The Forbes list of the richest heads of states has received a great deal of attention today, as it should. Castro with $110 million. Arafat with $300 million. Saddam with $2 billion (so much for the argument that sanctions are making Iraqis poor). Let's takes Saddam's cash...literally. With approximately 24 million people living in Iraq (and shrinking all the time, just ask the Kurds), if we expropriated Mr. Hussein's wealth and divided it equally among all Iraqis, we could give every Iraqi an $83 tax rebate. Anybody up for redistributing some Iraqi wealth?
But everybody is missing the big story in the Forbes list.
How in the heck did Hans Adam II -- Prince of Liechtenstein -- acquire $2 billion dollars and where in the heck is Liechtenstein in the first place?
(P.S. If we redistributed Prince Hans' wealth to all his subjects, each would get approximately $61,000, about 2.5 times their GDP per capita.)
I must admit being a bit surprised by the lack of coverage and left-wing punditry about the recent announcement concerning the US deficit. The deficit has reached about $98 billion in the first four months of the year (projected). Yeah, there's been some coverage, but the shouting has not been at the level I had anticipated. This morning, however, I heard some guy on the radio advocating tax increases and one of his talking points is that the deficit is too large. He didn't bring up budget cuts (and FYI, federal government spending is increasing this year, not decreasing). There is a lot to say about budget deficits, but I won't go into all of that here. But I would like to lay out one simple talking point that I haven't heard mentioned yet.
Income tax rates are higher, for the most part, in the European Union than the US.
People in the US advocating tax increases, often to EU rates, frequently cite the "spiraling" deficit as a justification.
To qualify for EU membership, your budget deficit must not exceed 3% of GDP. Most countries have had to come down to meet that target and hover around 3%.
The current US deficit is well below the 3% EU target.
So why the need for a tax increase if one is concerned with budget deficits? We are in much better shape than Europe with LOWER tax rates!
OK, Miss Canadian member of parliament. You think we're bastards, eh? Well, France got on our case and I stopped drinking French wine, eating brie and bathing in Perrier. So to protest your little condescending remark I'm going to stop...um...well, I guess I could boycott, ...ah.... Hey, just what is it that you people do up there anyways?
"A unilateral war against Iraq, without the approval of the U.N. Security Council, would be a 'crime against peace,' says a Vatican official."
OK, let's get this straight. A war against Iraq would be a crime against peace. Since I assume that the Vatican considers the war to be a crime that would mean that
Peace = Iraq.
Since Iraq (led by Saddam Hussein, who the real war is against, not Iraqis per se) invaded Kuwait and Iran, that means
Peace = invading Kuwait and Iran. Since invading Kuwait and Iran led to the death of hundreds of thousands Kuwaitis and Iranians, this leads us to (by substitution):
Peace = killing Kuwaitis and Iranians. Since Kuwaitis and Iranians are humans, that means
Peace = killing humans.
Does that mean the Holy Father is now Big Brother?
(All due respect is intended to Catholicism and Catholics. This is just a criticism of the Vatican's policy statement, not of Catholicism, which I actually like.)
Growing up, Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood tended to be the brunt of all jokes. Compared to other kids' shows that had more of an edge, MRN was seen as a wimpy show for simpletons. Today when Fred Rogers passed on, I just had a flood of memories of growing up -- not just of sitting in our family room watching his show, but of playing kickball, building snowforts, etc. You know, Mr. Rogers was a great, great man.
A great editorial by John Howard, the PM of Australia, today in the Wall Street Journal . In light of this, I have resolved to drink more Australian wines, most notably the Syrahs (a.k.a., Shiraz) that they are known for. Not that I drink much, but I'm boycotting brie, French wine and Les Miserables (one of the worst plays/musicals that I have ever seen). [Note: Syrahs originated in France -- aaargh -- but Australia and South Africa have been producing some of the best quality ones of late.]
"We're putting the American government on notice," said Ken Nichols O'Keefe, a former Marine who served in the 1991 Persian Gulf War but has since renounced his U.S. citizenship and now coordinates the human-shield campaign. "If they bomb these sites, which have absolutely no military justification, it won't be collateral damage. It will be murder."
So Ken is saying that bombing Iraqi civilians is collateral damage, but bombing non-Iraqis is murder. Isn't that kind of racist?
The news story also tells how the Iraqi government, which cannot seem to feed or care for a substantial portion of its population, is setting up housing, Internet connections and international telephone lines for these dopes. Remember, this is the same country that gives $10K to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers and builds lots of palaces for its president. Remember that the next time somebody says Iraq is hurting from the UN sanctions. It's Saddam doing the hurting.
Another passage in the article reveals the intelligence of human shields:
And some of the activists have expressed concern that they could be forcibly relocated to other sites of greater military or political value at the last minute. "If that happens, I wouldn't be happy, but there are some things that are beyond our control," said Evans, the stagehand. "That's a risk we're willing to take to prevent this war."
Mr. Evans, did it ever occur to you that it is NOT beyond your control? All you have to do is leave now.
But read to the end of the article for the very best line.
But other workers [at the power plant where human shields are locating] seemed less optimistic. Sabah Hassan, an [Iraqi] engineer in a blue boiler suit, said that if the bombs start falling, he would not hesitate to flee. "I will go home," he said. "The foreign volunteers can stay."
Update: I did tune in tonight for the "Martha Stewart" episode and must admit that it was one of the worst they've had in quite awhile. However, Fred Thompson is so much better than the previous D.A. (the woman one). In terms of actors/actresses, L&W probably has the best ensemble now than at any time in its long, distinguished run.
The Washington Post reports some direct evidence that Saddam Hussein, a guy who is not all that peaceful to his neighbors or citizens, is taking comfort in the anti-war movement. When questioning Dan Rather [yes, Hussein was questioning Dan Rather, probably in hopes of taking over Donahue's slot], Hussein asked about the mood of the country. Rather responded that most Americans were behind Bush (has Dan been reporting this on CBS?). Hussein responded, according to Kenneth, "Not as much as it was." Hang in there Hussein, your saving grace is mobilizing in the street.
Check out the home page for San Francisco State University's student organizations (called the Office of Student Programs/Leadership Development).
Notice anything from what may be considered one of the nation's most radical campuses? Think they have an agenda?
Then check out some of the student organizations listed:
Students Against War
Students for Justice
Students for Peace (apparently a competing organization to the Students Against War)
Students for Genital Integrity (?!)
Students for Safer Dancing (?!!) (Could they align with the aforementioned group to get boogie boys to wear cups?)
Printmaking Guild and Textile Guild (what would a college campus be without these medieval remnants)
...and of course, the United Farm Workers (I guess SFSU is a major ag-school).
Hussein also said, talking of himself in the third person, "I believe that whoever...offers Saddam asylum in his own country is in fact a person without morals." That quote had to be taken out of context, don't you think? Did he just make his own case for membership in the Axis of Evil?
Also notice "Kenneth" standing next to Mr. Hussein. Imagine all the niceties that "Kenneth" had to say to Mr. H to "get the get."
Given my recent comments, I feel that I must make my thoughts known on the Big Fight! Tyson-Etienne? No. Garafolo-Kilmeade. In case you didn't catch it live on Fox & Friends, Foxnews.com has the entire "interview" on their site. Not surprisingly, I don't like Garafolo's politics (and movies), but I must admit that I thought that she was well-prepared. Now please note that I disagreed with many of her points, but she was better prepared than I thought she would be. I guess that isn't too hard considering that she has lots of time to read between her B movie appearances. Brian Kilmeade did lay some great blows on her, though, and Janeane did get flustered. However, I must also admit that I was a bit disappointed in Kilmeade. His primary weakness was that he jumped around too much. He would raise a great question, but would not follow it through. Actually, the best performance on that interview was the weather guy.
Check out the great commentary about academic ingrates from Diablogger.com -- see "Give us your...." posting. As an insider, I can vouch that such attitudes are not uncommon. But take heart, there are some reasonable people lurking in the darkest corners of the Academy.
It occured to me to ask why no one ever complains about price gouging in the art market. Tens of thousands of dollars for a porcelain toilet or a canvas with a red spot on it? Hmmmm...maybe there is something to this price gouging argument. On the other hand, let's just call it consumer idiocy.
This just in on the Drudge Report..."Rosie O'Donnell says no to war: 'This is not the American way of life... We are not the terrorists. We don't respond to terror with more terror... War is wrong. Killing is wrong. Have we not learned yet?'
Yes, Rosie, we are not the terrorists. And we are not responding to to terror with more terror.
And a very good sense of history. The first act of an independent America was to politely ask the British to leave, and the British quietly left, supervised by the United Nations of course. And with a little gentle love and singing Kumbaya around a campfire, Abraham Lincoln was able to end slavery. "Have we not learned yet?" Well, perhaps not in the publik skules.
Q: IS JOHN LEMON A NEO-FASCIST ABUSER OF FIRST AMMENDMENT RIGHTS?
A few people have emailed me asking whether I will include a "comment box" in my blog. First, this is good news as it actually means I have readers. Second, and more to the point of answering the question, BLOGGER -- which hosts my blog -- does not yet support the ability to create comment boxes, even with the premium blogger services they offer. They do, however, give you some indication of how to do it if your blog is hosted elsewhere. Sadly, that advice had lots of abbreviations and lingo that was beyond the grasp of my limited computer knowledge. I may be moving my blog to another site soon, and will make the "comment box" option a top priority. So, I guess that only makes me a "quasi-neo-fascist" since I at least have the good intentions of allowing for freedom of expression. Until that day, feel free to email me with any comments you may have.
AFFORDABLE TUITION, GAS PRICES, ATM FEES AND ECONOMIC IGNORANCE
On my daily walk across campus today for a diet lemon coke, some students were protesting a recent rise in tuition rates. This is pretty much happening nationwide. Not surprisingly, students are angry about paying more. In fact, basic cost-benefit analysis indicates that people would rather pay less for stuff than more, ceteris paribus. However, the student protesters are thinking in static terms. The cry for "affordable tuition" generally means that I want to be able to cheaper tuition today, so that I can afford other stuff that I like (CDs, movies, ice cream, nose rings). But that is not the proper comparison. The real comparison is whether current tuition rates are affordable for me relative to what I can get in the future. If tuition increases by 5%, but a college degree will guarantee me 20% more in yearly salary than just a high school diploma, college is affordable. Yes, you may have to take out a loan. Yes, you may have to live in an apartment with minimal furnishings. And yes, you may have to put off tatooing the last square foot of your body until after you start at an engineering firm. But that is life. Life is filled with lots of trade-offs. To my knowledge, most public and private tuition rates will, on average, result in greater future earnings that will fully recoup the rising cost. I think that's even true for English majors (albeit more of a gamble).
The protest against tuition increases is also somewhat reminiscent of all those "price gouging" arguments we hear about gas prices and ATM fees. The fact of the matter is that there really is no such thing as price gouging in economics. In a free market, a supplier has the freedom to charge whatever price he wants for a good or service. If he charges too much, people will stop purchasing it. The People's Republic of Santa Monica banned ATM fees in 1999, arguing that such fees constituted price gouging. But those fees are what banks are charging for the service of convenience. And for gas prices, if companies want to charge higher rates for consumers, consumers have the choice of driving less. Well, one could possibly argue that there is active or passive collusion going on and all gas stations are conspiring to raise prices. True, and gasoline is relatively inelastic, but that still doesn't take away from the fact that consumers have the option of not consuming (or carpooling, etc.). The argument of price gouging is simply a generic complaint related to the natural human tendency of wanting to get stuff at low effort.
Now, back to the tuition protest. As a caveat to the argument above, I can sympathize with students who see the price of a college education rising while the quality of that education remains the same or declines. Class sizes are getting bigger, professors "dumb down" exams to facilitate grading, etc. However, there the problem is not so much with the price of college education (because just having the diploma irrespective of what you learned will enhance your earning potential, sad to say), but with the internal management of the university. I would argue that many students are poorly served at colleges across the nation because too many universities are trying to do too many things and are, hence, wasting too much money. But instead of protesting tuition hinkes, how about uniting for a better curriculum which includes less postmodernist foo-foo and a required course in Econ 101?!
For some reason, the future of the space program is a featured issue of debate in today's UW Daily. The anti-space exploration side has a title worthy of James Taranto's "You Don't Say" quips -- "Problems on this Planet Need Attention." I quote from the final paragraph.
"Our own country is struggling right now. We have homeless and starving citizens whom the government apparently cannot afford to help, because it does not. We have outrageously expensive health care leaving many people without needed treatments. The government is freely tapping phones and searching individuals’ cars and homes. It is also locking up any immigrant it can, and throwing away the key. Yet we are not protected from terrorism, as the nation’s recent terror scare and hoarding of duct tape and plastic can attest to. We cannot ensure our citizens have food, shelter, health care or safety, and yet we are the only superpower. It cannot be better anywhere else in the world. Millions of people die every year from starvation. I think space exploration is a noble cause, but we should keep our feet closer to the earth until everyone living on it is ensured of a few basic things, like food."
* No one in the US is starving (or starving to death) because the government does not provide food. First, our contemporary definition of "starvation" and "malnutrition" allow for even corpulent people to be on the rolls. (The defintions are based upon missing X number of meals a week, which I think is 2 or 3 for "going hungry." Trust me, you can make those 2-3 meals up at one trip to In-and-Out.) Plus, real food prices are near historic lows.
* Same thing for shelter. The vast bulk of the "homeless problem" is not related to housing/apartment prices. It is largely a function of substance abuse, and by ignoring this fact, most homeless advocates who focus on housing supply are doing a great disservice to people who truly need help.