Archive for July, 2011

Why Is Obama’s State Department Uneasy About Democracy?

On July 1, Morocco, became the first Arab country to peacefully vote itself into freedom–complete with a bicameral congress, elected president, protections for religious minorities (including the long-established Jewish community) and equal rights for women.

Yet the response from Washington was… cue the crickets.

The noisy silence is telling. President Barack Obama has said nothing about the first Arab country to become a democracy without U.S. tanks rumbling through its streets or mass uprisings of its citizens. Nor have congressional Republicans said much.

Washington, especially Obama’s State Department, has a democracy problem. Too many see democracy promotion as a Bush-era priority, others see democracy as “cultural imperialism,” and still others see dangers, not opportunities. The fear is that the Muslim Brotherhood or some other radical Islamist group may come to power.

The democracy doubters couldn’t be more wrong. The 19th century classical liberal thinkers were right about universal values being universal and people having a natural longing for natural rights.

Only by denying ordinary people their rights to freedom of speech and peaceful assembly is mass support of extremists born. Give people rights and an outlet and the extremists will sidelined. Of course, this must be done gradually and with care, as Morocco has done steadily since 2000.

The Morocco democracy referendum won with the participation of 73.46% of eligible voters, according to Morocco’s constitution council, the government body that supervised the referendum. By contrast, the most recent national election (for an assembly with far weaker powers) attracted only 37.5% of eligible voters. Almost three-quarters of Moroccans did not see democracy as a foreign import, but as a natural right long delayed in arriving.

And the huge turnout was a remarkable rebuke to the radical Islamists who called for a boycott. Al Qaeda’s North African wing, Al Qaeda in the Magreb (AQIM), has repeatedly thundered its opposition to democracy, which, in their view, substitutes the views of the majority for the strict Sharia law of God. They lost, overwhelmingly.

Some 97.5% of voters voted yes, indicating that almost three-quarters of adult Moroccans want real, Western-style democracy. Another 1.5% voted no, with the balance casting blank or spoiled ballots.

But Washington’s mindset is mired in the late 1960s and 1970s, when many of the senior policy makers graduated from college. Perhaps they read too much Marx and too little Mill, leaving them mentally unprepared for a complex world.

Thus, the few official statements from the State Department have been clueless and damaging.

In the run-up to the July 1 referendum, a State department spokesman used a single tepid adjective to describe the move toward the Arab world’s first peaceful democratic revolution: “encouraging.”

When I went to the Casablanca office of Ahmed Charai, publisher of L’Observateur and number of other Moroccan newspapers and magazines, I could tell the adjective still stung. His English was good enough to know that “encouraging” is what you say about a D student who has finally managed a C+.

Over the next few days, I heard that word “encouraging” parsed by a number of other prominent Moroccans, including the Minister of Interior Saad Husar, who oversees the nation’s internal police forces. The word seemed insultingly small and careful; a word best reserved for a development in North Korea.

It is not a word for a dramatic shift from an absolute (though relatively gentle) monarchy with a weak consultative assembly to a constitutionally limited monarchy with a strong, sovereign parliament and an elected president who can remove executive branch officials without entreating the king.

On the campaign trail, Barack Obama promised to engage the world without Bush’s swagger. Instead, he offers the foreign policy of President Woodrow Wilson; a professor’s policy that is better at lecturing than listening.

Later, on July 1, the day of Morocco’s historic referendum, a State Department spokesman managed to squeak out a slightly longer statement: “We congratulate the people and the Moroccan leadership on the peaceful conduct of the referendum,” said Mark Toner, a spokesman for the State Department, during the department’s daily press conference.

And that’s it. Thanks for not rioting.

A few months ago, the State department seemed to see the big picture. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hailed the King’s proposed transition as “a model for other countries in the region” that has “great promise, first and foremost for Moroccan people” in March 2011.

Significantly, Mrs. Clinton said these words at a joint press conference at State with her Moroccan counterpart, Taib Fassi-Fihri. When forced to be polite, the diplomats can do their job. Too bad she didn’t repeat these words when the referendum’s results poured in.

Of course, there are non-ideological reasons for Washington’s bland response.

One reason for Washington’s virtual silence is timing. Morocco’s democracy referendum was held during the July 4th weekend, when senior decision makers are away.

Another reason: Long lines of Muslims peacefully voting are of little interest to network television producers or print reporters. Just ask the Iraqis or the Afghans. Their messy, historic transitions to democracy (of sorts) got comparatively little attention. And most of it was devoted to the specter of violence from Al Qaeda and related terror groups. Take away the threat of bomb blasts and interest shrinks to nearly zero. If it doesn’t bleed, it doesn’t lead. Without media coverage, government officials are content to be silent.

Finally, Morocco has long been a stable ally of the United States. Indeed, it was the first nation to formally recognize the American republic. The kingdom has been a front-line ally in the wars on terror and narcotics. Unlike other African countries, it is not a pitiful theatre of genocide, civil war or fly-clouded refugees. Unlike other Arab lands, it is not a persistent enemy of Israel or America at the U.N. or in other international bodies. It is akin to Denmark, small, friendly, relatively prosperous and therefore boring.

But these reasons are, upon consideration, unsatisfactory. The referendum was not a surprise; policy makers knew about it for months and could easily have had a prepared statement ready. Lack of U.S. media attention doesn’t prevent State from weighing in on events in Ivory Coast or Sudan. And events affecting our boringly reliable allies get commented on all of the time.

No, the problem is deeper. The multicultural mindset comes with crippling relativism and misplaced humility. Who are we to say how others should live? They act as if multiculturalism was something other than a holding strategy deployed by center-left groups until their new majorities are finally eligible to return the Left to power in Europe and America. (Once in power, the tune changes.) Instead, they treat multiculturalism as a genuine philosophy, a means of re-ordering American foreign policy.

So we reach this strange impasse where the Obama administration is more comfortable preventing genocide in Libya (with bombs) than in promoting democracy in Morocco or elsewhere (with kind words).

Instead, the Obama Administration should be championing the Morocco model—peacefully adopting a pluralistic model with equal rights for non-Muslims and women—to the rest of the Arab world. In it, the king of Jordan should see a way to keep his throne while setting his people free. If the Syrian dictator, who has killed hundreds of people in the past few weeks, wants a peaceful resolution, this is it. If Kuwait and the other Gulf sheikhdoms want to move beyond embryonic assemblies into full democracy, here is the way.

It is not the referendum itself that is important, but the 10-year liberalization process that produced more than a half-dozen political parties and institutions ready to exercise power democratically. While a referendum tomorrow might be a disaster (consider Algeria in 1992, when radical Islamists won the election and touched off a civil war that devoured more than 100,000 lives), a patient march to democracy can work. Morocco’s vote this past weekend shows that it can.

The alternatives are worse: civil war (Libya, Yemen and perhaps Sudan), chaos (Tunisia), military rule masquerading as democracy (Egypt), or dangerous instability accelerated by Iranian or Qatari influences (Yemen, Bahrain).

Usually silence is safest. Not this time. The Obama Administration should be loudly praising every people that peacefully finds their way to freedom, starting with Morocco.

American words are both cheaper and more valuable than American bombs.


McDonald’s China to Open McFlurry of Stores, One Daily

McDonald’s plans on opening a new restaurant every day in China as it challenges dominant Yum! Brands’ chicken, pizza and money-making machine.

“We should be opening a restaurant every day in the next three to four years” in China, Peter Rodwell, company president for Asia excluding Japan, Australia and New Zealand, told Bloomberg in an interview in Singapore today. “We’re now opening a restaurant every other day.”

While I guess it makes sense that McDonald’s (NYSE:MCD), the world’s largest restaurant chain, focus attention on the country with the world’s largest population, I can’t help but think a lot of Chinese kids are already amply super-sized. Recent data from Johns Hopkins shows that about 20 percent of Chinese kids and over a third of the boys are overweight or obese. A 2004 report from Peking University places the number of overweight kids at less than 2 percent back in 1985, according to a recent story in The Atlantic.

Chunky Chinglings aside, the hamburger chain aims to increase its stores from 1,300 to 2,000 by 2013, writes Bloomberg. For comparison, there are currently over 3,300 KFCs and 531 Pizza Huts in China, according to the Yum! China website. That said, it will take a great leap forward for McDonald’s to catch up with the Colonel.

In semi-related news, a beefed-up version of the Big Mac index suggests that the Chinese yuan is now close to its fair value against the dollar. (The Big Mac index is published by The Economist as an informal way of measuring the purchasing power parity (PPP) between two currencies, seeking “to make exchange-rate theory a bit more digestible.”)

Tech Privacy Wars Continue: Microsoft Slams ‘Gmail Man’

In their war over American consumers, the tech giants have chosen privacy as an appealing battleground. Earlier this year, Facebook started a whisper campaign about Google’s “Circles,” alleging violations of privacy — which ended up backfiring. Now Microsoft apparently plans to use privacy as a selling point for Office 365 email.

An attack video on “Gmail Man” has popped up on Znet; Mary Jo Foley says it was leaked from a Microsoft sales conference. The spoof criticizes Gmail’s placement of keyword-based ads in its user’s inboxes as both a violation of privacy and a frequently inaccurate match to the correspondence. For example, Gmail man offers one woman anti-itching ointment based on the keywords “burning” and “sensation” in her email. She responds that she had emailed her husband worrying that her lasagna was burning, but that he responded saying it was sensational. (So I have to assume these two lovebirds enjoy conversing over dinner via Blackberry.)

8-core Bulldozer Zambezi FX CPUs

AMD has revealed the approximate retail pricing of its first eight-core Bulldozer processors on a promotional webpage – $300. Part of its upcoming FX-Series, which also includes four and six core processors, the eight-core Bulldozers are codenamed Zambezi, with the first two to be released the FX-8100 and FX-8150 models.

The AMD Bulldozer FX-8150 is the top-end offerin – based on the 32nm process, it has a 3.6GHz core clock that can turbo up to 4.2GHz, all whilst maintaining a TDP of 125W. At the $300 pricing, AMD puts it roughly at the same price as Intel’s current Sandy Bridge Core i7-2600 offering, a quad-core processor. However, AMD expects it to compete directly against Intel’s upcoming Sandy Bridge Extreme processors, expected in Q4 2011, and Ivy Bridge processors, expected in Q1 2012.
The first Bulldozer processors are expected to be the Zambezi offerings, and are to be launched on September 19. Also expected with them are the four-core and six-core FX-4100 and FX-6100.

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36c. The New Tycoons: Andrew Carnegie (History of J.P. Morgan)

il was not the only commodity in great demand during the Gilded Age. The nation also needed steel.

The railroads needed STEEL for their rails and cars, the navy needed steel for its new naval fleet, and cities needed steel to build skyscrapers. Every factory in America needed steel for their physical plant and machinery. Andrew Carnegie saw this demand and seized the moment.

Humble Roots

Like John Rockefeller, ANDREW CARNEGIE was not born into wealth. When he was 13, his family came to the United States from Scotland and settled in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, a small town near Pittsburgh. His first job was in a cotton mill, where he earned $1.20 per week.

His talents were soon recognized and Carnegie found himself promoted to the bookkeeping side of the business. An avid reader, Carnegie spent his Saturdays in the homes of wealthy citizens who were gracious enough to allow him access to their private libraries. After becoming a telegrapher for a short while, he met the head of a railroad company who asked his services as a personal secretary.

During the Civil War, this man, THOMAS SCOTT, was sent to Washington to operate transportation for the Union Army. Carnegie spent his war days helping the soldiers get where they needed to be and by helping the wounded get to hospitals. By this time, he had amassed a small sum of money, which he quickly invested. Soon iron and steel caught his attention, and he was on his way to creating the largest steel company in the world.

Vertical Integration: Moving on Up

Carnegie became a tycoon because of shrewd business tactics. Rockefeller often bought other oil companies to eliminate competition. This is a process known as HORIZONTAL INTEGRATION. Carnegie also created a VERTICAL COMBINATION, an idea first implemented by GUSTAVUS SWIFT. He bought railroad companies and iron mines. If he owned the rails and the mines, he could reduce his costs and produce cheaper steel.

Carnegie was a good judge of talent. His assistant, HENRY CLAY FRICK, helped manage the CARNEGIE STEEL COMPANY on its way to success. Carnegie also wanted productive workers. He wanted them to feel that they had a vested interest in company prosperity so he initiated a profit-sharing plan.

All these tactics made the Carnegie Steel Company a multi-million dollar corporation. In 1901, he sold his interests to J.P. Morgan, who paid him 500 million dollars to create U.S. Steel.

Giving Back

Retirement did not take him out of the public sphere. Before his death he donated more than $350 million dollars to public foundations. Remembering the difficulty of finding suitable books as a youth, he helped build three thousand libraries. He built schools such as CARNEGIE-MELLON UNIVERSITY and gave his money for artistic pursuits such as CARNEGIE HALL in New York.

Andrew Carnegie was also dedicated to peace initiatives throughout the world because of his passionate hatred for war. Like Rockefeller, critics labeled him a robber baron who could have used his vast fortunes to increase the wages of his employees. Carnegie believed that such spending was wasteful and temporary, but foundations would last forever. Regardless, he helped build an empire that led the United States to world power status.

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Six Vintage Cars Guaranteed To Repel Women

Perhaps you’ve read something lately about how cool vintage cars are these days. To which I say: Take it with a grain of salt.

Just because you’re cruising around in something old doesn’t necessarily mean you’re fly. Au contraire, mon frère. Some contraptions–despite their elite provenance and six-figure price tags–will do you no favors in the image department, at least with the fairer sex.

Take these six set to go on sale next week at the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este in Cernobbio, Italy. I dare you to defend them.

1980 Lamborghini Athon – This 260hp five-speed manual concept is completely topless–it has neither a hard- nor a rag-top, which is fitting because it’s named after an Egyptian sun cult. Its forward-set cabin and long deck are proportioned oddly for a spider, which makes it look even more weird. The taillights are nothing more than thin grooves so as not to mess up the solid appearance of the car. Estimated price: $310,000.

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1978 Lancia Sibilo – This thing gets 190hp from a V8 mid-mounted engine, but those are about the only conventional things about it. Named after the Italian for the hissing sound objects make as they travel through air, the Sibilo has no drop-down windows, and its bumpers are totally integrated into the overall shape. The steering wheel is a one-piece disk, and the body is hand-beaten steel with polycarbonate windows–apparently a glass supplier couldn’t deliver in time for the car’s debut. They should have waited. Estimated price: $140,000.

1974 Lamborghini Bravo – Made as a two-seat, V8 alternative to the 2+2 Urraco, the Bravo is 20 inches shorter than its counterpart, with a significantly smaller engine. The car seems at once sharp-edged and flat, with a snub-nosed hood and cartoon-y wheels with five round holes in them. Pop-up front lights, a three-quarter wrapping windshield and divots in the hood make it distinctive, to say the least. Like most of these machines, it never made it to production. Estimated price: $310,000.

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1963 Chevrolet Testudo – The meaning of its name–a Latin root for the word turtle–should tell you something about this 81hp flat-six-cylinder Chevy. It was a one-off design from Giorgetto Giugiaro, who went on to design some great things (BMW M1, Maserati Quattroporte) but this somehow missed that touch of genius. The sharp waistline divides the car horizontally into two (turtle-shell, anyone?), and the huge nose, pop-up headlights and lazy rear don’t do it any favors. But I always love a targa roof–and this has the ultimate: a completely wrapped glass shell that lifts up and forward as one unit when you want to leave the car. Estimated price: $1.1 million.

1970 Lancia Stratos HF Zero – This 115hp prototype was designed at the apex of a design rivalry between Bertone and Pininfarina (Bertone had done the Alfa Romeo Carabo, Pininfarina the P5 and 512S berlinetta). Nuccio Bertone debuted the Stratos HF, nicknamed “Zero,” at the Turin Motor Show in 1970; it’s supposed to look chiseled from solid rock. Design cues include dual exhaust pipes, a mesh grille, 84 tiny bulbs comprising the tail light, and seats that looked like they were upholstered with chocolate bars. At its highest point, Zero sits only 33 inches off the ground. Estimated price: $2.5 million.
1915 Rolls-Royce 40/50 Silver Ghost Limousine – Admittedly this is a beautiful car in its own old-timey way. But even Johnny Depp would have trouble getting women into this thing. It’s a paltry 50hp and upholstered in a stuffy button-tufted leather, with beige carpets and curtains inside. The auction catalog notes that “this car has seen limited exercise. RM strongly advises the successful bidder carry out a thorough service before driving the car on the open road.” Which means don’t even think about driving this thing. Which means you might as well have no wheels at all. Need I say more? Estimated price: $1 million.

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