Prague Twin

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Busted! (Czech Style)

On my way home last night, I got pulled over. I was literally 50 feet from my house, having just travel 70 miles. I was pretty sure that it was because my tags are expired. I had been meaning to get to it, but, well, you know.

So the officer approaches the car and wishes me a good evening and politely asks for my papers. Luckily, I have everything. While rumaging around for my papers, I had to go to the inside of my coat. If you are an officer standing at a driver-side window, the last thing you want to see is a guy reaching inside a big, dark coat, towards his left hip with his right hand. I think I was more aware of this than he was. A second officer circled around the front of the car, giving it a quick safty inspection I suppose. Officer #1 asked me out of the car "to have a look at something" and he showed me the tags. He asks how long I've been living in the Czech Republic and I tell him, "Seven years." He informs me that I need to take my California license down to the DMV and get a Czech one. "No test, just show them this, and they will issue you a Czech one," he tells me. "If you are here longer than 3 months, you have to have this," he adds. I nod and show concern and understanding and tell him, "I understand."

They ask me to wait in my car while they check the records. After a couple of minutes, officer #2 comes over and says, "Sir, you live very near here?" I tell him I do pointing at my flat just up ahead and up. "Well, if you would like to park your car and come back you are welcome to." I tell him it is okay, that parking is quite difficult in this neighborhood and I will have to walk back, and he quickly agreed it would be better just to wait.

After about five minutes, #2 comes back and starts with "You do understand Czech? You understand what I'm saying to you?" He was very polite about it, but he wanted to be sure I would understand the explaination. I assured him that I did and he could go ahead. He explained (as #1 had) that my registration was expired and that this was a violation of the law. He said that there would be a fine. He checked one final time that they were a full 3 months expired. He figured a fine should be 200 Czech Koruna (just over $8). He asked if I would like to pay it now. As I always do, I pay on the spot and I get little tickets that the city issues as a receipt.

And that's it. I'm on my way. There is a little bit of lecturing about getting it done immediately, and a lot of head nodding and assurances that I take it seriously on my part before I can go. But basically, $8 and 15 minutes later, it's all over. No courts, no writing checks for large sums of cash, no worrying about my insurance going up. And despite the light penalties, most Czechs are pretty good about keeping their papers up to date. Up until this point, I had been too.

I'm sure my wife and my Czech friends will give me that dissapointed look mixed with a rye smile that they always do when I misbehave. There is always a parental shake of the head, but always with a smile.

Pretty much the same treatment I got from the police.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Fool me Once

I guess Bush didn't learn the first time around.

Now, The NY Times reports "Bush Set to Approve Takeover of 9 Military Plants by Dubai"

Will he ever learn?

Dollar Diving

The US dollar has just fallen to $1.26 against the Euro. The last time the dollar was this weak against the Euro was 11 months ago. The dollar had slipped to $1.2590 in August of 2005, but since then it had strengthened significantly. Just two months ago today, the dollar opened at $1.1884. This means that the dollar has lost 7 and a half cents in just 2 months.

What is bothering me is that it went right through the August level of $1.2590 effortlessly. I expected $1.26 to provide some resistance (as did the analysts), but currently we are at $1.2617 heading for $1.2655 and beyond. Where this is going to end, no one knows.

Good for US exports though.

Random Thought

There are three sides to every story. Your side, my side, and the truth. And no one is lying.

Robert Evans

Pushing it.

I am generally sensitive to the plight of illegal immigrants, having been one myself at one point. However, I would have never dreamed of doing something like this.

Members of the Minuteman Project suggest this could backfire, and I don't doubt that it will.

However, this does highlight how incredibly out of control this problem has become. It has been ignored too long. Now it is hard to imagine a peaceful solution. This could get ugly.

A Hand up? How about a Hand?

If you lost a limb, would you feel like you owed the army anything.

Appparently, the army thinks you might.

(h/t: MikeVotes)

Baby Steps

By a narrow margin, the House of Representatives have agreed to do the minimum.

Better than nothing I suppose. At least they are looking at corruption. You have to start somewhere.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006


Twenty years ago today, reactor 4 at the Chernobyl nuclear facility in the Ukraine exploded resulting in the worst-case scenario for a nuclear reactor: total meltdown. There is still a debate as to whether or not the explosion was caused by a faulty design or by operator error. My best guess is that it was a combination of the two.

You can read about it here on Wikipedia if you are interested. It is a fairly thorough summary of the events.

In the days following the accident, the Soviet government failed to announce the accident. My (Czech) wife recalls a beautiful stretch of weather in those first few days when no one knew what had happened. Families were out in record numbers enjoying the sun and eating fresh spring vegetables, completely unaware of the radioactive cloud hovering above them.

This is a classic example of a government which is more concerned with its own survival than with the health and survival of its citizens. How they thought they would keep this a secret is completely beyond me. The Sweeds, of course, figured it out some days later at their own nuclear plant when people started "clicking". Did the Soviets think they could keep this a secret forever?

No one really knows what they were thinking, but it is clear that an institution which operates under a cloak of secrecy, eventually does so to the detriment of the very people it is entrusted to protect.

Freedom and transparency. Despotism and secrecy. Matches made in heaven.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Beer Gardens

When you live overseas, you tend to get the same questions from visitors over and over again. I don't blame them for not realizing I've had the same question asked at least a hundred times: I try to answer them each time in a novel way.

The question I get the most is "What is the main difference between the United States and the Czech Republic?" This is a really tough one because so many things are different, it's hard to know where to start. There is one thing, though, that I think encapsulates the core differences in a nice, neat little package. That's the beer gardens.

There are two beer gardens within 10 minutes walk from my apartment (there is the first difference: I walk to them). The closer of the two is called "Parukarka". It is located near the entrance to a large park at the top of a hill. There is a little bar inside a very small building that would be better described as a shack. You can get beer, wine, and shots inside the dingy little shack. A deposit of about $1 is required for each glass. Two 17oz. beers, with deposit runs about $4. After you purchase your drinks, you are free to roam around the park with your glass of beer. The deposit hardly covers the cost of the glass, but most people bring them back.

There are some benches outside and some people are smoking weed while they drink. I've only seen one glass get broken in the last 5 years. Usually on a nice summer day there are a couple hundred people around, but since all the beer comes from the one little shack, the wait can get really annoying.

On those days, (and any other for that matter) I like to go to "Reigrovy Sady" which is a more traditional beer garden. There are picnic style tables in a gated area. This beer garden lies in the middle of a beautiful park that has some of the best views of the city. The garden has mature deciduous trees that create an excellent canopy. The place seats at least 1,000 people, and they pack it out when the weather is good. There are several points where one can buy beer inside the gated area, so service is rarely a problem.

"Reigrak" (as it is commonly known) doesn't charge a deposit because the area is gated. However, plenty of people walk out with beer glasses. Some come back, and some don't. I guess they write off lost glasses to the cost of doing business. Officially there are no dogs allowed, but they put water buckets out for thirsty dogs anyway. I suppose they just want to reserve the right to throw someone out if their dog causes a problem. Weed is definately allowed. Marijuana is semi-legal here, meaning casual use and possesion of "a small amount" is allowed. There is a lot of smoking going on at Reigrak every day and every night. Despite this, the clientele is extremely mixed. Families with babies and small children visit, elderly couples visit, high school kids visit, but about 80% are of course 18-35 year-olds.

Now you might think that it's strange that people walk around a public park with glasses of beer, or that people are smoking weed without a care in the world, but that is not the main difference between the Czech Republic and the States. The main difference is this....

In the 7 years I've lived here, I've never seen a fight at either of these places. At Reigrak there is about 1,000 people a night getting totally drunk and there is absolutley no security whatsoever. No I.D. control, no police, no problems. This saturday, the finals of the Czech Hockey leauge were on the big screen. Despite an extra 200 excited people, still no problems.

People are free to do as they please, and yet they are generally very well-behaved. It is almost as if they know what kind of freedom they have, and they don't want to ruin it.

At least that is my theory.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Boycott Google?

Stephanie and I have been discussing a boycott on Google in response to their known active participation in internet filtering in China. The was a site dedicated to a "mass breakup with Google" on Valentine's day. It was pretty silly, but the idea was layed out pretty well. One link from the site is particularly informative. Some choice quotes from the study...

China's Internet filtering regime is the most sophisticated effort of its kind in the world. Compared to similar efforts in other states, China's filtering regime is pervasive, sophisticated, and effective.

Unlike the filtering systems in many other countries, China's filtering regime appears to be carried out at various control points and also to be dynamic, changing along a variety of axes over time.

As a further indication of the complexity of China's filtering regime, we found several instances where particular URLs were blocked but the domain was accessible, despite the fact that the source of content appeared consistent across the domain - suggesting that filtering may be conducted at a finer level in China than in the other countries that we have studied closely. Moreover, China's Internet filtering appears to have grown more refined, sophisticated, and targeted during the years of ONI's testing.

So basically they are saying, "Yea, looks like somebody who really knows what they are doing has been helping them out."


Here is the question, should we stand aside while American companies help filter information for the Chinese government? Do we shrug when Yahoo! helps identify Chinese dissidents, and then they end up in prison becasue they were blogging?

Do we really want these companies refining their skills in these areas?

Stephanie suggested going after the advertisers by organizing a mass, no click movement.

Whether or not a boycott would work, I think the fact that Google is developing the systems to filter information should be a wake up call for us all regarding the reliability of the web. No matter if you believe the internet has been corrupted on occasion, the potential for abuse is substantial.

Raising awareness for Google's participation in internet filtering is a worthwhile venture. If a boycott could create a story, then it would be worth it.

I'll be doing some research this week, as I don't want to go off half-cocked.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Czech Take on Hu Visit

The Czech Press put these pictures on the front page of today's largest circulating paper, "Mlada Fronta Dnes". The headline reads, "Americans Make Fools of Themselves in Front of the Chinese President."

Be sure to click on the main photo and then click on the photo that pops up to make it full size. You can see the expression on both President's faces.

If you look at Hu's expression, it is absolutely priceless. And Bush looks like he isn't even noticing the knives coming out of Hu's eyes. I don't know much about Chinese culture, but I'm guessing it might be considered rude to tug on the President's jacket.

The article criticizes Bush for this obvious faux pas, and the security that allowed Wenyi Wang to disrupt Hu's speach.

I'm going to guess that this is the last time we see Mr. Hu in Washington until sometime in 2009.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Down with the Ship?

When I read about Condoleezza Rice standing up for Donald Rumsfeld I couln't help but to think about the immediate post-communist period here in the Czech Republic.

Let me explain.

After the revolution in 1989, the names of people who were sympathetic to "the Party" were made public. There was a color coded label attached to each persons name indicating their level of involvement in party activities. Those people affiliated with the infamous secret-police were most seriously punished. Some dissidents ended up on the list by virtue of the fact that they were made to give statements to the secret-police. They were questioned so often, in fact, it made no difference whether or not they actually gave any information: a connection was established, and they found themselves on the list. Some people found out their husbands or wives were spies. There were mistakes (of course) and some people found themselves on the list who had no party affiliations. Sometimes they were unable to convince their own family members of their innocence.

People lost their jobs, their friends, even their families sometimes. Many were jailed. Few had an opportunity to have their cases reviewed in any meaningful way. Nearly the same amount of cruel despostism was applied to those who had made the list as was applied to those who had been dissidents under the communist regime. For the most part, justice was served. It was an important part of the healing process for the Czech people despite individual cases of injustice. People needed to be held accountable, and they were.

Under Communism, propoganda was everywhere. The message of obidience was on every street corner. Joining the party was an easy way to material wealth. Being a dissident was an easy way to find yourself in jail or driving a tractor in some horrible place hundreds of miles from your home and family. It would be easy to argue that one "had to do what they had to do", to support one's family, for instance. But these arguments were summarily dismissed when the revolution took hold. Those who had taken the easy path found themselves in debt to a society that they had helped to subjugate.

So when I hear Condoleezza Rice supporting Rumsfeld, saying he is a "really good Secretary of Defense," I can't help but to wonder if she will have to ever pay for that in any real way. Suppose it can be shown eventually that Rumsfeld ordered renditions and Mrs. Rice knew about it.

Will she ever be held accountable for furthering her own ambitions by being complicit in this administration and helping it stay in power? Should she be?

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Freddie Mac is Back

The Washington Post reports that Freddie Mac will pay $3.8 million to settle a civil suit stemming from allegations of illegal campaign financing.

As we all know, this means they are totally innocent...

Brendsel's lawyer, Joseph E. Sandler, said in an e-mail: "The facts show that Mr. Brendsel conducted himself in all respects in an ethical, appropriate and lawful matter. We are pleased that the FEC has determined to take no further action in this case against Mr. Brendsel."

The FEC has determined not to take further action. Translation: They figure a $3.8 million fine is enough.

The "facts", Mr. Brendsel, show that Freddie Mac is a corrupted mega-corportation that engages in behavior that threatens to destroy our nation. The "facts", Mr. Brendsel, show that Freddie Mac very well may have bought our elected officials for favors.

Everyone involved in this case should be ashamed of themselves. Freddie Mac and its lawyers for buying out the (mostly Republican) politicians. The FEC for letting them get away with it (as if Freddie Mac will even feel any pain from losing $3.8 million. Please.).

But most of all, once again, our elected officials (especially House Financial Services Committee Chairman Michael G. Oxley (R-Ohio)) should be ashamed of themselves for breaking the law, and for their general greed.

No, most of all, anyone who votes for any politician in 2006 who was connected to this, should realize that they are getting the government they deserve: a corrupt, greedy, ruthless one, owned by people like Freddie Mac, and Fanny Mae.

If we keep justifying the re-election of such people because they have a "D" or an "R" next to their name, we are giving them exactly what they want.

Are you listening Daily Kos?

Yahoo! I'm off to Prison!

Reuter's reports that Yahoo! may have helped get another Chinese dissident jailed. Since we are all "internet writers" we should stand in solidarity with these jailed dissidents and put pressure on Yahoo! to cease providing information to the Chinese authorities.

What is really funny is that Yahoo! picked up the story themselves.

Nevertheless, it may be time for a boycott. If so, we would have to boycott Google as well, which I'm not sure is even possible at this point. Yahoo! and Google have turned into such huge, powerful forces, it may be as impossible to boycott them. Whether or not a boycott is in order, we should consider if an alternative for Google is something to be desired. They have almost become the Ma Bell of the internet. Time for some competition.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Economic Snapshot

Oil has tipped $70 a barrel, again. More importantly, it seems to be consolidating at or above $65. By that I mean each time it comes off this $70 high, it comes off less and less. I doubt we see $60 anytime soon.

The dollar took a pounding yesterday, and the gains made by the majors consolidated today on weak housing starts especially in the west (off nearly 17%). Particularly interesting is how well the Swiss Franc is doing. The "Swissie" as we like to call it, is bought on fears of global insecurity, as is gold. Gold, by the way, is still at 25 year highs with some analysts predicting $800 an ounce before it is all over.

The stock market is perched up at the top end of a mature bull-run. Luckily, the S&P 500 managed to avoid dropping below significant levels that would almost certainly lead to a rapid decline. However, the bears look to be coming out of hibernation, and a bear market could develop quickly should those key levels be reached.

Now I have been predicting a correction in US commodities (wrongly) for some time. Now it seems the perfect storm is brewing. High oil prices, high commodity prices, rising long-term interest rates (the 10-year note finally just broke 5% but backed off of it). If you throw in the Swiss Franc's recent gains, the picture is a little frightening.

Far from the rampant optimism we heard last quarter, people are starting to point out that higher interest rates could lead to a drop in commodities as investors go for the sure bet. Also, the market has oil priced in at $35 to $40 a barrel which is pure fantasy. Corporations have thus far been largely unsuccessful at passing on higher oil prices to the consumer. If they are unable to to do this, we will certainly see the correction I have been dreading.

But once again, I always seem to underestimate the resilience of the US economy. Lets hope I am wrong once again.

And the Answer is..... Bombs.

I've been taking on this issue with Hamas much to my own peril. This issue is so charged and complicated, it's almost imposible to state an opinion that isn't absolutist in nature without coming off like a terrorist supporter.

I am saddened that Hamas has not taken this opportunity to renounce violence directed at civilians. This was the litmus test, and they failed.

But the issue of what exactly to do in response is more complicated than ever. Analysts seem to be running away from it, content to say they deplore terrorism. Of course, most people deplore terrorism. I certainly do. The question remains: is starving out the population the best way to address it? Does anyone expect anything good to come out of starving out the Palestinians? If someone wants to paint me a scenario where the Palestinian people suddendly realize they have been wrong to support Hamas because the U.S. and the E.U. are withholding humanitarian aid, I'll post it on my blog.

There is an issue of consistency. Essentially, sanctions are being taken against Hamas for three basic reasons: They won't accept Isreal's right to exist; they have engaged in terrorism in the past (despite mostly observing a cease-fire for the last year); they continue to assert the right of groups like Islamic Jihad to engage in terrorism as a legitimate response to Israeli agression.

The problem for me is that the United States has, in many cases, acted just as brazenly, and not that long ago. After the U.S. supported puppet regime in Nicaragua was overthrown, the U.S. refused to recognize the new Sandanista government as legitimate. CIA agents not only advocated the targeting of civilians, but trained thousands of troops in terrorism's finer points. At least 30,000 civilians were killed as a direct result of U.S. intervention in a country that had elected their leaders elections deemed fair by international observers. Then, President Reagan broke the law by authorizing weapons shipments to the "freedom fighters" (read: terrorists) after congress had specifically prohibited such assistance (which they did becasue it had been shown that the "freedom fighters" were indeed terrorists).

O.K. we all know the story (I hope), but some of us seem to have forgotten that American security justified all kinds of terrorism not so long ago, including avid support for the Mujahideen in Afghanistan, which led to the rise of the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden.

Now, alot of my right-wing friends are quick to point out that the old "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" doctrine, which ostesibly led to these gigantic blunders in foreign policy, is no longer in use.

That may be true, but I must have missed the press conference when they announced that and admitted that it had all been a terrible, terrible, mistake.

How does anyone expect us to be taken seriously considering the past?

When exactly is the cutoff date for the US support of terrorism? 1989? 1992? 2000? No, it is clearly September 11th, 2001 when the United States finally realized that terrorism was bad news. Before then, as Hamas would say, it was a perfectly legitimate response to aggression.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Bombs or Butter

My position on giving money to the Hamas led Palestinian Authority was laid out here, and here.

The crux of my argument is that Hamas is responsible for feeding the palestinian people. They should be brought into the fold of politics and that their funding should not be cut so long as they maintain the ceasefire. Jokingly, I said someone should take them aside and tell them to tone down the rhetoric. I was more that a little surprised when Putin immediatley invited Hamas for a visit. I'm not sure what his motivations are, but he seems to be genuinely interested in helping Hamas become legitimate.

The west is trying to use the stick by cutting off aid, however, Russia and Iran have come to the rescue with emergency aid. As the article points out, Americans have taken further measures to economically suffocate Hamas by prohibiting Americans to do business with the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority. Sanctions like these will likely serve to further impoverish the people and give rise to further extremism. If nothing else, it pushes Hamas closer to Iran and Russia, as we have seen.

Now to me, the most interesting part of the story was down at the end.

From the article..

"Hamas should... recognise Israel and sit down at the negotiating table. But for that it's necessary to work with them," he said.

Zach at Indisputable Truth asks, "What the heck is going on down there?"

Well, Zach, someone is trying to talk some sense into these guys. Tell the public what they want to hear. Iran and Russia are two perfect examples of how to do what you want politically while paying lip service to your critics around the world. If Hamas expects to survive in global politics, they will have to reform their mission statement, maintain the cease-fire and generally disavow terrorism. They have been quite silent since the election, but today's bombing in Tel Aviv put further pressure on them to change their tune. The irony is that Iran, who allegedly supports Islamic Jihad, who takes responsibility for the attack, is the one giving Hamas advice on how to be a better neighbor.

Anyone who follows this issue closely knows that Hamas and Islamic Jihad are completely different in scope and size. But until they denounce the use of the intentional killing of innocents, the world will view them identically.

American Bloggers 4 Inclusive Debates

My first, and still only, blog roll is the above. I wanted to spend some time on all of the sites before I wrote something on it. I'm happy to write it up because I think the idea encompases what I am hoping to do with this blog. My links should read down as "opposing points of view." If you click one after the next, you are going to get very different perspectives. This new blog roll does that at times as well. Generally, I found all of the sites to be interesting in there own way, and all seemed to be fairly personal and motivated by a love for blogging and a desire to find the truth. As well, clicking down the list will give a reader drastically different views. Just my style!

To join, click here

I really didn't want to join a blog roll where you have to be a liberal, or any other thing. I wanted to be a part of a blog roll whose members believe in freedom of expression, which requires a willingness to listen.

It was strange to have that Washington Post story about liberal bloggers come up shortly after I had joined. I had to say, "Yes, that is exactly what I don't want to get into." I totally support their right to be venemous if they choose, but I would rather assosiate with people who have better manners and are willing to listen to the person on the other side of the isle. I'm not perfect, but I try to be civil. In a democracy, listening to your opponents, and finding common ground is, in my view, essential.

Hello to everyone who I have come in contact with from the blog roll so far. I look forward to meeting the rest of you.

Oh, and a special thanks to Gun-Toting Liberal who has made this possible.

Thank you, Sir.


If the idea of a "suicide clinic" runs counter to your religious beliefs (or just your better sensibilities), a Swiss lawyer's plans to open a chain of such clinics probably doesn't go over well with you at all.

TIMESONLINE reported yesterday that,

"Ludwig Minelli, founder of the Dignitas clinic in Zurich says he wants to open a chain of high street-style centres to end the lives of people with illnesses or mental conditions such as chronic depression."

Who does not qualify for "treatment" at one of Mr. Minelli's centers?

"We never say no," said Minelli in an interview, although he did qualify his statement by pointing out that a person who has been clinically depressed for 10 years would qualify and a person suffering from a bout of acute depression would not.

Personally, I support a person's decision to end their own life. A person's choice to commit suicide is a personal one that involves themselves, their family, their doctor, and their Maker. Period.

There shouldn't be government interference.

But this guy is really pushing the boundry of common sense by making the clinics high-profile. In essense, he is thrusting his morality (or lack thereof) into the public eye, challenging people to look at the issue critically. One has to wonder if he hasn't gone too far when the pro-euthanasia group, Dignity in Dying, does not condone his actions.

“We are campaigning on behalf of people who are terminally ill and mentally competent,” a spokesman said. “That way you can assure you are not harming vulnerable people.”

Seems reasonable enough to me.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Internet Control

I am surprised that this is not all over the Blogosphere.

I, for one, find it very disturbing.


"When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the

Sinclair Lewis

Friday, April 14, 2006

Iran Says Isreal Close to Destruction

Just days after Iran announced that they had joinied "countries with nuclear technology", they have turned up the war rhetoric saying that Isreal is "heading toward annihilation".

What is particularly confusing is that today, Xinhua News reports the following....

"Nuclear weapons were ineffective, and Iran was not going to make them and did 'not even set this goal,' Manouchehr Mohammadi, the visiting Iranian deputy foreign minister, was quoted by the Itar-Tass news agency as saying."

It makes you wonder if these guys even talk. I know he is only a deputy foreign minister, but does he just get to go out there and say whatever he wants? I doubt it. He has to be briefed on what to say.

If so, this must be intentional. They are sending mixed rhetoric.

And I smell a trap.

As Hugh Hewitt points out, the last mistake the world made was appeasement.

He is correct in this assesment. However, one of the great mistakes made in sucessive wars, or in sports for that matter, is that there is a tendency to overreact to exactly what burned you the last time. We have all seen football games where a team that which passes the ball, runs the ball against the nickle defense, and surprises the opposition. (Man, football season is still SO far away).

Iran knows that we are in a phase where we are overreacting to the appeasement policies that led to WWII. Since then, the US has reacted remorselessly to the threat of communism and other opposition. No more would the US wait to be attacked. The US is on a 55 year offensive beginning in 1941. Cold War balance of power relative peace not withstanding, any percieved threat has been dealt with effectively. The current administration, as we know, has accelerated the process, and reinvigorated the principle of pre-eminent attacks.

Iran knows this, and yet decides to turn up the rhetoric on Isreal, while leaving a trailer behind that they really aren't going to develop nuclear weapons.

Lets compare this to what Hitler was saying before WWII.

I know that the Czech papers reported in the November of 1938 that Hitler was "not as great a threat as previously thought." I know this because we found a newspaper under a floorbord in an old flat, and we thought to ourselves, "poor suckers, they didn't even know what was about to happen."

Hitler wanted everyone to believe that he wasn't going to invade. But he meant business.

Quite the opposite of Iran who is likely all bark. Iran is not a military power the likes of Hitler in 1938. When was the last time Iran (Persia) actually attacked someone unprovoked? At least 250 years.

Iran is a braggart, but they always have been, and yet since before the time that the United States has been a country, they have not started a war.

All bark and no bite, or..

Speaks softly but carries a big stick.

Which category would YOU put Iran in?

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Immigration and Criminality

As I have already confessed, I spent several years in the Czech Republic as an illegal alien. In that post, I describe the process of getting legal status and I give my opinion about what should be done in the states to combat the problem. I wouldn't exactly call myself an authority on the subject, but at least I have been through it. I know what it is like to hear "Kontrola! (inspection)" and have to ditch my cooks apron, slip out into the front, and try to look like a customer. I know what it is like to get sick and not really know what to do. "Will I die before I can see a doctor?", I thought once.

One of the things we (there were plenty of us illegals in those days; they called us "jet-backs") understood clearly was that we had to live reasonably within the limits of the law. The Czech authorities were pretty tolerant of illegals, so long as you didn't break the law, and showed them some respect. My friend Jenny got deported just for being too obvious. With her pink hair and leather jacket, she was easily recognized. She was given a warning that she ought to get her papers in order. A year later, the same policemen arrested her and deported her for no other reason than not having valid papers.

Jenny's story is unusual. Gabby's story was much more common. She sold a gram of weed (thats 1/28 of an ounce) to another American, who got caught with it and snitched her out. She spent 3 months in jail before she was deported. What is interesting is that the American they caught received no punishment whatsoever. Now I am finally getting to the point of this post.

I just read a very interesting article regarding the problem of illegal aliens who are criminals. The main point of the article is that police officers in many municipalities are actually prohibited from inquiring as to a person's immigration status until they have been caught committing a felony.

Cops and prosecutors universally know the immigration status of these non-gang “Hollywood dealers,” as the city attorney calls them, but the gang injunction is assiduously silent on the matter. And if a Hollywood officer were to arrest an illegal dealer (known on the street as a “border brother”) for his immigration status, or even notify the Immigration and Naturalization Service (since early 2003, absorbed into the new Department of Homeland Security), he would face severe discipline for violating Special Order 40, the city’s sanctuary policy.

The only real reason I have heard from people who support this policy is that police can get the cooperation of illegals without the illegals fearing deportation. I find this logic completely faulty. If you take the example of my friend who was deported for selling weed, it was exactly the threat of being deported that forced her customer to cooperate.

I think what happens in America (which doesn't happen as much here in the Czech Republic) is that once a law is made, it is enforced every time that an officer observes it being violated. Sure, there are exceptions, but suffice to say, no one in the Czech Republic gets a speeding ticket for doing 66 in a 65 zone. The police tend to use their discretion, and actually use the law selectively to their advantage. Here is an example...

At the local train station, there are plenty of undesirables running all kinds of scams. It is difficult to catch these guys in the act, but you definately know the type who is up to no good. So the police see these guys and ask for papers. They use the immigration law to jail and deport these guys who come just to steal. Some would call this discrimination, and it is. But I have seen this in action, and they guys they pick out are guys they see at the train station every day. Any sane person knows very well they are up to no good, kind of like these guys mentioned in the article.

Enforcing known immigration violations, such as reentry following deportation, against known felons, would be even more productive. LAPD officers recognize illegal deported gang members all the time—flashing gang signs at court hearings for rival gangbangers, hanging out on the corner, or casing a target.

Now in the Czech Republic these guys would be questioned, asked for papers, and searched. Nothing could be more just. But what happens in Los Angeles?

“But if I see a deportee from the Mara Salvatrucha [Salvadoran prison] gang crossing the street, I know I can’t touch him,” laments a Los Angeles gang officer. Only if the deported felon has given the officer some other reason to stop him, such as an observed narcotics sale, can the cop accost him—but not for the immigration felony.

There is a huge problem with immigration in the United States. There is a huge problem with criminality. I suggest that a good place to start to address these problems is where they overlap. Not only would thousands of dangerous criminals be taken off the streets, but a modicum of respectability would be returned to the hard working immigrants whose only crime is not having their papers in order.

It is not logical to assume that if this "Special Order 40" were recinded that the police would immediately start picking up day workers on the street corners and deporting them. They have neither the man power nor the motivation to do so. Instead, I believe that the police would welcome the opportunity to use immigration law to jail and/or deport gang-members and other undesirables. The trick is to encourage discretion.

I suppose the fear is that a racist, robotic officer, given the opportunity, would start rounding up every illegal alien he can get his hands on. No offense to all the good policemen out there (most of them I think), but this is a legitimate concern. There are certain people who just see everything in black and white (or brown and white as the case may be) and don't understand discretion. It is so ironic that the culture of no-tolerence that is flourishing in the United States has led in part to tolerance for all illegal aliens, including hardened criminals. The fear that police will abuse their power is at least partially responsible for this ridiculous special order.

Reading the article, you get the sense that it comes from a right-wing perspective. Usually, opinion pieces that focus on law-enforcement (and advocate greater power for same) come from the right of the political spectrum. As such, you would expect them to advocate that a wall be built along the border. This is not the case. Instead they choose to focus on starving the beast.

The only way to dampen illegal immigration and its attendant train of criminals and terrorists—short of an economic revolution in the sending countries or an impregnably militarized border—is to remove the jobs magnet. As long as migrants know they can easily get work, they will find ways to evade border controls. But enforcing laws against illegal labor is among government’s lowest priorities. In 2001, only 124 agents nationwide were trying to find and prosecute the hundreds of thousands of employers and millions of illegal aliens who violate the employment laws, the Associated Press reports.

The author agrees with me. Enforce the laws that are on the books. Increase the penalties for employers who hire illegals (this has worked brilliantly here in the Czech Republic). With the internet, a system for verifying someone's legal status without infringing on the privacy of others could be easily worked out. That way, an employer would have no excuse for hiring an illegal alien.

But if police do not have the power to deport the street criminals, enforcement of the labor laws will only exasperate the criminal problem as more illegal aliens will turn to crime. As with most problems, the solution must be multi-faceted. It is not enought to just build a wall, or enforce existing laws. There must be a bold, multi-pronged approach.

I'm sure our law-makers are more than up to the task.

Ok, seriously, stop laughing!

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Random Thought

Today, as always, politics consist of conflict. A political force can hardly hope to exist without a significant opposition. If no one opposes you, your opinion isn't even worth having. If you don't make someone angry, it is impossible that you should inspire someone else.

Coulter Busted!

Within 24 hours of posting somthing on Ann Coulter, this little gem popped up. To make a long story short, Ms. Coulter may face serious criminal prosecution for misrepresenting herself on her voter registration form.

So my opinion of her remains the same: Can't stand her. ... kind of cute though, still.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Poor Halliburton

Ann Coulter reports that Halliburton is losing money feeding the troops. Now Ann hasn't figured out permalinks yet (maybe she should ask a liberal), so this link will only get you to her homepage. Her April 5, 2006 article declares....

Even proud American corporations find their names being turned into curse words by liberals, such as "Halliburton," which is currently losing money in Iraq in order to supply food to our troops — you know, the same troops liberals pretend to love (but don't lose money feeding).

Now Halliburton may indeed be losing money on the delivery of food to the soldiers, but as any contractor knows, you lose money on certain parts of a contract to get the whole contract. And get the whole contract they did. So how is poor Halliburton doing on the whole?

How does $2.4 billion in profits for 2005 sound to you? Almost half of that profit was in the fourth quarter. Ann is right: liberals should be ashamed of themselves for not making these type of sacrifices.

If only poor Halliburton wasn't burdened with feeding our troops! What sacrifice! What patriotism!

I really shouldn't read Ann. It brings out the liberal in me.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Pro-war Simplified

In case you were wondering, I think this is what the war advocates are trying to say.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Albanian Pizza

I work up in Liberec, about 60 miles (100 km) north of Prague.

On Thursdays, I usually drive up to nearby Jablonec to hang out with the only other American I know in the area. We went to a pizza place that we have frequented many times. I knew that the guys running the place were from the former Yugoslavia, but I didn't know from where exactly.

George is an extremely friendly host. He usually can't think of anything to say when he gets to the table, but he seems genuinely happy to see as when we come in. Nieto is the pizza cook, and since the pizza oven is right next to the bar, and within the main dining room, we chat with him a bit as well. At some point, Ivan (my American friend) and I happen upon the subject of where these guys are from. Ivan, (being the abrasive, curious type) practically yells out in Czech "Georgie, where are you from?" George, looking a little surprised, replies, "Yugoslavia." Ivan counters with, "But WHERE?" George, now on the spot, turns bright red and meekishly says "Kosovo." Then he disappeared into the main kitchen for a while.

Later, we got to see Nieto's UN project's ID card showing he was from Kosovo. The tention was palpable as we wondered if they were Albanian refugees. One thing I've learned about people who are refugees of these wars, is that the scars are usuallly deep and fresh. Asking someone "where are you from" brings up frightening and painful memories from most of the people you talk to. However, when approached with genuine interest, they are usually willing to share their stories. I approached Nieto and George about interviewing them for my blog. I didn't want to ask what there nationality is, because I wanted them to know I was interested in their stories, no matter from what perspective. They were understandibly cautious about giving me any promises.

We had a great dinner and some drinks, and lots of laughs. When we were leaving, I asked George if it was "George" or "Georgie" as Ivan had been calling him all night. He said, "George. Like George Bush." I couldn't help but to ask, "Do you like George Bush?" He looked me dead in the eye with grave seriousness and said, "Why not?" I shrugged, and he continued, "But Clinton! Clinton is the best!" Again, I had to ask why. He thought for a moment and said with 100% sincerity, "Because he helped us very much."

I really hope I can get that interview.

Australia and Kickbacks-for-Food.

CorpWatch reports that the Australian Wheat Board has been identified as the worst abuser of Iraq's failed Oil-for-Food program. They report...

But while U.S. French, Russian, and African politicians, businessmen and companies benefited from Saddam's profiteering, the program's worst corrupter was the Australian Wheat Board (AWB), the largest importer of food into Iraq under Oil-for-Food.

What this article highlights, is that it was individuals and corporations who really did the dirty work in the corruption that has characterized the Oil-for-Food scandal. Again from the article...


According to memos admitted as evidence to the Cole inquiry, Former AWB managing director Andrew Lindberg and other AWB executives met the Iraqi minister for Trade in 2002, when it was agreed that AWB would inflate transport prices to repay $A 8 million owed to Iraq by Tigris Petroleum, a partner of Australian resources megalith BHP Billiton.

An $A 82 billion company led by American Charles "Chip" Goodyear (from the Goodyear lumber family, rather than the Goodyear tire clan,) BHP digs or drills for just about everything on every continent on the planet except Antarctica. Coal, gold, diamonds, iron, oil, gas – if it's in the ground, BHP gets it out. The company employs 36,000 people in 25 countries. Last year it reported an $A11 billion profit, the largest in Australian corporate history.

The governmnet officials who profited from letting guys like "Chip" get away with this crap were actually small players in this thing. The suggestion that Russia and France profited from this, and thus opposed the invasion, is ludicrous.

If it had been the level of corruption within the government bodies of the countries that opposed the war that had been the determining factor in those states policy on Iraq, Australia would top the list of countries standing in opposition.

Let us be sure to lay the blame for this malfeasance on the corporations and specific individuals within the various governments that not only invented these schemes, but ulitimately benifited from them more than anyone else, except perhaps Saddam himself.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Permanent Bases in Iraq

Before the US invaded Iraq, I suggested that once the Army is there, it will never leave. This assumption is based on logic and empirical evidence. There are still bases in South Korea and Germany over half a century after the end of hostilities. The bases in Germany, although uncontroversial (the Germans don't mind, and actually benefit greatly from their presence), are especially worrying. There seems to be very little tactical rationale for maintaining permanent bases in Germany more than 15 years after the end of the cold war.

And yet, there they are.

So questions about the length of stay for the Army in Iraq I think are not only justified, but are highly pertinent. To date, Congress has approved $1.3 billion in emergency spending for base construction. Read the linked article for a full rundown. It seems congress is getting impatient, and eventually the administration will have to reaveal their plans to build permanent US bases in Iraq.

Which I contend, has been their plan all along.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Israel Strikes Palestinian Compound

It is unclear what the purpose of this srike was.

Reading the article leaves me wondering if the rocket attacks by Palestinians that preceded this retaliation actually came from the presidential compound that was struck. Israel generally engages in these types of strikes as a direct response to a rocket attack. Does this mean that the Palestinians are launching missles from inside the presidential compound?

This final sentence in the article seems to me to be the most significant.

"Palestinian security sources said the air strike was the first targeting one of its security compound in two years."

Unfortunately, this sounds like escalation. I can not see what Isreal hopes to gain from this.

It could be said that those who launch rockets from Palestine are trying to derail any negotiations with Isreal. They probably want war, and are hell-bent on Isreal's destruction. In this context, at least I can understand why they foolishly lob rockets on innocent people.

But honestly, assuming the Palestinians are not launching rockets from inside their own presidential compound, why would Israel pick this as a target? They gain nothing from this action.

Traders Hear it First

On the currency trading wire, I found this quote this morning which, if true, should have Americans worried.

"There was talk in the Asian market that China may stop buying US demoniated bonds and gradually reduce holdings. This talk was reportedly being linked to remarks made by the vice parliament cheif. The PBOC were keen to play down the remarks saying that this was only a personal view and not official policy."

The markets tend to take these things in stride and make moves to protect themselves from any moves that may occurs as a result of such a perception.

However, if true, this could be the shift in policy that the we have all been worried about. With the kind of public debt the US is running, it can little afford to loose China as a major buyer of bonds.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Moussauoi Faces Death

As Moussauoi continues on the fast-track to execution, one must assume that being put to death is his goal. I'm borrowing this idea from Roger at XDA.

Essentially, as the article points out, he changed his story from one that would not have been eligible for death, to one that is.

And if you are trying to save yourself, do you say this to the 12 people who will decide your fate?

"You'll never get my blood, God curse you all"

Probably not.

This is a little like Brer Rabbit being slung into the briar patch, in that by punishing him with death, he is getting what he apparently wants. Moreover, the people more directly responsible for the atrocity of 911 are probably more than happy to part with their cohort in return for the symbolic value of the would-be execution.

And what a symbol he will be. An unstable, angry, disaffected, Moraccan with EU (French) citizenship who was willing to sign up with anyone who would help him kill Americans, Europeans, and anyone else who happened to be around, will now be the poster-boy for wanna-be Al-Qaeda.

Take a good look kids. This is what happens when you fill your heart with hate.

He would be the first, and would most likely remain, the only person to be executed as punishment for their involvement in the 9/11 attacks.

If he manages to acquire that dishonorable distiction, he will unfortunately, be remembered forever.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Iran Would Retaliate Experts Say

I think they have good intelligence this time.

Confessions of an Illegal Alien

As the immigration issue heats up, I recall my own time spent as an illegal alien. Now I don't pretend I had to flee my home country to feed my family, but I did end up in a foreign country needing to feed myself and without the means to get home. So I went to work.

I found a job at a restaurant/bar as a line cook. The pay was about a buck-fifty an hour (50 1997 Czech Koruna). I knew the pay was crap, but I wasn't really in a position to argue. My employer took a risk by hiring me, but my hiring was not without it's benefits for her. Quite simply, illegal employees don't create a tax burden. No payroll tax, no social security, no health insurance. Eventually I had to pay a portion of my wages in "tax" back to my employer because the Czech employees felt slighted that the illegals were taking home more money, which was true. They should have given that money to the Czech employees, but of course they didn't.

So despite the horrible pay (usually about 120 bucks for a 50 hour week), and horrible hours (I worked 5 days a week. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday from 6pm until 6am, then Saturday and Sunday 8am until 4pm), it wasn't so bad. My employer didn't even know my last name (and spelled my first name in phonetic Czech), I had no listing, no cell phone, no junk mail. I was officially off the grid.

Eventually I went home, and then returned in good financial standing a year later. I worked about a year, and then ran my own business as an illegal alien. Eventually, I got my papers, but it was no easy task. Here is what I had to do...

1. Give a reason for my stay: In my case to run my business. This is a very common way to show cause.
2. Get a notarized document proving that I have a contract to live in my apartment. This document must be in the form of a letter certifying that I have permission to live at the stated address from my landlord.
3. Get a document from the public records office proving that my landlord actually owns the property mentioned in the notarized letter.
4. $4,000, either in a bank, or I could just flash them the cash. (The Russian Mafia will loan you the money for 24 hours for about 1%).
5. Get a document from the Czech State Police that certifies you have no criminal record in the Czech Republic
6. Get a similar document from my home country. (incidentally, the only agency in the US that equates to "State Police" is the FBI and they issue no such documents. No Americans could get visas for about 6 months until they worked that out).
7. Fill out a 4 page application and file it in a Czech Embassy outside the country. (I chose Bratislava for proximity. However, I had to spend nearly 12 hours in a windy, sub-zero Bratislava).
8. Wait a month for an acceptance letter and then return to Bratislava, pay $50 (in Slovak Crowns) and play the waiting game once more.

All of the documents have to be fresh (30 days) so you really have to be organized. Plenty of people have all their documents expire on them while they wait for their 80 year old landlord to give them the letter. Any number of things can foil your best laid plans and you start over.

Now the point is that the Czechs didn't care that I was already in the country. In fact, I had to show that I had already made connections and had resources. If I had been arrested at some point, I would have been out of the running. If I was a criminal at home, they didn't want me. If I couldn't get someone to loan me $4,000 for a day, I wouldn't have the resources to take care of myself in a tough situation.

My peers and myself didn't have the numbers to take to the streets as 500,000 did in Los Angeles this week. Had we, it could have led to our deportation and we all knew that. Everyone complained when they made the process harder, but as illegal aliens, we weren't in any position to hold a protest. We didn't have the numbers or really did we feel we had the right, despite our hard work and love of the country.

If nothing else, the protests in LA will be a wake-up call to the government that they have overlooked this issue too long. They will need to provide a legal avenue for currently illegal aliens to become legal. Those who can prove residence, and have proven have a job, should be given temporary legal status if they meet all the criteria set down. They should have to do this yearly for at least 5 years. Essentially, they are proving their resourcefulness and determination to stay in the US and their unwillingness to turn to crime. At the same time, the government should deport those with criminal records whenever possible. Similarly should new offenders be deported. In the Czech Republic, if you are an alien (legal or not) and you are caught in a criminal offense, they give you the opportunity to leave with a 4 year "no return" stamp in your passport. Or you can go to court and face the charges, do the time.... and then leave the country with a 4 year "no return" stamp in your passport. You can guess what most people choose.

As it becomes realistic to get legal working status in the US, and penalties for working illegally are raised for workers and employers alike, the whole business of illegal workers becomes further and further marginalized. It becomes harder and harder for illegals to get jobs as more and more legal guest workers are available. They will eventually be forced to go through the legal process, or be forced to leave the country. This is exactly what has happened in the Czech Republic. There are a few illegals still around, but most people play by the rules because it is nearly impossible to find work otherwise. In 1997 this was not the case at all. People complained about the reforms, which they will in the US if the Congress is bold enough to actually do something, but in the end, the demands are reasonable, and the penalties are too great for employers. They didn't ever think about kicking everyone out, but they make you leave and come back so you will be caught if you are an international fugitive. I guess the international fugitive lobby just isn't what it used to be.

Eventually, just being illegal will be cause for deportation, but at this juncture, it is an impractical solution. 11 million immigrants cannot be removed at once, nor would that help the country. Instead, pressure (punitive measures) and incentives (legal avenues), should be equally utilized in order to legitimize and legalize migrant workers.

I do not advocate full amnesty. It should be just as hard for someone already in the country to become legal as it would be for a person immigrating for the first time. Clearly those already in the country may have an advantage if they are already working and have a permanent residence, but these are precisely the people that should be given legal status first.

Plans to punish those people already living in working in the US will only cause resentment and instability. Building a fence will only force those coming over the boarder to take more drastic measures.

This issue can only be resolved with a sound, multi-pronged approach which provides both a legal avenue for migrant workers to get legal status, and discourages illegal employment with incrementally stricter penalties for illegal workers and the companies which employ them.

Quarter 1 2006 Economic Report

Q1 was the best quarter for the United States stock market in 7 years. I had predicted a softening, despite experts "cautious optimism".

I couldn't have been more wrong.

One thing I have been consistently poor at is estimating the strength of the US economy. The ability of the US economy to grow at 3.5% per year is particularly amazing in light of it's size. Experts are, however, turning a bit more bearish, and the stock market ended down sharply on Friday. This may be a dark cloud on the horizon, but it may be just a small correction. It will be interesting to see if the market can maintain this near record level throughout the next quater or perhaps even extend the gains. I'm going to stick to my guns and suggest that the market will see a correction by mid-year. One thing we know about markets is that big gains are often followed by big corrections. If circumstances existed at the end of 2005 that would justify my bearish predictions at the end of the year, they exist now in spades. Don't be surpried if I have once again underestimated the resilience of the US market.

The fed continued with it's measured tightening schedule, predictably moving the short term rate to 4.75%. The long term rate quicly hit a new recent high at 4.86% underpinning market expectations of at least one further rate hike in May.

The dollar has stayed within a nice tight 5% range against the major currencies. The robust US economy and job outlook has nullified concerns over balloning public debt. Traders had expected the Euro to reach 1.25 by mid-year, but that prediction has been officially dashed. Two large 3-month expiry options at 1.24 and 1.2465 reflect this ammended analysis. Apparently, the Euro bulls will have to wait.

The Yaun ended the quarter with record stregth against the dollar, but this is largely academic at this point since the range is artificially maintained and the Yaun is not traded freely on the market. If only I could buy a bunch of Yaun right now.

What looms on the horizon for the currency markets is a policy shift by the BOJ. Should they begin raising interest rates (from 0%) in May, the yen could see significant stregthening. There was a flood of money repatriated this week to Japan as expected at the end of the fiscal year. This influx failed to significantly strengthen the yen, but as interest rates rise, and should the US economy start to produce diminishing returns, futher repatriation of funds out of dollar denominated investments could lead to significant yen stregthening in Q2. I think if I can get in at 1.18, I'll make a strong move.

This article is in no way meant to be professional.