Saturday, February 17, 2007

Yes, it's the golden age of 80's music-video spoofs

First, there was Justin Timberlake's "D**k in a Box" on Saturday Night Live:

Now, there's Hugh Grant's "PoP! Goes My Heart" from Music and Lyrics:
Clearly, this is the golden age of music video spoofs. Everyone just sit back and enjoy our cultural crest.

My only complaint is that so far this trend has only covered boy bands. I'd like to see someone like Sarah Silverman spoof a Madonna video (though this one comes close).

posted by Dan at 04:36 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Things begin to fall apart in Venezuela

Simon Romero report in the New York Times about what happens when you combine price controls and the Dutch disease in Hugo Chavez-land:

Faced with an accelerating inflation rate and shortages of basic foods like beef, chicken and milk, President Hugo Chávez has threatened to jail grocery store owners and nationalize their businesses if they violate the country’s expanding price controls.

Food producers and economists say the measures announced late Thursday night, which include removing three zeroes from the denomination of Venezuela’s currency, are likely to backfire and generate even more acute shortages and higher prices for consumers. Inflation climbed to an annual rate of 18.4 percent a year in January, the highest in Latin America and far above the official target of 10 to 12 percent.

Mr. Chávez, whose leftist populism remains highly popular among Venezuela’s poor and working classes, seemed unfazed by criticism of his policies. Appearing live on national television, he called for the creation of “committees of social control,” essentially groups of his political supporters whose purpose would be to report on farmers, ranchers, supermarket owners and street vendors who circumvent the state’s effort to control food prices.

“It is surreal that we’ve arrived at a point where we are in danger of squandering a major oil boom,” said José Guerra, a former chief of economic research at Venezuela’s central bank, who left Mr. Chavez’s government in 2004. “If the government insists on sticking to policies that are clearly failing, we may be headed down the road of Zimbabwe.”....

In an indicator of concern with Mr. Chávez’s economic policies, which included nationalizing companies in the telephone and electricity industries, foreign direct investment was negative in the first nine months of 2006. The last year Venezuela had a net investment outflow was in 1986.

Shortages of basic foods have been sporadic since the government strengthened price controls in 2003 after a debilitating strike by oil workers. But in recent weeks, the scarcity of items like meat and chicken have led to a panicked reaction by federal authorities as they try to understand how such shortages could develop in a seemingly flourishing economy.

Entering a supermarket here is a bizarre experience. Shelves are fully stocked with Scotch whiskey, Argentine wines and imported cheeses like brie and Camembert, but basic staples like black beans and desirable cuts of beef like sirloin are often absent. Customers, even those in the government’s own Mercal chain of subsidized grocery stores, are left with choices like pork neck bones, rabbit and unusual cuts of lamb.

With shoppers limited to just two large packages of sugar, a black market in sugar has developed among street vendors in parts of Caracas. “This country is going to turn into Cuba, or Chávez will have to give in,” said Cándida de Gómez, 54, a shopper at a private supermarket in Los Palos Grandes, a district in the capital....

Fears that more private companies could be nationalized have put further pressure on the currency as rich Venezuelans try to take money out of the country. Concern over capital flight has made the government jittery, with vague threats issued to newspapers that publish unofficial currency rates (officially the bolívar is quoted at about 2,150 to the dollar)....

But recent expropriations of farms and ranches, part of Mr. Chávez’s effort to empower state-financed cooperatives, have also weighed on domestic food production as the new managers retool operations. So has the flood of petrodollars into the economy, easing food imports and making some domestic producers uncompetitive, an affliction common to oil economies.

“There seems to be a basic misunderstanding in Chávez’s government of what is driving scarcity and inflation,” said Francisco Rodríguez, a former chief economist at Venezuela’s National Assembly who teaches at Wesleyan University.

“There are competent people in the government who know that Chávez needs to lower spending if he wants to defeat these problems,” Mr. Rodríguez said. “But there are few people in positions of power who are willing to risk telling him what he needs to hear.”

It will be interesting to see whether Chavez will reverse course. His supporters repeatedly point to Chavez's apparent successes in poverty reduction as the hallmark of his administration (though those "successes" are more illusory than real). Inflation above 20%, however, is a guaranteed recipe for increasing economic inequality -- because only the rich can move their capital abroad or otherwise hedge against inflation.


UPDATE: Chavez is now on a goodwill tour in the Caribbean trying to buy more international support. According to the AP, "The crowd, however, did not respond with applause to the Venezuelan leader's vitriolic statements."

posted by Dan at 08:55 AM | Comments (21) | Trackbacks (3)

Friday, February 16, 2007

Does anyone tell the truth in the Greater Middle East?

The ABC News blog, The Blotter, reports that Al Qaeda has been reduced to aping what thousands of Americans did on America’s Funniest Home Videos -- staging reality:

An al Qaeda-produced video claiming to show how U.S. and Afghan forces were driven out of a heavily defended base in the last few weeks appears to be a phony.

U.S. and NATO military officials have studied the tape but say they have no record of any such attack in the last month, and an analysis of the tape by ABC News raises many questions of whether the base was even occupied when it was supposedly attacked.

There are green leaves on the trees, no snow on the mountains and the fighters appear to be dressed rather lightly for the harsh Afghan winter where nighttime temperatures have been around 15 degrees this month.

Scenes of the bases, supposedly shot before the attack, show only one person walking up a hill at long range.

Scenes of the base, supposedly shot after the attack, show no evidence of damage, bodies, blood stains, spent shells or abandoned equipment other than one broken-down pick-up truck....

And the contention that the fighters "liberated" the Zabul province area, where the tape was supposedly shot, is scoffed at by top Afghan experts contacted by ABC News.

"The U.S. presence in Zabul is still strong. The U.S. is still fighting and is doing development projects in the area," said Seth Jones, an analyst at the Rand Corporation, who has just returned from Afghanistan.

Jones said there have been a series of coordinated attacks by al Qaeda and Taliban fighters in that province but that he was there at the time of the supposed attack and "never heard of any such incident."

The tape has all the standard trademarks of the al Qaeda propaganda operations with the same graphics and production techniques that have marked dozens of previous tapes.

I swear, when you can't trust an Al Qaeda video, you know the world is going to hell in a handbasket.

posted by Dan at 04:10 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

It's just me, myself, and I

According to Pew's political typology test, I'm an... enterpriser:

Enterprisers represent 9 percent of the American public, and 10 percent of registered voters.

Basic Description
As in previous studies conducted in 1987, 1994 and 1999, this extremely partisan Republican group’s politics are driven by a belief in the free enterprise system and social values that reflect a conservative agenda. Enterprisers are also the strongest backers of an assertive foreign policy, which includes nearly unanimous support for the war in Iraq and strong support for such anti-terrorism efforts as the Patriot Act.

Defining Values
Assertive on foreign policy and patriotic; anti-regulation and pro-business; very little support for government help to the poor; strong belief that individuals are responsible for their own well being. Conservative on social issues such as gay marriage, but not much more religious than the nation as a whole. Very satisfied with personal financial situation.

Who They Are
Predominantly white (91%), male (76%) and financially well-off (62% have household incomes of at least $50,000, compared with 40% nationwide). Nearly half (46%) have a college degree, and 77% are married. Nearly a quarter (23%) are themselves military veterans. Only 10% are under age 30....

2004 Election
Bush 92%, Kerry 1%. Bush’s most reliable supporters (just 4% of Enterprisers did not vote)

So, in other words, I belong to a group that comprises only one percent of the ten percent of registered voters who agree with me -- roughly 0.1%.

Man, I am feeling that love right now.

In all seriousness, however, the test sucks. For example, you are asked which statement you agree with: "The best way to ensure peace is through military strength" or "Good diplomacy is the best way to ensure peace." I'm pretty sure it's not an either-or distinction. Good diplomacy without military strength is largely ignored in world politics. Military strength without good diplomacy bears a strong resemblance to the Bush administration's first term. So, I voted for military strength, because it's more of a necessary condition -- but I wasn't happy about it.

Hat tip: Matthew Yglesias.

UPDATE: Headline Junky alerts me to this ABC Sunni-Shiite quiz. Readers concerned about whether I know what the hell I'm talking about whenever I blog about the Middle East may or may not be relieved that I aced it.

posted by Dan at 02:38 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (4)

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Republican Hillary Clinton

Is it just me, or does Rudy Giuliani seem to inspire antagonism levels on a par with Hillary Clinton? From this Kevin Drum post alone, I find Matthew Yglesias having all kinds of fun with Rudy:

One quirk of American politics is that leading presidential candidates normally go into the campaign with little if any foreign policy experience. Most, however, at least recognize this as a problem and try to study up as part of the campaign effort. Giuliani comes to us as a rare duck -- a candidate whose signature issue is national security but who doesn't know anything about national security, and therefore won't study. Result: Nonsense, combined with temperamental authoritarianism.
Then there's David Freddoso in the National Review:
If Giuliani’s stances on babies, guns, and gay marriage do not sink him in the Republican primaries, he will probably suffer in a general election campaign from the fact that there is so much evidence in the public record that he is a total jerk....

Those who lived in New York prior to 9/11, myself included, remember an excellent mayor who was obsessed with getting credit for everything and making his critics pay; an effective mayor who called rivals “jerks” and “morons;” a decisive mayor who knowingly set out to drag his 14- and 10-year-old children through one of the nastiest and most publicized divorces in history. They remember a ruthless mayor who responded to the accidental police shooting of Patrick Dorismond in 2000 not just by defending the cops (as a good mayor must), but by illegally releasing the victim’s sealed juvenile rap sheet and declaring on television that the deceased “isn’t an altar boy.”

The scorned Bratton would later tell The New York Observer, “He’s an a**hole, but a successful a**hole.” And perhaps Rudy was such a great mayor precisely because he is such a jerk. Maybe a hard, mean man was what New York City needed after decades of feel-good, politically correct thinking had made the place unlivable and nearly ungovernable. “If you tell me off, I tell you off — that’s my personality,” Rudy once said on his weekly radio show. But as successful as this approach was in New York, it’s hard for a known a**hole to win a presidential election.

Kevin concludes, "At this rate, I give him a couple of months before he implodes completely."

It seems hard to dispue any of this, but then I look at the rest of the GOP field, and I'm not sure any of it matters. Romney, McCain, the rest of the Gilligan's Island castaways.... they all have whopping flaws too.

Question to readers: is Rudy Giuliani uniquely vulnerable?

posted by Dan at 07:52 PM | Comments (23) | Trackbacks (0)

In honor of baseball's Hamlet....

As pitchers and catchers migrate south, baseball watchers are obsessing about where Roger Clemens will pitch this year. It therefore seems fitting to remember the last time I saw Roger Clemens in a Red Sox uniform:

This might also have been the last time I agreed with Keith Olbermann

posted by Dan at 07:31 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Where is your liberaltarian God now?

That's the question I ask Brink Lindsey in my latest duet. Other topics covered include whether Barack Obama is the next Ross Perot, the inequality debate, the globalization of populism, and why trade talks are stalled.

Also, my wife makes a cameo appearance, and I provide a sneak preview of my next book, All Politics Is Global.

posted by Dan at 12:25 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Your amusing quote of the day
For Maoists, they’re very light-hearted.
From a comment made at this Crooked Timber post by Scott McLemee.

posted by Dan at 11:38 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

So how's the global war on terror going?
The Center for American Progress, in concert with Foreign Policy magazine, has released survey results of "more than 100 of America's top foreign-policy hands" to see how they think the administration's anti-terrorism efforts are going. [Um... doesn't "they" includes "you"?--ed. Yeah, but I can't call myself a "top foreign-policy hand" without breaking into spontaneous giggles, so I think that just demonstrates a lack of bench strength in American foreign policy circles.]

As that top graph suggests, most of us aren't sanguine. Click here for the whole report. Or, if that whole reading thing bugs you, here is a YouTube video of CAP's Caroline Wadhams explaining it for you:

[Yeah, but the CAP is a left-wing think tank!!--ed. If you click here and scroll down to "Survey Particpants", you can find a complete list of those surveyed -- judge for yourself whether the list is skewed.]

posted by Dan at 10:23 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Must... resist.... looking back through rose-colored glasses

My son is very excited, because today is his very first snow day from school. I'm happy for him -- all children deserve at least one snow day a year. There's something much more enjoyable about an unplanned day of leisure (for the children -- this sort of thing is unbelievably inconvenient for the parents) than the expected weekend days.

That said, I can't shake the feeling, looking outside my window, that Massachusetts has gone unbelievably soft. There is, as I type this, less than an inch and a half of accumulation outside. Why, when I was a lad.... oh, hell, you know how the rest of that sentence will go.

This leads to an interesting question -- beyond the natural, likely erroneous belief that we were just physically hardier back in the day, what could explain this perception that schools call snow days with less weather now than they used to?

1) Media hype. Last night the spouse turned on the local news to catch a weather forecast, and the anchors looked positively orgiastic in their glee about the impending storm. The growth and sophistication of media marketing is greater now than a decade ago, and this affects expectations about the future;

2) Liability laws. School districts are more risk-averse because of the possible liability that comes with not calling a snow day and then having a bus get into an accident.

3) Traffic congestion. The problem isn't the weather, it's the weather + an increased number of cars on the road.

4) When it's been a mild winter, everyone jumps at the first appreciable snowfall.

Parents, provide your guesses here.

posted by Dan at 08:48 AM | Comments (19) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

It's been an interesting news cycle for nonproliferation wonks

So, on the one hand, there appears to be a tentative deal with North Korea on its nuclear weapons program. The word "tentative" is stressed because, no matter what the administration claims, this deal looks awfully similar to the1994 Agreed Framework, and that was never fully implemented. Looking at the text, there is an awful lot that still needs to be filled in.

The Washington Post's Edward Cody ably summrizes the political roadblocks to seeing this deal be completed:

As part of the deal, the United States also agreed to help provide part of the fuel oil, along with China, South Korea and Russia, according to Hill. That meant President Bush will be obliged to seek Congressional approval, a possibly difficult exercise given the level of hostility toward North Korea among many U.S. lawmakers and within the administration itself.

Mindful of past disappointments, including the 1994 Agreed Framework that included similar provisions but was later voided by the Bush administration, Wu called on all six nations participating in the talks to scrupulously "carry out their commitments."

To make sure, North Korea also expressed willingness to accept the return of nuclear inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency to monitor what is going on at the reactor and other nuclear installations. But it said their work would be subject to agreement between the North Korean government and the U.N. nuclear agency, suggesting North Korea could exercise a veto power over their activities.

The accord, described as "initial actions," left for further negotiations the question of what to do with North Korea's declared nuclear weapons, estimated at a half-dozen bombs, and a stockpile of perhaps 50 kilograms of plutonium. In addition, it postponed discussions on a separate highly enriched uranium program that the Bush administration contends -- but North Korea denies -- was undertaken in secret as a second source of nuclear weapons fuel.

As a result, the agreement seemed likely to face opposition in Washington by conservatives who remain unconvinced that the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Il, ever intends to relinquish his nuclear weapons. Similarly, the Bush administration faces criticism from Democrats who charge that the administration, after breaking away from the Agreed Framework in 2002, ended up five years later with a roughly similar accord.

There is one big difference between 1994 and 2007, however -- the Democrats now control both houses of Congress. I'm not sure, therefore, whether conservative opposition will be as big of a problem as it was before. Of course, it's possible that the 8% of the Democratic caiucus in the Senate now running for president to use the deal as an opportunity for foreign policy posturing.

Meanwhile, according to the FT's Daniel Dombey and Fidelius Schmid, the European Union has come to a sobering conclusion about Iran:

Iran will be able to develop enough weapons-grade material for a nuclear bomb and there is little that can be done to prevent it, an internal European Union document has concluded.

In an admission of the international community’s failure to hold back Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the document – compiled by the staff of Javier Solana, EU foreign policy chief – says the atomic programme has been delayed only by technical limitations rather than diplomatic pressure. “Attempts to engage the Iranian administration in a negotiating process have not so far succeeded,” it states.

The downbeat conclusions of the “reflection paper” – seen by the Financial Times – are certain to be seized on by advocates of military action, who fear that Iran will be able to produce enough fissile material for a bomb over the next two to three years. Tehran insists its purposes are purely peaceful.

“At some stage we must expect that Iran will acquire the capacity to enrich uranium on the scale required for a weapons programme,” says the paper, dated February 7 and circulated to the EU’s 27 national governments ahead of a foreign ministers meeting yesterday.

“In practice . . . the Iranians have pursued their programme at their own pace, the limiting factor being technical difficulties rather than resolutions by the UN or the International Atomic Energy Agency.

“The problems with Iran will not be resolved through economic sanctions alone.”....

The EU document is embarrassing for advocates of negotiations with Iran, since last year it was Mr Solana and his staff who spearheaded talks with Tehran on behalf of both the EU and the permanent members of the UN Security Council.

The paper adds that Tehran’s rejection of the offer put forward by Mr Solana “makes it difficult to believe that, at least in the short run, [Iran] would be ready to establish the conditions for the resumption of negotiations”.

UPDATE: God bless the FT, they've made the full text of the EU paper available online.

Meanwhile, The National Interest online has an informative interview with Graham Allison on the contours of the DPRK deal. One excerpt:

This is a significant step for the Bush Administration into the reality zone, a strong departure from its previous failed approach and a good first step. So that’s the good news. The bad news is that this is four years, eight bombs’ worth of plutonium and one nuclear test after the Bush Administration departed from this point that it has inherited essentially from the Clinton Administration....

North Korean words and commitments are of limited value and so most of what’s to be delivered here in terms of non-proliferation remain to be negotiated and if history is any guide, it’s gonna be a long path from where we now stand to the actual elimination of all North Korean nuclear-weapons material and nuclear weapons.

Later on in the interview, he agrees with John Bolton... really, he does.

ANOTHER UPDATE: The International-Herald Tribune's Jim Yardley has some of the play-by-play that led to the DPRK deal.

On a Friday night, three days before Christmas, the tortuous three-year diplomatic effort to end North Korea's nuclear weapons program finally seemed dead. Two months earlier, the country had conducted its first nuclear weapons test. Five days of talks in Beijing had just ended in failure and acrimony.

But that evening, the American team sent a messenger to the gated North Korean Embassy located near Beijing's historic Ritan Park. Would the North be interested in a private, bilateral meeting outside Beijing? A few days later, the North agreed and chose a location: Berlin.

The Berlin meeting last month would be critical in resuscitating the talks and in shaping the agreement reached Tuesday in Beijing, according to a senior U.S. official familiar with the American negotiating team....

The American official said that at one point on Monday, Hill visited the North Koreans and mentioned a ceramic Korean cup that he keeps on his desk. He cited a Korean proverb about how pouring too much liquid into the cup causes it to all drain out, leaving nothing.

The message — do not get too greedy — was not lost on North Korea, but negotiations continued into early Tuesday morning.

posted by Dan at 08:39 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Bring back the siesta!!

A little more than a year ago I mourned the slow disappearance of the siesta from Spain:

[I]t seems hard to dispute the notion that the siesta is a thoroughly inefficient way of inserting break times into the working day. So the economist in me accepts this as wise policy.

At the same time, the Burkean conservative in me mourns a loss. The siesta is such a lovely conceit for lazy people like myself -- who have a strong belief in the restorative and stimulating powers of the long lunch -- that it will be hard to imagine its disappearance from its country of origin.

It turns out there may be another negative externality associated with eliminating the siesta -- according to Stephen Smith of the Boston Globe:
In a study released yesterday, researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health and in Athens reported that Greeks who took regular 30-minute siestas were 37 percent less likely to die of heart disease over a six-year period than those who never napped. The scientists tracked more than 23,000 adults, finding that the benefits of napping were most pronounced for working men.

Researchers have long recognized that Mediterranean adults die of heart disease at a rate lower than Americans and Northern Europeans. Diets rich in olive oil and other heart-healthy foods have received some of the credit, but scientists have been intrigued by the potential role of napping.

The study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, concluded that napping was more likely than diet or physical activity to lower the incidence of heart attacks and other life-ending heart ailments.

Still, the authors cautioned that further research is needed to confirm their findings.

Well, confirm them, for Pete's sake!

posted by Dan at 08:28 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, February 12, 2007

Your Rorschach Middle East story of the week

USA Today's Barbara Slavin reports on how Iran's perceived rise is causing some unusual movements Arab-Israeli relations:

Arab states, led by Saudi Arabia, are making some of their most public overtures ever to Israel and American Jews in an effort to undercut Iran's growing influence, contain violence in Iraq and Lebanon and push for a Palestinian solution.

The high-profile gestures coincide with Saudi Arabia's lead role last week in brokering a deal for a coalition Palestinian government.

Last month, Prince Turki al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia's departing ambassador to the United States, attended a Washington reception sponsored by American Jewish organizations. The event honored a State Department diplomat appointed to combat anti-Semitism.

The appearance of a Saudi diplomat is "unprecedented," said William Daroff, Washington office director for the United Jewish Communities, which organized the reception.

Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have stepped up contacts with Israel and pro-Israel Jewish groups in the USA. The outreach has the Bush administration's blessing: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said six Gulf states and Egypt, Jordan and Israel are a new alignment of moderates to oppose extremists backed by Iran and Syria. She has said an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal would weaken militants such as Hamas and Hezbollah.

Contacts have intensified as part of a strategy meant to undercut extremists and build momentum for a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians, said Jamal Kashoggi, an aide to Saudi Prince Turki.

Judith Kipper, a Middle East expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, said, "What really concerns pro-U.S. Arab states is that Iran is setting the political agenda in the region."

Saudi and Gulf Arab contacts with Israelis and American Jews go back more than a decade but have never been so public.

Slavin's story comes out the same day Anthony Shadid analyzes rising Sunni-Shia tensions in the Washington Post (though do check out this Abu Arrdvark post to see whether the Sunni-Shia divide has been exaggerated.)

OK, time for your Rorschach test on international relations. What's the best way to interpret Slavin's story?

A) An exaggeration of a meaningless PR offensive;

B) The ultimate vindication of realism -- if the Saudis and Israelis choose to balance against a rising Iran, then perhaps the distribution of power is really the Most Important Thing in world politics;

C) The ultimate refutation of realism. After all, many realists assert that Israel is far more powerful than Iran -- so why are the Saudis bandwagoning rather than balancing?

D) Strong support for "The Israel Lobby" hypothesis -- the Saudis are cutting through the democratic rigamarole and negotiating with the cabal that runs U.S. foreign policy

E) Evidence to reject "The Israel Lobby" argument -- if American support for Israel is ostensibly undercutting America's standing in the Middle East, why the reaching out to Jews and Israelis?

F) Forget birth pangs, the new Middle East is here!! The Saudis are taking constructive steps to solve the Israeli/Palestinian crisis, the Arabian peninsula seems to be in synch with moderate Arab regimes to thwart the Shia crescent.

G) Meet the new Middle East -- same as the old Middle East. I wonder if it bothers the administration that the Shia crescent states, as a group, can make a greater claim for democratic representativeness than the Sunni Middle East (admittedly, not a high threshhold).

H) The U.S. has eliminated moral hazard in the Middle East. By getting bogged down in Iraq, the American appetite for further Middle East adventurism has waned considerably. This actually forces the states in the region to make their own accommodations.

posted by Dan at 02:43 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

I don't think this headline means what I think it means

From the front page of

Kevin Bacon, Will Smith make celeb love work.
Clearly, I've been infiltrated by the enemy at home.

posted by Dan at 11:06 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Ségolčne Royal's democratic socialism

When the International Herald-Tribune characterizes an economic program as "far-left," it's time to click over and see what all the fuss is about:

Ségolčne Royal, the presidential candidate of the Socialist Party, unveiled a long- awaited platform on Sunday, veering sharply to the left on economic policy while also stressing discipline and "traditional values."

Ten weeks before the election, Royal is hoping to reverse a slide in popularity that has seen her lose ground to her main challenger, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy.

In a two-hour speech to about 10,000 supporters north of Paris, she laid out a 100-proposal platform, pledging to raise pensions, to increase the minimum wage to €1,500, or about $2,000, a month and to guarantee a job or further training for every youth within six months of graduating from university.

She also said that randomly selected citizens' juries would watch over government policy and that juvenile delinquents could be placed in educational camps run by the military.

As if to preempt her opponents on the right, she stressed throughout her speech that her ideas had been nourished in 6,000 debates with citizens throughout France, a method she has called "participative democracy."....

A substantial part of her speech was dedicated to social and economic issues, on which Royal took a hard-left line.

"The unfettered rein of financial profit is intolerable for the general interest," she said. "You told me simple truths. You told me you wanted fewer income inequalities. You told me you wanted to tax capital more than labor. We will do that reform."

Royal said she would tax companies in relation to what share of their profits is reinvested in equipment and jobs, and what portion is paid to shareholders. She also promised to abolish a flexible work contract for small companies and hold a national conference in June on how to increase salaries.

Indeed, she seemed to have something to offer to most groups in society without saying how much the combined measures would cost: Under her presidency, she said, young women would get free contraception, all young people would get access to a €10,000 interest- free loan and the handicapped would see their benefits rise.

At this time, there is no official confirmation that Royal has also promised free ponies to all French children who asked for them.

I have enough of a soft spot for the old Athenian council of 500 to hope that the citizen jury idea could actually work. Beyond that, if Royal wins and actually tries to implement this, it will be the fiscal equivalent of Francois Mitterand's "Keynesianism in One Country" -- with the same results of massive capital flight, recession, and policy retrenchment.

UPDATE: Over at U.S. News and World Report,James Pethokoukis blogs about another prominent politician who's big into taxing profits.

posted by Dan at 09:25 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, February 11, 2007

So that's how a competent Secretary of Defense acts

Yesterday Russian President Vladimir Putin went to town on the United States at the Munich Conference on Security Policy, according to the Financial Times:

Vladimir Putin threw down the gauntlet to the west in a confrontational speech on Saturday, attacking what he called “illegal” US unilateral military action and arguing it had made the world more dangerous.

In a speech that stunned most of the audience at an annual security conference held in Munich, Mr Putin also railed against US plans to build anti-missile defences in Europe, the expansion of Nato to include countries that were formerly part of the Soviet Union, and a host of other western policies.

Indeed, Putin says the following in his speech:
Unilateral and frequently illegitimate actions have not resolved any problems. Moreover, they have caused new human tragedies and created new centres of tension. Judge for yourselves: wars as well as local and regional conflicts have not diminished.
I wonder if any of Putin's advisors have the stones to tell him that, actually, he's wrong.

That's not what this post is about, however. No, this post is about how the Secretary of Defense responded to Putin's rhetorical blast. Here's the opening of Bob Gates's speech:

[A]s an old Cold Warrior, one of yesterday’s speeches almost filled me with nostalgia for a less complex time. Almost.

Many of you have backgrounds in diplomacy or politics. I have, like your second speaker yesterday, a starkly different background - a career in the spy business. And, I guess, old spies have a habit of blunt speaking.

However, I have been to re-education camp, spending four and half years as a university president and dealing with faculty. And, as more than a few university presidents have learned in recent years, when it comes to faculty it is either “be nice“ or “be gone.“

The real world we inhabit is a different and much more complex world than that of 20 or 30 years ago. We all face many common problems and challenges that must be addressed in partnership with other countries, including Russia.

For this reason, I have this week accepted the invitation of both President Putin and Minister of Defense Ivanov to visit Russia. One Cold War was quite enough.

Gates' deft deflection of Putin's charges seem to be going down well in the press.

It's been so long since an American official reacted so correctly to empty bluster that I'd almost forgotten how it should be done.

UPDATE: In Slate, Phil Carter finds other elements to praise in Gates.

posted by Dan at 11:09 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (5)