Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Two Earthquakes

By Thomas Sowell

Within a week of each other, two earthquakes struck on opposite sides of the world -- an earthquake measuring 6.5 on the Richter scale in California and a 6.6 earthquake in Iran. But, however similar the earthquakes, the human costs were enormously different.

The deaths in Iran have been counted in the tens of thousands. In California, the deaths did not reach double digits. Why the difference? In one word, wealth.

Wealth enables homes, buildings and other structures to be built to withstand greater stresses. Wealth permits the creation of modern transportation that can quickly carry people to medical facilities. It enables those facilities to be equipped with more advanced medical apparatus and supplies, and amply staffed with highly trained doctors and support staff.

Those who disdain wealth as crass materialism need to understand that wealth is one of the biggest life-saving factors in the world. As an economist in India has pointed out, "95 percent of deaths from natural hazards occur in poor countries."

You can see the effect of wealth by looking at the same country at different times. The biggest hurricane to hit the United States was hurricane Andrew in 1998 but it took fewer than 50 lives. Yet another hurricane, back in 1900, took at least 6,000 lives in Galveston.

The difference was that the United States was a much richer country in 1998. It had earlier warning from more advanced weather tracking equipment. It had better roads and more cars in which to evacuate before the hurricane struck, as well as more and better equipment for digging victims out of debris, and better medical treatment available for those who needed it.

Those who preen themselves on their "compassion" for the poor, and who disdain wealth, are being inconsistent, if not hypocritical. Wealth is the only thing that can prevent poverty. However, if you are not trying to prevent poverty but to exploit it for political purposes, that is another story.

There is another side to the story of these two earthquakes and their consequences. It gives the lie to the dogma being propagandized incessantly, from the schools to the media, that one culture is just as good as another.

It is just as good to lose tens of thousands of lives as not to? What hogwash! It is just as good to lack modern medicine, modern transportation, and modern industry as it is to have them? Who is kidding whom?

This dogmatism prevails at home as well as internationally. Cultures that lead to most children being born to single mothers are just as good as cultures where children grow up with two parents -- if you believe the dogma.

Facts say the opposite. Whether it is education, crime, or poverty, there are huge differences between single-parent families and two-parent families. Even race doesn't make as much difference in outcomes. The poverty rate among black married couples is in single digits. The infant mortality rate among black married women with only a high school diploma is lower than the infant mortality rate among white unmarried women who have been to college.

  • Read the Whole Story at the Town Hall

  • Read Sowell's Recent Articles on Profits Without Honor in Economics and Academia

  • Medicare Forces Doctor To Call It Quits

    Fox News reports that Dr. Brian Lewis is going out of business.

    A Washington area heart specialist who has been putting in about 100 pacemakers and 20 to 30 defibrillators a year for the 10 years he has specialized in cardiology said the federal government has forced him to look for other income. Between the cost of malpractice insurance and the 40 percent reimbursement rate offered by Medicare, Lewis said he cannot afford to remain in private practice.

    "If I get paid, it's most likely that I'll get paid at Medicare rates, not the rate that I set, but Medicare rated. And when the patient tries to pay anything additional, that's not allowed, that's illegal," he told Fox News.

    Syria Calls for a 'Nuclear-Free Mideast'

    Rest of the world has reservations...

    U.N. - It seems as if recent Iranian and Libyan moves toward disarmament have now pushed Syria to call for a Security Council resolution to make the Middle East a nuclear weapon-free zone, on Monday.

    But diplomats said the council was divided over the usefulness of accepting Syria's request, thinking it is primarily aimed at Israel.

    In closed-door consultations Monday, only six of the 15 council members spoke in support of the proposed resolution, three short of the nine needed to pass it. Pakistan, a council member from South Asia with its own nuclear weapons, had reservations about it, Syrian Ambassador Fayssal Mekdad said.

    Council members France, Britain, Germany, Bulgaria and the United States also had reservations, said an unknown diplomat who attended the discussions.

    The diplomat said Syria urged the council to take steps to require Israel to eliminate its weapons of mass destruction. Other council members said a resolution would be pointless if the US did not exert pressure on Israel to cooperate.

    In Washington, State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli said that "as an overall objective, we would like to see a region free of weapons of mass destruction."

    Ereli distanced the State Department from the Syrian move, stating the resolution was intended to score political points against Israel.

    Israel has not confirmed nor denied whether it has nuclear weapons.

    Earlier this month, Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told the Israeli daily Haaretz: "We work on the assumption that Israel has nuclear capability."

    Since the General Assembly has already adopted a "nuclear-free Mideast" resolution, the diplomat said, many countries felt it was better not to undermine that measure and to shelve the proposed Security Council resolution rather than force it to a vote of defeat or a divisive result.

    The draft resolution asks for help from the Security Council "in adopting a global approach to countering the spread of all weapons of mass destruction in the countries of the Middle East without exception."

    It urges Middle Eastern countries to adopt the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and accords banning the development, production and stockpiling of chemical and biological weapons.

    The draft is the first to call for countries in the Middle East to adhere to all the relevant treaties.

    The Bush administration recently accused Syria of possessing chemical weapons - an allegation Damascus denied. Syria is a party to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, but not the chemical or biological weapons conventions.

    Iran, has admitted it was enriching uranium, but has also denied having a weapons program, it now has agreed to surprise U.N. inspections of its atomic facilities.

    This month, Libya also agreed to dismantle its nuclear and other terror weapons programs under international supervision.

    Pop Pizza Psychology or How John Ashcroft and Paris Hilton Throw a Party

    Phony Hiltons buy plenty of pizza

    CHICAGO (Reuters) -The simple life has rubbed off on hotel heiress Paris Hilton -- or so one would think judging by the amount of Domino's pepperoni pizza ordered in her name.

    "Paris Hilton" is the No. 1 fake name used by people calling for pizza deliveries, according to a survey of Domino's Pizza drivers in Washington, D.C., released Monday by the pizza delivery chain. And 38 percent of those using the name of the socialite model ordered pepperoni topping.

    U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft might want to open an investigation into these findings -- he was No. 2 on the list of assumed names used by people ordering pizza.

    Of course, given his conservative bent, he probably wasn't among those answering the door in the nude, who the survey said tend to tip better than people who answer in their pajamas.

    According to the survey of 630 drivers, nine percent of people who answer the door in the nude tip more than 20 percent, compared with 2 percent of people in pajamas.

    Among political pizza findings, people with "Dean for President" bumper stickers on cars in their driveways tipped 22 percent higher than people with "Bush for President" bumper stickers. People with "Bush for President" bumper stickers were three times more likely to order meat-topped pizzas than "Dean for President" drivers.

    The night of the televised wedding of reality show contestants Trista and Ryan was the top pizza ordering night of the year in Washington, according to the survey. The announcement of the war in Iraq was No. 2, the Super Bowl No. 3 and the debut of Hilton's reality show "The Simple Life" was No.4.

    And as an example of giving people what they want, the night Saddam Hussein was captured was the biggest tip night of the year. No. 2 was the night Madonna and Britney Spears kissed on the MTV Music Video awards.

  • Yahoo Link
  • Should I buy 7.9 trillion tins of Imperial Beluga caviar, 2.5 trillion pints of beer, or an island?

    For a cool 8.8 trillion dollars, all Britain can be yours...

    LONDON (AFP) - Want to buy a largish island off France? Slightly used, with annex. Rains a bit. Trains often late. Nice gardens. Food dubious, but lots of places to drink.

    Yours for under five trillion pounds. Or 7.1 trillion euros. Or 8.8 trillion dollars.

    If the 58,789,194 occupants ever care to sell, that is.

    The Office for National Statistics (ONS) whipped up a price tag for the United Kingdom -- that's Britain, comprising England, Wales, Scotland, plus Northern Ireland -- in a year-end tally of the nation's capital assets.

    The precise figure is 4.983 trillion pounds, or 84,760.47 pounds for every man, woman and child as of April 2001.

    The value of buildings, vehicles, machinery, bridges, roads, shares and bank accounts are included in the total, which is based on 2002 data.

    "We found that five trillion pounds was the current market value of the United Kingdom, including the value of the land," said ONS statistician Ian Hill.

    "That's risen a lot over the last few years because property prices have shot up," with the value of people's homes doubling since 1994, he said.

    The estimate is the first of its kind in terms of detail from the ONS, a British government agency, and is based on a "much more robust system" of analysing investment data, Hill said.

    "Economists use this information to look at wealth, and is particularly interesting for looking at household wealth," he said. "It helps them make well-founded predictions of what is going to happen in the future."

  • Agence France Presse story at Yahoo.com
  • Sunday, December 28, 2003

    The State of the Republican Party

    The New Republicans

    The Republican Party has been in charge of the national agenda for almost three years now — Democratic majorities in Congress don't crimp George W. Bush's style the way they did for his father or Ronald Reagan when they were in office. We have thus had an unobstructed view of what the 21st-century version of the party looks like. It's very clear this is not the father's G.O.P.

    The most striking thing about the new Republicanism is the way it embraces big government. The Bush administration has presided over a $400 billion expansion of Medicare entitlements. The party that once campaigned to abolish the Department of Education has produced an education plan that involves unprecedented federal involvement in local public schools. There is talk from the White House about a grandiose new moon shot. Budgetary watchdogs like the Heritage Foundation echo the Republican Senator John McCain's complaint about "drunken sailor" spending.

    All this has left Democrats spluttering over their own hijacked agenda while old-style Republican conservatives despair. "We have come loose from our moorings," Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska concluded as Congress left Washington at the end of the year. It was probably inevitable that a big central government would look a whole lot better to Republicans when they got control of it. And since this page tends to favor activist government, we have little reason to complain when the Bush administration agrees.

    What has happened to the Republicans does not seem to reflect an actual shift in ideology; indeed, the philosophic center of this administration is hard to pin down. Yet whatever the reason, some formerly reliably Republican doctrines seem to have disappeared. Federalism is a case in point. After decades of extolling state governments as the best laboratory for new ideas, Republicans in Washington have been resisting state experimentation in areas ranging from pollution control to antispam legislation to prescription drugs.

    Late-20th-century Republicanism was an uneasy alliance of social conservatives — who were comfortable with government intervention in citizens' lives when it came to morality issues — and libertarians who wanted as little interference as possible. That balancing act ended on 9/11. Since then, the Justice Department has enlarged the intrusive powers of government by, among other things, authorizing "sneak and peek" searches of private homes and suspending traditional civil liberties for certain defendants. The story of the military chaplain who was arrested — apparently mistakenly — as a suspected terrorist and then wound up being publicly humiliated with a public vetting of his sex life seems like a summary of a libertarian's worst fears of an overreaching federal government.

    The Republicans' newly acquired activism, however, has very clear limits. The modern party's key allegiance is to corporate America, and its tolerance for intrusive federal government ends when big business is involved. If there is a consistent center to the domestic philosophy of the current administration, it is the idea that business is best left alone. The White House and Congress have chipped away at environmental protections that interfere with business interests on everything from clean air to use of federal lands. The administration is determined to deliver on corporate America's goal of cutting overtime pay for white-collar workers. At the same time, it has been tepid in asserting greater federal vigilance over the developing scandal of workplace safety.

    Republicans have always enjoyed their reputation as the champions of business. The difference now is that they no longer couple their business-friendly attitudes with tight-fistedness. Discretionary spending has jumped 27 percent in the last two years; budget hawks complain Congressional pork is up more than 40 percent. Some of that money has gone to buy the allegiance of wavering party members in the closely divided House and Senate, but much of it is directly tied to the demands of big business. Agriculture subsidies to corporate farms have swollen to new heights, while energy policy has been reduced to a miserable grab bag of special benefits for the oil, gas and coal companies. The last Bush energy bill, which passed the House but died in the Senate, seems likely to be remembered most for the now-famous subsidy for an energy-efficient Hooters restaurant in Louisiana.

    The two halves of Republican policy no longer fit together. A political majority that believes in big government for people, and little or no government for corporations, has produced an unsustainable fiscal policy that combines spending on social programs with pork and tax cuts for the rich. Massive budget deficits have been the inevitable result. Something similar happened in the Reagan administration. But unlike Ronald Reagan, Mr. Bush has given no hint of a midcourse adjustment to repair revenue flow. In fact, his Congressional leaders talk of still more tax cuts next year to extend the $1.7 trillion already enacted. That would compound deficits, which could reach $5 trillion in the decade.

    This, it appears, is what compassionate conservatism really means. The conservative part is a stern and sometimes intrusive government to regulate the citizenry, but with a hands-off attitude toward business. The compassionate end involves some large federal programs combined with unending sympathy for the demands of special interests. If only it all added up.

    Read the Editorial at the NY Times

    The State of Iraq

    Paul Bremer admits: "Markets allocate resources much more efficiently than politicians."

    I wonder when the US will enjoy the fruits of a complete free market overhaul...

    Threats Force Retreat From Wide-Ranging Plans for Iraq

    By Rajiv Chandrasekaran

    BAGHDAD, Dec. 27 -- The United States has backed away from several of its more ambitious initiatives to transform Iraq's economy, political system and security forces as attacks on U.S. troops have escalated and the timetable for ending the civil occupation has accelerated.

    Plans to privatize state-owned businesses -- a key part of a larger Bush administration goal to replace the socialist economy of deposed president Saddam Hussein with a free-market system -- have been dropped over the past few months. So too has a demand that Iraqis write a constitution before a transfer of sovereignty.

    With the administration's plans tempered by time and threat, the U.S. administrator of Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, and his deputies are now focused on forging compromises with Iraqi leaders and combating a persistent insurgency in order to meet a July 1 deadline to transfer sovereignty to a provisional government.

    "There's no question that many of the big-picture items have been pushed down the list or erased completely," said a senior U.S. official involved in Iraq's reconstruction, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "Right now, everyone's attention is focused [on] doing what we need to do to hand over sovereignty by next summer."

    The new approach, U.S. diplomats said, calls into question the prospects for initiatives touted by conservative strategists to fashion Iraq into a secular, pluralistic, market-driven nation. While the diplomats maintain those goals are still attainable, the senior official said, "ideology has become subordinate to the schedule."

    "The Americans are coming to understand that they cannot change everything they want to change in Iraq," said Adel Abdel-Mehdi, a senior leader of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a Shiite Muslim political party that which is cooperating with the U.S. occupation authority. "They need to let the Iraqi people decide the big issues."

    Bremer's hope that Iraqis could write a constitution before he departs had been intended to prevent extremists from dominating the drafting process. U.S. officials acknowledge that risk exists, but said it had been outweighed by the need to end the civil occupation by the summer. The presence of U.S. troops in Iraq will go on longer, military officials have said.

    With goodwill toward Americans ebbing fast, Bremer and his lieutenants have also concluded that it does not make sense to cause new social disruptions or antagonize Iraqis allied with the United States. Selling off state-owned factories would lead to thousands of layoffs, which could prompt labor unrest in a country where 60 percent of the population is already unemployed.

    Food Rationing System An unwillingness to assume other risks has also scuttled, at least temporarily, plans to overhaul a national food-rationing program that was a cornerstone of Hussein's welfare state. Several senior officials want to replace monthly handouts of flour, cooking oil, beans and other staples -- received by more than 90 percent of Iraqis -- with a cash payment of about &dol;15. Although the proposal has the enthusiastic support of economic conservatives in the occupation authority, concerns about the logistics have put the effort on hold.

    "Its a great idea that the academics thought up, but it wasn't in tune with the political realities," said a U.S. official familiar with discussions of the issue. "We have to look at what we gain versus what we risk. Right now, we don't need to be adding any more challenges to those we already have."

    A similar philosophy extends to the disarmament of various militias backed by political groups. Although the occupation authority wanted to quickly disband the Kurdish pesh merga militias by moving members into the new army and police force, U.S. officials have not pressed the issue with Kurdish leaders, who remain strong supporters of the American occupation. U.S. officials are also taking a measured approach toward a Shiite militia whose sponsoring party is the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq.

    At the same time, the occupation authority has substantially decreased the number of new recruits it intends to put through a three-month boot camp designed to build an improved, professionally trained army. Instead, the occupation authority is increasing the ranks of police officers and civil-defense troops, who can be deployed faster but receive far less training and screening than the soldiers.

    Bremer also recently allowed the creation of a new force, comprising former members of five political party militias, to pursue insurgents with American training and support.

    "The Americans promised to limit our security forces to a professional army and a professional police," said Ghazi Yawar, a member of Iraq's U.S.-appointed Governing Council. "They should not tolerate these militias. They should be dissolving them."

    Yawar and his fellow Sunni Muslims, a minority that has long ruled Iraq, are concerned that Shiites, who comprise about 60 percent of the population, and Kurds, who have lived autonomously for 12 years, will have little incentive to demobilize their militias after the occupation.

    "The Americans have to deal with this issue," he said. "It would be irresponsible to leave it up to the Iraqis."

    Across Iraq, efforts are underway to rebuild after years of war, economic sanctions and gross mismanagement by Hussein's government. Hundreds of schools have been refurbished with funds from the U.S. Agency for International Development. Extensive rehabilitation and expansion of the country's electrical, water and sewer systems are slated to begin next year, paid for by an &dol;18 billion U.S. aid package. "We are going to see a massive reconstruction program that will further demonstrate the depth of American commitment to Iraq," Bremer said in a recent interview.

    But there has also been a noticeable dampening of some early ambitions to remake Iraq. In June, as he returned to Baghdad aboard a U.S. military transport plane after speaking at an international economic conference, Bremer discussed the need to privatize government-run factories with such fervor that his voice cut through the din of the cargo hold. "We have to move forward quickly with this effort," he said. "Getting inefficient state enterprises into private hands is essential for Iraq's economic recovery."

    Asked recently about privatization, he said it was an issue "for a sovereign Iraqi government to address."

    The administration's decision to shift privatization and the drafting of a constitution to the provisional government has been generally well received by Iraqi political leaders, who want to deal with those subjects themselves. But a small, quiet minority of political figures, including a few members of the Governing Council, contend that aggressive market-oriented policies must be enacted by the occupation authority. The provisional government, they fear, will not be willing to assume the risk of revamping the ration system or shutting down a factory with thousands of workers.

    "The Americans are the only ones who can implement these changes," one of the council's 25 members said. "If they leave it up to Iraqis, it will never get done."

    Bremer and his aides voiced similar concerns until Nov. 15, when he agreed to abandon his insistence that a constitution be written before a transfer of sovereignty. A few weeks before the new arrangement was announced, a top American official here stated that requiring the drafting of a "constitution before sovereignty is the only way to guarantee we'll get a constitution."

    By handing over sovereignty first, the administration has ceded veto power over the final document and is forcing Iraqis to confront a raft of contentious issues, from Kurdish demands for autonomy to Shiite demands for Islamic law, without a referee. In September, Bremer warned that electing a government without a constitution "invites confusion and eventual abuse."

    Under the Nov. 15 agreement, Iraqi political leaders are to draft a "basic law" that will serve as an interim constitution until a permanent one is written. Bremer has said that the basic law will include a bill of rights, recognition of an independent judiciary and other "guarantees that were not in Saddam's constitution." His aides contend that discussions about federalism and the relationship between religion and government that will occur during the writing of the basic law will ease the process of drafting a permanent constitution, but other American officials are more skeptical.

    "We're requiring a country that lacks a democratic tradition and the institutions of civil society, but has plenty of ethnic and religious tension, to sort out a lot of very challenging things," the senior American official said. "It's not ideal, but what choice do we have? Nobody wants us to extend our stay here."

    Privatization, the official said, illustrates the dilemma well: It is step that needs to be taken -- and that Bremer wanted to take -- but it has been deemed too difficult and dangerous to accomplish now.

    Reversal on Oil Factory With a bloated workforce, decrepit factories and goods that cannot compete with imports, the State Company for Vegetable Oils is the sort of government-run business that economists working for the occupation authority had wanted to shove into the private sector as soon as possible.

    One of 48 companies owned by the Ministry of Industry, the enterprise was a flagship of Hussein's socialist economy. Its six factories produced cheap consumer goods -- from partially hydrogenated cooking oil to shampoo and detergent -- that filled the domestic market at prices far lower than imported products.

    Although the company posted impressive profits, they were illusory. The government subsidized imports of raw materials, charging the company only &dol;1 for each &dol;6,000 worth of materials brought in.

    American experts who examined the company over the summer believed it would be foolish for Iraq's new government to continue the subsidies. What was needed, they concluded, was a private owner who would buy raw materials and sell finished products at market prices. In exchange for investing in new manufacturing equipment and modernizing the product line to better compete with imports, they decided the new owner should have the right to shut down older factories and reduce the number of employees to bring costs under control.

    In late June, Bremer outlined his vision for a free-market Iraq before hundreds of business executives attending a meeting of the World Economic Forum in Jordan.

    "Markets allocate resources much more efficiently than politicians," Bremer said. "So our strategic goal in the months ahead is to set in motion policies which will have the effect of reallocating people and resources from state enterprises to more productive private firms."

    The vegetable oil company's director at the time, Faez Ghani Aziz, agreed with Bremer. "We need outside investors," he said shortly after the speech. "We cannot continue like this."

    Bremer's chief economic adviser over the summer, Michigan State University President Peter McPherson, advocated a speedy move toward privatization, citing studies of the economic transformations in Eastern Europe in the 1990s. "This needs to be done quickly," he said in July. "Experience shows us that the faster you do it, the more beneficial it is for the economy."

    Read the whole story at the Washington Post

    Wednesday, December 17, 2003

    Reasons To Be Cheerful

    Reasons to be cheerful

    Theodore Dalrymple on the joy of seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary — in gooseberries, for example, even in human beings

    In my line of work, it is rather hard to think of reasons to be cheerful. On the contrary, it requires quite a lot of concentrated intellectual effort: one has the sensation of scraping the bottom of one’s skull for thoughts that just aren’t there. Of course, since lamentation about the state of the world is one of life’s unfailing pleasures, the world is a greater source of satisfaction than ever. Another consolation is that most people are not nearly as miserable as they ought to be, or would be if they saw their own lives in a clear light. I meet more than 1,000 people a year who have tried to do away with themselves, and the wonder is not that they should be so many but that they should be so few. Reasons to be cheerful? Is that reasons for me to be cheerful, or reasons for one, that is to say for humanity in general, to be cheerful?

    Thanks to the fact that I write, my life is satisfactory: I can inhabit gloom and live in joy. When something unpleasant happens to me, provided only that is potentially of literary use, my first thought is ‘How best can I describe this?’ I thereby distance myself from my own displeasure or irritation. As I tell my patients, much to their surprise — for it is not a fashionable view — it is far more important to be able to lose yourself than to find yourself. I feel an inexpressible joy when patients use the English language creatively, if not always correctly according to the strictest canons. For all that it has changed, England is still the land of Dickens, and our people are still capable of the verbal inventiveness and felicities of Mrs Gamp or Mrs Gummidge. Only the other day, for example, a patient complained to me that there was a financial crisis, though, like Mrs Gradgrind and the pain somewhere in the room, he could not positively say that he had got it. He was able to add that a lot of money had been spent, until it could be spent no more; but more than that he could not say.

    Then again, a man who came to interview me for a publication the other day pointed out that I was never bored. I hadn’t thought of that before, but it’s true: I’m never bored. I’m appalled, horrified, angered, but never bored. The world appears to me so infinite in its variety that many lifetimes could not exhaust its interest. So long as you can still be surprised, you have something to be thankful for (that is one of the reasons why the false knowingness of street credibility is so destructive of true happiness).

    A few years ago, I went to an exhibition of Spanish still lifes at the National Gallery, and was taken aback, as were all visitors, by the paintings of Sanchez Cotan, of whom I (and I suspect the great majority of visitors) had previously known nothing. His paintings of fruit and vegetables, suspended in a parabola in an open stone window, were among the most moving that I have ever seen; and never again have I looked at vegetables and fruit in the prosaic way I did before. Thanks to Sanchez Cotan, I can see great beauty in a leek or a cabbage, or even in a potato, to the great enrichment of my life. (I do not think it a coincidence that Sanchez Cotan was a monk.) Not long afterwards, I saw the paintings of the Dutchman, Adriaen Coorte, who specialised in the humble art of painting gooseberries. The translucence of this fruit now strikes me as so beautiful that I can gaze at them with intense pleasure, if not for hours (that would be an exaggeration), at least for minutes. I suspect that this reflectiveness is one of the consolations of age.

    Again, subjects to which I previously gave no thought, and which I should lightly have dismissed as being of no great interest, can suddenly appear of enormous moment and fascination as the result of chance meetings. A few years ago I was attending a murder trial when I had the great good fortune to meet Dr Zakaria Erzinclioglu, who introduced himself with the memorable words, ‘I’m just a simple fly man.’ He was so self-deprecatingly humorous and ironic that one felt an immediate affection (and deep respect) for him. He was, in fact, the foremost forensic entomologist in the country, and it was upon his evidence that the whole trial turned. You can often tell the exact date of death of a corpse by the nature of the fauna that feast upon it; and while we waited to enter the courtroom, Dr Erzinclioglu brought out his graphs and tables, and showed me how, by measuring the maggots of various species, it was possible to arrive at the date of death of a corpse with an astonishing degree of certainty. Under his infectiously enthusiastic tuition, I came to believe that there was no more important or interesting study in the world, and wished only that my life had taken a different path many years ago. Nor has my interest ever quite subsided, and I have read several books on the subject since, including some by him. I discovered also that the simple fly man was a man of wide culture and broad sympathies, who wrote good prose. Alas, Dr Erzinclioglu died suddenly at a very early age, as I discovered one day from reading the obituary page in the Daily Telegraph. I was sad, of course, though I doubt that many men could face death more fulfilled by their lives than he had been; but my brief acquaintance with him reassured me that men of genuine worth, distinction and integrity still exist, and can succeed. And for this we all have reason to be cheerful.

    No doubt I sometimes give the impression that I myself lead a thankless life. This is not true. The other day, a prisoner came up to me in the prison and thanked me for my help. I couldn’t remember what I had done for him and he reminded me. His thanks, which were obviously sincere, meant more to me than any more tangible reward could have done. There is no work more worthwhile than to help the defenceless, but you can’t help them if you sentimentalise them. All in all, my life is a rich one, and it is rich because the world is so much richer than my life can ever be. I don’t think I will lose interest in the world until the day I die, and my only regret is that I will not have long enough to learn much more than I have learnt. (Not long ago, I went to a wonderful exhibition in Paris of Ethiopian illuminated manuscripts, and regretted that I will never be reborn to become an Ethiopianist. How shallow, mean-spirited and unimaginative Evelyn Waugh’s condescending attitude to Ethiopia seemed, and still seems, to me, by the way.)

    I try to enthuse my patients with the glory of the world, with indifferent success, I must admit. It is almost as if they wanted the world to be boring, to justify their own lack of interest in it. To be bored and disabused is taken by many people nowadays as a sign of spiritual election or superiority, as if the world does not quite come up to their exacting standards. With the right attitude, though, very small things, such as an inscription in a second-hand book, can kindle enthusiasm and joy. Recently, for example, I bought a little volume published in 1816, entitled The Danger of Premature Interment Proved from Many Remarkable Instances of People who Recovered after Being Laid out for Dead, and Others Entombed Alive, for Want of Being Properly Examined prior to Interment. A pencil inscription of the same era on the title page read, ‘Any person who delights in good cock-and-bull stories, here he will find them to his heart’s content.’ I love trying to imagine the person who wrote this brief message to posterity. So long as the world is inexhaustibly interesting, we have reason to be cheerful.

  • The Spectator
  • Tuesday, December 16, 2003

    Wal-Mart Sales Down, But Guess Where Sales Are Highest?

    Answer: The closer you get to Washington D.C, naturally...

    Wal-Mart reports subdued US sales

    Wal-Mart dampened hopes for strong holiday sales as it announced expectations that US December same-store sales growth would be at the low end of a 3-5 per cent growth forecast.

    In a weekly sales summary, the world's largest retailer said more consumers were delaying holiday shopping and buying gift cards, which are not recorded as revenue when purchased.

    Richard Hastings, analyst at Bernard Sands, said: "Wal-Mart shoppers are a huge aggregation of American society. The sales reflect that there are a lot of households insufficiently funded for the future," said Mr Hastings. "If you're an observer, you need to be very worried about this."

    Wal-Mart said that a decline in traffic reflected a consumer trend to shop later in the month. Sales were strongest in the south-east and mid-Atlantic regions...

  • Financial Times
  • Friday, December 12, 2003

    Stockpile a Six Pack of al-Chark

    On Purchasing Syrian Beer


    Congress has decided to impose sanctions on Syria, thereby cooperating with the Bush administration's program for regime change in Damascus and the complete remaking of the Middle East. I think that's unreasonable, and just another step on a "road to Damascus" that doesn't lead to Jesus (see Acts 9:3-9) but to more hell a la Iraq.

    If one were to propose a modest strategy to resist that effort, one might begin by exploring ways to buy Syrian beer. In doing so one might express solidarity with the Syrian people targeted for attack, while promoting international cultural exchange.

    Syrian beer? You ask incredulously. They're not supposed to have that sort of thing, being Muslims and all. But in fact the Syrians in ancient times pioneered in brewing. Today
    10% of the Syrian population is Christian, and there are even small Jewish communities in Damascus and Aleppo; these folks of course face no religious ban on alcohol. Muslims do, theoretically, face such a ban, but Syria (like Saddam's Iraq) is a secular state, and the government so vilified by the Bush administration could care less if good Muslims want to chug down a couple cold ones on a hot day while watching the World Cup or washing the car, or whatever.

    Now, I can't give specific information about how to order Syrian beer, because I'm a law-abiding citizen, and I know that while Syria retains diplomatic representation in Washington it's still considered a "terror-sponsoring" nation, and I'm aware that according to some extremely vague and stupid laws in this country, if I give "material support" to a "terrorist organization" (which is whatever the government wants that to be) I could be arrested just for advocating Syrian beer consumption. I mean, even though the bill hasn't gone into effect yet, they could say that the Syrian breweries I'm suggesting one might hypothetically patronize (see how carefully I'm choosing my words?) are connected to terrorism (just because they're Syrian), and so my suggestion itself would be advocacy of terrorism. I have a wife and kids, so I can't do more than what I'm doing here, which is to suggest you surf the net and pursue the theoretical possibility of procuring some Syrian brews to share with your friends; show your solidarity with the good, decent innocent people of the next neocon-targeted nation; and generate in your next back-yard barbecue some discussion of the complexity of the world the Manichaean Bushites want to split neatly in two. Just imagine:

    "Whatcha got there?" Your neighbor will ask curiously.

    "Oh, this? Pretty decent lager."

    "What's the writing on it?"

    "Arabic. It's a Syrian brew, actually."

    "No shit. They don't drink in those countries."

    "Sure 'nuf they do. They invented the stuff, y'know"

    "Not! Germans invented beer."

    "Wrong. Arabs were brewing it a thousand years before the first European chugged it down from a drinking horn..."

    Then, seizing the opportunity to politically educate your friend, you can go on to explain that the Baathist Party governing Syria (and Saddam's Iraq) is committed to secularism, which means not enforcing Islamic law, and maybe drive home the more important point that these secularists targeted by the religious fundamentalists now in power in the U.S. (who often lie, very deliberately, about the Middle East) actually have nothing to do with al-Qaeda and its program.

  • Read More of Gary Leupp at Counterpunch
  • Thursday, December 11, 2003

    Drugs Don't Work

    Allen Roses, worldwide vice-president of genetics at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), said fewer than half of the patients prescribed some of the most expensive drugs actually derived any benefit from them.

    "The vast majority of drugs - more than 90 per cent - only work in 30 or 50 per cent of the people," Dr Roses said.

    "I wouldn't say that most drugs don't work. I would say that most drugs work in 30 to 50 per cent of people. Drugs out there on the market work, but they don't work in everybody."

    Response rates

    Therapeutic area: drug efficacy rate in per cent

    Alzheimer's: 30
    Analgesics (Cox-2): 80
    Asthma: 60
    Cardiac Arrythmias: 60
    Depression (SSRI): 62
    Diabetes: 57
    Hepatits C (HCV): 47
    Incontinence: 40
    Migraine (acute): 52
    Migraine (prophylaxis)50
    Oncology: 25
    Rheumatoid arthritis50
    Schizophrenia: 60

  • Independent.co.uk

  • Wednesday, December 10, 2003

    US Job Losses? No, It's The Free Market At Work

    US tariffs and other protectionist measures will only slow down development and delay the inevitable, argues think tank.

    By LEON HADAR in Manila

    According to press reports, US President George Bush will remove all or most of the tariffs imposed on steel imports, after the World Trade Organization (WTO) had concluded that the protectionist American move violated international trade rules.

    Made in China: access to lower priced TVs is great for the buyers and it is great for the US economy because this frees up capital and labour to be employed in better projects
    But the Bushies are continuing to advance on another protectionist front, posing as the defender of the American manufacturing industry against 'unfair trade' from China. 'Over my dead body', Mr Bush seems to be saying, as he makes it clear he would not permit cheap Chinese- made bras and TV sets to compete with American products.

    One can make an argument that all this American tough stand on Chinese imports is nothing more than a political gimmick that could help Mr Bush win a few more votes in manufacturing states that also happen to be key electoral states. And since the American duties would affect only a very small percentage of Chinese imports into the US, so, what's the big deal anyway?

    The Very Big Deal is, by appeasing the powerful anti-free trade forces, President Bush is feeding into rising protectionist sentiments around the country that reflect the mood not only among members of labour unions that represent declining industrial sectors, like textiles and steel.

    Indeed, the notion that China and India, two of the expanding and energetic players in the global economy, are 'stealing' American jobs is becoming very popular among Americans. The result is that even 'knowledge workers' like Web designers and financial analysts are concerned that their jobs would be 'shipped' to Bangalore, India, or Shanghai, China.

  • The Business Times
  • Tuesday, December 09, 2003

    More Judges to Behold

    Greatest Heroes Who Fought FDR’s New Deal

    by Jim Powell, LewRockwell.com.

    During the early 1930s, there were powerful political pressures to suppress economic liberty, as the New Deal promoted price fixing and cartels that benefited producer interests at the expense of consumers. But for three years, the U.S. Supreme Court defended economic liberty and struck down one New Deal law after another.

    New Deal historians long blamed these adverse Supreme Court decisions on the "Four Horsemen of Reaction," meaning justices Willis Van Devanter, James C. McReynolds, Pierce Butler and George Sutherland. These were sometimes joined by others, particularly Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes and justice Owen Roberts. So in addition to 5-4 decisions, there was a key unanimous decision (striking down the National Industrial Recovery Act) – even the "progressive" justices Louis D. Brandeis, Benjamin Cardozo and Harlan Fiske Stone were on board for that one. There was an 8-1 decision (striking down New Deal restrictions in the oil business). Brandeis wrote the majority opinion striking down the Frazier-Lemke Act that authorized farmers to walk away from their obligations to creditors.

    Willis Van Devanter brought an appreciation of business risks to the Supreme Court. He was born in 1859 in Marion Indiana. He graduated from Indiana Asbury (now DePauw) University, then Cincinnati Law School in 1879 and joined his father’s law firm. When his father retired, Van Devanter headed for Wyoming. He hunted grizzly bears in the Bighorn Mountains with Buffalo Bill. He handled a lot of legal business for the two principal interests in Wyoming, cattlemen and railroads.

    In 1888, he was elected to the territorial legislature and played a major role codifying territorial laws that subsequently became the basis of the state’s laws. President William McKinley appointed Van Devanter Assistant Attorney General in the Department of the Interior. President Theodore Roosevelt nominated Van Devanter to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. He was nominated for the Supreme Court by President William Howard Taft in December 1910. He served 26 years, writing 346 majority opinions.

    James Clark McReynolds was a brilliant man and a prickly pear. He was born in 1862 in Elkton, Kentucky. His father was a physician and planter who didn’t approve of compulsory government schools. Young McReynolds graduated from Vanderbilt University and earned a law degree at the University of Virginia. He became a corporate lawyer in Nashville. He ran unsuccessfully for Congress, then taught commercial law at Vanderbilt and in 1903 was appointed Assistant Attorney General in Republican Theodore Roosevelt’s administration. There he helped enforce antitrust laws.

    He remained a Democrat, though, and supported Woodrow Wilson’s campaign for the White House in 1912. Wilson named McReynolds Attorney General the following year. Despite his volatile temper and abrasive manner that made enemies, Wilson in 1914 nominated him to the Supreme Court. A brash bachelor, McReynolds didn’t like the two Jewish justices, Brandeis and Benjamin Cardozo. He wouldn’t speak to justice John Clark whom he considered unfit for the job. After justice Stone described one lawyer’s brief as dull, McReynolds told him, "The only duller thing I can think of is to hear you read one of your opinions." McReynolds reportedly didn’t like female attorneys or tobacco smokers, either.

    McReynolds’ opinions focused on protecting private property, freedom of contract and freedom of speech. In Meyer v. the State of Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390 (1923), he struck down a law which made it illegal to teach a foreign language prior to the ninth grade. In Farrington v. T. Tokushige, 273 U.S. 284 (1927), McReynolds overturned a law that banned the teaching of the Japanese language. He was horrified at the policies of FDR whom he called an "utter incompetent."

    Having come up the hard way, Pierce Butler cherished individualism and enterprise. He was born in 1866 in Pine Bend, Minnesota. His parents had emigrated from Ireland after the potato famine of the 1840s. His father operated a tavern, then tried to develop a farm on the frontier. Pierce graduated from Carlton College and studied law at a local law firm. As general counsel for the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis and Omaha Railroad, he became known as one of the best railroad lawyers.

    Butler was asked to help the federal government prosecute antitrust cases during the Taft administration. He took on meat-packing companies, and he later argued railroad cases before the Supreme Court. President Warren Harding nominated him to the Supreme Court in November 1922. During his career on the High Court, Butler wrote 323 majority opinions, 44 dissenting opinions and 3 concurring opinions.

    The most impressive thinker was George Sutherland, a champion of natural rights jurisprudence. He believed the most important function of law was to protect individual liberty by restraining government power – historically, the biggest threat to liberty everywhere. Sutherland understood that for ordinary people, economic liberty was generally the most important liberty. Intellectuals tended to rate First Amendment liberties more highly because they spoke out publicly and published their political views, but every individual’s livelihood depended on freedom to choose where to work, where to live, where to travel, where to spend money, what to buy and how much to pay. Freedom of contract was absolutely essential for all these things. It would be hard to find a Supreme Court justice who ever did a better job defending economic liberty than George Sutherland.

    He was born in 1862 in Stony Stratford, England, and his family emigrated to America when he was a child. They moved to Utah, the second state to adopt woman suffrage, and he was educated at Brigham Young University and the University of Michigan. He began practicing law in 1883. He entered Republican politics, serving in the U.S. House of Representatives (1901- 1903) and the Senate (1905-1917). As a U.S. Senator, Sutherland had introduced the "Anthony Amendment," the proposed constitutional amendment which would give women the right to vote. "When we have established the righteousness of the case for a Democracy," he declared in a 1915 speech, "when we have proven the case for universal manhood suffrage, we have made clear the case for womanhood suffrage as well."

    Defeated during the 1916 elections, he became an advisor to Warren Harding and was nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court soon after Harding was elected president in 1920. Sutherland wrote the majority opinion in Adkins v. Children’s Hospital, 261 U.S. 525 (1923), striking down the Minimum Wage Act of 1918 that applied only to women. The case was argued before the Supreme Court by Felix Frankfurter who, like his mentor Louis Brandeis, submitted a brief (a thousand pages) full of sociological data.

  • Read the Whole Story at LRC
  • A Judge We Can Be Proud Of

    Doug French, from Lewrockwell.com, on one bright star in our judiciary...

    How Dare She

    "No institution has worked more consistently to obliterate property rights than the federal courts, making certain political groups very happy. Thus, it’s no surprise that Democrats on Capital Hill are blocking the confirmation of a judge to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit who – wonder of wonders – believes in property rights.

    That judge is Justice Janice Rogers Brown of the California Supreme Court. One Democrat disparaged her as 'the love child of Ayn Rand and Lyndon LaRouche.' David Margolick, in the current issue of Vanity Fair writes; 'When people begin poring over what she has written – more in her speeches than in her opinions, though her opinions are often tasty enough – they will be amazed and, in some cases, horrified.'

    Just what makes Justice Brown so horrifying? It must be statements like; 'Where government moves in, community retreats, civil society disintegrates, and our ability to control our own destinies atrophies.' In that same speech Brown went on to say, 'The result is a debased, debauched culture which finds moral depravity entertaining and virtue contemptible.'

    Unlike other judges, Brown typically upholds property rights against government regulation – interference which, she believes, has helped turn 'democracy into a kleptocracy.'

    The big worry is that with judges like Brown, the courts might work to unravel the myriad of New Deal laws that have, since enactment, trampled property rights and hamstrung the economy. Referencing an article by the University of Chicago Law School’s Cass Sunstein that appeared in The American Prospect, Margolick opines: 'Now [the supreme court] is setting its sights on the New Deal and the expanded federal authority it enacted over the marketplace – wages, hours, working conditions, labor relations, among other things – seeking to reinstate the laissez-faire regime of a century ago.' And he quotes Sunstein, who declared, 'A lot of us think the free market is a good idea, but this would suggest that it is constitutionally sacrosanct, and that’s very radical stuff.'

    Justice Brown has led a life that embodies the American dream – at least the dream as envisioned by the nation’s founding fathers. The 54-year-old Brown was born in Greenville, Alabama, the daughter of sharecroppers. Excelling in law school though a single mother, she graduated from UCLA Law School in 1977. She became a successful attorney, a successful judge and was elected to the California Supreme Court. The last time she ran for the court in 1998, she garnered 76 percent of the vote. During the seven years she’s served on the court, Brown has written over 200 opinions. And these are opinions that – unlike most legal scribbling – are actually readable. Wrote Vance Raye for the Sacramento Bee: 'Her fresh and incisive mode of expression – a delightful departure from the vapid style that characterizes most legal writing – is admired even by those who disagree with her views.'"

  • Read the Story at LRC
  • Even if he gives liberty-lovin' folk a bad name...

    Just keep sticking it to politicians, and we'll be alright...

    From the New York Daily News (notice we don't get any direct quotes, but plenty of disdain for the "uncouthness" of it all).

    "Bill Maher has made another stab at career suicide.

    The Bush-bashing comic stunned some of Hollywood's most powerful liberals by joking about Bill Clinton's sexual indiscretions at a benefit honoring Sen. Hillary Clinton.

    New York's junior Senator was accepting an Oceana Partners award in Los Angeles last Wednesday for her work on environmental issues. Maher emceed the event, which also honored marine explorer Jean-Michel Cousteau, as well as Ron Howard and his Imagine partner, Brian Glazer.

    Among the unamused in the audience were Oceana board member Ted Danson, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kiefer Sutherland, Diane Lane, Josh Brolin, Jake Gyllenhaal and Kirsten Dunst, Norman Lear and Jeffrey Katzenberg.

    'Maher began bringing up Bill Clinton's blow jobs - with Hillary sitting right there in front of him eating her chicken,' says a witness. 'It was just cruel. Ted Danson's wife, Mary Steenburgen, is a longtime friend of the senator's. I can't believe they approved of this.'

    The former President, although not there, was listed as a co-chairman of the event, which raised $600,000.

    Maher also took a shot at Cousteau - sniping: 'That must feel great, getting a one-quarter standing ovation.' Cousteau walked out of the building shortly afterward.

    ABC canceled Maher's show. 'Politically Incorrect' after controversial remarks about the 9/11 terrorists. He now has a show on HBO.

    Reps for Danson and Clinton had no comment."

  • NY Daily News
  • Monday, December 08, 2003

    12 Days of Spending Up 16%

    PNC Advisors released their annual Christmas Price Index:

    1 Partidge in a Pear Tree: $77.50 (-24.4%)

    2 Turtle Doves: $58.00 (0.0%)

    3 French Hens: $15.00 (0.0%)

    4 Calling Birds: $400.00 (26.6%)

    5 Golden Rings: $361.25 (-5.6%)

    6 Geese-a-Laying: $150.00 (0.0%)

    7 Swans-a-Swimming: $3500.00 (66.7%)

    8 Maids-a-Milking: $41.20 (0.0%)

    9 Ladies Dancing: $4320.89 (3.0%)

    10 Lords-a-Leaping: $3921.44 (0.0%)

    11 Pipers Piping: $1982.40 (22.8%)

    12 Drummers Drumming: $2147.60 (22.8%)

    Total Christmas Price Index: $16,888.25 (16.0%)

  • CNN

  • 12 Days of Christmas at PNC
  • Saturday, December 06, 2003

    Maintaining the "unilateral inflow of international capital to the American market."

    Very interesting article...

    The Era of Fictitious Capitalism

    by Addison Wiggin

    An English reader, who lives in France, recently passed on an interesting article written by a Chinese bureaucrat, published on a non-profit website hosted in Italy, sponsored by the government of Singapore. The aim of the site is to increase amicable relations between Asia and Europe in a U.S.- centric world. The purpose of the article: a strategic recommendation on how China ought to position itself while the U.S. and Europe – as the major players in the two-bloc international system the author predicts will eventually emerge – gear up for eventual war.

    What could possibly interest us about a Chinese bureaucrat’s white paper on impending global war? First of all, his conclusion: "In the last century," writes Wang Jian, "American people were pioneers of system and technology innovation. However, the interests of a few American financial monopolies now lead this country to war. This is such a tragedy for the American people.

    "Clouds of war are gathering. Right now, the most important things to do for China are:

    Remain neutral between two military groups while insisting on an anti-war attitude.

    Stock up in strategic reserves
    Get ready for a short supply of oil
    Strengthen armament power
    Speed up economic integration with Japan, Hong Kong, Korea and Taiwan..."

    It’s a rather unsettling idea. China as the neutral power in a war between the United States and a united Europe. How did Wang get there? That’s the subject of the second part of the article, which we find intriguing...and even more unnerving. Wang’s view is disturbingly similar to our own understanding of the way the global economy works.

    "War is the extension of politics and politics is the extension of economic interests," Wang asserts. "America’s wars abroad have always had a clear goal; however, such goals were never made obvious to the public. We need to see through the surface and reach the essence of the matters. In other words, we need to figure out what the fundamental economic interests of America are. Missing this point, we would be misled by American government’s shows and feints."

    Wang’s argument in a nutshell: By the mid 1970s, the U.S., the U.K., France, Germany, Italy, Japan and other major capitalist countries had completed the industrialization process now underway in China. In 1971, when Nixon closed the gold window, the Bretton Woods system collapsed, and the dollar – the last major currency to be tethered to gold – came unstuck. Economic growth as measured by GDP was no longer restricted by the growth of material goods production. Toss in a few financial innovations, like derivatives, and the "fictitious" economy assumed the central role in the global monetary system.

    "Money transactions related to material goods production," writes Wang, "counted 80% of the total [global] transactions until 1970. However, only 5 years after the collapse of the Bretton Woods the ratio turned upside down – only 20% of money transactions were related material goods production and circulation. The ratio dropped to .7% in 1997."

    As we note in our book, since Greenspan assumed the central role at the most powerful central bank in the world, he has expanded the money supply more than all other Fed chairmen combined. From 1985–2000, production of material goods in the U.S. has increased only 50%, while the money supply has grown by a factor of 3. Money has been growing more than six times as fast as the rate of goods production. The results? Wang’s research reveals that in 1997 – before the top blew off in the U.S. stock market, mind you – global "money" transactions totaled $600 trillion. Goods production was a mere 1% of that.

    "People seem to take it for granted that financial values can be created endlessly out of nowhere and pile up to the moon," our friend Robert Prechter writes in his book, Conquer the Crash. "Turn the direction around and mention that financial values can disappear into nowhere and they insist that it isn’t possible. ‘The money has to go somewhere...It just moves from stocks to bonds to money funds...it never goes away...For every buyer, there is a seller, so the money just changes hands.’ That is true of money, just as it was all the way up, but it’s not true of values, which changed all the way up."

    In the fictitious economy, the values for paper assets are only derived from the perceptions of the buyer and seller. A man may believe he is worth a million dollars, because he holds stocks or bonds generally agreed in the market to hold that value. When he presents his net worth to a lender, a mortgage banker for example, and wishes to use the financial assets as collateral for a loan, his million dollars is now miraculously worth two. If the market drops, the lender, now nervous about his own assets, calls in the note...and the borrower once thought to be worth two million discovers he is broke.

    "The dynamics of value expansion and contraction explain why a bear market can bankrupt millions of people," Prechter explains. "When the market turns down, [value expansion] goes into reverse. Only a very few owners of a collapsing financial asset trade it for money at 90 percent of peak value. Some others may get out at 80 percent, 50 percent or 30 percent of peak value. In each case, sellers are simply transforming the remaining future value losses to someone else."

    As we saw in the 2000–2002 bear market, in such situations, most investors act as if they were deer caught in the headlights of a speeding truck at night. They do nothing. And get stuck holding financial assets at lower – or worse, non-existent – values. Anyone suffering glances at their pension statements over the past few years knows their prior "value" was a figment of their imagination.

    Back to Wang: "In the era of fictitious capitalism, a fictitious capital transaction itself can increase the ‘book value’ of monetary capital; therefore monetary capital no longer has to go through material goods production before it returns to more monetary capital. Capitalists no longer need to do the ‘painful’ thing – material goods production."

    Real-life owners of stocks, bonds, foreign currency and real estate have increasingly taken advantage of historically low interest rates and applied for mortgages backed by the value of these financial assets. Especially since the rally began 8 months ago, they then turn around and trade the new capital on the markets. "During this process," writes Wang, "the demand of money no longer comes from the expansion of material goods production, instead it comes from the inflation of capital price. The process repeats itself."

    Derivatives instruments, themselves a form of fictitious capital, help investors bet on the direction of capital prices. And central banks, unfettered by the tedious foundation set by the gold standard, can print as much money as is required by the demands of the fictitious economy. You can, of course, trade the marginal values of these fictitious instruments and do quite well for yourself.

    But Wang sees a darker side to the equation. "Fictitious capital is no more than a piece of paper, or an electric signal in a computer disk. Theoretically, such capital cannot feed anyone no matter how much its value increases in the marketplace. So why is it so enthusiastically pursued by the major capitalist countries?"

    The reason, at least until recently, is that the "major capitalist countries" have been using their fictitious capital to finance consumption of "other countries’" material goods. Thus far, the most major of the capitalist countries, the U.S., has been able to profit from the system because since the establishment of the Bretton Woods system, and increasingly since its demise, the world has balanced its accounts in dollars.

    "Until now," writes Wang, "U.S. dollars [have counted] for 60–70% in settlement transactions and currency reserves. However, before the ‘fictitious capital’ era, more exactly, before the fictitious economy began inflating insanely in the 1990s, America could not possibly capture surplus products from other countries on such a large scale simply by taking advantage of the dollar’s special status in the world...Lured by the concept of the ‘new economy’, international capital flew into the American securities market and purchased American capital, thus resulting in the great performance of U.S. dollar and abnormal exuberance in the American security market."

    And here we arrive at the crux of Wang’s argument that a war is brewing. "While [fictitious capital] has been bringing to America economic prosperity and hegemonic power over money," he suggests, "it has its own inborn weakness. In order to sustain such prosperity and hegemonic power, America has to keep unilateral inflow of international capital to the American market...If America loses its hegemonic power over money, its domestic consumption level will plunge 30–40%. Such an outcome would be devastating for the U.S. economy. It could be more harmful to the economy than the Great Depression of 1929 to 1933."

    Japan’s example suggests, as your editors have oft reminded you, that a collapse in asset values in a fictitious economy can adversely affect the real economy for a long time.

    In the era of fictitious capital, Wang surmises, America must keep its hegemonic power over money in order to keep feeding the enormous yaw in its consumerist belly. Hegemonic power over money requires that international capital keep flowing into the market from all participating economies. Should the financial market collapse, the economy would sink into depression.

    America’s reigning financial monopolies, he believes, (whoever they may be), would not stand for it.

    Addison Wiggin is the author, with Bill Bonner, of Financial Reckoning Day: Surviving The Soft Depression of The 21st Century.

    Copyright © 2003 LewRockwell.com

  • Addison Wiggin at LewRockwell.com
  • Blocher wants to slash government spending, bureaucracy and welfarist "cradle-to- grave coddling."

    "I believe in collegiality. I'm too old to build up a dictatorship."

    A Swiss Nationalist Threatens to Smash Political Consensus

    GENEVA (AP) - Switzerland's polite and placid politics look headed for a shakeup familiar to European countries that have been dazzled but divided by populists with a penchant for firebrand rhetoric.

    Austria suffered a diplomatic boycott for admitting Joerg Haider's party into the government in 2000. Two years later Jean-Marie Le Pen shocked France with his second- place finish in the presidential election. Now it's Switzerland's turn to grapple with a charismatic nationalist who threatens to smash the consensus that has held sway for nearly 45 years.

    On Wednesday, the nation's parliament will vote on whether to admit industrialist Christoph Blocher to the four-party Cabinet by giving his party a second seat. Whatever it decides, Swiss politics will be transformed.

    If it blocks him, he says he'll pull the Swiss People's Party out of the seven- member Cabinet, heralding the end of politics as usual in the nation of 7 million people.

    If it admits him, he will have an official platform for his attacks on immigrants, the European Union and other foreign influences he considers unwelcome intrusions.

    As one of Switzerland's richest industrialists, Blocher is also its most influential politician. He led the charge against membership in the borderless European Union, maintaining that Switzerland shouldn't cede its cherished independence to bureaucrats in Brussels. He noisily campaigned against foreign pressure on Swiss banks - which sat on assets of Holocaust victims for decades - to pay compensation to their heirs.

    He is an outspoken critic of Swiss asylum laws, claiming the country is being flooded with foreigners. And in a country where collegiality is the hallmark of politics, he can be downright uncivil...

    Before the October parliamentary elections, Blocher's party ran full-page newspaper advertisements criticizing "pampered criminals, shameless asylum- seekers and a brutal Albanian mafia," implicitly linking them to an increase in murders, rapes and other violence. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees criticized the ads as "nakedly anti-asylum."

    But voters handed Blocher a stunning election victory, with the People's Party emerging as the biggest bloc in parliament, ahead of the Social Democrats. This prompted Blocher to demand that he should be given a Cabinet seat, alongside his mild-mannered party colleague Samuel Schmid, at the expense of one of the center parties.

    Ahead of what is expected to be a tumultuous parliamentary vote, Blocher has launched a charm offensive to try to convince Swiss skeptics he is a "liberal conservative" who idolizes Winston Churchill, enjoys Mozart and mountain walks and won't try to smash the team spirit once in power.

    "I believe in collegiality. I'm too old to build up a dictatorship," the 63-year-old said at a news conference.

    "We believe in a nation state. We are not nationalists, because they have an over- inflated view of their own importance and think they are better than all others," he added.

    "We think Switzerland is a special case which needs protection and care. But we recognize that other countries like England and France are also special cases and we respect them," he says.

    But many Swiss expect that having Blocher in the Cabinet would kill any chance of Switzerland joining the EU and herald a clampdown on asylum seekers. Blocher also wants to slash government spending, bureaucracy and welfarist "cradle-to- grave coddling."

    Many Swiss companies and the powerful banks support Blocher, having slowly shifted allegiances from the center to the People's Party.

    Blocher's party "very early and actively defended our industry, so it is normal that the Swiss banks would be pleased to see two members of this party elected," said Pierre Mirabaud, president of the Swiss Bankers Association.

    Blocher, proclaiming himself the "voice of the people," insists he is merely responding to popular pressure and doesn't actually thirst for a government seat.

    "If I am honest, I've never felt at ease in this chamber. There are no windows, so it is impossible to look out to see the countryside, life and the people who are directly affected by our decisions," he said at the opening session of the new parliament Dec. 1.

    While he portrays himself as a simple Swiss countryman, Blocher's chemical company, EMS, in mountainous eastern Switzerland, has helped him amass a fortune estimated at $1.7 million.

    One of 11 children, Blocher has been married for 36 years and is big on family values. Although he has groomed his daughter to succeed him at EMS, he argues a woman's place is in the home and he opposes state subsidized nurseries and maternity benefits.

    Blocher's election to the Cabinet is far from certain. If he does make it, he says, he will foment "creative unrest" but be pleasant to Cabinet colleagues he has called incompetent.

    "In my life I've always worked with people I considered incompetent," he says. "I've gotten used to it."

  • AP Breaking
  • So where are the "buttoned-down, all-American types" who do hang out with "poets and artists"?

    Moving on up...

    San Francisco Poised to Elect Its Youngest Mayor in Over a Century

    By Lisa Leff

    SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - The two candidates in Tuesday's runoff mayoral election weren't even born when the man they hope to replace, 69-year-old Willie Brown, began his storied political career.

    But youth and inexperience are not exactly liabilities in a place as covetous of its cutting-edge image as San Francisco, where voters are poised to elect the city's youngest mayor in over a century.

    In many ways, the race between two 30-something city supervisors, a Kennedy-esque Democrat and a Green Party outsider, has turned into a referendum on not only Brown's eight-year reign, but the city's capacity for change.

    "For a lot of folks, this election marks a turning of the page, and the page is blank," said Richard DeLeon, a political science professor at San Francisco State University. "The Willie Brown era is fading, and him with it, so there is that sense of opportunity."

    Democrat Gavin Newsom, 36, has the harder case to make in portraying himself as "a sign of changing times," the slogan of one of his recent campaign mailers.

    A wealthy restaurant owner and son of a judge who was first appointed to the Board of Supervisors by Brown, Newsom has been endorsed by most of the Democratic Party establishment, which is nervous about losing ground to the Greens in a city it could always count on for support. Former Vice President Al Gore even came to town to campaign for him.

    But Newsom has tried to distance himself from Brown, his autocratic political mentor who has been term-limited twice, most recently as mayor and before that as California's longest-serving Assembly Speaker.

    "I'm a different person. I'm my own person," he said during a recent debate, insisting his administration would be more cooperative and less political and patronage-driven than Brown's.

    Newsom's opponent, Board of Supervisors president Matt Gonzalez, 38, has made a career out of questioning authority. With degrees from Columbia and Stanford universities, he became a public defender and has campaigned hard as a working class hero. A native Texan who doesn't own a car or wear a watch, he counts actor Martin Sheen and Grateful Dead guitarist Bob Weir among his well-known backers.

    "It's about decentralizing power," Gonzalez told supporters at a campaign rally. "The days of calling up a commissioner and telling them what to do are long gone."

    In most any other city, both Gonzalez and Newsom would be lumped into the same liberal category. Both favor rent control, gay marriage, immigrant rights, a "living wage" and restrictions on gun ownership. Each has his own base of crucial Chinese-American, Hispanic, gay and lesbian and labor union support.

    Yet if the candidates' campaign rhetoric is to be believed, it's a matchup no less stark than George Bush vs. Ralph Nader.

    Newsom, for instance, has painted his rival as an ideologue with views that are "extreme by even extreme standards," who would infringe on property rights and tax businesses out of the city.

    For his part, Gonzalez casts Newsom as a cold-hearted conservative who led the initiative to cut back benefits for the homeless and is beholden to legions of monied campaign donors.

    Their lifestyles and physical appearances have made it easy for the candidates to play up their differences. The married Newsom is a buttoned-down, all-American type who subdues his hair with copious amounts of gel and lives in a $3 million home. The single Gonzalez hangs out with poets and artists, shares an apartment with three roommates and looks as if he just rolled out of bed.

    According to the latest filings, Newsom has $3.3 million and Gonzalez has $401,000.

    San Francisco State's DeLeon said it's unclear how traditional "get-out-the-vote" methods will play with an electorate "fed up with the old way of doing things."

    "There is a sense that the Gonzalez campaign is really a neighborhood-based, grass-roots campaign, which almost validates this as an insurgent people's movement against the machine," DeLeon said. "A lot of folks, especially on the left in San Francisco, are always looking over their shoulder for the next thing, thinking they are the vanguard of the nation."

  • AP Breaking
  • Friday, December 05, 2003

    The Passion of Howard Dean

    Very Amusing, but Ultimately Depressing...

    Type in "Miserable Failure" at
  • Google
  • and hit "I'm feeling lucky."

    Bush Vs. Eminem

    Comments from the peanut gallery...

    Jessica Orlikowski -

    "i think bush is a bull shitter. I'd believe eminem over him any day of the year. I think he sucks as a pres. Em would make a much better one then him. All we heard out of bush so far has been lies, eminem tells it how it is and doesn't go and makeup shit that he 'thinks'."

    Michael Pacholek -

    "Jessica, Eminem would make a better President than Bush. But, as that great political scientist Dick Smothers would say, "That was not a compliment." Eminem calls it the way he sees it, which means it's not a lie. But, unlike Bush, he's smart enough to know what the truth is. Mr. Hunt: Except maybe for the Capital Times of Madison, Wisconsin, there is no liberal media. They're all owned by big corporations, and they serve the right wing. That was true in 1992, and it's true in 2003. Let's see, M vs. W... M lives in Detroit, W lives in Crawford, Texas... Eminem lives in a better place. M curses for a living, but he's not trying to impress anybody; W did it in front of an open microphone while he was running for President. Edge, M. M calls himself Slim Shady, W is slim and shady. Edge, M. W thinks his job is to drop bombs, M thinks his job is to drop F-bombs. Edge, W, since that is part of his job, but he does that part too much and neglects others. M makes millions of dollars drilling holes in people's sensitivities, W lost millions of dollars drilling holes in Texas desert, and lost billions of dollars drilling holes in the American economy. Edge, M. W hates liberals, non-Christians and Saddam; M hates everybody except his daughter, Dr. Dre and 50 Cent. Edge, W, slightly. M likes to dress up as Robin, W is robbin' the American people blind. Edge, M, especially since it's the 1990s revamped Robin, not the 1960s TV-show- tights-wearin' Robin. M's daughter doesn't drink, W's daughters do... Edge, M. M roots for the Detroit Tigers, W for the Texas Rangers... The Tigers have won four World Series, so no matter how bad they are now, edge, M. M's mom does more dope than he does, W's mom thinks God wanted her son to be President... Edge, Mrs. Mathers. W's hair has gone awfully gray in just two years, M's hair is the same dopey blond crewcut it's been since we've known him... Edge, W, since Presidents are supposed to age in office. M hangs around with 50 Cent, former cocaine dealer... Tie. M has never been rightfully elected President, and never will be... That's a tie. Maybe we can use M's slogan for W in '04: Lose yourself!"

  • Am I right?

  • Steel Tariffs End at Midnight

    The president has declared that the 21 month-long steel tariffs has given the U.S. industry a chance to consolidate and modernize and are no longer needed due to "changed economic circumstances."

    "I strongly believe that America's workers can compete with anyone in the world as long as we have a fair and level playing field," Bush said in a statement.

    The European Union had drawn up a $2.2 billion retaliation list targeting a wide range of products from key election states such as Florida, California, Louisiana and the Carolinas.

    Within minutes of the president's announcement, the EU said it was withdrawing its list of targeted products.

    William E. Gaskin, head of the Consuming Industries Trade Action Coalition Steel Task Force, called the ending of the tariffs the "right decision for the 13 million workers in steel consuming industries ... and the overall U.S. economy."

    Wednesday, December 03, 2003

    "I Came Here to Cut Entitlements, Not Grow Them."

    "Me too, pal," says Bush, hanging up

    By Jonathan E. Kaplan

    Conservative Republican frustration over the failure of the Bush administration and the House Republican leadership to restrain federal spending has boiled over in recent days, producing a rare confrontation between GOP lawmakers and party leaders.

    The internal conflict, fueled largely by recent passage of the $78 billion Iraq reconstruction effort and the $400 billion prescription-drug benefit for senior citizens that squeaked through the House on Nov. 22, came to a head last week when President Bush abruptly terminated a phone conversation with a Florida Republican who refused his plea to vote for the landmark bill.

    Well-placed sources said Bush hung up on freshman Rep. Tom Feeney after Feeney said he couldn't support the Medicare bill. The House passed it by only two votes after Hastert kept the roll-call vote open for an unprecedented stretch of nearly three hours in the middle of the night.

    Feeney, a former Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives whom many see as a rising star in the party, reportedly told Bush: "I came here to cut entitlements, not grow them."

    Sources said Bush shot back, "Me too, pal," and hung up the phone.

    At the same time, House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) castigated former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) after he wrote an op-ed article in The Wall Street Journal opposing the bill. Armey wrote that he opposed the bill even though he had voted for two similar bills as a member of Congress.

    House leadership aides said Hastert and Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) felt blindsided by Armey's op-ed, which came at a time when they were trying desperately to round up the necessary votes.

    "The Speaker is very disappointed about the article, especially because Mr. Armey voted for prescription-drugs bills that had even less reform than the conference report did when he was a member," Hastert spokesman John Feehery told The Hill on Monday.

    But Armey, who said he called Hastert to sort out their differences, put a different spin on the exchange.

    "[Hastert] understood where I was coming from and that a lot of people felt the way I did," Armey told The Hill. "I made the night longer than it ought to have been. One of things we do in our party is appreciate freedom of expression."

    He added: "Everybody in the heat of the deal thinks things like that are bigger than life, but things cool down."

    Armey, now a lobbyist at the Piper Rudnick law firm, said he was not worried that his access to the GOP leadership would be limited or that Hastert and others would penalize the clients whom he advises.

    House aides contrasted Armey with former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), who was praised by Republicans for his support of the Medicare bill the week of the vote.

    Gingrich had fallen out of favor with the White House and many Republicans earlier this year when he attacked Secretary of State Colin Powell's management of the State Department.

    A GOP aide said that, had lawmakers voted after Gingrich's rousing speech to the GOP conference, the vote would not have lasted three hours. Gingrich also wrote a positive editorial in The Wall Street Journal.

    Republican aides said conservatives who voted against the bill, including Reps. Mike Pence (Ind.), John Culberson (Texas), Jeff Flake (Ariz.), Roscoe Bartlett (Md.) and Jim Ryun (Kan.), would suffer for their votes against the Medicare bill.

  • Read the Whole Story @ Hill News

  • I think those "republican aides" have it the other way around.

    Fight Cancer with Citrus Fruits

    Study: Oranges keep cancers away

    CANBERRA, Australia (Reuters) -- Eating an orange a day can keep certain cancers away, according to a new Australian study.

    The government's key research group, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), found consuming citrus fruits could reduce the risk of mouth, larynx and stomach cancers by up to 50 percent.

    One extra serve of citrus a day -- on top of the recommended five daily servings of fruit and vegetables -- could also reduce the risk of a stroke by 19 percent.

    "Citrus fruits...protect the body through their antioxidant properties and by strengthening the immune system, inhibiting tumor growth and normalizing tumor cells," CSIRO researcher Katrine Baghurst said in a statement.

    The Australian study, which was based on 48 international studies on the health benefits of citrus fruits, also found "convincing evidence" that citrus could reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases, obesity and diabetes.

    Baghurst said oranges have the highest level of antioxidants of all fruit, with more than 170 different phytochemicals, including more than 60 flavonoids shown to have anti- inflammatory, anti-tumor and blood clot inhibiting properties.

    $23.8 Million Invested; $760 Million Return

    Bush signs forest bill

    First major forest management legislation in a quarter-century

    President Bush greets forest wildfire firefighters following a bill signing ceremony for the Healthy Forests Restoration Act Wednesday.

    WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Bush signed legislation Wednesday that he said would help prevent "sudden and needless destruction" from wildfires like the California blazes that destroyed thousands of homes.

    "With the Healthy Forest Restoration Act, we will help to prevent catastrophic wildfires," Bush said in a signing ceremony at the Agriculture Department. He was joined by firefighters who fought the Western blazes.

    "We're proud to be standing with them up here," the president said. He said wildfires had destroyed 11 million acres over the last two years, and killed 22 people in Southern California this year alone.

    Rep. Scott McInnis, R-Colorado, who sponsored the House version of the legislation, compared the measure to President Theodore Roosevelt's call for the establishment of the National Forest system 99 years ago this week.

    Critics, however, decried it as a payback to the timber industry, which will get greater access to pristine stands of old-growth trees.

    "This law will not prevent every fire but it is an important step forward," the president said. Decrying what he said has been a "misguided forest policy," Bush said that "a lot of people have been well intentioned. They saved the trees. But they lost the forest. We want to save the forest."

    "We'll help save lives and property and we'll help protect our forests from sudden and needless destruction," Bush said.

    The Senate passed the bill by voice vote on Nov. 21 less than an hour after the House approved it, 286-140.

    For three years, a deadlock in the Senate had prevented the passage of legislation intended to speed forest treatment. But 15 raging fires driven by Santa Ana winds through Southern California prompted Democrats to compromise on the bill. The wildfires burned more than 750,000 acres, destroyed 3,640 homes, 33 businesses and 1,141 other structures.

    Even after the California fires, 2003 was slightly below average in terms of acres burned and nowhere near the severity of the 2000 and 2002 fire seasons. In the past year, 3.8 million acres have burned across the country. Twenty-eight firefighters died battling the blazes, according to the Wildland Firefighter Foundation.

    The bill -- the first major forest management legislation in a quarter-century -- is similar to Bush's "Healthy Forests Initiative," which he proposed while touring a charred forest in Oregon in August 2002. The measure streamlines the approval process for projects to cut excess trees out of thick, overgrown forests or stands of trees killed by insect infestation.

    Other elements of the president's proposal had already been enacted through administrative actions.

    The Bush administration estimates that roughly 190 million acres are at risk for a severe fire, an area the size of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming combined.

    Environmental, timber industry issues

    Sean Cosgrove, a forest expert with the Sierra Club, said some good may come from the increased spending on forest treatment, but there is bound to be unnecessary logging in roadless areas and wildlife habitat as the timber companies try to harvest valuable old- growth trees.

    "The timber industry fought real hard for this bill for a reason and it's not because they want to remove brush and chaparral," Cosgrove said. "Through and through this thing is about increasing commercial logging with less environmental oversight."

    Since 1999, the timber industry has contributed $14.1 million to political campaigns, 80 percent of it going to Republicans, according to an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics. Bush has received $519,350 from the industry in that period.

    The timber industry also spent $23.8 million on lobbying efforts since 2000, according to figures compiled by Political Money Line.

    The measure authorizes $760 million a year for thinning projects on 20 million acres of federal land, a $340 million increase. At least half of all money spent on those projects must be near homes and communities.

    The bill also creates a major change in the way that federal courts consider legal challenges of tree-cutting projects.

    Judges would have to weigh the environmental consequences of inaction and the risk of fire in cases involving thinning projects. Any court order blocking such projects would have to be reconsidered every 60 days.

  • Read Story @ CNN.COM

  • Government-induced 'entrepreneurship' isn't looking too bad.

    Best Use of Taxpayer Money in Iraq Yet!

    Iraqi National Orchestra Re-Emerges, Visits Washington in December

    The U.S. administrator in Iraq on Friday hailed efforts of the Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra to recapture a segment of normal life for tense Baghdad, still suffering from widespread insecurity and lack of basic services.

    Once Iraq's pride, the orchestra survived several wars and Saddam Hussein's brutal dictatorship. Its musicians _ Shiite, Sunni, Kurdish, Christian and Armenian _ persevered through the looting and unrest that followed the regime's collapse.

    As they practiced Grieg's 'Morning Mood' from Peer Gynt, for a concert in Washington with the National Symphony on Dec .9, at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the artists said they hope for better days.

    "Freedom has come, I can now speak openly what's on my mind," said oboe player, Taleen Shehranian, 23, an Iraqi Armenian. "But other things are not so good, we need more security. I hope that day will come, too." L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator, met the musicians Friday after returning from talks this week in Washington on ways to speed up the transfer of power to an Iraqi-led government amid increased insurgent attacks against coalition forces.

    "Your appearance now has a broader significance than ever before, as we face terrorist attempts to stop Iraq returning to normal," Bremer told the orchestra.

    "All across Iraq people are working hard to return the country to normal," Bremer said. "You play a very important role in that message, showing that ... none of us will be intimidated by the terrorists and former regime members." In June, the symphony orchestra gave its first concert since Saddam's ouster, playing patriotic songs that predated the former dictator.

    Bremer also welcomed the 63-member orchestra to their "new home" at the Baghdad Convention Center. Previously, the artists had no concert hall of their own but practiced in a stuffy downtown building without air conditioning and lightning.

  • Read Story @ Naharnet Newsdesk

  • Unfortunately, all is not well, the Convention Center is part of the U.S.-guarded compound of former palaces. It is partitioned from the rest of the city by concrete walls, rolls of razor wire, and sandbag bunkers. The musicians have to wait in long lines to pass security searches for weapons.

    Still, "Peer Gynt" deserves an airing any old time.

    A Whole Lot of Manure...

    From Mule Barns to Museums, Spending Bill Aims Taxpayer Money at Local Projects

    By Alan Fram, Associated Press Writer

    WASHINGTON (AP) - A $373 billion measure that finances the bulk of the government's domestic agencies also has money to boost Medicare payments to 21 Pennsylvania hospitals, help an oil museum in Texas and build a model of a mule barn in Illinois.

    And the mule barn was sponsored by a Republican - whose party symbol is the elephant, not the donkey.

    Following a long tradition, billions of dollars for thousands of such local projects, called earmarks, are sprinkled throughout the wide-ranging spending package. The measure combines seven unfinished spending bills for the budget year that started Oct. 1.

    When lawmakers return Monday for what is expected to be a brief end-of-year session, the House will probably approve the legislation, which took up 423 pages of fine print in The Congressional Record. But disputes over gun control, overtime pay rules and other issues give it an uphill climb in the Senate, which might have to revisit it when legislators return in January.

    Neither party has provided definitive figures on the number of earmarks. But one table alone lists 902 economic development projects worth $278 million, up slightly from the 882 items that cost $261 million in the same section a year ago.

    This year's list includes $200,000 for improvements to the privately financed Permian Basin Petroleum Museum in Midland, Texas, won by Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Texas.

    The bill also has $150,000 for restoring buildings in the Port of LaSalle project in LaSalle, Ill., including a lock tender's house, an interpretive center and a replica mule barn. It was sponsored by Rep. Jerry Weller, R-Ill.

    Elsewhere in the bill, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., used more than $7 million from a program for helping hospitals become more efficient providers of Medicare to assist 21 hospitals in his state. When Congress was approving the Medicare overhaul bill last month, Specter opposed letting Pennsylvania hospitals join an experiment on changing how some reimbursements are paid.

    In other examples:

    -Republican aides say there are $3.7 billion in earmarks for roads, mass transit, rail and airports - up from $3.3 billion last year.

    -The portion of the bill covering labor, health and education programs has 2,027 projects worth $862 million, slightly more projects than a year ago but costing a bit less. These include $16,000 for new displays for the National Distance Running Hall of Fame in Utica, N.Y., and $500,000 for Gilda's Club in Hackensack, N.J., a center for cancer patients and their families.

    -The bill contains more than $190 million in projects for the Tampa Bay area of Florida, says House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bill Young, R-Fla., a chief author of the bill from St. Petersburg. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., faced with re-election next year, is taking credit for $236 million of transportation projects for her state.

    -Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, of the Senate Appropriations Committee is citing more than $150 million in projects for his state from the part of the bill covering the State, Commerce and Justice Departments. This includes $10 million to help market the state's seafood, and $150,000 to try to stabilize the Beluga whale population in Cook Inlet.

    The bill also has provisions protecting fishing interests in the Northeast, Northwest and Alaska, paving the way for the government to purchase land along the Tennessee-Kentucky border for local communities and establishing grants for research into coaxing energy from agricultural products.

    Critics say earmarks distort the objective role the government should play in dispensing taxpayer funds.

    "It's a way for politics to decide where the money goes," says Brian Riedl, who monitors the federal budget for the conservative Heritage Foundation.

    Defenders say earmarks account for a tiny portion of the overall $786 billion that this year's regular spending bills are expected to cost.

    "We think it's perfectly appropriate for members of Congress to make decisions on what additional federal investments to make," said John Scofield, GOP spokesman for the House Appropriations Committee.

    The bill also has:

    -$40 million to build a military cargo terminal for the port of Philadelphia. Congressional aides say the money was added for Specter after he agreed to drop his demand that the bill block proposed Bush administration rules that could make it easier for employers to halt overtime pay for some white-collar workers. Specter aides say the two issues are unrelated.

    -$50 million to construct an indoor rain forest and aquarium in Coralville, Iowa, heated by renewable energy sources - won by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa. As a tradeoff, House members got $50 million to award to members for projects - money that was divided $30 million for Republicans, $20 million for Democrats.

    -No. 3 House GOP leader Roy Blunt of Missouri got $12.4 million for work on producing fuels from animal waste conducted by the Society for Energy and Environmental Research, a nonprofit corporation whose chairman is former CIA director R. James Woolsey. Blunt's district has a major dairy and poultry industry.

  • Read Story