wThomas W. Fuller
Random reactions and columns from Italy Daily


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wSaturday, September 17, 2005

I'm getting a few legacy visitors here--I've transferred my blogging activities to my Random Reactions weblog. I've recently been posting about the power and the peril of Google--check out posts here, here, here, and here. Check 'em out.

posted by Thomas at 2:26 AM

wThursday, July 10, 2003

Letter to the times


I had the pleasure of hearing Niall Ferguson, author of Empire, talk about his book at the time of its release last winter. One of the refreshing aspects of his talk and his book was his ability to examine British imperial politics without the presumption or assumption of imperial guilt. How disappointing then, to find his review of Samantha Power's book, A Problem From Hell, (Culture, July 6)so full of accusations of America that he refused to apply to Britain.

Ferguson agrees with Power that America is guilty of not doing more to prevent genocide since the conclusion of the Second World War. Since genocide has occurred, and since Americans have declared "Never again,' I guess we Americans are guilty as charged. But take a closer look at the examples cited in Power's book, and commended by Ferguson as valid cases of American failure, and some curious questions arise. For example, the Khmer Rouge slaughtered over a million Cambodians in the 1970s. Power and Ferguson apparently believe that America allowed this to happen, in their opinion because America was traumatized by their failure in Vietnam. As an aside, I have to wonder what their opinion was of America's presence in Vietnam, and whether they would have supported America's return to Southeast Asia a year after their departure. But more to the point, Power correctly describes the Khmer Rouge as a client of China. Before blaming America, wouldn't it be more appropriate to accuse first, the Khmer Rouge of killing a million people, and second, their patron, an international nuclear armed power with 3 million men at arms, for not stopping it? Likewise with Rwanda. Before attacking America for not interfering, shouldn't someone first say the actual killers are at fault? And then second, shouldn't anyone note that France, a nuclear power with half a million men at arms and a long history in the immediate region, should have been the more appropriate entity to halt the slaughter, instead of being, as many allege, complicit in its occurrence?

The important mistake, certainly made by Ferguson, and apparently also by Power, is to implicitly cede all power and authority to America to right the world's wrongs. Is Britain responsible for the Turkish slaughter of Armenians? If not, why not? They were the world's imperial master when it occurred, with troops and a history of almost frenzied activity in the region. The answer is no. Britain could not then, as America cannot today, stop tribal madness and ethnic slaughter before it occurs. Genocide, a crime against all of humanity, is a failure by all of humanity as well. It is not that America did not do enough in Rwanda or Cambodia. It is that all of us did not do enough. Britain could have sent troops and air power to either place, as could have Nato, Russia, China and Japan. Nobody did. Could America have done more? Undoubtedly. So could we all. To say 'Let the Americans do it' is to say that you will not. What does that make of you?

When British and French soldiers began the genocide of American Indians, a practice continued by American settlers and soldiers, America alone was assigned the burden of guilt. It was the same when British ships carried slaves to the New World. Although Brazil and the Caribbean islands received large numbers of slaves (although not as many as the Islamic states), it is America that carries the legacy of slavery.

By writing this, I do not wish to absolve America from its crimes and/or sins. As an American, I want it to do all it can to eliminate genocide from the face of the world. It is because I love my country that I want her to be just. But the rest of the world cannot sit on the sidelines. If Niall Ferguson, a young, intelligent and progressive historian, cannot see this, then what has his history shown him?

posted by Thomas at 4:44 PM

wSaturday, June 07, 2003

Null Party Line

If we do not adopt a closed adherence to a party platform, certain things begin to make sense that are otherwise obscured.

I believe that Iraq had (and apparently still has) enough weapons of mass destruction to pose a threat to the region (codespeak for Israel). This belief allows me to filter some of the nonsense coming from the BBC and the Guardian about the run-up to the war, while still allowing me to benefit from the real news they are reporting from the scene.

I believe that the American administration exaggerated the amounts and nature of these threats to gain political support for the war. I believe Britain bought into the exaggerations, and supported their necessity. This allows me to evaluate the justifications put forth from White House and Pentagon podiums in context.

I believe both administrations should pay a political price for their actions. But also that this price should fall short of full sanction. Judgment without rancor. Not a bad ideal.

I believe the conflict in Iraq was justified and fought as humanely as possible. I believe that actions in Iraq since the conclusion of hostilities have been of a distinctly lower caliber.

I support George Bush's decision and actions in regards to conducting military actions in Iraq. I oppose him on just about everything else. The conflict showed his strengths. Everything since has shown his weaknesses. In 2004, I will thank him for limited services to his country and vote for the opposition.

I'd love to know your opinions. thomaswfuller@yahoo.com

posted by Thomas at 4:13 AM

wFriday, March 28, 2003

Seven Days in May
Copyright 2003 Thomas W. Fuller

Comments? thomaswfuller@yahoo.com

Sunday, May 11, 2003

The Bush Administration today announced that Professor Glenn Reynolds, known on the Internet as the Instapundit, would replace Barbara Bodine as administrative head in Iraq. The surprising move was seen as an effort to counter perceptions that Iraqi reconstruction is sputtering, if not stalled. Reynolds, while clearly not the first choice of the Bush administration, is perceived as a credible and fair alternative to more senior diplomats, all of whom were seen as unacceptable to either the State Department or the Pentagon, bitterly at odds over policy in Iraq.

Reynolds, whose ironic web log observations are read by hundreds of thousands every week, pledged that he would undertake his duties in accordance with the principles found on his weblog, or blog, as the Internet diaries are popularly known. “Transparency, honesty and equity before the law will be the guiding principles of my term here,” said Reynolds, adding ironically that he did not expect to become a permanent fixture in Iraq.

Reached at his home in Tennessee, Professor Reynolds was packing for departure, primarily concerned with having his laptop loaded with functional audio and video blogging tools, as well as sound editing equipment. When asked if his wife, a documentary film producer, would accompany him, Reynolds said “Indeed.” However, he refused to say whether or not she would be filming in Iraq, or if in fact she would be staying for a prolonged period.

Monday, May 12, 2003

An obviously exhausted Glenn Reynolds, newly appointed administrative head of Iraq, arrived in Baghdad today and immediately plunged into controversy. Reynolds, whose ironic and iconic web diary is read by hundreds of thousands of Internet surfers, posted preliminary plans for his actions on his website, and called for comments. Perhaps the most controversial of his ‘bullet points,’ as he called them, was to invite Al Jazeera cameramen to accompany him from the airport, and indeed, to stay with him as a permanent monitor of his activities. “They can go with me everywhere except to the bathroom,” Mr. Reynolds blogged on his website Instapundit (www.instapundit.com), insisting that only measures as drastic as this could generate confidence in coalition occupation efforts. Al Jazeera cameramen were on hand at the airport to greet Professor Reynolds, accompanied by crews from CNN and Fox News. An informal agreement was reached to pool footage gathered by Al Jazeera, and to allow one American journalist to accompany Professor Reynolds on a rotating basis. Al Jazeera was pleased, if a bit skeptical, to be offered 24-hour access to Professor Reynolds, especially after Sunday’s reports that Al Jazeera personnel had been identified as either Iraqi intelligence agents or collaborators with Saddam Hussein’s regime. When asked by reporters if this was a public relations exercise in lieu of more substantial proposals, the professor replied “Indeed. I’m trying to push traffic to my website.”

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

After a day and a half, ‘Indeed’ is becoming the signature phrase for Professor Glenn Hubbard, newly appointed administrator in Iraq. His second day in office was marked by more controversial announcements, faithfully reported across the Middle East by Al Jazeera, perhaps the most surprising of which was Reynolds’ confiscation of looted American currency for the purpose of paying wages to Iraqis involved in restoring essential services. As always, the word ‘indeed’ accompanied almost every comment Professor Reynolds made to the press. “Indeed, there is no question that this money was stolen from the Iraqi people, and no question that the most effective use of this money is to help Iraq restart its economy,” Reynolds said. Reynolds arrived at this decision after an exchange of emails with Brad DeLong, an economist based in the Bay Area. The exchange was posted on the web diaries, called ‘weblogs’, of both Reynolds and DeLong. When asked if this was a potentially dangerous maneuver, Reynolds said “Indeed.” Concerns that this would be seen as theft by some, a horrible precedent by others, were outweighed by the pressing necessity of getting some money into the Iraqi economy. Professor DeLong refused to comment, referring reporters to his Internet page.

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

New Iraq administrator Glenn Reynolds stirred up more controversy today, admitting that he was using the contributions of thousands of web diarists, known as ‘bloggers,’ as an informal kitchen cabinet to generate and evaluate policy for the reconstruction of Iraq. Reynolds admitted, using his new signature phrase ‘Indeed,’ that it was the ‘blogosphere’ (a word used to describe the virtual environment inhabited by thousands of web diarists), that had led him to ask for the installation of a military mobile hospital unit in Baghdad to help treat civilian casualties. Reynolds also pointed to the Internet as inspiration for the idea of transporting severely injured Iraqi civilians to hospitals outside the country, saying that the people affected couldn’t wait until reconstruction forces ‘miraculously get it right.’ In an inside ‘blogosphere’ joke, Reynolds said that he was impatient to incorporate the suggestions of Steven Den Beste, another Internet diarist, but that he had asked Den Beste to put his suggestions at the beginning of his notoriously long Internet essays.

Middle East leaders have only now begun commenting on the highly unorthodox methods used by Professor Reynolds, who is governing in the open air, allowing Al Jazeera and American journalists unprecedented access to the decision making process Reynolds has used. Although most Middle East governments have expressed cautious approval, there is residual mistrust of American motives, with religious leaders in Egypt and Syria describing events as evidence of a ‘Potemkin government.’ This mistrust apparently has its counterpart in Washington, where Ari Fleischer refused to comment on Reynolds’ efforts in Iraq, saying ‘It’s too early to tell. Iraq needed a jump start, there’s no question about it.’ However, senior White House officials were more guarded, with one saying “We don’t need Iraq to be making news right now.” The official spoke on condition of anonymity. It seems, however, that Reynolds has already achieved the impossible—uniting the Pentagon and the State Department, with officials from both departments expressing guarded concern over Reynolds’ decisions. As Reynolds himself would say, ‘Indeed.’

Thursday, May 15, 2003

Iranian demonstrators marched near the University of Tehran, carrying banners and wearing T-shirts with the single English word, ‘Indeed.’ The word, the seemingly favorite expression of Iraqi administrator Glenn Reynolds, has become a symbol of support for the radical policies and procedures Reynolds is using in Iraq. It has been seen on bumper stickers in America, and is creeping into journalistic language in countries ranging from Poland to Spain. Reynolds noted ironically on his website that it has not yet been seen in either Paris or Berkeley.

Al Jazeera, the Arab news network which is accompanying Reynolds on an almost continuous basis, reported that 342 Iraqi civilians (and some Iraqi soldiers) had been transported to hospitals in Great Britain and Italy, as well as to American military hospitals in Iraq and Kuwait. It was subsequently reported that several Middle Eastern countries were reserving beds for Iraqi patients.

The BBC today blasted American efforts in Iraq, calling Reynolds’ efforts ‘pure fluff’ and ‘blatantly oriented towards propaganda.’ The BBC, noted for taking editorial positions that were anti-war in the run-up to the Iraqi conflict, also complained that it had not received equal access to Reynolds.

Reynolds today announced that a trust fund would be established for all Iraqi citizens, using the proceeds of Iraqi oil. Reynolds publicly advocated such a fund before the war began. The trust fund would establish interest-bearing accounts for all Iraqi citizens, and would be available for purchases of homes, small businesses, or as pension plans similar to IRAs in America. Reynolds cautioned that setting up the fund would take years, and could only follow the establishment of effective banking and administrative infrastructure. Again, Reynolds announced the move after an open Internet conversation with Hernando DeSoto, the economist credited with a new emphasis on property rights as a necessary precondition for effective market economies. Thousands of ‘weblogs,’ as Internet diaries are known, published comments on the proposal within hours. Four AP reporters recently assigned an ‘Internet beat’ to monitor the blogosphere said that reaction seemed favorable, while admitting that they had read only a fraction of the web posts about Iraqi reconstruction.

Friday, May 16, 2003

French Foreign Minister Dominique De Villepin literally sniffed today when asked to comment on Iraqi reconstruction efforts led by American administrator Glenn Reynolds. De Villepin, suffering from a cold, insisted that his reaction was not disrespectful, and thanked Reynolds for inviting Medicine Sans Frontiere, the medical organization founded in France, to assist in providing medical aid to Iraq. However, De Villepin also characterized American actions as ‘proof that they had no plan in place’ to aid Iraq, and said the efforts had a ‘somewhat desperate’ air about them.

In Baghdad, Reynolds noted that more than $1.7 million of recovered Iraqi funds had been distributed throughout the country, and that more than 40,000 Iraqis had received some of the funds. Reynolds also announced that he had invited Shiite clerics to monitor the distribution of funds, to insure that ‘all Iraqis would know who receives this money and why.’ Officials at the State Department had no comment. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, in his first statement about Reynolds’ efforts in Iraq, pointedly refused to endorse the unorthodox techniques and surprising policies adopted by the Tennessee law professor.

The first U.S. opinion poll taken since Professor Reynolds arrived in Iraq showed strong support for his actions. More than 68% of those polled said they ‘supported’ or ‘strongly supported’ Reynolds’ efforts. Strong regional variation showed that Reynolds was far more popular in the South and Midwest, with support weakest in California and Oregon. However, it is rumored that Reynolds does not have the support of key White House advisors, with only Condoleeza Rice expressing public support for Reynolds. When asked if she thought Reynolds was effective, Rice smiled and used Reynolds’ signature phrase, ‘Indeed.’

Saturday, May 17, 2003

During a day which saw a number of worrying developments in Iraq, ranging from outbreaks of cholera near Basra to Shiite demonstrations in Baghdad, Glenn Reynolds, American administrator in Baghdad, reported that his website had received several millions of dollars in contributions for the restoration of Iraq, most delivered via PayPal, the Internet payment mechanism popularized by eBay. “I haven’t been able to look at the breakdown of contributors,” said Reynolds, “but they appear to come from all over the world. I just hope they haven’t confused my site with www.888.com.” Reynolds said that he wasn’t surprised to see contributions from countries such as France and Germany, where official government positions are hostile to American efforts. He was, however, touched to see contributions from Afghanistan, Jordan and Iran. “Perhaps this is a sign that our policies are having the desired effect—showing our true intentions to the world,” said Reynolds.

However, it seemed that overall news in Iraq was more bad than good. Four villages in the South of Iraq reported outbreaks of cholera, with 14 deaths reported. English military doctors said they were having trouble getting medications to appropriate people. Lack of sanitary conditions and clean water prevail throughout Iraq, contributing to the spread of disease. Professor Reynolds urgently asked for oral rehydration packets, requested in April, to be delivered immediately.

Shiite clerics in Baghdad, apparently reacting to the success and popularity of Professor Reynolds, demanded his ouster and the establishment of an Iraqi council led by Islamic priests. They were joined by tens of thousands of protestors. No violence was reported. Professor Reynolds made no comment, although he later wrote on his website that such a development was only to be expected.

Sunday, May 18, 2003

An Indian market research firm published the second poll of Iraqi citizens since the conclusion of the war to overturn Saddam Hussein. It shows public opinion to be behind Professor Glenn Reynolds and his administration, although there are concerns that Reynolds does not have the wholehearted support of the Bush administration.

Both Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Foundation today rejected invitations by Professor Reynolds to help guide and monitor environmental projects aimed at restoring the wildlife and ecology of much of Iraq. Iraq, which has suffered from decades of punitive measures aimed at non-Sunni Muslims, is estimated to require $30 billion of environmental restoration work. Neither organization commented publicly about the invitation, which was published Saturday on Instapundit, the weblog maintained by Professor Reynolds.


In a surprising development, Professor Glenn Reynolds was recalled to Washington Sunday evening by the Bush administration. President Bush, who has said nothing about Reynolds’ first week as administrator of Iraq, had no comment. Speaking anonymously, one White House official said “Reynolds had potential, but things were just moving too fast.” The official also noted that Reynolds had failed to clear policy initiatives with ‘appropriate government institutions.’ When asked if Reynolds’ recall meant that he had lost his job, the official said ‘Indeed.’ Al Jazeera, commenting on the story in real time, said that the recall was evidence that the White House did not want Iraq to succeed, and that it was Reynolds’ success that had gotten him into trouble.

posted by Thomas at 3:29 PM

wMonday, February 10, 2003

What The German Said
Copyright 2003
Thomas W. Fuller

This is a synthesis of several conversations with Europeans about the upcoming war in Iraq.

“Well, so we oppose this adventure, this war. But why? Our reasons are not the same as the reasons of our leaders, who seek to appease us and further their ambitions.

We have started wars like this. We have created a demon that demands destruction and then built the means for that destruction. And in the end, the devil we created stared back at us from a mirror and what we destroyed was ourselves.

It is not out of hatred of America that we oppose this war. In this modern era, hating America would be hating ourselves. If Bruce Willis did not exist, we would have to invent him. If Kurt Cobain had not killed himself, we would have had to join in his crucifixion. We do not hate America.

Nor is it fear of America that drives our opposition. We know you too well, know your brash, over-confident and under-educated boys, whose first steps in a foreign land were here. We took them into our beds, if not always into our hearts, and we know that you do not wish us harm. We do not fear you.

You created and published an ideal for how the world should be. Master marketers and super salesmen, you sold us this dream. We knew, from your movies, your television shows, your music, that this dream was not your reality, that it was a probably unattainable vision. But you offered this ideal in the marketplace of ideas, and we bought it. We bought this dream of a future of the world.

And so we oppose this war, mostly because we love you. We love America and this American dream of yours. And we cannot bear to see you betray it.

Saddam Hussein is evil. We know it. Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction. We know this, too. Like you, we have helped him become who he is, and to build these weapons.

Saddam Hussein, we do not doubt, would be happy to collaborate with those who have chosen terror as a way of life. And still we oppose this war.

We have also chosen to put away capital punishment. At the end of the day, we did so not out of pity and concern for the criminals affected, but out of concern for what execution does to the executioner, to the hardening of the soul and the admission of arrogance that capital punishment brings to the society at large. Please, listen.

The ideals that your current version of Realpolitick would betray are more important than Saddam’s survival, more important than your sense of security, more important, at the bitter end of a bitter day, than the lives of those who perished on September 11, 2001.

We, who live our lives surrounded by memories of the dead, can tell you what they say. We, the children and grandchildren of the Third Reich can tell you that the dead neither want nor require vengeance. They want nothing. They say nothing. What meaning their lives and deaths will have will be created by us, for us. And we, the willing purchasers of your vision, your dream, wish to have a voice, perhaps that voice denied to the dead, a voice of experience in defining the meaning of 11 September.

We believe that our purchase of the American dream came with a guarantee, or at least an expiration date. As semi-satisfied customers of the American dream, we ask that the meaning of September 11 not be confined to the destruction of the Taliban, the capture of Bin Laden, nor the dismemberment of Iraq. We ask that the world’s memorial to the victims of September 11 be your validation and renewal of your strange and wonderful vision of a future world—not its betrayal.

We ask that you remain at risk, knowing that terrorists will strike again. This, we were able to do with the Baader-Meinhof gang. You can do this too. We ask that you put your faith in the institutions you have in large part created to deal with the problems of the world. This, we were forced to do, and we know now that it was good that we were forced in such a manner. The United Nations, NATO, even the European Union would not exist today without your insistence and approval. Do you really want these bodies to disappear from the world’s stage? Think well on this.

We ask, on behalf of those who died, that you be brave—braver, perhaps, than are we. We ask that you risk further terrorism, political frustration and policy defeats, on our behalf as well as your own. But we ask this not out of a sense of dependence, and not because we would benefit from such a turn of events that seems so unlikely at this late date. We ask this out of love for your dream.

We tell you that the death of your dream is the death of your nation. We tell you this with the voice of experience. And we tell you that dreams begin to twist before they die, that the language of a national vision begins to be borrowed for twisted ends. We can tell you that the desire for physical and economic security can lead to noble language urging empire. Oh, the things we could tell you if you had time to listen.

Please—we ask that our memories and experience inform your decisions. For if your vision twists to some new form, some beast slouching towards Baghdad, then eventually, so too will our version of the vision. And this we cannot countenance. For your retreat from principle will serve as our excuse for regression. And the madness will begin again. And this we could not survive.”

Thomas Fuller is a writer living in London. He can be reached at thomaswfuller@yahoo.com.

posted by Thomas at 4:43 AM

wSunday, February 09, 2003

The Immigration Solution
Thomas Fuller

As an American recently arrived in London (from Italy, where immigration is a contentious issue), I hope I am qualified to comment on Bob Rowthorn’s recent essay. As an immigrant, I am naturally interested in the subject. As an American, I have seen the effects of large scale immigration in my native country. Perhaps most importantly, the current discussion about immigration and asylum-seekers here is two years behind the discussion in Italy, and so I have seen many of these arguments in Italian journals and papers.

Bob Rowthorn’s article in the latest issue of Prospect (Migration Limits, February 2003), seems to be selective in some of the statistics presented and hence, the conclusions reached do not do England justice. Rowthorn calls for a drastic reduction in all types of immigration, essentially labeling the current wave of immigrants a threat to English standards of living and way of life. A more complete examination of the issue suggests that the United Kingdom would benefit from increases in immigration, with only modest controls needed to prevent convicted criminals from entering, whether through asylum or normal economic immigration. I suspect Mr. Rowthorn speaks for many in England, and that offering statistics as a counter will not be sufficient to change hearts and minds. But it’s a good place to start.

Mr. Rowthorn quotes a government minister as saying Britain is not a nation of immigrants. As Niall Ferguson points out in his recent book, Empire, it might be more appropriate to characterize Britain as a nation of emigrants. Ferguson notes that 13 million people left the United Kingdom between 1815 and 1850, and emigration was not unknown before or after this period. This raises three points: First, having profited from the opportunity to send their sons and daughters abroad, is it fair for England to deny others the chance to do the same? Second, having emptied out the country through successive waves of emigration (and two bloody world wars), is it not reasonable to assume that Britain is, if anything, underpopulated and in need of the willing hands and brains most immigrants bring with them? Third, considering the fate of the countries England helped populate, would England not similarly benefit from in-migration?

Mr.Rowthorn writes that the ethnic minority proportion grew by 15% over a five-year period ending in 1999. He neglects to add that the United Kingdom’s percentage of immigrant households is the lowest in the EU. He later describes the ethnic minority population as 6% “including the descendants of immigrants.” This is a truly frightening statement. At what stage does the colour of their skin become irrelevant? Are fourth generation Britons of Indian descent a problem for British social cohesion? If so, then immigration is the least of England’s problems. He then echoes this very sad statement by saying that ethnic minorities could reach 20% of the population within 50 years, “including persons of mixed race.” Let’s be honest here. The United Kingdom is 93.5% white. If that percentage gradually drops to 80% over the next 50 years, and the non-white population includes children of mixed marriages and the descendants of immigrants who have successfully integrated into society, that could only present a problem to racial fanatics. Manitoba in Canada has a 20% non-white composition today, and shows no signs of social disintegration.

Is Britain full? Would allowing significant immigration reduce the quality of life? The population density of the United Kingdom was estimated at 244.69 people per square kilometer in 1999, according to the CIA World Fact Book. This ranks 49th in the world, and is higher than Germany, at 234.86 people per sq. km., but below Belgium, at 336.82 people per sq. km. Certainly England’s roads and trains seem crowded, but an aerial view of the United Kingdom suggests that there is ample space for growth, both of people and the necessary infrastructure to support them. Can England support a larger populaton? Let’s try an experiment in arithmetic. Let’s imagine that immigration is to continue at its current rate of 200,000 per year for the next 50 years. That’s ten million souls. Let us further imagine that none of them die and none return home. To top it off, let’s pretend that all ten million of them arrive today, bringing the total population of the United Kingdom to 70 million. That would push the population density of the United Kingdom up to 286 people per sq. kilometer, moving it up to 38th on the list of population density. Fortunately, it will happen over 50 years, and between a quarter and a third of immigrants will return to their country of origin, and the population of the United Kingdom in 2050 is projected to be less than it is today, including immigrants. If immigration does not continue, the United Kingdom will face aggravated population decline.

The fourth largest export commodity for the United Kingdom is agricultural goods, and requires only 1% of the workforce to produce these exports and to feed the domestic population as well. The unemployment rate is 5.1%. The fertility rate for the women of the UK is below replacement level. As Rowforth notes, the UK is ageing, and will soon face the pressure of a graying population, with only two people working to support one pensioner. In short, there seem not to be physical arguments against immigration. Indeed, immigration is proposed as a solution to demographic issues by many, including the United Nations.

England currently receives about 1.06 immigrants for every 1,000 persons. The United States, by comparison, receives about 3.5 immigrants per 1,000 inhabitants. The percentages of foreign born residents of some countries follow: “At the end of May 15, 2001 there were 5.4 million, or 18.4 percent, citizens residing in Canada who were born elsewhere. Only Australia has more foreign-born citizens, with 21 percent of its population, while the United States has 11 percent.” (Tandemnews.com, “Canada Continues To Grow”). While these three countries do experience problems related to immigration, even the harshest critics agree that there are some powerful positives to consider. Indeed Mr. Rowthorn notes some of them himself. Immigrants consume—even if they are on the dole, they buy bread and pay rent. They want to work, and they are often less picky about the jobs they will do than native inhabitants—or they are supremely well-qualified to fill jobs that are hard to fill. In either case, they pay taxes, almost always providing more revenue than their less fortunate fellow immigrants consume in welfare assistance. And Mr. Rowthorn passes over the economic value of money sent home by these migrants, which is really the most effective foreign aid ever invented, and which is a large component of the economies of many countries. Indeed, when Mr. Rowthorn writes that “we must help to reduce the pressures that lead to mass migration,” he should not ignore the economic impact of repatriated salaries. Mexicans living in America sent $10 billion back to their families in Mexico in 2002, and countries from India to the Philippines experience similar inflows. Three or four successful immigrants can dramatically lift the income of a native village. Above all, Mr. Rowthorn ignores the fact that migration is always an evolving situation. Usually, about 30% of migrants return to their country of origin after a few years. Living in a foreign country is tough. Others move on to yet another country. Flows of migration are usually uneven—if France or Italy experience a strong economic revival and England slumps, immigrants will take notice.

It is hard to avoid the impression that Mr. Rowthorn wants to keep England looking like the England of 1950, and is looking for arguments to support his desire. Mr. Rowthorn differentiates between white and non-white immigrants, and I’m not sure why. Incidence of immigrant crime and welfare assistance are usually not different for immigrants of different races. Assimilation success is more easily predicted by the ability to find work and educational opportunity. Mr. Rowthorn writes that he “sees no alternative but to support what is known pejoratively as ‘Fortress Europe.’” But a number of alternatives exist, and have been tried, modified, accepted and employed all over the world. Migrant worker programs, temporary work visas, up to and including open door policies have had varying levels of success, including in countries more crowded than England. Several of England’s former colonies have established scoring systems and quotas that pre-qualify potential immigrants with skills and lifestyles that are needed. Immigration could easily become a policy issue that is managed in a non-partisan fashion, according to numbers, quotas, sliding scales depending on the economy and the state of the world, and efficient use of statistics. It does not have to be a big deal. If England could move in that direction, it would be a, well, an English solution. Elegant, tidy and quiet.

One quick word about asylum seekers, since that is about as much as Mr. Rowthorn devoted to the issue. England should receive potential asylum seekers quickly and warmly, and put them in safe housing that is secured until these asylum seekers have been investigated for criminal pasts or terrorist tendencies. This should not arouse great anxiety or hostility among asylum seekers, if the following conditions are met. First, their time in detention should be used for valuable linguistic and cultural education. Second, care must be taken that gangs do not form within the detention centers. Third, and most important, asylum seekers must be clearly informed as to how long the process will take, and what the possible outcomes will be.

England has a demographic problem, albeit not nearly as severe as that facing France, Italy and Spain, thanks to current levels of immigration. Declining births, longer lifespans, longer periods spent in retirement, the current tax structure and pension plans, all combine to create a dilemma for the people here today. Further immigration is one possible solution to that problem. In effect, it is the easiest solution—just not the most comfortable one. As with other anti-immigration activists in Europe, Rowthorn offers no practical solutions to the coming problems that England will confront, and only says that immigration is unacceptable. I suggest that what may be unacceptable to Cambridge professors may differ from what is unacceptable to small business owners in Leicester Square.

Mr. Rowthorn closes his article by writing that less inequality would lessen economic immigration. If he means by that that all the world becomes equally rich, then maybe he’s right—but I don’t think Mr. Rowland is agitating against rich immigrants. However, lessening inequality by fiat and taxes is likely to result in everyone becoming poorer, so I’m not sure how that would lessen immigration. And his idyllic description of “a gradual and beneficial diffusion of people across frontiers” defies every historical description of the movement of populations that I have ever read. Population movements have almost uniformly been large-scale, unexpected and upsetting. They are also more or less unstoppable.

For fifty years, the United Kingdom has experienced radical change in almost every aspect of society without any help or hindrance from immigrants. It was the Pill that produced intense changes in fertility rates and composition of the labor force, not Muslim women in headscarves. It was the natural progression of the British economy that led to a decline in manufacturing and a resultant rise in unemployment for the under-educated, not the arrival of immigrants from Uganda and the Caribbean. Had England locked the doors to new arrivals in 1945, she would still be utterly unrecognizable today to someone retiring in Edwardian England. And anyone who has read The Road To Wigan Pier is probably thankful for that. To focus on immigrants as the source of social breakdown, crime and hooliganism, to believe that they are a statistically significant contributor to unemployment, lower wages and a lack of housing, all beggars belief.

Living with significant immigration is not comfortable. It brings costs as well as benefits. The experience of almost every country that receives significant numbers of immigrants indicates that the benefits outweigh the costs. Mr. Rowthorn elegantly describes many of the sources of discomfort, pays homage to the duty of the developed world to improve the lot of the emerging countries, and focuses on incomplete and biased statistics to make the case for shutting the door. He is not alone. I am in no way suggesting he resembles the company he keeps on this issue. However, if I looked to my flanks and saw Le Pen and Umberto Bossi to the right and the Jorg Haider and the ghost of Pim Fortuyn to the left, I would wonder about the battle I was entering.

posted by Thomas at 3:42 PM


In Defense Of Mr. Blair

We Americans, accustomed to the rambling incoherence of President Bush and the studied simplicity of former President Reagan (and the silky, sneaky seduction of ex-president Clinton’s speech) are a little amazed at Tony Blair. Someone who speaks in complete sentences. Wow. He even thinks on his feet and speaks extemporaneously. Dude!

There are other reasons to be impressed with Prime Minister Blair, and perhaps England needs to be reminded what they are. But let’s start by examining some of his defects. Tony Blair is a politician. This is unfortunate, as it involves compromise and saying some things you don’t truly believe. It is evident that Mr. Blair enjoys being in power, and would be reluctant to trade places with Ian Duncan Smith. However, what is more unfortunate is this truth—anyone who is within striking distance of the position shares those defects with Mr. Blair. In fact, most of the rhetoric directed in opposition to Mr. Blair manages to avoid any comparison to other world leaders, nor to propose any alternative to Mr. Blair.

Let’s try a little experiment. Finish the following sentence. England would today be better led by a) George Bush (either will do) b) Jacques Chirac c) Nelson Mandela d) Winston Churchill e) none of the above. My answer is e) none of the above. I’ll wager that although many here would like to choose d) Winston Churchill, in all good conscience they could not. I bring you glad tidings: Nobody on the world stage today is doing a better job than Tony Blair. In both foreign and domestic affairs, Tony Blair is out-performing all world leaders at taking advantage of England’s strengths, repairing or minimizing weaknesses, and moving England up the world ladder in several important categories. So when I hear or read criticism of Tony Blair, my response is who would you put in there who could do a better job? Notice that I did not offer you the chance to choose Ian Duncan Smith or William Hague or John Major—England has already made those choices. Nor did I offer Gordon Brown—he’s made his Faustian bargain, and must be patient.

Current criticism of Tony Blair falls into three broad categories: Subservience to the American steamroller, an almost maniacal focus on ensuring that government messages are coherent and present the government in a positive light, and a new-found willingness to spend tax dollars on public services, service which might well be so archaic as to not be able to absorb this windfall. For the sake of brevity, let’s accept these three points as God’s own truth. So what? In foreign policy, Mr. Blair is accepting reality and positioning the United Kingdom as a shaper of American policy. He is also showing the courage of his convictions, championing a war that is unpopular at home. Forcing his subordinates to stay on message and being willing to ‘spin’ is a necessary reaction to liberal governments’ tendency to speak with too many voices, a tendency which truly hurt the government of ex-president Clinton, perhaps more than a certain blue dress. I don’t really know why, but conservative governments are not afflicted by this problem to the same degree. Increasing funding to the NHS, among other institutions, after several long years of austerity, is merely moving along with the Labour agenda. People can disagree with one or all of these elements, but they should do so without demonizing Mr. Blair. Indeed, some of the criticism leveled at Blair boils down to the undeniable fact that his first name is not Eric. Conservatives are angry that he isn’t the passionate anti-communist of 1984, and Labour is angry that he is not the equally passionate socialist of The Road to Wigan Pier.

In American administrations, it is almost taken for granted that anything new and important will be put forth in the first 18 months of the presidency. Six months to figure out what you’re doing, and one year to perform on the issues that are most important to you. In contrast, Mr. Blair’s term in office has seen new and interesting policy initiatives throughout his tenure. What I consider most interesting is his ability (aided by a boom economy) to recover from a long period of insufficient attention to public infrastructure on the part of Conservatives, and to use his first few years in office, characterized by fiscal restraint, as a base for the spending he now contemplates. In America, Clinton built up a surplus and Bush is pissing it away on tax cuts for the obscenely rich.

It has been said that people get the government they deserve. In America today, that is regarded as an insult. Here in England, I would offer it as a compliment. Could Blair do better? Sure. But could anyone else? I don’t think so.

posted by Thomas at 3:25 PM

wFriday, January 31, 2003

Animal Pharm—The Importance of Intellectual Property Rights for the 21st Century
Thomas W. Fuller

In light of the malnutrition and outright starvation facing much of the developing world, I believe it is time that we demand that McDonald’s supply free food to the hungry. It is unconscionable that so many face death and disease for want of the basic commodities that McDonald’s sells at such a profit—recording revenues of $15.4 billion on sales of $41.5 billion last year, according to www.mcdonalds.com. Admittedly, because McDonald’s is a corporation, we may not be able to force them to give away their product for free. Nor could we induce Perrier to provide water to the hundreds of millions who want it. But maybe we could compel them to provide their products at cost—without the cost of marketing factored in. When we begin to talk about social responsibility on the part of corporations, is the end result to be something along these lines?

For those who think the above is a little ridiculous, let’s look at the controversy around drugs for AIDS and malaria and large pharmaceutical companies. The issue is not as simple—activists propose not to rip off the drugs that the companies produce, but that the intellectual property of the drug companies be, well, expropriated so that dying people may live. And all of us, including those who work at drug companies, want dying people to live. Further complicating the situation, drug companies, at least in America, receive a lot of government research funding and outright permission to exploit discoveries made by government researchers. But at the end of the day, it isn’t radically different from telling McDonald’s to permit the government of Madagascar to make and sell Big Macs because the people are too poor to afford the real thing.

The activists who advocate this probably feel not just justified, but virtuous in their requests. Although they probably do not consider this theft, those who work in the field and watch thousands die probably would countenance even expropriation of drug formulas to save lives. After all, the drug companies are big—bigger even than McDonalds. They are profitable. They can afford it. Right?

But when we give food aid to developing countries, that food is bought from farmers. Not stolen. When international agencies commission a dam to produce hydroelectric power in remote developing countries, Bechtel or some other large company is well-paid for their efforts. If the world wants to provide the drugs that can treat AIDS to the poor of the world, maybe we should just buy the drugs the same way we buy wheat to give to the poor.

It’s a lot of money, of course. But isn’t that the point? How can we feel that we are ‘solving’ a crisis and ‘saving’ people if we do it by pointing a gun at pharmaceutical companies and taking their property? It’s the ethic of Robin Hood, which perhaps served in medieval times, but our ethics need to be better. It’s the socialist solution—my need justifies my taking your property. Okay, the dying people who are saved probably don’t care. I don’t even think they should care. But we should. Because we need to.

I believe that one reason we find it easy to swallow the idea of forced licensing of patents is that they constitute ‘merely’ intellectual property. As I mentioned, we are not taking their drugs or their factories, just their right to exclusively make and sell the drugs, a right that is in any event ephemeral, expiring just a handful of years after the product is invented. Is this important? Yes. I consider this a mistake that could prove fatal.

Fatal? Patent robbing fatal? Well, I do not believe I am exaggerating, or at least not much. We have moved as a species from hunter-gathering, to farming, to heavy industry, to… what? What is the goal of the developing world? Do people in the emerging countries aspire to spend 12-hour shifts in Nike plants making our shoes? Do they want to wait tables in New York restaurants? I don’t think so, although they will happily do so when the alternative is starving on a non-productive farm. Anyone in Hollywood can tell you the answer. They all want to direct. Again, I’m almost serious. Most of us want to be creative parts of a post-industrialized economy. Do you really think it’s different in Thailand or Uganda? Of course there are those who dream of a good job—any good job, doing anything respectable. But those dreams do not now and will not in the future survive gratification. Even if they get those jobs too late for themselves, they will transfer these dreams to their children, insisting on education and the ability to enter the new world economy. And this economy that we all want to point towards is rooted in intellectual property rights. Do we really think that we can maintain exclusive rights to creativity in Hollywood and New York?

Pharmaceutical patents are not the only instance of intellectual property under attack. I’m not sure if it’s even the most important one. At least a dozen times over the past 7 years, I have read stories about vicious court fights that only end with one company (perhaps guilty of expropriating intellectual property) buying the company that is suing them for theft. Most of the wired world has already swallowed the concept of downloading intellectual property from the Internet, justifying it on the basis that record companies cruelly exploit talent anyhow, so it’s okay to cheat ‘them.’

When we were hunter-gatherers, we fought to protect our range. When we were farmers, we fought to protect our plots of land. When we were factory workers, we fought to protect our time. Now, moving past this brief interim period of ‘service economy,’ we need to fight to protect the fruits of our brains. How many times do we have to hear the term ‘day job’ before we realize that our bartenders and taxi drivers Want. To. Be. Part. Of. The. Creative. World.

This is not an argument in favor of perpetual copyright. It is an argument for the future. By denying the validity of intellectual property rights, we merely insure that governments, NGOs and large corporations will find a way to get richer off of our ideas.

If we looked at the situation with big Pharma and AIDS and malaria without first thinking of stealing their patents, there would be alternatives to consider. Both governments and consumers hold considerable leverage that could be ethically used to find terms advantageous enough to accomplish something meaningful and honorable. Governments could horse trade longer patents on Viagra and Propecia for price cuts and voluntary licensing of vital and orphan drugs. They also could negotiate taxes with an eye on corporate charity. Consumers could reward good behavior or ostracize companies that don’t want to negotiate. But by demanding that they just give us the license to produce the drugs, we make any negotiation impossible.

When George Orwell wrote Animal Farm, showing the horror of exploiting one animal for the sake of another’s creature comforts, he did so confident in the knowledge that his publisher would reward his hard work. Weblogs aside, how many professional writers would work as hard as a good book demands unless they knew that there would be some reward? I look on the net and I see quite a few professional writers with blogs—but it seems like less than one percent of the total. Abbie Hoffman may have written 'Steal This Book,' but I bet he got paid in advance. I love to see my work in print or on the Web. But I also love getting paid for it. So, link to this, quote from it, copy and paste sections of it... but remember that this is mine.

posted by Thomas at 1:47 PM