December 18, 2003
 
See You in 2004

I wish my readers a wonderful holiday season and I'll be back to posting in 2004.




 
 
 
December 17, 2003
 
UN Blasted by Iraqi Government

The UN received a much needed dose of perspective yesterday from Hoshyar Zebari, Iraq’s foreign minister.

In unusually tough language, the interim foreign minister accused the United Nations of failure in the face of Saddam Hussein's tyranny. He called for the world body to do better in efforts to return the country to full sovereignty.

"One year ago the Security Council was divided between those who wanted to appease Saddam Hussein and those who wanted to hold him accountable. The UN as an organization failed to help rescue the Iraqi people from a murderous tyranny that lasted over 35 years, and today we are unearthing thousands of victims in a horrifying testament to that failure. The UN must not fail the Iraqi people again."

Mr. Zebari had particularly harsh words for opponents of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq. He cautioned Security Council members that their disagreements complicate efforts to return the country to Iraqi rule.

"Settling scores with the United States should not be at the cost of helping to bring stability to the Iraqi people," he said. "This squabbling over political differences takes a backseat to their daily struggle for security, jobs, basic freedoms, and all the rights the United Nations is chartered to uphold." [boldness added]



Ouch. I am sure this message was not received with open ears, but I hope the directness of Foreign Minister Zebari penetrated the thick skulls at the UN. At a minimum, I hope the UN considers their folly in how they created the Contact Group on Iraq.

Several of Mr. Zebari's most pointed barbs seemed directed at Secretary General Kofi Annan. In particular, he criticized Mr. Annan's formation of a Contact Group on Iraq without including any Iraqis.

"We insist on playing a full part in any initiatives that concern the future of our country," said Mr. Zebari. "Without Iraqi participation in discussions that have Iraqi interests at stake, such as the recently formed U.N. contact group, decisions taken cannot be held valid." [boldness added]



Well said Mr. Zebari. Both the UN and the US have considered what they believed to be their best interests in their actions over the last few years. However, the decisions of the US have also considered the best interests of the Iraqi people in sharp contrast to the UN. The Iraqi people know it and I hope their government officials have a long memory.

The quotes used in this post were captured from here and here.

 
 
 
December 16, 2003
 
A Surprising Development

A friend who values his anonymity sent me this top-secret image that he obtained from a hidden allied interrogation center deep in Iraq.



I bet the media doesn’t carry this story either...

 
 
An Interesting Survey

Sometimes I discuss serious topics. This is not one of those times. For some reason, I followed Jay Solo's advice and tried this quiz. According to it:





You are Sam the Eagle.

You are patriotic and devoted. And extremely anal.



HOBBIES:

Patriotism, Being appalled at what everyone else is doing.



FAVORITE MUSIC:

The National Anthem of America



FAVORITE MOVIE:

"An American In....America"



LAST BOOK READ:

"Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus,
Eagles are from America"



QUOTE:

"Please stop that now! It's un-American!"




Hmmmmmm. Perhaps I should make Patriotic and devoted. And extremely anal. my tagline...

 
 
Life at Quixote Manor

The other day, Lady Quixote told our children that mommies know everything. Later that day, two packages arrived from the same company. My wife was looking forward to a certain item and eagerly opened the first package. After peering inside, she saw the item was not there and opened the second package and retrieved her item. My four-year-old boy triumphantly told her, “If you knew everything, you would have opened that package first.”

I fear we may be raising an attorney...

 
 
 
December 15, 2003
 
The World’s Smallest Violin

A tip of the helm to Drew (California) for drawing my attention to this sentence contained in a report updating the status of the Kyoto protocol.

Delegates said that Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest oil exporter, wanted promises of aid if Kyoto spurs a shift to renewable energies like tidal, solar or wind energy at the expense of fossil fuels.


Financial aid for the Saudis who have used a cartel to keep oil prices artificially high for decades? I have to marvel at their chutzpah if nothing else...

 
 
 
December 14, 2003
 
Joy to Iraq

Ladies and gentlemen, we got him. were the opening words of US administrator Paul Bremer as he announced the capture of Saddam Hussein.

As one might expect, Iraqis are jubilant.

Hundreds of Kurds rushed from their homes in Kirkuk, northern Iraq, to celebrate the ousted president's capture.

"We are celebrating like it's a wedding," said resident Mustapha Sheriff. "We are finally rid of that criminal."

Volleys of rifle fire also echoed across Baghdad as Iraqis drove around town honking their car horns and giving the V for victory sign, witnesses said.

Despite the celebrations in Baghdad, many residents remained sceptical. Mohaned al-Hasaji, 33, said: "I heard the news, but I'll believe it when I see it." "They need to show us that they really have him."

Ali Albayati, head of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq's London office said: "The resistance look up to him. There are still people saying he will be back.

"If he is captured, that will be the end of the whole thing.



I think this shows the mindset of most Iraqis more than anything else. I am sure Iraqis will be given all the proof they need to feel safe. Once they understand Saddam may no longer threaten them, I expect great things.

A wonderful day for freedom loving people across the world. I saw a picture of Saddam on TV, he looks ragged and apparently did not put up any fight when our troops came for him.

Obviously this event has political implications; the talking heads on TV are already talking about them, but they can wait. Today, all freedom loving people should celebrate. I will.

 
 
 
December 12, 2003
 
Prediction of Poetic Justice

One can only hope that the Business Pundit is correct:

First it was Big Tobacco, then Big Food, next someone will sue Big Porn. All they have to do is say it is addictive and targets minors, and since America no longer believes in personal responsibility, some lawyers will get rich.


Parasites suing parasites? Guess there is a silver lining to almost everything.


 
 
NYT vs. Iraqi Update

I have remained in contact with Miss Al Ali. Click here if you are not familiar with the story to date.



She has had one further contact with Susan Sachs that did not address any of the main issues. To date, the New York Times has not apologizes for the criminal actions of their agent, nor have they taken steps to allow others besides Ali (the brother who was beaten by the Times’ agent) access to his own property.



Ali continues to pursue legal action against the Times in Iraq. Despite multiple requests for their perspective, the New York Times has not responded to me. Of course, this is not a surprise...



As events unfold, I will continue to make updates.

 
 
Thoughts on Gerrymandering

I was not really familiar with Chris Genovese, the blogger at Signal Plus Noise until he hosted this week’s COV. I love the tagline - All Models Are False, Some Are Useful. How true.

I looked around his site and found some interesting proposals for resolving the problem of gerrymandering. Chris does a nice job critiquing Gary Farber’s proposal so I won’t discuss that here. However, I will discuss one of Chris’s proposals.

Going even further in the “lateral” direction, and veering decidedly into crazy territory, is what we might call the “self-organizing state”. The idea is to eliminate geographical districts entirely in favor of groupings chosen interactively by the citizens. Here's a scheme to give the flavor, though I'm not seriously proposing it. Once every ten years, registered voters place themselves into groups of, say, 100–1000 people based on any criterion they like: location, family, demographics, politics, hobbies. The only limitation is that each person belong to just one. Groups can have a public statement of guiding principles, but each person joining a group would also be asked to answer pre-specified questions to characterize her positions, with non-responders allowed. Average results for each group would be public knowledge, Each person then rates any number of other groups on similarity to his own; unrated groups are assigned the highest dissimilarity rating by default. One result is that non-responders get lumped together randomly. We then average the dissimilarity ratings over each groups members, construct a minimum spanning tree, and use the tree to put together “districts”. OK, back to reality. Fun's over. Move along. [It seemed like an amusing idea at the time.]


Virtual districts? What an interesting idea. Chris did not seriously propose this, but perhaps he should have. I can think of many objections to this for State districts – for example, State representatives need to represent a physical location in their own State government or I expect we would see even larger problems when it came to local infrastructure. However, this has a lot of potential for national elections. It could dramatically improve the chances of a third party becoming viable. For example, Pennsylvania has 19 representatives in the House. Assume 10% of the registered voters in Pennsylvania were Libertarians. If they could form two districts, they would easily win 2 seats in Congress vs the zero they will win under the current situation (assuming the Libertarians are evenly spread out over Pennsylvannia).

Of course, this raises the question why do we need districts at all in national elections? Assume Pennsylvanians could vote for any candidate for Congress no matter where they lived in Pennsylvania. However, they could only vote for one person (as is the case now). The nineteen candidates who received the most votes would all win. This might be a headache for the major parties (OK Joe, you advertise in the North, otherwise you’ll get all the Republican votes and we’ll only win 1 seat), but that may be a good thing.

 
 
 
December 10, 2003
 
More Reading

I've been called many things, but this week's Carnival of the Vanities was a first... Yours truly got top billing - maybe I should submit a light post more often.



Chris did a great job hosting this week's COV and his use of insects was very original. If you have the time, go visit it.

 
 
Economic Policy and International Politics

Earlier this week, I discussed why I was not too upset that President Bush allowed threats to influence American policy. When one is in the wrong (as we were), the best thing to do is to fix it. President Bush fixed a bad decision when he removed the steel tariffs. At both my site and at that of Bjørn Stærk, James Versluys disagrees with me on two counts. Mr. Versluys believes that 1) the EU pressure had no impact on the Bush decision and 2) that the bigger story is that the EU is deliberating attempting to intervene in the internal affairs of a sovereign state. I will address both of these points.

The first point is the clearest, at least in my mind. In Mr. Versluys words:

And, to be truthful, I don't think EU pressure did anything. US governments rarely act under that kind of pressure. Like Rome of yore, large, powerful empires amost never react to anything except internal constituencies. Where the steel tarrif problems came from was almost solely internal: steel is a manufacturing and union concern, and Bush was trying to buy off intense union backlash in the next election.

But because union concerns are normally intensely Democratic, his inroads into the union vote were very weak. Not only this, but it also upset some of his core intellectual constituency on the Right that dislike all tariffs...

So Europe bought probably nothing. But they did manage to really piss off the entire governmental structure in the United States and took further inroads into making the American intellectual stratum deep and abiding enemies. This is something new: unlike anti-Americanism in Europe, very rarely has there been extended anti-Europeanism in the American intelligentsia.



I would like to agree with Versluys. It is far better to believe that President Bush decided to remove the steel tariffs without considering the international pressure. Instead I find myself in rare agreement with Dean, Gephardt, Lieberman, and Clark, who all accuse Bush of caving in to international pressure. He did. This is a perfect example of why you should not make decisions based on politics instead of principle. It is easier to fight for your principles vs. fighting for a bad political decision. Of course, I recognize the EU only had a limited amount of influence. As the Washington Times points out, President Bush could have fought this pressure if he had really cared to do so.

Had Washington threatened to retaliate against any country that imposed sanctions on U.S. trade, serious negotiations would have immediately resumed, with the United States bargaining from a position of strength. But the EU felt confident that it if took an aggressive stance, Mr. Bush would blink. And he did.


The EU judged that President Bush would not put up a fight over the steel tariffs. Perhaps they knew that many in the Bush administration wanted an excuse to eliminate the tariffs. Perhaps they got lucky. But they were right. In some respects, I want to thank them for their actions as the removal of these tariffs is in the best interests of United States as a whole.

Versluys’ second point is more complicated. He argues convincingly that the EU acted wrongly in how they applied pressure to the States. In his words:

The issue here, as I have argued elsewhere, is the way in which the EU decided to respond. Disrupting, or become part in any fair and open election has always been a long standing taboo in democratic governance. The EU has been stomping on this recently, especially with Austria and Italy, and it seems to be pushing this to America almost as a natural extension...

This is not how grownup nations behave. You are not only supposed to avoid messing in internal elections, you're supposed to avoid even the int [impression] of it. Think of the dustup that occurred between the US and Canada because one minister wondered aloud whether Gore would have been better. Also think of the intense indignation of the EU at the possible Israeli decision to take out Arafat or only deal with another elected official. Arafat wasn't even popular or elected, and Europe had kittens at the very suggestion that they not have their intended leader. Clearly, this is not the usual kind of hypocrisy, but an extraordinary one.



To Versluys’ point, the EU is clearly acting hypocritically in virtually every possible way. The EU protects their own trade when they feel like it and they shrilly protest when the US influences other sovereign nations in a matter with which the EU disagrees. (For the sake of discussion I am treating the EU as a unified body, which it is not. There was much truth in the infamous “Old Europe” comment. In this case, it appears much of the heat came from France, Germany, and Belgium).

So perhaps I am missing the bigger story. I can certainly see Versluys’ perspective. However, what has the EU truly gained from this? Other than the pride of victory, what are the long-term results of their actions? If they truly see the US as a competitor, their actions were short-sighted; the removal of the tariffs will help the US economy grow. As Versluys pointed out, the EU is fanning the growing American resentment of the EU. In addition, while they have succeeded in temporarily embarrassing President Bush, they also provided him with the long-term political cover to revoke a bad policy decision.

I would also point out that I don’t mind countries trying to influence other nations as long as they do so openly. Sure the EU is full of hypocrites and they are earning the scorn that this deserves. But what if they practiced what they preached and opened their borders to free trade? We would all be better off. I also have no qualms with using economic sanctions to influence international policy. We put sanctions on countries in an attempt to influence them (my only concern here is a question of effectiveness). Those who are heavy handed in their actions earn resentment, but besides words and sanctions, the EU has very little with which to influence world policy. I have no problems with them using the tools at their disposal. In this case, they have done so for my benefit (even if I am skeptical of their motivation for doing so).

 
 
IRS Mileage Reimbursement Rate to Increase

Effective January 1, 2004, the IRS’s standard business mileage rate for transportation expenses will be 37.5 cents per mile, an increase from the 36 cents per mile rate in effect during 2003.

In addition, the 2004 standard mileage rate for operating a passenger car for charitable purposes will remain at 14 cents per mile. The rate for medical and moving expenses will also be at 14 cents per mile, an increase from the 12 cents per mile rate in effect during 2003.

 
 
 
December 09, 2003
 
Gore in 2008?

The Poliblogger thinks that the New York Times overstates its case:

I think this headline in the NYT, Gore to Endorse Dean, Remaking Democratic Race, is an overstatement, as is the breathless statement that Gore's endorsement "rocked the Democratic presidential field."

What, precisely has been remade? Prior to the Gore announcement everyone was saying that it's Dean's to lose, and that he was the prohibitive favorite...

Had Gore endorsed Dean back in March, then okay, it would have been dramatic. At this point it was an utterly safe move for Gore.



As it pertains to the 2004 election, I agree with the Poliblogger. The Democratic nomination is Dean’s to lose and not much has been changed by Gore’s announcement. Gore’s support should help a little bit, but his help would have been far more useful in March. Lieberman was probably the most harmed by this; not because of the announcement itself, but because his former running mate did not have enough respect for Lieberman to let him know about it. Poor old Joe found about it via the media.

However, I think the Times (and even the good Poliblogger) are missing the bigger story. For those who follow politics, it is well known that Dean really is an outsider to the established Democratic Party; especially the Clinton faction that is backing Wesley Clark. To my mind, Gore is publicly challenging the Clintons and letting the Democratic party know he is still a power in the party. He may well be considering a run against Hillary Clinton for the 2008 Democratic nomination.

 
 
Do No Harm - Dean & Abortion

Kevin Whited found an interesting news brief about Howard Dean and abortion. Dean says he never performed abortions since he was a medical doctor [Dean’s emphasis]. Kevin wonders why Dean would "intimate those who do perform abortions are not quite full medical doctors."



I have heard that most MDs look down on abortionists, considering them med-school dropouts who could not heal people. But it seems interesting that Howard Dean, who is a strong pro-abort candidate, would still be making the distinction between healers and killers. I am sure this was an unconscious connection on his part, but it is still interesting. Despite his pro-abort stance and beliefs, perhaps part of Dean still believes in his oath to "do no harm."

 
 
Threats, Tariffs, and Doing the Right Thing

Imagine I made a mistake and showed favoritism to one of my children. A bully showed up and threatened to attack me if I continued to show favoritism. If the bully had threatened to attack me unless I hurt one of my kids, I would do my best to elminate the bully's inclination to ever threaten me again. However, since the bully was advocating the right thing, I would probably feel a sense of shame over my mistake, and do the right thing.

This is analogous to my feelings about the international pressure that caused President Bush to drop the steel tariffs. Bjørn Stærk (Norway) has an interesting summary of some Europeans congratulating themselves over their "balls of steel" and their great triumph over President Bush.

I don't find it surprising that some Europeans are congratulating themselves on the elimination of President Bush's steel tariffs. When one has had such little success in influencing the most powerful nation in the world, it is reasonable to celebrate when one is triumphant. Many of the most strident voices seem to come from the same people who vainly tried to keep Saddam in power. They are naturally grasping onto this victory like a starving man who finds a lone grape in an otherwise empty field. The White House has denied the role of European threats in the decision to drop the steel tariffs, but this rings as hollow as the the leftist claim that Saddam Hussein was not pursing weapons of mass destruction.

I must admit, part of me is slightly bothered that the US caved in to a threat, especially a threat from hypocrites who hide their farmers from free trade even more than we do. Threats are dangerous, especially when aimed at Americans. I believe I speak for the majority of my fellow citizens when I say our normal response to threats is to say "bring it on." Perhaps that is the cowboy in us. A large part of our willingness to fight is having the courage of our convictions. A sizable majority of us are willing to pay any cost for our core beliefs.

So why am I only slightly bothered by our giving in to this particular threat? Economic protectionism is not one of our core beliefs (in fact, the few who usually promote this are usually the ones who believe it is better to allow dictators to prosper than to fight). President Bush was wrong to have ever implemented the steel tariffs and removing them was the right thing to do. I am happy we finally did the right thing even if it took some outside pressure to nudge our President into action.

Now if only President Bush would work to eliminate our farm subsidies. Somehow I doubt the Europeans who claimed they believe in free trade would be glad to see it.

 
 
 
December 08, 2003
 
Good Reading

Real life is going to keep me very busy today. In the meantime, go read the latest Carnival of the Capitalists and the political Toast-O-Meter.

 
 
 
December 05, 2003
 
Drinking, Thinking, and Shrinking

Scientists have long known that heavy drinking killed brain cells and caused long-term brain shrinkage. However, they thought moderate drinking would not cause brain shrinkage. A team of scientists at John Hopkins tested that theory.

In the study, a team led by Jingzhong Ding used magnetic resonance imaging to scan the brains of almost 2,000 volunteers aged 55 and older, and asked them about their drinking habits.

None of the participants was a heavy drinker, and they were divided into teetotallers, former drinkers, occasional drinkers (less than one drink a week), low drinkers (one to six drinks) and moderate drinkers (seven to 14 drinks).

As the volunteers’ alcohol intake rose, the scans showed an increasing volume in the ventricular and sulcal regions of the brain — “empty” areas that contain only cerebrospinal fluid and no nervous tissue.

An increase in the size of these areas is a sign of brain atrophy or shrinkage, which is in turn associated with a loss of cognitive function and declining motor skills.



In other words, the more you drink, the more your brain shrinks. And even a little bit of drinking causes some shrinking.

 
 
 
December 04, 2003
 
New York Times Threatens Iraqi

Earlier today, I started a quest to see if the New York Times was really causing problems in Iraq. First of all the story is real. I have made contact with Ghayda Al Ali, the woman who wrote the original letter, and obtained more information from her. After her first letter to the New York Times, she was contacted by Susan Sachs, the New York Times’ Baghdad Bureau Chief. Glenn Reynolds was also able to verify the story through one of his sources who stated the NYT Baghdad bureau chief was working with 'em to fix this.

This story is fascinating and not just because of the Times story. It provides great insight into how some Iraqi citizens view the world. In a day or so I expect some newspapers to provide a brief mention of this story. Since I do not have to please an editor nor deal with physical space limitations, I will post a record of all correspondence between Miss Ghayda Al Ali and the New York Times.

The first letter to the New York Times.

Arthur Sulzberger

Chairman and Publisher

The New York Times

November 15, 2003

Dear Sir:

I am writing you on an issue of immediate concern.

My name is Ghayda Al Ali. While I am from Iraq, I am currently visiting the United States. As you can understand I am very interested in events back home. There is a most disturbing situation there which you should be aware of as your paper is an involved party.

My family has a property in the green zone in down town Baghdad on Abi-Nuas street. The New York Times rents the adjacent property. For several weeks now my brother Ali Al Ali has been denied automobile access to our property by security guards. Until two days ago we thought this was a coalition security measure. Now we known these guards are not coalition personal but are instead the private security force employed by your news paper.

The family property has two store fronts. Yesterday (Saturday November 15, 2003) my brother and two hired men were in one of the stores installing shelves. My brother lost his livelihood in the war and needs to open this store to make a living. His efforts were interrupted by several of the security guards employed by your paper. He was knocked roughly to the floor and threatened. Your guards pointed there AK-47 rifles and my brother and his work men and told them they would be shot if they did not leave immediately.

I feel sure if [you] learned the United States Army was responsible an incident such as this you would feel obligated to publish the story and condemn the act. In this his case I respectfully suggest you have an obligation to do somewhat more. [Boldness added]

My family needs full use of its lawful property. This means no interference of any type to access to the building. Your guards also block access of potential customers to this business location. While mindful of the security requirements of your Baghdad employees I believe they do not completely supercede our legal right to use our property.

I hope this is a simple misunderstanding that you can correct quickly. My family hopes yet to have The New York Times as a good neighbor. I urge you to contact me or my brother quickly as an indication of your good faith. I can be reached at the email address DELETED. Ask for Ghayda (pronounced Ride-dah). I will provide an email address for my brother upon hearing from you.

I will follow up this email with a letter to your office sent by United States Postal Service.

Please look into this matter quickly.

Sincerely,

Ghayda Al Ali



The New York Times did respond to Ms. Al Ali.

Dear Ms. Al Ali:

I am the Bureau Chief in Baghdad for The New York Times, and it's our house/office on Abu Nawwas Street that your letter to the newspaper addressed.

We do indeed employ guards for our house. As you may or may not know, UNICEF has completely blocked access to the street at the north end and the Sheraton Hotel and U.S. military have completely blocked access at the south end. The French Embassy, as well as BBC and Reuters, have blocked access from the one other side street, where your brother's house is located.

Because of these roadblocks, and new security measures at UNICEF put in place after the terrible suicide car bombing at the International Committee for the Red Cross, we were left two weeks ago with no one checking cars that bypassed the U.N. and drove over the curb onto our street.

Anyone could pass with missiles or car bombs meant for the Sheraton or Palestine Hotels, and it is possible they could as well target The New York Times, the French Embassy, Reuters and BBC. Such an event would doubtless destroy your brother's house as well.

To have acces [sic] to our house, therefore, we have cleared a dirt path from the main street, cutting behind the trees and up to the street near our house. We have cleared a parking area in the field next to the street for visitors. We have posted a guard at the point where the dirt path meets Abu Nawwas.

We now have that guard check all cars -- and that includes New York Times cars with New York Times staff inside -- to protect ourselves against car bombs, kidnappings and other criminal acts.

Current intelligence indicates that suicide car bombs, like those that killed and maimed so many Iraqis over the past weeks, remain the principal threat to "soft targets" such as ourselves and our neighbors. Looting also remains a problem and, I might point out, our guards now provide the only security for your brother's house.

In addition, beginning at about 5 p.m., we are the only inhabited building on the street, requiring us to put on extra guards at night.

I should also tell you -- and perhaps you could inform your brother -- that only three weeks ago, a car was parked just in front of his house that was suspected of carrying explosives. Two teams of bomb-sniffing dogs reacted to that car; Army explosives experts had to be called to investigate.

I write all this to give you a picture of what the neighborhood is like these days, through no fault of your brother's, of course, but also through no fault of our own. As you know, your brother's house is uninhabited day and night. When he drove in the other day to check on it, he was stopped on the dirt road entrance to the street by our guard. When he explained that he was the owner of the house, the guard called my office manager and our on-site British security advisor.

They explained to him the security concerns. But, in an effort to accommodate a neighbor, they said he could park his car in the lot next to the guard post and not have it checked. The distance from the parking lot to his house is perhaps 100 feet at most.

Your brother agreed, and then gunned his car and charged past the guard onto the street, driving straight toward our house. This behavior naturally alarmed our guards and staff. My office manager ran toward your brother's car and told him to move it away from the house immediately. T hey argued and got into a shoving match. Our professional security contractor and other witnesses say that NO gun was ever pointed at your brother's head or any other part of his body. What happened was an argument and shoving, in reaction to our alarm over your brother's behavior.

Nevertheless, I have gone to your brother's house several times since the incident to speak to him and explain why we are doing what we are doing. I wanted to see if we could work out an arrangement that would be acceptable to him for parking and access. I have never found him at home.

Please tell him that I am sorry the situation turned out as it did. I have cordial and cooperative relations with our other neighbors on the street, who actually occupy their building during the day and with whom we have worked out practical solutions to the security and access issues.

Once again, the street is blocked by UNICEF, the French Embassy and the Sheraton Hotel, not by The New York Times. Indeed, we are providing the only security and access for ourselves and our neighbors. We would welcome the opportunity to work with your brother.

Very truly yours,

Susan Sachs



Here is a copy of Ghayda’s reply to Susan:

Dear Madam Susan,

Thank you very much indeed for your response.

As you can imagine I am have been very concerned about my family for several months. Consequently I am in nearly daily email contact with friends and family in Baghdad. I am not unaware of the security issues involved with living and doing business in the green zone.

Yes the house in uninhabited. Saddam took it from use when I was just a small girl. After the war we were blessed with having the title of the house returned to us. As my brother has lost his business in the war it is important that we regain some source of income form this property. We hope to rent the house or to re-open one of the stores. Both possibilities are restrained by the current security issues.

On this topic there are some differences in your story and what I have heard from my family. Ali, my brother does not have troubles with Reuters, BBC, or UNICEF, only the Guards identifying themselves as employed by the New York Times. The Reuters guards have actually been sympathic [sic] to my brother. The one clear area of difference is apparently the events last Friday or Saturday. I admit with the eight hour time difference there is some question here. In any event in an email I received here in Pennsylvania at noon EST he wrote that while working at the property with two workman a security guard pointed a rifle at him and said "If you move I will shoot you" My brother protested this threat was unlawful. The guard replied "Let the law protect you" and knocked my bother to the ground. The workmen stand as witnesses to this so it should be possible to verify this incident. [boldness added]

I believe it is quite possible you are not fully aware of the events in question. Surely any worker would be reluctant to admit the whole story.

We respect your right to suitable protection while working but I respectfully suggest your present security arrangements impose an undue hardship to those who live work and own property on Ad-Abu Nuas street. There are others on this street with problems similar to those of my brother. Many Iraqi families depend upon business in this formally vibrant business street to feed their families. you indeed have valid security concerns but others on Abu Nuas have other concerns beyond security.

You may say you have not heard of these concerns. This is quite possible also. Please remember until the united States arrived any claim of injustice, no matter how mild, carried with it the real possibility of a death sentence. When my brother reported this incident at the Al karda police station the place and the judge told him there was nothing they could do against a powerful American newspaper. You see old ideas instilled under the threat of death die hard. That is why I attempt to correct this injustice from America. Until your response my brother had no apparent recourse. I emailed him your email address and telephone number and asked him to contact you. He speaks only a bit of English so a translator will be needed. I will of course be happy to translate but with the added time delay. [boldness added]

My family has suffered in the war. I lost an older brother and a dearly loved sister-in-law in the aftermath of the fighting. My brother Ali has his leg severely injured and it is not healed. it is very important to me that this last injustice to my brother and my family be resolved.

I thank you again for your response and ask you continue to talk to myself and my brother. I feel sure we can solve our problems and move on to the restoration of our lives.

I am looking forward to hearing from you soon.

Sincerely,

Ghayda Al Ali



Wow! Her letter brings home the fear in which most Iraqi lived under the terrible regime of Saddam. Imagine leaving under such oppression that even after the dictator has fled, your judges are so afraid of organizations with power that these officials say they can do nothing to enforce their citizens rights against the New York Times.

Here is a copy of Ms. Sachs’s reply to Mis Al Ali:

Dear Ghayda:

I am going out of Iraq for about a week so I won't be around if your brother comes by or calls.

I have again spoken to our guards and office manager, and they say they never entered the building. They stick by the story of the altercation at the car.

In any case, I remain concerned about the incident, whatever it was, and would like the chance to meet and assure your brother that we are good neighbors. If he comes by while I'm gone, the office manager is Basim, but I'll be back around Dec. 2.

Thanks and all the best,

Susan



Note the name of the office manager, Basim. This is very important. You will see why when you read Ms. Al Ali’s next email:

November 22, 2003

Dear Susan:

Thank you for your last email.

This afternoon I had a long voice over internet (VOIP) conversation with Ali. This has been the first time I spoke to my brother since the incident that initiated our correspondence and I now have a better idea of what happen and who was involved.

This is the story of the incident as I now know it.

Friday November 14th, about 1:30PM - Ali went to our property adjacent to your Baghdad office with two workmen. Per a previous understanding with your security guards he parked where they told him to park about 30m distance. He then walked to our property and entered the house with his two workmen. Up to this point Ali’s actions were with the knowledge and permission of your guards.

A few minutes later Basim arrived in front of the house and dressed down the guards for allowing Ali access. At this time Ali was inside our house and the guards and Basim were outside the house. The conversation was audible through the windows. Ali then came out to investigate the disturbance.

Basim began shouting at my brother. He used foul language. At some point Basim grabbed a rifle from a guard, pointed it at my brother’s head and said “I shoot you and shoot your car if I see you here again” Ali replied “There is no law that prevents my access to my property” While still holding the rife to my brothers head, Basim replied “Let the law protect you” and knocked my brother to the ground.

Basim concluded by stating “You Iraqis, there is no way to talk to you except by using force” [boldness added]

Ali turned to face your guards and said: “This is an insult to all Iraqis. Do you accept that?”

The guards responded negatively and told Ali to talk to you, Susan.



I give you a rather lengthy reproduction of the dialog of the incident in order to aid your investigation. Of course I was disturbed this afternoon to hear these details form my brother.

The good news if your guards did not participate in this incident as I first believed. I am also reassured the guards are ready to support my brother as witnesses to this incident. I am also pleased to hear your guards think highly enough of you to tell my brother to seek your help.

In response to your question, Bruce is indeed my friend. He is here in the other room as I write this. I did not know he wrote you but am not displeased he tried to help.

Ali returned with a lawyer on Monday November 17th to seek an appointment with you and learned you were out of town in Mousal. We now know you will be out of town until December 2nd. You understand, I am sure, it is not possible to ask Ali to come work out his differences with the New York Times with the man who promised to kill him if he returned. [boldness added]

From what I now understand, the guards who told you they did not threaten Ali, did not enter his property, and did not point a rifle at him are speaking the truth. But clearly there is still a problem to resolve and I respectfully suggest to you this problem cannot be delegated to Basim.

I feel this incident is sufficiently serious to prevent my willful acceptance of a two week delay in its resolution. Please make arrangements to deal with this problem, arrangements that do not involve Basim.

I remain available by email or by telephone call to the United States [phone number deleted]. Best time to call noon to 11 pm Eastern Standard time, Baghdad time would be 8:00 pm to 7:00 am. If you wish to call me I will not insist you get up in the middle of your night to do so. Please email me with the time you wish to place the call and I will make myself available to you.

As before thank you for your time.

Miss Ghayda Al Ali



So the New York Times Baghdad Bureau Chief recommends Miss Al Ali’s brother work out his differences with the very man who threatened his life. Reminds me of the New York Times’ editorials opposing the American liberation of Iraqi – after all, it is up to the Iraqis to resolve their leadership problems.

Ms. Sach replied when she returned, twelve days after Miss Al Ali’s email:

Didn't quite understand your message. As I had told you, I left Iraq for about a week and, as scheduled, I have just returned today. I would welcome a visit from your brother to discuss the parking situation. I am not always at the office, of course, so he might want to call in advance. But I look forward to meeting him.

Best,

Susan



I think this is a careless response to an email that claims one of your managers threatened the life of someone who is trying to meet you. Nevertheless, Miss Al Ali’s brother bravely met Ms. Sach in person today. Afterwards, he communicated the results with Miss Al Ali and my information is from her.

Ali, Miss Al Ali’s brother, stated that Susan (Ms. Sach) is now fully aware of his version of the events, but does not wish to pursue this any further. His impression is that she completely depends upon Basim and refused to consider any evidence against him. I tried to obtain more information about Basim. According to Miss Al Ali, Basim is Iraq, but she wonders if he also holds American Citizenship. He speaks English and Iraqi dialect very well. He works closely with the New York Times, although the exact relationship is unclear. Ali asked the NYT’s guards about Basim and was told he even hired them. Interestingly enough, a number of the guards have asked Ali to continue his efforts; it sounds like Basim rules by fear and will not be missed by his guards if he should be arrested.

Ali also met with Chief Paul Holton last week and was promised that the case will be heard in the Ministry of Justice soon. He also gave Ali papers which allows him to go to Abu Nuas Street. If you are wondering why the name Paul Holton sounds familiar, you may know of him by his blogger name.

To summarize, an Iraqi citizen claims to have been assaulted and threatened with death by an employee or agent of the New York Times. He appears to have witnesses. He brought this to the attention of the NYT Baghdad Bureau chief, who does not appear inclined to do anything about it. Chief Holton may be involved in ensuring this will go before the Ministry of Justice. Stay tuned for further developments.

Closing notes: In addition to emailing the New York branch of the New York Times, I emailed Ms. Sach and asked for her perspective. If she responds, I will post her perspective as well. I would like to thank Miss Al Ali for her time in putting this together and Glenn Reynolds for providing confirmation that there was indeed a story.

 
 
Adios Steel Tariffs

It is finally official. The steel tariffs will join the rubbish pile of other bad economic ideas.

 
 
Quixotic Quest – Shaming the NY Times

A tip of the helm to Lady Quixote, who sent me this Healing Iraq post. The New York Times has hired guards that are threatening the local property owners in their zeal to protect their own rental property. Here are some excerpts from a letter written to the Times by one of the besieged.

My family has a property in the green zone in down town Baghdad on Abi-Nuas street. The New York Times rents the adjacent property. For several weeks now my brother Ali Al Ali has been denied automobile access to our property by security guards. Until two days ago we thought this was a coalition security measure. Now we known these guards are not coalition personal but are instead the private security force employed by your news paper.

The family property has two store fronts. Yesterday (Saturday November 15, 2003) my brother and two hired men were in one of the stores installing shelves. My brother lost his livelihood in the war and needs to open this store to make a living. His efforts were interrupted by several of the security guards employed by your paper. He was knocked roughly to the floor and threatened. Your guards pointed there AK-47 rifles and my brother and his work men and told them they would be shot if they did not leave immediately.

I feel sure if learned the United States Army was responsible an incident such as this you would feel obligated to publish the story and condemn the act.[No doubt!]



This is a level of hypocrisy staggering even for the liberals at the New York Times. However, before I pull a Wayne Madsen, it would be nice to confirm this story. The elements in this story - a large hypocritical liberal conglomerate who disdained the use of force to liberate Iraq is now using force to harm Iraqis – could have come out of a conservative novel. On the other hand, truth is stranger than fiction.

I have written the New York Times to ask if this is true. While I await a response, which may or may not arrive, I would like to harness the power of the internet to verify this situation. If you know anyone who might be able to verify (or deny) this, please email them and ask them to contact me at quixote@solport.com. If you blog, please bring this story to the attention of your readers and ask them if they can verify or deny it.

If this story should be true, let us see how long it takes the blogosphere to fix the situation. I will post updates as they come in.



Update: With the help of Glenn Reynolds, I have confirmed the story. I will be posting details as soon as I finish writing it up - probably in an hour or so.



Final Update: A complete post of the events appears here.

 
 
A Low Bar to Hurdle

Howard Dean has been predicted to win the Democratic primary by many pundits, including myself. Dean is a smart, canny politician who has moved to the extreme left for the campaign and undoubtedly expects to move back to the center after winning the Democratic primary. However, for a smart man, Dean has done a lot of stupid things recently. Recognizing that the South is turning more conservative every year, he tried to appeal to them. But Dean managed to insult the overwhelming majority of them when he admonished Southerners to quit basing their votes upon "race, guns, God and gays." As Adam Graham eloquently remarked:

No other group besides Southerners are forbidden from honoring their heritage because of the wrongs their forbearers committed. Many Native American tribes practiced human sacrifice and awful methods of torture. African tribes were involved in slavery long before the White man came. The British Empire oppressed countless peoples across two oceans. Germany was the aggressor in two World Wars. Yet, they are not denied the right to honor their heritage.

Lincoln ended the Civil War by promising "charity to all and malice towards none." The Democratic Party, however, wants the world to know that they dishonor and disrespect the heritage of Southern Americans with a fanatical passion.

By declaring that Southerners should no longer base their votes on race, Dean is slamming the South as racist and demanding that they move on and mend their ways. Might I dare suggest that it is not the South but the Democratic Party that needs to leave the '60s behind?

In the modern South, Blacks and Whites coexist together in growing peace and harmony. The old sores of yesteryear are being healed for the most part. There are strong Black Republican candidates for congress in North Carolina and Georgia.

Dean does not and cannot understand the South. His slanderous statement that the South does not support Democrats because it is racist underlies the actual reason why they do not vote for this party.

By telling them not to base their votes on guns, Dean is making light of the Second Amendment and the concerns of those who want to preserve and protect their rights from government interference. You'll have to forgive the poor Southerners who care about the Constitution.

By telling them not to vote based on God, Dean is asking them to abandon their concerns about moral issues such as abortion and prayer in school. He's telling them to discard the faith of their fathers to support the Democrats’ campaign of death and decadency.

By telling them not to vote based on gays, Dean is demanding they accept as normal what they believe to be an abomination in the eyes of God and to have their children taught the same.

Dean demands that South surrender its soul, its heritage, and its liberty. In exchange, he offers them a chance to live on his government dependence plantation. He promises higher health care spending and higher education spending which we'll be paid for, with interest, by their children.



My better half, Lady Quixote, is from the deep South and Graham captured her reaction very well. Given both polls and anecdotal evidence, it seems reasonable to say Dean hurt his already weak chances in the South. So after hacking off a major chunk of the electorate, what does Dean do as an encore?

He has his governmental records sealed to avoid judging him on his complete history. Perhaps he read my intent to research his record if he won the Democratic primary? At any event, Dean then spent a week flip-flopping on why he had his records sealed. Howard Fineman (helm tip to Boots and Sabers) aptly described this:

Politicians never seem to get the concept of irony: Here is a guy who is running on the notion that he is a fearless, truth-telling outsider, and he’s covering up the reason for covering up.


Dean is a smart guy, but like many intellectuals he underestimates the population as a whole. He thinks he is so much smarter than everyone else that he can talk his way out of anything and people will lap it up. Given his problems, why is he still the Democratic frontrunner? Because winning the Democratic primary against his party rivals is a low bar to hurdle. With the potential exception of Gephardt, the others dwarfs do not strike me (or most of those following the campaign) as serious candidates. It remains to be seen if Dean will turn out to be a serious candidate himself.

 
 
 
December 03, 2003
 
A Noteworthy Event

Steven Den Beste is one of the most popular bloggers on the net. He approaches things with a very logical and practical perspective – think of a stereotypical engineer, but one who can actually write. He is at his best when he is either explaining how things work or giving his educated analysis on international politics (especially when it pertains to military force).



However, the one word I would never use to describe him is concise. For example, he once used over two thousand words describing the difference between deductive and inductive logic. He could have made this distinction in 30 words or less while still addressing his main point... (Note to nitpickers – the essay was well over 5,000 words, I conservatively estimate 40% of it was used in describing deductive vs. inductive logic). His elaboration may be one of the reasons why he is so popular (although I suspect he would be at least as popular if he were less wordy), but he is not known for being succinct.



Today he shocked me with a concise post answering seven questions about the rebuilding of Iraq. Is he well? Has he added conciseness to his skills? Or was this a fluke on par with snowmen being built in Hades?



Only time will tell.

 
 
Professional Courtesy

Why don’t sharks bite lawyers? Professional courtesy – or so goes the joke. Well, Zombyboy found a real-life example of this type of "professional" courtesy in Canada.

Fired for walking into his office drunk, toting a loaded, sawed-off shotgun and saying he was looking for his bosses, a Canadian man wants his union to help him get his job back.

...The city of Moncton dismissed him, but a week later Pavlovsky [the thug] went to his union to protest the firing and members agreed the union should help him try to get his job back once he finishes his prison term. [bold added]



Thugs and unions – yet another reason why I support a national right-to-work law. I also think the political consequences of compulsory unionism deserve investigation.

 
 
Modern Day Slaves

A tip of the helm to the King of Fools for bringing this post to my attention. It starts out with a historical cost analysis of slavery and then makes an analogy.

Even an opponent of slavery as lukewarm as William Makepeace Thackeray had to admit, writing to a friend in England: "Every person I have talked to here about it deplores it and owns that it is the most costly domestic machinery ever devised. In a house where four servants would do with us …. there must be a dozen blacks here, and the work is not well done."

...It must all have been very frustrating to the owners. They had important things to do, and here were the lazy good-for-nothing slaves delaying and dallying and just not putting their heart and soul into it.

Now, just possibly you the reader aren't very sympathetic. Just possibly you opine that the slaveowners had only themselves to blame - “Well, of course,” you are saying, “it's no surprise that if people are forced to work for nothing then they don't bust a gut.”

So why do so many people expect these familiar laws of human behaviour to suddenly change when the time is now and the work to be done is AIDS research?

...Because the drugs companies no longer believe that they are going to get rich out of AIDS research. In fact they begin to doubt they will get any compensation at all. They read the newspapers, they study the speeches of politicians, and they sense that the popular wind is blowing against them. They think, probably rightly, that governments will either force them to sell at a loss drugs that were developed at huge expense or will bypass them and the law entirely by buying generic copies of patent drugs.



The analogy is not perfect of course. Many researchers will continue to do their best to fight AIDS for humanitarian reasons. However, given the number of medical problems facing the world (heart disease, cancer, etc.), it stands to reason that companies and individual researchers will prefer to work on equally important challenges where they might make a profit vs. challenges where they will not be allowed to profit from their work. If the problem of medical research intrigues you, I suggest you read the original Samizdata post along with the comments.

 
 
Job Market Continues to Improve

ISM just released their latest non-manufacturing report on business and I used this information to update Solport’s employment charts. For two months in a row, jobs continue to be added in the non-manufacturing industries. The manufacturing sector is still losing jobs, but the rate of loss is smaller than it has been since the sector last gained jobs in June 2002.



If present trends continue, jobs availability will continue to increase in non-manufacturing industries and may start to increase in the manufacturing sector. In my opinion, the most significant foreseeable change to these trends would be the elimination of President Bush’s steel tariffs. If these are removed, it should dramatically increase the potential for job growth in the manufacturing industries (excepting the steel production industry which has been protect from market realities given the tariffs).



The ISM data is yet another indication that the that the job market will continue to improve in 2004.


 
 
 
December 01, 2003
 
It's About Time

If this report is correct, President Bush will be correcting one of his largest mistakes by dropping the steel tariffs.



I expect the removal of these tariffs will add a significant boost to the US economy that will show up on economic indicators in a matter of months. While I remain frustrated by President Bush's fiscal policies, I don't think the economy will be an issue next Fall (at least for the Democrats). When you look at the removal of the steel tariffs, President Bush's tax cuts, low interest rates, and our current stage of the business cycle (early part of recovery), the economy will be sizzling by November 2004.

 

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