Category Archives: Foreign Affairs

Europeans Go On Strike; Americans Simply Defy

One of my personal bits of curiousity about the world is related to cultural “ways of thinking”. While I don’t believe that Americans are innately different than Europeans, or Chinese, or Russians, there are certainly differences in average thought borne of the different cultural histories of each place. Dale Franks at QandO recently posted about differences between Germans and Americans when faced with authority, and a new story out of Italy highlights another example of a difference:

Did you know that Italian bloggers are on strike? It’s true! Since July 14, Italy’s bloggers have been under self-imposed silence, in protest of a proposed law (called the Alfano decree) that would grant a right of reply to those who feel their reputations have been besmirched by something posted on the Web, writes the BBC.

A strike?? Oooh, I’m scared. I think that if American bloggers went on strike, our politicians and our newspapers would be dancing in the streets. The law proposed in Italy is a method for discouraging blogging, and here the Italian bloggers are playing right into their hands!

But when reading this, I was struck by something. Is a strike the only way Europeans know to respond to something like this? (French car-b-ques excepted, of course!)

I remember something similar here in the US. The FEC was considering regulations that would regulate bloggers’ opinions as campaign speech. Immediately thereafter, the response of the American blogosphere was a little different than a strike: we signed on to the Patterico Pledge:

If the FEC makes rules that limit my First Amendment right to express my opinion on core political issues, I will not obey those rules.

The Italians say “we do not like-a this law, please a-change it.” The Americans say “you can take this law and stick it where the sun don’t shine, ‘cuz we’re not gonna obey it.” The Italians would do well to learn that refusal to obey is a little more powerful than a complaint.

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Rare Praise for Former President Bill Clinton

I’m not normally one to say nice things about former President Bill Clinton but I have to say kudos for his securing the release of the two American journalists turned political prisoners in N. Korea.

Reuters Reports:

SEOUL — North Korea said on Wednesday it had pardoned two jailed American journalists after former U.S. President Bill Clinton met the reclusive state’s leader Kim Jong-il, a move some analysts said could pave the way to direct nuclear disarmament talks.

Clinton’s spokesman said the former president had left Pyongyang with the two reporters and they were flying to Los Angeles.

“President Clinton has safely left North Korea with Laura Ling and Euna Lee. They are enroute to Los Angeles where Laura and Euna will be reunited with their families,” spokesman Matt McKenna said in a statement.”

While I think the notion that the release of these two reporters could lead to productive disarmament talks is a bit premature, I think we should be happy that these two young women are now safe and no longer the slaves of Kim Jong-il.

Though the release of the reporters is undoubtedly a joyous occasion for many freedom loving people, at least one person is not so happy. Former Ambassador John Bolton was quoted in Breitbart.com as saying “It [Clinton’s visit with Kim Jong-il] comes perilously close to negotiating with terrorists” and “I think this is a very bad signal because it does exactly what we always try and avoid doing with terrorists or with rogue states in general, and that’s encouraging their bad behavior.”

Wake up Ambassador, the U.S. government has “negotiated with terrorists” for many decades, even on your watch. Hell, sometimes the U.S. government props up these regimes while turning a blind eye to human rights abuses and national/global security threats when the regime in question helps support the goals of the U.S. government. How is Clinton’s visit to Pyongyang any worse?

A 12 year sentence in N. Korea’s work camps might as well be a death sentence; Clinton may well have saved their lives. We shouldn’t lose sight of that.

Chavez’ Plan: Domination Through Caffeine Withdrawal!

We’ve already reported on Venezuelan food shortages, which are going to make the population too weak to fight Chavez. Now it appears they’ll be too tired as well:

Venezuela, a traditional coffee exporter that boasts one of the best cups of java in South America, may have to import coffee for the first time ever this year or face shortages, industry experts said.

Producers say rising costs and prices fixed by the government have caused production to fall and illegal exports to rise. The government says poor climate and speculation by growers and roasters is to blame.

“There is a serious shortage,” Pedro Vicente Perez, coffee director with the national agricultural federation, Fedeagro, told Reuters.

“This is the first time ever Venezuela will have to import large quantities of coffee,” Perez said.

If Alaska goes communist, they’ll have a shortage of snow.

Hat Tip: Carpe Diem via TJIC

Breaking News: Results Of Honduran Referendum!

As reported (circumspect) by QandO:

One of the district attorneys that participated in the operation that took place this Friday showed reporters an official voting result from the Technical Institute Luis Bogran, of Tegucigalpa, in which the specific number of people that participated in table 345, where there were 550 ballots, 450 of which were votes in favor of Zelaya’s proposal and 30 were against, in addition to 20 blank ballots and 30 ballots, which were nullified.

That’s a very complete report of the election, and contains a wealth of details about the results that would be a credit to the authorities in charge of any election.

Of course, it would be even more impressive if the referendum had actually taken place.

There was no referendum. It was aborted by the legal, constitutional removal of Mr. Zelaya from power.

And yet, in the presidential palace’s computer, Mr. Zelaya apparently had a complete, certified result of an election that never took place.

Between real life and all the other important things worth posting about, I’ve been off the Honduras deal. QandO has been doing an excellent job on this one, so I recommend heading over there. That said, I’m only partially jumping onto this bandwagon… This is still a story in its infancy, and I’ve been burned enough to know that “reports” don’t always equal “evidence”.

But that being said, this does seem to fit the playbook. Such a thing being true would confirm my priors. So even if I’m not absolutely jumping cojones-deep into believing that this actually happened, I really want to see the follow-up investigation to see if it can be proved.

Photos From Iran

Between Iran’s internal crackdown on journalists and communications, and CNN’s insistence on devoting every hour of the day to Michael Jackson coverage, I’ve been having quite a bit of trouble getting any “real” reports of what’s going on over there. Luckily, I was able to sit down with a coworker who emigrated from Iran at the age of 14 and still has some family and regular contacts back there. The report? Not good…

Like everyone else, his reports are somewhat spotty, as even when he calls family they’re reluctant to talk about things frankly. The concerns we have in the US about the domestic wiretapping program are small potatoes to what the Iranians live under, with a state surveillance service that listens to phone calls, intercepts/modifies emails and text messages, etc. There are quite a few reports of protesters simply “disappearing”. Many of us would think that the Iranian army would be reluctant to commit some of these atrocities against their countrymen — so Iran has recruited from Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Iraq to get forces that don’t have such compunctions. He provided me this excellent link to a gallery of protest photos, and I highly recommend checking it out. As the pictures show, it’s a mess.

News is trickling out, but it’s coming slow and is often very untrustworthy. Right now it appears the protesters are losing steam, but as we’ve seen in some similar events internationally, the support for a regime such as this may appear strong but can evaporate in an instant. I’m just not sure if the regime’s reign will be measured in days or years.

I Don’t Ask Congress To Applaud Iranian Protesters, But I’ll Do It Myself

Congress has voted to condemn the actions of the Iranian government, and as Reason points out, Ron Paul in typical contrarian fashion is the sole “no” vote:

I rise in reluctant opposition to H Res 560, which condemns the Iranian government for its recent actions during the unrest in that country. While I never condone violence, much less the violence that governments are only too willing to mete out to their own citizens, I am always very cautious about “condemning” the actions of governments overseas. As an elected member of the United States House of Representatives, I have always questioned our constitutional authority to sit in judgment of the actions of foreign governments of which we are not representatives. I have always hesitated when my colleagues rush to pronounce final judgment on events thousands of miles away about which we know very little. And we know very little beyond limited press reports about what is happening in Iran.

I applaud Ron Paul for taking his usual principled stand. Our Congress does not need to be spending their time issuing Resolutions toothless moralistic statements about America, much less other countries. Even if I were to retreat from my cautious anarchist tendencies and accept that Congress actually deserves real responsibilities, that responsibility is to legislate, not preach.

But a part of those anarchist tendencies is Heinlein’s rational anarchy. All actions are ultimately morally within the hands of individuals. Immaterial of laws or society, it is the individual who is morally responsible for acting rightly or wrongly.

So I don’t ask Congress to speak on Iran. Taking a chance to personalize H Res 560, let me do it myself:

Resolved, That Brad Warbiany —

  1. expresses his support for all Iranian citizens who embrace the values of freedom, human rights, civil liberties, and rule of law;
  2. condemns the ongoing violence against demonstrators by the Government of Iran and pro-government militias, as well as the ongoing government suppression of independent electronic communication through interference with the Internet and cellphones; and
  3. affirms the universality of individual rights and considers any government which infringes upon those individual rights to be illegitimate.

Iran is at a very important point. In a mere matter of hours, this may come to a head. The mullahs have signaled that they will resort to violence with a call that any who continue protesting “will be held responsible for the consequences and chaos.” Many people in Iran have said that they’re going to protest anyway.

As I write this in California, it is 10:15 AM in Iran. Much will happen in the next few hours. To those Iranians who are not sure what will happen next, I can only wish you safety and success. I’m not sure you’ll have the former, but if you don’t I at least hope you achieve the latter.

Quote Of The Day

From David Rittgers, Cato@Liberty:

As I have said before, the quickest way to create an insurgent is to burn a man’s livelihood. This may be a competent counternarcotics tactic, but it is an epic failure as a counterinsurgency strategy. We can fight a war against the Taliban or we can fight the war on drugs, but we can’t do both in the same place at the same time.

Internally, libertarians can debate the merits of the Afghanistan conflict and whether the end result will be a safer or less safe America. My view is that if done properly, counterinsurgency operations can be successful over the long term, but it is situationally dependent whether they’re worth the effort.

What I think we can all agree on is that the drug war is unwinnable, and that fighting the drug war in Afghanistan is a mutually exclusive goal with our counterterrorism efforts there. If we have to give up one goal, I suggest the drug war.

UPDATE: Edited post to correctly attribute quote to David Rittgers, not Doug Bandow. My mistake and my apologies to David for the error.

Even David Duke Has The Right To Free Speech

Friday in the Czech Republic, Czech police detained a foreigner on suspicion of Thoughtcrime. The foreigner in question is former KKK leader David Duke who was arrested and later deported for the Thoughtcrime offense of denying the Holocaust.

Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke was detained by police in the Czech Republic on Friday on suspicion of denying the Holocaust.

Police spokesman Jan Mikulovsky said the action was taken because Duke does that in his book “My Awakening,” which is punishable by up to three years in Czech prisons.

Duke traveled to the republic to promote the book’s Czech translation of the book at the invitation of neo-Nazis.

The thought of arresting someone, even a person whose views on the Holocaust and on Jews and other non-whites is hideous like David Duke, for having a belief is repugnant. Especially in a supposedly free country and NATO member like the Czech Republic. Arresting people and deporting them for thoughtcrimes is the hallmark of totalitarian regimes. Is not forgetting the pain and suffering the Nazi tyranny imposed on Czechs the reason behind this law? Instead, this law has been enacted and enforced in the spirit of that same Nazi and later Communist tyrannies that enslaved Czechoslovakia. The Holocaust denial laws are a violation of basic freedom of speech and freedom of thought and should be repealed. The hideousness of the Holocaust can stand up under any scrutiny the Holocaust deniers bring forth.

Also, the lack of response by the United States Department of State toward this violation of Duke’s human rights is appalling. If this was an American promoting democracy in say China and they were expelled for the Thoughtcrime of promoting democracy by the Chinese government, the State Department would be raising hell. Why the silence in this case?

Finally, one thing I noticed in the comments to the original article is the calls by the fascist left in America for similar crimes in this country. I thought leftists were for free speech?

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at IJ Review.com and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

Where Did The Anti-War Movement Go?

In the American Conservative, Antiwar.com editor Justin Raitmando (whom I often disagree with) has a piece detailing some more leftist hypocrisy concerning their Messiah and his plans to expand the Afghan War

The antiwar rally at the University of Iowa was sparsely attended. The below 30 degree weather might have had something to do with it, but Paul Street, a local writer and one of the speakers, had another theory, as the Daily Iowan reported:

Before the crowd of fewer than 20, Street questioned why the ‘left’ locals and university officials aren’t doing more to help in the protests against the war. ‘The big truth right now, whether this town’s missing-in-action progressives get it or not, is that we need to fight the rich, not their wars,’ he said, citing big corporations for wasting their technology and funding on war.

The big truth is that the antiwar movement has largely collapsed in the face of Barack Obama’s victory: the massive antiwar marches that were a feature of the Bush years are a thing of the past. Those ostensibly antiwar organizations that did so much to agitate against the Iraq War have now fallen into line behind their commander in chief and are simply awaiting orders.

Take, for example, Moveon.org, the online activist group that ran antiwar ads during the election—but only against Republicans—in coalition with a group of labor unions and Americans Against Escalation in Iraq. Behind AAEI stood three of Obama’s top political operatives, Steve Hildebrand, Paul Tewes, and Brad Woodhouse. Woodhouse is now the Democratic National Committee’s director of communications and research. He controls the massive e-mail list culled by the Obama campaign during the primaries and subsequently, as well as a list of all those who gave money to the presumed peace candidate. These donors are no doubt wondering what Obama is doing escalating the war in Afghanistan and venturing into Pakistan.

As Greg Sargent noted over at WhoRunsGov.com, a Washington Post-sponsored site, “Don’t look now, but President Obama’s announcement today of an escalation in the American presence in Afghanistan is being met with mostly silence—and even some support—from the most influential liberal groups who opposed the Iraq War.”

In response to inquiries, Moveon.org refused to make any public statement about Obama’s rollout of the Af-Pak escalation, although someone described as “an official close to the group” is cited by WhoRunsGov as confirming that “MoveOn wouldn’t be saying anything in the near term.” A vague promise to poll their members was mentioned—“though it’s unclear when.” Don’t hold your breath.

Another Democratic Party front masquerading as a peace group, Americans United for Change, declined to comment on the war plans of the new administration. This astroturf organization ran $600,000 worth of television ads in the summer of 2007, focusing like a laser on congressional districts with Republican incumbents. Change? Not so fast.

The boldest of the peacenik sellouts, however, is Jon Soltz of VoteVets, described by WhoRunsGov as “among the most pugnacious anti-Iraq war groups.” They came out fists flying, endorsing the escalation of the Long War.

According to Soltz, there is “much to like in the plan,” but his faves boil down to three factors, which supposedly represent “a stark departure” from the bad old days of the Bush administration. He applauds the administration’s recognition that “The military can’t do it all.” Yet we’re increasing the troop levels by some 17,000, plus 4,000 trainers to babysit the barely existent Afghan “army.” We’re going to send thousands more civilians—aid workers, medical personnel, and military contractors—to build the infrastructure lacking in Afghan society and promote fealty to the central government in Kabul. Schools, clinics, roads, and shopping malls will be built with American tax dollars in order to foster trust between the Afghans, their occupiers, and their government.

The so-called “anti-war” groups that popped up before the Iraq War were never anti-war. Many of their founders and leaders cheered on BJ Clinton’s wars in the Balkans and in Haiti. They were not completely anti-American or merely “on the other side” as some conservative and neo-libertarian bloggers accused them either. The “anti-war” movement was simply a rallying point for leftists and Democrat party hacks who needed to gain traction against a popular (at the time) President Bush. They needed to sow doubt about the Iraq War (the mismanagement of the war by the Bush administration helped as well) in order to have a wedge issue against President Bush. Naturally, they rooted for more American deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq and for American objectives to go unfulfilled, at least while Bush was president.

Now their Messiah has been elected and he wants to expand the Afghan War, possibly into Pakistan. What’s a leftist posing a peace activist supposed to do. Well, what all good leftists do, follow their leader, in this case the Messiah. He wants to send 17,000 more Americans into Afghanistan to bring democracy, destroy the Taliban, and put in chicken in every Afghan pot. He has not defined what “victory” is in Afghanistan, nor does he have a plan, short of nuclear war, to combat the Talibanization of Pakistan. If George W. Bush planned this, the so-called peace activists would have been the ones having Tea Parties on April 15.

Aren’t the so-called “peace activists” being just a tad bit hypocritical now that their Messiah is in the Oval Office and wants his little war?

Finally, I just want to point out, I do not intend to attack sincere opponents of US foreign policy and interventionism, like Justin Raitmando. I disagree with some of Justin’s positions and lot of his rhetoric. However I can respect Justin and most paleoconservatives and paleolibertarians as principled noninterventionists who oppose most if not all US military campaigns over the past two decades and longer.

It is the unprincipled hacks on the left who adopt the phony cause of “anti-war” when they’re out of power that need to be condemned.

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at IJ Review.com and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

Responding to Piracy on the Somali Coast

Somali pirates have been in the news a great deal lately, and there is a great deal of controversy as to how to deal with them.  To date, the proposed solutions seem to be a simplistic calls for a) intervention to build a stable state in Somalia, b) send in various national navies to engage and destroy the pirates, c) arm merchant ships for self defense.

The reality is, though, far more complex, and much of the proposed interventions are actually counterproductive.  To understand the scope of the problem, we must understand first why there is so much piracy in and around the gulf of Aden.

Piracy and lawlessness go hand in hand.  Piracy arises pretty spontaneously wherever relatively unprotected and valuable cargos are being transported through an impoverished area, and the inhabitants have the weapons to pull off the raid and a reasonable chance of  getting away with it.

In the case of the Gulf of Aden, piracy has long been an issue.  But, the number of people taking up piracy spiked as a result of the recent U.S. backed invasion of Somalia by Ethiopia.  Many people have been driven off their land, or have lost their ability to earn a living due to the economic collapse that followed the invasion and the rise of an anti-Ethiopian resistance.  Moreover, the plundering of Somali fishing grounds by foreign fishing fleets has resulted in a large pool of desperate fishermen who no longer can feed their families through honest labor.

The poverty and desperation of the Somalis, their ready access to weapons, and the existence of shipping routes connecting the valuable markets of South and East Asia with the Mediterranean running right off their coastline have predictably encouraged many locals to take up lives of piracy.  There will be no simple solution that ends the threat of piracy.  Rather the problem will persist so long as the root causes are unaddressed, and merchants are prevented from adequately defending themselves.

The first step is to listen to the merchants themselves:

TYPICAL ATTACK PROFILES AND LESSONS LEARNT

1. During 2008 significantly increased pirate attacks on merchant ships occurred throughout the GoA [aka Gulf of Aden] and off the coast of Somalia. The majority were clustered around the northern side of the GoA
but some attacks have occurred further off the east coast of  Somalia.

2. Analysis of successful attacks indicates that the following common vulnerabilities are exploited by the pirates:

a. Low speed

b. Low freeboard

c. Inadequate planning and procedures

d. Visibly low state of alert and/or evident self protective measures

e. Where a slow response by the ship is evident

3. Commonly two or more small high speed (up to 25 knots) open boats/ “skiffs” are used in attacks often approaching from the port quarter and/or stern.

4. The use of a pirate “mother ship”, which is a larger ship carrying personnel, equipment and smaller assault craft, has enabled the attacks to be successfully undertaken at a greater range from the shore.

5. Vigilance should be highest at first light and last light, as the majority of the attacks have taken place during these periods.

6. To date no successful attacks have occurred on ships at 15 knots or more.

7. The majority of attempted hijacks have been repelled by ship’s crew who have planned and trained in advance of the passage and employed passive counter measures to good effect.

Reading discussions by mariners, it is pretty clear that what mariners want are options, and the access to experts who can defend them.     Many sailors complain that when they call for help, national navies are slow to respond.  Many countries limit merchant ships entering their ports from carrying any weapons other than a side-arm locked in the captain’s safe.  Moreover, the navies can be quite destructive, sinking ships that are not engaging in piracy.

There is a nascent security industry dedicated to protecting merchant ships.  The problem appears to be manageable for prepared crews.  If they transit the area quickly, they appear to be relatively safe.

Somali motivations into taking up piracy are quite complex.  Essentially they are the product of the unwillingness of surrounding nation states to accept the existence of a stateless inhabited portion of the world. Somali piracy started out as a response to the loss of access to the rich fishing grounds off the Somali coast.  Korean, European and Yemeni fishing vessels would haul in rich catches in Somali territorial waters, effectively denying the Somali fishermen who had homesteaded those fisheries from access to their property.  Deprived of their livelihood, they turned to opportunistic piracy, using the same system as that of the Barbary Pirates (with the exception that they treat their captives well).  Unfortunately, what started out as an act of desperation has mutated into an institution:  piracy rings have turned into big business.  Pirates supply wealth and weapons to various factions fighting the U.S. backed state. Members of the U.S. backed state are also on the pirate rings’ payroll.  The invasion has disrupted the traditional economy, making people even more dependent on piracy.

“Millions in defense, not one cent in tribute” – Thomas Jefferson

Breaking up these crime rings will require a combination of concessions and steadfast resistance.  Merchant ships should be permitted to arm themselves as they see fit to defend themselves.  A few AK-47’s or .50 cal machine guns on board a maneuvering ship should be sufficient to keep small boats from closing to the point where they can board. Ships must be allowed to do what they need to do able to transit

However, the same should not be said for the large foreign vessels plundering the Somali coastal waters.  The fishing grounds are the property of the Somali fishermen who have, in a Lockean sense, homesteaded them.   Outsiders should respect those property rights.  This would not represent some dramatic special consideration given to the Somalis; under International Law, those fishing grounds are off limits to the foreign fishing fleets since they are Somali territorial waters.

The U.S. government should end interference in Somalia.  While there is nothing wrong with punitive expeditions against professional pirates, the conquest and subjugation of non-pirates who happen to live near pirates and the disruption of their farms and industries are absolutely unjustified and counterproductive.

By geography, Somalia should be a wealthy state.  It is well positioned to be an outlet of African goods being shipped to South and East Asia.  Its poverty is the product of the nearly continuous attempts by outsiders to impose external rule on a people who don’t want it – interventions that started when Mussolini sent Italian troops to conquer the Horn of Africa.

Early this year, the Ethiopian army retreated from Somalia.  The nation state that they left behind is now run by many of the same Islamist political factions that the U.S. government was trying to suppress when it arranged for the Ethiopian invasion and attempted to install a puppet state.  Accepting this ‘defeat’, and switching from a policy of nation-building to  working diplomatically with clan leaders to address and legitimate grievances they may hold against U.S. nationals, while refusing to accept crimes committed against peaceful vessels transiting the area would do much to improve the situation.

I am an anarcho-capitalist living just west of Boston Massachussetts. I am married, have two children, and am trying to start my own computer consulting company.

United Nations Opposes Freedom of Religion

Some group calling itself the United Nations Human Rights Council passed a resolution yesterday opposing what they see as the leading human rights issue of our time. You’re probably thinking, maybe they’re now addressing the situation in Darfur, or perhaps they’re talking about Communist China’s treatment of Tibetians. Perhaps there maybe a resolution about Cuba’s continuing persecution of its citizens. If you guessed any of the above, you were wrong. Instead, this little cabal decided to pass a resolution condemning “defamation of religion”.

A United Nations forum on Thursday passed a resolution condemning “defamation of religion” as a human rights violation, despite wide concerns that it could be used to justify curbs on free speech in Muslim countries.

The U.N. Human Rights Council adopted the non-binding text, proposed by Pakistan on behalf of Islamic states, with a vote of 23 states in favor and 11 against, with 13 abstentions.

Western governments and a broad alliance of activist groups have voiced dismay about the religious defamation text, which adds to recent efforts to broaden the concept of human rights to protect communities of believers rather than individuals.

What exactly is defamation of religion? Is criticizing certain Islamic practices such as stoning adulterers defaming Islam? Is criticizing Sharia law because it is a barbaric, seventh century legal code defaming Islam?

Or is flying jetliners into skyscrapers defaming Islam? Maybe the Pakistani government should answer that instead of handing the Taliban parts of their country and demand we shut up.

Of course this is nothing more than an attempt by the nations of the Islamic conference than to further exempt themselves from the conduct of civilized nations, especially on matters of freedom of speech, thought, and coinscience. Under this resolution, just about anything from criticizing an “Islamic government” to demanding human rights for religious minorities and certain groups such as homosexuals as “defaming religion”. This resolution is nothing more than the criminalization of thought.

Another curious thought, what does the Islamic conference in particular and this cabal in general think about anti-Semitism?

Of course there was some opposition to this resolution by more civilized nations.

India and Canada also took to the floor of the Geneva-based Council to raise objections to the OIC text. Both said the text looked too narrowly at the discrimination issue.

“It is individuals who have rights, not religions,” Ottawa’s representative told the body. “Canada believes that to extend (the notion of) defamation beyond its proper scope would jeopardize the fundamental right to freedom of expression, which includes freedom of expression on religious subjects.”

Perhaps Canada’s objections would have a little more merit if Canada wasn’t engaged in its own war on thoughtcrime.

Finally, a simple question of morality. Why does the world take a body seriously that calls itself the “UN Human Rights Council” that has Nigeria as its president and includes such members as Egypt, Russia, Cuba, China, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan? Isn’t this really letting the fox guard the henhouse?

If these countries won’t protect human rights at home, why would they protect human rights around the world?

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at IJ Review.com and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

Obama’s Policy to Fight Mexican Drug Cartels is Doomed to Fail

The Obama administration, rather than dealing with the root cause of the violence along the Mexican border, has decided to adopt a policy to deal with the symptoms. The problem is that this policy will neither alleviate the symptoms nor come close to treating the problem.

WASHINGTON – The Obama administration promised Tuesday to help Mexico fight its drug war by cutting off the cartels’ supply of guns and profits, while resisting the Texas governor’s call for a troop surge at the border to ward off spillover violence.

Let’s assume for a moment that Obama’s policy to prevent Mexico bound firearms from leaving the U.S. 100% successful. Given the fact that the drug cartels can acquire firearms from other sources (such as corrupt Mexican government agents with access to firearms among other sources) the only difference would be that the firearms are no longer coming from the U.S.

The Obama administration correctly identifies that the drug cartels are so powerful because of the profitability of the illicit drug trade. It’s this ability to make enormous profits, particularly in an impoverished country as Mexico, that attracts players into the business and makes corruption on the part of government officials almost irresistible. Unfortunately, though the Obama administration has identified the profitability of the drug trade as the source of the drug cartels’ power, there is clearly a profound misunderstanding of the way basic economics work (as if the bailouts, handouts, and myriad of other government programs were not proof enough).

The steps announced by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano – 450 federal agents shifted to border duty, supplied with dogs trained to detect both drugs and cash, and scanners to check vehicles and railcars heading into Mexico – amount to a subtle but important shift:

The blockade of contraband will now be a two-way effort. The fence begun under the Bush administration will be completed, to deter smugglers of drugs and workers. But the new emphasis will be on disrupting the southbound flow of profits and weapons that fuel the cartels.

At his televised news conference Tuesday, President Barack Obama said that for now, it’s more important to disrupt the cartels’ access to profits and weapons than to fortify the border with soldiers.

“That’s what makes them so dangerous,” he said. “The steps that we’ve taken are designed to make sure that the border communities in the United States are protected and you’re not seeing a spillover of violence. … If the steps that we’ve taken do not get the job done, then we will do more.”

So what’s wrong with this approach? The basic economic law of supply and demand tells us that whenever a product is in high demand (drugs in this case) and the supply is lower (in this case by successful drug interdiction by the U.S. governemnt), those who supply the given demand stand to profit more NOT LESS! Whether Obama’s policy results in a decrease in the supply of drugs of 1% or 99%, those drugs which do make it to the end customer will pay even more to get them.

I would even go as far as to say that the Mexican drug cartels would cheer this policy. Sure, the cartels might have more difficulty moving their product into the U.S. and their profit and firearms out of the U.S. but for the most clever smugglers, these enhanced drug interdiction efforts would filter out the competition! (And we know how black market operators hate competition).

On some level, I do believe that even the political class understand this but somewhere, there is a disconnect. Just yesterday in her visit to Mexico, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton admitted that the war on (some) drugs over the past 30+ years “has not worked.”

“Our insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade.”

And now the disconnect:

“Our inability to prevent weapons from being illegally smuggled across the border to arm these criminals causes the deaths of police officers, soldiers and civilians…”

Mrs. Clinton apparently recognizes how the war on (some) drugs has been an abject failure fails to realize that the Chosen One’s policies will do little to reverse this trend. If she truly wants to do something productive, something has to be done about what she (correctly) describes as this “insatiable demand” for these drugs. She seems to understand that the “Just say No” campaign didn’t work but does she and others within the Obama administration really believe that more drug hysteria PSA’s will do anything to curb this demand?

Given how the Obama administration has decided to deal with the drug war related violence along the border, I’m not optimistic. If spending billions of dollars annually on this insane war on (some) drugs which has contributed to leading the world in the number of people in prison (imprisoning 1 out of every 100 adults; more than half of the U.S. prison population is there because of drug related offenses) has failed to curb the demand, then perhaps it’s time to try a different approach.

Nothing short of legalizing the drug trade will stop the violence, so why does the politicos, law enforcement, and government bureaucrats at almost every level continue the same “get tough” policy which clearly has not worked? The only conclusion I can come to: they must be high.

What If You Threw A Borrowing Party And Nobody Lent?

Governments, ready to spend boatloads cruiseliner-loads of money they don’t have, are trying to borrow it — to the extent possible — from the markets. I mentioned yesterday that the US was starting to print our own money to lend to ourselves. Britain is facing a similar problem — they were auctioning off some bonds, and nobody wanted to buy:

There is a limit to what bond investors will put up with. As governments inflate their fiscal deficits to deal with the crisis, they are issuing an awful lot of government bonds. And some of it is going to prove a tough sell.

Today, the UK suffered a failed auction for the first time since 2002. The Debt Management Office received bids for just £1.63 billion of a £1.75 billion offering. As the government has to sell nearly £150 billion of gilts in the coming (2009-10) financial year, this is hardly an encouraging sign.

To the casual observer, it might seem unsurprising that investors turned their nose up. They were being asked to lend money at 4.5% for 40 years to a country that, even in the midst of a recession, has an inflation rate above the government target, has a deficit expected by the IMF to be 11% of GDP next year, and a currency that has fallen by a quarter against the dollar since last summer.

During the Wall Street “flight to quality” seen late last year, yields on short-term Treasuries dropped significantly as 0.1% returns on short-term bonds were better than the worry of losing 30% of your wealth as the stock market tanked nearly uniformly. But the key there is short-term.

Right now, nobody really believes that governments are going to exercise monetary prudence in the face of cratering economies. That’s true in America, and it’s true in Britain. Why would someone lend money for a 4.5% 40-year return if they honestly think inflation over that time period will ensure they lose quite a bit of money?

Governments are going to borrow lots of money, and the market is not enthralled by the lending terms they’re being offered. There are two ways to get around this. You can offer better terms (i.e. higher yield bonds), but that has the downside of letting the world know that you plan to inflate your own currency. Alternatively, you can simply print the money you need to borrow and loan it to yourself at whatever terms you want. It seems that central banks in the US and Britain are already taking that path, and the market sees the writing on the wall.

Is Dollar Hegemony About To End?

Just over two years ago, I offered a worst-case prediction of where this economic crisis could lead.

Wait, though, it gets worse. America isn’t an empire in the conventional sense of the word, but we are an economic empire. The dollar is the currency of the world, from middle eastern oil to the reserve currencies of countless nations. During the Great Depression, or during the stagflation of the 1970’s, other nations were stuck with the dollar, because nothing else was suitable. But if the dollar starts dropping in a major inflation, they now have options. And if they drop the dollar, it’s all over. All of a sudden, America won’t draw on the world for our own stability. Considering the actions of our politicians, that’s a bad, bad thing.

We may be witnessing the end of America as the world’s superpower. It may be the end of our status as the economic empire of the world. Some across the globe, of course, will cheer. After all, they feel like America is the premier force of evil in the world. For all the bad that we’ve done, though, we’ve been a pretty stable force, and worked to prevent the spread of fascism and communism, across the globe. America’s economic system has been the safe-haven for the world. When a position of power is vacated, what typically fills it is rarely positive. The end of the American empire will likely result in more instability worldwide.

There are two reasons that I’m very, very concerned about this.

First, American dollar hegemony has actually been, for all the stupidity we’ve encountered upon over the last few decades, a pretty stabilizing force. To bastardize an old quote, America’s economic system is the worst, except for all the others. There’s no reasonable guarantee that anything that follows dollar hegemony will actually increase stability. Rather I think it will be worse.

Second, I don’t want to pay for our government. While we’ve been pretty well looting the other nations of the world, printing money and sending it to them in exchange for durable goods, only to have them lend it back to our own government to pay for programs we’re unwilling to tax ourselves for. Essentially we’ve been taxing other nations to pay for our own government, with the unspoken understanding that we’d probably slowly print our way out of debt rather than actually pay our debt. I can understand why they don’t want to continue that, especially since we’re dramatically increasing the size of the government that we’ll be expecting them to pay for.

But that doesn’t mean it won’t happen.

Russia, as reported by QandO, made noises last week about putting an end to the dollar as the reserve currency of the world:

The Kremlin published its priorities Monday for an upcoming meeting of the G20, calling for the creation of a supranational reserve currency to be issued by international institutions as part of a reform of the global financial system.

The International Monetary Fund should investigate the possible creation of a new reserve currency, widening the list of reserve currencies or using its already existing Special Drawing Rights, or SDRs, as a “superreserve currency accepted by the whole of the international community,” the Kremlin said in a statement issued on its web site.

The SDR is an international reserve asset, created by the IMF in 1969 to supplement the existing official reserves of member countries.

Now, QandO again (along with Doug @ BTB) reports that one of our far bigger creditors, China, is making the same suggestion:

China’s central bank on Monday proposed replacing the US dollar as the international reserve currency with a new global system controlled by the International Monetary Fund.

In an essay posted on the People’s Bank of China’s website, Zhou Xiaochuan, the central bank’s governor, said the goal would be to create a reserve currency “that is disconnected from individual nations and is able to remain stable in the long run, thus removing the inherent deficiencies caused by using credit-based national currencies”.

Analysts said the proposal was an indication of Beijing’s fears that actions being taken to save the domestic US economy would have a negative impact on China.

“This is a clear sign that China, as the largest holder of US dollar financial assets, is concerned about the potential inflationary risk of the US Federal Reserve printing money,” said Qu Hongbin, chief China economist for HSBC

I’d like to believe that this is merely a warning to the Obama administration that destroying our currency won’t be accepted by the international community. It would be a very clear warning that if we proceed down this path, those who are currently tied into our dollar will try to quickly cut our losses and leave us out to dry.

But I really don’t think the Obama administration, the Bernanke Fed, and the Geithner Treasury will heed those warnings. You want a reason to fear Great Depression II? This is it.

In fact, it may already be starting. China is worried about the $1 Trillion they’ve already lent us, but the real key to ending dollar hegemony is to stop lending us more. If other countries stop buying US Treasury Bonds, we must find a way to fund our own deficits internally… And there’s some evidence that’s already happening:

Thanks to Brad Setser for the graph

Thanks to Brad Setser for the graph

Yep, foreigners are getting close to their limit. Will it hold? I don’t know, but in the meantime, the Fed is starting the printing press to make up the shortfall (h/t Calculated Risk):

The first outright Treasury coupon purchase will be conducted on Wednesday, March 25, 2009, and will settle Thursday, March 26, 2009. Results will be posted on the New York Fed’s website following the operation.

Starting on Wednesday, April 1, 2009, and continuing every two weeks, the New York Fed will issue a tentative operation schedule for its purchases of longer-dated Treasury securities, including the maturity sector or sectors to be targeted.

The signs are pointing to a major change in world structure.

  • The world is slowing down their purchases of American debt, fearing it won’t be repaid.
  • The world is threatening to liquidate the US Dollar as the de facto reserve currency, because they fear an impending devaluation.
  • The Obama administration, the Fed, and the Treasury appear to be willing to spend historic sums in the face of these developments in the hopes the world is bluffing.

I don’t want to be a doomsayer, but the outlook sure as hell ain’t rosy. America has been gorging at the buffet for the last 40 years, ever since the collapse of Bretton Woods system. The bill is about to come due, and we’re sure to be surprised when we realize it’s pay-per-item, and not all-you-can-eat.

Protectionism For Green Industries Is Unnecessary [And Bad]

The Economist Free Exchange Blog, responding to this pro-protectionism piece by Joe Weisenthal, half-heartedly suggests that maybe Joe meant that a little infant industry protection for green industries is in order:

I wonder if he is suggesting some sort of infant industry type policy to stimulate domestic manufacturing of more enviromental products. Interesting idea, but infant industry is tricky. The idea is that with time and protection from the global market (through subisdies and tariffs) the domestic country will gain a comparative advantage in that field. Korea pursued this policy with, arguably, some success in the 1950s. But it did not work so well elsewhere. It involves the government hand picking industries that need to be developed, rather than the market. It often leaves consumers paying more for mediocre goods that might not otherwise exist in the global market.

There are two problems trying to compare anything that America will do regarding infant industry protection for green industries with any other nations who have tried protection:

First, the protectionist nation must be an underdog. America engaged in protectionism at the beginning of the industrial revolution to protect itself from Europe, and eventually rose to a dominant place. Because we are now the most technologically advanced, innovating nation on the planet, we need not protect our own industries from those overseas. They’re the ones playing catch-up, and they’re the ones trying to protect their own infant industries against our established industries. Now, there can be a debate over instituting retaliatory trade impediments to counter those protections other less developed countries are enacting (and I’d come down on the side against doing so personally), but there’s no reason to protect ourselves from them.

Second, protecting infant industries is only necessary when you’re protecting them from established industries. There are no established green industries. This is an infant industry worldwide, and on a worldwide basis, we’re in just as strong of a competitive position as any other country. I understand places like Korea enacting a protectionist, when they’re trying to achieve the same sort of efficiencies on heavy industry of more advanced countries. But here, there’s nobody who has figured it out. Infant industry protectionism arguably may be a good way for industries to catch up with mature foreign industries, but in this case there are no mature foreign industries. There’s no catching up to do when we’re all just out of the gates.

Now, this was separate from Weisenthal’s main point, which is that we should use “green protectionism” as a ruse to introduce some rather traditional forms of protectionism. He sees protectionism as an alternative to welfare, because even if we get higher-priced, less-well-made goods in the US, that keeps those US manufacturing workers employed. I suspect he’d be in favor of banning motor-driven plows, too, so that we can go back to high farming employment? Instead, I suggest that we stop trying to limit competition, and actually stop our own impediments to engaging in competition. If we want to win, perhaps we should get out of our own way instead of trying to trip our competitors.

Quote Of The Day

Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao:

“President Obama and his new government have adopted a series of measures to deal with the financial crisis. We have expectations as to the effects of these measures,” Mr. Wen said. “We have lent a huge amount of money to the U.S. Of course we are concerned about the safety of our assets. To be honest, I am definitely a little worried.”

Sorry, Mr. Wen. Much like the mortgage lenders who have imploded have learned, you shouldn’t lend money to people based on their “stated” ability to repay.

Hat Tip: MichaelW @ QandO

ChIndia Won’t “Beat” Us, Because We’re Already Forfeiting

Many people have worried about the threat that China and India post to America by moving towards first-world economic powers. After all, they have, between the two of them, somewhere in the realm of 2.5B people, and if the same proportion of their students become engineers and scientists as we see here, they will be able to assume the dominant economic place in the world by sheer size.

I think the “threat” is overblown. As a fellow engineer, I welcome those people to the workforce. Human progress is driven by technology, and the addition of that many engineers and scientists to the global workforce will improve standards of living worldwide. Heck, I want to go to space before I die, and if we have thousands more engineers trying to make space travel (or just space tourism) a reality, it’s a lot more likely to occur in my lifetime than if only Americans pursue the goal. In addition, perhaps some new technological breakthroughs can extend my lifetime beyond the 75-100 years it’s currently likely to last, improving the quality as it extends as well.

But some people see China and India as a threat. They see the world as a zero sum game, and if China and India become more wealthy, they will do so by making America less wealthy. Those people are wrong, but it doesn’t stop them from being heard.

And they’re heard — which is why I say that while I’m not worried that China and India will “beat” us, I am very worried that we’re forfeiting the match. The only entity that can stop us is us, if we restrict our own freedom to excel in the name of foreign protectionism and a domestic democratic welfare state. Or, to put it more simply, if we follow Europe’s example.

And it appears that we’re doing so:

Some recent work by the Kauffman Foundation underlines how dumb the Obama administration and the Democrat-controlled Congress are to use America’s economic woes as an excuse for restricting skilled immigration. Americans have always assumed that skilled immigrants would do anything to get a bite at the American dream. But other countries are producing high-tech clusters that offer bright people plenty of opportunities. They are also putting out welcome mats for the talented rather than building bureaucratic obstacle courses.

Kauffman points out that a growing number of educated Chinese and Indian immigrants are returning home, in response to growing economic opportunities. The repatriation of these workhorses, combined with innumerable decisions by other immigrants to try somewhere more welcoming, could have a devastating impact on the American economy.

Engineers are a pretty multicultural bunch. In fact, my first 5 bosses in 7 years of post-college employment (through my first two jobs) were foreign-born. I’ve worked with native-born Chinese, Taiwanese, Japanese, Egyptians, Persians (aka Iranians), Pakistanis, and quite a few Canucks (among many others, of course). In the grand scheme of things, it’s a pretty colorblind society, because it’s very easy to determine who’s technically capable and who’s a seat-warmer, and it rarely has anything to do with country of origin. It’s not always easy to lure a talented worker away from his family, his culture, and country, but if you do, he can become a very valued asset.

In fact, given the social ostracism that most American engineers endured through primary schooling (let’s just say we’re not typically drawn from the most ‘popular’ social groups), American engineers are potentially more likely to seek alternate shores if better opportunities arise. While my personal family situation doesn’t allow for it, I’d definitely consider relocating overseas if the opportunity was right. The last thing we need to do in America is to close our doors to the most talented of the world, and at the same time introduce policies which force our own most talented to consider leaving.

America won’t be “beaten” by other nations. We may — if we remain free — be joined by other nations, but that’s to our mutual benefit If we turn away from our freedom and capitalism and are then surpassed, though, we have nobody to blame but ourselves.

Socialist Death Throes in Zimbabwe

Socialism/Communism has largely caused the collapse of any nation that’s truly tried it. Russia is the biggest example; China has seen the writing on the wall and has allowed economic modernization and liberalism to creep into their country to keep the system moving. Even most of Europe, who we libertarians would consider democratic socialists, understand that if you want to keep taking the golden eggs in taxes, you can’t quite kill the goose.

What’s always interesting, though, is those countries who try to kill the goose — Zimbabwe is showing us what occurs:

Zimbabwe’s central bank has revalued its dollar again, cutting another 12 zeros off its currency in a bid to tame hyperinflation and avert economic collapse.

Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Governor Gideon Gono said: “This Monetary Policy Statement unveils yet another necessary programme of revaluing our local currency, through the removal of 12 zeroes, with immediate effect.”

Mr Gono gave no updated inflation figures but said broad money supply growth rose from 81,000 per cent in January to 658 billion per cent in December.

The last time inflation was officially recorded in mid-2008 it had soared to 231 million per cent.

The new government has raised hopes of rebuilding Zimbabwe’s shattered economy, where food and fuel is in short supply and unemployment estimated at 94 per cent.

Africa’s deadliest cholera outbreak in 15 years has also hit the country, killing over 3,100 people and infecting another 60,000.

This is the end result of a government that borrows/prints to pay social benefits that are too large for the costs to be recouped through taxation without destroying economic growth. If you allow government promises to exceed expected revenues by a margin that large*, you start to see inflation — and that inflation can reach runaway levels if not curtailed.

The sad thing, when Zimbabwe is concerned, is that I keep expecting the situation to improve. When Mugabe lost the election, I thought there was a good chance it could turn around. I keep being proved wrong, and it’s the people of Zimbabwe who suffer for it.

Hat Tip: The Austrian Economists
» Read more

Oh, Look! The French Aren’t Working!

I’m shocked, shocked I tell you!

More than one million French workers downed tools yesterday in the first general strike to hit a major industrialised nation since the start of the global financial crisis.

Unions said more than two million public and private sector workers took to the streets across France to protest against President Nicolas Sarkozy’s handling of the economic crisis, saying too much had been done to bail out fat cats and banks, and not enough to protect jobs and help workers make ends meet.

Air traffic controllers, train drivers, teachers, nurses, and tax inspectors were joined by private sector workers including bank clerks and staff from the firm that runs the Paris stock exchange. Some schools were shut, flights were cancelled, and the Palace of Versailles cwas losed in a rare show of unity between unions, although “Black Thursday” did not bring total transport paralysis.

After dark, as crowds dispersed from the Paris protest, more than 100 people clashed with police at Place de l’Opéra, throwing bottles, overturning cars, and starting fires in the street. Thirteen people were arrested.

How Quickly It Falls Apart

Iceland, not a nation known for political instability, may be in serious trouble:

Considering the devastating effects they experienced, the people of Iceland reacted to the economic crisis with relative calm in the weeks following the collapse of the krona and the failure of the country’s three major banks. Yes, there were rushes on grocery stores, and a black market for foreign currency sprang up through classified ads. Some even participated in protests on weekends. Still, there were no reports of unrestrained chaos.

Now, over three months after the banking failure, Iceland’s government has collapsed in reaction to mounting dissent. Geir Haarde, the Prime Minister, stepped down today after his party failed to meet the demands of the Social Democratic Alliance, its coalition partner.

Mr Haarde’s resignation comes amidst significant turbulence. Last week, Iceland experienced its first violent rally in decades, with police using tear gas for the first time since 1949.

There is a pretty major difference between America and Iceland…

…our problems are far larger than theirs.

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