November 30, 2004
NK Govt in Exile
North Korea apparently might be getting a new government soon. As government's go, it'll be pretty good as it won't do much of anything as most government's in exile. The idea that Japan will host it is very interesting as the logical host, S. Korea apparently is not interested. That pretty much says everything that needs to be said about Korean politics.
I wish the N. Koreans the best of luck in extracting themselves from their insane position as being officially ruled by a dead man (Kim il Sung) and his erratic offspring. I just don't have a lot of faith that the Japanese are going to be able to do much to support this government.
What's the Point of Usury
The Angry Economist is right that usury laws limiting interest just shift the money lending business to illegal lenders, most likely organized crime. But I think he's somewhat deficient in his analysis.
No matter how counterproductive such laws are, they are an expression of public desire and libertarians should not try to beat something with nothing. What is the something that people try to accomplish with these laws and what would be the libertarian solution to the situation. Why would that libertarian solution be better?
I think the essential impulse of such laws is to try to make people think and not do stupid things like take 200% loans for inessential things, to do without rather than dig yourself into a hole of neverending, spiraling interest payments. At a certain point, the wider public pays, either in charity hospitalization after the Mafia's leg breakers engage in their art or in paying a generally higher interest rate because of bankruptcy.
By just removing the usury laws, all you ensure is that we all pay for individual irresponsibility through the latter, not the former. I'm not sure that a creeping spread of moral hazard in ever increasing bankruptcies is the best that libertarians can do. In fact I'm pretty sure that we can do better.
Homage to a Blue State Hero
Dimitrios Gavriel will be buried two days from today at Arlington National Cemetary, a Marine Corps casualty of the Iraq war and proof positive that the blue states provide their own heros, their own contribution to the defense of this country. A New York Wall Street banker, he turned down financial opportunity to put on the uniform, to serve his country. He did his job and more, and for that we should all remember that our men in uniform are neither red nor blue but come from all of us.
Where do we find such men?
November 29, 2004
Pass the joint Farouk, and don't spill your beer
An absolutely mind blowing window into Egyptian society:
This is likely the sort of thing that drives Islamists nuts. Poor couples do their weddings in alleys, accessible social clubs and even in the streets. If this sort of rule breaking is going on where it can't be ignored by the imams, that's got to drive pressure for a backlash. Anyway, read the whole article to get an idea of Egypt's wedding culture.
So Said Al-Qa’ida II
I previously speculated that a particular letter purporting to be from Al Queda might have been made up as the original was not available, the Internet held few copies analyzing it (essentially one analysis over four publications), and the original was published on April Fool's day.
I jotted off a note to Reuven Paz, the Israeli addressee of that letter asking as to its authenticity. He confirmed that it did exist (the original was in arabic) and was part of a larger series of correspondence. He speculates that his correspondent was arrested or fled Saudi Arabia sometime later in 2004 as the ongoing discourse between the two has stopped.
How Russia Should Maintain Influence In Ukraine
Russia should look to the UK/US relationship if it is serious about its need to maintain influence over Ukraine. The UK has good relations when it has an ideologically friendly party alignment (center-right Thatcher with center-right Reagan, center-left Blair with center-left Clinton) as well as opposite ideological tendencies (center-left Blair with center-right Bush).
If Russia could generate that sort of relationship, appeal both to western Ukraine as well as the more russified eastern section, it wouldn't have to put its thumb on the scales and spend so much political capital ensuring that "Russia's man" won the election. All the major parties would nominate people acceptable to Russia. This is going to be difficult because Russia has not been a good steward of Ukraine, dominating instead of partnering.
Russia has the same problem that the US has in Latin America where it has heavy handedly intervened in the past. You can get a lot of votes in Brazil by promising to spit in Uncle Sam's eye. That's always been the case. Spitting in Moscow's eye is always going to generate opportunity for Ukraine's political class. That's going to be the case until the first time Russia puts its thumb on the scales to prefer an honest pol coming out of Ukraine's west and figures out how that politician can be successful while Russia is happy in its essential interests.
Dr. Barnett has the question right when he addressed this issue. The only problem with his approach is that he seems to think that we're the ones who should be asking it. We should not. It's Russia's problem to solve and us butting our noses in that relationship infantilizes Russia and will inevitably cause resentment.
President Bush has got it about right. Electoral irregularities need to be adjudicated and settled by Ukrainian institutions before we, or anybody else, recognize one or the other candidates. Can you imagine if some country had recognized Gore during the recount phase in 2000? It wouldn't have been better if a country recognized Bush during that same period.
The situation in Ukraine is not settled, according to the law. If the courts find fraud, Russia should stay out. In fact, the best thing we should all do is to sit on our hands and let Russia be the first to recognize the official results. That would be a tremendous statement of respect and deference to Russia that would cost us absolutely nothing but could salvage honor and pride in the East.
Deadlock in Romania
Well, it looks like Romania's deadlocked its political system this election. For those not in the know, Romania has a French electoral system with both prime minister and president. Parties elect parliamentarians based on party lists and parties receiving less than 5% of the vote are out of the running.
The presidential race results are as follows
1. Adrian Nastase 38.07% (incumbent prime minister, neo-com)
So we're off to the runoffs with Adrian Nastase and Traian Basescu facing off in two weeks. Basescu looks pretty good to win unless Nastase can make some pretty good deals for both sets of ethnic extremists, romanian and hungarian (hey, we're less chauvinist than France!).
The parliament seems deadlocked
1. PSD + PUR 34.12%
There is little chance for a majority government forming. Even if the PSD & PUR went and partnered with PRM, an event that would make the Austrian Freedom party partnership look like a minor kerfuffle, they would only have 47.43% of the seats, not enough to make the pain worthwhile. Since the UDMR, a hungarian nationalist party that is every bit as chauvinist as PRM, can't stand the PRM, there's no available coalition except PSD&PUR + PNL&PD which would be suicidal for all concerned except PSD who get their vote like turn of the century ward politicians did in Boston, NYC and Chicago. They buy it.
The Senate vote is similarly split:
Apparently, certain minor parties had slates for the lower house but not the upper which increased the major party vote in the upper house.
A small note on the neo-com label, which is short for neo-communist. This is not your father's communism. It has all the ideology, flag waving and other veneers stripped off and all that's really left is the hunger for other people's money and dishonesty. The neo-coms are largely supported by the opportunist class, a fickle group but the neo-coms know how to be good butt kissers.
November 28, 2004
So Said Al-Qa’ida
I can't seem to find the original but here is a very interesting extract and commentary on an Al Queda article entitled "So Said Al-Qa’ida: A Letter to Reuven Paz" which talks about the future of this war from the enemy's point of view. Reuven Paz runs Project for the Research of Islamist Movements. One caveat, the publication date of the article is April 1, 2004 so there is a small chance that such an article might not be genuine. I've written to Reuven Paz and asked for confirmation. Assuming this article is genuine for the moment, here are a few important clips:
This is spot on which is why the home front work is so important. We will not be defeated in the field but only if we lose our political will and withdraw our forces from battle.
This is a little out of order. I think that the writer is wrong here because he doesn't properly understand the reserves of flexibility available to the West, especially in the United States. When things go badly wrong, the US switches over to a very dangerous state of radical conservatism. We don't have to do it all that often and plenty of people have lived their lives without ever seeing it happen even once. George W Bush is just such a figure and he will be very likely succeeded by another such figure. The flexibility and resilience of the US means that any idea of a sclerotic West that doesn't even realize that Islamists have strategically defeated the old means of Western dominance entirely misses the point. Defeating the old version of the West's modus operandi does not mean that you have defeated the West. It merely means that the West must come up with new methods to leverage their economic and military superiority without blowing themselves up in the process.
This is leaderless resistance, pure and simple. Astute national security watchers have known this was coming for, literally, decades. I expect that countermeasures have been worked on for nearly as long.
Letter to the Paper XXXIV
The Glittering Eye riffs on my own piece Do Islamists Understand Westphalianism? and there's much of interest in there. It refers back to an interesting article put out under an Al Queda pseudonym that specifically talks about the end of Westphalianism. More on that later, but here's what I left in comments:
November 27, 2004
Ukraine Diplomats Rebel
460 Diplomats sign protest letter arguing that the recent national elections were stolen. This is betting your professional career, and perhaps more, if the pro-Russia side of the current electoral strife ends up winning. Don't be surprised if there is a rash of political asylum applications if Yanukovych carries the day.
I just read a fascinating interview of Paul Wolfowitz in Prospect Magazine. The entire article is worth a read but I learned a key fact about Iraq in it that absolutely left me shocked. Electricity is not metered, not even charged for in Iraq.
I can't think of a single country where free electricity wouldn't cause shortages in capacity, not one. Yet in over a year of reporting on electricity shortages, I never heard anybody ever mention the fact that Iraq prices electricity at $0.00 or lists that as a cause of the shortages. That includes both US and international press. It's scandalous that nobody even mentioned it. It's basic economics 101 that if you artificially set the price low, you'll get shortages. Toss in a war, infrastructure sabotage, and pre-war infrastructure negligence and it's a miracle that the electricity system is as functional as it is.
It all really makes me question how much else I've missed on Iraq.
I've got a new essay in the works. The absolutely poor performance of the international media in explaining what goes on in the US is not only risible, it's dangerous. If there was some sort of kit that could be passed along directly, bypassing international media filters, the danger of serious misunderstanding could be ameliorated. So here's a rough draft:
November 26, 2004
Measuring Progress in Iraq
Jason Van Steenwyk sets out what progress means in Iraq in the final section of an interesting post on Fallujah:
Amen. Past a certain point, Iraq is going to wake up with a government they've elected, with a constitution written by Iraqis, and with an army big enough to secure their borders and well enough trained and led that they won't break when called into combat. After that, the US is just the big security guarantee that Iran won't go nuts and cross the border, useful, but not psychologically overbearing.
Zarqawi is doomed. He's just hoping to break us psychologically before it becomes to obvious to the media and governing elites in the West.
November 25, 2004
Reading an article over at Solomonia, a question struck me. Is the Caliphate a national post? The muslims divide the world into Dar al Islaam and Dar al Harb (the house of Islam and the house of war). I've never seen any indication that the territory in either category is limited by national borders. If Paris has a large suburb that is exclusively muslim, is it Dar al Islaam or Dar al Harb? And if it is the former, how will that work its way out as far as the Caliph claiming jurisdiction over that territory?
This never used to come under discussion because Islam used to heavily discourage muslims from moving into non-muslim countries. That prohibition seems to have long fallen by the wayside. It also doesn't seem to be one of the features of the original Islam that Osama and co. seem to want to revive. So if you have any Islamist acquaintances, I'd be very interested to know what, exactly, constitutes Dar al Islaam.
Bittorrent is a huge underground hit but one thing has had me worried about it's mainstream viability, the problem of creating lists of torrent files called trackers in an easy way that can be done by most anybody. That problem now appears to be solved and it's done in a way that gives bloggers another arrow in their technological quiver.
Its one of those simple ideas that can change a lot. From a project site:
Indeed, they do. Creating distribution networks for your IP content is a thriving business. It's called the music and movie industries for a start. If the torrent protocol continues to be successful, it, and its successors, will be a huge challenge to the big distribution arms. Local fan bases for college bands can contribute enough bandwidth for songs that they can be easily distributed without having to sign expensive contracts. The propagation of culture will speed and the IP business will tilt and shift to the creators and consumers and away from the distribution middlemen who have so much power today.
This will affect blogging (heck, the web in general), especially when .torrent files are integrated into the web browsers and you can torrent your pictures and text. Popular web pages will no longer be slashdotted as those who hold the pages in cache will use some of their generally unused upload potential to share that information with peers. That's darn revolutionary for the web and a huge opportunity for the open source folks, Microsoft being unlikely to take the lead on this project.
What About Putin
You can excuse an awful lot of Vladimir Putin's attempts to gain maneuvering room to steer Russia away from its appointment with the abyss but its support of the highly dubious announced results in the Ukrainian elections exceeds all acceptable bounds.
We can't tell whether the reports of Russian troops being flown in are overwrought rumors forwarded by the opposition or a real move to ensure that the Rose Revolution is not repeated in Ukraine. But if Russia is shipping troops that dress in ukrainian uniforms, this is very serious. Military confirmation of such troops means that it's no simple joke but it would have been better announced from someplace else than the opposition candidate's political headquarters.
November 24, 2004
And In the News...
And in the news today...
President Franco is still dead
Arafat is in stable condition after dying at a Paris hospital.
James Taranto is no Chevy Chase but he's trying.
Ukraine in the Fire
The announcement of Ukrainian election results has the opposition talking about civil war with armed units being polled as to their loyalties. The US and EU both reject the election results and are united in calling for fraudulent ballots to be rejected.
Reform or Purge
As long as I've been reading conservative political stuff (and that's been a long time, two decades now) the State Department has been viewed as a placee where conservatives and their ideas would not get a fair shake. It was viewed, institutionally, as hostile territory and the use of shorthand, even back then, made it clear that by the time I started reading about it, it was an old, old problem. It hasn't gotten better.
The State Department is still a place where conservatives do not like what goes on there, where they view that the mandarinate is viscerally hostile to their initiatives and always fights to reverse them, no matter what their duty is to further the policies of the current administration regardless of party. There's only so much of that sort of resistance that is tolerable in a democratic republic.
When Republicans, and everybody else, viewed themselves as a minority temporarily in charge of the Executive, long term projects such as cultural change in the State Department were viewed as "nice to have" but so long term that undertaking them would probably be fruitless. That was because any progress would be undone by the inevitable next Democrat administration and the Congress, being reliably Democrat, would not defend the changes.
George W Bush is the first Republican president in decades not infected with this self-defeating attitude. He has already undertaken a major change at CIA on these lines and, inevitably, will be doing the same at the State Department.
This is the moment of truth for the US Left. They can either recognize that the State Department (as well as the CIA) has been behaving improperly, stop mau mauing our new Secretary of State, and coordinate efforts to make the civil service more neutral between the parties or they try to defend the biased careerists who think that they can run their department better than the President's appointees. If they do the latter (and there are too many signs pointing that direction already) they are likely to provoke an even harder push to burn everything down to the foundations and build anew. The shorthand for that outcome is a purge. Are Democrats going to be a constructive opposition or will it take a few more losses? I wish I knew.
The Temptation to Hate
Jeff Jacoby has a pro-hate column out extolling the virtue of hating evil. I can't say that I agree with him there. He recognizes the dangers though.
The problem is that hate is a powerful emotion. It encourages carelessness in its further use. It is a simple solution to problems that are not always simple. Is somebody doing something bad? Just hate them and you need not give any further thought to the hard work of rehabilitation for the next world.
This is a very old jewish/christian fault line. I don't think that I'm going to resolve it here. The muslims, I believe, come down on the jewish side of this one and absolutely do suffer spiritually for it. That spiritual disfiguration comes out in some of their most egregious practices, like honor killing. Your very own child, the fruit of your highest dreams and aspirations, does something wrong and you hate them enough to kill them. You give them no chance to make things right with God. You just go out (or worse, send out their siblings) to their hiding place (they justifiably fear you already) and kill them.
When to hate is a potent question that even the tolerant nonreligious must face. A democracy that wanted to eliminate honor killings on the basis of the rule of law would be forced to make capital crimes out of the actions that provoke honor killings. Anything else would be religious oppression.
November 23, 2004
Some Democrats are advising a retreat to an urban only strategy. This is breathtakingly stupid for several reasons. The first is that the Republican party has an urban policy to go along with its policy for suburbs, exurbs, and rural areas. You might or might not agree with it but Republicans have something to say about improving the lives of all of the people.
If Democrats cede that ground and become an "I don't care" party once you leave the urban core, they will not only get trounced in non-urban areas but will also come under pressure in some of their urban strongholds. An awful lot of people in urban areas want to move to the suburbs. An even greater number of them have parts of their families in suburbia, other parts in the urban core. Saying my party doesn't care what happens to your relatives is a good way to lose those voters.
Other problems are that urban areas are going through their own adjustments and it's not that friendly to Democrats. When did the last mayor leave NYC's Gracie Mansion? It was David Dinkins in 1993. NYC has had a decade of Republican rule. From what I understand, Republican registration has more than doubled during that time to the 20% range. How brain dead do you have to get to lose mayoral elections when you have 80% of the vote registered for your party?
Even as a liberal wet dream, the archipelago strategy of retreat and regroup in urban centers doesn't pass the laugh test. Unfortunately, I think it's likely to gain some adherents on the left.
Do Islamists Understand Westphalianism?
In my analysis of geopolitical goings on, I've been under the assumption that at least the Islamists understand the strictures of westphalianism. However, this Guardian article leads me away from that conclusion to the disturbing idea that what we have is WW I redux, a system that is poorly understood by all major participants.
Hizb ut Tahir is an interesting organization. Is it the seed of the next Al Queda, as Central Asia and the Middle East seems to think? Or is it a radical group that remains peaceful and thus capable of integrating into western society, as the UK believes? How Hizb sees itself and its role in the West is as close as we can really get to Islamist radicalism without the employ of spies.
There is a claim to membership in the West but no apparent understanding of the obligations such membership has. The West, with its westphalian framework, simply has to give way to the creation of the caliphate. There is no apparent understanding of the adjustments that need to be made, no understanding of why such adjustments are so feared deep in the heart and soul of Europe. Continental Europe's problem is that it only sees a binary choice, westphalian or pre-westphalian international systems. And once the caliphate is a smear on the bottom of the West's shoe, the fear is that pre-westphalian conditions will cause variations of the old European wars and the tearing apart of all the progress that has sprung up from the westphalian system.
If Hizb and the rest of the Islamists have stumbled into their westphalian safe havens by accident, completely misunderstanding the nature of what's safe and what's not, we're in a load of trouble because, by accident, they will trigger a pre-westphalian explosion, just as they have done so in miniature in the Netherlands. Or is it better to say that they have done so among the dutch?
For any serious effort at post-westphalian progress, adjusting the westphalian system to eliminate the safe-havens of sub-national groups trying to monkeywrench the entire system, this prospect has to be considered an alarming one.
Post-westphalianism is a process of adjustment and growth to improve the system. At heart it has the potential to be attractive to progressives and conservatives because it is an effort to better map the international system to take into account the dark side of humanity and also a way improve the ability of people to change policy across national borders when tyranny has a firm grip on a country's institutions.
For the post-westphalian, a reversion to pre-westphalian rules would be the negation of their proposed step forward and a giant step backwards. Once the church burners of the Netherlands get their heads handed to them by the mosque burners, they'll hop the border and organize in France, Germany, or Belgium. There is no doubt that the mosque burners will follow and outrage will pile on outrage with very unpredictable consequences, none of them good.
Hopping a border and acting outside your national boundaries has to be done under a new, yet to be fully determined ruleset. The UK wants to talk about and flesh out the ruleset in a top down manner, the US is winging it as it goes along, hoping to build the ruleset in an intuitive/empirical fashion. "Old Europe" doesn't want anything to do with either idea, as they think that revising westphalianism will lead to a degeneration and reversion to pre-westphalian habits.
The bottom line is that if the Islamists don't know what they're doing, we could be tipped over into a new geopolitical dispensation at any time and that dispensation is likely to be to nobody's liking.
November 22, 2004
Check Your Assumptions
The Ergosphere has a long energy article out. It's interesting, as far as it goes but the entire edifice rests on a few questions of geostrategy
The problem with all this is not in the copiously documented plans springing from these assumptions but from the foundational assumptions themselves.
We have dependence on a lot of things that come from other places. A mutually interdependent trading system sees to that. If we were to view all of these dependencies as a national security issue, we might as well start planning the end of the Republic because the only way to secure ourselves (under that false idea of national security issues) is to take over the world. No thanks.
I was going to do a point by point analysis but once you see that a plan is built on a false idea of what is in our national security interest, there is no salvaging it. There is no point. There's some good facts sprinkled in there and the analysis is spot on, but it's spot on for some parallel universe where international specialization and trade is not win-win and we want to beggar other nations, not grow rich and secure together. That's not the kind of world that I would want to live in.
Who Are the Sycophants?
I can't imagine anybody examining the CIA cleanup initiated by the new chief, Porter Goss without at least mentioning Imperial Hubris, the extraordinarily unprofessional spectacle of a serving CIA agent being unleashed on the administration he's supposed to be serving. Yet David Wise manages to do just that in his LA Times piece entitled Sycophant Spies.
Even if you buy into the line that the level of CIA leaking and the one sidedness of those leaks against the President are just par for the course, nobody can find any historical precedent for a CIA agent publicly writing his tell all book while collecting a CIA paycheck while being fully authorized to do not only a book, but a book tour. This article is positively orwellian in both spin and in the classic sense of losing inconvenient facts down the memory hole. I'd fisk in detail but I find I haven't the heart for it.
David Wise no doubt has sources to protect and he's enlisted in the war against Porter Goss' cleanup to preserve his ability to gain inside information at the CIA. In a very real sense, he's a sycophant to his sources. In a normal world, he'd be heaped with scorn and suffer significant career damage. We don't live in a normal world.
In the hustle and bustle of blue state condemnation of extremist christianity, it's useful to sometimes take a look at how it can manifest
November 21, 2004
Fixing Newspaper Thefts
One of the recurring problems of campus these days are stolen newspapers. That doesn't mean just a single newspaper, mind you, but thousands of stolen papers, usually tossed in a remote trash bin and hauled away to the dump. This sort of thing is so widespread that way back in the day when I was helping run a conservative/libertarian paper (on a Macintosh SE/30 running Ready, Set Go! 4.5 if I recall) we decided to forego the bother of having to meet with the police that often and actually organized delivery service for the 5000 on campus undergraduates of SUNY at Stony Brook. If only we had thought it through a bit better, we'd have beaten out Peapod by years B-), I tell you.
The thought comes to me that if it took a team of less than ten people to go do that (for free, mind you) once a month, student government could certainly fund a 1st amendment delivery service. Imagine if stealing a controversial issue meant that your ideological opponents actually increased their circulation and did it in a way that you could no longer interfere in future, surely that would dent the enthusiasm of 1st amendment hooligans. A small amount of funding and it could turn into a nice source of work/study slots for less well off students. Best of all it could be presented non-ideologically, as a blow against campus thugs who want to exercise thought control by killing off alternative news outlets.
Given the small amount of funding at stake, I can't imagine the argument against it.
Writing off Iraq's Debts
It seems like the US was shooting for an 80% write off of Saddam era debts and the Paris Club has generally agreed to an 80% write-off of Iraq's debts. This includes "old europe" mainstays, France and Germany. The one fly in the ointment is Russia, which neglected to send a delegation with the power to actually, you know, agree to anything, giving Putin a second bite at the apple in Moscow as he quietly, privately talks with the US.
So why did they do it? Why did they cut a deal that satisfied the "Texas cowboy"? Conventional analysis that Bush hatred makes it impossible for there to be progress is completely impotent at answering this question. Perhaps that's an indication that hatred of GWB, his administration, and the large chunks of the US that sent him back to the White House is a bit overstated?
My own opinion is that simple self-interest is the root cause of the write-down, just like pretty much every write-down of debts, whether by a state or by an individual. Iraq couldn't afford to pay everybody back, the prospects of a new government rising that would make good on the Saddam era debts is virtually nil, and writing down the debt makes it more likely that the Iraqi economy will come back to life enough that the 20% that remains owed will actually be paid off.
It's self-interest for the most part which won this agreement. Let's keep that in mind in our heated discussions over whether the US has lost all influence. We dont' actually need that much influence to get what we want because, much of the time, what we want is just what's sensible.
I just took Dante's Inferno Test.
I guess I have to watch out for the sex and violence
The Dante's Inferno Test has sent you to Purgatory!
Take the Dante's Divine Comedy Inferno Test
Iraqi Election Countdown
They've set a date for Iraqi elections, January 30. By my count that makes it 70 days of hard, violent struggle until elections and finally we can start to see whether democracy will make a difference in Iraq. I think it will. I think that we will end up having a reprise of Afghanistan, a lot of apocalyptic talk, a lot of fear, even among the participants, who will get up and go vote on election day even though they think they might die of it.
For those in the US, 70 days seems like an awfully short campaign period. It's not, as a great many elections are run under just that sort of tight window in parliamentary systems around the world.
Private Tandey's Regrets
Michael Ledeen presents an important morality tale.
While Tandey gnashed his teeth, was he wrong to spare Hitler? If he was wrong, what moral responsibility does that place on those of us who oppose capital punishment for killers who end up killing again?
Hitler is, of course, an extreme case but his case is by no means unique. The killer who kills again in prison, who escapes and kills again, or who is released and repeats his crime, all of these are circumstances that confront us in reality, not only theory. Unfortunately, the anti-capital punishment side often does not seem to take responsibility for the consequences of their mercy.
The future is unclear, however. How many lives are spared and who reform themselves, contributing instead of further taking from us all? It's a difficult question which is why capital punishment is, rightly, not condemned by Catholics in the same terms that abortion is. Guilt, innocence, and the consequences of choosing humble even the most decisive of theologians and moral judges from making entirely hard and fast rules.
A Better Urban Environment
I have David Sucher's City Comfort's Blog on my daily read list. I don't always agree with him on various issues and he's part of that delusional group, the "reality-based community" that's today's code word for liberals but he has the refreshing virtue of really, truly caring about the built environment. What he's aiming at, I believe is something like Rome, a place where even the B and C lists are awe-inspiring.
Now there's something to aim for, that the secondary broom closet is such a thing of beauty and inspiration that it can stop you dead in sheer appreciation of it. The funny thing is that we know how to build that way, how to decorate that way and we don't. Or at least we don't do it anywhere near a majority of the time. We can build better, decorate better, inspire ourselves to loftier heights and we simply choose not to. Instead of something that lasts, we run out and buy into mass customized consumer fads of little value and shorter duration.
There is a better way, I think, and while I'm not quite sure that Sucher has the whole story, he's looking in the right places and has found a good deal of the answer.
At a certain point, we should take a break from tax cuts, tax code changes, and the like. We'll have hit a sweet spot where the system is pretty good, the cost of change eats up most of the remaining benefits and better to leave well enough alone. We'll miss that sweet spot by a mile if we're not careful.
Right now, I see tax reform and tax cutting as a runaway train. There are still many things left to cut or reform, lots of room for improvement but I'm starting to detect that a significant portion of the Republican office holding class doesn't much care for reform and improving the system. They're looking for something to put on their campaign brochures for their next reelection.
This is a real challenge for the center-right policy shops, Heritage, Cato, and the rest of that ecosystem. They have to keep the policy idea hopper full in order to provide ready replacements when something gets done. You'll know that the new Republican era of political dominance has peaked and started to decline when they start failing to do so.
November 20, 2004
Pre v Post Westphalianism
In writing my previous post on how the Cold War had limits while the current struggle is one of recklessly breaking through all limits, I came face to face with the reality that there are two alternative visions of the end of westphalianism and the difference between the two explains a great deal of the intramural diplomatic turmoil in the West.
The US (and the UK, whose Tony Blair specifically talked about it) is looking at a post-westphalian world order, a new dispensation which will fill in the infrequent case when a movement like the Islamists entirely disregards westphalian norms of sovereignty. This post-westphalian order is not a negation of it but a further evolution of the idea, limiting sovereignty in certain circumstances.
The continental european panic over the whole idea of tinkering with westphalianism is, I think, more rational than the Bush administration seems to be giving credit to "old europe". I believe that, at heart, what they are worried is that we will get rid of westphalianism to find ourselves back in a pre-westphalian state with brutal atrocities occurring everywhere as factional mixing is much more extensive than in the days of the Thirty Years War.
Both sides are somewhat constrained. The political elite of "old europe" doesn't want to admit its bad opinion of its own populations so they can't really openly talk about the fear of reverting to savage warfare. And President Bush seems quite constrained as well as something as grandiose as a clearly enunciated post-westphalian strategy would lead the US to be on the bad end of a world coalition to stop it.
Yet we must talk. We must sort out a common strategy to deal with the islamists who see the problems in both sides and are skillfully exploiting our dual weaknesses. The only question is how to start the conversation.
In reading this entry talking about Thomas Barnett, I had one of those epiphanies over this section reviewing the Cold War
Knowing the limits is the key element to the astounding long term stability of the westphalian system. Knowing, bone deep, the blackness at the heart of man's nature led people to limit interactions, keeping a screen of rules and borders to maintain play in the system and allow people to look away from the evil (perceived or real) going on over the border.
Talk, and even action that breaks that system will unleash a tremendously ugly beast. Since the 1970s, the islamists, with their talk of trans-national caliphates and worldwide sharia law have trampled on the very heart of the westphalian system. Since the Islamists started out very weak, the rest of the world largely ignored their actions. Those actions were essentially the breaking of a 500 year ceasefire.
When I first was asked, on 9/11, to tell friends and family in Romania what the US was going to do (I was trapped in Bucharest then), I said that the US was going to enter the world, and the world wasn't going to like it. But the US is different than Europe with regard to Westphalianism. As a people, americans have never confronted the ugliness and butchery of non-westphalian warfare, how nasty it can get and how close to home the atrocities can hit.
Europe knows and really, truly doesn't want to go there. With the ritualized slaying of Theo van Gogh, at least the Netherlands is starting to take baby steps back towards the old certainties. They are instinctively taking a page out of Machiavelli's Discourses and going back to their roots. They instinctively recognize that tolerance has failed them and reach back to older, less inviting truths.
The lock on Pandora's box is straining and idiot islamists are trying to knock the lock entirely loose. The question is, what vision of non-westphalian war are they trying to loose, that which the US has been visiting on them for three years or the style of the Netherlands with pigs heads nailed to doors and mutual bombings?
November 19, 2004
Letter to the Paper XXXIII
Obsidian Wings has the vapors over Bush tax reform proposals, especially the idea of removing the deductibility of employer sponsored health insurance. It's unfortunate that the other half of that plan, associational health insurance isn't explicitly linked to it. It should be, but because that was rolled out in a state of the union address some time ago, people are missing the obvious connection. Here's what I wrote in comments:
Election Violence Followup
Remember the Wisconsin tire slashing incident where 20 Republican rental vans had their tires slashed to try to drive down the Milwaukee Republican vote? Arrests have been made and surprise, surprise, it's a Democrat hothead (the son of a congresswoman) and, surprisingly, a trucked in Democrat party official from Virginia.
I'm not too fond of dirty tricksters on either side of the political divide. At best, you get a cheap laugh and grudging admiration for a work of destructive art. Slashing tires is just mean and scary and I hope both parties in Milawaukee can keep things from spiraling to the next level in the campaign sewer.
Kevin Drum is complaining that many of the 11 referendums banning gay marriage that passed this election did more than strictly ban the issuance of marriage licenses. He's only noticing this now and surmises that a lot of other people are unaware as well.
This is exactly the sort of thing that ticks me off about the entire marriage debate. Is it too much to ask that people actually have readily available a tool that describes actual civil marriage, hopefully with commentary and history so normal human beings can actually understand why the law is what it is? I've wrote my own share about gay marriage (and my traffic dips every time I do it to excess) but whatever your position, I hope we can all agree that this sort of ignorance is embarrassing. Left, right, or moderate, we should know better, or at least the advocates should know better. I'm growing in the conviction that we're all blind men feeling the elephant.
Is A Senate Seat Worth Agriculture?
The rumors about offering Agriculture to Sen Ben Nelson (D), if true, indicate a few things. Republicans both want to get as close as possible to 60 Senators in that house and Republican Agricultural policy under President Bush is either nonexistent or can adequately progress without the Secretary of the Department being a Republican.
I don't buy into the idea that there are no significant ideas inside the Republican party to improve agriculture so what gives? I think the answer comes in three letters, WTO. With the expiration of the "peace accords" on agriculture, we're going to be forced, step by step, down the road to reduced tariffs, liberalization of markets, and generally the small government approach.
This is going to occur regardless of who controls the Department so why not buy a Senate seat (a Republican governor would nominate Nelson's successor) with a Cabinet post and gain credit for a measure of bipartisanship while you're at it. Sure, you lose some patronage posts and boy do the Democrats need them, but the cost is well worth the gain. If Rove hasn't made such an offer, he should.
Thomas Friedman Still Misses the Point on Iraq
His column from Fallujah has all the elements necessary to figure out what's going on but Friedman still misses the point. He sees that we're at a tipping point. He sees that Iraqi leaders are starting to emerge. He sees that US troops are not enough to do the job alone. He just never asks the (to me) obvious question. Would more Iraqi leaders emerge if there were sufficient US troops in Iraq to do the job without risk to Iraqis? The obvious answer is no, that Iraqis would, if they could, be like everybody else and let somebody else do it for them if that's an option. An insufficient military force to do the job alone in Iraq isn't a bug in US strategy, it's a necessary feature of US strategy to win.
The day that Thomas Friedman understands that and explains it to the rest of blue state america is the day that our victory in spreading democracy is assured. It's that simple. Strikes at our psychological will are no longer going to have any realistic chance to succeed once we gain consensus that we want to grow local patriots by making it clear to them that only they can win their own freedom, that the best the US can do is to give them a fighting chance. That consensus is going to save a great many lives, may it come soon.
November 18, 2004
New Year's Resolution III
Ugh, what a slacker I am. Counting this post, I'm 46 posts off of the pace that will allow me to actually completely fulfill a new year's resolution for once, the one I made on 1/1/2004. Since this is a leap year, that's 1098 posts of profundity and inane drivel. Since this is my 923rd post of 2004, that's 175 posts to actually fulfill my promise. This means that I've actually got to average slightly more than 4 posts daily (no days off) to hit my target.
Feh, never happen.
Reading through Charles Krauthammer's Arafat obituary the one thing that really stuck in my craw was that it will take a generation to stop the poison in palestinian culture. I find that depressingly pessimistic. Well, why not make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. Here's my stab at a solution for the hateful palestinian culture nurtured by Yasser Arafat.
John Paul II took the Catholic Church in many new directions during his papacy. It wasn't anything that contradicted previous popes but his moral development really pushed the envelope in ways that were both profoundly Catholic and also impacted the secular world in important ways. Healing old wounds both with the jewish world and the christian Orthodox one, his actions will bear fruit for many years. In the case of Orthodoxy, it is a first step in healing a millennium old wound.
There seems to be even less of a barrier for muslims to create a genuine muslim theology of living together based around works of western imams that can be inserted into palestinian curriculums. It should start with a simple assertion, that some organizations fighting jihad have sent members to hell on false promises of martyrdom. Whoever that audacious religious scholar is, our number one priority (as far as palestinians are concerned) is to keep him alive, functional, and engaged with the public furthering the firestorm of conversation that will grow out of that simple statement. The peaceful jihad must be promoted and it must be understood that a palestinian society that is fairer to jews than jews are fair to muslims and christians in Israel will shift US support to Palestine and end the long-term viability of a racist jewish state (a non-racist one remains a possibility though, that's something I think that everyone can eventually live with).
Christians have their work cut out for them among palestinians too but the nature of the faith will make the job easier. I expect much less trouble on that front.
Dick Morris Phones One In
Dick Morris is right when he says that the election wasn't won on abortion but he obviously wasn't paying attention when he selected his example of unacceptable behavior on judicial nominations. Rehnquist votes pro-life so substituting Thomas for Rhenquist would not change the balance but neither would putting in a pro-life nominee to substitute for Thomas. The voting balance on abortion issues would not change a bit with Roe being defended and occasional regulatory measures passing SC scrutiny.
Morris really loses it on analyzing tax reform and Social Security. There is no possible way that any reform isn't going to be intensely scrutinized for Morris to say
is foolish to say the least. Instead, I predict that websites will spring up that let you calculate your tax burden under the new rules without much effort at all. I wouldn't even be surprised if the makers of tax software are roped in to produce updates for their prior year customers so that you can take last year's data and calculate the differences in every bill variation. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if people paid a few bucks for the service. There will be no tax simplification in the Morris plan because, like the AMT, people will just calculate twice (now three times) and pay the lower tax.
Morris' Social Security idea of indexation to a fixed average retirement benefit is vulnerable in the out years to exactly the sort of pandering that has got us in the current mess. Seniors will likely vote for somebody who adds a year to the average retirement benefit in good times and will severely punish those who want to subtract a year when the economic burden starts choking growth. It's this one way ratchet effect that is at the heart of the social welfare conundrum faced all over the free world. By shifting towards a market based system, we escape the ratchet effect.
Morris should have dipped into his reserves and submitted an evergreen reserve column. He embarrassed himself with this one.
Delegitimizing Government II
As I've written before I believe secret sharia courts and western produced fatwas have a delegitimizing effect on governments. As the Danes are learning their muslim citizens do not feel that their government is protecting them from muslim extremism and muslim moderates have sat down and shut up rather than getting their throats slit. This is a deeply disturbing vision. If they cannot control their own territory and impose their own law over all their territory, they are objectively not a functioning state, but rather a failed one.
Now before the angry letters pour in, it should be noted that there have been times and places where the US wasn't in charge everywhere either, including significant chunks of NYC as recently as a decade ago. But the US snapped back, government changed, became more effective, and took back the streets from the criminals in various ways, some very ordinary, others quite innovative. The Danes have a similar challenge. In some ways it is a greater challenge because it involves a foreign ideology that can claim foreign support. In other ways, that very foreignness makes it less threatening because integration will naturally disperse it as long as it is not artificially strengthened.
The question is, do they have the guts to preserve their society, their government? Or will their government no longer hold a monopoly on violence, and thus be delegitimized.
Practical Libertarianism: Connecting Private Solutions to Libertarian Political Action
In a multi-post symposium over the future of libertarianism (I’d link but there is no search box) comes this gem
This is the normal person’s objection to classic doctrinaire libertarianism in a nutshell. The mail eventually arrives, food arrives on our table, the system works so why rock the boat? And it’s not an unreasonable position to have, that ideological change must be proven to work better before applied, that blindly following a political faith into policy prescriptions without detailed plans of how it will work is dangerous.
The government is more than willing to provide solutions. They might be inefficient, provide precedent for all sorts of long-term threats to our liberty, might even be counterproductive when examined more closely but when you have something and you’re trying to compete with it by offering nothing, nothing will lose most every time.
That’s a real challenge to libertarianism because while the reality is that the replacement is not “nothing” in the libertarian system, it very much is “nothing political” with private action substituting for public. With private action and public action fully bifurcated, this reasonably translates into “nothing” in the public mind because work in the public interest done by private groups is not generally connected to the political work necessary to avoid government crowding out private action. How to make that connection in the public mind is one of libertarianism’s greatest challenges at the moment.
Battlefield 'Net X
The Pentagon is planning to create own kind of Internet 2, a battlefield network capable of seeing everything, knowing everything. Now I can see a practical reason for the Army's insistence on IPv6 starting in 2009. IPv6 is a new addressing system that has the address space needed to handle all those new network nodes this new military net will have.
This isn't just of interest to the military but will likely drive the entire civilian worldwide Internet to convert over to IPv6. Even if this new milnet is hermetically sealed away from the Internet, the Army has made it clear that it wants to contract with ISPs who provide IPv6 and those ISPs will, in turn, have that service for their civilian clients as well.
But contrary to the warfighting concentration (to the point of exclusivity) in the NYT article, this will be revolutionary for nation building/peacekeeping as well. Crack off a segment of addresses, create a DMZ zone and you end up with the network backbone for a civilian networking infrastructure. Add language appropriate simputers and you're in Sys admin heaven.
You want to change people's psychological connectivity with the world? Give them an instrument that gives them vital information like how to get a job, where to get food or medical aid, curfew rules so they won't get shot, and alongside that education in how to become a free citizen and not a subject, ways to register their needs and wants and structural aids in how to organize to get them, connectivity to military intelligence, news from around the world, the possibilities are broad and far ranging.
By the time that the GIG starts rolling out, chances are that simputers will have both significantly advanced in capability (they're currently being built on top of a 206Mhz ARM chip running GNU/Linux) and drop in price. You can get 1 unit at retail for $240. No doubt bulk purchase gets you a better price though a solar charger (4.5 volts) and wireless net connector drive costs right back up. If 5 years from now the platform can handle voice, we've got a real winner.
Variables and Constants III
Prof. Barnett says we should [g]et used to Iran having the bomb. I tend to agree that we should but I'm not as glum about it as he is. He's treating the leadership of Iran as a constant when it's not. It's a variable. I've repeatedly said that I don't mind a nuclear Iran if it's the right government, though I think that the right government in Iran would be glad to trade a nuclear arms program for a big payoff, kickstarting Iran's economy. The precedent is out there (Romania).
Iran is highly vulnerable to subversion and Najaf is the key to such a strategy, which is why Iran was so eager to get its puppet (Moqtada al Sadr) in control of the place. Sadr's damaged goods at this point for at least as long as Begin was due to his early terrorist missteps so Iran is desperately trying to keep the pot boiling so that the Najaf hawza does not feel secure enough from physical retaliation to issue fatwas against Iran's governing arrangements and the repression that grips the people.
Ayatollah Sistani, in naming Al Queda apostate, has shown that he's certainly willing to stick his neck out when religiously justified. I don't doubt that he'll be willing to focus his eye on the novel theories of the Iranian mullahcracy as soon as more pressing business is concluded and Iraq is under a stable Shia dominated government in early 2006.
I would not be surprised to see a period of danger where Iran is both mullah ruled and nuclear but mullah ruled is a lot less predictable than nuclear. Treat variables as variables and your policy options widen.
ACLU, Scouting, and the DoD
The Defense Department is fighting off an ACLU lawsuit and has partially settled matters by categorizing the Boy Scouts as a religious organization and saying that military bases cannot directly sponsor scouting on those grounds. This is an interesting bit of lawyering because, federal law explicitly defines scouting in Title 36 under patriotic and national organizations and gives it a federal charter.
It'll be interesting to see if this compromise stands. It shouldn't.
Who's Responsible for Nation Building?
From a 2002 interview of Condoleeza Rice by Jay Nordlinger:
So how do you keep the balance, especially when people in a dictatorship are heavily conditioned to be passive? Unfortunately, the answer that seems to be coming out of Iraq and Afghanistan is, to a certain extent, let them bleed while not letting them fail. I wish it weren't. I truly do wish there was a better way. So far, one has yet to appear and our loyal opposition does not seem to be overly concerned with improving the Bush solution to this problem. Perhaps they should. It would certainly improve our country's results and their electoral prospects as well.
An Intellectual Exercise I
A Paris based Iranian exile group is accusing Tehran of continuing to enrich uranium at a large estate in northwest Tehran. The last is according to Debka so add salt, but it might be worthwhile to review how such a claim would be discredited in a free society if it were false.
The county clerk would have the owner of record and the ownership chain, two facts that don’t seem to be in evidence. The owner would be investigated, there would be journalists camped out at all entrances to the site, making a nuisance of themselves for anyone entering and leaving by investigating them until some sort of inspection was permitted to settle the question and it would have to not only satisfy the government but the paranoid wing of the press.
Much of this is unavailable in Iran as evidenced that it’s not happening. Putting aside the politics of it all, it would be a great story that dangerous work (enriching uranium is quite dangerous, especially if you haven’t already made your mistakes over the years) was going on in a residential neighborhood in the capital. That provides a powerful incentive in the form of sales and reputation for any news outlet that lands such a story. A free press not only holds governments to account but settles false rumors quickly that can endanger a government from both inside and out. Unfortunately for the mullahs, they have ensured they do not have such a safeguard. Most tyrants are not so far sighted.
Personal Note II
It looks like I may finally be shaking my cold. Blogging should get somewhat better.
November 17, 2004
A Gallery Suggestion
Steven Vincent takes a look at the conformist state of contemporary artists as well as their art and finds himself disappointed that nobody provides any variety. My immediate impulse is to shout back, why don't you do it? Rent space, create a gallery, promote artists who are patriotic, innovative, quirky, pro-american, even, gasp Republican. You have a built in local audience.
Due to the yeoman work of Mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg, Republicans actually exist in NYC these days and filling an unfilled niche will likely not only be soul satisfying and good for the country but also profitable. Fox News is the model. Rupert Murdoch, contrary to leftist nightmare is not a conservative. He is a savvy businessman who looks for niches that are relatively unfilled and reaps huge profits by filling them. In the US, this makes him a conservative. In the UK it makes him a Blairite. In the PRC it makes him a communist toady. There is obviously an unfilled niche in the art world. For those who are qualified, go fill it!
Create your own gallery, make it safe for starving conservative artists to come out of the closet, provide alternative fora for innovative discussions on art which isn't just the same old thing. Scandalize the institutions of the art world with something more than just another schlocky horror show of formaldehyde body parts and blasphemy with a dash of anti-patriotism. I'd think it would be a runaway success on the principle that conservatives would love to deal with art, with culture in general without having to feel like they're entering hostile territory.
So why don't people do it? There's the real mystery.
The Challenge For Small Government Advocates
For those of us who have our heads out in the sunlight (instead of stuck in an orifice) who believe that smaller government would be better for society, we inevitably come to a big problem. Big government solutions will always have an attractiveness to politicians because, unlike small government solutions, they can be readily identified with a party, with a politician, can be packaged into a brochure that says "I did this, reelect me". Aside from any ideological positions a particular pol may have, all politicians deeply desire the ability to say such things because they are the fundamental, bedrock argument for reelection and a continuing career for the politician. Personal interest must be taken into account.
The small government advocate's cupboard of accomplishments is always going to be less well stocked than his big government brethren's. The problem is easily illustrated by President Bush's father President GHWB with his thousand points of light. A charity is started, does GHWB get the credit for it? The practical answer is generally not, even though his creating a space for that charity might have been crucial in the decision for it to be called into existence. Another charity increases its activities, is GHWB credited? Again, no, as it might have done so anyway.
The social good that a small government politician does is only partially captured by current mechanisms while the social good that a big government politician does is counted and counted again as it's the gross good, not the net that gets credited to him. Indirect, negative private effects are seldom linked unless they are very obvious and such negative effects often take many years to show up as Atlee in the UK and Wagner in NYC played to their benefit.
This is an insight that, unfortunately I don't have a definitive answer for. Perhaps someone will suggest something in comments.
Libertarian Clueless II
Tyler Cowen grumbles about the idea of private forced savings accounts. The problem is that he takes the marketing job much too seriously. The reality of forced savings accounts is that they provide savings for those who would not otherwise be able to save due to their payroll taxes sucking up so much of their disposable income. Thus in the real world, you're replacing some government taxation with money that is conditionally yours but has restrictions on it so you don't end up on the dole.
For those who are richer, a different effect than providing a private pension out of what would otherwise be tax dollars kicks in. These are people who are already saving privately both in tax advantaged and taxable accounts. The net effect of the new system (post transition) is that the amount of tax advantaged savings is increased so for the vast majority of us who do not think that government pensions are enough, this is merely a new account we can dump our savings into without paying the tax man.
A world with private retirement accounts would be a world that is better than today's where leftists still get away with an awful lot of mindless tripe about how the average person is incapable of planning their own retirement. With the creation of private accounts the battleground shifts to an examination, in minute detail, over each regulation that prevents irresponsible speculation. Over time, we are likely to see successive, small shifts toward true ownership without restriction until the remaining regulations are mostly symbolic, low impact rules, that are more trouble to remove than they are worth.
Removing the debate over retirement to the question of how financially responsible people are versus whether they should have any responsibility whatsoever, fundamentally moves the political debate in a very libertarian friendly direction. The battle of how responsible people are with their own money is something that can be measured, improved, and is likely to generate a string of libertarian policy wins. Libertarians should be on board for that process as the Bush administration kicks off the first draft for market reform.
HT: The Bit Bucket
November 16, 2004
George Bush's Dusty Broom
After reading this piece by Phil Carter complaining about George Bush's impulse to purge the CIA, I have to ask, what world has he been living in? There have been calls for a purge up and down the entire national security apparatus since at least 9/11/01 and there are perennial Republican calls for a purge in State and Education because they're viewed as having a hostile culture to Republican administrations and conservative initiatives. President Bush has resisted most of this, with very partial exceptions for demonstrated, public disloyalty in individuals to carrying out presidential policy.
The CIA mandarinate apparently thought that restraint was license for them to more or less openly resist this administration. This is unacceptable, outrageous, and has no doubt gotten people killed. Phil Carter eventually backed down a bit in a postscript (I think I would have blown a gasket had I read the original, unmodified story) but he's still playing down the dangers of a mandarin class who is officially authorized to keep deep secrets from most of the rest of government, much less society, has a history of funny accounting, and has gotten into the habit of violating the fundamental rule of a civil service, don't get involved in politics.
Coups have started from less in societies that are not as stable as ours. In fact, one of the principle dangers is foreign misunderstandings that a CIA acting in this fashion might be in pre-coup mode. That injects an awful lot of noise in the system, making our friends fearful and our enemies bold. That's a major disservice to the people.
November 14, 2004
Why the SEC Won't Investigate Congress
Alex Tabarrok picks up the scent that the SEC has detected that there might be stock picking cheating going on among our nation's legislators. He seems somewhat surprised that the SEC is highly reluctant to investigate. The problem is not that the SEC is in cahoots with inside trading congressmen but that it's powerless to act and does not want to draw attention to that fact. Executive agencies can't just burst into congressional offices, seize records or otherwise do what they would normally do with any other US institution (outside the Supreme Court, I wonder what their stock market gains are like) because the US Senate and House of Representatives are uniquely privileged against such investigations.
Imagine if they weren't. Congressmen could be brought up on trumped up charges right before elections, they could be brought in for questioning far away from Washington, DC and miss crucial votes, there are all sorts of nefarious things that the executive could do to the legislative branch to tilt 5 or 10 votes in a house with dirty investigations.
This, of course, means that when there is actual wrongdoing (there may or may not be, I'm reserving judgment) the SEC can make a bit of noise to brush back legislators but they really can't do much more than issue a few releases because Congress takes those privileges against executive investigations very seriously and for good reason. In any sort of analysis of such a situation, you really need to get a feel for the precedential consequences of action v. inaction.
In this case, the problem seems to be so widespread that it's better taken care of by making it an issue that any challenger can grab ahold of and use to beat incumbents about the head with their personal profiteering in the stock market. And this seems to be what the SEC is setting up, doing the grunt work and backing off without damage to their regulatory reputation while leaving the issue alive for any savvy opposition researcher to pick it up in a couple of years.
The Mandarinate Strikes Back III
I've written previously about the rise of the mandarin class in the US federal government. David Brooks picks up the theme and focuses on the CIA's disgraceful activity during the recent campaign season to undermine their boss. Like the mainstream media (MSM) the CIA was willing to bet their credibility on a Kerry win. Both have lost heavily but the CIA will likely pay for it quicker as Porter Goss cleans house.
Unfortunately, David Brooks doesn't see this as a systemic problem but is taking a stovepipe point of view, examining just the CIA in this column. No doubt the State Department will be taken apart in another column. While this sort of vertical thinking is good for feeding the columnist's deadline beast, it reinforces a regrettable trend not to think more broadly of the problem of our present civil service system and the inevitable temptations to band together into a mandarin class to defend the system from the "know nothing" fools who inhabit the political sphere in 2, 4, or 6 year terms.
November 10, 2004
The Cocooning Left?
I haven't bothered to do a formal count but I'm getting the feeling that the left posts their emails attached to their stories significantly less frequently than those on the right. They also seem to respond less often when I disagree and drop a note to them than when I do conservative pundits and reporters.
It's just a suspicion at this stage but I wonder if what I'm spotting is something of a right-wing advantage in that they'll listen and thus fall less frequently victim to the echo chamber effect, hearing only those who agree with them leftists are more likely to spin comforting cocoons.
If I ever get my eclectic reading and information gathering habits under better control, I might do a study on it... Hopefully somebody with a much better work ethic beats me to the punch.
Bush enlarged his catholic vote from 47% to 52% while Kerry saw Catholic support drop from Al Gore's 50% to 47%. The Catholic vote for Other drops from 3% to 1%. But who were these voters? The exit poll service attendance numbers tell the tale.
Bush rose only marginally (1%) in service attendees who go at least weekly. His great increase in religious voters were in the nominally religious who go monthly or less often (3%-4%). I would guess that in the nominal group, we're disproportionately talking about "christer" Catholics, a priestly term for those who show up CHRISTmas and eastER and are no-shows throughout the rest of the year. This does not jibe very well with the "jesusland" critique launched by many on the left. A crusading army of twice a year Catholics is just not something that most people worry much about and, hopefully when serious election analysts point this out, Democrat partisans will drop the jesusland meme in quiet embarrassment.
But what is it that drove occasional Catholics into Bush's arms? It likely was the hierarchy for many of them. Any voter literature left at church would have been unread, any social group inside a parish would most likely target the guys who showed up on a regular basis. The only factors that a generally non-attending Catholic would pick up would be episcopal announcements and Kerry's heresy trial in Boston and the heresy trial was kept very, very quiet and inside baseball.
That pretty much leaves the bishops in the drivers seat, able to shift significant numbers of nominal Catholics and likely to be gearing up for a continuation of their strategy to improve the Catholic conscience in ways that secular vote counters will ignore at their peril. The Bishops seem to be out to create a true Catholic vote. Both parties need to take notice or become a permanent minority.
November 09, 2004
Betting on Microsoft
An awful lot of websites out there depend on Microsoft technology to function correctly even though the same functionality could have been put in place in a platform neutral way. Unless you're getting paid to do so, there's no legitimate company interest in doing so. What you are doing, in fact, is exposing your company to the financial risk of redeveloping your website in the case of Microsoft losing market share without any conceivable upside to benefit your shareholders.
Up until now, this has largely been a theoretical problem. Microsoft's Internet Explorer sits atop the browser heap with a dominant 90% user market share. But security problems and a slowdown in new development of the IE technology base means that there is an opportunity out there, one that has recently been taken. Firefox is a very good browser. It's impressive, innovative, and has reached version 1.0. So all the executives who have swallowed the MS developer's koolaid will, in the next months and years, be confronted with a new round of web site expenditures, expenditures that are required because customers will be using Firefox and demand support for it or they will shop elsewhere. Once business starts taking a hit, that seemingly simple technology decision to embrace vendor lock-in of the dominant worldwide player will start to look dumber and dumber.
Will they learn for the next round of technology expenditures? I hope so but I'm not confident.
How HSA's Help Save US Health
Tyler Cowen misses the boat on HSA's because he's looking at the effects on the purchasers of healthcare. He finds that:
One of the more perverse aspects of third party payment is that to become a provider affiliated with a healthcare company, your doctor contractually gives away his ability to set prices as he likes. Efficient innovation is no longer as richly rewarded while at the same time his customers become less price sensitive. While a few medical professionals maintain boutique practices of entirely cash based patients, this is not practical for the vast bulk of doctors so they must handcuff themselves to the pricing "guidelines" that the health insurers (sort of) provide.
HSA patients vastly increase the pool of price sensitive cash patients so that more doctors can rid themselves of the handcuffs of insurance provider contracts and enter the medical free market. Once free market providers become not just for the rich boutique medicine providers but also for the middle and upper middle class, you end up with a new stratum of providers who have middle class patients but have pricing flexibility. What ends up happening is that once you regain the ability to offer differential pricing, you can give discounts to those with a lower ability to pay and not force them to either accept humiliating charity or do without care.
It is the lack of the ability of providers to give discounts and the twinned problem of shame at "taking handouts" that currently afflicts a significant amount of those who receive less care than they should. This segment will increase their medical care consumption and thus, improve the overall health picture.
Sen. Kerry Can't Shut Up
One of the quaint little traditions we've had in the US has been that losing presidential candidates take a time out and sit down, letting the winner have his term without getting his elbow jogged by the losing candidate. Al Gore, Bob Dole, George HW Bush, Mike Dukakis, Fritz Mondale, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, even Ronald Reagan spent the next few years staying out of the limelight after their losing runs for the presidency. That's not going to happen this time around and, with all the triumphalism and circular firing squads running around nobody seems to have even noticed.
Come January, Sen. Kerry remains in the Senate, and his job description is to make speeches on the issues of the day and cast definitive yes or no votes on legislation. Even if he wanted to, he can't avoid violating this tradition of sit down and shut up at this point. So how will or should Republicans react? How should Democrats react as well?
Will Kerry become the leader of his party from the Senate? Who has more legitimacy, Pelosi (House Minority Leader), Reid (likely Senate Minority Leader) or Kerry (who is in the Senate and captured more votes than any Democrat candidate has in the history of the Republic)? Normally, the Senate Minority leadership would win out, it did for Daschle, but Pelosi's got more seniority in her house's top spot and could plausibly make a claim. The turd in the Democrat leadership punchbowl has got to be Kerry. He's got more legitimacy because he got more votes but he's not a leader and traditionally, you don't make your losing presidential candidate your party leader. Just ask Mike Dukakis about that.
On the Republican side, the traditionalists will eventually wake up and be offended. How offended should they be? We're in new ground here. It would be nice if the wise men of the political class would get off their butts and talk about this stuff. Maybe they have, so stick any links in comments (just hit the permalink) and eventually I'll update the article.
November 07, 2004
Exit Polling 2008
This article on exit polling got me thinking. If "boots on the ground" was a problem, how many boots on the ground would have been sufficient to fix the exit polling problem and are there enough civic minded people out there willing to create a smart mob on election day to supply those boots on the ground?
Furthermore, the question of whether moral values was an imprecise question leading to a lot of bad post-election interpretation really should have gotten a summer airing in the blogosphere. We might not have come to a better conclusion but the chances would have been higher that we would have demanded better questions.
The hard work of exit polling probably wouldn't work without paid professionals but volunteer supplements could have improved the entire process. We should work on that.
November 06, 2004
Russ Nelson provides a general case for the Bush administration's big government conservatism in an essay ostensibly on building codes. Well, at least half a case. I've made the argument in the past that what Bush is doing is sacrificing to advance the runner, providing extra money to useless programs in order to gain systems that measure the currently unmeasurable costs of government programs and common sense requirements that we use the best alternatives, closing down inferior ones.
The small government movement, both libertarian and conservative, is a complete failure when it comes to direct assaults on illegitimate state activity. We still have huge structures, entire cabinet departments that have been targeted for elimination for decades and all efforts to remove them have failed despite holding the entire government in our hand for the last three years and holding significant control over the government for many years prior in that 3 decade period.
What President Bush has figured out is a winner is to build on the basic cultural consensus that we shouldn't waste money, that measuring results is a reasonable goal, and changed the terms of the debate so that he'll give up everything now to measure results from here on in. Once the results are measured, all the extra spending will be scrutinized and that which is wasteful will be eliminated.
The article of faith among small government types that the vast majority of government spending is wasteful and could be done better via the free market will get a workout. If the article of faith is true, we will, step by step, gain all that we wish in terms of government reduction as measurement proves our point. If we're wrong, well, it's definitely time to regroup and come up with something better.
With all the sniggering about a "reality based community" among the left, the Bush administration's reality based government program evaluation is the most radical extension of judging on empirical facts, not ideological faith in many a decade. You'd think that he'd get more credit for it in the "reality based community". Surprise, surprise, he isn't.
November 05, 2004
And Now... SHATNER!
Dean Esmay lets us know about possibly the best album of the year. Don't argue, just listen and tell me if that's not a great bit of genuine social criticism, pop culture, and a fundamental appeal to authenticity that will likely play in both red and blue america (though for different reasons). I'll have a smile on all day.
You can get the album here.
Mentally Ill or Racist? What a Choice
Reason spots another sign that the left is becoming unhinged, a Joan Baez concert where she announces she has multiple personality disorder and starts sharing the impressions of one of her personalities,
This leaves us with two choices, first that Joan Baez, and her large applauding liberal audience, are unreconstructed racists of a type I'd hoped had disappeared some time ago, or she's actually mentally ill and only her aging hippie audience is racist.
What a sad spectacle.
November 04, 2004
Media Habits as Tribalism
Thomas Friedman's current column disturbs me, especially this paragraph:
What about people who watch Fox and read the NY Times? Where are we in Friedman's two americas? The progression from mainstream media to the second era of the partisan penny press is rapidly gaining steam when such a column can be written by a major player at the NYT like Friedman. It's astonishing to think that he's fallen into the trap of media outlet consumption as tribal identification badge. It would be a far poorer america if we all followed suit.
Nice County/State Map Library
The University of Texas has a good collection of US census maps showing every state in separate files with counties drawn out and labeled. This would make the perfect raw material for future elections or other analysis of the voice of the people.
Exit Polling Data
Available here, it provides a wealth of information (if it's accurate, I'm still waiting to find out the facts on the early exit poll debacle). Here are a few important stats that the professionals will be chewing over for the next couple of months.
George W Bush carried the senior vote 54%-46%. Social Security reform is a go!
If you earned more than $50k your income group was pro-Bush, the higher you earned, the more this was true.
GWB got about 40% of the union household vote, 38% of the actual union vote. My understanding is that this is historically high for Republicans, you usually get about a third of the union vote.
Kerry continues the odd Democrat party trend on education. Democrats do well with the super-educated and the badly educated while Republican voter education stats look more like the conventional bell shape.
Republicans have pulled even in party ID. If Zogby doesn't go into the tank and change his methodology, he (and all the other pollsters who use party ID screens from the most recent presidential race) should be getting more Republican tilting polling results for the next four years.
There was a 7% point difference between those who think Kerry attacked unfairly (67%) and Bush attacked unfairly (60%).
Surprisingly, Kerry did his best on terrorism among people who were very worried about terrorism (56%-44%) while Bush did best among those who were somewhat worried about it (56%-43%). The somewhat worried group is over twice as large as the very worried group.
Apparently, Oregon has passed a referendum reforming takings so that land use rules that merely reduce the value of the land have to be compensated for. By making the cost of regulation visible in the jurisdictional budget, this should radically reduce state and local regulations that reduce property values.
Many, many things are economic in nature or related to economics. Vote buying is not one of them. The fundamental reason why it's a tremendously bad idea is simply because vote buying, in any reasonable scheme that would actually result in sales, is cheaper than war or other coercive government takeover schemes like coups. Opening up vote buying means that you've created a market for coercive powers to take away your freedom. Once you've swallowed the tragic falsehood that only commercial interests would be interested in buying your vote, it's off to the races.
Not everything is about economics, not remotely.
November 03, 2004
Gay Marriage Referendums and the WOT
One of the things that the observant muslims will note about the US election is the 11 states holding referendums and widely rejecting the idea of homosexual marriage recognized by the state. One of the staples of Islamist criticism of the US is our sexual immorality and wickedness. Yet here the people were given a chance to speak and, from the muslim point of view stepped up and provided the correct answer without any need for state or religious coercion. This has got to seem an improvement over the religious police of the KSA and the violent enforcement of sharia by gang violence that is all too prevalent throughout the muslim world.
A great deal of what will improve our relations with the islamic world is not what we say to them directly but our example, lived out without thought of influencing others, in living a good life in both public and private spheres.
Right Wing Conspiracy Theories
Now that the election is over, we can find out whether the right wing moonbat theories about George Soros manipulating oil to influence the US election had any basis in reality. If we've got $30 oil in 3-6 months, there are going to be a great many forensic accountants looking into things to see how much political manipulation was going on. I hope this bit of conspiratorialist talk on the right turns out to be false but look for it to be, quietly, followed up on.
Upon reading of the assassination of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh as a consequence of his participation in a project critical of some people's interpretation of Islam, I was filled with sadness. It's just so pointless. A film, in the end, is a piece of information and all that the Islamists are doing is to push filmmakers to CGI and anonymous filmmaking.
Imagine this, a CGI epic description of the life of Muhammed, told warts and all, set for pay-per-view Internet release only. There are no theaters to bomb, no actors to intimidate, by the time the islamists even hear of the project, it's a completed work and being viewed. The only names associated with the production are distributed server systems distributing content from impossible to identify anonymous servers maintained by large corporations.
The technology is already there. The tech geeks have been building such systems to prepare for such situations for over two decades now. It's just a matter of will in the artistic community to create the script, create the world, and give Theo van Gogh a fitting monument.
For Readers in Less Than Free Lands
One thing should be understood by those observing the US elections from less than free nations. The result in an american presidential election is like the title of a slim book. The down-ballot elections for governor, legislative races, and constitutional questions provide section and chapter titles. Exit polling done as voters leave the polls provides the great meat of the volume. All in all, it is a remarkably detailed instruction booklet for how to run the US government from its masters, the people, to its servants, the governing class of representatives. We write a new instruction book for them every year.
If all you take from the event is a headline of presidential election results, you know as much about the events as if you just read "Koran", "The Bible", or "War and Peace" on the spine of a book and did not even open it to skim the contents. You know next to nothing.
The US system has the highest proportion of elected offices in the world. We elect a great many people to do a great many jobs, even down to the clerks who record property deeds and issue marriage licenses in our counties. So look at the referendums, the down ballot legislative races, read more than just the title of our book if you care to truly understand the US.
We hope and pray that soon enough, you will become electoral writers as we are, writing instructions to your own servants, the governing class of your own free nations. Like any sort of writing, it is an acquired skill, one you get better at with practice.
November 02, 2004
Daschle v Thune
Maybe the international observers should have headed to S. Dakota where Tom Daschle attempted to get Republicans barred from monitoring to prevent fraud at polling stations on indian reservations. Supposedly, they were rolling their eyes and making faces, which intimidated people from voting.
I'm sorry, elections are an adversarial process and you have poll watchers from both sides to keep things honest. That's just the facts of life. To try to remove observers in precisely the zones held under greatest suspicion of pro-Democrat voter fraud in the tight senatorial election of 2002 doesn't come close to passing the smell test.
What do they make american indians out of in N. Dakota, two parts cowardice, three parts servility? The idea that somebody rolling his eyes at me are enough to drive me away from voting is insulting. If I were the subject of such a lawsuit to "protect" me, I would feel humiliated that I wasn't considered to have a strong enough character to exercise my rights under anything but hothouse conditions.
For shame, Sen. Daschle.
Reading about election day illegalities steams me. This article on Wisconsin problems has two knuckleheads blocking a Kerry campaign parking lot (removed but not arrested) and 30 GOP vans rented to help get out the vote had their tires slashed.
We're just at the beginning folks. It looks ugly.
If you haven't voted yet today, go vote. Any infinitesimal chance for me voting for a Democrat in the appreciable future was wiped away when I saw a guy electioneering at the entrance to the polling place. I looked at his literature which were little cards saying "Lawson 37", went inside and looked at the sample ballot. Sure enough, there was a Lawson on line 37 running as a Democrat for the state assembly. Congratulations jughead, I'll think of you and ding your party for years now.
I voted straight ticket Republican, no on judge retentions, and split my referendums as small government/anti-tax as possible.
Noah Schachtman discovers DC budgeting sucks and decides to blame Don Rumsfeld in a very nasty way. The budget game hasn't worked right since the beginning of the Republic. Frankly, the only reason to put things in supplementals instead of in the regular budget is that you're sure that they wouldn't pass in the regular budget. Working up supplementals is an energy drain and if the only way to make sure your vehicles have enough gas to actually get the job done is to pair them with body armor requests, that's how you structure the request.
A lot of things can get soldiers killed. Not having enough fuel on hand to mount a rescue mission is one way for soldiers to get killed but that isn't sexy. Pairing that vital request with the "politically impossible to vote against" body armor means fewer soldiers die on balance if you've got a Congress that is looking to underfund the military. The real question is whether the Congress we elected in 2002 is that kind of Congress. That doesn't seem to be the kind of question that Noah Schachtman is as interested in as in Rumsfeld bashing.
November 01, 2004
Vote For Bush? Get Attacked
Over at the Volokh Conspiracy they're discussing OBL's threat to use the 2004 electoral map as an Al Queda targeting list. I don't know that there is that much to talk about. It's just not true. In reality, every state that does not follow sharia is on the target list. What is being discussed is the timing list, who goes first. Everything else is hudna, temporary, deceptive truce until Al Queda or successor recovers enough strength.
Since our security since 9/11 seems to have improved sufficiently to prevent new spectacular attacks, we are also getting a hint as to the type of attack. Let's say that they pick Alabama for a red state first target. No offense to that state but they don't exactly have a Pentagon or a WTC there. So if they do end up on the top of the list, what are the targets in the state? We're more likely going to see non-arabic terror snipers with an Al Queda seal of approval than planes going into buiildings. In short, we're going to see operations that are incredibly cheap, effective, and entirely out of character with traditional Al Queda operations of spectacular targets and spectacular attacks.
Instead, look for a lot of "ghost" attacks that do not use up agents but instead become impressive because they are repeated across a wide area. Take two cars, steal license plates, wire up one car with dynamite. Drive both cars to a gas station and evacuate the bomb driver with the other car. blow up the bomb as you're leaving. It's low cost, almost impossible to defend against, you can do it a hundred times all over the country simultaneously, and it's effective.
Hopefully Al Queda's still slow, still stupid but we can't count on that forever. Eventually, they will adopt such tactics, count on it. The question is whether we have the stones to keep putting ourselves at the head of the target list because living our lives as we please in freedom is going to end up doing just that. This time it's vote for Bush. Next time it might be a sharia referendum. The specifics of the vote don't matter, violently threatening to act depending on the outcome does.
Update: Here's the MEMRI translation of Bin Laden's tape. It's much better than what I've been working off of and specifically speaks to the issue.
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.