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December 20, 2004

Mea culpa

For those of you (poor, misbegotten souls) waiting for me to opine on the issues of the day before forming your own views, I apologize for the light blogging of late. What with the holidays, the elections won, and a lack of hard news, it's been hard to summon up the mojo to write. However, here is a quick roundup of what's going on and what I think about it.

  • Delaying Iraqi elections would be a terrible idea. Of course, it's hard to hold elections during a period of civil unrest. But what the editorial board of the NYT (and its enablers at the UN) don't seem to grasp is that delaying the elections is the primary strategic goal of Zarqawi and the Sunni/Baathist resistance in Iraq. Handing them a huge tactical and propaganda victory by postponing the elections would only re-invigorate their flagging insurgency and lead to further senseless violence. Thankfully, our President understands this, and will remain steadfast.

  • Kerik -- yawn. Who cares? The journos who are saying that his appointment demonstrates weakness in the administration's vetting procedures (which, of course, it does) or are playing up the Giuliani/Bush tensions, are merely trying to find something to write about. Personally, I'd thought that the major challenges facing the new Secretary of Homeland Security were primarily bureaucratic and managerial. While Kerik may have been a good cop and had demonstrated his ability to lead and inspire law enforcement types, that is perhaps only 30% of the job. The bigger issue may well be trying to knit together the crazy-quilt patchwork of formerly independent agencies into an effective anti-terrorism system. I'm not sure that this would have been Kerik's strong suit.

  • Social Security reform: essential, and I think we are making progress. My prediction is that the final resolution will involve optional private accounts (heavily regulated as to permitted investments, eligible managers, etc.) for younger workers, an increase in wage ceilings for employment tax payments (aka a tax on the rich), explicit federal guarantees of the "transition costs" to fill the gap between current liabilities and reduced future contributions to the old-style (and mis-named) "pay as you go" system, a safety net of guaranteed minimum benefit levels, some tinkering with the cost of living adjustment formulas to de-link them from wages and limit them to CPI changes, and assurances that benefit levels from current and future retirees under the present system will not be reduced.
Finally, my prediction for next year's big story will be domestic unrest in Saudi Arabia. As Peter Brookes wrote today in his syndicated column (as opposed to his twice-weekly NYT gig) Osama bin Laden and his terror-loving pals are going to make a tactical retreat from their goal of restoring the Caliphate in light of their post-9/11 reverses. Like the Soviet era revolutionaries in the 1920s, Al Queda is going to focus on creating an Islamic redoubt in one country -- Saudi Arabia -- rather than spread their limited resources on global jihad. While this is going to bad for oil prices in the short term, long term this is good news since it brings the fight back to its roots in twisted Wahabbi theology.

Merry Christmas, y'all.

December 20, 2004 at 12:17 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 14, 2004

Might be worth a trip to DC...

I have to go see this movie. In fact, the whole Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center sounds very, very cool.

December 14, 2004 at 10:02 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 13, 2004

This is just too Rich...

According to an article by Niles Lathem in today's NY Post, unnamed law enforcement sources say that pardoned billionaire oil trader Marc Rich is hip deep in the UN Oil for Food scandal. Evidently, he played a central role in helping recipients of Saddam's oil vouchers to find traders and importers who could handle the transportation and sale of the oil.

WASHINGTON — Billionaire Marc Rich has emerged as a central figure in the U.N. oil-for-food scandal and is under investigation for brokering deals in which scores of international politicians and businessmen cashed in on sweetheart oil deals with Saddam Hussein, The Post has learned.

Rich, the fugitive Swiss-based commodities trader who received a controversial pardon from President Bill Clinton in January 2001, is a primary target of criminal probes under way in the U.S. attorney's office in New York and by Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, sources said.

"We think he was a major player in this — a central figure," a senior law-enforcement official told The Post.

Investigators are looking into a series of deals that took place in the months after his pardon from Clinton. If criminal wrongdoing is established in these deals, he could be subject to prosecution.

December 13, 2004 at 09:53 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 12, 2004

Is Syria pulling out of Lebanon?

If true, this is another example of good news out of the middle east. (For those of you who have not been paying attention, there are more Arab elections where the outcome has not been pre-determined scheduled to happen in the next month than have happened in the past twenty years.) According to the Israeli newspaper Maariv International, plans are being finalized for a total Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon:

Damascus and Beirut have begun discreet negotiation over a full scale Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon, in accordance with UN resolutions.

Western intelligence sources report that the Syrian and Lebanese general staffs have begun putting a plan together for the withdrawal of all 13,000 Syrian troops from Lebanon within six months.

Last month, after the US and France threatened UN sanctions over the matter, Syrian foreign minister Farouk a’ Shara informed his US counterpart Colin Powell of Damascus’s willingness to leave Lebanon. Initially Syria tried to negotiate an agreement which would allow it to keep 3,00 troops in Lebanon, to operate and guard its four radar stations at Mt. Barukh and Mt. Sanin in central Lebanon, one at the Dahar al Baidar key point commanding the Beirut-Damascus highway and the fourth at Bsharri in the north.

However after it became clear that the US was not in a mood to give Damascus any freebies, President Assad agreed to a total withdrawal from Lebanon.

Both the US and France have made it clear to Damascus, via UN envoy Terje Roed-Larsen that they will not tolerate in Syrian meddling by proxy in Lebanese affairs. In a recent three hour meeting with Assad, Larsen told Assad that the for both the US and France, a clean and free election in Lebanon was a sine qua non, and that any attempt by Syria to subvert the electoral process in any way, via gerrymandering or coercion would bring the wrath of Washington and Paris on his head.

December 12, 2004 at 03:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 11, 2004

Diversity? We don't need no stinkin' diversity!

Professor Bainbridge takes Jonathan Chait to task for his lame explanation of why left wingers dominate most university faculties. Not to spoil it for you, but Chait seems to argue that Republicans are either too greedy or too stupid to pursue academic careers. (Next they'll be calling conservatives too "lazy and shiftless" to put up with the rigors of academia.)

December 11, 2004 at 12:59 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 10, 2004

Obituary of the Week: 'Beverly Hillbillies' Singer Jerry Scoggins

From the Reuters obit of the Country and Western singer Jerry Scoggins who died at age 93 in LA and was best known for recording the theme song for the "Beverly Hillbillies":

Come 'n listen to my story 'bout a man named Jed Poor Mountaineer barely kept his family fed An' then one day, he was shooting at some food, An' up through the ground come a bubblin' crude. Oil that is! Black gold! Texas tea!
According to Scoggins' daughter, he loved that song so much that he sang it every day for years, including to her and her friends when they came home from school.

December 10, 2004 at 10:26 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 09, 2004

The Last Bastion of Unrepentent Liberalism

I have been slacking off in the blogging department as of late. As a result of this slothful inertia, I failed to write about yesterday's NY Sun OpEd page, which was devoted to the theme of liberal bias in academia. It was worth reading. Here are the highlights:


I also forgot to mention this Lexington column from last week's Economist decrying the lack of political diversity on US campuses. The title of the piece? "America's one-party state: If you loathe political debate, join the faculty of an American university."

December 9, 2004 at 03:56 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Everybody's a Critic: Dimebag Darrell RIP

Some people just really don't like heavy metal.

December 9, 2004 at 09:24 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 07, 2004

Common Sense from an Uncommon Source

I don't often find much worth reading in the left-wing weekly The New Republic, but this week's issue has two articles that justified the cost of my subscription.

First, Lawrence Kaplan has an excellent essay on reforming the Foreign Service and the challenge facing new SecState Condoleeza Rice.

Kaplan makes the point that the Foreign Service (the career diplomats who dominate the Department of State) have long been out-of-control; resenting and resisting political control over their agency. He cites a 1966 study requested by Democratic Secretary of State Dean Rusk conducted by Yale professor Chris Argyris as well as a bi-partisan 2001 review by the U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century (aka the Hart-Rudman Commission).

The need for restoring discipline in the DoS is obvious and long overdue. The Department, contrary to what some pundits have been arguing in recent weeks, should not consider itself as part of a "loyal opposition" to the Administration that is entitled to independent opinions on matters of policy to act as a counter-weight to elected leaders. Rather, it is an instrument of Administration policy, which should effectively represent the government's views to foreign governments (and visa versa). Like military officers, career foreign service officers serve to implement the decisions of their elected civilian leaders. Unfortunately, too many US diplomats seem to have forgotten this essential truth.

Second, Editor Peter Beinart has a superb analysis of the presidential election results and their implications for the Democratic party. Hell, if Democrats were to take to heart Beinart's recommendation to return to the "hard", anti-totalitarianism liberal traditions of Truman or JFK, I might even consider voting for one again.


Beinart's essay has been boiled down for an OpEd column in today's WaPo titled "Can the Democrats Fight? Cold War Lessons for Reclaiming Trust on National Security." I hope that the party leaders meeting this weekend in Orlando to hear from candidates for chairman of the Democratic Party have a chance to read it.

December 7, 2004 at 12:48 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 06, 2004

Pulitzer Alert: Hot on the Trail of LA's 'Killer King'

Yesterday's LAT featured the second installment of a five-part investigation of the problems at LA's troubled Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center. This inner city hospital was founded in the wake of the Watts riots in 1965, and has long been a symbol for LA's African American community. Unfortunately, it is also a profoundly dysfunctional institution that wastes prodigious amounts of money while offering low quality -- often life threatening -- health care to the community that it was meant to serve.

The first segment of the report, written by Tracy Weber, Charles Ornstein and Mitchell Landsberg and appropriately titled "Deadly errors and politics betray a hospital's promise," described some of the medical horror stories that have occurred at King; including the tragic case of a nine year old girl who was admitted with minor injuries after being struck by a car who died as result of shockingly incompetent medical care, or the 42 year-old woman who was given a blood transfusion with HIV infected blood because nobody bothered to check the test results. Unfortunately, these were hardly isolated incidents.

The second installment analyses King's finances, describing how they spend more per patient than any other public hospital in California, largely because of bad managment. They also humanize the story with specific examples like the $500k per year neurosurgeon who rarely does surgery but routinely files fraudulent time cards overstating his work hours, or the nurse who has had three on-the-job accidents in the last nine years (two involving falling out of a chair) that have cost the hospital $364k in payments for paid "sick leave" and medical expenses.

The articles are well-researched and written, with excellent use of graphics, pictures and web links to original documents. It is fortunate that the LAT has a reputation for being a liberal paper, because the "civil rights leaders" who have co-opted the King/Drew medical center are fond of charging racism whenever this beleaguered institution is criticised. I've only read the first two installments, but based on the story so far, it would appear that the only way to fix King would be to close it down, fire all the employees, and start over again with a new team. However, with powerful political patrons like the execrable congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), it is unlikely that anything will be done anytime soon. Meanwhile, if you ever need medical attention when in LA, do like the members of the LAPD do -- if they are shot or injured on the job they insist on being take to anyplace but "Killer King."

December 6, 2004 at 01:27 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack