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June 29, 2005

The Best Democracy Money Can Buy

Gateway Pundit reports on the felony convictions of five Democratic party officials for paying voters $10 each to vote for Democratic candidates in the 2004 elections. Only in East St. Louis, folks. (Or at least I hope so.)

(I'd always wondered what that election day "walking around money" was for. . . )

June 29, 2005 at 09:28 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Discovering the obvious

In today's NYT, Tom Friedman analyzes how Ireland was able to transform itself from the poorest country in Western Europe to one of the richest in less than a generation. How'd they do it? By lowering taxes, cutting government spending (except on education), and embracing globalization. Who'd a thunk it?

June 29, 2005 at 08:58 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 27, 2005

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

. . . Apple co-founder Steve Jobs' advice to Stanford's graduating class of 2005. It is an interesting speech and I learned a lot about Jobs' life that I had never heard before. Definitely worth reading.

June 27, 2005 at 10:29 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Iran's Elections: Give us that old-time religion?

Amir Taheri, the expatriate Iranian journalist, has an interesting column discussing the implications of last Friday's Iranian presidential election. His take on the election victory of the hard-line Mayor of Tehran, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, is that it was largely class-based, with Ahmedinejad (who's father was a blacksmith) soundly defeating the "mullah-cum-tycoon" Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani. Taheri believes that this election signals that Iran's "Supreme Guide," Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has decided to turn his back on the reform-oriented middle class and focus on the regime's political base of the poor and the radical Revolutionary Guard.

Taheri's description of Iran's new President is sobering:

Ahmedinejad describes himself as a "fundamentalist" (usuli), has no qualms about asserting that there can be no democracy in Islam, rejects free-market economics and insists on "religious duties" rather than human rights. This clarity will, in the medium term, help the people of Iran understand the choices involved. They will learn that they can't have an Islamist system together with the goodies that the modern world offers in both material and spiritual terms.

"We do not want Friday-night Muslims," Ahmedinejad says. "We want round-the-clock, seven-days-and-nights-a-week Muslims."

Unlike Khatami, who was trying to hoodwink the Europeans over the Iranian nuclear project, Ahmedinejad openly says Iran has such a program, is proud of it, and that no one has the right to question Iran's right to develop whatever weapons it wants.

Interestingly, Taheri believes that it may be a good thing that Iran is coming out of the closet, as it were, as a genuinely revolutionary state unwilling to accept the legitimacy of the current international order. Without a reformist face to present to the West talking about normalizing Iran's international relationships, it will be harder for the European appeasers to keep their heads in the sand about Iran's nuclear weapons program.

The BBC also some good coverage of the Iranian elections, including this bare bones biography of new President Ahmadinejad.

June 27, 2005 at 07:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 26, 2005

The Bastard Had It Coming. . . 

Vigilanteism is a dangerous thing and I am loathe to encourage it. But when a person is pushed too far, the urge to take matters into their own hands in search of justice can become overpowering.

Personally, I think this Spanish mother did the right thing:

A Spanish mother has taken revenge on the man who raped her 13-year-old daughter at knifepoint by dousing him in petrol and setting him alight. He died of his injuries in hospital on Friday.

Antonio Cosme Velasco Soriano, 69, had been sent to jail for nine years in 1998, but was let out on a three-day pass and returned to his home town of Benej├║zar, 30 miles south of Alicante, on the Costa Blanca.

While there, he passed his victim's mother in the street and allegedly taunted her about the attack. He is said to have called out "How's your daughter?", before heading into a crowded bar.

Shortly after, the woman walked into the bar, poured a bottle of petrol over Soriano and lit a match. She watched as the flames engulfed him, before walking out.

June 26, 2005 at 09:02 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 25, 2005

What do the People's Republic of China and the USA Have in Common?

. . . A very limited concept of private property rights, in the wake of Thursday's USSC decision in Kelo v. New London.

I read in this week's Economist the following description of the real property rights of Chinese farmers, which I found helpful in putting the Kelo decision in the proper perspective:

Peasants have renewable land-use contracts valid for 30 years, but they cannot sell them. And even if villagers have a theoretical say in the disposal of their land, in practice, villages are usually controlled by Communist Party representatives whose duty is to enforce higher-level orders. Village chiefs elected by the villagers themselves have little power to obstruct them.

The party's refusal to allow private land ownership has eased the takeover of rural land for industrial use, urban expansion or the construction of transport infrastructure. But it has also created vast opportunities for corruption. Rural officials often pocket much of the money paid by developers as compensation for the land-lorn peasants, or make great profits by taking over land at little or no cost and selling it at market prices. Efforts in recent years to reduce the tax burden on peasants have given local governments even more incentive to sell land to boost their revenue.

Unlike here in the US, the Chinese government does not have to resort to the courts and declarations of eminent domain to seize peasant land. Instead, developers who have been granted rights to the land (often corruptly) hire thugs to remove the existing tenants by force. In a recent incident described in the Economist story, the Washington Post (who's Beijing correspondent Philip Pan broke the story) reported that six villagers were killed and 100 others seriously injured resisting attempts to be pushed off their land by developers seeking to build a facility to store coal ash for a new power plant. The WaPo even obtained amateur video footage of the attack and posted it on their web site. (However, the link did not work for me this evening.)

I suppose our system is better, where you can have your property taken from you nice and politely in court, rather than by gangs of toughs carrying pipes and shotguns. But I can't help but feel a little less free than I did before Kelo. There is something un-American about not being able to tell a real estate developer or some large corporation that wants your land to go pound sand. All across this country there are monuments to these stubborn fools who refused to sell, only to see a high rise development or factory go up right beside their modest building. (My favorite is the building housing Smith & Wollensky's restaurant in NYC.) Unfortunately, these individualistic anachronisms don't have much of a future anymore.

And no, I don't have much faith in the willingness or ability of state and local politicians to resist efforts by well capitalized developers and large corporations to screw the little guy out of their land, cheap. I thought that was what the Constitution was for.

June 25, 2005 at 05:18 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 23, 2005

Snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victory

I watched excerpts from today's Senate hearings on the war in Iraq with a profound sense of disgust. Democratic Senators, led by Edward Kernnedy, were calling on SecDef Donald Rumsfeld to resign, because of the "gross errors and mistakes" that characterized his leadership of the war heretofore. Buoyed by recent poll results showing declining support among the US electorate for the war effort in Iraq, Democrats appear to be trying to make political hay out of the continuing insurgency in Iraq.

As Max Boot wrote in this morning's LAT, the insurgency appears to be suffering from tremendous difficulties. It has no broadly shared political objectives, no sanctuaries to organize and regroup, little popular support among the vast majority of the Iraqi people, and no popular leaders. Nonetheless, the defeatist elements among the American body politic appear to be more concerned about defeating Bush than they are about beating Al Queda and making the sacrifices of the thousands of US soldiers killed and wounded in Iraq worth something.

I am confident in the administration's willingness to lead in the face of hostile public opinion, rather than follow the winds of public sentiment. But were the Kennedys and the Deans to prevail, we would suffer the consequences for the next twenty years or more. Semper fi.

June 23, 2005 at 09:51 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

The Dictator Next Door

Yesterday's WaPo had an excellent editorial on the developing humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe. For those not following the situation, Robert Mugabe - Zimbabwe's recently "re-elected" tyrant -- has had his army and police drive several hundred thousand urban poor people out of their homes, which were then destroyed by bulldozers:

A SWARM of helmeted police, backed by paramilitaries toting AK-47s, descend on a poor urban neighborhood, demanding that residents get out of town. Families hurriedly gather their few possessions before the bulldozers demolish their homes. Many head for the countryside, although a fuel shortage makes travel difficult. Some end up sleeping on the streets or in overcrowded refugee camps, burning whatever they can to keep warm through frigid winter nights. Others huddle in churches packed with still more displaced people, all with similar stories.

This scene and hundreds like it have been playing out across Zimbabwe over the past month while outsiders pay scant attention. At least 200,000 people -- possibly as many as a million -- have been rendered homeless by President Robert Mugabe's "Operation Murambatsvina" ("drive out the rubbish"), which bears a disturbing resemblance to Pol Pot's brutal "ruralization" campaign in Cambodia three decades ago. Mr. Mugabe's long years of autocratic misrule have broken Zimbabwe's economy and produced chronic food shortages. Now he appears worried that the misery he has created could lead to an uprising. His bulldozing campaign seems intended to disperse the urban poor, who overwhelmingly favor the opposition. . . 

The Post editors go on to urge South African President Thabo Mbeki, the leader of the country with the most leverage over Zimbabwe, to use this influence to stop Mugabe's crimes against humanity.

The real tragedy of Mugabe's decades long mis-rule of his country is that the wounds are entirely self-inflicted. Zimbabwe is a country rich in natural and agricultural resources. Before Mugabe destroyed its economy, it was Africa's largest grain exporter and one of the richest countries in southern Africa. Now it faces famine (which is being used as a tool to literally starve groups opposed to his rule) and a slow descent into "failed state" status. The saying is that the people get the government they deserve, but nobody deserved this. It's a pity that nobody seems to care enough to do anything about it before it's too late.

June 23, 2005 at 06:18 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 22, 2005

Felons: The Latest Democratic Special Interest Group?

Today's NYT contained an editorial advocating that convicted felons be allowed to vote:

The laws that strip ex-offenders of the right to vote across the United States are the shame of the democratic world. Of an estimated five million Americans who were barred from voting in the last presidential election, a majority would have been able to vote if they had been citizens of countries like Britain, France, Germany or Australia. Many nations take the franchise so seriously that they arrange for people to cast ballots while being held in prison. In the United States, by contrast, inmates can vote only in two states, Maine and Vermont.

Call me cynical, but one wonders whether the NYT would be as concerned with the voting rights of felons if it were not widely believed that they skew overwhelmingly Democratic in their political orientation.

Personally, I am not in favor of making it easier for unmotivated, uninformed people to vote. Voting should be a privilege as well as a right. Perhaps, as Robert A. Heinlein argued in his 1959 novel Starship Troopers, voting rights should be earned by civic service in the military or other forms of public service. Maybe if convicted felons (not "ex-offenders") were to do something to repay society for their crimes, it might make sense to restore their full rights of citizenship. But allowing them to register to vote as they collect their personal belongings and the bus ticket home at the prison gate? I don't think so.

June 22, 2005 at 06:31 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 21, 2005

Our Society Condemned to Relive a Bill Murray Movie?

The philospoher George Santayana once famously observed that "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." If this observation is valid, polymath-cum-LAT-columnist David Gelernter thinks we are in trouble:

Not knowing history is worse than ignorance of math, literature or almost anything else. Ignorance of history is undermining Western society's ability to talk straight and think straight. Parents must attack the problem by teaching their own children the facts. Only fools would rely on the schools.

Read the whole thing. If you think Gelernter is exaggerating, I dare you to go visit the children's section of any public (or school) library and look through some of the books on the shelves. You will be amazed by what you see -- and don't see. Needless to say, history these days is a whole lot more (and less) than stories about the achievements of "dead white men."

June 21, 2005 at 09:22 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack