Daily Archives: February 11, 2008

Currency Question (Dec 10, ’07)

There could be a backdoor to fixing the currency problem. Namely, the way Asians and other neomercantilists fix their exchange rate to ours is by holding our securities. Moreover, ‘zero risk’ US gov’t bonds are a favorite investment vehicle among rentier states and other command economies. Foreigners make their currencies cheaper by holding our money, which acts like a counterbalance. The logic is that, if the demand for dollars increases relative to another currency, the dollar gets stronger vis-a-vis that self-same currency. The foreigners don’t manipulate our currencies in a vacuum. By allowing them to hold our securities, we are complicit in this currency fixing regime.

Asiatic countries do not allow foreigners to hold more than a very small percentage (if any) of their government bonds. If they did allow it, that would defeat the purpose of their [sterilization] efforts. If we want to affect change regarding the current currency situation, it would be wise for us to impose restrictions on the amount of government bonds we sell to foreigners. I would say specifically Asians, but they would find away around such words – e.g., third party brokerage. Perhaps we could put the bonds we sell to foreigners in specific tranches and designate them as such. A gradual and measured approach to restrictions of this kind could perhaps put the US and China on a relatively equal currency regime in ten years.

The alternative of starting a trade war by levying taxes on imports (tariffs) would be disastrous and should not be contemplated. That being said, we should also not restrict foreign purchases of nongovernmental (private sector) securities because that would be overly restrictive and it would hurt business (like Sarbanes Oxley).

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Circular Reason, Oprah’s Obama Stump (Dec 21, ’07)

I’ll tell you it doesn’t make much sense to me all this finger wagging by liberal darwinists who have unequivocally disenfranchized morality from the public sphere. Even polytheists who sacrifice virgins and eat each other have more moral grounding than darwinists because at least the other pagans have someone or something to answer to. Not so much for the atheist Darwinists.

If ‘we are here to evolve’, as Oprah opines, then anything is justified. Because whatever happens best serves the principle of ‘survival of the fittest’. This logic is circular – i.e., it is true because that’s the way it is and because people think it to be true. This is a woman’s logic and this is a woman’s society.

First Amendment

The first Amendment to the Bill of Rights – namely, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances,” – was written with the intent that lawmakers shall not mandate observance of Anglicanism, nor levy taxes to subsidize that nor any other peculiar order. The first Amendment does not say, “Congress shall pass laws respecting the observance of the religion of atheism”, which, I might add, is a much longer standing tradition than Christianity or it’s predecessor, Judaism. Atheism goes back to the days of Noah, before the flood when men were rejecting God and apostatizing in the name of humanism (among other isms).

When the Atheist[s] suggest that we should remove the US motto – namely, “In God We Trust” – from our currency, the case, at least the most recent appeal, has been made on the grounds of discrimination of religion. The man (I forgot his name) representing his own case said that having “God” inscribed on money violates his religion in which he believes there is no God. Otherwise, he could not make a case under the first Amendment. Because the first Amendment protects freedom of religion not freedom of un-religion. So atheism, to counter a possible objection, notwithstanding its requiring faith as any other doctrine, ideology or religion, is categorized as such ( i.e., religion) by the atheist in this case. For the record.

Closing the Race Gap (Jan 5, ’08)

The Reverend Jesse Jackson was on the news the other night talking about the big win for Obama in Iowa. He kept talking about ‘closing the race gap’ in education, housing, income, etc etc etc. Okay, sure that sounds all fine prima facie (on its face), but upon further examination, Jesse’s not saying that the race gap is due to anything other than inequality. So inequality is due to inequality. Sounds rather circular to me.

In fact, if ‘closing the race gap’ included the gap, not just in benefits, but also responsibility (e.g., number of their tribe’s children born out of wedlock, number of their nationality’s people engaging in lawlessness and reckless endangerment of the general welfare), then we would be speaking of something tangible. However, as it stands, the Rainbow Push Coalition’s theme, inasmuch as it is articulated by the Reverend Jesse Jackson, is nothing but a euphemism for getting even with whites. This is, in a word – mercenary and grasping.

Foreign Affairs Magazine: “Steady As She Goes”, by Fouad Ajami

12 Intellectual Leaders were asked to give one piece of advice to America’s next Pres. Here’s one:

Steady as She Goes
Recognize the criticism of America for what it is: petty and contrived.
By Fouad Ajami
Foreign Affairs Magazine

There is a familiar liberal lament that the United States had the sympathy of the world after September 11, but uselessly squandered it in the years that followed. The man who most vehemently espoused this line of thinking in France, former French President Jacques Chirac, is gone and consigned to oblivion. The French leader who replaced him, Nicolas Sarkozy, stood before a joint session of the U.S. Congress in November and offered a poetic tribute to the land his predecessor mocked. He recalled the young American soldiers buried so long ago on French soil: “Fathers took their sons to the beaches where the young men of America so heroically died… The children of my generation understood that those young Americans, 20 years old, were true heroes to whom they owed the fact that they were free people and not slaves. France will never forget the sacrifice of your children.” The anti-Americanism that France gave voice to for a generation has given way to a new order. This young leader now wants to fashion France in America’s image.

The man or woman who picks up George W. Bush’s standard in 2009 will inherit an enviable legacy. Europe is at peace with U.S. leadership. India and China export the best of their younger generations to U.S. shores. Violent extremists are on the retreat. Millions have been lifted out of dire poverty. This age belongs to the Pax Americana, an era in which anti-Americanism has always been false and contrived, the pretense of intellectuals and pundits who shelter under American power while bemoaning the sins of the country that provides their protection. When and if a post-American world arrives, it will not be pretty or merciful. If we be Rome, darkness will follow the American imperium.

Nothing dramatically new needs to be done by the next American president in the realm of foreign affairs. He or she will be treated to the same laments about American power; the same opinion polls will come to the next president’s desk telling of erosion of support for the United States in Karachi and Cairo. Millions will lay siege to America’s borders, eager to com here, even as the surveys speak of anti-Americanism in foreign lands.

My own concrete advice has to do with the “diplomacy of freedom” launched by President Bush. The Arab-Muslim world was the intended target of that campaign. It has had a mixed harvest: a new order in Iraq, liberty for Lebanon from its long Syrian captivity, stalemate in Egypt and the Arabian Peninsula. That campaign for freedom, with its assertion that tyranny was not the only possibility in the Arab DNA, is a noble gift that Bush bequeathed the Arabs. It harks back to Woodrow Wilson’s belief in the self-determination of nations. Like Wilson’s principles, the ideas espoused by Bush in Iraq, Lebanon, and beyond will wax and wane, but they will remain part of the American creed. An American leader who casts them aside will settle for a lesser America.

Fouad Ajami is Majid Khadduri professor of Middle East studies at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University

WSJ Article: Bush of Arabia, by Fouad Ajami

THE LEGACY

Bush of Arabia
This U.S. president is the most consequential the Middle East has ever seen.

BY FOUAD AJAMI
Tuesday, January 8, 2008 12:01 a.m. EST

It was fated, or “written,” as the Arabs would say, that George W. Bush, reared in Midland, Texas, so far away from the complications of the foreign world, would be the leader to take America so deep into Arab and Islamic affairs.

This is not a victory lap that President Bush is embarking upon this week, a journey set to take him to Egypt, Israel, the Palestinian territories, the Saudi Kingdom, Kuwait, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. Mr. Bush by now knows the heartbreak and guile of that region. After seven years and two big wars in that “Greater Middle East,” after a campaign against the terror and the malignancies of the Arab world, there will be no American swagger or stridency.

But Mr. Bush is traveling into the landscape and setting of his own legacy. He is arguably the most consequential leader in the long history of America’s encounter with those lands.

Baghdad isn’t on Mr. Bush’s itinerary, but it hangs over, and propels, his passage. A year ago, this kind of journey would have been unthinkable. The American project in Iraq was reeling, and there was talk of America casting the Iraqis adrift. It was then that Mr. Bush doubled down–and, by all appearances, his brave wager has been vindicated.

His war has given birth to a new Iraq. The shape of this new Iraq is easy to discern, and it can be said with reasonable confidence that the new order of things in Baghdad is irreversible. There is Shiite primacy, Kurdish autonomy in the north, and a cushion for the Sunni Arabs–in fact a role for that community slightly bigger than its demographic weight. It wasn’t “regional diplomacy” that gave life to this new Iraq. The neighboring Arabs had fought it all the way.

But there is a deep streak of Arab pragmatism, a grudging respect for historical verdicts, and for the right of conquest. How else did the ruling class in Arabia, in the Gulf and in Jordan beget their kingdoms?

In their animus toward the new order in Iraq, the purveyors of Arab truth–rulers and pundits alike–said that they opposed this new Iraq because it had been delivered by American power, and is now in the American orbit. But from Egypt to Kuwait and Bahrain, a Pax Americana anchors the order of the region. In Iraq, the Pax Americana, hitherto based in Sunni Arab lands, has acquired a new footing in a Shiite-led country, and this is the true source of Arab agitation.

To hear the broadcasts of Al Jazeera, the Iraqis have sinned against the order of the universe for the American military presence in their midst. But a vast American air base, Al Udeid, is a stone’s throw away from Al Jazeera’s base in Qatar.

There is a standoff of sorts between the American project in Iraq on the one side, and the order of Arab power on the other. The Arabs could not thwart or overturn this new Iraq, but the autocrats–battered, unnerved by the fall of Saddam Hussein, worried about the whole spectacle of free elections in Iraq–survived Iraq’s moment of enthusiasm.

They hunkered down, they waited out the early euphoria of the Iraq war, they played up the anarchy and violence of Iraq and fed that violence as well. In every way they could they manipulated the nervousness of their own people in the face of this new, alien wave of liberty. Better 60 years of tyranny than one day of anarchy, goes a (Sunni) Arab maxim.

Hosni Mubarak takes America’s coin while second-guessing Washington at every turn. He is the cop on the beat, suspicious of liberty. He faced a fragile, democratic opposition in the Kifaya (Enough!) movement a few years back. But the autocracy held on. Pharaoh made it clear that the distant, foreign power was compelled to play on his terms. There was never a serious proposal to cut off American aid to the Mubarak regime.

In the Arabian Peninsula and the Gulf, a new oil windfall has rewritten the terms of engagement between Pax Americana and the ruling regimes. It is a supreme, and cruel, irony that Mr. Bush travels into countries now awash with money: From 9/11 onwards, America has come to assume the burden of a great military struggle–and the financial costs of it all–while the oil lands were to experience a staggering transfusion of wealth.

Saudi Arabia has taken in nearly $900 billion in oil revenues the last six years; the sparsely populated emirate of Abu Dhabi is said to dispose of a sovereign wealth fund approximating a trillion dollars. The oil states have drawn down the public debt that had been a matter of no small consequence to the disaffection of their populations. There had been a time, in the lean 1990s, when debt had reached 120% of Saudi GDP; today it is 5%. There is swagger in that desert world, a sly sense of deliverance from the furies.

The battle against jihadism has been joined by the official religious establishment, stripping the radicals of their religious cover. Consider the following fatwa issued by Sheikh Abdulaziz bin Abdallah al-Sheikh, the Mufti of the Kingdom–the highest religious jurist in Saudi Arabia–last October. There is evasion in the fatwa, but a reckoning as well:

“It has been noted that over the last several years some of our sons have left Saudi lands with the aim of pursuing jihad abroad in the path of God. But these young men do not have enough knowledge to distinguish between truth and falsehood, and this was one reason why they fell into the trap of suspicious elements and organizations abroad that toyed with them in the name of jihad.”

Traditional Wahhabism has always stipulated obedience to the ruler, and this Wahhabi jurist was to re-assert it in the face of freelance preachers: “The men of religion are in agreement that there can be no jihad, except under the banner of wali al-amr [the monarch] and under his command. The journey abroad without his permission is a violation, and a disobedience, of the faith.”

Iraq is not directly mentioned in this fatwa, but it stalks it: This is the new destination of the jihadists, and the jurist wanted to cap the volcano.

The reform of Arabia is not a courtesy owed an American leader on a quick passage, and one worried about the turmoil in the oil markets at that. It is an imperative of the realm, something owed Arabia’s young people clamoring for a more “normal” world. The brave bloggers, and the women and young professionals of the realm, have taken up the cause of reform. What American power owes them is the message given them over the last few years–that they don’t dwell alone.

True to the promise, and to the integrity, of his campaign against terror, Mr. Bush will not lay a wreath at the burial place of Yasser Arafat in Ramallah. This is as it should be. Little more than five years ago, Mr. Bush held out to the Palestinians the promise of statehood, and of American support for that goal, but he made that support contingent on a Palestinian break with the cult of violence. He would not grant Arafat any of the indulgence that Bill Clinton had given him for eight long years. It was the morally and strategically correct call.

The cult of the gun had wrecked the political life of the Palestinians. They desperately needed an accommodation with Israel, but voted, in early 2006, for Hamas.

The promise of Palestinian statehood still stood, but the force, and the ambition, of Mr. Bush’s project in Iraq, and the concern over Iran’s bid for power, had shifted the balance of things in the Arab world toward the Persian Gulf, and away from the Palestinians. The Palestinians had been reduced to their proper scale in the Arab constellation. It was then, and when the American position in Iraq had been repaired, that Mr. Bush picked up the question of Palestine again, perhaps as a courtesy to his secretary of state.

The Annapolis Conference should be seen in that light: There was some authority to spare. It is to Mr. Bush’s singular credit that he was the first American president to recognize that Palestine was not the central concern of the Arabs, or the principal source of the political maladies.

The realists have always doubted this Bush campaign for freedom in Arab and Muslim lands. It was like ploughing the sea, they insisted. Natan Sharansky may be right that in battling for that freedom, Mr. Bush was a man alone, even within the councils of his own administration.

He had taken up the cause of Lebanon. The Cedar Revolution that erupted in 2005 was a child of his campaign for freedom. A Syrian dominion built methodically over three decades was abandoned in a hurry, so worried were the Syrians that American power might target their regime as well. In the intervening three years, Lebanon and its fractious ways were to test America’s patience, with the Syrians doing their best to return Lebanon to its old captivity.

But for all the debilitating ways of Lebanon’s sectarianism, Mr. Bush was right to back democracy. For decades, politically conscious Arabs had lamented America’s tolerance for the ways of Arab autocracy, its resigned acceptance that such are the ways of “the East.” There would come their way, in the Bush decade, an American leader willing to bet on their freedom.

“Those thankless deserts” was the way Winston Churchill, who knew a thing or two about this region, described those difficult lands. This is a region that aches for the foreigner’s protection while feigning horror at the presence of strangers.

As is their habit, the holders of Arab power will speak behind closed doors to their American guest about the menace of the Persian power next door. But the Arabs have the demography, and the wealth, to balance the power of the Persians. If their world is now a battleground between Pax Americana and Iran, that is a stark statement on their weakness, and on the defects of the social contract between the Sunnis and the Shiites of the Arab world. America can provide the order that underpins the security of the Arabs, but there are questions of political and cultural reform which are tasks for the Arabs themselves.

Suffice it for them that George W. Bush was at the helm of the dominant imperial power when the world of Islam and of the Arabs was in the wind, played upon by ruinous temptations, and when the regimes in the saddle were ducking for cover, and the broad middle classes in the Arab world were in the grip of historical denial of what their radical children had wrought. His was the gift of moral and political clarity.

In America and elsewhere, those given reprieve by that clarity, and single-mindedness, have been taking this protection while complaining all the same of his zeal and solitude. In his stoic acceptance of the burdens after 9/11, we were offered a reminder of how nations shelter behind leaders willing to take on great challenges.

We scoffed, in polite, jaded company when George W. Bush spoke of the “axis of evil” several years back. The people he now journeys amidst didn’t: It is precisely through those categories of good and evil that they describe their world, and their condition. Mr. Bush could not redeem the modern culture of the Arabs, and of Islam, but he held the line when it truly mattered. He gave them a chance to reclaim their world from zealots and enemies of order who would have otherwise run away with it.

Mr. Ajami teaches at Johns Hopkins University. He is author of “The Foreigner’s Gift: The Americans, the Arabs, and the Iraqis in Iraq,” (Free Press, 2006), and a recipient of the Bradley Prize.

Liberal Pundit Advocates Modern Day Colonialism (Jan 12, ’08)

A [liberal, feminist, it seemed] pundit on t.v. was arguing with a market strategist who said that Congress should ‘stay home’ to help the economy. The strategist said small government, less taxes and less regulation has made the US the strongest, most vibrant economy in the history of the world. To which the pundit responded, “Well [Jonathan, I think his name was], you should go to an island and start your own government because I don’t know what country you’re talking about.” – Fox 1/12/08

That’s an interesting rejoinder because the scenario the pundit painted was exactly how America started* – namely, a colony of fed-up Protestants seeking religious liberty. The first functioning civil government** was William Penn’s (a Quaker) Pennsylvania, which began on charter from the Royal British Government. Penn was educated in law at a fine French institution and brought his knowledge as well as his ideals to the theretofore savage uninhabited (except for roving tribes) territories to subdue it and establish order based on his own principles, which included, not inconsequentially, an extremely limited government role, free markets and political openness (free speech).

*how America started. The Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights documents were fashioned atop William Penn’s ‘Frame of Government’.

**first functioning civil government. The Virginia and Plymouth charters were English corporations. The Pennsylvania charter, on the other hand, was established to create a civil society (not just crops and goods for export).