Friday, August 30, 2002

While I'm (briefly, I assure you) looking at USS Clueless, I should note: There's a difference between advocating something and unconditionally supporting those who cynically appropriate your issues to support their own interests.

No, Women's Studies departments don't have to support the War on Terror, because they know damned well what everybody else knows- the U.S. right wouldn't give two tugs of a dead dog's cock about the treatment of women in Islam, were they not trying to find justification for going to war against it.
Upon surfing around different blogs, I had wondered what my old "friend" SDB was up to... he hadn't been linking to me for a while, and those twin shibboleths (anti-pseudonymity and TransProg) had died down as topics of debate over the last while. So I headed on over.

Some things never change.

Rothschild presents the case as a choice of two alternatives: go to war in Iraq, or stay home and be at peace. I see it as these two alternatives: go to war in Iraq, or stay home and wait for the war to come to us. There will be war; it's only a question of where it will be fought, and who will do the dying. Innocents will die, if for no other reason than because our enemies do not care about killing innocents. Our choice is not whether to spare innocents; it is to choose whether it will be our innocents who do the dying. All other things being equal, I'd prefer it wasn't.
Hesiod has done a good job of dealing with this argument from one end (why would Saddam attack us?) and Scott Ritter has done a good job of dealing with it on the other end (how could Saddam attack us?) So I'll let it be for now, except to note that he's (still!) operating from assumptions that are far from proven.

(He then brings up the question of constitutionality, but Jeff Cooper is the authority there, so I'll just link to him and let that be as well.)

Unfortunately, it seems that our little back-and-forth session hasn't really affected his arguments one whit. He quotes Matthew Rothschild (the target of this article) as saying this:

International law is quite clear: Country A cannot attack Country B unless Country B has already attacked Country A or is about to attack Country A. Iraq has not attacked the United States. And it's not about to. Saddam, as brutal as he is, loves to cling to power. He knows that attacking the United States would be suicidal.

Actually, under international law, Saddam Hussein may have a better case for attacking the United States today than Bush has for attacking Iraq, since Bush is threatening an imminent war against Iraq. But no one wants to hear that!
None of this is substantially incorrect- that concept of "defense, not attack" has been around since, yes, the Treaty of Westphalia, and is a bedrock principle of the United Nations Charter. Rothschild even has a legitimate point with that latter paragraph, as unsettling as it might be to those who believe that the United States has the authority to preemptively attack whomever it wishes.

Steven, unfortunately, doesn't agree, and revives several common SDB arguments to back that up:

Unfortunately, this argument is also totally wrong, because imminent military attack is far from the only reason that such wars, big or small, take place. I suspect Rothschild probably objects to all the cases where such wars have been fought for other reasons, but that's beside the point. Ignoring his sensibilities and looking at the actual practice of war, imminent attack on self is far from the only acceptable justification. There are several others.
Rothschild probably does object to those other wars. And? He'd be justified in doing so. Odd little bait-and-switch... Steven switches the normative for the empirical. International law doesn't ignore that other reasons for war exist, it merely proscribes them, just as national law doesn't pretend that motives for assault don't exist.

What are these "other reasons", though? Let's see:

First, it is considered acceptable to go to war to defend an ally or to satisfy a treaty obligation to an ally. Second, it is considered acceptable to go to war against a nation which consistently and unrepentantly refuses to carry out its obligations under treaties it has signed. All diplomacy is backed by the threat of force, but that requires the willingness to apply force when all other means of persuasion have failed. Finally, "self defense" covers far more territory than simply the issue of "imminent attack".
Hrm... well, let's see. The first case is pretty simple, and perfectly allowable- it falls under the category of "self-defense", exchanging a collective for a single nation.

The second case is a little trickier, but if it's a question of security, it actually still fits under the concept of collective defense. If one nation enters into a collective security agreement and then exploits it, that can threaten the security of other nations. This could possibly justify some sort of retaliation. Rarely if ever does that retaliation include actual warfare, though... the threat is usually the cutting off of trade ties or breaking off of collective security agreements. This threat is a very serious one; an isolated country is dangerously weak. Yes, there are cases where breaking a treaty might provoke violence, but it's telling that Steven fails to name a scenario where this has actually legitimately happened in the past, that wasn't condemned by international law, and that doesn't fit under the heading of "collective response to an attack on a member" . In any case, this is kind of a bait 'n switch as well, because there's no way that failing to live up to obligations prompts the invasion and eviction of the legitimate state, and therefore is inappropriate as a defense of an invasion of Iraq.

Third is this notion that "self defense" covers far more territory than "imminent attack". Indeed it does- but you can't go to war over it, or else everybody and his dog would be attacking their neighbours, under the rubric that it's "self-defense". The entire point of having an international system is so that arms-race cycles of "self-defense" don't turn into massive conflagrations. If somebody is making threatening noises, then you can complain to international bodies, cut off diplomatic ties, move troops around on the off chance that they really do invade, get your allies to gently suggest to the other party that attacking is a really bad idea. You can't, however, invade them first.

But all of that is moot, because there isn't any such beast as "international law", in the sense that he invokes it.
This was accompanied by links to earlier articles. I think I'll do the same. Failing that, go read Yuval Rubenstein decimate this line of argument. (Permalinks not working... do a page search for "According to Steven den Beste" and you'll find it). Yuval was responding to the very articles that Steven linked to, so it's quite relevant, and definitely asks some questions that Steven has yet to answer outside of referencing a quickie response from G. Hill that was quickly and decisively rebutted in Yuval's comment section.
Furthermore, for the United States to take this aggressive action without the approval of the U.N. Security Council would be a violation of the U.N. charter, which the United States has ratified.
Again, true, and oddly not contradicted by Steven's response:

I think you'd be hard pressed to find any organization whose members give more lip service and less actual compliance with the terms of its charter. I don't consider the UN charter to be binding on the US any longer because few other nations on Earth bother obeying it, either. To play a game by the rules when nearly everyone else is cheating is idiocy.
Indeed.. nobody wants to play the sucker. Odd, though, because extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and I'm not seeing anything even remotely resembling that (nor, actually, variations of this particular argument on his website.) This is certainly an extraordinary claim, and prompts a simple response- if the U.S. is not bound by the charter, then why be a member? Why claim the presidency of the Security Council, and why participate in the workings of the U.N. or any aspect of it at all? After all, as long as the U.S. is a signatory to the charter it is bound by it to the extent that it is constitutional, so if the U.S. should not be bound by the charter, then shouldn't it withdraw from the United Nations?

(For that matter, who exactly is breaking the charter, and why? Steven argued there were "other reasons for war"... if others are breaking the core principles of the Charter, then why exactly should we believe that those "other reasons" don't come into play?)

In any case, there's a simple answer: some parts of the Charter are followed and enforced more strictly than others, and obeying those that are followed and enforced strictly doesn't make you a sucker. Disobeying them, on the other hand, makes everybody else suckers. Hence Rothschild's valid argument- nations don't go invading each other and changing each other's governments- when they do, they're rightly condemned by everybody else. That includes the United States.

There's more, of course, but much of it falls under cultural generalizations and assertions that Hesiod and Ritter (as well as many others) have already addressed (those interested in the former can go here, and those interested in the latter should google up the guy and will easily come across lots of interesting stuff- this is a good start) so I'll just leave it at that. One last quotation, though:

"killing" doesn't equate to "murder". Not all killing is murder, and the death toll in war isn't "mass murder". It's not that we're going to send in the 82nd Airborne to go in and round up and slaughter Iraq civilians just because we want them dead, as much as that it isn't possible to fight a war without at least some civilians getting in the way and becoming victims of it.

Perhaps that, too, is still unacceptable. But if that is true, it would be equally true of all wars, anywhere, fought for any reason at all. When, exactly, would Rothschild ever support any war?
Killing isn't necessarily murder; sometimes killing is sadly necessary if a war is necessary. The reverse is also true, however: if a war is unnecessary (a distinction Steven misses), then those deaths are unnecessary; and if people die unnecessarily in a necessary war, then those deaths remain unnecessary. Whether an invasion of Iraq is necessary or not is the question at hand here. If it isn't, there will be a lot of unnecessary blood on American hands. It may not be murder, but it sure as hell isn't just.

(Yeah, yeah, I know; I'm flogging a dead horse here, and I'm getting the rotting crud all over my hands. It's still worth addressing, though.)

Edit: fiddled around with the wording, fixed a link or two, etc., etc. No substantial additions, except a link to G.Hill's response and the subsequent message board discussion.
In my best Blaxsploitation voice:

I'd make a comment about Mickey Kaus and Matthew Hoy and the rest, but I think at this point that, for Krugman, they're half the fun. I wonder if he ever thought that he'd be this big back in his days writing pro-globalization articles for Slate?

Hey, maybe that's why Kaus has such a hate-on for the guy! Krugman moved on up to the prestige and influence of a NYT column, but Kaus is stuck writing an embattled weblog for Slate. That's gotta suck.
Well, this is interesting:

Quiz for the Bush-Basher Brigade
1. The Big Question. President Bush should:

A) Declare war on the House of Saud.
B) Close the US Embassy in Riyadh, expel the Saudi ambassador, and state that the House of Saud is our enemy, but not make war on them.
C) Make demands, but not back the demands up with any threat of force or retaliation.
D) Declare the House of Saud our enemy and do nothing else.
E) Other

If you choose E) you must explain, IN TWENTY-FIVE WORDS OR LESS, what the other option is.

I suggest that if you cannot forthrightly answer this question, directly and without evasion, you are nothing but a kvetching, irrational child, and should shut the hell up and let the grownups get on with fighting the war.
I'll take E) Horribly mock those who think that policy should consist of sound bites.

What the hell is this? This is policy analysis, not a contest for the new Meow Mix slogan. Is Dean not able to handle longer arguments, or is this some sort of bizarre attempt to conserve space in his comments section? Sure, I can appreciate and understand why those who peddle simplistic arguments want to attack their opponents for not doing the same thing. It doesn't mean that they should artificially limit themselves, either by picking one of those choices (which contain assumptions that many critics don't share) or restricting themselves to a totally arbitrary word limit.

In any case, the quick answer would be that there already appears to be some change going on in Saudi Arabia; men and women are protesting side-by-side (with bare skin, no less), the religious police are under fire, and the House is under near-constant fire from domestic opponents. This implies that there may be change going on in Saudi, just as there is in Iran. No surprise: change does not always require the United States sending in soldiers, and if we can have change without chaos, so much the better.

Oh, and a government that uses terrorists as a weapons vector is as deterrable as a government that uses missiles. Just in case that comes up. uses a current article by Chris Hitchens in the Observer to trace his transformation from leftist to pro-war neo-conservative. They get some good hits in (especially when addressing the silly "you're wrong because some of those who feel the same can be criticized" argument), but it's more useful as an example of how radical leftists seem to be constantly reinventing themselves as neo-conservatives. David Brock's transformation from one to the other in college formed the opening (and the backdrop) for his indictment of neo-conservativism early this year, but he's hardly alone: David Horowitz and Hitchens himself are other prominent examples.

The question, of course, is why. Why would a radical leftist jump all the way to the other side of the spectrum, instead of simply becoming a moderate social democrat or liberal? What is it about neo-conservatism that prompts this sort of defection? For that matter, and this is a legitimate question... what the hell is neo-conservatism anyway, considering that its arguments, ideology, and goals seem to change more often than a runway model? It isn't libertarianism (quite), it isn't classical liberalism (quite), it isn't conservatism (quite), and it isn't especially religious (usually). Is it simply economic neoliberalism run amok within the political sphere? Is it just what David Brock described it as: a negative ideology, adopting whatever positions the left is against? Maybe, but how the hell can you formulate policy that way?

Perhaps the key aspect is its radicalism, or at least percieved radicalism. Neo-conservatism (whatever it is) gains a lot of its rhetorical power from the notion that "the liberal establishment" is running things, and that conservatism is embattled, endangered, and faces extinction. (Not to mention alliteration.) The supposedly liberal media and bureaucracy prevents the truly conservative character of the American population from coming to the fore- a conservative character that is the prime reason why the United States is (in their minds) the best country in the world. In turn, that status as the best country in the world legitimizes the United States as a "hyperpower"... not only is it legitimately powerful, but it is the only truly moral wielder of power, and therefore any organization which seeks to check that power is in-and-of itself immoral.

All well and good (although certainly debatable- any political philosophy includes differences of opinion)... but why on earth would any of this attract leftists? Well, it may be that sense of being embattled and under siege. The radical left, or at least some of those on the radical left, define themselves by the struggle against the forces of the establishment. If that establishment holds some of the same views as the leftists themselves (or at least variations of those views), though, then what exactly are they setting themselves against? And what happens when (as often happens) they find themselves on the same side of an argument as those from the opposite side of the general spectrum on an issue (such as would happen between, say, social conservatives and radical feminists on the issue of pornography?)

More to the point (and this goes back to a controversial but still illustrative section of Brock's book), what happens when the anti-establishment character of a leftist sees the liberal or left establishment actually silence a conservative? There's a big contradiction here- the left is supposed to treasure people's rights, including the right to free speech and free assembly. That student might react badly so much so that they might apply their radicalism and anti-establishmentism in a completely new direction, coming from the right instead of the left. Encouraged by their new friends on the right, they still get to fight the establishment, only they see a whole new establishment to be fought. This is what happened with Brock, and he's only one guy who happened to switch again to liberalism and write a book about it. How many neo-conservatives didn't switch back and wouldn't admit they were wrong if they did?

There's also an important nationalistic element, especially nowadays. It's partially that "best country in the world" stuff, but I think there's more to it than that- neo-cons often pull out rhetoric about the evils of internationalism and international government, yet are hardly libertarians- they acknowledge the importance and necessity of the nation-state. (Heck, look at "TransProg".) It was always present and has a lot to do with the relatively hawkishness of many neo-cons, many of whom seem to fervently believe that there's no way the United States can lose a conflict, retconning history to make it seem like Vietnam was only due to liberal squishiness. It doesn't really include the disturbing racial aspects of nationalism, though- it seems to be rooted in the American ideological conception of a nation, rather than an ethnocentric one. (Hence the hatred of multiculturalism and the obsession with immigrants being assimilated into the dominant culture, whether that culture is American or British or Canadian or whatever.)

Ok, whatever. Why is this important? It's important because right now, whatever it is, neo-conservatism happens to be (ironically) the dominant ideology right now, especially on the blogosphere. A lot of people get all offended when they're called "libertarians", replying that they don't share that movement's obsession with individual property rights and individuality. Perhaps, but the question remains about what that dominant ideology is, and neo-conservatism seems to be the only one that fits the profile. After, all, what else could there be? It ain't liberalism, it ain't social conservatism, fiscal conservatism doesn't begin to explain all of it, there's a nationalistic and somewhat imperialistic element that flies in the face of the notoriously isolationist tendencies of libertarians, it sure as heck isn't leftist, and outside of some heated rhetoric it isn't fascist either. The one thing it certainly is, though, is astoundingly hostile to the left.

It's consistent and thus classifiable, but it doesn't fit into any of these common categories (and no, Steven, "engineerism" doesn't work either), thus prompting a rather puzzled reaction from those of us who don't agree with it and work against it. I like the word "conservatarian", but it's obviously not appropriate, and the longer this ideology wields power and influence the more difficult the job of figuring it out becomes.
There's something incredibly ironic about the author of "The Satanic Verses" coming out against the invasion of Iraq. He makes some legitimate points (both about the problems with Anti-Americanism and with some legitimate causes of it), and I might look at it in more detail later.
Found on Letter from Gotham:

It is quite possible for Saddam Hussein to conclude that the United States could be severely damaged by a series of nuclear detonations in American cities. It would be absolutely rational for Saddam to conclude that he should string the world along while arming terrorist organizations whose sole purpose is to do just this. He would be thoroughly justified in believing that the US reaction would be to scurry around hysterically and mount an ineffectual military response.

He would be absolutely wrong to believe this. We would wipe him out in short order. But it wouldn’t be irrational for him to come to the wrong conclusions, and--we can't afford to test this thesis.
Odd definition of "rational" there. On what basis would he build this belief? The concept of rationality assumes that actors don't pull actions and beliefs out of thin air; they actually look at what's happened, interpret it, and react according to that interpretation. Considering that, what possible reason would Saddam have to believe that the "US reaction would be to scurry around hysterically and mount an ineffectual military response"? Other than its convenience in supporting Diane's theory? The U.S. is itching for a reason to get him, most of the world's objections are based on the idea that the U.S. needs a reason, Saddam using any sort of WMD would constitute just such a reason, and the world community has shown that it has no qualms about acting against Saddam when it is supported by international saction (witness the Gulf War.)

I commented on the sort of risk/reward analysis that Saddam would likely do earlier, and echoed Hesiod's conclusion that using terrorists to nuke the U.S. would be of such great risk for such weak rewards that under no definition of rationality would Saddam attempt such a thing. Saddam would have to be either an idiot or insane to supply possibly-hostile terrorists with bombs that could be traced back to him, and the current pseudo-debate over invasion due to the possibility that he might theoretically attack at some point in the future shows that he has zero reason to give the U.S. a reason to invade...

unless they're already about to do it anyway. Want to talk risk? Two words: Cornered and Desperate.

Update: Jim Henley, the target of this post, also responded to it. His point was less about the question of the rationality of what Diane proposed, and more the simple observation that deterrence doesn't usually fail as long as there is proper communication, which minimizes possible miscalculation. Personally, I think that the unspoken communication of the prior actions of the U.S. is pretty damned clear in-and-of itself. Henley, however, also makes a legitimate point in that ensuring the rational behavior of Saddam is the last thing the current administration wants (which is why the recent Iraqi invitations of inspectors from both the U.S. and U.N. is only further cementing world opinion against the U.S.)
Ok, I'm back, although I'm going to be playing "linker" again, at least in this post. (Then again, it's a good link.)

Originally referenced by Atrios, P.L.A. is a new and unique blog, written by Dwight and Deb Meredith. Why unique? Listen to the name: it's called "A Journal of Politics, Law and Autism".

Yes, Autism.

The entries on politics and law are well written, but not out of the ordinary except in their quality (and to the extent that any left or liberal thought online can be considered out of the ordinary), but it's the intensely personal articles about their seven-year old autistic son that make the site a must-read. I'll let Dwight describe it in his own words:

In my posts on politics and law, I hope to inform, persuade or amuse you. Those posts are for you, the reader. The autism posts are for us. For me. One of the purposes of establishing this site was to have fun writing about law and politics while forcing myself to write about autism. Writing is discipline. I hope that the discipline of writing about autism will allow me to gain some distance and some perspective. I hope to eventually be able to hold autism up to analytical thought and rational analysis. That day has not yet come...

To us, Autism is a seven-year old little boy who is not yet out of diapers and has not yet learned to talk. To kids at school or on the playground, autism is simply what makes Bobby a “retard.” To us, autism is sitting in an audiologist’s office while our two-year old son’s hearing is tested and praying that he is deaf because there is something you can do about deafness... [I]t is playing with Bobby at the swimming pool and seeing flashes of a normal happy child locked inside him and being unable to break down the wall that prevents us from rescuing our son. I have more to say, much more, but right now, at this moment, the pain is simply too great.
As of this point, this is the only entry about autism, but it already adds a powerful personal aspect to the interesting political commentary.

Monday, August 26, 2002

By the way... although I'm probably the last person on the Internet to talk about adding permalinks to a site, I do have to admit to a desire to, as Matthew Yglesias put it, "be considered for a spot on the prestigious Altercation website". The links (for those who think it's deserved), go here.
It's a good feeling, knowing that a link to my blog is attached to something this acid and funny. Go, now, if only for the spectacle of Mickey Mouse saying "...and if any snotty artist thinks otherwise, I'll shove so many lawyers up his ass, he could open a law firm in his colon!"
Well, maybe I will update (although it'll have to be short). I hadn't expected the Rittenhouse Review to include a fiery entry exhorting Americans to "[w]ake up... [y]ou’re being screwed big time from every which way including up. And not just working-class Americans, but the middle class as well." I had always thought of that as more of a Sawicky topic. Then again, considering that the spectacle that caused it was somebody honestly claiming that organized labour is in any way responsible for the mess that said Americans are in right now, it was perhaps inevitable.

(Organized labour?? Incredible. Freedom is Slavery.)

Sunday, August 25, 2002

Blogging will likely be very light over the next few days, as I'm going to be out of town and quite busy. In the meantime, one observation- criticism and dispute does not always have envy at its root. Indeed, it's probably pretty rare.

Thursday, August 22, 2002

There has been a mad furor over the "open letter to America from a Canadian" that was published in the Baltimore Chronicle a little while ago, one that I've noticed and followed with some interest, considering that I was "outed" by SDB as someone who uses Rogers, a Canadian ISP. I've refrained from commenting, though, partially because I didn't want to add ammo to that "TransProg" accusation, but also because I wasn't quite sure how to put my reaction.

It was with great surprise, then, that I discovered that my reaction to the letter was pretty much encapsulated by a very thoughtful and introspective article by, yes, Wil Wheaton. I'm not a regular reader of his blog, although I have nothing against it, and it was by random chance that I actually discovered his reaction.

The letter reminded him of a similar letter he received at what was probably the height of his fame in the late 80's from a girl that he had an enormous crush on. It told him delicately as possible, that she just couldn't be around me any more. I was arrogant, rude, ungrateful for what I had, and I treated her like property. I was demanding, overbearing, unwilling to listen to or respect other people's opinions. I was a dick, an ass, a jerk. She described to me a person I wouldn't ever want to sit next to on a bench, much less be.
Wil's initial reaction was outrage and anger, and it was with the expectation of sympathy that he took it to one of his best friends. Instead, his friend read it, gave it back to him, and said "Wil, you should read it again, because she's right. [She]wrote you this letter because she cares about you, and she doesn't like what you've become. Frankly, none of your friends do. So you can read it again, and take it to heart, or you can blow it off, and continue to alienate yourself from everyone who cares about you, including me."

This revelation stunned and shocked him, but he couldn't simply dismiss it, and the more he thought about it the truer that it seemed to him. He took a lot of it to heart, and credits it as the reason he's not dead, drugged out, or imprisoned right now.

In a lot of respects, the open letter reminds him of this, but I'll just quote him directly instead of trying to paraphrase good prose:

back to the Open Letter. Do I agree with all of it? No. I think some of it is wildly off-base, and I think the message would be listened to by more people who need to hear it if it wasn't so inflammatory.

On the other hand, I think that America has an opportunity to walk through an open door, and take a long hard look at ourselves. The simple fact is, America, most of the world really doesn't like us. We're arrogant, irresponsible, and unaccountable. We loudly an constantly remind the world that we are a Superpower...well, with great power comes great responsibility, right?

The great thing about America is that We The People have a voice, and the louder that voice, the more insistent that voice, the harder it is to silence.

Let's raise our voice, and walk through this open door. It's scary. It is uncertain, but it is vital that we do. It will be a long process, but we can do it.
This very closely approximated my reaction to the Open Letter. When reading through it I noted a ton of scattershot accusations that were either wildly exaggerated, overgeneralized, or ideology masquerading as criticism, but on some level I agree with Wil- its central concept (that the United States is utterly alienating its foes and allies alike) is substantially true. This, as well as that missing coincidence of interests that begs the question of a lot of the "moral equivalence" arguments, is, I think, at the heart of the widespread criticism of the United States. Even if the hawks are substantially correct about the United States not needing allies to protect their interests (and I don't think they are), Wil's observation that "most of the world doesn't like us" because "we're arrogant, irresponsible, and unaccountable" makes such arguments somewhat irrelevant. Any nation that defines itself by something above simple national interests is inherently vulnerable to such critiques, because sooner or later the balance of "moral equivalence" is going to tilt the other way. I don't think anybody in the United States wants that. I know I sure don't.
J. Bradford DeLong is asking a very valid question: considering that the difference between the earnings of those with a college education and those without is approaching fifty(!) percent, why in the world is the growth of education going down?

It's a valid question, but I think it has a socio-cultural answer, not an economic answer. People are stuffed full of stories of people without college educations or who dropped out of college (like Bill Gates) who have become filthy rich, and stories about people with Ph.Ds who are driving cabs. The fact that these sorts of stories are notable precisely because they seriously buck the trends is lost if one doesn't already know that those trends exist, just as the increasing visibility of violent or spectacular crime often causes the public to feel less safe, even when (oft-ignored) statistics show that crime rates are going down.

Then again, Brad's insistence that "every American who can should go to college" contains one incredibly big assumption there.

Yet more proof that Krugman really, really, really needs to get a blog:

Some people, bizarrely, think that I don't know that spending plays a role in the deficit. Well, duh. If you look at my book Fuzzy Math, p. 75, you'll see a table I took from Auerbach and Gale. It shows that if you replace the unrealistic assumption of zero growth in real discretionary spending with the more reasonable assumption of constant spending per capita, the projected 10-year surplus falls almost $500 billion. If you use the even more reasonable assumption that discretionary spending remains constant as a share of GDP, the projection falls more than $600 billion more. So going from zero real growth in discretionary spending to keeping such spending constant as a share of GDP - which is the implicit assumption in my back-of-the-envelope calculation above - subtracts more than $1.1 trillion from the budget projection. That's still well short of the $1.7 trillion in direct and indirect costs from the Bush tax cut (close to $2 trillion if you ignore the nonsense about expiring tax cuts in 2011), but it's substantial.
Naturally, Krugman concludes that this, plus the cuts, means the possibility of "deficits forever", even factoring in the output gap. And the common answer of "just cut spending regardless?" He covers that too:

Smaller government is a great catchphrase, until you actually start cutting things like mine safety and nutritional aid for poor children. Apparently some people even think that, as Martha Stewart would say, it's a good thing to trick veterans into not getting health care.

Then again, considering the yeoman work that Max and J. Bradford DeLong have been doing lately, maybe that would be a little too much.
While I'm linking to Max and his posters, I was caught by this entry, which questions the idea of "moral equivalence". Here's Max:

Which brings us to the conservative narrative of moral equivalence. Often a radical's response to the allegation of a crime by someone deemed unsavory is to respond with some parallel deed for which the U.S. government bears responsibility. Conservatives say this is an error of moral equivalence because the USG are the good guys and the other guys are not. It is wrong to evaluate actors in light of actions because the actors are fundamentally different.

The logic here is precisely backwards, albeit ingenious. Ordinarily we would infer morality from actions. If two parties each commit murder, they are equally wrong. The moral equivalence narrative says we must begin with the implicit assumption that the USG represents the greater good, hence one may not evaluate our enemies by the same standards by which we evaluate ourselves. If we each commit murder, the USG murder deserves at least the benefit of the doubt, if not automatic approval. If the U.S. indulges the use of WMD by Saddam Hussein, our motives are honorable while his are despicable.

However much we love Mom and apple pie, the motivations, effects, and consequences for any policy must stand or fall on their own. Was it really necessary to shoot that last doggie?

The key problem here isn't one of morals, but one of interests- Americans are at least nominally on the same side as the United States Government (USG), so they're almost the good guys by default- no matter how heinous their actions, its those same American asses that they are (supposedly) trying to protect and serve. That creates a powerful incentive to look at the USG in the best possible light in the face of an opponent that threatens said asses, and in no way is the USG so heinous that it can't be defended under those conditions. The coinciding interests naturally generate the "moral equivalency" argument.

On the other hand, this provides a very useful explanatory tool for understanding the difference between American attitudes and the attitudes of those outside the United States. Without that powerful coincidence of interests, it really does come down to Max's inferrence of morals from actions. Even then a case can certainly be made in favour of the USG, but it's much weaker, especially when stripped of the domestic political battles that usually give American foreign policy its shape. The argument against "political equivalence" is much weaker, and criticism of the state can be much more strident. Thus the demonstrable difference between the attitudes of both the American polity and American elites vs. the elites and polity of other allied countries that share much of their basic culture and mores with the U.S. (like England or Canada). It's all about interests, and their influence on the interpretation of relative moral worth, moral authority, and ethical debate.

(Hey, come to think of it, I just argued against a right-wing shibboleth from a Realist perspective. See? Told you it can be done.)
You don't usually find a lot of honest-to-Marx socialists online, so it was with some sense of, what, unfamiliarity? That I looked over the new blog of "D. Ghirlandaio", called An Unenviable Situation. What I found there was interesting, if a little rough, but considering that Ghirlandaio originally conceived the blog as a collection of unpublished letters, that's perhaps to be expected, and the ideas contained aren't noticably hurt by it. It includes a rather intense attack on E.C. bloggers and Instapundit, specifically on their rather overwhelming support of what Ghirlandaio called "a letter from a group of right wing heavyweights [sic] responding to a statement by a group of German intellectuals critical of our actions in Afghanistan and opposed to an Invsion of Iraq."

I specifically liked this particular paragraph:

to idiots who think that lefties are a bunch of simpering wimps and Episcopalian sticks-in-the-mud; if we want to pretend that we're the cold and morally indifferent strategists that any serious conservative intellectual must claim to be, we need to ask the following questions: How many relationships -political, social and economic- will we have jeopardized if we invade? Will stability in the region be decreased or increased? Will the explosion that results put out the fire or spread it even more.
This is a cogent response to a critique that a lot of wingers get away with accusing the left of: being "squishy" and "unwilling to face facts" when it comes to foreign policy. This is nonsense, of course- the left can speak in terms of states, interests, power and force just as well as the right does, and the right doesn't have anything close to a monopoly on arguments backed by realist or neo-realist theory. In this particular case, the arguments against invasion are (in my own personal view) better rooted in true realism (as opposed to the simplistic versions you often hear online) than the arguments in favour of invasion, but at the very least both can draw on realism (or neo-realism; not the same thing) equally well.

While I don't agree with Ghirlandaio on all or maybe even most issues, the variation is certainly refreshing, and I'll make a point of returning in the future.
Max wrote an interesting article about populism that I hadn't linked to before, but think is worth reading. Oddly, however, he includes a series of four populist economic principles:

1 Tight labor markets, through activist fiscal/monetary policy ("democratic money") and a shorter work week (cf. the Sandwichman);

2 Easy entry to entrepreneurship, through fair and easy credit (democratic money again), and through vigorous policing of predatory corporate behavior of all types;

3 An ample social insurance system, that among other things makes the choices among employment and self-employment more appealing (through public provision of health care, among other things).

4 Labor rights -- the counterpart to anti-predation activities with regard to corporations v. small business...
... that I don't think of as really "populist" at all, but just the sort of thing that people on the center-left would be logically advocating as a matter of course. #2 and #3 would be excellent ways of turning the right's self-serving obsession with entrepreneurs back on itself, making it a useful Democratic tactical tool. It would probably stand the test of economic analysis too- while it would probably raise the ire of market fundamentalists, I don't see anything here that would offend, say, pre-NYT Krugman. Any of the four can be taken too far, of course, but the absence of them usually leads to problems as well, and there's a difference between the kind of procedural problems that can be fixed with some fine tuning and those that are intrinsic to the very concept.

(Heck, if you think about it, these sorts of proposals really amount to fine-tuning the markets' effects on society themselves.)

Anyway, this is only one part of what is overall an interesting article on populism (although I still don't quite agree with Max's fairly narrow definition of the term- anti-elitism ain't just a political economic phenomenon.) Interesting stuff, and yet more proof that Max's is one of the more important left blogs out there.

Wednesday, August 21, 2002

Just finished reading pretty much the entirety of D-squared Digest, a blog written by perennial DeLong comments section inhabitant Daniel Davies, and which inhabits that tricky nexus point where Insight, Left, and Funny intersect. If you read nothing else (and why not? It's new, funny, and can be read in about fifteen minutes), read this, which proves that economic analysis is best capped off with the phrase "which would, obviously, leave us in the shit"

(And my metamorphosis from "thinker" to "linker" continues. I'll write something longer tomorrow.)
I hate to write non-funny responses to funny articles, but lilek's bleat about unilateralism and the retaking of the Iraqi embassy by German police misses one key point: It had, um, already been invaded.

(By anti-Saddamites, no less.)

That's like Bush the Elder's Gulf War, and nobody complains about that, because the U.N. gave him the go-ahead and their best wishes to boot. (Nice try, lovely parting gifts, etc. etc.)

Then again, how can I stay mad at anyone who acknowledges that "there is a Simpsons line for every situation in life?" I independently figured this out a half-decade ago, and it remains as true now as it was then. I'm obviously not the original source, though, so I gotta wonder who is?

(At least, I don't think think I am. Maybe I should do a google search about that sometime.)
Edit: ack, wrong source. This wasn't IP, it was Tim Blair.

Tim Blair linked to one doozy of a Camille Paglia article that, in attempting to address the problems of the left, simply resurrects conservatarian shibboleths and sends them shambling towards the strawman legions of Camille's fantasy "Left".

I mean, how else to interpret arguments like this?

Leftists consistently misinterpret mass media and new technology, which they treat with paranoid theories of manipulation and "commodification" coined by writers schooled before the Second World War (before the birth of television). The communications revolution has blurred traditional class lines. But the Left still doggedly invokes paradigms from early industrialization, applicable today only to the Third World. The left finds "oppression" under every rock and reduces contemporary society to rote battles of the "powerful" and the "powerless".

It should be obvious to honest readers of any ideology that painting the left with such a wide brush is a dangerous endeavour at best, but is Camille honestly saying that the left hasn't developed coherent theories about television, of all things? And is she so naive that she actually thinks that questions of power are somehow irrelevant nowadays because of "mass media and technology", when critics of all political affiliations have consistently criticized the mass media for being one of the best vehicles of inculcation of ideas and values that mankind has ever seen? How could a device whose ability to distract and transfix the masses is the staple of both endless fiction and nonfiction possibly "blur class lines"? Was she asleep when people were lauding the Internet for actually getting away from the very power inbalances generated by the mass media in the first place? Who cheerleads a levelling power of television in this day and age?

(What does she think that Manufacturing Consent is about?)

Sadly, not much in the article raises itself above this sort of dubious chicanery. Perhaps it's because she's on Frontpage and has to toss red meat to the readers or get canned, or perhaps she's so desperate to attack the left that she doesn't need coherent arguments to do it. It's sad, though, because I do think that the radical left (as opposed to mainstream liberalism, which is somewhat different) deserves some honest criticism and renewal, but I've seen less and less reason to think that the right of either the quasi-libertarian or social conservative bent has the ability and objectivity to do so effectively. Nor, for that matter, does Camille Paglia.

One other thing before I leave this... Tim Blair complains that this series of complaints "will resonate particularly with Australian readers." Not being a long-time reader of Blair's blog, what's so objectionable about Australian academe?
While normally a critic of Instapundit, I've gotta give out the mad props to Prof. Reynolds (and his co-conspirator, Robert Patrick Merges) for this essay, which deals with the huge problems that currently exist in "Intellectual Property" law. Specifically, they are calling into question the constitutionality of the endless attempts to retroactively lengthen and protect the copyrights and patents of the holders of those government-granted monopolies. They address it on both legal and political economic grounds, delivering a series of devestating blows on the overblown rhetoric often used by those (like rent-seeking corporations) who defend a radical and extensive interpretation of their I.P. rights. While I don't agree with all that they said, passages like this:

[T]he value of intellectual property is that it encourages authors, inventors, and investors, to take risks "on the front end" with the expectation of reaping profits later. A post hoc reward, granted on the basis of legislative whim or influence, is unlikely to provide such encouragement as effectively as a regularized system. The vagaries of the political process dictate that extensions will not always be available, and that when they are, they may not always be granted for the most significant inventions or copyrighted works. [FN56] In addition, an important aspect of the copyright and patent system's promotion of creativity lies in the way it ensures that ideas will eventually enter the public domain. Walt Disney, after all, drew on public- domain folk tales when he created such classics as Snow White and Cinderella. Presumably, future creators will draw on Disney's work once it enters the public domain. The same is true of pharmaceutical research, or any other field of technology in which cumulative invention is the rule. Such opportunities are frustrated by legislation that keeps creative or inventive works out of the public domain for years or decades beyond those needed to encourage innovation...
... beautifully encapsulate many of the problems that currently exist and are only getting worse.

One thing that bothers me, though; when something like this comes up, it really highlights the lack of a comments section on IP's site. Issues like this deserve discussion at the source, but that isn't really possible with his current set up (which is why I linked to the article itself instead of the IP entry... there's no reason not to). I realize that it's because the adoption of typical comments systems lwould be too difficult, but surely somebody could either modify or create a comment system to fit his needs?

Anyway, said unlinked entry notes that the article is older and shorter than some others, but it's certainly worth the read nonetheless, especially if you, like myself, aren't a big fan of the arguments used in the current IP debate.
Wow. While I normally stay away from religious discussion and religious questions (outside of a certain skepticism about blogger anti-Islamicism), James Cappozola's entry about Pope John Paul II is worthy simply as an example of how good a writer James can be, and how well a blog entry can be crafted.

I'd quote, but I'd feel like I'm spoiling it, so I'll just advise going over there and reading it yourselves. Don't worry, I'm not going anywhere.

Tuesday, August 20, 2002 is an organization whose work I used to read religiously a few years back, but I somewhat throttled back on my readership after they stopped sending out those convenient email updates and locked most of their content behind the walls of their pay site. It's too bad, though, because if I had kept up on reading the site I wouldn't have missedthis article that Josh Marshall cited today when discussing the possibility not just of a war with Iraq but that the decision in favor of war had already been made and was simply being kept "under wraps", like that Homeland Security bit was.

The article itself is actually a pretty coherent and concise summary of the different factors that are pointing away from an eventual invasion. Part of that includes the elements that would make prosecuting the war itself actually difficult- including the difficulty of actually prosecuting the war without local allies, the near-universal condemnation of the idea outside the United States itself, and the reality that "given its battlefield constraints, Washington could not be sure it could contain a war on Iraq within that country's borders or manage the war's aftermath."

More important than that, however, is the recognition that "Iraq is peripheral to its primary strategic concern: al Qaeda. And while the United States may have the firepower to defeat the Iraqi army, it needs intelligence as much as rifles to defeat al Qaeda. That intelligence comes from allies in the Middle East, and the United States cannot afford for it to dry up." This has been one of the more cogent criticisms of the entire enterprise- that invading Iraq may contain one possible peripheral threat at the expense of letting an acknowledged and very real opponent in the real war on terrorism go unchecked and unwatched. It was Al Qaeda that flew the jets into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, after all, not Saddam Hussein, and there's no doubt that those in the administration who aren't frantically trying to spin their way into the war on Iraq they've been calling for since Bush left are aware of that. (It's not like the United States could simply pressure middle eastern governments into complying, either, because the outside pressure from the United States would pale in comparison to the domestic pressure generated by compliance with the U.S. in the face of an Iraqi invasion.)

Actually, Stratfor seems to believe that Al Qaeda may make a move soon:

Aside from some small skirmishes in Afghanistan and a few thwarted solo efforts, al Qaeda has been inert since Sept. 11. With elections approaching and the market psychology uneasy in the United States, now would be an opportune time from its standpoint for an attack.

Moreover, al Qaeda has placed itself under pressure to demonstrate that it remains intact and effective, after a spokesman announced in June that the group would strike again soon. And as al Qaeda cannot afford the perception that it was crushed by the United States, Washington cannot afford to expend all its political capital on a war with Iraq only to be blindsided by an al Qaeda attack in the United States.
Disturbing, if true, but it definitely lends itself to their analysis:

While there may have been a logic behind the Iraq campaign, it failed when it came at the expense of the war on al Qaeda. The question is not whether Washington can back down from its Iraq policy. It must. The question is how can it manage the political retreat?
In order to answer this question (and show that the administration has asked it as well), they have a rundown of the signs that the administration itself may be moving away from war, and the difficulty that it faces in doing so. Besides the oft-quoted Scowfield and Kissinger objections and the renewed vigour of the hawk's perennial thorn-in-the-side, Colin Powell, there's the continued reluctance of the administration to actually admit that they've made a decision to invade. Yes, this could be a tactic to disarm and destabilize Saddam, as both Josh Marshall and Steven Den Beste have implied, but I don't think so- the kind of Machiavellian political mastery that this would require isn't something that I've seen demonstrated by this administration; if it were so adept, Homeland Security and that little economic session last week wouldn't have sunk like stones even in the remarkably friendly press environment that Bush currently enjoys. Besides, at this point, Saddam would be more surprised if the invasion didn't happen, and I have little doubt that he's prepared for the invasion to start fairly soon- certainly for the invasion to start in September or October.

Stratfor actually makes an excellent point about some political maneuvering that is quite likelier, though:

CNN's broadcast over the weekend of al Qaeda's video library -- showing chemical gas experiments and explosives-making -- is perfectly timed to help begin refocusing the American public. The democrats will have to think twice before adopting a pro-war stance as a campaign issue while republicans will find it easy to again rally around the anti-al Qaeda campaign.
This somewhat reminds me of the complaints that were often heard this spring about the magical disappearing Osama Bin Laden; regardless, Stratfor is right in that this sort of thing is an excellent way of reminding Americans that Iraq isn't the only target or even the greatest threat, and I agree with them that "a policy reversal should play well for domestic politics."

Where does this leave the blogosphere? It'll probably leave it in quite a disasterous state. Stratfor noted a few key ramifications of this:

-There may be some squabbling within the administration itself, as the unilateralists attempt to defend their positions against Powell and the resurgent coalitionists, but nothing too drastic will emerge....[i]t should not pose much of a problem for U.S. relations with its European allies either, as they will see this as a rare case of Washington knocked to its senses by reality.
One can only imagine how many keyboards will be pounded into submission under the weight of blogger anger.

Then again, some of us will feel a little better. I happen to agree with Stratfor that...
Al Qaeda's strategic goal was to pit the United States against all of Islam, in the process giving the Islamic world a common enemy against which to unite. Washington stumbled into that trap with its Iraq policy, with Arabs and Persians, Sunnis and Shiites uniting against the campaign and thwarting U.S. intentions"
...and I've been worried about whether the United States has been dancing to Osama's tune ever since the Afghani war ended and the administration started casting about for the next opponent. Stratfor is correct in their estimation of the likelihood of diplomatic and strategic difficulties in the region, but I believe that it's far better than the alternative.

Then again, Stratfor might be wrong, but they usually don't screw up that badly, and they'll have put a lot of thought and work into this analysis. It certainly jibes with what I'm seeing, and I've been somewhat of a pessimist about this situation for a while. Yes, it might be disinformation, but I honestly doubt it.
Just because everybody else linked to this, and because it really is worth highlighting in the (unlikely) case that somebody actually uses TownHall as some sort of respectable source:

Today in the United States white people have no political representation. Whites have to struggle in the courts against government opposition to claim any resemblance to equal rights. Explicit government policies have made whites second class citizens. Whites are a dispossessed majority in their own country.

Why did the white majority allow themselves to be stripped of the equal protection clause of the Constitution? Why do whites remain loyal to the political parties that took away their rights?

What is the future for whites in a political system where both political parties pander to third world immigrants and support racial privileges for minorities? Having lost equal protection of law, what will whites lose next?
Tapped mentioned that "that sound you heard was tapped's jaw hitting the floor". Sadly, however, I remain unsurprised. The only surprise for me was that the article didn't use the phrase "uppity negroes". Maybe next time.

(Oh, and in case anybody was waiting for a substantive critique, his foundation argument- that discrimination can only exist through "purposeful action"- is utter bunk. Discrimination can and does exist unknowingly and unwittingly, as any number of sociological and psychological experts and studies have said in the past. Only by glomming onto the romantic but utterly nonsensical notion that humans don't do anything unconsciously can such a statement be justified. Sadly, all too many people think that notion happens to be true.)
Well, so much for Paul Krugman leaving Bush alone. With an assist from Blogdom's own Josh Marshall, Krugman looks at what is colloquially called "being Bushed"... a term usually used to describe the phenomenon of the President having a nice photo op with the representatives of some group of some sort, and then that group's furious discovery that away from the cameras the administration has screwed them.

The weird thing is that some of these decisions are politically insane. Take a look at this, for example:

Take George W. Bush's decision last week to demonstrate his resolve by blocking $5.1 billion in homeland security spending. This turned out to be a major gaffe, because the rejected bill allocated money both to improve veterans' health care and to provide firefighters with new equipment, including communication systems that could have saved lives on Sept. 11. Recalling those scenes at ground zero that did so much to raise Mr. Bush's poll numbers, the president of the International Association of Firefighters warned, "Don't lionize our fallen brothers in one breath, then stab us in the back."
or this:

After [the trapped coal miners'] rescue, Mr. Bush made a point of congratulating them in person — and Michael Novak, writing in National Review Online, declared Somerset, Pa., the "conservative capital of the world."

But Mr. Novak didn't mention the crucial assistance provided by the federal government's Mine Safety and Health Administration. That would have raised some awkward questions: although the Bush administration's energy plans call for major increases in coal mining, its spending plans cut funds for mine safety. More conservative budget guidance.
Krugman makes some good points about Bush's fake "populism", and the pseudo-populism that has been employed by the right for decades. What's strange, though, is that Paul needs to make it at all- this sort of deception and doubletalk should be front-and-center for most Bush critics, especially on motherhood issues like firefighters. Admittedly being a Bush critic is a target-rich environment, but why should Paul Krugman the economics prof even need to point something like this out, and why should he need to cite a blogger (even one as well-known and respected as Josh Marshall) for a story on the administration's screwing of veterans, when it's such an obvious "gimme" to his critics and to the press in general? Especially considering, as Paul noted, the vigor and ruthlessness with which the press corps attacked Al Gore for what was really a totally innocuous Op-Ed column?

Paul has become one of the premier Bush critics on the national stage, and that's all well and good- but he should be one of many, and it's disturbing to see the extent to which he stands alone. If there is a "liberal bias" in the media, its the single greatest demonstration of incompetence that I've yet seen.

Monday, August 19, 2002

David Yaseen cracks wise about TransProg.

Of course! It was the EU that was behind the protests in Genoa. Crafty devils, setting up against their own police forces; we're going to need a lot of elbow grease to rid the world of scum that evil.

That whole bit about antiglobalization protestors being displaced workers and people disgusted at the standard of living of the third world folks who work at our corporations' factories, man, we almost got suckered into falling for it.
I've said it before, I'll say it again: and people wondered why I can't take it seriously.
While quite a few articles and commentators have gone to no small lengths to point out that the United States isn't doing a bang-up job of rebuilding Afghanistan, one of the guest editorials in today's Globe and Mail brings up the aftermath of an oft-forgotten conflict nowadays: the war in Yugoslavia.

According to this article, the situation isn't pretty:

Washington and its allies have not completely turned their backs on the Balkans, but it is fair to say they have lost a great deal of their zeal for rebuilding.

In 1999, just after NATO forces moved into Kosovo, $1.5-billion (U.S.) was pledged for reconstruction. In 2001, that figure fell to $593-million. Considering that a great deal of this aid goes to maintaining the mission's personnel, it is an open question of how much is actually trickling down to the people of Kosovo.

Half of the province's population lives in poverty. Fear still reigns: Serbs cannot even go to church without the protection of NATO troops. The province was worse off under Belgrade's rule, but that is hardly a ringing endorsement for the effectiveness of nation-building in Kosovo.

The situation in Yugoslavia proper is perhaps even more dire. After the handover of Mr. Milosevic to the United Nations war-crimes tribunal in The Hague, Washington and its allies pledged $1.28-billion to help the country's war-ravaged economy. While this aid was certainly welcome, Yugoslavia lost $29.4-billion in output because of the NATO bombing. Rebuilding has been slow as the country struggles with inflation and debt repayments.

A personal example: My grandmother lives two blocks away from the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. The windows of her apartment were shattered when NATO bombs accidently hit the embassy. She spent two weeks in a bomb shelter but did not move back in until well after the Kosovo campaign because her apartment was in a part of Belgrade that could be accessed only by bridge, and the bridges had all been knocked down. Since that time, she has complained of breathing problems. No one -- not NATO, the new Yugoslav government or any aid organization -- offered to pay for the repairs to her home. My family was able to help; many Yugoslavs are not so fortunate.
Of course, nobody but the most ardent partisan would blame Bush for this, and I don't plan to do so. It illustrates an important point, though: any process of rebuilding in the middle east is going to require time, money, personnel and perhaps some sacrifice on the part of Americans. The rewards of doing so are great, but the dangers of doing so badly are even greater. Whether invasion of Iraq is in the cards or not, the new doctrine of "regime change" may remain, and as long as it does then it's important to remember that real change is the product of a lot of hard and (often) thankless work- not a quick, flashy bombing campaign. The difficult job will be after the invasion, not during it.
Jim Capozzola of The Rittenhouse Review has been urging people to donate to the Wellstone campaign or ask people to donate if they can. As I consider it incredibly important that all three branches of the government not go fully Republican, especially right now, I'm inclined to agree with him. I can't donate personally, but I implore those readers who identify with the liberal cause, with liberalism in the United States, or the Democrats specifically to give it a long thought. Heck, considering Wellstone's left cred (that Jim has pointed out in no small detail), he's about the best choice for leftists in the state too. Even if its a small amount, it might help.

In any case, Jim said that the deadline is August 21, so if you're going to donate, do so soon. And if you need reasons, go over to Jim's site; he'll give you metric assloads. (Heck, go anyway- I link him for a reason.)

Thanks for your time.
Edit: bloody spelling errors.

Well, this is new. In response to the (valid) questions about whether invading Iraq would dangerously tie down the U.S. military and whether or not the United States truly has the ability to go it alone, Stanley Kurtz has come up with an innovative solution:

Reinstate the Draft.

The first words that come to mind are, of course, "are you daft"? Careful control of the media aside, one of the biggest differences that seperate the wars following Vietnam from those that preceded them was an all-volunteer military- that way the United States avoids the embarrassing spectacle of forcing teenagers and young adults to fight against their will in countries they've never heard of against a cause that they're not particularly unsympathetic towards. All those body bags coming home from Vietnam tugged on the heartstrings precisely because the vast majority of them had absolutely no choice, and because pretty much everybody knew that compulsory service was only for those without parental resources to keep them out of Vietnam and either in college or in the National Guard. (Hi, Dubya!)

Ending the draft was also the first step towards turning the current military into a professional one- into the "elite force" that the advertisements on TV are constantly hyping and which that new "America's Army" video game is supposed to be simulating. I was under the impression that the military had been turning people away before the attacks on 9/11, so why reinstate the draft?

Why indeed? Well, it comes back to the question of unilateralism vs. multilateralism. See, the U.S. military does have a source of other manpower- the militaries of its allies. That's the whole reason you start an alliance in the first place- so that you can rely on the other guy to help you out if necessary. One for all, all for one- collective security. For Afghanistan, it had that kind of support, which is why the U.S. had the luxury of turning away most of its allies as unnecessary, and why most of the civilized world has said that they're more than willing to help against Al Qaeda (except in cases where it would be dangerous to the regime itself, which is valid- a failed state is a terrorist's paradise.) The United States suffers from a embarrassing wealth of options when it comes to fighting the war on terrorism. Iraq, though...

Well, let's be honest- the reason why the United States is having so much trouble generating internal support for the war on Iraq is because it's having so much trouble generating external support. The arguments and reasons against it are similar, but there's an important difference- Bush can do it without internal support without that much difficulty, but fighting a war without allies in a faraway land and maintaining readiness for some other conflict is difficult at best (which is part of the reason for that "two wars" doctrine). The United States could invade and then occupy Iraq, but that would take enough time and manpower that it would be in serious trouble were some other conflict to start with a real power (like, say, China). If the United States could count on the support of its allies like it could with Afghanistan, then it wouldn't be an issue, but as it is, the U.S. would need to go it alone. Which means more soldiers, much faster. Which means a draft. Which means... well, I think you already know what that means.

It's funny.. if Stanley Kurtz weren't hell bent on arguing to a conclusion, he'd be this close to arguing against the invasion and occupation of Iraq. As it is, though, he's got to go to the unpopular extent of arguing for a draft. Gotta say one thing- that'd be a gift to the Democrats. Pity that they'd then be tied down in a Nixonian war they didn't want. Maybe that's a gift they'd be better off without.

Saturday, August 17, 2002

Edit: Proper word substituted for entirely the wrong one, and that angular bracket is gone.

There's some excellent work here on the left's relative timidity by Michael Tomasky in the American Prospect. I might comment more later, but for right now I'll just highlight this one important paragraph:

For the better part of two decades now, Democrats have operated according to so timorous a model of partisanship that they no longer know how to fight. They know how to argue policy. They do that quite well, and indeed they often win those arguments, if for no other reason than that so many of the policies Republicans support harken back (if I may) to the Gilded Age. But when it comes to hardball partisan politics, they've been fighting a raging fire with a garden hose. They've been afraid, even petrified, of arguing politics, of stepping outside the comparatively safe zone of policy and assertively debating the core principles that are the reason many of them enter the civic sphere to begin with. Arguing politics means challenging not only the other side's positions but the very moral and cultural underpinnings of those positions. It means using emotional arguments to link the opposition to a set of values alien to this country's best traditions. It means finding the symbolic representations of the enemy's masked agendas and exposing them. It means not only attacking the other side but defending one's own side (and not with statistics, but with moral arguments advanced with conviction). And, finally, it means doing all this on a permanent basis, day after day, with lots of warm bodies standing next to one another, saying the same thing over and over, until the media has to cover it. But all these are things the Democrats no longer know how to do.
Word, dawg.

Friday, August 16, 2002

Well, this should explode a few heads: Paul Krugman has delivered a column that has absolutely nothing to do with the Bush administration. Not that it's some sort of Bush puff piece- it just doesn't mention him in the slightest. Instead, it raises the question of whether the United States might end up in a Japanese-style funk, thanks to the combination of the burst stock bubble, the corporate governance problems, poor long-term budget prospects and the possibility of a real estate bubble bursting. He acknowledges that there has been some small growth, but makes the point that even in Japan that's been the case for a while. The issue is the gap between what a country does produce and what it can produce, which is a huge gap in the land of the rising sun and a growing one in the U.S.

Needless to say, this is worrisome as hell if true. Japan's economy is one of the bigger economic problems out there right now, but it isn't the "buyer of last resort" by any means. The United States is, and any such long-term economic malaise would affect the entire planet. (Unless, of course, somebody else takes up the slack. Maybe Europe is due for a comeback?)
Max make some good points about the concept of equality of opportunity and equality of results... not on some sort of anti-meritocratic level, but on the basis of one's identity (black, white, male, female, jewish, muslim, croatian, turkish, whatever).

Aside from the whole SDB flap, it's interesting material in its own right, and worth reading.
I think half the left-wingers in the "blogosphere" have commented on this story, and it's definitely an interesting story. The idea that Republicans are actually breaking ranks says a lot not just about the war situation as it currently exists, but about how divided Washington probably is on this issue, and not necessarily along partisan lines. What interests me the most, though, is what isn't being said. Check out what Kissinger actually said (according to the NYTimes):

In an opinion article published on Monday in The Washington Post, Mr. Kissinger made a long and complex argument about the international complications of any military campaign, writing that American policy "will be judged by how the aftermath of the military operation is handled politically," a statement that seems to play well with the State Department's strategy.

"Military intervention should be attempted only if we are willing to sustain such an effort for however long it is needed," he added. Far from ruling out military intervention, Mr. Kissinger said the challenge was to build a careful case that the threat of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction calls for creation of a new international security framework in which pre-emptive action may sometimes be justified.
This seems to be a common thread- that there will be action against Iraq, but that it doesn't need to happen right now. It makes sense, and has always been the biggest practical argument against invasion of Iraq- even if it needs to be done, why do it right now? The political argument that Rove would be pursuing is obvious- Bush would gain the maximum political leverage from a war started fairly soon before the November elections- far away enough that wartime patriotism would be allowed to grow, but soon enough that the perils of occupation (if any) wouldn't sour the public towards the enterprise and cast about looking for someone to blame. I think that's why most people are saying somewhere between late September and early November. The problem, of course, is that everybody else knows this as well, and while it may not be useful as an campaigning tool for the Democrats, tales of wagged dogs will circulate throughout the world and the Bush administration will have almost guaranteed a much more hostile foreign policy landscape, making their job much trickier than it already is.

I think that some Republicans are realizing this- that even if they honestly believe that invasion should happen in the fall, everyone else will assume it's political, and it'll lead to hassles that are simply best avoided. That would imply that the logical time would not be this fall but next spring. Unless, of course, they're worried that support for the strike among the public will drop, but if the arguments in favor of invasion are that strong, that shouldn't matter, should it? Heck, even if it does drop, the election just ended, and they've got a year and a half before Bush and Co. face the electorate again. Assuming that the whole thing goes off as planned, that's more than ample time.

If it doesn't, of course, then no amount of buffer time will help.

I realize that this is going almost absurdly meta, but reading Terminus write this:

Whoo-boy! Demosthenes from Shadow of the Hegemon gave me a link today, along with some kind words, and my traffic has upped considerably. Thanks for that. Welcome to all of the new faces (not that I can see your faces, obviously, but... uh... nevermind), and I hope you find something of interest. Please feel free to comment or email... me a very, well, weird feeling. Not positive, not negative, just strange. Don't get me wrong; Terminus is a great poster and has a good blog (which, unlike mine, wouldn't irritate Tapped), but it's almost unnerving to think that a link from my humble site could seriously affect somebody else's traffic. Not something that Usenet or Webboards really prepares you for.

I think I'm starting to grok Instapundit.

Oh well, I'm sure it'll blow over, and soon I'll return to my accustomed, erm, anonymity.


Thursday, August 15, 2002

Edit: There's a really interesting discussion of all this going on in Atrios' comments section, including a good examination of the problem of imposing arbitrary equivalence when discussing the relative sins of the left and right.

Spinsanity, a site that normally can be relied on for useful and coherent analysis of the media, is host to what appears to be a hatchet job by Brendan Nyhan aimed at MediaWhoresOnline. Atrios' reaction is "who cares what they think?" but mine goes a little deeper than that.

In essense, Nyhan is complaining that MWO's tactics are "polluting the public discourse"; that their attacks are overstated and overly inflammatory. Now, inflammatory they are, there's no doubt of that; but by and large, a lot of the comments they've made and insights they've written are either on the money or close enough so as to make little difference. Nyhan doesn't seem to quite understand MWO either- he either doesn't acknowledge or hasn't realized that the reason that MWO uses the word "whore" in the first place is that they're sucking up to republican elites in order to gain fame and fortune, and sacrifice their journalistic integrity to do it. They're selling themselves out- hence, "whores". While distasteful, it's an accurate representation. MWO is also supposed to be direct counterpart to all those "media research" groups on the right that aim invective at the so-called "liberal bias"; MWO's an almost direct reaction to that claim, and proof that the operative phrase here isn't "workers of the world, unite" but "show me the money". (There are others, such as FAIR, but MWO takes the "flaming invective" role that FAIR largely eschews.)

The biggest problem, though, is this notion that any low blows on the part of the left are "poisoning the discourse", as Brenden seems to think. Let's be honest- it's going to happen anyway, and to ignore that and pretend that those that are polite and respectful always triumph over mudslingers is to refight the Dukakis campaign and ensure Republican domination of American politics (and right-wing domination of the public discourse). Inflammatory rhetoric serves a valuable role because it provides something that non-inflammatory writers can set themselves against- even if they aren't really political moderates, they appear so, and therefore gain credibility.

That's why the right doesn't care whether or not Rush is accurate or not, or how many people catch him on his mistakes- he serves a vital role simply by existing. MWO, of course, isn't exactly the same (they don't get caught out in mounds of lies, for one), but what's wrong with a firebrand, especially if what he (or she) is saying is substantially true? Brenden never really answers this, instead pulling out the tired "we're above this" argument that only guarantees political irrelevance.

Also, the citation used here isn't very strong. If there were some sort of patterns being brought to light here then it would be a much more compelling article, but by and large it's just a few anecdotes from different MWO entries used to attack the site's work as a whole. Often they are taken out of context, but even if they aren't, they aren't very persuasive- they might be simply the most extreme examples of inflammatory rhetoric on a generally benign site, picked and chosen to support Brenden's claim. If this were a response only to one article then that might be different, but if you're trying to prove systemic errors, then one needs systemic proof.

I like Spinsanity and think that it's a good site, but I think that they missed the mark here. Inflammatory rhetoric is a part of politics that goes back much farther than modern western civilization, and to shut one's eyes to it is a guarantee of irrelevance. It may not be pretty, but it's true.
Those who expect a long response to Den Beste's latest entry will be sadly disappointed. I only need two words:

Strawmen Aplenty.

Nothing else really needs to be said.

Edit: Ok, I'll say six more words and quote a few to go with it:

Max tore Steven a new orifice.

I have to admit the ignorance reflected in this post is too much for my limited energies. The multiplication of slurred generalizations of groups and the incapacity to replicate progressive messages as prelude to honest critique is mind-boggling. I commend its evisceration to all my friends listed at right.
I just found an interesting counterpart to the "why authors are sometimes pseudonymous" and "why leftists are sometimes pseudonymous" bits in a blog entry by Dominion, aka James McLaughlin. The article deals with several points that have already been common bones of contention (like whether or not a "real name" grants one any more credibility and situations where pseudonymity or anonymity aren't really an option), but brings up two points that are worthy of highlighting.

First, he notes:

most of us old timers are pseudonymous because back in the day it was considered none to wise to allow personal information of any sort to escape over the internet. See most of us came from the land of the Bulletin Board System (BBS). A BBS was sort of like a combination of usenet (people would post in what were known as SIGS or Special Interest Groups) they would play what were called door games (people would log, make a series of moves that day, then observe the actions and reactions of the other players the next day) and sometimes chat. They were usually local, set up on someone's personal PC. Since they were local, it was highly advised that you did not share personal information over the system. We used what were called "nyms" or "handles" instead of our real names. A lot of that suspicion leaked over when we moved to the internet, the worldwide implications not really striking us yet. I came up with the nym Dominion back in the day I was posting to WWIVNet and it has stuck with me though thick and thin.
It's been rather a long time since the BBS days, but the admonishment to keep personal information off the network, any network, stuck and was one of the big reasons why the cypherpunks gained relative cachet and importance throughout most of the last decade. I've been using this handle (and a few others) since the BBS days, and I remember boards that told you under no uncertain terms to keep personal information to yourself, and practically nobody used their real names on Fidonet.

Second is perhaps the best and most chilling example of how the Internet is here:

Nor should anyone discount the actual danger of people knowing who you are. Take, for example, Grady Ward and Dennis Erlich. Dennis Erlich was a high official in the Church of Scientology. Grady was merely a critic. Both of them had their doors busted down by cops, had their computers confiscated, had the peace of their life shattered, had lawsuits brought against them, supposedly for posting the Church's Stupid Sekret Skripture, but really for the crime of daring to criticize the Church.

For those who don't know, the usenet group alt.religion.scientology was largely populated by fierce critics of the Church of Scientology, and the Church wasn't happy about it in the slightest. (They don't, as a rule, like criticism much.) Past critics of the Church have gone through hell as the Church does whatever is within its power to discredit, embarrass, and intimidate those who set themselves in opposition to it, and for a while there was no greater opposition to the Church than the denizens of that newsgroup. It was through anonymous postings on that newsgroup that people found out about some of the odder, science-fictionesque material that forms the basis of high-level Scientology, and it was through the attempt to track down the anonymous posters of these materials that the Church managed to bring down ""... the biggest anonymous email remailer in the world back then.

To this day the newsgroup remains a battleground between the Church's detractors and supporters, and the only reason it remains so is because the Church can't take the battle to "IRL".

In any case, it's a good entry- I highly recommend it.
While I'm talking about intersting blogs, one perennial comment section mainstay on several sites, Terminus, has a blog that I hadn't read until now, and it's definitely worth the visit.
While I'm giving props to Jaquandor, I'll add a little extra for a very well-written article about the whole pseudonym issue, including a really compelling bit about the increasing tendency of authors to use pen names in order to get around the increasingly irritating "blockbusterization" of books, where "new" authors can get more books on shelves than established authors of only moderate early success.
You will excuse my profanity here...

MAD FUCKING PROPS go out to Jaquandor of Byzantium Shores for his email telling me clearly and effortlessly how to fix my template so that the main body is wider.

(Yeah, it was a little thing, but it's been bugging me ever since the Den Beste flap.)

Thanks a lot, Jaquandor, I truly appreciate it.
Max savages Instapundit on the statehood issue. Again, I personally see it as fairly simple; why should any part of the United States not be represented in its own government? This arrangement doesn't exist in any other first world countries that I know of; to even suggest it would be unthinkable.

Whether there's a "captive industry", or whether there "isn't enough people" or whether it's "too small" is utterly beside the point. Citizens are getting screwed out of their civil rights, and that ain't what the U.S. is supposed to be about.

Hoo boy. Apparently, the Cato institute is actually trying to resurrect monetarism. Not "keep inflation down" monetarism, but "let's get rid of the Federal Reserve and set an explicit inflation rate" monetarism.

Now, I'm not exactly an economist, but isn't this the kind of thing that was totally discredited by its complete failure in Britain? The kind of thing that real economists use as the butt of cheap jokes? What kind of ivory tower do you have to live in to think that some random corporation is going to do a better job of managing the money supply than a non-profit totally independent body like the Federal Reserve, especially nowadays? Goofy arguments aside (and I love how he chose his statistical windows to over-emphasize the effects of floating the dollar- nice touch), it's just silly on its face.

And people wonder why I can't take anything written by Cato seriously.

(Courtesy of Jason McCullough, who also thought this guy was huffing airplane glue.)

Wednesday, August 14, 2002

Ok, I'm staying out of the battle between Instapundit and Max Sawicky (although the attacks on the latter's credibility are astonishing- he's written enough quality economic work from a leftist perspective on that blog to guarantee at least some props), but I've gotta say that this:
I'm pro-choice, which means that, you know, I think it should be, well, a choice. A lot of people in DC say that the District is essentially a colony. Well, if so I think it's a colony that's not ready for self-government. It certainly wasn't when I lived there, and there's no sign that it's gotten better.
Provoked a simple Jon Stewartesque response.


Yes, that's right. Colonies don't deserve the right to self-government. Never have. Certainly that concept is the bedrock of the American system- it might as well be a constitutional amendment that "only those that will be considered suitable shall enjoy the control over their own destiny". Frankly, the DC thing has always baffled me as so unbelievably stupid that it beggars belief, but it's even more amazing that, somehow, Instapundit has unmasked himself as an oldschool Tory-esque conservative!

Doug Turnball has taken my idea of "satisficing" (which was perhaps at the heart of this recent conflict, as it formed the basis of my initial defense against Steven Den Beste's critique) and has explained how it relates to the scientific method beautifully. He discusses the apparent "perversity" of scientists attempting to disprove hypotheses instead of proving them, how often in science there are few enough hypotheses that proof of one hypothesis can serve to disprove others (which is rarely the case in analysis; there's always a metric assload of things a human being or collection of them can do, whereas particles are usually somewhat more predictable), and why the problem of satisficing doesn't necessarily lead to some sort of PoMo hell where nothing is ever remotely provable- a topic that I hadn't touched on.

I've heard variations on it before, but I really like his explanation of what science actually is:

Science, by its own admission, is not an attempt to arrive at Truth. It’s an attempt to arrive at a valid explanation which has predictive power. That is, I want to come up with a theory that explains existing data and will allow me to predict the result of experiments in the future. A scientific theory only gains acceptance if it works, in this sense. Any alternative hypothesis which equally fit the data is, by definition, equivalent to the accepted theory. They produce the same predictions, and hence are interchangeable. So even if there were infinite alternate hypotheses, they’d all be equally good explanations of the world, rather than being equally bad.
That latter bit about infinite possible hypotheses is, sadly, not really something that you can get away with in analysis- after all, in the end people only do one thing at a time. It's still a useful response to the postmodern critique, though, because it's inherently positive- if you have a hypothesis that hasn't been disproven, then it's just as good as any other and you're entitled to it. (At least until it is disproven.)

In any case, I enjoy "philosophy of science" stuff, and Doug's post is an excellent example of science-positive writing in that field.
Nathan Newman is dealing with an interesting and somewhat surprising topic: the connection of the new movie "XXX", and terrorism. It largely deals with the difference between those who use violence as a means (like, say, Saddam Hussein) and those who look at it as an end in itself (like Osama bin Laden and the terrorists in the movie.) Nathan makes several points about the difference between the former group and the latter group and why it's a mistake to try to lump them together, but what really grabbed me was this early paragraph:

The setup is: an anarchist who could have come from the streets of Seattle-- complete with his own webcast of destroying rich folks' stuff-- collides with military-intelligence police state to thrawt terrorist destruction of the world. This could play as straight cooptation, but the hero Xander Cage probably expresses a lot of the ambivalance of global protesters dealing with enemies like Bin Laden. Quotes Cage in one scene to his NSA handler- "Before you send someone to save the world, maybe you should make sure they like it the way it is."
I've often wondered how exactly the protest movement is going to adapt to the new situation on the ground, and have been wondering since 9/11. At the moment there seems to be a split between those whose criticism of the West leads them to argue that the terrorists might have a point (although that grows weaker and weaker, in my opinion) and those who were shocked out of their movement by the brutality of the attack and who have supported the war against terrorism (which also seems to grow weaker.)

The problem is that neither of these things really had that much to do with the political economic critique at the time, whose validity stands or falls on its own, outside of any conflict between secularism and fundamentalistism. Their arguments against trade bodies, trade policy, rising inequality et al retain whatever relevance they had before the attack to this day, and it's pretty obvious that neither the public nor the protestors are going to buy the sort of "we're so prosperous it doesn't matter" arguments that were usually levelled against them previous to the attack, or the "this isn't the right time" arguments levelled shortly after. Sooner or later, it's likely that the protest movement will reconstitute itself, either because the war has become a background element in most people's lives (like the war on drugs) or because the war is basically won, and the rest is the geopolitical equivalent of a mop-up exercise.

The weird thing is that this may mean that western states might end up fighting a war on two fronts. The first is the one that everybody acknowledges and understands- the war between theocracy and secular government. Modern western governments are well equipped to deal with it, and enjoy wide support. The second front, however, is the battle of ideas between western governments and elites and the protest movement. Up until recently the former group had the advantage of ironclad support from most economists, but Paul Krugman's surprising questioning of the "washington consensus" in the national media and quite a few of Brad DeLong's blog entries have shaken that economic consensus. It's especially surprising considering that a lot of Krugman's popular economic work was built around passionate defenses of free trade and economic fundamentals in the face of "strategic trade" and protectionism- if sustained, it's a huge about-face. Such a high-profile change of heart could only bolster critiques of international regimes and bodies, were they to take advantage of it.

And there's the question.... will they take advantage of it? Well, maybe not immediately; too much revolves around the question of whether war will happen in Iraq for activists to get people interested in leftist economic critiques, and the left vs. right division is too caught up in the war. Once Iraq has been decided one way or the other, though, then it's quite possible that the high-profile aspect of the "war on terrorism" will be over and barring new attacks people will start returning to normal issues. Once that happens, I think the protest movement will reemerge, and it'll be a lot harder to explain away than it was during the 90's.