American Generosity

As a follow-up to the last post:
Americans are "stingy." This was the accusation hurled at the U.S. almost exactly one year ago today by Jan Egeland, United Nations Undersecretary for Humanitarian Affairs, immediately after the Asian tsunami disaster.

Even by U.N. standards, it was a particularly absurd anti-American slur--although it no doubt expresses the view of many foreign elites, who have come to believe that government is the only true source of goodness and charity. In the weeks and months that followed the tsunami, American citizens dug deep into their wallets, donating some $1.78 billion to the relief effort in Asia--dwarfing the contributions of other developed nations. Since October Americans have also contributed $78 million to assist the casualties of the Pakistan earthquake.

And lest there be any doubt that the Good Samaritan ethic is alive and well in America, consider the latest totals of charitable giving to help the New Orleans victims of Hurricane Katrina. The Center for Philanthropy at Indiana University announced last week that the total value of private donations in response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita has reached $3.12 billion, thus "setting what is believed to be a record for a single disaster and recovery effort." This tsunami of aid dollars was donated in just three and a half months.

More astounding still is that this Gulf Coast aid is only a little more than 1/100th of what Americans donate to charities and churches every year. The quarter trillion dollars a year that Americans provide to sustain the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, Catholic Charities, the American Cancer Society, their local churches, universities and such is greater than the entire GDP of most countries. Bill and Melinda Gates have given more dollars to fight AIDS and malaria in Africa than have many nations. And all of this comes on top of the $1 trillion in taxes that Americans pay each year to support government income-transfer and benefit programs.

This generosity in money and volunteerism has been a hallmark of American society since its earliest days. Some 150 years ago Alexis de Tocqueville lauded the impulse of Americans (in contrast to Europeans) to set up churches, schools, orphanages, hospitals, homeless shelters and other civic aid organizations throughout the land.

* * *

There is a mythology in the philanthropic world that Americans are motivated to give by the somewhat selfish pursuit of a tax deduction. But a surprisingly large percentage of charitable gifts aren't even itemized on tax forms. Moreover, the Tax Foundation has provided compelling evidence that over the past 50 years--as tax rates on the highest earners have fluctuated from a high of 90% to a low of 28%--American giving has hardly deviated from 2% of personal income. In the 1980s, as tax-rate reductions reduced the value of the charitable tax deduction by about half, the level of charitable giving nearly doubled. This suggests that charitable giving would continue to flourish under a flat-rate tax system with no deduction.

Holiday Warmth Everyday

To stretch the holiday spirit is this surprisingly positive story from the LA Times:
From Heckles to Halos
In dramatic contrast to the Vietnam War era, U.S. service personnel now are being treated to strangers' spontaneous bursts of gratitude.
By Faye Fiore, Times Staff Writer

There's a diner called Peggy Sue's about eight miles outside of Barstow, and as hard as Lt. Col. Kenneth Parks tries, he can never seem to pay his bill.

He orders a burger and a chocolate shake. But before he's finished, the waitress informs him the tab has been taken care of by yet another stranger who prefers to remain anonymous but who wants to do something for a soldier in uniform.

Many Americans have conflicted feelings about the Iraq war, but not about the warriors. The gestures of gratitude and generosity that occur with regularity at Peggy Sue's — across Interstate 15 from Ft. Irwin, a military desert training site — have become commonplace across the United States.

A spontaneous standing ovation for a group of soldiers at Los Angeles International Airport. Three $20 bills passed to a serviceman and his family in a grocery store in Georgia. A first-class seat given up to a servicewoman on a plane out of Chicago.

These bursts of goodwill have little to do with the holiday season or with political sentiments about the war. In contrast to the hostile stares that greeted many Vietnam veterans 40 years ago, today's soldiers are being treated as heroes throughout the year, in red states and blue, by peace activists and gung-ho supporters of the Iraq mission. The gestures are often spontaneous, affiliated with no association or cause, and credit is seldom claimed.

"It makes you feel great. It may just be a burger and a shake, but it's the thought behind it," said Parks, 41, who has served two tours in Iraq. Stationed at Ft. Jackson, S.C., he goes to Barstow regularly for training.

"My father went over to Vietnam three times, and he felt like he was not respected," Parks said. "Sometimes he felt like he was not even an American. But I see a big difference. I feel we're appreciated. An airport is about the best place for a soldier to be."

That was Sgt. Baldwin Yen's experience when he landed at LAX on Thanksgiving Day 2004. The pilot asked whether the other passengers would mind letting the soldiers on board exit first so they could get home to their families all the sooner. Not a passenger complained. Still in their combat fatigues, the soldiers were assembled in a corner of the airport when a bystander began to applaud. Soon, people were standing up and clapping in spontaneous tribute as far as Yen could see.

"I was kind of embarrassed," said Yen, 27, of West Hollywood. As an Army reservist who wore his uniform only infrequently until he was called to Iraq, he was unaccustomed to such attention. "I'm a slight, Asian man — 5-feet-9 and 140 pounds. People usually didn't think I looked like the military type. But then all these people were standing up. I was touched and surprised."

This is not a nation at war so much as it is an army at war. Service members and their families mostly bear the weight of the Iraq and Afghanistan missions alone — family separations, career dislocation and danger. Many soldiers are serving third tours, and there is no clear end in sight.

For civilians, the chance to directly touch a military member or family can be irresistible, so much so that people break the comfortable anonymity of public places — airports, hotels, supermarkets — to walk up and pat a soldier on the back.

"For probably the first time in American history, civilians are asked to make no sacrifices in a time of war. We don't have a draft. There is no gas rationing the way there was in World War II. There is no increase in taxes; we get tax cuts instead," said Charles Moskos, a leading military sociologist at Northwestern University. "These acts are small ways of showing some recognition, because we're not doing it any other way."

U.S. Army Capt. Alina Martinez was in a grocery store outside Ft. Benning, Ga., with her soldier husband and their 3-year-old daughter last spring. Noticing the haircut, the couple in line ahead asked whether Martinez's husband was in the military. He answered that they both were. The couple thanked them repeatedly for their service and left the store.

Soon afterward, the cashier handed Martinez $60 that the strangers had left for them.

"My husband and I were shocked. He ran out to the parking lot to thank them, but they were gone. The cashier said the couple specifically told her to wait until they had left. They didn't want us to know," Martinez said.

"It wasn't the money; it was the fact that this couple only spoke to us for a couple of minutes, and they were so generous and sincere," she said. "It brought tears to my eyes right in the store."

National sentiment has come a long way since the days when Randall Rigby came home from Vietnam and was instructed by commanding officers to change out of his uniform before going out in public to avoid ridicule. Now a retired Army lieutenant general, Rigby recalled the memory one recent day when he watched a large man give up several inches of legroom in first class to a small female soldier seated in coach.

Although the military takes pride in the family support network it has built, spouses still rely on the kindness of civilians during the strain of separation.

Kristy Cormier traveled to Florida from her home in Georgia so her friend, Jacqui Coffman, could run a 10K race. Both of their husbands were deployed in Iraq, and Cormier found herself in a hotel pool in charge of their combined five children, ranging in age from 7 months to 6 years.

The children began to play with a man splashing around with his twins; Cormier mentioned to him that they probably missed male contact, because their fathers were overseas.

The man "was very generous all morning, catching them in the water…. I must have looked crazy trying to manage them all, and he helped me. It happens often, people thanking us for our service. It's very humbling," said Cormier, 36.

Her husband, Maj. Daniel Cormier, 38, returned days ago from a year in Iraq. He made it home in time for his son's elementary school holiday pageant, where the teacher announced his presence, and the audience applauded.

Charitable and nonprofit organizations, in the tradition of the long-serving USO, have burgeoned since the beginning of the war. There are websites for collecting books to send to deployed troops (www.booksforsoldiers.com), and sites that offer "Take a Soldier to the Movies" packages that include popcorn, candy, a drink and a DVD (www.soldiertomovies.org). Another, (www.fisherhouse.org), tells how to donate air miles to the loved ones of injured soldiers.

Donations have grown steadily. Since it was founded nearly two years ago, the Hero Miles program has delivered nearly 175 million air miles, saving military families an estimated $6 million in travel costs, said Jim Weiskopf, spokesman for the Fisher House Foundation, a Maryland-based charity that supports service members and their families.

Similarly, more than 7,000 DVD packages have been distributed to troops abroad through Operation: Take a Soldier to the Movies. The website was created by Bernie and Kathy Hintzke of West Allis, Wis., a year ago to help support their son and his unit in Iraq.

But the American people have taken charity a step further, bypassing formal groups to help or comfort a soldier or a military family directly.

Celeste Zappala's son, Sgt. Sherwood Baker, 30, was killed in an explosion in Baghdad on April 26, 2004 — the first member of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard to die in combat since 1945.

She still receives packages in the mail from strangers: quilts, religious cards, American flag pins fashioned in the shape of teardrops.

"They come from random places, as far away as Kentucky," said Zappala, 58, who lives in Philadelphia and is an active peace advocate. "People who just see my name on the Internet somewhere will pick up the phone to call and tell me they are sorry for my loss. It's really very dear."

When encountering a soldier, people often give and then move on, without leaving so much as a name. In North Carolina, a stranger in a hunting cap instructed a waiter to bring Capt. Jeremy Broussard, 28, anything he pleased. A couple in Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport handed Spc. Adrian Ocampo, 21, a cellphone to call anyone he wanted.

In the Barstow area, the wave of altruism grips with equal passion at the locals at Peggy Sue's and the high rollers who've stopped by the diner on their way to Las Vegas.

Peggy Sue Gabler, who owns the diner with her husband, Champ, has decided it has something to do with the opportunity to care for a soldier immediately and in person. She still remembers the customer who picked up a bill totaling several hundred dollars for a group of 18 GIs.

"You could pass around a tin can that says 'Aid to soldiers,' and people would let it go by," she said. "But if a soldier orders a Philly steak, people just want to pay for it. To be able to do something right at that moment just makes them feel elated."
Have you given? I have.



As democracy settles in Iraq, a democratic Iraq will become GWBush's international legacy. What will be his domestic legacy? It will be the men who fought there:
The future of America -- in Iraq
By Robert D. Kaplan, ROBERT D. KAPLAN is the author of "Imperial Grunts: The American Military on the Ground" (Random House, 2005).

IF YOU WANT to meet the future political leaders of the United States, go to Iraq. I am not referring to the generals, or even the colonels. I mean the junior officers and enlistees in their 20s and 30s. In the decades ahead, they will represent something uncommon in U.S. military history: war veterans with practical experience in democratic governance, learned under the most challenging of conditions.

For several weeks, I observed these young officers working behind the scenes to organize the election in Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city. They arranged for the sniffer dogs at the polling stations and security for the ballots right up to the moment Iraqi officials counted them. They arranged the outer ring of U.S. military security, with inner ones of Iraqi soldiers and police at each polling station, even as they were careful to give the Iraqis credit for what they, in fact, were doing. The massive logistical exercise of holding an election in a city of 2.1 million people was further complicated by the fact that the location of many polling stations changed at the last minute to prevent terrorist attacks.

Throughout Iraq, young Army and Marine captains have become veritable mayors of micro-regions, meeting with local sheiks, setting up waste-removal programs to employ young men, dealing with complaints about cuts in electricity and so on. They have learned to arbitrate tribal politics, to speak articulately and to sit through endless speeches without losing patience.

I watched Lt. John Turner of Indianapolis get up on his knees from a carpet while sipping tea with a former neighborhood mukhtar and plead softly: "Sir, I am willing to die for a country that is not my own. So will you resume your position as mukhtar? Brave men must stand forward. Iraq's wealth is not oil but its civilization. Trust me by the projects I bring, not by my words."

Turner, a D student in high school, got straightened out as an enlisted man in the Coast Guard before earning a degree from Purdue and becoming an Army officer. He is one of what Col. Michael Shields, commander of the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team in Mosul, calls his "young soldier-statesmen."

Regardless of whether you support or oppose the U.S. engagement in Iraq, you should be aware that that country has had a startling effect on a new generation of soldiers often from troubled backgrounds, whose infantry training has provided no framework for building democracy from scratch.

At a Thanksgiving evangelical service, one NCO told the young crowd to cheers: "The Pilgrims during the first winter in the New World suffered a 54% casualty rate from disease and cold. That's a casualty rate that would render any of our units combat ineffective. But did the Pilgrims sail back to England? Did they give up? No. This country isn't a quitter. It doesn't withdraw."

Not withdrawing means bringing stability and liberal values to a society in which people have been trained to be subjects, not citizens. Young commanders in Iraq are experiencing in the bluntest terms the intractable cultural and political realities of a world that the U.S. seeks to remake in its own image, even as their own life struggles — as well as their religious faith, which is generally deeper than that of secular elites — make them not only refuse to give up but to feel betrayed by those who would.

To label them conservative is to miss the point. Having ground-truthed the difficulty of implanting democracy in a place with no experience of it, Iraq has stripped them of any ideology they might have had. At the same time, they have become emotionally involved with building Iraqi democracy. They have developed a distrust of an American media that have not, in their eyes, recorded advances they feel they have made in reducing the level of combat or getting a nascent electoral system started. In a vast country of 23 million people, they rarely see the car bombings that kill a few dozen every day and are reported on the news at home. But they daily see the progress in front of their eyes.

What these officers represent is the frontier ethos of applied wisdom, the combination of pragmatism and idealism that allowed for 19th century westward expansion, the clearing of land and the building of towns. Military men, with their impatience with ideas that cannot be field tested, are a vibrant illustration of this ethos, especially as so many of them have grown up in rural America (and many I spoke to came from family farms). Now their deep engagement in civilian development matters — in nation building — has extended the meaning of the continental frontier overseas.

They are not imperialists, if by that we mean that they would support unilaterally invading a country again with a large number of troops. But they are absolutely committed to U.S. success in Iraq, no matter the cost to themselves. And as they trickle out of the service in coming years and rise to prominence in civilian life, the ability of the home front in these difficult days not to pity them, but to sustain them in their mission, could have enormous consequences for the future of American politics.
What better legacy can you leave for the future, Freedom where there was none abroad, and Leadership among those who can bring more Freedom to others at home and abroad. HT Belmont Club


The NSA Surveillance Program

I believe this Powerline post to be a very thorough legal analysis supporting the President authorization for the National Security Agency to intercept messages against foreign powers. Read it all.


Sign of Victory 2

From PJMedia
Dec. 18, 2005 (UPI delivered by Newstex) -- Sunni Muslim leaders in Iraq's violent Anbar province say they are ready to cooperate with the United States.

They are seeking to extend a temporary truce honored by most insurgent groups for last week's elections but say they want the United States to reduce military raids and increase development projects for their vast desert province, The Washington Times reports.

Adnan al-Dulaimi, leader of a prominent Sunni bloc, said insurgent groups had prevented violence from interfering with Thursday's elections, the newspaper said.

The truce resulted from weeks of negotiations between U.S. officials and insurgents.

Sunni religious leader Sheik Abed al-Latif Hemaiym told The Times in an interview in Amman that Sunnis were prepared to work with the United States.

"We now believe we must get on good terms with the Americans," Hemaiym said. "As Arab Sunnis, we believe that within this hot area of Iraq, facing challenges from neighboring nations who want to swallow us, especially the Iranians, we feel we have no alternative."

It was a mistake when the Sunni boycotted the election in January. At least now they realize their best means for political power is not through force of arms. As a minority in Iraq, without the presence and moderation of the Americans, they would have been victim of revenge by the Kurds and the Shia. Rather, by participating in the December 15 election, they have ensured both a voice in the politics of Iraq, and protection as part of a democratic Iraq.
Naturally the real losers are the defeatist members of the Democratic Party.


Regime Change Iran

This is the most interesting news item of the day from Iran:
One of the bodyguards of Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was killed and another wounded when an attempt to ambush the presidential motorcade was thwarted in the southeastern province of Sistan and Baluchestan, according to a semi-official newspaper and local residents.

I've previously posted about the political change within Iran. Clearly a crisis is building. The folks at RGI believes this isn't a regional uprising:
However, for months now there have been rumors that the Rafsanjani and Khatami factions may attempt to have Ahamdinejad assassinated in hopes of obtaining a "grand bargain" with the international community which leaves the regime in place while they continue their secret nuclear program. Ahmadinehad has been threatening many in the Rafsanjani and Khatami factions with arrest under corruption charges.

From Roger L Simon
(Michael Ledeen, who has contacts within the Iranian freedom movement, informs me these "bandits" were also, like Ahmadinejad, messianic believers in the 12th imam - hence it's an inside job. Who knows?)

My question is what is our involvement in this. Notice the region's proximity to Afghanistan and Pakistan. If not involved, what else short of sanctioned assassination, which i oppose, should we do to destabilize Iran from within. We are not in a position to mount an conventional confrontation with Iran at this time.

Liberty and Security

Attributed to Benjamin Franklin:
"They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security"
This quote is being applied to the current discussion regarding both the Patriot Act and to the NYT report regarding wire tapping by the National Security Agency.

Firstly, lets look at the quote. Did Franklin actually say it? From Wikiquote, companion to Wikipedia.
Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.

This statement was used as a motto on the title page of An Historical Review of the Constitution and Government of Pennsylvania. (1759) which was attributed to Franklin in the edition of 1812, but in a letter of September 27, 1760 to David Hume, he states that he published this book and denies that he wrote it, other than a few remarks that were credited to the Pennsylvania Assembly, in which he served. The phrase itself was first used in a letter from that Assembly dated November 11, 1755 to the Governor of Pennsylvania. An article on the origins of this statement here includes a scan that indicates the original typography of the 1759 document. Researchers now believe that a fellow diplomat by the name of Richard Jackson to be the primary author of the book. With the information thus far available the issue of authorship of the statement is not yet definitely resolved, but the evidence indicates it could well have been Franklin.

Many variants derived from this phrase have arisen and have usually been attributed to Franklin:
"They that can give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."
"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."
"He who would trade liberty for some temporary security, deserves neither liberty nor security"
"He who sacrifices freedom for security deserves neither"
"If we restrict liberty to attain security we will lose them both."

So even if Benjamin Franklin did not originate it, is it still true? I must respond with an emphatic No! In any society can there be liberty without security? no and this is self evidently true. There is no single society, there are numerous societies that vie with each other for prominence, and conflict, not necessarily war, is the norm. All societies thus develop means to provide security against another competing societies. The absence of security is anarchy, a turbulent and likely violent environment, given the human conditions, drives, and desires, rather than a peaceable kingdom of freedom and liberty. How then thus a society acquires the means of security? By limiting the liberties of its citizens, most commonly through an attempted monopoly of force and standardization of exchanges. The freedom to commit violence is remove or prohibited to the individual and are held by the state in the form of law and justice, as well as policemen and the military. Standardization of exchanges entails language, customs, moneys, and expectations. As individuals we willingly relinquish our freedom such as our "liberty" to kill, for the protection and security against others wishing us harm by being a respectful member of a lawful society.

Would we sacrifice essential liberty for temporary security? Hell no, but again that is not what is being discussed with either the Patriot Act or the NSA "scandal". What we do instead, especially in times of war is to temporarily sacrifice non-essential liberty for durable security. Remember the quote "loose lips sink ships?" Are we not talking about a limit of freedom of speech there?

The concern for civil liberty is valid. The striving of absolute civil liberty is foolish and misplaced in times when the security nesisary to protection of essential liberties are threatened.

Related reads:
All Things Beautiful
Atlas Shrugs
Little Green Footballs
Roger L Simon


Victory in Iraq

In a sign of the shifting sands in Iraq:
FALLUJA/RAMADI Iraq (Reuters) - Saddam Hussein loyalists who violently opposed January elections have made an about-face as Thursday's polls near, urging fellow Sunni Arabs to vote and warning al Qaeda militants not to attack.
In a move unthinkable in the bloody run-up to the last election, guerrillas in the western insurgent heartland of Anbar province say they are even prepared to protect voting stations from fighters loyal to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of al Qaeda in Iraq.

Graffiti calling for holy war is now hard to find.

Instead, election campaign posters dominate buildings in the rebel strongholds of Ramadi and nearby Falluja, where Sunnis staged a boycott or were too scared to vote last time around.

"We want to see a nationalist government that will have a balance of interests. So our Sunni brothers will be safe when they vote," said Falluja resident Ali Mahmoud, a former army officer and rocket specialist under Saddam's Baath party.

"Sunnis should vote to make political gains. We have sent leaflets telling al Qaeda that they will face us if they attack voters."

All military actions, especially wars, are tools to a political end. The best gauge of victory in Iraq will be what the Iraqi do once liberated. Now it appears all three factions have accepted and endorsed a democratic process over armed conflicts. Only Al Qaeda in Iraq, an outsider faction, remains. They will be destroyed by the insider 3 (Shiite, Kurds, and Sunni).


Seoul Train

I found this review in the WSJ
Despite its whimsical title, "Seoul Train" is deadly serious -- and yet so compelling that you can't stop watching even though you know it will haunt your dreams. Its subject is the "underground railroad" of North Korean refugees who are running for their lives in a desperate attempt to reach freedom. (On PBS's Independent Lens series, Tuesday, 10-11 p.m. ET. Check local listings.)

Getting out of North Korea, which this documentary accurately describes as the "world's largest prison camp," may be the easy part. Once they make it over the border into China, the refugees are hunted like rabbits by zealous Chinese cops and soldiers. Forcibly repatriated to North Korea, the refugees face torture and imprisonment for the treasonous act of leaving the country. It's a crime punishable by death. Some of the North Koreans interviewed for this film probably are dead already.

Apart from a few sickening scenes shot secretly in North Korea, most of the program takes place in China, where we meet groups of refugees awaiting rides on an underground route to safety. One of the most welcoming destinations is Mongolia, which has a reputation for treating North Koreans humanely before helping them reach their ultimate destination in democratic South Korea.

Schindler of Asia

We meet the first group of refugees as they plan a trip by train, taxi and foot across China to the Mongolian border. They include Han Sul-hee, who is 17. She and the rest of the group, mainly young adults who have left parents and siblings behind, are sitting in a safe house with a Christmas tree and Santa decorations. They have been waiting several months -- eating proper food and trying to gain enough weight so they'll look healthy enough to pass for South Korean tourists. So severe is North Korea's government-induced famine that the average 7-year-old child in North Korea is about half a foot shorter than his counterpart in South Korea, and it's estimated that up to three million souls have perished from hunger in recent years.

The camera follows Sul-hee and the others as they head for the train station in Yanji, China, for a journey that will be full of peril at every stage, especially in towns where the locals like to report foreigners to the police. The refugees' escort is Chun Ki-won, a South Korean pastor who has been called the "Schindler of Asia" for his rescue efforts. We last see him and his little tour group as they head into the Gobi, just a few miles from the crossing into Mongolia. The hidden camera could go no farther, so a message on our TV screen fills in the rest: Chun and all his charges were arrested at the border by Chinese police.

We know how awful that must have been from the scenes we do see, of another group of North Koreans who tried a different method of escape. With the help of activist-guide Moon Kook-han, this group moved into a motel near the Japanese consulate in Shenyang, China, where they spent days preparing to dash through the gates onto sovereign Japanese soil and demand asylum. According to the plan, two men in the group would go first, pushing Chinese guards aside so the women, including 2-year-old Han-mi and her mother, could rush into the consulate yard.

A camera across the street recorded what happened next: Reaching the gate, the men barged through but the guards grabbed Han-mi and her mother. As a crowd gathered, and the camera rolled, the mother clung to the iron gate, screaming and struggling with all her might to break free and get to safety, just a few precious feet away. But the guards wrestled her to the ground. The last shot we see is little Han-mi's terrified face as the guards overpower her mother.

Like a Human Being

Mr. Moon also worked with the seven North Koreans who tried yet another approach and formally applied for refugee status at the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The MoFA-7, as the group became known, were arrested by Chinese authorities and presumably repatriated. None has been heard of again. Mr. Moon weeps when he thinks that he may have, in effect, led them to their deaths.

Watching film of the MoFA-7 in the moments before their arrest -- one woman tells the camera that she's willing to risk death for the chance "to live like a human being with dignity" -- it's tempting to heap all the blame on China and North Korea. But the behavior of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is in a way more shocking. A UNHCR official interviewed here says that while some of the North Koreans may be refugees, there's not much his agency can do to help them. After all, he explains, "a couple" of UNHCR representatives went to the border "four or five years ago" to look into the situation of refugees there and were prevented from doing that by Chinese authorities, "so it's not like we haven't tried."

A few of the North Koreans seen in this program have since been released from captivity in China and made their way to South Korea, some with the help of concerned members of Congress. But most of the stories do not have happy endings. Since Mr. Chun was arrested at the Mongolian border in 2001, many thousands of refugees have tried and failed to reach freedom. All the program can do is end our ignorance. Someday, when the full extent of North Koreans' suffering is revealed, no one who has seen "Seoul Train" will be able to say, "I didn't know."

Time and time again people across the world have demonstrated that life without dignity has little meaning. In Asia thousands poured across the sea to Taiwan when the Red Tide swept through China. Again when Korea and Viet Nam was partitioned, thousands moved toward freedom. The phenomenon of the Vietnamese boat people illustrate this decades later as well. Note that many keep on trying, despite bodily harm and deaths of friends and family. I feel shame for those who enjoy lives of liberty who would perpetuate life without dignity as an end in itself, even to perpetuate the familiar oppression of a dictator.


I heard another commentary on NPR the other night about Bush's failure with the environment by not signing Kyoto! (never mind that the Senate refused to ratify the treaty). Reporters should investigate rather than opine.
In the past third of a century, the American economy has swollen by 150 per cent, automobile traffic has increased by 143 per cent, and energy consumption has grown 45 per cent. During this same period, air pollutants have declined by 29 per cent, toxic emissions by 48.5 per cent, sulphur dioxide levels by 65.3 per cent, and airborne lead by 97.3 per cent. Despite signing on to Kyoto, European greenhouse gas emissions have increased since 2001, whereas America's emissions have fallen by nearly one per cent, despite the Toxic Texan's best efforts to destroy the planet.

HT WILLism a great site btw.


Europa 2

A nice summary of the difference in international perspective between the US and the EU. HT Atlas Shrugs
In Cuba, Brussels has withdrawn its support for anti-Castro dissidents. In Iran, the EU has pursued a decade-long policy of "constructive engagement" with the ayatollahs. In Iraq, with a few exceptions, Europeans were horrified at the notion of toppling a tyrant by force. In European capitals, unlike in Washington, Israel's status as the region's only democracy is not seen as meritorious.

In China, the EU has not only announced its intention to lift the arms embargo on Beijing, but is also actively collaborating with the Communists on a satellite system called Galileo, designed to challenge what Jacques Chirac calls the "technological imperialism" of America's GPS. And, when it comes to international bodies, the US is almost alone in taking the view that elected politicians are more legitimate than global technocrats and human-rights lawyers.

This difference in approach was, as it were, encoded in the DNA of the two organisations. The US was born out of a revolt against autocratic government. In consequence, it sympathises naturally with democracy, decentralisation and national self-determination. Its founding creed was adumbrated by Thomas Jefferson, who believed that power should be exercised by the individual in preference to the state, and by lower in preference to higher tiers of government.

The EU, by contrast, was a reaction against the pre-war plebiscitary democracy which, in its patriarchs' eyes, had led to fascism and conflict. Its governing principle is the precise opposite of Jeffersonianism: the doctrine of "ever-closer union". Its leaders believe to this day that states are better run by experts than by populist politicians and, just as they apply that belief to their own institutions, so they extend it to other continents. Indeed, the distinction between the two unions can be inferred from the opening words of their founding charters: the American Constitution begins "We, the people"; the Treaty of Rome begins "His Majesty the King of the Belgians".

That we have different views on the world is only natural. But what is interesting in that Frenchie way is the attempt to claim the high moral ground and leverage it against the US.
We'd be the first to applaud Europeans for finally concerning themselves with moral principles instead of commercial interests. Many of the Middle East's problems, including terrorism, would be easier solved if Europe were seriously concerned about morality. Europe would no longer be Iran's No. 1 trading partner, and its companies wouldn't be able to attend trade fairs in Sudan anymore.
Unlike American companies--recently defamed in Germany as "(blood) suckers" and "locusts" by the former government--European firms are quite busy in Sudan. The chamber of commerce and industry in Stuttgart has enthused over what great opportunities Sudan's oil resources offer to German companies.

Lest people think they are doing something morally reprehensible, the salesmen from Stuttgart prefer to describe the massacres of black Africans in Darfur as "political disturbances." The German economics ministry, which sponsored the German pavilion at last February's trade fair in Sudan, will also support next February's event, the chamber of commerce assures its members.

Where is the outrage? How does that jibe with supposed European values?

Or who in Europe has heard of Soghra, an Iranian woman sentenced in October to death by stoning for adultery? Or Mokhtar N. and Ali A., hanged last month in a public square in Iran for homosexuality?

In much of Europe's public debate, the true meaning of human rights has degenerated into a tool that gives anti-Americanism an aura of legitimacy. The real, horrendous human-rights violations in the Middle East, North Korea, China, Cuba, etc., are largely ignored or relegated to news blurs on the back pages. For front-page coverage, you need an American angle.

Having said that, it is note worthy the publication of Saddam's Black Book in France.
Le Livre Noir de Saddam Hussein (The Black Book of Saddam Hussein) is a robust denunciation of Saddam's regime that does not fall into the trap of viewing everything in Iraq through a US-centric prism. The writers - Arabs, Americans, Germans, French and Iranian - have produced the most comprehensive work to date on the former Iraqi president's war crimes, assembling a mass of evidence that makes the anti-intervention arguments redundant.

"The first weapon of mass destruction was Saddam Hussein," writes Bernard Kouchner, who has been observing atrocities in Iraq since he led the first Medecins Sans Frontieres mission there in 1974. "Preserving the memory of the arbitrary arrests that Saddam's police conducted every morning, the horrible and humiliating torture, the organised rapes, the arbitrary executions and the prisons full of innocent people is not just a duty. Without that one cannot understand either what Saddam's dictatorship was or the urgent necessity to remove him."

The obsession of many journalists and commentators with the fruitless hunt for chemical, biological and nuclear weapons has meant much of the evidence of Saddam's atrocities in liberated Iraq has been under-reported. Sinje Caren Stoyke, a German archeologist and president of Archeologists for Human Rights, catalogues 288 mass graves, a list that is already out of date with the discovery of fresh sites every week.

"There is no secret about these mass graves," Stoyke writes. "Military convoys crossed towns, full of civilian prisoners, and returned empty. People living near execution sites heard the cries of men, women and children. They heard shots followed by silence."

Stoyke estimates one million people are missing in Iraq, presumed dead, leaving families with the dreadful task of finding and identifying the remains of their loved ones.


Siren Songs

This week economic news report continued expansion of the economy for the US for ten continuous quaters at a healthy and manageable rate of over 3%. As reported by the WSJ yesterday:
Treasury Secretary John Snow, in a prepared statement, called the growth "outstanding" and "very good news for American workers and those seeking jobs." A minimum annual growth rate of 3% to 3.5% is considered a good sign of prosperity and favorable for adding new workers to the economy. Although previous third-quarter growth estimates exceeded those rates, the earlier data also gave off mixed inflation signals, which caused concern among some analysts.

Inflation indicators in yesterday's report, though, were revised downward. Consumer prices excluding food and energy, the Federal Reserve's preferred inflation measure, rose at a 1.2% annual rate, down 0.1 percentage point from the original estimate. That would be the lowest core-inflation rate in more than two years.

Today's WSJ follows that with updated employment figures:
Hiring recovered in November from a hurricane-induced slowdown in the previous two months, as employers added 215,000 jobs to U.S. nonfarm payrolls. The unemployment rate held at 5%.

The Labor Department's latest report on the employment situation suggested that employers were more willing to take on new workers as the economic effects of a destructive hurricane season faded. Energy prices, which soared as powerful storms roiled oil and natural-gas production, have declined recently, and headaches caused by disruptions to transportation have eased.

Past payroll estimates were revised to show a 44,000-job increase in payrolls in October and a modest 17,000-job climb during September. Previous estimates showed a 56,000 increase in October and an 8,000 decrease in September.

"The September weakness was clearly associated with the devastating direct effects of Hurricane Katrina, and it is possible that October's job growth was held down somewhat by the indirect effects of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita," said Kathleen Utgoff, commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics. "To put the November increase in perspective, from January through August of this year, payroll employment growth averaged 196,000 per month."

Yet economic pessimism hangs in the air. Why?
This onslaught of negative thinking is clearly having an impact. During the 2004 presidential campaign, when attacks on the economy were in full force, 36% of Americans thought we were in recession. One year later, even though unemployment has fallen from 5.5% to 5%, and real GDP has expanded by 3.7%, the number who think a recession is underway has climbed to 43%.

This is a real conundrum. It is true, bad things have happened. Katrina wiped out a major city and many people are still displaced. GM has announced massive layoffs. Underfunded pension plans are being handed off to the government. Oil, gasoline and natural gas prices have soared. Despite it all, the U.S. economy continues to flourish.

One would think that this would give pouting pundits reason to question their pessimism. After all, politicians who bounce back from scandal get monikers such as "the comeback kid." Athletes who overcome personal tragedy or sickness to achieve greatness are called "heroes." This is a quintessential American tradition, and the economy is following the script perfectly. The more hardship it faces, the more resilient it appears. The list of pessimistic forecasts that have been proved wrong grows by the day.

The trade deficit was supposed to cause a collapse in the dollar; but the dollar is up 10% versus the euro in the past eight months. The budget deficit was supposed to push up interest rates; yet the 10-year Treasury yield, at 4.5%, is well below its 2000 average yield of 6% when the U.S. faced surpluses as far as the eye could see.

Sharp declines in consumer confidence and rising oil prices were supposed to hurt retail sales; but holiday shopping is strong. Many fear that China is stealing our jobs, but new reports suggest that U.S. manufacturers are so strong that a shortage of skilled production workers has developed. And since the Fed started hiking interest rates 16 months ago, 3.5 million new jobs and $750 billion in additional personal income have been created. Stocks are also up, which according to pundits was unlikely as long as the Fed was hiking rates.

So, where is all of the pessimism coming from? Some say that the anxiety is warranted. The theory goes like this: Globalization and technology are a massive force that levels the playing field. Because capital and ideas can move freely around the world, foreign wages will move up, while U.S. wages fall, until some sort of equilibrium is found. It's a compelling story. After all, real average hourly earnings in the U.S. fell 1.6% during the 12 months ending in October.

However, there are numerous reasons to believe that this statistic is not giving an accurate picture of the economy's health. First, history shows that when oil prices rise sharply, real earnings take a temporary hit. As a result, a snapshot of inflation-adjusted earnings data in the wake of Katrina is misleading.

Moreover, for the past 30 years, real average hourly earnings have declined by an annual average of 0.1%. But this can't possibly reflect reality. In the past 30 years, cell phones and computers have become ubiquitous. Home and auto ownership have climbed. More people dine out; travel; attend sporting events, movies and rock concerts; and join health clubs. Over those same 30 years, real per capita consumption has increased at an average annual rate of 2.3%. Hourly earnings data do not include tips, bonuses, commissions or benefits, and therefore will always lag actual increases in living standards.

Some observers of the current economy, such as New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman and former Clinton economic adviser Gene Sperling, argue correctly that globalization is inevitable and, in fact, good. Nonetheless, they focus on those who are hurt by the transitional impact and suggest that government intervene to offset any damage from plant closures or job losses.

But this has never worked. The history of economic progress is one of innovation and change. This "creative destruction" can never be a pain-free experience for every individual involved. The new must replace the old. Attempting to alter this fact of life, and create a utopia where no one experiences pain, has always led to more unhappiness than before. Germany's near 11% unemployment rate and the recent riots in France are the latest evidence of government's inability to successfully fight market forces.

One key reason the U.S. economy has outperformed other industrialized nations, and exceeded its long-run average growth rate during the past two years, is the tax cut of 2003. By reducing taxes on investment, the U.S. boosted growth, which in turn created new jobs that replace those that are lost as the old economy dies. Ireland is also a beautiful example of the power of tax cuts to boost growth and lift living standards.

Economic growth is the only true shock absorber for an economy in transition. To minimize the pain of technological globalization and address the anxiety that these forces are creating, free-market policies must be followed. While tremendous pressures are building to increase government involvement in the economy, it is important that the U.S. stay the course that brought it out of recession.

There is a malaise in the mainstream media. It is not just about Iraq or terrorism. All the mainstream media see is destruction. Be careful of their siren songs.