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Between the Lines

October 22, 2003

How are things in Iraq – II?

The administration seems determined to revise the “message” it thinks Americans are getting from our little war from one that, it claims, emphasizes the negative to one that is more "balanced." Well, we’re all in favor of learning about the positives and have linked frequently to stories that recount some of them. However, the negatives – the unstable security situation in the Sunni Triangle and the steady drip, drip, drip of American blood – will remain part of the story, too.

Here are some pertinent links:

-- Time has an even-handed overview of what’s going on in Iraq, highlighting security as a huge, continuing problem, but also pointing out areas in which the situation is improving.

-- Karl Zinsmeister of the neoconservative mag American Enterprise has an upbeat assessment of Iraq in the Christian Science Monitor.

-- The blog Sgt. Stryker is taking an innovative approach to attempting some balanced coverage of Iraq. Stryker will focus on what he sees as negative events in Iraq, while colleague Sparkey focuses on the positive. After six months they plan to post a comprehensive reprise of what they’ve learned. Their plan is explained here and their latest posts are here. (Link via Instapundit.)

-- A memo from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to small group of aides has oozed into the open and it raises some interesting questions:

“Are we winning or losing the Global War on Terror? Is DoD changing fast enough to deal with the new 21st century security environment? Can a big institution change fast enough?” And so forth.

Some bloggers on the left are interpreting this as an admission that the rosy picture the administration would like its citizens to have of Iraq is untrue. I think this is plainly wrong. Looks like a pretty standard “where do we go from here?” meeting agenda to me. Read it and see for yourself.

I’m also not convinced this was a leak, as Bushline blogs, still seeking to divert attention from the Valerie Plame scandal, contend. The blog Is That Legal has the links that indicate otherwise.

-- Finally, at the excellent conservative blog Belgravia Dispatch, Gregory Djerejian suggests President Bush is as good as AWOL because of his muddled policy on Israeli excesses and Palestinian terrorism.

Top banana

Social scientists and some economists have been worrying about the widening income disparity in the United States for the last couple of decades. With good reason. Relatively egalitarian distribution of wealth is the cornerstone of any society based on a thriving middle class. Banana republics and Third World plutocracies are distinguished by enormous disparities in income, with the great proportion of national income going to a very small class of the super wealthy. Plutocracy stifles economic innovation because the lower classes have virtually no chance of working their way into the ranks of the wealthy or, often, even into the relatively small middle class that typifies these nations, and thus little incentive to try. It also tends to foster authoritarian states because the very rich want to make sure they hold onto what they’ve got.

In the U.S. and other Western nations with representative governments there has been no shortage of the wealthy, but a very subtantial chunk of the national income traditionally has gone to a broad middle class. This economic formulation has worked well for the U.S. because it encourages people to work hard and try to better their economic position. It also contributes to innovation, which in this country usually rises from below. It also is a bulwark of representative government.

Unfortunately, income trends are making the U.S. look more and more like a banana republic.

Blogger Billmon provides some supporting statistics in a lenghty, but excellent post (be sure to click on the “Continue reading … “ link). The benchmark most commonly employed for assessing income distribution produces these figures (with the higher numbers indicating greater inequality) comparing the U.S. with some Latin American countries and with other major developed countries:

Mexico: 0.53
El Salvador: 0.51
Venezuela: 0.50
USA: 0.47 (based on household income)
Costa Rica: 0.46

Britain: 0.37
Switzerland: 0.33
Canada: 0.32
Germany: 0.30
Japan: 0.25

“Well, at least we still beat El Salvador,” Billmon notes.

Increasing income disparity is not a partisan issue in that it is an established trend that has progressed regardless of which party is in power (though it certainly is exacerbated by, for example, tax cuts that direct the vast majority of the savings to those who already have more money than they need). The question, Billmon suggests, is how much longer it can continue without serious political and social consequences.

Coincidentally, there is a grocery-clerk “strike” (actually its mostly an employer lockout of workers) in California that lends a human face to the broader economic issues.

Time for some froth

Enough heavy stuff. Here are a few chuckles:

-- The Onion imitates the Bush administration on the Plame Affair. Sometimes satire is soooo close to real life.

-- Another example: What Rush Limbaugh might have said if Bill Clinton had been addicted to Oxycontin. (Link via Brad DeLong.)

-- Does California’s new First Couple benefit from good plastic surgeons or just good bones. I haven’t a clue. Neither does Emily Yoffe at Slate. But she has some fun not answering the question.

Farewell to the Concorde

We inhabitants of the used-to-be Jet City aren’t the only ones who get misty-eyed over marvelous airplanes. The last commercial flight by the Anglo-French Concorde will end at London’s Heathrow airport Friday, and hundreds of the plane’s fans are expected to turn out for the landing.

When introduced, the Concorde was decades ahead of its time. It still is. It made no economic sense then and doesn’t now. Maybe in another three decades or so commercial flight at supersonic speed will become economically rational. Until then, say goodbye.

Noah Schachtman has the story at Wired.

Posted by tbrown at 01:33 PM




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