Regime Transformation in Azerbaijan?

Secret Agent: Rumsfeld Sneaks Off to Baku,” by Harkavy, Village Voice, 15 April 2005, (from Democratic Underground).

The sourcing is questionable and the commentary is laughable, but it’s still interesting…

Crude crossroads: Azerbaijan is not only a major oil producer and port but also sits in a strategic and volatile place on the Caspian, bordered not only by its bitter enemy Armenia but also by Russia, Iran, and Georgia.

HARDLY ANY COUNTRY on the planet sits in a more crucial spot than the harsh dictatorship of Azerbaijan, so that’s probably why Don Rumsfeld sneaked off to its rowdy capital, Baku, earlier this week.

Do you hear the neocons beating the oil drums of war?

Rumsfeld’s visit this week to Iraq generated some smoke, especially his laughable warnings to the Iraqis about “government corruption.”

But then, like the mysterious Mr. Arkadin, Rumsfeld left Iraq, flew to Baku for meetings, spent the night, and then sneaked out the next day—with no announcements from the Pentagon and (as a result) no notice from the U.S. press.

Roughly, U.S. policy toward a regime can be in one of four categories: improvement, maintenance, transformation, and revolution (“regme change”). Azerbaijan naturally falls into the transformation category: it’s a dysfunctional regime we wish to make better.

Of course, there are natural security concerns, like Azerbaijan’s opposition to Iran’s satellite Armenia. But geopolitically Baku is closer to Moscow than Tehran. Russia is not a future pillar of Asian security – it can never be strong and integrated enough to carry the load.

Connecting Azerbaijan to the outside world, and preventing a premature connection with Moscow, is important to the security of Asia, America, and the world.

Graduate Assistantship Benefits

Liberal Wolverines,” by Jonah Goldberg, The Corner, 14 April 2005,

As a former grad student at USD, and a future one at UNL, this caught my eyes

Here at the University of Michigan, the graduate students have been unionized since the mid 1970s–whereas the Columbia and Yale grads are just getting around to it.

Earlier this month, the Graduate Student Instructors (GSIs) staged a one-day walkout in their contract negotiations with the University. They wanted their roughly $14,000 stipend (which comes with a tuition waiver) increased to a “living wage” of $22,000 per school year. Not to mention that they wanted to be able to list any individual of their choosing as a beneficiary of their health care plan. They also demanded that the University include in health coverage payment for transgendered students’ care–psychological therapy, hormone therapy, and sex-change operations.

While throwing in free, attractive girls would be a great perk of grad assisting, turning grad students into girls… maybe not.

That’s the worst solution to an unfavorable guy-gal ratio, ever. Ever.

Glad I’m on Cellular One

Verizon CEO sounds off on Wi-Fi, customer gripes,” by Todd Wallack, San Francisco Chronicle, 16 April 2005, (from Slashdot).

At least my cell phone provider doesn’t make comments like this

The head of the country’s largest phone company ridiculed San Francisco’s interest in building a municipal Wi-Fi network that is designed to offer cheap or free Internet service throughout the city.

“That could be one of the dumbest ideas I’ve ever heard,” said Ivan Seidenberg, chief executive officer of Verizon Communications, during a meeting with Chronicle editors and writers on Friday. “It sounds like a good thing, but the trouble is someone will have to design it, someone will have to upgrade it, someone will have to maintain it and someone will have to run it.”

Seidenberg, for instance, said people often complain about mobile phone service because they have unrealistic expectations about a wireless service working everywhere. Verizon Wireless, a joint venture of Verizon and Vodafone, is the state’s largest mobile phone provider.

“Why in the world would you think your (cell) phone would work in your house?” he said. “The customer has come to expect so much. They want it to work in the elevator; they want it to work in the basement.”


Equally Poor or Unequally Wealthy

Yesterday…,” by John Edwards, One America Committee, 15 April 2005, (from direct email).

Senator John Edwards echoes some words Aaron made to me in an online conversation Thursday

This is the time to stand up for the great American value: work. This is the time to say that a stockbroker should never pay a lower tax rate on wealth than a secretary pays on work. This is the time to say that the wealthy and powerful shouldn’t have access to special shelters and loopholes that regular people can’t use. And this is the time to say that we want a tax code that rewards everyone’s work to build everyone’s wealth.

We must take away the biggest shelter in the current tax code: the fact that the very wealthiest are able to shelter capital gains and dividends from the Alternative Minimum Tax. The very purpose of the AMT is to make sure the very wealthy pay their fair share and leave the middle class alone. But thanks to this administration, the AMT is doing exactly the opposite. It is increasingly hitting middle class families all over the country. President Bush likes to talk about himself as a tax-cutter, but the truth is that the AMT is a big tax-raiser on many middle-class families.

At the same time, the AMT is not taxing many of the multimillionaires it was meant to tax. Why? Because the wealthy have the sweetest shelter in the business: their capital gains and dividends get special breaks from the regular rate in the AMT.

(I’m assuming when he Edwards says “wealth” he means “earned income and unearned income.” John is too smart to support a wealth tax.)

The wealthy make disproportionately more unearned income – income from investments – than the poor. The more money you make and have, the more you can invest. Therefore not taxing unearned income at the same rate as earned income (money made working) unfairly benefits the rich.

At the same time, investment is the engine of economic growth. Spent money does not add to economic growth — it just goes from one man’s pocket to anothers. But invested money is much better. It is still spent, but spent on something that will increase production (new bridges, new factories, new universities). Therefore, taxing unearned income at all hurts everyone — everyone is a little more worse off.

Do we want to be equally poor or unequally wealthy? Edwards leans towards the former, so that the poverty burden is shared more equally. I would rather everyone be wealthy.