July 31, 2006

Letter to the Paper LII

Posted by TMLutas

This missive goes out to The Belgravia Dispatch because it comes so close to my own views on the great challenge facing confirmed civilians all over the world today, but most of all in the 1st world where military service is either non-existent or a joke.

I read your post on 'quasi-genocide' via Josh Marshall (and him via Glenn Reynolds) so I guess that you are addressing a fellow more comfortable on the right half of the blogosphere. I also have been wrestling on some of the Catholic boards and from *that* non-left/non-right battlefield I discovered one simple fact that you seem to have *almost* nailed, that the West is largely ignorant of military theory and facts. This ignorance has made moral idiots of people all across the blogosphere, left, right, or off the scale.

The US has made a warrior caste of its volunteer army and thus 95% of the society is virtually ignorant of military thought while the countries of W. Europe who practice conscription use it as much as an indentured servitude pool of labor as an actual military force. Germany, famously, stopped its military's plan to end conscription (a professional army is more effective, they say) because the loss of conscript labor would collapse their healthcare system.

So where are we? I think that we have a positive duty during a long war to either fight it or study it so that we can wisely support the military by electing good politicians and influence the domestic debate. Given that the vast majority of us are beginner students without a teacher, we're going to say stupid things along the way. This is where you went astray in my opinion. Students say stupid things but the cure is not to brand them with a scarlet G for genocide advocate but to educate them past their idiotic opinions with a "why do you want us to lose the war by going against military doctrine?" The military blogosphere may very well save us from our foolishness by providing an ongoing primer on strategy and tactics. The religious blogosphere, at least the part that has knowledge of military matters, has a crucial role too. A 5 minute conversation with a retired US army chaplain put my head on straight more that years worth of blogosphere debates among the similarly untutored as to moral issues in war. That sort of knowledge demands to be shared. And so I write letters and neglect my own blog (http://www.snappingturtle.net/jmc/tmblog) to comment on others in odd places here and there that might have more influence because my quest to build a platform that others will read seems less important than writing so that others will read right now.

I hope that you will pick up this theme and seek out experts in military matters and especially military morals. I have placed you on my daily "to read" list and look forward to reading more of you.

TM Lutas

July 27, 2006

Amal to the Rescue?

Posted by TMLutas

It is astonishing to me that most coverage in Lebanon talks as if Hezbollah were the only voice of Lebanese Shia. This has never been true. Amal used to be the big voice of the Shia until Syria put its thumb on the scale and ensured that Hezbollah would win the internal Shia power struggle in Lebanon. So where is Amal today?

A quick google of Amal Lebanon led to this, a fascinating article offering the possibility of a sane Shia leadership for Lebanon. What was most jarring was this little bit:

Politically, moderate Shiites support the Amal party, headed by Nabih Berri, the speaker of the Lebanese Parliament. Despite revelations of corruption in its ranks over the past years, and despite the loss of considerable support owing to the efficient social services that Hezbollah has extended to the destitute, Amal's popularity still exceeds that of Hezbollah.

Given what I've seen and read, I would have never guessed that Hezbollah wasn't even a majority voice for Lebanon's Shia.

One thing that might put the stake in Hezbollah for the long haul may be to expropriate their social service networks as a punishment for launching a war and transferring those groups to Amal. If that could be accomplished, not only will Hezbollah be hurting for recruits but it will also wither due to Amal's usurping of its traditional role as helper of the poor.

July 25, 2006

Wanted: A Department of Anarchy VIII

Posted by TMLutas

Apparently, I'm not alone in wanting a Department of Anarchy, that fine institution that would remove the useless clutter of rules, regulations, and departments that have long outlived their usefulness. I call it the DoA because it is a delightful acronym and because statists always view any area of human life not tied down by government rules and regulations as "anarchy".

Apparently the House of Representatives has a strong block of "anarchists" and they have introduced HR3282 to accomplish the noble ends of getting the cruft and crud out of our government. They will review the entire government on a maximum 12 year cycle (which can be shortened by Congress). Each agency reviewed by the commission shall be abolished one year afterwards unless it is reauthorized by Congress.

HT: Michael Williams

EU Specialization in Trade Negotiation

Posted by TMLutas

Well, Doha not only appears to be dead, the EU wants to point fingers. To recap, the Brazil led developing bloc wanted deep cuts in agricultural subsidies. The EU wanted to give in the least and the US took the middle ground position between the two. The talks break down and now we have Peter Mandelson blaming the US for the collapse of the Doha round because the US would not be sufficiently flexible with the EU position. What is this guy smoking?

Mandelson's engaging in a long-time EU specialty, finger pointing. It doesn't matter that they've scuttled the talks. What really matters is that the right people get the blame.

July 21, 2006

Hezbollah's Hidden Success

Posted by TMLutas

As Hezbollah gets pasted by Israeli ordnance, few are noting its huge political success in shifting world opinion. This is because the success it has had is of the nature of a "dog that did not bark". Israel, in the past, has used war language with reference to Hamas and Hezbollah. The diplomatic community came down on Sharon like a ton of bricks for saying such things because as non-state actors, you cannot go to war with them.

Today, Israel is joined by everybody else in using war language with respect to Hezbollah. Who protests? Nobody (or at least nobody important) seems to care that we have made a fundamental shift in how we treat non-state movements like Hamas and Hezbollah. Frankly, nobody has seemed to notice.

This is a great victory for these two movements and the entire jihadist community. They are devoted to a political form that is nonwestphalian and by language and action, the world has taken a large step in recognizing their view of the world as objective reality. The consequences are large, and very poorly thought out by the world diplomatic community so far.

What is the need for the UN except the management and pacification of the parties that can declare and wage war? Sure, there are lots of ancillary functions beyond that but that is its central duty. So, does Hezbollah get a seat? Of course it doesn't, as a practical matter. But why shouldn't it get a seat if the world now recognizes it as a party that can declare and wage war?

July 18, 2006

Jesse Jackson Voting Lies

Posted by TMLutas

Today Jesse Jackson published an op-ed so brazen in its bearing false witness that it's creepy. Jackson claims as bald fact without presenting any evidence, that both Florida 2000 and Ohio 2004 were stolen elections. As with all the best lies, it's done with a speed and as a side point that encourages you to just accept it without actually thinking too much on it. That independent inquiries have all confirmed the official result? That's a non-event. That a significant number of incidents were recorded where Democrats were caught suppressing the Republican vote, another non-event.

The cherry on top was that these lies are purveyed in an article talking about how we need to provide the reality of faith and not just the showy trappings. Rev. Jackson might want to stop bearing false witness as a necessary early step on working on the substance of his faith.

Arguing Ignorant

Posted by TMLutas

One of the great problems of today, it seems to me, is that we so often argue our points, right or wrong, from such a low level of knowledge that we can't help but make tremendous mistakes. How can you argue about whether a war is just if you don't understand either the politics that led up to the war or war itself? The answer is that you can't. That doesn't stop people from trying. Examining a few Catholic apologist sites leads me to believe that the great mass of english speaking catholics who go there are so fundamentally disconnected with war and war politics that they have lost the ability to say much of what is useful about Catholic Just War Doctrine (JWD).

You get misapplications of proportionality by mistaking what are the causes of war. You get plenty of magical thinking about what is possible in the avoidance of innocent civilian casualties. And you get all too often a refusal to examine whether the alternate choices available would have just made things worse.

The question is, how to fix it? If only there were some sort of basic knowledge exam that at least let you know what your basic state of knowledge was in the particular question under discussion so you knew how much you needed to know to discuss a question or theory intelligently or at least avoid the guarantee of error that near total ignorance brings.

July 15, 2006

Why Liberals can't honestly describe Conservatism

Posted by TMLutas

Ran this comment on Akram's Razor which ran a lengthy excerpt of the deeply flawed "why conservatives can't govern" by Alan Wolfe.

Unfortunately, Wolfe uses several confusing terms that will lead most of his readers (those who are not intensely political and educated to the nuances) astray. Conservatism has always been about taking what is useful from the past and preserving it, adapting it so that it is useful for today but keeping the flame alive. What that past that is being conserved is changes from variant to variant. Jacques Chirac is a conservative. So is Jonah Goldberg, the fellow who coined the phrase "cheese eating surrender monkey" and hurls it so liberally at Chirac. This makes perfect sense once you take into account that Chirac is conserving the old european tradition of class, nobility, and privilege and Goldberg is conserving the revolutionary american tradition of mocking exactly those things.

It is this "conserving revolutionary liberalism" fraction that throws so many people for a loop. People cannot understand George W Bush unless they know that post 9/11 he is the second coming of the Radical Republican faction, which hearkened back to the old NE firebrand sons of liberty of the US colonial period. Bush is not the heir to Adams but of Thomas Paine without most of the eloquence.

Wolfe uses few of the signposts that differentiate one conservative faction from another and thus mashes up all the factions and picks out what is convenient to his aim which is propaganda, not education. Care is called for.

Bush explicitly ran as a compassionate conservative, a word which was pretty controversial on the center-right because of its implied concession to the leftist claim that preceding variants had not been compassionate. The word compassionate or variant do not enter into the article at all. Compassionate conservatism *is* more big government friendly than preceding variants. What it gives up in holding the line on government spending and program growth it tries to improve in demanded results. George Bush has famously not vetoed one bill in his presidency. What he has insisted on is that whenever a program is reauthorized, significantly changed, created, or funded at greater levels it come with a new set of tools to honestly and properly measure progress and a commitment that if those measurements show that the program is a failure it will either be reformed to work or outright killed in the future.

What George Bush has been doing for almost six years now has been setting up easy home runs for the next round of small government conservatives because the old liberal tricks of layering a new program doomed to fail on top of an old program that has already failed (but keeps getting funded) won't work when the entire government actually measures success and failure and holds programs accountable.

It is a long range readjustment of the country that is barely starting to bear fruit. NCLB educational reform, for instance, is putting the squeeze on incompetent and outright destructive mostly urban school districts that should have been replaced decades ago.

The article's treatment of Katrina is practically cartoonish. One would hardly know that the disasters all seemed to fall in the political jurisdiction of Louisiana and New Orleans while neighboring states hit as hard or harder didn't seem to have the same sorts of problems.

The Medicare Part D coverage is even less attached to reality. The truth is that Medicare was horribly broken. It's coverage of office visits and surgery but not pills meant that it couldn't be privatized. Some sort of drug benefit had to be included in the program before it would be sane to even consider whether there was a way to improve care by spinning it off to a private entity. Medicare Part D was akin to asking a bankruptcy judge for the ability to borrow more money to operate the company while it reorganizes. Virtually every bankrupt company does this and most judges approve those requests.

Wolfe ignores decades of failure to implement Medicare drug coverage including plenty of filibusters and filibuster threats on both sides of the aisle. Democrats had a hand in a great many of the provisions in this program otherwise it would have been filibustered to death, again.

The less said about Wolfe's Iraq analysis, the better. When all is said and done, Iraq will likely be on its feet faster (2003-??) than the US was (1776-1789). Militarily, right now it's one province down, 17 to go for handover. Politically, their constitution is set up fairly well and we're well into the unpredictable growing pains of forging a competent political class. Economically, recovery is well on its way.

Wolfe's description of the inner-Republican factional jockeying is just not serious. Of course there are different factions among Republicans. That's virtually embedded in the system. And each faction gets a bone so the coalition goes forward without the dogs turning on each other. Democrat factional jockeying is no different so either Wolfe is singularly uninformed or disingenuous.

Even the K Street Project analysis doesn't get things quite right. The lobbyists initially expected a rerun of the 1950s with the House soon tipping back to Democrat control. They thus continued to fund Democrats and Democrat causes as if "the present unpleasantness" would soon pass and the rightful lords of the House would soon return to their stations as committee chairs and Speaker. K street was disabused of that fanciful idea due to the K Street Project. Whatever abuses also came of it (and there appear to be many) there was an incestuous relationship of 4 decades that needed to be broken up and Tom Delay was the hammer that struck the blows.

Now you can buy my analysis as being correct or not on any of these points but at least now you know the other side of the argument, something you would not get from Mr. Wolfe's original piece.

July 13, 2006

Digging up Tet

Posted by TMLutas

For a Catholic, there's a two part test for an awful lot of things (not necessarily in this order).

1. is it legal
2. is it right

Mark Shea's Catholic and Enjoying It! blog is currently doing a very bad job of applying that test to the point where I and a bunch of others are regularly censored if we provide alternative perspectives hinging on the question of whether certain military acts are wrong merely 99.999% of the time or 100% of the time. My own perspective is that a lot of strange things happen out in the field and it's essential to actually listen before judging. Below is the comment I would have posted. The Mark Shea post is regarding the famous street execution photo of a general shooting a captured VC.

The problem of this famous incident is that it's always about the emotion. For this to have been a righteous shooting, the VC would have had to:

1. have committed war crimes subject to the death penalty...
CHECK! According to commentary up above, he apparently killed a bunch of women and children and hid them in a ditch. You die for that, and justly so.

2. the situation would have had to have been fluid, threatening, and manpower would need to be too short to safely devote resources to guarding the prisoner until a more formal judicial hearing could be convened
CHECK! This execution/slaughter was done in the middle of the Tet Offensive when things were very confusing and a number of positions were barely holding under assault. Pulling people away from safeguarding innocents to keep this guy alive wasn't likely practical.

3. have been subject to some sort of judgment by a military officer acting in his capacity of a judicial officer.
BZZZT?? Did the general have the legal right to convene a drumhead court martial, judge the man, and immediately execute sentence according to the relevant law of the time? I really don't know. Since he was never judged for this very famous execution, I suspect that he did but am unsure.

Of significant importance for catholics, what are the details of due process that a prisoner of this type is due as a minimal baseline inherent in the natural law? Is a single judge (with no jury) trial inherently unjust? That would be rather sticky because a large number of trials in the US are conducted under exactly those circumstances. There is judicial review here, and obviously not there but you need to be exact as to what the procedural problem is and why they are inherently against the natural law.

July 09, 2006

Putin and Russia

Posted by TMLutas

a must read

A Russian businessman once offered me his view of the Russian national character. It went like this: "Russians are like small children. Generally they are sweet and lovable and innocent -- but now and then, without warning, without provocation, without any discernable reason, they bite you on the neck. Don't even ask them to explain why -- they would have no idea themselves; the question would be meaningless." He chuckled. "Yes, they've done this to me," he admitted.

The bottom line theme is that Putin is not moving Russia. He is surfing Russia. Russia is engaged in a slow motion realignment to traditional russian values and Putin, as he detects these movements, rushes to the front of the parade and "leads", gaining enough popularity to continue his work.

But is Putin just a consummate surfer or is he engaging in structural work that will permit Russia to move forward on a sustainable basis past the upcoming crisis as the PRC hits the wall and the oil age ends? I wish I had more confidence that there is something larger behind Putin than a thirst for power.

July 07, 2006

Hydrogen's still on track for 2010-2015

Posted by TMLutas

This was supposed to be a comment on Donald Sensing's site in response to this article on getting off oil but the comment won't post right so I'll put it here.

Currently, GM has the Sequel, a hydrogen based car that gets an equivalent of 39mpg with <10 sec 0 to 60 times and a 300 mile range. While selling those cars here might not defund Al Queda as much as it will defund Hugo Chavez, if they can be made attractive in other markets, oil sheikh governments will have a significant bite taken out of their income flows. Whether this is a good thing or not is another debate.

As long as I'm here, you might want to take a look at US DOE hydrogen manufacturing R&D targets which currently predict that we're going to have <$3/gge (gallon gasoline equivalent) from hydrogen manufactured on site via electrolysis in the 2010 timeframe that those GM vehicles are going to start coming off the manufacturing line.

We've got a startlingly good transition plan, I think. We seem to be hitting our numbers and in the 2010-2015 timeframe we're likely to see the fruits of this.

July 04, 2006

Happy Independence Day

Posted by TMLutas

In 1776 a group of extraordinary men came together and declared that 13 British colonies could no longer stand the erosion of their liberties under color of authority and declared independence. Those independent colonies were soon to become the United States of America one war and 13 short years later.

Today, the US finds itself at war. Support or oppose the mission, even support or oppose the troops, their service, their blood demands that at least this one day we pay attention. Enjoy what so many generations before us have sacrificed to create but take a few minutes to be thankful over it all. If you haven't lately, read the Declaration of Independence. If you're already familiar with it, promise yourself to spend at least a little time furthering those founding principles enunciated in that document. And if you're one of the many foreign friends of freedom throughout the world, think a bit about how freedom's blessings can be extended to your own land, whether by protecting what you've already got or lighting a new lamp. It can be done. It must be done.

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.

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