September 10, 2006
Communism is Nazism without the prosperity...
Back to the Future
By: MARIAN TUPY
September 6, 2006
Recently a public forum entitled "Is Communism Dead?" was held in Washington, D.C. Among the participants was Harry Wu, a human rights campaigner who spent 19 years in a Chinese labor camp, the laogai, for no reason other than criticizing Mao's Communist Party. The speakers agreed that the battle over the legacy of communism is a difficult one.
True, communism is no longer practiced anywhere, except for North Korea and Cuba. But some 17 years after the Berlin Wall was breached, U.S.S.R. outfits and t-shirts bearing the image of Castro's henchman, Che Guevara, are not uncommon in the West. What does that say about the appeal of a philosophy responsible for murdering a hundred million people? Far from being a taboo like its intellectual sibling, Nazism, communism is chic among the youth in many countries.
Part of the blame for the lack of universal condemnation of communism, like the one that justly befell Nazism, rests with the left-leaning intellectual elite in the West. Having spent decades of their lives defending communism, many intellectuals find it difficult to admit that they were wrong.
Instead, they opted for a strategy aimed at resurrecting at least some of communism's lost appeal. The idea is to minimize the evil committed in the name of communism and maximize its achievements, while doing the inverse vis-à-vis liberal-democracy.
Take Alexandre Trudeau, a journalist and the son of Canada's previous Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau. Alexandre wrote an article lionizing Castro that appeared in Canada's Star on August 13, 2006. The piece is a typical example of the battle for the legacy of communism. It is a piece of shameless propaganda that would make Stalin's little helpers at the Soviet Ministry of Information blush. In the article, Mr. Trudeau calls Castro "a giant," "a superman," "a great scientific mind," and "the most curious man that I have ever met." He comments on Castro's "Herculean physique," "extraordinary personal courage," and "monumental intellect."
Raving about communism is nothing new. Manning Clark, an Australian historian, said of Lenin that he was "Christ-like, at least in his compassion." H. G. Wells' had a grand impression of Stalin, "I have never met a man more candid, fair and honest, and to these qualities it is, and nothing occult and sinister, that he owes his tremendous undisputed ascendancy in Russia. I had thought before I saw him that he might be where he was because men were afraid of him but I realize that he owes his position to the fact that no one is afraid of him and everybody trusts him."
But back to Cuba. So how come many Cubans risk the sea voyage to escape the paradise island? Who is responsible for Cuba's poverty? Why, America, of course. As Mr. Trudeau puts it, "Cuba under Castro is a remarkably literate and healthy country, but it is undeniably poor. Historians will note, however, that never in modern times has a small, peaceful country been more subjected to unfair and malicious treatment by a superpower than Cuba has by the United States."
Never mind that Castro's madness brought the world close to destruction or that he was willing to sacrifice his "literate and healthy" countrymen in the process. The fact is that no matter how odious Castro is, following the Soviet pull-out of their nuclear missiles from Cuba, the island was no longer a threat to America. As such, the American trade embargo made no sense. Moreover, since America stood alone, the embargo was doomed to fail, but it did provide shameless defenders of the Cuban tyrant, like Alexander Trudeau, with a plausible argument to criticize America.
I say "plausible," because even though many people believe it, Mr. Trudeau's argument is wrong. True, Cubans cannot trade with America, but they can trade with the other 200 countries in the world. The reason for Cuba's poverty is not the lack of market access, but the inability to produce much of what other people might want to buy. The man responsible for keeping the Cuban economy unproductive and inefficient is Fidel Castro.
Economics aside, what about Castro's murderous past and suppression of Cuban opposition today? Mr. Trudeau admits that "Castro's leadership can be something of a burden … [The Cubans] do occasionally complain, often as an adolescent might complain about a too strict and demanding father." Comparing the desire of millions of oppressed people to be free of a tyrant with adolescents rebelling against parental authority? A sickening analogy.
Perhaps instead of making short trips to Cuba and being guided around the island by Castro's agents, Western intellectuals should move there and experience communism first hand. To those who decide to do so I would simply say, "Bon voyage, but don't forget to bring your own toilet paper."
Mr. Tupy is the assistant director of the Project on Global Economic Liberty at the Cato Institute.
Copyright 2006 - The New York Sun
Sucks being on the wrong side, eh Scotty?
By: Arthur Weinreb
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
Scott Brison left the Conservative Party after losing the leadership and joined the Liberals. In a Yogi Berra moment, it seems like déjà vu all over again and Scott is in the process of losing the leadership once again in his new party. Brison came out swinging last week against the two perceived frontrunners in the Liberal leadership race; Michael Ignatieff and surprisingly enough, Bob Rae. It is truly amazing that the two top candidates to replace Paul Martin are a guy who spent the last 30 years out of the country and one who should have been out of the country instead of leading an NDP government in Ontario for five years.
If Brison has any hope of winning the top job, he has to go after the guys who at least appear to be out in front. It's not that he went after him but the way he did it that shows he still has some time to go before he fully catches on to what it really means to be a Liberal.
Brison accused Ignatieff and Rae of "fuzzy and intellectual dishonesty". Fuzzy and intellectual dishonesty? Brison isn't attacking Iggy and Rae; he's attacking the very heart and soul of the Liberal Party of Canada. And implying that there is any connection between intellectual pursuits and the Natural Governing Party is contrary to everything that we know about the Liberals.
The former Tory leadership candidate went after Bob Rae for saying that Canadian troops should be pulled out of Afghanistan but that Canada should send troops to Lebanon. Brison took a shot at Ignatieff for saying that Israel had a right to defend itself but shouldn't have bombed Lebanon.
At least both Michael Ignatieff and Bob Rae should be given credit for quickly catching on to the party that they have so recently joined. With Brison, Ignatieff and Rae in the race, not being a member of the party five years ago seems to be a job qualification. In light of Brison's criticism of the two frontrunners, he doesn't seem to be adjusting to his new environment in the way that the other two are.
To accuse two Liberal leadership candidates of dishonesty; intellectual or otherwise, is like accusing a dog of, well, acting like a dog. Does anyone remember Adscam? And to imply that being "intellectual" has any place in the Liberal Party of Canada is to show a complete and utter lack of understanding of what that party is all about. Liberals don't engage in intellectual thinking; they take polls and measure which way the wind blows. Get with the program, Scott.
Let's take the statement by Ignatieff that Scott Brison was critical of. There is actually nothing "fuzzy" about saying that Israel has a right to defend itself but that they shouldn't have bombed Lebanon. It's all about potential votes. Saying that Israel has a right to defend itself brings in the Jewish vote. And criticizing the bombing of Lebanon assures continued Lebanese, Arab and Muslim support. To look for some intellectual basis or even logic behind Ignatieff's statement is to completely miss the point.
The truth is that Scott Brison isn't really a Liberal. Part of his crossing over to the party that was led by the great Paul Martin Jr. was opportunism but, hey, that's politics. Essentially Scott Brison is a disgruntled Tory who can't stand Stephen Harper more than he is a real Liberal. The irony is that, compared to most of his fellow candidates, he probably wouldn't make a bad leader of the opposition or prime minister.
That Mark Steyn sure knows how to make a point...
Why abduct us? We cede our values for free
September 3, 2006
BY: MARK STEYN - SUN-TIMES COLUMNIST
Did you see that video of the two Fox journalists announcing they'd converted to Islam? The larger problem, it seems to me, is that much of the rest of the Western media have also converted to Islam, and there seems to be no way to get them to convert back to journalism.
Consider, for example, the bizarre behavior of Reuters, the once globally respected news agency now reduced to putting out laughably inept terrorist propaganda. A few days ago, it made a big hoo-ha about the Israelis intentionally firing a missile at its press vehicle and wounding its cameraman Fadel Shana. Shana was posed in an artful sprawl in a blood-spattered shirt. But it had ridden up and underneath his undershirt was spotlessly white, like a summer-stock Julius Caesar revealing the boxers under his toga. What's stunning is not that almost all Western media organizations reporting from the Middle East are reliant on local staff overwhelmingly sympathetic to one side in the conflict -- that's been known for some time -- but the amateurish level of fakery that head office is willing to go along with.
Down at the other end of the news business, meanwhile, one finds items like this snippet from the Sydney Morning Herald:
Three men with "mullet-style" hair, huh? Not much to go on there. Bit of a head scratcher. But, as it turned out, the indefatigable Sydney Morning Herald typist had faithfully copied out every salient detail of the police report except one. Here's the statement the coppers themselves issued:
"A 16-year-old girl was tailed by a car full of men before being dragged inside and assaulted in Sydney's west last night, police say . . . The three men involved in the attack were described to police as having dark 'mullet-style' haircuts."
That additional detail narrows it down a bit, wouldn't you say? The only reason I know that is because the Aussie Internet maestro Tim Blair grew curious about the epidemic of incidents committed by men of no known appearance and decided to look into it. One can understand the agonies the politically correct multicultural journalist must go through, distressed at the thought that an infelicitous phrasing might perpetuate unfortunate stereotypes of young Muslim males. But, even so, it's quite a leap to omit the most pertinent fact and leave the impression the Sydney constabulary are combing the city for mullets. The Boston Globe's Jeff Jacoby wrote the other day about how American children's books are "sacrificing truth on the altar of political correctness." But there seems to be quite a lot of that in the grown-up comics, too. And, as I've said before, it's never a good idea to put reality up for grabs. There may come a time when you need it.
"Police are seeking three men described as being of Middle Eastern/Mediterranean appearance, with dark 'mullet style' hair cuts."
It's striking how, for all this alleged multiculti sensitivity, we're mostly entirely insensitive to other cultures: We find it all but impossible to imagine how differently they view the world. Go back to that video in which Fox's Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig announced their conversion to Islam. The moment the men were released, the Western media and their colleagues wrote off the scene as a stunt, a cunning ruse, of no more consequence than yelling "Behind you! He's got a gun!" and then kicking your distracted kidnapper in the teeth. Indeed, a few Web sites seemed to see the Islamic conversion routine as a useful get-out-of-jail-free card.
Don't bet on it. In my forthcoming book, I devote a few pages to a thriller I read as a boy -- an old potboiler by Sherlock Holmes' creator, Arthur Conan Doyle. In 1895 Sir Arthur had taken his sick wife to Egypt for her health, and, not wishing to waste the local color, produced a slim novel called The Tragedy of the Korosko, about a party of Anglo-American-French tourists taken hostage by the Mahdists, the jihadi of the day. Much of the story finds the characters in the same predicament as Centanni and Wiig: The kidnappers are offering them a choice between Islam or death. Conan Doyle's Britons and Americans and Europeans were men and women of the modern world even then:
"That symbol" is the cross. Yet in the end, even as men with no religious convictions, they cannot bring themselves to submit to Islam, for they understand it to be not just a denial of Christ but in some sense a denial of themselves, too. So they stall and delay and bog down the imam in a lot of technical questions until eventually he wises up and they're condemned to death.
"None of them, except perhaps Miss Adams and Mrs. Belmont, had any deep religious convictions. All of them were children of this world, and some of them disagreed with everything which that symbol upon the earth represented."
One hundred ten years later, for the Fox journalists and the Western media who reported their release, what's the big deal? Wear robes, change your name to Khaled, go on camera and drop Allah's name hither and yon: If that's your ticket out, seize it. Everyone'll know it's just a sham.
But that's not how the al-Jazeera audience sees it. If you're a Muslim, the video is anything but meaningless. Not even the dumbest jihadist believes these infidels are suddenly true believers. Rather, it confirms the central truth Osama and the mullahs have been peddling -- that the West is weak, that there's nothing -- no core, no bedrock -- nothing it's not willing to trade. In his new book The Conservative Soul, attempting to reconcile his sexual temperament and his alleged political one, Time magazine's gay Tory Andrew Sullivan enthuses, "By letting go, we become. By giving up, we gain. And we learn how to live -- now, which is the only time that matters." That's almost a literal restatement of Faust's bargain with the devil:
"When to the moment I shall say
'Linger awhile! so fair thou art!'
Then mayst thou fetter me straightway
Then to the abyss will I depart!"
In other words, if Faust becomes so enthralled by "the moment" that he wants to live in it forever, the devil will have him for all eternity. In the Muslim world, they watch the Centanni/Wiig video and see men so in love with the present, the now, that they will do or say anything to live in the moment. And they draw their own conclusions -- that these men are easier to force into the car than that 16-year-old girl in Sydney was. It doesn't matter how "understandable" Centanni and Wiig's actions are to us, what the target audience understands is quite different: that there is nothing we're willing to die for. And, to the Islamist mind, a society with nothing to die for is already dead.
Copyright © Mark Steyn, 2006
So we ARE getting noticed!
Northern Exposure: Oil-Rich Calgary Finds Boomtimes Have a Downside
- A Hot Real-Estate Market Suffers, Big Labor Shortage, Office Vacancies Near Zero, A Homeless Spell for Mr. Blair
By JENNIFER S. FORSYTH
August 30, 2006; Page A1
CALGARY, Alberta -- In this Canadian city flush with new oil riches, residents drive 600 miles west to Vancouver to purchase Ferraris and Maseratis. At the upscale Living Room restaurant, patrons who two years ago ordered $80 bottles of wine have traded up to $300 vintages. This month, a two-bedroom house in the pastoral southwest part of town went on the market for $12 million -- by far the highest price ever sought for a home in the Calgary city limits.
But the oil boom is overwhelming Calgary, a city of one million famous for hosting the 1988 Winter Olympics. Amid an extreme labor shortage, a lack of affordable housing has increased the homeless population to about 3,500 -- a 32% jump in just two years. Companies are elbowing each other out of the way for office space. Developers, stung by higher costs, are planning few new buildings to ease the crunch.
Josh White, president of Calgary Urban Initiative, an advocacy group, notes that while plenty of laborers have moved here to find work, some are forced into hotels and tents. "We're a prosperous city but we're growing shanty towns around us like a third-world country," he says.
Peter Blair lost his apartment lease in June, he says, when his landlord cashed out of her rental property investment after just one year. Mr. Blair, a busy 43-year-old painter and construction foreman, ended up homeless. Eventually, he pitched a tent at the KOA Kampground on Calgary's west side.
"Money isn't the problem," said Mr. Blair recently, showing off the $1,800 Canadian he carried around in hopes of finding a new lease. "Getting the place is the problem."
In the past year, 25,000 people moved here -- about 70 people a day. Demand for property, both residential and commercial, has far outstripped supply.
But even with all the newcomers streaming in, the city still doesn't have all the workers that it needs -- and won't for many years to come. The Conference Board of Canada recently estimated that Alberta will face a shortfall of 332,000 workers by 2025.
As the front-office headquarters for Canada's oil and gas industry, Calgary is the gateway to one of the world's greatest petroleum troves: the tar sands of Alberta Province. Companies have only recently begun to tap these oil-rich mineral deposits in earnest, as the tripling of crude to above $70 a barrel in recent years has set off a black-gold rush here. The city is being swept up in what is expected to be one of the energy industry's largest capital-investment blitzes ever, joining the likes of Moscow and Riyadh.
Shell, Chevron, Petro-Canada Centre and BP are just a few of the big names that adorn the city's skyscrapers. On a clear day, oil executives can look out their windows on the west side and see the Canadian Rockies looming just beyond the prairie.
Oil-sands extraction is an expensive process and can only be justified if prices remain relatively high. The industry's investment in the oil fields is expected to total about $100 billion over the next decade, according to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.
The surging economy, along with relatively low interest rates, has made Calgary one of the hottest real-estate markets in the world. While many first-time homebuyers have been boxed out of the market, they're outnumbered by oil-industry newcomers who don't flinch at the higher prices.
When Marla Nystrom-Smith, 30, and her husband Tyler Smith, 29, an actuary, put their three-bedroom condominium on the market in February, 40 potential buyers materialized in a day. Five, they say, made offers -- all above the $234,900 asking price.
"It could have sold in a day but we were out of town," said Mrs. Nystrom-Smith, who stays home with the couple's baby son.
Ryan Ockey, chief executive of the Cardel Group, a large homebuilder, says escalating new-house costs -- for materials, land, and subcontractors -- help to explain the higher prices. A 2,000-square foot, three-bedroom, two-bath Cardel home in July 2005 would have sold for between $285,000 and $295,000. A year later, that same home fetched between $395,000 and $415,000.
Commercial office space is also tight. Calgary's office vacancy rate, at about one-half percent, is among the lowest of any city in the world, according to CB Richard Ellis, a real-estate-services firm. The city currently has about 46 million square-feet of commercial space. That dwarfs the 14 million square-feet in Oklahoma City, which has a comparable metro-area population. While four office towers are scheduled to open next year, all of that space is already leased. The offices those tenants are vacating are also already spoken for.
With a dearth of construction workers and a slow permitting process, it can take three years to put up a new building in downtown Calgary. Workers across Canada often snub traditional construction gigs in favor of jobs in the oil sands 400 miles north of Calgary. Jobs there pay more and offer incentives such as free flights home each month.
The labor that is available is becoming more expensive. Construction supervisors in Calgary who made $65,000 last year can now command $95,000 from rival construction companies desperate for experienced managers. Even unskilled workers have seen their wages jump in similar proportions, Mr. Ockey and others say.
Developers have applied for permits on 12 additional office buildings downtown, though only six projects are moving forward so far. "Not soon enough," says Greg Kwong, a Calgary-based regional managing director for CB Richard Ellis. "We're playing catch-up now. Everything happened so quickly."
Because most commercial space is signed for long-term lease, usually five or 10 years, a company looking for an office in 1994 could have found top-quality space for $6 to $8 a foot. Ten years later, in 2004, those same digs would have cost around $20 per square foot. But if a prospective tenant dallied and waited until mid-2005, Mr. Kwong says, the sticker shock would have been greater still: about $30 per square foot.
Labor shortages in Calgary are evident beyond construction. Tim Hortons, a venerable Canada doughnut chain, has closed its dining rooms in the evenings and is offering only drive-through service at some Alberta locations, due to a lack of workers. Avocado Fresh Mexican Grill, a new restaurant on the west side of Calgary, offered a $500 retention bonus to employees who stayed three months. Calgary's building and planning department is struggling to fill 66 new positions -- a staffing hole that has delayed construction on some bigger projects.
A labor crunch could also end up affecting the oil-sands investment, slowing what has been an accelerated development schedule. Shell Canada and its partners recently announced that the expansion of their Athabasca Oil Sands Project would go forward, despite an estimated jump in costs of as much as 60% since last fall. Adding to the tab: prices for labor, materials and equipment.
If this were a classic boom, the demand for space would cause developers to throw up new office buildings, even with no tenants lined up. That happened in the 1970s. But by 1986, the world market price for a barrel of oil dropped to about $14 per barrel -- leaving Calgary with an office glut that lasted almost 20 years.
"For two decades, 'developer' was a dirty word," says Scott Hutcheson, chief executive of Aspen Properties Ltd., a Calgary-based real-estate investment firm.
This time, cautious developers didn't dive in until very late. Those who were inclined to build found a more-rigorous permit process and conservative lending environment. Then suddenly, caught short by the rapid economic upturn, developers couldn't react fast enough. That helps to explain why Calgary's office vacancy rate is even lower than San Francisco's during the tech frenzy of the 1990s.
Builders across the U.S. also have seen construction costs rise. China was sopping up concrete for a while. The Gulf Coast was corralling wood and drywall after Hurricane Katrina. Calgary's problems are in a different league. A commercial building that would have cost $250 a square-foot to erect in 2004 costs $510 a square-foot today. Such inflation makes some developers wonder whether they will make the returns needed to justify construction.
Dave Sharpe, a project coordinator and estimator for Total Commercial Construction Inc. in Calgary, says the company will carefully monitor cost increases over the next five years as it evaluates projects.
In the home market, demand has been so great that several large builders have limited the number of contracts they will accept after getting behind on construction last summer. Others are turning away business as rising costs eat into profits.
In January, AlanRidge Homes was faced with the prospect of losing $1 million on the 38 new luxury homes it had under contract, amid increasing costs and delays. The company refunded deposits on the contracts and called a hiatus on building until prices stabilized. "We just decided this is insane," says Don Howie, the company's chief executive.
Mr. Kwong of CB Richard Ellis made a deposit for his own new condominium in June of 2005. He recently got a letter from the developer, who said he couldn't afford to build the complex for the contracted prices. Mr. Kwong was asked to cancel his contract or agree to pay a higher price for the unit. He canceled. "I don't have faith that there won't be another cost increase," he says.
Memories of the bust that followed Calgary's last big boom in the late 1970s still loom for developers. The Alberta economy slammed to a halt in 1981, in part due to a federal national energy policy that kept the price of oil in Canada below world market rates in an effort to promote self-sufficiency. The policy ended up mainly benefiting Toronto- and Montreal-based companies, hurting oil-dependent Alberta.
Housing prices in Calgary that had increased 400% from 1971 to 1980 tumbled 35% in three years. To Calgary old-timers, the recent run-up in prices, the cry for workers and the new wealth all look frighteningly familiar. "The question I've been hearing a lot is: 'Will it be 1981 again?'" says Kevin Clark, president of the Calgary Real Estate Board, a cooperative of local real-estate agents.
This time, a bust may not be inevitable. Many people say that the investment in the oil sands is long-term, based on the bet that the world's thirst for oil will continue to prop up prices, even if the current per-barrel price drops somewhat.
Tom Farley, president and chief operating officer of Brookfield Properties Corp.'s Canadian Commercial Operations, says his company predicts that it will take another four years for Calgary to return to a "balanced" market: one where neither tenants nor landlords have an undue advantage. That forecast, however, assumes that all 12 planned office buildings actually go up.
Meanwhile, Shell Canada Ltd., which is 78%-owned by Royal Dutch Shell, is doubling up employees -- two per office. It has leased new space, but some of it is in a building that won't be completed until next year.
As for Mr. Blair, the painting foreman living in a tent, he finally secured an apartment for $835 a month. His new lease begins on Sept. 1, after three months of homelessness. He's leaving behind many others in tents who continue to look for better shelter before the start of another Calgary winter, where temperatures can drop to 33 degrees below zero Fahrenheit.
Write to Jennifer S. Forsyth at jennifer DOT forsyth AT wsj DOT com
Copyright 2006 - The Wall Street Journal Online