Thursday, November 30, 2006

Hateful Words -- and Signs of Hope

By Richard Cohen

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

I'd like to say a good word about Michael Richards. And before you jump to any conclusions, Mel Gibson, too. As long as I'm at it, why not throw in Sen. George Allen? I'm sure I've overlooked others who have recently waxed bigotedly, but these three will do. This is what I have to say: Thank you.

I say this not because I approve of what they've said but because their remarks have been so roundly condemned that I can see the responses only as signs of remarkable progress. This is particularly the case since the statements exist solely in the ether, largely disconnected from the actual harmful deeds that have often followed such words. In these cases, we have moved past ugly behavior to ugly words. We consider them deed enough.

Let's start with Gibson. In July, he was stopped by a traffic cop and ticketed for driving drunk. As if to prove the allegation, he berated the officer with a mouthful of anti-Semitic venom that, when it surfaced -- as all things do -- on the Internet, shocked much of Hollywood, not to mention the rest of the known world. This was not my reaction, since I had already written that Gibson's film "The Passion of the Christ" oozed anti-Semitism. Surprised I was not.

Nonetheless, after Gibson's arrest, a funny thing happened: nothing. In a town where Jews are numerous (Los Angeles), in a business where Jews are both numerous and prominent (entertainment), and in an industry where pettiness, jealousy and score-settling thrive in the insistent sunshine, no one accused Gibson of even a single other anti-Semitic incident. He had not said anything, fired or promoted anyone, refused to do business with someone, or done anything with or to anyone based on ethnicity. In other words, his drunken outburst does not seem related to his day-to-day behavior.

The same applies to Allen. He's no liberal, but he is a long way from the stereotype of the Southern senator of old. As a younger man, he could be racially insensitive, even offensive -- Confederate flag in his home and all of that -- but particularly as the most recent election loomed, Allen scurried to get with the program. Even before he called someone "macaca," single-handedly introducing a whole new racial epithet into an American lexicon already rich with them, he had co-sponsored the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act and appeared with Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a hero of the civil rights movement, to express remorse for slavery. This is odd behavior indeed for a bigot.

Now we get to Richards. The appalling heat of his outburst was taped and shown over and over again on TV. Just on that score, his rant has a power the others lack. And he used the "N-word," as it is ridiculously called, an epithet without peer in American history as a prelude to violence or, in the mouths of some blacks, a hearty sign of comradeship.

In Richards's mouth, the word was clearly no variation on hello. But here, too, the words seem uncoupled from any action. If he is a racist -- and I will not argue with those who insist he is -- he is a distinctly lethargic one. As for his audience, once upon a time it might have stood up and cheered as he insulted the heckler. Instead some people walked out, others booed and Richards himself has been banned from the club.

This is the case now with all such remarks. They are like the phantom pain an amputee feels in a missing limb. They trigger an almost vestigial fear that something awful will follow, or that the remark, often uttered in anger or while drunk, is a clue to what society really feels. But what follows is not an outpouring of support. Instead there is a roar of universal condemnation -- either an expression of national abhorrence or, if you insist, a chorus of hypocrisy. Either way, the effect is the same. We will simply not put up with raw bigotry.

It is odd, I know, to see these remarks as signs of progress, but that's what they are. All of them were followed by a sharp societal rebuke and serial regurgitations of apology, sorrow, shame -- a groveling to a (self-appointed) higher authority (Rabbi Marvin Hier, Abe Foxman, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the Rev. Al Sharpton) who can issue a Get Out of Jail card so that lives can be resumed. We have come so far that it is not the vilified group that's hurt by the insult but the person making it. Richards fights for his professional life, Gibson licks his wounds, Allen lost the election -- and a durable cliche is stood on its head: In America, injury gets added to insult.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Dial Joe-4-Chávez

WSJ - November 28, 2006

Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chávez is an ally of the Iranian mullahs, a supporter of North Korea, a close friend of Fidel Castro and a good customer for Vladimir Putin's weapon factories. Now he's also a business partner of Joseph P. Kennedy II.

The former Democratic Congressman describes the deal he's cooked up with Mr. Chávez as charity for low-income consumers of heating oil. But it's worth asking what the price of this largesse is to Venezuelans and to U.S. security interests.

The arrangement is this: Mr. Chávez's Citgo -- a Houston-based oil company owned by the Venezuelan government -- is supplying home heating oil to Mr. Kennedy's Citizens Energy Corporation at a 40% discount. Citizens, a nonprofit outfit, says it passes the savings onto the poor, aiming to help 400,000 homes in 16 states that would otherwise have trouble heating their homes. In the process, Mr. Kennedy happens to get a high-profile publicity plug. If you think you qualify, says the television ad that drew our attention to this partnership, just dial 1-877-Joe-4-Oil.

Generous Joe is not the only one polishing his public image here. In the mold of the Castro strategy of sending armies of "doctors" and "teachers" among the Latin American poor, Mr. Chávez is trying to shape U.S. public opinion in the hope that more gringos will come to see the Chávez government as benevolent.

Massachusetts Democrats seem especially eager to help. In a September 29, 2005, "confidential memorandum" addressed to "President Hugo Chávez" and uncovered by a Congressional committee, William Delahunt (D., Mass.) gushed that it was a "pleasure" to have met with the strongman "to discuss your generous offer." The Democrat advised Mr. Chávez to steer his oil through Mr. Kennedy's nonprofit and declared that "from a public relations perspective" the discount oil scheme "is an extraordinary opportunity to address urgent needs of people living in poverty, while showcasing the compassion of your nation."

Compassion? If fighting poverty is the goal, Mr. Delahunt would do better to remind Mr. Chávez that charity begins at home. The U.S. is far richer than Venezuela and since Hurricane Hugo took power in 1999 Venezuelan living standards have suffered despite soaring oil prices. Annual inflation averaged more than 20% between 2001 and 2005, imposing a tax on the poorest. Meanwhile, an insecure investment climate has taken a harsh toll on private-sector employment and shrunk the middle class.

In his eight years in power, Mr. Kennedy's business partner has also polarized Venezuela with his class warfare, rewritten the constitution, politicized the judiciary, the electoral council and military, and announced he plans to rule until 2021. Freedom House now ranks Venezuela 34th out of 35 countries in the Western Hemisphere in press freedom. Only the Cuban press is more repressed.

Transparency International puts Venezuela second to last in the Hemisphere in its 2006 "corruption perception index." And then there was that revealing rant against President Bush ("the devil") at the United Nations in September. Even Mr. Delahunt criticized his Venezuelan buddy after that one.

But Mr. Kennedy keeps on trucking. Last week in a telephone interview with the Washington Post, he defended his Chávez subsidy deal as "morally righteous," arguing that the Citgo contribution to his nonprofit is only "one-half of one percent" of Citgo oil and product sales in the U.S.

We dialed Joe-4-Oil ourselves to ask directly whether it is also "righteous" to assist an anti-American tyrant at the expense of the Venezuelan people. In between berating our reporter for daring to ask such a thing, Mr. Kennedy said that Mr. Chávez has done "so much more" for the poor than any previous government. As for democracy, he said there was "ample room for improvement in the ways that people get elected in Venezuela as well as in Florida." Mr. Chávez chose his partner well.

Cuban Rock Climbers Inspired by Foreigners Irk Castro Regime Youths Are Asked for Permits
And Visited by Officials; No Fraternizing Allowed

November 28, 2006

VIÑALES, Cuba -- Seventy feet up a sheer limestone cliff known as La Cuchillita, or Little Blade, 17-year-old Roylandi González held onto a ledge by his fingertips. Then he glanced down to check the harness around his waist, grabbed hold of the rope that was tethered above him and started shimmying downward.

Over the past several years, adventurous Cuban youths like Mr. González, schooled by an influx of foreign rock climbers, have turned this western town into an extreme-sport mecca. Climbers test their mettle on dramatic crags, barely touched by man, which soar above a green valley designated as a United Nations World Heritage Site.

But climbers who have conquered Viñales's jagged peaks and imposing walls are now bumping up against a more formidable obstacle: the Communist political system. As Mr. González touched earth and removed his hard hat, he cast a wary eye for park rangers and police. "They threaten us and chase us off the hills," he said. "There's something about rock climbing that really seems to worry our government."

As Cubans begin contemplating life after Fidel Castro, rock climbing has emerged as an improbable political battleground between the government and young Cubans eager to embrace the latest foreign fashions. In 2003, amid a broad crackdown on civil liberties and fraternizing between tourists and Cubans, the government announced that rock climbers henceforth would be required to obtain a special permit. But the government has never granted the required permit to the many climbers who have requested one. Many Cubans and foreigners have continued climbing.

Adrián Pérez Martínez, a 20-year-old art teacher with a joker tattooed on his shoulder, says that police showed up at his house recently to warn him against climbing, especially with foreigners. "Good Cubans don't do this," he says they told him. "Climbers use drugs. And you shouldn't take foreigners to militarily significant areas." Indeed, some caves in the climbing area are designated as civil-defense sites in the event of a U.S. invasion.

Some of the official anxiety over climbing seems to be based on Cuba's revolutionary history. The revolution that brought Mr. Castro to power in 1959 was launched from a clandestine encampment in the Sierra Maestra Mountains on the eastern end of the island. Mr. Castro became intimately familiar with Cuba's highest mountain, 6,500-foot Pico Turquino. "The Revolution was the work of climbers and cavers," Mr. Castro once said, according to a history by Antonio Nuñez Jimenéz, a prominent revolutionary leader and naturalist.

Now the Cuban government may be worried that history will repeat itself. "The system is paranoid about Cubans' private activities, but especially when those activities are occurring in hills away from sight and when foreigners are involved," says Vitalio Echazabal, one of the first Cubans to take up rock climbing in the 1990s. "The authorities would ask, 'Are they spies? What are they plotting up there?' " Mr. Echazabal got so fed up that he defected to Spain during a climbing expedition in 2001, one of three Cuban climbers who have escaped the island during international sporting events. About a half-dozen other Cuban climbers got off the island after marrying foreigners they met on the hills.

The exodus of climbers has only served to intensify official suspicion of the sport. "Climbers are very independent people, and the Cuban government has a real hard time with anything it cannot control -- even a form of recreation," says Armando Menocal, a 65-year-old Wyoming lawyer who is the leading international proponent of Cuban climbing. Mr. Menocal, who runs the Cubaclimbing.com1 Web site, has been caught in the climbing backlash himself.

Beginning in the late 1990s, Mr. Menocal, who has family ties to Cuba, started training Cuban climbers, mapping local routes and importing donated equipment. But after having made about 15 climbing trips to Cuba over the past eight years, Mr. Menocal has been turned back by immigration officers at the Havana airport the last two times he tried to get into the country, most recently earlier this month. The authorities, he says, offered no explanation.

The 100 or so climbers remaining in Cuba would certainly welcome his return. Without official funding, Cuban climbers rely on equipment sent by Mr. Menocal or donated by tourists. José Luis Fuentes, a 20-year-old climber, says his shoes were given to him by an Italian, his rope by a Canadian and his harness by an American. "You speak a common language with other climbers no matter where they come from," he says.

He isn't sure it's a language Cuba's leaders could understand. "Older people just think we're a bunch of crazy kids," says Mr. Fuentes.

Climbing has attracted a special breed of Cuban youth since Mr. Menocal and some American friends used a slide show to recruit a core group of about half a dozen Cuban climbers in 1999. One Cuban went AWOL from his military unit to go on an outing with Mr. Menocal, subsequently earning two weeks in the brig.

Official eyes were watching. "The Cubans were always being persecuted because it was not looked upon favorably to socialize with foreigners," says Craig Luebben, a rock-climbing guide and journalist from Colorado who has made several trips to Cuba. As the pressure increased, the Cubans and their American climbing partners would avoid appearing together publicly, arranging separate transportation to a rendezvous at the secluded climbing site, Mr. Luebben says.

Climbers say official government climbing policy has been inconsistent. A few years ago, Hollywood, a cigarette brand partly owned by the government, launched an ad campaign featuring a Cuban climber. Yet at around the same time, Mr. Menocal on trips to Cuba was called before two different government authorities and told climbing wasn't permitted.

The inconsistencies continue today. On a recent day at the park visitors center near the Viñales climbing site, there were large posters of climbers in action. Nevertheless, the park ranger on duty insisted that climbing without a permit wasn't allowed under the 2003 law. "It's not something one should even consider," he said, though he had no idea how one might go about getting a permit.

The climbers are regrouping under the leadership of Alexei Suárez, a medical worker who sometimes reaches his second-story Havana apartment by scaling the wall. He has been talking with government officials, trying to better climbing's image, and he says the Cuban sports ministry has been very supportive. "We are loyal Cubans who want to make Cuba famous for climbing champions," Mr. Suárez says.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

What Was Going On
The turbulent birth of one of the greatest R&B

November 25, 2006

Marvin Gaye's 1971 album, "What's Going On," is almost universally acclaimed as the greatest R&B recording of all time, yet the music nearly didn't get recorded. The months that preceded its release were marked by a bitter standoff between Gaye and Berry Gordy, the president of Motown Records. Mr. Gordy considered the music some of the worst he had ever heard and refused to release it; Gaye thought the music was indicative of his new direction. Gaye prevailed, and this recording has influenced nearly all soul music since its release.

During the '60s, Gaye was known as a prince of Motown. The label churned out one hit after another, and Gaye's unique voice, both gritty and suave, was at the forefront of many of them. His duets with Tammi Terrell had made them national sweethearts, and Gaye's rendition of "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," released in 1970, became the label's all-time best seller. However, Gaye entered the '70s at an emotional low. Ms. Terrell had collapsed in his arms during a performance in 1967 and subsequently died of a brain tumor. Also, he had been battling with Mr. Gordy for more artistic control of his music. Gaye wanted to produce his recordings and push his sound into more experimental vistas incorporating jazz influences. Mr. Gordy felt that his top singer shouldn't tamper with a successful formula.

The song "What's Going On" was written by Obie Benson, a member of the Four Tops, and he didn't consider the tenor of the song, a tract about the disintegration of the social fabric in the black community, appropriate for the Tops. He shopped it around, even taking it to Joan Baez, but found no takers until Gaye read the lyrics. To Gaye, the song reflected the feelings of his brother, Frankie, who had just returned from Vietnam and was astonished by the turmoil that engulfed America.

The singer organized an unusually large session to record the song. He went beyond the usual stable of Motown musicians to add drummers and saxophonists from Detroit's jazz scene. He also recorded street sounds for part of the introduction. The result was a far more ruminative song than the usual Motown fare. Rather than a ditty about love or loss, this was a sober and sobering look at the state of black America.

After Mr. Gordy's objections, the singer went on a work stoppage. He knew that the label needed more work from him and that if there was nothing else to choose from, "What's Going On" would eventually be released. Mr. Gordy held his ground, though he was spending most of his time away from the label's home base in Detroit tending to his budding career as a film producer. But Gaye had allies among Motown executives who felt "What's Going On" would be a hit; recording artist Stevie Wonder -- who was fighting a parallel battle for artistic control -- endorsed the track.

The weeks stretched into months. Gaye announced that he was going to abandon music for pro football. Even though he was 31 years old at the time, he began working out with trainers for the Detroit Lions.

Finally, in January 1971, the single was released. Mr. Gordy was in Los Angeles at the time and unaware of the decision. The recording went straight to the top of radio playlists and sold more than 100,000 copies in its first week. Mr. Gordy changed his tune. In the past, many hits were released as albums with filler from the vaults backing up the well-known song. He knew that wouldn't work for a track with such a different sound. However, Gaye was a notoriously slow worker and the label wanted to capitalize on the momentum. So Mr. Gordy offered complete control of the project to Gaye as long as the singer could turn in a finished recording in 30 days. To seal the deal, Mr. Gordy bet Gaye a large -- and still unknown -- amount of money that he couldn't do it.

A furious series of marathon sessions ensued as Gaye and his collaborators created a song cycle that built on the innovations of their hit single. The orchestral sweep and unusual harmonies from the background vocalists were stretched over a full recording. Gaye employed scratchy rhythm guitar that Isaac Hayes had made famous and added early rhythm-and-blues saxophone licks. He also wrote two songs -- "Mercy Mercy Me (The Environment)" and "Inner City Blues (Makes Me Wanna Holler)" -- that were the equal of "What's Going On." They delivered the album just ahead of the deadline.

The album duplicated the success of its lead single, launching an era in which R&B artists began to choose their sonic palette from a wider range of colors and styles. The lyrics are often cited as an influence on the angry, politically oriented songs that became popular in the early '70s, but Gaye's opus is not a stinging rebuke. "What's Going On" is a deeply humanist work that acknowledges the desolation and turmoil but calls for a marshaling of human strengths to build a better tomorrow. That optimism amid grim circumstances is what has made the recording a timeless work.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Immigrant Entrepreneurs

November 24, 2006

Everyone knows that Intel, Yahoo, Google, eBay and Sun Microsystems are wildly successful U.S. technology companies. Less well known is that immigrant entrepreneurs played a role in founding each one -- and a whole lot of others.

After an election season that featured an unfortunate amount of anti-immigration posturing, a new study from the National Venture Capital Association is a welcome reminder that foreign workers make their fair share of important contributions to our economy.

Titled "American Made: The Impact of Immigrant Entrepreneurs and Professionals on U.S. Competitiveness," the report found that "Over the past 15 years, immigrants have started 25 percent of U.S. public companies that were venture-backed." These businesses employ some 220,000 people in the U.S. and have a current market capitalization that "exceeds $500 billion, adding significant value to the American economy."

The authors surveyed smaller, private venture-backed companies as well and discovered that nearly half of the founders also were immigrants. Protectionists insist that immigrants "steal" jobs from native workers, but this survey found evidence that these newcomers are more likely to expand the job pool. "[A]lmost two-thirds (66 percent) of the immigrant founders of privately held venture-backed companies have started or intend to start more companies in the United States," according to the report.

Despite these contributions, and the potential for more, U.S. policies today have made it increasingly difficult for foreigners to come here and start businesses. H-1b visas, which go to skilled workers, are capped and tend to reflect not market demand but the political mood of Congress. And of late, lawmakers have been content to raise immigration fears instead of adjusting U.S. policy to fix the problem.

The U.S. currently grants just 65,000 visas annually to foreign professionals in certain fields, such as computer science and biotechnology. This year, as in nine of the past 11, the cap was reached well before the beginning of the fiscal year in which the visas can be used. Earlier this year, Republican Congressman John Shadegg of Arizona introduced a measure that raises the limit and allows it to fluctuate with market demand. The Shadegg bill also would shorten the average wait for a green card, which is currently between five and seven years and a disincentive for these skilled workers to stay in the U.S.

It's unfortunate that so many of Mr. Shadegg's GOP colleagues were more interested in using the immigration issue to help demagogue their way into the minority. They'd have been better off embracing immigration as a major source of American economic vitality.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

And the Fair Land

November 22, 2006

Any one whose labors take him into the far reaches of the country, as ours lately have done, is bound to mark how the years have made the land grow fruitful.

This is indeed a big country, a rich country, in a way no array of figures can measure and so in a way past belief of those who have not seen it. Even those who journey through its Northeastern complex, into the Southern lands, across the central plains and to its Western slopes can only glimpse a measure of the bounty of America.

And a traveler cannot but be struck on his journey by the thought that this country, one day, can be even greater. America, though many know it not, is one of the great underdeveloped countries of the world; what it reaches for exceeds by far what it has grasped.

So the visitor returns thankful for much of what he has seen, and, in spite of everything, an optimist about what his country might be. Yet the visitor, if he is to make an honest report, must also note the air of unease that hangs everywhere.

For the traveler, as travelers have been always, is as much questioned as questioning. And for all the abundance he sees, he finds the questions put to him ask where men may repair for succor from the troubles that beset them.

His countrymen cannot forget the savage face of war. Too often they have been asked to fight in strange and distant places, for no clear purpose they could see and for no accomplishment they can measure. Their spirits are not quieted by the thought that the good and pleasant bounty that surrounds them can be destroyed in an instant by a single bomb. Yet they find no escape, for their survival and comfort now depend on unpredictable strangers in far-off corners of the globe.

How can they turn from melancholy when at home they see young arrayed against old, black against white, neighbor against neighbor, so that they stand in peril of social discord. Or not despair when they see that the cities and countryside are in need of repair, yet find themselves threatened by scarcities of the resources that sustain their way of life. Or when, in the face of these challenges, they turn for leadership to men in high places -- only to find those men as frail as any others.

So sometimes the traveler is asked whence will come their succor. What is to preserve their abundance, or even their civility? How can they pass on to their children a nation as strong and free as the one they inherited from their forefathers? How is their country to endure these cruel storms that beset it from without and from within?

Of course the stranger cannot quiet their spirits. For it is true that everywhere men turn their eyes today much of the world has a truly wild and savage hue. No man, if he be truthful, can say that the specter of war is banished. Nor can he say that when men or communities are put upon their own resources they are sure of solace; nor be sure that men of diverse kinds and diverse views can live peaceably together in a time of troubles.

But we can all remind ourselves that the richness of this country was not born in the resources of the earth, though they be plentiful, but in the men that took its measure. For that reminder is everywhere -- in the cities, towns, farms, roads, factories, homes, hospitals, schools that spread everywhere over that wilderness.

We can remind ourselves that for all our social discord we yet remain the longest enduring society of free men governing themselves without benefit of kings or dictators. Being so, we are the marvel and the mystery of the world, for that enduring liberty is no less a blessing than the abundance of the earth.

And we might remind ourselves also, that if those men setting out from Delftshaven had been daunted by the troubles they saw around them, then we could not this autumn be thankful for a fair land.

This editorial has appeared annually since 1961.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Going South
Populism Loses
Appeal for Voters
In Latin America

Venezuela's Chávez Aside,
Leftist Campaigns Flag;
Ecuador Is Latest Test
Craving Economic Stability
November 22, 2006; Page A1

QUITO, Ecuador -- The populist political tide that seemed to be sweeping through Latin America earlier this year is sputtering.

Although disappointment with free-market reforms still runs deep through the region, voters have been choosing presidential candidates who tap into a more powerful force: economic stability. Across Latin America, inflation has been on a steady decline for the past decade, and has dropped to the low single digits for the first time in decades in Mexico, Peru, Ecuador and Brazil. Economic growth, while far from spectacular, has been solid for the past five years.

With that stability, more working-class voters have been able to buy homes, take out loans and obtain their first credit cards. As voters get a stake in the economic system, they become wary of risking it all on populist nostrums -- debt repudiation, deficit spending, state ownership of industries -- that in the past produced economic disasters and left them worse off.

[H C]

This dynamic has played out in election after election across the volatile region this year, despite high-profile efforts by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez to fuel anti-U.S. sentiment. In February, Nobel Prize winner Oscar Arias won the presidency of Costa Rica against a candidate who wanted to scuttle a free-trade deal with the U.S. In June, onetime populist Alan García regained the presidency in Peru by embracing free trade and open markets -- and by playing off voter fears of Mr. Chávez's growing influence. In Mexico a month later, the populist former Mexico City mayor, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, lost after failing to find support among the working classes of fast-growing central and northern cities.

And while longtime socialist politicians won in Brazil and Chile, they did so by championing market-friendly policies. This month in Nicaragua, former Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega won the presidency, but even he positioned himself as a candidate of stability and reconciliation. He used John Lennon's "Give Peace a Chance" as a theme, not Vladimir Lenin's economics. The sole presidential candidate who looks likely to win this year on a platform of state intervention, income redistribution and anti-American foreign policy is Venezuela's President Chávez, who has billions of dollars in oil wealth to hand out to supporters.

"We haven't achieved [politically] what we thought was going to be achieved at the beginning of the year," says Efren Andrades, a former agriculture minister in Mr. Chávez's government, who now teaches at the University of the Andes in Mérida, Venezuela.

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The diminishing electoral appeal of candidates promising radical economic and political change is on display here in Ecuador, ahead of this Sunday's presidential election. Early this fall, Rafael Correa, a telegenic university professor, leapt ahead of his rivals by wrapping himself closely with Venezuela's Mr. Chávez and vowing to dissolve Congress, redo the constitution and renegotiate the foreign debt. During rallies, he snapped his belt to show how he planned to lash the country's rich into submission to help the poor.

But as voters grew wary of his showmanship, Mr. Correa retreated to the middle. In campaign stops, he now rarely mentions his plans to redesign the economy or rewrite the constitution. Instead, he focuses on issues that even his conservative opponent, banana magnate Alvaro Noboa, embraces, such as improving housing. After moderating his stance, Mr. Correa has regained his footing and is now in a virtual tie with his conservative rival. "Ecuador's economy isn't sustainable," says Mr. Correa. "I am talking about changes to create jobs [and] create productive industries."

Populism is far from dead. Latin America remains fertile territory for politicians who promise a heavy government hand and a retreat from market economics. That's because the benefits of recent economic growth have flowed disproportionately to elites, sustaining income inequality rivaled only by sub-Saharan Africa. Resentment simmers among the working class and poor.

Mexico's conservative president-elect, Felipe Calderón, who won by less than a percentage point, is likely to be dogged during his term by Mr. López Obrador, who claims the election was stolen and swore himself in on Monday as the "legitimate" president. In Argentina, President Nestor Kirchner, who slashed foreign debt payments, set price controls and spent heavily, is the early favorite to win a second term next year.

"Voters are opting for stability, but it would be a big mistake to interpret that as a ringing endorsement of politics as usual in Latin America," says Michael Shifter, vice president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington, D.C., think tank. "There is still a lot of frustration in the region."

Even so, the electoral failure of populists so far has been good news for foreign investors and businesses. U.S. companies such as Citigroup Inc. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. have poured billions of dollars into the region in the past decade on the expectation that economic stability and growing consumer wealth would expand local markets. U.S. officials can also breathe easier because Mr. Chávez hasn't managed to form a potent anti-U.S. economic and political bloc in Latin America.

There are also powerful constraints on governments seeking to govern as populists. In December, leftist Indian leader Evo Morales won Bolivia's presidential election and set about nationalizing the country's oil and gas industry. But the staunch Chávez ally hasn't been able to complete the nationalizations because the state lacks the managers and resources to run privately owned fields.

Ecuador, an oil-rich nation of 13 million, illustrates the rise and ebb of radical politics in Latin America this year. Even in a region known for instability, this Colorado-size country stands out. It has had seven presidents in the past 10 years, three of whom where exiled, jailed or both. In 1997, Abdalá Bucaram, who recorded a record album -- "The Madman Who Loves" -- during his presidency, was deposed by congress for "mental incapacity."

The economic situation has been equally volatile. A fierce rivalry between the Sierra mountain dwellers and residents of the muggy coast has made it difficult for the Quito government to work out necessary compromises that could limit government spending. Instead, the Central Bank printed more Ecuadorian sucres to pay for salary increases, public-works projects and repeated bank bailouts -- short-term fixes that boosted inflation. Between 1979 and 2000, the sucre plummeted from 25-to-the dollar to 25,000-to-the-dollar, wiping out savings and prompting the government to default on its debts twice.

[Nelson Rivadeneira]
John Lyons
Nelson Rivadeneira

As in all Latin American currency crises, the working and middle classes suffered especially sharp declines. In the mid-1990s, Nelson Rivadeneira, an auto-parts salesman in Quito, owned a home and two cars, and hoped that his son, who attended an inexpensive private school, would climb higher up the economic ladder.

Then the sucre plunged, interest rates soared, and he lost his job as the economy nosedived. Facing bankruptcy, he sold his cars. One went to pay his loans and the other to pay his son's tuition.

As the country's banks started to fail, Mr. Rivadeneira and thousands of other Ecuadorians lined up at teller windows to withdraw their savings. Burger Kings started selling Whoppers for dollars, setting their own exchange rates as the sucre lost about 65% of its value. A newspaper printed photos of financiers boarding planes to Miami. To stem a run, the government froze deposits and allowed banks to issue savers like Mr. Rivadeneira promissory notes. These proved to be worth less than their face value, since confidence in the banking system had vanished.

The economy hit bottom in 2000. Desperate to halt inflation, the Ecuador government dumped its own currency and adopted the U.S. dollar. Although many economists criticized the move because it limited the government's ability to manage the economy, the tactic succeeded in slashing inflation, which now runs about 3% annually -- Ecuador's lowest ever. Interest rates have plunged as well.

Over the past few years, consumers have benefited. Home builders are pouring money into projects in the working-class area south of Quito, where a shopping mall called El Recreo has doubled in size. The highway that climbs a mountain pass to connect the southern neighborhoods with jobs in the city center is crammed with traffic each dawn for the first time in memory.

Banks are handing out credit cards, spurring a consumption boom. Sales of television sets and major appliances are growing at a 35% annual clip at Comandato, one of Ecuador's biggest retailers. Spurred by financing, General Motors Corp.'s annual sales of cars and trucks in Ecuador have quadrupled to 87,000 since 2000.

Against this economic backdrop, Mr. Correa mounted his populist campaign. He played on his close ties to Venezuela's Mr. Chávez and on a nationalist backlash against a U.S. military base used to fight Colombian drug lords. Also a big theme: the growing wealth of the elites who escaped much of the hardship of the late 1990s economic crisis.

A 43-year-old economist, with a doctorate from the University of Illinois, Mr. Correa had considered a presidential run since his university days, his colleagues say. He burnished his populist credentials during a four-month stint last year as finance minister when he declared that half of the oil revenue the government set aside in a "rainy-day fund" for debt reduction could instead be spent now on welfare for the poor.

That prompted a fight with the World Bank, which said the move could undermine the country's creditworthiness, and pressured Ecuador to change course by retracting a Bank credit line. In response, Mr. Correa flew to Caracas to arrange $300 million of financing from Mr. Chávez. Wearying of the conflict, Ecuador's president fired Mr. Correa.

The battle, though, lifted Mr. Correa's profile and powered his presidential bid. When Mr. Chávez called U.S. President George Bush "Satan" during a speech to the United Nations in September, Mr. Correa said he considered the comment an insult to Satan.

But that turned out to be Mr. Correa's political high-water mark. His plans to renegotiate foreign debt payments encouraged foreign investors to sell Ecuador's bonds, creating fears of a return to crisis. His ties to Mr. Chávez created concern as Chávez-inspired policies in Bolivia spawned protests there as well as a fight with Brazil. His popularity took another hit when he hinted that he would ditch Ecuador's link to the U.S. dollar when he took office. Polls show most Ecuadorians view the greenback as the central pillar of the newfound stability.

Mr. Correa, who had written academic papers attacking dollarization, quickly tried to assure voters that he wouldn't tamper with the currency.

Mr. Correa's political problems became evident in the first round of voting in October, where he came in second after leading in most polls to the 56-year-old Mr. Noboa, regarded as Ecuador's richest man. Since neither candidate won a majority in the first round, they must face each other in Sunday's runoff.

In many ways, Mr. Noboa embodies the plutocracy that Mr. Correa likes to rail against. Mr. Noboa inherited his business empire from his father and consolidated his position after a nasty fight with his siblings. He has taken positions well to the right of Mr. Correa, including promising a free-trade pact with the U.S.

Mr. Noboa also has skillfully used Mr. Correa's left-wing rhetoric against him, warning that Mr. Correa would endanger the country's newfound stability. Borrowing a page from conservative campaigns in Peru and Mexico, Mr. Noboa ran television and radio ads linking Mr. Correa to Mr. Chávez, suggesting that the Chávez-style anti-U.S. bravado would bring about ruin for the country by turning the U.S. into an enemy. One TV ad featured ordinary voters saying, "We can't have Chávez meddling in our country."

After his poll numbers sank, Mr. Correa put some distance between himself and Caracas. "Look, Chávez is my friend, but I haven't talked to him in months, and he has nothing to do with my campaign," he said.

Mr. Correa denies he is retreating from his principles. "My positions on the constitution and other things are already well known, so it makes sense to now to talk about new issues. I haven't changed a thing," he said as the SUV he campaigns in zipped between a 7 a.m. television interview and his children's French-language private school.

But that's not the message voters are getting. "Correa is coming back to reality," says Mr. Rivadeneira, the former auto-parts salesman who now has a good job selling Chevrolets. He says Mr. Correa's new campaign pitch is more in line with his own views, and that Mr. Correa may even get his vote. "I don't think anyone wants to risk stability," he says.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Milton Friedman: In His Own Words
November 16
[A free economy] gives people what they want instead of what a particular group thinks they ought to want. Underlying most arguments against the free market is a lack of belief in freedom itself.

The existence of a free market does not of course eliminate the need for government. On the contrary, government is essential both as a forum for determining the "rules of the game" and as an umpire to interpret and enforce the rules decided on. What the market does is to reduce greatly the range of issues that must be decided through political means, and thereby to minimize the extent to which government need participate directly in the game. The characteristic feature of action through political channels is that it tends to require or enforce substantial conformity. The great advantage of the market, on the other hand, is that it permits wide diversity. It is, in political terms, a system of proportional representation. Each man can vote, as it were, for the color of tie he wants and get it; he does not have to see what color-the majority wants and then, if he is in the minority, submit.

It is this feature of the market that we refer to when we say that the market provides economic freedom. But this characteristic also has implications that go far beyond the narrowly economic. Political freedom means the absence of coercion of a man by his fellow men. The fundamental threat to freedom is power to coerce, be it in the hands of a monarch, a dictator, an oligarchy, or a momentary majority. The preservation of freedom requires the elimination of such concentration of power to the fullest possible extent and the dispersal and distribution of whatever power cannot be eliminated -- a system of checks and balances. By removing the organization of economic activity from the control of political authority, the market eliminates this source of coercive power. It enables economic strength to be a check to political power rather than a reinforcement.

Capitalism and Freedom 1962

* * *

The two ideas of human freedom and economic freedom working together came to their greatest fruition in the United States. Those ideas are still very much with us. We are all of us imbued with them. They are part of the very fabric of our being. But we have been straying from them. We have been forgetting the basic truth that the greatest threat to human freedom is the concentration of power, whether in the hands of government or anyone else. We have persuaded ourselves that it is safe to grant power, provided it is for good reasons…

We have persuaded ourselves that it is safe to grant power, provided it is for good reasons. Fortunately, we are waking up. We are again recognizing the dangers of an overgoverned society, coming to understand that good objectives can be perverted by bad means, that reliance on the freedom of people to control their own lives in accordance with their own values is the surest way to achieve the full potential of a great society…

When the law contradicts what most people regard as moral and proper, they will break the law -- whether the law is enacted in the name of a noble ideal ... or in the naked interest of one group at the expense of another. Only fear of punishment, not a sense of justice and morality, will lead people to obey the law. When people start to break one set of laws, the lack of respect for the law inevitably spreads to all laws, even those that everyone regards as moral and proper - laws against violence, theft, and vandalism…

Self-interest is not myopic selfishness. It is whatever it is that interests the participants, whatever they value, whatever goals they pursue. The scientist seeking to advance the frontiers of his discipline, the missionary seeking to convert infidels to the true faith, the philanthropist seeking to bring comfort to the needy -- all are pursuing their interests, as they see them, as they judge them by their own values.

From Free to Choose, book 1980, PBS series

* * *

Responding to 2004 Journal interview question about the argument that the Bush tax cuts favor the rich.

The tax cuts did favor the rich because the top 1% of taxpayers pay a disproportionate amount of taxes. You can't give tax relief to those who don't pay a lot of tax. This is not a bad thing. What in fact do the rich do with their money? They can only consume a limited amount. In practice they end up either investing it or giving it away.

Some people say that those in the middle and low tax brackets are more likely to spend any tax relief they get, giving the economy a stimulus.

Well, that's a different argument and I do not accept it. It's very dubious. The tax cut may lead people to spend more, but that is offset by those who have less to spend because they buy the bonds to finance the deficit. In my opinion, we had a mild recession not because of the tax cuts but because of the Fed. Its expansionary monetary policy is the primary reason for the shallow recession. I do not believe that fiscal policy played a big role.

My support for tax cuts is not only on the supply side. I think the real problem is government spending… Where did you get the Clinton surpluses? They were the result of less legislation and less spending. When that gridlock was broken, many items had accumulated on the agenda and were put through.

Wall Street Journal interview 2004

* * *

I have sometimes been associated with the aphorism "There's no such thing as a free lunch," which I did not invent. I wish more attention were paid to one that I did invent, and that I think is particularly appropriate in this city [Washington], "Nobody spends somebody else's money as carefully as he spends his own." But all aphorisms are half-truths. One of our favorite family pursuits on long drives is to try to find the opposite of aphorisms. For example, "History never repeats itself," but "There's nothing new under the sun." Or "look before you leap," but "He who hesitates is lost." The opposite of "There's no such thing as a free lunch" is clearly "The best things in life are free."

And in the real economic world, there is a free lunch, an extraordinary free lunch, and that free lunch is free markets and private property. Why is it that on one side of an arbitrary line there was East Germany and on the other side there was West Germany with such a different level of prosperity? It was because West Germany had a system of largely free, private markets - a free lunch. The same free lunch explains the difference between Hong Kong and mainland China, and the prosperity of the United States and Great Britain.

1993 Washington speech

Bomb Iran

Diplomacy is doing nothing to stop the Iranian nuclear threat; a show of force is the only answer.

By Joshua Muravchik
JOSHUA MURAVCHIK is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

November 19, 2006

WE MUST bomb Iran.

It has been four years since that country's secret nuclear program was brought to light, and the path of diplomacy and sanctions has led nowhere.

First, we agreed to our allies' requests that we offer Tehran a string of concessions, which it spurned. Then, Britain, France and Germany wanted to impose a batch of extremely weak sanctions. For instance, Iranians known to be involved in nuclear activities would have been barred from foreign travel — except for humanitarian or religious reasons — and outside countries would have been required to refrain from aiding some, but not all, Iranian nuclear projects.

But even this was too much for the U.N. Security Council. Russia promptly announced that these sanctions were much too strong. "We cannot support measures … aimed at isolating Iran," declared Foreign Minister Sergei V. Lavrov.

It is now clear that neither Moscow nor Beijing will ever agree to tough sanctions. What's more, even if they were to do so, it would not stop Iran, which is a country on a mission. As President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad put it: "Thanks to the blood of the martyrs, a new Islamic revolution has arisen…. The era of oppression, hegemonic regimes and tyranny and injustice has reached its end…. The wave of the Islamic revolution will soon reach the entire world." There is simply no possibility that Iran's clerical rulers will trade this ecstatic vision for a mess of Western pottage in the form of economic bribes or penalties.

So if sanctions won't work, what's left? The overthrow of the current Iranian regime might offer a silver bullet, but with hard-liners firmly in the saddle in Tehran, any such prospect seems even more remote today than it did a decade ago, when students were demonstrating and reformers were ascendant. Meanwhile, the completion of Iran's bomb grows nearer every day.

Our options therefore are narrowed to two: We can prepare to live with a nuclear-armed Iran, or we can use force to prevent it. Former ABC newsman Ted Koppel argues for the former, saying that "if Iran is bound and determined to have nuclear weapons, let it." We should rely, he says, on the threat of retaliation to keep Iran from using its bomb. Similarly, Newsweek International Editor Fareed Zakaria points out that we have succeeded in deterring other hostile nuclear states, such as the Soviet Union and China.

And in these pages, William Langewiesche summed up the what-me-worry attitude when he wrote that "the spread of nuclear weapons is, and always has been, inevitable," and that the important thing is "learning how to live with it after it occurs."

But that's whistling past the graveyard. The reality is that we cannot live safely with a nuclear-armed Iran. One reason is terrorism, of which Iran has long been the world's premier state sponsor, through groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah. Now, according to a report last week in London's Daily Telegraph, Iran is trying to take over Al Qaeda by positioning its own man, Saif Adel, to become the successor to the ailing Osama bin Laden. How could we possibly trust Iran not to slip nuclear material to terrorists?

Koppel says that we could prevent this by issuing a blanket warning that if a nuclear device is detonated anywhere in the United States, we will assume Iran is responsible. But would any U.S. president really order a retaliatory nuclear strike based on an assumption?

Another reason is that an Iranian bomb would constitute a dire threat to Israel's 6 million-plus citizens. Sure, Israel could strike back, but Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former president who was Ahmadinejad's "moderate" electoral opponent, once pointed out smugly that "the use of an atomic bomb against Israel would totally destroy Israel, while [the same] against the Islamic world would only cause damage. Such a scenario is not inconceivable." If that is the voice of pragmatism in Iran, would you trust deterrence against the messianic Ahmadinejad?

Even if Iran did not drop a bomb on Israel or hand one to terrorists, its mere possession of such a device would have devastating consequences. Coming on top of North Korea's nuclear test, it would spell finis to the entire nonproliferation system.

And then there is a consequence that seems to have been thought about much less but could be the most harmful of all: Tehran could achieve its goal of regional supremacy. Jordan's King Abdullah II, for instance, has warned of an emerging Shiite "crescent." But Abdullah's comment understates the danger. If Iran's reach were limited to Shiites, it would be constrained by their minority status in the Muslim world as well as by the divisions between Persians and Arabs.

But such ethnic-based analysis fails to take into account Iran's charisma as the archenemy of the United States and Israel and the leverage it achieves as the patron of radicals and rejectionists. Given that, the old assumptions about Shiites and Sunnis may not hold any longer. Iran's closest ally today is Syria, which is mostly Sunni. The link between Tehran and Damascus is ideological, not theological. Similarly, Iran supports the Palestinian groups Islamic Jihad and Hamas, which are overwhelmingly Sunni (and as a result, Iran has grown popular in the eyes of Palestinians).

During the Lebanon war this summer, we saw how readily Muslims closed ranks across the Sunni-Shiite divide against a common foe (even as the two groups continued killing each other in Iraq). In Sunni Egypt, newborns were named "Hezbollah" after the Lebanese Shiite organization and "Nasrallah" after its leader. As Muslim scholar Vali Nasr put it: "A flurry of anti-Hezbollah [i.e., anti-Shiite] fatwas by radical Sunni clerics have not diverted the admiring gaze of Arabs everywhere toward Hezbollah."

In short, Tehran can build influence on a mix of ethnicity and ideology, underwritten by the region's largest economy. Nuclear weapons would bring regional hegemony within its reach by intimidating neighbors and rivals and stirring the admiration of many other Muslims.

This would thrust us into a new global struggle akin to the one we waged so painfully with the Soviet Union for 40-odd years. It would be the "clash of civilizations" that has been so much talked about but so little defined.

Iran might seem little match for the United States, but that is not how Ahmadinejad sees it. He and his fellow jihadists believe that the Muslim world has already defeated one infidel superpower (the Soviet Union) and will in time defeat the other.

Russia was poor and weak in 1917 when Lenin took power, as was Germany in 1933 when Hitler came in. Neither, in the end, was able to defeat the United States, but each of them unleashed unimaginable suffering before they succumbed. And despite its weakness, Iran commands an asset that neither of them had: a natural advantage in appealing to the world's billion-plus Muslims.

If Tehran establishes dominance in the region, then the battlefield might move to Southeast Asia or Africa or even parts of Europe, as the mullahs would try to extend their sway over other Muslim peoples. In the end, we would no doubt win, but how long this contest might last and what toll it might take are anyone's guess.

The only way to forestall these frightening developments is by the use of force. Not by invading Iran as we did Iraq, but by an air campaign against Tehran's nuclear facilities. We have considerable information about these facilities; by some estimates they comprise about 1,500 targets. If we hit a large fraction of them in a bombing campaign that might last from a few days to a couple of weeks, we would inflict severe damage. This would not end Iran's weapons program, but it would certainly delay it.

What should be the timing of such an attack? If we did it next year, that would give time for U.N. diplomacy to further reveal its bankruptcy yet would come before Iran will have a bomb in hand (and also before our own presidential campaign). In time, if Tehran persisted, we might have to do it again.

Can President Bush take such action after being humiliated in the congressional elections and with the Iraq war having grown so unpopular? Bush has said that history's judgment on his conduct of the war against terror is more important than the polls. If Ahmadinejad gets his finger on a nuclear trigger, everything Bush has done will be rendered hollow. We will be a lot less safe than we were when Bush took office.

Finally, wouldn't such a U.S. air attack on Iran inflame global anti-Americanism? Wouldn't Iran retaliate in Iraq or by terrorism? Yes, probably. That is the price we would pay. But the alternative is worse.

After the Bolshevik takeover of Russia in 1917, a single member of Britain's Cabinet, Winston Churchill, appealed for robust military intervention to crush the new regime. His colleagues weighed the costs — the loss of soldiers, international derision, revenge by Lenin — and rejected the idea.

The costs were avoided, and instead the world was subjected to the greatest man-made calamities ever. Communism itself was to claim perhaps 100 million lives, and it also gave rise to fascism and Nazism, leading to World War II. Ahmadinejad wants to be the new Lenin. Force is the only thing that can stop him.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Michael Moore's pledge

Del L.A. Times. Friday, November 17, 2006.
The liberal filmmaker extends an olive branch to disheartened conservatives.

By Michael Moore
MICHAEL MOORE directed the Oscar-winning documentary "Bowling for Columbine" and "Fahrenheit 9/11." His next film, "Sicko," will be released this summer.

November 17, 2006

I WOULD LIKE TO extend an olive branch. Those of you who consider yourselves conservative and usually vote Republican have not had a very good couple of weeks. Trust me, I know how this feels.

In fact, those of us on the other side of the fence don't really know what it's like to win, so if we seem a bit awkward right now (were we supposed to vote for the majority leader the speaker said to vote for, or stick to our promise to the other guy?), forgive us.

I know you are dismayed at the results of last week's election. You've got to be freaking out about what this bunch of tree-hugging, latte-sipping, men-kissing-men advocates will do now that the country is in our hands. I don't blame you. We'd never admit it, but we secretly admire you because you know how to chop down a tree, take your coffee black and enjoy watching women kissing women. Good on you!

What I don't want is for you to drop into the deep funk we liberals have been in for two-plus decades. Yes, your Republican revolution is over, but hang in there. And do not despair. I, and the millions who voted for Democrats, have no interest in revenge for the last 12 years. In fact, let me make 12 promises as to how we will treat you, the minority, in the coming years.

Thus, here is "A Liberal's Pledge to Disheartened Conservatives":

1) We will always respect you. We will never, ever, call you "unpatriotic" simply because you disagree with us. In fact, we encourage you to dissent and disagree with us.

Que bueno. Es bueno saber que uno siempre puede contar con la legendaria tolerancia de la gente de izquierda.

2) We will let you marry whomever you want (even though some among us consider your Republican behavior to be "different" or "immoral"). Who you marry is none of our business. Love, and be in love — it's a wonderful gift.

El senor Moore no ha estado prestando atención a la voluntad del pueblo que él dice representar.

3) We will not spend your grandchildren's money on our personal whims or to enrich our friends. It's your checkbook too, and we will balance it for you.

La izquierda gastando plata ajena? Never heard of it.

4) When we soon bring our sons and daughters home from Iraq, we will bring your sons and daughters home too. We promise never to send your kids off to war based on some amateur Power Point presentation cooked up by men who have never been to war.

Que alguien le cuente al cerdo que opinan los soldados (que son VOLUNTARIOS) al respecto.

5) When we make America the last Western democracy to have universal health coverage, and all Americans are able to get help when they fall ill, we promise that you too will be able to see a doctor, regardless of your ability to pay. And when stem cell research delivers treatments and cures for diseases that afflict you and your loved ones, we'll make sure those advances are available to you and your family too.

Gracias Michael Moore. No veo las horas de competir con Cuba.

6) When we clean up our air and water, you too will be able to breathe the cleaner air and drink the purer water. When we put an end to global warming, you will no longer have to think about buying oceanfront property in Yuma.

Michael Moore tiene la solución para global warming. Yo sabía que esto debía ser dilucidado por cineastas ameteurs. Que saben los cientifícos al respecto?

7) Should a mass murderer ever kill 3,000 people on our soil, we will devote every single resource to tracking him down and bringing him to justice. Immediately. We will protect you.

Si. Vamos a encontrar a los culpables al otro día. Vamos a asegurarnos de incluir a personas de todas las razas en el equipo terrorista así no quedamos mal con nadie, affirmative action aplicada a la teoría de la culpabilidad.

8) We will never stick our nose in your bedroom or your womb. What you do there as consenting adults is your business. We will continue to count your age from the moment you were born, not the moment you were conceived.

Sí. Lo que haces en tu casa es cosa tuya (siempre y cuando no fumes, no tengas armas o la TV prendida en Fox News)

9) We will not take away your hunting guns. If you need an automatic weapon or a handgun to kill a bird or a deer, then you really aren't much of a hunter and you should, perhaps, take up another sport. In the meantime, we will arm the deer to make it a fairer fight.

Yeah! Qué tal matar gordos hipócritas por deporte?

10) When we raise the minimum wage, we will raise it for your employees too. They will use that money to buy more things, which means you will get the money back! And when women are finally paid what men make, we will pay conservative women that wage too.

Bien Moore. Apoyo la medida. $500 por hora salario mínimo. Qué tal? Capáz que así puedo moverme en limousines al mejor estilo gordo pop.

11) We will respect your religious beliefs, even when you don't practice those beliefs. In fact, we will actively seek to promote your most radical religious beliefs ("Blessed are the peacemakers," "Love your enemies," "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God" and "Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me"). We will let people in other countries know that God doesn't just bless America, he blesses everyone. We will discourage religious intolerance and fanaticism — starting here at home.

Here we go again... El extremismo cristiano de Bush es equiparable al fanatismo de Bin Laden. Dos caras de la misma moneda, right?

12) We will not tolerate politicians who are corrupt and break the law. And we promise you we will go after the corrupt politicians on our side first. If we fail to do this, we need you to call us on it. Simply because we are in power does not give us the right to turn our heads the other way when our party goes astray. Please perform this important duty as the loyal opposition.

Esto podés guardar para tu discurso la noche de los Oscars. Está bueno.

I promise all of the above to you because this is your country too. You are every bit as American as we are. We are all in this together. We sink or swim as one. Thank you for your years of service to this country and for giving us the opportunity to see if we can make things a bit better for our 300 million fellow Americans — and for the rest of the world.

Algunos se hunden primero, Michael. Entiendo tu preocupación.

Now pull yourself together and let's go have a Frappuccino.

Frappuccino? Vamos Mike, a mi no me engañás. Yo conozco tu debilidad en el menú.

Capitalism and Friedman

November 17, 2006

There are some public figures whose obituaries can be written years in advance. Milton Friedman was not one of them.

Arguably the greatest economist of the 20th century, he won his Nobel Prize 30 years ago. His classic "Capitalism and Freedom" was published 44 years ago. He died yesterday at the age of 94, but as the op-ed running nearby attests, he was active in writing about, thinking about and explaining how economics affects our world until the end.

In today's feature, he updates and re-examines conclusions he reached about the Great Depression in "A Monetary History of the United States, 1867-1960," a book published with Anna Schwartz 43 years ago. His thesis was that the Great Depression was not, as was once commonly presumed, a "market failure," but a failure of government policy. Contraction of the money supply in the wake of the stock-market crash of 1929 was what turned a financial event into an economic catastrophe.

This insight flowed from Professor Friedman's conviction that "money matters." As the Royal Academy of Sweden noted in announcing his 1976 Nobel, Friedman's was a lonely voice in arguing for the importance of the money supply in economics when he began writing about it in the 1950s.

By the late 1970s, stagflation -- the combination of high inflation and high unemployment -- had made it obvious that the then-dominant Keynesian model had some large holes. These included the effect of the money supply on inflation and the fact that inflation and employment did not move in lockstep as some of Keynes's disciples asserted. It was a seminal insight, creating what became known at the University of Chicago and elsewhere as the "monetarist school" and laying the intellectual basis for central bankers to break the great inflation of the 1970s.

In awarding its Nobel in 1976, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences cited his "achievements in the fields of consumption analysis, monetary history and theory, and for his demonstration of the complexity of stabilization policy." The citation covers a huge swath of economic thinking, and suggests both the range and the consistency of Professor Friedman's thought. In layman's terms, the Swedish Academy credited him with nothing less than shredding the Keynesian consensus.

First, he had shown that men are no fools. People spend money in accordance with their income expectations over the long-term, not in response to one-time "stimuli" from the government. This is known as the "permanent income" hypothesis, and it called into question Keynesian notions of how short-term stimulus affects the economy. In addition to his monetary insights, Mr. Friedman questioned the degree to which fiscal policy could be used to "fine-tune" the economy by adjusting spending, tax or monetary policy. Today we take for granted that all of these operate with a lag, but it was Milton Friedman who first highlighted the problem.

For all of his academic accomplishments, Professor Friedman's role as a popularizer of free-market principles was arguably more important. He wrote a column in Newsweek for 18 years starting in 1966, preaching the importance of economic freedom to a generation that had never heard such things in school. His 1980 book, "Free to Choose," was a best seller, and the videos that accompanied it were smuggled behind the Iron Curtain like seeds of revolution.

He was among the first to point to Hong Kong as a model of free-market success, a lesson that even today is remaking Communist China. And he first suggested educational vouchers to rescue failing public schools as long ago as 1955; in recent years, he established a foundation to support this idea that continues to advance despite ferocious opposition from unions and other entrenched interests.

This newspaper had the privilege of publishing Milton Friedman's articles on numerous occasions over the years. We've also disagreed with him from time to time, notably on exchange rates and drug legalization. These disputes always gave us cause to reflect, and 20 years ago amid one debate on the benefits of fixed exchange rates we noted that "being spanked by Milton Friedman is one of life's most humiliating experiences."

In truth, Professor Friedman always argued with civility and a bracing wit. One of his best barbs on the size of government: "Given our monstrous, overgrown government structure, any three letters chosen at random would probably designate an agency or part of a department that could be profitably abolished." And he popularized "There is no such thing as a free lunch."

In "Two Lucky People," written with his wife, Rose Friedman, who survives him as a distinguished economist in her own right, Mr. Friedman well described the role of a public intellectual: "We do not influence the course of events by persuading people that we are right when we make what they regard as radical proposals. Rather, we exert influence by keeping options available when something has to be done at a time of crisis."

On the death of Ronald Reagan, whom he advised, Mr. Friedman wrote on these pages that "few people in human history have contributed more to the achievement of human freedom." The same can and long will be said of Milton Friedman.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

End of the Revolution

November 9, 2006; Page A14

If there was still any doubt, the Republican Revolution of 1994 officially ended Tuesday night with the loss of at least 28 seats and majority control of the House of Representatives. As I write this, the race in Virginia that will determine if the Republicans also lose control of the Senate is too close to call, but leaning Democrat.

It was a rout.

How did we get here? The war in Iraq and historical voting patterns that favor the opposition party in off-year elections are factors suggested by many post-election pundits. Certainly, the mounting problems in Iraq were on voters' minds, but responsibility for the conduct of the war lies with the executive branch, and President Bush was not on the ballot.

That said, this was a national election, driven by national issues. One big issue in exit polls suggests widespread voter backlash against the "culture of corruption." There is something to this, I think. Over time, too many Republicans in the governing majority forgot or abandoned their national vision, letting parochial interests dominate the decision-making process.

All enterprises have a life-cycle. The Republican takeover in 1994 was the culmination of years of agitation by a relatively small group of political entrepreneurs in the House. Before we could beat the Democrats and their "culture of corruption," we had to beat the old bulls of our own party. They too were driven by a parochial vision, and had grown complacent with the crumbs offered them by the majority. It is often said that Newt Gingrich and I "nationalized" the election in 1994, but what the Contract with America really did was establish a national (as opposed to a parochial) vision for the Republican Party. When we took control, that positive Reagan vision of limited government and individual responsibility provided a great deal of discipline and allowed us to govern accordingly. Our primary question in those early years was: How do we reform government and return money and power back to the American people?

Eventually, the policy innovators and the "Spirit of '94" were largely replaced by political bureaucrats driven by a narrow vision. Their question became: How do we hold onto political power? The aberrant behavior and scandals that ended up defining the Republican majority in 2006 were a direct consequence of this shift in choice criteria from policy to political power.

Nowhere was this turn more evident than in the complete collapse of fiscal discipline in the budgeting process. For most Republican candidates, fiscal responsibility is our political bread and butter. No matter how voters view other, more divisive issues from abortion to stem-cell research, Republicans have traditionally enjoyed a clear advantage with a majority of Americans on basic pocketbook issues. "We will spend your money carefully and we will keep your taxes low." That was our commitment. This year, no incumbent Republican (even those who fought for restraint) could credibly make that claim. The national vision -- less government and lower taxes -- was replaced with what Jack Abramoff infamously called his "favor factory." One Republican leader actually defended a questionable appropriation of taxpayer dollars, saying it was a reasonable price to pay for holding a Republican seat. What was most remarkable was not even the admission itself, but that it was acknowledged so openly. Wasn't that the attitude we were fighting against in 1994?

I've always wondered why Republicans insist on acting like Democrats in hopes of retaining political power, while Democrats act like us in order to win.

I've also wondered why Republicans let their fears and insecurities get in the way of important reforms. They missed the opportunity of a lifetime by failing to embrace retirement security based on personal ownership. Instead, from both parties we heard about "saving Social Security" -- to the extent we heard anything at all. Republicans should be for reforms that free individuals and their families from failed government programs. We should not be for "saving" failed government programs. When we took on welfare reform in 1995, we knew we were taking on a Goliath. Once we threw the first rock, we knew we had to finish the job. Otherwise, the worst claims of our opponents would have stuck with us in future elections. With legislative success, the horrible accusations of our opponents were replaced with reduced welfare roles, and the individual dignity and self-sufficiency that naturally followed.

In 2006, instead of heavy lifting on substantial reforms, House and Senate leaders attempted to rally their political base on wedge issues like illegal immigration and gay marriage. Instead of dealing with spending bills or retirement security, the Senate dedicated two full legislative days to a constitutional ban on gay marriage that no one expected to pass. No substantive legislation was passed dealing seriously with border security and legitimate guest workers (funding for a 700 mile fence was finally authorized, but no funds were appropriated). In both instances, it was pure politics, designed to appeal to angry factions of the GOP base. While Republicans managed to hold conservative Christians, they alienated independents, who represent 26% of the voting population. For the first time in 10 years, independents sided with Democrats by a wide margin. Candidates that bet on the high demagogy coefficient associated with illegal immigration, notably in Arizona, lost.

You can't build a winning constituency based on anger. The American people expect more. That is a lesson Democrats will soon learn if they wrongly interpret the election results as a mandate to "get even."

Moving forward, my advice to Republicans is simple: Don't go back and check on a dead skunk. The question Republicans now need to answer is: How do we once again convince the public that we are in fact the party many Democrats successfully pretended to be in this election? To do so, Republicans will need to shed their dominant insecurities that the public just won't understand a positive, national vision that is defined by economic opportunity, limited government and individual responsibility.

We need to remember Ronald Reagan's legacy and again stand for positive, big ideas that get power and money out of politics and government bureaucracy and back into the hands of individuals. We also need again to demonstrate an ability to be good stewards of the taxpayers' hard-earned money. If Republicans do these things, they will also restore the public's faith in our standards of personal conduct. Personal responsibility in public life follows naturally if your goal is good public policy.

Besides the obvious impact on the House and Senate, Tuesday's elections will no doubt redefine the Republican field going into early presidential primary states like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. It will be up to grassroots activists in those battlegrounds to establish a constituency of expectations that anyone aspiring to be the next president of the United States must satisfy. To voters I say: Demand substance and you will get it. To Republican candidates for office I say: Offer good policy and you will create a winning constituency for lower taxes, less government and more freedom.

Mr. Armey, House majority leader between 1995 and 2002, is chairman of FreedomWorks, a national grass-roots advocacy organization.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Netanyahu: It's 1938 and Iran is Germany; Ahmadinejad is preparing another Holocaust

By Peter Hirschberg, Haaretz Correspondent

LOS ANGELES - Drawing a direct analogy between Iran and Nazi Germany, Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu asserted Monday that the Iranian nuclear program posed a threat not only to Israel, but to the entire western world. There was "still time," however, to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons, he said.

"It's 1938 and Iran is Germany. And Iran is racing to arm itself with atomic bombs," Netanyahu told delegates to the annual United Jewish Communities General Assembly, repeating the line several times, like a chorus, during his address. "Believe him and stop him," the opposition leader said of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. "This is what we must do. Everything else pales before this."

While the Iranian president "denies the Holocaust," Netanyahu said, "he is preparing another Holocaust for the Jewish state."

Speaking on Army Radio on Tuesday, Netanyahu hinted that Israel possesses the military capabilities necessary for curbing by itself the Iranian nuclear threat, declining to specify what these entail.

The Likud chairman said "I don't want to analyze the capability required to eliminate [the Iranian] threat, but this capability exists," when told by host Razi Barkai that Israel lacks the ability to eliminate Tehran's nuclear program by military means.

"This capability is eroded over time, and if we wait years then obviously this capability would not exist anymore ... but right now I disagree with the claim that nothing can be done against Iran," he added.

When asked if Bush could afford embarking on another "military adventure" after Iraq, Netanyahu said acting on the Iranian nuclear program would not be adventurous but necessary.

"... Israel would certainly be the first stop on Iran's tour of destruction, but at the planned production rate of 25 nuclear bombs a year ... [the arsenal] will be directed against 'the big Satan,' the U.S., and the 'moderate Satan,' Europe," Netanyahu said.

"Iran is developing ballistic missiles that would reach America, and now they prepare missiles with an adequate range to cover the whole of Europe," he added.

"No one cared"
Criticizing the international community in his GA speech for not acting more forcefully in trying to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power - "No one cared then and no one seems to care now," he said, again drawing on the Nazi parallel - Netanyahu warned that Tehran's nuclear and missile program "goes way beyond the destruction of Israel - it is directed to achieve world-wide range. It's a global program in the service of a mad ideology."

Large sections of the international community, he said, also misunderstood the nature of radical Islam and its role in the Mideast conflict. "What happens in Iran affects what happens in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, not the other way round," he said.

Netanyahu said he believed that Iran could still be stopped from acquiring nuclear weapons. "There is still time. All ways must be considered. We can't let this thing happen," he said, but did not outline specific measures he thought should be taken.

Referring to Israel's preemptive strike in the 1967 War, he did say that stopping Iran required "preemptive leadership. Preemption requires will and vision."

"Noone will defend the Jews if the Jews don't defend themselves," he said to loud applause. "Iran's nuclear ambitions have to be stopped."

Monday, November 13, 2006

Today’s subject: the potato taco
or, to be more specific, the wonderment of civilization that is the potato taco at El Atacor #11, a taquería chain’s grungy outpost on the fringes of Glassell Park. You have, no doubt, tasted a potato taco, perhaps the basic model of the starch bomb tricked out with chopped onion and a bit of salsa, or perhaps one of the fancy examples of the breed, cooked with the roasted-chile mixture called rajas or embellished with all manner of sautéed vegetables.

On most taquería menus, tacos de papas are what you eat when you happen to be a vegetarian yoked to a companion whose needs include drippy hunks of steamed cow’s intestine, or when the severity of your hangover precludes even a token three or four tacos made with turtle or spicy pork al pastor. As with the original po’ boy sandwich in New Orleans, which was stuffed with stale French fries and sold to striking newsboys whose poverty drove even the cheapest meat sandwich out of reach, the potato taco is inexpensive and filling, engineered to stave off hunger for just a while longer. Nobody has ever driven across town for a potato taco, no matter how artfully combined with sautéed zucchini or golden achiote.

I was tipped off to El Atacor #11 by an unsigned e-mail a couple of months ago, a message instructing me to Google the phrase “porno burrito.” I did. A healthy percentage of the results pointed toward the restaurant. The potato taco may be El Atacor’s enduring glory, but its fame in the online world comes mostly from its Super Burrito, a foil-wrapped construction the size and girth of your forearm, which drapes over a paper plate like a giant, oozing sea cucumber or, perhaps more to the point, like an appendage of John Holmes. It is impossible to look at a Super Burrito without marveling at the flaccid, masculine mass of the thing. It is probably even harder to bite into it without laughing. (There are mock-porn videos on YouTube of what I assume is the Super Burrito being sensuously consumed, tortillas stretched with firm, white teeth, the distended tube making its way down any number of eager throats.) The Super Burrito, a standard composition of beans, rice, sour cream, guacamole, meat, lettuce, etc., is a formidable item of food and a proper subject of veneration, but it may be more admirable as an object than as an actual burrito.

The chokingly fragrant menudo leaves no doubt as to the part of the animal from which the meat was excavated — menudo may be L.A.’s favorite hangover remedy, but it is hard to imagine confronting this menudo on a stomach trembly with drink. The tacos made with carne asada, beef tongue, carnitas, buche and such are perfectly fine, but lack the particular energy snap that marks the very best tacos. (They are cheap, though: Family packs include 25 tacos for about $20.)

The tacos de papas at El Atacor #11, however, are different beasts entirely: thin corn tortillas folded around bland spoonfuls of mashed spuds and fried to an indelicate, shattering crunch. The barely seasoned potatoes exist basically as a smooth, unctuous substance that oozes out of the tacos with the deliberate grace of molten lava. The glorious stink of hot grease and toasted corn subsumes any subtle, earthy hint of potato, and tacos de papas evaporate so quickly that you are thankful they come 10 to an order, slicked with cream and thin taquería guacamole, piled together in a foam takeout container like so many lunch-truck taquitos. Ten tacos de papas may seem like an excessive quantity, and you could probably share an order if you were in the mood, but I have seen families of five sit down to five separate orders, 50 tacos in all, and afterward there wasn’t a crumb or a spatter of sauce to be seen.

El Atacor #11, 2622 N. Figueroa Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 441-8477. Open 7 a.m. to 4 a.m., seven days. Beer 10 a.m.–10 p.m. only. Takeout. Street parking. Cash only. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $7-$8. Recommended dish: tacos de papas. Also at El Atacor #8, 6506 Whittier Blvd., East L.A., (323) 832-9263.

Is Admissions Bar
Higher for Asians
At Elite Schools?

School Standards Are Probed
Even as Enrollment Increases;
A Bias Claim at Princeton
By DANIEL GOLDEN - Wall Street Journal
November 11, 2006

Though Asian-Americans constitute only about 4.5% of the U.S. population, they typically account for anywhere from 10% to 30% of students at many of the nation's elite colleges.

Even so, based on their outstanding grades and test scores, Asian-Americans increasingly say their enrollment should be much higher -- a contention backed by a growing body of evidence.

Whether elite colleges give Asian-American students a fair shake is becoming a big concern in college-admissions offices. Federal civil-rights officials are investigating charges by a top Chinese-American student that he was rejected by Princeton University last spring because of his race and national origin.

Meanwhile, voter attacks on admissions preferences for other minority groups -- as well as research indicating colleges give less weight to high test scores of Asian-American applicants -- may push schools to boost Asian enrollment. Tuesday, Michigan voters approved a ballot measure striking down admissions preferences for African-Americans and Hispanics. The move is expected to benefit Asian applicants to state universities there -- as similar initiatives have done in California and Washington.

If the same measure is passed in coming years in Illinois, Missouri and Oregon -- where opponents of such preferences say they plan to introduce it -- Asian-American enrollment likely would climb at selective public universities in those states as well.

During the Michigan campaign, a group that opposes affirmative action released a study bolstering claims that Asian students are held to a higher standard. The study, by the Center for Equal Opportunity, in Virginia, found that Asian applicants admitted to the University of Michigan in 2005 had a median SAT score of 1400 on the 400-1600 scale then in use. That was 50 points higher than the median score of white students who were accepted, 140 points higher than that of Hispanics and 240 points higher than that of blacks.

Roger Clegg, president and general counsel of the Center for Equal Opportunity, said universities are "legally vulnerable" to challenges from rejected Asian-American applicants.

Princeton, where Asian-Americans constitute about 13% of the student body, faces such a challenge. A spokesman for the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights said it is investigating a complaint filed by Jian Li, now a 17-year-old freshman at Yale University. Despite racking up the maximum 2400 score on the SAT and 2390 -- 10 points below the ceiling -- on SAT2 subject tests in physics, chemistry and calculus, Mr. Li was spurned by three Ivy League universities, Stanford University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The Office for Civil Rights initially rejected Mr. Li's complaint due to "insufficient" evidence. Mr. Li appealed, citing a white high-school classmate admitted to Princeton despite lower test scores and grades. The office notified him late last month that it would look into the case.

His complaint seeks to suspend federal financial assistance to Princeton until the university "discontinues discrimination against Asian-Americans in all forms by eliminating race preferences, legacy preferences, and athlete preferences." Legacy preference is the edge most elite colleges, including Princeton, give to alumni children. The Office for Civil Rights has the power to terminate such financial aid but usually works with colleges to resolve cases rather than taking enforcement action.

Mr. Li, who emigrated to the U.S. from China as a 4-year-old and graduated from a public high school in Livingston, N.J., said he hopes his action will set a precedent for other Asian-American students. He wants to "send a message to the admissions committee to be more cognizant of possible bias, and that the way they're conducting admissions is not really equitable," he said.

Princeton spokeswoman Cass Cliatt said the university is aware of the complaint and will provide the Office for Civil Rights with information it has requested. Princeton has said in the past that it considers applicants as individuals and doesn't discriminate against Asian-Americans.

When elite colleges began practicing affirmative action in the late 1960s and 1970s, they gave an admissions boost to Asian-American applicants as well as blacks and Hispanics. As the percentage of Asian-Americans in elite schools quickly overtook their slice of the U.S. population, many colleges stopped giving them preference -- and in some cases may have leaned the other way.

In 1990, a federal investigation concluded that Harvard University admitted Asian-American applicants at a lower rate than white students despite the Asians' slightly stronger test scores and grades. Federal investigators also found that Harvard admissions staff had stereotyped Asian-American candidates as quiet, shy and oriented toward math and science. The government didn't bring charges because it concluded it was Harvard's preferences for athletes and alumni children -- few of whom were Asian -- that accounted for the admissions gap.

The University of California came under similar scrutiny at about the same time. In 1989, as the federal government was investigating alleged Asian-American quotas at UC's Berkeley campus, Berkeley's chancellor apologized for a drop in Asian enrollment. The next year, federal investigators found that the mathematics department at UCLA had discriminated against Asian-American graduate school applicants. In 1992, Berkeley's law school agreed under federal pressure to drop a policy that limited Asian enrollment by comparing Asian applicants against each other rather than the entire applicant pool.

Asian-American enrollment at Berkeley has increased since California voters banned affirmative action in college admissions. Berkeley accepted 4,122 Asian-American applicants for this fall's freshman class -- nearly 42% of the total admitted. That is up from 2,925 in 1997, or 34.6%, the last year before the ban took effect. Similarly, Asian-American undergraduate enrollment at the University of Washington rose to 25.4% in 2004 from 22.1% in 1998, when voters in that state prohibited affirmative action in college admissions.

The University of Michigan may be poised for a similar leap in Asian-American enrollment, now that voters in that state have banned affirmative action. The Center for Equal Opportunity study found that, among applicants with a 1240 SAT score and 3.2 grade point average in 2005, the university admitted 10% of Asian-Americans, 14% of whites, 88% of Hispanics and 92% of blacks. Asian applicants to the university's medical school also faced a higher admissions bar than any other group.

Julie Peterson, spokeswoman for the University of Michigan, said the study was flawed because many applicants take the ACT test instead of the SAT, and standardized test scores are only one of various tools used to evaluate candidates. "I utterly reject the conclusion" that the university discriminates against Asian-Americans, she said. Asian-Americans constitute 12.6% of the university's undergraduates.

Jonathan Reider, director of college counseling at San Francisco University High School, said most elite colleges' handling of Asian applicants has become fairer in recent years. Mr. Reider, a former Stanford admissions official, said Stanford staffers were dismayed 20 years ago when an internal study showed they were less likely to admit Asian applicants than comparable whites. As a result, he said, Stanford strived to eliminate unconscious bias and repeated the study every year until Asians no longer faced a disadvantage.

Last month, Mr. Reider participated in a panel discussion at a college-admissions conference. It was titled, "Too Asian?" and explored whether colleges treat Asian applicants differently.

Precise figures of Asian-American representation at the nation's top schools are hard to come by. Don Joe, an attorney and activist who runs Asian-American Politics, an Internet site that tracks enrollment, puts the average proportion of Asian-Americans at 25 top colleges at 15.9% in 2005, up from 10% in 1992.

Still, he said, he is hearing more complaints "from Asian-American parents about how their children have excellent grades and scores but are being rejected by the most selective colleges. It appears to be an open secret."

Mr. Li, who said he was in the top 1% of his high-school class and took five advanced placement courses in his senior year, left blank the questions on college applications about his ethnicity and place of birth. "It seemed very irrelevant to me, if not offensive," he said. Mr. Li, who has permanent resident status in the U.S., did note that his citizenship, first language and language spoken at home were Chinese.

Along with Yale, he won admission to the California Institute of Technology, Rutgers University and the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. He said four schools -- Princeton, Harvard, Stanford and the University of Pennsylvania -- placed him on their waiting lists before rejecting him. "I was very close to being accepted at these schools," he said. "I was thinking, had my ethnicity been different, it would have put me over the top. Even if race had just a marginal effect, it may have disadvantaged me."

He ultimately focused his complaint against Princeton after reading a 2004 study by three Princeton researchers concluding that an Asian-American applicant needed to score 50 points higher on the SAT than other applicants to have the same change of admission to an elite university.

"As an Asian-American and a native of China, my chances of admission were drastically reduced," Mr. Li claims in his complaint.

Write to Daniel Golden at dan.golden@wsj.com1