Thursday, November 29, 2007

Best Political Ad Ever

In case anyone hasn't seen the Chuck Norris-Mike Huckabee ad:

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The World Is Getting Better

There's a great deal of pessimism about the state of the world today. For example, I was having a conversation with a very intelligent friend of mine, a senior politics major, who stated, with an air of complete confidence, that world-wide poverty was "getting worse." When I asked her how she knew this, she looked confused, then asked, "Isn't it?"

This article in Foreign Policy has the answer: no.

The stats: In 1981, 1.5 billion people were living on less than $1 a day (or, to be more exact, the World Bank’s poverty line of $1.08 in U.S. 1993 dollars, adjusted for purchasing power parity). By 1990, that figure had fallen to 1.25 billion people. By 2004, the extreme poverty rate had fallen to 18.4 percent, or just 985 million people. If current trends continue, the world will achieve the Millennium Development Goal of cutting in half—from 32 percent in 1990 to 16 percent in 2015—the portion of the population in the developing world that ekes by on less than $1 a day.
Need to cheer up? Read the whole thing. It has four other ways the world is getting better, as well.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Upside of the Declining Dollar

As much as the declining value of the dollar hurts the ol' pocketbook when vacationing overseas (or buying imported goods), it's worth remembering that a weaker dollar isn't all bad. It improves the competitiveness of US exports abroad. Check out this BBC article on the problems that (European, government-subsidized) Airbus is having competing against (American) Boeing, because Boeing's planes are now relatively cheaper.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Kerry and Edwards: Not on the Same Page

From the New York Times:

John Edwards, accepting his party’s nomination for vice president, roused a cheering crowd at the 2004 Democratic convention with the kind of buoyant refrain that had become his trademark: “Hope is on the way.”

The next night, wanting to give the American people something more tangible, John Kerry offered his own pledge, one intended as the ticket’s new slogan: “Help is on the way.”

But Mr. Edwards did not want to say it.

So the running mates set off across the country together with different messages, sometimes delivered at the same rally: Mr. Kerry leading the crowd in chants for “help,” Mr. Edwards for “hope.” The campaign printed two sets of signs. By November, the disagreement had been so institutionalized that campaign workers handed out fans with both messages, on flip sides.

No wonder the flip-flopping charge stuck. In all seriousness, though, the dysfunction displayed here is just depressing. That's why I find myself leaning more and more towards Hillary. She's the best at what the Dems are worst at: competent campaigning.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Chavez's Socialist Revolution Continues

From the New York Times:

In two weeks, Venezuela seems likely to start an extraordinary experiment in centralized, oil-fueled socialism. By law, the workday would be cut to six hours. Street vendors, homemakers and maids would have state-mandated pensions. And President Hugo Chávez would have significantly enhanced powers and be eligible for re-election for the rest of his life.
I wonder how all this socialist experimentation will turn out?

But walking into a grocery store here offers a different view of the changes washing over Venezuela. Combined with price controls that keep farmers from profitably producing some basic foods, climbing incomes of the poorest Venezuelans have stripped supermarket aisles bare of items like milk and eggs. Meanwhile, foreign exchange controls create bottlenecks for importers seeking to meet rising demand for many products.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Fix it

Looks like the VA needs to fix its disability-rating system. Soon.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Hugo Chavez in action: The disfunctional nature of Venezuela's national oil company

The New York Times Magazine has a well-balanced read on the plight of Venezuela's national oil company. Chavez has funneled oil profits away from reinvestment, like maintenance and new exploration, into social programs for the poor (and a slush fund that is used to buy weapons). Unfortunately, the law of unintended consequences rears its head:

Whatever success the missions have at helping the poor may be dwarfed by the grotesque distortions in the economy as a whole. Inflation is officially at 16 percent but is most likely higher, according to Orlando Ochoa, the economist, who is usually critical of Chávez. He says that in the basket of goods and services used to measure inflation, just under half the items are sold at government-controlled prices. Many goods simply can’t be bought at those prices, and consumers must pay double the price in a street market. Or the goods can’t be found at all, their producers forced out of business by price controls. Beans and sugar were hard to find cheaply when I visited Caracas in September; fresh milk and eggs hard to find at all. Recently, people had to line up for five hours to get a liter of milk. One proposal in Chávez’s constitutional referendum could increase inflation much further by abolishing the autonomy of the Central Bank and giving the president power over Venezuela’s international reserves. The proposal would also essentially allow Chávez to print money.

Why famous people like to hang out with Hugo Chavez

Anne Applebaum explains:

In fact, for the malcontents of Hollywood, academia, and the catwalks, Chávez is an ideal ally. Just as the sympathetic foreigners whom Lenin called "useful idiots" once supported Russia abroad, their modern equivalents provide the Venezuelan president with legitimacy, attention, and good photographs. He, in turn, helps them overcome the frustration John Reed once felt—the frustration of living in an annoyingly unrevolutionary country where people have to change things by law. For all his brilliance, Reed could not bring socialism to America. For all his wealth, fame, media access, and Hollywood power, Sean Penn cannot oust George W. Bush. But by showing up in the company of Chávez, he can at least get a lot more attention for his opinions.

As for Venezuelan politics, or the Venezuelan people, they don't matter at all. The country is simply playing a role filled in the past by Russia, Cuba, and Nicaragua—a role to which it is, at the moment, uniquely suited. Clearly, Venezuela is easier to idealize than Iran and North Korea, the former's attitude to women being not conducive to fashion models, the latter being downright hostile to Hollywood. Venezuela is also warm, relatively close, and a country of beautiful waterfalls.

Most of all, Venezuela's leader not only dislikes the American president—so do most other heads of state—but refers to him as "the devil," a "dictator," a "madman," and a "killer." Who cares what Chávez actually does when Sean Penn isn't looking? Ninety years after the tragedy of the Russian revolution, Venezuela has become the "kingdom more bright than any heaven had to offer" for a whole new generation of fellow-travelers. As long as the oil lasts.

Nothing makes me madder* than seeing so-called "liberals" wining and dining with dictators. Of course, Sean Penn describes himself as a radical, so maybe he is unconcerned with such classical liberal ideals as free speech, the protection of private property, etc. This phenomenon is not limited to Chavez by any means. Fidel Castro is another common object of hero-worship. One of the few weak points in Michael Moore's excellent Sicko is his unquestioning adulation of Castro's Cuba. Hey, liberals- if you want to make a point about socialism, why don't you do it by hobnobbing with the president of a Scandinavian country?

*Technically untrue, of course. For example, a genocide like Darfur makes me madder. It's a figure of speech, people!

Sunday, November 4, 2007

"Setting back the clocks can be a killer..."

That's the actual title of an article on right now. If this had been written, oh, six years ago, Michael Moore surely would have included this in Bowling for Columbine, which wasn't so much about guns as it was about the rampant fear-mongering in the American media.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Zoe's Ark and the child kidnapping controversy

This whole Zoe's Ark controversy is getting weirder and weirder:

DAKAR, Senegal, Nov. 1 — Virtually all of the children a French aid group tried to fly out of Chad last week had been living with family members in villages and were not orphans of the Darfur conflict, as the group claimed, the United Nations said today.

That finding was based on interviews conducted with some of the 103 children as the government and aid groups try to figure out where they came from and how to reunite them with their families. The plane carrying the children was stopped moments before it was scheduled to take off from Abéché, a small, dust-choked city that is the base of operations for dozens of aid groups working in eastern Chad.

Questions abound. Why on earth are they trying to steal these children? Why not bring home some actual orphans? What about the employee's of Zoe's Ark? When they joined the organization, did they realizing they were going to be stealing kids? If not, when did they find out? I hope they can get to the bottom of this mess soon, and find the kids' real parents.