April 15, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 8:18 PM


U.S.-Colombia Trade Pact Is Set (LAURA MECKLER, 4/15/12, WSJ)

U.S. officials said Sunday that a free-trade agreement with Colombia will go into effect on May 15, boosting the prospect of U.S. exports to this Andean nation.

Posted by orrinj at 11:15 AM


Thomas Jefferson: Southerner & Literary Man (Geoffrey Norman, VermontTiger)

We know Jefferson most emphatically, of course, as the writer of these words:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Most of us still feel chills upon reading those words.  They are truly immortal and if Jefferson had never written anything else ... by virtue of those words alone he would deserve a special place in history.

But ... one thing that has always struck me about that passage is that Jefferson didn't claim to have suddenly arrived at "these truths."  Or to have reached them through some laborious exercise of logic or have had them delivered to him carved into stone tablets.

Instead, they were "self evident."

Obvious, in short, to anyone with eyes to see and a brain to comprehend and beyond argument.  Now, once you have established something as self-evident, the question becomes, "Okay, then, what next?"

For Jefferson and the rest of the founders the immediate answer was - concluding favorably that messy business with the English king and his soldiers, writing a Constitution, building a nation, and other monumental challenges that still inspire us to marvel that they were willing even to take them on, much less to accomplish them with such transcendent, lasting success.

But that was action.  On the thought side of things, the issue was settled.  These truths were self-evident and ... case closed.

Jefferson, in fact, later defended himself when it was suggested that the Declaration was not an original work and that he had, to put it charitably, "borrowed" from the writings and speeches of others:

This was the object of the declaration of independence. Not to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of, not merely to say things which had never been said before, but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent, and to justify ourselves in the independent stand we are compelled to take. Neither aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, nor yet copied from any particular and previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the American mind, and to give to that expression the proper tone and spirit called for by the occasion. All of its authority rest, then, on the harmonizing sentiments of the day, whether expressed in conversation, in letters, printed essays, or in the elementary books of public right, as Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Sydney, &c.

So with the transcendent political question of the age now settled, Jefferson went on to other things.  Many, many things.  He was never - and this is crucial to why Jefferson is important to us, even today - was never a man totally consumed by the political.  He was the voice of what was arguably the only successful political revolution of the last three centuries but he never became that horror, the total political actor.
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Posted by orrinj at 10:51 AM


Growing Out of Poverty : A World Bank report makes clear how free markets--and U.S. leadership--have led millions to better lives. (GUY SORMAN, 9 April 2012, City Journal)

The most significant events often escape media attention. How many would know from reading their daily newspaper or watching television that we live in an unprecedented economic period when the number of people living in extreme poverty is declining fast? According to a just-published World Bank report, the percentage of people living on less than $1.25 per day--or its local equivalent--has plummeted from 52 percent of the global population in 1981 to 22 percent in 2008. The World Bank doesn't provide more recent data, but other indices show that the 2008 financial crisis did not interrupt this trend. For millions of households, crossing the symbolic $1.25 threshold means leaving destitution behind and moving toward a more dignified life--no trivial achievement. Moreover, this escape from poverty happens while the global population continues to grow. Doomsday prophets who warned about a ticking "population bomb" have not been vindicated, to say the least. Global warming messiahs, beware: human ingenuity proves able to cope with the predicaments of Mother Nature.

Thirty years ago, half of the planet lived in utter misery, and many commentators argued that poverty was destiny. At best, most pundits conceded that pockets of poverty could be alleviated through international aid. Only a handful of economists begged to differ: Theodor Schultz, Milton Friedman, and Peter Bauer were the mavericks advocating free-market policies for every nation as the way out of poverty. They have been proven right. China's economy has been growing since the mid-1980s--when Deng Xiaoping, its de facto leader, abandoned central planning, opened the borders for foreign investment, and promoted entrepreneurship at home.

In 1991, after the Soviet economic model proved bankrupt, India left behind its socialist ideology, opened its borders to foreign competition, and deregulated its economy. The economies of the two most populous countries on earth have grown without interruption ever since. Remember, too, that South Korea and Taiwan understood the virtues of free markets long before China or India discovered them. Many smaller countries, across a huge range of cultures, soon followed suit. African governments, too, converted to free-market economics with significant results-- Kenya, Uganda, Senegal, and Sierra Leone, among others. The International Monetary Fund, though useless as a lender, has proven beneficial in Africa by persuading local leaders to create independent central banks, which now manage reliable and stable currencies. The central banks, among other free-market institutions, have ignited economic growth in Africa, formerly ravaged by hyperinflation. The reconversion to monetary stability has also played a decisive role in rekindling Brazil's economy, which had been stalled in the 1970s by monetary follies.

Global growth, thus, is not a miracle, but the outcome of sound economic policies. This confirms what free-market economists have been writing since 1776, when Adam Smith published his Wealth of Nations: economic policies based on entrepreneurship, open borders, and competition, prove successful. Socialism, promoted throughout the twentieth century as a way to bridge the gap between poor and rich countries, has failed everywhere.
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Posted by orrinj at 8:08 AM


Why LBJ Should be Ranked Alongside Lincoln: Robert Caro, the esteemed biographer of Lyndon Baines Johnson, talks on the Shakespearean life of the 36th president (Ron Rosenbaum, May 2012, Smithsonian magazine)

In 2009 Caro told C-Span's Brian Lamb that he had completed the stateside research on Vietnam but before writing about it, "I want to go there and really get more of a feel for it on the ground." Meaning, to actually live there for a while, as he'd lived in LBJ's hardscrabble Texas Hill Country while writing the first volume, The Path to Power.

Caro still plans to live in Vietnam, he told me when I visited him in his Manhattan office recently. He's 76 now. There has been an average of ten years between the last three volumes' appearances. You do the math.

I'm pulling for him to complete the now 30-year marathon, and the guy who met me at his Manhattan office looked fit enough for the ordeal of his work, more like a harried assistant prof at Princeton, where he studied. He was in the midst of frantically finishing off his galleys and chapter notes and told me he just realized he hadn't eaten all day (it was 4 p.m.), offered me a banana--the only food in the office--and when I declined, I was relieved to see, ate it himself. The man is driven.

Those who have thought of Caro as one of LBJ's harshest critics will be surprised at the often unmediated awe he expresses in this new book: "In the lifetime of Lyndon Johnson," he writes of LBJ's first weeks as president, "this period stands out as different from the rest, as one of that life's finest moments, as a moment not only masterful, but in its way, heroic."

But how to reconcile this heroism with the deadly lurch into Vietnam? I have my suspicions as to what he's going to do, and you might too when you get to the final page of this book where he writes, after paying tribute to this heroic period, about the return to the dark side, "If he had held in check those forces [of his dark side] within him, had conquered himself, for a while, he wasn't going to be able to do it for long."

"Do you mean," I asked him, "that the very mastery of power which he'd used for civil rights gave him the hubris to feel he could conquer anything, even Vietnam?"

"I'll have to take a pass on that," Caro said. He won't reveal anything until he writes it.

"But do you have the last sentence written?" I asked. He's said in the past he always writes the last sentence of a book before starting it. This would be the last sentence of the entire work, now projected to be five volumes.

To that he answers "yes." He won't, of course, say what it is.

Will that last sentence reveal a coherence in the portrait that he will have painted of LBJ's profoundly divided soul, a division that makes him such a great and mystifying character? Worthy of Melville. Or Conrad. Or will the white whale slip away into the heart of darkness that is Vietnam?

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Posted by orrinj at 8:01 AM


Rogue nations on the ropes (National Post Editorial Board,  Apr 13, 2012)

For years, North Korea has been pursuing nuclear weapons, and the missiles to deliver them, as a means to shore up domestic legitimacy and intimidate other powers. The approach has succeeded to the extent it has helped North Korea extort Western food aid, thereby preventing total regime collapse. In the fullness of time, this week's events may be remembered as the beginning of the end of this extortionate strategy.

The Korean peninsula is not the only place where rogue power has suffered a setback. In Syria, the government of Bashar Assad has cleared away the most threatening pockets of rebel fighters. But in the process, he has turned himself into a regional pariah: In recent days, Syria has fired ordinance across both the Lebanese and Turkish borders, further alienating formerly sympathetic (or at least neutral) elements in both nations. Hamas, which once was headquartered in Damascus, has effectively taken sides with Syria's rebels. Even Hezbollah, a Shiite group that has worked closely with Syrian interests for many years, is under pressure to distance itself from Mr. Assad.

The Assad dynasty may totter on for months or even years. But it will survive in a climate of disgrace and bloodshed, having butchered thousands of Syrian citizens. All of the slogans emitted by Syria about the allegedly murderous perfidy of the hated Zionists now have redounded back against Mr. Assad's own government. As a regional actor, he is paralyzed -- and has dragged Hezbollah down with him. For the first time in historical memory, the attention of international human-rights groups in the Levant does not primarily involve Jews or Israelis in any way.

Iran's continuing effort to prop up Mr. Assad has guaranteed that Tehran, too, will be smeared with Syrian blood. Even before the Syrian uprising began last year, many Arabs feared Iranian hegemony. Now, that fear has turned into loathing. A few years ago, it was easy to predict that the "Arab street" would rise up in frenzied protest if the United States bombed Iran's nukes. These days, we suspect, a good many Arabs would openly welcome such an attack.

Just a few years ago, none of this was foreseeable.

Yeah, communist dictatorship and Arab dictatorships seemed to be working so well just a few years ago....
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Posted by orrinj at 7:55 AM


Electric cars, hybrids see record sales (Dee-Ann Durbin, April 14, 2012, AP)

Consumers bought a record 52,000 gas-electric hybrids and all-electric cars in March, up from 34,000 during the same month last year.

The two categories combined made up 3.64 percent of total U.S. sales, their highest monthly market share ever, according to Ward's AutoInfoBank. The previous high was 3.56 percent in July 2009, when the Cash for Clunkers program encouraged people to trade in old gas guzzlers for more fuel-efficient cars.

Posted by orrinj at 7:50 AM


Why Obama's World Bank Pick Is Proving So Controversial (Lant Pritchett April 11, 2012, New Republic)

[T]hroughout this time there has been another side to the development world: one that is less interested in national development and more interested in humane development. (I say "humane" development to distinguish from "human development," which is an integral component of national development.) These are the people, often supported by philanthropy, who step into the breach where national development has failed. These idealists and the organizations they run have helped to mitigate famines, pandemics, poverty, violence, and lawlessness in some of the poorest areas in the world.

Nearly everyone understands that humane development, while terrific and noble and important work, is not the same as national development. Famine relief is a holding action not an agricultural strategy. Refugee camps during periods of violence are needed, but they do not constitute a housing strategy. Earthquake re-building is not an infrastructure strategy. This is not to denigrate those efforts, which draw on the dedication of some of the most heroic people on the planet. But these people recognize that their humane work is palliative and the need for it shrinks when national development happens.

Which brings us back to the leadership of the World Bank. As a medical doctor who has devoted himself to mitigating the consequences of poverty in places like Haiti and Rwanda and the slums and highlands of Peru, Jim Young Kim is from the world of humane development. But the World Bank is fundamentally an organization devoted to national development, especially the economic component of that process. As a result, his appointment appears to be an intrusion by the world of humane development into one of the core institutions of national development. By contrast, the nominee backed by many African countries, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has been finance minister of Nigeria and a managing director of the World Bank. In other words, she is from the world of national development, rather than the world of humane development. What has shocked the development world is that President Obama did not seem to know the difference.

...we just assume Tim Geithner was trying to do his alma mater a favor by getting rid of the guy.

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Posted by orrinj at 7:45 AM

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 AM


George Washington named Britain's greatest ever foe (Jasper Copping, 14 Apr 2012, The Telegraph)

The American was voted the winner in a contest run by the National Army Museum to identify the country's most outstanding military opponent.

We're just lucky Lee was commander-in-chief instead of Longstreet.
Posted by orrinj at 7:18 AM


Le Grand Meaulnes revisited: Julian Barnes feared that in rereading Alain-Fournier's great novel, in his 60s, its youthful enchantment might be lost. Instead, he was captivated once more (Julian Barnes, 13 April 2012, Guardian)

There is no doubting the classic status of Alain-Fournier's Le Grand Meaulnes. A poll of French readers a dozen years ago placed it sixth of all 20th-century books, just behind Proust and Camus. Most French people read it at school; yet very few of them (according to my own private poll) ever reread it. This may stem from an understandable reluctance to revisit set texts; but more, perhaps, from a fear that the novel's magic might not work a second time around - as if, in adulthood, we know too much to fall under the its spell again. Yet this would be a mistake. What John Fowles called "the greatest novel of adolescence in European literature" can only ever be partly grasped by adolescents, because they don't yet know exactly what it is they are going to lose by growing up.

The British generally come to the book later than the French. I first read it even later than most - towards the end of my 30s. For a long time I'd been put off by the title (as I had with The Catcher in the Rye), by a paperback cover featuring a cute chunk of French chateau peeping out from idyllic woodland, and by the blurb, which would announce the story of a boy finding a mysteriously beautiful house then losing it, and finding a mysteriously beautiful girl then losing her. I imagined a sentimental tale of rural life, and wrongly assumed I was too old for all that stuff. More likely, I was still too young for it.

It's unforgettable.
Posted by orrinj at 6:58 AM


According to Page and Jacobs, Americans are conservative egalitarians who accept higher taxes and more government spending so as to give people equal opportunities (ANDREW GELMAN, APRIL 14, 2012, Monkey Cage)

As the saying goes, everybody wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die. Or, to put in political terms, people want lower taxes and more government services--with the gap filled, presumably, with a mixture of borrowed funds and savings realized by cutting government waste. In their new book "Class War? What Americans Really Think about Economic Inequality," Benjamin Page and Lawrence Jacobs put together survey data and make a convincing case that this cynical story is not a fair summary of public opinion in the United States. Actually, most Americans--Democrats and Republicans alike--support government intervention in health care, education, and jobs, and are willing to pay more in taxes for these benefits.

Page and Jacobs recognize that Americans are confused on some of these issues, for example not realizing that sales taxes cost lower-income people more, as a percentage of their earnings, while the personal income tax hits higher-income groups more, on average. The result is widespread confusion about what are the most effective ways to pay for government spending. People are also confused about how to cut the budget. To choose a well-known example that is not in the book at hand, Americans overwhelmingly support reducing the share of the federal budget that goes to foreign aid, but they also vastly overestimate the current share of the budget that goes to this purpose (average estimate of 15%, compared to an actual value of 0.3%).

Confusions on specific tax and budget items aside, Page and Jacobs are persuasive that majority public opinion is consistent with tax increases targeted to specific government programs aimed at bringing a basic standard of living and economic opportunity to all Americans. They discuss how survey respondents generally feel that such an expansion of the role of government is consistent with generally expressed free-market attitudes, a philosophy which they call "conservative egalitarianism."

It's simply easier for us to accept the idea of helping folks up front--with defined contribution programs--in ways that level our start in life, than the idea of leveling unequal outcomes later.