July 29, 2007
You go Gerry!
Divine advice for leftists
By: GERRY NICHOLLS
If political correctness was an official state religion (which it nearly is) most Canadians would be heretics.
After all, it's so easy to have an opinion these days that runs afoul of the officially sanctioned left wing world view.
And there is a good reason for that: The left wing ideology underpinning political correctness is contradictory, irrational and just plain goofy.
This is not a problem if you are one of those individuals steeped in left wing dogma - university academics, government-subsidized "artists", Supreme Court Justices - but for the rest of us it's hard to keep track of what is technically considered "offensive."
***GUIDE FOR LIVING***
What we need to keep us on the straight and narrow is a guide. Something written down, like a left wing version of the Ten Commandments.
What we need, in other words, is a socialist Moses to emerge from the wilderness - or from the modern-day equivalent of the wilderness, the House of Commons - to bring us rules engraved on tablets or at least on recycled paper.
Since that isn't likely to happen anytime soon, I have come up with my own version of what I call the "Left Commandments."
And with apologies to Charlton Heston, here they are:
1. Thou shalt have compassion for the poor, downtrodden and elderly, except no compassion shalt be spared for the poor, downtrodden and elderly who are sick and suffering on hospital waiting lists as this would endanger our most sacred of cows: socialized health care.
2. Thou shalt love peace and promote universal brotherhood, except it's OK for big union bosses to smite or otherwise intimidate workers who wish to cross a picket line.
3. Thou shalt support the notion that no one is above the law, except in the case of Mohawk "warriors" who have every right to defy our laws and shut down our major highways.
4. Thou shalt support official bilingualism, except in Quebec where thou shalt support the government's right to criminalize the English language.
5. Thou shalt oppose corporations that seek to increase profits, but thou shalt support governments which seek to increase taxes.
6. Thou shalt oppose and denigrate anything associated with the United States and scorn all Americans, the exception being Al Gore and Michael Moore, whom ye shall worship and follow without question.
7. Thou shalt defend human rights, except for the human rights of gun owners, smokers, pit bull owners or any other unpopular or politically incorrect minority group.
8. Thou shalt not whip up public hysteria about terrorism, but thou shalt whip up public hysteria about global warming.
9. Thou shalt solve all the problems of the world, from climate change, to Third World poverty, to Bono's need for publicity, with over-hyped rock concerts.
10. Thou shalt extol religious tolerance, except when it comes to Christianity which thou shalt mock, ridicule and otherwise malign at every opportunity.
And there you have it, 10 simple rules to ensure politically correct behaviour. Of course, this Commandments thing is not an original idea. I copied it from the Bible.
Oops. I just mentioned the Bible without mocking it, breaking the 10th Left Commandment. May Jack Layton forgive me.
Copyright 2007 - The Toronto Sun
The Centre of the Universe is shifting...
Nice but broke: Toronto, Canada's aspiring city state.
Jul 26th 2007
The mayor of Toronto, David Miller, has ambitions to turn Canada's largest metropolitan area into a city state. Earlier this year he persuaded Ontario's government to grant Toronto more powers to raise money and govern itself than other cities. But his first attempt to use those powers has backfired. This month city councillors refused to approve new taxes on home sales and vehicle registration. The catcalls of estate agents, who crowded the council chamber on the morning of the vote, clearly rang louder in some councillors' ears than the mayor's urgings.
This comes at a delicate time for Toronto, a city of 2.5m. It is lauded for its cosmopolitan feel and quality of life. But it also suffers from budget problems and creaking infrastructure just when—for the first time in a century - its status as Canada's pre-eminent city is being challenged. The contender is Calgary, in Alberta, the western base of the country's booming energy industry. Though its population is only 1m, it is growing fast. Calgary is building new schools, hospitals and roads and luring corporate head offices.
In contrast, Toronto's economy is under pressure. Its manufacturing industry shed 100,000 jobs in the past five years, because of a strong currency and competition from China. Not all the news is grim. The Toronto area still attracts two of every five immigrants to Canada. Private wealth is pouring into new museums, theatres and art galleries. And Toronto is still Canada's financial centre. Yet few would now describe it as "New York run by the Swiss", as did Peter Ustinov, a British actor and writer, in a double-edged quip in 1987.
Toronto's prospects turn in part on sorting out its finances. It faces a deficit of about C$575m ($550m) this year on current spending of C$7.8 billion. The problems date from the 1990s, when the federal government eliminated its own deficit partly by cutting funding to provinces. Ontario responded by passing responsibility for social housing, welfare and other social programmes to the cities, which struggled to pay for them out of property taxes.
Mr Miller wants the province to give him more money while taking back some social programmes. He promises to try again to get the tax increases approved in October. Defeat then would mean cuts in spending on public transport and policing, he warns. Toronto has also formed a common front with other cities to push the federal government to hand over one of every six cents raised by the federal sales tax (which Mr Miller reckons would give his city an extra C$410m). "One Cent NOW!" clamour large green signs across the city.
The city's case for even more autonomy would, however, be boosted if Mr Miller made more effective use of the powers he already has. Road tolls or a congestion charge stand a better chance of winning approval than his current tax proposals, reckons Tom Courchene, an economist at Queen's University. They would reduce pollution and congestion, and scoop up money from out-of-city commuters.
As well as money, Toronto lacks some of the animal spirits that are making Calgary roar. While the estate agents rule in Toronto, Albertans are more ambitious. Just as Montreal was once Canada's financial centre before Toronto took over, so the banks could move further west to Calgary, says Joe Martin, a business historian. Splendid to be a city state. But even Venice ended up as a backwater.
Copyright 2007 - The Economist
The delicate balance of preserving freedom and enforcing security...
The Counterterrorism Club
By: THANE ROSENBAUM
July 18, 2007; Page A15
Last week, Germany, a relatively unscathed contestant in the game of radical Islamic roulette, publicly debated the antiterrorism proposals of its interior minister, Wolfgang Schäuble. The law under consideration would permit the government to engage in online searches of computers and to shoot down hijacked planes. Mr. Schäuble also recommended the indefinite detention of suspected terrorists and the assassination of terrorist leaders abroad.
With vivid memories of the Nazis and Stasi (the East German security police), Germans are questioning whether they are prepared to compromise civil liberties in light of the aborted attack last summer - when two suitcase bombs failed to detonate on a German commuter train - and the recently bungled terrorist strikes at Glasgow Airport and outside a London nightclub. In the background are memories of Madrid, Bali, Istanbul, London and, of course, 9/11, where terrorism was not interrupted.
Meanwhile, in France, President Nicolas Sarkozy reaffirmed his support for installing 1,000 closed-circuit surveillance cameras throughout Paris like those Britain already has in place. Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the U.K. have all implemented procedural and evidentiary exceptions, and modified their rules of law, in response to the special circumstances of terror in the modern world.
Welcome to the counterterrorism club.
More and more, liberal democracies, haunted by post-9/11 anxieties, are having their own Patriot Act moment. In March 2006, President Bush signed the USA Patriot Improvement and Reauthorization Act, deepening the resentment of many Americans who questioned the constitutionality of the original statute. Nonetheless, other nations have adopted similar unprecedented laws and, hearing the chorus of objections that have followed, are experiencing their own anguish over the perceived mortgaging of their constitutional freedoms.
Surely this was to be expected. Political and legal systems that promote civil liberties and due process work best with ordinary crimes such as murder, rape, robbery and embezzlement. In such instances, there is understandable outrage when the guilty go free, yet it is deemed the essential price of democracy.
But terrorists do not commit ordinary crimes. Given their secretive cellular structure, most terrorists do not engage in overt acts. To investigate them with the usual procedural safeguards in place and prosecute them without relaxing the standards of proof would be pointless. Moreover, not detaining them for a reasonable period of time is equally absurd. To do otherwise turns the Constitution into a license to kill.
In fact a special set of laws dealing specifically with the phenomenon of world terrorism is necessary and inevitable. How else can a democracy defend itself against those who seek to destroy democratic values and institutions, whose entire enterprise is dedicated to annihilating fundamental freedom?
The presumption seems to be that any dilution of democracy, regardless of circumstance, diminishes the capacity to remain democratic at all. Once the liberal bearings become contaminated, the progressive impulse withers like an atrophied muscle. This argument is no more convincing than those who oppose anti-assault weapon legislation on the fear that the removal of the most dangerous firearms from the streets necessarily leads to the disarmament of the entire nation.
The fact is, it's possible to be liberal, progressive, and still not stupid. It's good to be vigilant when it comes to safeguarding our Constitution, but it's crazy to think that this document, without some supplemental statutory assistance, will enable the government to protect our democracy - not just as a philosophical principle, but as a state of fact.
It is simply not true that the Constitution is always applied consistently and without exception. Pedophiles, for instance, are clearly on the short end of constitutional justice in America, with their detentions lasting not only indefinitely but often infinitely. Few seem to mind. We prosecuted Nazis in Nuremberg knowing that the full sweep of constitutional protections would have resulted in no convictions - an unbearable outcome - and so we created new laws with relaxed standards.
Is terrorism any less of a special circumstance?
Yes, we have made mistakes in the past when we have applied our laws à la carte rather than holding fast to the prix-fixe menu of the Constitution. The internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II was a moral scandal, and the prosecution of communists, in many cases, was excessive. For this reason, all precautions must be undertaken to respect the presumptions of innocence and to ensure that citizens do not live in fear of the state. Isn't it also obvious that Japanese-Americans and even card-carrying communists never managed to bring down skyscrapers, set fire to the Pentagon and blow themselves up on roadsides, subways and pizza shops?
One distinctive feature of this war on terror is that it is being fought on two fronts. There is the menace of the phantom-like terrorist who isn't as easily identifiable as the common criminal and yet is far more dangerous. And there is the war with ourselves over maintaining our distinctive values in the face of persistent threats to our national security. Many liberals deny the reality of the first front. Many conservatives the second. Those who accept both realities understand that this is a war waged in anguish: not just because we must kill, but because our enemy is too lethal for our laws.
Without sacrificing what it means to live in a free society, we have been forced to create a different standard of justice for the terrorist. But we must remember that endorsing the principle of the Patriot Act is not the same thing as accepting all of its features, many of which could be greatly improved.
Our allies are beginning to realize all of this, and that's why it was inevitable that the USA Patriot Act would attract many international compatriots.
Mr. Rosenbaum, a novelist, essayist and law professor at Fordham, is the author of "The Myth of Moral Justice" (Harper Perennial, 2005).
Copyright 2007 - The Wall Street Journal
Don't be hatin' on your shareholders...
Black and Blue
July 16, 2007; Page A12
The Schadenfreude is running thick and fast over Conrad Black's conviction Friday on four of the 13 counts against him. No one seems to like a conservative press baron these days, especially no one else in the media. But while the offenses are serious, what strikes us is how small this business fraud turned out to be.
The case against Lord Black and three of his former executives at Hollinger International was nothing like the charges in the other recent corporate scandals. This was no grand management thievery on the scale of Tyco or Adelphia, and no great accounting fraud a la Enron or WorldCom. The Chicago jury dismissed nine of the 13 counts, including the sweeping charges of racketeering. Like so many prosecutors these days in business cases, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald threw an exaggerated book at Mr. Black, alleging some $80 million in systematic looting in the hope that at least one of the charges would stick.
In the end, the jury convicted Lord Black of stealing a few million dollars in noncompete payments related to the sale of community newspapers. His former partner David Radler copped a plea and testified that Mr. Black had plotted to pay himself and others, rather than the company, the noncompetes. Mr. Black's attorneys argued that the buyers had insisted on the payments, but the prosecution produced testimony claiming the buyers had not done so. This was arguably the key evidence in the case.
The larger story is that Mr. Black was caught behaving like an imperious CEO after such behavior went out of fashion. While he built Hollinger into a media empire from scratch, he never seemed to grasp how his role changed when he sought public capital and took on fellow owners. Controlling shareholders with fat paychecks and perks may be forgiven if their stocks perform. It was when Hollinger stopped performing that shareholders like the investment firm Tweedy Browne started asking the questions that led to a probe of the noncompete payments, which led to Mr. Black's ouster, and now conviction. It all strikes us more as a case of hubris than rapacious intent.
One irony is that Mr. Black's news sense seemed to fail him when the tide started to run against the imperial CEO earlier this decade. When shareholders tried to call him to account starting in 2003, he poured scorn on their queries and complaints. He stacked Hollinger's board with figures from the political sphere, rather than business experts - one more sign that Mr. Black thought of Hollinger as a personal vehicle rather than a public company.
One final note: Mr. Black, like nearly every other high profile CEO put in the dock in recent years, was prosecuted using old-fashioned statutes like wire fraud and obstruction of justice. So here is yet more evidence that the criminal sanctions of Sarbanes-Oxley were never necessary to rein in corporate crime. Unless he wins on appeal, the 62-year-old Mr. Black could serve as much as 35 years in jail. Anyone who says white collar defendants get off easy these days hasn't been paying attention.
Copyright 2007 - The Wall Street Journal
These Tories need to return to their roots...
The End Of the Tories?
By: Anne Applebaum
Tuesday, July 10, 2007; Page A15
LONDON -- Hands up, everybody: The British Conservative Party surrenders. Only days after Gordon Brown, new leader of the Labor Party, became prime minister, the Spectator magazine - the Conservatives' once-faithful house organ - was ready to throw in the towel. "All bets are off," the cover story declared last week: Brown "is already proving a more agile foe than the joyless curmudgeon against whom the Conservatives 'war-gamed' in their strategic meetings." In other words, Prime Minister Brown smiles a lot more than he did back when he was Chancellor Brown, the British equivalent of Treasury secretary, all of two weeks ago.
Meanwhile, the London Times, also once reliably Tory, came out with a poll showing that Brown had already wiped out the fragile advantage that David Cameron, the Conservative Party leader, had eked out after many years of agonizing leadership changes and policy reassessments. The best the paper's editorialists could do was counsel Cameron not to "panic" and to console him with the thought that he is "an engaging man who is not yet taken as seriously as he should be."
The polls are quite a blow: Buoyed by Blair's personal unpopularity, by dissatisfaction with public health and education, and above all by dislike of the Iraq war, the Conservatives were just beginning to whisper of victory in the next general election, which must be held by 2009. But by late last week, at least one of my Tory acquaintances had already lost faith. "We'll lose," he told me, matter-of-factly.
It at first seems odd, this wholesale capitulation, particularly since Brown isn't exactly a new face. He has been the second most important person in Britain for the past decade and is held responsible for almost all the Labor government's domestic economic decisions. He has become prime minister not as the result of a vote but thanks to Britain's parliamentary system, which popularly elects parties, not their leaders. When Tony Blair left office last month, Brown ran for the Labor Party leadership. No one stood against him - and thus he breezed into the top job unopposed.
Although he is Blair's anointed successor, and although he should rightly be identified with every unpopular decision Blair ever made, Brown is now going out of his way to sound as un-Blairlike as possible, by using very Blairlike rhetoric and spin. He has fired a slew of cabinet ministers, pointedly choosing a foreign secretary who is known to have opposed the Iraq war. As great a fan of focus-group studies as Blair, Brown constantly repeats the words "new," "change" and "reform." Famous for his Scottish scowl, he has, as noted, gone out of his way to be photographed grinning broadly.
Brown has also clearly mastered a patented Blair specialty: stealing good lines from his opponents. On his first day in office he started talking loudly about defending the "British way of life," something Conservatives used to go on about a good deal. Partly this was because, as a Scot, he wants to appeal to the English and dampen the nascent Scottish independence movement. Partly this is because, as the Spectator put it, "his ambition is leading him inexorably into areas where Conservatives fear to tread." The Conservative Party long ago decided that too much talk of the British way of life, like too much loud opposition to immigration, made them sound crypto-racist. That left the patriotism card for Labor to play.
Indeed, as the Conservative Party has moved rapidly to the left, whole swathes of policy have been left open for Labor. Cameron is greener-than-thou, positively enthusiastic about public spending and skeptical of George W. Bush. Labor, historically the party of financial mismanagement and neutrality, has become the party of fiscal soundness and robust armed forces. Fate, in the form of failed bomb attempts in London and Glasgow - and rapid arrests of the culprits - helped Brown look tough on terrorism during his first week in office, too.
All of which is another way of saying that Brown, Blair's easily ignored shadow for the past decade, may be with us for some time, while the Conservative Party - arguably the oldest democratic political party in the world - may not. Political parties have life cycles much like the human beings who create them. They are born, they mature, they gain wisdom. Then, sometimes, they die - and not just in Britain.
Copyright 2007 - The Washington Post
Another Moore film, another pile of bullshit...
A Prescription for SiCKO: Michael Moore’s sloppy approach to the health-care debate.
By: David Gratzer
July 10, 2007
Fourteen years ago, Harry and Louise joined us in our living rooms and told Americans about Hillary Clinton’s health-care proposal. To liberals, the insurance industry-sponsored TV spots represented the worst of American politics: the negative tone, the oversimplifications, the dramatic accusations. Robin Toner, writing in the New York Times, suggested that the ads “played on people’s fears.”
ClintonCare wasn’t sunk solely by two fictional characters sitting around a kitchen table. The complicated nature of the plan, coupled with the White House’s bungled strategy, did more to damage the cause than advertising executives could ever have fantasized — by the end, even Hillary Clinton’s Senate predecessor, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, came out opposed.
But even after Harry and Louise went to TV heaven, joining Morris the Cat and the Glad Man, the ads left a lasting impact on the liberal psyche: lampooned at the Academy Awards, described in countless books, and even earning their own entry on Wikipedia. How, though, have liberals reacted to Michael Moore’s documentary, which has much the same bravado? Unsurprisingly, they have been lavish in their praise.
Moore suggests in SiCKO that American health care doesn’t simply need a shot of government assistance, it needs radical surgery — of the government takeover kind. Moore sees no role for private insurance, waxes poetic about price controls (particularly for pharmaceuticals), and looks to Cuba as a role model. There are, of course, well-reasoned people who favor some type of government-based health-care solution. Moore’s documentary distinguishes itself not because of its argument — goodness, almost every prominent health economist in academia makes a similar case — but by its fast and loose nature.
Moore claims that ERs don’t overcrowd in Canada. Yet a recent government study suggested that only about half of patients are treated in a timely manner. Moore suggests that Britain offers quality medical care; meanwhile, one in eight Britons waits more than a year for surgery. France is held up as the promised land, with free health care, doctor home visits, and even laundry service for new moms. Not a word, however, about the heat wave of 2003 that killed 13,000 elderly because the hospital system was unresponsive.
The factual errors are plentiful. Moore claims that HMOs arose from a Nixonian plot, hatched out in secret in the White House. He plays a grainy tape to make his case. Actually, the legal groundwork for this type of managed care was laid by the HMO Act of 1973; co-sponsored, incidentally, by Senator Edward Kennedy. Moore explains that after Nixon embraced HMOs, health care became scarce, leading to shortages (he plays accompanying footage of a hospital ER with 18-hour waits). Moore’s hard-luck stories are all unverified. The saddest case involves a young man with renal carcinoma, in need of bone marrow transplant, who has been denied the procedure by his HMO. Actually, there is no evidence that such an intervention would have been helpful; no doctor would advocate this procedure.
Moore’s argument would not have survived, in other words, a basic fact-check. Yet, the reviews are sterling. Brilliant, important, enthralling are all words used to describe it.
Liberal columnists have been particularly effuse with their praise. Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Clarence Page gushes: “He uses the same big-screen pop culture that brings us Paris Hilton and ‘American Idol’ to summon our eyeballs to something truly valuable: a vision of how much better America’s health-care system could be.”
Ezra Klein of the American Prospect, who writes often on health reform, offers an absurd explanation of his fondness for the film: It’s not actually about health care, rather it’s a metaphor for “American exceptionalism.” The New Republic’s Jon Cohn — arguably one of the smartest voices on the Left in this debate — concedes some “trepidation” at the beginning of his review because “Moore has not always been the most intellectually rigorous storyteller.” And in SiCKO, he finds “intellectual dishonesties and arguments without context” — but finds a way to makes peace with the film: “Still, by the time the final credits ran, it was hard to get too worked up about all of that. Because, beyond all the grandstanding and political theater, the movie actually made a compelling, argument about what’s wrong with U.S. health care and how to fix it.”
Even Canadian columnists forgive Moore for his creative interpretation of facts. In “Moore is Right,” Toronto Star columnist Thomas Walkom gushes about the film, but recognizes that the portrayal of Canadian ERs is a stretch — “To any Canadian who has ever been forced to go to emergency, this would seem unbelievable.”
How does Moore manage to simplify an argument to the point of absurdity, yet walk away with so many endorsements from people who know better? Perhaps liberals simply cherish the documentary as a day-dream — a fantasy world reshaped by leftist ideas.
And Moore offers a wonderful world. It’s not just that the Canadians like their government-run health care; they’re so damn magnanimous about it — the Canadian senior doesn’t mind paying for his countryman’s health care because “he would do it for me.” The sharply dressed British doctor maintains that the public sector pays a good salary, rejecting the idea of American-style compensation. He can’t own “six homes,” but why would he want to? And the French? Not only do they have post-natal laundry service, they are all so pretty and chic!
For 14 years, liberals have wondered about the world that could have been if not for Harry and Louise. Moore wistfully paints that picture.
But if liberals have endured 14 years of regrets, the rest of us have faired pretty well. As it turns out, the disaster scenarios liberals predicted in the early 1990s never came to pass. The percentage of uninsured remained stable; health spending didn’t hit 19 percent by 1999, as the Clinton White House forecast; corporate America never collapsed.
Instead, over these years, American health care has enjoyed some modest successes: the rise of consumer-driven health care, first and foremost. And American medicine continues to innovate and excel. Death due to cancer has, adjusting for aging, dropped 1 percent a year, every year, since the early 1990s.
If Americans have fared well over this past decade and a half, people with socialized medicine have not — just as Harry and Louise warned would happen in the U.S. with HillaryCare. Thus, at a time when Americans are celebrating their medical achievements, Moore’s beloved French are examining their health care system. In 2004, Health Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy didn’t mince his words: “Our health system has gone mad.”
That is not to say that reforms aren’t needed here. It’s just that Michael Moore has nothing to contribute to the debate. Maybe that’s because Harry and Louise weren’t so wrong after all.
Dr. David Gratzer, a physician, is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. His most recent book is The Cure: How Capitalism Can Save American Health Care.
Copyright 2007 - The National Review Online
Not a bad proposal...
IT'S BEST TO IGNORE THE MIDDLE EAST
Edward N. Luttwak - Prospect Magazine
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
Why are Middle East experts so unfailingly wrong? The lesson of history is that men never learn from history, but Middle East experts, like the rest of us, should at least learn from their past mistakes. Instead, they just keep repeating them.
The first mistake is "five minutes to midnight" catastrophism. The late King Hussein of Jordan was the undisputed master of this genre. Wearing his gravest aspect, he would warn us that with patience finally exhausted the Arab-Israeli conflict was about to explode, that all past conflicts would be dwarfed by what was about to happen unless, unless? And then came the remedy - usually something rather tame when compared with the immense catastrophe predicted, such as resuming this or that stalled negotiation, or getting an American envoy to the scene to make the usual promises to the Palestinians and apply the usual pressures on Israel.
What actually happens at each of these "moments of truth" - and we may be approaching another one - is nothing much; only the same old cyclical conflict which always restarts when peace is about to break out, and always dampens down when the violence becomes intense enough. The ease of filming and reporting out of safe and comfortable Israeli hotels inflates the media coverage of every minor affray. But humanitarians should note that the dead from Jewish-Palestinian fighting since 1921 amount to fewer than 100,000 - about as many as are killed in a season of conflict in Darfur.
Strategically, the Arab-Israeli conflict has been almost irrelevant since the end of the Cold War. As for the impact of the conflict on oil prices, it was powerful in 1973 when the Saudis declared embargoes and cut production, but that was the first and last time that the "oil weapon" was wielded. For decades now, the largest Arab oil producers have publicly foresworn any linkage between politics and pricing, for the excellent reason that an embargo would be disastrous for their oil-revenue dependent economies. In any case, the relationship between turmoil in the Middle East and oil prices is far from straightforward. As Philip Auerswald recently noted in the American Interest, between 1981 and 1999 - a period when a fundamentalist regime consolidated power in Iran, Iran and Iraq fought an eight-year war within view of oil and gas installations, the Gulf War came and went and the first Palestinian intifada raged - oil prices, adjusted for inflation, actually fell.
Moreover, geopolitical engagement in the region does nothing to safeguard the supply of oil. Yes oil is important but it seems that production is much smoother when it is left alone by both diplomacy and war. The U.S. is certainly heavily engaged in Iraq but that has not exactly increased the country's oil production - at least two million barrels a day are lost because of the sabotage of well-heads, collectors, separation units and pipelines. Another two million barrels a day are lost because of the diplomatic isolation of Iran's government and its resulting reliance on local incompetents instead of Western oil-service companies. Those missing four million barrels a day would make all the difference to oil prices, because oil demand is very inelastic and it would be enough to have 86 million barrels a day of world-wide production instead of 82 to lower prices very sharply, all the way from US$60 plus to US$30 minus.
Besides, while attention is obsessively focused on the Middle East, oil supplies are more immediately threatened these days by political thievery in Nigeria, illiterate oil populism in Venezuela and Russia's kleptocratic oil nationalism, all of which reduce both current production and the installation of future capacity.
Yes, it would be nice if Israelis and Palestinians could settle their differences, but it would do little or nothing to calm the other conflicts in the Middle East from Algeria to Iraq, or to stop Muslim-Hindu violence in Kashmir, Muslim-Christian violence in Indonesia and the Philippines, Muslim-Buddhist violence in Thailand, Muslim-animist violence in Sudan, Muslim-Igbo violence in Nigeria, Muslim-Muscovite violence in Chechnya, or the different varieties of inter-Muslim violence between traditionalists and Islamists, and between Sunnis and Shiites, nor would it assuage the perfectly understandable hostility of convinced Islamists towards the transgressive west that relentlessly invades their minds, and sometimes their countries.
Arab-Israeli catastrophism is wrong twice over, first because the conflict is contained within rather narrow boundaries, and second because the Levant is just not that important any more.
The second repeated mistake is the Mussolini syndrome. Contemporary documents prove beyond any doubt what is now hard to credit: serious people, including British and French military chiefs, accepted Mussolini's claims to great power status because they believed that he had serious armed forces at his command. His army divisions, battleships, and air squadrons were dutifully counted to assess Italian military power, making some allowance for their lack of the most modern weapons but not for their more fundamental refusal to fight in earnest. Having conceded Ethiopia to win over Mussolini, only to lose him to Hitler as soon as the fighting started, the British discovered that the Italian forces quickly crumbled in combat. It could not be otherwise, because most Italian soldiers were unwilling conscripts from the one-mule peasantry of the south or the almost equally miserable sharecropping villages of the north.
Exactly the same mistake keeps being made by the fraternity of Middle East experts. They persistently attribute real military strength to backward societies whose populations can sustain excellent insurgencies but not modern military forces.
In the 1960s, it was Nasser's Egypt that was mistaken for a real military power just because it had received many aircraft, tanks and guns from the Soviet Union, and had many army divisions and air squadrons.
In 1990 it was the turn of Iraq to be hugely overestimated as a military power. Saddam Hussein had more equipment than Nasser ever accumulated, and could boast of having defeated much more populous Iran after eight years of war. In the months before the Gulf war, there was much anxious speculation about the size of the Iraqi army - again, the divisions and regiments were dutifully counted as if they were German divisions on the eve of D-Day, with a separate count of the "elite" Republican Guards, not to mention the "super-elite" Special Republican Guards - and it was feared that Iraq's bombproof aircraft shelters and deep bunkers would survive any air attack.
That much of this was believed at some level we know from the magnitude of the coalition armies that were laboriously assembled, including 575,000 U.S. troops, 43,000 British, 14,663 French and 4,500 Canadian, and which incidentally constituted the sacrilegious infidel presence on Arabian soil that set off Osama bin Laden on his quest for revenge. In the event, two weeks of precision bombing were enough to paralyze Saddam's entire war machine, which scarcely tried to resist the ponderous ground offensive when it came. At no point did the Iraqi air force try to fight, and all those tanks that were painstakingly counted served mostly for target practice. A real army would have continued to resist for weeks or months in the dug-in positions in Kuwait, even without air cover, but Saddam's army was the usual Middle Eastern facade without fighting substance.
Now the Mussolini syndrome is at work over Iran. All the symptoms are present, including tabulated lists of Iran's warships, despite the fact that most are over 30 years old; of combat aircraft, many of which (F-4s, Mirages, F-5s, F-14s) have not flown in years for lack of spare parts; and of divisions and brigades that are so only in name.
Then there is the new light cavalry of Iranian terrorism that is invoked to frighten us if all else fails. The usual Middle East experts now explain that if we annoy the ayatollahs, they will unleash terrorists who will devastate our lives, even though 30 years of "death to America" invocations and vast sums spent on maintaining a special international terrorism department have produced only one major bombing in Saudi Arabia, in 1996, and two in the most permissive environment of Buenos Aires, in 1992 and 1994, along with some assassinations of exiles in Europe.
It is true enough that if Iran's nuclear installations are bombed in some overnight raid, there is likely to be some retaliation, but we live in fortunate times in which we have only the irritant of terrorism instead of world wars to worry about - and Iran's added contribution is not likely to leave much of an impression. There may be good reasons for not attacking Iran's nuclear sites -including the very slow and uncertain progress of its uranium enrichment effort - but its ability to strike back is not one of them.
As for the claim that the "Iranians" are united in patriotic support for the nuclear program, no such nationality even exists. Out of Iran's population of 70 million or so, 51% are ethnically Persian, 24% are Turks ("Azeris" is the regime's term), with other minorities comprising the remaining quarter. Many of Iran's 16-17 million Turks are in revolt against Persian cultural imperialism; its five to six million Kurds have started a serious insurgency; the Arab minority detonates bombs in Ahvaz; and Baluch tribesmen attack gendarmes and revolutionary guards. If some 40% of the British population were engaged in separatist struggles of varying intensity, nobody would claim that it was firmly united around the London government. On top of this, many of the Persian majority oppose the theocratic regime, either because they have become post-Islamic in reaction to its many prohibitions, or because they are Sufis, whom the regime now persecutes almost as much as the small Baha'i minority.
The third and greatest error repeated by Middle East experts of all persuasions, by Arabophiles and Arabophobes alike, by Turcologists and by Iranists, is also the simplest to define. It is the very odd belief that these ancient nations are highly malleable. Hardliners keep suggesting that with a bit of well-aimed violence ("the Arabs only understand force") compliance will be obtained. But what happens every time is an increase in hostility; defeat is followed not by collaboration, but by sullen non-cooperation and active resistance too. It is not hard to defeat Arab countries, but it is mostly useless. Violence can work to destroy dangerous weapons but not to induce desired changes in behaviour.
Softliners make exactly the same mistake in reverse. They keep arguing that if only this or that concession were made, if only their policies were followed through to the end and respect shown, or simulated, hostility would cease and a warm Mediterranean amity would emerge. Yet even the most thinly qualified of Middle East experts must know that Islam, as with any other civilization, comprehends the sum total of human life, and that unlike some others it promises superiority in all things for its believers, so that the scientific and technological and cultural backwardness of the lands of Islam generates a constantly renewed sense of humiliation and of civilizational defeat. That fully explains the ubiquity of Muslim violence, and reveals the futility of the palliatives urged by the soft-liners.
The operational mistake that Middle East experts keep making is the failure to recognize that backward societies must be left alone, as the French now wisely leave Corsica to its own devices, as the Italians quietly learned to do in Sicily, once they recognized that maxi-trials merely handed over control to a newer and smarter Mafia of doctors and lawyers. With neither invasions nor friendly engagements, the peoples of the Middle East should finally be allowed to have their own history - the one thing that Middle East experts of all stripes seem determined to deny them.
That brings us to the mistake that the rest of us make. We devote far too much attention to the Middle East, a mostly stagnant region where almost nothing is created in science or the arts - excluding Israel, per capita patent production of countries in the Middle East is one-fifth that of sub-Saharan Africa. The people of the Middle East (only about 5% of the world's population) are remarkably unproductive, with a high proportion not in the labour force at all.
The Middle East was once the world's most advanced region, but these days its biggest industries are extravagant consumption and the venting of resentment. According to the United Nations' 2004 Arab human development report, the region boasts the second lowest adult literacy rate in the world (after sub-Saharan Africa) at just 63%. Its dependence on oil means that manufactured goods account for just 17% of exports, compared to a global average of 78%. Moreover, despite its oil wealth, the entire Middle East generated under 4% of global GDP in 2006 - less than Germany.
Unless compelled by immediate danger, we should therefore focus on the old and new lands of creation in Europe and America, in India and East Asia - places where hard-working populations are looking ahead instead of dreaming of the past.
Edward N. Luttwak is senior advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington D.C.
Another Liberal kicks Dion in the butt...
PRIME MINISTER STEPHEN HARPER WELCOMES JOE COMUZZI TO THE CONSERVATIVE CAUCUS: Thunder Bay-Superior North MP latest in a long line of former Liberals joining the Government Caucus.
June 26, 2007 - THUNDER BAY, ONT
Prime Minister Stephen Harper today welcomed veteran Member of Parliament Joe Comuzzi as the newest member of the Government Caucus. Mr. Comuzzi becomes the Government's first M.P. from Northwestern Ontario.
"Joe Comuzzi supported our recent budget and our historic deal which resolved the Canada-US softwood dispute," said the Prime Minister. "So it feels very comfortable to stand here today with Joe and welcome him to the Conservative Caucus."
Mr. Comuzzi is the latest in a long line of former Liberals who have joined the new Conservative Party. They include Lawrence Cannon from Quebec, David Emerson from British Columbia, and Wajid Khan from the Greater Toronto Area.
Mr. Comuzzi thanked the Prime Minister for welcoming him into the Conservative Caucus and said he looked forward to serving his city, his region and his country as part of Canada's New Government. "I gave 18 years to the Liberal party," said Mr. Comuzzi. "But it's not my party anymore. Mr. Dion is taking it down a road I cannot follow."
"What unites these new members of our team is their recognition that Canada's New Government represents the way forward for our country," said the Prime Minister. "I would like to extend a hand to other grassroots Liberals to join the new Conservative Party and work with us to build a stronger, safer and better Canada."
What a difference a few months can make...
Time to put a tiger in his tank: Stephen Harper's minority Conservative government is in need of an overhaul.
Jun 21st 2007
June has not been a good month for Stephen Harper, the Canadian prime minister. At the G8 summit in Germany his record on foreign aid was singled out for special criticism by two Irish rock stars with planet-saving ambitions, Bono and Bob Geldof. His return to Canada was blighted by the loss of a Conservative MP, bounced from the party's caucus for opposing the budget, and by a confrontation caught on camera with an 80-year-old widow, who accused him of lying about extending veterans' benefits. The government's much-vaunted green plan was denounced as ineffectual by a prominent think-tank usually sympathetic to the Conservative cause. And as Parliament limped toward its summer recess this week, two angry premiers descended on Ottawa to castigate the prime minister for supposedly breaking his word to them on financial transfers to their provinces.
It is a far cry from six months ago, when Mr Harper was riding high in the polls and appeared poised to call an election that would turn his governing Conservative minority into a majority. After one year in power, he had largely kept five narrow campaign promises and could convincingly argue the need for a new mandate. But the chance disappeared as public support for the Conservatives, which peaked after the launch of a generous budget in March, quickly dropped back into minority territory, where it remains.
Such a litany of woes might be expected to worry a party that holds only 124 of the 308 seats in the House of Commons (there are 100 Liberals, 49 Bloc Québécois, 29 New Democrats, four independents and two vacant seats). Yet Mr Harper continues to exude confidence.
There are two main reasons for this. One is that although the wheels appear to be coming off the Tory motor, which was only ever designed for a short race, the opposition parties are having trouble even starting their engines. The second is the insouciance of ordinary Canadians, who are benefiting from a strong economy and record low unemployment. There is really not a lot troubling the nation, says Darrell Bricker, a pollster; Canadians have never been more optimistic.
This is not what the Liberals want to hear. They continue to hammer the government for its handling of Canada's military mission in Afghanistan, and its weak plan to clean up the environment. But they are hamstrung by their own record. It was a Liberal government that first sent troops to Afghanistan in 2002. They were also responsible for a much-criticised deal in which prisoners captured by Canadian forces were handed over to Afghan troops and then allegedly tortured. Their position is equally weak on the environmental front. Having signed the Kyoto protocol, they did little to meet its stringent targets for emissions reductions.
Indeed, all three opposition leaders have problems. Stéphane Dion, chosen by the Liberals last December, remains largely unknown outside his Quebec base. Gilles Duceppe of the Bloc Québécois is suffering from a self-inflicted blow after announcing his departure for provincial politics this spring, only to change his mind within 24 hours. And Jack Layton of the leftist New Democrats seems powerless to stop an erosion of party support in favour of the Greens, even though this is a fringe party that has yet to get a member of parliament.
Although all this is grist for the political mill on Parliament Hill, it seems to leave the rest of Canada virtually untouched. Consumer spending remains strong, with house prices shattering all records in May. Unemployment at 6.1% is at a 33-year low. Even the beleaguered manufacturing industry, battered by a high dollar and competition with China, has staged a rebound. The economy is "worrisomely good," says Philip Cross, chief economic analyst at Statistics Canada, the national statistical agency.
Foreign investors appear to share that opinion and are snapping up Canadian companies in record numbers. This has prompted a debate about whether corporate Canada is being "hollowed out". Many wonder whether Canada's corporate bosses are sufficiently aggressive. But even this debate is taken as a sign of economic strength; only good times allow the luxury of navel-gazing.
With an early election in no one's interest, the government has no choice but to set a new course for the long haul. That involves making peace with the provinces and those segments of the business community who feel bruised by unexpected tax measures in the last budget. It also requires a new plan of action to replace the former five priorities.
Hugh Segal, the Conservative senator who helped co-ordinate the last election campaign, is sceptical about the need for grand visions. What is required, he says, are policies to address the big challenges like immigration, trade, corporate tax and the environment. Tax cuts in particular would reassure the government's core supporters, based mainly in the western provinces, that the administration they helped to elect still believes in smaller government and lower taxes. Tory efforts to win votes in Quebec by lavishing money on the province and promoting green policies have led to disillusionment among some westerners, who have long felt estranged from the central government.
The Tories probably had these supporters in mind when they decided to sponsor a racing car on Canada's NASCAR circuit this summer. Although not environmentally friendly - the cars guzzle petrol - the sport appeals to the ordinary working Canadians whose interests Mr Harper frequently invokes. Perhaps the prime minister will even attend. Watching a finely tuned engine whiz around the track might inspire him to rev up his own sputtering government machine.
Copyright 2007 - The Economist