September 30, 2004
That's Just Nuts!
While there was a welcome amount of bipartisanship and agreement on foreign policy during tonights debate between Sen. Kerry and President Bush, there were a few times where you could read on President Bush's face that he thought Sen. Kerry was out of his mind to propose such a thing. This came through strongest during the N. Korea section when Kerry insisted he could have bilateral talks at the same time as six party talks.
President Bush has a point, I think. The proof of which being history. The PRC had just as much interest in keeping the loonies in N. Korea non-nuclear during Bill Clinton's administration as they do today. Yet Clinton's bilateral approach did not coincide with any sort of multiparty talks. Why was that? Could it be that President Bush was right? Could it be that the PRC thoroughly enjoyed the holiday from responsibility that bilateral talks represent for it? Could it be that as long as the US is being the sole adult in the room, there is no need for anybody else to step up to the plate?
Kerry is trouble.
Three Questions: My Response
Orin Kerr presents three questions to the pro-war part of the blogosphere. Since I qualify, I figure I might as well answer. Here are his questions:
1. The invasion of Iraq was a very good idea for multiple reasons and remains so today. Iraq presents the same sort of geographic opportunity that the french colonies of Morocco and Algeria presented in WW II and justified the launching of Operation Torch. Vichy France was in no way the real threat in WW II yet it was our first strike in the European theater. The territory itself was valuable as is Iraq. Syria is threatened by a peaceful, free Iraq, as is Iran and Saudi Arabia. There is no territory in similar legal circumstances that would have provided as much "bang for the buck" as Iraq.
The War on Terror (WOT) must delegitimize certain tactics, the foremost of which is the suicide bomber. Saddam Hussein was the foremost open state sponsor of suicide bombing with his $25K checks to each family of a palestinian suicide bomber. To permit open funding of terrorism to continue against any country would make victory impossible. I don't care who the victims of these bombers were, the open state support of terrorism had to be stopped and getting rid of Saddam seems to have done the trick. I don't think the Saudis et al are continuing those sorts of open payments anymore.
All this geopolitical reasoning glosses over the human benefits to the people of Iraq and those unfortunates abroad who drew the angry attention of Saddam. States should not be led by psychopaths and that's a real increase in security for everyone.
2. My personal prediction for combat casualties (not including the occupation) was around 1000 dead so reaching 1000 dead after the conventional war and a year of resistance operations by foreign and domestic enemies of Iraqi freedom is actually good news as far as I'm concerned. We've gotten off incredibly lightly and hopefully we will continue to do so.
The increasing use of suicide bombers and the targeting of Iraqi children show that our enemies are burning their bridges with the people of Iraq. Suicide bombing was a sign of weakness in Japan in WW II and it is a sign of weakness today. When elections are held in January, I would expect that support for the insurgency will die down as the expensive gambit our enemies are running right now in Iraq will show itself to be a failure.
3. Elections in Saudi Arabia are a sign of Iraqi success, as are preparations of transition to constitutional monarchies and real democratic republics elsewhere in the Middle East. Libya's ending its participation in an underground nuclear weapons development cabal is another good sign. The measure of success is that the impossible will continue to happen in little announcements that preserve plausible deniability and save face for the local despot but, step by step, show that freedom really is on the march in the Middle East.
September 29, 2004
The Bizarre World of Food I
My life is sometimes filled with oddities. My son has been asking for broccoli all day and my wife thinks we shouldn't give in to his strange food demands but that he should eat what's in the house. And to top it all off she is puzzled why I find the entire situation hilarious.
Sometimes God hands us very tough challenges. Not this time, though.
Beria's Lesson for HLS
Apparently Laurence Tribe is going around quoting Lavrenti Beria to the effect that all Harvard Law School professors are vulnerable to some charge or another and that the administration at HLS (or is it law schools in general) can bring down any one of them at any time by design. The really stunning part is that this is viewed as a viable defense by Prof. Tribe in his own plagiarism scandal.
Prof. Tribe (for those who haven't followed the scandal) has admitted to lifting without attribution a small passage from another professor's work in the field of constitutional law. Among his several defenses, he used Beria's famous line "Show me the man, and I'll find you the crime". This line has always been taken to mean that the purposeful complexity of Soviet law made everybody a criminal by design, that lawful compliance with the state was impossible.
The entire staff of HLS should be scandalized at this accusation on their honor and professionalism. Those paying tuition should seriously be taken aback as well. What are they paying for?
September 28, 2004
I Was Disenfranchised
I had some business at my county seat and, on the way out, noticed that the board of elections was in the same building, right on the way to the exit. I vaguely remembered that I was supposed to send in some sort of verification card that I still resided at my registered address but couldn't remember if it was sent in. So I went down a side hall and went in. In a minute, it was confirmed, I'd been scrubbed from the list. It took another 3 minutes to get me back on.
With all the worries that people have about being disenfranchised, all the accusations and the scare campaigns, there's not much actual activity that I've seen by groups to make sure that their people aren't being disenfranchised. There's a lot of huffing and puffing but no actual work being done. As I found out, fixing a voter roll error is dead simple. You get a form, you sign and date it swearing that yes, you still live there, and you're done, problem solved. So if there really is a campaign to disenfranchise Democrat dominated groups like blacks in Florida, why aren't community leaders fixing the problem?
September 26, 2004
Jurisdiction Stripping Fix
Eugene Volokh once again writes about the perils of federal court jurisdiction stripping in that it does not do anything regarding state courts who might aberrantly interpret the US federal Constitution and, in fact, makes such rulings essentially unappealable. The cure for this is state level legislation clarifying the jurisdiction of state courts with regard to the US Constitution as not to ever exceed federal court jurisdiction.
I can't imagine a functional legislative majority coalescing about the proposition that the state courts ever have a greater right to interpret the federal constitution than the federal courts do. Because of the division of powers, the US Congress is incapable of making such legislation. State legislators are not similarly restricted. All this objection means is that the federal legislation came first and now state legislation needs to follow up in killing the "state judge legislating from the bench" loophole (a problem that is in desperate need of a catchier label). Where the federal courts are silent because of Congressional restriction, the state courts should be too.
September 25, 2004
Getting it Wrong From the Right
Andrew McCarthy's most recent NRO piece is a breathtaking study in how to get current events wrong from a right-wing perspective. The essence of what is going on in the Global War On Terror (GWOT) is that with freedom winning (and it is winning), all the various strains of tyranny have come to the conclusion that if they don't hang together, they'll hang separately. This has both made individual strains of geopolitical evil both individually more desperate and daring and more willing to cooperate with their erstwhile competitors in the despotism game.
So one of the biggest leaders of secular arab socialism regularly donates blood over the course of years in order to write a koran in that blood. Radical islamists pinch and borrow from long dead (and discredited) socialists of both right and left to rev up their own ideology. We are witnessing the creation of a fusionism of evil in response to the destruction of communism by freedom.
The original fusionism was a mixing of several strands of american conservatism around the core of anti-communism. It was both the threat of communism to all the separate strands of the eventual coalition and communist ideology's direct and indirect popularity among the dominant elite intellectual sphere all over the world that led to the necessary coalition building among groups that usually didn't want to have much to do with each other under normal circumstances.
Today's fusionism of evil is driven by the same fear of ultimate ideological death by a rising tide of mutual enemies, liberty, freedom, and individual human dignity. Each strand, arab socialism, european fabian socialism, neo-naziism, juche, islamism, earth and animal fetishism, and the thousands of splinter movements that collectively form the new "new left" all are in deep trouble. They are all threatened with the spread of the functioning core of human society and the deepening of human freedom in the core. This spread of freedom both threatens their individual hold on various non-integrating gap nations and where such movements have heretofore survived in the core, they are threatened by the lack of external enemy to distract attention away from their work.
This evil fusionist coalition (EFC) has not done us the favor of holding public conferences and announcing an axis so we can conveniently label our enemy. Instead, their cooperation is negotiated and carried out in the dark, in secret meetings in unlikely places. This has meant that we have to do the job of labeling for them. Thus was born the "axis of evil" label and the GWOT.
Contrary to Andrew McCarthy's assertion, the GWOT is not a foolish label as terrorism is not just a tactic. It is a tactic that is underlied by a particular intellectual framework shared as components of most of our enemies' ideologies in the axis of evil and beyond. It is the intellectual framework that permits the most horrific acts imaginable in warfare but also the most horrific forms of government brutality outside of warfare too. These expressions of this common intellectual framework widely vary in expression but one widely spread marker feature is toleration, support, and even exaltation of terrorism.
To "fix" the problem of a regime like Saddam's and to leave the intellectual framework in place is to guarantee that we'll be back, again and again, flying over the same territory and dropping ever smarter bombs to take out different above ground manifestations of the underlying intellectual framework. This repeat visit trap is not just a theoretical argument but a historical fact. The Pentagon's New Map grew out of the observation that repeat visits is what the US armed forces do over a period of decades. How many times have we visited Haiti? Why did we have to revisit the problem of an aggressive Germany in WW II? Why haven't we had to do it again since?
The idea that we're just dealing with Islam just doesn't fit the facts. The assassination of Pim Fortuyn by an animal rights terrorist was not an isolated incident of animal rights extremism. Terrorism in that movement has existed for quite some time. But why was Pim Fortuyn killed? He was not noted for any particular animus to animal rights. In fact, his big contribution to the political scene was immigration analysis, especially the societal danger of unassimilated muslim immigrants to Holland. Does the "war on militant Islam" formulation of some on the right like Andrew McCarthy have any reasonable framework of explaining why he was killed by an animal rights activist?
The relationships are there, the connections are there. While there may be some other bit of commonality in the EFC besides terrorism that would better suit our purposes, we need to identify it and present it as a better label. For lack of a 'sufficiently' good label we should not deny the existence of the EFC and leave so many of our enemies unrecognized, unaddressed.
September 24, 2004
Where are the Democrat Wise Men?
Glenn Reynolds is questioning Kerry's patriotism and he makes a good case for it. Having a major player in the Kerry campaign call Allawi a Bush puppet because Allawi is saying some things that support the Bush narrative on Iraq is just beyond the pale and materially harms US foreign policy in Iraq to the point where some unknown number of extra people on the margin are going to get hurt/killed because of the support the Kerry campaign is giving to the insurgent narrative.
There are honest, honorable ways to fight an election in time of war, increasing our own casualty count by helping spread enemy propaganda is not one of them. Fire Joe Lockhart!
September 22, 2004
The Forced Socialization of Compassion Trap
I accused Russ Nelson of being too harsh in his (rightful) condemnation of the present US system of schooling. With his latest missive on the subject, I find I might have gotten him a bit wrong. He's not necessarily thinking too harshly. Instead, he's thinking too small. The results are the same, an angry economist who isn't getting his program adopted.
At the level he talks about, schooling is no longer properly considered a separate subject but merely a unit in a larger bit of socialism, the forced socialization of compassion. Once you have swallowed the (false) idea that government can do compassion by force better than private individuals can voluntarily, government takes the compassion business over and immediately begins to extend its tentacles into greater and greater areas of life in order to ensure that the objects of compassion are as few as possible. One of the ways that this manifests itself is in an inevitable slide into mandatory schooling so that children do not grow up to be low skilled wretches who forever beg for handouts.
If you do not fix the forced socialization of compassion, you will always fail in attempts to negate mandatory schooling. All that the enemies of better schools need to do to destroy any reasonable coalition to implement your program is to come up with higher social spending bills that will "inevitably" follow the "reckless" removal of mandatory school rules. If you make the figures high enough, you will fracture off the immoral green eyeshade types who fetishize fiscal efficiency over all other considerations. There are enough of these to make it practically impossible to implement any program of voluntary schooling as a replacement of mandatory schooling.
If one doesn't care about actually getting their ideas embedded into law this sort of objection doesn't really matter. For those of us who do care, we have to navigate the waters of the politically possible and create ladders of legislative and informational proposals where each step taken prepares society for the next step on the journey to the final destination.
School reform should be brought about in a way that it will make the ultimate end of compulsion schooling more and more feasible when society finally decides that the forced socialization of compassion was a fundamental mistake. What it should not do is to present the situation in such a way that we're trapped in a vicious, chicken and egg situation. The forced socialization of compassion is a huge meta-issue. It impacts government provision of all sorts of services, not just education. Children shouldn't have to wait in poor government schools until we've unravelled this big issue. Instead we should be creating interim reforms that can improve the lot of children for the likely decades of debate and pro-liberty work it will take to unwind the forced socialization of compassion idea.
September 21, 2004
Novak's Bad Iraqi Troop Math
Robert Novak's missing an important option in his recent analysis of the next president's Iraq options. The key paragraph follows:
The effective military strength in Iraq increases day to day and week to week as more Iraqi troops come on line and gain experience fighting the present foreign supported insurgency. This means that staying at present strength (from a combat perspective) would require constant troop withdrawals to balance out the increases in Iraqi troop strength (these increases coming both as new units come out of training and as green troops gain experience).
Even if Novak's assertion is correct that we cannot fight an effective war at current troop strength, it is insufficient to justify bugging out early. In fact it would be a horrible betrayal to leave before sufficient Iraqi forces exist to secure a free Iraq. All we need do is to maintain our strength in country and simply use the positive trend line of more and more good guy forces to turn the tide and beat the insurgency. Novak's entire story makes no sense unless he's either ignoring Iraqi troops as effective combat forces or ignoring the increases in troop strength that are constantly coming on line. In either case, it's bad military math for Novak.
Judging Iraqi Progress For the US Election
Mort Kondrake writes "Insurgents control more than three dozen cities and towns" in Iraq. In some alternate universe where the news media was doing its job, I would know the names of those towns. I would know if and when we took any of them back and I could easily check on their control status to build up a six week timeline of whether we're making progress or falling further behind in Iraq as more insurgent controlled municipalities were added to the list.
So why isn't Kondrake sharing his list? Why aren't some reporters doing the basic spade work of daily monitoring of who controls these towns and whether any others have slipped into the control of the insurgents in Iraq? Why are such simple factual jobs seemingly beyond the capabilities of worldwide news organizations?
I smell a rat.
What If the Polls Are Wrong?
Al Hunt's got a recent article running under the headline "What If the Polls Are Wrong?" and laying out all the reasons for Democrats not to despair. Essentially, he's counting on a massive influx of new voters to turn the tide for Kerry. There may be some of that. But bad polls may be hiding a Republican trend as well. The key is how ashamed are 9/11 Democrats and Independents of their newfound Republican beliefs?
That 9/11 is going to change voting patterns was a given in 2001 but you don't here much about it in 2004 during the first presidential election since that disastrous day. How many 9/11 Democrats are out there is simply not known, for the simple reason that the Democrat party has worked, and worked hard and long, for defectors to feel ashamed. Voting for the GOP is not just a difference of opinion for core Democrats, it's a betrayal, a vote for evil, for grandma starvers, church burners, a vote for the lynch mob. But some number of people who have internalized all that political/cultural baggage are still going to go into the privacy of the voting booth and vote GOP because there's a war on and the Democrat party is too full of deluded appeasers who are going to get people killed, people who are close to home.
The nightmare scenario for Democrats is that they're going to be true to themselves in the voting booth but won't tell the truth to a pollster. The ground could be shifting under their feet and, because of the internal shame culture that the Democrat party has formed over long years of effort, they'll never know it until election eve, 2004 and possibly for some time beyond.
September 20, 2004
The Substance of Free Market Style
If anybody can tell me what the point is of alienating moderates is by adopting a belligerent style, I really would appreciate it. Other than an exercise of the bile and spleen, I can't see the utility of it and I certainly see disadvantages to it. In education reform, such rhetorical excesses as "(t)here are, however, so many people whose livelihoods are involved in schooling, that closing the schools will take many, many years" leads to stiffer opposition from teachers unions, administration groups, and the PTA and on a marginal basis increases the number of children who leave their childhood with the poor education that the present system will give them instead of the superior results from a choice system.
Why, oh why do free market advocates continue to shoot themselves in the foot like this and let down the children and other constituencies who would benefit from more freedom in education and other areas of life? I just don't understand it outside of the psychological matrix of a fear of success. Are there any alternative reasons?
September 16, 2004
Handle With Care: Ann Coulter
This is why Ann Coulter isn't going to get her NR job back anytime soon:
No, Kitty Kelley is not a brain damaged syphilitic. The above paragraphs are a below the belt shot demonstrating how easy undocumented cheap shots are and how they can come from any ideological quarter.
Can we all turn back before our entire society goes off the rhetorical cliff? Left, right, whatever ideology you have, this over the top stuff has got to go and the only ones with a prayer to clean out the stables are the in-house members of each faction.
The Sky is Not Falling
The Financial Times has an article on Green Zone security and both Andrew Sullivan and Dan Drezner are needlessly panicking over a slick bit of journalistic manipulation. Here's why things are not as bad as they appear.
You've got a 2nd hand report of an anonymous briefer. Well, he's not really anonymous because you know that he's in charge of perimeter security and he's a major. That's likely to narrow down to one man which the FT reporters cannot name because, by the rules of their game, they would then have to go with him to get comment and he'd then likely clarify things in a way that would not be conducive to their article thesis.
It would take ten minutes to go find a press officer and ask for the chain of command in terms of who is in charge of perimeter security and note down the relevant name. So why did they violate basic journalistic protocol and not seek comment and verify, on record if possible, the substance of the allegation? Piercing the veil of pseudonymity would have advanced the story if what you were after was the truth and it was easy to do so why not do it?
Furthermore, the quote in the headline does not appear in the article. Who are they quoting? Did anybody ever represent that the Green Zone was totally secure? People have been lobbing in mortars for some time yet only now it's 'no longer totally secure' as the bad guys ramp up their pre-election offensive? Also, I like the flag. I believe it's the Saddam era flag they are using, you know, the one with Saddam's personal handwriting on it? Nice, impartial touch that bit.
The FT is not playing it straight and people should call them on it. It's not Dan Rather territory but still...
Front v Back Loading
While reading an IBD article meta-analyzing a Washington Post analysis of Bush spending plans it became clear that the bulk of Bush spending, as scored, were in transitional costs to avoid the impending insolvency of Social Security.
John Kerry's proposal is not to cut benefits and not to privatize. That leaves raising taxes (the amounts are too huge to politically support) or borrowing the money. Since the crisis won't happen in the next 10 years, Kerry's spending score on this issue is much better than Bush's. The problem is that by back loading the expense, it makes the adjustments more rushed, more painful for all of us when they come, and it makes it that much more likely that the political pain at the time will see the end of Social Security and the loss of a decent sized chunk of an awful lot of people's retirement plans.
Front loading any large entitlement fix is the fiscally responsible and compassionate thing to do. George Bush is doing his part, and getting punished for it.
September 15, 2004
Ralph Peters Discovers Newbie Disease
Ralph Peter's NY Post article on hatred online is only interesting for its proof by example that some things never change.
The Internet has always been expanding. Every time a major new group of people came on-line they were viewed as a threat by the old guard. They were the clueless newbies, those who didn't understand the 'Net, didn't get the culture, annoyed people with all sorts of stupid beginners questions instead of reading the documentation and generally messed the place up.
But a funny thing always happened. The old guard (with a surly scowl and plenty of snark) eventually taught the newbies how to use the 'Net, what was out of bounds, and expanded the old net culture into new areas, far beyond where it could have reached without the latest fresh influx of 'clueless newbies'.
And just as everything got to be good again on the 'Net, a new major round of clueless newbies came aboard restarting the whole cycle of problems. The funny thing was, though, that some of the most virulently anti-newbie ranters were recent newbies themselves. What Ralph Peters misses is that the 3rd world is just another group of clueless newbies to the veterans of the 'Net. We've been through it before, several times in fact, and we'll knock heads, cancel accounts, and wage a war of bits and bytes that will push the violent, the extremists, the haters to the fringe. We've always done it before. We'll do it again.
September 14, 2004
The Angry Economist's recent anti-Bush tear has been bothering me but I couldn't put my finger on why until his most recent post. Substantively, if you're already in the "small government tribe" there's absolutely nothing wrong with it. And that's it's deadly flaw, because if you aren't in the tribe it comes off as anti-school/anti-education in the most heartless, barbaric way.
The truth is that public schools can be easily repurposed to provide more effective education, producing better, more well rounded citizens than they are currently doing so and introducing real competition by eliminating the tilt toward their dysfunctional model is a very great service we can do for the next generation. In the end, many of the same people who currently work in the old, subpar system will continue to work in the new. Others will come in as new entrants and some will decide that a school system that focuses more on education than bureaucracy and time serving is not for them.
The difference for somebody who is a small government advocate is small to nonexistent. But in terms of actually getting policy enacted, it's all the difference in the world.
Being Fair to the French II
I've noted before that France's headscarf ban needs to be observed and judged on its results over time, not dismissed out of hand. Dhimmi Watch is starting to agree now that a muslim police woman is refusing to remove her headscarf.
I still doff my hat to the French in absolute awe at their ability to make a slight change, a mere trifle for good relations across all social sectors, into something that efficiently sorts the nutty islamists from their saner muslim cousins.
September 13, 2004
North Korea Blast
It looks like the North Koreans will be allowing foreign visitors to the site of the recently detected huge explosion that caused so many worries around the world. No doubt with discreet radiation detectors all around, a UK diplomatic excursion will tour the site as early as Tuesday.
Will the North Koreans get a clue that it isn't a bright idea to close off their country so much that even legitimate sources of national pride cause suspicion and international alarm? I don't think so but I hope that the UK diplomats will find a proper means of delivering that message once again at the earliest possible opportunity.
Breaking Al Queda
A recent article entitled Catching Al Queda completely misses the significance of killing and capturing Al Queda's leadership. Perhaps looking at how another longstanding illegal organization system died might help make things clear.
The Mafia has largely died in the US. It is a death by a thousand cuts that was administered, is still being administered to the sad remnants of that once fearsome organization. The formula was and remains simple. Catch low level organization men, turn them states evidence, and climb up the chain of command until you take out a family's head. The dead and arrested will be replaced but the disruption and replacement of seasoned leaders by immature, green talent means that repeating the cycle of bringing down the family boss is easier next time.
The exact same mechanism is applicable to Al Queda. The more senior level people are caught or killed, the more people get promoted too fast, get too much responsibility for their talents and maturity, and make beginners mistakes, further eroding the organization.
September 11, 2004
3 years and I still remember 9/11
I was in Romania, trying to get a business afloat and staying with in-laws. I came in and found my wife glued to the TV. It took me several minutes to wrap my mind around the idea that this was an attack, that there was no accident, that one tower had already fallen. We were asked by several people what the US would do. I still remember what I said "The US just woke up to the world and the world isn't going to like it." Well, the world hasn't liked it much and the US is still awake to the world in a way that hadn't been true since the Cold War ended.
May the world never find out how restrained and laid back we've been.
September 10, 2004
The Bush TANG Forgeries?
Like everybody else, I'm indebted to Powerline's ongoing account of the investigation into CBS' 60 Minutes bombshell documents purporting to demonstrate that President Bush did not properly complete his service and did not deserve an honorable discharge. The kicker for me is kerning, something that typewriters simply don't do but word processors have done for the last couple of decades.
Proportional font spacing is something that is being touted as another dead giveaway. Unless you really want to discuss the minutiae of 1960s/1970s technology I'd stay away from that one. IBM's famous Selectric typewriter is monospaced but IBM did make something called the Executive, which even had multiple fonts. It does not, however, appear to have been able to kern, nor is it clear that the Texas Air National Guard was in the habit of using such a high end, fancy machine to type ordinary memos.
September 08, 2004
Letter to the Paper XXXI
David Ignatius writes that the US pays too little respect to the opinions of others, that we feel ourselves the center of the universe and unwisely antagonize our potential partners and allies. Our "Ptolmaic" foreign policy needs to become "Copernican" recognizing we are but one of a number of nations. This will allow us to be more accurate in our foreign policy calculations. I emailed him an alternate view:
Ordering the Unorganized Militia III
Froggy Ruminations provides some expert opinion on why we're dangerously vulnerable to a Beslan style attack. I left the following in comments:
September 07, 2004
Defending Bush Economics
The first is that security has an economics component. A US that is not secure, that has decided to allow an "acceptable" amount of casualties from terrorism because it can't be bothered to really fix the problem also ends up with a worse economy. There ends up being a security tax on everything and I'm sure that Russ would agree that a tax increase is no way to promote good economic times.
The second reason is a bit more directly economic (more specifically politico-economic). George W Bush is something that we haven't seen since before WW II, a conservative politician who is confident of a durable conservative majority. Ever since FDR broke the back of conservative confidence and political dominance in the US, whenever conservatives gain power, it's been in short spurts and progress is measured by how much you can get done in a rush before the inevitable reassertion of the liberal majority. Imagine it as hit and run raiding tactics.
But the Congress, absent self-interested party switchers, hasn't been in Democrat hands since January 1995. It's quite likely that we're entering another period of conservative dominance and it's about time we started to act like it because some of the big reforms just don't work well if done in one fell swoop.
Given the Bush administration's razor thin Congressional majorities, maintaining those majorities, and being able to use them to forward your agenda is a very ugly process, necessitating a lot of smiling and insisting you wanted it after taking it in the shorts.
The core of Bush's contribution to furthering free market economics in his first term is that he has insisted on measuring the results of policies. Over the long haul, what drives economies into the ground is not a mistake here or there in policy. What destroys national economies is when the law creates a system where the normal measurements and feedback loops are either wildly distorted or removed by government fiat. George Bush, while giving in on a variety of here and now issues, has consistently insisted on measuring the results of these systems, starting the process of bringing the 'drunk' (power drunk government in this case) to that crucial moment of clarity where all serious reform starts.
The political history of the modern free market movement in the US is littered with all sorts of failed projects which were tried without adequately preparing the political ground. In a highly challenging Congress, George Bush is steadily reestablishing broken feedback loops so that people can once again start seeing the maddening consequences of government intervention in the economy.
If you want to challenge George Bush's economic compromises, you have to ask whether you think the same compromises would have been made with 5 more conservative members of the Senate, 20 more conservative House members. If George W Bush is such a protectionist, why were the steel tariffs withdrawn?
With prescription drug funding, it is important to remember that surgery costs more than pills. The system prior to getting this bill passed subsidized elder care surgery while leaving pills unsubsidized. This made tremendous perverse incentives and was just one example of a hugely distorted market. The healthcare market is distorted to the breaking point and the forces of stasis, of keeping the dysfunctional system running just a few more years has been a powerful actor for decades in this market.
The current situation, like it or not, is going to see several more bills come out in the near to mid future correcting the problems in the prescription drug bill. We're going to see greater costs on pills but be surprised that surgery costs will drop. The unspoken truth is that dynamic effects in medical care aren't measured by the government any better than dynamic effects in tax policy. Where will we end up net? We don't know yet but a pernicious incentive towards more expensive surgery has been removed and some good measurement systems have been put in place so that the data will favor the free market reformers in the next round.
Health Savings Accounts (HSA) are a tremendous advance. In areas with significant HSA usage, doctors will be able to actually set up true free market practices where they set their prices via a market, bargain, watch their pennies, and even offer discounts and sales in ways that they are currently prohibited from doing by their insurance company provider contracts.
As free market medicine reappears on the american scene and shows that it's a superior alternative, the combination of measurements showing the failure of state alternatives and free market medicine's reappearance will create a long term majority in favor of unwinding our current healthcare policy mess. But the first step always was breaking the decades old logjam halting reform of any type. George W Bush accomplished that and he should be proud of it.
The free market often looks to be cruel, heartless, and just plain mean when a plant closes down, when real wages drop, when any of a hundred different unhappy economic events happen to good people. What sustains the belief in the free market is that these painful adjustments, freeing labor to be repurposed to other uses over the long haul creates a superior long term result. It's disappointing that some free market advocates aren't taking a properly long view on the Bush economic record.
Letter to the Paper XXX
Kerry's hunting faux pas came up again over at One Hand Clapping. While Kerry legitimately made a goof and it's important to the race, Kerry's actual mistake, talking about shotgun hunting for deer, isn't what people are talking about. Here's what I left in comments:
September 06, 2004
Ordering the Unorganized Militia II
Zef Chafets gets his main point right that the point of Islamist action is empire, not terrorism for its own sake. He gets two details desperately wrong though. The most important is that there is a method to harden a Beslan, and all the shopping centers and other purely civilian targets out there. It is as old as the republic, the unorganized militia.
Improving the readiness of the unorganized militia would increase the numbers needed to take over any target, achieve any goal further than blowing themselves up in inconvenient places, a form of terrorism that depends on the maintenance of a profoundly unislamic societal matrix extolling the false gods of the death cult. Defeating the death cult in their midst should be something that even the most hard core islamists have to worry about theologically.
Chafet's second error is that while the super-empowerment of subnational groups is being taken advantage of most by islamists, the tools are there for any group to take advantage of and it's quite likely that others will make a name for themselves doing the same thing. A trio of domestic threats, Timothy McVeigh with his right-wing militia ties, the ALF with their bombing and arson campaign, and ELF with its strikes against loggers and other imagined corporate demons all have the potential to pick up right where the Islamists leave off.
All these threats, foreign and domestic, rely on the existence of undefended soft targets. The unorganized militia is all about raising the generalized level of "hardness" everywhere, and doing it in random, secret distribution patterns that are not susceptible to any intelligence analysis by our enemies. XYZ neighborhood might look innocent and easy meat for an attack but the percentage of people with guns, of alert people who have the means to foil an attack, are unknown and it's an uncertain and deadly crap-shoot to go and find out.
This pushes targets more towards empty buildings and isolated pockets with few people. It's a distinct improvement to push the enemy target list out of major population centers, an effort that we need to gear up, and soon.
September 05, 2004
Not Giving the Jihadists Credit
After reading this Rocky Mountain News opinion piece it struck me that the writer seemed absolutely clueless regarding asymmetric warfare and how it's supposed to look when the side using it is winning. Nobody's ever tried to climb up as steep a hill of asymmetry as the Islamists v. the USA. When the odds are not so lopsided, you get Beslan writ a hundred times over, repeated at will until the "stronger" power gives up. This is the jihadist war plan, for us as well as Russia. Such school takedowns will be coming to our shores soon enough. The test run was a success.
Ordering the Unorganized Militia I
If you've ever cracked open a US state law military code, you find the funny sounding term, the unorganized militia. It's there in the federal code as well. This term dates back to the founding of our republic (and probably beyond) to mean the whole of the people (with minor exceptions for those incapable of bearing arms). By definition, the unorganized militia has no units and no officers. But I wonder if it might not begin to have some order.
These thoughts are prompted by the tragedy of the poor account Russia's unorganized militia (the parents and teachers present) at the Beslan school terrorist takeover. There were plenty of failed heroes. One account I read remarked that 20 men were shot for resisting the terrorists. If those 20 had been armed the tragedy might have played out differently. With their ranks thinned by those 20 (who would likely have died, armed or no) more might have escaped without being shot in the back. Russian special forces might have had better options with a thinner terrorist perimeter and fewer might have died in the ultimate mad scramble when everything went wrong.
In some sense, Russia's unorganized militia is somewhat better off than the US as their conscription system (even though it's brutal and dysfunctional) creates widespread familiarity with firearms and with basic military concepts. Their material poverty and withered civilian gun culture put them right back at square one though.
In a sense, I shouldn't be writing this post. Somebody with military experience, a former officer who knows both how to soldier and how to lead should be writing this. But what I do know are systems and information and these two are critical to the question of ordering an unorganized body and practically creating a functional group without the normal (and expensive) coordination of a formal structure. This means I have a vision in my head but I don't necessarily have the tools to get things down in one draft as I do where I've been thinking about such things for much longer.
September 04, 2004
Preventing School Terrorism
I've been wondering who would be the first person to voice the idea of getting rid of the gun exclusion zones around schools in response to the Beslan school terrorist attack. The prize goes to David Koppel who doesn't even bother with addressing federal law but goes straight for arming teachers.
This is a serious issue. No doubt 20 highly armed terrorists might have overcome armed defenders and taken the school but can anybody seriously entertain the idea that they would have done so without severe casualties and without much, if not most of the student body escaping? Those that resisted, unarmed, were shot for their trouble anyway so making their attackers pay in blood before they die seems like a distinct improvement.
This is a very political season. Clearly, if there were a school shooting that argued for stricter gun control, Democrats will be out there making it. With the shoe on the other foot will Republicans dare to secure one of our softest targets? The children of Russia have already issued a bloody warning. Will we listen?
September 02, 2004
Letter to the Paper XXIX
Bemoaning intellectual degradation has a long pedigree. Unfortunately, while change is possible, most such complaints are just empty and without any impulse to improve things. Even worse, much of it is fatalistic, dismissive of the possibility of improvement. Here's a comment from me on some Spanish complaints:
September 01, 2004
The closest thing a prosecutor can get to treason without actually aiding and comforting the enemy is to withhold exculpatory evidence in terrorism cases and obtain wrongful convictions that have to get thrown out of court later. Law enforcement models work badly with anti-terrorist action, which all too often stops plots by the use of secret information that cannot come out in open court. When a prosecutor says trust me, trust your government, he asks the jury and society at large to look at the record of the government's actions. The next time a prosecutor says, or implies that, it's going to be just that much harder to put the bad guys away.
The only possible silver lining is that the government might want to go through the entire process again, this time without the prosecutorial misconduct, and convict them again.
A product of BruceR and Jantar Mantar Communications, and affiliated contributors. Opinions expressed within are in no way the responsibility of anyone's employers or facilitating agencies and should by rights be taken as nothing more than one person's half-informed viewpoint on the world.