for that one moment that a man succumbs to nature and stares openly at her wares. Then she will strike back against the patriarchy! That is, unless she wants to go out with him and he doesn't show any interest. Then he's a lout who is looking for a superficial woman who will cater to his chauvinism.

Let's not kid ourselves. If sexual preference really was optional, at least a third of the men in America would now be homosexuals. It's the safer option.

A Pearl Of Wisdom

Dr. Sanity writes about President Chavez of Venezuela:
He is a perfect example of how bullies and thugs do NOT suffer from low self-esteem, as is commonly thought among social intellectuals (see here). Meanwhile, I will patiently wait for the U.S. Feminist movement to utterly and completely denounce this chauvinist pig.
Somehow, I suspect she's not holding her breath!

Behind the scenes

This is the latest issue of FYI, covering the FDIC's roundtable on current economic outlook:
Carl Steidtmann: “One thing that we should be worrying about is real hourly wages. We find real hourly wages to be a pretty good leading indicator of real spending. Again, it’s one of the factors that we look at when we're trying to measure cash flow into the household sector…. Real wages are going down now for a couple of reasons. One reason is we've had a bit of an acceleration in inflation. That, obviously, undercuts purchasing power. We've also had a real sharp increase in [the cost of] benefits. So, in a sense, you’re getting a little bit of a mix shift from the employer's perspective, away from wages and toward benefit costs. I think that's also depressing real wages. The impact falls more on middle- and lower-income households, those households that are more dependent on real hourly wages.

Allen Grommet: “We're concerned about the effect of interest rates going forward, and it's not likely to get better. The rising rates will ultimately affect the housing market.”

Len Burman: “ … [I]f you adjust tax receipts for extension of the 2001–2004 tax cuts, you fix the [alternative minimum tax], you adjust spending for growth in entitlements and defense … by the year 2013, there's basically nothing left for anything else unless you finance it through deficits. … The problem is that [Baby Boomers] are all getting near retirement age now, and that's going to put immense demands on the budget. … Over the long run, unless we actually deal with these problems, this clearly will have a negative effect on the economy.”
If you click on the link above, you can read the whole FYI or access the entire transcript of the discussion. This is information the regulatory agencies feel bankers must know in order to properly evaluate future trends that may produce risk. One of the oddities about the current situation is that what's being discussed in the papers is completely opposite to what's being discussed by financial institutions (or even the CBO). It's as if we were living in parallel universes.

Cognitive Dissonance In Action

You don't want to miss this AP article on French concerns about Islamic terrorism and its causation - the US:
The ongoing violence in Iraq "encourages terrorism," has created instability and has pushed some French youths toward holy war, France's defense minister said in an interview with The Associated Press.
"France cannot be satisfied with the situation in Iraq," she said in Thursday's interview. "What's happening in Iraq is bad for everyone. It encourages terrorism and creates a zone of instability that can spread."

Alliot-Marie expressed concern that the young French fighters "could one day carry out suicide attacks elsewhere ... that worries us." France itself could be targeted, she said.
What she's upset about is that the French police have arrested some people in France for funneling fighters from France to Iraq. I see. So if radical imams in France are preaching holy war, and if France fears that their own citizens or residents may launch anti-Western attacks in France, that is the fault of the United States? A bit of twisted logic, isn't it?

France uses the same logic to blame Israel for unrest in the Middle East, ignoring the fact that many Middle Eastern governments use invective against Israel as a way to export their internal unrest.

What France objects to in Israel - a country's right to defend its population against violent attacks - it claims as its own right. It seems to appear self-evident to Alliot-Marie that all international policies good for France are humane, while even actions taken by Israel to stop bombers from entering its countries are illegitimate and oppressive. And Saddam Hussein had the right to brutalize his own people and attack his neighbors because that activity did not threaten France, whereas Alliot-Marie perceives that the US attempt to overthrow Saddam Hussein and establish some sort of free society creates a "zone of instability".

Hey, Alliot-Marie, I'm willing to negotiate. I will concede your right to defend your national interests if you will concede the right of other countries to defend their national interests. I will not take France's concerns seriously as long as France believes the entire global community has the responsibility to prevent attacks by Islamist terrorists on France's soil but expects Israel to accept terrorist attacks as the price for its existence.

Alliot-Marie, please grow up.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Barbara Boxer, Spinner Of Tales

Senator Barbara Boxer is writing a fiction novel:
The novel follows Ellen from her days as an idealistic college student, through romantic entanglements, to a difficult marriage to a rising political star. When her husband is killed, she steps into his campaign for the Senate and is elected. On the eve of a crucial senate vote, her personal and political worlds collide when her right-wing adversaries recruit her former lover to sabotage her credibility and career.
Follow me (as I shudder in tremulous delight) on a voyage of discovery brought to us by the manly arms of INDC Journal. There is a link to the original article and he has scored ... excerpts. Excerpts guaranteed as accurate as a Milwaukee voter registration card. And they say bloggers aren't to be taken seriously! Hah! Take this, and this!

I think Senator Boxer's novel should be entitled "The Thrust Of His Argument".

Bad Statistics & Wise Canadians

The hockey stick graph is nonsense. To their everlasting credit, a pair of dedicated Canadians have amply demonstrated why and how. McIntyre and McKitrick are finally getting their point across, because it is irrefutable. Major publications are slowly being forced to admit the fallacies of the computation methods used to derive the famous graph.

Congratulate a Canuck today for upholding the truth. The link above will take you to a website with links to other publications and an explanation of how, when and why. It isn't warmer today than at any time in the last 1000 years. It just isn't. This doesn't mean that man may not be inducing enough warming in the climate to be dangerous, but we have to deal with what we know scientifically, not bad computations.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Do It Yourself

This is going to be another unbelievably boring post. I can't stand reading more articles such as this one in the Washington Post about Social Security any more. It is literally painful to me to watch the media adopting these fake numbers. Only another person required to do very accurate computations for a living - computations that will cost my customers huge sums of money if they are wrong - can understand my feelings.

These people obviously don't understand numbers at all. I suppose the authors of these types of articles could be conniving duplicitious scum, but I prefer the more generous-spirited explanation of concerted incompetence. Regardless, they should know better, and many people are very understandably and reasonably deceived by the latest incarnation of voodoo economics. The authors of the above-linked piece of misrepresentation write:
The latest Social Security trustees' report, whose numbers even the White House uses, predicts that the Social Security program can pay all promised benefits for the next 38 years -- with no changes at all. The June 2004 estimate from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projects that Social Security can pay all promised benefits without changes for even longer, until 2052. That's nearly half a century.
Half a century and quite a fantasy! The numbers above are generated by pretending (as the Social Security Administration must do under law) that the Trust Fund is a reality instead of a pile of paper. Oops. If we were running and could expect to run large surpluses into the foreseeable future, this would be a reasonable assumption. But we haven't been running surpluses (the few surpluses during Clinton's era were cash-flow surplus generated by Social Security surpluses, but real deficits remained), and we most certainly won't be running surpluses. In fact, we wouldn't be running surpluses even if there were no problem with Social Security. The Medicare and Medicaid programs alone assure large deficits far, far into the foreseeable future no matter what rosy projections we make for growth in the economy, etc. In light of this indisputable fact, the T-Bills held by the Social Security Administration are as valuable as Confederate dollars.

When the Social Security Administration begins to run deficits from current income and trots over to the Treasury to redeem those bills, the taxpayers of that year will have to pay for them. If the bills did not exist, the Social Security Administration would have to get money to pay retirees from the Treasury and general funds. Any income paid on those bills now is paid from the general funds, and goes right back into general funds to pay current expenses (because Social Security is running a surplus) in the type of transaction that should be familiar to anyone who has read much about Enron and similar corporate accounting escapades. We have spent all the Social Security surpluses and will continue to spend them unless we amend our wicked ways.

After rolling around on my mental floor in horror infused with despair for a few days, I decided to cope by showing you how very ordinary people can do a set of simple calculations to figure about what's really happening and going to happen with Social Security for themselves. All the information used is publicly available. Spend half an hour with me, and then you will be far more qualified than a lot of column writers to discuss the issue of whether Social Security is in a crisis or nearing one.

It's really rather simple once you ignore the funny money. The most important variables in this system are workers per retiree, average monthly worker wage, and average monthly retiree benefit. The further you go out in years, the more uncertain each of these variables becomes, so we will concentrate on the years up to 2025. In order to make matters simpler, we will render everything in today's dollars, assuming that both wages and benefits don't change with time. They do, but at the current time they are pretty closely tied together when calculating benefits, so we can ignore that change quite safely for our purposes.

So come with me, children, and calculate with Mama. Leave the pundits to enjoy their sojourn at Walt Disney; the voters can catch up with them later, and we will.

We will get our figures for projected workers per retiree from Social Security's own latest projections, which are as good as they can possibly make them. They offer three sets of figures, and we will use the intermediate ones. We don't want to alarm ourselves unnecessarily.

Coming up with average worker wage is only slightly more challenging. The government does surveys, and we will use them. We will check our figures with two different methods, because we want to make sure our numbers are reasonable. From this survey (the latest available, slowly loads in pdf) we find that the average hourly wage across private, state and local governments is $17.75. Ominously, we note that government wages are higher than private wages. This will become important later. $17.75 * 39 hours a week * 52 weeks a year gives us about $35,997, or about $36,000 annually. From this survey (much faster txt), we find (it's right at the top) that the average wage nationally is $36,000.

These numbers are slightly old, but close enough for our purposes. These are not mean wages, but average wages, meaning that if you multiplied the number of wage-earners by the average wage you would end up with total wages for the entire nation. So in reality, somewhere around 4 to 6 percent of these wages would not be subject to the payroll tax. Certain state employers (like some university systems) are excluded from their half of the SS tax, and some workers exceed the wages subject to Social Security tax. This will offset the increase in wages we may be missing by not having figures for 2004 or 2005.

$36,000 a year breaks down to $3,000 per month. Social Security taxes on subject wages are 12.40, half paid by employer, and half by the employee. So the monthly contribution per worker is 12.4 % of $3000 which equals $372 dollars. We'll round that up a bit to $380 for convenience and because we want to be sure not to exaggerate the problem.

Now we come to the next item, which poses slightly more of a challenge: how do we figure out average monthly benefit per retiree? Here we will revert again to two useful pages here and here provided by the Social Security Administration. On the second page we find two examples of how a current retiree's benefits would be calculated. The lower number (for a low wage earner retiring at 62) is $1273.74, and the higher number (for a more typical wage earner retiring at 65) is $1508.80. An example for a really high wage earner is not given, but they represent a small percentage of the workforce anyway. So we will interpret between these two numbers and derive a thumbnail figure of $1,400 monthly benefit per current retiree. Certainly 20 years in the future most retirees receiving benefits will have retired in 2004 or later, so when projecting forward in today's dollars this is probably a pretty accurate figure. If anything, it should be a bit low.

Still, we want to check ourselves, so we will try to calculate this in a different way. You can see a historical list here of average monthly benefits up to 2002. The last number given is $895 over all retirees. Extrapolating from the past five years and giving more weight to the lesser increases in more recent years, we come up with an average increase per year of about $25.00. $25 * 10 years equals $250 per decade, and two decades yields an increase of $500, which added to $895 in 2002 gives $1,395 in 2022. Not a bad fit, so we can feel pretty comfortable with our $1,400 average monthly benefit figure. Remember, we are not being paid for this - all we are trying to do is figure out whether we need to worry about Social Security deficits or not.

Okay, now it's all simple.

Currently there are about 3.3 people paying for each retiree, and on average each month, each one is paying $380 into SS. 3.3 * $380 = $1254. Adding $50 (updating 2002 figure to 2004 app. monthly benefit) to $895 means we need to pay about $945 per retiree, so we're running a nice surplus. No crisis now.

But if current workers were paying a higher benefit to each retiree, we would have a problem. $1,400 / 3.3 = $424.24 per worker - call it $425. That doesn't looks so good.
When the ratio drops to 2.5, it will be $560 per worker.
When the ratio drops to 2.0, it will be $700 per worker.

How much would the average monthly salary in today's dollars have to be in order for 2 workers to pay for one retiree's average earnings 20 years in the future, expressed in today's dollars? .124 * X = $700; $700 / .124 = $5,645, expressed in today's dollars, which is equivalent to yearly earnings of $67,740. The actual number in the future would be much higher of course.

It's not going to happen, honestly, no matter how much productivity grows. And remember, given the current method of calculating retiree benefits, when average wages go up so do retiree benefits, so actually the benefit per retiree would be much higher. This does not look promising; it appears there is no way under today's system to catch up with ourselves once the ratio of workers per retiree drops much below 2.7. If this seems confusing, go back to this page and look at how they are adjusting past wages in light of current wages.

But let's try to calculate this another way, to quantify the effects of the expected problem.

In 2010 we expect to have about 3.2 workers paying for each retiree. Moving our average benefit up 8 years (8 * $25 = $200, $200 + $895), we get an estimated average retiree monthly benefit of $1,095. 3.2 workers each paying $380.00 per month gives us $1,216. We are still running a decent surplus in 2010.

In 2015 we expect to have about 2.9 workers per retiree, which gives us 2.9 * $380 = $1,102. To get our expected benefit per retiree, we add another 5 years of increases ($125) to $1,095, equaling $1,220 rounded. It looks like we will be crossing over into deficit territory. We could be a few years off either way, but not by too much.

In 2020 we expect to have about 2.6 workers per retiree, which gives us 2.6 * $380 = $988. Adding another 5 years of increases, we can guess at an average monthly retiree benefit of $1,345. We have a deficit per retiree of at least $350 per month. What the heck - let's be conservative and say it's $300 per month per retiree.

How many of these retirees are there going to be? 67,987,000 of them, according to the intermediate table. But over 10,000,000 of that number receive disability only and on average receive less monthly. So we'll round down to 60,000,000 retirees and multiply by our $300 deficit per retiree to get a monthly deficit of $18,000,000,000. To get the annual deficit multiply by 12, which gives us $216,000,000,000. That is conservatively $216 billion that social security will cost us above what workers pay into the system in 2020. Pulling off our shoes and socks, we count anxiously on our toes and the fingers of one hand, and realize that 2020 is only fifteen years from now.

This is getting ugly fast. There is no trust fund - if T-bills are redeemed either those 2.6 hardworking wage-earners per retiree, corporations, or the retiree is going to have to pay for those T-Bills in extra income taxes. Probably all will be pay higher taxes. The effect on the budget gets worse when you realize that in 2003 the Social Security surplus reduced the deficit by over $70 billion (ignore those stupid interest earnings). The net effect on the budget will be, very conservatively stated, an additional $280 billion in deficit spending compared to current figures.

Let's move forward to 2025, because we said we were going to go out 20 years. We will use the figure of $1,400 monthly benefit per worker, which is definitely too low. But again, we are lowballing. We expect to have 2.3 workers per retiree. 2.3 * $380 = $874. Not good. We now have a deficit per retiree of over $525 per month, but we'll be conservative and use $450.00.

How many retirees do we expect to have in 2025? The total expected is approximately 76,000,000, but about 11,000,000 of those are projected to receive disability only. So we'll take a conservative figure of 68,000,000 retirees and multiply by our $450 deficit per retiree to get a total projected monthly deficit of about 65,000,000 of those will receive Let's use just the number 30,600,000,000. To get the annual deficit we multiply by 12, which gives us $367,200,000,000. That is about $367 billion extra that those 2.3 workers, corporations and retirees will have to come up with in 2025. It could easily be substantially more. The net effect on the budget versus current figures is approximately $440 billion in additional annual deficit, which is about equal to the ENTIRE deficit now. Remember, we are doing all of this in today's dollars.

When you start to consider the effects of Medicare and Medicaid, which are also highly dependent on the same worker/retiree ratios, you begin to see what a massive hole we will be in 20 years from now. Now it's up to you whether you want to consider this sort of thing a crisis or not, but I question the sanity of anyone who claims we don't have to worry about this until 2042. There is no trust fund. We have been using SS taxes to pay for general expenditures that we should have been funding from current income. The longer we keep doing it, the worse the situation gets.

What are our options?

Things that might help to reduce the SS shortfall would be more immigration, higher birth rates, cutting back on our overall federal spending sharply, or changing the way Social Security benefits will be calculated in order to give a lower average benefit. This is one reason why I favor more legal immigration. Higher birth rates can only be achieved by cutting real taxes on the younger and poorer of our population. As I explained in this prior post, we are taxing lower wage earners to death and most of the taxation on younger or less affluent workers comes from Social Security.

However, if we cut taxes for these people we will increase the overall budget deficit now. But we certainly should not be raising taxes on the lower 1/2 of wage earners, and we should be embarrassed at the amount of taxes many of these people are paying today. As I pointed out in this post, raising payroll tax rates on higher wage earners is getting close to counterproductive already. We are sending jobs overseas to cheaper locations at a very high rate.

We are running out of options to address the situation with each passing year. What we are going to do will end up being cutting benefits, raising taxes, and cutting benefits very sharply for the top echelon of retirees or those with significant other assets. There is no other way out, but certainly we can't spring this on people at the last moment. We need to allow people time to prepare, and we need to figure out what we are going to do for the lower echelon of wage earners who are being taxed at historic highs and have little chance of saving with what they have left.

As for raising the full retirement age, that has already been done. People can still take early retirement at age 62, but if you increase that age you will force a lot of older people to go on disability. That will end up costing more, because those persons will get not only disability but Medicare.

Note: A careful reader will note that I have slightly earlier negative dates, even lowballing, than the Social Security projection to which I linked. That is partly because I ignore the funny money revenue from the T-Bills in the trust fund and so on. The point is, the tax-payers pay that money into SS just as they pay their payroll taxes, so it is a wash and need not be considered. I have also ignored the "revenue" from these T-Bills in my calculation of how SS offsets the budget deficit currently. I believe my figures are quite accurate - in fact I believe they are underestimates by about 15% by 2023. But that's a much longer set of calculations.

Factors which the social security projections don't address is that high unemployment rates among older people and lower medical insurance coverage rates (largely related to high medical insurance costs) are forcing far more retirees to take early retirement at age 62 (they use their SS check to pay for medical insurance or offset medical costs). This does lower the average benefit, but it increases retirees per worker, so the effect is pretty much another wash. In 20 years, almost all of the retirees in the program will have retired under the current formula, so the average benefit in today's dollars per retiree is a pretty good figure.

Update: The CBO's latest release is out, and Donald Luskin read it and pulled out the relevant passage. The Congressional Budget Office has SS cash flow going negative a couple of years later than I do. But the facts are clear - we will be in the hole before 2020.

The Congressional Budget Office writes:
Thus, in CBO’s baseline projections, the capacity of the Social Security trust funds to offset some of the net deficit in the rest of the budget—as they do now—will begin to dwindle during the coming decade. Shortly thereafter, Social Security is projected to begin adding to deficits or reducing surpluses.
The reality is quite clear, even if one looks at the numbers for an hour or two. I hope that I have helped one or two people to understand the difference between what is false and what's not. It is very confusing to suddenly have this burst of unrealistic articles claiming that Social Security will be able to pay benefits until 2052.

You can't honestly make that claim without looking at the budget as a whole, and the budget as a whole has a lot of sinkholes in it already. Last year, although the precise figures haven't been released yet, Medicare and Social Security taken together ran a deficit and some contributions from general revenue were required in order to make payments to beneficiaries.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Joy In The Creationist Camp

From Newsday, a report that researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have developed a process to created a form of petrified wood in days rather than millions of years. One argument I have encountered several times in creationist circles is that wood can be petrified very rapidly under the correct circumstances.

Of course the process developed by the researchers is not a natural one (although I have seen argon mentioned on a creationist web site in this context), or that creationism is true. But I couldn't help laughing at this article, because I imagined the sparkle in some creationist's eye. It was a nice way to start the morning.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Mass Murder And Its Roots

What we speak of when we remember the Holocaust and Auschwitz is mass murder, a bureaucratic murder that was committed with intent, planning, forethought, a certain legalistic ritualism, and a species of idealism.

Arthur Chrenkoff has posted about the UN's session on genocide and the Holocaust. I would far rather you read what he has written than what I write. Arthur closes his post with this:
And so, sadly, sixty years on, we still live in a world where the very terms like "genocide" and "Holocaust" are political and rhetorical footballs and where historical commemorations get invariably marred by present-day politics, all at the same time when the world community keeps repeating the mantra of "never again", knowing full well that never again has already happened many times in the past and will, with a sickening inevitability, happen many times in the future.
Exactly. If you feel skeptical about Arthur's words, keep reading. Otherwise, you get a free ticket off to a happier and gentler place, because I am in no mood for hypocrisy tonight.

What did happen, and who was guilty? Tom Carter has an excellent post that reviews the facts of what happened, and asks another important question - "Why did and how could this happen?"

Most of the answers to the question of "why" can be found here, in UPenn's translation of the Wannsee Conference. If you have never read it, I recommend that you do. As for who was guilty, of course the Nazis were guilty in the first degree. But so many countries refused refugees (refused to save some of those they could have saved) that there is plenty of guilt to go around. It can be argued that the populations of other countries could not have imagined the barbarity that was to come, but then Hitler had been quite clear about his beliefs in Mein Kampf. The press had reported Kristallnacht and similar events. The Nuremberg Laws were not a secret, and foreign governments had already intervened on behalf of a few individuals affected.

I think the most honest way to describe the lack of recognition of the true danger in other countries is that it was a convenient ignorance, and one reinforced by anti-Semitism and eugenic beliefs in many other nations. The links I am posting here are either related to German history or US history, but these laws were hardly unique to two nations.

Ah, yes. The Nuremberg Laws seem to have been inspired by some US efforts along the lines of racial purity:
Please take special note of the similarity between these laws and the Jim Crow Laws which were passed in the United States following the Compromise of 1877, upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in Plessy vs Ferguson (1896) and remained in effect until the court reversed the "separate but equal doctrine in Brown vs the Board of Education of Topeka (1954). It is clear that Hitler used the Jim Crow segregation statutes as his model for defining Jews in the Third Reich.
The Nuremberg Laws (a full exposition here) removed the rights of German citizenship from those defined as "racial Jews", (followed by a useful regulation defining a Jew more precisely), forbade intermarriage, and (not solely applied to Jews) allowed sterilization of those deemed to suffer from inheritable diseases. Sterilization of those deemed "unfit" was practiced in the United States in the 1930's, by the way. There was a strong US eugenics movement:
Eugenicists effectively lobbied for social legislation to keep racial and ethnic groups separate, to restrict immigration from southern and eastern Europe, and to sterilize people considered "genetically unfit." Elements of the American eugenics movement were models for the Nazis, whose radical adaptation of eugenics culminated in the Holocaust.
You can read about the US marriage laws here, sterilization laws here, and immigration restrictions here, and then you will stop feeling smug about not being German. One reason the US didn't accept all the Jewish refugees the Germans were willing to bestow upon us was:
The resulting law, the Immigration Restriction Act of 1924, was designed consciously to halt the immigration of supposedly "dysgenic" Italians and eastern European Jews, whose numbers had mushroomed during the period from 1900 to 1920. The method was simply to scale the number of immigrants from each country in proportion to their percentage of the U.S. population in the 1890 census – when northern and western Europeans were the dominant immigrants. Under the new law, the quota of southern and eastern Europeans was reduced from 45% to 15%. The 1924 Act ended the greatest era of immigration in U.S. history.
Not that the Nuremberg laws violated any Jew's human rights, of course:
The Fuehrer emphasized especially that in accordance with these Laws the Jews in Germany were offered opportunities of living their own national ( voelkisch ) life in all areas, as they had never been able to do in any other country. With a view to this the Fuehrer reiterated his order to the Party to avoid all individual actions against Jews, as before.
Kind of him, but should the gratitude of the Jews for all these wonderful voelkisch opportunities not be fully manifested, Hitler himself warned of dire consequences:
This international unrest in the world would unfortunately seem to have given rise to the view amongst the Jews within Germany that the time has come openly to oppose Jewish interests to those of the German nation. From numerous places vigorous complaints have been received of the provocative action of individuals belonging to this people, and the remarkable frequency of these reports and the similarity of their contents point to a certain system of operation.

...The only way to deal with the problem which remains open is that of legislative action. The German Government is in this controlled by the thought that through a single secular solution it may be possible still to create a level ground [eine Ebene] on which the German people may find a tolerable relation towards the Jewish people. Should this hope not be fulfilled and the Jewish agitation both within Germany and in the international sphere should continue, then the position must be examined afresh.
Long before the Wannsee Conference, the Jews had been identified as an enemy of the German people, an impurity which had to be eradicated from the bloodstream of the Volk and history (due to a projected future lack of gratitude for all the voelkisch opportunities vouchsafed to them under the Reich). The participants of the Wannsee conference had a deadline of October 31, 1941 to "cleanse German living space". The first attempts had been forced emigration (the excerpts that follow are from the conference report):
The aim of all this was to cleanse German living space of
Jews in a legal manner.

All the offices realized the drawbacks of such enforced
accelerated emigration. For the time being they had, however,
tolerated it on account of the lack of other possible solutions
of the problem.

The work concerned with emigration was, later on, not only a
German problem, but also a problem with which the authorities of
the countries to which the flow of emigrants was being directed
would have to deal. Financial difficulties, such as the demand
by various foreign governments for increasing sums of money to be
presented at the time of the landing, the lack of shipping space,
increasing restriction of entry permits, or the cancelling of
such, increased extraordinarily the difficulties of emigration.
In spite of these difficulties, 537,000 Jews were sent out of the
country between the takeover of power and the deadline of 31
October 1941.
Even as a child, more than 30 years ago, our schoolbooks told of shiploads of desperate Jews being turned away from many countries, including the US. We simply would not accept all the people the Nazis wished to send. There was a lot of anti-immigration sentiment in this country, and a lot of anti-Semitism. And then there were those laws about limiting "undesirable immigration".

The Nazis intended to get rid of over 11 million people. The numbers and the territories are carefully itemized in the report. And they did intend to get rid of them, completely and absolutely:
Under proper guidance, in the course of the final solution
the Jews are to be allocated for appropriate labor in the East.
Able-bodied Jews, separated according to sex, will be taken in
large work columns to these areas for work on roads, in the
course of which action doubtless a large portion will be
eliminated by natural causes.

The possible final remnant will, since it will undoubtedly
consist of the most resistant portion, have to be treated
accordingly, because it is the product of natural selection and
would, if released, act as a the seed of a new Jewish revival
(see the experience of history.)
They knew there would be a few public relations problems, and were willing to make a compromise or two with Theresienstadt:
It is not intended to evacuate Jews over 65 years old, but
to send them to an old-age ghetto - Theresienstadt is being
considered for this purpose.

In addition to these age groups - of the approximately
280,000 Jews in Germany proper and Austria on 31 October 1941,
approximately 30% are over 65 years old - severely wounded
veterans and Jews with war decorations (Iron Cross I) will be
accepted in the old-age ghettos. With this expedient solution,
in one fell swoop many interventions will be prevented.
Foreign groups inquiring after the Jews were somtimes taken to Theresienstadt, which was not a death camp. Those at the conference were reasonably optimistic about the prospects for success in most of Nazi-occupied territory:
In occupied and unoccupied France, the registration of Jews
for evacuation will in all probability proceed without great

Under Secretary of State Luther calls attention in this
matter to the fact that in some countries, such as the
Scandinavian states, difficulties will arise if this problem is
dealt with thoroughly and that it will therefore be advisable to
defer actions in these countries. Besides, in view of the small
numbers of Jews affected, this deferral will not cause any
substantial limitation.

The Foreign Office sees no great difficulties for southeast
and western Europe.
There were a few worries when considering those of mixed blood and their children. Under certain circumstances they were prepared to permit German-appearing persons of mixed blood to live if sterilized. There was some dissent about the difficulties of such excessively complicated distinctions:
SS-Gruppenfuehrer Hofmann advocates the opinion that
sterilization will have to be widely used, since the person of
mixed blood who is given the choice whether he will be evacuated
or sterilized would rather undergo sterilization.

State Secretary Dr. Stuckart maintains that carrying out in
practice of the just mentioned possibilities for solving the
problem of mixed marriages and persons of mixed blood will create
endless administrative work. In the second place, as the
biological facts cannot be disregarded in any case, State
Secretary Dr. Stuckart proposed proceeding to forced
(In the camps, experiments as to efficient methods of sterilization were conducted. These people were completely serious about all of this.)

There was another problem - some Jews (despite their inferiority!) were doing essential defense work:
With regard to the issue of the effect of the evacuation of
Jews on the economy, State Secretary Neumann stated that Jews who
are working in industries vital to the war effort, provided that
no replacements are available, cannot be evacuated.

SS-Obergruppenfuehrer Heydrich indicated that these Jews
would not be evacuated according to the rules he had approved for
carrying out the evacuations then underway.
Finally, Buehler begged for priority to get rid of the Jews in the annexed eastern territories (Poland and the easter territories). It seems a "kill them now, but quietly" policy was approved:
State Secretary Dr. Buehler stated further that the solution
to the Jewish question in the General Government is the
responsibility of the Chief of the Security Police and the SD and
that his efforts would be supported by the officials of the
General Government. He had only one request, to solve the Jewish
question in this area as quickly as possible.

In conclusion the different types of possible solutions were
discussed, during which discussion both Gauleiter Dr. Meyer and
State Secretary Dr. Buehler took the position that certain
preparatory activities for the final solution should be carried
out immediately in the territories in question, in which process
alarming the populace must be avoided.
For someone of our times, it is very difficult to understand the prejudices of another time in history. In the aftermath of the Holocaust, shame caused the change of many laws in many nations. But the story of the Holocaust is the story of prejudice and lies, and prejudice and lies are constants always with the human race. Like Chrenkoff, I think we cannot honestly commemorate the Holocaust without looking at what has happened and will happen in our times, and asking ourselves the question "Did I contribute to the dismissal of some class of human beings as being unworthy of rights and life, or did I fight against such beliefs and such actions?"

As Tom Carter wrote in his post on the Holocaust:
This genocide was carried out against an accomplished people, a people who have contributed more to humanity than any other, by another people, meaning much of Europe, to whom the world looks for leadership and example in culture, achievement, and humanitarian impulse. If humanity could so seriously fail in that case, who is ever safe, anywhere?
No one is safe unless the vast majority of people refuse to countenance such beliefs and such actions, and oppose the denigration of humans and their rights in a firm and proactive way. I hope I have included enough unpleasant facts to remind everyone that the massacre of the Jews in Europe, aided and abetted by people of many countries, was not a sudden startling aberration, but the result of carrying a commonly held set of perverse ideas and ideals to its ultimate logical conclusion. This massacre of millions in the Holocaust was racially and eugenically motivated, but during the 20th century millions have died in other lands to "purify" the body politic in order to achieve a new and brilliant utopian future for the people. Ethnic or racial cleansing is neither a new human idea or even, historically speaking, a startling one - and it is generally justified by those who commit it on idealistic grounds.

I reject bad science because it may have many outcomes. I reject foolish ideals because someone may carry them to their logical conclusion and kill people with them. I exercise my own judgment about some political matters, because my father refused to let us view the Holocaust as having happened "over there" and having been done by "them". The older I get, the more I comprehend how right he was and the more grateful I am for the sandpaper he applied to my ego when I was very young. In my opinion, when remembering the Holocaust one has to get one's pronouns straightened out.

Q: Who committed the crime?
A: Most of the western world had a hand in stirring this pot. We did.

Q: Who were the victims of this crime?
A: Those we called "they". At that time they were the Jews, the ill, the social misfits, the dissenters caught in the cauldron of madness that was Nazi-occupied territory.

Q: Why did we do it?
A: Because we are human, and the human race has a severe tendency towards self-righteousness, apathy in the face of others' suffering and danger, and idealistic deeds of violence. This we must fight.

(Note, I updated this post to straighten out a few of the most tangled sentences. This is such a heart-wrenching topic that I find it difficult to write about clearly. All I can achieve is honesty.)


I don't know what to say about this thread on DU. They are taking a poll to see "which side DU is on". The question posed is:
Right now we have the elections being planned in Iraq. We know the insurgents are going to try to disrupt them with bombs and other attacks. Who's side are we on? Do we think it would be a good thing for the insurgents to force the US to leave or that the elections go through and elect an Iraqi government?
The results as of this moment, with 128 people having voted, is that 52 % hope the elections come off, and 48% hope the insurgents prevail. I am shocked. So are some of the posters.

Pretty Accurate, I Think

I'm talking about this Washington Times column by Douglas MacKinnon, in which he dissects the MSM's
part in deep-sixing the Dean campaign.

Who the DNC wants for its chair is up to the Democrats, but Dean was undercut by media coverage. I think they hurt him twice. The first time was when he was leading strongly in the polls, and they ran only puff-pieces but little substantive analysis of his record in Vermont. The second is laid out in the column.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

New Sisyphus on voting

The New Sisyphus has a post up on the 2000 Florida election and the 2004 Washington election. This is an excellent summation of the legal ins and outs and the details of the legal decisions. If you are interested at all, the content is superb.

Sun has hissing, spitting fit. Democratic?

One wonders. Even Democratic Underground was not this excited by the inauguration:
Since 14 January alone, it has unleashed at least 17 medium and five large solar flares from a single sunspot cluster. Forecasters at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) expect medium to high solar activity to continue until 23 January.

"Having so many big flares from one particular region of the Sun is quite something," says Bernhard Fleck, project scientist for the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory satellite.

The X-rays produced by the flares did not rise to the level of the notorious solar storms of October and November 2003, but in terms of high-energy protons, this is the largest radiation storm since October 1989.
More seriously, there has been an unusual amount of these solar storms in the last few years. At Slashdot, the a person said in the discussion on this story that he saw the sunspot with his naked eyes. If you are feeling low and crabby this morning there are lots of hilarious nerdy jokes posted at the forum.

Well, I laughed, anyway.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

A Slugfest & the Metro USA racist incidents

This is a wild brawl, but it has its entertaining and illuminating moments. The question posed by Deutsche-Welle to be discussed on their forum (start from the bottom and read upwards) is:
2004 saw the US and EU take tentative steps towards improving ties following the dispute over the Iraq war. But now with George Bush in the White House for four more years, many on both sides of the Atlantic fear the two continents will drift apart again.

Are the US and Europe in for more rough waters or will the transatlantic differences recede? Take part in our forum and discuss the issue with other DW-WORLD readers.
There is too little of the European perspective here, and too many Americans fighting it out. One reader announced a civil war:
I am sorry that our old friends are being troubled by George W. Bush. As I have tried to explain to other European friends: George W. Bush had no majority. Oh surely, if you were to believe his ridiculous rhetoric, it is not just a majority, but a mandate! The truth is that our political system is enough different than yours, that you don't understand that he is really a weak President. This election has shown, more than any other, that we are not all behind George. In our world, you have to vote either Republican, or Democrat. There are no other alternatives. Sure, the Religious Right has a solid 16% behind George, but what you don't realize is that there are a lot of moderates across the spectrum that voted for him only because there were no acceptable alternatives. He comes into office with the lowest approval rating of any President except Richard Nixon, and merely deludes himself into believing we are going to fall in behind him. According to all of the polls the exact opposite is the situation. 44% of the voters knew that they were going to vote against George W. Bush before they even were sure of the Democratic candidate. It was an, "I HATE GEORGE W BUSH!!" vote from the beginning. People who voted for him were primarily either ignorant, uneducated, backwoods, simpletons from the sticks; or upper class RICH Americans who had the most to gain. As for the rest of us, 49% of 270 million,{Most of us living in urban areas, well educated, and in control, really, of all the society that allows those backwards Hicks to exist (including many, many, many, educated Religious Right members who realize that George W. Bush is using the Religious Right!)}, despise George W. Bush, and hold dear our friends in the EU and Germany! It is nearly a Civil War with the intelligent, educated -vs- stupid, ignorant, and uneducated/the Rich butt-heads. We may be down for this election, but there is 2008, and we will prevail!
While I think the American public has a deep aversion to military action, I also think Bush is in a stronger position than his approval ratings show. Bush offered America no large benefit programs and no easy ways out, insisted that Americans face significant domestic and international threats, and basically told us that what we had seen in the last four years was what we were going to get if we voted for him during the next four years. Not much of a way to address your negatives, is it?

Bush's ability to win with such a campaign must show that some of what he was saying was perceived as highly if unpleasantly realistic by the American public, and that public felt that the Democratic party failed to mount a tolerable opponent making a credible case for a better way to conduct our nation's affairs. That's a problem for the Democratic party, it seems to me.

This caught my eye, because it was so close to New Sisyphus' way of looking at things:
Sandreckoner has it right. America does not deserve the hatred and vitriol directed towards us from Europe. We have done nothing to deserve it. Once your average American starts to realize exactly how most Europeans feel, then Europe will see a backlash the type of which they have never seen from America. Say goodbye to the free defense we provide you. No more keeping the sea lanes open for free. Want to boycott American products? Wait until we boycott yours. The next Bosnia or Kosovo, guess what? Do it yourself. We will focus all our attention on China, Russia and India, the real future of the world. And guess what? American disengagement will be the best thing for Europe. The continent needs to grow up. Without America's military subsidizing, Europe will have one of two choices. Either it can finally dismantle its welfare state, modernize its economy and build a functional military or it can fade into irrelevance once and for all. If Europe finally grows up and is forced to have global responsibilities, they won't be so quick to judge American actions. Only then will we be able to get past the non stop temper tantrums we see from Europe now over literally anything America does.
Sandreckoner posted a whole essay of a sort. There was information in there I didn't know, such as about the military exercise this summer. He continues here, and here, and concludes here.

Anon-x responded strongly to the accusation of being ill-informed, which came from another American poster:
I am a vietnamese american. i speak chinese, vietnamese, japanese, korean, english and french, which was force upon vietnamese people after they abolished our language and writing systems as they raped and pillaged vietnam. I read overseas news in their native language, i rely less on US news, I have a broader view of the world than you may think. I do not need their forgiveness, when they treat me like trash because i have slanty eyes and carry an american passport. I was treated as a second class citizen when i traveled thru europe while studying at leeds. I've studied both abroad in europe and asia and viewed europe from personal experiences not thru the news media.
One thing I can say is that a lot of the European press does truly represent a highly prejudicial picture of American goals. Another thing I can say is that I have encountered so many Americans who have commented on encountering racial and ethnic prejudice among Europeans that I have to believe it is sometimes a real factor in the way Europeans view the world.

Among all the outrage in Massachusetts about the allegations against Metro, many people didn't notice that this is a European company. Here's the local reaction, and here's another story, but the background to all this is that the people involved are European and the remarks were made at company meetings in Europe. Steve Nylund remains with the company in London, although he had to resign from his position as president of the American division. Hans-Holger Albrecht resigned from the board, but remains the head of Modern Time Group, a recent Metro spin-off. It takes some chutzpah to explain that you used the word "nigger" accidentally when translating into English a joke you just told referring to the out-sized equipment of black men. Albrecht opened a meeting by welcoming "ladies, gentlemen and niggers". But it was all accidental, you see, and no one meant to be culturally insensitive, although some of those who worked at the company had other opinions.

Depressing, but I believe Boris Becker would not be surprised in the least. I have encountered prejudice in the US, but it is nothing compared to the self-satisfied and self-righteous way some in Europe express their opinions about the native deficiencies of the world's "other people". I have also met genuinely unprejudiced Europeans; no country or culture is monolithic.

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