May 31, 2005
No Child Left Behind
Betsy Newmark makes a good case for supporting the NCLB act. Here's her conclusion:
So, that is why I supported No Child Left Behind. I abhor the idea of the national government getting involved in local issues like education. However, now that NCLB has been implemented, schools across the nation are discovering the inspiration that the carrot-and-stick approach to accountability can have to force administrators to focus on raising the achievement levels of those students who previously were getting left behind.
Go read her whole post.
May 30, 2005
Honor Their Memory
Were it not for them, we would not be speaking
Were it not for them, we would not be leading
Were it not for them, we would not be free
Were it not for them, we would not be
Were it not for them
This weekend it is important for all of us to dwell upon the men and women who have died defending our country. These soldiers have died so that we can say what we please. They have died so that our nation can be the world leader it is today. They died so that we have liberty. They died for this nation and its people. They died for you and me.
We owe a debt of honor and gratitude to these who have fallen, and to their loved ones. And we should demonstrate our gratitude -- we should honor their sacrifice -- by leading good and productive lives. By loving and helping one another. By supporting and praying for our troops.
And by never forgetting that freedom is never free.
May 29, 2005
Joanne Jacobs has a disturbing post about students' self-esteem. Here's an excerpt:
Students suffer from unwarranted self-confidence writes Marlene Zuk, a UC-Riverside biology professor. Her students don't think their low test scores or inability to answer questions reflects ignorance. They don't read the book or remember lectures; they can't discuss the concepts. Yet they believe they deserve high grades. They feel good about their understanding.
Talk about lambs to the slaughter . . .
May 28, 2005
This article makes me sad. I can't help but think that this state would be so much greater if it made quality education a high priority.
Here's an excerpt:
Looking six stories down from the VIP-ready "Texas Room" to a field made of the same brand of artificial turf on which the Dallas Cowboys play, Ken Purcell declares, "This is probably the best high school football stadium in the country. I'm not making any apologies."
Purcell, Denton Independent School District's athletics director, said he asked architects to incorporate aspects of state-of-the-art fields in Waco, Southlake and Mesquite, as well as the Cowboys' Texas Stadium, into Denton's $20.5 million football field, which opened in September.
Hence the separate locker rooms for each team's offensive and defensive squads; the three-story, $900,000 instant-replay scoreboard; the spacious two-level press box; and the glass wall separating the athletics staff offices, trophy hall and banquet room from the north end zone.
The 12,000-seat complex, which Denton voters approved by a 3-to-1 margin in a 2002 bond election, is one of 23 new or planned public school stadiums in the Houston, Dallas/Fort Worth, Austin and San Antonio metropolitan areas, according to a Houston Chronicle survey of the districts.
The combined price tag: $305.4 million.
Here's a funny joke that I scarfed from a school yard blog.
A father passing by his son's bedroom was astonished to see the bed was nicely made and everything was picked up. Then he saw an envelope propped up prominently on the center of the bed. It was addressed, "Dad". With the worst premonition, he opened the envelope and read the letter with trembling hands:
It is with great regret and sorrow that I'm writing you. I had to elope with my new girlfriend because I wanted to avoid a scene with mom and you. I've been finding real passion with Joan and she is so nice-even with all her piercings, tattoos, and her tight Motorcycle clothes. But it's not only the passion dad, she's pregnant. Joan said that we will be very happy.
Even though you don't care for her as she is so much older than I, she already owns a trailer in the woods and has a stack of firewood for the whole winter. She wants to have many more children with me and that's now one of my dreams too.
Joan taught me that marijuana doesn't really hurt anyone and we'll be growing it for us and trading it with her friends for all the cocaine and ecstasy we want. In the meantime we'll pray that science will find a cure for AIDS so Joan can get better; she sure deserves it!
Don't worry Dad, I'm 15 years old now and I know how to take care of myself. Someday I'm sure we'll be back to visit so you can get to know your grandchildren.
Your son, John
PS: Dad, none of the above is true. I'm over at the neighbor's house. I just wanted to remind you that there are worse things in life than my report card that's in my desk center drawer.
I love you!
Call when it is safe for me to come home.
May 27, 2005
Real Estate trouble?
Thomas Sowell has an op-ed about real estate prices in California spiralling out of control -- and the scary things people are doing there just to get into a house.
It's somewhat disturbing, to say the least.
I've reprinted the whole piece in the extended entry.
Froth in Frisco?
A real estate bubble could devastate the Bay area, land of interest-only loans.
BY THOMAS SOWELL
Thursday, May 26, 2005 12:01 a.m. EDT
SAN FRANCISCO--Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan refuses to call the rapid increase in housing prices in recent years a "bubble" but does refer to it as having some "froth." Moreover, he sees skyrocketing housing costs as a problem in particular localities, rather than being nationwide.
One of these localities is the peninsula stretching from San Francisco to Silicon Valley, about 30 miles to the south. This is an area where housing prices are more than three times the national average and are rising rapidly. It is not that housing in this area is more grand than elsewhere, but that very ordinary houses have very grand prices. There are communities on the peninsula where the average home price is a million dollars and where it would be hard to find a house that anyone would call a mansion.
It is not the houses, as such, that are so astronomically expensive. It is the land--and the high price of the land is due to severe restrictions on building anything on it. Before those land use restrictions--"open space" laws, planning commission requirements and environmentalist regulations--became severe during the 1970s, California housing prices were very much like those elsewhere in the country. Since then, California housing prices have been some multiple of the national average. Nowhere is this more true than in the San Francisco Bay area.
How can people afford to live where housing is so expensive? One of the ways of coping with high housing costs is with "creative"--and risky--financing. Roughly two-thirds of the home mortgages in the San Francisco Bay area are interest-only mortgages. Theoretically, you could make mortgage payments forever without acquiring a cent of equity in your home. You would essentially be renting with an option to buy, should your income ever reach the level where you could afford to pay something extra toward the principal.
In reality, the interest-only mortgage payments apply for only a limited number of years--three to five years in most cases--after which the payments rise, so as to contribute something toward the payment of the principal. People who expect their incomes to rise significantly in a few years assume that they will be able to handle the higher payments then. Of course that assumption can turn out to be wrong and the house can be lost.
Such desperate financial arrangements are due not only to the extraordinary housing prices in the San Francisco Bay area but also to a rapid rise of those prices, creating opportunities for speculative profits. During a recent month, home value appreciation averaged $2,000 a day in San Mateo, one of the communities on the San Francisco peninsula. Such rapid appreciation makes it possible to acquire significant equity in a home, even while paying nothing toward the principal on the mortgage loan.
The extraordinary rise in housing prices in the San Francisco Bay area in the past few years has been accompanied by a corresponding rise in the percentage of home buyers who resort to interest-only loans. As recently as 2002, only 11% of the new mortgages in this area were interest-only mortgages. But today 66% of new mortgages in the area are financed that way. While such mortgages are not as common nationwide, the upward trend extends across the country. Fewer than 10% of new mortgages nationwide were interest-only mortgages in 2002 but that has now risen to 31%.
Interest-only loans represent speculation on both rising personal income and rising housing prices. If either income or housing prices fail to rise at the expected rate, this whole financial arrangement can collapse like a house of cards, when higher mortgage payments become due and cannot be paid. Since interest-only loans can be expected to have adjustable interest rates, a national rise in interest rates will tend to raise these mortgage rates as well, driving up the monthly payments, even before any payments on principal are due, and exacerbating the rise in mortgage payments after the initial interest-only period has passed.
Individuals can decide for themselves whether they want to engage in such risky speculations. But the whole economy is affected if and when a speculative bubble bursts and housing prices collapse, while some homeowners lose their homes. While this risk is especially prevalent in the San Francisco Bay area, it is by no means confined to that area and its repercussions can be nationwide.
Consumer spending depends on wealth as well as income, and that spending can decline as people find themselves owning less than they expected. Housing wealth is not simply transferred to banks which foreclose on mortgages that are not being paid off. The value of a house, like the value of any other asset, depends on its prospects--and those prospects obviously look better before a bubble bursts. Afterwards, there can be a net decline in wealth and spending in the economy as a whole. How much of a decline and how far the repercussions extend, if and when the bubble bursts, is the big question.
Let's hope that Alan Greenspan is right about the housing finance situation having just a little "froth" rather than being a real bubble. After all, just as a rising tide lifts all boats, so a falling water level risks all boats trapped in the same harbor.
Mr. Sowell, the Rose and Milton Friedman Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, is the author, most recently, of "Black Rednecks and White Liberals," published last month by Encounter.
[Used with permission from OpinionJournal.com, a web site from Dow Jones & Company, Inc.]
Peggy Noonan on narcissism
Peggy Noonan has "pegged" it in this op-ed about narcissism and politics. Here's an excerpt:
I think everyone in politics now has been affected by the linguistic sleight-of-hand, which began with the Kennedys in the 1960s, in which politics is called "public service," and politicians are allowed and even urged to call themselves "public servants." Public servants are heroic and self-denying. Therefore politicians are heroic and self-denying. I think this thought has destabilized them.
People who charge into burning towers are heroic; nuns who work with the poorest of the poor are self-denying; people who volunteer their time to help our world and receive nothing in return but the knowledge they are doing good are in public service. Politicians are in politics. They are less self-denying than self-aggrandizing. They are given fame, respect, the best health care in the world; they pass laws governing your life and receive a million perks including a good salary, and someone else--faceless taxpayers, "the folks back home"--gets to pay for the whole thing. This isn't public service, it's more like public command. It's not terrible--democracies need people who commit politics; they have a place and a role to play--but it's not saintly, either.
I think I'd like to add that our politicians are products of our culture -- thus they are predisposed to self-promotion. After all, we are all a part of a culture that is steeped in the free market (and "marketing") philosophy. Go read her article for more.
May 26, 2005
I find myself at home recovering from a back injury. The injury is muscular (not spinal) in nature, so the doctor has me on muscle-relaxants, hot pads, and stretching exercises. My back is feeling better today, and I am quite hopeful that I can return to work tomorrow.
The race card -- blessing or curse?
Jeff Jacoby tackles a delicate subject in his Townhall.com article titled Minorities, 'racism,' and the UMASS flap. Here's an excerpt:
Is there a connection between the Asian math whizzes at Quincy High and the accusations of racism against the UMass board of trustees? Not an obvious one. And yet I can’t help wondering what kind of message black students absorb when racism is invoked, as it so often is, to condemn anything black politicians and activists disapprove of. Who is more likely to succeed -- the child who grows up in a culture that tells him success depends on his own hard work, or the one who keeps hearing that until white prejudice is eradicated, minorities will never get a fair shake?
Before you decide whether you agree or not, go read the whole article . . .
New Sisyphus is the blog of a member of our State Department . It is pretty conservative, and the author does a good job of providing the reader with some compelling logic to support his arguments.
I intend to add NS to my blogroll -- once I figure out how to add a column on the right side of my blog . . .
NS has a post about the seemingly obiquitous "victims' cults" that are all over the world, and that seem to dictate state and world policy at times.
It's worth a look-see . . .
May 25, 2005
Fouad Ajami has posted an op-ed at OpinionJournal that kind of turns the "common wisdom" about the spread of democracy in the Middle East on its head. He begins with:
"George W. Bush has unleashed a tsunami on this region," a shrewd Kuwaiti merchant who knows the way of his world said to me. The man had no patience with the standard refrain that Arab reform had to come from within, that a foreign power cannot alter the age-old ways of the Arabs. "Everything here--the borders of these states, the oil explorations that remade the life of this world, the political outcomes that favored the elites now in the saddle--came from the outside. This moment of possibility for the Arabs is no exception." A Jordanian of deep political experience at the highest reaches of Arab political life had no doubt as to why history suddenly broke in Lebanon, and could conceivably change in Syria itself before long. "The people in the streets of Beirut knew that no second Hama is possible; they knew that the rulers were under the gaze of American power, and knew that Bush would not permit a massive crackdown by the men in Damascus."
My informant's reference to Hama was telling: It had been there in 1982, in that city of the Syrian interior, that the Baathist-Alawite regime had broken and overwhelmed Syrian society. Hama had been a stronghold of the Muslim Brotherhood, a fortress of the Sunni middle class. It had rebelled, and the regime unleashed on it a merciless terror. There were estimates that 25,000 of its people perished in that fight. Thenceforth, the memory of Hama hung over the life of Syria--and Lebanon. But the people in the plazas of Beirut, and the Syrian intellectuals who have stepped forth to challenge the Baathist regime, have behind them the warrant, and the green light, of American power and protection.
I've posted the rest of the article in the extended entry.
To venture into the Arab world, as I did recently over four weeks in Qatar, Kuwait, Jordan and Iraq, is to travel into Bush Country. I was to encounter people from practically all Arab lands, to listen in on a great debate about the possibility of freedom and liberty. I met Lebanese giddy with the Cedar Revolution that liberated their country from the Syrian prison that had seemed an unalterable curse. They were under no illusions about the change that had come their way. They knew that this new history was the gift of an American president who had put the Syrian rulers on notice. The speed with which Syria quit Lebanon was astonishing, a race to the border to forestall an American strike that the regime could not discount. I met Syrians in the know who admitted that the fear of American power, and the example of American forces flushing Saddam Hussein out of his spider hole, now drive Syrian policy. They hang on George Bush's words in Damascus, I was told: the rulers wondering if Iraq was a crystal ball in which they could glimpse their future.
The weight of American power, historically on the side of the dominant order, now drives this new quest among the Arabs. For decades, the intellectual classes in the Arab world bemoaned the indifference of American power to the cause of their liberty. Now a conservative American president had come bearing the gift of Wilsonian redemption. For a quarter century the Pax Americana had sustained the autocracy of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak: He had posed as America's man on the Nile, a bulwark against the Islamists. He was sly and cunning, running afoul of our purposes in Iraq and over Israeli-Palestinian matters. He had nurtured a culture of antimodernism and anti-Americanism, and had gotten away with it. Now the wind from Washington brought tidings: America had wearied of Mr. Mubarak, and was willing to bet on an open political process, with all its attendant risks and possibilities. The brave oppositional movement in Cairo that stepped forth under the banner of Kifaya ("Enough!") wanted the end of his reign: It had had enough of his mediocrity, enough of the despotism of an aging officer who had risen out of the military bureaucracy to entertain dynastic dreams of succession for his son. Egyptians challenging the quiescence of an old land may have had no kind words to say about America in the past. But they were sure that the play between them and the regime was unfolding under Mr. Bush's eyes.
Unmistakably, there is in the air of the Arab world a new contest about the possibility and the meaning of freedom. This world had been given over to a dark nationalism, and to the atavisms of a terrible history. For decades, it was divided between rulers who monopolized political power and intellectual classes shut out of genuine power, forever prey to the temptations of radicalism. Americans may not have cared for those rulers, but we judged them as better than the alternative. We feared the "Shia bogeyman" in Iraq and the Islamists in Algeria, Egypt and Tunisia; we bought the legend that Syria's dominion in Lebanon kept the lid on anarchy. We feared tinkering with the Saudi realm; it was terra incognita to us, and the House of Saud seemed a surer bet than the "wrath and virtue" of the zealots. Even Yasser Arafat, a retailer of terror, made it into our good graces as a man who would tame the furies of the masked men of Hamas. That bargain with authoritarianism did not work, and begot us the terrors of 9/11.
The children of Islam, and of the Arabs in particular, had taken to the road, and to terror. There were many liberal, secular Arabs now clamoring for American intervention. The claims of sovereignty were no longer adequate; a malignant political culture had to be "rehabilitated and placed in receivership," a wise Jordanian observer conceded. Mr. Bush may not be given to excessive philosophical sophistication, but his break with "the soft bigotry of low expectations" in the Arab-Islamic world has found eager converts among Muslims and Arabs keen to repair their world, to wean it from a culture of scapegoating and self-pity. Pick up the Arabic papers today: They are curiously, and suddenly, readable. They describe the objective world; they give voice to recognition that the world has bypassed the Arabs. The doors have been thrown wide open, and the truth of that world laid bare. Grant Mr. Bush his due: The revolutionary message he brought forth was the simple belief that there was no Arab and Muslim "exceptionalism" to the appeal of liberty. For a people mired in historical pessimism, the message of this outsider was a powerful antidote to the culture of tyranny. Hitherto, no one had bothered to tell the Palestinians that they can't have terror and statehood at the same time, that the patronage of the world is contingent on a renunciation of old ways. This was the condition Mr. Bush attached to his support for the Palestinians. It is too early to tell whether the new restraint in the Palestinian world will hold. But it was proper that Mr. Bush put Arafat beyond the pale.
It was Iraq of course that gave impetus to this new Arab history. And it is in Iraq that the nobility of this American quest comes into focus. This was my fourth trip to Iraq since the fall of the despotism, and my most hopeful yet. I traveled to Baghdad, Kirkuk, Erbil and Suleimaniyah. A close colleague--Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations--and I were there to lecture and to "show the flag." We met with parliamentarians and journalists, provincial legislators, clerics and secularists alike, Sunni and Shia Arabs and Kurds. One memory I shall treasure: a visit to the National Assembly. From afar, there are reports of the "acrimony" of Iraq, of the long interlude between Iraq's elections, on Jan. 30, and the formation of a cabinet. But that day, in the assembly, these concerns seemed like a quibble with history. There was the spectacle of democracy: men and women doing democracy's work, women cloaked in Islamic attire right alongside more emancipated women, the technocrats and the tribal sheikhs, and the infectious awareness among these people of the precious tradition bequeathed them after a terrible history. One of the principal leaders of the Supreme Islamic Council for Revolution in Iraq, Sheikh Hamam Hammoudi, an elegant, thoughtful cleric in his early 50s, brushed aside the talk of a Shia theocracy. This Shia man, who knew a smattering of English, offered his own assurance that the example and the power of Iran shall be kept at bay: "My English is better than my Farsi, even though I spent 20 years in Iran." He was proud of his Iraqi identity, proud of being "an Arab." He was sure that the Najaf school of Shia jurisprudence would offer its own alternative to the world view of Qom, across the border. He wanted no theocratic state in Iraq: Islam, he said, would be "a source" of legislation, but the content of politics would be largely secular. The model, he added, with a touch of irony, would be closer to the American mix of religion and politics than to the uncompromising secularism of France.
The insurgents were busy with their bombs and their plots of mayhem: Georgian troops guarded the National Assembly and controlled access to it. But a people were taking to a new political way. A woman garbed in black, a daughter of a distinguished clerical Shia family, made the rounds among her fellow legislators. Religious scruples decreed that she could not shake the hand of a male stranger. But she was proud and wily, a free woman in a newly emancipated polity. She let me know how much she knew about the ways and the literature of the West. American power may have turned on its erstwhile ally, Ahmed Chalabi. But his appearance in the assembly's gallery drew to him parliamentarians of every stripe. He, too, had about him the excitement of this new politics.
A lively press has sprouted in Iraq: There is an astonishing number of newspapers and weeklies, more than 250 in all. There are dozens of private TV channels and radio stations. Journalists and editors speak of a press free of censorship. Admittedly, the work is hard and dangerous, the logistics a veritable nightmare. But no single truth claimed this country, no "big man" sucked the air out of its public life. The insurgents will do what they are good at. But no one really believes that those dispensers of death can turn back the clock. Among the Sunni Arabs, there is growing recognition that the past cannot be retrieved, that it had been a big error to choose truculence and political maximalism. By a twist of fate, the one Arab country that had seemed ever marked for brutality and sorrow now stands poised on the frontier of a new political world. No Iraqis I met look to neighboring Arab lands for political inspiration: They are scorched by the terror and the insurgency, but a better political culture is tantalizingly close.
Women are getting the vote in Kuwait, the Lebanese clamor for the truth about the assassination of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri, and about the dark Syrian interlude in their history. Egyptians don't seem frightened of the scarecrows with which the Mubarak regime secured their submission. Everywhere, the order is under attack, and men and women are willing to question the prevailing truths. There is to this moment of Arab history the feel of a re-enactment of Europe's Revolution of 1848--the springtime of peoples: That revolution broke out in France, then spread to the Italian states, to the German principalities, to the remotest corners of the Austrian empire. There must have been 50 of these revolts--rebellions of despair and of contempt. History was swift: The revolutions spread with velocity and were turned back with equal speed. The fear of chaos dampened these rebellions.
As I made my way on this Arab journey, I picked up a meditation that Massimo d'Azeglio, a Piedmontese aristocrat who embraced that "springtime" in Europe, offered about his time, which speaks so directly to this Arab time: "The gift of liberty is like that of a horse, handsome, strong, and high-spirited. In some it arouses a wish to ride; in many others, on the contrary, it increases the desire to walk." It would be fair to say that there are many Arabs today keen to walk--frightened as they are by the prospect of the Islamists coming to power and curtailing personal liberties, snuffing out freedoms gained at such great effort and pain. But more Arabs, I hazard to guess, now have the wish to ride. It is a powerful temptation that George W. Bush has brought to their doorstep.
Mr. Ajami teaches at Johns Hopkins. This is adapted from a recent lecture at the Hoover Institution.
[Used with permission from OpinionJournal.com, a web site from Dow Jones & Company, Inc.]
"The day the Senate stopped"
This article by Keith Thompson is a rather interesting essay wherein a once-avowed liberal turns away from the political left.
Here's a taste:
A turning point came at a dinner party on the day Ronald Reagan famously described the Soviet Union as the pre-eminent source of evil in the modern world. The general tenor of the evening was that Reagan's use of the word "evil" had moved the world closer to annihilation. There was a palpable sense that we might not make it to dessert.
When I casually offered that the surviving relatives of the more than 20 million people murdered on orders of Joseph Stalin might not find "evil'" too strong a word, the room took on a collective bemused smile of the sort you might expect if someone had casually mentioned taking up child molestation for sport.
My progressive companions had a point. It was rude to bring a word like "gulag" to the dinner table.
It's worth reading all of it -- even if you don't agree with the author. I think you'll find you have more in common with him than you thought you would.
May 24, 2005
Suicide-bombers and martyrs
Michael Yon is an embedded reporter attached to a unit currently in Mosul, Iraq. His blog provides a unique perspective on what is going on over there.
Here is what he has to say about "suicide-bombers" and "martyrs":
A fanatic who straps a bomb to his chest and walks into a market crowded with women and children, then detonates a bomb that is sometimes laced with rat poison to hamper blood coagulation, is properly called a "mass murderer." There is nothing good to say about mass murderers, nor is there anything good to say about a person who encourages these murders. Calling these human bomb delivery devices "suicide bombers" is simply incorrect. They are murderers. A person or media source defending or explaining away the actions of the murderers supports them. There is no wiggle room.
Calling homicide bombers martyrs is a language offense; words are every bit as powerful as bombs, often more so. Calling murderers “martyrs” is like calling a man "customer" because he stood in line before gunning down a store clerk. There's no need to whisper. I hear the bombs every single day. Not some days, but every day. We're talking about criminals who actually volunteer and plan to deliberately murder and maim innocent people. What reservoir of feelings or sensibilities do we fear to assault by simply calling it so? When murderers describe themselves as "martyrs" it should sound to sensible ears like a rapist saying, “It’s God’s will.”
How can anyone argue with that?
Yon concludes with this:
The only martyrs I know about in Iraq are the fathers and brothers who see a better future coming, and so they act on their beliefs and assemble outside police stations whenever recruitment notices are posted. They line up in ever increasing numbers, knowing that insurgents can also read these notices. The men stand in longer and longer lines, making ever bigger targets. Some volunteer to earn money to earn a living. This, too, is honorable. Others take risks because they believe that a better future is possible only if Iraqi men of principle stand up for their own values, for their country, for their families. Theses are the true martyrs, the true heroes of Iraq and of Islam. I meet these martyrs frequently. They are brave men, worthy of respect.
May God be with these brave and noble men, and with the country that they are willing to die for.
Will Germany turn around?
Here is a thought-provoking op-ed at OpinionJournal that makes me think there is hope for Europe.
I have always liked visiting Europe. Especially for the history there that just seems to ooze out of every building, field, and forest. But I have also had the opportunity to get acquainted with some of its people. Despite what you see in the news, they are a lot like us -- except that they don't seem to have the vivacious optimism that Americans have. That tired, resigned attitude is reflected in the politics and governments across all of Western Europe.
I hope that Schroeder's decisive defeat in Germany is the start of a new beginning -- a new hope, if you will -- in Germany and in all of Western Europe. The Lord knows that those people truly need it . . .
For your convenience, I've re-printed the entire article in the extended entry.
JOHN FUND ON THE TRAIL
Anti-Americanism reaches its limit in Germany.
Monday, May 23, 2005 12:01 a.m. EDT
SINGEN, Germany--Three years ago, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder cynically used opposition to liberating Iraq to play an anti-American card just before elections in which he trailed his Christian Democratic opponents. He barely won a second term. Yesterday, facing a likely loss in elections in Germany's largest state, North Rhine-Westphalia, his Social Democratic Party's union backers played another anti-American card, this time depicting U.S. investors as blood-sucking parasites. Social Democratic chairman Franz Muntefering compared hedge funds to "swarms of locusts." This time, the tactic failed. Mr. Schoeder's party went down to a stunning defeat, losing the largely working-class state, home to one out of five Germans, for the first time in nearly 40 years. Last night Mr. Schroeder announced he would hold national elections this fall, a year ahead of schedule.
North Rhine-Westphalia, centered on the industrial Ruhr region of northern Germany, is home to 18 million people and would be the sixth largest economy in the European Union if it were a separate nation. It is beset by many of the same problems that plague Germany as a whole. Since 1995, the German economy has been growing at a slower pace than any other European country except Moldova. Germany is increasingly losing jobs and investment to countries that do not have its crushingly high wages and social welfare overhead.
Many commentators will explain away the Social Democrats' overwhelming 45% to 37% defeat by claiming it represents discontent with Mr. Schroeder's tentative moves to curb welfare benefits and reform labor laws. But if that were the real issue, the government's left-wing partners, the Greens, would have gained votes. Instead they lost support, finishing with only 6%. The Christian Democrats' free-market partners, the Free Democrats, received the same proportion of the vote. Indeed, if yesterday's vote had primarily been a left-wing protest vote, a new party, the Election Alternative Work and Social Justice, formed by dissident members of Mr. Schroeder's party, would have won seats. Instead, they failed miserably.
The centerpiece of the anti-American, anticapitalist campaign was a cover story in the magazine of IG Metall, Germany's largest trade union, which has a circulation of two million. The cover featured a fiendishly grinning mosquito with an Uncle Sam hat and the caption US-Firmen in Deutschland: Die Aussauger ("U.S. Firms in Germany: The Bloodsuckers"). The article's headline: "The Plunderers Are Here." Medienkritik, a German blog, pointed out that the artistic depiction and commentary bore a striking resemblance to 1930s Nazi propaganda against the Jews; it posted a cartoon from Der Stuermer depicting a spider with a Star of David on its back and dead Germans caught in its Web. That caption read Die Ausgesaugten--"those whose blood has been sucked out."
Guido Westerwelle, head of the Free Democrats, sharply criticized the cover, saying he was "against hate of foreigners" whether it came from the right or the left. An IG Metall spokesman called the cover "a good caricature," and Mr. Schroeder himself called on his ministers to investigate whether hedge funds should be more heavily regulated if they continued to insist through their investments that German companies be streamlined.
But such moves are inevitable. North Rhine-Westphalia's Social Democratic government has piled up debt in a vain attempt to save jobs in the dying coal and steel industries. In 1960 some 600,000 Germans worked in the coal mines; that number has declined by 94%, to 36,000. Each job in the industry costs the government a subsidy equivalent to some $90,000 a year. The Christian Democrats, while generally timid on economic reform in North Rhine-Westphalia, proposed to slice those subsidies in half by 2010 and also to give universities greater freedom to charge fees from students. The Social Democrats opposed both ideas.
Yesterday's election results are "a devastating defeat for Schroeder," political scientist Uwe Andersen told a German TV station. "It's as if they've been thrown out of their own living room."
Bad news for Mr. Schroeder is also good news for America. The Christian Democrats have announced that Angela Merkel, their pro-U.S. party chairman, will be their candidate for chancellor in the fall elections.
Ms. Merkel is a physicist who lived in East Germany when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989. While cautious, she is the closest thing German politics has to a Margaret Thatcher. When asked earlier this year if she detected any similarities between her ideas and the reforms that Britain's Iron Lady carried out in the 1980s, she told the Independent, a British newspaper, "My whole life was changed by reunification. I have experienced change as something good, not something to be avoided."
If German voters, tired of 12% unemployment and of being portrayed as the "sick man of Europe," have had enough this fall and throw out Mr. Schroeder, she may well get a chance to prove how much change the notoriously risk-averse German electorate can tolerate.
[Used with permission from OpinionJournal.com, a web site from Dow Jones & Company, Inc.]
Democratic Revolution in Lebanon . . . and Syria?
Chrenkoff has a short post about the upcoming Lebanese elections and the effect that they are having in the region.
Democracy is a scary thing . . . to dictators and despots.
It's a good read.
May 23, 2005
Headlines of Note
[Excerpts from James Taranto's OpinionJournal article.]
"Antarctica Ice Cap Growing, Another Sign of Warming"--headline, Palm Beach (Fla.) Post, May 20
"Conservationists Track Jaguars From Space"--headline, MSNBC.com, May 20
"Jobless Workers Could Lose Jobs"--headline, South Bend (Ind.) Tribune, May 20
"Saudis Earn Low Rank in Women's Rights"--headline, Associated Press, May 21
Good News from Iraq -- Part 28
Chrenkoff has published his latest installment of Good News from Iraq. He is quick to point out that there is bad news coming from that country, but he feels that the good news is woefully underreported. So he undertakes to report the good news every two weeks. He has a "Good News from Afganistan" bi-weekly series, as well.
The whole article is long, but definitely worth at least scanning. It gives you a much more comprehensive picture of the great strides being made in Iraq in terms of infrastructure, humanitarian aid, security, training, coalition troops, and society.
I have posted an excerpt of his article in the extended entry. In it he reports on several instances of Iraqis reporting the whereabouts or activities of the terrorists in country.
In recent examples of increasing security cooperation from the community:
"A young boy observed a group of individuals emplacing an improvised explosive device in Kirkuk May 1, and reported it to local police. Iraqi police and Coalition Forces disabled the device with a robot";
"On May 5, a local Iraqi tipster led U.S. Soldiers conducting a reconnaissance mission in west Baghdad to a house in the Ghazaliya neighborhood where too many cars were present for normal activity. The Soldiers searched the house and detained seven suspects, including a man specifically targeted for participating in terrorist activities and two of his brothers";
A large arms cache destroyed near Samarra on May 8, following a tip-off from the public;
"Iraqi police, aided by local citizens unearthed a large weapons cache in Narwon May 8. The operation was undertaken by the Iraqi people themselves with Task Force Liberty Soldiers transporting the munitions to Forward Operating Base Gabe for disposal";
"A local citizen found and reported several unexploded ordnance to Iraqi Security Forces after finding hundreds of projectiles near Route Ford in Dibis, Iraq, May 7. With support from 208th Iraqi Army Battalion, Task Force Liberty troops transported the civilian to the location of the unexploded rounds. The IA secured all the rounds, identified as USSR 57mm FRAG-T projectiles, and transported them to another site for disposal";
A walk-in tip-off from a local resident resulted in confiscation of a significant weapons cache and a car bomb by the soldier from Task Force Liberty near Samarra on May 12;
"A group of Iraqi children led Task Force Baghdad Soldiers directly to a weapons cache in southeast Baghdad May 13. The Iraqi children showed the Soldiers where three rocket propelled grenades and 10 fuses were hidden. An explosives ordnance disposal team was called to the site and safely detonated the munitions";
On May 15, "Task Force Baghdad soldiers, acting on a tip from an Iraqi citizen, arrested five suspected terrorists thought to have participated in drive-by shootings in southeast Baghdad. Numerous cell phones, wires and bomb making materials were found with the suspects";
"Iraqi citizens prevented a potentially devastating attack by alerting Iraqi police to a vehicle-bomb threat near a crowded marketplace May 16. Local nationals thought something was suspicious about a vehicle parked on the side of a road next to a densely populated market area in Zafaraniya, a suburb of Baghdad, and alerted local police, who responded immediately... Police officers secured the area, but the bomb exploded before an Iraqi police explosive ordnance disposal team arrived on the scene to detonate it. No injuries were reported".
Newsweek: The Day America Died
This is was on the cover of the 2 February issue of the Japanese edition of Newsweek. After looking at this, and reading about it over at Riding Sun, it's pretty obvious to me now (20/20 hindsight) that we should not have been surprised that Newsweek published the unconfirmed report that resulted in 17 deaths ten days ago.
I recommend you read the post.
What is the matter with us?
Dr. DeMarche, a FSO working abroad for the State Department (and a blogger extraordinaire ) has some less-than-kind words about some attitudes in this country and contrasts them to the citizens of Iraq.
I have an excerpt from his post in the extended entry. But you should really go read the whole thing.
I have to wonder: if any embarrassing photos of President Bush made it into the press would the anti-Bush forces in America have the same respect for the office of the President that these two Iraqis seem to have? I doubt it.
While the people of Iraq face daily threats from murderous jihadists ("insurgents" for some inexplicable reason to the NY Times) and attempt to form a new government, we in the West are eating up pictures of the hirsute former dictator. While Americans turned away from long lines of voters, their franchise unpracticed, in order to park in front of the TV in time for whatever drivel is our favorite, the Iraqis turned out in number despite the threat of terror. While college kids and the Hollywood effete equate the President with Hitler, Iraqis still take pride in the office of their leader, despite the monster who was so recently deposed.
There is a lesson to be learned in all of this, but I doubt that anyone really cares. Maybe tomorrow there will be a picture of Saddam brushing his teeth. If not, I think Desperate Housewives is on.
May 22, 2005
Social Security Reform
What else do economists and Nobel laureates Milton Friedman, Robert Lucas, Robert Mundell, Edward Prescott, and Vernon Smith have in common? They all support Social Security reform. Including personal retirement accounts. It's a quick read (but requires Adobe reader).
[Hat tip to Betsy Newmark].
Islam & Respect
I present the following two articles, without comment at this time, for your perusal:
May 20, 2005
Here are our two prima ballerinas! This picture was taken immediately following the dance recital last weekend. The last three weeks have been absolute mayhem as our dancers prepared for the recital. And, you know what? It was well worth it!
Alan Reynolds has an article that discusses research into the "movement of Americans up and down the economic ladder" (referred to as mobility) at the OpinionJournal website. It's an interesting article filled with some rather dry discussion about statistical evidence substantiating (and failing to substantiate) claims that there is no upward mobility in America anymore. Mr. Reynolds sums it up like this:
A kernel of truth within the income mobility confusion is that good parenting matters to a child's lifetime success. Economics Nobel laureate James Heckman notes that "good families promote cognitive, social and behavioral skills," but "single parent families are known to produce impaired children who perform poorly in school, the workplace and society at large." Yes, there are many attentive parents with low incomes who spend hours reading to toddlers, and there are negligent parents with high incomes. But many dysfunctional families do have low incomes, and collecting more taxes from functional families in order to send more transfer payments to dysfunctional families can have perverse results. Mr. Heckman points out that "generous social welfare programs . . . discourage work and hence investment in workplace based skills. . . . Subsidizing work through the EITC . . . can reduce the incentives to acquire skills and so perpetuate poverty across generations."
Recent "news" reports implying it has become more difficult for young Americans to live better than their parents fail to identify any genuine problem. And they suffer from one added handicap: They are demonstrably untrue.
From personal experience, and that of my wife who has been teaching in public schools for 22 years, I agree with Mr. Reynolds' assertion about good parenting and success.
I also agree that we still have upward mobility in America. The evidence for that is all around us. We are better off, economically, than our parents were. And, generally speaking, our kids are better off than we were at their age.
To stray slightly from the subject at hand, I have travelled quite a bit throughout the northern Mediterranean countries, and have seen first hand that the standard of living for middle economic class citizens in those countries is not much better than the standard of living for lower economic class citizens in America.
And all one has to do is walk across the Rio Grande river into Mexico to see even more sobering examples of how truly blessed we are here in America.
Our Insular Media
Claudia Rosett has written an article over at OpinionJournal that talks about the Newsweek contretemps, but also explores why riots broke out in the Middle East because of Newsweek's irresponsible (my description) reporting. Here's a taste:
What's really going on here is two stories. One involves Newsweek and the ups and downs of U.S. journalism. The other involves a swath of the Islamic world in which anger, fueled by years of gross political misrule, is a chronic feature of life--seeking to acquire a target. What produced these particular riots was the intersection of Islamic-world furies and that brand of U.S. self-absorption in which no subject is more fascinating to the American media than any possible misdeeds of the U.S. itself.
You should go read the whole article.
May 19, 2005
It's not just Newsweek . . .
. . . it's the mainstream media in general. Michelle Malkin has a an article at Jewish World Review that points out the anti-military spin that prevails in our media today.
She also brings it home that this is very obvious to those individuals who are actually members of that military. A SGT in Saudi Arabia writes:
I have placed my life and the life of my fellow soldiers in danger in order to achieve a measure of the freedoms we enjoy at home for the Iraqi and Afghani people. As soldiers, we all understand that we may be asked to participate in wars (actions) that we (or our countrymen) don't agree with. The irresponsible journalism being practiced by organizations such as Newsweek, however, [is] just inexcusable. At this point, because of their actions and failure to follow up on a claim of that magnitude, they've set the process back in Afghanistan immensely . . .
I don't regret serving my country, not one bit, but to have everything I'm doing here undermined by irresponsible journalists leaves me disgusted and disappointed.
As I look at all of the sacrifices that American soldiers have made for this country, and its people, through the years. And as I look at the sacrifices that they are making now for not just America, but for Afganistan and Iraq (and by extension, for all oppressed peoples). I can't help but feel a sense of shame that such a powerful industry in America, the "Press", is so dead set against our Soldiers in their fight for freedom.
Here is an interesting article about some aggressive grackles. I've reprinted it below.
Shades of Alfred Hitchcock's thriller . . .
Hostile Grackles Attack People in Houston
May 18, 7:24 AM (ET)
HOUSTON (AP) - Like a scene from the horror movie "The Birds," large black grackles are swooping down on downtown Houston and attacking people's heads, hair and backs.
Authorities closed off a sidewalk after the aggressive birds, which can have 2-foot wingspans, flew out of magnolia trees Monday in front of the County Administration Building.
"They were just going crazy," said constable Wilbert Jue, who works at the building. "They were attacking everybody that walked by."
The grackles zeroed in on a lawyer who shooed a bird away before he tripped and injured his face, Jue said. The lawyer was treated for several cuts.
It appears that the birds are protecting their offspring. On Monday a young grackle had fallen out of its nest and adult birds attacked people who got too close, Jue said.
Another bird attacked a deputy county clerk.
"I hit him with a bottle," said Sylvia Velasquez. "The other birds came, and one attacked my blouse and on my back."
Two women came to help her after she fell to the ground, and the birds attacked them as well. The group escaped by running into the building.
"This is a very Hitchcock kind of story. Very Tippi Hedren," said downtown worker Laura Aranda Smith, referring to one of the stars of Alfred Hitchcock's move "The Birds."
May 18, 2005
The Press Closes Ranks
James Taranto has an op-ed about the Newsweak imbroglio. He makes some key points -- and I think they will be proven to be true one day in the not-to-distant future.
It is on OpinionJournal.com (you can click this link if you want), but I've reprinted it in its entirety in the extended entry.
James Taranto -- The Press Closes Ranks
Wednesday, May 18, 2005 3:57 p.m. EDT
Reading the transcript of yesterday's briefing by White House press secretary Scott McClellan, it's clear that the press is closing ranks behind Newsweek, despite the magazine's retraction of a story alleging Koran desecration at Guantanamo Bay. McClellan called on Newsweek to "do all that they can to help repair the damage that has been done, particularly in the region," and a reporter (apparently ABC's Terry Moran) bristled:
Q: With respect, who made you the editor of Newsweek? Do you think it's appropriate for you, at that podium, speaking with the authority of the President of the United States, to tell an American magazine what they should print?
McClellan: I'm not telling them. I'm saying that we would encourage them to help--
Q: You're pressuring them.
McClellan: No, I'm saying that we would encourage them--
Q: It's not pressure?
McClellan: Look, this report caused serious damage to the image of the United States abroad. And Newsweek has said that they got it wrong. I think Newsweek recognizes the responsibility they have. We appreciate the step that they took by retracting the story. Now we would encourage them to move forward and do all that they can to help repair the damage that has been done by this report. And that's all I'm saying. But, no, you're absolutely right, it's not my position to get into telling people what they can and cannot report.
This is a fascinating exchange. The questioner begins by accusing McClellan of exceeding his authority ("Who made you the editor of Newsweek?"), then switches to whining about an assault on press freedom ("You're pressuring them").
In truth, all McClellan has done is exercise his own constitutional rights by criticizing Newsweek. The questioner is failing to distinguish the press's freedom, which is in no way jeopardized by the Newsweek scandal and the concomitant criticism, from its power, which assuredly is.
The press's power--its ability to influence events--is inherent in the practice of journalism; were it not, dictators would have no need to restrict press freedom. But the press's power, especially in a free society, rests on its credibility--that is, on the reader's trust that the press is telling the truth. When the press falls short of that trust, as Newsweek has done here, it diminishes its own power.
"Some news media commentators said that the White House was blaming the press for problems of its [the White House's] own making," reports Elisabeth Bumiller in today's New York Times:
"This is hardly the first time that the administration has sought to portray the American media as inadequately patriotic," said Marvin Kalb, a senior fellow at the Shorenstein Center on Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University. "They are addressing the mistake, and not the essence of the story. The essence of the story is that the United States has been rather indelicate, to put it mildly, in the way that they have treated prisoners of war [sic]."
It's the "fake but accurate" defense again: What's important is not the facts but the "essence of the story." What's happening here is that journalists are engaging in political damage control, trying to limit the diminution of their power that will result from Newsweek's error. It's entirely understandable--journalists are, after all, human beings--but thinking about it this way helps demystify the press, which turns out to be acting just like any other institution when faced with problems of its own making.
Moreover, as we argued yesterday, the "essence of the story" is at the root of the problem. It's rare for journalists to get the facts wrong as spectacularly as Newsweek did, or as CBS did with its fraudulent National Guard report last year. But the so-called mainstream media have a worldview, formed in the Vietnam and Watergate era, that distorts the overall picture their reporting presents. Consider this exchange from the McClellan briefing, apparently involving the Times' Bumiller:
Q: Are you asking them to write a story about how great the American military is; is that what you're saying here?
McClellan: Elisabeth, let me finish my sentence. Our military--
Q: You've already said what you're--I know what--how it ends.
Allow us to answer the question: Yes, in our opinion, the press should produce more stories--many more than it does--about how great the American military is. When it does so, it should adhere as rigorously to the facts as we expect it to do when it produces stories that make the military look bad.
But the cynicism about the military that underlies Bumiller's question is deeply embedded in the mainstream media. That is why the press was obsessed with Abu Ghraib, while it is left to an Australian blogger to track good news from Iraq and Afghanistan in a systematic way.
A free press is vital to a democratic society; the press is not, and should not be, a propaganda organ of the government. And "adversary" journalism has its place. An important reason that the military is as great as it is, and that the government is as honest as it is, is that the press is aggressive in holding them accountable.
What has changed of late is that the press, which is used to being accountable to no one but itself, has increasingly found itself taken to task--by journalists who dissent from the "mainstream" worldview, by bloggers and even by government officials. Kalbian fake-but-accurate spin is a wholly inadequate response, but it is a sign that the press's complacency is crumbling. If the criticism keeps up--and it will--the mainstream media will eventually feel compelled to respond in a serious way. American journalism will be better for it.
[Used with permission from OpinionJournal.com, a web site from Dow Jones & Company, Inc.]
Betsy has a post about a charter school in Connecticut that is doing something radical -- they are focusing on discipline and esprit de corps.
And it's working. Wonder of wonders.
Why does this surprise some people?
Another update on Michael Yon's blog. He does a good job of contrasting what news we mostly get back here in the U.S. with what his unit is experiencing:
The news back home is showing large increases in violence in certain parts of Iraq. But the soldiers here continue to comment that Mosul, at least, seems to come under better control with every passing month.
May 17, 2005
I am not commenting on the chaos that has resulted from the ill-conceived and researched Newsweek article about prisoner interrogations at Guatanamo at this time. I am also not commenting on the veracity of that article.
However, I do have to point out the double-standard that many Middle Eastern, Muslim-dominated, countries seem to have. (And I'm undoubtedly constraining this too much, but it will do for now.)
The following is an excerpt from an MSNBC.com article (emphasis added):
In a statement faxed to The Associated Press before Newsweek’s apology, Fadlallah called the alleged desecration a “brutal” form of torture.
“This act is not an individual act carried out by an American soldier, but rather it is part of the American behavior of intellectual and psychological education in disrespecting Islam and smearing its image in the souls of Americans,” Fadlallah said.
Yeah, sure. Like they don't do that same thing every single day in countries across the region? Only, in those cases, it is Judaism, Israel, Christianity and the United States that are being systematically disrespected and smeared.
Talk about hypocrisy . . .
And the real irony is that America, as a nation, bends over backwards to accommodate different belief systems.
May 16, 2005
Iraq vs. D.C.
My brother emailed this to me this morning, and I thought it was a pretty interesting statistic. It's also funny in a macabre sort of way. ;-)
If you consider that there have been an average of 160,000 troops in the Iraqi theater during the last 22 months, that gives a firearm death ratio of 60 per 100,000.
The firearm death ratio in DC is 80.6 per 100,000. That means that you are more likely to be shot and killed in our Nation's Capitol, which has some of the strictest gun control laws in the nation, than you are in Iraq.
Conclusion: We should immediately pull out of WASHINGTON, DC!
UPDATE: Preston, in his comment, pointed out how the numbers cited above don't quite add up. I have been very much involved in a lot of things lately, and did not give this post a critical look, as I usually do. I will see if I can get to the source(s) of these numbers. In the meantime, we may want to chalk this one up as potentially another email-myth.
FINAL UPDATE: As Jeremy pointed out in his comments, the numbers cited refer to "gun deaths". Specifically, deaths brought about by gunshot wounds (this excludes IEDs, VBIEDs, accidents, etc.). Though it's a little squidgy, it is a legitimate statistic. And, yes, Washington D.C. has a higher rate than Iraq in terms of "gun deaths" of U.S. citizens.
Major K in Baghdad
Major K has a very interesting blog that details (as much as operational security [opsec] allows) his experiences there in Iraq. He has a post dated 3 May 2005 that talks about the "Sunni Triangle", the insurgency, and IEDs. He sums the post up with this:
The most important thing is the will of the Iraqi people. The overwhelming majority here hate the terrorists, and their hatred grows with every IED.
May 14, 2005
More irony -- PETA killing animals?
I saw this post about a PETA animal shelter putting thousands of animals to sleep at Snooze Button Dreams. If this is true, there is a lot of irony (hypocrisy?) going around this country here lately. Jim at Snooze Button Dreams does a good job of defining the problem space, though, so go read his post . . .
May 13, 2005
Oh, the irony!
This article can be summed up with:
A University of Delaware student has filed a lawsuit demanding to be reinstated. He was suspended for cheating in a corporate ethics class.
May 11, 2005
Light blogging this week
I have not been able to spend much time blogging this week.
Both of our daughters are undergoing intense preparations for their dance recital on Sunday.
Plus, things are pretty busy on all other fronts.
I hope to be able to pick up the pace sometime next week.
How Not To Be Poor
Walter E. Williams points out that race is much less an indicator of poverty than are the combination of a) being married, b) having at least a high school education, and c) working. Here's an excerpt of his article:
The Children's Defense Fund and civil rights organizations frequently whine about the number of black children living in poverty. In 1999, the Bureau of the Census reported that 33.1 percent of black children lived in poverty compared with 13.5 percent of white children. It turns out that race per se has little to do with the difference. Instead, it's welfare and single parenthood. When black children are compared to white children living in identical circumstances, mainly in a two-parent household, both children will have the same probability of being poor.
The article is well worth reading. I only wish he had done a better job of citing sources to back up his conclusions.
[Hat tip to Betsy's Page.]
May 10, 2005
Good News from Iraq, part 27
Go check out Chrenkoff's "Good News from Iraq, Part 27". It's bound to make you feel better about the progress being made there . . .
Jalal Talabani's Letter to Blair
Though people are still dying in Iraq, and thousands of allied troops are still there slowly bringing security to a land torn by violence, the Kurdish president of the newly-formed democratic Iraqi government sent a letter of thanks to Tony Blair.
I've taken the liberty of posting the full text of the letter in the extended entry.
The full text of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani’s letter to Tony Blair:
I cannot begin to explain my emotions, after over five decades of personally fighting for and promoting democracy and human rights, to witness a nation take its first steps towards a dream.
Now the democratically elected parliament has honoured me, a Kurd, with the post of Presidency. This is a symbol of the promise, integration and unity of the new Iraq.
Let nobody mislead you, the Iraq that we inherited in April 2003, following the British and American led liberation, was a tragedy. The Ba’athist criminals had starved the country of an infrastructure and the people of their freedom. Apart from the Kurdish safe haven, Iraq was a playground for thugs and a prison for the innocent.
Saddam’s war against the Iraqi people was ongoing; we have evidence which demonstrates that the regime was executing its challengers until the last days of its rule. It was that war, lasting almost forty years, which was the true war of Iraq.
We have all heard of the genocide, gassing, ethnic cleansing, mass murder and the environmental vandalism of the territory of Iraq’s historic Marsh Arabs. We understand that there is no turning the clock back. Instead, we press ahead with democratisation and justice.
Unfortunately, Saddam’s former henchmen, and religious extremist associates have chosen to fight their losing battle, which in turn has made post-liberation Iraq less stable than we would have wished. Yet true Iraqis have largely shunned the terrorists, and their cowardly acts are increasingly becoming limited and confined to certain areas.
Millions of brave Iraqis defy terrorism and reject dictatorship every day, without fuss, and certainly without attention from the television cameras. We undertake to rebuild a shattered country that has been scarred by decades of tyranny. With unwavering resolve we support plurality, egalitarianism, and the political process.
Building a democratic federal Iraq is a difficult, and slow, but rewarding process. Those who doubt the swiftness of transition must keep in mind that a state such as Iraq is a cultural, ethnic and linguistic mosaic that was only ever held together by brute force, thus, political speed can kill.
Nevertheless, January saw Iraq’s first free and open general election, leading to the first democratically elected government of our desolate history. Yet our struggle for a better, emancipated Iraq is only due to the consistent and unwavering support of Prime Minister Blair, the British people, and the coalition of the willing.
For many Iraqis, the positive role that Britain has played is a welcome change. From our colonial master, Britain has become our democratic guardian. In 1991 I saw at first hand how Prime Minister John Major, fresh from the liberation of Kuwait, bravely led the way in implementing a safe-haven for Iraqi Kurdistan.
For 12 years, heroic RAF pilots, with the support of neighbouring Turkey, flew in Kurdish skies to prevent Saddam from completing the anti-Kurdish genocide that he had started in 1987. We were finally able to start rebuilding the 4,500 villages destroyed by Saddam’s regime and to begin the process of nurturing civil society and democracy. And now thanks to Prime Minister Blair’s courageous and principled decisions, we can recreate this throughout Iraq.
Of course the liberation of Iraq has been controversial, as all wars should be. Sadly in this case, war was not the ’best’ option, it was the only option. Under Saddam, war was never controversial, never discussed, simply ordered and executed by him and his thugs.
Iraqis sometimes wonder in amazement what the debate abroad is about. Why do people continue to ask why no WMD was found? The truth is that Saddam had, in the past, used chemical and biological weapons against his own people, and we believed he would do so again. Of course Saddam himself was, in the view of those who opposed him, Iraq’s most dangerous WMD.
Instead of continually focussing on the negative, the British, who will soon commemorate the 60th anniversary of VE day, should know that in the eyes of the majority of Iraqis, it was you who brought us our own victory day.
Britain should be proud that the liberation of Iraq has in our eyes been one of your finest hours. History will judge Prime Minister Blair as a champion against tyranny. Of that I have no doubt.
We are not reticent about expressing our great thanks to the British people and paying homage to the tragic British losses. Every Iraqi family, in fact, has lost a loved one because of Saddam’s regime. Every Iraqi understands the pain of conflict, the grief that accompanies war.
We honour those who sacrificed their lives for our liberation. We are determined out of respect to create a tolerant and democratic Iraq, an Iraq for all the Iraqi people. It will take time and much patience, but I can assure you it will be worth while, not only for Iraq, but for the whole of the Middle East.
May 09, 2005
Happy Birthday, Dad . . .
Today is my father's 77th birthday. Or it would have been if he had lived this long. Just two months shy of his 75th birthday, Dad's great and loving heart stopped working.
My dad loved peanut butter cups. So we, his family, celebrate his life every 9 May now by eating peanut butter cups in his honor. Please feel free to join us, if you wish.
I miss you, Dad . . .
May 08, 2005
And God Created Mothers
Happy Mother's Day to my wife, my mom, my mom-in-law. my sister, my sister-in-law, and all the other mothers in this world.
As a son living at home, I appreciated my mom for being my mom -- but I had no idea of the depth of her love or the steadfastness of her commitment to raising me right. It wasn't until I had left home, married, and my wife became a mom that I began to discern how deeply mothers love, how hard mothers work, how intensely mothers give of themselves for their children's sake.
And I am at once awed and humbled by this mystery of motherhood.
My father-in-law emailed the prose in the extended entry to my Lovely Lady yesterday, and I thought I would share it with you. It is credited to Erma Bombeck. And I thought I would reprint it here in honor of our moms.
By the time the Lord made mothers, he was into his sixth day of working overtime.
An Angel appeared and said "Why are you spending so much time on this one"?
And the Lord answered and said, "Have you seen the spec sheet on her? She has to be completely washable, but not plastic, have 200 movable parts, all replaceable, run on black coffee and leftovers, have a lap that can hold three children at one time and that disappears when she stands up, have a kiss that can cure anything from a scraped knee to a broken heart, and have six pairs of hands."
The Angel was astounded at the requirements for this one. "Six pairs of hands! No Way!", said the Angel.
The Lord replied, "Oh, it's not the hands that are the problem. It's the three pairs of eyes that mothers must have!"
"And that's just on the standard model?" the Angel asked.
The Lord nodded in agreement, "Yep, one pair of eyes are to see through the closed door as she asks her children what they are doing even though she already knows. Another pair in the back of her head, are to see what she needs to know even though no one thinks she can. And the third pair are here in the front of her head. They are for looking at an errant child and saying that she understands and loves him or her without even saying a single word."
The Angel tried to stop the Lord. "This is too much work for one day. Wait until tomorrow to finish."
"But I can't!" The Lord protested, "I am so close to finishing this creation that is so close to my own heart. She already heals herself when she's sick AND can feed a family of six on a pound of hamburger and can get a nine year old to stand in the shower. "
The Angel moved closer and touched the woman, "But you have made her so soft, Lord."
"She is soft," the Lord agreed, "but I have also made her tough. You have no idea what she can endure or accomplish."
"Will she be able to think?", asked the Angel.
The Lord replied, "Not only will she be able to think, she will be able to reason, and negotiate."
The Angel then noticed something and reached out and touched the woman's cheek. "Oops, it looks like you have a leak with this model. I told you that you were trying to put too much into this one."
"That's not a leak." The Lord objected. "That's a tear!"
"What's the tear for?" the Angel asked.
The Lord said, "The tear is her way of expressing her joy, her sorrow, her disappointment, her pain, her loneliness, her grief, and her pride."
The Angel was impressed. "You are a genius, Lord. You thought of everything; for mothers are truly amazing!"
[by Erma Bombeck]
May 07, 2005
Redneck Blacks & White Liberals
Thomas Sowell, an author and Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, has a thought-provoking article about how white liberals, in their honest efforts to help black Americans out of their oppression and poverty, have actually made it more difficult for blacks to succeed in getting ahead. This is worth a read -- or two. I think Mr. Sowell's recently published book, Black Rednecks and White Liberals might be worth a read, as well.
Bush's 1st 100 days of his 2nd term
Eric Pfeiffer at National Review Online has an interesting piece on President Bush's progress so far in his second term. Pfeiffer does take a few shots at the mainstream media -- but then again, they do deserve it! It's a good read . . .
May 06, 2005
3.3 million jobs added in last two years
Amy Menefee, over at Free Market Project, has an informative article about the healthy job growth that this country has been experiencing for the last two years. I'll bet you haven't heard this particular news much. Not from our news organizations, at any rate . . .
Cleaner skies mean global warming?
How is this for a kick in the pants? For decades now, we have been continually warned about the dangers of pollution. Now two studies published in Science are saying that Earth's air is getting measurably cleaner -- oh, and it may make global warming worse!
May 05, 2005
Liberalism in Hoc
The extended entry has James Taranto's article copied in its entirety from OpinionJournal.com. It's worth the read . . .
In the Middle East, things seem to be working out according to President Bush's plan. Before the liberation of Iraq, the president argued that removing Saddam Hussein from power would pave the way for a democratic Iraq and make it possible for democracy to spread throughout the Arab world. The Washington Monthly's Kevin Drum totes up the progress:
Elections in Iraq and Egypt. Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon. Voluntary disarmament in Libya. New progress between Israel and the Palestinians. A lot has happened in the Middle East since the invasion of Iraq two years ago.
Drum grudgingly acknowledges that the president may deserve some credit for all this, but other Monthly writers are at pains to deny it. Funniest of all is goofball general Wesley Clark, who seems to deny that the liberation of Iraq had anything to do with democracy even in Iraq:
Democracy can't be imposed--it has to be homegrown. In the Middle East, democracy has begun to capture the imagination of the people. For Washington to take credit is not only to disparage courageous leaders throughout the region, but also to undercut their influence at the time it most needs to be augmented. Let's give credit where credit is due--and leave the political spin at the water's edge.
Marc Lynch, participating in an online Monthly debate, echoes the sentiment:
One of the most misleading ideas out there has to do with the supposed novelty of Arab demands for democratic reforms. The conventional wisdom that the invasion of Iraq triggered the first public Arab conversations about democracy is just flat wrong. Arabs have been talking about the need for reform and protesting against the status quo since long before the Iraqi war. . . . Iraq, and Bush, may have helped to open up some political opportunities (and to foreclose others), but credit for the so-called Arab spring should go to the Arab intellectuals and activists who have long been pushing for change for their own reasons.
This is very similar to the rationale we heard for not crediting Ronald Reagan with the democratic revolution that toppled the Soviet Empire: The Soviets were going to collapse of their own accord anyway; Reagan was just in the right place at the right time. Of course, by the time Reagan died last year, hardly anyone was still claiming this, and blogger David Adesnik notes that the same is likely to be true for Bush:
I think we know a reasonable amount about who gets to take credit when good things happen. Throughout his [re-election] campaign, Bush kept insisting that there could be a democratic revolution in the Middle East. Then he devoted his entire inaugural address to that subject.
In contrast, John Kerry kept talking about how we shouldn't be closing firehouses in Ohio while opening them in Baghdad. For their part, the center-left punditocracy kept projecting a deeper quagmire in Iraq while dismissing the democratic domino theory as a neo-con fantasy.
In other words, the differences between Bush and his critics were anything but subtle. Both sides had placed their bets on very different sets of outcomes. Moreover, Bush placed his bets on a set of outcomes with very, very long odds. And because Bush gambled his reputation on something so uncertain and so unusual, he will get to take credit for it, regardless of whether or not he got lucky.
To which we would add that it would be a lot easier to take the left's post hoc analysis seriously if anyone on that side of the fence had the foresight to see, ante hoc, that democratic changes were coming in Eastern Europe and the Arab world.
As far as we remember, the people now saying that Arab democratization was bound to happen anyway are the same ones who were arguing beforehand not only that Bush's policies would have disastrous consequences but that status quo "stabliity" was the best we could hope for. Likewise, who on the left predicted the collapse of the Soviet system? (Daniel Patrick Moynihan, yes, but he was by some definitions a "neocon.")
Even if we assume for the sake of argument that Bush just "got lucky"--and boy, that's some lucky streak we right-wing war mongers have racked up--his critics were still wrong, and they cannot be taken seriously now.
[Used with permission from OpinionJournal.com, a web site from Dow Jones & Company, Inc.]
Michael Yon in Iraq
Michael Yon is an author who is embedded with the 1-24 ("Deuce Four") Infantry Battalion which is currently deployed in and around Mosul, Iraq. He has a blog that is very interesting reading. And sobering. And maddening.
An excerpt from his 1 May post:
There are seventeen provinces in Iraq, and more than ten are quiet. They are busy rebuilding the infrastructure; building a new democracy, but mostly just getting on with life.
Unfortunately, the "Sunni triangle" is a region churning with an insurgency that shows no sign of letup. But by focusing on the flames, the media does not give the world a fair or accurate representation of what's happening for most Iraqi people, or for most of the Coalition forces. I, too, have spent most of my time in Iraq in these dangerous provinces, so even these dispatches might indicate that Iraq has more problems than is actually the case.
Yet even here in the warring provinces, progress is clear. I have endured many tedious meetings with agendas focused on roadside trash, local business development, or Iraqi police training. These normalities do not make good news.
His blog includes pictures, and gives you a good insider's view of what is going on.
His 4 May post is one that will break your heart.
Daughter Deja Vu
Sweet One favors me a great deal in appearance with dark hair and eyes, as well as mannerism; however, her disposition and outlook on life are far more like her father's. They share a laid-back and almost "accidental" approach to life. Very little truly gets to them and they cruise through life rather optimistically.
Wee One, on the other hand, is my fair haired and creamy complexioned miscreant who inherited my personality times ten or even a hundred. There is order and structure to her world even if she must impose it herself. . .
My Lovely Lady and I have two sweet and wonderful daughters. They are both creative, intelligent, loving, talented, and gorgeous. (No bias here -- it's very obvious to me.) The differences are that our oldest daughter, The Stoic (tm), favors me in appearance with dark blonde hair and olive complexion (though she's a lot prettier than I am!), while our youngest daughter, The Planner (tm) looks more like her mother with strawberry blonde hair and a light complexion.
Our Stoic is the "come-what-may" kind of person, while our Planner is, well . . . a planner. She's seven and I'm surprised that she doesn't have her college career worked out. She does not like surprises (unless she gives them). This week she continuously badgered my Lovely Lady about getting gas for the van for two whole days -- just because the fuel light came on (our fuel light comes on with about 5 gallons remaining). When we go shopping, our Planner wants to know which stores we are going to, in what sequence, and approximately how long we will be staying . . . She also has tried to determine which member of the family would be acquiring what merchandise at each store!
And, do you know what? I am completely overwhelmed by how lucky I am. I share a home with three of the most wonderful girls in the whole world -- one of which is my Lovely Lady!
I am so very blessed.
Please be patient as I start changing my blog layout around. I'm in the process of learning about stylesheets and such, so you may find things are a little unsettled around here for awhile. However, it will ultimately result in a primo blog layout (IMHO), so it will be well worth it!
Charter Schools & Choice
Debra England at townhall.com has an interesting article about charter schools. Here's an excerpt:
Given the sturm und drang which has accompanied the arrival of charter schools on the public education scene, one might be surprised to discover that charter schools enroll only 1.5% of the public school students nationwide. Three times as many U.S. children are home schooled as are educated in charter schools. What, then, accounts for the vehement resistance charter schools have encountered including state caps on the numbers permitted, localized fights against granting charters, and union attacks on charter school achievements?
Here again, economics provides the answer. The educational bureaucracies and their political allies have largely managed to maintain what Milton Friedman rightly calls “a tyranny of the status quo” in their fight against school vouchers for impoverished inner-city children trapped in the most dysfunctional parts of this failed government monopoly. But they have been less successful in their fight against charter schools. Thus, despite the near-epic battle waged against the introduction of any form of parental choice, charter schools have become the camel’s nose inside the educational bureaucracies’ tent.
Being married to a dedicated public school teacher has given me an insider's perspective on charter schools and how public schools view them. And this article basically sums up that view. Public school officials are scared of charter schools. They are scared that they will lose money, and perhaps, ultimately, their jobs.
My lovely Lady has worked as a public school teacher for 24 years. She has worked in 4 Texas school districts, for 9 different principals, and considers only two of them as being competent administrators. Assuming that my Lady's experience is typical in Texas public schools, and since most school officials start their administrative carrers as school principals, it would be easy to say that over 75% of school officials are not qualified. In that case, I can very much understand why there is so much resistance to charter schools by public school officials -- they're scared for their jobs!
The free market system has brought so much to America. Why can't we adapt it for educating our children? One thing we certainly don't want is to rely on advertisements for schools -- because a school with a good marketing strategy does not necessarily mean the school is good at educating students. So we'll have to have some form of standardized metric that we can use to judge the school's (or district's) worth.
Why not use the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS)? It is certainly the standard in Texas, but I'm not sure that we really want to use it -- the Texas education system is very much wrapped around TAKS already (to the point that many teachers feel as if they have to "teach to the test" in order to prepare their students for that test).
I'm not sure I can work out the best way to leverage the advantages of the free-market system into public education (a "free-market education", if you will). But I'm willing to bet that universities, both public and private, could help out a great deal in this area.
What do you think?
May 04, 2005
The People -- in the Eyes of Democrats
I will withhold any commentary of my own on this one.
Robert Posen poses a potentially workable solution to the political impasse over Social Security reform at Opinionjournal.com.
It's worth a read.
May 02, 2005
It'll be safer tamale!
I couldn't help but laugh when I read this story: School Mistakes Huge Burrito for a Weapon
[Hat tip to Publicola]
In memory of the tragedy that overtook South Vietnam 30 years ago, I tip my hat to VietPundit, an American who emigrated from Vietnam. You see, he is one of those few South Vietnamese who escaped from the communist conquerors. His story is a moving tale of a boy who escaped from that murderous, oppresive regime. I recommend you read it.
Both posts below are also well worth reading. And the true story of Vietnam is well worth remembering.