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NYT: United States is not the Land of Opportunity

Today's New York Times editorial:
When questioned about the enormous income inequality in the United States, the cheerleaders of America’s unfettered markets counter that everybody has a shot at becoming rich here. The distribution of income might be skewed, but America’s economic mobility is second to none. That image is wrong. (...)
Recent research surveyed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a governmental think tank for the rich nations, found that mobility in the United States is lower than in other industrial countries. One study found that mobility between generations — people doing better or worse than their parents — is weaker in America than in Denmark, Austria, Norway, Finland, Canada, Sweden, Germany, Spain and France. In America, there is more than a 40 percent chance that if a father is in the bottom fifth of the earnings’ distribution, his son will end up there, too. In Denmark, the equivalent odds are under 25 percent, and they are less than 30 percent in Britain.

Afghan Narco-Trafficking: Europe is Financing the Taliban

Robert I. Rotberg with Harvard's Kennedy School of Government writes in The Boston Globe about "Losing the war in Afghanistan:"
THE UNITED States and NATO are about to lose the war in Afghanistan to an insurgent, revived Taliban. Deprived of sufficient firepower and soldiers, Allied forces are failing to hunt down and contain the Taliban, especially in the southern part of the country. Moreover, the crucial battle for Pashtun hearts and minds is also about to be lost. Only the rapid provision of security, roads, electricity, and educational and health services can counter the appeal of the renewed and reinvigorated Taliban. Urgently required are more troops for security and more funds for rebuilding essential services.
The op-ed focuses on the drug problem:
Narco-trafficking is fueling the Taliban, and fat profits from poppies and opium are partially responsible for the militants' resurgence. Indeed, Afghanistan is supplying about 90 percent of the world's opium and nearly all of the heroin that ends up in Europe. A recent study by the UN Office for Drugs and Crime forecasts a record crop of poppies this year, on top of last year's bumper harvest. To undercut the ability of the Taliban to purchase arms, pay soldiers, and buy the support of villagers, the United States and NATO need to break the back of the drug trade in and out of Afghanistan. However, reliance on eradication -- the current weapon of choice -- is foolish and wasteful. Uprooting crops and spraying have both had limited local effect. What is needed is a radically new, incentive-based method to provide better incomes to farmers from substitute crops.
Personal comment: So, basically, Europe is financing the Taliban, if the above mentioned numbers are correct. A few months ago, I read some criticism about these statistics, but I don't think it matters much if 90% or "just" 60% of Afghanistan's opium end up in Europe. It is a disgrace that our drug addicts finance criminals, insurgents, terrorists etc.
The "war on drugs" is not very effective, but is doing a lot of harm. A recent example: "Austrian sniper rifles that were exported to Iran have been discovered in the hands of Iraqi terrorists, The Daily Telegraph has learned. More than 100 of the.50 calibre weapons, capable of penetrating body armour, have been discovered by American troops during raids. The guns were part of a shipment of 800 rifles that the Austrian company, Steyr-Mannlicher, exported legally to Iran last year."
Iran has a big drug problem as well. Iranian drug addicts finance the Taliban and others involved in narco-trafficking as well.

Legalizing drugs in Europe would cut the huge profits the Taliban and other middle men make. Adult drug consumers could take their drugs under supervision in European hospitals, who would buy opium and heroin from some small Afghan coops, i.e. providing an income for them. All the money wasted in the "war on drugs" could be used to tell every European once a week that drugs are bad. If they don't listen, it is their problem. I don't mind if people are stupid and ruin their health by taking drugs; that's freedom of choice. I just don't want Europeans to finance militants in Afghanistan and elsewhere, because that causes international problems and makes Europe less secure.
Alcohol is causing big problems in European societies as well, but it is still legal. A few days ago, a sixteen years old Berliner died after drinking dozens of Tequilas in one of the popular "flatrate" parties.
What do you think? Am I underestimating the risks and overestimating the benefits of the legalization of drugs?

UPDATE: Our reader Axel brought us this interesting story in Spiegel International:
Governments in Berlin, Paris and Rome, along with NATO leadership are discussing a potentially explosive new idea: the legalization of Afghanistan's opium production. The plan envisages farmers being able to sell their poppies to officially licensed buyers for the same price they currently get from the drug barons. The product could then be sold to the pharmaceutical industry for pain medication and other products.

Germany's Small Freedoms

Writing for German Joys, Ed Philp looks at initiatives against "small freedoms" in Germany, i.e. against the relatively liberal attitudes towards smoking, maximum speed limits on the autobahn, the age of legal beer and wine consumption, and the sale of violent video games.
Ed wonders "how is Germany ever going to convince North American exchange students to spend a year over here without dangling the lure of legal access to liquor in front of them?" Ed appreciates that he can still drink a beer in public and that he could watch some second-rate prime-time nudity on TV, if he wanted to: "Even if these particular aspects don’t interest me, that level of liberalism toward social freedoms does."
According to Ed, "Germany’s small freedoms seem to counterbalance limitations to ‘big’ freedoms, in contrast to the United States, which takes the opposite approach." Unfortunately, he does not elaborate, but in the comments section of German Joys he mentions home schooling as an example of "big freedom."
Dialog International writes that "US Evangelicals Demand German Home Schooling." And even the State Department's report on "Human Rights Practices in Germany" points out:
The legal obligation that children attend a school, confirmed by the Constitutional Court in May and the European Court of Justice in October, and the related bar on home schooling, was a problem for some groups. Generally, state authorities have permitted such groups to establish charter‑type schools.
Two interesting comments at Dialog International: Potsdam Amerikanerin links to a study in International Review of Education, which points out that "Home education is permitted in some form or other in all the European countries studied except Germany." And Little Andy (blog) wonders if the home schooling supporters would continue to criticize Germany, if Muslim fundamentalist parents would make use of a legalization of home schooling.

Elite Schools seen as "Bastions of Privilege" rather than "Engines of Social Justice"

The Economist's columnist Lexington highly recommends a new book about an old problem: "The Price of Admission: How America's Ruling Class Buys Its Way into Elite Colleges—and Who Gets Left Outside the Gates" by Daniel Golden (,
Mr Golden shows that elite universities do everything in their power to admit the children of privilege. If they cannot get them in through the front door by relaxing their standards, then they smuggle them in through the back. No less than 60% of the places in elite universities are given to candidates who have some sort of extra “hook”, from rich or alumni parents to "sporting prowess". The number of whites who benefit from this affirmative action is far greater than the number of blacks. (...)
Social inequality is rising at a time when the escalators of social mobility are slowing (America has lower levels of social mobility than most European countries). The returns on higher education are rising: the median earnings in 2000 of Americans with a bachelor's degree or higher were about double those of high-school leavers. But elite universities are becoming more socially exclusive. (...)
Two groups of people overwhelmingly bear the burden of these policies -- Asian-Americans and poor whites.
The above quote -- including the comparison with Europe on social mobility in the brackets -- is from the review in the respected British The Economist. (HT: Don)
Daniel Golden was awarded the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for his "series of stories that exposed huge college admissions advantages enjoyed by some privileged white students", available for free at the Wall Street Journal.

Check out the response from Mad Minerva, an Asian-American grad student.

O'Connor warns of attacks on constitutional freedom

MSNBC's Keith Olbermann provides remarkable quotes from an underreported speech by Sandra Day O'Connor, who was nominated to the Supreme Court Justice by President Reagan and retired recently:
It takes a lot of degeneration before a country falls into dictatorship, but we should avoid these ends by avoiding these beginnings. [...] Attacks on the judiciary by some Republican leaders pose a direct threat to our constitutional freedoms.  I am against judicial reforms driven by nakedly partisan reasoning.  We must be ever-vigilant against those who would strong-arm the judiciary into adopting their preferred policies.
Those last remarks appear to refer specifically to the former House minority leader, Tom DeLay, Olbermann opines:
O‘Connor did not mention his name, but quoted his attacks on judges at meetings last year of Justice Sunday, the conservative Christian group to which DeLay vented after the Terri Schiavo rulings.
While the blogging world reacted swiftly to the remark, "why didn't the U.S. press react more strongly to her comments?", asks Slate, an online journal of the Washington Post/Newsweek group.  Slate then goes on not only to answer this question but also to give some background information as well as former expressions of concern about judicial independence by the former judge famous for swing votes at the Supreme Court.
Criticism of O'Connor from Blogs for Terri, Conservative Outpost and Brad DeLong.
In support: BrandNewBag and Shining Light.

Update: AP reports about alleged death threats against O'Connor and Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg and Ann Coulter's "joke" about poising Justice Stevens. Hat tip: Moderate Voice.

Comparing the United States and Germany

In August, the Atlantic Review linked to a US Fulbrighter's list The Best of Both Worlds: What Germany and the United States could learn from each other. Since these comparisions are very popular on both sites of the Atlantic, here is now an interesting and very detailed Comparision of Germany and the United States from Axel Boldt, a German college teacher with a Ph.D. in Math from the University of California, who has been living in the US since 1992.

He compares the US and Germany in regard to these topics: Democracy, Freedom, Nationalism, Technology, Television and the Media, Bureaucracy, Communism and Socialism, Unions, The World of Work, Legal System, Privacy and Access to Information, Educational System, Health, Mobility, Diversity, Discrimination, The Rich, Canada and the Netherlands, Environmental Sensitivity, Charity, Mentalities, Violence and Aggression, Influence of Religion, Selective enforcement of laws, Dress Code, and Annoying Customs.

He points out: "Since I started this page several years ago, I repeatedly noticed that the differences between America and Germany are getting smaller, a result of Germany moving in America's direction." His comments software does not work properly, so please, leave any comment, you might have, here. Click on "Comments" below.

Bill Clinton and Senator Fulbright on arrogance and freedom

In his autobiography My Life, Bill Clinton wrote about Senator Fulbrights's book "The Arrogance of Power" (1966) ( (Deutsches

Fulbright's essential argument was that great nations get into trouble and can go into long-term decline when they are "arrogant" in the use of their power, trying to do things they shouldn't do in places they shouldn't be. He was suspicious of any foreign policy rooted in missionary zeal, which he felt would cause us to drift into commitments "which though generous and benevolent in content, are so far reaching as to exceed even America's great capacitities." He also thought that when we brought our power to bear in the service of an abstract concept, like anti-communism, without understanding local history, culture, and politics we could do more harm than good.

Joe Kristensen, president of the Fulbright Alumni e.V., has compiled several quotes from The Arrogance of Power. One of them is:

Freedom of thought and discussion gives a democracy two concrete advantages over a dictatorship in the making of foreign policy: it diminishes the danger of an irretrievable mistake and it introduces ideas and opportunities that otherwise would not come to light. (...) In addition to its usefulness of redeeming error and introducing new ideas, free and open criticism has a third, more abstract but no less important function in a democracy: it is therapy and catharsis for those who are troubled by something their country is doing; it helps to reassert traditional values, to clear the air when it is full of tension and mistrust. There are times in public life as in private life when one must protest, note solely of even primarily because ones's protest will be politic or materilally productive, but because one's sense of decency is offended, because one is fed up with political craft and public images, or simply because something goes against the grain.

Joe has recommended this book and provided more quotes in the October 2003 issue of the Atlantic Review.

The US-Saudi relationship: Oil supply at the expense of US security and moral values

(11/04/05: Update at the end of the post)

Europe and the US seem to be addicted to oil and unable to pursue their security interests and moral values in regard to Saudi Arabia. US government reports indicate Saudi support for terrorism and the lack of counter-terrorism coopertation. The State Department determined the non-existence of religous freedom in Saudi Arabia and the non-compliance with the minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking. While countries without any oil were sanctioned for these violations, the Bush administration spared Saudi Arabia. And the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee canceled unexpectedly a hearing on Saudi incitement in U.S. mosques.

Now in more detail:
Continue reading "The US-Saudi relationship: Oil supply at the expense of US security and moral values"