October 31, 2004
Steven Den Beste has a rare update announcing some endorsements made by others regarding the 2004 US presidential election. I think it's pretty safe to say SDB's not a Kerry fan.
October 30, 2004
Imagine Catholics in 2005
Reading through this piece on whether it's acceptable in good conscience for a Catholic to vote for Kerry, one thought kept going through my head. If this self-professed Catholic who says he believes life begins at conception but denies any actual obligation to support life in the abortion struggle wins the presidency, and wins a large section of the Catholic vote along the way, even granting the far-fetched notion that the pro-life stand of the president is unimportant, that Congress will never let strong pro-life justices through the confirmation process, that the executive cannot significantly alter the number of abortions that happen, Kerry's election would be a serious blow to Catholic doctrine lived out seriously. It would still be an option for those quaint and silly enough to follow it on their own but it would be like Catholic doctrine on contraception is today, massive disobedience among Catholics to Catholic doctrine. And the change will flow from the one unanswerable question, "but what about John Kerry"?
The hierarchy is right to be seriously worried about the election of John Kerry to the Presidency on a pro-abortion platform. It's sad to see so many Catholics blind to the dangers and the need to re-impose a stricter fidelity to our common faith.
Kuttnerian Idiocy on Flu Shots
Robert Kuttner embarrasses himself in a recent article on the US flu shot availability problem. It's a mix of bad economics, anti-capitalist agitprop, fear mongering, and most amazingly pro-indentured servitude. Talk about a target rich environment for criticism.
First things first, the reason we have a shortage of flu shots and other countries do not is that the FDA has higher standards for flu vaccines, thus fragmenting the market into "vaccine good enough for the US" and everybody else. The extra regulatory burden isn't trivial to meet so you can't just swoop down and buy from the rest of the 1st world when something goes wrong here anymore than you can ship gasoline into Chicago from out of area when the local refinery has a hiccup and prices soar (thank the EPA for that particular market fragmentation). Canadians do not have a flu vaccine shortage because they didn't adopt absurdly high standards over other first world nations and not "thanks to their national health system". If they were to suffer a vaccine production mishap, they can dip into the wider market in a way that the US, with its extra high standards cannot.
What profits are to be had in the US vaccine market are largely soaked up by legal bills as trial lawyers have circled the industry picking off one participant after another. Here is Kuttner's one good idea, cutting down the lawsuit opportunities by act of Congress.
But even here, Kuttner gets it wrong as out of control torts are sucking the lifeblood out of America across the board. Their pernicious effects regarding vaccines just happen to be more visible. His idea would only apply a one issue band aid on a very deep wound in our legal system. General tort reform has long been a Bush administration goal but no credit is given here by Kuttner to Bush administration foresightedness and trial lawyer pig headedness. The trial lawyer-in-chief in Congress is, of course, Sen. Edwards who is the number 2 on the Democratic ticket this year.
Things go downhill from this bit of half-right thinking. Kuttner wants to force companies to participate in making vaccines. He wants to be able to compel their labor and force them to sell at a particular price. He labels this level as a "normal profit", something that is likely to neither be normal or profitable.
But imagine the precedent here. Just because there are insufficient market participants in markets on which people's lives depend, the government has the right to compel labor from companies engaged in related production. You might as well say that software coders could be forced into defense production work at "normal profits" or "normal wages" no matter that they have no interest in the field nor would the money be equivalent to what they are making elsewhere for the same effort. Doctors could be forced into the VA system, whether they liked it or not. After all, just like the pharmaceutical companies, without public research and government licenses, Doctors wouldn't be where they are today.
But wait, there's more. In an early paragraph the specter of avian flu makes its appearance. It has nothing to do with this year's flu crisis but casually tossing around the idea of mass human casualties after railing at Bush administration incompetence is about as subtle as interspersing pictures of jews and rats. It's just vile.
The bad economics shows up in the staggering assumption that government is a superior allocator of scarce resources than the private sector. The fact that this has been disproven time and time again for decades does not seem to have made an impression on the writer who seems to be in an economic time warp back to the interbellic years when the Reds were on the march.
He also plaintively asks "Do we really need Cialis, and Levitra and Viagra?" as if price competition created by new market entrants were an entirely foreign concept to him. In fact, yes, we do need them for both health and economic reasons.
The economics I've covered above but there are people who have a real need for help who cannot take one or two of these drugs without dangerous side-effects that do not show up in the third. Some small number can't take any of them safely and effectively and await further new entrants into the market for their conditions to be relieved by the pharmaceutical revolution.
Robert Kuttner doesn't care about these people. They're a minority of sufferers interspersed throughout the healthcare population and are not very united. Kuttner doesn't care about who he'll delay cures for as long as the choice of where pharmaceutical research money gets to be more politicized, more socialized, more nationalized.
Can we have a rousing verse or two of the Internationale? Go ahead, start without me. I'll just be off to the side being sick. Don't mind me...
Big Government Conservatism: A Lifecycle
Reading about Bush's Republican Revolution, especially his creation of big government conservatism as a major thread of the modern conservative movement. I think that a great deal of the concern that many small government conservatives and libertarians have about big government conservatism is misplaced. It, like Republican radicalism, is something that is legitimately kept in conservatism's cupboard, to be taken out when needed, but the circumstances when it is needed are very few, and far between. The last time we needed Republican radicals before their current run starting on 9/11 was back in Lincoln's day in order to defeat the scourge of slavery.
Big government conservatism is something like a live virus vaccine. Sure, it can give you the actual disease of socialism and government tyranny just like big government liberalism but this particular strain is weakened by two features that will save us, if we play things right, measurements and standards.
Measuring the results of a government program and terminating government expenditures that don't actually deliver results are probably the easiest selling offering the center-right has offered to the people in decades. Who wants to waste money when you can spend it better elsewhere? But here's the twist. If small government conservatives are right, if the libertarians are right, the number of programs that properly measured, actually deliver for the american people are very few and far between. A stringent insistence on measuring success and killing programs that fail the people is a sure ticket to a smaller government if the small government ideology actually maps well onto reality. The emergence of the evidence for such failures can take a few years but the harvest in pruned failures after that will be continual and long-lasting, a process of successful government cutting that will play out over decades.
The big government part of big government conservatism is something that is likely to die out as the measurement and accountability parts of big government conservatism strip away the self-serving lies and obfuscations propping up failed programs. That doesn't mean that small government conservatives should wait for inevitable collapses. We need to fight to make sure that programs that fail are killed, free market alternatives are given equal billing with pseudo-free market alternatives as next stage replacements, and push big-government humpty dumpty off the wall as soon as possible.
Apologies for the low output on the blog lately. I've been having very high output in my (most) personal life. Since Wednesday, a GI bug has been getting me down. So far, I've dropped 9 pounds but hope to be turning the corner soon.
Depending on Delusion I
26% of Palestinians believe that 9/11 was an Israeli plot to get the US wholeheartedly on their side. Now that Osama bin Laden has released a tape that clearly talks about how "we" took down the towers, what do they do? How do they integrate this new information into their worldview? This is a fundamental problem with the Islamic tendency towards delusion, you get a lot of very embarrassing moments where you have to revise everything you've been saying the past three years on the most important geopolitical issue of the day.
When such people are on the fringes, they just lose credibility and are simply not listened to. One quarter of the population is too big a proportion to do that with so you end up with people denying their past statements, their records, and a general understanding not to pry too closely into actual past history. Once that happens too often, historical analysis becomes a heavily sown minefield that is almost impossible to discuss. You lose the ability of the past to teach its lessons because you remind the majority of its shame in participating in past delusional episodes.
Frankly, I don't know the way out. What's sure, though, is that any analysis of present or past in Islam must take into account this enhanced incidence of delusional thinking. If it doesn't, no matter how compelling its conclusions might be, you're being led into your own false path.
October 29, 2004
Bin Laden Alive, Supports Anybody But Bush
A new tape seems to have definitively answered the "is he dead" question in the negative. Bin Laden's alive, more than a bit grayer, and while not specifically endorsing Kerry, seems to clearly be an ABB (anybody but Bush) kind of guy (maybe he's a heartbroken Deaniac).
Voting for Idiots
Eugene Volokh thinks that ballots should be accessible to even below average intelligence voters. That's fine, as far as it goes. I happen to agree that if you're a little slow, you shouldn't basically have your vote error rate so high that members of your IQ level are basically voting white noise. How far down the intelligence scale does that go? You've got to test ballots, like you calibrate standardized tests. So what's the appropriate minimum IQ that the ballot should be tested for?
The nasty thing is that you can't really answer because the entire concept is incredibly politically incorrect. There's some real life history behind being gunshy about such questions because lots of states used to have literacy tests and those tests were applied discriminatorily against racial minorities as a disenfranchisement tool, mostly against Republicans. Those sorts of literacy tests have been banned decades ago, and rightly so. But I wouldn't be surprised if the fear of being associated with such a base practice out of America's darker past has stopped election board officials from doing the easy thing, simply picking an intelligence standard, let's say an IQ of 75, finding a bunch of people with an IQ of 75 and asking them to fill out the ballot. If the error rate is below a certain amount, the ballot design passes and is used for the election.
At that point, "partisan ballot design" charges go out the window. If you tested the ballot, it fell within the error rate specs, you've got yourself a nice, scientifically based safe harbor to protect yourself from litigation. At a certain point of low intelligence, any ballot is going to be too complicated to fill out. You have to draw the line somewhere. Why not set a standard, test the things before they go into use, and where you still get error rates higher than normal, you can at least eliminate poor ballot design as a culprit.
October 28, 2004
Inducing Strategic Despair Amongst the Delusional
Anybody that has read Bernard Lewis' excellent book What Went Wrong: The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East knows that Islam has been on a long downhill slide for centuries. A civilization that could have easily eradicated christianity were it not for its own internal divisions distracting it has become one of the most backward on the planet. A great contributor to this long slide is a sense of self-deception. Muslims were on top, they must still be on top, and only dark, diabolic conspiracies keep them from their rightful supremacy. Only sharp, undeniable physical reality, a Napoleon invading Egypt, the inability of anybody other than a western power to dislodge Napoleon from Egypt, and all the other undeniable expressions of islamic decline disturbs this ongoing charade of superiority and then only temporarily. The charade resumes quickly and the islamic world climbs deeper into delusion.
All this came to mind in reading Dr. Barnett's analysis of a recent article entitled What the Terrorists Have in Mind. It's something of a communications analysis piece, comparing the despair of jihadists in 2002 with their current state which can best be described as hopeful bravado. What it does not do is set any sort of context beyond the one cycle of sharp setback during military operations in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and the development of optimism since.
Dr. Barnett analyzes the piece from the point of view of the goal of inducing strategic despair. This is a normal thing to do because strategic despair is generally what makes the other side quit before you kill every member of that side. Given the generally delusional nature of islamist opinion on geopolitics, that God has anointed them to be first in the world, that we outside of Islam are intrinsically lesser creatures I think that any analysis of inducing strategic despair must explicitly take into account the long-term delusional nature of their group think. The only reasonable conclusion that can be drawn, I believe, is that inducing strategic despair among the islamists is going to take longer and be harder than among a more rational enemy.
The pattern of false propaganda to whip up the troops and whip up the people was most recently and openly on display in the pronouncements of "Comical Ali", Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf in talking about victory after Iraqi victory but the battlefields kept getting closer to Baghdad. But why were his pronouncements viewed with such mirth? You could measure progress on a map. In a consolidation campaign, there few pins to put on maps, external reality is difficult to measure, and so delusional pronouncements cease to be comical. In fact, they can have the very real positive effect of staving off strategic despair.
Dr. Barnett suggests that we need to take the whitebread look off of the current international coalition. I think that there is far more hope than he thinks in the very article he analyzes.
I have no doubt that the Indian prime minister would rather have Iraqis be the innocent bystander victims of Lashkar-e-Tayba than Indians. But how to manage this? If they allow the Iraq situation to deteriorate to defeat to the US, all that will happen will be a bunch of Islamist fire eaters pouring back into Kashmir with more combat experience and international support links forged during the Iraqi campaign. It will be a repeat of the arab fighters in Afghanistan. For the sake of his own country, he needs Iraq to succeed.
Does it make sense for an Indian prime minister to do this now, before a US election which could leave his freshly arrived troops holding the bag as a new Kerry administration pulls out? Of course not. It would make a great deal more sense for India to answer a call for help from a new Iraqi government in early to mid 2005 if India could be assured that the US was not going to simply substitute Indian troops for its own and that there would be a real increase in coalition forces. Russia's traditional relationship with Iraq could also be renewed by them participating in a new force on the Iraqi government's request for aid on the same conditions, that the US not do a 1:1 substitution of their forces for its own.
The fundamental question is whether Russia, India, and all the rest of the potential New Core partners hate George W Bush enough to act against their country's best interest. If that is the case, the very idea of Core, a system of countries that are inextricably linked by mutual connectivity, is in doubt. If so many countries are willing to cut off their noses to spite George Bush, why would Core ties mean anything over momentary passions of all stripes?
October 27, 2004
The Next Iron Lady?
Yesterday, I kicked one of this election's sleeping dogs what are we going to do when Schroeder inevitably gets his butt kicked out of power. Today, here's a good candidate. Is Angela Merkel going to be the next German Chancellor? It's still unclear, but it's quite likely somebody from the article picture is going to be taking the oath of office, if not her, then Edmund Stoiber who lost to Schroeder in a squeeker the last time around.
Depending on local election results, it's possible that Schroeder is going to fall a mere 7 months from now. Then, the FRG is going to be led by a party that owes more to Thatcher than to Bismark. How would a Kerry presidency handle such a development? I can't say for sure but probably about as well as he has with our current relationship with Poland (for those not paying attention, that's very bad). A Bush presidency would have a much better ability to handle the changes a pro-reform CDU government would mean in our bilateral and multilateral relationship with the FRG.
Arab Liberals Stand Up
I've long believed that when arab liberals step up to the plate, we're going to be well on our way to winning the WOT. While there have been small signs of their awakening before, here's one that's very welcome news. The idea of a court to take on imams promoting hate and terrorism is not something that would fly in a country with a 1st amendment. But what it would do is be a powerful blow against the culture of incitement that affects all too many Islamic mosques and other organizations. Since it would be an indigenous response, we can safely let our participation be of happy observer (and possibly covert protector of the judges from inevitable assassination plots).
It's stuff like this that makes me think that Islam is not irredeemable and, though theologically unsound, does not have to share the fate of thuggee.
October 26, 2004
What to do About Germany?
In all the US election hubbub, one of the least educated analyses has been with regard to Germany and it's upcoming 9/2006 elections. The SPD, led by Gerhard Schroeder, is disintegrating before our very eyes. Only by reaching deep into nascant german jingoism and anti-american emotion was he able to pull out a narrow victory the last election and it's all been downhill since then for his party. The SPD has lately been racking up a number of important firsts and mosts, most seats lost, first time to lose certain seats in the modern era, the SPD looks like nothing we've seen in the modern era unless you cast your US educated eye back to the disintegration of the Whig party.
Currently, trans-atlantic relations are dominated by odd couples. The center-right President Bush's closes ally is the center-left Tony Blair. France is our greatest antagonist inside the EU, calling most loudly for our humbling (and long before President Bush came on the scene) and center-right President Chirac has his own political odd couple going with center-left Gerhard Schroeder. But it is highly likely that Schroeder will be out in 2006, leaving France without a vital partner in its US bashing and thus largely impotent. So in the final two years of the next term, the US president will have a good opportunity to restart relations with a new FRG government dominated by the center-right CDU/CSU who wants to steer clear of the reflexive anti-americanism of its SPD predecessor. Have you heard anything about this likely change? I haven't.
October 25, 2004
From the Depths to the Light
This is a true story. You may not believe it but this is my son, an extraordinary boy of 5. As usual he did not want to go to sleep. He hopped up on a stool and was trying to get to an icon we have put on his bedroom wall. It is a classic western icon of Jesus pointing to his sacred heart (it's a classic rendition with crown, thorns, flames and blood). George tells me he wants one. He further explains that he wants a real one. So I tell him to get into bed, I pull down the icon and explain to him, in very abbreviated form, Genesis, original sin, Calvary, the three days in Hell, the freeing of the imprisoned spirits, the Resurrection, and how Jesus' sacrifice completed a very long, complicated plan to redeem mankind from that original sin.
Wide eyed, he took it all in very calmly and repeated that he wanted his own heart like the flaming heart of Jesus. I told him that only God could give him that and that he should pray and talk to him frequently. Only God could do it. He seemed content and ready to go to sleep.
I found out a few minutes later that his window was open and went to close it. He turned, informed that he had decided, and said that he wanted to help God so that men would know Him. Then he turned and seemed to go back to sleep.
It was a false sense of finality. In the middle of writing this, he burst into my home office and informed me that we needed to house for God, informing me, in his most serious five year old manner, that there needed to be a place with doors and a lock that no man could come in but that God could come in because he would have the key.
We still haven't got him to sleep yet, but I'll close this note here about this extraordinary episode. God is still alive in the hearts of little boys. With all the scary, mad things going on in these times, it is a true note of hope.
I'll be light blogging for a bit. A death in the family is making it impossible to concentrate properly.
The Nature of Good Cop/Bad Cop
If you watch TV, you've seen it a thousand times, a pair of police interrogate a suspect, one pretends to be off the wall, dangerous (the bad cop) and the other pretends to be in a slowly losing fight to restrain him and follow the rules (the good cop). So who can play bad cop to our good cop on the geopolitical stage?
The answer seems pure simplicity, nobody can because, if we put our mind to it, there is nobody out there that we cannot restrain. OTOH, we are perfect for the bad cop role. So in any coalition in the near to mid-term future, we're going to wear the black hat of the good cop/bad cop tactic whenever we play that gambit. It's just a fact of life that comes from geopolitical unipolarity.
There's only one real problem with this. Americans viscerally hate to wear the black hat. We like to think of ourselves as good guys and strive to create policies that get us what we want while staying on the white hat side of the fence as much as possible.
This uncomfortable facet of unipolarity is going to chafe at the american political psyche. Eventually the results are going to show up in electoral results but there is no real alternative to wearing the black hat that we control other than retreating and losing. So what's the solution? A multipolarity based on other major power centers growing up and gaining stature rather than trying to achieve parity by bringing down the US to their level. Look for the US to embark on campaigns to encourage the EU and other potential powers (think Nigeria in Africa) to grow up, though things will never be put that baldly.
Fighting the Last War in Foreign Affairs
Sometimes I read a long article, vehemently disagree with it, but know that the huge length of the thing means that it's quite likely that I won't be able to effectively grapple with it in all its glorious idiotariansim. Such is the dilemma I face with The Sources of American Legitimacy in Foreign Affairs.
It looks, has the length, and appears in the proper outlet to be a serious look at the problem of US legitimacy but it is no such thing. It is a hatchet job that assumes facts not in evidence, promises more than it actually delivers, is completely blind to new solutions being necessary for new (for us) problems and like a little lost child takes comfort in old, worn rag dolls.
The big fact not in evidence is that the US war in Iraq is illegal. Iraq was in a very strange state of legal limbo as the Safwan Accords were signed and the UN took up the task of disarming Iraq and defanging it of its horribly poor habit of killing innocent people. The state that we were in was the same state that we have been at with N. Korea, a state of cease-fire. To declare that cease-fires, by simple virtue of a decade of longevity become binding peace is ahistorical childishness. One example should suffice to explain how such a legal position would open up cans of worms that simply should not be opened.
The 1877 Russian theft of half of Moldova from Romania during a war which Romanian forces were on the same side as Russia was later undone in the terrible chaos of the Bolshevik revolution when the people of Moldova petitioned for reunion. Romania did not conclude a final border treaty during the inter-bellic years so, when the correlation of forces was right and the only power who could intervene would not do so, Stalin simply took it back.
To argue that the inter-bellic defacto borders were equivalent to de jure borders (the interlude between violent episodes was longer than in Iraq) is to give support to Romanian irredentism to land that is the present state of Moldova and some segments of Ukraine. I have no doubt that there are plenty of other irredentist passions that would be furthered by such a ruling which is why nobody ever dares make the charge formally. It would make such a hash of things that such anti-Bush polemics are only deployed for effect, stated as conclusion without too much examination of how that would really affect the international system if applied as a matter of law and not just ad-hoc justification to restrain US action.
The US, UK, Australia and all the rest of the major Coalition powers, withdrew from the preceding cease-fire of the UN sanctioned war started in 1991 but never ended. In fact, one of the early activities of the Iraqi foreign ministry after elections will be to conclude peace treaties with countries who fought in 1991 but did not take part in the concluding round of the war. Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, all will spend a significant amount of time negotiating treaties on the very real fact of international law that Iraq is still technically at war with Egypt et al.
So if we were already at war, the hurdle for restarting combat operations becomes the much lower "did they break the cease-fire" instead of "are they an imminent threat". The precedential value becomes much lower too as the number of states with which we're still technically at war is pretty much limited to N. Korea.
At one point, the idea is mooted that the strategy of preemption (nastily labeled preventive war, a big no-no in current international law) has prevented us from working out a grand bargain with North Korea. We already had a grand bargain. It was called the 1994 framework agreement. North Korea was cheating on it before the ink was dry on the signatures.
So preemption is supposed to be preventing a new grand bargain. But what evidence do we have that this treaty will be any better than the one a decade ago? There is none, so other than a distinct shortage of canapes and diplomatic soirees that surround such grand bargain efforts, the downside seems distinctly limited on the N. Korean front. Keeping them terrified that they could be next allows the PRC, S. Korea, Russia, and Japan to play good cop to our very, very bad cop. And really, given the imbalance in military force structure, who could play bad cop if we decided to take the good cop role? We are the only potentially unrestrainable actor in the world today so we're destined for bad cop roles.
A huge gaping hole in the article is the focus on the idea that the only way to become legitimate in the international system is the methods used in the Cold War period. Once the US is out of the occupation business in Iraq, it will become more and more clear what the point of the whole exercise was and how it is a good thing. The benefits of an arab democracy that threatens all the old lies about arab incapability to live successfully in the modern world will not only vastly improve the Middle East but will also improve our position in the world as anti-american lies are revealed for what they are and the truth of US good deeds comes through to anybody with eyes.
In this alternate model, legitimacy will not be reclaimed by returning to old tactics for a new world but by demonstrating that our deeds regarding freedom match our long-standing words in support of our ideals. Those words had been empty for decades when it comes to the Middle East and it is our 60 year lack of legitimacy in supporting our words with deeds that is the big legitimacy deficit that we have to make up.
Would the suggested tactic of returning to the strategies of the past solve this 60 year legitimacy deficit? Clearly it would not because our past behavior is what created the legitimacy deficit in the first place.
Oil-for-food has been exposed as a bribery program, designed to buy support in world capitals in order to stymie any sort of multilateral application of force for a definitive solution in Iraq. We already know that UN multilateralism was doomed by the extensive bribes paid to stop such actions. The details have yet to be formed into indictments but the broad outline is already clear.
Who is naive enough to believe that Iran, Syria, Libya, even N. Korea are more honest and upright in their dealings with the international community? Who doesn't at least suspect that there are other bribes being passed to keep effective action from reaching out and deposing other rogue regimes?
Legitimacy, in the end, is not only a question of the US measuring up to the international community, but also a question of which parts of the international community do we want to measure up to? We never were legitimate in the eyes of Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Pol Pot, Ho Chi Minh, Saddam Hussein, Ayatollah Khomeini, or Fidel Castro. But do we want to be? This aspect of legitimacy is completely unexamined here in Foreign Affairs. Perhaps it is oversight, perhaps it is a welcome bit of shame but it certainly is important to pick your enemies as well as your friends and we have, for too long, been too unselective. The article's authors seem to wish that we continue the trend.
A France that allows itself to be bribed into supporting Saddam is a France that does not deserve our consideration regarding Iraq because, on this matter, they decided to be on the other side and we do no service to our own legitimacy or the legitimacy of the international system to go along with the farce that Saddam's coalition of the bribed deserved any consideration in their role as undercover paid mouthpieces for evil.
But even in the case of France, they are not bribed on all subjects. They defend their interests honestly in many cases and, a fair examination of the record of this administration indicates that outside Iraq, France is not being stymied at every turn when it is advancing its own interests positively and not just seeking an excuse to engage in US ankle biting. It is this Bush nuance that is unremarked by so many of the President's critics. Since nuance isn't included in the narrative they've chosen for his administration, every time nuance shows up it is underplayed or completely ignored in their accounts.
So we are on a different path, new strategies and new rules for a new strategic situation. The rap on the military is that they always want to fight the last war. This piece shows that the foreign affairs brahmins are just as stubborn and hidebound. They do what all fossilized relics of a past system do, pound away at the standard bearers of the new order in order to unjustifiably prolong their own dominance in the field. This is why you see so many distinguished elder statesman from so many foreign policy schools act against the Bush administration's foreign policy. They all are too comfortable with the old battlegrounds and are very unhappy with the prospect of accepting the fact that 9/11 did really change everything.
October 24, 2004
Sinclair and Shareholder Primacy
Professor Bainbridge wrongs the cause of shareholder primacy in his analysis of Sinclair over the showing of Stolen Honor.
Bainbridge quotes Tom Smith extensively on the matter to the effect that the Sinclair effort is a textbook case of shareholder activism gone amok. In fact, it is just the opposite.
The threat that Bill Lerach and the NYS controller issued was, essentially, to beat down Sinclair's share price via politically motivated selling and judicial action below Sinclair's normal market clearing price. This is a profit opportunity in big screaming capital letters. Yet nobody came to Sinclair's rescue to the benefit of their investors.
No similarly sized market player came and announced that they would be glad to take the money of the pensioners of the State of NY in favor of their own fund holders at bargain prices. If the pension funds of TX, OK, and GA did that, the NYS pension fund threat would evaporate and people in the pension system in NY would start complaining that their agent, the controller of NYS was not acting in their interest. In a better world of shareholder activism, significant chunks of the pension system funds would be taken from the controller's control over the affair.
The Lerach threat of lawsuit was toothless as Prof. Bainbridge himself noted except as an invitation to actual shareholders to sell stock. With a major seller appearing and preannouncing a major sale and no major buyers stepping up to the plate, Sinclair capitulated. But it is the imbalance between activist sellers and activist buyers that caused the problem, not the existence of sellers and buyers acting outside their obvious economic interests. Furthermore, the entire affair is mischaracterized as a war between agents and shareholders but it was not because the true owner of the money isn't the state of NY but rather the pension holders who have imperfect control over their own agent. It was a fight between one form of agent (corporate directors) and another (fund management directors).
Shareholder activism is imperfectly done in the US today and there is a political imbalance among activists that is of concern. That imbalance is at least partially caused by Prof. Bainbridge and others like him who, I suspect, get a much more favorable hearing on the right than on the left.
No matter how much people tut tut over the crass shareholders exercising their rights to buy and sell as they please, some are going to do it on non-economic grounds. It would improve things if we institutionalize the practice and have activists on all sides in that fight. Otherwise we are going to get repeat after repeat of this sort of browbeating from the left.
October 23, 2004
Bush Chargeable Offense
David Adesnik over at Oxblog has discovered that the Republican Presidential ticket is up on religous charges. President Bush and VP Cheney, being Methodists, are subject to a religious discipline that I'm much less familiar with than the Catholic Church's procedure that's been started (3rd party assertion of heresy in the Archdiocese of Boston) on John Kerry. Nonetheless, it appears that a petition charging both halves of the Republican ticket is circulating inside the UMC (though not very far in it as Rev. Sensing was unaware of the beast until I wrote a note to him a few hours ago and you'd think they'd try to circulate widely amongst their clergy on this sort of move).
As a Catholic, I'm reluctant to comment definitively on the subject. Earlier in the campaign some have opined that Kerry's heresy problems wouldn't jump over to the three Methodists in the race (both Republicans and VP candidate Edwards are Methodists).
Well, so much for that. I found Prof. Green's email and wrote to him. My central question was whether this is a legitimate religious evolution on the part of the UMC or whether this was just a political maneuver. Prof. Green was quick to reply:
Again, I'm not a Methodist and wouldn't presume to speak to their internal discipline. If Democrats are using UMC disciplinary provisions to launch political attacks, though, I would find it very worrisome that we're stepping away from the religious truce that has made this country possible. Politicizing Christ, using the cross as a cover for politics instead of using Christ to inform our politics, wouldn't be something new in the history of christianity but it's no less sad today than the first time it happened so many centuries ago.
As for the internal discipline trial, I have a strong hope that I can lure Rev. Sensing out of his retreat for a short professional comment so that somebody who knows what he's talking about can quickly inform the wider blogosphere about the facts. Here are some of my own questions.
While President Bush sets policy, the vice presidency is a post which gives its holder really only two choices, support the policy of the President (implicitly or explicitly) or resign. This is pretty much the case for the rest of the executive branch as well. Assuming this is not just a political hit piece, what does this say about UMC faithful participating in the civil service or in the non-civil service executive? How far away from direct cooperation do you have to be before you would not be committing a "chargeable offense"?
The letter of complaint states that the US has violated international law in its war in Iraq. The US has not been found guilty of any such crime, nor is it likely to be found guilty as the only competent body to declare such a thing is the UN Security Council. What sorts of criminal codes are recognized by the UMC that violating them constitutes a chargeable offense? How are such things decided?
Some of the statements in the complaint seem, to these eyes, factually false. Is false accusation itself a chargeable offense? How does the UMC decide the facts, ie which side is factually accurate in cases where public policy is under contention and the facts are not agreed to?
In the middle of writing this, I found that Rev. Sensing had responded. Here is the entirety of his response:
And that makes the entire exercise a wrap. Thank you Reverend Sensing.
October 22, 2004
I recently wrote that I broke down and ordered OS X 10.3. Well, it finally arrived and I installed it today. First impressions:
1. It's tightened up the UI quite well, making a lot of small improvements that individually don't count for much but collectively are worth $40.
I'd go on, but the major point is already demonstrated, it was definitely worth the money.
... or the tale of the flag.
Debka, as I've noted before, has a spotty reputation for reliability but when their primary facts are easily checkable, they put out some very good stuff like this. The flag is there, there's no really good explanation for it but Debka's, and you'd never have seen such an item in your regular reading unless you're already in the ME or you get it indirectly from Debka like those reading this article. Two Gap states in a pissing match, but it could roil the oil markets if Jordan's territorial aims get more than symbolic.
In this corner I give you the Hashemite dynasty, contender in the upcoming Saudi wars of succession. Now who are the other contenders?
Starting A Religious War
Whatever John Kerry hoped to do to strengthen the Democrat Party's "God Squad", he's apparently done more to piss them off, taking positions that are sure to offend both serious Catholics as well as Protestants who know their theology and their history. The remarkable achievement that we have in keeping sectarian violence out of the US is based, at least in part, on political leaders who are either knowledgeable enough to successfully manage to address God without ticking anybody off, or knowing their own ignorance well enough that they don't try and stay out of the theological debates. Kerry does neither and that's a threat to social peace that nobody needs.
October 21, 2004
I'm going to take a break from my normal topics to address this inside baseball question. The two authors he cites are better than most in making the case for the Catholic faithful to support Senator Kerry. Ultimately they fall away from the path that the Church sets down as permissible dissent. Here is why I think they fail. First Ms. Steinfels.
Diversity for diversity's sake is not a Catholic value, yet Ms Steinfels makes it seem like one. There should be no pro-Satan division in the Catholic electorate, were he on the ballot. Once you admit that there are limits to diversity of admissible Catholic opinion in public life, the question is where you draw the line, where does realistic compromise shade into material cooperation with evil in the voting choices of a Catholic?
The yearly abortion death toll (that is controlled by US politics) of 1.3 million american unborn, an unknown number of foreign unborn (due to US executive orders generally passed in Democrat administrations), and a prospective further increase in the death tolls via destructive embryonic stem cell research is not Ms. Steinfels most important issue, the WOT is. In fact the killing of the unborn which will top 5 million during the next president's term absent a pro-life change in the law and culture is down in the asterisks, not on her numbered list. I actually do not protest against this ordering of priorities. Her important issues do not have to be my important issues for her to be a good Catholic though I find her priorities to be disturbing and would urge her to rethink them as she's focusing on issues where fewer lives are at stake and minimizing attention to the big issue of life.
When you start to ignore reality, minimize the influence the President can have on abortion in order to excuse the grave error your chosen candidate expresses on the subject, that's where things get a bit more serious.
Well, all christians are in the miracle business, the evangelization business, and if you come to things with that attitude, you're really missing the point of these two realities. In fact, we can convince our fellow citizens of this because, on balance, we have been doing so over time.
The candidate who has declared for federal funding of abortion for the poor, who would (as Clinton did) wipe out executive orders and provide abortions on military bases, cooperate with abortion friendly family planning groups internationally, and send the very worst sorts of wrong messages to the culture is "no worse than Bush". That's not reordering priorities, that's paying lip service to pro-life values. Because of President Bush, the death toll in abortion is a few thousand less due to the illegalization of partial birth abortion. Kerry would have continued the veto pattern set by President Clinton. Kerry has taken extreme positions that most Catholics likely believe are at the far end of a spectrum. Sadly, they are not. There are two elements in the Democrat electoral coalition that would push things even further towards the culture of death and as far as I can tell, a President Kerry would have little moral ammunition to stand up to them.
One segment is the pro-infanticide academic movement led by Peter Singer from his bioethics chair at Princeton University. When Sen. Kerry talks about medical experimentation following the highest ethical standards, you can be sure that Peter Singer will get a voice on such bioethical councils in a Kerry administration. Singer has come out in favor of human infanticide up to the 6 month after birth on the grounds that a human child is less aware than a dog that can be put to death without legal consequence.
The second worrisome segment is the pro-human experimentation movement which advocates the end of animal testing and replacing that testing with human volunteers, irreversible coma patients, and prisoners. The efficiency and efficacy arguments in favor of such experiments are actually quite good. We've never been able to figure out how to replicate some of the Nazi and Imperial Japanese human experimentation in animal models and some have broken the old WW II boycott on that data in order to get some good of it (this would be quite similar to the Bush policy on stem cell lines, actually).
Presidents set tones, they use their bully pulpit, and they pass executive orders in their daily work to move the culture along. Their impact on the judiciary can be strong or not depending on whether they have litmus tests. A Kerry presidency will not nominate any orthodox Catholic believers to the federal bench. That is an astounding litmus test which has the effect of being anti-catholic bigotry. The Republican tactic has been to nominate strict constructionists which tend to be, but are not always, pro-life. This increases the percentage of pro-life justices while avoiding the political version of a nuclear confrontation over every circuit court nominee.
In short, Ms Steinfels would like abortion to go away so she can get on with supporting her candidate who will provide what she thinks are good things as he stacks the body parts high on the conscience of our nation. It is mostly a sin of omission, of being unable to look at the reality of Kerry's life issues stands for fear of being forced to take a stand against him. The refusal to examine your conscience, to hide away the sinful consequences of your actions is something that no Catholic can endorse. We must all eventually face our internal demons and defeat them to hope to gain Paradise.
Now, on to Fr. Langan's essay (.doc format). Here, the problems are somewhat different.
While Fr. Langan is quite correct that the philosophical reasons against abortion are necessarily emphasized in a pluralistic society's debate on abortion while theological motivations take a comparative back seat position compared to a state where Catholicism is the official religion, this bind both sides of the debate equally. This does not mean that the moral authority of the Pope and the bishops cannot profitably be deployed even in a pluralistic society. This is especially true when they are moral giants, not pygmies in pointy hats.
But even here there is a problem. If we must look over our shoulders at what will the atheists, the Baptists, the Jews, the Hindus think before we exercise internal discipline, we might as well throw away the canons and just hire pollsters, a great many pollsters. As Catholics, we cannot be ashamed of who we are and succeed in our mission. Internal to our own faith we must maintain our right to discipline our own believers in accordance with our own rules.
Fr. Langan's second observation is also flawed, but it is a flaw that is like many of Ms. Steinfels errors, within the broad bounds of acceptable Catholic discourse. Abortion is not a monolithic subject as any even moderately careful observer can readily see. While first trimester abortion legislation is impossible today, partial birth abortion clearly was not. In fact, the measure was and remains quite popular. It is this salami slicing approach to the culture of life that is likely to get us to the desirable end state of a fully implemented culture of life with broad support for it throughout society. Again, this is tactics, only worrisome if it becomes part of a larger mosaic of friendly fire, undercutting pro-life effectiveness.
Fr. Langan's third and fourth observations start to get on thinner ice. The theological objection to abortion is that it is the taking of innocent human life. The philosophical objection to abortion is that it is the taking of innocent right's bearing human life. Once you recognize that abortion kills a rights bearing human being, due process, balancing tests, and the whole machinery of equal justice under law swings into play and the vast majority of convenience abortions will fail the balancing test, saving the lives of those unborn children. Failing to apply his own point one to points three and four could just be poor argumentation and not "throwing the fight" so let's move on but keep an eye out to see if there's a further pattern.
Fr. Langan's Fifth point has such thin ice that he is in peril of falling through the cracks. The idea that push back, even violent push back, can justify the denial of individual rights to the most helpless among us is astounding. The concept reminds me of a story I once heard regarding the British fight against suttee. Upon coming to a village about to toss a wife upon the funeral pyre of her husband, the visiting englishmen stopped the proceedings. The local headman protested saying that the englishman needed to respect their local customs to burn brides. The englishman responded that he would do so as long as the village respected his local custom of hanging wife burners. Civilization cannot long endure where the application of its rules is conditioned on there being no strong words against its restrictions. Catholicism has never been civilization hostile.
Fr. Langan's Sixth and Seventh points are true but only in a limited sense. You do not finish a mountain climb by running downhill. As a good Catholic that is open to diverse methods and tactics one should keep an open mind. But there is a fatal error of omission here. One should not open one's mind so far that one's brain falls out. To accommodate diversity while maintaining fidelity to God's word, there must be some bright lines that cannot be crossed and remain in the pro-life camp. By speaking only of the need for flexibility without the corresponding need for backbone, Fr. Langan mis-frames the situation in a way that is very friendly for pro-choice politicians to pretend to pro-life virtues.
When compromises are demanded, there must be some sort of realistic pathway to get from the compromise position to the end goal. I have yet to see such a thing on the subject of federal funding for abortion, promoting abortion abroad, promoting coercive family planning, all of which Bush is good on and all of which Kerry is weak on.
Fr. Langan reverses himself in his Eighth point. Where is the flexibility to consider single issue voting as a possible strategy among the menu of strategies? Or is flexibility, not true flexibility, but merely code talk for reducing the prominence of abortion in Catholic voters' electoral calculations? Frankly, I think it would do the US political class a world of good if, for one election, in a predefined jurisdiction, Catholics voted single issue on abortion just to fire a shot across the bow so that we are taken seriously.
Fr. Langan and I find ourselves in agreement in the need to evenhandedly apply our efforts across parties in furthering the pro-life agenda. Each party should be cut an equivalent amount of slack. And thus we dispose of his Ninth point.
Fr. Langan is back to his misleading ways in his Tenth point as he assembles the straw man accusation of partisan politics and gleefully wacks it into submission. It's a pity that he misunderstands (or is that misstates?) the relationship between political activity and the internal discipline surrounding the administration of the Sacrament of the Eucharist. The political benefit accrues to the politician who can say, subtly or blatantly as circumstances require, "I'm one of you, support one of your own" and it is this message that drags the Eucharist into politics, not any discipline for wayward politicians. The political hogs have long fed at the trough of false legitimacy and now that their stream of free gravitas is being threatened with a shutoff they are squealing like stuck pigs.
Fr. Langan's penultimate point Eleven is simply removed from reality. Instead of persuasion and authority being in opposition to each other, the more effective persuasive efforts become, the more likely authority's statements of prohibition will be more listened to. One shortcuts the other. Properly done they shouldn't fight each other. First lay out the rule, then lay out a section of the long persuasive argument to lead someone to life. Once you've persuaded someone past partial birth abortion, past abortion as birth control, past abortion as avoiding inconvenience, the repeated lesson that the incomprehensible, short, authoritative prohibition worked well on all these cases, perhaps we don't have to go through the other dozen cases. The false choice that you either persuade or you prohibit creates a mental construct that disallows any synergy between the two and diminishes the effectiveness of both tactics.
Fr. Langan's final point seems to take back all of the flexibility he promised in points Six and Seven. It is black or white, persuasion or authority. Law, or individual conscience. The truth is that in a federal system with easy transport, authority will likely impose legal restrictions in some jurisdictions at the fall of Roe v Wade and persuasion will wither abortion rates in other jurisdictions. In both cases, the Church would do well to work on the weaker part of the complementary strategies.
Finally, I hope that it is clear that I find neither of these Catholics to have written essays entirely without merit. But that does not mean that they are entirely right, nor that there are no elements that are not just wrongly argued but unacceptably far afield. When you have constructed a regime where a little meaningles, private lip service allows the most pro-choice politicians to claim that they are good Catholics (with the attendant bonanza of votes attached) as they work mightily to thwart meaningful improvement in abortion legislation and even promote measures to make things worse, you've materially cooperated with the evil that they do.
Too Cute by Half II
M & R Homiller rightly noted that we had corresponded on Section 3 of the 14th Amendment earlier this year (early March, in fact) and I disparaged the idea in Too Cute by Half I. I had some vague memory of the incident but regret not crediting him immediately in my recent post on the subject. Mr Homiller suggests that I've changed my position. I really haven't. The problem was that back in March, such a petition would have been properly viewed as an aggressive attempt to smear John Kerry, reduce his electoral chances, and be viewed as a dirty trick. It would just have been one more bit of election year rancor. With the same questions being raised in a much more prominent forum, it's likely not to go away and the problem must be defanged with the maximum amount of discretion possible.
A lame duck session, a solution discreetly proposed on the suspensions calendar, something hidden away where it will cause the minimum possible fuss yet protect against further distractions is best. Doing the same thing prior to the conventions, prior to the fall campaign, prior to the vote of the people, that is just not the same thing and I continue to oppose such maneuvers.
In the end, the effort to keep the lid on might fail, but that does not mean that we should not try. The danger of blackmail demands this prudence.
October 20, 2004
Best Actor Putdown of the Day (Outside Team America)
mASS BACKWARDS contributes to the anti-pretentious actor comedic genre.
Can't sleep, so what to do? Blog! I recently wrote about the collapse of the hockey stick, how a central bit of evidence to support global warming has gone belly up, exposed as mathematically fraudulent. Here's another good article, this time by Crumbtrail that outlines the scientific concerns from honest global warming advocates who want to prove their theories but are sane enough to recognize that bad science does them no favors. It rejects science that is agenda driven from any direction, calling on scientists to leave the spin and the advocacy to the politicians.
Is Kerry Disqualified?
The US Constitution's 14th amendment has a section disqualifying those who turn on the US:
Apparently some people are starting to sniff around the idea that John Kerry falls under this provision based on his wartime activities against the Vietnam war while he was still a Lt. in the US Navy. Prof. Eugene Volokh is on the case and Clayton Cramer joins in. Both say that they doubt that Kerry is in trouble on this. I'm not so sure.
Cramer's thoughts are derivative of Prof. Volokhs so I'll concentrate there. Where I disagree with the good professor is that he believes that Lt. Kerry's Paris trip was not that significant and it's the case that his domestic criticisms are what really matter:
The counter to the argument in Prof. Volokh's view is northern politicians in the Civil War often advocated peace terms to end the war with particulars that were advantageous for the CSA. And that's fine and dandy for Kerry's Senate testimony, his frequent antiwar speeches, his book, all the stuff that N. Korean interrogators threw in the faces of US prisoners at the Hanoi Hilton. What it doesn't work for is speaking with the two negotiating delegations of a hostile power at war with the US. Any aid and comfort that was rendered there is of a different kind entirely than some sort of domestic tussle over policy conducted "in-house" in the US.
If John Kerry wins the election (and I pray he does not), this will come up in a growing crescendo over his four years in office. It won't be healthy for Kerry's term in office, for either party, for the country itself, but that doesn't mean that it won't come up and it doesn't mean that the people raising the issue won't have the law on their side. Too little is publicly known about Kerry's activities in Paris to be sure. And if French Intelligence recorded the conversation or even does a very good fake, this is something that they could use to extract concessions out of Kerry to avoid impeachment.
There really is only one cure. For the good of the nation, one order of business in a 2004 lame duck session (the session is already scheduled, I believe) would need to be for Sen. Frist and for Rep Hastert to introduce a bill conditionally removing any potential disability under the 14th Amendment for Kerry's 70s activism on Vietnam. It would set a tone of reconciliation while closing a potential opening for international blackmail and tinfoil hattery.
Catholic Jurisprudence v Catholic Law
Michael Williams pronounces the recent Kerry heresy trial developments a low down form of Vatican Double-Talk. He's wrong in this but it's not surprising as the understanding of how, exactly the Church is organized. It's a topic that's ably covered by a recent book, All the Pope's Men, a tome that, among many other public services, notes that left, right, or center, americans simply don't understand the Vatican at least as much as the Vatican doesn't truly understand America and the mutual incomprehension leads to an awful lot of unnecessary error.
The essence of the problem as I see it is that the letter writer seems to be claiming that in US terms he was issuing a parliamentarian's advisory opinion but it was received both as that and also as a judicial document that was on the express route to the Pope's personal desk who is head of legislature, executive, and judiciary in the Catholic world.
Now legislative work deals with general rules. Judicial work deals with individuals. It is legitimate to keep such things separate and when you are writing as a judge to think, act, and write differently than you would as a legislator or executive even without changing your core beliefs one iota. In fact, the US separates these powers out to ensure that in the normal course of business these things never get mixed.
The Catholic Church does not have a separation of powers doctrine. The organ which delegated the writing of this letter does the religious version of legislative work and judicial work. In such a structure, it's not double-talk to insist on knowing which hat you're supposed to be wearing at the moment. For an american unused to the possibility that one person can be have such multiple roles, it is an easy error to either not specify which role is demanded or not insist enough on the point that legitimate confusion results.
In this case, I think that Marc Balestrieri's real mistake was that he thought that it was possible for a letter in such a case to do double duty, to be both judicial and legislative document, fit for trial, and fit for a dissertation. And in a US context, he wouldn't be wrong. A parliamentarian's statement can be submitted at trial to buttress the prosecution. But if the parliamentarian's current job list includes being part of the appeal structure for that very case, it would be highly improper for him to comment. That's why we don't do such things in the US and why we so often piss off the Vatican when we think that they are organized as we are organized.
The fundamental problem is that there is no remedy for a Vatican version of Dredd Scott. The horrible logic of infallibility means that when something is pronounced on infallibly, you can never, ever take it back. To run such an ancient institution infallibly (in the Vatican sense which, again, americans most often don't get) would take a miracle. And that, I guess, is the entire point of the thing. It does take a miracle. Along the way it takes a lot of careful parsing and work to prepare the road for those miracles to continue.
Why do candidates have internal polls? Why don't they trust the public polls? If candidate sponsored internal polls are providing campaigns with better information, why aren't public pollsters catching up and asking the same questions? It's not like they don't know what questions are being asked. Media organizations are filled with former campaign people. There is a big revolving door effect between the two types of institutions.
So what do the candidates know that the public does not from these polls and what would it take for the public to erase the information gap?
War Polling Implications
Putting aside the presidential race for a moment a new poll has huge implications on the War On Terror (WOT).
That approximately 7 in 10 voters feel that we are in a real war, a war that is non-westphalian, is incredibly disruptive to the current international system which is based on westphalian principles and which can not survive in a non-westphalian world. This poll means that a durable majority in the country that supplies nearly 50% of the world's military force essentially believes that all the international applecarts are going to have to get turned over. Furthermore, this is one of the two issues that they feel are most important for the country to face today. This is an electoral tiger that neither candidate is entirely comfortable riding though President Bush comes a lot closer to popular sentiment than Senator Kerry.
What I truly wish would be that this section of the poll gets expanded out and run internationally. The expansion would ideally detail both the consequences of WOT being a real war and answer the question of who started and who can stop this war.
Did the WOT start when George W Bush proclaimed it or did prior Al Queda attacks start it? If a new president stops fighting the WOT as a war and takes a law enforcement approach, does that mean that the war is over or do underlying facts have to change in our enemies before the war can be over? What has to happen, who has to give up for the war to end? And, most provocatively, do the people know and understand our enemies' war aims, what we would have to do for them to declare victory?
I suspect that if the poll were taken among the political elite and among the general population, a huge, yawning chasm would appear in their responses. In this bifurcated nation between the people and the powerful, it would be President Bush on the side of the people, with the powerful's champion being Senator Kerry.
October 19, 2004
Revising Poverty Statistics
There seems to be a new understanding that poverty is becoming disproportionately a problem of the recently arrived. The large amounts of new immigrants coming to the US are driving down income statistics and masking real improvement among those who have been awhile.
Why not add a simple question to the income stats asking how long you've been in the country? It would allow researchers to track how incomes improve as immigrants integrate into the US economy. It would allow progress in resident incomes to show up even if an influx of poor immigrants swamps the overall income statistics. After all, if you're investing in new entrants who will get jobs and rapidly climb the economic ladder, their initial income statistic effect should not weigh as heavily as the poverty of a permanent underclass that has little mobility, year to year.
Raising Your Own Retirement Age
Brad Delong is worried that Congress will inevitably allow people to borrow from their retirement accounts, some of that money will never be paid back, and the taxpayers will be back on the hook, having given tax preferences for the money once and still having to pay for that person's retirement again. The solution is simple, just back load some penalties. If you don't pay back your retirement account loans, add some years to the individual's retirement age. People will still take out loans but withholding government subsidized old age goodies saves the taxpayers money and provides a punishment that fits the crime, added work responsibilities to compensate for financial irresponsibility in retirement accounts. You could even change the enforceability of private retirement goodies in the courts, shifting "senior citizen discounts" and private pension payouts out by the requisite number of years. In short, the DeLong objection could be met in the normal legislative process in a way that is consistent with social justice.
HT: Marginal Revolutions.
October 18, 2004
Pessimist Propaganda on Hydrogen
I can't recall the blog I first read describing the paper but it looked fishy enough to write and protest that the numbers weren't right. Jim Oswald did respond and his response made it very clear that whatever they were talking about, they were not talking about the hydrogen economy as most people conceive of it.
1. The calculations are for hydrogen burned in internal combustion engines (ICE), not hydrogen fuel cells. Virtually everybody views the hydrogen economy as a fuel cell economy with hydrogen run through the cells to directly create electricity, not burnt in cylinders that drive pistons, that turn a wheel or drive a generator.
2. Like all other ICE type motors, hydrogen ICE are limited in efficiency as they are Carnot heat engines. At realistic temperatures, fuel cells can have 3x the efficiency of ICE. This means that even with hydrocarbon created hydrogen, you lower pollution with hydrogen as everybody except the Oswalds in this scenario look at it.
3. The Oswalds deliberately and artificially narrowed the available sources of hydrogen to nonpolluting sources that are commercially viable today with no technological progress allowed for, nor any thought to how rising petroleum costs would make other sources of hydrogen become viable as energy prices rose.
4. Energy is lost in transportation with the shorter you go, the less you lose. Hydrogen is likely, on average (and certainly for the US & UK) to be produced closer to home than our current oil supplies. This effect is unaccounted for.
When all the constraints and fudges are made explicit and clear, the Oswalds' paper is a somewhat useful teaching tool to drive home the point that a totally clean hydrogen economy is going to be hard work. But that's not how Nature interpreted it and it's not how most people will read it who know nothing but the buzzwords of a "hydrogen economy". While the Oswalds are honest enough to freely admit their constraints when asked, they're not doing their duty to the truth in bludgeoning even science journalists to get the story right about the narrowness of their actual claims.
Over at the Volokh Conspiracy, two items, one by Eugene Volokh and the other by Orin Kerr note the problems of citing Wikipedia, based on accuracy issues for the purpose of court briefs. Another problem is Wikipedia's malleability. One has to be careful to not only cite the correct URL but also some sort of time stamp or version stamp as an entry that supports you when you looked it up, can make the opposite point four hours later.
Another issue that is not raised by the two legal scholars in their objections for court usage is that there is no bar to simply editing a particular article to make it say what you want just prior to citing it. Without some sort of longevity measure on the data in a Wikipedia entry, Wikipedia's usefulness in any sort of judicial proceeding is dubious.
But this does not mean that the collaborative encyclopedia model is beyond saving, just that the current technology platform that Wikipedia is running on lacks at least two features that would meaningfully extend its usefulness to the courtroom.
Both articles had me thinking one thing though. Did either of them fix the Wikipedia errors they spotted? Why or why not?
Heresy Trials II
A small update by way of Catholic Light on John Kerry's heresy trial. The Catholic Church obviously doesn't want to inject itself into the US presidential campaign in this fashion but the unofficial response received strongly strengthens the orthodox Catholic hand in this long term confrontation between themselves and pro-choice Catholics. In short:
The penalty for knowingly doing this is what Roman Rite Catholics call automatic excommunication.
Now I'm from a different corner of the Catholic Church. It actually has alternate canons and (at least according to my own bishop) lacks the concept of automatic excommunication. A bishop has to go and wrestle with a sinner and his conscience before you get to the point of excommunication. The idea of excommunicating yourself as a sort of paperwork saving device is one of those things that make me glad I'm a Romanian Rite Catholic where if my bishop thinks I need to be knocked on my butt for being a bonehead, he's quite capable and willing to do the deed himself (and, in the past, has though not on this serious a scale).
Sometime in the next decade, what is unofficial today is very likely to turn official and a good 5%-15% of the voting population is going swing with it. Even at the low end, that's going to be a huge change in voting patterns that will just devastate the Democrat party while inflicting no small amount of damage on pro-choice Republicans as well.
John Kerry's moral obtuseness knows no bounds. Kerry's recent radio address states that "we’re not doing everything we can to help Americans realize this dream" of medical experiments leading to cures for a variety of conditions. Of course we aren't and it's a very good thing we are not.
One of the great truths of medical experimentation is that experimenting directly yields better and faster results than experimenting indirectly. If you wish to cure a canine disease, experimenting on rats may yield a cure, but it would be a quicker and surer road to a cure to run direct experiments on dogs themselves.
This truth remains valid when it comes to finding cures for humans. The closer we come to human experimentation, the more rapid our progress would be. But if we get too close, we become moral monsters. It is not a theoretical problem, but one faced by many serious researchers both in current experiments on embryonic stem cells and past experiments dating back to WW II. The Nazis and the Imperial Japanese ran direct human experiments in concentration camps in Europe and Manchuria.
Like all experimentation, some of the data was nonsense, but some of it was quite good. All of it was monstrous. Toss a subject into freezing water, how quickly does he die? Who dies faster, women or men? If you toss a group in and they huddle for warmth, how does that affect the death pattern? I won't even get into the chemwar experiments in Manchuria as those were mostly about improving weapons effectiveness but the Nazi hypothermia experiments yielded such good data that they have never been surpassed. They cannot be surpassed because we recognize that throwing people into freezing cold water to kill them is too direct an experiment and there is no other way to gain that kind of exact data.
John Kerry claims to be a good Catholic. He claims that he believes that life begins at conception. He states that he will pass policies and orders and promote legislation to kill what he himself believes is human life in direct human experimentation, and worse, destructive human harvesting in a production line of death. He believes that somehow he can continue to uphold "the highest ethical standards" while taking human life.
What is worse is that in moving the line into what he himself believes is direct human experimentation, he gives us no moral guide to distinguish ourselves from the nazi and imperial japanese human experimentation. At the very least, he owes the country an explanation of how he will go to sleep at night knowing that according to his own personal moral code, he is sanctioning and financially supporting what we so strongly condemned at the post WW II Nuremberg trials.
What makes destructive tissue harvesting from a fetus any better than destructive tissue harvesting from a coma patient? You can sort out a coherent moral and ethical system from George Bush's record. You might not agree with it, but you know what it is. He stands with those who would use the nazi hypothermia data, not with those who would accept excess hypothermia deaths and maintain a boycott of the data. But he's against tossing more people into freezing water on the government's dime. In stem cell terms, he won't fund more killing but if you want to do it on your own, that's OK by him.
For John Kerry, there is no stated line in the sand, no defensible position where you know that political expediency will not put you or a loved one under the knife in future. Even for those who deny the humanity of the fetus, this lack of a clearly stated limit is a scary thing for the serious thinkers amongst his supporters. But there seem to be all too few serious thinkers, just an awful lot of moral monsters in a hurry for a cure and not much caring how we get one.
HT: Balloon Juice
October 17, 2004
DenBeste Can't Give Up Blogging
For those who don't regularly check in to his site anymore, he's got a special item over at the USS Clueless that is positively brief, for him. It's very counterintuitive to think that Gallup's famously optimistic Bush September polling results were actually a plot to set up Kerry for an October comeback story line that would have Kerry cresting on election day and taking the presidency.
As always, a provocative item.
Do Events Harden or Soften Presidents?
Dr. Barnett's making a pretty good bit of advocacy for Kerry here. I'm on the other side of the fence, finding it impossible to conclude anything other than disaster for a Kerry presidency, both in foreign and domestic affairs. But that is for posts past and future. This post will verticalize a bit of Barnettian sprawl. Horizontal thinkers like Dr. Barnett run through ideas and concepts in such a machine gun fashion that you can examine one of their posts in depth and tease out a dozen in depth threads. This is the process I'm dubbing verticalization, This bit of verticalization is about the following paragraph:
Do events tend to harden presidents, or soften them? Let's do a quick review from Carter to Bush 43.
1. Carter got a bit harder toward the end of his first term as events shook him out of his earlier convictions, particularly the invasion of Afghanistan and the hostage crisis in Iran.
While this is a pretty small sample size, the trend line seems to be that Republicans soften over time and I would expect Bush 43 to maintain that pattern. If the hardened by events pattern holds anywhere, it would be for Democrats. The unyielding nature of Reagan I led to our partners giving in to him once he got his second term. They couldn't afford to wait an american president out for another four years. There is no reason that I can see for that dynamic to apply any less to the current generation of "american cowboy president" than it did to our last one.
Letter to the Paper XXXII
Kofi Annan proves once again that he's strictly amateur hour. With a plethora of investigations flying, Annan has an institutional obligation to the UN to make sure that no matter what happens, the UN is not destroyed by the facts as they come out. He fails miserably by siding with France and Russia ahead of the true facts being discovered and does his very best to undercut the believability of any UN investigators clearing anybody of wrongdoing. What follows was the comment I left on the link thread.
October 16, 2004
Iraq Insurance Market
According to Iraq The Model, for the past 10 years prior to the invasion there was no life or theft insurance available. You couldn't get your car insured, nothing. Premium income just wasn't enough so the state owned insurance company just stopped insuring things and shut down. Well, now in the "unstable", "dangerous", "chaotic" Iraq, insurance policies are once again being issued and honored.
Andrew Sullivan asserts that regarding a nuclear Iran "Our options are limited. We can't invade another country; surgical bombing will almost certainly miss its target; so we are left with sanctions and/or incentives." He's got most of the options but he's missing one, subversion.
The Shiite religious twinning of Qom in Iran and Najaf in Iraq make anybody who halts traffic between the two an enemy of Shia Islam. Pilgrims go in both directions, as do religious scholars. For a Shia theocracy to plug up the border and deny people permission to visit Najaf and pray at the holiest shrines the Shia have outside Mecca is unthinkable.
With 70% of Iran's population against the government, it would be simplicity itself to replicate the training that the West provided to Poland's Solidarity movement to Iranian pilgrims and religious scholars in Najaf. Classes would be run by muslims, for muslims and Shia dominated. Iraq would offer the essential safe harbors that Roman Catholic church basements offered Polish patriots who prepared for, fought for, and won their freedom over the course of a decade.
Iran's mullahs have no hope of resisting such a tide and would fall. It is very likely that the subsequent government would retain the peaceful nuclear program, perhaps even enlarging it, while giving up whatever is going on in their secret labs, hidden from IAEA inspectors. That's the path that Romania took when Ceausescu fell and it's highly likely a new Iranian government would trade economic assistance and security guarantees in exchange for its nukes.
Kerry's Unemployment Distortion
The Jawa Report has an excellent analysis of Kerry's oft repeated untruth that GWB is the first president since Herbert Hoover to lose jobs. Apparently, of the 14 post WW II presidential terms, 7 were net job gainers and seven (including the current one) were net job losers according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Now it's not very flattering to be among the 7 negative job growth presidents but it's certainly better than being the first since Herbert Hoover. With current trends continuing, a reelected GWB would replicate Reagan's record of having a net positive jobs record by presiding over a boom in his 2nd term, sufficient to erase the job losses of his first term.
I'll be posting more on this as I absorb the implications, but it appears that one of the great central bits of evidence for man made global warming has been debunked.
So where does that leave global warming theorists? Where does that leave scientific review? You would think that complex statistical evidence would be pored over very carefully when it's going to influence the economic future of the entire world and the price for error is paid in death and destruction. Yet the original paper was published in Nature in 1998 and it's been 5-6 years for the holes in the evidence to be uncovered.
Prior debunkings seem to have simply assumed that there were no errors in calculation, but that the proxies used to create the hockey stick graphs were too weak and were just not picking up reality. The interesting part about this new paper is that it does not argue over whether one set of data is better than another but rather just looks at the source data and finds relatively simple cheats, data transcription errors, biased samples, and other rather mundane errors that should have disqualified the original Mann paper from ever being published.
Since the original Mann paper has been formally challenged, errors have been admitted, data corrected, so this isn't just a couple of crackpots out to stir up trouble. There are real problems here. But where do we go from here on the scientific front and what do we do about the great leap into economic restrictionism to fix an environmental problem that may not actually be there?
Clayton Cramer's asking why Instapundit's characterizing Kerry's & Bush's positions on stem cells as the same. It's pretty obvious that he's baiting Andrew Sullivan. Sullivan's reading Kerry's position on gay marriage as it was meant to be read by homosexuals, as a wink and nod understanding that he'll go along with the judges and push things quietly forward. But Instapundit's calling Sullivan out on the issue, putting Sullivan in a bind. If he admits that Kerry's lying about his position, he opens the door to the question of what else is Kerry lying about. That would end up being a very long list so AS would rather we just not go there and let him vote for Kerry in peace. Instapundit's having none of it though and he gets enough readers that he can't be ignored forever.
October 15, 2004
The Irrelevance of Genetics to Gay Marriage
In reading this article on the whole debate kerfuffle over Kerry's using Mary Cheney as a political prop, the article and comments devote a significant amount of the discussion to whether homosexuality is genetic or it is a choice. Here's a news flash, it doesn't matter.
Marriage, in a government policy context, is about shaping society in certain ways to encourage certain results. We accept the state stepping in and giving the married certain supplementary rights and certain supplementary responsibilities. The structure is large, complex, and very poorly understood. It's not about self-actualization, love, warm feelings, or acceptance. That part of marriage is the private part and I think we all feel a little weird about the idea of the government getting anywhere near the question of who you or I love in any capacity. That's just not their business.
A very long, persistent majority of people have decided that staving off demographic collapse is something that the state can and should get involved in, thus the subsidies for marriage and children. Similarly, societal stability is enhanced by marriage and persistent majorities think that that is in the purview of the state to encourage too. There are other social policy goals in there but those are really the big two. Now whether homosexuals are born or decide to be that way is completely irrelevant to the questions of demographic collapse and social stability. The question is whether or not we should be involving the state at all in these questions and if we do continue to do so whether adding a new form of marriage advances the legitimate state interest or not.
There are plenty of genetic variants that receive state penalties. There are plenty of conscious choices that are punished by the state. Whether it's one way or the other just doesn't matter.
Apparently there's a draft Lileks for Senate movement and he's not in favor. He obviously doesn't know about one of the prime benefits of a Senator. You can say what you want, have it published in every library in the country within a week on the taxpayer's dime, and you are your own editor. Do you want to talk about recipes? I've seen an entire chapter of a book devoted to senatorial recipes read into the Congressional Record. Don't care to bother standing up and reading it? You can have it inserted without even showing your face in Washington. Do you regret some language you used on the floor of the Senate? You've got days to magically edit out all your blunders. It's a wordsmith's dream, I tell you.
October 14, 2004
One of the key concepts of PNM is thinking about the connections between your main subject and "everything else". Here is a four way nexus of issues that have been percolating in my head for over a year.
1. PNM - Pentagon's New Map: There is a national security requirement to shrink and eventually eliminate the Gap. This can't be accomplished right away because...
Why site your paint stripping gun factory in the FRG when Romania is so close and is now safe enough that the wage gap makes it more profitable to do the work there? Core and especially Old Core workers must constantly improve just to stay in place, to avoid declining wages or outright unemployment. The less numerous but politically more influential economic class that earns money via rents are also losers in this process as business demand for their offerings continually declines. The only income class in the Core who gains are the capitalists which brings us to...
This shift in attitudes won't effect everybody who partakes of the ownership society. Party affiliation is very much cultural to a great many people. But the enlargement of the capitalist class will remove the inevitability of PNM's political defeat by allowing creative politicians to stitch together new coalitions and keep progress moving forward long after the Red Queen economy ticks off enough labor to form a connectivity backlash.
Ugh! Breaking Down
Skype did me in. I've been hoping to skip an OS generation but I have to break down and buy the current version of Mac OS X, version 10.3. On the bright side that get's me the new XCode programming framework, much better GUI scriptability, and, the clincher, the ability to use Skype on my mac so I can talk to my wife as she jet sets across Europe (actually, going to visit her parents in Romania).
The downside is that we're $119 down because we didn't wait for 10.4 to come out.
Battlefield 'Net IX
In past editions of this series I hypothesized that it would become incredibly important to get a robust network up in order to enhance communications with locals so that information flow could be quick and relatively risk free. Cheap simputer style multilingual machines would speak the local language and not require literacy in order to access information on curfews, job availability, Internet connectivity, and give the ability to provide intelligence reports without having to risk physically going to US troops. Simputers are already being worked on in India but the networking backbone looked to be a more difficult problem.
I thought that the idea of such information nodes would take awhile to 'catch fire' inside the Pentagon but apparently, they're not only not that far away, they're getting deployed as part of a more conventional battlefield network backbone that carries combat information between US troops called SuperCrumbs which are hardened 802.11b nodes, a component of a larger system called Pathfinder. [Note: I'm linking to Google cache copies so the links will expire]
The only thing really left on this story is the technical specs of the Supercrumb (if they aren't classified) and I have a message into the people who are building the things to find that out. Ideally, they would have power generation systems on board (solar cells most likely) that could keep them live without maintenance but even if batteries have to get changed, if it's infrequently enough, it would still be worth it.
Kow Tow, Ally, or Proliferate
Strategy Page illustrates the three-fold reality of today's state's on the edge:
I've long said about the land of my birth, Romania, that it had three choices. It could become somebody's colony, enter into NATO (the only realistic military alliance for it) and come under the US nuclear umbrella, or it could make its own nukes. Taiwan seems to have understood its situation to be exactly the same. The result is entirely predictable.
October 13, 2004
Kerry's a classic liberal on affirmative action. It's nothing much new and it'll be more of the same.
Bush's response is pretty classic conservative, set up a fair environment and let people achieve. The benefit of reelection campaigning is that he's got statistics showing that it's working.
They're Violating the Rules Left and Right
Wasn't this supposed to be the domestic policy debate? It's at least 1/3 foreign policy and Schieffer isn't coralling things to where they should be.
Schieffer should have done the work to at least find a formulation that wasn't quoting a Kerry talking point.
Kerry wants to double the special forces. If we actually could do it, I'd welcome that but they just can't seem to graduate more people through the programs without lowering standards. Lower standard special operators means more casualties.
But boy it sure sounds good.
Schieffer's Doing Questions on the Fly
Schieffer asks whether Bush would overturn Roe v. Wade.
Bush says there will be no litmus tests for his judges. Kerry says he will have litmus tests. What a difference in principle.
Kerry wants a $7 minimum wage saying 9.2 million women will benefit. How many of those people will actually have jobs he leaves out.
$0.76 on the dollar? Oh. My. God. Comparable worth will make a comeback under President Kerry? Ugh!
Bush is sticking to his guns on immigration reform and pitched temporary worker cards without amnesty.
The borders are more leaky today according to Kerry (next round he back tracked a bit). Kerry just came out in favor of both amnesty and employer immigration raids.
At least both of them agree that getting more people to work is what is going to fix the economy.
Social Security Reform
Thank God somebody finally said that doing nothing is the worst option.
Kerry's plan takes benefit cuts off the table and any changes other than raising social security taxes.
Wow, Kerry just went against Alan Greenspan on Social Security. That's going to give Rubin and the Wall Street boys heartburn.
Kerry's Robbing Bush 2000
Kerry's healthcare sales pitch sounds an awful lot like Bush's Social Security reform plan from four years ago. You aren't forced to do anything but it's going to be an awfully good offer.
Bush just played with a bit of fire by attacking "major news network" credibility. I wonder if Schieffer's going to get back at Bush over it.
Health Care Costs
Kerry's stepping badly by bringing up drug reimportation when the flu vaccine (made in the UK) is widely contaminated.
Unfortunately, Bush didn't take the opportunity to make the connection.
Catholic Church Condemnation of Kerry
This is something of a "Kerry only" question. Bishops are condemning politicians who take positions like Kerry and what is Bush supposed to say? He's got a decent segway into talking in favor of the culture of life but there should have been more for him to grab hold of.
Gay as Choice
Bush professes that he's not sure whether homosexuality is a choice or inborn. Kerry's sure that it is not a choice. As far as I can tell the science is closer to Bush. I wonder who is going to slam Kerry for not waiting for the science?
First Time I've Seen Ted Kennedy Called Conservative
Quick, somebody check to see if Kennedy's had a stroke. Bush just called Kennedy the "conservative Senator from Massachussetts".
Schieffer Has a Good Question
It's nice to see the idea of automation as a source of job loss being addressed in the debate.
Kerry Swings Below the Belt
Did Kerry really just compare President Bush to Tony Soprano? Why yes, yes he did.
In a season where Republicans are being more vilified than any time since the 'Daisy ad' slammed Goldwater so vilely.
Schieffer's Letting Kerry Off the Ropes
A bad round for Kerry? No extension on that round. Let's see if that pattern continues...
Pay as You Go
Kerry's babbling. He seems to have gotten flustered over the idea of explaining how he's going to pay for his programs.
Bush Reiterated That We're in a Real War
Will the foreign policy wonks out there finally dig down and analyze the consequences of the fact that we're in a non-Westphalian war? I hope so, but I can't imagine why they'll start doing their job right now.
Bob Scheiffer's starting off badly. Are we going to be as safe as when we grew up? What kind of crack is he smoking? Returning to the era of duck and cover is nothing I want to return to.
I've Got the Laptop!
Now if I can stay awake, I'll be liveblogging my impressions of the debate this time
Upping Troop Strength in Iraq
Apparently, Romania is considering boosting the number of troops it has in Iraq in order to give a temporary increase in contribution during the run up to the election. When accusations are flying that nobody out there is increasing their commitment to Iraq, it's nice to see somebody step up to the plate and provide extra support exactly when Iraq needs it most.
October 12, 2004
Global Capital Shortage
In comments in the recent thread An Interview With Dr. Barnett the subject of capital shortages came up and it's gotten to the point where I think it's better broken out as an article in itself.
First of all, there is no such thing as a capital shortage apart from a specific project. Capital is a particular good that has a supply. In a perfect market, you list all projects in order of ROI, you allocate your capital until you run out and you find your market clearing level of capital using economic projects. If capital supply shrinks, you need a higher ROI to get funding at the new market clearing point. All projects that do not meet ROI requirements see a "capital shortage" but it's just an artifact of their not being profitable enough to make the cut.
When you have a project like shrinking the Gap in order to avoid more 9/11s (and worse, the loss of entire cities) things change. The ROI of not losing Chicago is huge but the connections between that and a water project in Afghanistan are too diffuse to meaningfully assign even though driving average income in Afghanistan above the $3k per year level would likely take that country out of the Gap and could prevent just such a city loss 20 years from now.
The problem is that taking one nation or another from the Gap doesn't really solve the problem. It just makes monitoring the rest of the Gap nations easier as you have less and less territory and population to cover. Instead of using Sudan as a headquarters, Al Queda moved to Afghanistan. Further moves are likely from Gap nation to Gap nation. So you have to tote up the price tag of doing all of them. Instead of a global list, you make up a list of individual Gap nations and projects that would economically benefit them (again in ROI order but this time by country). You draw the line at how many projects would have to go forward to raise incomes to the $3k level at which point you start to see significant middle class formation and internal civic society strength reaching the point where a critical mass wants into the Core and has the resources to get that wish into national public policy.
Once you create those lists and tote up the total costs, you see that there just isn't enough money out there to elevate all these Gap nations out of the economic danger zone, not enough troops to remake the political apparat in the nations who don't want to get with the program and certainly not enough willpower in the international community to starve Core economies of more profitable uses of capital locally in order to ship money to Gap nations so they can graduate to the Core.
We end up having to take what money is available and concentrate them on high value targets, such as the axis of evil countries where you have the worst of the security risks grouped. You end up driving the terrorists from base to base that way but doing that reduces their ability to attack in the Core while you shrink the Gap as fast as you can.
That's not the best strategy there is out there. It's the best one we've got as long as a capital shortage constrains our action in bringing all nations in the Gap into the Core.
Moving From Forced to Voluntary Charity
If I have any quibble with doctrinaire libertarians it is in their common lack of emphasis on creating practical roadmaps of how we get from where we are today as a society to the libertarian end goals of radically reduced government.
The issue of charity is a very prickly one for libertarians, with several approaches. Some are against charity entirely (these tend to either be objectivists or at least very fond of Ayn Rand) whether it is public or private. Some feel that we should just cut out forced charity entirely and immediately. Others, like myself, prefer a graduated approach that isn't going to shock the system so much and thus has a chance of actual progress into real life policy.
Only the gradualists who are for private charity but against it's public imitator really care about the nature of public charity per se. Fundamentally public charity is of two components, the forced allocation of resources to charitable ends and the forced allocation of charitable dollars to specific charitable activities. If you could get rid of the whole thing in one swoop, it wouldn't matter what the subcomponents are but decades of effort have pretty conclusively proven that we're not going to get there in one large step.
The easier argument to make is that while overall forced social contribution to charitable enterprises might be morally worthy, the government picks some awful causes and misallocates resources so badly that freeing individuals to allocate their own charitable dollars is a big step in the right direction and will allow society to get more stuff done with the same amount of resources. This is essentially the same argument that President Bush is trying with private Social Security accounts.
Once you've shown that significant improvements can be accomplished by loosening the command and control public charity bureaucracy, it's actually easier to say that public officials are not only not able to set charity sector allotments properly to maximize benefits but they aren't qualified to set the global numbers either. It might even be easier to the point where such a policy might pass in Congress a few decades down the road.
Hat tip for forcing me to think on the subject: The Angry Economist
October 11, 2004
Preferential Suicide Tactics
Islam, supposedly, has a prohibition against suicide. Famously, this prohibition has become somewhat elastic with the suicide bombing campaigns in Israel and Chechnya. Thomas Friedman started me thinking about this in recent article.
What made me sit up and think about this is that it's becoming more and more obvious that any previous connection to Islamic justification has become more and more tenuous to the point of invisibility, that "suicide operations" far from being a last resort tactic of extremis are become tools of preference in the "global jihad".
This provides something of a theological dilemma. If suicide is a preferential option, if killing yourself in war even though you could escape and fight again is permissible, what is left of their suicide prohibition? And if the prohibition on suicide falls, what is left of their claim that Islam is unchanging?
At some point, the bulk of islamic scholars has to turn on this tactic and declare that some or all of the jihadi groups are apostate and the great Islamic civil war will unfold in the open. With each greater exception to the suicide rules we're getting closer to that day.
The Core's Brezhnev Doctrine
In one of the stories linking to my recent interview with PNM author Dr. Barnett, one commentator opined:
I immediately reacted negatively to the idea but it took me a bit to figure out why. The reality is that people enjoy the rule of law, enjoy having fewer restrictions on travel, broader possibilities, increased economic well being, and greater political power at home. Past a certain point, the average person in the general public gets enough resources that they can individually and in groups act effectively to extend and deepen their country's relationship to the rulesets of the Core. The reality is that people do this and do it all the time all over the world.
While it is possible for connectivity to progressively be frayed and for a Core member to fall back into the Gap (we were all Gap states once), the more connectivity you have, the greater the likelihood that internally generated forces that demand greater integration will take over for any effort we might have supplied at the beginning to move a country from Gap to Core.
October 10, 2004
Michael Moore owes John Ashcroft His Freedom. No, really
David Sucher couldn't believe that Michael Moore is in trouble with the Michigan state authorities for violating a Michigan statute that makes it illegal to offer anything of value in order to encourage voting. I don't find vote buying funny under any circumstances (though I do admit that Moore makes a good try at it) because I live around Chicago and my place of birth has an equally rich history of crooked elections. Breaking the habits that Moore is instilling takes hard work and a good bit of personal risk for good government crusaders.
Slate of all media outlets is noting that Michael Moore is also in violation of the 1965 Voting Rights Act which means that in addition to state charges, it is only prosecutorial discretion that is keeping Michael Moore out of a federal courtroom where he could end up with a 5 year sentence. Justice Department prosecutorial discretion ultimately rests in the hands of the Attorney General, John Ashcroft so Michael Moore's freedom rests, in a very real sense, on John Ashcroft's sense of humor and mercy.
Is the End Near for Microsoft?
Burst.com is alleging Microsoft cheated it out of licensing revenue and stole its technology to make their Corona product (a streaming media product of which the front end is Windows Media Player). One of the truly astounding facts that has just come out from under seal is that Microsoft very likely has been illegally destroying evidence throughout the multiple antitrust trials. They have done so simply by creating email destruction policies that are very aggressive and only keeping emails around when there are specific retention requests out on specific matters under litigation. the major problem with this is that some people central to the facts under litigation have apparently not been getting retention notices and merrily destroying relevant evidence for years and stretching across multiple lawsuits.
This sort of evidence spoilage, if done purposely to gain a legal advantage, can reopen all the cans of worms that Microsoft thought it had closed with various settlements and verdicts. Everything comes back because testimony that should not have been let in was let in. What's worse, testimony that should have been presented was not because Microsoft lied to the court about who the relevant players were.
Why this sort of evidence spoilage is going on might be divined from the actual policy on email destruction. Yet Microsoft refuses to release said policy and apparently has never presented it in any of its prior rounds in the courts. Normally all this would be under seal but the judge has ruled that this issue is better out in public. The two relevant PDF links are here and here.
Personally, I don't believe in antitrust law. An honest monopoly isn't something that is going to brew that many problems in my opinion. The problem is plain old corporate lying, cheating, and stealing. Since Microsoft is immense and immensely influential, when it engages in such corporate misconduct the bad effects tend to be bigger both in dollar terms and in terms of damage to our economic system.
An honest Microsoft would be a real boon to our economy and to the world. Unfortunately, we haven't seen an honest Microsoft in many years. The more they use corrupt practices and tactics, the less they are a benefit and the more they are a hidden drag on us. And to this day we still can't figure out how bad the problems are. After all, after thirty days, they delete the email.
One of the biggest problems in the ideologically poisonous brew of the arab world is the problem of arab humiliation. The arabs feel, rightly, that they were on top of the world and now are eating everyone else's dust. This feeling has been accumulating for literally hundreds of years and has become embedded into their culture.
Any serious effort to remake the arab world without addressing their humiliation is doomed to failure yet no temporary band aid will do the trick. The only solution is to foster arab victories, to set the stage for healthy wins on their part but not to win for them. And when they fall down (as will inevitably happen some of the time) we must immediately pick them back up and send them back into battle to win again.
Looking through this prism, our current situation in Iraq takes on a very different character. Pouring enough troops into Iraq so that we can win the war there merely sets up another self-doubting, weak arab state, another in a long series of castles built on sand. If we pull out, no matter who wins there, they still will live with the knowledge that they are only a play government in a play country that can be destroyed at whim by the giant to the west. Either course leads to an Iraqi government that has a giant chip on its shoulder, a huge number of petro-dollars, and a burning sense of secret shame that must be erased somehow.
So the best chance we have is the middle course that we've picked. We act to keep the fight fair and create victory after victory for a free iraqi people to be able to honestly lay claim to their own country. This makes talking about what we're doing in Iraq very tricky. It's an alien culture we don't understand very well. It's a shame culture with a lot of humiliation piled on over the years. We want them to win. We're helping them to win. But can we lay things out in that fashion and not add to their feelings of inferiority? Is it better to just sit down and shut up and do the work without crowing about it? The Bush administration seems to have come down on that side of the argument. It handicaps them electorally but they apparently feel strongly that it's good policy.
Whether Kerry would cut and run or reinforce our troops in Iraq, he is not going to do anything for the sense of humiliation and lack of control over their own destiny that plague Iraq as it plagues the rest of the arab world. I wish it were different.
TTLB Graduation & Blogtank
I've been a flappy bird in the TTLB ecosystem for awhile but today have graduated to being an adorable little rodent. Thanks to all who have recently linked and keep visiting.
In other internal news, I've also got a few more amazon referral purchases under my belt, enough so that the blogging think tank project has it's first bit of actual cash coming up at the end of the next period. It's 0.1% of the total I've decided to collect before going live so that means I've probably got plenty of time to fill in all the details before I go live with this thing.
October 09, 2004
Andrew Sullivan nit picked the idea that anybody uses the term, internets, saying he's never heard anybody use it before.
Since AS doesn't seem to be taking any factual corrections from me (he left up an obvious misquote because he didn't follow the link to the underlying story to fact check) I'll just correct it for the record and maybe Google will ameliorate things. The underlying word internet, is a network of networks. The plural is used whenever there are multiple networks of networks that do not, themselves, interconnect. The word with capital letter, Internet, is used for the most famous and extensive of internet. There are internets and anybody with access to classified intelligence uses more than one of them. A president of the US is more than likely than most to actually run across the word and it's damn impressive that Bush actually used it right. Most people don't.
October 08, 2004
Welcome Instapundit Readers
No, this is not Bruce Rolston's Flit, though he is hosting me. This is Flit(TM), run by TM Lutas, you everyday average libertarian-romanian-byzantine-catholic network administrator. Feel free to wander around. Working comments are accessible via the permalink (the timestamp under each post).
An Interview With Dr. Barnett
Dr. Thomas Barnett has been extremely generous with his time with me in the past. I thought I might push my luck a bit and see if he would answer on some questions that have been accumulating in the back of my head for some time. To my immense surprise and satisfaction, he quickly responded with answers to my top ten list of questions, which I share with you below. It's a real bonus because though he says "you have basically stolen an hour from my day" he also remarks that " I am happy with that, because I just spent an hour writing my next book and your questions were quite excellent."
And now, Flit(TM)'s inaugural interview. My questions lead off with a number, Dr. Barnett's answers with A:
1. You have been critical of the low number of US troops trained and available for "System Administration" duty in Iraq. Would you agree that there is a point where there are too many US forces and the population in a Gap country could learn to love being free riders? One example of that other danger might be South Vietnam before Vietnamization. How do we determine the happy medium of enough people to do the job while not so many as to instill bad local habits?
A: It's a question of mix. In terms of uniformed security, you want to overwhelm at the start and then peel back numbers by a formula of Measures of Effectiveness. So overwhelming presence of military units of Sys Admin force on scene at the start (with big US) component, but that uniformed percentage share drops as the reconstruction kicks in: fewer trigger-pulling troops and fewer U.S. troops, more cop-like troops and more other nations' troops, fewer uniformed military as a whole and more civilian, fewer disaster relief and more reconstruction. Big emphasis throughout must be in using local bodies as much as possible (busy hands), so it should resemble something like a chain gang under martial in the first few days but segue will all possible speed into something like the CCC under FDR during the Great Depression. The motto of the Sys Admin force should always be: success equals the increasing irrelevancy of our role here.
A: Bush's side has gotten it more up to now in terms of bold action and revamping the national security establishment in the direction it needs to go. These are executive decisions, and the Republicans hold the White House, so naturally they lead here. Having briefed the Kerry camp (and interacted with plenty of the old Gore people over time), I will tell you that they believe this vision is far more in line with their view of the world than the Bush Administration and the Republicans. I think they may well be right and here's why: starting this whole vision takes a lot of bold leadership and a willingness to go your own way in changing a lot of recalcitrant institutions and relationships, and that's something this administration has excelled at. But ultimately, the vision is highly multilateral because it demands that America think as much or more about Core-wide security than it does about just U.S. "homeland security." In short, it defines a larger "we." To get that long-term expression of the vision rolling is far different than starting it by detaching from the past: the leadership does need to be more nuanced, balanced, open to outside influences and opinions, etc. In short, I believe we needed a "unilateral" Bush to start the motion, but now we need a Clinton-like dealmaker on security for the next four years. I frankly believe Kerry is closer to the mark than Bush on that, although if elected, I do hold out the distinct hope that Bush's second administration will be more legacy oriented. However, the hardliners in that group are substantial and they still have their sights set on China. That worries me plenty.
3. While there is no war in the Core, not all is sweetness and light between the powers in the Core, with none cooler than the Franco-American relationship. What is the lower limit that you can see relations falling to before the ties that anchor us to the Core bring a wannabe belligerent to its senses?
A: So long as the WTO Doha Rounds continue, I see enough give in the system. Bare minimum movement, though, requires the U.S. does not go off on any ideological bender on China. China will eventually experience trouble with its economy, because we still haven't repealed the businss cycle. How the U.S. handles both that strategic moment and the rising issues associated with both Iran and North Korea, will either demonstrate there are limits to our perceived "unilateralism" or that we really are uncontrollable in international security affairs. If the latter scenario unfolds in the minds of other Old Core powers and especially among the New Core pillars (India, China, Russia), then deals will be struck behind our backs and we'll have no one to blame but ourselves.
A: Kyoto was a dose of our own medicine. The cap-and-trade regime there is of our creation, and it's worked wonders on SOx and Nox here in the U.S. It will eventually succeed on CO2 elsewhere, with the only question being (as with trade negotiations) whether regional treaties precede global ones or the other way around. Myself,I tend to be on regional ones first, because I believe in local pain driving change. What was wrong with Kyoto is what's wrong with the global economic and security order: China and India tend to be excluded from consideration, rules, corridors of power. Kyoto was screwed for that reason, just like the G-7 continues to be screwed for that reason. If you don't invite your competitors to the bargaining table, you force them into alternative deals, like China working Pakistan and Sudan for oil, pipelines, ports, etc. Why does Beijing seem to pick these countries? Because those are the ones we leave available to them because China's not part of the inner circle that decides Iraq and other key issues. You want cooperation, you offer connectivity. It's that simple.
A: No, I do not. I believe governments exist for a reason, and that reason is universal. There are some collective goods that must be supplied by a public entity that is not devoted to the profit margin. There will be much temptaton to treat the Gap in this manner in coming years, but I believe it is the path to evil outcomes. I see public-sector security clearing the way for private-sector trade, investment and production, so don't get me wrong: my shrinking-the-Gap is overwhelmingly a private-sector affair. But the up-front enabler is public-sector security and rule of law. There's no getting around that if you're serious about a global war on terror. This is where my state-centric scorekeeping and approach baffles the non-state-actor crowd, who think it's all a matter of fighting fire with fire. We shrink the Gap by eliminating progressively the operating domain of the enemy. We need a frontier mentality that focuses on settling the Gap--plot by plot, province by provine, state by state. Good states replace bad ones through regime change and the work of Sys Admin forces, and there you have a huge public-sector role, although not that many states fit that bill in the Gap. Most will involve good states replacing bad ones through internally driven reform rewarded by externally-delivered investments (both public and private, but over time overwhelmingly private-sector).
A: States still make sense in the Core now, despite the growth in supranational organizations. All politics is local and states are ultimately about politics. Politics is what's left over from what the private sector is willing and able to deal with. That margin never goes away, it just becomes more complex over time, so it's always a matter of better government, not bigger government.
7. Coming back a little closer to the present, do you think there is a natural rate of Gap shrinkage, as economists think there is a natural rate of growth? How often should we be seeing Gap nations join the Core in order to judge whether our political class has been paying the proper amount of attention to the problem? If there is no mechanistic rule available for citizens to judge their governments on this issue, what is a better approach?
A: The progress gets measured in decades, and the growth of the Gap will most likely come,as it has in the past, in great spasms or "waves of democracy." The Core's progress got stuck on the Iron Curtain for half a century, experiencing basically no growth along the entire Cold War. Then presto! A huge expansion drops in our lap starting in 1989 (earlier if you count China's evolution). So when I do scenarios for Gap shrinkage, I plot them out in clumps, like SE Asia versus the Middle East versus Andean South America versus Sub-Saharan Africa. To me, it's all a matter of sequencing and how the Core comes together to push that sequencing. The Bush Administration did decide unilaterally to try and transform the Middle East using the System Perturbation that was the Saddan takedown. I think we are succeeding in this endeavor, although signs of success will be meager and mostly under the surface until we reach the tipping point. So I see the Gap going in a sequence of 1989-like moments. With the commitment we've made on Iraq, the Middle East is clearly up first, so failure there sets back efforts everywhere else, although I feel confident in arguing that China's great and peaceful rise in Asia will eliminate those portions of the Gap there over the next two decades pretty much no matter what happens in the Middle East (unless the U.S. military pulls out and China feels forced to do something militarily there to protect its access to oil, but I don't see that happening).
8. Continuing the theme of judging Gap shrinkage efforts, at what point do you have to bite the bullet and devote serious effort to killing off the international and national initiatives that actually make things worse in the Gap? How do you judge such things and what failed institution is in the most need of disbanding, if any?
A: Great question. Hardest thing about adjusting to the current strategic security environment is letting go of the past, both in terms of successes (why in God's name do we need Star Wars now?) and failures (why in God's name do we keep funding Star Wars!). More seriously, there are some IO's that are completely or near-completely irrelevant, like the UN (although its technical rule-setting agencies are great). Do we fight to get rid of the UN? No, we promote a cannabilzing agent or "new entry" into the rule-set marketplace that forces the UN to change or die through irrelevancy and lack of funding.
The UN has become, for all practical purposes, the venue for Gap states to complain to the Core. What the system lacks is an executive decision-making forum on security where the Core states decide what needs to be done with the Gap. I see that function rising in the G-20 over time, and my next book (out in fall '05, A Future Worth Creating), will pursue that idea and many others like it.
9. There seems to be a contingent in today's US that pines for a literal US empire. A great deal of Gap shrinking would put us temporarily in charge of various nations in the Gap and the imperialists among us will always argue that it's a dumb idea to let go because the locals will just foul it up again. How would you respond to such arguments and ensure the continuation of the Republic as republic?
A: The historical analogy we need to remember is taming the Wild West, not the British Empire. It's not about extending our political control over others, but inviting them into the club--even into our multinational economic, political, and security union known as the United States. The rise of the threat of nuclear war created a new reality in the Cold War that said, as far as security alliances are concerned, distance is irrelevant. The rise of the modern form of globalization said that as far as economic alliances are concerned, distance is irrelevant. What the global war on terrorism and the accompanying shrink the Gap strategy should alert us to is that as far as political alliances are concerned, distance is irrelevant. Politics is all about synchronizing competing rule sets and that's what the 21st Century will all be about. So this is not a matter of corrupting America the Republic, but growing America the Republic. The EU is growing. A China-led Asia will inevitably start growing. We need to grow too. We need to get back to our republic roots, not away from them.
A: My advice tends to be: read the Wall Street Journal and look for economic inevitabilities that cannot be ignored. Then read the New York Times and watch for the security inevitabilities arising from those economic ones. Then read the Washington Post to see if the politicians have a clue or are paying attention whatsoever to these emerging realities. And if they're not, start complaining. A good example: I just spent close to a month in China, where the pollution is huge. China has to deal with that or suffer some serious security dangers, almost all internal. Do our politicians get this? Or is the only security element the Pentagon currently recognizes come under the categories of . . . say . .. diesel submarines? Or this or that missile? Is the Pentagon only seeing war within the context of war, or do they understand it really arises within the context of everything else--an everything else they tend to ignore completely? Extending that line, are our politicians falling into the same trap? Or do we see the vision for a future strategic alliance with China as it seeks to rise peacefully (note I didn't say, "rise by accomodating the U.S. in every damn thing it obsesses about")? You can track all this across such news sources, but you have to be thinking horizontally over time, and not just looking at everything as vertical slices of a "chaotic world I will never understand and therefore fear." If you can't think horizontally, you're basically at the mercy of the conspiracy theorists.
Dust off the 3rd amendment III
I'm sure that the local PRC villagers on the North Korean border wish they had a 3rd amendment right against quartering. It seems that the PLA can just drive tens of thousands of soldiers into an area, unannounced, and force people to quarter soldiers at will, in this case, 5-6 soldiers per household. What would you do if you suddenly had 5 or 6 uninvited houseguests courtesy of your government?
Al Jazeera Participation in Kidnappings
According to a released kidnap victim in a lawsuit he just filed, Al Jazeera actually produced a jihadi propaganda tape featuring him reading a statement, thus becoming active participants in his kidnapping. If this lawsuit is won, Al Jazeera has no business being credentialed as journalists anywhere in the world until they act strongly to clean house.
October 06, 2004
Professor Bainbridge has kindly assembled the current worrying trend toward electoral violence on the left. Republicans have been accused of supporting violence, but actual evidence of supporting black church arson and killing off seniors has always been decidedly thin on the ground. Now we're starting to get some pointed little reminders that putting up a Bush lawn sign or volunteering to be part of Bush's GOTV groups might actually be a risky proposition.
I won't hold my breath for anybody in the mainstream media to call Kerry to account for this sort of thing.
Bye, Bye, 9th Circuit
One of the more malevolent influences on US jurisprudence has been the gargantuan 9th Federal Circuit Court. It's a huge monstrosity that sits in San Francisco and rules over much of the West. It is famously, the country's most liberal circuit court and also its most reversed. Today, the House of Representatives voted to split it by a vote of 205-194. The court is being split in three with the new 9th circuit being limited to only California and Hawaii.
Ding dong, the witch is dead! Now on to the Senate!
Seriously, this is a good proxy for party confidence in winning the executive. With the creation of two new circuit courts next year, there will be an unusual number of judgeships open for appointment. The party that is confident of winning the White House has a partisan interest in pushing this through while the party that believes it will lose has every interest in killing the measure. The prediction so far seems to be that the Democrats are going to try to kill the idea in the Senate.
HT: The Corner
Is Iraq an Actor or a Subject?
Can Iraq do anything? This is the fundamental subject behind last night's debate sparring over whether the US takes 90% or 50% of the casualties. But it's a question that is more important than a simple debating point and goes far beyond Iraq.
Do Iraqis who wear a uniform and fight against terrorists count? The same thing could have been asked about France in WW II, S. Koreans during the Korean war, and S. Vietnam during the Vietnam war. The entire post war settlement with France being awarded a permanent seat on the Security Council very much depends on their "counting" during WW II. The only people who seem to be maintaining that S. Korea didn't (and still doesn't) count are their N. Korean opponents. As for the S. Vietnamese, the charge that they didn't count was not only a damning indictment, it was a sign that we were in a losing war.
So do the Iraqis count? Honestly, they need to be fit in on the military historical continuum somewhere and where they fit in seems like as good a predictor of the ultimate end of this war. Given the WW II example of France, saying that they count might even provide something more than a description but actual help in nudging them towards a better or worse future.
While the Bush administration is somewhat guilty of sending mixed messages on this subject (Iraqi government casualties aren't included in Coalition casualty counts) on the subject, Edwards went the extra yard by pretending that only the UN election personnel were running the elections in Iraq. While there seems to be a healthy dose of political calculation in Vice President Cheney's accusation of Sen Edwards contempt toward Iraqi sacrifices, there's also a great deal of substantive truth. Now if only Bush administration policy will rise to the level of Cheney debate rhetoric...
Draft Bill Defeated
No surprise, the Democrat attempt to reinstate the Draft was defeated after it was brought up for a vote in order to quash the wild rumors surrounding reintroducing the draft. Even Rep Charles Rangel(D), who introduced the bill well over a year ago voted against his own baby.
What takes the cake is that Rep. Rangel held a press conference to announce that the bill was not introduced to actually get voted on and that it was a cynical manipulation of the process to actually bring it forward for a vote. The bill was brought forward under the suspension calendar rule which is normally reserved for uncontroversial legislation that is minimally debated and requires a 2/3 majority to pass. The cynical manipulation seems to me to be mostly on Rep. Rangel's part for introducing legislation he never wanted to pass.
Fake Lawsuit Vetting
In Indiana, you file a complaint to consumer protection regarding a doctor's alleged bad behavior, they open a file, get the other side's story, take a look at whatever facts both sides bring to the table, provide a recommendation to go forward with a lawsuit to a state board for it to rule on. If the board decides there might be something there, a malpractice lawsuit can realistically go forward.
The fact is that if you are merely accused of something, even if the judge throws it out on summary judgment after one day, a doctor will lose tens of thousands of dollars every year over the next several years because of one malpractice suit. You see, a doctor gets credits for being lawsuit free. You get sued, you start over again with a zero discount. Such "lawsuit free" discounts can save doctors tens of thousands on their premiums every year.
Compare this with the Kerry/Edwards lawsuit vetting plan. Instead of being vetted by independent investigators, the plaintiff's attorney will do the vetting with an agent of his choice. This is very weak beer at best and realistically it will likely turn into a meaningless farce with plaintiffs attorneys finding "friendly" vetting groups/individuals.
The end result would be more meaningless process, higher billable hours, less money to victims, and no end to the plaintiff's lawyer gravy train. Sorry, that just doesn't fly with me.
October 05, 2004
Apparently, as President of the Senate, Vice President Cheney spends Tuesdays at the Senate. After almost four years of doing this, he finally met Sen. Edwards. That's just a sad commentary about Edwards' actual work habits in government.
Correction: It appears that outside Sen. Edwards' actual duties as Senator, they've met 1-3 times in the past, with the most solid contact being a national prayer breakfast. The larger point that Edwards doesn't do his actual job very well, doesn't seem much disturbed.
Best Political Commentary of the Season
From The Corner
Seen on an Austin, TX street corner:
October 04, 2004
The Drumbeat for Polygamy Starts
Prof. Jonathen Turley writes in favor of polygamy in USA Today and, surprise, surprise, cites the invalidation of homosexual sodomy laws in Texas (Lawrence v Texas) as the basis for it. Gee, that didn't take long, now did it? Tom Green is a Utah polygamist, convicted on those grounds for marrying four women, including a 13 year old girl.
Is there any doubt that we desperately need to figure out what the ancient structure of marriage was and is for before a blind and inappropriate application of equal protection principles kills the institution in the US?
HT: The Corner
Denmark Must be Proud
According to his UNRWA biography Peter Hansen is from Denmark. As an EU member state, Denmark subscribes to the EU position that Hamas is a terrorist organization. Unfortunately, someone seems to have forgotten to tell Peter Hansen:
Somebody needs his leash yanked, hard.
The Libertarian Gap
The Gap, or more formally the Non-Integrating Gap, is a concept at the core of Dr. Barnett's The Pentagon's New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-First Century. But what is the Gap? This question comes to me every time I read a libertarian critic of the concept.
Gap countries are, by definition disconnected from the global rulesets that manage the Core, those states where a disturbingly large proportion of the world wants to get into. I say disturbingly because, all things being equal, there is really no reason for people socially acculturated and biologically specialized to warm climes to make their way in large numbers to nordic nations, but they do. Something pretty special must be attracting them while simultaneously repelling them from their ancient homelands. That something is clear after a bit of investigation, huge waves of horrifying violence interspersed with a daily brutality of individual denigration and lack of the normal rights to live out their lives in control of their own destiny.
But violence, violating individual rights is as old a story as Cain and Abel and such regimes historically have been the norm. Something's different today and there's a disturbing lack of analysis among certain libertarian circles what it is. Hillaire Belloc touched the surface of the problem in his famous jingle "Whatever happens, we have got/ The Maxim gun, and they have not."
The jingle is no longer true. "They", the rulers in the Gap, now have the Maxim gun and many of its deadly progeny and it has revolutionized "their" world. Modern technology is both liberating and repressive but what characterizes a major difference between the Gap and the Core is that in the Gap, it is the repressive aspects that predominate, while the Core features a much stronger tilt towards the liberating aspects of technology.
To maintain a firm grip on power, Gap nation elites must repress the formation of independent power centers. To keep themselves on top of the heap they must ruthlessly hold down anybody who will not buy into the rules of the local game, screw the little guy and maintain power for the established elite at all costs. To do this they strongly control the connectivity that the little guys can have with the outside world. They make incompatible rulesets that leave normal people ill prepared and almost entirely unable to access Core capital that might allow them to build up some economic security of their own. They do not guarantee property, they regularly usurp it and only membership in the elite saves you from such indignities.
In the mediation of Core connectivity (they need their 'Maxim Guns' after all), they have allies in Core states who extract excess profits by catering to the odd and arduous hoops that connectivity with a Gap nation requires jumping through. To protect those excess profits, they form a ready 5th column inside the Core to fight against any humanitarian or libertarian intervention to reduce the misery and violence of the Gap system.
But there is a countervailing constituency for Gap freedom, immigrants into the Core. They keep their relatives alive with their remittances and feel strong attachment to the land of their birth. They see freedom and justice in the Core and want it for the old country too. Since these people live relatively free, they are able to save and build their own businesses in the Core and some of their discretionary income could be available for liberation of the old country.
This threat to Gap nations must be eliminated to preserve the near hermetic seal that makes the entire bloody operation viable. Sometimes this is accomplished by disrupting exile community solidarity, other times direct action is called for. But the worst possible threat is the actual organization of a rebel force to gather and train in the Core and take over a Gap nation, because while the Gap elites may have the Maxim Gun but they remain woefully far behind what is available to the Core. Such movements inside the Core would inevitably lead to infiltration by Gap agents and low intensity warfare to disrupt such organizations before they were ready to launch their invasion. The Core has universally (as far as I can ascertain) illegalized the organization of such movements from their soil in order to avoid such low intensity warfare.
It is this choice of repressing Core citizens from defending their loved ones still inside the Gap that should, but does not, trouble libertarian critics of Barnett. Because once you've agreed to repress the only escape valve for the populations in the Gap and you agree to tolerate those who would lobby for and support (directly and indirectly) the daily violence and repression in the Gap, then you've taken a long step away from libertarian ideals. Unfortunately, the ideal libertarian solution is not currently very practical.
Two examples of this impracticality come to mind. When I was young, I had a friend, Guido Valeri whose house, some years before, housed some Iranians, members of the Shah's upper class who fled after the revolution. They did not stay that long because the Iranian external espionage discovered where they were and went gunning for them one dark evening in their exclusive Greenhaven, NY neighborhood and they obviously did not wish to wait for them to try again.
The second example is a bit closer to where I live now in the suburbs of Chicago. Ion Petru Culianu, a University of Chicago Divinity Professor, was murdered in a campus restroom in the middle of the day with a single shot from a .25 caliber pistol. Prof. Culianu was involved in Romanian politics and his murder has never been definitively solved, though the Romanian secret police of the time are prime suspects and certainly his murder had the perfect effect in the emigre community if it were planned by the Gap style troglodytes running Romania at the time.
Bullets flying in the nighttime and assassinations in the men's room are just not acceptable so an alternative solution for libertarians with an ounce of practicality has to be fashioned. And thus we enter into the world of Dr. Barnett, shrinking the Gap, and harnessing the power of the State to undo the devil's bargain that we have fashioned with repressive Gap elites over the many years since the Core's technological advantage exploded to an insurmountable height and Hillaire Belloc rhymed his way into the hearts of 3rd world imperialists and armorers everywhere.
At the heart of Barnett's "future worth creating" is globally extending the territory where consensual government, rule based economics, and individual freedom empower moderates to the point where they can resist and suppress their own crazies so the inmates are not running the asylum. That's a goal that any libertarian should be more than happy to get behind. What is up for grabs in Barnett's vision (and here his history as a Pentagon thinker does not serve him well) is how much of this work will be done in the Pentagon and how much out of it? In fact, how much needs to be done by the state at all? Dr. Barnett is not doctrinaire about who is to do the shrinking of the Gap, merely that the Gap must be shrunk so that we no longer have to repeat the endless cycles of sending our armed forces to the same hot spots over and over and over again.
October 03, 2004
Phillip Carter's Intel Dump misses the point in the recent analysis on the offensive in Samarra. Here's the money graph.
Samarra is not all of Iraq, nor is Fallujah. In 14-15 of Iraq's 18 provinces, we successfully executed a strategy of takeover, handoff to local Iraqis, and support while they gain the experience necessary to take over on their own. In 3-4 provinces, the strategy was not completely successful with some towns working and others not. So much for plan A. Is there a plan B?
There is a plan B and we're seeing it in Samarra and are likely to see it in the rest of the insurgency hotbeds prior to polling in January. The plan is simple, adjust and experiment in different ways to do the handover to different groups of local leadership until, town by town, a formula is discovered that succeeds in defeating efforts by the insurgency to drive out the legitimate local government and security services.
The fact that we've not had 100% success with plan A but merely 80% does not mean that we've "snatched defeat from the jaws of victory". A solid B does not a defeat make. If we continue our present strategy, we're going to go through another 2-3 rounds of this cycle with more towns and cities successfully resisting insurgent efforts to take them over each time the US pulls back into "support the locals" mode. The only possible way we can lose this fight is to renege on the promise of launching as many cycles as it takes, something that is a real possibility with the election of John Kerry to the White House.
Victory is not going to be, and never was going to be, US troops in the streets. It always was going to be freely elected Iraqi governments running the show with their own police and troops keeping order. Even in the US, under conditions vastly more favorable to order than pertain to Iraq, municipalities sometimes go bad and need intervention to bring them back to a civilized, lawful state. How long did it take to eliminate Tammany Hall? How long did it take to fix the corruption of Cicero, IL? You can't answer because the corrupt practices law enforcement has been fighting for decades still aren't over yet.
If corrupt municipal pols in the US thought they could realistically resist anti-corruption action militarily, there's no reason to believe they would be any more peaceful than their ideological twins in Fallujah. The difference is that our military is so good as to make armed resistance unrealistic and nobody is pumping in arms and money to corrupt pols in the US to fund an insurrection.
October 02, 2004
Maybe Bush Isn't So Out-Of-It After All
Andrew Sullivan has an article entitled President Out-Of-It, a harsh attack on President Bush's assertion that there are 100,000 trained Iraqi soldiers and police today. As his source Sullivan quotes a Spencer Ackerman article to the effect that "internal Pentagon documents" obtained by Reuters count only 22,700 as trained enough to be "minimally effective."
There's only one problem, it's just not true. Ackerman links to the Reuters article as it's published by Yahoo. Here's the only use of the 22,700 figure:
For the 99% of Sullivan's and Ackerman's readership who didn't dig into the links, they swallowed some Democrat party spin passed off as internal Pentagon documents. This isn't a case of malfeasance (lying), but misfeasance (screwing up).
Hopefully, there will be a quick correction over the weekend.
In support of the 100,000 figure, there's this, an article explaining what one Capt. Steven Alvarez is doing in Iraq. Just a few days before the debate, he too is using the 100,000 figure. Of course, he could know less than some staff guys in Washington, DC serving on the Appropriations committee but I somehow doubt it.
October 01, 2004
After I've slept on the matter, one thing that bothers me this morning is the nonproliferation bit, securing loose nuclear materials. If it were a Kerry presidency this past 3.5 years we'd probably have fewer loose chunks of U-235 in Russia but more in Libya and those nuclear plans would still be under that rosebush in Baghdad waiting for the sanctions to break down. Overall, I'd rather have the reality of a non-nuclear Libya than the theoretical quicker securing of Russia.
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.