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  • WHAT MAKES A...

    WHAT MAKES A CONSERVATIVE? Fred Barnes writes about Bush 's favorite foreigners : The president's favorites don't have to be conservatives. Blair dislikes American economic policy. Merkel has urged that Guant�namo prison be closed. Rasmussen has worried aloud about abuse at Abu Ghraib prison and possible murders at Haditha in Iraq. But, an aide says, "the president is looking for people who see the world as he sees it." That means, at a minimum, they support his post-invasion policy in Iraq and regard the spread of democracy as important. Am I correct in reading these remarks about Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen as implying that not worrying about abuse and murder is actually constitutive of what Barnes thinks it means to be a conservative? By normal standards, after all, Rasmussen is a conservative. He leads Denmark's free market party and governs in coalition with the Conservative People's Party. His main economic policy agenda item has been tax cuts and he backed the...
  • CASH, INFLUENCE, AND...

    CASH, INFLUENCE, AND CONTROL. I don't have any special insight into the interrelationships between Syria and Iran on the one hand and Hamas and Hezbollah on the other, but I think it's worth saying that this notion out here that Syria and Iran actually control the latter two groups seems to lack a serious evidentiary basis. Undeniably, the two states give money and weapons to the two non-state actors. And, clearly, this affords Damascus and Teheran some degree of influence over Hamas and Hezbollah. But one needs to put this sort of relationship in perspective. The U.S. government gives money to Egypt, which gives us some influence over the government in Cairo. But we don't control Egypt in the sense of micromanaging Egyptian policy decisions. In principle, we could always tell Hosni Mubarak "do X or we'll cut off your funding." In practice, though, such threats need to be used rather sparingly, and there's always the possibility of Egypt viewing such a demand as a bluff and calling it...
  • THE OTHER MIDDLE...

    THE OTHER MIDDLE EAST MESS. In case Israel's attempts to level Lebanon had temporarily lifted your depression on all issues Iraqi-related, The New York Times reports that Sunni calls for American withdrawal have quieted as fears of mass slaughter at the hands of rampaging Shiites have deepened. Recently, Shiite militias have been conducting public executions of Sunnis in broad daylight, and Sunni areas have had to erect armed checkpoints to deter roving Shiite death squads. Consequently, groups who once wished us out post haste are rconsidering the decision, fearing our vacuum will embolden a virtual genocdie. In this context, those pockets of Baghdad still littered with Saddam Hussein supporters are rejoicing every time the Americans pass, using the loudspeakers to inform residents that the military rolling through is not Iraqi, and thus should not be shot at. Next thing you know they'll be giving us BFF lockets. --Ezra Klein
  • WHAT INFRASTRUCTURE WHERE?...

    WHAT INFRASTRUCTURE WHERE? It's worth noting that Israel's target choices are a bit trickier to evaluate than Matt lets on. While it's true that "they're not just attacking armed Hezbollah personnel; they're dropping bombs on offices in urban areas with all the attendant devastation that entails," it's not true that they're just hitting the Chase Western on the corner of Jihad St. and 14th. Most of the rockets are being launched from shell civilian and urban residences, and it's neither new nor unexpected that Hezbollah's infrastructure is tucked away in the most civilian-heavy portions of the country. As always, these groups like to ensure that any destruction of their property will force the maximum in collateral damages and thus do the most to turn public sentiment against the attackers. Savvy strategizing, to be sure, but rather ruthless. That said, it's rather hard to discern what Israel is actually attempting here. They seem to have rebuffed Tony Blair and Kofi Annan 's proposal...
  • WHAT'S THE MATTER...

    WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH GAZA. Among many other things, it's run by thugs, gangs, and militias who have no more concern for civilian Palestinians than they do for Israelis. The Washington Post makes that pretty clear in this story about the Israeli ground re-invasion of Gaza: Mariam el-Selgawi, a neighbor who fled her home with her eight children and elderly in-laws, said she knows why the Israelis are back. "Because of the rockets, everyone is launching rockets," from the agricultural areas inside the Gaza Strip over the border at Israeli towns, she said. "Days before, there was a group trying to shoot a rocket, and they were hit by a missile from a drone, and all of them died." "All the time I get in fights with them when they come. They know it will bring Israel back to the area," she complained of the Palestinians firing the projectiles. "The last time I said: 'The Israelis are going to come and kill us. Aren't you afraid you're going to make us orphans?' And one of them said: 'We...
  • WEEK TWO. I'm...

    WEEK TWO. I'm lacking in deep thoughts on the situation at the moment, but it occurs to me that folks defending recent Israeli attacks on Lebanon seem to me to be defending something that's happening in an alternate reality rather than the actual events on the ground. Repeating the mantra that Israel is aiming to crush Hezbollah doesn't change the fact that, in practice, this isn't what Israel is doing. For one thing, they're not just attacking armed Hezbollah personnel; they're dropping bombs on offices in urban areas with all the attendant devastation that entails. But more broadly, they're systematically targeting Lebanon's civilian infrastructure -- the airport, fuel depots, power plants, roads. The direct consequences of this have been a civilian death toll that's far higher than what Hezbollah's equally indefensible indiscriminate rocket attacks have done. Whatever the intent of all this is, the actual effect is going to be to kill a lot of people, make many more into refugees (...
  • THUMBSUCKERS BEWARE: NOVAK'S...

    THUMBSUCKERS BEWARE: NOVAK'S NAMING NAMES. Chicago Sun-Times columnist Robert Novak gave quite the unconvincing performance yesterday on � Meet the Press .� As Novak answered question after question from anchor Tim Russert about his role in the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson and the subsequent investigation by Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald , the Prince of Darkness (as he is known in these parts) proved himself more dottering than wily, contradicting himself, and giving weak and multiple explanations for why he gave up his sources to the special prosecutor. Novak's excuse? Well, the prosecutor already had their names. How's that for standing on principle? Novak also told Russert -- who himself appeared before Fitzgerald's CIA-leak grand jury -- that the name of his primary source has not yet been disclosed, though he did not dispute that it was former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage when Russert made that suggestion. "I�m not going to speculate on who the...
  • Monopolies Breed Corruption: Medical Supplies Industry

    The NYT had a good piece this morning reporting on how the medical supply industry pays top hospital executives thousands of dollars for advice on how to market their products. This is what you expect to happen when government patent monopolies allow these firms to sell their products at prices that are several hundred percent above the free market price. --Dean Baker
  • NPR Doesn't Believe in Markets

    NPR had a piece this morning warning of a shortage of agricultural workers in California. It reported that some crops may rot in the field, if farmers there can't get more workers by the end of the summer. Those of us who believe in markets would suggest that the farmers try raising wages. It is possible that some of the crops being farmed now in California would not be profitable, if farmers had to pay the wage necessary to attract workers in the current market (or if they had to pay the market price for water). In a market economy, that means that the farmers made bad choices on crop choices. That's unfortunate for the farmers, but that's how markets work. I would like to be able to get a lawyer for $20 an hour, but because we have a lawyer shortage, that is not an option. Maybe NPR will be able to find some folks who understand markets to help with their reporting on economic issues. --Dean Baker
  • Soviet Style History in the New York Times

    Back in the days of the Soviet Union, key facts were often excluded from historical accounts in order not to put the regime in a bad light. The NYT seems to be experimenting with this journalistic style. Today's article on the G-8 summit in St. Petersburg included a passing reference that described Russia's 7-year long economic recovery as "oil-fueled." Well, the rise in oil prices certainly has helped Russia over this period, but it is probably at least as important that Russia abandoned the economic straightjacket that had been imposed on it by the I.M.F. and then U.S. Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin (with help from his deputy Larry Summers). Until the summer of 1998, Russia had tied its currency to the dollar. In order to sustain this link, it was forced to raise interest rates to ever higher levels. The over-valued ruble, coupled with high interest rates, was strangling Russia's economy, bringing growth to a halt. The I.M.F. and the U.S. Treasury both insisted that Russia maintain...

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