Friday, February 20, 2004

Billmon has an entry on another wonderful boon that we are visiting on the Iraqi people -- the worst goons of Apartheid South Africa, now hiring out as mercs.

But forget who the employees are. Doesn't anyone know enough of the classics these days to wonder whether letting a company named Erinys International loose on civilians is really to do them a favor?

Worried about Google's dominance of this inter-data-thingy? No? Time to start...

via Atrios.

Note: Google does own Blogger...

Thursday, February 19, 2004

A brief note on Howard Dean:

I've been a bit bemused in the past on the "Dean Movement". It's always struck me as less about the Deaniacs finding the right candidate than about finding each other -- a point which could only be reinforced by the stories about people joining the campaign to find dates or recover from breakups. (And I've been a lot more reticent talking about that on this blog, and elsewhere, than perhaps I should have been -- no point joining a circular firing squad, is what I figured at the time). That said, I'm not the first to observe that he did one huge service to his party: he showed them what they seem to have forgotten, that the business of an opposition party is to oppose. Let's hope that doesn't get buried with him.

As to the candidate himself -- I actually found Mary Beth's writing on the guy at Wampum somewhat troubling on issues of governance (specifically, in her case, tribal sovereignty), and other local observers say he wasn't known there as a great campaigner either. All of which suggests again that his support came more from being the only guy at first who was saying what needed to be said, than from saying it particularly well.

He would, still and all, have been a much, much better President than Bush -- but is it necessary, at this point, to damn him with such faint praise?

And now, something from the lighter side:

Residents of Fredericksburg, MD, are enthusiastically waiting to read, at long last, whatever prominent names of local big shots are to be found in the little black book of a madam who was arrested in Novemeber 2000, and got off with a remarkably light sentence considering the immense volume of seized evidence.

Already some citizens have cause for deep disappointment, as their illusions about what's going on around them have been shattered:

Alex of Arlington, Va., said he was about to leave the Marines for graduate school but was strapped for money. A friend suggested that he go into the escort service.

"I didn't even know there was a market for male escorts," Alex wrote. "Is there a demand?"

Ms. Potter advised: "Male escorts are a myth. Women don't have to pay for it. Last try was Bambam. There is no market. Sorry."

Say it isn't so.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

More evidence of the seriousness with which Dubya's crew pursues the War on Their Political Opponents Terror. A prosecutor in Detroit testified to the Senate last fall that Ashcroft's showboating was interfering with the case. The response from the Justice Department?

Convertino is seeking damages under the Privacy Act, alleging he has been subjected to an internal investigation as retaliation for his cooperation with the Senate and that information from the internal probe was wrongly leaked to news media. ...

Convertino also accused Justice officials of intentionally divulging the name of one of his confidential terrorism informants (CI) to retaliate against him.

The leak put the informant at grave risk, forced him to flee the United States and "interfered with the ability of the United States to obtain information from the CI about current and future terrorist activities," the suit alleges.

Well, they've got to do something to shut down all those carping comments. Heck, here's Nathan Newman carping about federal budget cuts for first responders to a terrorist attack. Ingrate.

How can you say that they're not serious? They're talking about indefinitely detaining people at Guantanamo, without trial, with no independant evaluation of the evidence, and effectively on their own whim. And they're poring through personal information on everyone who traveled to Las Vegas last December, using Patriot Act provisions to bypass legal probable cause requirements. How can you get more serious than that?

Convertino link via Josh Marshall...

I've got a long post on outsourcing, and the rhetoric around it, which I've been chewing over for a while -- but while I beat it into shape, those with an interest in the topic might want to peruse this Slashdot "interview" with the Indian workers themselves.

A couple of salient points:

First off, this makes it clear why programmer hours are so much cheaper in India -- everything is cheaper in India. It's not too much of an exaggeration to say that all of the major household expenses of these guys -- rent (about $175/month), food ($50), and excellent medical care for very few dollars -- are literally one tenth of the prices paid by American tech workers, for a roughly comparable lifestyle. Hours and working conditions are similar (the Indians generally get more vacation). Apartments are about as big, perhaps with fewer gizmos, but the servants they can afford make up for that. Medical care available to professionals (though not to peasants) is of high quality. And so forth.

The two most marked downsides are that transportation is worse (roads choked, even with smaller cars, public transport choked and filthy) and that utilities are flaky. Even these points aren't quite as cut and dried as you'd think -- commutes seem, from what little I can tell, to be shorter (no one addressed that directly, but apartments a half hour away from downtown -- not a bad deal by American standards -- are at a deep discount). And as to the utilities -- remember Silicon Valley a few years back?

It is difficult to read this and believe that exchange rates are not seriously out of whack. And while even The Economist is printing cover stories that read "let the dollar drop", they aren't talking about so much as a factor of two, and it would need to fall a lot more than that to make up this difference in observed purchasing power -- with potentially disastrous short-term results here. Yet despite a trade deficit, over the past five years, the trend in rupee/dollar exchange rates has been the other way. There's something really strange about that.

The other point? Americans often wonder if the Indians feel the pain and worry of Americans losing their jobs to cheaper workers elsewhere. They do. They're deeply worried about low-priced competition from the Phillipines.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Shorter David Brooks:

I like manly Democrats, like Lyndon Johnson, who got us into Vietnam, not wimps like Carter, who didn't have the guts to project American will into far-off places like Afghanistan.

Another brief reminder: I have enabled the new blogger-internal RSS feed for this blog, here.

Monday, February 16, 2004

A little news from Boston.

Last fall, there were rumors of a spectacular trade which had the Red Sox dealing Manny Ramirez -- a superb hitter, but overpaid and lazy in other phases of the game -- for Texas Rangers shortstop Alex Rodriguez, who has an even more astounding pay package, but does as much as anyone currently playing the game ever could to earn it. This deal eventually foundered on the Rangers' insistence that the Red Sox continue to pay most of Ramirez's salary in addition to all of ARod's.

I was mostly offline over the weekend, so I was rather surprised to come across a copy of the Sunday Boston Globe, which headlined the ARod trade. To the Yankees, who will be moving him to third base to leave their own current superstar shortstop, Derek Jeter, in his position. The combined salary of these two players alone could conceivably exceed the entire major league payrolls of the Minnesota Twins and the Kansas City Chiefs put together. Though the Yankees will not be paying all of that -- the Rangers have agreed to send $67 million for ARod's keep to the Yankees.

The remarkable thing about this sudden reversal of fortune for the Red Sox? This is the first time in a couple of years now that I've actually learned about breaking news from a hardcopy newspaper...

Grover Norquist, speaking to the Forward, no less (a consciously Jewish newspaper, originally published in Yiddish), is still happy to say that many Democratic policies are just like the Nazis. And it's not just the estate tax:

"The Nazis were for gun control, the Nazis were for high marginal tax rates," said Grover Norquist in an interview with the Forward. "Do you want to talk about who's closer politically to national socialism, the Right or the Left?"

Because, as we all know, it was Nazi taxing and spending policy, like for instance their penchant for highway building, which made their years in power one of the darkest chapters in the history of twentieth-century Europe. It's Grover's mature perspective on these issues, embodied in this sense of priorities, which distinguishes his remarks from the Nazi comparison in those two MoveOn adds, which Grover dismisses, quite rightly, as merely "a deliberate effort to smear".

Indeed, it's Norquist's shock at this kind of Nazi horror creeping into American political life which drives the public protests from him and his cronies that H&R Block continues to hire lobbyists and even executives whose political sentiments run towards the Democrats. You could say, I suppose, that the Nazis tried to muscle their opponents out of power, too, but that would merely be a deliberate effort to smear. Not every single thing the Nazis did deserves to be tarred by association with the apocalyptic horror of their high marginal tax rates.

(But stuff like the Autobahns -- well, I'm afraid that does have to be considered in the same breath as tax policy. If you don't have "high" taxes, by the standards of Norquist and his buddies, you can't have major government spending programs. I'm quite sure Grover will have that in his talking points the next time he's chatting with his Republican friends in the Senate about that damn highway bill...)

Forward link via The Poor Man, H&R Block link via Seeing the Forest.

It's good to see the Justice Department keeping up with changing times. As they do here, arguing in proceedings related to the new abortion law that:

Citing federal case law, the department said in a brief that "there is no federal common law" protecting physician-patient privilege. In light of "modern medical practice" and the growth of third-party insurers, it said, "individuals no longer possess a reasonable expectation that their histories will remain completely confidential."

They're pursuing this sort of case in multiple jurisdictions, by the way, with varying results. The judge in New York is sympathetic, saying in open court that he will not "let the doctors stand behind the shield of the hospital", and is "fed up with stalls and delays". Too bad his colleague in Chicago is such a stick-in-the-mud, who still feels that records about abortion deserve to be protected by some kind of -- what would you call it? -- doctor-patient privilege.

It's too bad that Democrats are holding up judicial appointments in the Senate -- not all of them, but just the ones who are most likely to exemplify the kind of forward-looking thinking shown so well by Judge Casey of New York.

via Crooked Timber.