Thursday, June 30, 2011

Training American Diplomats for Service in the Middle East State Department Bureau and Countries in the Region

Many Americans who join the diplomatic service do so out of a sense of doing good for the world, eliminating poverty and disease, and promoting human rights and democracy.

The Middle East is the perfect place in which to try to accomplish these goals.  But dreams must take reality into account.  Otherwise, failure and even making things worse are the likely outcome.

Every diplomat or desk officer with responsibility for the Middle East should be required to see Lawrence of Arabia and Khartoum every day for two weeks, followed by in-depth study of Shia-Sunni relations.  The last requirement is to spend a week in Baghdad changing coffee shops several times a day to get first-hand knowledge of frequent bombings.

Only then is reality likely to inform U.S. Mideast foreign policy.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Foreguess, Not Forecast

The Federal Reserve Board press release following the meeting of June 21-22, 2011, stated  “Information received since the Federal Open Market Committee met in April indicates that the economic recovery is continuing at a moderate pace, though somewhat more slowly than the Committee had expected.  Also, recent labor market indicators have been weaker than anticipated.”

And yet, the FOMC proceeded to project economic growth, unemployment, and other indicators through the fourth quarter 2013.  Huh?  If the Fed cannot forecast one quarter with any degree of accuracy, how they correctly forecast the next ten quarters?

Going further, how can any budget agreement accurately forecast ten years of budget savings?  Ditto for the Congressional Budget Office?

The answer is that they cannot.

The projections of the Fed, CBO, OMB, and other entities amount to foreguesses [conjecture], not forecasts [predicting, estimating].

Barry Ritholtz is more blunt.  His response to Ben Bernanke merits reading.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

When is Major Hassan's Trial?

The trial of Major Nidal Hassan, the [alleged!?] Fort Hood shooter, has been put off for another four months until October 2, 2011, from its previously scheduled date of June 2.  The shooting took place on November 2009, nineteen months ago.

Why?

Thoughtful Ideas is not convinced by any of the official explanations.  TI believes that a decision has been made to keep postponing the trial until after the November 2012 election lest Muslim Americans be painted in a bad light.

Wait and see.

Monday, June 27, 2011

We the People

“We the people” are among the three most profound words written in any language.  Only now, thanks to the Internet, are they becoming reality.

Formerly a select group of elected, appointed, or self-anointed leaders governed human affairs.  The Internet, in its numerous and ever-growing modes, has now empowered hundreds of millions of people to have their say, even to the point of overthrowing corrupt, dictatorial regimes.

The Internet makes available audio, video, photos, skype, twitter, facebook, linked-in, blogs, iphone applications, email, ebooks, e-education, scribd, and  others to be developed.


        (Graphic:  Rosa Golijan, Technolog on MSNBC)

Government of, for, and by the politicians, lobbyists, bureaucrats, advisers, etc., will give way to government of, for, and by the people--despite the efforts of the ruling classes to hang on to their power and influence

Friday, June 24, 2011

Confucius Analect of the Week, June 24, 2011

Pu Shang said, "Remain sincere in purpose while studying widely, continuing to think while posing frank and open questions.  Therein lies Manhood-at-its-best."  (James R. Ware, Chapter XIX, Verse 6)

It's unlikely that Congress will place a statue of Confucius in the Capitol Rotunda.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Hillary’s War

It is widely believed that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her supporters helped nudge President Obama into joining Nato’s military action against Colonel Qaddafi’s regime.  She stated that military intervention was required to prevent Qaddafi’s forces from committing genocide against the inhabitants of Benghazi.

If Libya, why not North Korea, Syria, Zimbabwe, Central African Republic, Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eastern Burma, Eastern Chad, and Somalia?

Just asking....

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Winning Design for $200 Banknote

Both Euros and Swiss francs are issued in denominations of 200.  To compete with Europe and enable consumers to keep up with inflation, the Federal Reserve Board will soon have to issue $200 banknotes.

The issue of any new banknote requires serious consideration of a presidential portrait on the obverse side (front) and iconic American political scene on the reverse (back).  My choice for the front is Bill Clinton.  Why?  The Clinton administration was the only presidency in the past half-century in which budget surpluses, not deficits, were the fiscal rule.  Had the Bush administration stayed on the Clinton fiscal track, the U.S. would have been paying down its public debt, not increasing it by trillions of dollars.


My choice for the back is the Boston Tea Party.  It was an important event in the American colonies signifying opposition to Britain’s efforts to tax and regulate the American colonists.  Its reincarnation in the modern Tea Party demonstrates that the founding ideals are still alive in the American body politic.

The issue of this design will serve as a daily reminder of the benefits and virtues of limited, responsible government.

(HT:  Ellen Santiago)

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Discrimination or Preference in Sports


In the past few decades, reflecting merit and a concerted effort by the leagues, the number of African-Americans has increased in the managerial and coaching ranks of professional baseball, football, and basketball, and will likely do so in the future.

At the same time, those watching professional sporting events in gymnasiums, arenas, and stadiums remain substantially homogeneous.

Hispanics are found in large numbers at professional soccer games.  Whites constitute the vast majority of observers at hockey, golf (as revealed among the spectators along the sidelines watching the U.S. Open during June 16-19, 2011), and tennis events.  Football and basketball attract large audiences of African-Americans.  So long as one can pay the entrance price at any of these events, there appears to be no systematic discrimination excluding one or another ethnic or racial group from attending the event of its choice.

Could these patterns be due to personal preference?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Why Does Colonel Qaddafi Keep Fighting?

A better question is why Hillary Clinton and other state and defense department personnel think he will quit and leave Libya.

After all, Libya is a paragon of multiculturalism and diversity, the model of statecraft the U.S. is pursuing in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere around the globe based on doctrines taught in American universities.

Too bad that Libya is a tribal society and that those supporting Qaddafi have cause to fear for their lives and welfare should rivals in Benghazi and elsewhere come to power.  Think in terms of Shia versus Sunni in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Yemen, and Iran.  Qaddafi and his family are not alone in clinging to power.  It’s also his own tribe and southern Saharan tribes from Libya’s old southern desert province of Fazzan and others that have tied their masts to his.




At least, so far, Hillary has had the good sense not to take on Syria’s Assad in the quest to build a multicultural democracy in that nation.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Confucius Analect of the Week, June 17, 2011

Chung Yu asked how to serve a prince.  “Don’t deceive him!  Resist him rather.”  (James R. Ware, Chapter IV, Verse 22)

Wouldn’t it be nice if advisers to the president, Members of Congress, governors, mayors, and regulators told the unvarnished truth instead of  playing the loyalty game and nodding yes to their bosses, going along to get along?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Bringing Economic Reason and Reality to the White House


How?  Easy.  Appoint Rick Santelli of CNBC to the post of the president’s official remonstrator on the economy.  His job would be to give President Obama a daily real-world briefing in the style of Santelli's two-minute rant.

In so doing, Santelli would force President Obama to begin each day with a cold bucket of ice water thrown over his wishful thinking and disregard of reality.  Indeed, to minimize his fear of the morning rant, Obama might actually begin to implement sensible policies.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Five Point Plan for 5% Growth


1.  Enact the Hall-Rabushka flat tax.

2.  Supreme Court invalidates Obamacare.

3.  Defund and remove all White House czars.

4.  Freeze all new federal government regulations.

5.  Free the domestic U.S. energy markets.

Add in some spending cuts and 5% looks easy.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Forecasting China’s Decline

It has become fashionable in the economic blogosphere to predict hard times ahead for China.  Naysayers point to thousands of vacant apartments, bad loans on the banks’ books, rising inflation, an undervalued currency, and other negative indicators.

Using standard economic models, analysts insist that China’s economy will overheat, that it cannot continue to grow at 9-10%.  Nouriel Roubini of financial crisis fame is the latest to chime in, projecting a hard landing in 2013.  Three decades of 9-10% growth must come to a crashing halt.

Thoughtful Ideas remains bullish on China.  The principal reason is China’s investment in high-tech education, in mathematics, science, and engineering.

China’s decline will set in when it begins to emulate the U.S. in higher education–when student enrollment at home and abroad stagnates in science and engineering and grows in law, psychology, education, self-esteem, counseling, and diversity.  At that point, value added will slow and value subtraction will rise.  Meanwhile, investment in high value-added skills and hard work continue to propel growth in China.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Confucius Analect of the Week, June 10, 2011

Sorry.  No analect this week.  Confucius is distraught that someone ordered the removal of his statue from Tiananmen Square in Beijing.

All the more so since over 300 Institutes of Chinese language and culture have been established in his name around the world.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

U.S. Troop Strength in Iraq and Afghanistan

President Obama was inaugurated in January 2009.  At that time U.S. troops numbered 142,000 in Iraq and 23,000 in Afghanistan.  At the end of May 2011, U.S. troops totaled 45,000 in Iraq and, at the end of April 2011, stood at 100,000 in Afghanistan.

Obama withdrew 97,000 in Iraq but added 77,000 in Afghanistan for a net reduction of 20,000.  Put another way, four-fifths of those removed from Iraq were sent to Afghanistan.  (It should be noted that phased U.S. withdrawal from Iraq was agreed during the Bush administration.)

President Obama recently stated that he would order a significant withdrawal from Afghanistan in July 2011.  Barring a change in the U.S.-Iraq accord, all U.S. troops are scheduled to leave Iraq by the end of 2011.

A deficit reduction agreement with Republicans will be easier to reach if overseas military expenditures decline in keeping with projected draw downs of U.S. forces in both countries.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Worst of Times

The best of times in the Middle East:

Peaceful, stable democracy in Iraq
Democracy in Egypt respecting women and Christian Copts
Democracy in Tunisia
Democracy in Libya
Reforming Syria
Orderly transition to democracy in Yemen
Palestinian state recognizing Israel as a Jewish state
Harmony in Bahrain

The worst of times in the Middle East:

Eruption of Sunni-Shia-Kurdish separatism following U.S. withdrawal
Muslim Brotherhood takeover in Egypt imposing Sharia Law
Uncertain future in Tunisia
Muslim extremist takeover of Libya
Syrian regime slaughter of thousands of Syrians
Al-Quade takeover of Yemen
Another intifada
Renewed Shia uprising in Bahrain

Place your odds!

Monday, June 6, 2011

The fault dear Brutus...

“The fault dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings.”  (Shakespeare, Julius Caesar)

Recent weak data on May jobs and unemployment disappointed the forecasters that projected better numbers (save Rick Santelli of CNBC who was right on target), and Democrat politicians hoping for an improving economy.  Whenever the numbers fall below expectations, analysts and political apologists typically point to a combination of unique events that affected the prior month: Japan’s tsunami, Midwest floods, rising energy prices, and so on.

What’s missing from these discussions is the economic advice given presidents and Congress by a small army of advisers selected from elite universities and prominent think tanks.  Are they culpable, other than to admit they were shocked and surprised by bad numbers?  On leaving government, most write op-eds for the WSJ or NYT complaining that political realities and other uncontrollable factors threw a monkey wrench into their policy recommendations.  On rare, very rare, occasion, e.g., former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan admitted he misjudged the danger of the housing bubble, an apology is offered.

But most blame the stars, not themselves, and go on to advise the next round of policy makers.   

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Confucius Analect of the Week, June 4, 2011

“Great Man’s concern is that he may die without a good name.”  (James R. Ware, Chapter XV, Verse 20)

I guess this leaves out most politicians, political spinmeisters, blowhards, purveyors of falsehoods, misspeakers, and politically-biased reporters claiming objectivity.

Friday, June 3, 2011

A Fresh Proposal for Peace in the Middle East


The Muslim Brotherhood, by itself or in alliance with other Muslim parties, is projected to win a governing majority in Egypt’s September parliamentary elections.  The new parliament will move quickly to establish Sharia law.  This bodes ill for Egypt’s estimated 8-12 million Christian Copts, who are suffering increased attacks at the hands of emboldened Muslims.

What’s this got to do with the Israeli-Arab problem?

I propose a people-for-people swap.  There are an estimated 1.6-2.3 million Arabs resident in the West Bank and 1.7 million in Gaza.  These 3.3-4.0 million Palestinian Arabs would be swapped for 4 million or more Egyptian Christian Copts, funded by money from the G8 $40 billion aid fund for Egypt and Tunisia to insure that all swapped people are equally well-off or better off after resettlement.

The benefits are immediately clear.  Israel would no longer have a Palestinian problem and 4 million Egyptian Christians would no longer live under fear of Sharia law.  Ideally, even more than 4 million Egyptian Christians might be welcomed into the West Bank and Gaza,  The resulting combined Jewish Christian population would strengthen Israel.

Palestinians would no longer live under Israeli occupation and could participate in the political life of the new Egypt.

The political structure of the West Bank and Gaza would follow that of the Hong Kong and Macau Special Administrative Regions of China.  For the immediate future the Christians would enjoy internal autonomy save for defense and foreign affairs which would remain in Israeli hands.

People for peace, not land for peace!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

China Buying Eurobonds

The financial media is replete with stories of China holding over a trillion dollars of U.S. government bonds and buying euro bonds to help euro zone countries.

This is a remarkable turn of events from a hundred years ago.  Hanging on the walls of my home library are two Chinese government bonds that I acquired in Hong Kong many years ago.  One is an Imperial Chinese Government gold loan bond dated 1908, subscribed in sterling by Great Britain.  The other, dated 1913, was subscribed by Russia, France, Great Britain, and Germany.  Both are valued today only as collector’s items, not financial instruments of real value.

Who’d have thunk it?  Could the same happen to Treasury and Euro bonds?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Poet's Corner

And what is so rare as a day in June?
  Then, if ever, come perfect days;

(James Russell Lowell)