Tuesday, July 30, 2002

Comments are back up. Let's hope that they stay up, hmm?
Tom Friedman wrote an excellent defense of bureaucracy and regulation that nicely dovetails with the edit of my last entry.

What distinguishes America is our system's ability to consistently expose, punish, regulate and ultimately reform those excesses — better than any other. How often do you hear about such problems being exposed in Mexico or Argentina, Russia or China? They may have all the hardware of capitalism, but they don't have all the software — namely, an uncorrupted bureaucracy to manage the regulatory agencies, licensing offices, property laws and commercial courts.

Indeed, what foreigners envy us most for is precisely the city Mr. Bush loves to bash: Washington. That is, they envy us for our alphabet soup of regulatory agencies: the S.E.C., the Federal Reserve, the F.A.A., the F.D.A., the F.B.I., the E.P.A., the I.R.S., the I.N.S. Do you know what a luxury it is to be able to start a business or get a license without having to pay off some official?
This goes much farther than the countries Tom mentioned above, of course- there are many notorious examples of capitalism without regulation turning into a nightmare of greed and kleptocracy, and the notion that there needs to be institutions to defend, regulate, and support capitalism isn't a new idea and shouldn't be a controversial one. Yet it is, because some people seem to believe that capitalism and the markets that it consists of are somehow alien, biological, and unknowable except through the arcane science of economics. This is nonsense, of course- markets and economic systems are made up entirely of and by people, which is why economics remains and will always remain a social science, albeit one that can benefit more from modelling than most. Whenever people forget that, though, it's practically inevitable that disaster strikes.

So we get the Savings and Loan scandal.
So we get the Russian Kleptocrats.
So we get the Albanian ponzi scheme.
So we get Asian crony capitalism.
So we get Worldcom, Enron, and all the other imploding corporations, which show that crony capitalism isn't so Asian after all.
So we get Argentina (to an extent.)
So we get endless proof that working capitalism is supported by pillars of bureaucratic regulation, linked by bridges of shining red tape.

It may not be romantic, and it may not be sexy, and it may fly in the face of those who devoutly wish that economics was a natural science instead of a social one, or that believe that There Is No God But Capitalism and Hayek Is His Prophet... but it's the truth.
Nick Denton is pushing a fairly radical idea:European Independence. Well, not independence per se, but the idea that Europe should defend itself, and not rely on the United States to provide for its peace and security. It's not a new idea, and it's one that's often brought up when people talk about "countering poles" to the United States that may arise in the future. Nick definitely has a point about differing interests- Europe and the United States are seperating and growing apart, and the latest conflicts are only exacerbating this trend.

There are, however, several problems with this idea. First, is the simple fact that the United States has an awful lot of money- it's a huge economy supporting a fairly large modern population, and that creates an awful lot of leeway for military spending.

Second: the United States is a country. It is made up of states that have given up their sovereignty (for the most part) in order to become one larger nation-state. Europe is a continent, and a supra-national body that nonetheness does not eliminate the sovereignty of the countries involved. One is sovereign, one isn't. This presents a huge problem to anyone arguing that Europe should be on par with the United States, because it would be France and England and Belgium and Germany and Turkey (etc.) that would have beefed up militaries, and they wouldn't be able to coordinate as effectively as the armies of one state under one command, which is the case with the United States. These militaries would also be quite threatening to each other, and would mean a Europe that doesn't and can't trust itself to defend itself. Hobbes pointed this out quite well when he noted that voluntary associations of military equals are insufficient to maintain sovereignty and fend off the state of nature, as they simply can't trust each other. International treaties and agreements mitigate this somewhat, but they can't completely eliminate it.

Third: the United States is not only a country, but an island. Well, it's actually a continent, but it might as well be an island, as it's surrounded by water on two sides and abundantly friendly and utterly unthreatening neighbours that depend on it for defense (and which simply can't "go it alone"... even if Mexico and Canada had equal GDP per capita to the United States, their population isn't sufficient to marshall the amount of money required.) Europe, on the other hand, isn't just beset from within, but without- they have Russia (who isn't likely to give up its sovereignty to Europe any time soon) up north, China down south, the Middle East right next door... as Brooks and Wohlforth's article about the unlikelihood of "counter poles" to the United States pointed out, the United States is a faraway, distant threat, and most of these countries have much closer ones.

Related to this point is my final one: the United States is generally more useful as an ally than an enemy. Since there are plenty of nearby enemies, and since the United States isn't an especially harmful superpower compared to some in the past, it's usually better to have them onside. It is as much in their interests to keep the United States as an ally or at the very least a neutral presence, just as it is usually in the United States' interests to avoid destructive conflicts around the world. That doesn't mean that mutual criticism of foreign policy can't exist (which is a point many bloggers don't understand and Nick Denton missed)- even if it annoys the United States or whichever other country is in question, it doesn't change the coinciding interests of the two. Europe is not going to go to war with the United States to defend Iraq, even if they feel that the invasion is wrong, as that wouldn't be in their interests any more than a hostile Europe would be in the United States' interests. There are plenty of other, better ways to demonstrate displeasure than cutting military ties based on solely on coinciding interests.

So, how can you deal with these problems? Well, Europe is, I feel, in the process of dealing with the first one - their collective economy will grow enough to match the United States at some point, if only due to sheer force of numbers, economic integration, and the end of the United States' role as the absolutely safe investment that people used to believe it was during the 80's and 90's. The rest however, can only be dealt with by one act:

Europe must become a single country.

Not several countries, not a super-national body, not some sort of collective defense agreement, none of that. It must integrate at a sovereign level, going through the same process of integration that the United States did in the 1700's to defend itself from England, the superpower of the time. This can be and probably should be a loose confederation, as there is simply too much disparity between different parts of Europe and too many ties to the historical countries. Different sub-states (or regions, or provinces, or areas, or whatever) should be allowed to keep their own culture and control over their own economies to a greater or lesser extent, so as to mitigate the effects of the single currency. Let's make no mistake, though: that the only way that Denton and all the other bloggers and pundits who want to disengage from Europe will ever get what they want and the United States will ever be absolved of the task of protecting Europe is if Europe becomes another United States. Whether it happens today, tomorrow, ten months from now, or ten years from now is immaterial- it must happen. The United States proves it can work, if as imperfectly as any other country, and the conclusion is unmistakable. The only way that one can deal with a wealthy continent-sized state is with another wealthy continent-sized state.

Edit: Unfortunately, nonsensical spouting of ideology like this is one of the big barriers to this ever happening. Glenn Reynolds says that "Europe may declare independence, but it won't take up the responsiblities that implies because it can't afford to without dismantling large parts of its social welfare apparatus, and bureaucracy in general". Sorry, Glenn, but dismantling the welfare state has little or nothing to do with the possibility and usefulness of an independent Europe- it may somewhat increase the funds available to build up a military, but the big question isn't really spending, but sovereignty. I can understand those who believe that the solution to every problem is to cut taxes and regulation, Dubya style, but if anything this necessitates more bureaucracy, not less.
Regular readers probably believe that I'm not a huge fan of Henry Hanks' work. Some might think that this is due to the fact that he never posts on the comments section of this site* without including some sort of an attack on my arguments or my credibility, and therefore it's a "he criticizes me, I criticize him" kind of situation. One problem with that: I rarely if ever read his blog, and therefore can't really claim much of an opinion one way or the other. Having noticed the disparity of him reading my site and my not reading his, I decided to head over.

Unfortunately, this is what I found:

Alterman's labeling of National Review as "far right" and Newsweek and Time as "the center" is telling. However, if there's a "far right," there must be a "far left." So what would that be? I can only see one probable answer here and that's extremist leftist groups such as anarchists and eco-terrorists. So they are now comparable to a magazine? Just as the WSJ editorial board was compared to the most extremist right-wingers earlier?
Well, it's only telling in that Newsweek and Time are definitely centrist, and any attempt to label them as "leftist" only shows how Henry is trying to redefine the center. (He isn't the only one.)

What I'm absolutely baffled by, though, is this assertion that there are no magazines on the far left. Um, Henry? Have you read Alterman's blog to any extent? Have you ever read anything else he's ever written? I ask that because he links to Tapped, which is a part of The American Prospect, a left-wing magazine- and he's written quite a few articles for The Nation, another left wing magazine. Heck, they aren't even that leftist- if you're looking for hard leftism there's everything from the "The New Internationalist" to "The Socialist Review" to several scholarly journals to... well, there's lots of them, even if they don't usually enjoy the supporting largesse, attack dog politics and loose grip on the truth that the Weekly Standard is notorious for. Why this glaring error, which throws the entire point of his post into doubt?

Sadly, not much else I read really varies much from this sort of recycled talking point. Despite Henry's continual visits to this site, I'm unlikely to return to Crooow blog anytime soon.

*Yes, the comments will return. Frankly, it's very strange to see the page without them.

Monday, July 29, 2002

Two words: Savage Smackdown.

One of the reasons I really like Krugman's official site is that he can go off on people in a fashion that would be impossible at the NYTimes. I mean, I doubt even Raines would let Krugman say something like this:

But it took about 30 seconds for the right-wing scandal machine to pounce. Robert Rubin works for Citigroup! And he was a Clinton-era icon! So he's guilty! Off with his head! Republican operatives began sending thousands of faxes; talk radio made Rubin's sins topic # 1; and Andrew Sullivan dutifully attacked Rubin in his blog. And with amazing gullibility, the likes of Tim Noah at Slate jumped on board, without bothering to check even the most basic facts.

The big joke is that the Enron deal took place months before Rubin joined Citigroup. Oh, well, maybe he had a time machine. (Reports suggest that Sullivan does - that rather than admit to a mistake he revised his post, a big no-no in the blogging world.)
Krugman is hardly alone in hammering Sullivan et al for this, but few summarize the mighty wurlitzer so well.

Hmm... I wonder if Krugman will actually start a blog down the line, once that textbook is finished up? Now that would be a fun read.
Heh. I was just going to fire off an email to unmedia about Muslimpundit's latest bit about Jihad-as-bloody-holy war (as Aziz Poonawalla is an excellent writer on the subject of Islam and the Arabic language as it relates to the Koran), and I was delighted to discover upon linking to the site that there was already one there.

So, by all means, go read it, especially if you read the original article by Muslimpundit.
Letter from Gotham's author, Diane E., partially ascribes her movement away from liberalism to, oddly enough, Instapunditwatch. A relevant quote:

I'm downright uncomfortable with sites like Instapunditwatch...He's a blogger, fer goshsakes, not a paid pseudo-pundit like Sullivan and Kaus. I have my differences with him. I can do without yet another post directing us to a blogger who thinks that targeting Arab-Americans is not racial profiling. I have reason to believe -- though cannot prove -- that after I wandered off the reservation with respect to Sully he studiously ignored my blog. So what? He's got a right to post what he wants on his blog. It's his goddamn blog.
Which is true, just as anybody else has a right to respond. And it's nice to acknowledge that Instapundit is, much of the time, about as fair in his choice of sources as the Weekly Standard. Yet she goes on to say..

I want to say publicly that I am forever grateful to Glenn Reynolds for being a clearinghouse of information about anti-Israel bias in the press, especially the British press.
See, here's the first problem- he's a clearinghouse of claims of anti-Israel bias in the press... I've looked into some of those claims, and they're based on specious and useless arguments usually based on quotes taken out of context and frustration that anyone would take a different perspective on the issue. Even aside from that, though, the earlier paragraph that Diane wrote argued that Instapundit either has a clear agenda or simply picks his links from the same sources. It makes him unreliable- you never know whether there might be a scathing rebuttal or brilliant defense that Instapundit doesn't link to because it doesn't fit his beliefs on the subject.

I am positive that the Jenin non-massacre was exposed as a fraud as quickly as it was by the amount of information that passed through the Reynolds' blog, which functions as a central nervous system of alternative analysis during crises.
I doubt blogs had anything to do with it.. it was likely the fact that the press was allowed into Jenin and hysterical rumors turning into sober reality that caused it.

In any case, this is the real problem, and proof of the inconsistency in Diane's argument. If the Reynolds blog serves as a "central nervous system of alternative analysis", then it serves a real, important function. Yet Diane's first paragraph shows that he either has an agenda or a clear bias, and perusal of any site that discusses Instapundit in critical terms makes it abundantly clear that such a bias exists, even if the simple fact that he writes for an unabashedly libertarian website didn't. This means that he's important and directly influences what information people recieve (as any editor is), and yet entirely untrustworthy... and therefore, utterly deserving of criticism.

As someone who has despaired of the unanswered influence of Robert Fisk for years, I commend Reynolds for simply holding Fisk up to the clear light of the day and exposing that man for the fraud that he is.
Rebuttal, especially the invective aimed at Fisk and his type, is hardly "holding Fisk up to the clear light of day". Fisking is just an argument style based on Usenet quotation conventions that can take arguments out of context unless handled very carefully... and I wouldn't describe most warbloggers as "careful". While it's tempting for those who agree with the person doing the rebuttal to characterize it as some sort of "washing away the profane with the sacred", that's almost never the case, and certainly not with any rebuttal of Fisk I've ever read. I'm not a big fan of the guy, but let's be honest here.

One other thing... calling the act of dumping a pitcher of water over E.O. Wilson's head fascist is an insult to those who have been the victims or dupes of fascists in the past. It was ill-advised and unwarranted (although understandable- sociobiology is a huge threat to Marxian analyses, because it undercuts historical materialism, and therefore the hard leftists that do exist in universities), but not fascistic in the slightest.

Sunday, July 28, 2002

Well, now.... this is an interesting analysis. Dick Morris is arguing that the Republicans are in deep trouble down the road, because the "immigrantization" of the United States shows no sign of stopping, and the Republicans have had very little luck attempting to convert immigrants to their cause. (Not surprising... even without the constant questions about out-and-out racism, their policy choices are rarely immigrant-friendly to anyone but the most blinkered GOP partisan). To correct this trend, Morris suggests...

Powell in 2008.

Yes, Powell.

Now, I'd be the first to want to see an African-American president- such a thing would be a real sign that the racial divide is finally healing, and a real signal by the GOP that they're willing to put aside their past. If, indeed, it is their past. Unfortunately, it's not going to happen- Powell is being demonized too much by the right for the party faithful to ever accept him as their candidate- the open loathing of the State department pretty much eliminates the possibility of any candidate with a past as Secretary of State.

So if Morris is right, then the GOP is pretty screwed, because Powell ain't going to get that nomination. Then again, considering their pet neo-con wankers obviously haven't learned their lesson about Big Lies, I'm not exactly going to shed tears when they go.
Atrios is absolutely right- this is a piece of unadulterated nonsense, designed solely to shore up the reputation of the people involved (one of the authours, James Glassman, was one of the starry-eyed "New Economy" boosters that helped put us into this mess in the first place, and the other, John Lott, is far out of his field) and to try to keep the faithful happy and protect "their side" as much as anything David Brock dishonestly and slanderously wrote about Anita Hill or Bill Clinton in those pages, and just as likely to be built on a house of lies, deceit, obfuscation and misdirection as Brock revealed his own work had been at the Standard.

For those that didn't follow the link I provided (I wouldn't blame you) it resurrects the "markets hates the government" shibboleth, and attempts to use it as an explanation of why there have been enormous falls in the market over the past few days- blaming it on the proposed or pending legislation on the matter. Other than the simple fact that a lot of these drops have happened when Bush has spoken using the same kind of reflexively pro-business rhetoric that Glassman and Lott are using, the biggest question that appears in my mind is "why don't we just, um, ask some people why they're selling the stocks"?

Glassman and Lott seem to buy into the "market as alien organism" argument, but like any human institution it's ultimately made up of the actions and behavior of large numbers of human beings, and can therefore be understood, at least on a broad level, by understanding those human beings. Therefore, by studying the organs that would shape the opinions of those human beings, by asking representative groups, and by understanding on a more theoretical level how they think, one can at least partially figure out why they're doing what they're doing. In none of these cases, in no conceivable analysis of these cases, does anything like Glassman and Lott's argument come about. When the relentlessly pro-business Economist (an elite opinion-shaper) savages the behavior of American business, why should we believe Glassman and Lott? When public opinion polls (a representative sample of Americans) consistently show that American corporate leadership is less trusted than the nation's drug dealers, pimps, and/or lawyers, why should we believe Glassman and Lott? When pretty much every theory aside from the utterly discredited Glassman's theory of the "Dow 36K" argues that investors are stampeding for the door because they've discovered that they can't trust the numbers in equity markets and therefore want to invest in something where they can, why the hell should we believe this load of farm fresh faeces shovelled by Glassman and Lott?

The answer, of course, is that we shouldn't. That this is yet another attempt by the "Mighty Wurlitzer" of the right to shore up the reputation of their pet president and, more importantly, their dangerous and ludicrous market fundamentalist ideology that has led American markets to disaster just as surely as they led Russian markets to disaster- both at the hands of kleptocratic "businessmen" who are less interested in the functionality and efficiency of capitalism than those aforementioned pushers and pimps. This brand of nonsense is what they're pushing. This type of deliberate spin is what they're pimping. If you don't want to help these people pull off the most brazen attempt at a Big Lie since the "vast right wing conspiracy" began, don't let them get away with it.

Friday, July 26, 2002

Ben Shapiro is an obnoxious little turd.

I'm not normally inclined to such hyperbole, but how the hell else is one supposed to respond to comments like "One American soldier is worth far more than an Afghan civilian", others that imply that all Afghans are terrorists, and the laughably outrageous conceit that the bombing of the wedding party was fine because American rules of engagement are unquestionable? And how does he reconcile that with the fact that the same sort of moronic mistake killed Canadian soldiers as readily as Afghani civilians?

Or, for that matter, the unbelievable ignorance of a statement like this?

The Afghans tolerated and supported the Taliban for years, no matter what President Bush says. A group doesn't conquer 95 percent of a country unless it has some support among the populace. The Afghans are fundamentalist Muslims. They didn't seem to mind too much that their women were treated like dogs or that the Taliban enforced Shariah (Muslim law). So frankly, it doesn't matter to me if some of their "civilians" get killed for involvement with the enemy.

I'm the one who's been defending the concept of national sovereignty, and even I can't justify this kind of nonsense- Afghanistan is about the best example of a failed and illegitimate quasi-state that the modern world has yet produced, and yet this nasty little twerp justifies blowing up weddings based on that?

(I'm not even going to get into the idiocy of a statement like "Twenty-three Israeli boys, the proportional equivalent of 1,000 Americans..." which manages to degrade and devalue the lives of not Afghanis, butAmericans.)

Townhall needs to pull this puerile brat from their site now, if they wish to retain any level of credibility outside their own worshipful believers. It's patently obvious he's just mouthing conservative nostrums and ratcheting up the rhetoric in a desperate attempt to seem worthwhile against his better-known and better-written compatriots. It's embarrassing to look at, and annoying to contemplate that somebody might actually believe this load. Horowitz would be preferable.
Thus I refute Coulter.

It is in and of itself rather telling that an article that says "all liberals are dumb" is in and of itself based on moronic chop-logic, baseless strawmen, and ludicrous generalizations.

And by the way, Krauthammer, not all liberals think that conservatives are evil. We do, however, think of some of them as selfish, venal, simpleminded, inclined towards misrepresentation or outright falsehoods in the construction of their arguments, too in love with a nonexistent past, and too attached to a simplistic and insulting notion of human relations and human behaviour. And, in your case, I imagine most liberals think of you as a moron who took Churchills line about Socialists at 20 and 40 and made a half-assed attempt to write a column about it that only embarrasses yourself and your ideological cousins.

(Why can't all conservatives write trash this lame? It'd certainly make our jobs a lot easier.)

Thursday, July 25, 2002

Ok, I've pulled the comments, as they were being unresponsive to both IE and Mozilla, throwing back the same damned error. I'm going to attempt to republish them using that YACCS auto-attach tool, but something really screwy is going on here, and I frankly don't know enough about javascript to be able to tell why the server is continuously barfing on me.

(That last metaphor was for all those west-coasters who just finished lunch. You're welcome.)
More from Horowitz:

The Palestinians are the only people in the history of the world so far as I can tell who have systematically used their women and children as shields in war.

Perhaps I'm wrong, but wasn't this sort of thing fairly common during the Iran/Iraq war? And how, exactly, does being with your family count as "using women and children as shields"? That's like saying that George W. Bush is an immoral bastard for having Laura in the same house, and that housing the families of soldiers on army bases is an act of purest terrorist evil.

More to the point, does it make them any less dead? If assassination were impossible, then why the hell couldn't the Israeli army stage a SWAT-style invasion and arrest of the man in question, taking care to make safe his family? Not only would it have been a brilliant PR move (we're protecting his children even though he tries to use them against us) and shield Israel from criticism (we could have bombed those innocent people, but we don't believe in that sort of savagery), but if one wants to look at in a dispassionate fashion it ensures that any Israeli soldier or officer that was taken or killed in the execution of this order would be a shining beacon of civilization- an acknowledgement that Israel is willing to sacrifice its own soldiers in order to reassert its ethical and moral superiority. (This was the lesson that Jenin could have taught, were Israel not so inclined towards secrecy in that conflict and were reporters and NGOs not so credulous.)

Sadly, of course, all that is taken away now. Oh well; if the popular wisdom going around on the LGF comments boards and a good chunk of the warblogosphere holds true, it'll just speed that glorious day when those subhuman Paleostinians get forcibly thrown out of the territories and into the arms of their Arab brothers, so they can rot in "Islamist" hell together.
The Rittenhouse Review asks an important and relevant question
[C]ouldnt the Mossad have taken Shehadeh out with a single bullet at close range? This would have reduced the risk of collateral damage to roughly zero."
This is something I had been wondering myself... bombing buildings is not and has not been SOP for the Israelis for a while now, and for good reason; if you don't buy into the "death-cult" nonsense that permeates and pollutes discussion of the I/P issue in some circles, then you can logically conclude that the Palestinians can eventually be turned to peaceful solutions once they realize that the suicide bombings are pragmatically useless... but any senselessly or overly violent repression is going to toss them right back into the "tit for tat" mindset and provides ammo for the ready-made (and tragically circular) argument that killing Israeli civilians is fine, because Israelis kill Palestinian civilians. I'm sure the Israeli military and government knows this too, so why the hell would they have even risked an attack that lead to, what, almost 200 dead and wounded in an attack on one man that can no doubt be easily replaced?

It just doesn't make sense, especially if those rumors (again disparaged by the "subhuman warlike paleostinians" crowd) were true and a good chunk of the Palestinian leadership was willing to follow in the footsteps of those intellectuals who wrote that letter earlier and finally commit to ending suicide bombings of innocent civilians as a useless, futile, violent, cruel, and counterproductive tactic that has utterly backfired and should be discarded.

It is that realization and a commitment to putting it into action that is key to ending this conflict, not pop-psychological, base, insulting and ignorant diatribes about the supposed constitution of the Palestinian character, and it would be tragic were the resolution (or at least the beginning of such) to have been in our grasp, and then taken away not by malice, but by thoughtlessness.

No, seriously. I spend a day away from the computer to brush up on my GTA3 skills, and all of a sudden I end up with a monster discussion/argument/holy war in my comments section between Henry Hanks (whose continued reading of my website mystifies me in some respects) and jesse.

For those who didn't read it, it was between jesse (who argues that the right overpowers and namecalls the left in debate) and Hank (who thinks that it goes all ways on all sides.) Obviously, I come down on jesse's side, but Hank has a point. There are people on the left who engage in that sort of silly shit, but they're far outnumbered on the right, and the right has a number of bully pulpits (most notoriously talk radio) where they can feel free to say and do pretty much whatever they wish with the knowledge that they don't have to worry about offending listeners (which would check any weak "liberal bias" on behalf of the mainstream media, if such a thing existed) or about being simply ignored and/or misrepresented by the actions of others (which tends to happen to academics.)

It isn't just numbers, or degree, or reach: it's the combination of numbers, degree, reach, and the willingness to use all of these to put out a concerted message that seperates the right's "mighty wurlitzer" and any valid accusations of hostility and "namecalling" on the left. The right has an efficient machine with which it can find, attack, degrade, overpower, overwhelm, and eventually simply walk over people or ideas that might be a threat to it. If the left had anything like that, there wouldn't be protestors. They wouldn't be necessary.

Wednesday, July 24, 2002

Eugene Volokh wrote a very convincing post discussing the question of whether airport searches violate the Fourth Amendment or not. Eugene (not surprisingly for a security-conscious blogger) came down pretty squarely on the side of the searches, but had a good reason: the Amendment does not protect against searches without probable cause, but merely if they are "unreasonable"... a much weaker criterion.

What interested me were a few comments he made in support of this conclusion:

"reasonable[ness]" is the test that the Framers gave us -- and even though it has been in some situations instantiated through a set of brighter-line rules, I don't think that the vagueness and potential breadth of allowed searches can practically be avoided, precisely because some searches are indeed necessary to save people's lives.
Ok, so this sets Volokh down as a pretty strict constructionist... the important point is that it is "the test that the Framers gave us", and while open to the "it isn't the 18th century any more" critique, it's certainly a valid perspective, especially considering the extraordinary reverence that Americans have in the founding fathers and the belief that they wrote a document that is as relevant today as it was then.

However, this...

The Constitution is not just a charter for preserving our liberties against oppressive government, though it does try to do that. It is also a device for creating a government that can preserve our lives, liberties, and property against foreign and domestic enemies who would take them away. For the government to be able to do this, it must have various powers, including in many instances the power to search and seize us. We may want to see that power limited in various ways -- but the power to stop and screen passengers strikes me as eminently reasonable and necessary.
...confused me greatly. I think one thing that pretty much everybody agrees on about the founders is that they simply didn't trust government as far as they could throw it, and wrote a constitution that was painfully and obviously explicit about that very point. Volokh, however, has taken a rather different perspective- that the government can be permitted to act in order to defend us against "foreign and domestic enemies". This line of argument, to be blunt, defends monstrosities. It was the first argument that was used by the Soviets (with some justification- the United States really was trying to destroy them, although the Soviets did a pretty damned good job themselves) and by pretty much every tinpot dictator worldwide whenever he removes civil rights. Indeed, anybody familiar with the Lockean set of arguments would say that any act against even petty criminals is one against "domestic enemies". The precise reason why the Constitution is important is because it sets the ground rules by which the government can go after these "enemies, domestic and foreign", and so that the government can use strategies that keep this in mind- or amend the Constitution, with all the bad press and unrest that such a thing would no doubt entail. You can't arbitrarily throw away Constitutional rights because the threat greater than some petty thug, or else you've just justified even the most murderous third-world dictator and his "I was just defending the people against domestic enemies" line of bull. More than that, you open the door wide for such things in the United States, and I know for certain that the Framers wouldn't have wanted anything like that.

Then again, I always come back to the same point whenever I hear this sort of argument... It's not the Constitution of the Framers, but of the people of the United States. Although it was written by, yes, learned men in the past, it doesn't belong to them- it belongs to the current and future citizenry. If it fails to serve their needs, their interests, and to protect their rights, then it doesn't matter whether it's absolutely accurate to the Framer's intent... it has failed, and should be amended or (if such a thing can be ethically done in the case of Amendments with fairly wide interpretations, such as the Ninth) reinterpreted. Should this be done lightly? No, of course not, the United States is built on the concept of constitutional supremacy. Still, the option does exist.
(I'm aware this is somewhat contradictory, but I'm mostly exploring ideas here, rather than arguing a position.)

One thing to remember? This isn't a binary situation. There is some latitude between "let the terrorists win" and "give the government the right to do anything it pleases", and the key goal is to figure out where to draw that line, not necessarily which side of it you need to be on.

Edit: fixed up a few spelling mistakes.
Oh, and while I'm mentioning Sully, I read with great amusement this little blurb about the "British left's new litmus test of being anti-Israel".

Which fits in nicely with the litmus test here in Blogland of being anti-Palestinian, doesn't it?

And by the way, Sully and Ian- most leftists I know are pissed off about Chechnya, not the least reason being that it's ignored by the mainstream media.
I'm not exactly a SullyWatcher, but this is too good to pass up:

That's how the New York Times describes the results of the war to liberate Afghanistan. I keep thinking it can't get any worse, and then it does.

Now, other than the whining about the New York Times, where the hell did "the war to liberate Afghanistan" come from? Last I checked, the United States invaded Afghanistan in order to capture and/or kill Osama Bin Laden, to uproot the Taliban and pay them back for helping Osama with interest, and put a message out that terrorism Will Not Be Tolerated. "Liberating Afghanistan" was a tertiary objective at best- if it were actually about that, it would have happened years ago.

Then again, is it any real surprise that the description of what the war is about and who it's against keeps on changing, as the president's backers keep on changing the spin in order to make their man's actions look good? After all, Osama wasn't captured and quite possibly wasn't killed, and there are lots of Al Qaeda and Taliban people sheltered around the region (including Pakistan, which isn't nearly stable enough to take American troops rooting around for officials of a government it supported), implying that even if the organization's back is broken, the United States hardly achieved its goals. But, in the Newspeak world of presidential apologists, that doesn't matter anymore, because that minor, tertiary, unimportant aspect is now the raison d'etre of the war itself.

(And once again, Sully keeps up his near-perfect record of only linking to right-wing blogs that feature only the finest reactionary, knee-jerk "journalism". I'd link to it, but I don't want to engage in the same practices, and am hardly inclined to link to any page that continues to spout that ridiculous "liberal media through naming conservatives" shibboleth.)
Yet more proof, courtesy of vaara, that while the left will be jumped all over for things that they didn't say but that some people think they said (sully, anyone?), those that are accepted and supported by the right can say things like this:

[P]alestinians the smell of death pre-empts its actual event?

[S]lavery is an Arab creation, and is a further reminder of the Islamic capacity for depravity and wickedness.

[A]rabs eat sitting on the floor so they will not have to bend over to clean up after guests have thrown up their dinner.

[A]rab women are not fastidious housekeepers, and parakeets keep the bottoms of their cages tidier.
...they, of course, get away with it.
I wonder how long it'll take before even the right-wing bloggers start distancing themselves from David Horowitz? I mean, a quick glance of his latestentry confirms that either he's off the deep end or engaging in as much demagoguery as he thinks he can get away with- either way, he isn't exactly a useful ally. Kind of an embarrassment, really, to be associated with a man who thinks that TIPS doesn't go far enough, that anybody who is remotely sympathetic to the Nation of Islam or against the idea that they are terrorists should be under constant surveillance, that McCarthy was fully justified in his actions (because those who were leftists were "whole hearted sympathizers with [the Soviet] agenda, therefore dangerous", and, well...
The aura that surrounds the McCarthy era now, which casts it as a time of civil liberties violations rather than a time when a subversive network of ordinary Americans plotted against its own country in a time of war, speaks volumes about the danger of having our universities and schools dominated by their ideological descendants and their fellow-traveling defenders.
It is cast as a time of civil liberties violations because that's what it was; it's hardly the opinion of simply the universities, but pretty much everybody who isn't foaming at the mouth about "reds under every bed". Which, I suppose, would eliminate Horowitz himself.

(I'd mention that he Godwinned himself, but that goes without saying.)

Monday, July 22, 2002

Yeah, I know it's childish, but I couldn't resist posting this

"Behavior like that can give Freepers a bad name."


Saturday, July 20, 2002

I've just run across an interesting article in Foreign Affairs about an interesting, vital, yet simple question...

what exactly is terrorism?

It turns out that the answer is extremely tricky, even if one uses the commonly accepted definitions of "use of force by sub-state actors" or "use of force against civilians". And no matter how you define it, those who you definitely would want to classify as terrorists slip through the cracks, whereas others end up wearing the label that fit it uncomfortably at best.

It's a good read- I'd suggest checking it out.
I hate to use an overused phrase, but Atrios's recent posting about the possibility of American arab internment camps (!) prompts no better reaction:

If this should ever happen, the terrorists have won.

It seems like too many people in the West tend to focus on one enemy at a time... or, more importantly, discount and/or minimize the problems of one party that they want to use against another party that is higher prioritized, despite the obvious fact that both are somewhat odious.

Case in point? This article on NRO, which advocates a closer relationship between oil-producing Nigeria and Washington in the interests of choking the Saudi oil supply, and therefore disentangling the United States with that corrupt regime. One problem, though.. Nigeria isn't really that much better. As I had mentioned in an earlier post, the previous Nigerian government engaged in brutal intimidation tactics in order to silence critics, especially those of the indigenous groups who have seen their land despoiled and their lives destroyed by the heavy, messy, and entirely unnecessary pollution that the Nigerian government allowed western oil companies to engage in. This culminated in the gangster-style execution of one of Nigeria's premier intellectuals, Ken Sero-Wiwa, who was neither radical nor violent... merely a dissident, in the best sense of the word.

Of course, that was a dictatorship, and things have changed, right? As I had also mentioned in an earlier post, however, it would appear that the situation hasn't improved much at all- the democratic government in Nigeria is still oppressing the people who get in the way of petrodollars (and who see little in the way of economic development from it.. the money tends to filter up to the government and away from the region), with what would apparently be the full consent of the rest of the Nigerian people.

So, we have an article advocating that the United States grow closer to one oppressive oil-producing country in order to distance itself from another one, a style tactic that the historical record shows is notoriously prone to disasterous failure. I rather hope that this is simply due to Lowry being ignorant of the situation, of the naive belief that a democracy can't be oppressive, and utterly missing the point- because otherwise this smacks of the same sort of relativistic moral calculations that the right is always complaining about. At the very least, Rich should advocate that Washingon require Nigeria to be much more conscientious before any closer relationship can occur.

Friday, July 19, 2002

Those complaining about the ignorance of others should probably be careful not to demonstrate it themselves. Case in point? Natalie Solent complains about the lack of historical knowledge on the part of the British. What she blames, however, is interesting:

history, geography, economics and social studies (especially social studies) in a big undifferentiated stew called "humanities"
Last I checked, Geography and Economics are both part of the Social Sciences, not the Humanities, and I haven't the faintest clue where she got the idea that the Humanities has absorbed Social Studies (which would logically be part of the Social Sciences). I mean, I can understand the complaint by some that the Social Sciences aren't real science, but I'm pretty damned sure they aren't part of the humanities. Among other things, the epistemological underpinnings are different.

Not that I have anything against Natalie, understand, but "the kids, they don't know nuthin' nowadays" arguments should really be carefully considered.
Every time I think "no, the hardcore anti-Islamic warbloggers can't actually mean what they say", I end up reading something like this. It's an article citing three radical Muslims who go on about fighting the corrupt west and the power of Islam and the usefulness and moral value of suicide bombing... you know, the usual stuff. You've read it before. You'll read it again.

Don't get me wrong. I have little sympathy or love for Islamic radicals, although it's interesting that LGF appears to believe that these people are somehow representative of all or even most Muslims. LGF itself isn't especially nasty, either, only pointing out that Martyrdom is important to Islam (and it somehow isn't to Christianity?) and therefore is a "death cult" (an obvious attempt to harness the rhetoric used against the Palestinians these days to make the entire Islamic religion culpable), and that there was a telethon supporting the Intifada in Saudi Arabia (which is a valid point, although it probably have more to do with the perception that the Intifada is effective and a desire to show solidarity rather than any specific love for the tactics on the part of average Saudis.)

No, what shocked me were the comments:

"if these fucking freaks want to die so much please, please, please, can't we just do it."

"I have yet to see a more compelling example of why these guys should be helped along to paradise and their 72 virgins as quickly as possible."

"This is a cancer that will continue to spread until it is killed. Can't we do some surgery?" (this was a popular analogy, by the way, used by authoritarian governments in South America killing off those they thought were communists or leftists.)

"This type of ideology can be easily cured with a daisy-cutter."

"These guys want to go to the afterlife. I say, let's send the there, ASAP."
And, of course, the grand poobah:

Let's see - we have a group of "repressed martyrs" fighting to "restore" a country that NEVER EXISTED in the history of the world, a group of religious nutbars that think that every square inch of soil ever occupied by the forces of Islam belongs to THEM forever, a bunch of people around the world holding public celebrations whenever one of their blessed "martyrs" kills a few dozen women and children (and let's not forget their joyous celebrations as the WTC towers fell). Oh, yeah, I almost forgot the slavers in Somlia and the Sudan. What to they all have in common?

The next time someone gives me that line about Islam being a "peaceful religion," I'm going to barf in his shoes. As soon as I finish kicking his ass. These people need to die, soon. Let's send them to Allah, and their 72 dark-eyed virgins, ASAP.
Lovely stuff, isn't it?

Over three thousand people died in the bombing at the World Trade Centre, a bombing that was masterminded and carried out by one group: Al Qaeda. It was not the greatest tragedy in history or the worst attack in the history of warfare, but it was unexpected, and brutal, and spectacular, and it was motivated by an alien sentiment that most westerners find baffling and frightening. It was also an attack on the United States, a country that thought it was safe on its continent-sized Island. For this attack on three thousand, people are now calling for the death of millions, if not billions. I supported Afghanistan (although I keep hearing that it failed miserably), but I can't support that. That's not justice or vengeance. It's simply thirst for blood, thirst for death, and the frightened desire to wipe "them" out in order to protect "us". I only hope that the government and the military have a better understanding- both of your average Muslim, and of how to protect the United States without resorting to genocide.
While I'm exploring astounding misinterpretation, what appears to be a collective blog called Citizens for a Constructive UN has written an article about the the UN's "Arab Human Development Report, 2002", which is widely critical of Arab states for being repressive and undemocratic. This is treated positively (no doubt because it coincides with CitCun's own beliefs), but another passage is attacked, albeit ineptly.

First, I'll cite the passage in question, then the response.

Firstly, for Palestinians, occupation and the policies that support it, stunt their ability to grow in every conceivable way. The confiscation of Palestinian land, constraining their access to their water and other natural resources, the imposition of obstacles to the free movement of people and goods, and structural impediments to employment and economic self-management all combine to thwart the emergence of a viable economy and a secure independent state. Moreover, the expansion of illegal settlements, the frequent use of excessive force against Palestinians and the denial of their most basic human rights further circumscribe their potential to build human development. The plight of Palestinian refugees living in other countries is a further manifestation of development disfigured by occupation.

Secondly, occupation casts a pall across the political and economic life of the entire region. Among neighbouring countries, some continue to suffer themselves from Israeli occupation of parts of their lands, subjecting those people directly affected to tremendous suffering, and imposing development challenges on the rest. In most Arab states, occupation dominates national policy priorities, creates large humanitarian challenges for those receiving refugees and motivates the diversion of public investment in human development towards military spending. By symbolizing a felt and constant external threat, occupation has damaging side effects: it provides both a cause and an excuse for distorting the development agenda, disrupting national priorities and retarding political development. At certain junctures it can serve to solidify the public against an outside aggressor and justify curbing dissent at a time when democratic transition requires greater pluralism in society and more public debate on national development policies. In all these ways, occupation freezes growth, prosperity and freedom in the Arab world.
Seems fairly mild- occupation, even if necessary, is playing merry hell with the Palestinian economy (such as it is), and the governments in the region are obsessed with the occupation and are therefore aiming criticism away from their regimes. This obsession could be a false front (and it probably is), but that's unimportant at the moment.

And now the response:

To summarize, Israel is to blame: human development among Palestinians is all but impossible under Israeli occupation, and, moreover, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict contributes to delays in democratic change. The obvious refutation is this: until 1967 there was no “illegal occupation” but the situation in Arab countries was essentially the same with regard to education and human development in general. One may also ask, how it is possible that the conditions of 1% of Arabs in a single “country” are responsible for the miserable conditions of the other 99% in 21 countries?
Huh? Nothing above supports this. Yes, occupation is certainly messing up human development in Palestinian lands... the assertion that it wouldn't is ludicrous. The question of whether the occupation is necessary in order to protect Israeli interests is a valid one, but the economic and humanitarian effects can hardly be in question- it can be both necessary and an economic and humanitarian nightmare. (Such is warfare.) And as to the question of the other regimes... please. First, the above section already answered "how they could be responsible"... they're a distraction to governments and to their subjects/citizenry, leading to bad policy and worse governance with a population that isn't doing anything about it. Second, trying to equate 1967 and 2002 just might possibly be a bad idea, as things have changed somewhat in those intervening years... not the least aspect being that the Nasserian quasi-socialist systems that dominated in the region have had the rug pulled out from under them with the collapse of the Soviet Union (as well as the military and economic support that that superpower might once have provided) as well as much lower oil prices, growing Islamic militancy, and the simple differences in the cultural environment. The important thing is to understand what the influences are right now, and the occupation, for better or worse, certainly counts as one of those influences.

This comes down to a fundamental problem that many people have- they seem curiously unable to distinguish between acts that are evil and wrong and acts that are necessary and good but involves wrongs as well. To note the economic effects of the occupation does not necessarily place it in the former category- it could be (and probably is) the latter, with the usual mixture of positive and negative effects that you'd expect from any event. This problem is at the root of this hysterical reaction to what is a fairly benign exploration of the problems associated with the occupation. I realize that CitCun is pretty obviously pushing an agenda, but they should really work a little harder, because right now it's pretty weak.
Horowitz's blog is, to me, something of a disappointment... he's pretty much recycling old material from other columns, while removing any real sourcing and upping the hyperbole a little. Case in point? His newest entry is yet another complaint about how conservatives are "forced to labor in a culture dominated by the illogical, mean-spirited, verbal assassins of the left." Disproving this assertion is, of course, best left as an exercise for your radio dial.

After bringing up that illogical and wholly ludicrous shibboleth, he backs it up by extensively complaining that, yes, academe is leftist! (And therefore murderous, but anyway..) Again, not a new thing where Horowitz is concerned, and it doesn't include the whiny calls for "conservative affirmative action" that his earlier comments on this subject did, but he still misses a key point: even if Academe were universally leftist (which it is not), his calls for the inclusion of more conservative voices in academe misses a key point that Stanley Fish brought up and which remains valid: academia is not about the left-right divide and never has been. There should be debate and discussion within a field about the aspects of that field, but why on earth should the terms of debate in academia be shackled to the ludicrously simplistic notions of "liberal vs. conservative"? I could see a complaint about a particular field overemphasizing certain interpretations and missing out on other ones (although this should be "field", and not "institution", unless he's advocating that Chicago include Marxians in its economics department), but that isn't usually what he's talking about. (His complaints about revisionism in Soviet studies obscuring scholarship, for example, might actually be worthwhile ones, although at this point his credibility is such that I automatically assume he's overstating the case, and his cited source, while lengthy, is somewhat polemical and certainly partisan.)

Horowitz also misses the point that this is only an issue in the relatively isolated world of the university. Outside it, of course, there are dozens and dozens of right-wing funded "think-tanks" that can and do put out as much partisan scholarship as necessary, and that happen to be quoted, cited, and respected by the popular media and policy makers as much if not more so than the university professors that Horowitz talks about! Even if universities were universally leftist, this simply wouldn't matter in the larger picture, which is something that Horowitz continues to ignore. The isolation of academia goes both ways- even if Horowitz's complaint that it is isolated from the political debates in society is true, society is isolated from it, and I certainly don't see Horowitz decrying that.

He supports this by noting an article by Ron Perlstein that examines a scholarly society (The Historical Society, or THS) that has the reputation of being yet another neo-con playground funded by the right, but which includes non-right-wing academics as well. It is, however, extremely marginal by everybody's standards, as Perlstein points out- both marginal in the field due to the right-wing polemics it funds, as well as marginal in the conservative scholarly community because it's fairly inclusive in the views that it will support. Perlstein thinks this is somewhat of an accident... THS was originally supposed to be yet another body of conservative writers, but ended up being something that Horowitz has entirely ignored- a protest against the bureaucratic side of academia, and a sign that the culture battles between left and right in academia that Horowitz is obsessed with are grinding to a halt.

Predictably, of course, Horowitz mentions none of this, preferring to talk about how the right is more inclusive than the left, saying that the American Prospect certainly doesn't welcome rightists and therefore shouldn't be making this argument. What kills me about this argument is that Horowitz himself is proof that this isn't the case! His Frontpage site is resolutely and unquestionably partisan, yet he was a commentator for the left-wing website Salon for years, and as far as I know remains so! How can he possibly make an argument that he himself proves is nonsense??

Horowitz draws a comparison between those who are funded by the left vs. those who are funded by the right... the Scaife foundation money vs. the Schumann foundation money. As the Prospect pointed out in another column what differs between the two sides is what they're funding. The left is funding issue-based scholarship, maybe a few liberal magazines here and there, but nothing that even remotely matches what you see on the right: people and groups funding scholarship, journalism, polemics and organizations built around a movement based on one simple goal: to justify, support, and advance conservatism as much as necessary to get into power.

Horowitz, in the end, serves merely as a useful object lesson: if you repeat something often enough and loud enough, people might believe it to be true. Unfortunately, however, once you get called on it, you look like a loon. No wonder he's dismissed by most as a partisan hack, flogging Coulter's entirely debunked book (more so than Horowitz ever debunked Brock) and has been reduced to becoming yet another johnny-come-lately mainstream journalist-turned-blogger. It'd be funny, if it weren't sad.
I've been thinking recently about symbols- the symbolism of events and how they shape the relative growth or weakness of different political ideologies. The left has been symbolically connected with socialism (for better or worse- most liberals are not at all socialists) More to the point, however, they are connected with the power of the state and the suitability of the state as a force in the economy and in society, and since the Russian system is seen as the symbolic endpoint of that, the end of the Soviet Union was by extension a hammerblow to the left- even if the left didn't support the Russians there was a symbolic connection, and the end of one weakened the other.

By extension, however, there must be a symbolic connection on the right. Not necessarily the religious right, but the economic right- the anti-state, lowered taxes, radical economic individualist ideas that have glued the right together since Norquist started having his Wednesday meetings. The symbolic connection of this is, of course, the business world and the stock market- they are supposedly the highest achievement of mankind, the engine of progress, and the greatest strength of the United States. More importantly, however, they provide what is almost a Hobbesian "leviathan"... which is, of course, the market and the economy. The economy (and markets) are described as living things, entirely seperate from the people that make them up and most powerful and useful when least fettered. This notion of the economy is what many call "market fundamentalism", and it is pretty much inextricably tied to the right, no matter how many farm bills Dubya passes. If a leftist tried pushing this sort of idea people would look at him funny... it just wouldn't seem quite right.

If this is the case, then the important question becomes simple: will the symbolic connection between the market and the right hurt the right to the extent that the failure of Communism (and by extension "statism") hurt the left? I think this is quite possible, and worth watching. This isn't likely to mean that people will start overtly proclaiming the death of economic conservatism, but the enormous problems that this supposed Leviathan faces is going to subtly affect the way that people look at the right and its ideas, because the idea that the market is some sort of alien being that we depend on for our safety and prosperity and that is best left alone is looking less and less appetizing these days. This is important because it means that the fundamental disparity that existed between the "discredited" left and "triumphant" right is dropping faster than the Dow Average, and we're once again moving back to a position of parity.

The old symbols are dying or dead, so the question becomes: what will the new symbols be? What is the face of the new left? What is the face of what will have to be a new right?

Thursday, July 18, 2002

Ok, so what was up with Coulter on "The Daily Show" last night? I couldn't figure out whether Jon was actually taking her seriously, stringing her along because it was fun and he wanted to stare at her, or was actively making fun of her and her beliefs. There seemed to be examples of all three, although there did also seem to be a transition from one to the other.. that "extremist vs. moderates" bit was priceless, especially considering Stewart had to know who his guest was and what she had said.

Still, I was able to overcome my gorge rising at seeing Coulter hocking her thoroughly-debunked book thanks to Jon, and that takes skill.. so once again he gets my vote as one of the funniest guys on TV right now. I'm glad that CNN is picking him up.

Wednesday, July 17, 2002

This, by the way, is another Den Beste talking point that I'd like to address: the idea that Europeans and the rest of the world are somehow "talking down to the United States" whenever they criticize it.

I'll respond with a few points:

1) "The Great Game" is another term for how states relate to each other- it's based on the old competition between great powers in the era between the Treaty of Westphalia and the onset of WWI. It's rooted in ideas that I mentioned earlier.. that states relate to each other as sovereigns in an anarchic environment, and that the leaders of those states are assumed to be the representatives of those states. The fact that the United States doesn't recognize the sovereignty of other governments and that peoples should be allowed to choose their own leaders is more a commentary on the United States than Europe.

2) There is great hay being made with this "Europe talks down to the United States, and we should therefore ignore them" meme that conservatives are merrily passing around. Besides the fact that it provides an obvious deflective tool for real criticism, conservatives seem to have forgotten than Americans really are notoriously unable to look beyond their own borders- foreign policy is mostly influenced by domestic politics, the education level about non-American peoples, countries, and nations is well known even by many Americans, and the sort of myopia in political philosophy that Musil demonstrated when he went on about his "self-evident truths" is glaring to anybody who doesn't share that particular political philosophy. In other words, the Europeans just might have a point, especially considering that the United States has traditionally heeded practically no outside criticism and commentary on its foreign policy and domestic affairs, and is a relatively idealistic country. (Which is, of course, one of its strengths, but every strength can also be its weakness).

3) This argument is usually used to support unilateralism, although lately Den Beste hasn't even bothered to say why he's cheerleading unilateralism... he simply is. It's odd how he seems to want to have it both ways, though... he wants a United States that is active and willing to influence governments, states, and peoples as he wishes in the defense of its own interests, yet has little desire to see anybody else influence the United States, and at the same time shrinks from anybody who would level the accusation of empire on the United States (despite the fact that that is clearly what he is advocating). Perhaps this is becaues empire has historically been a rather bad deal even when the empire starts off with only the best intentions.

4) If you think it's just Europeans who consider Bush an uncivilized cowboy, Steven, you obviously haven't been paying attention. The right wanted the "down-home country boy" image for its pet president... now that that image is coming home to roost, why exactly should those who are criticizing it lay off? The president is the symbol of the people, and Bush is, for better or worse, the symbol of the United States. If he's a bad symbol, well... I know I didn't vote for him.

5) Steven complains that people insist that people play by the rules, saying that this is "too damned important to play by silly rules as if it were a soccer match where the outcome wasn't important." Does he even know where these rules came from, how they evolved, and why people started following them in the first place? Does he think that nobody should be bound by "silly rules" or is he just talking about the United States? If the former, then by all means, let's hear him advocate the end of the international system and defend the chaotic results of a "might makes right" international community- it worked so well before, after all. If the latter...

actually, that's pretty damned consistent. Which, of course, means there are no rules anyway, because nobody is going to accept the United States as a free rider and play the suckers. It looks like we're going back to the Hobbesian war of all against all. Oh goody.

Edit: another example of what I'm talking about.

He quoted the Russian Defense Minister as saying: "Russia will oppose any unilateral military action undertaken against Iraq without the approval of the United Nations Security Council" and one Archbishop Williams as saying "It is our considered view that an attack on Iraq would be both immoral and illegal and that eradicating the dangers posed by malevolent dictators and terrorists can be achieved only by tackling the root causes of the disputes."

His response?

Whether they are correct about this specific issue, they are wrong about a more fundamental one. They, and everyone else whose nose has been getting pushed in by the Bush administration's unilateralism, have somehow gotten it into their heads that we Americans are not permitted to ever do anything without asking our parents for permission. (It's never really been obvious where that idea came from. Perhaps it's just habit, or maybe it's arrogance.)

As regular readers would know, I've mentioned exactly "where this idea came from"... it has nothing to do with ignorance, and everything to do with the international system, international treaties, and the United Nations, a body that (as is perfectly obvious) Den Beste wants the United States to listen to only when it's convenient. What's odd, though, is that you can't get to point "a" from point "b"... they aren't saying that the United States can't do these things, but that they oppose it, and in the former case that their government will oppose it. What, exactly, does this have to do with "telling the United States what to do?" They're strongly disagreeing, but there is nothing there saying that they intend to stop the United States, just that they don't support it.

In the end, it's pretty obvious that Den Beste is making a simple, schoolyard argument: I wanna do what I wanna do, and if you don't like it, go screw. That this demonstrates a pretty clear ignorance of what exactly International Relations is is rather shocking- I had expected better of him. He says that "The reason I'm cheering for unilateralism is that it's time for the world to start asking us what we want to do, instead of peremptorily telling us what they want us to do." Unfortunately, however, there is little reason to believe that the Bush administration and people like Steven Den Beste would care either way. To them, the only world that matters ends outside of the United States' borders.
Steven Den Beste has written a long post about what amounts to two concepts: the "intoxication of executive power", and Chairman Arafat.

The first one is a defense of the 22nd Amendment; the idea that a president should not be allowed to hold office for more than two terms. Now, to be honest, term limits are a concept that has always bothered me and probably always will- it's a direct limitation of the power of the voters, because it removes from them the opportunity to choose who they wish to be president for what appears to be entirely arbitrary reasons. (There might be an argument to be made about the power of incumbents, but let's be honest- there's no way that the American party system and the American people wouldn't overcome that if the situation warranted it.)

His defense of it is actually fairly weak, to my surprise: he only defends it by saying that Washington set a precedent because he left office after only two terms, and that Nixon was a bad president and would have wanted to retain power for more than two terms. (The fact that he would need to gain the support of the electorate seems to elude him- like a lot of conservatives, he seems oddly hostile to democracy in some respects). The problem, of course, is that term limits create a host of issues in and of themselves, chief among them being the problem of the "lame duck"... a president who knows he cannot be reelected and therefore is not respected by the country or other members of the government. This problem has a darker side as well, however... a politician that does not face the prospect of reelection is free to do pretty much whatever he wishes, without having to worry about whether the electorate agrees or not- and thanks to the relative power of executive orders and the various subbranches of the executive, there's an awful lot he can do. In other (in my mind more democratic) systems, this never happens... a prime minister or president is always looking towards the next election, and his (or her) actions are limited by that.

Plus, there's the threat of a president using extra-constitutional methods to keep power owing to the lack of constitutional ones- this can lead to the "legitimate dictator" scenario I mentioned earlier in situations where said president is extremely popular. This doesn't normally happen in the United States, but certainly has in South America.

So much for the 22nd Amendment (which I still cynically believe was a reaction to the incredible success of FDR)... what about Arafat? Well, Den Beste is trying to argue that the Bush position is legitimate because "Arafat is not the Palestinian people". Well, no, he isn't- but his argument that an elected Arafat is somehow divisible from the Palestinians is an entirely erroneous one- if they choose him as their representative, then he is indeed their representative... the mocking use of "L'etat, c'est moi" is actually quite true, just as it is with the American president as head of state or, in fact, any other head of state. And as I said earlier, neither Bush nor Den Beste gets to choose who the legitimate leader of Palestine is... only the Palestinians. They can react to that choice as they wish, of course, but they do not have either the power or the authority to choose Palestine's own leaders unless they are willing to assert their own sovereignty over Palestine. That, um, would be problematic.

(The hatred of Powell and, by extension, of being reasonable and willing to compromise in any respect on the part of the Right still baffles me considering he was their hero a half-decade ago, but that's not important. They can hate him if they wish.)

What links these two elements together is Den Beste's notion of "the intoxication of power"... the idea that the powerful become accustomed and eventually enjoy power, and are loathe to give it away. My reaction upon reading the article is "so?" If someone loves leadership and power, then so be it. Indeed, I don't necessarily think the idea of a leader that likes being a leader is a bad one- the sort of self-loathing that conservatives seem to desire in a government would be baffling if it weren't so silly. Should businessmen hate being in business? Should doctors hate healing? Why is government any different? The important question is whether they use that power and leadership wisely, and whether they can be removed when the people decide that they no longer want that person as their leader. In the American system, there's no way a president can retain power if the people decide they want him to go- it's their decision, not his, and if they want an "intoxicated" president then that's their choice. (Or was until the 22nd Amendment came to be.) While there is a danger that a president that has been voted out might try to hold power, what difference is there between that danger and that of a president who faces a term limit in the face, except that the former has fought and lost an election and the latter has four years to prepare for the day he seizes control and convince the people that (as they rightly intuit) term limits are a seizure of their own power to decide their own leadership? So it is with Arafat... whether he loves being President or not is immaterial if the Palestinians vote for him (which is by no means a for-gone conclusion considering the current protests), but giving him no way out means he has zero incentives to change anything and every reason to convince the Palestinian people that their right to choose their own leaders has been stolen from them by the United States.

I'd like to close with this quote from the article:

If the Palestinians are given a real choice, and a real opportunity to express it, and if they are presented with a situation where there is a substantial price to be paid for selecting Arafat again, Arafat will lose.

If you truly believe this, Steven, then put your money where your mouth is and allow the Palestinians to make a real choice. Or just admit that you have as little patience for real democracy as your comments on term limits seem to suggest, and stop wasting everybody else's time.
Eric Alterman rips Kaus a new one.

No complaints here, but I'd like to highlight a certain passage as particularly insightful:

Where is the Journal’s equivalent of William Safire? How is that Howell Raines was one of Bill Clinton’s most devoted enemies and great fan of the fanatical Ken Starr? (Maureen Dowd was no picnic on that score either.)

Where is the Times’ equivalent of John Fund, who worked with Paula Jones’ lawyers, Richard Mellon Scaife agents and other nefarious individuals to try to bring down Clinton? Who are the Times’ Bob Bartley and Jude Wanniski, proud papas of the disastrous supply-side ‘riverboat gamble’ of the early eighties? Where — now that the nutty Abe Rosenthal is out to pasture — is their equivalent of supernatural dolphin-imagining Peggy Noonan, whose paeans to both Bushes and Ronald Reagan are practically pornographic in their naked hero-worship? (And by the way, Rosenthal was on their side too.) When has the Times done anything as loony as trying to blame anti-abortion terrorism on the sixties, or corporate accounting scandals on Oval Office blowjobs? What Times editor ever celebrated the kind of “bourgeois riot” in Florida that helped land “W” in office?

Besides ripping apart Kaus' comparison, this highlights an important point: conservatives have been far, far, far more aggressive in attacking their political opponents than liberals have, long before 9/11 gifted the conservatives with being able to wrap themselves in the flag whenever they or their president were criticized for anything, whether in regards to the war on terrorism or not. This isn't just on the part of the American Spectator or Rush Limbaugh- this goes all the way to the most mainstream conservative news sources in America, and is pretty consistently the case.

(which is why Coulter is getting her own ass handed to her by the fact checking of Tapped, Scoobie Davis, and others, but I digress...)

This is really why I don't buy the "liberal bias" argument... even if most journalists actually were liberals in some way (which I don't concede), the sort of things we expect of conservatives- to be devoutly partisan, utterly unapologetic, and utterly dedicated to their movement- are simply nowhere to be found on the left, which bends over backwards to accomodate even those it finds nauseating (like the Times with Safire and Salon with Horowitz), and which can't really be described as a movement in any way, shape, or form.

One more quote:

This phony equivalence argument is just one fashion in which the right dominates. There are many others. (Hmmm, maybe there’s a book in this.)

There is: this is what "Blinded by the Right" is really about. Not the stupid gossipy bits, but the examination of a movement totally dedicated to electoral success, policy influence, and integrity of its members and its message, no matter the cost. What struck me about the book wasn't how goofy the right was or how dishonest, but how dedicated and disciplined they were when it came to sticking with their talking points, using intimidation tactics and ad hominem attacks to shock and disarm their rhetorical opponents, ensuring as much media dominance as humanly possible in ways that really mattered, being unapologetic about their beliefs yet willing to pretend to be more centrist than they are in order to get those votes and get the presidency (and then, in the case of Reagan, singlehandled deifying an inunspiring and senile president and an utter failure of an administration, economically)...not to mention creating an entire army of pseudo-scholars to crank out so much partisan nonsense masquerading as real research that nobody could possibly debunk it all (even if Academe realized the danger that think tanks represented, which it obviously doesn't).

I had said a while back that I was going to write a detailed examination of Blinded by the Right and a defense, but honestly... it simply isn't necessary. Whether the little points are true or not, the portrayal of a successful and focused (yet utterly amoral and frightening) society of people dedicated to obtaining power is shocking and educational enough that the rest could be all lies and it simply wouldn't matter.

Hillary Clinton had warned us about this, and we hadn't listened. Now Brock has warned us about this, and I hope that this time we're listening. If the left doesn't learn the lessons that the right's ascendency should teach us, they'll remake the country in their own image- and, by extension, the world.

Tuesday, July 16, 2002


Every so often I forget that Max Sawicky is at least in some respects Marxian in his outlook, and then I read something like this:

Authentic populism stems from class antagonism founded on economic inequality.

Max, I love ya, buddy, I really do, but that just ain't true... populism can arise from a variety of sources, and leftist class antagonism is only one of them. After all, populism is in the end a political phenomenon, and only an economist (and a really leftist one at that) would think that the only "authentic" form of populism is based on class antagonism and economic inequality.
Matthew Hoy (whom I don't read much anymore, but felt like checking out today for some odd reason) repeats a common complaint about Social Security from the right. Listen here:

I've said before that Social Security is broken. It's a simple issue of demographics -- in coming years there won't be nearly enough workers to support the growing number retirees. Many officials have set the date that Social Security stops being able to pay its obligations at sometime in the 2040s or 2050s, depending on the economy at a particular time.

Now, aside from the economics of the whole thing, isn't there a simple answer... Immigration? The west is aging, but the rest of the world is "younging", and it would seem that increased immigration is a simple solution that benefits both parties: the United States gets workers and the immigrants get, well, the United States. (or Canada, or England, or whatever.)

I realize that this isn't exactly an opportune time for this, but by the 2040s or 2050s, either the war on terrorism will be over or it will have become an infrastructure thing akin to the war on drugs. Assuming that the boomers are a one-time-only thing (and what happened to the echo boom?) immigration can be reduced again when their numbers decrease or when some weird singularity-related event happens that makes increased immigration unnecessary.

(Oh, you don't know what "the singularity" is? It's a term in SF for when people become functionally unable to predict the future because it's simply too far away and too much will have happened between now and then. It used to be farther away. Technology used to move slower too.)
Brad Delong commented on Scalia's speech, in which he claimed a divine right of government and the immorality of those that attempt to defy it. Odd that a sitting supreme court justice would say such things: not only is it (as DeLong pointed out) profoundly against American conceptions of rights, government, and justice (and therefore raises the question of what he's doing in a government that is supposed to reflect those beliefs); but it betrays a shocking ignorance of political philosophy in the exact opposite direction of Musil et al.

Musil made the mistake of thinking that there was no important political philosophy other than the Declaration, and that the Declaration invalidated anything that preceded it. Scalia, however, has somehow entirely ignored the works of John Locke, whose first treatise of government was based entirely on breaking down once and for all the notion of "the divine right of kings", which Scalia seems to be resurrecting for some bizarre reason. (Even staunch monarchists don't believe that anymore.) Since Locke's work is one of the pillars on which the American Constitution is built, the idea that Scalia as a supposed legal scholar is unaware of it is absolutely mindboggling.

I mean, this isn't even some sort of neo-Hobbesian argument as you'd expect an argument for strong government to be: although Hobbes supported a strong government, he did so because he felt it was the only way that people could protect their rights and escape the misery of the state of nature. God has nothing to do with it, except to hold a Damocles' sword of divine retribution over the King if he steps out of line and misuses the powers that the people have granted him. Scalia isn't claiming that people should behave the government because the alternative is chaos, madness, and death; he's arguing that you should behave because you'll go to Hell if you don't.

Naderites who may be reading this, this is why the Democrats are important. Not because there's a difference between them and the Republicans, but because the Republicans can and will fill the benches with Scalias with nary a peep from their more libertarian wing that might be uncomfortable with the idea. In some respects the deep and crippling division within the left might be a good thing, because it'll ensure that any theocratic Democrats are forced to stay in line, else the rest of the party will descend upon them en masse.
Well, according to my Site Meter, I've reached 10,000 unique visitors!

Thanks for visiting, folks, and I hope you've found the site interesting.
There was an excellent examination of the Iraqi situation in today's Globe and Mail. It echoes a lot of the themes and concepts I've been bringing up in regards to that conflict, including a rational exploration of the risks and benefits of different ways of approaching regime change in Iraq. I'd suggest checking it out.

Monday, July 15, 2002

(I sent a comment to David's new Blog, but it would appear he doesn't have visible comments. Pity. In any case, I figured I might as well reproduce them in this space as well. If you want to understand the context, follow the link.)

It's good to see that the "AIDS is a gay disease" meme is alive and well, if only because it serves as the sort of useful falsehood that Mills explained was necessary in order to reconfirm and remind people of the truth of the matter.

It's also helpful that David seems to feel no need to support this assertion, either, especially considering it opens wide and indefensible holes in the methodology of the study he cites- both it's external validity and usefulness for policy formation. I wonder what the scientists involved would think of David's conclusion?

(Honestly, it's too much.)


Yes folks, it's true, it's ranting about the Rittenhouse Review, it's on frontpage.com (natch) and it's probably frothing at the mouth as we speak...

David Horowitz has a blog.

This oughta be good.
Well, site meter is back up, so at least that's something.

(This is, of course, assuming it works)
I had intended a long and complex response to Robert Musil, but in some respects that won't be necessary, as the response can be limited to a few key points.

1) Arguing that the Declaration of Independence is any sort of universal law of political philosophy is completely clueless. Ask a Brit of the time what he thought of the American Revolution, and you'd likely get an earful of a very different interpretation of events than Jefferson's. Or, indeed, if you had asked any of the loyalists- all those people who thought that Jefferson et al were wrong, that the revolution was against their rightful king, and when the revolution happened left the United States to become part of (and help found) Canada, which still recognizes the British monarchy. Which, by the way, Musil has declared his enmity to by declaring it illegitimate in a way that even Jefferson had not. Jefferson's beef was partially that the United States was being ruled badly by a faraway king not interested in the States themselves but only in the resources they could bring. He never said that George should stop being the King of England, nor would he. Has Musil forgotten the apocryphal story that originally they wanted to make Washington a king?

2) In response to his diatribe about Korea, let me cite the opening passage of the report he quoted:

Responsibility for the aggression. The invasion of the territory of the Republic of Korea by the armed forces of the North Korean authorities, which began on June 25, 1950, was an act of aggression initiated without warning and without provocation, in execution of a carefully prepared plan.

Any assistance on behalf of other nations to defend Korea at the time does not invalidate the international system, because North Korea had already violated the RoK's national sovereignty by the very source the Musil cited! After that, any assistance that the (relatively young) U.N. provided could have been and indeed was requested by the RoK.

As to his implication that report on the source of the conflict in any way invalidates my observations about sovereignty:

Had internationally supervised elections been allowed to take place in the whole of Korea, and had a unified and independent Korea thereby come into existence, the present conflict could never have arisen...Experience suggested that the North Korean authorities would never agree to such elections... Notwithstanding the continued efforts of the Commission, it appeared on the eve of the aggression that the Korean peninsula would remain divided indefinitely, or at least until international tension had slackened.

Musil seems to argue that this report supports the idea that democratic systems are the best ones and should be implemented. Quite possibly, but it also recognizes that you can't arbitrarily force an unwilling state to become democratic, otherwise the U.N. would have done so. (And keep in mind that this was during the Cold War... if North Korea could have been forced by the free world to become democratic, they would have done so in order to fight communism. The existence of a great power (the Soviets) with completely different views, interests, and objectives, however, prevented this from happening.)

In any case, silly misrepresentations and ludicrous attacks aside, Musil has shown nothing that invalidates what I've said before. The Republic of Korea became democratic (with the consent of the citizenry, thus lending the process real legitimacy and the government real sovereignty) whereas North Korea (which already had a non-democratic government that was hostile to the idea) was not. North Korea invaded South Korea in order to annex it, South Korea (obviously) didn't intend to submit, and the United Nations came to South Korea's defense, because North Korea had broken the rules.

3) Musil, it isn't just that Anarchists don't believe in those "universal principles"... rather a lot of people don't believe in the "universal principles" of the Declaration of Independence, including (as I mentioned) the ancestors of the United States' closest neighbour! (Is Musil not aware of the river of loyalists that left the United States during and following the revolution?) Anarchists be damned, Canadians thought it was bunk! The whole "that's not an anarchist" argument is a sideshow, because I was referring to "those that believe in radical democracy"... if "anarchist" isn't the proper word, then I invite Musil to name those that believe that property rights are not as important as democratic rights. Marxist, socialist, anarchist, liberal, Canadian, whatever- the point is that they exist, they reasonably disagree, have valid reasons for doing so, and therefore make the word "universal" absolutely mistaken. As it usually is in political philosophy.

4) This isn't a point that Musil brought up, but was brought up by some people in the comments section of an earlier post. I responded there, but I'll respond here, too.

Machiavelli once said: "Anyone who ignores everyday reality in order to live up to an ideal will soon discover he has been taught how to destroy himself, not how to preserve himself". This is an important insight: there is a fundamental distinction to be made between looking at the world as you think it ought to be, and the world as you know it to be. They aren't the same thing, and sometimes you need to deal with the peculiarities and problems of the latter in order to best get to the situation as it exists in the former. Denying reality is comforting, but useless for those that want to both create and safeguard positive change. This, not Wilson, was the reason the League failed: it assumed everybody shared the same views it did, operated entirely under that assumption without even a cursory examination of the international community as it really was, and was flabbergasted when it discovered that that wasn't the case (first when the United States opted out, then when Japan left, and finally when Germany made a mockery of it.)

The problem with national sovereignty is, of course, that legitimacy can indeed by gained at the point of a gun... as Fukuyama's citation of Hegel in "End of History" made clear, deals made in the defense of one's life are still valid deals. It is true that such legitimacy is pretty weak, however, since it means that anybody with a bigger gun or a faster draw gets to run the show- it's a recipe for instability and a rebellious populace. This is why governments try to find other reasons to name themselves the legitimate government- including things like elections, a monarchy, "states of emergency" (in the case of coups), or simply appealing to the popular sentiment- when popular presidents become dictators, they often claim that the people want it to be so, and sometimes it may even be the case if the democratic system is ineffective and deadlocked. While the United States may be able to afford the luxury of a weak government, many other states cannot.

Still, unfortunately, it remains the case that sovereign, legitimate nations (whether democratic or no), can and do do awful things to groups of people if the vast majority of the population is willing to let them get away with it, rather than rise up in defense of that minority. This doesn't invalidate the idea of international treaties and bodies... in fact, that is the reason they exist. After all, a sovereign nation need not deal, trade, or ally itself with countries it finds despicable, and can do everything in its power to hamper their goals. So countries make agreements- "you don't behave this way, and I don't make your economic and strategic life a living hell, and may even help you out". Agreements like this between large groups of countries is a big reason why rights are as relatively well-protected as they are today (they certainly weren't in Musil's vaunted 18th century) and forms the foundation of the concept United Nations. National sovereignty exists, but it isn't enough- the problem (to get back to the original point) is that those that forget that national sovereignty exists despite the form of government and that those forms they don't like are illegitimate are saying that that government should not exist. (This, in Musil's case, includes the Queen of England, which means that if Musil were running the United States he'd have just called Britain a sham government. I doubt Blair would let that slide.) This means that those necessary agreements cannot take place (because one party doesn't recognize the other one should even exist.) Unless the judging party is then willing to take control of the other government itself (although that isn't exceptionally democratic in its own right), that means that you get the worst of both worlds: you get a government that you can't do anything about completely unhampered by international treaties and bodies, and which knows that no matter what it does, it cannot live up to your expectations and therefore can feel free to be as repressive as it wishes.

If you want to advocate slaughter and strife, then by all means, continue complaining that the only valid form of government is republicanism and reap the enormous harvest of enmity, desperation, and hostility that that will create. Those of us that live in the real world and wish to make it the best place possible will try to deal with the situation as it currently exists, try to make it as good as possible, and work to show the people of the world that democracy shouldn't be adopted because it is the only legitimate system, but that it's the best system for all involved, even if we disagree on the particulars.

Anyway, this will be my last post on the subject for a while. Not because it doesn't interest me, and that it isn't important, but because Musil's complaints have become repetitive and it's pretty obvious that he's trying to catch me in some sort of contradiction or portray my observations in the most negative light, rather than attempting to engage, understand, and respond to them. As long as he thinks that the declaration of independence is the final and only work of political philosophy that exists, that republicanism is the only legitimate form of government, and that anyone who points out that he is incorrect is a fascist (who, by the way, didn't recognize the legitimacy of other forms of government either... they thought socialism was evil and democracy was so ludicrously ineffective as to be dangerous), I find myself with little more to say. If Musil wishes to persist in his dreams of political uniformity, let him. I have laid out the international system and the concepts of legitimacy and sovereignty as they exist now, and the inevitable flaws and problems in both that lead to the creation of collective bodies and international treaties. If he wishes to find universal political principles, then I wish him luck, because what I've just mentioned is about the only universals that exist in politics. Whether he wishes to believe it or not will change nothing.