Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Republicans give everyone a good laugh

It was not so long ago when, throughout Bill Clinton's tenure, that phony Republican party of "conservative" principle loudly proclaimed its commitment to fiscal caution, small government, and playing by the rules of the Constitution -- each of which was dumped down the sewer, in order to support the warmongering, big government advocacy of the feeble-minded George W. Bush.

Well, here's another Paul Mulshine gem on those Republican hypocrites. From his column, "Republicans continue to be the great pretenders," some excerpts:

In the past few months, the national Republican Party has experienced a miraculous conversion to the principle of fiscal conservatism. Let's hope it's a deathbed conversion. I, for one, am ready to see the Republican Party disappear from the political scene. I would like to see it replaced by a party that believes in the U.S. Constitution, limited government, defense of our borders and balanced budgets -- in other words, everything the national Republicans claimed to espouse back when Bill "Slick Willie" Clinton was in the White House.

Now that a Democrat is again in the White House, the Republicans again claim to endorse those sacred values. But there is the small matter of how they behaved in the eight years George W. Bush was in power. And they behaved like . . . let me think of an appropriate invective . . . Oh, yeah, they behaved like Democrats. And now that we have a real Democratic president, they have no grounds to criticize him.

Consider President Obama's response to a reporter's question the other day about Republican criticism of the huge deficits in his proposed budget. Good question. But Obama dodged it with ease. "I suspect that some of those Republican critics have a short memory, because, as I recall, I'm inheriting a $1.3 trillion deficit, annual deficit, from them," said Obama. Slick Barry will be repeating that argument for years to come. And the Republicans will be powerless to refute it. Their credibility on economic matters is shot and they won't be getting it back anytime soon thanks to the legacy of big-spender Bush. ...

This is what happens when Republicans govern like Democrats: They get replaced by Democrats. And just as is happening now, when McGreevey took office the New Jersey Republicans suddenly rediscovered their conservative roots. And everyone got a good laugh, just as everyone is doing now.

Read Mulshine's complete column, followed by an earlier one on immigration entitled, "GOP is migrating toward oblivion," in which Mulshine warned that "the liberal George Bush and his not-so-smart svengali Karl Rove" were assuring "the demise of the GOP through unlimited immigration of future Democrats."
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The poison of foreign aid

What happens when an enlightened African challenges Westerners' long-time habit of giving foreign aid to African countries? In his homeland of Uganda, Andrew Mwenda is fast learning what happens when a government, steeped in corruption and incompetence and almost totally dependent on the largesse of Western donors, sets out to punish those who would interfere with the sources of its revenue stream.

In the Winter 2009 edition of The Insider, Mwenda expresses his belief that foreign aid distorts the incentives of both donors and recipients. He says:

When governments have to depend on their own citizens for revenue, they develop a vested interest in the prosperity of their citizens. When governments depend on foreign donors for revenue, they develop a vested interest in manipulating international donors for money.

And further,

The only way the people of Africa can hold their governments to account, can participate in the policymaking and the policy implementation processes in their own countries is for them to be the source of the revenues that sustain governments in power. But because our governments depend on donors for money to build roads, schools, and hospitals, they do not look at us as citizens.

Instead of being looked upon as citizens, Mwenda says that the Ugandan government, as well as other African governments, "look at us as clients who they can bribe with welfare handouts from international donors. But if our governments depended on us for that revenue, they’d look at us as citizens whom they are supposed to account to because they depend on us for the public expenditure of revenues."

In 2007, Mwenda began publication of a news magazine, The Independent, a vehicle to express the views of like-minded observers of the African scene. Calling for a "scaling down" of foreign aid to African governments, Mwenda believes that "When the governments run out of revenue and they do not innovate new ways of generating revenue domestically, they will fall."

And, he maintains, "The moment governments in Africa realize that the public expenditure needs cannot be sustained from abroad, they will immediately develop a vested interest in harnessing the domestic economy—the gross potential of the economy. But, in fact, the beginning point of reform in Africa is to scale down aid."

Mwenda has been held for interrogation by the Ugandan police on many occasions, and has been charged with more than 20 "crimes," including sedition and libel, for writing about the nepotism and corruption that is common to the government of Uganda President Yoweri Museveni. This is only part of the response of the government to the many heretical views expressed in Mwenda's magazine, which enjoyed a 30% circulation growth in its second year of publication. Mwenda reports,

We are facing serious challenges. Our challenges are not coming right now from the market, because we have been extremely successful in the market. The government, realizing we are successful in the market, has now brought political pressure to bear on us—has stopped printers from printing our newsmagazine. It has been lobbying advertisers to stop them from advertising with us.

Remember that in spite of privatization and liberalization, the government of Uganda remains the largest consumer and largest formal sector employer. For most businesses, their profit margin lies in the ability to get government contracts and government handouts. And the government says: 'OK, we will not give you a contract if you advertise with The Independent.' They are using political influence to distort the market.

And still another tactic used by government, claims Mwenda:

The second cost the government has imposed on us is by keeping us at police stations and in court; by doing this, they reduce the amount of time we can devote to strategies for our newsmagazine, editing it, generating stories. So this year is going to be a challenging year because a new threat has come and that is not just interference, but a direct attempt to undermine our existence as a business.

In spite of these attempts at repression, Mwenda remains optimistic. Rightly or naively, he believes that the Ugandan government is subject to world opinion. In 2008, he was granted a freedom award by the Committee to Protect Journalists, and says,

Remember that first of all the government of Uganda depends on Western aid for its own political survival here. And the Western governments would be embarrassed to be seen to be giving money to a government that is busy harassing independent newspapers. So in a way, when international actors like the Committee to Protect Journalists highlight our woes, there is incipient pressure on the government of Uganda to exercise restraint. So they’re very helpful in putting breaks on what the government of Uganda can do. Without them, the government of Uganda would have killed me. Last year they planned to kill me, but they feared the response of the international community. Then they planned to kidnap my fiancĂ©. They would have shut us down here as a newspaper, but they are afraid of the international reaction to such a reaction.

Visit Mwenda's blog here, and read his recent article: You want freedom? It is expensive
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Sunday, March 29, 2009

From the heights of power to a basket case

Many people are still trying to sort out the reasons for what happened to the American auto industry and how it managed to fall from its formerly commanding heights into the current sinkhole. Last January, at Hillsdale College, Joseph White did an exemplary job of succinctly pinning down the basic reasons for the demise of the great auto companies, by tracing the case of General Motors' downfall.

White has covered the auto industry for the Wall Street Journal since 1987, writes a weekly column about the business, and is co-author of Comeback: The Fall and Rise of the American Automobile Industry. Here are excerpts from his talk at Hillsdale:

With Alfred P. Sloan in charge, General Motors settled down to become the very model of the modern corporation. It navigated through the Great Depression, and negotiated the transition from producing tanks and other military materiel during World War II to peacetime production of cars and trucks. It was global before global was cool, as its current chairman used to say.

By the mid-1950s the company was the symbol of American industrial power—the largest industrial corporation in the world. It owned more than half the U.S. market. It set the trends in styling and technology, and even when it did not it was such a fast and effective follower that it could fairly easily hold its competitors in their places. And it held the distinction as the world's largest automaker until just a year or so ago.

How does a juggernaut like this become the basket case that we see before us today? I will oversimplify matters and touch on five factors that contributed to the current crisis—a crisis that has been more than 30 years in the making.

1. Detroit underestimated the competition—in more ways than one.

2. General Motors mismanaged its relationship with the United Auto Workers, and the UAW in its turn did nothing to encourage GM (or Ford or Chrysler) to defuse the demographic time bomb that has now blown up their collective future.

3. General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler handled failure better than success. When they made money, they tended to squander it on ill-conceived diversification schemes. It was when they were in trouble that they often did their most innovative work—the first minivans at Chrysler, the first Ford Taurus, and more recently the Chevy Volt were ideas born out of crisis.

4. General Motors (and Ford and Chrysler) relied too heavily on a few, gas-hungry truck and SUV lines for all their profits—plus the money they needed to cover losses on many of their car lines. They did this for a good reason: When gas was cheap, big gas-guzzling trucks were exactly what their customers wanted—until they were not.

5. General Motors refused to accept that to survive it could not remain what it was in the 1950s and 1960s—with multiple brands and a dominant market share. Instead, it used short-term strategies such as zero percent financing to avoid reckoning with the consequences of globalization and its own mistakes.

In hindsight, it's apparent that the gas shocks of the 1970s hit Detroit at a time when they were particularly vulnerable. They were a decadent empire—Rome in the reign of Nero. The pinnacles of the Detroit art were crudely engineered muscle cars. The mainstream products were large, V8-powered, rear-wheel-drive sedans and station wagons. The Detroit marketing and engineering machinery didn't comprehend the appeal of cars like the Volkswagen Beetle or the Datsun 240Z.

But it took the spike in gas prices—and the economic disruptions it caused—to really open the door for the Japanese automakers.

Remember, Toyota and Honda were relative pipsqueaks in those days. They did not have much more going for them in the American market prior to the first Arab oil embargo than Chinese automakers have today, or Korean automakers did 15 years ago. The oil shocks, however, convinced a huge and influential cohort of American consumers to give fuel-efficient Japanese cars a try. Equally important, the oil shocks persuaded some of the most aggressive of America's car dealers to try them.

The Detroit automakers believed the Japanese could be stopped by import quotas. They initially dismissed reports about the high quality of Japanese cars. They later assumed the Japanese could never replicate their low-cost manufacturing systems in America. Plus they believed initially that the low production cost of Japanese cars was the result of automation and unfair trading practices. (Undoubtedly, the cheap yen was a big help.) In any case, they figured that the Japanese would be stuck in a niche of small, economy cars and that the damage could be contained as customers grew out of their small car phase of life.

They were wrong on all counts.
• • •

Read the rest of Joseph White's insightful remarks here, to learn what doomed the American auto industry, and what the industry might expect from its new partnership with the U.S. Government.
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Friday, March 20, 2009

Compounding the mistakes of the past

If you want to learn some of the facts behind the early strategies conceived for Israel's control of the Middle East, as well as details on last year's rocket attacks, there is no better place to start than the January 26, 2009 edition of the American Conservative magazine. Here are two excellent articles that take on subjects forbidden to public discussion by that Lobby that does not exist.

In "Captive Nation: How Gaza became a Palestinian prison," Israeli author Avi Shlaim describes the thousands of refugees crammed into a tiny strip of land with no infrastructure or natural resources as a "uniquely cruel case of deliberate de-development."

In "Another War, Another Defeat," John Mearsheimer, co-author of the much-acclaimed and much-defamed The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, debunks the notion that Israel was ever serious about making peace with the Palestinians in 2005. He says, "Even before Hamas came to power, the Israelis intended to create an open-air prison for the Palestinians in Gaza and inflict great pain on them until they complied with Israel’s wishes."

Mearsheimer reveals that, after Israel's withdrawal from Gaza, Ariel Sharon's adviser, Dov Weisglass, candidly stated that the disengagement from Gaza was aimed at halting the peace process, not encouraging it. Israel was checkmated in March 2007, when Fatah and Hamas came together in unity and pushed for a long-term ceasefire, promising to end all missile attacks, if the Israelis ceased arresting and assassinating Palestinians, and ended the economic blockade of their territory. Faced with such a deal, what was the great rogue state to do?

Not only did Israel's leaders reject this offer, they realized that, in order to keep the Palestinians in disarray (the ongoing goal), they had to keep Hamas and Fatah divided, and they set about fomenting a civil war between the two groups. Mearsheimer details how this was done.

Avi Shlaim, who served in the Israeli military, describes how, from the very beginning, "Local industry was actively impeded so as to make it impossible for the Palestinians to end their subordination and establish the economic underpinnings essential for independence." Although Israeli settlers were withdrawn from Gaza, he reports, "Israeli soldiers continued to control all access to the Gaza Strip. The Israeli air force enjoyed unrestricted freedom to drop bombs, make sonic booms by flying low and breaking the sound barrier, and terrorize the hapless inhabitants." [Read Avi Shlaim's The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World.]

He asks how any people can tolerate being so demonized, while trying to survive the years-long blockade of their trade – their exports, incoming supplies and medicines. Shlaim concludes, "Israel’s real aim is not peaceful coexistence with its Palestinian neighbors but military domination. It keeps compounding the mistakes of the past with new and more disastrous ones."

[See Philip Weiss commentary, "Was there an intentional Israeli policy in Gaza to kill civilians?"]

"Shoot and cry" used to just be an Israeli cliche about the guilt soldiers felt after committing unspeakable acts while serving the Israeli occupation. Now it appears to have become official military doctrine.

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Friday, March 13, 2009

More news from the Palin brood

Coming as no news at all, we learn that the celebrated unmarried parents of the country's most celebrated illegitimate baby are not going to tie the knot, after all. Like, we didn't suspect this? A rambunctious young man, popular, and dating several girls, happens to impregnate one of them -- and she's not even his favorite, as the pipeline reported. In this age of permissiveness, what's a young man to do?

So, what happens now, Ms. Palin, when your next daughter becomes pregnant? Observing the free-style living of Bristol, who appears to be enjoying life as a part-time mother, part-time employee, and part-time student, why shouldn't Willow eventually reach for the pregnancy brass ring? And then, why not Piper? Look at all the rewards awaiting these girls, perhaps even a celebratory stint at the next Republican convention. Why not expect such adulation? After all, those wonderful "family values" conservatives, throughout the last election, not only gave their blessings, but assured us that such behavior is okay as long as the principals involved, or their parents, display a fervent attachment to the "correct" political party.

And so continues the riveting family melodrama that helped to bring about the election of Barack Obama. Following is some of the pertinent background already cited on this blog:

Thank you for nothing, Ms. Palin

Pro-lifers bring underclass mores into the mainstream

Palin fills in those cracks in the ceiling

The good liberal Palin makes a mockery of conservatives

An awful mistake

Thanks to Sarah, we can do just about anything we want

Parading the unwed daughter

Laughing at conservatives

We didn't know this?

Teenage pregnancy should never be glorified

Book - Prude: How the Sex-Obsessed Culture Damages Girls (and America, Too!), by Carol Platt Liebau

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Tuesday, March 03, 2009

There goes E-Verify

Last October, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) reported on the "E-Verify" program:

Put into place in 1996, E-Verify is a voluntary program run by the Department of Homeland Security that uses an automated internet-based system to check every new employee’s information against more than 500 million records in Social Security and DHS databases. It’s fast, easy and free for businesses to use and it means that businesses don’t have to be document experts. Over 70,000 employers are using it and 1,000 are joining every week. Nationwide, 1 in 10 new hires are screened using it and it is 99.5 accurate.

In "Immigration apparently not high on Obama's priority list," (2/28/09), Vanderbilt University Professor Carol Swain tells us the state of E-Verify today:

There are an estimated 6 to 7 million illegal immigrants working in low-wage, low-skill positions that could be filled with U.S-born workers with high school educations or less. A detailed breakdown of U.S. Census unemployment data released by the Center for Immigration Studies reveals startling levels of unemployment for U.S.-born blacks and Hispanics without a high school education. Blacks had a 24.7 percent unemployment rate and Hispanics were at 16.2 percent. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate for legal and illegal immigrants without a high school education was 10.6 percent. ... Instead of expanding and protecting American jobs, the president allowed Senate Democrats to strip two E-Verify provisions from the stimulus bill. ...

The program is scheduled to expire unless Senate Democrats reauthorize the program by March 6. Not only should the program be reauthorized, it should be made mandatory for all employers. We can aggressively tackle unemployment by taking simple steps to ensure that American workers are protected from illegal competition from those unauthorized to work in this country.

Our rising health-care costs and educational burdens are all impacted by the presence of large numbers of undocumented and unauthorized residents who make it more difficult for hard-working Americans to enjoy some of the benefits of living in a nation that used to be one of the greatest in the world.
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